Cultural Accessibility at the MCA Chicago


[Sina]: So, I can go over a couple of things. So, we started working together because the MCA was launching a new website. And so the new website had a lot of, as these projects do, goals, some of them competing some of them aligning, and accessibility was one of the goals there. And so we started talking very early. The reason I’m pointing this out is because that doesn’t often happen, so for those of you who are in the accessibility space, you’ll know a couple of different recipes, one of them is, “we launched two years ago and we should really get on that, so, yeah, what are your thoughts on our website?” Others are “Yeah, we totally know that it is inaccessible, but we don’t have the funds to deal with it” and et cetera And yet others are “Oh yeah, we’re going to be really great. We’re definitely going to involve accessibility and usability and all that stuff like that,” about one week before launch. Sounds like a good plan. So that’s some of the things that often happen in this space. And lead to less than optimal results, right? because it’s the architecture model. If you think about it at the end, after a family has been living in the house adding a room is very expensive. But if you think about it at the blueprint phase, it costs a little extra money maybe, but you’re talking to the architect, your tearing down walls, redrawing lines, things like that. Same with accessibility. Started working with these guys on accessibility, of the website and we have some thoughts to share with you on that. One of the consequences of doing accessibility on a museum website, actually an art museum, is that there’s art. And so this art is on the web. And now we have an issue. We can’t just say, images don’t have alt text.
That’s not a one-liner anymore. You can have ten thousand images, all of a sudden, that’s a really big commitment. You can’t just slip that one by. So we really started to have these serious discussion about images needing to be described and what does that even mean? What about if it’s art? Yeah, ok, we have some very good standards for describing an infographic like a pie chart but what does it mean to describe a work of art? And what about different authors having different opinions and biases and so on and so forth. And this lead to the creation of a tool here at the MCA called Coyote. Coyote is nothing more than a web application. It’s a web-based application, that happens to be accessible. Which is a little ironic given what is does. What is does is the workflow management for describing images. So, if you have a lot of images, which the MCA does, assigning descriptions to that is a lot harder than just a field in WordPress or a field in Drupal for example. because there are different languages perhaps, there are short descriptions and long descriptions there are multiple descriptions for a single photo, or the opposite of that problem, the same image being used in different ways, across the website. In this case, it’s just a thumbnail for the restaurant, but over here, it’s the actual focus, it’s the featured image for the restaurant page. Those might have different meanings. The other thing is that, some of you might be thinking well, when it’s used as an icon or a link or button, that’s really important for, let’s say blind users but , what’s the point in describing it in other senses. Then it’s just decorative. We hear this word a lot in accessibility with respect to decorative images. But because it’s such a part of the institution, and I’m speaking a little bit for you here, because it’s such a core part of the institution, and the aesthetic, the information content, the actual meaning behind the work that’s done here, Susan and Anna rightfully felt that that this needs to be really well described, this needs to be part of the core tenons of the usability model of somebody coming to the website. So, what we started doing was started putting these descriptions into Coyote and I think I’ll let these guys talk about that a little bit, then what I was thinking was we can project if we want to, but honestly, I got a speaker set up here, we can get some good volume I’m happy to let a screen reader read you guys some descriptions, I think there are some sample descriptions as well and you can visit the website on your own device of course as well, which would be fine, if you need to use a particular AT, a particular assistive technology to interact with it. But maybe before we do that, I want to talk just a little about, the effect of description with respect to the curation staff and the awesome, different organizations that got involved. [Susan] Yeah, so as Sina was saying, the task of describing ten thousand images and doing that on an anomaly basis, and then addressing the backlog of images is a pretty daunting one. Just to give you context, really, this is something that as far as we know, no art museum in this country has taken on and committed to. There are projects, in gallery projects, or mobile projects that are accessible and for which images have been described. but nothing on the sort of systematic scale, and so it wasn’t as if we were going to be totally on the hook if we didn’t do this. Which actually makes this a little bit harder. There were some, you know, if the law were pounding down our door, we could sell it. As it is, we were obliged to think about a couple of things. One was selling it to colleagues from throughout the museum. It was pretty clear to me from the very beginning. Sina and I actually disagreed about this, I now recall. When we were first talking about who would do the description, I think that we thought it needed Sina thought it needed to be done within, my, which is publishing, media, that people who had a certain set of skills would be best to do this. And unlike cataloging, I mean I’m a cataloging professional, so I think about those things too. But it didn’t seem to me even remotely possible that it could scale. I mean we’re just not a big enough group. And so we snuck around Sina, and a [Laughter] [Sina] I totally forgot that you did that. [Laughter] [Susan] No, but that first meeting that we had, that big room full of people, we kept telling people “be quiet” [Laughter] [Anna] Well, no. There was this hilarious … we talked about it was going to be five people, it was actually this room full of people. There was this moment when you asked “can you hear me?” And everybody said “Yes!” [Laughter] And Sina was like “oh no.” [Laughter] [Susan] But it was scary because I’m afraid of Sina. [Laughter] [Susan] Also, that find to see how many people. We sent out an email to the staff, and to staff from all other, not just professionals who were involved in creating content but also visitor services, human resources, a lot of different folks who we thought would be good candidates for doing this work. And the response was really really robust. We were asking people to come on their own time, lunch time, and they did. So that was pretty exciting. From our point of view, this is the only way this will sustain this. Otto was saying earlier in a meeting today that we did our first writing sessions as a group because this is not a natural thing necessarily to do. But what we’ve imagined in our heads is that this is the kind of thing that folks would … on a really boring conference call … [Laughter] … on their lunch hour, if they have a little extra flex to it, they would do that. So we built the tool to be something that people could sign in to from where ever, whenever. We had training, from Sina, for a couple of sessions. And the training consisted of a little bit of guideline setting Some basic information about the difference between alt and a long description. But more than anything, a lot of questions that our folks asked, that don’t necessarily come up like in other contexts. Is a picture of Adam and Eve fleeing the Garden of Eden just two naked people running, or is it actually Adam and Eve, how much knowledge do you assume people have really good questions that I have to say, I’ve said this a lot today, we don’t have answers to. We’re really just beginning to compile questions and beginning to think about, how institutions and individuals address those. But the group nature of thinking together about description, what is valuable, what works, what is comfortable to do what are valuable descriptions to end users, that’s a piece we need to tackle next, is sort of in our sights. [Sina] You have the right groups. So the number of descriptions that these guys have been able to pull off is … it started after the first three, four hundred? [Anna] Yeah. [Sina] And it is over one thousand now? [Anna] Actually what was amazing, yeah, it’s well over one thousand now. What was amazing was, adding the counter, one of the features I asked Sina to incorporate into the software was a counter, so you could see how many descriptions were in there. How many images were described. To encourage people to keep going. [Susan] There was even some game theory in there. [Anna] Some departments wanted it to become competitive, so there’s a counter. And so once the counter was active, we had another Coyote group writing session. We had laptops set up in this room again, set up around the room and everyone was writing in pairs And I was just refreshing the homepage of Coyote every fifteen minutes and watching the number go up And in an hour we went from three or four hundred to over a thousand. And now we’re over a thousand and counting [Susan] Of which a very large number are unreviewed because the people who are supposed to be reviewing are [Sina] sitting on either side of me. [Laughter] [Sina] But that does bring up a good point about the review process. So I mentioned workflow earlier, but kind of casually and didn’t define it. So this idea of putting descriptions on images is one thing. Having it really be, again, going back to having accessibility live, I’ve said this a couple times today, having accessibility live as a first class citizen, as part of projects here, projects plural, means that these descriptions get edited, content matters. I’ve seen a lot of upsides, I’m sure you guys have too. My most favorite is accessibility being misspelled. Usually there’s a “C” or an “S” missing. And screen readers say it funny. Which is ironic. But that’s part of the process here. Susan just … the amount of passion and care that goes into digital media here also goes into the accessibility quality. The quality of the content for accessibility. And the descriptions, actually do you have one?
