With the help of attendees to their annual conference–and an outdated MacBook–Missouri Assistive Technology (MoAT) has created a valuable resource available to any State or Territory AT Program.
Too often it’s all just technical.
“Accessible Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is now a requirement under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act which has adopted the WCAG 2.0 level AA standards for accessibility.”
Frankly, that sentence, alone, fails cognitive accessibility.
When it comes to the rules, it’s easy to feel lost in the weeds and miss the forest for the trees. I have to add alt text to photos on Facebook? Audio describe as well as caption videos? Archive my Zoom webinars? How?
In Missouri, Eileen Belton, Alternative Financing Program Coordinator of MoAT, serves on a statewide accessible information technology working group. She knew MoAT needed to create a webpage of resources for developers, webmasters, and others to learn how to comply with federal accessibility requirements. But she and MoAT Director David Baker also knew that technical guidance alone wasn’t going to be good enough. People who maintain websites, create documents, and/or manage social media accounts often have little exposure to how the standards make a difference for real people.
Needed were the voices of AT users speaking for themselves.
Nine AT Users
The AT User Video Series is the kind of idea that’s so obvious one wonders why projects like it are so rare.
Located at the Accessible IT tab of at.mo.gov is a page featuring interviews with nine individuals, all avid users of the web with different forms of assistive technology (and the video overview above).
“We wanted somebody responsible for a website to understand what AT users go through to access web pages,” Belton explains. “That’s how the idea for the AT User Video Series was born.”
Belton had never made a video before this project and the interviews were produced on a shoestring. Yet they do something extraordinary: model accessibility while assembling in one place a range of experiences with technology and disability. Here are five participants with different forms of visual impairments, a woman who is deaf, two individuals with physical disabilities, and a man with paralysis who uses a speech generating device. Each video includes captions and voice over for titles.
The AT users are well known in the Missouri disability community. Andrew, for example, is a deputy commissioner for the Office on the Disabled for the City of St. Louis. MoAT’s use of first names only with titles, however, conveys an important point. Andrew is not the only Andrew trying to read your website.
The effect is an introduction to real people who webmasters and editors (like me) can keep in mind as we structure our heading levels, add alt text to images, and label our form fields. ICT accessibility is, after all, a lot like that accessible parking space–just because you may not see someone using it doesn’t mean they’re not out there driving.
How Did MoAT Pull It All Together?
Brainstorming the idea, Belton and MoAT Director David Baker realized their upcoming Power Up conference presented a terrific opportunity. They could recruit diverse AT users and interview everyone in one place.
Power Up brings together individuals with disabilities of all kinds committed to raising awareness about how technology can improve lives. Prior to the conference, MoAT advertised the video series idea. Belton also made a few targeted phone calls to state agency colleagues she thought might be interested and/or could recommend participants.
The response was tremendous.
“Everyone we approached wanted to do it,” Baker says. “And actually we probably could have done a few more. There were people reaching out to us.”
MoAT made sure to record users of different categories of assistive technology as well as seniors. “The only category we didn’t get represented was learning disability and we still have that on our radar screen to do,” Baker says.
Video participants all came well prepared. Belton was delighted, “I was surprised at the depth of their responses, considering they didn’t have the questions ahead of time.” She says just one participant was provided the questions beforehand, Darren, who communicates with a speech-generating device and needed to pre-program his responses.
Low Budget, Big Impact
To make the videos, Belton used equipment from the MoAT device loan program. She mounted an iPad with a microphone in a quiet conference side room. To encourage consistency among the videos, Belton made sure to ask everyone the same questions. Interviewees discuss their disability and the assistive technology they use, how they access the web, and web barriers they encounter. They also discuss how access can be improved.
“If the web application has been designed with keyboard navigation, all is good for me. If not, I go to more effort to use mouse control.” –Darren
Once back at MoAT, Belton transferred the videos to a MacBook loaded with an older version of iMovie. “We just used what we had,” she emphasizes. There she figured out how to add animated title slides and an audio track for voice over (to hear titles aloud). The videos were next uploaded to YouTube for auto-captioning where Belton explored YouTube’s tools and edited the text for accuracy.
Since creating the videos, MoAT has shared them in email campaigns among state ICT working group members and shown some at working group meetings. But the project keeps growing new legs. For this year’s Power Up conference in April, a panel of AT User Video stars will contribute to the ICT strand to keep the conversation going.
“Every couple of months we think of a new way to use it,” Baker says.
Missouri’s AT User videos are available for embedding on any State or Territory AT Program website. They are not heavily branded MoAT and were purposefully produced to make the case for accessibility, be those users in Missouri or any corner of the world.
What advice do Belton and Baker have for other AT Programs interested in doing something similar?
Baker: “Don’t overthink it. Close the loop and introduce IT people to the end user.”
Belton: “Save your work as you go!”