Category Archives: how to be accessible

The Largest Minority Round Table Discussion: Glee and Disability in Pop Culture

Last week s.e. smith and several other members of the disability community, including Alice Sheppard (a dancer with AXIS wheelchair dance company), TK Small (a lawyer and disability rights activist), Christine Bruno (who works with the advocacy group Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts), and Maysoon Zayidd (an actor and comedienne with Cerebral Palsy).

came together on the WBAI show The Largest Minority to discuss Glee and depictions of disability in popular culture. This particular episode of the radio show was inspired by s.e.’s post, A Very Glee Christmas.

You can download directly from their site: This is a direct download link to save-as. Alternately, you can play it on the WBAI site by going to their archives and scrolling down to Shared Timeslot Wednesday 10pm to 11pm on Wednesday, December 22, 2010 10:00 pm. Alternately, you can read the transcript.

The actual show itself doesn’t start until 3:52 in to the program slot.

It’s taken me a while to get the transcript of this done, for which I apologize. I did mean to get this up far faster than I did. I also should note that I had some difficulties always identifying who was speaking, and there are points in the program where the show’s audio cuts out terribly and I’m unsure what they’re saying.

Read more: The Largest Minority Round Table Discussion: Glee and Disability in Pop Culture

Accessibility is Not An Individual Problem

If you spend a lot of time talking or writing about accessibility, someone will eventually tell you this apocryphal story:

When Steven Hawking (and it’s always Steven Hawking) started teaching at Cambridge, they needed to put in ramps in all of the buildings, since they all had those beautiful huge sets of stairs as the only way in. One security guard (and it’s always a security guard) protested. “What are you doing that for? I’ve been working in this building for 30 years, and not once have I seen anyone in a wheelchair come through those front doors!”

(I know when people tell me this story I’m supposed to laugh. It’s kinda hard, though: I’ve basically been told exactly that by university administrators; professors; graduate students; student representatives; municipal, provincial, and federal candidates and elected officials; bus drivers; taxi cab drivers; small business owners; large business owners; Fox news commentators; bloggers of a variety of political stripes; apartment building managers; independent book store staff; national chain bookstore staff; people who run on-line campaigns, tea shop staff, coffee shop staff….)

I think what I’m supposed to get out of this story is the ha-ha, look at the ignorant person.1 What I end up getting out of this story is that the burden of pushing for something to be accessible pretty much consistently falls on people with disabilities themselves. We have to ask because no program, no building, no website, will be willingly designed with the idea that people with disabilities are part of a broader target audience. Only websites, buildings, and programs aimed right at people with disabilities will do so. 2 (Until laws are passed, of course. And even then the law will be only grudgingly followed.)

Accessibility is often treated like a favour that non-disabled people do for (or even to) disabled people, one that is given out of the goodness of one’s heart. It’s an individual’s problem to bring up, and the solution is for individuals to come up with.

This attitude comes up in lots of different ways, both online and off. To focus specifically on what larger entities do:

– The issue of subtitling the political ads on YouTube is brushed aside because D/deaf people apparently don’t complain enough about subtitling for politicians to bother subtitling their ads.

– I am on the planning committee for a conference and was told that if actual disabled people signed up for the conference they would bother moving one of the events to a wheelchair accessible space, but otherwise they’d keep it in the room down a flight of stairs because it’s a nice room.

– As I have also pointed out before, having your requirement for receiving funding to complete your education being “student leadership” while simultaneously telling students with disabilities that they’re not able to attend events that are sponsored by the university (which is what having your event up two flights of stairs not suitable for “the very elderly or disabled” is doing) is telling students with disabilities that they can’t get the funding to complete their education. And yes, student funding in Canada is increasingly tied to poorly-defined “student leadership.”

When I point out these issues, I’m often told that these are individual problems: D/deaf people need to complain more! More people with disabilities need to attend conferences! Here, let me give you a list of individual solutions! It basically asks people with disabilities – people who already have a lot on their plate – to do more. And it often puts people in the situation where they may find a solution for themselves, but it’s one that leaves everyone else – whether friend, ally, or fellow traveler down the road – to sort out their own individual solution. To re-invent the wheel every time.

This isn’t the way this needs to work.

How it needs to work: Assume people with disabilities exist. Just like we assume people without disabilities exist.

