Category Archives: Colorblind

Accessible Tax Filing?

Ok, so today’s the day!  If you have not yet filed/paid your taxes, you are probably stressed out, dealing with headaches, scrambling to get your paperwork in order.  Many people still mail their tax forms and are going to brave long lines and post office traffic to get that April 15 postmark.  However, filing your taxes in this day of technology and convenience does not have to be as painful of a process as it used to be, or does it?

If you are blind or have a disability, you have an added stress when filing your taxes.  How will it get done?  Do I have to hire someone to fill out my forms?  If I mail it, I have to arrange for transportation to the post office.  Of course I have to get the information from my employer’s forms, receipts and bank statements, some of which I will have to have read to me.  I could file on line, but will I be able to do it independently, or will I still need help?

To begin answering these questions, the first place I visited was IRS.gov.  They have incorporated accessibility into their process, but you should know where to go to take advantage of these features.  First, do not try to view the forms that show up on the home page with a Screen Reader, these PDF’s are not accessible, some read as empty documents and others have unlabeled form fields and it will not be possible to fill them out.  If you visit the Accessibility page, you find that they have made forms available in various formats.  There are Braille and text versions, as well as talking forms that they give very specific instructions on how to use with JAWS.  However, some of these are for viewing only, so you know what information you need to have but you will still need help inputting it into a form that can be submitted.  You can leave user feedback, but be warned that the field for your comments is not correctly tagged.  It reads “Hours of operation,” where you should fill in your comment.

Then of course you have to pick an EFile company.  There are so many choices, but which if any of these will work for you?  You can use the IRS tool to choose a company that best fits your needs, but be sure to check or fill in something in each field.  If you don’t, it will not give you results and it is difficult to find and correct your mistakes.  You are not provided with immediate feedback as to the error or reason that it did not go through.  Whether or not you qualify for free filing, there are many websites and pieces of software you can use to leisurely file your taxes.  However, according to an article I found on WebAIM entitled, “Accessible Taxes? A Blind Consumer´s Experience with the US Tax System,” many of these conveniences are inaccessible for one reason or another.

Ultimately, you have to choose the best option for yourself, whether to file on your own and deal with the challenges/barriers you encounter, or have someone prepare and file for you.  There is some great information on AFB’s Senior site in the form of a short tax guide.  Also, Michael McCarty details his experience with TurboTax and his Screen Reader.  If you research the issue, you will get many opinions and experiences, so the best way is to give it a try.  However, given today’s date, you may want to run the experiment with next year’s taxes!

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!

Hardware Accessibility

We focus a lot of attention on accessibility of websites and web content.  There are several resources out there, from Knowbility’s accessibility training and consulting services to actual guides, such as the book “Maximum Accessibility,” written by Sharron Rush and John Slatin.  But recently, the question was raised about hardware accessibility.  Are there standards out there to make technologies not related to the internet accessible?  Are there any resources available to guide manufacturers who want to make their products accessible to people with disabilities?  While there are some areas within Section 508 that talk about hardware accessibility, the bulk of the law is concerned with websites.

So what if you are a developer of a peace of hardware and you want to make it accessible?  What resources did Apple use when making accessibility decisions for the iPod, iPhone, and even the MAC?  There are some areas on the web that offer a bit of guidance as to what requirements there are for hardware accessibility.  However, while the needs are there, the how to info is not.

Perhaps the best answer to this dilemma is to seek out those who have succeeded in making their hardware accessible.  Many companies such as Apple now have a few people or even an entire department dedicated to accessibility.  Contacting them and finding out what if any guidelines they used may be a very helpful endeavor.  Of course the majority of companies do not have accessibility experts and don’t even realize there is a need for it.  In that situation, educating them about the huge importance of accessibility and the impact it can have on their business is key.

