From online shopping to GPS to social networking sites, virtually every facet of American life is going digital. But many of the newest gadgets and helpful websites aren’t very accessible for people with a disability. We explore how some innovative companies are integrating accessibility into their design process, and aiming for “universal usability.”

Click here for Live Captions


  • Jonathan Lazar Professor of Computer and Information Sciences and Director, Universal Usability Laboratory, Towson University
  • Eve Hill Senior Vice President, Burton Blatt Institute, Syracuse University
  • Anne Taylor Director of Access Technology, National Federation of the Blind


  • 12:06:43

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's Tech Tuesday. Twenty years ago, the Americans with Disabilities Act became law. Once enacted, retail stores, hotels and other businesses had to make their facilities usable by people with disabilities. Now, in the 21st century, the fight for accessibility is no longer on Main Street. After all, it's in cyberspace that you get the best airline deals, bargain hotel rooms and brand-name appliances. But most websites do a pretty lame job of making themselves useable by the disabled. Some people are already doing it, however. There's the popular touch screen tablet that comes with a Braille overlay and the video website running a continuous machine-generated closed-captioning service.

  • 12:07:46

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIThis Tech Tuesday, we are exploring the idea of universal usability, how consumer products can be designed to meet the needs of all consumers with and without disabilities. We've invited Jonathan Lazar. He is a professor of computer and information services and director of the Universal Usability Laboratory at Towson University. Jonathan, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:08:09

    MR. JONATHAN LAZARThank you for having me.

  • 12:08:10

    NNAMDIAlso with us is Eve Hill. She is senior vice president with the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University. Eve, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:08:19

    MS. EVE HILLThank you for having us.

  • 12:08:20

    NNAMDIAlso with us is Anne Taylor, director of Access Technology with the National Federation for the Blind. Anne, good to have you aboard.

  • 12:08:28

    MS. ANNE TAYLORThank you very much. Good to be here.

  • 12:08:30

    NNAMDIYou can join this Tech Tuesday conversation at 800-433-8850. We're exploring the good, the bad and the ugly of making technology accessible, and we'd like to hear your experiences using consumer electronics and websites. Are you a person with a sight or hearing disability? Is new technology making it easier to communicate and receive information? Call us at 800-433-8850. We're using simultaneous transcription from That's spelled S-P-E-C --, but you can find a link at our website, Again, you can join the conversation by calling us at 800-433-8850, sending us an e-mail to or a tweet @kojoshow.

  • 12:09:21

    NNAMDIJonathan, innovation in the world of tech almost always means devices get smaller, it means they shed physical buttons in favor of touch screens, they use L-E-D lights or LED lights to show whether they are off or on, and the assumed user is someone who can see, someone who can control a mouse with their hands, someone who can hear an audio prompt. If you're not someone who falls into those categories, new technology can be incredibly frustrating. What is universal usability?

  • 12:09:54

    LAZARUniversal usability is the idea that all devices, websites, interfaces, technology can be designed in a way that they're easy to use from multiple user groups. So we're talking about people with perceptual impairments, people with motor impairments. And very often, the same designs that we do, the same modifications, the same improvements, enhancements, that make it work for someone who is blind or someone who has trouble using their fingers or has a mobility impairment, the same features actually make it also usable for many other user groups.

  • 12:10:28

    LAZARYou know, really, we like talking about flexibility. The idea is that if you build a website, that it's flexible for someone who is not using a pointing device. You know, so for instance, many people with motor impairments and blind users generally are not using a mouse, they're gonna use keyboard or some equivalent. Right? Well, at the same time as you're making that site flexible, that also helps people using smartphones and smaller devices. So the idea is we want our information to be flexible so more people have access to it.

  • 12:10:58

    NNAMDIAnne, you head up the Access Technology office at the National Federation for Blind, what exactly does the job entail?

  • 12:11:05

    TAYLORWell, part of my job is to evaluate website and other technology that blind individuals use to make sure that they are accessible. We also work closely with Access Technology companies who design product for the blind to make sure that those products are user-friendly. And I mentioned that is because of the screen access software and manufacturers in this country that we work with, pretty much all of them, they are very important part of helping us gain access to the information on the Internet.

  • 12:11:41

    NNAMDIAgain, the number is 800-433-8850. Eve Hill, there are some truly exciting new technologies on the horizon in this field. But unfortunately, a lot of the advocacy around this issue involves trying to get the government to enforce laws that are already on the books. Tell us about the recent case between the National Federation of the Blind and Target.

  • 12:12:03

    HILLSure. A variety of businesses have been trying to argue that they're not required to make their websites accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Usually arguing that, oh, the Internet is not a place of public accommodation. We have physical stores, you have to come there. We don't need to make our websites accessible because it's only about the physical stores. And the Justice Department has been pretty clear in saying that's not true. If you're offering those goods and services on the Internet, you need to make your websites accessible so people with vision and other disabilities can get the services through that site as well. But the -- Target was one of the entities that had been saying, no, no, we're only required to make our stores accessible, not our website. So the rest of us can sit in our pajamas at home in 2:00 in the morning and order what we want, but blind people have to get to the store during office hours and buy what they want.

