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The story of Jack Mendez, Director of Technology at the Louisiana Center for the Blind

Inclusion in action: Jack shows students what’s possible with Office 365, a screen reader and a keyboard

When a sighted person walks into Jack Mendez’s classroom, one of the first things they notice is a workstation without a screen. For Jack, this is a striking example how far assistive technology has advanced.

“I have a computer without a screen, and that’s intentional because I want people to understand that all you need is a keyboard and some headphones.” said Jack. “You can produce and consume content and use the computer and navigate just with the screen reader and your keyboard.”

As the Director of Technology at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, Jack is in charge of the school’s IT systems and the software used to prepare students for life outside of school. When you enter his classroom, you discover a flurry of activity. Jack deployed Office 365 on all the school’s workstations. “It’s the best that’s out there. If you find something better, let me know.”

Students manage their calendars and access email through Outlook. They use OneNote to take notes and access them across multiple devices. Jack is a big advocate for the use of Office 365 built-in accessibility checker to make content more inclusive, saying,

“It’s just something that it makes sense to click on. It takes a second, and a lot of times for most recommendations that the tool produces, it’s like a five-second fix.”

If students want to know how to perform a task in Word, Excel, or PowerPoint, they use Office 365’s Tell Me feature and ask how it’s done. The answers are quickly provided. For Jack, these accessible technologies are a game changer for him and his students.

“I can now open up Excel or PowerPoint or Word and I can produce content that someone across the world would look at and never know a blind person had a role in that production. It be just as appealing, just as in-depth as anything else someone with no disabilities could have produced.”

Jack says that students want to come to the school for technology classes because they see how productive you can be if you have good training and understand how the tools work.

“My hope for all of my students is that they’re able to use technology to make their lives better. Many of them go on to college. A lot of them start working. Some of them already have careers and they’re using this time to enhance their ability to be more independent at their current job.”

In addition to working with students, Jack shows companies the ways that accessible technologies can enable them to expand their workforce and employ more people with disabilities, like blindness. During a recent demonstration he did for some local bankers generating a visual presentation on a computer without a screen, he opened up Office and started producing a document.

“I wrote some things, I changed some fonts, I saved the document all using the keyboard, all without a screen.”

Since that demonstration, some of his students have earned employment with those same bankers. Jack serves as an example of how to personalize and maximize the use of technology. He says he was always curious as a child. When he got in touch with computers, he realized this meant even more stuff to explore. During a routine visit to his dentist at age 15, Jack overheard staff talking about a problem with the computer. When he told the dentist he could fix it, the dentist hesitated before he gave him a chance. Jack repaired the computer and earned $500. The dentist then recommended him for other jobs, and that was the birth of his career in IT.

Jack’s hopes that accessible technologies become a given in the future, which he believes will make life and business better for everyone.

“When I’m able to help a business understand that when you make a hiring decision with someone who’s had good training that they’re going to help the entire company,” he said.

As for teaching? “It’s about helping a student understand what’s possible.”

Learn more about Microsoft’s comprehensive accessibility strategy by reading the factsheet.

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The story of Hilda Laura Vazquez Villanueva, a HearColors collaborator and user

“I consider that these kinds of projects provide direct benefits to the persons with disabilities but they are also an example to other private companies, governments, and institutions that should involve us all and generate inclusive programs.”

My name is Hilda Laura Vazquez Villanueva. I have a visual disability. I was born blind. I am currently 45 years old and I am married. I live with my husband who is also blind. I recently had some health problems and I now also have some motor limitations.

I went to school and with the support of the Braille system I was able to finish high school and continue my education. I have a BA in social work from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and a Masters in business administration. I had the opportunity to work in the public sector as well as in different NGO´s.

The use of technologies in my education and professional context started in the nineties but at the beginning the devices and the tools were very expensive not many people with disabilities had access to them, its use was occasional and selective. In Mexico this has evolved and the use of technology has become indispensable and more accessible. Nowadays the promotion and usage of ICT´s is a breakthrough for the persons who live like me with a disability so that we can take advantage of our abilities, increase our knowledge and perform our professional activities.

In Mexico, approximately in the year 2000, the use of ICT´s for persons with visual disability was promoted through different projects. Different alternatives of screen readers and screen magnifiers were presented and since then we started to use them. Nevertheless as we started to navigate the web, we discovered new barriers to access information, as the sites are not accessible. There were no laws to support the creation of accessible content and programmers and designers did not have the knowledge of web accessibility, they did not understand its economic and social impact.

In 2014, there was an important change as different laws were approved to implement web accessibility criteria. This task has not been easy as web accessibility is a new culture and we need to take into consideration both the persons with disabilities as users who are capable of using a computer and access information as well as the programmers and designers who need to understand our needs.

