Monday, January 29, 2007

Outer Space and Inner Darkness

January 29, 2007
Howdy Comrades!
I’ve continued to post comments in support of the incarcerated blind China activist, Chen Guang- Cheng.  You should know that I am not totally hostile to China, but I have grave concerns about this particular case and fear for Chen Guang- Cheng’s safety in jail.  Please take a few moments to write our ambassador and to the PRC delegation to the United Nations.  If it shortens his jail time by even a day, it is well worth your effort.  Here’s my latest comment on the Free Chen Guang- Cheng
Howdy from Texas!
I have contacted both Chinese and United States diplomats asking only that our blind brother, Chen Guang- Cheng be given his freedom.  My previous comment was very angry because I was upset to learn that torture was a threat to this brave gentleman.  There is much to admire about China.  For instance, I marvel at China’s recent accomplishments in the exploration of space.  I think it is quite possible that China will send men safely to the moon within the next fifteen years.  This brings up a question in my mind.  How can a country so advanced technologically be so backwards as to imprison a harmless blind man who only saw injustice and attempted to stop it?
Regards, Chairman Mal: Power to the peeps!

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Curser of Web 2.0

The Curser of Web 2.0

I naively thought we had more time before the new and improved Internet began to hinder our participation in the web commerce of the third millennium.  I should have known better.  First, I read in Blind Confidential that Apple’s much vaunted I Phone does not meet the accessibility requirements under Section 255 of the Federal Communications Act.  Despite Steve Jobbs boasting that Apple is committed to inclusive technology for the blind, we are totally left out of his latest venture.  I’m still waiting for access to I Tunes and those nifty little I Pods.  During the ice storm last week, I thought there might be a chance this could happen, but hell froze over with no word from Apple!
Below is an article from Blind news that shows how some blind people are already affected by the cool new features for sighted folks in the Web 2.0 environment.  At least we can take some measure of comfort that IBM and Microsoft are attempting to head these problems off at the pass:
    AP Worldstream
Saturday, January 20, 2007

Accessibility and Web 2.0- (The Blind Bookworm Blog)

Kestrell: One of the best introductions to some of the issues facing blind computer users who want to participate in Web 2.0, posted to an educational adaptive
tech mailing list

Programmers try to keep disability access up to date with the Web's dynamic advances
Technology Review:
WESTFORD, Mass. (AP) -- Cynthia Ice is blind and lives in the suburbs, so shopping on the Internet can make her routine easier. But it also leads her into
odd dead ends -- like the time a technical shift in a Web grocery site made its meat department inaccessible to her screen-reading software.  "Everybody
could go on the Atkins diet but me," she joked.

Such troubles are especially common for computer users with disabilities as the Web takes on many features that make sites appear more like dynamic programs
than static documents.  While that design trend gives many people more engaging Web experiences, good old static documents can be much easier for screen-reading
software to decipher and narrate to the blind. Such software has trouble interpreting newer ''Web 2.0'' features, such as text that pops up without a mouse
click, or data that automatically update in real time.

''The new technology being implemented poses even more of a threat to the small accessibility wins we have made,'' Steven Tyler, who heads disability access
services at Britain's Royal National Institute for the Blind, wrote in an e-mail. "Around 80 percent of Web sites we estimate as having accessibility problems,
some considerable."

However, progress is being made on programming hooks that would help screen-reading tools grasp the new Web's advanced layers of content.  Web architects
at IBM Corp. have been laboring on a system called iAccessible2 that addresses some common scenarios bedeviling screen-reading software.

For example, consider software ''trees'' where clicking on little plus or minus signs in boxes expands data or rolls it up. To the ears of someone using
screen-reading software, the setup can present a hard-to-visualize jumble.  To deal with this, iAccessible2 makes it possible for a blind user to be told
where text on the screen lies in the tree. A bit of text might be the second item on a list of five, for example, at a ''depth'' of two -- meaning it required
a click to be revealed.

Aspects of iAccessible2 are being integrated into the open-source Firefox Web browser. The technology also is entering IBM's Lotus and Workplace office-productivity
programs. Ice, 48, who has been blind for 20 years because of diabetes, helps lead the effort in Lotus.

