Archive for the ‘Advocacy’ Category
Friday, March 30th, 2012
That would’ve been 1985
I was 17 a high school senior. I was thinking about college, girls, friends and my future. Like most 17 year olds it probably wasn’t in that order!
Back then we wore AJ’s, Lee’s, Adidas, Nike and yes hoodies – hooded sweatshirts. In fact, there still a major part of my work from home wardrobe. Go to any college campus and you will find all types of students dressed in hoodies; some with baggy jeans others with shorts and sandals. You can even find them in offices and cubicles in Silicon Valley, i.e. Mark Zuckerberg founder of Facebook.
I stress this idea that the hooded sweatshirt is a universal garment because people in the media are using Travon Martin’s wardrobe as a way to categorize him and judge his character.
As you probably know, Travon Martin is the young teenager who was murdered by George Zimmerman, a 28 year old wanna-be cop. As of this writing, Zimmerman has not been arrested for this crime.
Not many facts about the case are truly known. We do know that Zimmerman is reported to have called the police close to 50 times in a year. Each time reporting observing “suspicious characters.” We know he was told to stop following this so called suspicious character who turned out to be Travon. We know a young man is dead.
A real unfortunate fact that so many don’t like to discuss is that this is not new to America. African American males assumed criminals and murdered whether by gun, beating or rope. It’s a fact that those who don’t want to deal with accuse those who remind them, of “making it racial.”
Since 5th grade I learned I was no longer an innocent boy in the hearts and minds of many in this country. When clowning around with a friend in school, I alone was removed from the class. I remember my teachers face turning evil as she yelled at me in the hall and accused me of looking at her with “that face.” She towered over me, but yet said she was scared of what my face was telling her.
I learned that this would be something I would have to deal with all my life. My “look”.
Fortunately, my father explained to me that I would never be looked at the same. Now I was getting a little size, my voice was getting deeper and people’s perception of me would move me from the innocent to the suspect category.
Throughout my life, I have experienced situations that could have ended much worse than they actually did. Whether driving while black, walking while black, riding the train while black and the first incident, looking while black.
This isn’t new!
It’s hard to read and watch how this story is being played out in the media. It all starts with the criminalization of Travon’s name and image. Again, none of this is new. Next, panelists are brought out to analyze the story and bring up issues that are unrelated to the case. Yes, there’s black on black crime, yes there’s the glorification of gangster life, but none of that has to do with this case.
Emmett Till knows.
Yusef Hawkins knows.
Amadou Diallo Knows.
And so do many others who are nameless.
This case is so heavy on my mind and I’m not exactly sure why.
I’d like to hope it’s because I am human and the senseless loss of life affects me.
I wonder if it’s because I am a Dad and I can feel for Travon’s parents.
Maybe it’s because I can remember being Travon and the wonderful memories of that time in my life. So much hope and potential, but another young brother won’t have that same opportunity all because he was assumed guilty.
Wednesday, February 29th, 2012
This past weekend I had the opportunity to participate in the ACB President’s Meeting and Legislative Seminar.
The President’s meeting is a chance for leaders of state affiliates of the American Council of the Blind to participate in presentations and share information all geared to aid the growth of the state organizations.
The Legislative Seminar focuses on the main goal of the organization, advocacy. The weekend consists of presentations designed to assure all attendees are prepared to speak to Federal Legislators on pre-determined imperatives.
For more information on the advocacy side, please read my daily coverage from DC posted on MCCB online.org.
Now you know it’s just natural that I would want to focus on the impact technology has made on the seminar experience.
While this was not my first time participating in the seminar, there have been a few technology changes since my first visit to DC in 2007. Although some of the technology was available in various forms, it was not as prevalent among people with vision loss due to the lack of accessible options.
Although Twitter began in 2006 and became more popular in 2007, the lack of a truly usable interface limited its popularity and usage in the blind community.
It was great to see that access via ios devices and screen reader friendly programs has made its usage close to on par with those who are sighted.
Attendees and remote participants alike could collaborate on all things related to the seminar via the hash tag # NLS12.
I have to send a shout out to ACB National for their posting of notes during the seminar. They provided great information which enabled me to rely on their notes and comments for my own purposes.
ACB Radio has provided live coverage of the seminar in past years. A more recent development is the ability to access the audio stream while on the go. Again, smart phones, especially the IPhone, have improved this access for those of us with vision loss.
I’m almost ashamed to say that I did not take advantage of some additional tech that could have assisted my time on the Hill. Several people on my Twitter timeline talked about various Congress related apps that provide lots of information including quick access to email addresses and even Twitter handles to publicly thank the representatives for their time.
