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Management: Avoid making this costly accessibility mistake

In a few months, I begin my 15th year doing accessibility work and my first year 100% self-employed. As I reflect on the path that brought me here, I’m reminded of so many people who work at accessibility consulting firms that had similar experiences. In 2003-2004 I worked as E-Commerce Manager for NASA Federal Credit […]

Disability Group TO Call for Repeal of Discriminatory Provision in Canada’s Immigration Act

For Immediate Release November 17, 2017

When: Monday, November 20, 2017
Place: Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration
Room 415, 197 Sparks Street
Time: 6:30 pm

The Council of Canadians With Disabilities (CCD), a national, human rights organization of persons with various disabilities that is working for a more inclusive and accessible Canada, will call for repeal of the “Excessive Demands” provisions in Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act when it appears before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration on Monday evening, November 20, 2017.

“Disability is the last major characteristic that remains a barrier to settling and building a life in Canada, and the Council of Canadians with Disabilities believes this provision is outdated and discriminatory and must be removed from the Act,” says John Rae, 1st Vice Chair of the Council.

The medical inadmissibility provision of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) contains an exclusion of persons who would create an “excessive demand” on social and health services from becoming permanent residents.

Scholars, citizen groups, including CCD, and litigants have challenged the provision on the basis that it is arbitrary and discriminates against persons with disabilities.

This provision is based on the old medical model of disability, which is especially outdated and inappropriate at a time when the federal government is in the midst of developing a federal act that Canadians with disabilities hope will bring tangible improvements in their lives. “This act should include amendment of some existing statutes, and the IRPA is a prime example,” adds Rae.

James Hicks, CCD’s National Coordinator says CCD’s office is contacted several times each year by families who are trying to immigrate to Canada, and are experiencing difficulties, usually due to a son or daughter’s disability. “Canada’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) should have remedied this problem, but so far it hasn’t.” Article 18 of the Convention specifically covers liberty of movement and nationality.

Hicks added, “Canada’s immigration process recognizes the value of keeping a family together, and this must be extended to immigrants with disabilities.”

“CCD is delighted the Standing Committee is holding hearings focusing on the Excessive Demands portion of the IRPA and CCD and other disability rights organizations across Canada are anxious and willing to assist the Department to implement a new era for immigrants with disabilities,” added Rae.

For further information, please contact:

James Hicks
CCD National Coordinator
Tel: 343-291-1118

John Rae
CCD 1st Vice Chair
Tel: 416-941-1547

Amazing Responses to, Including More Media Coverage of our New Video on Serious Accessibility Problems at Ryerson University’s New Student Learning Centre

The Wynne Government Is Taking Longer Just to Appoint a Standards Development Committee on Education Barriers Facing Students with Disabilities Than It Took the Government to Create Ontario’s Entire Disabilities Act

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Ontario for All People with Disabilities Twitter: @aodaalliance

November 17, 2017


1. Amazing Response to the AODA Alliance’s New Online Video Showing Serious Accessibility Problems at Ryerson University’s New Student Learning Centre

There has been an amazing response to the AODA Alliance’s new online video, exceeding our hopes and expectations. This video that shows serious accessibility problems at the new Ryerson Student Learning Centre, over the two and a half weeks since we launched this video. The 12 minute and 30 minute versions have been viewed over 3,900 times!

The Toronto Star’s website includes a shorter two and a half minute version that the Star edited down. The Star’s version has been seen over 5,600 times. That means that in one form or another, our video has been viewed over 9,500 times in two and a half weeks!

We’ve even gotten feedback on our video from places outside Canada. That shows that this message has spread internationally. As well, an architecture firm has approached us, as a result of this video, asking how to avoid these problems.

To watch the 12 minute version of our Ryerson Student Learning Centre accessibility problems video, visit

To watch the 30 minute version of our Ryerson Student Learning Centre accessibility problems video, visit

To watch the Toronto Star’s edited 2 minute version of our Ryerson Student Centre accessibility problems video, visit

No doubt as a result of this new video, the views have also quickly increased for our 6 minute version and our 18 minute version of our earlier video, launched one year ago, that shows serious accessibility problems at the new Centennial College Culinary Arts Centre. Together, that video has now been seen over 2,800 times, an increase of some 400 views in under three weeks.

In addition to earlier coverage on CITY TV and in the Toronto Star, our video also got great coverage on Global TV news on November 3, 2017. Below is the text of the Global report. You can watch it, with captioning, by visiting

Of interest, CBC has not given this video any coverage so far. This is ironic since last year, CBC TV broadcast an item on the Ryerson Student Learning Centre in its program called “Disrupting Design”, hosted by Matt Galloway. That report gushed about Ryerson’s Student Learning Centre as a wonderful design. It said nothing about its serious accessibility problems. In that report, Matt Galloway, who is also the host of CBC Radio Toronto’s flagship Metro Morning program, described the Student Learning Centre as:

“slick, smart design of a student center that puts students’ needs first.”

The disconnect between that report and the reality which people with disabilities can face in that building is palpable.

We set out the text of that CBC TV report below.

Here is an amazing irony. If you click to watch the Toronto Star’s 2-minute edited version of our video on the Ryerson Student Learning Centre, you will likely have a Youtube advertisement come up first, before our video. No doubt this is because that version of our video got so many views in such a short time.

The cruel irony is that when AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky first watched the Toronto Star version of our video on Youtube, the advertisement that came up was from the Ontario Government. It promoted all the great infrastructure the Ontario Government has built. It talked about how that infrastructure is green in its orientation. It said nothing about its accessibility. Yet the Ryerson Student Learning Centre is a striking example of provincially subsidized new infrastructure that lacks proper accessibility. In 2011, the Ontario Government committed that new infrastructure would have accessibility for people with disabilities.

