starting-blast landlocked

Category: accessibility

On OC Transpo’s public disservice announcements.

I’ve mentioned the automated bus stop announcements they’re now using up here for OC Transpo. They were a long time coming, and it’s actually nice to see they work really quite well–so long as the system’s been appropriately kicked into gear, but I expect that these days. On recent trips, though, I’ve noticed they’ve become somewhat less effective in actually keeping up with announcing stops. I’d like to say it’s the fault of the technology–either the GPS is off, the software needs a tweak here and there, whichever. But actually the problem has more to do with administration than the platform being administered.

I’m not exactly sure when it started–I want to say somewhere just before the official (finally!) rollout of their Presto system, but they made a change to their automated system such that every so often now, the same guy what announces the next stop will come on with a tip, or safety instructions, or something. I’ve heard him talk of how you can lend your Presto card to someone in your fare class if you’re not planning on using it–though he doesn’t actually explain what a fare class is. I’ve heard him more than once advise people, in both official languages, that the seats at the front of the bus are for people who have difficulty standing (related: I still don’t quite see how that translates to a guy that has difficulty seeing), and so they should move to the back of the bus when someone requires one. And just this morning I heard him remind people to “Let’s help keep each other safe.”, and to report any suspicious activity to your operator (interestingly, in french he says driver instead, but I’m knitpicking). All well and good. Common sense things that people maybe aughta know, but common sense not being so common these days, good on OC Transpo for including them. Except when they get in the way.

This morning’s trip, which is actually what reminded me, cut it close to getting in the way. There are a couple of pretty near back to back stops on my route home from the college. One such stop is, conveniently, the stop right after I get on the bus. So if someone who maybe isn’t as familiar with the route happens to be on the bus and needing to get off at, say, Baseline station, it’d be somewhat important if that person actually have a bit of warning before pulling into–and, on the off chance no one needs to get on or off there (it’s happened), pulling right back out of–the station. Some of these announcements, I’m not sure if it’s the timing or the fact the guy making them likes to–or is required to by some municipal regulation or another–take the long way around to get to his point, but by the time he gets there the system’s needing to play catch-up. So you’ll have it doing its PSA dance, then shift gears right into announcing the next stop–if you’re lucky, before you go flying past your next stop. This doesn’t happen insanely often, thank whichever divine creature’s got a hold on that, but when it does happen, it can potentially be problematic. As I said, this morning was a fine example. I’d just gotten on the bus leaving campus. We’re about halfway between stops, and his “keep each other safe” PSA comes on. Now, I’ve done this route often enough that I can recognise where we are by more subtle things, like turns in the road and things like that. So if I needed to get off at Baseline station for one reason or another, I myself wouldn’t be completely screwed–this time. The PSA does what it does, and when it’s done, we’re about ready to make the turn into Baseline station. It announces Baseline station as we make that turn.

Fortunately, I both know the route and don’t actually need to take advantage of that, and to my knowledge this particular trip didn’t have anyone who didn’t know exactly where they were going and when–or anyone who didn’t have the ability to actually look out for the stop they need, so this wasn’t as much of a problem on this trip. But if I’m taking a route for my first time ever–let’s say I need to figure out where I’m going because I’ve got a job starting in 2 weeks and, well, it involves places I haven’t had any reason to go prior to now and so didn’t bother to just get up and go out of sheer boredom, this poses a bit of a hang-up. If I’m a blind shmuck with no idea where I’m going and still need to get there in a reasonably not quite late fashion, I need to be able to somewhat accurately judge where my required stops are. If I’m doing this thing on a daily or even monthly basis, that’s less of a problem–once I get used to it. But if I’m just figuring out the workings of this new place I can’t very well look out the window to spot, I actually pay attention to what the automated system’s trying to tell me–as opposed to doing it just so I can scan the thing for issues that could be problematic to me or some other poor sop that might actually need to use it on some regular route of mine. When a public service announcement shows up the way these do, even if it doesn’t happen necessarily all that often, it throws off the automated system–which in turn throws off the people using it. That results in missed stops, which results in mobility complications–trying to find your way back to where you should be, either by walking back and hoping you don’t blow right by it, or locating the bus stop going the opposite way and hoping you don’t get to wait an age and a half for a bus you later learn doesn’t actually stop where you need it to. And that results in awkward phone calls on your first day of work wherein you get to explain to a guy who’s probably never heard of automated stop announcements that your bus made you late. Yeah. Career boosting move right there.

I’m not sure if they can improve the timing of these announcements or even just shorten them by a bit. I honestly don’t know how much if at all doing either one would help. But as it stands right now, OC Transpo’s public service announcements, which on the surface I support, are turning into public disservice announcements at the moment. And in so doing, they’re actually hurting the effectiveness of what I think is otherwise an awesome–and yes, much overdue–system. They’re useful, and a halfway decent substitute for a lack of common sense, but sooner or later, somebody’s going to miss their stop because it wasn’t announced on account of one of these PSAs. I’m not sure I’ll want to be anywhere near OC Transpo management when somebody makes that an issue.

Guest Submission: New Worlds Ateraan attends the ACB convention

Have you ever read a book and wondered what it would be like to play one of the characters?

This year at the ACB convention you can learn about the text only online role playing game known as New Worlds Ateraan.

This high adventure, fantasy role playing game is based on the book The Light of the Path and staff members from New Worlds Ateraan will host a seminar on Monday and Tuesday evening.

Come to the seminar and you will learn how to become immersed in the world of Ateraan, a planet like earth where you walk among mystical creatures and live in an incredible country of fantastic magic and intrigue.

The seminar will introduce screen reader usage, character interaction, and the best methods of role playing by your host, a professional film and theater actor.

Now you can join hundreds of men and women characters like Neechi in an online adventure that becomes nearly real.

Join us this year at the New Worlds Ateraan Seminar at the ACB convention.

To see what a few other players have to say about the game look here.

Cat

Mobility musings. Because half past late.

