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Planning for the Third Annual DIAGRAM Code Sprint is Underway

2018 February 28
by Amaya Webster

DIAGRAM is thrilled to announce that we will be hosting our third annual code sprint. While we typically hold the sprint in conjunction with the CSUN conference in San Diego, we will be bringing this event to our very own San Francisco Bay Area in June 2018. As part of the planning process we are asking our community members to provide suggestions for new product developments, enhancements to existing tools, technology gaps, or day-to-day challenges relating to STEM education for students with disabilities. Please share your ideas via this brief survey prior to March 9th and stay tuned for more details.

Focus Groups at CSUN – come try our new tool and see what the hype is about

2018 February 28
by Sue-Ann Ma
  1. Will you be at CSUN this year?
  2. Do you work with students who struggle with mathematics?
  3. Do any of your students have a disability, especially a disability that is not considered a visual impairment (e.g., cognitive disability, autism, dysgraphia, physical disability)?

If you answered yes to all three questions, we would love to get your thoughts about our new Benetech Math Editor (still in development)! Please share your background and availability at the conference using this form.

Introducing: Accessible PEEP and the Big Wide World!

2018 February 28
by Amaya Webster

PEEP is the main character of an animated television program teaching science and math to early learners (3-5 years old). Set in and around a pond, a bush, and a tin can, the show follows a newly hatched chicken named PEEP, and his friends Chirp and Quack (a robin and a duck), on their daily adventures. Surrounding them is a large urban park — a place of great wonder and mystery they are eager to explore — a place they call “the big wide world.”

Each half-hour episode contains two stories that highlight specific science concepts, plus two live-action shorts presenting real kids playing and experimenting with these concepts in their own big wide worlds.

DIAGRAM has partnered with WGBH’s National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) to bring that “big wide world” to even more learners by creating Accessible PEEP and the Big Wide World, a new section of the DIAGRAM website. On the Accessible PEEP website you will find episodes of PEEP and the Big Wide World that have closed captioning and audio descriptions as well as being available in Spanish. You will also encounter games that help students practice specific skills like memory. These games are keyboard friendly and can be played without a mouse in addition to having audio descriptions, closed captions and Spanish language options. How-to guides for adding accommodations such as captioning to digital resources are available as well, along with tips for inclusive teaching and an in-depth research methodology for testing the effect of accommodations on student engagement. The research methodology was developed to test long held assumptions that certain accommodations can be beneficial to a much wider set of students than originally intended. For example, do the presence of captions increase engagement and learning in students who are English language learners or who have attention deficit disorder? The Accessible Peep site details the methodology as well as the user testing that was done with students with learning disabilities as well as typically-developing students. It provides a detailed examination of the types of testing done, and how engagement with the curriculum was measured. The methodology will also serve as the foundation for ongoing work the DIAGRAM Center will be doing around user testing.

Accessible Peep is an ongoing project that we are very excited about. We encourage you to provide feedback and ask questions as you explore the accessible PEEP website and accompanying activities and resources.

Museum Makes Art Inclusive Through Description

2018 February 28
by Sina Bahram

The open-source Coyote software was developed by Prime Access Consulting, an inclusive design consulting firm founded by Sina Bahram, for the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago to allow anyone at the museum to describe images for the museum’s website. The MCA team is creating both alt-text descriptions of 20–30 words, as well as much longer descriptions, particularly of collection works using the online Coyote tool. Believing that visual descriptions of art are helpful to everyone, not just those who use screen readers, the MCA has now surfaced these beautiful descriptions on their website for all visitors to enjoy. Some of the same techniques that Sina Bahram and the MCA team have used to surface visual descriptions of art are now informing the best practices being examined by the DIAGRAM Center for making STEM materials accessible in EPUB books.

Register Now For the Experience Programming in Quorum (EPIQ) Conference

2018 February 28
by Amaya Webster

DIAGRAM is pleased to announce The EPIQ conference on behalf of DIAGRAM community member Sina Bahram who gushed about it. “I’ve been part of EPIQ for 8 years, and I have rarely seen a nicer, more fun-loving, brilliant, and all-around amazing group of people that gather every year for this important conference. It’s one of the most fun and rewarding things I do all year.”

EPIQ is an international professional development workshop for educators to learn the foundational skills necessary to teach students computer science using the fully accessible Quorum programming language. The conference takes place July 15th – 23rd, 2018 in Austin Texas at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired where Jim Allen, another DIAGRAM Community member, is the Alt. Media Specialist.

