Category Archives: Blind/Low Vision

Currency Access for All


By MATP Staff Member Laura Hall

back of the five dollar bill showing the large high contrast number 5 in the corner of the billLast week, while in Washington, D.C. for a meeting of state assistive technology programs, I had the opportunity to attend a presentation by the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) about their efforts to make currency (paper notes) accessible for people who are blind or have low vision.  You may have already noticed that the BEP has made steps, like using large high contrast numbers on the $5 bill.  Ultimately, the BEP has authorization from the Department of Treasury to “add a raised tactile feature to U.S. currency unique to each Federal Reserve note that it may lawfully change, which will provide users with a means of identifying each denomination via touch” (currently, U.S. law prohibits any changes to the $1 bill.).  Yet, I learned that making changes to currency is a long and complex process, due to strict anti-counterfeit measures that must be taken.  While the BEP works through this process they are offering free talking currency readers, called the iBill, to people that meet the eligibility requirements, which they define as:

  • Visual acuity, as determined by competent authority, is 20/200 or less in the better eye with correcting lenses, or their widest diameter of visual field subtends angular distance not greater than 20 degrees; or
  • Visual disability, with correction and regardless of optical measurement, is certified by competent authority as preventing the reading of regular printed material.

The application provides more information about documentation needed and who qualifies as a “competent authority”.

the iBill with a 20 dollar bill insertedThe iBill is simple to use – you simply insert the corner of a bill in the slot on the top of the device and push a button.  Operating instructions are available in a variety of formats.

If you’d like to try the iBill or a similar device before applying, they will be available in our blind/low vision kits for device demonstration.

While we’re on the subject of access,  did you know that the National Library Service administers a free library program of braille and audio materials?  This service is  available to U.S. residents and citizens living abroad whose low vision, blindness, physical disability or other print disability makes it difficult to read a standard printed page.

Why not check out both of these free programs today?


An Endorsement for Things That Talk


by MATP Staff Member Cathy McAdam

tv remote close up showing microphone buttonI’m going to spend some time writing about a cable provider who is getting this accessibility thing right, but it’s not an endorsement for Comcast, more of an endorsement for universal design in this digital age. Yes, I am a person who is blind who does “watch” TV. Most providers now are getting pieces of this puzzle known as accessibility, and that’s part of the problem. Part way there leads to wanting more and frustration when something doesn’t work.

I’m having a good time with my TV remote!

I can, if I choose, talk to it to switch channels, or I can press a button and get feedback that I’ve chosen the correct channel, no easy feat with HD. With the press of another button I hear “what’s on now” and if I choose to record something I’m given prompts all the way through the process.

This is truly the first time I can record, play back recordings and manage options for deleting programs when I’m done with them. I can also find and play on demand shows.

With my last provider I could do some of these things using an app, but I couldn’t delete recorded programs, or find on demand offerings. And, I needed a second device rather than the nearby remote. And, oh yes, I get detailed descriptions of shows so I can decide if they may be worth my time.

By the way, I’m not a huge TV fan these days, but I love the “control” I have in this mundane part of my life!

The Business Case

So, what do you think the effect on marketing is for businesses who “get it”. They know many and even most people will never use these options, but they also know it’s a smart business decision in the long run.

Do you have a favorite mainstream talking device?


  • Blog article: Technology for the Blind
  • US Business Leadership Network

Assistive Technology and Politics


Poster covering common techniques for making content accessible for people with Visual, Auditory, Ambulatory, and Cognitive characterisitcs

Abilities Affect Digital Access

An article about the response by the real time captioner at the recent Republican debate to the chaos of the debate caught my eye and got me thinking about the potential role of AT in the modern political process.

So much of what passes for presidential campaign politics now is emotional and ideological. Being unable to capture the full real range of the communications in debates, advertisements, interviews, and other real-time communication venues make it more difficult to appreciate the meaning of the campaigns, and the intentions of the candidates. I believe this greater dependence on real-time communication is very different from previous campaigns (my memory of them goes back to the 1956 campaign), back beyond the time when radio was easily available.

