Memorial Event to Commemorate 11th anniversary of Itzhak Rabin's Assassination

Tonight, I was physically present in the memorial event held to commemorate 11th anniversary of Itzhak Rabin’s assassination. The event was held in Rabin Square, Tel Aviv.

I was physically present, but not really present there.

I did not see the Sign Language interpreter, nor was a podium for her to stand on was to be seen. I have the interpreter’s cellular phone number, so I SMSed her. After about half an hour, I walked away and indulged in some dead tree shopping (15th issue of “Dreams at Aspamia”). Later I got her reply (she cannot answer SMS messages in middle of interpreting).

Turns out that she was to be shown only on the big screens which show what is happening on the podium. And even then – only when there are speeches rather than songs and music (even though she is expert also in rendering music in Sign Language). This explanation was accompanied by two short words about the IQ level of the event’s organizers.

Most of the people present in the rally was Leftists, of the “Peace Now” variety. I came there because war for accessibility is my 1st priority, and trumps other political considerations. However, once I was present and saw their slogans, I poignantly recalled how the Palestinians forced the Israelis to elect Bibi Netanyahu (from the camp which opposed Rabin’s peace policies) rather than Shimon Peres (who encouraged Rabin to adopt the peace policies which provoked his assassin) in the elections held after Rabin’s assassination. The Palestinians accomplished this by putting bombs in few busses and exploding them, killing passengers – including Arabs who happened to ride on the busses with Jews.

Links to previous Web pages about Rabin and accessibility:

The deaf are still 2<sup>nd</sup> class citizens

In the build-up toward the 2nd Gulf War at 2003, the deaf in Israel were at last issued beepers to alert them under the same circumstances that airstrike sirens are activated.

My beeper appears to work – I got several test messages. However, according to unconfirmed report from someone, there may be a delay of as long as 5 minutes from the hearies’ siren activation until messages are sent to the beepers. This report is still not confirmed, and I hope that we’ll not have the opportunity to put the beepers to live test.

The more serious problem is that three Israeli TV channels (channels 1, 2 and 10) broadcast news several hours each day, and they sometimes repeat themselves. Yet there are no universal captioning or Sign Language interpreting in the news – not even when they are repeated and therefore are not truly live broadcasts, which are still difficult to caption.

The launch of the http://www.sela.org.il/ Web site

Last Wednesday evening, the Institute for the Advancement of Deaf Persons in Israel together with some partners (Joint Israel, Joint USA and Globes) launched the Sela information Web site in memory of Dr. Israel Sela. The event was held in Danny House, Hatikva quarter, Tel Aviv. At this opportunity, the Institute also celebrated its 13th year of existence.

The new Web site is intended to be a portal for information and news, which concern the Deaf Community in Israel.

In this event, I saw several faces, which I saw also in the commemoration event two evenings earlier in the Deaf Club in Holon.

The evening started with the obligatory speeches by representatives of the partners to the Web site. Some of them told us about some of their memories from working with Dr. Israel Sela. Others – about the ideology which promotes integration of deaf employees in workplaces.

Guy Saad, vice president of business development and Internet in Globes, told us about the following saying: “Someone, asking for something, may be silly for five minutes. But someone, who is not asking for anything, will be silly all his life.” This was in the context of the story about a deaf person, who was laid off, after holding a job for 18 years, and then searched 4 years for another job.

The evening did not consist only of obligatory speeches and presentation of the new Web site, but had also an academic part and an artistic part.

The academic part consisted of a lecture by Dr. Gilad Ravid from Ben-Gurion University about dealing with information overload by the individual and the community. Some figures from his lecture: the amount of saved information created each year by humans is about one hexabyte (1018 bytes), which is equivalent to about half a million times the information in the American Library of Congress. The amount of information created but not saved (phone conversations – voice and FAX, TV broadcasts, E-mail, etc.) is about three times larger than the above.

The per capita information is equivalent to a full CD-ROM per year per capita. A single weekend issue of Globes has information equivalent to all information, to which a 17th century man was exposed during lifetime.

During the last few years, there were few information provision developments in the Internet – Wikis and blogs. Information consumption technologies were developed as well – search engines, recommendation systems (such as Amazon), tags (such as del.icio.us). Another development was in balancing between pull-type information and push-type information.

