deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
On Saturday, after two years without a cell phone, I bought an Android phone.

This afternoon I returned it.

I was excited enough by the phone's features that it overcame my deep aversion for being reachable (and my steadily growing distaste with El Google). It's not just the many features of the Android phones designed to lay claim to the geek's heart, of course, but also the voice control features, still inadequate but improving with every frequent iteration of the operating system. It's how hard Google pushes the Android accessibility API, although I admit I should have had the first inklings of worry when I read those pages months ago, and saw that Google fell into the trap of frequently equating "accessibility" with "no- or low-vision use".1

Before I'd had the phone 5 minutes, when I was still getting help getting the voice control correctly configured, I discovered I was going to have to take it back. Android's haptic feedback (a fancy name for "the phone vibrates a whole lot") cannot be entirely turned off, and renders it completely unusable by me. Yet that same haptic feedback is specifically designed as an accessibility feature for no- or low-vision use of the phones.

I don't want to read too much into what is fundamentally a bad user interface design on Google's part, here. Haptic feedback is a wonderful thing, but it should be able to be completely disabled based on user option. The fact that it can't be is clearly a UI mistake.

But there's something else underlying here, and it's the idea that accessibility is a set of features which can be added, wham bam, beneficial to all of those adorable folks who need it. As everyone who has spent enough time in the accessibility world understands, one person's accessibility need is another person's spoon-sucking roadblock. (Tactile paving, anyone?) For all I often rant about how easy it would just be to add basic accessibility do applications and websites, I admit in my more fair moments that accessibility beyond the basic is quite difficult, and this is exactly why. There's no big tent that can encompass all accessibility needs. Universal design is lovely and wonderful as a concept, but it's far from trivial: there's no one universal human to design for.

In the meantime, I guess I'll just continue to be unreachable. Which isn't so bad, after all.

ETA:

The Google form for reporting accessibility problems is a marvelous exemplar of my point. On the one hand, they have a dedicated form for reporting accessibility problems! On the other hand, they have this question and set of possible answers:

If you’re encountering a problem, we need to understand a bit more about the issue, so we can help. What screen reader or other assistive technology are you using, if any?
  • JAWS
  • Window-Eyes
  • System Access
  • NVDA
  • VoiceOver
  • Don't know
  • Other


GUYS. They don't even list any screen magnifiers in that list, let alone get wacky with it and list adaptive technologies which aren't for blind or low-vision use. Only slightly fewer of the respondents to be latest WebAIM screen reader survey listed Zoom Text than listed System Access, and that's despite the fact that users of Zoom Text might not have bothered to take the survey because they aren't using screen readers. It's like the people who created that form (and once again, thank you Google for creating that form) can't even imagine how to talk to people who have accessibility needs but don't use screen readers.


  1. To be fair, the Eyes-Free on Android project also continually falls into the trap of using the word "accessibility" when they mean "accessibility for blind and low-vision users". And also to be fair, I do realize that touchscreen devices are a hell of a lot more disenfranchising to blind and low-vision users than they are to many types of people with mobility impairments. I'm sorry. I'm trying to own my "not very disabled" privilege here, but it's hard, because I wanted that phone.[back]
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A while back, I made an inappropriate snarky comment about the lack of transcript/alt text on a web comic. Instead of returning snark for snark, the comic's creator has gone out of her way to jump through all the hoops WordPress puts between a blogger and accessibility. Folks, check out Derangement and Description, Rebecca Goldman's very funny (if you are in archives or libraries) web comic, now with alternative text.

And I wish I could start a meme: pick one web comic, image tumblr, etc, you read which doesn't provide transcripts. Politely (unlike me!), directly approach the artist and ask them if they would be willing to start providing alternative text, descriptive text, or transcripts.

