Gone to the Dogs

When we last posted on June 26, we happily watched while somewhere around fifty people signed up to explore the free beta version of Eyes-Free Academy’s first course. It was a great learning experience, even though much of the feedback had to do with accessibility issues rather than course content. This was also a good sign. So, there we were, poised to move forward.

Then, without warning, everything “went to the dogs”! That happened in the form of a letter from The Seeing Eye (and several other American guide dog schools) to their Canadian graduates.

This letter was a warning that the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) was considering the adoption of a new service dog standard that could well preclude ability or willingness to provide Canadians with guide dogs in the future. Of course, this nonsense needed immediate community action with a view toward stopping the development of such a standard.

Immediately upon receipt of this correspondence, I arranged teleconference time, thanks to Albert Ruel of the Canadian Council of the Blind, promoted it widely through social media and Email, and ended up with 30 people on a very productive teleconference one week later.

Out of this teleconference came the Service Dog Standard mailing list which has been the basis for a very successful ad hoc coalition to deal with the issue. In fact, a lot of us don’t remember ever experiencing a feeling of solidarity and consensus such as is represented through this group. We are planning action, and many people are contributing great writing in the form of sample letters to MP’s, the Ministers of Veterans’ Affairs, Sport and Persons w/ Disabilities, etc.

Most importantly, we completely overwhelmed this “standards committee” with our responses between the end of June and when the comment period ended on July 14. Even though the comment period was open from the beginning of May, somehow nobody really paid attention until the letters came from the American schools.

There have been two subsequent teleconferences, one of which actually included people from the committee, who admitted two things during the call:
1. Some members of the committee appear to have misled the rest of the committee, and
2. There has been a complete disconnect within the entire process.

Needless to say, this sudden and unexpected struggle to preserve our rights as guide dog handlers has been a very distracting and stressful experience. So many of us can’t imagine life without a guide dog, and this standard, if imposed as is, would literally cause service dogs to disappear from the streets of Canada, because no animal or handler could ever meet it.

But amidst all of this, there’s a good side. We have been studying the www.zoom.us app and learning a lot from “Meet Me In The Cloud”, a fully accessible tutorial about fully accessible Zoom webinar software, available on Johnathan Mosen’s website. We will soon be able to have all the teleconferences we need for dog coalition work, while at the same time becoming more experienced at running webinars for the business side.

We recently did a trial webinar with Zoom including Windows 10 and Mac computers, an iPhone and a dial-in from a regular landline. Everyone communicated just fine. Of course, there needs to be some more practice at being a webinar moderator, but it’s easy enough to arrange that.

And thanks to a set of very good webinars from Iman Aghay of www.successroadacademy.com we have managed to do some market research about course content to be released in the fall. This has been a great learning experience as well. For one thing, we’ve discovered that we can sell our courses in two ways. First is course by course, which will be more expensive. There will also be a monthly subscription to a membership site where all courses will be available for one low monthly fee. This will also include small group webinars and even individual coaching sessions. All of this thanks to the online course management platform offered by www.thinkific.com where we are getting all sorts of expert assistance.

So, though we did indeed end up going to the dogs over the last month, well, it needed to be done, and it’s not like we haven’t been learning some useful stuff in the process. And if you know of guide dog users who may not be aware of the current situation, but who might want to know more or get involved, there’s a lot of healthy discussion being carried on via the mailing list. To join in, send Email to: servicedogstandard-request@lists.screenreview.org

To subscribe to the guide dog blog, go to handsoffourharnesses.wordpress.com

Also check out the #HOOH and #IGDFFreeChoice hash tags. IGDF is the International Guide Dog Federation, creator of international guide dog standards now observed by over 90 schools in 40 countries. You can even see a draft of the standard on the blog, and you won’t believe it when you read it. But you’ll sure know why some of us have gone to the dogs to deal with it.

And we can’t go without a big thank you to Kelly MacDonald, Sharon Caddy and the other folks at www.AMI.ca who allow me to mention “things doggie” every week during my “iHabilitation Man” segment on Kelly and Company. Have a listen on Tuesdays.

