Christian Heilmann

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Archive for the ‘accessibility’ Category

Alcance by CPQD – an accessible and simple interface for smartphones

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

Accessibility and mobile devices is still and issue that needs solving. Sure, there were solutions for phones around for quite a while that would for example allow a blind person to listen to their phone (a friend I know uses a Nokia N95 for that) and the iPhone is considered by many a really good solution for people with disabilities but the price of the iPhone makes it less accessible for a lot of people.

At Campus Party Recife I gave a talk about Mozilla and the Open web device and got introduced by Felipe Cunha of Telefonicá Brazil to a product called Alcance by CPQD. Here is a quick interview with Felipe about it:

Here are the main points:

  • CPQD built this prototype after doing user testing and research with blind users, the elderly and people with learning disabilities and low literacy
  • The software runs on mid-range Android phones and uses private access to boot directly into the interface circumventing the main Android OS interface
  • Users can swipe on the screen and a voice reads out what app they are currently touching. Double-clicking opens that app with more voice information. Subsequent screens then all are the same size icons (6 per screen)

Here are some screenshots of the device in action:

Alcance by CPQD - start screen
Alcance start screen – no app selected

Alcance by CPQD - selected app
Alcance selected app screen

Alcance by CPQD - another selected app
Alcance another selected app screen

Alcance by CPQD - secondary menu
Alcance secondary app screen

Of course this will not replace a full-on smart phone with all its possibilities but I like the idea and the simplicity of it a lot. Telefonicá is very interested in seeing where this can go and I am pretty sure this could be easily converted to Firefox OS and in HTML5.

What I like most about it is that it was built after doing research with the intended audience rather than yet another protoype that assumes a lot and lands in the “innovation” bin in the company a few weeks later.

It will be interesting to see what else happens with this product. Especially in a market like Brazil where low literacy is an issue this could be a good way to bring connectivity to those who can benefit from it.

Fixing the embed code for my needs

Monday, June 13th, 2011

As you may have guessed from my talks and all I am a big fan of, a service that automatically converts uploaded videos to all kind of HTML5 compatible formats on the fly. I met with the owner for a coffee and they are overall good guys! Yesterday I realized though that they broke all my blog posts from the past where I embedded their videos as they changed their embed code!

OK, was beta when I used it and I should have read my email but it was annoying nonetheless. I contacted them and we are sorting things out. To recap: converts a video you upload to 13 different formats supporting all browsers, mobile devices and consoles. It creates a single URL that redirects you to the correct format of the video in accordance of the device or the browser used to request it. Awesome!

In the beta program all you had to do to embed a video in HTML5 compliant browsers was this:

<video src="" controls width="500">
<a href="">
Download &#8220;Multimedia on the web&#8221;

For some reason though this now sends my Firefox Aurora to the MP4 version which doesn’t work any more. I guess there is just a detection issue of Firefox Aurora. The official embed endorsed by is the following:

<iframe frameborder="0" width="640" height="360" name="vidly-frame"
<a target='_blank' href=''>
<img src='' />

The embeded.html file always loads a player to play the video that falls back to Flash in Firefox Aurora and Chrome. On Safari and Opera it uses the HTML5 native controls. I want that for all – why load an extra player and Flash when the browser is capable? So instead of using the official player I checked what URLs it generates and put in the URLs by hand:

<video width="500" height="375" controls style="display:block">
<source src="" type="video/mp4">         
<source src="" type="video/webm">         
<source src="" type="video/ogg">
<a target='_blank' href=''>
<img src='' width="500">

This is unfortunate, and it seems to be an issue with Aurora detection. The following works fine in Opera and Chrome and Safari.

<video width="640" height="360" controls 

I could also use this redirect URL to get formats, f.e. gets you the WEBM version.

Detecting the video capabilities of a browser seems to be still quite an annoying thing as you need to do it in JS and not by just reading the user agent on the server. To me, players should never fall back to Flash when the browser is capable of playing it natively – for the sake of accessibility.

I had an accessibility hacking dream – RIP Scripting Enabled

Sunday, June 5th, 2011

Scripting enabled

About two years ago I had a dream and made it reality: I wanted to mix the crazy world of hackdays and unconferences and the world of accessibility.

In hackdays and unconferences developers show in a very short amount of time that they can solve a lot of problems and create great proof of concept products. These proofs can then be taken forward and changed into real products.

In the accessibility world we constantly complain that developers do not care enough about the needs of people with disabilities. We also complain about new technology not being helpful to disability needs or needs of the elderly.

I wanted to marry the enthusiasm of hackdays and the existing urge of developers to solve problems with the real life problems people who use the web have. I also wanted to dispel some myths around accessibility and show that you can be cool and innovative and also care for the needs of everybody.

Therefore I organised Scripting Enabled, a one day conference in which people with different disabilities showed the barriers that keep them from using the web and inviting a group of developers on the following day to build solutions to remove these barriers.

I was successful – I managed to pull off a free conference with a lot of attendees with only £200 out of my own pocket and caused some media attention and recorded a few good videos (which are on Yahoo Video – so I need to move them soon, drat!) raising awareness about disability needs on the web.

What I failed to do was my second agenda: to break down the barrier between the accessibility world and the development world and start a constant flow of hack and accessibility innovation.

I opened the idea of Scripting Enabled to everyone and invited people to hold their own. One other SE was held at Adobe in Seattle but that was it.