(I decided to do this myself just now, since my first attempt was snarky and therefore doesn't follow the rules of my meme, and discovered 2 things:
  1. XKCD has transcripts already, but
  2. they are hidden from screenreaders because the code that keeps them off the visible screen is the CSS "display: none" which is respected by most screen readers.
Randall probably doesn't even know that there are ways to hide information from the visual screen while not hiding from screenreaders. Therefore, my point one for my meme is to write to Randall and tell him about the CSS he needs. \o/)
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An open letter to those implementing mobile device accessibility:

I know that hands-free mobile device control is difficult, and I am grateful for the amount of voice control which has been implemented so far. The ability to dial a number, send a text, send an e-mail, or leave a memo are all useful. Now here's what I would like to see next:

  • A microphone which stays on until turned off, rather than tap-to-speak. I understand this could have implications for users who don't know how to use it, but then, the same goes for having a telephone in the first place.

  • A 36-item vocabulary, probably native to the phone, of the letters in the alpha-bravo alphabet and the digits 0-9.

  • The ability to start an app installed on the phone by saying "start [app name]". E.g. "start Angry Birds". (No, I have no idea how to control Angry Birds by voice. I just don't know the name of a lot of mobile applications, as I don't have one, because I still can't use one. Hence this post.)

  • A seven-item vocabulary, probably native to the phone, that can be used in webpages: page up; page down; back; forward; show numbers; go to address; press enter. "Show numbers" would put a number next to every clickable or selectable element (much like the Firefox extension mouseless browsing), allowing those items to be selected by dictating from the digit vocabulary.

  • The command "microphone off".

  • The command "dictate here", allowing the user to open up a remote-processed standard dictation window in any field or application.


Now, I will admit that I have never done any mobile programming, and I have no idea what the limitations are for vocabulary recognition. Am I mistaken in my belief that adding another 46 items to the local-to-the-device vocabulary (on top of the ones that already exist such as "send a memo to") is something a contemporary mobile device should be able to handle?

As a bonus, I see in the Android accessibility best practices that all applications should be designed to pay attention to the directional controller as well as just the touchscreen. Great, that opens up the possibility for four more voice commands: up, down, left, and right. That brings us up to 50 desirable items in the native vocabulary.

Can your phone handle that? And if not, can the next generation of your phone handle that? And if not, why not?



(Geeze, I'm starting to feel like I should add HV1569.5 to my default icon.)
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Yesterday, on the DCA blog, I posted "Accessibility and back office archives tools", for which I made a screencast of myself using NaturallySpeaking to use a less-than accessible tool. There was enough positive feedback about the screenreader screencasts to which I linked that I thought there might be some interest in these as well.




In an entirely unrelated aside, when did it become acceptable for un*x programs to start shoving everything -- configuration, logs, state, data -- into /usr/local? (Yes, Tomcat, I'm looking at you.) In my day, whippersnappers, you put your configuration into /etc, your logs into /var/log, your state into /var/run, and your data into whatever was appropriate based on your file system. With obvious modifications based on what operating system you are actually running, maybe using /opt or something instead of /usr/local, etc. In theory, you should be able to get by without even backing up /usr/local, because you could rebuild it completely from source or package, what with all your configuration and state and logs being stored in other places. And as a side effect, it always had a very controllable and knowable size, because it didn't have things like logs that grow arbitrarily if unexpected things happen, and sometimes are exceedingly difficult to roll on a regular basis, and yes, Tomcat, I am still looking at you.

Is this based on a theory of file system management that changed while I haven't been paying attention, or is it just sloppiness based to the new ubiquity of good un*x package management?
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How much time do I spend singing the praises of interlibrary loan? Because of ILL, my coworkers and I are currently passing around the marvelous Protected by the Prince, an absolutely terrible Harlequin about the Prince of Lusitanalpsvillia (or something) and a mousy, bespectacled archivist.

This LOLcats version of the book (irritatingly lacking alt text; come on, people, get with the program) is actually a pretty accurate rendition of the plot, and possibly better written. ArchivesNext is running a hilarious quiz/contest about the book and its premise.

