Category Archives: Accessible Tech

Accessible Tech: Apple iPad

Obligatory disclaimer: I was given an iPad, but not by Apple, and Apple is not endorsing, paying for, or otherwise involved in this review.


I was initially highly skeptical when I opened my iPad. I sort of thought ‘well, what am I going to do with this?’ Then I started using it, and people have been having difficulty separating me from it ever since. It is one of those rare gifts that meets needs I didn’t even know I had; I didn’t know, for example, that I needed an ereader1. I also didn’t know that I needed a handy portable device that would allow me to step away from the computer while still retaining some connection to the Internet. And I didn’t know how fun it would be to use.

It’s superfast. It starts up at a tap and navigation is very rapid. Web pages load fast and look great no matter which way you have the thing tilted, and oh, the tiltability is a delightful feature. The screen resolution is also fantastic, much better than my laptop, and I can view it at a variety of angles and still see crisp, clear text. Which is very handy for reading in bed, something I find much more comfortable with the iPad than trying to hold up a big book at the right angle.

The ereader iBooks, a free app, is fantastic, and for those of you looking for ereaders that let you annotate/comment on/etc. your text, it has all that functionality. (Yes, I had fun leaving random notes to myself.) I’ve been using Tweet Library for managing Twitter and in my opinion it is totally worth the price; I really need filtering and organising capability and it provides this.

Controlwise, I didn’t find everything instantly intuitive, but I very rarely do, so I would recommend taking that advisory with a grain of salt. Once I started figuring things out, it came pretty quickly. Also, for some reason I find it hilarious that the icons wiggle when you’re configuring them. Seriously, if you feel inclined for a laugh, go to an Apple store and try it even if you have no intent of buying an iPad.

Accessible tech focuses on reviews from an accessibility perspective, not a fanpersoning one, though, so let’s talk about that:

I have hand tremors, so I was expecting to have a really hard time with the touchscreen navigation. That has not been the case, by and large. It’s sensitive, but it also seems good at distinguishing between purposeful movements and inadvertent ones. You can also control it with a stylus without needing to make any adaptations, handy for people who want foot, mouth, or head controlled devices. Or cat controlled, in my case: Loki really enjoys typing because it flashes and makes clicky noises (you can turn those off if they are not your style, incidentally).

The keyboard is fantastic! I am a very fast typist and while I’m faster on a full regular keyboard, I am pretty damn fast, as well as accurate, on the iPad. It also has pretty good autocorrect, although obnoxiously it only seems to have a US English dictionary; apparently other versions of English don’t exist. It also allows you to remap keyboard layouts and languages.

Magnification is a SNAP. Is the text too small? Flick your fingers and it will get bigger, and it will stay crisp and highly readable. Problem being now that every time I use something with a regular screen and want to zoom, I catch myself reaching out to magnify the text. You can also shrink things back down if that’s how you want to roll.

I appreciate the rapid toggle for sound; you can snap sound off with a single button instead of having to navigate to find it. There’s also a sound control on the side to quickly bring volume up or down, if that’s desired.

There is an accessibility menu in ‘settings’ that offers features to read the text on screen (although the whole needing to see to, uhm, do anything could, you know, be an obstacle for visually impaired users since I can’t seem to find a voice control2). There are zoom and large text features as well as a flip button for white on black/black on white text.

Accessibilitywise, I’d say that the iPad definitely meets my accessibility needs, and I can see the framework in place for meeting those of others. As with any tech, though, you don’t really know until you have it in your hand, which is why I would strongly recommend trying one before buying (or figuring out a way to get the person you want to buy it for to try it first). I pretty much knew within five minutes of starting up that I was going to be in love with it, and I suspect that conversely, if it’s something you would hate, you would know very quickly!

These devices are pretty cost-prohibitive, however, although far less expensive than ‘specialty’ devices supposedly designed for accessibility with fewer features and less configurability than the iPad. There’s no way I could have afforded one for myself, with the base model starting at $500 US. 3G enabled models start at $629 US in the Apple store. So, yeah, not exactly cost-effective. I know other tablet computers are out there and prices are dropping, though! I’d be curious to know about experiences with other ereaders and tablets from commenters.

I also want to note that Apple’s labour practices are not without controversy, although unfortunately the same can be said of most tech manufacturers.

