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Dr Scott Hollier - Digital Access Specialist Posts

Digital access in Vietnam – a great experience

I recently had the privilege to spent a week in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam as a guest of the RMIT Vietnam Centre of Digital Excellence (CODE) for a combination of presentations, events and a workshop, highlighting the strong commitment of RMIT Vietnam in making accessibility happen.  Scott presenting a workshop at InSITE 2017

Scott running a workshop at InSITE 2017

The primary reason for my visit was to present a three-hour workshop titled ‘Exploring the web in different ways’ as part of the InSITE 2017 conference hosted by RMIT Vietnam. The workshop had about 60 people in attendance and all had an opportunity to experience the use of a screen reader on their own device, assess web content for its accessibility and interact with a digital assistant such as the Amazon Echo Dot. Participants in the workshop were very positive about the experience, providing feedback that the activities were both fun and informative, leading to an increased awareness of how people with different abilities engage with their content. 

Scott in front of RMIT Vietnam sign

Scott at the RMIT Vietnam campus

Other events at RMIT Vietnam included a presentation to equity students which provided an overview of my work and some highlights from my personal disability journey. The theme of the presentation focused on the power of education, technology and the great work being done by the staff in the Equitable Learning Services department. There was also a joint presentation with Dr Ruchi Permvattana from Curtin University on accessible e-learning for RMIT Vietnam learning and teaching staff.

While the RMIT Vietnam meetings, presentations and the InSITE conference workshop were all a part of my original itinerary, I was very fortunate to also visit MATA, a boarding school specifically for children who are blind or have low vision. The Director and a staff member from RMIT Vietnam very kindly took the time to bring us to the centre and show us the facilities. In addition to the school they also produce Braille books and white canes, and I was very lucky to be presented with a much-needed new white cane as a gift. I also presented a gift in the form of the audio book version of ‘Outrunning the Night’. `

MATA school children performing a Vietnamese welcome song during Scott’s visit

In conversation with the Director I was particularly struck by the great facilities and focus of the children in the school, with their dedication to learning being described as ‘Overcoming darkness through education’ – a great phrase. Shortly after my arrival the students performed a Vietnamese welcome song.  This really showcased the dedication and talents of the students in the school.

In terms of digital access broadly, it was great to see that many students both at RMIT Vietnam and MATA had an awareness of the benefits that technology can provide, along with an openness to additional improvements. For example, in my discussion with the equity students at RMIT Vietnam I happened to mention about the new accessibility features in Windows 10, and within 20 minutes a plan had been established to upgrade the computers used by the students to Windows 10 so they could use the improved features. It’s this nimble approach to access that was exciting to see and will ultimately yield significant benefits to the students studying at RMIT Vietnam.

 I’d like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank RMIT Vietnam CODE for bringing me over for the week, the opportunity to share my knowledge and experience, the InSITE conference organisers and MATA for their fantastic welcome. 

Scott to run access workshop at 2017 InSITE Conference in Vietnam

It is my great honour and privilege to update you that the RMIT Vietnam Centre Of Digital Excellence (CODE)  have invited me to present a digital access workshop at InSITE 2017: Informing Science + IT Education Conferences: Vietnam.

The conference runs from 31 July to 5 August and will feature topics related to ICT and education such as:

  • The art and science of informing clients
  • Misinforming / Misinformation and Bias in informing systems
  • Teaching and mentoring of doctoral students
  • Information Technology for Education
  • Lifelong Learning
  • eSkills and Civil Society
  • Preparing Doctoral Students
  • Post Secondary Education

My workshop will be on Wednesday 2 August titled ‘Experiencing the Web in Different Ways’. The session is described as follows:

People with disabilities experience online content in a variety of different ways.  Dr Scott Hollier will take you through some of the technologies that are used for online engagement across a range of different devices including laptops, smartphones, tablets and a digital assistant. How do these technologies help, and how will it change in the future? Find out in this practical hands-on workshop.

