Tactile Learning: Italian and US Experiences

from left to right: Claude Almansi, Frank B. Withrow and Tiziana Castorinaby Claude Almansi, Frank B. Withrow, and Tiziana Castorina

[Note: I started writing about the project of Liceo Artistico De Fabris, then I asked for feedback from Frank B. Withrow, because he has written about his experience in enabling tactile learning in “Technology Can Help Deaf-Blind Infants” and from Roberta Ranzani, with whom I have collaborated in several subtitling and educational projects. Frank sent the text about tactile books and the American Printing House for the Blind. Roberta mentioned a tactile astronomy workshop for the blind that took place in Venice. A friend of hers, Tiziana Castorina, had attended, and Roberta asked her for a description. Thanks to Tizana and Frank for allowing me to post their texts here, and to Roberta for her suggestion and for the introduction to Tiziana – CA]

Claude Almansi: Tactile books — Liceo Artistico De Fabris

On June 29, 2011,  Roberto Ellero sent me the URL of a video he made about a project by Prof. Adriana Sasso and her students at the Liceo Artistico “De Fabris” (Nove, Vicenza, Italy — liceo means secondary school): creating tactile books for blind and sight-impaired children.

From the video, it seemed that this project could be relevant to previous discussions here about project-based  learning: for example, see “Project Based vs Problem Based Learning” by Jan Schwartz (June 26, 2011), in reply to Jim Shimabukuro’s “A Quick and Dirty Look at Project-Based Learning” (May 20, 2011). So I asked Roberto if it would be alright to subtitle it in English (well, in Italian and French too). He agreed, so here goes:

(LIBRI TATTILI – Liceo Artistico di Nove (Vicenza). Uploaded by rellero, June 29, 2011. More information, in Italian, about the project: LIBRI TATTILI – Creazione di una favola tattile per bambini non vedenti e ipovedenti.)

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Copyright and Disability: WIPO Consensus Document

Claude AlmansiBy Claude Almansi
Editor, Accessibility Issues
ETCJ Associate Administrator

The ongoing – June 15 to 24, 2011 –  22nd session of the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR/22) of the World International Property Organization (WIPO) is addressing, once again, the problem and removal of copyright barriers to accessing knowledge and information by people who are blind, sight-impaired or have other print disabilities.

In fact, copyright laws are national and — so far — international treaties and legal instruments have systematically aimed at globally reinforcing prohibitions, and rich countries, upholding the position of the content industry, have always opposed  globalization of copyright restrictions in favor of people with disabilities, alleging that if  they were officially globalized by WIPO, this would lead to further restrictions in favor of other groups.

A book about to fall into a rat hole, with rats watching

From David Hammerstein's “I just called to say I want to read” post about a former discussion of a WIPO Treaty for the Blind, Visually Impaired and People with Print Disabilities. Site of the IP Policy Committee of the The Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD). Sept. 25, 2010.

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‘YouTube Copyright School’ – Remixed and Mixed Up

Claude AlmansiBy Claude Almansi
Editor, Accessibility Issues
ETCJ Associate Administrator

In his lecture, “The Architecture of Access to Scientific Knowledge: Just How Badly We Have Messed This Up” (at CERN, Geneva, CH. April 18, 2011), Lawrence Lessig discussed YouTube’s new copyright school. (See 35:42 – 39:46 in the subtitled and transcribed video of his lecture.) The YouTube Copyright School video he showed and commented was uploaded by YouTube on March 24, 2011, then integrated into what looks like an  interactive tutorial, also entitled YouTube Copyright School, with a quiz on the side.

More information about this “school” was given on the YouTube Official Blog in “YouTube Copyright Education (Remixed)” (April 14, 2011):

If we receive a copyright notification for one of your videos, you’ll now be required to attend YouTube Copyright School, which involves watching a copyright tutorial and passing a quiz to show that you’ve paid attention and understood the content before uploading more content to YouTube.

YouTube has always had a policy to suspend users who have received three uncontested copyright notifications. This policy serves as a strong deterrent to copyright offenders. However, we’ve found that in some cases, a one-size-fits-all suspension rule doesn’t always lead to the right result. Consider, for example, a long-time YouTube user who received two copyright notifications four years ago but who’s uploaded thousands of legitimate videos since then without a further copyright notification. Until now, the four-year-old notifications would have stayed with the user forever despite a solid track record of good behavior, creating the risk that one new notification – possibly even a fraudulent notification – would result in the suspension of the account. We don’t think that’s reasonable. So, today we’ll begin removing copyright strikes from user’s accounts in certain limited circumstances, contingent upon the successful completion of YouTube Copyright School, as well as a solid demonstrated record of good behavior over time. Expiration of strikes is not guaranteed, and as always, YouTube may terminate an account at any time for violating our Terms of Service.

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Of Cows, Captions and Copyright: Users Need the Right to Caption and Subtitle Videos for Access and Learning

Claude AlmansiBy Claude Almansi
Editor, Accessibility Issues

Disclaimer | Digesting grass | Digesting videos | Video and text | Read-Write culture and tools | Universal Subtitles | Copyright hits the fan | Lessig’s plea | Other obstacles |Solution?


Non scientists should refrain from using scientific concepts as metaphors. I am fully aware of this, and actually, when a sociologist or other humanistic scholar thus hijacks terms or phrases like “black hole,” “big bang,” “DNA,”  etc., I skip his/her text if possible.

Nevertheless, what little I understand of how the cellulase enzyme works for ruminants has been very instrumental  in my first perception of how captioning videos helps all users digest their content, and underlies what I have written here so far about captioning. Hence the decision to come out explicitly with this subjective and uninformed perception of  it.