While I don’t think I was much help in answering this question, I think we can all help to advocate for accessible hardware, much the same way we do for accessible internet.  The more companies come out with the latest and greatest in hardware, the bigger need there is for them to incorporate accessibility in their designs.  With as much work as we have done to break down barriers that people with disabilities face, the last thing we want is a ton of inaccessible hardware out there putting them up again!

iAps Help People with Disabilities

I know, iAp isn’t really a word, but it’s the only thing I could think of to call them.  Since Apple’s Ipod touch and iPhone have come out, there has been thousands of applications developed for these portable devices.  These aps can do many things, from telling you what song is playing and its details, to interpreting a baby’s cry.  Some aps are free, others you pay for through iTunes.  Apple has also put a lot of time into making these devices accessible with its VoiceOver program and in some cases offering the ability to control some features via voice.  I discussed my very first impressions of the iPhone here a few months ago, but not having spent much time with the iPhone or iPod touch, I can’t give them my fair evaluation as to how accessible and easy they are for me to use.  There are many blind users out there who are happy with the iPhone and iPod touch and are able to use them very well with the accessibility features Apple has implemented.  I personally would like to see a non-touch version of the iPhone, that could utilize all of the iPhone’s great features and applications.

With all of the aps out there, are there any made specifically for people with disabilities?  I ran across an article about one particular application for Autistic children, which helps track their behavior patterns so that solutions can be determined.  Since the iDevices are so portable, tracking behaviors on the go and not having to write on paper and later transfer to a computer program for interpretation has made this method very easy and accessible to people who are involved with children who have a behavioral disability.  There is also Proloquo2Go, an iAp that helps people with speech disabilities communicate by functioning as a portable augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device.  By using their iPhone, a person with a speech impairment is now able to efficiently communicate with those they are around, anywhere, anytime!  Another one is iPrompts, which helps children with special needs remember daily activities through picture prompts and step by step instructions.  There are many more available for various types of disabilities and all of these are on the go in iPod or iPhone!

We are in a very exciting world of portable technology.  The idea of a little device you can hold in your hand and put into your pocket that offers so many things is revolutionary!  Add to that the options available for users with disabilities that make their lives easier and more enjoyable, it’s a win win situation for all.  I have always said that technology has impacted my life in far too many ways to count, from computers, to Braille technology, and finally to accessible portable hand held devices.  Technology has become more than just fun, it is a necessity in our lives.  No one should be left behind, no matter the device.  There should be something good in it for all!

World Usability Day, November 2009

On November 12 2009, I participated in World Usability Day in Dallas TX.  I had never been to one of these events before and it was a fantastic experience.  Knowbility had a booth where we spread the word about what we do, and I provided some website demos using JAWS.  It was a great networking opportunity and I think we educated many people about how vital accessibility is as part of usability!

The event was held at Sabre Holdings, where travelers are connected with agencies and travel possibilities.  I looked at Travelocity’s website with several of the attendees, which has come a long way with regard to accessibility.  I also was asked to test a survey for Sabre’s Marketing team, which really was not accessible and I pointed out just a few of the issues that I encountered, one of the largest being that you had to drag something from one column over to another column, with no ability to do it using the keyboard.

I met some representatives from Aquent, an agency that matches job qualifications and talents with companies.  What a fantastic concept, enabling all kinds of people to obtain employment!  What’s more, how great would a service like this be for people with disabilities!  I advised them that Knowbility could really help them with their site’s accessibility and increase their business by reaching out to the disabled community.

One of the biggest ironies of the day was the inaccessibility of the website for World Usability Day.  Not only was the site not accessible, but some people I talked to found it very difficult to use, particularly the maps and learning about various events.  Definitely something that needs to be addressed and soon!

Overall, it was a fun and educational day.  I always think that if something is accessible, it is usable, so the mission of usability really relates to Knowbility’s goal of accessibility for all.  As does always happen with these events, many people who visited our booth thought for the first time about accessibility and just how vital it is.  In seeing someone with a disability navigate the web, it made them think a little differently as they go forward and design their sites, hopefully with accessibility in mind.  I would love to see them contact Knowbility for help in making that happen for their sites.  Education is so important toward the goal of change and I really think we accomplished that this year at World Usability Day Dallas.