Introducing WCAG 2.1.

Introduction

Anyone with an interest in the web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG,) will no doubt be aware of WCAG 2.1. Version 2.1 is open for feedback and suggestions until 31/03/2017, and has been published to take in to consideration the increase of mobile devices, and the accessibility of such devices using assistive technology.


Most of us will now use a smart phone, or have a portable device with internet capability, and more devices are thankfully now being shipped with accessible solutions built in to their respective operating systems. As a result, it’s vital that online content and user interfaces among other things are as accessible as possible to as many user groups as possible. While still in the early stages, it’s great to know that WCAG is moving to take in to account the inclusion of mobile and tablet devices. To read more about WCAG2.1 and to add comments and suggestions before March 31st, visit: The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 pages.

Education and access – a powerful combination

16/12/2016 posted by Mike Taylor


Introduction

Dr Scott Hollier specialises in the field of digital accessibility and is the author of the book ‘Outrunning the Night: a life journey of disability, determination and joy’. With a Ph.D. in Internet Studies and project management experience across the not-for-profit, corporate and government sectors, Scott is an internationally-recognised researcher and speaker.

Dr Scott Hollier – Digital access specialist, author & Adjunct Senior Lecturer at Edith Cowan University

A few weeks ago I launched my memoir, titled ‘Outrunning the Night: a life journey of disability, determination and joy’, in my home city of Perth, Western Australia. It was a great event with family, friends, work colleagues past and present and disability groups all coming along to provide support which meant a lot. The night was great fun with the only complaint being that the fantastic pizza on offer ran out just a little too quickly for some.


Since the launch and some of the subsequent media interviews around the book, I’ve been reflecting a bit on just how fortunate my life has been. For many people looking from the outside, my life probably doesn’t’ seem that fortunate as I’m legally blind with the degenerative eye condition Retinitis Pigmentosa, and at this point of my life now aged 41 I’ve lost most of my sight. It’s true that things are difficult at times and there are many challenges that relate to having a disability, but there’s also lots to celebrate and much of that happiness stems from two key things established when I was young; the persuit of education and the benefits of accessible mainstream technologies.


I was diagnosed with my eye condition just after I started primary school, and as a father now I can appreciate just how hard the news must have been for my parents. The specialist indicated that I’d probably lose my sight quickly, I’d need to go to a special school and my career options were almost non-existent. While this seems harsh today, it was basically a reflection of Australia’s legislative frameworks at the time as legislation relating to disabilities services didn’t come in until 1986 and disability discrimination laws weren’t established until 1992, so the discussion about education and a career path was largely based on mainstream thinking at the time.


Fortunately my parents being primary school teachers wanted a second opinion, and happily that second opinion was a bit more enlightened. As a result I continued mainstream schooling, completed high school, studied Computer Science at university and went on to complete a number of other degrees including a Master of Management and a PhD in internet-related studies. It wasn’t a journey I took alone though – as I note in my book, there were key people along the way and if it wasn’t for their intervention in caring enough to support my education, its likely none of the above would have been completed successfully and this really highlights just how important it is to have good support around you and organisations that champion the disability cause.


My interest in technology also stemmed from the support of others around me. In the early 1980s I lived in a small country town for four years due to my parents working at a school in the Western Australian outback, and with only one TV channel and one radio station my favourite entertainment choice was watching the bigger kids play arcade games at the local café. As a small child with no money, I dreamed of the chance to play those games, and thanks to my parents the dream came true – the ColecoVision TV game console arrived, a shared Christmas present with my sister which featured Donkey Kong as the pack-in game, and a car racing game Turbo. My passion for computer games, and computers more broadly, grew from there, with a Commodore computer becoming my prized possession in high school for doing homework, entertainment and experimenting with programming. It wasn’t until I started university though when I fully appreciated the potential of how the humble personal computer, and later the internet, could revolutionise the opportunities for people with disabilities in terms of participation and independence.


My first introduction to the Internet was in 1993 when the Internet was largely text-based and the Web was in its infancy. One of the things I really enjoyed doing was reading the comp.sys.cbm newsgroup where people were posting discussions relating to Commodore computers. While my trusty high school computer companion had since been retired due to using a PC at university, I was still interested in following the discussion. One discussion that caught my eye was a post from a person asking if it was possible to get a Commodore 64 on the Internet. As I mention in the book: …this post led to a few responses, most of which were either critical of the author for making the ridiculous suggestion that a computer from 1982 could be put online, or from others viewing it as a deliberate attempt to ‘flame’ the group. After a few posts, though, someone posted code in BASIC that would create a TCP/IP stack, and various primitive connectivity options to get it online. It was at this point that it dawned on me that the power of the Internet was not just about information, but collaboration – it was a place where people with similar interests could come together and pursue ideas. It occurred to me that if people from around the world could come together to get a computer from 1982 on the Internet, imagine the possibilities if similar efforts were put into using technologies to support people with disabilities.