Digesting grass

Cows can digest and assimilate the grass cellulose because they ruminate it, but not only: humans could  chew and re-chew grass for hours and hours, yet they would still excrete its cellulose whole without assimilating any because we lack  something cows have: the cellulase enzyme that chops up the molecules of cellulose into sugar types so that they can be assimilated Continue reading

‘Operation In Our Sites II’ – Out of Sight for the Blind

Claude AlmansiBy Claude Almansi
Editor, Accessibility Issues

[Note: On Cyber Monday, Operation In Our Sites II, a coordinated effort of the U.S. Justice Department’s Criminal Division, the Department of Homeland Security, and nine U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, “obtained and executed seizure orders against 82 domain names of websites engaged in the sale and distribution of counterfeit goods and illegal copyrighted works.” It specifically “targeted online retailers of a diverse array of counterfeit goods, including sports equipment, shoes, handbags, athletic apparel, sunglasses, and illegal copies of DVDs, music and software” (USDOJ). In her letter below to the Justice Department, Claude Almansi, Educational Technology and Change Journal associate administrator and editor for accessibility issues, points out that “the seizure notices added to the sites seized in ‘Operation In Our Sites II’  are surprisingly inaccessible to people who must use a screen reader because they are blind or have other print disabilities.” -js]

from: Claude Almansi <claude.almansi@gmail.com>
to: askdoj@usdoj.gov
cc: Webmaster.ICE@dhs.gov,
James N Shimabukuro <jamess@hawaii.edu>
date: Mon, Nov 29, 2010 at 11:29 PM
subject: Accessibility issue with the seizure notices of “Operation In Our Sites II”

I am associate administrator and editor for accessibility issues at Educational Technology and Change Journal (1) and am thinking of writing a piece on “Operation In Our Sites II”, described by Attorney General Eric Holder and ICE’s Director John Morton in their Nov. 29, 2010 press conference (2).

In view of the US government’s commitment to digital accessibility as per Section 508 of ADA, evidenced for instance in the joint letter about the accessibility of e-book readers  sent last to the presidents of US universities and colleges by the US Departments of Justice and of Education last Summer (3), the seizure notices added to the sites seized in “Operation In Our Sites II” (4) are surprisingly inaccessible to people who must use a screen reader because they are blind or have other print disabilities.

Image of text used without alternative description on the homepage of the seized sites Continue reading

‘Locked’ Ning Networks? Access, Copyright and Privacy

Claude AlmansiBy Claude Almansi
Editor, Accessibility Issues


On September 14, 2010, after Ning had postponed the deadline for shutting nonpaying networks for the umpteenth time, I wrote:

I will not write another full post about Ning until the non paying groups have been deleted, or Ning gets bought by a more efficient firm, or disappears. But I’ve opened a Ning page on the wiki of ETC Journal where I shall attempt to keep track of what happens at Ning.

in a comment to my Why Unjoin Ning Networks that Won’t Pay (Aug. 28, 2010).

And now I am writing one, even though nonpaying groups have not been deleted and no one — to my knowledge — has shown any interest in buying Ning.  Motive: a discussion entitled “Deletion of Free Ning Networks?” started by Alex on September 18 in the Ning Creators network. Though it disappeared very quickly, there is a copy archived with WebCite® on the same day: http://webcitation.org/5sq785FZF.

Eric Suesz — senior community manager at Ning — participated in this discussion, stating that “All free Ning Networks are now locked and can’t be accessed.” This is simply untrue. Continue reading

Easy Captioning for UNESCO’s World Heritage Videos on YouTube

Accessibility 4 All by Claude Almansi

Skip to updates

[Editor’s note: The following message was sent by Claude Almansi to UNESCO workers on 12 June 2010 with the heading “Easy captioning for UNESCO’s World Heritage Videos on YouTube – Demo sample – copyright question.” See the following related articles by Almansi: UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Copyright Committee – 14th Session and UNESCO, World Anti-Piracy Observatory and YouTube. -JS]

Sent e-mail

Dear Workers of the “Section de la communication, de l’éducation et du partenariat (CLT/WHC/CEP)” of UNESCO’s World Heritage Center:

First, congratulations on the remarkable World Heritage video series posted by UNESCO on YouTube, with links to the relevant pages of http://whc.unesco.org. This is a great education tool.

However, I was wondering if you could not caption these videos: for most of them, you already have and offer a plain text transcript on http://whc.unesco.org. So on YouTube, for the videos in English,  it would be enough to add that transcript to the video as a .txt file, and then the YouTube software would automatically time-code this transcript to produce the captions – and an interactive transcript viewing below the video. Continue reading

E-rara.ch: Ancient Books, Public Domain and Moral Barriers

Accessibility 4 All by Claude AlmansiContents

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Online Multimedia: Italian Imperialism

Accessibility 4 All by Claude Almansi

Italian bill on multimedia services

The Italian parliament is presently examining a government proposal of a decree that would modify the law on TV and radio towards the implementation of  “Directive 2007/65/EC [Webcite archived version] of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2007 amending Council Directive 89/552/EEC on the coordination of certain provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action in Member States concerning the pursuit of television broadcasting activities.”

The human-readable “schede di lettura” (reading notes) of the Camera dei deputati (Lower House) are available online [Webcite archived version]. The actual bill in legalese has not been officially published online, but an unofficial scan of a fax version is available from several sites, e.g., mcreporter.info/documenti/ac169.pdf (3.7 MB).

