Saturday, May 28, 2016

Toyota teams with Segway inventor to revive innovative iBot wheelchair

From Mashable:

Dean Kamen, the man who gave us the Segway, has teamed up with Toyota to bring back another one of his most fascinating transportation devices: the iBot.
The iBot debuted back in the late '90s as an innovative multi-wheel chair that gave wheelchair-bound users the ability to travel up steep stairways, elevate themselves to the height of a standing person and even traverse rough, outside terrain. However, with a cost of about $25,000 per unit, the device simply didn't find enough users to stick around, as the device was officially discontinued in 2009. 
Now, in an announcement posted on its website on Saturday, Toyota has pledged to work with Kamen's Deka Research to launch a next generation version of the iBot.Kamen even appears in a new video (see below) riding the iBot, detailing the vision and reasoning behind bringing the device back into the market. 
"Our company is very focused on mobility solutions for all people," Osamu 'Simon' Nagata, chief administrative officer at Toyota Motor North America, said in a statement on Toyota's website. "We realize that it is important to help older adults and people with special needs live well and continue to contribute their talents and experience to the world." 
Toyota will also license Deka's balancing technology for the development of other medical rehabilitative therapeutic solutions.  
No price or release date for the next iteration of the iBot has been announced, but given the history of the first, potential users can at least hope for a lower price in the future. 

Nyle DiMarco makes history to become first Deaf contestant to win 'Dancing With the Stars'

As the weeks passed, the producers should have really just changed the name of Dancing With the Stars to Nyle DiMarco Slays Everyone and No One Complains. 
The 27-year-old deaf model and actor took home the Mirrorball trophy with dancing partner Peta Murgatroyd during the competition’s finale May 24. 
This is DiMarco's second TV competition win, after gaining national fame for dominating the 22nd and final cycle of America’s Next Top Model. 
DiMarco has turned his reality-show fame and created a platform for advocating for deaf and hearing-impaired people everywhere. Several of his most memorable performances—including his freelance dance to Disturbed’s cover of “The Sound of Silence"—were inspired by his life as a deaf man. 
He dedicated his win to the deaf community on Facebook. 
“This is for 70 million of deaf people in the world!” he wrote. “Winning this is a HUGE step to ending LANGUAGE DEPRIVATION of millions.

Why Siri won't listen to millions of people with disabilities

From Scientific American:

