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CSUN 2017 Roundup

2017 April 19

The DIAGRAM community had another extremely successful and jam-packed CSUN conference this year. We did a lot, saw a lot, learned a lot, connected a lot and enjoyed ourselves, you guessed it, a lot. For those of you unfamiliar with CSUN, it is one of the biggest Assistive Technology conferences held. Researchers, exhibitors, end users, practitioners, vendors, and educators all come together to share, among other things, what they are working on, what they’ve learned and best practices in the assistive technology field. Here are some highlights from our CSUN 2017 adventures.


Code Sprint

A photograph of Mark, Sina, Anniika, and Jason working together. Ross is not visible in the picture. We kicked off CSUN 2017 one day early with our annual CSUN code sprint. This year we co-hosted the event with Macmillan Learning and focused on solutions for making interactive scenarios accessible. Twenty-seven on-site participants and four remote participants spent almost nine hours working on one (in some cases more than one) of the following topics: Accessible Drag and Drop, Accessible Interactive Simulations, Braille Math, MathML in EPUB, Map Data Visualization, and Personalized Learning. By the end of the day, the groups had managed to create seven working prototypes all ready to demo. Mark Hakkinen, Sina Bahram, Annika Muehlbradt, Jason White and Ross Reedstrom were all part of the group focusing on drag and drop interactions. They developed a mechanism that allows a user to sort and match content without needing to use a mouse to physically drag and drop it.

A photograph of Jesse, Ross, Paul, Kelly, Darren and Kathy working together along with Neil and Volker.Jesse Greenberg, Ross Reedstrom, Paul Anderson, Kelly Lancaster, Kathi Fletcher and Darren Guinness worked off of a PhET simulation of a sweater and balloon inducing positive and negative charges. They ultimately improved the interface so it only displayed pertinent and non-repetitive information to the user. Neil Soiffer, Charles LaPierre, George Kerscher and Rachel Comerford took on standards and the problem of trying to display MathML in EPUB without having the alt text double speak.A photograph of George, Rachel, Charles and Neil working together at their table. They were able to add a PNG image of math with alt text and add MathML to it using CSS so that it was hidden off-screen and prevented the double speaking of the altText. They have since met further, along with Avneesh, Sina and Jason to dive deeper into the issue of adding MathML into EPUB and have since come up with a possible solution to the inconsistencies found during the day on how to get MathML represented and spoken correctly in an EPUB document.  More about what they have worked out post CSUN will be shared in our upcoming Newsletter.

A photograph of Cliff, Doug, Derek and Deanna working together at their table. Doug Schepers, Cliff Tyllick, Derek Riemer and Deanna McCusker worked on an interactive keyboard accessible map that was also screen reader accessible and allows for info box display customization. Lisa Seaman and Marisa Demeglio demoed the ability to have personalization applied to a page in order to standardize the look and feel of a webpage to the users’ own needs and preferences.  Murray Sargent worked on creating a table for all Unicode characters used forA photograph of Murray and Volker at the Code Sprint. Murray is sitting at his laptop and Volker is standing behind him looking over his shoulder. Braille Math using Nemeth and UEB and Volker Surge used Unicode characters from Murray to produce braille output using MathJax.

Much like last year it was a full, intense and really fun day. According to sprint participant Sina Bahram, “DIAGRAM is a powerhouse at bringing the right people together, and that’s what makes events like this so successful” And it really was successful. So much so that we’re the exploring the idea of holding another future code sprint outside of CSUN.