  1. In fact, I had expressed, repeatedly and in many fora, doubts that I would ever find an ereader enjoyable or functional for me personally because I had a hard time believing I would be able to read books on a screen.
  2. I do want to note that guides can be found for enabling voice control on modified iPads and it seems like a feature Apple might consider in the future.

By 21 December, 2010.    Accessible Tech  , ,  

More Notes to Web Developers: How NOT to do RSS

Way back in the dark ages of the Internet, I had a massive bookmarks file. And a few times a day I would go through bookmark by bookmark (this was before the heady days of ‘open all in tabs’) to see if those sites had updated. Then, people started generating feeds, and my whole life changed. Instead of laboriously checking for updates by hand, I could load those puppies into a feed reader and read at my leisure.

Massive time saver! Almost everyone I know these days uses a feed reader because it’s just not feasible to keep up with this stuff any other way. I heart my Google Reader very very ferociously (it’s in my quick access bar). There are numerous other RSS readers out there, of course, including desktop versions which look pretty neat. (I fear change so I will never adopt them, but I sure will comment about how purdy they are!)

But there are also some disability-centric reasons to want to use feed readers, like being able to control how content appears when it displays to make it readable. There are a lot of sites I just plain will not read because they are not just inaccessible, but they actively resist accessibility requests. Some people are less bullheaded than me and really want to be able to read what someone has to say even though that person says it in eight point dark purple font on a black background with random flashing animations. RSS makes that possible; you can adjust it to display however you like it best et voila, you’re happily reading again! The ability to file stuff to read later is also very handy for people with limited energy. Basically, RSS=accessibility win!

Which is why it really, really pisses me off when people intentionally break RSS feeds.

Perhaps the most obvious offender is truncation of feeds. I know a lot of sites that do this and I’ll tell you right now, when sites start truncating their feeds, I unsubscribe and stop reading. There are a lot of reasons why people truncate feeds and I understand the arguments behind it (it can prevent scraping, for one thing, and some people are worried about ads and pageviews), but I don’t support it. And in fact a lot of people argue against it, arguing that truncating feeds can actually cut down on traffic and make people feel like your site is not user friendly. I’d be interested to see some studies on traffic (and I suspect some commenters will have links for me!).

And, for some people with disabilities, truncated feeds means they can’t read your content. Not the stubborn people like me who won’t read you if you truncate, but the people who are using your RSS feed because they can’t access your site. If you’re going to make an inaccessible site, you might want to consider at least leaving your feeds whole so disabled people can read it. Unless you don’t give a shit.

Fixed fonts, images, and colours. One of the greatest things about an RSS reader is the ability to completely configure it. If you need white sans serif fonts on a black background, you can do that. If you need text magnification, you can do that too. Using RSS is awesome for this and it’s a terrific accessibility tool in that sense. That is, until people force specific fonts, colours, and sizes with HTML. I’d pull an example for you from my own RSS so you know what I’m talking about, except that I don’t subscribe to sites that do that. (I told you, I’m stubborn.)

A lot of people use HTML this way and it really pisses me off. They will often say pompous things about ‘artistic integrity’ and ‘thinking about design’ but, in fact, if you are a good web designer, you should be able to design a site that looks good at any magnification, not just in 10 point or what have you. In RSS, this is really frustrating, because your settings usually can’t override the imported text. Consequently, you end up with annoying things like vanishing text, etc.

Embedded ads. I understand why people feed ads to RSS. But I wish that a little bit more thought went into them, because, guess what, flashing ads in your RSS reader are as problematic as flashing ads on a website. So far I don’t think anyone has come up with a method for making interstitials that work in RSS, all thanks be to ice cream, but I suspect it’s coming. I use pretty aggressive ad blocking and even with that I encounter ads in RSS. One animated ad can shut down my brain for a surprisingly long period of time and I freely unsubscribe from sites that inflict them on me.

Images without alt tags, embedded videos lacking subtitles or transcripts. Guess what! They’re annoying on your website, and they are also annoying in your RSS feed! And by ‘annoying’ I mean ‘significant barriers to accessibility that inform disabled users they are not welcome on your website.’

RSS, as we know, stands for Really Simple Syndication. Make it simple for your disabled readers: Feed plain, full text, reject flashing ads, and commit to making image, video, and audio content accessible. This angry cripple, for one, will thank you.

In praise of speech-to-text software

One thing that has helped me quite a bit as a blogger, writer, grad student and person with chronic pain subject to flare-ups has been speech-to-text software. The basic idea is fairly self-evident: You install the software, plug in the headset that comes with it, open up the word processing program of your choice, and start talking.

