Show some respect for invisible illnesses!

Let’s get some respect for people with invisible illnesses here, OK? The Molly’s Fund blog has an explanation about invisible illness that you should go read. That link is courtesy of @pfanderson – thank you!

However, that post has two images of things to say and things not to say to someone with an invisible illness, and there is no alternative text (alt text) for those who cannot read the text in the image. Therefore, I am posting them here with some alt text.

10 things to say to someone with an invisible illness

I confess that I have a quibble with some of these, but I will say that 1, 2, 3, 9, and 10 are definitely spot on.

  1. How are you doing today?
  2. Is there anything I can do to make things easier?
  3. I am here for you, whatever you need.
  4. It must be very difficult to have a disease where you feel so awful on the inside, but it doesn’t show on the outside.
  5. I am so sorry that you are going through this.
  6. I wish I could take away your pain.
  7. I hope you are feeling better soon.
  8. I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers.
  9. I may not completely understand your disease or what you are going through, but I would like to.
  10. I am so sorry I judged you before understanding your disease.
Image of 10 things to say to people with an invisible illness from the Molly’s Fund blog.

10 things not to say to someone with an invisible illness

Some of these might get you a “if looks could kill” look. Don’t say these things. Just don’t.

  1. You have what? I’ve never heard of it.
  2. You need to exercise more.
  3. Aren’t you feeling better yet?
  4. Maybe an anti-depressant would help.
  5. “But you look just fine.” or “You don’t look sick.”
  6. You are taking too much medicine.
  7. You need to change your diet.
  8. It’s all in your head.
  9. Losing weight might help.
  10. If you just had a more positive attitude.
Image of 10 things to NOT say to people with an invisible illness from the Molly’s Fund blog.

The Great Spoon Theory

Number five on the NOT list brings me to the spoon theory. You don’t really need the pictures or lists. You just need spoons. The best ever explanation about invisible illnesses that I share again and again and again and again is The Spoon Theory by Christine Miserandino. Read it and follow it. People I know who have invisible illnesses say it is awesome. Excellent example of storytelling and clear communication about a tricky subject.

You never know

This is a story I have never before discussed because it is embarrassing, but to emphasize my point, I will now. Several years ago, I had walking pneumonia. I had a cough that stuck with me for 8 whole months. The first couple of months while I was still battling those dratted Mycoplasma pneumoniae, I could have coughs so violent and so sudden that… I wet myself. I was, of course, mortified and stayed home for several weeks. Luckily, I could work from home. I was bored out of my mind with the illness so work was a relief although I could only work for about an hour and then go rest for an hour. When I finally dared leave the apartment to walk about 300 meters to the grocery store (oh, I wasn’t contagious by this time – I just couldn’t shake the cough), I could not cross the street at the traffic light in one go. I walked so slowly to avoid triggering a coughing episode. I walked like a 90-year-old with a walker – but I had no walker and I am not 90. I looked fine. I felt like crap. Cars waited for me to cross to the island in the middle of the road where I could wait for the next green light. Oh how I felt their impatience with me. I was never bothered much by people walking slowly before (with the exception of slow-walking tourists), but you can bet I have the greatest respect and sympathy for them ever since my slow-walking episodes. Been there, done that. Not recommended.

I am fine now, but this one incident hammered home the point for me that you should never ever ever judge a person with an invisible illness. I confess that anytime I encounter someone dissing someone with an invisible illness, I feel like a lioness whose cubs are threatened. Don’t mess with me! :) I follow number three on the things to say list.

What does this have to do with communication?

Everything. It is interpreting what others do and how they behave. You do not know everything about others. Not unless you ask. Talk to people. Ask. Ask politely. Show respect. That is what we owe everyone around us. After all, isn’t respect what you want for yourself?

My first UA Europe conference – but not my last!

I couldn’t turn down an opportunity to visit Krakow. A brand new city and country for me to visit. Yay! It involved attending (and speaking at) a technical communication conference. Mixing a conference and tourism is my geeky idea of a vacation.

UA Europe is a technical communication conference held in different cities around Europe each year. This year, Krakow was host to the event. I flew in the night before the conference began (like, at midnight) and stayed on for 2 days for some sightseeing. The Technical Documentation Manager from my company attended the conference, too, so we split the session between us. This blog post is a summary of the talks I attended. The notes are lightly cleaned up raw scribbles. If I had any thought bubbles to share publicly, I include them here in square brackets. If I take time to edit these raw scribbles into a better narrative, this post will be dated 2015…

Matthew Ellison welcomes us

After breakfast in the hotel and registration with the friendly faces behind UA Europe, we were ready for Matthew Ellison’s welcome speech. He introduced a cute quiz in our bags. There was a list of 17 music bands – one for each of the countries represented at UA Europe. Actually, we only had a thumbnail of the bands. We had to 1) figure out which country they represented and 2) figure out what technical communication “thing” they represented. You see, we had to fill in our areas of interest with our registration. If I wrote “MadCap Flare”, one of those thumbnails represented Flare and was on my name badge. We could look for others who had the same thumbnails and know that we had at least one area of interest in common. This was a great idea and I had fun trying to figure out what areas of interest were represented in one of the groups I was in at one point during the day. I think I had one right – and I forgot to turn in my slip for the competition. Oh well!

Who are we? A mirror for UA professionals – Welinske

Joe Welinske, WritersUA, started the show with a walk-through of his famous (in the world of technical communication) surveys and their results. (It’s worthwhile signing up for his low-volume newsletter, which will also notify you about the surveys and the results of those surveys.)

Various snippets from the presentation. Interviewing is number 2 in the list of things techcomm’ers do all day.

He used to have a question about doing indexes. Now he split the old index question into search and index. Gave 28% and 48% split as a result.

He was surprised content reuse hasn’t changed much – now 63%.

Usability testing is only 39% which he also thinks is low.

DITA now 21% and has slowly been rising.

He has been combining HTML and CSS, but will split it next year to break that down.

He sees more need for techcomm knowing programming languages and scripts. Those ranked at 10% and 7% only. [I see the problem as being time for on the job training.]

24% use HTML help which was last modified by MS in 1998!!!

In the next survey, he’ll break apart the browser-based help to get more granular.

PDF Manuals 77%. 22% do print. [I wonder if he connects it to the industry – manufacturing is probably strong here.]

Social site are increasing to 13% [wonder if those people also use it privately – any correlation?]

Wikis at 2% but many use internally and not as open forums. [I wonder about use of mobile platforms vs country and culture. He said Windows Phone is popular in Poland, so I wonder if that influences what platform products are developed on.]

Agile and DITA are growing. [I wonder if he should also have TBA listed as a variant of DITA.] Microsoft and Amazon are now starting to use DITA

[Seems he doesn’t have many respondents that have only a few years experience. [I wonder if he is just not reaching the younger audience. Ask him if he knows that Scott Abel is looking to get in touch with those under 30.]
[Mette asked about his EU salaries and perhaps getting more EU input. Maybe ISTC and Cherryleaf could help promote it more to get more data from EU.]

Responsive web design in user assistance – Self

Dr Tony Self, HyperWrite, talked about responsive vs. adaptive. Ethan (Marcotte) did responsive and Aaron (Gustafson) did adaptive. Tony says adaptive is broader in scope. Adaptive uses JavaScript and browser sniffing.

[I think there is some nervousness about browser sniffing in the screen reader community but I can’t remember the details. I know I’ve seen tweets from Jennison Ascunion and Leonie Watson about this.]

[I really need to check out media queries some more]

Progressive enhancement is the responsive way to do things.

Mobile first is more a mindset thing. [Thought of Janet Swisher’s “Mobile Matters Most” phrase.]

He says adaptive is good, but responsive is better.

Remember to base breakpoints on content.

Showed Chrome Emulation Mode Tool in Developer Tools in the Chrome browser.

You design for viewport browsers and don’t have to worry about new platform builds.

Loads of example grids in this article from Design Instruct.