Do you want to read? I can have a screen reader do this as well, and you can go to mcachicago.org and a lot of the graphics there are Oh one quick note, for the folks familiar with short and long description. Right now, just for now, and I will explain why I am saying this in a second, the long descriptions, the lengthier ones if you will, they are stored as the alt text of the image. Yes, we definitely know that alt text is traditionally done … 120, 200 characters or less, but the reason we did that was for maximum compatibility, and then later on, in future cycles and iterations of the development cycle for the website, we’re actually going to roll out … I can talk about that, right? [Susan] Yes, of course. [Sina] We’re going to roll out a feature whereby we’re making visible, and I mean that in every sense of the word, not only to screen reader users but also to every user who can see, and what not, the long descriptions and the short descriptions of these images. And the reason that matters is because of something that Susan always brings up, which is when you start talking to people about this stuff and start talking to them about describing it, or whether, just the fact that the stuff exists, say “Oh, I want to see that.” and right now it’s mainly accessible to using the screen reader, or if you check some things in your browser but we want to make sure that is exposed to all users accessibly, so sure it will be some short descriptions, an alt and a nice widget to expose the longer descriptions for keyboard users but for mouse users and everybody as well so that everybody can benefit from those descriptions. [Anna] Because, ostensibly its close viewing of an artwork, and that’s been the most exciting part, it opens up these artworks. So, I’m going to read a description written by a curator at the MCA of a painting. I will perhaps show it and you can decide. [Laughter] [Anna] and this is a long description. This painting, a realistic portrait, depicts a young African-American woman in a stylish orange coat. In the lower right corner of the image, she holds a thin paint brush in her hand, alongside a flat palette covered in thicks dabs of paint in a variety of colors. The square composition centers on her face and upper body and she looks directly out at the viewer with a calm but commanding gaze. At first, the dark black hue of her skin almost blends in with the black wall that is directly behind her on the left. But her dark complexion also contrasts with the white background of a partially finished painting that appears behind her on the right. Gradually it becomes evident that she is painting a self portrait using a paint by numbers system. On the easel beside her, the figure’s face and body are divided up into smaller shapes, each one outlined in light blue. She has filled in a few of them already with bright orange or mint green from her palette, but she isn’t strictly following actual colors of her own appearance. [Susan] So, Anna said that a curator wrote that, I think that was, oh, sorry, microphone. I think it was interesting about this is that, that isn’t … though it was written by a curator, that’s not actually how our curators write. [Anna] Not at all. [Susan] Before I came here, I worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and we had a phrase that we used and it always said disabling, which was that, what you, this is a terrible terrible text, it’s art history for the blind. [Laughter] [Susan] It said exactly that. The sky is blue, the grass is green, the pretty girl is lying on the beach, it was purely descriptive and that was considered to be somehow lesser because it wasn’t interpretive, it wasn’t scholarly and it didn’t contain research [Sina] As opposed to something which I might call rather useless from a vision point of view which is that we can experience a rich plethora of colors the artists youthful age. [Laughter] [Susan] But I understand that person who wrote this would have been raised to disdain art, his grief for the blind, just that kind of description, and he has been one of our most enthusiastic participants because he has found in doing this some value for his practice that has … enforcing him to empathize with the point of view of somebody who doesn’t come to works of art with knowledge that has been gained over years and years and years of study and it’s been really exciting to watch him sort of raise the idea that there are things to be said in simple description of the sort that might actually be as valuable as the writing that he does that takes five years of research. So we’re really excited about how this work is done and that it’s something that is going to bring value to our users and our visitors, but it’s also really helping our staff to think about what we do and why. [Sina] And not only to help the staff but to help someone who, has great twenty-twenty vision and can see the painting just fine. And I read the description and say you know, I never noticed X, Y and Z I never actually picked up on X, Y, and Z and that is a really enriching experience not only for someone who might be experiencing it for the first time, but there’s this, in the gaming world you would call it replay value, right? So there’s this quality though of using accessibility and inclusive design to increase the replay value of visiting an art museum and experiencing these works of art. Yeah sure, you can still see it again and you might get something different out of it of course because that’s one of the essences of art but having this description almost repositions you to appreciate that visual information even if you can see in a different way. [Susan] This is part of the reason why when we built Coyote, it was important for us to allow for multiple description. Which again is one of those, it’s kind of sacrilegious, in this institution. There should be a kind of… [Sina] Thing [Susan] Absolutely, the right description. I don’t believe in that. But it’s really difficult to change a culture that sort of strives for an absolute perfect. and we are … so this is one of the reasons, by the way, I realize that it sounds really icky, that I was saying we had to have these things, they have to be edited, there can’t be subject and predicates because Sina suggested that we could do without verbs … and articles. [Anna] No it was articles. [Susan] No, yeah, okay, definitely not verbs. Also without articles. But … [Sina] For short, just to be clear. [Laughter] [Susan] Part of … yes, for short descriptions. Very well. Part of the reason why we’re being a little bit cautious about the editorial pieces is that I’m a little afraid that we’re just beginning to tip the culture again toward, it’s okay for visitor services staff to describe something because they spent all of this time talking to visitors and trying to understand what they want to know, what they don’t see this is the type of interaction that curators don’t have so they bring that experience to the description it’s pretty exciting to see the ways that the different members of the MCA team are learning from each other about our interaction with the public. That was an unexpected side effect of this whole process. [Sina] I think we want to phrase this a little bit more as a discussion, without raising your hand because that’s useless for me, but … any questions? [Susan] Could you just tap your hand [Laughter] [Sina] Or just speak up … so many burning questions. But any questions or comments on stuff that we discussed so far? I’m totally commandeering … you guys ok with that? [Susan] Yeah [Anna] Of course [Sina] I’m being arbitrary, you spoke up first, in the front, to my right [Renee] Have any of your artists objected to defining, describing their work? My daughter’s a choreographer and she will not say what it means [Susan] We recently published a little factoid about the number of works in our collection that have the title of “untitled” and its a very significant number [Anna] Twenty one percent [Sina] Wow! [Anna Laughing] Contemporary art [Susan] And we published alongside sort of a note that artists will frequently title something untitled so as to allow for interpretation on the part of the viewer, so yeah that’s one reason why artists may object to… [Renee] that was my point [Susan] yes, but the other reason is we might frankly be wrong. We haven’t heard it yet but then we haven’t been engaging with them. I suspect that’ll absolutely happen, but I also think there will be plenty that don’t mind. But this is what you have to do. [Sina] So Anna has a really good story. I mean if you want to tell it. [Anna] About the painter? [Sina] Yeah [Anna] Yeah, so Sina got us all thinking about this all the time. The process of describing [Sina] They actually think about accessibility