Emma Mattes has given up on Siri. No matter how clearly or slowly Mattes speaks, the Apple iPhone’s iconic voice-recognition technology has been no help to the 69-year-old woman from Seminole, Fla. She struggles with spasmodic dysphonia, a rare neurological voice disorder that causes involuntary spasms in the vocal cords, producing shaky and unstable speech. Her car’s Bluetooth voice system does not understand her either.  
Voice interfaces like Siri have now been sold in millions of products ranging from smartphones and Ford vehicles to smart TVs and the Amazon Echo. These systems promise to let people check the weather, lock their house doors, place a hands-free call while driving, record a TV show and buy the latest Beyoncé album with simple voice commands. They tout freedom from buttons and keyboards and promise nearly endless possibilities. 
But the glittering new technology cannot be used by more than nine million people in the U.S. with voice disabilities like Mattes nor by stutterers or those afflicted with cerebral palsy and other disorders. “Speech recognizers are targeted at the vast majority of people at that center point on a bell curve. Everyone else is on the edges,” explained Todd Mozer, CEO of the Silicon Valley–based company Sensory, which has voice-recognition chips in a variety of consumer products like Samsung Galaxy phones and Bluetooth headsets. 
Worse, help for people like Mattes may be a long way off. Although voice recognition is getting more accurate, experts say it is still not very good at recognizing many atypical voices or speech patterns. 
Researchers are trying to develop more inclusive voice recognizers, but that technology has serious hurdles to overcome. 
People on Mozer’s “edges” include approximately 4 percent of the U.S. population that had trouble using their voices for one week or longer during the past 12 months because of a speech, language or vocal problem, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Dysarthria, which is slow or slurred speech that can be caused by cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, stroke and a variety of other medical conditions, are part of this spectrum of problems. And the trouble extends worldwide. Cerebral palsy, for instance, affects the speech of Mike Hamill, of Invercargill, New Zealand, who was born with the disease and developed swallowing and throat control difficulties in his 30s. As a result, his speech is often strained and erratic. 
People who stutter also have trouble using voice-recognition technology, like automated phone menus, because these systems do not recognize their disjointed speech, says Jane Fraser, president of The Stuttering Foundation of America. 
There are other problems, such as vocal cord paralysis or vocal cysts, which tend to be less severe and are usually temporary. But these disorders can still reduce accuracy in speech recognition. For example, in a 2011 study that appeared in Biomedical Engineering Online researchers used a conventional automatic speech-recognition system to compare the accuracy of normal voices and those with six different vocal disorders. The technology was 100 percent correct at recognizing the speech of normal subjects but accuracy varied between 56 and 82.5 percent for patients with different types of voice ailments. 
For individuals with severe speech disorders like dysarthria, this technology’s word-recognition rates can be between 26.2 percent and 81.8 percent lower than for the general population, according to researchpublished in Speech Communication by Frank Rudzicz, a computer scientist at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute and assistant professor at the University of Toronto. “There’s a lot of variation among people with these disorders, so it’s hard to narrow down one model that would work for all of them,” Rudzicz says. 
This vocal variation is exactly why systems like Siri and Bluetooth have such a hard time understanding people with speech and voice disorders. Around 2012 companies started using neural networks to power voice-recognition products. Neural networks learn from a variety of speech samples and predictable patterns. Intelligent personal assistants like Siri and Google Now were not that robust when they first came out in 2011 and 2012, respectively. But they got better as they acquired more data from many different speakers, Mozer says. Now, these systems can do a lot more. Many companies boast an 8 percent or less word error rate, says Shawn DuBravac, chief economist and senior director of research at the Consumer Technology Association. 
Amazon Echo, which became widely available in June 2015, has a voice recognizer called Alexa that is targeted to perform specific functions such as fetching news from local radio stations, accessing music streaming services and ordering merchandise on Amazon. The device also has voice controls for alarms and timers as well as shopping and to-do lists. Over time Amazon has been adding more functions. 
But the nature of speech and vocal disabilities is that they produce random and unpredictable voices, and voice-recognition systems cannot identify patterns to train on. Apple and Amazon declined to address this problem directly when asked to comment, but said via email that, in general, they intend to improve their technology. Microsoft, which developed the speech-recognition personal assistant Cortana, said via a spokesperson that the company strives to be “intentionally inclusive of everyone from the beginning” when designing and building products and services. 
To find solutions, companies and researchers have looked to lip-reading, which has been used by some deaf and hard of hearing people for years. Lip-reading technology could provide additional data to make voice recognizers more accurate, but these systems are still in their early stages. At the University of East Anglia in England, computer scientist Richard Harvey and his colleagues are working on lip-reading technology that spells out speech when voice recognition is not enough to determine what a person is saying. “Lip-reading alone will not make you able to deal with speech disability any better. But it helps because you get more information,” Harvey says. 
Some products and systems might be more amenable to learning unusual voices, researchers say. A bank’s voice-automated customer service phone system or a car’s hands-free phone system have limited vocabularies—so hypothetically, Harvey says it would be easier to build a set of algorithms that recognize different versions and pronunciations for a fixed set of words. But these systems still use some unique words like the user’s name, which have to be learned. 
Another possibility is that devices could have the ability to ask clarifying questions to users when their voice-recognition systems do not immediately understand them, DuBravac says. 
Better-designed neural networks could eventually be part of the solution for people with speech disabilities—it is just a matter of having enough data. “The more data that becomes available, the better this technology is going to get,” Mozer says. That is starting to happen already with different languages and accented speech. According to Apple, Siri has so far learned 39 languages and language variants. 
But as this technology in its current state becomes more embedded in our daily lives, researchers such as Rudzicz warn that multitudes of people with speech and vocal problems will be excluded from connected “smart” homes with voice-activated security systems, light switches and thermostats, and they might not be able to use driverless cars. “These individuals need to be able to participate in our modern society,” he says. So far, attempts by tech companies to include them are little more than talk.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

With new YouTube series, 'Speechless with Carly,' Carly Fleischmann aims to be first non-verbal autistic talk show host

