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Dr Scott Hollier - Digital Access Specialist Posts

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The biggest change to web accessibility in a decade is nearly here – is your organisation ready?

Dr Scott HollierAs W3C puts the finishing touches on its new Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1, it’s a great time to upskill your staff on what’s coming 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 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’ now available for purchase.

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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Disability Australia Hub initiative helping to connect people with services

The Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (AFDO), with funding support from the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), has launched an initiative designed to help connect people with disability organisations around Australia.

The online Disability Australia Hub” aims to provide the community with a gateway to access high quality, up to date, disability specific information informed by people with disability and their families.

According to an AFDO press release distributed by e-mail, “The “Hub” will be the go-to destination for information about disability and inclusion generally and, through the networked websites, for information about individual disabilities. It will make it easy for people with disability, family members, NDIS staff and community partners, professionals and the community to obtain high quality, up-to-date, evidence based information informed by lived experience. By leveraging common templates, small, under-resourced organisations will be able to achieve a greater online presence and generate more content than they have been able to achieve in the past.”

The initiative has been broadly welcomed by disability groups as the resource makes it easier for people navigating NDIS processes to be aware of the full range of services available.

The Disability Hub website is located at www.disabilityaustraliahub.org.au.

Happy 2018 Global Accessibility Awareness Day

Updated with slides from A11y Bytes Perth presentation 

The 2018 Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) has arrived with lots of digital access-related events happening all over the world. If you are interested in getting involved you can find a detailed list of worldwide events at the GAAD Global Events page.

Dr Scott Hollier presenting at A11y Bytes PerthDr Scott Hollier presenting at A11y Bytes Perth (Credit: David Vosnacos)

My participation this year took place at the Perth A11y Bytes event Where I gave a lightning talk on the topic ‘The Death of Traditional CAPTCHAs and international developments on its replacement’. The presentation focused on how W3C is about to release an updated advisory note on CAPTCHA, the first in 12 years. so, what’s changed, and does it finally mean the death of unreadable and inaccessible image text? If you would like to learn more you can download my presentation slides (PDF file). 

Many thanks to Julie Grundy for her hard work in organising such a great event and I wish everyone involved in GAAD events around the world all the best for their active promotion of digital access. 

All Things Digital, All Things Accessible podcast series now online

I’ve recently been involved in a six-part podcast series titled ‘All Things Digital, All Things Accessible’ on VisAbility radio with host Kenneth Phua. The idea of the series was to provide listeners with an overview of how people who are blind or have low vision use popular devices, some of the interesting consumer trends such as the Internet of Things and various international developments.

If you would like to listen to the podcasts, the respective links are listed below along with the episode descriptions provided by VisAbility.

Episode 1 podcast: Dr. Scott Hollier gives us a broad view of what digital devices are and why it’s vital that accessibility should be part of the conversation. VisAbility Radio Host Kenneth and Dr. Scott talk about what accessibility is and how it benefits people with vision impairments plus some of the common misconceptions surrounding this subject.

Episode 2 podcast: Dr. Scott Hollier chats about what’s important to know when it comes to internet security for a person who has low vision or who is blind. The conversation also addresses the question of privacy protection and the considerations we need to factor in when making decisions on accepting the terms and conditions of a device or even a mobile app.

Episode 3 podcast: Dr. Scott Hollier discusses the Internet of Things. The “Internet of Things” is making its presence felt but what is it, how will it benefit us and what will the future look like with the explosion of IOT capabilities? Dr. Scott Hollier unpacks these as we talk through the main issues of an IOT world.

Episode 4 podcast: Dr. Scott Hollier ventures further out by taking a look at what developments are going to benefit the person with a vision impairment. From augmented reality and ‘wearables’ to self-drive cars, these all seem to be within reach, but will it be that simple?

Episode 5 podcast: Dr. Scott discusses the international standards that can provide assurance of quality, compatibility and perhaps pricing of all things digital and accessible. Dr. Scott Hollier offers insights from the perspectives of one who is in a position of influence on the international front of the initiative.

Episode 6 podcast: In this final episode, entitled All Your Questions Answered, we take on your questions including those about digital aids for the kitchen, robot guide dogs, self-monitoring health devices, apps for shoppers, gadgets supporting learning and more.

Many thanks to VisAbility and host Kenneth for the invitation to be involved. It was a great experience and a lot of fun.

Microsoft commits $USD25 million to AI accessibility

Microsoft has announced at their Build conference in Seattle USA that they have committed to a major accessibility initiative focused on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and accessibility.

The initiative, titled ‘AI for Accessibility’, is a new $USD25 million, five-year program designed to put AI tools in the hands of developers to accelerate the development of accessible and intelligent AI solutions.

In the announcement, Microsoft indicated that there are three specific scenarios for this project – employment, modern life and human connection.

To achieve this, Microsoft indicated that the project will focus on a combination of funding support and a corporate mentoring process, stating that:

“The AI for Accessibility program will do this in three ways. First, we will provide seed grants of technology to developers, universities, nongovernmental organizations, and inventors taking an AI-first approach focused on creating solutions that will create new opportunities and assist people with disabilities with work, life and human connections. Next, we will identify the projects that show the most promise and make larger investments of technology and access to Microsoft AI experts to help bring them to scale. And third, as we infuse AI and inclusive design across our offerings, we will work with our partners to incorporate AI innovations into platform-level services to empower others to maximize the accessibility of their offerings.”

