Tag Archive

access technology

A Perfect Teacher-Student Partnership

A Perfect Teacher-Student Partnership

LightHouse offers a variety of resources, trainings, and programs for individuals who are blind or have low vision taught by expert instructors and educators, most of whom are also blind or have low vision. Our dedicated staff work with their students to form and enhance blindness skills to improve their sense of autonomy and self-confidence. The greatest aspect of being part of such a close-knit community of blind leaders and learners is being able to share successes and accomplishments, or “mission moments,” with the LightHouse community.

Access Technology Instructor Kacie Cappello’s favorite part of the job is watching a student’s hard work pay off.

“Many come into training intimidated by technology and full of self-doubt. The skills they learn allow for greater independence and better social connection. When a student realizes they can do something like buy their own groceries online or send email to a friend, I get to watch their confidence grow as they find their empowerment. That means the world to me.”

Kacie’s role is to provide information, guidance, and structure, but the student is the one taking on the challenge of learning a new skill. That requires commitment and practice. One of her ambitions for her students is for them to have autonomy over their digital information.

“To me, maintaining anonymity means having the ability to effectively manage your information, privacy, and digital presence. Access technology skills help students keep track of things like account details and participate in online life on their own terms.”

LightHouse student Eva G. struggled with independently accessing her computer and other devices at home and sought out access technology training with LightHouse. She began working with Kacie one-on-one for virtual training sessions.

“I lost my vision at a quite advanced stage at the age of 84. I am 91 now. I did not think I would be able to learn anything because of my age. When I had sight growing up in school, I was never taught computers or typing or anything like that.  Honestly, the first time I had a lesson with Kacie I thought to myself, ‘I will never get this,’ but Kacie was so patient and persistent. It was amazing to me how after a while I started to get used to it.

“To me, it is really important to be as independent as I can be. It means a lot to be because I’ve always been in touch with a lot of different people throughout my life. But when I suddenly had to ask someone to write my emails and read them back to me it just wasn’t the same. The first time I was able to have an email read to me by the computer and then answer it myself was such a gift. It felt like the best thing that has happened to me.

“In retrospect I do still think it was kind of magic. I feel so grateful for the LightHouse and for Kacie and what she has taught me.”

These are the moments that strengthen the blind community. One individual’s success becomes a shared accomplishment for all of LightHouse and our community. To inquire about programs offered by LightHouse, you can visit our website.

For information about Access Technology, send your emails AT@lighthouse-sf.org  or call 415-431-1481.

There’s an App for That: Select the Right Tech, App Edition is June 25

There’s an App for That: Select the Right Tech, App Edition is June 25

Whether you love accessible technology or have a love/hate relationship with it, knowing your options is power. For years LightHouse has hosted Select the Right Tech, a gathering where blind and low vision consumers from all over the Bay Area can get hands-on with the best in accessible technology and talk directly to representatives from different companies in an exhibit hall hosted at LightHouse headquarters. During the pandemic we’ve found innovative ways to connect tech and consumers remotely.

This year’s virtual Select the Right Tech, App Edition will feature developers of mainstream and blindness-specific mobile apps. Don’t miss this chance to ask your questions to the makers of the apps you love and to learn about apps you haven’t tried yet.

Select the Right Tech, App Edition takes place on Friday, June 25 from 1:00 pm to 4:30 pm. Here is the schedule:

1:00 pm Welcome to LightHouse
Presented by Erin Lauridsen, Director of Access Technology

1:10 pm Be My Eyes
Be My Eyes is a free app that connects blind and low-vision people with sighted volunteers and company representatives for visual assistance through a live video call.
Presented by Will Butler, VP Community

1:45 pm Microsoft Soundscape
Microsoft Soundscape uses 3D spatial audio to promote a person’s mobility and independence by enhancing their awareness of their surroundings by calling out landmarks and points of interest from where they actually are.
Presented by Melanie Kneisel, Software Development Engineer

2:15 pm Spotify
Spotify is a digital music, podcast, and video service that gives you access to millions of songs and other content from creators all over the world.
Presented by Philip Strain, User Research and Accessibility Lead

