Interesting Things You See and Here at Chinatown Starbucks

On my way to the DC Blogger meet up at RFD (Regional Food and Drink) in Chinatown I saw a large group of people with bright lime green police vests on getting ready to cross the street. I was like what do we need that many cops here and not other places in DC.

I stopped in the Chinatown Starbucks to kill sometime before the meet up. I got myself a bottle of water, since I’m not a coffee drinker. I know its bad for the environment the plastic and all, I reuse them. There was like one chair downstairs left. I wanted to read, but also watch the people go by on their way to the Wizards game and whatever else they were going. There was a woman at the table and I asked if she minded if I used the spare chair she had at her table, she said fine and went back to her phone conversation. From what I heard she spent like 15 or 20 minutes talking in French to someone before she finished and then left.

While she was on her cell phone a bunch of the cops (about a dozen) stopped in front of the store blocking the view of the sidewalk. She looked up from her conversation stopped talking for like the first time in 10 minutes and just shrugged her shoulders and went back talking. A few of the cops came in and got coffee.

Next a metro cop came in with his bicycle and stood behind the counter drinking a coffee. He must have to work this area all the time an needed to warm up. One of the real police officers came in and started talking to the metro police officer. I came to find out all the cops in the vests that were wandering about were police academy cadets. I was wondering why they needed like forty plus cops and or cadets in Chinatown on a Wednesday night. Don’t other parts of town need them more, like at least Adams Morgan for the drunks.

The real police officer ended up being one of the instructors and said that the cadets were going to be in that area until like New Years. The Metro officer asked if this was part of the cadets training or getting extra experience. It seemed like it was extra experience which would make their time in the academy longer. The metro cop said that really stinks, since he remembered once he was about done with the academy like 10 years ago all he wanted was to get out.

While this conversation was going on another DC police officer came in who I think was an academy instructor too. After she got in one of the cadets came in and told them that some person had come over to them and said a guy was bothering people around the corner outside one of restaurants. The second academy officer told them to never mind it was probably nothing to worry about. After a bit she decided to go out and ask the cadet for a description of the person just to mess with them to see if they had been paying attention or not to what was going on.

Finally all the cops and cadets left the Starbucks except for the bicycle cop. This is finally when I noticed the woman at the table behind me was having a man read different articles from the newspaper. The more I listened she was helping him learn or improve his reading skills. She was very patient with him. After the first article she asked if he liked sports. He said sure and she had him read the first part of the article about Sean Taylor making the Pro Bowl even thou he passed away like three weeks ago.

He would read along slowing trying to make sure he read and pronounced everything correctly. A few times he stumbled on a word and she would have him go back until he got it right. He trouble pronouncing “Posthumously”, so do I. She did this in a very nice way so he learned and I guess did not feel put down. After he would read for  awhile she would stop him and then asked him to explain what he read in his own words. I guess this was to make sure he understood what he had just read.

Once they had run out of time, since I think they both had to be other places to go she gave him a present in one of those small hanled gift bags. He gave her a card which she opened and read, while they talked about what each one was doing for the holidays. They decided to meet the Wednesday after New Years, since I don’t think either one was in town after Christmas. When they left he had never opened his bag and I wanted to see what he got from her.

My guess was it was some small book. This is what the holiday time should be about helping others improve their lives.

Some times during the heck tick holidays you just need to sit a while, read some yourself, watch, and listened to others.

Need Help with Skills List

In preparation for my talk on Accessibility for the January, 2008, Refresh DC meeting I am looking to build a small simple accessible web application that might be useful in the end to the DC Technology Community. It will allow people to put in information about themselves and their websites, along with what areas they have skills in. This web application will be used to show how an application can be both 508 compliant, accessible, useful, and use web standards all at the same time.

I am looking for your help in putting together a list of skills people might have or need to work in technology. I know some people are designers, developers, printers, marketers, and business development so the list might be a bit broad. In the long run I think it will mostly be used by people looking for designers and developers.

Below is the list I have so far and I know it is not everything. I’m not sure if it should be more of a general list or should be like “Photoshop CS”, “Photoshop CS2″, “Photoshop CS3″, etc.

Here is what I have so far.

UPDATE – I added missing items or corrected capitalization from the people listed next to them. Justin Stockton also suggested that I add Adobe, Microsoft, etc. in front of items that should have them.

