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June 20 2013


[Net2 Seattle] Getting to the Good Bits

Originally posted on We will find a way by Randy Earle

Randy and NetSquared Seattle“Social Media + Traditional Media = Crazy Awesome!” Sponsored by Net Squared Greater Seattle. Location: Northwest Work Lofts, 3131 Western Avenue, Suite 303, Seattle, WA.

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September 03 2012


Narrowing the Digital Divide: A Call to Action

To me, the true power and beauty of community-based organizing lies in a small group of individuals taking on a significant social problem and solving it for the common good. The new NetSquared platform is up and going, and I am thrilled to challenge the NetSquared community to connect with one another on solving a social problem that has everything to do with furthering the common good.

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August 28 2011


In the age of information accessibility but without access information is still tragically "rare"

Niemanlab :: Over the past few years, the fledgling field of the digital humanities has made significant strides with a number of ambitious digitization projects bringing online rare cultural artifacts — manuscripts, canvases, celluloid, marginalia — that used to rot away in institutional archives. But while these efforts, both government-subsidized and privately initiated, may have made a wealth of information accessible, it’s an entirely different story to ask how many people these materials have reached — how many people have actually gained access to them — and it’s one that harks back to the shifting relationship between scarcity and value.

[Maria Popova, Niemanlab:] Because in a culture where abundance has replaced scarcity as our era’s greatest information problem, without these human sensemakers and curiosity sherpas, even the most abundant and accessible information can remain tragically “rare.”

Continue to read Maria Popova, www.niemanlab.org

July 25 2011


Voices from the TechSoup Community: Accessibility

This is part of an ongoing Voices from the Community series of blog posts culling popular topics of interest from the TechSoup Community Forums and other online channels.

In response to NetSquared's July Net2 Think Tank on the topic of Building a Culture of Accessibility, I've compiled some of the suggestions and discussions from TechSoup's Accessible Technology and Public Computing forum.

Opening Hearts and Minds

As our community discusses the topic of building a culture of accessibility, an important distinction arises. Beyond -- or, perhaps more properly, before -- the nuts-and-bolts business of making accessible technology and making technology accessible, comes the foundation for such. As community member and Executive Director of Knowbility Sharon Rush points out, a culture of accessibility requires "open hearts and minds, the ability to listen and look in new ways, the willingness to lay aside basic assumptions, and a true commitment." Jayne Cravens, host of the TechSoup Volunteers and Technology forum, echoes Sharon and notes that too few IT managers and web developers make accessibility a priority.

While some web developers may feel that meeting accessibility standards is too large an effort, Rush holds that the time is right to take that very effort on. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of People with Disabilities "has recognized access to technology as a foundational right in today's world," while the United States Department of Justice has begun looking at extending American Disabilities Act protections to the Internet.

A Plethora of Resources

Luckily, resources abound for anyone wishing to learn more about how to develop more accessible technology.

Sharon Rush weighs in again, this time with some of the best resources for learning about web accessibility methods. At the top of her list is the Web Accessibility Initiative of the W3C, the group responsible for official standards, web protocols, and practices.

Peter Cheer, host of the TechSoup Accessible Computing and Public Technology forum, grants that the wide array of information about web accessibility standards might seem overwhelming. But he goes on to offer a nifty resource that is aimed at a more general audience while not attempting to be comprehensive. This e-book from the OneVoice for Accessible ICT Coalition outlines the first measures a web developer should take toward making a site accessible. Entitled The First Seven Steps to Accessible Websites, the book answers the question: Where do I start?

In addition to online resources, there are also on-the-ground events and conferences organized around the topic of accessibility. Peter Cheer shares the upcoming 3rd Annual CUNY Accessibility Conference slated for August 4, 2011. There is also the Accessibility Unconference in Boston on September 17, 2011, and the 2011 da Vinci Awards on Sepetember 22, celebrating global excellence in assistive technology.

Tools for Free

Free tools are another great assistive technology resource that our community shares information about on the forums.

Peter Cheer notes that the Verbally app for iPad offers useful features: an onscreen keyboard with word prediction in combination with word/phrase choices, as well as male/female speech synthesized voices. And it's free, to boot.

