Monthly Archives: November 2010

Dear Web Developers: Stop Breaking Functionality and Calling it a ‘Feature’

There’s something that keeps happening to me. Maybe it keeps happening to you too. I use a website. I get attached to it. I start relying on it for the services it provides. And then, there’s a redesign or they roll out a new feature, and suddenly I can’t use it anymore. Because the site has been rendered effectively inaccessible to me.

Maybe you have an old computer or you’re on dialup, and the resource-hogging ‘features’ make it functionally impossible for the website to load. You can’t even get it to load enough to see if you can opt out or to see if there’s a stripped-down version of the site for people on slow connections.

Maybe you have problems with visual perception and the site redesign makes it effectively unreadable. Perhaps you have sensory issues and having sounds and flashing lights and things that move across the screen means you can’t use the site anymore. Or those noxious preview popups that seem to be all the rage these days cause your brain to basically short circuit and you’re unable to do anything on sites that use them.

Maybe the site did a graphics overhaul and suddenly it is filled with a bunch of untagged images, including images you need to be able to SEE to navigate the site or understand the content. Or, hey, they’ve decided to start posting videos to describe key parts of site functionality so you know how to use them, and there are no captions. Or transcripts. Or text-only walkthroughs for people who might prefer that. Perhaps there’s a monstrous Captcha barrier.

Whatever it is, something about the site is fundamentally broken and you can’t use it anymore and you are annoyed and wish they hadn’t done that. Maybe you’re lucky and it’s a big site, say, Google, which decided to do something like add a ‘feature’ called ‘Instant Preview’ that makes it impossible to use their search products1 and someone kindly made a plugin to bypass said ‘feature.’ You can hope for a plugin only if the site is big enough that one of the people annoyed by the change is someone who can write plugins, and if the ‘feature’ isn’t so integral that it’s impossible to plugin around it. Say, a site that replaces its text with images. There is no plugin to add image descriptions to pictures that do not have them.

If it’s a smaller site or it’s a huge functional change that can’t be addressed with a plugin, maybe you write them and say ‘hey, you know, I really love your site, I have been using it a long time, and now I cannot because of this change you made, let me detail why it is a problem.’ Most of the time? The response is no response. Or it’s a canned form letter telling you all about the new feature you were complaining about and how great it is and aren’t you excited. Or. It’s someone writing to say ‘sorry, but your ability to access our site just isn’t that important to us.’

How many times have I encountered this. Let me count the ways. At this point, when web developers decide to break a perfectly usable site in the name of ‘improvements,’ I just quietly stop using the site. Because I know that asking them to reconsider, to provide other options, to make a fix to address the problem, is not going to have any results.

There are several ways web developers could avoid the problem of losing disabled users (and other people bothered by big site changes, for that matter), assuming they care about us in the slightest, which they apparently do not. The solution is not to demand that people freeze sites in time on the design that everyone is familiar with (especially since that design may not be very accessible either), but to ask that people redesigning sites and rolling out new features take some time to think about their users.

They could start by considering accessibility from the ground up in a redesign or a feature rollout. Small features that can be really easy to add can make a huge difference. Just for example, the microblogging site Tumblr could insert a field for an alt tag on image posts. It would be extremely easy to do, it would prompt users to add image descriptions, and it would seamlessly integrate into the functionality of the site. You could also remind site users to actually use the functionality. I cannot tell you how many sites I find with blank alt tags, showing that the code for an alt tag was inserted by whatever content management system they are using and no one used it, or alt tags like ‘DESCRIPTION HERE.’ How helpful.

They could also ask their users for feedback. Dreamwidth, a journaling site, regularly posts polls with mockups of planned site changes, including functional mockups you can navigate through, asking for reader feedback. They ask specifically about disability issues, with questions like ‘does this even make sense in a screen reader?’ as well as asking more generally if users find the planned functionality…actually functional and useful. And they incorporate that feedback into changes.

Both of these things, of course, actually require giving a shit about the people who use their site. Tumblr has been repeatedly asked to enable alt tagging on image posts and hasn’t responded. They don’t give a shit. Dreamwidth goes out of their way to address concerns about usability. They do give a shit.

Guess which site I use more.

  1. Not that this happened to anyone we know recently.

Recommended Reading for November 30, 2010

Jessica Pauline Ogilvie for the Los Angeles Times: Stuttering: Working to free the words

An estimated 3 million American adults have a stutter that didn’t resolve in childhood, according to the nonprofit Stuttering Foundation of America. As kids, many dealt with the giggles of classmates and confusion of teachers; as adults, they often deal with uncertain glances and the impatience of strangers. They’ve long sought comfort from each other, sharing their experiences at conferences and advocacy groups.