The lecturer spoke also about research of the response of virtual communities to changes in information load – both downwards and upwards.

The artistic part of the evening consisted of two stories told by two Deaf storytellers, who rendered their stories in Sign Language.

Commemorating the Deaf victims of the Holocaust

On the evening of the Holocaust Remembrance Day, a special memorial event was held in the Deaf Club in Holon. The event commemorated the Deaf victims of the Holocaust and celebrated those who survived the Holocaust, some of whom were present in the event. It was the first time such a special event was held.

The Neve Arazim Community Center hall, in which the event was held, was full and several people stood due to lack of sitting places. It was noted that not only elderly people came, but also young people, who showed interest in the Holocaust.

After the compulsory standing up in memory of the Holocaust victims, we were treated to a series of lectures and stories, culminating at screening of a short movie.

First of all, a short lecture by Miriam Aviezer, a documentarist from Yad Vashem. She discussed the relatively new project of getting testimonials from Deaf survivors of the Holocaust. So far twenty stories were videotaped. There are more survivors to be reached.

The next speaker was Joseph Komem, CODA (hearing child of Deaf adult) who survived the Holocaust thanks to a Deaf Polish friend of his father.

The academic lecture was delivered by Dr. Amatzia Weisel from Tel Aviv University. He discussed the slippery road, which started with the Eugenics movement in USA. Between 1933-1940, about 350 thousand people were sterilized in Germany, under the 1933 law for improving the race. Later, between 1939-1941, under Operation T4, about 250 thousand German children with disabilities were killed. The organizational methodology and technology developed to get rid of them was used later to kill millions of Jews.

In the 1920’s, there were more than 800 teachers in German Deaf schools, and they taught 6000 Deaf students each year. Thus, the German Deaf were taken care of and were educated. However, ten years later the tide public opinion went the other direction – in support of sterilizing and exterminating them. The first leaders of the Israeli Deaf Community were former students of German Deaf schools.

The slippery road starts with the idea that person A assumes the right to decide if the life of person B is worthy of being lived. He who begins to rank people according to importance of their lives, ends with execution of hundreds of thousands of people. There was a famous German doctor, who proposed to sterilize almost 30% of the German population and to exterminate part of them. The eugenic ideology took root in public opinion because it was supposed to help the Germans win the war and strengthen Germany.

We must remember and never forget that all humans were created in God’s shape.

The next speaker was Hava Savir. She and her husband knew personally some German Deaf persons, who were sterilized.

The last speaker was Jacob Ehernfeld, a Deaf holocaust survivor. He told the tale of his Holocaust experience and survival. He finished his lecture with a moving tale of his reunion with other survivors from his group. He was the only Deaf in his group, and taught his fellows Sign Language, and those who survived still remembered the signs fifty years later.

The evening ended with screening of a short movie, produced by Ido Granot, about a trip of a group of Deaf persons to the concentration camps in Poland at 2001.

The memorial event was organized by The Institute for the Advancement of Deaf Persons in Israel in cooperation with the Deaf Club in Holon.

The grave danger to the deaf from 'kosher' cellphones

‘Kosher’ phone merges technology, faith describes an alarming development, which may adversely influence the quality of life of deaf persons in certain communities.

Basically, some communities, which practice religion in a strict way (such as some of the Haredi Jews and some Moslem communities), are bothered by the technology of cellphones, which make it easier for young people to form “improper” relationships.

Therefore, those communities would like to have cellphones, which allow only voice conversations – no text messages, no video, no Internet, no camera. Such cellphones have been developed.

However, there is a problem:

Text messages are an essential function of a cellphone, which makes it accessible to deaf persons. Thanks to this function, deaf persons have at last gained the ability to directly contact anyone via phone, without needing special help from sympathetic hearing persons or from relay services. This function is useful only as long as most, or all, cellphones used by the deaf person’s associates have text messaging capability.

Therefore, a community, which bans text messaging, in effect bans an accessibility provision needed by its deaf members.

Even if the religious leaders allow the deaf alone to have cellphones with text message capability, this feature would be useless if the other members of their community are not allowed to use it.

