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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.

Project Update: Accessible PEEP and the Big Wide World

2017 December 22
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by Bryan Gould

The WGBH National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) and the DIAGRAM Center have partnered with “Peep and the Big Wide World” to create Accessible Peep. “Peep and the Big Wide World” is a massively popular, NSF-funded, STEM-focused educational TV series and website for early learners that includes resources for children, parents and educators. The aim of Accessible Peep is to provide universally designed videos and games that are available to students of all abilities and learning styles. Accessible Peep also provides how-to guides and inclusive teaching resources for educators, who are encouraged to use them to create and enhance their own accessible learning materials. NCAM and its partner, Mad*Pow, developed a methodology for testing the effect of accommodations on the viewing engagement of early learners including those with or without learning disabilities and with or without sensory impairments.

In the future, NCAM hopes to use Accessible Peep assets and methodology to research a broad range of questions such as whether students on the autism spectrum or with ADHD benefit from video descriptions, if English-Language Learners benefit from English captions, or which students might benefit from playing games that are keyboard accessible.

Utilizing digital learning assets from the “Peep and the Big Wide World” website, Accessible Peep offers:

  • Peep videos with captions and descriptions
  • Accessible Peep games that are captioned and keyboard accessible
  • Peep resources for inclusive teaching practices
  • NCAM’s how-to guides for adding accommodations to digital resources including captions, descriptions, digital games and documents
  • NCAM and Mad*Pow’s research methodology for testing the effect of accommodations on student engagement

Why We Love Standards (And You Should Too)

2017 December 22
by Charles LaPierre

Huge news from the standards world: ARIA 1.1 has become a W3C recommended standard! This means that there is finally a clear solution on how to create extended descriptions for things like images, tables and diagrams on websites, making internet use more accessible than ever. And that’s not all. There is also another new recommended standard, the Digital Publishing Module, to expose the semantically marked-up parts of a book previously hidden to the end user. For those not immersed in the standards world, the big deal about this is that it means a reader using assistive technology will be able to identify where they are in the book and can easily navigate between various sections. It’s hard to believe this wasn’t possible before, so this really is a huge win for everyone. To make sure it has the greatest possible impact, DIAGRAM will be working with the Publishing Community Group to ensure that the next version of EPUB will by default use these latest ARIA and HTML recommendations. A big congratulations and thank you to everyone involved in making this happen!

Update On The Content Working Group

2017 December 22
by Amaya Webster

The Content Working Group took a bit of a hiatus the last few months but will be coming back stronger than ever in the new year. With monthly meetings starting in January, the group is looking forward to tackling examples of accessible content for people with all kinds of disabilities, not just those traditionally associated with print, as well as connect with the other working groups to make sure their work reflects real world examples that include instructions on how to implement them. They will also be finalizing the creation of the two new Content Working Group sub-committees, the interactives Sub-Committee, and the ASL and visual literacy sub-committee.  If you are interested in joining the Content Working Group or one of the sub-committees please contact me at amayaw[at]Benetech[dot]org.

Update On The Developers Working Group

2017 December 22
by Charles LaPierre

A lot of progress has been made to address deficiencies in accessible educational materials, and there are now solutions that are effective for some students. However, as technology advances and we learn more about the different needs of students, we are able to develop tools and resources that can help an even broader range of learning styles and students with and without disabilities. The Developers Working Group is identifying areas that limit access to educational materials, with a particular focus on disabilities not traditionally associated with print such as cognitive and physical impairments.

The group is exploring options to simplify web pages and possibly ebooks to assist students with cognitive disabilities.  One possibility is researching a corpus translation of complex to simplified vocabulary and testing if it is possible to replace complex words with their simpler counterparts.  Another idea is the creation of a pictorial representation of key words that may help students with certain types of cognitive or reading challenges better understand the meaning of a paragraph. The group will be ideating around these concepts, testing potential solutions and documenting learnings. If you have an idea or are interested in testing prototypes, please contact me at Charlesl[at]Benetech[dot]org.

Update On Drag And Drop: A Developers Working Group Sub-Committee

2017 December 22
by Charles LaPierre

The Drag and Drop Sub-Committee is chaired by Jason White of ETS. The group explores how to make dragging and dropping content when using a computer more accessible. The group has been creating two resources, one that categorizes different drag and drop methods, ranking them as easy, medium or hard. The second resource contains descriptions of each interaction and documentation on solutions for making the various types of drag and drop interactions accessible. So far, the interactions involve counting, sorting, eyes free, and drop locations.  The group will be sharing these documents with the DIAGRAM community as soon as they are ready for general review. Also on the group’s radar is a new feature from Apple. The release of iOS11 has some advanced drag and drop components with a new concept of a drag session that has piqued the group’s interest. Time permitting, they hope to explore how these new features might be applied to web-based or EPUB-equivalent implementations.