Online video = television

While the EU directive’s purpose is to take into account new on demand television offers, the definition of multimedia services in article 4 of the Italian bill also equates Web sites/platforms that offer online video to multimedia services subject to the same obligations stipulated by the bill as television broadcasters, unless their use of video is merely “incidental.” Among these obligations: editorial control, which means – in the case of web sites/platform offering videos – provider’s liability.


Article 2 of the Italian bill stipulates that media service providers – including sites/platforms hosting videos in a “non incidental” way, see above – situated in Italy are subject to Italian jurisdiction, i.e., to the bill. The bill’s definition of “situated in Italy” includes media service providers:

  • whose main seat is in Italy, even if editorial decisions are taken in another State of the EU
  • whose main seat is in Italy, even if service decisions are taken in another State of the EU
  • who use an earth-satellite up-link based in Italy

Moreover, article 3, about cross-border broadcasting, of the Italian bill stipulates that Italy  can ask, at the request of EU members, for the block of broadcasts from non-EU countries for motives of:

  • public order
  • protection of public health
  • safeguard of public safety, including national defense
  • consumers’ and investors’ protection

and impose a fine of Euro 150.00 – 150’000.00 if the non-EU provider does not comply with the blocking demand.

Paradox of timing restrictions for adult (pornographic, violent) content

One of the paradoxes of considering sites/platforms that offer videos as televisions subject to the bill appears in its article 9, about the protection of minors. This article stipulates that adult (pornographic or violent) content cannot be broadcast between 7 am and 11 pm.

As to the absurdity of applying such a timing limitation to videos offered on the web, see Kine’s ironic remark in the discussion Decreto Romani – Stop ai film vietati in TV e sul Web [Webcite archived version] started Jan. 21, 2010: “Come sarebbe anche al WEB scusa? Non [l]i guardo i film su youjizz dalle 7 alle 23?” (“What, also on the WEB? Can’t I watch videos on youjizz from 7 am to 11 pm?”)

Threat to accessibility

The Italian bill creates a similar absurdity for accessibility: it keeps the EU directive’s audiodescription and  captioning requirements for TV, but it threatens the possibility to use Web sites / platforms offering videos by submitting them to the same  conditions as TV channels. And even if a text-only offering of information and knowledge will pass automated accessibility tests, multimedia is a very important part of real accessibility for all.

The paradox here is that Italy has probably the best legal tools for furthering computer accessibility in EU, and maybe in the world, and actually works at implementing them. See the accessibile.gov.it site of the official observatory for accessibility in the public administration, which recently published Roberto Ellero’s tutorial on Accessibilità e qualità dei contenuti audiovisivi [Webcite archived version]  (Accessibility and quality of audiovisual content).

This tutorial fully integrates a text part and a video provided with Italian and English subtitles:


In the text part, Roberto Ellero refers to several pages of www.webmultimediale.org, the main site of  Webmultimediale, a project he founded for the study of online multimedia, and in particular of how the accessibility requirements for online multimedia can be a stimulus for creativity and a great help in education because these requirements also cater to various learning styles.

Webmultimediale is among the projects directly threatened by the bill’s equating of online videos with TV offerings. Not only does its www.webmultimediale.org site make a “non incidental” use of video, but it also has an open video hosting part, www.webmultimediale.it, where people upload their videos with a time-coded transcript in order to caption them. No way either could be maintained if the bill passes. Which means that Roberto Ellero’s tutorial on Accessibilità e qualità dei contenuti audiovisivi [Webcite archived version], commissioned by the government’s Observatory of accessibility in the public administration, would be severely maimed.

I happen to participate in the Webmultimediale project. The jurisdiction conditions in the bill made me think of a discussion about Web accessibility Roberto and I animated at the end of last November. Roberto lives in Venice; I, in Geneva. The discussion venue was the Instructional Technology Forum mailing list, based at the University of Georgia (US) but with subscribers from all over the world, and how we all used variously hosted e-mail accounts. So where were “editorial” decisions made, in so far as there were any? Were they made, e.g., when I embedded a California-hosted YouTube video, made by Roberto in Venice, in the Florida-hosted wiki that we used for background material and, later, to gather the discussion threads? Under what jurisdiction did I do that?

Threat to education

Beyond the Webmultimediale example above, it is the use of multimedia in Italian education that is put at risk by the bill. If it becomes law, what teachers and educational institutions will dare offer a video podcast of lectures, scientific experiments, and use of video in teaching under the threat of being asked to comply with the administrative requirements imposed by the bill for TV broadcasters? Even if they try to upload the videos on a foreign platform and link to them, there would still be a risk that the foreign platform will be considered a television broadcaster and blocked in Italy.

ITForum Discussion on Accessibility

Claude AlmansiBy Claude Almansi

Editor, Accessibility Issues

The URL for the video below is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTvHIDKLFqc.The possibility to automatically caption YouTube videos in English was announced by Google on Nov. 11, 2009: a huge step forward for deaf people that benefits all users. And this is typical of most accessibility measures.

About the discussion

Photo of Roberto ElleroFrom November 29 to December 2, 2009, Roberto Ellero and I animated a discussion about Web accessibility on the Instructional Technology Forum mailing-list.

This mailing list is private (if you wish to join, apply at it.coe.uga.edu/itforum/Subscribing.html), but our initial notes for the discussions are in a public wiki, accessibility4all.wikispaces.com, where the e-mail discussion has been copied to the accessibility4all.wikispaces.com/Discussion page.

The participants in the accessibility discussion were instructional design professionals, teachers and students. Therefore they were already well aware of the need for accessibility in teaching and of the existence of requirements for its enacting.

