Gladys, Take a memo, and please clean up my dirty mouth

shorthand class


“Writing obscures language; it is not a guise for language but a disguise.”
– (Saussure, Course in General Linguistics)

In September, I started to experiment with voice recognition software. The results were interesting, humourous, and inaccurate. I wrote a post about it on the blog I set up for my graduate research. At the time, I was experimenting to see what it means to capture the analytics of performance (or here, speech) to be replicated later. This experiment resonated with some of the work I’ve done in the past couple years with accessibility, speech recognition and voice commands.

Then this happened:
apple dictation

Apple’s new iPad (generation 3), has a Dictation option. The features page, suggests that:

Write an email. Send a text. Search the web. Or create a note. And do it all with only your voice. Instead of typing, tap the microphone icon on the keyboard. Then say what you want to say while your iPad listens. When you’re done, tap anywhere on the screen and, just like that, your spoken words become written words. Dictation also works with third-party apps, so you can do things like update your Facebook status or share a thought on your Twitter feed.

Interesting stuff. Now, before you jump on board, read this post and consider what information you might be sending and storing on Apple’s servers.

I’ve been experimenting with this dictation feature for the past couple weeks. On Monday, I lost a fight with the dandelions in my backyard. As a result, I’ve thrown my back out and I have difficulty sitting for an extended period of time. So, I’ve been using the dictation feature to answer emails, send out tweets, and I’m using it right now to compose this post. It seems to work pretty well.

I was showing it off to my kids this morning as replying to an email from a friend of mine. I asked my five years old son if he wanted to try it out. So, I suggested he say, “Looking forward to seeing you.” Somehow things got a bit garbled…and the result?

“Fucking sea plank.”

I’m not entirely sure what that means, but it resulted in me having to change my shirt when coffee came out my nose.

Beatjazz & Different Ways of Knowing

Part of a series of weekly TED talks I’ve been watching and thinking about. Have a look, have a think, comment if you’d like. Some interesting thoughts here with regards to accessibility.

Onyx Ashanti: This is beatjazz

Daniel Tammet: Different ways of knowing

Architecture that knows where you are and how you’re feeling

In other news, I’ve been doing some reading up on Phillip Beesley who is an architect and a prof at the University of Waterloo.

He spoke at tedxwaterloo this year.

His most recent works are a mashup of architecture and sculpture, and are both creepy and beautiful. I think they speak loudly to what the future of architecture and design of physical space and information can (and should) become, a sympathetic environment responding to the individual who is experiencing it – have a look.

I wonder if he might be an interesting addition to the accessibility conference next year.

Here’s what I learned from #a4a10

Coming down from a conference high. #a4a10 – Aiming for Accessibility: meeting standards, making change was a tremendous event. Congratulations and thanks to the speakers, attendees, organizers and sponsors.

Word clouds from the event:

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Here’s (some of) what I learned and was inspired by:

  • “Meeting the requirements of the AODA really isn’t the goal in itself…we need to nurture a culture of accessibility and inclusion, which is different than simply accommodation and compliance.” (Mike Ridley)
  • Chronic conditions are the health care challenge of the 21st century.
  • Accessibility means revenue. People with disabilities are an untapped resource.
  • Apple & Accessibility
  • WAVE toolbar
  • D2L & Accessibility
  • Accessible Course Templates cc: No Rights Reserved License)
  • Vanilla Ice references have a place at most conferences (e.g. “Stop. Collaborate and Listen”, “If there’s a problem, yo, I’ll solve it.”)
  • Simply Accessible (Derek Featherstone). Design ideas for disabilities.
  • “It’s more than getting into the interface. It’s about being able to participate.” (Stephen Hockema)
  • Good design is accessible design.

See you next year!

“Just because something is compliant, doesn’t mean it will be easy to use.”

Derek Featherstone, developer, consultant, speaker, triathelete, accessibility specialist and group lead of the Web Standards Project, had this to say at AccessAbility.

  • Accessibility isn’t just a little piece of a website, it encompasses everything
  • 4 Cornerstones of Accessibility – Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust
  • It’s not just about meeting the guidelines. It’s about understanding the context of use
  • alt text is not just important for people who can’t see
  • Images that support or replicate information on the page do not necessarily need alt text
  • Don’t think visually. Think from a keyboard perspective.
  • First: Develop Content. Next: Build Presentation. Last: Add Behaviour.
  • Think “Progressive Enhancement

Derek can also be found at:

Further Ahead


Pirate Juice! (& other principles of good information design)

Jenn & Ken Visocky O’Grady are Co-founders of Enspace and Co-authors of The Information Design Handbook.

Information Design Handbook

I could listen to these folks talk all day. Their book is filled with case studies and essential design principles, with graphics that are exemplars of communication and aesthetics.

My favourite sequence from their presentation at AccessAbility:


pirate flag = “pirate”


poison = “pirate juice”?

Accessibility *is* forward thinking

AccessAbility conference
© RGD Ontario

I had the great opportunity to attend a one day conference last week. AccessAbility, organized by The Association of Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario (RGD Ontario), which represents more than 3,000 graphic designers, managers, educators and students across Ontario. Here are some take-aways from the day:

Stats: (from CNIB,

  • 15% of the population of Ontario have a disability
  • by 2017, there will be more seniors in Ontario than those aged 0-14
  • by 2025, 50% of the population on Ontario will be aged 65+
  • people with disabilities are 5x more likely to be unemployed

Some reflections on individual sessions in future posts.

Conference planning committees can lead to premature greying

I guess I should know better. I’m living proof of what happens when you complain. First, your complaints are completely ignored. Eventually, someone pays attention. Ultimately, you’re on a planning committee to “make things better”.

Currently, I’m sitting on steering committees for 2 educational conferences for Summer 2010.

Desire2Learn Users’ Conference
Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile
July 11 through 16, 2010

accessibility conference
Creating Barrier-Free Information and Communication
University of Guelph
June 8 & 9, 2010

In our planning for a Call for Presentations, I’ve been pushing to expand the scope of potential presentation formats and lengths, but have been met with responses that “logistically, this would be a nightmare”. I think we have to embrace the nightmare. Equal 50 minute (30 minute PPT with 20 minute discussion, or whatever), user-led session formats don’t work anymore. Never did, if you ask me. If we want a conference to “rock”, we should think about this. Gladly, I think I might be getting somewhere.

My main point is this: traditional format of user breakout sessions is generally not good design for learning, it promotes and almost entrenches a certain type of presentation. Most folks I talk to will agree that technology should not lead learning design. Why then, are we allowing scheduling technology guide conference design?

I say encourage people submit ideas for what they want to do, and let the planning committee sort it out. Twice in the past year, I’ve submitted proposals in one format and been accepted, but challenged to present my ideas in a different way (once as a poster, once as part of a panel discussion). In both situations, these ended up being my best conference presentations to date.

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