Help DREAM respond to the public consultation on Article 9 – Accessibility of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner Logo

UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner Logo

The DREAM network will be responding to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’ general comment on Article 9 – Accessibility.

We would be honoured if you would join with us in making this contribution to the Committee. Therefore we invite you to send a formal statement or informal comments, thoughts, ideas, etc. by November 15th to anthonyg@nova.no so that we can take advantage of this opportunity.

We will compile the comments and draft and distribute our response to the consultation in January 2014.

The general comment outlines the normative content, state obligations, and inter-sectional issues related to accessibility.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to to leave a comment, and thank you for your contribution!

DREAM Launches Disability Rights Digital Bibliography

As a joint project between researchers at NUI Galway and DREAM, the Disability Rights Digital Bibliography seeks to provide a single point of contact for academic references in disability rights. The bibliography was compiled based on individual contributions from researchers in seven research institutions throughout Europe. The bibliographies were established based on the thematic interests of the researchers and represent a wide array of areas impacting disability in Europe and internationally. Each bibliography is available as an accessible Microsoft Word document as well as a Research Information Systems (RIS) format which can be imported into most reference management software applications.

  • All Bibliographies
  • e-Accessibility – Word / RIS
  • Disability Rights and the CRPD – Word / RIS
  • Disability Theory – Word / RIS
  • Indicators and Monitoring of Human Rights – Word / RIS
  • Legal Capacity – Word / RIS
  • Medicalization of Disability – Word / RIS
  • Methodology for Research Disability – Word / RIS
  • Non-Discrimination – Word / RIS
  • Treaty Interpretation – Word / RIS
  • Web Accessibility – Word / RIS

We want to encourage our users interested in contributing further to this initiative to contact Suzanne Doyle or Anthony Giannoumis

A permanent link to the bibliography can be found at NUI Galway.

Launch of the European collaborative portal on Assistive Technologies and inclusive solutions

ATIS4all logoThere is a growing concern throughout Europe about the difficulties faced by the organisations involved in the ICT Assistive Technology (AT) field. The ATIS4all collaborative portal is the result of an EU-funded project, which aims to benefit all the key actors in the chain value of ICT ATs and accessibility products (from research centres to the end-users). It is an open and collaborative portal that offers reliable information on ICT ATs, inclusive solutions and R&D initiatives, and fosters online discussion, exchange of knowledge, expertise and sharing of information among its different portal members. Continue reading

Remove another barrier! – Literature of persons with intellectual disabilities

While spending the next couple of months as study visitor at the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights and enjoying charming Vienna with all of its monumental buildings and lovely Christmas markets, I am trying to make some connections with the local disability movement. However language barriers prevent me from getting easily aware of the important initiatives and projects of NGOs, today I had the chance to attend a really inspiring (and progressive) event: A literature prize award (further information on the ‘Literaturpreis Ohrenschmaus’ is available at: http://ohrenschmaus.net/ ). Why was it that special? The prize was created six years ago for writers with intellectual disabilities who may submit their prose or poems to be reviewed by a prominent jury. This year they received 146 texts and 3000 Euro was awarded to the winners. The ceremonial event attracted a lot of people, both disabled and non-disabled. Friends, families, fans of literature, academics, human rights activists, editors, book publishers etc. Well-known Austrian actors and actresses read some of the pieces before the awards were given to the winners. The whole event was organised in the Ovalhalle of the Museumsquartier, a fancy artistic spot in town, young and sparkling contemporary place.

ImageTonight was a fantastic occasion to experience the so-called paradigm shift articulated in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The big words better get formulated in every day life. When persons with disabilities are not treated as pitiful objects of charities any more, but being equal citizens and holding the same rights as any one else. In my view, our society is very much literacy oriented, therefore ensuring the accessibility for persons with intellectual disabilities is one of the greatest challenges regarding the implementation process of the CRPD. Making our overcomplicated world rather simple and understandable is more difficult than doing some reconstruction or developing handy tools. Some easy-to-read documents do not necessarily help to remove all those barriers. Acknowledging that persons with intellectual disabilities are able to contribute to literature will certainly do. Such an event may narrow the gap between the historically exclusive literary canon and authors who happen to have a disability. Literature as a subjective art should be an open space for everybody to verbalize his or her messages regardless of any disabilities. Talented authors with a disability should be read and respected as others. Or at least be known. I was delighted to get to know some excellent Austrian writers tonight.

