Category: News

Press releases, articles in the media, etc.

Spotlight on Mike Murray

The Orlando Central Florida Chapter's newsletter Memo to Members has a very nice spotlight interview of Mike Murry written by Tavia Record (email hidden; JavaScript is required).
Mike Murray
Mike Murray
The May 19, 2015 spotlight article "On the Record Spotlight: Mike Murray" discusses his experiences as a teacher, mentor, technical communicator, and leader. In the same issue, be sure to read Mike's column "Blog Entry: TALES FROM DA VOICE" about Acceptance and Gratitude. Mike Murray is a 30-year member of STC, holds the honor of STC Associate Fellow, is a past three-time chapter president of the Orlando Central Florida STC chapter, and is a founding member of the Accessibility SIG. In May 2014, Mike gave us his personal story, "The Elephant in the Room" about how he is dealing both physically and mentally with the onset of Parkinson's Disease.

Feed About Accessibility

Apple Accessibility
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Achieve! January 06

Achieve! STC Accessibility SIG Newsletter

August 2005 - February 2006 Volume 4, Number 1

  • Editor's Column
  • Ms. Wheelchair America Wages War Against Stereotypes
  • UK Website Offers a Robust Forum on Disability Issues
  • How Families Can Help Improve Websites that Provide Disability Information
  • Accessibility SIG Is Worldwide!
  • You Gotta Have Faith
  • Newsletter Credits
  • Related Links

Editor's Column

Ah, the start of a New Year and the ever-popular tradition of making New Year resolutions. Some of the common ones are exercising more, going on a diet, and quitting bad habits. In other words, most resolutions involve improving your own quality of life. This year, in addition to the "usual" resolutions, consider making a resolution that will help others, such as improving the lives of people with disabilities. Here are some examples:
  • Are you a Web developer? Resolve to learn more about Web accessibility. Start at the World Wide Consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative:
  • Are you a manager? Resolve to learn more about workplace accommodations. Start at the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment:
  • Are you a writer or editor? Resolve to learn more about creating materials that all people can read. Examples of resources include A Guide to Making Documents Accessible to People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired, by Jennifer Sutton ( and Accessible Solutions - Making print information accessible from Accessible Information Solutions (
  • Are you the friend or relative of someone with a disability? Resolve to find ways to make their lives easier. Ask what barriers they experience in their daily lives and see if you can help to come up with a solution.
  • Are you a person who just wants to make a difference? Become involved in organizations that provide information or services for people with disabilities, like our Accessibility SIG. Consider writing an article for this newsletter, helping with the annual STC conference, or maybe you have a new idea that you want to take on.
So, get to it! Decide what you want to focus on, make a plan, and take action. Resolve to help improve the lives of people with disabilities. Happy New Year! Kim McConnell

Ms. Wheelchair America Wages War Against Stereotypes

Interview by Ellen Ryan © 2005 The Washington Post Company Editor's Note: Ms. Wheelchair America Juliette Rizzo recently spoke at the Ms. Wheelchair Georgia pageant, after which she experienced an unpleasant incident at the airport. This is the story of that incident as told from her perspective. I was in Columbus, Ga., speaking at the Ms. Wheelchair Georgia pageant. Bad weather closed the airport, and all passengers had to be rerouted through the Atlanta-Hartsfield airport. Airport personnel brought vans and moved the crowd onto them quickly. There were fewer and fewer [passengers] until I was there alone on the curb. All the gate agents and airline officials looked at me; no one had recognized that I wouldn't be able to get on a van and no one was familiar with any alternative resources nearby. They thought about ambulances, private nursing home vehicles, even vehicles at the local Army base, but nothing was available. The thing is, what they were trying to get wasn't even appropriate! What they finally brought was a horse trailer! (It has a ramp, you know.) They were creating the very image, the stereotype that I've worked so hard all year to dispel all across this country. I refused the trailer. After four hours they reopened the airport, a new plane came in, and that plane went straight home to the Washington, D.C. area. But what if there hadn't been another plane that day? What if the airport had stayed closed? I've learned to always have the get-up on hand (the crown and the sash) because there are cameras everywhere. But I don't necessarily always carry makeup, especially with personal care assistants not available to help me fix my hair the way I'd like it or put on the clothes I'd like to be wearing. I want to portray a real image. You can be beautiful, effective, and useful either way, with or without a crown. The best accessory for me is seeing a woman in a wheelchair taking pride in who she is and all that she is - except when she runs into a horse trailer! It was white, and it did match my outfit that day, but ... no.

UK Website Offers a Robust Forum on Disability Issues

By Dan Voss, Immediate Past Manager, Accessibility SIG The website "Disability Debate" in the United Kingdom (formerly at offers a dynamic forum in which to explore disability issues. With position statements as well as an active online forum, the website offers the opportunity to exchange opinions on many of the questions surrounding disabilities. [15 Feb 08 Note: The Disability Rights Commission (DRC) produced a range of information on the Disability Equality Duty (DED). The DRC closed at the end of September 2007, and was replaced in October 2007 by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. You can find more information on the duty and the work of the new Commission at:; specifically, at Equality and Human Rights Commission: Disability] For example, a key question is the one of whether or not to attempt to fully integrate people with disabilities into the "mainstream" of fully abled people, within the educational system, within industry and government, and within communities. This particular issue was explored in a vigorous online exchange in October 2005, but it remains open to discussion in the online forum. "Disabled people in Britain still face major challenges," declares Bert Massie, chairman of the UK's Disability Rights Commission. (Note: Achieve! prefers the term "people with disabilities." We are certain the speaker means no disrespect, but we believe cars get "disabled" people have disabilities.) He lists several, claiming that many people with disabilities:
  • Do not feel like full members of their local communities;
  • Are not in control of their own lives;
  • Do not have a say in what happens in the country or their local areas;
  • Don't get the chance to get skills and qualifications;
  • Would like to make a contribution but are prevented from doing so;
  • Don't get the chance to do their best in life.
Massie addresses all of these issues in further detail on the website. He also takes a look at new technologies that are on the horizon for accommodating disabilities. In December, these were the topics being actively explored in the online forum:
  • Will there be a new legal definition of disability?
  • What about time for interaction (in public) for people with disabilities? Why is this still considered strange to many?
  • How much should we protect people with disabilities?
  • Whose risk is it?
  • How can the government help people with disabilities reach their full potential?
  • How can people with disabilities make a greater contribution to society? Be more fulfilled? How can they be equipped to do so?
  • What about anti-social behavior?
These may not be the current topics under discussion when you read this article, but it's a safe bet what is being discussed will be thought-provoking, relevant, and timely. As an internationally deployed disabilities advocacy group, the Accessibility SIG urges its members to take an active role in forums of this nature. By so doing, we can continue to make allies; we can continue to make advances; we can continue to make a difference.

How Families Can Help Improve Websites that Provide Disability Information

By Kim McConnell, Central Ohio Chapter


When families first receive news that their child has been diagnosed with a disability or medical condition, they want to learn more about their child's specific condition and the prognosis. They want to find services and supports that can help their child and family. Often, families turn to the Internet to find information, but discover that this can be a daunting task due to the enormous amount of information available. It's a fact, though, that families expect to find information on the Internet, but their experience shows that finding comprehensive information that is easy to understand and comes from a reliable source is hard to accomplish. So, how can a manager of a website ensure that families are getting the information they need? By employing effective Web content management and usability techniques and - more importantly - by involving families in the Web development and content creation processes. Although the focus of this article is on websites that provide information to families who have a child with a disability, the principles and techniques discussed can be applied to website development in general.


Prior to becoming a technical communicator, I was a training specialist. The company I worked for used a training model called, "Know-Show-Do-Review." The basic components were:
  • Know: The trainee learns about the process.
  • Show: The trainee observes someone doing the process.
  • Do: The trainee does the process on their own.
  • Review: The trainee receives a performance review and is asked to provide feedback about their experience in doing the process.
When applying this training model to Web development, the trick is to reverse the roles: let the Web audience train you on how the site should work, rather than you training them on how they should use the site. The training model now looks like this:
  • Know: Families tell you who they are and what they want (research and content development).
  • Show: Families test the site and let you know what works and what doesn't (usability testing and content analysis).
  • Do: Families assist in the site's introduction (launch the site).
  • Review: Families provide ideas and suggestions for growth and improvement (feedback and maintenance).
For the remainder of this article, these four stages of the training model will be discussed with an emphasis on how the Web users (families) can and should be involved in the process.

Know: Research and Content Development

The "Know" stage is the stage where the most time is spent. "Know" involves a lot of planning, which is crucial to the success of a website. During this stage, you are conducting research to learn more about your audience, and you are enlisting the help of families with content development. First on the agenda is to form the Web development team. Choose members that will create a strong, cohesive team and who share the same vision. Members should include IT developers, website designers, writers, editors, subject matter experts, and management. Ideally, it's good to find people who work in these areas and also have experience in the disability field or have a family member with a disability. Open communication among all team members and other decision makers is important and should be considered when choosing who is on the team. Once the Web development team is established, the planning begins. The following should be accomplished:
  • Establish goals and requirements to ensure cost control and to keep team members on track.
  • Decide on the site's structure, navigation, design, and features.
  • Consider future wants and needs, no matter how far-fetched they seem.
  • Choose the development tools that will be used and consider their scalability in relation to the overall wants and needs of the site.
  • Consider accessibility from the beginning. It's much easier to create an accessible website from the bottom-up, rather than back-tracking after the development is done. (For more information about creating accessible websites, see the Internet Accessibility section of the Accessible Techcomm website at
After the Web team has done their initial planning, it's time to start on content development. Unfortunately, this is where many Web development teams fail because the members of the team do not include people with content development experience. Effective content development involves a solid understanding of Web usability and writing for the Web. It requires the mind-set that content on a website should consider the user's experience and how they will interact with the content. Content cannot simply be "dumped" on a website from print publications and press releases. Families are the most valuable resources when it comes to creating content for websites that provide information for families who have a child with a disability. The following 5-step process discusses the content development process and how families can help.

Step 1: Conduct an audience analysis

Find out who your audience is by interviewing potential Web users (families and people with disabilities who are at different stages of their lives) and other subject matter experts (advocates, early intervention specialists, special education teachers, therapists, and other disability-related professionals). Ask the following questions:
  • What do users need to know or do?
  • What's most important to them?
  • What's the problem they need to solve?