Update On Data Visualization: A Developers Working Group Sub-Committee

2017 December 22
by Charles LaPierre

The Data Visualization Sub-Committee was formed a few months after the DIAGRAM Strategic Planning Meeting that was held in June.  The group, chaired by Doug Schepers of Fizz Studio, is searching for the best examples of data visualization accessibility support. They are evaluating different examples to determine what is accessible and where the gaps are, so they can determine where to focus their energy.

The initial focus will be on techniques that work in today’s browsers and screen readers using existing ARIA roles, properties and focus management, and using keyboard navigation on static data visualization documents. The secondary focus will be on interactive data visualization documents including “brushing” and drill-down. In a later phase, the group will look at extending standards where necessary to provide rich semantic data visualization documents for techniques that can’t easily be done using today’s standards and AT behavior.

Currently, the group is searching for examples of data visualizations and recording them in a shared Google doc.  Next, we will determine which ones are accessible and open, what gaps exist, and where the group might help make accessible solutions. In 2018, the group will consolidate and document best practices on how to approach data visualization for users of AT. The end goal is to create a shared understanding of accessibility techniques for data visualization and to extend state-of-the-art techniques for creating accessible data visualizations.

Update On The Outreach Working Group

2017 December 22
by Amaya Webster

DIAGRAM is thrilled to announce the revival of the Outreach Working Group which will be chaired by Bryan Gould from WGBH. The group will focus on ways to spread the word about DIAGRAM’s work and impact. With a charter already in place, the first meeting will be held on January 9th at 11am Pacific Time, with additional meetings held every other week.  The goals of the group came out of our DIAGRAM strategic planning meeting and include:

  • Develop materials for DIAGRAM community members to share information about what we do and why.
  • Create a feedback process among students, educators and publishers regarding effective accessibility efforts.
  • Discover and disseminate success stories so end users, educators and publishers understand what success in accessibility entails

We are incredibly excited for the revival of this group and grateful to Bryan for spearheading it. We will send a formal announcement and signup opportunity after the holidays. In the meantime, if you have any questions or already know you would like to be a part of it, contact me at AmayaW[at]Benetech[dot]org or Bryan at bryan_gould[at]wgbh[dot]org.

Update On The Standards Working Group

2017 December 22
by Charles LaPierre

The Standards Working Group is updating its guidelines for incorporating extended descriptions into EPUBs. RNIB, DAISY, and Benetech’s DIAGRAM Center have created a solution that uses HTML links to and from the extended descriptions. The Standards Working Group will be updating the best practices and examples in the Accessible Image Sample Book to reflect this new way of incorporating extended descriptions.

The DIAGRAM Center is also updating our own website with this new solution, and I will be writing a blog about the new best practice. Standards and adoption is a moving target, and the group will continue to explore best practices to keep up with the ever-changing landscape.

Update On Math In EPUB: A Standards Working Group Sub-Committee

2017 December 22
by Charles LaPierre

The Math in EPUB Sub-Committee was created to determine the best way to incorporate math in EPUB files. MathML is currently the most accessible way for students to be able to access and explore math, but most reading systems can’t support it. This is a huge problem for students using assistive technology as they are unable to access or interact with the math in their textbooks. It also poses a problem for STEM textbook publishers.

The Math in EPUB Sub-Committee developed a plan for when a system can’t support the MathML that includes the math image with a short text description in addition to the MathML. If the reading system doesn’t support the MathML, the student still has access to the alt-text. The group is working with Readium and the MathJax team on this fallback plan and will soon release their findings on how to put math into an EPUB in an accessible way!

Out And About: It’s CSUN Time

2017 December 21
by Amaya Webster

The next big conference on our radar is the 2018 CSUN (California State University, Northridge Accessibility Conference, taking place March 19 to March 23 in San Diego, California. The DIAGRAM team will be presenting on a variety of topics including the DIAGRAM Report, Born Accessible certification, digital publishing accessibility, accessible math and multimodal tools. We will also be hosting our annual DIAGRAM office hours party. We will be posting more details about our sessions and office hours in the next edition of the DIAGRAM blog. If you would like details on your sessions or events to be included in that post, please let me know. You can email me directly at Amayaw[at]Benetech[dot]org.