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Federal Court Rules Against SSA for NotProviding Accessible Formats to Blind Beneficiaries

April 28, 2008 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker
For more information, contact:
Julia Epstein, Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, (510) 644-2555 (x. 241)

Wondie Russell, Heller Ehrman LLP, (415) 772-6294, Ron Milliman, American Council of the Blind,


San Francisco, CA – April 24, 2008 On Wednesday, April 23, 2008, Judge William Alsup of the US District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that the US Social Security Administration (SSA) must accommodate the real and legitimate needs of people with visual impairments who receive benefits from SSA.  The agency is required under the Rehabilitation Act and the due process clause, the ruling states, to provide communications in formats that are accessible to these beneficiaries.

The ruling came after SSA sought to dismiss a class action filed in federal court in 2005 by the American Council of the Blind and a group of individuals who are blind or have visual impairments filed a class action lawsuit against SSA, alleging that the agency fails to provide the most basic accommodations to its blind and visually impaired applicants and beneficiaries.  To this day, the SSA communicates with blind and visually impaired applicants and beneficiaries in standard 12 point font print that  they cannot read, and is unwilling to provide meaningful communication in alternative formats such as Braille, audio, large font or electronic text.

“In the 21st century there is no reasonable explanation or excuse for the SSA to continue to ignore the needs and rights of the blind population,  and we are committed to bringing about the necessary changes,” explained Wondie Russell of Heller Ehrman LLP, an attorney for plaintiffs.  “This decision has now set us on the path to securing reasonable accommodations.”

Plaintiff attorneys argued successfully that the agency is subject to the jurisdiction of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which requires bars discrimination on the basis of disability in federal programs, including removing communication barriers by providing “auxiliary aids” that allow persons with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate.  “The callousness of SSA’s adamant insistence that sending notices that our clients cannot read was not lost on the judge,” said Arlene Mayerson, Directing Attorney for Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF), and an attorney for plaintiffs.  “It is amazing that something that is clear to anyone, that sending a standard print notice to a blind individual denies due process, would end up in federal court.”

Mitch Pomerantz, American Council of the Blind President, stated: “It is long past time that the Social Security Administration – which assists tens of thousands of blind and visually impaired persons – is held to account for its stubborn unwillingness to adhere to a statute that is 35 years old.

There is no excuse in this day and age of easy access to printers with the capability for producing large type, and braille printers for SSA to violate the Rehabilitation Act and I applaud this ruling.”

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit have gone without benefits as a result of SSA’s failure to give them effective notice of its actions.  “Imagine receiving a phone call from the bank that your checks are bouncing and fees are mounting,” suggests American Council of the Blind Executive Director Melanie Brunson.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs include the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Heller Ehrman LLP, the Oregon Advocacy Center, and the National Senior Citizens Law Center.

The American Council of the Blind is the nation’s leading consumer based advocacy organization working on behalf of blind and visually impaired Americans and has more than 70 state and special-interest affiliates throughout the United States. The national office of the organization is located in Washington, D.C. For more information about the ACB, visit the web site at .

Founded in 1979 by people with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) is a national law and policy center dedicated to protecting and advancing the civil rights of people with disabilities through legislation, litigation, advocacy, technical assistance, and education and training of attorneys, advocates, persons with disabilities, and parents of children with disabilities.  For more information, go to

 Heller Ehrman LLP has more than 605 attorneys and professionals in 14 offices worldwide.  Heller Ehrman is committed to a multidisciplinary approach to the practice of law, drawing upon legal, scientific and industry knowledge from across the firm to build the best legal teams for both corporate and pro bono clients.  The firm’s core values are Excellence, People, Teamwork, Innovation, Community and One Firm. For many years, Heller Ehrman has been ranked among top firms in the nation for  commitment to pro bono legal service by The American Lawyer and others.

 The National Senior Citizens Law Center advocates nationwide to promote  The independence and well-being of low-income elderly individuals and persons  with disabilities.  NSCLC provides technical assistance and training to attorneys and other advocates and is active in litigation and policy advocacy with a strong focus on income security and health care. For more information, go to the organization’s website at

 The Oregon Advocacy Center (OAC) is an independent non-profit organization  which provides legal advocacy services for people with disabilities anywhere in Oregon.  OAC is designated under federal law as the protection and advocacy system for Oregon, but it is not a part of the state or federal government. OAC has attorneys and advocates who assist people with disabilities. For more information, go to .
Categories: Uncategorized

Coming up on Main Menu for the week of April 30 – Apple Macintosh Update with Darcy and Holly