Therefore, a consequence of introduction of kosher cellphones in communities is the re-marginalization of the deaf in those communities. Those deaf persons would again be cut off from their hearing family members, friends and co-workers.

Visualize a community, which has ordinance prohibiting the use of TTYs.

I think that cellphones without text messaging capability should be as illegal as cellphones without ability to dial to the police, emergency medical service (such as Magen David Adom, Red Cross or Red Crescent) or firefighters.

Accessibility problem from which even mighty Google suffers

In several forms – both paper and Web-based ones – you are expected to enter a phone number.
The phone number presumably needs to be a valid one.
Some Web based forms enforce this. They validate the phone number and do not allow you to proceed unless you enter a valid phone number.

However, in my case, no matter what phone number I enter, it is not a valid phone number. At least according to the criteria that if anyone makes a phone call to that number, he/she’ll get a reply from me. I am deaf and never use the phone for talking.

In order to be true to the spirit of the forms, I need to enter a FAX number, and indicate that it is a FAX number rather than a phone number.

The snag is that by entering “FAX +972-x-xxxxxxx” or something similar (972 is the international prefix of Israel), I run afoul of the validating software behind some Web sites. Especially Web sites running Google programs, such as Google Analytics.

So in order to proceed, I am forced to enter a nonsense phone number, lie or skip when this is possible.

There may be also people, who do not have their own phone number at all, not even for FAX messages. Yet they surf the Internet. How would they cope with such bossy forms, which require something which looks like a phone number?

A Swedish hard of hearing pilot is circumnavigating the earth

Johan Hammarström is a Swedish hard of hearing pilot. His life dream was to be an airplane pilot. His initial attempts to apply for pilot license were thwarted because his hearing loss is about 65dB. Regulations in effect at the time allowed maximum hearing loss of 45dB.
He fought the authorities, and was successful in getting permission to have pilot license after an audiologist tested him and proved that he can clearly understand instructions from control towers under the circumstances in effect in airplanes.

(In USA, there are deaf airplane pilots. But they are restricted to flying in areas without radio contact.)

Now, Johan Hammarström is flying around the world and is trying to raise consciousness of the world to the hard of hearing, and to raise the aspirations of hard of hearing youths.

Today Johan Hammarström is in Israel, about two weeks after starting his journey.

This evening (27 March 2006) he gave a presentation about his project and his struggles in Bekol’s Wolf Chagle’s center of accessibility for the hearing impairment. The room was packed full with attendants. Two people from the Swedish embassy came as well. One of them told us of her childhood experience with fingerspelling signs and how the hearing schoolchildren learned them in order to communicate without the teacher noticing.

Hammarström’s presentation was made accessible by assistive listening devices (for those hard of hearing, who understand English) and by a notetaker who listened to the English lecture and typed in Hebrew (for the deaf and/or those who do not know English).

Addition from April 4, 2006: an article in Haaretz’s Web site about Johan Hammarström.

The accessibility problem of the deaf due to lecture recordings

One of the Free Software clubs in Israel (there are several such clubs, some of them organize Linux related lectures, others speak about Perl, and yet others do Python) wants to start making available from its Web site the audio recordings of lectures organized by it.

Of course, I am screaming murder about this. Before the new service is made available, my ability to access lecture contents after the fact was equivalent to that of hearing people. I could read presentations as well as they could. Now, that the lecture recordings would be available, they would be available only to hearing people. I would be left out in the cold.

This problem currently exists with Larry Wall’s lecture in Present Continous, Future Perfect, at least until all volunteers finish transcribing it (so far, 37:53 minutes out of 72:39 have been transcribed).

Now the search for technical, attitude and organizational problems is being conducted. One of my grave sorrows is that I am the only champion of the interests of the deaf in this discussion. Other Israeli deaf software developers (both oral and signing) are still hiding in the shadows.

At this moment, I feel very very very alienated

A TV program about the Israeli space program is now being broadcasted in TV channel 1.
Without captions.
I am very interested in the Israeli space program and would like to be able to follow this program.
But I cannot.
So I cannot relate to the Israeli achievements and the Israeli space program.
I feel very alienated.