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Hey everyone!  This is James Whitney, AT Clinician MDTAP

Part of my job here at the Maryland Assistive Technology Program is to consult with Maryland residents with varying abilities / disabilities and assist them in the process of finding AT to best fit their unique needs. There are so many devices out there to purchase that hold value and can greatly improve aspects of an individual’s life.

I want to discuss some of the free-of-charge, already-included-in-your-device, accessibility features that your phone, computer, or tablet currently offer. I will discuss these below for each of the big 3 operating systems.  Over the next few bog posts, we’ll discuss options related to vision, hearing, mobility and learning.  

First up:  Support

How to access these settings:

  • Apple: à Settings à Accessibility
  • Windows 10 à Settings à Ease of Access
  • Android à Settings à Accessibility



Apple Support: If you are a customer with a disability and utilize our accessibility features such as VoiceOver or MFi Hearing devices, call (877) 204–3930 for direct access to Apple representatives who are trained in providing support for these services. https://www.apple.com/contact/

Windows 10 Disability Answer Desk: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/accessibility/disability-answer-desk?activetab=contact-pivot%3aprimaryr9

Android Accessibility Support: https://support.google.com/accessibility/android?hl=en#topic=6007234

#ResilientPwD Texts

National Disability Institute (NDI), which manages the ABLE National Resource Center, has launched the #ResilientPwD text messaging campaign to deliver information, tips and interventions to people with disabilities and chronic health conditions. The texts, which are available by signing up for a free subscription, will be sent two times per week for six months and are intended to help combat stress and feelings of isolation, build positive thinking and establish new behavior patterns that promote emotional well-being and financial resilience. People can sign up to receive these messages by texting the keyword RESILIENT to 833-632-0273 or by visiting nationaldisabilityinstitute.org/resilientpwd.

Phonetic Braille

By Stephen Polacek:

Louis Braille created a system for covering music but it operates separately from literary braille.  Does this cause problems for singing?  According to this author, yes.  She developed a different system for phonetic sounds, primarily for the purposes of vocal music, described to work as “Designated symbols, mutually accessible by the sighted and the blind, represent the singing sounds of six languages.”

I came across this announcement through the IAAP’s newsletter, which linked to this MultiBriefs article.  https://exclusive.multibriefs.com/content/new-phonetic-system-created-for-braille-readers/education

The author, Cheri Montgomery, is a faculty member of the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University.  She decided to develop this new code after working with a student who struggled to participate in class because of limited resources.  The code is meant to convey the phonetic intonations of language and make foreign languages more easily readable, which can be the case in classical music.  It is marketed as being for those learning to read, speech therapists, and vocalists.  The system was vetted by an instructor from the Tennessee Rehabilitation Center.  It is also intentionally limited to languages used in classical compositions, though I don’t know if this includes cultural considerations. 

I’m curious what some braille users would say about this system.  I’ve worked with some blind musicians who use braille for their music but none of them were vocalists.  At the very least, it seems interesting and a direction that, from what I know, has not been explored in Braille usage. 


IDEA Best Practices Guide for Districts Released

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The Council of Great City Schools has issued a best practices guide for districts to provide support, knowledge and tools to use as they continue to provide instruction and services to students with disabilities during and after the COVID-19 health crisis. The report acknowledges it is likely that all students (with and without disabilities) will require some additional supports upon their return to school facilities following the COVID-19 closures. Regarding best practices for special education, the comprehensive guide provides links to sample materials as well as practical guidance and key considerations for outreach and communication; conducting virtual and remote meetings; handling parent evaluation requests and progress reporting; prior written notice procedures; and the development of distance learning plans.  For more information, visit: https://www.cgcs.org/cms/lib/DC00001581/Centricity/Domain/313/IDEA%20Best%20Practices%20Document%20Final.pdf

Disability Facts for Features

President Bush signing ADA law with four onlookers.

To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 26, 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau published a Facts for Features release that provides a demographic snapshot of the U.S. population with a disability. The statistics come from various Census Bureau censuses and surveys, covering different periods of time. The release also includes links to Census Bureau blogs and graphics on disability topics.

For more information, visit:  https://www.census.gov/newsroom/facts-for-features/2020/disabilities-act.html.

Google Action Blocks

By:  Stephen Polacek

I came across this on LinkedIn this week, but it’s been around for a while apparently.  Last October, Google announced the release of a new accessibility option – Action Blocks.  Essentially, they are macros; shortcut commands that you program to perform an action.  For example, you can set one to set your alarm for tomorrow and every time you press it, it will set the alarm for the next day at the specified time.  You can also give the block a custom picture, such as an alarm clock in this case, for easy visual recognition.  There is an option to read aloud what the block does as well, though they caution that if the block is programmed to do something secure (such as log into email), you should turn the option off.  The blog post linked here (https://www.blog.google/outreach-initiatives/accessibility/action-blocks/ ) advertises that the program can originally intended for those with cognitive disabilities but looking at it a bit myself, I think it could help nearly anyone.  By simplifying multi-step actions into a single button press, Action Blocks enable any user to handle more complicated tasks easily and quickly, especially ones that people repeat frequently.  It would be a lot easier to call your morning ride on Mobility or Uber with a single button rather than fiddling through menus. 

Action blocks is available here: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.google.android.apps.accessibility.maui.actionblocks.  Please note that the program is only available in English on Android devices.  For help with setting up and using action blocks, use this link: https://support.google.com/accessibility/android/answer/9711267?hl=en.  It is being updated but note many of the reviews show that the program still has a way to go to be stable.   I wrote this post because I personally had not heard much about such automation tools.  Hopefully, this kind of thing will become more of a headliner in the tech world.  

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