I thought of using a DC Metro map application to help with navigating our way from the hotel to the Capital. Unfortunately this thought came to me after we were on the train! Man, I must be slipping.
My focus was on providing those in my PCB family with varying forms of media to give them an opportunity to experience the seminar remotely. I attempted to shoot a video and load to YouTube, but unfortunately the audio was too poor. Video, you ask? Yes, indeed, remember not everyone in the organization is totally blind. In fact chances are that the majority have some usable vision. I know this is true in my local chapter. And why not, if we produce the video right, it is the most universally accessible and appealing.
I did get a chance to record spontaneous audio captured on the way home following our visit to the hill.
All in all, it was a great trip and I hope most of all that our efforts prove to be successful – we see the passing of HR 860 and HR 4087.
Monday, October 24th, 2011
The 2011 PCB State Convention & Conference theme was “Embracing Change”. Throughout the weekend we had the chance to see this in action.
A new administration was voted in which included President, Tony Swartz, yours truly as PCB First Vice President and Second Vice President Sue Lichtenfels.
The organization is going through several other changes and we definitely have our work cut out for us. I’m really looking forward to this opportunity to help grow the organization. It’s not that often in life that we have a chance to impact both individuals and an organizations direction and future.
As I discussed here several years ago, my first convention was a great learning experience filled with information and emotion.
It was the first time on a large scale being around others with varying degrees of vision loss. Interacting with people with multiple disabilities who were living active independent lifestyles. Meeting men and women who committed themselves to advocating for those with vision loss.
Following my first convention, I had the opportunity to work on the Planning Committee and help develop and implement the convention program.
Although I served in various roles throughout the years, this year bloomed new experiences
As Co-Chair of this year’s committee, I had a new level of responsibility. This year I added several new duties to the list including assuring the meeting stayed on schedule, all dealings with the hotel management and in general making sure the convention was a success.
I was also very fortunate to be able to help acclimate a new MCCB member and help assure she was able to get the most out of the experience.
Unfortunately, I have seen individuals attend a convention and never really get the full set of understandings and lessons available. They choose to only participate in the social aspects, for example, and then later question why they didn’t know about a particular issue or a new piece of helpful technology.
The social opportunities are great too. I enjoyed some fun times hanging out with other members in the hotel bar. You get to see an inside into their personality that you may have never seen before.
The weekend was long and exhausting. It was just Perfect!
Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010
With such technological progress, why does gaining access to documentation in a readable format require so much change?
When individuals are experiencing vision loss, there are specific state and sometimes privately sponsored services in which they are eligible to receive. These include Vision Rehabilitation and O&M or orientation and mobility. The first provides a person with training in specific techniques to aid in daily living skills, including rearranging their home, accomplishing everyday tasks like cooking and even methods for on the job organizing. O&M training instructs a person to use a white cane and other techniques to aid in travel.
People seeking these services are usually assigned a counselor who is responsible for determining and administrating the services required. As these are government sponsored services, you can imagine that there is paper work associated with the process. Whether opening a case, scheduling meetings with the various specialist’s or requesting information, some form of correspondence is required.
One thing shared by all clients of the agency is vision loss and therefore the inability to read standard print.
For years, advocates have been asking for all correspondence to be produced and distributed in an accessible format specific to the client – enabling independent access for all. This has become known as the requesting of alternative formats.
Alternative as defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
Different from the usual or conventional: as a: existing or functioning outside the established cultural, social, or economic system <an alternative newspaper>
As I mentioned earlier the majority of client’s being served by the blindness agencies share in their inability to access print. It seems to me therefore the “normal” in the system of an agency serving people with vision loss, would be a choice of Braille, large print, accessible digital formats, audio and sometimes text.
There’s no reason that an agency specializing in vision loss should consider this an accommodation or an alternative.
One of the things that make attending a conference hosted by a blindness advocacy organization so great is the access to information in a format easily accessible. For most sitting down in a restaurant and being offered a Braille or large print menu or receiving accessible documents electronically prior to the event are not everyday occurrences.
Blindness agencies, with which I personally have had positive experiences, can greatly benefit from a language modification. Let’s stop talking about alternative formats and replace with accessible.
Tuesday, October 19th, 2010
I’ve written on a variety of access issues; software, cell phones and transportation are just a few. Hopefully not all of the issues I presented appeared to be a lost cause. It’s important to discuss in order to increase awareness.
I’ve been thinking a lot about access lately, mainly related to an upcoming presentation at this year’s Pennsylvania Council of the Blind’s 75th Annual Conference, in Pittsburgh.
My presentation is on new interfaces, not necessarily from a technical perspective, but rather the implications these changes have on our lives as blind people and how we can advocate for inclusion.
