Google announces literary activities to help kids evaluate and analyze media as they browse the Internet

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Mom and Daughter are lying in bed together looking at an ipad and smiling

Google is pleased to announce the addition of 6 new media literacy activities to the 2019 edition of Be Internet Awesome. Designed to help kids analyze and evaluate media as they navigate the Internet, the new lessons address educators’ growing interest in teaching media literacy.

They were developed in collaboration with Anne Collier, executive director of The Net Safety Collaborative, and Faith Rogow, PhD, co-author of The Teacher’s Guide to Media Literacy and a co-founder of the National Association for Media Literacy Education. Because media literacy is essential to safety and citizenship in the digital age, the news lessons complement Be Internet Awesome ’s digital safety and citizenship topics.

Overview of new activities:
1. Share with Care: That’s not what I meant!
● Overview: Students will learn the importance of asking the question: “How might others interpret what I share?” They’ll learn to read visual cues people use to communicate information about themselves and to draw conclusions about others.

2. Share with Care: Frame it
● Overview: Students will learn to see themselves as media creators. They’ll understand that media makers make choices about what to show and what to keep outside the frame. They’ll apply the concept of framing to understand the difference between what to make visible and public online and what to keep “invisible.”

3. Don’t Fall for Fake: Is that really true?
● Overview: Students will learn how to apply critical thinking to discern between what’s credible and non-credible in the many kinds of media they run into online.

4. Don’t Fall for Fake: Spotting disinformation online
● Overview: Students will learn how to look for and analyze clues to what is and isn’t reliable information online.

5. It’s Cool to Be Kind: How words can change a picture
● Overview: Students will learn to make meaning from the combination of pictures and words and will understand how a caption can change what we think a picture is communicating. They will gain an appreciation for the power of their own words, especially when combined with pictures they post.

6. When in Doubt, Talk It Out: What does it mean to be brave?
● Overview: Students will think about what it means to be brave online and IRL, where they got their ideas about “brave” and how media affect their thinking about it.

Expanding resources to families
YMCA
We teamed up with the YMCA across six cities to host bilingual workshops for parents to help teach families about online safety and digital citizenship with Be Internet Awesome and help families create healthy digital habits with the Family Link app. The workshops, designed for parents, coincide with June’s National Internet Safety Month and come at the start of the school summer holidays.

Continue on here to read more.

Jeanine Cook is the 2020 Winner of the Richard A. Tapia Achievement Award

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Jeanine Cook with her horse

Jeanine Cook, a principal member of technical staff at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico in the Scalable Architectures department at the Computer Science Research Institute, has received the 2020 Richard A. Tapia Achievement Award for Scientific Scholarship, Civic Science and Diversifying Computing.

The award was presented for her many achievements in computer science research in the areas of high-performance computing, performance characterization and modeling, hardware accelerator technologies, edge-computing, large-scale system monitoring and data analytics; her work in diversifying computer science for the disabled; and her teaching and mentorship of students while an associate professor at New Mexico State University. The award was presented by Richard Tapia at the 2020 ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference.

Raised by her parents in Colorado, Cook’s father, a physics PhD., inspired his daughters in their love of computers from an early age. Her mother was a home maker whose own mother came from New Mexico while it was still part of Mexico. Jeanine chose to pursue a BS in Electrical Engineering at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. It was in her second semester at college that her life changed.

Driving home one night she fell asleep at the wheel and drove off an embankment. She broke her back and severely damaged her spinal cord. She soon realized that she had decisions to make on how to live her life. She made a critical decision to choose life, joy and positivity. She was lucky to have many friends who came to see her in the hospital and rehab facility to not only support her but to learn how to enable her to continue on her chosen path. Friends learned how to assist with her self-care, assemble and disassemble her wheelchairs so they could be transported and encouraged her constantly. The incredible outpouring of support and her very close family enabled her to continue her education.

“My friends changed my life. They stood by me and supported me when they really didn’t have to. Because they loved me and encouraged me, I was able to be happy and positive about my future,” said Cook.

