Category: Areas of Focus

The SIG aims to provide information about accessibility needs for all communicators. Within the many areas of accessibility issues, the SIG has designated eight primary areas of focus.

Personal Story: Accessibility in the Workplace

[Editor's note: Here's an anecdote from Lori Gillen, SIG co-manager, that puts accessibility-in-the-workplace in perspective.] We are not accustomed to seeing accessibility in action in the workplace, so I wanted to share a little experience that I had in which assistive technology helped people with disabilities function in the workplace. I attended a meeting at the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind where CART captioning was available for me. For those who are not familiar with this tool, CART stands for Communication Access Realtime Translation. CART reporters are similar to court reporters, transcribing every word in a meeting in real time. Those words are then projected on a large screen in real time. I was the only one at the meeting who requested the CART captioning, so I got to sit alone at a computer monitor while the CART reporter used video-conferencing software remotely with a speaker phone. The man who set up the CART connection was blind. He sat down at the computer keyboard with the monitor off and, yes, it took me a few seconds to figure out why he did not turn the monitor on. He used JAWS (a screen reader) for navigation. The speed of the screen reader's voice was conversational. I've heard that some blind users speed up the voice to where words are unrecognizable to an untrained listener and that is how they skim pages. As the blind man scrolled through the messages in his inbox with the down arrow, the screen reader identified the type of content before the actual content. For example: [down arrow] Address Lori Gillen [down arrow] Address Mary Smith [down arrow] Address John Jones And so forth. He didn't actually open a message, so I was not able to hear how the screen reader handled that, but I assume that both the screen reader and user had a way to skip over the message header (To, From, Subject) and get right to the message, where the content was prefaced by the word "Message." Also present at the meeting were two sign language interpreters. It was like being at Disneyland, well, sort of. The meeting I attended was an Assistive Technology Advisory Council meeting for MassMATCH, which enables consumers in New England to purchase affordable assistive technology and match consumers to new or refurbished products. Guest author: Lori Gillen

Personal Story: Arrrrrrr, mateys! – It could happen to you!

Guest author: Anne Gentle [Editor's note: STC member Anne Gentle kindly contributed this personal account of temporarily losing vision in one eye while recovering from an injury. This story, first published on her own blog, illustrates how a simple event can have complicated consequences. Anne writes, "I'd just like to get the word out and have others learn from my experience."] I haven't been churning out blog posts for a while due to a crazy birthday party incident. I don't usually tell personal stories on my blog, but I thought I'd personalize this tale and talk about how grateful I am for how it is turning out! The order of events went something like this:


Saturday early evening. Arrived at large jumping inflatables party place for a five-year-old's birthday party. Remarked offhandedly to my husband, "I always get pinkeye after going to these types of places." Boy was that a premonition. Got a front-row seat to the beating up of a large Darth Vader piñata with a wooden stick. On the very last blow, just when the payload fell out of Darth Vader, the piñata bat slipped out the 10-year-old's hands and hit me in the eye and my son, who was sitting in my lap, in the stomach. Ouch hardly begins to describe the incident!


Organized chaos ensued and somehow I managed to bleed on other moms, not on myself. My kids were shook up but fine, the party-goers were ushered to a party room for pizza, and we made arrangements for our children, started icing the cut below my eye, and my husband and I took a trip to the nearest hospital.

Hospital Trip

After it was apparent that no eye doctor was answering to their informal on-call arrangement, I was transported to a teaching hospital about an hour away by ambulance. My husband went home to get our kids to bed, another mom slept on our couch to stay with our kids, and my husband drove to the second hospital an hour away. The continued evaluations and a CT scan revealed that I had an orbital blowout fracture, a hyphema, a cut requiring two stitches in my upper eyelid, and a cut below my eye that was glued back together. All this from a wooden dowel rod flung about 20 feet!


But I'm feeling much better this week and I am so grateful to get my eyesight back that I really don't care about potential scarring or pirate eye patches. My energy level is still pretty low, which I'm not accustomed to at all. I need to sleep eight hours? What?
Card with hand-written get-well soon greeting
Card with hand-written get-well soon greeting
Apparently I will slowly regain all my eyesight as the blood in my eye gets filtered out. Day by day it improves and I'm amazed at the way the body heals itself. I'm down from three sets of eyedrops and an eye ointment to one drop at night and a clear plastic eye patch while sleeping to ensure I do not accidentally rub my eye. Three different emergency department personnel asked if the event was captured on video! I'm pretty sure no one was rolling film or tape, thank goodness. I got a great pan of brownies and a wonderful hand-made pop-up Get Well card from the stick swinger. He's recovering from the incident as well and we're all going to be just fine. Darth Vader is a crumpled mess of cardboard, as it should be. That guy really is evil.