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Somewhere…over the horizon part 1

the 2012 Horizon report cover

The 2012 Horizon Report was recently released by the New Media Consortium and the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative. The report highlights emerging technology trends projected to impact education on a global scale.

I’ve personally been following the annual reports for the past four years, and the forward thinking and progressive approach to technology is very encouraging. This is not to say that the “horizon” they point towards is inevitable, but that the reports are informed enough and courageous enough to project a future in an industry where it’s become cliche to describe development as exponential.

The 2012 report projects the following adoption trends:

  • Adoption in 1 year or less
    • Mobile Apps
    • Tablet Computing
  • Adoption in 2 to 3 years
    • Game-based learning
    • Learning analytics
  • Adoption in 4 to 5 years
    • Gesture-based computing
    • Internet of things

Without turning this post into a dissertation, I’d like to toss around some ideas about how these developments may impact the right to education and the right to information for persons with disabilities. This post will be divided into three parts, addressing each of the projections in the report.

In 2012 mobile apps and tablet computing have become emblematic of how we consume, educate, and learn. However mobile apps and tablet computing are part and parcel of the same fundamental accessibility challenge. That is the development of touchscreen interfaces as a popular mode of human computer interface (HCI). This HCI du jour is paradoxical in that it promotes cost efficacy and inclusiveness for certain populations while potentially excluding persons with disabilities such as those who are blind and partially sighted. As educational providers continue to adopt this technology, it is imperative that they evaluate the accessibility of both the device hardware as well as the apps.

It is clear in the development of HCI from the command prompts of MS-DOS to the graphical user interface in early Apple and Microsoft operating systems to the touchscreen  interfaces ubiquitous in mobile devices, that multi-sensory inputs will continue to broaden the widespread appeal of technology while challenging the inclusiveness for persons with disabilities. This provides a clear opportunity for Universal Design in the approach to another Horizon Report projection, the adoption of gesture-based computing in the next four to five years. More on the role of accessibility in gesture-based computing and education in part 3 of this post.

 

 

Inquiry into the Accessibility of Research Technology

Note: this post is an extension of an earlier post Disability Researching

image of a Railroad punch card computer 1967

It’s difficult for me to conceive of a world where research was conducted by hand. I’ve heard stories of interview transcripts housed in enormous filing cabinets, and statistical analysis conducted with carefully ordered punch cards on machines that could fill an entire building. But being a member of the information age, it often doesn’t occur to me the fantastic benefit my work receives with the aid of the Internet and computers.

However, regardless of the power or the potential of this technology to make my life as a researcher a bit less process-laden. It still falls short of providing that facility on a universal scale. The latest versions of popular research software programs (e.g. Nvivo, SPSS, SAS) are incredible examples of how far our abilities have come in our capacity to examine the world’s problems. From sociology to microbiology to archaeology our level of scientific discourse is enabled by these tools.

Gaining the knowledge and ability to use these tools can be a challenge. But when the design of these tools leave out persons who have the knowledge and abilities but lack the sensory capacity to use these tools, we limit not only the chances of those persons to contribute to their own development but their chances to contribute to the development of knowledge and science.

These observations are based both on my own experience using this technology as a person without a disability, but also on the state of the existing research (of which practically none exists concerning accessible research technology). So I think if we value the contribution of science, and if it is important that its role in our society reflects the diversity of the human experience. Then it is critically important to design these tools we use to examine our world to include persons with disabilities.

A Conversation about Apples

In the IT world, I think there are basically four philosophies

  1. The vegetarian: Owns an Apple because they are shiny and healthy
  2. The carnivore: Owns a Windows PC because they can be taken apart, ground up and eaten with a bit of mustard
  3. The omnivore: Owns an iPad, Android phone, Windows desktop and Macbook and consumes them all simultaneously
  4. The vegan: Lives on Linux alone

""Of course this is an exceedingly inappropriate stereotypical and mostly useless typology, but the point is that persons who love technology typically have very strong feelings about its purpose, function and role in their life. Sure there are cases of ambivalence, but people who are passionate about technology can usually find one faction or another to ally themselves with.