Eli Clare at Disability Pride (from a few months ago, but definitely worth a read!)

Disability Pride calls for celebration, hope, rebellion. We take shame, fear, and isolation, turn them around, and forge wholeness. Pride refuses to let the daily grind of ableism, discrimination, exclusion, violence, and patronizing define who we are. Pride knows our history, joyfully insists upon our present, and stretches into our future.

Wheelchair Dancer at cripwheels: disability is a feminist issue

By using disability as she does, she makes herself smaller, less objectionable to the man; she dismisses herself and undervalues herself. She does her best to dodge what might be a harsh remark
about her intellectual capacities. She does disability in the old way, a way in which the value of our diverse minds and bodies is not acknowledged. Her disability is a weakness that separates her from an actively feminist goal of being an equal partner in the conversation and the game.

Brittany-Ann at A Bookish Beemer: A Glimpse of an Employed Epileptic

I know. I’m saying it’s wrong. I’m saying that the hoops one has to jump through, if neurologically atypical as I am, just to ensure you’re not fired because of being neurologically atypical, is ridiculous. That I should first have to reveal my medical history (which is private) to my managers, then explain to them what epilepsy is, THEN explain how it affects me, to finally say that it might prevent me from coming into work someday in the future, maybe, is ridiculous.

WHEELIE cATHOLIC: Dear Illegal Parker

As I passed the half a dozen handicap spots, I noticed that your car didn’t even have a placard or plate. I wondered why even on Thanksgiving at a senior housing complex, someone would illegally park in an accessible spot. I suppose you didn’t think someone in a wheelchair might really need that spot.

If you’re on Delicious, feel free to tag entries ‘disfem’ or ‘disfeminists,’ or ‘for:feminists’ to bring them to our attention! Link recommendations can also be emailed to recreading at disabledfeminists dot com. Please note if you would like to be credited, and under what name/site.

Happy Post! Things That Make My Life … Er … Easier?

I have a love of cooking that often times taps me all the way to the bottom of my silverware drawer. I will often borrow tomorrow’s spoons to finish what I want to do today… I am sure that some of this is drawn of my stubborn and bullheaded nature.

To assist me in my passions, The Guy outfitted our tiny Korean-style kitchen with a thick, squishy mat from the local E-Mart (like a Korean department store that has groceries and household goods). It takes a ton of the strain off of my back and upper legs while I am standing for extended periods while chopping or kneading. I love it. It makes my life easier!

Apparently, I am not the only one in our home who loves it.

A light coloured wood floor with a wood-floor-looking squishy mat lying on it. There is a mound in the mat with a wee little white paw sticking out from under it.

[A wee little white paw sticks out from a wood-looking squishy mat on my wood floor. Who could it be?]

A wee bitty white-tipped black paw reaches out from under a wood-looking squishy mat, and attempts to snatch the tan toes of The Guy, clad in Navy Issued navy blue sweat pants.

Whoever it is seems to think that these tan toes look enticing! Or maybe she is defending the honor of my stolen Navy Issued sweat pants. I was looking for those!

A black cat with white whiskers and paws peeks out from under a wood-look squishy floor mat, with a serious-hunter look on her face.

Someone was playing “submarine kitteh” under the floor mat and was stalking our feet as we walked past. Of course, it rendered the mat useless, because who can walk on a mat that is being used by a kitty?

I guess it isn’t really making my life easier, but I guess that is why she came in a cute package, so that I don’t mind so much!

Hope this brightened your day just a little bit!

WIN!: Federal Court Orders Canadian Government To Make Websites Accessible To Screen Readers!

I haven’t even had time to process this yet – I just found out when my friend called me to ask if I had heard the news. Donna Jodham has won her case against the Canadian Government – Government websites will now have 15 months to follow their own accessibility guidelines.

Canada must make Web accessible to blind

A federal court ruled Monday the government had denied Jodhan’s equality rights by not providing equal access to government programs online.

“She has been denied equal access to, and benefit from, government information and services provided online to the public on the Internet, and that this constitutes discrimination against her on the basis of her physical disability, namely that she is blind,” Justice Michael Kelen wrote in his ruling.

The government was not living up to its own 2001 accessibility standards, Kelen ruled, and he gave Ottawa 15 months to make its Web sites more accessible.

