ATU222 – 21st Century Communications & Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) with AFB’s Mark Richert, Stephen Hawking’s Voice Software Goes Open Source, Windows 10 Accessibility Criticized by NFB, Emergency Communication App for People with Autism


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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.

21st Century Communications & Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) with AFB’s Mark Richert

Intel releases Stephen Hawking’s speech synthesiser software online

An App for Emergency Communication created by a man with Autism

From the NFB: Installers Beware! Microsoft Drops the Ball on Accessibility in Windows 10 | National Federation of the Blind

VA Guide for assisting people who are blind or visually impaired:

App: Object Identification


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——-transcript follows ——


MARK RICHERT: Hi, this is Mark Richert , with the American Foundation for the Blind, with your Assistive Technology Update.

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 222 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on August 28 of 2015.

Today my guest is Mark Richert, who is with the American Foundation for the Blind, and we’re going to talk about the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, or the CVA.

Also, Intel has made open source Stephen Hawking speech synthesizer software; there’s a new app for emergency communication for folks who are on the autism spectrum; and the NFB sort of scolds Microsoft about their accessibility in Windows 10.

We hope you’ll check out our website at, visit us over on Twitter, shoot us a note there @INDATA Project, or do me a favor: call our listener line. I love to have feedback on the show and our other show, Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions. You can call our listener line and leave a voicemail there. The number is 317-721-7124. Ask us a question, leave us a comment. We love to hear your voice.


Did you know that the INDATA Project is Indiana’s Assistive Technology Act Project? There happens to be one in every one of the United States and territories. If you like to find out where the program is closest to you, head over to We’ve got a list there. You can find the program that’s closest, right in your backyard.


Not all that long ago, we had some information here on our show about the fact that Intel has been working with Dr. Stephen Hawking who has ALS and uses augmentative and alternative communication. They were working on an improved computer system that allowed him to rapidly speed up the way he input information to a computer for communication. Well, we knew this is going to happen, but it’s finally here. It’s available open source.

We are seeing this happen a lot more these days where assistive technology software is being made free and publicly available on-site like Github. The idea is that if developers and really smart folks can get the source code for these well-developed applications, they might be able to take them further and do more for the common good.

The headline from the Daily Mail out of the UK says, “Now you can speak like Stephen Hawking too,” and the fact that Intel releases the software online. It’s in a Github. It’s available for download. It’s the hope of the developers that others can make it a little more accessible with different kinds of interfaces. Dr. Hawking assures all his fans that his trademark synthesized voice isn’t going to change this process, and there’s a quote here from him that says, “We are pushing the boundaries of what is possible through technology. Without it, I would not be able to speak with you today.” That’s the quote from Dr. Stephen Hawking.

I’ll pop a link in the show notes over to this Daily Mail article where you can read the article and a video about the technology, and it also includes a link over to the Github area that is named Assistive Context Aware Toolkit, or ACAT, and you can download and play with the software, see if you can make it better. Check our show notes.


I’m looking at a blog here called Biotech in Asia, and it’s talking about an app designed for emergency communication for some people with very specific disabilities. I’m just going to read some of the screens on the app here because I think they are fascinating.

The first one says, “Aspie Meltdown,” referring to somebody with Asperger’s. It says, “I gave you my phone because I can use or process speech right now, but I’m still capable of text communication. My hearing and tactile senses are extremely sensitive in this state, so please refrain from touching me. Please keep calm and proceed to the next screen that has a simple chat client through which we can communicate.” There is a button there that says continue, and presumably opens up a chat window.

The next one says, “Trach Meltdown” for tracheostomy. It says, “If I’m showing you this, I’m having trouble with my tracheostomy, that thing in my neck, and can’t talk. I’m probably hacking, coughing, turning really red, and spitting up gross amounts of phlegm. You can help by getting me a glass of water or other drink, which often helps, and something to sop up the mess. I’m doing all I can to get control, but sometimes this happens. If nothing is working, I’ll have to pull the trach and collar to clear my airway. This will unfortunately reveal my stoma which is oogie looking, sorry. I text, and this app will help us to chat by alternating colors of text for each person. Press the bottom of the screen to start.” And there’s a continue button there at the bottom.

