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Voices from the Community is an ongoing series of blog posts culling
popular topics of interest from the TechSoup Community Forums and other
online community channels.
As our community discusses the topic of building a culture of accessibility, an important distinction arises. Beyond (or perhaps more properly, before) the nuts-and-bolts business of making accessible technology and making technology accessible, comes the foundation of embracing why it needs to be prioritized.
As community member and Executive Director of Knowbility Sharron Rush points out, a culture of accessibility requires "open hearts and minds, the ability to listen and look in new ways, the willingness to lay aside basic assumptions, and a true commitment." Jayne Cravens, host of the TechSoup Volunteers and Technology forum, echoes Rush and laments that too few IT managers and web developers make accessibility a priority.
While some web developers may feel that meeting accessibility standards and offering assistive technologies to their staff or users is too large an effort , Rush holds that the time is right to take that very effort on. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of People with Disabilities "has recognized access to technology as a foundational right in today's world," while the United States Department of Justice has begun looking at extending American Disabilities Act protections to the Internet.
Luckily, resources abound for anyone wishing to learn more about how to develop more accessible technology.
Sharron Rush weighs in again, this time with some of the best resources for learning about web accessibility methods. At the top of her list is the Web Accessibility Initiative of the W3C, the group responsible for official standards, web protocols, and practices.
Community member Peter Cheer grants that the wide array of information about web accessibility standards might seem overwhelming. But he goes on to offer a nifty resource that is aimed at a more general audience while not attempting to be comprehensive. This e-book from the OneVoice for Accessible ICT Coalition outlines the first measures a web developer should take towards making a site accessible. Entitled The First Seven Steps to Accessible Websites, the book answers the question: Where do I start?
In addition to online resources, there are also on-the-ground events and conferences organized around the topic of accessibility and assistive tech. Peter Cheer shares the upcoming 2011 da Vinci Awards celebrating global excellence in assistive technology, slated for September 22 in Dearborn, Michigan. There is also the Accessibility Unconference in Boston on September 17, 2011. And coming up in October, Accessibility Camp has events planned for Washington, D.C. and Ottowa.
Free tools are another great assistive technology resource that our community shares information about in our forum.
Peter Cheer notes that the Verbally app for iPad offers useful features: an onscreen keyboard with word prediction in combination with word/phrase choices, as well as male/female speech synthesized voices. And it's free, to boot.
Another recent free tool that Peter brings to our attention is the new release candidate version of the Open Source Microsoft Windows Screen Reader from the Non Visual Desktop Access (NVDA) project. Highlights include automatic reporting of new text output in a variety of clients, support for global plug-ins, additional key bindings for Braille displays, and more. Community member and TechSoup web content developer Carlos Bergfeld agrees that it's a great tool, although it doesn't play as well with Google Chrome.
Perhaps this is not surprising, as it seems that Google's apps are also not working well with screen readers and other accessibility tools. As Jayne Cravens points out, this is particularly a shame because some of the institutions that have led the charge in compliance are the same ones outsourcing certain functions to Google — most likely without knowing how this impedes accessibility.
This lack of knowledge again raises the fragmented nature of information available on accessibility, as well as the difficulties in enforcing standards. It's an ongoing issue that will need continued discussion and examination, but fostering dialogue and sharing resources within this community is one place to start.
As for where it will lead, this discussion reminds us that many features that make life easier for all of us — from curb-cuts to the telephone — were originally designed with accessibility in mind.
What are your experiences with accessible and assistive technologies? Let us know in the comments or add to our Accessible Technology and Public Computing Forum.
Michael DeLong | Online Community Manager
This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International License.
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