Saturday, August 30, 2014

Cybernetic Senses: What It's Like to Hear in Color

Neil Harbisson with his "eyeborg" and his art
This week we've got a really cool TED Talk about a man who is, as far as his eyes are concerned, completely color blind. But when it comes to his ears, he has access to more colors than the average human. Since Neil Harbisson cannot see in color, he hears colors instead. This allows him to visually translate sound. (At left is  Harbisson with two of his visual  sound representations.) He can also hear things that are visual. For instance, he can not only hear a human's voice in the typical way, but he can also hear that person's face.

What some might consider a limitation has, with some scientific help, allowed Harbisson to extend beyond typical human capabilities. He is a proud cyborg living in a sweet-sounding world of color. Check it out!

Have a good rest of your Labor Day weekend!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Portland's Cost of Compliance

As it turns out, many Portland city properties are not compliant with ADA standards, even after recent renovations. But with the hefty price tags that come with mending these issues, it seems that officials need to take a look at which facilities would see the most benefit from being fixed.

According to Willamette Weekly, city officials have been putting together a list of problem areas and hope to fix them to avoid lawsuits, but it's a huge undertaking. There are 25,829 places on city property that are not compliant with ADA standards, and of those, almost 80% are in city parks.

Even the recently renovated Providence Park stadium is not up to code; Essentially none of the ramps and concourse walkways meet ADA slope requirements. Fixing this could cost up to $1.1 million.

So far, the city has spent $663,402 identifying barriers in extreme detail. They have taken into account fractions of inches. While this attention to detail is nice, one hopes that the city uses good judgement in prioritizing renovations. For instance, putting in wheelchair ramps where none currently exist might take precedence over raising a Benson Bubbler drinking fountain one inch.

According to disabilities advocate with the United Spinal Association, Ian Ruder, many of the identified barriers aren't keeping people from where they need to go. “It's a black-and-white law in a gray world,” Ruder says. “Hopefully they are able to prioritize the places that have the greatest impact for the most people.”

Ruder, a wheelchair user himself, went to some of the identified problem locations with Willamette Week and had a look. Ruder and WW took videos at five locations and identified and assessed the noted barriers. I recommend taking a look at the videos (from City Hall; the Portland Building 12, and 3; Director Park; Providence Park; and Laurelhurst Park 1 and 2). Problems that were identified in documents aren't necessarily the most relevant issues.

According to officials from Portland Parks and Recreation, they will use a $68 million parks bond that is on the ballot this November to help with the upgrades, though the exact amount that would go into accessibility upgrading was not specified.

So, kind of a bummer that there are so many issues in our city that make for problematic accessibility, but at least they are being identified, and hopefully they will be fixed in spite of the large cost.

What do you think? Have you witnessed any of these issues firsthand? What do you think about Ruder's assessments?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Il Sogno di Omero - Exploring Dreams of the Blind

Last week, we got a post on the Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp Facebook page from a page called Il Sogno d'Omero. My first instinct was that it was something spammy, but it is actually the title of an Italian film that hopes to come to fruition. Il Sogno di Omero--The Dream of Homer--is a documentary about five people who are blind from birth. Specifically, the film hopes to answer the question "What does one who lives without seeing dream about?" through a diary-like narrative that loosely follows Homer's "The Odyssey". 

The film, directed by Emiliano Aiello follows Rosa, Domenico, Gabriel, Daniela, and Fabio, five people who live sompletely separate lives and are unconnected to one another except in their habit of grabbing a tape recorder upon waking and describing their dreams. These oral diaries serve as the roots of the film's narrative.

Gabriel's story is the spine through which the other characters weave. His dreams often focus on and return to a metaphorical home. Domenico dreams in water, where he can move with ease and confidence without his sight. Rosa is a writer and an artist. Her dreams show up in her stories and sculptures. Daniela finds her dreams when she goes to the movies. She loves watching them through audio descriptions or when people describe the images for her. The images form from the sounds she hears. Fabio is an IT developer and a musician. He plays piano and accordion and matches his dreams to the music he writes. 

