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Digital services are making isolation easier – unless you have a disability
Too many entrepreneurs care more about growing their audience at all costs than improving their ability to serve all sectors of their existing audience.
- While many people have been able to muddle through the lockdown, albeit with more stress or boredom than they're used to, people with disabilities have been more profoundly affected than other groups.
- People with disabilities are often not considered by developers of websites and other online services. This can make life very difficult for someone who's visually impaired, stuck at home without assistance, and dependent on an online service for which they can barely read the screen.
- Many of the adaptations required to make sites accessible are surprisingly easy to achieve, which makes it all the more infuriating how little of the web is up to standard.
Digital services have been a lifeline for many of us throughout the periods of social distancing and involuntary isolation imposed as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
Videoconferencing app Zoom saw a 20-fold increase in its user base in March compared to December. One survey found that 89 percent of people using Zoom do so for work, while 63 percent also use it for calling friends and family. Meanwhile, Netflix reduced its European network traffic by 25 percent to manage the surge in millions of people streaming movies and TV shows to their homes.
Elsewhere, with restaurants and cafes closed, people are increasingly ordering food at home. Grubhub reported record revenues of $363 million for the first quarter of this year. Even Amazon was forced to close its Prime Pantry food delivery service due to demand exceeding capacity.
People have even increased their use of "telemedical" services, opting to obtain virtual diagnoses in a bid to avoid overburdened health facilities.
While many people have been able to muddle through the lockdown, albeit with more stress or boredom than they're used to, people with disabilities have been more profoundly affected than other groups.
A large percentage of people with disabilities are more vulnerable to the virus than people without disabilities. In fact, a UN report states that as much as 42 percent of the disabled population suffers from general ill-health, compared to 6 percent in general. As such, they've had to tolerate periods of isolation that are longer and stricter, often unable to even shop for groceries outside their homes. This comes at a time when many of the able-bodied people who would usually assist them have been instructed to stay at home to avoid spreading the virus.
Therefore, the lockdowns in many areas create an even heavier dependency than usual on online services for people with disabilities.
However, it's an unfortunate fact that people with disabilities are often not considered by developers of websites and other online services. Simple factors such as making a screen readable with blocks of white space, clean fonts, and contrasting colors are overlooked more frequently than you'd imagine. This can make life very difficult for someone who's visually impaired, stuck at home without assistance, and dependent on an online service for which they can barely read the screen.
Enhancing accessibility isn’t rocket science
Many of the adaptations required to make sites accessible are surprisingly easy to achieve, which makes it all the more infuriating how little of the web is up to standard.
Shir Ekerling is the CEO of accessiBe, a company that produces an AI-enabled web accessibility solution aiming to bring online services up to WCAG's standards. The service was developed alongside users with disabilities to test for accessibility against a wide range of impairments.
Ekerling highlighted the stark reality that many people with disabilities are now facing during the pandemic. "During the COVID-19 pandemic, people have relied heavily on digital media outlets and government sites in order to get the most recent updates," he wrote to me in an email. "But a lot of these sites aren't accessible to people with disabilities, which prevents them from getting the information they need. For example, those with various cognitive disorders, like the elderly and people who have sustained brain injuries, often read web pages but don't understand many of the connections, phrases and wording. This makes it difficult for them to browse these sites effectively."
Along with accessiBe, there are other tools that can help website managers make their sites more accessible. Yoast is predominantly known as an SEO tool for publishers, but its free WordPress plugin offers many features that can help make a site more accessible. For example, Yoast prompts content creators to insert regular headings to make the text more friendly to the eye. It also offers a readability checker to make sure the language is easy to understand.
The fight for accessibility
The Americans with Disabilities Act Title III legislation and other comparable standards, such as the global Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), aim to overcome the online accessibility challenges for disabled people. However, many webmasters, entrepreneurs, designers, and developers care more about growing their audiences at all costs than improving their ability to serve all sectors of their existing audiences.