  • 12:12:52

    HILLSo NFB had to sue them and reach an agreement where the -- Target has now made its website accessible and has been certified by the NFB -- excuse me -- as being accessible. And we're hoping that the rest of these kinds of companies will move forward that way. But the case really made the point that it's not about the physical store, it's about all the ways that you offer your goods and services to the public. And all those ways needs to be accessible.

  • 12:13:18

    NNAMDIThe big question, of course, being, does the Americans with Disabilities Act apply to cyberspace?

  • 12:13:24

    HILLThat's right. And the Justice Department is now issuing an advance notice of proposed rule-making that's gonna be very clear that it's not about the physical space. That although cyberspace may not be a place, if you're offering goods and services and would otherwise be covered by the ADA, you have to make sure that all of those ways you offer your goods and services are accessible to everybody.

  • 12:13:45

    NNAMDIAnne Taylor, we're not gonna get -- or we're gonna try not to get to geeky on this broadcast...

  • 12:13:50

    NNAMDI...but a lot of this issue is when it comes to website, it comes down to good old fashioned programming, doesn't it? When people are building websites, aren't they supposed to follow conventions like alternate tagging, which are written descriptions of various pictures for people who can't see them?

  • 12:14:06

    TAYLORYes, exactly. Well, actually, there's a couple things that I want to mention here. Designing accessible website is not as sophisticated as people made them to be. Because there are other -- there are many accessibility standards that's been existent for a very long time now that a designer can use to work into the part of the designing website process and, you know, some of those criteria involved alternative texts for links, proper label for forms and buttons. And those kinds of things are pretty easily accomplished and pretty -- spelled out pretty well in the web accessibility standard. The problem that we’re running into, and I'll try not to ramble forever here, but the problem that we're running into is that accessibility, generally, are not part of the design process and always an afterthought. And to retrofit the site after it's been designed for accessibility is very costly.

  • 12:15:09

    NNAMDIMost people read content on the web, but for people who are blind or people who suffer from vision loss, they hear the web using reading programs. Tell us about what the web looks or sounds like to you, Anne.

  • 12:15:21


  • 12:15:22

    NNAMDIAnd I didn't mention before that Anne is blind.

  • 12:15:25

    TAYLORYes, absolutely. When I surf the web, I use a screen access software program that will render text contents on the web into audio output. And what I hear is a page that has links, buttons, combo boxes. And if the page is well organized, I will hear various heading levels if everything is tagged properly. So I can go to any particular portion of the page that I desire to, just like certain individuals are able to do selective reading. We are able to do selective hearing with the screen access software on the Internet page. So we need to understand HTML terminology, like, as I mentioned, edit boxes and links. So those HTML controls need to be properly labeled.

  • 12:16:22

    NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, it's a tech Tuesday conversation on designing accessible technology. We're using simultaneous transcription from That's S-P-E-C-H-E-dot-com, but you can find a link at our website, So you can follow the broadcast there, or you can call us if you like to join the conversation at 800-433-8850. Here is Fred in Riverdale, Maryland. Fred, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:16:49

    FREDThank you, Kojo. I am concerned about the cost of special equipment for the blind. For instance, I am blind myself, and I use the Braille notes, which is a kind of handheld computer. And I also have a netbook, which cost me less than $300. But the Braille notes is like $7,000. And it -- apart from the fact that it produces Braille, it functions almost exactly like the netbook, which cost much, much less. So I wonder what's happening. For instance, I don't know whether Anne may tell us this, but is this not just something to do with economics on the part of those people who produce this special equipment? Or what can you...

  • 12:17:50

    NNAMDIIs it, Anne Taylor, what factor does supply and demand pay in the price of $7,000?

  • 12:17:59

    TAYLORWell, it is very true that we have less demand in the blind community for access technology compared to, let's say, a person will go out and buy, oh, an Apple iPad, so, you know, the economy of scale is certainly an important factor, but the good thing about this is -- that some good thing about it, the access technology companies work closely with the blind community. They want to make sure that the products that they have developed are user-friendly to the blind.

  • 12:18:30

    TAYLORAnd we are always, first and foremost, after mainstream accessibility. However, if we can't get there right away, I think this access technology company is doing a good job to help us gain access to the information, and, yes, we're hoping that in the future, we will be able to have mainstream access. But you got to realize, Braille devices are very costly, and there are people like deaf-blind population who really need to access information using Braille. And so these technologies are still relevant, even though they're costly.

  • 12:19:11

    NNAMDIHere's Jonathan Lazar.

