Friday, October 15, 2010
Eye Research Institute in San Francisco proudly presents Professor
Catherine J. Kudlick, Ph.D., Department of History, University of California at Davis, and president of the Disability History Association.
Professor Kudlick will discuss the circumstances surrounding what is arguably the most significant innovation in blindness technology of all time. Her lecture, entitled "Braille: The Man, the Method, and the Moment," will describe the circumstances surrounding a French blind man’s brilliant application of an existing technology to address a serious problem of information accessibility for himself and other blind people, as well as the historical context in which he lived and worked.
This event continues The Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute’s ground-breaking Rehabilitation Engineering Meets Disability Studies Lecture Series. Smith-Kettlewell has long been a leader in rehabilitation engineering research for issues related to blindness and low vision. Our Thursday colloquium series routinely offers presentations by eminent researchers on scientific topics related to vision rehabilitation, medical treatment of visual
pathology, and the neuroscience and psychophysics of normal vision.
Our Rehabilitation Engineering Meets Disability Studies lectures feature major figures
in the growing academic discipline of disability studies -- an area that, among other things, examines the impact of cultural, political, and historical factors on the place and perception of people with disabilities in society.
This talk is only the second in this series intended to bring together the fields of disability studies and rehabilitation engineering research -- a combination whose time has finally come. Rehabilitation engineering and vision research stand to be significantly strengthened through the infusion of rich academic discourse taking place in disability studies. By the same token, disability studies has too long been the exclusive province of social scientists and historians, yet there is an unrealized and important place for neuroscientists and rehabilitation engineers at the disability studies table.
By hosting this important lecture from Professor Katherine J. Kudlick, Smith-Kettlewell is proud once again to lead the way forward. We hope you can join us.
When: Thursday, October 21, 12:00-1:00 PM
Where: The Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute, 2318 Fillmore St. San Francisco, 94115 (between Washington and Clay)
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Accessibility of Web Information and Services Provided by Entities Covered by the ADA
Basically, the ADA, originally written in 1990, did not foresee the level of commerce, information, and services mediated by the web. There are still no explicit requirements in the ADA covering web accessibility. This proposes to change that by requiring that public entities provide some level of access to their web-based services and information. Think google apps/calendar/docs, transit information, and all the web sites built on inaccessible Flash. This could have far-reaching results and has major implications for accessibility of day-to-day services.
Movie Captioning and Video Description
This appears to apply entirely to theater-based content. Currently some studios and some theaters have both closed captioning and video description capabilities. In so far as it relates to description, this accommodation is currently entirely voluntary on the parts of the studios and theaters. This rule proposes to impose some requirements on theaters around the provision of captioning and description. My editorial opinion is that this is probably not a great idea, as the theaters are not the most relevant accessibility bottleneck. Rather, the availability of captioned and described content is the limiting factor. Any requirements should first be applied to the source of content, rather than the already-squeezed middle men. I also expect theaters to go the way of the buggy whip in the relatively near future, so such a rule would probably be of short-lived benefit.
Accessibility of Next Generation 9-1-1
This seeks to ensure that as 9-1-1 call centers move toward the ability to accept communications in a variety of formats (text, e-mail, video, etc.), the needs of stakeholders with disabilities continue to be considered. In particular, the DOJ seeks feedback on the types of communication methods currently being used by people with disabilities and the most likely future evolution of accessible communication tools.
Equipment and Furniture
Although this one might sound at first like the least interesting ANPRM, it is probably the richest in possibility for accessibility engineering researchers. This proposed rule would impose accessibility requirements on many types of furniture used in public/service settings (hospital beds, examination tables, etc.). However, it also proposes to apply to public information kiosks, exercise equipment, ATMs, point-of-sale devices, and other interactive electronic UI devices in broad usage. I could easily imagine it being relevant to slot machines, transit/airport ticket machines, museum exhibits, etc.
Now, if someone asks you about the new ADA DOJ ANPRMs you'll know what they're talking about, and you'll be able to tell them what Josh Miele thinks...
Thursday, July 1, 2010
Professor Longmore will be discussing the history of American blind politics in the 20th century in a talk entitled "Subverting the Dominant Paradigm of Blindness: Revolutions in Consciousness."
The Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute has long been a leader in rehabilitation engineering research for issues related to blindness and low vision. Our Thursday colloquium series routinely offers presentations by eminent researchers on scientific topics related to vision rehabilitation, medical treatment of visual pathology, and the neuroscience and psychophysics of normal vision.
Professor Longmore is a major figure in the growing academic discipline of disability studies -- an area that, among other things, examines the impact of cultural, political, and historical factors on the place and perception of people with disabilities in society.
This talk is the first in a series of Smith-Kettlewell colloquia intended to bring together the fields of disability studies and rehabilitation engineering research -- a combination whose time should long since have come. Rehabilitation engineering and vision research stand to be significantly strengthened through the infusion of rich academic discourse taking place in disability studies. By the same token, disability studies has too long been the exclusive province of social scientists and historians, yet there is an unrealized and important place for neuroscientists and rehabilitation engineers at the disability studies table.
With Professor Paul Longmore as the first speaker in our "Disability Studies Meets Rehabilitation Engineering," series, Smith-Kettlewell is proud once again to lead the way forward. We hope you can join us.
Monday, May 24, 2010
Bill is famous in a modest way. He has been featured in many newspaper and magazine articles, and has appeared on TV, radio, and podcasts. Sometimes it’s for projects he has been involved with, but sometimes people write about him simply because he’s interesting and fun to talk to. He’s a font of history, opinion, old jokes, wisdom, and irritability – mostly in good measure. When he’s in a good mood, bill is amazingly interesting and fun to talk to. I’m pretty sure that his secret to PR success is that reporters simply like chatting with him.
I started at S-k as a summer intern while getting my Ph.D. at Berkeley. I was in awe to be working with Bill Gerrey. They squeezed me into his electronics lab by piling higher the stacks of plastic project boxes and ancient shortwave radio chassis's to yield a few square feet of bench space for my computer and keyboard. My space was right outside the door to Bill’s inner office so he had lots of opportunity to mentor me.
The biggest benefit of sitting there was that I got to listen to all of Bill’s phone calls. With so much of his business conducted over the phone, I was educated in all sorts of unanticipated aspects of rehabilitation engineering research. I learned the business from the inside out, so to speak. While the sausage of the rehabilitation world is nothing compared to politics, I did learn some distasteful truths that summer.
In particular, I noticed a recurring type of disturbing phone conversation. Once or twice a week Bill would field a call from some complete stranger channeled to him through one of his loving connections, or possibly self-propelled through sheer force of will or religion. It would start with Bill calmly, if tiredly saying something like, “That’s interesting, but blind people don’t really need that,” or “Actually, that already exists,” or “Have you talked to any blind people about this?” It would generally proceed to a long discussion of basic Braille reading, how screen readers work, cane technique, or some other incredibly basic aspect of the routine conduct of blind business.
It turns out that there is a type of person – usually a retired white guy (sorry) – who has invented something that’s going to really help blind people. Unfortunately, these guys don’t usually know any blind people, and they don’t generally have any idea what needs doing in the blind world, technologically or otherwise. They seem to be inspired mostly by pity, which is a powerful motivator, but poor preparation for addressing real problems. They are reasonably well-meaning, but they generally show little interest in learning anything about the field or doing any kind of market research. You see, they’ve already invented the thing that blind people need, and they just need a little help – usually with obtaining funding – to get it into the hands of the needy blind. One guy had invented a special telephone that would call 911 if you gave it a hard bump or knocked it off the table. The guy was convinced that it would be perfect for blind people because if you needed help you could just… knock it off the table. I guess he thought blind people couldn’t dial 911. Or maybe he just figured we were really good at knocking things off tables. Either way, Bill had a hell of a time convincing him that it was not only a thing that blind people didn’t need, but would constitute a serious problem for responders in the event of an earthquake.
Throughout these conversations Bill was always polite and friendly, but firm and instructive. The calls always seemed to really drain him, like the thankless task of dashing the hopes of these poor old guys was exhausting physical work. The calls would inevitably conclude with Bill offering to send some information, make a connection, or help in some other minimally committal but magnanimous follow up.
