My first blog entry on Testing for Accessibility has been published on MSDN. Two 9 out of 9′s so far…
Friday was the last full day of the CSUN conference. Although my first meeting wasn’t until 10am, implying that I could sleep for the longest consecutive period of time since I arrived in LA, the cold I had been fighting for weeks got the best of me that night. With the help of Dayquil (which hadn’t quit working like its counterpart), I pressed on.
I had a couple of meetings with Assistive Technology vendors to discuss screen reader testing methodologies. That afternoon, I attended the IBM Eclipse presentation. Unfortunately, the presenter wasn’t able to demo using Eclipse with a screen reader due to installation issues. The presenter spoke at an extremely high-level regarding Accessibility in Eclipse, which I’ll cover in more detail in my official CSUN trip report tomorrow.
After the Eclipse presentation, I headed off to the airport for my 7:35pm flight away from the gross smog-filled clouds to the dreary rain-filled clouds. I’ve really started to despise flying in recent years. It seems people have become more irritable, me included. 2 years ago, I was in mid-flight to Atlanta when a guy ran through security to grab his camera bag. I’ll never forget when the captain announced that there’s been an unusual delay in ATL. The unusual delay was that they evacuated ATL in order to re-search everyone. The process took 4 hours, 2 of which I spent on the plane on the ground, far away from the airport. Until they could reopen ATL and our gate, we were stuck on the ground. At least they opened the bar, free of charge, and showed everyone the movie again, but free of charge this time.
The only thing on this flight to Seattle that really truly annoyed me was the guy who answered his cell phone while we were landing. Personally, I like knowing that the pilot can communicate with the tower free of any interference. It is beyond my comprehension why other people don’t seem to care about this. I think that the stewards and stewardesses should say, “do not use cell phones when we tell you, otherwise the pilot won’t be able to talk to the tower” to scare people into obeying the rules. It really bothers me how people think that the rules don’t apply to them. Perhaps they really think they are in the Matrix. Lord knows they need an excuse.
Today, I was lucky to catch at noon doctor appointment to get some drugs. I hate going to the doctor unless I have to. This gives you an idea of how sick I felt yesterday and the past week overall. As I said this week, “I’m going to sleep all day Saturday,” and I did just that.
Thanks for reading about the past week at CSUN. As promised, more information about the QFE which I demoed on Wednesday and my full trip report are coming soon.
With the presentation behind me, I looked forward to celebrating my birthday. Starting off the day, I attended a continental breakfast hosted by Freedom Scientific. After the breakfast, I attended a few sessions by Sun Microsystems. Thursday was Sun’s day for all their presentations. The first session I attended was about their latest Star Office system, demo’ing new Accessibility features and improved Assistive Technology support.
After the session, I wondered downstairs to check out the vendors. There were so many assistive technologies there, ranging from screen readers to word prediction tools. I found a company called VirTouch, http://www.virtouch.com, that uses Visual Studio to create education and entertainment software programs for the blind (check out VTDoom, it’s Doom written for someone who is blind). I met another interesting vendor called Tack-Tiles, http://www.tack-tiles.com, whose technology was based on Legos. Yep, Legos. The vendor told me how his son was born blind and with multiple other disabilities. His teachers would remove his son from the classroom whenever the students started working on reading classes. The vendor explained how he believes that reading is a social skill, because a student learns to read within a group of students. If the student didn’t learn to read with his or her classmates, he/she would grow up not wanting to learn how to read. So, he decided he would teach his son using a Lego-based Braille system. Instead of having the standard 3×2 lego bumps on the top, Braille was embossed on the top of the blocks. By placing the standard lego bumps with the ‘A’ symbol in Braille Grade 1, the student learned to train his or her hands to identify the symbol. Thus, students could combine different combinations of letters or blocks to improve their Braille reading skills.
After the vendor session, a bite to eat, and a quick email check, I went back to the Sun room for the open source screen reader / magnification application Gnopernicus presentation. Because the screen reader was open source, Sun stressed how users could investigate and possibly fix issues for themselves by reading its source code. The main presenter was the Assistive Technology Vendor I met back in September who gave me these tips for developing for Accessibility.
Immediately following the Gnopernicus session, I had to change clothes to attend the first annual “Bubbly Ball”, sponsored by Microsoft. It was an event for people who use augmentative and alternative communication devices. For more information, check out the USSAAC website at http://www.ussaac.org. The actress Laura San Giacomo, who plays Mia from Just Shoot Me, attended the event, passing out cards that said, “I am going to use an alternative communication device to speak with you tonight.” I was so surprised that she was my height. I’m 5 foot 1.5 inches (make that 1.75 inches with tennis shoes on). To me, she looks so much taller on T.V. As the special guest and host, she described how her child was able to communicate with her for the first time using such a device.
The “Bubbly Ball” turned out to include a roast for one of the first users of augmentative and alternative communication devices. Michael B. Williams has a great sense of humor. Some of the stories told about him and his life were amazing.
