Archive for the ‘Screen Readers’ Category

Reid My Mind Radio: Employment Challenges for People with Disabilities

Wednesday, January 31st, 2018

With all the hype about the economy and employment rate it’s seems like a good time to remind or inform people of the high unemployment rate among people with disabilities.
RMMRadio Alumni Joe Strechay, Director of the Bureau of Blindness & Visual Services in Pennsylvania joins me to talk about the challenges faced by people who are blind and exactly what they’re doing to make a difference.
Picture of Joe Strechay

This episode includes some good advice for anyone impacted by disability looking to transition to employment.

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:
There’s been some discussion in the news about the positive 2018 employment figures. The facts show that , the unemployment rate has been on a consistent decline throughout President Obama’s presidency.
I’m just saying’!

Depending on what you read, the percentage of people with a disability who are unemployed range anywhere between 45 and 75 percent.

So, I want to talk about employment among people with vision loss and disabilities in general.

[phone Ringing]

I decided to call an alumni of Reid My Mind Radio.

On that note, before I get into it… I’m T Reid and this is my theme music.

[Reid My Mind Radio Intro]

So I called Mr. Joe Strechay, also known to any listener of this podcast as the man who literally taught Charlie Cox, the star of Marvel’s Dare Devil how to be blind.
If you haven’t heard that episode I suggest you give it a listen.

Sometime after that interview, Joe took on the role of Director of The Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services or BBVS of Pennsylvania which is part of the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation.

I asked Joe about the dismal unemployment percentages for people with disabilities.

JS:

When you look at the statistics I think your 45, 46 percent sound about right for unemployment.

But they would say 12 to 15 percent of people are not even engaged in the employment process and are not even counted.

Often the percentage you hear about, the 70 or 75 percent includes under employed, so people working at a level under their education or training. Some people like to provide the positive side of things, 54 percent of people who are blind or visually impaired are working, but again there’s a 12 to 15 percent that aren’t even included in those types of stats.
[TR in conversation with JS]
From your perspective, what are the challenges?

JS:
Employers knowledge and understanding and awareness around individuals who are blind and visually impaired…

I think it was back in 2011, the National Industries for the Blind did a study with Human Resource professionals asking them what their big questions were or concerns were with hiring someone who is blind or visually impaired. And these were the gate keepers in the employment process from a lot of big businesses, small businesses. Their number one question was could they do the job and number two was transportation. How were they going to get to work, but not even just the transportation to work how were they going to get around in the work place. Am I going to have to guide them to the bathroom?

TR:

That question for some, is more upsetting than surprising.
Unfortunately Joe says some of those whose focus is creating diversity and inclusion in the workplace,
are just as unaware.

JS:

They’re really worried that like you’re coming out of the elevator that the lip of the elevator is going to make you trip and fall down.

[TR in conversation with JS]
Wow!

TR:
This first barrier of employment for people with disabilities
could be summarized as social challenges. Joe recommends dealing with these by taking control of your messaging. This means being proficient in your choice of mobility, access technology and effectively advocating for yourself.

JS:

When an employer has those types of simple concerns about hiring someone that’s a problem. We have to address those because if you walk out of an interview and that employer has concerns or questions about you, they’re not going to hire you. The employment process is really about creating trust between you and the employer. Some other obstacles are actually transportation. The more rural you live, the harder it is to commute. The harder it is to get access. If you don’t live on a street with sidewalks or near bus routes it’s going to be more difficult. Persons with disabilities battle with isolation and the more isolated you are the less opportunity you’re going to have. Proprietary software corporations and business working with the companies or contractors to build out software to fulfill needs in their employment setting and if these software’s are not built in an accessible manner, most are not, that’s a big barrier. If you get the job you won’t be able to do the job.

TR:

Further examination of the unemployed population of people with disabilities, reveals separate more specific needs based on demographics.

For example, teens and young adults have a need to acquire different skills in comparison to others adjusting to vision loss with
workforce experience.

JS:

We’ve developed out a lot of different types of programs that provide job shadowing, work based learning experience. Programs like Project Search – which works with the Human Resources department in a business and develops out different jobs within that business and working with individuals to fit into those situations.

It’s not just how you do the job it’s how you interact with your co-workers, the customers, your boss as well. Individuals learn those basic skills from experience but also from seeing how other people interact. Individuals who are blind or visually impaired may miss out on some of that incidental learning.

[TR in conversation with JS]

What does that training process look like?

JS:
It could be starting out with job shadowing, occupational interviews, mock interviewing, actual interviews, work based learning experience where they’re actually getting to work a part time paid job. One of our emphasis is providing paid work experience because people are two and half times more likely to be employed after their education if they’ve had prior paid work experience. They’re even more likely to be successful if they actually found that employment setting themselves.

[TR in conversation with JS]
Can you give us an example of some of those successful projects?

JS:
We have a partnership with the Overbrook School for the Blind where they’re doing the Transitional Vocational Initiative, which is a three week summer program where students around the Common wealth of Pennsylvania go to Overbrook in Philadelphia and they work for two weeks doing those soft skills and then they move on to job shadowing and then the last week they’re working. They’re going to extend out the length of the working period in the coming year. That really is where the kids get that real world experience to work in an employment setting and learn about interacting with their co-workers and boss.

