Accessible Design: This is Part 1 of a 2 part series. The first part focuses on how Linda Coccovizzo and Paige Sears got involved with Assistive Technology. The 2nd part focuses on how to design Accessible Word Documents. Paige and Linda have worked together in the ADA Compliance department since January 2012. Together they make quite the team.
Figure 1: Paige and Linda have worked together in the ADA Compliance department since January 2012. Together they make quite the team. End of Figure 1
Linda Coccovizzo’s Biography
Linda describes her background in her own words.
By Linda Coccovizzo
Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis and my Early Childhood
I was born in Kansas City, MO, in 1973. My parents are also blind. My eye disease, Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis, is inherited from my mother, however the odds of passing my particular gene of LCA onto offspring are fifty-fifty, as my one sibling, an older sister, is not at all visually impaired.
Sometime before I can remember, we moved to California. I attended mainstream public school up through the sixth grade, where I learned braille, and orientation and mobility skills. In the seventh grade, after moving to Oklahoma, I began attending the school for the blind in Muskogee, and then in Missouri in 1990. I graduated from the Missouri School for the Blind in St. Louis in 1992.
Working as a Para Professional in Joplin
Living on my own since before graduating from high school, I made the decision to seek employment rather than to attend college, taking babysitting and telemarketing jobs, until I began working as a para professional in the Joplin public schools, in 1998. There, I worked with the students who were blind, transcribing books and material into braille, and then finally by using a computer and braille translating software to produce larger quantities on a braille embosser.
First Daughter is Born
I eventually moved to Springfield, MO, where I met my husband John. It was two months after my oldest daughter Sarah was born that we discovered she was blind. I was a stay-at-home mom with Sarah for a little over three years. My second daughter Terra was born exactly three years to her sister’s birthday. We discovered her blindness when she was three-months old.
Working for Columbia Lighthouse as a Rehab Engineer
At that time, I began working with a company called Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind out of Washington D.C., as a Rehab Engineer, training blind and visually impaired people on using technology purchased for them by Missouri Rehabilitation Services for the Blind. A year later, I took on a contract to do braille transcription at home for the Joplin public schools. I did this for about three months, until they found someone who could do the job in house. After that, and up until Terra was six-years old, I remained a stay-at-home mom, making sure the girls had everything they needed from occupational and vision therapy, up through getting them settled into public school.
Moving to Kansas City and Working with Paige at the Local Community College
In June of 2011, our little family moved to Raytown, and by January, 2012 I was working for MCCKC, in the ADA compliance office. My job description here has included putting books into accessible formats for students with disabilities. Which also includes testing various applications so they can read the books on their computers and other devices, testing online programs used by MCC for accessibility with screen readers, such as Jaws and NVDA, and transcribing tests, math, and foreign language course materials for our students who use braille.
My husband and I currently live in the Northland in Kansas City, where my now thirteen and sixteen-year-old girls attend their neighborhood public schools. My youngest daughter is involved with her local girl scout troop. Both girls receive lessons from Youth Music Academy and play piano, and sing. Both are also involved in recreational programs designed for youth who are blind locally, as well as around the state.
Figure 2: Above Is a photo collage of all the difference places that Paige Sears has worked out or helped produce. At 12 o’clock is the Centennial Life logo. At 2 o’clock, a picture of the Hunt Midwest caves which is the place where Stamp Fulfillment Services for the United States Postal Services is located at. In the middle of the collage and at the center of the clock is a logo that reads Missouri Department of Social Services. At 6 o’clock is a logo which reads “William Allen White School of Journalism & Mass Communications – The University of Kansas. At 11 o’ clock is the front cover of The Royal Proclamation. A Royal fan magazine that was created, designed by Paige Sears. End of Figure 2
Paige Sears’ Biography: From Sports Writer to Disability Advocate
I briefly want to explain how my career goals shifted from wanting to be a sportswriter to working with individuals with disabilities. When I was attending college from 1987 to 1991 in Lynchburg, Virginia at Liberty University. I desperately wanted to become a sports announcer. As I drew closer to graduation I found that my true love was not really sports broadcasting but it was sports-writing. I was on both the Cross Country and Track teams at Liberty University (LU) and I wrote several sports articles on Cross Country and Track events. In my Senior year I got a scholarship to be the Sports Editor of the yearbook. It was also about this time that I first was published in a magazine.
