3.5 @ The NN: Google, Insurance And The Sequester
03/05/2013 - 09:54
Helen Chernikoff
Google made recent changes that affect people with autism, as well as those who are deaf and blind. Getty Images
Google made recent changes that affect people with autism, as well as those who are deaf and blind. Getty Images

In response to a campaign by autism activists, Google has modified its search engine to stop it from automatically making violent suggestions when a user types in something like “Autistic people should …” according to an article in the Newark Star-Ledger.

Three of the four suggested matches to that phrase used to be “killed,” “die” or “be exterminated.”

After an online protest called a “Flash Blog” in which people with autism tried to counter those suggestions with poetry and awareness raising and an earlier, unsuccessful, request that Google address the problem, the search giant announced it would eliminate results the company considers “hate speech,” spokesman Jason Friedenfelds told the Star-Ledger.

The larger problem is that the auto-complete function reflects the most common searches, acknowledged Sparrow Jones, an Idaho autism activist who helped plan the Flash Blog.

“What we are battling is not the computer,” she told the Star-Ledger. “It’s the societal attitude that produces all those searches.”

Google is also working on some apps and updates to make itself more accessible to people who are deaf or blind. Some examples, and more here in a post from Google’s blog:

Gmail has a more consistent navigation interface that helps blind and low-vision users navigating using a set of keyboard commands.

The latest version of Chrome includes support for the Web Speech API, which developers can use to integrate speech recognition capabilities into their apps.

One new app also allows users to invite interpreters to speak and sign with them, according to the magazine Fast Company.

As Nebraska’s state legislature debates whether insurance should cover autism treatment, the Los Angeles Times reports that in California – ostensibly one of the 32 states where such treatments are covered – insurers are trying to delay and deny.

The state’s Department of Insurance’s response: emergency regulations aimed at enforcing the law.

“Behavioral therapy is a medical treatment and has to be covered,” Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said in an interview with the Times.

Richard Wiebe, a spokesman for the Association of California Life and Health Insurance Companies, said insurers are reviewing the regulations. “The science continues to evolve. The regulations should … let that evolution take place.”

Most states are already looking to cut disability services due to budget shortfalls, and the sequester will make the situation worse, especially when it comes to education, according to Forbes.

States can’t cut existing services to students with disabilities, even if their federal funding is cut, which means they must raise taxes or cut jobs or salaries to fill in the gap.

A White House brief shows that the sequester will hit vulnerable student populations the hardest, Forbes says.

The cuts won’t hit until next year, but that delay buys only a bit of time.

helenatjewishweek@gmail.com; @newnormalblog

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