[TR in conversation with JS]
I know people listening would wonder, especially those not familiar with blindness would say ok, what kind of jobs can a blind teen do?

JS:
All kinds of things. Working in stores, point of purchase systems such as Square because those can be accessible, busing tables. We have kids that are washing dishes. WSe have kids…

[TR in conversation with JS]
Alright, alright hold on Joe!

TR:

Ok, I know! Some of you may struggle with the idea that a blind person
can hold a job as a bus boy. It’s ok!

I’ll let Joe answer that but in general when it comes to people with disabilities and employment
consider if the question should be; What job can the person hold or
how can we accommodate this person to make sure they’re successful fulfilling the job?

Back to Joe.

JS:

I’ve known a couple of bus boys who were totally blind. I know some dish washers who were totally blind. Some individuals working at a store on the register were totally blind as well. We’re also utilizing our Business Enterprise Program so our Randolph Sheppard Programs as locations; cafeterias and vending. The more opportunities the better. We don’t want to limit someone at one opportunity if they can get experience in multiple settings we’re all about that. We have people that are working in offices as receptionists answering phones and a little more high level if they have some more technical skills.

TR:

Getting teens with disabilities prepared for employment begins as soon as the summer following 9th grade.

In partnership with other organizations and agencies, the Pennsylvania Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services offers the Summer Academy.

JS:

It’s a post-secondary preparation and career exploration program. Really an emphasis on that post-secondary preparation giving people a realistic college experience. Making sure they have the assistive technology skills. Getting orientation and mobility skills around the campus university and town. How to organize things. How to access things, cooking their meals and also to find out if college is the right avenue for them. They may be looking at more vocational training or opportunity.

TR:

Students even get the chance to take a college level course where they receive 3 credits upon completion.

This successful program is currently being replicated in other states.

When it comes to adults with vision loss of working age, BBVS provides services through the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. Services include;

* vision rehabilitation therapist who teach daily living skills like cooking and organizing household goods; things which often require a different approach following vision loss.

* orientation and mobility or teaching a person how to effectively travel using any remaining vision and or a white cane. This includes traveling through your home, neighborhood and taking public transportation.

* Vocation Rehabilitation counselors who help with finding employment or returning to work.

JS:
We also utilize programs that are out there. Whether it’s the Blindness Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh which can provide a setting a location if someone needs more in depth services they can go and stay there. Training centers around the country as well. We have the ability to develop out internships or other programs and we’re going to be looking into more internship opportunities for adults who are blind or visually impaired. We’ve been having some discussions with bigger corporations and businesses . We’ve seen some success like with SAP, one of the big financial software companies and Microsoft working with individuals with Autism and why couldn’t that also happen with individuals who are blind or visually impaired.

[TR in conversation with JS]
In general, I’m not asking about any specific company, what are those conversations like. I mean are they kind of open or what?

JS:
I think they’re more open then they have been in the past. Typically for a really successful relationship it takes having a champion within. Some of these companies they can’t create products or services that meet the needs of customers they don’t know about.

TR:

Now that the prospective employee has learned proper orientation and mobility skills, is comfortable using their technology and
ready to advocate for themselves there’s still one question they need to answer.

In fact, anyone with a disability, especially those that are visible, deals with the question of when is the right time to disclose that disability to a potential employer.

JS:

I’m really passionate about that subject. I call it addressing the elephant in the room. Every time I walk into a room with an employer or business I have a visible disability. I have a long white cane and most likely you know I’m blind from that.

[TR Laughs]
I believe I have a duty if I want to really reach that employer to dispel any myths, but also address the elephant in the room. Make sure that they understand that I am a competent individual who’s blind. I talk about my background my work skills and how I deal with being blind and how I navigate that employment setting and I really think you’re better off building in to your sales pitch , the end of your sales pitch, you’re not going to lead with it, but how you performed tasks that will be related to a job. You use a screen reader and explain what a screen reader is and how you navigate and that you can use Microsoft Office and Excel, Access. I did HTML coding and explaining how I did that . I have my white cane, I’ve been trained in how to use it. My last job I traveled about 18 days per month all over the country independently and explaining that type of information otherwise you’re leaving the room without addressing the concerns and questions of the employer. And they’re not going to hire you if they have questions and concerns about you. I believe that persons with disabilities need to take charge of it. Own who they are. Not that your disability defines you but if you’re not comfortable talking about it, that employer is not going to be comfortable with talking to you about it and that can be a problem in itself.

[TR in conversation with JS]
So that was the interview process but what about when you’re trying to get the job whether that be your resume, cover letter. What do you guys recommend on that?