Fast forward to today, and that dream of the world coming together to support people with disabilities has largely come true. Even just 10 years ago it seemed virtually impossible that assistive technologies such as a screen reader could just be a part of our everyday devices, the idea that a blind person could effectively use a touch screen seemed ludicrous and the idea that videos could virtually caption themselves using automated speech existed only in science fiction. While not all of these things have been perfected (especially automated captions) it’s important to consider that the provision of accessibility in mainstream devices, the ongoing development of web accessibility standards by organisations such as the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to make sure these technologies work and the massive global focus on supporting people with disabilities highlights that as a person with a disability there are opportunities today that even a few years ago would have seemed like a distant dream.


However, it’s important to remember that among the fantastic consumer products that are providing both choice and affordable technologies, not to forget about the importance of education. At the end of the day, having our modern tools becoming more accessible is wonderful, but ultimately they are just tools. To take my home country of Australia as an example, there is currently 59% unemployment among people who are blind or vision impaired, and when you look at the statistics in relation to educational opportunities there is a very notable correlation between who struggle to find employment and people who have not been fortunate to have educational opportunities. The correlation is comparable across other disability groups. To make the great technological benefits work for us, we need to learn how to use them in an area where we have the passion and skills to make the most of them and for this we need to always consider the pursuit of education. Importantly, education doesn’t have to be in a tertiary setting, or even specifically to find a job; my first degree featured a major in Computer Science and a minor in Creative Writing, an odd combination forged by the fact that I struggled with maths and had a very supportive course controller who provided me with the opportunity to take out the maths part of my degree and put in something else instead. While most of my friends were sceptical about how Creative Writing would ever be relevant, as I’ve moved through my career it became a great basis for technical writing and in turn has been invaluable in writing the book. I’m a great believer that no knowledge is wasted knowledge, so the combination of striving to learn more, combined with the amazing technologies rapidly evolving round us, makes for an exciting road ahead for all people with disabilities. If you are currently wrestling with diffiuclt decisions about your future, I would encourage you to embrace both education and accessibility technologies as a great combination for the road ahead.


Before wrapping up this post I’d just like to thank DAC for the opportunity to share this information. DAC are an important part of that global tapestry of accessibility work going on in the online community and see the benefits of education and technology first-hand through their specialist staff. Everyone’s work in this space makes a significant and profound difference to the lives of people with disabilities and I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts on this website.


If you would like to read more about my thought sin this area, you can find out more about my book at Outrunning the Night (external link) including links to purchasing it through Amazon.co.uk as a paperback or Kindle e-book.

A day in the life of a blind man part 3

02/12/2016 Edited by Mike Taylor

Introduction

In our final episode of 'a day in the life of a blind man', one of our screen reader analysts takes us through his routine, and gives us an idea of how he adapts to life without site.


My work day has come to a close and I’ve travelled home. My daughter has already been picked up from her school, and on a good day has had her tea. We are lucky enough to live opposite a local park, and also live near to the beach. We love nothing more than taking a walk through the park, walking around the local duck pond where I am able to push my son in his push along car in safety, and maybe calling in at the play park. On these occasions I again walk with my daughter, who has grown very good at a young age of guiding her Daddy where he needs to go, these moments to me are precious. I do panic sometimes in the busy play park, as I’m afraid I’ll lose her or that she might get hurt without me knowing. Fortunately my wife is always there to keep an eye out should something go wrong, which it hasn’t yet! If it’s not the park then it’s often a film. My daughter tends to choose the recent classics such as Paddington or Frozen, although my son is now giving strong competition with Toy Story! Funnily enough I now know these movies off by heart, but at first these films were difficult to understand without being seen visually.


Many TV programmes and movies have audio description on them. This is a backing track where a person describes wat is about to happen seconds before the event takes place, for example “Paddington puts the tooth brush in his ears.” I couldn’t get along without audio description, as it is hard to follow what is happening on screen. I went to the cinema a few years ago to watch a movie, and then watched it again with audio description a few months later. My experience and perception of the film changed dramatically, as I picked up far more of what was happening with the audio description and so I now tend not to watch anything without this aid. Sadly not all TV programmes and films do have audio description, particularly older films and programmes. I tend to find that many TV series do not have the description, and so are not really worth buying on DVD or a streaming website, meaning that I can’t access many of the programmes I would be interested in. My daughter has grown used to the audio description, and when it’s not turned on tends to tell me what is going on anyway to the best of her ability, it’s really cute actually.