Repetitive motion is one of those things that can be the bane of one’s existence if that person happens to have chronic pain issues; while there are people who might say, Oh, typing at a computer can’t be that painful or Just work through the pain or some other ridiculous piece of “advice,” typing can, at times, be enormously painful or draining for some folks with pain issues. No matter how much one may want to complete a piece, post or assignment, sometimes it just will not happen due to pain. When it feels like your hands are encased in cement blocks, there is no “working through the pain.” Having your hands and wrists feel like they have been set on fire by pain when you are on a deadline — like a lot of circumstances surrounding pain flares — can be excruciating. It’s kind of like having your hands and wrists feel like the Human Torch, but without any of the cool superpowers.

With speech-to-text, the additional pain brought on by repetitive typing is significantly reduced, as it takes at least some of the typing (but not editing, as I will address below) out of the equation. There are some additional issues to consider, however: one is “fibro fog,” the name given to some of the cognitive effects of a fibromyalgia flare, which can, for the person experiencing the flare, make it difficult to put thoughts, words and sentences together with anything resembling coherency. This is more of a condition issue than one that has to do with typing, but it’s fairly obvious as to how fibro-fog could impact the use of text-to-speech: if your thoughts are jumbled because of pain and fatigue, it’s likely that they will be just as jumbled regardless of whether you are typing or speaking into a text-to-speech headset. I’m fairly lucky with fibro-fog myself, as it tends to be rather mild unless I am experiencing a pain flare that feels closer to acute pain than chronic, but typing is one of those processes that can seem bizarrely confusing during a massive pain flare-up (and the whole “simple things as confusing” side effect is damn near impossible to truly understand unless you’ve been through it).

Of course, there are some aspects of text-to-speech software that are less than perfect: similar to the iPhone’s auto-correct feature (some of the amazing slip-ups of which have been documented by websites such as Damn You Autocorrect),  speech-to-text software can “read” one spoken word or phrase as something else entirely, sometimes producing hilarious (or irritating) fragments that often make no sense within the context of what you are actually writing. My personal favorite thus far has been my speech-to-text program “translating” Judith Butler as Judas butt lark, which made me wonder if I need to work on my pronunciation skills if only for the convenience of my software program.

There is also the cost issue: many speech-to-text software programs are expensive. In a utopia, everyone who could benefit from text-to-speech programs would have a reliable and fairly-priced one ready for use. I’m one of those weirdos who thinks that accessible technology should not be something available only to those who can afford to pay for it, but that, unfortunately, is most likely a long time coming.

Recommended Reading for 19 November, 2010

Gentle reader, be cautioned: comments sections on mainstream media sites tend to not be safe and we here at FWD/Forward don’t necessarily endorse all the opinions in these pieces. Let’s jump right in, shall we?

little light at Questioning Transphobia: clamavi ad te. Please note that the post discusses suicide, abuse, and murder of trans people. If you think you can handle it, though, it is powerful reading, as is everything little light writes.

When you have been told you are less than human–less than sacred–less than beautiful–your community has failed you. When you believe it, it is because your community has failed you. I do not intend to mince words. … You deserve better. Because you are not the problem. You are not broken. You are not worthless. You are not a problem and you are not a mistake.

Liz at Dis/Embody: Thoughts on World Usability Day:

Now, of course, usability is not the same as accessibility; it is focused on ease of general use, for a mass audience. And, usability doesn’t always incorporate a universal design perspective in which the needs of those who face the most challenges are centered, with the understanding that products designed for that group may also be more usable by others.

That said, usability and communication is an interesting theme, as it seems to implicitly tie back to media accessibility in particular.

Interviews conducted by Meena Bakhtash at the BBC: Voices: Disability and the Hajj to Mecca:

The annual Hajj pilgrimage – a religious duty that every adult Muslim is expected to do once in their lives – can be a tough challenge.

But the obstacles are infinitely greater for Muslims with disabilities, who choose to take the journey.

Melissa Jenkins at the Sydney Morning Herald: Disability package gets tick:

The Victorian government is taking the right approach by directing the majority of its disability package towards early intervention, advocacy groups and unions say.

Kirsty Whalley at This is Local London: Disabled girl from Norbury a “health and safety risk”, says school

A disabled 11-year-old girl has been rejected by an academy school because she poses a “health and safety risk” to other children.

