Category: accessibility

A11y Rules podcast interview

The A11y Rules podcast presents a series of conversations between people involved in web accessibility and the host, Nic Steenhout.

I’ve known Nic for a long time, so it was great to chat with him about my journey to a career in accessibility, from growing up in a guest house in Devon, through a degree in Electronic Engineering, music technology, working with Drake Music, starting my own web development business, moderating Accessify Forum (now defunct) and learning from people like Steve Faulkner, Patrick Lauke, Gez Lemon, Tommy Olsson et al, through to cofounding Dig Inclusion.

I hope you enjoy listening.

A11y Rules podcast, episode 25 – Interview with Jon Gibbins, part 1

The first part of the interview, where we discuss how I got started in web accessibility and how I connect with disability, the work I currently do, how organisations can use build a culture of accessibility in their teams, and the cost of accessibility. There’s a full transcript of part 1 on the podcast website.

A11y Rules podcast, episode 26 – Interview with Jon Gibbins, part 2

The second and final part of the interview, that centres around discussing lack of awareness around accessibility, and the misunderstandings and misconceptions that arise from poor understanding of people with disabilities and the technologies they use to interact with the digital world. There’s a full transcript of part 2 on the podcast website.

Scripting Enabled debrief

I spent a great weekend up in London at the Scripting Enabled conference and hack day. It was really great to catch up with people I haven’t seen in a while and to meet new people as well. There were a couple of “click” moments like bumping into Peter Abrahams while scanning through the alphabetically-challenged name tags and then figuring out that the lovely lady from Devon was Laura Whitehead who had recently blogged about my list of accessibility videos!

The Scripting Enabled difference

Hackers

I come away from web conferences and geek meets inspired and chomping at the bit to get working on some of the ideas that have come out of such events. I get back to my cave, start blogging about something that I need to get out there, get distracted by something I wanted to look up (“Right, let’s open that in another tab and deal with it later”), rarely properly finish the entry, get back to doing proper work and not find the time to work on that cool idea or at least put the idea out there. Well, no more, damn it!

What has been the difference at Scripting Enabled this week? The hack day which followed the day of talks and discussion made sure I took the time out to do something with an idea.

Doing the hack day straight after the talks meant things were fresh in our minds and a lot of the clever people who were at the conference were on hand for the day of hacking to work with on an idea and to bounce ideas off of. Having people in the same room with different abilities and disabilities really made the hack day a hive of activity.

On top of that, the event was free to attend. Christian did a fantastic job of pulling together the sponsorship, venues, speakers, hackers… There are lots of people who have given to this event to bring together great people to produce results. I can’t wait for the next one now!

What did I do? I worked in a group of beautiful people to improve accessibility of maps on the Web using the Google Maps API. We were so chuffed to have something to show at the end of the day, but we’re not quite ready to show the world yet. Expect more words from me on that.

In the meantime, check out the photos from the event and keep an eye on the Scripting Enabled site.

Help save the Accessibility Institute

Most people with an interest in web accessibility are likely to have at some point stumbled across the work of the Accessibility Institute at the University of Texas in Austin, which was founded by the late Dr. John Slatin.

The University of Texas has decided to close the Accessibility Institute, which has been a guiding light in our field, giving important opportunity for research and providing useful resources to the world. It would be a real blow to web accessibility to see it go.

If you care about web accessibility, please show your support by putting your name on the petition to save the Accessibility Institute that Knowbility have set up. It only takes a few seconds to do.

There are some great thoughts and comments from people who have signed the petition. Henny Swan has also given some reasons to keep the Institute going on her blog:

Reasons for saving the Accessibility Institute include:

  • Need for research based findings to support accessible design practice.
  • Opportunity for a world class institution like UT to serve as an example to other institutions.
  • Place where emerging practices can be tested and modelled.
  • Contributions to international body of knowledge on inclusion.
  • Maintain thought leadership in Texas, easily disseminated to state agencies that have accessibility mandates.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. Extra special thanks if you have signed the petition.

Read more

John Slatin Fund Accessibility Project

John Slatin was a leading light in the field of web accessibility, which is a passion of mine and my area of work. He co-authored Maximum Accessibility – a book on web accessibility – was co-chair of the WCAG Working Group for a time and led accessibility research at the University of Texas at Austin. Sadly, John passed away in March after a three-year battle with leukaemia.

I never met John, but along with many other accessibility experts, I’m taking part in the John Slatin Fund Accessibility Project to help raise money for John’s wife, Anna, to honour John and to promote his cause; accessibility.

The project aims to raise money to help his family with the medical expenses incurred during John’s illness. Volunteer accessibility experts are matched to companies that want to have their web site checked over for accessibility issues. In return for a brief accessibility audit, the web site owners contribute a minimum of $500 to the John Slatin Fund.

More than 70 accessibility experts have volunteered their time to the project; now we’re looking for companies to take part too. If you work for or know of a company that would be interested in taking part, please point the appropriate people to the project information for companies or contact me directly.

Character references: widening screen readers’ eyes

I ran some tests a couple of years ago that looked at how mathematical character references are handled by screen readers, specifically using default configuration in JAWS and Window-Eyes.

Jason Kiss of Accessible Culture has recently published a comprehensive set of results from his testing of how a variety of characters are dealt with by recent versions of JAWS and Window-Eyes: JAWS, Window-Eyes and Character References.

Analysis

A web author may expect characters such as the minus sign – a proper − or − as opposed to a simple dash – would be read out in an appropriate way by a screen reader. However, the most prevalent screen reader, JAWS, does not announce the character and the next most popular screen reader, Window-Eyes, reads it as “dash”.

Using JAWS, the results seem to be consistent even when you change the verbosity level, the punctuation level or the synthesiser used. It’d be interesting to know if anyone has managed to get a screen reader to announce these characters using the more advanced settings.

Personally, I’d like to see (or hear!) screen readers announcing additional characters; it would add to the character palette we can draw from when writing content, which I would expect to be even more important as the Web embraces internationalisation and localisation.

In the meantime, Jason provides a convenient table of results comparing the speech output from JAWS and Window-Eyes.

Update: Having posted about Jason’s work on Accessify Forum, I thought I’d add that some characters that do get spoken are not announced as one might expect:

  • Both JAWS and Window-Eyes read a square root symbol (√) as the letter v and pi (π) as the letter p.
  • While Window-Eyes makes minor tweaks to its speech output to make it a bit more user-friendly, it doesn’t always do what I think it should. As mentioned above, it says “dash” for the proper minus sign character.
  • Window-Eyes announces quite a lot of characters as “question”. Presumably Window-Eyes hasn’t understood these characters so it is announcing the character as it would a question mark, which users may realise it means that Window-Eyes hasn’t understood. However, saying “question” is probably worse than simply not announcing anything at all.

Elsewhere