Rebooting This Blog — — Reorganization and Future


Welcome to another decade of “As Your World Changes” about adjusting to vision loss using technology, plus a few other topics.


I started this blog in 2007 to reclaim my authoring skills, including the essential tasks of writing and editing. “Print disability” is not a handicap when spoken reading and writing are available and one has the time and stamina to build necessary skills. However, writing required a monumental amount of work, concentration, and frustration, because no technology is effectively accessible all the time.


After venting about limited local facilities to help my vision rehabilitation, I got serious and learned what I needed through podcasts and disability expos like CSUN. By 2008, I’d experimented with many assistive devices and settled on NVDA screen reader on Windows and the mobile Levelstar Icon (now defunct). Local iPhone service arrived in 2012, after a miserable experiment with an Android phone. My directory of services is called “Talking Assistive Technology”, available on this website.


After getting up to speed on assistive technology, my computing background led me to dig into the “science of accessibility” expounded in articles driven by troublesome use cases. Thrilled by the opportunity to vote for a wise man in 2008, on an accessible voting system, I wrote up my experience, later retracted. Invitations to professional venues led to several position papers.


For ten years, I’ve advocated for the local facilities I was denied, and now may be coming to town. Stay tuned!


The purpose of this ReBoot is to:


Below are posts organized by ‘Adjusting To Vision Loss’ human factors, ‘Getting Up To Speed with Assistive Technology’ to drive that adjustment, ‘Espousing On Assistive Technology and Accessibility’ to salve my professional desires, and ‘Becoming a Local Advocate for Living with Vision Loss’, plus a few posts that needed a home.


Warning: the blog is riddled with rotted links, to be fixed in time. As I now hang out with other retired active writers, I’m horrified at my wordy earlier posts. As the passion for vision-related topics waned and as my world changed, I’m now absorbed in the craft of writing.


Thanks for visiting this blog. Your comments are welcome. Let’s see where this phase takes me, my writing, and the local transformation we’re undertaking.

Learning to Live with Vision Loss

Getting Up To Speed With Assistive Technology

Expounding On Accessibility and Assistive Technology

Accessibility

<UL

  • Web Inaccessibility: Are Muddled Use Cases the Culprit?

  • Is There A Killer App For Accessibility?

  • Hear Me Stumble: Web Accessibility Observations

  • Hey, Intuit! What You Got Against High Contrast?

  • Listen Up! Technology, Strategy, Materials for Non Visual Reading

  • Hypertext Considered Harmful! On To Structured Reading

  • Synthetic Voice Shock Reverberates Across the Divides

  • Literacy Lost And Found: Keystrokes, Pie Charts, and Einstein

  • My Accessibility Check: Let’s All Use Our Headings

  • The Techie Care-Giver Conundrum

  • My Accessibility Check: Images and Their Surrogates

  • Twitter Has Less To See and More To Hear

  • Amazon Kindle, Arizona State, What a Mess!

    Could Text-to-Speech Beat Kindle and Smart Phones?

  • Story: A Screen Reader Rescues a Legacy System

    Computing Related

    Accessible Voting And Assessing Government Accessibility

    I retract my voting zeal in deference to the Verified Voting argument requiring paper ballots. An unregulated and un-trustworthy votingregime is not worth privacy and independence of disable voters like me. Sad!

    Becoming AA Local Activist

    When I began losing vision to the point where I needed Rehabilitation, I scanned for centers of activity away from my home in Prescott AZ. State services were hard to find, not reacting on my time scale, and disconnected from the world I knew existed from pod casts and MDSupport. Eventually, I received orientation and mobility training in 2008 while I taught myself about assistive technology thanks to the CSUN Exhibit Halls, then meeting near LAX.


    Living in a “rural” “best place to retire”meant that I performed self-rehabilitation for my vision loss. Existing “blind centers” had closed and vision rehabilitation specialists moved to Tucson due to lack of referrals. Device re-sellers and low vision specialists came to town intermittently. While I was able to afford technology and to learn on my own, I’ve realized too few other area Vision Losers could cope as well. I began a concerted effort to collect links to resources and deliver demos of “Talking Assistive Technology” to an intermittent seminar on “Confident Living With Low Vision”.


    I hope to post more about the progress of a local grant at the Prescott Public Library, dubbed “You Too!”, launching in February 2018.

    Side Interests

  • Living Visually Impaired in Prescott Arizona — The 2016 Story

    Resources for ppersons losing vision in the region around Prescott AZ.

    Living Visually Impaired in Prescott Arizona — The 2016 Story


    If your vision is beyond correction by traditional medical and optical procedures, if you are anticipating this situation, or you are assisting someone like this, you need resources and training known as “Vision rehabilitation”.


    Good news! Technology and well known practices offer affordable techniques to reduce many vision limitations to inconveniences if you’re willing to tackle the learning curve. Bad news! Prescott is limited in its access to rehabilitation personnel, awareness of possibilities, and diffusion of people who can help each other.


    Below are resources collected by a Prescott resident who maintains vision loss coping skills after reaching legal blindness a decade ago. There’s plenty of room to improve the community resources. Please consider action, suggestions and collaboration for everybody losing vision in these days of abundant technology and information sharing.

    What is Vision Rehabilitation


    Useful techniques range from marking appliance settings by sticky dots through using a smart phone to read books, identify money denominations, and participate in social media. “Active Daily Living” refers to these sticky dot tricks and myriad organizational tasks formerly taken for granted. Serious safety concerns are addressed by “Orientation and Mobility Training” for climbing stairs, walking with the miraculous long white cane, and crossing streets. Gaining or maintaining computer communicationskills requires adapting to magnification or audio interaction or gesturing on a touch screen smart phone.


    Sensitive interpersonal skills come into play when a conversation partner must be identified by voice or when sighted assistance must be requested. All these are conquered by learning and practice, leaving only the misery of transportation until the day of civilized public transit or safe, affordable driverless cars.

    Where does one start recovering from vision loss?


    When the page text becomes wiggly or haze surrounds you or objects jump into your path, eye doctors may help for a while, but there’s no miracle cure for effects of aging, sunlight, and genetics. Struggling to drive, read, walk, recognize faces, or see computer screens tell you it’s time to find vision rehabilitation. Medical interventions (except for cataract removal) rarely restore vision. Don’t deny, bargain, get angry, or become dependent when it’s time to learn new ways of doing things.


    A great starting place is Macular Degeneration Support (mdsupport.org). You’ll find ongoing discussions about treatments, vitamins, iPads, good lamps, photography, travel, smart phones, and just about everything a Macular Degenerate lives with. We share secrets, such as the frequency of visual hallucinations called Charles Bonnet Syndrome. Guide books and tips abound. The community is international and multi-generational.


    Another great resource is the “Eyes on Success” weekly podcast interviews with vision loss survivors, eyesight professionals, technologists, hobbyists, sportsters, and employed workers. A friendly pair of retired scientists in Rochester NY, one blind and one sighted, have compiled a library of easy listening MP3 files and show notes.

    Where do I go for local help?


    Locally, here are resources beyond the vision medical professionals who do not customarily offer vision rehabilitation as described above. Veterans have great residential training in Tucson. Students grow through school disability services and special education programs. People seeking jobs have state Department of Economic Services special programs and assistance to work. Otherwise retired people must generally develop and implement their own rehabilitation programs.



    1. The ‘People Who Care’ nonprofit offers “Confident Living” introductions to topics in Vision Rehabilitation and Causes of Vision Loss. Limited transportation and other elder support services are also available. Six-week seminars are presented when funding is available.
    2. Georgeanne Hanna is a contact with and certified rehabilitation contractor for state services that also assist retired individuals. Her phone is 928-775-5857. Watch for Public Service Announcements. Orientation and mobility trainers can be imported at state expense upon request.
    3. The Disability Empowerment Center (formerly New Horizons Independent Living center) provides independent living services for people with various disabilities, and a transportation system based in Prescott Valley. Call and ask whether vision rehabilitation services are currently available.
    4. Yavapai Library Network sites have assistive computers for people who know how to use magnification and audio assistance. Contacts are available for the National Library service “talking books” program.
    5. YC OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) offers occasional workshops on vision and hearing loss adaptation.
    6. Prescott Fine Arts Theater honors requests for front row seating for visually impaired people and companions.
    7. Lions clubs underwrite medical and optical services for low income persons and occasional publicized events. Clarification of their services would be appreciated in the comments of this website, especially to identify matches with needs expressed here.
    8. Warning!!! Former organizations now defunct include: Northern Arizona Vision and Hearing Loss, “old blind center”, Yavapai Association for Blind and Visually Impaired (YABVI), “new blind center”. Check out carefully Daily Courier articles for dates referring to services gone from the troubled trail of Prescott vision supporters.

    In summary, People Who Care Confident Living Seminars and state DES rehabilitation coordinators are the primary currently active resources. A mobile person losing vision should also consider relocating to gain a full multi-month training program from a facility such as Southern Arizona Association for Visually Impaired.

    What help is available from government?


    • AZ Department of Economic Services supports a local vision rehabilitation professional (see above), special services for vocational training, and limited assistive technology. An online directory is available.
    • In 2014 Prescott established Disability and Accessibility coordination mandated by the 1990 American Disabilities Act (A.D.A). Call the city information line or http://www.prescott-az.gov/accessibility/. The federal ADA.gov website expands on citizen rights, organization responsibilities, and procedures for grievance.


