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Updated Book Industry Study Group Quick Start Guide

2019 June 5
by Charles LaPierre

The Book Industry Study Group released an updated Quick Start Guide to Accessible Publishing on January 18, 2019, accompanied by an article in Publishers Weekly to help promote awareness about its utility. Although the original Quick Start Guide was completed in 2016, this revised update covers new advancements to help publishers create more born accessible content that addresses the needs of a broader audience. Alignment of standards that enable the prospect of Born Accessible also paves the way for new features such as an EPUB 3 with proper HTML tagging, ARIA attributes, and accessibility metadata. Since its recent launch, some publishers have already been calling the publication their “go-to guide for accessible publishing.”

New Standards Reference Documents

2019 June 5
by Charles LaPierre

The DIAGRAM Standards Working Group is developing two new reference documents. The “UX Guide for Displaying Accessibility Metadata for EPUB” will help libraries and bookstores promote accessible EPUBs so that students can easily find these accessible books and ensure they will meet their needs before purchasing them, and the “Accessibility Summary Authoring Guidelines” will help publishers create meaningful accessibility summary statements to be put into EPUB metadata. The summaries will ultimately assist students, teachers, procurement offices, and others in finding the right accessible EPUBs for their needs. After gathering feedback from the publishing community, we plan to publish both of these guides next quarter.

Summary of the 2019 Strategic Planning Meeting

2019 June 5
by Amaya Webster

A group of meeting participants having a discussion.The 2019 DIAGRAM strategic planning meeting was held on February 28 and March 1 in Leesburg, Virginia. The primary goals of the meeting were to:

  • review outcomes and learnings to date in the DIAGRAM project
  • share and highlight tools and resources developed by the community
  • identify emerging technologies and areas where accessibility support is at risk and needs to be addressed, both immediately and longer-term
  • analyze and strategize on sustainability priorities and plans for our collective efforts
  • agree on priorities and next steps for moving forward, including updating charters for working groups.

60 people attended, of whom, 12 were new to the DIAGRAM community and 25 were first-time participants in a DIAGRAM Strategic Planning Meeting. Over the two days, A photograph of a large group of participants observing a demo given by Volker Sorge.participants explored topics such as what usability means for various disability audiences and ways to produce larger-scale impact (e.g., through adoptions, dissemination, or spheres of influence). They also discussed how technology shifts impact our priorities and work in the world of standards/best practices development and tools creation. And as always they continued to examine how to better work with DIAGRAM’S ever evolving and growing community, whether as individual contributors with specialized skills, adoption partners, or connectors who can help us reach and influence the broader technology and edtech market. Working groups also had opportunities to meet, which resulted in the following updates:

  • The Outreach Working Group and Content Working Group combined, with plans to assemble real-world examples of how DIAGRAM tools and resources are being used by students, educators and parents, content producers, and edtech partners.
  • A new working group addressing user feedback and testing was formed.
  • The Developers, Standards, Tactile, and Research Working Groups had an opportunity to meet in person, recruit new members, and set concrete priorities and goals for the coming months.

All and all it was a fun and productive meeting, that was well-received by participants, with 95.6% of individuals describing the meeting as either productive or extremely productive.


The 2019 DIAGRAM Hackathon Recap

2019 June 4

A picture of the room where participants are listening to the opening remarks on day one of the hackathon. On May 15-16, DIAGRAM held its 4th annual code sprint which was co-hosted with Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology (PEAT). This year’s sprint took place at the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco who generously donated space in their building. Sponsored by Microsoft, without whom the hackathon couldn’t have happened, the event took place during the 16th International Web4All Conference and attracted a professionally and geographically diverse crowd.

Participants came from as close as San Francisco, Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, and Redwood City, and as far as the UK, India, Switzerland and Portugal, with backgrounds in academia, industry, government, and, nonprofits. Regardless of where they were from and what their background was, everyone came together to learn and explore the potential of new technologies to personalize the web and provide an accessible user experience for all. It was a fun, informative, educational and productive two days. One participant and longtime DIAGRAM community member Neil Soiffer summed it up well stating:

“The hackathon was a great opportunity to learn and do some good work. I knew something about accessibility, but nothing about Jupyter notebooks [one of the projects]. My hackathon partner Paul knew something about Jupyter notebooks, but nothing about accessibility. By working together, we both learned something and were able to make lots of small but significant accessibility improvements to Jupyter that we expect will land in main Jupyter code.”

The work done on Jupyter is important not just because of the exchange of new information, but because Jupyter is a new endeavor for DIAGRAM with huge potential for impact. As long-time and often-quoted community member Sina Bahram pointed out:

“Jupyter is used by millions of people around the world. It is a foundational technology in data science, finance and many more fields. By enhancing the accessibility of this environment, we are able to begin moving the needle slowly but surely towards a day where students and professionals with disabilities are not excluded from the most foundational and essential tool required to participate in school and work.”


Evan Yamanishi, DIAGRAM community member representing publisher W.W. Norton, went on to say,

“I wish I could have worked on every project at the hackathon this year and really would’ve liked to learn more about Jupyter Lab. My group focused on defining a production-ready version of the enhanced visual descriptions from 2018, hacking on previously unsolved UX issues such as keyboard dragging and both improved and reduced motion. Clayton Lewis was especially great at documenting everything and asking challenging questions about affordances and customization things that are required to gain wider adoption of enhanced descriptions.”

Day One kicked off at 8:00 am on a very rainy Wednesday. Despite the early hour and shockingly bad weather for May, the excitement in the room was palpable. Not only A photograph of one of the groups with participants making funny faces. Most notable is Clayton Lewis, who is balancing a spoon on his nose. were people pumped to hack for good, but in a twist on our usual code sprint format, this year, there would be judging and prizes — computer bags and Amazon HD fire tables donated by Educational Testing Services (ETS) — for the winning teams. The room was abuzz with lively conversations, brainstorming, strategizing and the occasional breaks for cheeky antics and a ton of food.

