Monday, 13 October 2008

Been a while

This Blog has been at the back of my mind since September and I realised with horror that I hadn't posted anything since August 20th! This doesn't mean I've not been thinking about issues relating to Web 2.0, accessibility and assistive technology. Far from it, it just means I've moved jobs! To Leeds University Equality Service - an exciting new job and one with loads of new challenges.

I did wonder at first if I'd have time to do any assistive techie stuff seeing as the job doesn't really have any of that in it's description, but, in my own way, I've made sure I've got access to JAWS (ah, Daniel, I knew you'd come back into my life!) and I've also been drafted onto IT Accessibility meetings with our IT Accessibility Officer. He'sbeen looking at accessibility of University software - anything from the giant HR system to the VLE. There's not much difference between Oxford and Leeds really - the big companies still don't give much thought to accessibility until afterwards.

However, some emails earlier this morning made me wonder if we might get somewhere with the VLE. They've recently moved from a nice accessible in-house created VLE to a bought in service which isn't accessible (probably best for me not to get started on why they did this!) , but the high heid yins in this bought-in service have agreed to meet up and discuss accessibility - maybe I shouldn't be so quick to judge commercial companies?? Let's see how we get on - and once I get JAWS back up and running, I'll have a wee play around with it too..... always like to be prepared!

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

When you got no cash...

... and you just have a copy of JAWS and you want to do some audio editing of files you've created in your Olympus DS-40, what better than to try Audacity. It's free and can be used with screenreaders. Honestly it can. We (sorry, that's the Royal 'we', I should say Teresa) asked Audacity and they said, 'Hey, try the Beta version', and lo, it works. I just tried it!

And how do you work out how to use it? A rather nice man called David Bailes at Chorlton Workshop for hsbp has written a whole host of JAWS Guides. Somebody buy this man a pint. Or several.

Friday, 15 August 2008

You say J-Say, I say J-Say!

Normally I view software demos with some degree of scepticism. Marketing gurus try to tell you it's everything you need and these extra bits that you can pay a few quid more for are all you've ever wanted and the package will save you money in the long run. Hmmmm. Well today I was genuinely impressed.

As I mentioned in last week's blog, we've been working with a blind student who wants to be able to use a screenreader and speech-to-text software at the same time. I tried it out. Doesn't work. UNTIL....... through the wonders of Web 2.0 technology (anRSS Feed) this great site Top Ten Tech Tidbits of the Week by Dean Martin (no not the singer!!!) pointed me in the direction of J-Say which works to bring together JAWS and Dragon Naturally Speaking. I mentioned this to Teresa (who works with me and also loves all this stuff) and she duly got in touch with T and T Consultancy and this morning we had a brilliant demo by Brian Hartgen, who coincidentally also wrote the programme.

It makes a difference when you're being shown the software by the man who wrote it, who also happens to be an end user and blind. He knows it all. Knows it's quirks, could answer all our questions and I could tell our student was impressed. I know I was.

You may say that he's an expert, that he's spent the past 5 years working with this software, but we're not naive, we know the student has a lot before him, that he'll need to learn how to use all 3 programmes, but what I saw today was a truly useful product being demonstrated by someone who has to use it every day. Sure he's still trying to get us to buy it, but there was no hard sell, just enthusiasm for a useful piece of software and a realisation that it could make our student's life much easier. Best demo I've ever been at. Thank you Brian!

I want a copy. New budget, leaving job in a month.... think anyone would notice??

Friday, 8 August 2008

Software to talk to software to help accessibility

We've recently been working with a graduate student who's about to leave the institution to start work. He's in the midst of doing his summer research project, but is making the most of us to get to know more about assistive technology. He's visually impaired and has been using Zoomtext for quite a number of years and all through his past year at Oxford.
However, with difficulties in navigating using the keyboard, he's been wondering about Dragon Naturally Speaking (I've got to know this quite well over the past couple of weeks!!).
He was also wondering about better Web Access with a screenreader, so we're thinking about JAWS.
The question is do they work together? The simple answer is not really. You need another programme to get them to work together to the best of their ability. We've discovered one called J-Say which has been developed by T and T Consultancy. They are also responsible for J-Tunes which makes iTunes accessible - although I like Apple products for their simplicity they use a lot of graphics which make it difficult to work with assistive software.
I'm saddened by the need to have extra costs associated with assistive technology, but I'm intrigued at the thought that 2 different products designed with different users in mind could be used by one person.
We're getting a demo next week, so I'll keep you posted on how easy it is to use.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

It's the thought that counts!

I just had to relate this tale from a friend of mine who recently visited Orkney. Whilst in the Tourist Info she had to visit the loo. The sign for the 'Ladies' was printed in large black letters and laminated nicely. Underneath there was another sign, printed in large Braille letters and laminated. Yes you read that right, printed not embossed. After having laughed herself silly, she pointed this out LOUDLY to the friend she was with. On returning to the same Tourist Info 3 days later, she was pleased to see the sign this time properly embossed.

Still at least they'd thought about it in the first place...

Thursday, 24 July 2008


I was pleased to be able to help a fellow librarian today who knows quite a bit about web accessibility and the importance of headings in documents. She and I sat this morning and I showed her what her guide to some online databases sounded like using JAWS and also Zoomtext. It's nice to be able to prove that what you go on about all the time, what is so simple to use, is actually the right way.

Put in your headings, or we'll come round and get you!

Friday, 18 July 2008

Conference Success!

Haven't blogged for quite a while as the Conference came and went and then I came and went on holiday - you need one after organising a conference!

I think we should be very proud of ourselves at CLAUD. The Conference seems to have been a great success. We had an excellent turn out for day 1 with over 50 delegates and speakers and even better at day 2 with over 60. I'm still waiting to hear from Matthew about the feedback forms, but you know you're onto a good thing when you can't hear yourself think during the coffee breaks because everyone is talking so loudly and networking so hard.

We had no speakers drop out at the last minute, no technical glitches (great IT/AV staff at the University of Gloucestershire!!) and interesting subjects to deal with. Our student speakers seem to have gone down very well indeed giving their personal feedback on issues of accessing learning materials. Alistair McNaught from TechDis gave a fascinating talk showing us that we can make things accessible without spending much money at all, with links to free software (he did mention Web 2.0 applications with Delicious) and advice. Even the publisher we had speaking went down well and she was pleased not to have had a mauling - I can't believe anyone would, we're all here to help, but apparently it has had happened to her in the past.

I've still to go through the audio recordings of the talks, but I'm hoping our speakers will be happy to let them be posted on the CLAUD site, and maybe even freely available on here.

A great Conference all round!