If you’ve read the “about me” style pages linked on the left side of this thing, you’ll probably be made vaguely aware that I have this problem (*) wherein vision just doesn’t happen. The same can be said for a few of the folks what read the thing. So it’s with that in mind that a thought type deal’s been circling my head like it’s got nothing better to do. And, oddly enough, it has to do with the very most basic of basic mobility.

Late in 2012, the city of Toronto started a pilot project wherein they placed specific markers at one intersection, as a way for the visually impaired to be able to tell when they’re approaching the street. And, that got me thinking not entirely sarcasticly. Does Toronto have a “blind person wanders into middle of intersection unknowingly” problem that maybe hasn’t been reported, or that places like Ottawa haven’t developed quite yet? It was an honest to goodness question that, well, not having been in Toronto in a number of years I can’t really answer with any degree of accuracy. But having been in all manner of places near Toronto, and well past it, I can say if it has, it would be a new one on me. So I have to ask. What problem is toronto hoping to solve?

I do my fair share of travelling, when I can. Probably not as much as I aught to, but more than your average John Q. Sighted figures me capable of 9 times in 10. I’ve run into some wicked nifty cool intersections that, okay, don’t make themselves blatantly obvious if you happen to be 3/4 the way asleep. But pretty much everywhere I’ve been, be it in Ottawa or elsewhere, has always had some kind of general indicator that, hey guy with the cane, street incoming. The only way you’d miss most if not all of those indications is if you were walking the streets completely and utterly oblivious–and if we’re being honest, John Q. Sighted’s probably a little more guilty about that than he’d like to admit what with the texting and walking and all that jazze. So seeing this project underway pretty much begs the question. What are we not seeing?

Don’t get me wrong. If this solves a problem, I’m all for it. I’m just trying to wrap my head around exactly what problem is being solved, here–and, relatedly, if it’s even a problem at all. I’d assume it is, simply because Toronto isn’t exactly swimming in cash at the moment and is kind of hoping the province will kick in just a little money to help support their transit system (Let’s not touch the fact the province is about as swimming in cash as toronto is, shall we?), so they wouldn’t–you’d hope, anyway–decide to go on a random toss money at a solution and hope it catches a problem. At least that’s the working theory. Because the alternative is a significant number of visually impaired folks in and/or around toronto are somehow asleep at the switch, posing all manner of risks to life and limb–usually their own–for the sole purpose of getting from A to B. And really, that doesn’t come off too pretty either. So I haven’t the slightest. Are the sidewalks in Toronto that bad? Are folks over there that caught up in their whatever they’re doing that isn’t paying the hell attention? Or is this a solution looking for a problem. Inquiring minds are inquiring. Just in case future trips in the general direction of Toronto necessitate I expect random things in my path that are supposed to be warnings. Because nothing says welcome to a new city quite like sidewalks that don’t actually look like sidewalks when you go to actually do things with them. Or maybe I just can’t think like someone from Toronto.

(*): John Q. Sighted tends to see this as a problem. I, rather, can’t see much of anything.

Update to add: I fail at HTML, so the second link on this thing may have slightly broken. It’s since been fixed. Now if I could just have remembered to fix the thing when I was in here fixing other things earlier.

In which WordPress 3.5 fixes menu accessibility. Sort of.

If you’ve jumped on the wordPress bandwagon recently, you know they’ve unleashed version 3.5 on the masses. You probably also know the huge thing they’re jumping all over is the improvements they’ve made to their media library. That is not, however, the huge thing I’m jumping all over. Since about version 3.3, users who have visual impairments and who use a variety of screenreading technologies have had a bit of difficulty, without the use of additional plugins, with accessing the various submenus WordPress has to offer. This is because, in 3.3, they’ve moved to a form of javascript flyout menus that are designed only to appear when the top level menu is hovered over with the mouse. Useful, until you run into someone who can’t use the mouse. Enter yours truely, and a few folks he’s hosting. And enter this little used dialogue on the WordPress bugtracker.

I’ve kept an eye on it since 3.3, and it goes through phases where people will poke and prod at it, then leave it alone for a few months. Apparently, somebody poked and prodded at something else, or just didn’t nail the ticket with that prod, and now, things do what they’re supposed to. Well, mostly. On a clean install of WordPress, which I just so happened to bust out before upgrading this site, completely unmodified from the core platform, the menu links that gave me and others trouble in this ticket behave as expected. And hey look, the menus don’t play hide and seak until you do some fancy dancing with your screenreader of choice’s advanced features–a big plus, in my world. Bonus points for that, guys. So now, we switch to this site. Because if I’m gonna break a bunch of folks I’m hosting, I might as well break me first, yeah? Yeah. So I do. And guess what? Not quite perfect.

The dashboard menus still do what they’re supposed to–that is, be damn well good and visible when they damn well need to be good and visible, without the afore mentioned dancing. But the top level links still don’t read like they’re supposed to without help. A tiny bit annoying, but can still be worked around–with the same workaround I’m already using because of what they broke in version 3.3. If you weren’t aboard the WordPress wagon when I was playing with this, let me introduce you to my new favourite plugin.

OZH Admin Drop Down Menus is a plugin that forces your dashboard menus to stay visible, permanently. It has the side benefit, which is the only reason I’m still using it now, of giving the top level menu links a readable label. Since they improved that area of accessibility in 3.5, I wouldn’t suggest installing it on a new install–unless I just got lucky and it’s actually still largely broken. For on already running installs? Definitely continue to use this plugin. And if you need assistance making it more useable from an accessibility perspective, let me know and maybe we can work a little something out.

I do believe college just quit me.

Or if nothing else, their disability department did. I’ve been working at getting myself situated so the geekness that is me can exist on paper with a minimal amount of fuss. Which, in turn, would hopefully result in somebody not paid by the government signing my more generous than present paycheck. All would have been absolutely awesome as well, except somebody somewhere who won’t speak up is dragging their feet.

In September, I started the ball rolling with algonquin College to get me set up with the one and only course I didn’t end up actually taking in highschool. It was math, which on a good day is probably my worst subject–maybe second only to science, and only because it’s not science fiction. Everything was in place. The folks doing that course were about ready to bend over backwards to work with me. There was just one problem. You ever tried doing math on a computer with your eyes closed, listening to something electronic trying to explain fractions to you? Yeah, if you’d like brain damage, I’ll give you an hour or so to give that a shot. Go on. This’ll wait.