That’s all for this time. Send your links to recreading[@]disabledfeminists[.]com. Let us know if/how you want to be credited.

Guest Post from Jesse the K: Voting Opportunities and Mechanics

Jesse the K hopes you can take a disabled feminist to tea this month. Her previous guest post was Making Space for Wheelchairs and Scooters.

There are many things we can do to improve everyone’s lives. Voting is not the only thing, but it sure is easy to do. Many have given their health, their peace of mind, and their lives for the right to exercise the franchise. If you live in the U.S., join me1 and head on down to the polls in your municipality this coming Tuesday.

And while you’re there, you might be wondering, “Gee, just how do people with disabilities vote?” As it happens, I know a little about this.

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CAPTION: laptop size plastic machine with letter-size screen. Woman using powerchair, wearing purple hat and favorite2 purple jacket feeds ballot into slot below screen.

One decent result from the G.W.Bush administration was that the voting process must be independently accessible to people with disabilities. Before then, most people with disabilities would enlist the assistance of a helper where needed. Then they’d vote absentee (returning the ballot in the mail) or bring the helper into the voting booth on the day. I remember assisting a blind person with a mechanical voting machine–a lever for each name! Xe jested that it was a refreshing change to depend on someone with whose politics xe was unsure (as opposed to xir long-time partner), and yet the joke had a bit of a sting to it.

Reflecting strong republican sentiment in the U.S., voting is controlled at the lowest possible administrative level. Voting techniques vary widely from state to state (sometimes city to county). In Wisconsin you can register to vote five minutes before casting your ballot, but in some states you must register 30 days in advance. But since I can now depend on getting my power wheelchair into the polling place, it seemed like a good year to volunteer as a poll worker. I went to the “new election official in Madison” training today [Editor’s note – October 28].

Two points up front:
1. I wasn’t expecting the disablist training, so I wasn’t taking verbatim notes. I could not swear to any of the following in court; as far as the essential drift, I do believe I’m correct and I heard the trainer acknowledge this. (Memo to self: take notes on life.)
2. I am not hosting a discussion of the political or technical validity and/or vulnerability of voting machines. (For the record, I support 3b; it works for us in Wisconsin, which used to be an exemplar of clean politics.)

When our trainer finished walking us through the various elements of a correctly marked ballot, I raised my hand and said, “And then there’s another way to mark the ballot, right, with the accessible voting machine?” Her response began with a non-verbal eye-roll, which I interpreted as ‘yipes, why did she bring this up?’ Then, she spoke aloud “Yes, that’s right. The accessible voting machine is challenging and we’ll get to that later.”

3. Since she never did do a decent job, let me tell you a bit about accessible voting. The access depends in part on the underlying voting technology. Either
a) Everybody votes using a machine.
In this case, one of the machines needs to supply large print, speech output (usually to headphones), touch screen input (no grip required), single-switch input (more details below) and various other hardware “hooks” to the wide variety of assistive tech in use today.
b) Everybody marks a paper ballot, then feeds the marked ballot into a tabulator (a tallying box like the dollar-bill slot on a vending machine).
Typical people use the ballot-marking tools at the end of their wrists. The rest of us have an accessible machine as above which just marks the ballot. (Ridiculously, the manufacturer’s link don’t provide a fully-accessible presentation.)

OK, back to the end of my training session, where I noted she had never gotten back to the voting machine.

She said the accessible voting machine is very important and everyone must have one working at each polling place. She said they could be used by someone who’s blind, or someone who has low vision, or can’t read for any reason, or really just anybody who wants to. She also said that they were very fussy mechanically, so they may not work as well as you’d like.

(At this point fury stunned me into silence. What I should have said is, “And here we have an excellent chance for you to get in front of these issues by training us in how to get them to work correctly! Seize the moment!”)

Another trainee asked what poll workers should do if they thought a voter was being unduly influenced in filling out a ballot. Xe said, “This happened around 6 years ago, when someone who, well, frankly, he was just not cognizant enough to be voting. And the person with them was filling out the ballot for them.” I piped up that this could be a good option to use the accessible machine: somebody who can’t read could be able to understand the speech.

(FWIW, the “Six years ago this r#tarded person was influenced in their vote” is a perennial election year rumor. Neurotypical people are quick to define the minimum IQ they’d set for voting, without exploring the profound mismatch between IQ and ability. Absolutely every social justice activist would do well to read Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man.)

