Document Accessibility Unraveled
Chad Chelius and Dax Castro during an Accessibility Podcast with the Chax Chat Logo between them.

Guest Dr. Chris Law – Web Accessibility, Cognitive Disability and Predictive Text

Dax Castro
Welcome to another episode of Chax Chat. Join Chad Chelius and me Dax Castro, where each week we wax poetic about document accessibility topics, tips, and the struggle of remediation and compliance. So sit back, grab your favorite mug of whatever, and let’s get started.

Chad Chelius
Welcome, everyone. Today’s podcast is sponsored by AbleDocs, makers of axesWord, axesPDF, as well as document remediation services. So we want to thank them for being our sponsor on today’s podcast. My name is Chad Chelius. I’m an Adobe-certified instructor, accessible documents specialist, as well as a consultant.

Dax Castro
And my name is Dax Castro. I am an Adobe certified PDF accessibility trainer, as well as certified as an accessible document specialist by the International Association of Accessibility Professionals. So Chad, how are you doing this week man?

Chad Chelius
Doing well, man. You know, the temperature has finally started to settle down here on the east coast. Earlier this week, it was like 98 degrees and 90% humidity. Now we’re down to like the mid-80s, and only like 80% humidity. So way more comfortable than it was earlier in the week.

Dax Castro
Oh my gosh! That makes me cringe just thinking about 80% humidity. I’m sweating already. And I haven’t either.

Chad Chelius
Yeah.

Dax Castro
So I want to get right to it. We had so much fun last week with Dr. Chris M. Law that we decided to have him back again this week. So last week, we talked about a lot of the legal ramifications of accessibility, who’s checking, what are some of the penalties, and all of that. This week, we decided to have him back and focus a little bit more on some of the struggles we have generally with web compliance and some of the programs. So, Dr. Chris M. Law is a consultant at Accessibility Track. And he runs a couple of different conferences and symposiums on the legal and general web accessibility. So, Dr. Chris, thank you so much for being on podcast again. We appreciate you coming back.

Dr. Chris M. Law
Thanks for having me back. Yeah, it’s good to be back with you. I enjoyed the chat last time. So, let’s keep it rolling. Thanks very much.

Chad Chelius
Well, the irony of web accessibility, in my opinion, is that, you know, as web technology has improved, and I’m not talking about HTML5, I’m talking about WordPress, Wix, Squarespace. You know, these companies have popped up to make web design easier for the average person. And with the advent of them, the accessibility has definitely decreased. Because when we were hand coding web pages using HTML, we were using heading tags. We were properly coding the content. And we could argue that, maybe, it wasn’t as robust as some of the things that are out now, [but] I could pretty much guarantee it was more accessible than the stuff that’s being spit out right now. Would you like to speak to that, Chris?

Dr. Chris M. Law
For the digital accessibility legal summit website, for the conference that I run, it’s all plain HTML. Because I don’t want somebody to come up to me and say, “Hey, I found an accessibility problem with your website.” And so, just the very nature of that persistence, I need to have that. And I was also talking to somebody yesterday. They have a conferencing application, web application to help with running online conferences. “Great! Okay, I’ll listen to your sales pitch.” And they said, “We’re fully accessible. We’re CAG two, double A.” So they were saying the like things. And I said, “Look, I absolutely need to know that your site would be fully accessible.” If I’m running a conference on legal access issues, I don’t want to have a system that’s not accessible. He said, “Yeah. Okay. Sure. Great.” And I said, “And your website doesn’t have visual focus when you’re tabbing around.” Which means that somebody with low vision, who’s using a keyboard, can’t actually use your website. And here’s some other things. He goes, “Oh!”

Dr. Chris M. Law
So, it’s not just putting the label on it. For the ICT Accessibility Testing Symposium, for that website, we use WordPress. But I have a team of volunteers who help run the conference. And I’m supremely grateful for them for the amount of time that they can put in, because WordPress does improve functionality. It does make things easier to create, but you still need to be on top of the accessibility. And it’s only by having that team that I can do that for that particular conference. Yeah, I was gonna mention, on small businesses, an interesting legal thing there, and one of the things that we put into the guide for small businesses as part of the National Federation of blindness switchboard site. And that is that a lot of small businesses don’t have the ability to hire programmers. So they’ll use a third party tool to make a website: wix.com or WordPress or GoDaddy or something like that.

