We at Knowbility had another fabulous year at Austin’s annual South by Southwest Interactive Media Conference. There were so many awesome people to talk to from all over the country and even internationally. We made several new friends who share our interest in accessibility, some of whom had never thought about it before in terms of websites and web content. Our booth was a great success, offering information about Knowbility and our mission, as well as demos of ATSTAR, accessibility testing tools, and screen readers. I visited so many websites using JAWS and Window-eyes, while my victims wore sleep masks/blind folds and listened along with me. Some of the sites worked well, while others needed accessibility attention. To give you an idea of what the experience was like, here are some of the sites I looked at and a little about my interaction with those who represented them.
I talked to Julia Hix, who does PR and marketing for the Zimmerman Agency. We discussed social media and its accessibility issues. Are there any guide-lines in place for social media accessibility? Are there tips out there on how to build Facebook aps with accessibility in mind? She was very interested in what we do at Knowbility. One of her clients is VPG, who design vehicles for people with disabilities.
Hemen Patel with Crmmetrix stopped by and was interested in creating accessible content on his site, particularly surveys. I looked at one of his surveys and he is off to a great start!
I got to talk to Photographer Riva Lehrer and visit her site. She takes the photos for Access Living out of Chicago, but also has a lot of other art work and photography. She gave me some fantastic resources for blindness blogs and podcasts to follow.
Dewey Winburn’s son Isac came by and we looked at the site for his band Mother Falcon. We would love to see them in our next AIR Interactive!
I went to causes.com and spoke with its programmer. Some of their flash content was not accessible, but what a great place to go to raise funds for your favorite cause, like accessibility for example.
I found a great possible resource at Volunteeract.com and talked with Bobby Saini who represented that site. It looks like a good way to coordinate social media, volunteers and fundraising all in one place.
Speaking of social media and marketing, I visited Social Toaster. This automated software puts all of your social networking tools in one place for tracking and easy access.
Brian Razzaque took me to Vision Multimedia Technologies, where people can get help in creating websites.
I talked about user experience testing with Felix Desroches from EchoUser-Experience Innovation. Perhaps we can exchange ideas with them as we conduct our own user experience testing with people with varying disabilities.
Also regarding user interface and experience testing, I talked to Aaron Swan with Infragistics.
Alexa Wheeler from the University of New Mexico came by. She teaches web design and would like to incorporate more accessibility into her courses. I think listening to a Screen Reader in action was very helpful to her.
I looked at Visual Hero Design with Andy Vansolkema. As they help people create visual design for their websites, they may think a bit about accessibility now.
I looked at several other sites and engaged in great conversation with so many! Accessibility is an exciting topic, there is so much to talk about. Every time a new technology is developed, there are challenges and opportunities just waiting to be explored. I really enjoyed giving people a perspective some of them may have never before considered, so thanks to everyone who came by our booth and listened.
Along with our booth at SXSW, we also participated in many panels and workshops. March 14 was entirely dedicated to accessibility and we made some great contacts throughout the day. There were many other accessibility and disability advocates present. Empower Everyone is an accessible shopping web site, that finds prices and stores for a specified product and shows them in a very easy to use format. In the afternoon, there was also a panel featuring IGDA, a group that addresses the issue of accessible games for people with disabilities. One of the films featured on March 15th was “For once in my life,” a story about a band whose members had different disabilities and are preparing for a once in a lifetime concert performance. Knowbility was very privileged to have the band members at our awards party later that evening. We hope to stay in contact with them as they share their talents!
An important part of the SXSW event is awarding our AIR Interactive teams and non-profits, as well as recognize this year’s Dewey honorees. I learned a lot about Dewey Winburn, founder of the SXSW Interactive Media Conference. In his memory, awards are given to those who spend their lives making a difference in the digital industry.
We offer big congratulations to our AIR Interactive 2010 winners: For people’s choice, which was voted on by our visitors at the booth as well as on-line: Team Unchain My Art for Diverse Arts Culture Works – End Cultural Heritage District Third place: Team Insane in the Membrane for Lisa Laratta Second place: Team Unchain My Art for Diverse Arts Culture Works – End Cultural Heritage District And this year’s first place winner for the most accessible website for AIR Interactive: Team Water Gang for Outreach Productions
Overall, I think 2010 was a fun and exciting year for Knowbility and our communities. Everyone’s spirits are high and we are motivated to think of new and advanced ways to make technology and the web accessible for all!
