Here and There edited by Sharon Strzalkowski

The announcement of products and services in this column does not represent an endorsement by the American Council of the Blind, its officers, or staff. Listings are free of charge for the benefit of our readers. "The ACB Braille Forum" cannot be held responsible for the reliability of the products and services mentioned. To submit items for this column, send a message to slovering@acb.org, or phone the national office at 1-800-424-8666, and leave a message in Sharon Lovering's mailbox. Information must be received at least two months ahead of publication date.

Social Security Benefits Increase for 2014

 
Monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for nearly 63 million Americans will increase 1.5 percent in 2014, according to the Social Security Administration.  The 1.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will begin with benefits that more than 57 million Social Security beneficiaries receive in January 2014.  Increased payments to more than 8 million SSI beneficiaries will begin on Dec. 31, 2013.
 
The Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) amount for blind people for 2014 is $1,800, up from 2013's $1,760, according to the Social Security Administration's web site.
 
Some other changes that take effect in January of each year are based on the increase in average wages.  Based on that increase, the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax (taxable maximum) will increase to $117,000 from $113,700.  Of the estimated 165 million workers who will pay Social Security taxes in 2014, about 10 million will pay higher taxes as a result of the increase in the taxable maximum.
Information about Medicare changes for 2014 is available at www.Medicare.gov.
The Social Security Act provides for how the COLA is calculated.  To read more, please visit www.socialsecurity.gov/cola.

FCC Adopts New Rules

 
The Federal Communications Commission has now adopted rules that will enable people who are blind or visually impaired to have easier access to digital video programming on a wide range of electronic devices.  The rules will also enable consumers who are deaf or hard of hearing to activate closed captioning on their devices with greater ease.
 
This action represents the final major step in the FCC's implementation of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA), enacted in 2010 to bring people with disabilities access to the modern and innovative communications technologies of the 21st century.  The CVAA is the most significant accessibility legislation since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  As a result of the FCC's implementation of the CVAA, more than 50 million Americans will have greater access to advanced communications.
 
Devices covered under the rules adopted today include navigation devices – devices used to access cable or satellite services, such as set-top boxes and TiVos – as well as other devices used to receive or play back digital video, ranging from televisions and computers to tablets and smart phones.  All covered devices are required to provide on-screen text menus and guides that are audibly accessible, as well as a mechanism that is comparable to a button, key or icon for activating certain accessibility features, such as closed captioning.  Devices other than navigation devices are also required to make their other built-in functions accessible.

Pacific Rim Conference

 
The 30th annual Pacific Rim Conference will be held May 19 & 20, 2014 at the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu. The theme for the conference is Learn from Yesterday, Live for Today, Envision Tomorrow. And the conference needs your proposals!  This year's conference will be featuring many new topic areas focusing on visual impairments such as Accessible Worlds, Going Deeper with Diversity, etc. Conference planners are looking for your creative ideas to build the just, sustainable and inclusive future we all want!  The deadline for proposals is Jan. 31.  For more information, visit www.pacrim.hawaii.edu, e-mail prinfo@hawaii.edu or call (808) 956-7539.

Want to Win a CCTV?

 
Enhanced Vision is holding its annual winter giveaway. Would you like to win a Merlin HD 24" CCTV valued at $2,995? Visit www.enhancedvision.com, or call toll-free 1-888-811-3161 and use promo code 2511 before March 21.  Please note that this offer is valid to residents of the United States only, and cannot be combined with any other offer.

More Cell Phone Access

 
Code Factory recently announced that its Mobile Accessibility suite of apps will support Microsoft's Windows Phone 8. Mobile Accessibility for Windows Phone 8 will be offered free of charge in the Windows Phone Store. Blind and visually impaired users will be able to access and enjoy their devices within a suite of accessible apps for the most common wireless tasks. Along with basic functionality of calling and contacts management, users will have access to e-mails, web browsing and messaging. For more information, visit www.codefactory.es.

Introducing AbleRoad

 
AbleRoad recently launched its web site and app that allows people with disabilities and medical conditions and their families and caregivers to review any public space or business.
 
The company has worked with Yelp, so users can see both the Yelp and AbleRoad ratings for a business on the same screen, with up to 200 results per search. The app allows users to add ratings and upload photos while on location and rate them for many factors relating to ease of access. It also supports badge ranking of reviewers, and has voice-over capabilities for people who are blind or low vision. Users can leave detailed reviews for others to read, too.
 
The AbleRoad app is available as a free download for both iOS and Android devices at Apple's App Store and Google Play. For more information, visit www.ableroad.com.