more than I do [Laughter] [Anna] Possibly true. [Susan] Because we’re learning [Anna] We’re learning, we’re veraciously consuming information. So one of the things I do here at the museum is the video production, overseeing the video production. And so we were interviewing Jack Whitten who actually has a show at the Walker right now, I think it’s still up and is in our collection. And so he was in town, and we wanted to interview him while he was in town. about the piece of art in our collection which is a painting. It’s a very abstract painting and I thought as an exercise, I’ll ask him to describe his own painting, what are the colors, how would you describe this to someone who couldn’t see it. And he did a sort of poetic, physical description of the painting, but then immediately digressed into this story, bringing tears to his eyes, of having an exhibition where he gave permission to the registrars to let people touch his paintings and so a blind tour came through and they were able to touch his paintings and feel all of the surfaces because there are these very flat swaths of paint that have been, he calls it a developer but he drags across the canvas that makes the colors blend together in a peculiar way and there’s a hard stop at the end so there’s a bit of texture, so there’s this smooth surface with all kinds of drys made into the surface until you hit the edge and it was really like to hear an artist open up and talk about their work in a way that they wouldn’t normally in an interview it was fantastic. And so these kinds of experiences are constantly opening up here. [Susan] We have all of these fantasies. We have this idea that we might combine these descriptions with sign language, which we’re learning about, because, again, just beginning to learn, and as we groom signers, who are especially dramatic, because they all seem to be destined for the theater we had this idea that it would be really kind of cool to see these descriptions acted out or at least signed. There’s a lot to it that allows us to think about interpreting pictures in many many dimensions that we were expecting. Because honestly, most museums think this is the dullest thing we could possibly do with your time. [Sina] We changed that. [Susan] We changed that. [SIna] We had some questions in the middle, I think. [Elizabeth] Oh, I had a question. I was just very interested. You had mentioned that you got a really good response when you sent out emails and I am wondering, my immediate thought was you got that really good response probably because all of your people are very engaged and really proud of the place that they work. Would you say that would be the case? [Susan] Yes, but I don’t think they necessarily … you’re going to assume that they are going to be proud because it’s an art museum or because they are inherently creative. And I think there is a lot of that. But I think there is also the sense of … people working at non-profits are often in it because they wanted to be in a place that is just doing good. And I think that the accessibility aspect of this, serving underserved communities, offering something that, to people who we’ve basically we’ve closed our doors to in the past because, you know, to hear Sina talk about, there’s not a lot for a blind person in this building, is something that a lot of them respond to, totally independently to the art. [Sina] And, just to set the stage here, the first time, if it wasn’t all, oh my goodness, ramp up to five hundred descriptions and then a thousand, there was one spreadsheet Anna sent out I think and it was to elicit responses, this is when the software was still being developed so that flow didn’t exist, so they just wanted to gather it in a spreadsheet, and it came back empty like empty, zero. So, it really is a story about going from zero to sixty, it’s not just everything was sunflowers and meadows, from day one. But I think part of that was just, nothing to do with accessibility to be honest with you, its basic social engineering, get people involved, get them involved in groups do the partner exercises, have the descriptions be meaningful, so when we had conference calls and they were describing things, one of the things I remember really clearly from those calls is that folks would read the descriptions that they had authored. And it was really cool. And when they were reading it, there honestly was very little, at least I felt, maybe they were just looking really angrily at the speakerphone, so Susan can tell me, but I didn’t really feel a lot of pride of ownership in the bad sense of that word. In other words, I don’t care of you can’t see it, it’s my awesome description. It was a lot more like I never thought about mentioning her race before, or that’s really interesting should we use the word naked or should we use the nude and what are the implications there in what if it’s an erotic painting? So there were all these interesting discussions that came out of actually thinking about this for the first time, so the thing I appreciate most about this particular group of people a lot of them are not in the room right now, is the ability to bring deep thought to something to take it seriously, and then everything else stems from there in my mind. [Anna] And, Sina just demonstrated another factor, which is, having the trainings with Sina that means therefore connecting people with someone who can directly praise them and thank them, was a huge factor, because we had a room full of people working together they’d do some descriptions and then Sina would end every call with “and by the way, and not as a consultant, thank you.” And I think that is such a huge motivator. You could feel the other kind of cry in the room. [Sina] Right, right. [Susan] We were talking earlier, just to pile onto the training note, and this is not specific to Coyote, in fact this is not about Coyote at all, we were talking to somebody from the park service about the nature of Sina’s consultancy with us, and why it had worked, and I think it was kind of worth repeating what we said to him, because he was asking a lot … and we were remembering that the very first deliverable for Sina when we hired him was to engage with our developers, who actually had not had any accessibility training, and he trained them. Then was available to them, and it was a very important part of our being able to a.) make the site accessible but b.) integrate Coyote with the site. All of that is not perfect or done yet, but making available the knowledge so it wasn’t hard … [Sina] And the other advantage of that, there’s an emergent effect that happens there which is that those developers don’t only develop for the MCA, it’s not an in-house team and so what happens is that on future projects, I already know for a fact that they’ve written some little helper libraries for themselves, a little JavaScript things that they used to do all the time that they now do differently because, why not, it looks the same, it happens to be way more accessible there’s cool things like that, things they are integrating into their workflow, like automatically checking for a few accessibility things here and there, that they’re applying to other projects and, it goes even further than that because, institutions like the MCA, there’s several others clients that do this as well, if you start living the … and by the way, this one library that you are using is open source you’ve already solved this problem, because you had to for you, giving back and publishing that back into the community helps everyone else who is now using that thing, sometimes knowingly and sometimes unknowingly. They’ll just say “I use blah blah blah video player” or whatever and they don’t even realize “Oh, the buttons are now tab-able for somebody who can see perfectly fine but … [audience cough] … because they can’t move a mouse, I think that’s a neat contribution that comes out of work like this. Any other questions? [Jen] This is Jen. Could you back up a couple of steps in time and tell us a little more about the origin story of this effort? I’m so curious about … [Susan] So it’s actually … [Sina] I call it, you always get to tell this one. [Laughter] [Susan] April. I mean the origin story is not backed up that much. [Anna] You want to mention when we first met Sina? [Sina] Well, so, I remember it very clearly. I actually where I was, how I was holding my thumb. Which is weird, but … [Laughter] [Sina] I also actually remember because I was heavily excite and threw it across the room. Um … [Laughter] [Sina] Yeah, it was great. But basically we were talking about images, and I remember actually being [cough] [Sina] on Susan’s part, which was I was a little reluctant. I said, ok guys, here’s the deal, I’m going to lay this out for you. [Susan] Oh yes. [Sina] What you are saying, because Susan was very much doing her usual, which is like, forget bare minimums, and even average, we’re going to be like, what’s after triple A, let’s be quad [Laughter] [Anna] Guys, guys, guys, think about scope. [Laughter] [Anna] Deadlines [Laughter] [Sina] So, describe every image in there. They’re like “yeah, totally.” I’m not going to do it right now, it might take five years. Yeah, why not. Let’s commit. So then there was a pause where I go … are you sure? And they’re very affirmative about that. So then the next step is how, how do we do that, and that’s kind of where Coyote started coming up because you know I was pointing out to them, every museum has their own objects collection management system and TMS and all these other things and what do you want to do about storing all of these descriptions, and that’s where we started that deep thinking thing which I really appreciate about MCA, we immediately started going to, what about other languages what about the multiplicity of voices as Anna calls it, where it’s this idea of having different descriptions per image, so that’s where Coyote kind of came about as