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.
Interview Sarah Hendren
Ablersite.org | abler.gizmodo.com
Minimum Wage Executive Order to include People with Disabilities http://bit.ly/N63Ntk
Switching back to Windows | Marco’s accessibility blog http://bit.ly/1bIh9HM
CSUN 2014 View Pre-Conference Workshops http://bit.ly/1bIfvWG
ZoomText Mac 1.0.7 is Released | Quantum http://bit.ly/N5WMbS
App: Drafts – http://bit.ly/1bId0U8
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—–transcript follows —–
SARAH HENDRIN: hi, this is Sarah Hendrin, and I’m the writer and editor of Ablersite.org, and this is your Assistive Technology Update.[Music]
WADE WINGLER: Hi, this is Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana with your Assistive Technology Update, a 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. Welcome to episode number 143 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on February 21 of 2014. I’m still getting over a cold, so please forgive my voice throughout the show today where we are going to talk about a new executive order increasing the minimum wage for folks with disabilities; Marco from Netflix is switching from Mac to Windows; some interesting things happening at CSUN; and an interview with Sarah Hendrin who is very interested in art and design as it relates to us as a technology. We hope you’ll visit our website at eastersealstech.com. Shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATA Project or call our listener line, suggest some interviews that we might do on the show. We’d love to hear about the guess that you would like to hear us interview. Call our listener line at 317-721-7124.
I’m looking at a press release from the American Association of People with Disabilities, and the headline reads “Minimum Wage Executive Order to include People with Disabilities.” On February 12, President Barack Obama signed an executive order that raised the minimum wage to $10.10 for all federal contract workers, including those with disabilities. Mark Perillo, the president of AAPD, says, “By including people with disabilities in his executive order, the president has opened the doors of equal opportunity to many federally contracted employees with disabilities. We applaud the administration for recognizing that people with disabilities have the right to equal wages for doing the same jobs as people without disabilities.” And they further note that about 95 percent of Americans with disabilities working for sub minimum wage are employed at sheltered workshops, and about 420,000 workers with disabilities are being paid sub minimum wage under section 14C of the Fair Labor Standards Act. I will stick a link in the show notes over to this press release where you can learn more about this important news about the minimum wage including folks with disabilities.
I’ve seen a number of posts the flying around the web here recently about how a gentleman named Marco, who works for Netflix, is abandoning his Mac and going back to Windows. Marco is a very prolific writer and somebody who is very into screen reader technology. In his blog post, he really spent a lot of time going through some of the history of voice over on the Mac, how he’s been using it, and why after five years with using his Mac as his private machine, he going to switch back to Windows on a Lenovo laptop that’s coming. In his blog post, he started talking about his history of using a Mac starting in 2008 and how voice over made a lot of changes and improvements over time. Then he talks about, in a section he calls the first signs of trouble, when things started to change. He talks about some problems with international braille, specifically in the area of German braille. He also talks about a chipmunk effect that happens with one of the speech synthesizers at a certain point that worked well on iOS but not on OS X. Then he says with Mavericks, there were some other new bugs that came along with voice over that were very frustrating. He kind of talks in the first part of the article about some of those minor issues. Then he gets into the point where he feels like Apple isn’t as dedicated to voice over on the Mac that they were a few years ago. He talks about how old bugs aren’t being fixed, new bugs are being introduced. He talks about some challenges with voice over keeping its place within a webpage. He talks about the paradigm of voice over that requires you to interact with lots of different elements and how that may make interacting with things like pages, the word processor, more cumbersome. He also talks about how braille interaction may not be as intuitive or smooth as he would like it to be.
For regular listeners of the show, you know that I am an Apple fan boy, and I admit that quite readily, and I think the voice over does a good job; but I also think that Marco makes some very good points about the challenges of voice over. I’m not going to tell you everything about the article. Go to count on you to click on the show notes and go to the link and read Michael’s post yourself and decide for yourself whether or not Marco should switch from a Mac back to Windows. Check our show notes.
In just about a month, some of the greatest minds in assistive technology will be gathering in San Diego at the CSUN conference. Every year, CSUN has a conference on assistive technology with some exciting presentations as well as exhibit halls and a great place to meet other people interested in assistive technology. One of the things that came across my desk is they are doing a very interesting series of preconference workshops that start on Monday, March 17. These are half-day and full-day sessions. I want to read to you some of the topics in the sessions that they are going to have.