In a rare move, Kelen said the court would monitor the government’s implementation of online services for the visually impaired to ensure it complies by the deadline.

I am so excited to learn of this! Congratulations, Donna – your hard work is greatly appreciated!

Signal Boost: 2010 TASH Conference in Colorado

The 35th Annual TASH Conference will be in Denver, Colorado – December 7- 11, 2010. The conference will focus on encouraging inclusion of individuals with disabilities in the workplace, at school and in the community. The conference will include several half-day workshops such as, “Supporting all Young Children within Inclusive Early Child Programs,” “Designing Individualized Behavior Support Strategies,” and “What Does the Future Hold? Making the Transition to Support Adulthood” plus a self-advocate forum and community living sessions and more than 150 peer reviewed sessions.

More information about the conference, including a programme, here.

Recommended Reading for November 29, 2010

Readers are warned that we do not control the spaces that are linked and articles and especially comments may be offensive or triggering. Use caution! These links are provided for information only and our linking them does not imply an endorsement of their viewpoint or arguments.

AllAfrica: Nigeria: 2011 Elections – A Case for Persons With Disabilities

Victor Oloche, 52, has never voted in his life. The reader could hurriedly pass him off as an unpatriotic Nigerian or at worse, an illiterate, perhaps unenlightened person or maybe a miscreant who does not know the importance of exercising his electoral and political rights. Wrong! He has formal education; he has no criminal record. There is just one problem. Victor had his two hands amputated when he was 12 after a freak domestic accident. Waving his severed limbs, Oloche tells the reporter, “I can’t vote because I don’t have any thumb with which to thumbprint ballot papers”. Oloche is a mere statistic among the estimated 20 million Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) in Nigeria automatically disenfranchised by virtue of their disability. The number of PWDs of voting age among this group cannot be verified.

Chicago Tribune: Policing disabled parking

As holiday shoppers flock to the malls this weekend, state law enforcement will crack down on those who illegally park in spots designated for people with disabilities. Beginning Friday, the Illinois secretary of state police, a division of the secretary of state’s office, will target parking lots at Chicago-area malls in Woodfield, Oak Brook, Orland Park and downstate in Bloomington, Carbondale, Fairview Heights and Springfield. The fine for illegally parking in spots designated for the disabled is as much as $350. The fine for those without disabilities caught displaying disability-marked license plates or placards can be as much as $500. Violators could also see their licenses suspended for 30 days.

Sify: Disabled to march in Delhi for rights

Some will be on their wheelchairs, others will be led by their friends or supported by their crutches. On Dec 3 nearly 5,000 disabled people are expected to march in the capital in support of their right to better facilities including a separate ministry for the community. Javed Abidi, chairperson of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment of Disabled People (NCPEDP) said: ‘We have been demanding for a separate ministry for the disabled population for long now. The issue of disability is a part of the social justice and empowerment ministry at the moment but is hardly on the radar of the minister’.

Radio New Zealand News: Woman held in secure facility without legal authority

The Deputy Health and Disability Commissioner says it’s a tragedy that a woman kept in a secure rest home without legal authority for more than a year didn’t live to see her rights recognised. In findings released on Tuesday, Rae Lamb says the Auckland woman, who has since died, was kept in the facility against her wishes. Ms Lamb says the woman, who had complex problems, was discharged from Auckland City Hospital into the Oak Park Dementia secure unit in 2007. But a breakdown in DHB processes meant legal authority wasn’t obtained. The 43-year-old woman asked repeatedly to leave and was backed in this by a doctor and some others.

Houston Chronicle: Mental health care in schools at crossroads

Early intervention and easy access to care are critical in keeping mentally ill youths in school and out of jail, mental health advocates say. Yet only a handful of Houston-area schools offer mental health services. “The good news is that we have some treatment and models of services that work,” said Dr. Bill Schnapp, director of community psychiatry at the University of Texas-Houston Medical School. “The bad news is that we don’t have them uniformly available for our children. If you put services in schools, a lot of kids get a lot more help.”

California Healthline: Supreme Court to Hear Case on Prison Health Care in California

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear California’s appeal of a court order that called for the state to reduce its inmate population by 40,000 to ease overcrowding and improve prison health care conditions, the Los Angeles Times reports (Savage/Williams, Los Angeles Times, 11/29). Last year, a federal three-judge panel ruled that inadequate medical and mental health care in California’s 33 prisons amounted to “cruel and unusual punishment” under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (Mintz, San Jose Mercury News, 11/28). On average, one California inmate dies from inadequate health care every eight days, the Times reports (Los Angeles Times, 11/29). According to the three-judge panel, prison overcrowding is the root cause of inadequate care.

