Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Census Bureau informational statistics about Americans with disabilities

In case you have missed it, the U.S. Census Bureau has released an updated set of
Informational statistics about Americans with disabilities.

So, if you are conducting research or preparing a report needing the latest general statistics on Americans with disabilities, it is now available.

FYI, that report claims that, as of the 2003-04 school year, there were 2.2 million undergraduates with a disability, representing 11 percent of all undergrads.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Good article about Disability Service and Mental Health professionals

In the days following the shootings at Virginia Tech, I found myself trying to compose some thoughts on the matter to post here. However, each time, I felt intrusive on the survivors of that tragedy and my words were not near as clear as they were in my mind. As a result, I deleted each attempt, feeling inadequate to express the words that needed to be said.

The compulsion to write about that subject was prompted by the shooter in that event reminding me of the type of students Disability Support Service professionals are periodically alerted to, either as one of the students on their caseload, or one which a faculty member inquires about. I've met a couple of these types and recall the gut response from many of the involved staff and faculty.

Many who have served in the DSS role for any reasonable amount of time have known at least one of these incidents. It prompts a spectrum of emotions and reactions ranging from sincere concern to a hyperactive fear. Striking the proper response is the key.

There is a good piece on this very subject written by a clinical psychologist in the Times Community Newspapers, titled
Are you Seung-Hui Cho's keeper?

Being that the article is written by a mental health professional, it is presented with a good understanding of the ADA and HIPPA and the restraints these laws have on universities.

Without spoiling the body of this well written article, I’d like to share the two closing paragraphs.

“Am I my brother's or sister's keeper? Is it my business if I notice that a fellow human being is having difficulty coping with life? Intruding in one's personal affairs is not always the easiest or wisest thing to do.”

“Nothing in life is guaranteed. We might ask ourselves, however, if there was the slightest possibility that having done so might not only have saved Cho's life, but the life of over 30 others as well.”

The article magnifies the positive alliances that can be achieved when the DSS office maintains open lines of communication with trained mental health professionals. I urge you to click the above link and read the entire piece. It says a lot, the meat of which I had been attempting to grasp and put into words.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Welcome back and another accessibility roundup

Last you read here, Access Ability was going into stealth mode while I took a few days to examine a university web site for accessibility. Unfortunately, that task ran longer than I had anticipated and hence, it has been more than two weeks since I’ve posted anything here.

Well, to quote an old cliché…”I’m back!”

I feel that it would also be most appropriate to toss out some related links to the very subject that was the cause for my absence, web accessibility. Maybe it was coincidence or just plain karma, but there was an abundance of accessibility related news in the last two weeks. Go figure.

In an interesting undertaking, a digital instructional design professional at Kansas State University is taking a first-hand look at using assistive technology to access technology dependent classes. In the
Instructional Design Open Studio blog,
on the May 17 post titled Accessibility in eLearning, this person writes that (s)he is taking two versions of the same class, one will be online and the other on-campus, but both are mediated via technology, which the user is going to access with assistive technology and blog the experience.

I hope the site’s author will try to use JAWS to access the information and see the navigation headaches that the blog's employed Flash feature creates. With JAWS, they might also notice the indication of headings on each and every line of the posts in that Flash presentation. It is just a guess, but I don’t think that the user intended each line to be noted as a heading.

Nonetheless, the effort to take the classes with assistive technology by somebody who is not usually an AT user is a good and worthwhile effort and I commend the undertaking. I’ll be interested to see what the findings are.

In another recent finding, I noticed that on
Duff Johnson’s PDF Perspective,
A blog targeting the production of pdf documents, there was the May 14 post about the recent AGI Acrobat PDF Conference. In it, the writer discusses how he worked to make accessible pdf production interesting. He also offers a download of his presentation. Of course, it is in pdf format!

I have read a previous post by Duff Johnson on that blog concerning accessibility and have it bookmarked as a site for research. It is good to see professionals in the production world continue to take note of the importance of accessibility.

If you are interacting with a web developer about accessibility and the discussion of web applications versus web pages has ever come up, you may be interested in what
Christian Heilmann wrote in his May 20 post, titled How to Make Your Web Applications Accessible – The Human Way.

In that piece, Heilmann shoots down what is apparently a common developer’s defense that what they have created is a web application, not a web page. Heilmann asserts that “web applications should be more accessible than web sites.”

I like the logic in that statement. Now, if we can just get the developers to buy into it. Keep pushing, Christian!

