Monday, June 11, 2018

National Braille Challenge: musings and advice from an alumnus

The following essay was part inspired by a 2018 Northern California Braille Challenge panel discussion, as well as my forensics speech topic on universal accessibility and braille. Opinions are my own - from a former Braille Challenge contestant in 2004 and 2007.

Many cultures around the world (both physical and virtual) have means of describing, preserving, and passing on knowledge and artifacts to future generations. For cultures with writing systems, it is letters, books, and many other writings. For virtual cultures, it includes videos, blogs, memes and many other artifacts.
For blind people and in the broader culture of blindness, braille is one of the methods for writing, preserving, and passing on our knowledge to others and future generations. Developed by a Frenchman in 1800's, this system of dots and their meanings are now used by many blind people around the world, and this literacy tool powers many situations including education, entertainment, casual reading, programming, speech competitions, and even a competition designed to foster literacy among children and young people. The high moment for this tool came when, in 2016, Stevie Wonder used braille to advocate for universal accessibility at the Grammys.
In this post, I'll focus on a competition that aims to pass on knowledge of and utility of braille to students: National Braille Challenge. Having competed in this tournament more than a decade ago, and now being part of several communities where braille has become an integral part of my journey, I believe it is important to talk about what this activity is, its impact on me and other alumni, as well as some advice for current and future competitors, including a word to the 2018 finalists.

So what is braille Challenge?
Braille Challenge began about twenty years ago when Braille Institute of America (headquartered in Los Angeles, California) hosted a braille competition for local blind students. Many braille organizations noticed this event, and over the next few years, this California event was expanded to cover United States and Canada, with students from participating regional events working hard to qualify for a national competition held in Los Angeles in June.
The purpose of Braille Challenge is to educate people about braille, as well as showcase its usage and impact. Although the event is designed for students (from elementary school to high school), parents, teachers, and others are welcomed to attend and learn more about braille and technologies surrounding it such as specialized hardware and software at this event.
Based on age, competitors are divided into five categories (apprentice for grades 1 and 2; freshman for grades 3 and 4; sophomore for grades 5 and 6; junior varsity for grades 7 through 9; varsity for grades 10 through 12). Each competitor is tested on at least three scenarios where braille comes in handy:
* Spelling: tests ability to spell words in braille.
* Reading comprehension: tests ability to understand and answer questions on a passage written in braille.
* Proofreading: ability to spot mistakes in braille writing.
* Speed and accuracy (for older students): simulates text transcribing environment where students are asked to braille an audio passage within a set time period.
* Charts and graphs: designed to highlight braille as a tactile medium for information retrieval and analysis through tactile diagrams and graphs.
Each year, hundreds of blind students participate in preliminary events held in various places across North America. Of these, top ten students from each age category (used to be top twelve until recently) are invited to participate in National Braille Challenge held in June. The top scorers from each age category are then awarded various prizes. In the past, prizes included scholarships and various notetaking hardware, and in case of top varsity student, his or her name will be recorded in Braille Challenge Hall of Fame.

Personal history about Braille Challenge
My first contact with Braille Challenge was in 2003. I was a seventh grade student, and a foreigner in both English and English braille code. Having moved to United States two years prior, and having limited exposure to braille code used in my new country, I didn't know what to expect when my teacher suggested I try out Braille Challenge. Soon, I was sitting on my desk at school, busily brailling an audio passage, trying to comprehend braille passages and so on. Although I didn't make it to nationals that year, I believe this local event sparked my interest in trying out braille challenge in the future.
The following year was one of the most difficult times in my life. I witnessed a divorce firsthand as a 14-year-old boy, having to watch my mother and stepfather argue about raising me and legal status for my mom and I. With virtually nothing in our pockets, mother and I moved to Los Angeles in February 2004.
But one thing I'm glad I did just prior to moving to Los Angeles: sitting in another Braille Challenge preliminary. I forgot all about it until May 2004 when i received a braille letter that started with the words, "congratulations!". That June, I participated in what turned out to be the first of two Braille Challenge national finals.
Three years later, I was a high school junior, planning what I wanted to do after graduating high school. At my school, I gained reputation as a resident technical support person for users of BrailleNote (I was the first person in my school to receive a BrailleNote mPower). I also made my virtual debut a few months prior when I joined BrailleNote Users group (back then, it was ran by HumanWare), and as a 2007 Accessworld article (from American Foundation for the Blind) put it, "because of his answers, people thought he was a Humanware employee" because I would give technical responses (no, there are folks out there now who are smarter and more knowledgeable than I).
And yet again, Braille Challenge came into my life. It was early 2007, and I was once again sitting on my desk, busily transcribing an audio passage into braille, analyzing charts and graphs, and answering questions about a braille passage. Few weeks later, my name appeared amongst a group of twelve varsity students to advance to the national competition in June.
More than ten years later, I saw a video from this year's Northern California Braille Challenge preliminary where past contestants discussed their experience with this activity and answered questions from audiences. One of the panelists, a teacher named Caitlin who was varsity champion at 2008 Braille Challenge, subsequently shared a Facebook post from Braille Challenge announcing this year's national finalists. At that time, I just returned from two prestigious national forensics (speech and debate) competitions where I competed in two events that required me to use braille: impromptu speaking and communication analysis. Because my communication analysis topic was about analyzing Stevie Wonder's universal accessibility remark at the 2016 Grammys, and since I used my BrailleNote Apex as a notecard during impromptu speech preparations, I was drawn to Braille Challenge once again, this time as an alumni and a recognized member of the global blindness community.
So what happened to Joseph Lee after the 2007 Braille Challenge? I attended University of California, Riverside as a computer science major, then had a change of plan many years later, and now am a student at California State University, Los Angeles studying how humans send and receive messages and a member of its forensics squad. But I am better known as one of the contributors to a screen reader named NonVisual Desktop Access (NVDA), creator of some of the most impactful NVDA add-ons and tutorials (no, not my description), and am one of the fifteen million Windows Insiders who shape Windows 10 and the ecosystem that surrounds it. I haven't forgotten about Braille Challenge, and in extension, braille: through Liblouis project, I laid the foundation to let blind students read braile math via Unified English Braille, and soon, people using certain models of BrailleNote (no, not BrailleNote Touch) will be able to fully utilize the device as a braille display under NVDA.

