2011 AHEAD Conference and Changing Attitudes

I’m attending the Association of Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) Conference in Seattle this week. Many of the sessions are typical fare for a disability conference, but I’ve found a strand of conversations pushing the conversation beyond where many disability advocates in attendance are comfortable. I love it.

The conference brings together professionals from disability service offices that provide support to students with disabilities in colleges and universities.

Here are some of the questions that were asked:

  • How do disability simulations used for disability awareness reinforce existing power structures and negative stereotypes?
  • How do disability service offices act as the gatekeeper rather than door opener?
  • Why is so much time spent evaluating and diagnosing disability that could be spent on creating more accessible environments for everyone?
  • How is the disability rights movement similar and different from movements of other oppressed groups?

There was a great discussion on the power of language where the power of words was affirmed, but Alberto Guzman put the language discussion into perspective when he said, “If the goal is to be politically correct, then we should just forget about it”.

There is tremendous value in examining our own ideas and perceptions. There was a palpable energy felt as as ideas and attitudes were challenged and changed. I will leave this conference with a renewed sense of purpose and direction in the work that I do.

The presentations from the AHEAD conference can be found on the AHEAD Conference website.

The Great Big List from the 2011 CSUN International Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference

Below is a collection of reviews, presentations and other links the from the 2011 CSUN International Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference. If you have anything that I’ve missed, let me know at @mactoph or mactoph@gmail.com. I’ll keep adding stuff as long as I get it.

Overall Conference Experiences

Pre-Conference Sessions and Keynote

Presentations and Notes from Wednesday through Friday Sessions


Lots of great Twitter conversation throughout, the official hashtags was #csun11.

Thursday Night Tweetup



Vendors and Product Sites and News

Official List of Conference Exhibitors

Other Links & Resources

How to Eat an Elephant: Tackling Web Accessibility in a Large Corporation

Presentation from the 2011 CSUN Technology Conference.
Presenters: Primarily Elle Waters and Lisa Barnett of Humana, Wes Dillon and Preety Kumar of Deque Systems, Inc and Sharron Rush of Knowbility, Inc. were also on the stage.

Elle and Lisa were charged with coming up with an accessibility plan for Humana and went through a number of the challenges, successes and things they wish they would have known. Humana is big Fortune 100 (and moving up) company with 29,000 employees, 140+ web properties, 11 million customers in the US.

Here are the full slides from the presentation:

(alternate formats coming later..)

Here are a few takeaways I came away with from the presentation:

  • Present accessibility as the solution to problem of the group you are presenting to (i.e. accessibility as a way to enforce coding standards).
  • One person pushing a cause in an oddity, two people is a trend.
  • Work to align accessibility goals with the goals and mission of the company.
  • When relevant, tout the non-accessibility requirements of accessibility such as better SEO, better mobile experience).
  • Look to information security as a model to how accessibility might be implemented in your organization.
  • Develop a library of acessible code snippets.
  • Plant a lot of seeds and cultivate what grows, identifying interested stakeholders along the way.
  • As an accessibility expert, don’t wait around for someone to tell you what to do, take the initiative.

Comparing Notetakers and Mainstream Alternatives

Presentation from the 2011 CSUN Technology Conference.
Presenters: Anne Taylor, the Director of Access Technology at the National Federation for the Blind and Michael Barber, Michael Barber, President National Federation of the Blind of Iowa


Anne began by discussing the advantages and disadvantages of mainstream devices such as the iPhone and iPad versus dedicated devices such as the The Braille Sense Plus, BrailleNote, Pac Mate, and Sendoro GPS devices.

It may be unfair to critique Apple and their iOS when they are doing so much in the area of accessibility, but as the current market leader and with their accessibility efforts they are the only experience that can even be compared with dedicated notetaker devices.

Advantages of Dedicated Devices

  • You don’t have to worry whether functionality is accessible or not, it’s going to be accessible.
  • More tuned into the needs of the blind community.
  • Accessibility is the bread and butter for those companies.
  • More training agency resources in the industry focused on the dedicated devices (than iOS devices).

Disadvantage of the Dedicated Devices

  • They are more expensive to purchase and users who are blind have less buying power than the sighted population.
  • More expensive to maintain- changing the battery in one (unnamed) device cost $400.
  • Lag time in development compared to mainstream technology.
  • Lack of versatility in what you can do (there’s no app for that).
  • Tools are not as powerful (i.e. advanced functions in Microsoft Word).