      Many cities have a Disability Services Coordination council based in the Mayor’s office, alas not Prescott, but maybe in Prescott Valley. Audio alerts for street crossing are available only on Willow Creed Road near Embry-Riddle but not downtown. Sidewalk barriers, icy patches, overhanging branches, and unsafe construction should be reported to City Streets and Code Enforcement (they do respond). Visitors to downtown Prescott should not expect comfortable, safe walking conditions.

    • with A.D.A. enforcement, airlines, banks, and hospitals have trained personnel for providing equitable services. PHX airport provides walking guides through TSA to your gate (tell before checking in). Notable within Prescott are bank “talking tellers” for automated cash withdrawal (e.g. Chase Bank). Checkout devices at stores are now equipped for accessibility and privacy, e.g. typing in a PIN, but may not be enabled or known to checkout personnel.
    • social Security offers documents and transmittals in electronic formats on CD.

    What do blindness support organizations offer?


    The following groups are knowledgeable about all aspects of vision loss and advocate for improvements that benefit people with disabilities. Organizations that accept charity contributions are not necessarily well informed about Active Daily Living, Orientation and Mobility, assistive technology, the A.D.A, or the interface between medical and social service systems (but they should be). “Helping the visually impaired” requires education, awareness of needs, and accountability.


    • The American Council for the Blind (ACB) and National Federation of the Blind (NFB) advocate and educate on blindness issues that benefit people with all kinds of vision loss. State affiliates hold annual conferences and support local chapters (but not currently in Prescott).
    • The American Federation for the Blind (AFB) has special websites for seniors and is affiliated with the Vision Aware service. A monthly newsletter evaluates technology
    • MDSupport.org specializes in macular degeneration with myriad free downloadable guides and an ongoing support mailing list.
    • Books and newspapers are available from Bookshare.org, with a library of over 400,000 fiction/nonfiction, adult/adolescent volumes readable on the website or downloadable to book readers. The NFB NewsLine offers national newspapers and magazines in various formats and reading services, available also through BookShare. National Library (NLS) provides narrated books played on free) devices.

    How about technology?


    • PC and Mac computers have built-in magnification and voice support. For Mac, VoiceOver is a click away while for PC a free NVDA package is easily installed. Various $1000 commercial products offer versatile magnification and audio with support and training. These “screen readers” enable a synthetic voice to speak web pages, documents, and buttons or typing. The technology is great, but the learning curve is steep and trainers are scarce.
    • Elegant hand-held devices can read books from NLS or Bookshare, notably Victor Reader Stream and BookSense. Amazon Kindle and Nook devices are not usable without sighted assistance.
    • The smart phone has put mainstream devices into the hands of people without full vision but with sufficient hearing. The iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch have Voice Over built in to read buttons as fingers glide across the screen as well as text in mail and web pages. Book reader apps from Bookshare, Apple, NLS, Amazon enable downloading and listening to books, magazines, and documents.

    • Smart phone apps provide walking navigation, location awareness, remote identification of photographed objects, reading money, and other assistance. Many games and apps are fully accessible. Speech recognition increasingly replaces keyboarding. Apple devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) are fully accessible by voice (use Triple Click Home to start). Android devices lag Apple in both capabilities and training, varying across models and manufacturers. Verizon and Apple store personnel can assist in turning on these devices but only practice will determine whether they meet vision needs.


    • The blindness communities maintain a “Internet radio network” of interviews, demonstrations, and advice on all topics related to vision loss and especially technology. Accessibleworld.org, EyesOnSuccess.net, and Hadley.edu have highly informative weekly updates. These are MP3 files for subscription and downloading as podcasts via iTunes or podcatcher apps.
    • Hand-held readers also serve as recorders for presentations, memos, and bookmarks. Some also provide radios with audible controls.
    • Apps can remotely recognize and label record contents of files and food cans. Color identifiers, GPS systems, and talking thermostats exist to overcome daily eye sight annoyances. The coming Internet of Things offers in-home devices that recognize speech, read out device information, and operate remotely. Be sure you understand the surveillance capabilities of such devices as well as how failures can lock you out or inadvertently activate other devices.

    • Twitter social media is a river of news about technology and blindness under the keyword #accessibility and people like slger123 and all major vision-related organizations and federal agencies.

    See the “Talking Assistive Technology” page on this website for links to products.

    Where can I get more information on vision rehabilitation in the Prescott region?


    This web page is your current best bet for information. Its author is a legally blind technologist. She survived the sparse services available in Prescott by seeking resources for self-rehabilitation. She has attended national and state assistive technology exhibitions and visited vision rehabilitation centers in Tucson and San Diego. She’s a user of assistive technologies and a constant tracker of external services. Ask her anything about vision rehabilitation and she’ll find an answer.


    Please add comments with additional services, corrections, or opinions. Anyone interested in taking over this web page and keeping it up to date is welcome to the information compiled so far.


    Isn’t it time Prescott had full service vision rehabilitation for retired people with vision loss? Following the MDSupport motto “No one should leave an eye doctor’s office thinking their situation is hopeless”, vision loss is a journey of learning and adaptation and challenges that build on established rehabilitation practices and abundant technologies. Why can’t Central Yavapai have a branch of such a facility? Advocacy needed!!!

    Send corrections and additions to slger123@gmail.com or leave a message 928.445.6960.


    Links to Resources

    Other Posts in “As Your World Changes”

    This blog started as a way to reclaim writing skills. These earlier posts convey the spirit of a changing world as vision degrades and skills increase.

    Warnings About Web Misinformation


    • Web searches in Google, DuckDuckGo, Bing often link to misleading or outdated web pages. Sometimes links go to local white/yellow page directories driven by advertising.

    • The following organizations are defunct: Northern Arizona Vision and Hearing Loss Center; Yavapai Blind Center; YABVI Blind Center;; and related terms. There is no blind center on Washington Street, vacated in 2007. The phone number 928-778-0055 is disconnected. If you receive a brochure or read an article about this location, facility, or phone number, please correct the mis-informant. YABVI (Yavapai Association for Blind and Visually Impaired) appears to be a restructuring of a previous organization, now managed funds by a group of eye doctors.

    • No attempt is made here to assure accessibility of web sites beyond ascertaining content using Firefox with the NVDA screen reader. Some resources use PDF documents difficult to use with a screen reader.

    • Resources here focus on “vision rehabilitation” rather than medical treatments typically billed to Medicare or insurance. Vision Rehabilitation includes: Orientation and Mobility Training, walking with a long white cane and safely crossing streets; Active Daily Living, tricks and techniques for optimizing remaining vision in everyday life; reading newspapers and books; and using technology by magnification or voice interaction.

    National Level Organizations

    Vision Information and Support

    Federal Government

    Under the Americans with Disabilities act we can claim equal access to most resources. However, “civil rights are not self-enforcing”. The following websites address issues of equality and offer many paths to further public information.

    1. Disability.gov, connecting the disability community with information and opportunities drill down by state and topic, e.g. to Arizona and Transportation.
    2. White House Disabilities Coordination including monthly conference calls
    3. Federal Elections Help Americans Vote Act implemented by Yavapai County, supporting private and independent voting on site
    4. FCC 21st Century Communication Act covers cell phones,audio and video descriptions, and PLAN, the Personalized network for public safety alerts
    5. ADA.gov, the law, policies, enforcement’s.Dept of Justice and YRMC settlement on training citizen complaint invokes A.D.A. to change procedures and train staff

    State Level Organizations

    Government

    1. Directory of services from Department of Economic Security

    2. AZ Governor Council on Blind and Visually Impaired

    3. SunSounds Reading Services
    4. Assistive Tech Training Center (Cottonwood)
    5. National Library Service Talking Book Arizona contact

    Resource Centers

    1. SAAVI (Southern Arizona Association for Visually Impaired (Tucson), website describes full service vision rehabilitation
      Arizona Center for Visually Impaired (Phoenix)
    2. (PDF) ViewFinders Low Vision Resource Directory (PDF)

    3. VRATE, Vision Reabilitation and Asstive Technology Expo is held annually in Phoenix, free, excellent coverage of state-wide capabilities

    4. Arizona Assistive Technology Exchange

    Chapters of national organizations

    1. AZ Council for Blind azcb.org
    2. NFB (National Federation for the Blind) Arizona Resources

    Yavapai County and Prescott Area

    Government

    1. State Department of Economic Security Rehabilitation sustains local vision rehabilitation and coordinates orientation and mobility training.
    2. Prescott Public Library may have screen readers on notebooks and vision aware Computer
      Mentors. Also provides membership with National Library Service.

    3. City of Prescott Accessibility and disability coordination (A.D.A) Meeting the A.AD.A law!!!

    Nonprofit and other services

    1. Georgeanne Hanna Certified Vision Therapist and Certified Low Vision Therapist, georgeannehanna@gmail.com, phone 928.775.5857. Contact directly to arrange state rehabilitation services.

    2. Disability Empowerment (formerly New Horizons Independent Living) Center (Prescott Valley)
    3. “People Who Care Confident Living Seminar (

    Technology Assistance


    1. Verizon can turn on iPhone VoiceOver, Triple-click-home
    2. Best Buy sells Apple products with good accessibility (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad) and Android tablets with unpredictable accessibility
    3. Chase (and maybe other) banks have “talking ATM” machines that read menus into earphones to dispense cash and perform other services.
    4. Yavapai College Osher Lifelong Learning Institute offers a track of technology courses.