Braille Challenge: its function and impact
Braille Challenge is more than a competition that tests braille skills; it also fosters networking, and for many, a chance to witness the power of braille literacy among children. Several statistics show declining usage of braille among blind people, although I believe that is slowly reversing somewhat. But without proactive outreach and training, future generations may not know that they have a tool they can use to communicate with others: braille literacy, and Braille Challenge is one such proactive outreach opportunity.
Braille Challenge is also a venue to research impact of braille in lives of contestants, and in extension, those who interact with them. Several Braile Challenge alumni have gone onto careers that showcase braille literacy in various situations, including special education, accessibility advocacy, law, policy and others. Some are current college students who are using braille in their coursework, while others are graduate students who are using braille in research, teaching and other duties. At the same time, current students are being trained to serve as braille ambassadors wherever they go, and some students compete multiple times in their lifetime not only for fun, but also to learn the importance of braille.
But the most important aspect of Braille Challenge can be found not with the dots blind people use to communicate with each other; it is people themselves. Braille Challenge, especially at regionals and national competition, is a venue where blind children and young people can come together and share their stories and experiences. The launch of Braille Challenge Alumni Network in recent years is a testament to the power of networking among former contestants.
As for the impact of Braille Challenge in my life, it reenforced my belief in power of braille literacy, as well as meeting some of the rising stars in blindness community through this event. Braille literacy and its power is something I believe today's blind children need to know about, because it layd the foundation for social participation later through use of a tactile, expressive communication medium. I also met some of the briliant minds in the blindness community today through this event, including several special education teachers, an accessibility advocate, and others.

A word for 2018 National Braille Challenge finalists, their families and other participatns
First, congratulations to all national finalists.
For finalists and their families making their first National Braille Challenge debut: I remember my first National Braile Challenge debut in 2004 and felt feelings some of you are experiencing right now: anticipation, anxiety, shy, eagerness, and countless other feelings. Do not be afraid: you've done the hard work, and the fact that you are one of fifty contestants recognized nationwide for your braille skills is a testament to your hard work and dedication. Learn a lot, and enjoy the national event, because for some of you, it is a chance to get to know others like you across North America and beyond.
For returning finalists and their families: by now you should know what to expect later this month when you meet new friends and old pals at the national competition. One crucial thing to remember: no matter how many times you came to Los Angeles or results this year (including how many Braille Challenge Finalist stars you have), take pride in the fact that your names are recorded in the history of Braille Challenge, and in extension, the blindness community. One more thing: please set an example and become role models for new finalists and future contestants: talk to new people, get a conversation going, and build lasting friendships.
For varsity finalists who are high school juniors and seniors: although some of you may not realize now, your participation in this activity may have profound impact years later. Some alumni (including I) have learned more than braille literacy when we were contestants, and some of us chose a career that involves braille in various situations. And as some of the oldest contestants, please be role models for younger finalists.
A special note for varsity finalists who will become college freshmen in the fall: college opens up many opportunities, including chances at showcasing your braille literacy and skills. I have used (and continues to use) braille for my college coursework, and so does (and did) many alumni. No matter which field of study you'll go into, please don't forget lessons you've learned through Braille Challenge. And I encourage you to give back to the community, including joining the Braille Challenge Alumni Network and others.

As I look at two artifacts from my trophies collection - National Braille Challenge finalist stars from 2004 and 2007, I'm reminded of the impact this activity had in my life and countless others. Braille Challenge taught me and others that braille is not only a cultural artifact for blind people, it is also a tool that unites us and keeps our culture going. It is also a solemn reminder as to what we need to do in the future to keep the braille literacy going: outreach and networking.
Different cultures have different ways of describing, preserving, and passing on their cultures to the next generation. For blind people, braille is one such medium. Braille Challenge, although it started out as a local competition, is now a nationally recognized event that helps, and should help, keep the passion for braille literacy going.

A letter to fellow Braille Challenge alumni
Dear alumni friends,
Do you remember the moment when we got a letter saying that we are invited to participate in the Braille Challenge finals? For many of us, it is just a distant memory from years ago, and for others, it should bring back memories of walking through halls of Braille institute in Los Angeles between competition rounds. Still others might remember standing in front of the crowd as we received recognition, while we might be thinking about finalist stars we have in our possession.
But most importantly, what did we do and what have we learned from competing at Braille Challenge many years ago? Certainly we can now tell stories about charts we were asked to analyze, or perhaps memories of rooms filled with noise from braille writers as we transcribed a lot of textt. But, for some, I'm sure we learned the power of braille literacy firsthand, and hope that we kept this alive in subsequent years.
As I look at your profiles on Facebook and other places, and listening to stories from some alumni, I'm proud of the fact that we kept our passion for braille alive. Most importantly, I'm glad to see that we are using braille in some form or another in our lives as college students, teachers, advocates, programmers, and in various places and positions.
Let us not forget that our work is not done. As the 2018 National Braile Challenge final is right around the corner, I think it would be a good opportunity for us to think about what we got out of that activity and what we the alumni can do to encourage braille literacy. Although technology may help with accessibility and opportunities, what helps us in the long term is a tactile tool that helps people be independent and participate in society: braille literacy and skills.
One more thing: I encourage you to give back to the community. we are in a position where we can give back to the Braille Challenge community, and in extension, the blindness community. We can mentor blind students in use of braille, we can encourage blind adults to learn braille, and we can serve as advocates for accessibility and braille literacy. I think the best gift a Braille Challenge alumni can give is encourage blind children to try out Braille Challenge not only for a chance to network with others and have fun, but to teach them the actual purpose of this activity: braille as an important communication medium.
Thank you.
Joseph Lee (Braille Challenge national finalist, 2004 and 2007)

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Open letter to the United States forensics community: seven minutes isn't enough to cover product accessibility, importance of narrative authority and listening to minority opinions

Dear forensics community in the United States,

This is Joseph Lee, a blind student studying communication studies at California State University, Los Angeles and a member of that school's forensics team. First, thank you for giving me many opportunities to present my stories and hear others' speeches at many tournaments, including 2018 AFA-NIET and 2018 NFA Nationals.

I would like to bring awareness of a topic discussed at an extemporaneous speaking round at 2018 NFA Nationals. Specifically, I would like to bring up several concerns regarding the question about product accessibility not only from the viewpoint of a student, but also from the position of someone who can speak about this topic: an internationally certified screen reader expert and one of the advocates for accessibility as part of Windows Insider Program from Microsoft.

At the 2018 NFA Nationals, during the semi-final round of extemporaneous speaking (a limited preparation event where students research about a topic for 30 minutes and present a seven minute speech), one of the questions asked was, "how can tech companies make their products accessible?". I later found out that two competitors spoke at length about this topic, with one competitor I talked to mentioning product design as one of the possible routes to make products accessible. During the course of our discussion, I asked the student to consider human factors as another possible route for answering this question, and I requested that we should start a dialogue with this student's team and the director of forensics regarding product accessibility. After reflecting on this topic, I decided to write this open letter in hopes that we can have a community-wide dialogue about not only this topic, but also one or two ethical concerns regarding extemp event.