JS:

Point of disclosure. And I’ll tell you with the disclosure process there’s no right or wrong answer. Every situation’s different, every persons different. I can tell you that the employment process is about building trust and the earlier you let them know the more likely they’re not going to feel that you were dishonest with the. On my resume I don’t like write “blind guy”. I make sure that they know. I would want them to know before I walk in the door. As an individual who’s blind I’ve been in that situation where I didn’t let people know. I was going in for an Orientation and Mobility internship position. It went from a meeting about my internship to a three and a half hour interview where they basically grilled me on everything. I was supposed to have that internship but they didn’t know I was visually impaired at that time. I had to address it. At the end of it I knew I wasn’t going to have that opportunity , I could feel it. I felt it right when I walked in the door. You’re putting yourself at a disadvantage. There are positive and negatives to disclosing at any point in the employment process. I really believe at the time of scheduling an interview to talk to the person about it and explain that you are a person who’s blind.

TR:

Sounds like some real good advice and Joe should know, he’s been focusing on employment issues even before taking his current position as the director of BBVS.

JS:

I worked for the American Foundation for the Blind for about seven years. I supervised their employment initiative such as career connect which was an online career exploration , job seeking skills and E-Mentoring program. And also advising state agencies and even countries on their employment initiatives and also initiatives around transition from school to work.

TR:

Let’s recap the ingredients that go into improving employment opportunities for people with disabilities;

* A shift in the way we as a society think about disability in general and what is possible
* Training for both prospective employees and employers
* Policy changes in both the public and private sectors

From what I can tell, Joe has a very specific quality that seems like an essential requirement to take on this task; optimism.

JS:

One of the big impacts I’ve seen is around section 503 and their aspirational goals on federal contractors and sub-contractors around the hiring of persons with disabilities and also maintaining their employment. I really think that has made an impact. I’ve seen companies looking to hire persons with disabilities and there’s a 7 percent aspiration goal for federal contractors and sub-contractors and it depends on the size of the organization. I really think that is a big step and you know that stems from President Obama’s Executive Order where he pushed the Federal Government to being a model employer and looking to demonstrate that federal agencies could show the corporate world and the private sector how it could be done. And they were successful as of NI believe November 2012. In reaching that goal. Prior to Obama leaving office he was expanding it within the Federal Government. We’re hoping that these standards really continue and only grow to give more opportunities to persons with disabilities .

TR:

Joe says he’s looking at more opportunities that will come from mentorships and less traditional routes for employment and entrepreneurship
through freelance and job outsourcing web sites like Fiver and Up work.

If you are or know of a person with a disability interested in talking about the employment experience, I’d love to listen. Send me an email at ReidMyMindRadio@gmail.com. I’m especially interested in sharing stories of people with disabilities in nontraditional roles or finding creative income streams whether via employment or entrepreneurship.

Now I have a job for you, whether you’re a person with a disability or not… subscribe to this podcast if you are not already.

You can do that through Apple Podcast, Google Play, Stitcher, Tune In Radio, Sound Cloud or just visit Reid My Mind.com and all your options are right there.

I’ve been trying to come up with a slogan for Reid My Mind Radio. Maybe something like

JS:
Some people like to find the positive side of things!

I’ll keep working on that, but for now break time is over yawl…
let’s go to work!

[RMMRadio Outro]

TR:
Peace!

Hide the transcript

Reid My Mind Radio: A Career Launched from Print Disability

Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

Happy New year! Hopefully you my favorite Reider (my name for any Reid My Mind Radio listener or reader of Reid My Mind.com) is well rested and revived following your holiday and hopefully time spent with loved ones.

Today on the podcast, an interview with George Kerscher the creator and founder of Computerized Books for the Blind and Print Disabled.

For those who weren’t around for this company before it became part of what is now known as Learning Ally, you’re probably familiar with DAISY books like those available from the National Library for the Blind & Physically Handicapped, E-Pub, or Bookshare. If you’re a person impacted by vision loss or some other print disability, Mr. Kerscher has directly impacted your access to information.

Plus, his practical advice taken from his own experience adjusting to vision loss is in itself worth the listen.

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

GK:
Judy Dickson who works at the library of Congress she said if you like puzzles, if you like solving problems being blind is just great.

TR:
I’m pretty sure that this quote doesn’t refer to games but rather the life puzzles and challenges that come with living in a world with the dominant form of communication assumes you have a pair of perfectly functioning eyes. Today’s guest on the podcast has spent a career working to improve access to print for people with disabilities. Before we get into that, Happy New Year! Now you know we can’t start this show without the theme music.

[Reid my mind radio’s theme music plays]

TR:
Allow me to introduce you to George Kerscher. Mr. Kerscher has been a key figure in improving access to printed material for people with vision loss around the world. In fact, his role was significant enough that he was named the 1998 innovator of the year by USA News and World Report. His career in accessibility began with his own vision loss due to Retinitis pigmentosa.

GK:
I didn’t learn about it until I was 21 back in 1971. The prediction was that I be blind in 5 years. I ended up meeting my wife and we go out on the first date, I said “well you know I have a bad knee, I got a bad shoulder and oh by the way I am going to go blind”. It was full disclosure on the first day. After we got married, we took three months off and in 1974 we went all over Europe with the backpack and the Euro Pass. In 1977, I was declared legally blind. I was fired from my first job because of blindness. I was finishing furniture I worked for an antique store. I went to Social Rehabilitation Services and I said “Can you help me?” They arranged for an eye exam and I was declared legally blind.

