October 2012 Issue  Volume 13  Number 10

AccessWorld News

AccessWorld News

New Federal Program Set to Distribute Communications Technology to People with Vision and Hearing Loss

Perkins School for the Blind, Helen Keller National Center, and FableVision Will Lead the iCanConnect Campaign

Many thousands of Americans who have combined loss of hearing and vision may soon connect with family, friends, and community thanks to the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program. Mandated by the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) established this new program to provide support for the local distribution of a wide array of accessible communications technology.

The FCC is also funding a national outreach campaign to educate the public about this new program. The iCanConnect campaign will be conducted jointly by Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, MA, the Helen Keller National Center in New York City, NY, and FableVision of Boston, MA. iCanConnect will seek to ensure that everyone knows about the free communications technology and training that is now available to low-income individuals with combined hearing and vision loss. From screen enlargement software and video phones to off-the shelf products that are accessible or adaptable, this technology can vastly improve their quality of life.

iCanConnect seeks to increase awareness about the availability of communications technology for this underserved population, so people who are deaf-blind and have limited income can remain safe and healthy, hold jobs, manage their households, and contribute to the economy and the community.

As of August 7, 2012, information about the new equipment distribution program will be available online at the iCanConnect website or by phone at 800-825-4595. Additional information is available through the online FCC Encyclopedia.

"With the right technology, people with disabilities can link to information and ideas, be productive, and move ahead," said Steven Rothstein, President of Perkins. "Perkins' most famous student, Helen Keller, exemplified the potential of a person who is deaf-blind. We are proud to have a role in this transformational program."

The CVAA, championed in Washington, DC by Congressman Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts and Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas, acknowledges that advances in technology can revolutionize lives. Nearly one million people in the United States have some combination of vision and hearing loss. People with combined loss of vision and hearing as defined by the Helen Keller National Center Act whose income does not exceed 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines are eligible to participate in the new program.

"The mission of the Helen Keller National Center is to enable each person who is deaf-blind to live and work in his or her community of choice," explains Executive Director Joe McNulty, adding, "This critical technology access program accelerates those efforts, but only if people know about the resources. iCanConnect is poised to get the word out, coast to coast."

"FableVision's mission is to help ALL learners reach their full potential," said Paul Reynolds, CEO of FableVision Studios. "With this program we advance that mission, helping spread the word about equal access to tools that offer those with hearing and vision loss the transformational power of technology." Reynolds adds, "Now everyone is invited to the technology promise powering the human network."

Tell the FCC to Say NO to Inaccessible Gaming and Communications Technologies

A while back, lobbyists representing the highly lucrative gaming technology industry filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) seeking a formal waiver from any requirement stemming from the landmark 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), which ensures that key communications features included in gaming technologies, such as text chat and other forms of electronic, will be accessible.

While the CVAA does permit the FCC to grant waivers in those instances where specific technologies may be both designed and marketed for primary purposes other than the kinds of communication contemplated in the new law, the FCC is, nevertheless, completely within its authority to refuse to grant waivers for such technologies.

There are signs that the FCC may be generally sympathetic to the interest of people with disabilities in accessible gaming technologies that incorporate various kinds of communication. However, it has recently come to our attention that the FCC may be under the impression that people with vision loss themselves are not particularly interested in the accessibility of gaming technologies.

Advocates should set them straight.

Send a brief e-mail today to Karen Peltz Strauss, Deputy Bureau Chief, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, FCC.

In your short, polite, but firm message, tell the FCC how you feel about the ability of people who are blind or visually impaired to fully use the most popular gaming technologies on the market today. Remind the FCC that the growing popularity of gaming technologies in public schools to foster learning, the use of gaming technologies to increase movement and exercise, and the overall impact of gaming technologies to bring people together means that the accessibility of such technologies must not be thrown under the bus. Indeed, if the communications features of such technologies remain inaccessible, children, adults, and seniors with vision loss will continue to be shut out of full participation in schools and the community and will not be able to take advantage of the enjoyment and benefits afforded by such technologies.

Astoundingly, the industry representatives arguing for the waiver say that waiving the accessibility requirements of the new law is necessary to allow industry the maximum opportunity to innovate and thereby build on their alleged track records of success meeting the access needs of people with disabilities.

