June 2012 Issue  Volume 13  Number 6

AccessWorld News

AccessWorld News

Charles Schwab Announces Website Accessibility Initiative

Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. recently announced an initiative to make its website more accessible and inclusive for all customers. Schwab's initiative will particularly improve the client experience for Schwab customers with disabilities. Schwab has adopted the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) version 2.0 level AA as its website accessibility standard and has begun working to meet this standard.

Schwab has already begun making accessibility improvements, and will continue to do so over the next year.

About the Guidelines

The WCAG 2.0 guidelines are promulgated by the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium and ensure that sites are more accessible to people with visual and other disabilities. Many Schwab customers will not notice any differences on the site, as the Guidelines don't affect the content or look and feel of a website. The guidelines are of particular benefit to blind computer users who use screen reader voice output or magnification technology on their computers and who, like some individuals with mobility impairments, rely on a keyboard instead of a mouse for navigation.

White House Highlights STEM Innovators in the Disability Community as "Champions of Change"

Recently, the White House honored 14 individuals as Champions of Change for leading the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math for people with disabilities in education and employment.

The Champions of Change program was created as a part of President Obama's Winning the Future initiative. Each week, a different sector is highlighted and groups of Champions, ranging from educators to entrepreneurs to community leaders, are recognized for the work they are doing to serve and strengthen their communities.

The White House Champions of Change embraces individuals from the field of vision loss.

George Kerscher began his IT innovations in 1987 and coined the term "print disabled." George is dedicated to developing technologies that make information not only accessible, but also fully functional in the hands of people who are blind or have a print disability. He believes properly designed information systems can make all information accessible to all people and he is working to push evolving technologies in this direction. As Secretary General of the DAISY Consortium and President of the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), Kerscher is a recognized international leader in document access. In addition, Kerscher is the Senior Officer of Accessible Technology at Learning Ally in the USA. He chairs the DAISY/NISO Standards committee, and serves on the USA National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS) Board. George was also honored at the AFB Leadership Conference last month where he was the recipient of the 2012 AFB Migel Medal. You can learn more about George Kerscher by reading a 2001 AccessWorld interview conducted by Deborah Kendrick.

As a child in the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind in 1949, John Boyer found that contemporary scientific material in braille was almost non-existent. John never lost the sense of frustration he felt when the braille resources available to him were insufficient to satisfy his hunger for more science education. John believes that is the motive for his life's work. He obtained a master's degree in Computer science, with a minor in electronics engineering at the University of Wisconsin in 1980. His first company was a braille publishing enterprise that served an international client base. Abilitiessoft, Inc., his current company, creates open source adaptive software that makes Web pages available through a braille display to people who are blind. The current project, BrailleBlaster, will allow the integration of text with braille graphics such as maps and graphs into a format accessible to blind people.

Joseph Sullivan is president of Duxbury Systems, Inc., a small company that has specialized in software for braille since its founding in 1975. Duxbury now employs two blind people and provides braille translation software for more than 130 languages worldwide. He has served on many braille-related committees, including the Literary Braille and Computer Braille Committees of the Braille Authority of North America, was chair of the technical design subcommittee of the Unified English Braille (UEB) project of the International Council on English Braille (ICEB), and currently serves on the UEB Maintenance Committee of ICEB. Joe believes that braille is the key to literacy for people who are blind, that literacy is the key to an informed citizenry, and that an informed citizenry is essential to civilization.

Steve Jacobs is President of IDEAL Group. Steve is dedicated to enhancing the accessibility of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) curriculum for students with disabilities. Steve's company offers software that translates printed STEM materials into digital formats for conversion into speech and braille. Steve's company also developed fully-accessible STEM-enabled eBook reading software. Over the past three-and-a-half years, Steve's company has become one of the world's largest developers of mobile accessibility applications, with five million installations in 136 countries. Steve also works with many institutions to tech-transfer their STEM-related work to mobile platforms. These institutions include Smith-Kettlewell's Video Description R&D Center, University of Oregon's Mathematics eText Research Center, and Georgia Tech wireless RERC and sonification lab. Steve is a 1973 graduate of Ohio State University.

Henry Wedler is a graduate student at the University of California, Davis, working towards his Ph.D. in organic chemistry. Inspired by programs offered by the National Federation of the Blind in high school and with encouragement from professors, colleagues and others, Henry gained the confidence to challenge and refute the mistaken belief that STEM fields are too visual and, therefore, impractical for blind people. Henry is not only following his own passion, he's working hard to develop the next generation of scientists by founding and teaching at an annual chemistry camp for blind and low-vision high school students. Chemistry Camp demonstrates to these students, by example and through practice, that their lack of eyesight should not hold them back from pursuing their dreams. Henry was nominated by Douglas Sprei of Learning Ally, a nonprofit that produces accessible audio textbooks for students who are blind and learning disabled.

Sina Bahram, is a PhD student in the Department of Computer Science at North Carolina State University. His field of research is Human Computer Interaction (HCI). Sina's primary interest is the dynamic translation of interfaces, with an emphasis on innovative environments being used by people with visual impairment to facilitate learning, independence, and exploration. His other research interests focus on using AI inspired techniques to solve real-world user-centric problems. When he's not busy with his academic pursuits, Sina enjoys staying on the cutting edge of technology and working with small, high-tech startup companies. Sina's passion for his field originally stems from the fact that he is mostly blind and uses assistive technologies such as a screen reader to navigate computer systems and technological devices. After experimenting in the fields of bioinformatics, privacy policy/law, and systems security, Sina discovered that his heart lies in helping users of all capabilities use computer systems more effectively and efficiently. He has worked in HCI full-time ever since.

Congratulations to these and all the Champions of Change!

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