Happy Ada Lovelace Day, Indrani Medhi!

Last updated: March 14, 2015

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Indrani Mehdi is worthy of an Ada Lovelace Day tribute.

On March 8th, at EmTech India 2010, the Emerging Technologies Conference recently held in Bengaluru, India, she was honored as a "technological trendsetter". March 8th is, incidentally, International Women's Day, and Medhi was the only woman to be honored with inclusion in the India TR35 roll of honors. This is "a list of 20 promising young innovators under 35 handpicked by an eminent jury selected by Technology Review India."

Why did Medhi, an Associate Researcher at Microsoft Research India, receive this award? She received it for her work "in helping those who cannot read use mobile phones and PCs easily."

Here is an appetizer from a news article about Mehdi entitled Rewriting human-computer interaction handbook:

A student of design, Medhi has developed text-free user interfaces (UIs) to allow any illiterate or semi-literate person on first contact with a computer, to immediately know how to proceed with minimal or no assistance. As Medhi points out, in text-based conventional information architecture found in mobile phones and PCs, there are a number of usability challenges that semi literate people face. By using a combination of voice, video and graphics in an innovative way, Medhi has overcome this challenge. Medhi discovered the kind of barriers that illiterate populations face in using technology through an ethnographic design process involving more than 400 women from low-income, low-literate communities across India, the Philippines, and South Africa.

That article has more information about additional factors revealed in Mehdi's research such as cognitive issues and cultural etiquette. Do read it for a quick introduction.

For a copy of Mehdi's paper entitled "A Comparison of Mobile Money-Transfer UIs for Non-Literate and Semi-Literate Users" (495 Kb .pdf).

Here is a brief slideshow of Mehdi's project.

This slide show is also available on the EmTech site.

Happy Ada Lovelace Day 2010, Indrani Medhi! Namaste!

(PS Thank you to @PerBusch who discovered this news on @mobileactive and shared the tip on Twitter.)

Weekend Gazette – Link Collection for February 7

Last updated: April 17, 2019

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We present to you a menu of tidbits collected in recent days that are too short for blog posts and sometimes too long for a tweet (when we want to add clarifying comments). Headings provide a light grouping to help you skim the offerings. Bon appétit!

Where to Discuss Accessibility?

The Accessify Forum [No longer active as of 15May16] is an excellent place for accessibility discussions – for developers, technical communicators. All are welcome! A recent topic showing the versatility and importance of this forum discusses who is responsible or accountable for accessibility issues. Stop by soon.

Where to Learn About Accessibility?

It depends. Next question. No, seriously, this is a big topic because it depends on what you mean by accessibility. Do you write code? Do you write policies and procedures? Your accessibility focus will depend on your actual work. However, a good foundation is good for everyone, so stopping by the WaSP InterAct Curriculum at webstandards.org will always be a good choice. Get your bearings on the About page. (By the way, it’ll be time to say Happy Birthday soon. WaSP InterAct was born at the South by Southwest Interactive conference in March 2009.)

Another good starting point is ScrunchUp, the web magazine for young designers and developers.

More resources can be found at The OneVoice for Accessible ICT. OneVoice aims to “assist organisations in embedding accessible information and communication technologies (ICT) as a fundamental part of their diversity and inclusion values and culture.” It is a new, still developing site, so come back frequently to find resources for best practice, tools, and guidelines for web designers and developers, HR and IT departments, and other parts of the organization involved in building accessible ICT.

Text Alternatives

Alt and title attributes are parts of the web content that aren’t immediately visible, yet they are important to know and understand.

Get help from Ian Pouncey’s articles: Alt attributes and Title attributes. Steve Faulkner, The Paciello Group, has been diligently updating the draft for HTML5: techniques for the provision of text alternatives – another resource to monitor. Finally, Vlad Alexander asks how web browsers should render alt text.

Definitely an area for technical communicators to monitor!

Short and Sweet – Abbreviations

Make a note of “a11y” and “tsaccess” for future reference.

“a11y” stands for “accessibility”. A is the first letter, y is the last letter, and 11 is the number of all the other letters in between the a and the y! Some might recognize this model from “l10n” (localization) and “i18n” (internationalization). In the world of Twitter, saving letters counts! Purists will cringe, and others will argue that these terms are not clear, but they are here to stay.