Please urge as many people as possible to watch our video on accessibility problems at the Ryerson Student Learning Centre. Re-tweet our tweets about this video. We’re tweeting members of the Ontario Legislature as follows:

3900 PPL have seen our new #accessibility video long or short version on serious access problems at #Ryerson Student Learning Centre. Have you? ies%20act%20resolution.docx?dl=0 #AODAfail

2. Still Waiting for the Wynne Government to Appoint the Promised Education Standards Development Committee

There have now been 345 days since Premier Wynne committed to create an Education Accessibility Standard. Yet the Wynne Government has still not taken the preliminary step of appointing an Education Standards Development Committee to make recommendations on what that accessibility standard should include.

The Government is taking as long, just to appoint this committee, as it took in 2003-2004 to undertake the much larger task of designing the entire Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and introducing it into the Legislature for debate. This painfully illustrates how progress in Ontario on accessibility has too often slowed to a snail’s pace.

On Thursday, October 26, 2017, The Ontario Autism Coalition held a very successful news conference and gathering at Queen’s Park to protest the serious problems that students with autism face in Ontario’s education system. We were honoured when that grassroots coalition, which is a strong supporter of the AODA Alliance, invited us to take part in this event. AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky was invited to speak at the Queen’s Park news conference and at the gathering afterwards, outside, by the steps of the Legislature.

The joint message from the Ontario Autism Coalition and the AODA Alliance addressed the needs of all students with disabilities in Ontario’s education system. Together we made it clear that working together, we aim to make education for students with disabilities an issue in the upcoming 2018 Ontario election, as always, as a non-partisan effort. Stay tuned for more news and tips on this, over the next weeks and months.

Below we set out:

* Questions the NDP asked the Government in Question Period in the Legislature on October 26. This included pressing the Government on the need to get to work on the promised Education Accessibility Standard. The Government’s response did not say when the promised Education Standards Development Committee would be appointed.

* The October 26, 2017 NDP news release arising from this exchange during Question Period.


Global News Toronto November 3, 2017
Originally posted at: ‘One design flaw after another’: Accessibility advocate calls out new Ryerson building By Caryn Lieberman, Reporter
Global News

Fri, Nov 3: Ontario is promising to be fully accessible by 2025 but as Caryn Lieberman found out, there are barriers in brand new buildings that are causing frustration for some people living with disabilities.

TORONTO “It’s one design flaw after another.”

David Lepofsky is a Toronto lawyer with a passion for fighting accessibility inequality.

Blind most of his life, he recently created a video highlighting deficiencies he said he discovered at a publicly-funded building in downtown Toronto.

Ryerson University’s Student Learning Centre is an eight-storey, 155-thousand square foot state of the art building with a modern design that has won multiple awards for architecture.

But Lepofsky, who first visited in 2015 when he was asked to chair an all-candidates debate on disabilities issues, noted the building has a number of “accessibility barriers that essentially leave out people.

“We didn’t just invent people with disabilities, we’ve been around as long as there have been people around,” he remarked.

“This building is an example of the kind of problems people with disabilities should not be facing in the year 2017 in the province of Ontario.”

Lepofsky brought Global News on a tour to show just how difficult it is for a blind man to navigate the entrance and main floor stairs in the building.

“There’s no handrail which is bad for somebody with balance issues or a person with vision loss, we routinely use a railing to help guide us especially up a maze-like ramp like this.”

In a statement, Ryerson University wrote “The Student Learning Centre meets the requirement of the current applicable Ontario Building Code and meets the best practices of Ryerson’s Accessibility standards, to ensure that the building is inclusive to all abilities. In the spirit of inclusivity, on-going improvements are being integrated into the programming and physical operations of the building.”

The Accessibility Directorate of Ontario also responded, noting “There is still a long way to go to reach our goal of an accessible Ontario by 2025. We will need to keep working together to achieve that goal so that people of all abilities can participate and contribute at their full potential.”

Meantime, David Lepofsky will keep fighting for a more accessible Ontario.

“Both our laws and our design professionals who serve us are both letting us down,” he said.

CBC TV Disrupting Design
Episode 1

Originally posted at

Matt Galloway: Let me show you one University and how it disrupted out of class student time with a slick, smart design of a student center that’s puts students needs first.

This is unlike any student Library I’ve ever seen. What were you trying to disrupt?

Vaidila Banelis, Zeidler Architects: When you think disruption, it’s breaking from the norm. It’s trying to challenge people how to occupy space quite differently.

Matt: It’s not your typical Student Center. What to you is disruptive about this? What is groundbreaking about the design of this building?

Student: The SLC is definitely designed for the students, with the students in mind. We wanted the students experience to be something that thrives in the building. There are spaces for individual study, for group study, and each floor has a different environment.

Matt: Walk me to the front doors. Walk me through the building. What am I going to see floor by floor?

Architect: You’re going to walk to the front door into what we call the valley. It’s a multi-use space. It’s equipped with media presentation technology, lighting grids, speakers. It’s surrounded by wood seating so comfortable, warm.

The lower three levels are looking down at each other which is why we call it “the valley” because it’s a big tall volume and it’s probably the loudest part of the building. As you go up the building it’s orally zoned. We start really loud and as we go up we get quieter and quieter and quieter until we get to the top floor.

From there you had up a grand flight of stairs to the third level where the DME, the digital media experience and the DMZ, the digital media zone, are located.

