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Accessible Assistive Technology Resources Bridges Blog Series: Orientation October

Useful Apps for Navigation: Google Maps and Blind Square

Techniques for Travel

When a person travels using their white cane, they have lots of techniques for learning a new environment and exploring their surroundings at their disposal.

Asking questions of passersby such as clarifying which block a destination is on, asking what intersection one is standing at, or inquiring which building is next to one’s current location can yield very helpful information about one’s environment.

Relying on other senses aside from sight can be very enlightening when discovering new aspects of one’s environment. A quiet thrum can indicate where the vending machines are, and the beeping sounds of cash registers can indicate where the checkout line at a store is located. Sometimes, finding the best coffee shop on campus is as simple as walking down the block, entering the place where the smell of delicious coffee is coming from, and ordering a coffee.

Individuals can also work with travel or O&M instructors on learning their new environment. Many times, this service is provided through the school district or DORS, and the Bridges Helpdesk can work with you on getting this service covered if needed.

Most cane users employ a combination of all of these methods, and also add in some additional tools in the form of apps on their smartphones. GPS apps are not perfect, and it is important to use other tools in your toolbox to get around while also using the apps to supplement your travel experience. Below, we will detail two useful apps for navigating and gathering information about one’s environment. There are others, and we encourage users to try them out and have fun!

BlindSquare

BlindSquare was developed from Foursquare and it has many features that can enhance location and destination identification. Users can enjoy many customizable features which include but are not limited to the following:

  • Shaking your phone while the app is open will give you your current address and speak information such as the closest intersection and popular cafes and other points of interest that are around you.
  • As you walk along the route and listen to the app’s directions, the app will periodically announce what direction you are headed in and along what street to help you maintain orientation. You will also hear the voice navigation announce what you are passing in real-time.
  • The app allows users to filter information that they want to hear. For example, if you only want to hear about nearby post offices, you can filter out all other mentions of other locations and points of interest.
  • Users can drop markers so that the app can use voice guidance to guide them back to their starting point after navigating to their destination.
  • Some users find it helpful to keep the app open when they are riding in a car or on public transportation because it will speak out the streets and points of interest one is passing. This can be a great tool when learning the layout of a new neighborhood or trying to contextualize what a bus line includes.

Blind Square is only available for iOS users in the App Store. The Blind Square event app is available at no cost, but Blind Square Event is only a demo version unless used at certain, limited events. The full version of Blind Square costs $39.99. Learn more about Blind Square or see it in action on Blind Square’s Help page.

Google Maps

This app was not specifically designed for blind and low vision users. In fact, this app has several modes and can be used if one is driving to a location, using public transportation, walking, or even bicycling.

The walking mode can allow you to preview the route that you will need to take to get to a specific location. You can also choose to start the route and Google’s Voice Navigation will speak directions to you as you progress on your travels.

Many users find Google Maps helpful because it can give information about which buses or trains to catch to get to a specific destination when using the app in the public transportation mode. The app also provides multiple public transportation route suggestions if available so you can evaluate which one will work best for you.

You can also use the app for giving driving directions to a driver or ensuring that that driver is heading to the requested destination. This app also has the ability to help you discover places around you and has the capability for you to call those places if needed by the push of the button in the app.

Google Maps is available at no cost and can be used with iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, Linux, and Chrome operating systems.

Contact Us

Follow the Bridges Helpdesk Facebook page for more transition tips, and please contact the Free Helpdesk for Maryland Blind/Low Vision Transition Students, Families, and Educators anytime using:

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.

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Bridges Blog Independent Living Resources Series: Orientation October

Orientation October: How to Get a Cane, Different Types of Canes, and Your Rights as a White Cane User

What Type of Cane Should I Buy?

White cane users all have their individual preferences on what makes the most useful white cane. Here are some valuable questions to consider as you evaluate the type of cane you want to use:

  •  How heavy do I want my cane to be? — Some prefer a heavier cane made out of aluminum or graphite, and others prefer lightweight cane made out of carbon fiber or fiberglass.
  • What material of cane tip do I want to use? — Some users say that a metal tip gives the most tactile feedback, while other users say that a marshmallow or pencil tip glides more easily over surfaces.
  • How tall should my cane be? — Some cane users feel that a cane that goes up to their sternum works for them, and others feel unsafe unless they use a cane that goes up to their forehead. As you consider this question, it also may be helpful to consider how fast you walk. Some cane users claim that they can jog with a longer cane because they have more advanced notice of the objects in their path.