The problem appears to be systemic, too, as the digital commerce industry as a whole incentivizes entrepreneurs to report impressive spikes in usership, as opposed to creating experiences that are inclusive.
Features such as "alt text" on images, designed to be a tool describing the picture for visually impaired people, instead became hijacked by SEO specialists as a hotspot for keywords, often rendering the description unintelligible. It's estimated that a staggering 98 percent of websites have detectable WCAG errors. Disabled users are likely to encounter a problem with one in every 13 elements of a webpage. These issues range from unhelpful use of colors to a failure of screen readers, to large blocks of complex text.
Many product leads and website operators may not even be aware, but with the relevant legislation in place, they could be facing a lawsuit if their sites aren't compliant. Even the mighty are failing in this regard – both MIT and Harvard have faced lawsuits due to their websites failing accessibility tests.
From the perspective of someone with a disability, it can be incredibly frustrating. Particularly considering there are plenty of tools and platforms available that can help website operators bring their services up to standard.
Writing in the scientific journal Nature, Ashley Shew, a member of the faculty at Virginia Tech's Department of Science, Technology, and Society, pointed out that when this happens, everyone can benefit. "The disability community creates and lobbies for technologies and infrastructure that work better for all," she wrote. "Deaf and disabled people fought hard for things such as captioning on television, which has since become ubiquitous in sports bars and airports and can now be appreciated by people streaming media while those they live with rest or work."
Remote working, fresh challenges
If there are any benefits to the current crisis for users with disabilities, then the fact that employers are becoming more friendly to remote work policies is often cited as one of them.
Ekerling asserted that this too can be fraught with issues for some people. "The current shift to remote working means that people are relying on emails and web-based documentation more," he said. "However, for someone who is visually impaired, elements such as contrast ratios, color or font choices can make this content more difficult to decipher than a face-to-face discussion or a phone call."
Again, simple solutions do exist. Services such as NoCoffee can detect if any design you unleash it on is too heavily dependent on colors, making it unfriendly to people with visual impairments.
The business case
As daunting as the potential for lawsuits and fines can be, webmasters should avoid falling into the trap of thinking that these actions are simply a compliance risk. Operating a site that's accessible for everyone comes with its own benefits, such as expanded audience reach and improved sales conversions. And with the current state of accessibility on the web, improving in this area provides an easy opportunity to shine among the disabled community.
"Nothing less than system change is going to contribute to the resolution of the disability inequality crisis that exists, Caroline Casey, an activist and authority on diversity and inclusion, recently told the BBC. "Disabled people are not just vulnerable – we are valuable."
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Can an orgasm a day really keep the doctor away?
- Achieving orgasm through masturbation provides a rush of feel-good hormones (such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin) and can re-balance our levels of cortisol (a stress-inducing hormone). This helps our immune system function at a higher level.
- The surge in "feel-good" hormones also promotes a more relaxed and calm state of being, making it easier to achieve restful sleep, which is a critical part in maintaining a high-functioning immune system.
- Just as bad habits can slow your immune system, positive habits (such as a healthy sleep schedule and active sex life) can help boost your immune system which can prevent you from becoming sick.
