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Dr Scott Hollier - Digital Access Specialist Posts

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WCAG 2.1 is here – is your organisation ready?

Dr Scott HollierW3C has launched its new Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 standard – the first major update in a decade. This makes it a great time to upskill your staff, assess your organisation’s digital access credentials and maximise your support for people with disabilities.

Whether your needs are local to Australia or international, Scott can provide you with a range of consultancy services, auditing assessments and research endeavours to make websites, apps and documents accessible. Scott can also be booked for speaking engagements based on a variety of topics relating to disability, education, current and future technologies and his life story discussed in his book ‘Outrunning the Night: a life journey of disability, determination and joy’.

Scott’s credentials include a PhD in the field and two decades working across the corporate, government and not-for-profit sectors. Scott is also an active contributor to W3C research and has a personal understanding of digital access as a legally blind person. You can learn more about digital accessibility in the news items below.

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Apple iOS 12 accessibility hands-on

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed the full feature set of the accessibility features in apple products running iOS. This is due in part to most of the updates being incremental rather than revolutionary, and this is not intended as a criticism: indeed, Apple pioneered the inclusion of a touch-enabled screen reader in everyday devices with the iPhone 3GS in 2009, so while other companies have been playing catch-up, Apple has been able to continue adding polish to its rich feature set of accessibility features which is ultimately a good thing.

That said, with the recent launch of Apple’s new range of iPhone X devices bringing an operating system update to iOS 12, it’s a great time to have a look at what’s on offer for people with disabilities that want to use the iPhone or iPad. For this test I used a recent model of the iPad mini which has now received its iOS 12 update.

 Farewell iOS 11 – and thank goodness for that

Before going through the iOS 12 feature set, it’s worth reflecting on the infamy of iOS 11. To say that it was buggy would be an understatement of epic proportions, with one of its bugs even sneaking into an Apple commercial. This resulted in a notable cat-and-mouse game of Apple putting out patches, users finding new bugs and Apple sending out yet another patch. While most of the bugs were ironed out towards the end of its OS life, the long beta testing of iOS 12 has largely helped Apple avoid the mistakes this time around. As a result, it is strongly recommended that you upgrade your device to iOS 12 if it can do so, especially if you’re unsure as to which version of iOS 11 is installed on your device.

iOS 12-specific accessibility improvements

In addition to overall stability, there are notable improvements to performance and boot-up times. There are two specific things that are important in relation to accessibility. The first is the upcoming Siri shortcuts which are likely to help assign tasks which will make it easier to use the iPhone or iPad. For example, if you can say to Siri ‘what’s on the menu’ in a café, it could potentially open your favourite OCR app,  scan the menu and provide you with the result. This has the potential to be a powerful addition.

The second is already familiar to iPhone X users and that’s the new commands required to access the Home screen and perform functions without a physical Home button. Given the likelihood that Apple will move away from the Home button on iPad devices, it’s no surprise that iOS 12 has changed the shortcuts around for all devices going forward. If you use Voiceover, the new shortcuts are as follows;

  • Go to Home Screen: swipe up from the bottom until you hear the first sound.
  • Open App Switcher: swipe up from the bottom until you hear the second sound.
  • Open Control Centre: swipe down from the top until you hear the first sound.
  • Open Notification Centre: swipe down from the top until you hear the second sound.
  • Cancel a gesture: slide your finger either to the left or to the right.

Accessibility feature categories

If you’re new to Apple iOS devices, the accessibility features can be found by going to Settings, then General, then Accessibility. To help make it easy to identify relevant features, Apple as categorised the features into sections titled Vision, Interaction, Hearing, Media and Learning. Let’s walk through what features are on offer.

iOS 12 accessibility features screenshot 1

Vision settings

The Vision settings are all designed to assist people with a vision-related issue. This can range from people with no vision through to people that need some minor assistance such as making the text bigger the built-in features include:

  • VoiceOver: a screen reader designed to help people who are blind, or vision impaired to navigate the device primarily using swipe gestures. 
  • Zoom: a full-screen magnification tool that allows you to zoom into a part of the screen.
  • Magnifier: this feature allows you to use the camera to zoom on some text or an image in the real world and display it on the screen.
  • Display accommodations; this includes a variety of features which allows for an adjustment of the screen such as inverting the colours or applying colour filters.
  • Speech: allows for the adjustment of speech options. 
  • Large text: provides an option to make the text larger across the device.

