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.

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.

August Penguin 2004

The story starts with a Thursday evening orgy of Sushi and CashFlow(R). While I figured out several weeks ago that CashFlow(R) is not the ultimate tutor for success in managing monetary affairs, it nevertheless is a fun game. Especially when my playmates have their real-life experience to draw on. It was especially fun to encourage each other to make silly mistakes and bad business decisions, “Fear Factor” style.

Thus it came to pass that today in the morning, I had to undergo multi-stage bootstrapping process to bootstrap myself out of bed and into car.

I was late, so I arrived at August Penguin 2004 in middle of the CoLinux lecture. It took me some time to search for the event – a poster stating the relevant hall number/s at the main entrance would have shortened my search to order of O(1).

The nice lady, who sat next to me, estimated that the actual schedule slipped by half an hour. Later Joel Isacsson gave his lecture about the top ten mistakes of embedded Linux users. The transparencies were well-written and witty. I assume that also the audio part of the lecture had similar high quality.

After the lecture ended, there was a break and I went out to the books booth, hoping that the books, which several weeks ago I asked ladypine to arrange for are there. When coming there, I realized my mistake of not first patronizing the books booth. The only book remaining from my original list was “In search of stupidity” by Merrill R. Chapman. After another round of looking over the books, I bought also “Essential PHP Tools” by David Sklar. In my defense, I must say that the people, who sold the books, did not look polished (as in polished operating procedures) in particular and they filled the desks also with some Harry Potter book (keep away, all Harry Potter fans! I did see and did enjoy the first Harry Potter movie! I swear in the precious mini-Kazit CD-ROM which I received in the August Penguin!). They had also piles of “for dummies” books.

After the long line for ice cream (in exchange for coupon which is worth two balls), I returned to the hall and saw the last part of the trivia contest. I also saw Joel Isacsson is talking with someone who has a Nokia 9210i. Joel asked me about a deaf mutual acquaintance who is now in USA, but at the time lived in Israel, and (twenty years ago!) borrowed from him a modem in order to be able to communicate with me via phone – those were the days when we started the Israeli TDD project.

The guy with 9210i had some gripes and wishes about the software.

Someone then made a speech (according to the event schedule, it was to be a speech by a leader of Hamakor), and prizes were handed out to the five nominated contributors to the Free Software scene in Israel. Afterwards, I went back home. If I won anything in the lottery, I assume that this made the one after me a very happy person.

I made a mental note to arrange for accessibility next August Penguin. Look for additional hearing-impaired Hamakor members and together arrange for the various accessibility provisions we’ll need.

Yesterday MICHA's 50th year celebration and fundraising event

Yesterday I was in the “Positive Step” fund raising event for MICHA (another link). The event was held at this time because it has been 50 years since MICHA was founded. It was held in Joshua Gardens, north Tel Aviv.

Admission fee to the event was 20NIS, which was transferred as donation to MICHA. There were lots of advertising, so I assume that companies sponsored almost everything which costs money there – including free ice cream from Nestle.

At entrance, we got free hat and a small bottle of water to drink as we walk. There were lots of white shirts and white & green balloons (blue balloons are apparently reserved to the memory of Ron Arad, MIA).

Before walking, we were treated to a dose of the inevitable “zionut” – boring political speeches. MICHA is well-connected, so the speakers included also Danny Naveh, the minister of health, and Zevulun Orlev, the minister of welfare. Near the end, also Reuma Weizmann, the wife of Ezer Weizmann, a former Israeli President, spoke. She has been member of the managing committee of MICHA for forty years and reminded us to drink a lot of water. She apologized that she will not be joining us for the walk, because they are to celebrate her husband’s 80th birthday. Erez Zino, the CEO of Ozicom Communications Ltd. and also a “graduate” of MICHA Tel Aviv, did not speak this time.

All speeches were made accessible by combination of a notetaker and Sign Language interpreter (far cry from the era during which Sign Language was taboo at MICHA).

After the speeches were over, those who had balloons were asked to release them to the air, and then we started walking.

There was a famous (although I do not know him) basketball player, who came to the event, and walked together with us. Several people utilized the opportunities to be photographed together with him.

There were Disneylandesque people with costumes of cartoon heroes. Only the heroes were from commercials, such as the Baby of Bamba and the Violet Star of Cellcom.

And, oh yes, I saw almost all workers of Ozicom Communications Ltd. there, some of them with their families.

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.

Venus Transit

Yes, I have seen* it!

*given a suitable definition** of “seeing”

**It is not advisable to look directly at the Sun under any circumstances. Therefore the Venus transit can be safely viewed only via some instrument such as a telescope. I saw it via a more complex instrument, which consisted of a telescope, camera, Internet connection (http://www.astronomy.org.il/) and my PC. The fact that I did not see it at real time does not really matter.

Police and junk FAX messages

I am deaf and I use (among other technologies) a FAX machine to keep in contact with other human beings.

Recently a sales operation has been sending me junk FAX messages touting their offerings.

During the last few weeks, I saved six FAX messages. The first, second and fifth messages were accompanied by my request to stop sending me FAX messages. So I could prove that my request does not yield the desired outcome.

Today I went to the police and lodged a complaint against the anonymous (identified only by a voice phone number) sender of the FAX messages.

Tips from my experience:

  1. Bring with you several coins of 0.10NIS. The photocopying machine in the police (in case you need your own copies of documents) costs 0.40NIS per copy. Small change is not routinely available in the police station. Not even in the cafeteria (unless you buy something there).
  2. Bring your ID card and the junk FAX messages.
  3. Prepare details of your own attempts to contact the sender and get the sender to stop sending you junk FAX messages.
  4. At around 09:15AM, there was no queue and I was served immediately.

The HELP 2004 Exhibition

Today I visited the HELP 2004 Exhibition in the Exhibition Grounds at northern part of Tel Aviv.
This is an exhibition of equipment, accessories, means and methods for the population of people with disabilities in Israel.

It was a small exhibition, occupying only one building in the Exhibition Grounds.
This exhibition started yesterday and will end tomorrow.

Overwhelmingly majority of the booths exhibited equipment which helps wheel chair bound people. Elevators, equipment which allows them to drive cars or to use cars at all, new kinds of wheelchairs, walkers, etc. The needs of the hard-of-hearing were represented mostly by booths of audiological clinics and hearing aid dispensers. I don’t recall seeing booths with equipment which serves the needs of blind or hard sighted people.

The hall was indeed full with people on wheelchairs. There was also respectable representation of people with hearing impairments, even though today was not Hearing Day (which was held yesterday, in parallel to the exhibition). Usually when I go to exhibitions or such places, I meet zero or one people whom I know from other place. This time, I met no less than two people whom I know from other places, not to mention people who manned (or rather, womanned) the booth of Bekol.

My personal goal was to find people, who develop new kinds of assistive equipment, and need help with the software part of their inventions. I located no such people, but I got hold of up-to-date contact information for M.I.L.B.A.T., the Israeli center for technology and accessibility. This center employs the services of volunteer professionals, who design custom adaptations for the needs of people with disabilities. I was in contact with the center several years ago, but somehow lost contact with them.

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