Knowbility is excited to bring you another fantastic opportunity for Accessibility Training! Our John Slatin AccessU 2010 Conference will take place in May, at Austin’s St. Edward’s University. This is a great chance for Web developers, IT managers, Administrators, Programmers, or anyone else who handles IT responsibilities to learn Accessibility tips and tricks from some of the best in the business! If you live in Austin, you can’t miss this opportunity! If you are in another area, what a perfect excuse to visit our wonderful city! If you have attended our conferences before, then you know how fun and valuable the experience can be, so tell your friends and colleagues and give them the chance to participate as well.
Technology is always changing and new accessibility techniques are constantly evolving. But one thing that always holds true is the right for everyone to have access, no matter what circumstances they may be in at any given time. By learning how to make electronic information accessible, you are insuring opportunities for growth and knowledge for us all. So come join us in May, general conference registration is now open and there are early bird discounts! We really look forward to seeing old friends and making new ones in 2010!
Recently, the newest version of Facebook was unveiled, promising more features and ease of use for everyone. For the past several months, I have elected to use the mobile version of Facebook, mainly to avoid all of the clutter and headache that I encounter on the main page. However, many of the features of Facebook are not available on the mobile version, from applications and photo uploading, to the ability to chat with friends who are on-line. I have chosen to miss out on those features for the most part, avoiding the main page whenever possible. When I heard about the redesign, I decided to try it out. After all, maybe they made it a little more user friendly and I could start taking advantage of those features I have been denying myself by sticking to the mobile version.
I went to the main page and wanted to log in. I was eventually successful, but the password edit box was not labeled, so I had to arrow around to make sure I was putting it in the right place. The page seemed just as cluttered to me, headings are there but there are so many that using them to navigate is almost as time consuming as tabbing and using the arrow keys to go through the page content. There are several access keys at the top, but many of them don’t make any sense. Examples of this, “0, Alt+2,” “1, Alt+3,” “5, Alt+4.” It seems as though they are using access keys to get to access keys?
There are a ton of buttons and edit form fields that you cannot tell what they do if you look at them out of context, by listing all available forms and controls on the page. The same goes for links, it is very difficult to get where you want by finding your link in a links list. I tried tabbing through and not using the arrow keys, and it seemed that I was not able to get to the area to type “What’s on your mind,” the tab key only got me to the area just above that edit box at the end of the top frame where it says “most recent.” When you press buttons to add suggested friends or even like something, there is no feedback given as to whether or not you did anything, other than the button now says it is unavailable. Sometimes you can find more information at the bottom of the page, such as a message telling you that someone will have to confirm your request, but you really have to look for it. Also, it seems there is a very important message from Facebook about security settings, but this appears at the bottom of the page, I may have never gotten to it if I hadn’t been looking for something else.
As far as the chat feature, I found it a bit difficult to use. Sometimes I could see who was on line at the time, however it was confusing figuring out who was actually available to chat with. When I activated the chat link, a new window opened, but the edit boxes were not labeled and it was unclear where to start typing and with whom I was about to chat.
I think there are some definite efforts being made by Facebook to make many things accessible on their main page. They have been working with the American Foundation for the Blind for quite some time and have made some great strides. That said, there is still a long way to go. There is an active Accessibility Improvement Group Facebook members can join, where we can have the opportunity to voice our concerns. Personally, I will still choose to use the mobile version for most of my Facebook interactions, simply because I can get the information I want in a condensed fassion. But for the times I wish to interact with the main page, it would be nice to see continued improvements regarding both accessibility and usability.
Last night was our kickoff ceremony for our AIR Interactive program! It was fantastic to catch up with old friends of Knowbility, as well as meet and welcome our new ones. We were very excited and privileged to have some notable people in attendance.
This year we have 7 teams who will work with 7 local artists and Arts groups to create fantastic and most importantly accessible websites. The following is a list of the NPO/Artists and the teams who will be working together:
We are very excited about this year’s AIR Interactive! Good luck to all of the teams this month. Don’t forget, we will have people vote on their favorite site at Austin’s SXSW Interactive Media Conference, and the winners will then be announced!
