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Farewell 2018, Hello 2019!

2018 December 31

It’s hard to believe we are already at the end of another year and what a whirlwind year it’s been — full of burgeoning prototypes, web page launches, new partnerships, and many other exciting updates. As we head into 2019, we’d like to leave you with some highlights from our collective endeavors in 2018. Thank you to our amazing DIAGRAM community for contributing your time towards making all this work possible. We look forward to an even more exciting 2019!

  • The second annual DIAGRAM Report provided a look ahead at technology for students with disabilities and their parents and educators. This year we had three guest writers from our community write two of the five chapters; a big thank you again to Clayton Lewis, Lisa Dieker, and Amanda Lannan for sharing their expertise. In case you missed it, be sure to read about Accessible Coding, Artificial Intelligence, Augmented and Virtual Reality, Multimodal Interactions, and Personalized Learning in the 2018 DIAGRAM Report.
  • We made significant strides in the development and testing of our new product, Benetech Mathshare, an interactive math tool intended to help students better express their work while performing online math problems.
  • This year’s third annual DIAGRAM Code Sprint was co-sponsored by and hosted at the Microsoft Conference Center in Sunnyvale, California. This was the first year the sprint spanned two days and was a roaring success with more than 50 expert participants from all over the world.
  • Benetech Imageshare was revamped and we teamed up with the Tactile Working Group to assemble and create various multimodal resources. These resources were tested with end users, and DIAGRAM also engaged with an independent user experience firm, Mad*Pow, to expand the testing methodology they first worked on as part of the Accessible PEEP and the Big Wide World project in partnership with WGBH’s NCAM.
  • We had an amazing six months collaborating with our resident advisor, Clayton Lewis. Clayton’s generosity and willingness to share his decades of work and expertise in research and accessibility, particularly in the area of cognitive disabilities, was invaluable. We look forward to continuing to work closely with our dear friend, who has since returned to home base at the University of Colorado, Boulder… and thank you.
  • The digital standard for EPUB and EPUB accessibility got some significant attention this past year.  With a new EPUB 3.2 specification soon to be released in 2019 and the launch of Benetech’s Global Certified Accessible program ensuring publisher EPUB books are accessible.

Mad*Pow Study

2018 December 31
by Lisa Wadors

This fall, DIAGRAM worked with Mad*Pow, a strategic design consultancy, to better understand the impact of using multimodal image resources to understand complex mathematical and scientific concepts. Mad*Pow conducted 25 one-on-one interviews with students who were diagnosed with one or more of the following: low vision, intellectual disabilities, autism, and learning disabilities. The session was divided into two topic areas: frog anatomy and the Pythagorean Theorem, and each participant was presented with an image with text description, 2D tactile graphic, and 3D manipulative model for each topic. Half of the participants were presented with the Pythagorean Theorem first and half were presented with frog anatomy first.

Overall, Mad*Pow found that participants exhibited a preference for modalities that enhanced their understanding of the subject matter by clarifying the relationships between elements, in this case, the relationships between digestive organs in a frog and the variables in the Pythagorean Theorem. 3D was the most popular modality for frog anatomy because its interactivity helped participants gain a deeper understanding of organ connectivity and the digestive pathway. 2D was the most popular modality for the Pythagorean Theorem because it demonstrated the relationships between variables in an easily understandable and visual way. And per our original hypotheses, participant preferences also seemed to reinforce individual learning styles and proclivity toward varying amounts of information (e.g., more or less detail). We look forward to sharing the outcomes of this informal study in the coming months and have also begun a similar study to learn more about the usability of Mathshare. For more details about the findings of the tactile or math studies please contact lisaw[at]Benetech[dot] org.

Benetech Imageshare

2018 December 31
by Sue-Ann Ma

In 2018, DIAGRAM launched the newly revamped Benetech Imageshare, an open source platform that enables educators and consumers to find and share multimodal resources related to key science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) concepts. In addition to adding new metadata to facilitate search and discovery, the collection also allows educators and end users to add instructional teaching notes, production notes, and ratings and comments after using specific resources.

We look forward to adding more accessible resources and content into the collection in 2019, including feedback currently being collected by the Tactile Working Group about the usability of specific resources in the collection. Read more about the testers in the Tactile Working Group update.

Benetech Mathshare

2018 December 31
by Sue-Ann Ma

2018 was a huge year for one of DIAGRAM’s newest tools, Benetech Mathshare. Not only were we fortunate to secure funding from three additional organizations to continue the work through 2019, but the tool continued to receive positive support as we showcased the prototype to educators and students.

