Will Computer Science Meet accessibility in 2011?


I’m a legally blind retired computer scientist. As I gained proficiency with assistive technology for reading, writing, and communicating, I faced similar costs, barriers, grievances, and coping challenges as thousands of other computer adept late career people. However, I also take a keen interest in effectiveness and usability of my access tools and the media they work upon as a total system for processing information in our marvelously plastic brains. And, as former educator, researcher, and manager, I look upon my profession as contributors to both sides of the problem and solution arenas acting under broader social forces from government, demographics, and mainstream technology industries.


May I share my unique experience with you? Here’s my take on the current state of computer science (CompSci) related to Persons with disabilities (PwD)in general and the specific opportunities for visually impaired persons. Assistive technology refers to software like screen readers that use text to speech and keyboard focus interactions with operating systems, applications, and web pages. Accessibility is a matter of degree to which the applications, OS, and web sites support assistive technology. to achieve the same performance and satisfaction as all other users.

responsibilities, accountability, openness, and Opportunities for CompSci


are educational institutions now, in 2011, ready to embrace disability civil rights? Is the academic computing field prepared to integrate advances from the separated assistive technology industry and the generation of students raised with strong but different skill sets? Can CompSci meet its aspirations of providing the 4th R of education for everybody? Will there be movement to re-mediate decades of deficient designs of web information management systems and individual documents? where does CompSci and information technology fit into this solution, or problem, space?

basic accountability as an academic discipline


Like all educational fields that use web resources to assist education, the CompSci and IT fields are clearly responsible for adhering to standards that mitigate barriers for people with disabilities using available assistive technology. Especially where costs of access technology and special skills have been attained through rehabilitation resources or even individual investments, this is immediately a matter of jobs for PwD. Moreover, there are ripple effects for all intermittently or eventually disabled persons or caretakers, or tax payers, and that is everybody several times over.


Have our fields done well so far? No, as shown by flaws revealed traversing the 2010 Computer Science Education week and partner websites (see data below). These are rife with stumbling blocks, and generally exhibiting indifference to established design and usability practices. Barriers are unnecessarily erected, and unfortunate messages of ignorance and indifference indicate a field not so much up with trends in user oriented communication. or even acknowledging sensory differences in users.

domain responsibility of the CompSci field

CompSci and IT bear the additional responsibility of producing the tools, languages, and patterns; the programmers, designers, and testers; the processes, quality assessments, and design strategies; interfaces, interaction models, and transactions; the books, published articles, and motivations; and so on, that underlay the capabilities for educational institutions to meet their basic accountability.

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Further CompSci responsibilities are the development of cultures where people with disabilities exhibit their skills and tools to demonstrate how well they can produce software and hardware products and artifacts. Beyond Cultural integration is the need for domain knowledge, e.g. how screen readers and caption systems work and how artifacts must be designed for smooth operation by persons using assistive technology.


CompSci has often promoted pedagogical tools like Alice and scratch that explicitly bar people with certain disabilities getting equal footholds in and excitement about computing. Nevertheless, many people have not only become high functioning but also innovative regarding access technology, including the very products I’m using to write this article. A community of computing oriented professionals have banded together to produce the aforementioned standards, tools, processes, and businesses that await adoption by CompSci and IT.

Computational thinking opportunities await CompSci


In fact, the above strengths and weaknesses of the social motivation for overcoming limits for PwD are truly, really, beautifully illustrative of computational thinking. The widely used WCAG standards are a fledgling “science of accessibility” with tested hypotheses, guidelines,, terminology, and a blogging trail of intellectual progress. Good web pages are all about semantics: markup, logical structure, sound relationships (in a database sense), and progressive enhancement design to transform semantics with syntactic elements like color and graphics. The essence of accessibility is support for multiple representations where access tech supplements or replaces sensory limits. Abstraction, semantics, representations, implementations, relationships, … are the sound principles for achieving the technical aspects of basic accountability and additional responsibilities of computing fields.


Hey, take the challenge! What should CompSci and IT do?

  1. clean up our websites, a good goal for Cs education week 2011. Read the standards, use guidelines and tools to re-mediate and assess quality, then do the work. With remediation of technical zits will come a better understanding of the computational thinking issues that should lead to improved designs.
  2. Take responsibility for explaining disabilities and accessibility to educational colleagues. Incorporate local disability service professionals and
    enlist the fear and concerns of university management to assure resources.

  3. audit all pedagogical tools and artifacts and label each for sensory and disability limitations. Then progress toward the better products available while applying computational thinking for more universal representations.
  4. Use the competitive, exciting advances of tablets, smart phones, text to speech, and accessible apps to motivate and explain both how accessibility works and why it matters in our economy. Just open up the hood under the accessibility options and check out the high performing speech interfaces.
  5. Learn to talk with persons with disabilities about their
    needs, high functioning skills, innovative tools, and culture.

  6. Do not feel bad about lack of experience or past mistakes. We are all overdue with a dose of karma, such as this writer who cannot use or maintain security education applets I developed five years ago. Ouch!

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Overall, let’s open up a new field of computing, pull publications out of the ACM pay wall, and lead the way through computational thinking.


why not?

Issues, evidence, and epiphanies

are the feds really coming after universities for inaccessibility?


The Obama administration departments of Justice and department of education Office of civil rights have certainly shown signs of action backed up by White House ceremonies and initiatives:


On the positive side, California state University system is often praised for its improvements. Sadly, a funded study of analysis of university web accessibility is hidden in an obscure journal.


If all this comes to fruition right under the noses of congress, regulatory and advocacy will open many doors for computing professionals with a bent toward social entrepreneurship and intriguing technology advances. By the way, the professional accessibility virtual water cooler spreads daily updates on Twitter .

What will happen if universities are forcefully or voluntarily driven into accessibility? We may know by 2012.

why hasn’t accessibility and assistive technology taken hold in computing research and education, ?


As a former educator, I’ll take the all purpose route of blaming the textbooks? One form of blame is the presentation of content as in printed tomes, derived from WORD documents, spruced up by publishers, and embellished with instructor power points all performed without consideration for readability by print disabled students. This forces, I’m not kidding, hundreds of pages to be scanned into electronic forms where most original MS-WORD structure is lost, i.e. hours of labor in an error prone incomplete reverse engineering process.

How dumb is that?well, nationally, this problem is being rectified by bookshare under a department of education contract to adapt, just once in an industrialized manner, many college and K-12 textbooks. However, there isn’t a similar well known cooperative effort specializing in computing texts, or efforts by publishers except for Oreilly Media contributions of its electronic versions directly to bookshare.


Now, consider textbook content itself. Are there any, like more than 0, standard computing texts that contain chapters and exercises on assistive technology and accessibility as recommended in standards and produced by specialized branches of software and publishing industries? Please comment any examples.


the root of all evil in textbooks goes back to curricula accreditation. Omitted there, and frozen into practice, accessibility principles are instead forced into industry workshops, such as Knowbility Access U and Open Web Education Alliance. This further differentiates career paths with web development considered a craft, combining touchy feebly communication, advertising fodder, turnkey content management systems, and a steady flow of freelance or in house jobs open to lesser educated mortals.


The irony is that web accessibility is one of the best exemplars of “computational thinking” that has driven some higher echelons of CompSci leaders. See my 2009 post on many ways accessibility and assistive tech put computational thinking in action for pedagogical practices.

really? is the W3C nurturing a “science of accessibility”?


Read the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guide 2.0 and “Universal Design for Web Applications” by Wendy Chisholm and Matt May for lively explanations and motivation for the WCAG standards.


There’s an amazing amount of thought hammered into shape and utility in these guidelines and scenarios on the w3C web site. Rather than tons of funded research projects to identify hypotheses and perform experiments and build prototypes, the standards bodies combine experiences from developers, authors, consultants, and gadflies who really care about their subject. social and technical consequences. Fights and personalities drive discussions toward articulation and analysis that don’t come out looking like ACM portal abstracts. Nevertheless, pick any recommended practice, e.g. headings and logical structure in web pages, and you’ll find rationale, practical hedges for difficulties, and the basis for better controlled and more academically rigorous investigations.


As for the actual academic research communities, there’s a strange legacy of publication practices that make it difficult to track the field. Conference papers disappear behind the ACM Digital Library Portal pay wall. Institutional and individual members of ACM have access that people like this retired researcher have to fork over $200 to reach. Even paying the ransom isn’t enough, as I found it exceedingly difficult to negotiate the search interface in the 2008 time frame, and without response to requests for assistance. In other words, the publication pay wall is an inhibitor to the spread of insight on accessibility from perfectly serious and hard working researchers. How silly is that?


The notable exception I track is the work of professor Richard Ladner at U. Washington research and outreach and his prolific junior colleague Jeffrey bigham, now at U. Rochester. WebInsight project publications are available as readable PDF’s organized well by topics and authors that offer the bulk of their funded research.. These publishable fundable research results are intelligible, related to the standards versions of their science, and especially interesting for a user of the technology attracted to computational thinking, i.e. me. But then the papers reference too often into the ACM portal black hole. Wouldn’t the field progress more rapidly if more people could read such publicly funded publications and appreciate the experimental models being applied?