Carly Fleischmann has severe, non-verbal autism, but that didn’t stop her from interviewing one of Hollywood’s biggest (and hunkiest) stars, Channing Tatum. 
Fleischmann, who is from Toronto, was diagnosed with autism and oral-motor apraxia at the age of two. This means that she cannot speak. However, at the age of 10, she had a breakthrough and realized she could communicate through typing on a computer. 
Now the 21-year-old communicates through technology, revealing her witty, honest and hilarious personality. Watch below as the young woman interviews her biggest crush, Tatum. Here she asks him all sort of personal questions, ranging from his childhood to his marriage to his baby girl Everly. 
In the amusing seven-minute clip, Fleischmann makes her love for Tatum clear. When introducing him, she casually jokes, “Soon [Tatum] will dump his wife to be with me.” Later, she then reveals that sitting beside the 36-year-old actor is one of thescariest moments of her life. 
Fleischmann’s interview is part of her new YouTube series, “Speechless with Carly Fleischmann,” which launched on April 29. Through her series, the 21-year-old hopes to become the “world’s first autistic and non-verbal talk show host.” 
On Saturday, Fleischmann shared her video on her Facebook page where it quickly racked up over 13,000 likes and received hundreds of positive comments. 
“OmG that interview was GREAT! You are so funny!” one fan wrote. “How about the first non verbal comedian? Think it over. Love you Carly!” 
Another said: “Who cares about autism after seeing this... There is nothing about autism getting in your way here!!!! Well done Carly ...well done!!!!!!” 
Since finding her voice, Fleischmann has made it her duty to spread autism awareness. In 2012, the young woman made headlines after she co-wrote a book called “Carly’s Voice” with her father, Arthur, based on her struggles and experience with autism. 
That same year, a video revealing what autism is really like from Fleischmann's perspective went viral. Today it has over 2.5 million views. 
Earlier this year, Fleischmann was also credited for bringing awareness to Toronto’s “dancing barista,” Sam. In January, Fleischmann posted a video of the Canadian teen with autism to Facebook and YouTube in an attempt to combat misconceptions about the condition.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Groundbreaking settlement to end discrimination against blind Uber riders who use guide dogs

From Disability Rights Advocates:

April 30, 2016 – Berkeley, CA – In an unprecedented settlement announced today, Uber has agreed to take affirmative steps to prevent discrimination against blind riders who use guide dogs in its transportation network across the United States.
The settlement resolves a lawsuit—National Federation of the Blind of California, et al. v. Uber Technologies, Inc.—brought by the National Federation of the Blind, its California affiliate, and individuals who use guide dogs, to ensure that guide dog users have full and equal access to vehicles in the Uber network. This is the first nationwide class-action settlement of its kind against an app-based transportation network company.
While the growth of Uber’s on-demand transportation services has the potential to be a boon to blind people, drivers using the Uber platform have denied rides to blind people who use guide dogs. Any such discrimination violates federal and state laws that protect the rights of people with disabilities. Under the settlement, Uber will work to end this discrimination and blind individuals will be able to use Uber without the threat of discrimination.
Uber has agreed to take affirmative steps to tell drivers about their obligations to transport riders who are disabled and use service animals. Uber will require that existing and new drivers expressly confirm that they understand their legal obligations to transport riders with guide dogs or other service animals. Uber will also implement stricter enforcement policies—Uber will remove a driver from the platform upon a single complaint if Uber finds that the driver knowingly denied a person with a disability a ride because the person was traveling with a service animal. In addition, if Uber receives complaints that a driver denied a person a ride because of a service animal on more than one occasion, the driver will permanently be removed from the Uber platform regardless of the driver’s intent.
Uber will also enhance its response system for complaints related to discrimination against guide-dog users, and will track detailed data on all allegations of such discrimination. Additionally, the National Federation of the Blind and its California affiliate will deploy testers over a multi-year period to evaluate Uber’s compliance with the settlement.
Mark A. Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “Access to reliable and effective transportation is critical to the ability of blind people to live the lives we want. Uber and similar services can be a great asset to the blind when they are fully and equally available to us. The National Federation of the Blind is therefore pleased with Uber’s commitment to effectively enforce a nondiscrimination policy with respect to blind people who use guide dogs. We look forward to working with Uber to ensure that all blind passengers can take advantage of the innovative transportation service it offers.”
Plaintiff Michael Hingson commented: “This settlement is a great step forward for all blind people. Uber can be such a convenient transportation option. I’m looking forward to being able to use the Uber services when Uber makes the changes needed to fix its discrimination problem and bring true access to guide dog users.”
Attorney Larry Paradis of Disability Rights Advocates said: “This settlement sets important precedent and shows that companies cannot ignore the rights of people with disabilities just because they use a new technology or a novel business model. We are pleased we could come to an agreement with Uber and look forward to working with the company to ensure a more accessible system.”
Attorney Michael Bien of Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP observed: “Technology-enabled services such as Uber have tremendous potential to empower people with disabilities to live more independent lives. By ensuring reliable equal access for blind riders with service animals to Uber’s services, this agreement harnesses that potential.”
Plaintiffs and defendant submitted the proposed settlement to the court on April 29, 2016, and seek approval from the court to settle as a nationwide class action. Copies of the settlement and other documents can be found at
Plaintiffs are represented by Larry Paradis and Julia Marks of Disability Rights Advocates, Timothy Elder of TRE Legal, and Michael Bien and Michael Nunez of Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Thai university creates cheap, touchable ink for blind people