TR:
George went back to school and became a teacher. Which is where he remained until he could no longer fulfill a promise he made to himself.

GK:
If my blindness ever prevented me from being the best teacher possible, I would quit. I don’t want to do anything that wasn’t really great.

TR:
George returned to school and this time pursues a master degree in computer science. He made use of magnification and until that proved to be limiting because of painful headaches. The only accessible textbook was produced by recordings for the blind; however, they didn’t produce any of the books he needed for his master level course work. He began using human readers to help complete his work.

GK:
It was at that time that I just met an author and he was doing a lecture. He said “Well you know, I don’t have the files. The publisher has the files”. I wrote letters to several publishers asking them for the files that drove the printing press. This was in 1987, I had a publisher that sent me 3 diskettes and I looked at them and it was all garbage. And, I threw them in the drawer and I finished my course work for that semester and over Christmas break I pulled those files out and I started to write software that could convert them to the first digital book. Took a couple of weeks to write the programs but by the beginning of 1988, I had three books. One on Word Perfect, Lotus 123, and D-Base. And I had brought these up on the screens and had the screen reader read them to me and I just said “Oh my god, this is just fabulous! This is absolutely amazing!” I got in touch with Microsoft and kind of asked them for the same kind of things. People at Microsoft and other places would say “you know blind people have been asking for this for a long time”. I wasn’t the first one to think of this, of course. They said “but we don’t have any place that we could go to, to provide these materials for people who were blind”. I contacted recordings for the blind and they said we don’t do that, we do audio recordings, we are not interested. So I wrote back into Microsoft and said “I just started a company that would provide this to blind people and I call it Computerized Books for the Blind”. They sent a contract with a copyright release for all of Microsoft Corp. and all of Microsoft Press to do all their materials, a blanket copyright release. This was 8 years before the Chafee Amendment and the copyright exceptions were passed but I had literally the right to produce any of the Microsoft documentation and get it out to people.

TR:
George’s reaction for not having access in comparison to his new improve method for reading course materials…

GK:
It was just torturous for not having access to the information.

TR:
In 1988, George began Computerized Books for the Blind under the University of Montana. As in often the case, accessibility accommodations prove to have benefits that extend to more than just to an originally targeted audience.

GK:
I had a fair number of people with Dyslexia that had contacted me and asked if they can use these materials as well. And, I said well sure, no problem because I had a copyright release that allowed me to send to literally anyone with a disability, the copyright release was very broad. So I added the print disabled that coined the term ‘Print Disability’ which is a word that is commonly used today.

TR:
George put about 10,000 from his own savings into Computerized Books for the blind and Print Disabled. After hearing about the company’s impacted, Recordings for the blind later changed their opinions on digital books. They offered to absorb the company.

GK:
July 1, 1991was the first paycheck I got from 5 years. Boy that was great. Later they changed their name to Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic.

T.Reid in conversation with George Kerscher:
Tell me how this became what we all know as DAISY.

GK:
The library serving the blind saw the writing on the wall about cassettes going away and going to a digital format was something that they were very interested in. So they formed a consortium in 1996 called the DAISY Consortium. Half a dozen aid companies in Canada, Europe and Japan that wanted to develop a digital format and they called it the Digital Audio Information System. A few years later it became, Digital Accessible Information System. They needed to figure out how to take analog recordings and digitalized them. I believed that if we were going to do something with digitalized audio books that you had to have the possibility to synchronize texts and audio. And, also have a navigation system that would allow you to move to headings and pages. There was a conference I attended in Sweden, I attended in ‘97. They were talking about this proprietary audio format. Mark Hanken, he is now with ETS, Educational Testing Service and I went to that meeting and we had this long prepared document about how this approach to proprietary system was wrong. And, we were like the 6th or 7th speaker and every one of the speakers who came before us said the same thing that we were going to say. So we just stood up and got to a white board and started explaining. In two months, I was hired as the first employee of the DAISY Consortium. We did such a good job on that, trying to get into the next generation with EPub is one of the barriers. People are saying “Why do we need anything else if we are making an audiobook, the DAISY format is just fine”. Now we are trying to move people more into the mainstream so that the mainstream products are accessible right out of the box.

T.Reid in conversation with George Kerscher:
What do you see in terms of the future for folks with print disabilities?

GK:
I think that we are real close to essentially having all textual contexts being access. We should be there; there is no reason that shouldn’t be access out of the box. Same thing with all textual contexts in textbook materials and websites and learning management systems. All of that stuff should be accessible. The hard parts like the data visualization, photographs, we are seeing a lot of good progress on facial recognition and photograph interpretation automatically. I think we have a long way to go there, I think it is going to be important for educators to identify the concepts that are being communicated in a particular visualization. Newton’s Law of Motion is in every physics book and each physics book has a different visualization but the underlining concept is the same. And, we should be able to identify that concept and the person should be able to go to like image share from book share from Benetech is an initiative where we are trying to get those concepts and if you want to learn that concept you can just go here and learn the same concept at image share that has been treated to be fully accessible. And address the needs of people with disabilities as this visualization of a pool table that is in the book. Log motion of pool table or marbles or planets it is all the same principle that I think we can refer people to. This is all with personalization of educational materials; I think that is going to be very important as we move forward.

