An option for On-line job training, but is it accessible?

Discrimination of all kinds is out there, weather we as a society like to believe it or not.  The job field is no exception.  Many times, potential employees are discriminated against before they even get to an interview, especially if they are candid about their individual situations.  People are not hired based on varying factors, and many times they have nothing to do with that person’s qualifications for the job.  Unfortunately, it is not always possible to find out an employer’s reasons for not hiring you.  Did I dress wrong?  Was I confident enough, or too much so?

If you have a disability, this adds a whole new possibility for discrimination.  Almost all employers will at least know about the American’s with Disabilities Act.  They usually will not outwardly disqualify a disabled applicant for just the reason that they have a disability.  This means that they won’t tell you that your disability is the reason they cannot hire you, even though this is often the truth.  After all, no one wants a lawsuit.  I can’t tell you how many times I have followed up after an interview, only to be put off over and over, then finally told that they filled the position.  Some would go as far as to say they really were impressed and I was qualified, but they didn’t know if their equipment or software would be accessible to me.  Truth be told they never even tried to find out what technology is out there at all.

Recently, the University Of Iowa Law College has designed a web-based training course for both potential employers, and disabled job applicants.  It is free, all you have to do is register and you can have access to the training materials.  This is a fantastic idea!  Give everyone equal training, prepare both the employer and the applicant for the interview.  You can find out what is appropriate to say and how to act positively so that the best outcome is possible.

I signed up and tried to go through the course as a disabled applicant.  While the registration process was very easy and went well, the actual course material was inaccessible.  The video content is in flash media, but none of the buttons were labeled, so it was difficult to know how to play it.  They do offer transcripts of each video sample, which are presented in PDF format.  For the most part the PDF documents were accessible, though I did have a few problems with phrases being repeated over and over, and I’m not sure if that is a mistake in the document, or an issue with my adobe reader.  It would have been helpful to have an option for audio description of the videos, but not an absolute necessity.  I know all of these things can be done.  I have seen accessible flash well used and it works beautifully.  I think that accessibility is a vital issue for this website!  After all, it is there to help people with disabilities.  I definitely plan on contacting them and finding out if there is anything Knowbility can do to help their efforts.

So if you are someone with a disability looking for work, or an employer who will be conducting interviews, this course would be very helpful.  Just know that if you are blind, you may have difficulty accessing some of the content.

Accessibility = Usability

The W3C has just released a new introduction to their 2005 document entitled “How people with disabilities use the web.”  This document is only in its draft stage and will continue to be updated throughout the year.  But as I read through the sections referenced in the “What is in the document” area, I found it fascinating how helping someone with one disability actually enables others as well.  For example, many of the barriers experienced by someone who is color blind are very similar to someone who is totally blind.  Providing keyboard alternatives so that a mouse is not necessary helps a variety of disabled users, blind, motor impaired, etc.  Keeping things simple and logical, avoiding unnecessary busy graphics helps the dyslexic, as well as people with cognitive disabilities, and those who are experiencing age related conditions.

I really found the information in this document to be very informative, especially if you are a web developer with little or no experience with accessibility.  Many people just do not think in those terms when writing a site.  They don’t realize that every choice they make in the design could prevent someone from accessing what they are trying to put out for the world to see.  What really strikes me is the idea that by using accessibility techniques, you’re actually making your site more user friendly for everyone!  I cannot tell you how many times someone sighted has said that certain barriers I experience really inhibit them on the site as well.  When you think and design accessibly, you give every user many options as they access your information.  While in most cases you can’t please everyone, in terms of accessibility you can!  Designing your site accessibly will not make it unusable by anyone.  If only all web designers and companies thought this way, internet content would be not only accessible, but better for every user!

You can learn how to think and design accessibly at our upcoming AccessU conference in May!  I would love to hear comments from anyone who has taken part in AccessU in past years.  If you’re not already signed up, check your calendar and really consider coming!  You won’t be sorry, and the skills you learn will allow your sites to be user friendly for all!

Open question forum closed to many!

During his campaign and throughout his term so far, President Obama has been an active advocate for people with disabilities.  He has a very promising agenda regarding the rights, education and employment of disabled Americans.  However, one area not mentioned on the agenda was the accessibility of  Many accessibility advocates were very disappointed in this sites failure to meet Section 508 standards, particularly because an enormous amount of Obama’s campaign strategy involved the internet.  He is also using the web to keep people informed about what is happening in his Presidency.

Recently, I visited, a place where accessibility flaws are pointed out and organizations are given tools to fix them.  Here, there is a blog post entitled “Somewhat open for questions – some constructive criticism.”  It seems that though the President has good intentions, allowing improved and more open communication with the people, the mode that is being used, namely Google moderator does not come close to complying with Section 508.  The Validsites post details the errors found when testing for accessibility, and though it is Google Moderator that is not compliant, the fact that it is being used by the Government means that it must meet those requirements!  Of course anyone can still send messages to the President via the standard web form, which appears to be accessible using jaws, but you won’t receive the same response and attention as you would by using the open question forum.  Perhaps the Government can put some pressure on Google to make this service accessible?  And as far as, according to their accessibility statement, we should be looking for improvements in the not so distant future.  I encourage you to have a look at both and the Open Question forum and test it out for yourself.  If enough of us send comments to the President about these issues, we can help him in his efforts to empower All Americans, particularly those with disabilities!


An Unnecessary Barrier

Earlier this year, Amazon released the Kindle 2, a small portable device that lets you download e-books, magazines, newspapers and more using wireless and read at your leisure.  This new release also can read content aloud using text to speech technology.  Of course this is handy for people with any degree of print disability.  It can also be used by anyone wanting to multitask and listen to news or content while doing other things.

As a totally blind person, Amazon’s Kindle is not yet fully accessible to me, but they are working toward that end.  They may make the same adjustments that Apple has done with their IPod Nano, giving you the option to have menus and other items spoken by the unit.  So while I personally do not yet own or use the Kindle, many others with a variety of disabilities benefit from this device and the text to speech enhancement that is now offered.

For whatever reason, some authors took issue with the text to speech feature on the Kindle, not wanting to allow their books to be spoken.  In response, Amazon established the option for authors and publishers to disable text to speech in their books, preventing the Kendal from reading them aloud.  The question I have is why.  When you write a book, don’t you want as many readers as possible to have access to your work?  Is it within an author or publishers rights to only allow access to those who can read print?  And it isn’t like the text to speech is going to give you a quality performance of a book.  If I have the choice between being read to by a person or a machine, I’d choose the human being any day.  But if the choice is not there and I simply want the story or information, text to speech is definitely a very viable option.

There is an on-line petition going around that will be submitted to Amazon to try to keep them from giving the authors the option to disable text to speech in their books.  They are at over 5,000 signatures and their goal is 10,000.  Please sign the petition and possibly help to enable many people with varying print disabilities to have continued access to thousands of e-books through the Kendal reader!

Another resource for the Accessibility tool box

All right, another entity is involved in our cause!  I recently learned about Even Grounds, a website that offers accessibility consulting and a ton of fantastic and useful information.  There are many insightful articles, a blog, and a host of other available services.  You can even ask an accessibility question on-line!  Director Tom Babinszki has more than 10 years of experience in accessibility.  Based in Washington DC, he has had a profound influence on accessibility and disability related legislation.  I am excited to know about this company!  Check them out and see what you think.