Chad Chelius
Yeah. WordPress or whatever.

Dr. Chris M. Law
Yeah. And for the most part or for the… I can’t speak to exactly right now, because I haven’t looked in a year or so, but those sites wouldn’t necessarily advertise that they were going to spit out accessible content for you. It was just not mentioned. And if a lawsuit against a small business comes, they don’t care about the middleman. They only care about the defendant. There’s the plaintiff and the defendant. And the defendant can say, “Well, I use this service.”  So one of the things that we say in that guide is look in a small print of the service to see whether it will give you accessible code. And if it doesn’t, call up their tech support, call up their information line, and start asking questions. The more people can start asking questions, the more accessible websites are gonna actually end up coming out of that.

Chad Chelius
Yeah. The default behavior in WordPress, and again, Squarespace, Wix, they want to create classes for every single thing. So like, you’ll create a heading, and rather than making it an <h1> or an <h2>, it’ll make it a <p> with a unique class assigned to it. And it’ll make it appear as a heading, but fundamentally, it’s not. And that’s where you really run into some problems.

Dr. Chris M. Law
I think this is like another example of the same sort of problem that you get in development circles in these large organizations. It is that people are sort of trying to justify their existence by coming up with new ideas. And so you propose something and you do something, and it doesn’t quite fit with the way things used to happen. And so I’ve found this with the last 10 times Microsoft Word has updated. I use Word on daily basis.

Chad Chelius
Oh my gosh, don’t get me started.

Dr. Chris M. Law
It’s like, “What are you doing? How is this a better thing?” You know, I was doing it in Microsoft Office. The latest edition of Microsoft Office started using Word Prediction when I was typing out an email. I was like, “The meeting is canceled or something like this.” And I typed the “Meeting”, and I was gonna say something else. And the reason I switch off spellcheck and I switch off grammar check and I switch off predicted text, because it gets in the way of my train of thought. I can go back and fix the spelling later. Thank you very much.

Dr. Chris M. Law
But turning those things off, there wasn’t easy to actually go in and find how to turn that off. You know, it didn’t pop up with a thing that says, “Look, this is new thing.” You know, that would be fine. Okay, one click, off. But now, I had to go dig for it. And the backstage, right. So accessibility checks, you can just tell by the way the interface is designed. That the backstage, where you do the accessibility check, that interface was not integrated within a particular release of Microsoft Word. I think, it was 2003 or something like that. So that they started putting that in, it was soon after (Section) 508 came out. And they said, “Why isn’t there a check for all tags.” And you can tell just by looking at the interface that this was done by an add-on by a separate team. The same with the accessibility in Acrobat Pro. That interface is different.

Dax Castro
You remember, Word used to have the title. When you alt text, it had title and then description, and then merge the two into one thing. And then that went away because they realized that was crap. And they shouldn’t be doing that. Now, it’s trying to export a chart or a graph from Word and get it to read correctly, or try to get art back something, mark something is decorative, and get it to read correctly. It’s gymnastics, especially if PDF/UA is your standard, because there’s so many things you can’t do when it comes to PDF/UA. And I want to talk…

Dr. Chris M. Law
It’s hard for us as accessibility experts.

Dax Castro
Yeah.

Dr. Chris M. Law
Oh, yeah. Let alone your standard everything to user.

Dax Castro
Exactly.

Dr. Chris M. Law
Yeah. I mean, when you get into a class and say “Okay, you’ve got a chart or a table. Now you’ve got to export it. And then here’s the eight steps you have to take inside Acrobat to make it read right.” They’re like, “What the heck?”

Chad Chelius
Well, the best, Dax or both of you, that the best is, in the newer versions of Word, when you add alt text, there’s a button that says, “Generated description for me”. And the funny thing is that was the artificial intelligence crew at Microsoft. They’re like, “Hey, we can use this brilliant technology to generate a description for you.” And when they first implemented it, it would come up with a description, and then below it would say, “A description generated automatically”. Like, literally in the alternate text, it would say, “Description”, and you’re just like, “What is the value of this?” Like, you know. (Chad Laughs)

Dax Castro
It’s a thing. It’s a thing! Everybody can see it’s a thing.