The 4th floor is called the garden. It’s probably the most shocking colored floor in the building. It’s really a bright green. It’s got an amazing feel to it and people are gravitating to it. One of the biggest challenges here was how to make that kind of community where everything is visible, work in a vertical way where you are really quite separated heavily between those spaces, so making them visually distinct was extremely important. Fairly small moves have created fairly distinct feelings.

Next level up is “the Sun”.

Student: Personally, for me, the sun floor isn’t really my favorite. Everything is red and I can’t study very well there but it’s still really popular. There’s rooms you can rent out. I’ve done that a lot of times with my friends where we book a study space and the entire room is a whiteboard.

Architect: There is a blue floor a white floor and a red floor and those are wayfinding ways so that people understand where they are in the building. They’re not saying, “meet me on level 4”, they’re saying, “meet me on the red floor”.

The top floor is the sky. You may want to sit in the full sunshine while reading a book, but you don’t want that when you’re in front of your computer screen. That kind of variety in spaces, light is important for and I’d say the entire facade of the building is designed specifically to create variety in that, but also to make it just incredibly bright.

The signature space is “the Beach”. There are some traditional tables, but predominantly it’s a space with comfy seating – cushions, bean bags, some really low-slung furniture and students occupy it however they want to.

Matt: What is your favorite space in this building?

Student: My favorite space would be the Beach. It is a beach in the city. Like you can’t really argue with that. This floor is really open-ended, is really comfy, is really inviting and we love it. We love hanging out here.

Matt: You see people now and everywhere throughout the building. They want to be here. They’re sitting around, they’re working, they’re hanging out. How do you create a space where people want to be?

Architect: We’ve done a lot of academic buildings and I don’t think we’ve had this kind of reaction of, “we love to be in your building”. It’s just opened up my life. My friends live here.

Matt: what is it about this space that works for you?

Student: This space it’s for students to learn, collaborate and invent. It’s definitely something that is pushing the idea of what a student space is.

Matt: What were you trying to disrupt when you were creating this?

Architect: Predominantly, we were trying to get people out of their norm but really also to make the time out of the classroom be as important and as productive as the time inside the classroom.

I’m Vaidila Banelis, and this design disrupted academic architecture.

Ontario Hansard October 26, 2017
Question Period
Miss Monique Taylor: My question is for the Premier. Parents of children with autism and developmental disabilities are here once again to fight for the services that their children desperately need. When the government announced their new autism program, they knew it would put added pressure onto our school system, a system already struggling to cope with decades of chronic underfunding and cuts begun by the Conservatives and continued through 14 years of Liberal governments, particularly to special education.
But nothing has been done to prepare for that, and children with autism, yet again, are paying the price. Will the government commit to a comprehensive autism strategy that ensures children with autism get the services they need in an inclusive classroom setting? Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: Minister of Education.
Hon. Mitzie Hunter: It’s such an honour to rise in this House today. I just want to welcome all of the family members, the students who are here today, the educators who are here today on behalf of the 20,000 students with autism in our school system. I know how hard the Ontario Autism Coalition has been working. I know that I have been working with them, along with the Minister of Children and Youth Services.
We’re very committed, as a government, to providing for the appropriate supports in our schools for students who have autism. It’s something that we know is needed, and we’ve been doing that work. In fact, I just recently announced that we are beginning our pilot program that will see applied behaviour therapists being able to come right into schools to ease the transition and to create a more seamless and integrated day for students who have autism.
Of course, there is more work that we need to do, and that is exactly what we’re doing to provide better supports for students who need them in our schools. The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary. Member from London West.
Ms. Peggy Sattler: Again to the Premier: Almost one year later, this Liberal government has failed to deliver on its promise to create an education accessibility standard and has failed to provide the special education resources needed by students with autism.
The chronic underfunding of special education that was started by the Conservatives has continued under the Liberals. Instead of increasing special education funding to actually meet the needs of students, this Liberal government has cut special education budgets even more, leading to an ongoing shortage of EAs, developmental service workers and other specialized staff in schools. Speaker, it’s not ABA training for EAs that is just needed; it’s more trained EAs.
Will the Premier move forward immediately to develop an education accessibility standard, and will she commit to an inclusive autism strategy in schools that addresses the educational, as well as therapeutic, needs of students with autism? Interjections.
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Be seated, please. Thank you. Minister?
Hon. Mitzie Hunter: The third party is asking for areas to improve education in Ontario that we are doing right now. We have, in fact, trained 30,000 principals, teachers, education workers in applied behaviour therapy. What we’ve just announced is in addition to that specific customized Interjections.
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Finish, please.
Hon. Mitzie Hunter: specific customized training for education assistants who work with students with autism.
As it relates to accessibility standards in our schools, that is something that we are already doing. The Premier has committed to that. We’re working on that. The minister responsible for Interjections.
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Answer.
Hon. Mitzie Hunter: Our government has provided a 76% increase to students who need special education services in our schools and The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Thank you.
New question.

Ontario New Democratic Party October 26, 2017 News Release

October 26, 2017

Children with autism left waiting as Liberals stall on autism strategy NDP says students and families need more EAs in classrooms not more cuts

QUEEN’S PARK As hundreds of parents, educators, children and caregivers rallied outside the legislature to call for better access to autism services, NDP MPPs demanded in question period Thursday morning that the Wynne Liberals expedite the creation of a comprehensive autism strategy.

“Parents of children with autism and developmental disabilities are here once again to fight for the services that their children desperately need,” said NDP Accessibility and Persons with Disabilities critic Monique Taylor.

