Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Fillable Word Forms training manual free through Saturday

My book is free all this week in recognition of National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

This is the missing manual to creating fillable forms using Microsoft Word 2010 which are fast, efficient and accessible. Drawing on the fields of graphic design, web development, rehabilitation and the author’s experience creating hundreds of forms, this illustrated step by step guide walks you through the form creation process. From creating a logical layout and selecting the right font to inserting fillable fields which can be read by (are accessible to) users who are blind, this guide will teach you the mechanics and the why behind good form development. You will also get tips and tricks on managing your forms to reduce maintenance and how to speed up your forms creation process. Whether beginner Word user or experienced pro, everyone will find something new in this book.

You don’t need a kindle to read this book. You can still read it for free on any computer or tablet using Amazon’s free software.

Monday, August 12, 2013

No one has ever built a statue to a critic...

Read the full post at Seth's Blog

Monday, July 22, 2013

Rick Hansen on Inclusive Communities

Rick Hansen Foundation logo, stylized wheelchair symbol
"My goal has always been to build an even greater awareness of our need to move from a view that accessibility is just about getting in and out of buildings to a view of intentionally designing and creating fully inclusive communities, so that people with disabilities can fully participate."
-Rick Hansen writing in the Huffington Post "What I would Change About Accessibility for People With Disabilities in Canada"

Rick Hansen Foundation

Monday, July 15, 2013

From Paper to Screen- A Short Film on Typography

Here's a great little film about typography.  I really like how it's deceptively simple, well designed and executed.  

According to the description, it's a graduation project by Thibault de Fournas

FROM PAPER TO SCREEN from Thibault de Fournas on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Food Appliance Robot

Restaurant sign of robot comprised of various kitchen appliances.

Image description: Restaurant sign of robot comprised of various kitchen appliances. The head is a toaster, neck a frying pan, body a kitchen stove, feet are baking pans and hands holding tea tray and cutlery.

CC Licensed image courtesy of flickr user Zen Sutherland

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Roving Restaurants

picture of a sign that simply states "food"
I love Maine and moved back here because of the access to the lakes, mountains, rivers and the ocean. However, at times, the lack of choices is maddening. I realize that small urban centers can't support separate Brazillan, Thai, (proper)Mexican, Japanese, Middle Eastern/ North African restaurants simultaneously.

I'd love to see a number of restaurants pool their resources and create a circuit for chefs where the restaurant is more of just a location and the food changes. Rather than a rotating menu, you would have a roving restaurant.  The schedule of a single location could change on a nightly basis where one night you have Brazillan food, and the next Middle Eastern the next Thai.  The chef teams would change location each night, or every few nights to a different location (ensuring an equitable distribution of week night and week end nights for each team at each location). Wait staff could be stationery and belong to the location, as could other core restaurant staff such as the hostess, bar staff and busboys and dishwashers.   They could be trained to serve the different dishes and work with the different chef teams.

This obviously poses bigger issues such as staffing, product/ supplies, preparation and equipment. The basic kitchen equipment would be the same regardless of the specialty and there would be a few specialized pieces.  Items could either be ported or have an individual one at each location.

If there were more than one circuit running, other chef teams could do guest nights in a location.  So, chefs from the coast could come inland and do a night in the central part of the state offering unique specialist seafood or a team from a well known restaurant could do a guest stint at the restaurant.   This might allow restauranteurs to test the market for a particular type of food or offer specialist nights in a location. 

Though challenging for the staff, roving restaurants would allow small urban markets to get a range of unique and ethnic foods and that the location always has something different to offer and  filling the restaurant with different clients every night.  It just might be the solution to the high rate of failure in the restaurant industry.

"Food" sign courtesy of Flickr user Kevin Harber. Be sure to check out his Generic Sign Project for more great signs.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

WTF OMG its Dictionary Maintenance

close up of words in russian to english dictionary

It’s easy to ignore the thousands of decisions that go into a piece of software or a website.  Beyond what each page says and how it’s arrange, there how many menu items and how they’re organized to the size of a font and the degree of contrast from the background.  These are things that most people never think about, but encounter virtually every day.  

Noah Sussman wrote a post called Falsehoods programmers believe about time . It illustrates all of the various ways a programmer can screw up coding time in an application.   For example:
  • There are always 24 hours in a day.
  • Months have either 30 or 31 days.
  • Years have 365 days.
  • February is always 28 days long.
  • Any 24-hour period will always begin and end in the same day (or week, or month).
In it he gives a hat tip to Patrick McKenzie’s Falsehoods programmers believe about names which gives a litany of ways to incorrectly program names. 

I am reminded of these as I manage a system dictionary which serves as the spell check for the application.   When you search for “dictionary maintenance” you get a full page of definitions of maintenance (with the last being the Urban Dictionary definition of “high maintenance”), but there no resources that I could find which aid in maintaining a system dictionary. 