Step 2: Hold focus groups

Focus groups are essential to get feedback from target audiences about expectations of a website. Hold focus groups with the audience that you identified in Step 1. Different techniques can be used:
  • Topic Cards: Participants sort index cards with topics written on them into groups that are logical to the participant. This helps to establish the navigation bar and the placement of content on the site.
  • Use Case Scenarios: Participants are presented with scenarios and asked to "act out" how they would resolve the issue (ex. Your child is having problems with his wheelchair. How would you go about getting it fixed and paid for?).
  • Open-ended Questions: Participants are asked questions to provoke open-ended discussions.
  • Instant Messaging/Chat Rooms: The focus group is held on-line and participants are asked open-ended questions. Often, families find it difficult to travel to a location to attend a meeting, so this is a nice alternative.

Step 3: Determine the content creation process

Now that focus groups have been completed and you have many ideas and suggestions, it's time to start writing the content. First, though, you need to establish a content creation process. Consider the following questions:
  • Who will decide what content is included?
  • Where will the content come from?
  • Who will write the content?
  • Who will review the content (general editing, subject matter editing, legal review)?
  • Who has final approval of the content?
  • Where will the controlling document be stored?

Step 4: Determine the structure of the content presentation

The next step is to create a style sheet. The style sheet serves as the guide book for the site's writing style to ensure consistent presentation of information. The style sheet should include:
  • How the information will be organized. Remember to use the recommendations from the focus groups.
  • Tone of writing. For family-friendly information, it is recommended to use a neutral tone in plain language and to write in first person.
  • When to use bold, italics, bulleted lists, etc.
  • Spelling preferences (ex. Web site vs. web site vs. Website vs. website)
  • Anything else that needs to be standardized.

Step 5: Create the content

Now it's time to create the content. Preferably, the person writing the content should be a technical writer, usability expert, or content management specialist. Remember to use your style sheet (Step 4) and to follow the content creation process (Step 3). Above all, always consider the needs of your audience. It is best to create content using "plain language" principles. Plain language (also called plain English) is a writing style that is simple and direct, but not simplistic or patronizing. When writing in plain language, use short sentences with simple words. Avoid jargon, acronyms, and abbreviations. Plain language should be visually inviting, logically organized, and understandable on the first reading. After all your research, planning, and content development is done, it's time to move to the "Show" stage.

Show: User Testing and Content Analysis

As technical communicators, we recognize the importance of usability. We know that usability testing is the most effective way to learn about a site's strengths and weaknesses. When conducting usability testing remember to enlist people who are representative of your entire audience, including people with disabilities. It's best to do usability testing throughout the development process - it should not be a one-time deal. And remember to test in different environments: physical locations, such as libraries, work places, homes; different computer systems, such as PC, Macintosh, different operating systems; and different browsers, including different versions of browsers. Accessibility testing is an important part of usability testing. In addition to including people with disabilities in usability testing, there are accessibility "checker" tools available (ex. Bobby, A-Prompt). A word of caution: don't rely on the tools. Remember that your users are the best testers. Once testing is over, it's time to analyze the results. The most important item to remember is to listen to and use the results of the testing. Too often, testing is done but the results are not applied. When reviewing the results, look for common issues and prioritize what should and can be done.

Do: Launch the Site

If you have done all the previous stages completely, you should be more than ready to launch the website. Before launching, consider rolling out the site in phases. Continue with focus groups and usability testing. If possible, have a group of stakeholders use the site a few weeks prior to the official roll-out. Wait to publicize the site until after the launch. And above all, expect the unexpected.

Review: Feedback and Maintenance

Web work is like house work ... there's always something to maintain or improve. After launching the site, it's time to get feedback and continue to revise and build the content of the site using family input. Here are some things you can do to help the site grow:
  • Continue to get input from families through a Web feedback form, by asking for feedback from families using the site, and by continuing with focus groups and usability testing.
  • Collect and analyze site statistics and pay close attention to trends.
  • Regularly update and review the site's content.
  • Continue to monitor for accessibility and usability.


When developing websites for families who have a child with a disability, or any website for that matter, remember that family input into all stages of the development process is critical for success. Families can help with research and content development, usability testing and content analysis, site launch, and site growth. By finding out what a site should provide for families from families, you will ensure that a family in critical need of information receives the right information at the right time in their child's life.

Supplements to this Article

The Content Creation "Don't" List

  • Don't be a website with just a list of links and minimal program descriptions. Create information that families can use and understand.
  • Don't write like you are writing a paper document. Writing for the Web is different and is a learned skill. Web readers scan rather than read word-for-word, so content must be written with that in mind.
  • Don't rely on "off-the-shelf" products to be the answer to all of your Web development needs. These products mainly help with the technical development, but cannot help with creating useful content.
  • Don't offer everything at once. Create chunks of information that allow the reader to drill down to a level of information they need.
  • Don't use PDF documents. PDFs still pose accessibility and usability issues.
  • Don't create "seas" of text. When creating pages with a lot of text, such as information articles, break it up by using headings with clear topic sentences, bulleted lists, etc.
  • Don't assume Web visitors trust you. Establish credibility by providing contact information, an "about us" section, a "site last updated" statement, and accessibility, privacy, and disclaimer statements.
  • Don't forget about the importance of where your site appears in the major search engines. Use search engine optimization (SEO) techniques that will maximize the visibility of your pages to search engines.

An Example of Developing Useful Content

Using an information portal website in Ohio, I searched for "child with disability" within the county I live. The results provided a list of several organizations and agencies. One of the agencies was the state agency that administers Ohio's Medicaid program, a program that provides crucial services to families who have a child with a disability. The description was as follows:
Formed with the merger of human services and employment services in the State of Ohio, develops and oversees programs that provide health care, employment, child support, services to families and children.
This description is too vague and does not even contain the word "disability." My guess is the Web developer simply lifted the description from the agency's website. Instead, the program description should tell a family "what's in it for them." Suggested rewording might be:
Provides services that may help children with disabilities, such as health coverage through a Medicaid card, nursing and other medical services through a Medicaid waiver (a waiver is a program that waives requirements of a State's Medicaid Plan), and other programs. Check with you county office for a list of programs that your child and family may be eligible for.
Kim McConnell is a Web Administrator and Disability Rights Advocate for the Ohio Legal Rights Service (OLRS). OLRS is Ohio's federally mandated protection and advocacy agency for children and adults with disabilities ( Kim is also the parent of two sons, one who is medically fragile and has multiple disabilities. The information provided in this article was adapted from a presentation she did for the Technical Assistance Training Institute of the Administration on Developmental Disabilities held in Washington D.C. on July 25, 2005.

Accessibility SIG Is Worldwide!

By Fabien Vais, Co-Manager, Accessibility SIG In case you didn't know, a recent analysis of our membership roster showed that our Accessibility SIG is represented in eleven countries!!! In alphabetical order, these are:
  • Australia - 3 members
  • Canada - 19 members - the second largest contingent...YEAH!!! (As you may be able to tell, Fabien is from Canada!)
  • Denmark - 2 members
  • France - 2 members
  • Germany - 1 member
  • Holland - 1 member
  • India - 3 members
  • Japan - 2 members
  • South Korea - 1 member
  • United Kingdom - 6 members
  • USA - 224 members - OK, OK, so you beat Canada by a few members...
Keep up the good work, all of you! We're getting recognition everywhere in the world. This is good.

You Gotta Have Faith

You can learn a lot just by watching young children and animals. Children haven't been told, or haven't yet become aware, of their limitations. Animals are simply themselves, following their natural instincts and enjoying life. According to the laws of physics, a bumble bee cannot fly. Its wing surface is much too small to generate enough lift to propel its comparatively large body through the air. Fortunately, nobody told the bumble bee! The next time you're feeling a little overwhelmed by life, remember the true story of a dog named Faith who was born without front legs and yet enjoys life to the fullest and gets around quite well, thank you, by walking upright like a human. The indomitable spirit of this happy pooch proves once again that there isn't any malady we can't overcome with loving support and a dose of faith. Have you ever seen a dog smile? Check out Faith at Faith even has her own website:

Newsletter Credits

Achieve! is published for members of the STC Accessibility Special Interest Group. Please submit articles, graphics, and letters of opinion for publication to the editor. Note: By submitting an item for publication, you implicitly grant a license to Achieve! to publish the material and for any other STC publications to reprint it without permission. Copyright is held by the writer. Please inform the editor if a submitted item was published elsewhere and if it has been submitted for consideration to other publications. Permission to reprint any material herein is granted provided that credit is given and a copy of the issue is sent to the editor. Achieve! is available online at Select the "Newsletter" link. Editor: Kim McConnell Copy Editors: Karen Mardahl, Mike Murray, and Dan Voss Production Editor: Terry Smith Contributors: Ellen Ryan, Dan Voss, Kim McConnell, Fabien Vais
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Achieve! August 05

Achieve! STC Accessibility SIG Newsletter

May - July 2005 Volume 3, Number 2

  • Editor's Column
  • Accessibility SIG Launches Promotional Blitz At Seattle Conference
  • Making the 2005 Conference Guide
  • Newsletter Credits
  • Accessibility on the International Scene
  • Quantum Leaps in Seattle
  • Starfish Chamber: Meet Jim Jones
  • Assistive Technology, Disability, and Adventure Conference
  • Accessibility SIG Captures Coveted Pacesetter Award!
  • Accessibility SIG website Garners Two Awards
  • Newsletter Credits
  • Related Links

Editor's Column

By Lisa Pappas, Senior Member, Carolina Chapter In this issue of Achieve! we focus on the STC Annual Conference in Seattle in May. The Accessibility SIG showed tremendous leadership, both in the number of presentations and the level of volunteer support. By raising awareness, community by community, we can make a difference for our colleagues with disabilities. As I was completing the layout for this issue, I found myself struggling to position my mouse effectively and reverting to keyboard shortcuts to remain efficient. It struck me as just one more way that making products accessible benefits a broad user base, not just a minority. But don't take my word for it; there's legitimate research to support that claim. Check out the Forrester Research commissioned by Microsoft, which found that a full 57 percent of adult computer users could benefit from assistive technology ( These compelling reports demonstrate that assistive technologies benefit mainstream citizens. With an aging workforce across the globe, and the recognition that the incidence of disability increases with age, accessibility becomes a mainstream workplace issue.

