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Dr Scott Hollier - Digital Access Specialist Posts

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Welcome to hollier.info – home of Dr Scott Hollier & book ‘Outrunning the Night’.

Dr Scott Hollier

Scott is a specialist advisor, lecturer and speaker who focuses on making computers and Internet-related technologies accessible to people with disabilities.

Scott provides a range of consultancy services working with organisations and individuals  to make websites, apps and documents accessible based on international standards.

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’. You can also learn more about Scott’s views and accessibility news in the blog posts below.

Whether you are a person with a disability, are supporting a person with a disability, seeking solutions on how to make digital content accessible or just want to start the accessibility conversation, you’re more than welcome to get in touch. You can also follow @scotthollier on Twitter  and sign up to Scott’s digital access newsletter by e-mailing newsletter@hollier.info with ‘subscribe’ in the subject line.

Thank you for visiting!

Dr Scott Hollier to present on IoT education access research at CSUN 2018

The new year is off to an exciting start with confirmation that I’ll be presenting a paper about the Internet of Things (IoT) and education access at the CSUN 2018 Assistive Technology conference in San Diego, USA this March.

The presentation, titled ‘Internet of Things Education: Implications for Students with Disabilities’ is based on research I was involved in during 2017 at Curtin University. The presentation will focus on findings of a report that investigated the impact of IoT on students with disabilities in tertiary education, the evolving benefits and issues of IoT and potential future projects for consideration in this emerging space. The report was structured to support W3C processes as part of the Web of Things work of which I am a contributor through the Research Questions Task Force.

My presentation session will be held on Friday 23 March at 2:20pm. If you are planning to go to the CSUN conference this year, please get in touch as it’d be great to see you there.

Many thanks to my colleagues at Curtin and W3C for their support during the project which has led to this opportunity.

W3C WAI – 2017 year in review

In my W3C WAI review last year, I mentioned at the time how 2016 was a remarkable year and a year of great change both professionally and personally. Taking the plunge into digital access consultancy as an individual has, for the most part, worked well and I’ve enjoyed the variety of work in supporting organisations with their needs, undertaking some great research projects and continuing my teaching of the Professional Certificate in Web Accessibility course hosted by UniSA.  However, the most enjoyable and rewarding part of my work this year has been a voluntary one, dedicating time to the work of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI).

 My role – the Research Questions Task Force

I’ve been asked by many over the past year as to what my involvement is with W3C WAI, so to kick off this round-up I’ll start with an overview of my own 2017 contribution. I’m an invited expert for the W3C WAI Accessible Platform Architectures (APA) Research Questions Task Force (RQTF) which I appreciate is a bit of a mouthful, so I’ll refer to it as just RQTF for the remainder of the article. The RQTF is a little bit like an advanced scouting party whereby we research current and emerging technologies to determine their accessibity implications. This in turn provides guidance to other groups in W3C WAI as to the key areas that need more formal developments such as the creation of web standards. This process involves a lot of researching, performing analyses as to what the current literature has to say on the various topics we explore and the creation of recommendations for other groups.

With the RQTF commencing just over a year ago, it’s been exciting to join the group at the very beginning and undertake literature reviews to support the group and put forward recommendations. Topics that the RQTF have researched this year include implications for accessible virtual reality, the Internet of Things, web authentication and an update to the current advice on the accessibity of CAPTCHAs, those annoying squiggly characters that can’t easily be read. Interestingly on that last point CATPCHAs are not only mostly inaccessible but also don’t help that much anymore with security, hence the need to explore the literature so that information such as this can be updated. Currently our findings are being polished up and are likely to be available in early 2018.

For me the RQTF is a perfect fit – it is a great use of my academic research background, it provides an opportunity to read about interesting research taking place around the world and I really enjoy working with others in the group. While it’s still a bit challenging to stay awake long enough to join the 10pm Wednesday teleconference call, an unfortunate time resulting from my +8UTC time zone, the flexibility around my other work has meant I’ve been able to do it and make a meaningful contribution. Incidentally, if anyone reading this has a flare for research, can dedicate a few hours a week to do some reading and doesn’t mind a regular late-night phone call if you live in the Asia-pacific region, please let me know as we’re always looking for more people to get involved. 

