On June 9-10, Benetech’s DIAGRAM Center hosted its third annual code sprint, co-sponsored by Microsoft at its conference center in Sunnyvale, California. Not only did the Silicon Valley high tech community show up to this event in their own backyard, but developers, designers, subject matter experts, and end users from as far as Michigan, Toronto, and even the UK attended. In the end, sixty participants spent an inspiring and productive weekend generating new ideas and laying down code to make education more accessible for students with disabilities and learning differences.
With over a dozen projects to work on, there were plenty of choices and the enthusiasm was palpable. Many of the developers, designers, teachers and end users moved between projects offering their domain expertise, coding skills, and input to ensure that everything was fully accessible.
While day one was focused mostly on brainstorming and laying down the initial code, we were also treated to demos of external projects. Guy Barker gave a demo of an accessible Solitaire app. Alan Harnum demonstrated a personalization tool that uses a decoder ring and allows users to adjust the page view to their desired preferences. Phil Weaver demonstrated a simple app using large fonts and color to help young readers remember the shape of a letter.
An inspiring first day left participants raring to go on day two. Jennifer Larson Simmons, co-founder of My City School in San Francisco, which is dedicated to teaching students with learning differences declared:
“It was an amazing opportunity to be able to share ideas that could further support all learners. I wish more organizations would take action like this!” –Jennifer Larson Simmons
Day two was all about coding, coding and more coding as the project teams were on a mission to get their code working in time for the closing demos. The room was a symphony of keyboards clicking as the deadline approached. When time was finally called, we were thrilled to have sixteen projects ready for demos. Some had fleshed out designs and storyboards that could be built at a later date, others made significant progress on integrating software packages, and a few were able to complete end-to-end code ready for user testing.
Neil Soiffer, an accessible math expert formerly with Design Science, said “It was amazing to have so many great people together in one room. Everyone felt the energy. Lots of great projects were worked on, some to the point of almost being complete in just one weekend!”
And Neil wasn’t alone; we were also in awe of the incredible work that was done.
In the past, projects from DIAGRAM code sprints have grown into Math Support Finder, MathML Cloud, and more. We’ll be looking for projects from this sprint that have high potential to make more accessible educational materials available to students and look for opportunities for the community to help advance them. We’ll keep everyone posted on the evolution of these projects over time.
All in all, it was a terrific event and we feel honored and inspired by the people who joined. We are truly grateful for the support and enthusiasm our community contributes and want to acknowledge everyone who participated. We extend a heartfelt thank you to: Alan Harnum, Amanda Lannan, Ana Cristina Mendonsa-Garaventa, Andrew Ringler, Ann Gulley, Arno Gourdol, Austin Wood, Bella Simmons, Beth Powell, Bruce Walker, Bryan Garaventa, Clayton Lewis, Dae Hyun Kim, Darren Guinness, Deanna McCusker, Derek Riemer, Doug Schepers, Enamul Hoque Prince, Evan Yamanishi, Guy Barker, Irfan Ali, Jennifer Larson Simmons, Jesse Beach, Jingyi Li, Joe Polizzotto, Kartik Sawhney, Kelly Davis, Kesavan Kushalnagar, Kevin Yang, Mateus Teixeira, Michael Kauzmann, Michaela DeSapio-Yazar, Miguel Juarez, Mitchell Evan, Neil Soiffer, Phil Weaver, Pranathi Mylavarapu, Rebecca Luttmer, Ron Ellis, Rory Soiffer, Sean Hastings, Shane Lian, Sharmila Roy, Ph.D., Shri Lakshmanan, Sina Bahram, Sujeeth Thirumalai, Thaddeus Cambron, Tommy McMillen, Travis Snyder, Trenton Lawton, Volker Sorge, and Wayne Dick.
We’ll make a 2019 code sprint announcement in the coming months and hope even more of you will join us next year!
Welcome to the Second Annual DIAGRAM Center Report. This edition expands on technology initially explored in the 2017 report and adds some promising new technologies. It contains an overview of the most important ways technology is changing the educational landscape, as well as relevant opportunities and challenges, additional resources, and next steps for those interested in acquiring more information.