  • 12:19:13

    LAZARYou know, one other aspect sort of the economics of what we’re discussing is that many websites, which are inaccessible, offer the lowest available, you know, fares or air fares, lowest available product cost. And so if you have websites that are inaccessible, in many cases, blind users and other users with disabilities wind up paying more, you know, and that is a very serious problem. You know, most websites say go to our website. Most companies say go to our website for our lowest fares.

  • 12:19:40

    LAZARWe actually did a study related to Department of Transportation regulations. There's a regulation from the Department of Transportation that says that airlines don't have to have accessible websites. But if the website of the airline is inaccessible, then you can call up the airline and say, "Hi, I have a disability." And they have to give you the lowest fare available on the website at that time, and they also have to not charge you the call center fee. As you know most of the time when you call an airline, they charge you an extra 20, $25. That's why...

  • 12:20:11

    NNAMDIGo ahead please, Jonathan.

  • 12:20:12

    LAZARSo I work with my students and we looked at the top 10 airlines, and four of the airlines had inaccessible websites, right? And so we made phone calls to those four airlines.

  • 12:20:22


  • 12:20:22

    LAZARAnd two of the airlines, more than a third of the time, refuse to -- actually refuse to honor the federal regulations and charge blind people more. So a third of the time, these two airlines wound up charging blind people more.

  • 12:20:35

    NNAMDIAnd what could you do about that?

  • 12:20:38

    LAZARIt's harder. I mean, you've got a few different things you could do. You could have federal regulations that are stronger and would require that the airlines actually have accessible websites in the first place, rather than sort of this, you know, separate but not equal approach whereas oh, we're not gonna make the website work, but if you call us, you know, we'll find an accommodation for you. That never really works. You can -- so you can focus on stronger policy. The airlines need to train their call center employees to be able to -- I mean, we actually acknowledged the regulation when we made these phone calls. And the airline said, yeah, we don' follow that regulation.

  • 12:21:12

    NNAMDIWhich brings me to this, Eve Hill, the Rehabilitation At of 1973 was one of the first and most important laws to go on the books governing disability rights and once again, I'm gonna risk getting into the weeds here because a lot of this boils down to something called 508 compliance. Please explain.

  • 12:21:30

    HILLSure. Well, 508 is actually limited to federal government websites and other information technology and some contractors that work with the federal government. But the 508 standards have provided these standards that are now really being used more commonly. So the first step is to get the federal government to be a model and comply with its own obligations for website accessibility, and then to start spreading the 508 standards into the basic Rehabilitation Act requirements which are in 504 and the ADA. And I think that's starting to happen now. The Department of Justice is indicating that Title III entity should comply with the 508 standards. Other government agencies are indicating that people who get federal funding under 504 should comply with the 508 standards and the standards are getting out there.

  • 12:22:16

    NNAMDIBut there's a significant irony here.

  • 12:22:18

    HILLMm-hmm. Yes there is.

  • 12:22:19

    NNAMDIIt is my understanding that the website itself,, is not actually compliant with section 508.

  • 12:22:27

    HILLIt's true. And the federal government needs to clean up its own act. They really do.

  • 12:22:32

    NNAMDIJonathan, you've done some work on this, and you found, apparently that the vast majority of government websites don't comply with accessibility rules.

  • 12:22:39

    LAZARAbsolutely true. We examined 100 federal homepages, and found that over 90 percent of them were not in compliance with section 508. And just like you mentioned, even the site is not in compliance with section 508. It's really a big problem. There hasn't been much attention paid within the federal community to 508 and accessibility within, you know, since basically in the last decade. We're hoping now if there's a change, as Eve mentioned. There's been some action taking place from the Justice Department, from OMB. And so we're hoping that this situation will change, but it's been a very serious problem. And it is if the federal government can't have their websites to be accessible, it's gonna be really hard to convince the private industry to do it when federal government has the expertise. There are many knowledgeable experts in 508 compliance in usability and accessibility in the D.C. area. We probably have the biggest concentration of those folks in the nation. We have the expertise here. We have to get the federal government to comply.

  • 12:23:35

    NNAMDIWe've got to take short -- to take a short break to recover from the shock of the enforcement officer not complying with the law. It's Tech Tuesday and we're discussing designing accessible technology. And call -- you can call us at 800-433-8850. If the lines are busy, go to our website You can join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:25:53

    NNAMDIIt's a Tech Tuesday conversation on designing accessible technology with Anne Taylor, director of access technology with the National Federation of the Blind. Eve Hill is senior vice president with the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University. And Jonathan Lazar is a professor of Computer and Information Services and director of the Universal Usability Laboratory at Towson University. Directly to the telephones, here is Ginny (sp?) in Washington, D.C. Ginny, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:26:21

    GINNYHi. I'm partially sighted and watched TV only when there is audio description. The cable companies are literally breaking the law on the cable carrier's Access Act and it peeves me that for more than a year now, they have been getting away with failing to transfer the capability of audio description to digital. So I have cancelled my -- the TV part of my cable contract and given away my six-year-old Sony TV. And I will not buy another TV until either the cable carriers comply with the law or the manufacturers come up with a universally accessible TV. And I'd like to know from your guest which might happen first...

