Category: Accessibility

Disability Models and Web Accessibility

Outstanding overview of the models of disability and accessibility from Martyn Cooper.
The social model… is important in accessibility considerations because it recognises the importance of the context of the users and supports the view of accessibility as a relationship property; in the case of web accessibility the relationship being between the diversity of users and the web resource or application.
Read Models of Disability and their Relation to Accessibility

The Benefits of Captions

Many accessibility efforts to make information more accessible to users with disabilities provide benefits to all users. Calling out these benefits can lead to a decision for accessibility in spite of the benefits provided to users with disabilities. Captions are a great example,here are a few lists outlining some of those:

Even if you are a callous jerk who doesn’t care about the 3.5% of the general population who are deaf or hard of hearing, there are other benefits commonly cited in the above lists:

  • Increased usability for everyone.
  • Education and literacy benefits.
  • Increased search engine traffic.
  • Search captioned video to find specific video segments.
  • Access to audio information in a noisy environment.
  • Helpful in learning a second language.

Those all make a lot of sense, but I wanted to find some specific examples and research to back up those assertions. Here is what I found:

Increased Usability for Everyone

I don’t have hearing loss, but I always turn on captions when they are available and apparently I’m not along. In 2006, Ofcom (the regularity authority for the UK communications industries) published a report with the following blurb on the number of people who use subtitles:

In the UK adult population as a whole, over 7.5 million people (18%) are estimated to have used subtitling at least once, of whom over 6 million people would have no hearing impairment. 39% of those with a hearing impairment say that they have used it, equating to just over 1.4 million people. Amongst case study respondents with a hearing impairment, 49% said that they used it to watch all, most or some programmes, a figure that rose to 76% for those with a severe or profound hearing loss. (Section 2.20)

Muffled audio, thick accents or whatever– captions make audio easier to understand.

See Also: The hearing majority of captioning viewers from Joe Clark and WETA’s Captions Increase & Sustain Their Video Viewership from Peter Crosby at DotSUB.

Education and Literacy Benefits

I also try to turn captions on for my kids:

Increased search engine traffic

While these benefits may occasionally be overstated as not all captioned video is indexed by all search engines, there are definite SEO benefits from captioned video for at least some services/search engines. If nothing else, posting the video transcript with the video will ensure that your video content can be indexed by search engines.

We can only hope that as search engines take advantage of captions to deliver more relevant video content to users I hope it doesn’t lead to a rash of captioned videos of video spammers yelling about cheap online pharmaceuticals and work from home opportunities.

Search Captioned Video to Find Specific Video Segments

This video from Hulu demonstrates this idea very well (ironically, it’s uncaptioned):

You can try it out for yourself by doing to the Hulu Captions Search page.

On a completely unrelated sidenote, there is a great story of how the husband of a Deaf woman had a brother with a friend who was a programmer at Hulu helped to get captions rolling at Hulu.

You can also see this functionality at the DO-IT Video collection., CaptionBox is a jQuery plugin that allows you do add some of this functionality to videos on your site.

Access to the audio information in a noisy environment.

I wish I could find some more validation of this oft-cited statistic that the number one use of captions is actually gyms, bars, language learning, etc… I don’t doubt that captions are useful in noisy environments, but after emailing a number of people who have cited one use or another as the top use of captioning I’ve yet to find any hard data on this. If you know of any research that validates this, I would love to hear about it.

Access to Audio Information in a Noisy Environment

I’ve often heard the face that the most common use of captions is when they are turned on for televisions in a restaurant or gym. I looked pretty hard and can’t find any hard data to verify that assertion, but I know that I appreciate caption being turned on when I eat out. Unfortunately it’s been awhile since I’ve been to a gym so I can’t speak to that. Also, those children I mentioned earlier who I turn on captions for the educational benefits? There are four of them and they can be noisy- captions are a godsend when my wife and I are watching a show with the kiddos in the room.

Helpful in Learning a Second Language

Here are a few academic articles on this topic with fancy words, complicated charts, the works:

That’s It

What did I miss?

CSUN Keynote Panel on International Accessibility and Information and Communication Technology

The next few days I’ll be posting some notes from the California State University Northridge (CSUN) 26th Annual International Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference.

Tonight the keynote panel that was moderated by Mike Paciello and included Paul P. Schafer, Mohammed Al-Tarawneh and Axel Leblois. You can read the full bios for Paul, Mohammed and Axel on the conference website. The theme of the panel was an international perspective on closing the gap between assistive technology and information and communication technologies (ICT).

The State of International Accessibility and ICT

To start the discussion, Axel responded to Mike’s question on the state of international accessibility by stating that we are in an unprecended period of growth of technology and devices, citing statistics that there 5 billion mobile phones, 2.5 billion televisions, 1.2 billion personal computers and 1.6 billion Internet users.

