For a few days in March, amidst the bright sun and the sea breeze, San Diego hosted the 30th International Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference, organized by California State University, Northridge, commonly referred to as CSUN 2015. The yearly conference highlights innovations that help enable people around the world.
I was honored to help out at the ABILITY Magazine booth this year, and had a blast getting to know the enthusiastic attendees and neighboring exhibitors, especially those who provided free samples of Australian Chocolate. Aside from sharing past issues and showcasing a display of the many famous faces that have appeared on the cover, I spent my time gathering beta testers for an exciting new app I helped develop with ASCI, Inc. for ABILITY Magazine.
Access Check is a streamlined iOS app that allows people to report accessibility obstacles. The reports are collected on an interactive map database. Reports can also be shared on social media platforms, and emailed to responsible parties, to help get problems fixed.
The conference was an opportunity for us to get feedback on the app from people who experience the frustration of inaccessibility firsthand. Pushing my little sister’s wheelchair around for sixteen years, my family has expertise in avoiding cracked sidewalks, rampless restaurants, and impossibly heavy doors, but this should not have to be the case. At the conference, I encountered many willing testers, and am proud to see more and more pins appearing on the Access Check map.
As I got to know new people, I was interested in learning how the app works for people with visual difficulties. using the VoiceOver iOS feature. I tried navigating my own phone using VoiceOver, and thought I did a decent job until I met a lovely blind woman who asked me for some help finding her friend Stan. The internet was too weak for her map to load. She zipped through her iPhone so fast that my eyes could not keep up. After a thorough search of the Hyatt we did find Stan, and his adorable dog.
I met more amazing people at the CSUN 2015 Google Sky Lounge Party, where they served freshly made liquid nitrogen ice-cream under the stars. At the party, a person with low vision offered to test out Access Check. He turned on the iPhone’s blackout feature to prevent us from seeing the screen and helping him navigate it, which was a true test of functionality. He gave us some tips on improving our location verification page, to make it easier for VoiceOver to describe. We adopted his suggestion, and are excited to incorporate feedback from everyone. We want to build a great tool that works intuitively for everyone, and we need a broad range of perspectives.
All in all CSUN was a wonderful experience this year. I am thankful to ABILITY Magazine for helping us spread the word. It was so exciting to hear from great thinkers and see how robots, devices, programs and 3-D printers (my favorite) are making the world more inclusive, one invention at a time.
by Ana Marva Fernández
CSUN Assistive Tech conference