So, politicians should make their political ads with both disabled & non-disabled people in mind, and thus the idea of subtitling isn’t one that’s new or unusual to them, it’s one they thought of all along. (Bonus points: maybe they could think of actual disabled people when making their platforms, too.) Plan events without assuming that everyone attending is going to be non-disabled. Then no one has to say “I’m disabled, I can’t go down a flight of stairs.”

We don’t act like putting a door in the front of our building is a favour we are doing. We assume that doors are necessary. And yet, people treat having a ramp to that door as a favour they are doing, when the ramp serves the same purpose: it allows people to come inside.

  1. I’m not particularly exploring the class issues here, but that’s only because I’m focusing on disability and not because I don’t think they’re there. Of the dozen or so times I’ve been told this, roughly half have had the teller start mimicking a “lower-class” accent when repeating the security guard’s words.
  2. Before the website upgrade last month, the only page on my entire university website that passed an accessibility challenge was the Student Accessibility Office website. Because of course that’s the only website that a student with a disability will look at, right?

How Can Teachers & Professors Help Students With Disabilities?

One of the things we often get asked after one of us, or a guest poster, makes a post about education and accessibility is to tell teachers and professors what they can do to ensure their classes are accessible. I understand and appreciate the motivation for this question, but the problem is that we can’t really answer it with any usefulness because it depends too much on the location you’re in, the access to resources you have, and the flexibility of your educational institution.

There are two things that teachers and professors can do to have their classroom be as accessible to students with disabilities as possible.

1. Learn what your educational institution can do for students with disabilities.

One of the things that student accessibility services often do is ask students “So, what accommodations do you need?” While this is helpful for getting a conversation started, it’s not necessarily in the best interest of the student to have them just come up with a few suggestions and then focus on those. Frankly, most students won’t be aware of what accommodations are available for them, which someone working in student accessibility services would be aware of. (To give an example, I only learned recently that the university that Don dropped out of due in part to difficulties in getting accommodations had the option of adjustable tables for students with disabilities. Having never encountered them before, he never thought to ask.)

As a teacher or professor, being aware yourself of exactly what accommodations are available, and what is required to get them, will allow you to work with your students to ensure that they get the best aid possible. It will also allow you to know what you can do for any students who may be temporarily disabled due to injury or accident.

Last year I was part of a review committee for the university, and learned that none of the professors I asked had any real idea of how they would assist a student with disabilities in getting accommodations, or how they’d need to adjust their academic advising for a student with disabilities. Being that there are whole buildings on my campus that are not accessible to someone who can’t walk up a flight of stairs, which actually prevents students with mobility-related disabilities from taking any classes at all in certain disciplines (a fact that always seems to surprise people when I point it out), this strikes me as something professors, especially those who do academic advising, would need to be aware of.

2. Let students know that you’re aware that accommodations may be necessary and that you’re open to discussing those issues. Let students know how they can contact you if they need accommodations – whether you prefer email or coming by during office hours, or both.

One of the things many universities require students to do is go up to strange professors that they’ve never met before and start discussing their disability. While on the surface this probably looks like “a reasonable amount of self-advocacy”, the students with disabilities I’ve talked to often describe this as the worst part of getting accommodations. They have no idea what they’re going to face. Will it be someone who grudgingly agrees to something, obviously irritated? Will it be someone who rolls their eyes and suddenly starts talking about how easy it is to fake being disabled? Will it be someone who gives them a little “Everyone’s a bit disabled!” speech? Or will it be one of the many professors who are very accommodating and happy to make their class as accessible as possible?

(I assure you, there are many many professors who are happy to help! But, of course, the stories most passed along, and the ones that worry students with disabilities the most, are the ones where something terrible happens.)

Having this conversation also gives you the chance to let any students with disabilities know that you don’t know everything, and that you’re willing to learn what you can do to best assist them.

I believe that a lot of professors and teachers, just like a lot of the staff that works with students with disabilities, really want what’s best for their students, and want them to be able to do well in school. I know that a lot of times there’s only so much they can do, due to lack of funding or lack of assistance from other people in an educational institution. Knowing what you can do can be endlessly helpful to assisting students with disabilities in your classroom.

Politicians care so much they make their message nonsense

Like a lot of people, I signed up for automatic emails from the various political parties in Canada. Because I live in Nova Scotia, the main federal parties that run here are the Conservative Party, the Green Party, the Liberal Party, and the New Democratic Party (often just the NDP). (If I lived in Quebec, I would also have the option of voting for the Bloc Québécois federally.) I dutifully signed up for all four of these parties, so I could be informed about the issues they think are important.