Jeanine received her BS and continued with her master’s degree at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She decided to pursue a PhD program. While many of the East Coast Universities had very attractive programs, she realized that many of their campuses were not wheelchair accessible. She attended New Mexico State University and received her PhD in Electrical Engineering. She then joined the university as an associate professor. During her eleven-year tenure, she graduated eight PhD students and twelve Masters theses students. She was extremely successful in securing research funding, and in 2009 received the Presidential Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from President George Bush and the Frank Bromilow Excellence In Research Award from the College of Engineering, New Mexico State University.

While teaching she also became involved in a wide array of diversity and inclusion programs focused on people with disabilities. One of her early lessons came from attending a diversity workshop in a hotel in Florida.

The hotel itself was not accessible which she discovered her first morning there. She ended up falling and had to be moved to a hotel down the road. This renewed her resolve to become even more involved to make sure that accessibility was part of diversity and inclusion in computing. She participated in the Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) of the National Science Foundation (NSF) as an external subcommittee member and was active in the Development of the CISE Strategic Plan for Broadening Participation. She was a leader in BPC programs focused on getting people with disabilities introduced to computer science at an early age. She developed and delivered workshops all over Pennsylvania, Texas and Colorado—anywhere there were populations of disabled people. These workshops provided information on how to fund college, navigate campuses and pursue their academic careers. She has also been involved in capacity building work with AccessComputing and delivered talks at CAHSI (Computing Alliance of Hispanic-Serving Institutions). Additionally, Cook is a member of the Center for Minorities and People with Disabilities in Informational Technology (CMD-IT) board.

After teaching for 11 years, Cook reached a turning point. She was feeling burnt out from the load of both teaching, raising money for projects and the research. A colleague from Sandia National Laboratory called to ask her to take on an additional project. She simply proposed, “Why don’t you just hire me?” Joining Sandia National Laboratory was a better solution for her physically and allowed her to enjoy her passion for horses and riding.

“My accident gave me a greater appreciation for life at an early age. I learned a lot about myself and other people,” Cook said. “Life is a daily struggle and nothing is easy except rolling downhill. The people in my life that embraced me, stood by and encouraged me when they didn’t have to gave me the ability to make the decision to not let the accident ruin my life or stop me from enjoying life.”

Award-Winning Code Jumper Helps Kids Learn Coding

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yound disabled boy playing with building blocks on coffee table

The Consumer Technology Association has awarded American Printing House (APH) with a highly coveted Best of Innovation award in the Accessibility category for its Code Jumper, an inclusive product that allows children who are blind or visually impaired to learn computer coding alongside their sighted peers.

Originally designed by Microsoft and developed by APH, Code Jumper is an incredible innovation that teaches children ages 7-11, regardless of their level of vision, computer coding skills.

Children not only learn basic programming concepts, such as sequencing, iteration, selection, and variables, but also learn skills like computational thinking and debugging, which can serve them in all areas of life.

“Every child should have equal access to the important jobs being created in the technology field.

Code Jumper gives them that access and opens a path to a meaningful career,” explains APH CEO Craig Meador. “We hope to inspire other companies to design products that are inclusive and ensure the future belongs to everyone.”

Best Friends Given 2% Survival Rate at Birth Beat the Odds, Graduate Together

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Best friends Odin Frost and Jordon Granberry in wheelchairs next to each other on graduation day

Two best friends given a 2% survival rate at birth beat the odds and graduated from their school in Tyler, Texas, last Thursday.

Odin Frost is non-verbal autistic, and his best friend, Jordon Granberry, had brain damage due to complications at birth that led to a lack of oxygen in the brain, Odin’s dad, Tim Frost, said.

Frost shared a post of the two best friends that went viral on Reddit, showing Odin and Jordon on the first day of school and on graduation day.

The father recalled Odin and Jordon playfully bonding from that very first day of their special needs school, which started at age 3.

“Jordon had just bit Odin, and Odin retaliated by pinching him back,” Frost said to NBC 5 via Instagram direct message. “I think that was their way of showing each other what they were capable of, and in a funny way, a bonding moment.”

Frost explained that the two were told they would never walk and live in a vegetative state if they made it past 7 years old.

