Wendy Chisholm

Stairs make the building inaccessible, not the wheelchair. Co-author of Universal Design for Web Applications. Strategist for Microsoft. @wendyabc at twitter.

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I am

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I’ve been attending CSUN this week, the International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference. It’s the 17th or so time that I’ve attended the conference. It’s Friday and I’ve been here since Tuesday.  I may finally understand how to do a conference in a way that works for me–as an introvert and as a woman with PTSD.

I have routines and I have mastered the art of recharging in my hotel room (almost) guilt-free. People have asked if I’m hiding. I say, “yes.” I am “hiding” not because I am afraid of anything or anyone, I am recharging. I have worked hard–through meditation–to listen to the signals my body gives me that I’m tired or triggered or anxious. I now realize how quickly my reserves are drained. This conference is particularly draining because every 50 feet there is someone else I can’t wait to hug and catch up with. This is my family. I am home.

Previous years, I would have pushed myself to go to sessions, I would have berated myself for not having the stamina of my colleagues, I would imagine people being angry with me for missing their sessions. I would spend the following week in bed, completely spent. As a busy professional and a single mom, I can’t afford to do that anymore. I need to pace myself this week so that when I return home, I will be present for my son, for my job, for myself.

So, this year I’m doing things differently. If I am feeling tired, I return to my hotel room and lie down. I do feel sad that I am missing some of the great sessions and discussions, yet twitter helps me have a sense of what is happening and who I can check in with later. I have learned the art of one-on-one discussions. If I were a Vulcan, a conference would be a series of mind melds.

This conference has been a smorgasbord of possibilities for conversations and breaks–like I’m running my own unconference in the midst of this larger conference. Lots of breaks…to recharge, to integrate new knowledge, to think, to write, to meditate…and then it’s back to mind melds and hugs.

This week I’m meditating on the phrase, “I am.” Each time I feel a tinge of insecurity or guilt, “I am” with a big breath.

I am, Wendy. I have PTSD. I am enjoying myself at my pace in an ocean of amazing people. I am here, being myself, healthy, lucky.

Please forgive me if I’ve missed your session or a great discussion. Find some time with me in a quiet corner so we can mind meld. I’m here. I’m listening. I’m participating. I’m just going at a slower, less crowded, quieter pace.

Written by wendy

March 21st, 2014 at 7:31 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The Girl Effect

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I was so moved by The Girl Effect (video). I wish everyone would watch it. Here’s a transcript for those unable to view it. Note there is no speech during the video only music. The following words display briefly on the screen one or a few at a time. Where the words interact to create an effect, I’ve attempted to describe the animation to convey the message. Enjoy.

The world is a mess. Poverty. AIDS. Hunger. War.

So what else is new?

What if there were an unexpected solution that could turn this sinking ship around?

Would you even know it if you saw it?

It’s not the internet.  It’s not science. It’s not the government. It’s not money.

It’s (dramatic pause) a girl.

Imagine a girl living in poverty. No. Go ahead. Really. Imagine her.

Description: The word “girl” in large orange letters with the small, black words “flies” flying around like flies. “Baby” small and in front of her. The word “husband,” much larger than “girl” falls into the scene and looks to weigh heavily on her. “Hunger” pops up from below, pushing up “husband,” “girl” and “baby.” “HIV” pushes up from below.

[Back to words displaying on the screen one or a few at a time]

Pretend that you can fix this picture.

Description: The stack of husband, girl, baby, hunger, hiv appears. All of the words fall away except “girl.”

Ok. Now she has a chance.

Let’s put her in a school uniform and see her get a loan to buy a cow and use her profits from the milk to help her family.

Pretty soon, her cow becomes a heard. And she becomes the business owner who brings clean water to the village, which makes the men respect her good sense and invite her to the village council where she convinces everyone that all girls are valuable.

Soon, more girls have a chance and the village is thriving.

Description: A stack forms with the following words: Village, Food, Peace, Lower HIV, Healthier babies, Education, Commerce, Sanitation, Stability. The stack becomes so large that the top words have been pushed off of the screen. Stability flashes again briefly.

Which means the economy of the entire country improves and the whole world is better off.

Are you following what’s happening here?

Girl -> School -> Cows -> $ -> Business -> Clean H20 -> Social change -> Stronger economy -> Better world

It’s called the girl effect.

Multiply that by 600 million girls in the developing world and you’ve just changed the course of history.

