Latest Accessibility News on Accessify

Hello, Accessify!

Accessify has finally found a new owner!

There’s a lot of work to be done, and a lot of catching up to do in order to make up for the last few slow years, but Accessify is in the good hands now. Keep an eye out for site news and further updates, and let’s keep Accessify going.

Filed under: Announcements, Site Admin
Comments Off Posted by Accessify on Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Bye bye, Accessify

Well, it’s been a whole year since my last post on this site and the one previous to that was in the middle of 2009, in which I was pondering what to do with this site. Not exactly been prolific, have I? That’s gotta tell me something …

Now that it’s a new year and everyone is in the habit of making resolutions, I’ve made one regarding this site - it’s time to wave it goodbye.

When I started Accessify, I did it because there was, at the time, very little in the way of easy-to-understand information about web accessibility online. Sure, there was the official W3C stuff, but I could count on one hand the number of sites that really spoke to me as a developer who wanted to do things right but didn’t want to wade through reams of academic papers. I used this site primarily as a way of hosting the range of accessibility tools that I had created.

Things have moved on a lot since then. There are now numerous resources out there for accessibility, and pretty much all of them are being updated more frequently than I do this site. The reasons for this? There are two, really:

  1. I don’t find the time to do it justice. I’m working on the web during the day, but at the end of the day I don’t have a burning desire to spend my free time working on this site. If I were freelance/running my own business, I might feel it more important to keep this ticking over as a self-promotional thing. But really, it’s just not high on my list of priorities.
  2. I don’t really feel as passionate about the topic as I used to. That doesn’t mean it’s not an important topic, but I just can’t keep on top of the developments in the area to be able to contribute as I did back in the early days.

So, I’ve decided to sell up.

At the end of the day it’s just a domain. But it’s a domain with a great name for anyone working in this area of the web. And it’s also a domain with a few years behind it and a decent amount of incoming links (at one point, a few years back, it managed a Google Page Rank of 9!).

It’s just for sale, NOT, which is owned and run separately from this domain. I also registered the Twitter name accessify (which has barely been used, especially in recent times), so I’d hand over ownership/passwords to that too.

Ideally, I’d like to sell it to someone who can breath life back in to the site and, as much as possible, keep the content intact. The blog posts and articles are dusty as heck, though, so even if it’s just the tools that remain, that would be good. But if there’s a buyer out there who wants to completely change it and just wants the domain, I might decide to re-home the tools at a different domain and ditch the rest. It really depends on what interest I get in this.

I’m not in a hurry to sell it - I’d rather wait until a good offer comes my way. We’ve all got bills to pay, after all; I’m no different.

So, if you’re interested in this or know someone else who might be, please drop me a line using the contact form

Filed under: Site Admin
Comments (13) Posted by Ian on Tuesday, January 4, 2011

RIP Jack Pickard

Jack PIckard, photo by Patrick LaukeVery sad news from the accessibility community. Jack Pickard, or @thepickards to his friends on Twitter, passed away this weekend. Not much that I can say personally that hasn’t already been said by others. You will be - no, are - missed, Jack.

If you want to say something for friends/family, leave a comment on his last post on his blog (even if it is about football!)

[Photo by Patrick Lauke]

Filed under: Accessibility
Comments Off Posted by Ian on Monday, January 18, 2010

What to do with Accessify?

I’ve been thinking about what to write in this post - or even whether to write it at all - for a long time. Bottom line is that I’m struggling to put Accessify to its best use and I’m after some ideas about what I can do to sort this out.

A few months ago I finally finished a redesign. That redesign (and rebuild) had been in the making for months itself and I thought that once it went live, with a new site structure and some new enthusiasm that the site may perk up a bit. Unfortunately, the problem I still have is finding the time to put in for it.

Unlike a lot of my peers in the accessibility world, I don’t spend an awful lot of my working time dealing with accessibility issues; it’s still very much a fringe issue during my day job. As such, I’m a bit out of the loop on the topic. When accessibility news comes in during the day, numerous other people will report it while I’m lucky if I even have Twitter switched on! In short - I miss lots of news and am left to simply repeat/re-tweet/re-hash or instead not bother because by the time I get to do anything with it, it’s hardly news. And in my free time … well, after my working day, I don’t spend the evening hours keeping up-to-date with ‘what’s hot’ in the world of accessibility! Life takes over (wife, dog, cooking, DIY, car maintenance etc) and I find that come 11pm all enthusiasm for doing something on this site has gone.