“When the government announced their new autism program, they knew it would put added pressure onto our school system, a system already struggling to cope with decades of chronic underfunding and cuts begun by the Conservatives and continued through 14 years of Liberal governments, particularly to special education. But nothing has been done to prepare for that, and children with autism, yet again, are paying the price.”

While nearly a year has passed since Wynne promised to act, “this Liberal government has failed to deliver on its promise to create an education accessibility standard and has failed to provide the special education resources needed by students with autism,” said NDP Education critic Peggy Sattler.

“The chronic underfunding of special education that was started by the Conservatives has continued under the Liberals,” continued Sattler.

“Instead of increasing special education funding to actually meet the needs of students, this Liberal government has cut special education budgets even more, leading to an ongoing shortage of EAs, developmental service workers and other specialized staff in schools.”

Each MPP called on the government to act.

“Will the government commit to a comprehensive autism strategy that ensures children with autism get the services they need in an inclusive classroom setting?” asked Taylor.

“Will the premier move forward immediately to develop an education accessibility standard, and will she commit to an inclusive autism strategy in schools that addresses the educational, as well as therapeutic, needs of students with autism?” asked Sattler.


For More Background

You can always send your feedback to us on any AODA and accessibility issue at

Have you taken part in our “Picture Our Barriers campaign? If not, please join in! You can get all the information you need about our “Picture Our Barriers” campaign by visiting

To sign up for, or unsubscribe from AODA Alliance e-mail updates, write to:

We encourage you to use the Government’s toll-free number for reporting AODA violations. We fought long and hard to get the Government to promise this, and later to deliver on that promise. If you encounter any accessibility problems at any large retail establishments, it will be especially important to report them to the Government via that toll-free number. Call 1-866-515-2025.

Please pass on our email Updates to your family and friends.

Why not subscribe to the AODA Alliance’s YouTube channel, so you can get immediate alerts when we post new videos on our accessibility campaign.

Please “like” our Facebook page and share our updates:

Follow us on Twitter. Get others to follow us. And please re-tweet our tweets!! @AODAAlliance

Learn all about our campaign for a fully accessible Ontario by visiting

FSCast Episode 146 – Special PEARL pricing, Rachel Flowers produced her latest album with JAWS, justice themed interviews

For JAWS and Fusion 2018 customers, we’ve slashed the price of our powerful PEARL ® portable reading camera. FSCast has all the details.

Rachel Flowers, who we’ve featured on FSCast before, has a new album, which she has produced herself with the help of JAWS. We feature a track from the album and tell you how you can win a copy.

Our interviews on this episode have a justice theme. First, Jonathan Mosen speaks with retired San Diego County Superior Court Judge, David Szumowski. Then, we hear from Kayde Rieken, who has just graduated as a court reporter.

Show Host: Jonathan Mosen

Special PEARL pricing, Rachel Flowers produced her latest album with JAWS, justice themed interviews

My Address to the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind

Using Apple hardware and apps as an effective tool in the toolbox


Address delivered to the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind at its conference in Greenville, South Carolina, 17 November 2017


It’s an honour to have been asked to speak with you today. By way of background, I have a foot in two distinct camps that handily co-exist on this occasion. I’ve been a senior manager in, and ultimately Chairman of, New Zealand’s blindness agency. Our situation is a little different, in that it’s a charitable organisation receiving some Government funding, but also with many services dependent on public giving. So I know what it’s like to identify enormous need, while having to live within budgetary constraints. I know what it’s like to have to make those difficult calls about programmes, resources and staffing.

In the other camp, I’m also a shameless geek. I share the enthusiasm your tech people have for the power this technology has to change the lives of blind people for the better. I live it, and through Mosen Consulting, I write about it, train in it, talk to mainstream developers about it, and advocate for it. I suspect I’m also here because, while I own a lot of technology and enjoy geeking out, I have a reputation for not mincing my words, and am no one’s fan boy. I’ve been a consumer leader and advocate, and I know that the benefits we now enjoy didn’t fall out of the sky by magic. They’ve been hard-won, and they must be safeguarded with vigilance. So, here I am, a geek who can do a bit of public speaking and identify with some of your challenges. Today, I want to give you some straight talk about the many exciting, game-changing aspects of Apple technology, while making it clear that there are challenges. I may send you away with some homework, because I believe that those of you here today may be uniquely placed to assist the community to overcome some of those challenges.

As the old cliché goes, the only constant in the world is change. And there’s no better, more dramatic example of this than technology. For those who make decisions about resource allocation, it’s not just that the technology itself is being updated at a frenetic pace, it’s also that the rules of the game have changed.

I’ve been asked to address Apple hardware and apps as an effective tool in the toolbox. It’s an important topic, because a smartphone, based on the current state of accessibility, isn’t always the right tool. Just as you wouldn’t use a chainsaw to hammer in a nail, it’s important that we set realistic expectations about when a tool like an iPhone is the right one, and what risks may exist when using one.

I’m glad to be of an age where I’m old enough to remember when my needs were given scant consideration by mainstream technology companies, because I’ll never take for granted the thrill of being able to pick up a brand-new product on release day, and use it fully. New Zealand was the first country to get iPhone X due to time zones, and I was just as excited as anyone to put Apple’s new pride and joy through its paces. Apple clearly spent considerable time developing options to ensure the new Face ID technology took our needs into account. And they did that work in time for the initial release. Apple deserves enormous praise for doing the right thing.

