Monday, November 22, 2010

Fall issue of The Traveler

In case you do not receive emails from Access Anything's mailing list, our fall issue of The Traveler, a quarterly publication for travelers with disabilities, has been posted to our website.

You can view the link of this accessible PDF here:

Cover shot of Fall 2010 The Traveler
Contents include:
Airline Update
United-Continental Merger
US Airways Big Mistakes
Universal Access in Airports
Making PDFs Accessible
Winter Camps Preview
Traveler’s Calendar
Online Destinations
The Crip’s Tip
Recommended Services and Companies

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Traveling with a service animal, rules and relief areas

In the airline and travel industries, the service animal rules and stories seem to mutate by the week, and I hope as the stories worsen, we'll see some long-needed intervention by the government to certify, regulate, and generally bring some control back to an issue that is slowly careening out of control.  Pets are being masked as service animals of all species, and the handlers of these pets often do not have responsible control of the animals, making it harder on those who do travel with bonifide working dogs.  Stories of dog fights, mistreated businesses, and animal accidents increase yearly, so it's inevitable that the US government takes some strides in a creating a better system of balanced control.  Until then, here are some of the old and new rules as well as progress in animal relief areas that is currently worth mention.  As ones that used to travel with a service animal, this topic is very close to our heart, and that said, we hope that if you do travel with an animal that you have trained yourself, as we did, that you do so responsibly. 

Existing Rules: 
*  Airlines can not ask passengers what their disability is, but they can ask what the service animal does for the individual, which will briefly touch on that person's special needs (and therefore eluding to their disability).
*  Airlines are required to provide service animal relief areas and must cooperate with airport operators to make these areas accessible and readily available for both arriving and connecting passengers.
TSA will expedite passengers to and from outdoor relief areas if they are on the other side of security and a passenger needs to relieve the service animal during a connecting flight.

Newest Rule:
*  Passengers traveling with "emotional support animals" (which are not currently defined the same as a service animal) must give the airline 48 hours advance notice and provide a letter of verification and special need from their doctor.

International Rules: 
Many countries have very strict rules regarding animals and traveling with pets, and no matter what the laws are in the US, as well as no matter whether the new 382 ruling requires their airlines to comply with our rules, if the country's existing laws prohibit animals in some way, they prohibit US travelers with service animals as well and are awarded a "conflict of law waiver" in regard to following 382. Of note, the Philippines, Jamaica, and Mexico have already received their conflict of law waivers, and do not, nor likely will soon, allow service animals into their countries.

Animal Relief Areas have been created in most airports thanks to 382.  However not all hub airports have a great solution for connecting travelers as of yet.  The airport that seems to have excelled the most is Philadelphia, with 7 relief areas just outside every TSA checkpoint.  Seattle has created one inside that they're expanding upon, (currently it's just linoleum, but at least it's inside the terminal).  Most airports have been adding this information to their maps online, and some airlines have been adding the information to their inflight magazine maps as well. 

The biggest struggle seems to be with TSA allowing them to be "safe-side" (within the TSA-cleared areas), as the rules are tight on how close non-employees can be to an active tarmac, as well as what permitted areas and corridors of the safe-side they can utilize.  However more and more airports are exploring creative options as the needs increase.

The Open Doors Organization continues to work with the U.S. Access Board on a guidelines publication and hopes to release that sometime in 2011.

Monday, November 15, 2010

ASME Symposium to Further Examine Use of Elevators in Emergencies

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the remaining threat of future attacks has led to an extensive reassessment of evacuation procedures in high-rise buildings.  In particular, the use of elevators in emergencies remains a topic of much discussion in the industry.  

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), a provider of elevator codes, will conduct a symposium on the use of elevators in fires and other emergencies December 1 – 2 in Orlando, Fla.  

The event will focus on a review of changes being developed to elevator, building, and life safety codes, as well as electrical and other related codes.  The agenda also includes an update on the progress of new ASME codes on the use of elevators for evacuation and firefighting purposes, proposals from U.S. and international experts on implementing changes to building and elevator systems, and presentations on human factors, including training of the public and emergency responders. 

