Wednesday, July 08, 2009

New Undersecretary of Education

I received this press release from AHEAD today, about the confirmation of Martha Kanter as new Undersecretary of Education. As you will see, this is a very positive appointment for the disability community....

"Martha Kanter will be sworn in today as the Undersecretary of Education. Most recently Kanter has served as Chancellor of the Foothill - De Anza Community College District in California. Earlier in her career she directed the disability services office at San Jose City College where she created the school’s first program for students with learning disabilities as the Director of Disability Support Services."

"Kanter holds a bachelor's degree from Brandeis University, a master's in education from Harvard University and a doctorate in organization and leadership from the University of San Francisco. Her doctoral research explored the "Relationship of Demographic, Institutional, and Assessment Factors Affecting Access to Higher Education for Underrepresented Students in the California Community Colleges." "

"A past-president of AHEAD’s Affiliate CAPED, the California Association of Postsecondary Education and Disability, and former member of AHEAD, Kanter is a strong supporter of the use of technology and digital texts. She is well informed about assistive technology and e-text access through her own work and that of her late husband, Carl Brown who directed the High Tech Center Training Unit for the California Community Colleges where he researched and tested new technologies to assist disabled students, and trained faculty and staff in the state's 110 community colleges on using them."

"Kanter will be the first Undersecretary appointed from the ranks of Community College leadership and the first former DSS Director to serve in the top tier at the Department of Education. As Under Secretary of Education she will coordinate policy, programs, and activities related to vocational and adult education, postsecondary education, college aid, and the President’s financial reforms for the Pell Grant program."

"Congratulations Martha Kanter!"

Monday, April 06, 2009

Sign the Petition!

I got a new email from AHEAD today -- I signed the petition, you should too:

Good morning,

As you may recall from the summary e-mail message we sent you last week, AHEAD is one of the founding organizations who have joined together in the Reading Rights Coalition.

The Reading Rights Coalition is engaged in a campaign to obtain access for the blind and others with print disabilities to e-books available for Amazon’s new Kindle 2 e-book reader. The new reader, which Amazon is working to make fully accessible, has the ability to use text-to-speech to read these e-books aloud; but under pressure from the Authors Guild, Amazon has announced that authors and publishers will be allowed to disable the text-to-speech function. Over 25 organizations have joined to form the Reading Rights Coalition, which has set up an on-line petition to urge the Authors Guild and Amazon to reverse course.

Please visit to learn more about the work of the coalition, to read the Open Letter to Authors, and to sign the petition. Additionally, an informational picket will be held in front of the Authors’ Guild, 31 East 32nd Street in Manhattan, tomorrow, April 7th from 12:00 to 2:00 pm.

Signing the petition prior to the end of the day today [4/6/09] will be particularly helpful.

Please note: If you are using screen access technology, the first three fields on the form to sign the petition may not be announced. They are, in order: (1) a drop-down menu from which to select your prefix (Mr., Mrs., etc.); (2) an edit field for your first name, and (3) an edit field for your last name. The rest of the fields should announce themselves as you tab to them.

Thank you for your participation in this important effort!If you have questions about this topic, or the efforts surrounding it, please feel welcome to contact either of us directly.

Mike Shuttic, AHEAD President

Jim Marks, AHEAD President-Elect

Monday, March 30, 2009

Author's Guild -- Get a Clue

[If you want to write the Author's Guild and encourage them to rethink their position, their email address is:]

Below I'm going to post a letter/newsrelease that I got from AHEAD today -- AHEAD is an organization for people who provide services to students at the post-secondary (i.e., college) level.

Through a link on a friend's website, I became aware of the controversy about the e-text to "voice" function of the Kindle 2.0. Just a few points:
  • This is not a separate recording, folks. This is software "reading" the e-text audibly. For people who are "print impaired" -- whether because of vision impairment, learning disabilities or physical issues holding a book -- this is a huge boon. In fact, I wrote to Amazon when Kindle 1.0 came out, and suggested they add this function for people with disabilities.
  • Were you aware that currently, print impaired students must buy copies of textbooks, which are then converted into "alternative formats" -- either e-text or braille or mp3s -- with the knowledge of the publishers?
  • To think of this audio as an audio book is ludicrous. It is all software, it is not nuanced, as an audio book (at least a good one) would be.
  • Anyone accessing the book this way HAS TO BUY THE BOOK! Hello? Whether you're using the function because your hands are full and you're doing 2 things at once, or because you're blind, the fact that you're listening on the Kindle means YOU BOUGHT THE BOOK.
  • I understand that authors are concerned that they are not getting the royalties to which they are entitled, but if the guild succeeds in this, it will be a stupid step backwards in access for people with disabilities to print material, and they should be individually and collectively ashamed of themselves.
  • Did I mention that YOU HAVE TO BUY THE BOOK to use the audio feature?

