Vista TEC Showcases the Best of Technology Accessibility
innovative accessibility products and apps for people with disabilities
The Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Palo Alto, California, recently hosted the first annual Technology Education Conference, or Vista TEC. Representatives from Amazon, Netflix, Verizon Media, Aira, Humanware, Ford, Lyft, Microsoft, Walmart, Google, Apple, and others presented at the UC Santa Cruz Silicon Valley campus to inspiring community turnout.
Janette Barrios of Apple gave the keynote address and introduced the robust accessibility enhancements in iOS 13 and macOS Catalina, eliciting appreciative “oohs” from the audience. She also discussed the Everyone Can Code program; Swift Playgrounds, Apple’s code education platform, features multiple accessible resources including ASL videos and 47 tactile graphics created in partnership with Lighthouse for the Blind. The program also works with VoiceOver, Apple’s screen reader software. She demonstrated the program’s efficacy by making a robot dance to prompts selected by the audience and emphasized the potential that is unlocked when coding is taught to all students.
Urgent Call to Design
Accessibility in at Beginning and Involve User Community
Several companies discussed incorporating accessibility
training into their new hire onboarding program so accessibility and legal
compliance isn’t confined to a single person or department. One such company is
Verizon Media who is working with Teach
Access to enhance the curriculum for program and product managers and
believes that accessibility training should be mandated across the tech
industry. There was an overall emphasis on increasing awareness of
accessibility needs within entire organizations, so products are designed with
accessibility features from the beginning rather than “patched in” later in the
During the Project
Invent panel, several high school students shared their experience working
with Jimmy Uharriet, a United Airlines mechanic and Vista Center member.
Together they created Stria, a wearable band that uses sensors and feedback to
let users know when they are veering off course while walking. Project Invent
encourages students to create “a human-centered approach to develop physical
technology products” and “work directly with people in their neighborhoods to
invent solutions that create a better, safer, more equitable world.”
Enhanced Audio Descriptions
Lead to Entertainment for All
Several presentations and a demonstration by Netflix
addressed audio descriptions, with a particular focus in a session called
Entertainment for All. Susan Glass, from the American Council of the Blind’s Audio Description Project,
asserted that in our image-oriented culture, accessible interpretations need
both richer narratives and voiced access to visual imagery. She believes factoring
it in from the inception of a project will lead to more organic inclusion.
Netflix concurs; they’re starting to hire voice actors and writers so audio
descriptions will be more vibrant and incorporated into the performance, rather
than a stilted summary of onscreen action.
AI Offers Promise and
Several panels discussed artificial intelligence (AI),
encompassing everything from autonomous cars to the inherent ethical questions
that must be considered in any meaningful discussion of AI. Some of the most
immediate innovation is occurring in the self-driving car realm, as Lyft has
been testing autonomous rideshare vehicles and conducted test drives with blind
riders during the National Federation of the Blind’s annual conference. While
it is not yet a nationwide reality, they have exceeded the 50,000 self-driving
car mark and are starting to work with law enforcement to set predefined
accessible pickup and drop-off points.
Vista TEC Leverages the
Expertise of the Tech and Disability Communities
The Vista Center describes Vista TEC as a “platform
for assistive technology users, tech researchers, and software developers,
along with friends and family of our blind and visually impaired community, to
collaborate, exchange ideas, and discuss best practices in the field of
technology accessibility.” While some
corporate presenters admitted that accessibility updates to their products had
largely been a result of championing by individuals in the community, many had
clearly adopted a ground-up approach, incorporating accessibility features into
their design thinking. It was a forward-looking conference that left attendees
inspired and energized, and we can’t wait to see what strides have been made by
next year’s Vista TEC.
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