Wow, did I really say 75%?

To start off, I would like to thank Bob Garfield and all of the staff from “On The Media” for the fabulous opportunity they gave Sharron Rush and I to advocate for a cause that is vital to all of us.  We are so grateful to have the chance to bring attention to accessibility, it will help us to continue moving toward our goal of web access for all.  The interviews that followed immediately after ours were fantastic as well and I will definitely be talking more about those in future posts.  All that said, I feel I need to clarify or expand on something I stated in our interview.  I may have inadvertently given people the wrong idea about how far we are in terms of website accessibility.

This past weekend, I began my Saturday listening to the show, anxious to hear how we sounded as we brought awareness to accessibility on national radio.  I was smiling as they played the parts where I had JAWS working on the web, and as Sharron Rush talked about just how important the issue is to so many.  Then came the question from Mr. Garfield, “Desiree, as you surf the Web, what percentage of websites are accessible to you and what percent give you the kind of garbled response that we just heard?”  Desiree’s answer, “Probably 75% I can get on now.”  But what exactly did I mean by that?  Unfortunately, I neglected to clarify my answer and people who hear that may be misled!

It is true that a combination of technology improvements and awareness of the need for accessibility have made the internet a much better place for me to go.  Most sites that I visit, I can get a general idea and feel for what the developers want to offer, at least I think so.  Unfortunately, I am most times alone when I go to various WebPages and do not have the benefit of eyes peering over my shoulder to tell me all about content that I am missing out on.  I have had many experiences where someone talks about aspects of a webpage that I didn’t even know were there.  So on one hand, yes I can get onto most sites.  However, is  all of the content on that site accessible and compliant to Section 508 standards?  No, definitely not.  In fact there have been recent studies worldwide which determine that a very high percentage of current websites do not meet accessibility guidelines.

In addition, I am only speaking as the voice of an extremely experienced Screen Reader and computer user.  What I may find accessible and usable may be impossible for someone else even using my same technology to access.  I have been able to give many of my visually impaired peers some tips and tricks on certain sites because I have become familiar with them.  I also have an inborn tendency to problem solve and work around any issues I may encounter and at times it is so automatic, I forget that unless I jump through some hoops, the site and its contents would be completely inaccessible to me.

Lastly, as Sharron pointed out in the interview, blindness is not the only disability considered.  Accessibility applies to all types of challenges users may have, from deafness to dyslexia and everything in between.  While a Screen Reader may provide access to, for example a radio station site with podcasts, if there are no captions or transcripts, someone who cannot hear misses out on major aspects of that site.  While JAWS may not work less reliably if there are contrast issues, someone with low vision will find it impossible to navigate.  I could go on forever talking about the different ways in which people have and do not have access to web content, but I think you get my point.

So, the answer I should have given to the question would be that while I may find the majority of current websites basically usable, most still have a long way to go to meet accessibility standards.  I definitely do not want my overly optimistic statement to hamper the growing progress we are making in accessibility education and awareness.  I would not want people to get the idea that we are 75% there when it comes to website accessibility, because that is simply not the case.  The need for constant outreach will always be there, as new sites are being built every day and design technology is evolving.  With that in mind, we will all press on in our efforts to make the World Wide Web a more user friendly and accessible place to be!

Knowbility Hits the National Airwaves

Last week, Sharron Rush and I were privileged to be interviewed by NPR’s Bob Garfield for his show “on The Media.”  It was a fabulous chance for us to tell our story, to explain why accessibility is so vital for everyone.  We talked about not only the federal mandates and legal requirements, but the inpact accessibility has on individuals in their lives.  I got to demonstrate JAWS working on a couple of websites, as well as show how my iPhone has been made accessible out of the box.  Many listeners may not know what a Screen Reader is, much less hear one in action.  The technology is amazing, but unless the designers of websites and software develop with accessibility in mind, those technologies cannot work properly.  This interview was a fantastic experience and we have confirmed that it will air this weekend!  So check your local listings to see when and where the show is on in your area!  There is also a podcast for “On The Media,” so you can always listen that way.  If you have friends, coworkers or acquaintances who just don’t know what we’re fighting for, tell them to tune in!  We really hope that this national attention will help to further our cause and make more people aware of the importance of access for all!

Microsoft Office 2010 Promises More Accessibility

If all goes according to plan, Microsoft will release it’s 2010 products some time next month.  There seems to be many exciting features that will be unveiled, some of which have already been out in public beta.  The introduction of web applications for the most popular office products is exciting to many, giving them the opportunity to work on documents in a much more powerful and collaborative way.  But to me, the most exciting features that will be available in the 2010 release are those dealing with accessibility!  I have been a user of Microsoft products since the year 2000 and those first days were very difficult.  Not only were the Microsoft products inaccessible, but the assistive technologies had not yet evolved to support their use.  Office 2003 began to include some accessibility, and the Screen Readers and other AT reformed their programming as well.  When Office 2007 was released, a few features particularly in reading Power Point files became less accessible.  I personally found the ribbon system in 2007 hard to use and understand, especially after I had grown so used to the structure and keystrokes of 2003.  In many ways, I found the earlier version more stable, user friendly and accessible.  All that said, I am very anxious to give 2010 a shot!

