Four Tools To Design Smart Cities For Persons With Disabilities

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The Global Initiative for Inclusive Information Communication Technologies (G3ict), together with World Enabled, have launched the “Smart Cities For All” Toolkit in efforts to define the state of Information Communication Technologies (ICT) accessibility in smart cities around the world. G3ict is a UN advocacy initiative that aims to facilitate and support the implementation of the dispositions of The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on the accessibility of ICTs and assistive technologies. World Enabled is an educational non-profit organization that, according to its website: “promotes the rights and dignities of persons with disabilities.”

The study that preceded the toolkit emphasized the importance of including empowering different communities with equal opportunities and responsibilities in smart cities. The importance of the Smart Cities For All Toolkit comes down to the long struggle of persons with disabilities and older persons to live and work as efficiently as others do in their cities. Over the past year, World Enabled and G3ict surveyed 400 leaders from the public and private sectors, advocacy organizations, civil society and academia all over the world, only to find that 18% could think of a city using accessibility standards around technology.

The challenge they found is that in many countries there is a strong focus on disability rights and accessible technologies, and a strong focus on creating new smart cities, however, these efforts are rarely coordinated or integrated together – although both are mutually inclusive. The same is true of technology companies as well. Although every large technology company has a business unit focused on smart cities, and many have strong teams focused on accessibility and usability, yet each function seems to work in a silo, rarely coordinating with the others.

Using the results of the study, the groups compiled a toolkit composed of four steps, with the first going towards implementing priority ICT accessibility. Since accessible ICT standards are key to designing a more inclusive approach to smart cities, the team argues that cities should begin by understanding and adopting appropriate ICT accessibility standards to ensure that smart cities programs and digital services are inclusive of people with disabilities and elders.

The second step is communicating the case for a stronger commitment to digital inclusion in cities; or in other words spreading awareness of disability and ICT accessibility. First, communication goals and objectives should be set, then key messages should be developed and priority communication channels should be identified. After that is done, a communication strategy should be created ahead of mobilizing allies and resources, and in the end, outcomes should be measured and evaluated.

Continue onto Progrss to read the complete article.

Best and Worst States on Jobs for People with Disabilities

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disability friendly states

By Philip Kahn-Pauli

Floridians with disabilities experience the biggest jobs gains of any state, with more than 23,000 people with disabilities entering the workforce. Of the 50 states, 29 states saw job gains for Americans with disabilities.

Vermont, under Gov. Phil Scott, becomes one of the top 10 states with the best employment rates and Rhode Island, under Gov. Gina Raimondo, jumps from 47th in the nation to 19th. New statistics recently released show that Americans with disabilities saw a slowdown in job gains compared to those of the previous year. The Disability Statistics Compendium, released by Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire, shows that the employment rate for people with disabilities has risen to 37 percent. The Compendium also shows that geography has an impact on employment outcomes for Americans with disabilities. People with disabilities in North Dakota are twice as likely to have jobs as West Virginians with disabilities.

The newly published 2018 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium compiles data collected by the Census Bureau. The Compendium is intended to equip policy-makers, self-advocates and others with clear statistics on disability in America today. Out of over 20 million working-age people with disabilities, 7.5 million have jobs. This data also shows the serious gaps that remain between disabled and non-disabled Americans. 37 percent of U.S. civilians with disabilities ages 18-64 living in the community had a job, compared to 77.2 percent for people without disabilities.

“Our nation was founded on the principle that anyone who works hard should be able to get ahead in life,” said Hon. Steve Bartlett, current Chairman of RespectAbility, who co-authored the Americans with Disabilities Act when he was in Congress. “People with disabilities deserve the opportunity to earn an income and achieve independence, just like anyone else.”

