The [AT] Connects Blog


Posted By Anne Long | Jul 11, 2013

Reported in AUCD Legislative Weekly News Brief

A new national non-profit organization called RespectAbility has just launched, with the mission of reshaping attitudes of American society and empowering people with disabilities so that they can more fully participate in and contribute to society. According to their website, "RespectAbility will work to educate, sensitize and engage Americans to focus on what people with disabilities can do, rather than on what they cannot do. RespectAbility thereby will seek to help increase the number and percentage of Americans with disabilities who engage in gainful employment, start and sustain their own businesses, lift themselves into the middle class, and participate in their communities -- as fully as their abilities and efforts will take them." The organization has already announced trainings for disability leaders and funders and fellowships for future disability leaders. More information is available at their website,

New Technologies Get More Disabled People Into Workforce

Posted By Anne Long | Jul 08, 2013

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- When high school football coach Kevin Bella needs an intense, heart-to-heart with a player, he goes home and sits on his couch. That's because Bella, who is deaf, communicates with his hearing players most clearly with a new technology that brings a live sign language interpreter to his television screen. The player, on a phone elsewhere, hears the interpreter give voice to Bella's signs.

"It's a huge improvement over typing messages back and forth," said Bella, a defensive coordinator at Mission San Jose High School in Fremont, Calif. "This allows me to work with hearing players, because there's a lot in my language that has to do with expressions. The meaning is lost if sign language is reduced to written text."

Bella is among a rising number of disabled people who are increasingly able to find and keep jobs, as well as engage more broadly in their communities, because of new technologies specifically aimed at helping them better communicate or complete tasks.

The past few years have seen a number of technological breakthroughs targeting disabled consumers. Apple, for example, is incorporating technologies such as voice recognition and screen readers, which can synthesize text into speech, into all of their products, rather than offering them as add-ons.

Applications such as GoTalk NOW and TapSpeak Sequence allow users to combine text, pictures and symbols with audio programs that put voice to thoughts and ideas. Someone who can't speak clearly can touch a picture of a hand, then a book, and the tablet will say: "Please pass me the book."

Blind people can take notes using voice-recognition programs, and listen to emails or "read" a website with screen readers. People with attention deficit disorder can use apps that remind them to stay focused by announcing appointments with lights and sounds. And those with spinal cord injuries share tips on forums such as for how to go hands-free on digital tablets using mouth sticks like those mounted on wheelchairs.

"High-tech advances are starting to help level the playing field, opening the door for so many people," said Therese Willkomm of the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire.

Kathleen Martinez, an assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Labor overseeing disability employment policy, said these advances have translated into higher numbers of disabled people being able to land jobs.

"In the professional careers, technology has helped increase the employment rate immensely. It's actually allowed us to participate in office careers more than ever before," said Martinez, who has been blind since birth.

The unemployment rate last year was 13.4 percent for the 28 million Americans who are deaf, blind or have serious physical, mental or emotional conditions, compared with a 7.9 percent rate for people without disabilities. But a Labor Department survey released earlier this month showed that the number of employed disabled adults jumped close to 4 percent over the past two years, more than the 3 percent gains among nondisabled people.

Meanwhile, unemployment rates among the disabled dropped 1.6 points in a year, a bigger decrease than what was seen among able-bodied workers.

Another factor in the increasing job rates is that baby boomers are retiring later, and today half of the people working over age 65 have a disability, said John D. Kemp, president of the disability advocate nonprofit The Viscardi Center.

"Many people have aged into a disability and are in denial," said Kemp. "But they can't hear as well, can't see as well, and they're using an immense number of assistive devices aimed at retaining valued employees."

The technological advances are a massive upgrade over older, disability-specific clunky devices. Swedish firm Tobii, for example, has developed eye-tracking programs that make it possible for people who can't use their hands to navigate on computers. Instead of moving a mouse, users look into a box that uses a camera and infrared light to track what they're looking at when they blink, triggering a cursor to move.

And Google Glass – a tiny eyeglasses-mounted device capable of shooting photos, filming video and surfing the Internet – has a built-in camera and voice-command capability, meaning disabled wearers could read what people are saying to them or control wheelchairs with their gaze or voices.

The U.S. market for assistive technologies is projected to grow from $39.5 billion in 2010 to $55 billion in 2016, according to analysts at market forecasters BCC Research. And in the past few years, large high-tech firms, including Facebook, have added teams focused exclusively on how disabled clients can use their products.

"Most organizations want to bring their technology and experiences to as many people as possible, so it makes sense to address this," said Jeffrey Wieland, who became Facebook's project manager of accessibility a year ago. The company has even brought visually impaired users to its campus in Menlo Park, Calif., to work with accessibility engineers.

Earlier this month, Rocklin, Calif.-based Purple Communications nationally rolled out a new, upgraded videophone that allows deaf people to communicate using Video Relay Service on high-definition televisions. A live sign language interpreter works remotely to convey messages in real-time via video and audio feeds that transmit into landline phones, cellphones or tablets.

This is Bella's system, which includes features such as lights that flash when someone calls him.

Bella, who was born deaf and whose mother and father are both deaf, remembers as a child his parents having to go to a neighbor's house with a note to accomplish tasks such as making a doctor's appointment. Today, he talks defensive strategy, makes restaurant reservations and has telemeetings through his television.