Version two of Mathshare, which debuted this past fall, included enhancements to the visual design, workflows to support the creation of custom problem sets, and the ability for students to save and share their work. Since the launch, we have been working on classroom pilots to collect feedback about these new features, including the usability of end-to-end workflows for educators. In the final weeks of 2018, we have also been engaging in larger-scale pilot discussions with integration partners and wrapping up dozens of in-depth student feedback sessions, including formal studies through our partners at Mad*Pow. We look forward to an exciting 2019 for Mathshare and continue to invite educators interested in piloting the new version of Mathshare in their classrooms. Contact sueannm[at]Benetech[dot]org to get involved.

The 2019 DIAGRAM Report Is Under Way

2018 December 31
by Lisa Wadors and Charles LaPierre

In 2017, we launched the inaugural DIAGRAM report that explored six technologies predicted to impact schools now and in the future, particularly for students with special needs. We followed with the second annual DIAGRAM Report in August 2018 that contained updates on Personalized Learning, Accessible Coding, and Multimodal. We were honored to have some distinguished guest writers: Clayton Lewis wrote a chapter on Artificial Intelligence while Lisa Dieker and Amanda Lannan contributed a chapter on Augmented/Virtual Reality.

As soon as the report was published, we began working on the 2019 report. If you have not already had an opportunity to weigh in, we ask you to share your insights about what we should focus on for the next report by filling out a brief survey: (please complete by January 4, 2019). If you are interested in sharing your expertise or being a guest writer, please contact Charles LaPierre at CharlesL[at]Benetech[dot]org or Lisa Wadors at LisaW[at]Benetech[dot]org.

The 2019 DIAGRAM Strategic Planning Meeting

2018 December 31
by Amaya Webster

With 2018 wrapping up, we are actively planning for lots of exciting developments and gatherings in 2019 and beyond. One of the major events scheduled for the coming year will be the 2019 DIAGRAM Strategic Planning meeting, which will be a two-day affair in the Washington, D.C. area. This will be another opportunity for the DIAGRAM community to strategize on the vision and future of the DIAGRAM Center. In addition to sharing goals for the remaining 18 months of the current DIAGRAM + award, we will also be thinking big about the types of impact that our community can bring to advance accessibility and inclusive education. If you are a DIAGRAM advisor or an active working group member, but have not yet received an invitation to this event, please contact Amaya[at]Benetech[dot]org. Outcomes of the strategic planning meeting will also be shared in the next DIAGRAM newsletter, so stay tuned!

Wild World of W3C

2018 December 31
by George Kerscher and Charles LaPierre

Web Publications Working Group  

The formal W3C working group continues to meet weekly. George and Charles are active participants ensuring accessibility is built in to any new standard this group publishes. The most pressing need in the publishing industry is a specification for audiobooks. Audiobooks are very popular today, but the production and distribution of this content from publishers is disorganized. The working group will focus on this area of publishing first to develop a specification that can be used next year.

W3C Personalization Task Force

The Personalization Task Force, co-facilitated by Charles LaPierre and Lisa Seeman, made huge steps forward with the publication of three public working drafts and an explanatory document for the specification on how to make the web personalized. The three modules are: Personalization Semantics Content, Personalization Help and Support, and Personalization Tools.  Having these as W3C public working drafts is a big deal as this means they have evolved from something that was just a whitepaper into something now that is on track to become a W3C specification.  This work will fundamentally change how we perceive the web by allowing us to customize how the information is presented to us to suit our specific needs. For example, say you are on a weather website and numbers are challenging. You could have the temperature be expressed with pictures instead.

Other Developments at the W3C

Knowledge Domains Targeted for Development

A “knowledge domain” is an area that relies on symbols for communicating information, such as math, chemistry, or music. All of the knowledge domains have been identified as having significant accessibility barriers. A task force has been formed to look at how these barriers can be addressed. It is clear that simply delivering images of math or music, for example, is not appropriate and significantly disadvantages persons with disabilities.

Correct Pronunciation Task Force Launched

For a long time, Text-To-Speech (TTS) has suffered from the mispronunciation of many words. Now that TTS is being used in high-stakes testing and assessments, more of a focus has been brought to this problem. A task force has been formed to identify how correct pronunciation can be added to HTML.

Braille Music Technical Developments

The DAISY Braille Music Working Group met in London on November 30, 2018. This meeting attracted more than 35 organizations in the DAISY community. The primary focus was on embossed braille music and the distribution of files for embossing. A third meeting is being planned for May, 2019, in Geneva, Switzerland.

