Monday, January 22, 2007

Rich Resource for Bipolar Disorder

If you’re wantding to stay up on the latest information about Bipolar disorder, then check out the offerings on

The information on the site is extremely comprehensive, including descriptions of the disorder, its various phases and aspects, an abundance of resources, and the latest feeds of news pertaining to the illness.

Psych Central is a credible web resource offered by Dr. John Grohol and is regularly updated by he and several contributing editors. Psych Central states that it is in its 15th year and has been on the web for 12. According to the site’s “About” page, it has been listed among Forbes Magazine’s Best of the Web Directory and has been noted in the Washington Post, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, L.A.Times, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, USA Weekend, The Village Voice, Business Week, Forbes Magazine, and dozens of other publications.

More 508 news and a developer's guide

I’m back with another post about web site accessibility. This time I've got some news that may be of interest to you and a resource for web developers.

It was just announced that
Blackwell Publishing has redesigned its web offerings.

According to the

“Blackwell Publishing, a society publisher, has announced its newly re-designed online delivery platform, Blackwell Synergy. Blackwell Synergy enables its users to search 1 million articles from over 850 scholarly journals across the sciences, social sciences, humanities, and medicine. The redesign is intended to provide easier navigation, faster loading times, and improved access to tools for researchers, as well as meeting the latest accessibility standards (ADA section 508 and W3C's WAI-AA). The new Blackwell Synergy website retains all the benefits that researchers, librarians, and authors value and uses the same URL structure. In addition to a new look and feel, features have been repositioned to highlight options more clearly to users and enable them to make best use of the suite of tools available such as most read and most cited articles, citation alerts, download to reference manager software, and the ability to email the article to a friend. Full-text online access to the journals on Blackwell Synergy is available at thousands of institutions worldwide.”

Kudos to Blackwell Publishing for being a database service that has the initiative to make their offerings accessible.

Also, for web developers interested in making their material accessible, another resource is Dan Hounshell’s book review of
Cascading Style Sheets 2.0: Programmer's Reference
By Eric Meyer.

mr. Hounshell says:
“More than just a CSS book, this book covers the gamut of web standards from CSS to HTML markup to Section 508 and WAIS accessibility. The author is a web standards pragmatist, the book could have easily been part of the Pragmatic Programmer series, rather than a strict zealot. He offers standards options explaining the benefits and detriments of each one, letting you decide how much or how little you'd like to travel down the web standards path, and telling you it's okay to take baby steps - "some is better than none". This alone makes implementing a site built on standards approachable and realistic.”

The next time you run up against a developer who gives you excuses why he couldn’t make the contents of his work accessible, refer him to this handy guide.

Forgive the Section 508-heavy posts of late, but if the law wasn’t worthwhile, then it wouldn’t keep making news.

Section 508: gripes and suggested alternative solutions

In my career as a correctional supervisor, I led with the philosophy of “I’m not perfect and my decisions are not always the best, but don’t gripe about my decisions unless you can propose a workable alternative.” It left the door open for good input of ideas and also demonstrated a reasonable allowance for critique. In this same vein, I offer today’s post about accessaibility.

Last week, I posted a couple of times about Section 508. The reason for those posts was by necessity, as too many web sites still exist that limit access to people with disabilities. Following my own advice, while I don’t think I was necessarily griping, I continue the 508 discussion and suggest some alternative solutions to inaccessible web sites.

Granted, Section 508 only requires that entities that receive federal funds make their web sites compliant with 508 standards for access, but according to the
Newsletter, 18 states have already adopted the statutes set out in Section 508. Additionally, one private website,, is being sued for having an inaccessible website. So, it is becoming obvious that the trend of requiring access is growing.

And, wouldn’t it be nice if people just did the right thing and made their web offerings accessible to all from inception?

With all that said, there are still 32 states that don’t require web access standards and, at this time, the private business sector is only required to provide access if the individual business deems it a nice goodwill gesture on their part.

It is understandable that businesses want to market their wares using the snazziest and latest whiz-bang marketing technology. This often means using Flash media on their web sites, which is a graphical interface and, in the method usually offered up, is very inaccessible to users of screen readers.

However, it doesn’t need to be inaccessible. Methods exist to make the graphical content accessible.
Layers Magazine
Offers a site where web developers can read the
Flash 8 Accessibility Design Guidelines.