Accessibility SIG Launches Promotional Blitz At Seattle Conference

By Gail Lippincott, Las Vegas Conference Program Committee The Accessibility SIG may be the Society's smallest SIG, but we were well represented and highly visible at the Seattle Conference. The 42 Accessibility SIG registrants earned us the highest conference representation of all SIGs-17.6 per cent of our membership, to be exact! As always, these members worked hard and celebrated often, making new friends and meeting up with old ones. Even before the conference officially kicked off, we celebrated with an impromptu gathering for dinner Saturday evening at the elegant Oceanaire Seafood Room. On Sunday morning, as part of Leadership Day, a panel of Accessibility SIG members offered Society leaders an overview of how various disabilities affect the ability of technical communicators to practice our profession as well as the ability of end users to access the information products we create. This session was followed by the Accessibility SIG business and planning meeting, where we charted our course for 2005-06 and beyond. Attendees gleefully put the discussion into action by organizing an assembly line. Several hours of laughter and conversation, punctuated by calls of "need more lollipops" or "more staples, please," produced 2,000 packets of newsletters, brochures, lollipops, and postcards, neatly boxed for willing hands to give out at Monday's opening session. We celebrated our hard work and new friendships at the Welcome Reception. Bright and early Monday morning, Accessibility SIG members and Orlando chapter student members deployed like Special Forces, covering all entrances to the opening session ballroom. Fueled by coffee and Dan Voss's cheerleading and with Jen Selix at point intercepting everyone in her path, we made sure that every person had plenty of reading material, plus a lollipop to assuage the breakfast skippers. The promotional blitz included the special conference edition of Achieve! and a postcard, both highlighting the following accessibility-related sessions; and an updated version of the Accessibility SIG tri-fold brochure. The first session was Monday morning, "Making Products and the World More Accessible" (PD2O). Prashant Natarajan "herded" a lively (read: talkative) panel of Accessibility SIG members who gave an overview of how various disabilities affect the ability of technical communicators to practice our profession, as well as the ability of end users to access information products we create. Panelists included Maureen Hogg (dual disability), Kathy Lopez (technical assistant and interpreter for Maureen), Andrew Malcolm (prelingual deafness), Helen Marty (emotional disabilities), Mike Murray (attention deficit disorder), Gloria Reece (visual disabilities), Fabien Vais (mobility restrictions), and Dan Voss (secondary disabilities). The Monday Networking Lunch offered another opportunity to make new friends. First-time attendee Kathy Lopez said, "I enjoyed meeting Dr. Gloria Reece and having some informal time with her. I joined this table, because I wanted to get to know the people on the Accessibility SIG panel a little better. It was a good opportunity to do so." While Monday afternoon's session "Your Career: From Student to Second Career" (TE4O) was not billed as accessibility-related, two of the presenters were Accessibility SIG members. Moderator Maureen Hogg, who is legally blind and deaf, illustrated the use of assistive technologies in her co-presentation with Dan Voss, an abled colleague. A Tuesday progression, "Section 508 for Dummies Redux" (UID5A), gave participants practical advice on implementing Section 508 into various aspects of website design and testing. Moderator Allen W. Rotz kept time and order for table hosts Rick Ells, Richard Herring, Caroline Jarrett, Prashant Natarajan, and Sushil Oswal. Another Tuesday session featured Nova Berkshires, who taught us what happens when "Aging Eyes Meet Shrinking Screens" (UID6G). Nova explained how after we turn 40, age-related physical changes affect our computer use, especially as mobile device screens keep shrinking and low resolution laptops replace desktops. She offered research-based design tips to maximize online usability. The Tuesday SIG Networking Lunch, another opportunity for noshing and chatting, let Accessibility SIG leaders share issues and ideas in an informal working lunch. The last Accessibility SIG session Tuesday afternoon drew a crowd, a direct result of our advertising blitz. As Dan Voss explains in a related article, Maureen Hogg and Kathy Lopez enthralled the audience as they demonstrated "Quantum Leaps: Electronic Access Technology" (UID7T). (See Quantum Leaps in Seattle). Kathy deemed this session "a great success!" with high-top 10 percent, in fact-ratings, because "the audience was able to participate and see how Maureen Hogg used JAWS to perform her work. Her use of the telephone was also interactive with the audience." The Tuesday evening Awards Banquet capped the Accessibility SIG's successes with a well-deserved SIG Pacesetter's Award (see Accessibility SIG Captures Coveted Pacesetter Award!). Many glasses were raised in celebration of this and other honors, and a good time was had by all. Wednesday morning started with a bang, with two accessibility-related sessions in the 8:30 time slot. In "How Websites Work for Older Users: A Study of 50 Sites" (UID9C), Janice C. (Ginny) Redish, Dana Chisnell, and Amy Lee presented their practical results from an AARP-funded study of 50 websites. These researchers used personas and scenarios for a task-based expert review of health, travel, financial, and news sites, among others. At the same time, the workshop "Working to 508: Hands-on Techie Tips!" (UID9L) let those just getting started in accessibility delve into Section 508, the U.S. federal regulation governing computer accessibility. Mike Murray and Gloria Reece examined experience equity and universal access issues for people with diverse needs. They helped participants unravel the myths associated with the implementation guidelines in the W3C's WCAG (Web Content Authoring Guidelines) from the WAI (Web Accessibility Initiative). On Wednesday mid-morning, a panel of U.S. "e-gov" managers explained how they were "Making Federal Web Applications Usable, Useful, and Accessible" (UID10P). Janice R. Nall, Shawn Tafoya, Mark Tolson, and Cari Wolfson shared their successes and challenges in developing electronic services that are usable, useful, and accessible. They also discussed U.S. federal resources and tools that can improve online applications and make electronic products and services "citizen-centric." The last chance to learn about "Creating Accessible Documents" (UID11L) was Wednesday afternoon. In this session, Richard Herring explained a process model for creating accessible documents. Sushil Oswal described an innovative use of OCR scanners: print document designers and technical communicators can use these scanners as an "audience" for blind users. To round out the discussion, Gloria Reece interpreted the results of her study of text legibility for people with low vision. In addition to the wealth of information they provided in the technical sessions, the presenters on accessibility made a major contribution to the conference website, where 6 percent of the 265 postings of presentations, articles, and handouts are accessibility-related. Since accessibility-related sessions represented a much smaller percentage-approximately 3 percent of the total number of technical sessions at the conference, this statistic becomes even more significant. In addition, the Accessibility SIG website will shortly be posting these materials as well, augmenting an already rich database of materials from previous conferences (see The accessibility-related sessions benefited from the Accessibility SIG's aggressive promotional campaign. Even if conference goers did not get to attend any Accessibility SIG sessions, they certainly learned about the offerings and about our organization. We succeeded in raising awareness of accessibility issues, and next year more people will be looking to attend a session or two sponsored by the Accessibility SIG. Don't leave accessibility to chance. Get your proposals in now for the Las Vegas conference. The deadline is looming - August 15th!

Making the 2005 Conference Guide

By Fabien Vais, Co-Manager, Accessibility SIG The fourth annual Accessibility Guide was published in April 2005 for the 52nd STC annual conference in Seattle. Its purpose was to describe as carefully as possible the true accessibility of the whole conference site for potential attendees, and if need be, to prepare people with various disabilities or special needs for some obstacles to contend with-and overcome!-at the conference. This year's guide was 85 pages long, with a superb color cover. The production of such a guide requires a whole team of people, and for this last edition I was extremely fortunate to count on the services of more volunteers than ever before. These true heroes were scattered across North America and even in Europe. I hereby want to formally and publicly thank every one of my helpers. I could not have done it without you. To Laura Ramsey, from Seattle, who got the ball rolling with some information on the conference site back in the summer of 2004. Laura had to have some surgery, and had to pass the baton to others, but she was a pioneer in this guide. To Kelly Malleck, last year's Puget Sound (Seattle) chapter president, and her fantastic team of volunteers who tirelessly explored, described, and reported raw information to me. I had asked Kelly to be my eyes and ears in Seattle. She and her team definitely accomplished this splendidly. To Mel Haughton and her graphic designer friend Oscar, who designed a superb color cover for the guide, the best cover ever. To Jen Selix and Peggy Bivins of the University of Central Florida and the Orlando chapter, without whose immeasurable writing and editing skills, we would simply never have had a guide. Jen and Peggy sorted the raw information I bombarded them with, then organized, wrote, designed, and published the guide. I owe them the most, without any doubt. For good measure, Jen also updated the Accessibility SIG's brochure for distribution at the conference. To our Accessibility SIG steering team, for having edited and critiqued the final draft so diligently and professionally. To Cynthia Lockley, our Web Diva, for posting the guide on both our SIG website and on the Society site, on very short notice. To Brenda Huettner, who generously offered to print 155 copies of the guide pro bono, including the beautiful color cover, and to ship these guides to me in Seattle. Last, but certainly not the least, to the many volunteers who helped drop off small piles of the guide throughout the conference site. To all these people, I owe a great deal. I will be much blessed if the new team I am currently trying to assemble for the 2006 conference is as devoted and passionate as the one I worked with last year. I trust that it will be. Thank you all again for making the fourth annual Accessibility Guide a resounding success.

Accessibility on the International Scene: Technical Communication & Accessibility in India

Editor's Note: Achieve! interviewed two members of the India chapter, Mak Pandit and Prasharant Natarajan, to get a sense of how the cause of accessibility stands in that nation. This is a new column in the newsletter. It will be a regular feature, taking a look at accessibility around the world.

Question #1: How is the topic of accessibility viewed in India? Is there general public awareness of the challenges faced by people with disabilities or is it a hidden problem?

[Mak] This issue is not being taken as seriously as it should be. Because of this, a small and talented part of the society is not being utilized to its full potential. General awareness is increasing now; for example, new building construction takes disabled users into account. [PN] At present, the topic of accessibility does not appear to be a critical issue in India. Unfortunately, the challenges faced by people with disabilities remain hidden and do not get the attention they deserve. For example, even simple aids like wheelchair ramps and Braille signs are encountered only rarely in buildings in the country. However, the topic of access has started receiving prominence in the media and in the IT sector. I think we will continue to see greater attention and increased public awareness in the near future.

