NFL Support Acknowledges Audio Pass Accessibility Problems – No Info on Fix

It is I suppose not surprising but still disappointing how frequently leading web destinations fail to pay attention to accessibility. After renewing my subscription to the NFL’s Audio Pass service to listen to NFL games I thought I’d listen to a little preseason action from the Packers yesterday. I’m sure anyone familiar with accessibility can guess the rest of the story. I’ll share the abridged version this time.

 

Using multiple screen readers I tried launching the audio for the game I wanted by choosing a Listen button from a page of games. That opened a new page filled with multiple nameless Flash controls. Audio did start but it was for the home team’s radio broadcast for the game in question. The lack of accessibility for this part of the NFL’s web site isn’t new, as disappointing as that is. Flash has had the potential to be accessible for years and it is unfortunate that the NFL shows such little care for fans who use screen readers that the NFL fails to take advantage of this accessibility support.

 

In previous years, the NFL at least had an option that indicated it was for low bandwidth users. That option allowed you to select home and away broadcasts for each game. That option is gone, with the end result being as far as I can tell that if you use a screen reader you are no longer able to select the audio feed you want.

 

A phone call to NFL Audio Pass support this morning confirms that the NFL is aware of the accessibility problems. I was told that a site redesign was done and that the low bandwidth option was eliminated. I asked about screen readers and was told again that the NFL was aware of the problem and that it was a top priority. I asked for a date when this issue might be corrected and the top priority line was repeated.

 

There’s no real ending to this story. E-mail’s been sent and I’ll do the usual round of contacting, advocating and communicating. I guess I just won’t do a lot of listening, listening that is to the broadcasts I want. We’ll see when the NFL gets around to perhaps adding back the option that allows you to select the audio feed you want in an accessible fashion or better yet making the rest of the Audio Pass experience accessible.

Initial Impressions of Adobe’s Digital Editions Accessibility Update

I’ve written more than once about frustrations with books from libraries and other sources that require Adobe’s Digital Editions to access the content. Today Adobe announced an update with some level of accessibility support in a 1.8 preview to this product. The announcement says in part:

 

Digital Editions 1.8 has enhanced keyboard support, provides additional text magnification, support for high-contrast mode color-switching, and interoperability with the UIAutomation accessibility API to allow screen readers to read eBooks.

 

Take note though for screen readers in particular, Adobe indicates that as of now only Freedom Scientific’s JAWS on Windows and VoiceOver on the Macintosh are supported. Adobe indicates they are working with other companies in the industry to add support.

 

After trying this preview with JAWS on Windows with both a Welcome document included with the software and with a range of books from my local library I have a mixed impression. You can access the text of the books. That said, I’m not sure I’d agree with Adobe’s comment in the announcement that I should be able to read books successfully just yet. Hopefully this experience is improved.

 

In the welcome document, for example, all the text from what would seem to be a table of contents on page 1 is run together on a single line. Further, items that are indicated as links do not seem to have any method for link activation. Moving to page 2 in the same document, I’m greeted by the word “link”, repeated at least 20 times, again all on a single line.

 

Trying more complex documents such as software development manuals, recipe books, poetry and other material where format is important, more often than not, any meaningful formatting wasn’t present. At best tabular data had line endings so each cell of a table was a unique line. In many other cases, text was run together, much like the first page of the welcome document.

 

Reading books that contained little formatting, such as a novel, I was successful in reading text. However, it was easy to crash Digital Editions on demand by simply using a JAWS command to read by paragraph. The key combination is ctrl+down arrow and pressing it caused Digital Editions to crash instantly and disappear from memory. In the software testing world, we’d call this bug a 100% repro.

 

In the announcement talking about this preview of Digital Editions 1.8, Adobe does request feedback. I’d encourage readers to try this preview and give Adobe all the feedback you can. Adobe is also holding a drawing where multiple gift cards to online booksellers will be awarded. Card winners will be announced on July 25, at noon eastern U.S. time.

 

Updated Information as of 7/21/2011

 

Adobe replied on their blog linked here and on Twitter indicating that ctrl+F7 on Windows will present a dialog of links from a page. This key is also listed in the welcome document but see my earlier comments about tabular data not always being presented in a reading friendly fashion. This does work in the books I tried. I would expect to be able to open the links from the content too, much like you can when reading web pages. Link lists are handy but links taken out of context do not always make sense.

How Libraries Missed on Accessibility of EBooks

Several years ago I had the good fortune to take a trip to London. I recall how exciting it was to be able to walk around the city using an electronic copy of a travel guide I had downloaded while on my trip from my local library back in Washington State. For someone who has tried probably every method of accessing books around, this was an exciting time. True, the books were in the PDF format but by and large things worked to the point where you could access the books and libraries were just starting to really get into the online book world.