The work that was done at the sprint was both impressive and inspirational and wouldn’t have happened without the support of our event partner Macmillan Learning, to A photograph of the sprint participants hacking away in their groups.whom we are extremely grateful. We would also like to extend a heartfelt thank you to all of our volunteer participants for helping make the day a resounding success: Annika Muehlbradt (Student, University of Colorado, Boulder), Daren Guinness (Student, University of Colorado, Boulder), Derek Riemer (Student, University of Colorado, Boulder), Doug Schepers (CTO, Open Access technologies), Ender Tekin (Associate Scientist, Waisman Center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison) George Kerscher (Chief Innovations Officer, DAISY Consortium), Jason White (Associate Research Scientist, Educational Testing Service), Jesse Greenberg (Software Developer, PhET, University of Colorado Boulder), Jonathan Hung (UX Engineer, Inclusive Design Research Center), Justin Obara (Inclusive Developer, Inclusive Design Research Center), Kathi Fletcher (Technical Director, OpenStax), Kelly Lancaster (Lead Interactive Designer, Macmillan), Rachel Comerford (Director of Content Standards, Macmillan), Lisa Seeman (Accessibility Research Engineer, IBM), EmA photograph of the sprint participants hacking away in their groups. taken from a closer vantage point. ily Moore (Director of Research and Accessibility, PhET, University of Colorado Boulder), Marisa Demeglio (Software Developer, DAISY Consortium), Mark Hakkinen (Research Scientist, Educational Testing Service), Murray Sargeant (Software Development Engineer, Microsoft), Neil Soiffer (Software Developer), Phil Schatz (Developer, OpenStax), Ross Reedstrom (Senior Developer, OpenStax), Sina Bahram (President and Founder, Prime Access Consulting), Taliesin Smith (Inclusive Design Research Specialist, PhET, University of Colorado Boulder), Volker Sorge (Managing Director, Progressive Accessibility Solutions),  Jennifer Grant (Senior Research Systems Specialist, Educational Testing Service) and Cliff Tyllick (EIR Accessibility Coordinator,Texas Health and Human Services Commission)!

DIAGRAM Office Hours

A photograph of Mark Hakkinen waving at the camera during the Office Hours Event as other people mingle behind him. This year more people attended the DIAGRAM Office Hours event than ever before! Conversations around block languages and teaching accessible computer science abounded, as well as discussions about doing more code sprints. As usual, there were some on-the-fly demos around the room, including an app on song-based speech therapy and one app prototype intended to help people with blindness navigate the subway in New York.  It was wonderful to catch up with old friends, meet new ones, discuss potential partnerships and exchange ideas face-to-face. In fact, thanks to the Office Hours event, a potential expansion for RRAI is now in the works which you can learn more about in the upcoming newsletter. Thanks to everyone who was able to join, and we look forward to catching up again next year!


DIAGRAM Sessions

  • Bright and early Thursday morning DIAGRAM team members from Benetech, Sue-Ann Ma and Lisa Wadors, joined long time community member Sina Bahram, President and founder of Prime Access Consulting, to introduce CSUN attendees to one of DIAGRAM’s newest resources in their session titled Repository-Registry of Accessible Images: Find and Share Alternate Formats. The session focused on teaching participants how to use RRAI, which is a collaborative web-enabled collection prototype, to eliminate redundancies in the production of alternate formats in STEM. Not only was the session well attended, but we now have several potential new partnerships with DDS offices and independent organizations running tactile websites, which is an exciting prospect. The slides from the presentation are available for download here.
  • Next up on Thursday Lisa Wadors and Robin Seaman presented the session “Create, Build, Find & Buy Accessible: Creating a Fully Accessible Education”. Lisa went over resources where people can find accessible material. She also reviewed the guidelines for educational institutions on how to buy accessible content. Robin then introduced participants to Benetech’s accessibility certification program and concluded with an overview of how educators can create their own accessible PowerPoints, Google Docs, Microsoft Word Documents and PDF files. You can download the PowerPoint deck here.
  • Friday morning DIAGRAM team members from Benetech, Charles LaPierre, Sue-Ann Ma and Ginny Grant, along with DIAGRAM community member Volker Sorge from MathJax Consortium and Progressive Accessibility Solutions presented a session, “Accessible Mathematics – Highlights from the Past Year and What Lies Ahead”. They explored the landscape of MathML and MathML standards, as well as various options for hosting digital math and what’s currently being done and what will be done to help make digital math more accessible. Slides from their session can be downloaded here.
  • Friday afternoon George Kerscher (Benetech/DAISY), Charles LaPierre (Benetech) and Rachel Comerford (Macmillan Learning) gave their session “Finally, Certified Accessible Educational Materials from Publishers”. Participants were taken through an in depth review of the standards at the core of accessibility and the “must have requirements” for accessible EPUB. They were then treated to a sneak peek at one of Benetech’s newest pilots, an accessible certification system. The slide deck for the presentation can be downloaded here.