The reasons for bringing accessibility question to your attention are twofold: seven minutes isn't enough to discuss a complex system that is accessibility, and this raises a serious question about who is a proper narrative authority to speak about this matter. Although I do understand that extemp speakers may not have thought about certain aspects of accessibility or might not have personal experience or know of someone who've gone through this, I believe that we should start a community-wide dialogue regarding these two issues in order to provide more truthful picture and to seriously think about the power of advocacy by those who do have actual experience and are considered more accurate narrative authorities.

First, I would like to address the notion that accessibility is a concept that can be examine in the span of seven minutes (or for that matter, researched in half an hour). I would like to first point out what accessibility actually is and what it involves, then address some misconceptions that could arise from this.

Accessibility is commonly defined as ways of making things accessible to a greater number of people. In the context of technology, it usually means providing alternative ways to let people from diverse backgrounds (disability, language, etc.) use technology more effectively. A more accurate way of defining accessibility, given the present circumstances, is  a collection of systematic approaches, methodologies, attitudes, and practices employed to allow more people to reap benefits of technological advances.

One key concept to note from the above definition is "a collection of systematic approaches." Accessibility is composed of a set of interrelated components that are engineered to work together to achieve beneficial outcomes for many people. These components include attitudes and assumptions, product design and research, accessibility standards, laws, norms, users, developers, user experience, environment, human factors, and others. More specifically:

* Attitudes and assumptions: in order for accessibility to even be discussed, one must have a set of attitudes and assumptions that value the needs of those who cannot access technology due to many reasons (for example, visual impairment). Some of the helpful attitudes include willingness to listen to feedback, willingness to ask tough questions about user experience, willingness to collaborate and so on.
* Product research and design: with the attitudes and assumptions in place, one can then look at ways of making things accessible through products. But that's not the end of the story.
* Human factors: these include what users want to see from a product, looking at expectations, outcomes and so on. These factors determine what kind of assistive technology will be developed, including screen readers, refreshable braille displays, AI-powered products and so on.
* Accessibility standards: one cannot talk about accessibility without mentioning standards, procedures, and foundations somewhere. These include Section 508, WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines), accessibility recommendations from W3C (World Wide Web Consortium), human interface guidelines from companies such as Apple and Microsoft, as well as technologies and concepts such as WAI-ARIA (Web Accessibility Initiative - Accessible Rich Internet Applications), Microsoft Active Accessibility (MSAA) and others.
* Collaboration between users and developers: collaboration plays a big part in designing accessible solutions, with users providing feedback to developers who in turn let users test solutions early.

These components and others work together when producing accessibility solutions. Some of the example accessibility solutions include:

* NonVisual Desktop Access (NVDA): an open-source screen reader that was developed by a community of volunteers coordinated by NV Access.
* Seeing AI: an app from Microsoft that describes text and images via artificial intelligence.
* Eye Control: A Windows 10 feature that allows people to interact with computers via eye gazes.
* VoiceOver: a touch-based screen reader for iOS devices that opened the door for touchscreen access for screen reader users.

All of these solutions have one thing in common: they showcase what happens when accessibility system components work together to achieve beneficial goals for users and society, including listen to feedback from actual users, taking user expectations into account and so on.

Unfortunately, due to the nature of extemporaneous speaking events, the concept of accessibility as a system (thus making systems theory applicable to this construct) cannot be explored in a span of seven minutes. It might be possible that competitors may have personal experience with this topic or know someone who is an active user of accessibility solutions, thus providing clearer picture on how tech companies can make their products more accessible. But limiting people's exposure to the concept of accessibility through an extemp prompt is, to me, unacceptable. Although discussing this topic in an extemp round could lay the foundation for a dialogue afterwards, forcing students to research a topic that is too vague (as shown through the above explanation) not only jeopardizes the truth, but opens the door for misrepresentation and furthering a well-known misconception about accessibility: a one-time solution when in fact accessibility is an ongoing process.

Second, not only forcing students to research a vague topic in the span of half an hour is unacceptable, it becomes a concern when it is presented by a student with no knowledge (or limited knowledge) about this topic. This is evident when competitors bring up facts and ideas that could lead to misrepresentation, especially when they are not really a narrative authority on this subject. After talking to one competitor who answered this question with one of the points being product design, it became clear to me that it would have been better if an actual accessibility advocate provided an insightful criticism as to why tech companies are not providing more useful accessibility products.

Part of the problem has to do with lack of awareness about accessibility in the forensics community, and in extension, the public. Long ago (as late as late 2000's), product accessibility was seen as an afterthought by developers, with the public paying little attention to accessibility in general. This is slowly changing: with products such as VoiceOver and Seeing AI, awareness of accessibility has increased.

However, that appears not to be the case with forensics community, or if there is awareness, it is rare. Although it was great to see impromptu accomodations being met (such as verbal time signals) at national tournaments (for which I want to thank you from bottom of my heart) and with my communication analysis paper having to do with an actual accessibility product, it remains the case that we have to see people struggle to answer a question about a concept they themselves might not be aware of. Perhaps talking about how tech companies can make their products more accessible may have been an easy question to answer, without hearing it from an actual user of assistive technology, the extemp presentation loses its potency.

The concept of extemp presentation potency and narrative authority also brings up a related issue: strategy. Because some students are taught to answer questions that seems easy (if pressed for time), they might choose a topic that is actually the hardest one for them unless they themselves can serve as effective narrative authority. For instance, a question about an issue that competitors are not aware of may actually serve to limit their analyses, which would cause students to either repeat themselves, copy someone's words without checking validity, or pick another topic while preparing for the one they chose initially. Just because accessibility of tech products might seem easy (because it appears to deal with technology), when we examine the context of the question at hand, it is actually talking about attitudes and practices, not algorithms and product launches. Hence narrative authority is important: not only it allows people to choose a topic that they ACTUALLY KNOW, but also opens the door for INSIGHTFUL ANALYSIS.

Some of you might question my ethos in this letter and why I keep mentioning narrative authority and accessibility as a system. To many, I'm seen as a blind competitor with a white cane and a special device on my shoulders. But my outside forensics credentials include:

* A leading international authority on NVDA screen reader through NVDA Expert certification, code contributions, translations work, and conference organization.
* One of the leading authorities on BrailleNote, a braille computer used by blind people around the world and the device I use as a notecard during impromptu rounds.
* A Windows Insider with expertise in accessibility and screen reader development collaboration.
* Being featured on numerous articles and podcasts, including Microsoft's Windows Insider podcast series.

