Monday, April 27, 2015

Accessibility of Information Systems

 Last school semester I was working for a course on Information Systems at the University of Toronto. I delivered a guest lecture, Accessibility and Information Systems, that highlights the various issues, benefits, and resources for practitioners to consider to make their info system (whether it is a website, mobile app, self-serve kiosk, etc) more accessible to people of various abilities.

As one who lives and works in the province of Ontario, I'm very proud of the work my government has done to encourage and regulate accessibility through Ontario’s Integrated Accessibility Standards. What we are doing in Ontario can really provide a role model for other jurisdictions.

You can access my speaker notes via the "Options" button on the bottom of the Google Slides' player. I"ll highlight my key points below, however. 

Introducing Accessibility
 My background and interests are in designing and understanding digital user experiences. I believe that for everyone to be able to enjoy and benefit from digital media, it should be accessible to them. Accessibility, put simply, means that people can access – that is find and use – information or resources. Accessibility, in the context of this discussion, refers to the availability of resources  and services to people regardless of their abilities. People can be blocked by barriers based on: vision, hearing, mobility, motor control, cognitive or learning ability, mental health, and other factors.

The problematic issue of accessibility, particularly in regards to info systems, has created a gulf known as the “disability divide”. The disability divide draws upon the concept of the digital divide, wherein the world is increasingly divided between those who have access to Internet and those who do not. As the ability to use the Internet is required for more aspects of life, this inaccessibility further prevents disabled people from greater societal participation.

Approximately 1 in 7 Ontarians identified as disabled = 1.85 million people. That figure is expected to rise to 1 in 5 people by the year 2036 as our population agesDisabilities may not be readily apparent. The number of people affected by accessibility is much greater when one considers that it pertains to those with permanent conditions, temporarily disabled (e.g., broken arms), situationally disabled (e.g. loud environments preventing hearing audio), and those with diminishing capacity (e.g., elderly).

Social Considerations
Studies reveal the tremendous impact Internet access can have on disabled people. Researchers have also studied homebound elderly and disabled people before and after getting Internet access, and they found using the Internet decreased feelings of isolation and depression. Also, online shopping was found to reduce mobility disability.

Legal Requirements
Ontario has a recent law regarding accessibility, but even before this law inaccessibility was considered prohibited discrimination across Canada due to our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act or AODA was passed in 2005 with the goal of making Ontario accessible for people with disabilities by 2025. The regulations apply to people who live, work, or do business in Ontario. Where the rules will be most enforced will be in regards to businesses, government, and education. If you are working for a company now with over 20 employees your company must have submitted last year to the Ontario government a report on how the company is working towards accessibility.

There are other reports and actions due in the coming years. The Ontario government has a Accessibility Compliance Wizard that walks one through compliance issues with a calendar of key dates.

 If you aren’t living or working in Ontario, you may still encounter AODA or rules like it as Ontario is being observed by other provinces and countries as an exemplar. More jurisdictions are moving forward or considering similar legislation.

Business Reasons:
Implementing accessibility may help you increase your company's reach or access new markets. For example, Good Grips kitchen utensils were designed for arthritis but are widely popular for their ease and comfort of use.  Other examples include screen readers developed for blind people but great for motorists. Accessible info systems may also improve interoperability and performance, optimizing for search engines, and demonstrate corporate responsibility.

 As you are studying and working in various information fields, you will encounter accessibility in various different products and services. Implementing accessibility can seem like a lot to do and may seem like it is difficult to know where to start. The first step should be knowing your audience or customers. Know what their needs are and then work to achieve this goal first. You can learn about your audience through informal data (e.g. customer service reports) or formal research via surveys or focus groups.

In 1997, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) announced the formation of its Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). The WAI was a collaborative effort from industry, advocacy organizations, disability specialists, and academia. Their Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) was released in 1999 and updated into a second version 2008. It is the second version known as WCAG 2 that is in use today. Despite criticism, WCAG is the leading international standard and the basis of international policy and law, including US’ Section 508, AODA, and an ISO standard. 

If you will be developing hardware or software, IBM guidelines are among the most recognized. For those working with a specific disability group, such as autism or epilepsy, there are disability specific guidelines that go beyond the others.

Accessibility Experts
 Due to AODA accessibility experts and consultants are proliferating now, but be careful. Hiring outside consultants who specialize in web accessibility can be a solution.  Yet, with any field where a client is not able to judge the quality of an expert’s work, it is possible for experts to abuse their position. So check a consultant’s past work and references first.