When the training was over, I’d been cleansed by fury and recovered the power of speech, I stopped to discuss my issues with the trainer. I said I was disappointed in her presentation of the voting machine. She reiterated they were frustrating and difficult to use. “Don’t you realize,” she asked, “that most poll workers are over 60 and they are not going to be able to understand this computer?” (Reality check: accessible voting machines are no more a computer than an ATM. Ninety percent of the people in the training were under 55; in all regards it looked like Madison: gender presentation, ethnicity, education levels, evident disability, income levels, number of piercings, which made me happy about my city.)

I asked if that meant my rights as a voter were also frustrating her? How would she feel if I said that permitting her to vote was too difficult? The penny dropped, and she began to apologize for “not presenting in the most effective manner.” At this point her supervisor’s ears pricked up. “Who was deprecating use of the voting machines?” The trainer allowed that her “initial presentation was sub-optimal.” While I was gratified that she’d finally understood, I was frustrated that this right, so long fought for by so many, is still not a matter of fact in our daily lives.

If you’re up for some voting day advocacy, the U.S. Department of Justice provides a detailed guide for access verifiers at Voting Checklist. Folks outside the U.S., what’s the voting situation for you?

  1. As long as you’re government approvable, that is, you’re the right color or rich enough to become a citizen or you haven’t been arrested or too recently paroled as part of your systematic community destruction program
  2. How do I know it’s her favorite jacket? I modeled for the photo

Blind & Low-Vision Consumers Left Out in Point of Sales Transactions

Like a lot of consumers in North America, I carry my debit card with me pretty much every where I go. From buying my yummy lattes to buying school supplies to paying for groceries, I use my debit card for probably 90% of my financial transactions. For me, the debit card and PIN system is excellent because I don’t need to carry cash and try and figure out the taxes to be carrying the right amount, or worry about how much money I might lose if I drop my wallet.

This is becoming increasingly difficult for Blind consumers across Canada. While the old debit card machines had a raised number pad, almost always with at least a raised dot indicating the center key (and thus allowing a blind person to orientate themselves and put in their private security code without assistance), new debit machines are being introduced that use dynamic touch screens instead of a number pad.

This puts Blind consumers in a tough spot: Either carry enough money with you everywhere to cover all of your expenses, or give someone else your private security code, your PIN – and give them access to your finances.

Jeffrey at Black Sphere Tech writes:

If you can’t independently verify that you are being charged the correct amount or expected amount, you are liable for the cost that gets authorized through this POS system and no bank or credit card company will help you.

The banks and credit companies use a PIN system for authentication. If you can’t use the [Point of Sale] device, you can’t independently enter your pin. If you give your PIN to another person you are now giving them full independent access to your finances and they have the power to clear you out financially and you are liable and no bank or credit card company will help you. So scenarios where you get a friend, buddy or store employee to enter the PIN for you are not an option.

Blind and low-vision consumers have been raising the issue of the need for point-of-sale transactions to be accessible to them for a very long time. In Everett’s blog post on the subject, Sorry, We Don’t Serve the Blind: inaccessible point-of-sales devices, he points the reader towards articles written in 2004, and I’m certain there are ones from before that since I’ve had a bank card since 1986. As society becomes more and more digital, with fancy touch-screens for everything, the need for the designers of these touch screen devices to consider Blind and low-vision consumer’s needs is greater. Without that consideration, more of the world becomes as inaccessible as, say, a Government of Canada website.

The thing is, as both Everett and Jeffrey point out, it doesn’t have to be this way. Both Google and Apple, leading developers of consumer products with touch-screen technology, have made touch screens accessible to blind users. If I go to use my bank card in an ATM, there is an option there for Blind or low-vision consumers to use assistive technology to make the ATM accessible to them, privately, without needing anyone else to have access to their personal financial information.

I believe, perhaps naively, that this is an oversight, and one that merchants and Interac Inc, the primary provider of Point of Sale devices in Canada would work with consumers to correct. Please take the time to contact Interact and raise your concerns about accessibility for Blind and low-vision Canadians.

Also, be sure to read The epidemic of inaccessible Touch Screen Point Of Sale Devices to blind consumers and Sorry, We Don’t Serve the Blind: inaccessible point-of-sales devices. Jeffrey has started a working group that is going to also lobby on this issue, and you can contact him directly for more information – his contact details on in his blog post.

