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Blio Developer Says Instability Caused Launch of E-reading Software Without Accessibility

September 29, 2010 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Tuesday’s highly-anticipated launch of new e-book reading software took off without accessibility for blind readers.

Developed by K-NFB Reading Technology, Inc., a joint venture between Kurzweil Technologies and the National Federation of the Blind, Blio was promoted as a cross-platform, accessible, visually appealing way to read books.

Instead of a new way to read books, blind users found a note buried in the website’s downloads page stating: “An accessible version of Blio will be available for download in October.”

James Gashel, vice president of business development with K-NFB Reading Technology, said Blio was launched without accessibility because adding it made the software too unstable for public release.

“Obviously, I want Blio to be accessible on the first day. There’s no question about that,” said Gashel, who serves on the board of the National Federation of the Blind. “We pressed toward having the same level of accessibility, but it doesn’t make sense to invest effort in making software that doesn’t run right accessible at the time of launch.”

Blind readers, who said they were looking forward to an additional way to get more books in an accessible format, immediately began expressing their disappointment by way of the Twitter social network.

Blind computer science student Kevin Chao said Blio crashed after ten minutes even without the accessibility features.

“I brought up the table of contents in the Getting Started book, tabbed around and Blio crashed,” Chao said.

“Blio has failed on a number of counts,” Chao said. “It’s not fully accessible, it’s too late and it seems not to have garnered any traction in the mainstream.”

Chao, who describes himself as a tech enthusiast who pushes the limits by testing products for accessibility, assessed Blio’s launch performance.

He said Blio is missing basic interface and navigation features found in software that has been made accessible to screen readers for the blind.

“There is no menu interface, just a lot of buttons and other controls,” Chao said. “Pressing the tab, shift-tab and arrow keys produce unreliable results. There also appear to be no hotkeys to activate any buttons or navigate to various fields or controls within the application.”

He said Blio’s book reading features are also not accessible.

“Using JAWS, I could read the first line of a book. I could listen to a book using ‘read aloud’, but there is no way of navigating,” Chao said. “I can read the Getting Started guide when hitting ENTER on the ‘read aloud’ option, but I can’t control voice features like rate and pitch.”

Gashel said accessibility is a Blio feature that will improve as the software evolves.

“I would look at Blio as rolling out, and so not all of the features of Blio that are supposed to work for everybody are working on the first day,” said Gashel. “What we’re focused on is whether or not Blio will be accessible. It will be. There’s no retreat or backing up.”

Another disappointed blind book enthusiast asked what would happen if key features for sighted readers were left out of the product.

“I wonder how this would go over?” asked Richard Wells, a blind Baptist pastor who also does quality-assurance testing for an assistive technology company that provides screen-reading software for the blind. “New book reader just released. The visual display should work some time next month.”

Categories: Uncategorized

Listen to the Desert Cafe Sunday Night

September 25, 2010 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

We will open the Desert Cafe doors once again on Sunday night, Sept. 26. So, if you are interested in listening to great internet radio before bed or while you are drinking your coffee getting ready for your day,then join us. You will have fun hanging out in the Cafe.

Tomorrow night September 26,
Come Join us and listen to our music mix.

We will play the usual tunes and have virtual  food and beverages in the cafe,
and  chat with  you all about your day.

Darrell  will discuss more about the iPhone; it has become a fun  techie segment,
and you all will see how quickly  the time went.
He  will be demonstrating oMoby,
not Adobe.
Several objects he will identify,
Even about money oMoby does not lie.
Perhaps, he will demo other Aps,
So come hangout with us,Ladies and Chaps.

Do you find this menu appetizing? If it has appeal, then point your browser to ACB Radio Interactive and listen on Sunday from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Pacific time, 9:00 to 11:00 Mountain time, 10:00 to midnight Central time, 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. Eastern time or 03:00 Universal time on Monday.

We look forward to hearing from all of you on e-mail, MSN / Windows Live Messenger and Twitter during the show.

Categories: Uncategorized

Letter to Cronkite School Dean Christopher Callahan About the Need for Accessibility

September 17, 2010 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Many of you will note that, recently, I have been posting comments on Twitter about my journalism school’s lack of accessibility. These comments were driven by my frustration with what I perceived to be the school’s lack of interest in improving the accessibility of its websites and other technology resources as evidenced by its ignoring and failing to take seriously previous correspondence I have undertaken with Dean Christopher Callahan.

In response to my tweets, I began receiving direct messages from Dean Callahan expressing concerns and disappointment with my approach to these issues. Haven’t I heard that before?

Stating he had previously invited me to meet with him to discuss solutions, he did so again. I never received that previous invitation. I’m not saying it was not sent, just that I did not, for whatever reason, receive the message.

Those of you who truly know how I approach these matters also know that I never take a fighting stance with anyone who is constructively engaging with me or others to improve accessibility. Doing so would be counterproductive and undeserved. The hammer approach is reserved strictly for those who outright ignore me or who show the bravery to actually make a statement justifying their ongoing discrimination against and exclusion of blind people from full participation through inaccessibility.

Trusting that Dean Callahan previously sent a constructive invitation to engage in discussions, I apologized for the character of my Twitter posts and agreed to an Oct. 5 meeting to discuss how the Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication can successfully address accessibility in light of its stated diversity policies.

As part of that correspondence with Dean Callahan, I restated an earlier promise to send him an accessibility assessment of one of the school’s websites along with useful resources for making websites accessible. The following letter, sent to Dean Callahan Friday afternoon, fulfills that promise and serves as my ongoing effort to work with the Cronkite School to become more accessible to faculty, staff and students with disabilities and to educate future online media content creators and editors about the need to make sure their work is accessible to all audience members.

