Some Exciting Knowbility News

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!

The Inaccessibility of Automated Accessibility Tools

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!

Another Book-Reading Option Coming Soon

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.