Further analysis by the nonpartisan advocacy group RespectAbility shows that 111,804 people with disabilities entered the workforce in 2017. That number is down from the previous year’s increase of over 343,000 new jobs for people with disabilities. Different factors explain the slower pace of job growth. A slowing economy is one factor, as is changing patterns of growth in different sectors of the economy. One lesson is clear to Andrew Houtenville, PhD of UNH’s Institute on Disability: “there is still a long way to go toward closing the gap between people with and without disabilities.”

“Employment rates only tell part of the story,” added Philip Kahn-Pauli, Policy and Practices Director at RespectAbility. “When you look across the intersection of disability and race, you find serious gaps in outcomes.” Only 28.6 percent of African Americans with disabilities have jobs compared to the 38.6 percent of Hispanics with disabilities and 41.2 percent of Asian Americans with disabilities who have jobs.

Some states have higher employment rates for people with disabilities than others. North Dakota leads the nation with 56.3 percent of its citizens with disabilities employed and is closely followed by South Dakota with a 51.3 percent disability employment rate. One of the biggest surprises in this year’s data is Vermont. Under Gov. Phil Scott, Vermonters with disabilities have seen a 5.7 percent increase in jobs, bumping their employment rate to 47.2 percent. For a full break down of the top 10 states, please see the table below.
 

State Ranking State Total # of Working-Age PWDs # of PWDs Employed Total Job Gains and Losses Disability Employment Rate 
1 ND 37,320 21,019 -2267 56.3
2 SD 49,546 25,419 -904 51.3
3 UT 150,964 74,754 -13 49.5
4 NE 112,418 55,391 2068 49.3
5 MN 305,082 145,697 617 47.8
6 VT 47,113 22,234 1728 47.2
7 KS 191,769 89,069 4807 46.4
8 MT 69,553 31,935 -1484 45.9
9 IA 170,186 77,746 -2670 45.7
10 WY 41,825 19,063 578 45.6

 
Of the 50 states, 29 states saw job gains among the disability community, while people with disabilities lost economic ground in 21 states. Census Bureau data shows an astounding 23,953 Floridians with disabilities gained new jobs. Illinois saw the second biggest job gains for people with disabilities with over 20,000 new jobs even as 50,000 people without disabilities left Illinois’ workforce.

Rhode Island deserves credit for seeing a major turnaround. As reported by RespectAbility, Rhode Island under Gov. Gina Raimondo ranked 47th in the nation last year with an abysmal 30 percent disability employment rate. As a result of a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice, Rhode Island began to close shelter workshops where people with disabilities had been paid subminimum wages. Through sustained efforts to promote competitive, integrated employment Rhode Islanders with disabilities are now experiencing new success. Over 7,000 people with disabilities entered the workforce in 2017, pushing Rhode Island to stand 19th in the nation. As bipartisan consensus grows around ending subminimum wages, Rhode Island shows that transformative success is possible.

Continue on to RespectAbility.org to read the complete article.

Highlighting African-Americans with Disabilities in Honor of Black History Month

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As we celebrate Black History Month, which takes place every February, RespectAbility recognizes the contributions made and the important presence of African-Americans to the United States. It is important to note this includes more than 5.6 million African-Americans living with a disability in the U.S., 3.4 million of which are working-age African-Americans with disabilities.

Therefore, we would like to reflect on the realities and challenges that continue to shape the lives of African-Americans with disabilities.

Only 28.7 percent of working-age African-Americans with disabilities are employed in the U.S. compared to 72 percent of working-age African-Americans without disabilities. This is in line with the rest of the country, with fully one-in-five Americans having a disability and just 30 percent of those who are working-age being employed, despite polls showing that most of them want to work. This leads to approximately 40 percent of African-Americans with disabilities living in poverty compared to 22 percent of African-Americans without disabilities.

Deafblind lawyer Haben Girma advocates for inclusion in both education and Hollywood.

For many of the 1,199,743 black students (K-12) with disabilities in America today, the deck is stacked against them. Frequently “invisible disabilities” such as ADHD are not diagnosed and students do not get the supports they need to achieve. Frustrated, they can act out and become suspended. African-American students with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by suspension in schools, with more than one in four boys of color with disabilities — and nearly one in five girls of color with disabilities — receiving an out-of-school suspension.