I had big ideas when I re-launched. I was going to do a range of video tutorials but it’s not happened:

  • I was going to blog more (insert canned laughter here).
  • I even had a Wiki on the sidelines, and totally reskinned it to fit in with the rest of the site. It really looks the part, but it’s not gone live because I realise that if I can’t keep on top of the ‘normal’ site, how the heck can I monitor Wiki activity?

So, what do I do? Things I’ve considered include:

  • Sell Accessify on. There’s no ads on here (apart from those to my own books), so it’s not a revenue generator, but it could be worth something to someone
  • Give it away to someone who I know will look after it
  • Just leave it as-is, not worry about it. After all, does it really matter? In the grand scheme of things, should I be losing sleep over it?

Letting the site go seems drastic and, to some extent, wrong. This is the site I’ve had for the longest, it’s what I’m known for and back in the day (2002) it was one of only a handful out there doing its part to promote accessibility. But if I let it go, it’s a bit like giving away my baby, albeit a baby I have neglected for some time!

I would like to see some activity on the site again. In the past I’ve asked if anyone would like to contribute, but that’s never really worked out as the people I have asked already have their own thing going. Perhaps I’ve asked the wrong people (in terms of their desire to contibute); I certainly know that they’ve been the right people in terms of their knowledge/capability!

So, folks, what should I do? Is there a way I can give the site a kick-start again be allowing others to pitch in? Would anyone be willing to help get the Wiki off the ground? If you have ideas, or would like to contribute, please add a comment here. It would be great to see some activity on the site again, but I just have to admit that I can’t give it the full level of attention that I’d truly like to.

Filed under: Announcements, Site Admin
Comments (16) Posted by Ian on Friday, June 12, 2009

The blind leading the non-blind

In my previous post I mentioned that I was after a few tips about how I might approach the task of teaching HTML to a 15-year-old blind lad, Harry, who’s at my place of work on work experience. The tips were very handy but I will confess that the day had crept up on me so I did not have as much preparation time as I might have liked. That said, it’s been a very interesting and productive day, so I thought I’d share my thoughts.

As suggested in the comments on my previous post, avoiding any kind of IDE and sticking with Notepad seemed to be the order of the day. However, before even trying to build a page from the ground up, I did a ‘before’ version to compare with our ‘after’.

Excel – Save As Web Page

For the first task I got Harry to put some content in a programme that he was reasonably comfortable with. He had used Excel recently, so we started with that, and I asked him to type in a main heading in the first cell, then a sub-heading followed by some content in the following cell, then one more sub-heading and content. We saved this, then added a touch of formatting – bold for headings, different font sizes, then finally saved as a web page. Finally, we checked the page in a browser. As expected (or rather, as ‘engineered’!) the page looked fine but had no information about structure, no headings found on the page. At this point I emphasised that this is typical of the kind of result when pages are created in this way using ‘Save as Web Page’ and that often the fault of unintelligible web sites was not JAWS itself but rather the developer who put the page together poorly.

First web page

I next guided Harry towards Notepad and I began with a simple structure, explaining that pages are wrapped inside <html></html> and then split between <head> and <body>. I deliberately skipped mention of doctypes on the basis that if this is the first thing that a blind 15-year-old encounters and has to get their head around, that’s a big hurdle! Likewise, I omitted all non-essential html element attributes. Keep it clean, keep it simple.

What I tried to do was follow the same approach as I cover in my beginners book, on the basis that Harry’s helpers could later refer back to the free chapters that are available on SitePoint and be able to make sense of what he learned on the day.

Very quickly I’d explained about the importance of proper headings and paragraphs and Harry was soon recreating his page from scratch using <h1> and <p>, each time creating the opening and closing tag and then back-tracking with the arrow keys until he was in the right place to type. I was surprised at how easily he could navigate around the plain text document to precisely where he needed to be.

