Wendy Chisholm

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

Chasing our tails?

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I saw this exchange between Christian Heilmann and Jared Smith on twitter today:

jared_w_smith “There are no bigger problems in Accessibility than following every paragraph of the guidelines.” says @codepo8. Amen brother!

codepo8 @jared_w_smith seriously, every forum and mailing list is running in circles. Accessibility is stuck in 1998, web development in 2012.

I follow most of the accessibility forums and have since 1995. In 1998, people were asking if the “alt” attribute had anything to do with the “alt key” on the keyboard. Today’s questions are about menus, gmail, ARIA, forms…When DHTML was first surfacing as a technique we were panicking because NO ONE was talking about it. Look where we are now: ARIA built into several toolkits and the major browsers and access technologies understand it.

Yes, the accessibility forums are not as far ahead as the developer forums and that sucks. But, there is a larger disconnect between accessibility and technology that shapes this gap. Accessibility and disability awareness is not part of everyone’s everyday experience. The cultural dialogue about basic human rights is ongoing…we’re still debating if accessibility is even a human right! Until it is assumed that every web site, every web application, every web service must be accessible, this gap will exist.

So, yes, the guidelines are pretty dense, but so is every other technical specification and that hasn’t stopped them from being adopted and used. There are bigger issues at play here.

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June 3rd, 2009 at 8:54 pm

Is web accessibility a human rights issue?

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A post from David Baron questions if web accessibility is a human rights issue.  Here’s a quick summary of some of his major points: He acknowledges that laws exist that give people with disabilities basic human rights and that on-line government services should be made accessible. He disagrees that Flickr should require all photos to have alt-text and he believes that requiring all web services and applications be accessible would stymie innovation. He calls people such as John Foliot and Matt May extremists and worries that “this community is in significant danger of being taken over by, or at least best known by, those within it who espouse such extreme positions that they risk causing the entire community to be ignored.”

David says, “It’s far better for accessibility to be the automatic result of writing HTML in the normal way rather than something that has to be done as an extra development step” Yes! That’s part of the goal of the W3C Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG). If the tools just produced accessible content, then voila. The web would be more accessible.

David wants us to explain why access to the web is a human rights issue.

Human rights refer to the “basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled.”[1] Examples of rights and freedoms which have come to be commonly thought of as human rights include civil and political rights, such as the right to life and liberty, freedom of expression, and equality before the law; and social, cultural and economic rights, including the right to participate in culture, the right to food, the right to work, and the right to education.

Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights. Fetched 12 March 2009

Web services and applications are becoming the way that people participate in culture, buy food, work, and learn. Therefore, ensuring that they are accessible to all people is a human right. This is supported in the United Nations  Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that has been signed by 139 countries. Article 9 – Accessibility and Article 21 – Freedom of expression and opinion, and access to information specifically mention services provided via the internet.

It’s important for us to recognize each other’s concerns. On the one hand we have technologists who want to create things to help make the world better–help people communicate more richly and quickly, to create technologies for self-expression and commerce. Rock on. We want you to innovate because you’re changing the world.  On the other hand we have people who want to use the technologies and to participate in society. When the technologists say, “Don’t make me think about accessibility, I want to be innovative.” The response from people with disabilities can be hostile because the message from the technologists is, “I do not value you enough to include you in my innovation.”

The funny thing about David’s post is that he mentions the invention of the telephone. Thomas Edison was hard of hearing and part of the reason he spent so much time experimenting was that he wanted a device to help him hear. For Edison’s invention to be complete, it took the help of another person involved in the Deaf community, Alexander Graham Bell, who in his experiments to understand speech,  invented the microphone. In both instances, inspired by friends and family who had hearing loss, they changed the world.

The irony is that these technologies changed the way we communicate so much, that people who are deaf were unable to participate and it was later that the modem (for the TDD) and other devices were developed. But, those tools were in response to the earlier inventions and have further changed the way we communicate.