a not only a workflow tool but a repository, if you will, to hold these different kinds of descriptions in a programmatically accessible way so that the website could draw from it. [Susan] And we egg each other on, which is, sometimes a problem. So immediately as we began to think about a repository we sought as a research tool, on top of everything else, this is an emergent practice and there are a lot of different ways that you formalize a practice, but one of them is just a bunch of people sitting around talking and saying shouldn’t you describe the skin color of a subject in a painting? But the other is, really taking a big dataset, which we began to see, we can collect and especially aggregate with other people’s data and study and analyze and so that’s a part of the project we haven’t talked about but that we absolutely see in the future and maybe we won’t do that work maybe somebody else will come along and grab our datasets and do work on it, or maybe we’ll look at some pieces and others will look at other pieces but it was important to us almost immediately to think about rigorous method for storing and organizing information so that they can be studied by someone, hopefully us. [Anna] And actually that is another factor of the workflows helps the commitment I think of the … all these people, everyone can see each other’s descriptions in the software so you’re not like out alone, in the dark, trying to describe like “oh, I’m afraid, oh I think I might be” you can look at how other people are describing to get a little courage, of like “oh, ok, so-and-so did it that way that’s interesting, I’d do it this way” and you can add to each others, so there is this, still this community basis to the way this data is collected. [Susan] I don’t think we have actually said that it is our intention that the software to be available to anybody. [Sina] Yes. [Susan] and that we’re not really ready for it to be fully deposited, but that we’re happy for you to be in touch with us if you have a thought to using it at some point, but also we can give you a login so you can take a look, so you can poke around a bit and sort of see what it looks like. I mean it does actually work, it pulls images needing descriptions from our site and it pushes descriptions back out, I mean basics. [Anna] Once approved. [Susan] Once approved [Anna] Which is why we’ll let you in. [Laughter] [Susan] Yes, you can’t put anything you want in there. But I’m never going to get around to it. [Laughter] [Elizabeth] So can we describe one if we wanted to? [Susan] Absolutely, please do. Absolutely. As a matter of fact, if you think you might start describing we’ll give you your own login. [Laughter] [Sina] Absolutely. And if you’re interested in doing that, and again, terms and conditions and so forth, but in the mean time, if you are interested in that at all, even if it’s only one, please get in touch with us. [Elizabeth] Well, considering I started my college career as, in painting and print making, so I’m particularly interested. And I really want to see the painting… [Susan] I guess we should [Elizabeth] I have a visual image in my head, and I want to see if I’m right. [Elizabeth] Kind of what I pictured… [Anna] It’s really great with the lights. [Susan] Terrible, terrible. It’s actually … if you come back anytime soon, it’s in our lobby right now. It is a painting by Kerry James Marshall, the great Chicago painter, who’s retrospective will run until April just a plug there, well, because… [Laughter] [Susan] And the show is organized by us, but it’s going on to the Met, and to the Los Angeles Museum of Art [Anna] I have friends from all over coming to see it here. [Susan] And to see it here because Terry has been very involved in … This is interesting because his paintings which are representational, not realistic, but representational are also very very complex and politically motivated in many ways, or at least, ethically motivated on a lot of ways and there’s a lot here that is not in the visuals. And we are not trying to do all of that but it is very difficult to discipline yourself, to not talk about the question of, the representation of black people in art. Because it is all there in what he has put on the canvas. But you know, blind people actually have access to all that scholarly research, they just don’t have access to … the colors are orange, and brown and yeah. The composition is this, so … we’re not trying to do everything with it. [Anna] It’s funny, reading the description … [Susan] Is that the one I would have written? [Anna] It’s not the one I would have written, but it’s also interesting how, reading it again and again, now I’m sort of seeing the hints at various meanings, given the description, that I didn’t … yeah like, this description had … I sort of like wow, you really managed to leave out all of those political information. I’m like, oh yeah, she isn’t strictly following, strictly … I was like nice choice of words. [Laughter] [Elizabeth] And just … the things that … the descriptions match the painting in some way I guess … how would I say this, I don’t know, it was just “paint by numbers,” the voice, the tone of the description matches the painting. When she said paint by numbers, and then when you started with African-American, I mean those two things stood out to me immediately saying “ok, there is something going on there” but there was no over political statement or anything like that, that means something. [Susan] There’s much more to these than people expect from visual description as we’ve been taught it should be and I think this is the thing that surprised us that not only could that be done, but also we could live with it, but Sina didn’t say that’s not how it should be all bolded, all clinical using these kind of words, you have to describe it in this order, we were all a little surprised in our first trainings that there weren’t more rules, that it didn’t need to be more structured, that this could be a service in some way or another, and Sina challenged us to think about how we wanted these descriptions to express our values and not some abstract idea or standard. I’m not sure that there might be other appreciable people out in the accessibility community who would say “Woa, this is way too wild west for me.” Right? [Sina] For sure. Especially with art, I think the immediate … I talked with several folks about this project without mentioning things like that, just to gauge opinions over drinks like that. And basically, a lot of it is immediate dismissal, not because of the value. I think the value proposition is really quick. “Oh yeah, totally. I totally agree that an art museums content should be described.” Et cetera. But, they come back to you with is well, “Oh, art is so subjective, so why bother?” You’ve been in accessibility for twenty years, Come on! [Laughter] [Sina] And that’s the reaction that is not happening here. Past the fast forward and past the why bother into the how, and it turns out that the how involves an incredible amount of richness that you don’t usually get with … you know you can write scripts basically to describe, mathematical diagrams right, it’s very straightforward [Susan] You can actually write scripts to describe many representable paintings. [Sina] Absolutely, you can describe the subject, a little of the form and color, and there’s rules for this. But the thing is that then you lose a lot. And the other real thing is that why bother looking at the MCA’s description, and I think there is a lot to be said for … You know one of my pet peeves is, actually it came up earlier today, and it’s something that comes up a lot which is “Well, blind people don’t go to art museums anyways” and that’s true … who’s problem is that? And you should work on that. As opposed to blind people don’t go to art museums anyway, let’s move on to the next thing. Right? So I’m trying to get that to be a thing and I think it involves the other side as well. I think that as I talk to more of my friends who are blind or my friends who have other disabilities getting them to realize that just because museums haven’t been accessible in the past traditionally and, you know, I can say that, that doesn’t mean they have to be going forward. [Susan] I spoke at an event at the Goodman Theater this fall that was hosted by ADA 25 it was a cultural accessibility summit and one of the other speakers was a blind lady and I read a description of a work we had installed at the time of a hot air balloon that was all blown up you could go inside of it. [Sina] That’s my favorite. [Susan] It’s a great great description and she, at the end of the summit, she was on the stage doing some closing remarks and she said, you know, and somebody asked her this question what do you do with your time, it seemed a little weird but, and she gave a beautiful, beautiful answer about all the things that she does, but then she said you know, I don’t go to museums very much because I don’t really feel a warm welcome but I have to say after hearing that description of that hot air balloon I’m going to the MCA. I thought wow, we just totally won the day. And she did come actually, she came and was escorted through the hot air balloon by one of our guest services staff, the whole nine yards. [Sina] Any other questions, comments? [Nikki] I have a question, so it sounds like Coyote