Are there solutions? Of course  - some are short-term, while others are long-term, some of which will require change in attitudes and more awareness. The first solution is to make sure students can be given a chance to present their stories and insightful analyses in extemp events through questions that actually reflect topics people can relate to. If a question that is too vague such as product accessibility is presented, and if it turns out all three question options deal with vague subject areas, then students have no choice but to choose the question that seems to be easiest to unpack, only to discover later that they don't know what's going on. Thus I would like to suggest that we go through more scrutiny when choosing extemp questions, especially at national tournaments such as AFA-NIET and NFA Nationals.

Second, we need to get a dialogue going regarding awareness of accessibility in forensics community. Accomodation letters for students that need accomodation is not the complete answer to the question on lack of (or rarity of) accessibility awareness. I'm hoping that the 2018 NFA Nationals extemp question on making tech products more accessible would spark a dialogue regarding this matter, because it is time for us to start addressing inherencies that would not give folks such as disabled students a chance to utilize their narrative authority and power, and in extension, give them a chance to listen to stories from other competitors.

Most importantly, we need to make sure that we get away from an attitude where extemp can (and sometimes should) exclude minority opinions. Talking about important issues in seven minutes is a good way to raise awareness about an issue (albeit briefly). However, this forces students to prioritize expectations versus narratives that should be heard, especially from proper narrative authorities. The question of product accessibility may allow awareness to take place, although perhaps through certain lenses. As it stands, we have lost a chance to become better informed advocates for people with disabilities such as myself. I'm hoping that this can change in the future.

Forensics is a great (and an interesting) venue where we can have a multi-way street conversations about issues that impact us, the community, and society at large. But I believe it is important for us to evaluate our attitudes, especially when dealing with an event that could have been used to offer deeper analysis, and I do not want to see extemporaneous speaking event lose its place through vague questions that only serve to present misguided or incomplete analyses. The question, "how can tech companies make their products accessible" from 2018 NFA Nationals semi-final round is an example of a question that could have become more informative if people did know what they are presenting to the world.

As we return to the question given today, "how can tech companies make their products more accessible", my thesis would have been that it ultimately comes down to attitudes and human factors, because: accessibility is a system; attitudes have power; and importance of keeping users, their expectations, and feedback in mind. I do understand that this may come across as a minority opinion to some, it is still a potent case because it comes from someone who actually knows what he is talking about, thereby can offer insightful analysis. I'm hoping that this extemp question and this open letter could serve as a foundation stone for a long overdue dialogue on awareness of accessibility in forensics.

To competitors who did answer this question at 2018 NFA Nationals, if I misrepresented your viewpoints, I'm really sorry.

To teammates of these competitors, please spread awareness of accessibility through this activity at your school.

To directors of forensics, please recruit more students with disabilities and give them a chance to share their stories with the wider community through coaching, careful research, and networking opportunities.

To extemp judges, please be considerate when contestants present minority opinions that you may not necessarily agree with, and please give people (especially minorities) a chance to advocate for themselves and others like them through half an hour of research and seven minutes of presentations.

To leaders of AFA, NFA, PKD, Phi Rho Pi and other organizations, please do something about issues (especially ethical issues) raised by students and coaches regarding extemp speaking event so we can make it better and inclusive for many competitors.

Thank you.

Joseph Lee
Student and forensics competitor, California State University, Los Angeles