Early bird registration is $350 and available until March 31st. Registration includes Access to all EPIQ programming tracks as well as breakfast and lunch catered by local vendors for the duration of the event. You can register at

If you have any questions you can email the EPIQ organizers at

General Standards Update

2018 February 28
by Charles LaPierre

Breaking news! As of January 30, 2018, the WCAG 2.1 specification is now considered an official W3C candidate recommendation. Why is this news important? WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) is the guiding light for accessibility and has long been referenced by lawmakers when lawsuits arise around digital content accessibility; it also happens to be the foundation behind EPUB (electronic publications) accessibility. The prior release of WCAG 2.0 was in 2007, and a lot has changed in the standards and accessibility worlds since then. WCAG 2.1 incorporates these shifts with additional guidance to better address the needs of users with low vision and cognitive disabilities and users of touch and mobile interfaces, such as tablets and smartphones, and paves the way for future advances in digital accessibility. If everything goes according to plan, we hope to announce WCAG 2.1 as an official W3C recommendation sometime this summer, so stay tuned.

Speech Rule Engine Update

2018 February 28
by Volker Sorge

Editor’s Note: Back in the fall of 2016, the DIAGRAM Center shared our plans to support Volker Sorge’s work on the Speech Rule Engine in order to pave the way for more accessible voicing of mathematics. We are happy to announce that since the completion of our collaborative work, further progress has been made on this impactful open source project. The following is a reminder of what the tool is and an update from Volker regarding his latest accomplishments and goals:

Speech Rule Engine is an open source tool for the aural rendering of digital mathematics. While it was originally created as part of the ChromeVox screen reader, it has come a long way over the last couple of years as a standalone tool and independent project. Although it is still only a one-man open source project, the support of a number of not-for-profit and commercial organizations, such as the American Mathematics Society, the DIAGRAM Center, the Mozilla Foundation, TextHelp, and the Big10 Universities, allowed for a number of significant improvements. Recent advances include the smarter recognition and navigation of complex equation systems, improved interpretations of subject specific notations such as physics, and support for a variety of prosody markup languages. The latest release also contains a Spanish localization of the MathSpeak rules and uses some of the fastest JavaScript libraries currently available.

A number of exciting enhancements are scheduled for this year. The upcoming release (currently in beta), will contain a full implementation of the eagerly anticipated ClearSpeak rule set, which provides more natural-sounding mathematics. There are also plans for localization into additional languages and the integration of more subject-specific knowledge. And, finally, subsequent releases will include support for Nemeth Braille, which, together with its web integration into MathJax, will make Speech Rule Engine an even more complete package for supporting accessible, digital mathematics.

If you are interested in testing and providing feedback about any of the upcoming Speech Rule Engine releases, please contact Volker Sorge at volker[dot]Sorge[at]gmail[dot]com. Alternatively, to stay abreast of upcoming releases, look for updates on the speech-rule-engine github repo.

 Developers Working Group

2018 February 28
by Charles LaPierre

The Developers Working Group held its first meeting of 2018 on January 29th. One of the main topics of discussion centered on the potential impact of automated simplification of complex words and phrases for students with cognitive disabilities. The group also discussed potential additions to our accessible code repository such as the data visualization strategies, including creating accessible maps and charts, produced by DIAGRAM community member Doug Schepers. Follow-up meetings are being scheduled with several working group members to complete these samples and include them in our code repository. Look for blog updates to learn more about when these examples will be available.

Standards Working Subcommittee: Math in EPUB

2018 February 28
by Charles LaPierre

The Math in EPUB group has been working diligently to figure out how to best display digital math in EPUB files. Currently, math is often displayed using MathML, a computer language representation of math that can be visually displayed on a webpage or inside an EPUB book. MathML has the potential to be accessible so a student can explore the equation with their computer or ebook reader to better comprehend the math equation. However, not all ereaders and reading systems can support MathML.

In December, 2017, the Math in EPUB group proposed adding a short text description in addition to MathML to digital files with math images so when a reading system or ereader is unable to support the MathML, a student using a screen reader would still have access to the alt-text and be able to understand the math image being displayed.