For instance they all knew that non-text objects – pictures, videos, audio files – conveying info but not accessible to all can be used, but that an alternative must be provided for people with disabilities preventing access to such objects. Nevertheless. as accessibility4all.wikispaces.com/Discussion shows, some interesting questions and issues emerged in the discussion:

General themes

Among the general, conceptual themes of the discussion:

Universal design and redundancy

Universal design, i.e., planning something that everybody can use (whether in real life or on the Web), may not be fully reachable, but it is a goal that must be kept in mind from the start of the designing process.

Redundancy – i.e., offering the same info/knowledge in different forms – is a means towards that goal. Alternative formats can be linked to in order to avoid cluttering a given web page.

Accessibility tools

The phrase “accessibility tools” is used to describe different things:

  • Assistive technology for people with disabilities: e.g., screen readers – like JAWS – for blind people.
  • Emulators of assistive technology used by designers to check how a page will be perceived by people who have to use an assistive technology: e.g., screen reader emulators – like the Fangs addon for Firefox.
  • Automated accessibility checkers used by designers, but only indicatively – just as automated spell checkers are only indicative.

Specific issues

Among the more specific and concrete issues discussed:


In the context of online learning materials, if web sites must be accessible to all, including people with language disabilities/problems, won’t that entail a stylistic flattening? Or, as Robert Becker put it, in connection with the Universal Design theme:

. . . So, to make a point, I could say that assigning Chaucer’s Middle English or Shakespeare’s Elizabethan text is to erect a barrier to learners. That may be, but to do otherwise is to erect an even greater barrier to Learning.

I recall a personal experience teaching English to inner city adult students trying to earn associate degrees. I dumped the prescribed reading list full of “accessible” texts and replaced it with real literature. The memory of watching most of my students successfully engage with Jane Austin will never fade.

In Learning generally there is no greater barrier than the absence of challenge and aspiration.


Tables can be a barrier for blind people, because reading with your ears with a screen-reader means reading linearly. This issue  was first raised – in connection with the Universal Design theme, again – by Beverley Ferrell,  moderator  of the ITForum list:

If blind people read in a completely different manner ( and we may not be aware of this) and screen readers read like this:

http://wac.osu.edu/webaim/ tables2.htm then layout tables and data tables have to be designed differently.

Jim Thatcher has a fairly basic tutorial that explains it http://jimthatcher.com/ webcourse9.htm

I have not had time to read and comprehend all of this vs design for data etc such as Tufte recommends, so is it really the best way to display the data for those who are not sight disabled or must we always design two versions? and what about adding mobile issues to this? There are those who disagree with Tufte’s ideas also. Tables might not be useful, so data in graphs etc would be a real challenge for the new person designing accessible information.


I have only highlighted some of the points raised in that discussion about accessibility on the Instructional Technology Forum mailing-list. You can find several other themes  in accessibility4all.wikispaces.com/Discussion. The mailing-list discussion is now closed, but it  can  continue either in the comments to this post or on the wiki [1], which is a more democratic platform than a blog ;-). As the video at the beginning shows, the means to enact Web accessibility are progressing fast, for the benefit of all, not only of people with disabilities.

[1] You can join the wiki at: accessibility4all.wikispaces.com/space/join.

Prix Möbius Suisse Rewards Inaccessible Flash Site

Claude AlmansiBy Claude Almansi
Editor, Accessibility Issues

Last Saturday, Oct. 3, 2009, the awards ceremony of  Premio Möbius took place in Lugano (CH). There were two categories: Premio Möbius Multimedia, for cultural CDs and DVDs in Italian, and Grand Prix Möbius Suisse, for Swiss websites about cultural heritage.

Prix Möbius international de la Communauté Européenne, Scienza Tecnica e Medicina, Cultura, Arti e Lettere, Educazione e Formazione permanente, Premio Möbius Multimedia Lugano

Prix Möbius candidates

In the Prix Möbius category, the candidates were:

Accessibility and ease of navigation

As for accessibility and ease of navigation,  the Zurich Kunsthaus and Centre Dürrenmatt sites are the best: they read well in linear version (as spoken by screen readers) and have hierarchical headers, which allow people using a screen reader to quickly navigate from section to section (unfortunately, the Centre Dürrenmatt, being a national museum, has to use the drab template of all Swiss federal and cantonal sites).

Next best is the site of Museum Franz Gertsch; “next” because in order to enter the otherwise accessible and easily navigable rest of the site, you have to click on the word “mehr” (more) in the home page – not a very intuitive process.

Then, on a par, there are  the websites of Fotomuseum Winterthur and Site Archéologique de la Cathédrale Saint-Pierre, which don’t use hierarchical headers, hence are not easily navigable with a screen reader.

The worst by far is the site of the m.a.x. museo:

screenshot of the site as seen with Firefox on a laptop with 1280x800 screen

Screenshot of the site as seen with Firefox on a laptop with a 1280x800 screen.

The site is entirely in Flash. What a screen reader would voice is “Page has three frames and no linksm.a.x.museo colon plus forty-one left paren zero right paren ninety-one six hundred eighty-two fifty-six fifty-six dash Internet ExplorerFrameFrame end.FrameFrame end.FrameFrame end.”

Actually, in spite of the “no links,” there are two links: to the Italian and the English version, but as they are within the Flash movie, the screen-reader cannot identify them. And these two don’t even show on a laptop with 1280×800 screen, using Firefox (see screenshot above).

And the winner of Prix Möbius Suisse . . .