Question #2: How can technical communicators in India promote the need for accessibility - in India, in the world?

[Mak] First and foremost, we need to make people aware of this issue. The issue needs to be taken up at various government levels and social platforms. We tried this by inviting Ms. Sakina Bedi to deliver a lecture on "Communicating with the blind" at the 2003 STC India's Pune Conference. Ms. Bedi is an active volunteer working for the visually impaired. She is associated with a school for underprivileged blind girls in Alandi, a small village near Pune. Her presentation, "Communicating with the Blind," was very well received, and she even demonstrated how the visually challenged people work. After her presentation, a small group of volunteers, including myself, began working with her to create "Devnagari Text-to-Speech." Devnagari is script used to write the Hindi language. This has already started delivering good results. Secondly, we also need to make product designers aware of the needs of disabled people and provide them with guidelines for meeting these needs. Perhaps we need to set aside our communicator hats and get involved in product designing to some extent. This would be an interesting experience for us as well. [PN] Technical communicators in India are already playing a role in promoting accessibility. The awareness of the challenges faced by the disabled appears to be higher among technical communicators in the IT sector (as opposed to the general population). In our twin roles as end-user educators and corporate communicators, technical communicators can do much to bring this issue to the attention of people (within and outside an organization). Additionally, technical communicators can act as accessibility advocates both in the organization and in society.

Question #3: What are educational opportunities like for people with disabilities in India? Does a lot depend on where you live and your economic situation? Is there governmental assistance of any kind?

[Mak] There are many educational opportunities available. We have a good network of non-profit entities working for this cause. Many are taking their share in contributing to educational facilities while some are contributing to health-care and medical aid. I need to mention here that I am not an expert in this field and have started working in this area very recently. I feel that there is a good network of organizations acting for the visually challenged. But the same cannot be said about groups of people affected by other disabilities. [PN] Despite a relative paucity of resources, social and not-for-profit organizations have been active in developing educational opportunities for the disabled. However, these opportunities are not uniform throughout the country and vary based on location and economic situation (as you rightly mention). Unlike Europe or North America, India does not have government social welfare programs or monetary assistance schemes for the poor or the elderly. Though I hesitate to make predictions, I think increased (and equal) educational opportunities will follow public awareness and economic prosperity.

Question #4: There must be a challenge in India with not just different languages, but different writing systems. How can technology (from anywhere) handle that challenge, and what role can technical communicators in India play in dealing with these challenges?

[Mak] Indians speak different types of languages which use altogether different scripts. Thanks to the advancements in computers, it is now possible to develop computer-based tools for communication and character recognition. Much work is being done at the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC) and many other universities and institutes. We have almost completed the Devnagari TTS that will help people who are proficient in Hindi, Marathi, and other languages that use Devnagari script. The next logical step will be to develop Optical Character Recognition (OCR) systems. Similar work needs to be done in other languages as well. As it is, the level of education in rural parts of India is considerably less. Add to that the fact that not everyone is educated in English. Therefore, using tools developed by others (English speaking nations) may not be a solution to our problems. We need to develop a lot of this technology indigenously. But this applies only to the visually challenged. What about others? There is considerable scope for holding hands globally. If our foreign counterparts can help us to use technology without paying a premium cost, it can really help. We can, in turn, pass on the information about the lessons learned while implementing this technology. Thus, it could be a mutually beneficial relationship. Technical communicators need to understand and address the communication requirements of the challenged people. The rest will happen. Many of these minds are actually much better and sharper than ours. [PN] Indians speak many languages and use a variety of native scripts. Not surprisingly, Indian software developers have been very active in creating native Indian language software for many years now. I do not see the multiplicity of languages as a real problem because most Indians are multilingual. Additionally, the Indian software industry's global expertise may actually help in the design and development of tailored solutions for the diverse local market.

Question #5: Technology can provide solutions to problems in the area of accessibility. Where do you see these technology initiatives coming from: Entrepreneurs and the grassroots, or from the government, laws, and financial necessity? And, again, where do technical communicators stand in this picture?

[Mak] I do not consider myself knowledgeable enough to answer this question. However, here is what I feel. I think this responsibility is not that of the government or the entrepreneurs. It is a moral and social responsibility of all of us. I think each one of us (or at least those who are aware and can afford to) should spend at least 50 professional hours every year for the cause of accessibility. This in itself will be a great contribution. Spending money is not required. Spending quality time will be worth much more than money. We (technical communicators, trainers, programmers) can contribute our skills for this cause and within two years there could be a considerable difference in the world around us. We can:
  • Increase awareness in the society
  • Write articles about these issues
  • Conduct training sessions for people affected or for the volunteers working for this cause
  • Help develop better products by passing on our ideas to product designers
  • Build a network to bring people together (across nations if possible)
I try to do this myself and I get tremendous satisfaction while doing so. [PN] The Indian IT industry has developed into a leading segment of the economy in spite of government, not because of it. The success of the Indian IT industry can be attributed to individuals like Narayan Moorthy (Infosys) and Aseem Premji (Wipro) who saw the global potential of Indian software developers and management professionals in the mid-1980s. These individuals contributed to the creation of a new industrial sector despite rigid socialist control of the economy and notorious bureaucratic red tape. In my opinion, future accessibility solutions based on technology will be driven primarily by entrepreneurs and grassroots non-government organizations. Their success, coupled with a laissez-faire attitude by the government, may automatically ensure a change in attitudes, and, by extension, the law.

Question #6: Telecommuting could be one way that technical communicators with disabilities can continue to be active in the job market. What is the attitude to telecommuting in India? The sheer size of the country must make it an attractive option for anyone!

[Mak] Telecommuting is becoming popular in India. Actually, many people here are doing such assignments for clients in UK, Japan and the USA. I know many people who are interested in telecommuting, as it offers good earning potential. I know a few people who are physically challenged and are using this as an option effectively. [PN] Telecommuting is popular in India; Indian telecommuters are also an important part of global software development and management. Improved access to technology in rural areas will contribute to improved opportunities for professionals with disabilities. Companies like NIIT (with its acclaimed "Hole in the Wall" project) demonstrate the power of technology as an opportunity enabler.

Question #7: Do you have any good accessibility resources that you can share, such as the Disability India Network (

[Mak/PN] Here are two resources we have found valuable: Mak Pandit is the membership manager for the Accessibility SIG. He is a technical communicator and CEO of Technowrites Pvt. Ltd. You can reach him at email hidden; JavaScript is required. Prashant Natarajan is a technical communicator and a usability consultant. At present, he is a PhD student at Texas Tech University. Prashant was the membership manager of the India chapter of STC from 2001 to 2003. For more information about NIIT's "Hole in the Wall," see: Interview conducted by Karen Mardahl, Co-Manager, Accessibility SIG.

Quantum Leaps in Seattle: Maureen Hogg Holds Audience Spellbound With Demonstration of Assistive Technology

By Dan Voss, Past Manager, Accessibility SIG It was a proud moment for the Accessibility SIG as Maureen Hogg and Kathy Lopez put on an amazing demonstration of the electronic access technologies that have enabled Maureen to overcome a dual disability, earn a degree in historiography at the University of Northern Colorado, and go on to a highly successful 27-year career as a technical writer at Ball Aerospace. Maureen, who has been legally blind and deaf since the age of 15, presented in three sessions at the 52nd annual STC international conference in Seattle, WA, May 9-10. Assisted by electronic publishing expert and colleague Kathy Lopez, who also served as Maureen's personal escort and interpreter during the conference, Maureen moderated and co-presented in Session TE40, "Your Career: From Student to Second Career;" was one of eight Accessibility SIG presenters in Session PD2O, a panel discussion entitled "Making Products-and the World-More Accessible;" and explained and demonstrated the assistive technologies she uses in Session UID7T, "Quantum Leaps." In TE4O, Maureen and Dan Voss co-presented "Same Methods, Different Disciplines: The Historian and the Linguist as Technical Communicators," showing how she, as a history major, and he, as an English major, were both able to parlay skills mastered in a liberal arts major into successful careers in technical communication. In addition to presenting half of that briefing, Maureen served as session moderator for TE40, introducing herself, Dan, and the third presenter, Dr. Don Samson of Radford University in Virginia, who spoke on college/industry internships. Both presentations were well received by a young and enthusiastic audience. In PD20, Maureen and Kathy kicked off the panel discussion with a brief overview of how she has used assistive technologies to overcome a dual disability. Other topics in the session included deafness (Andy Malcolm), visual impairment (Gloria Reece), mobility restrictions (Fabien Vais), mental/emotional disabilities (Helen Marty), attention deficit disorder (Mike Murray), and secondary disabilities (Dan Voss). Under the steady hand of moderator Prashant Natarajan of Auburn University, the Accessibility SIG presenters compressed oodles of substantive information into pithy 6- to 7-minute presentations that filled the 60-minute slot and kept several fascinated attendees lingering beyond the appointed time with follow-up questions. It was in UID7T, that Maureen had her strongest impact. "Quantum Leaps" was a truly awesome demonstration. Not only did Maureen and Kathy provide a compelling explanation and demonstration, they overcame two vexing computer lock-ups by a cantankerous JAWS program that saw its opportunity to wreak havoc in a public forum and pounced. Indeed, Maureen, unfazed by the predictable intervention of Murphy's Law as it applies to Braille devices, nimbly turned the glitches to her advantage by demonstrating in real time the patient and painstaking approach she uses to overcome technical challenges and produce the quality information products that have earned her 15 writing awards in her career. Best of all, she drew upon the blazing wit that has so endeared her to her friends and colleagues. When she made a typo in keystroking, she commented dryly, "Well, Braille only duplicates what you put in. It does not correct for operator error!" And when she was asked by an attendee why she referred to the Braille computer and JAWS as a "he," she dead-panned, "We always use male terminology because the tools are hard to communicate with and very difficult to work with." Needless to say, that brought down the house, which was comprised predominantly of female communicators! Touché, Maureen! And hats off - you did us proud!