OK, we promise that the next issue will be about course content under development, experience with Zoom, etc., with only a very small dog update. Meanwhile, thanks for your interest and support, iPhone and doggie people alike. It is greatly appreciated.

Tuning Up the Accessibility Engine, or, Grinding Gears and Pleasurable Growing Pains

When we last wrote, people had begun to sign up. We were all excited and hopefully anticipating all sorts of helpful feedback. And by George, we got it, though it wasn’t all quite what we expected.

Those of us who have been poking around on the web are used to the idea that accessibility is not always what it should be, even if it’s getting better all the time. So, if the “play video” button turns out not to work for whatever reason, well, we tab one more time, find the “Wistia” button and try that. Or, if there’s no heading that says “video player”, we’ll look around until we come up with some controls, somehow or other.

However, as we discovered, much of our potential market doesn’t have this kind of experience. And so came the feedback, much more to do with frustration around inability to access the content than anything else. But on a positive note, the assistive tech professionals who were able to access the content gave very positive feedback about the approach we’re taking, so we were not to be discouraged.

Once again, Aaron Morin and Nick Foster at thinkific.com have demonstrated their commitment to becoming a fully accessible platform. After a couple of private support webinars plus an ongoing exchange of correspondence, accessibility of The Eyes-Free Academy has been dramatically improved. We are thrilled to know that we can now get on with content creation in an accessible cross-platform environment.

So, there you have the biggest and latest news from the iHabilitation partners. Of course, there are several other recent and even brand new technological developments that are going to make it that much easier for us to get content out there. For one thing, iOS11 will sport a native screen-flow and audio recorder. With it, when we want to show you how something works, we’ll soon be able to turn on the recorder, do the demo and shoot it on over to YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo… wherever, and no extraneous equipment required. Gee, we’ll be able to record the stuff while sitting down by the ocean! Doesn’t sound too much like hard work, does it?

We’ve also been checking out www.zoom.us and all its accessible webinar possibilities. This process has been seriously augmented by the release of Jonathan Mosen’s latest book “Meet Me In The Cloud”. So, all the little demos that we record in the phone will easily be incorporated into live webinars. Amazing how all these things fit together.

Finally, there’s all the work happening as we slowly learn more about automation and all the ways in which it can be productively utilized by a very small team to better serve a large customer base. But more about that as we go through the learning process. If you want to join in, rest assured that you’ll be doing it in an accessible way. We suggest that you check out the podcast series from Damashe Thomas and Michael Babcock at www.yourownpay.com/dm

That’s it for this time. We hope you’ll check out our new and shiny accessible free beta course and help us do a good job on our Fall multimedia course offerings, one of which will be “What’s New In iOS11 For Beginners”. We’ll keep you posted as we bring it all together, and thanks in advance for your support.

What Happens When You Push the Button?

What happens when you push the button depends on the design of the machine that the button controls. In our case, “the machine” consists of resources provided by Thinkific, the learning management system platform where we build our courses, and ConvertKit, the Email automation system that allows us to have effective and efficient communication with a growing customer base. Given the response so far, we feel we have good reason to “be prepared”.

Without question, it took us a while to get to the button-pushing stage – a lot of learning, doubtful days, especially during a particularly long, grey, Vancouver Island winter. But Spring has become summer now, everything is bright and sunny, there’s natural “air conditioning”, and it’s got us motivated! We got our free beta course in place with all its components, and pushed the “publish” button on May 23rd.

So, what were our considerations in designing our machine? First came ideas for content, the stuff that fuels the thing. As a teacher, how could I provide quality instruction to anyone, anywhere, without physically being there? Thanks to the wonderful combo of Screenflow Display Recorder and Thinkific, I believe we’ve achieved that goal!

Next came learning about and using ConvertKit. Its automated Email management component connects us to potential customers, who may opt to receive more information about our course format and teaching philosophy. Given that the latter is being hailed as a new and original approach, we’re very happy, since the number of inquiries is encouraging, and we’re learning how we might boost it over time.

Meanwhile, we have also done a bit of advertising to get a feel for what works. A five-dollar ad on Blind Bargains and a mention on Top Tech Tidbits got us well over 300 “clicks”. We’ve also had a good response from various Facebook and LinkedIn groups, and on Twitter.