    5. Prescott MAC and PC clubs have held programs on assistive technology


    Revised July 25 2016, slger123@gmail.com
    “As Your world Changes” article on “Living Visually Impaired in Prescott AZ” — 2016 http://AsYourWorldChanges.Wordpress.com

    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

    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.

    Webliography for ‘Grafting Accessibility onto Computer Science Education’

    References for ‘Grafting Accessibility Onto Computer Science’ Education

    This webliography accompanies an article on <‘As Your World Changes; post on ‘Grafting Accessibility onto Computer Science Education’ Dec 7 2009 That article analyzes trends in Society, technology, and Science and suggests actions for exercises, projects, and debates suitable for traditional computer science courses. See also a recording of how CS web sites appear to a visually impaired person using a screen reader.
    The article’s theme is the application of computational thinking to accessibility problems and techniques.

    Computational Thinking


    1. Computational Thinking and Thinking About Computing, Jeannette wing, Royal Society


    2. Jon Udell Podcast Interview with Dr. Jeannette Wing on Computational Thinking


    3. Jon Udell Interview Podcast with Joan Peckham on NSF Computational Thinking activities


    4. Center for Computational Thinking Carnegie Mellon University

    Accessibility Resources


    1. IEEE ‘Accessing the Future’ 09 Conference

      Recommendation 1: # In standards and universal design it is imperative that accessibility and the needs of people with disabilities are incorporated into the education of those who will generate future ICT.

    2. Assistive Tech and organization conferences and exhibits, e.g. CSUN Cal State North ridge accessibility conference(San Diego)

    3. User Centered Design Blog post on future of accessibility


    4. Project Possibility Open Source for Accessibility


    5. Knowbility Consulting, John Slatan Access U


    6. Business Week series on assistive technology


    7. Understanding Progressive Enhancement


    8. National Center on Technology Innovation brief on Assistive Technology

      Portability, customization, etc.


    9. Five Key Trends in Assistive Technology, NCIT summarized


    10. Webaim.org with guidelines, validator, NVDA testing, screen reader survey


    11. Opera’s MOMA Discovers What’s Under the Web Hood


    12. Hakob Nielsen AlertBox and Beyond ALT Report


    13. Podcast series on practical accessibility, see #74 ‘Back to Basics’


    14. Video on importance of HTML headings


    15. gov 2.0: Transparency without Accessibility? (FCW)


    16. Clifford Nass ‘Wire for speech’ book and experiments

    Web Standards and Accessibility References


    1. STC Society of Technical Communicators Accessibility SIG


    2. WAI Web Accessibility Initiative of W3c


    3. WCAG 2.0 Web Content Accessibility Guidelines


    4. #Accessibility or #a11y tracks tweets using AccessibleTwitter


    5. The Web standards Mafia honored Nov. 30 Web standards day

      <


    6. Interact open web standards curriculum project


    7. Opera’s Web standards Curriculum


    8. Online book on Integrating Accessibility in design ‘Just Ask’


    9. How People with Disabilities use the Web

    Computer Science Week and Policy Organization References

      <


    1. Computer Science Education Week


    2. Accessibility official statements of SIGCSE


    3. US ACM Policy on Web Accessibility

      with many useful links


    4. Dept. of Justice Office of Civil Rights on Web Accessibility in Higher Education


    5. Computing Research News on Accessibility Research (Ladner)


    6. ACM Special Interest group on Computing accessibility

    Computer Science Education and Accessibility References

    1. ‘Accessibility First Approach to Teaching Web Design Hamilton College


    2. Web Design with Universal Usability (Schneiderman)


    3. Academia.edu people with speciality accessibility


    4. Web Education Survey


    5. Diversity Through Accessibility blog


    6. Improving Web Accessibility through Service Learning Partnerships


    7. Integrating usability and Accessibility in Information Systems Assurance


    8. Equal Access, Universal Design of Computing Departments


    9. AccessMonkey project at U. Washington


    10. An Accessibility Report Card for World Known Universities


    11. Introducing Accessibility in Internet Computing


    12. WebAnywhere reader from U. Washington


    13. Broadening Participation NSF


    14. Visually Impaired Students get a boose in Computing (RIT)


    15. Imagine IT Project at Rochester Institute of Technology
    Service Organizations within Academia
    References

    1. WebAIM on University Accessibility Policies


    2. Web Accessibility Center at The Ohio State University


    3. Designing More Accessible Websites — TRACE Center U. Wisconsin


    4. Best HTML Practices from ICTA Illinois Center for Web Accessibility


    5. Cultivating and Maintaining Accessibility Expertise in Higher Education


    6. Access IT National Center at U. Washington


    7. A Checklist for Making Computing Departments Inclusive, DOIT at U. Washington


    8. Distance Learning Accessibility Evaluation


    9. U. Texas Accessibility Center (RIP)


    10. Disability 411 Podcast for Disability Professionals

    Services and Products for Visually Impaired


    1. Bookshare.org

      60,000+ digital talking books scanned by volunteers or contributed by publishers, available to all USA Special Ed students


    2. TextAloud reader and mp3 converter

      also source for commercial synthetic voices and a good newsletter on text to speech

      <li
      <
      Free, open source, international screen reader NVDA (non-visual desktop access)


    3. audio-driven PDA, RSS, newspaper and book reader
      from Levelstar.com

      >

    4. Disability.gov
    5. American Federation for Blind, Access World newsletter and product reviews

    6. American Council for Blind

    7. National Federation for Blind
    8. Access World Product reviews


      DAISY internationalism consortium on digital talking books standard

    >

    Podcasts on Assistive Tech and Persons with Disabilities


    1. Blind Cool Tech amateur product reviews

    2. Accessible World Tech Training

    3. ACB Radio news, demo, interviews


    4. WebAxe Podcast on Practical Accessibility

    Notes and References on the ‘Curb Cuts’ principle

    1. ‘Universal Design’ paradigm (from Wikipedia) integrates concepts from physical, architectural, and information design.

    2. Detailed principles (from NCSU design center) include equitable use, flexibility, simplicity, intuitiveness, tolerance for error, low physical effort,…

    3. A chronology of inventions for electronic curb cuts illustrates how hearing, seeing, and learning disabilities have influenced the modern communications world.

    4. The ‘curb cut’ symbolism is widely used in the accessibility world, e.g. ‘curbcuts.net’, an accessibility consultancy

      . The site kindly provides a guide to concrete curb cuts


    5. Background on accessibility in the context of “curb cuts”
      covers the essential role of considering the full range of human abilities in design.

    6. Analysis of the “curb cut” metaphor in computing suggests many problems in its usage.

    Relevant ‘As Your World Changes’ Posts


    1. AYWC ‘Using Things That Talk’ demonstration presentation


    2. AYWC Literacy Lost and Found (charts, reading)

    3. AYWC Amazon Kindle and accessibility: what a mess!


    4. AYWC stumbling around .gov websites: the good, bad, and goofy


    5. AYWC Are missing, muddled use cases the cause of inaccessibility?


    6. AYWC Images and their surrogates — the ALT tag


    7. AYWC Let’s all use our headings

    Comments, Corrections, Complaint?

    Please add your comments below and I’ll moderate asap.
    Yes, I know there are lots of typos but I’m tired of listening to myself, will proof-listen again later.
    Longer comments to slger123@gamail.com. Join in the Twitter discussion of #accessibility by following me as slger123.


    Thanks for listening.

    Stumbling Around .gov Websites: Good, Bad, and Goofy

    Recently, attention returned to concern about
    the role of accessibility in the U.S. government transparency movement. While gov website operators might well deserve a good grade for effort, most sites have obvious failings that experts and users repeatedly point out. In this post, I show some of my personal problems and suggest corrective actions. Visually impaired people can hear a realistic experience with a capable, free screen reader to better understand how websites respond to an intermediate level visually impaired, task oriented user. Sighted readers and accessibility specialists are urged to consider alternatives to reduce causes for stumbling around.

    Hear me Stumble Recording

    Download MP3 recording (38 minutes, 17 MB) trying tasks at whitehouse, disability, data, and recovery .gov. Starting with some typical tasks, I get into each website far enough to identify and stumble over some problem, then later come back and analyze the cause in both the website and my own practice, written up below. These little experiments are certainly not definitive because someone more experienced with the website might take a very different route or the proper screen reader action just might not occur to me at the moment. So, listen if you’re patient and interested to these 4 segments and follow along in your browser to perhaps grok what I’m missing in the recording.

    For the record, I was using Windows XP, Firefox 3.5, NVDA RC 09, and PlexTalk Pocket as recorder.