Therefore, the exact worry that David has–lack of innovation–is exactly what we’ll avoid if people with disabilities *are* considered in the design and experimentation of new ideas!  So, see, we really *all* can get along and no one gets hurt. Come on folks, let’s go play and have some fun.

Written by wendy

March 12th, 2009 at 3:52 pm

Happy New Year!

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We were in Milwaukee as the surprise guests at a New Year’s Eve party. At 10 to midnight, the hostess turned on Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve.  This was a party of musicians, so even though the t.v. was on the sound was off, allowing the host and hostess to choose the night’s soundtrack.

When Mr. Clark appeared I heard all sorts of comments: “ewww. Dick!” “What’s wrong with him?” “What happened to his teeth?” “Do you think his lip isn’t moving because he’s used botox?” “Time to move on Mr. Clark!” As I look online, I see many similar comments, ala: Dick Clark needs to be gently eased to sidelines.

I really like this response from Marianne:

Grow Up and realize that the elderly and feeble are still alive along side us. They need to be recognized, NOT marginalized. You should feel pride at seeing Dick make his appearance, in light of the place that man holds in American Culture. And it should be a reminder for every old feeble person you see that s/he was once possibly a mover and shaker in some decade past and deserving of respect. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll get to that ripe old age and have your life celebrated; and not told to quietly occupy the out-of-the-way lazyboy in the corner.

In 2006, after Mr. Clark’s first new year’s appearance since his stroke, CNN ran the story Clark outing cheers stroke survivors which included the following:

Hendrix, a former Miss Arizona who lives in Phoenix, echoed a hope common among stroke survivors interviewed: that the public might begin to treat them with the respect and admiration given those who’ve overcome cancer or heart attacks.

“Survivors of those other diseases seem to wear a badge of honor,” said Hendrix. But a stroke, with its obvious impairment, “maybe isn’t a pretty thing to look at. It’s definitely not a sexy disease.”

“So for him to get up on national TV and say: “This is what I am now” — I have nothing but respect for him,” she said.

Keep on rockin’ in the New Year, Mr. Clark!!

Written by wendy

January 5th, 2009 at 10:31 pm

Book Reading at SXSW

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Matt and I will be reading from Universal Design for Web Applications at SXSW as part of the SXSW Interactive Book Reading Program.

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December 11th, 2008 at 11:47 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!!

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December 11th, 2008 at 11:43 pm

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Web 2.0 Expo, SXSW, Scripting Enabled-Seattle

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Matt and I are speaking at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York City on 17 September.  This will be my first work-related travel since June 2005 when the WCAG WG met in Brussels!  It’s hard to believe time has flown by so quickly.  I look forward to seeing familiar faces!

We also submitted a panel to SXSW called, “Inclusive Universe 1.0.”  I would love to get back to Austin and involved in the cutting-edge dialogs that happen there, so please support our session.  Only 4 more days to vote, so do it now! 🙂

I *really* wanted to attend Scripting Enabled in London next month, but won’t be able to. So, I asked Christian if we could continue the work in November here in Seattle.  He agreed, so Adobe (Thanks to Matt), will be hosting Scripting Enabled – Seattle, 1 and 2 November.  We’re looking for sponsors, volunteers, and attendees, so drop me a line if you’re interested.  We’re wrapping up the book in the next few weeks, but should have registration and other relevant bits of information available soon.  In the meantime, book your travel and prepare to have a blast hacking!

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August 25th, 2008 at 10:15 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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I’ve posted my slides from Tuesday’s presentation on slideshare (inclusive universe). However, the flash that is embedded on the slideshare page is not accessible: the buttons are not labeled and the alt-text has been stripped from the PDF. I’ve sent a comment via their web site. Anyone know someone who works there? I’d love to talk to someone in person.

Therefore, here’s a tagged PDF version (inclusive universe). Is anyone out there screaming at their monitor/speakers/braille display? I tested the PDF with Jaws and everything except page 9 seems to come through all right (see notes below). This is definitely an experiment – my first non-html slide set – so please let me know if you have any trouble accessing the slides. I’m more than happy to provide HTML, but do want to give this one a try.