T.Reid in conversation with George Kerscher:
There has been a lot of improvement with people with print disabilities but there are still several challenges. PDF’s, are coming out of Enterprise programs, different companies, various different things. And, they are supposed to be accessible but often it’s not. Will DAISY end up being something that could help that?

GK:
Yes, absolutely. When PDF came about in the mid-90s, it was a printer driver format; PDF is the name, Printer Driver Format. The marketing people at Adobe changed it to a portal document format.
Fundamentally PDF is a huge problem. I would like to see PDF use for its intended purpose which is printing but you got something is intended for human’s consumption use a EPub. The mobile movement now is everyone reading on tablets and phones is the biggest reason for companies ditching PDF. Reason for going from PDF to EPub is that you can use it anywhere, any size device and it’s reflowable and it is just a much better way to go.

T.Reid in conversation with George Kerscher:
If you can access a book downloaded in the EPub format, those are accessible?

GK:
iBook, Google Play, Kobo… All of these companies, the publisher wants a single file that they can distribute into their distribution markets. So the trade books… novels and things are pretty straight forward because they are usually just paragraphs and straight texts. You get into a textbook science and math, you get into another level of complexity and that’s really where we think the certification comes in so that the publisher takes that table and makes sure it is a real text table and not a picture of a table. so publishers will do that and that is wrong and it will fail the accessibility conformities that we put together because it is a table that you should be able to read with a screen reader, you can’t read pictures with a screen reader. The publisher industry is excited about it, the USA there is a lot of legal requirements in education that the school needs to purchase access materials and that is really important.

T.Reid in conversation with George Kerscher:
You sort of mention infographics and I know that it is supposed to be some sort of a picture is I guess symbolic to something and it is taking information and making it easier to understand by using pictures but what other than that, why is it so popular in the internet and what are folks doing to make it accessible?

GK:
Okay so first of all it’s a great question, we hear a lot about big data, data visualization, and infographics. I like data visualization, in the simplest forms if you think of a pie chart where you got some information about cars sold in the United States and how many Chevy, how many fords, how many Chevrolet, how many by Toyota and who got the biggest market share and say you have ten companies with their statistics and there is a ton of statistics that go to make up the pie chart and it is easy to see when you have this pie and there is this big chunk of the pie that says Ford and this small chunk of the pie that says Honda, it is easy to visual that this has the biggest market share. That is an example of data visualization, it’s automatically generated by things like excel and statistical packages, SAS and others will take the data that they got and create this visualization that makes it easy to see the trends in this data. Benetech book share is the company that does book share but they do other things as well. They have a grant from the department of education called the diagraph project to try and work on issues like this. That picture is generated by data and so we can go backwards and try to get the data and try to get the information about the data and have it presented directly to the person through text and speech. What is the meaning of these things and the scatter plot? I think that data visualization can potentially is one of the greatest benefits for people that are blind that is out there cause some much is presented visually but that data is there and can be presented in different ways than just visual. We heard about sonification, I saw Ed Summers from SAS did a presentation in …. Where he had this scatterplot divided into nine parts like a tic-tac-toe and he could press on each part of that tic-tac-toe and it will explain the data that is underneath it. And that was fabulous; he just unfolded that data visualization as texts and presented the underlying to me. It was great. I am concerned about the complexity of all of these things where I am a computer geek and I battle with my computer all of the time. Most of the times I win but boy you know it is complicated and my concern is that these interfaces and how to use the technology gets to be so complicated that average people have a hard time using it.

TR:
Being concerned about the challenges that computers present the average person doesn’t stop George from getting his hands on the latest technology.

GK:
I use GPS apps and they are very good. But with the AIRA glasses it is actually a human being looking at the video of what is in front of you. Walking up to my son’s house that is a mile away, heading up there and I had the glasses on and of course there is road construction that blocked by path and we had a pretty significant detour if I just was using GPS, then I would have just abandon that trip.

T.Reid in conversation with George Kerscher:
Computerized Books for the blind and Print Impaired began with not only George’s need for access but much more importantly what sounds to me like a bit of self-advocacy.

T.Reid in conversation with George Kerscher:
What made you think that they would send you the disks in the first place?

GK:
Well, at this point in time, every publisher was using computers to format and publish and it was driving their printing processes. I knew that it existed and it was I am blind, I am a student, and I need these books, can you send them to me?

T.Reid in conversation with George Kerscher:
I am thinking about those people who can be listening that are new to vision loss and your life path some of it might been dictated by vision loss but I am wondering also the other way around in terms of the things you done. How have they impacted your adjustment?