When the call would finally end, Bill would put the phone down and lean back in his chair. There would follow a long sigh and a laugh. “That guy has it all figured out,” Bill would say. He’s going to invent a new Braille system with three extra dots and it’s going to solve everything.”
Although I have mellowed with age, I have to admit that I have never suffered fools gladly,, and I greatly admired Bill’s ability to remain calm under extreme conditions. My accidental audits of Bill’s involuntary re-education classes would inevitably get me riled up. I told bill once after a particularly bad one that I wasn’t sure if I felt more sorry for him, or more sorry for them. Bill got a great big laugh out of that. We both knew that it was a toss-up as to who was getting the shorter end of the stick: Bill having to try to educate resentful people who thought he was simply unappreciative of their genius, or the misguided geniuses themselves for intellectually leaping without first looking at the problem from the proper perspective.
Now that I’m a big fancy scientist I field calls like that, too. Not as often, of course, because I’m not as famous or as friendly, but inexorably they trickle in. We probably all get them from time to time, but those of us in Rehab research are particularly prone. There seems to be an endless supply of well-meaning ignorant sighted inventors who have come up with just the thing to keep Blind Timmy from inadvertently stepping in puddles, and they’re really bummed when their contribution to blindkind is so badly misunderstood and under-appreciated. From an informed perspective, so many of these inventions are unwanted, unnecessary, and dare I say kind of stupid, but it is incumbent on my colleagues and me to at least try to instruct them gently. The worst part is not their inevitably bruised feelings, it is that it’s such a waste of effort. If only they would take a little time to learn and understand, they might really make a contribution. If only they would learn about blind people, our methods, and our needs *before* deciding what we need, they might come up with something truly useful. What a shame to so badly under-utilize this seemingly endless enthusiasm.
Recently I’ve been thinking about these guys again, and how cool it would be if blind people could help guide them. Wouldn’t it be great if we could somehow tap this resource? What if we could somehow get to these people before they invented their head-mounted escalator detectors. What if we could give them some kind of course or training materials that would educate them enough to at least start asking the right questions. How wonderful it would be if we could tell someone about the 71 ways we have already tried and failed to invent full-page refreshable tactile displays before they re-invented #27. If we could only direct their technical creativity before it goes into yet another laser cane or face identifier, we might be able to help them solve some of the more pressing blind problems of our time.
But how can I get a training program like this going? Maybe I should try appealing to your pity. Don’t you want to volunteer your writing, film-making, and blogging skills for this worthy project? ? Just think of the benefit you could help bring to future blind generations. Imagine yourself deftly guiding eager garage inventors to important solutions to real problems. Think of how you could help Bill Gerrey by relieving him of the burden of explaining the same issues twice a week to an unreceptive audience. And think of how you could help me – I wouldn't have to feel sorry for either of them anymore.
Friday, April 23, 2010
The user simply specifies an address or intersection and the tactile map is generated according to the various user preferences. The embosser-ready file is then downloaded and sent to the "printer." I have never been a big fan of swell paper because of its texture, high per-sheet cost, soft Braille, etc. For this reason I have not put much effort into a swell paper driver, but I could be convinced.
Incidentally, you might be wondering why you haven't been downloading and printing out all kinds of street maps over the last 6 years since this web site has been available. Well, the actual TMAP site is still something of a secret. This is because I am still essentially the only person on the project, and I have almost no time to support users. I allow high-end, savvy users access to the site because I know most of them can eliminate non-TMAP problems and ask me only about problems that are my fault. I have avoided a general announcement of the site's location simply because I don't have time to help people troubleshoot their embosser setup, networked printer sharing, Internet connectivity, etc. My dream is to have someone offer to give TMAP a good home in a service-oriented non-profit or AT company. A research organization like Smith-Kettlewell simply isn't set up to provide the kind of support required.