They are doing a thing called AccessU at CSUN which is going to include a lot of practical, applicable skills in a series of short, focused workshops. They have a track on advocacy and Usability, technical implementation and management, and responsive design track. Derek Featherstone, Sharron Rush, and Elle Waters are going to be presenting in that track. They have another one about utilizing assistive technology to promote success for students with disabilities and higher Ed settings. They’re going to focus on an interactive interview process that helps with assessing the challenges that students with disabilities might have. That will be presented by Patrice Wheeler. They have another one that’s an introduction to social media and accessibility presented by Sina Bahram. There’s a full day overview of assistive technology for the newbies in the crowd. It’s a great way to learn all about different kinds of assistive technology very much focused on the newcomers and first-time attendees at the CSUN conference. Nate Swett from SweATech is going to be doing that one. Then there are a couple of sessions about ARIA and HTML5. Jerry Smith will be talking about that. I’m also fascinated with the idea about a session that’s a half-day workshop on mobile access for all with iOS seven. Luis Perez, who has a visual disability, is going to talk about accessibility with the iPad and those iOS devices. I’m going to stick a link in the show notes that you can learn more about the sessions happening at the CSUN preconference sessions. I hope that you’ll enjoy that. Check our show notes.
Are you an early adopter? Are you one of the folks who was been using ZoomText for the Macintosh computer? If you are, you need to know that there is a new update out. ZoomText for the Mac version 1.0.7 is released. It includes some bug fixes, some things related to random freezing, a fix for a crash might occur when you’re using the arrows to navigate through combo boxes, hotkeys are now properly released when ZoomText isn’t running. There’s some other important updates. I mention this because it won’t automatically install. Still have to go to the website and get the download. I’ll pop a link into the show notes so that if you are using syntax for the Mac, you can get the new version of the software and get some of those bugs out.
Each week, one of our partners tells us what’s happening in the ever-changing world of apps. Here’s an App Worth Mentioning.
Are you someone who uses an iPhone or an iPad a lot for jotting down notes? Do you ever think about the fact that you normally have an idea, and you want to jot it down on your device, but before you have the opportunity to actually jot it down, you have to make a couple of decisions and have to do a couple of things. You have to turn on your device, and then you have to decide where this note goes. Is it in Notepad? Is it an email to myself? Does it go into an app like Evernote? Is it a Facebook update? Is it a tweet? Or is it just something I need to remember? One of the challenges is trying to figure out how you do that process of jotting down a notes effectively when your mental process might be interrupted by where it is going to go.
The app I want to talk about today is called Drafts. It works on the iPhone and iPad and cost $2.99. It’s a very fast and simple text editor. You put it on your home screen or in your dock. You activate the icon, and it immediately brings up a blank text field and a keyboard that you can either type into or you can hit your Siri microphone button and dictate directly into it. Then it gives you options to very quickly send it to Evernote or email or text message. It integrates with lots of different programs.
So you fire up the app, you type in the message that you want to send somewhere, and then you can send it to Twitter, Facebook, email, text messages, Events, Clipboard, Evernote, Omni focus, Maildrop, If This Then That, dropbox, fantastical. It also has the ability to do markdown support so that if you need to create a document that’s going to be later used in HTML or other programming language, it will support marked out as well.
From the assistive technology standpoint, it works pretty well with voiceover. I checked that out, and it also has some different font and screen modes. One of them is what they called note which is a color invert which allows you to have white text on a black background. It has a couple of options for larger text as well. I see lots of assistive technology implications for Drafts. It’s something that I personally am using a lot these days. I find myself in the car. I’ll open up Drafts, hit the Siri button, I’ll dictate a message to myself, and then I’ll send it over to Evernote reckon take action on it later. It’s a pretty helpful app. It’s for iOS, and works on the iPhone or the iPad. $2.99. I’ll pop a link to it in the show notes. Drafts.
Today on Assistive Technology Update, we are certainly going to talk about assistive technology, but we’re going to talk about it from a little bit of a different perspective. Kind of an art and design perspective which I find exciting and in some ways challenging and new and different. I have on the phone and via Skype, Sarah Hendrin. Sarah, are you there?
SARAH HENDRIN: I’m here, hi.
WADE WINGLER: Thank you so much for being on our show today. Before I let you talk, I want to tell folks a little bit about what I know about you so far. I’m excited for this conversation. In our email exchanges leading up to this, I looked at your signature, and it says that you are involved in art and science research, adaptive technologies, prosthetics, and critical design. Now in some ways, I think those things might go together, and some ways they don’t. That’s an interesting way to describe the work that you do.
Recently I know that you have become involved with Gizmodo. We’re going to talk about that, but I have to let my audience know the first thing I heard about Sarah Hendrin was the title of a blog post that said something like let’s take the word assistive out of assistive technology. Quite frankly I was freaked out when I read that until I read a little bit more. I’m going to let you talk about that. First of all, thank you for being here, and welcome. Let’s talk about your email signature a little bit.