If it’s my turn to cook and I’m glad to say this is rare, I tend to avoid the hobs where possible. This is because I lost my sight about eight years ago, and so find pots and pans difficult to use. This is only for me personally as many people with sight loss do use the hob, but I prefer to use a steamer in the microwave. Far less risky I think. My daughter loves my pasta when I’ve got time to make it!


Once food is out of the way, and of course bath time if required then it’s time for bed. As I’ve previously mentioned in another blog post I have a good memory for stories, and so tell my daughter the story without a book. She is used to being told a story, and often asks for a new one. Fortunately I also have a good imagination, and so can usually conjure up a story to fit the occasion. My son is not a great sleeper, and so we tend to spend the evening together to allow my wife to watch some of the soaps in peace, which is a good thing as I can’t say I’m a fan of Albert Square or their equivalents. My son and I get up to a variety of things during this time such as playing with his dinosaur or his friction cars, watching the football if it’s on the telly or listening on the radio if not, and also an audio book from my phone on occasion. I make sure that the material is suitable for his young age. We’ve had titles such as Peter Pan and Beatrix Potter so far. It is a lovely time to bond especially as I’m not able to make eye contact with either child, or at least not that I’m aware of!


Finally it’s time for bed, hurray! The children are hopefully asleep which gives me and my wife a chance to catch up on our day. Usually this is about work and the kids, or funny comments that we’ve heard. For a long time my daughter would mix the phrases, “I can’t see” with “My eyes don’t work” and so would ask for the light to be switched on by saying “Daddy, I can’t see my eyes!” Being blind can be a pain, but it can also be fun. You never know what you’re going to get on a single day, as you have to take note of what is around you. I think that you tend to take more in if you’re blind. You tend to appreciate more the things you do have, music, the sound of seagulls above the house and other such things. I’ve found that I appreciate far more than when I had sight the power of conversation and therefore communication as it is a core of my daily life. I couldn’t be without speech as I can’t point at what I mean, and I also can’t see what people would be signing to me. My days are often full, hectic and yes sometimes stressful, but if we’re being honest who’s isn’t? I wouldn’t change them anyway!

A day in the life of a blind man part 2

25/11/2016 edited by Mike Taylor


Welcome to our second post by one of our analyst's, who takes us through a typical day. This post focuses on a typical work day at our offices.


After the school run it’s time for work, and getting there takes the form of a taxi under the Access to Work scheme. For those not aware of this scheme, it is government run and allows those with a disability to receive additional help such as equipment or transport that enables them to work. For me personally without Access to work, I wouldn’t be able to work as getting to the office would be an impossible challenge. I’m not the sort of person who can sit at home, I need to be working. It took me nearly a year after my law degree at university to find my position here at the Digital Accessibility Centre, and I can truthfully say it was one of the hardest times of my life. During that time I went crazy with boredom, but without Access to work and its transport the job that I love would be denied to me.


Once I’ve arrived at DAC, my day can take a variety of courses. I find my job as a screen reader analyst really fun as you never know what is around the corner, literally in my case as I can’t see round the corner! On some days it’s working with the computer and a variety of different screen readings software, while on others it’s with the phones. Still on others it can be talking to visitors which is always entertaining, because it gives me insight into other people’s lives and them into mine. Every blind person will do things in a different way, even if it’s the same task.


It is sadly true that many people are nervous of my sight, not through malice but because it’s something that they haven’t experienced before. A friend of mine from university who is one of the loudest people I have ever met, admitted to my mother-in-law that she hadn’t introduced herself earlier because she didn’t know how to talk to a blind man. This surprised my mother-in-law who told her just to say “Hello.” You’ll find that I can talk the hind legs off a donkey, and am usually willing to be open and talk about most topics! So my day at DAC can be different depending on what’s happening. I could spend a significant amount of time writing about what I test and look for on a day-to-day basis, however as this is likely discussed in detail elsewhere, either from other DAC blog posts and of course can be seen by those that visit I’ll move over this for the time being.


So what do I get up to in the few spare moments in the DAC office?