Signal Boost: Employment Survey for People With Mobility Impairments

If you have a mobility impairment and limitation, you may be eligible to participate in a new research project. This research aims to understand how people with mobility impairments and limitations accomplish job tasks, how their environment affects their worksite participation, and what, if any, help they need to complete employment activities.

Eligibility requires that you:

  • Have a mobility impairment and limitation (difficulty moving legs and/or arms)
  • Be employed for at least 2 years at your current job
  • Work at least 20 hours per week regularly at your current job
  • Be 18 years of age or older
  • Have access to a computer
  • Can read at or above the 6th grade level
  • Can enter responses into a web-based survey or direct another individual to enter your responses into a web-based survey

If eligibility is established, you will receive a code to log on to the survey site and complete the study. Qualified participants will be asked to complete the survey a second time in 4-6 weeks. All information will be kept confidential and no connection between you and your survey answers will be made. Participants will be reimbursed for their time and effort. The web-based assessment will take approximately one hour to complete.

Link to the survey is here, as always, FWD/Forward does not have any additional information about this survey, and you are encouraged to contact the organisers if you have questions or concerns.

Dear Imprudence: The Advice Column of the Year Goes To…

It’s been a busy year in advice columns. Normally,  I don’t like writing retrospective columns in November, let alone being so bold as to name the advice column of the year this early. Who knows what could come in the next month, right? But I am 100% certain that this advice column cannot be beat by anything anyone else writes in the next month.

It contains a mixture of all the things I look for in a good advice column:

  • Brevity. Advice should be crisp, simple, and to the point. Columnists who can cut to the chase win a lot of points, in my book. Yes, some situations are complicated, but when you’re talking about letters edited to fit in a newspaper and the responses, it should be short and simple. Sometimes, concepts are clear and don’t need to be explained.
  • Crispness. I like columnists who add dry wit and snark to their columns. It makes their work more fun to read and it  makes it more memorable. If I read some blah-y, preachy advice, I usually start tuning out, and I don’t really remember what it said. When the columnist says something funny or snarkalicious, it sticks in my mind.
  • Bluntness. Sometimes, advice needs to be blunt. A question is so ridiculous, so invasive, that the only dignified response is one of disbelief, expressed through bluntness. Bluntness is not just a reminder to the reader that what they are asking is eyebrow-worthy. It’s also a reminder to people that they are, in fact, allowed to be blunt in certain social settings.

There’s one advice columnist who tends to embody these things. In fact, she’s known for it: Miss Manners. Miss Manners is penned by Judith Martin, and has been since the start, unlike other advice columnists, where the face behind the pen name has turned over not once but even multiple times. Miss Manners is always crisp and fresh and one of the things I love about her is that she belies pretty much every stereotype about her. People might expect older women who are experts in etiquette to be conservative and stuffy, and she’s not. She’s highly progressive and wicked funny. In fact, one of the driving thrusts of her columns is the idea that if you’re being offensive, people have a right to stop associating with you, which is kind of a cornerstone of my own philosophy.

Given these facts, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I adore Miss Manners on general principle, and that she would probably be shortlisted for advice column of the year. I’ve been reading Miss Manners since I was a wee thing and I think she gives generally sound advice; in fact, usually I agree with what she says and only rarely have I differed from Miss Manners. In part that’s because she focuses on etiquette rather than entangled personal situations like Ask Amy or Dear Abby. But it’s also because she has a way of cutting to the chase in a situation, divining what’s really going on, and setting things straight.

Miss Manners taught me that while it’s never acceptable to be rude, a firm ‘I beg your pardon’ can be just as effective as snapping at someone for saying something I find abominable. She also taught me that if I find behaviour unacceptable, I’m allowed to say so; she taught me to value my own opinion rather than going on what other people tell me, and she reminded me that I have autonomy, as a person, to make my own decisions and to formulate my own thoughts on matters. Since marginalised people are often informed that they don’t matter and that their lived experiences are not as important as what other people think, this was an important thing for me to learn at a young age.

In October, a Miss Manners reader wrote in with the following question:

Dear Miss Manners—What is the proper way to ask someone why they have prosthetic limbs?

