Friday, December 9, 2011

Communication: The Themes Remain the Same By Jeffrey D. Stark

The following is a reprint from a publication by the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, entitled “Celebrating Our Accomplishments”. The publication covers issues including transportation, access, social policy, employment, and much more. We encourage you to read the entire publication, as there is plenty there to celebrate and be proud of. We’d like to share a specific section dealing with access and full inclusion here on the blog. Thanks to Jeffrey Stark for the excellent article, and thanks to all the contributors to the publication for providing such a positive illustration of how things are changing for the better for people with disabilities.

Communication: The Themes Remain the Same
By Jeffrey D. Stark

Communication is a very common theme that comes up time and time again in the disability community; whether that's access to information such as printed material or the ability to be included in a conversation. The barriers change as our world changes but the themes and common elements have remained the same over the last 30 years.

In a professional setting being able to communicate and having access to the information being communicated in many cases is the difference between being able to do the job and not being able to do it. If you can't hear the verbal information being provided, or you can't see the information being referenced, you are essentially excluded from an important component of the activity.

I, as a person who is blind, have found myself in this situation many times. If I go to a meeting and all the information is put up on a front projector, then I am essentially excluded from that material. One commonly proposed solution to this is to have the presenter or leader for a given activity read out whatever material they have on the flip chart or front projector. As you can imagine, this is awkward and time consuming at the best of times and doesn't really let me review the material. As computers, laptops and electronic notetakers became commonplace, the proposed solution that used to be common was to distribute the material electronically in advance and hope I could figure out which document, page, slide and information was currently being referenced. If a group wanted to collaborate on the same document or material, then this becomes even less effective because my copy of the material gets more and more stale as the updates to the document occur.

My requirements are not unique and meetings and collaborative sessions have often been a barrier. This area has evolved tremendously over the last 20 years. Unfortunately, until recently many of the solutions were only available as separate solutions that each required a different technology component and required a huge undertaking to provide. Captioning, sign language interpretation, accessible information, accessible flip charts, alternate communication systems were all separate components and all had to be handled separately.

At a recent meeting I attended, for the first time in my career, I was able to play on an equal footing. I had access to the same information as my sighted peers during the meeting and had access to any new information or changes that happened on the front projector. They had this nifty box called an "Accessible Event Hotspot" that acted like an "accessible projector". I connected my laptop to the AE Hotspot and the same information that was projected on the front screen was also pushed out to my laptop. This meant that I could review it in my medium of choice using my technology of choice (a screen reader). As soon as a change happened on the presenter's screen, the same information was provided to me in real time. This same device can also be used to capture and present other channels of information such as captioning and signing. This essentially makes it an all-in-one solution for people who have hearing impairments, visual impairments, or print-related disabilities so participants can take full advantage of all aspects of any on-site or online event or presentation. This technology allows participants with disabilities to access slides, spreadsheets, web pages, documents and real-time captioning.

This is essentially full inclusion, where the various channels of information from the spoken information to the presented information can be supplemented in real time with equivalents that ensure that everyone can participate on a level playing field.

If you’d like more information about Accessible Event or the AE Hotspot, please call (612) 246-4818 or send an email to

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