I already knew exactly what was going to have to happen–they’d need to get their hands on materials from the course. No problem. Within a week of them knowing for sure I was taking this course, they had those materials. Step 2: get them into a format I could actually use. Huge problem. Still on-going problem. I could write a novel.

As I said, it started in September. Step 1 was get me in for an assessment so they’d know where I placed. Awesome. I can do that. They were thinking I could do the assessment then start on October 15 of this year. Turns out no not quite–they ended up pushing me back to take the assessment on October 29, which meant I’d be starting on November 12. Still, not a huge deal, if the Center for Students with Disabilities was on top of things. So I ran with it. Did the assessment, got the results, knew where I was going, yada yada blah. Then it imploded.

By the time a week passed since I did the assessment, the CSD had at least some of the materials I’d be needing. Not all of them, mind you, but it was a start. Problem. They still didn’t have the foggiest idea who’d be transcribing those materials for me. We’re into the first week of November, and they were still waiting on an answer to that question. So, naturally, they also couldn’t tell me when those same materials, in a format I could do something useful with, would be in my hands. Awesome. So I’m sitting here, occasionally prodding the college, and occasionally getting a “we’re still waiting” back. It’s next Monday. I have no texts. And I’m supposed to be starting this course. To say this is unpretty is a mild understatement. So I get a hold of the ones actually doing the math course, let them know the story. My start date’s officially on hold until the CSD eventually, uh, wakes up a little. I let the CSD know this, and–you guessed it–they still don’t have an ETA I can hand to anyone in charge of actually getting me into this course.

Actually, they still don’t have much. And cruising into December, that remains the case. So after hearing absolutely nothing from the CSD for nearly a month, and the deadline for applying to the program I’m taking this course to try and get me into being in february, and with the CSD spending the next few weeks primarily–and rightly–concerned with aranging people’s end-of-semester exams, I knew there was no way I was getting anywhere near finishing this mess before I’d be able to start the program next year. So, eating the $10 I paid to apply to the upgrade program, I withdrew, citing CSD issues. That’s fine. I could deal with that. It was only $10, anyway. It more annoyed me than anything else–and it wasn’t even the fault of the ones running the course.

So fast forward to the day before yesterday. I get an email from the CSD saying they were told I’d withdrawn, and they would continue to work on the materials for me in the event I changed my mind. Wanna know what they didn’t tell me? If anyone was even working on what I’d asked them to work on yet. Or, if not, then when. And when the materials I needed so I *could* change my mind would be ready. Or, really, much of anything. I responded to that email, escentially saying as much. And, again, telling them at this point, they were the only thing keeping me out of that course–and the delay in that department was largely administrative. Much as I had before, I got nothing back from the CSD. No appology for taking 4 months to pull their crap together, no indication their crap was even together, no ETA on when their crap would be together. I’m in the same boat with the CSD now as I was at the beginning of November, except now it doesn’t much matter.

Granted it’d been a few years, but when I went to the college before, they were dipped in awesome. Even last year, according to sources, they were still pretty much the definition of awesome. This year, for whatever reason, I have no earthly idea what up and sucked out all that awesome. But in the span of 4 months, my college, or at least my college’s disability department, just quit me. And we didn’t even kiss goodbye.

And another WordPress convert is born. … Maybe?

I’ve recently set May up with, uh, what we’ll call a playground of her own. Because, you know, being my girlfriend she should be entitled to *some* geekery every now and again. She’s wanted her own webspace for a bit, and needed a little extra support for at least one of her other ongoing–well, soon to be–projects, so why not do both? So we’ve set her up with a place on the net, and turned her loose with WordPress–also known as that which makes this thing break in all kinds of interesting ways when I’m not doing so. I have absolutely no idea what the hell this’ll do. But, hey, if it keeps her off Blogger, I’ve already accomplished my goal–not to have to perform save the content 2.0.

Welcome to WordPress, May. Here’s hoping you get yourself used to it. In the meantime, if you break it, you get to keep both pieces.

Finally, OC Transpo goes completely accessible. Sort of.

On Tuesday, after much, much too long, OC Transpo finally grew a set and retired its high-floor buses, replacing them with their low-floor equivalents. Awesome news for anyone with mobility issues who had a hell of a time boarding the older models–I have no trouble with this whole walking thing, and I’d occasionally nearly land on my face if I didn’t know exactly which bus was picking me up. A side benefit is, apparently, now all buses in Ottawa are equipped with the automated stop announcement system. Now, here’s hoping the system actually gets a bit more reliable (I’d provide a link, but it 404′s on me… way to go, Ottawa Sun).

a follow up to the post entitled: Guest Post: welcome to open communication, pizza pizza.

Author’s note: this is a follow-up post submitted with webmaster approval by a contributer. If you would like to publish a guest entry, let me know.

I posted
2 weeks ago
a letter I mailed off to pizza pizza, regarding their inaccessible iphone app, it was a little blunt, but you’ll have that.
Today, I received this in response.

——————————————————————————–
From: Pizza Pizza App Customer Support [mailto:iphone@pizzapizza.ca]
Sent: Thursday, April 21, 2011 3:51 PM
To: Shane Davidson
Subject: RE: iphone app feedback.

Hello Shane,

Thank you for writing to us and we apologize for the delay in responding to your e-mail.

We are currently in the process of providing an accessibility solution for our website – www.pizzapizza.ca which allows for online ordering. Once this process has been completed, we will be looking into the feasibility of carrying this over into our mobile application. At this point, we would not be able to apprise you of a time frame but we do endeavor to meet the needs of all our valued customers and we recognize the importance of this matter.

We appreciate you taking the time out to write to us about this and your valuable suggestion. We hope to have the opportunity to serve you in the future.

Regards,

Pizza Pizza Customer Support
www.pizzapizza.ca
www.pizzapizza.ca

Welcome to a response that isn’t a form letter.
We’ll see how much of that comes to pass over the coming month’s.

Pembroke gives this accessibility thing a try. About time.