One of the highlights of the day was a tour of the LightHouse facility. The beautiful space boasts huge windows and panoramic views of downtown San Francisco and City Hall. It was designed by Chris Downey, LightHouse board president, and realized by architect Mark Cavagnero, both of whom are blind. The space is completely accessible using different floor textures to designate the type of room a person is in. It also has walls that are lined with tactile art and tactile maps as well as conference rooms, a lab, craft room, exercise space, teaching kitchen and more. Everyone was extremely impressed with the space, both the layout and the A photograph of participants touching the art during the tour of LightHouse. history behind it, as well as the mission of LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired.  You can learn more about their work on the LightHouse website.

Day One ended around 9:00 pm with hackers completing their initial code and one participant, Kesavan, generously offering to help event organizers bring the leftover food to a local food bank. We couldn’t have asked for a better start to the hackathon.

On Day Two the room was much quieter with the hackers intent on writing and cleaning up code in preparation for the presentations and judging. The atmosphere in the room was tense though teams still somehow found time to goof off. They were also treated to demos by Stanford graduate students Alexa Fay Siu and Tayo Falase.  Alexa, who is working toward her PhD in mechanical engineering and human-computer interaction, showed off her project, shapeShift. This process takes a 3D STL file and renders a 3D A photograph of participants gathered around Alexa's demoobject using a tactile array of small cylinders that can be raised, rotated and resized in real time. This project can also be used by students with blindness, visual impairments or a learning style better supported through touch to be able to fully explore graphs and other mathematical concepts in a way they can better understand.

Tayo, who is receiving a master’s degree in engineering, human-centered design, demonstrated her project, Tactile Code Skimmer, that represents the tab indentations within computer code on a physical device that showed eight lines of where the indentations were for each line of code. The goal is to track your place in the code and identify the level of indentation on this external device by feeling where the sliders are located. As you step through your code, the sliders will move to correspond to the tab indentation for that line of code. The level of indentation is meaningful when programming.  For example, an inner loop of instructions should all be at the same indentation level when the tab indexing is incorrect. If it is not, it could indicate a potential bug in the software.

A photograph of two participants engaging in a secret handshake. The afternoon wrapped with the teams putting the finishing touches on their code and then, finally, the presentations happened and judging took place. If you are interested in the presentations, they were recorded and can be accessed on DIAGRAM’s YouTube channel. Participants waited with bated breath (aka eating street tacos while the judges deliberated). As it turns out, all teams did extremely well making significant progress over the two coding marathon days, with many producing usable code. The judges had quite the challenge on their hands and tensions ran high (low) as the teams anxiously (calmly) waited to learn how they placed.

The teams and their projects were as follows:

  • JupyterLab: Over half of the participants worked on one of three JupyterLab projects (making menus & dialogs accessible [low hanging fruit], high-level architectural changes required between the main project and its libraries, and improving the overall Notebook Experience) – an interactive development environment that enables users to create and share documents that combine live code with narrative text, mathematical equations, visualizations, interactive controls, and other rich output. Four teams worked on adding various features to Jupyter Lab that allow screen readers to recognize and verbalize menus, tabs, buttons, modal dialogs, and fields.
  • Accessible Code Repository (Accessible Interactives) featuring Charles LaPierre (Benetech), Markku Hakkinen (ETS) and Candida Haynes (Independent) – The DIAGRAM Center is assembling a repository of open source code for common interactions such as synchronized text-to-speech highlighting, carousels, page settings, date pickers, drag and drop, and so on. The team worked on improving the layout and functionality of the repository and plans to add more best-in-class code that can be used to make applications more accessible.
  • Accessible Extended Image Descriptions featuring Evan Yamanishi (W.W. Norton), Matt Nupen (Benetech), Clayton Lewis (Boulder Colorado), and Tammy Speed (Founders and Coders) – They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but when you can’t see that picture or understand it due to a visual or cognitive disability, it’s as if the image is not there. Authors and publishers need a way to add simple image descriptions as well as more detailed descriptions that appear in an unobtrusive yet easily accessible way. The team worked on an interface with Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA) web standards that allow a user to create extended descriptions that can be toggled on/off and repositioned.
  • Accessibility Conformance Testing  featuring Carlos Duarte from (University of Lisbon), Pawan Kumar Patel (IIT Kanpur), Marie Trudelle (Empowerment Through Integration), Damien Engels (Google), and Ramit Garg (Intuit) – the team proposed new rules for testing the accessibility of links, link text, headings, widgets, and other elements of HTML to ensure adherence to ARIA standards that allow screen readers to be able to verbalize and interact with web pages. Automating this function makes it easier for web developers to make sites accessible from the very beginning.

In the end, the judges could only pick three winners. In third place was the Accessibility Conformance Testing project. In second place was one of the Jupyter Lab’s teams that made menus and dialogs within Jupyter Lab accessible, and in first place was the A group photograph of the team who won first place. Accessible Extended Image Descriptions team which showcased a number of options for providing extended image descriptions in an inclusive way as well as documentation to support this work. Of course, the real winners are the people who will benefit from the code produced over the two days so we would like to again extend a huge thanks to Microsoft for their sponsorship allowing us to host the hackathon and providing swag for all of the teams, ETS for providing prizes, to the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired SF for providing the space , and to all the participants who volunteered two days of their time to come up with solutions to accessibility problems. Their dedication and passion are truly inspiring.

A photograph of code sprint participants smiling and giving a thumps up to the camera.

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.