With the presentation behind me, I looked forward to celebrating my birthday.  Starting off the day, I attended a continental breakfast hosted by Freedom Scientific. After the breakfast, I attended a few sessions by Sun Microsystems. Thursday was Sun’s day for all their presentations. The first session I attended was about their latest Star Office system, demo’ing new Accessibility features and improved Assistive Technology support.

After the session, I wondered downstairs to check out the vendors. There were so many assistive technologies there, ranging from screen readers to word prediction tools. I found a company called VirTouch, http://www.virtouch.com, that uses Visual Studio to create education and entertainment software programs for the blind (check out VTDoom, it’s Doom written for someone who is blind). I met another interesting vendor called Tack-Tiles, http://www.tack-tiles.com, whose technology was based on Legos. Yep, Legos. The vendor told me how his son was born blind and with multiple other disabilities. His teachers would remove his son from the classroom whenever the students started working on reading classes. The vendor explained how he believes that reading is a social skill, because a student learns to read within a group of students. If the student didn’t learn to read with his or her classmates, he/she would grow up not wanting to learn how to read. So, he decided he would teach his son using a Lego-based Braille system. Instead of having the standard 3×2 lego bumps on the top, Braille was embossed on the top of the blocks. By placing the standard lego bumps with the ‘A’ symbol in Braille Grade 1, the student learned to train his or her hands to identify the symbol. Thus, students could combine different combinations of letters or blocks to improve their Braille reading skills.

After the vendor session, a bite to eat, and a quick email check, I went back to the Sun room for the open source screen reader / magnification application Gnopernicus presentation. Because the screen reader was open source, Sun stressed how users could investigate and possibly fix issues for themselves by reading its source code. The main presenter was the Assistive Technology Vendor I met back in September who gave me these tips for developing for Accessibility.

Immediately following the Gnopernicus session, I had to change clothes to attend the first annual “Bubbly Ball”, sponsored by Microsoft. It was an event for people who use augmentative and alternative communication devices. For more information, check out the USSAAC website at http://www.ussaac.org. The actress Laura San Giacomo, who plays Mia from Just Shoot Me, attended the event, passing out cards that said, “I am going to use an alternative communication device to speak with you tonight.” I was so surprised that she was my height. I’m 5 foot 1.5 inches (make that 1.75 inches with tennis shoes on).  To me, she looks so much taller on T.V. As the special guest and host, she described how her child was able to communicate with her for the first time using such a device.

The “Bubbly Ball” turned out to include a roast for one of the first users of augmentative and alternative communication devices. Michael B. Williams has a great sense of humor. Some of the stories told about him and his life were amazing.

Two of those amazing stories were:

  1. One of Michael’s friends told a story about the first time Michael had gone to England. The taxi driver picked up Michael out of his wheelchair and put him in the back of the cab. Michael started crying. When his friend asked him, “Why are you crying?” he responded, “A stranger touched me.” My first thoughts were, “makes sense since he probably doesn’t want to be touched by anyone he doesn’t know.” However, his friend realized the significance of the moment. It was the first time anyone Michael didn’t know had touched him. His friend started crying with him. My next thoughts were, “I suck.”
  1. Michael was the keynote speaker for some conference for disabilities at a university (I can’t remember the name of the conference). One student was so impressed by his talk that she emailed him and said that she was going to change her major to speech pathology in order to help people. One of Michael’s friends wanted to reply to her, “Don’t become a speech pathologist in order to help people. People with disabilities are not looking for people to help them. We are looking for people who are willing to provide their services in return for fair compensation. If you want to help people, become a lawyer, then you’ll get to help people all you want, charging them all along the way.” All I could think of was, “wow”. Of course, everyone laughed at the lawyer part, but still, wow.

After the “bubbly ball,” it was officially time to start “Sara Appreciation Day”. Thomas (who was the “The Next Version of Windows: Investing in a New Accessibility Platform“ speaker), Tom, and I started off the night with the ceremonial toast to the Cows back in Starkville, Mississippi where I attended college: “To the Cows back in Starkville, may your pastures be wide, your grass be green, your moo’s be deep and resonating, and may one day McDonald’s brings back the McDLT, you know, the burger where it was “cool” on one side of the container, and “hot” on the other side, and the commercials showed the guy with the broken arm putting the burger together, although I haven’t eaten at McD’s in over 3 years…”

After the ceremonial toast, we headed off into the LA nightlife. We ate Chinese food (everyone knows this is my Achilles’ heel) and then wondered farther down the Santa Monica Boulevard. Later Thomas’s friend who lives in LA took us to a local dance club.  No famous people were there, though.

Now ya’ll know why I’m so late posting about day 3. <grin>