Another recent free tool that Peter brings to our attention is the new release candidate version of the Open Source MS Windows Screen Reader from the Non Nisual Desktop Access (NVDA) project. Highlights include automatic reporting of new text output in a variety of clients, support for global plugins, additional key bindings for braille displays, and more. Community member and TechSoup Web Content Developer Carlos Bergfeld agrees that it's a great tool, although it doesn't play as well with Google Chrome.

Perhaps this is not surprising, as it seems that Google's apps are also not working well with screen readers and other accessibility tools. As Jayne Cravens points out, this is particularly a shame because some of the institutions that have led the charge in compliance are the same ones outsourcing certain functions to Google -- most likely without knowing how this impedes accessibility.

A Place to Start

This lack of knowledge again raises the fragmented nature of information available on accessibility, as well as the difficulties in enforcing standards. It's an ongoing issue that will need continued discussion and examination, but entities such as TechSoup and NetSquared highlighting the challenges and fostering dialogue with the community is one place to start.


July Net2 Think Tank Round-up: Building a Culture of Accessibility

Net2 Think Tank LogoIn the old days, we used to talk about accessibility as something we added to our websites. Today, the conversation has shifted towards making our websites accessible as a key requirement of the development process - for complex reasons and with complex benefits. From providing accessible content for people with disabilities, to creating fully usable functionality, to support for multiple languages, we wanted to learn about the benefits people are creating using web and mobile technology. So, for this month's Net2 Think Tank, we asked you what’s going on in the innovative world of accessibility.

Topic: How can we build a culture of accessibility? For instance: What are you doing to encourage accessibility for your own online or mobile-based presence? And, what online networks are supporting people with disabilities and what efforts are being made to make the web more accessible overall?



Below, we've compiled all of the community responses.

While this month's Net2 Think Tank is now closed, you're always welcome to add your feedback on the subject. Feel free to add your ideas in the comments section at the bottom of this page.


Why We Need to Focus on Accessibility

Accessibility is something every developer and content creator should be considering. Here's why:

  • The need for online accessibility is growing - "When talking about disability, it is easy to focus on more physical disabilities (like requiring aids in walking) and using social media to create networks of support. But in dealing with software issues and the visually impaired, it can be a challenge. With 20% of the American population having some form of disability (and 40% of the Baby Boomer generation potentially developing a disability by 2030), being able to create a culture where all can access technology is critical. Although there is some software packages that allow for screen magnification, it can be extremely expensive if not already included - Windows 7 has a built-in magnifier; some screen magnification packages range from $300 - 800." - from Gordon Dymowski, summarizing Kerry Obrist's Chicago Net Tuesday Presentation - here.
  • Accessibility is good for the business bottom line - "The benefits of accessibility would [...] help to improve site usability for everybody thus expanding our reach and audience. It would also influence the number of potential customers that access your site [...] By this action we are not only contributing to the society, but we are also aiming towards our goals of increasing market/increasing viewers and in turn increasing business. - from Palak Timbadiya via Linkedin

Tips for Website Planning

Here are a few ways that developers and product managers can think about making existing sites and applications more accessible:

  • Understanding basic accessibility -  "...Unfortunately, not much of the population understands that people who are visually impaired can use the internet just as well as sighted indivduals can, including web developers. I believe that web developers should be made aware of the things that are necessary to make websites more accessibility aid friendly for the visually imapired. Arrangement of text, and the color of that text (for example, too much white cvauses glare on some people and will inconvenience them as they try to toggle the colors on their screeen manginifer- if that is an opton at all. And poorly laid out text, or too much text in images, may make that information wholly out of reach for someone using a screen reader. Furthermore, one of the things that actually one of my colleagues did that had to change was music and other sounds playing on a website designed for some of our clients; they could not easily locate the place to turn this music off and it disabled them from using a screen reader. These are all things that need to be considered in web design that, unfortunately, we've noticed are not often considered." - from Amanda Ward via Linkedin
  • Build accessibility into your existing Drupal workflow - This is different than just seeking to be 508 compliant. Here's how. - suggested by Mike Gifford on Linkedin
  • Access existing documentation - "Apple provides excellent support and documentation to 3rd-party developers so they can make their apps accessible. So now, there's no excuse for the majority of apps not to be fully accessible. For the social networking worl to get behind this and support it would be very far-reaching." - from Tom Dekker via email