Starfish Chamber: Meet Jim Jones

Reprinted by permission from Byline, bi-monthly publication of the Chicago Chapter of STC, May/June 2005, Volume 47, Number 5. Byline interviewed Jim Jones, STC member, freelance writer, and chairman of the Chicago chapter workshop committee. While Jim has a disability called ataxia, he doesn't let this stop him from being active in his profession and his professional organization.

Question (Q): Tell me about your background.

Jim Jones (JJ): I went to college at the University of Chicago, where I learned Mandarin Chinese and German. I started out a physics major but switched to linguistics. I found that I was very good in Chinese and when I was near the end of college I began looking for a full time Chinese translation job. It was not until much later (9 years) that I would get into technical writing by taking a correspondence course in technical writing from UC Berkeley.

Q: How did you become interested in Technical Writing?

JJ: I was always a good writer and liked expressing myself in written form. Of course I became much better when I applied myself to the question of what makes writing good. My severe disability (ataxia) came on in 1993. It effectively preempted any attempt by me to work. In 1995 I joined STC. Today I am chairman of the workshop committee, finding locations and setting up dates and times.

Q: What do you enjoy about technical writing?

JJ: Technical writing is supposed to inform while being easy to read, but that doesn't mean it can't be entertaining. For example, the manner in which it is presented - it should be attractive, the writing itself should be good, fact-filled and informative.

Q: What are your goals and current projects?

JJ: I am focused on getting more clients and growing my business. I am also concentrating on finishing and marketing some of my short publications and technical publications such as MS Word Tutorial, Cartoon and Chinese Characters Collection. I'm currently working on a rush job - editing and formatting an applied math paper for a university in China.

Q: Do you have any advice for a would-be freelance technical writer?

JJ: Part of technical communication is understanding about human communication and its problems. Part of it is understanding about how technical things are supposed to work. The good technical communicator does his or her craft by putting these two things together well. And remember, if freelancing were easy everyone would do it.

Assistive Technology, Disability, and Adventure Conference

By Lori Gillen, Boston Chapter On Friday, May 6, 2005, I visited a world where accessibility for people with disabilities was on the forefront of everyone's mind-inventors, software designers, educators, athletes, parents, and children. I was at "Assistive Technology, Disability & Adventure," Hampshire College's seventh annual forum in assistive technology. The conference was presented by the Lemelson Assistive Technology Development Center (LATDC) and the School for Interdisciplinary Arts of Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Changing the Image of the Disabled

The overall message from this one-day event was for disability advocates to change the perception of how the mainstream world views people with disabilities. The disabled can no longer be seen as helpless, needy, dependent, and relegated to the sidelines. People with disabilities are kayaking, skiing, mountain climbing, and participating in Olympic sports. These examples were heavily portrayed throughout the conference. The keynote speaker was Mark Wellman, a mountaineer and avid outdoorsman, who suffered a mountain-climbing accident in 1982 that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Mark talked about how he has been able to continue his passion for mountain-climbing with the help of his climbing partner, Mike Corbett. Mark talked about several of his adventures which included his 1989 climb of the 3,000 foot El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. Mark wrote an autobiography called Climbing Back, and he documented several videos showing physically disabled people enjoying outdoor activities, and the equipment they use to help them do so. Patrick Miller, a Hampshire alumnus with CP who is currently studying public policy at the University of Massachusetts, briefly discussed his experiences on a canoe trip, explaining that he pushed his own physical limits to enjoy the trip and emerged as a much stronger and happier individual as a result. A panel of Olympic athletes discussed the Olympics and the role of the Paralympic Games within this movement. The panel as a whole suggested that the "disability image" can be shifted by publicizing people with disabilities performing accomplishments that break barriers. They discussed the need to give the Paralympic Games the same media coverage that is given to the core Olympics, possibly by combining the two events in the same venue, and running them at the same time. This adaptive cycle allows people with lower-body disabilities to "pedal" with their hands. It was one of many such accessibility-enabling inventions showcased at "Assistive Technology, Disability, and Adventure," the seventh annual forum on assistive technology at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. Panel members included Dr. Ted Fay, an Associate Professor of the Sports Management Program of SUNY-Cortland, who has an extensive background in international sports and the Olympic and Paralympic movements; Jon McCullough, a member of United States Paralympic Soccer Team since 1996 and an advocate for promoting sporting opportunities for people with disabilities; Artemis Joukowsky, III, co-author of the book Raising the Bar: New Horizons in Disability Sport, which features the words and portraits of athletes with disabilities, and which last month was on display at the United Nations (Artemis trained for the Paralympics in table tennis, and has been active in disability sport for years); and Eli Wolff, the program director of the Disability in Sports Program at Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sport in Society (Eli competed on the United States Soccer Team during the 1996 and 2004 Paralympic Games).

Creating Assistive Technology to Break Barriers

The other strong conference "take-away" message was that with the right tools and technology, people with disabilities can accomplish as much as their able-bodied counterparts. Hampshire College paves the road to accessibility through the Lemelson Assistive Technology Development Center where students are trained to design their inventions with humanity as their main focus. This conference exemplified how Hampshire College is responding to the needs of the disabled with a showcase of student inventions. Participants visited individual tables where students were on hand to demonstrate their inventions. Projects included a hands-free book holder, a prosthetic arm for frisbee, a canoe footrest to improve the posture and increase the stability of users with lower body disabilities, and a wheelchair trailer. For other student inventions, go to Vendors and program leaders conducted one-hour workshops on the equipment they provide to allow people with disabilities to enjoy outdoor activities. Participants were able to attend two workshops. I attended a presentation by Bill Allen, owner of Forever Young Treehouses, who showed us samples of accessible treehouses he has designed for personal and commercial use. Then I attended a demonstration of adaptive cycles for the disabled. I tried out one foot-pedal tricycle designed for people who do not have the energy level needed to ride a two-wheeler, and then two cycles that were pedaled by hand. Presenters for the cycle exposition included Mike Augsperger from One-Off Titanium, Bill Darby of Special Purpose Vehicles, Marcy Marchello from Massachusetts DCR Universal Access Program, and Megan Briggs from All Out Adventures. Other workshops included Real Windsurfing and Accessible Setups for All, Adaptive Scuba Diving, Inclusive Flat-Water Kayaking, and Adaptive Climbing. The Lemelson Assistive Technology Development Center was founded by an inventor by the name of Jerome Lemelson. The mission of the center is to provide students with an experiential education in applied design, invention, and entrepreneurship through engagement in assistive technology and universal design problem-solving. LATDC achieves this mission through a combination of courses, activities, internships, collaborations with business and non-profit organizations; and through teams of students who design, develop, and make equipment available for people with disabilities worldwide.


The cover of the conference brochure reads "Push Limits. Create Access. Break Barriers." The world that I entered when I attended this conference portrays people with disabilities as those who can do anything given the appropriate assistive tools and equipment. Hampshire is a leader in teaching future generations of designers and inventors the importance of providing this equipment and designing for humanity.

Accessibility SIG Captures Coveted Pacesetter Award!

By Mike Murray, Co-Manager, Accessibility SIG Once again STC's Accessibility SIG has set the pace for others to follow. At the Society's May 10 Awards Banquet in Seattle, Washington, Society Virtual Communities Manager Dana Chisnell proudly proclaimed that the Accessibility SIG had won one of only two SIG Pacesetter awards. The award was presented in recognition of the outstanding work done by our members, led by Fabien Vais, for the past four years on the conference Accessibility Guide, our highly accessible website, and our outreach to STC members with special needs. The award citation reads:
For reaching out to STC members with special needs and disabilities; for supporting those members by developing an excellent Accessibility Guide for the annual conference in 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005; for setting an example for all STC communities by creating a highly accessible SIG website; and for contributing to the accessibility of the Society's website.
While we are the smallest SIG, with 262 members as of June 30, the Accessibility SIG is certainly one of the most active of all 21 of the Society's Special Interest Groups. The second Pacesetter award went to the Management SIG with a membership of 1,396. The SIG Pacesetter award, which recognizes SIGs for outstandingly innovative and successful activities, is designed as a one-time celebration of excellence in the specific activity for which the SIG is nominated. A SIG may be nominated for a Pacesetter award only by the SIG advocate on the board of directors and only for an activity or event. A SIG may be selected for a Pacesetter award only by a two-thirds vote of the board of directors. The SIG advocate may nominate any number of SIGs for the award; however, the board bestows only a maximum of two SIG Pacesetter awards in any given year.

Accessibility SIG website Garners Two Awards

By Lisa Pappas, Carolina Chapter In June and July of 2005, the Accessibility SIG website received two prestigious awards:
  • American Association of Webmasters Gold Award
  • 2005 APEX Award for Publication Excellence
In the American Association of Webmasters, Gold Award, judges noted the "clean design and layout...with quality content and informative information for your visitors." The American Association of Webmasters' monthly awards recognize Webmasters and designers who show outstanding achievement in Web design, content and creativity. The annual APEX awards recognize excellence in graphic design, editorial content, and the success of the entry in achieving overall communications effectiveness and excellence. Of the 4,942 entries evaluated, 100 APEX Grand Awards were presented in 11 major categories. In the category of One to Two Person-Produced Web & Intranet Sites, the STC Accessibility SIG website received an Award for Publication Excellence. Kudos to our Web Divas, Cynthia Lockley and Leslie Reed. To learn more, visit the trophy room at

Newsletter Credits

Achieve! is published for members of the STC Accessibility Special Interest Group. Please submit articles, graphics, and letters of opinion for publication to the editor. Note: By submitting an item for publication, you implicitly grant a license to Achieve! to publish the material and for any other STC publications to reprint it without permission. Copyright is held by the writer. Please inform the editor if a submitted item was published elsewhere and if it has been submitted for consideration to other publications. Permission to reprint any material herein is granted provided that credit is given and a copy of the issue is sent to the editor. Achieve! is also available online at Select the "Newsletter" link. Editor: Lisa Pappas Copy editors: Kim McConnell, Karen Mardahl, Mike Murray, and Dan Voss Contributors: Lori Gillen, Gail Lippincott, Karen Mardahl, Mike Murray, Fabien Vais, Dan Voss
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Achieve! April 05