“tsaccess” is a new term that stands for “touch screen accessibility”. Touch screens are getting a lot of attention with iPhones, the iPad, and other devices with touch-sensitive screens. Where is the accessibility in that? Jennison Asuncion coined “tsaccess” as a hash tag that can be used to discuss this topic on Twitter, in conferences, or wherever hash tags are used.

Connect the Dots

Braille for Everyone is an interesting new initiative that could lead the way to less expensive braille devices, which could promote a wider use of Braille. Why Braille? You may recall a recent article in the New York Times about Braille and literacy that went around Twitter. Audio books and videos are convenient to use when we are on the go, and videos seem to be touted as the way for technical communicators to make documentation in the futures. The literacy issue that has been raised in connection with the decline in Braille sounds quite alarming. One blogger even asks can Braille become obsolete. Technical communicators preparing single-sourced material to be delivered in multiple ways should be very concerned about literacy issues for that material. It is a topic worth monitoring.


The U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy has an article about when to consider revealing a disability to a prospective employer. Your mileage may vary depending on your local laws and situation, but the article has some useful insights.

Employers should read People with Disabilities: The Talent You're Missing. No explanation is necessary with that title.

Doing it My Way

The beta version of the accessibility pages for the BBC website is quite impressive. It’s called My web my way and definitely worth a visit, especially for some good old inspiration. The page has links to other great accessibility offerings from the BBC, so grab a cuppa and poke around the site for a while.

An Awesome Newsletter

The University of Minnesota at Duluth has been sending out the Web Design Update newsletter since 2002. Any time news or information is posted to the Web Design Reference site, a newsletter is sent out to subscribers. Get your copy of the newsletter today by following the WDU newsletter subscription information. You can also read past issues on that site. I remember hearing about that site on the STC Lone Writer SIG discussion list years ago. Awesome is the general term used to describe the resources at the Web Design Reference site.

SharePoint and the Technical Communicator

SharePoint is rather notorious among technical communicators – some love to hate it. Offices toss it out on the web because they have it in some package deal. Most could use better training and education, but that requires knowledge about its accessibility. Bruce Lawson wrote about SharePoint accessibility in 2008 and Alastair Campbell wrote about SharePoint 2010 late last year. These two posts should get you talking about accessibility and SharePoint in your workplace.

The Last Word

@gezlemon posted a tweet that was too good to pass up. He writes that it is a true story from Radio 4 (in the UK).

“Right-click on your desktop.”
“What do you see?”
“What did you do?”
“Wrote click on my desktop.”

Link Contributors

This post was glued together with links or inspiration from many people. They are listed with their Twitter names.


Weekend Gazette – Link Collection for January 30

Last updated: May 30, 2016

Note:  All links going to other websites will open in the same window. Use the Back button to return to our site.

We present to you a menu of tidbits collected in recent days that are too short for blog posts and sometimes too long for a tweet (when we want to add clarifying comments). Headings provide a light grouping to help you skim the offerings. Bon appétit!

That Thing Everyone Buzzed About Last Week

The long-awaited new gadget from Apple arrived last week – the iPad. All of geekdom knows that. (As an aside, I wonder how many non-geeks are blissfully unaware of the iPad.) As gadgets go, the iPad seems far more accessible than many other new products on their first day. An article from abledbody about the iPad "Hey Apple, What About iPad’s Accessibility?" indicated that not everything was accessible. There was no captioning on the launch for various key videos about the product. Why are things done half-way? It's wonderful that the product has accessibility features, but the presentation should have had accessibility features, too. Can we have holistic approach to accessibility please? Unless you like people giggling behind your back…

Cognition and Literacy

An excellent blog post by Virginia Moore surfaced last week asking whether duct tape can mend this hole. There are many good points about literacy and inclusion throughout; it also refers to Jakob Nielsen's recent Alertbox article about the "Digital Divide: The 3 Stages". Both articles are healthy reading for the technical communicator – and many, many others. I think there is a bow to plain language here, too.

There are several tools available that may help you evaluate literacy issues on your site.

  • Flesh is an intriguing tool that can calculate the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level of a document.
  • Style and Diction are GNU software tools that can be used to identify wordy and commonly misused phrases, sentence length, and other readability measures. Diction and style are two old standard Unix commands. Both commands support English and German documents.
  • PHP Text Statistics is a PHP class that provides information about content, including readability scores. Homepage and Live Version: Readability-Score.com.