By 8 October, 2010.    accessibility, Accessible Tech, how to be accessible   

Canadian Students With Disabilities: There are still spaces in Transcribe Your Class

Transcribe Your Classes!

Please note that spots are filling up quickly for the Liberated Learning Youth Initiative starting this fall. The Youth Initiative provides students with disabilities access to a new Speech Recognition transcription system. During the project, students will be given special user accounts where they will be able to upload recorded lectures and receive speech recognition generated, multimedia transcripts.

Brief application forms are posted at Transcribe Your Class.

We encourage you to review the participation criteria on the website, share this message, and apply to participate. For further information, please contact:

Keith Bain, Project Director, Liberated Learning, Saint Mary’s University

Janice Stevens, Project Coordinator, Liberated Learning, Saint Mary’s University

The Canadian Government Is Going To Court So They Don’t Have To Make Web Content Accessible To Screen Readers

[Content Note: Not all of the links I have included in this piece have comments, but many of them do, and those comments are basically full of “Stupid disabled people wasting everyone’s time and energy by wanting the world to treat them like human beings” comments.]

If you’ve been following Canadian politics this week, you could very easily come away with the impression that the most significant – or perhaps even the only – thing going on with this week’s opening of the Federal Parliament was the Gun Registry Vote.

That there’s a federal court Charter challenge brought forth by Donna Jodhan arguing that blind Canadians are being discriminated against by the Federal Government for refusing to make their website content accessible to screen readers is not really getting a lot of attention. (Cripples these days! It’s like they don’t sell papers/make page views.)

A little bit of background information first. Canada has a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which went into effect in 1982 and is the Thing against which laws and the like must be “tested” in order to be considered actually legal in Canada. To give some lovely controversial rulings, the reason Canada has no abortion law is because it was found to violate the Charter’s guarantee to security of the person (and no law has since been passed) and it was found that refusing to include “homosexuals” in protections against discrimination violated Section 15, or the right to Equal Protection Before the Law, even though sexual orientation wasn’t included in Section 15.

Section 15 is the important one here:

15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
(2) Subsection (1) does not preclude any law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups including those that are disadvantaged because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

Now, I Am Not A Lawyer, and it’s been about 10 years since I studied the Charter, so I’m going to leave that out there and not discuss my personal interpretations because they don’t matter. What matters is two things: 1) What the court says and 2) That the Federal Government is arguing that they shouldn’t have to be accessible to screen readers in court.

The latter is, of course, being read as Jodhan wasting tax payers money in a frivolous lawsuit, not the Federal Government for refusing to have accessible content.

From what I can tell, this is what’s going on: In 2004, Jodhan attempted to apply for government jobs online. However, the site wasn’t set up to allow screen-readers to access the site, so she was unable to do so. In 2006, she attempted to fill her Census out online, and again, the federal government website was not accessible to her screen reader.

On Tuesday [September 21], Jodhan will argue in federal court that her inability to apply for a position on the federal jobs website or complete the online version of the 2006 Census breached her equality rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

She will also argue that this violation and her ongoing inability to access the government’s online information and services constitute a breach against all blind and partially sighted Canadians, said Jodhan’s lawyer David Baker.

About 3 million Canadians have visual or other impairments that make it difficult to access the Internet.

The Federal Government is, in turn, is responding with “What, you think you should have a right to access the same information that everyone else can? Ha ha! Ha ha!”:

Internet access to government services and information is not a right guaranteed in law, the government says in its written submission to the court.

“Alternative channels available did allow (Jodhan) to access services and information independently, in a manner that respected her privacy and dignity,” it says.

With more than 120 government departments and agencies and more than 23 million web pages, “it is unlikely that the government’s web presence will ever be perfectly accessible to all,” it adds.

Frankly, if the Federal Government doesn’t think that their websites provide information in a timely fashion, and that access to that information isn’t something that they should prioritize, why are they bothering with them in the first place? And if they do think it’s important, why are they in essence arguing that “It’s important for most people, but not for the three million Canadians who won’t be able to access it?”

I support Donna Jodhan’s fight for equality of access to information for all Canadians. I hope you do, too. If so, I strongly encourage you to email your Member of Parliament and let them know. Perhaps if enough of us contact the government and let them know we value accessibility for Canadians with disabilities, they’ll start acting like we shouldn’t have to go to court just to get it.

