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State University Northridges seventeenth annual international conference
Technology and Persons with Disabilities was held in Los Angeles
on March 18-23. The conference, often referred to as CSUN, was a mecca
of technology companies demonstrating their products and services for
people with disabilities. From screen readers to braille embossers to
voice recognition software, two hotels were filled with the latest assistive
technologies (AT) that hold significant promise for enhancing the lives
of people with disabilities.
Furthermore, as more mainstream companies have become involved with assistive technology companies, IT products in general have become more usable for all segments of the population. In fact, many mainstream technological innovations are the result of solutions originally designed to assist people with disabilities. There are some obvious assistive technologies, such as closed captioning, which are used universally by users with and without disabilities. But there are others that many are not aware of, such as digital cameras, the typewriter, and even the telephone.
In 1874, an inventor (who was also a teacher of children that were deaf and in love with a woman that was deaf) began experimenting with a machine called a phonoautograph. He constructed the machine around an ear taken from a cadaver, and when he spoke, the ears intact membrane vibrated and turned an attached lever that etched sine-curve speech patterns on a slate of smoked glass. This set the inventor to think that it might be possible to vary the intensity of an electrical current in response to spoken words. To this day, this is the same scientific linchpin that transmits speech over wires. Alexander Graham Bell probably never imagined that his invention would ultimately lead to a telecommunications revolution that impacts virtually billions of lives.
So as more and more mainstream companies delve into the area of assistive technology (if history does indeed repeat itself), billions more may benefit from new inventions. Thanks to CSUN, this is happening more rapidly. The following pages explore the contributions of five major conference participants.
Macromedia was a new addition at CSUN this year. They were presenting the accessibility features of Flash MX and the Flash Player 6, which allows developers to create accessible, media rich content.
That might sound like an oxymoron media rich content and accessible? But with the new accessibility features built into Macromedia Flash MX and Flash Player 6, you can design an accessible, media rich website or retrofit your current site to meet W3C [World Wide Web Consortium] and Section 508 [legislation regulating federal websites] accessibility guidelines. Macromedia provides organizations with the complete solution: professional web design software, new Macromedia accessibility extensions and resources for making easy-to-build, high impact web content.
Macromedia was represented by Bob Regan, their Senior Product Manager for Accessibility. Bobs story is a classic example of how failure often leads to success.
When Bob was a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, he had
no intention of working for a technology company when he graduated. But
as he was getting his degree in Education, the university adopted a policy
that all departmental websites had to meet priority 1 & 2 of the World
Wide Web Consortiums Web Accessibility Initiative. But, no training
or tools were provided. The problem was that the faculty heads, department
secretaries and others that were responsible for building websites, didnt
know html [the common web design language], as they mostly used web design
software that does not require programming experience to build their web-
This was a well-intended policy but it put people in challenging position.
They were told to do something that they couldnt do, or they would
be in violation of the new university-wide policy. This set them up to
fail and caused much frustration along the way.
Through Bobs experience of fostering change at the University of Wisconsin, he developed a new philosophy on breaking down resistance to changetools, tools, tools. Anytime you have changes in programming practices, novices have to correct for problems in the tools. Now the industry is helping out with tools that dont require accessibility problem correction.
While still a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, Bob is enjoying his job at Macromedia. One of the most exciting things he is finding out about this initiative is that as more people get involved they are helping their customer base understand issues of accessibility. This has led to even more involvement from folks beyond education and government industries. He was recently asked to present at a music and arts festival in Texas, in which he thought that only about 10-20 participants would attend his session on web design and accessibility. Much to his surprise, well over a 100 attendees came to hear about how to make their websites accessible. This untraditional web accessibility crowd brings innovative approaches to solving accessibility problems.
There are still challenges with Flash and accessibility, but Bobs division is helping customers to understand how they can do a better job with the tools Macromedia provides.