. . . is the site of the m.a.x. museo, www.maxmuseo.ch. Leaving aside its violation of accessibility norms, the motivation for awarding it the Prix Moebius is rather odd: “It achieves an immediate, natural and linguistically coherent synthesis of the museum’s identity and of Max Huber’s world” (my translation). Now all the site says about the museum’s identity and Max Huber’s world is:

. . . the m.a.x. museo was established on the 12th of November 2006 by the wife of leading Swiss graphic designer, the late Max Huber, Aoi Huber-Kono, with the aim of disseminating design culture and leaving his work to posterity.
It is the aspiration of this museum that it will serve as a bridge towards young designers and artists of future generations through various exhibitions, while conveying the message of Max Huber who dedicated his life to design.
We plan to organize exhibitions primarily on graphic design in order to present “design” in general to the world.

Very synthetic indeed – not even a single link to other information about Max Huber in the links section.

Granted, the flash movie is pretty. But is this enough to decree that a site is “the best site for cultural heritage,” as the description of Prix Moebius Suisse maintains?

Two paradoxes

The first paradox is that the jury of Prix Moebius Suisse is chaired by Professor Paolo Paolini, who is in charge of a Master’s course in Design of Interactive Applications for Cultural Heritage. Does he really think the purely-flash site of the m.a.x museo is an example his students should follow?

The second paradox is that Professor Paolo Paolini is co-author, with his colleagues of the Lugano Università della Svizzera Italiana, Elisa Rubegni, Alberto Terragni and Stefano Vaghi, of “Accessibility for Blind Users: An Innovative Framework” (Springer Verlag, 2008), whose abstract says:

. . . The main thesis of this paper, which focuses on blind users, is that technical recommendations (as those of the W3C) are not sufficient to guarantee actual accessibility, that we define as the possibility for the users of “reading” the website and “navigating through it” in an effective manner. A consequence of our approach is the emphasis on design, as a way to achieve actual accessibility, and on usability (by blind users,) as the main evaluation criterion. . . .

Actually, Making Content Understandable and Navigable was already one of the two main themes of the first WC3’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 1.0). And WCAG 2.0 has a whole section entitled Provide ways to help users navigate, find content, and determine where they are.

If more websites – including the site of the Moebius Awards, www.moebiuslugano.ch, which presently conveys textual info in the .jpg image reproduced at the top of this post without an alternative description and violates accessibility commonsense in too many further ways to list here – at least applied these existing guidelines, people with disabilities would have an easier time reading and navigating them.

So Professor Paolini and his colleagues want to go further than these WCAG, apparently. That’s great. But then, why did he, as chairman of the Prix Möbius jury, allow the award to go to a site that is fully inaccessible to blind people?

Political poisoned gift?

Could there be a political agenda behind the selection of the m.a.x museo site? A kind of “cultural exception” protectionist policy à la French? An unwritten rule to favor local sites [1], no matter how unusable and inaccessible?

If so, this is a very short-sighted and harmful policy, particularly for such flash-only sites:

  • The content of  sites made entirely in flash does not get indexed by search engines, which cannot parse text inserted in a movie anymore than in a .jpg picture. When I tried to find info about a very beautiful exposition of Bruno Munari‘s work the Museum had in 2008 by googling “max museo Chiasso” (without quotes), the first hit was indeed to section www.maxmuseo.ch/en/museo.html of the museum’s site, but that page says nothing about the Munari.
    And if you try the Google cache link for this hit, a message says: “This is Google’s cache of http://www.maxmuseo.ch/en/museo.html. It is a snapshot of the page as it appeared on 16 Jul 2009 22:32:17 GMT. (…) These terms only appear in links pointing to this page: max museo munari.”
  • Sites made entirely in flash do not open at all in cell phones, and that again is paradoxical, considering that the Möbius Awards ceremony on Oct. 3, 2009, started with a round table about digital natives, where speakers underline the present evolution towards cell phones rather than computers for internet use.

Hence awarding the Prix Möbius to such a site lulls the site owner into thinking they have a good thing, whereas they only have a pretty gimmick that cuts them off from search engine results and from cell phone users. Above all, the award is an insult to blind people – and in the case of m.a.x museo Chiasso, to low-sighted people as well, as the navigation links in the flash movie are in very pale grey on white.


[1] Re this possible political bias for Ticinese websites: in 2008, the Prix Moebius for cultural heritage went to kunstpanorama.ch, the sanely textual site of the Luzern Kunsthalle, though they also gave a special mention for cacticino.net,  yet another Ticinese flash website (of the Centro d’Arte Contemporanea Ticino). This is proven by web.archive.org/web/20080511213956/http://www.moebiuslugano.ch/annun.html, i.e., the version of the awards announcement saved on May 11, 2009, by the Internet Archive and by the entries about this 2008 Möbius award in Kultpavillon.ch, the blog of Kunstpanorama.ch. However, the page for the 2008 awards of the Premio Moebius website strangely lists cacticino.net for the Cultural Heritage award and kunstpanorama.ch for the special mention.

Science Labs and Accessibility

Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

In all of the time I have been working on making real science labs available over the Internet, I’ve spent little time on accessibility. Of course, I made the obligatory efforts with ALT and TITLE tags to images and made sure that font sizes can be set by the user. The question of who would be using the new technology to reap the benefits of doing real science labs was not foremost in my mind until I read an article in the Montana Kaimin entitled “Disability Services Undermanned and Overworked” written by Kimball Bennion.

Here’s the excerpt that grabbed my attention:

Justyn Field, a senior in print journalism, said he dropped a science class he was taking in the 2008 spring semester because he wasn’t able to get to the class’s science lab in the Health Sciences Building.

Field was born with VACTRL association, a birth defect that limits his mobility and also inflicts other internal problems. Field is able to walk a little, but moves mostly with a wheelchair.