How masturbation affects your brain...<p>Orgasms are a very common human phenomenon. The physical and mental health benefits have been researched frequently as a result, and yet, there is still so much to be learned about how our bodies and brains react to the chemicals and hormones released during and after experiencing this type of sexual release.</p><p>"The amount of speculation versus actual data on both the function and value of orgasm is remarkable" explains Julia Heiman, director of the <a href="https://kinseyinstitute.org/" target="_blank">Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction</a>.</p><p>Masturbation causes a rush of <a href="https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/what-is-dopamine" target="_blank">dopamine</a>, which is a chemical that is associated with our ability to feel pleasure. Along with the rush of dopamine that is released during an orgasm, there is also a release of a hormone called <a href="https://www.livescience.com/42198-what-is-oxytocin.html" target="_blank">oxytocin</a>, which is commonly referred to as the "love hormone."<br></p><p>This concoction of chemicals does more than just boost our mood, it also can play a key role in decreasing stress and promoting relaxation. Oxytocin decreases <a href="https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/what-is-cortisol" target="_blank">cortisol</a>, which is a stress hormone that is usually present (in high volumes) during times of anxiety, fear, panic, or distress. </p><p>According to BDSM and fetish researcher <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/dr-gloria-brame-colbert-ga/278388" target="_blank">Dr. Gloria Brame</a>, an orgasm is the biggest non-drug induced blast of dopamine that we can experience. </p><p>By boosting the oxytocin and dopamine levels and subsequently decreasing our cortisol levels, the brain is placed in a more relaxed, euphoric, and calm state. </p>
Masturbation boosts your immune system and raises your white blood cell count.<p>How do those effects on the brain from reaching orgasm translate to boosting our immune system and making our body healthier?</p><p>The increase of oxytocin and dopamine that causes a decrease in cortisol levels can help boost our immune system because cortisol (well-known for being a stress-inducing hormone) actually helps maintain your immune system if released in small doses. </p><p>According to <a href="https://www.health24.com/Sex/Great-sex/incredible-health-benefits-to-masturbating-20181030-2" target="_blank">Dr. Jennifer Landa</a>, a hormone-therapy specialist, masturbation can produce the right kind of environment for a strengthened immune system to thrive. </p><p><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15316239" target="_blank">A study</a> conducted by the Department of Medical Psychology at the University Clinic of Essen (in Germany) showed similar results. A group of 11 volunteers were asked to participate in a study that would look at the effects of orgasm through masturbation on the white blood cell count and immune system.</p><p>During this experiment, the white blood cell count of each participant was analyzed through measures that were taken 5 minutes before and 45 minutes after reaching a self-induced orgasm. </p><p>The results confirmed that sexual arousal and orgasm increased the number of white blood cells, particularly the natural killer cells that help fight off infections. </p><p>The findings confirm that our immune system is positively affected by sexual arousal and self-induced orgasm and promote even more research into the positive impacts of sexual arousal and orgasm. </p>
Masturbation can ease and prevent pain, which allows you to achieve the restful sleep that helps your immune system stay strong and healthy.<p>The benefits of masturbation have long been debated, but the more research that is done on the topic the more we understand that there are many positive reactions that happen in our bodies and brains when we orgasm.</p><p>Orgasms can help prevent or mitigate pain, which boosts the immune system, preventing cold and flu symptoms. </p><p>According to neurologist and headache specialist Stefan Evers, about one in three patients experience relief from migraine attacks by experiencing sexual activity or orgasm. Evers and his team <a href="https://www.livescience.com/27642-sex-relieves-migraine-pain.html" target="_blank">conducted an experiment</a> with 800 migraine patients and 200 patients who suffered from cluster-headaches to see how their experiences with sexual activity impacted their pain levels. </p><p>The study showed that 60% of migraine sufferers experienced pain relief after participating in sexual activity that resulted in orgasm. Of the cluster-headache sufferers, about 50% said their headaches actually worsened after sexual arousal and orgasm. </p><p>Evers suggested in his findings that the people who did not experience pain relief from migraines of headaches during their sexual activity did not release as large amounts of endorphins as those who did experience pain relief. </p><p>According to <a href="https://www.sharecare.com/health/chronic-pain/chronic-pain-affect-immune-system" target="_blank">rheumatologist Dr. Harris McIlwain</a>, people who suffer from chronic pain have immune systems that are simply not functioning at full capacity - therefore, alleviating pain (through orgasm, as an example) can help boost the immune system. </p><p>Orgasms can also promote relaxation and make it easier to fall asleep. Serotonin, oxytocin, and norepinephrine are all hormones that are released during sexual arousal and orgasm, and all three are known for counteracting stress hormones and promoting relaxation, which makes it much easier for you to fall asleep.