Studies show that when students miss too many days, either for being truant or just being absent, they get so far behind in class that it can lead to them dropping out of school. As documented in Disability & Criminal Justice Reform: Keys to Success, this can lead to the school-to-prison pipeline. Today there are more than 750,000 people with disabilities behind bars in America. Many of them do not have high school diplomas, are functionally illiterate and are people of color.

Harriet Tubman did not let her epileptic seizures stop her from risking her life to free slaves through the underground railroad.

Overall, only 65 percent of students with disabilities graduate high school compared to 84 percent of students without disabilities. However, only 57 percent of black students with disabilities graduate high school compared to 74.6 percent of black students without disabilities.

Some celebrities and business leaders are using their voice to share their stories, educating people about both visible and invisible disabilities. They are defying the statistics and have remained highly successful with their disabilities. These role models make a big difference in setting high expectations for youth with disabilities. People with disabilities of all backgrounds can be amongst the highest achievers on earth. Harriet Tubman had Epilepsy, actress Halle Berry lives with diabetes, business leader and Shark Tank superstar Daymond John is dyslexic and Stevie Wonder is blind. Each of them is a positive role model for success. They are perfect candidates for RespectAbility’s #RespectTheAbility campaign, which is shining a light on individuals with disabilities who are succeeding in their chosen careers.

Continue on to Respectability.org to read the complete article.

SeaWorld’s Orlando water park now is a certified autism center

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Aquatica Orlando — SeaWorld’s water park — has put staff through training and added more resources for visitors to become an official certified autism center, the company said Tuesday.

“Guests will also be provided with specific information about attractions and experiences along with in-park accommodations to help them plan their day and make informed choices best suited to their individual needs,” the company said in a press release.

“We continually strive to create safe and meaningful experiences for all of our guests, and we are committed in our efforts to offer families inclusive activities for children with autism and other special needs,” Heaton said in a statement.

Another SeaWorld-owned property, Sesame Place, became the world’s first certified autism center theme park last April, the company said.

Employees at Aquatica Orlando underwent autism sensitivity and awareness training to help them talk with families and people with autism. They must undergo training every two years to keep the certification that’s through International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards.

Continue onto the Orlando Sentinel to read the complete article.

11 Simple, Proven Ways to Optimize Your Mental Health

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Only you truly know the unique triumphs and travails of living in your own head. If you experience ongoing depression, anxiety or other symptoms, “Seeking professional help as early as possible, rather than waiting, can be critical,” says Dr. Robert Klitzman, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University in New York City. However, you needn’t be diagnosed with a mental health condition to benefit from taking steps to improve your psychological well-being. Here are some ways you can get a mental edge. The payoff could include everything from a happier, healthier, longer life to better relationships.

Get moving.

You might not want to sit down for this. “Physical exercise is very important in preventing or reducing mental health problems,” Klitzman says, which include depression. “When we exercise, our body releases endorphins – natural opiates that improve our mood and make us feel good. Exercise can also help cognitive functioning – how well we think.”

Watch your weight.

Being sedentary, by contrast, can prove a double whammy, since we don’t get the mental jolt from exercise – and we’re more likely to pack on pounds. Putting on extra weight, research shows, can weigh down our mental health, too. Obesity and diabetes increase the risk for depression, says psychiatrist Dr. Mahendra Bhati, an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Be careful what you consume.

Your diet – whether predominantly plant-based with healthy greens, nuts and other lean proteins (good), or laden with saturated fat, processed foods and sugars (not so good) – can impact mood and anxiety levels. So, too, can other things we put in our body to get by in the moment, from tobacco and alcohol to recreational drugs. Better to avoid the feel-good momentary fixes, Klitzman says, and spare yourself the crash later.

Stay in the moment.

