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Community Spotlight

2016 September 23
by Amaya Webster

Spotlight on Derek Riemer

Derek Riemer is currently in his senior year at the University of Colorado at Boulder where he is majoring in computer science.  He is interested in human centered computingaccessibility and UniversalDesign. Derek, a self-described “baby engineer”, has already racked up a laundry list of accomplishments including being an Eagle Scout, the recipient of the Super Student award at Ralston Valley High school, a contributor to the NVDA screen reader project and most recently Benetech’s summer engineering intern which we want to call attention to because he did an outstanding job.

Over the course of the eight week internship, Derek worked on a variety of projects including adding dyslexic font support to Readium’s open source reader which is scheduled to be included in their 0.25 October release. He also worked towards building out the Diagrammar content model through the addition of alternative modalities like additional text and tactile graphics files by integrating Diagrammar into an EPUB book using custom web elements.

He was a joy to work with and impressed everyone on our team. Charles LaPierre, Technical Lead for DIAGRAM positively glowed about Derek saying, “I have worked with a number of interns over the years and this by far has been the most rewarding experience.”

So thank you Derek for a great summer! We enjoyed your positive energy and curious nature. We wish you the best of luck with your new school year and look forward to continuing to work with you through the DIAGRAM Center’s Developers Working Group!

Spotlight on Jacob Wobbrock and Richard Ladner

The University of Washington has very strong research programs in accessible computing. Jacob O. Wobbrock, professor in the Information School, leads the Mobile and Accessible Design Lab and Richard E. Ladner, professor in Computer Science and Engineering leads the Accessibility Research Group. For the past five years both have focused on mobile platforms, smart phones and tablets. Wobbrock’s primary research has been on low-level interaction with computer screens. He is the inventor of EdgeWrite, a unistroke text entry method for people with certain mobility related disabilities. He and his student Shaun Kane were the first to demonstrate that modern touchscreens could be made accessible using gestures and speech output in the seminal paper “Slide Rule, Making Touch Screens Accessible to Blind People Using Multi-Touch Interaction Techniques.” Ladner’s primary research focuses on accessibility applications for blind, deaf, and deaf-blind people. He is the creator of the Tactile Graphics Assistant, which provides software and a workflow to quickly transform all the figures in textbooks into a tactile format. He worked with the DIAGRAM Center to extend that work to quickly translate figures to tactile/auditory format.  Instead of Braille in the tactile graphic, QR codes with the same information are printed in the same location as the Braille where they can be scanned and spoken using a smartphone. He also created the ASL-STEM Forum, an online forum, for people to upload videos of American Sign Language for scientific terms. His student, Jeff Bigham, created WebAnywhere, a web-based screen reader that can be used from any computer without downloading any software. His student, Shiri Azenkot, created Perkinput, a Braille-based technique to enter text on a touch screen. Former Ph.D. students of Wobbrock and Ladner teach at Harvard, University of Colorado, Carnegie Mellon University, Cornell Tech in New York City, and the University of Iowa, where they all continue to do accessibility research. Other former Ph.D. students are at Apple, Google, and Intel where they develop accessible products and services.

Professor Ladner also serves on the DIAGRAM Center Advisory Committee and several Working Groups and is a recent recipient of the 2016 SIGACCESS Award for Outstanding Contributions to Computing and Accessibility which recognizes individuals who have made significant and lasting contributions to the development of computing technologies that improve the accessibility of media and services to people with disabilities. Congratulations Professor Ladner and thank you both for all that you do!