Achieve! STC Accessibility SIG Newsletter

January - April 2005 Volume 3, Number 1

  • Coming of Age: The Accessibility SIG in Year Three
  • Manager's Column
  • Accessibility SIG Logo
  • Congratulations: You Have ADD!
  • The Starfish Chamber: Making a Difference!
  • Accessibility, Section 508, and Adobe Acrobat PDF
  • Accessibility Testing by People with Disabilities As a Best Practice
  • Join the Conversation
  • Newsletter Credits
  • Related Links

Coming of Age: The Accessibility SIG in Year Three

By Dan Voss, Orlando Chapter Can the Accessibility SIG really be three years old? Yes, we really are. And since we really are, wouldn't this be an appropriate time to take a brief look back at our original vision, see how we stack up against it now as we recharter ourselves as part of the STC Transformation, and determine where we should go from here? Let's do. To some of us, it seems like just yesterday we were a fledgling organization struggling to get off the ground. I remember well the frantic scramble to line up our first 75 members and secure their original signatures on petitions to present to the Board before the 2002 international conference in Dallas. At the time, I was manager of our predecessor organization, the Special Needs Committee (SNC), founded in 1997 by Judy Skinner of the Lone Star Chapter. Just three months before the conference, we were informed that we were to be terminated as a committee. Rather than disband, the SNC elected to take on the daunting task of quadrupling our membership in 90 days in order to be reinstituted as a Special Interest Group (SIG). Impossible? That word is not in our vocabulary. (See In World Cup Soccer and in Overcoming Disabilities, "Impossible" is Just Another Word for "Work Harder") We did it! But we had no time to rest on that accomplishment. I remember well the disappointment of learning just a month into our existence as a SIG that our budget, now allocated strictly on a per capita basis, would be reduced more than 75 percent from the budget we had received as a committee and upon which our goals, objectives, and activities were based. This fresh crisis prompted another intensive membership campaign, far more extensive than the first one. Under the code name "Operation Starfish," 14 hardy volunteers contacted nearly every STC chapter in the world, explaining our mission and seeking new members. The result? We grew from just over 100 to nearly 260 members. Compared to our original SNC roster of 20, this represented an unbelievable growth of 1,300 percent in just over 11 months. That success, coupled with some generous corporate and personal sponsorships, secured our funding for our first year. The next year we changed our name from the Special Needs SIG (SNSIG) to the Accessibility SIG , adopted a new logo featuring a butterfly that flies despite an injured wing, and an official motto: "The Wind Beneath Your Wings." (See Accessibility SIG Logo). We also pumped more monetary mortar into our fiscal foundation with a highly successful fund-raiser. Code-named "Operation Butterfly," our sale of Accessibility SIG lapel pins featuring our new name, logo, and motto generated nearly $600 in revenue (after costs). The logo became quite the rage at the international conference in Baltimore. We still have a sizable inventory of already-paid-for pins that will support another fund-raiser when the time is right. Since then, we have finally been able to stop fighting for our survival as an organization and start focusing on our dual mission: helping technical communicators with disabilities in the practice of our profession and helping all technical communicators design information products that are fully accessible to end users with disabilities. The original charter of the SNC was the first half of that dual mission. The second half has taken on added emphasis over the past three years as accessibility of information emerges as a new specialty within our profession. Uniting the two parts of the mission is a vision of what many would consider to be an impossible dream - universal accessibility. This takes me back to the compelling story which Judy Skinner told in her landmark paper in 2000, "My Brain Works but My Legs Don't: Let's Take the 'Dis' out of 'Disabilities'":
I'm reminded of the story about the beach strewn with starfish and the little girl picking them up and throwing them back in the ocean. 'Little girl,' a passer-by said, 'what are you doing?' 'I'm saving starfish,' she replied. 'But there are so many! Your efforts can't possibly make a difference.' As she picked up another starfish, the little girl said, 'It makes a difference to that one.' We ask you to help us make a difference.
To measure our accomplishments against our vision, we should look at how many "starfish" we have saved. Those of you who subscribe to our robust and dynamic listserv will vouch for the fact that almost daily our SIG has provided support to fellow practitioners as well as family members, friends, associates, and members of the general public who have disabilities. Over and over, our members have been forthcoming with valuable technical information, leads to outstanding resources, and, most importantly, strong words of encouragement. We are more than a SIG; we are a family - the doors of our electronic "home" are always open to those who need our help. At the same time, we have also maintained a continuous exchange of bleeding-edge technical information to help technical communicators design information products that are fully accessible to end users with disabilities. Step by step, we are helping to effect a cultural change - a paradigm shift - one that will eventually lead to a society that views an inaccessible Website or a conference room not equipped with assistive hearing technologies with the same intolerance as a public building with steep stairs and no access ramp. We're not there yet, but we are getting there. And that's just the listserv. Throughout the past three years, our comprehensive website has continued to grow to the point where it has truly become a definitive online international resource in the field. This year, in preparation for the 52nd international conference in Seattle, we will be publishing our fourth consecutive Conference Guide for People with Special Needs (online, in advance, and printed copies at the conference), as well as an Addendum printed and distributed onsite following a site visit to check for last-minute challenges. Each year, our level of involvement in the conference has increased, with more technical sessions devoted to accessibility, more papers published in the proceedings, more materials posted to the conference website (and on our own website). We recently conducted a highly successful Call for Articles and have selected a blue-chip line-up of accessibility experts as authors to contribute to a February 2006 edition of Technical Communication thematically dedicated to disabilities and accessibility as they pertain to technical communicators and the information products we create. And let's not forget Achieve! We've been "off the air" for a while, but we have several outstanding editions in our online archives and, as you can tell, we're back now to bring you more of the same! So let's take stock of our accomplishments. As a direct result of the Accessibility SIG, people have attended international conferences who otherwise would not have been able to, and many more have had a much better experience than they would have had without our involvement. Because of Accessibility SIG, many professionals with disabilities, both within and outside the profession, have found the resources and encouragement they need to succeed. And as a direct result of the Accessibility SIG, the world's shared database on accessibility has been significantly enriched and continues to grow daily. Truly, we have been the wind beneath many wings. Can we rest? Of course not. The beach is still strewn with starfish. But have we been true to our vision? You bet we have! My friends, the Accessibility SIG has come of age. As I look back and recall the countless hours we put in to help the Accessibility SIG get off the ground, I ask myself, was it all worth it? You bet it was! We can look back with pride, and we can look forward with hope, because, as the little girl said, we make a difference.

Manager's Column

Fabien Vais, STC Accessibility SIG Manager Our SIG is growing up. It is actually in its third phase of development. Many of you may know that we started as a handful of stubborn, tireless, and passionate people determined to make known the concept of "accessibility." Thus, the Special Needs Committee grew into the Accessibility SIG. We were nearly wiped off the map at one point for lack of members. We launched a historic membership drive that catapulted our SIG into financial stability by quickly more than quadrupling our membership. However, this sudden rise proved short-lived. By the next STC membership renewal time, our membership dropped sharply by 15-20 percent, possibly because some who joined the first year did so primarily as financial patrons rather than active SIG participants. Now, however, our membership not only has rebounded but also has surpassed even our highest number ever. The latest count (March 31, 2005) puts our membership at a comfortable 290 members! The best part about this is that the members who are now with us seem to be here because they have chosen to be actively involved, not just because they wanted to help us financially. Our members come from over a dozen countries, including North America, Europe, India, and Japan. The quality of our newsletter and our website is now well-known. Our presence at the annual conference has grown steadily every year. We have joined forces with the Usability SIG on many occasions to solve queries on our listserv or to present joint panels at the annual conference. We have an online shop where you can soon buy many items bearing our SIG logo. Finally, for the fourth consecutive year, our SIG is again publishing the ever popular Accessibility Guide, for all conference attendees with special needs. In short, our SIG is doing fine. Most importantly, we continue to do the two things we set out to from the start - helping people one by one and advertizing the fact that we are experts in accessibility. So far, we have managed very well in these two fundamental initiatives. A SIG-wide mandate provided overwhelming approval of our new logo and motto. The logo can be seen on the home page of the Accessibility SIG website. The motto is copyrighted under The Wind Beneath Your Wings© Copyright 1999, Barbara Luther, The Accessibility SIG acknowledges Barbara's kind permission to share her slogan. For more information, read about the history of the SIG's logos in Coming of Age: The Accessibility SIG in Year Three.

Congratulations: You Have ADD!

By Mike Murray, Orlando Chapter President You say you have Attention Deficit Disorder? Wow, that's great! Congratulations! No, I haven't lost my mind - at least not yet. A positive attitude is a tool I've learned to use as a coping mechanism for dealing with some of the challenges that life hurls my way. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's back up and establish what Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is from my perspective, how I came to realize I have it, and a little about how I came to deal with it. Having established that foundation for discussion, I'll let you in on ways not only of dealing with the disorder that work for me, but also of actually capitalizing on its positive traits - and there are several. That's the good news, which is really what this paper is all about.


Let's begin by clarifying a question that sometimes confused me in my quest to become educated about my condition, "What's the difference between ADD and ADHD?" The difference is mainly one of terminology, which can be confusing at times. The "official" clinical diagnosis is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or AD/HD (sometimes just ADHD). ADD can (obviously) stay with a person into adulthood. Sometimes the "hyperactivity" component stays as well, but very often that piece diminishes with maturity.



ADD is a complex disorder, the exact nature and severity of which varies from person to person. Some of the characteristics associated with ADD, such as distractibility, impulsivity, and hyperactivity, are things that can happen to anybody at various times. The difference is that people with ADD consistently display these and other symptoms for many years, as opposed to occasionally. In addition, these behaviors can create a real handicap in two or more areas of a person's life (e.g., home, work, or social settings).


A popular method of determining whether ADD may be a factor in your behavior is to examine a general adult ADD checklist to further define your symptoms. In conjunction with other diagnostic techniques, the world-renowned ADD researcher, Daniel G. Amen, MD, uses a checklist that you can find on the website. While this is not a tool you should use to make a final diagnosis, it can help you determine whether it is appropriate to follow up with an experienced professional.