Most of the accessibility focus in Office 2010 has to do with document creation.  There will be an accessibility checker tool available to run when creating any type of Microsoft document.  Larry Waldman, a program manager on the Microsoft User Experience Team, provides an excellent overview of the Accessibility Checker and how to use it in documents.  From the description, it looks as though it will be customizable and work almost like the spell checker.  I will be anxious to see if this tool is accessible for people using Screen Readers and other AT.  I myself want the ability to create accessible documents.  Most automated tools that check for accessibility are not accessible to assistive technology.

Another feature that will be available in document creation is the ability to provide expansions for acronyms.  There is a fabulous article written by Karen McCall on the Microsoft MVP Award Program blog that details the use of this tool in Word 2010.  Document Authors will be able to create a list of acronyms and their expanded text, so that a reader who may not be familiar with the acronyms can easily find their meanings.  For example, I use AT a lot and I would be able to inform my readers that this stands for Assistive Technologies.  From her description of how to create these lists of acronyms and their meanings, it seems that this process will be accessible to me as a document author.

Another related product that will be updated this year to include more accessibility is SharePoint.  The team is making a great effort to develop this collaboration software with accessibility guidelines in mind.  The 2010 release promises improved accessibility in many areas!  You can read details about the new enhancements on the Microsoft SharePoint Team Blog post entitled, “Accessibility and SharePoint 2010.”

It looks like more and more corporations, businesses and individuals are bringing accessibility considerations on board when developing or enhancing their products!  Our efforts in awareness and education are paying off, but we still do indeed have a ways to go.  Accessibility should not just be an added on feature, but part of the standard in product creation and development.  For every developer that incorporates accessibility in their design, there are at least 10 who do not.  As a result, users have to research or use trial and error to find out which products are accessible to them.  While things are moving in the right dirrection, I would love to see a day when every website, software and hardware includes access for everyone!

Access U 2010 was a Huge Success

This year’s Access U Conference was fantastic!  Once again, we featured instruction from world renowned experts in the field of accessibility and usability!  We were privileged to have St. Edwards University as our gracious hosts again this year.  The energy and excitement of everyone involved was inspiring and made me personally want to go out and promote our cause!

For the second year running, we offered a Usability Track, where experts in the field shared their techniques for performing studies and user experience tests on websites and/or software applications.  I was an active participant as well and really enjoyed it.  The first afternoon, the class saw several examples of people with disabilities using assistive technologies and heard us discuss how we access the web.  For some attendees, this was the first time they really saw AT in action, being used by someone who depends solely on it to gain access.  At the last session of the track, the class divided into small groups and got to simulate a user experience test session with users with disabilities.  I was very impressed, both with the instruction and the attendees.  They left with a wealth of information and experience that many of them said they could not have gotten anywhere else.  Two of the instructors have written some fabulous books you may want to check out.  Shawn Henry’s _Just Ask_ is available as an on-line text, and _Storytelling for User Experience Crafting Stories for Better Design_ by Whitney Quesenbery can be found in paperback or PDF format.

I was also privileged for the 3rd year to partner up with Randy Horowitz to teach a class in basic JAWS use for testing.  We led the class through several hands on activities, showing how JAWS handles various elements such as links, headings, images, forms and tables.  The class seemed to be very engaged and hopefully left with knowledge and information they can use in their own individual tests with JAWS.

As part of the conference, we partnered with VSA Arts of Texas to host Sight Sound Soul, featuring award-winning New Orleans musician Henry Butler at the piano, while an Artist painted her interpretation of the music and American Sign Language linguistics experts  enthusiastically translated the sound into movement.  The music was exciting, no one in the audience could sit still, each one of us at the very least tapping feet and nodding heads to the beat.  I personally am not much of a dancer, but many were inspired to get up and groove to the music.  It was a lot of fun for all of us there, a great way to celebrate accessibility through art and culture!

I could go on forever recounting the fantastic experiences I had at this year’s conference.  The new people I met and the old friends revisited.  The renewal of energy as we all part to pursue our goals in furthering the worthy cause of access for all.  If you are reading this and could not join us this year, definitely consider participating next.  There is something for everyone at Access U and you will almost surely have a great time!  For those who were there as instructors, volunteers, sponsors, class attendees, etc, we thank you sincerely for helping us make this happen again this year!  This mission is vital for so many, and it takes all of us working together.  Through Access U and events like it, we can reach out to people in our communities and get them involved in our cause!

Last Call for Access U Registration

It’s less than a week before AccessU, and we are more excited than ever to be able to offer the opportunity for people like YOU to learn from more than 30 experts on accessibility and usability.

It’s not too late for you to sign up and receive hands-on training on universal design, and receive a FREE ticket to our accessible performing arts gala, Sight. Sound. Soul.

So, if you…

Believe the web should empower ALL people

Want to learn how accessibility ties into your usability goals

Are a developer or designer who wants to understand emerging best practices for the web

Want to build innovative and accessible website using cutting-edge CSS techniques

…then you’re in luck, for we’ve saved a spot JUST for you.

Register to Sign Up for AccessU

To learn more about AccessU, please visit our website or contact Knowbility’s Director of Community Programs, Teenya Franklin.