Skip to content

Month: September 2018

An open letter to Australian digital access providers: let’s grow the industry together

To the Australian digital access community,

It’s hard to believe that two years have passed since I left my full-time position at Media Access Australia and began the journey as a solo Digital Access Specialist. For the most part the journey has been an exciting one: highlights to date include active participation in the W3C Research Questions Taskforce (RQTF), the recent creation of the Centre for Accessibility initiative in partnership with DADAA and Media on Mars, running workshops in Vietnam and meeting so many great people along the way.

However, in recent times I’ve received a steady flow of phone calls, e-mails and requests for a ‘chat’ about the state of the industry. This has included demands to take sides in supporting one company or event over another and several requests for me to back off from digital access work altogether. While I understand that there are the normal ebbs and flows of competition in any sector, and perhaps I was somewhat shielded from all this before I became an independent consultant, it’s still been disappointing to see the industry changing from respectful competition between providers to a desire to tear down the great work being done by others. As such I’d like to speak to you about the importance of all the work being done in the industry as both a person with a lived experience of disability and as an access specialist.     

When I first completed my PhD, I had gained significant knowledge about the world of digital access and its implications for people with disability. However, as a fresh graduate with a speciality in the field I had little awareness or support on what to do with that information. My boss at the Association for the Blind of WA, now VisAbility, saw that I was isolated as a digital access specialist and sent me to my first OZeWAI national conference. This was the first time I realised there was a supportive community of digital access professionals who provided vital guidance and mentorship as I started my work in the area. It’s fair to say that my experience is not an isolated one and I suspect that pretty much every digital access professional in Australia has benefitted from this supportive community. While OZeWAI is a niche conference, it’s the only place that specifically supports the ability of digital access specialists to come together and share knowledge about the sector. I’m looking forward to coming this year and sharing information about my role as lead Editor for the CATPCHA Advisory note and again showing my appreciation as a legally blind person to everyone that has dedicated their careers to working in this space.  

In addition, the past decade or so has seen a separate but equally important series of events pop up which also play a vital role in the digital access journey in the form of meetup groups and Camp events. While OZeWAI is fantastic in supporting people working in the sector, there’s not much need for digital access providers if the broader community doesn’t want to make its content accessible. As such, its important that organisations everywhere understand what accessibility is and how it is embedded into their work practices. This is where local events are so important and it’s been exciting to see the popularity of these groups and events growing. For example, our meetup group remains strong despite its oh-so-early start time of 7:30am and our Perth Web Accessibility Camp had 140 attendees which has been steadily growing for the past five years. The A11y Camp held over east for a few years also appears to be popular, as is the A11y Bytes events held on Global Accessibility Awareness Day. These are all great initiatives in getting the accessibility message out to people. Again, as a person with a disability it’s wonderful to see so many people actively putting on these events and the level of engagement they are having with the community.

However, the calls, e-mails and chats I’ve received recently suggest that there’s increasing competition between these events and I’m a bit puzzled as to why this needs to be the case. All these events are held at different times in different places with the aim of supporting different communities. For example, I doubt many organisations would want to send their staff to both the Perth Camp and the A11y Camp as they meet a similar local audience, cover similar content and are located 4,000kms apart from each other. In my view it makes sense to have these types of events locally so that organisations can easily send along their staff at a low cost and bring that accessibility knowledge back with them. By contrast, the relatively small number of digital access specialists means a national conference like OZeWAI makes sense as a place where we can upskill our own knowledge.  

The issue that’s been raised with me many times recently, especially by members of my meetup group, is that there seems to be a strong push to support one approach or organisation’s work at the expense of all others. Recent complaints raised with me centred on some people joining our meetup list with the sole purpose of spamming our list with commercial products and services which were not only ignored as spam, but also demonstrated a lack of interest and respect in the important accessibility work that our members are doing here. While our group welcomes anyone that would like to come along and speak to us, the point was made that it’s hard to hear the message coming through the front door when it seems like someone is trying to break in through the back.

Speaking to other digital access professionals it seems these issues run far deeper than just those raised by my meetup group with concerns raised across the country ranging from claims of jealousy by some and conspiracy by others. The upshot is that all events are important and there’s plenty of room for more. Given that Perth can consistently draw a crowd, attract quality keynotes and work effectively with competing providers to achieve a great outcome, there’s no reason why great standalone events couldn’t happen in every capital city as we have the population to support them and the passion to host them. It’s my hope that we’ll see more events supported by more collaboration across providers in the future.

While I don’t see a need to compete in the events space, I fully appreciate that there is competition between providers of digital access services and this is a normal part of any sector. Yet recently this seems to have spilled over from respectful competition to a need for some providers to contact me with a request to remove myself from particular types of work. I’m not sure if this is common practice in the industry but given I’ve been asked about my work processes and where I stand, I thought it best to share it with you here.

Firstly, and most importantly, if anyone knocks on my door and asks for help with digital access, I’m going to help them. Sometimes that’s voluntary work and currently that makes up about two days a week of my time. Sometimes that may be commercial work. If the work is not in my skillset such as a phone call I received a few weeks ago about wheelchair brackets in cars, I’ll endeavour to connect that request with someone that can help. Sometimes I’ve knocked back work because it wanders into dodgy territory, but basically if the work helps people and is ethically sound then I’ll usually take it on. I’m also interested in working on things that can help promote the industry more broadly, and for this reason I’ve really enjoyed my work with the Centre for Accessibility initiative as we look to create projects that can strengthen community engagement. Sometimes the work I do may be in competition with other providers, and sometimes it will be something new, but the one thing it will always be is my passion. As such, if you call me with the aim of discouraging me from doing this work, I’m willing to listen but I can assure you it won’t’ change my commitment to the field. 

The final point I’d like to make relates to all people with a lived experience of disability wanting to undertake digital access work. One of the topics that I keep hearing about time and time again this year is debate over which service provider is the largest in Australia. What I’d prefer to hear debated is which digital access provider has the most people with disability employed on a living wage as a part-time or full-time employee. Currently there are lots of talented people with disability available but most are either on a casual contract waiting for the phone to ring or have no work at all. In other countries organisations that work in this space are able to employ people with disability at a decent wage for decent work, so I’m sure the business models here can be adjusted to do the same. The reality is that while people with disability will take casual work if that’s the only thing on offer, the employment situation wont’ get better if businesses are unwilling to bring staff with disability on permanently. The next time I see a newsletter sent out highlighting new staff brought into an access provider it’s my hope I’ll see it feature a person with disability in a permanent position.

To close, I think it’s worth reflecting on two possible futures for our industry in 2019. Do we want a sector where we try to rebrand all our events to gain prominence over others, adversely influence each other’s work  and try to block new initiatives? Or alternatively, do we want to grow the industry together by competing respectfully with each other and supporting everyone’s endeavours – including people with disability – in making a difference? Ultimately we will all decide this question soon, but it’s my hope we can look to 2019 as a time to refocus on what’s important and grow the industry together.  

Yours sincerely

Dr Scott Hollier

Digital Access Specialist

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.