Why is accessibility so hard? Glad you asked!

Dear President of ACM Vint Cerf:


In your article “Why is Accessibility so hard?” , you invited comments and received many valuable references and opinions from other non-members of ACM. However, anonymous comments like mine seem not to be appearing since submitted for review after November 8. I worked hard on this little piece and have some constructive suggestions along the lines of an important ACM computing themes, namely “computational thinking”. As a former member of ACM, thoroughly disgusted by the un usability of the ACM Digital Library and haphazard HTMl of acm.org, I was hoping to find a genuine thread of change. So, not knowing if my submitted comment below is stifled or just dropped off your radar of comment reviewing, here’s my advice anyway.

Analyzing the computing field accessibility deficit

Thanks for asking. My “As Your World Changes” blog has myriad suggestions for overdue change to accessibility practices within computing:

My favorite resources — great reading

As a late life vision loser,and ex-ACM member, I hope the previously commented resources expand your frames of reference. Please add my favorites:(1 Wendy Chisholm and Matt May, “Universal Design for Web Applications” book; (2) WebAim.org screen reader user survey, WAVE accessibility checker, and pages of excellent practical advice; (3) the “accessibility virtual water cooler” linked by #a11y and #accessibility on Twitter; (4) the iBlinkRadio Android and IOS app portal to podcast and communities for visually impaired tech users; (5) a personable informative Rochester-based Viewpoints radio/podcast on products and daily living tips for vision loss. at http://viewpointsplus.net

Quintessential challenges: computational thinking and omitted requirement accelerating costs

Why do some think accessibility is hard? The good news is that we have at hand the quintessential “computational thinking” situation and mental tools for tackling much of accessibility. The bad news is another quintessential situation: the software economics of increasing cost of re mediating a missing requirement. Furthermore, attitudes are exacerbated by ignoring maturing web standards and disengagement from high performing professionals with disabilities in the assistive technology industry. ACM has also fostered an image of social exclusiveness through its misguided touting of the wonders of the “NO BLIND ALLOWED” symbol CAPTCHA (as if these magically warded off intruders other than us). How much of the difficulty is social rather than technological?

Remediation opportunity: learn by fixing your own website

Luckily the remediation opportunities for learning through and fixing accessibility flaws are readily available. Start with typing your institution, personal, or favorite web page into http://wave.webaim.org. This free and instantly usable analyzer will highlight the semantic structure of the page meaningful to screen reader users like me. It’s highly likely you’ll also expose accessibility deviations from standards. Common zits are: unlabeled form elements leaving me wondering what to enter in the edit box; non informative link like “click here” that require reading the context; missing or mis-ordered headings that obscure the page outline, forcing me into tabbing among HTML elements linearly without a comprehensive outline for discovery and navigation; or graphics without descriptions as to purpose and content. Does your experimental analysis make you wonder why web developers didn’t follow even these simple rules of accessibility? If you’re accountable for the page, like this very one from acm, then how should you change your process, contractors, or attitudes if better accessibility is really a goal?

Remediation Opportunity: Establish CSEdWeek challenges

Here’s another experiment I’ve performed myself (see blog posts). Computer Science Education Week is a big publicity deal for prestige and recruitment into a presumably non-discriminatory profession. Are there at least minimal standards for accessibility of partner web sites? Is the language inclusive, at least recognizing that pedagogical tools like Alice are problematic and that CAPTCHAs on the contact page are offensive? A little bit of shame and accountability can be shared by all if we no longer act like accessibility is always hard but rather start fixing simple problems, learning along the way.

Remediation Opportunity: Listen to people who daily conquer accessibility challenges

One more opportunity is to cross the disability social engagement boundary and actually sit down with somebody who uses the wondrous technology available. You can familiarize yourself for freeze by installing the world class NVDA Windows screen reader, turning on VoiceOver on a Mac or IOS device (triple click home). Here’s a “computational thinking” experiment: can you gain the same information sighted or blind folded? Why not? what do you have to learn to communicate, hold in memory, sequence differently, or give up on? How do you feel when offered an unlabeled button? Where do you go to learn new Techniques and good practices (hint: applevis.com and iBlinkRadio app)? Really, visually impaired folks can talk, explain, and share their joy using technology as well as constructive frustrations. Just ask!.

The Remaining Challenge after Remediation: absorbing complex information

Ok,there is one class of challenging problem beyond myriad simple accessibility rules and negligent process instances mentioned. Complex data structures like tables are memory taxing without vision and graphs and charts and animations require alternative sensory representations. Again, this is computational thinking as in concrete or multiple representations of the underlying information and semantics. Why doesn’t ACM offer a prize for advances here, which also might help everybody better consume visual information?

Take heart, all you future vision losers, as resources abound

Finally, to the many of you who will be losing vision in late career or retirement? Take heart, there’s never been a better time! You must locate whatever vision rehabilitation services are available locally, like Lighthouse or Independent Living but don’t let the strange web of state and charity “helpers” limit you. Macular degenerates can find a veritable wikipedia of practical and emotional sustenance at http://mdsupport.org. The podcasted media of Main Menu ACBRadio, Seratech perspectives (iBlinkRadio), and the TechDoctor can ease you into product assessment and sharing the joys of now abundant mainstream products. An iPod Touch is a great “gateway drug” into this world if you haven’t already been bitten by the Apple bug. Becoming print disabled isn’t all bad, because you are now eligible for near free daily newspapers and libraries of thousands of easily downloadable books for synthetic speech reading on devices and apps far better than sighted users buy. Yes, there’s a monster learning curve, but we technologists are well positioned for this one more life adjustment. If we can now get our profession into the solution side rather than producing more generations of uneducated students accepting such poor role models as acm.org, then we might even be able to contribute better our valuable experience to a professional society that understands disabilities as computational thinking differences.

summary from my decade of adjustment to vision loss using technology with class:

get cracking on learning about accessibility by fixing simple, obstructive, instructive problems. Listen to accessibility professionals and high performing persons with disabilities who offer their spirited advice through social media. Only then will the goals of ACM style research be brought to fruition and we will identify the intrinsic difficulty of accessibility.

Yours, in respect and hope for change, finally

Susan L. Gerhart, retired visionary computer scientist and myopic macular degenerate
slger123@gmail.com
blog on adjusting to vision loss: https://asyourworldchanges.wordpress.com

Prescott Needs a Community Inclusive Disability Council

Scooter and Sticky Analyze Their Community Disability Life Situations

Scooter and Sticky are enjoying their occasional Gimp girl luncheons at Ted’s Pizza on the Square. Taking turns interviewing each other about their respective disabilities, services, adjustments, and continuing constructive life style changes orchestrates their rambling. They both admire the statement from the White House lawn celebrating 20th anniversary of the A.D.A. that “Civil rights are not self-enforcing”. However, practical daily life strategies for different disabilities vary greatly and consume so much energy. Their discussions challenge them back on their respective tracks toward goals within shifting social systems neither fully understands. It’s scooter’s turn to quiz Sticky to organize her recent experience

  1. Scooter:
    Hey, how’s your perennial search for services comparable to SAAVI in Tucson or Lighthouses around the country?

    Sticky:
    Growl. As far as I can tell, New Horizons is still the main game in town, actually way out there in PV. Yet another vision specializing occupational therapist closed up her practice, and I’ll miss her. New Horizons and some other “vendors” held a Low Vision Expo at the Adult Center where I met some new Vision Losers, but I’m not appraised of the exhibit’s after effects. I met a home schooling mom of two children with disabilities in the PPL elevator who confirmed my experience. It’s hard to get services except by piggybacking on vocational rehab or school special ed if you are retired.

    I just keep wondering how many other folks like me are out there looking for services, not even sure what they really need. Who in Prescott would have stats on my, or your disabilities, like how many diagnosed and how many being served? And how do people get referred around the state, medical, charity, nonprofit, etc. like groups? Somebody must know, but our intuitions raise the right questions.

  2. Scooter:
    Don’t the eye doctors handle that? You mean, they don’t address like how your life changes and where to get help?

    Sticky:
    Not often in my experience. One referred me to Second Sight rehab but that operation is long gone. Usually they send you off to the Phoenix based Low Vision practices which offer high priced reading equipment as well as magnifier thingys. But nobody on the medical side seems to have a charge code for dealing with life changing effects of their diagnoses.

    My best source for about 15 years has been MDSupport.org, run by retired music teacher Dan Roberts. His motto is that “no patient should leave after a diagnosis feeling it’s hopeless”. That website and mailing list is a Wikipedia of vision-related information and the mailing list for Macular Degenerates regularly connects cool people and their diverse experiences. But the docs ignore anything not optical or retinal and live over in another silo. This predicament is national, really international, so MdSupport helps patients prepare questions to prod information out of the medical people.

    There’s also locally People Who Care seminar on Confident Living that introduces vendors if you happen to hear of it by word of mouth or Daily Courier notices. This is good introductory information but progressive vision loss means continued learning new skills for the rest of our lifetimes. I’m proof of how much a motivated person can learn on her own, but, let me tell you, it’s really hard work for my family as well as myself.

  3. Scooter:
    So, exactly what kinds of services are you talking about?

    Sticky:
    First, and foremost, is OMT, Orientation and Mobility Training. Like how to use my precious $35 white cane, clamber up stairs, find buildings, and, horrors, cross streets. I had to wait a year after getting put on the list for state paid OMT specialist Kim in Sedona but she retired or quit. Finally, I broke down at the People Who Care seminar I went to and got lined up for lessons with a Special Ed OMT person during the summer. Those few lessons gave me independence and staved off isolation, with Yavapai College as my main OMT practice area and now playground for courses at OLLI. Ironic that the cost of that OMT would be far less than any single trip to the ER! but OMT isn’t generally available.

    Other stuff Lighthouse and SAAVI do are called ADL, Active Daily Living, like cooking, labeling clothes, signing checks, and other things you never thought about needing to learn. Braille literacy and computing technology, too, of course. My favorite Prescott helper,, probably unknown to anybody else, is the Talking ATM at Chase Bank – plug in ear buds, listen to menus, punch the keypad, and walk off with your cash. Beautiful!

  4. Scooter:
    A lot of that sounds like regular training to upgrade your skills. How do you keep up? What are all those gadgets you carry around?