Written by wendy

January 7th, 2010 at 1:04 am

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

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61 years ago today the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (link to full text). The Human Rights Action Center produced the following beautiful video to summarize the rights. Since the video does not have an audio component, the content is not accessible to some people with low vision or blindness. Linking to the full text of the declaration isn’t a good alternative because the video summarizes the declaration making it easier to understand. The text in the video also has a stronger emotional impact by phrasing the rights in terms of “*you* have the right…” So, here’s the video followed by a transcript.

Every man, woman, and child on earth is born free and equal in dignity and rights.

We are brothers and sisters of this world.

We have reason and conscience and should be friendly towards one another.

Everyone is entitled to the rights set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights regardless of age, sex, race, religion, politics, color, nationality, wealth, language, beliefs, birthplace, traditions, economics, weight, skin, style, thoughts, feelings, hairstyle, differences, size, lifestyle, height, preference, orientation.

You have the right to live in freedom and safety.

Nobody has the right to treat you as their slave or torture you.

The law is the same for everyone.

You have the right to legal protection.

You have the right to a fair and public trial.

No one shall be arrested, put in jail, or exiled without good reason.

You are innocent until proven guilty.

You have the right:

  • to privacy,
  • to move throughout the world,
  • to enjoy freedom from persecution in other countries,
  • to a nationality.

You have the right to marry and have a family.

Your government should protect your family.

You should have the right to own property and possessions.

You have the right to think what you want and say what you like, to practice your religion freely, and organize peacefully.

You have the right to take part in your country’s political affairs.

Governments should be voted for regularly and all votes are equal.

The society in which you live should help you to develop.

You have the right to work and to a fair salary.

Each work day should not be too long.

You have the right to expect a decent standard of living.

You have the right to go to school.

Education should strive to promote peace and understanding among all people.

You have the right to share in your community’s arts and sciences.

You must respect the social order that is necessary for these rights to be available.

You must respect the rights of others, the community, and public property.

Nobody shall attempt in any way to destroy the rights set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Written by wendy

December 10th, 2009 at 9:19 pm

HTML5 Super Friends

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A few weeks ago, Dan Cederholm, Tantek Çelik, Jeremy Keith, Ethan Marcotte, Eric Meyer, Nicole Sullivan, Jeffrey Zeldman, and I gathered at Happy Cog Studios to talk about HTML5. We’ve dubbed ourselves the “HTML5 Super Friends” and have written a statement that endorses the direction HTML5 is heading as well the Super Friends Guide to HTML5 Hiccups. Most of us have written our own blog posts about the issues and advantages we found in the specification. Please check them all out. It’s good stuff.

I leave tomorrow for a week of vacation and will be completely off of the grid, so I won’t be able to discuss until I’m back. See you all in a week.

Written by wendy

August 31st, 2009 at 8:49 pm

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Interview transcript

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From KUOW 949 Seattle, I’m Jeannie Yandel.

If you’ve ever used a large-handled can opener or a door with a lever instead of a knob, you’ve benefited from universal design. Universal Design is a relatively new approach to creating products and buildings. The goal is to make everything usable and effective for everyone. That means people who have disabilities… and people who don’t.

Wendy Chisholm is a computer programmer and developer. She’s also co-author of the book “Universal Design for Web Applications”. I met Wendy at her home office in Seattle’s north Ballard neighborhood.
And she explained why she’s working to make the Internet universally accessible.

Wendy Chisholm first started thinking about universal design when she was in college. She was studying computer programming. And one of her professors asked her to tutor a blind student in a statistics class.

Wendy: I couldn’t figure out how to teach him about scatterplots and bar graphs and those things, so I just got really creative.  I started using legos to teach about bar graphs, and pins to make holes in the scatterplots and make raised line drawings.  I thought, there must be an easier way to do these things.  There must be some way to use computers to help him instead of me making rough tools.

Jeannie: Were you able to help him?

Wendy: To some extent.I think.I did an ok job but…

Jeannie: What does that mean, you did an OK job?

Wendy: He got a C in the class, but I don’t think he went on to be a statistics master. He passed the class, and I think that’s what he probably wanted to do.  But, you know, we could have done so much more.

Although Wendy didn’t help the blind student as much as she wanted to, the experience got her thinking about what computers could do for people with disabilities. It was right in line with why she got into programming in the first place.

Wendy: I knew going into computer science I wanted to somehow merge the computer interface, or just make computers more useable.  I was always interested in people and I wanted somehow to combine them.  But I wasn’t sure how to do that. The program I was in was very much about the computer science aspect, the computing and algorithims.  And I went on to become a programmer.   It’s when I was a programmer at the University of Chicago, and I read an article about Dr. Gregg Vanderheiden at the University of Wisconsin.  And his project, his purpose, was to make technology accessible to people with disabilities. And I got very excited about that.  I got into his program, and the rest was history.