Lynchburg, Virginia the town in which Liberty University resides was also the minor league home for the Lynchburg Red Sox. At the time I was a huge Red Sox fan (despite the fact that I basically grew up in Kansas City all my life). So I contacted a small magazine publication called The Red Sox Journal by the Buffalo Head Society. Well, I told them I was a sports writer in college and I started writing articles for them that focused on the Lynchburg Red Sox and their minor league prospects.
The Royal Proclamation
Then I graduated College in 1991 with a BS Degree in Telecommunications. I moved back to Kansas City. Then, with the help of the Buffalo Head Society, I decided to develop my own Kansas City Royal fan magazine called the Royal Proclamation. Looking back on it, it really was quite amazing that I was able to do everything from layout design, writing, and taking the pictures all by myself. In fact a few times when the Red Sox were in town playing the Kansas City Royals, The Buffalo Head Society and The Red Sox Journal were able to get me press passes. That was a very unique experience getting to meet my childhood heroes in person. I was able to interview future Hall of Fame Thirdbaseman for the Red Sox Wade Boggs and I got an interview of him published in a National Magazine called Trading Cards.
The Negative Phone Call
However, not all of the experiences publishing The Royal Proclamation were positive. One day I received a phone call from a Kansas City Royals beat writer who wrote for the Kansas City Star (honestly I cannot remember his name). This reporter gave me a call because he saw a copy of my magazine. And basically he berated me for trying to put something together like that with such poor quality. I will admit that the publication did have a lot of typos and errors in it. This phone call put a real damper on my enthusiasm for the project.
Plus in 1994 I got married and was starting to think more about my future and it looked like I wasn’t going to be able to write about the Royals much longer. In fact, I did stop publishing the magazine, but if you remember 1994 to 1995 that time period was about the time that the Internet started to become recognizable as a viable 4th media (in addition to print, radio and tv). So with a few lessons and advice of my younger brother I learned basic web design and launched my own Royals website.
First Communications Job
I developed a Royal fan website. It was not that innovative and I believe I stopped publishing in around 1996, but it did help me land my first job as a Communications Coordinator for a now defunct Insurance Company called Centennial Life Insurance. I was already working at Centennial Life Insurance as a Claims Adjustor but an opening became vacant and they decided to hire from within and they hired me because of my writing experience and the fact that wanted to have a bigger Internet and Intranet presence throughout the company.
Around 1997, Centennial Life Insurance was bought out by another Chicago based Insurance company and I eventually lost my job when the new Insurance Company moved in.
Re-evaluation of Life Path
At that time in my life a lot was going on, I had my first son in 1996 and then my second son in 1999. During that time my career path was focused on internet Communications I briefly had a job held another Communications job at a different insurance company, but after about a year I was let go from that job. In 1999, I was hired by a consulting firm which later became Northrup Grumman which is well known now for having contracting jobs with the Federal Government. I landed one of those jobs and one of my duties became to reorganize the redevelopment of the Stamp Fulfillment Services Website for the United States Postal Service. If you are not aware of the Stamp Fulfillment Services is feel at ease neither did I before I started working there. SFS (Stamp Fulfillment Services) is located underground in the Hunt Midwest caves next to Worlds of Fun amusement park in Kansas City. And SFS, is responsive for promoting and selling stamps to the stamp collection community. Stamp collectors are known as philatelist.
A New Start Begins
Around this time one of my jobs as I was revamping their corporate intranet site was also to make sure that it was accessible for Jaws Screen Readers for the Blind. All federal government entities were fast approaching a deadline to make their website accessible to all. This was when I first became aware of Screen Readers for the Blind.