Once he’d got the page together with a <title>, an <h1> and the pair of <h2> and <p> content, we tried that in the browser and the result was immediately clear. He could instantly tell the difference in meaning and wasn’t bothered at all that it had taken longer for him to produce that; in fact he seemed to be itching to learn more. So that’s what we did …

Adding lists

Next up I mentioned lists and asked him to hazard a guess at how you’d mark up an unordered list. He said ul almost before I finished my sentence and also predicted that an ordered list would be an ol. Never mind me leading him, in this case the blind was leading the non-blind in places! Soon, we had some lists on the page which he could here as bulleted list items or numbered.

Creating a web site

Finally, to make this really feel like a web page, we then copied the pages a few times then edited them such that the first page was an index page linking to the other two pages (in which we had edited out content so that each page represented a write-up of his first two days’ work experience)

What about the visuals?

What about them? I didn’t even think about the CSS, as it really was not relevant at this stage. I did explain to Harry and to his helper that the document could be styled afterwards, but the key thing was to create something that made sense, first and foremost, and used the right markup.

So, how did he do?

Well, I have to say that I am super-impressed with the progress. In just over three hours and with my guidance, Harry had created a 3-page web site having never written a single HTML tag. He could really appreciate the benefit of doing this as he listened back to what he created (and we also noted that his clean markup was almost exactly a 10th of the size of the far less useful markup that Excel had generated when saving as a web page!). Despite the intentional omission of the doctype, he had documents that were valid XHTML and despite not being able to see the markup, his tidy use of carriage return after each tag made the markup massively better and easier to read than that of coders I know who’ve been doing it for years!

All-in-all, I was thoroughly impressed with the speed that he picked this up, although I could also tell that he was starting to get a bit tired by the end of it with all the mental code juggling he’d be doing. This lad has real promise, but unfortunately has no computer at home with which to continue learning, and therefore no copy of JAWS (as the family is poor); at school, his exposure to IT means the most he gets at one time is an hour. So, I’d really love to find a way to be able to help him out in some way, to make sure that this promising start doesn’t come to a sudden end. Fingers crossed on that front (and once again, all ideas are greatly appreciated).

Filed under: Accessibility
Comments (19) Posted by Ian on Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Teaching a Blind Person HTML?

I’m after some ideas on something here. Tomorrow I will be sitting down with a lad who’s here on work experience who is completely blind. He’s been doing some assessment of various web sites over the last couple of days but tomorrow I have got to try to teach him a bit about building web pages.

I aim to do this very simply but in all honestly, despite having written a book for the absolute beginner on this very topic, I’ve never thought about how I explain such concepts to a blind user. Sure, I understand the issue for blind people consuming this information, but not creating it.

Do I just use Notepad?

Is DreamWeaver a good idea?

Really, this is an open question (admittedly with little time for replies!) but I would appreciate any thoughts people have.


Filed under: Accessibility
Comments (9) Posted by Ian on Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Interview with Accessible Twitter creator Dennis Lembree

Accessify recently spoke to founder of Accessible Twitter Dennis Lembree, who is also behind Web Overhauls and web accessibility podcast Web Axe. We wanted to find out more about the background to Accessible Twitter, what prompted it and where it might go next. Here’s what Dennis had to say:

Accessify: Dennis, congratulations on Accessible Twitter:

Dennis: Thank you. It’s a fun and challenging project.

A: I wanted to ask a few questions about the site/service, largely because of a comment I read from Doug Bowman about the site a little while back, namely "Why a whole new design for this?". When I read that I thought two things: 1) Doug has a point and conversely 2) Why knock it? There’s room for all sorts of UI styles. This got me thinking what it was that you originally wanted to achieve with the site. So perhaps that’s the best place to start:

D: My original idea was to keep it similar to Twitter’s architecture, but the more I developed, the more I realized that it wasn’t going to work. I encountered, in my opinion, many usability and accessibility issues, the biggest being inconsistent navigation. There are also many links that are hidden and/or require JavaScript to even reach them. Since these issues relate directly to layout and design, I decided to break out and just do what I felt was easiest for the user.*

A: What were (or still are) the biggest hurdles faced by people trying to use Twitter? What types of people is it affecting?

D: Web accessibility is for everyone, not only for the 10% or so of folks with some type of disability, but also for those with technical limitations such as low-band connections, a broken mouse, and blocked JavaScript. That said, the most obvious are the visually impaired, especially blind users. It very difficult for screen reader when a page lacks proper headings, semantic mark-up, and **contains a lot of Ajax.