So this was developed by a student in the computer science program at the University of Antwerp. His name is Jeroen De Busser. Apparently this gentleman has autism as well, and this app was a response to a situation he found himself in. It has, in addition to the Aspie Attack and Trach Meltdown, also an Asthma Attack screen. I think it would be useful in some very specific situations. Obviously emergency management isn’t something you can prepare for conclusively, and there would be some limited situations where this might be helpful, but I think it’s pretty cool anyway.

It’s available for iOS and Android, and I’m going to pop a link in the show notes over to the Biotech in Asia blog post which will include a link to those sources where you can get this free app and check it out for yourself. Check our show notes.


The headline from the National Federation of the Blind reads, “Installers beware: Microsoft drops the ball on accessibility in Windows 10.” This article is written by Chris Danielson who is the Director of Public Relations over at the NFB, and he’s been a guest on our show before. In this blog post, Chris outlines some of the problems with the recently released Windows 10 as it relates to screen reader users and users of assistive technology.

They talk about some of the things that are sort of out there already about problems with Windows 10, one of which is Internet Edge, which is the Windows 10 Internet browser, isn’t accessible, and that users of assistive technology are encouraged to continue using Internet Explorer. They also talk about the fact that you’re going to need a third-party PDF reader like Adobe Reader because the support in Windows 10 isn’t accessible. The new Mail application also has some challenges, and Microsoft encourages blind users to stick with Microsoft’s previous program, Outlook.

Some of the things that are also outlined aren’t things that are knowledge from Microsoft necessarily but are pointed out in his article. It talks about the Windows App Store. It’s hard to tell whether or not apps that are downloaded from the store will be accessible, and the fact that there is not braille support for those who require that. I’m going to pop a link in the show notes over to this kind of scolding article, and you can learn more about what’s going on with accessibility in Windows 10 and hopefully we’ll have some of it in the future where some of these issues are resolved. Check our show notes.


I’m looking over the document that came from the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center over in Bethesda, Maryland. The title reads, “Caring for patients who are blind or visually impaired, a fact sheet for the inpatient care team.” It’s a one page PDF, and I’ll stick a link in the show notes so you can find it, and it’s designed to help people who work there at the Medical Center know how to be most accommodating to people who are blind or visually impaired. It gives some very practical advice. I mentioned it here not because this is a show targeted towards Veterans Administration employees, but because it’s good advice in general.

It offers things like knock on the door and ask to enter the room. Address the person by name and identify yourself. Ask how this person prefers to perform their activities of daily living and how you can help. It talks about addressing the patient directly, don’t worry about using words like look, see, or blind. That’s fine. It describes how to describe the room layout using compass directions, and it gives directions saying things like, you’re facing north in the bed, and the door is to the west. It talks about the importance of having alternative formats when it comes to education and discharge materials. It talks about having things in audio tape or digital recording or large print or whatever.

It also includes a few different resources, an ADA checklist, a link over to blind rehab services within the VA, and a couple of other things.

I’m going to pop a link in the show notes over to this very nicely done PDF file, and you guys can check it out. If you’re working in the VA system, you might have already seen it, but in general, I think it’s a pretty good piece of information. Check our show notes.


Each week, one of our partners tells us what’s happening in the ever-changing world of apps, so here’s an App Worth Mentioning.

AMY BARRY: This is Amy Barry with BridgingApps, and this is an App Worth Mentioning. This segment’s app is called Object Identification from I Can Do Apps.

Object Identification as a teaching tool for work on identifying objects by name, active, verb, and attribute. It initially presents simple directions with real photographs of objects. The app has five levels of play that progresses to more complex descriptive words and comparisons. Each session has 10 possible answers, and a tally score is given at the end of each session. No two sessions are ever alike, so the app can be used multiple times with the same child. The instructions can be written at the top of each page, and the child touches a button for the statement to be read aloud.