SARAH HENDRIN: Sure. I wear several different hats. I make things. I’m kind of a public artist working in the public sphere in design and architecture. I also do a lot of writing and topically, I looked a lot at disability, that is in the realm of prosthetics and in literal technologies. Also think about disability and our cultural perceptions of people who are disabled by the uses of technology or not.
So I think the critical design piece there is a lot of work that I do, both making things and writing things and speaking and lecturing about what our devices that we use, how those devices may be thought of as assistive technology to what we think about people with disabilities and the idea of disability, and how we might reopen those ideas and question them and think anew about what it means to be able or disabled, what it means to be normal or not normal. I think using technology, using design, using art is a really productive way to open those questions.
WADE WINGLER: And I agree. I have to admit that I am a nerdy, techie sort of guy. When I think of assistive technology, I tend to think about the function site before I think about the form side. Obviously that’s something that you are focused on. I think that maybe subtext. They make it overlooked in a lot of cases. I’m fascinated with the fact that you are fascinated with that.
SARAH HENDRIN: Right. When you think about a technology like eyeglasses that so many people wear, eyeglasses are assistive technology. They are a medical aid, but because of the way they’ve been given design attention in the last several decades, it’s kind of become as ordinary and mundane as fashion. Wearing eyeglasses in public is not a register two other people, but you might be less able, whereas a technology like hearing aid suffers from a lot of noncompliance among people who need them because hearing aids carry a kind of stigma. They seem to signal dependence in a way that people find difficult to contemplate. People tend not to wear them when they need them, so it’s interesting to think about how just in the last couple of decades, early in the last several years, there’s been some new design attention around hearing aids to think about what that looks like. It’s kind of a question about identity and performance.
I’m interested in that in a couple of ways. You’ll see in the news plenty of stories about beautiful, new prosthetic limbs and these hearing aids and bringing beautiful design attention to assistive technologies. I think that is wonderful. In California, they designed radically customized lower leg limbs that are not only fitted into your body, but they can be made from materials that you select that are compatible with your lifestyle and your choices. They can be made with leather or chrome or other kinds of materials depending on how you prefer to be in your body. That’s a really boutique example of a pricey but really interesting new attention to looking at a technology that has come in the past, only been a medicalized technology.
That matters, because in the past, assistive technology has taken their kind of material language, that is what they are made from, how they are shaped and so on, from medical gear. So you look at something like crutches or surgical beds or surgical tools, those things have kind of driven what a hearing aid looks like or what a prosthetic limb looks like instead of looking like a body that is an integrated body with attention to a person who, after all, doesn’t feel like a medical case. That person feels like themselves, but perhaps with a non-normative body or different bodies that they had before. It just restores the kind of personhood first to those technologies.
But the other thing, and this is the critical design piece in my signature, is that I’m really interested in people hearing about and seeing the practices of some artist and some designers who make devices that are actually meant to have us open these questions again about who is able and who is disabled. Because we have a singular story about people who use assistive technologies, and that story has to be one usually in our culture over and over, kind of story. It has to be someone who uses the technology and now they’re liberated, now they can walk again or they haven’t let their disability to define them or let them down. There’s something kind of restless and superhero about that story in a way that is actually – I think it’s actually a way to abstract people with disabilities not normalize the variation among all of us.
I’m interested in seeing technologies and devices and unusual situations among unusual users for specific kinds of situations that you may not have thought of before. I also write about the work of a man named John Schimmel, who worked with a teenager who uses a wheelchair and created with him a little ramp for the guy to become a DJ to play music with his wheels. A little structure for that. That’s a kind of one off, customized device, and it’s all the way not going to go to scale, and it doesn’t provide the user with an essential need, but it provides a use for him to involve himself in an expressive kind of way and to show other people that his chair as part of what he does. It’s part of who he is and his body. It also can allow him to participate and make music, make sound and a really innovative and novel way. What that means them to the people around him who see him do that, that kind of identity is really important to me.
WADE WINGLER: That’s fascinating when you started this part of the conversation talking about the medical looking nature of assistive technology. I’ve been here in my position for about 20 years, and I’ve got a collection of assistive technology stuff that frankly I was supposed to throw away, but I’ve been piling in this closet. If I think about the technology that was being used back then when I started, it does. It looks like canes and crutches and looks very medical. And then the stuff that we see now. I think about my friends who are blind, and they use braille, now they have their iPhone in one pocket of their coat and in the other pocket of their coat, they have this very slick, Bluetooth stylish looking braille interface that allows them to interact with that technology. I think that kind of echoes the personal nature and how were moving with technology in general. This fascinates me.
