Memorial event for IDF and terror casualties in Tel Aviv

On Tuesday evening, I attended the memorial event for IDF and terror casualties, which was held in Rabin Square, Tel Aviv.
The event consisted of introductory words, appearances by singers, some music, speeches (by the mayor of Tel Aviv and the top man of IDF) and some video clips consisting of interviews with bereaved family members.

This was the first time such an event was fully accessible to me as a deaf. There was a Sign Language interpreter. We had two rows of chairs reserved for the deaf near the position of the interpreter. The video clips were fully subtitled (!).

Kudos to the organizers, who made the event accessible to the Israeli deaf and allowed them to share the grief with the other Israelis.

Will deaf people in Israel and other countries without relay services be able to use MS-Windows XP?

The Slashdot article http://it.slashdot.org/it/05/02/25/0350219.shtml?tid=201&tid=109&tid=164 mentions that as of February 28, Windows users who purchased their PC will no longer be able to reinstall without calling Microsoft and answering a series of questions. See also http://www.betanews.com/article/Microsoft_Closes_Activation_Loophole/1109293194
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Deaf customers of Microsoft in USA will be able to reinstall MS-Windows XP, because USA has a well-developed infrastructure of relay services. Those services allow the deaf to use alternative communication technologies (such as TTY) and mediate between them and hearing people, who use regular voice phone.

However, several other countries have no well-developed relay services. And, if those services operate at all, they operate at limited hours.

This new development means that deaf persons may be unable to reactivate their MS-Windows XP installations at all, or have to wait until the next day to reactivate their installations, and if this is for their home computers – they may have to take few hours off their work. (Microsoft probably won’t pay for the time of the friendly hearing neighbor, whom the pressed-for-time deaf repeatedly summons to call Microsoft in his behalf.)

The lecture in Telux is now behind me, at last!

With the exceptions of my car and Eddie’s absence, everything worked by the book.
My car misbehaved previously, so I didn’t use it to arrive at TAU.
Eddie notified us ahead of time that he’ll be unable to come and nominated Shlomif to act as his deputy.
The Sign Language interpreter arrived exactly on time for pre-lecture rehearsal with me, as my laptop was booting in preparation for rehearsal with her.

I started the lecture with few words about my “job” as Accessibility Coordinator.
Then I plunged into the general subject of accessibility and its division into six relevant categories.
Rafi Cohen, a blind software developer, told us how he works with a PC (by combination of Braille display and screen reader which voices the screen’s contents). He is about as oldtimer with computers as I am, give or take very few years. When I worked with IBM punched cards, he worked with terminals connected to mainframes.
The second blind lecturer, Gidi Aharonovitz, told us about the need for accessibility in Web sites and told us the scandalous story of the Web site of the Library for Blind in Israel. This Web site is not accessible to the blind, and the library’s manager advises the aggravated blind patrons to enlist their family members to help them surf the Web site.

After those lectures, I declared a break of 5 minutes. Shlomif declared a break of 10 minutes. He declined my offer to settle the difference by arm strength comparison, so I settled for 7.5 minutes. The actual break was closer to 12.5 minutes.

I breezed through my second lecture, which was about the accessibility provisions available from Gnome desktop. When I mentioned that Gnome has no easy way to set the minimum font size, someone from the audience told me the command to use (gnome-fonts-properties). I then pulled the trump card – I explained that I searched for the appropriate dialogs the way a naive user would search for. If I didn’t find the dialogs, this means that there is an usability problem, which needs to be fixed.

We finished the lectures a bit before 20:30, about 15 minutes after the ending time which I planned when budgeting the lecture times. Since we were allowed to be in the room until 21:00, this was not that bad timing.

Accessibility Coordinator in Hamakor

After complaining that I did not have real time access to the information about the winning number in the lottery which was conducted in August Penguin 2004, some people (notably ladypine) agreed that some attention should be paid to accessibility in future events organized by Hamakor (http://www.hamakor.org.il/).

So I volunteered to be the Accessibility Coordinator. My “job” has two parts:

  1. Provision of information to event organizers about the accessibility needs of people with disabilities.
  2. Education of the general population of Free Software users about computer usage by people with disabilities and their accessibility needs.

What I did so far was to give a lecture about accessibility in Linux, together with Ori Idan. The lecture was given in a meeting of Haifux (http://www.haifux.org/lectures/112/). Today in the evening, it will be given again in Telux meeting (http://www.cs.tau.ac.il/telux/ and press the “Advanced lectures” link).

The organizers of August Penguin 2005 are now looking for a place for the event, after having issued the CFP and making some silly arguments about dates. I provided them with information about the accessibility needs of wheelchaired people (hint: push your sensitive nose into the restrooms). Let’s hope they’ll be able to find a place with which everyone will be happy.