Practical HTML5/CSS3 for real writers – Gash

Dave Gash, HyperTrain is a code guy, not a concepts guy. Looks at HTML5 CSS3 from techcomm angle. we focus on content and HTML5 provide elements for that.
(typable is not typing but semantic typing)

Have to discuss semantics here. Not much semantics in HTML but there is a lot in HTML5. DIVitis in HTML4 that has no semantics. Doesn’t tell you the organisation you intended.

HTML5 took HTML4 divs with ids and class and turns them into HTML5 elements. HTML5 elements are what they mean, they are semantic. Remember: HTML5 elements don’t do anything! They have to wait to be styled. (Remember separating form from content). This is the heart of structured authoring.

He’s not a fan of browser specific features in CSS3. Prefers things to work across all browsers.

[He makes me think he could do a CSS3 Zen Garden for TechComm.]

I like his link-nudging thingy.

Wanted to explain that divs with independent classes can be overdone in HTML and therefore you lose sight of your structure with div div div. Must look and read classes to understand the structure of your page.

His take on mixed case: dislikes immensely because it causes problems. You have a harder time troubleshooting.

Prefers use of dependent classes/selectors because it is safer.

Contextual or ‘descendent selectors’ (new term). Means the second element listed after a space will only get something applied only when it is inside the previous element and possibly where that previous element specifies the class. E.g.: ‘aside.navsidebar img’

Key point he had in parting:

Remember, learning new stuff is good for everyone: you, your users, your company

[I told him about using WAI-ARIA. He didn’t know about it, but was immediately curious to learn more.]

Designing transactions successfully – Atherton

Dr Chris Atherton, Equal Experts, works with a part of They said they had to be accessible, usable, assisted digital, mobile. Assisted digital is helping users help themselves.

She was told she had to do user research almost every other week.

Shareable pain – film people using something and then show the film clip to the powers that be. That has a lot of power to change people’s mind.

First point: How to improve readability and usability by limiting page content. People can only take in so many things at once.

Nice transition from page full of questions to a page with one question only. Then save and continue button.

Not many in the room are doing discussions about, say, how to make forms cleaner like this example.

Great slide about war crimes. Perfect for some plain language treatment. When is less more or enough.

Snowflake pattern – I’m a snowflake, I am special. Like progressive disclosure.

Get it wrong a lot early on is my best advice

Hint text – to help you decide what to answer and hint text to help you understand the question. Subtle difference.

Dislikes free form field because it is hard to parse for the admin handling the form.

Trying hard to show only what’s relevant.

Talked about the name field that is culturally challenging.

They have to ask for Titles Mr, Mrs, etc. because a backend system requires it! We shouldn’t design for the systems, but for the people!!

Use visible navigation to frame users understanding of what’s going on and just where they are.

Cool explanation about discussing patterns to find a good nav.

A case study of enhanced user assistance in the GUI – Khurana and Tiwari

Rajesh Khurana and Rajeev Kumar Tiwari, Ericsson India Global Services presented this case study.

Wanted to place an icon in the GUI that can show context sensitive video help is available. They have traditional ? as help icon, but now have video icon to open video on right of screen to describe just the context.

Have challenges with authorisations for showing videos. User with 4 specific authorisations should only see those 4 videos.

Video reuse – for 1st time users and embedded in GUI. In other words, in different channels. Have challenges in hand-held devices because there can simply be too much info at once and not enough screen real estate.

Videos can make the application heavy, but can consider streaming.

They work in agile so they are planning their videos accordingly.

Designing user assistance for mobile business apps – van Weelden

Willam van Weelden, WvanWeelden Consultancy talked about just in time and just enough with embedded in UA. UA = user experience design. BYOD = Bring your own backdoor!!

Interesting to see the bailiff app and how security is crucial here. Showed how architecture is crucial for IT to ensure that the security is OK.

Discusses IT vs End users. IT used to tech – tools are their job. End users’ tools are just that – tools. What people think – apps are simple and not more need for support/UA.

Argues that help takes you out of the app. Separate is a bad idea. We only alleviate pain but don’t take it away!

Our creating manuals today costs money and doesn’t make sales.

Shows what he calls halfway there – opening an app that has 5-6 screens with walkthrough of what you _can_ do.

We need a new paradigm: user experience design. Customer buys the entire experience.

Thinks of interface as user assistance in itself! Becomes just in time and just enough. Always up to date and helping without being intrusive.

Best is if no one ever thanks you or notices your manual. !! Then it must be integrated well. He says if they thank you and say how the manual has helped them understand and use the product then it means the product is actually crap and you saved them and something – the entire system – is not a good experience.

Took him 1.5 years to get people to listen to him in his company. Now they listen to him and they get a better product.

UX design goes beyond service design thinking he says.

Ray’s comment is that we are all designing for user experience.

Embedded Help: nuts and bolts – Gash

We’re on to Day 2 now. Dave Gash, HyperTrain, shared the actual actual “how-to” for making embedded help.

Create content in, e.g., Flare. Each page in Flare has a unique element
Content has DITA –> Output is HTML

Just identify the pieces you want to grab and show in your application.
These must be accessible to the Web app.

Web app is JS code. He wants to read, extract, assemble, and embed.

Did one run-through with HTML which was alway a bit at high-level. Now he is showing XML. Looks almost the same, but he gives a more granular help. More specific.

He says EditPlus is a good HTML/XML editor because it has useful extra features to help check tags are done well, etc.

Uses unique IDs for the content elements.

He likes the .innerHTML attribute. [Must investigate.]

His way to improve the XML help would be to load the entire XML file into a variable so that is all accessible and available already for whever he clicks and asks for help.

He has a slide with differences. He won’t say which is better. It will depend on the situation. THe last point is interesting, thought. HTML requires build process. XML doesn’t.

Getting to know users – Atherton

Dr Chris Atherton, Equal Experts, says everyone has to start somewhere. But hard to put yourself in the position of someone who doesn’t know.

Usability testing on a shoestring. You can start small.

  1. Start with 1 regular user.
  2. Focus on an easy task – what puzzles them

Novices may be shy and feel all is their fault. So, they might not say much, so you have to observe them more than anything.

Check your ego! Just listen.

Let the other person figure it out and encourage them to talk.

Remember to remind them that nothing is their fault.

Brief and debrief

Emphasise that they can help with the good development of the software – it is empowering.

You don’t even need working software.

Scale it up like a pro. After 1 person, try testing with 6-8 people.

Find participants who conform to a relevant trends. E.g. make sure they have similar backgrounds if testing financial software so you know they have a similar basis for performing tasks.

If you can write a script, it can be helpful. Gives you something to lean on.

Note down the best quotes.

Helps, too, to have someone with you because it can be hard to talk and listen to a person while also taking notes.

Quotes can be fascinating. Can be more powerful when talking to colleagues. Also helps to catalog the common problems.

Report back to your dev team. Chris’ does a This Week in UX newsletter. Not everyone has time to document all these things. Make summaries, share a few quotes – her example is 20-50 line emails. Very quick to make and not an extra burden.

Put your important points right at the top. Don’t think chronologically if there is a hot point you want to ensure that people see.

Next level is to run regular testing days. E.g. once per month, once per sprint.

Find real users. They are motivated, even if they don’t realise it. They want good working software.

Record your sessions: Silverback, Camtasia, Screenflow.

She likes the ones that show the user doing the testing so you see them peer into the screen. Says more than any text can say.

Good approach is using post-it notes. Everything you hear or see that sounds good – jot it onto post-it notes. Then do a card-sort and structure, grouping. Leave the post-its where all will see.

Show people the clips – the more painful, the better. (Video clips of users doing testing.)

No wireframe survives contact with the user!

Concrete research findings are easier to act on than guilt feelings!

Knowing your users reduces depersonalisation.

Your benefit from doing usability testing? Quality time with others will improve your mood. Contributing to making your software better helps you feel useful. This is positive feedback.

From user assistance to user guidance (+ Business Intelligence) – Graat

Jang F.M. Graat, JANG Communication, says Business Intelligence is where the money is.