According to the site:
“Whether using ActionScript or the Accessibility panel in Macromedia Flash, creating accessible Flash content can be quick and easy. Using text and text equivalents, designers and developers can create exciting content for users of screen readers and other assistive technologies.”

“At the same time, the screen reader environment poses new challenges. Just as designers and developers are mindful of the user experience in a browser or stand-alone environment, it is important to consider how users of assistive technologies such as screen readers will interact with Macromedia Flash content.”

The site clearly demonstrates that just because it is made accessible, web content doesn’t need to be boring. Web designers can still use whiz-bang technology like Flash media; they just need to think with a little forethought to make it accessible. The guidelines shows interested parties how to install a virtual curb cut that allows everybody to gain access to their on-ramp of the information superhighway.

If web developers aren’t going to make the effort to make inclusion a forethought, then at least they can incorporate offering a web page text-only translator, such as the
Lift Transcoder,
offered by the
University of Florida’s Disability Service Office
web site. This useful application allows the user to take any web page and translate it into a version that is text-only.

While this software tool has the potential to make any web site accessible, I’m sure there are limitations. It falls into the category of the last, best solution under 508 standards, but a text-only version is better than one where no access is allowed.

With my pardons to Dr. King… I have a dream of a world where one day there will be no need for discussion about accessibility, a day where inclusion will be the norm.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Accessibility training opportunities

I want to pass along information about two on-line accessibility training opportunities that are being offered next week. These are good informational opportunities and are both free.

First, The Hadley School for the Blind is offering
Digital Accessibility in the workplace
On Wednesday, January 24 at 2 p.m. central time.

The Hadley Seminars web site states:
“This 45-minute interactive seminar will be presented by staff from the Hadley School and will explore the various ways employees more effectively share data in the workplace using email, PDFs or word processed documents. Presenters will share tips for handling tables and graphics along with other kinds of electronic files.”

Registration is required and can be done at the web site linked above. The school encourages participants to enter the room prior to the the beginning of the seminar to check out conection and interactivity. Additionally, they recommend entering the room ten minutes prior to the beginning of the seminar as it will begin promptly at the scheduled time.

While this particular session addresses the workplace, the parallels to the academic setting can not be overlooked. It may provide some good information to pass along to students as they prepare to enter the world of work. And, you can always share the link with your students so they can participate in the seminar on their own.

Secondly,EASI, Electronic Access to Software and Information, is presenting a seminar on
making accessible Google Maps
on Thursday, Jan. 25 at 3 p.m. central time.

The EASI page describes the seminar as follows:
“Google Maps is a great tool that allows information to be presented in many exciting ways. Unfortunately it's very inaccessible to many people. Using Google's publicly available API we will see how to create custom Google Maps and make them accessible at the same time. We will see how to navigate the map by using the keyboard and also how to make the data behind the pushpins accessible.”

Even if this seminar is not one that you believe is pertinent at this time, it could offer some good resources for future application in assisting your students. Again, registration is required, so go to the site linked above and get this done prior to the event date for best results.

Finally, if you are seeking other access training opportunities, look over the EASI site and check out what other classes they offer. Some of them are offered for a fee, but there are some at no cost. One in particular that may be of interest is the March 22 session on authoring DAISY documents. It will be offered for free and will be broadcast live from CSUN.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

More Section 508 information

A couple of days ago, I wrote a post about Section 508 being under review. I have a few other comments and links about Section 508 which I’d like to share with you.

I was originally pointed in the direction of the news about that review by a link in
A monthly newsletter of AI Squared, the manufacturer of the ZoomText screen magnification software. If a reader prefers, there is a link on the page for an audio version of the newsletter available that plays in the ZoomNews Audio Player.

An interesting factoid from the ZoomNews site:

Every 24 hours, more than 3.2 million pages and 715,000 images are added to the internet.

Whew! That figure’s enough to boggle the mind all by itself.

Now, look at those numbers and think about how many of those pages and images are accessible. That’s what Section 508 is about. I don’t have the data, nor the intellect, to figure the accessibility of those pages and images, but, by my own experience, I would venture to guess that the percentage of accessible pages is probably pretty low.

ZoomNews also offers a brief overview of the issues considered to be critical by the Access Board to make web sites accessible. Here is their list.