Say what you will about the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), it’s got people talking about the disabled which almost always can’t hurt. You didn’t usually hear more than a word out of folks in this area about it, though, in spite of the fact it’s kind of been in existence for at least 4 years or so. You are now, at least on a business front–if only in vague terms. Everything vaguely hinted to in that article is supposed to come into play by January of 2012, according to what’s over there. Everything from business level education to supposed policies specifically for dealing with people with disabilities–no, not that one based on common sense, sadly. The article doesn’t get overly specific, which kind of makes me wonder just how badly the locals up here will end up completely breaking this all over the place. Oh well. It sure as hell can’t be a whole lot worse than it is–just ask any blind person in Pembroke.

Guest Post: Welcome to open communication, pizza pizza.

Blog author’s note: the below content is a guest contribution. Any responses will, if nothing goes and breaks, go directly to the post’s author and not to me. If you would like to contribute to the blog, contact me to discuss the possibility.
I love pizza, and hey, so does the owner of this here blog.
So niftily enough
pizza pizza
one of the major pizza places here in canada has an iphone app.
Nifty, I thought, and hey, it’s free. no complaints.
Um, except their was.
The accessibility of this app, leaves their a lot to be desired.
With a lot of patience, you can find, and by trial and error make voice over read things, and you can put together an order, if using specials, but attempt to design your own pizza? not so much.
Buttons don’t read, the process is not explained, in short, pizza pizza didn’t design this app with the voice over user in mind.
So, I sent the following short and simple message to their iphone feedback address.

From: Shane Davidson
Sent: Thursday, April 07, 2011 4:45 AM
To: iphone@pizzapizza.ca
Subject: iphone app feedback.

To Whom this may concern;
I am writing you as a blind iphone user, who uses voice over, the built in screen reader.
The app would be useful to myself, and other blind iphone users if you took the time to make it usable with voice over.
At this time, some of the app is accessible, but it has a long way to go before it can be successfully used to order and manage previous orders with your company.
I am happy to help test this apps accessibility if your company is willing to build accessibility into the app so it works more flawlessly with voice over on the iphone, and other similar IDevices.
This is being posted as open communication on my own personal blog at

http://www.shaneD.net

and on another blog, welcome to knowwhere, that I help manage, at

http://www.the-jdh.com

so any response, or lack their of, will be read by a lot of users, both sighted and blind alike.
Thank you for your time and attention to this issue.
Sincerely;
Shane Davidson

In short, let’s see if pizza pizza cares enough to come up with a response or a reworked app with voice over support, shall we?

I have become an Appleite. Good lord help me.

I’m not one of Apple’s biggest fans. In fact I’m not entirely sure I can be classed as a fan at all–my iPad review of last year should be your first clue. But, you could say, I was dragged kicking and screaming into the supposed future of computing. My relationship with my previous cell carrier, Rogers, went from absolutely amazing to disastrously rocky in the span of 2 months. And didn’t do much improving when we got to the third. Service issues of the cell service and customer service variety, issues with them not actually honouring their handset replacement policy and not actually telling me they wouldn’t be honouring their replacement policy, issues with actually being able to pay their bill–for the record, their automated system fails at creditcard, apparently. Issue. After issue. After freaking issue. I had more run-ins with management in the last 3 months with that company than I ever had with, er, any of the companies I’ve delt with before or after. And I’m talking over the span of 12-13 years here. So after finally getting frustrated/fed up/break-things pissed, I decided to flip them the bird. On Sunday, I tossed them over the edge.

There was only one small tiny little problem with the decision. As much as it had to happen, rogers was the only company in the area that actually had somewhat of a choice of accessible phone. Granted it was either Apple, nokia or suffer, but it was a choice. And say what you will about Nokia–neither of the phones I had by them blew up in my face. The one I retired when I ditched Rogers will probably still have some sort of existence, at least when I’m on the other side of the border, anyway. Until I get around to deciding whether or not to make the AT&T network tap dance with the Apple thinggy. So my switching of carriers meant my choices went from technically 3, to technically 2–Apple, or suffer. Well, I hate inaccessible pieces of crap quite possibly as much as the folks over at the vomit comet, so my choice was escentially limitted to Apple. Well. Fuck me running.
As of Sunday afternoon, Telus became my new cellular home. Hi, saving money. And oh, hey, look at that. Texting the US, if and when I find a way of doing so that doesn’t result in ow my brain, doesn’t kick me in the wallet either. Yayness. The result? New company. Old phone number. And I’ve somehow become an Appleite. Well, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad.

I don’t know that I’ll ever truely become the kind of person that believes in Apple or nothing. I’ll probably still be looking for other options–hey, it’s what I do. I still stand by much of what I said in my iPad review re: Apple’s philosophy. I still stand by what I said re: accessibility in that same review. My opinions on that will probably not change. But for now, I’ll live with the title of Appleite. And who knows? Maybe something will clock me upside the head and I’ll become a true fanboy. One can only hope. But until then, this works. At least until I start looking for ways to squeeze a couple extra pennies out of Telus. Hey–I’m on disability. It’s the thing to do.

Canada Post gets a hard lesson in accessibility. And they’re about to get another.

Carin over at the Vomit Comet already laid good into Canada Post for this one, but since I’m procrastinating with this whole packing thing anyway and a little backup never hurt anyone, they get a friendly little reminder from me.

In December, I decided I had 30 seconds between the other 80 million things I was trying to get done that last week or two before Christmas to actually fire off some cards to family and a couple friends. You’d think an effort that’d take a grand total of 30 seconds, right? Last year, yes. The year before, definitely. This year? Yeah, no. What should have taken 30 seconds instead turned into a moment of temporary oh shit.

As part of their move to supposedly “improve the customer service experience”, Canada post had at some point late last year decided it might be fun to go all touchscreen, all the time. Their reason for doing so? It’s a requirement to deal with the new chip-equipped debbit cards. Much like Carin in her experience, postal chick and I went a round or two over that one. Not only could they have easily gone with another, more accessible model, but–in my case in particular–the unit I was staring at was stuck to the counter, which was roughly chest height for me (I’m 5’11 or so). Which meant, in simple terms, not only could the blind/low vision not do anything whatsoever with it, but lord help anyone who came rolling on up in a wheelchair. I’d of loved to see just how the local post office was going to handle that one. They weren’t doing a whole lot to handle this one, in any event.

