Constant access can happen with a teacher when students learn how to use Skype with Jaws scripts. The scripts will allow the blind person to go anywhere and do anything in Skype. When sitting in class they can contact the teacher for help through a quick text and recieve the answer in seconds….no matter where the teacher is at in the world.

Watch Youtube video: Demonstration of how to use Skype with Jaws scripts to communicate with students

Now that the Cogswell-Macy Act has been reintroduced in the U.S. House of Representatives as HR3535 and is beginning to get a fair bit more attention, as the principal author of the blindness provisions, I’m starting to hear both a lot of excitement about the bill and some questions about it, and I wanted to make sure that the lines of communication are open and clear. In particular, I’m hearing that some folks are concerned about the bill’s potential impact on braille use and instruction, so let me try to address that. And please feel free to share this with others who may be interested.

First, the Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act is intended to make the strongest case possible for the need for dramatic improvements in the education of students who are blind, deaf, or deafblind, and as such, H.R.
3535 is the most comprehensive special education legislation meeting the unique needs of students with sensory disabilities that our communities have come together to promote in decades. While it is conceivable that the bill could be enacted by the Congress as stand-alone legislation, more than likely, the policy objectives it is intended to achieve will be incorporated in Congress’s overall effort to review and amend the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which the Congress is expected to take up in the next couple of years. However, we shouldn’t wait for Congress, and in fact many of us are working with the U.S. Department of Education now, as we have been doing for a long time, to keep making improvements for students. But the Cogswell-Macy bill sets out the specific longterm legislative changes that must be made to IDEA if all of the students we care about are going to succeed.

The main things that the Cogswell-Macy bill does include: making sure students with sensory disabilities, including those  who have additional disabilities, nevertheless have their blindness, deafness, or deafblindness properly identified and those sensory-specific learning needs addressed; holding states and schools more accountable than they are today for all of the services our students need; adding resources to the blindness community so that our teachers can do their jobs better; and particularly with respect to deafblindness, promote intervener services and much more recognition of the full array of services needed by students with deafblindness. There is a lot to the Cogswell-Macy Act, but in brief, it is really the first time our communities have come together in this way to lay out in know uncertain terms that all of the specialized services our kids need must be met if America’s special education system is going to be meaningful for them.

Far from undermining instruction in and use of braille, the Cogswell-Macy bill reaffirms that every child who is blind is to be provided with braille unless the team of educators, administrators, parents and other advocates, the IEP Team, makes a determination after appropriate evaluation that braille isn’t appropriate for this or that child. This has been the law of the land since 1997. Why isn’t braille being provided today as it should be? We know that there are lots of excuses, including negative attitudes about braille, the unavailability of teachers to teach it, and so on. But one key reason why students are denied braille is that they are not recognized as being blind but are classified as having multiple disabilities or are categorized in one other of the thirteen disability categories in IDEA. Since most of the students we’re fighting for do in fact have additional disabilities, you can imagine that lots of students who are blind or deafblind are getting put into other disability categories and so are not being recognized for their blindness-related learning needs.
The Cogswell-Macy bill puts a stop to this practice, making the braille mandate even more meaningful. And for those students who are in fact blind only, the Macy bill demands, as it does for blind students who do have additional disabilities, that the U.S. Department of Education take the braille mandate much more seriously and track whether students are in fact receiving braille as they should.

It is true that H.R. 3535 also lays out additional services to which students who need such services must clearly have a legal right to in order for them to fully participate and succeed in school. These services include orientation and mobility, low vision services and devices, independent living and other vital services. But it is important to remember that everything in the Cogswell-Macy bill, just like everything in IDEA, is about spelling out what the students we care about must have a right to. No law is automatic or can work without strong advocates to make it a reality.
So what we need to do is to give parents every tool that we can give them to make sure that their children have access to any and all services that they need. For example, if it is suggested to parents that their child be evaluated for independent living services, and the parents say no, our child’s doing very well in that area and we want you to focus on other more pressing unmet needs, then independent living services will not be in the IEP. Conversely, if a school tries to tell parents that teaching students important independent living skills isn’t the school’s responsibility, the Macy bill will ensure that parents can much more effectively challenge that denial of services and, just as importantly, ensure that a blind child who has additional disabilities is taught independent living skills in a way that is truly effective for students who are blind.

As someone who has been a life-long braille reader, I can tell you on a personal note that I would never tolerate any attempt to weaken the existing braille requirements. And I’ll also tell you that, professionally, I have been trying to respond to those in our field who are interested in finding some way to strengthen the braille requirements even more. One way I think that can happen might be to spell out in IDEA that the IEP Team can only make a determination to withhold braille with the parents’ consent.
Right now, IEP Teams make that determination as a group based on consensus but may make that determination in spite of the parents’ objections. Of course, if parents are upset at the denial of braille today, they can formally protest the decision using the procedures and remedies that IDEA provides already. So it seems to me that further restricting IEP Teams’
denial of braille to those situations in which parents concur might be a good way to further empower parents to protect their children’s right to braille. But this proposal hasn’t been written into H.R. 3535 because I know that other consumer advocates for blind kids are thinking through whether they like this approach or whether a different approach would be better or whether the existing law is sufficient.