Technology has now allowed the “any-time” streaming of such events whenever we wish to review them. But this constant availability of digital versions still doesn’t deal with accommodations that would make the meaning of the events in their visual, auditory, cognitive, and emotional dimensions transparent, permitting us the best possible judgement of political meaning.

Real time captioning is available at the national level for many network political events, but is often not available through local events.Audio description would be a good addition to many events, but is only beginning to spread as a tool of communication. Accessible social networking apps (both text and text to speech) would help to expand ease in the understanding of political communication. But access requires some personal work to create and use these apps in a consistent effective way.

Perhaps the greatest lack in the universe of political communication accommodations is in the area of real-time cognitive accessibility, especially online. Summaries (whether in text or audio), links to further description, reading level assessment and editing, and supplemental information can all make it easier to understand the political and personal meaning of communication, but there is no standard or universal way to assure completeness in the communication of meaning. The reason for the difficulty that we face in cognitively accessible inclusive communication is a combination of deeply set information processing habits that we all have, and the reality that effective cognitive accommodation always requires a degree of individual customization to be effective. For all the talk about “mass customization”, it requires real work to make it happen in our common universe of cognitive diversity.

If this presidential campaign has taught us nothing else, it should point out to us in the starkest possible terms just how important our individual and disability community political engagement is. That engagement hinges on accessibility just as much as it requires any other factor of the political process.


Point Louder – Audio Description


by Kathryn Wyeth, Program Manager, MATP

hand with finger pointing to the rightWhile presenting and facilitating a training session with a group, I was told to “point louder”, a humorous way to let me my pointing was not effective communication, since some members of the group were blind.

Audio description is the auditory narration of visual representations such as television programs, films and live performances. During gaps in dialogue, it describes visual elements such as scenes, settings, actions and costumes. Audio description is also called “video description” and “descriptive narration”. It is particularly beneficial to people who are blind and vision impaired and can help people with other print, learning and physical disabilities.

Here’s an example of a video with audio description on YouTube: The Hunger Games with audio description Katniss hunting, from Media Access Australia.

Ideally, audio description would be a separate audio track, which can be accessed by assistive devices and/or toggled on or off as needed. On YouTube now, you can turn on and off closed captions, but you can’t turn audio description on and off. If you want to provide an accessible video on YouTube, you’d have to produce two versions, one with audio description and one without.

There are video players available with the ability to toggle on and off audio description, for example:The letters A and D used as an icon for Audio Description

  • JWPlayer
  • Ccplayer
  • The WorkShop Media Player

I’ve always wondered why YouTube doesn’t offer an audio description toggle button, since it seems it’s possible to offer this! There is a tool called YouDescribe, that enables volunteer sighted describers to take a YouTube video and create an audio description soundtrack.

Audio description is a bit of an art. I’ve attempted it. It is difficult to determine what descriptions will be adequate for understanding, yet still flow smoothly in the gaps in dialogue in a video.

Finding described television shows is now much easier. As part of the Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010, several of the most popular television networks have made certain prime-time and children’s programs accessible to viewers with vision loss by adding audio description (see resources below).

Both in video and in person, it’s important to remember to point louder to achieve effective communication!


  • All About Audio Description A wealth of information on everything to what audio description is, to why to use it and how to promote it’s use!
  • Listen to a 9-minute audio on Video Description for Television,
    or listen to the full 24-minute podcast on Audio Description:  Where and How?
  • Described TV Listings page from American Federation for the Blind (AFB)
  • Audio Descriptions for Netflix Movies and TV Shows
  • DVDs and Blu-ray Discs With Audio Description in 2016
  • How to find audio-described content in the iTunes store
  • Guidelines for Audio Describing Meetings and Presentations (PDF)
This entry was posted in Accessible Formats, Blind/Low Vision, Web Accessibility and tagged Access, Accommodations, ADA, audio description, job accommodation, Print Disability, video on by .