With its extensive battery life and small size, iPhone is a phenomenal productivity tool. Apple has taken great care to ensure that all the apps built into iOS, the operating system that powers Apple mobile devices, are accessible. It means that a blind person has access to email, the web including any private Intranet pages secured behind a virtual private network, tasks and reminders including having them trigger when in a specific location, multiple calendars, and turn by turn directions. Oh, and here’s the amazing thing, it even lets you make phone calls, with an accessible phone app and address book. That’s all without having to install anything in addition to what’s on the device, all in a device you can hold in your hand and carry in your pocket.

Apple came up with an ingenious user interface that made touch screens accessible to blind people, cleverly separating the process of exploration, then confirmation. But a touch screen is just one of several interface choices available within VoiceOver, the screen reader built into Apple mobile products. When VoiceOver is running, an iPhone can be controlled by a Bluetooth qwerty keyboard, with which there is a set of powerful screen reading commands allowing for navigation and text manipulation. VoiceOver offers Braille Screen Input, turning the touch screen into a virtual Braille keyboard for rapid input of text by Braille users. That’s a tool I use for writing on those occasions when I don’t have a physical Braille display connected. The phone can be controlled, and material written, via voice, thanks to Siri and dictation. It makes composing short texts and controlling various phone functions, such as checking your calendar, extremely efficient. The shapes of print letters can be written on the touch screen, using handwriting mode.

Accessible book stores such as iBook’s and Kindle are a boon for professional development. Often, a blind professional or student can purchase the same book from the same source as everyone else, and it’s readable on their iPhone, allowing people to carry around literally thousands of books in their pocket. Let’s not overlook the significance of that from a social integration perspective. It’s now possible, on a regular basis, for a blind person to join in on a water cooler discussion about a best seller, because we’re able to read them at the same time as our sighted work colleagues.

When paired with a Bluetooth Braille display, yet another way of controlling the device, you have instant transcription from print to Braille. Apps are available on this one device connecting the user with services such as Bard, Bookshare and Learning Ally. So in my view, for many capable users, iPhone can replace several proprietary blindness devices formerly used for content consumption.

Apple has done an excellent job of documenting the process for designing apps accessibly, meaning that even where proprietary systems are being developed, such as internal sales tracking and client management tools, any developer can soon learn how to make an accessible app, thus creating opportunity for a blind person to enter and examine data using an iPhone or iPad.

One of the most remarkable things about the smartphone revolution from a blindness perspective is that it has turned many blind people into photographers. Many of us who’ve never seen at all have become familiar with the concept of distance as it pertains to the camera, and the things we need to do to increase our chances of getting an object fully in the photo. Despite the increasingly electronic world in which we live, there are many vocational situations where a blind person may encounter print they need to deal with on the spot. It’s liberating to be handed some print at a meeting, and know it doesn’t pose the difficulty it once did, unless it’s handwritten of course. Apps like the extraordinarily effective and free Seeing AI app from Microsoft, or KNFB Reader, can snap the picture and let us read the material in speech or Braille. Currency identifier apps and object recognition technology help at home and the office.

Apps such as Nearby Explorer and the Seeing Eye GPS app can give us blindness-specific turn-by-turn directions. Apps can give us a detailed summary of the public transport options for getting from A to B.

Here in Wellington, New Zealand, our central business district is peppered with BlindSquare beacons, giving me information about businesses I am passing, and remarkably, when I enter a business, information about what’s inside including how to find the counter or cafe.

Sometimes, it’s useful to be able to summon up some working eyeballs, whether it be to find out if your tie matches your shirt, to quickly skim a range of print more quickly than a machine can, or to find out what’s around. Apps like Be My Eyes, which is staffed by volunteers, and the subscription-based AIRA service staffed by trained professionals, are exciting developments.

I’m also mindful that most blind people are seniors, and that age-related blindness can often be a final straw that causes someone to question whether they can continue to function safely in their home. One-off extensive training in iPhone can be an investment that in some cases may make expensive care unnecessary. This will be increasingly viable as today’s baby boomers keep joining the seniors category. They are used to adopting technology, and will be more willing to adopt technology that mitigates their disability. Reminder functions can prompt people to take medication. Accessible barcode scanners using the camera on the iPhone can help differentiate that medication. Sighted assistance can look around the home at the touch of a button. An accessible thermometer, wirelessly connected to the iPhone, can give temperature information to assist a blind person to know when food is cooked correctly. HomeKit technology can control room temperature, lighting, and other appliances.

So in many cases, I believe iPhone should be considered an investment in greater productivity, independence, and inclusion. This one device is a veritable Swiss army knife of information and independence.

Gradually, after its release in 2007, iPhone disrupted everything. So many aspects of life have changed because of it, and the blindness system isn’t immune. There was once a time when it was easy to say that a blindness agency just doesn’t fund cell phones. It was simple then. If a blind person needed a cell phone for their job, their employer should pay for that, just as the employer would fund it for any other employee.

Then, cell phones started to become smarter. Today’s cell phones offer magnitudes more power in every respect than the huge bulky desktop computers in our offices even 20 years ago. In 1997, I was using a 32-bit computer with just 15GB of storage. Now, I have a 64-bit iPhone with 256 GB of storage in my pocket. Making and receiving phone calls on my iPhone is now a feature I use infrequently. So it’s not as easy anymore to make a blanket statement like, “we don’t fund phones”. Because that statement really equates to, “we don’t fund powerful, portable computers in a phone-like form factor”.

In parallel with this change, it also used to be easier to find a demarcation point between assistive technology, and mainstream technology. As cell phones started to become smartphones, some agencies may have concluded that in certain specific cases, they would fund the cost of a third-party screen reader, and maybe a text-to-speech engine, to run on the mainstream smartphone that the client or employer would fund.

