NISO and DAISY Consortium Publish Authoring and Interchange Framework Standard

Guest Author: Annette Reilly [The following news was received from Annette Reilly, STC Fellow and Standards Council Chair, Society for Technical Communication.] The National Information Standards Organization (NISO) and the DAISY Consortium announce the publication of the new American National Standard Authoring and Interchange Framework (ANSI/NISO Z39.98-2012). The standard defines how to represent digital information using XML to produce documents suitable for transformation into different universally accessible formats. The standard is a revision, extension, and enhancement of Specifications for the Digital Talking Book (DTB), commonly referred to as the DAISY standard (ANSI/NISO Z39.86-2005(R2012)). The DAISY Consortium is the Maintenance Agency for both standards. "The A&I Framework is a modular, extensible architecture to permit the creation of any number of content representation models, each custom-tailored for a particular kind of information resource," states Markus Gylling, Chief Technology Officer at the DAISY Consortium and Technical Chair of the DAISY Revision Working Group. "It also provides support for new output formats, which can be added and implemented as the need arises. The standard does not impose limitations on what distribution formats can be created from it; e-text, Braille, large print, and EPUB are among formats that can be produced in conformance with the standard." "Organizations in the DAISY community and in the mainstream of publishing have been looking for an XML framework that is powerful and flexible," states George Kerscher, Secretary General for the DAISY Consortium and Administrative Chair of the DAISY Revision Working Group. "The Authoring and Interchange Framework not only meets this need, it expands the possibility of what can be produced for the existing community of users of DAISY books and also enlarges the potential audience of both developers and users of resources that conform to this standard. New applications using this standard could include electronic magazines as well as digital books, text to speech rendering for e-readers, and multimedia publications." "Although the new A&I Framework standard is intended to replace the Digital Talking Book standard," explains Todd Carpenter, NISO Executive Director, "feedback during trial use of the standard indicated that content providers and device manufacturers would need a transition period of several years due to the significance of the changes in the standard. To meet this need, the existing DTB standard (ANSI/NISO Z39.86) was reaffirmed for another five years and the A&I Framework was assigned a new standard number (ANSI/NISO Z39.98)." The A&I Framework standard will be of interest to any organization using an XML authoring workflow, developers and publishers of universally accessible digital publications, and agencies interested in creating profiles for new document types to integrate into distribution formats, such as EPUB. Both the A&I Framework standard and the Digital Talking Book standard are available for free download from the NISO website and the DAISY website. Guest Author: Annette Reilly

Winning Videos Include Captions!

Something Big is Happening in 2013

2013 is a special year. STC turns 60. And the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says that by 30 September 2013, "100% of new video programming shown on U.S. television with captions must have captions when shown online." Yes, that is what the FCC internet captioning deadlines say. This is due to the law known as 21st CVAA, or the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010. Who knows how that ruling will affect technical communicators? This is a U.S. ruling for television, but these things have a way of trickling around the world and to other industries. With globalization, there is no trickle. A ruling in one country can affect the work you do today, regardless of where you are based. Perhaps you are not in a job affected by all this today, but where will you be tomorrow? If captioning is somewhere in our techcomm futures, why wait for a deadline? Why not try it out today?

How to Caption Videos?

It's actually quite easy. Ridiculously easy, I'd say. I presented a little tutorial on captioning with YouTube back in 2010 at both the We Accessibility London Unconference and the Technical Communication UK conference. You need to download the slides to get all the juicy details from the notes. Members of STC can also read this tutorial re-written as a magazine article for the January 2011 edition of the STC Intercom. Once you get all excited about captioning, I recommend reading DCMP's Captioning Key. There are also resources available at the National Center for Accessible Media at WGBH. NCAM is "dedicated to achieving media access equality for people with disabilities", so they're pretty cool.

Who cares?

"What's 3 minutes? Only a select group of people will see - or express interest in - this short video." In that "select" group of people, you will find some who have some kind of hearing issue. They can be hard-of-hearing. They can be watching your video on a device where they cannot use the speakers, or where they may not want to use the speakers at the moment. If you are excited about your video, ensure that everyone can enjoy it. There might even be members who are - gasp! - deaf. Here's a beautiful quote from Eric Stoller in a blog post on Vimeo and closed captioning.
Communities care about all of their members … not just the ones that can hear.
Let's show some STC community love. Go forth and study the details of the STC 2012 Summit video contest, but make yours the real winner with captions!

PS Super Bonus

So captioning was too easy for you? Here's a bonus. Try audio description. It's pretty amazing to hear that in action. Think about all the dramatic movies you have seen where the baddies are chasing the goodies, and you are sitting on the edge of your seat. If there is only dramatic music, but no dialog, how is a no-or-low-vision person supposed to follow the action? They listen to movies with audio description. That can really test your script writing skills for a video. How do you tell your visual story in words that are read between dialog segments in the video or movie? If you are curious, the DCMP Audio Description Key can get you started. I wonder how a 3-minute video of highlights from the Summit with no dialog would sound when given an audio description treatment?