The developers and staff at Macromedia are excited about accessibility. Bob has to hold them back sometimes and remind them to take one step at a time. So while more work lies ahead, they are up for the challenge. Accessibility has become part of the culture at Macromedia, and it is built into all aspects of development, beta testing, quality assurance, and evaluation. This is thrilling for Bob, whose goal has been to make accessibility a core value of the company and a policy that will outlive him.
IBM is no stranger to CSUN. They have been participating in the conference for 16 years, demonstrating innovative assistive technologies, sharing their expertise through presentations, and providing direction as a member of the CSUN Advisory Board. According to Paul Luther, Marketing Programs Manager of the IBM Accessibility Center, CSUN is recognized as one of the leading events focused on disseminating information on assistive technologies for persons with disabilities. IBM is proud to be a part of this great event.
This year, the IBM Accessibility Center expanded their portfolio of solutions to include web accessibility solutions for planning, developing, and testing your website, plus a powerful collaborative e-business solution. Our message was simple, said Luther, IBM has a compelling and comprehensive portfolio of accessible e-business solutions to help solve our customer's problems. This approach was important in that it demonstrated that IBM has the expertise and the solutions to solve customer's accessibility problems.
The IBM Accessibility Kit was available to attendees as a useful guide to plan, develop, and test a website for accessibility. The kit included the IBM Web Accessibility Checklist which allows web designers to understand the requirements for an accessible website. It not only explains what to do to build an accessible website, but also why these features are important and how to test for accessibility. In addition, the kit included information on IBM WebSphere Homepage Builder, a web authoring tool with a built-in accessibility checker, and IBM Home Page Reader, a talking web browser that provides access to the web for blind and low vision users and enables web designers to test their accessible website.
At CSUN, IBM featured these products as well as Lotus Notes, the industry leading collaborative e-business solution, and IBM Thinkpad, for all your mobile computing needs. As a total solution provider IBM was demonstrating that they are the leader in accessible solutions for persons with disabilities.
Furthermore, their presentations at the conference demonstrated how they are developing innovative technologies to solve accessibility issues for people with disabilities worldwide. For example, representatives from the IBM Research Center in Japan presented advanced research technologies they are developing to address web accessibility issues. In addition, IBM representatives presented a methodology that they are using to test and manage their own accessible websites.
For IBM, accessibility is not just about technology for people outside the company, it is for those inside the company as well. In fact, IBM's Special Needs Systems began in 1986, when the company decided to market some of the solutions they had developed for their employees with disabilities to the outside world. The department has since changed its name to the IBM Accessibility Center to more accurately reflect their focus on accessibility everywhere for everyone.
IBM is also deeply committed to diversity and hiring people with disabilities. They actively identify and recruit people with disabilities from IBM's designated National Recruiting Organizations, colleges and universities, and organizations that have a diverse population, especially students with disabilities. IBM continues to be recognized by national organizations, government organizations and publications as a leader for its programs for people with disabilities.
IBM is committed to making information accessible to everyone, everywhere. For more information about IBM solutions for persons with disabilities, visit their website at www.ibm.com/able/.
When Michael Takemura was asked to head up Compaqs Accessibility Program Office, he wasnt shy about making changes at the company. For starters, he helped change the company tag line to reflect the direction his division was leading Compaq. Access: Anytime, Anywhere soon became, Access: Anytime, Anywhere to Anyone.
To Anyone is now the driving force behind anything Compaq
undertakes, from PCs, to Notebooks to the popular hand held iPAQs.
One of the first changes that Compaq made was to its notebook products. Being the first company to develop the portable computer, Compaq wanted to ensure it was accessible.
At the time, most notebook computers had two latches to open them. If
a user were to try to open it with a single hand or a mouth-stick, it
was almost impossible. Compaq then moved to a single latch design so that
the notebooks were easy to open. A simple change like this has made a
world of difference to users. Like many companies that undertake accessibility
consideration in product design, Compaq has found that this feature is
just naturally a good design. For all users, it has reduced the number
of moving parts required to open the computers.