Field said he tried to keep the class while doing an online lab that the department put together for him, but it wasn’t comparable to working in the actual lab.

“How do you do an online lab?” Field said. He also had to pay an extra fee for taking the class online.

“It was absolutely atrocious,” he said.

This small story highlights two significant messages. Online technology holds out great hope for access to learning opportunities denied due to disabilities, and it hasn’t fully delivered on this hope.

Consider the issues surrounding a person in a wheelchair taking a chemistry lab. The aisles where students work back-to-back on their experiments are probably too narrow to accommodate a wheelchair. The countertops are too short for a seated person to reach. Some disabilities affect fine motor coordination and make working with dangerous chemicals, well, dangerous. Safety equipment disabledsuch as eyewash fountains are too high to be useful to a seated person. The lab benches don’t usually have knee space underneath and so prevent a wheelchair user from getting close enough to the bench to do the work even if it weren’t so high. As very much a tyro at understanding disability issues in schools, I am sure that I’ve only begun a list that experts can readily expand. I’m making the point that just getting a wheelchair inside the door of a chemistry lab may not be sufficient.

A great online science lab experience could make a world of difference for Justyn Field and many others. The University of Montana made an effort to provide online labs for him. The article doesn’t say what the subject was, and I suspect that it wasn’t chemistry. Still, the same concepts apply, although not so severely, to many other subjects. Mr. Field ended up taking an astronomy class that had access to the lab facilities.

Our schools and disabled students should have excellent online science labs, not the “absolutely atrocious” ones that Mr. Field was subjected to. I have a personal stake in this discussion because I have worked on one solution for the last ten years. We should have great online lab experiences ready for the Justyn Fields of the world. They would also help immensely in cases where sick students must stay at home for extended periods, for juvenile detention facilities that must provide education to their wards, for very small schools in poor rural areas, for alternative education schools with students who have social problems, and for many others.

This all may seem to be a somewhat minor point to many, but it’s not so minor to the very large number of students affected by the lack of access to science labs. They’re being denied the education they deserve.

Accessibility and Common Sense

Claude AlmansiBy Claude Almansi
Editor, Accessibility Issues

Technology and technology guidelines are very important in implementing accessibility. Yet accessibility is not a technology issue — it is a common sense issue, both because it is logical and because making things as accessible as possible for as many people as possible becomes an obvious necessity once you “sense in common” with the other person, put yourself in his or her place.

Accessibility in 3D life

(I am not sure if what follows makes sense to readers in America, as accessibility in real life seems to be part of the American culture.)

People without motor disability usually don’t notice steps at the entrance of public buildings or toilet doors too narrow for a wheelchair. If you are in one, or often accompanying a person in one, you do. Builders’ decisions at times can lead to strange absurdities, though they know about accessibility rules and architectural technology. For instance, in 2000, a grand accessible toilet was added to the Museo d’Arte in Lugano (CH), while at the same time accessing the museum in a wheelchair was made well-nigh impossible by adding of a visitor-counting turnstile at the main entrance: people in wheelchairs had to be carted by on a spiral staircase up to a back door.

True, building decisions were made by the town administration, which, though it had a public works departments where people should know the rules and the technology to implement them, was not known for its common sense — in either meaning of the term. However, in 2001, after a protest by a disabled people’s association was taken up in the local media and caused questions in the local parliament, the administration finally provided a lift to the level of the back entrance for people in wheelchairs.

Computer accessibility: non-text objects

Guidelines for computerized and web content accessibility says that equivalent alternatives to auditory and visual content must be provided for deaf and blind people (see the first WCAG 01 guideline, for instance). For instance, if a video is used, this means captioning audio for deaf people and giving an audio description of nonverbal actions for blind people. Or at least, if this is not feasible, offer an alternative text transcript that can be read by both blind (through text-to-speech) and deaf people.

Alt attribute

Static images that convey information should be provided with an alternative content description: when a short description is enough, this can be done in the alternative content description attribute (alt=”description”) in the link that shows the image. This should be fairly simple: nowadays, authoring tools — be they desktop or online, like the one for this blog — prompt you to add such a description when you insert an image through the “rich text” editor (see Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) Overview and links therein), which will add the alt attribute.

Nevertheless, while the above-mentioned Museo d’Arte of Lugano gave in to public pressure about wheelchair accessibility, its website remains blithely callous in ignoring basic accessibility precepts, in spite of directives to make all public administration sites accessible. It still has a “no right click” script that disables the contextual menu, thus hampering people with motor disabilities, despite the long-averred uselessness of such scripts to prevent users from saving images (either by saving the whole webpage or by looking up the URL of a given image in the source code). And it uses text images without any alt attribute instead of normal text for its navigation. Therefore, if you view the homepage in “replace images by alt attributes” mode in order to get the same content a blind person using a screen reader would, the result is:

As all texts are presented as gifs of text images WITOUT alt attributes in this page, you only see the word HOMEPAGE

Empty alt attribute

If the image is purely decorative, you still provide an alt attribute, but you leave it empty (alt=””): this way the text-to-speech just ignores it. Nevertheless, there are websites that use the empty alt attribute (no description) for images that convey information (and vice versa add a useless description for decorative images, which means that the screen reader will read a lot of bunk).

Limits of automated accessibility checkers

Automated accessibility checkers are very useful to spot accessibility problems. But as they only check the source of the page, they won’t fail a page for inappropriate uses of the empty alt attribute — they will just suggest you check that the image really doesn’t convey information. Maybe at times the empty alt attribute is deliberately used to pass the automated check, for instance if laws or regulations state that a given type of computerized content (educational in particular) must apply accessibility guidelines and if this is only checked with an automated program.

