We can do it

I’ve been tracking IT and web design-related jobs in libraries for a while now, but this is the first one I’ve seen that stands out as being so focused on user experience, they even want a terminal degree in HCI or a related field. And just yesterday I was reading the most recent issue of Library Hi Tech (v.29:no.2), which focuses on usability testing. One of the articles in that volume discusses the quality of research being done on user needs in the LIS field. The author, Elke Greifeneder, concludes:

These papers show that the quality of user research in our field is rising, that researchers know how to label and use methods appropriately, and that they are using a greater variety of methods. Finally, researchers seem to acknowledge that user research requires one small step after another. Instead of painting a big picture with a single user study that has many research questions, they do multiple smaller in-depth research projects, which can be interconnected like one big picture puzzle that might, in the end, give a better impression of how our users actually behave and what they really need.

Isn’t this exciting? I hope to see more jobs like the one Purdue has posted. To me, it’s a sign that libraries are finally moving towards seriously integrating UX into all our digital products and services. Maybe one day more than 28% of the major databases we subscribe to might even be accessible to people using adaptive technology?

Accessibility & technology news roundup

I’ve sort of given up on blogging since I have so much homework – learning Java! It’s exciting. But here are a few interesting items I’ve accumulated over the past month:

Update: Here’s something new from Google, as well: YouTube captions uploader web app

News items

Post-Gazette article on a local program to help former prisoners become entrepreneurs

At the Business Library I worked at we received a couple letters asking for information about starting a business, writing a business plan, etc.  This was also a common request in the letters I read while working with Book ‘Em, Pittsburgh’s books-to-prisoners program.  It’s hard to know how to respond to these requests since not a many of the best resources on the topic could be condensed into something you could send to an inmate (because of postage, restrictions on number/size of books, etc.).  And people don’t really seem to donate books on starting a business as often as they donate novels etc.  so I don’t recall us having a lot of stuff on this topic at Book ‘Em.  This past year I found a guide to entrepreneurship published by the state of Pennsylvania that seemed like a good introduction, and wasn’t too expensive to print/send (you can download the PDF on their website).  Maybe other states have similar resources.

Chronicle of Higher Ed article/blog post on the accessibility of university web sites

it’s decreasing.  why am i not surprised. (thanks to Dan for the link)

Civics 101 / S.3304 update

An amended version of S.3304, the “Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010” was passed unanimously by the U.S. Senate. The House passed H.R. 3101 on July 26, 2010. Now the House and the Senate have to reconcile their versions of the bill and come up with something everyone agrees on.

Here’s a section by section summary of what S.3304 does, from the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology. It doesn’t seem like the amended bill will require the provision of captions for live programming and Internet-only programming (which, you know, is kind of a huge deal at this point). It took me so long to figure this out because I am rusty on using Thomas and I got mired in reading the Congressional Record. Honestly sometimes the only thing I feel like I can remember about how government works is what I learned from Schoolhouse Rock (did they really make us watch that in high school?! I hope I’m remembering that wrong).

It appears that the definition of `video programming’ in the bill went from

“programming provided by, or generally considered comparable to programming provided by, a television broadcast station, even if such programming is distributed over the Internet or by some other means.”

to

“programming by, or generally considered comparable to programming provided by a television broadcast station, but not including consumer-generated media (as defined in section 3).”.

So. It seems that Internet-only and live programming is left out. (the Caption Action 2 blog says this as well). But there’s still lots of other good stuff in the bill. Three cheers for [some] progress.

[Youtube=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uf2q66G3lmM”%5D

WebAnywhere: free “on-the-go” screen reader

While going through a large donation from a faculty member, I came across some recent issues of Technology Review. In the Sept./Oct. 2009 feature on young innovators, there happened to be a profile of Jeffrey Bigham, who, “as a graduate student at the University of Washington, created WebAnywhere, a free screen reader that can be used with practically any operating system – no special software required.” Serendipitous discovery, given my recent resurgence of interest in researching assistive technologies and web accessibility.

For a while I have been meaning to go to the public library and experiment with browsing the Web using JAWS (it’s installed on all THEIR public computers), but now I can do it from the comfort of my desk! I’ve already tried searching my library catalog and navigating our website using WebAnywhere. It works…mostly? I just did basic stuff, and I haven’t attempted any databases yet. One issue that might be significant is that our OPAC times-out after a rather small amount of time. It took me so long to “read” through the page and the list of search results that by the time I picked one to look at a more detailed record, my session had expired and I had to re-do my search. Anyways, I’m really excited that there’s a more “lightweight” tool for navigating the web via screen reader. Instead of just following accessibility guidelines when designing websites, now I can actually see what my pages sound like. (edit: I didn’t know about the accessibility validation tool Cynthia Says before today either). I wonder if a lot of people who are blind or have visual impairments are using WebAnywhere. And I wonder how it compares to JAWS or other screen reading software.

Here are some basics from the WebAnywhere site, and (for you multimedia cravers) – a video. I would love to hear about it if anyone is inspired to go access some websites – especially your favorite library catalogs and databases? – and comment on how navigable they are with a screen reader. I’ll probably be posting more about this in the future since I am just so curious about it.