  • 12:27:15

    GINNY...and whether there is an easier way of getting these cable companies to comply with the law than filing a formal complaint with the FC -- excuse me, with the FCC.

  • 12:27:29

    NNAMDIGinny, here is Eve Hill.

  • 12:27:30

    HILLWell, I think that's an important point. There was just a law you talked about yesterday, Kojo, on the show that was the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act which...

  • 12:27:40


  • 12:27:40

    HILL...will actually expand video description of television programming. But as Jonathan always points out to me, the law is only the beginning. And the enforcement and implementation of it are very important. The FCC, I think, has developed a much more greater interest in making sure that cable and other companies, broadcasters comply with their obligation. So I'm hopeful that the FCC will really take a strong stance on making sure that these things really happen on doing the monitoring and on responding to complaints. The private enforcement, though, I think is a very key piece of every implementation of every law.

  • 12:28:17

    HILLAnd some of the laws that we have the most trouble with are the ones where the federal government is the only enforcer. And the federal government changes priorities. The federal government has limited resources, although not as limited as mine. (laugh) But it really is important to have the ability to do private enforcement and to have people be able to step up and claim their own rights, and also for people not to stigmatize the effort of standing up and taking -- and claiming your own rights.

  • 12:28:46

    NNAMDIGinny, thank you very much for your call. Ginny, are you there? Oh, Ginny, just hang up but assuming that she listened to the entire call, (laugh) Ginny, thank you for the call. Jonathan, for the purposes of law and public policy, we often lump various disabilities into the same camp. But when you examine the issue from a technological perspective and start trying to come up with solutions to accessibility challenges, different groups of people have different needs. For example, there are perceptual disabilities like blindness and deafness, which are really challenges of information being communicated to people. But there are motor impairments which could range from spinal injuries to motor neuron diseases. Talk about how you deal with those in universal design.

  • 12:29:29

    LAZARCertainly. Well, currently, the regulation, the Section 508 regulation that Eve was talking about, they typically cover the actual guidelines, the technical guidelines, cover perceptual and motor impairments, but not cognitive impairments. So if you also look at the history of accessibility in human-computer interaction over the last 30 years, the work has -- and there's really a 30-year history of research on designing computers for people with perception and motor impairments. There's only about maybe five to seven-year history of working with cognitive impairments. But as much as we say that these, you know, regulations cover everyone, the regulations and the technical guidelines really cover perception and motor impairments. But the great thing is, is that we're not making one change -- okay, now, this is the change that's gonna help people who are blind and this is the change that's gonna help people who are low vision. The set of guidelines really covers perceptual and motor impairment. Again, the Section 508 regulations, which are actually based on an international standard, modified slightly but, I mean, so these are well vetted standards and similar versions are used around the world.

  • 12:30:32

    LAZARThe keys that -- the techniques that you used to make things work for people who are blind also generally make website, for instance, work for people with motor impairments. Again, we focus on making sure you can access things using a keyboard. As long as it has keyboard access, that means it's not only mails access, that will also then help people who are using eye tracking that will, you know, people with motor impairments -- that will help people who are using keyboard only, who are using speech recognition, who are using alternative keyboards and pointing devices. So really, we are designing not only for blind people. We're designing for multiple other user groups. Ad of course, no, you know, there is no blind people are blind people and deaf people are deaf people. Obviously, everyone is unique and we try to look at these general design issues but, you know, you have people who are deaf-blind. You have people who have various severity levels. So it's really -- we do the best we can by using these guidelines. That's why these guidelines are always the key. And that's why if we're always sitting home about 508 -- these regulations are really important. They're based on international standards. And if you follow these guidelines for a federal website or if you follow them for an airline website, you're gonna make a tremendous difference in the quality of life for people.

  • 12:31:40

    NNAMDIEve Hill.

  • 12:31:41

    HILLAnd although the law tends to focus on sensory disabilities and to some extent manual disabilities, it turns out that making things universally accessible helps many more people than that, people with learning disabilities. So I've been actively involved in the eBooks arena and making -- building accessibility in particularly the text to speech and voiceover functions into eBooks makes a huge difference for people with learning disabilities as they go to school, makes a big difference for people whose cognitive abilities is changing as a result of age to be able to get access to information without having to read tiny print. And simplification and flexibility of websites make it much easier for people with Alzheimer's or who are having difficulty navigating a complicated website to be able to figure out how to go. So it increases the market much more than people think.

  • 12:32:31

    NNAMDINevertheless, Anne Taylor, it still seems to be a kind of rule of thumb that, quoting here, "If it can be used by someone with vision disabilities, it probably can be used by almost everyone and it almost always will be a better product."