April 27, 2008 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker
Hello Everyone,      
Coming up on a one hour live show, we hear from AccessWatch about the latest JAWS 9.0 update, then Darcy and Holly bring us up to date on the latest happenings with the Apple Mac platform. If time permits, we may also open the phones for discussion of all technology related topics from a blindness perspective.
Here is how to participate in the show:      
The number to call into the show is 866-400-5333.   
You may email your questions to:
You may also interact with the show via MSN (Windows Live) Messenger. The MSN Messenger ID to add is:      
Would you like to interact with a group of Main Menu listeners about the topics heard on Main Menu and Main Menu Live? You can do this by joining the Main
Menu Friends email list. The address to subscribe is:
Come join an already lively group of users.      
Would you like to subscribe to podcast feeds for Main Menu and Main Menu Live? The RSS feeds to add to your podcatching application are:      
Main Menu can be heard on Tuesday evenings at 9:00 Eastern, 6:00 Pacific, and at 1 universal (GMT) on Wednesday mornings on the ACB Radio Main Stream channel.      
Follow this link to listen to the show:      
Jeff Bishop and Darrell Shandrow
The Main Menu Production Team
Categories: Uncategorized

The Relationship Connection, Daring to march to a different drum!

April 25, 2008 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Can you remember a time when people around you assumed you were like
them, or to behave in a certain way, and yet you knew that what they
expected wasn't really who you knew yourself to be?

Perhaps this is also a question.
the world says we are blind, incapable, poor, unable, limited, and
whatever else they say. Do you accept that? Do you sit back and let
that be true? Is it true? Or do you find the courage to stand up and
say first, "no, I am not that." I am far more than you see or
understand. Let me tell you who I am!"

What is it like to find the courage to dare to be more, perhaps
different than what the world says? What is it like to find the words
to make a statement so challenging to most of the world? Do you do it?
Have you ever done it? Can you imagine the courage it takes?

And what if, being who you really are would mean changing every
relationship, every assumption others would have about you in order to
bring such a change about?

Hi Everyone,

Sorry to be this late with what's on tonight's show. I just got in from
being in school all day. But tonight, we have our own chrissie
Cochrane. Many of you know herwearing several hats with ACB Radio. She
is a friend to many,.
tonight she is willing to share her own personal story Some of you may
have heard it before. I hope, even if you have, that you will come back
and tune in for what may be an even deeper perspective.

Call in, skype, messenger, email.
Skype: debbie_hazelton
888 476-4616, 407 413-9336

It's ACB Radio Mainstream
2:00 UUTC. That's Saturday, beginning at 10:00 EDT Friday in the US,
7:00 Pacific, replaying every 3 hours throughout the broadcast day.

Hope to see you there!

All the best!
Debbie Hazelton:
helping people feel better, one person at a time!

Categories: Uncategorized

Landmark web accessibility announcement about Credit Reports

April 23, 2008 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

For immediate release — please distribute as appropriate 

Dear friends and colleagues:  The  U.S. credit reporting agencies announced today that free on-line credit reports will comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines by October of this year.  Credit reports will be available in Braille, Large Print, and on audio CD by December.   This announcement is the result of an agreement signed by the American Council of the Blind and others using Structured Negotiations.  The full agreement is available on line at  The press release below is also available on line at .  You are welcomed to link to either of these documents.   Thanks, Lainey

National Credit Reporting Companies, Blind Community, Announce Landmark Initiative to Provide Accessible Online Credit Reports 