Enormous thanks go to the DIAGRAM Center General Advisory Committee, Technical Advisory Subcommittee, and the Working Groups for providing important insights and resources. Special thanks go to the following individuals: Clayton Lewis, Lisa Dieker, and Amanda Lannan for authoring two of the chapters, Sina Bahram for providing expert advice, and Clayton Lewis and Andreas Steffik for reviewing the chapters and providing feedback.
As always, we encourage community discussion and welcome your comments on this report or technologies you think should be covered in the future.
Imageshare is a shared, open source platform for educators and consumers to explore and find alternative image resources related to key STEM concepts. The tool functions as a registry-repository that includes accessible resources (e.g., 2D tactile graphics, 3D models, multimedia) and also allows for contributions from multiple sources and existing libraries. This quarter, we conducted user feedback sessions on the new Imageshare design mockups with members of the Tactile Working Group. With this feedback, as well as previous testing on various components, we developed a new version of Imageshare, which aims to improve usability and expand the resources in the collection. The new Imageshare will incorporate best practices previously defined by the Diagrammar content model and other accessibility standards, which support more efficient search and discovery of various accessible materials. We also expect to better leverage the broader DIAGRAM community to help expand the collection with additional 2D tactile graphics, 3D models, and other accessible resources.
The new version of Imageshare was released as a soft launch on August 27th and anticipated power users have been invited to help fine tune the tool. In addition to designing the new version of the tool, the DIAGRAM team also began discussions with NCAM on how to apply the user engagement methodology recently designed for the Accessible PEEP project to Imageshare. Look out for updates on the official launch of the Imageshare website and outcomes from our user feedback study in October!
For more on the work that’s being done with Tactile Graphics. Make sure to check out Liz Arum’s post in the Community Spotlight.
To align and brand our “Math Editor” with other Benetech products (i.e., Imageshare and Bookshare), we recently renamed the tool Mathshare. This quarter, we conducted product testing sessions with various students and teachers to better support learners with dyscalculia, dysgraphia, ADD/ADHD, limited working memory, and challenges with fine motor skills. The feedback was, once again, very positive, and also gave rise to new ideas and feature enhancements for making the tool more usable and inclusive for a broader range of learners. These past months, we were also fortunate to receive additional support from funders to continue our efforts towards developing an inclusive math tool for learners (read about the related press release). Plans for the upcoming quarter include an updated front-end interface and architecting a back-end that will allow students to revisit their work over multiple sessions.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re an educator interested in trying out the new tool or would like to partner with the DIAGRAM team to pilot Mathshare with your students in the coming school year.
Last quarter, we co-launched the Accessible PEEP and the Big Wide World website with WGBH’s National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM). Over 157,000 people have viewed the videos on YouTube thus far, an increase of 33% from the last report. Views of the three live-action activity videos increased from 12,000 to nearly 19,000 during this reporting period. In addition, we hosted a webinar on the project in May, with over 300 registered participants. The webinar explained how parents and teachers can best use the videos, activities, and stories with their children and students.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is a set of guidelines covering a wide range of recommendations for making web content more accessible, including EPUBs built using web technology. The DIAGRAM Center reviewed and commented on various issues covered by these guidelines, particularly those addressing cognitive guidelines that were in jeopardy of exclusion in this specification. We are proud to share that on June 3, 2018, WCAG 2.1 became a World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) recommendation! The W3C is an international community where member organizations, staff, and the public work together to develop web standards. Because the previous version of WCAG was released ten years ago, this update offers important technologies and audiences that were not previously addressed, including mobile devices and individuals with low vision and cognitive disabilities.
The Developers Working Group was primarily engaged in preparing for and participating in the 2018 DIAGRAM Code Sprint in June. The group was instrumental in preparing a number of the components, advising on the recruitment of participants, and establishing clear projects for the event. A number of the projects will end up in our Accessible Code Repository as good examples of how to make educational content accessible.
The Tactile Working Group helped provide feedback on the new Imageshare designs and assembled over seventy accessible 3D models representing popular STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) concepts. These 3D models were also printed this past quarter and are scheduled to be tested by educators and visually-impaired end users this fall. Following usability testing of the 3D printed models, the related files will be uploaded into the updated Imageshare collection with user feedback notes, ready for broader dissemination. Additionally, members of this growing group have also been experimenting with developing 2D tactile graphics for popular STEAM concepts that might be helpful for learners with non-print disabilities such as Autism, language processing disorders, cognitive disabilities, and learning differences. We look forward to testing all these resources with more educators and students in the coming quarter.