For more information on the symposium, visit ASME’s website.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Airline travel technology update

Back in October we were involved in two very informative weeks with the airlines between our advisory board with Continental Airlines and the Universal Access in Airports conference, both in Houston, TX.

As you know, technology advances so fast, it's nearly impossible to keep up with updates. By the time you get used to your new phone, computer, television, iPod, etc., there's a new one on the market with new features that you always wish yours had.

Disability technology is no different, but it's extremely exciting for this group of travelers because it is bringing independence to their travel experience. This list provides just a few of the recent adaptations in travel tech of late, it's hard to stay up to date on this topic, but we'll try!

* Check-in Kiosks: You've likely used these, as they're increasingly a part of the airline check-in process and are more and more replacing the human side of check-in. But perhaps you've noticed they're all the same height, they don't speak to blind customers, and they have other features that need to be updated for access.  The airlines have taken this into account and worked with IBM on creating kiosks that are more universally designed for all disability needs.  They are being programmed to have an audio walk-through for blind users, and you'll start seeing some that are lowered in height as well.

* Mobile Apps: Neilsen News estimate that 1 in 2 Americans will have smartphones by Christmas of 2011, and the airlines are getting ahead of the curve.  Many airlines now have launched mobile versions of their websites with highlight on the travel features of their main site, but a few have gone one step further to create iPhone and Android-based applications that include additional features such as check-in, updated flight and gate information, standby lists, seat maps, airport maps, and services as well (currency converter, directTV, president club locations, etc).  The most unique and forward-thinking feature is the mobile boarding pass.  View Continental's mobile page here, or purchase their iPhone app here. They will be coming out with the Android version soon.

* WiFi: As frequent travelers have begun to notice, some (not many yet) airlines are starting to offer WiFi (online connectivity) on their aircrafts while in flight.  What has been significantly absent from the airlines always has been the closed- or open-captioning for deaf and hard-of-hearing customers.  Airlines offer alternative language subtitles from French to Vietnemese, but never have offered English subtitles, which would have sufficed as a first-step for this clientele.  However with WiFi being the wave of the future, and captioning applications available online for live-streaming websites such as Netflix, the airlines are starting to look at this as an option for captioning in the very near future.  Unfortunately, currently the WiFi of choice for airlines is Gogo Explorer from Softpedia, which does not work well with blind readers (below) as of yet.

* Blind Readers: For travelers with sight disabilities, their "blind-readers," such as JAWS (Job Access with Speech by Freedom Scientific), are their access to the world wide web. These readers have advanced extremely far in the last few years, and have been recently integrated with touch screens, which many thought might never happen. Apple's iPhone for instance now has an standard application "Outspoken" that is included on all new phones now since the last two releases of the phone. These are hugely helpful in navigation as well as in reading websites and the wide variety of uses for the iPhone.

* Click and Go Wayfinding: In addition to the blind readers above, there are new navigation applications that are making not only street and directional navigation possible, but interior navigation as well, such as within malls, airports, public buildings, and even office buildings. Modeled after the directions feature of Google Maps, Yahoo Maps, and MapQuest that sighted users often use for driving directions, Click and Go has added features that meet the specific needs of the blind and deafblind, and are now able to provide non-sighted travelers with customized "mobility-friendly" walking directions.

* Go'Shna: Goshna is the Indian word for announcement and is a working project at the University of Florida’s Mobile and Pervasive Computing Research Laboratory, created by Cheenu Madan, a masters student with hearing loss at the U. of FL. Go'Shna is a mobile translator for airport announcement services, and provides a text version of the public announcements in airports on the user's mobile phone, which can be downloaded for free from either iPhone's store or Android's marketplace. After the easy two steps of subscribing, users get a text message or email for each overhead announcement in the airport terminal, based on preferences the user chooses. The Go'Shna app gives independence to the traveler with hearing loss – no need to ask for assistance or to be rooted to one spot looking to see if people are moving towards your boarding gate.  Currently this app is still being rolled out, but if you'd like to know more, Cheenu's email is provided in his name link above, or contact Dr. Sumi Helal, director of the Mobile and Pervasive Lab at UF.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

What is protecting and creating the legal rights for airline travel for customers with disabilities?