What is cognitive disability? This blog Define "Cognitive Disability" post ponders the difficulties of defining cognitive disability.

Clear Helper wrote "Rix Centre: Accessible Web Sites by & for People with Intellectual Disabilities" is an introductory article about the Rix Centre in London. The center "specializes in developing new media technology and its use by people with intellectual disabilities to improve their lives." They seem to merge two excellent ideas – the use of clear text or plain language and the direct involvement of those using the services. This speaks to the whole idea about involving people with disabilities with the development of the products that affect them. The article has a link to the Rix Centre portal.

Assistive Technology

James Bailey blogs about managing assistive technology in a college setting. He discusses the move "from a medical model definition of disability to a social model disability" in this blog post "AT and the Evolving DS Service Model". You might want to follow him on Twitter or grab the RSS feed for his blog to stay up-to-date with his thoughts on this topic and share your own.

It's great to see the amazing assistive technology products made for kids these days. Recently, several people tweeted about a K-12 for children with disabilities / special education needs assistive technology products list of the top nine AT products for special needs kids that was listed on the Disaboom website (no longer active as of 12 May 2014). This is all very nice, but putting on the technical communication cap reveals something else to this writer: job opportunities. The technical communicator with a skill set full of content strategy, usability, accessibility, and more, would be an excellent employee or consultant for these companies. New career perhaps? Never hurts to try…

Mobility Perceptions

Liz Henry wants to hack a wheelchair. Surprised? Read Jonathan Corbet's "LCA: HackAbility" review of Liz' talk at linux.conf.au 2010 LCA2010, the recent Linux gathering in Australia. We talk about user-generated content in the software world. User-generated assistive technology, anyone? Liz is a user of a wheelchair. Why shouldn't she be able to "hack" it? I would never have dreamt of the ideas Liz has – because I don't use a wheelchair. Proves once more how we need to involve people with disabilities in testing products and services. Without an inclusive approach, so many valuable insights and opportunities are overlooked.

On a similar note, another LCA2010 attendee shared some conference discussions about wheels in "A Rather Healthy Attitude Towards Wheelchairs" that brought users of bikes, skates, and wheelchairs together. The "dis" in "disability" disappeared.

Cultural Accessibility Assumptions

There are keyboard shortcuts for navigating a Google search. This is an accessibility experiment from Google, which should be a relief to those with tender wrists. It's a great idea, but the cultural assumptions get me. Tricks like these are often based on a U.S. keyboard, which I don't use. I am always left to figure out the necessary adjustments for use on my keyboard. Being stuck like this has led me to spell out instructions when I share any tips. The slash symbol trips me up here. I need to use the shift key because that is the only way I can activate the slash key on a Danish keyboard (it's on the key for the number 7.) These tips for one-key-only shortcuts fail for me here. The moral of the story is – just when you think you have everything figured out, another issue reveals itself.

Web Notes

Your local government has an obligation to provide you with certain services in exchange for all those taxes you pay, right? Well, perhaps, but it doesn't seem like that's true when it comes to websites. It seems local authorities / government are the ones with the most difficult-to-use websites! Read a summary of a generalized survey done by Webcredible; the article includes links to a report of the full results.

Checklists for improving your website are always handy. Here's one by Mark Aplet inJanuary 2010
that highlights "Common Accessibility Mistakes". (PDF version 195 Kb .pdf) Read it and evaluate your own strengths and weaknesses. The checklist's author says you'll improve the overall accessibility of your site. Universal accessibility. We like!

Raising Awareness

The New York Times reported on a new campaign that uses humor to support disabled people. The campaign, Think Beyond the Label, is "committed to making the business case for employing people with disabilities." (Side note: They have a message on their About page stating that the site is "Section 508-compliant, and is accessible to people with disabilities." Great news, I thought, and threw the link into the W3C validator. The result was 34 Errors, 12 warning(s). Oh dear.)

Last, But Not Least

We value inclusion, so don't forget to help the sighted. A post, "When The Blind Meet The Sighted…" by Ujjvala Ballal, humorously explains what a blind person should do when they meet a sighted person.

When it comes to the visual side of presentations, some use the "Presentation Zen" book for inspiration. Others turn to Cornify to shop for great images of unicorns and rainbows!

Link Contributors

This post was glued together with links or inspiration from many people. They are listed with their Twitter names.