Lucky for me, as you quite literally can’t get to 90% of what’s available in this town without wheels, I just so happened to have a pair of eyes handy. Equally lucky for me, they’re eyes I actually don’t mind knowing my PIN–hey, sometimes stuff has to get done and I’m busy. But I’d of been in much the same boat Carin was otherwise. And the explanation of such to the postal employee? Prompted the much anticipated and not at all favourable–for her–standard responses of, “You’ll just have to make sure you bring someone with you, I guess.”, and, “Well, there’s an ATM not far from here. We still accept cash.”.

As if she didn’t probably already figure she maybe shouldn’t have said that–I probably should give her a tiny benefit of doubt, here–she got a good dose of education from both myself, and my wheels. There was no actual reply, and we went on business as usual.

On my return home, I’d put together a little something and sent it via Canada Post’s less than well-organized website into, what I’m going to guess, is their customer feedback black hole. As of yet I haven’t heard or seen anything resembling a response, and when the roommate and I went to fill out a money order for the apartment that wasn’t (more on that in another entry, if I remember), things hadn’t changed. Of course, anyone who’s done this dance knows exactly what comes next–a longer letter. Which will more than likely get dropped on someone once I touch down in Rochester. And hey, this time, I’ll have a month to go find regulations with which to beat postal people around a bit. One would suspect I had too much fun doing this. And yeah, they’d be right.

The moral of the story? for the love of cheese, get with the accessibility program already. You’re a federal agency, bound by federal laws. This includes federal accessibility laws–which, I’ll admit, the actual government’s having a hell of a time following but that issue’s already been beaten to death on every blog but this one. Get your shit in order. Or, hell, better yet, hire me and Carin–we’ll do it for you. I expect this from the private sector–rant on that coming probably when I hit Rochester. After all, they don’t make much money off us blind folks. But really? Canada Post? They don’t make much money, period. Let’s half some equal playing field up in here, and maybe they’ll make a little more. In the meantimie, where’d I put my regulations?

Attention 1310 news: there is nothing “special” about Victoria’s stolen iPhone.

Sometime last week, a University of Ottawa student wound up needing to replace her iPhone. Someone decided she didn’t really need the one she had, so offered–rather forcefully–to take it off her hands. Two things make it headline worthy, according to 1310 news–one of which is untrue. The girl in question was blind–and, if it’s who I’m thinking of, I actually used to know her, and less accurately, the iPhone was incorrectly labeled as being specially designed for her with text to speech software in place. As much as I disagree with apple on several hundred levels, I do have to say they’ve at least done that right–the same text to speech software is available in every iPhone sold, at least in the last year or so. This particular one just so happened to have it enabled. That’s what made it extremely easy, once they decided to do it, for three Rogers employees to replace the phone. Had the technology she was using been specially designed for her use, the story probably wouldn’t have had the ending it did. Now if every news article could end kinda like these ones here, special needs included or otherwise.

Related: If this person’s the same one I’m thinking of, I kinda wondered what happened to her. Now, I know. Thanks, 1310, for that if nothing else.

Things to keep in mind if you’re a politician: accessible does not mean blame the other guys.

When it’s brought to your attention that your office is somewhat less than accessible, particularly when you happen to be the member of parliament in charge of things to do with people with disabilities, the appropriate response would be to:
A: Appologise and work towards fixing it where possible, such as possibly looking for a more accessible location to have your riding office moved to.
B: Propose alternative locations to meet with people who have difficulty actually getting to the offending riding office.
C: Issue a fluff press release about how much your government’s doing for people with disabilities, then move on.
D: Blame the liberals.

Diane Finley, Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, decided to pick option D.

“Bob Speller is simply trying to distract from the dismal Liberal record on helping person with disabilities,” said a statement from Finley’s office. “In fact, Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals are constantly voting against support for persons with disabilities such as when they voted against the creation of the historic Registered Disabilities Saving Plan and the Enabling Accessibility Fund.”

That’s cold comfort to her constituents who must make an appointment with Finley and meet her off-site, perhaps at Tim Horton’s.

I’m not sure what to be more irritated with. The fact this chick’s got a visual impairment and should therefore know better than to make a statement like that, or that statements like that are the norm when folks get called out for crap like this–at just about all levels of government. Or both, in equal proportions.

Small note to Minister Finley. You’re in charge of things to do with people finding employment. You’re also in charge of things to do with people with disabilities. You are, therefore, in charge of things to do with people with disabilities finding employment. Please stop being a tool and actually try removing a barrier that keeps certain individuals in your constituency away from you. And please, for God’s sake, stop with the making it all about the liberals. I’m sure they didn’t put you in an inaccessible office. Nor, I’m sure, are they making it difficult for you to move, should you decide to do so.

Note to Stephen Harper. I think you need a new minister.

Introducing Access Canada.

There are all kinds of accessibility-related conversations going on all over the freaking place, be they for the blind, the wheelchair-bound, the deaf, what have you. Regardless to the disability, we all have one important thing in common–when it comes to doing most if not all of what we’d like to do completely independantly, opportunities for it suck royally. When it comes to finding solutions, we’re usually all split off into our own little corners to discuss what might be best for our particular group. That’s why I’m aiming at starting a discussion list, which could hopefully morph into something a little more constructive, to attempt to address those problems in one near central location.

Hence, Access Canada was born only a few hours ago. From the wheelchair-bound senior to the teenager just now learning braille, there’s always at least one answer to the common question–how do we make life work for me? If you’ve got an interest in the conversation, and an interest in discussing not just what has to be done but how we, as the ones affected, can start doing it, then I’d strongly encourage you to investigate and subscribe to the Access Canada mailing list. You can find info and subscription instructions here. And, of course, if you have any questions about the list, either leave a comment here or let me know privately, and I’ll do what I can to answer. There’s a ton of conversation to be had out there on this, with probably a lot more mutual ground than most people realize. So let’s have it. What have we got to lose besides the time it takes to write an email?

