Facebook Adds Accessible Feature to Make Site More Inclusive to People with Vision Impairments and Blindness

fb_icon_325x325People share over 2 billion photos across Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp every day. Visual content provides a fun and expressive way for people to communicate online; however, consuming and creating it can pose a challenge for people who are blind or visually impaired.

There are more than 39 million people who are blind and over 246 million people who have severe visual impairments. This leaves many people feeling excluded from conversations surrounding photos on Facebook. Facebook is looking to make a change to make their social media site more inclusive which is why they are introducing automatic alternative text.

Automatic alternative text is a new development that generates a description of a photo using advancements in object recognition technology. People using screen readers on IOS devices will hear a list of items the photo may contain as they swipe past images on Facebook.  Before automatic alternative text, people using screen readers would only hear the name of the person who shared the photo, followed by the term “photo” when they came upon an image in their News Feed. Now, a richer description of what’s in the photo is offered.  For example, someone could now hear, “Image may contain three people, smiling, outdoors.”

Each advancement in object recognition technology allows the Facebook accessibility team to make technology even more accessible for more people.

Facebook is launching automatic alternative text first on IOS screen readers set to English, but plans to add this functionality for other languages and platforms soon.


Accessible Prescription Labels are Available

scripview_example2_300_199Misreading a prescription drug label can be dangerous. Luckily, there are accessible prescription labels available to help people with low vision/blindness take medication correctly and independently. Rite Aid and Walmart pharmacies have these labels available nationwide, but due to North Dakota law, they’re not available here.

However, accessible prescription labels are available via mail order from these national mail order pharmacies:

  • com Home Delivery (audible prescription labels)
  • Express-Scripts.com/Tricare (large print labels)
  • Walmart Mail Order (audible prescription labels)
  • Humana Mail Order (audible and braille prescription labels)
  • Rite Aid Mail Order (audible, large print, and braille prescription labels)
  • United Healthcare/OptumRx Mail Order (audible prescription labels)

The following options are available:

  • Large Print labels
    • To create large print labels, pharmacists use what is called Scripview. This is a non-glare, high contrast, durable label that presents all the needed information in a large print booklet style label. The information is presented in 18 point font. Scripview works for any prescription.
  • Braille labels
    • BRL prescription labels meet the guidelines and recommendations set by the U.S. Access Board’s Working Group on Accessible Prescription Labels. These prescription labels contain the same information as any other prescription label.
  • Audible labels
    • A ScripTalk Station is required to create audible labels. Press a button and place the special talking label over the reader. You will h ear a voice reading the information printed on the label. The ScripTalk Station works by using RFID and text-to-speech technology. A thin antennae and microchip embedded within the label are programmed with all the printed information. Because the data is stored in the label itself, it can be used on any size bottle, box, vial, tube, or other prescription container.

Braille Smartwatch Coming in December of 2016

braille smartwatchA South Korean startup company has created Dot, the first braille smartwatch, complete with shifting cells of dots. For some time, people who are blind have needed to have messages read to them, but this innovative technology allows the person to read it for themselves.

On its face, it has four cells each with six active dots, which can raise or lower to make four braille letters at a time. It links up with Bluetooth to convert texts from apps like iMessage into their braille letter equivalents with the user’s voice commands. The device’s battery can last up for five days before needing to be charged.

The watch can be used to access various text data including messages, tweets, e-mails, and more. It also functions as a watch and alarm. This can help people who are blind/have low vision to access messages and content in a whole new way.

One benefit of the Dot wearable is the cost. Unlike braille e-readers, which can cost thousands of dollars, the device is slated to cost less than $300 when it hits U.S. markets in December. The watch will be compatible for both Android and IOS devices.

Amazon to Provide Captioning on All Videos by 2016

amazon_logo_rgbBy 2016, Amazon has agreed to provide captioning on nearly all of its videos for rent or sale as part of a deal with the National Association of the Deaf (NAD). NAD announced that Amazon will caption 100% of movies and television shows that have been watched at least 10 times in a 3 month period.

Since the beginning of the year, Amazon has provided subtitles on all shows and movies on its streaming service through Amazon Prime. However, only 85% of its cache of videos for rent and sale outside of Prime has captions.

