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FEATURED TECH: “MOST ACCESSIBLE GAME”

Abled.Tech: Screen still from the video game "The Last of Us 2 showing a character sitting on a horse on a grassed-over freeway looking up at a skyline of buildings.

Games: Accessibility

Abled.Tech: Scene from the video game "The Last of Us 2" where two characters are riding into a sunrise/sunset on horseback approaching a city with mountains in the background.

Gamers with accessibility requirements are celebrating the release of “The Last of Us Part II”. It’s being called the most accessible game to date. More details in our article below the video that features “Blind Gamer Steve” and his impressions of the game.

The Last of Us 2

Gamers who require accessible options are raving about the new release of The Last of Us Part 2.

The post-pandemic, post-apocalyptic game set in Seattle from developer Naughty Dog comes packed with about 60 accessibility features.

In an article at The Verge,Naughty Dog lead gameplay designer Emilia Schatz told Andrew Webster, “Accessibility for us is about removing barriers that are keeping players from completing a game,” she says. “It’s not about dumbing down a game or making a game easy. What do our players need in order to play the game in parity with everyone else?”

 

A “stuck player” inspires improvement

Emilia explains that the impetus for improved accessibility came after the studio received a letter from a player who got stuck at the end of their game Uncharted 2 who was blocked from finishing the game because of the lack of accessibility options.

As Andrew mentions in his article, “one of the most impressive things about the game is how large and varied its accessibility options are. You can now navigate the world largely by sound, or zoom in on the screen as if you were using a smartphone. There’s an astonishing array of things to choose from.”

 

An example to push the industry forward

The game accessibility blog Can I Play That gives The Last of Us 2 a blind accessibility rating of 9.5. The review by Sightless Kombat says, in part, “Whilst no game is perfect, especially in terms of accessibility for gamers without sight, The Last of Us 2 is a testament to what can be achieved when accessibility is considered from the ground up and is extremely close to being flawless. I only hope that both platform developers and teams working on updates to current titles and future projects take this for what it is: an example to push the industry forward to new heights and a bar to work from.”

In a BBC article about the game, by tech reporters David Molloy and Paul Carter, they mention the first time Steve Saylor “fired up the hotly-anticipated new game The Last of Us Part II, he burst into tears.

“Y’all don’t even know how much…” he says between sobs in his video of the moment, which has now had nearly half a million views.

“I’m sorry. I don’t even know what to say.”

Steve is legally blind, and was looking at the overwhelming accessibility options menu.”

Steve was featured in the video that precedes this text area, and we’ve curated a few videos about the game and its accessibility features below that enable more players with sensory and mobility gaming requirements to participate.

 

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THE PRESIDENT VS SOCIAL MEDIA

Social Media: Twitter War

Abled.Tech: Image of President Donald Trumps Twitter page showing an arena rally, the President's profile photo and the Twitter bird icon.

U.S. President Trump signs an executive order aimed at weakening legal protections for social media companies after Twitter fact-checks two of his tweets. Is it all political bark and no bite or does it pose a threat to free speech on the Internet?

POTUS vs Twitter

U.S. President Donald Trump has become notorious during his Administration for using Twitter to sound-off on just about everything.

Critics say he’s used its as a bully pulpit to spread misinformation and target political foes. Ironic that the biggest critic of “fake news” should also be accused of being a proponent of it.

Twitter finally confronted this pattern by fact-checking two of the President’s tweets earlier in the week, including one unsubstantiated claim that mail-in ballots because of COVID-19 social distancing would lead to widespread voter fraud.

Mr. Trump hit back when he signed an executive order later in the week that aims to pull the rug of legal liability protections out from under tech giants, vowing that social media companies “that engage in censoring or any political conduct will not be able to keep their liability shield,” adding that companies “like Twitter enjoy an unprecedented liability shield based on the theory that they are a neutral platform — which they are not.”

“My executive order further instructed the Federal Trade Commission to prohibit social media companies from engaging in any deceptive acts or practices.” At one point, the President  held up a copy of The New York Post featuring a photo of a lead member of Twitter’s policing team who once called the President a “racist tangerine.”

“As President, I’m not allowing the American people to be bullied by these giant corporations. Many people have wanted this to be done by presidents for a long time,” he said, adding, “I’ve been called by Democrats that want to do this and so I think you could possibly have a bipartisan situation.”

The order calls for new regulations under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a 1996 landmark federal law that largely exempts online platforms from legal liability for material posted by their users, allowing them to be treated more like publishers.

Removing those regulations would make tech companies more vulnerable to civil liability lawsuits. Critics of the order call it political posturing and legal experts say any weakening of Section 230 will most certainly be targeted by lawsuits claiming that such action is unconstitutional.

