My name is Ed Summers. I am a blind software engineer and an accessibility specialist. I lead the accessibility team at SAS Institute. SAS is the market leader in Business Analytics software and the largest independent Business Intelligence software vendor. SAS also provides software to K-12 and higher education organizations at no cost or low cost.
This community group was formed as a result of a meeting on November 21, 2011. The meeting was hosted at SAS’ corporate headquarters. The participants included Dr. Bruce Walker from the Georgia Tech Sonification Lab, Dr. John Gardner from Viewplus Technologies, Doug Schepers from W3C, and several representatives from SAS Research and Development.
During this meeting, we reviewed recent advances in the accessibility of data visualizations and related multi-modal user interactions. We discussed next steps towards greater access to graphical representations of structured data on the web. We agreed that new web standards would greatly increase access to this information for users of all abilities and particularly users with visual disabilities. We agreed to form this community group to facilitate that goal.
Technology exists to serve humanity. There are pressing social needs that require immediate attention. I propose that we initially focus on these pressing social needs and iteratively expand our scope in a manageable fashion.
First and foremost, students with visual disabilities do not have equal access to graphical representations of mathematical functions and structured data in mainstream textbooks, e-learning systems, and standardized tests. This is an artificial and unnecessary barrier for millions of students in K-12 and higher education.
Second, personal navigation is inherently difficult for people with visual disabilities. Mainstream printed and electronic maps are not accessible so it is very difficult for them to build a mental map of spaces, recognize landmarks, etc.
These two problems combine create formidable obstacles for people with visual disabilities. For example, imagine a recent high school graduate with a severe visual disability as she arrives at a major university for her freshman year. Her first challenge is to learn to navigate a university campus and a new city. She must find new buildings and new classrooms at the beginning of each semester. She must acquire instructional materials in an accessible format in a timely manner. She will face calculus, statistics, economics, and other classes with limited or no acces to the images and graphics in her textbooks.
I propose that we systematically define a set of initial requirements and use cases that capture the challenges faced by real students with disabilities. This pragmatic approach will limit the scope of the problem and allow us to make progress on proposals to solve them. We can then iteratively expand the scope in a manageable fashion.
Please share your thoughts on this proposal. I look forward to a productive discussion that will produce tangible proposals in a timely manner.