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Report From Day One of CES 2018, a Global Technology Event

Paul Schroeder

It’s the time for college bowls, NFL playoffs, New Year’s resolutions, and, of course, all things technology at CES in Las Vegas. The show officially kicked off on Tuesday, January 9, 2018, with lots of attention to self-driving vehicles, voice-controlled everything, robots galore, and audio products with hearing enhancement. A big thank you to the Consumer Technology Association for supporting attendance by disability advocates, including Lee Huffman and me.

Here are a couple of highlights so far. We’ll have a full wrap up in AccessWorld next month.

Alexa in the Shower?

Yes, I said voice control everywhere and Moen has launched a shower system that includes temperature and other control with Alexa. The accompanying app also includes 12 pre-sets for you and your family members.

Robots for Meaningful Work?

Seems like the robot trend still is mostly about play and fun, but vacuum systems continue to evolve. Ecovacs Robotics showed off new models of floor and window cleaning robots. Ecovacs uses LIDAR (laser-based object detection) which they claim provides better floor mapping allowing more reliable vacuum or mop capacity in one unit.

Self-Driving Vehicles

Among the many displays of futuristic vehicles, CES attendees can meet Olli, a 3-D printed self-driving bus from Local Motors. Thanks to a partnership between IBM, the CTA and Local Motors, Olli is designed to be a fully accessible self-driving vehicle.

CES is propelled by a never-ending pulsing beat, making it tough to hear. Noise-cancelling headphones can help, but increasingly, audio companies are turning to more sophisticated approaches to help address competing environmental noise but also mild to moderate hearing loss. Nuheara showed off a couple of models that will hit the market later this year with Live IQ a hybrid noise cancelling system and IQ Boost targeting hearing enhancement.

AfterShokz was showing off the Trekz Air bone-conduction Bluetooth headphones; they are quite light. And, we got a quick look at the Jinni, a very small wearable speaker from PH Technical Labs. It handles Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant. Hopefully we can do a deeper dive into this speaker for the wrap-up article next month.

Tech for Good

The technology industry is definitely making an effort to showcase technologies that bring meaningful improvements to people and our planet. For example, smart city technology is a bigger focus this year at CES. I ran across a foundation working to promote Focused Ultrasound to treat diseases like Parkinson’s and cancer.

Aira, the company that brings visual information to users through smart glasses and smart phones connected to skilled agents (full disclosure, my employer), announced that CES is part of its “Site Access” network, which means Aira user minutes are covered while touring the show. Promo alert: the Minneapolis-St Paul airport was also recently announced as the newest member of the Airport site access network.

Speaking of smart glasses, hopefully Lee will tell us more about the Samsung glasses he got a chance to check out.

OK, three more days of fun and discovery await!

Conference Recaps
Helpful Products

How Does the Department of Justice's Withdrawal of Proposed Regulations Change How the ADA Applies to Websites?

On December 26, the Department of Justice (DOJ) officially withdrew pending rulemakings that would have clarified exactly how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to web services. In 2010, the DOJ started the rulemaking process to create new regulations for the websites of public accommodations and state and local governments. These "Advance Notices of Proposed Rulemaking" (ANPRMs) have now been withdrawn. For two different, but complementary, perspectives on this news, we recommend Lainey Feingold's excellent blog post, No ADA Web Accessibility Regs? No Excuses and the Seyfarth ADA Title III News & Insights blog post, 2017 Website Accessibility Lawsuit Recap: A Tough Year for Businesses, which summarizes the unprecedented number of website accessibility lawsuits filed in federal and state courts in 2017, and their recommendations for risk mitigation.

Bottom line: does this news substantively change the legal environment around web accessibility? The Department of Justice has long interpreted title III of the ADA to apply to web services, and recent court rulings concerning the accessibility of web content and services have tended to support that online businesses are a public accommodation subject to title III of the ADA. The DOJ clarified in its statement of interest in support of the plaintiffs in the case against Netflix, “The fact that the regulatory process is not yet complete does not support any inference whatsoever that web-based services are not already covered by the ADA, or should not be covered by the ADA.”