    Sticky:
    For years I’ve listened to podcasts which I automatically download to hear recorded demonstrations, interviews, group discussions, even book clubs, all organized by Blind people. Like Main Menu from the American Council for the Blind, AccessibleWorld.org community rooms, and Blind Cool Tech. It took some mind warping, but I crossed a cultural boundary when I discovered how much the Blind could teach me living partially sighted.

    A friend took me to exhibits spread across several hotels at LAX showing all the assistive tech products I’d heard about on podcasts. Even Stevie Wonder showed up at one booth I was scouting. So, I bought a lot of listening devices and shifted all my reading, TV watching, and writing to using these audio feedback hand-held gadgets. Here, this black phone looking box, called a BookSense, has over 1000 books I’ve collected from Bookshare, a volunteer and publisher supported distribution system. For $50 annual BookShare fees, I also get NYTimes best sellers and NewsLine NYTimes, Washington Post, New Yorker, and more. Reading just keeps getting better and rarely causes me much hassle.

    Now, this past year, I’ve picked up the iPhone, really a little computer with an ecosystem of apps that merge specialized assistive tech into the mainstream. Like, my iPhone tells me currency, sends away pictures I cannot identify for near instant interpretation, plays my podcasts, scrolls my Twitter TimeLine, and also reads books and news. A little voice tracks my fingers moving on the screen and gives me complete control of the device.

    My computer setup is a simple Windows netbook, costing about $300, with a free screen reader to feedback my keyboarding and speak out text on the screen. I think I spent about $1500 in 2011, not as much as most years, for upgrades, new tech, and services. Students and employees get more expensive stuff through tax paid funds, boosting prices in the so-called disability-industrial complex, so people like me are paying out of our retirement funds. Ouch, but worth it!

  5. Scooter:
    So, you must be a great community resource! Do you give courses in this tech wizardry?

    Sticky:
    sure I do offer but most people losing vision have trouble making this tech transition. Our brains have to shift from seeing to hearing and most people want to hang on using vision as long as possible. Magnifying from their computers works, but is very slow. I’ve helped a trainer from New Horizons learn the computer screen reader I use, called NVDA. But there isn’t a critical mass of local users like me to convince new Vision Losers to try mysterious gadgets and overcome what I’ve dubbed Synthetic Voice Shock.

    Honestly, it’s lots of hard work to learn all this, took me many months on each gadget to get comfortable. We need more teachers and understanding of how this tech works. My best experiences have been a 2 hour session on “Using Things That talk” at OLLI. And I have a nicely organized collection of the podcasts I’ve learned from that I can distribute on DVD or 4GB flash drive.

  6. Scooter:
    If I understand you correctly, most of what you Vision Losers need is out there, but not integrated into any location in Prescott, let alone understood by the medical profession. What is the crux of this problem?

    Sticky:
    It’s like the whole system is broken, locally. Nationally there may be a serious lack of trained vision rehab specialists,made worse by geographical distribution. It takes enough consumers, i.e. Vision Losers like me, to support these services, but there also must be a healthy referral chain from eye doctors and sharing of personnel among retirees, employment seekers, and students. It’s a mess! And nobody has the stats out in the public of this city to help understand how big a mess!

    Now, remember, this isn’t charity we need. Occasional potlucks or outings might be nice, but personally I want to maintain and grow my relationships among people with broad interests, like AAUW and YC OLLI, and maybe even an OCCUPY or political sideline. Plus family and remote friends.

    Of course, lack of public transportation is a major barrier, but asking for that invites a smack down. “Costs too much! Gotta keep every street re paved and broadened and make people think this is a great place to retire”. That brings up another topic, about how much money is really sitting around in nonprofits or federal funds or raised annually that could generally improve services? Who knows? Who cares?

    One cool idea I’ve heard about elsewhere is an “Aging in Place Concierge” service. I actually used something like this in Tucson, called Red Rose, two women operators who would do whatever you needed for flat rates, like $35/hr. Pet sitting, rides, mail sorting, light repair, whatever plus knowing the existence and quality of services for outsourcing. I’d love to find that in Prescott!

  7. Scooter:
    I heard about some new communications practices that seemed important, like preventing loss of life as in Katrina. Did you participate in an emergency preparedness test last year?

    Sticky:
    No, was there one? I think it’s the national Broadband.gov effort in the FCC that is rolling out those tests. Like not relying only on radio and those scrolling lines on TV screens I cannot read will be replaced by a system sending notices in forms I could use, including ring tones, vibrations, and text messages on my iPhone. But communities have to take responsibility for linking up with the funding and implementation of that national provision. Who in Prescott does that? Where do I sign up?

    Out of curiosity last year, I joined in listening to the White House Disability monthly conference call. Lots of info, like transportation regulation changes, oh, wait, not to worry there. But medical, independent housing, broadband, education, across the board good stuff is happening. But not locally unless someone is on their toes to learn and spread the word. Who would that be?

  8. Scooter:
    Just wondering, do you ever hear the A.D.A. mentioned in your circles within Prescott?

    Sticky:

    Oh, the YRMC got a little play in the Daily Courier and a big notice in DisabilityScoop and Disability.gov last year. Actually, it sounds like they did the right thing, training their personnel, after a deaf complaint denying ASL. I wonder if that training is available at other city sites.

    It would also be interesting to know how many A.D.A. complaints and grievances have been filed and how they were resolved. Like the VA, colleges, and city parks and streets are covered. YC campus is pretty habitable, at least for this long cane walker. However, I don’t understand how anybody on scooter or wheelchair or care-giver arm can negotiate those advertising placards in front of every store downtown. Often I get stuck among them, the benches, and plants or run smack into oncoming pedestrian or bike traffic as I decide which way to go around those damned barriers. Another common problem is construction on sidewalks, like how am I to know how to get around a ditch or find another route? And, ice on sidewalks and bridges gives me weeks of Cabin Fever, missing my 1.5 mile daily walk on those blessed smooth streets. But who do you contact about these problems
    , trying to avoid a formal complaint? Do you know?

    Hey, Scooter, do you know the term TAB, as in Temporarily Able Bodied? Not like other civil rights, disability is a category anybody can join any time. And everybody will join if they live long enough. Plus, disability doesn’t happen just to individuals but also to that person’s family, friends, and colleagues. Yes, disability should be a universal concern.

  9. Scooter:
    sounds like there are Lucky Vision Losers who won the lottery being located near services. And then there are Unlucky Vision Losers stuck in a frayed web of confusing groups with no central organization looking after them?
    What do other cities and regions do?

    Sticky:
    A quick web search turns up many “Mayor Disability Council” where city offices, disability service vendors, charities, and, most important, disabled people themselves. You can even listen in on recordings of the San Francisco Disability Council, with transit, independent living, A.D.A. complaints, and more on the agenda with feedback and suggestions from “consumers”, i.e. people with disabilities, many far worse than you and I experience.

  10. Scooter:
    Eureka! Let’s get together with more representatives of other disabilities and form some kind of Community Council that really addresses these problems we’ve been talking about.

    Sticky:
    Great idea! Read on fora draft to get us started. Educate! Advocate! Liberate!

Prescott Arizona Really Needs a Disability Council


  1. Collect and publicize data on services available, services provided, and services needed
  2. Publicize and implement federal and state guidelines and mechanisms, such as emergency preparedness
  3. Coalesce and channel charity, nonprofit, federal/state/city funds toward services as articulated by citizens with disabilities
  4. Match citizens with disabilities to boards, advisory groups, city committees, etc.
  5. Publicize and accept A.D.A. complaints and grievances and promulgate resolutions
  6. Support peer communication among people with different as well as same disabilities and common needs
  7. Provide public training on organizing events, managing facilities, and communicating with persons with disabilities

What do other cities do with their disability services and citizens with disabilities?

Chatanooga Mission Statement

The Mayor’s Council on Disability’s overall mission is to promote policies, programs, practices, and procedures that give equal opportunity for all individuals with disabilities, regardless of the nature or severity of the disability; and to empower individuals with disabilities to achieve economic self-sufficiency, independent living, and inclusion and integration into all aspects of society.

Will Computer Science Meet accessibility in 2011?


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


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

responsibilities, accountability, openness, and Opportunities for CompSci


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

basic accountability as an academic discipline


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


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

domain responsibility of the CompSci field

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

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


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

Computational thinking opportunities await CompSci


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


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

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

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

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

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


why not?

Issues, evidence, and epiphanies

are the feds really coming after universities for inaccessibility?


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


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


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

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

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


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

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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


Here is a test you can perform yourself.


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


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

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

  4. Standalone link names are important for, like headings, a link abstraction allows rapidly skimming for general context and specific refinements.”Click here”, “here”, “read more”, and “learn more” require the screen reader user to search around for context. See post “I don’t want to click here” for a humorous take on this annoying practice.
    <

Webaxe guide to introductions to accessibility and its demo podcasts is a good place to start and also entertaining. WebAim Web Accessibility in Mind also offers an annual empirical analysis of screen reader use and many checklists and guidelines. One caveat is that WAVE, although free and easy, is susceptible to flaws of any static analyzer with false hits, cascading errors, and interpretation of results. However, our tests show that it readily exposes often embarrassing mistakes just waiting for correction. My favorite was a major CompSci blog with hidden text offering Viagra remedies.


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

And, is there any good news?


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

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

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

The 2011 CompSci Meets Accessibility Manifesto


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


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

Beyond Universal Design – Through Multi-Sensory Representations

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


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

Motivation: CyberLearning must be Inclusive

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

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

Universal Design Goals

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

Beyond Universal Design as Research

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

Essential Metadata Requirements

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

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

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

Policies and Procedures to Ensure Suitable Software

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

Opportunities for Multi-Sensory Representation Research

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

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

Toward a Better, Inclusive Workforce

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

Summary of recommendation

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

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

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

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

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

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

What if Accessibility had a Capability Maturity Model?

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


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

The 5 Levels of Maturity Model

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

Chaotic, Undefined. Level 1

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

Repeatable but still undefined Level 2

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

Defined Level 3

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

Managed Level 4

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

Optimizing Level 5

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

How well does CMM apply to accessibility?

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

Do standards raise process quality?

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

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

Does CMM apply in really small organizations?

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

Should CMM influence higher education?


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

Organizations can define really awful processes

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

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

Quality oriented organizations are often oblivious about accessibility

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


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

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

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


How would you know?

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

Developers, are you comfortable with your process?

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

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

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


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

Users and advocates, does CMM help make your case?

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

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


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


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

Looking for exemplars, good or bad?