A longer-term goal is to make it easier for blind people to deal with Web pages that offer complicated stews of changing information.  IBM Web architect
Aaron Leventhal pointed to basketball box scores that dynamically update dozens of statistics as a game progresses. A sighted person easily can zero in
on the most vital information -- the game score -- and glance only occasionally at unfolding data of lesser importance, such as free-throw percentages.
But how can a screen-reading program know to utter only certain stats as they are updated and not every single one?

Leventhal and colleagues believe one answer is to encode parts of a Web page -- in this case, certain statistics -- as ''rude,'' ''assertive'' and ''polite.''
Screen-reading software could be programmed to vocalize ''polite'' information anytime and the ''assertive'' data less frequently.  This concept is still
in development, but Leventhal hopes it becomes part of Web production tools so site designers bake it in as they create pages.  "We don't want accessibility
to be the thing that limits what people can do on their Web sites," Leventhal said. "We're not trying to slow down the world. We're trying to say, take
accessibility into account."

For Web designers, more foresight surrounding inclusiveness could become crucial to their business, as the aging baby boomer population requires more assistance.
Already, Target Corp.'s Web site is the subject of a closely watched federal lawsuit testing whether the Internet falls under the Americans With Disabilities
While much of iAccessible2 is geared toward blind people's navigation of the Web, it also is aimed at desktop software -- including open-source programs
that are alternatives to Microsoft Corp.'s dominant Windows and Office products.  Because of Microsoft's enormous market share, makers of assistive add-on
software have devoted most of their resources to ensuring compatibility with Windows and Office. As a result, software outside that fold is often troublesome
for blind people.  Screen-readers' access to Microsoft programs relies on the company's Accessibility Architecture, a programming system invented a decade
ago. IAccessible2 is essentially an update of it. Meanwhile, Microsoft has spent the past few years honing a new approach it believes will be more powerful.

Generally, Web sites have had to inform assistive technologies which specific controls or inputs they were using. That's why advanced Web sites with ''slider
bars'' and other dynamic functions can befuddle screen readers -- essentially, the assistive programs hadn't been told they might encounter those particular
Web environments.  The fix has generally been to constantly update the list of functions that assistive technologies would encounter, and add the necessary
programming links.  But under Microsoft's new system, known as User Interface Automation, Web and application designers don't have to label the names of
each function. Instead they select from a list of 18 criteria to describe what each function does -- it pulls down a menu, for example, or it makes text
expand.  This way, screen readers react to the behavior of a particular function on the Web and not whatever label it happened to get in the programming
code.  ''It lets them deal with controls that have yet to be invented,'' said Rob Sinclair, who heads Microsoft's assistive technologies group. The process
no longer has to be ''a continual maintenance nightmare.''

For now, programmers and assistive technology vendors still have to figure out how to incorporate User Interface Automation with other technologies, including
iAccessible2. However, Doug Geoffray, vice president of development of GW Micro Inc., a maker of software for the blind, said his field always expects
such complexities.  "It's a never-ending battle," he said.


BlindNews mailing list
Stay tuned to the Little Red Book and check out Blind Confidential for future developments.  A petition to force Apple to comply with Section 255 is likely.  Keep warm and beware of all that ice.
Regards, Chairman Mal: Power to the peeps!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Overcoming the Fumes