The DOJ reiterated this point in a 2014 case, asserting that “the Department has long considered websites to be covered by title III despite the fact that there are no specific technical requirements for websites currently in the regulation or ADA Standards.”

Business owners have certainly noted the extensive attention given to web accessibility recently in the courts and in the media. Any uncertainty created by the lack of new regulations should lead most business owners to take preemptive steps to protect against lawsuits by adopting best practices to make their sites more accessible.

The most cost-effective strategy is to mitigate risk by simply doing the right thing. The W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 are the gold standard for ensuring that websites are fully accessible. These standards are known, well-documented, and can be readily achieved with proper training and usability testing to ensure that websites and apps are accessible to all customers.

One way to mitigate the risk of expensive and time-consuming litigation is to work with nationally respected digital inclusion consultants, such as AFB Consulting, who can help businesses maintain welcoming online environments for customers with vision loss and other disabilities. AFB Consulting's project-specific work, training, and other services enable accessibility across your brands and products, ensuring you meet all standards of compliance.

AFB agrees with the Department of Justice’s previous public statement that “Web accessibility continues to remain a critical component of public entities’ obligation to provide equal access to their programs, services, and activities under the ADA.”

In the News
Public Policy
Web Accessibility

New Design for Medicare Cards Raises Accessibility Questions for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

sample new Medicare card, with a randomly generated Medicare number for John Smith.

In September of this year, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) announced that redesigned cards will be issued to all Medicare recipients starting in April of 2018. This project is known as the Social Security Number Removal Initiative (SSNRI).

The reason for the change in card design is so that individuals' Social Security numbers can be replaced by a new "Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (MBI)"—a unique, randomly assigned series of numbers and upper-case letters for each card holder. The move away from placing Social Security numbers on Medicare cards is intended to combat fraud and identity theft.

All current Medicare cards will be replaced by April 2019, and a “secure look-up tool” will be available so that people with Medicare as well as healthcare providers will be able to access the new numbers when needed. There will also be a 21-month period in which physicians, healthcare providers, and suppliers will be able to access an individual’s Medicare information using either their Social Security number or the identifier found on the newly issued card.

Medicare recipients are urged to destroy their old Medicare cards as soon as they receive the new one, which raises some important questions for anyone who is totally blind, or who has low vision.

1. It will be of the utmost importance for a blind person to be able to independently make note of the number-letter combination included on their new card. Will materials be made available in a variety of formats including braille, large-print, audio, and electronic text so that the person receiving Medicare will not need to ask for sighted assistance to obtain this information?

2. Of equal importance is the question of how accessible the new online look-up tool will be for anyone using magnification or screen-reading solutions to access the Internet. Many blind people will want to access this information from a variety of platforms including Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android.

AFB reached out to the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services for information about the needs of the blind community regarding the Social Security Removal Initiative, and we received a response from CMS.

Along with the new Medicare card, letters will be sent out in braille and large print to anyone who CMS identifies as needing this information in an alternative format. You can call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) to let them know that you would like to have this material in braille or large print.

The new patient portal where you can access your entire Medicare card number along with other relevant information is available from, and CMS reports that it is Section 508-compliant. This means that it should work with any screen reader available today.

If you wish to do so, you can follow this link to learn more about what is involved in the roll-out of new Medicare cards next year, and how you will be affected.

Additional information:

  • The new Medicare Beneficiary Identifier won’t change your Medicare benefits. People with Medicare may start using their new Medicare cards and MBIs as soon as they get them.
  • The effective date of the new cards, like the old cards, is the date each beneficiary was or is eligible for Medicare.
  • Once beneficiaries get their new Medicare cards with an MBI, they can use their new cards to enroll in a Medicare health (Medicare Advantage) or drug plan. Those Medicare beneficiaries who do choose to enroll in Medicare health and/or drug plans will still also get an insurance card from their health and/or drug plans. As always, while beneficiaries are enrolled in health and/or drug plans, they should use the cards from those plans when they get health care and/or prescriptions.

Many of you who are currently reading this post will soon begin receiving your new Medicare cards, and we would be interested in your feedback. Feel free to leave comments for those here at AFB, as well as your fellow readers.