Real-life accessibility case studies

Here are a few examples of well-executed tools for increased accessibility:

  • Screenreaders and screen magnifiers - "...I work at an organization that serves the blind and visually impaired, so we have to be especially careful that our media is available in many formats, so as to suit the preference of each individual user. Depending on a client's visual acuity, they not only use different media when accessing print (large print vs. Braille) but also use different software on the internet. Two of the most common are screenreaders and screen magnifiers.." - from Amanda Ward via Linkedin
  • Gmail Motion - Originally an April Fools joke from Google, Gmail motion has been turned into reality. The technology, built on Microsoft Kinect, allows gmail users to use their body movements to control gmail, rather than a click of the mouse. Learn more in this article from Mashable. - suggested by Palak Timbadiya via Linkedin
  • WAVE Toolbar - "We've worked hard in the Drupal community to build an inclusive community that eliminates barriers for participation. It's a lot of work and there is a lot to be learned about how different people interact with the web. Using tools like the WAVE toolbar can help raise awareness about where the barriers are." - from Mike Gifford on Linkedin
  • Basic Website Changes -"Many software and web developers can institute very basic changes in order to accommodate those with visual impairments. For example, many visually disabled prefer to use keyboard shortcuts - or even a game controller - over the traditional mouse. Font sizing over 40 points can also help make text more readable. Adding a verbal image tag when embedding an image can enhance user experience, especially if the user has software which “reads” web sites aloud. Several developers at the Net Tuesday meeting also recommended the FLS plug-in for Drupal and WordPress." - from Gordon Dymowski, summarizing Kerry Obrist's Chicago Net Tuesday Presentation - here.
  • Using iDevices for independent living - "iDevices [iOS or Android-based mobile devices] are becoming very popular in the vision-impaired community. As a rehab teacher, it seems to be what I teach most of the time these days, since there are so many apps that facilitate independent living." - from Tom Dekker via email

Next steps?

More is needed to make the web and mobile spheres usable. Here are a few places we can start:

  • Research Needed - "One of the things I think should be encouraged is first circulating data on just how many of us have a type of disability, in general categories. I say "us" because people with disabilities are part of the general population as readers, writers, consumers, lovers of food, blogs, wacky products, music, audio, etc. It would be great to have some simple stats about seeing, hearing, mobility and cognitive disabilities to begin to "see" the reality by country or even language use—given that 'online knows no frontiers'." - suggested by Jenifer L. Johnson via Linkedin
  • Increase Online Marketing Visibility - "Apart from the technological adaptations I think it would be also rich to shift the paradigm in the aesthetic world and include models with visible disabilities in online ads, promotional pieces, just hanging out with the rest of the image icons. It is a long overdue inclusion that everyone (people with disabilities and people without) would benefit from, and a smart marketing move at the same time." - suggested by Jenifer L. Johnson via Linkedin


General Accessibility Resources

Below are a few more resources to learn about accessibility:


A few words to leave you with

...Because Gordon says it better than I do!

Ultimately, building an online culture of accessibility contains two parts: the obvious support networks that can be built within social media, and the technical changes that can accommodate those who cannot access technology easily. It almost seems like a more open source approach - allowing a key community to provide guidance and insight into tech development to allow them to better access software and hardware tools.

Our mission is more than just evangelizing about “digital excellence” or even cheerleading about non-profits and tech - it’s about creating an atmosphere where people can bring their experiences - and expertise - to bear in shaping and creating a different kind of online culture. Hopefully, [we have] taken a first step in that regard.

- from Gordon Dymowski


Post About Your Project, Idea, or Opportunity!

While this month's Net2 Think Tank is now closed, you're always welcome to add your feedback on the subject. Feel free to add your ideas in the comments section at the bottom of this page.


Thank you to all of our contributors this month! 