A Big Dilemma and its Resolution

I am satisfied with the decision, which I made.

Exactly a week ago I saw, in http://www.whatsup.co.il/, an announcement about a “Business models of Linux and Open Code” track to be held as part of the Go-Linux Q4-2004 conference to be held on Wednesday Dec. 22, 2004.

At this time, this subject is very dear(sic) to me. So I decided I want to participate in the aforementioned track. I registered for the free conference.

I needed to book a Sign Language interpreter or a notetaker to make the conference accessible to me. The service, which provides them to deaf persons, needs at least one week advance notification to be able to find a free interpreter or notetaker. I needed to know the exact hours of the track to be able to book someone for those hours. So I made inquiries. The administrative organizers (People&Computers) were not so cooperative. The technical organizer, whom I contacted (Eli Marmor from netmask.it), was very cooperative.

After troubles, tribulations, cancellations, and cancellation of cancellations, I sent an E-mail message to the organizers announcing that I am canceling my registration. Immediately I got the conference schedule and could at last book someone exactly for the hours which I needed. However, this happened two days before the conference itself.

The service was not successful in finding me a free interpreter or notetaker by the conference time.

Now I had a dilemma: to go there anyway, enjoy only partial accessibility, and at least get some useful information; or to boycott it altogether and forfeit the chances.

After long thought, I decided to give it a chance and to go there anyway.
I also notified the service my plans and that if someone else cancels his Sign Language interpreting assignment, they may send the interpreter to me even at the last minute. I brought a laptop with me just in case a notetaker shows up due to cancellation elsewhere.

No such miracle happened.

I arrived today at 14:00, as planned, because I was interested only in the afternoon lectures. Eli Marmor’s lecture was worth the time, thanks to its having been partially accessible (he lectured with a fairly detailed presentation). It was worthwhile for me to go there for the lecture. I stayed on for the next two lectures, which were accompanied by presentations as well.

Only when the final speaker, Dr. Yossi Vardi, who is a popular speaker in the Israeli Hi-Tech scene, started to speak, did I stand up and leave the conference. He gives lectures without presentations.

Accessibility

The lectures were fully accessible to hard-of-hearing people: the lecturers carried on their person a microphone connected to a small transmitter, which transmits the speech to receivers possessed by hard-of-hearing people in the hall. This was thanks to an hard-of-hearing participant (whom I know) in the conference. He arranged for the lectures to be accessible according to his needs. His job was simpler because all he needed was to bring equipment and get cooperation from the organizers and lecturers. I had to locate a warm body with functioning hands (for either signing or typing).

The accessibility needs of deaf people are different from those needed by hard-of-hearing people.

In an utopia, conference organizers would ask the participants if they need any special accommodations. If yes, the organizers also organize the needed accommodations. According to my experience with Israeli conferences, the formula which works is that the participant with special needs arranges his own accommodations, and the conference organizers do not stand in the way and fulfill small&simple requests.

My problem with the Go-Linux conference accessibility was that I was not given the maximum possible time (a bit less than a week, under the circumstances) for arranging my own accessibility accommodations.

Maybe, if I yelled that this is an emergency for me, I’d get someone. But it would not have been fair for those deaf persons, who have a real emergency (medical or legal).

Lecture About Accessibility in Linux

Yesterday I at last could tick off the top item in my ToDo list.

The Linux accessibility lecture has finally been delivered to the Haifux club in the Technion, Haifa (http://www.haifux.org/lectures/112/ and if you have trouble opening one of the *.pdf files linked to the page in your Web browser, download it and view it offline using acroread).

In this context, the subject of accessibility in Linux is naturally divided into three sub-topics:

  • General introduction to the world of disabilities – for people who are not familiar with the subject.
  • Accessibility provisions in Linux.
  • Comparison between Linux and MS-Windows.

So, after some planning, negotiations and buttonholing, a bit of interleaving was retained. At beginning I spoke about disabilities (except for blindness). Then Ori Idan spoke about computer usage by blind people, and entertained us with tales about some amazing (to us sighted) feats of blind people.

Then I declared 15-minute break (somehow I was silently nominated as the host of the “mini-seminar”). After the break it was surprisingly easy to get the attention of the people for the second part of my lecture. At least, for me it was surprising, because I am used to the difficulty of getting the attention of a group of deaf persons at break. This time, I did not have to ask the room lights to be blinked few times to get attention.

Then I spoke and demonstrated what Linux (X-Window, Gnome) has to offer in way of accessibility.