Things are very different now, because there is no separate assistive technology component to fund on these devices. The United States has been a leader in advocacy initiatives, both directly to operating system developers and to legislators, making the case that technology should be accessible out of the box. Does that mean that the days of specialised AT products are over? Not at all, at least in the case of Windows, which is still the operating system used in the main by most workplaces. Let me draw a comparison. When you buy a new computer, or install a new copy of Windows, Microsoft includes a basic virus checker and a basic firewall. They do so knowing that many people with a security mindset will install a more comprehensive virus checker and firewall, and some computer manufacturers even do this for their customers. But Microsoft covers the basics. When sighted family members ask me to fix a computer problem for them, I’m glad Narrator exists. When I need to put food on the table, I couldn’t do that without JAWS. In Windows, it offers the efficiency and configurability necessary to make the difference between being able to do a job, and not being able to do a job.

As a New Zealander who has worked closely with US organisations for almost two decades, I admire the outcome-driven nature of the US rehabilitation process. Since success is largely defined by how many people you can get to a successful closure, your voc rehab system has some built-in protections against bean counters somewhere deciding that free options are adequate. Many free options simply don’t have the features necessary to allow a blind person to perform on the job. So, when it is proven that a commercial screen reader is necessary to help someone obtain or gain employment, a blind person can usually get it.

Things are different with iOS. It’s unique in one key respect, and it’s vital to understand the implications of this uniqueness. iOS is fundamentally a closed platform, using an approach called sandboxing. If you’ve ever uninstalled a Windows app, only to find it has had negative consequences for some other program you use that seems totally unrelated, you’ll have sympathy for Apple’s sandboxing approach. An iOS app plays in its own sandbox. It has no power to influence or cross-pollenate with any other app on your system. For stability and security, that’s a very good thing, and it’s one of the reasons why iOS is being widely adopted by federal Government agencies and corporations with highly sensitive commercial data.

For blind people, there are downsides. For example, a blind person might own two reading apps that wish to use voices not built into iOS. One app can’t see that the other app already has the voice installed, and that means that the second app must install a second copy of the voice. And here’s the big one. Sandboxing means that iOS is the only operating system in widespread use by consumers where it isn’t possible for a third-party screen reader to be developed for it. Apple develops VoiceOver, and that is the only screen reader available. That will remain the case unless Apple introduces one of its tunnels in the sandbox, an application programming interface or API for short, that will allow third-party screen readers. Since a screen reader needs to see many low-level things going on right across the system, that would be a big tunnel, potentially fraught with security and abuse risks, so I consider it unlikely that Apple will ever do this. Just in the last few days, for example, the technology press has reported that Google is cracking down on mainstream applications misusing its accessibility API which, among other things, makes third-party screen readers possible.

In principle, if the climate of engagement is healthy, it’s not necessarily a bad thing that Apple exercises such control over the screen reading experience in iOS. Unlike Android, where there’s a wide variety of largely third-party hardware to be considered, Apple controls the complete user experience. They manufacture the hardware, they develop the operating system, with the screen reader included. What’s not to like? I’m about to offer some views on that question. As an agency leader, you need to be aware of the risks, because the consequences of those risks have been evident of late.

First, market dynamics. I’ve held positions in the past at a senior level in assistive technology companies, where I’ve had meetings with agency directors. In those meetings, I knew how important it was to take your concerns seriously, to ensure you felt that you or members of your team had influence over product direction. It’s critical that dedicated assistive technology companies nurture those relationships. In different capacities, everyone is working towards the same goal, blind people participating fully in society, what NFB very accurately describes as living the life we want.

The dynamics are different with mainstream technology companies who are displaying a commendable commitment to accessibility. First, the market segment blind people represent is a subset of a tiny segment. Mainstream companies are thinking about the accessibility needs of customers with a wide range of disabilities. It can be hard to establish an ongoing, quality dialogue that makes you feel like you are being heard and taken seriously. Some mainstream companies are doing a better job of this than others, which brings me to my second point.

Apple is historically a secretive company. It seldom discusses future plans. It will talk to people of its choosing, under very strict nondisclosure agreements. So it can be difficult to influence its development processes, and even to have a conversation that you can take anything tangible away from.

Finally, if there are quality control issues pertaining to the screen reader, you can’t choose to use another screen reader on the platform, because no other screen reader for iOS exists. And there have been serious quality control issues for years. In 2016, the National Federation of the Blind passed what in my view was an appropriate, necessary and accurate resolution about problems with Apple’s quality control with respect to its VoiceOver screen reader on iOS. My view is that when a mainstream company chooses, or is required by legislation, to produce a screen reader, they then become an assistive technology company. It is vital that we hold these companies, with considerable resources at their disposal, to the same standards we rightly expect assistive technology companies to meet. Let me give you just a couple of examples of serious bugs in VoiceOver in recent years. In both cases, they had a significant impact on blind people’s ability to do their job, which is why I am raising them here. Also in both cases, Apple was advised very early in its testing processes of the bug, but saw fit to wait until after the first official release of the operating system concerned before it acted.

One of the catalysts for the 2016 NFB resolution was the case of iOS 9, where some blind people found themselves unable to answer phone calls when VoiceOver was running. You can immediately see the vocational consequences of this, I’m sure. If your employer, your customers, your clients, can’t reach you consistently because you can’t answer the phone, your job is seriously impacted. What’s frustrating about this is that if people in general, not just blind people, were having trouble answering their iPhones, you can be sure a fix would have been rushed out within 24 hours and it would have been headline news. Blind people had to wait for weeks to get that essential functionality restored.