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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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

Grafting web accessibility onto computer science education

Note: this is a long post with webliography in the next article.
There is also a recorded tour of CS web sites as an MP3 download.

Understanding web accessibility through computational Thinking


This post is written for distribution during the first proclaimed National computer science education week, December 7, 2009. My goal is to stimulate awareness within the CSE community of the importance of web and software accessibility to society at large and to the proper development of associated skills within CS curricula. Taking this further, I offer a call to action to renovate our own websites for purposes of (1) improved service, (2) learning and practice, and (3) dissemination of lessons learned to other academic entities, including professional organizations.


recognizing that traditional, accredited CS curricula do not define a role for accessibility, I suggest actions that can be grafted into courses as exercises, readings, debates, and projects. To even more legitimize and improve uptake of accessibility, many of these problems can be cast as computational Thinking in the framework of drivers from society, technology, and science.

Definitions and Caveats

Caveat: I do not represent the blindness communities, standards groups, or any funding agency.
Also, I limit this accessibility context to the USA and visual impairment disability.

here is my personal definition framework:

  • Definition: disability = inability to independently perform daily living tasks due to physical or mental causes

    example: I cannot usually read print in books or news, nor text on a computer screen at size 14

    Example: I cannot usually follow a mouse cursor to a button or line of text to edit

  • Definition: Assistive Technology (AT) = hardware or software that overcomes some limits of a disability

    example: A screen magnifier can track a mouse cursor then smooth and enlarge text in the cursor region

    Example: A screen reader can announce screen events and read text using synthetic speech

  • Definition: Accessibility = Quality of hardware and software to (1) enable assistive technology and also (2) support the AT user to the full extent of their skills without unnecessary expenditure of personal energy

    example: A web page that enables focus through keyboard events enables a screen reader to assist a user to operate the page with ease, provided hands are working. Same is true for sighted users.

    Example A screen magnifier enables reading text and screen objects but at such a low rate that I cannot accomplish much usual work:

    Note: I am conflating accessibility with usability here, with usability usually referring beyond disabilities. Informally, to me, “accessibility” means my screen reader is fully operational, not in the way, and there are no reasons I cannot achieve the goal of page success as well as anybody.

  • Definition: Accommodation = explicit human decisions and actions to accomplish accessibility

    Example: Modifying a web page enhances comprehension for a screen reader user, see POSH computational thinking below

    Ecxample: Adapting security settings on a PC to permit a job applicant with a screen reader on a pen drive to read instructions and complete tests and forms

    Example: A curb cut in a sidewalk enables wheelchairs to moor easily cross streets. Also true for baby strollers, inattentive pedestrians, visually impaired, luggage carts, skateboards, etc.


I base my analysis and recommendations on several domains of knowledge:

  • Learning and acquisition of skills as a recent vision Loser, becoming “print disabled”, “legally blind”, now at an intermediate skill level

  • Computer scientist, active for decades in formal methods and testing, highly related to “computational thinking” with broader professional experience in design methods and technology transfer.

  • Intermittent computer science and software engineering educator at undergraduate and master’s level programs with experience and opinions on accreditation, course contents, student projects, and associated research

  • Accelerated self-study and survival training from the community of persons with disabilities, the industry and professions serving them, and the means for activism based in social media like twitter, blogs, and podcasts

  • Lingering awareness of my own failings before my vision loss, including software without accessibility hooks, web pages lacking structural/semantic markup, and , worst of all, omission of accessibility considerations from most courses and projects. My personal glass house lies in slivers around me as I shout “if only I knew then, when I was professionally active, what I know now, as a semi-retiree living with the consequences and continuing failures of my profession.

what is “computational thinking” and what does it have to do with accessibility?

This term was coined by dr. Jeannette wing in a 2006 article, and best expressed in her
Royal society presentation and podcast conversations. for our purposes, CT asks for more precise description of abstractions used in assistive technology, web design, and mainstream browsers, etc. The gold standard of web accessibility for my personal kind of disability, shared with millions of Americans, is the bottom line of reading and interacting with web sites as well as currently normally sighted persons. To an amazing degree, audio and hearing replaces pixels and seeing provided designs do support cooperation of assistive technology at both primitive levels and costs for effort expended. I’ll illustrate some fledgling computational thinking in a later section and by touring CS and other websites, but, sorry, this won’t be a very pleasant experience for either me the performer or listeners.


CSE can benefit from the more rigorous application of CT to meet its societal obligations while opening up new areas of research in science and technology leading to more universal designs for everybody. To emphasize, however, this is not a venture requiring more research before vast improvements can be achieved, but rather a challenge to educators to take ownership and produce more aware computing professionals. …

Driving forces of society, Technology, and science


Here’s a summary of trends and issues worthy of attention within CSE and suggested actions that might be grafted appropriately.

driving forces from society

computer science education has a knowledge gap regarding accessibility


As excellently argued in a course description “Accessibility First”, web design in general, accessibility, and assistive technology are at best service learning or research specialties falling under human computer interface or robotics. where do Cs students gain exposure to human differences, the ethics of producing and managing systems usable by everybody, and the challenges of exploring design spaces with universal intentions.


The extensive webliography below offers the best examples I could find, so please add others as comments. Note that I do not reference digital libraries because (1) the major ACM Portal is accessibility deficient itself and (2) I object to the practice of professional contributions being available only at a charge. The practice of professional society control over publications forces a gulf between academic researchers and a vibrant community of practitioners, including designers, tool builders, accessibility consultants and activists.


Action: Use the above definition framework to describe the characteristics of the following as ordinary or assistive: keyboards, tablets with stylus, onscreen keyboard, mouse, screens, fonts, gestures, etc. How do these interfaces serve (1) product developers and (2) product users? Where is the line between assistive and mainstream technology?


Action: see the proposed expansion of the National computer Science education proclamation in our conclusions. Debate the merits of both the whereas assumptions the therefore call to action. Are these already principles adopted and practiced within CSE?

Disability is so prevalent that accessibility is a uniform product requirement.

Being disabled is common, an estimated 15% of U.S.A. population with serious enough visual impairment to require adjustments from sites designed assuming full capabilities of acuity, contrast, and color. Eyesight changes are inevitable throughout life, even without underlying conditions such as macular degeneration or severe myopia. Visual abilities vary also with ambient conditions such as lighting, glare, and now size and brightness of small screens on mobile devices. considering other impairments, a broken arm, carpal tunnel injury, or muscle weakness give a different appreciation for interaction with a mouse, keyboard, or touch screen. As often said, we will all be disabled some way if we live long enough. Understanding of human differences is essential to production of good software, hardware, and documentation. Luckily, there are increasingly more specimens, like me, willing to expose and explain my differing abilities and a vast library of demonstrations recorded in podcasts and videos.


Action: view You tube videos such as the blind web designer using a screen reader explaining the importance of headings on web pages. Summarize the differences in how he operates from currently sighted web users. How expensive is the use of Headings? See more later in our discussion of CT for Headings.


Action: visit or invite the professionals from your organization’s Disability services, Learning center, or whatever it is called. These specialists can explain disabilities, assistive technology, educational adjustments, and legal requirements.


Action: Is accessibility for everybody, everywhere, all the time a reasonable requirement? What are the ethics and tradeoffs of a decision against accommodation? What are the responsibilities of those requiring accommodations?

The ‘curb cut’ principle suggests how accessibility is better for everyone


Curb cuts for wheelchairs also guide blind persons into street crossings and prevent accidents for baby strollers, bicyclists, skateboarders, and inattentive walkers. The “curb cuts” principle is that removing a barrier for persons with disabilities improves the situation for everybody. This hypothesis suggests erasing the line that labels some technologies as assistive and certain practices as accessibility to maximize the benefits for future users of all computer-enabled devices. This paradigm requires a new theory of design that recognizes accessibility flaws as unexplored areas of the design space, potential harbingers of complexity and quality loss, plus opportunities for innovation in architectures and interfaces. Additionally, web accessibility ennobles our profession and is just good for business.


Action: List physical barriers and adaptations in your vicinity, not only curb cuts, but signage, safety signals, and personal helpers. Identify how these accommodate people with canes, wheelchairs, service animals, etc. And also identify ways these are either helpful or hampering individuals without disabilities. Look at settings of computers and media used by instructors in classrooms. Maybe a scavenger hunt is a good way to collect empirical physical information and heighten awareness.


Action: Identify assistive technology and accessibility techniques that are also useful for reasons different from accessibility? e.g. A keyboard enabled web page or browser tabs support power users.

Persons with disabilities assert their civil rights to improve technology.


while most of us dislike lawsuits and lawyers, laws are continuously tested and updated to deal with conflicts, omissions, and harm. Often these are great educational opportunities on both the challenges of living with disabilities and the engineering modifications, sometimes minor, for accommodations. Commercial websites like amazon, iTunes, the Law School aptitude test, small business administration, and Target are forcefully reminded that customers are driven away by inaccessibility of graphics, menus, forms, and shopping carts. Conversely, recently, I had a quick and easy checkout from a Yahoo small business website, greatly raising my respect and future return likelihood whenever I see the product vendor and website provider.


Devices such as controllers on communication systems, the amazon Kindle, and new software like google WAVE and chrome browser often launch with only accessibility promises, excluding offensively and missing feedback opportunities from persons with disabilities. Over and over, it is shown that the proverbial software rule of increasing cost of fixing missing requirements late is exemplified by accessibility, whether legal or business motivated. While a lawsuit can amazingly accelerate accessibility, companies with vast resources like Microsoft, Oracle, blackboard, and google are now pitted in accessibility races with Yahoo, apple, and others. The bar is rapidly being raised by activism and innovation.


for many The social good of enabling equal access to computing is an attractor to a field renowned for nerds and greed. Social entrepreneurs offer an expansive sense of opening doors to not only education and entertainment but also employment, that now stands around 20% for disabled persons. Many innovative nonprofit organizations take  advantage of copyright exemptions building libraries and technology aids for alternatives to print and traditional reading.  


The computing curb cuts principle can motivate professionals, services, and end users to achieve the potential beauty and magic of computing in everyday life, globally, and for everybody who will eventually make the transition into some form of sensory, motor, or mental deficiency. But, first, mainstream computing must open its knowledge and career paths to encompass the visionaries and advances now segregated. All too often persons with disabilities are more advanced, diversified, and skill full in ways that could benefit not yet disabled people.