2:45 pm Voice Dream Scanner
Voice Dream apps are designed for accessibility, and Voice Dream Scanner is a fast and accurate OCR scanner for everyday use.
Presented by Winston Chen, Founder and Developer

3:15 pm Aira
Aira is an app that utilizes your smart phone’s camera to connect with professionally trained agents who provide visual information to accomplish tasks, navigate and enhance your experiences.
Presented by Jenine Stanley, Director, Customer Communications

3:45 pm GoodMaps Explore
GoodMaps Explore helps people who are visually impaired navigate safely and efficiently.
Presented by Mike May, Chief Evangelist

This event is free and open to all, those who RSVP in advance will be eligible to win door prizes.

RSVP to Select the Right Tech: App Edition!

LightHouse thanks Oracle for their generous sponsorship of this event. So, put it in your chosen calendar … app!

Building the Perfect Access Technology Partnership

Building the Perfect Access Technology Partnership

By Erin Lauridsen, Director of Access Technology

I’m Erin Lauridsen, I’m blind and proud of it, which means that I am profoundly personally invested in my work in digital accessibility. In the course of my career so far, I’ve worked with many companies at all points along their accessibility journeys. In the course of this work, I’ve at times encountered openness and innovation, but at other times, I have encountered friction born of a lack of cultural competence around disability. On this tenth Global Accessibility Awareness Day, I want to share with you the keys to bringing disability cultural competence to your accessibility work, as I see them. Whether you work in compliance, user experience, marketing, engineering, or leadership, these are reflections from my lived experience of disability, and the ways it influences and is impacted by my work in corporate accessibility and how we work together.

I introduced myself to you as blind. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard hesitation in the voice of someone approaching a conversation with me about blindness or accessibility, because they are afraid of using the wrong word, or afraid naming my disability will be seen as negative. People with disabilities use many different terms to describe our identities, or in some cases, we may not consider disability to be central to our identity at all. In the vision world, you may hear ‘blind’, which can represent anything from total blindness to a decrease in visual acuity significant enough to impact reading or driving. You may hear ‘visual impairment’, a clinical term for the same range. You may also hear ‘low vision’, a term to represent the less than perfect but still usable range of visual functioning, and you may hear ‘vision loss’, a term common among older adults, or those who have acquired blindness later in life. Those are just the first four terms that come to mind, I have heard many others over the years, and this is just one of many disabilities you might discuss. Which term a person uses is influenced by their preferences, lived experience and cultural identity. For myself, blindness is a lifelong part of me, so vision loss doesn’t ring true. Visual impairment conjures memories of childhood appointments with professionals who wanted to cramp my carefree kid style with clinical evaluations, and I don’t have enough usable vision for low vision to fit well. I’m happy to call myself blind: it’s concise and makes me think of the affinity I feel when I hear another cane tapping down Bay area streets, or having a late night chat with other blind cooks about knife sharpening techniques. So, if you are entering or starting a conversation about disability, how on earth do you choose which term to use? Here’s my advice: when you are working with an individual, check in about preferred terms. Ask how they identify. When you are speaking or writing about specific disabilities, reach out to disability lead organizations and advocacy groups to learn about identity language. Be open to following our lead on language, even if it is language that feels new or uncomfortable to you.

I often navigate conversations grounded in someone’s fear or imaginings about what the lived experience of disability must be like. This often leads to over-engineering solutions or solving for a nonexistent or trivial problem. I have more than one story about a person coming to LightHouse with a multi-part camera and processor system for text recognition or object identification, who became defensive when learning that the blind people in the room can read text quickly with our phones, and wouldn’t be willing to carry around a bulky camera just so it could shout out “refrigerator” “toilet” “goat” as we encountered these things in our wanderings. Others have taken the time to listen deeply to how blind people read text and explore our environments, and the innovations they are working on will take current good solutions to the next level. If you are designing or coding for a disability that you do not live, check your assumptions with the community. Listen to what our friction points are, and work with us to identify good solutions.