    The BLUF — great availability of useful information but fall short of
    excellence in usability

    BLUF=bottom line Up front

    The Obama administration has unleashed an enormous flow of energy and
    information for citizens to use for their personal lives, political causes, and
    general improvement of society. I really appreciate the nuggets of
    explanations dispensed in RSs feeds and twitter streams, amplified by social
    media communicators interested in technology and organizations with a special
    thread of accessibility. I offer these stumbles as the only feedback I can
    provide, hoping my analyses eventually reach into the administration and d.c.
    government apparatus. My stumbles are not flat on my face, fallen and cannot
    get up, but rather trips over seed bumps, unnecessary traversals around hazy
    obstacles, and stops to reconsider the surroundings to decide my next safe
    steps. Just like real physical life, these stumbles absorb way too much energy,
    often discouraging me from completing a task. Informed by my own experience
    building interfaces, databases, and websites plus software engineering methods
    of testing, use cases, complexity measures, and design exploration, I truly
    believe each stumble indicates a serious design flaw. The good news is that
    while my stumbles may partially track with vision loss and continuing learning the rules of accessibility and assistive technology,
    of the ‘curb cut’ principle suggest corrections will smooth the
    way for other, abled users who are also troubled with usability difficulties
    they cannot understand without the accessibility and usability framework.

    Summary of my stumbles on typical .gov tasks

    1. Website: whitehouse.gov

      Task: Find a recent blog post received by RSS

      : stumble: Post was not in recent list, didn’t know how to use archives, didn’t trust search

      Follow up: Navigated around November archive, eventually found links to previous articles

      Suggestions: Factor archives, Use landmark pattern for list sections

      Comments: Now has a text only version but similar navigation problems

      Grade: C. Text Only site isn’t much of an accessibility improvement, please work on organizing this mass of information. RSS feeds more useful than website. Also, use your clout to force social media services to become accessible, too.

    2. Website: Disability.gov

      Task: Discover information about public transportation in local community

      : stumble: Found ” Transportation” main topic but could not reach specific information

      Follow up: Read “how to use” and eventually figured out info organized by state

      Suggestions: “See sidebar” isn’t sufficient so data needs better organization

      Comments: Site content is effectively transmitted by RSS and Twitter. good survey can help improve site

      Grade B: Good process, but not yet organized properly or communicating website use

    3. Website: data.gov

      Task: Trial download of a data set using search form

      : stumble: Very hard to understand search form components distracting headings and social media,

      Follow up: Eventually got search results, but unsatisfactorily

      Suggestions: Start over

      Comments: Only for wonks on salary, not advised for citizens

      Grade: Incomplete, do over, or adapt expensive recovery.gov interface and data management

    4. Website: Recovery.gov

      Task: Find recovery funding projects in Arizona

      : stumble: Locating form for query and then results

      Follow up: Found the form under non descriptive heading, easily set query, drilled down past top of page to text version of results table

      Suggestions: Make the “Track the money” foremost part of page, submerging feature awards and website data

      Comments: $10M+ project needs more usability and accessibility input

    Individual Website Analyses

    whitehouse.gov — this National Landmark needs ARIA landmarks

    I don’t visit this site often but I do read occasional blog and press briefings in my Levelstar Icon RSS client. One article caught my attention, about encouraging Middle Eastern girls, and seemed worth a tweet to my followers with similar interests. But I needed a good web address so set off to navigate myself through the site.

    I was surprised to find a link to an “accessible” version, not sure what that mean. It turns out to be “text only” which doesn’t mean much to me if the navigation is the same as a screen reader is abstracting from text decorations anyway. Hence, I was faced with a branching decision with no criteria for which branch to take, somewhat confusing.

    As usual to refresh or familiarize myself, I take a “heading tour” to learn the main sections of the site and target the section for my task. Soon, I find the “blog” section but the article list is mainly on President Obama’s Asian trip, not reaching back as far as the article I wanted was a few days old. I declared a “Stumble” by not knowing how to use the archives, needing to train myself and wander a bit more off recording.


    Following up later, I found myself confused about the organization of past material. I took the November link but ended up in more heaps of videos, blog posts, briefings, etc. Eventually, I got to blog article lists and found the web construct that linked to past articles, looks like “previous 1 2…. next”.


    Answer: DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano blog post on ‘Meeting female students in Abu Dhabi’

    To analyze a bit further, let’s separate accessibility from usability. This task seemed to take a little more effort than needed, because I stumbled around learning the archive information architecture and list results patterns. Nothing in the screen reader or the HTML seemed problematic. Headings helped, not hindered. Perhaps this is a stubble that can only be prevented by more practice, but it’s possible we have a jumble of website content that could be factored to make paths easier to follow.

    Traversing a list divided into sections is a common pattern, often intermixed with links to articles and media. The list of blog posts was indeed an HTML list that could be followed by items, but got strange at the end the next-previous section is labeled with something like LSQUO, which makes no sense in a screen reader. This construct is also easy to miss using links rather than items. Could this pattern be


    standardized (see below)?

    Duh, why didn’t I just use the website Search? Unfortunately, I have a deeply ingrained mistrust of site searches, mainly from getting gobs of results that don’t help. Like, how would I know the rules for making a good search query? Is it “Napolitano Abu Dhabi” with quotes where, and default being conjunction? And these words are not the easiest names to type correctly, so is there spelling correction? Well, it turned out “Napolitano” (2nd try) turned up the article about 4 results down but with the same search result bar construct. OK, I’m convinced to bring Search back into my website explorer toolkit. and will work to overcome bad experiences from past generations of website searches.

    Overall, I grade myself as a B with my improving mental map of the site, but definitely prefer using the content by RSS feed, i.e. getting blog and briefings spoken from mobile device. Sorry, but whitehouse.gov still gets a C in my ratings, mostly from the need to have a stellar, near perfect website to model for not only .gov but also community, state gov, professional associations, universities, etc. Only 10 months into the website, the amount of content, useful individually, may grow into a giant heap of links that drive citizens away. Regarding accessibility, I simply don’t see the rationale for the text only site and recommend looking ahead to using better overall structure with landmarks (see below).

    Disability.gov is very useful but maybe convoluted?

    Disability.gov is a regular in both my RSS feed list and Twitter tweetroll. The site has a general framework of disability needs and resources. New resources and classes of resources per day of the week are routinely broadcast. I have a warm feeling when I see these, like somebody is actually looking out for me in that great USG bureaucracy.

    For some local surveys, I anticipate needing data and examples of regional transportation systems supported by public and disabled communities. Ok, I know I’m delusional that a conservative wealthy retirement oriented city will even consider such a thing as services for economic, environmental, or social reasons. But, hey, there’s a sliver of hope. Indeed, this is a typical way the USG can foster citizen innovation through better and more transparent data.


    The website navigation sidebar is straightforward with tasks and information topics. In the recorded session, I picked Transportation and then got stuck. I had a page headed Transportation, nice, with topic overview, but no real information, just a use the sidebar. Ok, but how? why? After, in my follow up, I figured out that information was organized by state, which makes sense, but wasn’t explicit when I stumbled.

    Choosing Arizona from the state list, I found a number of resources, none of which lead directly to the Tri-city Prescott area. Tucson was well represented, but I knew that, been there, seen the buses, and vision services. Overall, I found this site satisfactory, with an encouraging amount of information, but I’m still somewhat befuddled about the relationship between topics and sidebar and details.

    At one point, I was presented with a survey. Sure, I’ll give you feedback, thanks for asking. As usual, I didn’t know how long the survey would take, like how many questions. First accessibility glitch was that required fields were designated by some symbol not read by a screen reader in normal mode, probably an asterisk *. That meant I had to switch into listening more punctuation in the screen reader or just answer all questions. Silly, why not say REQUIRED, rather than use a little symbol. Next, I couldn’t figure out the form of answers, which turned out to be radio buttons labeled 1 to 10 and NA. Ok, that’s a lot of tabbing but not overwhelming, as I whizzed through the questions. Then, came a switch to some combo boxes for answers. Annoying, suggesting the survey wasn’t vetted by many people using screen readers, but not really too bad. Do other gov sites have comparable surveys? They should.

    Overall, I rate myself and disability.gov with a B. I need more practice, and the website developers need more feedback. But really, I know they’re trying, and somebody will likely read this blog. Good job, and I truly appreciate the resources, framework, and the RSS and tweets.

    data.gov for wonks, not citizens


    Oh, my, this site is annoying. The headings are sparse and inappropriate. There’s a sideline off to social media sites that aren’t accessible and in the way. A link says “Click here” which indicates deprecated thinking and cluelessness about hyperlinking.

    The main purpose of this site is a distribution point for datasets collected from various government agencies distributed in XML, CSV, and other formats usable in spreadsheets and statistical analyzers. Great, but the form is a mess.

    I tried to query fo ex ampler datasets, any topic, from National Science Foundation. The agency list is long, painfully, with check boxes. That’s about 40 tab or next line key strokes to get to NSF. Then I found the Submit button. Not so good, which I learned by reading “No search results” at the bottom of the page! Most important effect of a search is to know if it succeeded, produces results, geez! What did I do wrong? Do I need to select format and make an explicit query? Ok, tried that with term “computers”, All Categories, All Agencies. Got 2 results this time, both on illegal exports, spooky and uninteresting.

    Argh, I gave up. I’m sure this site will eventually be useful for policy wonks willing to train and practice, but I, an ordinary citizen with a research background, didn’t feel like I could get much out of here. Sadly, the form’s long list of check box agency names uncoordinated and un searchable was painful. But worse was not getting direct feedback about number of or absence of search results combined with uncertainty about the query actually executed. I had little confidence in either the site or myself as searcher, but, luckily, I don’t forecast any personal need for data.gov. Sayonara.