Introducing KNFB’s new fail in a box.

Warning: this is a blindness tech related entry. You may read if you wish, or you may not. It’s here either way.

KNFB is usually pretty well known within the blindness community for software, usually for your cell phone, that’s actually useable by folks who can’t see. So you’d think, when they team up with someone who’s got a bit of experience with similar software only for the computer, they’d come out with an accessible solution, right? If you said yes, give your head a shake then keep reading.

Their new e-reading software, available today for the PC and being called Blio, is branded as an accessible reading solution for the disabled. Except for the part where it isn’t. In their defense, they say there’s one coming. In our defense, I say so’s Christmas. Any bets on which one gets here sooner? Now, granted, even if it was accessible I’d very likely not use it–I rarely listen to audiobooks, nevermind the e-variety. But still, if your bread and butter is accessibility, you may not want to flub off on that. Not if you happen to have any sense of self-preservation, anyway.

Strike 1: Ottawa goes on the back burner. But, I get an accessibility thing to sort.

And we all know I like tormenting things until they agree to be accessible. Or developers until they agree to make things that way. I wrote a while back I was trying to get my foot in the door with Davis and Henderson, a financial services company by the looks of it with an office in Ottawa. After going last week without much in the way of an actual response, I finally got one this morning. Or rather, I called and pried one out of the HR contact I’ve been trying to deal with. What it boils down to from where I sit is blindness technology doesn’t play nice with their choice of phone technology. This, naturally, from supposedly the mouth of the guy or guys who’re supposedly trying to convince the two to play nice together. And filtered through at least two people I’m aware of, so something probably got lost in translation.

HR chicky wasn’t exactly very forthcoming with the details, even on a non-technical level, except to say the phone system they use is a Cisco one–I’m assuming that includes whatever softphone application(s) they’re using, but that’s a guess on my part. The only thing I pulled out of her was the screenreader won’t work with it–which, yeah, I got when she told me they were having problems with it. I nudged her in the direction of putting me in touch with the person or persons behind the attempt to get things to play nice with each other, and I get the impression she’s going to at least make the attempt to filter my contact info up the chain to where it needs to go. I’m not holding my breath on it getting anywhere, naturally, but if it doesn’t I’m not entirely sure I can justifiably be pissed at her. Which, at end of day, means for the immediate future any plans I had on a return to Ottawa are kind of going in that other direction. But, I now have what I might call a halfway attempt at an accessibility project to work on. Assuming the phone rings between now and before I forget I ever had any dealing with the company in question. Now to wait until later this week, when I can give a few friendly shoves in the right direction to the other employment project I’ve got cooking. And maybe, barring complications, apply a liberal amount of education to an Ottawa company. I should hang out and not do much more often–productivity happens that way.

Update: That didn’t take long. My HR contact’s supervisor just called and seems not quite opposed to the idea of me working with them on this. Thus slightly increasing the chances I’ll actually get to speak with someone who’s involved in the process. This should be wicked interesting, if nothing else. Small progress is, after all, still small progress. Particularly considering I’m apparently not the first person to try and apply there in my current situation. We shall see what happens.

Volunteering my life away. Or, rather, trying to.

Last year, I had an opportunity to take a shot at participating in a survey for the general accessibility of certain features of then current cell phone models. If I’m not mistaken, it focused almost entirely on the ability to make payments for certain things via your cell phone, among other things. My name was on the list for that, though for one reason or another I never actually got in to participate fully–too bad, as they were offering to pay me for my time.

Flash forward to yesterday. I get an email while I’m going through finding political morons to mock, inviting me to another focus group with the option of also or instead doing a survey by mail. Like the last one, the focus group will be held in Ottawa by the Neil Squire Society. Like the last one, it’s focus is on the ability for the visually or otherwise disabled to make use of certain aspects of cell phones–in this case, the ability and ease of use when it comes to obtaining emergency services via cell phone.

The only difference between this one and last year’s is I’m not currently actually living in Ottawa–not yet, anyway. So getting to the actual focus group could require some creative effort. Still, much like the last one if it comes up, I fully intend to be there. Blame my interest in most if not all things accessible. And, hey, they offered me money last time. I’m not stupid.

Windows Live Writer review: epic accessibility fail.

I like to think I’m halfway patient. Kind of. In that way that kind of makes some people consider beating me over the head for being too stubborn for my own good. Still, that having been said, Windows Live Writer just beat the royal hell out of me so far as accessibility goes. Huge.

After fighting to get it to show me the screen to write a blog entry in a manner that doesn’t do hurty things to my head, I discover it wants to create its own standards for entry formatting–including throwing HTML where it really hasn’t got any business throwing it. For right now, it’s imperfect solutions time. Which means I do the majority of my work via Semagic, now that I’ve finally gotten it to play nice with something that isn’t LJ, and what I can’t do with this will get done from the web. In the meantime, the hunt is on for a third party client that is:

  • accessible
  • flexible
  • compatible with WordPress’s newer features
  • not necessarily restricted by LiveJournal’s limitations–I’d like to be able to make full use of nested categories, etc.

I don’t particularly think I’m being entirely too demanding in this search. I also don’t think such a beast exists, or exists for free in any event. Meantime, if you’re planning to use Windows Live Writer, reconsider. It, for lack of a better word, is crap. From an accessibility perspective, Microsoft fails. Hardcore. I should probably know that already. Ah well, that’ll learn me.

Testing out the Windows Live Writer.

