Thursday, 29 November 2007

Mailing Lists & Fora

Generally accessibility issues seem to be dealt by Linden with John Lester, AKA Pathfinder Linden.

"Pathfinder Linden: well, I'm very interested in things we might be able to do from LL's perspective to make SL more accessible

Pathfinder Linden: so please hit me with recommendations :)"

The following resources might be useful,

SLED also has a forum with a thread called Supporting Visually Impaired Users, though it looks like it hasn't had any posts since January 2007.

From that forum Jonathon Richter has the following to say,
I concur that we ought to frame the problem in terms of the various affordances that Second Life as a medium allows its users - indeed, the benefits of SL over other types of learning media are precisely the selling points as to why we want accessibility to these incredible learning environments, yes? So, first - documenting the various affordances and the skills/inputs required to successfully navigate the media and receive said benefits is crucial.
And Jeff Farley has this to point out:
"There's a slogan in the disability-rights movement that goes 'Nothing about us without us.'"

Following are some extracts from the SLED mailing list that deal with visual impairment:

Different users of Second Life

Jeff Hiles writes,
But I think the most promising technological aide lies inways to make SL chat accessible, since the SL client isn't accessible to screen readers.
If I had to accommodate someone today, I'd approach it like a stage production and provide a skilled audio describer. The describer might join the blind person or communicate through VOIP. The person could then tell the describer where to move the avatar and what to do with it, while the describer summed up the scenes along the way. If it was done right, perhaps no one in SL would know the person was blind.

Ideally, the person's screen reader would have access to his avatar's chat so that communication would be direct, not through the describer. I'm not sure if that level of accessibility is possible yet.

SimTeach host the Education Wiki and also recently published a transcript of a meeting called Supporting Students With Disabilities", which was about
"discussing accessibility issues within Second Life, with a particular focus on how to best accommodate students with disabilities when SL is used for educational purposes"

This is the summary,

* The user interface and software of SL does not currently allow much freedom in regards to how it is manipulated (e.g., mouse versus keyboard). The UI is currently not JAWS- compliant as well. The use of XML-based user interfaces in future versions could provide great flexibility for tuning the software to a user's needs.

* The vast amount of visual information in SL is currently inaccessible to residents with visual disabilities. The addition of metadata (like the ALT and LONGDESC tags used for images in HTML) was suggested. While enforcing the inclusion of helpful metadata is tricky, it was agreed that educational builds at least should adhere to a standard.

* Regarding accommodations for a student with disabilities in SL, it was suggested that equivalent RL practices could be applied. A blind student might have a companion to assist him or her. This led to an interesting question regarding whether the companion or the student or both would have avatars in SL.

The following parts of the conversation have been cut from their context and reassembled without any intervening and off-topic posts,

Kate Spatula: have anyone of you had an instance where a person with a disability, say visual issues, was involved in a class using SL?
buridan Simon: /not that i know of

Ali Andrews: not yet

Gus Plisskin: Kate: Not visual issues, but I've build footpedals for those with carpal tunnel who can't use mouse buttons.

Kate Spatula: so that's one concern... the interface is very mouse-heavy on here, isn't it?

buridan Simon: /mouse heavy as compared to?

Ali Andrews: especially when building

Janor Slichter: more keyboard commands to drive menus and actions?

Gus Plisskin: yes, but SL needs mouse heavy. An alternative would be very tough

Janor Slichter: the way gestures work in chat?

buridan Simon: i dunno, i find that i use the arrow keys a fair amount

buridan Simon: /and the tab

otakup0pe Neumann: Hello everyone. I know that lots of builders do just that

otakup0pe Neumann: Rez a cube, and use tab/arrow keys / numpad for the specifics

buridan Simon: /what would be nice is better proximity detection for friends and colleagues with audio cues.... so a friend approaches and a sound could get louder....

Rubaiyat Shatner: I think a big issue with accessibility is to somehow expose the data so that it can be read if it is text and translated if not

Corwin Carillon: if the cleint was JAWS compliant you would get some of the with HUDs buridan

Janor Slichter: Kate, are you referring to being able to add special functions, like with add-ins, to the client, to accomodate certain needs?

Kate Spatula: that's one approach that could be taken, or providing hooks for external software to use (like JAWS requires), or these could all be optiosn built in to SL

otakup0pe Neumann: I sense this is a direction that LL wants to move in... but i really have no idea

Farley Scarborough: JAWS access and keyboard access are both very standard on Windows apps

Kate Spatula: so here's the difficult question, if you had a class where SL was a key facet, and one student was blind, what would you do?

Ellie Brewster: seems to me that you'd have to get them a companion

Ellie Brewster: just as you do in a rl class

buridan Simon: /All of the students that i've had that were visually impaird had companion assigned anyway

Kate Spatula: so would they have an avatar on here or just the companion or both

Farley Scarborough: There are profesional describers we use in RL

Krisjohn Twin: @Kate: I just walked into this room, sat down at a pre-defined spot and started typing. How hard could that be to script for someone who is blind? Most of the 3D interface in SL is wasted.

buridan Simon: /it is true the 3d doesn't matter as much as proximity

Krisjohn Twin: Heck, an IRC bridge to this room would probably be more than enough to participate in this discussion.

Ellie Brewster: you can use sound files as cues. Tie them to the scenery

Farley Scarborough: Ah, but the visual's... they aren't wasted on the blind.

otakup0pe Neumann: And scripting movement will get more interesting with libsl.

Farley Scarborough: Listen to an audio described movie

Kate Spatula: so let's consider this room. could we augment it to make it more accessible beyond just visual

Farley Scarborough: the visual description is very important

Gus Plisskin: For the person who's visually-impaired, rather than blind

Ellie Brewster: what about using a different channel for viz impaired?