But Odin was the first to walk, and he would push Jordon’s wheelchair as the two defied the odds and developed a special relationship that endured through 18 years of school.

“Most kids Odin’s age, as well as adults, have not been kind to him,” Frost said. “They look on, stare or even are scared of them … [However], with each other, there never was any thought in the world that there was something different or wrong with them, as it should be.”

And on June 16, Odin and Jordon both graduated in what Frost called a “surreal” moment, holding his son’s hand across the stage and trying to hold back tears.

“We almost didn’t go,” Frost said. “We wanted to keep him safe, same with Jordon’s parents. But something in us said, ‘We can’t let Odin miss out on graduation.’ I never graduated high school or even went to high school, so I didn’t want him to be robbed of this privilege.”

And now Odin and Jordon are officially high school graduates and also internet famous.

Continue on to NBC News to read the complete article.

How Emojis are Improving Inclusion

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In fall this year, we can expect an array of new emojis coming to our smart devices, including ones that are more inclusive to differing genders.

The Unicode Consortium announced earlier this year that there would be 62 new emojis coming to smart devices, including 55 emojis that will strive to be more gender inclusive.

Emojis of the transgender flag and of non-binary individuals in occupations that were previously only available as women and men will be just some of the new additions we can expect to see.

 

Some of the new gender inclusive emojis to be released later this year
Some of the new gender inclusive emojis to be released later this year

By implementing these emojis, people of differing gender identities will not only be able to express themselves through messages and social media in a smaller, normalized way, but will also attempt to include those of all genders to feel validated in who they are.

While these emojis are set to appear on most devices around September or October, some smart devices could receive the new additions early.

New Braille Keyboard Opens Many Doors

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Two hands reading a book in braille

With the popularity of the smartphone, many people within the visually impaired community have used the voice dictation feature to write a text message. However, within the last few weeks, Google’s Android makes talk to text the second way that people with visual impairments can communicate.

In the last few weeks, Google released a new braille keyboard on its Android 5.0 products—Talkback.

The keyboard will be available in braille grades 1 and 2 in English and will utilize a six-key system, each key representing one of the six braille dots. Each key will be numbered one through six and be combined into different number combinations to form words and sentences, allowing for words to be written on the smartphone entirely in braille. Deletion of words and spaces will also be possible in a simple two-finger swipe to either the left or the right.
As smartphones became more popular, many worried that using braille would soon become obsolete to the next generation with visual impairments. In some instances, braille keyboards could be attached to devices to write messages, but that would require carrying around a keyboard in addition to your cellular device. Talkback will not only make messaging easier and more compact for those with visual impairments but will also help advocate the importance of learning braille.

Talkback is only one of the many tools available to those with visual impairments for navigating smart technology through Android’s Accessibility Suite. To learn more about the product, click here or to learn how to set the system up on your device, click here 

30 Years After ADA: Where are We Now?

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Logo Reading ADA 30 Americans with Disabilities Act. Celebrate the ADA! July 26, 2020

By Shelby Bril

I sustained an incomplete spinal cord injury in 2010, resulting in impaired mobility and the need to use a walker. The idea of navigating life in a new body seemed daunting but I knew it wasn’t impossible. With the right equipment and accessibility of public spaces, I knew I’d be able to continue to work full time, bring my child to the park, pick her up from school, go to the store, and attend events without the worry of being left out due to inaccessibility or discrimination. It never crossed my mind that my rights as a U.S. citizen could be in jeopardy.

Before the ADA

If I would’ve been injured in a different time—a time before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)—my life would have been much different. My freedom, ability to earn a living, raise my child and just live everyday life would have been severely hindered.

Before the ADA, discrimination against people with disabilities was totally legal. Employers could pay people with disabilities less than their non-disabled counterparts, or refuse to hire them all together just because they’re disabled. Wheelchair users couldn’t ride the buses or trains, because they weren’t wheelchair accessible. Restaurants and grocery stores could refuse service to people with disabilities. Even government entities denied rights that we now take for granted, like voting or getting a driver’s license.