WebAnywhere is a web-based screen reader for the web. It requires no special software to be installed on the client machine and, therefore, enables blind people to access the web from any computer they happen to have access to that has a sound card. Visit wa.cs.washington.edu to access WebAnywhere directly. And, it’s completely FREE to use!

WebAnywhere will run on any machine, even heavily locked-down public terminals, regardless of what operating system it is running and regardless of what browsers are installed. WebAnywhere does not seek to replace existing screen readers – it has some big limitations, namely that it will not provide access to desktop applications like word processors or spreadsheets.

Further reading:

W3C introduction to web accessibility

How People with Disabilities Access the Web from the Web Design & Development course created by the University of Washington.

Web accessibility issues in academic libraries

Today I discovered the website of ATHEN, the Access Technology Higher Education Network. There are some great articles about web accessibility on their site, and reading them got me all worked up about library resources and how difficult it is to ensure that databases – and probably also fancy “next gen” OPACs – are accessible. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and coincidentally last week I helped a patron with a vision impairment. She was using a database and had used the “Zoom In” (ctrl ++) feature in IE to make the text larger. Unfortunately the screen display (frames? ugh) in the database couldn’t handle this and most of the relevant links just disappeared. Everything looked normal when we reduced the text size/zoomed out, but then she couldn’t really read it. I started wondering how many library databases are easily navigable via screen readers, if they can be interpreted by them at all.

So I did a basic web search and voila: Accessibility to Library Databases and Other Online Library Resources for People with Disabilities, from ASCLA, provides an overview of the accessibility features of some of the major vendors’ products, and/or links to their statements on accessibility. The wiki also provides links to advice for librarians when making purchasing decisions.  This page on database accessibility issues provides instructions and tips for using screen readers to access many of the major databases (a longer list than the ASCLA site provides).

Here are some excerpts from one of the articles on the ATHEN website. I think it’s good food for thought.

What constitutes web content? There are a few obvious answers to this question. The university’s main web site is a good starting point. A click or two of the mouse (or keyboard) can take users to the web sites of different departments, colleges, offices, projects, institutes, organizations, or other academic entities within the institution. Already, this constitutes thousands, or possibly millions, of pages of content. Adding to this list are things like online courses, supplemental online materials for classroom-based courses, library databases, library subscription services, campus intranet services, employee and student records, bookstore purchasing services, and the personal web sites of students and faculty. Some of these web-based resources are simple HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) files created by staff. Others are complex software products licensed from commercial vendors. In between these two extremes is an array of miscellaneous resources, such as word processor documents, slide shows, spreadsheets, videos, Java applets, etc. All of this is web content, and a holistic approach would seek to take it all into account.

With so much information and interactivity available now in a digital format, the sheer volume of resources that must be accessible is daunting, especially when including “legacy” (old) resources (Richards & Hanson, 2004). To make matters more difficult, higher education institutions do not have direct control over some of these resources. Institutions usually license proprietary learning management software, employee databases, bookstore “shopping cart” systems, library subscription services, web-based email services, online applications for grants and loans, and other products from third-party vendors. If these products have accessibility flaws, the institution can only hope that the vendor will eventually fix them, yet the institution is still required to ensure that it does not discriminate against people with disabilities. This type of dilemma is all too common.
[…]

Many libraries also play a direct role in ensuring the accessibility of course content. Some instructors select journal articles or other library materials as a part of the required reading, and may ask the library to make these available online through an online library reserve system. All too often, libraries simply scan in the file as a graphic and post it in Adobe Acrobat PDF format. The problem with this method is not the Acrobat file format, which can produce accessible files. The main problem is that no technology can directly translate a graphic into synthesized speech, as required by users with blindness. Someone must first process the page with optical character recognition (OCR) software, proofread it, and correct any errors before the content is ready for screen reader users. The relative success of OCR software conversion is dependent upon factors like the visual clarity of the original document (contrast, sharpness), the font type (fancy font faces are problematic), the orientation of the text (diagonal or sideways text is difficult or impossible), and so on. A different kind of problem arises when the document is nothing more than a copy of a copy of a copy, as is sometimes the case. The indistinct text can make reading difficult or impossible for users with low vision, and can reduce readability for all users, whether they have disabilities or not. Again, the long-term solution is for publishers to make their content available in accessible electronic formats, but when electronic versions are not available, libraries must anticipate that some students will need scanned copies of materials converted into text. The library may decide to perform this conversion in-house, or work with student disability services and/or outside contractors to accomplish this goal.

Source:
Bohman, Paul. “Cultivating and Maintaining Web Accessibility Expertise and Institutional Support in Higher Education,” ATHEN E-Journal Issue #2 (2007).

Further reading:
Web Accessibility Survey homepage, created by Axel Schmetzke at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Lots of citations, but last updated in 2008.

Learn about assistive technology – from the US Government

the National Center on Disability and Access to Education – best practices, articles, factsheets…and lots of good relating to accessibility and distance/online education.