A: Were you asked to do this by anyone? Or was it, perhaps, inspired by the work that anyone else has done for similar services?

D: An ex-coworker (and friend) of mine actually suggested that I do it. I really enjoy web development and using the web. And my specialty is web standards and accessibility, so this was a perfect project for me. My wife and kids were out of town for a couple weeks at the time, back in January, so that gave me the time to do all the groundwork.

A: Given that Twitter is such a simple service, in terms of functionality/purpose, does it surprise you that it has accessibility issues?

D: Not at all. Unfortunately, the majority of web sites and web applications are still not web accessible, especially in the U.S., where in general, we are behind countries like Australia and many European countries. Overall, I think there’s a misconception that a "Web 2.0" site or app can’t be cool or fun and be accessible at the same time. On the contrary, I find that it’s quite possible. It’s mostly a matter of planning it from the beginning, and implementing progressive enhancement.

A: And what does the fact that Twitter can’t get it perfect say about the wider state of web apps?

D: It says they’re pretty poor quality, frankly. is extremely off-course as far as web accessibility goes. Basic things such as proper use of headings and keyboard access are not implemented. I received an email from a blind user who really enjoys Accessible Twitter. He even asked, I think jokingly, if I could make an accessible Facebook, which is also terribly inaccessible.

A: What’s the best bit of feedback that you have received about Accessible Twitter since launching it? I’m thinking of the kind of comment that makes you think "Yep, those late nights and long protracted periods of shunning conversation and socialising (real, not virtual) were all worth it"?

D: I’ve received tremendous feedback from both users and fellow developers and accessibility advocates. Check out the Accessible Twitter homepage for quotes, mostly from Tweets. But I’d say the best, and most personal, was the following messsage from a blind user:

"Wow! You have really made my day, and I am smiling once again. I am so excited that I found your Accessible Twitter. Now I feel that I can be in the cutting edge of everything that is happening in the Twitter Universe."

A: How did you find working with the Twitter API? Did it present any issues regarding accessibility itself? For example, data that you might dearly want to make use of that was not exposed/available to use?

D: For the most part, it’s been pretty good, and they’re still working hard on it. This year the now separate search API is suppose to be updated to work more like the main API. By far he biggest problem I’ve experienced with the API is the of the speed and consistency of the data being served up; most of us know that it can very often times be extremely slow.

A: What’s the state of play with Twitter clients out there? Are any of those readily accessible, or even slightly?

D: I’m not aware of any other web-based Twitter clients, not to mention accessible ones. @SarahM is writing a book about Twitter and actually called me for input on Twitter and web accessibility and will be referencing to Accessible Twitter. She couldn’t find any other resources, at least not quickly enough. As most of us know, there are many desktop and mobile Twitter applications, but I can’t speak to the accessibility of those. Actually, I did try one desktop Twitter client, and it is totally not keyboard accessible.

A: Out of interest, what clients do you use (when you are not ‘eating your own dog food‘ as it were)?

D: Ha ha, they used to say that phrase at Quicken Loans. Anyway, I haven’t tried any other Twitter clients until very recently. I’ve started checking out TweetDeck. The groups feature is great, and you can import your Facebook feed. And yes, this is the app that not keyboard accessible.

A: Going back to Doug’s comment, did you consider effectively ‘cloning’ Twitter then accessifying it? Or was it a conscious decision not to because of possible legal reasons (copying, plagiarism, perhaps because it might seem to be a fake web site, even)?

D: I never had intention to "clone" the site. To reiterate from an earlier question, I first tried to stay with the main layout of the Twitter site, but gave up on that pretty quickly, mostly because of the navigation issues. In addition, web site design and functionality can change so quickly, it’s probably best to do what you think is right, and stick with that, and that’s what I did.

A: Have you spoken/chatted with Doug about this since? I ask this because he has since announced that he is going to work for Twitter and perhaps this constitutes as ‘official blessing’ to do what he suggested?

D: I have not spoken to him. I don’t feel that I need any approvals because I’m confident that I’m as qualified as anyone to do the site, well, nearly anyone. Like most things, the only real issue is time.

A: What if Twitter changed its site and addressed all of your accessibility concerns, fixed the lot and effectively negated the need for Accessible Twitter. Would you feel annoyed that you’d done the work for nothing or would you feel happy that the work had perhaps caused them to sort their own site out?

