Recently in Accessibility Category

Possible Improvement in Speech Recognition?

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One of the challenges of video captioning is that it does rely human intervention to achieve the most accurate results. That's because speech recognition is only reliable in certain circumstances, usually when the speaker has set up a profile on a Dragon speech recognition engine (this could include instructors BTW).

To achieve the best transcription in other circumstances though (and human listeners require 96-98% accuracy), you usually need a person to do one of the following:

  1. Watch and transcribe a video
  2. Watch a video and correct speech recognition errors (e.g. "Rest in Peas" for "Rest in Peace")
  3. Have a videographer watch and repeat the words on the video through her or his trained speech recognition speech system

Note that all of the above assume that someone is spending time re-watching the video. Ugh!

Could an Easy Button be Coming?

What we are all waiting for is the captioning "Easy Button" that will allow use to upload any video file and presto - get back a reasonably accurate transcription regardless of the speaker.

The good news is that Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) has been working on new speech recognition algorithms. Unlike previous systems, it appears that this one will include a little more old-fashioned phonetic and phonological information and won't be quite as reliant on statistical models.

It still might not be perfect. As with current systems, you will need high quality recordings so the right amount of phonetic information can be retrieved. I suspect that any speaker outside known linguistic parameters (e.g. a speaker with an undocumented accent) will still be able to throw off the system.

But I am glad that linguistics is being included in the solution.


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I'm prepping for a STEM Accessibility webinar and I am happy to announce that ANGEL does support MathML, at least for browsers that are able to display it. For accessibility purposes, my goal is to ensure that MathML is displayed properly in a version Internet Explorer with Math Player because that is the configuration that the JAWS screen reader supports.

Browser Support

Before testing you want to make sure you are working with the right browsers and have the right fonts and players installed. So for MathML you will need

  • Firefox 4+ (Best native support)
  • Internet Explorer 9 + MathPlayer 3
  • Safari 5.1+ (Limited native support)
  • MathML font like STIX (free)

Note that Chrome did not support MathML natively as of Sept 28, 2012.

Getting MathML Code

For the moment, I recommend using raw MathML code if you want to experiment. Where do you get MathML code? It can be exported an equation editor like MathType or MathMagic. You can start to learn more about these editors on my MathML Tutorial page.

BTW - The ANGEL equation editor default setting appears to insert an image based on MathML code, but it's still an image. This is OK, so long as you changed the ALT tag to be something understandable on a screen reader. Right now the default ALT tag is "mathml equation".

First Try: HTML Editor

My first attempt was to cut and paste sample MathML code into the ANGEL HTML Editor in source view. This works great for modern versions of Firefox and Safari, but unfortunately NOT Internet Explorer. Sigh.

Second Try: Upload HTML 5 File

My second try was to upload an HTML 5 with MathML file into ANGEL via a File Upload. This did work, but I had to make sure I was using the right MathML markup for Internet Explorer, specifically "namespace mark up" in which the initial <math> tag includes the link to the MathML specification. That is:

<math xmlns=''>

CSS and MathML

If you really want to impress yourself, you can combine MathML with CSS. For instance, I use CSS to enlarge equations embedded in the MATH tag to font-size: 1.5em as follows:

math {font-size: 1.5em; font-style:normal}

Ready for Prime Time?

The fact that I got a MathML posted into the ANGEL environment is good news, but it still requires the developer/ID/instructor to be comfortable working with HTML source view.

If the instructor is NOT comfortable with this, but can use an equation editor, the best option might be to export an equation as an image and insert it with an ALT tag. Fortunately, It is possible to insert images into ANGEL with an Alternative Tag.

Why "Accessify" is a Word

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The accessibility been using the verb "accessify" in recent months and a question that has come up is - "Is accessify a word?" My answer is yes, and most linguists would agree. Here's why:

It Sounds Like English

With very rare exceptions, a word can enter a language only if follows the rules for permissible combinations of consonants and vowels. For instance "accessify" and "access" follow the rules, but something like "bcess" or "bccefmgi" would not.

It Uses an English Word Formation Rule

The suffix -ify is a suffix used to make new verbs out of nouns like accessibility or mystery (mystify). acid (acidify) and even class (classify). The suffix -ify isn't the only option. Another more common suffix is -(r)ize, but "accessorize" is too ambiguous to be useful.

It's on Google!

The previous two characteristics apply to possible words, but the question "Is accessify a word?" is also asking if it's used, preferably by someone who knows about accessibility. And the Google search results confirm that people are using "accessify" quite a bit, especially the people at accessify.comand Accessify Forum.

Still the Doubt...

And yet...this word is not accepted everywhere. For instance, it is not yet listed in the Oxford English Dictionary. The word "accessify" is still working its way through social channels.