 

All I can say is that it is a good thing I’m not taking that same trip today. Libraries, largely living off public tax dollars, have ruined this opportunity. While libraries continue to make electronic books available, by and large they do so by supporting what has become a completely inaccessible platform with books made available in Adobe’s Digital Editions. The library staff I have talked to say this really isn’t their fault and they are just buying services and books from OverDrive. OverDrive passes the buck and blames Adobe. Adobe promises accessibility in the next version of Digital Editions.

 

Based on reports from the recent National Federation of the Blind summer convention, I’m lead to believe that Adobe is close to delivering on some level of accessibility in Digital Editions. Reports from those in attendance indicate Adobe gave demonstrations of something working here. However, even if Adobe released a 100% accessible and feature-rich version of Digital Editions today, I believe the situation libraries have allowed to exist is an important public policy question deserving of greater examination. Further, searching of Adobe’s web offerings still shows no firm info about anything official on an accessible Digital Editions.

 

Libraries should be held accountable to answer for what they are doing spending public money on such an inaccessible book platform. Based on the little financial data I’ve been able to obtain, I’m guessing OverDrive makes a healthy living off of the money libraries spend. According to representatives from the King County Library System, that institution will spend approximately $150,000 for books that end up being in the Digital Editions format in 2011. The Seattle Public Library was unwilling to detail spending on strictly eBooks but indicated the library would be spending a total of $600,000 with OverDrive for online books in all formats. Imagine the public dollars spent across the United States given what these two libraries are spending as just two examples. Obviously much of the income OverDrive takes in pays for the book content and such but by all impressions I have the company is in no danger of going out of business.

 

At one point the Los Angeles Public Library took a stand and said enough was enough and indicated they’d stop purchasing inaccessible books. So far I’ve been unable to determine any updates on that stand aside from seeing books with copyrights newer than the announcement of such a policy being available on the library’s web site. I welcome any updates people have because at least in theory I think the stand the Los Angeles Public Library took is what every library should have done. Instead all seem to have simply passed the buck and largely missed an opportunity to address the accessibility of eBooks.

 

Sure there is blame to go around and as I say maybe Adobe will finally deliver. One can only wonder how things would have turned out if libraries had turned off the public money faucet to OverDrive when this problem first appeared though. I’d be willing to bet OverDrive would be pressing a lot harder for Adobe to do something. Instead they seem to find it easier to pay $50 for Bookshare memberships for the few people who stumble on the fact that some libraries who have OverDrive services are taking part in a program from OverDrive for such subscriptions.

 

We have choices where our public dollars are spent. The platforms used for electronic books by libraries regressed from something that was working. Libraries should not have tolerated this in the least. They should stand up now and turn off the money. That is what gets companies to listen. It takes enough time and effort to make something accessible that when we reach that milestone we need to guard against steps in reverse. Public spending is one tool we should be using. Companies have the choice as to how they want to invest in accessibility but we then too have the choice where to spend our tax dollars. Libraries really blew an excellent opportunity to stand up for accessibility.

MLB’s iPhone App Update Disappointing From an Accessibility Perspective

Major League Baseball (MLB) released an update to their At Bat iPhone app today. All I can say is what a disappointment. While they did fix an issue with buttons to indicate radio stations when playing audio missing names for VoiceOver, as near as I can determine none of the other major accessibility bugs, such as those I detailed recently, have been addressed.

 

The ironic thing is that the issue of station buttons being nameless is something MLB broke two app updates ago. Taking the glass is half full perspective one I suppose can be appreciative that MLB fixed what they broke. But the fact that basic things like button names were broke in the first place has to call into question MLB’s claims that they are taking accessibility seriously. Fixing what was working because poor attention to accessibility broke it is not progress. Failing to address fundamental problems like player details on the At Bat roster pages reading is nothing more than comma after comma, well sorry but that’s not being committed to accessibility.

 

What I find interesting is that when I first reported the station name problem to MLB a few weeks ago, they called me several times ensuring me there wasn’t a problem. I ended up having a 30 minute conversation with a phone representative who told me at least five times they knew all about VoiceOver and that there were no problems. Only when I convinced this person to turn VoiceOver on and demonstrated that there was an actual problem, did this person stop telling me nothing was wrong. Ironically the individual who told me they knew all about VoiceOver then asked me how to turn it off because “we are not allowed to keep VoiceOver running on our phones.”

