Monthly Archives: December 2012

Reviewing 2012 and looking forward

The end of the year is always busy, but it is also a time to reflect on the year passing as well as looking ahead.

This year saw the completion of our new AccEase  web site, and the development of our Facebook page. During the latter part of the year there was a strong human rights focus in our work, with less emphasis on the web. It is interesting to note that the Convention on the Rights of Disabled People, (CRPD) monitoring report to Parliament revealed that no government web site completely met the web standards. This is rather depressing when they have been bound by the standards, including accessibility, for some time.

The same report also confirmed the reluctance of government departments to engage directly with disabled people and their representative organisations.

Our work at AccEase is becoming more diverse, while still focusing on disability of course. It is always interesting, changing and evolving. For example, our social marketing research, Mapping the Change, was published earlier in the year, we contributed to human rights monitoring, and provided strategic accessibility and human rights advice, delivered workshops as well as our usual web site auditing.  We are looking forward to updating some of our workshops in the New Year, and developing some new products as a result of the economic situation and customer demand.

For years there has been talk of the paperless office, and generally talk is all it has been! My own attempts in this direction are proving to be surprisingly successful. The only printing I have done for some time now has been pdf forms for completion and handing on. The iPad is very accessible, weighs less than my diary, and accompanies me almost everywhere. Filing is easier and my tiny office is less cluttered. I can also now read my own notes, even if unnoticed auto correct and auto complete sometimes result in puzzling meanings.

On a personal note, this year I indulged my love of music by joining a book group and singing with two small choirs. As I write this National Radio is playing the usual Christmas schmaltz, and I wonder why we don’t hear some of the really beautiful Christmas music that would uplift the spirit rather than irritate.

Wellington is always pleasantly quiet over Christmas. After our winter Christmas in the UK last year I am looking forward to some serious summer. For those readers who celebrate Christmas, merry Christmas, to those who don’t, my good wishes, and I wish everyone a safe and restful holiday break.

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Assistive tech – then and now

My family has always been technically inclined. Growing up we always had gadgets and machinery around. Home movies exist of our family since before I can remember. Dad took up video technology in his seventies. We had a huge freezer and a dishwasher before most other people. Mum had modern sewing machines and for a short while she had a knitting machine. When I showed her my iPad earlier this year, at ninety four she was more interested in it than the photographs I was showing her!

The farm I grew up on has always had good up to date technology and machinery. Dad and my brother shared a love of machinery.

Childhood technology

So it wasn’t surprising that my parents looked to technology to help me as a child. There was very little available then, and we had no access to support. I have always been quite low tech as a result. I finally had, at age eight a little stand magnifier, which still couldn’t enlarge maths texts enough for me to read properly and understand. I also had a cumbersome big magnifier with a light which was generally useless. The little one was good for making fish eyes in class during boring maths. I still very occasionally use it to read printed documents. The big one got ditched years ago.

Stand magnifier showing enlarged text.

Stand magnifier showing enlarged text.

I won’t comment on the numerous and varied pairs of specs I have worn since I was two, (The latest pair features in the banner on the blog.) In my teens Dad bought me a very good little pair of binoculars I could carry in my handbag. I used them as opera glasses and they travelled the world with me until I acquired a monocular sometime in the eighties.

The computer age

Then came computers. It took some time for enlargement and colour contrast and other features I could use to become available. The technology was expensive, seemed complex, was not always very compatible with anything else, and there was little if any training available to help me learn to use either the computer or the assistive technology. I had used typewriters, ancient and modern, manual and electric, and a cassette recorder for many years, but you can’t enlarge type on a typewriter.

Over the years I have struggled to read print, but other options such as a screen reader always seemed to be too expensive and hard to learn for someone who still has useful vision. The quality of printers has improved a great deal as well. When I find old typewritten or dot matrix printed documents I wonder how I ever read them.

I have used PCs and laptops with varying degrees of success, especially appreciating large screens, improved resolution, and better browsers.  Never did get any proper training though.