  • Accessibility
  • Actionscript
  • Adobe FLASH
  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Applescript
  • ASP
  • ATOM
  • C
  • C++
  • C#
  • CGI
  • Cold Fusion
  • CSS
  • DOM Scripting
  • HTML
  • J2EE
  • Java
  • JavaScript
  • JCL
  • JSP
  • Lingo
  • Linux – Justin Stockton
  • LISP – Matt Bowen
  • Microsoft Access
  • MySQL – Justin Stockton
  • .NET
  • Pascal – Justin Stockton
  • Perl – Justin Stockton
  • PHP
  • PostgreSQL – Justin Stockton
  • Python
  • Sharepoint – Doug March
  • SOAP
  • SQL
  • REXX
  • RSS
  • Ruby on Rails
  • RUP – Doug March
  • Section 508 – Justin Stockton
  • SCHEME – Matt Bowen
  • SCORM – Doug March
  • UNIX
  • VBScript
  • Web Standards
  • XML
  • XSLT

I would like it to be a more general list and I figure the application I’m building could be used to either find people locally with a given skill to help with work or if you have a question that you might need further explanation on. I’m figuring the web application will only be available to retrieve information about people from those people that have signed-up and the other person wants to make their information available to others by web page or e-mail only. The application will contain a notes field so you can expand on the level of your knowledge in a given area or subject.

So please use the comments to add skills I have not listed.

Thanks, greatly in advance for your help.

CLiCk Speak Firefox Extension

Last year while at SXSW 2007 in Austin, Texas, I spent some time at the Knowbility trade show booth and talked with a young man by the name of Charles L. Chen about his Firefox extension CLiCk Speak. I have found this extension to be every useful to me in that it allows me to listen to what my web pages sound like to a non-sighted individual. It does not have all the features of that the major screen readers like JAWS and Window-Eyes have, but CLiCk Speak at least let’s you hear the information on your pages.

The following text is an overview of CLiCk Speak from their website.

“CLiCk, Speak is designed for sighted users who want text to speech functionality. It doesn’t identify elements or announce events – two features that are very important for visually impaired users but very annoying for sighted users. It also has a simplified, mouse driven interface that is designed to be easy for users familiar with point-and-click graphical user interfaces. Like Fire Vox, CLiCk, Speak works on Windows, Macintosh, and Linux; and Fire Vox has multilingual support, making it great for users who are trying to learn a foreign language and need to hear foreign language web sites read out to them for practice.”

CLiCK Speak buttons in order left to right are 'Speak Selection', 'Auto Speak Mode', and 'Stop Speaking'

The three main features that I have used is the one that just reads down the page from the beginning of your code, so source order does matters, after pressing the “Auto Reading Mode” button. Next it has a “Stop Speaking” button so you can stop it from reading of the page whenever you want to and just push the “Auto Reading Mode” button again to resume from where it left off. The final feature is where you highlight a section of text and click the “Speak Selection” button and  it will only read that part of the page. I could see this as being useful to read a part of the page that you have just updated and wanted to make sure it sounded good. Another advantage to the highlight and read text feature is that if you wanted to go to lets say or you could have it read you the article or sport scores, while the browser window is only showing in the toolbar at the bottom of your page. That is if you have headphones on, so no one finds out. It could be used by people that have English as a second language to learn English, since it also highlights each sentence as it reads them.

Charles L. Chen and company have another Firefox extension called Fire Vox. From what I have read this one is more like a normal screen reader.

The following text is a summary from the website.

“Fire Vox is designed to accommodate different users with different needs. For visually impaired users, all Fire Vox commands are keyboard activated. In addition, the keyboard commands can be easily reconfigured in the self Fire Vox Options menu to avoid conflicts with other accessibility software products or to suit personal preferences. For sighted users who need a screen reader, such as web developers interested in testing their webpages or educators who work with visually impaired students, Fire Vox’s highlighting feature makes it easy to keep track of where it is reading from on a page. This highlighting feature is also useful for dyslexic users and partially sighted users.”

While at last weekends DC Adaptive Technology meet up I talked with Patrick Timony about another free screen reader, that is called Thunder, which is free.

I have not tried the Fire Vox Firefox extension or the Thunder screen reader yet, but I plan on trying them out in the next week or so and will report back on what I have found out.

I hope these products are helpful to you in your work and can save you money by not having to get JAWS or other expensive screen readers that cost  hundreds of dollars.