ROFLMAO.

Edited to add: Rebecca at Derangement and Description, creator of the LOLcats comic, is going to be adding transcript or some kind of alt. Given that I rather gracelessly snarked in public instead of privately asking her to add alternative text, this is my public apology and recognition of her coolness.
deborah: The management regrets that it was unable to find a Gnomic Utterance that was suitably irrelevant. (gnomic)
The problems with crappy accessibility, illustrated. The National Federation of the Blind has put together some videos of the kind of problems screenreader users run into when trying to use Gmail or Google Docs. It's sometimes very difficult to explain to people without disabilities exactly the complexities of using inaccessible tools, and I really hope that these videos make the misery concrete for people.

Actually I'm kind of thinking it's a good resource in general. Screencasts of using inaccessible websites or inaccessible applications, from users with a variety of needs including keyboard-only, speech to text, high contrast, zoom, etc. Obviously not all adaptive needs will be easily translatable; you can't really show a visual processing disorder with a screencast, for example. But still, a very nifty resource within its limitations.
deborah: The management regrets that it was unable to find a Gnomic Utterance that was suitably irrelevant. (gnomic)
In the past, I've bitched about philosophical disagreements I have with some of the folks over at WebAIM (Web Accessibility in Mind). So when one of them does something pretty fabulous and fairly invisible, I feel it's only right that I say something publicly.

Dennis Lembree has written a fabulous app called Accessible Twitter, which has an interface as clean and accessible as Twitter's native interface is inaccessible and clunky, which is saying something. I wouldn't be able to use Twitter without it. (Don't get excited; I only tweet for work. Though if you're interested, I'm one of the contributors to dcatufts.)

Meanwhile, the WebAIM folks have put together a nice, very simple, accessible URL shortener. Like many URL shorteners, once the page provide you with the shortened URL it gives you quick links to automatically repost the shortened URL, in their case, to twitter, Facebook, or friendfeed.

At 10 o'clock this morning, I made a suggestion on the feedback form for the shortener that they had a link specifically to repost via Accessible Twitter's interface. There followed a rapid flurry of e-mails between Jared Smith of WebAIM and Denis Lambree, and by the end of the workday, they had implemented this suggestion.

That's pretty awesome, right there.
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I've got another litcrit post bubbling along on the back burner, but in the meantime, if I don't clear out some of these tabs my browser will explode. So here, have some web accessibility linkspam:
many links about web accessibility )
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I'd like to signal boost the community [site community profile] dw_accessibility. One of the things that's so awesome about dreamwidth is that the developers and style designers really care about universal design, and making the site equally usable and beautiful for people with disabilities. One of the ways they do that is by getting feedback from us, the users with disabilities.

It's important for all of us that when questions get asked in the community, those of us who have computing-based accessibility needs pitch in to answer. The most noticeable place we have a shortage is screenreader users; since studies show that there is no typical screenreader user, it would be really valuable to have more than one or two regulars answering questions about what is the best site design first screenreader users.

But we also need people with all kinds of other accessibility needs: voice users, keyboard-only users, people with visual processing disabilities, zoom users, deaf-blind users, people with cognitive disabilities, etc. Basically, if your disability means that site design and site coding have an effect on your ability to use and enjoy the site, you will be a welcome contributor over at [site community profile] dw_accessibility.

Thank you, awesome people. And please signal-boost as appropriate.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
Two links today which were both partially inspired by the 20 year anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

First, the depressing one: Via Jennison Mark Asuncion, Dennis Lembree identifies several accessibility gaps on the home page of the new section508.gov web site. The site was launched partially in celebration of the 20 year anniversary of the ADA, and some of the accessibility gaps Lembree finds are whoppers: overly styled text instead of heading tags, for example. As Jennison said, what does it say when the chief US gov agency promoting IT
accessibility is not where it needs to be with their own site?