User assistance – minimalism. Only add something to the equation if you absolutely have to – Occam’s Razor!! He “invented” minimalism, says Graat with a smile.

Weakest link is the mind that thinks ‘Oh, I thought…’ Eliminate that from user assistance and turn it into user guidance.

Procedure will lead the user.

Has good slide about getting big data – usability research, customer feedback, service staff reports, surveys.

Jang gave good example of an engineer coming up to an engine that needs repairs and thinking I know what to do, I don’t need to read the help, but they have, despite much experience, not worked on THIS engine before so they can make serious mistakes.

A technical writer’s role in redesigning the application UI – Tkaczyk

Agnieszka Tkaczyk, IBM, gave an excellent presentation. I hope to see and hear more of her in the future.

Tech writers are good people for usability.

She showed a great example of a long, long answer for how to disable SSL, but no one had looked at the interface. All that was needed was ‘clear the Use SSL check box’!!!!

Answers to requests to make good changes: It doesn’t have impact!

Showed how she went through and helped to re-write some UI content.

Cool. When Agnieszka was preparing for her talk and looking for examples, she found inspiration for fixing the UI!
Thanks to the conference she was able to log some errors about the UI which gave her great satisfaction because she was always getting errors logged about documentation.

She showed example of bad design of error information and how she proposed new designs to make the information more clear.

In Q&A, Rajeev said he gets his ideas registered in backlogs so he can record metrics about his worth.

Matthew Ellison, UA Europe – How long is a topic?

He collects examples of help as a hobby.

He’s seen things in help that are cool, but he’s never tried them. That realization surprised him. He wondered if we ever used them and whether it was help at the wrong time.

Evernote added a subject to the note Matthew started at UA conference in Palm Springs.

Articles should be neither too big nor too small – advice from wikipedia on size of articles.

He gives a definition of a topic:

  • 1 idea, 1 topic
  • A tpoic supports 1 task
  • An answer to a question
  • Shortest effective piece of communication

His definition: self-contained cluster of chunks of information, where each piece depends on the others for context, on a single theme with an overall narrative flow.

Topics should have a narrative flow!

The way you link stories together improves the understanding (he referred to a talk by Tom Johnson at a past UA Europe).

Funny anecdote about the related links. He used to think people loved his writing so much they wanted to see more. Now he knows they are mostly surfing and not happy with what they got and they use the links to move elsewhere.

This was a very entertaining talk, but I am not going to give you the answer to how long a topic should be! You can share your answers to the question in the comments.


This is a nice size crowd with good presentations, but ample opportunity to chat with the other attendees and talk about the nitty-gritty of your daily routines – and your dreams and hopes. I know the 2015 conference – the 10th anniversary conference – will be somewhere in the south of England next year. The location doesn’t matter. I am ready to register as soon as the virtual doors open.

You can see my conference photos over on Flickr. I’ll be posting my post-conference-sightseeing-in-Krakow-area photos in a few days.

By the way, if you love mixing conferences and tourism, too, check out the soap! conference in Krakow 2-3 October 2014. I liked Krakow, and I like the idea of supporting this young technical communication conference. They have an energy that can inspire you in your own techcomm world.

Continuing to get things done – UA Europe conference follow-up

I had the good fortune to give a presentation for UA Conference Europe 6 June where I had a time slot of 45 minutes to share content for a lifetime. My next action after the presentation was to share the various articles that inspired my talk design in the early months of 2014. Not all were directly related, but they all gave me “getting things done” inspiration and got me thinking about the things that I need to or want to get done.

My talk was an introduction to the concept of getting things done. My talk was tool-agnostic, but I am using certain tools: Microsoft OneNote (I use it at work), Evernote (I am user number 640,681 out of the 100 million using the six-year-old app), and Cultured Code’s Things (Mac). Yes, it looks crazy to use three different tools, but it’s working for me so far.

The list of links

That last link has a great quote:

The problem is not that we’ve suddenly started depending on technology, but that the technology we’re depending on is poorly designed, too often focused on making money for its creators at its users’ expense.

I said my “next action” was to write and publish this blog post and yet over two weeks have gone by without me doing it. Well, the key thing was to remember to define this task and put it on my list of next actions. As I point out in my slides, GTD never does the work for you. I still had to sit in front of my computer and do the writing. Life happens. :) Hey, it’s a work in progress – for the rest of my life!

Here are the slides for my presentation:

The conversation is continuing in September at TCUK14 where I will be speaking on the same topic, but with the added experience of 3 more months of getting things done.

If all this getting things done is getting to be too much, take comfort in Hyperbole-and-a-half’s explanation of why she’ll never be an adult.

Long live the WordPress community – and a new look!

A friend in the WordPress community saved my blog today, so this blog post is dedicated to her. :)

Let’s back up for a moment. I attended WordCamp this past weekend. In fact, I was one of the organizers together with the awesome team of @markgazel, @dejliglama, @risager, and @anetq. WordCamp Denmark 2014 was also awesome. That is not an exaggeration. Our hosts,, provided excellent facilities and great food. And they are blessed with an employee who thinks baking gigantic cakes for 150 people is fun!

What happened at WordCamp does not stay at WordCamp. Those stories will get shared. The WordCamp site has links to the slides and the photos, etc. I left in a fantastic mood from the last three conversation there with three happy people. They were all so excited by the weekend that they said they wanted to get more involved in the community around WordCamp. The excitement was tangible. I left with lots of warm fuzzies.

I went home and said thank you to all the participants by posting in the various Danish WordPress groups on Facebook. I also expressed the hope that those who couldn’t attend this year would come next year. And I plugged our monthly WordPress Meetups in Copenhagen.

It was probably one of these postings that caused one of my friends on Facebook to check out my blog – and find it replaced by one of those “this site is hosted by” messages. This is where my little blog was saved. offered WordCamp attendees free hosting, and I took advantage of that over the weekend. When the redelegation came through, I thought more about my email than my blog. Thanks to my friend’s kind nudge, my site is up and running again. I said goodbye to the Beast-Blog theme by Mike Cherim that I had used for more than 7 years. It was an accessible theme, and I loved those green leaves, but it hadn’t been updated for ages, and that is a dangerous thing. Thank goodness I knew about the Blaskan (accessible) theme. I can’t talk about accessibility and not have an accessible theme!

The Danish WordPress community has always been helpful and generous in spirit. I felt like the message about my troubled blog was just one more example of how we help each other out. The episode gave me an opportunity to thank her anonymously here, announce the change on my site, and give a little shout-out to all the people I know who work with WordPress professionally or just for the sheer fun of it all.

This entire episode is almost worthy of a new Hanni Ross presentation called “How to really and truly break your blog, and how to fix it”. :)

My Ignite talk at UX Camp CPH 2014

My Ignite talk on the first day of UX Camp CPH was a success! Here is the transcript. The video is available on Slideshare and is embedded at the end of the transcript. All images are described here in parentheses for each slide. If there is an RM before the word “image”, it means the images come from Rosenfeld Media’s Flickr account where they are CC by 2.0. All other images are my own or from Wikimedia Commons .

The text here is my guess as to what I said! It was based on some key words, but somewhat spontaneous and changed over the many times I practiced!

Slide 1

Hi. We are going to talk about user experience over today and tomorrow here, in case you hadn’t noticed. I want to talk about accessible user experience. I have a few minutes to discuss this. You have a lifetime to follow up.

Slide 2

Let’s start with an example of a pain point we all know. The cost of the development/design lifecycle. Fixes are cheap early on, but expense late in the process. Accessibility is often thought of late, so it’s expensive, so it gets dropped. How can we change this pattern? (Image shows an x, y axis with a Euro sign on the y axis and a clock on the x axis. A curve starts low on the money and time axes and moves right, curving up to be high on the money and time axes. Hand-drawn in Sketch on the iPad.)

Slide 3

There are a couple of books that can help you build accessibility in from the beginning. One is the free, online book called Just Ask, which is a great resource. I want to focus on A Web for Everyone published in January by Rosenfeld Media – a sponsor! It’s the inspiration for my talk.
(Images of the two books’ covers.)