Unfortunately,  internal testing revealed that this solution did not work in all cases, forcing the group back to the drawing board. Co-chair Neil Soiffer was able to create a more robust method for embedding the MathML inside the EPUB which looks even more promising than the original approach. We are now conducting internal testing and will be reaching out to our publishing partners for additional input. We hope to soon announce a feasible work-around to this problem of displaying math in EPUBs accessibly.

Outreach Working Group

2018 February 28
by Amaya Webster

The Outreach Working Group has started the year off with tons of energy! Since their reintroduction at the beginning of January 2018, they have identified key stakeholder groups and begun to document the top tools and resources available to the seven groups, which are:

  1. Parents
  2. Students
  3. Educators
  4. Researchers
  5. Technologists
  6. Policy and standards implementers
  7. Publishers

The group has also implemented a new reporting system for each of the DIAGRAM working groups to assess progress made toward deliverables and align stakeholder populations with the deliverables. The Outreach Working Group and the DIAGRAM team are still identifying the best way to share the results of this reporting, and we welcome your suggestions. Send feedback to Amayaw[at]benetech[dot]org. Finally, the busy Outreach Working Group has identified the need to develop canned talking points to help everyone share the work of the DIAGRAM Center. The group plans to address this last deliverable later this year.

Good-bye To A Great 2017, Hello To A Fantastic 2018!

2017 December 22

Here we are, at the end of 2017 and the second year of the DIAGRAM Center + award. Naturally, we find ourselves reflecting on what an incredible year it’s been and wanting to celebrate some of the achievements and impact the DIAGRAM community has driven in the last year alone.

  • We helped define the first-ever Accessibility Specification for EPUB books, so publishers have an accessibility standard to meet when publishing digital books.
  • We drove the acceptance of the new accessibility metadata standard in, providing a way for search engines to identify content that is accessible.
  • We hosted the DIAGRAM Accessible Interactives Code Sprint, in partnership with Macmillan Learning at the 2017 CSUN (California State University Northridge) Assistive Technology Conference. Several great prototypes came out of that work, including interactive accessible infomaps and advances on accessible simulations.
  • We released a new version of the Poet Image Description Training Tool and already several major publishers and publishing service providers have used it for training their teams so their books can be more accessible.
  • We prototyped in partnership with Neil Soiffer the Benetech Math Editor, a unique UDL tool for all students, including those with disabilities, to do and show their math work online. The feedback from students and teachers has been tremendous and we have big plans to move it forward in 2018.
  • We issued the first annual DIAGRAM Report, providing a technology lookahead for students with disabilities and their parents and educators. The Report incorporated the insights from many of you in the community.
  • The team at the WGBH National Center for Accessible Media completed accessible versions of content from PEEP and the Big Wide Worlda science program for early learners. In addition, they developed methodologies for testing the effect of accessibility accommodations on the engagement of those learners.

A highlight of the year was of course the community coming together in person for the DIAGRAM Strategic Planning Meeting, held over two days in the Washington, DC area. In that meeting we underscored our commitment to identify and address the needs of students with disabilities beyond those associated with print disabilities. We welcomed the deeper participation of community members working on innovations for students who are deaf or hard of hearing, students with cognitive or intellectual disabilities, and students with other learning disabilities. Since that meeting, we’ve also put into gear plans to create and explore more technologies for students with a range of disabilities. You’ll notice this theme running through this December edition of the newsletter and beyond, as we share more about new projects and partnerships (including an exciting new one with Clayton Lewis)!  In the meantime, thank you to everyone for your continued participation in the DIAGRAM community. We are truly humbled and grateful to be working with so many amazing people who are making a difference every day in the lives of students with disabilities. We wish you happy holidays and a terrific new year!

All of us on the DIAGRAM team at Benetech

Santa Isn’t the Only One Coming to Town

2017 December 22
by Clayton Lewis

A head shot of Clayton. I’m delighted to have the opportunity to work at the DIAGRAM Center for six months in 2018! I’ll be developing pilot partnerships with other research groups and helping to design and carry out user studies of new tools, among other activities.

A bit about my background: At IBM Research and then at the University of Colorado, I’ve worked in human-centered computing, with an emphasis on evaluating user interfaces, for many years. In the last dozen years I’ve focused on technology and disability, including design for people with cognitive disabilities (with the Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities), using cloud technology to support automatic configuration of information presentation as a consultant to NIDRR (now NIDILRR: National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research), and developing new information representations for inclusive design.

