Corona Virus Statistics Website Accessible for the Blind and Partially Sighted

From Cool Blind Tech:

A Boston-based software developer wanted to make COVID-19 stats accessible

He created a website that would be easily readable by electronic braille readers and other assistive devices used by the blind and partially sighted.

Tyler Littlefield, a software developer based in Boston, has created a database of COVID-19 statistics meant to be accessible to the visually impaired.

Called CVStats.net, the site organizes up-to-date COVID-19 data in simple charts specifically designed to be legible to a range of aid devices the visually impaired use to access websites.

For Littlefield, and many other people with visual impairments, trying to stay updated during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge because many of the commonly shared charts and graphs are inaccessible, including those from the CDC and Department of Public Health.

“For many people with various types of disabilities, graphics and the information conveyed in them is hard to read and understand,” Littlefield told Vice.

“I believe in the idea of open data, data that everyone can access to help make informed decisions. Finding this lack, I created CVStats to present the data to users in a straightforward way, free of ads, click-through news articles and graphics.”

One of the main obstacles in making COVID-19 information more accessible are the conventions of modern web design. With a profusion of autoplay videos, pop-up windows, and animated inserts, many modern websites make it difficult for braille embossers to scan a webpage and convert its content into a braille printout.

“Clutter is the enemy of tactical legibility,” Naomi Rosenberg of the accessibility firm Lighthouse told Vice.

“For each of these, a blind reader is at the mercy of the designer, writer, or educator to produce quality graphics, concise image descriptions, or properly formatted tables,” Rosenberg said.

One possible alternative to visual graphs are ‘sonification curves,’ which translate graph lines into rising and falling sounds to try and convey a similar sense of magnitude, something that an aid device won’t be able to do without simple and accessible data.

Another challenge, according to Sassy Outwater-Wright, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, is that many healthcare facilities don’t post clear or accessible information about their policies.

For instance, some drive through testing sites only allow private vehicles, not taxis or other commercial vehicles, which would be important for a visually impaired person who can’t drive themselves to know before planning a visit.

“The moment that I heard everything was going drive-thru I kind of had a cringe moment because, other than in the hospital, there’s really no other way to access that testing, and for many in our community, including myself, who are immunocompromised, that puts us at a much higher risk,” Outwater-Wright said.

“We don’t get the benefit of staying in our car, we don’t get the benefit of trying to continue to social distance. We have to go in.”

For more information see Motherboard on Vice.com…

Relay Conference Captioning

The following information is provided by Debra Bare-Rogers, Advocate, from the Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS).

Attending virtual event, is a great opportunity to connect. For attendees with hearing loss, this can bring challenges. Free resources are available to make online meeting participation more accessible. In Maine, deaf and hard of hearing individuals can use Relay Conference Captioning.

What is Relay Conference Captioning?

RCC (also called Sprint Teleconference Captioning) offers live and high quality captioning for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing individuals to participate in meetings (in-person or remote), phone calls, videoconferences and multi-party teleconference calls. There is no cost to use this service.

Please use this link to see a demonstration of how RCC works

How to use RCC

Schedule an RCC event at least 12 hours before the meeting time.

  1. Use this link to go to the Maine Relay Conference Captioning Event Request form. Complete the form and submit the form.
  2. You will receive an email from Relay Conference Captioning confirming your request along with a link to the captioning.
  3. At the start time of the event, (using a computer, laptop or smartphone) login by clicking on the link provided in the confirmation email. Captioning will appear in real time during the call.
  4. NOTE: During the event, if you have a question or comment you can use the text box in the bottom right corner and the captioner will speak into the call on your behalf.

If you have additional questions about RCC and other relay resources available in Maine. Debra is available via Zoom to provide 1:1 virtual appointments, staff presentations and webinars. Contact her to schedule a meeting.

Debra Bare-Rogers
drogers@drme.org 

Disability Rights Maine
1 Mackworth Island, Bldg. C
Falmouth, Maine 04105

Phone: 207-797-7656 x 113 (V/TTY)
Toll Free: 800-639-3884 (V/TTY)
Fax: 207-797-9791

TRS includes Maine Relay Services, captioned telephone services (CapTel or CTS), and 711.

Voice-Assisted Coronavirus COVID-19 Screening

The following comes from Cool Blind Tech:

iPadApple also partnered with CDC on app and website for coronavirus triage

With voice-assisted tools released by Amazon and Apple, you can answer a few questions to figure out if you need further medical assistance for COVID-19.

