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What the accessibility world needs is Stephen Fry to get a poke in the eye

And a darned good one, at that, so that he’s temporarily unable to use the seemingly endless collection of gadgets that he is so renowned for owning. But why should I say such a mean-spirited thing? Isn’t this person a national treasure whom I’m suggesting doing a frightful mischief to? And why, pray tell, is the very way that I am writing this post somehow being imbued with the very embodiment (oh that I should be so bold) of Mr Stephen Fry? If I’m not mistaken, I can even hear him saying these very words in my ear as I type and picture him mouthing the sentences that appear to be spewing forth on to the page. I’m not quite sure if I can keep up these linguistic gymnastics.

I’m referring to the wossy effect and by that I mean that after Stephen Fry appeared on Jonathan’s return (inaugural?) Friday Night show discussing Twitter, he is now the darling, nay the poster boy, of microblogging service Twitter. He was, by all accounts, a must-follow celeb long before that TV appearance - and one who does really seem to get what he’s talking about. When Stephen Fry talks, 84,000+ people listen (at the latest count). Or read, if one is to keep the pedantic nature of this blog post up. Or do they all read? Perhaps there are people who hear Stephen Fry’s tweets, albeit from a rather robotic voice that really doesn’t do the chap’s fine speaking voice the justice it truly deserves. Of course, there are such people - blind users, primarily, but perhaps others with less severe vision impairments who may also need some other form of assistance also. But I am rather going off the point here, that being that Stephen Fry has, by design or by accident, become a rather unlikely voice for the technorati of the world. Who would have thought that this mellifluously-voiced thesp could, with just a small handful of (sub 140-character) comments (to wit: "shockingly bad") about a mobile phone cause such a worry to the marketing people at Blackberry? Just as well that another much-followed Twitter user is able to counteract the negatives with his apparent love for said device?

Getting back to my point - not that it’s clear I even have one yet! - what I’m alluding to in the headline is that if someone like Stephen Fry were to suddenly lose the ability to use one or more of his much-loved gadgets, laptops or whatever, his frustrations with inaccessible devices and web sites would very soon become very public knowledge; he would, I’m sure, soon be explaining to the world at large exactly what these frustrations are and would possibly even have a solution or two up his tweed-clothed sleeve.

We may have our ‘web accessibility rock stars’ who have their respective followings, but it is still somewhat akin to me saying “I’m world famous … in Swindon” (also not true). Outside of this little bubble, we have no real power to speak of and can quite easily go about our shopping chores without being bothered for autographs. Even bona-fide web standards gods like Jeffrey Zeldman are unknown to the vast majority of people, shocking as it may seem to some, making it a genuine surprise when ‘normal’ people recognise them!

Stephen could talk about accessibility issues and 84,000 people, at least, would listen (or read). And perhaps some of those 84,000 people would the re-tweet what they learn, others might go and investigate further. A large majority would still ignore it and carry on searching for the next Twitter-spawned link to that day’s YouTube must-see funny, but the message of what it is to be denied access to information on the web would spread further. It wouldn’t be the first time that Mr Fry has found an unfortunate injury get in the way of using some piece of technology or other (I believe this broken arm caused some problems in getting together an episode of his podcast, or ‘podgramme’ as I believe is the moniker he prefers).

So, what I’m saying is if you see Stephen Fry, give him a poke in the eye (preferably both) but after you do, ask the good chap if he wouldn’t mind awfully conjuring up a blog post (or blessay) about the dashed awkward consequences of this terrible eye-poking incident.

Want to help? Share this link, Twitter it, pass it on however you see fit. If Twitter is, like Mr Fry, your cup of Earl Grey, please add this hashtag: #accessiblefry

Legal bit - of course I’m not suggesting anyone actually harm him! Stephen - if you want to skip the injury part, that’s cool, but we’d really love it if you were able to spread the word about web accessibility on different devices/platforms.

Credit where it’s due - Henny had this idea at the beginning of the (Chinese New) year, and I was just inspired to put a little something together that might, with any luck, go some way to achieving one of her New Year’s Resolutions

Comments (13) Posted by Ian on Thursday, January 29, 2009

Using Videos to Influence and Change Perceptions

I’ve just come back from speaking to a lady who works in the same company that pays my wages and who has rapidly diminishing eyesight - a rare eye condition has left her with something similar to cataracts, and a feeling of seeing everything through a heavy white curtain. The reason for my visit was to interview her and capture it on video, and ultimately the edited clip will be used in presentations that I’ll be doing within the company. Because it’s all well and good to talk about accessibility affecting people ‘out there’ but for many people these kinds of people are ‘mythical beasts’, so what better way than to show that "these people are here, working under the same roof as you - and they won’t thank you for not making your web pages or web apps accessible".

So it’s fantastic that as I sit here, with freshly videotaped evidence in hand, that I discover this set of videos on the web. Admittedly, these are promotional videos for AssistiveWare’s technology rather than a general collection of videos of people using other assistive tech, but it’s still darned useful for the likes of us who sometimes need to demonstrate to people the various ways that disabled users interact with web pages. I’d be more than happy for the likes of Freedom Scientific or GW Micro to take the same approach. More video resources are very welcome indeed!

[Note - I know that this is not a new resource, just new to me, as it was new to Roger. That's the beauty of using - I found it in the popular page for the accessibility tag]

Comments (3) Posted by Ian on Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Boagworld - Ask The Expert - Screen Reader Screencast

It’s taken me a while to get around to posting this here, but only because I wanted to make sure that I had everything in place. If you are already a subscriber to the Boagworld podcast, you’ll probably already have heard this, but a couple of shows ago they included a 14-minute audio clip of me using a screen reader demonstrating some common problems. But it wasn’t just audio, there was also a video to go with it (the audio was simply lifted off the screencast).

I didn’t post anything here just yet as I was missing one essential ingredient – a transcript. Finally I’ve got around to typing that out, so if you’re interested, here are all the links you’ll need:

Comments (1) Posted by Ian on Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A Glimmer of Hope with AJAX for JAWS users?

I may be reading too much into this, and admittedly the source is one who’s quoting rumours, so it’s hardly a basis of a solid claim, but it still piqued my interest:

Rumors are starting to form about the upcoming JAWS 9.0 release. So far, Blind Confidential has only heard that it will do “revolutionary things on the Internet" … FS [Freedom Scientific] had included language about support for AJAX in JAWS in some of its 8.0.xxxx release notes but this was later removed so, perhaps, they have found a way to provide really cool access to some of the new dynamic web pages in a manner that would be meaningful to a screen reader user.

Like I said, only a snippet, taken from an after word of a post on Blind Confidential about how screen readers perform on Vista, but it’s the first time I’ve read something halfway encouraging on that front.

Comments (1) Posted by Ian on Tuesday, July 17, 2007