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Proposed Accessibility Advocacy Tracking System: Ideas Wanted

July 30, 2010 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

As many of my readers know, I am always dreaming up new ways to effectively evangelize accessibility of information technology for the blind. It’s quite literally my mission in life. But, I also know that the work of one individual means nothing without the participation and support of the entire connected online blind community. Precisely measuring that level of participation has been virtually impossible.

It has always been my contention that frequent advocacy done on a consistent basis is absolutely critical in order for our voices to be heard by the technology industry. The conversations I have with company executives keep baring out this assertion. Agencies, businesses and organizations respond to and prioritize feedback based on both its quality and quantity. Executives are looking for clearly presented, detailed feedback on any issue. They’re also looking for numbers. If one, two or even ten people bring up an issue, it’s not likely to get much play especially in a large company like Google, Microsoft or Nuance. Perhaps, if several hundred blind people keep bringing up an issue frequently, it will have a chance to rise to the top and garner the attention it deserves.

We thus understand that successfully concluded accessibility advocacy often requires persistent contact with companies on the part of many individual members of the blind community. How can we achieve this goal as a blind community? Who is advocating? How are they contacting companies? How far are they getting within a company’s corporate chain of command? What are they telling these people? What is the company’s response to the advocacy? What changes are they making to improve accessibility for us? Has the company committed to accessibility or has only a one-time victory been achieved?

Right now, finding answers to these and many other key questions is virtually impossible. Though some organizations like the American Foundation for the Blind, American Council of the Blind, National Federation of the Blind and a few others advocate, we often don’t know their results until they have explicitly come to the blind community for help, a lawsuit has been filed or we learn that structured negotiations have been completed. Little or no attention is given to the advocacy efforts of individual contributors. What incentives do individuals have to do the hard work necessary for grassroots accessibility advocacy to be effective? How many times could the concerted work of individuals achieve a positive result without the need to involve the lawyers or otherwise turn the process into a messy adversarial battle? How could individual efforts be effectively consolidated into one effective, successful advocacy result?

I propose that an online system be created for the purpose of tracking the accessibility advocacy efforts of individuals in the blind community. If a blind person encounters an issue with a piece of hardware or software or a service and believes it may be inaccessible, she visits a website, fills out a simple form and creates a case. A team of volunteers pull the cases out of a queue and work them to the best of their ability. They consult each other and solicit additional assistance from the rest of the blind community. A note is added to the case for each advocacy attempt with the results being tracked along the way. A case is worked until a successful result is achieved, it has been referred for legal action by one of the organizations or it has been determined that no grassroots advocacy effort will resolve the case in a satisfactory manner. A dedicated steering committee meets once per week to discuss the status of the cases in the queue. Cases may be closed only on a majority vote of the members of the steering committee. If that vote is not unanimous, then the case is closed with reservations. Nobody else, including the original creator of the case, may close the issue.

A case management system for doing accessibility advocacy could bring many positive results. Advocates could see the effects of their work as cases move forward along a well-defined process. Technology companies would feel the effects of consistent, quality feedback from a significant number of members of the blind community. When companies choose to be intractible, lawyers could use the information from protracted cases as leads or potential evidence in lawsuits and structured negotiations. Finally, the reporting capabilities of a case management system might make it possible to obtain grants and other sources of funding for some in the blind community to do accessibility advocacy work on a paid basis, thus permitting a greater level of consistent dedication to this all-too-important aspect of securing equal opportunity for the blind.

There are many milestones that must be achieved in order to get such a case management system off the ground. Who or what organization would be willing to sponsor such a project? Who is available and willing to do the work necessary to program such a complex system? How will it be structured? Would building a custom solution work best or is there an existing customer relationship management application that could be modified to meet our needs? What information should be collected and how would it be used? These and many other questions would need to be answered as a first step toward building a system I believe could help move accessibility advocacy for the blind forward by leaps and bounds over its present state.

I would like to start by opening discussions with those who might be interested in actively and consistently volunteering to participate in such a case management system. I ask all those who think they might be interested to subscribe to the blind-access e-mail list for the purpose of discussing the merits of such a system and coordinating specific meetings as it moves forward.

As always, comments to this article are welcome here on the journal as is e-mail to us at editor (at)

Apple: New Magic Multi-Touch Trackpad is VoiceOver Compatible

July 27, 2010 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Apple confirmed Tuesday that its just-released Magic Trackpad is compatible with VoiceOver for blind users.

A second-level Apple technical support agent identifying himself as Michael said the new trackpad provides the same level of touch screen support found on the company’s multi-touch MacBook computers.

“The Magic Trackpad is really no different than the one found on our MacBooks,” Michael said. “If you’re running version 10.6.4 of Snow Leopard, VoiceOver will recognize that you now have multi-touch support and it will make all those gestures work for you.”

