Archive for the ‘CSUN conference on technology and disability’ Category

I have received requests for further information about our own presentation at the CSUN International Conference on Technology and Persons with Disabilities, so I decided to post a summary of our session and a link to the PowerPoint presentation.

The title of our presentation was Changing Realities for Accessibility in 3D Virtual Worlds and was co-presented by Dr Denise Wood (project leader UniSA), Charles Morris (lead developer UniSA) and Janyth Ussery (Virtual Helping Hands).

During our one hour presentation we discussed and presented the outcomes from our ALTC funded 3D virtual learning project, which has focused on developing an accessible open source viewer and web interface to 3D virtual worlds such as Second Life and OpenSim.

We began the presentation by discussing the goals of our research in this area, which  include:

  • Improved opportunities to access to Education
  • Opportunities for Employment
  • Increased Socialisation
  • Social Networking
  • Entertainment
  • Equal Access for everyone
Screen shot from the Hellen Keller conference held in Second Life

Screen shot from the Hellen Keller conference held in Second Life

We then discussed the benefits of 3D Virtual Worlds arguing that 3D virtual worlds can:

  • Provide a more engaging environment
  • Allow more flexibility in attendance
  • Create a sense of community
  • Develop problem-solving skills
  • Simulate things not possible in ‘physical life’
  • Allow increased creativity
  • Build team work and communication skills

More specifically, in relation to education, we discussed the benefits of teaching and learning  in  3D Virtual Worlds, which include:

  • Responding to a changing demographic (students working more, spending less time on campus, feeling more isolated)
  • Opportunity to create a sense of community
  • Responding to students who have grown  up with digital technology
  • Need for life long learning skills
  • Activities possible including
    • Artificial simulations
    • Games design
    • Theatre and opera
    • Machinima (video production)
    • Quests and historical re-enactments
    • Politics, Governance, Civics
    • Business & financial modelling
Students creating virtual game in Second Life

Students creating virtual game in Second Life

We identified several issues in teaching in virtual worlds such as:

  • Steep learning curve for students
  • Some students found communication difficult
  • Many students found interface challenging
  • Bandwidth restrictions
  • Need for students to have access to Second Life to join in classes
  • Identified accessibility concerns

We also discussed some existing solutions including:

  • Alternate Viewers, Text SL, etc.
  • Max Voice Plus Application
  • Virtual Guidedog Project
  • SecondAbility Mentors
  • User contributed tools and solutions
  • Other organizations and projects
  • The community at large
Screen shot of three avatars with virtual guide dogs in Second Life

The virtual guide dog is one of the existing accessibility solutions in Second Life

We moved on to then focus on the aims of the ALTC funded 3DVLE project:

  • Investigate accessibility issues for students with disabilities
  • Identify available accessibility solutions
  • Extend existing solutions to develop an open source accessible 3D virtual learning platform
  • Create accessible teaching tools
  • Develop guidelines for teaching in 3D virtual worlds and designing accessible learning technologies

We  described the accessibility problems associated with  existing 3D virtual world environments including the following issues:

  • The log-in screen of Second Life is not accessible for users who are visually impaired and rely on screen reader software;
  • The local chat window in Second Life is not accessible to screen reader software;
  • The user interface of the Second Life client is not accessible to screen reader software and there is limited support for alternative accessing devices;
  • User generated content within Second Life is not accessible to visually impaired users;
  • Tab-index needs to be incorporated to provide a logical order between links and options;
  • The need for provision of an audio message and a text list of avatars in the vicinity of user’s avatar;
  • A simple author solution is required that will enable users to add descriptive labels for all objects and longer descriptions for posters and slides containing text in image format;
  • The need for synchronised streaming captions for videos;
  • There is also a need for text transcriptions for streaming audio.

We demonstrated our design solution which evolved from desktop research, review of alternative solutions and the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (W3C WCAG 2.0). The solution builds on the exemplary work already under way in Second Life including the design and development of Max Voice technology as part of the virtual guidedog project undertaken by Virtual Helping Hands.

