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: www.w3.org/WAI/
  • Are you a manager? Resolve to learn more about workplace accommodations. Start at the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment: www.dol.gov/odep/
  • 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 (www.acb.org/accessible-formats.html) and Accessible Solutions - Making print information accessible from Accessible Information Solutions (www.nils.org.au/ais/print/)
  • 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 www.disabilitydebate.org) 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: http://www.equalityhumanrights.com; 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

Introduction

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.

Know-Show-Do-Review

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 http://accessible-techcomm.org/internet-accessibility-usability-resources-a-e/)
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.

Conclusion

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 (http://olrs.ohio.gov). 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 www.youtube.com/watch?v=oSB9aBMayxU. Faith even has her own website: www.faiththedog.info/

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 stc-access.org/newsletter/. 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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