Braille and other formats also to be made available 
(City) (April 23, 2008)  The nation’s three major consumer credit reporting companies today unveiled a comprehensive program to provide improved access to important credit information for people who are blind or visually impaired.  The initiative, crafted with the American Council of the Blind, its California affiliate and several individual members of the blind community, will help protect the credit information of individuals who cannot read a standard print credit report. 
Under the plan announced today, Equifax (NYSE: EFX), Experian (EXPN.L), and TransUnion have begun working to make online credit reports and related information accessible through their jointly operated website,, the official site to help consumers obtain free credit reports.  Accessible credit reports for people with visual impairments will be available online by October 31 of this year.  By the end of the year, the companies will also make credit reports available in Braille and other formats at no charge to qualified individuals who cannot access print information. 
“We are thrilled with the commitment of Equifax, Experian and TransUnion to provide credit information in accessible formats,” said Melanie Brunson, Executive Director of the American Council of the Blind in Washington, D.C.  “The initiative being announced today will help people with visual impairments fight identity theft by independently monitoring and reviewing their credit reports as all members of the public should.”  
“By proactively creating, Equifax and its rivals gave consumers easy access to their credit information and this latest initiative is yet another example of how, as an industry, we are extending this access to consumers with visual impairments,” said Dann Adams, President, Equifax U.S. Consumer Information Solutions.
“Experian has a long history of providing quality credit products and services to consumers and we were excited by the opportunity to improve access for consumers with visual impairments to these important tools,” said Kerry Williams, group president, Credit Services & Decision Analytics, Experian Americas.  
“TransUnion is very pleased to be a part of this important effort that will help empower visually impaired consumers to manage their own credit health,” said Mark Marinko, president of Consumer Services at TransUnion.
Web Site Access
Today’s initiative includes a commitment to design online credit reports and related web pages in accordance with guidelines issued by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) (  The guidelines, which do not affect the content or look and feel of a Web site, ensure that Web sites are accessible to persons with visual disabilities.  The guidelines are of particular benefit to blind computer users who use screen reader or magnification technology on their computers and who rely on a keyboard instead of a mouse.  
“Web site accessibility is of great importance to both the blind community and to people with disabilities generally,” said ACB Board member, and CCB President, Jeff Thom, a blind lawyer in Sacramento, California.  “We applaud the leadership role taken by all the credit reporting companies in committing to address the accessibility of and online credit reports, helping to protect the financial security of a wide range of online consumers.”
“We truly appreciate the credit reporting companies’ willingness to engage in discussions with us to find a solution to the problem of inaccessible credit reports,” said Paul Parravano, a blind M.I.T. employee in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who was involved in the discussions.  “Today’s announcement, reached as a result of the collaborative process, is an important milestone in the blind community’s quest for independent control over their financial information.”
About American Council of the Blind (ACB) and California Council of the Blind (CCB) 
American Council of the Blind is a national consumer-based advocacy organization working on behalf of blind and visually impaired Americans throughout the country, with members organized through seventy state and special interest affiliates.  California Council of the Blind is the California affiliate of the ACB, and is a statewide membership organization, with 40 local chapters and statewide special interest associations.  ACB and CCB are dedicated to improving the quality of life, equality of opportunity and independence of all people who have visual impairments.  Their members and affiliated organizations have a long history of commitment to the advancement of policies and programs which will enhance independence for people who are blind and visually impaired.  More information about ACB and CCB can be found by visiting  and
Equifax ( empowers businesses and consumers with information they can trust. A global leader in information solutions, employment and income verification and human resources business process outsourcing services, we leverage one of the largest sources of consumer and commercial data, along with advanced analytics and proprietary technology, to create customized insights that enrich both the performance of businesses and the lives of consumers. 
Customers have trusted Equifax for over 100 years to deliver innovative solutions with the highest integrity and reliability.  Businesses – large and small – rely on us for consumer and business credit intelligence, portfolio management, fraud detection, decisioning technology, marketing tools, HR/payroll services, and much more.  We empower individual consumers to manage their personal credit information, protect their identity and maximize their financial well-being.
Headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, Equifax Inc. employs approximately 7,000 people in 14 countries throughout North America, Latin America and Europe. Equifax is a member of Standard & Poor’s (S&P) 500® Index. Our common stock is traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol EFX.          
Experian® is a global leader in providing information, analytical and marketing services to organizations and consumers to help manage the risk and reward of commercial and financial decisions.
Combining its unique information tools and deep understanding of individuals, markets and economies, Experian partners with organizations around the world to establish and strengthen customer relationships and provide their businesses with competitive advantage.
For consumers, Experian delivers critical information that enables them to make financial and purchasing decisions with greater control and confidence.
Clients include organizations from financial services, retail and catalog, telecommunications, utilities, media, insurance, automotive, leisure, e-commerce, manufacturing, property and government sectors.
Experian Group Limited is listed on the London Stock Exchange (EXPN) and is a constituent of the FTSE 100 index. It has corporate headquarters in Dublin, Ireland, and operational headquarters in Costa Mesa, Calif., and Nottingham, UK. Experian employs approximately 15,500 people in 36 countries worldwide, supporting clients in more than 65 countries. Annual sales are in excess of $3.8 billion.
For more information, visit the Group’s Web site on
As a global leader in credit and information management, TransUnion creates advantages for millions of people around the world by gathering, analyzing and delivering information. For businesses, TransUnion helps improve efficiency, manage risk, reduce costs and increase revenue by delivering comprehensive data and advanced analytics and decisioning. For consumers, TransUnion provides the tools, resources and education to help manage their credit health and achieve their financial goals. Through these and other efforts, TransUnion is working to build stronger economies worldwide. Founded in 1968 and headquartered in Chicago, TransUnion employs more than 4,000 employees in more than 30 countries on six continents.
For the Blind Community
Lainey Feingold
Linda Dardarian
For The Credit Reporting Companies
Jennifer Costello
Susan Henson
Steven R. Katz
Lainey Feingold
Law Office of Lainey Feingold
(510) 548.5062