Miss Manners responded in true form:

Gentle Reader—As that person’s new doctor, you can ask outright. If Miss Manners is mistaken and you are not that person’s doctor, you have no business asking.

The first time I read this, I said ‘this is my platonic ideal of an advice column,’ and I stand by that. Everything about the framing of this response is superb:  Start with the ‘innocent assumption’ and move on to ‘but if I am mistaken in this assumption, you, gentle reader, are clearly an ass.’ It’s delicious and it’s a sharp reminder to readers of her column that, hey, you shouldn’t ask people for information about their disabilities unless you have a professionally relevant reason for needing that information. Furthermore, it goes the other way, too; as a disabled reader, I know that my desire for privacy and respect is perfectly reasonable and that I am allowed to say, as Miss Manners taught me, ‘I beg your pardon?’ when someone asks an invasive question of this nature.

I am immensely pleased to announce that this column takes the advice column of the year award, hands down, and that Miss Manners’ position as Supreme Advice Columnist of the Universe remains secure.

QuickPress: Disability Blog Carnival 71 is up!

As it is late and dinner is calling, I’m going to cheat and just C&P what Penny says over at Disability Studies. Penny: For All Your Disability Blog Carnival (And Disability History) Needs!

The November edition is up at Modus Dopens, and it’s a good solid collection of links, around the theme of intersections. Go, fix yourself a drink (suggests the host!), and have a read.

The December edition is due to post at Rolling Around in My Head, where Dave H has invited posts around the theme “long nights and what we need to get through them,” appropriate for the month with the literal longest nights (in the Northern Hemisphere), and a month with holidays that can feel like very long nights for many. Submissions are invited by December 15th for inclusion in the carnival.

Penny is also looking for hosts for the new year, so please do check her out.

I’ve only had a bit of an opportunity to look over the links, and again, this Disability Blog Carnival looks outstanding. I can’t tell readers enough: There is a rich and vibrant disability blogosphere, and I love it.

For Granted

It’s odd how we sometimes take the habits of our children for granted.

I have a particularly chatty child. I can’t imagine where she gets her penchant for being a non-concise story-teller. Really. I can’t.

But when it is early in the morning and I haven’t had a chance to heave my second cup of coffee into my not-yet-awake face that adorable chattering doesn’t seem so adorable. It grates on my every nerve.

I just want to enjoy my coffee and check up on SRS Blogger BZNS in the quiet of the not-yet-awake-world. Without the repetitive chatter.

Who decided that there should be no volume control? (I really love my kid!) (I do! She’s awesome!)

However, at some point during my working day, I must have decided that not eating lunch or drinking my normal three litres of water seemed like a good idea. Sometime between picking up Kid from school, picking up last minute Thanksgiving groceries, and reassuring my mother that Korea is still outside my window I started to “green out”. I don’t know if you have ever had that experience, but I don’t ever “black out”. I get dizzy, nauseous, and my field of vision tunnels and goes green. When I was Active Duty one of my buddies who was training to go to BUD/S once told me this is a sign of dehydration, but I think it may have been a combination of things.

I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t speak, except in one or two word fragments. I managed to get out “seat…back” and “water”. I managed to communicate to The Guy that I needed water. He laid my seat back and raced back into the store to get me water while I lie there, with my hands numb, feeling trapped in my body. I could barely move, and managed to eek out a few tears as I wondered what had brought this on.

Then Kid patted my head, and instead of panicking, simply asked if I was OK. I managed “talk”, and she did. She simply did. She held my hand, and talked to me natural as could be, telling me stories about her day at school, about the green bean casserole she was going to make. She held my hand and managed to keep me calm with all of that chit-chat that my decaffeinated self can’t put up with some mornings.

As an adult when someone tells me to talk to them to distract them from something I come up with nothing. It is difficult to come up with mundane chatter. Somehow it comes so easy to a child.

Suddenly, that chatter was keeping me there. It was light, and if I had been in the position to think of it, I would have been so proud of her for staying level-headed in the situation. So I am thinking of it right now.

Finally, my water showed up, and twenty minutes later the shaking subsided, my vision cleared, and I was able to pull myself together. Magical thing now and again, water is.

It can’t be easy growing up with a parent with disabilities, because I am certain that there are times in their lives that they have to grow up faster than they would otherwise, and that there might be times that they face disappointments because of certain limitations. I know that for the most part, they grow up like most other kids, but every now and then they have to hold the hand of their parent while they are going through things (like nearly passing out).

I love her and her chatter.