Only this year, some positive changes have been made to Braille, after years of advocacy by me and many others. However, as is often the case with software, when you change things, you create unexpected bugs. Despite numerous reports early on in development, those bugs weren’t fixed before the official public release of iOS 11, meaning that people were unable to input text using a Braille display with any speed, without the system becoming unreliable. We know that the employment rate of Braille users is far higher than blind people who don’t use Braille. We know that Braille is a critical tool for many on the job. We also know that if Braille isn’t working reliably, it could literally put a deaf blind person in danger if they’re unable to communicate via text, email and relay services. There have also been occasions when even minor updates break connectivity between iOS and certain types of Braille displays. All software has bugs, of course. But a company makes a judgment about which bugs are show stoppers, and which bugs they think can be lived with in a release. I submit that too often, Apple is making calls that don’t show adequate regard for blind people’s productivity and independence. When this happens, it’s important to understand that fixes cannot be quick, because of the way VoiceOver is baked so deeply into the operating system. It isn’t a separate app that can be updated overnight in the App Store. A new version of VoiceOver requires a new release of the entire operating system. Unless Apple changes this approach, and such a change would be architecturally difficult, it’s incumbent upon Apple to take much greater care when it comes to VoiceOver quality.

Again, let me draw a parallel. If Apple released a software update that rendered the screen useless or significantly less responsive, there would be a very quick fix. I have been saying this for years, and now I have proof. A week ago, I began reading reports of some iPhone X users experiencing performance issues with the touch screen of iPhone X in cold weather. Some also reported unpleasant lines randomly appearing on their displays. Those issues were addressed in a software update within six days of the first report hitting the technology press. Blind people, however, are such a tiny fragment of Apple’s user base that it’s hard to get on the radar for urgent matters. And perhaps, while we can hope for much improved quality control, we just have to accept that that’s just the way it is. The tiny size of this market segment will mean that even serious bugs affecting just us are going to take longer to fix. But if that’s the case, it’s something purchasers need to factor in when it comes to depending on these tools in a vocational context.

Some sighted people have abandoned laptops entirely for their phone or tablet. But if Apple leaves us high and dry after an iOS update, how do we explain to an employer that it may be weeks before their blind employee can be productive again? iOS 11 came out in September. The fix for Braille input is not yet publicly available, and may not be until December. That will be nearly three months of effective Braille downtime, and we can’t expect employers to put up with that.

State agencies have a lot of purchasing power. They may be able to bring some pressure to bear on Apple that individuals and consumer organisations cannot. If that’s the case, you would be doing blind people a tremendous service by taking up the cause.

Quality issues aside, VoiceOver on iOS continues to evolve. That evolution has been consistent and impressive. I don’t mind admitting, I was concerned that Apple may do just enough to satisfy people that they had a screen reader, then leave the product largely unchanged. VoiceOver has been a part of iOS since 2009, and its capabilities have expanded significantly every year.

Phones have been transitioning from devices primarily used for content consumption, to also being used for content creation. In this regard, I think VoiceOver has a lot of progress still to make when word processing large documents where formatting is important. Depending on the app in use, it’s possible to get some indication about the way a document is formatted, but it’s not easy in general to navigate quickly to common elements like headings, or get to a specific page in a large document. Spell checking is doable, but it might be argued that the user interface is somewhat convoluted. In a visual world, it’s critical that blind people can produce visually attractive, well-formatted documents, and that their screen reading technology allows them to confirm precisely how those documents look. For that kind of task, Windows is still considerably ahead.

Let me conclude by emphasising that I remain grateful and impressed every day by the extraordinary transformation in my life brought about by Apple and iPhone. But we can be grateful and objective at the same time, and indeed I consider that our duty. On the job, at school, at play and for safety, iPhone is a remarkable device. Our challenge is to encourage Apple to lift its game when it comes to quality control, and to continue with the work it is doing to develop iOS for content creation. Let’s also encourage Apple to reach out to us in good faith dialogue to make a remarkable product even better, because the significant progress we’ve made in all endeavours to date have occurred in the main due to partnerships where blind people have controlled the direction of travel. The phrase “nothing about us without us” is just as true today as ever.

One thing’s for sure though, it’s an incredibly exciting time to be in the technology field.

Airbnb buys ‘Airbnb for Disabled People’ Startup Accomable in Accessibility Upgrade

Posted November 16, 2017
by Ingrid Lunden (@ingridlunden)

Airbnb, the accommodation and travel startup that is now valued at $31 billion, is today announcing an acquisition that points to how it wants to address the travel needs of more kinds of customers. It has bought Accomable, a startup based out of London that focuses on travel listings that are disabled-friendly.

Along with the announcement Airbnb is refreshing its own accessibility features as the first stage in how it hopes to develop them.

As part of the acquisition, Accomable will be winding down its business, co-founder and CEO Srin Madipalli said in an interview this week here in London, as the startups team begins work on building out both more specific features for the Airbnb platform, and a community of hosts who can accommodate disabled visitors and in turn, to attract more of those looking to book disabled-friendly travel.

This will start with accommodation for those in wheelchairs first, he said, with an invitation being extended to Accomables existing hosts to list on Airbnb as part of the transition. Accomable had amassed listings for 1,100 properties in 60 countries with details about step-free access, other accessibility adaptations and with photos to show it all to would-be visitors.

Over time, the idea will be to create communities for travellers with other accessibility needs, and potentially move into areas that are aligned with Airbnbs own expansion into Experiences once you get to your destination, which is another important area of travel where those needing special accessibility have been underserved.