Categories: Uncategorized

Computerworld Article: Blind users still struggle with ‘maddening’ computing obstacles

April 21, 2008 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

We have reproduced this recently published, well-researched Computerworld article entitled Blind users still struggle with ‘maddening’ computing obstacles in a simple, text format for easier reading by all blind and visually impaired Internet users. The original source of this article may be rather challenging to read for many from an accessibility perspective.

Anyone who is able to reasonably access the original article by way of the link above will find some of the comments disturbing, to say the least. If at all possible, you are urged to add a comment of your own supporting the fact that accessibility is quite simply “the right thing to do” in all cases where it represents a “reasonable accomodation” that makes the difference between our exclusion or our full participation in society.

April 16, 2008 (Computerworld) Put your graphical user interface to this test: Adjust the contrast on your display until the screen is completely black. Now, perform basic e-mail, word processing and Web-browsing tasks. What? Having a problem?

Welcome to the world of the 1.3 million Americans who are blind. For them, the world of personal computers, office automation and the Internet offers mixed blessings. That world wasn’t designed for them, but with the right assistive technology, they can take part in it. When everything works well, they have access to an ocean of information vastly greater than anything previously available to the blind. But pitfalls and maddening frustrations are a constant reality.

Screen readers

Blind computer users mainly rely upon screen-reader software, which describes the activity on the screen and reads the text in the various windows, explained Gayle Yarnell, owner of Adaptive Technology Consulting Inc. in Amesbury, Mass. Yarnell is blind.

It can take a while to wade through a strange site — it can be maddening. Jay Leventhal, editor of AccessWorld Magazine

Screen readers cost between $500 and $1,000, although there are also freeware screen readers, she noted. (Windows XP and Vista come with a screen reader called Narrator, but even Microsoft Corp. says it’s not powerful enough for serious use.)

The screen reader’s output can be sent to the computer’s speakers as a synthesized voice or to a Braille display. The latter uses tiny push pins to create a pattern of raised dots that can be read by a moving finger. A unit with an 80-character line (enough for one full line of text) costs about $10,000, and Yarnell said that most blind people use a 40-character unit, which costs closer to $5,000. Braille displays are better than speech for editing because individual characters can be isolated, she noted, and they are a necessity for the deaf-blind.
She also said that it lets her silently read e-mail while talking to someone else.

Although major operating systems usually have built-in screen readers for accessibility by the blind, they are rudimentary at best. In fact, after starting Narrator, the screen reader that comes with Windows XP and Vista, Microsoft’s introductory screen says, “Most users with visual impairments will need a
screen reader with higher functionality for daily use.” Here’s an example what a blind user would hear upon opening up Computerworld’s Web site with Narrator activated in Windows XP, the operating system most in use today.

But knowing what the screen is saying is just the beginning — the blind user then has to issue commands using keyboard shortcuts, because the mouse cursor is useless. Using shortcuts involves a lot of memorization, but at least the option is always available — or at least it used to be. “Starting with Version 3.1, Microsoft tried to make sure there was a keystroke to do everything in Windows,” noted Dave Porter, an accessibility consultant and head of Comp-Unique Inc. in Chicago. “But with Vista, we seem to have lost that thread.” The main problem is that, with Vista, the effect of a keystroke depends on the situation about a third of the time. Also, there are things that simply can’t be done with keystrokes, said Porter, who is blind. “It’s not so much that the keyboard shortcuts are different but that the user interface has changed,” said Rob Sinclair, director of accessibility at Microsoft.
“We have gotten away from a lot of menus and created a more simplified experience. No one would argue that there is no learning curve, but we have seen value and heard great feedback from those who have taken the time to learn the new version. “There are some amazingly powerful features in Vista for those with disabilities, like a Start function that begins with a search field,” Sinclair added. “You can type in the name of an application, or a command, or search for a keyword in a document or an e-mail. You can launch any application with a few
keystrokes, easier than using menus.” He also noted that the latest version of Microsoft Office still supports the old shortcuts.