One additional topic I tracked was an award winning paper mentioned in Professor bigham’s blog on web research, namely the collaborative accessibility project at IBM Japan. However, the best I could find was a useful Youtube video on “social accessibility”. Indeed, with additional perspectives from the grass roots operational social accessibility projects webvism community tagging and solana for cracking the evil CAPTCHA barriers facing visually impaired web users. Indeed, find screen reader and accessibility videos on Youtube including Easy Youtube since Youtube itself is marginally accessible.


another interesting area is accessible apps for apple and android mobile products. There are important engineering lessons here regarding accessibility integration into the architecture, with apple doing it well, Google trying to paste on its talkback capability, and Microsoft admitting it blew off accessibility in its win 7 phones. Google Android accessibility is dubbed the “Model T Syndrome” for not applying state of the art engineering techniques, expecting visually impaired consumers to wait years for reasonable functionality and usability.


Finally, for the serious minded computer theory connection, visit the IBM researcher and leading accessibility guru Jim Thatcher articles on practical standards in business as applied to Amazon.com, Target.com, and many .gov websites. This wealth of robust reasoning and decades of experience are truly awesome.

What’ is the evidence for bad accessibility practice in the computing field?


Here is a test you can perform yourself.


Start the CSED Week test in Web Aim WAVE analyzer. Yes, click that link and now you’ve been seduced into web page testing! Now, look for the link to Partners, click and see the errors there. Keep going for the partner websites, opening and analyzing each web site. Keep going and you will be amazed at the WAVE complaints as the page structures are revealed in their semantic nakedness.


Lots of errors, right??? Let me explain how the errors affect my reading using an interactive access tech “screen reader”, illustrated in recordings in the 2009 post.

  1. The “missing ALT description” error tells me the web site developers have no clue about accessibility, ignoring the most basic rule. Visually impaired people cannot know what’s in your graphic, why it’s there,if it is decorative or meaningful in context.
  2. At the higher level of page structure are errors in omitted headings, irregular heading levels, and uninformative headings. The basic problem for someone visually impaired is building a reliable map of a page to transform from a linear search by laboriously tabbing from one HTML element to another. The outline tells me quickly what’s on the page, just like the outline of any well written document. Rarely do I find a web page from a CompSci organization with a good outline, often omitting headings entirely. Another indicator is irregular headings, like H4-H1-H3 which usually indicate confusion among semantics of headers and font-style presentation issues better handled by style sheets.
  3. Unlabelled form elements can be a show stopper when leading a person and screen reader through a donation or purchase or registration form. The proper HTML has an explicit corresponded between label and element, call, duh, “Label”. Without labels, the user just hears “edit box” rather than “first name edit box”. Forms are really complex , often associated with transaction timeouts and monumental headaches locating and fixing errors. Again, there are good rules for creating usable forms, which the unlabelled form element error tells me the developer has ignored. Do they want my business?

  4. Standalone link names are important for, like headings, a link abstraction allows rapidly skimming for general context and specific refinements.”Click here”, “here”, “read more”, and “learn more” require the screen reader user to search around for context. See post “I don’t want to click here” for a humorous take on this annoying practice.
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Webaxe guide to introductions to accessibility and its demo podcasts is a good place to start and also entertaining. WebAim Web Accessibility in Mind also offers an annual empirical analysis of screen reader use and many checklists and guidelines. One caveat is that WAVE, although free and easy, is susceptible to flaws of any static analyzer with false hits, cascading errors, and interpretation of results. However, our tests show that it readily exposes often embarrassing mistakes just waiting for correction. My favorite was a major CompSci blog with hidden text offering Viagra remedies.


While many of these complaints relate primarily to technical communication, there are true design problems related to search tasks, as on the ACM Digital Library, and on large multi-organizational websites like universities. Beyond accessibility, as in supporting technology, are issues of bandwidth limitations, small screen mo vile devices, and user choices on browser script security. While not formalized as in “structured programming” or “object-oriented design”, the recommended engineering practice is “progressive enhancement”, starting from a purely semantic page that covers the basic content and separates presentation layers which a browser can strip away to assure the content is preserved in many contexts. It cannot be emphasized too much: the person using a screen reader is working directly with the semantic content provided by the developer. Designer focus on color, fonts, graphics, and interactivity are truly only “in the eyes of the sighted reader” and may add to but should not obscure the essential page content. and use cases. In other words, the analyses provided by tools like WebAim WAVE and even more important, the mental model in the person using a screen reader provide a favor to page designers by pointing out flaws.

And, is there any good news?


Definitely,when cultural divisions are bypassed, are growing assemblage of tools that enable someone losing vision to maintain their computer skills, provided they can access the training and guides to re-build their own environment. Admittedly, regaining capabilities after vision loss requires months of hard work, willingness to learn new approaches, and acceptance of major life changes.

  • AThe free, powerful, open source screen reader NVDA (NonVisual desktop access) competes with established $1000 pricey products on Windows platforms. I truly enjoy, and donate to, the mailing list of international users who daily test and share advice on this Australian generated project. Its developers are blind, primarily using python. These guys deserve a major computing award for their global contributions and professionalism in their twenty-something age ranges.
  • The miracle of Text to Speech that activates the hearing sense into an alternative channel into our brains where reading actually takes place. While older people may take more time to rewire their brains after vision loss,it’s truly remarkable that vision can be so minimalist in computer usage, provided accessibility is engineered into our software and information sources. Now, we’re poised to take on the challenge of “information visualization without vision”, seriously a cognitive and technological adventure in literacy and openness.
  • Bookshare and NFB News Line downloadable a alternative for print disabled services that brings literally 1000s of great books and daily newspapers to our fingertips in wireless seconds. Never did I imagine I could have such a great store of information to support my retirement book club, lifelong learning, and social entrepreneurship activities period. Materials are read by synthetic speech from DAISY, an XML based, international standard for audio and text content.
  • Levelstar Icon Mobile Manager and Docking Station, designed and distributed by a blind engineer, that streamlines my access to Bookshare, NewsLine, Twitter, email, and RSS. Most sighted, and now blind, people will enjoy an immense number of accessible iPad apps, a direction I’ll soon be taking myself.But the Icon sets a high bar of throughput I don’t expect to find on any other device by avoiding screens, using spoken menus and text reading. Another award worthy young technologist for CompSci to learn from.The implementation software for this handheld LINUX box is python and sqlite.
  • The #a11y Twitter community of accessibility gurus, blindness advocates,normal blind working folks, and inspiring authors lifts me up every day with humor and an unbelievable syllabus of linked readings. I never expected to find such a “School of Twitter” in social media that could fill my local personal and professional void. I especially value AccessibleTwitter website and demonstration for its common sense, ease of use, and challenge to the big clunky Twitter, which is, of course, the data source and API.

  • I’m also grateful for professional opportunities to potentially influence the direction of computing through the CMD-IT Center for Minorities and Disabilities in ITan, its Board of Advisers, and energetic organizer. I’ve written two other posts input to an NSF Task Force on CyberLearning, and hopefully await an insightful report.
  • Close to home, I appreciate the opportunity to connect with a few local disability professionals and volunteer groups. I’ve seen first hand how a broken rehab system requires enormous cooperation and energy to bring to ever more baby boomers losing vision the tools and experience I managed to find for myself. For all the $$$ spent on research, the chain of referrals and services beyond the medical plateau leaves so many of us just hanging on precariously while trying to find our ways through the inevitable grieving and depression cycles. It shouldn’t be this way in a
    wealthy world, requiring not charity but rather planned delivery of existing resources, as related in Jane Brody’s NYTimes articles on vision loss.

The 2011 CompSci Meets Accessibility Manifesto


And that latter point is where my disappointment with the handling of assistive technology and accessibility in computing has lead me to put considerable effort into writing up this critique. We just have to do better in accountability within institutions, domain responsibility for our professionals, and awareness of the depth of effectiveness of our computational thinking methods. Thousands of jobs depend directly on our outcomes for accessibility and quality computing products, plus centuries of better quality of life for everyone sooner or later. Let’s make accessibility meet computer science professionally in 2011.


We’re now at a teachable moment for assistive tech and accessibility in computing education. Everybody has the basic functions in their hands, literally, and for free. Windows users can download capable free open source NVDA screen reader and try testing web pages. Android and IOs users turn on their text to speech and learn credible NonVisual manners of using myriad interesting and useful apps. Come on, anybody can learn to work like a low vision person so the days of descending into the exorbitantly expensive blind ghetto for access tech is over. Anybody from now on who produces inaccessible pedagogical products or sloppy web pages is out of excuses. Your artifacts are testable, the testing tools are available, the engineering practices are wedded with the science of accessibility in standards. and people with sensory limitations like my hazy vision have those access tools at their fingertips, skilled and raring to use products made for mainstream but accessible if properly designed. So, failure to step up to this challenge and do the right thing, which really isn’t so hard and actually is good for business, is a choice of accountability, responsibility, and opportunity.

Beyond Universal Design – Through Multi-Sensory Representations

<The following recommendation was offered at the CyberLearning workshop addressed in the previous post on CyberLearning and Lifelong Learning and Accessibility. The post requires background in both accessibility and national funding policies and strategies.


This is NOT an official statement but rather a proposal for discussion. Please comment on the merits.

Motivation: CyberLearning must be Inclusive

To participate fully in CyberLearning, persons with disabilities must be able to apply their basic learning skills using assistive technology in the context of software, hardware, data, documentation,, and web resources. Trends toward increased use of visualizations both present difficulties and open new arenas for innovative applications of computational thinking.