About Net2 Think Tank:

Net2 Think Tank is a monthly blogging/social networking event open to anyone and is a great way to participate in an exchange of ideas.  We post a question or topic to the NetSquared community and participants submit responses either on their own blogs, the NetSquared Community Blog, or using social media.  Tag your post with "net2thinktank" and email a link to us to be included. At the end of the month, the entries get pulled together in the Net2 Think Tank Round-Up.


July 05 2011


July Net2 Think Tank: Building a Culture of Accessibility

In the old days, we used to talk about accessibility as something we added to our websites. Today, the conversation has shifted towards making our websites accessible as a key requirement of the development process- for complex reasons and with complex benefits. From providing accessible content for people with disabilities, to creating fully usable functionality, to support for multiple languages, we want to hear what’s going on in the innovative world of accessibility!

Please share your ideas about making web and mobile efforts accessible to a wide range of users, as part of this month’s Net2 Think Tank!

Thanks to Dr. Md Mahfuz Ashraf for suggesting this month's Net2 Think Tank topic!


How can we build a culture of accessibility? For instance: What are you doing to encourage accessibility for your own online or mobile-based presence? And, what online networks are supporting people with disabilities and what efforts are being made to make the web more accessible overall? Share your thoughts with the NetSquared Community!

Deadline:  Saturday, July 23rd

How to contribute:

  • Post your response online: Leave a comment below, write on your own blog or website, post on the NetSquared Community Blog, or share your feedback on Facebook or Linkedin.
  • Tag your post, comment, or tweet with net2thinktank.
  • Email Claire Sale the link to your post.
  • Have you written about this topic in the past? Great! Simply add the net2thinktank tag to your post and email us the link.

Be sure to get your submission in by emailing Claire the link to your post by Saturday, July 23rd

The roundup of contributions will be posted on the NetSquared blog on Monday, July 25th.

About Net2 Think Tank:

Net2 Think Tank is a monthly blogging/social networking event open to anyone and is a great way to participate in an exchange of ideas.  We post a question or topic to the NetSquared community and participants submit responses either on their own blogs, the NetSquared Community Blog, or using social media.  Tag your post with "net2thinktank" and email a link to us to be included. At the end of the month, the entries get pulled together in the Net2 Think Tank Round-Up.

May 12 2011


Massive Digital Divide for Native Americans is 'A Travesty'

Perhaps nowhere in the United States does the digital divide cut as wide as in Indian Country. More than 90 percent of tribal populations lack high-speed Internet access, and usage rates are as low as 5 percent in some areas, according to the Federal Communications Commission.


Sascha Meinrath, director of New America Foundation's Open Technology Initiative calls it "a travesty."

"You have a community that perhaps treasures media and cultural production more than almost any other constituency in the country, and you have an entire dearth of access to new media production and dissemination technology," Meinrath said.

Since 2009, New America Foundation has worked with Native Public Media, which supports and advocates for Native American media outlets, to help tribal communities take advantage of new media platforms. In January, the organizations formalized their partnership, and this fall, they plan to launch a media literacy pilot project that will train Native radio broadcasters in at least four communities to tell stories using digital tools.

"It's a very proactive way to address the digital divide, apart from the hardware," said Loris Ann Taylor, president of Native Public Media.

Tribal Digital Village

The organizations plan to work with both digital experts and tribal groups that have pioneered technology adoption. An oft-cited example is the Tribal Digital Village in Southern California, which brought Internet access to libraries, schools and other community buildings across 13 reservations, with grants from Hewlett-Packard and others.

we shall remain grab.jpg

Native Public Media has itself led the way in digital storytelling, partnering with WGBH in 2009 on We Shall Remain, a multi-platform project on Native history. But its primary goal is expanding local production.

Currently, 10 tribal radio stations stream over the Internet, including KGVA 90.1 FM, serving the Fort Belknap reservation in Montana, and WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles reservation in Wisconsin. The Coeur d'Alene tribe in northern Idaho created RezKast, a YouTube-like video and music sharing site. The Navajo Times, Cherokee Phoenix and other Native newspapers publish online.