Transcribing for Inclusion

I made my first transcription today! Tom Johnson posted his videocast interview with Brenda Huettner from the STC Summit in Dallas last week. I was provoked. I've argued for ages that technical communicators can lead the way in promoting transcriptions and captions (and audio descriptions, too). Here was a technical communication video on the topic of (website) accessibility, and it excluded my hard-of-hearing technical communicator friends and colleagues. It also excluded any hard-of-hearing or deaf passer-by. Update: A close-captioned version of the video is now available on YouTube.

Why Did I Make a Transcription

Tom is well-known in the technical communication community, and I've nudged him about transcribing his many videocasts on his blog. (I'm referred to in the interview, but not by name!) With that visibility, he could be a great ambassador for accessibility practices. He responded by saying I could offer to transcribe his videos. My thought was that all his followers could offer to do just one transcription each. That would spread the load and get the job done. I am too involved in too many projects already, so I honestly couldn't manage a lot of transcriptions. Catch-22. However, Brenda is a friend, another advocate of accessibility practices soon to give birth to a book on the topic, and a perfect subject for a transcription. I transcribed the video!

How Did I Make the Transcription?

It took me 35 minutes to just transcribe the 6 minutes and 51 seconds, and I don't think I am a super (fast) typist. I had two windows open. One was the browser with the video and the other was TextEdit (simple text editor on Mac). My procedure was to play a snippet of the video, press the spacebar on my keyboard to stop it, toggle to TextEdit and type the text I had heard, toggle back to the browser with the video, and press spacebar to start it again. Repeat until finished! I only fixed major fumble-finger typos as I transcribed. I left simple typos for the review pass-through. When i finished the transcription process, I still had the text and video windows side by side. I played the entire video and read my transcript while listening, making edits as I went along (and stopping the video while I did that). I didn't time my editing phase very well - both the re-listen/review and general editing - but it was definitely under 15 minutes. Perhaps I could complete this step more quickly if I used a fancier authoring tool. I was also a bit conscious of the time because I was doing this as a demo of the entire process. I also debated (with myself) how much fixing to do. I wanted to capture the informal tone of the interview, so I left grammar oddities as they were. That threw me with regard to punctuation. I added where a long stream of words might just be a bit much to understand. In other words, I spent some extra time on thinking about a strategy. Another time, I could speed things up, having thought this through. Summary: 50 minutes for almost 7 minutes. 7 minutes typing for 1 minute talking? I know an experienced or a speedy typist could do better. I also know I could take this script and upload it to the YouTube system for captioning. That can be another lesson for another day.