Furthermore, Compaq is committed to establishing partnerships to make sure that assistive technology (AT) products are compatible with Compaqs products. This enables AT vendors to test their product early on in the development cycle of Compaqs new products. Compaq is also working with Microsoft to improve the accessibility and interoperability of the companies joint products. The two companies have begun working with members of the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) on joint activities that will enable assistive technology vendors to improve the compatibility of their products on Compaq/Microsoft platforms. This will enhance the usability of AT for individuals with disabilities and decrease the time needed to develop AT products.
For Michael Takemura, who just celebrated his 10 year anniversary with Compaq, leading the Accessibility Program Office has been hugely rewarding. He was given the position 2 years ago, when he was a marketing manager for Compaqs new products and new initiatives. He was asked to write a proposal on how Compaq would address Section 508. After putting together the business plan, he was asked to lead the division. While Michael did not have any experience with assistive technology or accessibility, he did have a personal experience that made him aware of what it meant to need accessibility. At age 19, Michael was in an accident that left him with paraplegia. But his lack of assistive technology experience, he believes, brings a fresh, new approach to the table. He is able to look at issues in a new way, and this has given him the insight to take on some of the challenges facing the industry. There are many times when I have heard that we cant do something, but a new approach can add to the process, and create new solutions.
One of Michaels new solutions is to help mainstream accessibility. One of the Accessibility Program Offices goals is to expose as many industry leaders as possible to assistive technology. Compaq therefore invites its AT vendors to join them at some of the most popular computing trade shows, such as Comdex and PC Expo. This helps other technology manufacturers that might not visit an AT booth to view and interact augmentative software and hardware at Compaqs booths. According to Michael, Mainstreaming accessibility and assistive technology will make it more accessible for everyone. Not a day goes by without receiving an email from someone who either has a disability or knows someone with a disability that is looking for something to help them. While we dont develop assistive technology, we need to make every effort to ensure it will work well with what we are all creating.
The CSUN conference was really important to Microsoft. One of the reasons is that it gave us a chance to come out and demonstrate the level of partnership we have been engaged in over the past year, says Madelyn Bryant McIntire, Director of Microsofts Accessibility Product Team.
Microsoft demonstrated its ongoing commitment to making technology available to everyone by announcing the newest wave of industry support for Windows XP operating system-compatible technologies being developed to enable people with disabilities to live, learn and work more productively.
Blindness from diabetes runs in McIntires family. I read the Helen Keller story several times and I was pretty sure that was my destiny. In my adult life, I had the circumstances of having family members (including my husband) with disabilities. That opened my eyes to a field that had really been hidden from me. At that point, accessibility was something I really felt that I needed to do and it needed me. So, I joined the Accessibility Product Team in August of 1999, realizing that my own ignorance, despite all the disability around me in my life, was probably typical.
The Accessibility Product Team at Microsoft has been here for a decade in a variety of forms, but it really became a whole team only a few years ago, says McIntire. Were kind of a microcosm of the company, in a way. We have all the functional areas it takes to ship a product and a little bit extra.
We have folks that are internal evangelists that help product groups
understand whats important about making their products accessiblewhere
they should really focus. We have teams that do the marketinghow
people get the right external message about our infrastructure, our products,
the value of our products to businesses and individuals. We have a product
team that actually develops infrastructure within the operating system
thats used by partners, assistive technology vendors and mainstream
companies to make their products accessible. We have all of the components
from testing to marketing to internal evangelism to external evangelism
to be able to run a small business in itself within Microsoft. And one
of the main focuses for that group right now is making sure executives
across the company are very connected to the needs of all their customers.
And weve had really great success with that. The executive teams
across the company are wonderful champions for accessibility internally
and they have really in many cases set expectations and standards for
their own teams that are very, very high in order to continue to improve
on accessibility, moving more and more towards an accessible future.