Slide 4

The authors [Whitney Quesenbery and Sarah Horton] propose a framework of 9 principles for helping you build a practice of accessible user experience. I am going to introduce you to those 9 principles now.

  1. People first
  2. Clear purpose
  3. Solid structure
  4. Easy interaction
  5. Helpful way finding
  6. Clean presentation
  7. Plain language
  8. Accessible media
  9. Universal usability

Slide 5

Principle 1. People first
I hope this is an obvious choice for you. You know about personas. Well, are you designing for differences? Are you working with people with disabilities? (RM images for some of the personas from the “A Web for Everyone” book: Persona Carol, Persona Trevor, Persona Jacob, Persona Lea) You really should be because…

Slide 6

Disability is … a universal human experience. (Extract from a quote from WHO at I keep using this quote in my presentations and will continue to do so to hammer home this message. We all have various abilities and we should be designing for them.

Slide 7

When we ignore people with disabilities, we are creating Digital Outcasts. Technology can leave these people behind, but… necessity being the mother of invention, they are doing it for themselves. A lot of innovation is going on here. Why not work with people with disabilities and benefit from that synergy?
(Image of the book “Digital Outcasts” by Kel Smith.)

Slide 8

Principle 2. Clear purpose
This is having clear goals. Imagine working on the user experience of voting forms for an entire nation. You certainly need to consider different abilities. Once you start working that way, I think accessibility will always be part of how you work. (Reference to a quote from Sarah Swierenga, Director of Usability and Accessibility Research Center, Michigan State University, in the book.)
(Image of one of the “Field Guides to Ensuring Voter Intent” from

Slide 9

Principle 3. Solid structure
Of course, you need a solid structure underneath all your design. Built on standards. For example, headings that can be seen visually, but also interpreted by a screen reader.
(RM image of jelly bean page on wikipedia and an image of a screen reader listing headings.)

Slide 10

Principle 4. Easy Interaction
Things should just work. This continues the idea of the standards coding. You shouldn’t have a keyboard user get trapped inside a video viewer where only a mouse click can help them escape. A blind person wouldn’t use a mouse.
(Screenshot image of Easy YouTube from

Slide 11

Principle 5. Helpful Wayfinding
When you click on a link on a page, do you get to the destination you are expecting? When you get there, can you find what you are looking for? I let these pages speak for themselves.
(Two screenshots from the Danish-language site about setting up the Danish Digital Mailbox: first, the page about setting up the digital mailbox where I clicked the link in step one on the page to get to the actual task of setting up the mailbox.)

Slide 12

Principle 6. Clean Presentation
This covers typography or color. I show an image of 6 lines of color. I placed colorblindness filters on top of part of that image. What colors are you perceiving? What does that mean for your design?
(Images from wikipedia: The Rainbow flag and the same image manipulated to show protanopia, deuteranopia, and tritanopia.)

Slide 13

Principle 7. Plain language
Let me emphasize. Plain language is not dumbing down. It is using the language that is appropriate for your audience so they can start their conversations. I love Ginny Redish. This is a great book. Just go buy it, read it, and keep it on your shelf for reference.
(Image of the “Letting Go of the Words” book by Janice (Ginny) Redish.)

Slide 14

Principle 8. Accessible media
Do you have audio or video on your site? Are you preparing audio description, captions, or transcripts for them? These benefit not only the deaf and blind communities. Others can use them, too.
(Image taken from one of my older presentations where I describe how to caption YouTube videos.)

Slide 15

Principle 9. Universal Usability
Here we have the 9th principle where we can transcend technology and just be ourselves and enjoy our lives without a lot of clunky things to bother us.
(Image of a TDD machine to represent the old way and a screen shot of a man using Apple’s FaceTime to sign with his girlfriend on the iPhone 4 from a YouTube video.)

Slide 16

So why not get started with baby steps? May 15th is Global Accessibility Awareness Day. Try unplugging your mouse that day, all day. How much can you do at all without the mouse? Try it! (Follow @gbla11yday on Twitter plus the #GAAD hashtag.) (Image of statue of mother holding a baby taking steps.)

Slide 17

Or could you sign your name to a document stating that you had considered accessibility throughout your project and that you had involved people with disabilities in your research? Could you do that?
(Image of John Hancock’s signature. The quote on the slide “…a document must be signed off by the responsible party annually to show that you have considered accessibility in your design and you have reached out to the user community and experts in the field…” comes from the episode of A Podcast for Everyone about CVAA with Larry Goldberg.)

Slide 18

I don’t think that the creators of the Danish Digital Mailbox took any of the 9 principles into account. Of course the book didn’t exist then, but perhaps we lack enough knowledge in the Nordic area?
(Screenshot of the Danish-language site Malene and the Digital Mailbox in Danish only that covers – in Danish – one person’s troubles with the Danish Digital Mailbox. See also another great article – in Danish by Susanna Rankenberg for additional excellent discussions on the same topic.)

Slide 19

I could only think of Funka Nu in Sweden as a place that works with accessible user experience. Are there others? Maybe we need to build more knowledge. This could be a business opportunity for you.
(Screenshot of the Funka Nu website and a link to the Swedish languge page with their mobile accessibility guidelines in multiple languages.)

Slide 20

Maybe you can go out and be the early bird who gets the worm. You can build the knowledge that helps you saves costs for customers so you can build a web for everyone.
(Image of robin feeding a worm to a young robin in the nest)

The haves and the have-nots

I am worried about our society and the attitudes we have toward each other. My worry is anecdotal, something I sense in my occasional dips into the passing Twitter stream. In the past month or so, I have read tweets about poverty and what seems to be an increase in discussion about the haves versus the have-nots. On their own, these articles might easily disappear in a tweet stream. Putting a few together in a little blog post might get at least one more person thinking about these topics and possibly coming up with better ways to fix these broken bits of our society.

Then this article came along: Why I Make Terrible Decisions, or, Poverty Thoughts. The writer describes what poverty is to her. She does say these are not all her experiences, but a conglomeration of experiences. The subsequent backlash on Twitter is that “no poor person can write that well”, etc. I guess the idea is that poor people should stay quiet on their patch of cardboard? I did want to know if this was genuine. In my search, I found Erin Kissane and others discussing the reality of povery and sharing links like Being Poor, a 2005 blog post from John Scalzi, and The logic of stupid poor people. Today, when I decided to put these thoughts into a blog post, I discovered an article that calls out the “Poverty Thoughts” essay as false: That Viral “Poverty Thoughts” Essay Is Totally Ridiculous.

I don’t know what is true or what is false, but I do know that having this discussion is important. I read Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickel and Dimed” some years ago and found it quite shocking. When I got back from my overland trip to India and Nepal back in 1978, I looked at all the pictures and their captions in Jacob Holdt’s “American Pictures” and pretty much freaked out. I had seen poverty on my trip and now I was seeing some pretty awful examples in “my own backyard”. What in the world was the meaning of life? Why such disparity? I was able to have a roof over my head and three meals a day, but should I or could I do something about those who couldn’t. This moment really shook up my 20-year-old complacency for about a year or two, but I never did try to start any revolution. Something is wrong with this picture, I thought, but I had no idea how to save the world on my own.

Shortly after the Twitter discussions about poverty, I came across a different type of article that was at the societal level. Cyrus Farivar shared this article on Twitter or Facebook: S.F. tech companies’ civic image at stake as backlash grows, and I found this on my own: In This Silicon Valley Tech Culture and Class War, We’re Fighting About the Wrong Things. Then Cennydd Bowles shared a tweet that led me to this article: Silicon Valley Is Living Inside A Bubble Of Tone-Deaf Arrogance.

I was shocked at the arrogance and the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots. There was also something that reminded me vaguely of distopian, post-apocalytic science fiction movies. Suddenly, it seemed like scriptwriters weren’t making things up, but were looking at what was happening to society today. It was David and Goliath IRL.