The first level in the app asks the child to find one or two photographs. The child has to touch the picture named. The second level shows two pictures and asked the child to find one based on a descriptive word such as color, shape, size or texture. And the third level has three pictures for the child to choose from.

This app was reviewed with developmentally delayed elementary aged students. They were interested in the excellent photographs presented, and after a short time of training, most of the students were able to use the app with minimal help from the therapist. Since the app only presents 10 pictures per session, the child was able to complete at least one every session. The tally score at the end motivated many of the children to try to get a better score the next time they played. It also helped the therapist keep a record of how the child was improving.

Object Identification is available at the iTunes Store for $2.99 and is compatible with iOS devices. For more information on this app and others like it, visit


WADE WINGLER: Not that long ago, I was in our nation’s capital in Washington, DC, meeting with other directors of other states’ and territories’ assistive technology programs. I sat in on this cool panel of people who were talking about hot topics that were happening at the federal level in Washington, DC. I met a lot of nice folks that day, and among them was a gentleman who is with the American Foundation for the Blind. In fact, he’s the Director of Public Policy over there. His name is Mark Richert. He is on the line today. Mark, are you still there with us?

MARK RICHERT: Absolutely. Pleasure to be here.

WADE WINGLER: So glad that you’re here today. So the panel that I enjoyed listening to in DC not long ago, you were talking about the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, or the CVAA, and quite frankly, I had a little insight into that, but not a lot. I was fascinated with what you talked about on the panel and thought we really need to bring that to my audience so that we can spend some time on the show talking about it. I appreciate your being here, and I want to start off by learning a little bit about you. If you can tell us a little bit about your day job, your background, and how you ended up at AFB, and then we’ll jump into the CVAA.

MARK RICHERT: Okay. Well, I’ve been working at the American Foundation for the Blind for the last 10 years. This is actually my second tour of duty, so to speak, with AFB. Prior to this 10 year stint, I was the director for the professional membership association in the blindness field, known as AER, Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired.


MARK RICHERT: That was great, and I have worked in a number of organizations in the blindness community doing public policy and advocacy and sort of strategic initiatives, strategic planning kind of work for the field. I’ve sat in a number of chairs and worked at the stuff from a number of perspectives, from the consumer perspective, the sort of policy development and research perspective, the practitioner perspectives. I would like to think, I would like to hope, that I’ve got a pretty broad sort of take on the issues that we work on.

In terms of my day job, it makes me smile. The blessing and the curse, or the challenge and the opportunity, the fun or the burden, of the everyday work is that there isn’t one day that looks like another. Yours truly is not really much of an expert in much of anything, which I’m sure makes all of your listener wonder why the heck they’re wasting your time listening to me. But really, the kind of work that we are doing is very much all over the map. In any given day, we could be working on copyright issues, some healthcare policy related issues, particularly around reimbursement for technology, special education related issues. We even sometimes dabble in crazy things like the U.S. Postal Service. When folks — you’re talking about free matter for the blind and folks who have physical disabilities in terms of mail privilege, etc. It can be any number of things that we are working on. That means you really have to be a generalist. As I say, that’s a challenge because just about everywhere I go, everybody seems to know a ton more than I do, and yet, on the other hand, it’s really kind of exciting and pretty cool to be able to play in a number of areas and ultimately to give some of the stuff that you write into federal legislation or to federal regulations, things that actually become the law of the land. And then you call your mom and you want to brag about what you’ve done, injectors plan why the sentence fragment that you wrote is the next thing to the Ten Commandments. It’s a fun job, and I’m really privileged to be able to do it.

WADE WINGLER: It sounds like you enjoy it. Just to clarify, Mark, you are an attorney and also a user of assistive technology, right?

MARK RICHERT: Yes, indeed. I went to GW Law School here in the Washington, DC, area. I grew up in Florida. I have been blind all my life and am an avid AT user.