Action: The ubiquitous bank ATM offers a well documented ten year case study of how mediation led to a great improvement in independent living. for visually impaired people. Take those ear buds out of the MP3 player and try them on a local ATM, asking for service help if needed or ATM is not voice enabled. Using a voice enabled ATM also provides insight into the far more problematic area of electronic voting systems.


Action:
the amazon Kindle lawsuit by blind advocates against universities considering, or rejecting, the
device and its textbook market provides a good subject for debate.


Action: On the home front, pedagogical advances claimed for visual programming languages like Alice are not equally available to visually impaired students and teachers. first, is this a true assertion? How does this situation fit the definition of equal or equivalent access to educational opportunities? should the platform and implementation be redone for accessibility? Note: I’ve personally seen a student rapidly learn OO concepts and sat in on Cs1 courses with Alice, but I am totally helpless with only a bright, silent blob on the screen after download. Yes, I’ve spoken to SIGCSE and Alice personnel, suggested accessibility options, but never received a response on what happens to the blind student who signs up for an Alice-based CS course. Please comment if you have relevant experience with accommodations and Alice or other direct manipulation techniques.

The Web has evolved a strong set of standards and community of supporters.

W3c led efforts are now at 2.0 with an evolved suite of standards products, including documents, validator’s, and design tools. standards go a long way enabling accessibility by both their prescriptions and rationales, often drawing on scientific principles, such as color perception. but the essence of web standards is to define the contracts among browsers and related web technologies that enables designers to predict the appearance of and interaction with their designed sites and pages. The theme of WCAG 2.0 sums up as Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust. we all owe a debt to the Web standards Mafia for their technical contributions, forceful advocacy to vendors, and extensive continuing education.


Web standards are sufficiently mature, socially necessary, and business worthy that open, grassroots motivated curricula are being defined. CSE people who understand CT may well be able to contribute to this effort uniquely. In any case, questions about the relationship of tradition CS education and this independent curriculum movement must be addressed considering the large workforce of web designers, including accessibility specialists. Furthermore, web design inherently requires close designer and client communication, making it difficult to offshore into different culture settings.


Action: Use the #accessibility and #a11y hash tags on twitter to track the latest community discussions, mostly presented in blogs and podcasts. Pick a problem, like data tables, to learn the accessibility issues from these experts. find and create good and bad examples, but note you may need a screen reader software for this. can you characterize the alternatives and tradeoffs in CT terms?


Action: Create or try some web page features in several different browsers. Notice the differences in appearance and operation. Which sections of WCAG apply to noticeable differences or similarities?


Action: What is the career connection of computer science and web design? What are the demographics, salary, portability, and other qualities of web design versus traditional CS and SE jobs?

Transparency and dissemination of federal government data is drawing attention to accessibility

First, a remodeled whitehouse.gov drew accolades and criticisms. New websites like data.gov and recovery.gov appeared to reinforce the Obama administration promises. Disability.gov showed up on my radar screen through its Twitter flow. All these web sources, are now in my RSS feed reading regime. But the websites seem to be still behind on some aspects of accessibility, and under scrutiny by activists, including me. Personally, I’d be satisfied with a common form for requesting data and services, not the elements itself but well evolved interaction patterns through feedback and validation. More importantly, the data sets and analyses are challenging for visually impaired people, suggesting even new scientific research and novel technology to utilize alterative non-visual senses and brain power.


Additionally, innovation in assistive technology and accessibility is recognized at the National Center for Technology Innovation, with emphasis on portability and convergence with mainstream technology. Indeed, apparently, there are stimulus funds available in education and in communication systems.


Action: Visit the various USG cabinet department websites and then write down your main perception of their quality and ability to answer questions.


Action: Find examples of USG website forms users fill out for contacts, download of data sets, mailing lists, etc. How easy is filling out the forms> what mistakes do you make? How long does each take? Which forms are best and worst?

Action:
Check out on recovery.gov whether any stimulus funds are being spent on assistive technology. Or perhaps that information is on Deptart of Education sites as plans or solicitations.

Mainstream and assistive technologies are beginning to cross over.


BusinessWeek notes a number of examples:
Clearly mobile devices are driving this change. Embedding VoiceOver in Mac OS, transferred then to products like IPod Touch, has motivated a number of blind “screenless switchers”. Google calls its version on Android “eyes-free”. For those long stuck in the “blindness ghetto” of products costing $1000s with small company support and marketing chains through disability support service purveyors, this is a big deal. Conversely, although limited by terms of amendment under the Chafee agreement, members of Bookshare have enjoyed access to a rapidly growing library of texts, really XML documents, read in synthetic speech by now pocket size devices than cross Kindle and IPod capabilities. There’s never been a better time to lose some vision if one is a technology adopter willing to spend off retirement funds to remain active and well informed. The aging baby boomer generation that drives USA cost concerns will be a vast market in need of keeping up with the government flow of information, electronic documentation, not to mention younger generations.


But, while this Vision Loser is happy with the technology trend, to those disabled around the world working with older or non-existent computing environments this and free, open source trends make truly life changing differences.


Action: What are the job qualifications for working in the areas of assistive technology and accessibility? Is this business are growing, and in what regions of the USA or the world?

Technology drivers

social media opens the culture of disability and the assistive markets for all computing professionals to explore.


while the cultures of disability may operate separate systems of societies and websites, in the case of vision impairment, the resources are right there for everybody to learn from, primarily by demos disseminated as podcasts by blind cool Tech, accessible world, and vendors. several annual conferences feature free exhibit halls visited by disability professionals, independent disabled like me, and luminaries like stevie wonder. cSUN is the biggest and a good place to get vendor and product lists. Again, many products can be seen in local disability support services. Local computer societies and CS courses may find well equipped people who can present like my Using things that Talk. This is a vibrant world of marketing closely couple with users, highly professional demos, and innovative developers, often disabled themselves. I personally treasure shaking hands with and thanking the young blind guys behind my Levelstar Icon and NVDA screen readers. Also, mailing lists are to various degrees helpful to the newly disabled, and rarely particular about age and gender. it’s a great technology culture to be forced into.

Action: Whenever you’re in a large enough city, visit their local vision training centers. I think you’ll be welcome, and might leave as a volunteer.


Action: With well over a thousand podcasts, dozens of blogs, and a regular tweet stream, the entry points for learning are abundant. However, the terminology and styles of presenters and presentations vary widely. Consider an example, often used in computer science, like David Harel’s watch, the microwave oven, or elevator controller. How do the state diagrams manifest in speech interfaces? Can you reverse engineer device descriptions using computational thinking? How could this help disabled users or accessibility providers?

Text-to-speech (TTS) is a mature technology with commodity voices.


Screen reader users rely on software implemented speech engines which use data files of word-to-sound mappings, i.e. voices. built into Mac Os, and widely available in windows and Linux, this mature technology supports a marketplace of voices available in open source or purchased with varying degrees of licensing, at a cost of about $25. comparable engines and voices are the main output channel of mobile assistive devices, like now I type on the Levelstar Icon. web pages, books, dialogs, email, … reading is all in our mind through our ears, not our eyes. An amazing and not yet widely appreciated breakthrough of a lineage of speech pioneers dating back to 1939 through DecTalk ATT Natural voices and now interactions with voice

recognition.


Action: Wikipedia has a great chronology and description of synthetic speech. Track this with Moore’s law and the changes of technology over decades.


Action: Compare synthetic voices, e.g. using samples from vendor nextup.com or the ‘As Your World Changes’ blog samples.

Processor and storage enable more and more talking devices. why not everything?

Alarm clocks, microwave ovens, thermostats, and
many more everyday objects are speech enabled to some degree, see the demos on blind cool Tech and accessible world. I carry my library of 1000+ books everywhere in a candy bar sized screen-less device. but why stop until these devices are wirelessly connected with meaningful contextual networks. Thermostats could relay information about climate and weather trends, power company and power grid situations, and feedback on settings and recommended adjustments. Devices can carry their own manuals and training.


Action: Listen to podcasts on blind cool Tech and accessible world about talking devices and how they are in use by visually impaired people. Reverse engineer the devices into state machines, use cases, and write conversations between devices and users in “natural language”, assuming ease of speech output.


Action: Inventory some devices that might be redesigned for talking, even talkative. Electrical or chemical laboratory instruments, medical devices, home appliances, cars and other moving things, etc. But what would these devices speak? How do they avoid noise pollution? interference? annoyance?


Action: Computer science researchers are great at devising advanced solutions that provide service to relatively few disabled persons. For example, I have no use of GPS because if I’m somewhere I don’t know, I’m in bigger trouble than needing coordinates. This would b different in a city with public transportation, maybe. How do we evaluate technology solutions with the user, not the technology purveyor, as the main beneficiary?

Pivotal technology for visually impaired, the screen reader, is rapidly evolving through open source

A screen reader doesn’t really read pixels but rather the interfaces and objects in the browser and desktop. GUI objects expose their behaviors and properties for the screen reader to read and operate via TTS. Listen to the demos of Cs websites you may be familiar with. Unfortunately the marketplace for screen readers has been priced at over $1000 with steep SMA updates and limits in trials and distribution. Products largely sold to rehab and disability services passed on to users, with limited sales to individuals. This is a killer situation for older adults who find themselves needing assistance but without the social services available to veterans, students, and employee mandated. Worse, product patents are being employed by lawyers and company owners (some non USA) as competitive lawsuits.

however, the world has changed with the development over the past few years of NVDA, Non visual desktop access, originating in Australia with grants from Mozilla, then yahoo and Microsoft. A worldwide user community adapts NVDA for locale and Tts languages, with constant feedback to core developers. gradually, through both modern languages (Python) and browser developer collaborations, NVDA is challenging the market. You can’t beat free, portable, and easily installed if the product works well enough, as NVDA has for me since 2007. It’s fun to watch and support an agile upstart, as the industry is constantly changing with new web technologies like ARIA. The main problem with NVDA is robustness in the competing pools for memory resources and inevitable Windows restarts and unwanted updates.

Action: download and install NVDA. Listen to demos to learn its use. You will probably need to upgrade TTS voices from its distributed, also open, Espeak.

Action: learn how to test web pages with NVDA, with tutorials available from Webaim and Firefox. Define testing criteria (see standards) and processes. Note: good area here for new educational material, building on CS and SE testing theories and practices.


Action: develop testing practices, tools, and theories for NVDA itself. since screen readers are abstraction oriented, CT rigor could help.