Advantage of Mainstream (iOS) Devices

  • More affordable.
  • They keep pace with technology better (i.e. using iOS devices to control appliances).
  • Wide availability, better distribution channels.
  • Less expensive to maintain.
  • Great compatibility with other mainstream devices- one device for the sighted and the blind.
  • Easier to find support from other people who have similar devices.

Disadvantages of Mainstream (iOS) Devices

  • The accessibility documentation and training can be difficult to find.
  • Accessibility is great on iOS devices and is woven into Apple’s culture, but it is still a secondary feature.
  • Accessibility provides access to text, not braille. Third-party soulutions are available, but support for Braille integration is still weak.
  • Less understanding of the needs of the blind community.
  • Individual applications may or may not be accessible.


Anne asked whether or not mainstream devices were able to adequately replace dedicated device. While some blind users already have already replaced their dedicated devices for a mainstream device, the needed functionality still isn’t there yet for many users.

Other Resources Mentioned

Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Postsecondary Education Update Session

Presentation from the 2011 CSUN Technology Conference.
Presenter: Gaeir Dietrich, Director of the High Tech Center Training Unit

Full Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Postsecondary Education Update Session PowerPoint Presentation available here

Background on the Commission

The Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities was established under the Higher Education Opportunity Act and they held their first meeting on September 27, 2010.

The basic goal of the commission is to:

indentify ways to improve the opportunities for postsecondary students with print disabilities to access instructional materials in a comparable timeframe as the instructional materials for nondisabled students.

The commission is working to identify barriers and systemic issues as well as consider technical solutions. However, Gaeir acknowledged that whatever solutions exist today will likely not be the solution three years from now. As an example, the California Assembly Bill 422 passed in 1999 requires publishers to provide electronic text for students with disabilities for certain colleges and universities in ASCII format (no bold, italics or other formatting).

Six Areas the Commission is Considering

Accessible Formats With Comparable Timeframe and Costs

How students with print disabilities may obtain instructional materials in accessible formats within a comparable timeframe and at costs comparable to the costs of such materials for nondisabled students.

Feasibility of Standards

The feasibility and technical parameters of establishing standardized electronic file formats to be provided by publishers of instructional materials to producers of materials in accessible formats, institutions of higher education, and eligible students.

National Clearinghouse

The feasibility of establishing a national clearinghouse, repository, or file-sharing network for electronic files used in producing instructional materials in accessible formats, and a list of possible entitites qualified to adminiser such a clearinghouse, repository, or network.

Market-based Solutions

The feasibility of establishing market-based solutions involving collaborations among publishers of instructional materials, producers of materials in accessible formats, and institutions of higher education.

Universal Design

Solutions utilizing universal design.

Low Incident, High Cost Materials

Solutions for low-incidence, high-cost requests for instructional materials in accessible formats.

Four Task Forces

Gaeir was clear that they are still early in the process and the ideas express are simply a snapshot of their current thinking.

Task Force One

Led by Tuck Tinsley of the American Printing House for the Blind.

This task force is considering high-cost & low-incidence materials such as braille and tactile graphics as well as instructional materials in the areas of:

  • science,
  • technology,
  • engineering,
  • mathematics,
  • foreign languages, and
  • graduate studies.

They are also considering best practices, the definition of print disability (based on functional limitations) and the definition of instructional materials. Their report will include current data that shows that approximately 1% of all students have some type of print disability.

Task Force Two

Led by Jim Fructerman from Bookshare and Benetch.

This task force is looking at technology Issues, the possibility of a file repository, a standardized format and a federated search.

This group so far has recommended that it is not feasible to recommend a standardized file format. However, they are recommending a single repository and they do recommend a federated search to consolidate data and adding metadata to files pertaining to accessibility.

Task Force Three

Led by George Kerscher of the DAISY Consortium and the RFB&D

This task force is looking at market model solutions, E-pub and DAISY formats, Web solutions, Open Educational Resources (OER), Digital Rights Management (DRM) and Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

Considering the market model solutions, they are looking to find where market needs and the needs of users with disabilities overlap. Gaeir mentioned the example of text messaging that is replacing TTY services for many people.

Task Force Four

Led by Maria Pallante of the Copright Office

They are looking at the legal framework, copyright, the Chafee Amendment, the Americans with Disabilites Act and Section 504 of Rehabilitation Act, and State Higher Education E-text laws.