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

NVDACon 2017: reflections from the founding chair

A bit different from other posts in that I'd like to talk about and reflect upon a project that is now gaining recognition around the world: an online gathering that has sparked creativity and fruitful dialogue within a community: NVDACon.
It's been a year since I stepped down from leading this event, and more than three years since the debut of the modern NVDA Users and Developers Conference. What started out as a suggestion to hold an online chat between users turned into an international gathering of users, developers, enthusiasts, sponsors, advocates and many others coming together to talk about a screen reader that changed their lives. What started out as a suggestion to hold NVDA translations workshop in January 2014 turned into a weekend filled with fun and informative sessions, announcements, and a chance for people to talk to the gentlemen who brought NVDA to life in 2006. As much as I am happy with current results, there are things I believe we can do better in terms of promotion, diversifying topics, forging relationships and communication.
## NVDACon: history and ingredients
Painting the picture that'll eventually become NVDACon didn't start in 2014; rather, it began in 2007 when I organized a series of online chats between BrailleNote users and HumanWare staff. This meeting was in turn inspired by a meeting between users and HumanWare staff in 2004 that resulted in the introduction of BrailleNote PK, KeySoft 6.1, and BrailleNote mPower in 2005. From 2007 to early 2010's, I and other BrailleNote users gathered at least ten times to talk about the past, present, and future of BrailleNote family of products with no restriction on topics. This eventually laid the groundwork for open forums at NVDACon and served as the basis for one side of the NVDACon story: users.
Prior to NVDACon, NV Access held developer summits, focusing on what's new and changed, as well as discussing future directions. As I read about these events, the idea of having a meeting between developers sounded good, thus it was decided to include "developers" in the name of NVDACon. This also served as one of the inspirations for annual keynotes.
Then in June 2012, I joined the NVDA screen reader project as a Korean translator. During the course of translating NVDA into Korean, I and other Korean users held a series of meetings online, discussing translation status, gathering feedback on user guide, discussing ways to overcome ambiguities in terms used in translations and so forth. In some respects, these meetings became a model for interactive lab presentations at past NVDACon gatherings, as well as a model for regional NVDA conferences. To reflect the latter point, these meetings officially became NVDACon Korea in 2016.
In 2014, a member of the NVDA users mailing list suggested organizing an online chat between NVDA users. As I read that email, a picture formed in my mind: a conference like that of PyCon (a gathering of members of the Python programming language ecosystem)) except it was online. At that time, I was also thinking about organizing a workshop for current and new translators in hopes of forging relationships between translators and to discuss future of this project. In the end, I decided to combine these aspects along with ingredients described above - users, developers, open discussion, bridge between users and developers and so on, thus NVDA Users and Developers Conference (NVDACon) was born, with the first NvDACon held on March 1, 2014.
At first, NVDACon was a one-day event, featuring a keynote from Michael "Mick" Curran, an open forum, and other sessions. I experimented with two weekend events in 2015 and 2016, then it became a weekend gathering in 2017. During the course of NVDACon history, I was the founding chair from 2014 to 2016, with Derek Riemer (University of Colorado at Boulder) named chair for the 2017 event.
The 2016 gathering was notable in two ways. As NVDA turned ten that year, I wanted the conference to be a celebratory event, thus it had one of the largest collection of sessions. Also, it marked the debut of pre-keynote activities, including a countdown timer (with music) and inclusion of a promotion audio prior to the keynote itself (both were repeated in 2017), all inspired by keynotes in events such as Apple's World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC).
In the case of pre-keynote activities, I was aiming for two things: I wanted participants to feel as though they've stepped right into the midst of an Apple event, and to highlight the importance of NV Access keynote at these conferences. In some ways, I believe both aims were achieved, but I believe improvements could make it even better.
## Conference purposes
Although there are many purposes for organizing this conference series, two stands out the most: bridging and showcasing. I felt an online conference served as a great venue for a community to come together and exchange ideas, as well as to showcase how much NVDA has achieved and what can be done in the future to make it even better.
The first purpose is bridging. The conference should serve as a venue for NVDA community members from all walks of life to come together and exchange ideas, thoughts and experiencess. Although various bridging scenarios were targetted, the most important one was that of a relationship between users and developers, a relationship that went beyond paper and phone calls: a personal relationship through keynotes, presentations, general chats and so on (after all, NVDA developers are people).
The second purpose is showcasing. A conference about a product would not be complete without a way to showcase strengths and weaknesses of the product in question. For this reason, I have envisioned sessions where community members can present ideas and demonstrate NVDA and its uses in various scenarios, including audio production, dictation, education, web browsing and many others.
There is a third major purpose that has emerged since 2016: community building and unity. As the conferences were organized by community members, it should have elements of community building, involvement, and unity. This was showcased in 2017 when most of the sessions were organized by community members, as well as highlighting achievements of the global NVDA community. Community building and unity was solidified through the theme for this year's gathering: community engagement.
## What NVDACon has  achieved, should achievd, and should improve upon
NVDACon has come a long way, and have achieved numerous things. But there are things that the conference should achieve and can do better in future gatherings.
In terms of achievements, NVDACon has instilled unity among NVDA community. By bringing together community members from all walks of life with the purpose of talking about a screen reader, it allowed people to feel a sense of unity under the banner of NVDA and work towards a more collaborative solutions such as organizing regional meetings, partnerships in projects and so on. It has also fostered improved relationships among community members, especially between NV Access and users. Lastly, the conference brought together some of the leading thinkers in the community who offered valuable suggestions for the future direction of NVDA, such as add-ons management, web standards support and so on. The conference also changed lives - even if there is one person whose life was changed through the gathering, I call it a successful conference.
As much as NVDACon achieved many things, there are things that could see improvements. First, better communication between organizers, presenters, participants and outsiders, as well as improved conference promotion  could help make the gathering even better, such as improved website, mannerisms of some participants, preparedness and so on. Second, it would be helpful to diversify topics to include things not many people talk about, such as using NVDA in enterprises, dealing with artificial intelligence and screen reading, app testing and so forth. Lastly, relationships matter in conferences like this, thus it would be helpful to foster improved relationships between translators, more users, developers and so on.
## My wishlist for NVDACon 2018
Now that NVDACon 2017 is over, I'd like to present a wishlist of things that could be done and would like to see in next year's gathering:
* Collaboration with PyCon and the wider python community: NVDACon should not be an event just for NVDA community members. As NVDA is written in python, I believe working with PyCon folks and the wider python community, including a session presented by a member of the python community or having python developers attend the NV Access keynote could foster relationships between these two communities.
* Diverse topic and presenter representations: although NVDACon 2017 had a wide variety of topics, I beelive we can make it even better if we had more diverse topics and presenters represented in future gatherings.
* Broadcasting and translations: NVDACon 2017 was unique in that parts of it were streamed live. Also, this is the second conference where live translation of the keynote took place (the first was 2014), which allowed non-English speakers to participate in the keynote.
## A word of advice for organizers of NvDACon 2018 and future conferences
If there's one thing I'd like to pass onto organizers of NVDACon 2018 and beyond, it would be being visionaries. NVDACon would not be possible without Derek Riemer (NVDACon 2017 chair), I and others working hard to transform this from a vision into reality, as without vision, there's no goal, and without a goal, there's no end product. My advice to organizers of future NVDACon gathering is this: become visionaries, think big and creatively, and plan ahead, listening to feedback from the community as you plan the next gathering. This advice is also applicable to the global NvDA community: become visionaries when it comes to promoting, sponsoring, and using NVDA.
## Conclusion
What started out as a spark in the form of a suggestion more than three years ago has become a world-renown online gathering of users, developers, sponsors and advocates of an award-winning screen reader. As the founder of NVDA Users and Developers Conference (NVDACon), I'm proud of what this conference has achieved: unity, fostering relationships, and changing lives. All those events many years ago, such as BrailleNote users chat, leading NVDA Korean translations and others laid the groundwork for NVDACon, and NVDACon has inspired creative projects throughout the NVDA ecosystem. With some improvements in place such as improved communication and promotion, fostering improved relationships and diversifying topics and presenters, I envision next year's gathering to be more epic than what we've seen so far (the word "epic" does not describe fully the life-changing gathering that is NVDACon) and become even more successful than NVDACon 2017.
Let me end this by reiterating several things emphasized during recent NVDA conferences: NVDA is more than a screen reader; NVDA is a global movement with a difference: community engagement. NonVisual Desktop Access is a screen reader of the people, a tool developed for the people, and a movement led by the people.
Thank you.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Open letter to Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS) speakers, audiences and researchers: you are loved, don’t lose confidence in life because of your accents

To people with Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS), their loved ones, researchers, audiences and others,

I’m Joseph S. Lee, a blind student at Los Angeles City College majoring in communication studies. First, Happy New Year to you all. May 2017 be a great year for all of you as you go through your lives, conditions, FAS awareness, research and so on.
After reading an article about Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS), I decided to do some research, and based on what I can find, decided to write this letter in hopes that this may encourage you as you bring awareness of your condition to others around the world. Since I don’t know many (or perhaps all) of you, I figured it would be best to start by describing my own blindness, how I got to learning about FAS, my assessment of current research findings, as well as offer some things I believe we should think about throughout 2017 and beyond when it comes to dealing with this condition.

First, I was born in South Korea and came to United States when I was eleven. Back in Korea, the first few months after my birth were spent on hospital visits in an effort to have an unneeded stuff removed from my right eye. After some operations, I was left with blindness on my right eye. More than a decade later, I lost most of my sight on my left eye due to glaucoma when I was a teenager, and now, almost all of my eyesight is gone. Still, because I do remember what things looked like years ago, I do remember colors, can describe visual controls on a computer screen, and studied the art and science of computer programming and competitive public speaking despite my blindness.
As a person who cannot see yet hear a bit better, I became interested in communication, computer science and languages from high school and beyond. I read books on basics of linguistics, read articles about language families around the world, and studied interpersonal and intercultural communication at LACC. Thus, my curiosity about people’s ability to speak different languages spontaneously led me to an article about FAS, and after reading an overview from Wikipedia and other scholarly sources, I decided to do some research.