In this work, I often must balance the need for disability awareness and education with jarring requests for personal disclosure. Once when I was explaining how being able to adjust brightness is useful to people with many different eye conditions, I used myself as an example of someone who does best with reduced glare. The researcher I was speaking with exclaimed, “Oh, is that why your eyes move that way!” I hope my next eye movement was an exasperated eye-roll, as we’d abruptly shifted from talking about how I customize technology settings to my needs, to talking about my body. If you are doing product research, or educating yourself about disability in the course of accessibility work, you can start by asking about tools and technologies rather than about medical diagnoses or the functional limitations of someone’s body. You can learn a lot more about how I use an app by asking what accessibility features I run on my phone than by asking what eye condition I have or how much I can see. Take the time to consider why you are asking a personal question, and in what setting you are posing it. While you might be curious about how I pick up after my guide dog, it really isn’t the best topic for our business lunch. However, if you want to innovate a solution to find trash cans on busy city streets, I’m all about sharing my dog walking routine in that context.

Often I hear that a company has designed or tested for accessibility by focusing on only one user with a disability. Perhaps they have a blind engineer on their team, or they may have connected with one end user of their product who has invested in giving them a great deal of feedback. While these are both wonderful things, neither is comprehensive, because disability intersects with every part of the human condition, and may create different challenges and opportunities based on those intersections. The skills and tools I use to navigate digital spaces are influenced by my economic privilege, my early access to education, and my linguistic and cultural background. Despite a preference for Braille reading, having had access to screen readers early in life has improved my ability to process complex web pages quickly using text to speech. The same task presents a significant hurdle for some of the adult learners I have worked with, especially those who are learning language or literacy skills along with digital access. You may have watched a blind coder execute complex keyboard sequences to control a screen reader, but an older adult with arthritis may be challenged by pressing multiple keys at once. Just as with any customer base, it’s important to avoid designing or remediating for one person or one persona. Have professional experts as well as end users with disabilities engaged in the design and testing of your products. Please do hire that blind engineer though, she’s spent her whole life innovating and hacking solutions for a world that often doesn’t consider her in the scope of design, and that skill set is going to make your product better.

Sometimes people reach out to me for help with an empathy lab or asking for a blindfold experience, and I do my best to help them find another way to learn. You can not try on the many intersections of a lived experience, and I can’t instill all the skills, culture, and adventures of a blind life by putting a blindfold on your face. Please avoid using empathy exercises that encourage you to try on a disability experience for a brief moment or a day. Instead, invest your time in learning from the lived experiences of people with disabilities, and learning about the tools and technologies we use. If you try a screen reader for a moment, you may find it challenging in the way that switching modalities can be challenging for anyone, but if you invest quality time in learning how screen readers work, you may discover, and then fix, a pain point with your product. Recognize that digital accessibility is not just a topic limited to your livelihood, but consider it as a way to build stronger communities and relationships throughout your life. For example, you can incorporate image descriptions in to your personal social media posts, not just your company’s website.

I hope these reflections will encourage you to take the next step on your personal or company accessibility journey. Ask yourself how you can more deeply engage with the people your accessibility work impacts, and take the next step to increase that dialogue. Whether you’re just beginning, or are part of a robust accessibility initiative, there is always more to learn. I hope I get to meet you along the way.

Access Technology

Access Technology

The Access Technology department at LightHouse is here to facilitate the use of accessible technology among people of all ages and levels of expertise, as well as groups and companies seeking education or consulting.

We welcome those with changing vision or visual impairment to come explore ways to make their phone, computer or other devices easier and more comfortable to use. We’re here to help you find new technology tools to stay productive at work, or keep in touch with friends and family.

Training

Whether you’re just getting started with access technology, or you need to update your skills to keep pace with the latest and greatest tools and apps, LightHouse is here to help.

We have a variety of resources to educate and introduce you to different technology, and the ways you can use them. Our staff will take the time to learn about you, your needs and interests and the technologies you may have used in the past.

With an instructor, you can explore whether magnification, speech, Braille or a combination of these tools will best suit your needs.