As innovative as these projects are, without access, they will only reach a fraction of the Native population.

'The Digital Revolution is Stirring'

Native Americans will be savvy users of new media when connectivity arrives, Meinrath said. A 2009 report [PDF file] he co-authored found that when broadband was available, Native Americans did everything from blog to download podcasts at higher rates than national averages. Although the report noted that it was more exploratory than representative, it concluded: "The digital revolution is stirring in tribal communities."

Still, the revolution is far away for most Native Americans. Broadband infrastructure does not exist in most tribal areas, and where it does, charges are marked up radically, compared with urban centers -- by 13,000 percent, in some cases, Meinrath said. Regulatory frameworks have also contributed to under-servicing, he said.

new media study.jpg

Lately, advocacy by Native Public Media and others for government action seems to be paying off. The FCC's National Broadband Plan, unveiled in March 2010, included the goal of increasing broadband access on tribal lands, with involvement from local leaders. The Plan recommended that Congress consider creating a Tribal Broadband Fund. Last August, the FCC established an Office of Native Affairs and Policy to work with the 565 federally recognized tribes on improving access to communications services. One of its first moves, in March 2011, was to invite tribal representatives to a Native Nations Day, where the FCC expanded a "tribal priority" to promote licensing of radio stations serving Native communities.

Recent federal action is a leap forward in focusing attention on a long-ignored issue and producing empirical data for reform, Meinrath said.

Yet, he noted that progress has largely remained rhetorical. "We've run into an FCC and an Obama administration that has not, as a whole, prioritized this issue," he said.

Challenges and Opportunities

When it comes to expanding access, the challenges are steep. Many tribal areas are geographically remote, which can make provision difficult and expensive, according to the National Broadband Plan. Service is unaffordable for many Native Americans, a quarter of whom live at or below the poverty line. At the same time, funding for public media and telecommunications facilities is at risk.

But, physical remoteness and high costs are a familiar excuse for failure to serve Indian Country among decision-makers focused on majority constituents, Meinrath said.

"This is not a technical problem -- this is a remarkable lack of leadership," he said.

The challenge is not only addressing a digital divide, but also a pattern of historical exclusion from media and communication services, Taylor said. Some tribal populations still lack emergency and postal services, and almost a third lack basic telephone service. The rapid pace of technology risks leaving Native populations even further behind.

Despite the challenges, the potential for technology to improve media capacity in tribal areas is tremendous, Taylor said. New media tools will help Native Americans cover issues that are ignored or misrepresented in mainstream media. They can fill extreme gaps in information access and enable cultural preservation. They allow local news and cultural programming to reach tribal members who have left reservations for jobs or military service.

Leaping the Divide

Critically, technology offers a chance to "leap over" the traditional media divide, especially as many tribal newspapers have shut down in the economic downturn, and radio stations, the traditional medium of choice for Native communities, are not feasible in all areas, Taylor said.

Most of all, Taylor's vision is about enabling Native Americans to have a voice on vital issues, from the housing market to the energy crisis.

"In this country, if we leave people out from having access or ownership or control of the technology, then we're really denying them something even larger -- to have participation in a democratic society," she said. "It's really about self-determination at the end of the day."

Katia Savchuk works as an investigator and writes for Ethical Traveler and Polis, a collaborative urbanism blog she co-founded. She previously spent a year and a half documenting the work of slum-dweller federations in India. Her writing has appeared in Let's Go travel guides, Environment & Urbanization and the Palo Alto Weekly.

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February 23 2011


Closed Captions Should Be Standard with Online Video, TV

When "The French Chef" appeared on PBS in 1972 with captions, it marked the first TV show ever to be fully accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing. For the next decade, people with disabilities enjoyed more and more captioned TV, culminating in a 1990 law that required all TV shows to be captioned.

Fast forward to today. When viewers tune in on their computers -- now the fashionable way to watch TV and web programming -- most of the shows are not captioned. Not even "The Annoying Orange," which is the No. 1 webisode series, garnering more than 50 million monthly views on average -- more traffic than for some cable channels.