It takes some time to figure out what type of cane you prefer, and we encourage you to explore all possible avenues before you settle on the cane type that works best for you. At the Bridges Helpdesk, we are always happy to discuss your options with you. Many cane users own multiple types of canes for different types of travel, and that just means more tools in the toolbox. Here are some examples:

  •  Some individuals carry a straight, non-collapsible cane for regular use, but carry a folding or telescoping cane with them in their purse or backpack in case something happens to their straight cane while they are traveling.
  • Some cane users have a shorter cane for daily use, but a longer cane for long walks or jogs.
  • Some cane users have lightweight canes for regular travel, but have heavier canes for hikes to assist with durability.

How Do I Purchase a Cane?

You can purchase a cane through a variety of places:

Free White Cane Program

If you have never used a white cane before, or you just want to try out NFB’s model of cane, you can order a free white cane from the NFB every six months with no charges. This cane is a straight fiberglass cane with a metal tip. If you want to look into other types of canes through NFB, those are not part of the white cane program but can be purchased at the Independence Market link indicated above.

Get your free white cane by filling out the Free NFB White Cane form.

Contact Us

Follow the Bridges Helpdesk Facebook page for more transition tips, and please contact the Free Helpdesk for Maryland Blind/Low Vision Transition Students, Families, and Educators anytime using:

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.

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Bridges Blog Information Resources Series: Orientation October

Orientation October: History of the White Cane and White Cane Safety Day/White Cane Awareness Day

History of the White Cane

In older literature and in written accounts of daily life, it is common to read that a person who was blind/had low vision used a long object such as a branch or metal pole while walking to give them information about the ground in front of them so that they could safely navigate. It truly was a fantastic innovation that blind/low vision individuals created themselves: if one cannot feel the ground while also trying to walk, then they thought to make a longer device that could give them information from the ground so that they could safely and confidently navigate.

Not until the 1930s did it become standardized for blind people to use the white cane specifically. The white cane has become a symbol that indicates blindness or low vision around the world. The white color allows the cane to be seen more easily in the dark. Blind/low vision cane users today enjoy all kinds of benefits from the standardization of the white cane, including customizable lengths, materials, and weights.

What is White Cane Safety Day?

October 15 marks White Cane Safety Day, which is a time to educate society about the white cane and how blind/low vision people travel. It is a time to be proud of the innovation that keeps cane users safe and traveling confidently to the things that they want and need to do.

White Cane Safety Day was established nationally in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Here is the proclamation as made at that time:

“The white cane in our society has become one of the symbols of a blind person’s ability to come and go on his own. Its use has promoted courtesy and special consideration to the blind on our streets and highways. To make our people more fully aware of the meaning of the white cane and of the need for motorists to exercise special care for the blind persons who carry it Congress, by a joint resolution approved as of October 6, 1964, has authorized the President to proclaim October 15 of each year as White Cane Safety Day. Now, therefore, I Lyndon B. Johnson, President of the United States of America do hereby proclaim October 15, 1964 as White Cane Safety Day.”

What about White Cane Awareness Day?

In the decades since 1964, some in the blindness/low vision community believe that, “the emphasis of White Cane Safety Day has shifted over time away from safety, and toward independence and equality” and have adopted the term “White Cane Awareness Day” to “to celebrate this history and recognize the white cane as the tool that allows the blind to “come and go on [our] own” as President Lyndon Johnson said back in 1964.” National Federation of the Blind. Additional organizations that celebrate White Cane Awareness Day include the U.S. Library of Congress, the National Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision, the American Printing House for the Blind, The Braille Institute, and many Lighthouses for the Blind across the country.

Canes and more! Blind Americans Equality Day

In 2011, President Barrack Obama proclaimed October 15, 2011 “Blind Americans Equality Day.” In his proclamation, he referenced the original “White Cane Safety Day” proclamation and specifically recognized the importance of technological accessibility, including moving the federal government toward compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. You may read the entire proclamation at Presidential Proclamation – Blind Americans Equality Day, 2011.

Contact us

Follow the Bridges Helpdesk Facebook page for more transition tips, and please contact the Free Helpdesk for Maryland Blind/Low Vision Transition Students, Families, and Educators anytime using:

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.

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Accessible Assistive Technology Resources Advocacy Resources Bridges Blog Series: Self-advocacy September, 2021

Self-advocacy September: Making PDF Documents Accessible

PDF documents are widely used in schools and in employment, but all PDFs are not created equal in terms of accessibility for blind/low vision individuals. This week, the Free Bridges Helpdesk explores PDF documents in terms of self-advocacy for accessibility.

What are PDFs, and why do we use them?

