Disability Connection Newsletter – March 2015

Disability Connection Newsletter. This section has four photographs from left to right. A woman, who has spina bifida and a learning disability, stands next to her scooter. A young man, who has Costello Syndrome, bags groceries in a supermarket. A Veteran who is blind sits in a chair at his office. A woman, who has a Spinal Cord Injury, advocates for people with multiple disabilities.

March 2015

10 Ways Technology Is Changing the Way We Live

  1. Coding a New Future. Technology is everywhere and a new movement to teach younger generations how to code has swept the nation. Kids are not only creating snowflakes with Anna and Elsa from Frozen, but also learning valuable life lessons in problem solving and critical thinking. Technology experts, business leaders and educators agree that coding skills are beneficial, regardless of one’s future career. Luckily, you don’t have to be a digital native to get started. There are several free resources available to help kids (and you) become a technology whiz. Try Code.org’s Hour of Code, a one-hour introduction to computer science, download one of these recommended apps for learning how to code or make a website by signing up for Codecademy. Don’t forget about the importance of accessibility though!
  1. Get Your Game Face On. Crushing candy, zapping zombies and cruising in a kart – video games are an escape, an entertaining way to unwind, play with friends or even learn new skills. However, gamers with disabilities often must deal with an industry that, according to designers, tends to scrap simple adjustments like closed captions as deadlines near. Accessibility still matters. Every year, AbleGamers recognizes the best in game design with its Accessible Mainstream Game of the Year award. The Foundation’s Unstoppable Gamer site provides accessibility reviews, along with a forum for members to chat about their experiences. Game developers can visit the Includification site, which shares solutions for common concerns in games for people with hearing, visual, cognitive or mobility impairments. Beyond controls, even simple representation in video games is beginning to get the recognition it deserves. Keep up with the conversation on Twitter through #DisabledGameProtags.
  1. An Accessible Social World. Social media has revolutionized how people interact and communicate. Through a simple 140-character tweet, viral video or blog post, online content is quickly shared around the world. The most popular social media platform by far is Facebook,while Twitter ranks high for users who are 18 to 34 years old, according to Adweek. Recent changes and alternative tools have improved access for people with disabilities, but you can go one step further with these social media accessibility best practices:
  • Images should always have alt-text or descriptive captions. (Easy Chirp offers accessible images for tweets.)
  • Caption or transcribe videos. Both YouTube and Facebook support closed captioning, but you should double check your transcript to make sure it matches the audio version.
  • Make hashtags readable by capitalizing the first letter of each word #LikeThis – #otherwiseitlookslikethis (otherwise, it looks like this).
  • When linking to another site, give readers a heads up on the type of content they’ll find by including [VIDEO], [IMAGE] or [AUDIO] in your post.

To learn more, review the Federal Social Media Accessibility Toolkit and stay ahead of the curve on accessible solutions by checking out the digital media trends of 2015.

