Circa 2008


Like the famous Rat Pack featuring Frank Sinatra and his celebrity pals, a group of leading information and assistive technology companies, along with content providers and other key engineering organizations, recently formed the Accessibility Interoperability Alliance (AIA) to help developers create accessible software, hardware and Web products. AIA’s goal is to formulate standards for accessible technology, as well as to ensure mainstream adoption of such standards.

Founding members of AIA include information technology companies such as Adobe, BayFirst Solutions, Microsoft and Novell; and hardware companies such as HP; and assistive technology companies such as Claro Software, Dolphin Computer Access, GW Micro, HiSoftware, Madentec, Texthelp Systems and QualiLife.

AIA members will collaborate on projects intended to aid compatibility between existing technologies, and to come up with solutions to resolve the many challenges associated with developing accessible products. The group’s results are expected to yield improved developer guidelines, tools and technologies; lower development costs; and increased accessibility innovation throughout the industry.

The founding members of AIA have selected four inaugural projects:

• To develop a set of assistive technology keyboard shortcuts that will be consistent no matter which Web browser you use

• To improve compatibility and exchange of information between Information Technology (IT) and assistive technology (AT) products

• To add features that support additional rich document scenarios and new Web scenarios

• To map Web accessible information through automation that ensures maximum value for AT products, which benefits people with disabilities

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“Today, developers must work across divergent platforms, application environments and hardware models to create accessible technology for customers with disabilities,” said Rob Sinclair, director of the Accessibility Business Unit at Microsoft. “The AIA is an opportunity for the entire industry to come together to reduce the cost and complexity of accessibility, increase customer satisfaction, foster inclusive innovation and reinforce a sustainable ecosystem of accessible technology products.”

Currently, there is no single accessibility development model that information technology developers can use to ensure their applications will work with virtually any AT, or that AT developers can use to make sure their products work with a wide variety of applications. Instead, many accessibility models and technologies must deliver a complete solution, and those investments sometimes apply only to a small number of products. As a result, people with disabilities who rely upon AT devices—such as screen readers for people who are blind—are sometimes unable to access information on certain websites or applications and may be forced to wait for upgrades before they can use the latest software.

Reducing barriers to accessibility and usability among current and future technologies is expected to create broader markets and new opportunities for customers and companies.

“Accessible technology is going mainstream as more and more people, with and without disabilities, begin to discover the many ways it can improve their quality of life,” said Claudio Giugliemma, CEO of QualiLife, an assistive technology company based in Switzerland. “Because of the work AIA will do … to foster collaboration and innovation across the industry, more people, especially those with disabilities, will be able to use technology products to help with healthcare, aging and other important life issues.”


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In Other Tech News: Apple now includes closed captioning playback in its QuickTime software, iTunes and in the latest software for both iPod and iPhone. Also, at the recent Macworld 2008 in San Francisco, the company announced a new AppleTV that supports closed-captioned playback. The software for the new AppleTV will be available to existing AppleTV owners as a software update over the internet.



The Teleosis Institute launched the Green Pharmacy Program in May 2007 to reduce pharmaceutical pollution of San Francisco waterways and increase public awareness about the environmental impact of discarded medications. Over 700 pounds of unused and expired medicines were collected in the first six months.

Recent studies have found that more than 80 percent of waterways tested in the U.S. show traces of common medications such as acetaminophen, hormones, antidepressants, blood pressure medicine, codeine and antibiotics, presumably from unused or expired medicines thrown down the drain or toilet, which can damage aquatic life.

The Bay Area’s Green Pharmacy Program sponsors events advocating environmentally safe disposal of unwanted medications. They have established community-based take-back sites in Northern California, where consumers can return unused medications.

Green Pharmacy is unique in that the site manager documents all returned medicines through the Unused & Expired Medicine Registry, a program developed by the Community Medical Foundation for Patient Safety in Texas. That organization compiles national statistics on medicines returned and reasons for disposal.

Once a statistically significant sample is documented, the data will be presented to pharmaceutical researchers, manufacturers and governmental organizations to build support for take-back programs nationwide.

The program uses a product stewardship approach to “green” the pharmaceutical lifecycle. The program spans multiple sectors of the industry, educating and engaging manufacturers, distributors, pharmacists, physicians, consumers, and waste management companies in an effort to arrive at a solution.

Here’s how you can help:

•Take drugs as directed by your doctor or pharmacist. Don’t stop part way through the course of treatment without first discussing it with your doctor. Even if you feel better, use the entire prescription as directed to make sure all germs are destroyed.

•Do not put out-of-date or unused medication in the garbage or down the toilet or sink.

•Check to see if your pharmacy has a drug recycling program that disposes of unused or expired drugs in an environmentally safe manner. Many pharmacies do.

•If your area does not have such a program, see if one nearby incinerates drugs. If so, take your medication to that waste disposal depot.

•At least once a year, go through your medicine cabinet and remove prescription drugs that are old or that you no longer take. Check the expiration dates on non-prescription drugs and remove those that are outdated as well. Take them all back to your pharmacy or to your nearby waste disposal depot.


