- Expanding Employment Success for People with Disabilities, an article by Jim Fruchterman and Joan Mellea of Benetech, examining the obstacles and opportunities in employment for people who have disabilities.
- Everyone Can Code, an article about a program aimed at deaf and blind students learning to code that Apple is rolling out in several schools in the United States.
Dr. Yue-Ting Siu (Ting to those she knows, Dr. Ting to her students) has been a long time member of the DIAGRAM Community. She first became involved in 2012 when she worked as a consultant on Poet’s former iteration as an image description tool. Her role with DIAGRAM has always been around translating educational needs and classroom practices for DIAGRAM Development, and deciphering DIAGRAM tools and technology making them usable for teachers. In addition to contract work, over the years Ting has volunteered her time to participate in the Content Working Group, the Tactile Working Group, the Outreach Working Group, and the Advisory Committee, as well as strategic planning meetings and other DIAGRAM, hosted events. I had the opportunity to sit down with Ting and learn more about what she does when she is not participating in DIAGRAM activities.
Ting is an assistant professor and is in her 3rd year coordinating the Visual Impairments (VI) Program within the Department of Special Education at San Francisco State University where she trains teachers of the visually impaired who are getting their teaching credentials or pursuing Masters degrees. At the start of 2018 she was in the process of majorly refreshing the VI course curriculum, especially in regards to technology. She wanted to make sue that learning to use technology was integrated throughout all coursework with different courses focusing on different technology aspects.
Ting also believes very strongly that students need to graduate from the program not only prepared to teach, but able to keep evolving their own professional development in order to remain relevant in their practice. According to Ting, this is even more important for teachers of the visually impaired who are often much more isolated in their fields. Most TVIs are itinerant, meaning they travel from school to school to see students, a practice that can easily cut them off from the informal professional development that happens in schools as well as professional community building in general.
Thanks to Ting’s efforts, TVI students in her program are now learning about multimedia accessibility throughout the program, even making video tutorials to share with colleagues in the field. There is also an added emphasis on learning to connect and staying connected with the professional learning community via social media. The program upholds accessibility standards so that learning materials are provided to students in an accessible format, including the learning management system and the use of the Zoom video conferencing platform for all classes. All students’ work also meets standards for accessibility including the dissemination of accessible reports and use of image and video description in all course projects. In addition, the program has a rolling admissions process and is now delivered via synchronous instruction on Zoom with face-to-face Lab Weekends once per semester. For those wanting more information on the TVI program at SF State, updates can be followed on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube by searching for @VIProgramSFSU.
As mentioned in our August newsletter, the Second Annual DIAGRAM Report has been published and is available on our website along with the 2017 report. But as the saying goes, there is no rest for the weary, and our team has already begun work on the third annual report. We have reached out to many of our community members to solicit feedback on the technologies we should explore for the 2019 report and find out who might be interested in writing a section for the report on a technology you feel passionate about. If you haven’t received a survey and wish to provide your opinion, please let us know. You can email your input to CharlesL[at]Benetech[dot]org. Don’t be shy; the more feedback we get, the stronger the report will be!
By now, many of you are familiar with Imageshare, an open source platform DIAGRAM created for educators and consumers to find and share alternative image resources related to key science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) concepts. The tool aims to curate STEM materials frequently encountered in the classroom and allows users to search the collection using accessible metadata (e.g., contributor, resource type, target grade(s), and language). The new version of Imageshare also adds the ability for educators and end users to add instructional teaching notes, production notes, as well as usability ratings and comments for specific resources.
Imageshare was soft launched at the end of August and is now live and ready for more content! More STEM resources will continue to be added, with content feedback to be provided by additional students and educators in the coming months. To date, the College of the Desert and employees of LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco have already provided input on the usability of 3D-printed models identified and produced by DIAGRAM’s Tactile Working Group. Further testing with end users has been scheduled with the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and other academic institutions aiming to better understand accessible educational alternatives. In addition to contributing and evaluating content, members of the Tactile Working Group have also helped test the accessibility and usability of the Imageshare platform, and we thank this group for their active participation the development of this tool.
The DIAGRAM Center has been exploring whether it’s possible to make complex diagrams more appealing and engaging for tactile learners by adapting the 2D tactile graphics production process for non-braille learners. Innate in the traditional 2D production process are the simplification of visual content and the removal of things like clutter and perspective. These simplified graphics have the potential to better support students with special needs such as: cognitive disabilities, learning differences, autism, and low vision. While best practices highlighted in the Braille Authority of North America (BANA) guidelines for 2D tactile production process were applied in the experimental resources, several non-traditional versions were also created for testing: a version where braille is replaced by English text, a version where texture is replaced by vibrant colors, a version combining texture and color, and a version that provides a higher-level context of the original graphic.
