A Customer is a Customer

A customer is a customer. But some customers are different. Some have special needs. Actually they all have special needs and since they are customers we want to know what they are.

When talking about demographics any successful business person knows that it is important to identify what motivates and encourages their customers. Interest in your industry (sports fan for a sports related product, for instance) make it more likely they will buy.

Nearly a fifth of Americans have some kind of disability, and they have an annual discretionary income of $200 billion. As spendthrift baby-boomers enter their golden years, these numbers are expected to rise.” – the Economist – April 25, 2015

Let’s back that up a bit – $200 Billlion!! We all want as large a piece of that market as we can get. JPMorgan Chase certainly does.They are in the hiring process of a Managing Director, calling the title Head of Accessibility Affairs. This person will consolidate and lead the $2.6 trillion company in the area of Accessibility.

A fascinating, first hand account of shopping by a woman who is temporarily experiencing the need to use a mart cart while awaiting knee surgery.


I am one blind person who can’t access your offering

laptop displaying program

laptop displaying programAll too often I hear software vendors, businesses of all types, individual product managers/ developers etc. say “We don’t have blind or deaf customers. Sure it would be nice to have a website/ application/ offering that would work for them, but we just don’t have the demand.”

This is about legal. It’s a true story based on a single blind person’s request for accommodation, failure to get the needed accommodation and how the Seattle Public School system is paying a higher than necessary price to offer that accommodation.

The story begins in July, 2012 when Noel Nightingale, mother of three children in the Seattle Public School district and a person who is blind and relies on the JAWS screen reader to access the web could no longer navigate effectively through the Seattle Public School website. There had been an update to the website which made formerly accessible links and forms available to Ms. Nightingale unusable for her.

Despite engaging the webmaster to restore accessibility and having promises that that would be done there was no material change. Additionally her middle child was placed with his peers into a new online math program, ST Math. This innovative math teaching program relies on visual inputs. While this may be great for a person with sight, as a blind parent, Ms. Nightingale was not able to monitor his progress at home, which is part of the school’s expectation.

Finally, with a second child in the ST Math program, with the Seattle Public School district website still inaccessible a lawsuit was brought to get relief. This is the full text of the motion for preliminary injunction brought in US District Court in Washington state. The injunction was filed in October, 2014 after approximately a year and a half of less formal but ongoing negotiations.

In September, 2015 the Seattle School Board voted to enter into a consent decree to fix the issues. This is a 3 1/2 year long decree which is estimated will cost the district between $665k and $815K to implement. It had previously been estimated that it would cost @ $90K to fix the website.

Part of the settlement is to hire an Accessibility Coordinator. Job anyone?


Accessibility requirements

Examples of requirements written for Taleo to fix accessibility issues.

#1 –

As a JAWS screen reader user I want to know about all mandatory fields when filling out a form. In the personal information page of the Taleo job application there is a two field mandatory entry to indicate where I learned about the job position.

When tabbing through the form user arrives at the first drop down box labeled “Source Type”. This permits the user to select, using up/ down arrows a general category, such as ‘Career Fair’ or ‘Magazine’. When pressing Enter the system opens a second, mandatory drop down box, where choices are available to further refine the source of learning about the job. This drop down box appears visually on the screen but is not announced. When user Tabs again they are taken to the Submit button, skipping over the second drop down box.

This causes an error on the page, which user has to discover and fix before moving on through the application.

Expectation: all mandatory fields on a page will be accessible to user when using keyboard only approach. All page elements will be announced via JAWS when they are available on screen.

Actual: the second drop down box is skipped when user first moves through the screen using Tabbing.

Fix: the second drop down box can be accessed using the Tab and JAWS reads the second label and user is able to complete the action without incurring a page error.

#2 –

As a JAWS screen reader user I want to hear all error messages announced when they occur so I can take corrective action.

When user enters a search term while looking for a job, if there are no results, a message appears on the page saying “There are no results for the search term used. Please try again.”

Expected: When an error is reached, focus will be placed on the error message and JAWS will read the error text.

Actual: The error is rendered silently, leaving the JAWS user unaware that it occurred.

Fix: When an error occurs on the search page JAWS now reads the text so user is informed and can re-enter a different query.

#3 –

As a JAWS screen reader user I expect to move through a page in a logical fashion through all screen elements.

On the login page for Taleo cursor is placed automatically in the username form field upon page arrival. When they fill out that information and Tab, they are moved to the password form field. One more tab brings them back up to the top of the page, not to the next page element, which is the ‘Forgot password?’ link.

Expected: On a login page, the user is most likely to want to enter username, then password and then Submit to move into the site.