There is no conclusion to this blog post. I want to raise awareness about these issues and thought they deserved more than 140 characters. I felt a need to share them in the hope that others out there talk and think about these issues. Maybe one of us will have a constructive idea and a way to carry it out.

One way to start this conversation is showing a lot more respect toward each other. Stop the labels! I’ll close with one more thought-provoking piece – a 2006 blog post from Ted Drake that Jennifer Sutton shared on Twitter. It’s about racial comments, but I think it applies to any of the labels we apply, consciously or subconsiously, throughout our day.

Come on, people. Let’s be nice out there.

My Ignite! slides and transcript for UX Camp CPH 2013

Whew! What an amazing day and a half at the 2013 edition of UX Camp CPH. I contributed 5 minutes to the start of the event. I volunteered to be a part of the team that Ole Gregersen assembled for a mini-Ignite! session on the Friday evening. My 20 slides are posted on Slideshare and at the bottom of this post.

I want to say thank you to those people who came up to me and continued the conversation that I started. It was lovely to meet all of you, and I look forward to hearing more about your ideas and experiences.

Without further ado, I present the script that I used to practice my presentation – 15 seconds for each of the 20 slides. I prepared a script, then made notes as I practised, and finally, I made more tweaks mentally as I gave the presentation. This is my attempt to recreate my spoken words. This gives the gist of what I said and helps you make sense of the text-less slides. You can read all the text on the Slideshare site, but I added a description of the images here for the sake of my blind readers.

The Transcript

  1. Hello, world. You have created a site or an app that you want to share with the world. Is it for the sake of the site or for you? The site is not on its own.
  2. Your site doesn’t exist or live for itself. It lives and works for the people who use it. Thanks to Molly Holzschlag for the inspiration here.
  3. To get at your site, how will I use my visual skills, my hearing skills, my motor skills, and my cognition skills?
  4. Is it perceivable? What if I am blind? Have low-vision? What if I am colorblind? [Image shows a view from the amazing Rainbow Panorama on top of the ARoS art museum in Århus, Denmark.]
  5. Is it operable? How will I navigate if I have repetitive stress injury? Is it keyboard accessible? If I have muslce problems and need to use a mouse, can I use the giant red button instead? [Image from the Yahoo! Accessibility Lab.]
  6. Is it understandable? What if I have dyslexia? What if I am simply tired and stressed? I don’t want a huge block of incomprehensible text in front of me. [Image from the Field Guides to Ensuring Voter Intent by Dana Chisnell showing the section on writing short sentences.]
  7. Is it robust? Does it move across platforms as I move from platform to platform? Will it be compatible with the platform of tomorrow? [Image is a screenshot of the Twitter web app, which is not portable, and a screenshot of the EasyChirp app, which is.]
  8. This is a great acronym from the Web Accessibility Initiative at the World Wide Web Consortium: P. O. U. R. Perceivable, operable, understandable, robust. This is what you need to remember.
  9. Because it matters. When we meet accessibility barriers, we are like this stranded starfish. We just need a bit of help to get back to where anything is possible. We are all starfish in one way or another. [Image of a starfish that looks like it might be dead because it is partly covered in sand. The note on the photo states that it came back to life when the photographer put it back in the water.]
  10. The World Health Organisation says disability is a universal human experience. We can all experience disability – be it chronic or temporary. We can all use accessibility.
  11. If we begin from Day 1, the cost of change is 1 unit. The cost rises until it reaches 60-100 units after the project is complete. Afterwards is not good. [Image shows a tweet from @Whitneyq: “Cost of change: 1 unit in definition phase, 1.5-6 in dev, 60-100 after release (Pressman, 1992) cited in A bug cost chart is also shown.]
  12. Built-on accessibility is an afterthought and a big problem. Is it even viable? Or is it a new accident waiting to happen? I also lose faith in your product when it looks like this [a really unsafe cement ramp built in the middle of a section of stairs].
  13. I think slapping on accessibility afterwards shows a lack of quality in planning and thinking. Let’s focus on quality. Let’s concentrate on what we are doing and who we’re doing it for.
  14. We need to ask those we are designing for. Shawn Lawton Henry has a great, free book online called “Just Ask”. It has guidance on usability testing with users with disabilities, users with all abilities. That’s a must if we are to integrate accessibility throughout our designs.
  15. Because when we our processes fail to include, consult with, and listen to the people we are actually designing for, we also fail to design effectively. I love Lisa Herrod’s quote, and I love sharing it.
  16. Getting the proper mindset helps. Maybe there is a need for attitude adjustment? There’s a set of cards for that! (From Stamford Interactive in Australia.) We are all in this together – developers, designers, content providers. Let’s grow together.
  17. Playing with cards is one step on the road to teaching about accessibility and implementing accessibility. We need education. We need to build and share our knowledge. We will always be building our skills as platforms and demands change rapidly.
  18. Standards are a part of that education. W3C has guidelines of all kinds. British standards has BS8878, a framework for accessibility. We need a common ideological ground to stand on together.
  19. A lovely example is the accessibility applied to the ubiquitous infographic. Using the right skills, an inaccessible png or jpg can be pure CSS instead [by – a pure CSS version of WebAIM’s Web Accessibility for Designers infographic that is available as image and text].
  20. Using these skills means that we can all participate and enjoy our “hello, world” site. With technology like Braille readers, accessible mobile apps, video calls for deaf people, and so on, we can all benefit from designing for inclusion.[Image shows a young blind boy doing his chemistry homework with Braille reader and computer, two men testing a location-aware app on a mobile, a smiling woman watching an older man signing to a person via a video phone, a blind man using his laptop by listening to a screen reader through his earbuds.
  21. The Slides

If life hands you an empty toilet roll, …

It’s mid-February, this is my first blog post of 2013, and I decide to write about empty toilet rolls.


A picture on Facebook had me drop the tidying-up-so-I-could-work project and rush to the keyboard. The artist, Yuken Teruya, has cut delicate, beautiful trees out of toilet paper rolls with the base rooted in the roll and the branches reaching out to the world. A picture of his toilet-paper-roll tree is circulating on the internet, and it made its way to my friend’s Facebook page. (I’m not posting an image here to avoid copyright issues.)

Flashback to my time in Nairobi, Kenya and my son’s nursery school years. I saved all sorts of “garbage” for their arts and crafts classes. Art material was expensive because it was imported, and there was plenty of good material available right at hand: egg cartons, silver and gold linings from cigarette packages, and… empty toilet rolls. I used to take a bag of that sort of thing to the nursery school, and it was appreciated.

Then we moved to Denmark where art material is not so expensive. I had the saving-up habit, you know, so I show up at the kindergarten one day with a bag of toilet rolls and such. They gave me very blank looks and a definite “no, thank you”. They probably wrote up a note to watch out for that crazy mom.

I was annoyed and frustrated. All that trash going to waste. It’s just raw material and the sky is the limit with the imagination, right? But no, I had to go back to throwing out that stuff just like everyone else.

And now, today, I see that a real live artist also sees the potential in toilet rolls! Hurrah for Yuken Teruya! He turns them into a delicate forest. And honorable mention goes to Anastassia Elias and her dioramas, although she “just” uses the rolls to hold her dioramas. I found her in my search for the source of the meme, which didn’t identify the artist of the first photo I saw.

Sometimes it is nice to have that “I told you so!” feeling. :-)

My point? Don’t be quick to judge! Open your mind to potential. (She says, staring at the pile of paper that needs to be tidied up so she can work…)

Getting Down and Dirty with Accessibility and Usability – #TCUK12 Workshop

These are the notes from my workshop on 2 October 2012 at the Technical Communication UK (TCUK) 2012 conference. I called it “Getting Down and Dirty with Accessibility and Usability”. Unlike the slides for my keynote presentation at the same conference, the slides in this workshop were text heavy. (Slides are at the bottom of this post.) They were meant as notes – talking points – for the workshop. Each slide covers areas where technical communicators can begin to apply accessibility and usability right away.

