A lot has been said about the terrible impact of the DMCA on the disabled’s access to technology, but it bears repeating.
The DMCA makes it extremely difficult for the blind and hearing impaired to gain access to copy-righted content in formats that they can consume. You think that Netflix’ library is frustratingly limited? Imagine how inhibiting it must be to only be able to read works published in braille, or watch movies that have been audibly described?
The DMCA (and often DRM) prevents people who legally own content in one format to convert it into another. Not only that, but the tools that would help them to do so, are also forbidden.
The software to jailbreak a device is one of these tools.
Two examples of how the disabled can benefit from full control of their devices: those with motor disabilities can change the default gestures to make apps easier to navigate. Those with vision issues can adjusting the hue of the display to reduce eye-strain using apps like f.lux. There are myriad other examples for the long tail of disabilities
Preventing such usage is clear discrimination and puts the profits of large firms above the needs of a those who stand to gain tremendously from access to life enabling technologies.The DMCA is a terrible piece of legislation and needs to be repealed or at the very least amended; this campaign is a clear step in that direction. Until we have better legislation, jailbreaking iOS7 is a critical stopgap toward ensuring the disabled can best use the devices they own.
My first Hanukkah with Meredith.
We’re excited to announce our first event at Google’s offices in Bakery Square on Wednesday December 11th at 5:30pm.
The schedule for the evening will be:
5:30 -6pm - Networking
6-6:30 - Accessible technology and innovation in Pittsburgh: presentation and discussion
6:30-7:30 - Q&A and more networking
The event will be a great opportunity to meet with other people working in the field of accessibility as well as learn more about important accessibility resources. This is our first event, so please come and share your thoughts on how we can best serve the accessibility community here in Pittsburgh.
The entrance to Google’s offices is located in Bakery Square by the parking garage. We’ll be meeting on the 5th floor, and someone will be in the lobby to help direct attendees. The building is wheelchair accessible.
Please RSVP for the event at our website: http://www.meetup.com/Pittsburgh-Area-Accessibility-Meetup/. If you need any special accommodations please let us know. We can’t guarantee we can support all needs right away, but it is a priority.
If you’re interested in volunteering, we’re happy to have you. Send us an email at chris@conversantlabs or email@example.com.
We are seeking Sponsors to ensure that our events are accessible and inclusive as well as cover the cost of event space and refreshments. If you or your organization is interested in supporting Accessibility in Pittsburgh, please let us know! Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
I just finished Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States and as thoroughly depressing as it makes me feel about the past, I’m as equally optimistic for the future. There was not much in the book that was surprising, which speaks well about the changes in our public school system (at least in wealthy enough school districts).
Despite all the current events that fit very so squarely in the narrative of Zinn’s work: NSA overreach, Military over expenditure, Foreign drone strikes without any judicial process, gutting food stamps, etc. etc, what makes me optimistic about the future are the few events where the People did accomplish something contrary to the preferences of the elites.
While the most prominent cases have been reactive, rather than proactive, they are nonetheless extremely important. First were the successful protests against SOPA, PIPA, and CISPA. A series of bills that would have drastically undermined the freedoms and rights of internet users, which were actively not being reported on by the news, were discussed and protested against online to great success. While part of the success of these protests was in doubt helped by the support of corporate entities like Google and Wikipedia, it is no less profound an achievement.
Another great moment in recent history is the fact that we didn’t take military action in Syria. Despite the huge momentum in favor of direct action: pressure from key regional allies, President Obama saying he really, really wanted to, etc, we some someone ended up with a diplomatic solution. While this is a much more complicated situation than killing anti-internet legislation, it nonetheless is a major win.
What both of these have in common is a lack of ownership of the national conversation by elites. The internet and the democratization of news has helped the People to make enough noise that they cannot be ignored. It is still early, and still disorganized, but I’m optimistic that as time goes on it will get better. Things are about to get loud.
The further you are away from existing or understood user-behavior, the steeper the learning curve. While the ability of people to handle new and unfamiliar experiences varies—early adopters being very accepting of the unfamiliar, while the elderly being very averse—there is a point for everyone where the unfamiliarity of a product makes it unusable.
Screen readers fall beyond this point for many blind users. While they may be usable for those with some computer knowledge, for those who are losing their vision from age related conditions, the complexity of the software can be too much to bear, even with special training.
Tools that are designed for the elderly should have as shallow and short a learning curve as possible. Not only that, but devices seeking to establish an entirely new product category, like Google Glass or the iPhone before it, should be as similar to current user behavior as possible. iPhone did an amazing job of this, taking advantage of the prevalence if iPods and cell phones; iPhone were just an iterative step. Google Glass on the other hand is a much more alien experience.
Screen readers and Google Glass may seem like two very different products, yet they share a similar distance form current user behavior that they may not be able to ever be attractive to an über-tech-savvy audience.
In the past I never really thought about of non-profits. I thought that only for profits could drive lasting change. Now, as I spend more time working with these community based organizations, I’m realizing just how large of an impact a community organization can have. But where did my misguided assumptions come from?
I never had much interaction with community organizations growing up, so the only examples I’ve had to go on were the ones that advertise on tv, the ones that make the news (such as Susan G. Komen cutting off funding for Planned Parenthood), and in a way the government. Of all of these influences, I think that my view of government has had the largest impact.
It’s possible that the distrust of government institutions has a negative impact on people’s trust in the more local institutions that are able to drive meaningful change. If this is the case, then the impact of government misconduct and gridlock has an exponentially larger—and negative—impact on society as a whole.
