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!
Happy Birthday, Twitter
Twitter turns 4 today. Could we have imagined the social Web of 2010 back in 2000? Social media is even "invading" the world of technical communication – read Anne Gentle's "Community and Conversation" if you don't believe me. Even though the concepts are changing the way we work, the technology is still dragging its feet in the area of accessibility. In my opinion, Twitter.com is a rather wonky Web application, and some of the desktop Twitter applications leave much to be desired. Thank goodness we can celebrate Twitter's birthday with an accessible Twitter application on the Web called Easy Chirp! Hurrah for @EasyChirp! What?! You haven't tried Accessible Twitter? I don't use assistive technology at all, and I love it! The interface is cleaner (easy on the eyes), and no weird AJAX-y things appear just because your cursor rests momentarily over a link of some kind. It works for me.
The Old Folks at Home
Speaking of growing older… @jebswebs shared a not-so-new, but still interesting article about Glimpse Into The Future by Michael Rogers, December 2009, about Boomers and Technology. He examines the attitudes of today's boomers regarding their use of technology, and what they expect in the future."
I am always slightly amused by the discussion of age and technology. My gut feeling is that some of it is just a stereotype. I think availability and motivation is a huge factor that is not always discussed. A love of genealogy or connecting with grandchildren on the other side of the globe are motivating factors to learn about computers. Even with motivation, helping hands are always appreciated. Those of you who are are the IT department for older relatives might enjoy the Computing Guide for Boomers.
Alzheimer's and dementia are some of the nasty surprises that await the aging population. Temporary relief or support is possible with assistive technology. What does that have to do with technical communication? Technical communicators can help with the documentation, user interface design, user testing, and all sort of tasks to make these cool tools available to the public. Like the SenseCam, a "A Little Black Box to Jog Failing Memory" (a device to nudge the memory of a mind succumbing to Alzheimer's disease.)
Did you know that people with disabilities can travel? Yup. They take planes, trains, automobiles – you name it. That means they want hotels now and then. Like anyone else, they want to book their hotel online. So? That means that hotel websites need to make it clear what facilities they offer. What is it like navigating the hotel in a wheelchair or with a white cane? Do they have equipment for the deaf, such as a vibrating alarm clock? Is there a roll-in shower or bath stool? Are there enough electrical outlets for recharging scooters or CPAP equipment?
The Expedia press release "Expedia.com Launches New Accessibility Search Tools for Disabled Travelers" dated February 16, 2010 announced the launch of new accessibility search tools for disabled travelers from the giant in the travel industry: "Travelers in the U.S. can now visit Expedia.com to search for lodgings in the U.S. that offer accommodations including accessibility equipment for the deaf, accessible bathrooms, accessible paths of travel, Braille or raised signage, in-room accessibility, a roll-in shower and more."
Expedia and Hotels.com's Accessible Room Gimmick Abledbody.com was not impressed with Expedia's move for (at least) five reasons.
- Customers can search for, but not book, accessible rooms.
- There's no guarantee you'll get an accessible room.
- Yes, there was a lawsuit against Expedia. – In other words, this wasn't done out of human kindness.
- The ADA already covers most of these accessibility features.
- The accessibility box is hard to find.
I have tried booking an accessible room twice (not through Expedia). I was sharing a room with someone who needed the room to be accessible. Both times, I was forced to finish the transaction over the phone – the form was not sufficient. In one case, I got a hotel call center who botched the booking, but fortunately, the hotel involved was able to resolve the issue. With the possibility of speedy online booking today, additional effort and steps for booking are, well, they are a slap in the face. @AquinasWI takes a positive view of Expedia's accessibility efforts. (.pdf) Maybe we should stop being so grumpy and join him. (Crossing our fingers, too, won't hurt!)
Usability Doesn't Mean Ugly
Some people think that a usable site is an ugly site – that you cannot have good design and usability together. In Top 11 Best Designed University Websites by Todd Zeigler, March 9, 2010, the author looks at the top 100 university websites from a given list and names the top 11 best-designed of those websites. I saw no mention of accessibility. Curious, I did a quick check with WebAIM's WAVE. Three of the top five had an accessibility error or two. Of the top five on this list, number 1 (Johns Hopkins) had two accessibility errors (forms lacked labels) and number 4 (Rutgers) had 19 accessibility errors (alt text). WAVE reported one error for University of Chicago, but I couldn't find it. You might think these specific errors are minor. Hello. These errors are so banal – so Accessibility 101 – that they should not be there. These sites might be pretty, but it's pretty silly to have these simple oversights.
