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Another Presentation in the Works

August 27th, 2014 by Steve | Comment on Another Presentation in the Works | Filed in art of web accessibility update, Personal

I’m excited that I’ve been asked to do an accessibility presentation at work.

I’ve got about a month (less now!) to put together something. The good news is that I’ve got a pretty solid foundation in place. Now I just need to fill in details.

Since the audience probably isn’t overly familiar with web and application accessibility, other than high level “We need to be mindful of X, Y, Z for government compliance”, I think a great approach is to go over:

1) What is accessibility?
2) Why is important?
3) What disabilities affect people who use the web or applications (it’s not just blindness!)
4) What about, specifically, our users?

Stay tuned — some of the stuff will obviously be company-specific stuff I won’t share, but I’ll post the general stuff when it’s all done.

It’s exciting to me because it’s an opportunity for some general education, and to dispel some myths or assumptions along the way.

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July 16th, 2014 by Steve | Comment on Icons | Filed in Accessibility Thoughts

My wife shared with me an article about color blindness and video gaming (Red vs. Green: Gaming with Colour Blindness), and one of the things the author discusses is how some games like the Grand Theft Auto series avoid sole reliance on color on their maps by also using icons.

That got me thinking about the pros and cons of icons.

In the GTA example, it’s great having recognizable icons for things like food stops, stores, car repair businesses, etcetera.

On the other hand, a good rule to follow with iconography is “less is more”. You may be solving visual and cognitive obstacles by using symbols versus potentially vague or indistinguishable colors, but new problems can be introduced if you go nuts with them.
The face with an exclamation point quote bubble that informed Pre-OS X Macintosh users of an important decision or notification
Some things to be mindful of:

  • Generally speaking, a handful of icons might provide differentiate and quicker recognition of the information they support. A dozen icons? More? That might start watering down their impact. If you’re finding yourself using that many, it might be good to ask yourself if there’s an even better way to break down information.
  • Be mindful of your audience and realize that some icons might be universally understood in some cultures, but not in others.
  • Using images for icons might not be scalable — especially if they are initially small. Zooming will pixellate them and quickly render them hard to decipher.
  • On projects I’ve been involved with recently, Font Awesome has been used more and more. They have a wide range of icons, plus they scale very nicely. Just be sure to provide descriptive text (see: Making accessible icon buttons

    The smiling Macintosh icon that greeted Pre-OS X Mac users when they booted up their computer
    Like many things, icons can be an accessible plus, but only if used judiciously and appropriately!

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  • Flying Car 2014

    July 9th, 2014 by Steve | Comment on Flying Car 2014 | Filed in Innovation

    Flying Car 2014, on June 25-27
    I had the opportunity to attend Flying Car 2014, an event in Milwaukee focused on showcasing innovation and forward-thinking.

    I missed days one and three, when the legendary Steve Wozniak delivered the keynote, but I did get to see some great speakers on the day I did attend.

    Major League Baseball commissioner and former Milwaukee Brewers owner Bud Selig was the keynote. In part because I’m a big baseball fan, I enjoyed his recap of the innovative, often controversial decisions he’s made to improve and modernize the game.

    One of his messages — innovation can be unpopular, particularly in old, reluctant-to-change institutions like baseball, but that’s not reason to back down. I’d say that Selig’s efforts, from inter league play to expanded playoffs, have proven him right.

    There were a number of really good speakers after Selig. What really stood out for me was the lab session that I chose to attend in the afternoon.

    Damian Buchman is a man with an amazing story. At age 13, he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a very rare and very deadly bone cancer. Doctors told his mother to take him home and let him die, rather than face a grueling, painful, and nearly hopeless fate.

    Despite such a prognosis, Damian has beaten the “one-in-a-billion” odds, despite constant struggles including 20 knee surgeries and the realization that one day, he could lose his legs.

    The Ability Center

    Not taking for granted the miracle that he’s still alive and still able to walk, he’s currently on a mission to create a groundbreaking facility called The Ability Center.

    The Ability Center will be a place that emphasizes “universal design” for fitness and wellness. Existing gyms and fitness centers, to varying degrees, offer very limited options for people with disability (maybe one or two pieces of workout equipment, or the ability to play wheelchair basketball in a very tiny time window). The Ability Center will be fully accessible for those with special needs.

    More to the point, Damian emphasized that it’s a place where both the disabled and non-disabled can exercise, play sports, and hang out together. That particularly resonated with me given the message we’ve been saying from day one on this blog — that accessibility is about opening doors for everyone, not just the disabled. Just as superior web sites or applications meet the needs of everyone, The Ability Center isn’t limiting itself solely to people with disabilities.

    If someone with no disability at all still wants to experience wheelchair basketball, they can wholeheartedly do so. This sort of openness can only help raise people’s awareness about disabilities, not to mention dispel myths.

    Check out The Ability Center website and learn all about Damian’s undertaking. It could really be a game changer, and I’m pretty stoked about it being rooted right here out of Milwaukee.

    Stay tuned to their website (and mine) for updates!

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    Quick Hits – June

    June 18th, 2014 by Steve | 2 Comments on Quick Hits - June | Filed in Accessibility Links

    It’s been an interesting couple of months for me, highlighted by a trip to India for work and a trip to Washington D.C. for fun.

    Maybe I’ll blog about one or both of those sojourns in the near future. In the meantime, I’ve found a couple interesting accessibility and user experience related tidbits worth sharing.

    Mobile And Accessibility: Why You Should Care And What You Can Do About It (Smashing Magazine)
    Thanks to my colleague and friend Michael Seidel, from mkeUX, for bringing this one to my attention. It’s a really nice summation article about the opportunities and pain points that mobile devices bring to disabled users.

