Agora is a series of two-day-long educational events aimed at educating severely visually impaired users on how to utilize ICT to compensate for their impairment. The Agora’s goal is to enhance the digital literacy of visually impaired individuals and thus to enable them to make full use of the possibilities of compensating their impairment offered to them by the currently available ICT.
Since we still can not currently meet in person, we moved to the online world and prepared the online edition of Agora also for this spring.
Online plenary session
Online plenary session will take place on Thursday, May 27 from 4 pm to 6 pm (CEST).
What can you look forward to?
- Welcome Address: Jaroslava Šmerdová, IBM; Simona Koryčánková, Masaryk University; Petr Peňáz, Teiresias Centre, Masaryk University
- KEYNOTE – Karthik Kannan, Envision: Hear what you want to see: with Envision app and glasses
- Tomáš Hrdinka, Spektra, v.d.n.: Advanced usage of ZoomText
- Michal Jelínek: How to read books efficiently – working with the WinMenu 2 Beletrik software for younger and more advanced users
- Markéta Outratová, Transkript online, s.r.o.: TType: touch typing made fun
- Petr Dušek: Educational not-just-tactile sets using 3D printing
- Gabriela Drastichová, The Czech Radio Endowment Fund: The rental shop for compensatory aids and sports gear
- Roman Kabelka, Josef Konečný: Eureka A4 – The phenomenon of its era
Karthik Kannan, Envision: Hear what you want to see: with Envision app and glasses
Karthik Kannan, the co-founder of Envision will talk about how the idea behind Envision started, what can the current state of Envision software do (with live demonstration of Envision Glasses) and what lies ahead in our future.
Tomáš Hrdinka, Spektra, v.d.n.: Advanced usage of ZoomText
We are going to take a look at the advanced features that ZoomText provides – working with multiple displays, the built-in search engine, AppReader, reading areas. The subsequent workshop will cover the topic in greater detail.
Michal Jelínek: How to read books efficiently – working with the WinMenu 2 Beletrik software for younger and more advanced users
There are many ways of reading digital books on Windows computers using speech output – from the simplest ones all the way to the very sophisticated ones. Where the special software called WinMenu 2 Beletrik is located on this scale and what options of efficient usage it offers to its users, will be discussed by the tutor Michal Jelínek based on his own practical experience.
Markéta Outratová, Transkript online, s.r.o.: TType: touch typing made fun
Special education center employees have been warning for a long time about the very low skill level in touch typing of visually impaired students and pupils being educated at standard schools via inclusive education. The company Transkript Online, a successful employer of blind fast typists, realizes a project supported by the Czech Radio endowment fund, the main goal of which is to change this negative trend and enhance the typing literacy of these pupils. The output of this project will be an online application for teaching touch keyboard typing adapted to the special needs of blind and low-vision pupils. The app is an online gaming course called TType: Touch typing made fun, which is currently being utilized by plenty of primary and high schools throughout the Czech Republic. The course has been developed and supplied to schools by the company called the same as the app, i.e. TType. The project solution team is currently pilot-testing the adapted version of the app in the education of six low-vision pupils and preparing a testing phase for blind adults. The fully accessible teaching tool will subsequently become available to schools and other organizations educating visually impaired individuals.
Petr Dušek: Educational not-just-tactile sets using 3D printing
The educational not-just-tactile (viz vlevo) sets are based off the original idea of the so called haptisets, which attempted to creatively and critically respond to the almost unmethodical wave of tactile works of art which were being called books despite having very little in common with actual books. Therefore, we created the experimental educational set called „Yuri Gagarin invited us to space“ – to celebrate the 60th aniversary of the first human space flight.
The set – or rather the box – contains a Braille and printed book, several 3D models and embossed shapes, an audio recording, and accompanying digital materials. The set is the collaborative product of Teiresias – the Center to aid students with specific needs at Masaryk University, the Expert Group for Barrier-free Astronomy and Cosmonautics of the Czech Astronomical Society, the Firefly Czech Radio endowment fund, and the partner Kaufland fund.
The educational not-just tactile sets do not stop at Gagarin though. We are preparing new interesting ones which are not going to deal with just astronomy and astronautics but also with e.g. health care.