Beyond Windows

Speaking of user applications, compatibility with a screen reader can be a crap shoot, and some commercial software packages include custom controls that screen readers can’t recognize, said Dan Weirich, co-founder of GW Micro Inc., a screen-reader vendor in Fort Wayne, Ind. “In the days of DOS, there was a fixed number of characters across the screen, so identifying the information in the different parts of the screen was relatively simple,” he said. “Finding the boundaries of the information is harder now, since there is no native indicator as to what is inside each window when you scrape the screen.” He said his software comes with scores of preconfigured settings for various software packages, but no tweaking is required to run with the most commonly used applications.

Finding ways for a screen reader to process new display technologies — especially on the Web — is a constant struggle, Weirich added. “Different standards come along that are difficult to handle, and then there is a breakthrough and we have a fix, and it works. That is ongoing.” He also said that Microsoft worked with screen-reader vendors so that Vista versions were available the day Vista hit the shelves — whereas there was a delay of six to nine months after the release of Windows XP.

Beyond packaged software lies the world of in-house applications, where things can really go haywire for the blind user. “We often find that screen readers don’t work with in-house applications — it’s too easy to break the interface,” said Curtis Chong, president of the computer science division of the National Federation of the Blind and an official at the Iowa Department for the Blind in Des Moines. “It can be as simple as an application that puts up a lot of windows on the screen which are not windows from the viewpoint of the operating system. The screen reader will see one huge blob of information and read across the window boundaries,” said Chong, who is blind. He said this can cause problems for job applicants, for example. “You can have the best paper credentials in the world, and pass the HR screening test, and be the person they want — and then the question comes up of, ‘What e-mail program can you use? What word processor can you use?’ Your answers can cause the job to evaporate,” Chong said.

Porter was actually nostalgic for the 1990s. “It was all DOS and mainframe interfaces. If you knew how to handle DOS and word processing, you could probably get a job. We could train people to do a specific job, and it worked, and the employer got a loyal employee determined to keep that job and fight to keep up with changing technology. These days, they want a jack of many trades — computer skills, plus phone skills, Internet surfing, marketing, people skills and the ability to travel.”

The Web

Of course, these days, many computers are used principally to access the Internet — and there is no telling what a blind person will encounter there. “It can take a while to wade through a strange site — it can be maddening,” complained Jay Leventhal, who is blind and serves as editor of AccessWorld Magazine, produced by the American Foundation for the Blind in New York. “Sometimes you find what you want to buy, but then you can’t find the submit button. It seems to literally not be there. A skilled [blind] user can navigate a majority of the sites on the Web these days, but you have to master certain tricks, like jumping from header to header in order to skip over a lot of junk, and use the search function to get the information you want. An average user can struggle for a long time looking for something and will even struggle on a familiar site.”

Best Practices

Here are a few official HTML guidelines:

  • A text equivalent for every nontext element shall be provided.
  • Equivalent alternatives for any multimedia presentation shall be synchronized with the presentation.
  • Web pages shall be designed so that all information conveyed with color is also available without color, for example from context or markup.
  • Documents shall be organized so they are readable without requiring an associated style sheet.

A major sin among Web sites is a failure to use the HTML ALT attribute, which can be used to attach a descriptive label to a nontext item. If an image, for example, has an ALT label, the screen reader will read it. Otherwise it is forced to read the file name, which often amounts to useless gibberish.

There are accepted guidelines for designing accessible Web sites, especially the guidelines derived from Section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended. Cyndi Rowland, director of WebAIM, an accessibility organization at Utah State University in Logan, noted that the guidelines are mandatory for federal Web sites and for organizations doing business with the U.S. government. A number of states have also adopted the guidelines. Her organization has a checklist of 16 requirements derived from Section 508, including use of the ALT description for images and image-map hot spots. Among other things, they state that frames should be given descriptive titles and that data tables should have row and column headers. There is a separate list of 12 requirements for applets.

One percent compliance

Rowland noted that in 1999, her organization surveyed 100 higher-education Web sites. Twenty-three percent of the opening pages were compliant, but compliance dropped to 3% for pages one link away and fell below 1% for pages two links away. Meanwhile, a recent survey of random university Web pages found only 1% compliance. “In almost 10 years, there has been almost no improvement,” she said. Leventhal said it’s fairly obvious when Section 508 guidelines have been followed. “You will find an invisible link — which the screen reader can see — that lets you skip the junk and jump to the main content. For some reason, many Web sites have large groups of repetitive links that you’ll want to jump over. Meanwhile, not using the ALT tag is like not using punctuation. It’s maddening.”