But let's follow with a much more inspiring post: [personal profile] jesse_the_k: "20 Years and a Day for the Americans with Disabilities Act". This essay inspires me to see all the good we've done in two decades. From [personal profile] jesse_the_k:

So, thanks for my life, ADA: many mundane things, and a few great big ones.

The law is not enough; as Cal Montgomery taught me:
Discrimination is always illegal; only activism makes it unwise.


And something I don't say very often, because I'm still pissed off about certain comments about atheism, But thanks, George H. W. Bush, for signing the ADA into law. Because of that law, I have a job.
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It's international "closing tabs so therefore linkspam" day. Actually, that was a month ago -- if you noticed the links at the bottom of this post are fairly dated, that's why.

Scholarly Publishing: California Versus Nature, Institutional Repositories, Humanities scholarship  )


Librarians and archivists: no longer advanced )

Polymers for fuel cell technologies


Awesome thing at my university: "Polymers for fuel cell technologies". Four undergraduate interns are describing their summer research project on polymers for fuel cell technologies. Orthogonal to the science or the topic of the video, all four students are deaf or hard of hearing, and the science and the video is communicated via ASL. And thank you, Tufts Jumble, for presenting the video as being about the science. Because it is.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
Kill Accessibility, a blog post by Gary Barber, made me put me head down on my desk and take several deep breaths.

Barber makes some excellent points about some of the limitations of the accessibility movement. He talks about how accessibility shouldn't be an afterthought, but incorporated into good web design and universal design. He talks about how for many, "accessible" has come to mean "for people with visual impairments". He talks about the weakness of the way checklists are used, and about the low social value of improving your website's checklist.

So why does Barber lose me at the very beginning of his blog post? His first content heading: "We are not Assistive Technology users." I repeat that: "We are not Assistive Technology users." He goes on to say The old UX catch call is never truer here – we are not the users. The disparity between us and the people we are really working for, with accessibility, is sometimes just too great for us to even get a idea of what it is like, no matter how many videos of people using assitive technology we see.

Who is this "we" about whom you are speaking, Able-Bodied Man?

Last weekend I was in a room full of accessibility professionals, about half of whom had visible disabilities. The director of the WAI has a disability. There are people with disabilities on all of the web accessibility mailing lists I'm on. That's not even counting the other parts of the web development community I interact with, the parts that don't have any particular concern with accessibility and yet still have a multitude of developers with disabilities.

We are here. You just aren't talking to us. You just aren't listening.

Maybe the first step in the accessibility community is to recognize that some members of your own community are also the users, and to listen to us when we speak. I don't speak for all computer users with disabilities. I speak for exactly one: myself. But if you don't even know that we are here, each of us speaking for ourselves, you sure as hell are not going to be able to serve anyone in the community.
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This weekend, I attended Boston's first Accessibility Unconference. I expected to be going only for the networking opportunity, but I found the whole experience fabulous. Certainly there were some frustrations -- the location, for example, could have been more accessible by public transit. But overall, it was a great day.

I spoke about Dreamwidth, not surprisingly. Just as others have talked about the rich developer community that's built when you provide a development environment which is welcoming to women and encouraging to newbies, I talked about the accessibility gains that you get from creating a nurturing environment in your open-source community for people with disabilities. I talked about how being encouraging not just developers with disabilities but also newbies with disabilities made it more likely for your project to have a rich and motivated pool of testers using adaptive technology -- which prompted one participant to say something along the lines of, "you should rent those people out; everybody wants actual disabled testers!"

Other people's talks were also compelling. Jeanette Beal talked about low tech solutions for improving independent living, and gave us all a good reminder that adaptive technology isn't all about Web 2.0. I was sad the session on HTML 5 video was pretty brief, although that was all of our faults, because it shared a session with Flash video and we all asked too many questions of the people discussing Flash.