    So, I rate this sucker a big Incomplete with good intents but pretty clueless about accessibility and usability. Hey, download NVDA and try this out yourselves, data.gov designers. There are lots of ways to design forms and search results. Back to the design stage, please Now that recovery.gov is launched at great expense, perhaps some of the interface and data management functionality can be used to refresh data.gov, but who am I to reorganize .gov :-)..

    Recovery.gov Usable but Cluttered

    Well, it wasn’t fun but I can use this website. The big problem is clutter. I go here to “Track the Money” and cannot find the form to do so. Uh, oh. Plenty of stuff about the site itself, some of the big featured expenditures, but where’s the form. Oh, there it is, under heading “Data, Data, and More Data”, cute but not obvious. This time, I decided to drill down on National Science Foundation awards in Arizona. Unlike data.gov, the agency selection was single choice reached by the convention of first letter, N, and a few key strokes to make the selection. All right, but now what?

    So, the search seems successful yielding another page with lots of accessibility and agency clutter at the top I had to listen through. Back and forth a bit, I found the link to text presentation of the data, accompanied with a blue map.

    Looking for text data, same boring junk at the top then up comes the table of rows of actual data. It’s hard to navigate by row and column, some columns have no real information, like I know I asked for ” National Science Foundation”, read in every row. But painfully working row by row I can find an interesting item like $80K created .17 job –wow! Indeed, the award details is there and readable and interesting.

    The big problem with this iteration of Recovery.gov is that the website is in the way. I definitely do not plan to post anything on MySpace social media service but I have to listen to or bypass this silly text and thought too often to learn what’s on a page. It just seems goofy to send a Recovery dataset to a “friend” on a social network, although it could be relevant in a mature Twitter thread. If the gov goal is to incorporate social media into its normal workflow, then there are big questions of stability, accessibility, and much more of these profit-seeking, ad-driven enterprises.

    I give myself an A for conquering this site, although I’m still stumbling around tables of data. Recovery.gov gets a B for assembling this information in readable form, although not in dataset forms as relative to missions like data.gov. In other words, it looks like a lot of page scraping to identify trends. My suggestion is simple: get the “Track the money” form front and center and press the website, social media, and features into the background. Overall, better than I expected, although the recording and further use leave a feeling of irritation, like having to sweep off a desk of junk to find a phone to get the information needed. Like, just give me control and let me track the money myself. I’ll be back.

    General Suggestions for Improvement

    It’s Time to Bring Landmarks to .gov

    I’m getting spoiled by really accessible websites like AccessibleTwitter and BookShare that use the ARIA landmark feature to structure pages and search results. For example, the .gov sites could be separated into (1) agency logo and babble, (2) navigation, (3) main content, (4) reference to other gov sites and external services. Bookshare shows how to organize search results integrated with the next-previous results page bar.


    Indeed, this brings up the issue of consistency among .gov websites, which could be kind of nice and helpful. Not meaning to squelch individuality of agencies or artistic license or experimentation with diversity, but a citizen wanting a simple answer to an information question isn’t as impressed with decorations as with ease of use, especially on return visits. And visually impaired users especially appreciate predictability, a trait shared with most human beings, when confronted with pure tasks. With all due respect,most visits to gov websites are not for tours through marble halls or to expand social networks to include anonymous civil servants, but rather to get a piece of info as fast and readable as possible.

    Should gov sites link to inaccessible social web services? NO!

    All gov 2.0 buzz seems to involve social media, as in Twitter, Facebook, and sometimes Flickr and MySpace. But the accessibility of most of these sites is way below that of the .gov sites. Can a website assert it is accessible if it links to patently inaccessible services? I think not. The good news is the movement toward alternatives like Accessible Twitter and accessible versions of YouTube. These should be mentioned in accessibility statements. Or, better yet, no links to unless these billion-dollar enterprises raise their accessibility levels to the acceptable status demonstrate by these alternatives. Perhaps there should be a warning label on sites known to be poorly designed or not for the newbie. The US government uses its clout for diversity, why not also for accessibility?


    After spending several hours on these websites, knowing a lot myself about social media, the focus on social stuff seems rather silly considering the weight of the data involved. Am I, is anybody, going to post a link on MySpace or Facebook of a significant query and insight? I doubt it. Rather, these sites give an impression of trying to be oh, so cool, gotta get our stuff out to the fan pages on Facebook. Gimme a break. From a screen reader user, this is just pure clutter in the way of your main mission, stuff I have to listen to redundantly and irrelatively. Try it yourself and determine what value is really added from social media service references so prominently in users’ faces/ears. Even scarier, if gov agencies are adopting these inaccessible, unstable services for actual business, the traditional discrimination policies must come into play, as well as questions about judgement. For example, Twitter is a great news medium, but its rules can, and do, change at any moment.

    How about a gov BEST and WORST practices competition?

    I personally don’t get any value, but rather irritation, from the skip links and text size adjustments. First, the skip links are often just plain wrong, often enough to mistrust and not worth a false link and recovery. Text size adjustments are relevant to those who need large fonts not supplied by browser adjustments. Pages with good headings and landmarks don’t require skip links. Pages that aren’t crowded with text don’t need on-page text size adjustments.. To me, these are accessibility decorations that amount to screen reader noise. It’s rather jarring to find major inconsistencies among gov websites, e.g. text-only at whitehouse.gov but not others, different HTML form patterns, and greatly varying degrees of conventional accessibility.

    As complained about in the whitehouse.gov blog lists, there’s a common pattern that might be nicely standardized. A list of, say 100, items is divided into sections with a bar of links: previous, 1, 2, … next. If you’re drilling down through several pages of results, getting easily into this bar is important. A landmark is a natural way of identifying results.

    Does every search form have to be constructed differently? Above tasks required me to figure out the subdivisions of forms (usually not labeled) and then the form elements. There’s probably a special class of gov site users who can whack their way through a form down to a data set in no time. But the ordinary citizen has to struggle through understanding then mastering the form, finding results, and interpreting answers, which can take hours. How about an award for government service by providing a superior form that other sites can emulate? And give those web designers a bonus or promotion, too!

    Sum up, getting better? Yes or No?

    Overall, although using these sites made me rather grumpy, the trend is toward better accessibility, more usability, and genuine transformation of how citizens use USG data. My wishes are:

    1. Work on clutter and removal and helping users find direct paths to important data, i.e. work on the most significant use cases.
    2. Designers and maintainers of these website should listen to recorded TTS of their pages and contents for several hours to really appreciate the clutter effect of featuritis, accessibility decorations, and social media silliness.
    3. Cut down on the social media crap and rethink what really matters. Yes, these services are useful but really, do they deserve so much prominence? Will they still be here 3 years from now?
      It just seems incongruous to think of sharing recovery datasets with ad-hungry “friend” oriented services. Most serious is the hypocrisy of declaring accessibility on a gov website when these lucrative services so actively ignore accessibility and force visually impaired service users to volunteer developed accessible alternatives.

    4. The most important use of this data is not visible to most citizens. Namely, RSS feeds are the best way for someone to monitor these sites, scanning article titles, downloaded to a mobile device, with rare visits to actual websites. How can the USG foster better offline use of important government developments?
    5. Is there a “curb cut” effect from feedback like this? I hope so, that fixing stumbles precipitated by accessibility bumps and usability gaps will help everybody.
    6. Finally, a cautionary warning I just heard from my CNN news feed. Many recovery awards seem to have fallen into fallacious congressional districts, making the whole record keeping of job data questionable. Apparently citizens reporting award data don’t know what congressional district they belong to (I’m AZ ONE, I think, maybe). Now, data base developers and instructors know, there’s a TRIGGER for that. Zip codes usually map to unique districts but that might not be a requirement or implemented yet. Just saying.

    Related Posts

    Story: A Screen Reader Salvages a Legacy System

    This post tells a story of how the NVDA Screen Reader helped a person with vision loss solve a former employment situation puzzle. Way to go, grandpa Dave, and thanks for permission to reprint from the NVDA discussion list on freelists.org.

    Grandpa Dave’s Story

    From: Dave Mack
    To: nvda

    Date: Oct 29

    Subj: [nvda] Just sharing a feel good experience with NVDA
    Hi, again, folks, Grandpa Dave in California, here –
    I have hesitated sharing a recent experience I had using NVDA because I know this list is primarily for purposes of reporting bugs and fixes using NVDA. However, since this is the first community of blind and visually-impaired users I have joined since losing my ability to read the screen visually, I have decided to go ahead and share this feel-good experience where my vision loss has turned out to be an asset for a group of sighted folks. A while ago, a list member shared their experience helping a sighted friend whose monitor had gone blank by fixing the problem using NVDA on a pen drive so I decided to go ahead and share this experience as well – though not involving a pen drive but most definitely involving my NVDA screen reader.


    Well, I just had a great experience using NVDA to help some sighted folks where I used to work and where I retired from ten years ago. I got a phone call from the current president of the local Federal labor union I belonged to and she explained that the new union treasurer was having a problem updating their large membership database with changes in the union’s payroll deductions that they needed to forward to the agency’s central payroll for processing. She said they had been working off-and-on for almost three weeks and no one could resolve the problem even though they were following the payroll change instructions I had left on the computer back in the days I had written their database as an amateur programmer. I was shocked to hear they were still using my membership database program as I had written it almost three decades ago! I told her I didn’t remember much abouthe dBase programming language but I asked her to email me the original instructions I had left on the computer and a copy of the input commands they were keying into the computer. I told her I was now visually impaired, but was learning to use the NVDA screen reader and would do my best to help. She said even several of the Agency’s programmers were
    stumped but they did not know the dBase program language.