iOS 12 accessibility features screenshot 2

  • Bold text: makes the text bold, allowing for the text to be thicker and potentially easier to recognise characters.
  • Button shapes: this feature recreates the outline found around apps in previous versions of iOS.
  • Transparency: this allows the user to decide how ‘see-through’ elements in iOS can be viewed. Minimising transparency can make it easier to see text and screens.
  • Increase contrast: this feature can change the colour palette to help make elements contrast more effectively.
  • Reduce motion: this can help in reducing the effects that may cause distractions or difficulties in seeing actions.
  • Labels: this can provide additional information on functions.

Interaction settings

While the Vision settings represent most accessibility features, there are also several features designed to help support people with a mobility impairment. They include:

  • Switch control: provides support to people that use switch keys to perform multiple commands at once. 
  • Assistive touch: provides equivalent options for features such as single-tap and double-tap. 
  • Touch accommodations: provides options relating to the responsiveness of the screen when issuing commands. 

iOS 12 accessibility features screenshot 3

  • Shake to undo: as the name suggests, this allows the device to be shaken to undo the most recent input.
  • Call audio routing: this can force a call to always output in a way such as to the speaker or a Bluetooth device.

Hearing, Media and Learning settings

The final three sections contain some helpful features specifically around hearing and to support people with learning disabilities. The Media section also provides some options for captioning and audio description. The features include:

  • MFI hearing devices: this provides support for people that use hearing aids and other related technologies to connect with their iPhone or iPad.

iOS 12 accessibility features screenshot 4

  • Mono audio: this allows for the stereo effect to be removed so that all audio comes through both earphones. There is also a sliding scale to adjust the stereo mix.
  • Subtitles and captioning: this ensures that captions are visible on all video playback.
  • Audio descriptions: this makes video playback automatically select an audio descried soundtrack where applicable. 
  • Guided access: this keeps the interface simple within apps, particularly helpful for people with learning or cognitive disabilities.
  • Home button shortcut: allows the launch of an accessibility feature when the physical home button is triple-tapped.

Is iOS 12 worth the upgrade?

Whenever a new version of an operating system comes out, it’s important to consider if it is worth the upgrade. In this instance I would strongly encourage an upgrade from any earlier version of iOS on any device that supports it. VoiceOver users will need to adjust to the new gestures around the Home screen, but the improvements in stability and speed will certainly make it worth the effort.

iOS or Android?

In response to my recent article on Android 9.0 Pie accessibility, I’ve been asked by several people whether Apple iOS devices such as the iPhone and iPad are better from an accessibility standpoint, or whether its better to go with the latest Google Android smartphone or tablet. In short it depends on your disability and which ecosystem you prefer to use. In the case of people who are blind or vision impaired, the market is heavily weighted towards iOS despite the broader population choosing Android, so this would suggest that the wealth of vision-related features make Apple the preferred mobile operating system. However, both operating systems are well developed with accessibility features, so it may be worth trying devices from both platforms to see which one works best before purchasing.

Additional information on the accessibility features of iOS can be found in the Apple accessibility online resource.

CFA completes successful workshop series

The Centre for Accessibility (CFA), an initiative created in partnership with DADAA, Media on Mars and myself, has successfully completed its series of four workshops in Perth and regional Western Australia as part of its ILC Linkage grant commitments.  Scott presenting to workshop attendees

The workshop series, titled ‘Escaping the Accessibility Island’, was created to help mainstream organisations move away from the ‘island’ model of accessibility whereby one individual is solely tasked with the responsibility of digital access, to a top-down approach whereby all organisational roles understand how to implement digital access in their work practices.  Group of people participating

The four workshops ran from 31 August to20 September 2018 and included two in the Perth metropolitan area hosted by DADAA in Fremantle and two held in regional Western Australia. The two regional workshops included Geraldton to support the mid-west and Busselton to support the south-west. While the ILC grant funded three workshops, the popularity was so great that the CFA partners donated their time and space to provide an additional 30 places to one workshop and a fourth workshop was added to meet the high level of interest.   two workshop participants smiling

While the workshops were designed to provide practical, hands-on information for senior managers, content producers, ICT professionals and staff in marketing and communications roles, it was the personal insights and group discussions that many indicated helped to support their digital access needs.