Chad Chelius
That it is.

Dax Castro
You get images of sunglasses as an all text description for a bar chart. And you’re like, “Really? Where did you even begin to come up with that?” To reset a bit, so Dr. Chris M. Law is a consultant at Accessibility Track. And we have him on today to talk about some of the legal aspects of accessibility. But we’ve kind of tangent off into a few different things. But I wanted to go back to something you said. And I think this is an important aspect of accessibility that people don’t really think about – cognitive accessibility. When you’re using predictive text… And I’ve never… And I want to tell you, “I love you, Chris.” Because I’ve never heard anyone say this. And I felt this way for a long time. Predictive text to me is distracting. My brain cannot… If you start talking to me as I’m talking to you, I can’t [talk]. My train of thought goes away. And so I’m trying to type and I’m trying to read the predictive text. Now I’m trying to make, “Okay. Do I want to tune my sentence to use that, or should I not, or do I hit ‘Tab’ or ‘Enter’?” It’s the craziest thing. And it’s so frustrating, because of a cognitive… You know, I don’t know if it’s ADHD or whatever that is. For me, my brain doesn’t work that way.

Dr. Chris M. Law
Yeah. There’s an interesting history behind it, which is, back… Yeah, I was in the room when they were creating guidance for Section 255 and 508, part of the Access Board. This will be about 1999. It was before the rules sort of came into effect. And they were drafting the rules. And somebody said, “What about cognitive disabilities?” And another time, you could tell that everybody in the room knew it was an important thing to do. What was difficult was to try to translate it into actual guidance.

Dax Castro
How do you quantify something?

Dr. Chris M. Law
Things that people could use.

Dax Castro
Yeah.

Dr. Chris M. Law
And the thing is, with visual disabilities and hearing disabilities and physical disabilities, there’s an easy test, which is, no vision or vision, hearing [or] no hearing, physical capability [or] no physical capability. And if you produce something that is usable without vision, you can also use it with low vision, you can also use it with vision. So, then you say, “Okay.” Let’s now talk about cognitive. Well, cognitive is actually a class of lots of different types of functions, each with varying degrees. And rarely do you have a ‘no ability’, ‘some ability’ or ‘greater ability’. So you say, “Well, short term memory.” You can have people who have bad short term memory, but if you have somebody with no short term memory, how are you going to get pass that with a design guide? You can talk about abstract reasoning. That’s another one. Somebody without abstract reasoning, well, they’re unlikely to understand what your product is, let alone be able to use it. So what happened back then was, everybody just said, they just sort of threw up their hands and said, like, its too hard. Let’s just get this figured this out now. We’ll, maybe, get to that later. And yes, people have gotten to that later. So and so now, the latest versions of work agere, including cognitive elements. I think that they included cognitive elements when they went to the triple A, when they rate it to a 2.0. And there was something in triple A, but most people didn’t have to follow triple A. They were obliged to follow double A. And so more and more, it’s coming into the narrative. Last year… So I’ve just finished writing the book that goes along with last year’s legal summit. I just send it off to the publisher yesterday.

Dax Castro
Oh, congrats.

Dr. Chris M. Law
Fastcase is the publisher. One of the chapters in there… So each chapter is a talk from last year’s legal summit. And one of them is from Professor Robert Dinerstein from American University, Washington College of Law, which is incidentally, the host of the event this year. And he is an expert on cognitive disability. So he gave a talk to the legal field, because very few cases have come up in legal on cognitive, because you haven’t been able to tie it back to a particular standard. But more and more they will be, because more and more standards are coming out, more and more guidance is coming out or things that you can do to help people with cognitive disabilities. So [it’s] very interesting talk. He laid out the population, the types of challenges that are faced and what could be done. And we do need more of that. We need more… I would love to see more submissions on cognitive disability come into the ICT Accessibility Testing symposium.

Dax Castro
Yeah.

Dr. Chris M. Law
That would be great, too. But I think that things are changing slowly. People are realizing. Even in the last couple of years, mental health has just become much more mainstreamed. Is that the right word? But accepted that taking care of your mental health is almost as important as taking care of your physical.