Tell the FCC what you think of the kind of technological innovation that routinely leaves behind people with vision loss while the industry brags about its past access accomplishments but, at the same time, seeks legal maneuvers, like the proposed waiver, to shirk their responsibilities.

The FCC is expected to act very soon on the proposed waiver, so send your message to the FCC today!

For further information, contact:

Mark Richert, Esq.
Director, Public Policy, AFB
(202) 469-6833

U-verse Easy Remote iPhone Application Description and Features

The U-verse Easy Remote is a free iPhone app optimized for the disability and senior communities. This app is designed to assist and enhance the U-verse TV experience for individuals who are blind or low vision, deaf or hard of hearing, or possess low physical dexterity. It has been specifically developed with accessibility standards to work with the U-verse receiver and allow full control of the channel navigation with a gesture pad, by voice command, or via single touch access to closed captioning. In addition, there are two settings for font size and multiple color themes to maximize the display based on need or preference.

Capabilities include:

  • Free download via iTunes store
  • Large button access to Remote Control for U-verse TV
  • Voice commands and search capabilities for shows airing currently
  • Multiple options for text and color to accommodate various needs
  • Supports Voice Over capability on iOS devices

AFB Press Expands ePublications Offerings to Customers

AFB Press has expanded its digital offerings to better meet the needs of students and professionals who have asked for on-demand information that can be read with a variety of e-readers, tablets, and assistive technology devices.

All accessible ASCII files of AFB Press publications can be downloaded immediately after purchase. In the past, ASCII titles were sold on CD-ROM and shipped to the customer.

AFB Press is also beginning to offer its publications in different e-book formats. Users can choose between ePUB or MOBI (Kindle) formats, allowing access on mainstream e-readers. Currently, the publication Learning to Listen/Listening to Learn: Teaching Listening Skills to Student with Visual Impairments is available in the AFB Bookstore as an e-book. More e-books will be added to the AFB Bookstore as well as to the iBooks, Kindle, and Barnes and Noble online stores as soon as they can be converted.

The ASCII and e-book files are available at a 30 percent lower cost than their print counterparts.

AFB Press has long been a leader in providing accessible digital files of publications through its ePublications offerings and in developing accessible delivery systems for online products.

Call for 2013 Access Awards Nominations

AFB invites nominations for the 2013 Access Awards. The Access Awards honor the individuals, corporations, and organizations that eliminate or substantially reduce inequities faced by people who are blind or visually impaired. Nominations for the AFB Access Awards should illustrate an exceptional and innovative effort that has improved the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired by enhancing access to information, the environment, technology, education, or employment, including making mainstream products and services accessible. Letters of nomination should be e-mailed no later than Monday, October 29, 2012, to Joe Strechay, AFB, 2013 Access Awards Committee. For additional information, read the full press release.

Turner Classic Movies Dedicates October to People with Disabilities

Inclusion in the Arts, an advocacy and consulting organization that works towards full diversity in theatre, film, television, and related media, has teamed up with Turner Classic Movies (TCM) to host a film series in October called "The Projected Image: The History of Disability in Film."

The series features more than 20 films ranging from the 1920s to the 1980s. Each night's collection will explore particular aspects, themes, or types of disability, such as those with blindness, deafness, psychiatric or intellectual disabilities, amputees, and wheelchair users. In addition, one full evening of programming (Oct. 9) will focus on newly disabled veterans returning home from war. TCM will present every film in the series with closed captioning and audio description (via secondary audio) for audience members with auditory and visual disabilities.

Check with TCM and your local station for schedules and times.

Cinemark Theaters Announces Installation of Accessibility Equipment

Cinemark Theaters recently announced that audio description equipment is being installed on a rolling basis in its theaters across the United States. All Cinemark Theaters in California already offer audio description (also referred to as video description and descriptive narration). Cinemark will be offering audio description at all of its first-run theaters (over 98% of the company's theaters nationwide) by mid-2013. Read the full press release for more information.

The Cinemark initiative is the result of structured negotiations with the California Council of the Blind and several Cinemark patrons with visual impairments.

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