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Benetech Secures U.S. Department of Education Award to Expand Access to Bookshare for Students with Disabilities

2017 November 27
by Amaya Webster

We here at DIAGRAM would like to take a moment to share some exciting news about one of Benetech’s other initiatives, the Bookshare program. For those of you unfamiliar with Bookshare, it is the largest online library of accessible materials for students who read differently due to blindness, low vision, a physical disability, or dyslexia. We are thrilled to announce that Benetech has received a five-year award from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, to expand and improve access to books for these qualifying students. Thanks to this new award Bookshare will:

  • Continue to offer free memberships for all qualified students at U.S. public schools, community colleges and universities, charter schools, and homeschools.
  • Expand to over 800,000 books with a goal of delivering four million book downloads.
  • Continue to support an ever-increasing number of reading tools, apps, and devices.
  • Continue to provide expert training and customer support
  • Work directly with publishers to ensure accessibility features are included in production and are present in over 50 percent of educational books by 2022.

To learn more about Bookshare and the new award, read the official press release or the TechCrunch article: “Palo Alto nonprofit Benetech wins a $42.5M Dept. of Education grant, a nod to founder Jim Fruchterman’s quest to help the blind.”

Standards Working Group

2017 November 27
by Charles LaPierre

It is a thrilling time in the standards world with the publishing industry having great momentum toward adding extended descriptions to images. Of course, with great momentum comes rapidly changing practices, and we want to make sure that the relevant recommendations are being updated consistently to reflect what is supported by the current state of both the standards and the different reading systems.

As part of this effort, the Standards Working Group has been reviewing recommendations for how to mark up extended descriptions for the Web as well as inside an EPUB. We have nine separate tests based on using ARIA details, a future ARIA 1.1 specification. We have created an EPUB with various options and will be testing these to see how each performs with various screen readers and reading systems. In the meantime, we are also looking into updated alternatives that we can recommend immediately to publishers as they add extended descriptions to their EPUB books. Also on our radar is the need for standards around digital publishing such as media overlay support. Just this month, many of the working group’s members attended the annual TPAC meeting where they met with a number of W3C working group members to discuss exactly what future standards are needed for this quickly expanding area.

Standards Sub-Group: Math in EPUB

2017 November 27
by Charles LaPierre

Supporting math in EPUB is an ongoing challenge and one that continues to impact students with disabilities who are forced to rely on specialized systems to interact with math in even the most basic ways. Figuring out how to get browsers to support math would eliminate the need for students to have external support and allow them to have a much more meaningful experience with math and math-related subjects. The Math in EPUB Task Force is determined to make this a reality. The group recently met with Microsoft’s Edge Accessibility Team to discuss MathML support in the Edge browser. The group shared its findings regarding digital math and asked to have the raw MathML exposed to AT in Edge so that it can be made accessible. They were receptive to the suggestions and the group hopes to have updates soon.

The group has also been working with Apple to resolve some MacOS/iOS issues with our current solution of having MathML hidden offscreen with either an image/HTML or CSS fallback of the math. We have also created three sample EPUB books with this solution and have started testing it. Unfortunately, recent tests on some reading systems have exposed a few problems, but the group is already looking into ways to solve these issues.

Developers Sub-Group: Data Visualization

2017 November 27
by Charles LaPierre

The Accessible Data Visualization Task Force has been identifying state-of-the-art examples of data visualizations and indicating if these are open source or proprietary solutions. We will continue to document what is currently available and provide examples and techniques to the DIAGRAM repository of accessible widgets/tools and ultimately provide guidelines on how to do accessible data visualizations. There may also be opportunities to discuss our ideas for future work in ARIA.

Developers Sub-Group: Drag and Drop

2017 November 27
by Charles LaPierre

The Drag and Drop Task Force has refined its analysis of the different applications of the drag-and-drop metaphor that give rise to distinct accessibility issues. This work has been facilitated by the identification of examples of each case arising in educational applications (especially interactive simulations). The findings of the task force’s analysis of these access challenges, and how they can be addressed, will be shared with the DIAGRAM community when the documentation is ready for wider review. This work will serve as the basis for authoring guidelines for developers of interactive educational applications that employ drag and drop in their designs.