As people increasingly integrate online activities into their lives, a digital, disability divide exists between those who can and cannot access online content. Alterations to design and code can remove barriers that otherwise lock disabled people out of participation. As information professionals it is up to us to do our best to remove the disability divide.

Mobile Devices Give Directions... TO HELL!

I had some free time last night so I caught up on some shows saved to my PVR that I've been meaning to watch.  I used to be a big fan of the television show Supernatural - which if you haven't seen the show, the name pretty much tells you all you need to know. Now in its tenth season, I stopped watching religiously about two seasons ago.

But I've been saving an episode from this past February that I did not want to miss. The episode, "Halt & Catch Fire", was about a vengeful ghost who uses wifi networks to possess his victim's networked devices and kill them!

There's a selfie-obsessed teenager who meets her end from the cord of her device. My favourite victim though was killed by his possessed mobile device. He asks it for directions, but the device leads him far astray... until the "destination is dead ahead"!  Watch the clip:

I enjoyed this clip as I can relate! I had an evil GPS device insist I turn off the road in Hawaii and into an active volcano (I'm not exaggerating - read the details of my encounter).

Evil devices? It's not that far-fetched - GPS devices have resulted in many people's untimely demise - just google "GPS Device Deaths" to read of the many tragic cases.

Of course, those devices likely don't tell you to "Go screw yourself" first. That should be a tip-off that your device really is out to get you.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Tracking The Trackers

Having researched mobile locative technology for the past few years, I have often heard from people that they don't use such features on their smartphone that automatically ascertain and transmit their position as they are concerned about being tracked. I have never felt such a concern as I don't believe the various locations I traverse are interesting. In all likelihood, companies will may use the data to find out enough about me to try to sell things - hopefully a more geographically relevant way.

So I have always turned my location tracking settings on and given my permission for most of the apps I have downloaded onto my smartphone to access this data (with the exception of a few apps that I am unable to determine why they need this info on me).

I do believe that all users should always be given the option to turn this ability off. Here's a link to instructions on how to do this.

But since allowing myself to be tracked by my Android device's maker, Google, I have not encountered any problems (that I'm aware of anyway - who knows if some nefarious government agency or sinister hackers are compiling a dossier on me - if so it would be exceptionally boring).

And I have benefitted by a few apps knowing my location - though more often than not the location is not updated in real time to be of the utmost use.

I recently found out about an online service by Google offers, called Location History, that let's users see on a map what locations their device has transmitted back to Google. The service requires one to enter the account associated with the device and password. This service isn't new but it does seem largely unknown. It turns out, Apple and Microsoft also offer similar abilities.

When I checked out my location history that Google had, I was shocked by how frequently my location was transmitted (every few minutes) and that Google kept this data for so long (in my case dating back years -CHECK THIS!!!!).

Here's a sample of what is recorded:

I was surprised by how granular the data is and the extent to which Google let's one view it. One can view tracking paths by the day or in aggregate time frames (e.g. past two days, past week, past month, etc.). I'm not sure how long Google stores records, but I checked mine and it goes back months.

There were some errors for places I didn't go but was near and going underground (such as a subway) caused the route lines to be wrong as it assumes a straight line between two known positions).  I've heard that such features are a battery hog, but I read that Google uses positioning by cell phone towers instead of GPS to save battery life.

Not being a privacy worrier, I was nonetheless bit creeped out by this despite how cool it is to see this so nicely and interactively presented. Google does let one delete their location history completely or item-by-item.  Still, I'm not planning on deactivating it.

I thought this feature was interesting if not particularly useful. It had occurred to me that I could use it to prove that I (or to be specific my smartphone) was at a certain point when I said it was. But it wasn't until I mentioned to my cousin that she thought of a powerful - and affordable - use for it. Her company is looking for a logistics solution for their small fleet of delivery trucks.

She describes their needs, "We are looking for an inexpensive way of tracking our fleet throughout the day without installing something on the vehicle. Our fleet have Android devices tethered to tablets turned on for the work day and in the vehicle charger while driving."

If each driver were given their own individual account for the tablet, I can't see why management couldn't use this information to track their location history at a rate significantly cheaper than logistics solutions.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Playing and Learning with Digital Media and Technology at digiPlaySpace

Recently, my daughter and I were hosted at TIFF's digiPlaySpace, an annual digital media playground in Toronto that runs this year until April 19th. We were last there two years ago and I blogged about our fun explorations there. This time, my daughter is guest writing the blog post - with some help from me.