"For many deaf people, using the phone is new for them, but now, in 2013, the job opportunities are endless," Bella said.

He can also communicate with his family – his wife and two of his three children are deaf – using their smartphones. Instead of talking to each other, they sign to each other via video.

Such advances have forever changed the lives of people like Bella and Eric LeGrand, a former Rutgers University defensive tackle who suffered a career-ending spinal cord injury in a game versus Army in October 2010.

LeGrand remembers clearly the first time an aide clamped an iPhone near his mouth. Using voice recognition software, LeGrand, a quadriplegic, suddenly could write emails, listen to messages and send texts with ease.

"I was like, `Oh man, hallelujah! I can control my phone!'" said LeGrand, who lives in Camden, N.J., and is finishing a degree in labor studies and hopes to launch a career in sports broadcasting. He's already covering some college games.

"I can't move my arms, but I'm going to school and the sky is the limit for me," he said. "I can open and close the doors to my house through a home security app. I can control my wheelchair. I text message, go on Twitter and Facebook. I don't have to sit there like a vegetable all the time. Technology can take care of it."

Physical Medicine Devices; Reclassification of Stair-Climbing Wheelchairs

Posted By Anne Long | Jul 08, 2013
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is issuing a proposed administrative order to reclassify stair-climbing wheelchairs, a class III device, into class II (special controls) based on new information and subject to premarket notification, and to further clarify the identification. Read further:

Weight Watchers Announces Comprehensive Accessibility Initiative

Posted By Anne Long | Jul 02, 2013
Reported by Lainey Feingold - Disability Rights Legal Advocacy

Broad-based Initiative Praised by Blind Community Leaders

June 27, 2013 - New York, NY - Weight Watchers International, Inc. (NYSE: WTW) today announced its ongoing initiative to make its websites, mobile applications and print information more accessible and inclusive for its members and subscribers with visual impairments. The efforts were praised by blind community leaders.

Weight Watchers has adopted the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) version 2.0 level AA as its accessibility standard for both web and mobile applications, and has already made substantial enhancements to its websites to meet this standard. Weight Watchers has also strengthened its system for providing Braille, Large Print, and Audio versions of print information to members with visual impairments.

“Ensuring a high level of engagement and convenience for consumers is extremely important to us,” said Catherine Ulrich, Senior Vice President of “From product development to the work of our dedicated Service Providers in meetings rooms, we are committed to supporting all of our members and online subscribers in their weight loss journeys. We hope that our accessibility efforts empower those with visual impairments to better manage their food environment and establish daily routines that can become long-term healthy habits.”

Weight Watchers worked with the American Council of the Blind and Weight Watchers members and subscribers with vision loss on its accessibility initiative.

Alice Ritchhart, of Georgia, and Lillian Scaife, of California, are blind and love the Weight Watchers program.

We appreciate Weight Watchers’ leadership in recognizing the needs of all consumers, including those who have visual impairments. This initiative builds on Weight Watchers’ tradition of outstanding customer service.Weight Watchers member Lillian Scaife

We believe Weight Watchers is the best weight loss program out there, and we are very excited that the online tools and print information will be more available to us as a result of this commitment.— Weight Watchers member Alice Ritchhart

Kim Charlson, First Vice President of the American Council of the Blind, also praised the company’s initiative.

We’re thrilled that people with visual impairments will be able to take greater advantage of the wonderful tools and information that Weight Watchers offers. Like sighted people, people who are blind want to stay fit, be healthy and lose weight. Thank you Weight Watchers for recognizing the needs of your blind members.Kim Charlson, ACB First Vice President

Weight Watchers has already begun making accessibility improvements, and will continue doing so in the future. Information about the initiative can be found on the Accessibility Information Page on the Weight Watchers website.

About the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)

The WCAG 2.0 guidelines are promulgated by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and ensure that sites are more accessible to persons with visual and other disabilities. Many Weight Watchers customers will not notice any differences to the site or the mobile applications, as the Guidelines do not affect the content or look and feel. The guidelines are of particular benefit to blind computer users who use screen reader voice output or magnification technology on their computers and mobile devices and who, like some individuals with mobility impairments, rely on a keyboard instead of a mouse for navigation.

The W3C is an international community that develops open standards to ensure the long-term growth of the Web. The Web Accessibility Initiative is a program of the W3C that works with site owners, developers, people with disabilities and other interested parties to develop accessibility standards. More information available at the Web Accessibility Initiative website.

About Weight Watchers International, Inc.

Weight Watchers International, Inc. is the world’s leading provider of weight management services, operating globally through a network of Company-owned and franchise operations. Weight Watchers holds over 40,000 meetings each week where members receive group support and learn about healthy eating patterns, behavior modification and physical activity. provides innovative, subscription weight management products over the Internet and is the leading Internet-based weight management provider in the world. In addition, Weight Watchers offers a wide range of products, publications and programs for those interested in weight loss and weight control.

About American Council of the Blind

American Council of the Blind is a national consumer-based advocacy organization working on behalf of blind and visually impaired Americans throughout the country, with members organized through seventy state and special interest affiliates. ACB is dedicated to improving the quality of life, equality of opportunity and independence of all people who have visual impairments. Its members and affiliated organizations have a long history of commitment to the advancement of policies and programs which will enhance independence for people who are blind and visually impaired. More information about ACB can be found by visiting the ACB website.