ATU303 – National Park Accessibility Update with Ray Bloomer, Director of Education & Technical Assistance for the National Center on Accessibility |


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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.

Show notes:
National Park Accessibility Update with Ray Bloomer, Director of Education & Technical Assistance for the National Center on Accessibility | and click on accessibility section of the web site | | |
Quantum computer learns to ‘see’ trees
App: My Chart |

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——-transcript follows ——


RAY BLOOMER:  Hi, this is Ray Bloomer. I’m with the National Park Service, accessibility specialist. I am also director of education and technical assistance with the National Center on Accessibility, and this is your Assistance 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 303 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on March 17, 2017.

Today my friend Ray Bloomer from the National Center on Accessibility, part of the Park Service, talks with us about accessibility of the national parks. I’ve got a story about a computer that can see trees. And an app from BridgingApps.

We hope you check out our website at, sent us a note on Twitter at INDATA Project, or call our listener line. That number is 317-721-7124.


I found an interesting headline in science magazine. It reads, “Quantum computer learns to ‘see trees’.” Interesting happening here. There is a group out of St. Mary’s College of California, and they figured out how to use a quantum computer – specifically a D-wave 2X computer— to take photographs, aerial photographs of the geography of parts of the world that have trees and rivers and roads, and they taught the computer to figure out what was a tree and was a road what was not a tree.

That may not seem like a big deal until you realize that they are using quantum computing. Quantum computing is different than a typical binary computing, ones and zeros on silicone that we are used too, because these computers run at a subatomic level. They use quantum bits that can, instead of being a one or zero like on silicone, those bits can represent a one and zero at the same time. Lot of technical stuff there, but the short version of that story is that quantum computers can run lots faster than the computer that we are familiar with.

It’s interesting because they were able to take these aerial photographs and teach a computer things like a tree has a certain hue or color saturation or reflects light in a certain way, even though they are different sizes and shades. They are excited about that, and NASA specifically, because it means they can uses imagery and new computer abilities to discriminate images to do things like weather patterns. For example they say if you’re living in India, you might be able to know that a cyclone is coming six months in advance of time because you see a weather pattern forming in Canada.

The thing that excites me about this as we talk about computer vision, things that can take images off of the Internet and describe them to people who are visually impaired or blind and need that. If we can talk about using quantum or qubit-based computing to figure out whether patterns or what’s a tree or not, how cool could that be to be able to take images and recognize them and describe them to people who are blind or visually impaired.

I’m going to pop a link in the show notes over to science where you can read about it and see some of the images that they used to represent how the computer was able to figure out what’s a tree and what’s not. Lots of fascinating stuff. I think lots of promising stuff as well. Check our show notes.


Each week, one of our partners tells us what’s happening in the ever-changing world of apps, there is an app worth mentioning.

AMY BARRY:  This is Amy Barry with BridgingApps, and this is an app worth mentioning. This week’s app is called My Chart. An app that gives you mobile device access to your medical records and is an easy route for patient and provider communication does exist. I know. It sounds too good to be true, but the My Chart as an extension of the My Chart website and epic medical records was created to do just that.

My Chart as an app is very user-friendly. It is organized into six sections that provide a way to quickly receive test results, track appointments, communicate with providers, store medication history, receive health reminders, and locate a historical summary list of past and current diagnoses. These sections are features that make the app a huge timesaver, and this accident information encourages patients and their caregivers or parents to be well informed of their healthcare status.

Initial account set up through the healthcare provider is required, and after following the sign-up steps with the provider, and initial email with a password is received so a new user can create their My Chart account on the website. The mobile app is easy to set up and does include the ability to have separate the multiple accounts for more than one family member and more than one group of participating healthcare providers.

There are many real-life scenarios where the My Chart has been very useful to patients and providers. Nurses are finding an increased communication with patients, and busy caregivers appreciate the convenience the My Chart app provides. It is important to note that this app does require Internet access.