From CNET:

Researchers at Thammasat University in Thailand have created something that will potentially make it a lot cheaper for the blind to read. 
Called Touchable Ink, this new ink has the ability to rise when heated, turning what would normally be a flat row of printed Braille letters to an embossed version readable by fingers, according to a media release.
Developed in conjunction with Samsung, who supplied the printers, and advertising agency J Walter Thompson (JWT), the university expects that the ink will eventually be able to be used in normal printers. 
Touchable Ink promises to lower the cost of printing Braille text for blind users from the current cost of $1.1 (£0.75, AU$1.50) per embossed A4-sized page to just a mere 3 cents per page using a standard printer. Furthermore, there won't be a need to pay around $2,850 for a Braille embosser." 
We are quite certain that the cost of touchable ink would be a lot cheaper than Braille printing, considering that the material ingredient that we use is a lot cheaper compared by volume to the average toner quantity in cartridges available on the market," said a JWT spokesperson to CNET. 
It's not the only recent instance of technology being used to help to visually impaired. Facebook recently rolled out a new feature that describes what's in a picture for blind or visually impaired users with screen readers (a program that provides audio descriptions of the text on screen). 
Similarly, Apple's iPhones and their VoiceOver function help the visually impaired with navigating around town, surf the internet and even snap some great pictures.

Applications now being accepted for NBCUniversal Tony Coelho Media Scholarship

From AAPD:

Thanks to a generous contribution from NBCUniversal, the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) is proud to offer the NBCUniversal Tony Coelho Media Scholarship.
In 2016 the NBCUniversal Tony Coelho Media Scholarship will offer eight (8) scholarships to 2nd year associate students; undergraduate sophomores, juniors, and seniors; and graduate students with disabilities who are interested in pursuing a career in the entertainment industry. Each recipient will receive $5,625 to help cover the cost of education at their current college or university. The scholarship will be available for the 2016 fall semester. The 2016 application is due July 1, 2016 by 5pm ET.
This scholarship has been named in honor of Tony Coelho, a former United States Representative from California and the primary author and sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Coelho was elected to Congress in 1978 and served for six terms until 1989. During his terms, Coelho authored the original ADA, signed into law by President George H.W. Bush. By 1994, the U.S. Census Bureau reported 800,000 more people with severe disabilities were employed than when the ADA was first enacted, in large part thanks to the work of Coelho, his successors, and predecessors.
From 1994 to 2001, after being appointed by President Bill Clinton, Coelho served as Chairman of the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities. He also worked as the Vice Chair of the National Task Force on Employment of Adults with Disabilities. In 1998, Clinton appointed Coelho as the United States Commissioner General at the 1998 World Expo in Portugal. Clinton also appointed Coelho as Co-Chair to the U.S. Census Monitoring Board, a position he held until his appointment as general chairman of the Gore Presidential Campaign.
From June 2009 to June 2010, Coelho served as the Chairman of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), the country’s largest cross-disability membership organization.

2016 Scholarship Application Process


Any 2nd year associate’s degree student; undergraduate sophomore, junior, or senior; or graduate student who self-identifies as an individual with any type of disability. Students must be interested in pursuing a career in the entertainment industry – all majors are welcome to apply.
Please note: You will not be required to disclose your specific disability; however, your application for this scholarship will signify that you consider yourself a person with a disability. This scholarship is run specifically for students with disabilities by the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD).
Applicants chosen to receive an NBCUniversal Tony Coelho Media Scholarship release all information contained in their application for use on the AAPD website and in public press releases, including releases to the program funders and potential employees.