We all sometimes seek to avoid uncomfortable situations, either by physically removing ourselves or checking out mentally. “That’s normal … it’s just that when you do that very chronically and habitually, it could develop into significant problems with anxiety and depression,” says psychologist Brandon Gaudiano, an associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Experts recommend practicing mindfulness instead to help deal with difficult circumstances and emotions. “It’s paying attention to the present moment and what your experience is,” says Gaudiano, noting that approaches vary. “Bringing awareness, acceptance, self-compassion, curiosity and just noticing non-judgmentally those internal experiences as they’re arising.”

Continue onto U.S. New & World Report for the complete article.

Pegi Young, 66, Musician Who Started a School for Disabled, Dies

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Pegi Young, a late-blossoming folk-rock musician who was a founder of a school for children with severe physical and speech impairments, like her son from her marriage to the singer-songwriter Neil Young, a performer at its many star-studded benefit concerts, died on Tuesday in Mountain View, Calif. She was 66.

Her brother Paul Morton said the cause was cancer.

By the early 1980s, Ms. Young had grown frustrated with the special education programs available for her son, Ben, who was born with cerebral palsy in 1978. She began thinking about starting a school to better address his needs and those of other children who had largely lost the ability to speak.

That inspiration led in 1987 to the Bridge School, an innovative institution in Hillsborough, Calif., that has since achieved global reach. Ms. Young founded it with the speech and language pathologist Marilyn Buzolich and Jim Forderer, who had adopted many special-needs children.

At the school, about 17 miles south of San Francisco, children from ages 3 to 12 use augmentative and alternative communication techniques, including speech generators and manual communication boards, to help them articulate their thoughts and prepare to complete their educations in their local school districts.

Vicki R. Casella, the executive director, said in a telephone interview that Ms. Young had a “determination to ensure that children like Ben have the opportunity to become active participants in their communities.”

Dr. Buzolich added that Ms. Young’s experience as the parent of a child with special needs had been critical to the school.

“Professionals often diss parental input, but the parent sees the whole child,” Dr. Buzolich said by telephone. “You can imagine the parents at the Bridge School saying to themselves, ‘She understands me, she knows what it’s like, she’s been there.’ ”

The school runs an international teacher training program; implements its curriculum in developing countries; organizes conferences; and conducts research to measure the effectiveness of its educational strategies.

“I take a tremendous amount of satisfaction with the knowledge that we’re changing lives for the better,” Ms. Young said in 2017 in an interview with AXS, a ticketing website. “It’s truly having a global impact.”

Continue onto the New York Times to read the complete article.

STEM Professor Receives Award to Study Technologies for Disability Community

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Ashley Shew standing on porch with arm around pillar smiling

By Leslie King

The trichotillomania bracelet looks unassuming, just like any other smart technology worn around the wrist. But rather than counting steps or heartbeats, it serves another purpose.

The wristlet vibrates an alarm when it tracks the user subconsciously beginning to pull out strands of hair. For those with trichotillomania, instead of following the compulsion to yank out their hair, the wireless device helps them notice the gestures and change their behavior.

This tool, along with other technologies for the disability community, intrigues Ashley Shew, an assistant professor in the Virginia Tech Department of Science, Technology, and Society. In July 2018, she received a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award that will allow her to investigate the personal accounts of people with disabilities, as well as their opinions of the technologies designed for them.

The prestigious honor, given to junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research and education, is better known as the CAREER award.

“I’m interested in the storylines that disabled people tell about their bodies and how their relationships with technology differ from popular and dominant narratives we have in our society,” said Shew, who herself identifies as disabled.

Her research focuses on discrepancies between how scientists and engineers understand and explain their work related to disability and the actual needs and wants of people with disabilities. Shew said there is a disconnect between media-based depictions and reality within the realm of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and technology design.

“This means people aren’t always designing with real users in mind, but with ideas about what users want based on the entertainment media,” she said. “This is problematic because nondisabled people create and depict disabled people. There is little authentic disability representation in the media, so all these media-driven narratives about technology get fed into engineering.”