This is the email I sent to my MP, who happens to be Megan Leslie, and cc:ed to the leader of the NDP. Please feel free to adapt it to send to your own MP. (This should give you their email address.)

Dear Megan,

I recently learned of Donna Jodhan’s Federal Court case, arguing that the Canadian Government must provide screen-reader accessible content on their websites, as reported in the Toronto Star (–blind-woman-says-federal-websites-discriminate-against-the-visually-impaired) and the CBC ( In light both Section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and Canada’s recent signing of the Declaration of Rights of Disabled Persons, I’m appalled that the Federal Government would waste tax payers’ dollars in arguing that 3 million Canadians should not have the ability to access government services online or apply for government jobs online.

In this day and age, it’s ridiculous for the government to argue that access to the internet is not necessary. According to the Toronto Star, government lawyers are arguing “Internet access to government services and information is not a right guaranteed in law”. While I agree that this is technically true, in refusing to provide this access, the government is arguing that blind and visually impaired Canadians should have less access to government services and information than Canadians who are sighted.

Megan, every day it is clearer to me how many societal barriers are put in place that prevent people with disabilities in Canada from full participation. The time and energy the federal government is frivolously spending in defending their lack of web accessibility could be far better put to use in bringing the government’s websites up to the same standards as those in other countries, standards that are reasonable to expect in the 21st Century.

This is such an important issue, and I hope that the NDP will work to bring awareness of it to Canadians, and encourage the federal government to stop fighting against people with disabilities, but fighting for them.

Thank you,

Anna P.
cc: Jack Layton

In The News: Toronto StarUPICBCGlobe & Mail

Dear Google: Can We Have Some Accessibility With Our Email Please?

Last week, Mathsnerd attempted to sign up for a new GoogleMail (know as Gmail elsewhere) account. I say attempted because this did not go well. At all.

Oh, wait, what’s that, Google? After trying more than three names, I have to go through CAPTCHA to prove I’m a real person? Okay, that’s kind of soon, but whatever. Gee, you sure scrunch those letters together and make them all wavy so that I have a real hard time figuring out what the hell you want me to enter…

Huh, okay, I’ve tried eight times, Google, and I can’t seem to read it well enough that you’re satisfied that I’m a real person. And while you offer a “read-aloud” accessibility option for the CAPTCHA down below for submitting the form (which, incidentally, doesn’t work in Chrome, yeah, you know, YOUR BROWSER!), for the CAPTCHA to keep trying different handles you conveniently don’t offer any alternate options.

Captcha is a sort of Challenge that a user must pass when a program thinks that the user might be a spambot instead of a person. Wikipedia’s article looks useful if you want to learn more about it. It’s certainly not the only Challenge software out there, but it is one that is widely used, especially by Google-related products, such as their web-based email and their blogging software, Blogger. In fact, Google likes Captcha so much they bought the company in 2009, making Google responsible for implementing their accessibility policy.

Description Below
A screen grab of a Google Captcha code. I think it's supposed to say monsworene, but I'm not sure, and it's very difficult to read due to size, font choice, and the way the letters are pushed together.

Some Captchas, including the ones used by Google, have an audio option. I’ve occasionally tried to use the audio Captchas, which are a series of numbers read outloud with a large amount of background noise, designed, I assume, to keep an automated system from being able to distinguish the Challenge. I’m an experienced audio typist, so while I found this irritating, I could cut through it. Earlier this year, Blind Bargains did a study and found that 73% of blind users were unable to succeed at the Captcha Challenge – and blind users, according to Google and Captcha, are exactly who the audio function is designed for. 1

Google has an Accessibility Feedback Form. In order to use it, you must have a Google Account. Depending on any number of factors, your attempt to get a Google Account to discuss their accessibility problem with Captcha could require you to pass a Captcha Challenge in order to prove you are an actual person.

Actually, let me highlight that: In order to tell Google about their problems with accessibility, you need to be able to pass through the inaccessible Challenge.

Those of you who already have Gmail or GoogleMail accounts, you can contact Google to raise your concerns at their Accessibility Feedback Form. The Feedback form has a lot of fields to fill out. I just filled out the one that I felt was most applicable, and it went through without requiring me to put in any more information.