Often, the software, hardware, and artifacts have not been engineered for these users, unforeseen uses, and integration with a changing world of assistive tools. Major losses result: persons with disabilities are excluded or must struggle; cyberlearning experiments do not include data from this population; and insights from the cognitive styles of diverse learners cannot contribute to the growth of understanding of cyberlearning.

Universal Design Goals

Universal design embodies a set of principles and engineering techniques for producing computational tools and real world environments for persons usually far different from the original designers. A broader design space is explored with different trade-offs using results from Science of Design (a previous CISE initiative). Computational thinking emphasizes abstraction to manage representations that lead to the core challenges for users with disabilities and different learning styles. For example, a person with vision loss may use an audio channel of information received by text to speech as opposed to a graphical interface for visual presentation of the same underlying information. The right underlying semantic representation will separate the basic information from its sensory-dependent representations, enabling a wider suite of tools and adaptations for different learners. This approach transcends universal design by tapping back into the learning styles and methods employed effectively by persons with many kinds of disabilities, which may then lead to improved representations for learners with various forms of computational and data literacy…

Beyond Universal Design as Research

beyond Universal Design” suggests that striving for universal design opens many research opportunities for understanding intermediate representations, abstraction mechanisms, and how people use these differently. This approach to CyberLearning interbreeds threads of NSF research: Science of design and computational thinking from CISE +human interaction (IRIS)+many programs of research on learning and assessment. +…

Essential Metadata Requirements

A practical first step is a system of meta-data that clearly indicates suitability of research software and associated artifacts for experimental and outreach uses. For example, a pedagogical software package designed to engage K-12 students in programming through informal learning might not be usable by people who cannot drag and drop objects on a screen. Annotations in this case may serve as warnings that could avoid exclusion of such students from group activities by offering other choices or advising advance preparation. Of course, the limitations may be superficial and easily addressed in some cases by better education of cyberlearning tool developers regarding standards and accessibility engineering.

Annotations also delimit the results of experiments using the pedagogical software, e.g. better describing the population of learners.

In the context of social fairness and practical legal remedies as laid out by the Department of Justice regarding the Amazon Kindle and other emerging technology, universities can take appropriate steps in their technology adoption planning and implementation.

Policies and Procedures to Ensure Suitable Software

For NSF, appropriate meta-data labeling then leads to planning and eventual changes in ways it manages its extensive base of software. Proposals may be asked to include meta-data for all software used in or produced by research. Operationally, this will require pro posers to become familiar with the standards and methods for engineering software for users employing adaptive tools. While in the short run, this remedial action may seem limiting, in the long run the advanced knowledge will produce better designed and more usable software. At the very least, unfortunate uses of unsuitable software may be avoided in outreach activities and experiments.
Clearly, NSF must devise a policy for managing unsuitable software, preferably within a 3 year time frame from inception of a meta-data labeling scheme.

Opportunities for Multi-Sensory Representation Research

Rather than viewing Suitable Software as a penalty system, NSF should find many new research programs and solicitation elements. For example, visual and on visual (e.g. using text-to–speech) or mouse version speech input representations can be compared for learning effectiveness. Since many persons with disabilities are high functioning in STEM, better understanding of how they operate may well lead to innovation representations.

Additionally, many representations taken for granted by scientists and engineers may not be as usable by a wider citizenry with varying degrees of technical literacy. For example, a pie chart instantly understandable by a sighted person may not hold much meaning for people who do not understand proportional representations and completely useless for a person without sight, yet be rendered informative by tactile manipulation or a chart explainer module.

Toward a Better, Inclusive Workforce

Workforce implications are multi-fold. First, a population of STEM tool developers better attuned to needs of persons with disabilities can improve cyberlearning for as much as 10% of the general population. Job creation and retention should improve for many of the estimated 70% unemployed and under-employed persons with disabilities, offering both better qualities of life and reduced lifetime costs of social security and other sustenance. There already exists an active corps of technologically adept persons with disabilities with strong domain knowledge and cultural understanding regarding communities of disabilities. The “curb cuts” principle also suggests that A.D.A. adaptations for persons with disabilities offer many unforeseen, but tacitly appreciated, benefits for a much wider population and at reasonable cost. NSF can reach out to take advantage of active developers with disabilities to educate its own as well as the STEM education and development worlds.

Summary of recommendation

  1. NSF adopt a meta-data scheme that labels cyberlearning research products as suitable or different abilities, with emphasis on the current state of assistive technology and adaptive methods employed by persons with disabilities.

  2. NSF engage its communities in learning necessary science and engineering for learning by persons with disabilities, e.g. using web standards and perhaps New cyberlearning tools developed for this purpose.

  3. NSF develop a policy for managing suitability of software, hardware, and associated artifacts in accordance with civil rights directives to universities and general principles of fairness.

  4. NSF establish programs to encourage innovation in addressing problems of unsuitable software and opportunities to create multiple representations using insights derived from limitations as of software as well as studies of high performing learners with disabilities.

  5. NSF work with disability representing organizations to identify explicit job opportunities and scholarships for developers specializing in cyberlearning tools and education of the cyberlearning education and development workforce.

Note: this group may possibly be
Related
National Center on Technology Innovation

CyberLearning and Learning Cyber: Lifelong and Accessibility Experiences

Susan L. Gerhart slger123@gmail.com


Alex Finnarn Alex.Finnarn@yc.edu

White paper for NSF CyberLearning Task force


Background: Alex is completing one year service with AmeriCorps Vista as a educational technology specialist for OLLI, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Yavapai College, also working with Northern Arizona SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) in Prescott Arizona. Susan is a semi-retired computer scientist, translating her experiences with vision loss into education and advocacy for web accessibility and adoption of assistive technology. She is a student of philosophy, history, and economics in OLLI, working with Alex and others on a technology task force, and facilitator of courses on social media and technology and society.


    To make cyber learning effective in the 21st century, it needs to be available for all populations and people who possess a desire to learn.
Current technology has not lived up to this promise. The younger generations of learners have embraced technology adequately with the help of adventurous teachers and innate ability; however, the older generations of learners have met cyber learning with adversity. Oftentimes, the systems they desire to use are not streamlined enough for adequate adoption. Finally, learners with classic accessibility issues, like poor vision, are ignored when online learning tools are designed. By reaching out to these disadvantaged populations, the whole of cyber learning will improve.

Experience with Cyber Learning for Lifelong Learners

OLLI is nationally supported by the Osher Foundation operating at over 100 U.S. independent locations. Yavapai College OLLI has over 600 members selecting peer directed courses from over 50 subjects during each six week session for fees of $130 for five class sessions per year. Courses are often structured around 1/2 hour lectures from The Learning Company supplemented by facilitator moderated discussions and materials. Diverse fare includes computer training (keyboard, Windows, Mac, Internet, Office, Photoshop) as well as rock and roll, art, health, memoir writing current events,, etc.


We asked: Where does CyberLearning assist OLLI activities and courses? What benefits might accrue
from a good technology platform?


We began to place course materials online after conducting a user survey in the spring of 2010. 87% of respondents in the survey reported having Internet access at home, and 79% reported checking their email at least once a day. The majority of the membership for OLLI did indeed have access to and used the Internet; however, none of the classes were able to readily incorporate cyber learning into their curriculum. A few classes tried using an online learning system, but interest peaked early and soon faded into disuse. With an able-bodied, intelligent, and Internet-ready membership, why was this OLLI unable to engage in cyber learning?


From strongly worded survey comments, we derived a “social contract” that members would not be forced into technology but rather be offered optional technology enhancements. Without clear cut cost benefits, such as reduced printing, or measurable improved learning objectives, we focused on outreach to home bound members, interaction with similar institutions for broader curricula opportunities, repositories and sharing within courses, and archiving institutional pictures and stories.


Existing platforms generally failed to attract interest and use from facilitators despite tutorials and assistance. The first problem is privacy, quite appropriate for repeated warnings of phishing and identity theft, but a barrier to sharing when members do not want a public web identity (Facebook aside). Streamlined and flexible entry is essential especially when courses occur in rapid cycles of six weeks. Forums for sharing are sparsely used because members are involved in many personal and community activities. They spend time as desired, but not required, on outside reading, Googling, and reflecting. A crucial feature of OLLI classes is the lack of tests or assessments during the course. Once grading and competition are removed from the classroom, many online platforms become bloated with unnecessary features. Furthermore, the incentive of using an online classroom to take a quiz or study for a test disappears, and a student must rely on innate curiosity to visit an online classroom.


While email and search engine savvy, OLLI members are not cognitively familiar with the models of forums, blogs, wikis, or tweet streams, and because of this, we are faced with introducing both new models and complex platforms together. After some experimentation and testing, we settled on using EDU 2.0, a rapidly growing U.K. based company with a reasonable business model and support, for an online classroom. We also partnered with another interesting venture in an Australian-based U3A, University of the 3rd Age, which offers self-paced courses and repositories available for facilitator adaptation at similar lifelong learning institutions. Although the OLLI membership is predominantly White, well-traveled, and professionally diverse, international thinking and contacts can offer many new opportunities for our OLLI, like an international book club.