Actual: The focus, when Tabbing, moves from the password field to the top of the page. Due to page design there are 8 Tabs that need to be moved through to get to the Submit button.

Fix: When user Tabs from password, they move to the two “help” questions, “Forgot password” and “Forgot username?”, then to Submit button. They are no longer taken to the top of the page and forced to make their way back through the whole page to finally Submit their credentials.

VPAT, please!

restaurant table with menus

restaurant table with menusNo, it’s not a menu item, digital or restaurant! A VPAT stands for Voluntary Product Accessibility Template. This is a form based on Section 508 accessibility compliance (or lack thereof) for a software or hardware product. Originally the form and the legislation was designed for federal contractors. Over the past 20 years or more Section 508 has been informally recognized as a standard for accessibility all should follow.

The VPAT is a registered trademark of the Information Technology Industry Council) ITI. Most importantly, the form is available free for your use. Download it.

San Diego State University publically shares its approach to EIT procurement. There are a series of links to vendor VPATs at the bottom of this page.

The short, non-technical version is this. The VPAT is a way for procurement officials to compare your software offering with other, similar offerings as it pertains to accessibility. More and more savvy CIOs and their teams are requesting VPATs every time they purchase Electronic Information Technology (EIT). Even more significant is that those IT professionals are doing their own tests against the products and VPATs to independently confirm the (delicately said) accuracy of the VPAT.

So. Three guiding principles.

1 – If you create software hire someone who knows how to test it and certify it via VPAT. This doesn’t mean you’ll pass every section. This does mean that the VPAT will be credible.

2 – If you purchase EIT always, always ask for a VPAT. Always take some time to test against it. Trust but verify!

We provide these services – both creating VPATs and testing against them. Contact us for more details.


To Caption or not to Caption

woman eating watching movie

woman eating watching movieAs soon as your content includes videos you should be thinking about captioning. In the simplest form, captioning is those words on the screen that are readable as the audio portion of the program is spoken. The idea is that captioning is only useful for deaf or people who are hard of hearing. Not true. An oft quoted survey from the UK done in 2006 revealed that 80% of TV viewers who used closed captioning did not have hearing difficulties. Times have changed, technology has advanced, yet many people without any hearing loss use captioning as a way to enhance/ enjoy videos. They listen in a public area and don’t want to disturb others, on a noisy subway and they situationally can’t hear the sound or they get more out of the content if they can watch and read the words at the same time (dual sensory input).

The law: The US Congress passed a Twenty-First Century Communications and Accessibility Act in 2010, with a string of updates and clarifications through 2015. Two broad areas are covered. One is products and services that use Broadband. The other is video programming on television and the internet.

In February, 2015, National Association for the Deaf (NAD) and some individuals sued Harvard and MIT over lack of captioning or very poor captioning of the video content they provide, covering online lectures, podcasts, courses and more. In June, 2015, the Department of Justice (DOJ) joined the lawsuit advocating a speedy resolution and captioning be provided.

Netflix has lead the way to providing full captioning, even though it was, regretfully, a result of a successful lawsuit. YouTube provides an automated captioning option. The results, while technically over 90% accurate lead to, often hilarious (if you are able to hear the discrepancies) wildly incongruous word juxtapositions. If you doubt me, just switch on captioning when you are on YouTube next and find your own examples. Any time a person mumbles or has the slightest speech anomaly or accent there is no telling how the automated captioning will record it.

So, to caption or not to caption? When in doubt, decent captioning should be built into your process, including everyone and building your brand as inclusive.

Screen reader FAQ

Your customers and employees with visual impairments have a way to “view” your website. The assistive technology is called a screen reader. Once loaded onto a user’s computer the screen reader converts the website code into speech (or a refreshable Braille display).

The most common screen reader in use in the US is called JAWS. It was created by Freedom Scientific and has updated versions approximately once a year, plus bug fixes throughout the year. According to the 2014 Webaim screen reader survey 30% of their respondents use JAWS. This seems low until you consider that it has long been the screen reader of choice for AT programs teaching young blind/ visually impaired people how to use a screen reader. It is in widespread use in industry, library systems and government at various levels.

JAWS is also expensive – about $1000 a license. People without the financial resources to update their licenses often fall behind in updating.

NVDA (Non-visual Desktop Access) is a free screenreader created and updated by an Australian team. It is used worldwide and available in 43 languages. NVDA has been downloaded over 70,000 times. The fascinating story of how two young men, both blind, came to creating this product can be read here.

Window Eyes is free and available for those who have an Office 2010, 2013 or 2016 license.