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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
tags: ,
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.


Math Editor: Not Just Another Virtual Calculator

2017 November 27
by Sue-Ann Ma

We know what you’re thinking: does the world really need another stand-alone, virtual calculator? Well, let us stop you right there because that is not what Benetech’s Math Editor is.  Much more than a calculator, it’s an accessible way to show your work. If you have ever worked with students who have had trouble in math because they have a visual disability, a cognitive disability, a physical disability that makes using pen and paper impossible, or even just illegible handwriting, then you’ll want to check out this tool that lets students show their work digitally.

In response to community feedback urging for tools for editing digital math, the DIAGRAM Center, with the help of Dr. Neil Soiffer, is developing an accessible math editor that makes it easier for students with disabilities to do math online. Showing and communicating one’s work online (a Common Core criteria) is challenging for students and educators and especially difficult for students with disabilities. When the DIAGRAM team began reviewing digital math education tools, we were disheartened to learn that none of the 70+ tools we investigated had three educational features that are critical to digital math education:

  •  Inclusive tool that all learners, with and without disabilities, can use, with accessibility
    features for learners requiring different input and output modes;
  • Enabling students to show work and demonstrate comprehension, particularly important as Common Core standards require students not only to do the math, but also to explain how they do it;
  • Ability to manually manipulate equations by moving or crossing out
    components, without having the platform simplify the math automatically.

While tools like digital scratchpads for math are often available on the online platform, they are typically inaccessible for many students with disabilities, such as visual impairments, learning, or motor disabilities; they also tend to be incompatible with assistive technologies. Our early classroom observations uncovered huge gaps in existing tools that support students doing math online and allow students to communicate their work to their teachers. As a result, we wanted to provide alternatives for students with physical disabilities or issues with fine motor skills that would allow them to explain math problems verbally. For students with intellectual disabilities, we wanted to reduce the cognitive load of complex math problems by allowing students to review their work step by step. And for students with visual disabilities, we wanted to make sure there was adequate screen reader and braille compatibility so that students could work independently.

While learners were the primary target users of Benetech’s Math Editor, our early user feedback tests revealed that such a tool can also provide huge benefits to teachers. By keeping a true history log of each student’s work with user explanations attached, educators are provided more information to accurately assess the level and needs of each individual learner. Furthermore, a platform that records a student’s steps and explanations throughout the problem-solving process minimizes the amount of one-on-one time required by educators to grasp the thought process of a particular student.

Last month, the DIAGRAM Center and Dr. Soiffer completed the initial prototype of the Benetech Math Editor. While still in the alpha stage, we are incredibly excited about the potential for this tool both with students who have disabilities and for students in mainstream classrooms. A seventh-grade math teacher told us: “It makes me so happy to see all the academic vocabulary being used in their explanations, and actually being able to read their thoughts as they work through the problems! You all really thought through this problem and came up with a great solution.”

Students also responded favorably. In our most recent round of testing, four out of five students preferred the math editor over using pencil and paper (which, until trying Math Editor, was their first choice). “This tool gives me the ability to review my work and steps before submitting it to my teacher; it also helps me break the problem down into smaller steps.” said one student. Another student was thrilled because “it helps people with messy handwriting – now my teacher doesn’t have to guess what I wrote.”

We’re excited to receive such positive feedback so early on in the project and look forward to receiving more feedback from students and educators representing various disabilities. If you or a student you know are interested in being a tester, please contact Sue-Ann (

UM Library Launches Visual Resources Toolkit

2017 November 27

Last winter, the University of Michigan Library and Press hosted a workshop called Describing Visual Resources in Arts and Humanities Publications. The purpose of the workshop was to engage invited experts, including DIAGRAM Product Manager Sue-Ann Ma and community members Sina Bahram and Bryan Gould, to collaborate with other groups concerned with describing visual resources. Event host Stephanie Rosen was thrilled to have DIAGRAM represented at the workshop, saying that our image description guidelines served as a model for their project throughout the process. This past September, Stephanie Rosen and her team published the outcomes and learnings that were gathered during the workshop and have created the Describing Visual Resources Toolkit.  Not only is the DIAGRAM team excited to have influenced this work, but it is an excellent companion resource to our image description guidelines and we highly recommend checking it out!

Tactile Graphics Symposium

2017 November 27
by Sue-Ann Ma

In 2016, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and Ann Cunningham initiated an effort to gather the thought leaders and creators of tactile art and tactile graphics to experience and examine the current state of the work in this field. This September, the NFB sponsored the third and final Tactile Art and Graphics Symposium in partnership with the Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco. The event took place over three days at the Enchanted Hills Camp in Napa, California, and brought together thirty participants, including DIAGRAM Product Manager Sue-Ann Ma and community members Josh Miele, Ting Siu, Abigale Stangl, and Naomi Rosenberg. The event was a wonderful gathering of art practitioners and ignited discussions across a range of topics regarding tactile graphics such as: standardizing symbols for tactile maps, teaching tactile reading skills, developing tools for tactile creation, and making art both for and by the blind community. The gathering was a great opportunity to meet old friends and new, as well as explore innovative ways to continue the important discussions regarding tactile education and promotion.

We recently learned that a portion of the Enchanted Hills Camp was engulfed by the Napa and Sonoma county fires. We were relieved to learn that no one was hurt, but sad to hear about the physical damage and material loss endured by the wonderful staff members at EHC. Our thoughts remain with the EHC staff and look forward to the rebuilding of this amazing site.

Bay Area Accessibility Camp

2017 November 27
by Charles LaPierre

My name is Charles LaPierre, and I am the Technical Lead for DIAGRAM and the Born Accessible Initiative. Last month, my colleague Deanna McCusker, who is the head of user experience at Benetech, and I attended the Bay Area Accessibility Camp. Three concurrent tracks focused on testing and standards, accessible user interfaces, and accessibility for those with cognitive disabilities. I attended a session on interactive maps and how to make them accessible which is what we have been working on with our data visualization task force. I then enjoyed the session on “Virtual and Augmented Reality Uses and Challenges for People with Disabilities” by Christopher Patnoe from Google. Christopher demonstrated some virtual and augmented reality and discussed the concerns and issues around accessibility, but there were no clear takeaways. Instead, it was more of a discussion around the current state of this new technology and what we need to be thinking of as it matures. The highlight of the event was a session called “Designing for People with Cognitive Limitations” by our very own DIAGRAM Community member Dr. Clayton Lewis. Clayton stressed the importance of collaborating with people with cognitive limitations, their families, and caregivers throughout design and development can lead to more cognitively accessible software. Retrofitting a product to make it accessible or only thinking about accessibility at the end of a design cycle will seriously limit the usefulness of the software, especially in the case of cognitive accessibility, as this may not be possible at or near the end of the development cycle. I couldn’t agree more as this is the main rationale for Benetech’s Born Accessible initiative.