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Hi all!

If you want to work on a project that combines social impact and community building and bleeding edge technology and design challenges then Inclusive Planet might just have that experience you’re looking for!

We’re looking for part-time and full-time interns / volunteers in the following areas:

1. Engaging deeply with our 4000+ user community and nurture it through content, guided interaction and plain old solid listening; we have a performance linked stipend for both full time and part time interns. If you’re already a member of our community then that’s even better because anyone interacting with the community needs to bring the perspective of a community member;

2. Helping our team collect the right seed content, either by aggregating from other sources through partnerships or by creating our own. In case you’re wondering what seed content is – it’s the content that you put on your site to draw users in the early days where user-generated / shared content sites like ours don’t have enough user-generated/shared content to attract new users.

3. Working on a new technology and design-led project to create tools/products that could tremendously increase access to the web for the print-impaired. Here you could do research, actually help on tech creation or in the design process etc.

In case you’re interested in the work we do please write in to founders@inclusiveplanet.com. We welcome students, professionals and all else with time to spare and a curious mind to apply to some of the most interesting problems out there. Thanks!

SM

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For the technology practitioner who works in the area of getting her solutions to work well for a diverse audience, there are a few related but often ambiguous terms that float around. Accessibility, usability, design …

For those of us who are particularly concerned about ensuring that web applications fit the needs of an audience with different faculties, there are a set of standards that are laid out that presumably will tell us how to do this. The question often comes up – is it worth the effort following standards like the W3C WCAG standard? There is a profusion of articles on the web that detail how standards compliance can be achieved and there are organizations who will help you, the web asset owner, get to standards compliance. What is often not that clear is the question of – what will WCAG compliance do for my users? How will my web asset benefit from this exercise? Does WCAG compliance mean that ALL users can use my web site ‘equitably’?

Focusing on the WCAG standard as an example, the standards body has stated that the goal of defining “how to make Web content more accessible to people with disabilities”. The standards body has decided, I believe consciously, to not precisely define accessibility. Also note the comparative term “more accessible” is chosen instead of a more absolute or superlative term. There is an air of tentativeness, which again, I would think, is a conscious choice.

There are a few more factors to consider:

  1. Standards, in its final form often represent less than the state of the art in technology due to the long life cycle of the standards process itself. This is also clear from the facts that often even as a particular standard is in the stages of approval, work on the next standards commences.
  2. Standards bodies often need to come up with a least common denominator in its specification and in the interest of expediency, generally have to choose to ignore complicated or controversial issues.
  3. Some of the issues related to accessibility, are so entwined in issues of usability and design, that it is difficult to make concrete standards without making assumptions about the nature of use of the system, the faculty set of the user and other environmental factors. In the continuum of accessibility-usability-design, the standards are only able to address the safe generalities than the highly variable specifics.

The points above should not be read as criticisms of standards, but merely as an observation of the facts.

Now, switching over to the practice side, take the classic cases where a web or digital asset owner takes the steps towards ensuring diversity. She is often driven by one or more of the following:

  • Social and values based reasons– CSR for companies, social pressure for individuals
  • I care about diversity, and want to make sure that there are no barriers in my organization for people with a non-standard set of faculties
  • I have a digital asset and want to come across to others as someone who cares about diversity
  • Regulatory and Legal
  • I need to comply to the accessibility rules/regulations/laws of my country/state/association in relation to and if I don’t there is a possible negative consequence
  • Commercial
  • I or one of my customers have or will have an audience or customers that is diverse and needs accessibility
  • I or one of my customers need to show some others that we are accessible so that we can get some new business
  • I or one of my customers deal exclusively with a segment that have a non-standard set of faculties that have accessibility implications and our offering needs to be precisely tailored for them

Consider the various cases above. While clearly not an exhaustive treatment of all possible cases, you can see 2 significant flavors:

  1. I need to convince a certain constituency that my digital asset is accessible
  2. I need to make my digital asset as accessible, usable and appropriate as possible to one or more specific class of users with non-standards faculties.

In both these cases, standards compliance is a requirement. For case 2 above, however, the asset owner would be ill-advised to stop at standards compliance and should consider additional steps to put forth the best possible offering – from accessibility, usability and design standpoints for the specific audience(s) in mind.

So here goes the stake in the ground:

We believe that standards compliance is a necessary but not sufficient condition for ensuring best possible levels of accessibility.