WADE WINGLER: Great. We talked about, hey, mom, look at this sort of a thing that I just did. What is the CVAA, what does it do, and what was your role in it becoming law? Because I know that you just didn’t walk in on this thing part of the way through. You’ve been involved for a long time.

MARK RICHERT: The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act doesn’t really have a very memorable acronym, the CVAA, but it really is, without much consideration, the most comprehensive disability policy to become the law of the land since the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act 25 years ago. The reason for that is because the CVAA covers such a wide array of technology-related policy issues that are within the jurisdiction of the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC is the primary agency that has that response ability for this law.

There are other things, of course, in the technology world that were covered by other agencies of the federal government. For example, the Justice Department working on the accessibility of websites and electronic instructional material at the college and university level under Title II of the ADA, or Title III, public accommodations. Those kinds of things would be within the jurisdiction of the Justice Department.

But the CVAA is all about what’s in the jurisdiction of the FCC. There’s two main things that the CVAA does. There are two big titles to this thing. Title I is all about something called advanced communications services. It’s kind of a misnomer, because one of the things that’s tucked away in there, of course, is electronic messaging which covers everything from email to texting, sms, and the like, and that’s hardly advanced anymore. I think, especially if you’re a teenager, they probably say it’s the next thing to a typewriter. It’s almost old at this point. It’s advanced for purposes of what the FCC has covered, in terms of what its rules has applied to for people with disabilities. Title I gets into all of this detail about how do we make sure that telecommunications this sort of web-based world is accessible to people with disabilities. Among the many things that are in Title I is a requirement that all cell phones that have web browsers on them need to make sure that those web browsers are accessible to people with disabilities. There are lots of other things in Title I, but that’s very much at the 35,000 foot level.

Title II of the CVAA is all about video programming, so not only making sure that the gizmos we use to play and enjoy television programming, digital TV, are themselves accessible, but also to make sure that the programming you get over those gizmos is more accessible through captioning, for example, over the Internet, of programming that’s delivered via the Internet, and through video description, which of course is the voiceover narration of the visual elements of TV programming that a lot of folks who are blind or visually impaired can get an idea of what the heck is going on on the screen when they’re not talking about it.

So those are really the two primary things that CVAA does. I haven’t even talked to you about, oh, tiny little things like a $10 million program for helping low income death/blind folks get their hands on the kind of technology that will connect them to the world. That’s in the CVAA. I haven’t talked to you about emergency information, so to make sure that the people who are watching television and also happen to be blind or visually impaired or may have some other disability that gets in the way of their being able to see what the heck is going on on that crawl at the bottom of the screen, to know that a tornado is about to whisk them away to Kansas, to make sure that that information is made accessible through an audio output. There’s a lot of stuff. Hearing aid compatibility, an awful lot of stuff in the CVAA.

WADE WINGLER: I’m going to guess that, as we look back on our content from previous shows, and as some of the work that we do here at Easter Seals in Indiana, we see the implementation of that stuff. For example, we provide some services for the deaf/blind equipment distribution program, and we do some of those services. It’s interesting stuff. In terms of the law, the legislation, what is the status? What has happened so far and what is still coming down the pike in terms of implementation?

MARK RICHERT: I appreciate the question. To kind of connect with the last question you asked me with this one, I was one of a team of five folks who really were the day-to-day, hour-by-hour advocates, drafters of this legislation. But as you might imagine, there is no piece of legislation that is any one person’s creation. It goes through so many different hands, and frankly a lot of frustration, a lot of frustrating process sometimes. You write something one way, and of course you think you have set it up in this perfect sort of dollhouse kind of way, and then it comes out the other end of the black box — to mix as many metaphors as I can here — and on the other side of that black box, it looks like someone couldn’t figure out how to put the jigsaw puzzle back together.