Out and About

2016 September 23
    • DIAGRAM at Microsoft
      July 16, 2016 in Mountain View, CA
      Sue-Ann Ma and Amaya Webster presented the Poet Image Description Training Module to the Microsoft Power Point Team at their Mountain View office with the Redmond, Washington team joining remotely via video conference. The event, which was referred to as an image slam, was in actuality a combination of presentation, training and user testing.
    • DIAGRAM at AER International Conference
      July 21, 2016 in Jacksonville, FL
      Sue-Ann Ma joined DIAGRAM community member Steve Noble as part of a panel on Accessible math in as session titled “Math Materials: Making Them Accessible” at this year’s AER conference. They discussed the issues faced by students with visual impairment in accessing Math and STEM curricular materials, shared what is working and what resources are available for teachers and students.
    • DIAGRAM at OSEP Project Directors Meeting
      August 3, 2016 in Washington D.C
      Brad Turner and Lisa Wadors presented on “The Future of Accessible Educational Materials” at this year’s Project Directors Meeting. Their session addressed the future of educational materials and how accessible content needs to be created to eliminate barriers for people with disabilities.
    • Benetech at W3C Technical Plenary / Advisory Committee Meetings
      September 19 – 23, 2016 in Lisbon, Portugal
      George Kerscher was the moderator and Charles LaPierre a panelist for a session entitled “Accessibility: Electronic Documents and Web Convergence” at this year’s TPAC conference.
    • DIAGRAM at the BISG (Book Industry Study Group) Annual Meeting of Members
      September 30, 2016 in New York, New York
      Robin Seaman will be speaking to approximately 200 of BISG’s most engaged members delivering an update on accessible publishing.

What We Are Reading

2016 September 22

A big thank you to all of you who sent us articles to be included in this edition of “What We Are Reading” Please keep them coming! You can send them to info[at]Diagramcenter[org] or to me directly at amayaw[at]benetech[dot]org.

Working Group Updates – General Overview

2016 September 22

The DIAGRAM working groups are a large part of who the DIAGRAM Center is and why we’ve been so successful. They lend their expertise and experience to a wide breadth of issues and areas, and sometimes, as diverse as those areas are, they somehow manage to overlap. So in addition to the individual working group updates, we wanted to take a second to not only call attention to the amazing force of impact that are the working groups, but highlight where their efforts overlap.

The Standards, 3D Tactiles Standards and Content Working groups have all been working on representations of braille. The Standards Working Group has been working on representing braille metadata, the Tactile Standards Working Group on standards for including braille on 3d objects and the Content Working Group on Top Tips for publishing content that is braille conversion friendly.

This braille work is in addition to the work that the Standards group continues to make headway on with the EPUB 3.1 standard and with Diagrammar as a container for image alternatives. The Tactiles group is also working on documenting lessons learned on printing and using 3d shapes.

The Content and Developers working groups are both working on digital interactives and are tasked with thinking through these areas for students with print disabilities and students with disabilities that aren’t print disabilities. The Content Working Group has been busy updating the Accessible Image Sample Book with sample interactives while the Developers Working Group is tackling the technical challenge of some of the most common functions, starting with a sub-group focused on drag and drop.

We will be exploring these areas of overlap further at an upcoming Working Group Co-Chairs  meeting which is in the process of being scheduled and would welcome suggestions from any of our community members on ways to take advantage of it. If you have an idea please send it to or to Amaya directly at

Diagram General Advisory Committee Update

2016 September 22
by Amaya Webster

The Diagram General Advisory Committee held their final meeting of the year on August 17, 2016. The group was treated to an overview of the work the DIAGRAM Working Groups are doing and where there is overlap between the groups.

The Advisory committee was also introduced to the production plan for the first annual DIAGRAM Report. Work on the report will be kicking of this month and will continue through the year. The report is scheduled to be published at the end of 2017.

The last meeting topic was the DIAGRAM 2017 offsite which is held at the beginning of summer usually, though not always, in the DC area. The offsite is a chance for the community to come together and strategize on what is needed in the field and the best way to achieve the goals of the DIAGRAM Center. Previous offsites have been held at Airlie in near Washington, DC, and Asilomar in Pacific Grove, California.

DIAGRAM Content Working Group Update

2016 September 22

The Content Working Group held their Q3 meeting on August 16. The group is hard at work developing a new resource for publishers that will provide the top tips for making digital content braille conversion friendly. They are also working on expanding the Accessible Image Sample Book to include a new section on accessible multimedia and a new section on accessible interactives. Stay tuned for progress updates!