Meanwhile, OLLI’s monthly newsletter has been adapted to appear on a WordPress blog with future plans for moderated forums. We are also actively using the college’s interactive TV classroom connection to offer distributed courses to our sister OLLI, expanding their course selection in the process. A long term goal we have is to host joint OLLI Internet-based courses that would take advantage of the country’s pool of retired expertise. However, the really tragic goal of reaching homebound elders in a community lacking public transit remains primarily a function of offering shared rides and a reliance on volunteers working within the public library.

Perhaps a more important goal is “Learning Cyber” or learning “by osmosis” and how social networks and cyber learning are changing our information practices. Why would any sane person use Twitter? How does a grandparent respond to pressure to participate in Facebook in order to see pictures, or monitor children, grandchildren, and vice versa? Does Google always provide correct information? What happens when newspapers open articles to potentially unpleasant community commenting? What is RSS? How does one critically check facts and correct chain emails with political misinformation? Facing complex interactions with Social Security websites, how does one upgrade their skills for PDF, forms, and chat help? Who wrote Wikipedia? When can You Tube, BigThink, and TED supplement the History and Discovery cable television channels? What are our real privacy rights regarding Google, Facebook, and online retailers? Institutions like OLLI provide an informal setting for increasing and assessing the skills of individual Cyber Learners. Our technology initiatives may be more effectively directed at exposure and bridging generations in both technological and chronological senses.

Recommendations

For the continuing improvement of a national Cyber Learning movement, we suggest researchers and developers incorporate, sooner rather than later, constituents from learning environments such as OLLI and similar institutions. We also recommend investigating the educational and technological practices of the two international sources we found most attractive, EDU 2.0 and U3A. The above experience should provide insights into and questions about cross generational Cyber Learning, which will benefit the movement as a whole.

Links


  1. The Bernard Osher Foundation Lifelong Learning Institutes


  2. OLLI Yavapai College, Prescott Arizona


  3. The Learning Company DVD Lectures


  4. “University of the Third Age” international movement


  5. U3A Australia, courses at Griffiths University


  6. EDU 2.0 Free U.K. based Learning Site

How Attention to Accessibility Can Improve Cyber learning

Attention to accessibility for persons with disabilities should be an immediate objective for educating *ALL* constituencies who touch any aspect of Cyber learning. Consider “accessibility” as the practices and technology that enable persons with disabilities using “assistive technologies” to participate fully and comfortably in CyberLearning.


Indeed, there is no choice if the Departments of Justice and Educations follow through on their “Dear College President” letter regarding
fairness in applications of emerging technologies in academic environments. “Accessibility” here means that devices and web sites must support assistive technologies commonly available through special education channels and increasingly appearing in mainstream markets: Screen (text-to-speech) readers, alternative input/output devices, networked tablet readers such as Kindle and iPad, and possibly lab instrumentation and pedagogical software.


As we argued regarding senior learners, citizens and markets must be served by people who differ in many aspects of physical and mental activities. Education workplaces and curricula must adapt to concepts of universal design ancultural diversity.
Fortuitously, adapting to accessibility offers a systematic way of expanding and analyzing design tradeoffs that benefit far more than persons with disabilities. Think about curb cuts originally for wheelchairs and now beneficial to baby strollers, bikers, inattentive walkers, and luggage cart users. In web environments, standards: address usability for persons using screen readers, also causing difficulties for many mobile device user;, facilitate interoperability of browsers and other user agents; and help manage costs of do-overs and long term maintenance.

Recommendations


For CyberLearning to reach its potential and broaden participation, attention to accessibility is not only overdue and inevitable but also a chance to refresh underlying technology as a CyberLearning experience in itself.


1. Web standards such as WCAG 2, provide a fledgling “science of accessibility” in the form of definitions, principles, experimental results, and field trials. Standards and theories evolve by employing high quality peer reviews, broad community input, extensive documentation,continuing debate in blogs and on Twitter, and increasing adoption earlier in cycles of HTML adoption. Professor Richard Ladner’s group at U. Washington contributes in depth traditional graduate and capstone education experiences, experiments, and publications, yielding cohorts of researchers also involved in outreach to K-12 students with disabilities. Furthermore, an engineering paradigm is emerging as “progressive enhancement” supported by static analyzers, and free operational tools (NVDA screen reader and VoiceOver on Macs). This science is a rich area for computational thinking.

2 University and professional organization web sites are often exquisitely poor examples of attention to accessibility, attested to by a recent NSF-funded study, ironically locked behind a professional society pay wall. Why are many Cyber learning organization web sites so bad? Accessibility simply is not a requirement, e.g. look up your own organizational accessibility statement. Is there one, is it followed, who is responsible? Ok, so academics don’t have time to learn or enforce accessibility theory or practice. But, is it acceptable to turn away Students who can otherwise function well in society but face extra barriers in STEM? and where will accessibility aware CyberLearning developers come from? Ouch, should organizations such as NSF and MIT promote inaccessible pedagogical tools such as Scratch?


In fact, we are not talking major engineering feats, but rather well structured pages as in good technical communication, a few lines of code that make forms into relational structures and pictures into captioned objects. The principle is general use of POSH (Plain Old Semantic HTML) from straight text HTML preserved through styles and fancy interactions topped off by seconds of automated compliance analysis and minutes of insightful execution of use cases. However, accessibility in pedagogical software definitely requires fundamental adoption of hooks and interfaces provided by system vendors.


Think of this change as one small step in technical communication and one giant leap forward in understanding and improving human learning performance.


3. Practically speaking, curricula can only have accessibility grafted onto courses and tools rather than taught as separate subjects. But creative and active learning can come into play: interviewing local ADA specialists for requirements and projects; turning off displays and browsing with a screen reader; estimating costs of retrofitting for omitted accessibility requirements; analyzing risks of lost markets and litigation; adding features suggested by audio supplement or alternative output and input channels; ethics and accessibility addenda to assignments. People who love game controllers and touch screen mobile devices should dig these exercises.


4. Specific interventions must be attempted starting with faculty awareness and introduction to the science of accessibility and its economic importance as well as social fairness. Suggested activities: accessibility seminars at educator gatherings; forced overhaul of professional and government sites to match .com and other .gov levels; design contests for students to makeover and create new information resource sites to meet the grand universal design challenge; audit of pedagogical tools, including textbooks, for universal learning objectives encompassing accessibility; release of all disability related publications now imprisoned beyond professional society pay walls; increased awareness of accessibility as a job and professional speciality; recognition of assistive tech as part of user interfaces; rubrics for POSH in technical communications. …


On a personal note, many avid learners gain vision rehabilitation facilitated through a vibrant online culture of blogs and podcasts on emotional, social, education, and technical topics. Visit this world yourself: book clubs and interactive demos at AccessibleWorld; product demos by individual users at BlindCoolTech; more demos and discussions at ACBRadio; and now a community of #accessibility and #a11y gurus and users on Twitter. Off the mainstream, but taking full advantage of CyberLearning while casting a wider net to newly disabled individuals offers a testimony to spontaneous online learning.

The Data Literacy Challenge


Finally, while the above complaints and suggestions are largely remedial, one clear challenge is the equal visualization” of information and data. Portfolio pie charts, rainfall tables, stimulus recovery expenditure maps, timelines, … are all essential for citizen participation and difficult for visually impaired people. Difficult, yes, but can alternative and multiple ways of channeling data into brains be accomplished through the adapted and flexible recognition and reasoning processes developed by visually impaired thinkers such as scientists and engineers? Can these new models of information and modes of interaction then benefit people with less analytical background or resistance to data driven reasoning?Designing cyber learning for the temporarily fully enabled may not only limit those currently working with disabilities but fail to build upon the unique experiences of and qualities of disabilities which we all have intermittently and eventually.

Links


  1. Department of Justice A.D.A. letter to college presidents


  2. W3C web standards and accessibility guidelines

  3. “>
    U. Washington assistive technology and accessibility projects (Richard Ladner)

  4. “>
    Book “Universal Design for Web Applications” by Matt May and Wendy Chisholm


  5. White paper on”Grafting Accessibility onto Computer science Education”, “As Your World Changes” blog, Susan L. Gerhart


  6. Inaccessible article on inaccessibility of academic web sites

  7. newly founded Institute on Cultural Diversity, including persons with disabilities

A Blogger Treasure, Walking No More

Julie Woodman aka “Granny J” at Walking Prescott blog

Julie and her blog were genuine treasures for the Prescott community. She inspired other bloggers to seek honesty, humor, and beauty in our writing. We all aspire to her level of blogging for ourselves and others.


And here is her post on Bloggery 101 Social Media Class which helped us learn her blogging philosophy. Now, don’t let anybody tell you blogging isn’t for people of all ages!

Disablism: the good, Bad, and Maddening


Disablism Day May 1 2010

I’m enjoying Goldfish’s Invitation for Blogging about disablism
day”.

The good about disability

background: print-disabled and legally blind for five years into retirement.

  1. I love technology.And, wow, does disability open your eyes, so to speak, or maybe it’s our ears and brains. For example, I carry my entire rebuilt
    library of over 1000 DAISY books from bookshare.org on a lavaliere booksense along with many GB of podcasts all downloaded via Levelstar Icon Mobile Manager and Docking station. Better reading now than ever in my life, thanks to this technology and the Internet.