How to Apply

Due to an overwhelming interest in the NBCUniversal Tony Coelho Media Scholarship in 2015, AAPD is proud to announce that eight (8) scholarships will be available to students with disabilities pursuing communications or media-related degrees in 2016. AAPD would like to thank NBCUniversal for their commitment to the growth of the program and increasing their support in 2016!
Apply Online!
Applications can be completed online (through the link above) and must be submitted by 5pm ET on July 1, 2016. Incomplete or late applications will not be considered.
Applications can also be submitted to To do so, please send one email containing the completed application form (download the Word application form here) as well as your a) resume, b) unofficial transcript, and c) letter of recommendation. All applications must be submitted with all required attachments in one email. Any candidate who submits an incomplete application will be automatically disqualified.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Burger King's king finally speaks, by signing, for American Sign Language day

From Adweek:

From the days when he would pop up, unannounced, in your bed in the morning, Burger King's King character has never actually spoken a single word, preferring to let his creepily silent visage speak for him. But now, to celebrate National American Sign Language Day this Friday, the King is speaking up—by signing.
And he's asking BK fans to come up with an official sign for the Whopper sandwich.
Check out the announcement of the project in the video below, from David in Miami and Bullitt director Josh Greenbaum. It's creatively noteworthy in part because the entire 2:27 video is completely silent, which lends it a certain poignance that it wouldn't have otherwise.

"The Burger King brand is built not only on including everyone, but celebrating everyone," Fernando Machado, the fast-food chain's svp of global brand management, said in a statement. "National ASL Day felt like a perfect opportunity for the King to extend our brand mantra and engage with the ASL community on such a great day."
BK has also created an ASL version of its logo, and is making a scholarship donation benefiting students who are dedicating their studies to ASL language and interpretations.
It also has the King interpreting a recent TV spot in ASL, as you can see below.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Beyoncé casts model with muscular dystrophy to promote new products

Jillian Mercado, a blogger and model with muscular dystrophy, has been cast as a new face of Beyoncé’s online store, where she can be seen modelling the T-shirts, hats and sweaters that comprise the pop star’s latest line of merchandise. 
Mercado announced the news through her social media channels: “OK LADIES now let’s get in FORMATION!” she wrote on Instagram. “So BEYond excited to finally announce that I’m on the official @beyonce website!!!” 
The image she posted features her in a wheelchair alongside two other models. Mercado is wearing a “hot sauce” cap and a sweater emblazoned with the line “I twirl on them haters”. 
The words have been pulled from the lyrics of Formation, the surprise singleBeyoncé released in February. The song and clip represent Beyoncé’s most brazenly political work, commenting on the failure of race relations in the United States – both past and present – and their intersection with class, sexuality and gender. 
The Guardian columnist Syreeta McFadden celebrated the clip as an “inherently political and a deeply personal look at the black and queer bodies who have most often borne the brunt of our politics”, saying: “It compels us to reclaim the black American narrative from its margin and make it centre.” Beyoncé’s performance of the song at this year’s Super Bowl paid homage to the Black Panthers, Malcolm X and the Black Lives Matter movement. 
Mercado has been represented by IMG Models since last year and has worked oncampaigns for Diesel Jeans and Nordstrom. But the 28-year-old began in the industry much earlier, working as an intern at a variety of fashion magazines while studying at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, where her classmates compelled her to start blogging. 
“At first I was very hesitant,” she told Vogue in August. “I wasn’t sure about showing everyone my world because I didn’t know if there would be an audience. We’ve been brainwashed [as a society] not to care about someone who has a disability, or their world.” 
Her blog, Manufactured 1987, is equally weighted with posts about new fashion lines and her career as a model. She uses the blog, along with social media, as a platform to champion diversity in her industry. 
“I was shocked that I didn’t see anyone in the industry who was like me,” Mercado told Vogue. “So when people — girls especially — tell me that I’m their role model, I am taken aback. I love it and it is flattering but it affects me on a very personal level because I remember growing up without having a person I could look to.” 
Mercado wrote on Twitter that since the Beyoncé merchandise images had gone live, the feedback from the press had been “truly surreal” – and she used the moment to start another conversation. 
Referring to the term “wheelchair-bound”, which many in the disability community find offensive, she tweeted: “Now how about we fix that word bound...”