• Documents must be organized so that screen readers, like ZoomText, can speak them to the user (without dependencies on associated style sheets or other external formatting information).
• Page frames and tables must be titled with text, including row and column headers.
• Electronic forms must be designed to allow the user to access all the information and functionality. In other words, to allow the user to navigate, read and complete the form in an intelligent manner.
• When timed responses are required, the website must alert the user and provide a method to give them additional time if necessary.
• All graphics must have a text element to identify them. This element can be alternate text that appears when hovering the mouse over the graphic and also able to be spoken by a screen reader.
• Information conveyed with color, such as charts, graphs and data legends, must also be comprehensible without identification by color.
• If compliance cannot be established any other way, the web site must provide a link to a text-only page, but this is only as a last resort.

If you want to brush up on your knowledge about Section 508, you can always do so via the official U.S. government
Section 508 Site.
A very useful feature for visually impaired readers of the site is the adjustable font selection and font size at the top of the page. I might add, these are easily recognized as user-selectable combo boxes, even by those who can’t physically see the page and access the page with screen reader software, a great point for others to emulate for access and inclusion.

This site also offers
The Section 508 Universe
an on-line training program, which you may find useful to share with others on your campus who are not as enlightened about federal law as you are.

Using the training site does require the user to register with a user name and password. No other information is gathered. The user name is used to allow users to pick up in courses at the same location they might have had to leave in a previous web session.

There are 11 courses offered through the Section 508 Universe. If you would like more information about what these are each about, check out the Section 508 Universe web site. These classes are:
• Designing Accessible Websites
• Accessible Conferences
• Buying Accessible E&IT (Requiring Officials and Contracting Officers)
• Section 508 Coordinators
• Additional Accessibility & Usability Concerns
• Accessible Video and Multimedia
• Building and Buying Accessible Software
• Buying Accessible Computers
• Opening Closed Products
• Micro-purchases and Section 508
• IRS Course on Software Development

Finally, there is also a
Section 508 Awareness CD
That is available through the website as a download. This CD contains general information about section 508 for all employees, and includes a self-test and copies of the statute and accessibility standards.

Even if you’re not the person in charge of purchases and development, such as those specified in the list of classes offered through the Section 508 Universe, as the DSS coordinator, you have a duty to ensure that the persons making these decisions do so with as much knowledge and insight to Section 508 as possible. Help these folks make informed decisions and share the knowledge of your expertise.

The exact requirements of Section 508 may change to some degree in coming months, depending on the recommendations of the review committee, but the general principles offered in the training and the CD download will still be in place. Stay tuned to see what happens.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Section 508 under review, called obsolete

Section 508 is an omnipresent force for any entity who gets federal funding to contend with. If your college or university is a state school, then this post pertains to you.

If you didn’t already know, the latest version of Section 508, a complex and sometimes difficult to understand law, is under review.
The law, an extension of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, spells out specific rules on making electronic information accessible to all users, including those with disabilities. Section 508 was drafted with good intentions, but, in this dynamic world of ever-evolving technologies, it is finding itself a bit outdated.

Last July, an advisory board was put in place to work up new recommendations for the law. The initial draft proposal is projected to be released in July 2007.

According to an
article in Federal Computer Week,
“The panel said that emerging technologies have made current 508 standards obsolete. Bluetooth and wireless mobile devices, streaming Web video and asynchronous Java and XML-enabled Web sites have become common since the original standards were set in place.”

The article demonstrated the committee’s forward thinking with the comment by committee member Gregg Vanderheiden,a professor at the University of Wisconsin –Madison, “We're trying to create guidelines that not only work today, but also with technologies that are upcoming.”

So, Section 508 as we know it may be in for a major change. Time will tell what revisions the committee comes up with.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Olympus introduces three accessible recorders

As anybody who has done so would know, purchasing an accessible digital player/recorder in the past has required one to buy either a specially modified, otherwise commercially available product or a specialty product made specifically for the glind. In Both cases, the recorders have been expensive, often costing several times more than what an off the shelf model would cost. Now, that experience is changing.

Olympus is introducing
three accessible digital recorders.
The electronics company is launching its DS-30, DS-40, and DS-50 models, which the company claims are “optimized for downloading, listening to, and creating podcasts.” Olympus is pitching these units as the “all-in-one audio device,” noting that the high sound quality makes them ideal for listening to audio books and music.

What sets this line of recorders apart from any competition is that they are accessible to blind consumers off the shelf.

