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

Will Computer Science Meet accessibility in 2011?


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


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

responsibilities, accountability, openness, and Opportunities for CompSci


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

basic accountability as an academic discipline


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


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

domain responsibility of the CompSci field

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

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


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

Computational thinking opportunities await CompSci


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


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

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

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

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

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


why not?

Issues, evidence, and epiphanies

are the feds really coming after universities for inaccessibility?


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


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


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

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

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


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

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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


Here is a test you can perform yourself.


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


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

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

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


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

And, is there any good news?


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

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

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

The 2011 CompSci Meets Accessibility Manifesto


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


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

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.

CT for Everyone includes Accessibility!

This post responds to a solicitation for ideas on “Computational Thinking for Everyone” at http://ctforeveryone.wordpress.com. This is a more succinct version of previous blog essays aimed at computing science educators and researchers. .


Principle of “Clarifying Mundane Matters”: Use CT to refresh and deepen understanding of seemingly simple problems.


“Appreciate diverse abilities” Principle: Use CT to understand differing human abilities with respect to computational structures.

Multi-level Principle: Literacy, fluency, and CT apply to organizations as well as individuals.


An example domain is web accessibility for print-disabled people who use assistive technology such as screen readers to navigate, read, and interact with web pages. ,I write as a computing professional, self-trained with intermediate skill level and assistive technology consumer experience.


Consider the following mundane tasks: (1) complete the NAP form the CT workshop free PDF; (2) retrieve two papers on CT from ACM Digital Library; (3) find the next upcoming colloquium talk at some CS department; (4) plan and mark the sessions you want at an upcoming conference; (5) retrieve the data set of your locality’s projects from recovery.gov.


Such tasks should require only a few minutes, not demanding vision only. Computational thinkers can conceptualize underlying queries, abstractions, and navigation strategies, perhaps expressed with HTML syntax. Indeed, imagine yourself equipped with hearing a synthetic voice announcing events as you TAB and key your way around these document objects. Of course, there may be many representations of, say, a web form, perhaps a table of labels and form field? But how is a screen reader to associate a label to announce with each edit box? Also, a page of departmental activities or a list of search results might be shown as a layout table with styles indicating different roles of text fragments. No go for a screen reader user who must plow through linearly, applying heuristics to induce page components and meaningful descriptions of clusters of text fragments. Does this suggest AI to help the dumb literal screen reader package? Maybe, but is that a good social solution?


Rather, standards can be negotiated so that browsers and screen readers can parsed with semantic identifications and useful descriptions announced to skilled users. Indeed, W3C standards compiled user observations, reasoning principles (perceivable, operable, understandable,robust), common sense, and experience surveys to yield a fledgling “science of accessibility”. Our mundane form problem is standardly prescribed explicit relational notations to pair label text with form elements, adding a line of code to eliminate hours of screen reader user guessing. Semantics for page outlines are simply headings H1,H2,… H6 properly ordered and appropriately worded. Voila, linear or random search is eliminated with further gains in design integrity, maintainability, and search engine positioning. Incidentally, screen reader surveys confirm form labels and poor or no heading structure as main barriers and annoyances.


While the ultimate test is whether the screen reader user is substantially as capable as a sighted performer, engineering practices are readily available. An online evaluator, such as WAVE from WebAim.org can statically analyze and display page structure and flag standards anomalies. Development by “progressive enhancement” builds styling, scripting, and flash onto POSH (Plain Old Semantic HTML). Browsers, especially in mobile devices, and across economic and disability divides are thereby enabled for “graceful degradation”.


The conference schedule problem illustrates bad effects of wrong level or loss of data structure in the delivery format, typically PDF. A conference program is certainly well structured with presentation properties (title, author, abstract, etc.) with relationships to sessions, tracks, and locations. PDF promotes printable or purely visual representations, leaving print-disabled readers with a jumble of text or dependence on sighted interpreters with separated note-taking. Hypertext offers some structure within browser constraints. A non-traditional solution could be the hierarchical document structuring of the widely used open XML-based DAISY specification. Convenient pocket-sized screen-less devices navigate and read DAISY with natural TTS and easy marking or recorded notes. Watch for these capabilities coming soon on mainstream mobile platforms. CT must explore alternative document representations and find the most versatile structure-preserving generation and transformation techniques, especially when visual reading is limited by screen space, ambient conditions, or print disabilities. Moreover, increased offering of government and science data sets demands full utilization of data structure beyond a PDF-crippled distribution strategy.