The workshop was called hands-on, but I ended up talking for most of the session because many attended out of curiosity and had no actual projects for hands-on practice. There were many great discussions and questions and answers during the 2.5 hours of the workshop. (If any my TCUK12 workshop attendees come to TCUK13 and want to discuss accessibility “hands-on”, we can always hack in a corner of the bar! My treat!)

Due to the poor accessibility on Slideshare – presenter notes aren’t pulled out for the transcript, I am posting my own notes here (with the slide text for context). Other presenters express frustration about the downside of sharing slides. There is often little context and image-heavy slides can be meaningless even to people with sight.

I had extra slides so I wouldn’t run out of material. These are marked as such.

Introduction – Slides 2, 3, 4, 5

Today’s workshop. The pretty pictures are on your screens, not in these slides! What can be fixed right away and how? Where can you find more resources? We’ll look at what accessibility and usability tricks you can put in your toolkit. We’ll also discuss ways you can apply your new skills – I used the logo of TCUK to symbolise the field of technical communication. Finally, I had to be slightly corny and mention “enlightenment” – the dawning of new knowledge in the minds of many more technical communicators. I used a personal photo of a winter sunset to illustrate this point.

I mentioned how it all just takes one step at a time to implement accessibility. Here’s an article that demonstrates the one-step-at-a-time approach.

BAD Demo – Slide 6

The Before-and-After Demo from W3C:

. This is an excellent training/teaching resource. I had it downloaded on my laptop in case the wifi didn’t work. It demonstrates a site without and then with accessibility improvements. I referred to it a few times during my presentation. Kudos to the people in the Education and Outreach Group at the Web Accessibility Initiative who developed this great resource!

Good examples of accessible websites – Slide 7

For inspiration.

Alt text – Slide 8

I always point everyone to these links. They explain everything. Written by smart people!

And remember alt="" (Read the links to find out what that means.)

I had one more reference from @vdebolt with tips on using appropriate alt text that some of you might enjoy.

Title attribute – Slide 9

<title> is a misused attribute. Get the low-down in this excellent link:
Using the HTML title attribute

Longdesc – Slide 10

The <longdesc> is going through turbulent times, but I say go for it. There is a good article on longdesc from WebAIM.

I listed tables on my slide, but that was a mistake. Just read the article and you’ll get it straight. For more food for thought, read RNIB’s article on longdesc from 2008.

Jim Thatcher made a marvelous favelet tool for checking web accessibility. You can try it for checking longdesc, too. (I haven’t tested that.)

Headings and Structure – Slide 11

This should be an easy one for technical communicators. Use headings! Use structure!
My talking points were

  • Logical!
  • Skip to main content links (blind and keyboard users)
  • Sequence and patterns (non-linear navigation – reading order)
  • Style guides (for consistency)
  • ARIA

My support notes:Note that screen reader is only interested in HTML, not CSS, therefore structure (web standards) is important. Headings are the easiest way to identify structure. Proper structure and good use of headings aid navigation. Use semantic markup and good navigation. Keep things logical. Visual readers interpret the graphic presentation for navigation: headers, location, etc. A screen reader needs similar info because screen reader users need the same thing for navigation.

ARIA is especially helpful (more links later). There are 8 document landmark roles to help screen reader users navigate and identify purpose of content as explained in article on WAI ARIA document landmark roles.

Skip to main content links – beneficial not only to blind, but to keyboard users who want to get to a link in the main article and want to avoid all the navigation and advertising links. This is a useful article about skip to main content links.

It’s a myth that vision impaired users access everything in a linear fashion or listen to everything on the page. They can skip around on a page (if the structure lets them) and it helps if there is a pattern. Vision-impaired users access things sequentially – learn layout and become familiar. Frequent layout changes must be a pain! VI (vision-impaired) users listen to all on-screen text – they can skip around, too, listening to just enough to decide whether to stay or go. Source on VI reading patterns.

BBC has a standards and guidelines semantic markup guide they use. You can base your own in-house style guide on that, for example, to ensure that everyone uses markup correctly and consistently: BBC guidelines for semantic markup.

Lists – Slide 12

Lists: <ol> , <ul> , <li> , and CSS styling

Always use <li> , <ol> , <ul> , and style with your CSS. Why people don’t do this, I don’t know. It’s clean! Rumor has it that this is a problem so I mention it to make sure you don’t make this mistake! Reference: WebAIM article on lists.

Keyboard-only access – Slide 13

Can you do everything with a keyboard? Everything? I use for scheduling tweets, but I am unhappy with certain inaccessible aspects of the product. I must use a mouse or I cannot complete the login procedure. Same problem with Tweetdeck (which I don’t use). I cannot log in with a keyboard. This is crazy when social media is proving to be a great and growing community for people with disabilities – mouse-only means many are excluded. I’m told only onClick works with both keyboard and mouse. Why not use classic HTML where possible? This can solve your mobile needs, too. Making everything keyboard accessible is a basic improvement that can go a long way.

Color – Slide 14

Remember that color and color contrast and alternate indicators play together. Never use color as your only delimiter. In Denmark, it’s estimated that 8% men are colorblind and 0.5-1% women are colorblind. (Danish resource on colorblindness stats in Denmark.) Moral: consider what colors you are using. This color contrast check from is fantastic and very popular. Helps you determine whether you comply with standards, too. A keyword is contrast – watch out for color contrast. is a great resource about color issues.

Labels – Slide 15

Labels need to be made correctly. Always identify the form field with an id attribute. Then, create a label element for each field. Connect it to the input field’s id using the ‘for’ attribute. I took the images on the slide from this video demonstrating coding labels for accessibility. Using placeholder in form fields is optional, but read this article for an opinion on why placeholder is a bad idea with labels.

Link text – Slide 16


I rant the reasons why in my blog post I don’t want to read more or click here.

Plain Language – Slide 17 and 18

  • Design to Read
  • US: Center for Plain Language
  • US: Plain Language in the Federal government Plain Language in the Federal government and a Plain Language checklist
  • UK: Plain Language Commission
  • "How to Write Clearly" in 23 languages

    Text Size – Slide 19

    Tables – Slide 20

    Tables are for data. Not layout. Data. Make sure your tables are accessible. Because I don’t make tables regularly, I forget how to code them properly. I always have to look up the code, but I do look it up and make it accessible. Not doing so seems so wrong. The two resources here are a great help. Remember: use <summary> where you can also list number of columns and rows. Learn to love <th> element and <scope> attribute!

    Captioning – Slide 21

    I’ve given talks about captioning at TCUK10 and at the first a11yLDN unconference. I’ve pointed people to my presentation for captioning guidelines. Download the slides to get my presenter notes. They are vital – and not visible otherwise in Slideshare.

    Note: from slide 22 until my thank you at slide 35, I went very, very fast. I was running out of time and did want to close with the image on slide 34 and my closing credits. The slides are now getting heavier text-wise. They are meant as starting points for the topic in the slide header. I had so many resources for many topics. It was painful culling them!

    Video – Slide 22

    These are resources for accessible media players. Some are standalone players made to be accessible. The first link is a way to make YouTube accessible. The issue is that screen readers cannot access the controls for the typical media players, which means that they cannot access the video. And yes, blind people want to access videos to hear the information. Even a blind and deaf person could enjoy a video if it was captioned properly so there was an interactive transcript.

    Autoplay – Slide 23

    DON’T USE AUTOPLAY! It’s hard or impossible to stop using screen reader. If a page is opened in a different tab, the sudden noise can be confusing, startling, or conflicting. I.e. cognition issues. (And that applies to everyone and anyone. DON’T DO IT!!

    ARIA – Slide 24

    These articles do all the explaining about ARIA.

    Testing and Evaluation – Slide 25

  • WAVE
  • Color Contrast and more – a Mozilla add-on
  • Fireeyes from Deque
  • Functional Accessibility Evaluator
  • Web Developer Extension from Chris Pederick
  • Web Accessibility Toolbar for IE from The Paciello Group
  • W3C WAI Tool List
  • There are many tools out there to help you evaluate your site. It is good to try them all at first and get a feel for what works best for you. Having a couple installed is not a bad idea. They can back each other up. These can catch the major bloopers. Use these tools to catch the low-hanging fruit. But… Never uninstall the best overall evaluation tool you have – your brain!! If testing excites you, consider joining the Browser Testing and Tools Working Group.