According to the Olympus press release linked above:
“The three new devices offer a voice confirmation function that can be turned on or off. When turned on, the function enables the devices to speak, helping users to navigate the folders and various set-up options. The pleasant automated voice guides users through the onscreen menus for setting date, time and other menu selecting modes. It also confirms by stating the folder name as the user moves from one folder to another. This enables visually challenged users to easily move through the device's menus, folders and set-up options. An instruction manual will also be available to users as an audio file. Much like any audio book, this option enables users to listen to the instruction manual for quick and easy use.”

The recorders connect with users computers via a USB cable and, via the included software, podcasts are automatically downloaded to the unit when it is connected to the pc. Additionally, the digital recorders are designed to work with,
A commercial site for audio books and spoken word content many blind consumers are already familiar with.

The primary difference between the three units are the storage capacities. The DS-30 holds 256 Mb, the DS-40 512 Mb, and the DS-50 holds 1 Gb.

All of the recorders play files in either the MP3 or WMA format.

Another useful feature of the units is the ability to slow down and speed up the playback of the recordings. The recordings can be slowed down to 50% speed or sped up by 50%, assisting users to either grab specifics or to breeze through recorded lectures.

I was impressed with the devices’ claimed reported battery life. Olympus states that users can get up to 32 hours of use from 2 AAA batteries. (An AC power adaptor is also included with the unit.)

These units are supposed to be available this month. Accessories included are a USB cable, a stereo microphone, stereo headphones, two AAA batteries, and software. The DS 50 also comes with a remote control and a carrying case.

MSRP for these units: DS-30, $149; DS-40, $199; DS-50, 249.
Olympus is leading the way by making products that are accessible out of the box.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Employers and what students' GPAs mean to them

There is an interesting article in today’s New York Times about
employers and what a student’s GPA means to them.

(Note: To read this article, readers need to register with the Times’s site.)

Some noted passages from that article:

“you ask Johnny C. Taylor Jr., senior vice president of human resources for the IAC/InterActiveCorp, the factor that matters most to him is a graduate’s grade-point average.”

“’Companies want the smartest people, and the best indicator for new employees competing in a knowledge-based economy are grades,’ said Mr. Taylor, whose company has 33,000 employees worldwide and owns 60 businesses including Ticketmaster, and the Home Shopping Network. ‘G.P.A. is the best indicator an individual is likely to succeed,” Mr. Taylor said. “It demonstrates a strong work ethic and smarts.’”

“Not every company puts as much emphasis on college grades as IAC, but many use it as an important factor in weeding out lower-achieving students from the interview process. Often companies will advise college admissions officers and recruiters that they will not see anyone with less than a B (3.0) average.”
“In its Job Outlook 2007 survey, the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that 66 percent of employers screen candidates by G.P.A., and 58 percent of those surveyed said they would be much less likely to hire graduates with grades averaging less than a 3.0. This cutoff makes it even more critical for average or below average students to take advantage of college internships and leadership positions in extracurricular activities, job experts say.”

On the surface, this article may not appear to be about students with disabilities. However, I challenge that it is especially about students with disabilities. Let me explain.

First, the job market is fiercely competitive. If you doubt this, I would venture that you’ve been sitting in your present position for some time now and haven’t tried to seek employment for a number of years. Get out there and see just how tough the scramble for employment can be.

Secondly, students with disabilities must work fiercely to overcome the demands of their accommodative needs in addition to the time and work loads placed on every other student. This compounds the workload placed on students with disabilities in issues such as finding accessible textbooks or scanning printed material. This also includes other encumberances such as the additional time it takes to write their numerous papers by formulating the sentences and paragraphs mentally—a Herculean task in itself—and dictating the final paper using software such as Dragon Naturally Speaking.

Finally, when interviewing for a job, the student must be able to show potential employers that despite their disability, they are the most qualified, fully confident and competent, individual for the vacancy. This may be easier for those who have invisible disabilities, but for those who enter the interview room using a wheelchair or a guide dog, the reaction of the interviewer is often a glass wal that bars access. When it comes down to standing out, the GPA may be the cutting edge that grabs the interviewer’s attention, the one thing that screams out what the student is capable of achieving, despite the obvious.

This article, while it does not address students with disabilities directly, does a great job highlighting that in today’s job market, students’ GPAs are being strutinized as much as, if not more than, any other potential factors for hirability. It is imperative to stress to students that they need to be tenacious about achieving the highest grades possible and not being satisfied with just getting by. When seeking employment, having just gotten by with your grades may very well translate into just getting passed over for the job.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Disability Nation, by and for people with disabilities

I’d like to share another resource for discussion and commentary on current issues in the world of disabilities.