Here is a template you can use. Please feel free to use, edit, or adapt this for your own purposes.:

Hello Google

I was very distressed to learn that Blind users and users with other disabilities were having difficulties in signing up for Gmail accounts through the Captcha challenge. One user has detailed her experiences here: , and as well, Blind Bargains reports 73% of their users had difficulties with using the audio version of Captcha:

I know that Google wants to be a more accessible service for users around the world. I hope that the accessibility people at Google will have the opportunity to look into these complaints and work with various people with disabilities in order to solve these problems.

Thank you for your time.

This is an issue that cuts to the heart of the problems with inaccessible web content. Obviously there are thousands – maybe millions – of blind or otherwise visually impaired users of the internet, but in this increasingly-flashy internet age, where not only information but job applications are going increasingly online, web accessibility is a huge barrier to people’s participation in society. Google, as we all know, is a huge multi-national company with the ability to make an incredible difference by working with users with disabilities in order to make the web more accessible to us. By contacting Google, you will be adding your voice to the chorus asking for greater web accessibility.

Accessibility Feedback Form.

  1. Thank you to Codeman38 for bringing this study to my attention.

Better microphone use at conventions: a report

Originally Published at Access Fandom.

At My Local Convention, the Access team made a big push toward improving microphone usage this year. This is separate from things we normally do such as marking off chairs for lip readers. Below are revised documents that I wrote to the concom, arguing for an investment in this cause.

I. Hearing impairment is common.

“According to the US Dept of Health and Human Services 1990 and 1991 Health Interview Surveys, approximately 20 million persons, or 8.6 percent of the total U.S. population 3 years and older, were reported to have hearing problems.

“The elderly were more likely than any other age group to have hearing problems (Figure 1). Persons 65 years and older are eight times more likely to have hearing impairment than persons ages 18-34 (i.e., 3.4 percent of the population ages 18-34 have hearing impairment, compared to 29.1 percent of the population 65 and older).”


Therefore: Hearing impairment is likely to be common at our event.

II. Microphones benefit everyone, thus are an element of universal design.

Hearing is difficult in noisy, crowded situations such as cons, even for those who do not have hearing loss. Factors such as sinus problems can temporarily affect hearing. Mics also benefit those with attention difficulties.

Mics save speakers from having to strain their voices or having to shout. They are a confidence builder for people– they help teach people to value their own voice. It is a professional asset to know how to use a mic properly.

III. Like other aspects of our con: Having good access for hearing will create an environment that will attract people to us; having bad access for hearing will create complaints and disappointed people.

In short: We all benefit from having better microphone usage at our event.

IV. Known barriers and difficulties:

–Mics are expensive
–Cords get in the way and knock things over such as the water glasses. (Proposed solution: cup holders)
–People don’t like using mics or don’t know how to use them well
–Mods don’t always repeat audience questions/comments
–Smaller programming rooms don’t have mics (aren’t wired for them.)

V. Proposals:

–Write on back of name tents: “PLEASE USE THE MICS”. Name tents sit in front of every panelist.
–Create signs, tape to each panel table to remind people to use the mics. We borrowed the word “Sonorous!” which is the voice-amplification spell from Harry Potter for these signs (we’re a science fiction convention.) The signs had an image of a mic with a green circle around it and text that read, “four inches from your mouth because we’re loud and proud!” (or something like that)
–Buy, borrow, scrounge for more mics. We borrowed six from a college, and rented 2 additional mics on top of our normal number.
–Train mods to enforce this, get them to use mics and repeat audience questions. Repeating audience questions not only allows people to hear the question, it also permits people who are lipreading to maintain their gaze in one direction! Our convention has a “mod squad” training which was effective in this regard.
–Have access volunteers raise their hands in rooms to ask/remind people to use the mics. In this way volunteers can speak up for others who may have trouble speaking up for their own needs.
–Long term: get mics into all programming rooms
–Look into wireless mics if possible
–Address the “I’m shy” issue which often prevents folks from using the mics (and/or other resistance). Personally I believe that microphone use can be “normalized” so that nearly everyone simply does it the way we all put on seatbelts, when they are available.

Microphone use: pretty good, but myself and others definitely encountered able-bodied privilege in the form of people claiming their voices are good enough, loud enough, and gosh darnit mics just aren’t natural. In smaller rooms, mic use was worse than in larger rooms. Some people were “mic hogs” (not good at sharing or passing microphones); therefore more mics would be better for 6-panelist panels. Some people gestured with the mics or held them too far from their faces. I believe this shift in culture will take several years but we are off to a good start.

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