There are difficult issues to resolve in this area, but they are feeling that any rework of copyright will not pass the legislature. They are looking at how there can be an appropriate balance between copyright law and civil rights law. Because the exceptions under the Chaffee Amendment require that a learning disability be organic based, they are also working on providing guidelines that include current brain research on the organic basis of learning disabilities.

Wrap Up

Gaier is really excited about DAISY, but she mentioned that most students are still requesting Word or MP3 files in postsecondary settings because those are the formats that they are used to. She feels like this will change as the younger generation grows up using DAISY.

The commission is planning on having a rough draft of their report at the AHEAD Conference in July.

Anyone can receive public updates by sending an email to with the word ‘subscribe’ in the subject line.

Related Links

CSUN Keynote Panel on International Accessibility and Information and Communication Technology

The next few days I’ll be posting some notes from the California State University Northridge (CSUN) 26th Annual International Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference.

Tonight the keynote panel that was moderated by Mike Paciello and included Paul P. Schafer, Mohammed Al-Tarawneh and Axel Leblois. You can read the full bios for Paul, Mohammed and Axel on the conference website. The theme of the panel was an international perspective on closing the gap between assistive technology and information and communication technologies (ICT).

The State of International Accessibility and ICT

To start the discussion, Axel responded to Mike’s question on the state of international accessibility by stating that we are in an unprecended period of growth of technology and devices, citing statistics that there 5 billion mobile phones, 2.5 billion televisions, 1.2 billion personal computers and 1.6 billion Internet users.

Axel then discussed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and mentioned that 99 countries have already ratified it. Mohammed expressed a hope that the United States will soon become the 100th to ratify the treaty and Paul reported from conversation with Judy Huemann that the treaty would soon be going to the US senate.

International Accessibility and ICT Challenges

Mohammed discussed the challenges of the CRPD and how those challenges affect ICT. He said that there is a gap between developed and developing countries. He hopes that countries with the resources and expertise will offer needed financial, technical, education assistance to developing countries.

Axel discussed the problem that although there is much research happening in the area of assitive technology, little of the research done at universities actually makes it to market. Lots of money is being spent on that research that never ends up benefitting end users.

Paul mentioned another issue is that the cost of assistive technology in 3rd world countries is still to expensive, but expressed hope that as mainstream products such as Android devices become accessible they will eventually help assistive technology become more affordable.

Solutions to International ICT Accessibility Problems

Looking forward, Paul felt that some solutions to increasing access to ICT might be the mass market utilization of technologies such as text-to-speech (TTS), speech recognition and brain-computer interfaces (BCI). He also sees potential for assistive technology cloud services. Paul also emphasized the importance of sharing best practices- both in technology and business processes. He discussed the importance sucessfull businesses mentoring others with the goal of getting more accessible practices into off-the-shelf products to replae more expensive, proprietary solutions.

Mohammed said that the CRPD is a powerful legal instrument that binds member states to abide by every single article, but that some member states are unaware of all obligations that signing the treaty brings. He is hopeful that academic institutions, the private sector, civil society organizations and governments will work together to help those in developing countries who lack resources.

One of the areas where Axel has seen success is working on the “low hanging fruit” of accessibility of telephones and televison broadcasting in developing countries. Often there is an FCC-like organization that simply needs training of what they need to do to be more accessible. He also discussed the business value of assitive technologies in expanding markets such as mobile and cloud-based solutions.

Other Keynote Business

After the panel, Alan D. Muir received the the Fred Strache Leadership Award and Klaus Miesenberer received 2011 Trace Center’s Harry J. Murphy Catalyst Award. In his acceptance speech Klaus shared a chinese proverb that went something like this:

“If you want to be happy for a day, get drunk.
If you want to be happy for a month, slaughter a pig
If you want to be happy for a year, get married
If you want to be happy for a lifetime, plant a garden”

If you have an additions or corrections to the above, please let me know!

Don’t Call Me Special

Time to get Rid of “Special”?

“Special” implies differentness and apartness. “Special” is the label on segregated programs: “special education” and “Special Olympics.” “Special” is a euphemism, a word introduced by do- gooders to sugar-coat their control of our lives. After all, disabled citizens have “special needs” not “special rights.”

Beyond the AP Stylebook: a “Special” Note

The term “special” as in “special education” has been, is, and will be used to refer to efforts made to meet group and individual educational needs. However, the term “special” has come to be used as a euphemism for segregated programs or physical facilities that are almost always inferior to what is available to nondisabled individuals. “Special” has definite negative connotations within the disability rights movement.