Simply say, “Hey, Siri” for iPhones or “Alexa” for Amazon devices, and ask if you have the coronavirus.

These technologies are no replacement for professional medical advice, but they can help you figure out first steps at home when the health care system is overwhelmed with long wait times.

Amazon Echo

Amazon announced Thursday that it launched a screening tool for the United States that will talk you through some symptom-checkers.

“Ask, ‘Alexa, what do I do if I think I have COVID-19?” or “Alexa, what do I do if I think I have coronavirus?” and Alexa will ask a series of questions about your travel history, symptoms, and possible exposure. Based on your responses, Alexa will provide CDC guidance given your risk level and symptoms,” Amazon said in a statement.

Read the complete article on Cool Blind Tech

Read the news release from Apple

Read news release from Amazon

 

Google Teach From Home

Google logoIn response to the rapidly changing educational landscape, Google has created a new resource for teachers Teach from Home. The new web resource is available in eleven languages and provides teachers with answers to many questions and links to make additional resources found on their Google in Education service. There is a complete section on accessibility that describes how to turn on and use access features in Chrome and on Chromebooks.

The Teach From Home resource is also available to download (in PDF) for teachers who have limited access to the internet.

Google has also created a complementary resources, Learn @ Home a guide for parents and guardians.  Google partnered with learning creators to bring parents and families meaningful resources and activities. These resources are not meant to replace homework assigned by teachers, but meant to complement that work.

Use this link to visit Teach From Home

 

Hotspot Donations and Wireless for Educators

ACTEM and all ISTE affiliates have been asked to pass along the following information from Digital Wish…

Hotspot Donations and $10/Month Wireless for Educators

With nationwide school closures due to COVID-19, nonprofits Mobile Beacon and Digital Wish have a major hotspot donation program available that can significantly increase remote connectivity for students and teachers. Visit digitalwish.org and get up to 11 donated hotspots per school. Discounted $10/month unlimited 4G LTE internet service is provided so that teachers and students can connect and learn from anywhere in the Mobile Beacon coverage area. With a lending pool of hotspots, students-in-need can access the internet to embark on a distance learning journey during isolation.

Each hotspot has unlimited, high-speed 4G LTE mobile broadband service, and can connect up to 10 people on the internet on only one plan.

This donation program is open to all public, private, and non-profit K-12 schools and universities. For higher-need schools that exceed the cap of 11 hotspots per school, behind the scenes Digital Wish is purchasing modems that will qualify for the subsidized $10/month broadband service. If you need more, please contact: Heather Chirtea 802-379-3000, heather@digitalwish.org.

Mobile Beacon is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and the second-largest Educational Broadband Service (EBS) provider in the United States. The nonprofit has been given an EBS spectrum license by the FCC, specifically to support broadband use in schools. Nonprofit Digital Wish teamed up to make the 4G LTE hotspot device donation program available to schools throughout the United States. If your schools have connectivity issues, this subsidized service will allow you to fill the gaps with wireless hotspot donations and equitably connect all students. Schools can easily create a Hotspot Lending Pool for students needing internet access at home.

Use this link to learn how to set up a lending pool...

Please share this announcement with your colleagues who are struggling to acquire access for remote students.

 

Supporting Students with IEPs During eLearning Days

With schools across the country forced into the situation of closing and providing services to students via distance education, this webinar focused on the specific educational and technical needs of students with IEPs. Particular emphasis was paid to supporting students who use Assistive Technologies (AT) and Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) and the importance of ensuring distance learning systems work effectively with these. Resources and offers for technical assistance were described.

Due to high demand and a tremendous turn out, the live session on March 23rd was not available to most who registered for the event.

The recording from edWeb is now available to view at this link

Supporting Students with IEPs During eLearning Days was presented by Christine Fox, Deputy Executive Director, SETDA; Cynthia Curry, Director, National Center on Accessible Educational Materials and the Center on Inclusive Technology & Education Systems (CITES) at CAST; and Luis Perez, Technical Assistance Specialist, National Center on Accessible Educational Materials at CAST –

MaineCare now allows Telehealth to deliver pharmacy services

In a special ruling made on March 16, 2020 by the Division of Policy of MaineCare, Chapter 101 of MaineCare Benefits Manual Chapter I, Section 4, Telehealth services for Pharmacy Services are now covered by MaineCARE.