One thing that seems to be very important: YouTube videos! Each of the parties maintains their own YouTube channel, and they stock these channels with videos. Every week or two, I get another email from a political party that really wants my vote (or at least my money), and they often include links to the YouTube channel, or even embedded video. And every week or two, I respond like clockwork, asking them to please provide captioning and/or transcription of the video.

So far, the response has been silence.

I wonder if the reason for this is simply because there’s the new Auto-Captioning service at YouTube, which attempts to automatically subtitle a video a video. Surely this will provide a good working set of subtitles, right?

Ha ha. Ha ha ha.

In alphabetical order, let me show you what the YouTube auto-captioning displays when I try to watch political messages from my current or potential political representatives:

The Conservative Party of Canada:

An image description appears below

Image: Screen capture of a YouTube video, with subtitles that read “You don’t think that’s a whole group called american this country and you have to decide”

Actual quote: Voice Over: “Adopted Britain as his home. Called America his country.” Ignatieff: “You have to decide….” (This advertisement is discussing Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff’s past.)

Here is leader of the Green Party, Elizabeth May:

See below for image description

Image: Screen capture of a YouTube video, with subtitles that read “we’re on Friday evening breeze through across Canada will gather”

Actual Quote: Elizabeth May “…Where on Friday evening Greens from across Canada will gather.”

I will totally admit the Green example is not as terrible as the others. The Greens don’t have a lot of advertising at the moment. (Non-Canadians, this is in part because they’ve not got an actual member in the House. I count them as a national party because they run in all 308 Federal ridings, and May participated in the Federal Leadership Debate.)

The Liberal Party of Canada:

Description appears below the image

Image: A screen cap from a YouTube vid. Caption reads “the prime minister’s their lives for stroger’s we have a garden”.

Actual quote: “… The Prime Minister is there to inspire us to do our best, and we have a guy who….”

The New Democrats:

Image description is below.

Image: A YouTube screen capture. The caption reads “costs are skyrocketing so why does is Stephen harper dead”

Actual Quote: “Heating costs are skyrocketing. So why doesn’t Stephen Harper get it?”

This is what I wrote in one of my last emails to my MP about this issue:

I know disability and accessibility are things you care about too, Megan, so I hope that you will pass along my concerns to the NDP Leadership: Transcribing and subtitling/captioning of video and audio content is an accessibility issue. Providing both a transcript and subtitling allows for more Canadians to be able to access the message of the NDP. As well, it shows a commitment to accessibility and to including Canadians who prefer or require transcripts and subtitling, for whatever reason. As this is something I believe the NDP values, it would be helpful for the party, at all levels, to provide transcription and subtitling for all the videos that they produce.

Of course, subtitling your video (and providing a transcript) are not only for people who are d/Deaf or hard-of-hearing. They’re also for people who have audio processing disorders, who have difficulties understanding spoke English, who don’t want to turn up their volume, or even don’t have speakers or headphones on their computer. They’re for people who just want a transcript or subtitling because it makes their lives easier today. (For example, I have an ear infection and subtitles are the order of the day.)

Every political party in Canada “cares” about “the disabled”. They really do. Each one has a little subsection of their website dedicated to explaining how they “care” about “the disabled”.

I think it would be awesome instead of telling me how much they cared, they’d show it. And one way of doing that would be subtitling their ads, so everyone can know what their message is.

Accessibility Is So Much More Than Ramps

There’s a common idea I encounter among nondisabled people when it comes to discussing accessibility and making spaces accessible to all users. That idea is that as long as there’s a ramp, a space is accessible. That accessibility is solely about ramps, and nothing else, so once you’ve got a ramp in place, you’re covered.

This is, as we know, not true. Not even for wheelchair users; a ramp is only the beginning of accessibility and it’s useless if, for example, all the doorways in a space are too narrow to allow a chair to pass. It’s not helpful if the front entrance is ramped, but as soon as you get inside, there are steps up or down to another area of a building. Or if the bathroom in a space is too small and cramped to use safely. Or if, hey, someone decided to put all the light switches ridiculously high up on the wall.