    A half hour later I received two email attachments, one containing my thirty-year-old instructions and another containing the commands they were manually keying into their old pre-Windows computer, still being used by the union’s treasurer once-a-month for payroll deduction purposes. Well, as soon as I brought up the two documents and listened to a comparison using NVDA, I heard a difference between what they were entering and what my instructions had been. They were leaving out some “dots, or periods, which should be included in their input strings into the computer. I called the Union’s current president back within minutes of receiving the email. Everyone was shocked and said they could not see the dots or periods. I told them to remember they were probably still using a thirty-year-old low resolution computer monitor and old dot-matrix printer which were making the dots or periods appear to be part of letters they were situated between.

    Later in the day I got a called back from the Local President saying I had definitely identified the problem and thanking me profusely and said she was telling everyone I had found the cause of the problem by listening to errors non of the sighted folks had been able to see . And, yes, they were going to upgrade their computer system now after all these many years. (laughing) I told her to remember this experience the next time anyone makes a wisecrack about folks with so-called impairments. She said it was a good lesson for all. Then she admitted that the reason they had not contacted me sooner was that they had heard through the grapevine that I was now legally blind and everyone assumed I would not be able to be of assistance. What a mistake and waste of time that ignorant assumption was, she confessed.


    Well, that’s my feel good story, but, then, it’s probably old hat for many of you. I just wanted to share it as it was my first experience teaching a little lesson to sighted people in my
    own small way. with the help of NVDA. –


    Grandpa Dave in California

    Moral of the Story: Screen Readers Augment our Senses in Many Ways = Invitation to Comment

    Do you have a story where a screen reader or similar audio technology solved problems where normal use of senses failed? Please post a comment.


    And isn’t it great that us older folks have such a productive and usable way of overcoming our vision losses? Thanks, NVDA projectn developers, sponsors, and testers.

    Hear Me Stumble Around White House, Recovery, and Data GOV web sites

    Recorded tours using a screen reader of whitehouse, recovery, and data.gov websites with accessibility commentary

    This post takes a tour by screen reader of the new U.S. government web sites
    whitehouse.gov,
    recovery.gov, and
    data.gov.
    Using recorded sessions, I analyze my techniques and problems. Sighted readers will experience some of the confusions and frustrations of a visually impaired person trying to learn the interaction and structure patterns of these website’s. Visually impaired users may glean some ways to avoid pitfalls and determine the value of these government information resources for their purposes. I complain about absence of headings, careless links, and tricky interactions beyond my capabilities although I appreciate the effort to provide high quality government information.

    Why is “Hear Me Stumble” useful?

    I’ve tried this practice several times in the past year with a mixture of consternation and learning. Basically I record myself using a website to the best of my abilities, talking to myself as I go. The results are useful in several ways:

    1. A historical snapshot of the website under study, the tools I’m using, and my skills is now recorded for posterity.
    2. I use the recordings to diagnose my own deficiencies and document changes in my own web practice.
    3. With increasing confidence in my knowledge of the field of accessibility, I try to explain deficiencies in terms that website designers can understand to improve their designs and implementations Ditto, tool developers such as screen readers and browsers.
    4. The recordings also describe ways of testing that could and should be used before website release to improve the experience for visually impaired users and to meet statutory requirements.

      .

    Yes, if you listen to these recordings, you’ll hear a good bit of frustration with my own mistakes as well as some depressing practice, indeed perhaps malpractice, on the part of website designers. In the case of the .gov websites, we’re watching the expanded use of the Internet for citizen interaction so appropriate corrections of certain problems could have a highly amplified effect across the population of U.S. citizens. Fortuitously, if we apply the ‘curb cuts’ principle, fixing certain problems will likely make the websites better for everybody, disabled or not, and we’re all disabled in the long run. Furthermore, the current websites are exhibiting trends using social media beyond the knowledge of many of my generation, the baby boomers and beyond. In effect, many of the populace who need data available from U.S. government websites are those least likely to be able to benefit.


    A big caveat here is that these websites are “young” and experimental, sort of like new drivers proud of their licenses and wheels but not fully understanding the rules of the road. Anxious to get their acts in gear, these drivers are sadly vulnerable to mistakes that might make unfortunate hood ornaments out of senior citizens, ignoring limits of other vehicles and pedestrians using the same roads in different ways. Continuous partial attention dictates websites that change every few seconds, seeking to hook users into feeds and social web practices. This is the most important time in the evolution of these websites to instill good sense, modesty, empathy, etc. as well as correcting patterns known to be detrimental, if not outright illegal. Ok, end of lectures I’ve given many times to teenagers, especially as I become more wary as a non-driver in a cell phone and vehicular world.

    An audio tour of WhiteHouse.gov

    First, go to http://apodder.org/stumbles to retrieve the two recordings in MP3 format, a total of around 60 minutes.

    On May 29, 2009, President Obama and government officials released a cyber security policy statement that I sought to find on the website. The main events described in the recordings were:

    1. I took a “headings tour” of the website, trying to build a mental outline of sections and subsections wherever I heard like “Briefing Room heading 2”. This heading outline seems improved over my January explorations, but perhaps I’m only more familiar. Here is how whitehouse.gov looks to the WebAim WAVE analyzer. Notes: this link will show the current version of the web page not what I say on May 29. Also this is the established accessibility tool, not the newly announced Google W A V E.
    2. I was thrown off by the slide show at the top of the page. Once I hit the cybersecurity story, the next time I traverse this section the story was about the Supreme Court nominee. Earlier, I had stumbled over the 1-2-3-4 series of boxes but not connected them with the slide show. This time, a fairly good eyesight day, I could see the images were changing.
    3. So, listening to the recording, I ask myself, why I didn’t use the search box I found at level 2. Well, some introspection revealed I have been tricked too many times by website searches that bury what I really want in favor of getting me to products or just plain showing irrelevant material. I did try the search for “cybersecurity” the next day and indeed find the relevant references, but cannot determine whether the search would have yielded good results immediately after the announcement. I also found some silly references in the additional results about some conversations with the press secretary. Next time I will try the search, correcting my behavior.
    4. Several times I ran across uninformative links like “Read this post” and “Learn more”. Since I often traverse a page by link, reading one of these links is annoying. I must read backwards through the text to find the subject of the link, muttering to myself “learn more about —- what?”. This is symptomatic of a website design that hasn’t been tested with a screen reader by a member of the web site team. Ok, maybe these web designers like to hear “learn more” repeated six times in a row, but, come on, why not rewrite the text to attach the link to something meaningful and distinctive.

    In summary, visually impaired users must come to terms with a slideshow that regularly changes the content of the page without any evident alert (that I could detect). The heading structure helps traverse the page but isn’t entirely intuitive. Link texts are annoyingly un informative and should be changed if the white house web designers want better usability. This web user will give the search box a try earlier next time, recognizing the inevitable need to sort through results but hoping for the most important and relevant content to be highlighted.

    An audio tour of recovery.gov and data.gov


    Sorry, I just have to rant here. Neither page has significant headings. So, how am I supposed to know what’s on the page without reading line by line? Find my way to the action parts of the page? Ever regain respect for an agency that doesn’t know the mantra — It’s the headings, stupid!!!”. Is this HTML malpractice?

    Whoops, I’m mixing metaphors. Is this reckless driving? driving without a license? Certainly, there’s no certification of 508 or other stamp of approval, just wishful reassurance that “we’re trying on accessibility, really” and “we’re a new website, don’t expect too much”. But, hey, this citizen says, why not pay attention to the dozens of websites that and even you tube videos that advocate headings. What about running your pages through validator’s and getting clean reports from nationally recognized accessibility gurus, like WebAim WAVE report on recovery.gov and WebAim WAVE report on data.gov accessibility.

    Comments on recovery.gov


    I did not have a specific task here, so just wandered around.

    1. The text size adjustment option bemuses me. My browser does that for me. Reading the increase or decrease text size labels are tedious if the page reads from the top. More problematic, is that the text size graphics and buttons are off the displayed section of the page in my browser in some circumstances. In other words, someone who needs them might well not see them off to the far right.
    2. Those pie charts and graphs in the slide show look interesting but they go too fast for me to zoom or magnify. Sigh. This website, indeed the whole U.S. government if its going to work this way, needs a chart explainer or some gentler way of providing data. The timeline is so cool, too bad I cannot use it. I can see it scroll by but how do I read it?
    3. A popup tries to notify exit from recovery.gov. In my browser setup, I have no speech notice, just a box hanging on the screen with a Close button if I can find it. In the recording this threw me off. Why is such a notice needed, anyway?
    4. PDF documents may be standard with a free reader, but they are not pleasant for visually impaired users. I personally almost always crumble a PDF into its TXT form if it’s worth reading for transport to a mobile reader. Actually, I did not encounter any PDF format files to download and try but I’m sure they are there somewhere.
    5. Note: I just discovered more “Learn more” links on the News page. See above.

    Comments on data.gov


    This page is mainly a large search form. Now, I’m a veteran web and data searcher, but this one got me.