Out and About

2017 November 27

Here is a list of recent and upcoming places the DIAGRAM team and DIAGRAM community members have attended or presented at. Do you have an upcoming engagement you’d like to share? Let us know and we will include it. info[at]diagramcenter[dot]org.


Accessibility Camp Bay Area is a participant-driven event, where participants help shape the schedule by suggesting topics of interest when they register. These topics range from focusing on users with different disabilities, sessions on digital accessibility topics from the web (technical to tactical), desktop software, mobile apps, eLearning, online gaming, open source innovations, and everything in between. This year Deanna McCusker, head of user experience at Benetech, and Charles LaPierre, DIAGRAM technical lead, both attended, along with numerous other DIAGRAM community members. Read a write up of Charles’ experience here.

  • DAISY Board Meeting (October 24–26, Baltimore, MD)

Members of DIAGRAM and the Benetech team presented Benetech’s work on the Global Certified Accessible initiative.

ITC Conference (October 27th, Washington DC)

The ITC Conference is a two-day symposium with a heavy focus on accessibility testing, automated and manual testing, and WCAG 2.1.  George Kerscher and Charles LaPierre presented “Accessibility Standards Around EPUB,” Benetech’s pilot program for certification and Benetech’s Global Certified Accessible initiative.


  • TPAC Technical Plenary / Advisory Committee (November 6-8, Burlingame, CA)

This huge meeting brings together W3C technical groups, the Advisory Board, the TAG, and the Advisory Committee for an exciting week of coordinated work, face-to-face meetings and discussions. This meeting is widely attended by DIAGRAM staff members and community members. The DIAGRAM Center hosted a happy hour for meeting participants, the DIAGRAM community and the DIAGRAM team. The energy was high and it was a lovely way to kick off TPAC and a week of publishing Working Group meetings and joint meetings with CSS, HTML, and APA (Accessible Platforms Architecture).

  • Publishing Summit (November 9 -10, Burlingame, CA)

The publishing summit was a great opportunity for DIAGRAM to further explore personalization and showcase our Born Accessible work. Charles LaPierre met with the ARIA Working Group to discuss setting up a new framework to semantically mark up content to make it more accessible by personalizing the content to suit the users’ needs. George Kerscher presented on accessibility standards in publishing and showcased the ACE tool for automatically checking EPUBs for accessibility.

  • Webinar on the First Annual DIAGRAM Report (November 13)

Hosted by the DIAGRAM Center, DIAGRAM report writers Lisa Wadors, Senior Program Manager: Education, Research and Partnerships, and Charles LaPierre presented on the six new technologies the report focused on, the opportunities discovered, the challenges uncovered, and the key takeaways. Don’t worry if missed the live webinar. A closed-captioned recording of the webinar will be made available on our website in the coming weeks.


  • Webinar: Guidelines for Creating Accessible Ebooks, (December 5)

Charles LaPierre will be presenting for the Access for All Challenge.

  • Webinar: Born Accessible Certification, (Dec 14)

Robin Seaman and Charles LaPierre will present on Benetech’s Born Accessible Certification work at this free DIAGRAM-hosted webinar. We will post more details about the webinar along with registration information soon.

New DIAGRAM Webinar

2017 November 10
by Amaya Webster

Name: The First Annual DIAGRAM Report
Date: Monday, November 13, 2017
Time: 12 PM – 1 PM Pacific Time
Cost: Free!

Join us Monday, November 13th for a free webinar on one of DIAGRAM’s newest resources, the DIAGRAM Report. The report explores six technologies that have the potential to significantly impact the learning landscape for students with disabilities. Report authors, Charles LaPierre and Lisa Wadors will be discussing the technologies they focused on, the challenges they found, the opportunities they uncovered and of course their key takeaways. Time permitting, they will also engage participants in a discussion on potential new technologies that should be explored in the 2018 report. You won’t want to miss it!