Shew cites several misleading media-supported tropes. Negative stereotypes encourage the public to view disabled people with pity, as sinners or fakers, or as resource burdens. And while the trichotillomania bracelet is small and unobtrusive, many technologies, such as wheelchairs or exoskeletons, are not. Some people who could benefit from viable supportive devices might shy away from them to avoid public skepticism or castigation.

And the reverse depictions are just as misrepresentative.

“There are also tropes about inspiration and courage,” Shew said. “The one people lean on, which I’ll be assessing through this grant, involves a focus on inspiration and courage, along the lines of, ‘You’re such an inspiration because you’re disabled in public.’ If you’re not inspiring, you’re courageous to overcome what you’re overcoming. If we believe you’re truly disabled, then if you’re out having a regular life, you’re considered heroic in ways that don’t map onto real life at all.”

Designers often create technologies with this trope in mind. An example of this is a surge of 3D-printed hands for young amputees. Marketed with terms such as “superhero” hands or arms, the branding presents these children as different from people without disabilities. Shew describes this phenomenon as techno-ableism, when technology makers try to empower others with helpful tools but use rhetoric that has the opposite effect. As part of her CAREER award, Shew will publish a book about this phenomenon.

Shew will also seek to counter unrealistic portrayals of people with disabilities by educating creators of disability technologies. Her research will incorporate interviews, memoirs, and the compilation of existing materials into classroom public outreach, an open-access website, and a textbook to complement existing STEM educational resources.

Shew is collaborating with Alexander Leonessa and Raffaella De Vita, associate professors in the College of Engineering, who have also received CAREER awards. In 2019, she will work with them through Virginia Tech’s STEMABILTY, a summer camp for students with disabilities.

A Virginia Tech faculty member since 2011, Shew received a Certificate of Teaching Excellence in 2017 and a Diversity Award in 2016, both from the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. Also in 2016, she received the Sally Bohland Award for Excellence in Access and Inclusion from the Virginia Tech office of Services for Students with Disabilities.

Shew co-edited Spaces for the Future: A Companion to Philosophy of Technology with Joseph Pitt, a Virginia Tech professor of philosophy. She is also the author of Animal Constructions and Technological Knowledge, published by Lexington Books/Rowman & Littlefield.

Shew is the fourth faculty member in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences to receive the prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER Award in the past several years.

Source: vtnews.vt.edu

 

Mobile Accommodation Solution for Workplace Accomodation

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According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 20.4 percent of people with disabilities were employed in March 2017, as opposed to 68.7 percent of people without disabilities. Therefore, creating better support for job applicants and employees is critical to creating a diverse pool of talent in the workplace, optimizing the productivity of every worker, and increasing job satisfaction.

The Mobile Accommodation Solution (MAS) app – the iOS version of which is now available in the app store – is a first-of-its kind tool that helps employers and others manage workplace accommodation requests throughout the employment lifecycle. Using the app, employers can track the status of requests; access fillable forms; and store, print and export records that can be imported into enterprise information systems. The app was developed by West Virginia University’s Center for Disability Inclusion in partnership with the Job Accommodation Network and IBM; funding came from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research.

From One Goal to the Next

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Parker Thornton about to Go Over the Edge

A crowded room quiets as Parker Thornton approaches the podium. He has been tasked with motivating Special Olympics Athlete Health Messengers to commit to being fit every day by working out more, eating healthy, and cutting down on soda.

He starts his speech by proclaiming the three words he says to himself in the mirror every day, “I’m happy, I’m healthy, and I feel fantastic!” Parker let those familiar words calm his nerves at speaking in front of the large crowd. After the speech has concluded, the audience erupts into applause, motivated and encouraged to take on the challenge of living a healthy life.