Action: Modify NVDA to provide complexity and cost information. Is there a Magic Metric that NVDA could apply to determine with, say 80% agreement with visually impaired users, that a page was OK, DoOver, or of questionable quality in some respect?

structured text enables book and news reading in a variety of devices..


DAISY is a specification widely implemented to represent books, newspapers, magazines, manuals, etc. Although few documents fully exploit its structuring capabilities, in principle, a hierarchy of levels with headings allows rapid navigation of large textual objects. for example, the Sunday NY Times, has 20 sections, editorials, automobiles, obituaries, etc. separated into articles. Reading involves arrowing to interesting sections, selecting articles, listening in TTS until end of article or nauseous click to next article. books arrive as folders of size usually less than 1 MB. reader devices and software manage bookmarks, possibly in recorded voice, and last stopping point, causes by user action or sleep timer. In addition to audible and National narrated reading services with DRM, The TTS reading regime offers a rich world from 60,000+ books contributed by volunteers and publishers to bookshare and soon over 1M DAISY formatted public books through bookserver.org.
These are not directly web accessibility capabilities as in browsers but rather do read HTML as text, support RS’s reading of articles on blogs, and include browsers with certain limits, as in no Flash.
Over time, these devices contribute to improved speech synthesis for use everywhere, including replacement of human voice organs. Steven Hawking, blogger heroine ‘left thumbed blogger’ Glenda with cerebral palsy, and others use computer and mobile devices to simply communicate speech.


Action: Listen to podcasts demos of devices like Icon, booksense, Plextalk, Victor stream. What capabilities make reading possible, tolerable, or pleasant? Voice, speed, flexibility, cost, access, …?

Accessibility tools are available, corresponding to static analyzers and style checkers for code.

While not uniformly agreeing, accurate, or helpful, standards groups provide online validator’s to “test” accessibility. For example, WAVE from webaim.org, marks up a page with comments derived from web standards guidelines, like “problematic link”, “unmatched brackets”, java script interactions (if java script disabled), header outline anomalies, missing graphic explanations, small or invisible text. It’s easy to use this checker, just fill in the URL. However, interpreting results takes some skill and knowledge. Just as with a static analyzer, there are false hits, warnings where the real problem is elsewhere, and a tendency to drive developers into details that miss the main flaws. Passing with clean marks is also not sufficient as a page may still be overly complex or incomprehensible.


Action: Below is a list of websites from my recorded tour. Copy the link into WebAim.org WAVE (not the Google one) and track the markup and messages to my complaints or other problems. show how you would redesign the page, if necessary, using this feedback.


Action: redesign the ACM digital library and portal in a shadow website to show how a modern use of structured HTML would help.


Action: consider alternatives to PDF delivery formats. Would articles be more or less usable in DAISY?


Action: design suites of use cases for alternative digital libraries of computer science content. which library or search engine is most cost effective for maintenance and users?

science drivers

Understanding of brain plasticity suggests new ways of managing disabilities

Brain science should explain the unexpected effectiveness and pleasure of reading without vision.


My personal story. Although I was experimenting with TTS reading of web pages, I had little appreciation, probably induced by denial, of how I could ever read books or long articles in their entirety. since it was
only a few weeks after I gave up on my Newsweek and reading on archetypes until my retina specialist pronounced me beyond the acuity level of legal blindness, I only briefly flirted with magnifiers, the trade of low vision specialists. rather, upon advice of another legally blind professional I met through her book and podcasts interviews, I immediately joined the wonderful nonprofit bookshare.org. A few trials with some very good synthetic voices and clunky PC-based software book readers lead me to the best at that time handheld device, the Bookport from APH, American Printing House for the blind. within weeks, I was scouring bookshare, then around 20,000 volumes, for my favorite authors and, wonders be, best sellers to download to my bookport. At first, I abhorred the synthetic voice, but if that was all that stood between me and regular reading, I could grow to love old precious Paul. going on 4 years, 2 GB of books, and a spare of the discontinued bookport, I still risk strangulation from ear buds at night with bookport beside me. Two book clubs broadened my reading into deeper unfamiliar nonfiction terrain and the Levelstar Icon became my main retriever from bookshare, now up to 60,000 volumes with many teenage series and nationally available school textbooks. I tell this story not only to encourage others losing vision, but also as a testimonial to the fact that I I am totally and continually amazed and appreciative that my brain morphed so easily from visual reading of printed books to TTS renditions in older robotic style voices. I really don’t believe my brain knows the difference about plot, characters, and details with the exception of difficult proper names and tables of data (more later). Neuroscientists and educators write books about the evolution of print but rarely delve into these questions of effectiveness and pleasure of pure reading by TTS. The best exceptional research is Clifford Nass A ‘wire for speech’ on how our brains react to gender, ethnicity, age, emotion, and other factors of synthetic speech. such a fascinating topic!

Action: Listen to some of the samples of synthetic speech on my website, e.g. the blockbuster ‘Lost symbol’ sample. Which voices affect your understanding of the content? How much do you absorb compared with reading the text sample? Extrapolate into reading the whole book using the voices you prefer, or can tolerate, and consider how you might appreciate the book plot, characters, and scenery Do you prefer male or female voices? Why?.

Numerical literacy is an open challenge for visual disability.

I personally encountered this problem trying to discuss a retirement report based around asset allocations expressed in pie charts. Now, I understand charts well, even programmed a chart tool. But I could find no way to replace the fluency of seeing a pie chart by reading the equivalent data in a table. This form of literacy, a form of numeracy, needs more work in the area of Trans-literacy, using multiple forms of perception and mental reasoning. Yes, a pie chart can be rendered in tactile form, like Braille pin devices, but these are still expensive. Sound can convey some properties, but these depend on good hearing and a different part of the brain. Personally, I’d like to experiment with a widget operated by keyboard, primarily arrow keys, that also read numbers with different pitches, voices, volume, or other parameters. The escalating sound of a progress bar is available in my screen reader, for example. Is there a composite survey somewhere of alternative senses and brain training to replace reading charts? Could this be available in the mainstream technology market? How many disabilities or educational deficiencies of education and training might also be addressed in otherwise not disabled people?
Is there an app for that?


Action: Inventory graphical examples where data tables or other structures provide sufficient alternatives to charts? Prototype a keyboard-driven, speech-enabled widget for interaction with chart like representations of data. Thank you for using me as a test subject.


Action: Moving from charts to general diagrams, how can blind students learn equivalent data structures like lists, graphs, state machines, etc.?

Web science needs accessibility criteria and vice versa.


The web is a vast system of artifacts, of varying ages,
HTML generations, human and software generated, important, etc. could current site and page accessibility evaluation scale to billions of pages in a sweep of accessibility improvement?
Surveys currently profile how screen readers are used and the distribution of HTML element usage.


Do a web search, in bing, Yahoo, google, or dogpile, whatever, and you’ll probably find a satisficing page , and a lot you wish not to visit or never visit again. Multiply that effort by , say 10, for every page that’s poorly designed or inaccessible to consider the search experience of the visually impaired. Suppose also that the design flaws that count as accessibility failures also manifest as stumbles or confusion for newer or less experience searchers. Now consider the failure rate of serious flaws of, , say, 90% of all pages. Whew, there’s a lot of barriers and waste in them there web sites.


experienced accessibility analysts , like found on webAxe podcasts and blog, can sort out good, bad, and just problematic features. Automated validation tools can point out many outright problems and hint at deeper design troubles.


Let’s up the level and assume we could triage the whole web, yep, all billions of pages as matched with experimental results of real evaluators, say visually impaired web heads like me and those accessibility experts. This magic metric, MM, has three levels: OK, no show stoppers by human evaluators; at 80% agreement; DO OVER, again with human evaluators 80% agreement of awfulness; and remaining requiring reconciliation of human and metric. Suppose an independent crawler or search engine robot used this MM to tag sites and pages. probably nothing would happen. but if…

Action: declare a week of clean Up the web, where the MM invokes real Acton to perform “do over” or “reconcile”. Now, we’re paying attention to design factors that really matter and instigating serious design thought. All good, all we need is that MM.

Action: which profession produces the most accessible pages, services, and sites? computer scientists seem to be consistently remiss on headings, but are chemists or literary analysts any better? If acm.org is as bad as I claim, are other professional societies more concerned about quality of service to their members? what are they doing the same or differently?
How does the quality of accessibility affect the science of design as applied to web pages, sites, and applications?

Accessibility needs a Science of Design and Vice Versa


Accessibility concerns often lead into productive unexplored design regions.
Accessibility and usability are well defined if underused principles of product quality.  The ‘curb cuts’ principle suggests that a defect with respect to these qualities is in a poorly understood or unexplored area of a design. Often  a problem that presents only a little trouble for the expected “normal” user is a major hassle or show stopper for those with certain physical or cognitive deficiencies. However, those flaws compound and often invisibly reduce productivity for all users. Increasingly, these deficiencies arise from ambient environmental conditions such as glare, noise, and potential damage to users or devices.


Moreover, these problems may also indicate major flaws related to the integrity of a design and long term maintainability of the product. An example is the omission of Headings on an HTML page that makes it difficult to find content and navigation divisions with a screen reader. This flaw usually reveals an underlying lack of clarity about the purpose and structure of the website and page. Complexity and difficult usability often arise from missing and muddled use cases. Attitudes opposing checklist standards often lead to perpetuating poor practices such as the silly link label “click here”.


The ‘curb cuts’ principle leads toward a theory of design that  requires remedy of accessibility problems not as a kindness to users nor to meet a governmental regulation but rather to force exploration through difficult or novel parts of the design terrain. The paradigm of “universal design” demands attention to principles that should influence requirements, choice of technical frameworks, and attention to different aesthetics and other qualities.   For example, design principles may address  where responsibilities lie for speech information to a user, thus questioning whether alternative architectures should be considered. Applying this principle early and thoroughly potentially removes many warts of the product that now require clumsy and expensive accessibility grafts or do-overs.


Just as the design patterns movement grew from the architectural interests of Christopher Alexander, attention to universal design should help mature the fields for software and hardware. The “curb cuts” principle motivates designers to think beyond the trim looking curb to consider the functionality to really serve and attract ever more populations of end users.