 

I work in the software business. I know it takes time to fix issues and all. MLB has gone out of their way to state loudly that they care about accessibility. I think it is then within reason to expect them to demonstrate this commitment with actions and not just words.

Two iPhone Apps of Interest – VizWiz and Ariadne GPS

I use several iPhone apps on a regular basis and there are services like AppleVis that do a good job of cataloging the accessibility of iPhone apps overall. That said in the past couple days I’ve started using a couple apps that I wanted to call out because of the potential they represent. VizWiz and Ariadne GPS both show promise at answering questions about what’s around you.

 

VisWiz

 

The basic premise behind VizWiz is straight forward. Take a picture of something you want identified and use the power of technology and social networking to identify the item. The app uses a combination of services and contacts from your social network to return answers. In my use of the app so far, it has proven helpful at answering basic questions with answers returned from IQ Engines and web workers. Note that IQ Engines is what powers a handy iPhone app called oMoby.

 

Ariadne GPS

 

I’ve used this app for less than a day but it strikes me as being very innovative. Of particular interest to me is the ability to explore a map based on touch. My previous map experience was with a couple different apps from Sendero but those were based on keyboard navigation of maps.

 

If you try Ariadne GPS, you’ll want to take a read about all the Features and take note that settings for the app are accessed from the settings option for the iPhone in general and not within Ariadne. There are several items related to the map you can adjust that change how things behave. For example I’ve changed to an advance mode that requires more preciseness for touching objects but in my use makes building a mental model of the map a bit easier.

 

The GPS functionality of Ariadne GPS is also of value. Turning on a monitor mode, you can be alerted to addresses as you pass them. The app also has limited point of interest functionality. You can add points of interest based on current location and then be alerted when you are close to those points.

 

Ariadne is a bit rough around the edges but as I say shows promise. For example when you use a feature knows as Explore Region, you are prompted to enter a street and city. If multiple matches are found, you must select from a list that presents you the street name and distance from your current location. No city names are presented in this list which makes things a bit tough.

 

Also, after using this feature, the app gets a bit confused about your current location. I’m located in Redmond, Washington and used the Explore Option to view Madison, Wisconsin. Now the app tells me my current location is in Redmond, Dane. Note that Dane is the county where Madison is located.

 

Overall

 

I don’t know what the future for VizWiz and Ariadne GPS holds. I’m hopeful we have more development of both apps. Ariadne GPS in particular has captivated my attention because accessible maps and GPS technology can do so much to help us understand our surroundings. If you enjoy technology, take one or both of these apps for a spin. VizWiz is free and Ariadne GPS a $2.99 purchase.

Accessibility Improvements Desired in MLB’s At Bat iPhone App

This year I opted to give MLB’s At Bat 11 iPhone app a try for live baseball game audio. The app works relatively well with VoiceOver on the iPhone and has been a nice way to stay in touch with my favorite teams.

 

While At Bat 11 has many positives, accessibility issues remain that range from the completely inaccessible to the inconvenient. It would be nice to see MLB address some of these before next season. I have shared this feedback with MLB according to instructions on their accessibility page.

 

Note that in the following descriptions, all names refer to names as read by VoiceOver on the iPhone. This is a first list of issues I’ve experienced that I’d like to see improved.

 

Team Schedules do Not Read With voiceOver

 

Steps To Reproduce

 

  1. Launch VoiceOver if it isn’t running.  This can be found on the iPhone under Settings:General:Accessibility:VoiceOver.  Note when VoiceOver is running, items that activate with a single touch require a double tap to activate.
  2. Launch At Bat.
  3. In the lower right corner of the app is a button VoiceOver announces as More.  Activate this.
  4. Choose teams from the resulting page.
  5. Choose a specific team.
  6. On the team page, choose schedule and results.
  7. Now touch anyplace on the schedule.

 

Result:

 

VoiceOver is not able to read any schedule detail from either list or month view. Further buttons that appear to advance the schedule are nameless.

 

Player Details Reported As Comma

 

Steps to Reproduce

 

  1. From the home screen of At Bat, activate the More button in the lower right of the screen.
  2. Activate teams on the resulting screen.
  3. Select a team. In my case I chose the Milwaukee Brewers.
  4. On the team page, select Roster.
  5. Now choose a player. In this example I chose Ryan Braun.
  6. Now note how the player details are read.

 

Results

 

Aside from headings that include the player’s name, number and position along with things like regular, situational splits and last 10, the entire page reads as nothing more than a series of commas. Certainly this should be improved so the actual details displayed are read by VoiceOver.