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An inspirational third-grader has been named the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s (MDA) 2008 National Goodwill Ambassador. Abbey Umali of Redlands, CA, who appeared on the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon for the past two years, also served two terms as MDA California Goodwill Ambassador.

Throughout 2008, Abbey and her family will travel the US, representing families who are affected by the neuromuscular diseases that are served by MDA. Abbey has congenital hypomyelinating neuropathy, a form of Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, which is characterized by muscle weakness and a lack of coordination and balance. The only child of Joel, a dentist, and Wendi, a physical therapist, Abbey will participate in special events and meetings held by national MDA sponsors; she’ll also serve as a media spokesperson on MDA’s behalf.

“She is precocious and charismatic,” MDA National Chairman Jerry Lewis said of Abbey. “I’m delighted to have such a wonderful young lady and her family spread the word about MDA’s commitment to finding treatments for neuromuscular diseases.” An active girl, she likes to read, sing, swim, play piano and hang out with friends. On the career front, she aspires to be a veterinarian.

Soon, Abbey’s shining face will be featured in MDA promotional materials nationwide, and she’ll once again appear on the telethon.

MDA is a voluntary health agency working to defeat more than 40 neuromuscular diseases through programs of worldwide research, comprehensive services and farreaching professional and public health education.


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AssistiveWare recently announced a new website devoted to gaming on the Mac OS X system that was created by and for Mac users with disabilities.

The site is divided into three main sections: Feature articles on gaming; reviews of individual games; and short descriptions of games that note their accessibility.

“I have been designing universal access solutions for Mac OS X since 2002, and one of the most frequently asked question by users is not whether they can do their homework or write the next great novel, but what games they can play,” said David Niemeijer, AssistiveWare’s CTO. “With our site, we have created a platform where users can exchange their gaming experiences and can share tips and tricks.”

“I have been gaming with a switch on the Mac since 1995, long before Mac OS X, long before sites like this even existed. I had no guidance, no advice,” said Michael Phillips, AssistiveGaming editor and long-time Inside Mac Games contributor.



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During the recent Super Bowl, amid the giant flat-screen TVs and booming surround sound, one commercial from PepsiCo made viewers reach for their remotes to see if they’d accidentally hit the mute button.

The pre-game ad featured a silent 60-second bit filmed in American Sign Language (ASL) with open-captioned text for the benefit of all viewers. The spot was created by and features PepsiCo employees who are members of EnAble, an employee network whose mission is to promote a more inclusive environment for people with disabilities.

Titled “Bob’s House,” the theme is based on a popular joke in the deaf community. It opens with two guys driving to their friend Bob’s house to watch a football game. Once they turn onto his street, neither remembers his address. The two argue in ASL, each blaming the other for not knowing the house number. Finally, the driver comes up with a solution: he drives slowly while honking his horn repeatedly. One by one, the houses light up—except for Bob’s.

National Association of the Deaf president, Bobbie Beth Scoggins, believes it’s an historic first for an ad featuring ASL to get such prominent play. Says Scoggins, who is deaf, “I was glad to see this part of deaf culture awareness shared in a most clever way.”

Clay Broussard, who plays Bob in the commercial, has worked for PepsiCo in Dallas for 27 years. He became involved in the deaf community through a church he and his wife attended, where services were conducted entirely in ASL. Though he is not deaf, the coworkers—Brian Dowling and Darren Therriault—who play opposite him in the commercial are.

Broussard worked on the ad concept on his own time. After 18 months, he showed it to senior managers, who decided they wanted it for the Super Bowl.


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Cambridge scientists are exploring the potential link between environmental pollution and Type 2 Diabetes. In the most recent edition of Lancet, Drs. Oliver Jones and Julian Griffin highlight the need to research the persistent organic pollutants (POPs, a group which includes many pesticides) and insulin resistance, which may lead to adult onset diabetes.

Dr. Jones and Dr. Griffin cited research by Dr. D. Lee and others, which demonstrated a strong relationship between POP levels in blood, particularly organochlorine compounds, and the risk of Type 2 Diabetes.

“Of course correlation does not automatically imply causation,” says Dr. Jones. “But if there is indeed a link, the health implications could be tremendous. At present there is very limited information. Research into adult onset diabetes currently focuses on genetics and obesity; there has been almost no consideration for the possible influence of environmental factors such as pollution.”

In Dr. Lee’s study, an association between obesity and diabetes was absent in people with low concentrations of POPs in their blood. In other words, individuals were more at risk of diabetes if they were thin but had high levels of POPs in their blood, than if they were overweight but had low levels of POPs.

Dr. Jones stated, “I think research should be carried out to first test the hypothesis that POPs exposure can cause diabetes, perhaps using cell or tissue cultures, so we know for sure if this can occur. Assuming POPs can have this effect, the next step would be to try and develop a method of treatment for those people who might be affected.”

POPs came into prominence as effective pesticides with the introduction of DDT in the 1940s. However, many of these chemicals, including DDT, fell out of favor after they were blamed for the declining number of wild birds and other animals (brought to the public’s attention in Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring) and the possible negative human health effects. As the compounds biodegrade slowly, they continue to find their way into the food chain and ultimately into the blood streams of individuals, even though many of these toxins were banned years ago. Additionally, these compounds can persist in body fat for very long periods of time.

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