What We Are Reading

2017 August 30

Poet: New and Improved Interactive Image Description Training

2017 August 30
by Sue-Ann Ma

After much anticipation, our revamped Poet Training Tool is now available! In recent months, we have received invaluable feedback from countless members of the DIAGRAM Center community. For those of you who might be less familiar with it, Poet was originally designed as a mechanism that enabled volunteers to provide crowd-sourced image descriptions for critical diagrams found in educational texts. We know that getting image descriptions in text books is critical to a born accessible work flow.  But to really drive more accessible content for students with disabilities, we needed to provide publishers and other content creators with the right tools to make born accessible books a reality. After running numerous image slams we realized what they really needed was technology for better, scalable training for writing descriptions.  So we are thrilled to be unveiling Poet like you’ve never experienced it before, a training tool to provide users with interactive exercises to determine “when to describe” and “how to describe” images, as well as an opportunity to apply these guidelines and “practice describing” their own content.

Please take our new training tool out for a spin and/or help to share this resource with the community of practitioners.  There are Provide Feedback links sprinkled throughout the site to share thoughts about this new tool. And stay tuned for additional features to be added in the coming months and stories from publishers about how Poet is making a difference!


Community Spotlight: George Kerscher

2017 August 29
by Amaya Webster
a photo after the Missoula Half Marathon. It shows Gail, George, and Kroner all wearing their medals.

A photo after the Missoula Half Marathon. It shows Gail, George, and Kroner all wearing their medals.

As if there weren’t already enough reasons to be impressed with DIAGRAM community member and Co-PI George Kerscher, here’s one more. George, Gail, and Kroner recently participated in the 2017 Missoula Half Marathon which is 13.1 miles (21 km). Gail, George’s wife, ran it, finishing with a time of 2 hours and thirty-six minutes. George and his guide-dog Kroner walked it finishing in four hours and thirteen minutes. Needless to say, we’re all pretty impressed. Congratulations George, what an accomplishment!

What the Working Groups Are Working On: 4 Things You Probably Don’t Know, But Should

2017 August 29
by Amaya Webster

One: Standards Working Group Update

By George Kerscher

Extended descriptions are near and dear to the hearts of the DIAGRAM community and we (the DIAGRAM Standards Working group) have made advances on the extended descriptions front. Currently, in Aria 1.1, which is also expected to become a W3C recommendation early in 2018, we have an attribute called “aria-details.” This attribute can take an ID of an element on the page and provide the mechanism to associate the extended description of the image, figure, or any other HTML element. We envision this to be used in combination with the HTML “details” element.  We have developed a series of examples that demonstrate the usage, and while the examples are not polished, you can still get a good idea of where we are headed by visiting:

We’re also continuing to develop recommendations for math in EPUB and on the web. Stay tuned for a list of examples.

Two: Developers Working Group Update

By Charles LaPierre

During the DIAGRAM Strategic Planning meeting, the Working Group decided to have bi-monthly meetings to keep the momentum going.  We currently have two task forces under the Developers Working group, Drag and Drop and MathML in EPUB. Now that those are both going strong, we will kick off an additional two more Task Forces that fall under the Developers Working Group’s domain. The first has been named “Thinking Outside the Box” and will help with identifying as many areas as possible that currently limit access to educational materials for students with a variety of disabilities. Identification will focus on disabilities not traditionally associated with print disabilities such as cognitive and physical impairments. The second task force is to make data visualizations accessible and fits in with our commitment to exploring the application of new markup languages for accessible STEM content such as ChartML and ChemML. As always, if any of this work sounds like something you would like to participate in, we welcome new members. Feel free to email Charles for more information on joining.

Three: Data Visualization Task Force Update

By Charles LaPierre

The DIAGRAM Center is creating a new Task Force under our DIAGRAM Standards Working Group called “Data Visualization Task Force.” Our goal is to find common ground on how we can make an open standard and/or best practices around accessible data visualization. The Task Force will meet once a month or every other month depending on the group’s availability and time constraints. If this sounds like work you would be interested in participating in, please fill out this Doodle poll which will help us schedule the first meeting. We are very excited about the potential for this group and where the work will take us.