Embedding an inaccessible page into a frame is another way to bypass automated accessibility checks. www.mantecausd.net (mentioned in Microsoft Case Studies: Manteca Unified School District) does pass Priority 1 level of accessibility with the CynthiaSays checker, in spite of evident lack of alt attributes (and misuses of the empty alt attribute in some cases). But it does so thanks to the use of frames. What the checker reads is the source page, which only says: “Welcome to the Manteca Unified School District. Our site uses frames, but your browser doesn’t support them.” The realcontent is in http://manteca.schoolspan.com, which is embedded in a frame of www.mantecausd.net. CynthiaSays does fail http://manteca.schoolspan.com for the lack of alternative description, but a hasty check on just www.mantecausd.net might misleadingly give the impression that the page conforms to the Priority 1 level of accessibility.

Be it through the inappropriate use of the empty alt attribute or of frames, though, the result is that blind people don’t get the information conveyed by images. This is why it is so essential to apply common sense, to put oneself in the other person’s place

Accessibility in education

Fortunately, most educational web sites are designed for real accessibility to the greatest possible number of students, not just to pass automated accessibility tests. And while this can be time-consuming, it also offers great advantages to all students:

Designing for accessibility leads to greater educational usability

In the 3D world, removing — or better, avoiding from the beginning — architectural barriers to facilitate access for people in wheelchairs also improves usability for other people: mothers with a child in a pram, aged persons for whom the staircase access is too tiring, etc.

This is also true with designing computerized content with accessibility to the greatest possible number of users in mind. If you structure a text correctly, using hierarchical heading styles for subtitles (instead of just playing around with bold and font size) to make navigation easier with a screen reader for blind people, you can also automatically extract an interactive table of content. This is handy for everyone. And adding explanatory graphics to help people who have other, non-visual, text reading impairments (dyslexia for instance) will also help people who are more visually inclined.

The point is that accessibility leads to redundancy in order to cover as many cases as possible of disabilities. And hence it also covers different learning styles.

Teachers’ and students’ content

While main educational web sites tend nowadays to apply accessibility guidelines, course materials uploaded to a course management system or platform can at times remain an issue. It is therefore necessary to educate teachers about what accessibility does and does not entail and about simple tools to implement it (captioning etc.).

Web 2.0 and accessibility in education

Some education authorities are very wary of public Web 2.0 tools being used in schools, but usually because they fear they’d have to answer for students being exposed to inappropriate contacts and content. However, even when there is no such veto from the powers above, Web 2.0 tools can also present accessibility issues, especially for authoring. Jennison Asuncion has created the LinkedIn Web 2.0 Accessibility Forum where questions about these issues are discussed (you have to join, but anyone can).

Universal accessibility?

Some education authorities require that links to the Nth level be checked for appropriate content in course materials. This is not feasible, not even in the limited “non-pornographic” sense of “appropriate” they usually have in mind. Let alone for accessibility. Each person is different, and so it has been claimed that there is no such thing as universal accessibility because persons with a disability will each have different requirements. However, they will also each have their own way to address barriers.

Faced with a reading requirement presented as an image PDF, for instance, blind students are more likely than non-blind ones to think of putting it through an optical character recognition software to get a text version their text-to-speech can read — and to have such software on their computer. Yet why not start by giving the reading requirement as text to start with? It would be far more usable for everybody. One problem is that accessibility is often perceived as something very complicated and technological, “for geeks.” This is discouraging. So are some myths like “accessibility and usability are not compatible,” whose propagators at times allege to prove it by saying that “a black text on a black background,” like the one below1

This is an example of “black on
black” text that might pass automated accessibility tests.
But who – except kids wanting to write “secret messages”
– would do that?

would pass accessibility checks. Automated checks, maybe. But as explained above, automated checks are useful tools, but just tools.

So even if universal electronic accessibility is not concretely reachable, accessibility to the greatest number of people, according to their various capacities and impairments, must be the goal. To this end, there are some basic “common sense” design principles that are useful to all, and there are free, easy-to-use tools to implement them. And for fine-tuning, there are experts ready to answer questions. It is necessary to make people — and teachers in particular — who produce electronic content aware of this.

Pet bitch

One of the accessibility design principles is the already mentioned use of heading styles for titles and subtitles in a text, rather than messing about with character size and shape and bold and what-not directly on the text. See Using Headings Correctly in WebAIM’s Creating a Semantic Structure page.

Indeed, heading styles are semantic because they identify for others — not only for the screen-readers used by the blind — what you consider as main and subsidiary content, and they allow you to draw an interactive table of content2. Yet, somehow, it is at times difficult to convey the usefulness of headings, even to teachers and to people otherwise endowed with strong logical capacities. So why don’t blog platforms — this one included — almost never offer the possibility to choose heading styles in their visual editor while wiki platforms do?

Sure, authors can switch to the html version and add the necessary tags, as I have done here. But I can still remember the not-so-distant time when I had sworn I would never learn a single html tag, because I thought it was “geek stuff”. . .


1To view the text, just highlight the black box by mousing over it

Three Video Captioning Tools

claude80By Claude Almansi
Staff Writer

First of all, thanks to:

  • Jim Shimabukuro for having encouraged me to further examine captioning tools after my previous Making Web Multimedia Accessible Needn’t Be Boring post – this has been a great learning experience for me, Jim
  • Michael Smolens, founder and CEO of DotSUB.com and Max Rozenoer, administrator of Overstream.net, for their permission to use screenshots of Overstream and DotSUB captioning windows, and for their answers to my questions.
  • Roberto Ellero and Alessio Cartocci of the Webmultimediale.org project for their long patience in explaining multimedia accessibility issues and solutions to me.
  • Gabriele Ghirlanda of UNITAS.ch for having tried the tools with a screen reader.

