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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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IoT education report now available on the NCSEHE website

In 2017, I was involved in a Curtin University research project titled Internet Of Things (IoT) Education Implications for Students with Disabilities. Thanks to the support of academics across four universities, the report has now been published on the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) website.

The six-month research project was undertaken at Curtin University to determine the significance of the Internet of Things (IoT) in a tertiary education context. The research consisted of both an analysis of the current literature — focussing on consumer-based IoT, the IoT and disability, and the IoT and education — and interviews conducted to determine the perspectives of IoT of five students with disabilities.

The report findings indicated that:

“While the deployment of this technology in higher education, particularly in relation to students with disabilities, is still in its infancy, recent developments — such as the ubiquitous availability of smartphones, improvements in consumer-based IoT engagement such as standalone digital assistants, greater affordability, as well as the ease of collecting real-time data — provide significant opportunity for IoT innovations and solutions. The potential to seamlessly link students to their learning environment — in traditional classrooms or remotely — has great promise. In addition, students access the IoT via their own devices, thereby enabling their preferred assistive technologies (AT) and their individualised settings. Nevertheless, it is also critical that issues relating to privacy, security and interoperability are also addressed within the IoT context.

While IoT in higher education is still an emerging technology, particularly in relation to access for people with disabilities, universities need to seize the opportunities presented and develop plans to both engage with, and develop, these technologies in a learning and teaching environment. They also need to ensure that these technologies are interoperable with student’s own technology, particularly AT and to address the challenges to the privacy and security for both students and staff presented by IoT technologies.”

Specific recommendations from the report are as follows:

  • “The implementation of IoT solutions should focus on the use of personal smartphones as the primary IoT interface device for students with disabilities.
  • The IoT equipment associated with learning such as a digital whiteboard should have the ability to provide its output to students via an LMS or app. This would ensure that students with disabilities can process the data with their preferred AT.
  • The use of IoT to observe students and the lecturer to enhance the effectiveness of learning materials and facilitate the implementation of improvements.
  • All IoT-related implementations will need to consider privacy, security and interoperability as highlighted by the ongoing World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web of Things (WoT) research.
  • Any IoT solution must be accompanied by training to ensure that all staff and students are able to use it effectively.
  • Trial of standalone digital assistants such as Google Home and related devices such as Google Chromecast should be provided to students with disabilities to assess their long-term effectiveness in improving educational outcomes.
  • The applicability of using a digital assistant as a real-time captioning device warrants further research.
  • IoT solutions for classroom environmental controls should be explored for automatic optimisation for student learning — this could be available to students via an aggregated voting system, possibly via a smartphone app.”

This report was initially released in October 2017 to support the Web of Things work at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) as a result, several requests were received for the report to be added to the NCSEHE whose purpose  is to inform public policy design and implementation, and institutional practice, in order to improve higher education participation and success for marginalised and disadvantaged people. The report was added to the NCSEHE in August 2018.

Special thanks to Shadi Abou-Zahra, Professor Gerard Goggin, Professor Vanessa Chang and a number of other academics whose support led to the NCSEHE submission process. Many thanks also to my co-authors for their involvement in the report. If you would like to read the report, the full text can be downloaded from the NCSEHE website or from the W3C Web Of Things publications page.

Amazon updates Echo Show to support speech and hearing impaired users

The Amazon Echo Show, a digital smartspeaker that includes a touchscreen, has received a new feature to make it easier for people that have a speech or hearing impairment to interact with the device.

The feature called ‘Tap To Alexa’ allows the user to tap the screen to interact with the Alexa digital assistant instead of using verbal commands. Once the feature is enabled, users can tap on the information they want instead of providing the equivalent verbal command.

In a recent article by Mallory Locklear at Engadget the updates were described as follows:

“The feature includes shortcuts to common Alexa items like weather, timers, news and traffic, and users can also type out Alexa commands. Additionally, while Amazon launched its Alexa captioning feature in the US a few months ago, it’s now releasing that feature to users in the UK, Germany, Japan, India, France, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.”

The following YouTube video also provides a bit more detail on how the new feature works.

The primary difference between the entry-level Amazon Echo smart speakers and the Show is the addition of a touchscreen which provides visual information in addition to audio-based feedback. As such, this makes the device much easier for people who are Deaf or hearing impaired to use as they can visually see the information. The addition of caption support also helps in mirroring the verbal interactions with text on the screen.

To enable the Tap To Alexa feature, users will need to navigate to the Settings section followed by Accessibility, then touch on the ‘Tap To Alexa’ option. Additional information about the Echo Show can be found on the Amazon website.

ATO staff upskill in preparation for WCAG 2.1

Last week it was a great privilege to provide a webinar to staff from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), supporting their upskilling processes around the new WCAG 2.1 standard.

The webinar included 11 staff across four states with a focus to support ICT professionals, internal accessibility specialists and content producers as to how the mobile-focused WCAG 2.1 could be integrated into their work processes.

The half-day webinar focused on why digital access for people with disability is important, how to interpret the legacy WCAG 2.0 success criteria in a mobile context, an overview of the new WCAG 2.1 success criteria to Level AA and the implications of future standards developments. The webinar also included two practical activities including providing participants with an opportunity to use a screen reader and how to test websites with an automated tool.

While many ATO staff were already actively working to make digital content accessible, the guidance provided in the webinar helped to highlight a more mobile-specific focus in preparation for the WCAG 2.1 rollout mentioned in a recent tweet by the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA).