Hello Dean Callahan,

As you have requested, please find two examples of accessible media websites along with some resources that can be useful in making the Web more accessible to people with disabilities.


The BBC works to make its Web presence accessible. Although it is not perfect in all respects, their efforts are evolving in the right direction.

Here is a link to BBC’s accessibility help page.

The key point to be clearly understood is that BBC publicly states that it cares about accessibility and works to make positive changes in that area so as to include members of its audience who have disabilities.

National Public Radio

NPR also makes the bulk of its Web presence accessible, although it doesn’t state it as loudly as does BBC.

The organization offers a text-only site.

The use of text-only sites is controversial, and I personally disagree with the practice, as the tendency is to update the “graphical” site without providing exactly the same content on the often-forgotten text-only edition. When this oversight is noted, it represents a separate-but-unequal situation which was banned by the Supreme Court in the 1960s as it was being applied in the segregation of African-Americans.

Accessibility Assessment of

There are a number of unfortunate elements on the Cronkite News website that currently make it difficult to use for blind readers. Further, it seems recent updates to the site are making it even less accessible.

Missing Alt Tags for Graphics

The most obvious accessibility concern with the site is the lack of descriptive alt text tags for images. These HTML tags can provide a text-based description for graphics and they should be used for all important images on a site.

The site’s navigation area sounds like this for a blind screen-reader user:


Although this is not a show stopper, the presentation could be easily improved by simply adding appropriate descriptive alt text tags to those graphics.

Other missing alt tags are more serious, as there is no way to determine the content to which they will link unless the user simply follows the link to find out. That’s not right unless a sighted user must play the same guessing game.

For example, a link near the text about downloading mobile apps just says “img/front_cn.” What’s that?

Even the link that says “img/front_azfactcheck” won’t be clear to most readers.

Navigating Stories

Navigating to and reading stories is possible by tabbing to and pressing enter on links, but it could be far better. Consider using headings on the titles for each story. When this is done, as is the case on many blogs and some other media websites, blind and sighted users alike can more easily and quickly move from story to story.

Video Links Next to Stories

A link that happens to be missing its alt text tag, “img/icon-video,” appears next to most stories on the site. Pressing enter on that link seems to do nothing, although it’s clearly meant to allow the viewer to watch a video. What is this link supposed to do once clicked?

Reading and Watching Stories

There are difficulties once a story has been opened for reading or viewing.

Let’s take the Sept. 16 story titled Ranked No. 1 in country for West Nile virus, Arizona is fighting back as an example.

A link at the top of the story is missing its alt text tag. It says “09/16-westnile-video img/tp24.” What does this mean exactly? Clicking the link seems to do nothing.

A text link labeled “watch now” also seems to go nowhere.

It is clear that some sort of video player is being used which doesn’t work on all systems.

What technology is being used to play videos on the site? Is it Flash or Silverlight?

There are some steps that can be taken to make multimedia sites more accessible.

Please see the resources coming right up.

Web Accessibility Resources

These resources are simply examples of sites that provide best practices and other information about making websites accessible.

Accessibility in the Cronkite School Curriculum

Finally, I am deeply concerned about the lack of attention to accessibility in the teaching of classes like JMC 305, JMC 460 and the Saturday online media academies.

Many resources exist for developers to make their sites accessible. Why not include some assignments and good information about accessibility in these courses? After all, creators of online media are going to find themselves confronting organizations and people who advocate staunchly for accessibility and are thus going to find themselves directed by corporate management types who wish to avoid lawsuits, public relations disasters and other similar risks to their bottom lines.

Best regards,


After reading the letter, I invite all of you to comment. What did you like? What didn’t you like? What additional resources might help a journalism school make its technology accessible or educate others on accessibility? As always, the door hangs wide open and awaits your constructive feedback.

Catch the Desert Cafe Tonight on ACB Radio Interactive

September 12, 2010 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

The Desert Cafe now opens at a new time!

The  Cafe will  no longer open on Monday.  Instead,  we will open the doors on Sunday nights. So, if you are interested in listening to great internet radio  before bed or while you are drinking your  coffee getting ready for   your day,then  join us. You will have fun hanging out in the Cafe.

We will play  cool songs from A to Z and serve up our famous delicious virtual food and beverages.

In addition, Darrell will have  his usual technology segment.  This time, he will discuss the iPhones touch screen and explain how it works from a blindness perspective.

Do you find this menu appetizing? If it has appeal, then point your browser to ACB Radio Interactive and listen from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Pacific time, 9:00 to 11:00 Mountain time, 10:00 to midnight Central time, 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. Eastern time or 03:00 Universal time.

We look forward to spending time with all of you tonight in the Desert Cafe.

Categories: Uncategorized

Listen Live to the Arizona Association of Blind Students Seminar Online

September 9, 2010 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

As part of the 64th annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Arizona, the Arizona Association of Blind Students is holding its annual Friday evening seminar and business meeting.

We’re doing something new this year.

If you are unable to attend the convention in person, you have an opportunity to listen to the seminar online.

Our agenda includes these exciting items:

  • Bob Kresmer will discuss the Arizona state affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind.
  • Ryan Thomas will talk about how the Arizona Association of Blind Students can help you succeed.
  • There will be an interactive discussion on how blind students use college support services.
  • Allison Hilliker will discuss the use of Bookshare and other accessible media sources to successfully complete reading and research work.
  • The Arizona Association of Blind Students will hold elections.

The seminar starts at 7 p.m. Pacific time Friday, Sept. 10.

Visit Blind Access Journal Radio and choose the link for your favorite media player to start listening. If your listening device or software is not listed, simply choose the Winamp option for the best experience.

If you wish to communicate with us during the seminar, simply post to Twitter by including #nfba10 anywhere in the message.