Its something that has frustrated me from the start, that we werent able to do everything for everyone, Madipalli said. One of the challenges in an early startup is that you have constrained resources, but within Airbnb we can diversify.

And hopefully grow: he also added that one of Accomables biggest issues up to now has been that demand for places has far exceeded the supply of available listings.

Airbnb which has booked accommodation for 260 million guests and currently features over four million listings is coupling the news with some accessibility announcements of its own. While the company has offered the ability to search for whether a property is wheelchair accessible, the company now acknowledges that this wasnt cutting it.

Guests werent getting the information they needed to find the right homes, nor the confidence that the home they selected would actually be accessible for them, Airbnb notes in a blog post. Now, the company is updating and enhancing this with more detail, including whether there is step-free entry to rooms, and if entryways are wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair. These search features are now live on the web version of Airbnb and will soon get added to its iOS and Android apps.

Financial terms of the Accomable acquisition are not being disclosed, after the startup raised less than $500,000, mostly from angel investors. For now, Madipalli will be the only one who is relocating to San Francisco, with the rest of the small team continuing to work out of London.

Accomable was founded in 2015 by Madipalli and Martyn Sibley, who together previously had co-founded a magazine and online community called Disability Horizons. The two friends are avid travellers but found that it was a lot of work to organise trips: both have Spinal Musular Atrophy and use wheelchairs.

In the very crowded market of online resources out there for tourists of other stripes, they saw a gap: planning accommodation, travel and activities around accessibility needs should be as straightforward as planning for any other need, they thought. And thus Accomable was born.

The original idea we had was to solve a problem that Martyn and I specifically had, Madipalli recalled. We said to ourselves, we can fix this problem with tech.’

Madipalli (pictured below, scuba diving, on one of his trips) said that he and Sibley took their inspiration from Airbnb in the early days, not only in shaping their ambition to build a new travel platform from the ground up, but in how to go about doing it.

I read about Airbnbs founders staying with hosts in NYC, he said in reference to how Airbnbs early inventory came out of Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk travelling and sourcing it themselves, since they were breaking new ground by building a network of spare rooms in private homes as a hotel alternative.

And so, this is what he did, too. For months, I travelled around Europe with my care assistant, sourcing hosts in different cities using Twitter and Facebook, taking pictures and working out what makes a accessible listing, he recalled. (Sibley left Accomable on friendly terms in 2016.)

The idea started small but gained more ground after Accomable raised a seed round of £300,000 last year from unnamed angel investors from the technology and hospitality sectors.

(Its previous funding had only been a £20,000 grant from the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford University, where Madipalli had received an MBA, just one of a string of accomplishments: he also trained and worked as a lawyer, and before that got an undergraduate degree in genetics from Kings College in London.)

Accomables small team (seven at the time of the acquisition; five are coming to Airbnb) all either also have accessibility needs or are closely connected to people who do, Madipalli said.

The acquisition and what it will add to Airbnb underscores an interesting turn in how the company has been building its profile up to now.

Airbnbs 4 million listings in private homes puts it higher than the top four hotel chains combined in terms of room count. As it has grown, the bulk of its battles have largely been regulatory: specifically whether its being taxed and playing on the same level playing field as the hotels its aiming to disrupt and compete with.

It has also been fending off some criticism from observers that its growth is slowing in some markets. Specifically, it has slowed down in the US, UK, France and Germany, according to a recent survey from Morgan Stanley, published to demonstrate that its impact on hotels wont be as strong as originally projected.

A source close to the company confirms that Airbnb has remained profitable and broke $1 billion in revenue in the last quarter with growth at 50 percent and projected to reach 60 percent by the end of this year.

Airbnb has sought to match the criticism and regulatory pushes with attempts to demonstrate its positive impact on local economies. The shift to looking at accessibility is, in a way, in line with that.

The company has already had a policy barring discrimination against those with disabilities, but now admits that its clear that we can do more to effectively serve people with disabilities. In addition to the Accomable acquisition, Airbnb says it now has a dedicated team of engineers working on accessibility and has audited its platform to figure out what needs to be improved. Theyve focused on areas like color contrast and labels on icons for those who have visual impairments.

Original at

Pedestrian Travel for Persons With Disabilities Can Be Difficult and Occasionally Risky

by the Ottawa Disability Coalition (ODC).
November 17, 2017

After conducting accessibility audits in 3 Ottawa areas, the ODC reports the lack of sidewalks in some areas, poor sidewalk conditions and poor or no curb cuts allowing access to sidewalks may force some with mobility disabilities to travel on the road.

Further, If Canada is similar to the U.S., wheelchair users are at particular risk an American study reports “persons in wheelchairs are a third more likely to be killed in a road accident than the general public is”.

Winter conditions pose additional risk

Snow or ice blocked sidewalks, unreachable crosswalk buttons and snow windrows at intersections and bus shelters may mean those with disabilities may choose to be housebound if they cannot secure ParaTranspo. This last item is particularly likely as the service is over subscribed.

How can persons with disabilities get much needed infrastructure improvements and maintenance made?

Some situations, such as cracked or broken sidewalks, debris or vegetation problems or snow blocked curb cuts can be addressed through 3-1-1 in Ottawa. Conditions that cannot be remedied in this way may require more community involvement.

Steps to organizing an accessibility audit are located at .

To access the full report, go to:

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ATU338 – New Jordy with Marc Stenzyl, VP Enchanced Vision

Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs. New Jordy with Marc Stenzyl VP of Sales – Enhanced Vision Show notes: Enhanced Vision | | 888-811-3161 Google is Threatening to Remove Apps […]

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