Honestly, many CS organizations need a makeover for their web sites to keep up with trends now driven by .gov innovations coupled with world-wide web standards. Knowing after vision adaptation and accessibility indoctrination far more than when I was active five years ago, I wonder: where students experience working with persons with disabilities, using assistive technologies; how students with disabilities learn from inaccessible pedagogical tools; how students gain fluency with accessible product presentations; and then become good consumers and caretakers, managers and procurers, developers and trainers in the workforce and personal lives. So, I challenge ‘CT for Everybody’ to use CT to rigorously and responsibly address the above mundane problems and expand CT to formalize the “science of accessibility” for integration into pedagogy and practice. Practically speaking, it’s easy to start by entering your URL into http://wave.webaim.org then trace error reports into the standards’ explanations. For a more vibrant experience, install the free, open Windows NVDA screen reader or turn on Mac VoiceOver, turn off your screen, and use CT to accomplish tasks at a more semantic than visual level. Another opportunity is to work with local A.D.A. professionals and evaluate research and pedagogical products and materials with real persons with disabilities.


Using the framework of the Workshop Report, are these examples really CT? In the context of social good and broadening participation, this terminology matters less than that “a visually impaired user of assistive technology almost gave up filling a form requesting a free PDF for lack of labeled form fields”. How mundane! But, what an opportunity loss from multiplying this flaw across form instances and user efforts! My concern is institutional, rather than individual, illiteracy and unFITness. somebody in an organization needs to be responsible for assuring such flaws are removed or never committed, requiring others handling resources and commitment, usually via a published “accessibility statement”. Literacy is a matter of organizational awareness and Fluency yields a favorable outcome for as many people as possible. My suggested remedy is some rigorous thinking and remedial actions that respect standard sand experimental data in the form of complaints and surveys. My hope is that “CT for Everyone” will encompass objectives like “universal design” and increased benefits of CT applied within computer science education ultimately influencing Everybody. Thank you.


References: “Universal Design for Web Applications” by Wendy Chisholm and Matt May; #a11y or #accessibility tagged tweets; the Amazon Kindle settlement from http://nfb.org; my blog “As Your World Changes” at https://asyourworldchanges.wordpress.com.

Reading, Ranting, and Computing: 2009 Heroes and Meanies

This post sums up 2009 from the perspective of a Vision Loser immersed in assistive technology, avidly learning about accessibility techniques and trade-offs. Sighted readers should glean more about how screen and book reading tools are advancing allowing print disabled people more freedom and enjoyment, at ever lower costs. Partially sighted people can learn how I am finding and using this technology. I call out some heroes and name some stupendous products. But no amount of technology can overcome the “meanies” of slighted social services and educational bases.


First let me thank comment ors and communicators about this blog, which wanders from emotional to technical to political to memoirs. I am always touched by search terms in the blog stats that indicate others are wondering: “what is ‘legally blind’ or ‘print disabled’? how to read Google book search images? why is the white cane significant?” Medical specialists don’t explain these, the disability community has its own vocabulary and modes, and often Vision Losers cannot find another person to query. I hope this blog reflects one person’s transition in useful terminology with practical advice. Please share your experiences here or ask direct questions.

Accessibility Heroes of 2009


My heroes are people who make a difference positively in my Vision Loser life space, often using their resources very wisely then communicating freely and with passion.

The Twitter #Accessibility Constellation

Suppose you are immersed in a subject that strongly influences your daily life
and has morphed into a social cause, say public gardening, or water
conservation, or web accessibility. Imagine you could walk into a conference ballroom and overhear conversations among the subject’s professional experts: reading recommendations, standards progress, emerging contentious issues, new technologies, and professional rumors. Add a dose of spirited interchange, sprinkled across 24 hours a day, with the blessed limitation of 2 lines per utterance. Allow yourself to interject a question or opinion occasionally to test your growing knowledge and appreciate any response from your virtual mentors. For me, this has been the Twitter #accessibility experience of 2009: virtually joining a constellation of accessibility stars and superstars.


so, let me thank the Opera web evangelists, STC accessibility sig, CSUN organizers,IBM accessibility, Mozilla developers, independent web consultants, and standards group members, who line up my browser tabs with hours of worthwhile reading. Most of these communicators use blogs for irregular longer explanations like iheni ‘making the Web Worldwide’ post on ‘Adventures of silver surfers’.