is proprietary to MCA. [Susan] No. [Sina] Just, just for right now. The plan is totally to, let’s agree on license, let’s throw it on to GitHub, the whole thing, yeah. [Nikki] So then the next question, what other applications do you see this on? [Susan] For Coyote itself, or for the descriptions? Yeah, we have lots of ideas. First and foremost, Sina is going to divorce us as our consultant if we don’t find a way to make them available within the gallery space. So that basically somebody who wants to … [Sina] who wants to come here physically [Susan] Like that’s so easy to do … they will be very useful in gallery… [Nikki] They already have like the headsets. [Susan] Well, everyone walks around with that [Sina] With their phone, right? [Susan] What I’d love to see is a whole sort of culture of those descriptions being available in Chicago so that people can expect, it’s expectation that causes, that grows on our audiences so if you know that, you go to a place and they’re going to have descriptions, you’ll look for them. But, we are, I think there’s just times when where done with them and some of it not by us. So our goal would be to make these descriptions available for folks to use … if you are a teacher if you are a researcher, you know, whatever. [Sina] One of our colleagues in Baltimore invited some art history students, the traditional training. Susan was talking about … the professor send a couple of students … this is, if you guys have been following the weather, Baltimore had this insane blizzard, they had fifteen people scheduled to come from the art history class, five of them still came, during all the snow and everything And they showed up and they spent a little bit of time receiving very similar training, not anywhere near as much as done here, and they went through and described a couple of images and they did some surveys, how did you find this experience, would you come again, would you tell a friend … positive across the board. But, then the professor wrote back to our colleague and said, the next day, the next week or something like that, she took them to another thing, another museum or it was an art thing where they were trying to do critical analysis of art and every single one of them, at different points in time, actually independently brought up description as one of the things that they thought about during that experience, even though it wasn’t an accessibility thing or anything along those lines. And the reason why I’m telling this story is because Im really into I don’t know if you are familiar with Randy Pausch and The Last Lecture but one of the concepts he has in there is the head fake. And so confirmation bias is a beautiful tool if you’re trying to manipulate people into thinking “Oh my god, this is the most delicious pizza” but it’s also an awesome tool if you just have twenty people come up and say “hey, are these accessibly described?” and eventually, humans start behaving as “wow, these should totally be accessibly described,” and it works way better than thou shalt, or you must do this thing, it almost changes the framework of thinking about things into wait, why isn’t it. Like whenever you want somebody to do some thing, don’t ask them “can this be done?” ask them “how can this be done.” You’ve already taken no off the table. You should start from there. So that’s one of the “strategicals” I have for it. But then you can name it … Twitter, crowdsourcing, muple, indoor navigation, delivery of images across institutions, descriptions that actually do embody multiplicity and voices, integration with Wikipedia bots, I mean this is like, muti-lingual, look how specific descriptions on demand for different services, if you guys are familiar with the Be My Eyes app for example, right. So you turn it on, you can either signup as a describer or somebody who wants things described, there’s so many things like that you can start delivering accessibility and therefore inclusive design as a service, that helps everybody that I see. The software is just, to me, technology is just a tool, I’m into technology, my background is computer science, but still, it’s just a way for getting stuff done. It’s just a really cool way to add that multiplication factor that force augmentation factor. But, don’t know if that answered your question. [Audience] No, definitely, thank you. [Audience member] I have a question. So, since you developed the software, can you talk a little bit about the accessibility of it? How it rates with the website? And how does that division work? [Sina] So, is your background development? Like technology? [Audience member] Well, I’m somewhere between that. I’m not a developer but I have a technical background. [Sina] So I’ll give you an overview, then I’m happy to talk to you offline about it. But basically, it’s a web application, it’s written in Ruby on Rails, it has a JSON API, it’s a RESTful API that can be pulled to and pushed to. It’s able to maintain state across instances, of course, it’s backed by a database, and it pulls from the MCA’s content management system. So it gets updates from a dictionary, it goes through and says I don’t know about this meaning id. That’s an un-described image, and then it just puts that into the workflow and says, this should be described, and then that becomes an entity of the system. So now, that entity gets all of these descriptions. And then, on the reverse side, on the flip side, the web site can go, oh, I have an image here. I’m going to programatically I’m going to store the alt text for it, I’m going to ask it for it, I’m going to ask Coyote for it, and that’s really important because if you think about it, that can change. Susan might approve another description. Or Anna might go ahead and say, we gotta spell check, we have a spelling thing here, we gotta fix that. And so, you want to make sure that’s done dynamically, you’re not just storing it as a file, as a description. As far as the accessibility of the software, it’s an interesting question, because you’re asking, is the software used primarily to describe undescribed definitions, by definition, is that accessible? We tried really hard to make that the case. Appropriate use of ARIA where possible, WCAG 2 double A was the standard they’re buttons, not links styled as buttons, table navigation where tables are actually useful, not because it’s easy to layout things that way, proper use of headings and ARIA live regions for announcing pop-ups and things like that so the whole nine yards as far as all that goes. I use the system myself and I’m obviously a screen reader user and I can use it just fine. [Audience member] Great, thanks. [Sina] But for other disabilities as well, we don’t want to make it just for blind people. [Susan] Although we want Sina to describe images… [Sina] Yeah, that’s a different problem. [Laughter] [Sina] Any other questions? [Renee] Does the MCA have tactile versions of images? [Susan] Of works … so tactile … [Renee] I mean here obviously, not on the web. [Susan] Yes, no, of works in the collection. We don’t have any. It’s not something … we would really love to be … an institution that has accessibility programs of all sorts, touch is a tricky one, and I have to say I’m not so inclined to love tactile reproduction, but I’d love to have touch stores for example I think that works, it’s easy enough … magnificent touch stores, something that is really uncomfortable for our registration team. They’re pretty conservative and … like many small museums, we don’t have a huge security staff to manage and an understanding of what can be touched, what can’t so they take a really conservative approach to touching anything … [Anna] Except I realized the plaza project, which … [Susan] Oh yes. [Anna] It’s like the one thing that can be touched. [Susan] That and actually I think one of the interesting things that are happening in Chicago is there’s some really good tours for the blind that are architecture focused, and I’d really like to see us have a touch tour, based on the architecture in this building, which is an important architectural space. [Sina] I also think that there’s other aspects here. So when we talk about replicas, especially tactile there’s a resolution problem there. When we are talking about the swirling of colors, it’s really easy to … No problem, here’s what you do, you take the colors and you map them to different textures, and then you take those different textures and you use elevation and et cetera, but it turns out that through neuroscience and other things, we actually know a little bit about how much the fingertip can feel and things like that and it’s not as easy as mapping those things. A lot of times with tactile graphics, my experience not only as a user but also as somebody with a background with this stuff, you’ll get a tactile graphic, and it will look and I use that word visibly, and it will look gorgeous. Seriously, its a work for art. I mean, some of these tactile graphics are incredible. The line spacing is really good and you can see it and wow, this is awesome. And if you then give that to someone who’s blind, you should do this in a controlled setting … you realize that the information content is kind of not there they may get some general appearances and things like that, but its because those spacings are appropriate for vision they are not