Such frustration can produce lawsuits, and the National Federation of the Blind is currently involved in a class-action lawsuit against Target Corp. because the Target site proved to be inaccessible for blind users. Chong said the basic problem was a “next” button that was coded in such a way that it was invisible to screen readers, leaving blind users stranded. The problem has been fixed, but the lawsuit continues because Target hasn’t committed to accessibility, Chong said. Rowland noted that similar lawsuits in the past never produced any legal precedents because they were settled out of court, so this one will be watched closely. The federation’s lawyer, Dan Goldstein, said the lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial in March 2009. He wouldn’t comment on the possibility of a settlement, and Target didn’t respond to requests for a comment.

But what literally frightens blind users is the rise of so-called CAPTCHA technology for Web site security. (CAPTCHA stands for Completely Automated Public Turing Test.”) To deny access to bots, the user must input a password that is displayed in a moderately distorted image that a machine can’t read. Of course, the screen readers can’t read it either. “Many blind people are aware that they can’t use particular sites, but they don’t know why,” Leventhal said. He said his own site simply asks a question whose answer would be known to human beings, such as, “What color is the sky?” Some sites have an optional button to play an audio file that reads the password. However, this still leaves out the deaf-blind.

Beyond computers, sources complained of cell phones so complicated that they, too, need expensive screen readers. Many have small, flat buttons that are useless to the blind, culminating in the iPhone with no buttons. The iPod and its imitators don’t have buttons either, and even kitchen appliances today often have digital readouts that are useless to the blind. But Rowland noted that such considerations need to be weighed against the vast increase in electronic information during the past several years, at least part of which is accessible to the blind. “You can’t say that cup is half full, but there is something in it,” she said.

CallBurner Update Resolves Issues with Broken Recordings in Skype 3.8

April 20, 2008 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

From the better-late-than-never department…

On April 11, Netralia released an update to CallBurner resolving the half speed recording issue in Skype 3.8. A small number of additional enhancements have also been included. All customers are urged to apply this latest version now and to hold off on major Skype updates until a corresponding CallBurner update has been released or compatibility has been announced. We confirm through rigorous testing that CallBurner version now works well with Skype 3.8.

Categories: Skype

Coming up on Main Menu for the week of April 23 –, GW Micro SenseView and Ultracane Demo

April 19, 2008 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker
Hello Everyone,     
Coming up this week on a one hour prerecorded Main Menu, we hear from Jamie Pauls with AccessWatch all about, then we play two final CSUN 2008 presentations: GW Micro’s SenseView and one more demonstration of the UltraCane.  Stay tuned for new live content in upcoming weeks of Main Menu.
Here is how to participate in the show:     
The number to call into the show is 866-400-5333.   
You may email your questions to:
You may also interact with the show via MSN (Windows Live) Messenger. The MSN Messenger ID to add is:     
Would you like to interact with a group of Main Menu listeners about the topics heard on Main Menu and Main Menu Live? You can do this by joining the Main
Menu Friends email list. The address to subscribe is:
Come join an already lively group of users.     
Would you like to subscribe to podcast feeds for Main Menu and Main Menu Live? The RSS feeds to add to your podcatching application are:     
Main Menu can be heard on Tuesday evenings at 9:00 Eastern, 6:00 Pacific, and at 1 universal (GMT) on Wednesday mornings on the ACB Radio Main Stream channel.     
Follow this link to listen to the show:     
Jeff Bishop and Darrell Shandrow
The Main Menu Production Team
Categories: Uncategorized

Coming up on Main Menu for the week of April 15 – LevelStar, ITEX, and Ultracane

April 14, 2008 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker
Hello Everyone,    
Coming up this week on a one hour prerecorded Main Menu, we hear from LevelStar, ITEX, Bookshare and Ultracane.  This concludes our 2008 CSUN coverage.  We thank Marlaina for her efforts this year.
Here is how to participate in the show:    
The number to call into the show is 866-400-5333.   
You may email your questions to:
You may also interact with the show via MSN (Windows Live) Messenger. The MSN Messenger ID to add is:    
Would you like to interact with a group of Main Menu listeners about the topics heard on Main Menu and Main Menu Live? You can do this by joining the Main Menu Friends email list. The address to subscribe is:
Come join an already lively group of users.    
Would you like to subscribe to podcast feeds for Main Menu and Main Menu Live? The RSS feeds to add to your podcatching application are:    
Main Menu can be heard on Tuesday evenings at 9:00 Eastern, 6:00 Pacific, and at 1 universal (GMT) on Wednesday mornings on the ACB Radio Main Stream channel.    
Follow this link to listen to the show:    
Jeff Bishop and Darrell Shandrow
The Main Menu Production Team
Categories: Uncategorized

Blind Congressional Candidate on the next Marlaina Program

April 13, 2008 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

"I'm a concerned citizen running for office, and I want to hear from you! We
in New Jersey's 5th Congressional district need to work together to bring
about real change and a return to common sense."