Special Mentions of Useful Work


Especially I appreciate:


wow, I sure learned a lot in 2009, 140 character message at a time, adds up rapidly. Little did I know starting to appreciate Twitter in early 2009how it would influence my web life..

The Great book Reader Game, Fueled by Bookshare

Hold on to your ear buds, this is a great era of reading technology advances, also known as “Digital Talking Books”, represented in DAISY format. When I got my print disability certification and joined bookshare.org in 2006, I started using book reading software on a clunky Toshiba laptop. With no real advisors, I stumbled onto the best reader of the time bookport from APH, the American Printing House for the blind. At first, I was daunted by the array of keys arranged into
combinations that implemented amazing reading functions. Motivated by then tiring regime of audio CD library transactions and cranky players, I rapidly grew to appreciate Precious Paul on the bookport reading my bookshare DAISY downloads.


But then came the Levelstar Icon Mobile Manager in 2007 that could connect wirelessly and bypass PC to bookshare, with an entirely natural Newsstand for retrieving national papers through the NFB news line. Since I preferred the more robust device and flexible reading by bookport, I simply transferred DAISY books from Icon to Pc to bookport every few weeks.


Comes 2009 and the CSUN exhibit hall and I found the Plextalk Pocket. Definitely more streamlined with a great recorder, now I also transferred my DAISY books to its SD card. But I never really felt comfortable with the PPT menus, voice, and reading routine.


Within a few months came the booksense from GW Micro with the best available neo speech voices in a candy bar size with more comfortable navigation. All right, now I get motivated to organize my hundreds of DAISY books into categories and I have references and fiction with me anywhere. Also my latest podcasts transferred from Icon and a bunch of TXT and HTML files. By the way, I had a fantastic simple shopping experience for Booksense at I can See My PC.com.


Oh, there’s more to come. recently reported is another incarnation of the
bookport based on Plextalk Pocket
and a promised something from Kurzweil. speaking business for a moment, bookport was sadly discontinued due to manufacturer limitations. however, companies in Korea and Japan are supplying the designs and components for American company specification and distribution. the worldwide market is somewhat like the cell phone industry where circuitry and casing, fingertip embossing, and, most important, commodity synthetic voices will bypass
traditional desktop and laptop computers. We’re riding a great wave of technology to enable us to exploit services like bookshare and its impressive educational movement.


Where is the Kindle in all this? Well, as I wrote in Amazon-ASU, Kindle, what a mess”, they blew off the disability market by not making their menus and device operations then accessible, then tried to launch into the college textbook sphere, a sore point for ADA requirements to transform print into print-disabled readable formats. Add in publisher and author concerns, and a perfect storm ensued. OK, I buy through a less cluttered alternative amazon interface but, dammit, those “get your Kindle now” come-ons are disgusting.


As to the bookshare library fueling my reading rampages, I appreciate publisher contributions but especially volunteer scanned and validated books. While I find it hard to segregate teenage reading for the bookshare special ed commission, I continually grow my library from changing personal interests and
new acquisitions. Recently, I took a course on Winston Churchill in order to fill in massive gaps in my world history knowledge and found a whole sub collection of WC books for the downloading. often I hear a Diane rehm interview or reader review and have the book in seconds. while Overdrive and Audible formats are great occasionally, I’ll take DAISY books read by Paul or Kate from my pocket or pillow anytime.


So, 2009 was great for pleasures of audio reading for this print-disabled reader . And 2010 is enticing. so many books, such enthusiastic book clubs, it’s hard to believe my reading life could be so comfortable and keep me engaged and learning every day. thanks, Bookshare, especially.


However reading books is complemented by the “web magazines” of lengthy podcasts, with demos, dialogs, and product plugs. Most useful to me is AccessibleWorld.org, and its heroine founder Pat Price for mature discussions oriented to a wide Vision Loser audience.