I have faith in it though. If there's one thing accessibility can use it's a verb that explains the process of optimizing documents and tools for accessibility concisely and clearly.

Accessibility Presentation for Network of Trainers/LD Camp

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I'll be presenting a Lightning Talk about accessibility for the Network of Trainer event. If you go to the Summer Camp, I'll be doing a Q & A session also.


Web 2002: Accessibility Meets Gamification

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Before I went on vacation, I attended the Web 2012 conference, particularly the accessibility track. I went to a lot of great sessions, but the one that surprised me the most was one that talked about how to motivate university Webmasters to look forward to digging into accessibility remediation.

The answer proposed was ....(wait for it)...gamification! The presenter Glenda Sims (the Accessibility Good Witch) even mentioned TLT Symposium speaker Jane McGonigal (freaky).

But how to implement this? Glenda handed out web developer books at her school to anyone who did an awesome accessification jobn. Fortunately, they didn't have to be about accessibility. I myself would love to see gift certificates for Otto's handed out...but that's just me. I myself have been known to hand out candy and other desert products, but neither Otto's or TastyKake is very healthy. I wonder what other rewards we could come up with.

What about badges? That actually has been tried thanks to the Bobby Approved icon and other similar badges. Unfortunately, experts started pointing out that "Bobby Approved not Always Accessible" on "Bobby Approved" sites, so that badge ironically became a standard of haphazard accessification (D'oh).

Another idea is the Accessibility Internet Rally (AIR) which is a contest and a race. Is this something that could work at Penn State?

I do think regarding accessibility as a design challenge has helped me get through a lot of repairs. I think everyone's initial reaction is to think that a blind person could never "get" a hyper visual experience, but that turns out not to be true. We just have to distill what information is really needed. Even a map can be made accessible if it can be converted to a set of directions.

One blind person recently recommended adding QR codes to signs and displays to go to an online version of the information. Apparently if a person has a general idea where they are (via a Braille "QR" tag), he or she can use the iPhone to scan it and get a Web site. Who knew? It's at times like this that accessibility can be fun.

Firefox ESR 10 - A Way to Slow Down Firefox Upgrades

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I love Firefox, but not necessarily the rapid upgrade cycle. The issue isn't so much the speed, but the fact that my plugins can't keep up, particularly my Firefox Accessibility plugins.

On the other hand, I don't want to miss security updates either. A solution I found was to install Firefox 10 ESR (for Extended Service Release). This will essentially freeze my system at Firefox 10, and the only upgrades I will be required to install will be the security upgrades - which are much less frequent.

The tradeoff is that I might miss some cool features in the newer Firefoxes, but I also know my plugins will keep working. I won't be able to stave off the upgrade messages forever though. When Firefox 17 comes out, the plan is that I will be asked to migrate to Firefox 17 ESR. Hopefully that won't come until some time after Memorial Day.

MathML...On a Screen Reader

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As part of the Penn State accessibility initiative, I've been working on how to accessify math/science courses along with others like World Campus and Dutton Institute.

Part of that has been figuring out how to post MathML on modern browsers, but the second part has been to determine if the output can be read on a screenreader. The answer is yes...on some browsers with the right plugins.

Screen Reader Results

I was able to get native MathML read aloud correctly on JAWS, but only on Internet Explorer with the MathPlayer plugin. For IE, you also need to ensure that the first line of the Math ML code links to the spec (see below)

<math xmlns=""> <!-- xmlns link for IE 9 Support -->

Sadly JAWS and Firefox were not a good match and neither were Safari plus VoiceOver. The good news, many blind users do use the IE+JAWS combo, but many are moving to Mac. For these users, the alternative may still be an image plus apprpopriate ALT tag, particularly for multi-line equations.

So Close...Except for Browser Upgrades

The good news is that MathML is really becoming a viable option, but there are issues. One pointed out by my colleague Stevie Rocco is that many systems like ANGEL support only Firefox 3 and it's not until version 4 that improved MathML support is available. Similarly, not everyone may be upgraded to Safari 5.1 or Internet Explorer 9.

But I do expect that within 6-12 months, that could change, and MathML could mature into a key technology with relatively few quirks, like CSS and Unicode.

Distinguishing B(old) from STRONG Text with CSS

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Although not a major accessibility blocker, many standards experts recommend replacing B tags with STRONG tags (and I with EM). If you are dealing with legacy documents, this can be trick because B tagged text and STRONG text actually look identical in WYSIWYG mode (and neither are read differently from normally formatted text on most screenreaders).

There are two solutions to deal with this. One can automatically replace the B tag with the STRONG tag in the HTML code. However, because the text looks the same, I find it's easy to overlook this step. So to spot offending tags, there's a CSS trick you can use.