I started a mailing list and a Wiki – both dying of spam now and without any activity.

Probably this is all my fault – you just can’t start a new movement and build a community in a very saturated market like the internet is today with Facebook, Twitter, various mailing lists, Quora, Reddit, Stackoverflow and others all competing for our attention.

If I had constantly pushed for Scripting Enabled it might have hit off. I relied on the accessibility community to do that for me – alas, they didn’t and I actually have a hard time naming a working accessibility community that does not revolve around trying to push “accessible products”.

That is why I will archive Scripting Enabled as soon as I have time. I spend a lot of time deleting spam and I feel that there is no point in kicking this horse to trot on. It was a nice dream and a good first run. I am happy I did it but I don’t feel there is a point to try to repeat when there is no communication in two years.

Liberated Accessibility at A-Tag in Vienna

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

I’m just looking out of the window at the snow on my balcony (in London! ZOMG!) and try to wrap up my quick trip to Vienna to attend the A-Tag conference which was an accessibility event sponsored by both Austrian government organizations and commercial partners.

me presenting and having live sign language translation
Photo by Markus Ladstaetter

The motto of the conference was “The Future is now” and thus the main sponsor was the organization in the Austrian government dealing with youth matters. This is a great idea as it meant that first of all the accessibility argument is taken outside of the disability camp but into the area that we have to deal with much more – the youth of today and its education but it also meant that people are more likely to listen to a government body than just bloggers or IT company representatives. The conference had two tracks and here’s a quick roundup of the talks I attended.

  • The conference started with Eva Pabst, a blind presenter from accessible media welcoming everybody and setting the scene.
  • Following was Robert Lender talking about the idea of bringing accessibility and youth work together and doing an admirable job in presenting the plea for collaboration. My hat is off to Robert (and he did the opposite by putting on the blue beanie after stating it’ll look silly) and I am helping him right now to create a youth oriented search engine using Yahoo BOSS.
  • After this I saw my colleague Artur Ortega giving an overview on how JavaScript solutions can increase the accessibility of web products if used correctly showing Yahoo Video, Finance (using a very clever currency converter) and other “real life” examples. Artur is a geek and hard-core well of knowledge when it comes to screen readers, great stuff.
  • Shadi Abou-Zahra of the W3C was next explaining all about WCAG2. This was a bit on the dry side, but there is not much you can do when talking about a massive topic like this and Shadi is great to ask all kind of detailed questions when you cornered him in the breaks. Good to have people telling how to convert from a WCAG1 based testing methodology to the more human WCAG2.
  • I then skipped two presentations to chat with people outside and discussing the idea of an Austrian Scripting Enabled with some of the people.
  • I got back on the tracks after lunch to see Martin Kliehm talk about WAI-ARIA and how to use it now. Despite the rather creepy factor that most of his slides featured my name or photo in one way or another Martin did a great job explaining the technical details of WAI-ARIA and showed his code solutions for it. One thing that is a bit of a shame is that him showing how complex it can get to write your own keyboard access solutions might have spooked the audience, so I made sure to explain that all the large widget libraries I know are working on ARIA implementations already, so you don’t have to be a Martin to use it.
  • Eric Eggert filled in for Tomas Caspers who couldn’t come because of company demands and was sadly missed talked about the seven deadly sins of accessible webdesign mapping the bible sins to bad examples of accessible solutions. These ranged from terrible solutions like contrast widgets that only changed the contrast of the widget itself up to 1000 character table summaries that didn’t explain what the table was about. Eric also segwayed nicely to my presentation by telling people off for discussing things for hours instead of just doing them.

The conference presentations ended with my own plea for better communication between the accessibility world and the web development world out there. The slides are available on slideshare (this is the English version, but there is also a German one. If you don’t want to sign up for slideshare to download the slides, get them from S3: German, English.

Here are the slides translated into English:

[slideshare id=778833&doc=atagenglish-1227392313529781-9&w=425]

I will write more about this topic soon and hopefully give some talk on it in the anglophone world, too :)

The organization of the conference was flawless and went without a hitch. The catering was marvelous and Vienna itself is a beautiful, easy to navigate town full of coffee houses and bakeries. Please London, take these on!

I have to thank the organizers, Eric Eggert, Accessible media and the dynamic duo of Markus and Martin Ladstaetter of Bizeps for a great conference. I was also very impressed with the live transcription to sign language and the professionalism this was done with (I had a good talking to before my talk to speak much slower and hope I pulled it off).

On a personal note one of my highlights was being able to have a long chat (with aid of the sign language translators) with several hard-of-hearing attendees (including the terribly inspiring Manfred Schuetz) which helped me to understand their concerns and give them some ideas how to get the need for proper captioning and transcription to sign language out there.

It was a good time and if you speak German and you care about accessibility, give A-Tag a go next time, it is well worth it.

Scripting Enabled at @mediaAjax 2008

Monday, September 15th, 2008

I am right now at @media Ajax 2008 getting ready to go on stage to deliver my “Scripting Enabled” talk, explaining how the main issue about accessibility is that we just don’t talk enough to each other. Technology is never really the boundary we have with accessibility, it is that we don’t understand how people work and what technology is capable of.

[slideshare id=598740&doc=atmediaajaxscriptingenabled-1221470402418982-9&w=425]

Links in the presentation