At first, I wanted to find out how people with this condition sounded like, so I listened to some YouTube videos where folks such as Ellen Spencer, Kath Lockett, and Lisa Alamia were interviewed. I then found a Snap Judgement episode where Ellen told her story, as well as to listen to a brief sample of how her voice sounded like before the onset of FAS in 2009. Based on what I heard, I can see why many would confuse this Indiana native for a European immigrant due to her accent. Further searches led to testimonials and video interviews from others, including a series of videos posted by a lady in Pennsylvania who could have been mistaken for a foreigner, with many in this community describing their experience as disturbing and the loss of identity as a result.

As I was doing some readings (including various news articles where Dr. Nick Miller, an expert on FAS  was cited), several questions came to my mind, some of them unexpected and some I felt the FAS community may have not asked before. The first was effect of this condition on speakers (those with FAS) in terms of outlook on life, psychological changes and cultural issues. Although I can tell that FAS did leave some effects, I wanted to know exactly how much and contributing factors. For example, Sarah Colwill reported shocks at first, and her emotional health was affected once FAS kicked in, adding that it led to her leaving her job and other issues. Kath Lockett’s story was more intriguing, as mention of loss of identity caught my eye and led me to asking myself about how speakers compared the old and new identities and other issues.
The second question was implications beyond the brain and face – social, cultural, and so on. Testimonies of FAS speakers carried a common theme: prejudice and mistaken perceptions. For example, in various articles, some, including Ellen told stories of friends hanging up phone calls due to their newly acquired accent, while some lamented that society believes that FAS is just caused by brain injury or stroke. The conclusion I could draw from these was that there are still misconceptions about FAS, and that, and other factors such as lack of awareness in the past may have contributed to society’s current perception of this condition as just a speech disorder when in fact this has other implications such as misunderstandings, prejudice and so on, given that some parts of the world are less accepting of those with foreign accents (or those who acquired it due to trauma and other factors).
The third question I had was regarding potential recovery, solutions and computational and other scientific modeling and studies. One thing I did not find easily was progress towards potential solutions or computational models for ease of diagnoses and possible cure. Although I do accept that FAS is permanent for some, I do hope that, eventually, a possible helpful tool could be developed to lessen the burden of speakers and clinicians to a point where speakers can recover some of their former speaking patterns. For example, there is a case of FAS (documented on YouTube) where the speaker recovered her original accent by repeatedly practicing her speech patterns, but such a case is rare (rarer than the number of FAS cases).
Lastly, after some reflections and reading blog posts from Ellen and others, I felt there’s something parties involved can do to help FAS speakers. For medical professionals, it could be learning more about this condition and come up with more effective testing and treatment options. For speakers, it could be to raise awareness and taking the initiative to let the society know that they are just like the others, allowing their potential to be showcased. For audiences (including I and others), it could be to understand what the speakers are going through and help them achieve their dreams and goals, and in the end, embrace and support them.

I hope that, by publishing this open letter, the FAS community and those outside can reflect on what’s going on, as well as find encouragement, knowing that there is at least another person who is willing to accept them for who they are – not merely due to sharing the common theme of disability and accents, but because I believe that these people have immense potential to change lives.

To people with Foreign Accent Syndrome: First and foremost, on behalf of those who have just learned about your condition and came to an understanding regarding what could be going on, I’d like to apologize for our past misconceptions and mistaken perceptions about what you are going through. I’m sorry to hear about losses you had to endure – finances, jobs and others, but most importantly, loss of a part of you and dreams. Please forgive me and others for frowning at your conditions without realizing the vast implications that goes beyond your faces and ability to communicate effectively.
Second, as someone with a disability and a person with some accents when speaking English (not because of FAS but English being my second language), I’d like to assure you that you are not alone. You still have plenty of opportunities to showcase your talents in your lives. To me, what’s more important is seeing you overcome this condition by utilizing skills acquired throughout your lives – thick accents cannot stop you. Please don’t consider your new accents as something to be ashamed of – rather, think of it as though a host of new opportunities have opened up for you.
Lastly, I’d like to say that you are so much loved. Don’t forget those who are supporting you, and people (including I) who are willing to go beyond the accents and embrace you for who you truly are. Let your confidence and talents, as well as continued awareness efforts, be cornerstones for change of cultural, social, and scientific perceptions regarding Foreign Accent Syndrome. I love you all.

To FAS audiences (those outside this community and are intrigued by it): In 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. outlined a vision of a society where people accept others regardless of color skin. I’d like to add “accents” to this vision. I’m sure some of us have ethnocentric views regarding someone’s accent. If our stereotypes and prejudice about accents of foreigners affect the self-esteem of the individuals in question, how much more would it affect native speakers who have acquired accents due to medical conditions? Because of our continued prejudice and ignorance, many FAS speakers are going through identity crises and are enduring emotional and other stresses.
The reason why I, a blind person was able to learn computer science and found talents in public speaking during speech competitions despite my disability was because many blind people in the past have managed to change mainstream perceptions about blindness through their advocacy, talents and confidence. The reason why you are hearing more about Foreign Accent Syndrome is because people like Ellen Spencer, Sarah Colwill, FAS researcher Dr. Nick Miller and other FAS champions and community members stood up and spoke about what they are going through and have researched. Although FAS speakers may have thick accents, they have unalienable rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness – folks with skills and talents that can be used to improve their self-esteem and bring about change. I’d like to suggest and ask that we become Good Samaritans and show FAS speakers that we love and support them, and are willing to go with them on their journeys to understanding more about this condition and help them recover or rediscover their identities and confidence in life.

Joseph S. Lee
January 2017

Foreign Accent Syndrome: a brief overview, research findings so far, questions to ask

Happy New Year.

A bit different from previous posts, as I’d like to bring up a subject I just learned about on the last day of 2016. I hope this post could start a series of blog posts that could help me bring computer science, communication studies and other disciplines together, as well as to ponder some questions I think we should ask (some of them are deep, as I believe that we cannot progress in life unless we are willing to examine deep questions and statements). This particular entry is the first of a two-part series dealing with Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS) – this one is an overview and a set of questions, with the second part being an open letter to FAS speakers and audiences (defined as those with this condition and others who interact with them, respectively):

As I'm preparing to study biological anthropology and review my experiences with intercultural communication, I came across an article on what's termed "foreign accent syndrome", a neurological condition where a speaker appears to have spoken what he or she thought was native accent but perceived by listeners as foreign. Not only this has biological and neurological implications with lots of research to be done as to the exact cause), it has cultural and communicative implications.

Whenever we want to say something, one of the first things we would do is listening to others (a crucial step in interpersonal communication). Once a stream of sounds are heard, perceived, interpreted, and organized, we would form a response in our minds. First, the context is checked (situation, who spoke, social role, etc.), then one would build a response framework (word usage, delivery method such as tones, conveying emotions, etc.). Once this is formulated in our minds, the brain would take that as an electric signal, pass it through an area of the left hemisphere of our brain that controls speech functions, which generates muscle movement on our face (lips, jaw, etc.) so our response stream can be delivered (I say “stream” because this is a chunk of speech that may include multiple sentences and recursive building blocks).