You can meet one-on-one with an access technology instructor, and work on skills that will help you achieve your personal and professional goals. We also have group workshops to build skills and connect with the LightHouse community.

A male student uses magnification during an Access Technology training at LightHouse.

Corporate Accessibility Consulting

We invite companies updating their technology, or seeking an accessibility evaluation to make an appointment with the Access Tech department. Contact us about your company’s specific needs, and we can discuss how to help.

Here are a few of the services we offer:

Design consulting —We can help you plan and design a product that is accessible from the ground up.

Functional accessibility review — We utilize our expert access technologists to assess your website or app from an accessibility perspective.

User testing sessions — We organize our blind and visually impaired user testers of all backgrounds and levels of vision to provide feedback on your product or service.

Press for our consulting services:

TechCrunch: LightHouse Access Tech Director Erin Lauridsen interview on ‘Bullish’

The Verge: Soundscape, our new design consulting project with Microsoft

CNN: Erin Lauridsen on Google’s AI Technology

Connect with us:

To sign up for access technology training, contact at@lighthouse-sf.org.

For design consulting and user testing services, contact elauridsen@lighthouse-sf.org.

Microsoft Soundscape is a new way to navigate

Microsoft Soundscape is a new way to navigate

“What is overwhelming about being a blind traveler? It’s not always what people think.” LightHouse Director of Access Technology Erin Lauridsen is passionate about this point: “Obstacle avoidance is not the problem, we have a dog, a cane and our blindness skills for that, The gap is knowing where things are and being able to decide what’s of interest.”

In her daily work, Lauridsen often has to shake her head at technology that misses the mark, but today is different. Today, Microsoft unveils a new free app designed not just for blind people – but by blind people.

In the video below, Erin Lauridsen explains the design thinking behind Microsoft’s new app. Click here to download Soundscape from the US App Store.

Lauridsen is one of the design minds behind Soundscape, a new Microsoft product which aims to empower blind people to not just get where they’re going, but to explore and learn their environment actively.

Read more on the Microsoft Accessibility Blog

Hired last year to start LightHouse’s Access Technology department in San Francisco, Lauridsen has built up a research and design consulting shop that leverages the blind experience to help mainstream companies optimize their products. One day it may be face recognition; another day, it’s designing a more intuitive interface or an advancement in ergonomics. In all cases, though, designing with the blind in mind yields a more competitive product.

Last fall Microsoft approached Lauridsen’s team with a product built upon an ambitious concept: a navigation app not based on turn-by-turn directions, but on dynamic, proximity-based landmarks and 3D audio beacons.

For Lauridsen, an app that promoted spatial engagement instead of rigid instructions and prescribed routes was a breath of fresh air. “The idea of having spatial and directional information floating on top, and taking some of that process load off of the traveler, that was intriguing,” she says. The next step was to find out if this technology would work in practice.

Download Soundscape from the app store

Microsoft brought the idea to a small group at a meeting of LightHouse Labs, Lauridsen’s monthly blind-tech meetup at LightHouse’s Market Street headquarters. Each month, Labs provides a venue for companies and individuals in the blindness and accessibility sphere to explore product-market fit, compare notes on emerging tech and express passionate, at times controversial opinions. It was agreed that the next phase of research and design was to get Soundscape into the pockets of real users, to turn the app from a good idea into an invaluable tool.

Today, Soundscape launches in the US and UK app stores on iOS for iPhones, and with it Microsoft has introduced a new 3D audio experience crafted specifically for exploration.

Soundscape, Lauridsen says, offers freedom for blind users: “It takes out the assumption that you’re following a proscribed route, fills in the information access gap, and allows for discovery and exploration. It’s not oversimplified or over complicated, as so much tech ‘for’ us often is.”

An image of a phone showing the Microsoft Soundscape app reads: "Set a Beacon and make your way there. Heading somewhere? Place an audio beacon on your destination and Soundscape will keep you informed of its location and your surroundings along the way. Use Soundscape in conjunction with your way finding skills and even your favorite navigation app to find your way to your destination."