Thanks again to the staff at the ATO for the opportunity to provide the webinar – it’s wonderful to see so many people dedicated to the pursuit of digital access. If any other government department is interested in being upskilled in WCAG 2.1, please get in touch.

Australian Digital Transformation Agency commits to WCAG 2.1 AA update

The Digital Transformation Agency (DTA), a Federal government department that oversees the national Digital Service Standard (DSS), issued a tweet recently confirming it will be moving to WCAG 2.1.

In its tweet, the DTA stated that:

“’There will be 17 new criteria in #WCAG 2.1 to cover new digital tools and understanding mobile, low vision and cognitive. @DTA will update our guides to meet WCAG 2.1 criteria.’ #contentstrategy #accessibility #dtachats

While the tweet is good news, indicating that the Australian Federal government will be moving to WCAG 2.1, there was initially some confusion with the announcement. Given there are only 12 Success Criteria in WCAG 2.1 Level AA, the tweet inferred that the Federal government would be moving to Level AAA to implement all 17 Success Criteria. If true, this would have been a major departure from existing government policy.

To clarify this issue, I sent a reply to the DTA’s tweet, checking if they were indeed planning to implement all 17 Success Criteria. In response, the DTA stated:

“Hi @scotthollier, we apologise for the delay in responding. There
are no plans to move to AAA, but as we explore the updates to WCAG 2.1 we’re
issuing new best practice advice to help agencies understand the changes.”

This suggests that the new Federal government requirement described by the Digital Service Standard is likely to be based on a WCAG 2.1 Level AA conformance, incorporating the 12 largely mobile-focused new Success Criteria.

If you wish to upskill your staff in preparation for the new DTA requirement, you can find additional information in the Consultancy and Training section of this webiste. There is also a free WCAG 2.1 resource at the Centre For Accessibility website.

Microsoft Office Accessibility Checker – here’s how to use it

If you are subscribed to Microsoft Office 365, you may have noticed an alert appearing recently when launching an Office application such as Word or PowerPoint. The message is about a new update to the built-in document accessibility checker. In Microsoft’s What’s New In Office 365 page, the update is described as follows:

“One-click fixes for accessibility issues: The Accessibility Checker is better than ever with updated support for international standards and handy recommendations to make your documents more accessible.”

Screenshot of Microsoft Word Accessibility Checker update message

Given that many people aren’t aware that Microsoft have had an accessibility checker tucked away in Office for some time now, let alone how to use it, I thought it’d be a good time to pull together the common questions I’m asked about it.

What is the Accessibility Checker?

The Microsoft Accessibility Checker is a feature included in Microsoft Office that allows users to check the accessibility of their documents. When the check is used, it provides a list of potential accessibility issues with suggestions on how to address them. The user is then able to fix the issues to make the document more accessible to people with disabilities.

Which versions of Microsoft Office have the Checker?

The accessibility checker was first introduced in Office 2010.However the feature was difficult to find in earlier versions so many people did not know it was there. This has been improved with Office 365. The feature is currently available in the Windows and Mac versions of Office.

Which Office applications have the checker?

The checker is currently available in Word, Excel, PowerPoint and more recently Outlook. This means you can check documents, spreadsheets, slides and e-mail for accessibility issues and follow the recommendations to fix them.

Does the accessibility checker conform with WCAG?

Given that Office is an authoring tool rather than a website, a more applicable standard would be its compliance to the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) 2.0. ATAG essentially looks at whether a tool can be used by a person with a disability, and whether that tool can produce accessible content based on WCAG. In both cases, the answer for Office on Windows is broadly yes, but people with disabilities have reported issues using Office on Mac, iOS and Android due to incompatibilities with assistive technologies. The Checker itself though is available on Office for Windows and Office for Mac. As such, Office for Mac still remains broadly compatible with the second part of ATAG 2.0.

While ATAG is the more applicable standard when discussing authoring tools, WCAG still plays an important role. As such, the accessibility requirements for document formats such as Word and PowerPoint will sound very familiar to people when compared with WCAG: images need alternative text, videos need captions, tables need headings and documents need to be structured correctly using styles – just to name a few. The accessibility checker is useful in that it can check a document for issues that are in common with WCAG along with additional advice related to Microsoft-specific features.

How can I use the accessibility checker?

If you are using the latest version of Microsoft Office, the Checker is now quite easy to find and easy to use. The instructions provided by Microsoft are as follows:

  1. On the ribbon, click the Review tab.
  2. Click Check Accessibility.
  3. Review your results. You’ll see a list of errors, warnings, and tips with how-to-fix recommendations for each.

If you are using an older version of Office such as 2010 or 2013, here’s how you can find and use the Checker in Word, Excel or PowerPoint:

  1. Click File > Info.
  2. Select the Check for Issues button. Tip: To the right of the Check for Issues button, under the Inspect heading, is a list of any potential issues.
  3. In the Check for Issues drop-down menu, select Check Accessibility.
  4. The Accessibility Checker task pane appears next to your content and shows the inspection results.
  5. To see information on why and how to fix an issue, under Inspection Results, select an issue. Results appear under Additional Information, and you’re directed to the inaccessible content in your file.

Is the latest Checker update important?

The recent update to the accessibility checker makes the interface much easier to cross-check and fix accessibility issues with your Word, Excel, PowerPoint or outlook document. However, the more important benefit to using the latest Office 365 version is that it is now able to provide guidance on more issues. If you are regularly providing documents to people with disabilities, it is strongly recommended that you update to Office 2016 or Office 365 with the latest updates to maximise the effectiveness of the Accessibility Checker.

Additional information on the accessibility features of Microsoft products can be found on the Microsoft Accessibility website.