I did not notice signs of sleepiness or boredom among the participants. Some brave souls asked questions or made comments. Ori Idan’s lecture (being delivered by an hearing person) drew out much more comments, questions and anecdotes from the audience.

After the lecture I was rewarded by a can of beer (comment: “free as in free beer”).

There were two disappointments:

  • Ladypine, who suggested that Ori collaborate with me, and who organized the meeting – could not show up after all due to personal reasons.
  • Interpreting assignments, in which the deaf person delivers a technical lecture to hearing audience (rather than an hearing person delivering a non-technical lecture to a group having deaf persons) are very rare. The Sign Language interpreter, whom I booked for the event, needed to meet me before the evening to prepare for the assignment, but this was not possible due to geographic reasons. So there were some difficulties in communication between me, the interpreter and the audience.

I also botched up the demonstration of the virtual keyboard utility. But I did not consider this to be an important part of the lecture. The demonstration of the Emacs visual beep feature went well, however ((setq visible-bell t)). This was more important, as Gnome does not handle visual beeping in behalf of applications (as far as I saw). Someone from the audience pointed out that KDE does handle this.

Accessibility in Linux

Some time ago I made the mistake of stressing the desirability of having a lecture about accessibility in a meeting of a Linux Users’ Group. Now I am stuck with researching for the lecture.

Among other things, I found this link:
http://www.washington.edu/accessit/articles?197 – How does accessible Web design benefit all Web users.

This is an important link, in view of the current campaign to make several Israeli Web sites accessible to Mozilla users.

Find the similarity between Itzhak Rabin (1995) and Gal Fridman (2004)

Today I was in a shopping mall when a plasma TV caught my eye. It broadcast the mistral race in which Gal Fridman won the gold medal, first “proper” gold medal won by an Israeli in the Olympic Games.

The broadcast was, according to bottom messages, accompanied by a voice commentary by someone. Of Course, The Commentary Was Not Made Accessible to The Israeli Deaf.

Thus, the comments, which I wrote nine years ago (https://deaf-info.zak.co.il/d/deaf-info/old/rabinfuneral.html), still apply. While names were mentioned here and there and the mark times and positions were broadcast, this was courtesy of the Olympic Games original broadcasters. IBA does not have any credit for it.

Accessibility of disability related Web sites

I am active in the “Accessible Community” project in Petah Tikva.
This project is part of an effort made in several Israeli cities to improve the quality of life experienced by people with disabilities.

Today there was a meeting of representatives of the “Accessible Community” project from several cities. Among other things, two Web sites were announced:

  1. http://www.kn1.org.il/
  2. http://www.matnachim.org.il/

Of course, I asked about accessibility of those Web sites to non-IE browsers. Both announcers of the Web sites claimed that their Web sites are accessible to everyone.

After returning home, I surfed into those Web sites using Mozilla. I found that the first Web site has a problem of text layout, which causes some frames to overlap. The links, which I checked, did work. With the second Web site I saw no problems in my limited testing. I cannot finish this journal entry without an amusing anecdote. I schlepped a woman, who walks on crutches, to the meeting and back to her home. The woman is very active in the campaign against non-disabled people parking at spaces reserved to people with disabilities. Near her home there is a parking reserved for the car of another disabled person, and it was empty when I arrived there. I stopped my car in the reserved parking place to let the woman go out and then exclaimed “Oh, I am occupying a disabled parking!”. She LOL and almost ROTFLed.

Petah Tikva is to be more accessible to the deaf now

During the last two years, the Petah Tikva municipality has been operating the “Accessible Community” project for improving accessibility to people with all types of disabilities in the city. In the framework of this project, the municipal hotline, which is accessible by voice phone number 106, has been prepared to accept also FAX messages from people, whose disability precludes their use of regular phone.

This evening I was in a meeting, in which the manager of the hotline told us about the project. They accept for forwarding also FAX messages for the police, Magen David Adom (the Jewish/Israeli counterpart of Red Cross) and the firefighters. The FAX number is (03)9040304. We also got a form, which can be filled quickly in case of emergency for FAXing to the hotline. About fifty deaf people (1/4 of the total deaf population in Petah Tikva) participated in the meeting. The opportunity was utilized also by a representative of the Israeli Social Security, who told us about the vocational rehabilitation services provided by Social Security. The Web site of the municipality of Petah Tikva (http://www.petah-tikva.muni.il/) is not accessible to the Mozilla browser, which I used, due apparently to use of a IE specific extension at the home page. However, http://www.petah-tikva.muni.il/htmls/hebrew/moked.html gets you directly to the municipal hotline center (the page is written in Hebrew). I sent a complaint to their Webmaster, emphasizing the problem of blind people, who absolutely must use special browsers to browse Web sites.