The reason for this is that the dictionary is, well, the dictionary. It’s given to us and there’s one way right way to write a word, right?  

Aside from the obvious misspellings and slag which people frequently recommend be added to the dictionary, there are a host of other issues you encounter when you dive into the maintenance aspect of adding or rejecting items for the dictionary.

Names in general pose a variety of issues.  Should proper nouns / proper names be in the dictionary?   The editors as Wikipedia wish to make a distinction between the two,
A distinction is normally made in current linguistics between proper nouns and proper names. By this strict distinction, because the term noun is used for a class of single words (tree, beauty), only single-word proper names are proper nouns: Peter and Africa are both proper names and proper nouns; but Peter the Great and South Africa, while they are proper names, are not proper nouns
For my purposes they’re largely interchangeable.   Individuals’ names do not need to be included in the dictionary while business names (especially those which are unique or spelled incorrectly al la Dunkin Donuts) should be included in the dictionary.  Location and geographic names such as towns, cities, counties, states, lakes, rivers etc. should be included in the dictionary.  

Initialisms and Acronyms are always fun.   While extremely similar there are slight differences.
Initialisms are abbreviations which consist of the initial (i.e. first) letters of words and which are pronounced as separate letters when they are spoken”- Oxford Dictionaries
For example the BBC (British Broadcasting Company), UN (United Nations) and the text lingo WTF (What the Fuck) and OMG (Oh My God).  On the other hand,
Acronyms are words formed from the initial letters of other words and pronounced as they are spelled, not as separate letters.- Oxford Dictionaries
These are things such FIAT, IKEA and SCUBA.  (Some might also call these neologisms as they’ve become words inthemselves and most couldn’t tell you what they stand for with the possible exception of SCUBA).

Another issue with names is shortening them.   While most Europeans wouldn't dream of shortening Katherine to Kathy without explicit permission, in America we frequently do just that. Rather than putting in the full name of a company, its shortened because it’s familiar.  For example, L.L. Bean shortened to Bean’s /Beans (L.L.Bean also falls into the category Names with Punctuation).

Abbreviations: Similar to acronyms, abbreviations are short hand for longer words.  So rather than writing out the full word such as “evaluation” the user writes “eval”.  Client become clt. (or pt.). Many words may have multiple versions of an abbreviation such as appointment.  Would you abbreviate it as appt?  apt? If you schedule multiple, is it  appts? What if they live in an apartment (apt.)?

There’s also names with punctuation which adds a twist.  I always ensure that a business which uses punctuation has it correctly in the dictionary, but this doesn’t prevent people from recommending variations (especially names that seem like they should have hyphens such as Walmart/ Wal-Mart).  Other names with punctuation include, O*Net, Asperger’s /Asperger syndrome (both seem to be acceptable) and L.L. Bean.  

Lastly, you have those which hit the jackpot of issues: Lou Gehrig’s disease (proper name and punctuation) or should that be ALS (initialisms) or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis?

Photo courtesy of Perosha

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

TED Tuesday: Neil Harbisson Sees Infrared and Ultraviolet

In this fascinating talk Neil Harbisson talks about using a device which converts color to sound.  He's funny and engaging and presents an amazing perspective of the world as someone who has never seen color but hears it, and how it's impacted his perspective of fashion, created connections between individuals and interpreted music.

Full transcript and downloads available from TED

Monday, January 14, 2013

Creating Accessible Links for the Web and Documents

The web has allowed us to quickly point people to a piece of information, news article, website or profile through the use of hyperlinks.   Word documents which are intended foremost to be printed, but also distributed electronically, links can pose accessibility problems because in print you'd want links to look one way and electronically another. However there is a way to meet both needs. 

On the web, you hide where the link goes behind the text which tells you what the link is. For example, instead of putting in the full web address of a site such as,  you'd tell the reader where the link goes such as  Boing Boing. When someone visits a website, we know that people are viewing it electronically and there's no assumption that it'll be printed so there's no reason to display links outright.  If someone wants to follow the link, they click it.  

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) state specify that for accessibility reasons this is how it should be done:
2.4.4 Link Purpose (In Context): The purpose of each link can be determined from the link text alone or from the link text together with its programmatically determined link context, except where the purpose of the link would be ambiguous to users in general. (Level A)
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the organization which issues the WCAG,  explains (my emphasis):
The intent of this Success Criterion is to help users understand the purpose of each link so they can decide whether they want to follow the link. Whenever possible, provide link text that identifies the purpose of the link without needing additional context. Assistive technology has the ability to provide users with a list of links that are on the Web page. Link text that is as meaningful as possible will aid users who want to choose from this list of links. Meaningful link text also helps those who wish to tab from link to link.
In a nutshell, when a user is using a screen reader, which converts text to speech,  they can move from link to link in a document or on a webpage.   When these user do this, they are presented with a meaningful list of link locations rather an the full url or web address of the links. 