We are very appreciative of all of our AIR Advisory board members for everything they do for Knowbility. Their contributions help to make these programs successful!
And finally, we thank our wonderful sponsors who make all of this possible! This project is funded and supported in part by the City of Austin through the Cultural Arts Division, by a grant from the Texas Commission on the Arts, and an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, which believes that a great nation deserves great art. In addition, we are grateful to St. Edwards University and SXSW for sharing their resources with us.
We have begun another fabulous year at Knowbility and 2010 promises to be fun and eventful! Things are always happening and there are fantastic opportunities to be involved with Knowbility! The services and programs we are offering are always evolving, and starting this month, I’m going to post regular updates here so that you can keep in touch with all we are doing.
Our Access Works program is growing quickly. Knowbility is providing work for many people with disabilities, including Vets! The employees of this program will be performing user tests of various websites, as well as document remediation’s of Microsoft office and Adobe files for Knowbility clients. There are a number of possibilities and opportunities for Access Works and I am very excited to be part of it!
As always, we are pleased to offer a number of community programs! There are many opportunities to be involved with Knowbility through these events and we look forward to establishing new contacts and friendships this year. February is our month for AIR Interactive, where teams of web designers have 28 days to make the sites of local Arts groups accessible. These sites will be judged and highlighted at Austin’s SXSW Media Conference next month. February 1 was our kickoff for AIR Interactive! Watch for information about our participating teams and the Artists or Arts groups they will be working with.
If you will be in Austin next month for the annual SXSW events, stop by and check out Knowbility’s booth at the Interactive Media portion of the conference! Watch for exact dates and specific details on where we will be this year, what we will offer, etc.
We are also looking forward to hosting another Access U Conference in Austin! Watch for registration and details on that later this month!
Our ATSTAR program is available as well. If you would like this program to be implemented in your local schools, we would love to help you!
If you are not in Austin, we would love to come to your town for accessibility training, consulting, document remediation, or perhaps have an AIR in your community. If you are reading here, you have some interest in accessibility, so why not let us help you create that interest in your community and workplace? Check out Knowbility’s website for contact information.
Finally, our success not only depends on people giving of their time and talents, but financial support is vital to us! Every dollar donated helps bring to life opportunities for those of us with disabilities, whether it’s insuring that websites we encounter are fully accessible, or providing us with employment opportunities. Donating is so easy! You can send us a check, or we have a direct link to pay pal, where you can safely make your contribution on-line. We appreciate that time and money is very valuable to everyone, so thanks in advance for anything you can do! Don’t forget about us in your daily interactions with coworkers and friends. Let them know we are here and the importance of Knowbility’s mission!
The New Year brings some fantastic Knowbility events that I want to make you aware of, so that you may either participate, or help us spread the word. First is our 9th annual AIR Interactive, where teams of web developers are matched with local non-profit Arts organizations and given a month to create an accessible website. The participants are recognized at Austin’s SXSW Interactive Media Conference in March, and a winner will be chosen. You can still register either your Arts organization or web design team and the deadline is January 24th. This is a really fantastic opportunity to give people with disabilities access to the local Arts via the internet. As a musician myself, I love to know when performances are happening and to be able to fully participate on these websites really means so much to me! Not to mention the training that both web designers and members of the non-profit will receive in Section 508 guidelines. Please, tell your friends, post it on your social networks, let all who have an interest in this know about this fabulous opportunity! Here is one example of a past AIR Interactive accessible site.
We are also giving a Web Accessibility Conference next month in sunny California! Participants will have instruction from some very renowned accessibility experts and usability professionals, and be given tools and techniques they can use not only in web site design, but in Microsoft Office file creation. If you’re looking for an excuse to visit the Silicon Valley in February, why not register for CALWAC? Time is limited, so reserve your spot today!
I really love working for Knowbility! There is always something exciting going on, events where we can reach out to people in various ways. But our success depends on the support of those who believe in the importance of access for all. When we all put our minds and efforts together, amazing things really do happen! So show your support for Knowbility and our mission! We greatly value any contribution, weather it be time, money or just dropping our name in conversation. The work we do is vital to so many and can enhance and change lives, I can personally attest to this. Accessible technology has opened countless doors for me in my life. Thank you so much for continuing to read this blog and actively participate in giving new life to people with disabilities through accessibility!