WCAG 2.1

While my own involvement is more looking to the future, there’s a massive change taking place in the present – an update to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 standard that has been the definitive guide on how to make content accessible since 2008. With WCAG 2.0 adopted around the world as part of policy and legislative frameworks, W3C had a difficult decision to make for any future updates: do you create an entirely new standard and break all the existing adoption around WCAG 2.0, or do you keep all of WCAG 2.0 and just make some additional terminology tweaks and guidance to update it? The short answer is that W3C decided to do both. The latter is where WCAG 2.1 comes in, which does indeed retain all WCAG 2.0 but adds important guidance on how the standard can be applied to the mobile web. The reason this is important is that when WCAG 2.0 was released in December 2008, the idea that a blind person could use a touch screen like the iPhone was considered ridiculous. Today, however, both Apple iOS and Google Android contain a wealth of accessibity features built-in. As such, the standard needs an update and 2017 has seen rapid progress.

While I won’t go into too much detail here as to the specific changes to guidelines and success criteria, the biggest takeaway is that WCAG 2.1 will require that your website is checked for accessibility compliance on a mobile device. In addition, the new standard will provide guidance to mobile app developers as well. In terms of timeframes, there is now a largely ‘feature complete’ draft of WCAG 2.1 available with the final release due mid-2018.

Silver

While WCAG 2.1 represents one of the paths towards updating the web accessibility standard, the other path being taken during the year is Silver, also referred to as Accessibility Guidelines or AG, and for those familiar with the periodic table you’ll see where the codename Silver came from.

Silver is a highly ambitious approach to updating the guidelines, hence the need to take the two development streams of updating the existing WCAG 2.0 while also creating something new. The reason why it is ambitious is because it is endeavouring to unify many different W3C standards while keeping an eye on emerging technologies and their access implications. The existing standards that are being rolled into AG include WCAG, the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) and the User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG). This means that all web content, tools that create content and applications that control content such as web browsers and media players will all have one standard for developers to check if their work is accessible. Furthermore, the standard will also provide accessibility guidance on other products such as wearables, the Internet of Things, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and driverless cars. While the development of Silver is a big job, in my opinion it also makes a lot of sense given that it is no longer practical to produce a new web accessibility standard every time a new technology becomes popular, so there needs to be an umbrella standard to check for accessibility and make sure that people with disabilities everywhere can embrace the benefits that these technologies – plus the ones we don’t know about yet – will offer.

The timeframe for Silver is a little more fluid with optimistic target dates tentatively set for 2020. During 2017 we have seen the Silver Task Force make a lot of progress in determining what is needed in Silver, so it’ll be interesting to see how 2018 goes as the work on the draft standard takes shape.

Cognitive Accessibility Roadmap and Gap Analysis First Public Working Draft

Another great development in 2017 has been the increased work in providing guidance on accessibility in relation to people with cognitive disabilities. One of the main criticisms of WCAG 2.0 is that it falls short in addressing the needs of people with cognitive disabilities. To address this, W3C WAI created the Cognitive and Learning Disabilities Accessibility Task Force which has been doing a lot of work in 2017 to provide guidance to other working groups relating to the needs of people with cognitive disabilities. Most recently, the Task Force has published a first public Working Draft of Cognitive Accessibility Roadmap and Gap Analysis. It explores user needs for people with cognitive or learning disabilities and identifies where additional web content authoring guidance is needed to help authors meet these needs. While WCAG 2.1 and Silver have captured most of the headlines this year, I suspect it’s this work which will prove the most significant development in providing additional support to people with disabilities when reflecting on the achievements of the year.

Other updates

In addition there’s also been updates to existing resources and standards including WAI-ARIA 1.1, Core-AAM 1.1, DPub-ARIA 1.0, and DPub-AAM 1.0 becoming W3C Recommendations, an update to Easy Checks and updates to Web Accessibility Tutorials. The ARIA updates will provide significant improvements to assistive technology interaction and both the Easy Checks and Tutorials updates will help people taking their first steps into web accessibility with some guidance on what it’s about and how to perform basic checks.