The mixed breed Apple tree and iPod Touch


It’s too early to tell for me, but the iPod touch is, well, an eye-opener, or maybe, finger stimulator. The transfer of speech enabled interface from Mac Os to touch screen is rather elegant and yet perfectly conventional for someone used to things that talk. I’m still practicing my flicks, learning menus and screen layouts, and adjusting to voice and volume. My iPod Touch guide is a Blind Cool Tech podcast.

Frankly, I don’t know if I’ll really
use the device in my daily routine or pass it on to the grateful hands of my helper relative. For me, this is an experiment in keeping up in two ways (1) the interface and (2) the app market. Now I know better what people are raving about, at the very least. Unfortunately, I hate iTunes as a cluttered mess, reluctantly made partially accessible by apple, and not as good a podcatcher as the Levelstar icon RSs client. I despise being driven into stores, to get something in the midst of other stuff I do not want to think about, let alone buy. so, a reluctant shopper has yet to find the hook that will make me a senior “silver surfer” happy app user and podcast listener. stay tuned.


Maybe most important is that the Touch and iPhone commemorate a unification of assistive and mainstream markets. When my fingers get better enabled, I’ll be able to converse with sighted people about similarities and differences in using these mobile devices. Ha, I might even seduce a few into TTS appreciation, leading to my ideal world where everything talks fluently and informatively. I even appreciate how Talking ATM technology helps Vision Losers manage , a fascinating tale of advocacy that makes daily life more normal.

People Who keep me going


Making this short, since I do get emotional, I truly appreciate my family and friends putting up with my frustrations, crazy ideas, and needs for transportation and shopping. Daily life details with partial vision are so much harder than I could have imagined. where’s my Icon case? Oh, on the black table, not the white contrast pad. that phone number I forgot to record? any medicare notices in the mail? whisper then please forget my PIN on grocery checkout. Hold in memory 10 things to do, ask for help, then re-ask a forgetful student helper. Coordinating schedules for lifelong learning and traditional college classes… I would never make it through the day without the freedom of a brisk 2 mile cane-free walk late afternoons.


Ouch, there are meanies in this life. Great retirement areas are not truly great unless they trade off a bit of housing, view, and roadway for public transportation for economically, physically, or temporarily disadvantaged people. Nothing would be so beautiful as a bus or van coming along the connector street a block away from home, taking me the few miles to lifelong learning classes or downtown restaurants or nearby shopping. Yes, I can walk but, well, why die of a fear from a careless driver in a pedestrian-unfriendly town. now, there are volunteer services, but we are talking about civilized life here, requiring taxes and attention, too often withheld by meanies. The sweetest words are “need a ride?” but at just the right time, if only there were a $5 routine impersonal option, sigh.. However, <a href="https://asyourworldchanges.wordpress.com/2009/06/28/resilience-bouncing-back-from-vision-loss/&quot; Resilience as a quality of life for Vision Losers comes with the territory, and plenty of authors have advice and role models to reverse these thoughts about meanies.


I also appreciate the opportunities from OLLI lifelong learning at Yavapai college where I can take a variety of courses to fill in my lifelong knowledge gaps. Luckily I can also expose others to social media trends and techniques to older adults as well as my showing off neat reading gadgets and growing skills.


New retirees often go through a memoir-ish phase until realizing the hard work involved. For me, post-Sputnik educational opportunities hooked me on computing . I am fascinated by whether NOT being first helped the USA start activities that profoundly influenced our lives, like, oh, say, the Internet. Beep-beep-beep that’s the way it was.


As I gradually understand better the needs of Vision Losers, I appreciate the generational demands on caretakers, need support and training. More on this topic in 2010.

The “Meanies” who could do better

.

Accessible Computing Mockery (ACM) happily behind the times

Knowing better, I mistakenly rejoined a professional association,acm.org, to gain access to its digital library. I sought to complete my publication repository, back to 1970s, maybe update some loose threads in a retrospective, and learn what I could from scholarly research on accessibility, usability, and assistive technology. For $200, I found myself struggling very hard through myriad metadata details to find items and, horrors, PDFs. in a layout table of search results, with headings left to site navigation. Quickly realizing it wasn’t this hard on google or bookshare, I asked through feedback for accessibility assistance. No response, asked again, 4 times. Complaining through other professional channels, I finally got a”well, we’ll update our CMs, sometime”. Invited to consult my tax advisor about considering a lifetime ACM membership, ha, I asked for my money back, declaring NFW I’d renew. Now, that’s just plain bad service to a professional contributor asking for ADA assistance. Strictly speaking, the entire site is technically accessible but using deprecated conventions a decade old. “It’s the headings, STUPID!”, I wanted to shout but knew I’d waste words and energy.