For more information on any of the Standards activities, contact George Kerscher: kerscher[at]montana[dot]com

All About EPUB 3 and the Born Accessible Movement

2018 December 31
by George Kerscher and Charles LaPierre

All About EPUB 3 and the Born Accessible Movement


Over the past year, the EPUB 3 Community Group has been working on harmonizing the features of the various versions of EPUB 3. The goal was to produce a backward compatible version – for example, a conforming EPUB 3.01 would also conform to the EPUB 3.2 – which will be launched in the first quarter of 2019. To support the launch of EPUB 3.2, EpubCheck needed to be updated, and the DAISY Consortium received the contract to perform this work. Once the software is released, there will be a promotion to move everyone to that version of the specification, with the understanding that EPUB 3.0 and EPUB 3.01 are perfectly acceptable, and publishers do not need to change their publishing processes to create valid EPUB 3.

2018 has also seen a major collaboration between publishers, the standards community, and the leaders in the Disability Service Offices (DSO) community around Born Accessible EPUB. The rank-and-file face the never-ending task of tagging PDFs (the myth of Sisyphus comes to mind here), and it was clear that the DSO community needed to understand the depth of the transition to Born Accessible EPUB. The collaboration targeted the Accessing Higher Ground conference in November; a track on EPUB was offered and EPUB advocates literally descended on the conference. Eleven of the thirty-nine presentations were on the transition to Born Accessible EPUB. The feedback we received was overwhelmingly positive with many DSO people stating that they never really understood the difference between EPUB and PDF. The DIAGRAM Center has been asked to produce a series of follow-up training materials for higher education.

Speaking of Born Accessible, the Accessibility Checker for EPUB (Ace by DAISY), which is free and open source, has received huge acceptance in the publishing industry. For instance, a major publisher now requires every title they distribute to pass Ace. In addition, they require all subcontractors to use Ace before they return a publication for ingestion. DIAGRAM provided technical guidance and early prototype design, testing and feedback of Ace including a new beta version of Ace which is even easier to use. Publishers are being encouraged to place accessibility metadata in their EPUB files, such as the conformance and accessibility summary. Global Certified Accessible by Benetech, which uses Ace as part of its program, is also taking hold with educational publishers. The addition of accessibility metadata will make it easier for people to find and purchase an accessible publication over a publication with an unknown accessibility rating. We love seeing accessibility as a competitive factor. Please encourage the purchase of Born Accessible EPUB!



Research Working Group Highlights

2018 December 31

2018 saw the creation of a brand new DIAGRAM Research Working Group chaired by Dave Edyburn from the University of Central Florida. This purposefully small group, still in its infancy, has met twice since forming in late 2018 but has been received with much excitement from working group members. Over the next five months, the group will identify funding streams and create a research agenda to better facilitate, support, and grow accessibility research for people with disabilities.

Outreach Working Group Highlights

2018 December 31

The Outreach Working Group spent a large portion of the year determining the best way to distill and present the information available on the DIAGRAM website to online visitors. The group started by identifying the target audiences and ultimately settled on six groups that would benefit the most from the website: parents, students, educators, publishers, researchers, and developers. Once established, the next step was to determine what tools and resources available on the DIAGRAM website would be most beneficial to each of the six audiences and to distill this information onto the new Community Portal pages. The hope was to help direct new visitors to tools and resources most relevant to them as well as better engage with DIAGRAM as a whole.

If you haven’t already, please provide feedback on these new pages. Thanks to the working group members for all of their hard work and special thanks to Bryan Gould of NCAM for chairing and leading this work. Having accomplished the goals set out for 2018, we will be discussing how this group should manifest in 2019 and beyond at the upcoming Strategic Planning meeting. We welcome any ideas at the meeting regarding what you would like to see tackled by the Outreach Working Group or email Amaya directly with suggestions at amayaw[at]Benetech[dot]org.

Tactile Working Group Highlights

2018 December 31

The 3D group has been meeting regularly and adding new members from K-12 and higher education. Our major project has been to create and review more than eighty 3D models in the areas of math concepts and aids, sculptures and architecture from around the world, and biology and other science objects. To date, we have over seventy-five reviews from College of the Desert. The models are currently split between DIAGRAM Center, Texas School for the Blind, and Houston Community College. Next year, the group will focus on expanding existing tactile graphics curricula (raised line) to include 3D objects, completing the evaluation of models, and completing guidelines and best practices for others creating 3D models for instruction for all students.

Data Visualization Task Force Highlights

2018 December 31
by Charles LaPierre

The Data Visualization Task Force’s goals are to create a shared understanding of the landscape of existing accessibility techniques for data visualization, extend these state-of-the-art techniques, and develop a best practice guide for creating accessible data visualizations. This year we began work on a Google document showcasing the state of the art with respect to accessible data visualizations. We will continue this effort in 2019 and create our best practices document.