The accessibility call for action, accommodation, translates into a different search space and broader criteria plus a more ethically or economically focused trade-off analysis. now, design is rarely explicitly exploration, criterion’s, or tradeoff-focused. but the qualitative questions of inclusive design often jolt designers into broader consider of design alternatives. web standards such as WCAG 2.0 provide ways to prune alternatives as well as generate generally accepted good alternatives. It’s that simple: stay within the rules, stray only if you understand the rationales for these rules, and temper trade-off analysis with empathy toward excluded users or hard cool acceptance of lost buyer or admirers. well, that’s not really so simple, but expresses why web standards groups are so important and helpful — pruning, generating, and rationalizing is their contribution to web designers professional effectiveness and peace of mind.


Action: Reconstruct a textbook design to identify assumptions about similarities and differences of users. Force the design to explore extremes such as missing or defective mouse and evaluate the robustness of the design.


Action: Find an example of a product that illustrates universal design. How were its design alternatives derived and evaluated?

revving Up our computational Thinking on accessibility

POSH (Plain Old semantic HTML) and headings

POSH focuses our attention on common structural elements of HTML that add
meaning to our content with Headings and Lists as regular features. An enormous
number of web pages are free of headings or careless about their use. The
general rule is to outline the page in a logical manner: h1, H2, h3,…,H6, in
hierarchical ordering.
why is this so important for accessibility?

  1. headings. support page abstraction. reaching a page, whether first or return
    visit, I, and many other screen reader users, take a ‘heading tour’. Using our ‘h’ key repeatedly to visit headings, gives a rapid-fire reading of the parts of the page and an
    introduction to the terminology of the web site and page content. bingo! a good
    heading tour and my brain has a mental map and a quick plan for achieving my
    purpose for being there. No headings and, argh, I have to learn the same thing
    through links and weaker structures like lists. At worst I need to tab along
    the focus trail of HTML elements, usually a top-bottom, left-right ordering.

  2. Page abstraction enables better than linear search if I know roughly what I
    want. for example, looking for colloquium talks on a Cs website is likely to
    succeed by heading toward News and Events, whatever. with likely a few dozen
    page parts, linear search is time and energy consuming, although often leading
    to interesting distractions.

  3. Page abstraction encourages thinking about cohesion of parts, where to
    modularize, how to describe parts, and consistent naming. This becomes
    especially important for page maintainers, and eventually page readers, when
    new links are added. Just like software design, cohesion and coupling plus
    naming help control maintenance. An example of where this goes wrong is the
    “bureaucratic guano” on many government web pages, where every administrator
    and program manager needs to leave their own links but nobody has the page
    structure as their main goal.

  4. while it’s not easy to prove, but plausible, SEO (search engine optimizers)
    claim headings play a role in page rankings. This appeals to good sense that
    words used in headings are more important so worth higher weights for search
    accuracy. It might also mean pages are better designed, but this is just
    conventional wisdom of users with accessibility needs.

so, we have abstraction, search, design quality, and metrics applied to the
simple old semantic HTML Heading construct.


Now, this rudimentary semantic use of Headings is the current best practice, supplementing the deprecated Accs Tags that all keyboard users can exploit to reach standard page locations, like search box and navigation. Rather, headings refine and define better supplements for access tags. Going further, the ARIA brand of HTML encourages so-called ‘landmarks’ which can also be toured and help structure complex page patterns such as search results. The NVDA screen reader reports landmarks as illustrated on AccessibleTwitter and Bookshare. Sites without even Headings appear quaint and deliberately unhelpful.

The Readable conference program Problem

I recently attended a conference of 3.5 days with about 7 tracks per session.
The document came as a PDF without markup, apparently derived from a WORD
document with intended use in printed form. Oh, yeah, it was 10MB download with
decorations and all conference info.


I was helpless to read this myself. yes, I could use the screen reader but
could not mentally keep in mind all the times and tracks and speakers and
topics. I couldn’t read like down Tracks or across sessions nor mark talks to
attend. Bummer, I needed a sighted reader and then still had to keep the
program in mind while attending.


A HTML version of the preliminary program was decidedly more usable. Hey, this is what hypertext is all about! Links from talks to tracks and sessions and vice versa, programs by days or half-days subdivided on pages, real HTML data tables with headers that can be interpreted by screen reader, albeit still slowly and painfully.
that’s better, but would be unpopular with sighted people who
wanted a stapled or folded printout.


OK, we know this is highly structured data so how about a database? This would
permit, with some SQL and HTML, wrapping, generation of multiple formats, e.g.
emphasizing tracks or sessions or topics,… But this wouldn’t likely distill
into a suitable printable document. Actually, MS WORD is programmable, so the
original route is still possible but not often considered. Of course, it’s often more difficult to enter data into forms for a database, but isn’t that what student helpers are for? Ditto the HTML generation from the database.


The best compromise might be using appropriate Header styles in WORD and
use an available DAISY export so the program in XML could be navigated in our
book readers.


This example points the persistent problem that PDF, which prints well and
downloads intact, is a bugger when it loses its logical structure. Sighted
readers see that structure, print disable people get just loads of text. This
is especially ironic when the parts originally had semantic markup lost in
translation to PDF, as occurs with NSF proposals.


so, here I’m trying to point out a number of abstraction problems, very
mundane, but amenable to an accommodation by abstracting to a database type of
model or fully exploiting markup and accessible format in WORD. Are there other
approaches? Does characterizing this problem in terms of trade-offs among abstractions and loss of structural information motivate computer scientists to approach their conference responsibilities different?


More generally, accessibility strongly suggests that HTML be the dominant document type on the web, with PDF, TXT, WORD, etc. As supplementary. Adobe and free lance consultants work very hard to explain how PDF may be made accessible, but that’s just not happening, nor will this replace probably millions of moldering PDFs. Besides negligent accessibility, forcing a user out of a browser into a separate application causes resources allocated and inevitable security updates.

Design by Progressive Enhancement&lt


‘Graceful degradation’ didn’t work for web design, e.g. when a browser has javascript turned off, or an older browser is used, or a browser uses a small screen. Web designers recast their process to focus on content first, then styles, and finally interactive scripting. There’s a lot more in the practitioner literature that might well be amenable to computational thinking, e.g. tools that support and ease the enhancement process as well as the reverse accommodation of browser limitations. Perhaps tests could be generated to work in conjunction with the free screen reader, to encourage web developers to place themselves in the user context, especially requiring accessibility.


So, here’s a challenge for those interested in Science of Design, design patterns, and test methods with many case studies on the web, discussed in blogs and podcasts.

Touring CS websites by screen reader
— download MP3


Are you up for something different? Download

MP3 illustration of POSH Computer Science websites 45 minutes, 20 MB
. This is me talking abot what I find at the following locations, pointing out good and bad accessibility features. You should get a feeling of life using a screen reader and how I stumble around websites. And, please, let me interject that we’re all learning to make websites better, including my own past and present.

Note: I meant POSH=”Plain old semantic HTML” but sometimes said “Plain old simple HTML”. Sorry about the ringing alarm. Experimental metadata: Windows XP, Firefox, NVDA RC 2009, ATT Mike and Neo speech Kate, PlexTalk Pocket recorder.

Web Sites Visited on CSE screen reader tour


  1. U. Texas Austin


    Comments:
    Firm accessibility statement;
    graphic description?;
    headings cover all links?;
    good to have RSS;
    pretty POSH


  2. U. Washington


    Comments:
    No headings, uses layout tables (deprecated);
    good use of ALT describing graphics;
    not POSH


  3. U. Arizona


    Comments:
    all headings at H1, huh?;
    non informative links ‘learn more’;
    not POSH


  4. CS at cmu.edu


    Comments:
    no headings;
    non informative graphics and links;
    unidentified calendar trap;
    definitely not POSH


  5. Computational Thinking Center at CMU


    Comments:
    no headings;
    strange term probes:;
    non informative links PPT, PDF;
    poor POSH


  6. CRA Computing Research Association


    Comments:

    no headings;
    interminable links unstructured list;
    not so POSH


  7. ACM.org and DL portal


    Comments:
    irregular headings on main page;
    no headings on DL portal;
    noninformative links to volumes;
    hard to find category section;
    poo POSH


  8. Computer Educators Oral History Project CHEOP


    Comments:
    straightforward headings;
    don’t need “looks good” if standard;
    good links;
    POSH enough


  9. NCWIT National Center Women Information Technology


    Comments:
    doesn’t conform to accessibility statement;
    graphics ALT are not informative;
    link ‘more’ lacks context;
    headings irregular;
    do over for POSH

So, what to do with these POSH reports?


Clearly, some sites could use some more work to become world class role models for accessibility. At first glance, my reports and those that would be compiled from validator’s like WebAim WAVE indicate that some HTML tweaking would yield improvements. Maybe, but most websites are under the control of IT or new media or other departments, or maybe outsourced to vendors. Changes would then require negotiation. Another complication is that once a renovation starts, it is all too easy to use the change for a much more extensive overhaul. Sometimes, fixes might not be so easy, as often is indicated by the processes of progressive enhancement. This is classical maintenance process management, as in software engineering.


However, hey, why not use this as a design contest? Which student group can produce a mockup shadow website that is attractive and also meets the WCAG, validator, and even the SLGer tests?


Just saying, here’s a great challenge for CSE to (1) learn more about accessibility and web standards, (2) make websites role models for other institutions, and (3) improve service for prospective students, parents, and benefactors.

conclusion: A Call To Action

To the proclamation, let us informally add

  • whereas society, including the Cs field itself, requires that all information, computer-based technology be available to all persons with disabilities,

  • whereas computer science is the closest academic field to the needs and opportunities for universal accessibility,


  • Disabled individuals are particularly under-represented in computing fields, in disparate proportion to the importance of disability in the economic and social well-being of the nation

  • therefore
  • computer science educators will adapt their curricula to produce students with professional awareness of the range of human abilities, the resources for responding to needs of persons with disabilities

  • computer science education will be open and welcoming to all persons with disabilities both helping the person to reach their own employment potential and opportunity to contribute to society and (2) inform educators and other students about their abilities, needs, domain knowledge,

See next post for Webliography

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.

