From Julia Child to mobile devices: How one group cooks up accessible media technology

The National Center for Accessible Media helps develop tools, standards and policies so people with disabilities can access new technology and content

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The future of accessible media

While much progress has made over the years in making media and new technologies accessible, there is still, obviously, much to do. I asked the NCAM staff what areas were currently hot topics among those who work on accessible technology. Several big topics were mentioned:

Health records - With more and more medical records being put online, the accessibility of these records is becoming a big issue. NCAM was recently given a grant to research the accessibility of this information. “What’s been done to make sure that, if you’re blind, you can access your health records?” asks Goldberg.

Ebooks - The rise of ebooks raises concerns about the making these offerings accessible to the visually impaired.

Websites/HTML5 - While websites have obviously been around, now, for 20 years, Freed estimates that only a “good, solid 5%” are truly accessible, so much work remains to be done. The good news, though, is that he sees accessibility creeping into high school and college design programs, meaning that “Kids that are learning design techniques are learning accessibility as well, instead of having to remember to do it or retrofit it.”

NCAM_captioners-290x218.jpgITworld/Phil Johnson
WGBH Caption Center in action

HTML5 will have a large impact on the future accessibility of websites, much of it in a good way, according to Freed. For example, the new track element will make it much easier to add captions, subtitles and descriptions to online video. 

However, not everything about HTML5 is good for accessibility. One contentious issue right now is the removal the longdesc attribute of the img tag. This was previously used to add longer descriptions to images, but was removed from HTML5 several years ago, because the editors concluded it wasn’t being used properly. According to Freed, “The accessibility community in the standards world has been in an uproar ever since, just trying to get that attribute back into the recommendation so that something for long descriptions exists until something new is developed.”

Wayfinding - Helping blind people find their way around indoor spaces such as museums is also a technology that needs to be perfected, according to Botkin. “Blind people are waiting for the day when there’s something that will give them feedback about where they are and where resources are.”

Overall, the people at NCAM are quite optimistic about the current state as well as the future of accessible media and technologies. Whether due to federal regulations, fear of lawsuits or just the goodness of their hearts, accessibility “has a higher profile now in the development communities now, in hardware and software both,” says Goldberg.

That extends not just to U.S. companies, but to Europe, Japan and now, especially, China. “I hear there’s a lot going in China for accessibility,” said Goldberg. “I think they’ll be surprising us with some interesting stuff.”

Thanks to efforts and attitudes of many, he says, “I’m not worried when I open the box on the new iPhone they’ll have missed something egregious. I think they’ll get it and I think that others are really up there too.”

Phil Johnson is a writer and editor for ITworld. For more like this follow him on Twitter or Google+.

This article, "NCAM: Helping to make media and technology accessible to all," was originally published at ITworld. Follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook for the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos.

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