Now, those words may not seem much different from what we are hearing around
the United States these days during this year of fascinating politics. So,
why do I quote them? Because the person who speaks them is totally blind.

On the next Marlaina, meet Dr. Dennis Shulman, a psychologist and ordained
rabbi from New jersey who is running for a seat in the Congress of the
United States of America.

Dennis Shulman, renowned author, educator, and clinical psychologist, has
dedicated his life to serving all segments of the community.
Blind since childhood, he has overcome significant obstacles to earn an Ivy
League diploma and rise to the top of his profession – and become an
ordained rabbi.
Dr. Shulman is running for Congress in New Jersey's Fifth Congressional
District because he believes fundamental change is needed in Washington.
"I am running for Congress not as a career politician, but as a concerned
says Shulman. "I believe that Congress could use more candor and more people
with diverse life experiences. We keep sending career politicians to
Washington and what do we have to show for it? A big mess. It may very well
take a blind man to show Congress the light."
Dennis has spent his entire life confronting challenges – and surmounting
them. Growing up working class and losing his sight at a young age, some
predicted that Dennis would never graduate high school. During high school,
Dennis worked in a toy factory to help his family pay the bills. However,
neither he nor his parents accepted that anything would keep him from
achieving the American Dream, and Dennis' success in high school led to
acceptance to college.
He graduated from Brandeis in the class of 1972 Magna cum Laude and Phi Beta
That same year Dennis' volunteer activities on behalf of the developmentally
disabled earned him a Special White House Commendation for Outstanding
Humanitarian Service and The David Aranow Award for Outstanding Achievement
in Social Welfare.
Dennis next moved to Harvard University to begin work toward a Ph.D. in
Clinical Psychology and Public Practice. Just two years into the program
Dennis won a Training Fellowship from the National Institute for Mental
Health and married his college sweetheart, medical student Pam Tropper. He
also began what has become an extended series of teaching positions,
professional publications, postdoctoral studies and speaking engagements.
Graduating from Harvard, Dennis began his career as a clinical psychologist
and as an educator, including more than a decade at Fordham. In 1997, Dennis
founded the National Training Program in Contemporary Psychoanalysis at The
National Institute for the Psychotherapies, which he continues to serve.
In 2003, Dennis was ordained as a Rabbi. That same year he published his
book, The Genius of Genesis: A Psychoanalyst and Rabbi Examines the First
Book of the Bible.
In addition to continuing to treat patients in his psychological practice,
Dr. Shulman currently serves as the Associate Rabbi of Chavurah Beth Shalom,
a synagogue in Alpine.
Dr. Shulman has lived in New Jersey's Fifth Congressional District for more
than 25 years. He has been married to his wife, Pam, an obstetrician, for 33
years. They are proud parents of two adult daughters, Holly and Julie.

I have known Dennis since 1968, when we spent a summer together at the
Carroll Rehabilitation Center just outside Boston in a summer youth program.
some of you got to know Dennis through his speech at ACB's recent
legislative conference. On the next Marlaina, Dennis will spend time with
us, and will respond to your questions and comments. Believe me when I tell
you, Dennis is a vibrant, warm and caring person whose perspective on life
is like a breath of spring air.

The Marlaina show is heard on ACB Radio Mainstream.
It all starts on Sunday night at 9 PM Eastern, 6 Pacific, which is Monday
morning at 1 Universal. The program will replay for 24 hours, and of course,
is available via podcast from the ACB Radio replay page. As always, we'll
take your calls at our toll-free number, 866 666 7926.

Please save this message and either click the link below, or paste it into
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Categories: Uncategorized

Attorney Linda M. Dardarian on StructuredNegotiation

April 12, 2008 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Attorney Linda M. Dardarian on Structured Negotiation
April 12, 2008. By Paul Halpern

Oakland, CA: Traditional litigation is often an expensive, time-consuming,
and adversarial route to resolution. Sometimes it's inevitable, but some
areas of law lend themselves to a collaborative approach that yields
benefits for both sides. It's called structured negotiation, and Linda M.
Dardarian, partner in Goldstein, Demchak, Baller, Borgen and Dardarian
(GDBBD), described how it's done.