At the University of Wisconsin Wendy started focusing on the Internet. She learned it was initially really exciting for people with disabilities.

Wendy: So take the example of someone who is blind and wants to read a newspaper.  Before the web, you would have to wait for the news to be brailled.  I don’t know how long that would take, but when it arrived, it weighs a lot. Braille is heavy and big.  Or you would have to wait for someone who’d read the paper on the radio, my grandparents would do that, or you’d get a cassette of someone reading it.  You wouldn’t get it as it happened.  There was a delay.  And suddenly, you could just get it at the same time as everyone else.   If you think about someone with a physical disability – that person may not be able to hold the paper or turn pages.  Interacting with the paper through the computer meant no more turning pages.  You could just navigate through it as you needed. So it brought about independent, and an experience that was more immediate, and it was much more similar to what other people were experiencing.  So it was very liberating and empowering.

People with reading disabilities or sight deficiencies could use a screen reader to surf the web. A synthesized voice read the text on a web page aloud. This was great in the early 90’s, when the Internet was mainly text. But by 1995, when Wendy was at the University of Wisconsin, images were becoming a bigger part of the Internet experience. It was a big step forward for the web. But images weren’t always created so screen readers could describe them.

So it was a big step backwards for people with disabilities.

Wendy and her colleagues started establishing guidelines for accessible web design. And she turned one of her mentors, a man named Neal Ewers. He’s blind. And he helped Wendy understand what being blind was like.

Wendy: He’d have me walk down the hallway and listen to where the doors were, I’d close my eyes and I’d get a sense of the echo that we’d create with our footsteps when we approached a door or hallway.  He’d give me his cane and I’d use it to walk home.  It was a mile walk home, and I’d take off my glasses, and I see OK without my glasses, but it was a very different experience.  Having that cane let other people know I didn’t exactly know what I was doing.  And it gave me a sense that it was OK to explore what it was like to not really see what I was used to seeing.  And we spent a lot of time playing with web pages and adding different features to web pages and seeing what screen readers would do with them, just getting a sense of what he needed to use his websites.  And a lot of times I’d turn off my monitor and just use the screen reader to see how confusing it would be or what kind of landmarks someone would need.

Based on those experiences, Wendy and others wrote new universal accessibility guidelines for web developers. The guidelines said web developers needed to provide equivalent alternatives to sound-based content and image-based content. They explained developers would benefit from making their content available to a much wider audience. In 1999, the World Wide Web Consortium adopted the guidelines as an international standard for web site design. The US, the European Union, Japan, and South Korea were just a few of the countries that adoped the guidelines as well.

So that should be the end of the story, right?

Then the web was universally accessible for everyone.

The end.

Except that now, in 2009, this how someone with a sight impairment experiences an important local website.

Wendy:  Let me pull this up here. One of my favorite examples is, here in Seattle,  the Metro bus line.  And this is a schedule for bus route 48, which I take all the time to go to work.

Wendy turns on her screen reader as she navigates to the 48 schedule page on the Metro site.

[We hear sound of the screen reader reading the top of the route schedule.]

Wendy:  Ideally, this would be marked up as a table and I could also have a bunch of other commands I could use to navigate through the columns and the rows and all of that.  Unfortunately it’s not marked as a table.  It’s just marked as text.  So there’s no function, no framework for me to navigate.

[We hear robotic screen reader voice reading across each line of text on the Metro 48 schedule page on the website]

Wendy: So what it’s done…there are 1, 2, 3. there’s 10 columns.  And it’s just reading the very first line of each of those.  So it’s reading.

Jeannie: It’s reading in reading in rows instead of columns.

Wendy:  Right, yeah.  It’s reading across all this.

Jeannie:  How do you catch a bus like that?!

Wendy:  [laughs]You don’t, I don’t think.  Luckily the Metro site provides several other ways, like the Trip Planner, to get the information. But if you just want to look at a timetable, with a screen reader there’s no way to do it.  If I go down a couple more lines…

[ screen reader voice reading across, listing times the 48 arrives ]

Wendy:  So again, you know the bus is coming at those times, but you don’t know where it will be stopping [laughs].

Jeannie: I take the bus everywhere!  This would drive me crazy!

Wendy:  Yeah.  And luckily, there are a variety of other apps to get this information.  But, yeah.  It’s really amazing that this is not set up better so it’s more accessible.  We were writing the book, and this was one of the first examples we found, so this is a bad example we use in the book.  So I started looking.  You know, Chicago, Paris, New York.  Anywhere I thought would have a public bus system website.  And I didn’t find one that was really accessible.  So it’s not just a Seattle problem, unfortunately.