Low Vision
Public Policy

Giving Thanks

Photo of Kirk Adams

Kirk Adams is president and CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind.

Every Thanksgiving, I like to take inventory of everything I have to be grateful for. This year, my list is longer than ever.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to meet with so many people around the country this year who are working hard to create a better world. People like Caitlin, a blind elementary school teacher in San Francisco. James, a software engineer in Phoenix, who recently became blind and is working hard to learn blindness skills in order to return to work. And Kristin, the mother of two blind teenage boys in Philadelphia, who is passionately advocating to create a world of no limits for all young blind people.

I’m grateful to AFB’s volunteers and supporters, our partners and all of the agencies and organizations working toward the same goal.

I’m thankful for the technology that’s changing the world—from the apps that help me get around new towns and keep track of my day, to the experience of using Aira to navigate an airport.

I am so grateful to my family, and my wonderful wife, who have been incredibly supportive of this new adventure.

I’m thankful for good meals and good friends, and their good advice, freely given.

Thank you to all of the kids who are dreaming big, and continuing to inspire AFB every day.

I know I speak for everyone at AFB when I say we are all so thankful to champion this important cause, and to have the opportunity to advocate every day for people who are blind to live with no limits.

Personal Reflections

2017 Gift Ideas for Friends and Family Members Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

colorful gift bags and boxes

As we approach the holiday season, we start trying to find gift ideas that will surprise and delight the people we love most. If you have close friends or family members who are blind, visually impaired, or losing their sight, explore these updated gift guides from the American Foundation for the Blind. AFB has pulled together appropriate, useful, fun gift ideas for all ages—from very young children to working-age adults to seniors who are gradually losing their vision.

Before you start shopping, learn how you can help AFB every time you shop online! Would you like to be able to donate to AFB quickly and easily, without increasing the cost of your online shopping? Check out our Other Ways to Give page for details on how to add a charitable bent to your online gift purchases year-round.

And this year, there is a special opportunity to support AFB and make your gift go even farther. On #GivingTuesday, November 28, Facebook and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will be matching all donations up to $50,000. So, mark your calendar to help us make the most of this opportunity, and follow AFB's Facebook page to learn more about how we're working together to create a world of no limits for people who are blind or visually impaired.

A yellow, red, and blue inflatable castle bounce house

FamilyConnect® has pulled together a number of suggestions for parents of children who are blind or visually impaired who are looking for fun, accessible games, books, and toys to give for the holidays—as well as gifts and gadgets for their teenagers! Visit the updated FamilyConnect Toy and Gift Ideas for Children Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired for great gift ideas, as well as helpful articles and links to other sites' holiday guides and sales. And read Emily Coleman's blog post about some favorite gifts that have stood the test of time.

colorful array of books set between a pair of headphones

VisionAware™ has many ideas to choose from, especially for friends and loved ones who are new to vision loss. Some of them are specially adapted for people with vision loss, and others are inexpensive mainstream products. Visit VisionAware's Holiday Gift Ideas for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired as well as the article on Getting Ready for the Holidays for Individuals with Vision Loss, and our Homemade Gift Ideas That People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired Can Make.

Helen kneels with four children who are all holding toys

You can send a free, accessible, large print eCard featuring a Helen Keller quotation and a beautiful archival photo to a friend or loved one.

"Nothing of value can be done without joy."
- Helen Keller

Helen Keller mug with photo and quotation And for teachers and parents, the AFB Store offers some wonderful presents, including Helen Keller mugs, tote bags, and even jewelry. Visit our gifts for friends page for more ideas. You can also honor a special teacher in your life by making a donation in their name to the Helen Keller Archives.
shopping cart filled with wrapped presents AccessWorld® brings you its annual Holiday Gift Guide: Unique and Affordable Gifts for People with Visual Impairments, as well as Janet Ingber's look at the accessibility of popular ecommerce sites and apps in AccessWorld's 2017 Online Shopping Guide. You can also browse a wide variety of products for people who are blind or visually impaired in the AFB product database.

Please share your ideas below! What have been some of your best stocking stuffers, games, or big-ticket items, for loved ones who are blind or visually impaired?