Personal History

There is an excellent probability that ADD is hereditary. After spending most of my life feeling that something "wasn't right" with me, a very insightful counselor suddenly said to me after numerous sessions, "You have ADD!" It was a euphoric moment for both of us. At long last, I could put a label on the "something" that had been troubling me my whole life! I was astonished several years later when I was discussing my father's Parkinson's disease with my stepmother. At one point in the conversation, she casually mentioned something about his ADD. Of course, neither my stepmother nor father realized that the condition was hereditary. If you suspect you might have ADD, the first thing you must do is make a beeline for your immediate family and find out if anyone before you has ADD. It could save you a lot of time and frustration and result in a higher quality of life sooner than later.

Ways to Cope

I'll address specific circumstances in a moment, but first I'll share the more general methods I've adopted that have successfully helped me cope with ADD and, yes, even embrace it. Some people have even stated with conviction that, given a choice and knowing what they know now, they would keep their ADD! It's part of what makes them who they are today.

Positive ADD Characteristics

Here is the great news! In addition to characteristics that are generally considered to be less than positive, ADD definitely has some very positive characteristics. Some of the positive characteristics that I choose to dwell on include endless energy, great imagination, creativity, humor, ahead of "establishment" thinking, creative thinking and problem solving, and a great passion for interests. A good resource for identifying and relating to positive ADD characteristics is the Hunters, Explorers and Dreamers...Different Ways to View Your ADD Traits website.

Positive Attitude

Thinking positively about having ADD is especially important because ADD is so often a descriptive label that focuses on a narrow set of negative traits. You may have noticed in "Positive ADD Characteristics" that I said I choose to dwell on positive things. Know this if you know or believe nothing else - having a positive attitude rather than a negative one is most definitely a choice! One day a few years ago, I decided that I was tired of feeling down and depressed. I wanted to feel better about myself and about life. I made a choice to change things. Now, making a decision to be a positive person and following through on it are two very different things. For me, the journey was difficult at times as I worked every day to see my world and everything in it in a positive light. It wasn't long, however, before I realized that maintaining my positive attitude was becoming easier and more automatic every day. Today, I'm thrilled to report that I am a generally positive person!


One of the techniques I chose to support my developing positive attitude was to establish a humorous outlook. I think the funniest moments can come from taking literally some of the things people say. I also enjoy puns. I realize my kinds of humor may have a limited audience, so instead I offer You know you have ADD when.... There is a big difference between ridiculing yourself and enjoying the humor in life. Choose to enjoy life and take some of the lesser consequences of ADD with a grain of salt.

The Clutter

For many people with ADD, the biggest challenge is dealing with clutter, both physical and mental. We don't function well in a cluttered environment.


The only thing that's worse than living in a physically cluttered environment is having to clean it up. I have a book about dealing with clutter somewhere at home, but I can't find it! Sadly, this isn't a joke - it's true! And talk about procrastination (another ADD characteristic)! The best recommendation I can make is to dedicate a Saturday or even an entire weekend to nothing but organizing and eliminating the clutter in your office area. Don't turn on a radio. Don't check your e-mail. Close the door so nobody will know you are there. If necessary, unplug your phone. But most importantly, be strong and firm with yourself and show up! For additional ideas regarding how to deal with physical clutter, see Articles about Clutter and Organizing.


Mental clutter can be every bit as debilitating as physical clutter! Earlier, I listed "a great passion for interests" as a positive characteristic that I choose to dwell on. I also said that some positive characteristics can fall into a "not so positive" category depending upon how you handle them. Well, I have numerous interests, and I want to be perfect in all of them. I remember once talking with the counselor who originally diagnosed my ADD. I was discussing my sleep difficulties (another ADD characteristic) and remember stating that I felt sleep was a waste of time and that I wish I never had to. She asked me what I would do if I never had to sleep. After I rattled off my extensive list, she asked me, "Do you realize that two people couldn't do all that in their lifetimes?" Over time, I've adjusted to not being able to do everything I'd like to do, but I still do too much. I've come to realize that "only" three or four extra interests can be too much when you have "a great passion for your interests." I'm working now to find a better balance in my life between my outside interests, my career, and my family. It's time to back off and de-clutter my mind!


One of the most difficult questions for a person with ADD to answer is, "Should I tell my boss?" Unfortunately (or fortunately), there is not one "yes" or "no" answer for everyone. The answer has to be "It depends on your boss." I have taken the calculated risk of telling mine about my ADD, and all is well. Because I proved myself first, she knows I won't use ADD as an excuse, and she knows it's not a detriment to my work. If your ADD is severe enough that you absolutely must have special work accommodations, you may have no choice but to reveal yourself sooner. You know yourself, your circumstances, your boss, and your company's culture better than anyone else, so the decision is yours alone. ADHD Articles contains some marvelous articles that could help you deal with daily life, college, and workplace issues, including information about the Americans with Disabilities act and your workplace accommodation entitlements under the act.


The best thing you can do for yourself once you've been diagnosed as having ADD is to become educated about your lifelong friend. (Note the positive attitude!) In the "References" section, I have included just a few of the resources that I use regularly in my journey with my pal ADD. There is much more I could have discussed in this article, things like tips for organizing your day and managing your time. I chose to cover the topics that have the most impact for me in my own continuing education, the ones I know the most about because I have lived them. The rest of your education is up to you. Of course, the good news is you have ADD!


When one door closes another door opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us. Alexander Graham Bell (diagnosed with ADD)


The Starfish Chamber: Making a Difference!

Compiled By Lisa Pappas, Carolina Chapter, Accessibility SIG Achieve! Editor Over the Accessibility SIG's three-year history, our listserv has proven an invaluable resource from advice to guidance to empathy. This archived response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision exposes our beach-combers. Fourteen years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, it took a Supreme Court case to state that Americans with disabilities "deserve equal access and accommodation at government buildings, such as courthouses and schools, in all states." (Bill Mears. CNN Washington Bureau. May 17, 2004)

Kathy Alerts the List

At 2:59 PM -0400 5/17/04, Katharyn Bine wrote: Check it out:

Kim Responds

We transport our 8-year-old son in a wheelchair (he is unable to move, so we push him). I continue to be amazed at how many places are still not accessible. Here's my short list:
  • Our attorney's office.
  • Our pediatrician's old office (new office is better, but not great).
  • Elevators at our children's hospital are too small for his chair; security has to let us use the transport elevators.
  • Old school buildings (we successfully got that fixed).
And this doesn't even go into the accessible parking issues that we have with our son and the van we transport him in. I agree that the court decision was a step in the right direction, but there is still a lot to do. We have learned to advocate for each situation, but often times with no success. We just keep trying and hope to not tire of trying to make a difference.

Cynthia's Experiences

I heard about this on the radio yesterday. The ruling is good for state-owned government buildings but I still don't think that this will provide a way to get an accessible entrance to two of my local post office buildings. The post office belongs to the U.S. government. I think there is a caveat for Federal buildings that says building access doesn't have to comply if it is not technically feasible or it will cost too much to renovate an existing building built before 1968. I haven't tried to go to a post office since 1999. Perhaps the access has changed since then but here is what I encountered then. The seven steps on the Riverdale, MD post office are steep (taller than average risers) and take you up one flight on the outside of the building. My husband, Dennis, said it is even difficult for him as a "normal" person to climb them. Because the main floor level is very high up, a straight ramp would be dangerous. A ramp would have to wrap around itself several times or be a block long to make a gentler slope. Or build a platform lift. The building is very close to the road and the outside edge of the stairs is near the sidewalk. The steps have two handicapped parking places in front of them. I called the post office and asked if they had a handicapped entrance and the answer was "No ma'am." I was able to get in the Greenbelt, MD post office. It is a little better – a few low steps to climb to get from the parking lot into the building. It's okay for a walker or someone on crutches but not for a wheelchair or scooter. And I don't think that either post office complies with any of the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards, Section 9, Postal Facilities, for the internal requirements (table height, etc.). I got the following response to my questions about this back in 1999 from a friend of a friend: I am very happy to answer your questions to the limits of my ability.... Since 1968 when the Architectural Barriers Act was passed by Congress, all federally funded construction projects have had to be accessible. That means if the buildings were built or remodeled since that time they would have to be accessible. Buildings that have not been remodeled would be affected [because] accessibility would be required when the program was viewed as a whole. This means that they could have a different branch [that is] accessible and get away with not having certain branches accessible. Seems like a crime to me, but it's the law. John P.S. Salmen, AIA President, Universal Designers & Consultants, Inc; Publisher - Universal Design Newsletter (Universal Design and Consultants offers facility assessments for accessibility and provides self-survey analysis systems.) I should visit the post offices again to see if there has been any improvement in the last 5 years, but I doubt it. Pre-1968 buildings don't have to comply unless they get renovated or get additions to the existing building. Fortunately, parcels are usually left at our doorstep under the carport. If there is one that has to be picked up at the post office, I can send my husband to get it. I can buy stamps over the phone or on the USPS website, and I use UPS to mail packages.

Karen Recalls a Positive Difference Made

This reminds me of a little anecdote connected with the Accessibility SIG pins. I asked for the pins to be sent to my mom in Pennsylvania because she was preparing a care package for me (here in Denmark). Bonnie included some card about the Accessibility SIG. (I haven't gotten the package yet, so I don't have the details.) Well, my mom showed it to a woman who lives in her building. My mom lives in a retirement-type housing (she's 80 and mobile, but some residents are much younger and aren't mobile - that kind of housing). This woman is in a wheelchair and apparently goes around in a group in Harrisburg, PA, to check on public facilities, like restaurants, and see how easy it is for people with assistive devices to use their facilities. She got all excited about the Accessibility SIG logo and whatever else was on the card. She thought the Accessibility SIG was the greatest thing she'd come across. I said I'd be happy to talk to her, but she hasn't called yet. (I tried sending my mom the SIG website link, but my mom and her computer are not always on speaking terms!) My mom always said that improved (special) educational opportunities only came about through the blood, sweat, tears, and loads of patience from parents - the grassroots level. This woman is a part of another grassroots movement. The world may not notice them, but Harrisburg will. Ever since then, I've become more aware of how I'd much rather be in a wheelchair in Denmark, than in America. To begin with, we have sidewalks here!!! We have a better public transportation system in general, so it is easy to add on a "handikap" bus service, as it is called - a cross between a taxi and a bus, a mini-van that has the ramp in the back for driving the chair into the van - and you book it like a taxi, although you do have to plan a little bit more in advance. There is quite a bit of legislation about these things, but there is a lot of volunteer, grassroots level work behind it all. So, Cynthia, I think you should go to the post office!! Regards, Karen Mardahl (who won't tell the negative stories because I'm sure you have enough of your own!!) PS Bonnie , thanks for including the card!

