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Archive for the ‘Inclusive Planet Vision’ Category

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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This post briefly describes the BookBolé project and seeks to  articulate our vision

The Need

One of the biggest challenges in the world of the visually impaired – the lack of accessible content i.e. content in formats accessible by the blind such as audio, digital text that can be ‘read out’ by a screen reading software, or braille.

With the digitization of content as a result of the internet, as well as specific governmental and non-governmental initiatives to increase the volume of accessible content, there is now much more accessible content* though the volume of content remains a major issue. However the problem is not just one of quantity but of relevancy i.e. of not just responding to general needs but specific user requirements. Large-scale global initiatives to convert books into accessible formats are just a drop in the ocean. They can only cater to some needs of some people in some parts of world. With so much information captured in partially or fully inaccessible formats (print or digital non-readable formats) how does one respond to culture, language, industry and domain specific needs?

The Ideal Solution

The answer to this decentralized and hydra-headed problem is a decentralized community-driven solution. If similarly placed print and visually impaired across the world can connect with each other and share their efforts to fulfil their specific needs then there is a durable and dynamic solution at hand.

If Kevin from Holland shares his accessible biology notes with Rajat from India; Jose from Brazil shares his law school research with Lee Kyun from Korea; Nick shares his accessible collection of Gandhi’s writings with Shantifrom Sri Lanka, then we have a solution like no other.

A vibrant universe where people reach out, connect and fulfill each other’s needs. A universe created by aggregating the pools of accessible content that the visually impaired community has created for itself. A place where the value to the community of an individual effort is truly unlocked. Sharing that goes to the heart of the problem.

Why BookBolé?

Bookbole.com, Inclusive Planet’s first creation, is the consequence of this thought process. Designed exclusively for the 300 million-strong global print impaired community, it enables them to connect with each other and share accessible content, including books, notes, articles, blogs, audio recordings and so on, and furthermore, to build conversations around this content. It is a social network, with a difference. In the fashion of all things simple and useful, Bookbolé will no doubt come to mean different things to different people across the world – a learning tool for some, an entertainment platform for others, and for all, a place to make friends and have conversations.

Inclusive Planet’s vision for Bookbolé is that of a large, vibrant, pulsating community that shares useful content and conversations in a more-that-just-accessible environment, and where publishers and content-creators across the world, see the value of making available their content in mutual beneficial arrangements. Going forward, the largest community of visually and print impaired people in the world could see Bookbolé become a social network, content platform, marketplace and policy platform rolled into one. The makings of a true social venture.


* It is estimated that in India only 0.5% of books are available in accessible formats while in the US this is only 5%.

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