Using The ‘curb cuts’ Principle to reboot computing

The ‘curb cuts’ principle

curb cuts for wheelchairs also guide blind persons into street crossings and prevent accidents for baby strollers, bicyclists, skateboarders, and inattentive walkers. The “curb cuts” principle is that removing a barrier for persons with disabilities improves the situation for everybody. This hypothesis suggests erasing the line that labels some technologies as assistive and certain practices as accessibility to maximize the benefits for future users of all computer-enabled devices. This paradigm requires a new theory of design that recognizes accessibility flaws as unexplored areas of the design space, potential harbingers of complexity and quality loss, plus opportunities for innovation in architectures and interfaces. Besides the general acceptance of computing curb cuts as a social good at an acceptable price, the traditional computing culture will benefit from a dose of understanding of the technology communities, institutions and visionaries that drive a vibrant world of persons who overcome disabilities.

cross walk by curb cut to assist wheelchair


Background:

As I lost vision due to myopic degeneration, My computer use modes switched to audio. I was swept into a world of rich information resources and innovative mobile devices that rejuvenated my personal interests in computing. Learning to use assistive technology while studying the practices of accessibility motivated me to write my personal experiences in the “As Your world changes” blog. I seek to create a framework of concepts that integrate the lessons and techniques of what is customarily considered deficient abilities into the mainstream of computing for the betterment of all based on the “curb cuts” principle. The physical world ‘curb cut’ analogy flows over into computing in the following ways.

1. End Users benefit from alternative and new uses of computing.


So-called assistive technologies today expand the way computers are used in an essential sense, incidently overcoming some human deficiencies. Better designed ways of using only a keyboard without a mouse offers power shortcuts to everybody. Consistent displays in high contrast modes offer more relaxing viewing that cut the glare that causes natural photosensitivity and mental stress across a wide range of eyesight conditions. Text to speech from screen readers offers eyes-free reading of long web pages for audio adapted multi-tasking individuals while also providing GUI interactions for the visually impaired. Digital talking books and newspapers will eventually be available commodities for sighted readers as they have been for years to qualified print-disabled individuals.


Because there is now an artificial line that views such technologies ass assistive rather than normal options, products are designed for or against certain users. Emphasis on the GUI has restricted advances in speech-enabled applications with the potential for many new innovations and wider markets. Studies on the plasticity of the brain suggest that more satisfying and productive use of computers flows from integration of visual, audio, and tactile modes of processing information.


Erasing the artificial lines and labels of assistive as separate and remedial technology offers a chance to revitalize the visual dominated modes of computing that no longer apply within a marketplace of diverse hardware and software components. Integration of so-called assistive technologies and accessibility practices will show the flaws of products developed only for an assumed fully enabled user.

2. Accessibility concerns lead into productive unexplored design regions.


Accessibility and usability are well defined if underused principles of product quality. The ‘curb cuts’ principle suggests that a defect with respect to these qualities is in a poorly understood or unexplored area of a design. Often a problem that presents only a little trouble for the expected “normal” user is a major hassle or show stopper for those with certain physical or cognitive deficiencies. However, those flaws compound and often invisibly reduce productivity for all users. Increasingly, these deficiencies arise from ambient environmental conditions such as glare, noise, and potential damage to users or devices.


Moreover, these problems may also indicate major flaws related to the integrity of a design and long term maintainability of the product. An example is the omission of Headings on an HTML page that makes it difficult to find content and navigation divisions with a screen reader. This flaw usually reveals an underlying lack of clarity about the purpose and structure of the website and page. Complexity and difficult usability often arise from missing and muddled use cases. Attitudes opposing checklist standards often lead to perpetuating poor practices such as the silly link label “click here”.


The ‘curb cuts’ principle leads toward a theory of design that requires remedy of accessibility problems not as a kindness to users nor to meet a governmental regulation but rather to force exploration through difficult or novel parts of the design terrain. The paradigm of “universal design” demands attention to principles that should influence requirements, choice of technical frameworks, and attention to different aesthetics and other qualities. For example, design principles may address where responsibilities lie for speech information to a user, thus questioning whether alternative architectures should be considered. Applying this principle early and thoroughly potentially removes many warts of the product that now require clumsy and expensive accessibility grafts or do-overs.


Just as the design patterns movement grew from the architectural interests of Christopher Alexander, attention to universal design should help mature the fields for software and hardware. The “curb cuts” principle motivates designers to think beyond the trim looking curb to consider the functionality to really serve and attract ever more populations of end users.

3. The social value of curb cuts ennobles computing.


Computer professionals are often shocked when they see how difficult their products are to use, reaching levels of excruciating pain for persons with disabilities. Professional pride is a motivating factor for many individuals attracted to the computing field, e.g. women and games that truly enhance their views of human potential and relationships.


The market motive is obvious with many millions of persons with disabilities to be included in the mainstream rather than being totally excluded or segregated into the higher priced rehabilitation industrial complex. Especially as the U.S. population ages, the social services are simply not there to smooth their transition and maintain their purchasing influence. Services of all kinds work more efficiently with fewer exceptions due to individuals requiring special processing.


There are so many genuinely innovative products designed by the blind, e.g. a screenless Linux PDA that rivals the Kindle with book, news, and RSS access and reading. An international open source project driven by energetic Australians is producing a free screen reader for global use with synthetic voices in dozens of languages. A standard camera-phone can now read menus and transactions items, even currency. A $5 audio device is being designed to bridge the literacy gap in impoverished societies. some people are also drawn into a futuristic world of open source hardware for designing gadgets that will speak what they are doing, how to use them, and their location, orientation, and other physical properties.


for many The social good of enabling equal access to computing is an attractor to a field renowned for nerds and greed. Social entrepreneurs offer an expansive sense of opening doors to not only education and entertainment but also employment, that now stands around 20% for disabled persons. Many innovative nonprofit organizations take advantage of copyright exemptions building libraries and technology aids for alternatives to print and traditional reading.


The computing curb cuts principle can motivate professionals, services, and end users to achieve the potential beauty and magic of computing in everyday life, globally, and for everybody who will eventually make the transition into some form of sensory, motor, or mental deficiency. But, first, mainstream computing must open its knowledge and career paths to encompass the visionaries and advances now segregated. All too often persons with disabilities are more advanced, diversified, and skill full in ways that could benefit not yet disabled people.


The “curb cuts” metaphor offers a compelling and, well, concrete way of motivating new attitudes toward computing. Walk down any American street and the reminders are at each intersection. Every computer professional will be on the hook to deliver universally usable products, not wait three years as happened with iTunes and only under legal threats, as may come soon with Google’s Chrome and Google Book Search or the Amazon and Target websites. Failing to universally design a computing product is as much a social menace as a missing or poorly designed concrete curb. The computing curb cut provides a metaphor to tell the public about new ways for improving their lives and the value of innovations that will follow from obliterating the artificial border with accessibility.

<img src=”http://www.ada.gov/images/flaredramp1.jpg&#8221; ALT=”curb cut schematic from ADA.gov”

Notes and References on the ‘Curb Cuts’ principle

  1. ‘Universal Design’ paradigm (from Wikipedia) integrates concepts from physical, architectural, and information design. Detailed principles (from NCSU design center) include equitable use, flexibility, simplicity, intuitiveness, tolerance for error, low physical effort,… A chronology of inventions for electronic curb cuts illustrates how hearing, seeing, and learning disabilities have influenced the modern communications world. Universal design as a business principle (from Lowes corporation) brings the principles into everyday life.
  2. 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 . Background on accessibility in the context of “curb cuts” covers the essential role of considering the full range of human abilities in design. Analysis of the “curb cut” metaphor in computing suggests many problems in its usage.
  3. ‘curb cuts’ are technically complex as described in the A.D.A. guidelines on curb ramps .
  4. Mark Guzdial’s blog on principles of computing introduces many of the issues of professional soul searching and educational concerns that motivate the “rebooting computing” movement lead by NPS Professor Peter Denning Beneblog from Benetech.org on ‘Technology meets Society’ illustrates non-profit effectiveness and innovation..
  5. Innovative assistive tools for visually impaired users include:
  6. Use the Controversy Discovery Engine to search for articles on accessibility and usability. Use terms like “curb cut” then choose controversy synonyms and forms of support to drill down into the Analytic Web.

Literacy Lost and Found: Keystrokes, Pie charts, and Einstein

September is Literacy month

September is a reminder month for topics that challenge a Vision Loser. September 8 was International Literacy day and the 26 begins Banned books week. This post describes a technology project that forced me to think about how impoverished, illiterate people survive, and a creative low cost way to help them. I also face a personal decline in literacy without a replacement for reading pie charts. I chastise myself for accepting a sloppy literacy in the language of keyboards, menus, and application interface tasks. I Try to overcome vision limitations by seeking simple, powerful, memorable formulas using numeracy to conquer reading limitations. One of those formula leads me to an example of dubious information literacy, a quotation by Einstein. In passing, I pick up a new term ‘trans-literacy’ to describe the phenomena of literacy across media, including Braille. And, without getting too political, my book club discussions help me nail down some fundamental questions of belief systems that counter banning premises.

Literacy in a broad sense



To me, literacy is the ability to do information processing actions and processes without thinking about them so you can accomplish the tasks that require hard analysis to function in society. Literacy processes external to mental representations for the brain to store and reason about. Writing is the inverse process. Fluency is the ability to perform the basic skills sufficiently rapidly, effectively, and accurately to sustain everyday life on the highest, hardest level possible. The challenge for a Vision Loser is to reclaim one way or another those basic skills as they deteriorate.


Here’s an example of vision literacy issues. If I cannot find the line to sign a receipt for a prescription, that is simply a vision deficiency that requires trust of the pharmacy that I am signing appropriately. I could overcome this deficiency using the KNFB reader but it’s not worth the effort. I have the literacy to find the charge entry on the bank system website If a correction is required. the phone number should be associated with the transaction for Kmart pharmacy but I may have trouble finding the local number. these are all variations of the problems of getting the symbols from a jumble of data into my brain, requiring hard work but doable. A different form of literacy occurs at the end of the year when the credit card company sends me a summary of cumulative transactions. Perhaps tabularized or represented in charts. I no longer have the ability to drill down or read out from a pie chart to find the percentage for annual medical costs. This complicates my planning for retirement expense estimation. Literacy has been lost, I hope only temporarily. I can only translate those external symbols into a mental representation by mastering intermediate technologies, e.g. transforming printed characters into sounds through synthetic speech.