We do believe that current standards ensure a high degree of accessibility. However, we believe that there are additional steps that can and should be taken to allow a person with a non-standard set of faculties the best possible experience with a web site or application.

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Ever wondered how a person with a visual impairment uses a computer? Surf the web? Read a book or an article? I know many people who shy away from asking these questions. The important thing is to realise that there’s no harm in asking these questions. The real harm is in not bothering to find the answers to these questions. A request to our visually impaired readers: please pass this article on to all your sighted friends. And dear sighted readers, walk with me through this simple simulation of the experience of a visually impaired person.

The most popular, specialized software program used by people with visual impairments to consume electronic content – documents, web pages and other computer programs is a type of computer software known as a screen reader. The screen reader has two major functions – Navigation and Text-to-Speech (TTS).

A screen reader aids in navigation by guiding the user in moving from one page to the other, from one paragraph to the other and so on. It aids in TTS by converting electronic text to sound – basically it reads out text. The biggest stumbling block for screen reader software are programs and content that is difficult for navigation.
 
A large majority of computer programs and electronic content that are used by the visually impaired, are created by sighted people – programmers, content writers, editors etc. If you happen to fall into this category of very powerful people, and if you are unfamiliar with screen readers, I would definitely encourage you to try this little experiment. Now, if you don’t, you might still want to do it – because it can open your eyes a little bit into an unfamiliar world. All you need is a computer, working eyes and an old newspaper.

Here you go:

  1. Turn on your computer
  2. Browse to Google news or your favorite online haunt OR open a large word document
  3. Now get an old newspaper – take one full sheet and open it up
  4. Make a rectangular incision 3 inches long and half inch wide at the center of the paper
  5. With both hands, hold this newspaper against and in front of your computer display, so that you can see the screen through the rectangular hole
  6. Now start reading through the hole. Move the paper to the right to continue reading
  7. Try to jump to sections that you are interested in by moving the paper around
  8. Read the whole page
  9. Rinse and repeat with familiar and unfamiliar pages
  10. That’s it.

Hope you enjoyed the experience 🙂 .. Now we need some feedback from you:

  1. How easy was it to find something that you are looking to read?
  2. What would have made it easier to find what you were looking for?
  3. Is the experience different between familiar and unfamiliar pages?
  4. How would you change the design of your document/site/application after your experience of carrying out this experiment?

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One of our member, Krissy, sent this to us. A truly amazing piece by Harold Krents.
Harold Krents, a graduate of Harvard Law School, practiced law in Washington, D.C. Blind from birth, he was a strong advocate for the rights of the handicapped. He speaks about the everyday prejudices faced by a blind person.

Darkness at Noon
By Harold Krents

Blind from birth, I have never had the opportunity to see myself and have been completely dependent on the image I create in the eye of the observer. To date it has not been narcissistic. There are those who assume that since I can’t see, I obviously also cannot hear. Very often people will converse with me at the top of their lungs, enunciating each word very carefully. Conversely, people will also often whisper, assuming that since my eyes don’t work, my ears don’t either.

For example, when I go to the airport and ask the ticket agent for assistance to the plane, he or she will invariably pick up the phone, call a ground hostess, and whisper: “Hi, Jane, we’ve got a 76 here.” I have concluded that the word blind is not used, for one of two reasons: Either they fear that if the dread word is spoken, the ticket agent’s retina will immediately detach, or they are reluctant to inform me of my condition, of which I may not have been previously aware. On the other hand, others know that of course I can hear, but believe that I can’t talk. Often, therefore, when my wife and I go out to dinner, a waiter or waitress will ask Kit if “he would like a drink” to which I respond that “indeed he would.” This point was graphically driven home to me while we were in England. I had been given a year’s leave of absence from my Washington law firm to study for a diploma in law at Oxford University. During the year I became ill and was hospitalized. Immediately after admission, I was wheeled down to the X-ray room. Just at the door sat an elderly woman—elderly I would judge from the sound of her voice. “What is his name?” the woman asked the orderly who had been wheeling me. “What’s your name?” the orderly repeated to me. “Harold Krents,” I replied. “Harold Krents,” he repeated. “When was he born?” “When were you born?” “November 5, 1944,” I responded. “November 5, 1944,” the orderly intoned. This procedure continued for approximately five minutes, at which point even my saint like disposition deserted me. “Look,” I finally blurted out, “this is absolutely ridiculous. Okay, granted I can’t see, but it’s got to have become pretty clear to both of you that I don’t need an interpreter.” “He says he doesn’t need an interpreter,” the orderly reported to the woman.