What do you think? We’ve curated some videos below with opinions from both sides of the political aisle, beginning with a panel at Yahoo Finance’s On The Move with Sinan Aral, David Austin Professor of Management at MIT and Author of “The Hype Machine”.

Then “The Five” at Fox weigh into the debate followed by an interview with venture capitalist Roger McNamee, an early investor in Facebook. We hope they broaden your understanding of the issues at hand.

 

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THE FAKE NEWS EPIDEMIC

Social Media: Fake News Epidemic

Abled.Tech: Photods of seemingly identical photo posts showing toilet paper being manufactured. One claims COVID-19 is found in toilet rolls, the other says it isn't.

Finding truthful information about COVID-19 isn’t always easy because of politically-motivated misinformation campaigns, or scams about treatments made by would-be profiteers. We look at the challenges of spotting this fake news.

Fiction vs Facts

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a pandemic of a different sort – misinformation, or as many people refer to it these days, (the current occupant of the Oval Office notwithstanding), “fake news”.

The latest iteration of this comes in the form of a “vignette” from a forthcoming documentary titled “Plandemic“. It’s been grabbing headlines for being progressively banned from various social media platforms, which has fulfilled the wish of anyone who posts on YouTube that their video go viral.

Ill-informed people keep sharing new urls, or clips from the video under the guise of a First Amendment, ‘freedom of speech’ issue. But all the social media hullaballoo is now moot, since the documentary producers have  set up a website and posted it there. We post the link with the following warning: understand that there are unchallenged statements, many of which are not supported by facts, and that it’s suspected that this whole project is being supported by well known members of the anti-vaccine movement.

We do recommend you watch the videos we’ve curated below to familiarize yourself with the kind of misinformation being posted. The video above by BBC Specialist disinformation reporter Marianna Spring, and produced by Suniti Singh was a good place to start.

She has investigated lots of misleading stories circulating online during the pandemic. It’s given her an idea about who is behind this misinformation – and what motivates them.

The first video below is by a young New York doctor who’s become something of a YouTube ‘phenom’, especially during the C19 pandemic. Dr. Mike Varshavski, more commonly known as Doctor Mike, walks through some selected points of the Plandemic video and provides counter arguments, and points out blatant mistruths.

Some of the points about the disreputable background of the main subject of the video, virologist Judy Mikovits, that Doctor Mike doesn’t cover, are detailed in a more thorough ‘fact-check’ by Lifehacker Senior Health Editor Beth Skwarecki in the article “If You Found That ‘Plandemic’ Video Convincing, Read This Too“.

Even Science magazine was prompted to publish an editorial fact-checking the main points made in Plandemic.

And as for the biggest social media platform of them all, Facebook convened a conference call with selected media to discuss the challenges it faces in trying to detect misinformation about COVID-19 and hate speech, especially when it comes to the differences in detection abilities between artificial intelligence and human reviewers.

Queenie Wong at cnet.com was in on the call and provides more details.

We hope this curated collection of information and video give you a better understanding of how to separate fact from fiction during the ongoing pandemic.

 

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HEADLINES

Facebook: $52M To Moderators

Abled.Tech: Photo of Facebook content moderators working at computer stations in an office with the Facebook logo painted on an end wall.

Social media giant Facebook has agreed to settle a class action suit brought by third-party content moderators for $52 million dollars. We detail how that breaks down.

Moderator PTSD

Facebook has agreed to settle a class action lawsuit by paying a $52 million dollar settlement to its content moderators.

The settlement grants $1,000 dollars each to the moderators who were part of the 2018 class action , and those diagnosed with conditions related to their work will be able to get medical treatment and damages of up to $50,000 dollars.

The original suit by third-party contractors said Facebook failed to protect them from severe psychological trauma and other injuries resulting from repeated exposure to graphic material including animal cruelty, beheadings, child sexual abuse, terrorism and other disturbing images.

In a statement, Facebook said it is “grateful to the people who do this important work to make Facebook a safe environment for everyone. We’re committed to providing them additional support through this settlement and in the future.”

Queenie Wong wrote a great article in June last year at cnet.com titled “Facebook content moderation is an ugly business. Here’s who does it” as she delved deeper into the origins of the lawsuit, as well as the third-party companies that provide content moderation services to Facebook.

 

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Apps: No Tracing For 2B Phones

Abled.Tech: Composite image of Ablle and Google logos flanking an electron microscope image of coronavirus infection in human tissue.