Just when the "legacy" TV and cable industry began getting into the captioning groove, accessibility seems to be moving backwards. With the rise of the Internet, video content is now moving online to meet the demands of always-on consumers -- and the captioning technology, standards, and processes must begin anew. New types of programming -- like "The Annoying Orange" webisodes -- are growing in popularity, but making them accessible for people with disabilities has been a low priority.

Big Problem

That's a serious issue for the millions of hearing- or vision-impaired Americans. In the U.S., there are 25 million people with significant vision loss, and 36 million Americans have reported some form of hearing loss -- a number that is expected to double by 2030. There are now 75 million Baby Boomers who will encounter vision, hearing, cognitive and mobility disabilities as they age, and more than 1 million veterans returning home from a decade-long war -- many with physical and mental conditions.

As consumers achieve greater freedom in how and where they watch and listen to movies, dramas, sitcoms and sports, it is increasingly important that Americans with disabilities are able to access and enjoy this programming along with them.

Solution in Sight?

The good news is that President Obama signed the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act into law on October 8, 2010, marking a tremendous step in the right direction for these groups. This law amends Federal Communications Commission (FCC) policies to require that any program that has been previously aired on TV must be captioned when shown online.

However, the FCC only has the power to regulate broadcast, cable, and satellite TV providers. The lion's share of emerging programming is not covered under the new law and will not be captioned or described for people with hearing and vision disabilities. This includes hundreds of hours of online-only programming like popular webisodes (yes, including "The Annoying Orange"), YouTube videos, podcasts, and movies from Netflix, which now offers streaming TV shows and movies online and through devices like iPhones and PlayStation consoles.

Recently, the Department of Justice has been looking closely at the issue of accessibility, and is considering stepping in where the FCC's jurisdiction ends. The DOJ can amend the Americans with Disabilities Act to require websites to make their content accessible. That would be a heavy-handed move -- and they will not make this decision lightly -- but the DOJ has an obligation to protect the access of the 54 million Americans with disabilities to public goods and services, which includes public websites.

Forward Looking Businesses

Fortunately, some online programmers are voluntarily choosing to make their online content accessible -- notably, Hulu. Netflix has also started to caption its online library (though it had dragged its feet for years.) Others, such as TheWB.com, which is owned by Warner Bros., and Crackle.com, which is owned by Sony Pictures Entertainment, simply ignore captions altogether. They do this because they can.

Once a cottage industry, emerging online formats now have the potential to lock the disabled population out of a huge marketplace of content unless new regulation or innovation -- or a combination of both -- spurs more businesses to embrace accessibility and its implications for future generation of Americans.

Even if "The Annoying Orange" is a truly annoying show, shouldn't people with disabilities be able to make that choice on their own?

For more information, read my white paper on the issue of online video accessibility.

Suzanne Robitaille is the founder of abledbody & co. and the author of "The Illustrated Guide to Assistive Technology & Devices." Her company provides marketing and consulting services to organizations seeking to reach the disability community. Suzanne lost her hearing at age 4 and grew up profoundly deaf. In 2002 she received a cochlear implant, which she credits as "the ultimate assistive technology." As a disability writer, Suzanne is a trusted source of disability information for The Wall Street Journal, ABC News, USA Today, HealthDay, Ability Magazine and more.

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October 27 2010


AccessU West - web accessibility institute Jan. 10-12, 2011 in San Jose, California

The digital divide includes the tech design divide that keeps people who are using assistive technology or who have disabilities from being able to use web sites, software and other tech tools. But making your web site and other online services more accessible isn't just a nice thing to do: it makes a web site more accessible for potential customers, clients and donors, and demonstrates an organization's commitment to usability and accessibility to everyone. In addition, for a designer or programmer, knowing how to make a web site fully accessible makes you more competitive in the job market.

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August 04 2010


Building a Community for the Print Impaired: an Interview with Inclusive Planet's Sachin Malhan

I recently connected with Sachin Malhan, CEO and co-founder of inclusive planet, an online platform that enables people with print impairments to find each other, connect, interact, build communities, and share accessible content and solutions. Started in India, this project is rapidly growing to be a world-wide resource for the visually impaired to both learn and interact.

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