The toughest misconception of all is the view that because I can’t see, I can’t work. I was turned down by over forty law firms because of my blindness, even though my qualifications included a cum laude3 degree from Harvard College and a good ranking in my Harvard Law School class. The attempt to find employment, the continuous frustration of being told that it was impossible for a blind person to practice law, the rejection letters, based not on my lack of ability but rather on my disability, will always remain one of the most disillusioning experiences of my life. Fortunately, this view of limitation and exclusion is beginning to change. On April 16, [1978] the Department of Labour issued regulations that mandate equal-employment opportunities for the handicapped.

By and large, the business community’s response to offering employment to the disabled has been enthusiastic. I therefore look forward to the day, with the expectation that it is certain to come, when employers will view their handicapped workers as a little child did me years ago when my family still lived in Scarsdale. I was playing basketball with my father in our back yard according to procedures we had developed. My father would stand beneath the hoop, shout, and I would shoot over his head at the basket attached to our garage. Our next-door neighbour, aged five, wandered over into our yard with a playmate. “He’s blind,” our neighbour whispered to her friend in a voice that could be heard distinctly by Dad and me. Dad shot and missed; I did the same. Dad hit the rim; I missed entirely; Dad shot and missed the garage entirely. “Which one is blind?” whispered back the little friend.

I would hope that in the near future, when a plant manager is touring the factory with the foreman and comes upon a handicapped and a non-handicapped person working together, his comment after watching them work will be, “Which one is disabled?”

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It seems that everyone has an opinion on twitter… they love it, hate it, don’t mind it, find it useful, or think it’s a waste of time. But they still have an opinion on it. While I was doing my research I found some very interesting articles like Top 5 ways Smart people use Twitter, why twitter will endure etc. I also found Why I don’t use twitter. You can read all these and make up your mind for yourself. Better yet, sign up and try it out!

But whatever you do, don’t dismiss it out of hand. There is value that twitter provides, if you know how to tap it effectively.
We started actively tweeting from @inclusiveplanet recently and the response has been phenomenal! I don’t want to measure the results based on the number of followers or lists etc. What I will base it on is the solutions that we have discovered, and similar minded people & organizations that we have managed to connect with!

Now coming to the point of the blog post – You can now tweet from Inclusive Planet!

Of course we didn’t debate over the potential use of twitter. Our decision was easy to make – Our planeteers asked for it! J
Many of our members pointed out that they would like to tweet from Inclusive Planet – what they are doing on Inclusive Planet, share with other people something that they saw or read on Inclusive Planet.

This is a pretty exciting move for us. It allows all our members to let the rest of the world know what you they’re upto! Or as one of planeteers, Tomi puts it – “my vocational school blocks Twitter now 😦 Inclusive Planet to the rescue! 😀 #1P”

I suggest you join in on the fun… and don’t forget to use #1P – the official Inclusive Planet hash tag.

Tweet away….

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Support Donna Jodhan, for a better Canada

Our friends in Canada are fighting for better online accessibility in Canada. Donna Jodhan and her friends are calling upon the Government of Canada to ensure that all information and services offered through Federal Government websites be made to comply with WCAG 2.0 guidelines by December 31, 2010.  Please copy and paste the <links> below into your internet browser.
Take action today by signing our online petition at:
<http://www.PetitionOnline.com/GCWAP/petition.html>

You can read more about our campaign and join us on Facebook at:
<http://www.facebook.com/group.php?v=wall&gid=359483366688>

You can also send your support by email to:
<blind.equality@gmail.com>

Please share this with your friends, colleagues, and supporters of
e-accessibility.  Accessible websites mean stronger communities and
healthier economies!

_______________

Quick Facts:

+ Over 800,000 Canadians have seeing limitations that require accommodations.
+ If a website is not accessible, then to a blind person, it does not exist.
+ Government of Canada websites fail simple accessibility compliance tests.
+ Offenders include many major Federal departments, including Canada’s
largest employer, the Public Service Commission

Help us Support  in her Charter challenge against the
Attorney General of Canada, scheduled for May 19-21, 2010!

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