This is all by way of bringing you up to date just in case you haven't been following the TMAP project from the beginning. Since we started, we have had a number of major improvements and milestones. These include
- changing the map data from free Tiger Line data from the US Census Bureau to much better TeleAtlas map data courtesy of Mike May and Sendero (2006)
- a collaboration with Touch Graphics, Inc., to create a system for the automated production of TTT-based audio/tactile street maps. You can buy one here if you have a TTT. (2006)
- A collaboration with the San Francisco LightHouse where they use the TMAP web site to emboss tactile street maps for free upon request (non-Californian clients must pay a fee). (2007)
- a collaboration with ViewPlus, Inc., to allow their IVEO product to work with TMAP's scalable vector graphics (SVG) output format(2007)
- use of the google maps API for amazingly robust geocoding (2009)
Now you're mostly caught up on TMAP and we can get to the meat of the post: until now, TMAP has only included street data for the United States. While that's nice for us Yanks or those who plan to visit us, it doesn't help the millions of blind people outside the U.S. much. With the kind permission of Mike May and the Sendero Group, TMAP will soon be able to produce well-formatted tactile street maps for a large number of additional countries. We will start with English-speaking countries (e.g., Canada, Australia, England, Ireland) so that I have time to deal with multi-lingual Braille translation issues. In case you're interested, I use NFBTRANS as the Braille translation utility for TMAP text and labels. Once the multi-lingual Braille translation is in place we can open the system to include any of the data supported by TeleAtlas. This includes a big chunk of the world's wealthy nations, and many of the less wealthy nations as well.
One of the really interesting issues this is going to bring out is the fact that cities in the U.S. are new and tend to be laid out on something of a grid pattern. Of course there are notable exceptions to this like Boston and North Berkeley, but for the most part, city streets are organized on a simple orthogonal grid. The TMAP labeling scheme (I'll do another post focusing on this some time) uses abbreviated braille labels around the perimeter of the map where the streets hit the edge. This tends to work nicely with grid-style cities. It also works reasonably well in sparse, non-grid environments like American suburbs. It does not work that well in dense, unruly cities like Boston and North Berkeley. Older cities such as are the general rule in places like Europe and Asia will be more difficult to accommodate with this labeling scheme and we may find that we will need to introduce some alternative labeling approaches for these older cities. Of course, as you zoom in (increase the scale) this problem is reduced as the density of streets goes down. It may simply be that we will need to recommend larger scales for such twisty cities as London and Madrid.
Since one never knows what problems one might encounter along the way, I hesitate to set a date for when I expect TMAP to be internationalized, but it should be relatively soon -- within months of this posting. I'll let you know!
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Today the long-awaited Smith-Kettlewell Wayfinding Survey went live. We announced the survey through a wide variety of O&M-related list serves, and will be reaching out to organizations which may be able to connect us with specific groups of blind and visually-impaired travelers.
The basic idea of the survey is to identify tools and techniques used by real, every-day, blind and visually-impaired pedestrians. We certainly know what the O&M professionals teach, but that is likely to be different from things that are actually taking place in the field. We wanted to know about how people manage travel planning, and what types of tools (GPS, tactile maps, the Internet, etc) people use to plan and navigate. We were also really interested in asking about additional disabilities that might impact wayfinding. We are conducting a couple of other investigations at Smith-Kettlewell that deal with impaired auditory perception and detection/identification of various acoustic landmarks that might be used in orientation. For example, how good are you at "hearing," doorways as you walk past them, and how do various types of hearing impairments impact or degrade one's performance at this kind of task? Thus, the S-K Wayfinding Survey will provide field-based information about how hearing disabilities intersect with visual disabilities in the context of orientation and mobility.
Because we're trying to reach a wide variety of people with visual disabilities across a broad range of age, ability, computer literacy, class, and education level, we have included a telephone component. People who want to take the survey by phone can call our hotline at (415)345-2013 to request a return call. We will return their call at a convenient time for the participant, read them the questions, and record their responses. Because of our particular interest in responses from people who also have hearing disabilities, we have a TTY number as well -- (415)345-2290.
We're hoping that this survey will allow us to identify specific needs in the areas of trip planning, orientation in large building interiors, and hearing enhancement technologies. The information obtained through the Smith-Kettlewell Wayfinding Survey will help guide our future plans for research and development in these areas. If you have questions about the survey, please e-mail the survey master.