Blog readers will know that accessibility is one of my interests and I’m always particularly interested in ways to make larger data sets more accessible and consumable. Weather maps for example that allow those who can see to quickly get a sense of the temperatures throughout a region are rarely in my use very accessible when you are not able to see.
I’m also a fan of the do it yourself approach to problem solving when possible so started exploring one of my preferred weather sites, Weather Underground, to see what might be possible.
My basic goals were to try and see what might be possible to get a sense of the coldest and warmest places in a state or country and just the general range of temperatures. Weather Underground makes this delightfully easy with just some basic web address navigation.
The Basic View for a State in the US
Washington State is my current home and with a quick navigate to http://www.wunderground.com/US/WA/ I quickly get a table listing 45 cities in the state and the current temperatures and related details. Activate a temp button that is one of the table column headers and that list of cities goes from being sorted alphabetically to temperature. So I can quickly tell that as I write this, Bellingham, WA, at 45 °F is the warmest place in the state and Wenatchee, at 32 °F, is the coldest.
A quick web address edit to replace the “A” from “WA” for Washington with “I” for Wisconsin lands me at http://www.wunderground.com/US/WI/? Where I can easily say, “Wow it is cold back home,” in my home state of Wisconsin. The warmest place is all of 12 °F. And once again, a quick activate of the Temp button and I can sort by temperature to get a sense of the range of temperatures.
The National Picture
My simple address bar change of web address works great for a state-by-state exploration. But at times I’m curious about the big picture. More address bar magic yields results for an entire country. For example, browsing to http://www.wunderground.com/US/USa// brings up 500 different locations that are part of the US. Ignore the fact that the page title says this is for Wyoming and be aware this also includes territories such as Guam. You’ll have to have a bit of a sense of geography as the table lists just city names but it is a good way to get a sense of the temperature ranges for a country.
Some trial and error has shown me the URLs to use for a few other countries such as Mexico, the United Kingdom, Russia and Australia to name a few. Again use the Temp button to sort by temperature where I see that Australia has a range of 109 °F for the hottest location down to 40 °F for the coldest as of now.
For The Enterprising Software Developers
Situations like this lend themselves to loads of creativity for accessibility. I could imagine an app on any platform that uses touch and the accessibility infrastructure on that platform to use sound and more to turn my little table explorations of temperatures into a customer-engaging accessibility experience.
I spend a significant part of my professional and personal life working in the area of software accessibility. I’m pretty familiar with all the positives and negatives of various operating systems, strategies for accessibility on those environments and the various tricks and techniques one can sometimes try to work around challenges when they come up. Then too, unfortunately, there are times I’m reminded of the consequences when a solution does not exist.
I’ve been a long time user of Quicken for personal financial management. Entries in my current use of the program go back more than 15 years. And yet every three years or so there’s been this race I play against the current level of accessibility of whatever version of Quicken I’m forced to update to and my ability to resolve issues to the point of continuing to be able to use the program. If you want to use the automatic transaction download features of the software, most, if not all, financial institutions cut off support for older versions of Quicken at versions older than three years from the current year. Looking back through my software archives, I find copies of Quicken I purchased in 2003, 2006, 2009, 2012 and most recently 2015.
It has been quite some time in my experience that Quicken has worked with ease for me and I suspect others who use screen reading software. But I’m pretty comfortable with all the advanced features of screen readers so have managed to keep things working throughout the years to the point that I felt the trouble in using the software was offset by the benefits. The automatic download of financial transactions, categorization, reporting and investment tracking all combined into a single app have made the program worth continuing to try to keep using for me. I know I can do much of this myself in programs such as Excel and I do some of this today. Still Quicken has, until now, been at the cornerstone of what I’ve used, even if more and more of my analysis and such has moved to Excel.
Earlier this year I knew the clock was ticking on the version of Quicken 2012 I had been using to support automatic transaction download. I took the plunge and purchased Quicken 2015 a few months ago. My luck with the program wasn’t good when I first tried to use it. But the deadline hadn’t quite hit for the older version to stop working so I kept trying different techniques without any luck.
But after several hours invested over the last few days really trying to make things work and the fact that automatic transaction downloads stopped working about 85 days ago for me, I’m now faced with the reality that my time with Quicken is about to come to an abrupt end. Manual transaction entry hasn’t worked right for several years with all of the screen readers I use which is why the automatic download has become so critical and most financial sites only allow 90 days of data download. To be clear this is only one of the challenges and for what I need to do not nearly enough of Quicken 2015 works right with the screen readers I use and I use pretty much all that exist.