Two of those amazing stories were:
- One of Michael’s friends told a story about the first time Michael had gone to England. The taxi driver picked up Michael out of his wheelchair and put him in the back of the cab. Michael started crying. When his friend asked him, “Why are you crying?” he responded, “A stranger touched me.” My first thoughts were, “makes sense since he probably doesn’t want to be touched by anyone he doesn’t know.” However, his friend realized the significance of the moment. It was the first time anyone Michael didn’t know had touched him. His friend started crying with him. My next thoughts were, “I suck.”
- Michael was the keynote speaker for some conference for disabilities at a university (I can’t remember the name of the conference). One student was so impressed by his talk that she emailed him and said that she was going to change her major to speech pathology in order to help people. One of Michael’s friends wanted to reply to her, “Don’t become a speech pathologist in order to help people. People with disabilities are not looking for people to help them. We are looking for people who are willing to provide their services in return for fair compensation. If you want to help people, become a lawyer, then you’ll get to help people all you want, charging them all along the way.” All I could think of was, “wow”. Of course, everyone laughed at the lawyer part, but still, wow.
After the “bubbly ball,” it was officially time to start “Sara Appreciation Day”. Thomas (who was the “The Next Version of Windows: Investing in a New Accessibility Platform“ speaker), Tom, and I started off the night with the ceremonial toast to the Cows back in Starkville, Mississippi where I attended college: “To the Cows back in Starkville, may your pastures be wide, your grass be green, your moo’s be deep and resonating, and may one day McDonald’s brings back the McDLT, you know, the burger where it was “cool” on one side of the container, and “hot” on the other side, and the commercials showed the guy with the broken arm putting the burger together, although I haven’t eaten at McD’s in over 3 years…”
After the ceremonial toast, we headed off into the LA nightlife. We ate Chinese food (everyone knows this is my Achilles’ heel) and then wondered farther down the Santa Monica Boulevard. Later Thomas’s friend who lives in LA took us to a local dance club. No famous people were there, though.
Now ya’ll know why I’m so late posting about day 3. <grin>
Sorry to keep ya’ll in suspense how the presentation went. I didn’t get back to my hotel room until after midnight last night. The bottom line: the presentation rocked.
Although the alarm clock is set for 7:30am, I’m wide awake (not by choice) at 6am. Instead of fighting a hopeless battle to get back to sleep, I decide to use the time to do some final preparation work and to iron my clothes.
While waiting in the lobby for Brian, a guy sitting to my right at this little table asks me if I’m presenting today. I said, “Please tell me you just read “speaker” on my badge, and not because I look nervous.” He just laughed. Smart guy, since that was a correct response. I describe to him what I’m going to demo, going into detail about how Visual Studio not only makes it possible for a developer using Assistive Technologies to be productive in our environment, but also the applications we create are accessible. A lady to my left was about to walk away, but now she puts down everything in her hand to start applauding what I just said. It’s always good to know random people appreciate the work you do.
I meet Brian at 10am for me to do a quick walk-through, practicing my cadence, delivery, and style. I describe the webpage, a guestbook to be exact, in every detail by going over every control and element so everyone in the audience can follow along. I think this webpage is now a permanent Kodak image in my mind.
Doug, from GW Micro, meets Brian and me at the lobby at 11:30 to go over the demos using Window Eyes, the screen reader I’ll be using to demo how the web pages are now much more accessible using the ASP.NET Accessibility QFE. We joke about how Window Eyes is smarter than we are, because Window Eyes makes the assumption that the first row of a table generated by a data grid control is really a row of headers and not regular cells. One of the fixes in the QFE is that ASP.NET now correctly uses the <th> header tag for the first row. It’s kinda difficult to demo something is broken when the screen reader reads it as if it isn’t broken.
It’s now about 1:15pm. 15 minutes to showtime. The conversation at the table is about divers who have been killed by sharks, followed by references to a classic movie about sharks. I told them to switch the subject. I’ll let you figure out why on your own. <smile>
Just before I get on stage, I look over to those non-existent sign language interpreters to see that there is no one sitting in that particular reserved section, so as far as I am concerned at that point in time, I do not need to care about the sign language interpreters. Sure, there could have been someone in the back watching them, but denial can be a very good thing.
All the demos went perfectly. Everything went according to the script. The only thing I wasn’t prepared for was when Brian asked me how many lines of code I had to write to create a navigation bar (aka a SiteMapPath) with a SkipRepeatedLinks control. I looked at him like “huh? I just dragged and dropped it on the form.” And he answered his own question with, “Zero!”, slightly chuckling. Everyone laughed, including myself.
There were some great questions after the presentation that I will summarize in my trip report. Both Brian and I answered questions, and it felt so good to answer technical questions with technical answers.
After the presentation, after talking with various audience members, and after thanking Brian profusely for his help, I crashed on a sofa in the MS speakers’ break room. I was exhausted from everything.
Later that night, all the Microsoft speakers and other Microsoft folks went to an Italian restaurant called Ago here in LA. Sitting behind us was ZZ Top. I guess famous people like to eat out a lot in LA.