DC Adaptive Technology Meetup

I found another great meetup by using Ross Karchner‘s DC Tech Events website.

This one was the DC Adaptvie Technology meetup that was held at the DC Public Library in Washington, DC. The event was on Saturday December 1st, 2007, from 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM in room 215 at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. The Saturday Technology Trainning sessions are usually for users of Adaptive Technology like the JAWS screenreader, the Zoomtext magnifier, and anything else that is technical and useful someone. They are usually held the first and third Saturdays of each month. No, meeting the third Saturday of December because of the holiday season. These meetings are normally run by Patrick Timony.

ICON PDA is a device that allows individulas with visual issues to listen to the web, podcasts, etc.

I was one of only a few sighted people at this meeting, which had about twelve or fifteen people. This meeting included a demonstration of the ICON accessible PDA, a braille reader, and how to use the new Mac OS (Leopard) for better accessibility given by David Poehlman.

David showed everyone how to use the ICON PDA by LevelStar. This device which is the size of an old style manual light meter allows people to use the following tools a calendar, an address book, a music player to listen to music or your favorite pod casts, allows you to take notes yourself with the voice recorder and journal, and stay on top of your world with a word processor, web browser, and email. This device has wifi/wireless and comes with a comprehensive menu of pre-installed applications , 30GB hard drive, and Bluetooth® built-in.

Next, he showed a braille reader that you plug into your computer or I even believe the ICON PDA. Finally, David demonstrated how you can have the new Mac OS be turned on to read everything out loud to you. I forget how he said you turn it on.

ONYX Desktop 17 inch Closed-Circiut TVAfter David got done Jerry Marindin of Freedom Scientific showed everyone how to use the new ONYX Desktop 17 (Closed-circuit television) CCTV. This device allows people with visual issues to magnify papers, books, maps, etc. It also comes in a model that does not have a camera, but plugs into your computer instead. With the remote control that comes with it you can zoom in or out on a document, flip the camera up to point at things in the back of the room and then zoom in on them. This would be great for people at meetings or classrooms that can not see distance. It also allows you to change the color of maps for those that are color blind. You can change the color contrast so if white text on a black background works better for you then you can do that.

pageof text under ONYX CCTV device

I mentioned to Jerry during his presentation that the image under the camera was upside down and he said “I will show you later how to fix that”. He was then able to use the remote to flip the image on the screen to be flipped the proper way that you needed it. He mentioned that when he brought this producted to a meeting a while ago that one of the blind ladies mentioned that the remote when in audible mode said to push the “RED” button. She said what if I can’t see or if I’m color blind. Jerry took that information back with him the company and they fixed that problem. Now the remote says something like “Press the red button in the upper right corner of the remote”. See what happens when you test with really people, you find out things the engineers dont’ think of.

txted zoomed in by the ONYX CCTV device

I learned a bit more after the meeting was over by just sitting and talking with the people that were still there. I asked some questions on what type of things bothered them on the web. It seemed the items that gave them the most grief were forms. Either the form had poor instructions or ones that were to long. They wanted to have short understandable instructions of what the form was for and what type of informtion went in the fields. The other things that bothered them was not telling them that a field was in error until like ten or so fields later or at the end. The one woman said she would like to know as soon as possible when things are incorrect, so she can correct it.

When I left the meeting I asked one of the people still there if they wanted help or they wanted to follow me out to the metro, one woman said sure. I had her grab my arm and follow me out. While getting to the metro I was trying not to tell her to go right or left or whatever, I figured that she would know were to go by where I was leading. She mentioned that at times people will yell “STOP” while she’s out walking somewhere. She was like why should I stop when I don’t know who you are anyway and why should I be stopping. The one other thing she mentioned when we crossed the street was the noise that some of the new crosswalk lights make is really annoying. I asked is it because it does not allow her to hear the traffic and she said “Yes”.

Two other things that I thought was interesting was that Patrick gave out two different agenda lists. One for sighted people that had really big text and one for non-sighted people that was in braille. The other item was that both Patrick and Jerry had business cards that were normal on one side and on the other used big blocky text, one card even had braille on it.

In the end I learned a few things, met some really nice people, and it gave me something more to think about while making my web pages more accessible and 508 compliant by using web standards.

So if you get chance go check out their next meeting, I plan on being there and will post when it is after the holidays.