D: I highly doubt that would happen, at least not anytime soon. The realm of web accessibility has so many complexities and layers, it can be pretty tricky to address all of them. This is especially true when you have to retro-fit a rapidly growing application. If Twitter was able to do it, I would be quite impressed and hope their site could be an example of "the right way" to build a web app .

A: Going back to the previous question, if they did sort out their issues, would you rebrand/repurpose your own to some other means or simply leave as-is for those who may have gotten used to that version as ‘their Twitter’?

D: I don’t think I’d change it much. Just continue doing what I’m doing. The main goal will always be making basic Twitter functionality accessible. But in addition, there are several additional features that users may like to use and more to come.

A: What’s the coolest feature of Accessible Twitter?

D: Good lead in, ha ha. A few come to mind, such as the retweet, but I’d have to say the audio signals, or earcons, when entering a tweet are the most fun and valuable. When a user hits 30, 15, and 5 characters left, audio place announcing the number left. Like @v tweeted, he "likes it when the computer talks to him".

A: Finally, has doing this made you think of other similar sites/ ideas that you might want to have a go at accessifying in a similar way?If so, can you share any of this with us?

D: Facebook. Anyone want to form a start-up to do that?!

A: Thanks for your time, Dennis, and for the work that you put in on Accessible Twitter.

D: You’re welcome. Thank you for inviting me.

You can find Accessible Twitter on the web here or follow Accessible Twitter on Twitter itself - via accessible Twitter if you like! Boy, that was a confusing closing statement. Dennis is also on Twitter as himself in the guise of dennisl.

Filed under: Accessibility
Comments (6) Posted by Ian on Thursday, April 23, 2009

SuperPreview - Nice App, Shame about the Name

It might be the done thing for web developers in certain corners to routinely have a dig at Microsoft – certainly, they’ve given us enough ammo/cause in the past to make this easy (Songsmith, I’m particularly looking at you at the moment!) – but while many of these people will be having a moan about the release of IE8 for one reason or another, I’m finding myself overlooking that and instead getting excited about a different (but related) product: Expression Web SuperPreview.

Let’s start by saying this: what a truly awful product name! It just sounds so bad, which is a shame because the application is actually very good, or at least it appears to be based on my initial playing around.

What does SuperPreview do?

SuperPreview is a standalone application that lets you preview (or just view?) what your web page/site/app will render as in IE6, IE8 or IE8 in IE7 compatibility mode. The intention is to do away with the multi-IE hacks that developers have had to use in the past to test page layouts by placing it all in one tool.

The application lets you view a given web page on different browsers in a number of different ways – single window, split pane view (horizontal and vertical split) or as onion skin overlays (imagine each screen like it were drawn on tracing paper, allowing you to see all levels at once and spot differences). As you click and drag to move around the page, the associated windows with the other browser views move accordingly; it’s very easy to spot any layout differences. Here it is in split pane view, showing an IE8 and IE8 (IE7 compatibility view) together:

And here’s the overlay view, showing that some of the text is not quite vertically aligned (hence the fuzzy view):

I really like the way that this tool works, and it will really come into its own once other browser are thrown into the mix – ultimately, it will be possible to add in Firefox, Safari, Opera and others into SuperPreview (assuming that you have the browser installed on your system, of course).

What this tool will not do, however, is let you see how these different browsers cope with JavaScript/interaction (or at least that’s my understanding based on this early beta version); for that you would still need to test in the browser itself. I’m happy – very happy – to be proven wrong on this.

There is another downside to this tool that I should mention – the whopping 250mb download (I cannot understand why a one-trick pony application like this needs such a huge installer!) and the requirement for .Net 3.5 framework to be installed. It seemed to take a looooong time to install for me (I tried it on XP SP3 and on Vista), but it’s still beta so maybe some of this will be fixed. Also, I was installing on a virtual machine (running on Parallels on Mac with 4gb ram) which may have affected performance on that front.

So I’m really excited about the potential of this tool – more than I have been about any Microsoft product in a long time – but I want to openly plea to the people in the Expression team to do something: make this tool a free download!