The My Chart is a valued app at BridgingApps and truly has the potential to connect patient to their own medical information and to their healthcare providers. My Chart is available for free at the iTunes Store and Google play stores and is compatible with both iOS and android devices. For more information on this app and others like it, visit


WADE WINGLER:  As we head into spring here in the US, my attention turns to travel and family outings and the out-of-doors. In fact, today as we are recording, I think my attention turned to the fact I’m a little bit under the weather and sort of sound a little bit different. I’m going to ask you to forgive me. I’ve already asked my friend Ray Bloomer to forgive me for sounding so that today.

Ray is the director of education and technical assistance for the National Center on Accessibility. As part of the parks department. He is somebody who helps to make sure that parks and recreational programs facilities and those kinds of things are as accessible as they possibly can. Plus Ray is somebody I’ve known for years and is a great guy. How are you today?

RAY BLOOMER:  Great, thank you for the introduction.

WADE WINGLER:  It’s always good to have you on the show. It’s always good to check in and see what’s happening. For folks who haven’t heard us talk before on this program, tell everybody a little bit about yourself and your job and how you got to the point that you are today in your career.

RAY BLOOMER:  I work in the area of accessibility. I am also a 40 year career person with National Park Service. I am with our national accessibility branch out of Washington. However, I am duty stationed at the National Center on Accessibility which is a program of Indiana University here in Bloomington. I began my career service with the National Park Service in 1976 during the bicentennial at Independence National Historic Park, giving tours of Independence Hall, Congress hall, the Liberty Bell at some of the other historical sites in Philadelphia. For a couple of years I transferred to Boston National Historic Park. While there that’s where I began doing accessibility work. I was the accessibility program manager there, and after a few years moved on to the North Atlantic regional office where, again, I was there program accessibility manager. I was the first and last full-time accessibility coordinator that the National Park Service had in the region. In 1987 I became chief ranger at Saginaw Hill which is Theodore Roosevelt’s home in Long Island. Six years later I transferred to the national as the ability branch and became duty stationed here at the National Center on Accessibility.

What’s really cool about what I do here is I provide technical assistance, consultation, I do training, it doesn’t just focus on the National Parks. The reason for the National Center on Accessibility is to do what I do for the National Park Service, but we do it for the park and recreation field in general, whether it is state and local government, private museums, environmental education centers, municipal Parks and Recreation, whatever it might be.

WADE WINGLER:  You and I have known each other for years and I talked about a lot of assistive technology things. I would get a kick out of finding out what’s new in your world and what kind of accessibility projects you been working on. I’m going to lead with that question in the interview and ask you to tell us what’s up with accessibility, a kind of project you been working on lately.

RAY BLOOMER:  There is one project I’ve been working on here in the Midwest that is pretty exciting. That’s working at Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, which most people would know as “The Arch” in St. Louis. We did some consulting on the construction or architectural site a few years back, and right now we are working on the development of the underground museum and all the components with that. Not only will you have a very large amount of tactile experiences, but it will have audio description, assistive listening, captioning. Everything that is being designed as necessary to manipulate any kind of interaction of any sort will be reachable and designed in such a way that people that are in a seated position, wheelchair users, scooters, will be able to access those parts of the exhibits. Anything that is an interactive touch screen will also be accessible. The touchscreens themselves will be reachable. There will also be an auxiliary keypad for anyone that’s not able to engage the touchscreen itself. Everything will be designed so that people with disabilities when the only out of it by the program itself but will also be able to navigate throughout the programs with all the interactives. That’s a pretty exciting program.

The other thing that is very exciting right now is the National Park Service has—the acronym is called the TAIP program. It’s the Targeted Accessibility Improvement Program. We have nine parts that have been selected and are a part of the program. That covers all seven regions of the National Park Service. It is either taking a part program, either at home or in part – so if it’s a small part of it might be a major part of that park. But we are making that program as holistic as we possibly could. I have the lead on three of those projects. The project are really terrific because the goal of them is to use everything that’s available to us right now that is feasible using technology, using innovative exhibit design, or whatever it might take to make these products accessible.

The examples we have, when we were going to the selection process, we tried to select all different types of examples that are within the National Park Service. For example, Saratoga National Battlefield in New York, we have something that will not only has a battlefield but has many way sites were stops. We have many battlefields through the National Park Service. Over the next several years, people will be able to look at the case study that results from Saratoga battlefield, and we can emulate that as we make other battlefield more accessible.