Sadly, my later post on ‘grafting accessibility onto computer
science education’
showed a widespread ignorance of simple, effective web standards across university and computing association websites. ever wonder where so many software accessibility problems come from? As a Cs educator myself, I stand guilty excluding my last semester when I wised up , conquered denial and deception, and tried to learn to guide software engineering projects. Believe me, accessibility isn’t in the Cs curricula, textbooks, or radar screens of more than a few research groups. Moreover to read their publications, and there are many good ideas and experiments, you need to fork over $$ to ACM through personal or institutional membership. and fight that deprecated portal monument to inaccessibility. Beware, my activist archetype will guide me through another year of asking Computing educators and NSF program personnel about accessibility inclusion of distributed pedagogical tools. Professional organizations like ACM and CRA should truly lead, by example, and minimize harm by taking their noses out of the federal funding trough and looking at their own disability demographics and responsibility to the society that depends upon computing products. Please see my constructive analysis and comments in the
December 7 post honoring the (only 10 accessibility errors) National Cs ed week.

The wealthy who starve rehab and transit services


In august I ranted about health insurance denial for being a vision Loser . While my anti-protected-capitalism streak still labels these companies and their protectors as the greatest meanies I could imagine, I now have a few more thoughts. Traveling to Canada in the midst of tea bag town halls I realized the U.S.A. was losing ground with other countries in both spirit and material senses. Wrangling among political factions on enormously costly and complex systems like health care is a failing situation that allows others
who resolved these issues a half century ago to improve their worlds without our anxieties and get on with other challenges the U.S.A. cannot adequately work on. In other words, we’re unhealthy due to this wrangling in a possibly fatal or declining sense.


closer to the situation facing Vision Losers is our sparse rehab system. Marvelous treatments now allow macular degenerates to prolong their vision loss experience until we all may possibly have access to stem cell interventions and repair. But eye conditions like mine, myopic macular degeneration and glaucoma, are often just plain not reversible or controllable. vision loss, Like other sensory changes, is part of aging or injury or birth, and medicine isn’t the solution. rather, people with these conditions need rehab, training, and support more than medicine. If I hadn’t found a white cane and a little OMT (orientation and mobility training) I would likely be more damaged from falls or dispirited from being home-bound. the OMT cost, a few eye doctor visits and tests, made more difference to my life. Where does this rehab fit into the health care system? who pays? taxes? donations? volunteers? Really, we’re talking about a layer of our social services that must be maintained by taxes from all, believing that a proper role for any government is to diminish pain to unfortunate people and also enable them to reach their potential. Anybody who would deny OMT funded by a few dollars of taxes per citizen is a big, old, meanies in my very well informed opinion. come on, Americans, especially Arizonans, let’s give up a picture window in our dream homes, a trip to a Broadway play, or even a solar panel in order to support the education and salaries of the rehab layer of society. Your vision slips, you don’t want to move to a city with Lighthouse or SOAVI, where are you going to get needed training? again, this is just a matter of civilization, and a bit of wealth sharing.