Featuring an unobtrusive, roaming narrator reading the names of businesses, intersections, and points of interest in stereo, Soundscape is much more like browsing a neighborhood than any audio navigator that has come before. The Around Me and Ahead of Me features allow for more focused “looking around,” and audible beacons can be set to guide users gently toward a destination with intuitive auditory cues.

For Lauridsen and her department, this early stage design work is equally as important in making products both elegant and useful. “Our network at LightHouse is considerable – we have blind engineers, blind architects, blind coders – and what we like to build is ‘of’ those people, not ‘for’ them.”

Over the winter, Lauridsen’s team began putting the app through its paces, quite literally, with a score of blind user testers taking the app up and down Market Street and through the neighborhoods of San Francisco. Taking their feedback and synthesizing it, and delivering it in a series of intense meetings with Microsoft’s developers, Soundscape began to feel ready.

“Inventors often want to design things for us to be safer; I get that, but that’s design from a fear point of view. Microsoft designed this product out of an enthusiasm for learning, exploring, and finding joy in your environment. That’s the kind of technology that we like to see.”

 

Meet Our New Access Technology Director, Erin Lauridsen

Meet Our New Access Technology Director, Erin Lauridsen

Building off the great work our tech trainers have been doing for years, we’re excited this month to announce the creation of a dedicated Access Technology Department at LightHouse, under the direction of our new team member, Erin Lauridsen.

“The launch of this department is a recognition of how central technology is to our lives as blind people,” says Lauridsen. “It really does affect every aspect of our lives—from cooking to voting to dating to moving around the streets. If technology comes into every part of that, we have to train blind people to really be savvy tech users and be able adapt to constant changes.”

Lauridsen feels the digital age is leveling the playing field for people who are blind or have low vision. With screen readers like VoiceOver, new and improved document scanners and apps that provide new services entirely, she thinks we have moved far beyond barriers posed by the inaccessible books and paper printouts of yesteryear.

Lauridsen grew up in rural Oregon, on the cusp of the technological boom. She remembers the leap she took in 7th grade, when she went from having a Perkins brailler and a paid staffer who transcribed all of her work to getting a Citizen Notebook Printer and a Braille ‘n Speak – and nothing was the same.

“For the first time I could turn in my own homework,” she says. “I had to learn all that technology mostly on my own because there weren’t other blind people around me. There weren’t teachers who knew it because a lot of it was very new. I got a computer with a screen reader and the internet in the late ‘90s. That was my first connection in a significant way to other blind people.”

So while technology provides a practical set of tools for everyday living, it can also be a starting point for widening personal horizons and reaching out and learning from a community of blind people all over the world. At its heart, Lauridsen feels, it’s about agency.

“If you give people access to technology they can access information, make their own choices and live their lives in better ways,” says Lauridsen.

But for the AT Department, it’s not just about the end user. The department also plays a key role in Silicon Valley as an accessibility gatekeeper — by bringing in major tech companies like Google, Uber, Lyft, AirBnB, Pinterest and Facebook for user testing and meetups, as well as working in-house with accessibility apps like Actiview and Be My Eyes through our budding startup accelerator programs.

As the head of the Access Tech department, Lauridsen will represent LightHouse in guiding the accessibility features for mainstream platforms and more specialized devices or “assistive technology,” as well as teaching our students how to use all of the above.

You can now schedule free weekday or weekend AT Training on Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. or Saturdays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. The beauty of these trainings it that they’re one-on-one, so if the tech talk intimidates you, you can start slow. We have staff that can meet you where you’re at — maybe ease in with typing and go as far as learning how to building your own website with a screen reader. To sign up, contact Access Technology Coordinator Shen Kuan at skuan@lighthouse-sf.org or (415) 694-7312.

We are assembling a list of people interested in being part of UX testing. These opportunities respect testers’ time and knowledge with compensation. Opportunities vary on skill level, technology preference and personal interest. 

Communicate with Erin Lauridsen directly at elauridsen@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7368 to get involved.