It’s very exciting to join the DIAGRAM Center team and to meet those members I’ve not already met. I’m also looking forward to working with many of the partners around the country. Here’s wishing us all a very productive 2018!

The Age Of Born Accessible Content Is Closer Than You Think: Here’s Why

2017 December 22
by Charles LaPierre and Amaya Webster

Have you ever wished that there was an easy way for you to not only know if your digital content is accessible, but also how to fix the parts that aren’t? Or maybe you’ve wished that there was a simple and fast way to know if the digital content you wanted to read was accessible? A DIAGRAM community member summed it up when he stated: “I’ve been waiting for this since 1990.” Well, guess what, the wait is finally over! Benetech and DAISY have teamed up once again to bring you a suite of services to make creating and finding Born Accessible content easier than ever before. DAISY has developed Ace, an open source accessibility checking tool, that performs a variety of automated checks to evaluate conformance to the EPUB Accessibility Specification and the rules defined in WCAG, ARIA, and HTML. It produces a list for the manual checks that need to be performed, as well as data visualizations to aid the process. The tool is currently in the last stages of beta development with full release slated for the end of January, 2018.

Benetech has leveraged the work DAISY did and created a consulting program that just finished a successful pilot. Through this program, Benetech works with publishers and reviews their EPUB files, advising them on their accessibility compliance, offering consolation when accessibility isn’t compliant, offering ways to fix said accessibility issues, and then publicly certifying the files as being accessible. We like to think of it as giving them the Benetech Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval!

The pilot program concluded this past October and involved us reviewing forty files from ten publishing partners. It was truly a fascinating experience to do a deep dive into publishers’ files and engage with them about their accessibility strategy. In addition, it was extremely satisfying to see how they incorporated our suggestions into their content and created truly born accessible materials.

Now that we have completed a successful pilot, we are ready to dive into an in-depth review process and accredit publishers as being accessible once they’ve proven their process consistently produces fully conforming files. Starting in January, we will meet with more publishers and pitch this program. We’ve already reached out to our international DAISY friends to see who might be interested in joining us in this endeavor, and we have commitments from the RNIB, Dedicon in the Netherlands, and Vision Australia. If you would like to be a part the program please contact Charles LaPierre, Benetech’s Technical Lead for Born Accessible at CharlesL[at]Benetech[dot] org, or Robin Seaman, Benetech’s Director of Content Acquisition at RobinS[at]Benetech[dot]org. Look for an upcoming blog  post with a close-captioned recording of the webinar Robin and Charles recently did work that provided an in-depth review of the pilot and the results.

Project Update: Math Editor

2017 December 22
by Sue-Ann Ma

Last month, the DIAGRAM Center unveiled our new Benetech Math Editor (still in alpha) to the community. The DIAGRAM team also shared our initial excitement about the potential of this new online tool, especially in light of positive feedback received through early end-user testing.

While we believe most DIAGRAM newsletters are happily read by those on our distribution list and further shared on occasion, our prior post about the Math Editor elicited an unprecedented amount of inbound emails and support. The exceptional interest from active DIAGRAM members and new friends has materialized through a number of individuals who have reached out and offered to help test our product, participate in upcoming beta tests, or just to say “I am very excited about your product.” We really appreciate the amazing support from the community and look forward to sharing our developments in the new year – our next release includes significant accessibility and usability enhancements for AT users. Until then, happy holidays to all and special thanks to all the technical folks who have made this project possible (Neil Soiffer, Arno Gourdoul, Jason Schwab and Sina Bahram)!

Project Update: The DIAGRAM Report

2017 December 22
by Lisa Wadors and Charles LaPierre

Invigorated with the success of the first DIAGRAM Report, we are now excitedly beginning work on the 2018 one. It will build on what was done in 2017 and will also explore technologies not previously featured. This is where you, our community, has an important role. We want to make sure your technology needs and interests and those of your students, children, friends, etc. are represented. As such, we invite you to help us determine which technologies we should focus on in 2018 by taking a short survey.  This is your chance to influence the DIAGRAM Center’s work.

Once we have a list of the top priority areas we will connect with experts and research how these technologies might affect students with disabilities. If you are interested in being more involved or have feedback, please contact the report authors, Charles LaPierre at CharlesL[at]Benetech[dot]org or Lisa Wadors at LisaW[at]Benetech[dot]org.