Wishes for a better 2010

  1. An AccessibleX for every open service X. AccessibleTwitter shows how an web designer committed to accessibility can create a usable alternative interface to a service that chooses not to adopt standards or embrace its disabled users. So be it, big open X, but you’ll lose direct advertising revenue and loyalty, if that matters. Google WAVE is a great example.
  2. Really open book services. Google Book Search throws up unreadable page image that limits scholarly accomplishments of visually impaired people, like me. google should work a deal with Bookshare to send page text to qualified people as part of their settlement to exclusively manage intellectual property of millions of authors.
  3. A simple web-based RSS reader. RSS is the vein of gold in our web infrastructure that conducts blog posts and news updates to our attention with less web clutter and more convenience. My Levelstar Icon RSS client is perfectly simple, works for podcasts and text feeds, and collects 150 tributaries into one flow. But, Crossing the RSS divide for more web users is a challenge we need to address, including the .gov feeds.
  4. The end of stupid CAPTCHAs. These ugly buggers caught on as a symbol of human superiority to troublesome bots. “Prove you are human, decipher this image or sound track” if you also have acute enough vision or hearing. Sorry, AI lovers, but WordPress, for example, gets by with a good spam filter and email confirmations. OpenId requires one authenticated existence to prove humanity to other services. The blind communities have their own volunteer CAPTCVHA solvers, but why should a segment of society with 70% unemployment bear the costs of CAPTCHA entries to blogs and services? Think before using them, CAPTCHAs are not cool.
  5. More and better communication of academic computing professionals, especially educators, with web accessibility consultants and standards organizations. Indeed, there is a “science of accessibility” with framework of concepts, criteria (perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust), engineering principles (POSH=Plain Old Semantic HTML”), progressive enhancement design process, empirical studies, validation and design tools, all based in the current mantra of “computational thinking”. The ACM and IEEE should tear down their paywalls and expose their taxpayer-funded research results for everybody, rather than let ideas languish and researchers proceed in academic chambers. The current situation breeds out accessibility knowledge badly needed for future generations of mostly web and mobile usage.
  6. Engage designers and offer prizes for renovation of websites falling behind the times and below standards, as found in our recorded tour of stumbling around academic computing websites. True, the allure of good websites is a decade ago for many CS departments, often with control ceded to IT or New Media departments. In my experience, most students wanted to, but rarely had the chance to, participate in a design project aimed at utility, universality, and beauty. Website design is exactly that, with the added challenge of back end server and database architectures. Seriously, I ask, which is the best USA CS department website? Why? and how does it reflect its faculty, staff, and students?
  7. A pie chart manipulator to replace pictorial charts. With more and better data coming from the USG and computational engines like Wolfram Alpha, visually impaired people are stuck reading painfully through tables or using under-explained image texts. Tactile devices engage science and engineering students, but are there other options? Is there a widget that works the brain through fingers to explore and assimilate data just like looking at a pie chart? Our brains do amazingly well with TTS through ears rather than printed text through the eyes. Are we underutilizing our senses, individually and in combination?
  8. Continued progress and support for a modern technology USG, including conquering forms. We will all have improved services and information, provided gov websites apply accessibility principles and seek then use our feedback. What would really help is one good HTML form style that all websites could adapt and save citizens from stumbling around or abandoning our agency interactions.

  9. Every Vision Loser receives adequate orientation and mobility training, access to public transportation, support in daily living, and continuing opportunities in using software, networks, and web services. Not only students, job seekers, and veterans deserve services but also the aging who have so much to give back to society and so much to lose from isolation or falling behind.

Best wishes for a productive, stumble-free,, tweet-full, and fun 2010

Susan L. Gerhart, :Ph.D.

slger123 at gmail.com and on twitter

Webliography for ‘Grafting Accessibility onto Computer Science Education’

References for ‘Grafting Accessibility Onto Computer Science’ Education

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

Computational Thinking


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


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


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


  4. Center for Computational Thinking Carnegie Mellon University

Accessibility Resources


  1. IEEE ‘Accessing the Future’ 09 Conference

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

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

  3. User Centered Design Blog post on future of accessibility


  4. Project Possibility Open Source for Accessibility


  5. Knowbility Consulting, John Slatan Access U


  6. Business Week series on assistive technology


  7. Understanding Progressive Enhancement


  8. National Center on Technology Innovation brief on Assistive Technology

    Portability, customization, etc.