Championed by Ted Kennedy, the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law on July 26, 1990. Senator Kennedy fought passionately for the bill, having seen first-hand the challenges faced by his sister who was born with an intellectual disability, and his son who became an amputee after losing a leg to bone cancer.

The ADA prevents discrimination against people with disabilities, with regulations that cover employment, government services, education, public accommodations, telecommunications, and transportation.

Thanks to the ADA, we’ve created a public environment that works for all U.S. citizens, not just the able-bodied. Disability can happen anytime and to anyone, due to accident, chronic disease, illness or just aging. With this in mind, the ADA is a protective measure for non-disabled citizens and an inclusive one for those with disabilities.

Now, thirty years later, we’ve become accustomed to the way of life inspired by the Americans with Disabilities Act. We have better access to education, healthcare, and other services than we did before the ADA was passed. Elevators, curb cut-outs and braille on ATM’s are simply part of the landscape. In fact, we’re surprised if any of those things are missing. So, what more needs to be done at this point?

Better Enforcement of ADA Rules

ADA accessibility is not included in standard building inspections. Right now, accessibility rules are only enforced when a person with a disability has experienced a barrier to access in a public space or building and is willing to sue those who don’t comply. Even if a lawsuit is filed, it’s easy for businesses to claim that the necessary updates to meet ADA standards are too costly or difficult. Currently, the ADA does not impose undue hardships on businesses, which means many are able to treat equality for people with disabilities as an option rather than a requirement. There is no excuse, 30 years after the passing of the ADA, for businesses to be inaccessible. If any other minority group was excluded from a building, the public outcry would be huge. People with disabilities deserve the same respect and consideration as everyone else.

When it comes to ADA standards, the focus needs to shift away from doing the bare minimum to avoid a lawsuit, and instead concentrate on Universal Design. Buildings, public spaces, and products should be accessible to all people, regardless of ability or disability. Universal Design celebrates the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act, in that it aims to increase productivity and enjoyment for everyone in our society.

Employment Opportunities

The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities by employers, and yet, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 8 percent of people with disabilities were unemployed in 2018, compared to only 3.7 percent of people without a disability.

A college degree improves the chance of finding a job, with 28.5 percent of disabled college graduates finding employment, compared to 15.6 percent of disabled job seekers who only have a high school diploma.

The good news is that with each passing year comes a new batch of people with disabilities who have college degrees, thanks to better access to education.

The disabled community is clearly still experiencing discrimination in the job market, likely due to stigma and ignorance on the part of the employers as a whole and individuals who do the hiring. Employers need to increase efforts to recruit qualified people with disabilities, provide training to management and necessary accommodations to disabled workers.

The Americans with Disabilities Act was a huge step forward for our society. It created positive change in the lives of generations of people with disabilities, their families, friends, and colleagues. For thirty years, the ADA has served as a foundation for people with disabilities to fight for their rights and avoid discrimination.

Although there is still work to be done, there is no doubt that the ADA has shown that it’s ok to celebrate our differences and build an infrastructure that suits us all.

Shelby Smallwood is a writer and blogger on a journey to learn how to be disabled in an able-bodied world. After sustaining an incomplete spinal cord injury in 2010, Shelby gained first-hand experience with the difficulties and indirect discrimination faced by people living with disabilities. In an effort to raise awareness and affect positive change Shelby writes about disability, social psychology, culture, etiquette, parenting and humor on her blog, thatzhowiroll.com.

A Paralyzing Injury Brings New Perspective

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Oluwaferanmi Okanlami, M.D., M.S.

By Lauren Love

Oluwaferanmi Okanlami, M.D., M.S., distinctly understands both sides of a catastrophic medical event. That’s because he has been both a patient and a doctor in that scenario.

In 2013, Okanlami was on his way to becoming an orthopaedic surgeon. The University of Michigan Medical School graduate was in his third year of residency at Yale New Haven Hospital in Connecticut.

But his dreams were almost derailed after sustaining a spinal cord injury at a Fourth of July pool party with friends and fellow residents.

“I jumped into the pool,” he says. “I didn’t do a backflip or anything like that. There was no diving board, but I hit either the ground or the side of the pool or someone’s leg. I can’t be completely sure, but immediately I was unable to move anything from my chest down.”

