Monday, 12 July 2010

ICCHP 2010

I am currently attending the ICCHP 2010 conference in Vienna, Austria. Wednesday after noon I will be presenting a paper on "PUIR: Parallel User Interface Rendering". The pape has been published in the proceedings of the conference, as part of Springer's Lecture Notes in Computer Science series. Thee proceedings to the conference can be ordered from Springer as LNCS 6179 and LNCS 6180.

Our DocArch group at K.U.Leuven is presenting a couple of other papers as well:
  • Strobbe, C.: Generating DAISY Books from
  • Frees, B.: Generating Braille from
  • Engelen, J.: E-books and audiobooks: what about their accessibility?
  • Engelen, J.: International AT and DfA standardisation: what is in the pipeline?
  • Strobbe, C.: Stand4All: Promoting More Accessible Standards Through Training of Stakeholders
And there are of course tons of other interesting presentations that I will be attending. This is promising to be an excellent conference.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Guest lecture

I was given the opportunity to give a guest lecture at Arcadia University (Glenside, PA, USA) to a group of master's level students for their "ED/PY517 Human Development: The School Years" course. The topic of the guest lecture was "Special Education and Inclusion", and covered the complexities of providing truly inclusive education and the important advantages that assistive technology can offer in this context. The lecture went very well, and was reported to be very informative and thought-provoking.

The guest lecture opportunity came to me through PEAC (Pennsylvania Education for All Coalition), in my capacity as a board member.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Is government going too far?

Today it was brought to my attention that the legislature of Pennsylvania has been working on a bill that includes a provision for compulsory vaccination if a public health emergency is declared. This is covered in PA House Bill 0492 "Emergency Health Powers and Procedures". Interestingly, I also found out yesterday that Belgium passed a similar law concerning health emergencies [link in Flemish], and that law included a specific amendment against mandatory vaccination. Quite a contrast...

Now, I am all for provisions that ensure that government bodies can fulfil their duty to "the people", but I do take issue with compulsory vaccination, especially when (at least in the US - probably most everywhere now) you are usually asked to sign a consent form that explains that vaccination can have (possibly harmful) side-effects, etc... Our oldest son, Daniel, has shown rather unusual reactions to various things (like a skin T test), yet doctors cannot really say why he reacts different from pretty much much any other patients. Still, no doctor is willing to state that it might perhaps be unsafe for him to receive vaccinations because that is only done for "known" cases. Somehow, that does not make me feel very confident...

There is also the concern that e.g. the H1N1 vaccination has been rushed through the certification process in order to get it ready for use in large quantities. Some doctors advise against it, while others openly criticize patients for questioning it. Either way, it seems prudent that patients should have the right to decide for themselves whether they want to be vaccinated. It also seems reasonable that, in the face of a true health emergency, a request for quarantine could be made to people who are not vaccinated. What is not reasonable to me is that on top of mandatory quarantine (if one refuses to be vaccinated), the government can/will also charge you with a misdemeanor of the 3rd degree. That is going too far...

I sincerely hope that this house bill will be amended with the removal of the compulsory vaccination provision. I do not argue against people who choose to be vaccinated, because that is their personal choice. I respect people's choices, and I hope that my right to choose will remain untouched.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Kindle 2: on the road to accessibility... or not

With the release of the 2nd version of the Kindle electronic book reading device by, it seems that the road to accessibility is up ahead. The (experimental) text-to-speech feature that is included in Kindle2 definitely is a good step in the right direction.

However, a recent concern that has been raised by the Author's Guild might add some complications for this rather important feature. If the Author's Guild is successful in its objections to a text-to-speech feature in Kindle2 (and possibly similar devices), what looks like a step towards accessibility may not end up where we hope it will.

Hopefully, a solution will be worked out that does not block users with significant visual impairments from ever being able to benefit from the functionality that Kindle provides.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Interesting inconsistency in JAWS

JAWS for Windows has long been regarded as one of the most commonly used screen readers on MS Windows (along with WindowEyes), especially in the US. Recently, while assisting someone with a JAWS for Windows install I noticed a very strange and illogical issue.

While making some global adjustments to the voice settings, I noticed that while the visual presentation of the global adjustments window shows a numeric value for the speaking rate, the spoken feedback while changing the rate was reflecting a percentage.

When you consider that even a company like Freedom Scientific fails to provide consistency in the auditory rendering of its own screen reader software, it is no surprise that accessibility issues with software are so common. It also shows that a basic rendering of controls is not sufficient in terms of making a user interface accessible. The semantic meaning of the control is important as well.

My experience with JAWS was surprising to say the least.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Still a long way to go...

Today the TV shopping channel QVC is holding a sweepstakes in honour of their 22nd birthday. Throughout the day, they show a "lucky number" on the screen and you can go to a specific website to enter the lucky number along with your telephone number.

Unfortunately, although QVC generally does a very good job describing products, announcing prices, etc... they choose not to have someone actually "speak" the lucky number as it is shown (or afterwards). As a result, although QVC is generally quite popular with blind customers, those same customers are now unable to participate in the sweepstakes. This makes for a rather unfair sweepstakes. And it would have been so easy to avoid this problem...

Universal access still faces major hurdles if even basic things like this QVC sweepstakes is done in a way that is not accessible to a group of customers. And again, the overall benefit to the entire customer population was overlooked as well. Obviously, even sighted customers would have been able to benefit from having the lucky number announced verbally, e.g. when someone needs to tend to something so that they are not able to see the screen but may still be able to hear the TV.

Sadly, an opportunity lost shows just how far we are from being able to see universal access in a more mainstream manner.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Virtual MacOS X on KVM

I came across this rather interesting webpage:

It is mostly interesting because it results in a pretty speedy MacOS X install (albeit virtual) on pretty much any PC hardware, although it is of course against the EULA to run it on non-Apple hardware. But theoretically, there is no reason why this wouldn't work at all.

The patches that are provided at that site do need a bit of tweaking to get them to apply against the latest KVM release. I'll try to find a place to make them available for download, since I already did the forward-porting work anyway.

There are some things that do not work right, like the 'About my Mac...' application. I also haven't really tested sound just. Networking works perfectly, which is the main thing in my case anyway.

Due to issues with mouse pointer handling between vncviewer, QEMU's VNC server, and mouse acceleration handling between host and guest system, quite annoying discrepancies between mouse pointer positions happen. But... Since MacOS X (at least Leopard) includes a remote desktop feature using VNC anyway, you can just enable that, tell QEMU to redirect a host port to the VNC server in Leopard, and you end up with access to the virtual Leopard without mouse issues :)