Accessibility, Section 508, and Adobe Acrobat PDF

By David Harrity, STC Senior Member Tag your it! No, tag your PDF. While the first statement is child's play, the latter is no fun and games, according to Kathy Bine, senior associate with ICF Consulting. Kathy discussed the importance of accessibility tags as guest speaker for the February meeting of the Metro Baltimore STC chapter. Her presentation, Accessibility, Section 508, and Adobe Acrobat PDF, provided nearly 20 STC members and guests with an introduction into the accessibility features, including tags, of Adobe Acrobat 6.0 Professional. She discussed the typical problems and solutions encountered as a consultant to several federal agencies, and techniques and methods to generate and develop Portable Document Format (PDF) files compliant with Section 508. Section 508 is a 1998 amendment to the 1973 Rehabilitation Act that requires Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. In addition to requiring accessible telecommunications, video and multimedia products, Section 508 also mandates that software applications, web-based information and provisions for information, documentation and support are accessible and accommodate the communication needs of end-users with disabilities. While Kathy admits that accessible PDF files can be a challenge, several simple steps make the task less difficult. The most important step is making the source file accessible and Section 508 compliant. For example, Kathy says, start by developing accessible web pages (e.g, HTML) or documents (e.g., Microsoft Word, Adobe FrameMaker files). Most source formats provide a means to insert alternative text into images, figures and tables that conveys the essence of the image to blind or visually-impaired end-users. Additionally, retrofitting and editing a PDF is time-consuming and the tool set is manually intensive. The Accessibility Checker within Adobe Acrobat v6.0 provides an explanation of what the errors mean and guidance on how to resolve the errors. Kathy warns that visual inspection, which works for HTML, does not work in PDF files. In PDF files, the reading order may be incorrect - causing difficulty with screen readers. She recommends that authors test the files with several screen readers. For a list, see Screen Reading Software. To avoid problems, Kathy recommends that technical communicators tell management to consider accessibility early in the project planning and cost estimation process and assist management in choosing software applications to build Section 508 compliance or accessibility into the files, rather than retrofit them with it. If possible, ask for sample files and test the accessibility of the source documents early and often to ensure that a workable plan of action can be achieved. Note: This article focuses on the accessibility features within Adobe Acrobat 6.0 Professional. With the recent release of Adobe Acrobat 7.0 Professional, a review of the accessibility tool set will be addressed in a future newsletter article. For information from Adobe, please see the Adobe - Accessibility website. Kathy Bine, STC Senior Member, is a senior associate at ICF Consulting. Kathy is the chapter president of the Washington, DC-Baltimore Chapter. David Harrity, STC Senior Member, is a consultant for Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC). David is chapter vice president of the Metro Baltimore Chapter.

Accessibility Testing by People with Disabilities As a Best Practice

By Debra Ruh What are "Best Practices" when it comes to conducting accessibility tests? I believe the gold standard of accessibility testing is to use people with disabilities. Does that mean I should ask a friend, who is blind, to test my software application? Not necessarily. If the friend is not fully knowledgeable in the use of screen-reading technology or uses an older version of screen-reading technology, a faulty evaluation could result . That is certainly not a best practice. In addition, my friend may not be familiar with accessibility standards such as Section 508 and Section 255 or she may not be a proficient PC user. Having "just anyone" who happens to be a person with a disability test applications for accessibility simply does not make good business sense. Should I purchase screen-reading technology and test the product myself? No. Assistive technology (AT) is sophisticated and takes time to master. I once had problems taking a video-conference class. An associate of mine, who happened to use a screen-reader, was having the same problem. We contacted technical support. The support person was baffled that my associate did not have a monitor! Investing money in AT is wasted unless you are prepared to exert the time and effort needed to become proficient using the technology. Adhering to sets of standards and testing methodologies is critical to assuring successful accessibility testing outcomes. We recently tested an online course for a government agency. Agency representatives told us that the course had failed a Section 508 compliance test. We asked to see a copy of the test results. No one could provide one to us. All they were told was that the course failed the test. This led us to do a quick analysis. We created a test plan and several test cases. Two of our professional accessibility evaluators performed the tests. One tester was blind and used Freedom Scientific's JAWS screen-reading software. The other individual has both cognitive and upper body mobility disabilities. He used A-I-squared's Dragon Naturally Speaking, a speech recognition program, and a track ball to test the product. Each analyst followed the test case carefully as they reviewed each section of the course. The results were compiled into a report. The course passed! While our evaluators did identify several usability issues, they successfully completed the course. We presented our results to the agency. As you can imagine, our positive results caused confusion. Once again, we asked our customer for the report generated by the previous testers. We wanted to know how the testing had been conducted and what AT had been used to test the course. Was there a test plan? None of that information was provided to our customers; all they were told was that their course failed. Is it necessary for people with disabilities to test every phase of production? Should they test every page of a website, every line of code in a software application? Not at all. Accessibility or Section 508 compliance should be part of the development process. (Note: Other compliance laws speak to accessibility and making Web and IT accessible for people with disabilities. However, for this article, I focus on Section 508 compliance and the broader term, accessibility.) It should be an integral part of the process just like usability should be part of a solid development plan. When you create a software application first and then test it for Accessibility and Section 508 compliance afterward, correcting the problems will be much more expensive than if accessibility had been factored into the design. Include accessibility and/or Section 508 compliance into the entire process and test at all milestones. There are many ways to test your product at milestones and not all of these must include people with disabilities. The developers should know how to test their product for accessibility and compliance. There are many accessibility and Section 508 compliance testing tools in the market place. If you understand how to use these tools and have the most current version of these tools, they can provide good feedback during the development process. However, these tools can also give you false positives and false negatives, so you must understand the benefits and constraints of these tools. To be sure, test with a person who has a disability and who knows the standards, knows assistive technology and understands the technology of the product you are developing.

Gold, Silver and Bronze Standards

Perform solid testing at each milestone and follow the Gold Standards of Testing when ever possible. In our book, if you can't measure it, you can't manage it. By measuring accessibility and Section 508 compliance, you can know that your investment is working; you can tell what areas need more work, and you can improve the process. Create accessibility and Section 508 compliance metrics that make sense to your business and follow the standards. In designing a standardized test environment, you should organize the computer hardware, software, and test platform configurations and test activities that you set up, into three categories: Gold, Silver, and Bronze. Keep in mind that some projects may include all three testing standards.
  • Gold Standard - Guaranteed to Work
  • Silver Standard - Should Work
  • Bronze Standard - May Work

Gold Category

The Gold category is the Best Practice of Accessibility Testing. The Gold category includes hardware, web and/or software products that will be thoroughly tested and "guaranteed to work." In this category, accessibility testing is part of the process. This category always includes solid testing by skilled testers with disabilities using assistive technology as part of their test platform. Test cases are created that include testers with all applicable disabilities. Different versions of assistive technology (AT) are added to the test cases. Accessibility and Section 508 compliance tools may be used during the process to help ensure Accessibility and standards compliance. The developer performs internal testing at all milestones in the development process for accessibility and Section 508 compliance throughout the development process. This might entail repeating presentation test cases for each of the different platforms and/or distributing functional test cases evenly among the various combinations of hardware and software. Any significant defects, or defects found and reported by the testing team, are fixed typically in the next development cycle. Adding more products to the Gold category increases the number of test cases to be executed and increases the cost or potentially reduces the quality of testing for each product. A reduction in the quality of testing, consequently, increases the probability that a serious defect might slip through undiscovered until the end, when it becomes a costly remediation problem.

Silver Category

The Silver category includes hardware and software products that undergo less rigorous testing. In this category, accessibility testing is still part of the process. This category always includes spot testing (prioritized by areas of risk) by testers with disabilities. Test cases are created for the areas to be tested, and the tests are performed by testers with all applicable disabilities. Different versions of assistive technology (AT) are added to the test cases. Accessibility and Section 508 compliance tools may be used during the process to help ensure accessibility and compliance. The developer makes spot checks (prioritized by areas of risk) for accessibility and Section 508 compliance throughout the development process. Since the items listed in this category typically represent a smaller proportion of your audience, they are assigned a limited number of test cases. These items "should work," but a few defects may slip through your testing as certain combinations of older hardware and software may not be compatible with your product or solution. Some of these defects may be worth fixing in future development cycles, while others may not.

Bronze Category

The Bronze category includes the hardware and software products that will not be tested. Items listed in this category "may work" but few people (if anyone) will typically care if they don't work. Defects that are only specific to Bronze category products typically may not be fixed. However, the company's customer support group should still log any incidents that your customers report. This log may serve as a knowledge base of "work arounds" that could be built and maintained. For the Bronze category, the developer spot checks for accessibility and Section 508 compliance throughout the development process. Accessibility and Section 508 compliance tools may be used during the process. This test has more risk that the application is not accessible and Section 508 compliant and the results are much less reliable. Debra Ruh is Founder and President of TecAccess. TecAccess, a SBA 8(a), SDB Certified and Small Woman Owned Company specializing in E&IT Accessibility and Section 508 - Section 255 compliance solutions. Most TecAccess' associates are persons with disabilities. For more information, please contact us at (804) 749-8646 or email hidden; JavaScript is required, or visit

Join the Conversation

The STC Accessibility SIG distribution list has evolved into a highly active, relevant, and supportive community. Benefits to STC members are numerous. Get tips on implementing accessibility from experts. Keep up with the global developments in public policy regarding accessibility. Get advice on using assistive technology effectively.

Newsletter Credits

Achieve! is published for members of the STC Accessibility Special Interest Group. Comments, suggestions, and questions are welcome and should be sent to the editor. Achieve! is also available online at Select the "Newsletter" link. Editor: Lisa Pappas Copy editors: Karen Mardahl, Kim McConnell Contributors: Katherine Bine, Lisa Pappas, David Harrity, Debra Ruh, Karen Mardahl, Fabien Vais, Kim McConnell, Dan Voss, Mike Murray
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