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Dr Scott Hollier - Digital Access Specialist Posts

Centre For Accessibility launches with great community support

The Centre For Accessibility (CFA), an initiative created in partnership with DADAA, Media On Mars and myself, launched on 6 June 2018 at a community event hosted by DADAA in Fremantle.

Crowd at CFA launch

The breakfast event was well attended with 140 people coming along to join in the launch celebrations. Hosted by DADAA CEO David Doyle, the event initially featured a reflective and entertaining Welcome to Country by Oldman Walley followed by a video highlighting how accessibility issues affect people with disability. One particularly great line was ‘if you want my cash, make it accessible’.

CFA-Minister speaking with attendees

The importance of digital access continued as the Centre was launched by the Hon. Stephen Dawson MLC, Minister for Environment and Disability Services. The Minister spoke warmly about the need for accessibility, how mainstream organisations can improve independence by making content accessible and acknowledged the grant funding that led to the creation of the Centre.

Helen Errington

The proceedings continued with guest speaker Helen Errington who spoke both passionately and frankly about the challenges people with disability can face in their pursuit of access. This included the importance of mainstream organisations needing to fix access issues so that everyone regardless of disability can participate in society and complete everyday tasks.

Scott speaking with attendees

My presentation was the final part of formal proceedings, launching the official CFA resource which I developed. that features information on how people with disability access information, how content can be made accessible across different roles, guidance on the WCAG 2.0 and 2.1 standards and how existing content on websites and documents can be checked for accessibility issues.

With the Centre formally open, attention now turns to the delivery of three workshops across Western Australia to support mainstream organisations to incorporate accessibity into work practices.

The CFA has been funded in part by an ILC Linkage grant and its purpose of the CFA is to create an industry and not-for-profit collaboration that will work to promote digital access. Further information can be found at the Centre For Accessibility website.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 is now a W3C standard

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has announced the official release of theWeb Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 as a “W3C Recommendation web standard.

The release of WCAG 2.1 marks an important change in the way in which accessibility is considered and tested due to WCAG 2.1 focusing on providing support to the mobile web. The new standard includes everything contained in WCAG 2.0 plus additional guidelines and success criteria.

To support the WCAG 2.1 release, W3C has included a new resource titled  What’s New in WCAG 2.1  and a detailed blog post titled WCAG 2.1 is a W3C Recommendation.

Further information can be found in the full WCAG 2.1 standard.

Microsoft launches adaptive game controller

Microsoft has announced its upcoming release of a game controller designed specifically for people with disabilities.

The Adaptive Controller for Xbox can be connected to external buttons, switches, joysticks and mounts, giving players with a wide range of physical disabilities the ability to customize their setups. Although the focus of the controller is for Xbox, it can also be used with a Windows 10 PC.

The project was developed by Microsoft in collaboration with AbleGamers, Warfighter Engaged, SpecialEffect, Craig Hospital and the Cerebral Palsy Foundation. While the controller is not the first to be designed with accessibility in mind, it is the first time that a major corporation has provided support to the concept, making the product available at a more affordable price.  

Technical specifications for the adaptive controller include two oversized programmable buttons, 19 3.5mm input jacks and two USB ports, allowing disabled gamers to easily connect special joysticks, switches, and any other tools they may need. For homes with multiple gamers with limited mobility, the Adaptive Controller has three custom profiles, making it easy to switch between user preferences.

The controller will launch in the US for just under $USD100. There is currently no pricing or launch date for the controller in Australia.  Additional information can be found on the official Microsoft adaptive controller website.  

Centre For Accessibility (CFA) Fremantle launch event open for registration

The Centre For Accessibility (CFA), an initiative created in partnership with DADAA, Media On Mars and myself, will be launched on 6 June 2018. Funded in part by the Disability Services, Department of Communities through an ILC grant, the purpose of the CFA is to create an industry and not-for-profit collaboration that will work to promote digital access.

My role in the CFA relates to the creation of a digital access training guide designed to deliver practical, up-to-date information as to how digital accessibility can best be incorporated into work practices for mainstream organisations. The free online resource will provide technical points and instructions for meeting WCAG Level AA compliance, as well as role-specific details for creating accessible documents.