Axel then discussed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and mentioned that 99 countries have already ratified it. Mohammed expressed a hope that the United States will soon become the 100th to ratify the treaty and Paul reported from conversation with Judy Huemann that the treaty would soon be going to the US senate.

International Accessibility and ICT Challenges

Mohammed discussed the challenges of the CRPD and how those challenges affect ICT. He said that there is a gap between developed and developing countries. He hopes that countries with the resources and expertise will offer needed financial, technical, education assistance to developing countries.

Axel discussed the problem that although there is much research happening in the area of assitive technology, little of the research done at universities actually makes it to market. Lots of money is being spent on that research that never ends up benefitting end users.

Paul mentioned another issue is that the cost of assistive technology in 3rd world countries is still to expensive, but expressed hope that as mainstream products such as Android devices become accessible they will eventually help assistive technology become more affordable.

Solutions to International ICT Accessibility Problems

Looking forward, Paul felt that some solutions to increasing access to ICT might be the mass market utilization of technologies such as text-to-speech (TTS), speech recognition and brain-computer interfaces (BCI). He also sees potential for assistive technology cloud services. Paul also emphasized the importance of sharing best practices- both in technology and business processes. He discussed the importance sucessfull businesses mentoring others with the goal of getting more accessible practices into off-the-shelf products to replae more expensive, proprietary solutions.

Mohammed said that the CRPD is a powerful legal instrument that binds member states to abide by every single article, but that some member states are unaware of all obligations that signing the treaty brings. He is hopeful that academic institutions, the private sector, civil society organizations and governments will work together to help those in developing countries who lack resources.

One of the areas where Axel has seen success is working on the “low hanging fruit” of accessibility of telephones and televison broadcasting in developing countries. Often there is an FCC-like organization that simply needs training of what they need to do to be more accessible. He also discussed the business value of assitive technologies in expanding markets such as mobile and cloud-based solutions.

Other Keynote Business

After the panel, Alan D. Muir received the the Fred Strache Leadership Award and Klaus Miesenberer received 2011 Trace Center’s Harry J. Murphy Catalyst Award. In his acceptance speech Klaus shared a chinese proverb that went something like this:

“If you want to be happy for a day, get drunk. If you want to be happy for a month, slaughter a pig If you want to be happy for a year, get married If you want to be happy for a lifetime, plant a garden”

If you have an additions or corrections to the above, please let me know!

Gary Barber on Killing Accessibility

This is well worth the read, here are just a couple of gems from Gary Barber’s article titled Kill Accessibility:

The old UX catch call is never truer here – we are not the users. The disparity between us and the people we are really working for, with accessibility, is sometimes just too great for us to even get a idea of what it is like, no matter how many videos of people using assistive technology we see.

And this zinger:

In reality there is no socially inspired public relations value in accessibility. A business can be seen to get more value out of sponsoring a guide dog than making their web site accessible.

The rest of the article is well worth the read. (via @scenariogirl)

Open Education and Accessibility

The Open Education Conference is happening right now in Vancouver, but is also offering a number of ways to participate remotely, including live and archived streams of the event, or simply follow the tag opened09 just about anywhere (Twitter opened09, Flickr opened09, Delicious opened09, Blogsearch opened09, etc…) The theme of this year’s conference is “Crossing the Chasm” and while I was disappointed that there weren’t more sessions addressing disability accessibility directly, there is a tremendous amount of value in almost every session I have watched to anyone interested in any kind of accessibility. Through the conference website I was able to find a couple of good resources on the accessibility of open educational resources for people with disabilities: One of the resources I learned about today is folksemantic, a service and set of tools to help identify open educational resources. A quick search for accessibility resources yielded the following shareable learning resources: If you do join in the conversation, be sure to add yourself to the virtual attendee list!

The Promise of Accessible Readability

Guideline 3.1 of the WCAG 2.0 states “Make text content readable and understandable.”. There are lots of ways to measure readability, but today I came across an example (Thanks Jeff) of what might be referred to as ‘extreme readability’.

Tar Heel Reader is a collaboration between the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies and the Computer Science Department at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It is a collection of over 3000 online books in an extremely online readable format. From the site:

Each book can be speech enabled and accessed using multiple interfaces (i.e. switches, alternative keyboards, touch screens, and dedicated AAC devices). The books may be downloaded as slide shows in PowerPoint, Impress, or Flash format.

A high school student with an intellectual disability may have difficulty finding age-appropriate reading material if he reads at 1st grade reading level. Enter Tar Heal Reader, not only is the text extremely readable, but it is also accessible in a number of different ways.

