Facebook Newsfeed redesign–a step in the right direction

With each new design change, it feels like Facebook just gets more and more cluttered, with all of the automatic refreshing and mass amount of content on the page.

For once, they’ve done something good with their latest update to the newsfeed.  The update to the feed resembles the simpler layout you see on the mobile platform.  The text is darker and contrasts better with the background.  The pictures look more streamlined.

They’ve made the links to my profile and Home brighter, so they’re easier to navigate.  It’d help if I could see the notification, message and setting icons.  They’re basically invisible unless they have new notifications.

I like that the chat box column disappears when I zoom.  I never use chat, and it just means there’s less clutter.

The “Most Recent” and “Top Stories” links are more visible.  They’re displayed in a bar under the status posting box, rather than in a drop down menu.

It is nice to have a smaller, incremental update, rather than a radical change.  But, of course everyone will find a reason to gripe about it.

 

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Use Amazon Smile to donate to charities of your choice

Amazon Smile has been set up to help provide donations to a huge number of charities.  I currently have mine set up to support the Hearing Loss Association of America.  You’ll find other major organizations such as the Red Cross, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, National Federation of the Blind and American Council of the Blind, as well as smaller charities that help serve people at a more local level.

If you represent a charity, you can register at AmazonSmile Org Central.  Charities receive 0.5% of eligible purchases.

So many people order from Amazon all the time.  This way, some of the proceeds can help fund research, and provide help for those who really need it.

 

 

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Going carless in a small town

After living in the Raleigh-Durham area for several years, I moved back to my hometown to save money.  Sounds impossible without a car, right?  Not necessarily.

All my life, I thought that a big city would be where I should live because of the public transportation, and access to jobs and entertainment.

I am finding that living in a small community has its perks that you can’t get in a big city.  The town is small enough to drive across in 15 minutes, and I know half the town, so I don’t feel like I’m stepping way out of my comfort zone when asking for rides.

The streets are smaller and less busy. so I’m not risking my life every time I walk down to the grocery store.  Seriously, driverless cars will be so much safer!  I can’t wait til the Google Prius driverless car goes mainstream.

There is a lot of room for improvement.  The town has the potential to be a lot more walkable.  I look forward to getting involved with projects and initiatives for this.

All of those “social groups” that I’ve been looking for — knitting group, book club, trivia, etc, are all right here.  I spent so much time looking for them in Durham, but just happened upon them here without much effort.

While it’s true that jobs are harder to come by in small towns, I’m grateful to have a job that isn’t dependent on my location.  There is also a strong focus on local artists, so people can share their talents and make money too.  Telecommuting is becoming more and more popular with gas prices rising, and through access to technology.  That will give people who have mobility restrictions more freedom to choose where they live.

I am glad that I can still go back to Chapel Hill or Durham and be mobile.  It helps me appreciate that I know the bus and train systems well enough to get around independently outside of where I live.  But then, I also appreciate no longer having to worry about being out after dark, or carving out hours of my day just to get from place to place.  There are pros and cons to both situations.

I hear so many people say “I have to have a car” or “I can’t go without a car.”  I admit I’ve complained about it–although I have some rather amusing and crazy stories from using public transit.  But, it IS possible to live without a car.  You just have to learn what resources are available for you, and make good connections in the community you live in.

 

 

 

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Switched at Birth Season 3

Has anyone else been watching Season 3 of Switched at Birth?

Switched at Birth is an ABC Family drama that follows two teenagers and their families.  The girls, Daphne and Bay, were switched at birth, and Daphne is deaf.  I like it because it is a popular show in general, but also teaches lessons about how the disability community is perceived in real life.

This must be the season of the relationships because it feels like the show has created some kind of drama or controversy around all of the relationships on the show.

That would get old except that there are two different relationships in the show that portray what it is like to date someone with a disability: Travis (another deaf character) and Mary Beth, and Daphne and Campbell (who is in a wheelchair).

Two big issues that face a relationship involving disability are: discrimination and misconceptions about limits to activities that couples can do.