The new Magic Trackpad is a wireless device that connects to Apple’s iMac, Mac Mini, MacBook and Mac Pro computers over bluetooth. It sports an 8-inch surface area with a design that matches the company’s wireless keyboards.

The product is available for sale and ships within 24 hours according to Michael. Interested readers may visit the Apple Store for more information about the new Magic Trackpad.

Categories: accessibility

Jibbigo English-Spanish Translator Update Restores Accessibility

July 26, 2010 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

The promised Jibbigo English-Spanish Translator update was released Monday with restored VoiceOver accessibility for blind users.

The new version, numbered 1.11127, explicitly fixes the VoiceOver issues and represents a change to the company’s version numbering scheme.

The company has made a commitment to ensuring the ongoing accessibility of its apps, so blind users can look forward to new enhancements and features with greater confidence.

Categories: accessibility, iPhone

Valley Transit Service Reductions Hit Disabled Hard

July 24, 2010 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

This enterprise story was recently published on a local Phoenix-area news website.

Going to work, getting an education, visiting friends and relatives and other activities could be severely cut for disabled valley residents when July transit services reductions go into effect.

Transit officials said the service cuts are necessary due to declining city sales tax revenue and a loss of state funding.

“The state Legislature repealed the Local Transportation Assistance Funds in March,” said Bryan Jungwirth, chief of staff with the Regional Public Transportation Authority. “We’ve become one of five states that no longer provide funding for public transportation at the state level. The others are Alabama, Alaska, Colorado and Hawaii.”

Susan Tierney, RPTA’s public information officer, said the loss of the $22 million from the state funds, which came from lottery proceeds, hits some Valley communities particularly hard.

“The state took away a funding source we had for 30 years,” Tierney said. “So, what happens is that anyone who was using these funds for operations is impacted immediately. The city of Chandler doesn’t have a dedicated funding source, so they were relying on this money to support transit.”

“We’re concerned that cities like Chandler and rural communities like Yuma may be forced to completely shut down their transit services due to the loss of these funds,” Tierney said.

Tierney said the service cuts include fewer bus and light rail trips each day, reduced service hours for the entire transit system, the elimination of some bus routes and significant restrictions on the availability of Dial-A-Ride, a paratransit system that transports people with disabilities and senior citizens who are not able to ride the bus.

She said Dial-A-Ride served nearly 11,500 Maricopa County residents with disabilities in 2009.

“The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that we provide door-to-door transportation to people who are unable to ride the bus whenever they live within three quarters of a mile of an existing route,” Tierney said. “We must respond to funding cuts by readjusting Dial-A-Ride as our other services are reduced.”

According to a 2009 transit performance report, providing Dial-A-Ride service comes at a steep price. Each trip taken on Dial-A-Ride costs $36.44 as compared to $4.49 for a ride on the bus.

David Carey, advocacy specialist with Arizona Bridge to Independent Living, said Phoenix will implement cuts and restrictions to Dial-A-Ride on July 26.

“We’re losing two hours of service from 10 p.m. to midnight,” Carey said. “Senior citizens without disabilities are no longer able to use Dial-A-Ride and we’re also no longer allowed to choose to go somewhere whenever we want because we must now make reservations at least 24 hours in advance.”

Carey said using Dial-A-Ride is challenging enough without these new cuts.

“Suppose you have a doctor’s appointment, but they’re behind schedule and you’re not seen for a couple of hours,” Carey said. “You allowed two and a half hours for this appointment, but your ride arrives before you are finished. Now, either you have to leave before your business is done or you’re just stuck without a ride home. You can’t just call Dial-A-Ride and ask them to pick you up later.”

Donna Powers, senior program coordinator with the Arizona Statewide Independent Living Council, said the reductions in bus and light rail service will greatly extend her daily work commute and aggravate a spinal cord injury that makes it dangerous for her to travel long distances outdoors.

“Part of the spinal cord injury is the inability to control internal body temperature,” she said. “When it’s over 100 degrees, it becomes a life-threatening event to have to travel a far distance.”

She said three seemingly minor changes will turn her 50-minute commute from Tempe to her office near 50th and Washington streets in Phoenix into a trip lasting at least an hour and a half.

“They’re proposing changing the frequency of the No. 81 from 15 minutes to 20 minutes, but it’s not exactly the most timely route so it’ll probably be more like 30 minutes,” Powers said. “This is going to delay my transfer to the light rail, which is also reducing in frequency from 10 to 12 minutes. If I’m really lucky and I make every connection, I have an 8-minute wait to catch my last bus. That’s going to blow everything out of the water because they’re proposing that the frequency of the No. 1 change from 30 minutes to 45 minutes.”

She said the presence of the light-rail route alongside the No. 1 doesn’t help because the stops are too far apart.

She said she wouldn’t trust Dial-A-Ride as an alternative to make it to work on time.

“In this case it’s not consistent,” Powers said. “I may get to work on time one day, be 25 minutes late the next day and get there 30 minutes early the next.”