DIAGRAM Developers Working Group Update

2016 September 22
by Charles LaPierre

The DIAGRAM Developers working group has had its second meeting since being formed earlier this year.  Two noteworthy areas to mention are:

  • Formation of a new “D&D” (Drag and Drop) subgroup who will explore the various accessible ways to make drag and drop interactives accessible. So far Sina Bahram, Charles LaPierre, Volker Sorge, and a yet to be appointed member of Mark Hakkenin’s team at ETS will participate in this subgroup, others are welcome to participate as well.
  • During the meeting a review of the IDPF’s latest EPUB 3.1 accessibility techniques document, concerning how to encode MathML with an appropriate fallback solution, it was discovered that there might be some serious accessibility concerns. Charles has already begun meeting with the IDPF accessibility task force, W3C’s ARIA 1.1 authoring practices working group and DIAGRAM Center’s Developers working group members Sina Bahram and Volker Sorge to discuss this issue and ultimately come up with a best practices on how to include MathML in an EPUB document.

The developers working group is still looking for additional participants.  If you or someone you know has a passion for accessible coding we would love to hear from you.   For more information please contact Charles LaPierre, the Technical Lead for DIAGRAM at Charlesl[at]benetech[dot]org.

DIAGRAM 3D Tactiles Standards Working Group Update

2016 September 22
by Amaya Webster

After a leave of absence, Mia Lipner will be resuming her role as chair of the 3D Tactiles Standards Working Group. The group would like to extend their thanks to Jim Allan who has been the acting chair in Mia’s absence and did a great job of keeping the group running. Thanks Jim and welcome back Mia!

In other news, The DIAGRAM 3D Tactiles Standards Working Group has created a document that seeks to inform object creators about the best way to add braille to 3D objects. The group worked with braille readers from the Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and participants from our IMLS-sponsored National Forum on 3D Printing and Education to test the readability of braille created in various with many different types of printers like Makerbot, MakerGear, TypeA and Ultimaker to name a few. In the end, the group found that ‘vertical braille’ is the best method of printing braille with a 3D printer. The resource is available for download as a Microsoft Word Document.


AnimalWatch Vi: Building Graphics Literacy

2016 September 22
by Amaya Webster

We are excited to share a project that Lisa Wadors Verne, Benetech’s Program Manager: Education, Research & Partnerships, began working on with the University of Arizona and others on July 1, 2016. The goal of the project is to support middle school students with visual impairments in building their ability to gather information from graphics (bar graphs, maps, scatterplots etc.) as they gain skills in solving math word problems and learn about environmental science issues such as the impact of plastics on marine life.

The project is collecting examples of graphics in books, apps, web sites, worksheets etc. that have been difficult for children in grades 4 and up to interpret and are interested in the experiences or community members have had both with children who are braille readers and those who are print readers.

To help facilitate the collection process and gathering of experiences, there is a contest and participants will be entered to win one of two $25 Amazon gift cards. You’ll need to have a copy of the graphic (and ideally the text that surrounds it from the page or screen) in order to be eligible to win. To share your experiences and enter the contest go to Feel free to distribute this invitation to others who might have an examples they are willing to share.

Thanks and good luck!

BISG 2016 Honors

2016 September 22
by Amaya Webster

Congratulations George Kerscher and Robin Seaman

George Kerscher has been nominated and is currently on the shortlist for two awards, the BISG Industry Champion Award and the BISG Industry Innovation Award. the BISG Industry Champion Award honors an individual whose efforts have gone beyond the requirements of his or her position to advance the publishing industry while embracing BISG’s mission to facilitate innovation and shared solutions for the benefit of all companies and practitioners who create, produce, and distribute published content. The BISG Industry Innovation Award salutes the company or individual who boldly reimagines what publishing is and can be. Congratulations George on these truly impressive and well earned nominations!

Robin seaman, was awarded the BISG Distinguished Service Award. The award is given in recognition of an individual’s outstanding work on behalf of BISG. This year the award is being presented to the BISG Committee Chairs and BISG Working Group Chairs in recognition of all their hard work and efforts in the area of standards and best practices. Congratulations Robin Seaman, BISG Accessibility Working Group Chair, for being one of the people being honored, you deserve it!

Read the full announcement on the BISG website.

Certification of an EPUB Publication for Accessibility

2016 September 22
by George Kerscher and Charles LaPierre

There is a fundamental need to be able to certify that a given EPUB book is accessible so that people who need accessible books, or are purchasing accessible material for a people who need them, can be confidence that what they are buying, is in fact accessible. A concept we have been referring to as “buy accessible” – or the ability to know beyond doubt that what you are purchasing will meet your accessibility needs.