In addition, I’ll be spending time with the staff and students of RMIT Vietnam to provide digital accessibility advice and support, chatting about all things accessibility and my life experience as discussed in my book ‘Outrunning the Night’.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the RMIT Vietnam CODE for the invitation and sponsorship to provide the workshop and I’m very much looking forward to meeting everyone there.



Top 5 web accessibility complaints and how to address them

It’s a common scenario – you’re a web developer on a tight deadline. You think everything is pretty much wrapped up for the client until that pesky accessibility-related request crops up. It might be an unexpected need to caption a video, or perhaps it’s the need to change that cool rollover effect you spent three days mastering. Worse still, it may be that killer last-minute web accessibity check that reveals the entire project is in jeopardy resulting in long nights and budget problems as it all gets fixed up.

But does it have to be this way? If you ask a room full of accessibility specialists, the answer will be a resounding ‘no’. However, if you ask a room full of web designers and developers, the response is likely to be ‘yes, because there’s no other choice – accessibility is hard, time-consuming and expensive’.

At the risk of having other accessibility specialists grab their pitchforks and march on my place, I’m going to say that both groups are right – to a point. Web developers and other associated ICT professionals are absolutely correct in saying that accessibility can be hard, it can be time-consuming and it can be expensive. However, I’d disagree that there’s no other choice. If the key accessibity issues are incorporated into work practices, meaning that issues are addressed in the early stages of a web project, there’s no need for accessibility to be hard, time-consuming or expensive, and I base this on over a decade of experience in the field.

So, with that in mind, here’s a list of the five most common complaints web developers have raised with me about accessibility and some practical tips on how to address them.

1.    Web accessibility can be expensive – if you only consider it at the end of a project

The biggest complaint people raise with me when I run workshops and training is that web accessibility is expensive. I’d agree that if you don’t consider compliance to the current WCAG standard during the development process then this is absolutely true. However, most aspects of WCAG do not require additional work, but rather provide a different way of working. For example, adding descriptive links instead of ‘read more’ isn’t much of an effort, making sure there’s an online language declaration can be done pretty quickly and not using colour to indicate a change of context doesn’t require any effort at all.  In fairness, there are some things that may incur an extra cost such as audio describing a video so I wouldn’t say definitively that accessibility costs nothing, but if staff are trained to incorporate web accessibility into work practices, the cost will be barely noticed in the budget of a typical web project.

2.    Web accessibility is time-consuming – if you don’t learn WCAG

It’s important to acknowledge right away that while the W3C’s current WCAG standard is a really big deal to me, it only represents a small part of what web developers need to consider. As such, I’m not asking you to dedicate your life and career to the pursuit of web accessibility, but it is important to be aware of what’s in the WCAG standard and how it applies to your work. I’d estimate that about two-thirds of WCAG 2.0 Level AA, the typical implementation target, requires no noticeable extra time in their implementation, it’s more about working smarter than harder. Granted that still leaves the other third but most of those get faster with practice only leaving a few requirements by my count that actually require a bit of additional planning. The upshot is that if you can get your head around WCAG and adjust your work processes accordingly, you’ll achieve most of the standard during the normal development process and will be able to plan effectively for the additional parts such as captioning a video – which is the next point on this list.

3.    Captioning a video is a pain – unless you’re aware of all the fantastic free tools out there to help you.

It’s interesting when giving a presentation just before a big web project, going through the WCAG 2.0 At A Glance document and hearing the groans when ‘captioning a video’ is mentioned as a Level A requirement. It’s been my experience that the rest are generally considered okay – no major complaints about alternative text, no issue with colour contrast, but captioning a video is perceived to be a big job. The important thing to acknowledge is that yes, captioning a video can be a big job, but it doesn’t have to be. There are many great free tools available to help you with this work, the first being YouTube’s automated captions in which Google can caption your video for you and you can use those captions for other projects. Importantly these captions are unlikely to be 100% accurate, and depending on the audio the quality will range significantly, but what the auto-captions are able to do well is get the timing right which is half the battle. After that you can then turn to many of the other free captioning suites online, or do your captioning from scratch if the auto-captions just don’t work. My personal favourite online captioning tool is but there’s one built into YouTube itself and WGBH’s recent tool CADET is getting great reviews as well. In the course I teach, we have a captioning assignment and most students go into it thinking it’ll be really hard work and are generally surprised at how quickly and easily captioning a video can be done with the right tools.