  2. I meet many cool people through my disability. The virtual community of #a11y and #accessibility on Twitter are my gurus and heroes, loading up my browser tabs with good articles and forging new links in my mental map of the field. In physical life, I’m the lady with the white cane to ask about
    macular degeneration.

  3. retired and still kicking, my disability + technology background + learning regime have given me a focus for hours a day of accessibility activism as well as outreach. “Turning lemons into lemonade”, they say, but I just call this a lifetime bonus for as long as I can hold it together.

The bad and Other stuff I’m Too Mad To talk about

  1. My very own profession sucks at accessibility and supporting disabilities. As a computer science educator, researcher, developer, and manager I followed the trends of not noticing disabilities, and got some immediate karma. You know where all those unaware developers are coming from? Our very own computer science accreditation and technical programs.

    And even inexcusably worse are
    the leading professional organizations, such as ACM and its decrepit website. Personally, I coughed up $200 for access to a pay wall of articles for my memoirs and on accessibility. A painfully usable digital library interface did not elicit requested help, back channel messages about accessibility problems were ignored, and all I got was a lifetime membership offer and more renewal notices. The ACM motto: “Of course, accessibility is important. But, we don’t know anything about it. Now, please go away”.

  2. If you have or expect a vision problem, don’t move to a place without public transportation! What a difference in my life if only a bus scooted along
    the major crosstown connector street a block from my house! I can take taxis when I don’t have regular driver available, can also ask for rides, but the loss of independence is a daily demoralizer. Worse, when I do get out like a regular pedestrian, drivers enter crosswalks to scare me and I know half the drivers are talking or otherwise not paying attention.

  3. Trying to establish new relationships with fuzzy faces is challenging. At least, it’s easier now that I’m out in the open about vision loss compared with prior years of hiding, but it’s still saddening not to know the details of my lifelong learning classmate features. Like everybody around a table is a talking space suit, I struggle to remember names to connect with voices and body outlines. But, at least I’m really working on people connections, finally.

What if Accessibility had a Capability Maturity Model?

The field of software engineering made notable strides in the 1990s when the Department of Defense promulgated via its contracting operations a Capability Maturity Model supported by a Software Engineering Center (*SEI) at Carnegie-Mellon University. Arguably, the model and resulting forces were more belief-based than experimentally validated, but “process improvement through measurement” became a motivating mantra. For more detail see the over-edited Wikipedia article on CMM.


This post is aimed at accessibility researchers and at managers and developers of products with an accessibility requirement, explicitly or not. Visually impaired readers of this post may find some ammunition for accessibility complaints and for advice to organizations they work with.

The 5 Levels of Maturity Model

Here are my interpretations of the 5 levels of capability maturity focused on web accessibility features:

Chaotic, Undefined. Level 1

Each web designer followed his or her own criteria for good web pages, with no specific institutional target for accessibility. Some designers may know W3C standards or equivalents but nothing requires the designers to use them.

Repeatable but still undefined Level 2

Individual web designers can. through personal and group experience, estimate page size, say in units of HTML elements and attributes. Estimation enables better pricing against requirements. Some quality control is in place, e.g. using validation tools, maybe user trials, but the final verdict on suitability of web sites for clients rests in judgements of individual designers. Should those designers leave the organization, their replacements have primarily prior products but not necessarily any documented experience to repeat the process or achieve comparable quality.

Defined Level 3

Here, the organization owns the process which is codified and used for measurement of both project management and product quality. For example, a wire frame or design tool might be not a designer option but rather a process requirement subject to peer review. Standards such as W3c might be applied but are not as significant for capability maturity as that SOME process is defined and followed.

Managed Level 4

At this level, each project can be measured for both errors in product and process with the goal of improvement. Bug reports and accessibility complaints should lead to identifiable process failures and then changes.

Optimizing Level 5

Beyond Managed Level 4, processes can be optimized for new tools and techniques using measurements and data rather than guesswork. For example, is “progressive enhancement” an improvement or not?” can be analytically framed in terms of bug reports, customer complaints, developer capabilities, product lines expansion, and many other qualities.

How well does CMM apply to accessibility?

Personally, I’m not at all convinced a CMM focus would matter in many environments, but still it’s a possible way to piggy back on a movement that has influenced many software industry thinkers and managers.

Do standards raise process quality?

It seems obvious to me that standards such as W3C raise awareness of product quality issues that force process definition and also provide education on meeting the standards. But is a well defined standard either necessary or sufficient for high quality processes?

Example:
An ALT tag standard requires some process point where ALT text is constructed and entered into HTML. A process with any measurement of product quality will involve flagging missing ALT texts which leads to process improvement because it’ is so patently silly to have required rework on such a simple task. Or are ALT tags really that simple? A higher level of awareness of how ALT tags integrate with remaining text and actually help visually impaired page users requires more sensitivity and care and review and user feedback. The advantage of standards is that accessibility and usability qualities can be measured in a research context with costs then amortized across organizations and transformed into education expenses. So, the process improvement doesn’t immediately or repeatably lead to true product quality, but does help as guidance.

Does CMM apply in really small organizations?

Many web development projects are contracted through small one-person or part-time groups. Any form of measurement represents significant overhead on getting the job done. For this, CMM spawned the Personal and Team Software Processes for educational and industrial improvements. Certainly professionals who produce highly accessible web sites have both acquired education and developed some form of personal discipline that involved monitoring quality and conscious improvement efforts.

Should CMM influence higher education?


On the other hand, embedded web development may inherit its parent organization quality and development processes, e.g. a library or IT division of a university. Since the abysmal level of accessibility across universities and professional organizations suggest lack of attention and enforcement of standards is a major problem. My recorded stumbling around Computer Science websites surfaced only one organization that applied standards I followed to navigate web pages effectively, namely, University of Texas, which has a history of accessibility efforts. Not surprisingly, an accessibility policy reinforced with education and advocacy and enforcement led small distributed departmental efforts to better results. Should by lawsuit or even education commitment to educational fairness for persons with disability suddenly change the law of the land, at least one institution stands out as a model of both product and process quality.

Organizations can define really awful processes

A great example of this observation is Unrepentant’s blog and letter to DoJ about PDF testimonies. Hours of high-minded social justice and business case talk was represented in PDF of plaint text on Congressional websites. Not only is PDF a pain for visually impaired people, no matter how much it applies accessibility techniques, the simple fact of requiring an application external to the browser, here Adobe Reader, is a detriment to using the website on many devices such as my Levelstar Icon or smart phones. My bet is that sure enough there’s a process on Congressional websites, gauged to minimize effort by exporting WORD docts into PDF and then a quick upload. The entire process is wrong-headed when actual user satisfaction is considered, e.g. how often are citizens with disabilities and deviant devices using or skipping reading valuable testimony and data? Indeed, WCAG standards hint, among many other items, that, surprise, web pages use HTML that readily renders strings of texts quite well for reading across a wide variety of devices, including assistive technology.

The message here is that a Level 3 process such as “export testimony docs as PDF” is detrimental to accessibility without feedback and measurement of actual end usage. The Unrepentant blogger claims only a few hours of work required for a new process producing HTML, which I gratefully read by listening on the device of my choice in a comfortable location and, best of all, without updating the damned Adobe reader.

Quality oriented organizations are often oblivious about accessibility

The CMM description in the URL at the start of this article is short and readable but misses the opportunity to include headings, an essential semantic markup technique. I had to arrow up and down this page to extract the various CMM levels rather than apply a heading navigation as in this blog post. Strictly speaking the article is accessible by screen reader but I wouldn’t hire the site’s web designer if accessibility were a requirement because there’s simply much more usability and universality well worth applying.


I have also bemoaned the poor accessibility of professional computing organization websites>. Until another generation of content management systems comes along, it’s unlikely to find improvement in these websites although a DoJ initiative could accelerate this effort.

CMM questions for managers, developers, educators, buyers, users

So, managers, are your web designers and organization at the capability level you desire?


How would you know?

  1. Just sample a few pages in WAVE validator from WebAim.org. Errors flagged by WebAim are worth asking web developers? do these errors matter? how did they occur? what should be changed or added to your process, if any? But not all errors are equally important, e.g. unlabelled forms may cause abandoned transactions and lost sales while missing ALT tags just indicate designer ignorance. And what if WAVE comes up clean? Now you need to validate the tool against your process to know if you’re measuring the right stuff. At the very least, every manager or design client has a automated feedback in seconds from tools like WAVE and a way to hold web developers accountable for widespread and easily correctable flaws.
  2. Ask for the defined policy. would an objective like W3C standards suffice? Well, that depends on costs within the organization’s process, including both production and training replacements.
  3. Check user surveys and bug reports. Do these correspond to the outputs of validation tools such as WebAim’s WAVE?
  4. Most important, check for an accessibility statement and assure you can live with its requirements and that they meet social and legal standards befitting your organizational goals.

Developers, are you comfortable with your process?

Level 1 is often called “ad hoc” or “chaotic” for a reason, a wake up call. For many people, a defined process seems constraining of design flexibility and geek freedom. For others, a process gets out of the way many sources of mistakes and interpersonal issues about ways of working. Something as trivial as a missing or stupid ALT tag hardly seems worthy of contention yet a process that respects accessibility must at some point have steps to insert, and review ALT text, requiring only seconds in simple cases and minutes if a graphic lacks purpose or context, with many more minutes if the process mis-step shows up only in a validator or user test. Obviously processes can have high payoffs or receive the scolding from bloggers like Unrepentant and me if the process has the wrong goal.