Four: Content Working Group Update

By Amaya Webster

The big news for the Content Working Group is the finalization of the updated charter. The key mission of the charter is to connect with the other working groups to make sure the work they are doing is made available through real world examples with instructions on how to implement it. The Content Working Group will also work on building out Imageshare, test 3D content delivery with gh, explore visual storytelling tools with Gallaudet and produce at least one example and/or resource around accessible audio-visual content with closed captioning and audio descriptions for video. The group is also in the process of forming two sub-groups, one to further explore ways in which interactive materials can be made accessible and another to delve into the accessibility needs of people who are Deaf and hard of hearing as well as ways to increase visual literacy. If the work of this group is something you would like to be involved with, new members are always welcome. Contact Amaya for more information.

4 Significant Ways We’re Raising the Bar for Accessibility Standards

2017 August 29
by George Kerscher

Publishing in the W3C is moving forward briskly since the combination of the IDPF into the W3C and there is much to report on, as well as opportunities for our community members to become more involved. Here are the things that have particularly grabbed our attention.

First, EPUB 3 spec maintenance and further developments are taking place in the EPUB Community Group, which is free for anybody to join. One area of interest is the development of “epubcheck” to support EPUB 3.1, which is the current recommendation. Epubcheck is an open source application that will examine an EPUB and determine if it is valid or not. For example that it has the required metadata, like a title. It will also run through the internal links to make sure the target is present, e.g. the link to chapters are good. Epubcheck will be a big win for the Born Accessible movement. If this work strikes the fancy of any Java coders, the group could use your help with development. Contact Charles or George for more information.

Second, the Web Publishing Working group is actively developing the next generation of publishing standards for the web and for offline reading. Yes, we’re talking about EPUB 4.  It may take several years for EPUB 4 to be a functioning standard, but it’s exciting to think of what is ahead, especially knowing that EPUB 3 is solidly in place to support publishing for a long time.

Third, accessibility in publishing at the W3C will be integrated into traditional WAI work. WCAG 2.1 is under development and is expected to become a recommendation in 2018. Publishing has been incorporated into the scope of WCAG, and some of the metadata developed for EPUB and standardized in are also in WCAG 2.1. The metadata is located in the optional conformance section, and the Accessibility Task force within the Publishing Community are quite happy to get this included at such a late date. For those interested, the link to the August draft is:

Last, but not least, there has been a shift of naming in the accessibility work. From the beginning, the term Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) was used. The shift will be in referring to this as “Accessibility Guidelines” (AG) and the codename for this is “Silver.” Get it? (AG, silver, and the Atomic Number 47 my new favorite number, grin.)

Clarifying Copyright: Understanding The Legal Landscape

2017 August 29
by anhb

As part of our continuing work creating tools for making more accessible content available to students with disabilities, Benetech has long explored copyright issues surrounding the distribution of such content. Fortunately, recognizing the need for clarification of copyright issues, OSEP required that the DIAGRAM Center explore the application of certain key legal principles to the provision of accessible educational materials. Working with pro bono counsel from the law firm of Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz PC, based in New York City, we now have a clearer understanding of the legal arguments that can be brought to bear for good faith efforts such as ours to provide equitable access to educational materials to students with disabilities.  They made some great recommendations that we plan to implement.

Much of the DIAGRAM Center’s work has been about enabling the creation of alternative derivatives of educational content that explicitly meet the format and feature needs of students with a range of disabilities. We believe that for any reproduction, distribution, public display, or creation of such derivative work by Benetech focused on creating accessible content, we will have a strong fair use defense against claims of copyright infringement. Additionally, Benetech can make a public policy argument that our use of copyright protected work to create accessible content comports with the spirit of copyright law and with Congressional actions to ensure equal access for disabled individuals. In short, entities like Benetech should, by taking some basic precautions, be able to avoid direct copyright infringement liability arising from accessibility tools like Poet or Imageshare.

Benetech’s plan to have content creators utilize the production tools offered by DIAGRAM to create accessible content and further contribute content to Imageshare may also raise secondary infringement liability concerns as well. But with the right precautions, we believe potential secondary liability based on the use of our production tools is minimal. As Imageshare may begin accepting accessible content submitted by third parties, such as teachers, it may also benefit from the application of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) safe harbors. This path requires being in compliance with specific rules, including those around take-down requests that are made by copyright holders.