And it’s not just a transit website problem.

YouTube doesn’t ensure all of its images have captioning for people with hearing impairments.

CNN’s videos don’t always have captioning either.

The Web accessibility guidelines Wendy and others wrote back in the 90’s could help.if everyone followed them.

But one of the Internet’s greatest strengths is one of the biggest obstacles for universal accessibility.

It’s completely decentralized.

More people are producing content for the web than ever before.

And many of them never consider whether their content is universally accessible.

So what will it take to provide equal web access for everyone?

Wendy: Well, I think there are three things that have to happen.  One is, I talked a little bit about how tech needs accessibility built in.  You don’t need to think about accessibility, it’s just accessible by default.  Or at least, as accessible as can be.

The second is a cultural shift.  You know, so many of people think people with disabilities don’t shop, don’t work, aren’t capable of so many things that they’re capable of.  They’re people.  They have ideas, and wishes, and experiences, just like everyone else.  That’s been one of the most shocking things to me in this work…how many people don’t believe that. But it’s a cultural thing.  And it’s just like the civil rights movement or the women’s rights movement. There is a disability rights movement around the world.  And that hopefully will help bring about the same rights of experience, of equality for people with disabilities as it has for women and for everyone.

And finally the third thing would be that people with disabilities need to be included in the creation of all this as we move forward.  So as technology is being developed, as new ideas are coming to the web, if more of those ideas are being created by or with people with disabilities, accessibility will just be at the table. People with disabilities need to be at the table, they need to be part of the conversations.  And that’ll really be a huge change.  And that’s part of the equality issue is as well.

Actually, one of my favorite quotes is it’s not the wheelchair that makes a building inaccessible, it’s the stairs. And it’s so true.  If things were just designed differently, there wouldn’t really be the same sense of disability that there is now.  It’d be about people having different needs.  That was a huge piece for me.  And that’s why I am so passionate about this work.  Web design is so easy to change.  The web itself is so malleable and flexible.  If people just did a few things, it would really be more useable.  And our society would be so much richer for that experience of having more contact and more communication with more people.

Jeannie: Well Wendy, what’s in it for people without disabilities to be part of this movement that you’re talking about?

Wendy:  Honestly, I think it’s world peace! [laughs]   I really do.  I have another mentor. His name is William Loughborough.  He has this thing: “everyone, everywhere, always connected”.  If more people were more connected, there’d be less war.  There’d be more equality of people.  We’d all have richer experiences knowing more diverse people.  I think it’d benefit all of us to have a wide variety of perspectives to pull from in creating the world we want to create.  I know it sounds cheesy, but I honestly believe it leads to world peace.  [laughs]

Jeannie: That’s kind of a far-off goal, world peace.

Wendy: Yes, it is.

Jeannie: So what’s in it for people without disabilities to join this cause now?

Wendy: Well, it’ll make it easier for all of us to use the web.  Especially now that everyone’s got their iPhone or their Google phone, you know their Android phone, so this will help those things.  If you have a website, it’ll be easier to be found, because all the information screen readers use is the same information search engines use.  So if you consider Google a blind and deaf user, and all this information and structure you provide will make your site more usable. One of the cool things YouTube is doing is promoting the use of captions to search both for video and search within video.  So you can go to a specific scene in a video just by having the captions associated with the time codes.
Throughout history, technologies that have been developed for people with disabilities and by people with disabilities have changed our world.  The modem, speech synthesis. One of my favorite new examples is the way you can pinch and zoom on the iPhone, that [screen magnification] was developed for people with low vision who had difficulties reading text.  So all of these technologies are going to help us.  And we don’t even understand yet how applying those technologies in a mainstream venue will benefit us.  But it will benefit all of us.

Wendy Chisholm is a developer and computer programmer. She also co-authored the book Universal Design for Web Applications. She told me why she’s working to make the web accessible to everyone. You can learn more at KUOW dot org. Search for web or universal design.

From KUOW 949 Seattle, I’m Jeannie Yandel.

Written by wendy

August 14th, 2009 at 11:41 pm

KUOW Interview: Web Accessibility for Everyone

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I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Jeannie Yandel from Puget Sound Public Radio (KUOW) in a segment called, “Web Accessibility for Everyone.” They have provided a few audio options to listen to the interview and I’m working to get a transcript published. Check it out!

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July 26th, 2009 at 8:58 pm

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WCAG 2.0 is a W3C Recommendation

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W3C Web Standard Defines Accessibility for Next Generation Web. Congratulations to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Working Group, the Web Accessibility Initiative, and the W3C!!