Okanlami’s medical instincts kicked in. “In my mind, I was thinking of next steps: Stabilize my spine, get me onto the stretcher and get me to the hospital,” he says. He also credits his colleagues for the expert care he was given from the beginning—quickly springing to action, getting him from the pool to the emergency department and onto the operating room table in record time.

Faith and Progress

Okanlami’s journey after the accident seems like something out of a Hollywood movie. Despite breaking his neck and becoming paralyzed from the neck down, he never doubted he’d be able to live a productive and independent life, still planning to leave his mark on the world.

“I have an interesting intersection of science and faith, such that even if doctors had said I would never walk again, I wasn’t going to let that limit what I hoped for my recovery,” Okanlami says. “I know there is so much we don’t know about spinal cord injury, and I know the Lord can work miracles.”

On Sept. 8, 2013, just two months after the accident, Okanlami moved his leg again.

“It was one of the most amazing days of my life,” he says. “It wasn’t a small flicker of a little muscle. I extended my leg at the knee. It was pretty sweet.”

A Renewed Energy

The accident didn’t end Okanlami’s professional pursuit, but it did send him down a different path. After months of inpatient rehabilitation, he moved home to South Bend, Indiana, to live with his parents—both doctors themselves—to continue extensive outpatient rehabilitation.

While learning to walk again, Okanlami found time for many other achievements.

He earned a master’s degree in engineering, science and technology entrepreneurship from the ESTEEM Program at the University of Notre Dame. He was appointed by the mayor of South Bend to sit on the county’s board of health. He became the coach of the River City Rollers, a wheelchair basketball team.

And as if all of that weren’t enough, he also went back to being a doctor.

“During my rehabilitation period, I was blessed with the opportunity to return to work as a physician in the family medicine residency program at Memorial Hospital in South Bend,” says Okanlami. “I was able to take care of patients from cradle to grave—delivering babies, taking care of patients in nursing homes and everything in between.”

His journey came full circle in early 2018 when he joined the Family Medicine and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation faculty at Michigan Medicine.

Shifting Attitudes and Awareness

Dedicated to the belief that disability does not mean inability, Okanlami is more than just a doctor. He’s also an advocate and mentor for physicians and patients with similar backgrounds.

More than 20 percent of Americans live with a disability, after all, but as few as 2.7 percent of them are practicing physicians. One reason for the gap: Technical standards used for admission at many medical schools require physical aptitude, which can inadvertently exclude applicants with disabilities.

Okanlami found a perfect match at UM Family Medicine. A new social media campaign, #DocsWithDisabilities, based out of the Family Medicine department, is working to raise awareness about doctors with disabilities. Okanlami and his colleagues share a passion for and a focus on disability inclusion in medicine that is fueling their research agenda. Doctors Philip Zazove, Michael McKee, Lisa Meeks and others are researching mechanisms for improving access to medicine for physician, learner and patient populations.

“Increasing physician diversity has a positive impact on patient care and access for other marginalized groups,” says Meeks, a leading researcher in disabilities in medical education and a clinician scholar at U-M’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.

Okanlami’s vision led to a joint appointment in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation as well as a role in The Office for Health Equity and Inclusion—partnerships he hopes to further his desire to “disabuse disability” and create a health system that is inclusive and accessible to all.

Standing Strong

While he can’t run yet, Okanlami can walk using assistive devices, some of which he has worked with a rehabilitation engineer to design and create. He also has a standing frame wheelchair that has been more versatile than he could have imagined. Despite his love for gadgets, he still tries to make time for regular exercise to stay physically fit for now, but with a goal of leaving the assistive devices behind one day.

Source: Michigan Medicine
Photo Credit: Michigan Medicine – University of Michigan

Discussions on Artificial Intelligence Dominate HR Tech 2019

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Collage image of people attending and speaking at the HR tech conference

The team observed three key themes for accessible technology and the impact of emerging technology on people with disabilities while participating in HR Tech 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The HR Technology Conference & Exposition (HR Tech) is one of the top global events showcasing emerging technologies and tools transforming the human relations (HR) industry.