Color My World
When technical communicators discuss colors for hyperlinks or graphics, the topic of colorblind is often forgotten. I recall (but have lost) one amazing thread where someone who was colorblind jumped into the discussion. That was an eye-opener for everyone participating. We have colorblind resources on Accessible Techomm, but the harried, one-stop shopper might prefer the Colblindor website. The site is all about color blindness – by someone who knows what he is talking about!
Mozilla is behind the Collaborative subtitling design challenge. The full title is "Collaborative subtitling — How can users quickly create a timed transcript of any video on the web?"
As the site says, "Participatory Culture Foundation and Mozilla are working to build a universal system for creating and collaboratively improving subtitles for any video on the web. We believe that many users would be willing to contribute and translate subtitles if there was an easy way to do so. And that we can use this energy to knock down language barriers for popular online video."
Important dates for the exciting challenge are
- March 2010 – Launch of the Collaborative Subtitling Design Challenge
- April 26th, 2010 – Submission Deadline
- April 29th, 2010 – People's Choice Voting starts
- May 11th, 2010 – People's Choice Voting ends
- May 17th, 2010 – Best in Class honors, development plans are announced
- June 11th, 2010 – New prototype released
- June 18th, 2010 – Usability study of new prototype released
Knowbility and several thousand others attended the annual South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWI) Festival recently. (Catch up on Wikipedia's SXSW article if you have never heard of it before.)
Knowbility, organizers of the famous John Slatin AccessU (10-12 May 2010), share their thoughts on the Knowbility's Know Wiki.
Poke around the wiki for demos and material. [the wiki is no more]
@knowbility sent tweets from the Web Access Gone Wild session. (Search on Twitter for the #webaccessgonewild hash tag.) These tips or statements are perfect for pondering!
- Accessible sites don't need to be ugly… but then, why are so many of them so hideous?
- Your site can be fully compliant and technically accessible, yet functionally inaccessible.
- The goal of web accessibility is to get users to content, not provide accessibility options.
- Accessibility implemented partially or incorrectly can be worse than no accessibility at all.
- Images that are the only thing within a link MUST have alt text.
- Tabindex, focus() and aria are crucial to making rich internet applications accessible.
- People with cognitive disabilities outnumber people with all other disabilities combined.
Knowbility (& @AustinGovOnline) sent a few good tweets from another session called Thoughtless Design Leaves Disabled Gamers Logged Out (hashtag #disabledgamersloggedout).
- For disabled, video games can be a lifesaver. MSNBC first raised awareness for this in Apr 09
- Accessible games create a sense of community for disabled that they may otherwise lack
- 20.5% of the gamer market is disabled, which is worth more than $14 billion dollars.
The tech writer in me puzzled over that last remark. Is the entire gamer market worth $14 billion dollars, or is the 20.5% worth that amount. I've not found the correct answer yet, but either way, it is a large market share. @jared_w_smith sent a sad tweet letting us know that there were a "whopping 11 people in the audience for #disabledgamersloggedout". That is a shame. Let's read the panel description again: "With approximately 20% of the US having some sort of disability, potential gamers are being left out of game play due to most design being far too conservative. How different disabilities affect game play and how game design can be more innovative to achieve social justice will be discussed." 20% ? And only 11 people attended.
There was a session called "My 3-year-old is my usability tester". I loved the creativity of the titles. @jared_w_smith tweeted that the session could have been called "My 3-year-old is my cognitive web accessibility expert." Later on, he mentioned that there is "lots of insight/overlap with cognitive disabilities research. Need more of this. #3yroldexpert" I am now imagining hoards of testers starting to collaborate with the local kindergartens! Of course, the real geeks among us are always quietly monitoring all discussions at the dinner table at family get-togethers. Throw-away remarks by Auntie May or Grandpa or the crowd at the kiddie table might come in handy at the next design meeting!
You'll find many presentations from SXSW 2010 on SlideShare.
Have a think about the last SXSW tweet I read from @jared_w_smith: "One of my many SXSW takeaways: Accessibility technologists are awesome, but we need more passionate, vocal designers in this field." Who can you mentor or encourage to follow that path?
The Last Word
If you also find stories or use stories everywhere you go, you'll be excited to know that Rosenfeld Media is publishing a book for you right now. It's "Storytelling for User Experience" by Kevin Brooks and (our own) Whitney Quesenbery.
March 20th was World Storytelling Day. Childhood seems to be the ideal place to develop a mindset of inclusion. Signed Stories is a sweet site with captioned and signed (American – ASL and British – BSL) children's stories. The site told me a story. These captioned and signed tales could be enjoyed by everyone, including those with cognitive disabilities or hearing impairments. Take a moment to read one of these tales with a child you know (the one inside you?) and imagine a world of inclusion. That would be a very happy ending.
This post was glued together with links or inspiration from many people. They are listed with their Twitter names.