Buyers of services or products for web development, is CMM a cost component?

Here’s where high leverage can be attained or lost. Consider procuring a more modern content management system. Likely these vary in the extent to which they export accessible content, e.g. making it easier or harder to provide semantic page outlines using headings. There are also issues of accessibility of the CMS product functions to support developers with disabilities.


In the context of CMM, a buyer can ask the same questions as a manager about a contractor organizations’ process maturity graded against an agreed upon accessibility statement and quality assessment.

Users and advocates, does CMM help make your case?

If we find pages with headings much, much easier to navigate but a site we need to use lacks headings, it’s constructive to point out this flaw. It seems obvious that a web page with only an H4 doesn’t have much process behind its production, but is this an issue of process failure, developer education, or missing requirements? If, by any chance, feedback and complaints are actually read and tracked, a good manager would certainly ask about the quality of the organization’s process as well as that of its products.

Educators,does CMM thinking improve accessibility and usability for everyone?


Back to software engineering, getting to Level 5 was a BFD for many organizations, e.g. related to NASA or international competition with India enterprises. Software engineering curricula formed around CMM and government agencies used it to force training and organizational change. The SEI became a major force and software engineering textbooks had a focus for several chapters on project management and quality improvement. Frankly, as a former software engineering educator, I tended to skim this content to get to testing which I considered more interesting and concrete and relevant.


By the way, being sighted at the time, I didn’t notice the omission of accessibility as a requirement or standards body of knowledge. I have challenged Computing Education blogger and readers to include accessibility somewhere in courses, but given the combination of accreditation strictures and lack of faculty awareness, nothing is likely to happen. Unless, well, hey, enforcement just might change these attitudes. My major concern is that computing products will continue to be either in the “assistive technology ghetto” or costly overhauls because developers were never exposed to accessibility.

Looking for exemplars, good or bad?

Are there any organizations that function at level 5 for accessibility and how does that matter for their internal costs and for customer satisfaction as well as legal requirements?


Please comment if your organization has ever considered issues like CMM and where you consider yourself in a comparable level.

What Vision Losers Ask in Searches

Personal Themes: Planning, mobility, advocacy, citizenship


In the preceding post on search terms about technology, I recapped some lessons about technology assisting me as a Vision Loser: the wonderful free NVDA scrreen reader; gaining independence using a talking ATM; some technicalities of working with the generally usable WordPress platform; Applemania for assistive technology; and the over-arching theme of TTS, i.e. text-to-speech with synthetic voices. The terms people use to reach my blog expand my range of topics even if I have to make up an interpretation for the searcher’s goal. This post covers more personal than technological topics.

Terms and Basics: “Legally blind, disability, and personal meaning”

Search terms used to reach this blog

  • creative activities for the legally blind
  • what is print-disabled.
  • can a legally blind person join the navy
  • legally blind disability
  • culture of disability
  • identity after disability
  • who are the legally blind non-readers?
  • are legally blind people fully blind
  • jobs for us citizen for partially blind
  • forms for legally blind declaration
  • adversity as change in disabilities
  • resilience partially sighted
  • disability resilience visual impairment
  • orientation and mobility trainer
  • the use of technology and loss of eyesight
  • declaration of legally blind

VisionAware glossary of vision-related terms offers one framework. This topic is certainly a matter of curiosity for both sighted and Vision Losers like me. Frankly, I am rather indifferent to precise terms and refer to myself as blind, partially sighted, visually impaired, disabled, etc. according to how I think the person I’m communicating with will understand and react. More important, I believe, is that the Vision Loser can be matter of fact and comfortable about the situation. Of course, practically speaking, there is that extra box to check on tax forms, that ID card or driver’s license card, the signature line you’re asked for, and many other details of personal and financial transactions. To my knowledge, there is no moment you get a stamp of “legally blind” but rather a process lets you know it is happening. In fact, vision may fluctuate up and down along scales of acuity and bredth of field that was for years my diagnosis of “stable, but precarious”. In fact, I walked through TSA checkpoints with a white cane in one hand and a still valid driver’s license for ID and even once rented a car from Hertz when my companion couldn’t get a debit card approval. No one ever asks “hey, are you legal?” except in bars. And often the situation itself such as bright lights may define whether your sight is functionally useful. What I find more interesting and challenging is planning and navigating the rehab maze. That will be a future post. For now, the above terms just identify some of the ways people look for information.

Using white, symbol, identity canes

  • white cane low vision
  • how to use symbol cane
  • legally blind safety issues
  • white cane with GPS
  • starting to carry a white cane
  • he walks with white cane
  • define white cane
  • waving cane accident car 2
  • blind man’s Harley: white canes and gend 2
  • slim line white cane
  • do i need a white cane with my vision
  • use white cane
  • white cane adjusting
  • blindness and adjusting to the white can
  • tip white cane
  • symbol cane
  • symbol cane for low vision
  • the cost of not using my white cane
  • blind woman walking with white stick
  • white stick and drivers have to stop
  • using the white stick
    safely

  • no sidewalks for the disabled
  • measuring for white cane
  • using an id cane
  • emotional response to using a mobility cane
  • partially sighted use of white stick
  • white cane technologies

Terminology: identity cane in U.S. called symbol cane in U.K. and differs from ‘long cane’ used for practical mobility. Colors also may differ internationally, white in the U.S.


Back when I was starting to require mobility assistance, I wrote about the values of using an Identity Cane. This instrument was a puny stick valuable for poking around and showing others of my disability, but wasn’t functionally useful for walking or climbing stairs safely. Due to the sorry state of social services in the U.S., notably retirement-focused Arizona, it took a long search, months after I really needed help, to find an OMT (Orientation and Mobility Trainer). Gifted from the state with a $35 sturdier cane matched to my height and walking style, I gratefully received a few lessons in waving the cane and negotiating street crossings.

Here’s the answer to the basic question. You use the cane either tapping or sweeping ahead to tell of rough surfaces, dips, curbs rocks, people’s feet, etc. Meantime, using residual vision, you watch for upper body hazards, like trees, mailboxes, street signs, elbows, etc. Climbing stairs, I use the cane to tap each step then sweep when I think it’s a landing, with bottom steps being the most treacherous. Crossing streets requires far more strategies of listening for and watching turners and signal timings, with the cane displayed or waved to attract drivers’ attention. That
is how I do it, probably not completely according to rules, but I haven’t been to the Emergency room in years. Note: as to measurements, this does require the help of an OMT person watching you and your own personal experience with a length that feels comfortable. It’s a matter of a few inches more or less. Furthermore, at first your arm gets tired so a few trial lengths may be affected. My OMT gave me two specific useful pieces of advice: (1) avoiding a nasty step on the path to my lifelong learning classes and (2) make yourself “big” and noticeable at intersections.


My current problem is actually when people try to help and distract me from the synchrony and concentration of using the cane. Often companion walkers get in a hurry or talking and tell me something like ‘5 steps’ when there are are 4 or 6 or, never matter, let me take the steps at my own pace and style. Most of this training is simple but just requires someone to nudge you out and help build confidence, then practice and learning one’s own mistakes and recovery strategies. This is a difficult interpersonal issue as to how to refuse help as well as when and how to ask for assistance.


Another concern is becoming a hazard myself, like tripping a shopper looking at grocery shelves. Or tangling canes when walking with someone with their own mobility difficulties. And, I’m currently having a real phobia for street crossing, with too many instances of drivers entering the crosswalk a few feet away and just plain realization of the dangers of inattentive drivers in a hurry. Now, we need a national law to install yet another electronic gadget in cars, receivers from a cane telling drivers we’re around — like your GPS might say ;blind pedestrian at corner waiting to cross Willow Creek. Please wait’.

Accessible websites and advocacy

Terms asking about accessibility

  • “heading list” + accessibility
  • computer curb cuts wikipedia
  • bad accessibility websites
  • page layout of whitehouse.gov
  • sites with bad accessibility
  • image alt tag checker
  • how do i find my alt tags for my picture
  • headings accessibility test
  • universal design for web applications we
  • pdf crippled
  • Google book search accessibility


It comes with the territory that something in society makes a Vision Loser feel like a real loser, for avoidable reasons. Those ‘advocacy juices’ start to flow, you learn why social practices are so harmful, find and apply constructive advice, rationalize compromises, use mistakes as educational opportunities, and generally contribute to the betterment of society. Well, that would certainly be nice but if it were that easy a few active complainers could clean up the messes in society that hamper our ability to operate like everybody else. For me, with my lifelong exposure to the Internet, web accessibility is a perfect advocacy focus. For others, safety or OMT or low tech devices or public transit or rehab or costs might blend professional backgrounds and advocacy missions.


This is my major criticism of inaccessible web sites. If only headings were used to organize and label page parts, screen reader capability to navigate by headings could be fully utilized. Literally hours of wasted time extracting mental maps of pages or tabbing around the wrong lists could be avoided. Indeed, I think failure to use headings is a root cause of many accessibility problems, e.g. lists of unrelated links, maintenance messes, … When I see a page using an ‘h4’ only, I know page authors don’t understand separation of content and presentation nor are they using established progressive enhancement engineering processes. My recommendation in my complaint to site owners is to attend accessibility courses, read myriad blog posts, track #accessibility and #a11y on Twitter, and read Chisholm and Mays ‘Universal Design for Web Applications’. Other culprits, however, are web page editing and content management systems that, hopefully, will soon be superseded by projects like Drupal with accessibility as an important selling point. H1, H2, H3,… is so fundamentally sound for both writing and reading web pages.