PDF documents are both common and misunderstood. PDF stands for “portable document format,” and it was developed to improve the transfer of documents by allowing people who use different software programs to view files on their computers without losing the original formatting. Adobe provided the free Adobe Acrobat software to facilitate this file-sharing mission.

Unfortunately, accessibility was not a high priority as PDF documents grew in popularity. Many PDFs consisted of photographic “snapshots” of text and graphics. Thus, in the process of creating a PDF, the document creator actually removes accessibility from the otherwise accessible text portion of the document.

Myths about PDFs

“All PDFs can easily be used by everyone.” While widely believed, this is not a true statement. Many PDFs are created as images and are not immediately readable using screen reading software. Additionally, PDFs that are poorly created can cause a screen reader to read the text portions of the document out of order (such as reading the third paragraph on the page before reading the first paragraph.

“All PDFs are inaccessible.” This is not true either. This myth has likely come about as a result of the proliferation of inaccessible and poorly formatted PDFs.

“For screen reader users, it’s always better to avoid PDFs and just use Word documents.” Again, this is not true. For one thing, poorly formatted Word documents can be inaccessible, too. For another thing, screen reader users have the right to enjoy the benefits of accessible PDFs.

Creating accessible PDFs

Like Word documents and PowerPoint slide presentations, PDFs can be created in an accessible manner from the beginning. See the Bridges Blogs “Making Word Documents Accessible” and “Making PowerPoint Documents Accessible.”

There are multiple ways to make PDF documents.

Working with inaccessible PDFs

Of course, you will almost certainly encounter inaccessible PDFs, especially when those documents have not been downloaded or purchased from outside sources. While you definitely have the right to have accessible PDFs, you also need to have access to as much information as possible. The American Printing House for the Blind (APH) has prepared Prevent Document Frustration: JAWS and PDFs, a document that outlines several ways to independently access (at least the text portion of) information on an inaccessible PDF using the screen reader JAWS.

Advocating for accessible PDFs

Regardless of whether you are getting inaccessible PDFs at school or at work, we have the right to request, and receive, accessible materials (see the Bridges Blog “Changes in Rights to Accommodations and Modifications.”

In addition to the advocacy tips found in that post, please consider using the information contained in this post in your advocacy. Most people want to provide accessible materials, they just don’t know how to make materials accessible (or what accessibility even is). By showing them how inaccessibility keeps you from using the materials efficiently and showing them how to make the materials accessible, you are empowering them to do what you need.

Reach out to us at the Free Bridges Helpdesk

Let us help! We are here to support blind and low vision transition-age students in Maryland, and we are available to you anytime. Whether you need self-advocacy support one-on-one or you want us to support you in your communications with your teachers (or parents), please know that you are here for you!

We can also help your teachers (both regular education teachers and teachers of blind/low vision students) learn about and implement accessibility best practices. We do not make judgments or criticize anyone. Instead, we meet people where they are and provide support and resources to help them get to where they want to go.

Self-advocacy is a lifetime journey. Please allow us to join you.

Contact us

Follow the Bridges Helpdesk Facebook page for more transition tips, and please contact the Free Helpdesk for Maryland Blind/Low Vision Transition Students, Families, and Educators anytime using:

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.

Categories
Accessible Assistive Technology Resources Advocacy Resources Bridges Blog Series: Self-advocacy September, 2021

Self-advocacy September: Making PowerPoint Documents Accessible

PowerPoint slide presentations can be an exceptionally useful tool. They have been used throughout the education and business community for years, and the shift toward remote and hybrid instruction has accelerated their use in school settings. While PowerPoint documents can be made to be accessible, many are not. This week, we will discuss

It seems simple: if information in a document is important, you need to be able to access it. But, sometimes making that happen is not so simple. This week, the Free Bridges Helpdesk explores accessible slide presentation documents (like Word) in terms of self-advocacy.

Accessibility, disabilities, and the law

For a review of what the term “accessible” means for individuals with and without disabilities and references to legal requirements relating to accessibility, please see “Self-advocacy September: Making Word Documents Accessible” in the Bridges Blog.

PowerPoints shared using distance technology

As a preliminary matter, please note that documents shared using “screen share” tools on distance technology platforms convert the shared file to a video. In doing so, the accessibility features of the shared document are lost to users of accessible technology, like screen reading software. Thus, screen sharing, alone, does not provide accessibility to blind/low vision individuals using accessible technology, so the relevant document or documents should be sent directly to those users. Alternatively, the original, accessible document could be placed in a shared folder on the cloud, and the link to the document could be shared in the distance technology chat room.