Written by wendy

December 11th, 2008 at 11:43 pm

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Please donate to help Nick move to New York

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I received this through the DO-IT discussion list. Please consider a donation to help help Nick cover $3000 in moving expenses.

If you’ve never heard of Nick Dupree, a quick search on the web will bring up some interesting facts. Nick is a 26 year-old health care activist, writer, and former student from Spring Hill College in Mobile, AL. He also has an undiagnosed physical disability which necessitates the use of a motorized wheelchair and a ventilator to breathe at all times, and he requires 24 hour physical assistance to live.

In 2003, he made a major impact with his campaign to change Medicaid in Alabama by staying in the community and keeping himself and others out of nursing homes, dubbed “Nick’s Crusade.” (You can read more about it at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:NickDupree

Unfortunately, though his campaign was officially successful, services and supports in Alabama remain abysmal. He receives 16-hours of nursing care per day, and his elderly grandmother covers the remaining hours. The nursing care has been so unreliable, that beginning in 2005 he was unable to continue attending college classes. There is no way to reach his goals of safe independent living in AL, despite his past role as a national advocate.

With his primary caregivers facing age and serious illness, and a brother with nearly identical medical needs, there just isn’t enough help to go around. It’s become more and more difficult and dangerous for Nick to remain at home. As his support network weakens, he faces institutionalization (or worse) unless he can live in a state with better services.

To that end, Nick launched a broad effort to relocate, and his network of friends and associates have helped him plan and execute a transition to the state of New York. By the end of August, Nick Dupree will enter a rehabilitation hospital, where he can finally begin to receive much-needed services. He can also begin to plan a transition to independent living in New York City, where services are more readily available to people with significant physical disabilities.

This is a vitally important move, with significant costs to match. A minimum of $3000 USD must be raised to cover necessary expenses of air fares for himself and his caregivers, transportation on the ground in New York, and temporary accommodations for care givers as he gets settled in. Donations are being coordinated through the Ophoenix Public Benefit Corporation, based in San Carlos, CA, a charitable organization dedicated to assisting patients with disabling medical conditions such as Nick’s.

Please help us raise money to relocate Nick from Alabama to New York. To donate by credit card or use a PayPal account you can visit: http://www.ophoenix.org/donation_NickDupree.html

Your donation will automatically be credited to Nick’s fund. To donate by check, make your check payable to “Ophoenix Public Benefit Corporation”, and write “For Nick Dupree” on the check. Please mail your check to:

Ophoenix Public Benefit Corporation
774 Knoll Drive
San Carlos, CA, 94070

For more information, contact the Friends of Nick Dupree: friendsofnick@gmail.com

Written by wendy

August 21st, 2008 at 8:55 pm

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flickr experiment

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Testing for text
Originally uploaded by anneke boudreau

The book…in process. This is a screen shot taken with my phone then emailed to flickr. I wanted to see what they would do with the text.

First, I edited the title of the photo on my phone from random text (imgnnn) to “Testing” then I created an email with “Testing for text” as the subject and “Will this text show as description?” in the body. Flickr used the email subject as the title of the photo and the body as description. Cool!

On the flickr page for this photo, the actual alt is null. How do you folks feel about that? Since the title is a good equivalent, does the image itself need an equivalent in the alt attribute? I certainly want an alt present on the image element – even if it is null – to indicate that it has been considered. I could repeat the title as the alt value, but that would be redundant. Too bad there isn’t a way to associate the heading with the image to indicate they create a single semantic unit, but then again, this whole page is metadata for this image…in a sense the whole page is a single semantic unit.

If you all had this debate while I’ve been “away,” please point me to the archives. Thanks!

Written by wendy

July 1st, 2008 at 7:33 pm

Favorite Harriet McBryde Johnson quotes

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My copy of “too late to die young” has several bent pages with underlined passages. Here are a couple of my favorites.

“We need to confront the life-killing stereotype that says we’re all about suffering. We need to bear witness to our pleasures.”

About a trip to Cuba, “It’s the old socialist formula, ‘From each according to ability, to each according to need,’ played out one to one. It’s hard to pin down, but I get the feeling that being a crip is no big deal here. People talk to me. On a family trip to Mexico, people were afraid to look at me; they sometimes made the sign of the cross, my mother helpfully explained, to protect themselves against the evil eye. In Paris, cabs wouldn’t stop. Even in Charleston, where I am so much at home, people tend to address my able-bodied companions. In Havana, I’m a person.”

Not sure where this one is from, but it is quoted in the Inclusion Daily Express story,
“The presence or absence of a disability doesn’t predict quality of life.”

Written by wendy

June 13th, 2008 at 11:16 pm

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