While we understand that one purpose of a blog is obviously to get the company and products better known, writing it has another, equally important purpose, in that it helps us to document and share our journey into entrepreneurialism. I mean, if we can do it, then so can lots of other people, especially if they can collaborate in ways that add value to the lives of others. After all, that’s what good and successful entrepreneurialism is all about. See? We’ve been studying!

And, given the increasing scarcity and uncertainty of traditional employment, particularly where negative reaction to job accommodation for supposed “special needs” is concerned, it’s definitely worth exploring entrepreneurialism as a viable option for becoming self-sufficient, right?

Of course, “The iHabilitation Man” continues his weekly appearances on AMI’s Kelly and Company, and on Wednesday, June 7, we have the privilege of being guest presenters, via the internet, at the weekly community meeting of Toronto’s Inclusive Design Research Centre (IDRC) which is part of OCAD University. Then, on Saturday, June 10, we’ll be on Alan Perry’s TechTalk show on CFAX 1070 to discuss the potential accessibility improvements in iOS 11 to be released this fall. (Yes, this show will be available as a podcast.)

Finally, we are looking at accessible webinar software for future use. Software from Zoom and Ecamm will allow us to present webinars and show videos within them. These features will also us to present our material on Facebook and YouTube. Knowing about these products and their capabilities is all thanks to Michael Babcock from Yourownpay. He is always exploring and willing to teach us all about this great technology with an emphasis on accessibility.

That’s about it for this time. We close this instalment by offering our hearty thanks to everyone who has either signed up or mentioned us to others who might benefit from this new multimedia teaching approach to “iPhone Eyes-Free”.

We’ll be back soon with more progress updates.

Eyes-Free Academy Launched – Discover Mind’s Eye Navigation on the iPhone Touch-Screen

iHabilitation Canada is pleased to announce the launch of The Eyes-Free Academy, providing online multi-media content via a fully accessible Learning Management System. Our first course, offered free of charge, is entitled “iPhone Eyes-Free – Mind’s Eye Navigation on the iPhone Touch-Screen”. You can visit the academy here: ihabilitation.thinkific.com.

This introductory iPhone Eyes-Free course is inclusively designed and provides detailed audio/video real-time demonstration along with PDF documentation to suit a wide range of accessibility needs.

With this approach, almost anyone can become familiar with iPhone touch-screen navigation using the Voiceover screen-reader rather than looking at the phone. The course comprises six sections: introduction, lessons and summary.

We offer this introductory course free of charge because we look forward to your feedback regarding future course content. To join our very low traffic Email list, and receive a pamphlet with a more detailed explanation of Eyes-Free Academy course content and teaching methodology, visit http://www.ihabilitation.ca/eyesfree/

We have also posted a promotional video on our YouTube channel that describes the course and the philosophy behind iHabilitation Canada. You can find the video here: https://youtu.be/NRvnj-wkt5E. The channel will also showcase future course material.

Our First Course Has Launched!

The Eyes-Free Academy is pleased to announce that our first free beta course has launched!

iPhone Eyes-Free can be found here: ihabilitation.thinkific.com. Please sign up/sign in and check it out! The course has six inclusively-designed sections (introduction, lessons, and summary), each presented in audiovisual and text-only formats for ease of use by anyone.

Update – An Exciting Ontario Trip!

Well, here we are, back in beautiful Victoria (except for the unseasonably cool and rainy weather) after a most rewarding trip to Toronto and southern Ontario – London, Brantford, etc.

My May 1st iPhone workshop at BALANCE for Blind Adults was very well received, even though only 10 or so of the 25 expected participants could be there. Pouring rain was responsible for the lower attendance. Thanks to ED Deborah Gold and the BALANCE staff for organizing and promoting the event. It felt great to visit as a former employee.

As well, BALANCE now has a copy of our tactile and large print screenshot book, which I’m sure will be very helpful to iDevice students with low vision or an affinity for tactile graphics. You can find out more about this training resource at www.feelnsee.com.

On May 2nd, the fun and exposure continued with a live appearance of the “iHabilitation Man” on AMI.ca’s Kelly & Company with Sharon Caddy and Dave Brown. Among other things, we discussed my joy at being back in an environment with accessible transit and pedestrian signals, as opposed to the dreadful lack of accessibility that continues to exist in Victoria, BC.

