Women Working with Accessible Technology

Ada Lovelace day is here – March 24 – so this post is about women in technology, as promised. Accessible technology was an even nicer goal, so may I present

These women work in fields that influence our members directly or indirectly. Personally, I am in awe of them, and I hope I can be like them when I grow up! It is their passion for sharing knowledge that is especially inspiring. They – or others – have already written biographical blurbs, which I want to share as their introduction.

Let's begin!

Judy Brewer

Take a deep breath now as I share this bit from the official bio at w3.org:

Judy Brewer directs the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Since September 1997 she has coordinated five areas of work for W3C with regard to Web accessibility: ensuring that W3C technologies (HTML, CSS, SMIL, XML, etc.) support accessibility; developing accessibility guidelines for Web content, browsers and multimedia players, authoring tools, and XML
; improving tools for evaluation and repair of Web sites; participating in the Education and Outreach Working Group (EOWG); and monitoring research and development which may impact future accessibility of the Web. WAI guidelines developed through this work include the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, adopted by an increasing number of governments around the world, and Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines and User Agent Accessibility Guidelines.

Whew! There are even more details at the official W3C bio. What comes across from reading about Judy Brewer is not only her technical knowledge, but her ability to, well, connect the dots. She aims for clear communication about her knowledge and discoveries. Are we surprised to see that she has a background in technical writing? 🙂

Wendy Chisholm

Another impressive person (and also working at W3C), is Wendy Chisholm. She tells us about herself on her blog.

As a staff for the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) for 6 years, I helped synchronize work on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines with developments in internationalization and mobile/device independence. Having worked with Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web, I bring a unique vision to groups that I work with. From the beginning, Tim designed the web to facilitate communication between people – *all* people and that has evolved to include people in a variety of situations using a variety of devices. I've focused on this aspect of web design since 1995. As a developer (B.S. in Computer Science) and Human Factors Engineer (M.S. in Industrial Engineering/Human Factors), I can bridge communication between developers and designers, since many of the techniques for making web content adaptable are technical…and being an engineer, I always love a good problem.


Once again, we have a woman who is tech savvy, but who also understands the need to "facilitate communication" about that technology so that teams such as developers and designers, can build on each others' strengths. Her interest in "bridging communication" reveals – at least to me – the heart of a technical communicator. 🙂

Her book, Universal Design for Web Applications: Web Applications That Reach Everyone, co-authored with Matt May, may interest you.

Shawn Henry

The following bio comes from W3C (yes, another one of those W3C people – looks like they know the value of women in technology!):

Shawn Henry focuses her personal passion for accessibility on bringing together the needs of individuals and the goals of organizations in designing human-computer interfaces. Shawn leads worldwide education and outreach promoting web accessibility for people with disabilities at the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). She has worked for Fortune 500 companies; nonprofit, education, and research organizations; and international standards bodies to optimize user interface design for usability and accessibility. Her most recent book Just Ask: Integrating Accessibility Throughout Design is now available online.

[Update, 2020: According to her LinkedIn page, Shawn is now working on several projects: W3C WAI Accessibility Education and Outreach Lead at MIT; at the TAdER Project as the Lead Researcher—Low Vision Accessibility Advocate; and as an Accessibility Educator at uiAccess.]

Book cover of Just Ask: Integrating Accessibility Throughout Design book

Shawn Henry is another person in our article with a background in technical communication. Perhaps it is that background that helped her to produce such a great book like Just Ask: Integrating Accessibility Throughout Design. Do explore the book. You can show your support by posting a supporter badge on your site.

Small badge that shows support for the Just Ask book.

It is incredibly generous to publish such useful information online where everyone has access to it – but that is keeping in line with Shawn Henry's passion for accessibility.

Henny Swan

The fourth woman in technology – or accessible technology, as I'd like to phrase it – has job title that I love – Web Evangelist! Let's read what Henny Swan, Web Evangelist, says about herself.

I have always been passionate about connecting people and seen the web as the tool of choice for overcoming traditional barriers such as location, culture, ability or disability. As such this blog looks at the overlaps of web accessibility, internationalisation, and mobile access together with the importance of web standards: making the web usable for everyone.

I'm currently a Web Evangelist for Opera Software having previously worked as a Senior Web Accessibility Consultant for RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People). You can also find me over on the Opera Developer Network Blog and Dev Opera.

A hectic travel life seems to go along with the job title. 2009 has already been a busy year for @iheni, as I know her best on Twitter. She participated in a W3C workshop on the future of social networking (www.iheni.com/is-it-time-for-social-networks-grow-up/) in January 2009. In that same year she gave presentations at both SXSW Interactive and CSUN, (Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference at California State University, Northridge).

[Update, 2019: She is now working as the UX Director at The Paciello Group (TPG).]

Who's Next?

Our SIG also has many women who deserve recognition on Ada Lovelace Day. As technical communicators, they are doing their part to promote accessibility through their skills in writing, programming, usability, testing, teaching – oh, you name it. I encourage these women to post a little bio in the comments section, continuing the list of inspiring role models.

All of these women are great inspiration for the next generations – and the current generation, too!

Learning from AT&T Labs Text-to-Speech Demo

I'm trying out the AT&T Labs Text-to-Speech demo that came to my attention on Twitter. I encourage you to do the same!

It answered a question that had bothered me for some time. How do text-to-speech tools handle spelling errors and emoticons? Well, a lot depends on context, but I still think people should stop being sloppy with their spelling. (Grrr!)

  • A typical typo for the word "the" is "teh". The misspelled version was a garbled sound. I fed the TTS demo this sentence: "This is a longer sentence and I want to see if I can hear teh difference when I misspell the word "the"." I barely caught the "teh", and the word in quotes at the end was very abrupt – I would have drawn out the word in quotes, but "Crystal" (the voice I chose) spat it out in a nanosecond!
  • The abuse of "your" versus "you're" drives me batty. It looks like people who use TTS are spared too much anguish. I tried "you're welcome to your opinion" and "your welcome to your opinion". There was no difference in pronunciation. I also tried "Is this you're book?", but heard no difference.
  • I ventured into "lolspeak" with cheezburger vs cheeseburger. In the lolspeak version, the "g" was pronounced like the "g" in the word "German". I assume the system defaulted to some basics when it encountered unfamiliar words.
  • Emoticons were familiar. For the smiley, both the two-character version and the three-character version were recognized. Colon plus close parentheses and colon, hyphen, plus close parentheses give you "smile". The emoticon colon plus open parentheses gives you "frowning". That is anatomically correct, so to speak, but I always read that as sad. That was a surprise. Maybe I am just not that fluent in emoticons! (By the way, I spelled out the emoticons because no matter which html tags I used, WordPress insisted on converting my characters to visual emoticons!)

All in all, this is a learning experience. I know there are many, many people out there who are completely unfamiliar with any type of assistive technology (AT). I suggest that those people learn to play with any AT tools like this to gain insight into a different angle on the world! I think you can become a technical communicator from such experimentation. There is a FAQ on this site where you can learn much more.

Maybe your next step is trying out tools such as Fire Vox for your Firefox browser or the Mac platform's built-in VoiceOver – find it through the Mac online help.

Have fun!