If you're preparing a document for print, hiding where the link goes means the reader won't know what the web address is for that site, much less follow it.   We know that people will be viewing it in printed form so we need to display the link so they can use it later and type it into their browser.  If that same document is on your website or given to participants electronically it needs to be formatted so that people using assistive technology can  hear meaningful information about the link rather than the web address.   So rather than simply hiding the link or displaying the link, use both, and make the entire thing a single long hyperlink.  For example if I was doing a presentation on the Job Accommodation Network's (JAN) Searchable on line Resource (SOAR), in the documents I would list it as:

It means that individuals who use screen readers to read the document electronically get the benefit of having meaningful information read to them, and those who print the document get the benefit of seeing what the target of the link it, the actual web address or url.  If you wish, you can make it visually appear like the rest of the text in the document by changing the styling of hyperlinks so that they don't appear blue and underlined which can sometimes interfere with reading web addresses in print documents (especially if they have underscores "_" in them).

Again, this applies only to documents such as Word documents, Adobe Pdf documents, and PowerPoint.  This strategy should not be applied on webpages themselves where only the meaingful text should be displayed.

It's a small example of how a simple fix can make the document more accessible and more usable to all of your users.  

This is the first part in a series discussing the accessibility issues of electronic documents originally prepared for print audiences.  

Monday, January 7, 2013

"Medium" and the Message

Interesting article over at Kernel "Where Blogs go Next" about a new platform called Medium which allows people to log into it using their Twitter account and create longer form pieces which are then posted to the Medium site and Twitter with the intent of driving traffic back to Medium for the full piece. 

I'm not sure what the author's connection is with the site, but is obviously a fan.   They state:
"The trouble with services such as WordPress and Blogger ... is that you normally require your own domain name, email and smartphone to make them work. A service such as WordPress has unlimited possibilities ...but is also very complicated and difficult to use on anything but but fanciest smartphone. Blogger is the same. Medium, however, is looking to change all that."
I'm not sure how Slater-Robbins got his/her Twitter account, but mine required an e-mail   Max notes that you need your own domain name and smartphone for Wordpress and Blogger, wrong and wrong.   Both Wordpress and Blogger will give you (free) website as a sub domain of their main site (yoursite.Blogger/ and work on other technology other than smartphones, er, computers or tablets (basically any internet connected device). They also go on to imply that because a similar site is invite only, that Blogger and Wordpress are.  Making out that either of these platforms as complex or exclusive is ludicrous. 

One thing I like about Medium is, what Slater-Robbins called "not dissimilar to Pintrest", you get a picture and brief summary  to draw you into the category or article. Nice visual effect tied to the article. 
screen view of Medium website

I do find Medium's model of blending of blogs interesting. It appears that rather than mine and yours, I post to the most appropriate category of blog, post short story, cancer etc. I also have the option of starting a new category. There's currently only a small selection of categories and it is currently not open to everyone to post to.  

I like it more from the browsing categories on Medium angle than from the Twitter angle.  The reason being, if I am browsing on Medium I have discovery,  where if I subscribe to a particular author on Twitter, I assume I'll pick up their posts regardless of category.  So whether its on Medium or their personal blog, it won't matter to the consumer where the long form version sits.

From a content producer side, I can see that if someone ends up on Medium and is browsing around, I could more easily be discovered, but at what cost? Currently there are no ads on the site, but the Kernel article notes that it will be advertisement supported, but none are currently displayed.  The article doesn't specify what, if any, cut authors will receive.

As a writer, I wouldn't be posting full length pieces on Medium.  Why?  When unpaid writers contributed to  the Huffington post they did so freely.  While they received advertisement revenue, they didn't receive any portion of the $315 million which the site was sold forOne writer notes that they were approached to write for HuffPo "they wanted me to simply give them my writing in exchange for “exposure”."  Medium strikes me as more of the similar.

Medium is a very interesting approach.  I suspect it'll do okay, get some traction.  All told it will be comprised of:
  1. People who want to post more than 140 characters, but don't see themselves as bloggers or entrepreneurs to justify having their own platform and are fine with posting their content without any real ownership.
  2. People who do see themselves as bloggers or entrepreneurs worthy of a domain will post their links on Twitter and Medium but will drive both back to their actual domain.  
Either way, Medium becomes the adjunct to developing a platform rather than the platform itself. While we're all at the mercy of the algorithms to some extent, a content producer's place is on their own domain where they can control what is shown and when, and be sure that both the content and the revenues are theirs.
Visit  Medium or follow them on Twitter
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