While preparing for my presentation, which included researching how we may interact with technology in years to come, it’s easy to understand how someone can have a negative outlook on the future of accessibility. Many current technology and research projects taking place today are not including the blind community.
I choose to remain optimistic about the future. Maintaining this outlook will probably take more work than a pessimist. So much of what we read and hear on news programs concentrate on the negative. Being turned down or ignored by organizations when requesting access can really deter.
However, there are some recent developments that make the challenge of an optimist a bit easier. Probably the most discussed in the news lately is the signing of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act.
In summary, the legislation that was recently signed by President Obama will be the beginning of the next level of access for people with disabilities. This includes closed captioning for the deaf and Video Description for the blind. Even more than the various access requirements, I’m hopeful that an added benefit of corporations and others including disability concerns will change the way we think about living with disabilities.
Assuring access to technology, transportation, employment improves the lives of people with vision loss, as well as the entire society.
Going forward, I hope to feature other stories that shine a bright light on a positive future of accessibility.
Wednesday, August 18th, 2010
I received a call last week notifying me that the equipment at the Regal Theater has been repaired. Apparently, the initial service call may have repaired the equipment, but there was an undetected electrical problem.
I have not been back to the theater, but thanks to the Regal my next visit will be on them.
Shout out to the Regal for resolving the issue and just as important, being responsive.
I’ll let you know if all is well.
BTW – My bad on the delay giving Regal their props!
Friday, February 19th, 2010
It’s that time of year again, when ACB members gather in Washington DC. Walking the halls of Congress to present the issues that are impacting people who are blind and visually impaired throughout the country.
An empowering 4 days, where a message of independence is delivered not only to our nation’s representatives, but all of those in the capitol who interact with a determined and well informed group of advocates.
As in the past, MCCB has once again sponsored delegates to attend the week end seminar. Mary Ann will again provide feedback and share information with the local chapter, which we in turn share with our readers.
The 2010 ACB Legislative Seminar officially kicks off on Saturday with the state affiliate President’s meeting. Check back throughout the weekend and next week for updates and analysis.
Wednesday, April 8th, 2009
I received the below email from the Author’s Guild in response to the Reading Rights Coalition protest held yesterday in NYC.
Based on their statement it still appears that the definition of audio rights will have to first be agreed upon. As someone who has been reading both books using TTS and audio narration, I have to say there is no comparison. TTS is simply the communication medium available to those of us who are considered print impaired. Audio narrated books on the other hand are performances of the author’s work.
The guild seems to be very eager to renegotiate contracts. They accuse Amazon of taking advantage of author’s audio rights in order to take a position in the E-Book market, but it seems the Guild is using this to force renegotiations.
I understand the guild’s focus is the welfare of their writer’s and Amazon is a business out to make money, but damn folks, all we want is equal access to books!
Something is wrong with this picture!
Author’s Guild response – April 7, 2009:
Dear Mr. Reid,
Thank you for your phone call today. We issued the following statement today in response to the protest:
Authors want everyone to read their books. That’s why the Authors Guild, and authors generally, are strong advocates for making all books, including e-books, accessible to everyone. This is not a new
position for us. For decades, we’ve informed new authors that the expected and proper thing to do is to donate rights so that their works
can be accessible to the blind and others. In October, we were praised by the National Federation of the Blind for the settlement of our lawsuit against Google, which promises "to revolutionize blind
people’s access to books," according to the Federation’s press release.
E-books do not come bundled with audio rights. So we proposed to the Federation several weeks ago the only lawful and speedy path to make e-books accessible to the print disabled on Amazon’s Kindle:
1. The first step is to take advantage of a special exception to the Copyright Act known as the Chafee Amendment, which permits the blind and others with certified physical print disabilities access to special versions, including audio versions, of copyrighted books. Technology makes this step easy: certified users of existing Kindles could activate their devices online to enable access to voice-output versions of all e-books. This process could be ready to go within weeks.
2. Since step one would help only those with sufficient eyesight to navigate the current Kindle, we encourage Amazon or another e-book
device manufacturer to make an e-book device with voice output capability that would be truly blind-accessible, with a Braille
keyboard and audible menu commands.
3. Finally, we need to amend existing book contracts to allow voice-output access to others, including those with learning
disabilities, that don’t qualify for special treatment under the Chafee Amendment. There’s no getting around the need to amend contracts: for the past 16 years, standard publishing contracts with most major trade
publishers do not permit publishers to sell e-books bundled with audio rights. Fortunately, publishing contracts are amendable, and can (once terms have been negotiated) be handled in a systematic fashion.