The Case Against “Special Needs” (PDF)

If our society believed children with SPECIAL NEEDS were really SPECIAL, wouldn’t every parent dream of having a child with SPECIAL NEEDS? But the opposite is true: our society so devalues children with disabilities that identifying and aborting them is becoming common practice. And within the adoption world, children with SPECIAL NEEDS are the last to be adopted! So, again, just how SPECIAL are children with SPECIAL NEEDS? ISn’t the term actually a harmful euphemism that means just the opposite?

Needs Are Not Special

“Special needs” is part of this dichotomy which is used to split able and disabled. Indeed, to alienate disability. Disability is different and “special” and hard and weird. “Special” is an isolating word, in fact, because it sets people apart, and not necessarily in a good way, no matter what the original meaning of the word is

Ableist Word Profile: Special

So, here’s what I, personally, don’t like about special: I feel like it’s an isolating word. I feel that the concept of ‘special’ stands in the way of full integration into society, and it also perpetuates some very harmful myths. It sets people with disabilities aside and stresses that they are different and alien. That using a wheelchair, for example, is ‘special’ and different and weird.

How Many People are Deaf or Hard of Hearing?

As with any disability statistic, it depends who you ask. Here are some statistics from different groups with a brief summary at the end:

From the 2008 American Community Survey (ACS):

In the year 2008, an estimated 3.5 percent (plus or minus 0.03 percentage points) of non-institutionalized, male or female, all ages, all races, regardless of ethnicity, with all education levels in the United States reported a hearing disability.

In other words, 10,393,100 out of 299,852,800 non-institutionalized, male or female, all ages, all races, regardless of ethnicity, with all education levels in the United States reported a hearing disability.

This statistic was gathered in response to the question:

“Is this person deaf or does he/she have serious difficulty hearing?”

Source: The percentage of non-institutionalized, male or female, all ages, all races, regardless of ethnicity, with all education levels in the United States reported a hearing disability in 2008 (filter by Disability Type, “Hearing Disability).

2000-2006 National Health Interview Surveys

In response to the question:

“Which statement best describes your hearing without a hearing aid: good, a little trouble, a lot of trouble, deaf?”

83.7% of adults in the United States report “Good hearing”, 12.9% report “a little trouble hearing” and 3.3% of people report themselves as “Deaf or a lot of trouble hearing”.

Source: Health Disparities Among Adults With Hearing Loss: United States, 2000-2006

From the 2001 Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP)

About 8,000,000 people (3.7%) over 5 years of age are hard of hearing (that is, have some difficulty hearing normal conversation even with the use of a hearing aid).

Source: Can you tell me how many deaf people there are in the United States?


There you go, according to these three survey’s (or at least someone’s interpretation fo the survey data) somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 to 4 percent of people can be classified as “hard of hearing”. Each of the studies goes into more detail on what that means and how their data was gathered.

Something I am missing? Please leave a comment and let me know.

A Life Beyond Reason by Chris Gabbard

Chris Gabbard has written on how his experience as a father of child with a disability has affected his life. He introduces his son August with this description:

(August) lives with cerebral palsy, is a spastic quadriplegic, has cortical visual impairment (meaning he is legally blind), is completely nonverbal and cognitively disabled, has a microcephalic head, and must wear a diaper. Moreover, he is immobile—he can’t crawl or scoot around or hold himself up or even sit in a chair without being strapped in it.

Despite all of that, he explains his home situation which is the same as that of many families who have a family member with a disability:

At home, in the eyes of my wife, Ilene; our 7-year-old daughter, Clio; and me, he seems merely a little eccentric, possessor of a few odd quirks, as I said. We don’t think of him as being different; he is August, just another member of an already quirky family. Although he cannot play with his sister, she loves him.

From that introduction Chris goes on to explain their daily routine, how August caused him to revisit a childhood cruelty and the value of human life.

Read “A Life Beyond Reason”

Wretches and Jabberers

I am at the TASH conference this week and watched a pre-screening of the movie Wretches and Jabberers directed by Gerardine Wurzburg. The movie follows the worldwide travels of Larry Bissonnette and Tracy Thresher who both have autism. Growing up, both Larry and Tracy were limited in their speech and seriously misunderstood until as adults they learned to communicate through typing. Now they have travelled around the world and are doing incredible work as advocates to help others presume competence when they meet a person with a disability.

They are still working distribution, but it will probably be available on video sometime next summer. Here is my favorite clip:

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