The universal symbol of accessibility is our old friend wheelie blue:

The 'wheelie blue' symbol of accessibility, an outline of a stick figure in a wheelchair against a blue background

This symbol reinforces the idea that accessibility is primarily about wheelchairs. Now, granted, it would be functionally impossible to come up with a symbol representing all disabilities and all accommodation needs. The goal with symbols like this is to keep them simple, clear, and communicative.

But contrast that with this:

The icon says 'Disability Advocacy: Keeping Doors Open.' Image is of a room, with a floating brain, hands Signing, wheelie symbol, and Braille text

This icon shows the familiar wheelchair user, but also hands Signing, representing the d/Deaf community. And Braille. And a brain, which to my mind (ha ha) reads as a representation of neuroatypicality, for people with intellectual disabilities, for people with mental illness. Suddenly, the concept of accessibility is widened and the concept of different bodies and minds is represented here, reminding the viewer that accessibility goes beyond the ramp.

Wiscon’s accessibility policy is something we often point to here as an illustration of expanding the definition of ‘access’ and trying to work with people with many different kinds of disabilities to make a space comfortable and welcoming for them. It addresses issues ranging from wheelchair-accessible hotel rooms to the need for a quiet space to allergies. It also expands the conversation to talk not just about how spaces can be made accessible, but how people in those spaces can contribute to accessibility:

Offer help–don’t assume it’s needed. Most of us are taught to “help the handicapped” but not “does this person want or need help?” If you think someone needs assistance, just ask. If they say yes, don’t make assumptions; instead listen to the details of what the person with disabilities wants. If they say “no thanks” don’t be offended. What might look overly complicated or inefficient can be what that disabled person finds works best.

Wiscon also thinks about how the programming, the structure of the event, can be adjusted to create accommodations. Making more space between panels, for example, and providing information to attendees about which rooms have florescent lighting. Three facets of accessibility are being considered here: The physicalities of the space, the people in it, and how the programming inside that space is organized. That goes far beyond the way most people conceptualise ‘accessibility.’

Getting people to expand their minds when it comes to accessibility is more complicated than just getting them to think about the fact that there are issues beyond wheelchair accessibility. It also requires people to think about, discuss, and acknowledge conflicting accommodations and how to balance the needs of multiple people with disabilities. Some accommodations automatically exclude people from spaces. Conversations about conflicting accommodations are uncomfortable because we want to make spaces welcome to everyone, but sometimes there’s a fundamental conflict; take, for example, people who need to use essential oils to manage their conditions, and people who can’t be around strong odors or alcohol-based compounds.

Wiscon’s policy includes a statement and discussion about conflicting accommodations, something rather unusual. I haven’t encountered many discussions about conflicting accommodations in the mainstream, although one place I do spot them is online, where some sites have options like switching between a light on dark/dark on light theme or have other configurable options designed to address various disabilities.

Making spaces accessible requires thinking about a lot of things; about how people with a variety of disabilities will interact with a space, about how people will interact with each other in that space, and, often, how to manage accessibility with limited budget options. Many people trying to design accessible spaces may also not really know how to go about it, and they’re not sure about who to turn to. As a result, we end up with situations where spaces are not accessible because no one bothered to ask for input, instead trying to anticipate needs and failing. Often, the burden falls on people with disabilities to demand access and to provide education about how to make spaces accessible, even when that information is already available, with a little bit of searching.

Accommodation should also be provided automatically, without needing to be something that people specifically have to request and ask for. And people need to be provided with information about available accommodations, as this story Anna linked me to recently points out:

One barrier PCR finds is that access officers in universities tend to ask students to tell them what services they require rather than telling the students what is available. The student is at a disadvantage before the first lecture even begins, as they may not know about all the services available.

Considerations about accessibility and accessible spaces should be on the forefront of the mind of anyone tasked with building, arranging, or coordinating a space, not just people who need accommodations, and people need to expand the way they think about accessibility, actively seek out and solicit information to make the spaces they control better. People often seem to think that accessibility is something you add when someone asks for it, which presumes that people with disabilities will always ask for it, when instead, more commonly, we go ‘oh, that space isn’t accessible or there’s not clear information about accessibility, so I won’t bother attending that event.’

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   

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.

Guest Post From Jesse the K: Making Space for Wheelchairs and Scooters

Jesse the K hopes you can take a disabled feminist to tea this month. Her previous guest post was 20 Years and a Day for the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Originally Posted at Access Fandom.

These guidelines come out of my experience working on WisCon, a 1000-person annual convention in a recently remodeled hotel.