For folks who are considered by others to have native speaker accents, this is done as described above (a high-level picture, but you get the idea). However, those who have FAS have some things that are not working as intended; specifically, according to current research findings, the auditory generation functionality of the brain isn’t working properly, caused by brain injury, stroke and other conditions, and possibly others that does not really involve the brain.

For reference, for those who are algorithmically minded, here’s a “pseudocode” of what I just described:

Function SpeakAndDeliver(response from the other party, social situation, etc.):

  1. Organize information.
  2. Decode organized information.
  3. Formulate a response.
  4. Generate signals and patterns.


  1. Mutate speech delivery generation, taking a note of what’s not working and what’s available now.


  1. Speech delivery patterns generated successfully.
  2. Deliver.


It should be noted that muscle movement plays an important part in speech delivery, as changing even one small jaw movement changes annunciation, tone, accents and so on. Based on this fact, I believe one way to check is examining facial movements more closely (I’ll leave it as a personal hypothesis due to my blindness), comparing muscle movement before and after acquisition of FAS.
A more scholarly introduction to this condition (a bit more academic than Wikipedia article and what I said above I think) can be found at:

To a person like me who'd like to learn more about this condition despite not having it and attempt at putting the puzzle together, some questions I have based on my research so far (based on different disciplines) are:

* Where exactly (neuroscience, biochemistry, chemistry, psychology): as noted above, researchers have determined that certain parts of our brain is responsible for speech delivery pattern genesis (not thoughts themselves, but transfer of thoughts to actual physical muscle movement for auditory communication and delivery). Usually, after a stroke or a trauma, a patient is often left with reduced cognitive functions, which, if triggered from speech generation area of our brain, may lead to onset of different conditions, including possible foreign accent syndrome (FAS) symptoms. But do we know exactly where this is happening? Perhaps it could be the brain alone, or could be a muscle issue (there is a case where a Texas lady developed a British English accent after waking up from a dental surgery, and this is an interesting case against single agent model (brain alone)).
* Detection and timing (neuroscience, biochemistry, psychology, environment, medicine): from what can be determined, a typical FAS is proceeded by something that affects the brain (a migraine, head injury and so on). Some patients recover their auditory communicative abilities, complete with their regular accents and speech patterns. Then some (including I) would like to know: what's different about this than saying that a certain part of our brain isn't working as advertised, and how can we detect it (either using what's out there, or via a new novel technology)?
* Speaker (neuroscience, biology, kinesiology, psychology, communication, identity, linguistics): various reports and testimonies of those with FAS report varying levels of coping with this condition, with majority of evidence pointing to lower self-esteem, loss of identity, as well as cases of those who have become more optimistic over the years. Although scientists and medical professionals may say that this is just malfunction of some parts of our brain, there is no scholarly literature (surveys, articles, etc.) I can find regarding overall quality of life, psychological implications, issues of identity, physical aspects and others that are indicative of how speakers (those with this condition) feel about what they are going through. This evidence is crucial, especially for interpretive communication scholars.
* Audience (linguistics, acoustics, psychology, communication): although there are anecdotes that point to supportive families, for strangers, this is a new and unfamiliar situation to go through. Although the question of perception and consequences for audiences may have been discussed, there is currently no known systematic study on FAS and audiences, including audience perception and reaction, degree to which speakers themselves can critically analyze their old and new speaking patterns, level of comfort between kin and strangers and so on.
* Culture and society (communication, sociology): do we know exactly how culture and society perceives FAS? In order to answer this question, it is helpful to examine this community (FAS speakers, audiences, observers and so on) as a distinctive culture, using Hofsted's dimensions, ethnography, co-cultures, behaviors and so on, along with negotiation, interaction with other cultures and so on. Without studying FAS community from cultural perspective, I believe we cannot continue on a progress towards more awareness of this condition, as well as changing perceptions regarding this.
* Other considerations (spirituality, psychology, biochemistry, computer science, communication, media studies): intrapersonal communication is real, and recent scientific discoveries and inventions point to some procedures used by our souls and minds in controlling brain and muscle activity. If intrapersonal communication is real, then before speech is generated and delivered, a FAS speaker would go through same neurological and other processes just like FAS audiences - thoughts, semantic and syntax-based construction, muscle movement planning, then delivery. Then a question becomes, can all this be modeled by computers (at least symptoms of FAS), and if so, can we progress towards a possible cure or something that could lessen burden of speakers?
* Ethical and/or some deep questions that intrigues me: is FAS all about issues with certain parts of our brain, or does it go deeper than this? Is the accent of a speaker a prominent marker of a culture, stereotypes, or ethnocentrism? Can we build cases that allows people with FAS to display their full potential, or do something to change dominant cultural perceptions of this condition (disability and ineffective communication skills with frowns) somehow and by what? What can FAS speakers themselves do to improve their lives and allow others to approach them more positively, knowing that they are just like others? What can I and others who knows about computer science and communication studies do to help these people (computational modeling, awareness, ethnographies, systematic studies, oral interpretation events about FAS at speech competitions and others)?

My wish throughout this research journey and this essay (as well as the subsequent open letter) is to learn more about this condition, as well as for those involved with this community and culture, as well as outsiders to work together in raising awareness of this rare and real condition, hopefully to get a dialogue and ponderings going. With the incidents of discrimination against immigrants on the rise, it is important for us to think about some who are indeed natives of a country yet have faced, are facing, and will face discrimination due to the way they convey their thoughts because of their new accents.

Hope this helps.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

An open letter to students: Tear down the Great Wall of Ignorance, reasoned discourse, voice for the voiceless, privileged and minorities working together

To my fellow students:

Like many of you, I have mixed to negative feelings about what happened on the election night. Upon the election of a businessman from New York who caused a stir with his words and actions from the past, I became concerned that some of my friends, especially immigrants, would be in a disadvantage for years to come.

However, I believe that this should not be a cause to skip school, walk out of lectures, and just chant around campuses saying that we will not accept the president-elect to take the Oval Office. As students and intellectuals, we have the power and privilege to learn latest technologies and ideas, experiment with latest techniques, analyze information, and contribute to the political process through our voices and advocacy. Walking out of lectures just because our favorite candidate did not win is, to me, a disgrace to our forefathers who fought for universal suffrage to come to life, who fought for democratic process to take shape via reasoned dialogue, and saw long-term implications of student movements and laid the foundation to privileges we enjoy in 2016.