appropriate for tactile. So what you actual want to really do is a tactile replica correctly and it is doable, I don’t want to say its not. I was in Pittsburg at the Andy Warhol Museum and they have a tactual replica of the Soup Can, the most iconic Andy Warhol. It’s really cool. It’s really easy to tell that that is a Campbell Soup Can. It’s like three feet high and pretty close to scale. They have another one that he did which is a side profile of, I think it’s a few people I don’t remember, it might just be a woman in a car, and it’s an old style car from like the 1920’s or what not maybe the 40’s, and it’s this side view, it’s very elongated, that was a lot harder to tell what is going on, until it’s pointed out to you, and again, it’s having to do with the Campbell Soup Can it’s a lot of empty space, it really gives you that ability to move around and use appropriate perception appropriately, so I don’t want to make it sound like an impossible problem, because I’ve got some friends who do some amazing things with 3-D printing and tactile graphics and things like that. But, it’s hard. It’s a hard problem. [Jen] It’s Jen again. How did you get buy in and funding to do this? [Susan] Ah, we didn’t. [Laughter] [Susan] So my philosophy is that, well one of my philosophies is that you should … if you say something enough times, it becomes a truth. So, Anna and I started saying around the museum “Hey, we’re really leading the community in being about accessibility.” “This is an institution that is committed to accessibility.” A, when Sina was talking about the house that you are building and how much more expensive it is to build the addition, it’s also much easier when you are building the house to swallow the cost of that extra room, you don’t absolutely notice the big numbers, so we were just building a website and so we just frankly, um, “did you just, Dennis, yeah”, nobody noticed that there was accessibility funding … [Anna] It was a line in the budget for the website. [Susan] And all, yeah, technology, right? But in terms of this institution’s commitment to accessibility in the digital space, honestly, we said it a lot of times and now other people say it to. And I just think that works for me virtually every time, except for my husband, but … no … [Laughter] [Sina] You’re going to egg me for saying this, but you just laid out the Donald Trump model of accessibility. Oh No! [Laughter] [Susan] Wait, that’s not true … well … yeah. [Anna] No, he’s just copying her. [Laughter] [Susan] I think it’s really really tough because, we were saying earlier, you know, you can’t say the word people have all of these biases against, you just have to start trying stuff. [Sina] You know, Tim Cook has a quote, the CEO of Apple, right. He has this thing where, he was at a stockholder meeting and one of their larger institutional investors, had millions of shares of Apple stock, was giving him a really hard time about data centers and green energy and all of this other stuff and he keeps hounding the guy, and Tim finally, for those of you who know, he’s a very quiet, soft-spoken, very calm individual, doesn’t lose his cool ever, and he finally gets mad at the guy and is like “Look, if you don’t like it, feel free to exist the stock.” But he also says “When we do stuff like that, green energy or accessibility, we do it because it is the right thing to do, and I don’t consider the bloody return on investment.” Now, the reason that I bring it up is, it’s awesome. It’s like Yay! Fortune 500 company definitely doing some awesome stuff and doing it for the right reasons but here’s the reality. The actual reality, the business reality for Apple is that they made money off of accessibility and surely invested hundreds of thousands, probably by now they’ve invested millions actually in accessibility. They’ve made tends of millions off of that, from education to a lot of other initiatives. Even their kiosk … in fact, the kiosk that museums use is an accessibility feature. And they use it for different reasons, but it’s fantastic for children with autism and other users with autism. It’s one of those things where, if you take a multitude of these kinds of social engineering, everything else, and then also realize that accessibility doesn’t have to be phrased as a cost center, you can get very far, and I’ve seen that now be successful at several different museums, several different start-ups, one venture fund, a couple of larger corporations and then universities are a lot easier universities have that mandate, so for them, that’s not so much of an issue, but all those over ones that I listed, that model seems to work. [Susan] And actually, I have no doubt that the position that we’ve taken on accessibility that we will … it won’t be a cost center for us in the traditional sense, there’s funding to be had for the work that we’re doing we’re 100% positive. But making that argument, think before you start, is a whole lot harder than making that argument when you started a little. And I mean honestly, as much as we’ve done, I feel we’re started a little, but just enough, to continue to realize that, funding and that sort of value to reputation all of that good stuff that non-profits like. [Anna] It’s possible that its becoming quite hip. It’s so cool right now. I was talking to a friend about description and she got so excited. She’s a choreographer, filmmaker and she said “I’ve been doing description!” And I said “What do you mean?” She was living in Berlin and took some workshop with a dancer and they were doing description as choreography and that lead her to take a description course. So she took a course in live description, and now it’s like crazy it’s now like everywhere. I had another friend do a performance, she’s an artist out in San Diego and it turned out she was doing these description-based performances and not even realizing that there was this whole other world, and now she’s super excited to get certified to do description for video. And it’s weird that it’s become this very hip thing that actually makes it so much easier to move things forward. [Susan] Hip for artists but also hip for funders. I was saying in a meeting earlier, that ADA 25 was a lot in terms of awareness and for funders, I think that sort of changes everything. We, of course, are caring something that is inherently sexy, art, with something that is now trendy, accessibility, so we get a little bit of a heads up, we’re not trying to make a gas company, an oil company website accessible. So it helps us with the funding. But I actually don’t think there’s that much of a difference. A willingness for people to put something into this. [Nikki] I have a question. It is trendy, right. And it’s cool and I think there are a lot of people, and there’s a huge community here in Chicago. Have you guys thought at all about engaging with that network of people at all, just to see if they could contribute to doing the descriptions. [Susan] We absolutely have. We want to have a tool that’s finished before we … … no, but we think about it a lot. Which communities would be interested and how would we engage with them. I said something super insensitive at the very beginning of the process which is “I wonder of deaf people would be interested in helping us describe.” And today, somebody who is a representative of the deaf community came up to me and said “We’d really like to help you describe.” [Laughter] [Susan] But, you know, we have been in conversation with the poetry foundation, about that community I do think that this museum has a really, really important relationship with local artists that we’d love to tap but also arts professionals; teachers and the like. There’s really so many possibilities for us. We just … we want people to feel as fulfilled in participating as our staff do. I think that you don’t want to let folks down. So I think we are … we’re moving more slowly than we would want to, but really with the best of intentions. [Anna] It would be so easy to just share with everyone and then have it sort of just flop out. Like something that everyone forgot about. So we’re being be very, very careful about, is it ready for this. [Susan] Actually, to be fair, the kinds of next partners that we’re looking for are actually folks like you who can begin to build your own networks of users and share experiences at a higher level so that we can parse those and understand as a group how this works. Because we can’t manage a sort of ever expanding circle of describers. The logical thing will be for us to in a node in the network that you belong to. That’s probably why we were excited that Dennis asked us to talk to you guys. [Nikki] Given that it is a non-profit, right, and part of the community, how do you see this giving back to the community? Are there local groups in the accessibility community who you think would … be excited to partake in the site? They may not even know that … this is a feature. [Sina] Part of that is intentional. It’s sort of the slow release model, working everything out. The other thing I’m coming to is inclusive design, making sure it’s available for everyone before we make even more noise about it, because at least it’s something that I feel is really strong here which is this idea that, accessibility is great, and everybody associates me for example with accessibility but it’s not