Gabriela Drastichová, The Czech Radio Endowment Fund: The rental shop for compensatory aids and sports gear
In May, Firefly opened up a rental shop of compensatory aids and sports gear for the severely visually impaired. Both short-term and long-term rental is possible for those who have a severe visual impairment, or for those whose vision is currently seriously deteriorating but cannot apply for a donation from the employment office in their current situation. Likewise, an aid can be rented to those who have already applied for the donation for an aid from the employment office and are currently waiting for their application to be processed, or their own aid has been malfunctioning. In our choice of products, we also consider families with severely visually impaired children, who often need the aid just for a short time and purchasing one of their own would not be worthwhile. We also gradually add new technological gadgets to our catalogue, so that curious and interested applicants can try them out in their own time and in real life scenarios. Compensatory aid rentals are provided free of charge and only a one-time service fee is charged which allows us to prepare the aid for the next applicant in the queue. All the relevant information about the rental shop can be found at www.svetluska.net. The compensatory and sports aids rental shop is realized as a project of the Firefly Czech Radio endowment fund and founded via the partner Kaufland fund.
Roman Kabelka, Josef Konečný: Eureka A4: The phenomenon of its era
In the recent months, it’s been exactly 30 years since the Eureka A4 – a microcomputer designed specifically for visually impaired users – started selling in Czechoslovakia. As this computer undoubtedly played a major part in enabling us to very quickly catch up to the rest of the world in terms of assistive technology usage, we decided to provide a historical record of what Eureka was capable of, what technologies it was built on and what it meant to its users. We would like to introduce the project which is going to make this information available in the form of a website presentation to anyone who would like to learn more about Eureka or just bring back the nostalgic memories of it.
Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2021
Agora is for the seventh time part of the Global Accessibility Awareness Day – an awareness day focusing on digital access and inclusion for the more than one billion people with disabilities and impairments.
The Partners of Agora
Agora wouldn’t be possible without our partners, who support it financially or otherwise. We are very pleased that even this year, the collaboration with both of Agora’s main partners still continues: The Deloitte company who remains the main partner of Agora, and the Czech Radio Endowment Fund which has supported Agora thanks to the Světluška fund. We thank you for your trust and long-term partnership.
The plenary session will be followed by online workshops discussing chosen topics in the coming weeks. We will gradually provide you with new information at the Agora website, the Poslepu.cz blog, the Pélion portal, and on our social media.
We’ll be pleased if you join the online Agora and spread the word about it to your friends who might find it useful.
We are looking forward to meeting you.
Radek Pavlíček & Pepa Konečný
On behalf of the entire team
Feedback from participants
The past editions of Agora received very positive feedback from participants and workshop leaders. Let us share with you at least three testimonials written by our foreign guests.
Tanja Stevns, Lars Christensen, RoboBraille.org
It was absolutely great. We really enjoyed it. It is probably the best ICT conference aimed at end-users we have ever been at and with the most enthusiastic crowd. Thank you for inviting us.
Jan Bloem, International Sales Manager, Freedom Scientific/ Vispero
I attended for the first time the Agora conference in 2018 and was very honored to be a keynote speaker in the morning where I was able to address the complete group of conference members. The conference was well attended and the feedback of the audience was very enthusiastic! The participants are mostly all users of assistive technology and are eager to know the latest news and developments. The translation was very well organized and had a high quality. I could also follow the discussions in the local language very well.
The workshops were in the afternoon and the next day and well organized. The participants could all work hands-on and again, they were all very eager to learn.
Many thanks for the good organization and hope to attend the next time again!
Jaume Cunill, Tech4Freedom
For Tech4Freedom team, 2018 was our first participation in Agora. We participate in many events worldwide, like the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, CSUN in San Diego, United States, Sight City in Frankfurt among others.
In all of them, we find excellent opportunities for business and also to know new and interesting people, what we love to see happen. But Agora impressed me with the strong and constant approach towards users. I noticed that they worked very hard to provide visitors the best solutions from the Czech Republic and abroad.
And the point I loved, is that Agora team by focusing on persons created a paradox which worth to be spread. The companies of course represented by persons, we felt participating in a wonderful and successful event, finding enthusiastic people attending the workshops, who were providing amazing ideas to improve our products, and enthusiastic examples on how they will use them when they have them.
Agora achieves by focusing on persons, that companies reach results beyond imagination. This one should be the model to follow by all companies worldwide.
I share the same convictions with Radek Pavlicek and all Agora team. Persons go first. All the rest is a consequence of a well-done work. Bravo Agora!!!
Some facts about Agora
The idea behind
The extraordinary expansion of ICT – along with the efforts to make it more accessible – has led to severely visually impaired users nowadays having access to an overwhelming amount of aids and services based on ICT.
