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Emoji ladened tweets are not accessible to the blind; let’s fix this.

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Emoji have created a funny inventive way to communicate in modern times, but they may be unintentionally excluding blind people.

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If you can't read this you are now in the same situation as the blind trying to read an emoji tweet

Blind blogger Holly Scott-Gardner went viral in mid November when she tweeted out a video of her screen reader struggling to make sense of an emoji-laden meme tweet. The meme form features an all-caps message in the center of a sea of emoji hands. The hands encompass the full spectrum of skin tones and surround the message on all sides, as though a crowd of people are all gesturing towards it for emphasis.

It takes Scott-Gardner’s screen reader a full two minutes to read the tweet, which consists solely of the words “STOP CENSORING SEX-POSITIVE CONTENT.” The majority of the video consists of her screen reader rattling off emoji, row by row from left to right, at blazing speed. Not only is the description of the tweet useless, it’s also a little terrifying to imagine how long it would take the reader to describe the tweet in a normal speaking speed.

Scott-Gardner gamely fielded questions from people, including “how is there not some kind of alt-text option for tweets?” Her answer is that there is one. (You can turn it on here and start writing alt-text for your own tweets.) However, it only works for images, not for memes made out of emoji.

Of course, she can turn off the emoji, but as linguists Lauren Gawne and Gretchen McCulloch point out, emoji are gestural, not symbolic. They hold a key part in modern written language. Since it’s impossible to read body language and facial expressions across the digital divide, emoji have come to take their place. They’re crucial to understanding context and tone.

Scott-Gardner followed up with a second video showing what ASCII art sounds like on a screen reader, and it was similarly incomprehensible. (She did her audience the favor of slowing the screen reader down a bit for the follow-up.)

It goes without saying that Internet access is a necessity to meaningfully participate in modern society, and questions of accessibility are more important than ever if the Internet truly is going to be the democratizing force it was heralded as when it first came along.

Domino’s Pizza recently made headlines when they argued in court that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) doesn’t apply to digital spaces. Guillermo Robles, a blind California resident, sued the company for violating the ADA when neither their app nor their website were accessible to his screen reader.

Rather than spend the $38,000 they estimated were necessary to make the changes, they decided to appeal the decision all the way to the Supreme Court. (The Supreme Court declined to hear the case, letting Domino’s loss in a lower court stand.

You may know that website accessibility principles like alt text help your SEO. You hopefully know that having an accessible online presence is important from a “basic human decency” perspective. But in addition to those things, it’s also a huge liability issue that companies would do well to make sure they’re addressing. If you need a place to start, the UK Government has a handy primer on the basics of accessible web design.

And if you’re interested in hearing more from Holly Scott-Gardner, she keeps her writings and her Working Blind podcast at her website.

Staff Writer, Garrett Steele is your friend. He writes lyrics, critique, and copy for ads, schools, health organizations, and more. He’s also a composer for film and video games, when he’s lucky. (One of his songs is an Xbox achievement!)

Real Estate Technology

Camera that spins, zooms on its own – perfect for remote working

(TECHNOLOGY) Video conferencing tool, Meeting Owl Pro, helps bridge the communication gap in remote teams with a camera that spins and zooms on who is speaking

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remote working tool

As someone who has spent the bulk of their career in a remote setting, I’ve definitely noticed some elements of communication that differ from an on-site job. Rather than being able to pop into your boss or coworker’s offices, you have to shoot them an email or try and catch them on their phone.

Enter the COVID-19 times…

Remote work can get even more complicated when the whole team is remote and you’re attempting to get everyone on the same page. Or, think about when you’re working remote and you have to video conference into a meeting with people who are on site. Even with video conference chatting, there can still be some kinks in trying to follow the voices and stay on top of who’s speaking.

Luckily, Owl Labs took this issue into consideration and whipped up Meeting Owl Pro and Meeting Owl First-Gen, which are the only 360° camera, mic, speaker smart devices on the market today. This is ideal for teams who have both an on-site and remote team collaborating together (or will again soon).

The Owl sits in the middle of the on-site table and moves in a complete 360° manner that picks up who is speaking and moves the camera to focus on them. That way, the people who are calling in remotely can clearly see who is speaking and follow the meeting as if they’re actually in the room.