However, these persons are in no way responsible for possible mistakes in what follows.

Common Features

Video captioning tools are similar in many aspects: see the screenshot of a captioning window at DotSUB:


and at Overstream:


In both cases, there is a video player, a lst of captions and a box for writing new captions, with boxes for the start and end time of each caption. The MAGpie desktop captioning tool (downloadable from http://ncam.wgbh.org/webaccess/magpie) is similar: see the first screenshot in David Klein and K. “Fritz” Thompson, Captioning with MAGpie, 2007 [1].

Moreover, in all three cases, captions can be either written directly in the tool, or creating by importing a file where they are separated by a blank line – and they can be exported as a file too.

What follows is just a list of some differences that could influence your choice of a captioning tool.

Overstream and DotSUB vs MAGpie

  • DotSUB and Overstream are online tools (only a browser is needed to use them, whatever the OS of the computer), whereas MAGpie is a desktop application that works with Windows and Mac OS, but not with Linux.
  • DotSUB and Overstream use SubRip (SRT) captioning [2] while MAGpie uses Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL) captioning [3]
  • Overstream and Dotsub host the captioned result online, MAGpie does not.
  • The preparation for captioning is less intuitive with MAGpie than with Overstream or DotSUB, but on the other hand MAGpie offers more options and produces simpler files.
  • MAGpie can be used by disabled people, in particular by blind and low-sighted people using a screen reader [4], whereas DotSUB and Overstream don’t work with a screen reader.

Overstream vs DotSUB

  • The original video can be hosted at DotSUB; with Overstream, it must be hosted elsewhere.
  • DotSUB can also be used with a video hosted elsewhere, but you must link to the streaming flash .flv file, whereas with Overstream, you can link to the page of the video – but Overstream does not support all video hosting platforms.
  • If the captions are first written elsewhere then imported as an .srt file, Overstream is more tolerant of coding mistakes than DotSUB – but this cuts both ways: some people might prefer to have your file rejected rather than having gaps in the captions.
  • Overstream allows more precise time-coding than DotSUB, and it also has a “zooming feature” (very useful for longish videos), which DotSUB doesn’t have.
  • DotSUB can be used as a collaborative tool, whereas Overstream cannot yet: but Overstream administrators are planning to make it possible in future.
  • With DotSUB, you can have switchable captions in different languages on one player. With Overstream, there can only be one series of captions in a given player.

How to Choose a Tool . . .

So how to choose a tool? As with knitting, first make a sample with a short video using different tools: the short descriptive lists above cannot replace experience. Then choose the most appropriate one according to your aims for captioning a given video, and what are your possible collaborators’ availability, IT resources, and abilities.

. . . Or Combine Tools

The great thing with these tools is that you can combine them:

As mentioned in my former Making Web Multimedia Accessible Needn’t Be Boring post, I had started captioning “Missing in Pakistan” a year ago on DotSUB, but gone on using MAGpie for SMIL captioning (see result at [5] ). But when Jim Shimabukuro suggested this presentation of captioning tools, I found my aborted attempt at DotSUB. As you can also do the captioning there by importing a .srt file, I tried to transform my “.txt for SMIL” file of the English captions into a .srt file. I bungled part of the code, so DotSUB refused the file. Overstream accepted it, and I corrected the mistakes using both. Results at [6] (DotSUB) and [7] (Overstream) . And now that I have a decent .srt file for the English transcript, I could also use it to caption the video at YouTube or Google video: see YouTube’s “Video Captions: Help with Captions” [8]. (Actually, there is a freeware program called Subtitle Workshop [9] that could apparently do this conversion cleanly, but it is Windows-only and I have a Mac.)

This combining of tools could be useful even for less blundering people. Say one person in a project has better listening comprehension of the original language than the others, and prefers Overstream: s/he could make the first transcript there, export the .srt file, which then could be mported in DotSUB to produce a transcript that all the others could use to make switchable captions in other languages. If that person with better listening comprehension were blind, s/he might use MAGpie to do the transcript, and s/he or someone else could convert it to a .srt fil that could then be uploaded either to DotSUB or Overstream. And so on.

Watch Out for New Developments

I have only tried to give an idea of three captioning tools I happen to be acquainted with, as correctly as I could. The complexity of making videos accessible and in particular of the numerous captioning solutions is illustrated in the Accessibility/Video Accessibility section [10] of the Mozilla wiki – and my understanding of tech issues remains very limited.

Moreover, these tools are continuously progressing. Some have disappeared – Mojiti, for instance – and other ones will probably appear. So watch out for new developments.

For instance, maybe Google will make available the speech-to-text tool that underlies its search engine for the YouTube videos of the candidates to the US presidential elections (see “”In their own words”: political videos meet Google speech-to-text technology” [11]): transcribing remains the heavy part of captioning and an efficient, preferably online speech-to-text tool would be an enormous help.

And hopefully, there will soon be an online, browser-based and accessible SMIL generating tool. SubRip is great, but with SMIL, captions stay put under the video instead of invading it, and thus you can make longer captions, which simplifies the transcription work. Moreover, SMIL is more than just a captioning solution: the SMIL “hub” file can also coordinate a second video for sign language translation, and audio descriptions. Finally, SMIL is a W3C standard, and this means that when the standard gets upgraded, it still “degrades gracefully” and the full information is available to all developers using it: see “Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL 3.0) – W3C Recommendation 01 December 2008 [12].