Such solutions are relatively easily available to them these days, and they can thus utilize them to compensate for their severe visual impairment. However, people with visual impairment don’t always know how to use them efficiently or how to make use of all the possibilities offered to them, or they might not have a good overview of the recent offerings and the available options.
Unfortunately, severely visually impaired people don’t have the same possibilities and opportunities of ICT education or accessing the news as their able-bodied counterparts. Commonly used procedures (such as publishing standard product videos or photos on the web) don’t work in this case, as a visually impaired user can’t gain the information they need from that because of their need for suitable adjustments considering their visual impairment.
Why do we organize Agora
As an event where interested users could learn about news in ICT for the visually impaired in practice was missing here, we decided in May 2015 to run the first session of Agora. To roughly 30 participants, we offered the possibility to enroll in up to 3 of 5 workshops aimed at ICT news during a single day. Since we received very positive feedback, we kept organizing it all the way to its current two-day-long form when it’s being visited by at least 150 participants, to whom we offer not just workshops but also a plenary and exhibition part.
The program of Agora includes
- the plenary session where participants are introduced to the news in the field via short frontal lectures;
- exhibition part where they can explore the products and services from many assistive technology vendors;
- hands-on workshops where they learn to control and use the chosen solutions efficiently from experienced tutors.
Focus on accessibility
Emphasis is also put towards creating an accessible environment that respects the needs of the visually impaired as much as possible. The environment where Agora takes place, as well as the way of sharing information, is adjusted to the needs of severely visually impaired participants as much as possible.
Thus, Agora offers to interested severely visually impaired individuals ICT education aimed at the visually impaired and an opportunity to explore news in the field or try them in practice.
Focus on inovations
The innovation of Agora lies primarily in aiming at the severely visually impaired audience and creating an environment that’s accessible to them.
Whereas the participation of a disabled person is still something more or less exceptional at other events for now, and making the event accessible therefore means especially individual adjustments according to the needs of the specific participant, Agora offers a safe and accessible environment to dozens of people with different kinds of visual impairments, in the spirit of the universal design principles.
In this environment, they can, without having to overcome obstacles in the physical or digital world, gain an education in a field they are interested in, exchange their experience with other participants and enhance their digital literacy.
Agora is innovative at several levels.
- Physically and digitally accessible environment for participants with various kinds of visual impairments.
- Emphasis on practice. Participants have the possibility to learn about the technologies and services in practice, which is virtually the only way of introducing e.g. a new Braille display model to them, especially to totally blind participants.
- Regularity. Agora takes place twice a year, and thus enables its participants to continuously keep improving their digital competence.
- Lecturers from abroad. Agora is an opportunity to introduce good practices from other countries to interested parties from the Czech Republic.
- Social dimension. Participating at Agora is an opportunity to meet other participants and exchange experiences.
Focus on people with visual impairment
Agora is a suitable opportunity to introduce the topic of ICT utilization by the visually impaired even to the public. They can thus learn, in an objective and tabloid-free way, about how ICT can compensate for severe visual impairment and improve the quality of life for its users.
The project doesn’t burden visually impaired people with the role of passive recipients of the service either but rather engages them actively. Thus, visually impaired people can be found not only among the participants but also in the organizational team, among lecturers, exhibitors, or workshop tutors.
Fall Agora 2020 online (YouTube)
To participants who were not able to attend the live broadcast, we would like to offer the video archive for your viewing pleasure.
Photos from Autumn Agora 2019 on Flickr
Agora is a conference aimed at the topic of ICT usage by visually impaired users. Since 2015, it’s been organized by the Teiresiás Center at Masaryk University, with support from the Deloitte company, the Czech Radio Endowment Fund (the Světluška – Firefly – fund), and other partners.
Despite its relatively young age, Agora has already built up an excellent reputation among visually impaired users of ICT. The recent runs have regularly had over 150 participants, and the number keeps increasing. Agora is the perfect place where its participants can learn, in an accessible environment, about how ICT can aid them in overcoming the barriers in their studies or career as well as in the everyday life.
About the Teiresiás Center
The event is organized by the Teiresiás Center, officially called The Center for Supporting Students with Specific Needs, which has been established by the Masaryk University in Brno in 2000. Its goal is to ensure for the study fields accredited at the university to be as accessible as possible even for blind and visually impaired students, students who are deaf or hard of hearing, who have a motor impairment or other disabilities.
The center is the guarantor of the life-long education programme for the blind, which aims to make it possible for the general public with a visual impairment to increase their knowledge in the individual subjects of the university’s accredited fields of study in a blind-accessible way, regardless of their age or social status.
More information at www.teiresias.muni.cz.