In recent years, NAD has pressured online video companies to provide subtitles for people who are deaf. In 2012, NAD took Netflix to court where a settlement to caption all of their video content was reached. The Ninth circuit of Appeals reached a separate decision in April that because Netflix’s services are not connected to any “actual physical place,” they are therefore not subject to the disabilities law.

Unlike with Netflix, the deal with Amazon was made without litigation. Howard Rosenblum, the chief executive of NAD said, “The NAD is thrilled by Amazon’s decision to make its online entertainment experience more accessible to those who are deaf or hard of hearing.”


Van Accommodations for People with Disabilities

Recently, the Director of DCIL flew down to Minneapolis to purchase his new accessible van. He drove back from the cities in his 2013 Chrysler Town and Country Limited. He was able to experience many of the up to date technology new vans can offer. Some of these features include:

IMG_0524Features Include:

Blind Spot and Cross Path Detection

Rear Park Assist System

Automatic High Beam Headlamp Control

Rain Sensitive Windshield Wipers

Rear Back-Up Camera

Remote Start System

Keyless Entry

Steering Wheel Audio Controls

Power Liftgate

Power Sliding Doors

Heated Mirrors

The features listed here are only a few the van has to offer. Many of these features are available straight from the dealership. With the advancement of technology, automatic headlights and windshield wipers are beginning to be standard features on new vehicles. Features like the ones listed above help the driver to give their full attention to the road.

This van’s added features are what make it accessible.


IMG_0527This ramp retracts into the floor of the van so that there is still plenty of room to maneuver a wheelchair.

Hand Controls

IMG_0529The gas and the break functions of this car can be handled using hand controls. The steering wheel also has a handle attached to make it easy to drive with one hand.

Electric Rotating Seat

IMG_0531The driver seat doesn’t just move back and forth. It also rotates to allow people to transfer to the seat much easier.

Magnetic Remote Seat Control


These hand controls are attached to a remote. It has easy to press buttons. It is also magnetic and attaches to the side of the seat as shown above.

This van was purchased at Rollx Vans. If you’d like to learn more about van accommodations, you can call them at 952-890-7851.

People Help People with the New Be My Eyes App

Be My Eyes is an app that gives individuals with low vision or blindness more opportunities to be independent. This app connects people with low vision or blindness to people who are sighted.

Sited volunteers can download the app on their iPhone or iPad and create an account as a site helper. Users with low vision or blindness also create an account but do so as a blind user. When a person with low vision or blindness needs a set of eyes, they can open up the app and send a request for assistance. Once a person accepts the request, the two can now communicate with one another. The camera on the phone of the person with low vision or blindness will be activated so the helper can see what the person’s camera is capturing.

This app launched last fall and so far there are 198,886 sited helpers, 17,589 users, and 65,930 instances where people were helped through the app. This app is a free app and is currently only available through the Apple store for Apple devices. There will be an app for Android supporting devices coming out soon.

Check out the website for Be My Eyes for more information and video that gives some example uses.


Have Writing Difficulties? There’s an App for That

An app has been created to help students with writing difficulties. For individuals with disabilities that impact writing, filling out a worksheet could cause frustration and cause the individual to fall behind academically.

The SnapType app was created to help a 5th grader with dysgraphia. He knew the material, but he wasn’t able to write his answers in the space provided quickly or neatly enough to be successful. An occupational therapist in training noted his difficulty and decided to find the solution. When she couldn’t find it, she created it alongside a developer.

This app allows a student to take a picture of any worksheet or workbook page with an iPad, and then add text using the iPad’s virtual keyboard, an external keyboard, finger, or stylus.

Using this app is easy. It is as simple as snapping a picture, and then type or write the answer. A slider at the top of the app window allows you to change the font size so the writing fits into the blank space. Documents can be shared as a PDF, image, or SnapType document by using the share button. This allows the individual to use the image in any app on his/her device which can accept images or PDFs. This means that worksheets can be emailed to the teacher.

The SnapType app would be beneficial to any person with a disability that impacts writing. The app allows you to type anywhere on the document by creating text boxes. This could help someone fill out a job application or other necessary forms.

This app is free and can be found in the iTunes store.