So the bottom line for now is this– The Macy bill does nothing to the existing presumption for braille instruction and only makes it even more meaningful by ensuring that students who are blind who have additional disabilities nevertheless have their blindness-specific needs honored.
Additionally, the Macy bill empowers parents who want to be sure the fullest possible array of services are available for their children by spelling out exactly what those services are and unequivocally establishing that our kids have a right to these services. The Macy bill does not shove these additional services down students’ throats but rather gives parents clearer legal footholds to stand their ground more effectively for their children.

With that, let me close by thanking you for your advocacy. We’ve got a long road ahead of us, but with the unprecedented collaboration we’ve built with the blindness, deafness and deafblindness communities working together, we are positioning ourselves well to affect significant change. And please do not hesitate to reach out to me directly with any questions or ideas you may have.


Mark Richert, Esq.
Director, Public Policy, AFB
(202) 469-6833

Orientation and Mobility made easier

By Julie Adkins

If you are an independent traveler, or you like to have control over planning your route and finding places around you, I just can’t say enough good things about an app called BlindSquare.  Okay, it costs $30.00.  So, you may ask, why would I want to spend $30.00 on an app if my phone has a GPS app built in, and I can just ask Siri to give me directions wherever I want to go?  First of all, it finds many more places than your iPhone does. This is because behind the scenes it uses data that has been input by thousands of users of a very popular app called Four Square.

Secondly, the app makes it extremely easy to find places to go and things to do (these are called “Points of Interest” or POIs in GPS apps).  Everything is broken down into categories, like Food, Arts and Entertainment, Nightlife spots, Outdoors and Recreation, and Shop and Service, and then each category has a list of subcategories of things as specific as Afghan Food, or Falafel Restaurant (in Food), or Shoe Repair or ATMs (in Shop and Service).  You can just read through the list of places in each category to see what is available, or have it announce the places to you as you are walking or riding.

If you need directions, you can ask it to give you directions to your destination through the built in Maps app, Google maps, or several other popular navigation apps, such as Wav, TomTom, and Navigon. You can even order an Uber ride from right within the app.

If you are walking or riding and having BlindSquare announce Points

of Interest to you as you go, you can use a filter to narrow it down

to just the information you want to hear.  The example they give is

that you want to go shopping for clothes, but you don’t know which shops you want to visit.

You would ask BlindSquare to only tell you places in the Shop and

Service category as you are walking through the city (and of course then you could even narrow it down to one of the subcategories if you wish, like clothing store).  Or maybe have it only look for Food if you are looking for restaurants.  And, of course, you could just search for a specific place if you know exactly where you want to go, or have it search within a specific distance.  Easily save places to your Favorites so you can find them again quickly.  You can even

simulate a trip from a certain spot so you can find out in advance what will be around you when you go somewhere, preplan your routes for when you will be there, and so on.

You can ask Blind Square to tell you what points of interest

(including intersections) are around you within a certain radius, and you get to

choose the radius.  It even has a feature called Look Around that allows you to point your phone in a direction and find out what is located in that particular direction (again, you get to choose the distance).  Just shake the phone to exit this Look Around mode.  When you are walking, you can also just shake the phone to find out where you are.  You can even leave your ears open to listen to traffic and

other sounds in the environment by using bone conducting head phones. No, I didn’t realize there was such a thing, either.  Apparently they have been in use by walkers and joggers for quite some time.  There is a link within the BlindSquare app to find them on Amazon.  It appears they range from about $50 to $150, depending on their features, such as battery life and sound quality.  I would imagine you would want to be sure they are wireless (Bluetooth).

If you want to read about all the features Blindsquare has to offer

(yes, there are more!), you can find the help file on the internet at https://docs.google.com/document/pub?id=1Rz0w2tRq0uAVx9DQ0hpyVCX9G3c8IundPnzksTI1nVQ.  Also check out this YouTube video of a blind person walking around by herself in a mall to see how it can work indoors with devices called iBeacons that transmit information about the person’s location as he or she walks by: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9jH-Bdjmgb4.  No, sorry, these iBeacons are not set up in your local mall. But this shows what is possible for independent travel in the future.  The video has dialogue in another language, so if you use a screen reader, be sure it is set to read captions.  There are other videos about BlindSquare on YouTube-just be sure they are in English.

If you want to try BlindSquare out without buying it, they have a demo version called Blindsquare Event that is free. You can’t use it to get around in your environment (it is not going to connect to any GPS apps), but it lets you try out its other features as if you are located in places like Times Square in New York or Big Ben in London. When the app opens, choose the option for Demo, and then choose the simulated location you want to explore.