Update: when I first wrote this post, I hadn’t seen anywhere to suggest this would be a free application and I assumed that it would be, like other Expression tools, be a paid-for app, but this is not true! It will be free for all. So you can skip the rest of this now - the reasons for asking are irrelevant now. Joy! Still, if they could get the download size down, that would be very much appreciated :)

Why SuperPreview should be free:

  1. Developers have had to work around the problems of multiple IE versions for long enough without help from Microsoft. Providing a tool that you can vouch for and support means a tool that people can place more trust in (and also know that they are not loading modified DLLs that may have all manner of nasties lurking in)
  2. IE’s different rendering problems have been the bane of standards-aware developers for too long – providing this for free goes some way to making reparations.
  3. Many people are already spending hours of their own time producing excellent tools to help make the web a better, more interoperable place, all of which are free. I’m thinking of the likes of Web Developer Toolbar, Firebug, IETester and many more. If these fine folks can do it for free, surely Microsoft can give this away for free too?
  4. Finally, it’s a marketing opportunity for the Expression Suite – a way of getting the brand in front of a lot of developers who may decide that they like the way the tool works, like the interface, look-and-feel and generally feel more inclined to try out some of the other Expression tools. That’s not to be sniffed at.

So, that’s what I’m hoping for – SuperPreview to be made even more super by making it completely free. Come on Expression team, you know it makes sense.

[Heading inspired by The Monks' "Nice legs, Shame About the Face". Now there's a blast from the past]

Filed under: Reviews, Tool, Tools
Comments (4) Posted by Ian on Monday, March 23, 2009

Fantastic offer - 5 books for the price of 1

How would you like 5 of SitePoint’s rather fine technical publications for just $29.99 US? Sounds like an absolute bargain, doesn’t it? Well, it is a deal not to be missed and you have 3 days to make the most of it. So get to it!

Visit SitePoint’s 5-for-1 sale here

As a SitePoint author whose books are on this list, it’s money out of my pocket, frankly, so why should I be so happily promoting it? Simple - the money is going into the pockets of people who need it a hell of a lot more than I and the other SitePoint authors and employees need it right now!. As some of you might know, SitePoint is based in Melbourne, Australia where - at the time of writing - bush fires are still raging and have claimed entire towns with the loss of life currently put at 170 people. This figure will rise.

I know that some of the people at SitePoint have been personally affected, losing friends in the fires, so this should not be seen as a publicity stunt in any way shape or form - this was simply something that they could do to raise some money quickly and easily to support the victims of this tragic incident. I’m only too happy to help promote this and am going to be blogging this anywhere I can, Twittering where I can - and there’s nothing to stop you doing the same!

$30 for five books is an absolute steal. Go on, buy some books and that will be another $30 going directly towards the victims - SitePoint are taking no money from this whatsoever.


Filed under: Announcements
Comments Off Posted by Ian on Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Easy YouTube caption creator - a very rough first ‘build’

OK, before I start, let me just emphasise that this tool is not meant to be anything complicated and I’m not suggesting that it in any way replaces other existing ‘Swiss Army knife’ style captioning tools - this is a one-trick pony! And the trick this pony does is help to caption YouTube videos. If you’re expecting something mind-blowing, prepare to be disappointed (cue smiley face icon moment).

What it does

I’ve put together a little tool that lets me create a caption file - suitable for YouTube - in what I think is a quite easy manner. You need to have a transcript done first (that’s the hardest part!), but if you have that, the aim is to make it a case of listening to the narrative in the YouTube video and then pressing the ‘a’ key button when each line in the transcript appears which then time-stamps that line for you.

What it doesn’t do

Pressing the play button on the embedded YouTube video does not automatically start the timer required for time-stamping the caption text (because pressing play is not tha same as the bideo starting due to connection speed and how long it takes to buffer video, so there is s separate timer control. This is far from perfect. What I would like is:

  • for a control on the page to start the YouTube video loading/buffering
  • listen/wait for the video to actually start playing
  • trigger off the timer so the two are in sync

This sounds do-able, but I’ll confess I’ve never tinkered with YouTube API at all. What I would appreciate is any advice on that front, even if it’s just to say "Yes, that’s possible, take a look here" … and I’ll give it a look when I get a moment free :)

All feedback appreciated:

Filed under: Tools
Comments (8) Posted by Ian on Wednesday, February 4, 2009
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