I am so glad that the show handled those two issues by bringing them out in the open and addressing them.  With all the relationship drama in the entertainment industry, you never see these issues.

Sure there might be some things that a couple can’t do because of a disability, but having a disability also gives you a unique perspective on life.  There are also ways to work around a barrier.  Plus, even able-bodied people are not good at everything.

A couple of examples:

Deaf people can dance by following the rhythm through vibrations, or by following the lead of a good partner.

The blind can enjoy movies through audio, and even better, descriptive audio.

As for discrimination.  You can get angry, let it go, or use it as a teachable moment.  Of course, not everyone will be receptive to the teachable moment, but getting angry over ignorance (if that is what it is) is like hitting against a brick wall.  It doesn’t solve anything.

People aren’t usually inclined to educate themselves about disability unless they’re required to for a personal, academic, or business reason, or if they’re actively interested in learning more about it.  It is human nature to not actively think about something that doesn’t affect them.  So, it is up to those experiencing it to educate the rest of society.

You can catch up with Switched at Birth on Amazon or Netflix.  The spring season finale is this coming Monday, but the summer season starts on June 16.  It will be nice to have new shows to look forward to when the others are on hiatus during the summer!

 

 

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Life with bilateral cochlear implants – two month mark

My new, left cochlear implant has been activated for two and a half months now.  It has been a much different experience so far than with my first, right cochlear implant because my left ear has progressed a lot more quickly.

In the beginning I had some processor issues, and I’m trying to get used to controlling my implants with a remote.  I hope one day, they’ll come up with longer lasting batteries, so I don’t feel like I’m constantly changing them.

In terms of speech recognition, my ears are about the same.  In terms of sound quality, my right ear is still the better one.  My left ear doesn’t seem to handle high pitch sounds very well, which is frustrating.

I have heard arguments about whether it really makes a difference whether you have one or two implants.  I would strongly argue that two are essential for overall balance and awareness.  I am blind in my right eye, so having surround sound hearing might benefit me more so than people with normal vision.

I am extremely happy that my balance has stabilized since I’ve received my second implant.  That has been a big struggle over the past 5 years, and I feel like it’s finally hit bottom and will only improve from here on out.

I’ve spent most of my life with one ear, so I never really understood “stereo.”  There are no words to describe how it feels to hear and appreciate music in stereo for the first time.  I feel like I’m hearing familiar songs in a new way, and discovering songs I could never really listen to before because they were too muffled.

Bilateral implants add depth to the overall sound.  I love not having to worry about what side I’m on, and being able to hear from a further distance.  I look forward to when the left ear starts to sound more normal, so that everything will sound even better!

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Google Chrome High Contrast Extension

I am having a really hard time trying to find the best combination of adaptive technology and services to make it easier to work on the computer.  I have enough vision to read regular sized print, but prefer to enlarge text so my eyes won’t tire out as quickly.

None of the magnifiers such as ZoomText or Windows Magnfier work very well for me because they only show portions of the screen, then glide around.  Not really fast enough for me to find what I need.

I’ve been playing around with High Contrast settings on my Windows 8 laptop.  I really like light on dark, because it is easier on my eyes, but then I run into issues with images inverting and with some text not inverting.

Google Chrome has an extension called High Contrast (very creative!).  The extension offers several options: invert colors, grayscale,  increased contrast, and yellow on black.

High Contrast on Google Chrome works fine on many websites, (like a charm on Google of course), but skews others.  I tested all of the options.  Facebook especially doesn’t handle it very well.  Text gets muddled, and I can’t click on buttons.

The webchat service I use for my chat reference job blanks out.  This extension would be really helpful if it worked for this site, because I have to read text quickly.

I don’t know enough about the backend code for the extension to say for sure, but my guess is that the success of the extension depends on the code in the websites themselves.  When it inserts the high contrast code, the individual websites decide how they handle it.  So, this issue should be addressed when developing websites to browser specifications and to meet accessibility standards.

What Google Chrome extensions do you recommend?

 

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Share your feedback to help make Netflix accessible for everyone

Help spread awareness to make online streaming services like Netflix accessible by sharing your feedback on The accessible Netflix project blog.  The goal of this project is to help make Netflix accessible for the visually impaired by requesting audio descriptions for movies and TV shows.