Thursday, March 17, 2016

UK award-winning film stars disabled actress in lead role

From Pos'ability magazine in the UK:

With the lack of black actors causing boycotts at this year’s Oscars; criticism of leading men like Eddie Redmayne ‘cribbing up’ to play disabled characters (The Theory of Everything) and now Joseph Fines in the firing line for playing a bleached up Michael Jackson in a one-off Sky 1 comedy, a new British indie film promises to put diversity in the front row by casting a disabled actress in the lead role to reflect her real condition on screen. 
Little Devil is a multiple award-winning British indie film that picked up gongs including ‘Best Lead Actress’ for its disabled star at the 2014 Los Angeles Diversity Film Festival. And now, taking advantage of the growing ‘on-the-go’ viewing habits of audiences, the movie gets its global release exclusively on-line via Distrify this February 2016.   
Little Devil is saucy, character-driven feature film about a mischievous, sexually frustrated disabled girl who forms an unorthodox relationship with a troubled, gay male escort. But rather than being a victim of her condition, she uses her disability, Osteogenesis Imperfecta (Brittle Bones), as a cunning advantage in achieving her hidden agenda. 
The film stars newcomer, Sam Renke (pictured), from Leyland in Lancashire, who has Brittle Bones, and – to our knowledge – will be the first disabled actress to take on a debut lead role in a British independent movie – and win awards! Sam worked closely with the film’s writer and its director, Max Barber, to base some of the plot on her real-life experiences of dating and sexual exploration from the perspective of someone with an abnormal condition, but with very normal sexual desires. The film is a radical vehicle for Sam in raising disability awareness as she is currently campaigning with Channel 4, as well as SCOPE, and still works to support The Brittle Bones Society where she was trustee, 2009 – 2015. 
Sam comments: “I’m not a ‘sit at home’ type of girl, I’m very pro-active in raising awareness in what to me, is still a blinkered world at times. The shameful lack of diversity at the Oscars, again, means that all of us in a perceived ‘minority’ must make a noise and demand change. The world’s population is amazingly varied – something not reflected by The Academy and its white, wealthy, ageing heterosexual male members.” 
Playing alongside her in the supporting role is black, British actor, DeObia Oparei who is currently making it big in Hollywood. Better known for his action movies: Doom, Thunderbirds & Dredd; more recently he appeared as Areo Hotach in Game of Thrones and he also features in this summer’s blockbuster sequel Independence Day: Resurgence. 
Rust & Bone, The Sessions, Marnie’s Story, The Finishers are just a few of the notable movies putting disability in the forefront of cinema in the last few years. Little Devil is leading the way in raising awareness of Brittle Bones in a frank and entertaining way. It portrays the condition as anything but a disability – and it doesn’t need an able-bodied actress pretending to use a wheelchair to do it. Little Devil revolves around the theme of unconventional families and sets out to turn the notion of what constitutes sex and body-diversity on its head. The film is designed to be a poignant, but ultimately, uplifting tale and deliberately sets out to court controversy and debate with its frank scenes and radical casting. 
The movie is directed and co-written by London based, first-time feature director, Max Barber, originally from Grays in Essex, who has a string of award-winning short films to his name released through Peccadillo Pictures in the UK and TLA Releasing in the USA. He’s best known for some of the TV shows he’s directed which include Geordie Shore, A Girls Guide to 21st Century Sex & Don’t Tell the Bride, so expect a fair sprinkle of outrageous behaviour and drunken shenanigans! However, Max promises the movie will certainly be a step away from his roots in television and will not skirt around the more weighty issues the film raises, choosing instead to bend convention, lay his characters bare, and apply his bold and colourful film-making style. 
Max comments: Understandably big star names attract film finance and audiences, but unless you start giving bigger parts to actors who don’t fit the convention, then you won’t get new and diverse talent into the system. I deliberately cast a disabled, up-and-coming actress, Sam, in the lead role, to get people talking, and gave her a powerful and positive character, rather than the stereotype, freak, villain or victim.” 
The trailer and film Little Devil is available to be seen and for rental or download on Distrify.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Amazon reaches deal with Deaf rights group to caption all video

