In my last post, I talked a little bit about how I get my day started with the technology I use. In this post I’d like to talk a little bit about how hard it is sometimes to just get the job done. I’ve been in my current position at UC Berkeley for just over ten months. So it’s really hard to tell you what my job actually entails because I’m still creating it as I go.
Just over a year ago, UC Berkeley decided that they wanted to have me focus full-time on web accessibility and so they created a new position to let me lead a web accessibility initiative. I have been allowed to create the job as I go and design the way our web access initiative should work. For example I was initially supposed to be a service people paid for to evaluate their web sites for accessibility. We quickly realized that we were going to need to offer the service as part of the common good. We’ve been doing a great deal of work just trying to find out how to have the most impact and today we’re on the verge of announcing several new changes. Needless to say, my work includes reviewing a lot of websites. In addition, a lot of my work includes writing posts just like this. Since my job is still new, some days are very different from others.
Currently I’m the only person with an extensive assistive technology background working on the UC Berkeley campus. As I’m well known all over campus as the disability technology expert, this means that I often get messages from people in various departments wanting to know what assistive technology can be used to help individuals with disabilities. For example, I may get calls from IT people needing to install Dragon NaturallySpeaking for a staff member who’s recently been injured and is unable to type. On other days I get calls from fellow blind and visually impaired staff members needing help with the multiple applications we use at the UC Berkeley campus in our jobs.
As part of the commitment to and to help plan future accessibility, UC Berkeley has directed me to review as many of these applications and tools as possible. Much of what I use in my daily work is accessible. The laptop I’m using is the standard configuration for our campus and I’m using a word processor that works extremely well. This laptop is a Mac air so that I can quickly switch to test in both windows and mac operating systems. My day to day working configuration is Windows 7 with JAWS for Windows and Dragon NaturallySpeaking professional, connecting the two with J-Say Pro to connect Dragon and JAWS.
Last year for the first time ever, our campus started creating a standardized productivity suite of applications for the staff. Now all staff members on campus and students too, have unlimited access to the entire Microsoft suite of office applications. So I use Microsoft Office for my word processing and email. We just recently upgraded our email to use Google applications for education. As the Google apps suite is not the most accessible, I made recommendations that all the screen-reading staff members use the Google apps sync tool to synchronize their calendars and emails with Microsoft Outlook. This has turned out to be the most accessible way to use the Google applications. Personally I only use Outlook to read email and I use the web interface for the calendar. I find the calendar to be very accessible but email to be somewhat cumbersome and problematic.
For example, because Gmail “threads” conversations, as opposed to organizing them chronologically, I found that I’ve often missed a message from someone when I was strictly relying on the web interface. Using Outlook, I just do a search for unread messages once a day to make sure I don’t miss an important message. I do find it very difficult to schedule a calendar event in Outlook, but using the web interface is very easy and accessible. It’s not unusual for my computer screen to have Outlook showing my email and Firefox showing my Google calendar. And yes, I sometimes even have Internet Explorer open showing my personal Gmail account in the web interface. This way I keep up to date with what’s happening in the user interface for Gmail, just in case it becomes more accessible or less accessible. And I can be ready to help any new users learn how to use these tools.
That’s really only my productivity suite.
Now I’ll tell you a little bit about my testing environments. On my laptop I have a generic test environment. This is a user profile I’ve created for which I have not changed any of the default settings. Just to make sure I am as complete in what I can test as possible this laptop is a mac air running windows 7 and mountain lion so I can quickly test in safari and voice over as well as windows. However, I mostly use windows. In this user profile I can test with JAWS for Windows or Non visual Display access (NVDA} a quickly growing open source free screen reader) Just by clicking the appropriate application on the desktop. I have Firefox Internet Explorer and the Google chrome browser installed and can switch between all of them just as easily. I’ve installed all the accessibility toolbars that I know of: Wave, Firefox, Juicy Studio, AMP (Accessibility Management Platform), and the Internet Explorer accessibility toolbars. I don’t have these toolbars installed for myself but for the development teams I work with.