Citizenship and Electronic Voting

Terms

  • the nitty gritty of electronic voting

I wrote about my experiences in the 2008 primary and national elections with a generally favorable impression of the usability of the voting tablet. However, voices sped up or slowed down and I had no way of validating the printed output. The voting system vendor Premiere Election Systems is now defunct, with a rather poor history of counting accuracy complaints. Who knows what’s next for this autumn’s national and local elections. It would be great to have a more common interface among similar devices: voting, ATM, store check-out, remote controls, thermostats,… Common functions include: navigation, voice control, selection, confirm/cancel, etc. for users and various administrative setup of ballots, etc. Foremost is that ‘all things should talk to users’ and eventually hold on-board speakable manuals and environmental information. Just
wishing…


My main message on citizenship is that vision loss should not be a disable for citizenship but we have to be take the initiative to make the voting experience productive. For some people, independence and privacy are not big issues, so taking a sighted person to mark you ballot feels fine. For others, like me, I want to stretch the system and use voting as a teachable moment for family, friends, and community. That’s a tall order but legally mandated. For U.S. citizens now is the time to find out how you can vote in the upcoming elections, like calling or visiting local election boards. This was a good experience for me and even helped the election officers to watch me at work.

Remembering Sputnik: Just a memoir moment

Terms used to reach this post

  • impact of sputnik on mathematics
  • how did sputnik affect America mathematics?
  • how did Russia create sputnik first
  • sputniks effect on the public
  • how did sputnik effect the future?
  • political sputnik
  • how did sputnik effect public education
  • how did sputnik affect education
  • world effects of sputnik
  • sputnik tv public
  • bay of pigs then sputnick song
  • computing arpa “von braun”
  • sputnik lead to modern technology such a
    space race 1950’s and military industrial 1

This topic has nothing to do with vision loss or accessibility but rather is a memoir and personal history of Sputnik. For many scientists and technologists in our 50’s and 60’s Sputnik was a notable national event (1957) that precipitated funding for and attention toward math and science education. Summer institutes for high school students and teachers, fellowships, and, drum roll, DARPA and the advent of the Internet. Our Social Media class has proposed lifelong learning activities where we collect, post, and record our experiences and related materials for our progeny and educational systems. Amazingly, most of us had little American history covering WWII, Cold War, etc. just lived through it haphazardly. Today’s students also don’t get much modern history, so our event recollections, like the NPR story Corp project, might provide legacies and primary materials.

Thanks for asking!!

Search terms provide really useful feedback.

Vision What do Vision Losers want to know about technology?


Hey, I’ve been off on a tangent from writing about adjusting to vision loss rather on a rant about and praise for website accessibility. Also absorbing my blogging efforts was a 2nd run of Sharing and Learning on the Social Web, a lifelong learning course. My main personal tutors remain the wise people of #a11y on Twitter and their endless supply of illuminating blog posts and opinions. You can track my fluctuating interests and activities on Twitter @slger123.

To get back in action on this blog, I thought the WordPress stat search terms might translate into a sort of FAQ or update on what I’ve learned recently. Below are subtopics suggested by my interpretations of the terms people used to reach this blog. Often inaccurately, some people searching for tidbits on movies or books called ‘twilight’ might be surprised to read a review of the memories of an elder gent battling macular degeneration in the 1980s. Too bad, but there are also people searching for personal experience losing vision and on technology for overcoming limitations of vision loss. These folks are my target audience who might benefit from my ramblings and research. By the way, comments or guest posts would be very welcome..


This post focuses on technology while the next post addresses more personal and social issues.

Technology Theme: synthetic speech, screen readers software, eBooks, talking ATM

Terms used to reach this blog

  • stuff for blind people
  • writing for screen readers
  • artificial digital voice mp3
  • non-visual reading strategies
  • book readers for people with legal blind
  • technology for people with a print-disability
  • apps for reading text
  • what are the best synthetic voices
  • maryanne wolf brain’s plasticity
  • reading on smart phones
  • disabled people using technology
  • synthetic voice of booksense
  • technology for legally blind students
  • audio reading devices
  • reading text application
  • synthetic speech in mobile device
  • the use of technology and loss of eyesight
  • installer of message turn into narrator

NVDA screen reader and its voices

    Specific terms on NVDA reaching this blog:

  • NVDA accessibility review
  • voices for nvda
  • nvda windows screen reader+festival tts 1
  • videos of non visual desktop access
  • lag in screen reader speaking keys
  • nvda education accessibility

Terminology: screen reader software provides audio feedback by synthetic voice to users operating primarily on a keyboard, announcing events, listing menus, and reading globs of text.


How is NVDA progressing as a tool for Vision Losers?
Very well with increased acceptance. NVDA (non Visual Desktop Access) is a free screen reader developing under an international project of innovative and energetic participants with support from Mozilla and Yahoo!. I use NVDA for all my web browsing and Windows work, although I probably spend more hours with nonPC devices like the Levelstar Icon for Twitter, email, news, RSS as well as bookSense and Bookport for reading and podcast listening. NVDA continues to be easy to install, responsive, gradually gaining capabilities like Flash and PDF, but occasionally choking from memory hog applications and heavy duty file transfers. Rarely do I think I’m failing from NVDA limitations but I must continually upgrade my skills and complaint about website accessibility (oops, there I go again). Go to:

The voice issue for NVDA is its default startup with a free open source synthesizer called eSpeak. The very flexible youngsters living with TTS (text-to-speech) their whole lives are fine with this responsive voice which can be carried anywhere on a memory stick and adapted for many languages. However, oldsters often suffer from Synthetic voice shock” and run away from the offensive voices. Now devices like Amazon Kindle and the iPod/iTouch gadgets use a Nuance-branded voice quality between eSpeak and even more natural voices from Neo Speech, ATT, and other vendors. Frankly, this senior citizen prefers older robotic style voices for book reading especially when managed by excellent firmware like Bookport Classic from APH. Here’s the deal: (1) give eSpeak a chance then (2) investigate better voices available at Voice and TextAloud Store at Nextup.com. Look carefully at licensing as some voices work only with specific applications. The main thing to remember is that your brain can adapt to listening via TTS with some practice and then you’ll have a world of books, web pages, newspapers, etc. plus this marvelous screen reader.

Apple Mania effects on Vision Losers

Translation:What are the pro and con arguments for switching to Apple computers and handheld devices for their built in TTS?
Good question. Screenless Switcher is a movement of visually impaired people off PCs to Macs because the latest Mac OS offers VoiceOver text-to-speech built in. Moreover, the same capabilities are available on the iPhone, iTouch, and iPad, with different specific voices. Frankly, I don’t have experience to feel comfortable with VoiceOver nor knowledge of how many apps actually use the built-in capabilities. I’m just starting to use an iTouch (iPod Touch) solely for experimentation and evaluation. So far, I haven’t got the hang of it, drawing my training from podcasts demonstrating iPhone and iTouch. Although I consider myself skilled at using TTS and synthetic speech, I have trouble accurately understanding the voice on the iTouch, necessary to comfortably blend with gesturing around a tiny screen and, gulp, onscreen keyboard. There’s a chicken-and-egg problem here as I need enough apps and content to make the iTouch compelling to gain usage fluency but need more fluency and comfort to get the apps that might hook me. In other words, I’m suffering from mild synthetic voice shock compounded by gesture shyness and iTunes overload.


My biggest reservation is the iTunes strong hold on content and apps because iTunes is a royal mess and not entirely accessible on Windows, not to mention wanting to sell things I can get for free. Instead of iTunes, I get my podcasts in the Levelstar Icon RSS client and move them freely to other devices like the Booksense. Like many others with long Internet experrience, such as RSS creator and web tech critic Dave Winer, I am uncomfortable at Apple’s controlling content and applications and our very own materials, limiting users to consumers and not fostering their own creativity. Could I produce this blog on an iPad? I don’t know. Also, Apple’s very innovative approach to design doesn’t result in much help to the web as a whole where everybody is considered competitors rather than collaborators for Apple’s market share. Great company and products, but not compelling to me. The Google OS Android marketplace is more open and will rescue many apps also developed for Apple products but doesn’t seem to be yet accessible at a basic level or in available apps. Maybe 2010 is the year to just listen and learn while these devices and software and markets develop while I continue to live comfortably on my Windows PC, Icon Mobile Manager and docking station, and book readers. Oh, yeah, I’m also interested in Gnome accessibility, but that’s a future story.