  9. Five Key Trends in Assistive Technology, NCIT summarized


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


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


  12. Hakob Nielsen AlertBox and Beyond ALT Report


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


  14. Video on importance of HTML headings


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


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

Web Standards and Accessibility References


  1. STC Society of Technical Communicators Accessibility SIG


  2. WAI Web Accessibility Initiative of W3c


  3. WCAG 2.0 Web Content Accessibility Guidelines


  4. #Accessibility or #a11y tracks tweets using AccessibleTwitter


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

    <


  6. Interact open web standards curriculum project


  7. Opera’s Web standards Curriculum


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


  9. How People with Disabilities use the Web

Computer Science Week and Policy Organization References

    <


  1. Computer Science Education Week


  2. Accessibility official statements of SIGCSE


  3. US ACM Policy on Web Accessibility

    with many useful links


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


  5. Computing Research News on Accessibility Research (Ladner)


  6. ACM Special Interest group on Computing accessibility

Computer Science Education and Accessibility References

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


  2. Web Design with Universal Usability (Schneiderman)


  3. Academia.edu people with speciality accessibility


  4. Web Education Survey


  5. Diversity Through Accessibility blog


  6. Improving Web Accessibility through Service Learning Partnerships


  7. Integrating usability and Accessibility in Information Systems Assurance


  8. Equal Access, Universal Design of Computing Departments


  9. AccessMonkey project at U. Washington


  10. An Accessibility Report Card for World Known Universities


  11. Introducing Accessibility in Internet Computing


  12. WebAnywhere reader from U. Washington


  13. Broadening Participation NSF


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


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

  1. WebAIM on University Accessibility Policies


  2. Web Accessibility Center at The Ohio State University


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


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


  5. Cultivating and Maintaining Accessibility Expertise in Higher Education


  6. Access IT National Center at U. Washington


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


  8. Distance Learning Accessibility Evaluation


  9. U. Texas Accessibility Center (RIP)


  10. Disability 411 Podcast for Disability Professionals

Services and Products for Visually Impaired


  1. Bookshare.org

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


  2. TextAloud reader and mp3 converter

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

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


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

    >

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

  6. American Council for Blind

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


    DAISY internationalism consortium on digital talking books standard

>

Podcasts on Assistive Tech and Persons with Disabilities


  1. Blind Cool Tech amateur product reviews

  2. Accessible World Tech Training

  3. ACB Radio news, demo, interviews


  4. WebAxe Podcast on Practical Accessibility

Notes and References on the ‘Curb Cuts’ principle

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

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

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

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

    . The site kindly provides a guide to concrete curb cuts


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

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

Relevant ‘As Your World Changes’ Posts


  1. AYWC ‘Using Things That Talk’ demonstration presentation


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

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


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


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


  6. AYWC Images and their surrogates — the ALT tag


  7. AYWC Let’s all use our headings

Comments, Corrections, Complaint?

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


Thanks for listening.

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

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

Hear me Stumble Recording

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

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

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

BLUF=bottom line Up front

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

Summary of my stumbles on typical .gov tasks

  1. Website: whitehouse.gov

    Task: Find a recent blog post received by RSS

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

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

    Suggestions: Factor archives, Use landmark pattern for list sections

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

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

  2. Website: Disability.gov

    Task: Discover information about public transportation in local community

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

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

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

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

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

  3. Website: data.gov

    Task: Trial download of a data set using search form

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

    Follow up: Eventually got search results, but unsatisfactorily

    Suggestions: Start over

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

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

  4. Website: Recovery.gov

    Task: Find recovery funding projects in Arizona

    : stumble: Locating form for query and then results

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

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

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

Individual Website Analyses

whitehouse.gov — this National Landmark needs ARIA landmarks

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


standardized (see below)?

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

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

Disability.gov is very useful but maybe convoluted?

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

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


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

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

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

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

data.gov for wonks, not citizens


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

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

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

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

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

Recovery.gov Usable but Cluttered

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

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

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

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

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

General Suggestions for Improvement

It’s Time to Bring Landmarks to .gov

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


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

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

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


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

How about a gov BEST and WORST practices competition?

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

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

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

Sum up, getting better? Yes or No?

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

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

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

Related Posts

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

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

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

Why is “Hear Me Stumble” useful?

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

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

    .

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


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

An audio tour of WhiteHouse.gov

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

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

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

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

An audio tour of recovery.gov and data.gov


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

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

Comments on recovery.gov


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

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

Comments on data.gov


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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

Please, please, explain twitter

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

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

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


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

So, how does one get started in twitter?

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


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

Why twitter makes me fitter

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


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


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


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

How does twitter make me flitter?