The Transcript of the Brenda Huettner Interview at STC10

In the transcript, TJ stands for Tom Johnson and BH stands for Brenda Huettner. TJ: Hi, this is Tom Johnson at idratherbewriting.com. We are at the STC Summit in Dallas, Texas, and I'm talking with Brenda Huettner. She's working on a book if you listened to the other podcast with Dick Hamilton, she's working on a book called "Communicating with Everyone". So she's really an accessibility guru and I am hoping that Brenda can give me some real practical advice for how I can make my website more accessible. I have written text in the form of posts, I have audio podcasts, I have videocasts, I have images. So Brenda let's start with the videocasts. What can I do to make them more accessible to people? BH: I would suggest the first thing to look at is providing a written transcript for people who can't hear. It's a little bit easier than doing captions on the video, but as long as there's a text version then deaf people can still get your content. TJ: So now actually somebody from the Accessibility SIG recommended that I do this as well and YouTube has come out with captioning which might work but in my attempts to use it, it was kind of a little off. Actually a lot off. Ha ha. How do… how do… I imagine a common objection is that people just don't have time to create these transcripts. What's your response to that? BH: Essentially I would say that if you're taking the time to create the content, the video, or whatever you're creating, you are limiting your audience by not providing access to everyone. And if you are happy with half the audience you might otherwise have, that's certainly up to you if it's not a, if it's a site that doesn't come under Federal regulation, but why would you want to limit your output? You're putting it out there to share with all of us. Let's share fully. TJ: OK. So usually when people think oh making your site accessible, when they think about accessibility, they often think oh, there's not that many deaf readers or not that many blind readers, but I was sitting at the table with the other people from Google today, a whole string of them, and they told me that once you do machine transcription of YouTube videos you can then translate them 'cause they have auto-translation as well. So there I can begin to see where yeah that's a lot of people, everybody who doesn't speak English basically who I'm excluding, but the transcription I'm guessing is gonna be kind of poor. Do you think a poor transcription is better than no transcription? BH: I suspect that you're gonna get a different answer to that one from everyone you ask but I would rather see a poor transcription than none. It's sort of like if I'm working and I suddenly get a piece of text I need in a language I'm not that familiar with but I really want to know what it is, I can go to one of the inexpensive online free translations and I get close enough so that I can determine if I need to pursue it further. A transcription of any kind will at least give people the idea of what your content is if they want to then pursue other mechanisms. There are automated uh screen reader or what have you that might give them more options. TJ: So talking about transcription let's move into the written text part. BH: OK. TJ: So my text on my site isn't that large. I think it's 12 pixels or something. What's a good size font for improving readability? BH: I would say that you don't want to set a head font. You want to allow the viewer your audience to make the font whatever is comfortable for them. So you use relative sizes and you allow the people to use their own software to make it as big as they need to make it. Different people will have different needs. TJ: So when you say use relative sizes are you saying rather than using font size equals 12 px you use like 1.1 dot em. Is it em versus the px? BH: It's typically if you say it's plus one which means one bigger than default or plus three if it's a heading. TJ: So is it better to just put, I've seen the font plus and minus buttons on sites but it seems like that requires more work from the reader. Why not just put it in 14pt font. That's a little bigger. 14. Anyway, a little bigger or do you think it's just better to add the control or do both? BH: I would say allow your users to change it to however is going to work for them. Different people will have different needs and someone who can read a 14 would be happy with that, but somebody else might need an 18 and you're not going to be able to set one number that works for everybody. So let them choose. TJ: So let's talk about one last thing. Images. BH: OK. TJ: People who don't read images or don't see images well would probably need alt text but uh are there any other advantages to doing alt text besides improving readability? I've heard that it increases your SEO your search engine optimization as well? BH: That's true. The alt tag becomes part of what your search engines can find. The problem is that if you're just using alt tags for SEO, you're not describing the photo enough for the people for whom it ought to be why you're giving the alt tag. You want your graphics to be very descriptive. The other thing I'd like to add about graphics is to be really careful of colorblind, red and green and there are several others, 'cause that does throw people off who might not otherwise even complain about it. They just look and see a grey square. TJ: Alright Brenda. Thanks. If people want to know more about you, do you have a website you want to point them to? BH: Actually I would love it if people looked at my Twitter page. I'm at Twitter.com/bphuettner and that's my primary output at this time. TJ: Alright Brenda. Thanks for talking with me. BH: Thanks, Tom. End of transcript.

Doing Good with Technical Communication Skills

Practice, practice, practice. That may be a familiar phrase to anyone who played a musical instrument as a child. It's a phrase you can apply to all of your skills. It's also a phrase that pops up on technical communication discussion lists whenever the topic of "unemployment" or "just starting out" pops up. Someone will suggest people maintain or improve skills - or develop new skills - in some open-source type project where there is no pay, but plenty of opportunity to learn and, well, practice. This post is for sharing a few of those places of practice.
  • I could be - Be a mentor for the next generation (school students).
  • Taproot Foundation - Pro "bono junkies" do pro bono marketing, HR, IT, and strategy management consulting services for nonprofits.
  • Floss manuals - Contribute to FLOSS Manuals, the collection of manuals about free and open source software. (FLOSS means Free Libre Open Source Software.)
The first two items were shared on Twitter by Michelle Depres, member of the STC Rocky Mountain chapter. Anyone involved in technical communication will come across the FLOSS manuals sooner or later, especially if you run into Janet Swisher, Anne Gentle, or Scott Abel, who actively participate in and promote the FLOSS project for technical communicators. Doing good while you work on your technical communication skills - what a great idea! Use the comments to add other great projects and debate who benefits the most - them… or you?

Deaf Students in High-Tech Summer Program

A computer-science summer academy at University of Washington introduces deaf and hard-of-hearing students to high-tech careers. Seeing few deaf academics and almost no deaf people earning doctorates, UW computer-science professor Richard Ladner, a son of deaf parents, started the program with National Science Foundation funding. In its third year, the nine-week intensive program recruits ten outstanding 16-to-22-year-old math and science students from across the U.S. Seattle Times reporter Lynn Thompson says, "For many of the participants, it's their first glimpse inside the high-tech world. For some, it is the first time as students that they have been able to spontaneously talk to their classmates." Participant Josiah Cheslik describes the isolation he felt in high school as the only deaf student. Cheslik hopes to do research into technologies to bridge the gap between the hearing and non-hearing worlds. "He noted that several new technologies, including texting and GPS systems, were first invented for people with disabilities."

If you are in the Seattle area in August, the students' animation projects will be screened publically on the evening of the 21st in the Paul Allen Center for Computer Science and Engineering on the University of Washington campus.

See "Summer program opens high-tech world to deaf students" on the Seattle Times website.