Science Sense Tours

 
New York's Museum of Natural History offers Science Sense tours to visitors who are blind or partially sighted. Specially trained tour guides highlight specific themes and exhibition halls, engaging participants through extensive verbal descriptions and touchable objects.  Science Sense tours are available to individuals or groups, and are free with museum admission. Space is limited; advance registration is required. Programs may be subject to change. For additional information, or to register for a Science Sense tour, call (212) 313-7565 or e-mail accessibility@amnh.org.
 
Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2:30 p.m.: Northwest Coast Indians. The Hall of Northwest Coast Indians highlights the traditional cultures of the native peoples of North America's northwest shores from Washington State to southern Alaska.
 
Sunday, Feb. 9, 10 a.m.: Vertebrate Origins. Explore the story of the burgeoning of vertebrates through the oceans and onto land in the Hall of Vertebrate Origins. 
 
Wednesday, March 12, 2:30 p.m.: Biodiversity. Discover the wide range and variety of life on Earth, and learn how every species is interconnected, how they evolved, what purpose they serve, and why their preservation is necessary for maintaining our environment in the Hall of Biodiversity.
 
Saturday, April 12th, 2:30 p.m.: Meteorites. Discover the origin of the universe and our solar system in the Arthur Ross Hall of Meteorites, which includes the largest meteorite on display in any museum in the world.

Comcast Accessibility

 
Comcast recently created a dedicated accessibility customer support team and opened an accessibility product and development lab.  These two key initiatives are examples of Comcast's commitment to meet the needs of customers with disabilities.
 
Closed captioning, video description, accessible billing services and operating web and mobile interfaces with screen-reader software are especially important for people with disabilities.  Now, customers can contact a dedicated support team of 22 agents specially trained on all things related to Comcast accessibility in the new Comcast Accessibility Center of Excellence for help with these and other general support issues.
 
To reach the accessibility center, dial 1-855-270-0379 seven days a week between the hours of 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. Eastern. Customers can also contact an Accessibility Center of Excellence representative via chat, https://www.comcastsupport.com/ChatEntry/Default.aspx?Trouble.Accessibility%7Cform.

Braille Awards & Signs

 
Rick Hume is a blind entrepreneur who owns an awards recognition company in Kalamazoo, Mich. The R.L. Hume Award Company sells promotional items, engravable gifts for all occasions, trophies and award plaques. The store can customize award plaques and ADA building signs with braille. The selection of braillable items can be reviewed at www.award-1.com/Awards/Plaques/BraillePlqs.shtml, or www.braille-plaques.com. For more information, call the store at (269) 344-2307.

Illinois Tollway Call Center Open!

 
On Nov. 5th, the new Illinois Tollway Call Center, being managed by the Lighthouse, opened for business. It provides a variety of employment opportunities for individuals who are blind, visually impaired and otherwise disabled. It also enables the Tollway to make it easier for a growing number of I-PASS customers to get personalized, one-on-one assistance whenever they need help with their accounts.

Tweeting Blind and Other Books Available

 
National Braille Press recently released "Tweeting Blind" by Jonathan Mosen. The book is available in braille, eBraille (BRF), and DAISY, and tells you how to get on Twitter and what to do with it – regardless of what device or platform you are using. It also explains social norms, terminology, and expected behavior. There's more to tweeting than you know! For more information, visit www.nbp.org/ic/nbp/TWEET.html.
 
The 2014 Dr. Seuss calendar (in print and braille together) is also available. It includes 12 scenes and quotes from Dr. Seuss' books. The calendar, which is 12" x 12", features the Cat in the Hat, a Fox in Sox, Yertle the Turtle, the Grinch, and eight more well-loved scenes from Dr. Seuss's imagination. The braille is on clear plastic labels that go over the print pages. The calendar also features a bonus - a sheet of 60 full-color stickers of Dr. Seuss' characters to mark birthdays, appointments, and other important days. For more information, visit www.nbp.org/ic/nbp/2014SEUSS.html
 
And "That's Not My Elephant!" is now available in print-and-braille touch-and-feel. It allows babies through preschoolers to touch and feel different elephants' ears, feet, and tails. For information on this book, see www.nbp.org/ic/nbp/BB-ELEPHANT.html.
 
For more information on any of these items, contact NBP, 88 St. Stephen Street, Boston, MA 02115-4302; call toll-free 1-800-548-7323.

Project Starfish

 
Project Starfish America aims to offer a new type of opportunity: a socio-economic platform for talented individuals who are blind or disabled seeking to learn, be productive, make money, raise awareness and be employable. Participants in Project Starfish work virtually from home via phone, Internet, and Skype, and can be based anywhere in the United States.
 
Project Starfish is looking for consultants with a strong educational background, having some business skills and/or willing to learn new things. The company prefers that applicants be savvy in the areas of communications, technology, and social media. If you are ambitious and are willing to prove and improve your capability, Project Starfish is right for you!
 
For more information, contact Project Starfish via e-mail, star@projectstarfishusa.org, or phone (508) 395-6379.