Drag and Drop Task Force Highlights

2018 December 31
by Charles LaPierre

The Drag and Drop Task Force has continued working on three documents started in late 2017. The first is an analysis document that provides an overview of current issues regarding accessible Drag and Drop Interactions. Accompanying this document are two supporting documents classifying the various drag and drop interactions in terms of difficulty level along with examples. In 2019, the group will combine these documents into a single, cohesive web document, which will be used to create a set of best practices and guidelines on when and how to use them.

Developer Working Group Highlights

2018 December 31
by Charles LaPierre

The Developers Working Group finalized a technique for making math accessible in EPUBs. It allows publishers to present math equations as an image with an alt-text description of the math. For reading systems and eReaders that can understand MathML, it provides improved access to the content when using assistive technology. The technique has now been incorporated into a new accessible Math EPUB test book. In January the book will undergo testing on a variety of reading systems, platforms and assistive technology combinations in order to determine feature compatibility. The results of these tests will be published on the accessibility results page, as well as in DIAGRAM’s Math Support Finder.

The Developers Working Group also helped plan the 2018 DIAGRAM Code Sprint with many participating as well. Members from the group are continuing work on various projects, including one that converts spoken math into an accessible digital version using machine learning. Another project builds a speech priority queue that the University of Colorado PhET team has already begun to incorporate into some of their accessible STEM simulations. The Developers Working Group will continue discussions and support the planning for the 2019 DIAGRAM code sprint soon after the new year.

2018 December 31
by Amaya Webster
  • W3C’s TPAC (Technical Plenary Advisory Committee) Meeting, Oct. 22-26, 2018

    TPAC this year was held in Lyon, France, with DIAGRAM’s Charles LaPierre focusing on the topics of math accessibility and personalization. The Math on the Web community group met with both the Accessible Platforms Architecture WP (Working Group) and the CSS WG, capturing lots of interest and plans for future collaboration. Meanwhile, the Personalization Task Force met with the Web Platforms WG to share work being explored around personalizing the web. The Web Platforms WG shared insights and requested a follow-up meeting to decide on a final approach to how this will be technically implemented. We are excited about what’s to come in 2019 and at the next TPAC gathering!

  • Accessing Higher Ground conference, Nov. 13-16, 2018

    EPUB Accessibility was showcased front and center with an entire track dedicated to EPUB accessibility. Math accessibility was another huge topic at this conference, with George Kerscher and Charles LaPierre presenting on the state of the art of accessible math in EPUB. Our friends at the University of Colorado Boulder’s PhET program presented their accessible interactive simulations to teachers who were excited about using these simulations in their classrooms. Bryan Gould with NCAM explained how to create video descriptions using their free tool, CADET. Benetech’s Global Certified Accessible program, which certifies accessible EPUB books, was discussed in a number of sessions including one presented by Robin Seaman and George Kerscher. Three of the top educational publishers in the U.S. highlighted Benetech’s Global Certified Accessible program in their presentation on what they are doing to making EPUBs accessible.

  • Accessible Publishing Working Group Summit, Jan. 28-29, 2019

    Charles LaPierre will be attending this summit in early 2019. The summit will be composed of about fifteen stakeholders in the eBook production and distribution chain (authors, editors, designers, publishers, distributors, librarians, and alternate-format producers). Each stakeholder group will help develop, compile, and distribute a set of best practices and techniques on accessible publishing relevant to their community.

  • Council for Exceptional Children Conference in Indianapolis, Jan. 29-Feb. 2, 2019

    Lisa Wadors will be presenting the findings of the 2018 DIAGRAM Report at this conference

  • Web4All Conference, May 13-14, 2019 & DIAGRAM Code Sprint May 15-16, 2019

    Editor’s note: Contributed by Volker Sorge

    The Web4All conference (W4A) is the premier venue for web accessibility research comprised of keynote lectures, contributed presentations, and a concluding hackathon. Next year is its 16th edition and we are particularly excited to join forces with the DIAGRAM Center by combining their successful annual code sprint with W4A’s hackathon. The joint event will be held on May 15-16, 2019, while Web4All itself will be on May 13-14 2019, at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco, in conjunction with the Web Conference.

    Every year we emphasize one research topic that is particularly timely and challenging. In 2019, this topic will be “Personalization – Personalizing the Web” and we encourage everyone with interest in this theme, the goals of the DIAGRAM Center or web accessibility in general, to join us for the hackathon in San Francisco, or submit your work to the conference. For more information, please visit