The film has gotten some funding and support from Roma III University, but the crew is trying to gain additional funding through an Indiegogo campaign. (If you check out that page, don't be discouraged if you can't at first read it; the English translation is near the bottom.)

Here is a small part of the film that has been produced. Check it out!

Friday, August 8, 2014

SIGN-Along Videos Totally Beat Sing-Along Ones

The way cool videos travel around the internet, this may be old news right now, but I hope not, because I think it's rad. Sing-along videos seem pretty big lately (thank you, "Frozen"), but what about sign-along videos? American Sign Language interpreter Tina Cleveland and her fiance, Paul Sirimarco, recently posted a video of them in the car signing - not singing - along to "You're the One That I Want" from the musical Grease.

The first thing I noticed was that Paul does not look very thrilled, especially when compared to the wonderfully expressive Tina. Her facial grammar is definitely superior. However, I quickly remembered that Paul is driving while signing, so he is forgiven in my book! Take a look. What do you think?

My hope is that this video and videos like it will help American Sign Language gain some internet cred that will translate into the non-internet world of human-to-human interaction. Maybe more people will want to learn sign language, and we can work at bringing people from different communities closer through communication. Tina shares a similar hope. She wrote on Facebook: "Being able to share music through sign language (and dance) is honestly what my little heart lives for. Also, hearing people say they want to learn ASL is sooooo awesome! Do it!!!"

Friday, August 1, 2014

E-voting: Accessibility vs. Security

Meep! Second serious post in a row, but accessibility law is important, right? And this one in particular is controversial, too, because it potentially affects not just the disabled community, but the entire country. It's about...[cue dramatic music]

The debate over whether Americans should be allowed to vote through the internet is not exactly fresh. There are those, namely voting system manufacturers, who claim its inevitability and modernity and those who counter, arguing that wide-scale fraud would abound. Recently, though, the debate has turned from a back-and-forth between convenience and security to a civil rights issue.

The focus is on Maryland, where the debate is whether or not the state board of elections must certify internet-based delivery and marking of absentee ballots for members of the disabled community. The plaintiffs are the National Federation for the Blind (NFB), a man with cerebral palsy, and a woman who is deaf and blind.

Maryland's proposed system is not internet voting to the fullest extent; rather, it allows absentee voters to get their ballots online and mark them through an internet-connected browser window that communicates with the county election office's servers. Then they would also have to print the ballot, sign and mail it. It's a similar system to what overseas and military voters currently use. As of 2012, too, all voters in Alaska have had the option to vote electronically.

Those who use forms of electronic voting systems currently represent a small portion of voters. Opponents are concerned that, should the lawsuit succeed, a national precedent will be set, and everyone will be able to vote online. This, they say, would mean exposing a vast number of voters to compromised security and privacy.

However, members of the disabled community know quite a bit about compromised security and privacy when voting. Polling booths are required to have accessibility features that allow visually impaired voters to listen to instructions and choices, but poll workers are often untrained in these features, and volume and clarity can be problematic. Blind absentee voters tend to have to go to elections offices and trust an election worker to fill out the ballot accurately and faithfully. Further, there does not currently exist a polling system that allows the deaf-blind or those with motor skill impairments to vote independently.

“People without disabilities take it for granted being able to vote privately or independently,” says Lou Ann Blake, the Help America Act project coordinator for the NFB. “That's not something the blind person can do absentee. Even if it's a family member helping them, that can be an awkward situation. I want to be able to vote privately and independently absentee like everybody else. I don't think that's an irrational expectation.”

Still, widespread security is a major concern for many voters. Security is an issue even with paper ballots, but e-voting opponents say that those risks are minor compared to those posed by online voting. In particular, online voting increases the population of potential (anonymous and possibly remote) saboteurs and their methods of vote-rigging.

What do you think? Both sides have valid points. Share your thoughts!

(Also, if you want to read more, click here!)