I’ve been doing this long enough now that I think I’m fairly well justified in wanting to look for something that doesn’t require I pull up the website in order to write a post. Not that I don’t like the WordPress interface, but sometimes, I don’t want to wait for the site to load up when I have the option of doing this locally. So, as I’ve been known to do, I took advantage of the fact I wasn’t doing anything overly constructive right now anyway, and started playing around with Windows Live Writer. I know, it’s a Microsoft program and I’m more than a little anti-Microsoft some days. But, unfortunately–yet again–they’re so far the most promising accessibility solution out there at the moment. It does take a tiny bit of creative work with the keyboard to get things set up in such a way that I won’t have to go into the website directly and clean up after it–at least, I’d better bloody well not, which is in my book of absolute lazy a definite +5. Beyond that, and for right at this very moment, with the slightest of tweeking here and there I suspect this may or may not end up being something I can use without pulling my hair out. Now, provided this thing doesn’t do about a hundred different kinds of breaking on me, I shouldn’t in theory need to try and convince Semagic that it really really really wants to play nice with the WordPress API. I’ve noticed LiveJournal clients/services tend to virtually implode on themselves when asked to do non-LJ things. And at the moment, I don’t particularly feel like tinkering with the internals of those protocols. I’m still recovering from the last time, after all.

Accessibility by accident? Possibly.

Over the few months leading up to the Christmas holidays, the original cordless phone set I had for the apartment–one of those older two-handset jobs–was really starting to let go of, like, everything. I had one who’s battery might last 30 minutes, and another who’s battery might last 30 seconds. My parents, who bought me those phones a few years ago, had the exact same ones–and were having at around the same time the exact same problem. I can’t even remember what model they were, but turns out they were pretty well crap. They were promptly replaced in both households by phones made by Panasonic instead. We got our hands on one of those digital answering systems–the phones, 3 of them for my place this time, come with their own built-in answering machine so you’re not paying someone for voicemail. I didn’t exactly plan to use that, but it’s nice to know they have that option.

We got them set up, and were introduced to a rather neat little surprise. It seems, though we didn’t know this at the time, the handsets in use at my parents’ place come with the option to have call Id information read out to you via text to speech built into the individual handsets. Now, granted, you can’t use the same method for being able to go back through your history of missed calls, but this is perhaps the second model of phone I’ve actually seen it implemented on–the first, a corded model several years ago, quite frankly made me want to pitch it out the window. And the thing wasn’t even mine. Naturally mine didn’t come with that option, but it was still nice to see some of them did.

I have no idea if Panasonic is actually starting to consciously make their equipment just that much more accessible, or if it’s another example of a measure of convenience just so happening to double as something you can use without requiring the ability to actually see your phone. The naive part of me would like to think the former, but here in the real world, it’s more than likely the latter. Still, it’s a nice touch for a phone system. I wouldn’t mind seeing this end up becoming a trend for other manufacturers. For the curious, here’s one of the models with talking call ID on Amazon. I wonder if it’s too late for an exchange…

last weekend, the past week, and what happens when I have free time.

As anyone who follows my twitter feed will probably already know, last weekend went actually quite well with myself and Jessica (samari76). She arived safely on Friday, and we spent the majority of that day just hanging around the apartment, talking. she ended up being a little more tired than she thought she’d be, so she caught a couple hours’ sleep while I came out here to finish up with checking email and the like. We ended up just relaxing and enjoying ourselves for the rest of that evening. I threw together a little something for supper, and we just sort of talked and did a little listening to music. Saturday we slept in a little, and took our time getting to that point most people would call awake. Again, there was more just hanging out, and talking. We ended up ordering out for supper, after which we got into a bottle of lemmon rum I’d picked up a couple days before leaving Pembroke.

It was actually before we started drinking, though, when we got a call that my grandpa had been taken to the Ottawa hospital; he was having issues with his apendix and they weren’t sure if it would require surgery or not. We stayed up most of the night waiting for news, but after being told my parents were enroute to Ottawa just behind him to make sure he was being looked after, we hadn’t heard anything. Trish IMed me at that point to say she hadn’t heard anything new, really, either. We ended up aranging to get together for breakfast the next day, since we’d not hung out in a while anyway and Jess was looking forward to seeing her again. Well, that, plus since we were waiting for information it made more sense to all be in one place when it came in. We ended up going to bed about 4:00 that morning, getting up again at an impressive 9:00. Cabbing it over there, we hung out with Trish, her husband and both her brothers for much of the morning. She made an awesome breakfast, which kind of reminded me a little of something you’d be able to order from any decent restaurant on Jessica’s side of the border. Family started to trickle in shortly after, and we learned he wasn’t actually going to get the surgery right yet; they wanted to see if they couldn’t treat it with antibiotics first, which kind of makes sense to me. I mean, the guy *is* in his 80′s. No sense in putting him through a surgery that may or may not be required. We got to see a goodly portion of my family, though. And Jess got to meet a few people we couldn’t get around to visiting the last time we were both in that neighbourhood. We all sat around and talked, the older guys watching nascar on TV and everyone with something better to do just generally conversating/trying not to hear it. They ordered pizza and wings, some of which we both helped ourselves to (Hey, breakfast was good, but it’s pizza and wings. Come on.). We spent the rest of the day just sort of hanging out. After everyone left, Trish, her husband, both brothers, plus myself and Jessica decided to go and check out one of the local carnivals in town that weekend. We got there just in time for it to start packing up, of course, but at least Jess got to get a brief look at some of what goes on around here this time of year. We didn’t get home until about 9:00 or so, and stayed up for a bit longer just generally talking and the like.

Monday was a very low key day; we didn’t even get dressed until that evening. we just enjoyed our last day together for a while, and recovered sort of from the day before. I took Jess to the bus station that night, and she made it across the border all in one piece, luggage and all. As for me, I went back home and did that thing where I fall into bed until 6 or 7 the next morning. I spent the rest of the week going through my usual routine; looking for work, not finding much, talking to Jess, and occasionally cursing technology. I did eventually finally hear that my grandpa was back home and doing well, the antibiotics seeming to be working thus far, so that was one less thing on my list of things to be paying attention to.