Benetech and DAISY have formed a partnership under the Google Impact Award to address this area of need.  Once there is an approved EPUB specification, we can begin to test for accessibility.  The process used for testing will document a step by step approach to certify that an EPUB publication is truly accessible. The process includes the use of human examination and special software designed to test for accessibility features and create a report on what has been found.  The report will flag errors, and identify places where human judgment is needed to check a particular item, for example is the alt-text in this image meaningful.  The development of the process is already underway and we are looking at the use of existing HTML accessibility checkers to build upon.  We know that there are specific accessibility tests that need to be developed that go beyond HTML and WCAG, these will be built into this new accessibility checking tool.  Make sure to stay tuned for updates on our progress and to learn about what the specific accessibility tests will be!

DAISY Reading Systems Testing Group Partners with Benetech

2016 September 22
by George Kerscher and Amaya Webster

The DAISY Reading System Testing Group was formed to test how different Reading Systems perform with different types of Assistive Technology and which functions are or are not supported. For example, the group might test how well a refreshable braille device works with Jaws to read a book using Kindle. Upon completion of the test, which examines things like ease of navigation, media overlays, etc. the reading system will be scored and that score eventually published, so that user of assistive technology can determine with ease what system would work best for their needs. Much the way DIAGRAM’s Math Support Finder works for users needing access to accessible math.

We are delighted to announce that the Reading System Testing Group will be partnering with Benetech to further our goals of certification and buy accessible materials. DIAGRAM’s own Amaya Webster has just started as the community manager for the Reading System Testing group. Amaya, among other things, will help to identify volunteers to test Assistive Technology (AT0) used in conjunction with reading system software on all platforms.

The work, available at continues to identify great EPUB reading systems, and some that have real challenges.  Follow the accessibility link on epubtest and you can review the scores for the fundamental testing of 28 reading systems. Yes, there are a few that have 100% accessibility scores. The VitalSource “Bookshelf” is in the lead on all platforms. We have tested the reading systems in conjunction with JAWS, NVDA, VoiceOver, and Talkback using speech output and are currently looking to test for braille support. If you have expertise with refreshable braille and would be interested in conducting a reading system test, please contact Amaya who can help you get started.

Accessible Image Repository-Registry

2016 September 22

This quarter, we kicked off development for the highly anticipated Accessible Image Repository-Registry. Working with Sina Bahram of Prime Access Consulting, our initial prototype aims to address some needs and answer some uncertainties when it comes to providing accessible alternatives for visual content. Our primary goal for this phase of development is to throw together a quick prototype where various DIAGRAM members can share, host, tag, and search accessible image alternatives (i.e. text-based descriptions, 2D embossed files, 3D models). We also plan to couple this iterative development work with limited user feedback tests with various DSS (Disability Student Services) offices, TVIs (teachers of the visually impaired), and Parents/Friends of End-Users to refine our requirements and goals for this tool. Look out for upcoming requests for alpha testers on this collection of shared resources.

Speech Rule Engine Expansion work

2016 September 22

In March 2016, the DIAGRAM Center hosted a one-day code sprint in efforts to work on the next generation of tools and services to support accessible digital mathematics. The event involved over 20 leading developers with technical and accessibility expertise and resulted in riveting discussions, brainstorms, as well as a few teams that was able to produce some preliminary prototypes. Building on the collaboration from the event, the DIAGRAM Center is starting new work with Volker Sorge of the MathJax Consortium, University of Birmingham, and creator of the Speech Rule Engine, to work towards broadening the reach of the technology to additional tools and mediums such as: screen readers, audio files, and braille.

The proposed project involves enhancing the existing Speech Rule Engine, which is an open source math rendering engine currently used by major technology tools including: MathJax (and our  MathML Cloud tool built on top of it), ChromeVox, and other assistive technology including STEM Reader and TextHelp. Coupled with other resources and partners, this Speech Rule Engine work paves the way for more advanced auto-transcription for specific subject matters, user demographics, math disciplines, languages, and additional mediums (e.g. audio and braille). We are really excited about this upcoming work and look forward to kicking things off this fall. Stay tuned for more information on how we plan to work with members of the DIAGRAM Center community to develop and test this work and of course, to learn when you can check it out for yourself!