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?

Kicking the Tires on WordPress and Updating the Blog

After several years of using MovableType to run my blog, I’ve decided to kick the electronic tires as it were on a different blogging platform. WordPress seems to offer more of the functionality and ease of use I’m looking for with the level of blogging I do.

Reading through blog archives, I also realize my blogging has really fallen off in the past couple years. Watch for that to change in the new year. As a media consumer I tend to prefer longer writing versus the short bursts of content offered by areas like Twitter and Facebook. These are great mediums for finding such material so I don’t see myself departing from those arenas. But I want to get back into more content creation again.

I’m obviously new to WordPress so if anyone has tips on best practices around accessibility or spam protection in comments feel free to let me know.

The WordPress platform seems to work well with screen readers. The biggest challenge I’ve had is with areas such as adding and removing widgets that seems to require one to drag and drop. So far I’ve had to use advanced screen reader functionality or sighted assistance for these functions.

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.

Judge For Yourself, Is Ticketmaster Audio CAPTCHA Usable?

Much has been written about the accessibility challenges posed by CAPTCHA systems on the internet. Today the most common solution to address accessibility for individuals who are blind is to have some sort of audio replacement for the typical visual verification of characters in an image. Shortcomings of this solution aside, this is the system that Ticketmaster uses when you attempt to purchase tickets.


Recently I tried to buy tickets to a Seattle Mariners game and was confronted with the latest audio offered by Ticketmaster. The web site allows you to download the audio offered as an MP3 and I challenge anyone to actually decipher any words from this jumble of audio. To my ears this is utterly incomprehensible.


I understand the need to mask the audio to some degree but at some point the system still needs to be usable. This simply is not.


I hope MLB and Ticketmaster along with those pursuing accessibility improvements from MLB will take note of this problem and push for a change here.

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.

Yahoo’s Tourney iPhone App Worth a Try

Every March I do an annual hunt for an online site to complete an NCAA basketball tournament bracket in an accessible fashion. I’ve yet to see one of the major sports sites figure out how to make this experience accessible. Terrill Thompson’s
accessible bracket work does deserve to be called out though as a positive example of what can be done. And of course if you know of other examples of good web accessibility here please let me know.

This year I opted to give Yahoo’s Tourney Pick’em for the iPhone app a try. Measuring accessibility by the fact that I was able to submit my bracket with relative ease, I have to say this app is worth trying.

The app is relatively straight forward to use. Game selections are made from a multitabbed and multipage interface. Each region (East, South, Midwest and west) as well as the final four are a separate tab when making selections. Rounds within a division are separate pages within that tab. Teams are selected by activating buttons named “pickemcheckmark blank” to the right of the team name.

If you prefer to use VoiceOver’s sweep right and left gestures to explore an app, it takes a couple explorations to figure out the pattern of what button is associated with each team. For example in the East region, once you get to the team area, sweep right gestures read items in this order for the first game with Syracuse selected to win.


Selected, pickemcheckmark blank


pickemcheckmark blank


North Carolina Asheville

The app is by no means perfect. Starting with the fact that “pickemcheckmark blank” leaves room for improvement in terms of button naming for accessibility purposes, you can easily find other instances of oddly named or completely missing names on buttons as you use the app. Live game action views for example have numerous nameless buttons.

Still this app is definitely a positive step. I’ve been able to successfully complete more than one bracket and better yet quickly compare my bracket with family and friends as talk of the NCAA tournament and The Wisconsin Badgers in particular has gone on this week. For the record I have Wisconsin losing to Ohio State as part of the Elite Eight and Michigan State tapped to win it all. But then again I can quickly submit another bracket with this app, at least for a few more minutes this morning.

Adobe Updates Digital Editions with Accessibility Support

While it is old news now, about a month ago Adobe updated their accessible version of Digital Editions. You can read full details in a blog post from Adobe. According to Adobe, the main improvement is the ability to read continuously with a screen reader with this update.


I have had no success at getting this update to work on multiple computers with JAWS or NVDA. I’ve left comments with Adobe and exchanged email. Because of these problems, I’m not able to update my initial impressions of this application. I had hoped to provide an update as part of mentioning this update, which is why it has taken me a month to share news of the update here.

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.