    1. The text is flat without headings. A heading for each part of the complex form would make the difference between usability and frustration. Turn those section titles into headings, please, please.
    2. Components of the form appear not to be labeled properly, if at all. Nothing new here, just good practice for a decade or so, and really important for a person with a screen reader to know what a form field is doing there.
    3. I got hung up in an unfamiliar, and perhaps nonstandard, kind of form. A list of agencies with check boxes is encompassed in a scroll window. This wasn’t apparent to my screen reader so I heard a lot of naked “check box” phrases unless I used line up and down. Since I didn’t know what I was in, I could not find the search button. Looking again the next day, I found the button, decoded that I needed to get out of edit into browse mode to finish the search. I declare this just plain tricky. The technical problem is many agencies that could be represented in a list except that multiple selection from a list is also hard., although standard.
    4. Ok, so if I did get a search performed, how usable are the search results? I did not find an easy way to jump to the search results, nor to navigate through them.

    Uh, oh, this is an unhappy camper! How do other technologists feel?


    Yep, I really don’t feel very comfortable or welcome at these web sites, despite my tax dollars at work. Granted the websites are juvenile in stages of development and that much work has gone into creating the back ends to deliver the data to the web pages. It’s really exciting that citizens may become data analysts, exploring trends and comparing communities, in the spirit of Jon Udell’s blog on ‘strategies for Internet Citizens’. It is also admirable that so many semi-commercial and open source software products are being tried, albeit without a strong accessibility requirement.


    But still, so many sensible, well known rules seem to have been broken that it’s hard for me to believe that accessibility is high enough priority I can feel better about future improvements. Consistently using headings is so simple, it’s sad to see the trade-off of a standard accessibility practice with the greater glitz of scripted slide shows which further mess up accessibility.


    I’m just plain disappointed in the Obama administration’s approach to web design.
    And I’m not alone, e.g.
    Webaxe podcast analyzing recovery.gov and
    Jim Thatcher’s analysis of whitehouse.gov,
    developers of accessible interactive components,
    critique of recovery.gov platform software


    . There are people around the country making a living from building accessible websites. There are training programs, such as John Slatan Access U and WebAim Training. Why isn’t this expertise being used in the premiere U.S. websites?


    Does feedback matter and how is it solicited and used? Will these websites improve?
    For a broader perspective on transparency, currency, and other qualities, check out
    Grading the White House from Washington Post, which needs an accessibility panelist.

    This post updates and illustrates ‘As Your World changes’ post on whitehouse.gov from January. Rationale for my headings rant is post on “Let’s all use our headings!”. And here is the uplifting message of the curb cuts principle.


    For repeating results, I was using NVDA screen reader from NVAccess, version 0.6, Firefox version 3.0.x, Windows XP, Neospeech Paul voice, and PlexTalk Plus as audio recorder. See WebAim tutorial on NVDA accessibility testing describes some of the NVDA operations.

    The Pleasures of Audio Reading

    This post expands my response to an interesting
    Reading in the Dark Survey
    Sighted readers will learn from the survey how established services provide reading materials to be used with assistive technology. Vision Losers may find new tools and encouragement to maintain and expand their reading lives.

    Survey Requesting feedback: thoughts on audio formats and personal reading styles?

    Kestrell says:

    … hoping to write an article on audio books and multiple literacies but, as far as I can find, there are no available sources discussing the topic of audio formats and literacy, let alone how such literacy may reflect a wide spectrum of reading preferences and personal styles.

    Thus, I am hoping some of my friends who read audio format books will be willing to leave some comments here about their own reading of audio format books/podcasts. Feel free to post this in other places.

    Some general questions:
    Do you read audio format books?
    Do you prefer special libraries or do you read more free or commercially-available audiobooks and podcasts?
    What is your favorite device or devices for reading?
    Do elements such as DRM and other security measures which dictate what device you can read on influence your choices?
    Do you agree with David Rose–one of the few people who has written academic writings about audio formats and reading–that reading through listening is slower than reading visually?
    How many audiobooks do you read in a week (this can include podcasts, etc.)?
    Do you ever get the feeling form others that audiobooks and audio formats are still considered to be not quote real unquote books, or that reading audiobooks requires less literacy skills (in other words, do you feel there is a cultural prejudice toward reading audiobooks)?
    anything else you want to say about reading through listening?

    This Vision Loser’s Response

    Audio formats and services


    I read almost exclusively using TTS on mobile readers from DAISY format books and newspapers. I find synthetic speech more flexible and faster than narrated content. For me, human narrators are more distracting than listening “through” the voice into the author’s words. I also liberally bookmark points I can re-read by sentence, paragraph, or page.


    Bookshare is my primary source of books and newspapers downloaded onto the Levelstar Icon PDA. I usually transfer books to the APH BookPort and PlexTalk Pocket for reading in bed and on the go, respectively. My news streams are expanded with dozens of RSS feeds of blogs, articles, and podcasts from news, magazines, organizations, and individuals. Recently, twitter supplies a steady stream of links to worthy and interesting articles, followed on either the Icon or browser in Accessible Twitter.

    I never seem to follow through with NLS or Audible or other services with DRM and setups. I find the Bookshare DRM just right and respect it fully but could not imagine paying for an electronic book I could not pass on to others. I’m about to try Overdrive at my local library. I’ve been lax about signing up for NLS now that Icon provides download. No excuses, I should diversify my services.


    I try to repay authors of shared scanned books with referrals to book clubs and friends, e.g. I’ve several now hooked on Winspear’s “Macy Dobbs” series.

    Reading quality and quantity

    I belong to two book clubs that meet monthly as well as taking lifelong learning classes at the community college. Book club members know that my ready book supply is limited and take this into consideration when selecting books. My compact with myself is that I buy selected books not on Bookshare and scan and submit them. I hope to catch up submitted already scanned books soon. Conversely, I can often preview a book before selection and make recommendations on topics that interest book club members, e.g. Jill B. Taylor’s “Stroke of Insight”. I often annoy an avid reader friend by finishing a book while she is #40 on the local library waiting list. This happens with NYTimes best sellers and Diane Rehm show reader reviews. No, I don’t feel askance looks from other readers but rather the normal responses to an aging female geek.


    At any one time, I usually have a dozen books “open” on the Bookport and PlexTalk as I switch among club and course selections, fiction favorites, and heavy nonfiction. However, I usually finish 2 or 3 books a week, reading at night, with another 120 RSS feeds incoming dozens of articles daily. I believe my reading productivity is higher than before vision loss due to expedient technology delivery of content and my natural habits of skimming and reading nonlinearly. Indeed, reading by listening forces focus and concentration in a good sense and, even better, performed in just about any physical setting, posture, or other ambient conditions.
    Overall, I am exquisitely satisfied with my reading by listening mode. I have more content, better affordable devices, and breadth of stimulating interests to forge a suitable reading life.

    Reading wishes and wants


    I do have several frustrations. (1) Books with tables of data lose me as a jumble of numbers unless the text describes the data profile. (2) While I have great access through Bookshare and NFB NewsLine to national newspapers and magazines, my state and local papers use content management systems difficult to read either online or by RSS feed. (3) Google Book Search refuses to equalize my research with others by displaying only images of pages.


    For demographics, I’m 66 years old, lost last sliver of reading vision three years ago from myopic degeneration, and was only struggling a few months before settling into Bookshare. As a technologist first exposed to DECTalk in the 1980s, I appreciate TTS as a fantastically under-rated technology. However, others of my generation often respond with what I’ve dubbed “Synthetic voice shock” that scares them away from my reading devices and sources. I’d like to see more gentle introductions from AT vendors and the few rehab services available to retired vision losers. Finally, it would be great to totally obliterate the line between assistive and mainstream technology to expand the market and also enable sighted people to read as well as some of us.

    References and Notes on Audio Reading

    1. Relevant previous posts from ‘As Your World Changes’

    2. Audio reading technology
      • LevelStar Icon Mobile Manager and Docking Station is my day-long companion for mail, RSS, twitter, and news. The link to Bookshare Newsstand and book collection sold me on the device. Bookshare can be searched by title, author, or recent additions, and I even hit my 100 limit last month. Newspapers download rapidly and are easy to read — get them before the industry collapses. The book shelf manager and reader are adequate but I prefer to upload in batches to the PC then download to Bookport. The Icon is my main RSS client for over 100 feeds of news, blogs, and podcasts.
      • Sadly, the American Printing House for the Blind is no longer able to maintain or distribute the Bookport due to manufacturing problems. However, some units are still around at blindness used equipment sites. The voice is snappy and it’s easy to browse through pages and leave simple bookmarks. Here is where I have probably dozens of DAISY files started, like a huge pile of books opened and waiting for my return. My biggest problem with this little black box is that my pet dog snags the ear buds as his toy. No other reader comes close to the comfort and joy of the Bookport, which awaits a successor at APH.
      • Demo of PlexTalk Pocket provides a TTS reader in a very small and comfortable package. However, this new product breaks on some books and is awkward managing files. The recording capabilities are awesome, providing great recording directly from a computer and voice memos. With a large SD card, this is also a good accessible MP3 player for podcasts.
    3. Article supporting Writers’ Guild in Kindle dispute illustrates the issues of copyright and author compensation. I personally would favor a micro payment system rather than my personal referral activism. However, in a society where a visually impaired person can be denied health insurance, where 70% unemployment is common, where web site accessibility is routinely ignored, it’s wonderful that readers have opportunities for both pleasure and keeping up with fellow book worshipers.
    4. Setting up podcast, blog, and news feeds is tricky sometimes and tedious. Here is my my OPML feeds for importing into other RSS readers or editing in a NotePad.