There are two main components to the accessibility solution we have implemented:

  • The integration of text to speech and accessible interface controls in the open source 3D Virtual World client, which has been called Access Globe.
  • The design and development of a Web 2.0 site, which enables users who are unable to access the 3D Virtual World to log into the website and participate in real-time in any sessions being conducted in the 3D Virtual World.

Users logged into the 3D Virtual World can type text into the chat window within the Access Globe interface and they can hear that text read aloud, as well as the text messages from others participating in the chat session. The text chat is sent via http requests to the web server through a gateway page and the data stored in a database. Similarly, any slides being displayed ‘in world’ are sent as images and text equivalents to the server.

On the web side, users log into the site and are authenticated. Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (AJAX) is used to poll the database and identify any new content that needs to be displayed via either a refresh or append command to the appropriate element within the page.  To resolve known accessibility issues with AJAX, the W3C’s WAI Accessible Rich Internet Applications Suite (WAI-ARIA), which provides a framework for adding attributes to identify features for user interaction, has been implemented. As the WAI-ARIA site explains, ARIA makes it possible to map controls, live regions, and events to accessibility application programming interfaces (APIs) (World Wide Web Consortium, 2009). Using ARIA live region markup it is possible to set the priority with which ATs should treat updates to the live regions.

Screen shot of the screen of the accessible viewer showing accessible text displayed on screen

Accessible viewer for use with 3D virtual worlds

The web application is also accessible via mobile phones and other mobile technologies. This provides flexibility for users who are unable to log into the 3D Virtual World when away from their computer.


Further information is available from the project Website: http://www.unisanet.unisa.edu.au/3dvle/


A demonstration video (with captions) is available from the YouTube site: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxohIjxheS8.


In the final section of our presentation we discussed how we are extending the project in South Africa. Please refer to earlier posting on our research in South Africa for further information.
Screen shot of one of the virtual builds in the education project developed for schools in South Africa

Screen shot of one of the virtual builds in the education project developed for schools in South Africa

In summing up, we discussed the next stages of the project which includes the following tasks:
  • Accessibility and usability testing of accessible client and Web 2.0 interface.
  • Develop accessibility and pedagogical guidelines for higher education.
  • Develop the 3DVLE for use in developing countries addressing the identified priority areas in collaboration with local experts.
  • Collect baseline data prior to trials in South Africa.
  • Implement trial in third and fourth terms of 2011.
  • Obtain measurements at regular intervals.
  • Conduct follow up visits in October 2011 and January 2012.
  • Design guidelines for use in schools and teacher education programs in universities.
  • Extend project to Sub-Saharan countries.
Link to the PowerPoint presentation: CSUN Presentation2011

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I have recently returned from the CSUN International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference in San Diego where we presented on our accessible 3D Virtual Learning Project.  The conference was held from the 14th-19th March at the Manchester Grand Hyatt, and hosted by California Statue University, Northridge. The image below of the San Diego Harbour was taken from one of the twin towers of the conference venue.

Scenic picture taken of the San Diego Harbour from one of the twin towers of the Grand Manchester Hyatt, at the 2011 CSUN conference

View of the San Diego Harbour taken from one of the rooms in the Grand Manchester Hyatt hotel at the CSUN 2011 conference venue

Pre-Conference workshops were held on Monday 14th and Tuesday 15th March. These workshops included sessions on accessible approaches to social networking (Larry Lewis) and creating accessible documents for students and the workplace (Victoria Essner) on the Monday, and three parallel streams focusing on the accessibility of  HTML5 and Rich Internet Applications (Steve Faulkner, Hans Hillen, Jared Smith and Jonathan Whiting); an overview of assistive technology (Kelly Fonner and Scott Marfilius) and the use of the iPad and iPod Touch in the special needs classroom (Mark Coppin and Luis Perez). You can access the slides from the session on HTML5 and Rich Internet Applications from the following URL: http://webaim.org/presentations/2011/csun/html5aria/

The keynote address and welcome reception was held on Tuesday evening, 15th March. The host for the evening was Dr Arthur Karshmer and the key note panelists included Axel Leblois (Founder and Executive Director of G3ict Global Initiative for Inclusive Technologies), Mohammed Al-Tarawneh (Chief Advisor to the UN Special Rapporteur on Disabilities in Doha-Qatar) and Paul Shafer (IT specialist and Assistant Section 508 Coordinator at the US Dept of State). The featured speaker at the conference was Kareem A Dale, who is the Special Assistant to President Obama for Disability Policy. Mr Dale presented on the administration’s work on Technology and Disability during the keynote session from 12:45-1:30 pm on Thursday 17th March.