One way to test this idea would be to see if donations from individuals over time was more closely correlated with trust in government and other institutions than it is with the over-all health in the economy. I’m sure there are some other variables that would have to be taken into account, such as the fact that economic performance is probably tied to trust in government, but I think this could give a back of the envelope validation to the idea.
*Photo from People-Press.org
I had the fortune to speak at the Accessibility Camp DC this past weekend on the limitations of screen readers. There were about 20 people in the room and we had a great discussion about the problems that many of them have using and what we thought the causes were. One of the issues that came up in conversation was screen reader literacy among developers charged with making their products accessible.
Not many developers know what a screen reader is and if they do, they most likely don’t know how to use one. They aren’t to blame as screen readers can be extremely expensive and have a very steep learning curve.
This knowledge gap among developers makes it difficult to create smooth user experiences. How can you make good decisions about a user flow if you don’t have an understanding how how that user even uses the product?
It brings to mind a great talk by bret Victor talking about the distance between creative thought and execution. There is already a very large gap when it comes to web development and it’s extended even further when you include screen readers.
I’m going to be thinking about ways to help close this gap short of training all web developers in advanced screen reader usage. In the meantime, does anyone else have any thoughts?
Home automation is one of those sic-fi fantasies that despite our best efforts remains just beyond our reach.
In the last few years we have seen some progress, but they remain prohibitively expensive. The Mi Casa VeraLite wireless home automation kit is $180 + the cost of every wifi-enabled outlet and light-switch, which cost around $40 bucks each. At this price point home automation will never achieve widespread adoption, and like Washlets and heated bathroom floors, remain as eye-candy in home decor show rooms.
Why is it so expensive? because every single outlet, lightbulb, or switch has it’s own wifi card. Even with Moore’s law it’s going to be a few years before wifi-enabling everything can compete with the $.50 per unit price of the dumb alternative.
But there is another way. Instead of using wifi, we should take advantage of existing wiring in the home. Powerline based communication has been around for decades, but never really took off for home networking. It’s slower than ethernet/wifi and prone to interference (imagine your connection speed dropping every time you open the refrigerator).
For home automation bandwidth shouldn’t be an issue, if all you are doing is telling a power outlet to turn on or off. More importantly, it would be a hell of a lot cheaper than using wifi. You’d still need a central router, but instead of a wifi card you’d only need some very basic components.
There are of course other hurdles that need to be overcome: distribution*, the software layer, etc, but by removing the wifi-card you remove 80% of the cost.
Thoughts? My knowledge of electrical engineering is limited, but it seems like this is very doable. I’d try myself, but I don’t want to electrocuting myself….again.
*Another barrier to home automation could be that the economy sucks and everyone who would be an early adopter of the tech is stuck renting without an incentive to upgrade their apartments.
The ultimate goal of treating disabilities is to maintain a normal lifestyle, both independent and unencumbered. Of all the accessible technologies that I have seen, of all the education and rehabilitation programs that I have heard of, it seems like treating hearing loss is the closest to achieving this goal.
I just had the fortune of touring the Depaul School for Hearing and Speech here in Pittsburgh. What an amazing place. Combining assitive technologies (cochlear implants and hearing aids) with rigorous training, the school has created a program that allows children born with hearing loss (even profound hearing loss) to learn and develop at the same level as children with perfect hearing.
Like the school’s name implies, the focus is on speech therapy eschewing sign language in order to take advantage of a limited developmental window where children learn to differentiate sounds and develop the faculty of speech. Sign language can always be taught later in life, while the ability to enunciate clearly has to be developed early in life.
Amazingly, if the child begins classes early enough, they are very likely to be mainstreamed—that is to attend regular public or private school—by kindergarten or first grade. The combination of Assitive technology and speech therapy is so effective that in many cases, as the child ages, you would;t be able to tell they have any hearing loss by speaking with them.
Touring the school was deeply inspiring, and it makes me hopeful that we will see similar successes with other disabilities in the near future. I want to thank Lillian for taking the time to show me around.
Everyone in the US has heard about the MTV VMAs, Twerking, or Miley Cyrus in the last 2 weeks, and the music industry couldn’t be happier.
By overtly sexualizing the wholesome teenager daughter of a beloved country singer, they deliberately provoked a large—or at least vocal—portion of america.
I say deliberately because it is so clearly self-serving. Even before the show was over, the internet, radio, and television all exploded with mock outrage and discussions of decency and morality. The controversy has generated a mind-boggling amount of free marketing. If you were to pay market rate for the number of page impressions that Miley Cyrus has gotten, the number would easily be in the 9 figures.
Just like overthrowing an elected government using military force is called a coup, no matter what the PR people say, deliberately provoking people by doing something they abhor is called trolling.
Not even 4chan could pull off a successful troll of this magnitude. It’s awe inspiring. And trolling for economic gain…it’s unheard of.
What’s more is that it’s not just Miley.*
It’s Chris Brown’s unapologetic treatment of Rihanna.
It’s Kanye saying he’s Steve Jobs, interrupting Taylor Swift, or pretty much anything else he does
The music industry is wasting our time and our attention. It’s time to start treating them like the trolls that they are. Please, for the love of all that is good and holy, stop feeding them.
*Of course, when I use these celebrities’ first names, I don’t mean they personally are the ones making these decisions in all cases. I mean the marketing machines that power their celebrity in order to turn a profit from their paid content.