As the concept of accessible websites continues to spread, more and more web developers are turning to automated tools to test their sites. There are many tools out there, from those that generate detailed reports to toolbar add-ons for Internet Explorer and Firefox. There is a bran new one just announced this week called AMP Express, which will generate a report based on the criteria you enter and test for compliances with Section 508 and WCAG 1 and 2.
But how accessible are these tools to potential web developers with disabilities? For example if I were a totally blind web developer and wanted to be sure my site complied with all guidelines, what tools could I use to help me along that path? Are there any at all that are accessible to me? Of course I can test my site using my screen reader, but that would only give me part of the picture and in many ways, it would be more of a usability test rather than one for overall accessibility.
I asked some blind web developers what if any tools they are able to use to make sure their sites are accessible. The only screen-reader accessible recommendation I got that tests for WCAG 2.0 is Total Validator. This tool will even check for spelling errors and provides a report that is fairly easy to read via JAWS. Another suggestion was Cynthia Says, which also tests for certain criteria. However, from what I can tell from just a trial of it, the tool seems a bit outdated, though it also provides a screen-reader-friendly report that is easy to read through.
I am very interested in your thoughts here. I would like to start being able to assess websites using more than just my screen-reader. I want access to the same information other testers can get via accessibility toolbars. Tell me what you think!
I have been a user of Ray Kurzweil’s reading technology for almost 20 years. The first Kurzweil reading machines were large and cumbersome, but at the time it was breakthrough technology. About the size of a dish washer in the beginning, these machines allowed you to take a piece of paper or a book, scan it and then have the text read out in synthesized speech. You could operate the machine through an attached keypad and were given several options as to what to do with the scanned in text.
I remember when I was introduced to a Kurzweil reader, I just couldn’t believe it! For the first time in my life, I was able to read any book I wanted to from the library, though it did require a lot of time to scan in the books, about 2 minutes or more per page. I had access to one at school and after hours, I would sit in the room and read to my heart’s content. In college, I got one of my own, the Reading Edge, allowing me to scan in and read many of my textbooks. At this point, I could even save the scanned document as a text file and load it onto a floppy disc for reading either on a computer or my portable note taker Braille and Speak.
Some time later, as computer technology advanced, Kurzweil developed software that could be loaded onto any PC and used with many regular scanners on the market. Now the page scanning took less than a minute, depending on computer speed and scanner, and the resulting text would be on my PC, allowing me to do whatever I wanted with it. The software had a built-in speech synthesizer that would read the text aloud, and its voice was actually very ear-friendly. To this day, I use Kurzweil 1000 on my computer, taking advantage of the many enhancements they have made to it over the years. I can even import a PDF file into this software and have the text recognized and read to me. I can also export the text as an audio MP3 file, that can be listened to on my iPod.
But Kurzweil is not stopping there! In order to keep up with emerging technologies such as the Kindle, Sony book reader and even the iPhone, there is a software which will be available soon called Blio. This software can be loaded onto a computer or the iPhone and it will read electronic books you can buy and download on-line. While it has a lot of competition out there, it just goes to show that Kurzweil is very interested in meeting new demands. The best part, this software is free!
You can read an excellent article about this new software at wired.com.
From what I can tell, the software will be available either this month or next. I am very excited to try out this new program. Up to now, I haven’t purchased many electronic books, but that may change for me. If this software also works with bookshare books, that will be even more incentive for me. I am very interested in your thoughts. Do you think it can withstand the competition? How would having something like this improve your life, both leisure and professional? I’ll keep a look out for when this software is available and let you know.
For at least 20 years, Austin has offered a paratransit service of some kind to people with disabilities. A paratransit entity provides transportation to those people who are, for various reasons, unable to use the regular fixed route bus system. Without a service such as this, many people with disabilities would be totally homebound, unable to get to the grocery store, work, or medical appointments. The ADA on transportation lays out several guidelines, many of which are very vague and difficult to enforce in some cases. However, one thing is clear to me, there must be a service provided to those who are unable to safely and independently use the public transit system due to a limiting disability.