If your goal is to eliminate all B tags, you can modify your CSS so that anything in the B tag shows up as a garish color (say red). See CSS example below:

b {color: red; font-weight:bold}

Once implemented, the Bold text will be magically transformed into a freaky color making the offending tag easy to spot in WYSIWYG mode. So long as the STRONG tag is just strong {font-weight:bold}, the visual outcome will be different.

Philosophical Note

A question that has vexed many a strandardista mind is why the B and I tags are still in every major (X)HTML spec despite the long-standing campaign against them. The one spec that eliminated them officially was XHTML 2.0, and that seems to have been superseded by HTML 5 (which still keeps B/I although only as a last resort).

I think the answer is that bold-face/italic formatting are inherently presentational. That is, when a content author clicks the B/I button they are not necessarily thinking - "I am emphasizing that strongly", but rather "I need to distinguish the text for some reason."

Sometimes it's emphasis, but sometimes it's for other reasons. I often bold face some non-English text, just to help Western eyes. In other words, bold face/italics along with color/text-size/font-face are accessibility accommodations for the sighted.

The fact that screenreaders skip over boldface and italics by default tells me that this is not information that someone listening to the text can really use. Natural speech does include intonation variations for emphasis, but writing those down in most written text can be very odd and very annoying (based on some novels I have read).

As far as I can tell, I know of only of only one argument for STRONG/EM with empirical consequences and that is translation into non-Western text where visual indicators of emphasis are something other than bold/italics. However, I am not anticipating that most Penn State documents will be translated in the near future.

While there are plenty of CSS workarounds for deploying format changes including re-styling headings, re-styling TH and CAPTION tags, contextual styling of menu links and even using obscure semantic tags like CITE, ADDRESS, ...there are times you want to adjust the visual formatting of a piece of isolated text unrelated to emphasis, I just cannot bring myself to write code like <span class="bold"> when the B tag is so much more succinct.

TLT Symposium Presentation on Blockers

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How to Accessify the NCAA Brackets? Hint: Forget ALT Tags

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I just found a great resource on accessifying technical (STEM) diagrams, from WGBH NCAM, but there's one diagram they did not cover - the NCAA Basketball Bracket diagram.

Obviously, any kind of ALT diagram will be very very long and really, really complicated, so following a general tip from NCAM, I am not going to attempt it. Instead, I am going to discuss a text based alternative that might help more than just the visually impaired.

The bracket in its traditional form looks like spider web branching from the center, but really the important information you probably need is:

  • Rounds and teams in that round
  • Winners and losers
  • Time, location of rounds (TV channels would be nice also)

Believe it or not, most of this can be accomplished by a series of lists/tables with headings. If you have dynamic pages, you can even tweak the presentation of the lists, but for this example I'll do the East Bracket plus first round.

I'll add that this is not the only possible solution. I'll also add that you are free to add color/size changes/bold via CSS, but you need to ensure that all information (e.g. the winner) is presented in text and not just via CSS formatting!

First Round

First Round NCAA Matches
Teams (Seed) Date/Time Winner Advances to
Mississippi Valley State (16) vs. Western Kentucky (16) Played Western Kentucky (WKY) South
Bringham Young University (14) vs. Iona (14) Played Bringham Young (BYU) West
Lamar (16) vs. Vermont (16) Played Vermont (VER) Midwest
California (12) vs. South Florida (12) Played South Florida (USF) Midwest

Second Round East Bracket (Main Tournament)

Key: [W] = Winner

Played in Pittsburgh (A)

  • [W] Syracuse (1), vs.
    UNC-Asheville (16)
  • [W] Kansas State (8), vs.
    Southern Mississippi (9)


  • [W] Vanderbilt (5), vs.
    Harvard (12)
  • [W] Wisconsin (4), vs.
    Montana (9)


  • Cincinnati (6), vs.
    Texas (11), March 16 at 12:15
  • Florida State (3), vs.
    St. Bonaventure (14), March 15 at 2:45

Pittsburgh (B)

  • [W] Gonzanga (7), vs.
    West Virginia (10)
  • [W] Ohio State (2), vs.
    Loyola (MD) (15)

Third Round (Boston)

  • Syracuse (1) vs. Kansas State (8), March 17 at 12:15
  • Vanderbilt (5) vs. Wisconsin (4), March 17 at 6:10
  • Winner of Cincinnati/Texas vs. Winner of Florida State/St. Bonaventure,Time TBA
  • Gonzonaga (7) vs. Ohio State (2), March 17 at 2:45

Sweet 16 (Boston)

  • Winner of Syracuse/Kansas State vs. Winner of Vanderbilt/Wisconsin
  • TBA (see Nashville schedule for teams) vs. Gonzonga/Ohio State

Elite Eight (Boston) - Determines East Bracket winner

  • TBA (see above for teams)

Final Four (New Orleans)

  • Midwest vs. East
  • South vs. West