GK:
[sighs], I was denying that I was going blind, I would do downhill skiing with guidance and two way radios but I would never put a vest on that said blind. I would put on visually impaired. I avoided the ‘b’ word; I didn’t use a cane for a while. Hopefully it is a fully incident where you get into a situation where someone knew if I was blind, it would have been a lot easier. I don’t know if you want to put this on the air but I was at a basketball game and went to the men’s room and there was this urinal with a clear plastic on it and a little sign up of above that says Out of Order. Well it was opened and I just walked up to it and the guy next to me was like 6’8” and weighed 300lbs and he was really mad at me. Well the next day, I started to carry a cane. It just helps. I have seen people who are blind and they are pretty good at accepting it but they are always hoping for a cure. It is great to hope for a cure but you should not build your life around it. You should charge forward with what you got right now and do the best you can. Solving problems all the time, listening to people who already solved the problems learn from them on how to get things done. Cane is super important, your navigation skills. You can’t get a guide dog at least from Guide Dogs for the Blind unless you got adequate mobility skills to get you around. A dog is wonderful, they are fast but you got to have those fundamental cane skills that come first. Don’t let yourself become sad over vision loss just say okay this is it and go forward.

TR:
Allow me to send a sincere thank you to anyone who has ever benefited from a digital book. All of those students who didn’t have to worry about finding people who could read their textbooks for them and subsequently probably had a better educational experience. Anyone who like myself after vision loss who yearned for a faster way of navigating through a book and all that comes from all that improved access. Let me echo Mr. Kerscher and encourage you all to go forward and subscribe to this podcast. It is called Reid My Mind radio and you can find it on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, Tune in Radio, and of course Reidmymind.com. So hear me now, believe me later. This podcast is becoming more popular every day and I will tell you the secret.

GK:
Yeah, I am a computer geek and I battle with my computer all the time. Most of the time, I win but boy you know it is complicated.

[Reid my mind Radio’s outro music plays]

TR:
Peace.

Hide the transcript

Reid My Mind Radio – Microsoft Seeing AI – Real & Funky

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

!T.Reid wearing a hat with a "T" while the Seeing AI logo is imposed on his shades!
Okay, I don’t usually do reviews, but why not go for it! All I can tell you is I did it my way; that’s all I can do!
It took a toll on me… entering my dreams…
I’m going to go out on a limb and say I have the first podcast to include an Audio Described dream! So let’s get it… hit play and don’t forget to subscribe and tell a friend to do the same.

Resources:

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

Wasup good people!
Today I am bringing you a first of sorts, a review of an app…

I was asked to do a piece on Microsoft’s new app called Seeing AI.for Gatewave Radio.

The interesting thing about producing a tech related review for Gatewave is that the Gatewave audience most likely doesn’t use smart phones and maybe even the internet. However, they should have a chance to learn about how this technology is impacting the lives of people with vision loss. Chances are they won’t learn about these things through any mainstream media so… I took a shot… And if there’s anything I am trying to get across with the stories and people I profile
it’s we’re all better off when we take a shot and not just accept the status quo

[Audio from Star Trek’s Next Generation… Captain La Forge fire’s at a chasing craft. Ends with crew mate exclaiming… Got em!]
[Audio: Reid My Mind Radio theme Music]

[Audio: Geordi La Forge from Star Trek talk to crew from enemy craft…]
TR:
Geordi La Forge from Star Trek’s Next Generation , played by LeVar Burton, was blind. However, through the use of a visor he was able to see far more than the average person.

While this made for a great story line, it also permanently sealed LeVar Burton and his Star Trek character as the default reference for any new technology that proposes to give “sight” to the blind.

[Audio: from intro above ending with Geordi saying…
“If you succeed, countless lives will be affected”
TR:
What exactly though, is sight?

We know that light is passed through the eye and that information is sent to the brain where it is interpreted and
quickly established to represent shapes, colors, objects and people.

A working set of eyes, optic nerves and brain are a formidable technological team.
They get the job done with maximum efficiency

Today, , with computer processing power growing exponentially and devices getting smaller the idea that devices like smart phones could serve as an alternative input for eyes is less science fiction and well, easier to see.

There are several applications available that bring useful functionality to the smart phone ;
* OCR or optical character recognition which allows a person to take a picture of text and have it read back using text to speech
* Product scanning – makes use of the camera and bar codes which are read and the information is spoken aloud again, using text to speech
* Adding artificial intelligence to the mix we’re seeing facial and object recognition being introduced.

Microsoft has recently jumped into the seeing business, with their new iOS app called Seeing AI… as in Artificial Intelligence!
There’s no magic or anything artificial about these results, they’re real!

In this application, the functionality like reading a document or recognizing a products bar code are split into channels. The inclusion of multiple channels in one application is already a plus for the user. Eliminating the need to open multiple apps.

Let’s start with reading documents.

For those who may have once had access to that super-fast computer interface called eyes , you’re probably familiar with the frustration of the lost ability to quickly scan a document with a glance and make a quick decision.

Maybe;
* You’re looking for a specific envelope or folder.
* you want to quickly grab that canned good or seasoning from the cabinet.

With other reading applications you have to go through the process of taking a picture and hoping you’re on the print side of the envelope or can. After you line it up and take the picture you find out the lighting wasn’t right so you have to do it again.

Using Microsoft’s Seeing AI you simply point the phones camera in the direction of the text

[Audio App in process]

Once it sees text, it starts reading it back! The quick information can be just enough for you to determine what you’re looking for. In fact, during the production of this review, I had a real life use case for the app.