  • 12:32:44

    TAYLORThat is very true. This -- the accessibility guideline is very clear as I mentioned how the website should be designed to be accessible to everyone. I'll give you an example. If a website design with well-organized content so I can go using -- use my computer to go to various part of the website with my keyboard and listen to my screen, access software, reading the page to me -- if I wanna go to the main part of the site, that part of the content is marked out with heading level one. Not to get too technical here but the subsection of the part may -- of the website, sorry, subsections of the website are going to be marked up with heading level two and so on. So I can easily go to the very position of the content that I need to look at. And it's not only for me as a blind individual, but as Jonathan and Eve has already affirmed, it's for everybody.

  • 12:33:44

    NNAMDIWell, here is a bit of a problem, though, if you're blind and you tried to go to the federal government's website, a site designed to help all Americans be prepared for an emergency, because here is what you hear...

  • 12:33:58

    UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1Page has 37 links. Prepare. Plan. Stay informed. Subscribe to e-mail updates. Call and submit button. Enter e-mail address. Same page link skip to navigation. Same page link skip to content graphic Ready. Prepare. Plan. Stay informed. List of three items. Link Ready America. Link Ready Business. Link Ready Kids...

  • 12:34:20

    NNAMDIWhat do we hear if the organization has done a better job? Take a listen to the National Federation of the Blind sounds.

  • 12:34:29

    UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2NFB-Home. Page has 10 headings and 33 links. NFB-home link graphic NFB local and tag line-Voice of the Nation's Blind. Same page, link graphic skip to main content link contact us. Link topic index. Enter search site, search button. The real problem of blindness is not the loss of eyesight. The real problem is the misunderstanding and lack of information that exist. If a blind person has proper training and opportunity, blindness can be reduced to a physical nuisance. Link graphic Make a Gift to NFB. Link graphic Learn about the Jernigan Institute. Link graphic Request a Free White Cane. Link graphic About NFB. Graphic line, link graphic Information About Vision Loss For...

  • 12:35:09

    NNAMDIAnd here's Jonathan Lazar.

  • 12:35:10

    LAZARYou actually didn't hear the worst part of The worst part of the homepage of is that information about hurricane and flood preparedness, right, is something that is in inaccessible flash where you don't hear it at all. So you can't hear on the radio that you're not hearing it. So, literally, information about those hurricane and flood preparedness is not available to blind users. They will not hear it when they listen to the page. That's a serious problem.

  • 12:35:37

    NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here is Doris in Arlington, Va. Doris, your turn.

  • 12:35:43

    DORISHi. Thank you, Kojo, for doing this show and for all of your wonderful speakers. I wanted to mention that this is a very important topic. I work for Center for Independent Living in Arlington, Va., ENDependence Center of Northern Virginia. And we try to assist folks with -- finding the technology they need and learning to use it. And we're concerned about the lack of compliance with federal law regarding access to computer resources but -- this impacts people in their daily lives as you've already heard. For example, things like bank teller machine being accessible and point-of-purchase machines, the machines that you use when you go to not just Target but CVS and any place you go to purchase something with a debit card or a credit card. And the federal government I understand is working the U.S. Access Board on standards for point-of-purchase machines. And that's something that's been lacking for some time.

  • 12:37:07

    DORISThere is a law that you didn't mention, which is the Telecommunication Act of 1996, which requires that manufacturers of cellular phones and all kinds of telecommunications technology make their products compatible with -- meaning, usable by and accessible to people who are -- have disabilities, including people who are blind like myself. And that law applied to the private sector and was very important and I think is lacking also in enforcement. But people need to, as Anne said, stand up for their rights. And we really appreciate what the National Federation of the Blind is doing, what you're doing in educating people today. And we -- I wanted to ask what people thought about the prospects for going forward now with the 21st century...

  • 12:38:15

    NNAMDII'm glad you mentioned going forward because as Eve Hill will tell you the 1934 Communications Act was updated in 1996 in the Telecommunications Act and then updated some more in the new 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act. So that leads us into the future.

  • 12:38:35

    HILLThat's right. So all those things have expanded closed captioning on televisions and now into smaller devices and video devices, video description as you mentioned, and access to mobile phones in ways that allow -- will allow people to access all the functions of our smartphones and not just the ability to make a call. There have been a variety of recent agreements with banks. Lots and lots of banks you'll now see have what looks like a telephone keypad, which allows people to know which buttons to push in, and a headset jack so people who are blind can go and get audio directions about how to use the machines. That's going into the point-of-sale machines at CVS and Staples and other places. So they will also have not just the touch screen but the ability to have a keypad and audio output so that people with disabilities can use those. And this is going way beyond websites. Soon, you'll have interactive abilities in stores that – where they'll tell you, well, won't you be interested in this? And you can go to this touch screen machine and see where this thing is located in our store. And all those things we have to make sure right up front incorporate accessibility instead of having to go backwards.

  • 12:39:44

    NNAMDIJonathan, you teach undergrads about accessibility issues in technology and you say there's one device that blows away all of your students. (laugh) Tell us about the knfbReader.

  • 12:39:56


  • 12:39:57

    NNAMDIAnd Doris, thank you for your call.

