On Thursday, October 22nd, we started the Fall Agora 2020 ONLINE
with a live broadcast – already the 12th run of the conference about information and communication technology usage by the visually impaired. Agora’s aim is to enhance the digital literacy of the visually impaired and thus enable them to fully utilize the possibilities offered by the current technologies in order to compensate for their visual impairment.
What We Prepared for the Participants
The introduction was gracefully hosted by Gábina Drastichová, director of the Czech Radio Endowment Fund, and Bára Bühnová, vice dean for industrial partners at the Faculty of Informatics, Masaryk University, as well as the co-founder of the Czechitas association.
The Czech Radio Endowment Fund has been one of the partners of Agora for several years, supporting it not just financially – from the Světluška (Firefly) fund – but also helping us with endorsement or consultations about the conceptual approach to the event as such. “I’m amazed by how much we’re actually able to bring here to us and how many awesome topics we’re able to discuss. How many apps are being created in this country, how many apps and assistive tools are being localized for Czech users, especially for the visually impaired target group,” Gábina Drastichová, the director of the Firefly fund, evaluated the current situation in the field of technology for the visually impaired in her introductory speech. “Which is truly wonderful, and it proves that you who are watching Agora today, who are watching us, are demanding users and want to have all the best that’s out there in the world. Which I’m terribly grateful for.”
“I feel how greatly important it is to point the technologies in the direction of helping us in our lives rather than being an obstacle to us, as they are for a lot of people who steer clear of technology; sometimes they feel the technology is controlling them, rather than them controlling the technology. Because nowadays, it’s terribly important to follow the path of using technology as a tool that’s going to aid you in your everyday lives, and feeling that you are its master,” Bára Bühnová noted in her contribution, who is the vice dean for industry relations at the Faculty of Informatics at Masaryk University. “This is an area that’s incredibly rewarding to me, because I help connect the academic world with the practical world. I see there are amazing people on both sides, and when they find the way to each other, amazing things emerge.”
At this point, it’s appropriate to express our gratitude to Bára, and remind the readers, as it was her who initiated the connection between Deloite and Teiresiás several years ago and thus took a great part in enabling Agora to grow all the way to its present form.
To conclude the introductory part, Petr Peňáz, director of the Teiresiás Center, remarked that the present situation brings not only complications and new issues, but also new challenges, moving matters forward to where they should probably be. „What happened made it possible for more new groups of people to join us: Those who can be here with us today, and those who couldn’t have been here if the event only took place physically, as they would be reacting to it. Thus, it’s certainly going to remain true even for the future that when the opportunity to meet up in person arises again, and I’m also hoping for it, then many of us will still be connected in this way anyway, and I think that’s the right thing. And I firmly believe that in the upcoming runs of Agora, to which I wish a lot of luck, it’s going to work out in such a way that we’ll just all be together – those who can join us physically, as well as those who are going to join remotely.
Technological Solutions from Israel
The first two lectures of the programme were dedicated to introducing the technological news of the Israeli companies Right-Hear and OrCam. Idan Meir, CEO and co-founder of the Right-Hear company, described in his presentation the practical benefits of audio navigation systems for the visually impaired.
Idan emphasized their benefits for companies and organizations which decided to become more accessible with the help of such systems. Idan also shared his observations and takeaways the Right-Hear company learned from the case studies of their solution.
Jan Cejthamr from the OrCam company and Tomáš Kadlec introduced the OrCam MyEye 2. Tomáš, who is visually impaired, prepared a practical on-the-go demonstration for the participants. We set off along with Tomáš for his usual shopping trip, and thus learned about how it’s possible to overcome barriers that Tomáš was encountering during his shopping with the help of OrCam MyEye.
Jan then complemented Tomáš’s presentation with a more detailed introduction of the OrCam MyEye for those who have not heard of it so far.
We appreciate the partnership with both the Right-Hear and the OrCam companies very much, and together we’re already planning future activities. The closest one, as soon as circumstances permit, is going to be installing the Right_hear system, which we have already deployed at the Teiresiás premises, into more buildings of the university.
Mobile Solutions Launch the World Forward
The second block of the programme was aimed at introducing news in the field of mobile accessibility.
Kristýna Savaryová introduced the most recent addition to the BlindShell family of smartphones – called BlindShell Touch. The manufacturer presents it as the smartest phone for the blind and partially sighted. It offers its users a touch screen and more than 30 apps and features (including WhatsApp and FB Messenger).
Jieshuo Screen Reader International is a flexible screen reader for Google Android. It has been introduced to Agora participants by Matěj Plch, who maintains its Czech localization. In a short presentation, Matěj discussed the recent news in its development, pointed out some of its key features, and also mentioned what has changed in the screen reader’s international version.
Honza Husák, co-author of the BigLauncher app, approached his presentation in a very non-traditional way – he took his 7-year-old slides which accompanied his lecture at the INSPO 2013 conference, and built his current presentation on them, pointing out what has moved forward and in which way over the past 7 years.