Combating fundamental illiteracy through digital talking

Let’s consider the extreme of people with no capability to read or write informational items beneficial to their daily life in any printed media. Is their only hope of progress learning to handle some print form? A recent ITConversations podcast by cliff Schmidt of LiteracyBridge.org posits that a low-cost audio player/recorder can go a long way toward improving access to the necessities of life without requiring literacy as we know it. The prototyped audio device will be used to exchange oral information, e.g. treating infant malnutrition. His project role model is the One Laptop Per child project willingness to focus on qualities of cost, limited functionality, and durability traded off against style and attractiveness and universal purpose. I was intrigued with the simple onboard USB connections among devices following simple physical models of transfer rather than invisible Bluetooth protocols. After stumbling onto some accessibility trouble spots, I inquired about the talking book project’s philosophy on accessibility. Schmidt replied:

Absolutely no vision is required to use the Talking Book Device. From the beginning, we’ve wanted the device to work without the need for vision. There’s no display — all system indicators and prompts are aurally. The buttons are embossed. The device has non-visual indicator, a green and red LED, but that indicator is redundant the aural information.

Whoopee! My accessibility dreams come forth. Like how my late father enjoyed the boxes of remainder books I brought him, as well as his requests, in his assisted living location. Imagine a device that could be rapidly refilled with human or synthetic spoken books from a kiosk or a peer device in the hallway. The might have encouraged more book clubbing among readers with vast life experience. And I’ll bet he would have been multitasking book reading, recording, TV watching, memoir writing, and I hate to think what else. Conquering file transfer problems and exploiting digital content would have meant so much a decade ago, even more to baby boomers and beyond comfortable in the audio realm but limited in sensory apparatus. I wonder also if convincing cost breakthroughs in self-voiced devices can help alleviate some health care costs.


The LiteraryBridge web site accessibility problems are due to ISP provided templates that also trapped me once into painfully scraping excess HTML off my own web content. But the message is well amplified by recent news articles and podcasts. I even made it all the way through checkout on the donation form, which often lead me to cursing the insensitive form makers. I found a wonderful picture of illiteracy and poverty that might soon be changed by well designed low cost digital equipment, combined with localized information networks, supported by donations and volunteer effort. Watch this social entrepreneurial story unfold.

Literacy lost for pie charts

Now, here’s my latest vision challenge. My retirement adviser from TIAA CREF sent me pages of tables of fund data and asset allocations, along with those nice curves that show how much you will have to live on at age 95. OMG, 95, 3 decades away! Now, I can get read out each line of the table with fund name, percents, and changes of allocations. I Can see on the screen fuzzy pies with a chunk removed, but I cannot absorb the information the way I did previously.


This got me thinking how reading charts is a form of literacy, often called numeracy, or quantitative literacy. I’ve see these charts in middle school textbooks but I suspect many adults are chart illiterate. Not me. Having programmed with a chart tools and hyperlinks I understand well how raw data can be converted into alternative graphic forms to facilitate rapid assimilation of relative values in a data set. In a hypertext world, those charts can drive navigation to web data linked via image maps. But now I can neither visually process the chart down to the labels and numeric values nor infer a mental representation of the data in the table. I am going to be very grumpy at age 90 in 2033 if I run out of money and suspect I chose the wrong asset allocation.


There are alternatives to tabular and graphic printed formats. Tactile maps can be created but these require external devices and reading abilities comparable to Braille. I am currently Braille illiterate, a symbol system and sensory skills usually not offered to or self-learned by retired Vision Losers.
Another option is software like Chart Explainer that creates textual representations from data sets and chart presentations.


A third possibility I would favor but have not found is a way to interact by audio and keyboard with the basic data set. Just as an audio player supports short steps, longer jumps and extreme moves forward and backward, I would like to use my arrow keys to explore data arranged in bar, pie, or other chart format I remember so well. Comparison data could be announced using other keys. In a few minutes, with the small number of data items in this situation, I believe I could absorb the content sufficient to decide whether I like the allocation. For example, I think I would have a gut reaction to finding abnormally large real estate funds or negligible international fund allocations. More so than struggling to magnify pie slices or hear jumbled numbers across a row, the effect of finger actions and controlling of interactions would absorb and stimulate my brain to formulate its own model of the data. Whether that model was accurate is another matter.


Are there versions of Excel or other quantitative tools that support non-visual interaction? I’d really like to try these out. I certainly expect a Java or DOJO widget could provide me the combination of interaction and audio information. I wonder if sighted people might also benefit by bringing together their tactile, auditory, visual reasoning capabilities rather than staring at non-interactive charts.


As I become a more experienced Vision Loser, seeking always independence, I become more frustrated with current word processing. Let’s see, analysts generate boilerplate and formulas for allocations, produce 30 page documents, print and bind these, send them to me, and I scan them using Kurzweil 1000. data about my very own money and these analysts’ projections are all too much imprisoned in documents. Using PDF is not much better than printed documents unless attention is paid to propagating data sets through tags rather than pixels..

Literacy at the keystroke level

Yet another form of literacy, so dubbed by Canadian accessibility adviser Karen McCall. Whether using magnifier, screen reader, or more traditional software like word processors and operating systems, the Vision Loser needs to get into her brain a number of key combinations, modifier rules, etc. Some of these are shortcuts around menus, others are power starters, and some are survival remedies. Life gets very complicated keeping straight the standard access keys, those of applications, and the overlay of screen Rieder functions. At this point I am semi-literate, often lapsing back to menu and mousing around when I forget or have not learned the necessary keys. were I trained in a Veteran or ADA keyboarding class, I would have been drilled and tested to know this stuff. Note to self: diagnose gaps, lay out a practice plan, and drill my way to proficiency. Yechy but will save hours later on and help me accomplish higher level tasks. Here I simply have not yet learned the rules for reading tables as well as making them accessible to screen readers.

Compressing literacy into memorable formulae

Back to numeracy, there are a few simple formula that govern much of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Compound interest, for example, is the basis for my ability to retire modestly without too much stress when I could no longer seek another job after vision loss. It’s truly amazing how much growth comes from those employer and employee plans over a few decades. I try to convince all youngsters I encounter to put away that $1000 or $100 as early as they can in life, and never touch the funds. Compound interest at different rates as shown in a simple calculator, ignoring inflation, is really impressive. Another formula often useful is the monotonic increase e.g. 1+2+…n which is n*(n+1)/2. Isn’t that neat? $100 increased by $100 each yields $21,000 after 20 years and that’s without compound interest. Learning the potential payoffs of some discipline, which every one hopes to get painlessly, is my legacy goal. If only we all understood how much it will cost to pay off, say $20 million debt using village funds, or $trillion for national debts…


Applying to retirement planning, for all the analysis and allocation mumbo-jumbo, what I really need to know is some rule that I can withdraw something like 5% of net worth, adjusted quarterly, and live to that awful age of 95. Also can I assume that the models such as 1/3 invested in annuities is an all around good bet based on last 50 years and a dose of reasoning.

Did Einstein really admire compound interest?

Then there’s informational literacy. I found a neat example from compound interest motivation. I had read, indeed quoted, in a discrete math lecture on recurrence that Einstein considered compound interest one of the greatest wonders of the world. either he had a really good investment strategy or just liked discrete math as well as physics, whatever, actually nobody seems to have nailed down that quote to a time and place and context. Maybe he said it, maybe not, still makes a good story. but it takes a bit of Google probing to get to a page of doubters rather than the useful flip quoters. Try out the controversy discovery engine to give you alternative profiles of whatever you’re looking for, especially if you think you’re going to live to age 95 on what you learn. Literacy in this case refers not only to looking up information but knowing how to choose materials, assess their quality, and fact check each information nugget.

Literacy expanded to ‘trans-literacy’

So, here’s a new term ‘trans-literacy’, I encountered on the reading in the dark blog. I think it involves comparative ways of operating using basic literacy skill but across different communication media as we have in abundance in our Internet, RSS, culture. does this encompass the reading problems discussed so often this summer, as in my Hyperlinks considered Harmful posting? I feel myself privileged that my brain is not only aging rather gracefully but also exhibiting its plasticity in transferring my reading practice from visual to audio. I’ll soon be ready to take on the next reading mode, the tactile and symbol system of Braille. Partly, I seek these skills because I am now illiterate in the labeling and data entry modes provided in technology for the educated blind. I also admire hearing books read or talks given from notes recorded in Braille. And then there’s always that worry about loss of hearing.

Anti-literacy by banning

Finally, to end this eclectic rambling, why are books ‘challenged’ in libraries and schools? reasons may be given honestly and correctly such as readiness as deemed by educators or parents. or this may be an excuse to prevent National geographic magazines infiltrating elementary schools with pictures of naked women in other cultures. this might mean parents are not ready to explain nakedness to their children or just don’t want to. For my book club, I reported on the youth-oriented story ‘a wrinkle in time’ by Madeleine L’engle, an introduction to time and space travel that brought out the strengths of teenage and young children in a context of strong family values. However, some characters were, over 2 billion years old and strongly powerful women, i.e. witch-like. A reference placed a biblical character in a lineup of other significant figures on earth fighting the evil that was more of a shadow archetype than a force comparable to most demonic figures. I just couldn’t believe such a positive, intriguing story, even including a planet of blind creatures, could be challenge by parents over the decades.


This brings me back to those simple formulae that provide guidance. I ask my youngsters, if you were born in the, say, 75% of the world that holds different beliefs, e.g. in the Middle east rather than America, would you be able to explain and justify their belief system? Wouldn’t your current beliefs differ by culture you are born into? consider the institutional structures encompassing those belief system, if you questioned, say 10% of those beliefs, could you remain in good standing in the institution? It’s wonderful that the Banned Book Week tradition raises these questions each year and that book clubs, like ours for AAUW members, reinforce the discussion and that my favorite library Bookshare even seeks out banned books for Vision Losers to read.

References on Literacy

  1. UNESCO International Literacy Day
  2. American Library Association Banned Book Week Celebrating the freedom to read
  3. Literacy Bridge.org Talking Book Project, the $5 Ipod
  4. Literacy Bridge Talking Device interview by Cliff Schmidt podcast on itConversations
  5. Tactile Graphics
  6. Chart Explainer
  7. Essay on Numeracy
  8. Braille Introduction
  9. Karen McCall’s Check lists of Assistive Technology Literacy
  10. TIAA CREF Financial Planning tools
  11. Veracity of the Einstein quote on compound interest as a wonder of the world
  12. Controversy Discovery Engine for more analytic Google queries
  13. Wikipedia description of ‘transliteracy’ objectives
  14. Reading in the Dark blog on literacy topics, September 9 2008
  15. Previous post on ‘Hyperlinks Considered Harmful’ reading difficulties
  16. ‘A Wrinkkle in Time’ by Madeleine L’Engle, frequently challenged book
  17. Audio version of this post