AHEAD's newsrelease:

You may be familiar with the current topic regarding Amazon, Kindle 2, and the Authors Guild. Amazon produces the Kindle 2, a small portable device that is used to read literary works. It is capable of producing an audio version as well. The Authors Guild, which represents authors, is concerned about use of the audio version as an infringement on copyright. AHEAD has joined a broad group of agencies and organizations in addressing this issue as it is at the core of access to publications/texts. There are (or are planned) a variety of efforts including open letters to authors, opinion letters in newspapers, postings on websites/YouTube, and picketing. As a professional organization, AHEAD’s role is a voice of support of the efforts that help address the issue of universal access. Our focus is on helping to ensure that all individuals have the right and ability to access public works of literature by whatever means available at no additional cost or obstacle.

Following is the first press release from this coalition of organizations of which AHEAD is pleased to be a part.


Chris Danielsen
Director of Public Relations
National Federation of the Blind
(410) 659-9314, ext. 2330 (410) 262-1281 (Cell)

Reading Rights Coalition Urges Authors to Allow Everyone Access to E-books
Informational Protest to be Held at Authors Guild Headquarters

New York City (March 30, 2009): The Reading Rights Coalition, which represents people who cannot read print, will protest the threatened removal of the text-to-speech function from e-books for the Amazon Kindle 2 outside the Authors Guild headquarters in New York City at 31 East 32nd Street on April 7, 2009, from noon to 2:00 p.m.

The coalition includes the blind, people with dyslexia, people with learning or processing issues, seniors losing vision, people with spinal cord injuries, people recovering from strokes, and many others for whom the addition of text-to-speech on the Kindle 2 promised for the first time easy, mainstream access to over 245,000 books.

When Amazon released the Kindle 2 electronic book reader on February 9, 2009, the company announced that the device would be able to read e-books aloud using text-to-speech technology. Under pressure from the Authors Guild, Amazon has announced that it will give authors and publishers the ability to disable the text-to-speech function on any or all of their e-books available for the Kindle 2.

Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “The blind and print-disabled have for years utilized text-to-speech technology to read and access information. As technology advances and more books move from hard-copy print to electronic formats, people with print disabilities have for the first time in history the opportunity to enjoy access to books on an equal basis with those who can read print. Authors and publishers who elect to disable text-to-speech for their e-books on the Kindle 2 prevent people who are blind or have other print disabilities from reading these e-books. This is blatant discrimination and we will not tolerate it.”

Mike Shuttic, president of the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD), said: “AHEAD envisions educational and societal environments that value disability and embody equality of opportunity. This vision of AHEAD is directly aligned with the efforts of this coalition. Although much rhetoric is made about potential obstacles and problems that exist, the basic goal is clear and simple––access for everyone. And why create something that prevents it?”

Mitch Pomerantz, president of the American Council of the Blind, said: “Removing the text-to-speech features closes the door on an innovative technological solution that would make regular print books available to tens of thousands of individuals who are blind or visually impaired.”

Andrew Imparato, President and Chief Executive Officer for the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), said: “It is outrageous when a technology device shuts out people with all kinds of disabilities. AAPD works to remove barriers to accessibility and usability in technology, and we don’t expect to see people with disabilities singled out by having to pay more for access. New technologies, such as electronic books, should be available to everyone regardless of disability.”

Paul Schroeder, vice president of programs and policy for the American Foundation for the Blind, said: "Those of us with print disabilities have long dreamed of a world in which books and media are available to us at the same time as everyone else. The Kindle 2 offers that possibility for the first time. We hope publishers and authors come to see that text-to-speech is simply an alternative means of access to print."

Dr. Peter Blanck, chairman and university professor at Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University, said: “As electronic books become the norm, denying universal access will result in more and more people with disabilities being left out of education, employment, and the societal conversation. We will all suffer from the absence of their participation and contribution to the debates that occupy us as a society.”

George Kerscher of the Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) Consortium, said: "The DAISY Consortium envisions a world where people with print disabilities have equal access to information and knowledge, without delay or additional expense. Authors and publishers surely must share this vision. Now that the issue of human rights has been explained, and the opportunity for larger sales are known, I urge the Authors Guild to reverse their position on text-to-speech and join us in actively encouraging all publishers and reading technology developers to open the world of reading to everybody. Authors, join us on the picket line."