  1. Online and Involved. Businesses like Peapod and H&R Block are quickly learning that “Web accessibility” doesn’t just mean being able to get online; it also means that people with disabilities can understand, navigate, interact and contribute to websites and mobile applications. The U.S. Department of Justice is enforcing more cases that address website accessibility as a protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act. So what can you do? People who are comfortable with programming languages can tackle the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. Those in the beginning stages of developing a website should refer to the Strategic Planning for Website Accessibility guide. You can also improve the accessibility of your existing site to remove barriers for visitors with disabilities. This is an ongoing process as technology evolves, so you should continually evaluate your website. Check out WebAIM’s WAVE tool, which flags accessibility errors and alerts.
  1. Time for a TechCheck. If you’re a business owner and want to make your workplace technology more accessible, where do you begin? You may know WHY you need to make improvements, but HOW is the real question. First, learn the basics; then, assess the workplace technology, systems and processes you have in place. The Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT), an initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), recently created a free interactive tool called TechCheck to help employers with this step. After answering a series of questions, users are given a confidential, personalized TechCheck Readout. This report provides a snapshot of how well developed a company’s current accessible technology practices are across seven areas like Team & Leadership; Assessing Technologies; Purchasing & Developing Technologies; and Implementation. The tool also links to resources that suggest ways to make improvements. Watch this archived webinar to learn more about starting your TechCheck.
  1. Who Can Help with #A11Y?Many companies realize that making websites, apps and documents accessible is good for business. Even small changes like font size and high contrast colors can have a large impact on the ability of job candidates, customers and other people, including those with disabilities, to access a company’s information, products or services. Accessibility consulting is a rapidly growing field and finding qualified professionals who are skilled in correctly identifying and fixing accessibility issues is important. One place you can start is the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP), a membership-based organization for individuals and companies that are focused on accessibility. Founded by 31 organizations, the goal of IAAP is to create a global community where accessibility professionals can share best practices and receive formal training and certification, eliminating the age-old question of “Am I really hiring an expert?” If you want to tackle accessibility improvements yourself, you can bolster your knowledge through webinars, W3C’s Web accessibility tutorials and WebAIM’s list of resources. Check out University of California, Berkeley’s Top 10 Tips for Making Your Website Accessible, too.
  1. Changes to Section 508. Last month, the U.S. Access Board released a proposed rule to update federal government information and communication technology standards under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, as well as guidelines for telecommunications equipment covered by Section 255 of the Communications Act. These changes will help the federal government adequately address accessibility by taking into consideration technologies with multiple functions (like smart phones). The refresh also incorporates other voluntary consensus standards, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 and new requirements for offering real-time text (RTT), an alternative to voice communication for people are deaf or have difficulties with hearing or speech. A key goal of the Access Board’s proposed rule is to promote consistency with other accessibility requirements around the world. Learn more about the proposed rule on March 31 and share your feedback by May 28.
  1. As If Applying for Jobs Wasn’t Hard Enough… You’re on the job hunt – good for you and best of luck! Once upon a time, this meant physically going to a business, calling an employer or mailing your paper résumé. Times have changed. Today, the job search, including submitting applications or résumés (and even taking a pre-employment test), frequently happens online. This can be a big challenge for people with disabilities, particularly if websites, forms and tests are not accessible. Examples include a site that is not compatible with screen readers, a job application system that times out too quickly or an instructional video that lacks closed captions. Many employers are unaware that inaccessible technology is preventing qualified individuals from getting their foot in the digital employment door. In fact, PEAT is studying online job application accessibility to learn more about the issue and develop solutions. Here’s your chance to speak up! Take the national online survey, and in the meantime, get help with your job hunt. Some organizations may be able to walk you through the process and minimize the frustration of inaccessible online job applications.
  1. To Infinity and Beyond! When you think of assistive technology (AT), what comes to mind? Perhaps devices made with a 3-D printer like Hannah’s WREX (a Wilmington Robotic Exoskeleton) or gadgets that help students with learning disabilities better understand their lessons. Humans have improved their lives through AT for centuries. In fact, the world’s oldest prosthetic device is a false toe, which was worn by Egyptians nearly 3,000 years ago. The first eyeglasses were described in 13th century manuscripts, while ear trumpets served as the first hearing aids starting in the 1600s. View a timeline of these examples and more, or visit the online Disability History Museum to check out photographs, stamp designs, magazine covers and other artifacts that show the history of AT. With the prospect of “driverless” cars, robots that assist patients and a sensing glove that helps people who are blind read emotions – we are excited to see where AT will go next!
  1. Paying for AT. Every day, another new technology seems to surface that improves the lives of people with disabilities. This newsletter lists quite a few, which is great – but only if you can afford to pay for them. Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance companies may cover part of the cost for durable medical equipment (e.g., wheelchairs, hospital beds, oxygen or walkers) and other assistive technology; however, the rules and amount of coverage vary in each state. Start with Disability.gov’s Guide to Assistive and Accessible Technology, which includes an entire section on finding and paying for AT. Another great resource is your state’s AT program, where you can get help choosing free or low-cost AT and durable medical equipment. Read this guest blog by Thom Gressman, a former assistive technology specialist at the Three Rivers Center for Independent Living, to learn more about the process. Finally, check out AbleData’s guide, What Are Your Options to Pay for Assistive Devices?

Curious about the difference between assistive and accessible technology? Find the answer in PEAT’s frequently asked questions. Don’t forget to like Disability.gov on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and use #DisabilityConnection to talk about this newsletter. You can also read Disability.Blog for insightful tips and information from experts and disability advocates.

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