    In a comment on the page for the Web Developer Extension, I found this helpful video/article about using the tool. See also articles in the accessibility testing category from Karl Groves. And, finally, the achecker testing tool.

    PS WebAIM has a new WAVE in beta. Check it out at

    Screen reader testing – Slide 26

    Standards – Slide 27

    WCAG 2 at a glance – Slide 28


    • Provide text alternatives for non-text content.
    • Provide captions and other alternatives for multimedia.
    • Create content that can be presented in different ways, including by assistive technologies, without losing meaning.
    • Make it easier for users to see and hear content.


    • Make all functionality available from a keyboard.
    • Give users enough time to read and use content.
    • Do not use content that causes seizures.
    • Help users navigate and find content.


    • Make text readable and understandable.
    • Make content appear and operate in predictable ways.
    • Help users avoid and correct mistakes.


    • Maximize compatibility with current and future user tools.

    This one of many WAI teaching resources.

    WCAG 2.0 – Slide 29

    • Understanding WCAG 2.0: A guide to understanding and implementing Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0
    • How to Meet WCAG 2.0: A customizable quick reference to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 requirements (success criteria) and techniques.

    Learn-more resources – Slide 30 and 31

    Get to know how a screen reader works by reading the first article. The "Just Ask" link is an online book that is also available in print form. It is also a great way to start your journey into accessibility.

    The first two links are teaching/teach-yourself resources.

    The third link is an excellent newsletter that comes out every week. It comes highly recommended.

    The last link is the number one link I’d recommend to any technical communicator – along with the “Just Ask” book mentioned elsewhere here.

    10 Principles – Slide 32

    • Be equitable
    • Be flexible
    • Be simple and intuitive
    • Be perceptible
    • Be informative
    • Be preventative
    • Be tolerant
    • Be effortless
    • Be accommodating
    • Be consistent

    These ten principles were written by Sandi Wassmer and are in people-speak and another way to get the mindset for building accessibly. View the 10 principles of inclusive web design online where there is also a link to download a PDF.

    My favorite quote – Slide 33

    When universal design processes fail to include, consult with, and listen to the people we are actually designing for, we also fail to design effectively.
    - Lisa Herrod

    The source of this quote is It has been broken for a while due to ISP issues. I keep referring to the link until it works or a new one replaces it.

    Image of man taking a photograph reflected on a metal surface – Slide 34

    In summary, think about how your work reflects back on you. The man in the photo sees his reflection on the shiny surface of a button on a lamp post in the city. Think back to the starting thought about quality – what quality will you see in your work?

    Official closing slide – Slide 35

    Thank you for listening! Questions?

    @kmdk / @stcaccess

    Extra – Slide 36

    All of the following slides are extras that would have been used as I saw fit on the spot. They are “as is” for interpretation.

    Mobile – Slide 37

    User diversity – Slide 38

    Test with real people!

    Users are different. But are you aware of the variety? When you test your systems, test with real people who have real disabilities. Personas can be a substitute in some cases. Personas can help teach accessibility. Developers are more likely to respond if they can see how people can be affected by their inaccessible web pages.

    Demo of an accessible infographic and alt text – Slide 39

    I (heart)

    (Slide 39 through 44 show screenshots that illustrate good use of alt text and an accessible infographic. It is meant for situations where there is no wifi.)

    Confession: I love WebAIM. They have so many resources I can learn from. Let’s start the discussion with an example from WebAIM: an infographic of web accessibility tips for designers (and developers). A pretty .png picture. Useless to someone with little or no vision.

    Slide 40

    The pretty picture is available on their site – ALONG with a text version…

    Slide 41

    The text version is the text that is in the image we first saw. All the text was pulled from the picture and put into this alternate form. At the top of the screen shown here is a link to an accessible version of the .png file…

    Slide 42

    Someone else – Chris Throup – made an accessible version of the picture. Looks the same.

    Slide 43

    But the code reveals how there is no image in what looked like an image on the previous slide. It’s just code – machine-readable code.

    Slide 44

    This slide shows Chris Thorup’s code with – at the bottom of the slide – a sample of the WebAIM code for the text version. The same message gets across, but in 2 different ways. The WebAIM sample showed icons echoing the original image. However, those icons use alt text to tell a person using a screen reader what that icon represents. All in all, a lovely real-life example of making something accessible to many different needs.

    Twitter+ Resources – Slide 45

    People are probably the best resources of all. This is the tip of the iceberg here. I could talk for hours about the people I think you should follow. It caused me pain to not include some people. Some may be at a far higher level of coding knowledge than you are comfortable with. Break out of your comfort zone! Or share these links with your favorite developers. They are people well worth following. Note that the last one also has a forum where you can ask all sorts of questions related to developing accessibly.

    Coding resources – Slide 46

    Great coding resources for anyone wanting to get down and get real dirty! The Mozilla ARIA resource is huge and growing. Start your ARIA explorations there.


    Special thanks to John Kearney and Neal Dench for helping me finish this blog post. October has been crazy busy for me so the posting process got a wee bit too delayed.

    Thanks to the people of the WebAIM discussion list – especially Birkir! – who have been an inspiration for other presentations that led up to this workshop.

    Thanks to TCUK (and dear David Farbey) for inviting me to be a keynote speaker. That led to me daring to give this workshop.

    Material in this workshop builds on material from past presentations I have given. There are some messages (for example, the one about alt text) that still bear repeating. As long as there are things out there that are broken – and shouldn’t be, these messages need to be repeated.

Musings on accessibility and usability – my TCUK12 keynote

I had the pleasure and the honor of giving the closing keynote at the recent TCUK conference in Newcastle for the ISTC. I called it “Adaptability: The True Key to Accessibility and Usability?”. This is a short write up to accompany the slides that I have posted from my presentation. For several months, I scribbled notes and dictated ideas into my iPhone. I went to Wikimedia for Creative Commons images (I recommend that). When it came time to do the presentation, I let the photos lead the way and spoke from my heart. I felt I was in the flow, so I really don’t remember all the details of what I said! This is a from-memory text to accompany the text photos for my slides (link at the end of this blog post). It may also be slightly altered from what I said last week. There will be audio at some point. Then we’ll know the truth!

An apology

I apologize for not posting a text version at the same time that I posted the slides. I feel I must practice what I preach and provide all versions at once. No one should have to wait their turn. I partially blame SlideShare. I’m frustrated at their not showing notes in the transcripts. They only pluck out text from the slides and not from the notes where you can have much more substance. Not everyone downloads slides, and that means not everyone can see the notes. I omitted notes from this set, which meant I had more work in preparing this transcript. Not smart. I wish SlideShare would fix this issue.

This is my transcript

Whenever technical communicators gather in a restaurant, menu editing ensues. The night before TCUK12 began was no exception. The menu offered Roast Guinea F o u l. Of course, we were all amused. We technical communicators cannot help editing every single word we see. It’s in our nature. We see writing mistakes everywhere. I feel the same way about accessibility and usability. I see accessibility and usability issues everywhere.

Across the street from where I live, there is, to me, the most annoying walkway. There are decorative cement strips laid across an asphalt base. These strips are raised, so there are curb cuts in some places. I feel there is little smooth transition between the asphalt and the cement, so there are plenty of places to trip for anyone who is not walking carefully or who uses a cane or walker. I am surprised this was approved by the Danish disability society. At least, I was told they approved it. In the winter, it is even worse. The snowplow is not accurate, as shown in my fourth slide, where the plow crossed part of the curb cut and part of the raised cement. The path is not smooth for a wheelchair, a walker, or a baby carriage. This galls me. And it is just one example of how I see accessibility and usability issues in my environment. I want to talk about that and encourage you to do the same.