My wife reminded me that I was contacted for Jury duty and I needed to follow up as indicated in the letter. The letter stated I would need to visit a specific website to complete the process. I forgot to put the letter in a separate area in order to scan it later and read the rest of the details. So rather than asking someone to help me find the letter, I grabbed the pile of mail from the table and took out my iPhone.

I passed some of my other blindness apps and launched Microsoft Seeing AI. I simply pointed the camera at each individual piece of paper until finding the specific sheet I was seeking. The process was a breeze. In fact, it was easier than asking someone to help me find the form. Ladies and gentlemen, that’s glancing!

Now that I found the right letter, I could easily get additional information from the sheet by scanning the entire document. I don’t need to open a separate app, I can simply switch to a different channel, by performing the flick up gesture.

Similar to a sighted person navigating the iPhone’s touch screen interface , anyone can non visually accomplish the same tasks using a set of different gestures designed to work with Voice Over, the built in screen reader that reads aloud information presented on the screen.

Using the document channel I can now take a picture of the letter and have it read back.

One of the best ways to do this is to place the camera directly on the sheet in the middle and slowly pull up as the edges come into view. I like to pull my elbows toward the left and right edges to orient myself to the page. Forming a triangle with my phone at the top center. The app informs you if the edges are in view or not.
Once it likes the positioning of the camera and the document is in view, it lets you know it’s processing.

[Audio: Melodic sound of Seeing AI’s processing jingle]

You don’t even have to hit the take picture button. However, if you are struggling to get the full document into view ,
you could take the picture and let it process. It may be good enough for giving you the information you’re seeking.

If you have multiple sheets to read, simply repeat.

Another cool feature here is the ability to share the scanned text with other applications. That jury duty letter, I saved it to a new file on my Drop Box enabling me to access it again from anywhere without having to scan the original letter

Let’s try using the app to identify some random items from my own pantry.

To do this, I switch the channel to products.

[Audio: Seeing App processing an item from my pantry…]

What you hear, is the actual time it took to “see” the product. All I’m doing is moving the item in order to locate the bar code.
As the beeps get faster I know I am getting closer. When the full bar code is in range, the app automatically takes the picture and begins processing.

[Audio: Seeing AI announces the result of the bar code scan… “Goya Salad Olives”

It’s pretty clear to see how this would be used at home, in the work environment and more.

Now let’s check out the A I or artificial intelligence in this application.

By artificial intelligence, the machine is going to use its ability to compute and validate certain factors in order to provide the user with information.

First, I’ll skip to the channel labeled Scene Beta…
Beta is another term for almost ready for prime time. So, if it doesn’t work, hey,, it’s beta!

Take a picture of a scene and the built in artificial intelligence will do its best to provide you with the information enabling you to understand something about that scene.

[Seeing AI reports a living room with a fireplace.]

This could be helpful in cases like
If a child or someone is asleep on the couch.

[Audio: Action Movie sound design]

I can even picture a movie starring me of course, where I play a radio producer who is being sought by the mob. The final scene I use my handy app to see the hitman approaching me. I do a round house kick…
ok, sorry I get a little carried away at the possibilities.

While no technology can replace good mobility travel skills I can imagine a day where the scene identification function will provide additional information about one’s surroundings.
Making it another mobility tool for people who are blind or visually impaired.

Now for my final act… oh wait it’s not magic remember!

Microsoft Seeing AI Offers facial recognition.
That’s right, point your camera at someone and it should tell you who that person is… Well, of course you have to first train the app.

To do this we have to first go into the menu and choose facial recognition.
To add a new person we choose the Add button.
In order to train Seeing AI you have to take three pictures of the person.
We elected to do different facial expressions like a smile, sad and no expression.
Microsoft recommends you let sighted family and friends take their own picture to get a good quality pic.

The setup requirement, while understandable at this point sort of reduces that sci fi feel.

After Seeing AI is trained, once you are in the people channel
when pointing your camera in the direction of the persons face, it can recognize and tell you the person is in the room.

[Audio: Seeing AI announces Raven about 5 feet in front.]

Seeing AI does a better job recognizing my daughter Raven when she smiles. That too me is not artificial intelligence because we all love her smile!

The application isn’t perfect. it struggled a bit with creased labels, making it difficult to read the bar code.

Not all bar codes are in the database. It would be great if users could submit new products for future use.

As a first version launch with the quick processing, Seeing AI really gives me something to keep an eye on. Or maybe I should say AI on!

Peering into the future I can see;

* Faster processing power that makes recognition super quick,
* Interfacing with social media profiles to automatically recognize faces and access information from people in your network
* lenses that can go into any set of glasses sending the information directly to the application not requiring the user to point their phone
at an item or person and privately receiving the information via wireless headset.
That could greatly open up the use cases.

In fact, interfacing with glasses is apparently already in development and
the team includes a lead programmer who is blind.

Microsoft says a Currency identification channel is coming in the future;
making Seeing AI a go to app for almost anything we need to see!