On a related note, Crossway Media Solutions has developed a Netflix alternative that provides audio transcriptions for movies and TV shows.  Learn more about this upcoming project at http://talkingflix.com/.

 

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First-hand look at the accessibility updates in iOS 7.1

iOS 7.1 came out yesterday, and I downloaded it on my iPhone 5S.  It’s a much-needed update.  The fingerprint sensor seems to be working a lot better, and I’ll be interested to see if my phone stops the “reset freezes.”

For a list of accessibility features and improvements, I suggest taking a look at AppleVis’s post called:
What’s New and Changed for Blind and Low Vision Users in iOS 7.1.

I turned on some of the low vision features: Button Shapes, Reduce Transparency, Darken Colors, and Reduce White Point.

Button shapes creates outlines around buttons, so that you can differentiate them from text.  For example, the General > Accessibility labels you see when navigating the phone’s  settings.  I never really paid attention to this before, but I can see how it would help, especially since it tends to blend into the rest of the text.

Darken Colors is supposed to make the text and background colors contrast better.  I have this setting set up in Google Chrome, and I love it because adequate color contrast seems to be really hard to come by.  On my phone, however, I couldn’t really tell any difference.

Reduce Transparency helps a lot with contrast issues.  I also turned off Reduce Motion in the last iOS 7 update.  That one was making me dizzy on top of having to strain to read text on the transparent screen.

Reduce White Point could use a dimmer switch.  I don’t think it makes the white dark enough.  Or, even add a light gray or sepia option?  Just going out on a limb there.

Invert colors is an existing feature, but I really like it, and would like to see more options and adjustments available for it, such as the ability to not invert images, and to choose the color scheme.  It is much easier for me to read white on back, but it throws off images and icon appearances.

I like where Apple is going with the accessibility features, and I hope that they will continue to add new and refine existing features.

 

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Using Amazon as a go-to place for asssitive technology equipment and accessories

I use Amazon a lot because I can’t drive, and the Prime 2-day shipping is really convenient.  For years I spent so much money on hearing aid batteries at the drugstore, only to find out I could get them much cheaper on Amazon.  This discovery was a godsend because I now wear cochlear implants, and they run through batteries much more quickly than my hearing aid did.

For years, I used HearMore.com to buy my Sonic Boom alarm clock, but after getting substandard customer service when accidentally ordering the wrong product,  I no longer order from them.  The email response was curt and had spelling errors, plus I had to pay shipping again to get the right product.

I’ve compiled a list of products I’ve bought on Amazon over the last few years, and recommend.  Check those out on the Buy Equipment and Accessories Page.

Lastly, by purchasing products linked from this blog, you can help me generate revenue to keep this blog up and running.  My goal is to generate enough revenue to help support disability advocacy projects and organizations.

Want me to review your app, product, or book, or help spread awareness for a project?  Let me know!

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Currently Reading A Web for Everyone: Designing Accessible User Experiences

I highly recommend A Web for Everyone by Sarah Horton and Whitney Quesenbery to anyone working with accessibility, usability, user experience, and just web design in general.  It was published just recently in January 2014.

This book resonates with me because it advocates and provides instructions for integrating accessibility from the beginning of the project, rather than as a touch-up job at the end.  It also explains that designers need to take into account that the people using their websites do not fit into one mold.  You can’t possibly fit everyone’s needs, but you want to attempt to reach out to as many users as possible.

I am an interactive learner, so I don’t normally read books about web design unless I can follow a tutorial, but A Web for Everyone is written in a plain-language, easy-to-read writing style, so I don’t have any problem following it.  It also helps having a set of personas with a variety of backgrounds and abilities to identify with the different design scenarios in the book.

It is a good resource guide because it links to important guidelines such as the W3C’s WCAG 2.0, as well as helpful links to well-known accessibility experts.

Once I’m done reading the book, I will write a more thorough review.

A Web for Everyone is available in both paperback and on Kindle.

 

 

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