I am truly standing on the shoulders of giants as I speak to you today. I thought the photo of the Giant’s Causeway illustrated that nicely. I have learned so much about accessibility from people on Twitter in the four years I have been there.

In fact, I have learned that disability is a universal human experience. That is what it says in the WHO quote. If we are all disabled at one point or another in our lives, why don’t we make our world – the physical and the virtual – accessible? I found a series of slides to illustrate how this can be done.

I found a picture of a picnic table where the table extends beyond the length of the benches. This is perfect for a family outing where one person uses a wheelchair. The wheelchair can fit against the table quite nicely so the person using the wheelchair can sit close to the table like everyone else.

The picture of a wheelchair with inflated tires illustrates how someone with a disability can also come out and romp in the snow with friends.

Engineering for Change from MIT has designed a wheelchair that is better suited to places with a rough terrain, such as rural areas.

I love this picture of a young boy doing his homework just like any other young child does today. The chemistry book on his desk indicates the material can be demanding. This boy is able to do his homework because he has a refreshable Braille display so that he can perceive what is on his computer and prepare the required homework. He is realizing his potential regardless of the quality of his eyesight.

The Yahoo! accessibility laboratory displays assistive technology. A monitor shows very large text which is a necessity for some people with certain levels of low vision. A large red button can be used to send commands to the computer by someone who does not have the motor skills to manipulate a mouse.

The photo of @Jennison, a well-known person in the accessibility community on Twitter, shows him listening to something on his laptop. However, the laptop is partially closed. How can that be? He is blind and is using a screen reader. He is listening to the screen reader commands through his earphones. I think this could be a smart trick in a meeting where you can “read” an article with a screen reader when the meeting gets too dull! I think Jennison looks like he is ready to smile, so he is probably up to some similar trick!

All of the slides have shown examples of inclusion where technology has been used as an enabler. It is possible to design from the beginning so that the experience is well done in every way. It should never be slapped on as an afterthought as this ramp seems to be. Someone has ripped up part of some steps and poured cement for a ramp. I think it looks dangerous and would not want to be pushed up the ramp. Sure, it looks accessible, but I don’t trust it.

How would you feel if you did not have access and were excluded from whatever you wanted to do? It’s like coming to payphones in pre-mobile days and finding the telephone ripped off. The device is completely useless. That is what lack of accessibility can mean.

That is when I bring out this favorite quote from Lisa Herrod. “When universal design processes fail to include, consult with, and listen to the people we are actually designing for, we also fail to design effectively.” Design is something we all do – designers, technical communicators, developers. All of us.

That seems to be what happened with the original It was simply not accessible. However, one person voluntarily set out to make an accessible Twitter client. This person, Dennis Lembrée, created And guess what? A tool that is accessible for people who are blind turns out to be usable by everyone. I find the site is far less cluttered and more pleasant to use. The site is totally keyboard accessible, which is something I pointed out in my workshop on Tuesday. It does not require a mouse. Oh, for anyone who dislikes and the endless page, note that EasyChirp has the newer and older page controls. Give it a try even though you are not blind.

Another person who set out to fix something that was broken is Dana Chisnell. She spearheaded a Kickstarter project for making ballot instructions understandable by all. I think is a fantastic project, and I encourage you to visit the field guides site. One lovely example from the field guide illustrates the point “write short sentences”. You see a block of text as the Before, followed by a short sentence that is the After. Cutting away the excess words!

W3C. WAI. WCAG. UAAG. ATAG. There are lots of guidelines out there to teach you and guide you in making accessible material. Some of it can be overwhelming. WCAG 2.0 is supposed to be the equivalent of 800 printed pages! Because it can be overwhelming to some, it may never be read by those who actually need it.

That is why some people in the UK have worked on the British Standard BS8878 to provide guidelines, or a framework that is easier to comprehend and implement. Professor Jonathan Hassell, one of the lead authors behind BS8878, gave a workshop on Tuesday that illustrated how it could be applied in a workplace.

When more people start incorporating accessibility into their work, great things can happen. A picture of a smiling high school graduate turns out to be the beginning of an illustrious career for a multiple award-winning technical communicator who became blind and deaf around the age of twelve. Thanks to the technology made available at her workplace in the space and defense industry, she produced deliverables just like any other technical communicator (the award-winning kind, that is!)

Most people here should know about Dame Evelyn Glennie, who recently performed during the Olympics opening ceremony. By insisting that she could learn music despite her deafness and gaining a place in a music school, she opened the doors for anyone to come and learn, regardless of any disability.

A young deaf man receiving his doctorate was able to appreciate the ceremony in his honor because a sign language interpreter was present. All of these people were gaining access to knowledge thanks to technology and awareness of the need for inclusion.

And this is not all for serious, hard work. A poetry performance has one person reading poetry into the microphone while another person interprets the poem using sign. For me, sign becomes art and is a thing of beauty.

And that brings me to a lovely quote from Lao Tzu that I heard at an AccessU presentation by Molly Holzschlag this past May. “The reason why the universe is eternal is that it does not live for itself; it gives life to others as it transforms.” This is about the web. It is a vehicle. It gives life to the possibility of communication.

So how do we engage people in making the world a more inclusive place? I like these Attitude Adjusters from Australia. These are cards similar to many cards used for brainstorming that can be used for teaching and implementing accessibility.

Because all this makes a difference.

I wanted a starfish photo at this point, and I went looking for pretty starfish photos. I fell for this photo of a starfish on its back and covered in sand. It looks awful, but the note made it the ideal candidate. You see, the AccessAbility SIG of STC has a tale about a starfish. A man walks along a beach strewn with starfish and meets a little girl who is picking them up and throwing them back in the ocean. “What are you doing?”, the man asks. “I’m saving the starfish,” the little girl replies. “With so many, your efforts cannot make a difference”, said the man. “It makes a difference to that one”, said the little girl as she threw another starfish back into the sea. And the description of this photo said that the photographer threw this dead-looking starfish back in the sea where it soon revived…

Making a difference – but what does it cost? I show a diagram of the cost of adding accessibility from Day 1 of planning a project or adding it after the product is completed. The cost is nil at the beginning and very high at the end. Whitney Quesenbery has the numbers. 1 unit (say, 1 dollar) in the definition stage and 60 to 100 units (say, 100 dollars) after release!

So… we need to get out there and make things accessible. I had to share a photo of a tireless advocate for accessibility who is no longer with us, William Loughborough. But oh to be like him, agitating about accessibility well into his eighties and all the way up to his death. What a role model.

We need to get out there and stop the absurdity. Lisa Herrod’s photo got a big laugh. How can anyone post a notice at the bottom of the stairs stating that those with accessibility needs can get help at the top of the stairs. It’s absurd.

Karl Groves has a great quote about how to tackle this job. Focus on the quality. “So long as a web-based system is inaccessible, it suffers from quality problems and we should focus on quality.” The focus on quality may be an easier-to-understand approach to some.

You see, some balk at the terminology. Some don’t even know what it is. This is where I get to use my favorite term, cognitive scaffolding, and show a photo of scaffolding! It’s about mentoring and education. We who are somewhat in the know, need to continuously develop our skills. Then, we must turn around and mentor others – spreading the knowledge and raising awareness. We can learn from each other. I learned the real story about cognitive scaffolding from a tip from Linda Urban, a popular past presenter at TCUK. She recommended the technical report from January 1987 called Cognitive Apprenticeship: Teaching the Craft of Reading, Writing, and Mathematics (opens a PDF). Now I recommend it.

Perhaps another difficulty is that we learn at different levels and have different needs. The concept of this talk is very inspired by a 2009 paper called “From Web Accessibility to Web Adaptability”. [A tl;dr summary of the Web Adaptability paper can be found on Brian Kelly’s blog.] This is also an inspiring read of how we can make accessibility for the web become a reality so that we can provide so many more opportunities for everyone to participate in the Web. I think we can work together to adapt nicely like the chameleon – with all of us blending together maintaining our uniqueness and yet making one beautiful picture.

The slides

You can view the slides here or on SlideShare.