The Authors Guild will gladly be a forceful advocate for amending contracts to provide access to voice-output technology to everyone. We will not, however, surrender our members’ economic rights to Amazon or anyone else. The leap to digital has been brutal for print media generally, and the economics of the transition from print to e-books do not look as promising as many assume. Authors can’t afford to start this transition to digital by abandoning rights. Knowing how difficult the road ahead is for the already fragile economics of authorship, we are particularly troubled at how all this arose, with Amazon attempting to use authors’ audio rights to lengthen its lead in the fledgling e-book industry. We could not allow this rights grab to happen. Audio books are a billion dollar market, the rights for which are packaged separately from — and are far more valuable than — e-book rights.
That said, our support for access by all disabled readers is steadfast, and we know how to make it happen. The Federation rightly heralded the settlement in Authors Guild v. Google. That class-action settlement represents a quantum leap in accessibility to books for the disabled. It will, if approved, make far more books than ever before, potentially tens of millions of out-of-print books, accessible to not only the blind, but to people with any type of print disability.
Through the Google settlement, we have a solution for out-of-print book accessibility. We’re confident we can arrive at a solution for in-print books as well.
Today’s protest is unfortunate and unnecessary. We stand by our offer, first made to the Federation’s lawyer a month ago and repeated several times since, to negotiate in good faith to reach a solution for making in-print e-books accessible to everyone. We extend that same offer to
any group representing the disabled.
Feel free to contact the office if you have any questions or would like
The Authors Guild
31 East 32nd St., 7th Floor
New York, NY 10016
212-563-5904; fax: 212-564-5363
Tuesday, April 7th, 2009
This was one of the slogans chanted during Tuesday’s protest organized by the Reading Rights Coalition. The demonstration, held outside of the NYC office of The Author’s Guild, seemed to be well attended both in person and virtually.
Thanks to Mika Pyykhala and John Oliveira of the Association of Blind Citizens for streaming the event.
The program consisted of representatives from the various RRC participating organizations. Each showing their support for the right to equal access to books.
Those of us who were listening to the stream were asked to call the Author’s Guild @ (212) 563-5904 to urge them to reverse their position. When I called, I was told that the guild would release a statement later today. The receptionist took my email and said I would be included on the distribution.
So Close but yet So Far!
Today’s protest was a great example of the power that comes with technology. Two individuals using a net book, microphone, broadband card and software were able to independently stream the event and provide those of us unable to attend with the instant information we were seeking.
The Kindle, once made navigable, has the TTS built in that will potentially provide access to over 250,000 books. Technology can provide access.
Ironically, it appears that the technology hurdle is about to be cleared, and now The Author’s Guild creates an artificial barrier in the form of content restrictions.
Access to information has increased within the five years I have been aware of the issue. However, it has mainly come via specialty products not generally available or applicable to the mainstream. The Victor Reader Stream, while a great product is unknown and unavailable in general electronic stores or web sites. This small market segment tends to be the main reason given by Access Technology product manufacturer’s for their comparatively expensive price tag.
A fully accessible Kindle with built in TTS available for any book purchased at the one price, well, that is a game changer.
We are so close!
While the number of signatures on the petition are increasing, I think we should be over ten thousand already. The two blind consumer organizations combined is an estimated 75 thousand individuals, each with at least one family member or friend, acquaintance, neighbor…
If you are reading this blog chances are you support this issue – c’mon peeps, sign the petition and play a part in change.
Holla back via the comments after signing the petition.
Saturday, April 4th, 2009
I just signed the petition started by the Reading Rights Coalition.
This organization began after Amazon released their latest version of their E-Book reader, the Kindle 2.0. The product which has built in Text to Speech has been attacked by the Author’s Guild. The Guild argues that this feature which uses synthetic speech to read the contents of a book,violates copyright laws. The Author’s Guild contends that the use of speech makes this an audio book which would require additional licensing fees.
A coalition of organizations including both Blind Consumer groups has been established to reverse the decision made by Amazon, after pressure from the Author’s Guild, making the TTS feature an option controlled by the book Publisher. The Kindle 2.0, with additional accessibility features, would enable people who are blind as well as others with various print disabilities, to have immediate access to print materials. Amazon recently reported that they are working to make the Kindle accessible. It’s wrong that the Author’s Guild and what seems to be their desire for more money, would restrict those of us who want access to printed materials.
A mainstream product with built in accessibility features would be a major step that other consumer electronic companies can emulate. Universal design, access for all – that’s a beautiful concept!
Consider signing the petition to show your support. The Reading Rights Coalition is looking for 10,000 signatures.
Allow Everyone Access to E-books – The Petition Site
Reading Rights Coalition Plans Protest in NYC