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


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

Twitter for the Vision Loser

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  7. Here are a few general readings:

Follow me on Twitter at slger123

My Accessibility Check: Images and their Surrogates


This post is part of a series on my experiences with web accessibility. Each post condenses what I’ve learned from before and after as a real-life Vision Loser continuing 30 years of Internet use and as a new student of accessibility theory and practice. Sighted readers will learn a bit more about how a low vision persons uses the web and other Vision Losers may sense some of the rationale behind the annotation of graphics.

Why are ALT tags Rule #1 of web accessibility


Ok, so web pages are inherently visually motivated to exploit the power of browsers and graphic images to convey information to users. But does that mean that images can be used freely, for either decorative or information roles, without the slightest indication of their purpose on a page? Wouldn’t that be cruel to people without vision? Of course! And with increase in use of mobile devices with smaller screens, images may also be problematic for sighted people. And browsing without images showing remains common where bandwidth is limited by availability or cost. Hence, providing surrogates for images acquired the primary position in accessibility rule making.


Web standards make it implicit that web content should be perceivable necessitating alternative textual descriptions of graphics. That implementation of this rule is dead simple, to write a description as an accompaniment, denoted by the HTML identifier ALT.

Are ALT tags simple and easy to use?


Well, yes, it’s easy to add such tags. Creating web pages the power user way, with a Notepad, one adds ALT=”the description” to accompany the location , denoted by SRC, of the image. No big deal, but what would the description say? the color of the image? ithe who or where? the artful ambience? The trick here is that the ALT description should give exactly the information needed to place the image usefully in the context of the page, no more, and no less. Ouch, that requires thinking, like why have the image in the first place and what’s its role in the narrative of the page, in addition to attracting eyes and stimulating visual cortexes?


And, wouldn’t you know it, there are more messy questions as described in Web Accessibility Gone Wild from webaim.org. some images are purely decorative and some are used for layout of the page, neither of which require a real ALT description, which would only get in the way of screen readers. And there are charts and graphs where the data displayed is integral to the point of the web page. And some images just take a lot of words to describe. Furthermore, images are often associated with links where the descriptions overlap. Happily, the above article provides good commen sense practices for these situations.

Examples of Accessibility Issues for ALT and images


Images without ALT tags are often cited as “obstacles for the unsighted”, but this Vision Loser has only one experience like this. As described in previous post on “pie charts and literacy” inability to read a pie chart may have doomed my retirement funds during an analysis by my ‘Wealth Manager’. Not really, we’re all doomed, but inability to read the pie chart of asset allocations was a real bummer for me. The problem here is not so much that the pie slice relative sizes and labels were unavailable in a PDF document, but that I could not get my hands into the original data. Pie charts are not so much images as representations of data that stimulate questions about relationships within that data. I am still looking for the pie chart I can manipulate to get those relationships out of the data imprisoned in documents.


Generally, it does help to have image descriptions like ““bicyclists using curb cut in complex intersection” to force my brain into thinking about physical locations and moving objects. But rarely do I find the absence of a good description as a barrier to understanding the content of a page. With low vision myself, I don’t have much practice using images and ALT text, requiring a sighted helper to assure images are what they say.


On the other hand, now that I’m an accessibility advocate, it is annoying to find violations of Rule #1 because this may show a rather serious ignorance of or callousness toward accessibility. I recently found this in a left unnamed output of an NSF project on Broadening Participation in Computing. An excellent project to entice student interest in computing through a journalist pathway produced a newsletter with articles illustrated by images that read out to me as “497” and “2934”. All I could think of was a missed opportunity to raise the awareness of student authors about accessibility issues, like “how would your great-grandpa’s bad eyes read this page?” Our tax dollars should be properly used only when results are fully accessible. But don’t get me started on university and professional organization web sites!

What next for ALT?


Of course, there’s more to graphic media with Flash and animation. But the message of ALT seems to be:

  1. Leave off ALT tags if you want to put up a clear “No blind need apply” sign to your visiting potential clients and students.
  2. Put in the time thinking and checking out your web pages for image usefulness. Turn off images in your browser and see what’s missed. Do images still matter? Are they well supplemented by ALT descriptions?
  3. Decorative images may be vestigial ways of thinking about getting column 2 of text to start at position 43 when that’s going to interfere with text sizing requirements or be bungled in one or another browser. Or, even worse, really stupid cases are when a screen reader reads out “spacer, spacer” between words, indicating you didn’t know how to or care to test with a screen reader.