Here's her review of digiPlaySpace:

On Tuesday, I went to TIFF Kids digiPlaySpace with my Dad.

digiPlaySpace is an interactive place where you can do hands-on activities and learn things too. Their activities include stop-motion film, robot making, virtual reality, greenscreening, objects that
light up, arts and games. It is in downtown Toronto.

I went two years ago when I was in grade three. It is a lot different from the last time I went there  - almost everything is new. It's fun to have new things.

digiPlaySpace is different from museums as there is more hands-on stuff instead of things in a glass box or on a wall. Doing things yourself is more creative, makes you think more about the objects and
what you are doing and what it is. It would be great if other museums did stuff like this too.

I like the staff members - they were very nice and helpful. One of them helped me build a robot for the first time!

I liked all the exhibits! Below are my reviews of some of my favourite exhibits. If you click on the names of the exhibit, you will go to TIFF's review of the exhibit.

Me changing the lights and patterns of "Forest"
As soon you enter into TIFF if you look to the left you'll see a thing called Forest. It is a wall of lights that change colours. There are circles with a stick in the middle that you can turn to change where the light goes. It was pretty cool. I liked how TIFF put something on the outside so that you get something even before you enter. I like how you can change the light and how the light changes colour - you can make some pretty patterns. It was cool - it was artwork that you can make it look how you want it to look!

Six-Forty by Four-Eighty
As soon as you come in, this is the first thing you will see. It is a bunch of squares that light up and change colour if you touch them. If you touch two at the same time, you can change that square's colour. The squares are magnetic and you can arrange them however you want on the wall. For instance, you can make your initials, make patterns with the colours, or come up with your own design. I like how if you touch the squares they did cool things and you can make awesome designs and it looks beautiful.
Playing with the squares of "Six-Forty by Four-Eighty"
Visitor is a big weird blobby thing that has sensors on it that depending how you move your hands it will light up and change colour across the blob. If you have two people, they can be on two different sides and you can be shooting the light one way and then they send it back. It was really cool and pretty.  I think it is a type of art that each person creates at the moment by moving their hands. I like art that is more of a doing type of art rather than a looking type of art! I also learned that motion sensors can be put on objects and you might not be able to see them but when you find them something cool can happen.

Headrush is a virtual reality game where you put on 3D goggles and you have to stay away from objects, such as rocks, walls, trees, and blocks. So when you jump in real life the screen moves up and same if you move side to side. If you hit an object or go through an object, it slows you down. I think this is the best 3D I have ever seen. It really feels like you are in the game, which is cool. It was good exercise too for my dad.

Playing the VR game "Headrush"
Pop and Lock Dance Machine
Last time I was at digiPlaySpace, they had stop motion animation where you can actually be in the video. This time, their stop motion exhibit was called Pop and Lock Dance Machine because you make a dance video. You get to choose the dance style and number of moves that you need to do. You can have people join, but my dad didn't want to do it with me as he was too exhausted from Headrush, so you can do it with cartoon characters that you pick. Then there is a shadow on a wall behind that shows the position to go into. Then the staff member takes a photo of that and you repeat that over and over again. My dance had 18 different poses to do. Then they put it together with a song to make a video.It was really fun to do and watch. Here it is

Part of digiPlaySpace is called Makers' Space, where kids (and their parents) learn how to make things using technology or media. I really like their Build-a-Bot Lab where you put special pieces together to make your own actual, moving robot! I learned that to make a robot you have to have three things: 1) a battery [power source] 2) a sensor so the robot knows about its space such a motion or light sensor 3) an action - the robot needs to be able to do something.
Building my first robot
They had parts to light up, wheels, and speakers. They had two different robot sets that you can use to put these parts together any way you want to make a robot. I made my first robot this way by myself! The first robot I made moved all around and because they are magnetic it attached to other blocks and absorbed my dad's robot (his first robot too).

They also had lots of games. For instance, a pillow game where you have to push on a pillow to play the game. They have a wiener dog (my mom loves wiener dogs) game, it's called Push Me Pull Me, where you try use the dog's body to keep a ball on your side. They had an old-fashioned video game that my dad played when he was a kid called Pong - it had pretty lights and my dad really loved it.

digiPlaySpace has a lot to explore like how they have a tiny door see a short silly little scene. They also had Bubl show where they have special glasses you put on and you can see a picture or a video of outdoors and see everything all around you as if you were there.

My experience at digiPlaySpace was amazing! There is so much to see and do there. I love the exhibits and spending the day with my dad.