CFA logo and tagline Accessibility is more than just compliance, it's about people

The project is hosted by DADAA and together with Media on Mars have developed a marketing campaign and website to host the digital content, ensuring the resource can be reached by mainstream organisations across Western Australia and the country. The project is also looking to identify ways that the CFA can support employment opportunities for people with disability.

The event will be held on Wednesday 6 June, 8.30 – 10.30am, with the Hon. Stephen Dawson MLC, Minister for Disability Services and Environment, in attendance. If you would like to help us launch the Centre for Accessibility! you are welcome to register. The launch is a free, interactive event hosted at DADAA in Fremantle and will allow you to engage with accessibility experts, experience using assistive technologies and meet some of the people that benefit from accessible design. Places are limited and registrations are essential.

To register, e-mail Shannon.palmer@accessibility.org.au or head to Eventbrite.

Yanny V Laurel and the death of the audio CAPTCHA

If you’ve recently been travelling through a part of the world without any form of internet, television or radio then you may have been one of the few to miss the recent Yanny versus Laurel debate. The premise is an audio sample in which some people distinctly hear the word ‘Yanny’ while others clearly identify the word as ‘Laurel’.

In my case, I hear ‘Yanny’ most of the time but recently I listened to it through a bad quality mobile phone speaker and heard Laurel, so it seems I’m in a good position to get into an argument with myself and represent both sides.  

Yet while the online community has been in meltdown over the past week or so arguing about which word our ears should hear, I found that the cleverly designed sound sample brilliantly highlights an accessibility issue that is very close to my heart – how distorted electronic audio can be interpreted differently depending on a variety of factors, and a well-known example of this in action is the audio CAPTCHA.

CATPCHA is an acronym that stands for a Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart. The purpose of a CAPTCHA is ultimately to prevent personal data from being harvested by clever computer code known as bots or scripts. While it is important to identify whether there is a real person entering in information, the issue for people with disabilities is that CAPTCHAs not only tell humans and computers apart but also tend to put people with disabilities on the ‘computer’ side of the fence blocking access to processes such as buying tickets online or signing up to an online service.

The journey in fighting the use of CATPCHAs has been a long one for people with disabilities. The traditional CAPTCHA which features a bitmapped graphical image of distorted text is impossible for people who are blind or low vision to complete, so people started looking at the possibility of audio CATPCHAs.

 

As noted in the video above, the idea of an audio CATPCHA is that humans can pick out the ‘real’ audio information from the garbled background noise, while a computer trying to decipher it would get tripped up by the extra sounds.

However, what the Yanny and Laurel debate highlights beautifully is that how people interpret a combination of sounds will vary significantly from person to person, especially for people with a hearing impairment. It may be the case that you can hear the numbers read out in the video clip clearly, but for many identifying the information required and then typing it into a form to pass the CAPTCHA would be impossible. Furthermore, many audio CATPCHAs mix words and numbers together, making it difficult to know if a number should be entered as a numerical value like ‘9’ or typed out in full such as ‘nine’. For people with a hearing impairment, an audio CATPCHA is the equivalent of saying ‘because you can’t hear Laurel, you’re not allowed to buy a ticket to the football’ or ‘because you can’t hear Yanny, you can’t join our new social media platform.’ Thinking about audio CATPCHAs in this way really helps, in my view, to highlight the challenges such technologies pose.

In my work with the W3C Research Questions Task Force we’ve been looking at the issues of CATPCHAs closely as we have been working on an update to the W3C CATPCHA advisory note. The upshot is that CAPTCHAs such as those that depend on audio are not as secure as they used to be in the age of digital assistants that can understand a greater amount of spoken words than ever before. With ever-improving ways to tell humans and computers apart such as federated identities, multiple devices and biometrics such as fingerprint and facial recognition being built into our everyday devices, it is likely that more traditional CAPTCHAs will soon disappear and people with disabilities will once again be counted as human when completing an online task.

So next time you’re having a friendly debate over Yanny and Laurel, consider that for many people, how they hear things could actually be preventing access to critical online content. It’s exciting though to consider that in the not-too-distant future traditional CAPTCHAs will be gone,  putting the focus back on our choices – not ears – that determine our online participation.