All in all it was a full two days of sessions, and of course DIAGRAM’s weren’t the only ones. If you would like to share a summary of a session you gave or found particularly interesting, we’d be thrilled to add it to our CSUN recap roundup. Simply email it to, or to me directly at


One of the great things about CSUN is that it is a chance to catch up with colleagues face-to-face and the DIAGRAM team made the most of this opportunity. We had a great time reconnecting with people, planning potential partnerships and getting to know people we haven’t worked with before. Below are some highlights from the many meetings we had. We’re always happy to include more, but didn’t want to overwhelm our readers, so if we didn’t mention a meeting you’d like to see included, let us know and we can put it in our blog and newsletter. Feel free to email, or Amaya directly at

  • We met with Geoff Freed and Bryan Gould of WGBH/NCAM to discuss the progress of our joint project around Peep and the Big Wide World. We now have four finished stories and one live action story that is almost complete. Also finished is a keyboard accessible memory game. The next steps for this endeavor will be to finish the audio description and captions for the live action stories and to decide what else will be produced. Find out more about the Peep and the Big Wide World project in the next edition of our newsletter.
  • Anh Bui, Charles LaPierre, Lisa Wadors and Amaya Webster met with George Kerscher (co-chair of the Standards Working Group), Neil Soiffer and Sina Bahram, (co-chairs of the Developers Working Group), Jason White (chair of the Drag and Drop sub-committee), Elaine Ober and Lucia Hasty (co-chairs of the Content Working Group) and Jim Allen (chair of the 3D Tactile Standards working group). It was a chance for us to come together and share what each of the groups have been working on and discuss areas of overlap so as not to duplicate or contrast efforts. It quickly became apparent that all the working groups and the Drag and Drop sub-committee are interested in how interactive interfaces and scenarios can be made accessible. In fact, there was so much interest, that the group decided to meet post-CSUN to further discuss how accessible interactives can be better addressed. You can read more about this meeting and the follow-up discussion in the next edition of the DIAGRAM newsletter.
  • We got together with Mark Hakkinen and his team of researchers from ETS. It was the first time many of us had met in person and we had a great time getting to know one another and discussing how we might be able to collaborate in the future.
  • We met with DIAGRAM General Advisory Committee member Emily Moore (PhET) to talk about the interactives work that PhET has been doing. Accessible interactives is a theme that keeps coming up among DIAGRAM and the DIAGRAM community and we are looking forward to further exploring this area with Emily and her team at PhET.
  • Developer Working Group member Jamie Teh (NVDA) squeezed in a meeting with us right before the DIAGRAM Office Hours event. We compared notes on DIAGRAM and NVDA’s respective roadmaps.
  • We caught up with Ed Summers and the SAS team for a demo for their latest accessible charts. Doug Schepers joined the conversation as well and we all exchanged notes on where we see the future of charts and graphs going.

Final Words

CSUN is always an exciting, exhausting, enjoyable whirlwind and 2017 proved no different. There are several things I love about the conference, learning what new technology is out there, what other people are working on and catching up with people being quite high on the list. But my very favorite thing is the momentum it builds. We are coming out of this year’s CSUN with new prototypes and potential new projects to work on, new partnerships and new potential partnerships, new Working Group members, and renewed energy to make the world a more accessible place. If you have stories, pictures, comments to share, please send them my way. Let’s keep the momentum going! or

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