Overcoming the Fumes

Howdy Comrades!
I finally heard from Cap Metro concerning my questions about the voucher program, but I still have not been given any real answers.  My request for information has been referred to the Legal Department.  
I expect Cap Metro to comply with all aspects of the compromise agreement with the ATC/NFB-T and other blind STS users who joined the settlement resulting from my successful complaint to UMPTA that challenged the trip restrictions and trip priorities with respect to the Taxi voucher contract.  This means that we have the absolute right to use vouchers for vetinary trips relating to the use of dog guides.  Furthermore, we have the right to change vouchers that have been already approved as long as the cost does not exceed the first voucher.  
I may be willing to further compromise in terms of the time frame in which vouchers may be changed or edited.  Our original agreement was that we could change the vouchers as late as one hour prior to calling the taxi.  We may agree to
A one day notice with exceptions for medical emergencies.  Moreover, I feel that Cap Metro has acted in bad faith by offering policy changes to citizens at public hearings, and when these were overwhelmingly rejected during the ADA required process, Metro officials moved to accomplish these policy Changes by administrative fiat.  As the designated Cap Metro rep for the ATC of the NFB-T, I can say that this is not acceptable to the blind community in Austin.  If the MTA persists in making illegal administrative changes, I will seek to have all trip priorities and trip restrictions eliminated.
I was told, much to my amazement, that the "fraud" in the voucher program actually exceeds the $250,000. Figure that was previously acknowledge by Cap Metro staff.   I was told that the "fraud" is pervasive.  I asked if the fraud was related to passengers changing their vouchers as had been customary in the past, and I was told that this was not considered fraud.  Staff stated that other STS passengers who are not blind have been selling their unused cab vouchers for half the price of the trip.  My Response is that the fraud should be addressed; real fraudster should be prosecuted, but blind STS users should not have their transportation disrupted because the MTA failed to establish proper auditing procedures in the past.  Frankly, I’m appalled that Cap Metro, the sole instrumentality charged with providing efficient and accessible public transportation, the collector of millions in local taxes and Federal funds could be so incompetent.  How can we trust Cap Metro to build and manage the new light rail service if they can’t figure out how to provide cab subsidies to blind STS users?  After all, the MTA in Houston has provided cab subsideies   to far more passengers with no trip restrictions, no intrusive trip priorities and with little if any fraud.  That program seems to be both efficient and fiscally transparent.  
Comrades, we must recall the struggles led by Martin Luther King, whose birthday the nation celebrates today.  Dr. King taught us to challenge the status quo, to seek justice and equality for all.  His dream began in Montgomery Alabama in a fume of buses.  Let us bring the same resolve to fight this matter in his honor.
(To be continued)
Chairman Mal: Power to the Peeps!
Afterward:  I’ve been asked to post fixed route and STS “horror stories” by blind people who say that their complaints have been ignored.  Bring them on!  I do, however, reserve the right to decline objectionable posts, and I may ask for clarification if your narrative seems unclear to me.  CM

Saturday, January 06, 2007

A Fume of Buses: Part Two

LRB A Fume of Buses Part Two
Howdy Comrades!
We begin 2007 with a frontal attacked by Capital metro staff on the very successful Taxi voucher Program used by hundreds of blind passengers to get to work, college, to medical appointments and grocery shopping trips.  Blind representatives on the Access Committee have been systematically ignored, even threatened with impeachment for opposing this clumsy attempt by Metro to eliminate the Taxi Voucher Program.  Our blind representatives are held in such contempt by staff that agendas, handouts and crucial information is never provided in accessible formats until a complaint is filed, long after the meeting.
Recently, taxi drivers who accept the MTA vouchers have been treated like criminals by Metro staff.  Many have had vouchers denied when information is different than Metro thinks it should be, even though the errors come from Metro staff.  Consequently, tired of having to jump through hoops just to get paid, the number of taxi drivers now willing to accept vouchers have been cut in half.  Moreover, Cap Metro has now decided that all cab drivers who accept vouchers must undergo random drug tests at their own expense.  One driver stated, “What will they ask for next, my DNA?”
Recently the Access Committee was informed that yet another consultant has been hired to “fix” the voucher program.  In fact, this person’s actual job is to find a contractor to take the trips currently handled by cab companies.  The reason Cap Metro gives for this move is that they can’t control cab drivers.  They now refuse to change or edit existing vouchers even if the passenger makes the request the day before.  Why should Metro care?  The reason, once again, is that they have to control the purpose of the trip, and changing any vouchers could change the trip purpose.  I have argued this issue many times before.  Trip restrictions and trip priorities are clearly illegal according to federal law.  Perhaps some blind folks should stand in front of busy fixed route buses and demand to know if a person getting on the bus is going to the doctor?  If they answer no, we should tell them that only folks actually going to a physician may ride the bus because Metro must control the types of trips the taxpayers want to pay for.  How long would it take for the sighted public to call the cops?  Not long, I warrant.
(To be continued)
Chairman Mal
Power to the Peeps!