I am against projects specifically targeted for persons with disabilities but I have been working with HearColors and its Web Accessibility Lab since it started and I believe it is a great project that has been able to join organizations that work with persons with disabilities, private companies, government institutions as well as programmers and designers to promote a new web accessibility culture that can benefit us all. I have been particularly involved in doing user testing of the accessible sites and the accessible content that HearColors and the Web Accessibility Lab produces. I am particularly pleased to participate in a project that detonates the active participation of the persons with disabilities as final users.

In my capacity of representative of persons with disabilities, I have also been able to spread the work of HearColors and the Web Accessibility Lab, helping NGO´s get web accessibility benefits. We launched a call for applications so that HearColors and the Web Accessibility Lab could donate accessible web sites to NGO´s that work with persons with disabilities.

I consider that these kinds of projects provide direct benefits to the persons with disabilities but they are also an example to other private companies, governments, and institutions that should involve us all and generate inclusive programs. I am currently collaborating with HearColors as a tester of their sites, as a facilitator in their capacity building workshops and as an active final user of accessible content. I will continue to actively work so that web accessibility as a right for all is a general practice, a social commitment that will continue to break down barriers and to open opportunities for all.

Read more about how HearColors is working to improve web accessibility expertise by reading the factsheet.

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The Story of Diya Priyadarshi, user of the Access Earth App

“Now, with the Access Earth app, I am able to get information about accessible places in seconds!”

My name is Diya Priyadarshi, and I’m 13. I live in Sunnyvale, California with my parents and twin sister, Siya. I have Spastic Diplegia, a type of Cerebral Palsy, due to my premature birth. I use crutches and wheelchairs to get around. I enjoy spending time with my friends, going to the mall with my mom and I love Thai and Indian food.

Living with this disability means that I need to plan my every move ahead of time. If I want to go for dinner with my family, my mom Deepika, calls restaurants to check if they have accessible bathrooms and ramps. Sometimes she even visits the restaurants earlier to assess if my wheelchair and I can be comfortable inside.

Now, with the Access Earth app, I am able to get information about accessible places in seconds! My mom and I find restaurants with good ratings, and invite my friends to have lunch there. I can even find directions, call the restaurants and get information like parking, which is useful for my mom as she drives me around.

Until now, my mom and other parents of kids with disabilities, would share notes about where to take their kids for lunch, activities and so on. Access Earth has made this so much easier and my mom recommends this app to other parents. She says it’s a scalable word-of-mouth tool which she trusts.

As for me, I had the fear that going to a new place meant being unsure of basic things like going to the bathroom or getting inside a building. Now, with the Access Earth app, I feel more independent and grown up!

Read more about how the Access Earth app is using local expertise to help people access practical accessibility information by reading the factsheet.

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Get certified as a Built Environment Consultant!

GAATES (Global Alliance on Accessible Technologies and Environments) are offering the International Certification of Accessibility Consultants – Built Environment. The certification program identifies applicants as leaders in the field of accessibility, with the technical knowledge and experience to appropriately apply universal design in the built environment.

To achieve the certification, participants will go through a rigorous assessment of skills and experience including professional history, education, a questionnaire and sign off of GAATES Code of Ethics.

Find out more by visiting the GAATES website.

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The Story of Eszter, co-founder of MagikMe

“Once it becomes a norm to have 3-4 inclusive items on every playground I achieve my mission to include all children into the play, regardless of their abilities.”

My name is Eszter, I’m Aron’s mum (7) who was born with epilepsy. I have learnt about Aron’s condition when he was 1. Since then a lot of interventions happened to him from brain surgeries to daily therapies, all which are not part of most kids’ childhood. But even if I wanted to provide him the “normal” childhood e.g. visiting local playgrounds with his older brother I could not have succeeded. There was literally not one item on the playgrounds that were safe for Aron. I was frustrated. We had enough burdens already and it was just not fair that he was excluded from play provision. I felt I had to do something.

I started to talk to friends in similar situations and soon we begin to think about inclusive playgrounds, inclusive designs and how to achieve them. It took us a lot of determination and work to get MagikMe Inclusive Play where it’s now: 2 EC-certified inclusive playground products, a multi-player seesaw and an elevated sandbox installed in over 60 playgrounds in Hungary, some of them relatively close to us. One can find all the inclusive playgrounds’ addresses on our website.
Today I can bring my sons to some close-by playgrounds where Aron can play safely. What’s more he can play with his brother or other non-disabled kids on the same equipment, sharing the fun of playing together.

Once it becomes a norm to have 3-4 inclusive items on every playground I achieve my mission to include all children into the play, regardless of their abilities.

Find out more about the work of MagikMe to extend children’s access to inclusive playgrounds by reading the factsheet.

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The story of Halldóra Arnardóttir, PHD art historian

“Sharing and learning from each other has been a key to change making and teamworking. Thanks to Meet me at MoMA, museums have increased people’s quality of life.”