  • 12:39:59

    LAZARThe knfbReader -- if you're familiar, there's been maybe 20, 25 years of the Kurzweil devices for the blind and the old Kurzweil machine. Well, now, there's one that's in the size of a mobile phone, and what you can do -- it looks like a standard mobile phone. If you're blind, you can basically pick up your phone on top of a piece of paper with print on it, right? You snap it. It takes a picture, and then it reads to you in computer synthesized speech what was on that paper. And it also does language translation. And that, to me, is really -- I mean, it's such a wonderful device.

  • 12:40:31

    NNAMDIHere's how it helps people who are not blind. It is my understanding that Jonathan wants one of these for traveling abroad.

  • 12:40:39

    LAZARYeah. I have a history of really bad menu choices in other countries where I can't understand the language. So I've actually said I want to get one of those for the next time I'm out of the country. I can snap a picture and have it translate for me what it is I'm actually ordering. But that's the device that when I take my students -- I bring my students usually on field trips to the International Braille and Technology Center, which Anne directs. And that's the one device that always blows them away because it's something that they say, ooh, I want that.

  • 12:41:06

    LAZARI could use that. And that -- but that's really the idea with a lot of what we talk about, with accessibility, is that when you come up with devices that can do all these great features and are flexible, that helps everyone. It helps everyone. There are needs out there -- it's no longer an assisted technology device. It's just a device that people want. And good coding standards are what we want. We want people to follow the coding standards so it will help everyone out there.

  • 12:41:30

    LAZARYou want another example. There's one -- one of my friends who does 508 compliance in the federal government, he says he always describes accessibility as being related to search engine optimization. He says if you do your code right, if you do your markup right, he said, making your website accessible also means that it's much easier for search engines to pick up. So there are all these great benefits.

  • 12:41:52

    NNAMDIIndeed there are. And if you are about to travel overseas and you just heard about the K-NFB reader for the first time and you wanna know exactly what it is, you're ordering on your menu, remember where you heard it first.

  • 12:42:03

    NNAMDIWe're gonna take a short break from Tech Tuesday. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation on designing accessible technology. If you've called, stay on the line. We'll try our best to get to your call. If the lines are busy, go to our website, Ask a question or make a comment there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:44:00

    NNAMDIWe're having a conversation on designing accessible technology. It's Tech Tuesday, and we're joined in studio by Eve Hill. She's senior vice president of the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University. Jonathan Lazar is a professor of computer and information sciences and director of the Universal Usability Laboratory at Towson University. And Anne Taylor is director of Access Technology with the National Federation of the Blind. We're really not going off at a tangent here when we continue our conversation about the K-NFB reader. It's is not true that the host wants one because he's about to travel overseas to a country in which he doesn't speak the language. But we would like Anne Taylor to talk a little bit about this device and how it came about.

  • 12:44:42

    TAYLORSure. Thank you.

  • 12:44:43

    NNAMDII'm holding one in my hand right now that belongs to Anne Taylor. Hopefully, she will forget.

  • 12:44:49

    TAYLORWell, I would try not to forget. Anyways, the OCR technology, first, was invented in the 1970s with the collaborations between the National Federation of the Blind and Dr. Ray Kurzweil. Now, this is really an interesting example that I'm getting ready to tell you about, because we -- as we have mentioned throughout this show here that accessible design benefit everybody. When Dr. Ray Kurzweil invented the first reading machine together integrated into this one device, you have speech synthesizer, you have flat bed scanner, and you have omnifont optical character recognition. These three technology has never been integrated into one device before our work -- National Federation of the Blinds work with Dr. Kurzweil. And in the 1970s, that machine is about the size of a washing machine. Today, well, Kojo is holding...

  • 12:45:57

    NNAMDIIt's the size of about a cell phone.

  • 12:45:58

    TAYLORYes. Kinjo's holding in his hand.

  • 12:46:00

    NNAMDIIt's no larger than a cell phone.

  • 12:46:02

    TAYLORSo the crossover effect of accessibility, design, product that may have in mainstream society, this -- is immeasurable.

  • 12:46:15

    NNAMDII love it, and there -- as one other person said, they may have to pry it from my dead, cold hands. (laugh) Here's Maureen in Washington, D.C. Maureen, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:46:26

    MAUREEN HUNTERYes. Hi. My name is Maureen Hunter and I'm a research psychologist who works in the field of human factors engineering. And I would imagine that Jonathan Lazar and the other panel members would recognize my background. One of the most important points to bring up is that guidelines really need to be translated into hardcore technical requirements that developers must comply with. In my career in human factors over the years, in the development of hardware and software systems, including systems that address the needs of assisted -- assistive technology communities, very often if the developers do not bring in people trained in the area of human-computer interface and human factors engineering to nail down the real requirements for the user community, then, as one of your panelists suggested earlier, the software or the application is released to market, and then they later discover that it doesn't address certain populations out there in the market that need to use the technology. So over the years, I have learned that it is critical to bring in the human-computer interface and human factors engineer specialists in, at the very front end of the design loop, working...