    There are some great suggestions for coding mobile experiences, and much of it comes down to the standard tenets that any good developer or designer should be mindful of – properly semantic code; navigation that is keyboard- and screen reader-friendly; sufficient color contrasts; etcetera.

    Automatic infinite scrolling and accessibility (Simply Accessible)
    Derek Featherstone posted some interesting insights on infinite scrolling and the perils it may present to those with disabilities. Be sure to check out the comments for added insights as well.

    It’s definitely functionality that is showing up everywhere, and yet it seems to present keyboard users with impediments. Derek advocates avoiding it as much as possible.

    What do you think?

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    How I Met Your Mother: A Retrospective

    April 2nd, 2014 by Steve | Comment on How I Met Your Mother: A Retrospective | Filed in Personal

    Nope, nothing at all accessibility related this time. I just watched the finale of How I Met Your Mother, and felt the need to weigh in on what’s turned out to be a controversial ending at a classic.

    With each passing year I’m getting less and less interested in loyally watching TV shows, so it’s notable to me that I stuck with How I Met Your Mother from day one, nine seasons in all. I can’t think of too many shows that ran that long that I watched religiously as it ran.

    I rank it as my all-time favorite sitcom (The Big Bang Theory is up there too). I was never a fan of Friends because while I liked three of the characters (Joey, Phoebe and Chandler), I despised the other three. With HIMYM, I’ve loved the entire cast for the entire run.

    Admittedly, the show started feeling old about three seasons ago, and I was ready for it to wrap up. It rebounded a bit this last season, even with its weird “the whole season happens over one wedding weekend” premise.

    So, on to the finale, which I just watched a couple hours ago. I stumbled upon some key spoilers earlier in the week, so that influenced my reaction to some of the swerves.

    As lots of critics and fans sound off about how terrible the finale was, what do I think?

    I’d have to say I have very mixed feelings. On the one hand, I’m not outraged about it or feel cheated. Having watched a bunch of whiners trash the ending to perhaps the greatest video game series of all time, Mass Effect, I have limited patience for people getting so worked up and nasty about the ending to something they otherwise loved.

    On the other, there were definite pros and definite cons. It felt a little rushed, and I’m not sure it needed to be when they knew this was the last season.

    Con: Isn’t This Supposed to be a Comedy?
    I know great sitcoms mix drama with their comedy, and that’s a good thing when there are characters you invest time in and care about. No problem there. HIMYM did that brilliantly for nine years.

    But the ending just seemed, I don’t know, too depressing. Friends going their separate ways and lamenting it; Marshall in a soul-sucking job; divorce; the titular mother dying…I get it, that’s life. But, man! The first half of the finale was particularly a kick in the groin.

    A sitcom can have its moments of sadness and weight, but remember in the end that it’s still a comedy!

    In Between: The Mother Being Dead
    Apparently fans have seen this coming for years, and it was planned from day one. But ignorant me didn’t see it coming until that episode a few weeks ago where Ted inexplicably breaks down when the subject of mothers not being at their kids’ weddings comes up.

    So maybe seeing it coming, plus having it spoiled earlier in the week, cushioned things, but I’m not overly upset about it. The mother played such little part in the series until the final season, so it’s not like I was that wrapped up in the character. It wasn’t simply about the mother; it was about the gang hanging out, going through good and bad times together.

    Admittedly, Cristin Milioti hit the role out of the park and made the character memorable in such a short period of time.

    It wasn’t the rosy way I would have ended the show, but kudos to the writers for sticking with a plan they had from the very beginning

    Pro: Robin & Barney Make It a Whopping Three Years
    That’s life. They were a fun couple, but forever and ever was hardly plausible. It would have been incredibly lame had they done a whole season leading up to a wedding that never happened, but having them marry and divorce years later was just fine. And lead to…

    Pro: Ted & Robin Hooking Up….Again
    If the mother was dead woman walking from day one, it makes perfect sense that Ted and Robin would wind up together. Throughout the entire run, it’s been hinted at and in hindsight, all roads led there. Some critics called putting them together at the end a ‘betrayal’.

    Hard to consider it a betrayal when all the signs were there from day one. The kids make a good point at the end — is was supposed to be a story about how Ted met their mom, but he spent little time talking about her, and spent gobs of time talking about “Aunt” Robin.

    Con: Barney’s Life Change
    I completely get that having a child can change one’s life, but c’mon — Barney’s instant character change while holding his daughter was a bit too contrived and hokey. It was just sort of thrown there. Having Barney go through a midlife change after unexpected fatherhood isn’t the problem — the way they slapped in there was.

    Con: No Bob Saget?!?
    Seriously? You have Bob Saget narrating a show for nine years and can’t give him so much of a cameo? I was convinced from day one he’d show up at some point, but he made no appearance, and they abandoned his voice in the final episode. That was a complete missed opportunity.

    Con: The Whole Rushed Feeling
    You have a whole season that takes up a couple days, and other than plenty of hilarious moments it doesn’t really accomplish a whole heck of a lot….and then you rush your finale?

    I’d give the finale a B.

    And so, I bid farewell to one of my all-time favorite shows. The ending wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t an outrage either. The characters were always believable, so why not have believable things happen to them like a marriage ending in divorce, one ending in death, and another living happily after? I could have used a little more laughs and less depression at times, but hey, can’t make ‘em perfect.

    And I still rank Barney Stinson as one of the greatest characters in television history.

    Here’s to hoping Agents of Shield gets renewed and they get Cobie Smulders on there as a regular, now that she’s in theory available. And no, I won’t watch the unnecessary How I Met Your Dad or the uninteresting Friends with Better Lives.

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