Fun with Weather Underground

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.

Take the Accessible Sports Survey From Terrill Thompson

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.

Appreciate Terrill Thompson’s Work on Accessible NCAA Brackets

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.

What’s Your Experience: Simple Changes for Appliance Accessibility

Years ago when I worked at the Trace R&D center, I had the opportunity to be on a panel of judges at least once for an engineering class taught by Dr. Gregg Vanderheiden for a competition looking at accessibility of consumer appliances. My recollection was that students hat to come up with a design for a stove to maximize accessibility. TV Lenny, of American TV fame, was the main judge. One of the main criteria for the competition being that the appliances had to be aimed at the mass market while addressing accessibility.

 

I mention all of this because having just concluded a search for a new dish washer I’m once again reminded of the vast landscape of inaccessibility that still exists in the consumer appliance market. Simple changes could make a big difference.

 

As just one example, the dish washer I ended up selecting comes from General Electric. It has physical buttons, which in itself is a challenge to find these days. Better yet, when pressed, the buttons make a short beep sound. Great until you realize that the buttons cycle between multiple settings with no way to know where you are at any point in the cycle and no way to get back to defaults.

 

The simple change here as an example would be to have the buttons make two beeps when they’ve reached the default setting when cycling. For example one button is to select the washing mode and cycles between settings including Automatic, Rinse and a couple others I’ve already forgotten. The dish washer uses the same settings unless something is changed so you might say, great set things once and forget it and most of the time you’d be fine. But if anyone changes the defaults, it is a guessing game when you do not see to get back to known settings. And yet again, had GE just added a second simple beep when the Automatic setting was reached in the cycle, ease of use for people who do not see would be that much greater. By no means perfect but certainly better than what exists today.

 

I won’t claim to profess to be any kind of expert on who’s a leader in the consumer appliance accessibility space. These are not exactly everyday kinds of purchases for most of us. That said, it would be fun to see a panel at whatever industry tradeshow is the leader in this arena reviewing consumer appliances, much like that class competition I sat in years ago did. I suspect there would be a lot of ideas made available that when amortized over the scale of products sold by any manufacturer wouldn’t impact the bottom line.

 

I don’t recall all the details of that class competition but I do recall that one team included an optional handle of some sort for the stove for some individuals with disabilities. I also recall Lenny’s advice about that handle and is went something like, heck no, don’t make it optional. Include it in every box, most people won’t use it and will think of it as a throw away but the people who do need it will have it instantly and besides, people love throwaways like that because they think they are getting a better deal.

 

So readers, what are your experiences with appliance accessibility? Who’s the industry leader? What simple changes would you like to see made in consumer apliances?

University of Wisconsin Addresses Accessibility of Gameday iOS App

A few weeks ago I wrote about accessibility issues in an iOSapp from The University of Wisconsin app for following Badger football. This is just a short update to say that the University has been very responsive around these issues and corrected the problems I detailed within a couple weeks. The latest update to the app has improved support for VoiceOver.

University of Wisconsin Gameday Football App another Accessibility Disappointment

As I’ve written here previously, I’m an alum of the University of Wisconsin and take pride in having attended the school and my degree. I’m also a sports fan so enjoy following the Wisconsin Badgers and fall Saturdays still remind me of the many rich traditions in Madison that go along with Badger football.

 

Today I noticed a tweet from @BadgerFootball talking about a new Wisconsin Football Gameday app to stay in touch with, as the name implies, happenings during Badger football games and more.

 

In just a few minutes of trying the app with Apple’s VoiceOver—a built-in screen reader on the iOS platform—it is a disappointment to see that the University of Wisconsin has once again failed to pay attention to accessibility. Blog readers can search the archives for my last adventures with the Wisconsin athletic department over accessibility issues with football broadcasts over the internet. The service used back then has once again been replaced and to the University’s credit they did provide me with work arounds when the accessibility issues with the broadcast streaming technology were identified.

 

One can only wonder what processes are or are not in place though to ensure University offerings are accessible. In the gameday app for example, one need only launch the app and use basic VoiceOver gestures of sweeping right to quickly find the accessibility problems. The first items encountered talk about tickets for a game against Northern Iowa. And as a note to UW staff, Northern has a typo in your app where you have it spelled Nothern.

 

After the first two sweep right gestures, all one finds with subsequent gestures of the same type is a series of seven nameless links. It is this basic problem that leads me to wonder about processes to ensure accessibility. Does the University know about VoiceOver? For apps created for the iOS platform, is VoiceOver compatibility a release requirement?

 

The nameless links on the app home screen are not the only issues encountered. As an example, following the second nameless link leads to an area of the app called Gameday. Within the Gameday area is a link for Rosters/Depth.

 

The team depth chart is exposed as one single object to VoiceOver and even worse, read as first a series of position indications and numbers followed by a list of player names. It is impossible to make sense of and even associate player names with their numbers. Major League Baseball has clearly demonstrated making team rosters readable with VoiceOver can be accomplished in their MLB At Bat iOS app.

 

As just one other example of a basic accessibility issue quickly discovered in the app, there are a series of buttons that appear in many locations. They have names that include “arrow left 72@2x” “arrow right 72@2x” and “but refresh 72@2x”. Obviously one can guess the purposes of these buttons but any reasonable accessibility support of an app would not include such nonsensical names.

 

I’ll start the process of outreach to individuals at Wisconsin. That said, it is a disappointment to see that this level of inaccessibility exists and something released by an institution under multiple legal requirements to support accessibility and an institution that has a publicly stated accessibility policy that would seem to imply that this app fails to comply.