Go check out some of the books or even write your own.

screenshot of a online book on the Dallas Cowboys

Each of the books listed on the Tar Heels site was created one at a time, a model that doesn’t scale very well. At the other end of the spectrum is Readable (or Readability). Readable allows a user to take one aspect of readability (formatting of text) and apply it to any website.

screenshot with options on formatting text

Imagine now a tool that could take any paragraph (Like Readable) and converts that paragraph into some type of text or multimedia that is understandable to any user, at whatever level of understanding that user specifies. Cool.

What other projects or efforts are laying the groundwork for this type of accessibility to exist one day?

Additional resources on making your content more accessible to users with disabilities

Access Means Different Things to Different People

“’Access’ isn’t just yes or no, but really shades of accessibility, and has different dimesions.” (Access to Open Educational Resources Wiki)

The definition of access from Merriam-Webster:

a: permission, liberty, or ability to enter, approach, or pass to and from a place or to approach or communicate with a person or thing b: freedom or ability to obtain or make use of something c: a way or means of access d: the act or an instance of accessing

Depending on who you are or where you are at in life, the word access has different meanings. UNESCO has a fantastic wiki page on Access to Open Educational Resources where they define a number of different types of access. Although written for a specific type of content (open educational resources), the types of access they have identified can be applied generally :

  • Awareness, Policy, Attitude, Cultural:
    • Access in terms of awareness.
    • Access in terms of local policy/attitude.
    • Access in terms of languages.
  • Legal
    • Access in terms of licensing.
  • Technical (Delivery Method)
    • Access in terms of file formats.
    • Access in terms of disability.
  • Technical (Receiving)
    • Access in terms of infrastructure.
    • Access in terms of internet connectivity/bandwidth.
    • Access in terms of discovery.
    • Access in terms of ability and skills.

Reading through the comments on the page, it is evident that in many parts of the world, access for users with disabilities is a secondary concern (at best). Without power, bandwidth or an even an Internet connnection no content cannot be accessed, so who care if is it accessible to users with disabilities?

When considering all of the different barriers that keep people from accessing content on the Internet, all of the sudden adding alternative text to an image doesn’t feel like such a big deal. Let’s keep working on an accessible web, but in the meantime let’s not forget that lots of people don’t have access to that content whether it is “accessible” or not.

Via Stephen Downes

Also of Interest

Web Accessibility vs Life Accessibility

After lacking the motivation to write a post for almost a year, I was finally able to admit that I don’t care about web accessibility as much as I thought I did. If you are looking for good, current information on web accessibility issues there is a long list of people who you should follow before Curb Cut.

That said, I care very much about disability issues. Curb Cut has been an accessibility blog written primarily for readers already interested in accessibility issues. However, depending on your past experience you may or may not give a crap about disability issues.

My interest in web accessibility originated from my relationships with two of my brothers who were born with Down syndrome. Like a good brother should, I wanted to make the web a friendlier place for them. Well, it turns out that Patrick has no use for the Internet. Dallin Paul is a heavy Internet user, but thus far has been able to find every America’s Funniest Home Video People Getting Hurt Collection and Power Ranger video on YouTube without any problem. If my goal is really to make the world a better place for them then it is time to refocus my efforts. There is little I could to for the Internet that would make it more useful to Patrick or Dallin Paul, but consider the following:

  • Patrick has worked for over 10 years at a University food court. He works hard, is dependable and well-liked by colleagues and customers. Nevertheless, there is very little chance that he will be offered a full-time position or any kind of benefits.
  • Dallin Paul still has a fear of attending church with my family because of some very unfortunate experiences he had with Sunday school teachers growing up. When he does attend, he is welcomed by some, tolerated by others and ignored by everyone else.

I have spent a number of years as a teacher in special ed classrooms, traveling with Special Olympics teams and volunteering with various disability organizations. You wouldn’t know any of that from reading Curb Cut in the past. My disability experience is the only real value I have to offer and I purposefully kept it out of my writing on web accessibility. Shame on me.

Here’s to a more authentic Curb Cut.

The Necessity of an Accessibility Checklist?

Aaron Cannon at NorthTemple shares an accessibility list he created in a post titled The Accessibility Checklist I Vowed I’d Never Write.

From Aaron:

When I wrote the below checklist, I attempted to answer the question, “What concise pieces of advice can I give to designers that will have the greatest impact on accessibility in the majority of cases?”

Other Checklists

Avoiding the Gray Areas

I just caught the last of Shawn Henry’s SXSW panel. Key takeway- there are white areas of things that are good to do for accessibility and black areas of things that are bad for accessibility- avoid worrying about the gray area in the middle. She mentioned the ability of web accessibility experts to endlessly debate the ins and outs of alt text. For example:

These discussions are helpful and essential for establishing best practices. However, these discussions are harmful to the extent that a developer becomes tied up arguing about “gray areas” instead of building accessible content.