Finally, in keeping with my personal philosophy of not griping without offering solution, I present the following information for authoring accessible web content. There is a review of
Immediacy CMS
on the latest pages of

In this review, Peter Abrahams says that Immediacy is an easy to use content creation tool which creates both accessible content and compliant code.

He adds that, “Immediacy provide a variety of plug-ins to provide specific website functionality; one of these is an accessibility plug-in. This plug-in enables a user to change the overall text size and the background-foreground colour combinations these changes can be important to people with visual impairments or dyslexia.”

He presents a specific list of qualities that the software gives that makes content creation sound easy to do.

Additionally, the site also has other helpful and informative links concerning accessibility. In particular, there is a link on the latest update on the review of web accessibility 2.0.

Now that I’m back, I’ll soon be posting more regularly. Thanks to all of you that have maintained a vigil on this site.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Web Accessibility: Its two, two, two posts in one

As promised, I’m back with more on web accessibility. However, I’m combining the two posts I mentioned into this one today, as the common theme is web accessibility.

Let me begin by saying up front that I readily admit that I am not a geek. While I believe I am somewhat computer savvy, I cannot wear the badge of geek. I know the difference between accessible and inaccessible web sites and software, very often, only by personal experience. I know the particular mechanics of what makes the web page accessible no better than I know what makes the mechanics of a garbage disposal operate. However, I do not have to know what makes them work to understand when they are not working for me.

However, Jeremy Keith is a web developer in Brighton, England, and I think he would fit whatever the criteria is to be a geek. (Mr. Keith, I use the term “geek” with all due reverence. Web developers know and do things I cannot even dream of.)
On his,
Adactio Journal,
Mr. Keith recently penned a very good post about
The Language of Accessibility,
Where he reflects upon a recent conference he attended in Germany.

His discussion takes us down the path of what accessibility means. In some pretty good layman’s language, he talks about things like markup language, which non-techies like myself may not know much about, but the results of which we know very well. His words in the two paragraphs below say a lot.

“Far from being something that is added to a site, accessibility is something we need to ensure isn’t removed. From that perspective, the phrase “making a site accessible” isn’t accurate.”

“Just as “progressive enhancement” sounds better than “graceful degradation”, talking about accessibility as something that needs to be added onto a website isn’t doing us any favours. Accessibility is not a plug-in. It’s not something that can be bolted onto a site after the fact.”

Mr. Keith goes on to suggest that web designers follow his new understanding: he will talk about keeping a site accessible rather than talking about making a site accessible”

That truly does sound like the language of accessibility. Thanks for sharing it with us, Mr. Keith.

I have only offered a bit of Mr. Keith's words and insight here. Do check out his post and also check out the speech made by the speaker at the conference he attended. Those words are the foundation for the piece and will ring just as true with you.

And, for today’s second feature presentation, I offer this posting from the
Titled The State of the Art of Interactive Design.

The piece starts with a simple, but fairly accurate assessment of the progression of the internet, finishing up with a projection with where it may lead. It then weaves in the need for accessibility as an essential element, stating, “Accessibility has become one of the driving forces in web design.”

Hmmm. I’m not sure that I totally agree with that statement, but it is a nice thought.

And, maybe the writer of that piece doesn’t totally agree with that thought either, because he soon follows it by saying, “Unfortunately, most websites have accessibility barriers that make it difficult or impossible for people with disabilities to use the Web.”

Then, when he begins to speak to web developers and what they can do to make web content accessible, he also begins to use the techie lingo I’m not fully fluent in, but understand what they mean to accessibility. These include the need for developers to use XHTML and CSS. He further adds further incentive for developers to use these techniques as they aid in optimizing the site for search engines. If somebody is going to create web content, it makes sense that they would want the search engines to be able to find it.

As with Mr. Keith’s post, I have only presented a small portion of what the writer presents. This one is truly worth investing the time to read the full post. And, also like Mr. Keith’s post, worth sharing with your colleagues in web development.

Like I said earlier, I don’t have to understand what these web development techniques are to understand their impact. Describing inaccessible web content for me is much like that one judge said about pornography, I may not be able to tell you exactly what it is, but I know it when I see it. Being I’m totally blind, maybe the more accurate way of wording that phrase would be to say, “I know it when I don’t see it.”

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Request for feedback

I have a request of any of the readers who are willing to take a moment and share your thoughts with me.

The Access Ability blog has been in operation since late July, 2006 and I have personally written and posted 118 posts here. In all that, I have received minimal feedback on what is posted here. Specifically, I have received, minus the several spam replies, less than five comments to these posts.