These are few and far between, as I’m constantly busy with one job or another, but of course I do have to eat and drink. Tea and coffee is reasonably simple to get hold of in the DAC office. We have both a kettle and a large heating urn for hot water, meaning that the user can take their pick of method. This may seem trivial to the reader, but when you’re blind a kettle with boiling water can be a dangerous thing. It is so simple to overfill the cup, or to miss the cup altogether meaning that it is easy to scold. There is an implement called a liquid level indicator. This has prongs that allow the device to be attached to the side of the cup with the prongs inside, which will then cause the device to bleep or vibrate when the liquid reaches the specific level. These can be useful, although I’ve found that as the prongs get wet and so vibrate early they are not good for multiple hot drinks! So I like many of my blind colleagues choose to use the urn, as this is safer and far less hazardous. When my soup is heated for lunch, I put another bowl beneath this to carry the soup and minimize the risk of injury to me or others. These are small tricks, but they do work and enable me to be independent. My colleagues of course are more than happy to help, but I do try to be independent where possible just for self-esteem.

A day in the life of a blind man part 1

11/11/2016 edited by Mike Taylor

Introduction

Welcome to the first post in our series of 'a day in the life of a blind man'. This series is written by one of our screen reader analysts, who describes a typical day and how he lives without site.

“What time is it?” When waking up in the middle of the night as a totally blind man with no sense of light or dark, the answer to this question isn’t always as simple to answer as it seems. It isn’t as easy as viewing the red dials of a digital clock, or looking at the light coming through the curtains. My sight remains permanently foggy at whatever time of day or night, although I am not completely in the dark all I see is a constant snow storm! So it’s simply a case of reaching for the iPhone to let Apple’s in built Screen Reader Voiceover tell me the time, only to receive a very grumpy “What are you doing?” from my wife!


Also it would be lovely to have time to reach for that phone, but as I’m the proud father of a four year old daughter and a sixteen month old son, I usually am woken by a resounding “DADDY!” from the first or the sound of crying from the second. Either way checking the time isn’t on the agenda when first waking, this can be highly disorientating as it really isn’t clear whether you’ve been asleep for minutes or hours; or even whether it’s morning.


Once the alarm goes off, the morning becomes hectic especially on a work and school day. If I’m lucky I’ve had the chance to shower, shave and have breakfast before the kids wake. This is normally a process of wondering who moved my shaving foam, debating on which tooth brush belongs to me and what was in the mind of my wife when she moves the cereal to the furthest cupboard away from the bowls and milk. A favourite saying of mine is that “If you move it an inch you may as well move it a mile.” This is true, as I’ve forgotten the amount of times I’ve missed something when my fingers have been inches away from locating it. It’s frustrating, especially when you’re in a hurry, but I’ve found that many sighted people do forget that if they move things you simply can’t find them. My own wife forgets that I’m blind and often tells me she’s left the light on before remembering that I can’t see it!


I should say at this point that there are methods to work around the difficulties, for example cutting out part of a label to denote either light or dark clothing. However I must confess that to a large degree these methods don’t work for me, perhaps because I am the only blind member of our household. By the time these tasks are achieved usually both kids are awake. If my daughter is in a helpful state of mind this doesn’t prove to be too tricky, simply making sure that the toilet lid doesn’t fall down on her, and making sure she’s got her Weetabix without my son tipping the bowl up. The trick is to make sure my son doesn’t get too close to the bowl, while still giving him freedom to crawl and explore. The mornings for me are one of the most stressful, but if I’m being honest fun at the same time.


As well as my wife and I getting both children breakfast, I’ve got to make sure that wen running around I don’t fall over the crawling baby, or any of their toys which believe me is a challenge that all parents blind or not have to face, with the added difficulty that I’ve got no chance of seeing the obstacles. My daughter who is used to my sight has grown very adept at either telling me where she is, or else warning me of the obstacles before I reach them.


After ensuring my daughter is dressed for school it’s time to get me dressed, but this isn’t as simple as it first appears. Choosing a shirt can sometimes be complicated, particularly when there’s an important day at work. Many of the shirts feel the same, meaning I can’t tell what colour they are so it’s usually a case of asking my wife to pick a shirt the night before. Similarly socks can be a challenge. I try to wear black socks so that I am presentable whatever I’m wearing, but this doesn’t always happen. I would love to know what goes through the mind of the well-meaning person at Christmas that buys me socks with days of the week stitched on them. Usually it is not possible to feel the days on the socks, meaning I wear Monday on a Friday!


Once I’m dressed it’s quickly making sure that my daughter has her coat and packed lunch before walking her to play school. This luckily for me is only a few minutes walk away, and my daughter is incredibly proud that it is her Daddy taking her to school and so puffs out her chest. On most days we meet someone that knows us as we live in a tight knit community, and so usually we get a call telling us that we can cross the road. Although this usually isn’t needed, it’s reassuring to know that the help is there and on occasion this help is really useful. The only day in which this routine varies is recycling day. I hate recycling day as I can’t walk five feet without my cane touching a recycling bin, or me falling over the rubbish bags. As I’d rather not break a limb I volunteer my wife on these days to take my daughter to school.