Accessibility Information for Developers
Microsoft Visual Studio Homepage
FIX: DataGrid Made Compliant with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998
GW Micro – Window Eyes Homepage
During my rehearsal presentation, I stopped dead in my tracks when I said “The Visual Studio Environment…” I had this mental image of the sign language interpreters signing something like “the Visual Studio rainforest.” After my presentation, the interpreters told me to ignore them as if they weren’t even there. I typed up my entire presentation, so they would have all the possible words I would use, but I’m still so nervous I’m going to speak too fast or say something like “lagniappe” from my native N’awlins tongue. As I walked out of the presentation room, one of them told me “see you later.” I replied, “no I won’t.” <grin> It’s all about denial.
Brian gave me a really good tip for presenting. Always stand on something, like a coin, bottle cap, or hat. It keeps you from rocking too much. Don’t ask me how it works, but I just know it does. I should find some mardi gras beads (or St. Pat’s Parade beads) and stand on them, as if I were back home on the parade route, stepping on anything thrown in my direction. You always step on something before picking it up on the parade route, because you don’t want your hands to get stepped on.
The most difficult aspect of doing the demos is describing what is happening in a non-technical way. For example, I have to explain the improvements that the ASP.NET Accessibility QFE provides, without talking about the changes in the HTML source. If I were talking with my peers, I would tell them here’s the source diffs and here’s how it affects customers. For whatever reasons, it really messes with my head not being able to talk about the HTML source diffs. I guess this is because I want to build credibility with the audience, like they won’t believe me if I don’t prove what I’m saying in a technical way, as if the screen reader reading the website wasn’t enough proof.
However, tonight at the final rehearsal things just clicked. I think it was partly due to the advice Brian gave me about “just talk and the words will come.” And I think it was due to it being the last rehearsal of a very long day, so I decided to just have fun. Brian and I are going to do some more rehearsals tomorrow morning. Our presentation is at 1:30 tomorrow. One of the marketing folks helping me fine-tune my presentation said, “we’ll turn you into a marketing person yet!” I took it as a compliment <grin>
Seriously though, I cannot stress enough how thankful I am to everyone who helped me put these demos together and helped me become a better speaker.
The security guy screening my bags keeps looking at me, as if he were trying to figure me out. I’m thinking, “there’s just a camera, a mouse, and a cell phone in the bag. Why is he looking at me?” Finally, he decides to let me know what is on his mind, as i’m putting my shoes back on. “How do you get off the ship?” he asks. I’m totally taken aback. The security guy points at my chest, and I realize i have that halo t-shirt on from the store. “Oh,” i say only half-relieved, since everyone is now looking directly at me. “Restart the level and set it to easy. If my mother-in-law can do it, i have faith in you, sir.” Everyone chuckles. The security guy nods his head, accepting defeat in this mini word-sparring match. And i run towards concourse N before someone else can ask me another halo question.
Ironically i was on the same flight as Thomas, another CSUN speaker from Microsoft. At the hotel, we practiced our presentations, letting each other know when one of us didn’t read the entire contents on the slide deck or website. As Murphy’s Law would have it, my demos had two new broken links, which didn’t exist 24 hours before. Hopefully, the luck of the Irish will be with me on St. Pat’s Day.
Later this evening, a college classmate of Thomas’s who lives in LA took us to this awesome restaurant where we saw two movie/tv stars. One was an actress from Under the Tuscan Sun (the one who had the baby), and the other was an actor from the Captain Morgan commercials. Thankfully, Thomas’s classmate recognized them; otherwise, i would still be thinking “man, she looked so familiar.” Every conversation at the restaurant was about scripts, upcoming movies, or characters. Among the smog, billboards, and the variety of conversation topics, i don’t think LA is for me. But still a nice place to visit.
Tomorrow is the big rehearsal day for all Microsoft speakers. Tomorrow evening is a dinner reception for international guests, the keynote speaker, speakers, and other invited guests. Wednesday is the day i’ve been preparing for almost 2 months now. Wednesday night is another dinner for all MS people (i think that’s the plan). And Thursday is Sara Appreciation Day, among going to booths and sessions and collecting that priceless swag.
It’s going to be a busy week.
I’ve finished rehearsing my demos for today. It seems that there’s always one more little tweak to do to a demo before the presentation. But for tonight, my demos are completed.
Weather.com is reporting temperatures in the low 70s this week for LAX, where CSUN is being held. I just cannot wait for the warm weather and the sunlight! Back in February, I was horrified that I actually considered sunscreen when the sun came out for the first time all year. Being from the Mississippi Gulf Coast, I don’t think I’ll ever get completely accustomed to the winters here. Perhaps the hotel will have a good place to lay-out. Thankfully, I have an excuse for laying-out in March… I’m from Seattle.
Getting back to CSUN now…
I’ll definitely post my trip report, along with the demos (and any related sample code) here. I have a backlog of comments I need to respond to, but for the past month, I’ve been totally focused on CSUN and automating my test cases for my feature ownerships. When I return from CSUN, these two tasks will be completed, but only to be replaced with the full test pass (I’ll explain this in a later post) and My_Current_Age++.
I’m so taking a vacation in April.
Here’s a high-level overview of what I’m presenting at CSUN:
- The ASP.NET Everett QFE
- New Accessibility Features in Whidbey (both environment and ASP.NET related)
Wish me luck, as this is my first presentation at a conference!