There are many elements to making your event wheelchair-accessible. While U.S. law requires minimal wheelchair access, never rely on a venue’s general assertion of “oh yes, we’re accessible.” Those little wheelchair stickers? Anyone can buy them and post them at will, even at the bottom of a flight of steps.

There’s an entire shelf of 2-in (5,08 cm) thick books on this topic; so consider this the Twitter version. Links to helpful resources appear on June Isaacson Kaile’s site.

David Hingsburger is a long-time disability rights activist who’s begun using a wheelchair in the last few years. His essay “12 Steps? Me, I’d Rather Sit” captures the frustration of a last-minute change from an inaccessible venue to one that worked for him:

…These things are difficult because while I appreciate everyone’s understanding, I didn’t want it. While I was thankful for the extra effort made to find a room immediately, I didn’t want it. What I wanted was simple. Accessibility.

Accessibility doesn’t just mean I get easily into a building. Accessibility means anonymity. It reduces the need for compassion, understanding, special consideration, to Nil. It allows me to slip in unnoticed and set up quietly. This doesn’t mean it masks my disability, it just makes it mean something very different.…

Verify & report

Do an on-site survey with someone who’s truly familiar with the needs of wheelchair and scooter users. (Not all wheelchair users automatically have this knowledge, just as not all walking people know everything about sidewalk construction. Some non-wheelchair users also have these skills.)

Check for level paths to every area. A single, unramped step is as significant a blockade as two flights of stairs. Wheelchairs need at the very least 36″ (1 m) for corridors and 60″ (1,5 m) to turn around.

Describe any non-conforming areas in your publicity and program: forewarned is forearmed, and it demonstrates that you’ve actually checked the place out. Don’t use the term “wheelchair-friendly,” which has no defined meaning. Do reference any standards the venue meets: “ADA compliant” in WisCon’s case.

Make sure that stages are ramped as well. (Our venue can only ramp one stage at a time. This requires members to self-ID at reg, and program coordination to place ensure the ramped stage and the wheelchair using panelists are in the same room. I know from experience it’s easy to blow this one.)

Wheelchair Parking aka Blue Zones

Providing designated wheelchair parking in all seating areas permits wheelchair users the same freedom to come and go as those using the seats. Well-meaning non-disabled people will often say, “oh, but of course I’ll move a chair out of the way if you just ask.” And from their viewpoint, that’s a one-to-one personal issue. But from perspective of us wheelchair users, it’s a one-to-many problem, since we must ask for seating rearrangement every where we go.

While leaving empty spaces seems like a solution, chairs inevitably migrate further apart, filling them in. The inexpensive and highly effective alternative are “blue zones,” 36 in (1 m) squares outlined with 1in (2,54 mm) blue painters’ tape. It’s bright, stays down on carpet and comes up easily.

If you know how many wheelchair users are in attendance, be sure you make that many blue zones at the big get-togethers. (Otherwise, 1 for every 100 is a rough guideline.) Always have at least one blue zone, especially in the smallest program rooms (where crowding is most an issue). When you have room for two, put one up front and one in the back. The former is great for the wheelchair user who may also have hearing or vision impairment; the latter works well for those of us who get claustrophobic and need to be able to leave right away.

Recommended Reading for Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Today’s Recommended Reading focuses on how to make event-sites more accessible to people with disabilities, and experiences people with disabilities have had with accessibility at events and in their communities.

Accessibility Discussions: How To

This list is no where near comprehensive (I went a hunting for a few specific ones I know I’ve read and couldn’t find), so please feel free to leave more links in the comments!

Via Ms Crip Chick’s five fav tools to dialogue about justice: Accessibility Checklists at the National Youth Leadership Network:

Are you looking for ways to outreach to more people? Are you trying to get people involved? Are you trying to keep them involved? How a document reads and looks affects whether people can understand the information being shared. This is a checklist for document accessibility. It also includes some tips to think about when making programs or services accessible to all people.

Glenda Watson Hyatt at Do It Myself: A Checklist for Planning an Accessible Event

Whether planning a meeting, workshop or multi-day conference, your goal, no doubt, is to assist all participants, including those with disabilities, to feel welcomed and able to fully participate in the event

This checklist is intended as a starting point in planning an accessible event, which likely requires more than ramps and wheelchair washrooms. The key is to consider every aspect of the event and what barriers a person with a disability – whether it be physical, mobility, hearing, sight, or cognitive – might face, and how you can eliminate or minimize those barriers to ensure all participants feel welcomed.