A deaf rights group that sued Netflix to compel it to caption all its video programming has reached a similar deal with Amazon over its streaming video. 
Unlike the Netflix settlement, the deal between Amazon and the National Association for the Deaf was negotiated without litigation. 
Amazon has already captioned 100 percent of the video it offers through its Prime Video and has agreed to continue to do so. Under the deal with NAD, Amazon will move through its back-catalog content, captioning an additional 190,000 titles which weren't given captions by the content creators. 
For videos that have been viewed more than 10 times in the past 90 days, Amazon will get 90 percent of them captioned by the end of this year and 100 percent of them captioned by the end of 2016. 
"The NAD is thus thrilled by Amazon’s decision to make its online entertainment experience more accessible to deaf and hard of hearing customers who also look to Amazon to fulfill their needs for comprehensive goods and services," said Howard Rosenblum, CEO of the NAD. 
"All content available through Prime Video has been captioned since the beginning of this year and we already offer an extensive selection of captioned content," said Jim Freeman, VP of Amazon Video. "We are happy to partner with NAD to extend captions even deeper into our back catalog of titles." 
NAD attorney Namita Gupta said that the group tried to negotiate with Netflix, too, but "they were unwilling" and the negotiations failed. The discussion with Amazon, by contrast, was "amicable from the start," she said. 
Gupta said she hopes the Amazon settlement will serve as an example for anyone providing streaming video online. Asked if NAD was considering negotiating for 100 percent compliance from smaller entities who stream video online, through YouTube for instance, Gupta declined to comment. 
Harvard and MIT were sued by NAD earlier this year over their online courses, which aren't properly captioned. That case is ongoing. The university defendants have asked the case to be dismissed or stayed (PDF) until the Department of Justice releases its guidelines on when and how websites should be made compliant with the American for Disabilities Act. NAD has opposed that motion, which is fully briefed and could be decided any time. 
The DOJ guidelines are needed in part because courts have come out differently on the matter, the universities argue. In Massachusetts, a federal judge allowed the NAD lawsuit against Netflix to move forward. In April, the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled differently, finding that the ADA doesn't apply to Netflix.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Service launched to help universities comply with ADA web site regulations

Acknowledging that a wide variety of higher education institutions have run into legal problems because access to their Web sites does not conform to the most recent version of the Americans With Disabilities Act, Perkins School for the Blindhas launched a consulting service that will help colleges and universities meet requirements and enhance access to their digital resources. 
A division of the Perkins School in Watertown, MA, Perkins Solutions conducted a survey of the 20 colleges and universities ranked highest by U.S. News & World Report. The study found that more than 90 percent of the schools — meaning all but one or two — failed to meet at least some of the guidelines the federal government has set to make Web sites accessible to disabled users. 
As a consequence, Perkins has introduced its Perkins Access set of services to help schools address the problems of accessibility. Harvard University and theUniversity of Notre Dame have already taken advantage of the service. 
A team of accessibility technology experts will review a university's digital assets across the enterprise and provide an access report that outlines the accessibility issues discovered. The review typically includes Web content, mobile applications, Microsoft Office files, PDFs and hardware. 
The team can then develop remediation plans to ensure that those assets can be fully used by individuals with disabilities. Remediation efforts can include coding, the types of files used, and the captioning and audio description of rich media. If required, the team can also offer ongoing monitoring and a staff training program. 
"By making Web sites accessible," said Perkins Solutions Digital Accessibility Director Cris Broyles, "we not only create a more accessible world for individuals with disabilities, we make organizations more attractive to a broader audience."

Thursday, February 18, 2016

DisBeat announces first five 2016 #DisabilityVote initiatives

From DisBeat:
2016 is on track to become a historic election cycle for Disabled Americans. 
From live events –including the Road to Freedom Bus—to political action groups and viral social media campaigns, Disabled Americans are flexing their community organization and electoral power coast to coast through education, empowerment, and promotion of the 2016 Disability Vote. 
Collectively, this national effort of encouraging Americans with disabilities to engage in the 2016 Presidential Election will help ensure that the experience of 56.7 million Disabled Americans is reflected at this moment in American history. 
To participate in this national effort, DisBeat Announces First Five 2016 #DisabilityVote Initiatives. 
Full article can be found here
About DisBeat: DisBeat is a national communications initiative designed to coordinate and promote proactive messaging on disability rights issues throughout the country. DisBeat uses a variety of communication tools, including social media, to bring attention to disability issues from an authentic disability perspective. DisBeat also maintains a database of subject-matter experts, fact sheets and talking points on a variety of critical issues facing 56.7 million Americans with Disabilities. DisBeat is a project of The ADA Legacy Projects. Initial Partners include ADAPT of Montana, Center for Disability Rights, Disability Rights Center, Disability Visibility Project, EIN SOF Communications, Nothing Without Us Media, and Shepherd Center (

Robots, video games create radical new approach to treating stroke survivors

The first part of The New Yorker article:

In late October, when the Apple TV was relaunched, Bandit’s Shark Showdown was among the first apps designed for the platform. The game stars a young dolphin with anime-huge eyes, who battles hammerhead sharks with bolts of ruby light. There is a thrilling realism to the undulance of the sea: each movement a player makes in its midnight-blue canyons unleashes a web of fluming consequences. Bandit’s tail is whiplash-fast, and the sharks’ shadows glide smoothly over rocks. Every shark, fish, and dolphin is rigged with an invisible skeleton, their cartoonish looks belied by the programming that drives them—coding deeply informed by the neurobiology of action. The game’s design seems suspiciously sophisticated when compared with that of apps like Candy Crush Soda Saga and Dude Perfect 2.