Both versions of Meeting Owl are compatible with the big video conferencing platforms, such as: Zoom, Google, Skype, etc. They operate as plug and play devices that connect to Wi-Fi, which allows for automatic updates.

According to the tech team, the specifications of the Meeting Owl Pro 360° smart camera has an enhanced Owl Intelligence System™, 2X sharper camera with 1080p resolution and 2X louder 360° in-room speaker. With the Meeting Owl Pro, customers can expect their meeting spaces to become increasingly intelligent over time with new smart integrations and capabilities, the first of those features being a new Smart Zooming functionality that identifies, locates, and magnifies the person speaking.

This will help to bridge common communication barriers that are felt between on-site collaboration with remote teams. Additionally, it will help with team-building as everyone will have more of an opportunity to spend face-to-face time with their coworkers who work remote from them.

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Real Estate Technology

AI being used to better understand the COVID-19 pandemic

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) The intersection of the coronavirus and AI is here and it’s trying to making the world a better place. AI can read and collect data faster than humans.

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AI and the coronavirus

As the world scrambles to figure out the best way to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus and halt the ongoing pandemic, researchers are searching for a cure. In order to do so, it is beneficial to track patterns in the virus’s behavior.

Since the virus’s initial spread in December, thousands of papers have been written about the Coronavirus, or COVID-19. It would take weeks, if not months, for a person to collate all that information into some valuable data. This is where AI comes in to help.

Earlier this week the White House announced that they were working in collaboration with tech companies and members of academia to provide the huge amount of Coronavirus research to AI researchers and their algorithms.

The AI will be able to comb through all of the research we have to-date and search for patterns that could help those in the research field to find a cure and those in the medical field to better treat their patients. According to Wired, companies and institutions such as the National Library of Medicine, Microsoft Research, and the Allen Institute for AI (AI2) are currently working to gather and prepare the nearly 30,000 papers related to the virus so they can be processed by AI.

Hopefully, the AI’s algorithms are able to see something we cannot. It could find new connections that researchers have not been able to make and speed up the process.

The CEO of AI2, Oren Etzioni, is hopeful that this project will show people the brighter side of AI. “High tech, in general, has gotten a bad rap, but something like this crisis shows how AI can potentially do a world of good.”

There is no question that AI can help us find some answers as we face this pandemic. Whether or not this can all be arranged quickly enough to actually help mitigate the current crisis is the question. Some are wondering if U.S. resources would be put to better use by helping to address the shortage of Coronavirus test kits.

Experts are imploring people to think of the big picture. The issue of open access to medical and scientific research has been a topic of conversation among researchers for years. The pandemic has only highlighted the need. Now governments across the globe are calling on scientific publishers to open access for research on the Coronavirus so we can all work together in this time of global crisis.

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Real Estate Technology

How telecom, power companies are helping customers during COVID-19 outbreak

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Telecom and power companies have also tried to help their customers, while the Coronavirus makes its rounds, by extending service.

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telecom helps customers

According to Fox News, Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, promised to take care of the employees at the American Airline Center during the NBA shutdown. The employees would be paid as if the games were still taking place. Many of the other leagues have made the same promise. Unfortunately, not every employee works for a business with those types of provisions.

Thankfully, many organizations are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic with special accommodations to help residential and commercial customers deal with financial issues and staying home to prevent the spread of the virus.

Companies helping out customers

Comcast is offering 60 days of free basic internet service to new customers. It’s also not disconnecting or charging late fees. Current customers are also being provided with unlimited data. AT&T is offering the same types of things for its users, unlimited data and suspending terminations, as is T-Mobile.

Closer to home, the City of Austin has decided not to disconnect customers’ services for non-payment. Evictions are also halted. Austin Energy is reconnecting users who were recently disconnected for non-payment. The company is working with customers to help them get on track with their electric bills.

Customers without power do need to reach out to Austin Energy for a courtesy reconnect, because the bill cannot be restarted without speaking to the customer. The Public Utility Commission has asked all Texas power companies to work with customers during these uncertain times. TXU Energy has also waived late fees and is extending payment due dates.

Contact your utility providers

If your finances are being affected due to COVID-19, talk to your landlord and other providers now to work out a plan going forward. You’ll have less stress when you know you won’t lose your power, water or home. Companies are willing to work with families who have been impacted by the pandemic.

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