The glorious talking ATM

Terms used to reach this blog

  • talking ATM instructions
  • security features for blind in ATM


What could be more liberating than to walk up to a bank ATM and transact your business even if you cannot see the screen? Well, this is happening many locations and is an example for the next stage of independence: store checkout systems. Here’s my experience. Someone from the bank or experienced user needs to show you where and how to insert your card and ear buds plug. After that the ATM should provide instructions on voice adjustment and menu operations. You won’t be popular if you practice first time at a busy location or time of day, but after that you should be as fast as anybody fumbling around from inside a car or just walking by. Two pieces of advice: (1) pay particular attention to CANCEL so you can get away gracefully at any moment and (2) always remove ear buds before striding off with your cash. I’ve had a few problems: an out of paper or mis-feed doesn’t deliver a requested receipt, the insert card protocol changed from inline and hold to insert and remove, an unwanted offer of a credit card delayed transaction completion, and it’s hard to tell when a station is completely offline. I’ve also dropped the card, sent my cane rolling under a car, and been recorded in profanity and gestures by the surveillance camera. My biggest security concern, given the usual afternoon traffic in the ATM parking lot, is the failure to eject or catch a receipt, which I no longer request. But overall, conquering the ATM is a great step for any Vision Loser. It would also work for MP3 addicts who cannot see the screen on a sunny day.

Using WordPress</h4

Terms:

    >

  • Wordpress blogging platform accessibility >

  • wordpress widget for visual impaired

Translation: (1) Does WordPress have a widget for blog readers with vision impairments, e.g. to increase contrast or text size? (2) Does WordPress editing have adjustments for bloggers with vision impairment?


(2) Yes, ‘screen settings’ provides alternative modes of interaction, e.g. drag and drop uses a combo to indicate position in a selected navigation bar. In general, although each blog post has many panels of editing, e.g. for tags, title, text, visibility, etc. these are arranged in groups often collapsed until clicked for editing, if needed. Parts of the page are labeled with headings (yay, H2, H3,…) that enable a blog writer with a screen reader to navigate rapidly around the page. Overall, good job, WordPress!


However, (1) blog reader accessibility is a bit more problematic. My twitter community often asks for the most accessible theme but doesn’t seem to converge on an answer. Using myself as tester, I find WordPress blogs easy to navigate by headings and links using the NVDA screen reader. But I’m not reading by eyesight so cannot tell how well my own blog looks to either sighted people or ones adjusting fonts and contrasts. Any feedback would be appreciated, but so far no complaints. Frankly, I think blogs as posts separated by headings are ideal for screen reading and better than scrolling if articles are long, like mine. Sighted people don’t grok the semantics of H2 for posts, h3, etc. for subsections, etc. My pet peeve is themes that place long navigation sidebars *before* the contnent rather than to the right. When using a screen reader I need to bypass these and the situation is even worse when the page downloads as a post to my RSS clinet. So, recommendation on WordPress theme: 2 column with content preceding navigation, except for header title and About.

Books. iBooks, eBooks, Kindle, Google Book Search, DAISY, etc.

Terms

  • kindle+accessibility
  • how to snapshot page in google book
  • is kindle suitable for the visually impaired?
  • how to unlock books “from kindle” 1
  • is a kindle good for partially blind peo 1
  • access ability of the kindle

I’ll return to this broad term of readers and reading in a later post. Meantime, here’s an Nytimes Op article on life cycle and ecosystem costs of print and electronic books. My concern is that getting a book into one’s sensory system, whether by vision or audio, is only the first step in reading any material. I’m working on a checklist for choices and evaluation of qualities of reading. More later.

Searching deeper into Google using the Controversy Discovery Engine

You know how the first several results from a Google search are often institutions promoting products or summaries from top ranked websites? These are often helpful but even more useful, substantive, and controversial aspects may be pushed far down in the search list pages. There’s a way to bring these more analytic pages to the surface by easily extending the search terms with words that rarely appear in promotional articles, terms that revolve around controversy and evidence. Controversy Discovery engine assists this expanded searching. Just type in the term as you would to Google and choose from one or both lists of synonym clusters to add to the term. The magic here is nothing more than asking for more detailed and analytic language in the search results. You are free to download this page to your own desktop to avoid any additional tracking of search results through its host site and to have it available any time or if you want to modify its lexicon of synonyms.
Some examples:

  1. “print disability” + dispute
  2. “legally blind” + evidence Search
  3. “NVDA screen reader” + research Search
  4. “white cane” + opinion Search
  5. “Amazon Kindle” accessibility + controversy Search

    Feedback would be much appreciated if you find this deeper search useful.

    Adjustment themes: canes, orientation and mobility, accessibility advocacy, social media, voting, resilience, memories, …

    Coming in next post!

Honoree for 2010 Ada Lovelace day = Accessibility Advocate and Educator Wendy Chisholm


finding ada is a movement in the name of 19th century programming theorist Ada Lovelace to acclaim the accomplishments of women in computing. Wendy Chisholm is a computer scientists well recognized in her field of accessibility and web design. I’d like to use this post to not only express my appreciation for her work but also to call attention to the accessibility field as a worthy versatile career path.


Chisholm’s co-authored book Universal design for web applications blends technical experience from w3c standards, snippets of programming patterns, and a deep respect for human differences. This book explains the rationale for many standards recommendations such as (my favorites) structure and semantics in headings. The now established design process of progressive enhancement is explained with strong admonitions to separate content from presentation and how to do that systematically. Many tools and checklists enable quality control over both process and product. In other words, this book is parallel to software engineering texts teaching essential knowledge and skills for professional web designers, as well as those that produce technical writings and organizational profiles in web format.


Web Accessibility for Everyone Podcast provides a profound insight into why accessibility matters so much for addressing individual differences, some designated by society as disabilities. Indeed, Wendy take the issue to the level of world peace. An example is the difficulty, using a screen reader, of finding routes in a public transit time table, typical in PDF or web pages. Indeed, the whole area of reading visually represented data is helpfully addressed in the book and a motivator for Chisholm’s computing interests. Wow, this podcasts would be a great entry point for computer science students and professionals — play it at your next brown bag lunch or design meeting.


Personally, I learned much from the book to codify my study of accessibility, as both a screen reader user and a programmer myself. I cringed often at the awful web gimmicks I used, such as layout tables and, horrors, blink. Living through and using the first generations of HTML has instilled many bad habits and , sorry, blinded us to bad practices. but, now, there’s no excuse for not gradually removing these warts and thoughtlessness that perpetuate barriers in a world where daily life and employment depend on rapid, accurate, and complete access to information from web sites. I’ve ranted here in prior posts about the decade old and now harmful qualities of computing websites such as ACM, CRA, and many Cs departments. Recently http://women.acm.org was proudly announced with good content from Turing award winners and women’s contributions to computing. but one quick pass with my screen readers showed lack of real structure and proper use of semantics as well as an egregious absence of labeled form elements. A compliance analyzer, like a static checker, http://wave.webaim.org confirmed these and more errors. what’s missing here? Mainly an accessibility statement identifying practices from web standards and a regimen of testing like I did in seconds. Hello, ACM, buy yourself this book and work with staff to get yourself up to snuff.


so, thanks Wendy, for providing such great educational content in an inspiring social context that rules the daily life of vision Losers like me.

Could TTS news reading beat Kindle and smart phones?

This post responds to concerns in ComputingEd post ‘Kindles versus Smart phones: Age matters, testing matters’. A UGa study and commentary focus on news reading as screen-dependant and vision-only. I suggest considering the print-disabled TTS-dependant ecosystem to expand understanding of human reading and assistive device capabilities.

Reading experiments might be broadened to include pure TTS, i.e. no screens. But first, what criteria matter: reading rate, absorption level; device comfort, simulated print experience, distribution costs and convenience,..?


For the record, I just read this article by RSS, then switched to my Newstand, downloaded NYTimes and other papers from Bookshare.org, cooperating with NFB Newsline, and news companies I gratefully thank. Papers are delivered wirelessly in XML-based DAISY format, retrieved and read on a Linux-powered mobile device (Levelstar Icon), spoken in an old-style “robotic voice”. For delivery efficiency and cost, this cannot be beat and I think I absorb selective news reading better than ever. But how is experience of print-disabled news readers factored into comparisons like this article?


This will soon be relevant if Kindle, iPod/iTouch, etc. TTS reading is fully enabled and adopted by some readers from proprietary delivery systems, like Amazon. For proper evaluation, it will be necessary to compare eReading by TTS on mainstream devices to that provided by evolved readers like APH book port, Humanware Victor Reader Stream, PlexTalk Pocket, Levelstar Icon, and (my favorite) GW Micro booksense. Also important is the media format, currently favored as DAISY on these devices. And finally is the provision of media, currently limited legally to print-disabled readers, as by NFB (National Federation of Blind) and non-profit Bookshare.org. In other words, there’s another ecosystem of reading open only to print-disabled that might benefit those attracted to eReading.


Oh, my, here’s the “universal design” mantra again. ‘Reading news by screen’ is, of course, more limited than ‘reading by print or audio”. It’s possible than for some reading criteria the screen-free mode or open XML-based format and its reading devices and experienced reader population may beat mainstream strategies!


Could these experiments be performed? Certainly, most universities have students who currently, or could, offer their experience with equipment provided through Disability Services. Fact quizzes and comprehension tests might raise questions about how our reading brains work and how well our reading devices and formats help or hinder. What research is in progress? Is there a CS agenda for this social and economic ecosystem? Why do people think reading is a vision-only activity? Ok, comics, photos, and crosswords are a bit challenging, but plain old print is so well handled by TTS. Let’s open our eyes and ears and fingers to a fuller range of capabilities. I would love to be a test subject for eReading experiments.