One of the most common misconceptions of airline travel for people with disabilities is in the legal department.  There are many laws in place that protect travelers with disabilities, some of which have been in place for a decade or even two, that many travelers still don't know about.  In addition, there are frequent updates to these laws, acts, and regulations.  While it is not necessarily your responsibility as a traveler to know and protect these rights, that is perhaps the most important responsibility of our government, yet it is in your extreme best interest to stay on top of them and be proactive about them.

In addition to what is listed briefly below, travelers can use the US Access Board to stay on top of this topic.

Highlights of the existing rights:
ADA- Americans with Disabilities Act; 1990
Title I: employment rights
Title II: public services
Title III: public accomodations
Title IV: telecommunication services
Title V: misc provisions
Where the ADA steps in for travel is in the airports

ACAA- Air Carrier Access Act; 1986
Prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in air travel and requires air carriers to accommodate the needs of passengers with disabilities
Carriers may not refuse transportation on the basis of disability.
Airlines may not require advance notice for a person with a disability, with some minor exceptions (such as the 48 hr advance notice requirement for emotional support animals).
Airlines are required to provide assistance with boarding, deplaning, and making connections.
Carriers must designate Complaint Resolution Officials (CROs) to respond to complaints from passengers.
Carriers must obtain an assurance of compliance from contractors who provide services to passengers.

Rehabilitation Act Amendment; 1998
The law strengthens section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and requires access to electronic and information technology provided by the Federal government. The law applies to all Federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology. Federal agencies must ensure that this technology is accessible to employees and members of the public with disabilities to the extent it does not pose an "undue burden."

More acronyms and links:
ADAAG- ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities
FAA- Federal Aviation Administration; guidelines are slowly becoming standards
DOJ- Department of Justice
DOT- Department of Transportation
ADCP- Airport Disability Compliance Program; auditing and educating operators on standards

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Reprint from Aspen Daily

Amanda Boxtel walks for first time in 18 years

by Dorothy M. Atkins, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

Walking a few feet across a stage in California is hardly newsworthy for most people, but for Amanda Boxtel it is enough to push her into the realms of celebrity status, receiving national and international coverage from news outlets including CNN, Yahoo! News and CBS.

Basalt resident Boxtel became paralyzed from the waist down after a skiing accident at Snowmass Ski Area 18 years ago. Since her accident, she has undergone six stem-cell treatments in India; co-founded Challenge Aspen, a Snowmass-based nonprofit that provides recreational opportunities for people with disabilities, and helped establish adaptive skiing programs in Chile, Argentina and Iceland.

In the past few months, Boxtel has been a “test pilot” for a new technology called eLEGS — which is the acronym for Exoskeleton Lower Extremity Gait System — an artificially intelligent bionic device that can assist paraplegics to walk. It was invented by engineers at Berkeley Bionics. The exoskeleton can fit people between 5’2” and 6’4”, weighing 220 pounds or less, and provides knee flexion to mimic the natural human gait.

Berkeley Bionics has used Boxtel in its demonstrations, allowing her to clock over 12 hours in the machine and garnering attention from the media.

“It’s blown up,” Boxtel said. “But with all of this press, I see that the interest is global and real. The people at Berkeley Bionics were expecting it to snowball, but it exceeded their expectations. This media attention has affirmed that people with chronic spinal injuries are crying out for a mobility option.”

Saying that her disability has held her back from embracing life and the array of activities Aspen offers would be naive. She has carried the Olympic torch on her mono-ski, was the Colorado Ski Country USA Adaptive Athlete of the Year and orchestrated the first disability whitewater rafting trip in the Grand Canyon.

 John Fogelin/Special to the Daily News
Paraplegic Amanda Boxtel uses eLEGS to walk in Berkeley, Calif., last month.