We also had the chance to visit the Toronto and London Apple stores to let them have a look at the book and explain how “Eyes-Free Academy” courses are formatted. The concept was received with great enthusiasm, so now we are feeling particularly motivated to move forward.

We were hoping to have the free beta course online in conjunction with the Toronto visit, but a technical difficulty was only discovered after my departure for Toronto, so that a couple of lessons need to be re-recorded before we can launch. Though a bit disappointing, we’re comfortable knowing that things happen as they’re meant to happen, so we just keep moving forward, especially with all the encouragement we’ve received.

Definitely the most exciting experience of this trip came in the form of a visit to the W. Ross MacDonald School, where I was a student between 1958 and 1970. I had a totally positive meeting with the new superintendent, Dan Maggiacomo, who was not only enthusiastic about our proposed course format, but also suggested that I could well be part of iDevice short-term placement programs and that families and support staff could really benefit from a format that is visual as well as audio.

Finally, I want to mention what a thrill it was to be part of the AEBC national AGM and conference, where I reconnected with many old friends as well as many new ones who had only been cyberspace friends until now. Again, lots of encouragement regarding the book and the potential of the Eyes-Free Academy project.

So, that’s it for this time. Remember that you can keep up with the latest information by subscribing to the mailing list, which also provides the opportunity to obtain a pamphlet explaining the “Eyes-Free Academy” course format and philosophy. To do so, please visit http://www.ihabilitation.ca/eyesfree/

We really appreciate hearing from you. Thanks again to everyone for all the support and encouragement.

Springing Into Spring

How are we progressing? Spring still in our step? Definitely yes, and hopefully you’re enjoying it as much as we are.

We were pretty busy finishing and tweaking the lesson text over the last couple of weeks.Now lessons 3, 4 and 5 of our free introductory course videos have been recorded and edited, along with a course summary.

Tom at the desk with camera, iPhone and ScreenFlow Recorder
Tom at the desk with camera, iPhone and ScreenFlow Recorder

With a thousand thanks to Michael Babcock of www.yourownpay.com we got up and running with our first little adventure into www.convertkit.com.

Now, if you visit us at www.ihabilitation.ca/eyesfree you can sign up to our mailing list and receive a booklet with more details about our philosophy and what we hope to offer in future.

We are soon offering a free course as a beta, that we would love for you to check out. And if you think that the idea of “iPhone Eyes-Free” has broader potential, for any reason, well, your input will be much appreciated.

The real news for this posting is that BALANCE for Blind Adults www.balancefba.org has invited me to give a presentation at their office and training centre on Monday, May 1 from 4:30 to 6:00 PM, with optional dinner and discussion at a nearby pub afterward. The topic will be my usual these days: “Seeing the Touch-Screen Through the Mind’s Eye”.

Speaking of sessions, seminars or even webinars, we have been exploring accessible software to offer webinars remotely. Soon, we will be scheduling free webinars for which you can sign up, via an accessible platform called www.zoom.us.

So, get on the Eyes-Free mailing list to when new resources are rolled out. It will always be set up so you can freely choose your subscriptions. If you don’t select one, you won’t be annoyed by hearing about it again. After all, real, value-added content marketing means that you should be the one to select your content. Otherwise, it’s not valuable, is it?

Of course, we’ve been continuing with our Tuesday “iHabilitation Man” segments on AMI’s Kelly and Company show www.ami.ca/categories/kelly-and-company  and I hope you’ll join us for a live iHabilitation Man presentation during the last half hour of the show – about 4:30 PM Eastern time on Tuesday, May 2.  For those interested in past quick app walk-throughs, you can check out the archive at https://soundcloud.com/tom-dekker-5.

And even though I’m currently in Toronto, Ken is working on things here in Victoria. And we’ll have great communication now, with Office 365 in place. You know, document collaboration, shared project management software like www.trello.com and all that good stuff. So stay tuned for more frequent blog posts, now that we’re getting into the swing of Spring, and these other things. It’s all very exciting how things are starting to move forward.

Thanks for reading and see you next time!