    5. Here’s another technology question. Could DAISY standard format, well supported in our assistive reading devices become a format suitable for distributing the promised data from recovery.gov?
      Here is a interview with DAISY founder George Kerscher on XML progress.

    6. Another physiological question is what’s going on in my brain as I switch primarily to audio mode? Are there exercises that can make that switch over more comfortable and accelerated than just picking up devices and training oneself? I’m delving into Blogs on ‘brain plasticity’
    7. (WARNING PDF) Listening to the Literacy Events of a Blind Reader – an essay by Mark Willis asks whether audio reading can cope with the critical thinking required in a complex and sometimes self-contradictory doctrine like Thomas Kuhn’s “Scientific Revolutions”. This would be a great experiment for psychology or self. Let’s also not forget the resources of Book Club Reading Lists to help determine what we missed in a reading or may have gained through audio mental processing.

    Audio reading of this blog post

    Great!! Twitter has Less to See, More to Say and Hear.

    This post relates my experiences using the micro-blogging system “twitter”. For once, accessibility issues drift into the background and the educational, emotional, and entertainment aspects of the technology engage me in the social media movement. In summary, an undisciplined person can fritter away mountains of time on molehills of information that pop up in the Twitter landscape created by following choices. However, a person with self-directed interests can find bubbling brooks of content pointers and insights with occasional gold nuggets never otherwise revealed. An alternative title might be “Does Twitter make me fitter? or flitter?”

    Please, please, explain twitter

    First, what’s the “twitter model” of information flow? Blogs have gained popularity because individuals believe their special interests and expertise attract like-minded readers who can contribute feedback and merge to reach higher goals. Let’s admit that it takes courage to make that first blogging step whether for business survival or personal growth. Twitter concentrates the writing and reading into 140 characters per message, roughly a headline, topic sentence, or link reference. The underlying technology builds on the Publish-Subscribe model that you put your information someplace, others find its location, assess its quality and relevance, then add the location to automated systems, dubbed “clients”, to fetch the latest messages. The Twitter lingo is that you “follow” somebody, others “follow” you, and Twitter central facilitates the broadcast of messages by allowing clients to send and receive messages, including its own website twitter.com. The power of twitter also comes from distributing following-follower lists, enabling, in computational thinking terms, symmetric and “transitive relationships”, where “I follow X ho follows Y who follows Z” and “oh, look, A is following me, looks interesting, so I’ll follow A who also follows B, etc.”.

    How does a person, sighted or not, use twitter?

    Accessibility issues are minimized to only getting past the account sign-up anti-spam CAPTCHA image or audio at twitter.com. since the main functions of using twitter are inputting 140 or fewer characters and links or buttons to handle following activation, user interfaces are simple, non-visual, and enabled by an API (Application Programming Interface) at Twitter Central.


    I use two twitter clients. The Levelstar Icon Mobile Manager Version 2 software provides basic capabilities for sending messages, updating the so-called “tweet roll” of messages from people I follow, as well as checking out my followers and followees by profiles and thei follow contexts. A web interface Accessible Twittter.com applies many principles for making web pages easily usable with a screen reader. Another useful interface, Mobile Twitter offers a spreadsheet look, good for fooling bosses and quick to read.

    So, how does one get started in twitter?

    After getting my account, Twitter Central showed me some highly followed people, one of whom I knew by name, Slate journalist John Dickerson. Then I thought up people I respected from blogs, podcasts, and books, adding Jon Udell, John Batelle, W. David Stevenson, Danah Boyd, Francine Hardaway, and Denise Howell. That gave me a well-rounded expansion of people whom I respected and could trust to follow worthy thinkers and doers. At some point, I believe centered on Accessible Twitter creator Dennis Lembrée of WebAxe podcast brought me into transitive and cyclic lineages of accessibility gurus. Fortuitously, these folks were organizing a “tweetup at CSUN accessibility conference and I was quickly following a few dozen people I didn’t know who were building a community for sharing their blog writings, insights, complaints, and traveling.


    On the other side, now with my own account, I had to figure out what to say, personal and professional, more later on this dilemma.

    Why twitter makes me fitter

    My take on “social media” is that individuals in society need to both maintain their past affiliated relationships, like co-workers, while expanding their options and facilitating personal growth. This gets very interesting when generations, genders, and interests cross traditional social boundaries. My selection of people to follow has one common criterion: independent thinkers, solo proprietors, those who “own their minds” with any company affiliation in the background. I care not a wit for any organizational tricks or complaints. Messages from such people are often like “well, here’s this great insight, but nobody here to tell, except the cat/dog, a good mid-afternoon tweet treat for myself”. More often I see the straightforward “worth reading to learn X, here’s the link”. For me, as receiver, this adds up to a dozen or so tabs and web pages lined up in my browser, kind of a morning clipping service. Since I’m learning about accessibility and assistive technology, I’m getting a daily reading list and lessons from experts whom I trust to know what’s important.


    The cross-generational aspects of twitter are fascinating. In physical life, I attend lifelong learning courses and book clubs where, at age 66, I’m often one of the younger members, so story telling extends back before WW II and parents in the Depression (the previous one). Not surprisingly, one sometimes hears grumbling about “those kids and their toys”, which I also co-exist with at home. On twitter, I’m an elder lurker, used to being the invisible older woman, trying to inject my own decades of experience, expecting little interest — “who cares about email in the 1970s?”.


    Also intriguing is the cross-over of geographical and technical interests, e.g. learning about Jon Udell’s “Calendar Curation” project, including nitty-gritty technical things I can still understand, if not perform. I also keep up on electronic publishing, government data,Arizona entrepreneurs, and general technology, almost anything except boring past professional organizations and hard to find local connections.


    To cite one of those nuggets of gold, my tweet role is currently filled with reports of the Trends at a European conference on accessibility for the Aging. Just hearing the stream of topics provides the collage of technical and social concerns, while I register mentally those slides I want to peruse for my recurring theme posting on vision loss, including advice for care-givers.

    How does twitter make me flitter?

    One thing I do get better at with age is managing my energy level. The rules are simple. “Add a follower, measure whether you’re at a limit of time or interest, demote something”. Also recognize “context switching takes energy, so confine contexts to current interest”. In other words, you cannot keep up with everything, so must, always, be trimming back. This gets harder when you must delete yourself as a follower of a person you like but don’t need. Sadly, hey, if I have to keep skipping or reading tweets I dislike or don’t care about, I’m soon going to disregard that person, so better drop this relationship sooner. Snip, see you later.


    I’m luckily immune to most pop culture, but occasionally do need a dash of heart tugging or mockery or irritation. Ok, I confess, I couldn’t tell you one thing about American Idol but I’m compelled to keep up with Britain talent Susan Boyle phenomenon. Those judges smirking at her age and looks, telling her they’d laughed at her, gets my feminism and ageism ire going. But seeing somebody have a lifetime high moment, and do a fantastic performance, well, that makes me feel ever so human. Don’t tell me the show is rigged.

    Twitter for the Vision Loser

    I hope you’ve now seen that Twitter is a great match with needs of this Vision Loser, maybe others.

    1. With a text-based technology, there are no complex interfaces to master. Indeed Accessible Twitter is designed with the best practices to streamline reading and writing in Twitter.

    2. The twitter user world, millions of people with varied interests, offer a mixed blend of personal, professional, and avocational content. Find the people you like, the people they like, and you can be on the fringes of ongoing conversations to deepen and broaden your interests. Yes, this is like over-hearing art experts discussing a portrait in a gallery, but what’s wrong with that?

    3. Most charitable organizations are now on twitter, e.g. Red Cross, Lions Club, NFB, etc. Vision-related advocacy cropped in the
      Amazon Kindle publisher guild petitions and protest. VisionAware and Fred’s Head from APH offer a steady diet of news about vision related topics and assistive technology. And this VisionLoser formed her own self-study of the accessibility field from trickle down tweets.

    4. Step out yourself by replying to tweets when you know something relevant. That’s one way to gain followers and enter the community. And start your own follower-ship by invitation and productive posting.

    5. Pay no attention to the million-follower celebrity races unless you dig playing their games. You can find your own playground and make your own acquaintances. And, ugly words like “friend
      “, as in somebody’s name added to a list, is cultural inanity. However, real relationships do build over time by reading blog or twitter thoughts.
      But oh, that very first tweet, like any “first”, can be scary. The prompt is “What are you doing?” which can be translated into now, right this moment? today’s big challenges? for the rest of my life? You can start out personal or think for 2 days, but probably nobody cares either way. In a month or so, you develop your own rhythm and style of posting. That’s where personal growth comes in, as you discover what matters enough to post or withhold, how to condense a though into 140 characters, and integrate twitter information flows into your reading and learning. Twitter is seductive, like writing a journal, and evaluating your goals and progress.

    6. Suppose you succumb to “twitter fritter” and waste scads of time with little return? We all have that problem and need to find our own self-control mechanisms. For me, this is an internalalization of battery drain with intellectual and emotional energy signaling the value of certain communications. Another problem is privacy concern, since you’re giving away your whereabouts and daily routine, but that’s part of what we have given up for a technological society, or formerly living in a small village.

    7. Here are a few general readings:

    Follow me on Twitter at slger123