Parker’s life didn’t start at peak health. As a newborn, he contracted viral meningitis and was hospitalized at Boston’s Children’s Hospital for five weeks, much of it on life support. He survived his first challenge, but the result of the viral meningitis left Parker with significant learning disabilities, which resulted in an anxiety disorder and depression.

When Parker was eight years old, he was introduced to Special Olympics New Hampshire when local families came together to start a ski team for children with intellectual disabilities. That introduction has led to more than 28 years of involvement with Special Olympics. Parker has won numerous gold medals in sports ranging from basketball, golf, skiing, and pentathlons. “I realized that Special Olympics was more than just sports; it taught me how to be a better man, a proficient communicator, and how to be a mentor to other athletes who have their own challenges. Special Olympics tells you how to speak up, get healthy to be a better athlete, and blossom gifts in yourself and others,” Parker said.

Parker recently had an opportunity to make his own life healthier. “I wasn’t happy with my body, and Parker Thornton smiling to the cameraI was depressed,” Parker said. He signed up for a sprint triathlon, which motivated him to train for seven months. Parker lost 20 pounds and was able to go off prescribed medication. Seeing a positive change in his body and completing the triathlon showed Parker that even if it takes hard work, he can accomplish whatever he sets his mind to.

Parker has set his mind to tackling new challenges in the last few years. He speaks frequently on topics related to disabilities, Special Olympics, and the health disparities of people with disabilities. “Inclusive health is such a big issue. No one understands the health differences between people with and without intellectual disabilities. I want to motivate and get people thinking about how they can make changes to better the lives of people with intellectual disabilities,” he said.

Parker is now a consultant for Special Olympics International. He lead an Athlete Health Messenger training for a new cohort of athlete leaders who are tasked with taking the charge for equal access to health for people with disabilities. He co-edits a monthly health newsletter that goes out to thousands of recipients and is continuously tasked with being called upon to give motivational speeches. Speaking fills Parker with a sense of purpose. He wants to motivate others to see people with intellectual disabilities as part of human diversity and should be celebrated as such.

Parker is planning on accomplishing his next goal in 2019: attending professional stunt school in California. “It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to get trained to do professional stunts like you see in the movies,” he said. “I can’t wait to see what’s next.”

Cox and Comcast Focusing on Accessibility

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The Cox Communications new Contour voice remote, powered by Comcast’s X1 platform, empowers customers who have limited mobility or dexterity or a visual disability. With the push of a button, you can search, surf and record your favorite programs, all with the sound of your voice.

Plus, the new Contour features Voice Guidance, a “talking guide” developed by Comcast, that speaks what’s on the screen, including program descriptions and navigation options. Now individuals with accessibility needs can easily explore thousands of TV shows and movies.

This proactive step is not limited to their product offering. Cox is also hiring individuals with disabilities to test their products.

Mona Lisa Faris, president and publisher of DIVERSEability Magazine spoke with representatives from Cox and Comcast to discuss how their collaboration is helping both companies become more proactive.

Ilene Albert, Executive Director, Value Added Services and Diversity Products at Cox, began with some history behind this new focus at Cox.

“Last December we launched a center of excellence for accessibility, to focus on developing products, support and services for our customers who have disabilities and accessibility needs. We are very excited about this; we work with all of our peers across the product organization to make sure we are looking at the broad picture of accessibility,” Albert explained. “We partner well with Comcast, who has been the leader in helping develop products for the accessibility community.

Jennifer Cobb is Director of Diversity Products at Cox. She told us, “Last year, we worked to set up the business processes so that, going forward, we were included in all new product development. One of the things we are working toward is integrating more research with persons with disabilities into our overall processes.”

Thomas Wlodkowski is the Vice President of Accessibility at Comcast. He was brought in to start up an accessibility office and, because he is visually impaired, he provides a unique perspective for Comcast, helping the company open products and services to the widest possible audience.