Chad Chelius
Of course, yeah. And I mean, I think that, certainly slowly, we as a society are taking mental health a little more seriously. But a quick stat that I looked up is saying that three out of every 100 people in the country have a cognitive disability. One out of every 10 children who needs special education has some form of cognitive disability. So it’s there. It’s a thing! You know what I mean? And it’s something that we all need to be aware of us, especially those of us in the accessibility space. Dax and I were talking about a project yesterday. And you remember that Dax, and it was a table, and the table header was like a paragraph of information. And we’re like, “Wait a second. That heading is going to be read every time somebody moves to another cell.” And then Dax is like, “Well, what if I put this information in a separate table?” And then I’m like, “Well, wait a second, I think that would be a cognitive limitation” And we’re like, “Yeah”. And so you know, this is what we do in our field. You know, I feel like we’re always like Sherlock Holmes. We’re always trying to find how do we decode this problem or how do we achieve the end result in a different and creative way?

Dax Castro
Well, I think it goes back to the user experience. What is the intended user experience? And I try to sit and think and actually visualize that person flipping back between the pages, going back and forth between the tables, trying to understand. And I will tell you the solution that Chad and I came up with, was for the client to have… Because the idea was there were eight different choices for a prefix code based on a date. If your item was from 2011 and 2012, it had this prefix; 2012 to 2013, it was this prefix. So you had to use the right number system to start out and then go down in the column to figure out what the suffix was going to be, whether it was some 4-digit code. But in the end, Chad and I came up with the idea that it really needed to be separate tables with each one of those codes.

Dax Castro
So now I can just look up, what is my date range, and then just go to that table and get the right code without having to switch or understand tables. But the client was like, “Wait a minute. Well, that means my two-page table now is 10 pages.” Like, “Yeah, it does.” But it’s accessible. And it doesn’t require a $5,000 price tag to make this table accessible. And she went, “Oh, okay.” You know, I mean, so for some people, the differentiator is money. But in the end, for me, it was user experience. You can provide this two-page table to, two-page PDF to everybody you want, but just have the accessible version that is the 10-page table. And I will tell you, given the choice, I would rather just you look through 10 pages to find the one table I need, then to do the mental gymnastics to try to figure out the code I’m supposed to.

Chad Chelius
Well, Dax you and I said, like, even as a sighted user, I was losing my mind. You know what I mean? I’m trying to like, look at these numbers, and you know, it would be much easier if you just organize the content based on this number, or this state, or this state, or the state. It was way simpler.

Dax Castro
So keep it simple. So Chris, we are at the end of our podcast. And so I want to give you a moment to talk about the two different conferences that you run. Give us some information about that. So for everybody listening, we always say this [in] every podcast, all of this information is in a transcript on our website. We have links to the show notes. So if we mentioned something or reference a word, a rule, or a website, or a profile, we always link to it. So you can go to www.chaxchat.com and get that. So Chris, in addition to linking to your symposiums, can you tell us more about what they are and who might be the person to go seek them out?

Dr. Chris M. Law
Sure. Thanks very much. The first one coming up is this October. It’s the Digital Accessibility Legal Summit. The website for that www.accessibility.legal. And yeah, that’s a conference rely for accessibility professionals, people who run accessibility teams, and people working in the legal field on accessibility cases on both the plaintiff and the defendant side. The other conference, we usually held it in the fall, but we’re skipping this fall. So our “6th Annual Conference for ICT Accessibility Testing” will take place in April. The call for proposals, because it is a peer reviewed conference, once again, that will come out no earlier than October 1. But the website has links and resources. And it has all the past papers from all the past conferences. They’re available there. And the website to go to is www.2022ict.org.

Dax Castro
Thank you, Chris.

Dr. Chris M. Law
Thank you.

Chad Chelius
Thank you, Chris. So once again,I want to thank AbleDocs for being our sponsor on today’s podcast. Once again, AbleDocs, are the makers of axesWord, axesPDF, as well as document remediation services. So again, thanks for your support our podcast. My name is Chad Chelius.

Dax Castro
And my name is Dax Castro and together we are Chax Chat, bringing you every Tuesday accessibility where we unravel accessibility for you.

Chad Chelius
Thanks, guys.

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