How to self-advocate for accessible PowerPoint documents

Successful self-advocacy for accessibility goes beyond simply asking your teachers for accessible PowerPoints. While accessibility is the goal, many teachers don’t understand the barriers inaccessible PowerPoints pose. They also might be using inaccessible materials that were provided by a publisher, and they might not have any idea how to remediate the inaccessible aspects of the PowerPoint.

First, communicate with your teachers that you understand that they use PowerPoint documents to provide information. Gently let them know that when information is not fully accessible and/or easy to use, the purpose of the document cannot be fulfilled. In other words, you want accessible PowerPoint documents because you want access to the same information other students are receiving.

Next, share that PowerPoint has a built-in accessibility checker. This tool can help identify accessibility problems. Even better, PowerPoint’s Accessibility Checker provides help and guidance for correcting the accessibility problem!

Common issues that impede the accessibility of PowerPoint documents

Missing slide titles

  • This makes the document difficult to navigate.
  • Additionally, sometimes the PowerPoint looks like it has a slide title, but the title was inserted improperly, so accessible technology cannot identify the text as a slide title.

Duplicate slide titles

  • Sometimes there are two, three, or more identical slide titles.
  • This impedes navigability because the user cannot easily navigate up and down the document.
  • This can be easily remedied by adding “part 1,” “part 2,” etc. at the end of each duplicate slide title.

Missing alternative text

  • PowerPoint documents often have MANY graphics.
  • Graphics, alone, are not accessible.

Sometimes, graphics contain only text.

  • Instead of using the graphic, the PowerPoint document should simply set forth the text.
  • If the graphic is important, the teacher should add alternative text (alt text) the sets forth the content of the graphic.

Sometimes, graphics contain a table.

  • Instead of using the graphic, use PowerPoint to create an accessible table.

In general, non-text graphics should contain alternative text “alt text.”

  • Alt text allows one to use words to describe what is in the graphic.
  • In some cases, the graphic is merely decorative, and it should be marked as such.

In many cases, alt text, alone, is not enough.

  • Test: would the alt text, alone, be enough information for sighted students; in other words, would you feel comfortable taking ALL the graphics out and leaving only the alt text in the document?
  • If no, blind/low vision students should also receive tactile or enlarged graphics so that they may fully access the information conveyed in the graphic.

Reading order

  • Sometimes, PowerPoint documents look fine, but errors in creating the slide cause the slide to read text out of order.
  • It can be quite confusing when the slide reads from bottom to far left to top to middle, etc.

Tables

  • Need a properly-coded header row.
  • Tables should not include split or merged cells.

Quick-and-easy steps toward accessibility for PowerPoint documents

While actual accessibility requires FULL accessibility, here are some best practices to get started:

  • Use built-in templates: They are located in the ‘Design’ tab (Alt+G)
  • Use slide layouts: The layouts provided include titles and other items you can add. Do this when creating a new slide select one of the available slide layouts to fit your needs. Do not make a completely empty slide and then add your content.
  • When using tables make sure you identify row and column headers.
  • Make sure the reading order is correct (Alt+F10).
  • Slide titles: Every slide title must have a unique (and descriptive) name that is not to be repeated.
  • Avoid “eye candy” (information that is not useful)
  • Make certain colors used provide sufficient contrast based on WCAG standards. You can use the Web AIM Color Contrast Checker
  • Provide Alt text: Alt text provides information about what is contained in a non-text content
  • Group graphics together: If you have multiple graphics in a slide, grouping them together at the end of the slide can make your slide more accessible
  • And, of course: use the PowerPoint Accessibility Checker.

Check out great accessibility resources from the TVI Portal Maryland

Make and Take: Accessible Slide Presentations—Secrets Revealed! YouTube video recording

Resources for creating accessible PowerPoint documents:

Use the Free Bridges Helpdesk

Let us help! We are here to support blind and low vision transition-age students in Maryland, and we are available to you anytime. Whether you need self-advocacy support one-on-one or you want us to support you in your communications with your teachers (or parents), please know that you are here for you!

We can also help your teachers (both regular education teachers and teachers of blind/low vision students) learn about and implement accessibility best practices. We do not make judgments or criticize anyone. Instead, we meet people where they are and provide support and resources to help them get to where they want to go.

Self-advocacy is a lifetime journey. Please allow us to join you.

Contact us

Follow the Bridges Helpdesk Facebook page for more transition tips, and please contact the Free Helpdesk for Maryland Blind/Low Vision Transition Students, Families, and Educators anytime using:

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.

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