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While the accessibility of voting locations still leaves a lot to be desired (an estimated 60% of polling places have impediments for people in wheelchairs according to a 2017 government study), sometimes problems persist even when the buildings and the voting mechanisms themselves are accessible. Lack of training for the people manning the polling places means even the technology for text magnification, height adjustments, or audio features exists, the people who need these features are unable to take advantage of it. The director of Paraquad, a disability services and support organization in St Louis notes that “There is a lot of hesitation and sometimes confusion from poll workers on what they can do.” Other polling stations are using assistive technology that’s over 20 years old. Privacy concerns arise when voters are unable to enter a building and must cast their vote outside - often by telling the pollsters who they’d like to vote for. While there have been definite upgrades inaccessible voting practices in the decades since the ADA was passed, there is still room for much improvement. 

Unless their eyes are closed and covered with soap, most sighted people rarely mistake the shampoo bottle for the conditioner or vice versa. Unfortunately, this is an everyday annoyance for visually impaired people, as shampoo and conditioner bottles generally lack differentiating physical characteristics.

Recently, however, P&G’s obsession with their customers led them into inclusive design territory: they decided to add vertical lines on the bottom of Herbal Essences’ shampoo bottles and circles to the bottom of the conditioner bottles to eliminate confusion for their visually impaired customers.

While medicinal product packaging must have Braille in Europe, no such regulation exists in the United States. Advocates and people with disabilities hope P&G’s initiative will spark a chang in mindset among other consumer packaged goods companies.

After years of dedicated service to WordPress’ accessibility team, team lead Rian Rietveld has announced her resignation. Citing political complications and multiple accessibility-related problems with Gutenberg (WordPress’ new editor), as her reason for leaving, Rian wished her successor, Matthew MacPherson, the best moving forward.

Considering that WordPress is one of the most popular content management systems in the world (currently powering 30% of the websites on the internet), its efforts towards accessibility are not only crucial for people with disabilities, but to set an example for the rest of the internet. For years there was no dedicated accessibility developer from Automattic (WordPress’ parent organization), but with the addition of Matt to the team there’s hope that the issues plaguing Gutenberg will be resolved. 

On September 18 Orioles and Blue Jays fans were treated to a special display: the Baltimore baseball team sported jerseys with Braille spelling out their team and letter names. Fans also received Braille alphabet cards and listened to blind pianist Carlos Ibay sing the national anthem. The Orioles’ show of support was to honor the 40th anniversary of the National Federation of the Blind moving their headquarters to Baltimore. The jerseys will subsequently be auctioned off, with proceeds going to the NFB.

Concerned with the rapidly increasing number of accessibility lawsuits filed in the US, two Iowa senators, Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, have asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate how exactly the ADA applies to web accessibility. In a letter co-authored by contemporaries in four other states, they wrote “At this time, the lack of regulatory clarity benefits only the plaintiffs’ lawyers...Clarity in the law will encourage private investment in technology and other measures that will improve conditions for the disabled.” While it is widely accepted (and repeatedly upheld by the DOJ) that website accessibility falls under Title II and III of the ADA, the lack of specific language regarding digital accessibility has promulgated a gray area that leads to frustration for both defendants and plaintiffs. 

A new machine being rolled out in Florida voting facilities this fall promises an inclusive voting experience for all users, regardless of their physical abilities. Known as ExpressVote, this machine boasts multiple capabilities that cater to all manner of physical disabilities. A touch screen allows users to enlarge, darken, and lighten the screen to suit their particular needs. For voters who rely on audio, ExpressVote offers the option to listen to ballot choices through headphones and verbally choose a selection. It even has Braille. Once the vote is confirmed, it is printed and tabulated along with the rest of the votes. While many voters with disabilities choose to mail in their votes, ExpressVote provides one more way that they can experience the world just like everyone else.

Ahmet Ustunel inspired the world when he made the solo trip from Asia to Europe without being able to see a thing. Aided by a GPS that beeps to warn him if he steers off course and a Victor Stream Reader, he dodged shipping vessels and navigated choppy waves to successfully cross the 3-mile strait. His courageous expedition was funded by his winnings from the Holman Prize, a Lighthouse initiative intended to support exceptional endeavors of “blind ambition.” 

While many hands have wrung over the allegedly eminent “death of the printed book” due to e-readers, that’s actually not the case reported reading both e- and regular books. Not exactly a death spiral.

Braille books, however, being much more unwieldy and expensive than traditional printed books, have felt the e-reader presence more so. In 1963, over 60% of blind students used Braille books for reading; by 2011 that number had dropped to just 11%. Experts believe the rapidly improving speech-to-text technology is the primary reason for the drop, but availability and accessibility of e-books has also contributed.

But for those who appreciate the tactile experience of a good read through Braille, along with the cognitive benefits that accompany the act of reading, Harvard is coming to the rescue with reprogrammable Braille books. The method: a stylus imprints dots on a flexible elastic shell (which retains the imprints of the stylus), but readers have the ability to “erase” the imprints, allowing different configurations to replace the originals. This process would make Braille books infinitely easier to produce, as well as minimize their bulk– the Braille version of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix(already quite a sizeable tome) contains a whopping 30% more pages than its regular printed version.

While there is still much work to be done to refine the process, researchers are excited by the prospect. Stay tuned for the next evolution of Braille books.

New research from the CDC shows that one in four US adults have a disability that impacts their daily activities. The most common one is mobility disability, which disproportionately affects older adults ages 65 and above at a rate of 40%. The research also reveals an inverse relationship between income and disability, especially mobility. According to the CDC, “mobility disability is nearly five times as common among middle-aged (45- to 64-year old) adults living below the poverty level compared to those whose income is twice the poverty level.” The study also reported that those with vision disabilities were the least likely to have access to medical care.

On August 19, legally blind plaintiff Himelda Mendez filed a lawsuit against Apple, alleging an inability to navigate Apple’s site due to multiple WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) violations. One noted infraction was the absence of alternative text on images and links. As many visually impaired individuals use a screen reader to navigate websites, missing “alt-text” poses a huge barrier to site accessibility–screen readers are only as helpful as the text they can find to read.

Apple has been a long-standing proponent of accessibility practices; its products are all intentionally designed to be used by people with a wide range of physical abilities. If Mendez’s claim turns out to be accurate, this lawsuit could tarnish its sterling brand and discredit its many advances in the field of accessible technology. 


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