Last month we had our biannual Technical Advisors Subcommittee (TASC) meeting. In this meeting, we took a deep dive into accessible video practices, which ignited discussions about related concerns for virtual and augmented reality. Captioning within virtual reality is a new accessibility challenge due to the dynamic nature of the technology. For example, how do we provide continuous descriptions of the perceived content as a user turns her head? Where and how should captions appear? Are there other ways to make the visual content accessible? These are only a few of the unanswered questions we have begun to explore, but as this technology evolves and begins to enter the classroom, accessibility needs to be considered.
Math in EPUB
This quarter, the work in developing standards to display MathML in EPUB advanced significantly. DIAGRAM staff and the DIAGRAM Math in EPUB Task Force (a subgroup of the DIAGRAM Standards Working Group) continued to work on the sample files reflecting accessible ways of capturing math in EPUB, including different ways to include extended descriptions in digital files. The group incorporated various math samples into sample books that will be used to test how reading systems and assistive technologies behave with the various techniques suggested for implementing extended image descriptions and mathematics. Testing of these books will take place in the coming quarter and the results of these tests will be published on the accessibility pages of http://epubtest.org/. The results will yield new best practices and guidelines on how to make extended image descriptions and mathematics accessible. The Task Force plans to share these recommendations with publishers and these standards will also be incorporated into Benetech’s Global Certified Accessible program, which certifies EPUB books as accessible.
As mentioned under Math in EPUB, the Standards Working Group created two accessibility test books: Math in EPUB Advanced Test Book and Extended Descriptions Sample Book. Testers will use these two EPUB books to document how these books behave with various reading systems, platforms, and assistive technology combinations. These results will be collated and used to determine best practice techniques for publishers to add extended descriptions to images and math in EPUBs to extend reading system support for such content. Testing of these two accessibility EPUBs began on August 22, with testing on multiple reading systems and platforms using various combinations of assistive technology. The results of these tests will initially be published on the accessibility pages of http://epubtest.org/.
The Outreach Working Group has continued to work on the community resources webpage on the main DIAGRAM website. This page provides a list of resources most relevant to each of DIAGRAM’s six main stakeholder groups: educators, parents, students, publishers, developers, and researchers. The group is also collecting success stories from these stakeholders to highlight the impact of the DIAGRAM Center community. Stories will illustrate how tools and resources created under the DIAGRAM Center have provided students with access to materials and enabled independence previously unavailable to them. This work will continue throughout the next two quarters.
It’s official! The 2018 DIAGRAM Code Sprint is taking place June 9-10 at the Microsoft Conference Center in Sunnyvale, California. There will be food, drinks, coding, and lots of great people dedicating their weekend to making STEM education more inclusive and accessible for students with various disabilities and learning differences. If you want to participate, be sure to register by May 18. Contact info[at]diagramcenter[dot]org to learn more about this invite-only event.
Thanks to the tremendous efforts of DIAGRAM’s Outreach Working group, a new section on the DIAGRAM website is under construction. This section will provide information on the resources available to DIAGRAM’s specific target audiences: educators, parents, students, publishers, developers, and researchers. Simply select the group of interest, then use the links to access the resources that are most relevant to the selected audience. We have just completed our first round of reviews and are currently undergoing user and accessibility testing. Stay tuned for an announcement on when it goes live. If you have any suggestions, send them to info[at]diagramcenter[dot]org.
The DIAGRAM team was out in force at the 2018 Cal State University Northridge (CSUN) Assistive Technology Conference. The DIAGRAM Center held its annual office hours on March 22, gathering dozens of community members for lively conversations and impromptu technology demos over food and drinks. And per usual, the DIAGRAM team was involved in several overflowing sessions sharing the collective work of the accessibility community. Highlights included a session about the annual DIAGRAM Report, a panel session about accessible math editors (representing Pearson Education, TextHelp, Wiris Math and Benetech), and a group session about exploring ways to automate image description production for STEM. For those interested in learning about additional presentations involving Benetech’s DIAGRAM team and the DIAGRAM community, all sessions are available through the updated blog, DIAGRAM Out and About: CSUN 2018 Edition. All in all, it was an excellent CSUN experience and we look forward to CSUN 2019 in Anaheim, California!