 

Data From Multiple Rows Read in Box Scores When Moving By Row

 

Steps to Reproduce

 

  1. Locate the box score for a game. In my example I’m using the box score from a May 22nd game between Milwaukee and Colorado chosen off the scoreboard from the opening page of At Bat.
  2. Locate the table that starts with the column 1 item of player. In my example I changed to details for the Brewers.
  3. Switch VoiceOver’s rotor setting to rows. This allows you to quickly move down a given column in the table.
  4. With VoiceOver focus on the word player, use the sweep down and sweep up gestures to move down the player column of the box score.

 

Results

 

In this scenario, focus is starting at row one column one of the table on the player column header. You would expect the first sweep down to move to row two column one and read the player name. What you should have read is Weeks, 2B. Instead what is read is Hart, C RF Weeks, 2B. In other words, the data from row three, column one and row two column 1 is combine with the data from row three read first and all data read as if it appeared in row two column 1. You can verify this by sweeping right once and then left once where you will find that the Weeks, 2B value is now read correctly.

 

This pattern of combining one row ahead of where you should be with the current row continues as you move down all rows in the table. Switch to the sweep up gesture and you start to hear the player details one row above the current row combined with the current row. So in either case you need to ignore the first player name you hear and know that it is the second name that reflects reality.

 

In my use of VoiceOver to read tables, the combining of data from multiple rows does not appear to be a common problem. So far MLB’s At Bat app is the only place I’ve experienced this.

 

Stadium Map With Nameless Buttons

 

Steps to Reproduce

 

  1. From the home screen of At Bat, activate the More button in the lower right of the screen.
  2. Choose the At the Ballpark option.
  3. Choose a stadium.
  4. From the stadium page, choose Stadium Map and Directory.

 

Results

 

The default here is some sort of map. All buttons on the map however are nameless and reported strictly as button by VoiceOver. Having more meaningful names would be a positive.

 

The list functionality in the directory feature is excellent. What is especially nice is that when you are at a game and you choose some of the directory entries, you get details about the entry based on the closest entry to you when there are multiple locations. For example when at a recent Mariners game, I was quickly able to locate the closest hotdog stand to my actual seat.

 

Conclusions

 

This is not the first time I’ve written about MLB and accessibility. I still believe the track record is mixed, and I am surprised to see issues like the comma for data on player pages issue I reported here present for an organization that has taken such a public stand on being committed to accessibility. That is simply something that is broken and easily discoverable with little knowledge of accessibility or VoiceOver in my opinion. It would be interesting to understand how MLB accessibility testing happens to see how issues like the comma issue fall through the cracks.

 

More Details on iPhone Accessibility

 

This is by no means comprehensive but here are a few references on iPhone and iOS accessibility.

 

Accessibility for iPhone and iPad apps by Matt Legend Gemmell – Worth a read just to understand accessibility independent of the operating system. The Myths section of this post is great.

Accessibility – iOS Technology Overview – Apple developer info on all things accessible in iOS.

iOS App Accessibility – Humanising Technology Blog – Another good overview of how VoiceOver works and some basics on iOS accessibility

 

Response From MLB

 

Update:

 

Today, May 23rd, I received a call from one of MLB’s contacts in accessibility in response to an email I sent that detailed all the issues in this blog post. In that phone call MLB indicated they could reproduce all the issues I described here. The contact indicated that it was too late to address any of the issues for the next release of MLB’s At Bat app due out shortly. I asked when we might see any of these issues addressed and was told that MLB was planning a second update shortly before the 2011 MLB All-Star game that would be the first opportunity to address these issues.

 

I consider today’s response a step in the right direction. Admittedly I have no idea whether the issues will be fixed or not and if they are fixed when that might be beyond what I was told today. But acknowledging the issues are present to me is a start.

University of Wisconsin Badger Athletics Continues Disappointing Tradition of Ignoring Web Accessibility

Blog readers may recall my earlier writing about struggles with the online media experiences for streaming Badger athletic events. It is disappointing to this Badger alum and fan to once again have to point out that Wisconsin Athletics seems to show little care for web accessibility.

 

A posting from the Wisconsin Athletics (UWBadgersdotcom) twitter account earlier today said, “A @BadgerFootball game is better with family & friends. Check out great group tix packages that include free concessions. http://ow.ly/4zwVr.”

 

Well I’m always looking for good reasons to visit Wisconsin and the idea of a family outing at a Badger football game later this year captivated me. Sadly, following the link in this tweet leads to http://wisconsinfootball2011.com/, a web site that was clearly created with no attention to accessibility.