  • 12:48:00


  • 12:48:01

    HUNTER...hand in hand with subject matter experts, including people who require assistive technologies for perceptual or motor disability.

  • 12:48:11

    NNAMDIAnd, Maureen, to underscore why that is important, let me ask Jonathan because in the aftermath of the Americans with Disabilities Act, architects and developers realized something about making a physical building accessible to people with disabilities. And that is, if you design a building without thinking about people in wheelchairs, et cetera, it's really expensive to fix it after the fact. If, on the other hand, you think about these things at the beginning, as Maureen is suggesting, it doesn't cost much more and it probably works better for everyone. Is this, what we're talking about here, the digital equivalent of that?

  • 12:48:46

    LAZARAbsolutely. If you design with accessibility in mind at the beginning of a project, there's really no extra costs involved. It is harder to retrofit. There's no question about it. What Maureen had mentioned, the guidelines and the regulations are getting clearer and more specific, and that's great. But when I say regulations, I'm not generally talking about the legal, you know, speak that Eve could describe every word of. I'm talking about the fact that, yes, there are technical specifications, and those technical specs come out of the U.S. Access Board, which actually also works in the area of the building accessibility. And so as we go into this new version of Section 508, the refresh, that the draft version came out earlier this year, the regulations are getting clearer, more specific and more useful for designers and developers and human-computer interaction professionals. And that's really what we want. I mean, as Maureen mentioned, really there is a need for getting people involved, but not only the human factors and HCI folks, but also getting users with disabilities...

  • 12:49:44


  • 12:49:45

    LAZAR…involved in the process. Give them a voice, make them a part of the development process, and you need to have this. A developer is saying, I know what others need is always gonna fail, just like it would with an architect in the building. Here's my vision for the building. I don't know who's gonna use it. I don't know who the people are. It's gonna be a failure. What you need to do is, when you're developing, you have to do user-centered design processes where you involve users, and, again, including users with disabilities. You involve folks who understand human-computer interaction. And really, you try to get a good understanding of what's actually needed, and you design it right from the beginning. That way, really, there's no extra costs involved.

  • 12:50:19

    NNAMDISeems like such a no-brainer. Maureen, thank you very much for your call. Along the same line, here is Wes in Reston, Va. Wes, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:50:29

    WES DILLONAll right. Hi. This is Wes Dillon from Deque Systems. Hi to Anne and Jonathan. I worked with them in the past. And I just wanted to reinforce, as strongly as I could, the point that they're making about how efficient it is to incorporate upfront accessible design. We work with government agencies and corporations to help them make their websites and applications accessible. In our studies, we found that there's a huge cost difference. It can be -- you can save as much as 200 percent by incorporating accessibility upfront in the design rather than having to do the retrofitting later on. And what I wanted to offer to the viewers is that we found that developers are very eager to make sites and applications accessible, but they lack training and tools. And so we created a free tool that will simulate, for developers, the experience that a disabled user actually has on a site. So you could take an e-commerce site. You could take a Worldspace FireEyes tool and scan it, and it will simulate for a sighted user the experience that a user with a disability, let's say blind, will actually have. It'll render some of the items inoperable. So you can get a firsthand experience for what this is gonna be like, and you can actually do it in the design and the development phase.

  • 12:51:56

    NNAMDIA dose of another kind of reality. Wes, thank you very much for your call. We got...

  • 12:52:01

    DILLONAll right. Thanks. Great show. Thank you.

  • 12:52:03

    NNAMDIAnd both Anne and Jonathan, say hi also.

  • 12:52:07

    LAZAR(laugh) And hi to my students who are listening right now.

  • 12:52:10

    NNAMDIWe got this e-mail from Penny. "Please ask Jonathan just how much the KNFB Reader costs and how an ordinary person who is blind can afford it, especially knowing that the unemployment rate for people who are blind is close to 70 percent."

  • 12:52:24

    LAZARThat's a great question. I believe it costs between about 1,600 and 1,800, Anne, we are saying?

  • 12:52:28


  • 12:52:29


  • 12:52:29

    LAZARRight. Employment really is a big problem for blind users and I know the statistics are for blind individuals. We've talked about that many times before that the unemployment rate is around 70 percent. And so, really, that's been an issue that we've all been discussing and the NFB has been working on. And one of the core problems related to that is that many of the hiring processes, right? The online websites. You know, you go to certain aggregator job websites, they are also inaccessible.

  • 12:52:56

    HILLThat's right. And the employer's websites as well. So you -- if you're a blind user and you wanna apply for a job, the very first thing you have to do is go through a special process and tell them all that you're blind. And this tends to lead people to say -- to think things like, oh, this person's blind. Not sure if we're gonna be able to accommodate that. Look, we can't even do the application process right. And so that's got to be a disincentive to hiring people with disabilities. And it's -- completely unnecessary, and I believe illegal barrier to employment of people with disabilities.