“I’ve been in the accessibility field before it was really considered a field—since the early 1990s,” Wlodkowski reports. At Comcast, our program is founded on three pillars: customer experience, product capabilities and infrastructure. My team is in the product group, and we launched voice guidance, which enables people who are visually impaired to navigate onscreen menus. We have an accessibility lab in our Philadelphia corporate headquarters that we use to drive employee awareness, and we also bring external community members in to help with user testing. It’s a big piece of our effort.”

Wlodkowski went on to say, “There is a saying in the disability civil rights community: Nothing about us without us. We really need to bring people with disabilities into the development process to find out where the barriers are.”

“At Comcast, we are building a lot of the accessibility solutions that, essentially, Cox would have had to build on their own. They get accessibility as part of the relationship. Then the two accessibility teams can partner to share best practices.”

“X1 has been a great product for us,” Wlodkowski said. “It’s based in the cloud, so we don’t have to install additional software or hardware in the box. We can roll new features in—and as we do that, Cox can also pick them up as well.”

New features were recently added just as Tom said, as Cox released a statement earlier this month announcing that YouTube is now available for Cox customers via their Contour app.

As Tom Wlodkowski pointed out, “By building accessible products, it builds a better product overall for everyone.” Accessibility is a fairly new frontier, as more and more companies realize that dedicating teams to ensure accessibility not only improves the products offered to those with disabilities but it provides a better experience for all customers.

Cox’s licensed version of Comcast’s X1 platform, Contour, is now its flagship video product.. And fans of The Voice who have Comcast or Cox as their cable provider will be happy to know they can now use their remote to cast their votes on the popular live show. The Contour/X1 technology is truly changing the television viewing experience, offering something for everybody to love!

Starbucks opens first U.S. sign language store

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The storefronts along Washington’s bustling H Street Northeast are lit up with familiar names and logos: Petco. Whole Foods. CVS.

There is also a Starbucks. Or, more specifically, S-T-A-R-B-U-C-K-S spelled out in the hand symbols of American Sign Language.

That fingerspelling is one way to spot the coffee giant’s first U.S. signing store, where 24 deaf, hard-of-hearing and hearing employees run the shop using ASL. The store debuts on Tuesday after being converted from a standard Starbucks location to make the design and technology more accessible. It’s a step, employees and advocates say, toward boosting employment opportunities for the deaf community while also immersing hearing individuals in deaf spaces. And it’s a show of support from one of the world’s largest corporate brands.

“My identity is accepted here,” said Crystal Harris, a barista at the signing store. “Deafness has many faces.”

The store is just blocks from Gallaudet University, a 150-year-old institution and the world’s only university designed for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. The shop mirrors Starbucks’s first signing store, which opened in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 2016. Customers from the outside can spot “Starbucks” written out in fingerspelling beneath the main logo and on large table umbrellas. And on the inside, what may appear like any other Starbucks cafe has been specifically laid out and decorated to celebrate deaf culture.

One entire wall, for example, is covered by a multicolored mural commissioned by a deaf artist and Gallaudet faculty member. In fingerspelling, the mural depicts a lowercase “d,” representing deafness, an uppercase “D,” representing deaf identity, an eye to represent visual connections, a hand holding a coffee cup, and other symbols showing merging of deaf and hearing cultures.

Customers can communicate in ASL or write their orders on a tech pad. Rather than wait to hear their names called at the end of the bar, customers look up to a screen showing when their drinks are ready. The store was also remodeled to maximize light and open lines of sight — high top tables or tall stacks of cups, for example, limit visibility for people signing to each other. Non-signing customers are also encouraged to use visual cues. Rather than sign that the store didn’t carry chamomile tea, for example, one employee waved his hand across his neck — signaling “no” — and then pointed to a printed menu with other options.

Camille Hymes, Starbucks’s regional vice president for the Mid-Atlantic, said the company chose D.C. for its proximity to Gallaudet and because of the city’s ties to activism for the deaf community. Using the store as a profitable business model, Hymes said, Starbucks can be an example to other companies of “using our scale for good.”

Continue onto the Washington Post to read the complete article.