While the grant associated with the workshops has now been completed, the WCAG 2.1 resource on the CFA website will continue to be supported and updated as a free guide to mainstream organisations wishing to incorporate accessibility into their work practices. As the CFA initiative moves forward, new ideas are currently being explored to determine what projects can best emphasise that accessibity is not just about compliance, but ultimately about people.

Many thanks to the WA government for funding the ILC Linkage grant that made the launch, resource and workshops possible. Special thanks also to the staff at Media On Mars and DADAA who worked so hard in the marketing and logistics, and thanks to everyone that has been involved in coming along to our launch and workshops. Personal thanks also to Lizzy in Geraldton for providing fantastic support in guiding me around. 

Further information on the Centre for Accessibility initiative and the WCAG 2.1 resource can be found at the CFA website.

WCAG 2.1 adopted in European standard EN 301 549

The European Accessibility requirements for ICT products and services standard EN 301 549, has recently been updated to include support for the new World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Content Accessibility GUidelines (WCAG) 2.1 standard.

W3C has confirmed that the update will specificly relate to Information and Communications Technology (ICT) including, web content, electronic documents and non-web software, such as native mobile apps.

In addition to the announcement being good news for Europe, it is likely to have positive implications for Australia as the Australian accessible procurement standard is closely related to the European standard.

The announcement marks a significant shift in the delivery of accessibility requirements as WCAG 2.1 requires a greater effort in the accessibility of web content on mobile devices. Additional information on the announcement can be found on the W3C WCAG 2.1 Adoption in Europe announcement page.

Outrunning the Night Vietnamese translation coming soon

I’m very excited to share that my book Outrunning the Night: a Life Journey of Disability, Determination and Joy has recently been translated into Vietnamese.

The translation project began when I visited RMIT Vietnam last year where Đỗ Đức Minh, an RMIT Vietnam employee of Wellbeing Services that supports students registered with Equitable Learning Services, asked if my book could be shared with the wider Vietnamese community through the creation of a translated version. Thanks to his efforts and the dedication of translators Lê Thị Vân Nga and Đào Thị Lệ Xuân over the past 14 months, the translation is now complete. 

The next steps for the Vietnamese edition of the book will be to work on formatting the text so it can be printed as a paperback along with the development of an audio book so it can be easily read by people in Vietnam who are blind or vision impaired. Once completed the audio book, e-book and 50 copies of the paperback will be provided free of charge to the Vietnamese community.

Many thanks to Đỗ Đức Minh for the hard work and dedication in making the translation a reality, and I’m very much looking forward to shipping the paperback to Vietnam. 

On a related note, the original e-book and audio book versions of Outrunning the Night have recently been added to the Curtin University library catalogue so that it can be used as a reference for students undertaking tertiary studies. Thank you to the people that requested the book’s inclusion and the Curtin staff for taking the time to add it in.

Android 9.0 Pie accessibility hands-on

Last month Google released the latest version of its Android operating system, continuing its trend to naming its releases in alphabetical order and after desserts. This time we see Pie added to the list. While the accessibility features are more incremental when compared to Android 8.0 Oreo, users of earlier versions of Android such as KitKat, Marshmallow and Nougat should consider the upgrade.

Device used for testing

Before getting into all the specifics that can be found in Android 9.0 Pie, I should mention a little about the device I’m using for this review. While it would be great to use Pie on the latest Google Pixel range of smartphones, I’m conscious that most people are unlikely to rush out and buy the latest smartphone every time a new one comes out so instead I’ve looked at upgrading one of my old smartphones around the house to see if that process brings the same accessibility benefits. As such, for this review I’m using an old Motorola Moto G updated to Pie thanks to the development community. For this review I’m using Lineage OS with the usual Google applications installed. While there may be some additional accessibility features available in other models, this review will give you an overview as to the accessibility features consistent across different devices running Pie.