The DIAGRAM Center has been working with Lucia Hasty from Rocky Mountain Braille Associates and Nicole Johnson, formerly with Central Access at Central Washington University and now a Ph.D. student at the University of Colorado, Boulder, on this project. A working draft of the design principles and assumptions used to produce these resources will be shared as this project progresses.
We are thrilled to announce that version 2 of the Mathshare prototype is now available! Highlights in the recent release include updating the visual design to be more student-friendly, adding a workflow that supports teacher-generated problem sets, and allowing students to save, share, and revisit their work. While development of Mathshare is ongoing, with additional curriculum and accessibility improvements expected in the coming months, we look forward to sharing our updated tool with edtech companies and piloting the updated version in general and special education classrooms. If you are interested in piloting the new version of Mathshare in your classroom, with specific students, or connecting us with an edtech platform provider in the coming weeks, contact email@example.com.
It is with great pleasure that we announce the development of a new tool, the Custom Search Engine for Accessibility (formerly known as the “DIAGRAM Wizard”), which is designed to help publishers, content creators, and developers search for and find resources on how to make their web pages and EPUB books accessible. Incorporating a list of leading authorities in the creation of accessible materials as well as working examples, best practices, and information on standards, the tool is a customized Google search with a narrow focus, ensuring that users have a high probability of finding a vetted resource that can best support their needs in creating accessible material. Still in the early stages, the tool searches both the DIAGRAM Center website and the DAISY Knowledge Base with the hope of adding additional resource libraries in the near future.
On October 10, 2018, President Trump signed the U.S. ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty (formally known as the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons who are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled). This is a major milestone in a process that started ten years ago to create a treaty enabling authorized entities like Benetech to share accessible materials across international borders through our Bookshare program. Prior to this treaty, any books that were created using a national copyright exception like the Chafee Amendment were limited to distribution only in the country where they were made accessible. You can read the full announcement on Benetech’s website.
The Tactile Working Group has been instrumental in contributing to the success of the Imageshare project. Members have contributed resources to the collection, tested the alternative content with end users, and provided comments about the usability of resources to be added to the collection. The group has also helped test the Imageshare platform and are continuing to work on adding resources and collecting feedback about the materials.
The Outreach Working Group finished content development and construction of the new community web page, which highlights the DIAGRAM tools and resources most applicable to each of the DIAGRAM stakeholder groups: educators, parents, students, publishers, developers, and researchers. We encourage those who have used this new resource page to provide us with feedback on its usability and the content it recommends. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Developers Working Group has been increasing the examples in the Accessible Code Repository by adding a dozen new resources since the 2018 DIAGRAM Code Sprint, which took place this past June. Thanks to their hard work, the repository now includes over twenty examples of prototypes, code samples, and best practices for producing accessible educational materials. For those interested in the projects that were completed during the code sprint, even the ones that were not added to the repository, demo pages and summaries are available at 2018 Code Sprint Projects.
The Standards Working Group has finished the production of two new sample EPUB books, one to support testing of extended image descriptions and the other for accessible math. With the help of the Reading Systems Testing Group, both books are currently undergoing user testing on various reading systems, assistive technologies (AT), and platforms. The results of these tests will be entered into epubtest.org and Math Support Finder to help readers determine which AT and e-reader combinations will best fit their math and image needs when reading.
- Liz Arum, a DIAGRAM community member, spoke about Imageshare during a panel about “Making Assistive Technologies for People with Disabilities” at World Maker Faire on September 22 in New York.
- Clayton Lewis, DIAGRAM Advisor, led a one-day “Coleman Workshop on Implications of Developments in Machine Learning for People with Cognitive Disabilities” on October 2 in Colorado.
- DIAGRAM community member Ally Futty presented at the American Printing House (APH) STEM Consortium on October 4-5 in Kentucky. Attendees of the consortium included educators of the blind and visually impaired as well as AT vendors.=
- Director of the DIAGRAM Center, Sue-Ann Ma, and DIAGRAM community member, Nicole Johnson, presented a session on “Addressing Diverse Learner Needs Through Multimodal Access” at the National Federation for the Blind’s Tactile Graphics in Education and Careers Symposium on October 11-12 in Maryland.
- DIAGRAM staff member Charles LaPierre and DIAGRAM Co-PI George Kerscher will be attending the W3C Technical Plenary Advisory Committee (TPAC) meetings on October 22-26 in France.
- Charles LaPierre and George Kerscher will be presenting “Mathematics in Born Accessible Publications” at the Accessing Higher Ground Conference scheduled for November 14-16 in Colorado.
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!