Julie Adkins

Assistive Technology Trainer

Inclusive Android is the place to go for your Android Tech Info

Brief info Taken from their page:

This is where it all happens! Share your information, ideas, apps and tips with the community of people with disabilities who are Android users from across the world! Information To Promote Sight, Sound, Physical & Cognitive Digital Inclusion for people with disabilities. If you are just starting out: You might want to start out by browsing the Getting started guides or exploring our directory of apps and games for android. We are always looking for people interested in populating our directories, writing guides and rating apps and games for their level of accessibility. All you need to do is Create an account and verify it via email. Have fun and don’t hesitate to Contact Us if you have any suggestions or problems.

Check it out to see if this is what you need

The Challenges of Surfing While Blind–taken from the Wall Street Journal

My seeing-eye dog can’t help me with your website. Please code it for accessibility.


DeAnn Elliott

July 26, 2015 6:39 p.m. ET


The other day while going about my business on the Internet, I hit a brick wall: a map of the United States.

I was diagnosed at 28 with retinitis pigmentosa and declared legally blind at 41. I no longer see the screen well enough to use my mouse to point and click. But with a standard laptop and some software that reads the screen to me in a voice that sounds like Stephen Hawking’s, I can accomplish nearly everything that I once did with a mouse using memorized key commands.

But to make a purchase on this particular website, I was asked to choose my home state not from an alphabetical list, but by clicking on a map. For a blind person, that’s akin to being in a wheelchair and encountering a flight of stairs.


Photo: Getty Images

A well-designed website that conforms to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG) permits use by people of all abilities. In my case, text labels that identify the buttons and graphical features allow me to “see” what’s on the screen. The code is hidden and need not interfere with the way the website works for sighted customers. But without these features, a site that works beautifully with a mouse is useless to me.

Technology has removed many of the barriers that people with disabilities face in the physical world, making life in the mainstream tantalizingly close. Can’t drive to the mall? There’s Amazon! Can’t read the electric bill? Bank online! As my guide dog and I contemplate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the landmark civil-rights law signed July 26, 1990, the gap between sight and blindness has never been narrower.

The ADA requires government websites to be accessible. Sadly, the law provides little guidance to the private sector on this point, since it was passed before the Internet became ubiquitous. It applies to a “place” of public accommodation—but is the Internet a place? That question has been wending its way through the courts.

Disability advocates have worked to broaden the law’s applicability, with some success. In April, Harvard University and M.I.T. announced plans to voluntarily make their edX website for online courses compliant with the WCAG after deaf advocates filed federal lawsuits alleging discrimination. In 2010 the Justice Department announced it would consider issuing Web-accessibility regulations under the ADA, though the rule-making process lumbers on. With the number of websites growing rapidly, change isn’t coming fast enough.

“More than 50 percent of the websites on the Internet are either inaccessible or unusable for people who use adaptive technology,” Brian Charlson, director of technology at the Carroll Center for the Blind in Newton, Mass., told me in his office a few months back.

The consequences range from inconvenient to significant. When I can’t place an online order at my favorite Vietnamese noodle shop, I get Chinese instead. If a task is urgent, I pester family and friends for “favors.” When they hover over my screen to help me navigate around a virtual barrier, I’m keenly aware that my charge-card number and the details of my transaction are on display. At work, unequal access in an increasingly networked economy contributes to an unemployment rate that’s more than twice as high for people with disabilities—and that’s not counting many who have given up looking for work.

Recently I met a Web programmer who confessed that she omitted accessibility features because they weren’t explicitly required. Deadlines were tight. Budgets were tighter. Most customers liked the graphics. I appreciated her candor.

I explained that making a site accessible shouldn’t be seen as a bother. Rather, compliance helps a company reach the largest number of customers. As techno-savvy baby boomers age into vision and hearing loss, many more people will need accommodation. Companies that fail to adjust risk squandering years of accumulated goodwill.

Further, accessible websites often perform better in search results, since images are tagged with descriptive text. These features benefit people who have limited English proficiency or are using technology in places where they have difficulty reading the screen.

Several organizations, including the nonprofit Carroll Center, offer accessibility consulting to help businesses. “The changes are often cheaper and easier than people think,” Mr. Charlson says. There are three levels of WCAG conformance, and though the highest level might look intimidating, settlements to accessibility lawsuits usually recommend the middle one.

In the 25 years since the passage of the ADA, businesses have removed brick-and-mortar barriers to their facilities, erecting ramps and installing elevators. Now it’s time to finish the job and tear down the virtual barriers. Besides, I’d rather shop than sue.

Ms. Elliott is a Boston-based disability advocate who blogs for the Carroll Center for the Blind.


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