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March 2003
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March Weblog

March 25, 2003

Freedom Scientific, creator of the JAWS screen reader, is now selling PAC Mate, "the world’s first and only accessible Pocket PC device for those who are blind". You can buy one with a Braille keyboard. It runs standard Pocket PC applications and can even access the Web. The features are nice, but don't look at the price unless you're a serious buyer!

March 24, 2003

IBM showed off their current and cutting edge assistive technology at the CSUN Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference that wrapped up this past weekend. Some of the technology sounds pretty nifty. However, I'm not too enthusiastic about the idea of a smart vending machine that can tell me nutritional value. Telling me how much fat and calories are in the candy bar I want to buy will only convince me NOT to buy it!

March 23, 2003

Made For All, a site that focuses on Web accessibility and standards, recently launched. Its first "issue" features a tutorial that explains the proper use and markup of accessible tables and an interview (by yours truly!) with Julie Howell, the RNIB's Campaigns Officer.

March 20, 2003

First, I need to mention the change I'm making for the "Upcoming Events" column to the right. Since there are now so many online Web accessibility training courses and Webcasts available (free or otherwise), I'm going to only list conferences that have a physical location. In an age when the Web reduces (or eliminates) the need for face-to-face contact, I find it refreshing to meet other people in the Web industry that I know online only by name or their Web site. The physical proximity at conferences seems to encourage passionate, meaningful discussions among attendees that may otherwise never exchange ideas online. Such interaction is invaluable. It's not the same as getting information from a book or a computer. It makes what you learn and take home from a conference more meaningful, because it makes it personal.

The U.S. Department of Education launched a new site to find out what issues people think need further research to help Americans with disabilities. The site intends to promote disabilities research, make official recommendations about what issues to research, and to help coordinate efforts among research groups. While this is not specific to making the Web more accessible, you may send comments on the topic to encourage additional research in this area.

March 19, 2003

Canadians in Newfoundland launched a pilot project to provide customized assistive technology to users on public computers. The technology is based around a "smart card" that stores accessibility preferences. When the card is inserted into a card reader attached to a public computer, the computer is automatically adjusted to accommodate the user's preferences. An evaluation of this project should be released next year. I hope if the project does well it will be expanded and receive major corporate support. Providing assistive technology for such a program could be an interesting business prospect. At very least, it'd create excellent opportunities for good publicity.

March 17, 2003

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Able TV and will produce live and archived webcasts of the CSUN Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference that started today. This may be the next best thing to attending it.

Lasting link for 03-17-03

March 16, 2003

While I was out, Kynn Bartlett launched a site focusing on the accessibility of Mac OS X. It's cleverly named Maccessibility. He started off with an article that evaluates if Mac OS X meets Section 508's Requirements.

Kynn also links to an awesome new resource that (I hope) will take the place of Bobby as an accessibility validator. Cynthia Waddell and her compatriots at ICDRI partnered with the Internet Society Disability and Special Needs Chapter and HiSoftware to create a free accessibility validation service called Cynthia Says. I've tried it a couple times and am fairly impressed with it. What I like most is it doesn't give "false positives" that make people believe their site is accessible when they still need to perform manual checks. The accessibility report generated shows the full checklist against which your site was validated. Then, for each checkpoint it identifies if the site passed, did not pass, was not verified, or if it's not applicable. Some checkpoints are left blank. These blank ones seem to be for things that must be manually checked or determined. However, that's nice because if you want to print up a copy of the report, you can write in your evaluation and then keep it for your records. You can validate your site against Section 508 guidelines or the different levels of the W3C's WCAG. Selecting the checkbox to get the Alternative Text Quality Report will provide guidance to people who never know what to put in the alt text. The Browser Emulator option is good for sites that dynamically serve up different content to different browsers. The only feature it lacks that I wish it had is the ability to do a combined report for Section 508 and the WCAG. I know I'm being picky, but I suppose I got spoiled from using A-Prompt. Overall, this validator seems to work great. I definitely recommend you check it out!

March 15, 2003

I'm back from the SXSW (South by Southwest) Interactive Festival and am still trying to catch up with everything. It was a wonderful break. I met many amazing people, discussed ideas, laughed, slept little, and was a very vocal panelist on the Website Demo (site review) session. As I suspected, big things happened while I was away. Here's the first bit of news I missed.

The Access Board, which brought you Section 508, released official translations of Section 508 in Japanese and Spanish. They're also offering a downloadable text-to-speech version and a format optimized for Braille printing.

March 7, 2003

Tomorrow I leave to attend (and speak at) the SXSW (South by Southwest) Interactive Festival in Austin. I might not have time to update my site until I get back home next week. However, you can be sure that I'll have plenty of news to share then.

March 4, 2003

Here's some great news for Web developers (or aspiring developers). Tim from is part of the team working on the mod_accessibility project for Apache 2.0. It's a tool that allows the Apache server to send users a modified version of a Web page that is more "accessible". The mod is currently in beta. Tim admits (and I fully agree) that this is NOT a substitute for creating accessible Web pages. I see it as either a last resort, or as insurance to make sure a site maintained by a variety of authors remains accessible.

The KDE Project redesigned their site to make it more standards-compliant, usable, and accessible. I applaud their efforts! However, their new design generated lots of comments, many of them negative. Personally, I think the site is fine. Based on what I've seen, their design and top-level information architecture are simple and clear. I could easily navigate to all sorts of great information. That's what matters the most on a software site that's focused on software developers.

March 3, 2003

Today ScanSoft released version 7 of Dragon NaturallySpeaking. It's speech recognition software for your computer. This version breaks new ground because it's "the first desktop speech recognition solution to be certified as compliant with U.S. Section 508... The product supports Section 508 screen readers, and also adds voice control capabilities to Microsoft Windows XP/NT/2000 and all standard PC applications."