Gus Plisskin: with description? that'd work

otakup0pe Neumann: Do you mean chat channel Ellie ?

Ellie Brewster: yes

buridan Simon: i think someone has an irc bridge

otakup0pe Neumann: there are several

otakup0pe Neumann: we have developed one (we being my company)

otakup0pe Neumann: and i knwo tehre is one with libsl

buridan Simon: /Actually i know irc, and im bridge

otakup0pe Neumann: and the #secondlife irc channel runs one

Kate Spatula: i'm loolking right now at pictures of some famous philosophers hanging on the walls. the environment could provide a list of tagged objects to the user

Kate Spatula: which would be useful to scripters as well

otakup0pe Neumann: my company is in the process of developing a "hidden" metadata system for SL object

otakup0pe Neumann: uhh. hidden is a bad word.

otakup0pe Neumann: ubiquitous ? heh.

buridan Simon: /hah good luck with that... tagging perhaps, but object standard metadata...

Kate Spatula: the challenge, as it is in web accessibility, is making sure the data is provided

buridan Simon: /cidoc is a bugger

otakup0pe Neumann: maybe metadata is also a poor word ;)

buridan Simon: /metadata is the word... it means data about data

otakup0pe Neumann: I know. There are many kinds of metadata.

otakup0pe Neumann: And as we just saw, only so much room in a script.

Kate Spatula: i'm sure i could force rubaiyat to tag Trotsky's, but what about *insert random place* here

otakup0pe Neumann: and kate, good point again. tagging the whole grid is a daunting task =O

otakup0pe Neumann: let alone both grids !

otakup0pe Neumann: and having them all work together.

Ali Andrews: but isn't it tagged already, in the edit window?

buridan Simon: /tagging is also an area where you will have a good number of people who vary and some who actively resistantly participate by tagging wrongly

otakup0pe Neumann: That's a idfferent kind of tagging Ali.

Ali Andrews: how is it different? It can list the name, discription... it just needs to be done consistantly as we do when we build web pages

buridan Simon: 'everything is a cube'

otakup0pe Neumann: This is true Ali

otakup0pe Neumann: Consistency is the key.

Kate Spatula: there is a difference, ali.

Ali Andrews: so at least for our educational builds we can start a standard

otakup0pe Neumann: it's metadata ,but not strictly descriptive

otakup0pe Neumann: i wonder how many "objects" are around here.

Kate Spatula: web pages have a structure that supports the use of those descriptions. however, accessing just names and descriptions on here is fairly unstructured

otakup0pe Neumann: lack of consistency....

buridan Simon points out that there are standards, and it is better to attempt to conform to a standard than to create one anew

Bryan Mnemonic: does linden tag any objects with metadata at all?

Pathfinder Linden: not really, not in the sense you're thinking about

otakup0pe Neumann: object name, description, groups, that is all metadata

otakup0pe Neumann: but yeah. not too "descriptive"

Kate Spatula: here's a related issue... avatakind of like all the image alt tags that say "image"

Kate Spatula: rs and disability. aside from pathfinder with his lack of a nose and rubaiyat's inability to store fat, none of our avatars really display signs of disability

Bryan Mnemonic: I wonder if that can be added to the "edit" build window so folks ban begin adding specific tags, or a limited number of them based on a drop down menu

Kate Spatula: going back to our blind student, would his avatar have a white cane an dsunglasses?

otakup0pe Neumann: kate : it's up to them

buridan Simon: /it would seem to me that identity is up to them

Bryan Mnemonic: for instance, we riright click on this couch, and when we click "more"perhaps there could be an additional tab

Bryan Mnemonic: with metadata options

buridan Simon: /metadata that can be filled with 'arse' and related words

Farley Scarborough: Ah, but of course the blind student couldn't see where to click, so wouldn't have a mouse

Kate Spatula: i'm not saying to enforce avatar appearances, but consider the importance of avatar image to reflecting disabilitiy

otakup0pe Neumann: do you think other avatars would requrie that visual cue ?

Kate Spatula: there are two sides ot the issue. one is whether other avtars need the cues, but then there's also the importance of digital identity and one's avatar image

Pathfinder Linden: there was a recent paper about social cues and avatars in SL recently...

Farley Scarborough: To expand Kate's question... Many people with disabilities you can see in RL can go through SL without anyone knowing. Could someone who cant' see?

otakup0pe Neumann: i think it should be the option of the avatar in question

Kate Spatula: that's the point... are the avatar options enough to reflect some of these needs

otakup0pe Neumann: both sides really. does the blind student want to advertise that they are blind ?

otakup0pe Neumann: and do other avatars want those cues ?

Pathfinder Linden: aha, here it is:

Kate Spatula: actually, they might want to advertise that they're blind, or in a wheelchair, etc. it's part of their identity and it's an issue of whether that person wants to express that and if they can express that

otakup0pe Neumann: but it's up to them.

Kate Spatula: RL example: i once roleplayed with a person who insisted that his elf cleric had a wheelchair built by gnomes

Farley Scarborough: It's only up to them if they can get about without anyone knowing.

Kate Spatula: from a disability critical studies viewoint, SL has an extreme bias towards physical perfection and able-bodiness

buridan Simon: /metadata is always a social and organizational issue first

Kate Spatula: for me, i think one of the larger open questions is how do people with disabilities view SL... both in terms of its usability and its potential

Farley Scarborough: There's a slogan among disability rights advocates: "Nothing about us without us."

Krisjohn Twin: For me, a larger question is how do people who barely know how to turn on a PC cope with SL at all? I've got plenty of able-bodied staff that have no chance coping with this environment.

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