This year, platforms utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) continued to trend at HR Tech.

The conference also infused a new focus on mitigating bias and ensuring that AI tools can align with corporate goals for diverse and inclusive hiring.

Our team observed three key themes for accessible technology and the impact of emerging technology on people with disabilities while participating in HR Tech 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

These themes included AI activities at the forefront, C-suite support for access to emerging technology, and bridging gaps in inclusion in AI focuses.

Artificial Intelligence is Front and Center

HR Tech 2019 featured several sessions related to AI bias in emerging technology. Dmitri Krakovsky, the head of Hire for Google, emphasized that “AI will have the greatest impact when everyone can access it and when it is built with everyone’s benefit in mind.” Several other speakers at HR Tech 2019 outlined key strategies for mitigating the bias that AI can introduce into the hiring process. Himanshu Aggarwal, CEO & Co-founder of the AI-powered platform Aspiring Minds, described strategies for using AI responsibly.

Aggarwal and other speakers also noted that:

  • AI measurements can offer broad indicators about a candidate’s qualifications, but humans need to be involved in the process for selecting data sets and evaluating the data to minimize and mitigate bias.
  • The data measured and collected must be directly job-related; otherwise, companies may face increased risks for discrimination (intentionally or unintentionally).

John Sumser, Editor-in-Chief of HR Examiner (an online magazine), also illustrated the landscape of challenges presented by AI usage by adopting the metaphor of a fruit salad. He noted that AI programs can excel in identifying the individual ingredients that comprise the fruit said, while missing what he considers the best part entirely: “the mixed-up juice at the bottom.” Sumser also stressed that an AI system could mistakenly identify the polka dots on the fruit salad bowl as another ingredient. He offered this advice for working with AI-focused systems:

  • AI is here, so start planning for it and include your legal team in the discussion.
  • Be aware that machines may make major mistakes when using AI today.
  • Machines can have biases pre-programmed in because they are designed intentionally with algorithms that can reflect the biases of their designers and developers.

C-Suite Support is Essential

HR professionals at HR Tech and elsewhere have increasingly viewed accessibility as a business imperative—but only when it is driven and championed at the executive level. Vendors at HR Tech noted that they only observed enthusiasm for accessibility from HR professionals themselves when corresponding commitment from leaders in the C-suite was also present. These experiences dovetailed with our team’s own understanding and insight into how to drive adoption of technology accessibility–that making forward progress requires solid support from top-level corporate leadership to be strongly effective.

Awareness of Disability Inclusion Lags in AI Discussions

When approached with questions about the AI behind their products, HR Tech vendors eagerly described their strategies for mitigating bias. However, most vendors only discussed how their strategies dealt with biases for gender and race. Few vendors showed sufficient knowledge of the issue to respond to this question in depth with respect to disability. We know from our work in promoting accessible workplace technology that people with disabilities represent a very heterogeneous group; this group contains many people considered outliers when compared with people without disabilities.

Thus, we find it very critical that these platforms pay careful attention to multi-factored dimensions of inclusion. We also find it imperative to recall wisdom from leaders like Jutta Treviranus, Director of the Inclusive Design Research Centre at OCAD University in Toronto, Canada. She notes that success in reducing disability-related biases in AI requires approaches rooted in the jagged starburst of human data—rather than simple bell curves.

HR Tech 2019 also reminded our team that awareness about the impact of emerging technology on people with disabilities remains the major immediate hurdle—especially when companies increasingly seek to benefit from inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace. Unless HR systems align with diversity-focused hiring goals, companies will not fully realize the business advantages of hiring people with disabilities. In fact, new research from Disability:IN and the American Association of People with Disabilities showed that businesses leading in inclusion of people with disabilities saw a 28 percent gain in revenue. These organizations also witnessed a doubling of their net income and a 30 percent increase in economic profit margins.

Exploring Tangible Pathways for XR Accessibility at the 2019 W3C Workshop

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Women in wheelchair at the access symposium wearing the Oculus headgear

Lately, the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT) has met many people across industry and academia who are enthusiastically driving a new wave of (XR) technologies. This community’s commitment to accessible and inclusive XR solutions is essential, and we were excited to join a recent workshop in Seattle, Washington exploring these issues in depth.