LawyersandSettlements (LAS): Is there an area of law that you've found is
especially amenable to a non-litigation approach?

Linda M. Dardarian (LMD): Within our firm's general practice areas, I do
primarily disability rights work, and within that arena, we've carved out a
specialty called structured negotiation. To date, we've made about 28
agreements with some of the largest corporations in the country, which
involve access to technology for the blind. Our clients include the American
Council for the Blind and many ACB state affiliates, and the American
Foundation for the Blind, as well as individuals.

Our clients will tell us about an access problem that they couldn't solve
themselves via customer support. If we find a pattern or practice of
technology not being accessible, we write a letter to the general counsel of
the company laying out the nature of the problem, the facts and legal basis
behind the claim, whether it's the Americans with Disabilities Act or
California or other states' laws, and what we think the solution is that
they should work with us to achieve. We offer to sit down with them and work
on solving the problem.

So structured negotiation begins with us writing that letter. If they're not
interested in meeting with us, we explain why we think we'd win in
litigation. We always make a polite request, but behind it there's the
spectre of a lawsuit. They know we're a serious firm that knows how to
litigate hard and well and successfully. Generally they agree to sit down,
since they're big corporations like Citibank, Wachovia, and American
Express, and they don't want to give the impression that only sighted
customers are eligible for their services. So we've been pretty successful
in working these out.

LAS: What kind of solutions have you reached this way?

LMD: We've worked with major banks to get them to install talking ATMs, for
example, so that a blind person can now go up to any ATM in the country,
plug in an earphone, and hear a description of
everything the ATM does, be taken through all the steps, and access all its
features without needing help from a sighted teller or an assistant. Before
this, a blind person either had to go in only
when the bank was open or give their PIN to a sighted person and trust them
to withdraw the right amount and not rip them off-which is something that no
bank would expect them to go through.

All major banks now also provide Braille and large print on their bank card
statements, because without that a blind customer would have to have a
sighted person read it to them. Blind people are entitled to the same right
of confidentiality as sighted people, and this provides that.

We've also worked on making online banking accessible for blind people who
use screen reader software that reads aloud what's on the computer screen.
The banks or retailers just have to code their web sites so the screen
reader can recognize the screen content. There's no change to the site's
look and feel, it's all done on the underside.

A lot of major retailers like Wal-Mart, Radio Shack, and Rite Aid, have
increasingly used point-of-sale machines at their checkout stands. Many of
these have had flat screens, so to use a
debit card you have to use a stylus, which is inaccessible to a blind
person. Similarly, with touch-screen machines, blind customers have to tell
the clerk their PIN, a situation no one should have to tolerate. We've
negotiated with Trader Joe's, Seven Eleven, and others to integrate a
tactile keypad that visually impaired customers can use just like sighted

We've done all this without having to file any lawsuits, which is a credit
to the companies and to our clients for their patience. My main job has been
to facilitate the communication between them to work these things out
instead of facing years of fighting before anything got worked out

LAS: So you haven't encountered a lot of resistance to entering

LMD: To their credit, most of the companies we've contacted have decided
that it's mutually productive to sit down with us rather than take the risk
and expense of litigation, since most of that winds up in settlement anyway.
It avoids the fees and the frequent bad feelings involved in hard-fought

We end up meeting with the company counsel. Sometimes they bring in outside
counsel; we bring our client representatives and the companies bring in
their business and tech people, and there's a series of meetings focusing on
how to solve the problem. We were invited into a company's tech labs once to
test possible talking ATMs, since there was no off-the-shelf solution
available. Our clients actually scripted the words the machine spoke, which
was incredibly empowering to them and made the whole thing work much better
than if a sighted person in the lab had written the script.

A huge amount of trust gets developed through this process. We end up having
ongoing relationships with these companies, making sure the solutions are
properly implemented over the years, and they bring access issues to our
attention for help on how to work them out. It's quite extraordinary.

Attorney Linda M. Dardarian received a BA from California State University,
Chico, in 1983 and a JD from the Boalt Hall School of Law at the University
of California, Berkeley, in 1987. Her work on making technology accessible
to vision-impaired persons has earned her honors from advocacy groups such
as the American Foundation for the Blind and the American Council of the
Blind. She has been a partner at GDBBD since 1998.


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