 

Using the latest release of multiple screen readers for Windows, you experience a web site that makes extensive use of Adobe’s Flash. You can read some buttons with labels including one titled Group Tickets. Presumably this is the one I’d want. Activating any of the buttons, including the previously mentioned Group Tickets button, fails to change the content that a screen reader reads from comments about the season this fall from head football coach Bret Belema. In addition, there are multiple buttons in this Flash content that have no labels for accessibility purposes.

 

It is common for Bielema to end interviews as he does in the statement on this web site with the phrase, “On, Wisconsin!”

 

Sadly I must add to this and say, “Shame on Wisconsin!” Shame on the university for ignoring both the legal and ethical responsibilities you have to take accessibility, including that for the web, seriously. This is not the first instance of such behavior. One can only hope it will be the last and that the university will institute policies and follow the same to ensure that accessibility is taken seriously.

Alt Text for SXSW

I’ve heard nothing but positive things around the people behind SXSW and accessibility over the years. This posting is not meant to detract from those efforts. In fact, all things being equal, I think most people who put content online would prefer it to be accessible. I do not think people go out of their way to make content inaccessible but rather often do not extend the effort to make content accessible so are left with the default result of whatever process their content publishing tools use.

 

Visiting one of the pages on the SXSW site talking about attending, this is what greets users of screen reading software.

 

icon_hotelmap.jpg

sxsw_go_2011.jpg

-1_23.jpg

sxsw_tech_summit-4.jpg

comedy11_bug.jpg

stylex_171x80.png

sxsw_hiring_hubproof.jpg

 

Looking at the source HTML, we see that the screen reader is doing exactly what’s expected. Namely, it is presenting the alt text, albeit rather confusing in this case. I’m not sure how one should know that -1_23.jpg equals something about iTunes.

 

<A href=”http://www.itunes.com/sxsw” jQuery1300063703657=”50″><IMG class=centerednb alt=-1_23.jpg src=”/sites/sxsw.com/files/-1_23.jpg” width=171 height=84></A>

 

At times I’ve experienced progress but believe the web has a long journey before even something as simple as meaningful alternative text is eliminated as a basic accessibility problem.

Hope For Pandora Accessibility

I’ve written previously about frustrations with the Pandora music service to take accessibility seriously and address the shortcomings with the sign in process and the Flash in general used on the web site. While Pandora hasn’t changed the basic response of get someone to help you sign in or lack of addressing accessibility, I am delighted to announce there is Hope for Pandora.

 

Hope in this case is an accessible Windows Pandora client created by the same developer who is the driving force for the wildly popular Qwitter Twitter client used by many computer users who are blind. At a cost of $10, Hope is well worth the investment for the functionality the client makes available today and to support continued work from this developer. With the first release of Hope happening just a few days ago, and the track record I’ve seen of improvements from the developer, this is something I’m more than willing to support.

 

You can learn more about Hope from the product’s readme document.

 

Since I have talked about Pandora accessibility previously, it is worth mentioning that the iPhone version of the Pandora client works well with VoiceOver, Apple’s screen reader. And should you be curious how easy it is to create accessible apps for the iPhone or iPad, read one of the best articles I’ve ever read on accessible software development. Even if you have no interest in the iPhone or iPad, read the article because it does a great job at knocking down many of the myths I’ve heard over and over about how people who have visual impairments use or do not use software.

Sometimes Little Things Mean a Lot

People who know me in person know that I’m from Wisconsin and a fan of the Green Bay Packers. Fortunes for both the Pack and accessibility have improved since I was a kid watching Packer defeat after defeat and limited to only radio coverage of the post game aftermath.

 

Today there’s a better than 50% chance the Pack will win a game and I can read all the press coverage I want from hundreds of online news sources. One of my favorites is the Packers Blog from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Packer beat reporter Greg A. Bedard is really a standout reporter and illustration of how to use a blog effectively for sports journalism.

 

Bedard recently started rating player performances after each game and a summary of what the team would do to cut the roster down to 53 by the time of the 2010 NFL campaign. The initial blogs for both of these topics featured a graphical chart for the data being discussed, which was obviously not very accessible.

 

I wrote a simple e-mail asking for a text version of the info, making the standard offer to give more details and such as needed. It was a treat then to see Bedard start including tabular versions of the data by publishing Google Docs versions of the spreadsheets I suspect he uses to generate the graphical info.

 

Oh sure, the accessibility isn’t perfect and the industry behind any tool that generates HTML can do more to make accessibility happen automatically. Hint, The W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative has an authoring tool working group devoted to this very topic with guidelines out for last call review.

 

It was refreshing to have these tables just show up after one simple request without a lot of back and forth or need to convince someone that accessibility really does matter. So as they chant at Lambeau, Go Pack Go! And thanks to one beat reporter for making his work available to more of his audience.