4.    Accessible websites can be boring and ugly – if you’re not creative enough

If I didn’t have people storming my house after my opening remarks, they probably are now. However, it is important to address this reoccurring point that ‘accessibility = boring’ or ‘accessibility = ugly’. The first point I’d make here is that WCAG was not designed to stop your creativity. In fact, the millions of people with disabilities out there that use the web want to experience your creativity, your flair and your hard work, so please don’t hold back! Secondly, there’s lots of great websites out there that demonstrate you can be creative and accessible. The BBC website is one of the most media-rich websites in the world and has everything from videos to children’s games, and has consistently done a great job in making things accessible. As mentioned previously, most of WCAG is about the way you can do things, not an extra thing to stop you doing things, so keep the creative ideas flowing so we can all enjoy them.

5.    Accessibility can affect security – until you use the techniques that give you the best of both worlds

Out of all the complaints listed, this is the one that in my opinion is the most legitimate concern. You don’t have to look too far in the news to witness cyberattacks sweeping the world, and there’s no way security should be sacrificed to make a website accessible – and I’m absolutely not asking you to do so. Security issues generally need to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, but what I would say is that in most cases there are accessible ways of implementing popular security mechanisms on a website.

For example, I’m often asked about CATPCHAs. I’ve recently completed some research as part of the W3C Research Questions Task Force (RQTF) and it’s pretty clear from the literature out there that traditional CAPTCHAs are no longer as effective as they used to be. As such, it’s important to consider alternatives not just for people with disabilities or people unfamiliar with the English character set but to also get something with improved security. E-mail verification, for example, is a popular alternative that is generally considered more secure and accessible.

A second example is giving people more time to complete online processes such as accessing government records. Understandably for security reasons you don’t want to leave this open to anyone for very long, but WCAG says people should have enough time. One solution is to provide a ‘+5 minutes’ button on the website. This confirms that the user is still present which addresses the security concerns, and also provides that bit of extra time needed for a person with a disability using a screen reader to complete the task. These are just two examples and in most security-related scenarios presented to me I’ve been able to find a solution that works for everyone. Furthermore, with more developments in biometrics and alternative authentication techniques it’s likely this will become even easier to address in the future.

So that’s a short overview of the five most common complaints made to me regarding accessibility and some practical tips on how to address them. If you’d like to keep up with other accessibility news you’re welcome to subscribe to my newsletter by e-mailing  with ‘subscribe’ in the subject line or you can follow me on Twitter @scotthollier.   

Professional Certificate in Web Accessibility featured in 2017 Knowbility Awards

The Professional Certificate in Web Accessibility (PCWA) course, co-created by Professor Denise Wood and I, has been selected as one of three finalists for an Educational Achievement Award at the  Knowbility Community Heroes of Accessibility 2017 Awards.

The awards are described by Knowbility as follows:

“For the last three years, we have asked our community to nominate their heroes – those people whose dedication to the field of accessibility is having a significant impact on improving equal access for all.”

While being a finalist for the award  is very unexpected, it’s wonderful to have the course recognised for its commitment to upskilling ICT professionals in their efforts relating to the creation of accessible content.

In 2011, Denise and I created the course in response to the release of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 and the need to support ICT professionals as to how they could include accessibility in their work practices. As a result, a partnership was formed between Media Access Australia and the University of South Australia to deliver the course. Six years on and 500 graduates later, the PCWA remains  an effective tertiary-backed qualification with information on the practical implementation of web accessibility. The short course is taught online and available internationally, with enrolments from around the world.