In the “concise summary” the change in rules states:

This emergency rulemaking will remove the MaineCare Benefits Manual (MBM), Chapter I, Section 4, Telehealth Services blanket prohibition against providers utilizing telehealth to deliver services under the MBM, Chapter II, Section 80, Pharmacy Services. Pursuant to 5 M.R.S. Section 8054, the Department has determined that immediate adoption of this rule is necessary to avoid a potentially severe and immediate threat to public health, safety or general welfare. The Department’s findings of emergency are set forth in detail in the Emergency Basis Statement. Maine is facing a substantial public health threat posed by the global spread of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a worldwide pandemic. As a preemptive action by the Department, Pharmacy Services will be available via telehealth when medically necessary and appropriate.

This emergency rule change will take effect upon adoption and will be in effect for 90 days (5 M.R.S. § 8054). The Department is concurrently engaging in the routine technical rulemaking process for Section 4 to prevent a lapse in the rule and added services.

Please use this link to see the new rules and rulemaking documents

 

US Department of Education updates guidance

The United States Department of Education (USDOE), in response to apparent incorrect assumptions being made across the nation, that providing educational services to student with disabilities via “distance instruction” presents too many barriers. On March 21, 2020 the USDOE published, Supplemental Fact Sheet Addressing the Risk of COVID-19 in Preschool, Elementary and Secondary Schools While Serving Children with Disabilities. 

This guidance states the following:

At the outset, OCR and OSERS must address a serious misunderstanding that has recently circulated within the educational community. As school districts nationwide take necessary steps to protect the health and safety of their students, many are moving to virtual or online education (distance instruction). Some educators, however, have been reluctant to provide any distance instruction because they believe that federal disability law presents insurmountable barriers to remote education. This is simply not true. We remind schools they should not opt to close or decline to provide distance instruction, at the expense of students, to address matters pertaining to services for students with disabilities. Rather, school systems must make local decisions that take into consideration the health, safety, and well-being of all their students and staff.

To be clear: ensuring compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), † Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504), and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act should not prevent any school from offering educational programs through distance instruction. School districts must provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) consistent with the need to protect the health and safety of students with disabilities and those individuals providing education, specialized instruction, and related services to these students. In this unique and ever-changing environment, OCR and OSERS recognize that these exceptional circumstances may affect how all educational and related services and supports are provided, and the Department will offer flexibility where possible. However, school districts must remember that the provision of FAPE may include, as appropriate, special education and related services provided through distance instruction provided virtually, online, or  telephonically.

The Department understands that, during this national emergency, schools may not be able to provide all services in the same manner they are typically provided. While some schools might choose to safely, and in accordance with state law, provide certain IEP services to some students in-person, it may be unfeasible or unsafe for some institutions, during current emergency school closures, to provide hands-on physical therapy, occupational therapy, or tactile sign language educational services. Many disability-related modifications and services may be effectively provided online. These may include, for instance, extensions of time for assignments, videos with accurate captioning or embedded sign language interpreting, accessible reading materials, and many speech or language services through video conferencing.

It is important to emphasize that federal disability law allows for flexibility in determining how to meet the individual needs of students with disabilities. The determination of how FAPE is to be provided may need to be different in this time of unprecedented national emergency. As mentioned above, FAPE may be provided consistent with the need to protect the health and safety of students with disabilities and those individuals providing special education and related
services to students. Where, due to the global pandemic and resulting closures of schools, there has been an inevitable delay in providing services – or even making decisions about how to provide services – IEP teams (as noted in the March 12, 2020 guidance) must make an individualized determination whether and to what extent compensatory services may be needed when schools resume normal operations.

Finally, although federal law requires distance instruction to be accessible to students with disabilities, it does not mandate specific methodologies. Where technology itself imposes a barrier to access or where educational materials simply are not available in an accessible format, educators may still meet their legal obligations by providing children with disabilities equally effective alternate access to the curriculum or services provided to other students. For example, if a teacher who has a blind student in her class is working from home and cannot distribute a document accessible to that student, she can distribute to the rest of the class an inaccessible document and, if appropriate for the student, read the document over the phone to the blind student or provide the blind student with an audio recording of a reading of the document aloud.

Download and read this entire PDF document: Supplemental Fact Sheet Addressing the Risk of COVID-19 in Preschool, Elementary and Secondary Schools While Serving Children with Disabilities…

Accessibility Tips for Teaching Online

Ordinarily, we would simply link the following article from the National Deaf Center entitled “5 Tips for Disability Service Professional to Provide Accessibility in Online Classes.” But in reviewing the PDF they produced as the handout, ironically it was not accessible. So, because it is important information, and does not bear any copyright mark, we are replicating it here.