The WAI work listed here is by no means a complete list but does give you some idea on the great things taking place in the international community to help people with disabilities get access to online content along with all the benefits that access provides. Many thanks to all the hard-working people involved in this work and I’m looking forward to continuing my involvement in 2018.

Google Maps gets new crowdsourcing feature to improve accessibility

Google is continuing its initial efforts to provide accessibility features to Google Maps for wheelchair users by introducing crowdsourcing features. This allows Maps users to add accessibility information on their favourite places.

In a recent article written by Claudia.Cahalanefor AbilityNet, it is explained that “Google is asking the public – in particular its ‘local guides’ – to add accessibility information to Google Maps. It’s hoping that visitors to restaurants, theatres, offices and lots of other venues, will add info on whether entrances, toilets and spaces are suitable for wheelchair users.”

While wheelchair users are the primary group to benefit from the new feature, users of the Maps app can add other information such as whether or not a venue is noisy which is also likely to be helpful for people with a hearing impairment.

To add your accessibility information on an Android device:

  1. Open the Google Maps app
  2. Select the Settings icon in the top-left corner or swipe left-to-right
  3. Select Contributions
  4. Select Accessibility

The inclusion of the feature marks a significant expansion of the wheelchair maps accessibility information which was previously limited to Maps users in the United States.

How to fix Magnifier issues after Windows 10 Fall Creators Update

The Windows 10 Fall Creators Update is now rolling out to users worldwide. As discussed in an earlier post, there are many great accessibility improvements including the addition of the Eye Control feature along with many subtle improvements to Narrator and Magnifier.

However, a number of users have reported that since updating there have been issues with Magnifier. There are essentially two issues: the first is that the computer becomes jerky and slow when Magnifier is turned on, the second is that it jumps around the screen unexpectedly when used in partnership with Narrator.

The good news is that both issues can be quickly fixed, returning Magnifier to a similar state before the upgrade took place.

The reason for the first issue is that Microsoft have improved their bitmap smoothing with the update, meaning that the magnified area looks less blocky, and this feature is turned on by default after the update. However, for older computers with integrated graphics the processing required may be lacking, and as a result the computer becomes slow with jerky movements when Magnifier is turned on, but returns to normal speed when Magnifier is turned off.

The second issue relates to the use of Magnifier and Narrator being turned on at the same time. In this instance, Microsoft have enabled a feature by default that allows the Magnifier to follow the area that Narrator is reading. This can be useful, but if you zoom into a small area it may seem like the screen is jumping all over the place every time Narrator reads something out.

Magnifier settings in Windows 10

Image of Magnifier settings with Bitmap Smoothing and Follow Narrator settings unticked

To address these issues, follow these steps:

  1. Go to Settings
  2. Go to Ease of Access
  3. Select the Magnifier section on the left-hand side
  4. On the right-hand side, untick the ‘Enable Bitmap Smoothing’ option. Unticking this option will make the Magnifier smoother and less jerky
  5. Untick the ‘Follow Narrator Cursor’ option: this will stop Magnifier from following every word read out by Narrator, providing you with greater control of Magnifier

This issue and solution has been personally verified on three computers upgraded ot the Fall Creators update.

Additional information on Windows 10 accessibility features can be found in the Accessibility section of the Microsoft website.

W3C WAI updates Web Accessibility Laws and Policies listing

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) has recently updated its Web Accessibility Laws and Policies list. This list provides guidance as to which countries and regions have formal policies and legislative frameworks to support the preparation of online content for people with disabilities. In most cases this includes support for the internationally recognized Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 and other associated policies such as accessible procurement.

According to the list, countries and regions that currently have formal laws and policies related to web accessibity include:

  • Australia
  • Canada                     
  • China            
  • Denmark                    
  • European Union                  
  • Finland                     
  • France                      
  • Germany                  
  • Hong Kong               
  • India              
  • Ireland                       
  • Israel                         
  • Italy                
  • Netherlands             
  • Norway                      
  • Republic of Korea               
  • Switzerland              
  • United Kingdom                  
  • United States of America               

The listing also provides links to the relevant policy in each country or region. While this list provides information on countries and regions with formal policies, there are other countries that follow WCAG 2.0 principles such as Thailand and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia but in a less formalized manner.

Additional information on W3C web accessibility standards and resources can be found at the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative home page.