The course structure includes information on why accessibility is important, international policy requirements, implementation of the WCAG 2.0  standard to Level AA compliance, the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) 2.0, and how to evaluate websites based on the WCAG Evaluation Methodology (WCAG-EM) 1.0.  The assignments include the use of assistive technologies, captioning a video, assessing authoring tools based on ATAG compliance, auditing websites and building a WCAG-compliant template. The course is updated before each intake with recent additions including information on the emerging WCAG 2.1 draft and the next-generation Silver guideline developments.

As Senior Lecturer for the PCWA I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Knowbility and our mystery nominee  for their recognition of the course, Such recognition would not be possible without the hard work of Lecturer Dr Ruchi Permvattana and Course Co-ordinator Jenny Webber, and the ongoing support of the course from Media Access Australia and the University of South AUstralia.

If you’d like to sign up for the course, the next intake starts in September. Details can be found at

Apple WWDC2017 round-up – new products and accessibility improvements  

The annual Apple World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) was held recently in the USA. While there was lots of interesting news broadly, there’s also been a few interesting accessibility-related improvements coming soon to the operating systems of Apple’s most popular devices.

Firstly, the big announcement by Apple is the launch of the HomePod, Apple’s entry into the ever-increasingly-popular Smartspeaker category. Like its competitors the Amazon Echo and Google Home, the Home Pod will have Siri built into a standalone device so you can give commands such as setting timers, playing radio stations and control devices around the house. As I’ve discussed previously the smartspeaker category offers a lot of benefits for people with disabilities such as providing a verbal way for a blind person to get status updates of food cooking in the microwave or for a person in a wheelchair being able to turn on the washing machine if the buttons on the device are out of reach. However, unlike the Amazon Echo which starts at $USD50 for the Echo Dot and the $USD130 for the Google home, the HomePod will retail at $USD350 which puts it at nearly three times the price of the competition.

Apple HomePod

Apple HomePod – image © 2017 Apple

In Australia, the Amazon Echo is not currently available outside of the US meaning that locally the smartspeaker fight will be predominantly between the Google Home and the Apple HomePod. While the announcement is exciting, especially if you use other Apple products already, the biggest issue at the moment is that most of the other Internet of Things devices such as light bulbs and heating systems will only work with a particular type of smart speaker, and in most cases, that is currently the Amazon Echo. Hopefully in the future there’ll be cross-compatibility between our smart devices and smart speakers so that people with disabilities don’t have to be locked into the one ecosystem. There is currently no pricing for the Australian release of the HomePod due in December.

The upcoming version of the iPhone and iPad operating system, iOS 11, has received the most attention by Apple in terms of accessibility improvements. As the release is still in beta it’s important to note that these features may change, but AppleVis has described some of the features as follows:

  • Enhanced Dynamic Type: Text now grows to larger sizes especially designed for users with low vision, and app UIs adapt to accommodate those sizes.
  • Redesigned Invert Colors: While using Invert Colors, media content and images won’t invert with the rest of the screen making them easier to view.
  • VoiceOver descriptions for images: With images, three fingers tap to have VoiceOver describe what’s there. Voiceover can detect text that’s embedded in an image, even if it hasn’t been annotated. Or it can also tell you whether a photo contains a tree, a dog, or four faces with smiles.
  • Improved PDF support including access to forms: Tagged PDFs now receive support for reading detailed information such as tables and lists.
  • Switch Control typing: It’s easier than ever to type with Switch Control. Get access to more predictions, so that you can scan and type whole words at a time.

As a low vision user, I’m particularly excited about the ability to invert the colors without the images also inverting.

Other Apple devices will also receive some tweaks including the Apple TV which is receiving improved VoiceOver keyboard features and Braille display support, some minor tweaks are also coming to improve the Apple Watch and improved Zoom functionality will be added to Mac OS High Sierra. Additional information on all the new Apple products can be found at the  Macromers WWWDC online resource.