One thing I did finally get around to this week, that I’d been threatening to do before, is installing Gentoo linux on the formerly retired laptop. It actually didn’t take too long when you break it down to time spent actually working on the system; the longest part of it all was the waiting for things to compile. I had it installed and running by yesterday morning, and talking by yesterday afternoon after I learned I missed a step in building the kernel so had to do that all over again. Lovely. I got that fixed up though, and it behaves beautifully now. I ended up playing around with Speakup, one of the screenreading packages available for linux, a bit yesterday and again this morning. Now, I’m waiting for the various Gnome packages to install, including its screenreader, so I can have a little bit of a look at that. Judging by the sheer number of packages that are needing instalation, and the fact they all need to be compiled, this could take a while. In the meantime, I have free time on my hands that I’m sure I’ll put to good use ordering groceries. Or sleeping. Or something. I may or may not have missed something in my update. If I did, I’m sure Jess will remind me… she’s good like that. As for now, though, I’m so gone it’s not funny.

Why linux is for the epic motherfucking win.

From a thread regarding a speech-friendly installer for another Linux distro:

There’s definitely interest. I’d even learn the process for doing that for the sole purpose of contributing. Thanks for looking into it, William.

—–Original Message—–
From: speakup-bounces@braille.uwo.ca [mailto:speakup-bounces@braille.uwo.ca]
On Behalf Of William Hubbs
Sent: March 14, 2009 10:29 PM
To: Speakup is a screen review system for Linux.
Subject: Re: Speakup-enabled ArchLinux install CD, version 2!

—–BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE—–
Hash: SHA1

Hi all,

I would like to get this done on gentoo, I just haven’t attempted to coordinate it with release engineering yet. My plan is for our latest version of speakup and espeakup to go stable, then I will work with release engineering to get it put onto our official cds.

I’m not sure how to build a minimal cd myself, but if there is interest, I can ask release engineering about how that would be done for testing.

On Sat, Mar 14, 2009 at 10:10:59PM -0400, James Homuth wrote:
Careful. Yall are making me consider playing with Arch Linux if only because of its Gentoo-like qualities, minus compiling. This is, IMHO, exactly the kind of CD that particular distro needs. Would anyone mind > if I forward this thread to gentoo’s accessibility project?

I loves me some open source community talk, yo. Try doing *that* with Windows, or Mac.

PS: William = team lead for gentoo‘s accessibility project. Also known as the guys who maintain screenreader software’s compatibility with that particular flavour of linux. Also, keep in mind, that entire discussion took place on a publicly accessible mailing list over the course of a few hours. You are not going to get that from Micro$oft.

Well, it’s not a job, but they’re paying me.

And it’s accessibility related, so naturally, I was all over this. They’re gonna pay me $65 or so if I qualify to take this study, for the sole purpose of seeing how accessible my cell phone is. And apparently, if you choose to use your own cell phone for the process, they’ll throw extra money at you to cover it. I won’t say no to $80 for showing up and texting.

——————————–PARTICIPANTS NEEDED FOR a study of Cellphone Based Payment Systems

Researchers at the Neil Squire Society in cooperation with the Canadian Institute for the Blind are conducting a study to better understand how making retail product purchases using cellular phones can impact members of the Blind Community.

The ultimate goal of this project is to identify potential barriers that would make it difficult for people who are blind to complete mobile retail transactions and to make industry aware of these issues.

We are currently recruiting individuals who are blind, who currently use a cellular phone, and who know how to send and receive a Text Message and use a Web Browser on a cellular phone.

Eligible participants will be asked to participate in one 2 hour test session which involves using 4 types of payment services. You will receive a $65 honorarium for your time.

If you live in Ottawa, Ont, Regina, Sk or Vancouver, BC we would like to hear from you.

To learn more about this research and your eligibility, please contact:

OTTAWA: Ms. Joanne Ahern
Research Assistant, Neil Squire Society
Telephone: (613) 723-3575
EMAIL: joannea@neilsquire.ca

REGINA: Diann Coates
Regional Manager, Neil Squire Society
PH: (306) 781-6023
EMAIL: diannc@neilsquire.ca

VANCOUVER: Harry Lew
Manager of R&D
PH: (604) 412-7599
EMAIL: harryl@neilsquire.ca

Principal Investigator

Dr. Gary Birch, PhD, P.Eng.
Neil Squire Society
Executive Director and Director of Research & Development

And now, for a new level of geekery.

As I mentioned a while back, I’ve been toying around with Gentoo linux off and on for a while, and have been considering running it locally for quite some time. Today, well actually last night, out of boredom I decided to burn a CD image of their latest release. I’d of stuck with the image you gave me mike (lightvortex), but it was about 3 years old judging by what I could see of it and didn’t burn properly. Sorry! So, I burned that particular image, and went about the process of testing it out on my laptop (hint: 5 years old, almost 6, very minimalistic – 512 MB RAM, 40 GB HD, etc). And with absolutely no fussing on my end whatsoever, which is good seeing as there’s absolutely 0 accessibility on that particular live CD, she worky and she worky like beautiful.

So I fired it up, got myself to the command line with absolutely 0 feedback from the computer (I love having had previous linux experience), and set up the CD so I could remote into it from this machine. That took all of maybe a minute and a half to do. From there, it was just log into the laptop (or, rather, log into the CD in the laptop), and poke around. I could have probably gone right to the instalation procedure from there with absolutely no fuss whatsoever. And would have, except I hadn’t had a damn thing pulled off that laptop yet that I wanted to save. Now, keep in mind I’ve had this machine since about October of 07. Since then, the laptop’s been in a state of semi-retirement, only ever really being used when the router decides it wants to enter into a fit of noncooperation. Since the router’s in the bedroom and the desktop isn’t, the laptop became my troubleshooting tool. But I still never bothered to pull what I thought I’d want to save off of it. So I hadn’t planned on formatting it at all until that was done. Last night, after I logged into the system and poked around, I mounted the internal HD so I could access it from inside the live CD environment. And then I downloaded the whole damn thing, Windows OS and all, into a folder on this HD. Took me the better part of 24 hours to do it (I started it at about 1:00 this morning and it only finished just after 10 tonight), but now, what is on my laptop is also on my desktop in a folder unoriginally named “backup” (I was tired. Sue me.). Now all I have to do is get around to actually whiping it and installing Gentoo. Which may or may not happen this year. I’m curious to start playing with gnome and orca, but not curious enough yet to undergo the manual instalation process Gentoo takes. And no, I refuse to install Ubuntu. Debian, *maybe*. But only if I have to.

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