Although I’m learning how to use these toolbars, I’m not a coder (programmer) and don’t wish to become one. Instead I test for usability and work with development teams on understanding the user experience. I’m slowly learning how to use all these tools, but it’s been a very painful process. The difficulties I’ve had have been mostly due to the fact that I don’t know what’s actually on the screen. When I’m navigating around through the firebug toolbars, for example, I’m not really sure where I am in relation to the other toolbars. Remember how I spoke about getting an assistant to work with me occasionally in my last post? This would be one of those situations in which a sighted assistant would be very helpful. If I could sit down with somebody who could describe interactions on the screen to me, I think I would learn these applications a lot more quickly and effectively. But for now I’m learning them one part at a time. I don’t think it’s been a deficit that I don’t yet know how to use these tools because the web designers I’m working with do know, and when we encounter a usability problem, they can just click the mouse to use the tools themselves.
I’m incredibly lucky to work in a paperless office. In my previous job, there were many forms I had to sign and submit on paper. However in my current office, I exclusively use electronic forms and many of the forms are very accessible. My current boss is extremely understanding about the ones that are not accessible and helps me inform the owners of the ones that are not, both that the forms are not accessible and how to make the documents more accessible. There is a wonderful man in my office, Kin San JUNG that I can turn to for help filling out these inaccessible forms. But I feel really bad about using him to do these particular tasks and make sure that both my and his supervisors are aware of the time he takes to help me. I feel guilty about having him fill out these forms for me, but I know in the future these forms will be more accessible and it’s my job to insure that they become so.
I also participate in a lot of meetings at work. Many of these meetings are conference calls. As more often than not nowadays, when a conference call happens, it has a web interface and this is when I am most disabled. I have taught many of the people I work with to send me the documents they will be sharing on the screen ahead of time, but frequently this cannot happen. These web conference calls use a variety of tools, and to date, I have never found one that allows me to use my screen reader to interact with the presentation.
Once again, my android phone also causes a bit of a barrier. We all have experienced the conference call. You are given a phone number and an access code, so you sit down and dial the phone number and then the problem occurs. My android phone defaults to having the keypad turned off when a call is made. I’ve learned that if I swipe right once, I can actually get to the checkbox to turn on the dial pad. However putting the phone close to my head to hear what the buttons that I am going to be pressing are turns off the speech for the screen reader of my phone. Yes, I know this is a setting I can change, but it’s more important for me to stop speech when it’s reading on and on, or to not have speech going on while I’m on the phone. I’ve just recently learned that if I turn the phone so that it’s facing away from me, I can get it near enough to hear the speech tell me which button I’m on in order to press them. I’m getting used to the new angle so I might be able to do this effectively very soon. In the meantime, whenever I have conference calls, I book a room or work from home. I don’t have a desk phone.
This is been a really difficult post to write. I didn’t want to sound like anything in my job was not accessible. But there are small tasks that occasionally I have to do that are, in fact, not accessible. As a person with a disability, it’s really difficult to balance needing accommodations and other people’s perceptions of my skills. In previous jobs when I asked for accommodations, I’ve actually been told that I was just looking for someone else to do my job for me. This was not the case and I hope is never the case. My current bosses are fantastic about accommodating my needs and have shown wonderful insight about what my limitations actually are. Because of the linear way a screen reader works, my bosses understand how much longer it takes for a blind person to get tasks done. One of my supervisors sits down to help me compose some of the documents I need to get done in a hurry. I actually find this very valuable, because not only is she helping me format and correct the documents, but also I get to benefit from her experience with policy and campus culture. We all know that it’s always better to have someone else look over your work when at all possible.
I’d also like to let you all know that this blog is edited by a very good friend of mine Amey Garber. She has worked on assistive technology in the margins for years, she has turned out to be a valuable editor and asks me the questions about the assumptions I make. She and I work through email and we’ve developed the technique of using “track changes”, which is very difficult with JAWS and her inserting comments liberally throughout the document. When I am reviewing her edits I read through the tracked changes in the document several times and then turn it off in a separate document and start adding the answers to her questions. Amey does a wonderful job of helping me get these blogs out to you. Once Nilo gets the blog, she also edits and adds links and graphics to enhance the comments. Without the help of these two I would never get this piece out.
Thanks to both of you for helping me.
In my next post I will talk about technology I use around the house. But after that I would like to do a post that answers some of your questions. So please don’t hesitate to e-mail me comments or questions about what you would like to have me write about. firstname.lastname@example.org or drop me a line on twitter @accessaces I enjoy writhing these blogs and want to make sure I am keeping my topics interesting to all of you.