My name is Halldóra Arnardóttir, a PhD Art Historian. From 2008, I have co-directed the project Art and Culture as Therapy for Azheimer in Spain and in Iceland. As a consequence of Meet me at MoMA, I initiated a similar -although contextualised- program in the Museum of Fine Arts in Murcia in 2009, a first of its kind in Spain. Later, in 2015, I initiated a museum program in the National Gallery of Art in Iceland and Reykjavík Art Museum in 2016. Before establishing these programs, today’s participants did not attend these museums but visited them without any direct objectives – merely to pass the time, if they did. Now, empathy is shown on all levels between the museums’ educators and participants with the help of the artworks. New bridges are being built and others are reinforced between the different actors. To increase the museum network in Iceland, I published a book in September 2017 where Francesca Rosenberg was invited and participated in a symposium to explain MoMA’s program in detail and train the participants. She showed an extraordinary way of connecting and drew out key elements to elaborate a conversation from the artwork at the National Gallery of Art.

Sharing and learning from each other has been a key to the changemaking and teamworking. Thanks to Meet me at MoMA, museums have increased people’s quality of life who suffer the Alzheimer disease, recovered lost memories and allowed the echo of their laughter fill their rooms. Now the aim is to reach out even further and create tools that enable museums to take their collections to day centres for more advanced individuals – they too need new bridges to express their emotions.

Read more about the variety of programmes offered by MoMA to increase the accessibility of the museum and its collections by reading the factsheet.

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Join the unique LEAD20@MIT program!

Ruderman Family Foundation have joined forces with MIT Sloan School of Management to create a unique new program for persons with and without disabilities – “LEAD20@MIT Leadership in the Digital Age”. This program will equip influencers and leaders from all over the world with theories and strategies in the fields of digital leadership, networking and entrepreneurship, and help them become high impact social influencers.

The program will take place between May 12-17, 2019 at MIT University in Cambridge, MA.
Participants will receive a full scholarship from the Ruderman Family Foundation that will cover all costs and expenses: tuition, travel to Boston and back, lodging and accommodation.

This is a selective program and only 25 people will be admitted. Participants will receive a certificate from MIT at the end of the program.

Find out more by visiting the website.

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Disability Rights Fund 2018 Request for Proposals

The Disability Rights Fund (DRF) have announced the opening of a request for proposal for applications from DPOs in Rwanda, and Pacific Island countries: Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.

The broad objective of the Fund is to support persons with disabilities around the world to build diverse movements, ensure inclusive development agendas, and achieve equal rights and opportunity for all. DRF has granted more than USD 28 million to 331 different organisations in 36 countries since 2008.

Depending on the size and type of organisation, grants are available from USD 5,000 to 100,000. Check out the DRF website for more information and to make your application!

Deadline closes on 22nd August 2018!

 

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The story of Prashant Naik, public sector bank employee and NewzHook user

“Access to news has never been so easy!”

Prashant Naik, I am a public-sector bank employee having low vision.  I am passionate about technologies for the blind as well as latest news on tech and social activities happening in the disability sector.

My need to have a low vision friendly news app is totally fulfilled by NewzHook.  App provides me ease and convenience to read and keep me updated daily.  It has simple and clutter free interface. Since its launch in March 2016, I am hooked to this accessible news app.  NewzHook is accessible for deaf, blind and surely for low vision persons like me.  It’s high contrast and large font features work perfectly.  They truly enhanced app’s accessibility.

Another awesome feature of NewzHook is news are structured in diverse categories.  I regularly check news from disability, inclusion and accessibility areas.  And yes, the ‘event’ section keeps me updated with coming up events well in advance. NewzHook sign language news is such a unique service for deaf.  Team NewzHook, you guys are doing fantastic job.  Thank you so much.

Read more about how NewzHook is breaking down barriers to accessing the news by reading the factsheet.

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The story of Gabriele, a Pedius app user

“Pedius’ use of advanced speech recognition technologies has made an incredible impact for those it has reached in the Deaf community, especially myself.”

My name is Gabriele and I am Deaf. One night, I was driving home by myself and was involved in a car accident. Normally when one has an accident, they exchange information with the other driver. This was not my case. Once the other driver discovered I was Deaf, he left me stranded on the side of the road without any means of communication. My only option was to wait patiently until somebody passed by. Scenarios such as these were my biggest fear.

Now with Pedius, I do not have to rely on anything or anyone other than the comfort of my mobile smartphone. I have the privacy and freedom of a normal phone call without the use of a third party interpreter, available 24/7. The application allows flexibility for the user as a call can begin either by speech or text, and in every case when your contact speaks, subtitles of their message will appear on your device in real time.

Pedius’ use of advanced speech recognition technologies has made an incredible impact for those it has reached in the Deaf community, especially myself. In today’s world, every person relies on their mobile phone and for the first time I am able to do the same. I am able to have independence with just an application. My only wish for Pedius’ growth is the ability to keep improving technologies, expand as far and wide as possible, and keep adding services to help people like me.

Learn more about how Pedius allows people who are deaf to make phone calls without needing an interpreter by reading the factsheet.