</p><p>There are <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1233384" target="_blank">several studies</a> showing that serotonin and norepinephrine help our body cycle through REM and deep non-REM sleeping cycles. During these sleep cycles, the immune system releases proteins called <a href="https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-sleep-affects-your-immunity" target="_blank"><span id="selection-marker-1" class="redactor-selection-marker"></span>cytokines<span id="selection-marker-2" class="redactor-selection-marker"></span></a>, which target infection and inflammation. This is a critical part of our immune response. Cytokines are both produced and released throughout our bodies while we sleep, which proves the importance of a good sleep schedule to a healthy immune system.</p>
Masturbation promotes a high-functioning immune system; a healthy immune system prevents cold and flu.<p>The immune system is a balanced network of cells and organs that work together to defend you against infections and diseases by stopped threats like bacteria and viruses from entering your system. While there are many things we need to do to keep our immune systems functioning at optimal levels, masturbation (or other means of achieving orgasm) has proven to have positive effects on the immune system as a whole.</p><p>Just as bad habits (such as an inconsistent sleep schedule or harmful chemicals in your body) can slow your immune system, positive habits (such as a healthy sleep schedule and active sex life) can help boost your immune system. </p>
Health officials in China reported that a man was infected with bubonic plague, the infectious disease that caused the Black Death.
- The case was reported in the city of Bayannur, which has issued a level-three plague prevention warning.
- Modern antibiotics can effectively treat bubonic plague, which spreads mainly by fleas.
- Chinese health officials are also monitoring a newly discovered type of swine flu that has the potential to develop into a pandemic virus.
Bacteria under microscope
needpix.com<p>Today, bubonic plague can be treated effectively with antibiotics.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unlike in the 14th century, we now have an understanding of how this disease is transmitted," Dr. Shanthi Kappagoda, an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care, told <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">Healthline</a>. "We know how to prevent it — avoid handling sick or dead animals in areas where there is transmission. We are also able to treat patients who are infected with effective antibiotics, and can give antibiotics to people who may have been exposed to the bacteria [and] prevent them [from] getting sick."</p>
This plague patient is displaying a swollen, ruptured inguinal lymph node, or buboe.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p>Still, hundreds of people develop bubonic plague every year. In the U.S., a handful of cases occur annually, particularly in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/plague/faq/index.html" target="_blank">where habitats allow the bacteria to spread more easily among wild rodent populations</a>. But these cases are very rare, mainly because you need to be in close contact with rodents in order to get infected. And though plague can spread from human to human, this <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">only occurs with pneumonic plague</a>, and transmission is also rare.</p>
A new swine flu in China<p>Last week, researchers in China also reported another public health concern: a new virus that has "all the essential hallmarks" of a pandemic virus.<br></p><p>In a paper published in the <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/06/23/1921186117" target="_blank">Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</a>, researchers say the virus was discovered in pigs in China, and it descended from the H1N1 virus, commonly called "swine flu." That virus was able to transmit from human to human, and it killed an estimated 151,700 to 575,400 people worldwide from 2009 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.</p>There's no evidence showing that the new virus can spread from person to person. But the researchers did find that 10 percent of swine workers had been infected by the virus, called G4 reassortant EA H1N1. This level of infectivity raises concerns, because it "greatly enhances the opportunity for virus adaptation in humans and raises concerns for the possible generation of pandemic viruses," the researchers wrote.
The word "learning" opens up space for more people, places, and ideas.
- The terms 'education' and 'learning' are often used interchangeably, but there is a cultural connotation to the former that can be limiting. Education naturally links to schooling, which is only one form of learning.
- Gregg Behr, founder and co-chair of Remake Learning, believes that this small word shift opens up the possibilities in terms of how and where learning can happen. It also becomes a more inclusive practice, welcoming in a larger, more diverse group of thinkers.
- Post-COVID, the way we think about what learning looks like will inevitably change, so it's crucial to adjust and begin building the necessary support systems today.