Where this breaks down is with accessible technology. I’m remiss to say that people aren’t passionate about accessible technology, but I’ve yet to see an online forum that captures the vindication, dogmatism and zealousness that is sometimes seen on technology blogs and user forums. Now granted, this may be a good thing since creating accessible technology is something of a collaborative effort, bringing in people who create the technology, people that use the technology, and people that would like to use the technology.

Now this limited passion approach for creating accessible technology may be due to the lack of a villain. There’s no one touting the awesomeness of inaccessible or unusable technology. There’s no one saying “Hey check out my new phone, it took me six weeks and I had to read the entire 4,682 page manual to figure out how to make a phone call!” In fact, I think most technology producers are aware of accessibility, especially in terms of usability. But I think what’s missing is the rivalry, or the belief that my technology is better than yours because EVERYONE can use it. And perhaps that’s why Apple has become a leader in this field, because part of their belief structure revolves around using elegant solutions to solve complex problems. It just happens that those solutions are in the form of accessible computers and phones.

Note: this post was inspired at least partially by the presentation by Simon Sinek for TED

DREAM “Leeds” the way

The week of 13 February, the DREAM ESRs were hosted by the University of Leeds for a week-long training and network event. The event was divided into four themes coinciding with the DREAM focus areas, Disability, Rights, Accessibility and Markets.

Disability

  • Colin Barnes presented a reflection on the social model of disability
  • Rannveig Traustadottir explained the Nordic understanding of disability in an international context
  • Mark Priestley demonstrated the materialist, idealist and realist approaches to disability

Rights

  • Theresia Degener described rights, non-discrimination and intersectionality
  • Lisa Waddington explained the evolution of international and European human rights instruments from a disability perspective
  • Dagmar Schiek demonstrated non-discrimination and intersectionality in Europe

Accessibility

  • Anna Lawson showed how to think about accessibility and reasonable accommodation
  • Roberto Torena presented European initiatives for measuring eAccessibility
  • Patricia Rubio described the economic assessment of eAccessibility

Markets

  • Mark Davis presented consumerism and markets and discussed whether the market can deliver equality and social inclusion for disabled people in Europe

Also in attendance were Rea Maglajlić from the Mental Disability Advocacy Center, Jamie Bolling from the European Network on Independent Living, and Luk Zelderloo from the DREAM Research to Practice Advisory Forum.

The week-long event, though mentally exhausting, was a resounding success. It enabled the DREAM ESRs to become familiar with new topic areas, discuss opportunities for exploring new directions in research, and rekindled enthusiasm for collaboration and partnership. Copies of the presentations may be requested by contacting the authors directly.

The next DREAM event will be in June, hosted by Technosite in Madrid. Looking forward to another amazing experience!

An Inquiry into the Accessibility of Emoticons

""Chances are if you’re tech savvy enough to have turned on your computer, found the web browser, and found this blog, then hopefully the term emoticon doesn’t drive you mad with confusion or phobia.

The following is an excerpt with only slight editing, from a recent conversation I had with Hugh Huddy, an avid technologist and screen reader user about the accessibility of emoticons.

“Here’s my take on Emoticons: …a screen reader will say “colon dash right bracket” for 🙂 so…the Emoticon is being verbalised…problem is…an individual is…only hearing the info spoken out and has never heard of characters being used in strings to create emoticons before or does know about them but has no knowledge of the visual design of the characters to imagine why the string is made up as it is.”

So what began this conversation was a personal realization of my own behavior, and that that many of us use emoticons unconsciously. I can easily be accused of throwing in an extra 🙂 a 😉 or in rare instances a 😦

I won’t get into the debate around how the use of emoticons is degenerative to our most holy literary and linguistic capacities as human beings. But this unconscious assumption that what we intend to communicate is in fact being understood by the often faceless, expressionless void of the interwebs is mirrored in many areas of accessibility, from the websites we program to the products we design and the services we deliver.

Though, the really interesting part of this conversation revolves around non-digital interactions.

“However…[if emoticons] aren’t immediately obvious to someone who is seeing them, this offsets the accessibility problem…I think in this particular case “received knowledge” is important and this is…communicated between people verbally. So if…people “hear” about Emoticons verbally, then this is…accessible to blind people.

I think this provides an interesting characterization  (albeit kind of silly, I mean we’re talking about emoticons here) for exploring the interactions between our physical and digital worlds. No matter how invested we are in our online worlds, it invariably comes down to human interaction to make sense of something as simple as a smile 🙂