I seek feedback from you, the readers that I know are out there. I understand that the comment method here on Blogger is not the most user-friendly way to share your thoughts. In that light, I am asking for you to
Email me your comments.

Please share your thoughts with me concerning this blog. I would like to know what types of news or resources you have found most helpful or would like to see more of. I can’t read your mind, so hit that link above and it will instantly bring up an email message ready for you to fill out. I promise that I will not share your email information with anybody.

I sincerely appreciate the readership that has grown steadily since I first launched this blog just over nine months ago. I am working in a vacuum, though, and am only writing about those things I believe might interest you. Take a moment and let me know how to better serve you.


Web access: Head's up on time-consuming project and GAID initiative

I will be meeting with a colleague and the head of his university’s web site portal in the coming days. In preparation for this meeting, I will be examining the university’s web content. This will include examining the least prefered design route the university has taken, offering text-only pages, which were recently offered as an accessible alternative to meet the letter of the law in Section 508 compliance...Grrr. Additionally, I will also be looking at web sites being offered by other school’s in the same university system.

My reason for telling you this is to give you a head’s up that posting may be a little on the light side here at Access Ability for the next few days, due to the time commitment I will need to review the large amount of web pages.

I’m not one to leave you hanging high and dry, though. Below is a recent news item related to this very subject of accessibility to web content for people with disabilities who use assistive technology. I will also follow up this with a couple more posts related to this subject before knuckling down on the research for my pending project.

An interesting article in
Reports on the latest efforts of the United Nations’
Global alliance working to bridge the information divide.

This article informs readers about the goals of the Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technologies and Development (GAID),which has global players from academia, governments, the private sector, and civil society. A strong demonstration of the commitment from the technological industry can be sensed just by noting that the current GAID chairman is Craig Barrett, the chairman of Intel.

GAID’s primary objectives span a wide spectrum, but two areas of the groups interest are discussed in the article; gaining more saturated broadband penetration in Africa and developing better technology solutions to assist people with disabilities in information access.

Explaining the group’s methodology, Sarbuland Khan, GAID's executive coordinator, said, "The goal is not that we, the UN, do it, but we try to get the partners to do it themselves and show that the UN can catalyze. We don't have the resources or the expertise, but we can convene the right people around the right table to work on these issues.”

Another source cited in the article is Daniel Aghion, executive director and co-founder of the Wireless Internet Institute (W2i), which has been working with GAID since its days as the UN’s ICT Task Force, the predecessor to GAID. In December, 2006, the United Nations adopted a convention protecting the rights of people with disabilities to education, health, labor, and other needs. The UN has encouraged all 192 of its member states to ratify this convention, because, according to Aghion, approximately ten percent of the global population has some impairment keeping them from accessing information technology.

As for the United States, Aghion says, "In the U.S., some policies have been set to address that community and are embedded in the Americans with Disabilities Act, but—as far as information technology is concerned—they have not been very actively enforced."

This goes back to the adage about laws only being as good as their enforcement. If things work as planned, the proposals GAID has set out offer some teeth for accountability towards the end of enforcement.

Again, as I’ve posted previously, the United States has yet to sign this UN convention. Please take an active role and contact the White House and your legislators, encouraging our country to sign off on this potential powerful tool for accessibility.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

May is Better Speech and Hearing Month

May 1 is often referred to as May Day. This is not to be confused with a mayday distress call or the fictional Sam “Mayday” Malone character from the TV sitcom Cheers.

May 1 is also the beginning of Better Speech and Hearing Month, according to an audiologist who wrote a letter in April to the newspaper columnist

Hints from Heloise.

While she doesn’t cite her source, this audiologist gives a figure that, if true, we should all pay attention to: about 30 million Americans have hearing loss.

Additionally, while she shares with Heloise these five low-tech tips for those who use hearing aids, they give some good guidance for all. Everybody can learn to be more aware when dealing with people who use hearing aids.

1. Listening in noisy environments is difficult. Move closer, and turn off the TV or radio before talking. (Hearing in noisy environments is the No. 1 complaint of those with hearing loss/hearing aids.)

2. Get attention. Make sure your face is visible, and avoid talking from another room.

3. Practice clear speech. Speak in a natural way, pronouncing each syllable. This automatically slows your speech and gives the listener more time to process your information.

4. Avoid cross talk when in a group. In restaurants, request that background music be turned down or off.

5. Teach children to use their "big girl/boy" voices. Lower-pitched voices are easier to hear.

Disability service professionals work with people who have a variety of disabilities including hearing loss. We should set the example and be aware of these things that make for better communication. Share these with your faculty and students.

Got any more to add to this list?