I believe that there are other ways of helping those in need, particularly those we feel would be disadvantaged in the future. Certainly we can go and embrace minorities, we can assist immigrants with advice, and can formulate changes through dialogue. As students, we are still learning, and we could use our intellectual capacity to inform and persuade the electorate. As students, we are given a mandate to learn principles and methods to guide the future generations. As students, we are given an opportunity to make a difference through reasoned discourse and critical analysis. As students, we are in a position of leadership to peacefully demand changes and let the new national leaders know that we are a force that cannot be ignored through reasoned advocacy. As students, we can serve as voice for the voiceless, champion for the oppressed, and participants in a historic moment to tear down the Great Wall of Ignorance.

To my fellow students who believe that they can exercise privilege to ignore minorities and partake in silent oppression: come, let us reason together. Bring your case, and students who have experienced oppression and ignorance can bring their case. Because of the physical and virtual wall called "ignorance and prejudice", you are creating a situation where America's progress has come to a halt. Please stop building this wall, or would-be partners (immigrants, minority students and others) will build a taller and thicker wall, thereby impairing America's capacity to recognize, accept, deal with, and move on from America's dark past of oppression and prejudice. Please learn while you are young, otherwise history will repeat itself. Learn while you can, because there will come a day in life where one cannot go back to change how things are then. You can, and you are more than capable of making a difference in making America great and whole again. As a student with disabilities and minority status, I offer you a hand in hopes that we can come together, embrace and work together to making this nation great again.

To my fellow students who were oppressed, ignored or prejudiced due to their minority status: do not pay back evil with evil, prejudice with prejudice, or ignorance with more ignorance. As much as those with privilege may have partaken in silent oppression, you are also responsible for partaking in divisions by building a thicker wall. Learn to have reasoned dialogues with others before it is too late. Represent the oppressed before it is taken away. You and the privileged have shared responsibility of kindling the fire of reconciliation, and even if it takes generations, be sure to let this flame going.

To all my fellow students, privileged, minority and what not: America is possible because we work together. America is possible because we are learning what to and not to do in the future. America is possible because we are united to make this nation better. America is possible because we are learning to reconcile our differences. America is possible because we have capacity to love, embrace and understand. America is possible because we can tear down the walls that separate us. America is possible because we can learn from mistakes of our forefathers together. America is possible because we can make history together. America is possible because we are building the future of this nation together. America is possible because we are all Americans - native or foreign-born, across race, ethnicity and cultures, different values and beliefs, all because we are created equal, endowed with vast freedom. All I, a fellow student with blindness and from a city with hundreds of diverse cultures, ask you to do is this: remember and learn from the glorious and dark past, reconcile the differences, and reach out to love, embrace, understand and work together. The future of this nation - from Washington to Honolulu and beyond - depends on us - students.

Thank you.

Joseph S. Lee
Los Angeles City College
November 9, 2016

An open letter to President-Elect (Donald Trump)

Dear Mr. President-Elect,

My name is Joseph Lee, a student at a community college in Los Angeles, California. First, congratulations on becoming the next leader of the United States of America, especially at a time when we are facing realities of fame, security, uncertainty and anxiety. As the president of a nation with global influence in freedom, education, military and culture, I wish you success in your endeavor in making America great again.

I'm writing this letter in hopes that you would consider praises and concerns of members of this nation in regards to the rule of law and respecting the oppressed. More importantly, I would like to bring up the sensitive issues of immigrants, people with disabilities, and ensuring that the essence of justice are practiced in your administration.

First, without immigrants, we could not witness United States becoming a superpower in education, culture and influence. More importantly, the history of United States began with immigrants - native Americans settling in vast plains of this land, immigrants coming to this continent seeking freedom from oppression, to the immigrants who crossed the ocean and land to seek new economic and social opportunities. As a 1.5 generation immigrant myself, I came to this land more than a decade ago in hopes of getting a better education and to seek opportunities for those like me with blindness and other disabilities.
However, some in this society would say that we immigrants are taking away valuable jobs and opportunities. I would like to challenge this by saying that some in our society may have forgotten the fact that their ancestors are immigrants as well, and the notion of nativism and superiority may have caused us to forget struggles of our parents and grandparents who had to go through nighttly shifts and harsh working conditions, knowing that, one day, their progeny would have a better life in this land they are living. Instead of giving opportunities to a group of future leaders whose children can shape politics at Washington, some have erected physical and virtual walls of ignorance, ethnocentrism, supremecy and denial. Once a land of opportunity to immigrants, this has become a land of oppression of aliens, especially those who can make America greater than before. Thus, I would like to sincerely request repeating an accomplishment from another outsider in the 1980's: please tear down the Great Wall that divided this nation and the world, this time the Great Wall of of Ignorance towards immigrants, otherwise the immigrant community will build a greater wall of ignorance.

Second, I am one of millions of Americans with disabilities. More than two decades ago, a landmark law passed the floor of the House of Representatives, confirmed by the Senate, and signed into law by the man who congratulated you upon elected. Whereas the conditions of Americans with disabilities has improved thanks to healthcare, technology and more opportunities, there are visible and unseen gaps between what I and other disabled Americans can achieve versus realities of ignorance, hate, denial and discrimination, particularly for many young people who would like to receive an opportunity to make America great again. In case of people with disabilities, we can help you achieve your goals by giving us directions and ways in which we can dutifully fulfill our rights as members of this society, including access to education, working towards reduced discrimination and ignorance, and listening to those in need and thinking about what can be done to make this nation great in terms of opening up opportunities to minorities such as Americans with various disabilities.

Speaking of minorities, I would like to stress that the optimal solution to making things work great is to use different parts to create a cohesive whole. In other words, just because some citizens are minorities does not mean they deserve oppression and injustice. One way to achieve your aim of making America great again is to listen to minorities, especially the members with little power who can offer great advice and who can show that they are more than capable of making your administration a success. Please do not turn away from them, especially those who can influence Washington to their will: children, students, professors, religious leaders, men and women with wisdom, and those who, if called, would be ready to reshape the capital in more than 700 days from now: the electorate with different backgrounds, beliefs, values and experiences. Also, please do not trump yourself above the law and justice: as the new leader, you are more than capable of showing three hundred million strong Americans and others watching around the globe that you are a model citizen, listening to the oppressed, caring for the weak, and to go down in history as a respected administrator.

In closing, I would like to offer two quotes that sums up the current state of affairs around this nation, something a war hero and later president rightfully said and did not live to see America become great a few decades later:

"The qualities of a great man are vision, integrity, courage, understanding, the power of articulation, and profundity of character. To be true to one's own freedom is, in essence, to honor and respect the freedom of all others."
- Dwight D. Eisenhower

Sincerely and with respect,
Joseph S. Lee
Los Angeles, CA
November 9, 2016