The following comes from the National Deaf Center. Please contact them if you have questions about this content.

5 Tips for Disability Service Professionals to Provide Accessibility in Online  Classes

Disability service professionals are on the front lines — bringing their specialized knowledge, unique strengths, and necessary insights — to ensure that all classes are accessible to deaf and hard of hearing students as colleges and schools move them online in response to the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

These five tips from the National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcomes at the University of Texas at Austin can help them address access issues for deaf students who use assistive listening technology, American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters, speech-to-text services, captioned media, and more, as well as provide guidance to students, faculty members, and administration and leadership.

Tip 1: Communication is Key

  • Make sure accessibility is addressed on all levels of your institution . Your input is essential during this transition to online classes.
  • Share these 10 Tips for Educators with all faculty members, adjunct instructors, and anybody teaching online at your institution.
  • Inform current students how they can update their accommodation plans with your office. What may have worked for deaf students in person may not work online.
  • Students who may not have had accommodations before may need them now. Research shows only half of deaf college students file documentation or request accommodations. Let all students know how to connect with your office for support if they experience any unexpected challenges.

Tip 2: Remain Flexible When Re-evaluating Accommodations

  • It won’t be a ‘one-size-fits-all’. Deaf undergraduates encompass a range of identities , vary in communication preferences, and 50% have additional disabilities.
  • Accommodations for synchronous (everyone online at the same time) versus asynchronous (at your own pace) style courses will vary and may require more than one accommodation.
  • Consider the most common accommodations used by deaf students and how they can continue in online courses.

Tip 3: Don’t Cancel Service Providers

  • Consistent service providers are critical for deaf students. The classroom providers assigned to the face-to-face version of the course should continue providing services in the online course. Vocabulary and other signed concepts may already be established between the student and the interpreters, while speech-to-text professionals may already have a dictionary of specific terminology prepared.
  • Interpreters and speech-to-text professionals cannot be replaced by auto-generated captions for real-time communication needs. This does not provide equal access.
  • Consider having on-call interpreters and speech-to-text providers available during business hours to provide services for office hours, tutoring, student group meetings, walk-in advising appointments, or other ad hoc needs. These services can be available remotely. Ask your service provider for ways to meet this need.

Tip 4: Prepare Protocols for Captioning Media

  • Establish a procedure and priority list for videos, pre-recorded lectures, and other media in need of captioning. The courts recently ruled that appropriately captioned media provides equal access to students as required by law. Be wary of relying on any program that uses auto-generated captions for videos.
  • Provide faculty guidelines on where to find existing captioned videos. This will help reduce the influx of requests needed. Ask if the library or other departments can assist with finding accessible instructional materials.
  • If you need to caption a video or pre-recorded lecture, consider using a combination of both in-house staff or contact a captioning vendor. Staff can follow industry standards and use DIY captioning resources.

Tip 5: Manage Technology, Equipment, and Troubleshooting

  • Service providers may need to be granted access to your college’s learning management system (LMS), such as Canvas or Blackboard, or other videoconferencing and online resources. Work with your institution and service providers on how to access platforms.
  • If students or service providers need additional devices or access to software, plan on allocating resources to temporarily loan equipment. Ask students and providers what devices they may have available for accessing online coursework (computer/laptop, tablets, smartphones, etc).
  • As a backup, ask faculty to record virtual meetings and lectures, in case issues with internet connection, technology, or accommodations arise.
  • When online classes begin, check in with deaf students after the first week in case there are unanticipated barriers
  • Share these tips with your colleagues, administrators, and faculty. Let them know how you are planning to make your campus accessible, and how they can too. Now is the time to come together as a disability services community, support each other, and make sure everyone is involved in ensuring  accessibility.

Have Questions? Contact NDC Today!

The National Deaf Center provides year-round support to faculty, disability services professionals, deaf students and their families, and service providers. We are here for you! 

 

US Department of Education – Guidance on COVID-19

In an article published by Disability Scoop, the US Department of Education has offered guidance to educators across the nation on how to handle the needs of students with disabilities.

The article notes:

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights issued a webinar and fact sheet this week for education leaders aimed at ensuring that students’ civil rights are upheld while schools are closed due to COVID-19.

The webinar reminds school officials that distance learning must be accessible unless “equally effective alternate access is provided.”

Online learning tools should be compatible with any assistive technology that students use and schools must regularly test their online offerings for accessibility, the Education Department said.