Tierney said a good public transit system is a key part of any vital metropolitan area.

“Only about 25 percent of the funding for transit, on average, comes out of the fare box,” she said. “The rest of it is subsidized by local sales taxes and state funding just like other critical services such as the fire and police departments. You may never use it, but many in the community need it in order to get to jobs, school and medical appointments.”

Categories: transportation

Jibbigo English-Spanish Translator Update Breaks Accessibility, Fix Coming Very Soon

July 23, 2010 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Andy Lane reported Thursday on the VIPhone e-mail discussion group that the latest update of the Jibbigo English-Spanish translator broke VoiceOver accessibility for blind users.

“When I start Jibbigo, VoiceOver is silent and won’t say anything again until I double click home and close the app,” Lane said. “Even pressing home and entering a new app doesn’t get VoiceOver going again. Breaks it on the entire phone until you can close the app. If you have no vision at all this will be very difficult to do I would imagine.”

Jibbigo consultant Miriam Sachs Martin responded to communications from members of the blind community in less than 24 hours.

“Our latest update had a slight incompatibility with Apple’s new OS4 software. Our engineers have already submitted the fix to Apple, and it should be re-released within about 3 days,” she said. “In the interim, we have taken the precaution of completely removing Spanish-English Jibbigo from the app store so that no other customers should be inconvenienced.”

Martin said Jibbigo is committed to accessibility.

“Jibbigo remains deeply committed to its blind and low-vision users, and we are proud to have a product that is of service to this community,” she said. “We have a high standard of excellent customer service. Anybody with questions or concerns may contact me at info (at) They can be assured of a quick reply.”

Lane said he appreciates Jibbigo’s affirmative response.

“You guys won’t believe how good this company have been and how much they clearly care about their users,” Lane said. “I now cannot recommend this company and their product highly enough.”

Categories: accessibility, iPhone

Mobile TV Provider Plans Release of Accessible iPhone App

July 6, 2010 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Mobile television provider MobiTV said it plans to incorporate VoiceOver accessibility in its iPhone app by September.

The company streams live and on-demand content from media companies including ABC, ESPN and Nickelodeon to smartphone users.

Blind sports fan Liam Erven said his interest in MobiTV’s iPhone app centers around their extensive coverage of sporting events such as the World Cup and pay-per-view UFC fights.

“Mainly for me there’s ESPN coverage. There’s a lot of stuff they do with sports,” Erven said. “I like to be able to get news and entertainment when I’m out and about and that’s the whole point with the iPhone is to have the world at your fingertips.”

Erven was surprised to find MobiTV’s iPhone app unusable with Apple’s built-in VoiceOver screen reader that enables Braille and speech accessibility for blind users of the iPad, iPod Touch and iPhone.

“I was really disappointed when I found out I couldn’t use it (MobiTV’s iPhone app) because I didn’t understand why small accessibility concessions couldn’t be made,” he said. “I know a lot of companies don’t understand that, hey, there’s this whole interface you can use to make things accessible.”

Ray DeRenzo, chief marketing officer with MobiTV, Inc., said the company understands and will be taking action in the near future on requests to add VoiceOver support.

“We’ve had other inquiries in the past and we’re very sensitive to the fact that we’re not serving a valued segment of the consumer base,” he said. “We published the MobiTV application on the iPhone in April of this year and it was just a matter of trying to get a product to market in an aggressive time frame so we could be able to present content like the World Cup through ESPN.”

DeRenzo said accessibility was always on the company’s roadmap.

“It was always our intent to use the VoiceOver capability on iPhone and we’re going to do that in a subsequent release of the application,” DeRenzo said. “It’s not available presently. We’re going to be doing a release on July 15. It will not be available in that release. In the next release, which is probably within 60 days following the July time frame, we’re going to be enabling VoiceOver capability.”

DeRenzo said MobiTV would like to make its apps for other smartphone platforms, including Android, BlackBerry and Windows Mobile, available to blind users as their operating systems become accessible.

“We’re going to try to make our products more accessible as device manufacturers enable VoiceOver-like capabilities in their operating systems,” DeRenzo said. “This is the way we’re hoping the industry evolves where each of the device manufacturers and their operating systems have a voice enablement capability that becomes part of the software development kit we can utilize. That’s certainly the case with devices like the iPhone on iOS.”

Erven said making apps like MobiTV accessible could start to bridge the gap between blind users and traditional cable or satellite providers that don’t accommodate customers with disabilities in the set top boxes they use to deliver content.

“The on-demand stuff is nice and that’s one thing you can’t get access to right now on a traditional cable system without a lot of sighted assistance,” Erven said. “More and more companies are going with this entertainment over IP platform. I thought it was really important that these companies know that, hey, look, we’re out here and we use this technology, too.”

Apple provides a free accessibility programming guide to all developers who are willing to make their applications accessible to blind customers.

Categories: accessibility, iPhone