Android Accessibility Suite

One important recent change is that several accessibility features for Android are no longer on the Play Store as individual features. They are now bundled into a single app called the Android Accessibility Suite. Google explains the features as follows:

Android Accessibility Suite includes the following services

  • The TalkBack screen reader adds spoken, audible, and vibration feedback to your device.
  • Switch Access lets you control your device with a switch.
  • Select to Speak lets you select something on your screen and hear it read or described aloud.

The benefit of this download suite model is it allows Google to continually update these parts of the accessibility features and adds functionality to older versions of Android that may not have had all these features pre-installed.

Android 9.0 Pie accessibility features

There are a wealth of accessibility features contained in Android 9.0 Pie, continuing the trend of accessibility improvements with each new Android version. While there’s not as many substantial changes overall from Oreo, the feature set is quite impressive.

Android Pie accessibility features screenshot 1 of 3

Specific accessibility features include:

  • Volume key shortcut: this allows you to set your favourite accessibility feature to be quickly enabled or disabled by holding the two volume keys together. This can be very useful if you rely on an accessibility feature such as talkback but then want to hand your phone to someone such as a family member to take a photo, requiring the accessibility feature to be temporarily disabled.
  • TalkBack screen reader: this is the primary way that people who are blind or vision impaired can use their Android device. While TalkBakc has been available since Android 4.0, it’s feature set continues to grow.
  • Select To Speak: this is another feature that provides some quick text-to-speech functionality for people that just want something on the screen to be quickly read out. This is achieved by simply selecting the relevant text.
  • Switch Keys: this feature provides additional support for people with a mobility impairment by enabling a series of commands to be implemented via switch mechanisms.
  • Text-to-speech output: this allows you to adjust the screen reader’s voice, speed and language settings.

    Android Pie accessibility features screenshot 2 of 3

  • Font size: easily adjust the size of the font across the whole operating system.
  • Display size: this can scale elements in Android to make the display larger or smaller.
  • Magnification: this is a full-screen magnifier that allows you to zoom in and out of an area on the screen by triple-tapping on the screen.
  • Large mouse cursor: if you are using a mouse, you can adjust the size of the pointer
  • Remove animations: this removes the effects such as fading in or fading out windows to make the interface easier to use.
  • Dwell timing: this feature can automate certain processes such as activating a mouse click if the mouse hovers over an area for a certain period of time.
  • Power Button Ends Call: as the name suggests, pressing the power button when a phone call is taking place will end the call so there is no need to find the equivalent option on the screen.

    Android Pie accessibility features screenshot 3 of 3

  • Auto-rotate screen: this can force the device to always remain either in portrait or landscape orientation mode.
  • Touch and hold delay: prevents accidental bumping of the device by setting a certain amount of time for a touch on the screen to activate a feature.
  • Vibration: toggles the vibration feedback on or off
  • Mono audio: makes the same audio information come out of both sides of the headphones so that no information is missed if a person has a hearing impairment in one ear.
  • Captions: shows captions on the screen when available should a video be played.

In addition there are some experimental features relating to colour correction and high contrast text designed specifically for people with a colour vision disability.

Useful TalkBack features

In addition to all the features listed, there are two other things that are only in Oreo and Pie that are worth mentioning. Firstly, the audio in Oreo and Pie for accessibility features such as TalkBack can now be adjusted separately to the media volume which makes it much easier to control. Secondly, a phone call can be answered by using two fingers to swipe up the screen instead of having to find the ‘answer’ button.

These features, when combined with the Power Button Ends Call and the helpful TalkBack tips that explain things from time to time make the device much easier to use on a daily basis.

Overall if you have an Android smartphone that is running Android 7.0 Nougat or earlier, I’d strongly recommend investigating if your device can be upgraded. If your device manufacturer doesn’t have an upgrade, it may be worth searching online to see if the community have created their own upgraded version so you can get the latest accessibility features similar to what I’ve done with my old smartphone. If you are currently using Android 8.0 or 8.1 Oreo, there’s not as much on offer in Pie but it is encouraging to see Google continuing to improve accessibility in its products.