The Access Fandom Wiki

Access Fandom Wiki is a tool to help make Science Fiction conventions and conferences more accessible to people with disabilities. Within you will find specific instructions and resources for carrying out these aims.

Planning an accessible meeting

When you are planning a meeting or event, you want to make sure that everyone can participate, including people with disabilities. By planning ahead, you can build accessibility into every aspect of the meeting.

The two main areas you need to consider when planning an accessible meeting or event are:

  • physical access to the meeting space
  • access to the meeting contents and proceedings.

Here are some general things to keep in mind.

Disability Access @ Stanford – Planning an Accessible Event (One of the things I like about this one is the “questions you should be able to answer” section, because I’m amazed at how many people cannot tell me where their barrier-free entrance is, even when they have one.)

Q: How do I get from [point A] to [point B]?

Familiarize yourself with stair-free pathways in the vicinity of the event (e.g., parking lot to main entrance) and to notable locations…

Q: Where is the nearest wheelchair accessible bathroom?

Know ahead of time where the accessible bathroom is, and how to get to it from your event location.

Accessibility Discussions: Experiences Of

alias_sqbr: Using a Mobility Scooter at WorldCon

Walking is easy on the brain and hard on the legs. Using the scooter is the reverse, the level of concentration required is somewhere between walking and driving, and by the time I got back to the hotel after my first excursion I needed a mental break and did the rest of my (much less taxing) exploration on foot. It got easier with practice, and was also much less taxing indoors in a familiar space without the worry of cars etc. The convention centre was perfect, lots of big empty flat carpeted areas. I got up now and then when it was more convenient but still ended up doing MUCH less walking than normal and as a result was much less tired and in pain than I would otherwise have been, and got to enjoy a lot more of the con as well as being able to go out to dinner etc. One issue was that all that sitting gave me a sore bum/lower back/legs, and I became quite uncomfortable on the plane trip back. I’ve been doing a lot of half lying with my legs out since getting home and am fine now. My brain is also less fatigued, once I got used to the scooter the general lack of fatigue made me more mentally awake than I usually am at the end of a con.

Lisy Babe BADD 10: Discrimination by ignorance and the myth of the DDA

“But I thought everywhere was accessible now.”

How I loathe that sentence. It usually follows my asking “so why did you hire somewhere inaccessible for your event? Because now I can’t come.”

For example, I’ve just spent the last 3 days at a film festival/conference tied to my course… I arrived on Thursday, picked up my ticket and was told by cinema staff “it’s in screen 2, which is not accessible.”


And, of course, the “but I thought…” line swiftly followed from the director of the event who’d hired the venue.

Ira Socol at SpeEd ChangeTo be fully human

I move through a lot of schools, and through a lot of public spaces, and everywhere I go I see people who are made to be less than fully human. The high school kids who can not read sitting in classrooms during “silent reading” time. The girl in the wheelchair set off to the side of the middle school choir because everyone else is on risers. The poor reader at the bank or hospital faced with piles of incomprehensible paperwork. The man or woman denied the ability to go out to eat because of too few or badly placed “handicapped” parking places. The child who struggles with writing who is denied the right to communicate in his classroom. The university students forced to spend large amounts of money and time to “prove themselves” “disabled.”

Codeman38 at Normal is Overrated: Of Privilege and Auditory Processing

The Normal Auditory Processing Privilege Checklist

  • I can watch first-run movies in any theater and still understand a majority of the dialogue without having to attend a specially scheduled screening with subtitles.
  • I can understand messages broadcast over PA systems without a lot of difficulty.
  • Lectures are just as easy for me to comprehend without visual feedback such as PowerPoint as they are with visual feedback.

Heather Farley at Oh Wheely… Blogging Against Disablism Day

These people have no idea of the impact they have on my sense of worth. And they don’t care. That shrug of ‘it’s not my problem, it’s yours’ means that I am excluded from that part of life. I’m apparently not worth their effort. On the flip side I have to say that for every person who shrugs there are another five people offering help, opening doors, and keeping my faith in humanity alive. Unfortunately it’s the ‘shruggers’ who stick in my psyche.

For every little battle I fight there are ten more that I have to let pass by. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to argue the toss every time. And every time I do I become less important in my eyes, less worthy of my effort, less deserving of theirs.

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.

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