And the networking was nothing to sneeze at, either. I was thrilled to finally meet the blogger behind Dis/positional. I had long, enlightening talks with Judy Brewer (who was puzzled by my starry eyes) and Mike Gorse ([livejournal.com profile] lightvortex), a developer who works on Gnome accessibility. I learned that Patrick Timony, adaptive technology librarian at the DC public Library, is going to be presenting at SAA, and I promised to send those of my coworkers who will be attending the conference to talk to him. I didn't have enough time to talk to him about his interesting ideas about accessibility and archives, but I made the connection!

Above all, I was overwhelmed with being surrounded by more professionals with disabilities than I had ever in my life met offline. More programmers with disabilities. More female programmers with disabilities. At one point I was hard pressed not to start crying. Dreamwidth has been great for introducing me to other professionals, other techies, other female professionals and female techies disabilities. But I underestimated the emotional impact of being surrounded by that many of us in one room.

(ETA: One glorious moment happened when an attendee of the conference was chatting with me (note that my disability is mostly invisible) and she said "I see a lot of visually impaired people here. Are they here to learn about what kind of adaptive technologies are available?" And I responded, "No, they are mostly programmers and accessibility professionals," and she looked thoroughly taken aback. I think my little heart grew three sizes.)
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I find it ironic how much the commonly used abbreviation for computer accessibility ("a11y", paralleling the frequent abbreviations of "internationalization" and "localization") is a fairly inaccessible abbreviation. It's unnecessary exclusive jargon, which violates the principles of universal design. It's going to cause difficulties for people with cognitive disabilities. It's more impenetrable to people using screen readers, unless they have set the options on their screen reader to parse the string as "accessibility" instead of "ay-eleven-why". It's substantially more difficult to dictate. Really, the only group of people with disabilities who are served by the abbreviation are those who have difficulty typing but still use a keyboard.

This probably is fed by my general frustration that the computer accessibility advocacy community spends too little time involving people with disabilities, not as end-users to be served, but as participants in design, goal-setting, and programming.
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the Internet Archive launched a new service that brings free access to more than 1 million books — from classic 19th century fiction and current novels to technical guides and research materials — now available in the specially designed format to support those who are blind, dyslexic or are otherwise visually impaired.

More specifically, through its Open Library interface, the Internet Archive has released many of its e-books in DAISY format. DAISY format is a preferred format for many people who don't use print, and this is a real improvement over the frequent that is "but I put up a PDF so it's accessible" (frequently an untagged, inaccessible PDF). Thank you, Open Library.
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I like those rare moments when children's literature overlaps with digital archiving and preservation. Do you children's literature people remember Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Mary Azarian's beautiful Caldecott winner Snowflake Bentley? The University of Wisconsin at Madison has digitized the Bentley collection!

Wilson Alwyn Bentley (1865-1931), famous for his photomicrographs of snow crystals, prepared sets of glass lantern slides of dew, frost and ice crystals. ... Shortly after, the Library obtained partial funding through the Friends of the Libraries, University of Wisconsin-Madison, to preserve the physical collection and provide web access.


Gorgeous pictures of snowflakes made available through a dspace repository.

And what about those moments when my obsession with accessibility overlaps with my profession? Disruptive Library Technology Jester posted on Friday "UDL: Universal Design... for Libraries?" There's not much meat to that post, except an encouragement to think about universal design in a library environment. Maybe we can start a trend!
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I find that, perhaps because of my profession or because my home has enough books to provide structural support, people tend to assume that I will agree with the sentiment "But at least they are reading!" For the record, I don't. I don't see any intrinsic value in reading, per se. I know plenty of people who read and gain nothing from it. I know plenty of people who spend substantially more time online or watching television and gain as much from those tasks as others do from reading, or more.
Rachel Maddow Read Poster


Here's what I do see value in:
  • The mechanics of reading: I'll readily admit that the mechanics of being able to read, basic literacy in the reader's home's language, is exceptionally valuable, but its value can be overstated. Here's a hint: if you are looking for intellectual, thoughtful participants in society, literature, and the media who don't have access to the basic mechanics of looking at letters and deciphering them, you need look no further than your nearest friend who is blind or visually impaired (I know, I'm ignoring braille). I won't deny that it's much easier to get by if you can decipher letters on the page/screen, but it's patently not necessary. I say this as a reminder to myself as much as anyone. Why did I have no problem with a student using audio books when the student had a registered disability, and yet I had a gut negative reaction when a student with no registered disability mentioned to me that she was listening to the assigned reading on her iPod? If I think that the reading experience for the student with the disability was as valid and as rich when she used the audio books, why should I think that experience would be any the less for the able-bodied student? This is not to say that I think that people who have the ability to learn the mechanics needn't do so; of course I think they ought to. But we need to have more respect for other forms of consuming texts, such as audio.

  • Literacy in a second language, spoken and preferably written: Like many Anglophones, I actually don't have this one. I wish English-speaking countries had more respect for the importance of bilingualism. I'm not going to say that bilingualism automatically makes people less chauvinistic. But still, having more than one language increases your capacity for being able to understand other cultural perspectives.

  • The ability to understand, critically engage with, and discuss fiction and nonfiction texts: Where by "texts" I mean books, newspapers, television shows, commercials, movies, and Internet materials. All of these types of texts participate in the construction of our society.

  • The ability to enjoy nonfiction and fiction texts: I believe that the ability to enjoy fiction enriches a reader's ability to posit hypotheticals. I believe that the ability to enjoy nonfiction increases a reader's willingness to learn about the world. Note that I am not privileging any type of text; I don't see more intrinsic value to enjoying John McPhee's The Control of Nature, an episode of Discover, or a stellar piece of investigative journalism.

  • The ability to distinguish among the different genre characteristics of the media consumed : Note that I am not saying that readers need to prefer high quality to trash, just that they need to be able to distinguish between them. The reasons for this are more obvious with nonfiction. If a reader can't distinguish between nuanced nonfiction and tabloid journalism, she'll be easily deceived. This doesn't mean it's not okay to enjoy tabloid journalism (or junky television, or pulp novels). But a reader who can distinguish what the characteristics are of the media she's consuming will be better able to critically engage.


The upshot of all of this is that someone who cares passionately about, say, So You Think You Can Dance, The Babysitters Club, Slashdot, Buffy, and The New York Post, thinks about them all critically, and discusses them with other people who think about them critically, is likely to be a better thinker and more informed participant in society than somebody who sits at home statically consuming the latest Booker prize winner without any further thought or discussion.
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I find it aggravating that WebAIM will be presenting at this year's CSUN (International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference) on "The Myth of the Typical Screen Reader User", since its representatives on the WebAIM mailing list have made it very clear that they believe there IS a typical screen reader user: a computer illiterate technophobe with total lack of agency who needs to be handheld for all computer use.

I also find it aggravating that CSUN isn't broadcasting any of the sessions. (You can charge people to see a webcast, you know!) Sure, they do seem to do a pretty good job for attendees with disabilities on site, but a lot of people with disabilities find it difficult to travel, you know? Not to mention how many people with disabilities have lower incomes than their able-bodied peers. A twitter feed is not a broadcast.
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For Disability Blog Carnival #59: Disability and Work:

Liz Henry tells us that October is Disability Employment Awareness Month in the United States. Who knew? I guess this is why my university's human resources newsletter this month has an article called "Accommodating Our Valuable Employees", all about the wonderful ways in which the human resources department jumps through hoops to adapt the environment for employees with disabilities. Someday I have to meet this department of which they write. </snark>

Anyway, I've written plenty on the frustrations of being a working person with disabilities, but I wanted to talk about some of the ways in which it's actually pretty awesome. Even I can't complain all the time. )
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