Disability as a Political Negative

Back in college I took a public opinion research course. One of the tasks in that class was the design and completion of a fairly substantial public opinion survey. Part of that involved completion of a minimum of 20 one-hour telephone surveys. I mention that as background because from time to time when callers ring today, I remember what it was like to need to get enough surveys and will take the time to answer all the questions of whatever individual happens to be calling.

 

This evening one of the questions basically said something like, “To the extent the following statements are correct, how serious of a concern would you have about voting for the given candidate?” Then were the expected choices such as very serious, somewhat serious and such.

 

Straight forward enough, mention what might I guess be perceived as the given candidate’s negatives and see how big of a deal they are.

 

The candidates in question are running someplace in Washington state for state representative. I can honestly say I had never heard of either individual and right now haven’t studied a thing about the given election.

 

Earlier in the survey it came out that one of the individuals was “sight impaired”. This was talking about the individual and said something about having worked hard from an early age or some such wording. It was the survey reader who used the term sight impaired here.

 

Anyway, when it came to rattling off the negatives for the individual one of the statements went something like, “The candidate is disabled, not a home owner and doesn’t pay property tax.”

 

Ironically, a negative for the other guy was something about having failed to pay some tax and ending up with a lean on some property.

 

I mention all of this just because it was kind of well, I’m not sure how to classify it, to hear disability tossed out in this context. Oh I fully understand the various reasons why disability was mentioned but I really hope one day we get beyond this kind of garbage.

Improved Accessibility For Stats in MLB iPhone App

With the loss of the Milwaukee Brewers to the eventual World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship series now behind me, I used a rainy Saturday afternoon to update my MLB At Bat app on the iPhone. It is never too early to dream of sunny Arizona skies and spring training 2012. A pleasant surprise greeted me when I launched the update.

 

One of the accessibility issues I detailed in this app dealt with player statistics reading simply as commas with VoiceOver. I’m please to find that this issue has been corrected and now the statistics are available as well structured HTML tables that work with VoiceOver reading commands. Thanks to the development team for this improvement.

First Experience with Kindle EBook Lending

Today I had the opportunity to answer some of my questions about how Amazon’s Kindle eBook lending program done in partnership with OverDrive and libraries would work. The program announced several months ago entered a beta stage with at least two libraries offering Kindle ebooks to library users. I have accounts with both the Seattle Public Library and the King County Library and opted to try some books from King County’s library. For the Kindle reader I used Amazon’s Kindle for PC with Accessibility Plugin.

 

If you have used other book formats for materials made available through a libraries OverDrive services, obtaining Kindle ebooks is just an extension of the same service. Search for the titles you want, add them to an electronic book bag and then check out. At that point a link named Get for Kindle will appear. Following the link opens a new browser window or tab, depending on browser configuration, to the eBook in Amazon’s Kindle store.

 

You are then subjected to whatever accessibility experiences Amazon offers. For example a button to send the book to the Kindle device of your choosing uses a graphic without alternative text so ends up being read as some variation of “get-library-book-lg-pri._V152369908_.gif” if you are browsing with a screen reader. There are several other instances of missing alternative text on the pages as well. A combo box allows you to choose between Kindle devices you have registered with Amazon in terms of where to send the book.

 

I’m not a regular user of Amazon’s Kindle pages yet so will qualify my experiences with that background. That said from what I can tell it is important that you pick the device at this stage of the process. Amazon has a Kindle management page as well where you can manage all your Kindle materials, including books obtained from libraries but that page seems to suffer from some serious accessibility problems. Each title listed on the management page has a graphic named action that opens options for the title such as selecting where you want to send the book. However, success at interacting with this graphic is highly dependent on how the screen reader or other assistive technology you are browsing with handles graphics with OnClick attributes. There are better practices Amazon could be using here for web accessibility.

 

Once you’ve indicated where to send the book, sync content on the device and your library book will be available. I do not have a physical Kindle and the iPhone Kindle software does not seem to support VoiceOver. So my reading was limited to the accessible version of the Windows Kindle software. This is as I described previously a less than desirable reading experience. Further, given the number of portable reading options available, sitting at a PC is not the way I want to do most of my reading.

 

The King County Library currently offers more than 13,000 books in the Kindle lending program. I do not know if all books are also offered for Adobe’s Digital Editions but of the roughly 30 titles I looked at, all offered both kindle and Adobe editions of the books. You can learn more about Adobe’s efforts on an accessible Digital Editions in an earlier blog post.

 

My overall opinion here is mixed. While I’m pleased to see that the Kindle book lending program does not seem to detract from whatever level of accessibility exists in Kindle Ebooks, it is my hope that as libraries expand offerings in this program, the hard questions will get asked of OverDrive and Amazon about when we will see improved accessibility. Platforms where some accessibility exists have ample room for improvement and there are clearly platforms where Amazon has done nothing to offer an accessible Kindle experience that libraries are now supporting by joining this program. I understand the challenges faced by libraries and recognize the multiple priorities they are working to satisfy. Still, as I mentioned earlier, how we spend public money on technology and the accessibility implications of that spending are public policy questions worth asking.

NFL Addresses Accessibility of the Audio Pass Service

Yesterday I reported accessibility problems with the NFL’s Audio Pass service. While the majority of the Flash content remains inaccessible, the NFL has updated the table displaying games to provide links for launching home and away feeds for each game. This brings accessibility back to the level it was last year. This is a positive step but I’d still like to see the NFL fix the Flash content to support accessibility.