Steve Jacobs, president of IDEAL Group Inc., said, “Not only is text-to-speech important to people who are blind, it is critical in providing quality educations to millions of young people who rely on text-to-speech to learn effectively. This includes students with autism, learning disabilities, mobility disabilities, and cognitive disabilities that impact their ability to acquire information with their eyes only. I remain hopeful that the talented members of the Authors Guild come to understand the potential negative impact of disabling the text-to-speech function on their e-books and reconsider their position.”

Cynthia D. Waddell, executive director of the International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet (ICDRI), said: “The mission of ICDRI supports the removal of barriers in electronic and information technology and the promotion of equal access. ICDRI welcomes the text-to-speech functionality being offered by the Kindle 2 since it increases mainstream access to books for the first time in history. We question why the Authors Guild demands that it be turned it off since many more books would be sold if text-to-speech was turned back on. Not only does this feature benefit persons with disabilities, but it also helps persons for whom English is not their native language. In an increasingly mobile society, flexibility in access to content improves the quality of life for everyone.”

James Love, director of Knowledge Ecology International, said: “Knowing full well that not everyone can see, the Authors Guild wants the right to be seen, but not heard. By bullying Amazon to change the technology of Kindle 2, the Authors Guild will either deny access to people who are disabled, or make them pay more. By attacking disabled persons in this way, the Authors Guild is attacking everyone who would otherwise benefit from the contributions this community has the potential to offer.”

James H. Wendorf, executive director for the National Center for Learning Disabilities, said: "Access to the written word is the cornerstone of education and democracy. New technologies must serve individuals with disabilities, not impede them. Our homes, schools and ultimately our economy rely on support for the future, not discriminating practices and beliefs from the past.”

While the Kindle 2 is not currently accessible to blind users, Amazon recently announced on its Kindle 2 blog that it is currently at work on making the device’s navigational features accessible to the blind.

The coalition includes: American Association of People with Disabilities, American Council of the Blind, American Foundation for the Blind, Association on Higher Education and Disability, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Burton Blatt Institute, Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) Consortium, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF), IDEAL Group, Inc., International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet, International Dyslexia Association, International Dyslexia Association––New York Branch, Knowledge Ecology International, Learning Disabilities Association of America, National Center for Learning Disabilities, National Disability Rights Network, National Federation of the Blind, NISH, and the National Spinal Cord Injury Association.

In addition to the April 7 New York City protest, the coalition will participate in the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on April 25-26.

[If you want to write the Author's Guild and encourage them to rethink their position, their email address is:]

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Scholarship Opportunity

I just heard about a scholarship opportunity for students still in high school, or those who are college undergraduates, from The 1800Wheelchair scholarship isn't limited to students with mobility impairments, but they say "preference will be given to students with mobility disabilities".

Contrary to popular belief, there aren't a lot of scholarship opportunities for students with disabilities -- you should check it out.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Disability and the Inauguration

I checked in on a friend's blog today (Becs Again), and found this entry about remembering the fulfill the civil rights of other groups at the inauguration, amidst discussions of "post-racial America": A Soapbox Moment.

Then, I did a Google search, and at a cool blog called Media dis&dat came up with this great post: Wheelchair Users Pre-Test Access for Presidential Inauguration.

I'm taking the day off to watch the inauguration of Barack Obama -- a day that I could only fervently hope for a year ago.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Give One, Get One Program

I first heard about the One Laptop Per Child "give one, get one" program a few years ago. In a nutshell, founder Nicholas Negroponte's vision is to provide laptop computers to children in the most impoverished countries in the world. The Mission Statement reads: "To create educational opportunities for the world's poorest children by providing each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning. When children have access to this type of tool they get engaged in their own education. They learn, share, create, and collaborate. They become connected to each other, to the world and to a brighter future."

Last night on Charlie Rose, Negroponte said that he thought that the non-profit's ability to produce laptops for under $200 is one of the things that has driven down the price of consumer-oriented smaller laptops, which you can now find for under $500.

Negroponte has recently formed a collaborative relationship with as well. As I understand it, there are 2 options: 1) give one for $199 -- meaning you pay to give one of the specially designed laptops; or 2) "give one, get one" for $399, in which you give one of the laptops and get one to use for yourself. And no, you can't just get one for yourself.

This isn't cheap, but, if you are like me, and thinking about a different approach to Christmas for this year, you might want to check it out...