Several awards were presented at the conference including the Strache Award presented to Alan Muir, acknowledging his leadership in the field of disability and technology with an emphasis on continuing education. The 2011 Trace Centre’s Harry J Murphy Catalyst Award was presented by Dr Gregg Vanderheiden to Dr Klaus Miesenberger who has inspired action, fostered the achievements of others and contributed to the field of disability and technology. The Deque lifetime achievement award was presented to Jim Thatcher, who has been hailed as one of the founders of Web accessibility.

There were more than 250 parallel presentations conducted from Wednesday 16th to Friday 18th March. Sessions covered a broad range of disability and technology related topics; the sessions focusing on html5 and rich media applications, as well as those demonstrating new and emerging accessible iPad applications proved to be very popular.

I finally managed to meet Norm Coombs from EASI. I have been communicating with Norm via email and Skype for well over a decade, so our face to face meeting at CSUN was long overdue. EASI played an active role in presentations at the conference with sessions on IT and disabilities in Brazil and Mexico,  Bookshare for university students and supporting research, a  demonstration of the tool, LecShare, which turns PowerPoint into accessible Web content and a session on the  the accessibility of Moodle, as well as a session on Android phone accessible applications. EASI has made the slides from these presentations available online via:  http://easi.cc/conferences/

A feature of every CSUN conference is the expo on technology and disabilities, and this year was no exception. Approximately 150 exhibitors showcased their products and services across the Douglas Pavilion and Manchester Ballroom. The expo ran until Saturday 19th March and attracted a steady stream of both conference delegates and general public.

There were interesting products on show for people with vision impairments including Braille Note Takers and Voice Note Takers, as well as refreshable Braille displays and desktop video magnifiers produced by HIMS Inc (http://www.hims-inc.com), touch memo devices such as one produced by Vision Cue (http://www.visioncue.com) designed to enable individuals to label household objects with associated recorded voice descriptions for easy access when trying to locate objects, and a range of screen magnification and reader applications such as Zoom Text (http://www.aisquared.com) and iZoom produced by ISSIST (http://www.issist.com). Many of the well known distributors of assistive technologies were represented at the Expo including AbleNet, Words+, LSS Products and EnhanceVision.

I also stumbled upon an interesting graphite cane produced by Revolution Enterprises in California (http://www.advantagecanes.com). These canes have been designed to achieve optimum balance for use and comfort and are only 8.5 ounces in weight. Prices range from US $40.00 (support cane), $28 (folding) and $20.70 for rigid canes (for bulk purchases) and children’s canes are also available.

Another interesting technology on show as the Emfuse Color Braille Station, which prints hard copy handouts in colour, Braille and with tactile graphic representations of images on the page.

Perhaps not surprisingly, iPad applications were also popular and some of the accessible applications I found on show include:

  • Predictable (produced by tboxapps.com), which is software for the iPad that supports same word and next word prediction, auto scanning and user scanning, direct access and switch access, provides auditory feedback and voice output (choice of 9 voices) together with a  customisable user phrase bank (image shown below).
  • Proloquo3Go (also supports word and next word prediction as well as voice output) by AssistiveWare.
  • Pictello- as simple application that enables users to create talking photo albums and books. Also produced by AssistiveWare.
  • ArtikPix (an articulation application with flashcard and matching activities for children with speech delays) produced by Jason Rinn and Eric Sailers.
Screen shot of predictable iPad and iPhone communication application

Predictable iPad and iPhone communication application

All of these applications are available through the iTunes store. Also announced at the expo are new applications including Scene and Heard from Tboxapps  (http://www.tboxapps.com/), which will support communication for augmentative and alternative communication users through contextual scenes, recorded spoken messages and videos. Another soon to be released iPad application is  ZoomReader developed by the same company that markets ZoomText (http://mobile.aisquared.com/

We are hoping to trial some of these applications with AAC users and I will post reviews of the products at a later date.

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