In the grand scheme of challenges, I recognize whether I can use Quicken or not is not high on the list. I write about it here mostly I suspect as a bit of catharsis because at an emotional level there is some level of frustration when an environment you’ve been using stops working. And with so much of my time spent in the accessibility space, I have no illusions about some magic behind the curtain. I understand about development priorities from all the players involved. It is just not fun to be on the wrong side of where the line gets drawn and this still happens far too often when it comes to accessibility.
Terrill Thompson, the driver behind an accessible NCAA basketball tournament bracket, is following that effort with what he bills as the “Accessible Sports Survey”. The survey asks for some basic info about the sports you enjoy, sources of sports information you use, number of sporting events you attend and some basic demographic info about any assistive technology and disabilities you want to share. Thompson indicates data from the survey will be used to help develop a business case to convince major online sporting outlets to improve accessibility. Take a few minutes and add your responses to the survey.
Each March, college basketball fans are consumed by March Madness and filling out countless NCAA brackets. With my favorite Wisconsin Badgers having a number 1 seed in this year’s tournament, you can bet I want to get my bracket in.
I’m as much of a fan of accessibility as I am sports, so this time is always an interesting checkpoint to see how far accessibility has come or not when it comes to something as basic as completing one of these brackets. Each year I browse around to the various online offerings to join a bracket challenge and each year I’m largely disappointed. Rarely have any of the mainstream sports sites done anything to make either the basic bracket one can download as a PDF file or their contests where you create brackets accessible.
Back in 2012, I wrote about Yahoo’s iOS offering in this space. In three years from my first browse of the latest offering here, it seems we’ve made no progress in this app and have even gone in reverse as there are even more nameless buttons than when I wrote about the app three years ago. I first wrote about searching for an accessible bracket back in 2007.
The one mainstay of accessibility here has come from Terrill Thompson and his work on an accessible NCAA bracket. He’s been doing this for several years now and for me it is one of those items in web accessibility that I personally appreciate immensely. So a big thanks to Terrill for the continued work on this each year.
It would be nice if some year the main players in this space from the sports world actually addressed accessibility of their bracket experiences also. But I’m sure glad Terrill does what he does here and when his contest is open this year you can bet I’ll be submitting my bracket and looking for the Badgers to have a great tournament. So sports and accessibility fans, come join me and thank Terrill and join his contest when it is available and let’s have some March Madness fun.
It is nice to see that Safeway has updated their iOS app for online shopping with an improved VoiceOver experience. I’m not a regular user of this app but as luck would have it, I happened to use it over the weekend before the update. So it was nice to read the description of what’s new for the 2.6 update saying, “Enhanced usability and performance for users of VoiceOver and other built-in iOS accessibility features.”
Browsing the virtual shopping isles and other product areas seems much improved. Each product is now a heading, meaning you can use VoiceOver’s navigation by heading feature to jump from product to product. I do wish the headings were put on the entries in the list where the price for the product was given as that would have made browsing even faster. As it stands now, you must move to the product heading and then back two objects to read the same product name that includes a price when using VoiceOver object by object navigation.
For example, when on a product listing page, you can set VoiceOver to heading navigation and step from product to product with swipes up or down. When on a product of interest, issue a swipe left gesture twice and you’ll be on the same product but will hear the price and other details. One swipe right and you are on a button for more information about the product. A second swipe right and you are back on the heading for that product. Subsequent swipes right put you on buttons for decreasing the number of a given product you want to buy, a text box for the same quantity info and another button for increasing the amount. One last swipe right and you are on an Add button for putting the product in your virtual shopping cart.
The process for selecting a delivery time also seems much improved when using VoiceOver. My recollection from my weekend use was that you had to use a complicated grid where it wasn’t very easy to identify available delivery times. Again I’m not a regular user of the app but had used it a few times before the weekend. With the update, selecting a delivery time has been separated into three different controls for choosing the day, time and number of hours in the delivery window. It seems much easier to navigate.
In experimenting with the app a bit, I also noticed more progress messages being read automatically by VoiceOver. This included hearing that item lists were downloading when I selected a given isle and such.
In general this seems like some good attention to making this app work better with VoiceOver was given. I’m sure I’ll use it more frequently now because of the ease of use improvements and because of major pricing changes coming to Amazon Fresh in the Seattle area.
The Seattle Sluggers, a beep baseball team, started playing last year. One of the local TV stations just ran a story on the team. I thought the reporter did a good job at explaining the sport and not making people who are blind sound either helpless or like super freaks, the two ends of the spectrum that can often happen with this kind of story. I am part of the team and find it a nice change from the world of computer accessibility.