Bandit’s Shark Showdown’s creators, Omar Ahmad, Kat McNally, and Promit Roy, work for the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and made the game in conjunction with a neuroscientist and neurologist, John Krakauer, who is trying to radically change the way we approach stroke rehabilitation. Ahmad told me that their group has two ambitions: to create a successful commercial game and to build “artistic technologies to help heal John’s patients.” A sister version of the game is currently being played by stroke patients with impaired arms. Using a robotic sling, patients learn to sync the movements of their arms to the leaping, diving dolphin; that motoric empathy, Krakauer hopes, will keep patients engaged in the immersive world of the game for hours, contracting their real muscles to move the virtual dolphin.

Many scientists co-opt existing technologies, like the Nintendo Wii or the Microsoft Kinect, for research purposes. But the dolphin simulation was built in-house at Johns Hopkins, and has lived simultaneously in the commercial and the medical worlds since its inception. “We depend on user feedback to improve the game for John’s stroke patients,” Ahmad said. “This can’t work without an iterative loop between the market and the hospital.”
In December, 2010, Krakauer arrived at Johns Hopkins. His space, a few doors from the Moore Clinic, an early leader in the treatment ofAIDS, had been set up in the traditional way—a wet lab, with sinks and ventilation hoods. The research done in neurology departments is, typically, benchwork: “test tubes, cells, and mice,” as one scientist described it. But Krakauer, who studies the brain mechanisms that control our arm movements, uses human subjects. “You can learn a lot about the brain without imaging it, lesioning it, or recording it,” Krakauer told me. His simple, non-invasive experiments are designed to produce new insights into how the brain learns to control the body. “We think of behavior as being the fundamental unit of study, not the brain’s circuitry. You need to study the former very carefully so that you can even begin to interpret the latter.”
Krakauer wanted to expand the scope of the lab, arguing that the study of the brain should be done in collaboration with people rarely found on a medical campus: “Pixar-grade” designers, engineers, computer programmers, and artists. Shortly after Krakauer arrived, he founded the Brain, Learning, Animation, Movement lab, or BLAM! That provocative acronym is true to the spirit of the lab, whose goal is to break down boundaries between the “ordinarily siloed worlds of art, science, and industry,” Krakauer told me. He believes in “propinquity,” the ricochet of bright minds in a constrained space. He wanted to create a kind of “neuro Bell Labs,” where different kinds of experts would unite around a shared interest in movement. Bell Labs is arguably the most successful research laboratory of all time; it has produced eight Nobel Prizes, and inventions ranging from radio astronomy to Unix and the laser. Like Bell, BLAM! would pioneer both biomedical technologies and commercial products. By developing a “self-philanthropizing ecosystem,” Krakauer believed, his lab could gain some degree of autonomy from traditionally conservative funding structures, like the National Institutes of Health.
The first problem that BLAM! has addressed as a team is stroke rehabilitation. Eight hundred thousand people in the U.S. have strokes each year; it is the No. 1 cause of long-term disability. Most cases result from clots that stop blood from flowing to part of the brain, causing tissue to die. “Picture someone standing on a hose, and the patch of grass it watered dying almost immediately,” Steve Zeiler, a neurologist and a colleague of Krakauer’s, told me. Survivors generally suffer from hemiparesis, weakness on one side of the body. We are getting better at keeping people alive, but this means that millions of Americans are now living for years in what’s called “the chronic state” of stroke: their recovery has plateaued, their insurance has often stopped covering therapy, and they are left with a moderate to severe disability.
 In 2010, Krakauer received a grant from the James S. McDonnell Foundation to conduct a series of studies exploring how patients recover in the first year after a stroke. He was already well established in the worlds of motor-control and stroke research. He had discovered that a patient’s recovery was closely linked to the degree of initial impairment, a “proportional recovery rule” that had a frightening implication: if you could use early measures of impairment to make accurate predictions about a patient’s recovery three months later, what did that say about conventional physical therapy? “It doesn’t reverse the impairment,” Krakauer said.