  • 12:53:25

    NNAMDIHere is Kathy in Washington, D.C. Hi, Kathy.

  • 12:53:28


  • 12:53:30

    NNAMDIYou're on the air.

  • 12:53:30


  • 12:53:31

    NNAMDIGo ahead, please.

  • 12:53:31

    MARTINEZThis is Kathy Martinez. I know some of you there. (laugh)

  • 12:53:35

    HILLHi, Kathy.

  • 12:53:36

    MARTINEZHi. And I'm calling to say that -- well, three things. One, so much of the technology that we use today has been invented because of people with disabilities. Two, thanks for leading into the discussion of employment. Six thousand baby boomers a day are turning 65. Many of these folks are not gonna be able to retire at 65, but are gonna have to work well into their old age. So technology is really critical to that happening. And I think, you know, when we see people aging into their disabilities, aging being the biggest cause of disability in this country now, it cannot be an issue of us and them.

  • 12:54:20


  • 12:54:20

    MARTINEZAnd third, the market factor -- you know, just the markets for people with disabilities is massive. Just look at the cruise industry, the casinos.

  • 12:54:31


  • 12:54:32


  • 12:54:32

    MARTINEZThere are -- and technology is critical to people with disabilities being able to spend their money.

  • 12:54:38

    NNAMDIAnd Kathy is -- Kathy Martinez, you are an assistant secretary of labor on disability affairs, are you not?

  • 12:54:45


  • 12:54:46

    NNAMDIWe expose everybody on this broadcast.

  • 12:54:47

    MARTINEZFair and clear exposure. (laugh)

  • 12:54:49

    NNAMDIKathy, thank you very much for calling and sharing that with us.

  • 12:54:52

    MARTINEZThank you very much.

  • 12:54:53

    NNAMDIThe number to call is 800-433-8850, although we're running out of time. So here is Tom in Lanham, Md. Tom, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:55:02

    TOMGood afternoon. Kudos to the work you're doing and I'll make this really fast. I have a blind relative who also has advanced MS that makes his voice very, very weak and he can barely hear me even face-to-face. So to use voice-activated technology even a cell phone...

  • 12:55:16


  • 12:55:16

    TOMI don't know of any -- are there any, like, products like a headset voice amplifier that would help someone like him on the market?

  • 12:55:23

    TAYLORMay I answer that?

  • 12:55:23


  • 12:55:25

    TAYLORActually, Tom, I would like to invite you to come to the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. We may have many types of technologies that could be useful to him. Now, we have about $2.5 million worth of access technology that we do independent evaluation on these technologies. So we don't sell anything there. You'll get straight from us whether what -- whether the technology works or doesn't work. So let me know when you wanna come and we'll make it happen.

  • 12:56:01

    NNAMDIDoes that work for you, Tom?

  • 12:56:01

    TOMOkay. How do I find that out? How do I find that out real quick, where to go or...?

  • 12:56:02

    TAYLORYou could come to, and you can go to product and technology link on our site. And there is information about the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind. By the way, it is the only facility like this in the world. And, you know, we have it in our backyard in Maryland. So we also cover website design and other things. If any company who wants to work with us on web accessibility and don't know how, we'll be glad to sit down and talk you. We -- we're after access and we want more access to information.

  • 12:56:42

    NNAMDIAnd, Tom, you can find a link to that website at our website, Good luck to you. Thank you very much for your call. Anne, you work with Apple on some of their products. The iPad and the iPod Touch actually have Braille overlays. Is that correct?

  • 12:56:56

    TAYLORWell, the -- by default, neither the iPad nor the iPod Touch have Braille overlay. However, there are overlay that you can buy.

  • 12:57:05


  • 12:57:05

    TAYLORBut what Apple has done is including gesturing as part of accessibility designs. So I can actually swipe my finger on the iPhone or iPod Touch or an iPad to go to various icons and double tap on them to open various applications on that device. It is a really neat thing.

  • 12:57:28

    NNAMDISpeaking of swiping, here is your K-NFB reader back. I've decided...

  • 12:57:32

    TAYLORThank you very much.

  • 12:57:33

    NNAMDI...not to swipe it after all.

  • 12:57:35

    TAYLORThank you.

  • 12:57:36

    NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Anne Taylor is director of Access Technology with the National Federation of the Blind. Anne, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:57:43

    TAYLORThank you very much for having me.

  • 12:57:44

    NNAMDIEve Hill is senior vice president with the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University. Eve, thank you for coming in.

  • 12:57:50

    HILLThank you. It's my pleasure.

  • 12:57:51

    NNAMDIAnd Jonathan Lazar is a professor of computer and information sciences and director of the Universal Usability Laboratory at Towson University. Jonathan, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:58:01

    LAZARThank you for addressing this important topic.

Related Links

Topics + Tags

Most Recent Shows