We also have a San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, we have the Balclutha, which is an 1886 square rigged ship. We are not only making the ship physically accessible in many ways, but we are also going to make it programmatically accessible. Again, other ships, trains, anything where some of the technology may be used such as a Garamond chairlift to get people down to the deck. That could be something that is used to access other types of oceangoing vessels, river vessels, or possibly even trains. And then we are also looking at areas that have campgrounds, that have trails, that museums. The Jefferson Memorial is one of these projects. And not only has the memorial but also has a museum. We want all people to be able to access it, understand it, get the benefits from that, and be able to participate in it in the same way that people without disabilities are able to.

There are projects that I think are really exciting to work on and hopefully the end result will mean that we truly have targeted accessibility improved programs.

WADE WINGLER:  That’s a bunch of exciting stuff, and I always get excited about your work. The ADA happened a long time ago, and I sort of assumed that accessibility would be built into a lot of these things. I’ve heard you talk today about lifts and tactile systems as well as adaptive listening systems in those things. What are you seeing as the trends these days when it comes to accessibility in parks and recreational settings?  What are things that folks are focusing on.

WADE WINGLER:  That’s a good question. You are right:  the ADA was 1990, and some of the regulations that we had to follow within the federal system go back even further than that. But we have, in the national Park system which started in 1916, we have 411 parks now. Being able to change them very quickly is not going to happen in a quick way. It’s something that has to be done over time. Our goal is to continue to make as what progress as he possibly can. Not only in national parks. I know state parks and local parks are trying to do the same thing. What you’re seeing as far as, what you’re saying with trends.

Number one is audio description. Captioning is something, and assistive listening is something that has been around for a long time. Audio description, although it has been around for a long time, is not institutionalized and is not been institutionalized the same thing as captioning then. We are starting to see it become more prevalent in our parks. We are using it more frequently. We are not just using it for tours. We are using it for exhibit tours. I mentioned with Saratoga battlefield and the tour stops, each of those two were stops will have audio description along with tactile images throughout the different tour stops. That too is where you’re seeing some interesting trends.

The use of apps with a lot of the national parks is increasing as long as cell phone tours. We are also very cognizant of the fact that not everyone has a cell phone, that everyone has a smartphone. When we are looking at apps, it does mean we have to have some alternative delivery system for that same program. That becomes a little bit challenging, but we know that that’s a challenge that we have to accept.

Now, I mentioned that we are seeing a greater use of tactile images. That is something that, along with the training that we are providing, it enabling more people to understand why you need to have tactile pieces and exhibits, whether indoors or outdoors, so that becomes not just something to touch because that’s one of the methods that people who are blind people, that have low vision, people with various learning disabilities, will also be able to get the benefit of what is offered at that particular exhibit; but also having a good understanding as to why those pieces were chosen, because they are integral to that particular aspect of the program or exhibit. In the past, used to be just grab whatever is available just so that people have something to touch and make everybody happy. We realize that, over time, it was very important to make sure that those are truly good selections as a means of telling a story.

You are also starting to see a lot more opportunities on trails. Again, it is the education process to make sure that those people that manage the trails — for example most parks have multiple trails or trail systems that may have hundreds of miles within the trail system. We need to look at what’s offered on those trails so that when we select the geographic or environment that would enable an area to be made accessible, that again we are not just picking land because it’s land, but we are selecting that particular piece of geography for that trail because it is a way to tell the story that many of the other trails also have on it. It may be leading to particular features of the park or may be leading to a particular type of vegetation or trees or experiences that some of the other trails go through.

We are starting to see a greater understanding of how people will benefit and making sure that benefit is offering as much equality as we possibly can.

WADE WINGLER:  There is a lot of good work going on and I guess people don’t realize don’t realize how much is happening in terms of accessibility until they need it. Speaking about that, as people are thinking of their summer plans and travel and vacations, give me a tip about what people might think of in terms of suggestions for national parks or laces that are particularly accessible they might want to try.