The story is at http://www.king5.com/on-tv/evening-magazine/A-Ball-And-A-Bat-And-A-Blindfold-Equals-A-Challenging-Dare-Dever-261174181.html. The direct link to the video is http://www.king5.com/video?id=261174181&sec=583387&ref=rcvidmod. You can learn more about the sport of beep baseball on the National Beep Baseball Association’s home page.
A bit of hard drive cleaning had me sifting through some of the random audio I’ve captured over the years. So if the internet allows one to cater to self-indulgent delights of sharing information others may or may not find interesting, here are just a few sounds from the past few years. Use the links at the end of each description to play the audio.
Cape Foulweather on the Oregon Coast
The Oregon coast is one of my favorite places. The power and majesty of the Pacific merge with forests that smell so fresh at numerous hiking destinations. It is always a treat to be standing on the edge of land with the waves crashing below you. I find that sound experience just breathtaking and Cape Foulweather is one of the best for this.
Baseball Foul Ball
Last year I treated a brother and myself to some tickets right behind home plate at a Seattle Mariners game. We were three rows off the field and pretty much directly behind home plate. What a lucky catch on my part to be recording a bit of game audio when a player fouled one off the screen which was probably no more than 10 feet in front of us. I love the reaction from fans around us too.
Baseball Foul Ball
Natural Bridge Caverns
The Natural Bridge Caverns in Texas make for an interesting shorter walk through some underground caverns. The rooms are quite large and you hear water dripping and running throughout much of the walk.
Natural Bridge Caverns
Crows Gone Wild
One afternoon some crows just went absolutely wild in the backyard. It was like something out of a horror movie. They kept on like what you hear in the audio here for about 30 minutes.
Crows Gone Wild
The Customer Services and Support (CSS) team I work for at Microsoft is growing with several exciting opportunities now available. The team has eight new positions available across the three areas where the team has a charter and focus. This includes three spaces: Disability & Accessibility, Online Safety, and Privacy. The team is focused on driving innovation that will enable all customers with Microsoft services and devices. The Disability Answer Desk is one such innovation, providing a rich support experience for all our customers. It came from small beginnings with a pilot 18 months ago, and is now handling over 1000 issues a month. It’s been received well (check out this from the AFB), and we’re excited to look at how we can expand and drive to reach more customers globally. Subject Matter expertise in Disability and Accessibility is a huge asset to roles in this team: the more we can understand our customers, the more empathy we have to designing the right experience! The team is also hiring an Accessibility expert to help manage broad spanning programs across a division of 50K folks.”
If you are interested in any of the roles, please follow the directions on the external link and feel free to share this information to any individuals or locations that may be interested.
I’ve written a time or two about the accessibility challenges with MLB and that league’s internet offerings. To the credit of the various advocates who have worked with MLB to improve things, MLB has resolved the vast majority of issues around the accessibility of what they offer on the web and in various apps. In many ways MLB could be a model of how to handle accessibility for live sports and screen readers.
Unfortunately like much of accessibility, it seems we have to go over the same ground time and time again. This time it is with the NFL and many of their offerings. As just one example, the NFL now has an iOS app that could serve as a model of what developers can do wrong for app accessibility. Nameless controls, poor support for VoiceOver and more. Even the NLF’s main mobile app page is a dizzying array of accessibility challenges. Thus far emails and phone calls to various contacts I can locate for the NFL have gone unanswered. It is really unfortunate that it takes this much effort to make progress but I guess it is time to crank things up a bit and try to get some attention from the NFL around accessibility.
Any study of the journalism business will show that even today by and large the media does not understand disability or accessibility. Typically we get stories on one of the two ends of the spectrum of possibilities. Either stories talk about everything being horrific or they tout things that are basics that people with disabilities accomplish as being something magically fantastic. And that’s assuming you get coverage at all.
The lack of coverage is I suppose a bit frustrating to me on a personal level at various times. Last year I found it interesting to see how the work Apple did around accessibility in their Maps app getting absolutely no coverage in the mainstream tech press. And now the same tech press is trumpeting improved versions of several Yahoo mobile apps as a sign of rebirth at the company with no reference to the reversal in accessibility for many of these same apps. As an example, the updated fantasy football app has become all but unusable on the iOS platform with Apple’s VoiceOver screen reader.
I hold no illusions here. I know how the news business works and recognize that accessibility isn’t something viewed as important enough to cover, let alone understand, by most of the press. It is though I suppose a bitter pill to swallow at times to recognize where one does and does not stand within the mainstream universe.