Tech giants Apple and Google have been working together to build a platform-neutral Track & Trace app to help stop COVID-19 infection. But 2 billion phones will miss out.

+5 Years Phones Excluded

UPDATE:

An estimated two billion smartphone owners won’t be able to use the COVID-19 Contact Tracing platform being jointly developed by Apple and Google because their phones are too old.

Phones over 5 years-old don’t have the current Bluetooth chips needed to use the app. Most of them are owned by seniors or people living in poverty, so the two groups most vulnerable to coronavirus infection will miss out.

———————–

One of the buzz phrases bandied about with increasing frequency during the evolving C19 pandemic is “contact tracing”, also called “track and trace”.

Merriam-Webster defines it as “the practice of identifying and monitoring individuals who may have had contact with an infectious person as a means of controlling the spread of a communicable disease.”

The phrase first appeared in the dictionary in 1931, and the process comes down to basic gumshoe work: find (or track) the people who are sick, get a list of people they’ve had contact with and then trace them to let them know they might be infected.

And in the case of COVID-19, ask them to quarantine for 14 days. Such an approach is supposed to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

But the scale of over 2 million cases of coronavirus infection world-wide, obliterates traditional approaches that have no hope of keeping up.

Enter modern-day technology.

While health authorities around the world have been working to build or acquire third-party apps that can achieve this, tech giants Apple and Google, whose operating systems run on the majority of smartphones, have announced they have been working together to accomplish this at global scale. 

Apple, the developer of the iOS operating system for its iPhones and iPads, and Google, the developer of the Android Operating System are looking to release an API (Application Programming Interface) by mid-May which would allow apps to run on either OS.

Phase two would see the functionality built into each OS platform so that no app would need to be downloaded by the user.

To alleviate privacy concerns, the tech giants say digital ID’s would be stored on remote servers, but could not be unmasked, with the contract-matching being de-centralized on the phones themselves.

That means someone who’s been in contact with an infected person could be advised to go into self-isolation without anyone else being notified.

BBC News has done-up a great infographic on digital contact tracing. Click on the image below to see an enlarged version.

 

Abled.Tech: BBC Infographic on digital contact tracing in six panels. 1. Jane and John do not know each other but chat for 10 minutes in a park. 2. Their smartphones automatically exchange an anonymous key code. 3.A few days later, John tests positive for COVID-19 and declares his status in an app. 4. With consent, John's phone sends his anonymous key code to a central database. 5. Jane's phone downloads the central database and checks for matching key codes. 6. Jane's phone alerts her that somebody she has met has tested positive.

 

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COBOL: Programmers Needed

Abled.Tech: Vintage photo of two male computer programmers working with large mainframe computers in the early 60s.

Know how to program COBOL? Your country needs you. Millions of COVID-19 related unemployment claims are overwhelming federal and state computer systems.

Calling All "COBOLers"

With a record 33.3  million Americans filing for unemployment benefits because of COVID-19 related layoffs, firings or shutdowns, states’ Departments of Labor are being overwhelmed in a different way from hospitals and healthcare facilities.

While the urgent list on the healthcare front includes ventilators and PPE’s (Personal Protective Equipment) such as masks and gloves, the urgent list for those trying to process those jobless claims includes older computer programmers.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has issued a call for volunteers who know how to code a half-century-old language called COBOL (Common Business Oriented Language) used primarily with mainframe computer systems.

Many other states are facing the same urgent need as are most federal departments with aging computer infrastructure.

COBOL hasn’t been taught in U.S. universities since the 80s, yet a 2017 Reuters report found there are an estimated 220 billion lines of COBOL in use today.

On average, the majority of COBOL programmers are most likely to be between 45 to 55 years-old.

 

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We hope you don’t mind encountering our placeholder content as our design and layout upgrade continues.

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We hope you don’t mind encountering our placeholder content as our design and layout upgrade continues.

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We hope you don’t mind encountering our placeholder content as our design and layout upgrade continues.

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We hope you don’t mind encountering our placeholder content as our design and layout upgrade continues.

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We greatly appreciate your patience and understanding and hope you, your family, friends and colleagues stay safe in the meantime.

 

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CURATED VIDEOS

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Content in Production

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We were in the midst of our site wide design upgrade when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

We decided to pivot to provide an unbiased and fact-based knowledge hub to enable everyone to gather additional information needed for making self-informed decisions on how to respond to the life-changing challenges posed by the pandemic.

Our effort to be as up to date as possible in the COVID-19 coverage, and the resulting pandemic impact on available resources, has pulled time away from our overall build-out.

So if you encounter a non-working link or a “Content In Production” message, we appreciate your patience as we do our best to complete our upgrades.

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