Praise the iPad

To date the iPad is the best of the lot. Laptops are heavy and I can’t get close enough to the screen. The iPad is lighter than a laptop, smaller and much easier to see for me. It has good resolution, and enlarges beautifully. It is my notebook, diary and address book. I can read reports, and books if I want. I can create documents, take photos, collect emails, indulge in social media, watch videos and much more. And I bought it at the local electronics shop with no need of “special” add-ons and for the same price as the average punter!

Universal design rules

Years ago I was involved with the Technical Aid Trust, a group of well- disposed, generous and committed techies who worked with disabled people to develop ways for them to interact with computers. They believed in the principles of universal design, and their vision is being realised today with mainstream devices such as the iPad.

iPad alongside stand magnifier showing comparison of enlarged text

iPad alongside stand magnifier showing comparison of enlarged text.

Smaller in price and size

How far we have come and what a journey. Assistive tech used to cost the earth, thousands of dollars, now it is much more affordable, often in the hundreds of dollars. You had to mount a major fundraising campaign just to buy something that would be obsolete in a few short years. And we have gone from huge and cumbersome machines to multi-functional devices that fit in my handbag, and are lighter than my old diary. Open-source software is readily available, along with cheap accessible apps.

Valuing the difference

I love the divergence and convergence of tech. I love the way deaf/blind people can read braille display, the way blind people can have electronic access to so much more printed material, and Deaf people can celebrate their beautiful Sign Language on video, with transcripts and captions for non-signers. People with dyslexia can have highlighting speech software, and web sites can be built in creative easy read. I wish employers and other information providers could celebrate and value this rich creative diversity, and see us as an asset instead of a problem.

Measuring progress

In thinking of progress I used to use the example of my grandmother who lived to witness both the first manned flight, and the moon landing. Now I think I could equally say from that little magnifier to the high tech iPad. If I live as long as she did I wonder what tech changes I have yet to experience. Bring it on I say!

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International Human Rights Day

Today, December 10 is the United Nations International Day of Human rights. It is the anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The rights it covers underpin the Covenants of Civil and Political Rights, and of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and form the basis for the Conventions such as the Convention to End all forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, (CEDAW)The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CROC) and of course the Convention on the Rights of Disabled People, (CRPD). They are all interlinked and support an inclusive international human rights framework.

This year, the spotlight is on the rights of all people — women, youth, minorities, people with disabilities, indigenous people, poor and marginalized people — to make their voices heard in public life and be included in political decision-making. Taking a practical human rights approach to policy development, programmes, community work, activism, service provision and other activities will contribute to a human rights based society.

A human rights approach includes:

  1. Linking of decision-making at every level to human rights standards set out in the relevant international human rights Covenants and Conventions. New Zealand has ratified many of these.
  2. Identification of all the human rights involved, with a balancing of rights, prioritising those of the most vulnerable, to maximise respect for rights and rights-holders.
  3. An emphasis on the participation of individuals and groups in decision-making that affects them.
  4. Non-discrimination among individuals and groups through equal enjoyment of rights and obligations by all.
  5. Empowerment of individuals and groups by allowing them to use rights as leverage for action and to legitimise their voice in decision-making.
  6. Accountability for actions and decisions, which allows individuals and groups to complain about decisions that affect them adversely.

United Nations Logo @012 Human Rights Day - My Voice Counts

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International Day of Disabled People

Today, December 3, is the United Nations International Day of Disabled People.

The theme this year is:

Removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all.

All around the world disabled people and their supporters and allies plan events and celebrations to support the theme on this day. Of course removing barriers should be an everyday activity everywhere, but the international day gives us an opportunity to focus on a particular theme.

I will attend the launch of New Zealand’s annual monitoring report to Parliament by the designated monitoring group. The group consists of The Convention Coalition of disabled people’s organisations,  The New Zealand Human Rights Commission and the Office of the Ombudsman.  I was a member of the team who wrote the report.

This report will be another useful tool for disabled people here to use in their advocacy for justice and human rights. It should make interesting reading. After the launch, I will publish the link on Twitter, @AccEase, on our web site, and the AccEase Facebook page. Future blogs will explore themes from the report.

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