In any case, one of the things that we tried to do when we were writing the language of the CVAA was to make sure that the Federal Communications Commission was held to some pretty strict timelines in terms of its implementation. The Congress will pass a law, and then of course the agency that has a possibility for it has to issue federal regs and technical assistance and all that sort of thing. Well, this law was enacted in 2010, and I think we did a pretty good job of making sure that all of these deadlines were very carefully and very strictly adhered to in the law. Frankly, there wasn’t a whole lot of time in a lot of ways for the FCC to move things forward. Friends of ours who now, of course, work at the Federal Communications Commission, tease the rest of us who helped to write this thing to say, what in the heck are you guys thinking when you required us to do all this work?

Over the course of the five years since the CVAA was signed into law by Mr. Obama on October 8, 2010, at a very cool signing ceremony that I will always remember, there’s been an awful lot of stuff that has been implemented, pretty extensive rulemaking proceedings. Now we’re at the point where the rules are pretty much well-established. There are a few — I don’t want to call them odds and ends, but issues that have come up over the course of time, but you can’t really think of everything, naturally, in a law. So we’re at the point now where most, if not all, of the provisions of the CVAA are either fully enforced or are about to come online, so to speak.

The one that I’ll use as an example here very soon, the requirements are going to be kicking in for cable and satellite companies to make sure that the set-top box equipment that folks with and without disabilities are expected to use and connect to their televisions to receive cable and satellite programming need to be themselves accessible. To date, we are only aware of Comcast having done an excellent job of making such a service accessible through their quote, unquote X1 platform. Comcast has done a really good job. We have been reaching out as advocates. We are always trying to beat the bushes, trying to find out what other cable and satellite providers are doing. They’ve been awfully quiet. There may very well be an issue here brewing on the horizon to see how many of the cable and satellite companies are actually going to be — the few that are left, because it seems like they are always merging — to see whether or not they’re actually going to be have accessible set-top box equipment. That’s something that’s coming up on the horizon for sure.

WADE WINGLER: That’s great. Mark, we are getting a little close on time here, but I want to ask you a big question with a little amount of time. What is this going to mean for consumers of this kind of media? What does it mean for folks with disabilities?

MARK RICHERT: You get to the specifics of the law, and of course you’ll say, well, that means that there will be more smartphones that are more accessible. A lot of folks with disabilities love the iPhone. They might love their favorite Android phone. But there’s going to be an awful lot more smartphone choices. There’s going to be an awful lot more choices in the mainstream digital TV and video programming technology world that are much more accessible, because it doesn’t just apply to televisions but, frankly, any TV-like device, so if your smart phone, or tablet, provides video programming, then that stuff also need to be accessible. It really means a lot of choices.

Well beyond the law itself, it’s really about — and this, I think, is a great lesson for people. Sometimes we get hung up on the specific provisions of the law, but the reality of it is, the mere fact that the law exists is sort of a clarion call to all manufacturers of technology to say, good grief, that disability community is pretty well organized. They are pretty powerful advocates. They’ve got this law done. I guess we should really take this accessibility of technology thing a lot more seriously than we have. I think the law’s going to have some very specific effects on specific pieces of technology, but it really sort of helps to blaze new trails moving forward. I’m really excited about that.

WADE WINGLER: I think you’re also illustrating the point that, not only are we talking about a group of people that are well organized legislatively and policy-wise, but they are an empowered group of consumers that need to be addressed as well.

MARK RICHERT: That’s right.

WADE WINGLER: Mark, if folks want to learn more about the CVAA, they want to get involved, what kind of contact information would you suggest, or where would you suggest they go online to learn more?

MARK RICHERT: Folks are always welcome to visit the American Foundation for the Blind public policy site. Of course, I have a proprietary interest, or whatever, in that. Folks can get there by going to With respect to the CVAA, frankly, there’s an awful lot of resources right off of the webpage. There’s a ton of material up there as well. I think those would be two good resources for people.

WADE WINGLER: Great. Mark Richert is the Director of Public Policy at the American foundation for the blind, has been our guest today talking about the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act. It’s a mouthful. Mark, thank you for your work on that law, and thank you for being with us today.

MARK RICHERT: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much.

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 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.

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