The Microsoft Seeing AI app is available from the Apple App store for Free 99. Yes, it’s free!

I’m Thomas Reid
[Audio: As in artificial intelligence!]
For Gatewave Radio, audio for independent living!

[Audio: Voice of Siri in Voice Over mode announcing “More”]

I don’t know if that’s considered a review in the traditional sense, but honestly I am not trying to be traditional.

The thing is, thinking about the application started to extend past the time when I was working on the piece…

That little jingle sound the app makes when it’s processing… it started to seep into my dreams…
[Audio: Dream Harp]

[Audio: “Funky Microsoft Seeing AI” An original T.Reid Production]

The song is based around the processing tone used in the app with the below lyrics.

(Audio description included in parens)

(Scene opens with Thomas asleep in bed with a dream cloud above his head)

The processing sound becomes a sound with Claps…

(We see a darkened stage)

(As the chorus is about to begin spotlight shines on Thomas & the band)

Chorus:
Microsoft Seeing AI
Helping people see without their eyes

Microsoft Seeing AI
Helping people see without their eyes

(Thomas rips off his shirt!)

Verse:
Download the app on my iPhone

{Background sings… “Download it, Download it!}

Checking out things all around my home

(Thomas dances on stage)

Point the camera from the front
Huh!
Point the camera from the back!

I’m like;
what’s that , what’s this
Jump back give my phone a kiss!
Hey! (James Brown style yell!)

(Thomas spins and drops into a split)

Chorus:
Microsoft Seeing AI
Helping people see without their eyes

Microsoft Seeing AI
Helping people see without their eyes

(Back in the bed we see Thomas with a fading dream cloud above his head)

Ends with the app’s processing sound.

TR:
Wow, definitely time to move on to the next episode…

With that said, make sure you Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. Tell a friend to do the same – I have some interesting things coming up I think you’re going to like.
And something you may have not expected!

[Audio: RMMRadio Outro]
TR:
Peace!

Hide the transcript

Reid My Mind Radio: In the Lab with Chris Maury

Wednesday, April 6th, 2016
Chris Maury

Chris Maury Founder, Conversant Labs

Chris Maury is a founder of Conversant Labs, a technology company in Pittsburgh creating and promoting the Conversational User interface (CUI). We talk about Say Shopping an iOS app, and how this app and method for interacting with technology can aid those with vision loss – from low vision to totally blind.

 

Hear how Conversant Labs is much more than an entrepreneurial endeavor for Chris.

 

Resources:

Conversant Labs

Say Shopping

Chris Maury on Twitter

 

I Want To Believe

Wednesday, January 27th, 2016

I was planning to write a post on the return of one of my favorite shows, the X-Files. My idea was to either write a post or record an episode of Reid My Mind Radio on the experience. As the days moved closer to this past Sunday January 24 which was the premiere of the new revival, I reflected on how I used to enjoy this television show through most of its time on the air.

When the 6 episode series was announced I was excited but automatically reserved my excitement until I could determine if audio description would be included enabling me to fully enjoy and understand the story line. X-files like other shows rely a lot on scenery, facial expressions, visual clues and more. While my wife and I enjoy watching this together as we did years ago, I prefer not to rely on her or anyone for the descriptive information. Well, anyone other than the narrator providing the professionally produced audio description. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the effort; I just don’t want to feel as though I am stopping anyone from fully enjoying their own experience.

Once I confirmed that Fox would include audio description I allowed my excitement to take over. I have watched other   broadcasts of audio described content on my home television. Most recently my family and I watched the live performance of the Wiz in December on NBC.

After waiting for the NFC Championship game coverage to finally wrap up, my wife and I were extremely disappointed when it was clear that the audio described track was not being transmitted via my local cable provider.

My original assumption was that the Fox affiliate, FOX-56 WOLF – Hazleton, PA, carried by Blue Ridge Cable, my provider, was not in the top 60 markets. As per the regulation stated by the Federal Communications Commission:

“FCC rules require local TV station affiliates of ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC located in the top 60 TV markets (see list below) to provide 50 hours per calendar quarter (about 4 hours per week) of video-described prime time and/or children’s programming. “

Any thought as to who ranks 55? Yep, Hazleton, PA which means FOX 56-WOLF is required to pass the audio description track via SAP.

I contacted Blue Ridge to determine what can be done to resolve the problem. My issue has been elevated to the next level support and I am waiting for a response. My hope is that they will be able to resolve the issue. Otherwise I may have to contact WOLF – and let’s hope this one isn’t big or bad!

The title of this post, “I want to believe,” is borrowed from the X-Files. While this refers to UFO’s and other paranormal activity, I simply want to believe that a time will come when I don’t have to always be concerned about accessibility. In this case it’s access to the non-spoken content of a television show. Last week the accessibility challenge presented itself in a work related application requiring a CAPTCHA – the graphic that contains a picture of some letters that had to be entered in order to continue with a specific process.

I want to believe that tomorrow, I will just have access! And next week I will enjoy the X-Files with audio description.

**UPDATE*

I received a call from the support representative – there was a technical issue with a receiver… the problem seems to be resolved. I’ll report back after next Monday’s episode!