Here’s the text for slide 9:

This page intentionally left blank to illustrate the view of gmail to someone who is blind or not viewing the screen for some reason. At this point in my presentation, I did a quick demo of mobile speak on an htc shadow reading gmail…trying to further emphasize the importance of challenging your assumptions about your users.

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July 11th, 2008 at 10:39 pm

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today’s stew

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It’s interesting that comments on my previous stew focused on types of toilets (although, I am happy to have learned about the toto 2000). I’m not sure if that means the idea of monetary incentives for accessible web design should be flushed…

This morning as I prepared for my commute to work (the walk to the basement of our house), I was thinking about the comments on Scoble’s Will videoblogs be outlawed because of California’s accessibility laws? One of the concerns is limits on personal expression.

Having recently wrestled with making a slideset accessible, I can understand the pain and frustration. I don’t have the hours to spend futzing with broken software. I need to get those slides accessible, publish them, and move on. As a working mother, I only have 24 hours per week to do my work – and that goes by far too quickly.

With the civil rights movement, the government literally held doors open to ensure integration in schools and on buses. For accessibility, it almost seems as if we are holding the doors open but forgetting to fix the ramps and railings that lead to them. Those renovations hold a cost that the civil rights movement did not have to contend with. Civil rights is overcoming attitudes; human rights/disability rights not only has to change attitudes but must lower physical barriers as well. That cost – in time or money – is a barrier. How do we remove that barrier? Is it up to the government? The community?

Getting back to personal expression, our laws say nothing about making private homes accessible. In a similar vein, personal web sites are not covered by law. Again, looking at civil rights, if you don’t want to let a white person into your home, you don’t have to but if you own a business, you must open your doors.

On the web, the line between personal site and public service blurs. I would argue that Scoble’s site is not a personal site, he offers a public service – the information he disseminates is astounding (not only in quality but in quantity! :). But, who should pay for the captions of his videos? One of the values of what he is doing is the real-time interaction – streaming video from his phone.

When making information accessible, you can run into a lot of broken tools along the way – as I did yesterday (and let me pause here to apologize for using my blog as a venting receptacle. My purpose is to help make the world more accessible – bitching and moaning is not a constructive way to enter the dialog…I task myself with sending constructive feedback to folks working on OpenOffice and Acrobat and making sure the problems did not stem from my own ignorance). Unfortunately, the reality is that many tools are broken (or not as easy to use as they could be) and making information accessible is not always cheap and easy.

How do we make it cheap and easy? And this need for “cheap and easy” goes both ways. Not only do the barriers to information need to be lowered for people with disabilities – the typical screen reading or magnification software costs more than a desktop computer – the barriers to creating accessible information need to be lowered. So, who should assume the costs?

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July 10th, 2008 at 3:41 pm

Eating my own dog food

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Yesterday, I presented as part of a social media event and had an awesome time. The other speakers were stimulating and fun.

For the first time, instead of creating my slides in XHTML/javascript (I like Eric Meyer’s S5), I used Open Office Impress. I figured, “why not.” We’re using Open Office for the book and it works pretty well. Plus, I noticed I could export my presentation in tagged PDF. I assumed I would happily and easily generate a tagged PDF and that would be that. So, on I trudged, delivering the file without testing it.

Today, I wanted to publish my slides on my website and on slideshare. So, I opened Acrobat to take a look at the accessibility of the PDF. I knew that the images would not have text equivalents so I was prepared to add those. I was not prepared for the following 4 hours of frustration…which is resulting not in an accessible PDF but in this blog post.

First off, Open Office Impress did not generate a tagged PDF despite me checking the checkbox. boo!

Secondly, when I generated XHTML instead of PDF, I lost all of the formatting and images. boo!

Thirdly, Acrobat only saves about 45 characters worth of each of the descriptions of the images despite giving me a text box that will allow me to enter at least 256 characters (I’m guessing because that’s the limit in the HTML 4.01 spec). boo!

I learned a valuable lesson today: all future decks will start and end in XHTML.

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July 9th, 2008 at 11:52 pm

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