In the past, users with disabilities often had to wait up to 18 months
for assistive technology software and devices that would support a newly
released operating system. The support for Windows XP has been delivered
with unprecedented speed. The new products and technologies announced
at CSUN are from Assistive Technology Inc. (ATI), IntelliTools Inc., Kurzweil
Educational Systems Ltd., Macromedia Inc., Madentec Ltd., ScanSoft Inc.,
Words+ Inc. and ZYGO Industries Inc. They join previously announced Windows
XP-compatible products from companies such as Ai Squared, Dolphin Computer
Access, Freedom Scientific Inc., GW Micro Inc., Interactive Solutions
Inc., NXi Communications Inc. and Tash Inc., which were available to users
when Microsoft launched Windows XP last October.
The Alliance for Technology Access (ATA) celebrated their 15-year anniversary at the CSUN Conference. The ATA is an important partner in helping to bring the latest and greatest technology demonstrated at CSUN to the community level.
ATA was formed by Jacquelyn Brand, the mother of a youth with a disability. Jacquelyn was the founder of the first community-based technology resource center for people with disabilitiesthe Center for Accessible Technology, in Berkeley, California. This led to the creation of a national network of such centers.
ATA promotes the development of strong technology access centers for persons with disabilities across the nation. They work to meet the enormous need for access to and procurement of technology for people with disabilities. They are currently a nationwide network of over three dozen assistive technology resource centers and 80 technology companies. ATA centers directly serve over 100,000 people with disabilities and their families each year. They work with 1700 community organizations, over 600 school systems and 180 college and universities. The centers also play an important role in helping technology developers interface with users to assess and improve the accessibility and usability of their products and services.
The Jacquelyn Brand Leadership Award
ATA awarded Mr. Floyd Stewart and Ms. Mary Ann Glicksman the sixth Jacquelyn
Brand Leadership in Assistive Technology Award at the opening reception
of the 15th Annual Alliance for Technology Access Institute held in conjunction
with the CSUN Conference.
This Years Award Recipients
Mr. Steward has made significant improvements in the lives of people with disabilities in his home state of Tennessee. Following a life changing spinal cord injury, Mr. Stewart began changing his own life in ways that have helped thousands of Tennesseans with disabilities change their lives as well. Mr. Stewart learned to use a Headmaster (sip & puff assistive technology tool) to operate a computer that allowed him to attend college. Eight years ago he was unemployed and living in a nursing home. Today he is gainfully employed as an independent living advocate/program coordinator and owns his own accessible home. In addition to working with many individuals in counseling and advocacy efforts through his job, he also works tirelessly with federal, state and local legislators and government personnel on development of home and community-based long term supports including assistive technology and American with Disabilities Act (ADA) issues. His advocacy efforts resulted in $11,000,000 in state appropriations last year for home and community-based long term care. He was also influential in the mayors decision in Nashville, TN to spend $20,000,000 to bring the Nashville Metros facilities and services into compliance with the ADA. Mr. Stewarts journey is remarkable from being an unemployed African American male living in a nursing home on government benefits to becoming a fully employed homeowner who influences assistive technology and other services, resources, and opportunities for individuals with disabilities at the local, state, and national levels.
Ms. Glicksman has for years been an extremely strong advocate in the appropriate and full use of assistive technologyas a parent, volunteer, ATA center staff member, founder, and now as the director of the Computer Access Center in Los Angeles. In all of her roles, she has practiced the principle that assistive technology tools must be available to everyone who might benefit from them, regardless of age, environment, or ability to pay for goods and services. She has established a successful computer course that serves people with disabilities in the Los Angeles area that may not have this opportunity in their communities. Many graduates of this computer course have found successful employment from the skills learned in class. Ms. Glicksman also participates in many outreach/advocacy community events, promotes equal access in society for all programs and buildings, and gains valuable contacts in the community. She also currently serves as Vice President of Administration for the International Society of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ISAAC). Her efforts in both individual and systemic advocacy have impacted on many hundreds of consumers, families and service providers and ensured that those consumers have access to the tools that they need to participate fully in mainstream society.
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