BigLauncher started out as a simple weekend project. Today, it has more than a million downloads, supports 50 global languages and comes pre-installed in smartphones all over the world. This puts it among the long-term best apps for simplifying the Android environment for the elderly and visually impaired users.
Inclusive Education in Practice
Two years ago, Julie Tomaňová and her colleagues from the Vida! (Science) center in Brno joined the challenge which aims to connect the formal and informal education for students with specific educational needs. They prepare popular science programmes for them and gradually modify the various elements of their exhibition in order to make them accessible to blind and partially sighted visitors. In Julie’s contribution, the participants learned the obstacles they have come across along this journey, about their failures and successes in the attempt to move the Vida! (Science) center forward in the direction of better accessibility.
At the Fall Agora 2019, the new Braille notetaker Orbit Reader 20 was first introduced in the Czech Republic. This is primarily designed for reading digital texts in Braille. The small compact device enables its users to carry around hundreds to thousands of books, magazines or textbooks, and to read them at any moment and any place on a comfortable 20-cell Braille display. Via the Braille keyboard located at the top of the notetaker, it’s also possible to edit the texts or write down your own in a simple editor.
Thus, Michal Jungmann talked about the experiences of users after having used the Orbit Reader for a year, as well as about the upcoming news around this notetaker.
Every visually impaired screen reader user has probably encountered a Braille display at some point, and many of them have been asking the same question: “What could I use this for, when I have a high-quality voice synthesis?” There are situations where this is obvious, such as studying mathematics, but the potential usage of a Braille display is much broader, from gaining crucial literacy, to language studies, all the way to professional career usage.
Thus, Roman Kabelka introduced a guide on Braille displays that we at the Teiresiás center prepared together with our colleagues under the project label of “High-quality Inclusive Education of Pupils with Specific Educational Needs in Primary and Secondary School”.
The guide, called Using Braille Displays not Only in Blind Education, primarily maps the possibilities of using Braille displays as assistive tools which are equally important for professional, as well as especially educational goals. The guide also offers an overview of their functional possibilities, so that everyone who is ppotentially interested in this kind of device can choose the model that suits their personal needs as best as possible.
Thank You’s and Acknowledgements
The Fall Agora 2020 ONLINE could not have taken place without the active support and contributions from the following individuals and companies, for which we would hereby like to once more extend our most sincere thanks:
- Gábina Drastichová and Karolína Žampachová from the Czech Radio Endowment Fund
- Bára Bühnová from the Faculty of Informatics at Masaryk University
- Daniela Kubešová and Michal Malysa from the Deloite company
- Radana Urbanová from Seznam.cz
- All the presenters who prepared very interesting contributions: Idan Meir, Tomáš Kadlec, Jan Cejthamr, Kristýna Savaryová, Matěj Plch, Jan Husák, Julie Tomaňová, Michal Jungmann and Roman Kabelka.
- Markéta Jelínková from the University of the Third Age at Masaryk University
- Linda Jansová from SKIP
- Eva Cerniňáková from JABOK
- Linda Štucbartová from the Czech-Israeli Mutual Chamber of Commerce
- The Israeli embassy in the Czech Republic
- Jaroslav Winter from the BMI Association
- Veronika Řídelová and Honza Fencl from the Vodafone Foundation
- Peter Teplický from Blind Revue
- The interpreters, Lukáš Hosnedl and Ondra Pelech
- Technicians from the Special Informatics department of the Teiresiás center
- Petr Peňáz, director of the Teiresiás center
Last but not least, we would like to thank everyone who joined us for the live broadcast or who watched its archive. What we do would make no sense without the participants. We appreciate your interest a lot, and we thank you for the positive feedback which you sent us, and from which we would like to quote at least one opinion of Agora as a conclusion to this article:
Kudos and congratulations to Agora. I was watching the entire thing, and it was amazing. Just hats off, it was not good just on the technical side of things, but it was just so smartly done also from the point of view of the programme. Very interesting contributions even for people who are not all that much interested in this topic, and it had an incredibly pleasant atmosphere about it. Despite it being online.
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.
Workshops and Tutorials
As has already been pointed out, the plenary session is not the ending, but rather the beginning of Agora. Until mid December, we’ll gradually publish articles and tutorials at the Pélion portal, and we will also offer online workshops on selected topics to interested participants.
Therefore, follow the Poslepu blog, the Pélion portal, and of course Agora’s website at agora.muni.cz, which will serve as a hub for all the activities that we’re preparing for you.
Thanks for your interest in Agora, and stay in touch with us. 🙂
Radek Pavlíček & Pepa Konečný
on behalf of the entire organizational team of AGora
Fall Agora 2020 Online is part of the „High-quality Inclusive Education for Primary and Secondary School Students with Specific Educational Needs“ project (project no. CZ.02.3.62/0.0/0.0/16_037/0004872), PV KA2 – School as the Central Point for Collegial Support.
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.