Disability Nation
is an audio magazine by and for people with disabilities.

Some of the most recent topics include The Ashley Treatment, discussing the parents who had surgical interventions taken to assist them in caring for their severely disabled 9-year old daughter, the suit against the Federal Reserve to make paper money accessible to the blind, and an informative piece about the Adaptive Sports Association.

One of the podcast magazine’s features worth noting is the availability of transcripts for the aired episodes. I’ve only seen this offered at one other site,
The Disability 411 podcast.

If you’re interested in expanding your toolbox of resources with the addition of one that provides the insight from those with disabilities, check out Disability Nation.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

New look and a reader question

If you didn’t notice, AccessAbility has changed and made the switch to the new Blogger look. I’m a bit resistant to change whenever a new technology comes along for the very reason that this blog exists—accessibility. Too often, technology will change and not consider the needs of those who use assistive technology, leaving the person trying to embrace the change shut out. In that frame of mind, I have hesitated clicking the okay button for the past several months when Blogger started prompting me about the “New Blogger Beta,” as there is too often something inaccessible in that word Beta. Another reason for my delay is that Google, the owner of Blogger, has not been the most noteworthy of tech companies to adopt changes for inclusion and enhancing accessibility.

I figured that it is now 2007 and enough people have tried the new Blogger, that AccessAbility might as well begin the year with the latest features Blogger offers. So far, it is going smoothly.

You’ll notice that the posts here now have tags to indicate the category that the subject is about. You can click on a tag and see which other posts are related and classified under any particular tag heading. (I’ll be going back and placing tags on each previous post in the coming days to reflect accurate cataloging.))

Another feature the new Blogger allows is easier access to comment moderation. That means the comments needing my attention are easier for me to find. Since enabling comment moderation more than 60 days ago, this site has received 16 comments. However, using the old Blogger program, I did not know they had been posted. Now, when I logged onto the new AccessAbility site, I was immediately prompted that there were 16 comments needing moderation. The reason for originally enabling this tool was to keep spam comments promoting questionable web sites and promoting product sales of unrelated items, which had occurred on a few occasions prior to using the screening mechanism. When scrolling through the 16 comments, all but one of them were spam and I quickly dispatched them to the ether-wasteland.

Unfortunately, because of the time delay in not knowing I had comments to moderate, I was not able to respond in a timely manner to somebody who left a comment and I feel compelled to toss it out here for any feedback. Here it is, verbatim:

“Hello, I am an Occupationa therapist in Fl. with a patient who lost all his fingers. I am looking for a quadraplegic reacher where he can use his wrist to grab things. Would appreciate any assistance in finding a used one as a new one costs $251.00. My patient is on Medicare/Medicaid and this is considered an "item of convenience". Thanks. Joan”
So AccessAbility readers, any feedback to share about resources for a used reacher for a quadraplegic?

Thanks for any feedback and Joan, I hope you’re still reading AccessAbility.

IBM continues to innovate with WebAdapt2Me

Big Blue keeps working on in-roads for access.

IBM, the company who originated the pc and later created the Home Page Reader, continues to develop and enhance software for providing computer access for people with disabilities. In the latest advent, IBM worked with a professor at California State University Long Beach to test the usability of the features of IBM’s newest software,

In this small-scale study, the professor put together a team of ten students and faculty members with visual, hearing and other disabilities to test the new access tool in a trial basis. They used the personally adjustable software to read on-line textbooks. The features of the application allowed each user to change the type size, color, and contrast to best suit their individual access needs, as well as the key feature of allowing the user to change the page layout.

According to the official
IBM WebAdapt2Me press site:
“IBM WebAdapt2Me software allows individuals to view the Web in a way that's most productive for them. For example, people with low vision can change the size of the type and the colors and contrast of the page for easier viewing. People with learning disabilities can reduce the visual clutter of the page by, for example, reducing several columns to one, so they can follow the text more easily. People without full mobility can set up their system so the mouse and keyboard are easier to use. And people with learning disabilities can ask WebAdapt2Me to read the text on the screen aloud, using IBM ViaVoice technology. “

A tip of the hat to IBM for continued innovation making technology personally accessible. Another nod goes to the state of California for requiring that textbooks be made available on-line. These are examples of embracing technology and using insight to see where it can be best applied to serve a broad spectrum of people.