“We live in a standing-up world,” Boxtel said. “But I figured it out. I’ve been able to do a lot. And until now, nothing has been invented to allow paraplegics to get up and walk. And that’s a bold statement because I’ve recreated -— -I ski and kayak and paraglide, and I’ve been up to the Maroon Bells and down. Amputees are winning the able-body running Olympics. The technology is there.”

Since Boxtel has become involved with Berkeley Bionics, her new goal is to bring eLEGS to the Aspen Club as a rehabilitation tool.

“I’m hoping that Aspen will become the first place to offer eLEGS to the public and when you think about it, the Aspen Club is the perfect place for it,” she said. “In order to use eLEGS, you need supervision by doctors and physical therapists, which the Aspen Club can provide.

“Instead of going to work [out] at the gym [paraplegics] can go to walk.”

According to Boxtel, eLEGS could be available to be sold commercially as soon as June or July, costing between $90,000 and $100,000. She predicts that the cost could eventually drop to $35,000, making it an affordable personal device, particularly if it can be covered by insurance.

Michael Fox, CEO of the Aspen Club, said he is excited for the prospective acquisition.

“We’re excited for Amanda and we’re excited for eLEGS,” he said. “We think it’s a very cool technology and we’re talking to Amanda about what it would take to get eLEGS at the club. Given that the Aspen Club is the premier venue in sports medicine in the Western Slope it would make sense, and if it works, we would love to have one here.”

The Aspen Club sponsors paralympic athletes, attracting them to the facility with their sports medicine program and innovative machines, such as their anti-gravity treadmill.

In the meantime, Boxtel will be traveling between Aspen and Berkeley to continue her role as a test pilot.

“With eLEGS we’re really on the forefront,” she said. “It’s real, truly cutting edge technology that can propel us forward to live a full life in full tallness.”

Monday, November 01, 2010

Making PDFs accessible to screen readers

I've always been told that PDFs (Portable Document Format) aren't accessible for people with seeing impairments. Why? It's basically a flattened image, with no text boxes to read.  But what I haven't taken the time to do, until now, is learn how to fix that, mostly because I didn't know I could, until a dear friend mentioned that Adobe has indeed made it possible.

I've found some great tutorials online that I will share in lieu of re-explaining everything in my own just-know-enough-to-be-dangerous version.

Making your website accessible is now a part of the ADA thanks to a new amendment back in July. So read up, and fix your websites and posted PDFs as soon as you can to avoid fines.

Adobe has a great 40-minute video (one of the best explained tutorials I've ever watched) on making your InDesign document accessible with walk-throughs for both InDesign and Acrobat to make PDFs fully accessible. Every portion of this video is needed, so don't cheat and cut it short. The last 30 seconds even teach you how to use Acrobat to test how a reader will speak its contents.

For making Microsoft Word, WordPress and other text documents accessible, the National Center on Disability and Access to Education website has an all-in-one link here

If you watch the Adobe video first, you'll learn about headings and text styles and why they are important.  That information is helpful before you read this page if you are new to tagging, headings, and styles.  The video also instructs on adding alternative text to images ("figures") and why that is also important.  This page from the NCDAE lists these adaptations but not with in-depth explanations like the video above offers.  So whether you use InDesign or not, I suggest watching that video to at least learn the basics on these subjects.  This page also mentions that in many cases with MSWord, Mac users aren't able to make some of these changes unless you're proficient in HTML coding, but this article was published in 2006 and I will make the assumption that some changes have been made to this since then.

But in lieu of researching this, since I am not a Mac user, I suggest that those of you who convert to PDFs for simpler emailing and posting, you can instead convert your Word file to a "Read Only" file and skip this inaccessibility all together!  I found that that images were easy to tag ("format picture" either under format or right click menu) in Word AND MSOutlook (such as in my signature). 

One last point, if you're blogging, writing for Examiner, or making your own website on a user-friendly platform like WordPress, they all ask you for "descriptions" of your images when you upload them, so don't just put in a title, make it descriptive for readers. 

Thanks to modern technology this has become a much easier process in just the last two years.