RAY BLOOMER:  I get that question several times a year. It’s funny that you say it as we move into vacation time, because those calls are trying to increase right now. People say, “Can you tell me what parks are accessible?”  I don’t know if I can say, “This is the part where everything that you do will be accessible.” Because it really depends. Some parts are more accessible to a particular disability, and some parks have certain areas of them that are accessible in other areas either we haven’t gotten to them yet, they haven’t gotten the funding for product is to have put in for, or they are just areas that, due to the environment, may never be accessible.

What I typically tell people is caught two things. Number one, know what it is that you want. If you are looking for a camping experience, or you are looking for a historic experience, the National Park Service at, and you can select whatever parks that you have. Every national Park has a website. There is an accessibility portion of that website. I’m not sure if they are all kept up at the rate they are, and quite frequently folks have put the emphasis on physical access because we haven’t quite gone the full understanding of all the aspects of programmatic access for many people with disabilities. I sort of put some of the responsibility on people with disabilities. Know what it is you want. Be willing to call the park and say, “I have such and such a disability or will be traveling with someone that has a disability. We want to, when we come to your Park, experienced this. What is available to me?”  That puts it on the park to be able to identify, we have alternative formats or have captions or have this type of experiences that are physically accessible. You need to know what it is your needs are and to be able to identify those.

I get a lot of questions about, we are looking for parks that have overnight accommodations such as lodges. It is important for someone to understand when they say an accessible room. What does that mean?  Does that mean an accessible room with a rolling shower, a tub?  You need to identify what your needs are because the person that answered the phone is not an accessibility specialist. People with disabilities know themselves.

WADE WINGLER:  I love that you bring that up. In the world of assistive technology and accessibility, it’s all about the individual as opposed to a cookie-cutter solution. There are things you can do to make things as accessible to the broadest population as possible, but you are right. Tell me about yourself and we can talk about accessibility. That’s great.

We’ve got about a minute left in the interview. Before we finish up, tell me a story about something that you are particularly proud of. You’ve been doing this a long time so bright on some of the work you’ve done here for a minute.

RAY BLOOMER:  The last major project that I worked on that is complete right now was the White House Visitors Center in Washington DC. Why I’m so excited about that was that we were able to make it accessible in every aspect of it to all people with all types of disabilities. It was done in a high quality manner. When they had their grand opening, we had John Jarvis, the director of the National Park Service was there as part of the ribbon-cutting. Secretary Sally Jewell was also there. First Lady Michelle Obama was also there. What was really cool is that each one of them didn’t necessarily point out accessibility, but because the concept behind making things accessible was that it was done by incrementing universal design, that’s the focus that each one of those three people that I just mentioned, that’s the focused they put on it without knowing it. Michelle Obama commented on how much fun it would be when she brings her children because there were so many things that enabled a great hands-on experience. For that reason, I was very proud of the outcome of that project, knowing that from the point of accessibility, myself and a colleague that are accessibility specialist including Cheryl Yorky at the National Center on Accessibility, that we did have a major impact on the project. I’m very proud of the outcome.

WADE WINGLER:  That’s great. I’m going to be in DC soon so I’ll hopefully get a chance to check out some of the work you’ve done. You mentioned and looking at the accessibility sections of that website. Is there other contact information you’d like to provide for folks who want to learn more about accessibility or if they wanted to reach out to you?

RAY BLOOMER:  One more national side is That doesn’t necessarily just focus on accessibility, but it does have accessibility search capability within it. That looks at all the federal facilities, whether it’s the National Park Service or Army Corps of Engineers or anything like that. I can also be reached through Can also be reached directly by I’m more than happy to answer any questions anyone may have. I guarantee I don’t know all the answers, but I can probably point to in a direction or you might be up to get them.

WADE WINGLER:  Ray Bloomer is the director of education and technical assistance for the National Center on Accessibility, good friend of mine, and has been our guest today. Thank you so much for being with us.

RAY BLOOMER:  Thank you for having me. As usual, I always it enjoy our experiences together.

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, shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAProject, or check us out on Facebook. Looking for a transcript or show notes from today’s show? Head on over to Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. Find more shows like this plus much more over at That was your Assistance Technology Update. I’m Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana.

***Transcript provided by TJ Cortopassi.  For transcription requests and inquiries, contact***


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