We view these recommendations as a positive and encouraging sign. As planned, we are moving forward with Poet and Imageshare with renewed confidence that a legal door remains open to ensure that copyright law is supportive of the production of accessible educational materials intended to benefit students with disabilities.

6 Technologies Impacting Education for Students with Disabilities 

2017 August 22
by Amaya Webster

Introducing the first annual DIAGRAM Report, a guide to some of the most important ways technology is changing the educational landscape for students with disabilities. This edition focuses on six technology areas:

the report includes a high-level overview of each technology or trend in order to offer information about relevant opportunities and challenges as well as resources and suggested next steps for those interested in pursuing more information.

Each year, we will refresh the DIAGRAM report to include the latest information about the top technologies we will continue monitoring and add new technologies that should be on your radar. We, therefore, welcome your feedback so that the report can be improved.

Thanks to the many members of the community who contributed their expertise to the report. We are incredibly excited about it and hope it proves to be a valuable resource!


Working Group Updates

2017 June 16
by Amaya Webster

The updates below are a combination of updates from the latest working group meetings and the ideas and next steps that came out of the DIAGRAM Strategic Planning Meeting. This update serves as a brief overview. We will go more into depth on the working groups and their projects and next steps during out upcoming webinar in July.

  • Tactiles Working Group

This is a group that has evolved, as befitting a research and development center. It started as the Tactiles working group back in 2015, morphed into the 3D Printing Standards working group, then into the 3D Tactile Standards Working Group and now, after the DIAGRAM Strategic Planning Meeting will be under the new leadership of Jim Allan, and will once again be called the Tactiles Working Group. The charter for the newest iteration of this group is still in production, but given the work they’ve already accomplished, such as their most recent publication, a guide to producing braille with a 3D printer, we’re excited for what’s to come!

  • Content Working Group

The Content Working Group has expanded the Accessible Image Sample Book with a new section on using video closed captions in EPUB. It is a companion to the Resource for Providing Accessible Multimedia that was created in partnership with NCAM. The expanded Image Sample Book is currently available to read online. The EPUB version is forthcoming. The group is now thinking about resources for those creating interactives as well as resources for students who are Deaf and hard of hearing.  They are also in the process of creating new sub-groups to explore accessible interactive content and resources for visual literacy and American Sign Language based on feedback and conversations the came out of the DIAGRAM Strategic Planning Meeting. The group is also working to update their charter and expand their mission statement which will be shared during the upcoming webinar in July.

  • Developers Working Group

The Math in EPUB Task Force met on June 14th with feedback from Macmillan Learning and Elsevier providing some initial feedback.  They are still working on finalizing what we can recommend to publishers on how to put math into an EPUB which will be accessible and still be visually perfect. During the DIAGRAM Strategic Planning meeting, the decision was made to create a new Developers Sub-group, the “Thinking Outside the Box” subgroup. Stay tuned for information on what this group comes up with. We’re sure it will be “outside of the box” and fascinating!

  • Standards Working Group

The W3C has approved the new Publishing Working Group’s charter, whose mission is to enable all Web Publications — with all their specificities and traditions — to become first-class entities on the Web. The WG will provide the necessary technologies on the Open Web Platform to make the combination of traditional publishing and the Web complete in terms of accessibility, usability, portability, distribution, archiving, offline access, and reliable cross-referencing.  Both Charles LaPierre and George Kerscher are a part of this new Working Group.  This is important because only Working Groups can create official W3C Recommended standards where the DPUB Interest Group could only create reference Notes and recommend that other working groups within the W3C add specific accessibility requirements to their specifications.

The W3C has also approved the Digital Publishing Accessibility API Mappings as a W3C Candidate Recommendation:
This is an important step which we needed to happen in order for the new DPUB specific roles for ARIA to be adopted such as (doc-abstract, doc-chapter, doc-endnote, doc-example, doc-glossary, etc.).  Now we just need ARIA 1.1 to become a W3C recommendation that includes these accessibility API mappings.