Gratitude and Admiration

I've known people in the software industry who work with serious eye issues, and I have an even greater first-hand admiration for their tenacity to stick with such a visual profession. I do try to learn as much as I can about web accessibility. I've participated in Open AIR Austin's accessible web design competitions, judged by Section 508 Guidelines for Web Accessibility. It was quite revealing when we were told to turn off our monitors and try to reserve plane tickets! Yet I know I can learn more and do more. Keith Soltys has a great blog entry, In the country of the blind, where he talks about not being sighted enough to drive, and gives a great example of blind Google engineer making a difference to others dealing with vision issues. I'm here as a reminder that it can happen to anyone. Guest author: Anne Gentle

Understanding Disabilities When Designing a Web Site

In Digital Web Magazine last month (September 16, 2008), Leona Tomlinson of Agoo IT wrote a great article: "Understanding disabilities when designing a website". While some of the information can be found in many places, Tomlinson distills a broad range of information in one article, making it ideal for sharing with those new to Web accessibility. She also organizes it by disability – including the often overlooked cognitive disabilities. Tomlinson provides snapshot statistics of people with disabilities in the U.K. and the U.S. By showing the data in raw numbers rather than percentages, you get – to my mind – a powerful sense of scope. The comments that follow the article are useful as well. Particularly useful is a reference to Ginny Redish and Mary Theophanes' article "Guidelines for Accessible and Usable Web Sites: Observing Users Who Work With Screen Readers" (.pdf) originally published in Interactions, this link is the the authors' version and includes figures not in the ACM publication.

Age 50+ Persona for the STC Body of Knowledge

Guest author: Lori Gillen I was asked to prepare a persona on what users over the age of 50 may need to maximize their use of the STC Body of Knowledge portal. The Society for Technical Communication (STC) is currently developing a Body of Knowledge (BoK) portal where Technical Communicators can share their areas of expertise with each other. This portal will enable technical communicators to research specific areas of expertise, such as usability or content management. They will be able to obtain answers to their questions regarding professional development, education and training, and new techniques and technologies. The amount of expertise that they will be able to obtain from this portal is vast. In addition, the Body of Knowledge portal will encompass the entire scope of disciplines that use technical communication, adding value to our profession and showing professionals in other areas of the corporate world that technical communicators accomplish more than just writing. I presented a draft on the AccessAbility SIG discussion list and received some excellent feedback. The text that follows is the actual persona that I presented to the Body of Knowledge Committee.

The Age 50+ Persona

Margy Statler
  • Technical communicator, 16 years
  • 59-years-old, married
  • Bachelor of arts degree, Wellesley College; masters technical and professional writing, Northeastern University
  • Human Factors in Informational Design masters program candidate at Bentley College
  • Senior member of the STC
Margy is a principal technical writer for a healthcare company, and has been an employee there for the past ten years. She is an experienced writer who mentors the less seasoned writers in her department. Her documentation and training department is set up so that members offer their area of expertise to the other department members. To that effort, Margy is enrolled in a Masters program in Human Factors in Informational Design and offers her usability expertise to other members of her group. Margy loves outdoor sports - biking (mountain and road), hiking, kayaking, skiing, and running. She said that riding motorcycles is fun but doesn't provide much exercise. Her bookmarked sites include Google for searching, REI - Outlet (outdoor clothing), weather, MapQuest Music, and Wikipedia. With age, Margy's eyesight is changing and she has trouble reading words on the monitor clearly. To accommodate she sets her default browser font larger and for sites that do not inherit the larger size she uses a magnifying browser plug-in with Firefox. Additional accommodations are bulleted in the section that describes her work environment. Her study partner is hearing impaired and has special accommodations concerning her own computer use. Key Attributes
  • Sixteen years of technical communication experience with ten years at her current company.
  • In-depth knowledge of company products and product history from working on initial and update releases
  • Skill at using Help authoring and publishing tools to produce deliverables
  • Special focus on usability and human factors
Work Environment and Accommodations
  • Listens to music to help her focus on work, because area around her cubicle is noisy and she is easily distracted.
  • Uses widescreen desktop monitor because it's easier to see what's on the screen. In addition, she makes the screen as bright as possible.
  • Prefers to print out content rather than read it on a computer to reduce eye and neck strain.
  • Sends mail using a larger font size (bumps it up around 125%) and bolds items for easier reading.
  • Resets her default font to sans-serif because she finds it hard to read content that is written with a serif font.
  • Turns on captioning when watching online videos to accommodate her study partner's hearing loss.
  • Uses RoboHelp to develop Help files, and is now transitioning to MadCap Flare.
  • Uses Adobe FrameMaker and Acrobat to produce printed documentation.
  • Reads books and articles on usability for class assignments.
  • Conducts usability testing and studies usability and accessibility design practices for school.
Informational Needs/Goals
  • Wants information on trends in the technical communication industry.
  • Wants to know about new tools for streamlining her workflow.
  • Needs to research designing for accessibility for a class assignment.
  • Wants to network with other technical communication and usability professionals.
  • Wants to find accommodations for her husband, also a technical writer, whose fingers tire easily from typing because they are numb from Diabetes
Scenario of Use: Margy Statler
  1. Margy is familiar with STC and naturally turns there first to seek information.
  2. First she looks around the site for any information about usability. The Google search on the site displays results about Usability presentations. [Please note that searching on outside of the STC site produces more direct results on the Usability SIG, eliminating Step 3 below]
  3. She locates the SIG groups after mousing over the whole group of drop-down menus. She sees a link to "AccessAbility" and "Usability and User Experience."
  4. She explores the AccessAbility site to find information to accommodate her eyesight, and her husband's Diabetes. Then she visits the Usability and User Experience SIG site to see if there is any information that can help her with her studies.
Guest author: Lori Gillen