Hosted by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the workshop’s goal was to discuss strategies for making XR platforms on the web using principles of inclusive design.

Below, please check out the takeaways our team gathered for tackling the unique accessibility challenges of XR—and how accessible XR can increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

XR Is Made for Accessibility

Speakers throughout the day conveyed an overarching theme: XR naturally lends itself to inclusive design. Josh O’Connor from the W3C noted that XR can provide “rich, accessible alternatives” that do more than simply convey text on a web page. In fact, XR can offer a full accessible experience with multiple modes of interaction based around the user’s needs and preferences.

Creating XR tools often means blending physical and digital environments, which contains checkpoints for overlaying accessibility features directly onto the world. Common recommendations emerged throughout the day from several speakers, including: the importance of building accessible XR hand or eye controllers for people with varied dexterity, possibilities for plain language guidance to support cognitive accessibility.

Several speakers also discussed exciting research on tangible accessibility solutions:

Meredith Ringel Morris from Microsoft demoed SeeingVR, a set of tools to make virtual reality more accessible to people with low vision.

Wendy Dannels from the Rochester Institute of Technology presented her research to deliver auditory accessibility using XR.

Melina Möhlne from IRT showcased her research on how to display subtitles in 360° media.

Building XR with Meaning

During the event, we discussed the guiding question of how to extend existing web accessibility standards to XR platforms. For example, what factors could we apply from the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and the Web Accessibility Initiative’s ARIA standards (Accessible Rich Internet Applications)?

Taking a step back, this question really concerns how to build XR that conveys meaning to people with and without disabilities. ARIA attributes work for websites because they provide labels for specific features like checkboxes and forms. XR spaces are essentially boundless. Because many more types of objects require labeling, participants generally doubted ARIA’s abilities to transfer to XR.

Fortunately, a new file type called glTF could help us assign meaning in XR spaces. Chris Joel from Google presented glTF as a counterpart to jpeg image files. While jpeg is for pictures, glTF is for 3-D objects and scenes. These files carry the ability to add immaculate labels with rich text information that makes them more accessible. This text can be legible to screen readers, and it can provide plain language guidance to aid with cognitive accessibility.

However, questions remained about just how much information to feed the user, as opposed to letting them figure out the 3-D space on their own. Participants wondered how we can make this information production easier for the developers creating glTF files— and of course, what other solutions might exist to build XR with meaning.

How Can We Use XR at Work?

XR includes virtual, augmented, immersive, and mixed reality tools, and the applications are staggering. In the workplace, these XR tools can bolster functions like virtual meetings and online training. XR can also provide a platform for workers to engage more intimately with 3-D models, which span domains like architecture, medicine, engineering, and manufacturing.

PEAT looks forward to continued involvement in making XR more accessible through our partnership with the XR Access Initiative. For more on the topic of accessible XR technologies, check out our key takeaways from the 2019 MAVRIC Conference on Achieving Measurable Results with XR.

Google Seeks Help From People With Down Syndrome

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A man with voice recognition on his phone

Voice computing is the future of tech— devices like smart-home systems and internet-enabled speakers are leading a shift away from screens and towards speech. But for people with unique speech patterns, these devices can be inaccessible when speech-recognition technology fails to understand what users are saying.

Google is aiming to change that with a new initiative dubbed “Project Understood.” The company is partnering with the Canadian Down Syndrome Society to solicit hundreds of voice recordings from people with Down syndrome in order to train its voice recognition AI to better understand them.

“Out of the box, Google’s speech recognizer would not recognize every third word for a person with Down syndrome, and that makes the technology not very usable,” Google engineer Jimmy Tobin said in a video introducing the project.

Voice assistants — which offer AI-driven scheduling, reminders, and lifestyle tools — have the potential to let people with Down syndrome live more independently, according to Matt MacNeil, who has Down syndrome and is working with Google on the project.

“When I started doing the project, the first thing that came to my mind is really helping more people be independent,” MacNeil said in the announcement video.

Continue on to Business Insider to read the complete article.

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