Seeing AI app screenshotScreenshot of Seeing AI app

Recent initiatives in the space such as the Seeing AI app for iOS has received mixed reviews in its practical use, but the blind and vision impaired community broadly welcome the fact that such initiatives are taking place and that such innovations are available for free. Furthermore, the disabled community are continuing to encourage Microsoft to refine its work in this area, and make its solutions available for Android devices in addition to its iOS efforts.

Additional information can be found in the AI for Accessibility blog post.

Escaping the web accessibility island

Back by popular demand – this is an updated version of my original article which is no longer available from the original source. 

It’s a common story – you are a passionate accessibility advocate, trying to do your bit in an organisation that doesn’t seem to care. Or perhaps that’s a bit harsh – they do care, but it seems it’s only when a tender comes up that requires WCAG compliance, a complaint is made about the website, or it’s just been discovered that the app your company relies on so much is notably impossible to use with a screen reader. When a situation like this occurs, you know what’s coming next –a flustered colleague runs to your desk, screaming your name, saying, “You’re the accessibility person around here, tell me how to fix this!”

In most intakes of the Professional Certificate in Web Accessibility course that I teach, there are students who indicate they are the only person in their organisation who knows about accessibility. It often feels like they are a one-person accessibility island – the ‘goto’ person who puts out the fires relating to web accessibility, and trying to get a whole-of-organisation push is likened to banging your head on a brick wall. One student even suggested that they are more like Hawaii as there were so many people in their organisation needing the person’s help that they were effectively broken up into little pieces across different departments – either really important to everyone or not needed by anyone depending on what project was the priority at the time.

If this sounds like you, common questions you may want answered include “What can I do to share the accessibility load?”, “Should there even be a go-to person for accessibility?” and “What can I do to get organisational buy-in for digital accessibility issues?” Let’s break this down into a few key suggestions I’ve heard over the years from people who have been in this situation.

An island can be a good starting point – especially if you upskill

It may not seem like a good situation to have people running to you for accessibility advice all the time, but as a starting point it’s not such a bad thing to have a resident expert. Organisations that have no knowledge about accessibility are unlikely to support it, and probably don’t realise they need to know about it. If there’s at least one person who knows about accessibility, and others in the organisation know that you are the ‘go-to’ person, then at least you have a starting point. It’s interesting how many students come to the course I teach after becoming this person unintentionally, having picked up their knowledge originally through being self-taught, or attending a one-day workshop or an event like a meetup group or conference. If you find that you have the passion then getting some sort of formalised training can help, especially if accessibility is not your everyday role but rather something bolted on to your current work.

Specialise if you can

If you have had the opportunity to upskill and really enjoy accessibility work, see if it is possible to have accessibility become a formalised major part of your role rather than just the ‘extra thing you do’. If your manager acknowledges that accessibility is part of your skillset and not just something that people ask you about, it’s likely to help long-term being in the right place for organisational change and an authority within the organisation. Again, formalised training can help with this as it will let management know that you have the skills needed to provide appropriate accessibility advice.

Never underestimate the power of internal training and train-the-trainer

Whether your organisation is large or small, if you are the designated accessibility person either intentionally or by accident, run with it by offering to train others in your area. There’s no shortage of resources and courses available to draw on, and if you start by training up the people around you, it will cement your role as the person who can help others to incorporate accessibility techniques into their work practices, provide you with the opportunity to delegate if the accessibility requests become overwhelming. Even better, see if you can train up a select group of people who may be able to train others in different areas of the organisation.

WCAG is not just about the website

A common barrier in terms of getting accessibility taken seriously, particularly in large organisations, is an assumption that web accessibility standards such as WCAG are only relevant to an organisation’s website and the ICT professionals that look after it. Yet if accessibility is going to be truly organisation-wide, you’ll need to help explain it beyond designers and developers. For example, most people in your organisation will write documents, so which part of WCAG applies to them? Is the marketing team you work with sending out accessible emails and tweets? Ultimately, accessible content will overlap into the roles of most people, and you can help to spread the accessibility message by helping others to do the bit of accessibility that’s relevant to their role.

Ground-up is good, top-down is better

No matter how much of a groundswell of support you manage to generate for accessibility, its success will ultimately depend on how it’s perceived by senior management. Perhaps your organisation already has a strategic plan relating to disability issues that web accessibility can be added to. Perhaps such a plan does not currently exist and needs to be created. Consider what approaches or conversations need to be had with management around policy as once there’s something from senior management that you can hang the accessibity message on, it’s much easier to promote it through your organisation.

Your island is part of a continent

It may seem like you are alone in your organisation when it comes to accessibility, but it’s important to remember that your accessibility initiatives are actually part of a global community. Groups such as the WAI-IG mailing list, meetup groups, conferences and webinars arejust some of the ways you can meet people and talk through issues. I run the local accessibility meetup group in Perth and most people who attend acknowledge that it’s useful for two reasons: one is to get information on how to deal with particular situations, the other is that it’s very therapeutic to vent in company about organisational accessibility frustrations. Remember that you’re not alone in making accessibility happen, even if it feels like it is. You may be an island, but there’s a continent of resources and support close by.

So next time someone stands at your desk looking flushed due to the accessibility crises that just occurred, think of it as a teaching moment for your organisation as to why accessibility is important. While you may not directly see the outcomes of your actions, people with disabilities will.