what I … it’s a side effect for me. If you do inclusive design and usability correctly, you get accessibility as a side effect. And you can go to a lot of boring talks that talk about that topic for two hours. But the core tenant of it is actually, really true; it’s not just something that people say, it is true. And so, I think the way it gives back is … to me, there are a couple of problems that come to mind. Obvious user benefit, being about to appreciate, art, content in general that was unavailable to you before. And then there is participation. So, going to a museum, while blind, and with someone else who can see it’s just like, yeah, it’s totally doable, I’ve done it before. Several times. But it’s not exactly in my top … Right, but then there is the participation of the other end that Susan and I were talking about curators … and realizing that the museum is actually part of the community and really wanting to give in that sense, and then I think its allowing folks to be participatory in the process of making the rest of the content, or world, or whatever, accessible. Right, or accessible to them. And that’s a big thing for me; involving end users. So not only having then read descriptions, but you could imagine later on almost a Reddit-style, voting interface. Where you vote up or down descriptions. Because … [overlapping talking] … So it’s things like that that I think, this is groundwork, it is early days as Susan says, but, I think your question is incredibly important, because it contributes back in a lot of different ways, it’s not just that thing you do for one disability group. [Susan] I actually want to answer it in a different way, because I complete agree with what Sina says. There’s another thing for me that I think about a lot, which is that even if a blind person never reads one of our descriptions, but knows that they’re there, and that the project was initiated because we wanted to support people who have a vision impairment, we’re sending a message to the community of the blind and vision impaired, folks that, we see them as creative beings I’m sorry this is very touchy, feely … you’re not just, as we sometimes say, … we actually honor your potential to do creative work and to be a person in our community of creators. Which I think is something that museums haven’t been doing. If we put that message to the world, independent of whether or not you actually use our descriptions, that’s super important. And that’s, I know that sounds very abstract, but I think it will begin to get out there in the world. You can be an artist. We believe in you. [Anna] It’s absolute and, the work Sina and I were doing on the letter that we need to write together this week to YouTube and Vimeo about the support for multiple audio tracks because right now, the way those interfaces work, whether it’s a different language community or its an audio description needed community, they’re going to be on an entirely separate conversation thread. Their conversation is set aside and not valued in the core, typically English-speaking able to whatever, engage maybe through closed-captions or whatever it is, but it’s a limited scope that that video functions in so you have all these versions of the video, you know, and like “Oh, I”m looking for the one with the Spanish subtitles, so I can send it to my buddy.” and there’s a whole other conversation happening over there. [Sina] And actually that reminded me. This kind of work does actually have one other strategic advantage. It has a name but I have totally forgotten it. One important one that came up when Anna was saying is that it does a very good job of highlighting barriers to folks who do want to do the right thing. We spend a lot of time in the accessibility community, sometimes commiserating, complaining about, motivating and conjoiling during our day jobs about folks to get into accessibility and so forth I can’t tell you the number of discussions I’ve had … I like going into a room with developers and be like, accessibility, yeah, you guys totally are thinking this meeting is going to suck. [Laughter] [Sina] Let’s just get it out there, and by the end of it, just getting them super passionate about it. Here’s the part that’s really bad. Then they go off and they’ll send me an email, like, so, totally stoked, went home to try to do this thing, hacking on it on my own time, okay. Hacking on it on my own time Sina, where do I put the audio description track on YouTube? Ok, so here’s the deal … You Tube mumble mumble mumble, and like that’s really frustrating. So this kind of work, highlighting those kind of obstacles and doing something about it, is really important. [Anna] And it spins out into everything else we do. Like there’s this moment where we’re having issues with the PDF viewer and uploading PDFs, and suddenly I was like, we’re uploading all of these PDFs, oh yeah, we’ll just upload them all.
Oh my god, our PDFs, they’re not accessible. [Laughter] [Anna] So I called Sina and said “Sina, Help!” [Susan] Tomorrow’s PDF training. [Sina] Yeah, tomorrow is PDF accessibility training. [Laughter] [Renee] How do you get an accessible PDF from a Mac? [Susan] You should come to training tomorrow. [Laughter] [Sina] The answer is, if you are using InDesign, we’ve got it about 95% done already because a lot of those things can be done in InDesign, and you can then export it and the beautiful part about that is the classic problem that you are probably very familiar with which is, some people will make PDFs and they’ll go in and make it accessible, they’ll use Acrobat and things like that, they’re going to make it accessible. Then, somebody comes in and says, guys, the table of contents is wrong, and now you’ve lost all of those accessibility changes, so the fact here is that in fact, I don’t think we’re going to cover any Adobe Acrobat stuff tomorrow all of the accessibility stuff we’re going to do is going to be done at the content authoring level. So if these guys want to go in, they feel totally comfortable making content level changes because the accessibility lives with the document. [Susan] I can see the client look at that calendar, uhhhh. [Anna] I reminded them, they were like yeah yeah yeah… [Susan] So I was like, Sina, if you can make them come to that meeting … [Anna] Actually, a good consultant, just to give a pitch for Sina, I mean the first conversation I had with our lead developer, of the website, after his first phone call with Sina, he was like, “it’s going to be really intense,” but he had this little smile, like it’s going to be really … I’m going to learn a lot like he was really excited about it and that energy and the excitement of … when we sent them this huge task list after our WCAG evaluation, they were like really into it. [Sina] Yeah, that was really weird, actually. [Laughter] [Elizabeth] I’ve had that experience with developers, they are into it, you don’t have to sell the developers because it is a problem to solve and they love that. [Sina] And you shouldn’t go in, I think what happens sometimes in accessibility is … [Susan] Those are developers, we’re talking tomorrow to our designers. [Laughter] [Sina] But you don’t want to go in and call their baby ugly, right? And the answer is let’s do things a different way. In design, I have a buddy of mine who uses the analogy of, for designers, when you think about accessibility, they get way more … they struggle way more with it, in my opinion, than developers do. And to me, I like to tell them, this is from a friend of mine, actually who is going to be leading the PDF accessibility training session, he says, to designers, think of it as working in a different medium and if you are telling me that you can’t be just as creative in clay that you can be in blown glass or what not you know, that’s not the case. You’re going to do all of these amazing things in a different medium and accessibility just ensures that those foundations are really usable by more people. So, there’s just different ways I think of talking to different audiences or being a sociopath as I like to call it. [Laughter] [Anna] I was crossing my fingers this whole time … [Elizabeth] It was interesting you said, calling your baby ugly. I am a UX researcher so my job is to basically tell people that their baby is ugly. In a nice way. [Susan] Oh, so you should see Coyote, so … [Renee] I have a … when I first started hearing your presentation, coming from High Ed., I’m thinking of, how to help all students get through an art history class. Okay, so, I wasn’t thinking of it necessarily as a pleasant experience. You’re taking about going to a museum with a sighted person then. It’s not what you do for fun, but if you have to learn stuff. So that’s how I started thinking about this, but now I’m thinking of … you are aiming for these descriptions to be their own works of art. [Susan] Yes. [Renee] Not art history, but their own works of art, and I think that’s cool. [Susan] Thank you. We didn’t know that that would happen and so that is a great surprise with this project. [Sina] Dennis, how are we doing on time? [Dennis] Well, I was going to ask you. Because you guys have had an unbelievably long day. So, when you guys are ready to raise the white flag, let us know, but did you have a question earlier? I’m sorry … I’m sorry, I’m awful with names. [May] I’m glad that you actually said that you’re incorporating other … you know, the general population not just for screen readers, because most times, when people think of accessibility, if it meets screen reader needs, then it is accessible. Not true. I actually had a discussion slash argument with a former president of the National Federation of the Blind and that was his concept; if you can interact with it with a screen reader, then it’s fully accessible. Not true. So they miss a lot of things, so I’d like to know what other accessibility features or functions that you incorporated into the website, beyond the descriptions and … ? [Sina] Yeah, so two things. The first is that if you look at WCAG, there’s four foundational principles there. Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust. The P.O.U.R. principles. And there are a lot of different groups or users that you can encompass with a lot of the things there. So for example, color contrast is very important, low vision is an incredibly large population. Keyboard ability, for those who can’t use a mouse. So I’m not talking screen readers here, just regular keyboard ability, and intelligent keyboard It doesn’t just mean that you can tab to everything, because we have, what, ten thousand? Is that right? Ten thousand images. Sometimes there are page, there’s pagination in the system, sometimes you might have a thousand links on a page or something like that. So intelligent keyboard ability really thinking about that process. With respect to cognitive, we’ve done a little bit of work on the back end, with respect to just … the amount of words on the screen. Something we’re struggling a little bit is, do we truncate and then do we have “more” buttons? There’s empathetical use cases there, right? Or at least traditionally … use cases. For example, if you have a “more” button, what do you do for blind users? And there are a couple of tricks. I’m not going to bore you with the details. But, there are things you can do to make it easier for narrow vision, narrow field of view, for low vision, also, folks who are on, cognitive impairment spectrum, where you might want less text on the screen, but then also not to force more keyboard strokes, not only for the sighted keyboard user, but also for the blind user. Let’s see here, what else. We’ve done a little bit of thinking around this idea that if you are a … keyboard, but mainly I’m thinking of switch users so, things like skip to content links but also scroll back up, so jump links in the middle of the page, especially with pagination, something that I’ve been struggling with a little bit, because it’s a hard one. Again, going back to this idea of having it be just as good for keyboard users, just a good for screen reader users. The way I tend to look at it is, it’s an ever increasing net I think I was saying this earlier today, it’s an ever increasing net. The tricky thing is, every time you want to add, fail forward.
Failing, awesome. Iterating, great. Fail forward. But, make sure that when you do that, you do a check, you circle back and you say “Did we do something that took away from another user group that we were doing really well with and that doesn’t always mean just aligning with WCAG. WCAG is awesome, and a lot of people that worked on it. I’ve gone out preaching it and using it all the time. But it’s not the end all, be all. There’s plenty of great principles, sometimes that are encapsulated there that you can also take advantage of. Does that answer your question? [May] Um, yes, follow-up comment. Because you can actually take away from one challenge by trying to address another. So, color contrast is something that you mentioned which actually is a challenge for a lot of people, because they don’t use enough contrast. And so therefore you can’t distinguish foreground from background, text from the background. However, then some people take it to the extreme they say, we’ll just make it pure black text on pure white background. Now you’ve lost a lot of people that have certain cognitive challenges such as dyslexia. In that aspect, people just decide ok, we’ll make it the maximum. Well now you’ve made it more challenging for another group. [Sina] So, I think we’ve been pretty lucky here not to have … so I’m very well acquainted with the polarizing scenario that you are laying out, because I’ve had to deal with that a lot. It’s the “Oh wow, this is going to be great. Let’s just totally go to the black and white.” “That’s what we are going to do. Fine. We’re going to have no…” We’re lucky here not to have that sort of attitude about things. But I kind of want to address your overall point. Often times, and this is totally, I’m not stating this as a well, researched principle. But it’s my opinion, so take it for what it’s worth. The answer to a cross roads of multiple usability features, in which one is orthogonal to the other, is sometimes resolved at least by offering the user customizability that is stateful. And so what that means is that if you have a website in which the color contrast can be monochromatic or color and let’s just, for the sake of argument say 4.5:1. It’s just not that hard to actually make the few lines of CSS change and store them a radio button choice. That get stored for that user as a cookie. And, those are the kinds of things that, I feel, address some of those kind of things and take it out of the realm of “Oh, this is impossible” into, customizability, some basic usability, then the ability to always, if you have that choice, giving the user, this goes back to the seven principles of universal design, giving the user a way, a very easy way of returning back to the original starting point. So if they don’t like that thing, or maybe, one day they need it to be black and white, but another day, a lot of folks with vision impairment will tell you, their vision is not constant from day to day. Sometimes they, I have some friends who use a screen reader only for some days. And on other days, they use large type. And that’s ok. So, having those choices be user modifiable I feel is an important way of solving that problem. Or at least, a stab at solving the problem. [Susan] We have a ton of users, if anyone has actually looked at our site, who would love to be able to customize by turning off the grid. [Sina] Yes. [Susan] And, someday we’ll convince our developer. [Anna] And actually, that tees up a second side to this, we’re operating within a design that was already created [Dennis] That sounds familiar. [Laughter] [Anna] So there were … [Susan] But it really, really, rather aggressive … [Anna] Very rigid, very rigid, and so that was one of the things, I remember Susan saying in the beginning was if we’re going to carry this, we have to go even beyond, because this site looks the way it does and is going to look the way it does, and our font is the way it is and … [Laughter] [Sina] There were certain things that were invariable. You always have those in projects. And that’s just the reality, but again I feel customization can help that after the fact. [Susan] But, just the work that our developers have done, and our designer had done, our developer, designer team, have made them more sensitive, even to the front-facing [Sina] Agreed. [Susan] design aspects. [Elizabeth] Have you done any usability testing with people yet? [Sina] Yes. So, low vision, cognitive, keyboard-only but sighted, fully blind, I think I’m missing two … hard of hearing with captions and there are a couple other things, there’s not too much sound other than the video contents, those were somewhat straight forward I’m missing one [Susan] … [Sina] And along the WCAG functional criteria docs was the overall basis for that with a few usability things thrown in. And that was … oh, cross-functional, that is what I was missing so, we had folks, evaluate this website, I’m going to totally misplace this, a few different states in the United States, Ireland, London, some folks up in Toronto, Vancouver, um … … it’s been a really long day, and a couple of other places as well, and that helps a lot as well because you’ll pick up on some things where accessibility and internationalization come into play and those are things to be aware of. Even if it’s simple things, like having to display time and making sure that is marked up correctly to the browser, to display it, this is a time field, this is a date field, other things like that, that have back end implications as well. [Elizabeth] Ok, thank you. [Dennis] Well, I’m going to be the mean one and say, that is … [Sina] You’re so mean. [Dennis] … yeah, I know. Well, that’s the worst thing I’ve been called today, so … I want to thank Susan, Sina and Anna for their time today and for sharing their experiences with the website. I think they all deserve a big round of applause. [Applause] [Dennis] Thank you so very much. The only thing I will add to this, which is totally unrelated to this is when you get home or whenever you feel like it, please go back to the meetup site for this, please rate it and please provide feedback, you know, was this helpful, was it not, was it missing something. [Susan] Well, don’t rate us if it wasn’t helpful. [Laughter] More from the meetup side rather than the content side. Thank you so very much. [Susan, Sina & Anna] Thank you. [Applause]

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