A service like this costs a lot of money, particularly when the demand is so high and the locations are very spread out. Austin is a large city and it can take a couple of hours depending on traffic to get from point A to point B within the city. Transit authorities must pay for their vehicles, drivers, gas, insurance, administrative staff to answer phones, and I am sure the list goes on. A paratransit system is usually a shared ride service, so careful scheduling can mean saved time and money for the authority. Riders have to plan ahead to get to their destinations at scheduled times. Often it can be difficult to arrive somewhere on time, unless the rider is able to leave earlier and either ride for quite awhile, or get to their destination very early and wait. It may not be the most ideal or convenient way to get somewhere, but it is far better than the alternative for everyone who must depend on this service to function in their daily lives.
Currently, Austin’s Capital Metro is making some big changes to their Metro Access system that affect all of us who depend on it. They are reevaluating their eligibility requirements to reduce the number of people who can ride. They have always strongly encouraged anyone who is able to take the bus to do so, especially since Capital Metro took over ownership of paratransit some years ago. Presently, they are evaluating everyone to determine the best candidates for bus travel and in some cases, they are egregiously wrong in their assumptions that certain people can safely and independently take the bus.
I’ll use myself as the example here, since I am one of the riders who falls into this category of being able enough to ride the bus, but face many barriers preventing me from doing so. Can I get on and off the bus? Yes, I need no assistance there as far as boarding and disembarking. However, several of the vehicles do not announce their number and/or route. As a totally blind person, I may get on the wrong bus if someone does not tell me which one it is. As to where to get off, again, I am completely dependent on the driver or a passenger to tell me when we arrive at my stop, as most buses in my area are not equipped with an automated locating system. Believe me, drivers forget to tell you and I have been lost and frustrated more than once because I missed my stop. This compromises my safety because I am often traveling alone or with my young child. If there are transfers involved, I have the same problem not knowing which bus is present at the transfer point.
The biggest concern with taking the bus is getting off at the stop nearest my destination. In a few cases, the walk from bus stop to destination is short with sidewalks and maybe small light controlled street crossings, and this is very doable. However, in most cases affecting me, my ultimate destination does not offer an accessible walk from bus stop to destination. To get to work for instance, I have to cross a very busy and dangerous street to get from the bus stop to the building. I have used Capital Metro’s trip planner to determine which buses I need to get from home to work. When I check the box for accessible trip required, I get an error because there are no accessible answers found.
Then, of course, there are times when you must travel to unfamiliar areas. You get off at the right stop, but really have no idea where you are and how far you must walk to your destination. Is it fair to tell me that I can only go places where I know there is an accessible walk from the bus stop? That is very limiting! It is bad enough that in order to use both the bus and paratransit service, you must live in certain areas of town. As a result, my family is paying more for our home in order to live in the service area.
I don’t have the answer for Capital Metro, but I do know that this new method is not right. Don’t people with disabilities have enough to worry about? There is still rampant discrimination all around us, should we add our transit system to that list? Are we going to be forced back into total dependence on friends and family who may be gracious enough to drive us around? If our city’s public transportation system were more accessible and flexible, some of these barriers would not exist, but as it is, the system is virtually impossible to use for many much needed trips.
So here’s where you come in. We need your voice, as well as those of other disabled passengers who are being denied service, to be heard! Everyone willing to speak up for our rights as Americans with disabilities is needed. There have to be better choices, a way to avoid denying us our basic right to transportation. We can’t just stand by and let this happen. We pay taxes in this system and deserve accessible trips to wherever we need or want to go. If you are someone with a disability and are having trouble with this or another paratransit system, there is some excellent info on Advocacy, Inc.’s website that may help you deal with your specific issue. If anyone reading this has any ideas about how to communicate these issues to be considered in rider policy, please speak up! Perhaps we can band together and make a difference, allowing Austinites and all Americans with disabilities to continue living their lives without the additional worry of losing transportation to work, school, the doctor’s office, or anywhere else everyone has the right to go!
Ok, this is off the topic of accessibility, but someone sent it to me and I find it absolutely fantastic! Talk about a great use of synthesized speech! Maybe this could be a new version of audio book reading? Check out this very unique version of A Christmas Carol! I promise, you have most likely not heard anything like this ever before! Enjoy and happy Holidays from Knowbility.