SARAH HENDRIN: I think so too. There is a history to this. If you look back in the 19th century, there are some beautiful examples of very discrete technologies like what was called a hearing urn, where you would have what looks like an ordinary vace in the middle of the room, and it had a long tube attached and a little horn at the end so that somebody could sit on the sofa, use that attachment and the horn, and use the echo amplification qualities of that ceramic vace to hear better the conversation in the room. It was very discrete. You would hold it to your ear, it looks like a decoration, but it was kind of a low-tech hearing aid technology that’s meant to maintain the dignity of that user.
I think in a way, we’re kind of recovering some of that respect and dignity and thinking outside of a really locked, medical language, medical material, and medical identity. I think this is what’s so important is that people with disabilities are understood as people who are having perhaps non-normative experiences in aggregate, but they are not medical cases necessarily because of that. It gets tricky. Of course some people do have medical conditions, but are tied up with disabilities, but still their medical condition is not primarily who they are.
What we use in public and how we get around and how we transport ourselves, these things matter to how people understand us, what they imagined that we can do for ourselves, our level of competence, our preferences and wishes, so the history of people with disabilities is a history in which people are being spoken for and spoken at, decisions are being made for them about their lives without their involvement.
I think one of the biggest things that we can do in advocacy for people who work in technology is that those technologies and devices in a design sense also embody the kind of self-determination and primacy of that person who is making decisions about their own life, how they get around, how they perform on the job. All those things add up, these visual kind of symbols and tools that we use. Those things add up in who we project about who we are.
WADE WINGLER: I think that’s absolutely right. It becomes a part of our identity. Eventually I think it parlays into culture and how we interact with folks. Sarah, we have only a couple of minutes left here, and I know that you and I have a long list of things to talk about, so I’m going to have to say that we’re going to have to talk again. Before we say let’s pick this up again at some point, this fascinating conversation that we’re having has caught the attention of Gizmodo recently which is a very popular tech blog. Can you tell us a little bit about your involvement with Gizmodo that happened not too long ago?
SARAH HENDRIN: Sure. So Ablersite.org, which is my long running blog, I’ve been working on that for several years, and now my work there at Abler will be syndicated as a column at Gizmodo. So it’s Abler.Gizmodo.com. If you scroll down on that page, you’ll see a kind of opening for a manifesto post about what Abler is going to be about at Gizmodo.
What I care about there is that assistive technology is very broadly defined, that is looking at art and design practices, looking useful things, looking at high tech, low-tech. But all those things live together in a larger technology like Gizmodo. Gizmodo tends to draw people who are really interested in gadgetry, and usually the prosthetics that get written about in the public or technology blogs either have to be super high tech and gee whiz and wow, and of course I love that stuff too, but again I’m interested there then looking at the technology is that people are using already that they’ve been using for a long time. Something as simple as a white cane is actually a really sophisticated technology. And then how artists and designers are helping us to investigate these questions around advocacy and rights.
The other thing is that with the tagline for that report that you’re referring to that you came across on Medium, I wrote a long piece there called all technology is assistive technology, so in other words what I want is for people to see that each of us is using devices and tools of various kinds for needs of various kinds. Like my phone. I’m using my phone of course to store phone numbers that I don’t have to memorize now, but I’m also using my phone strategically sometimes if I don’t want to be approached in public by a solicitor or when there’s an awkward low in the conversation at a meeting. I can use that phone to assist me in lots of ways that I don’t call assistive tech but are most of assistance.
So I am interested in people on Gizmodo seeing, yes this is assistive technology for people with very particular bodies and wishes and needs, but isn’t that true of all of our technology. If we understand it that way, then we become a little bit less certain about who has special needs and whose needs are much greater and who doesn’t. I’m interested in that kind of uncertainty precisely because I’m interested in people with disabilities being thought of as people first.
WADE WINGLER: I think that this is an area that we don’t normally get into, and I’m fascinated and very excited about the work they are doing here. You and I are going to have to connect again, because we have a lot more to talk about, but because we have come to the end of the show today, tell us again the websites again, tell us how they can get a hold of you, and then you and I will schedule a time to continue the conversation.
SARAH HENDRIN: Ablersite.org is my main site where people can see all that content. Abler.Gizmodo.com is also where you can see it in the Gizmodo space. The content is mostly identical. I wait a little bit about my own projects and work at Abler. You can find me that way or just Googling my name will usually get you there.
WADE WINGLER: I’ll pop those links in the show notes so that people can have easy access to those. Sarah is an artist, a researcher, a writer interested in all kinds of things having to do with assistive technology, art, and design. Sarah, thank you for being on our show today.
SARAH HENDRIN: Thank you, total pleasure.
WADE WINGLER: Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? Call our listener line at 317-721-7124. Looking for show notes from today’s show? Head on over to EasterSealstech.com. Shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAProject, or check us out on Facebook. That was your assistance technology update. I’m Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana.