Help Pump Up the IronMan

Having access to online activities is no longer just a cool pastime…it is a necessity for equal education, employment and citizen interaction with government.  If you haven’t ever tried operating a mouse without the use of your arms, read a website without your eyes, or listen to a webcast without hearing it, you may never have considered the challenges faced as people with disabilities try to access information and services from the Internet.  For ten years, Knowbility has worked with communities across the country to raise awareness and improve access for more than 50 million Americans with disabilities and more than 750 million disabled people worldwide.

People like Derek Featherstone understand how fundamentally necessary it is for everyone to be able to access the opportunities of the web.  That’s why he has launched an IronMan campaign to raise awareness and funds to support Knowbility’s important programs. In schools, workplaces, and communities all over the world Knowbility is making a real difference.  Whether for children with disabilities in schools, wounded veterans trying to rebuild their lives, or others with disabilities acquired at birth or through aging, Knowbility is transforming lives. Won’t you help?
Support Derek and Knowbility – pledge today!

I personally benefit directly from every effort to make the web more accessible.  I have seen access to the web and technology positively affect my own life.  I believe in Knowbility’s mission and feel honored to be part of such a wonderful organization.  We may never know exactly how many doors are opened for people with disabilities as a result of Knowbility’s efforts, but there are still countless websites out there with accessibility barriers that need some assistance.  Knowbility is more than happy to help!

Join me in supporting Derek’s campaign and “pump him up!”  Donating is easy, very painless with only a few steps, and yes, it is fully accessible!  I was able to complete the process in under 5 minutes using Jaws.  So take a little time and give to a very worthy cause.  Help Knowbility continue to defeat the barriers to accessibility!

Another Captcha-Solving Alternative

A few months ago, I posted a blog entry about solving captchas.  I sited a service that works through FireFox called Webvism, which made captcha solving a breeze.  The only catch for me was that I am a comfortable Internet Explorer user and had to have both that browser as well as FireFox loaded onto my machine.  In my experience since then, the only time I use FireFox is when I’m signing up for something and need a captcha solved.

While Webvism is a very viable and relatively easy solution, I found another service that you may be interested in.  It is called Solona and is a project dedicated to the solving of captchas.  This will work on any web browser, but the process is very different from Webvism.  With Solona, there are actual live operators standing by to solve your captchas for you.  Once you have discovered a site where a solved captcha is needed, you find the image and print it to a file.  There are detailed instructions as to how you can do this with both Windows and Apple.  After you have saved your image file, you send it to Solona and wait for the operator to solve your captcha and return the results to you.  It seems a lot more complicated, but a good solution if you simply cannot use FireFox and Webvism.


My Star Trek Experience

I’ll start off by admitting that I am a huge Star Trek fan!  I may not be as crazed as some Trekkies out there, but I love it.  The TV shows, the movies, the books, I even have a toy Starship Enterprise.  So there’s my disclaimer.

Yesterday, my husband and I actually got to go and see the newest Star Trek movie.  We planned the day, got a babysitter, the whole 9 yards!  Of utmost importance in our plan was to find out where we would have access to the movie with Audio Description.  This was an important aspect of the plan, since most theaters near us do not have the equipment available.  We knew the movie itself had been equip with the necessary audio track, so we went to the internet to find out where we could go.  We decided on the Bob Bullock IMAX Theater.  They have the equipment, the sound there is fantastic, and my sighted husband would get to enjoy the film on a life-size screen.  The Bob Bullock Theater seems to have a lot of accessibility features, so we thought for sure they would have the descriptions available, as long as the film provided the track.  I didn’t even mind paying a little extra for the tickets, since I would get to enjoy the description along with the superb theater sound.  So, I bought our tickets ahead of time, the date was set.

We arrived at the theater a little over an hour early and the line to get in was already very long, everyone wanting the best seats in the house.  It was sold out, which was why we bought our tickets ahead of time.  We asked the man at the front desk about the Audio Description and he said that should not be a problem, we would just ask the theater master at the door just before giving her our tickets.  We went right to her and asked, and she looked right at me and then asked if we wanted the little machine that showed the captions/subtitles.  We explained to her that we wanted the headphones in order to hear the audio description that we knew the movie was released with.  She called someone and then told us that they do not offer this film with Audio Description.  We almost left in frustration, but we had been anticipating this movie for so long, planned for a sitter and had it all scheduled.  I didn’t know when or if the opportunity would come again, so we stayed and attended the movie.

It was a great show, but as I had expected, filled with action.  My husband was trying to describe quietly what was happening, but it was hard to hear everything and I know I missed many of the details.  I couldn’t help but be frustrated, knowing the movie was provided in audio description, that this theater had the equipment needed, and yet I could not access it.  Very possibly it would have been a matter of plugging something in and voila, I would have been privy to description of the action as it happened.

My advice, call ahead, don’t just look on the internet.  Take a look at the list of theaters with the proper equipment, then check and double check that your movie is available before making your plans.  Really, we should have walked out of there to make the point, but that just didn’t seem fair either.  So, I may never get to see the movie with Audio Description, unless they make it available on the DVD release.  I am very disappointed, yet it really was a cool movie.  I guess I just don’t understand why it wasn’t available when the audio and equipment were there?  I wonder who would be the one to ask that question?  One consolation is that there is an audio book, so I can read it and get what I missed at the movies.

I Took the Plunge

Ok, so for whatever crazy reason, I decided to take on some studying.  I figured that since I have been testing websites for several years now, purely from a usability perspective, I should learn more about the technical stuff.  User testing is great, but I have been finding it hard to give advice to people on how to improve without knowing how to speak the wonderful computer language of HTML.  I can tell you all day long that you need to put alt text on your images, but I had no clue what that really meant.  I am still very new to it, so my skills are at the most basic level, but I have been actually enjoying the learning process.

The first thing I did was perform a Google search on basic html, and of course several thousand results came up.  I looked at the beginner level of the W3C HTML Tutorial, actually went through its steps and learned from the first chapter or 2.  I found another site called HTMLDog that had a really great tutorial with a lot of examples in the beginner levels, so that I could actually look at the code one character at a time.  Once I learned some basics, I made my first page, which incorporated the use of paragraphs, headings, lists both ordered and unordered, a basic table and a small form.  I find it fun and fascinating to view the source codes for websites and try to figure out how they tagged certain elements.  I also have one more big advantage as I learn, and that is the great and vast knowledge of my husband, who has been very patient as I try to explain out loud what I am discovering.

I really have been enjoying it, believe it or not.  This knowledge was very helpful at AccessU last week, where I began to understand the language as everyone talked about tags, coding, etc.  Hopefully, my results in website testing will also be more thorough and full of technical language to go along with my user experiences.  I know I have a long way to go, but at least I have a starting point.  The basics, using a text editor, are fairly easy and indeed possible to do with Jaws or any other Screen Reader.  It can be a little time consuming, listening to each character, but well worth it to me.  It’s kind of like Sudoku, a little more effort is needed at times, but a lot of fun anyway.  It may take me a bit longer to ensure I have coded things correctly, but speed will surely come with practice.  So don’t be surprised if you start seeing some different formatting in future blog entries.


My Experiences at AccessU 2009

This week of course was full of fun at AccessU!  It consisted of two full days and a third day for post conference, as well as some great evening activities.  There was much to learn and fabulous people to talk to and network with.  I was privileged to be involved in the two first days of the conference and from everything I observed, it was a great success!  Thanks to the hard work of Knowbility, ST. Edwards, and our fabulous volunteers, I think those who attended had a wonderful experience.

The following will summarize my experience, but I would love to hear from you if you were there.  I couldn’t witness everything all at once, so I am interested in hearing from others who took various classes.  Maybe our discussion will entice some who couldn’t come this year to attend next time!

First I would like to comment on the location.  The staff and students at St. Edwards University were very gracious and helpful throughout the conference.  There was always someone willing to help when it was needed.  The wireless internet worked perfectly for me, I had no drops at all and I used my computer in almost every class I was a part of.  I think this location works very well for AccessU, so a big thanks to St. Edwards for hosting and for all of their work!!  The catering was excellent as well and kept us full and happy, ready to learn!

On Monday after registering and having some breakfast, we all got together for the plenary session.  Our speaker was Whitney Quesenbery, who is the Director of the Usability Professionals Association, or UPA.  She talked a lot about the voting process and how it has come so far over the past 9 years with regard to accessibility.  Interestingly, I had just voted in our local elections this past weekend, using the Ivotronic machine with speech, so it was fascinating to hear her talk about the process that made this possible for me.  Thanks to her advocating very actively for all users, the opportunity to vote is available for people like myself.  She reminded us that usability and accessibility go hand in hand, but that it’s not just about alt text and tags.  The most important thing is that something is user friendly for all.  This was a recurring theme throughout the conference and her speech started things off beautifully.

After the Plenary session, I attended the course entitled “Accessibility in Emerging Technologies,” taught by Matt May from Adobe Systems INC.  He was filling in for Derek Featherstone, who was unable to attend the conference.  Although Matt did a fantastic job, Derek was truly missed!  In this class, Matt talked about how far the web has come since the 1990s and how in the past few years, everything has turned mobile.  Having the web on the go is important to society, and these changes can cause even more accessibility barriers.  He discussed Waiaria and how it hooks right into existing Assistive Technology.  Most browsers now support Waiaria, as well as the current versions of many screen readers.  I’ll definitely be looking for and reading Matt May’s book found on!

Next was lunch, and on the first day we decided to have table topics, where people could sit together and discuss one thing or another.  I facilitated the Twitter table, where we had a lot of fun discussing all social media and what we’ve been able to do with it.  I got a lot of new people and groups to start following on Twitter.  We may have even converted one of our table members who was curious about twitter, but hadn’t used it yet.

After lunch, Randall Horwitz and I taught our “Testing with Jaws” basics class.  We gave our attendees some hot keys to use in jaws, taught them how to set the rate of speech, listened to and discussed some basic tables and forms, demonstrated how images are spoken, and visited a few websites to see how Jaws handled them.  I think Randy and I make a great team, and the class seemed to get a lot out of our course.  We taught an Intermediate Jaws class on Tuesday morning, where we had some attendees who already had experience testing with Jaws.  There were some excellent questions and discussion, making the class interesting for instructors and attendees alike.  Randy and I decided that for now, we prefer Jaws 9 over Jaws 10, until 10 is a little more stable.  However, Jaws 10 will work just fine for testing purposes.

Tuesday’s lunch was entertaining and inspiring.  Our keynote speaker was Kelsey Ruger, who is the Vice President Technology Operations of Pop Labs.  He also taught some classes at the conference.  He talked to all of us about being effective in making change happen.  He gave us some fabulous tricks and tips that would help us convince others of the importance of our cause, which in our case is accessibility.  He made us laugh and pumped us up.  He is a very talented speaker and a pleasure to listen to and learn from.

Tuesday afternoon I sat on a panel, discussing how people with disabilities use technology.  I was honored to be there with my 3 fellow panelists; Jess Hardy, Kate May and Michael Goddard.  We each had our individual challenges, but our message was the same.  When you think about accessibility, you can’t just make your goal to have a screen reader work properly; you have to think of all the other aspects.  We all said that the internet has opened many doors for us, giving us a sort of anonymity, so that we are not judged based on our disabilities.  We are able to show our potential through e-mail and web communication.  I really liked the panel format and think it would be neat to have more of them next year at AccessU.

The last class I went to was Pat Ramsey’s discussion on social media.  I think I was the class groaner, because whenever Pat would talk about some accessibility barrier, I chimed in with my two cents.  If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you’ll know how I have experienced some of the social media out there.  If you have not, I encourage you to check out the blog archives.  Pat’s class was excellent and we all took away some new knowledge on social media, the benefits of it and the accessibility barriers that currently exist.

Along with the classes, I also went to the Monday evening movie event.  We got to see Iron Man, which was both captioned and audio described.  There was a lot of action and I definitely would not have gotten much out of it without the audio descriptions.  I was totally into the movie and on the edge of my seat almost the whole time.  It was nice to be able to experience the story right along with everyone else, laugh when they laughed, and know as things were unfolding rather than after it was all over.  I’m sure it was interesting for those who have never experienced audio description before.  I was talking to a friend afterward who was watching and listening, and it was interesting that he felt like what he was seeing wasn’t always quite the same as the description.  It just goes to show that not everyone sees things exactly the same way.

So as you can see, AccessU was a fun and busy time for me.  I was actively involved the entire time, except for Wednesday’s post conference sessions.  I learned a lot, hopefully taught some things to people, and had a great time.  Now, let’s hear your thoughts and experiences from the conference.  Tell me all about what I missed while I was in my part of the experience.  I am very much looking forward to next year’s AccessU!