In addition to having this new job working with the Federal Government and having two newborn kids, my marriage was starting to unravel. In the year 2000, I was separated and I was already looking to do something a little more life rewarding than working in communications. So I started to learn as much as I could about Jaws and screenreaders and I was able to obtain state contracts working as a Rehab Engineer and Trainer for Missouri Rehab Services for the Blind. These contracts happen to come at a very good time, Because once 9/11 happened the Federal Government started to make cuts with their outside contractors and I was let go right around 9/11/2001.
This rough patch in my life became even rougher because now not only was I recently divorced but I had lost my job. The bubble had burst on the previous booming Internet economy and I found myself in a struggle to locate a full time job. Eventually, I decided on a part time job working as the Systems Administrator for the University Daily Kansan in Lawrence, Kansas. It was not a full-time job, but at the time I was going back to school to get my Masters in Marketing Journalism and the University Daily Kansan paid my tuition. Somehow I eeked by with that part time job and my contract with the State of Missouri working with blind individuals on Jaws and other accessible devices and equipment.
Becoming An Adaptive Technology Specialist
I graduated with my Masters in 2005 and by October 2005 I had reinvented myself from a Communications Coordinator to that of a Assistive Technology Specialist for a local Community College in Kansas City. I am still presently employed by that Community College and love what I do. Basically how I like to describe my job is that I am basically a computer guru for our students who have disabilities. I train our college students on different adaptive equipment and devices. Another component of my job and also Linda’s job is to convert the tradition hard bound textbook that the student buys into an alternative format into a usable and “readable” format for our students with disabilities whether that is Braille, Etext or Audio.
Linda and Paige Share A Passion for Accessible Design
By Paige Sears
Early on, I knew that I was going to work well with Linda. Our personalities and sense of humor just gelled practically instantaneously. Plus we kind of helped each other fit the missing pieces of the Accessibility Jigsaw puzzle. For example I learn and rely on Linda a lot for her knowledge of Assistive Technology for the Blind and how to convert text into Braille and Linda often relies on my sight to help explain something to her from a sighted perspective. A prime example is how we worked together to put together a presentation for our employer on Tuesday August 21st on Document Accessibility. I relied on Linda detailing me exactly what was difficult to navigate through on sample Word documents and then I would try to redesign those document based upon her suggestions in an accessible way which will allow easy access and design for all not just blind end-users. With that in mind, below is the basic material who presented to our fellow colleagues at the Community College.
How Do Blind Individuals Read Documents?
Instead of the Mouse they rely heavily on using Keystroke commands to get Screen Readers to read not just documents but everything on the computer screen, including the desktop, Windows operating system navigation and the Internet.
So exactly What is a Screen Reader
Screen readers are computer software that assist the blind or visually impaired in using computers, by either reading the text that shows up on the screen or by presenting them on a braille display. Essentially, it serves as a platform for the visually impaired to communicate with their computers. Screen readers can either be instructed to read the text on the screen out loud, or to automatically speak out the changes that occur on the screen.
Each screen reader comes with its own unique set of command structures. They are able to perform tasks such as read a word, a line or even a full text, inform the user about the location of the mouse’s cursor on the screen, and tell them what item is being focused on. Some screen readers can also perform advanced tasks such as reading per-designated parts of the screen (useful when surfing the Internet), and even reading the items on the cells of a spreadsheet document.
There are several things one must consider before investing in a particular screen reading software program. Firstly, one must be sure that the screen reader is compatible with their computer’s operating system. Also, since most visually impaired users find the use of braille displays very helpful, the screen reader has to be compatible with them. One must also check if the software is compatible with the applications that the user most frequently uses. Finally, it is wise to check the command structures and keystrokes of the software beforehand, so as to be sure that they are easy to remember and not in conflict with existing keystrokes.
Two of the Most Popular Screen Readers Are Jaws and NVDA:
Figure 3: The JAWS Logo which shows a blue shark speaking with the Word “Jaws” below the shark.
- A Link Directing you to the Freedom Scientific Webpage featuring JAWS (Job Access With Speech)
- A Link direction you to the NVACCESS website. NVACCESS are the making of the free screenreader product NVDA
Figure 4: The NVACCESS logo. It looks like a big “N”. The top right part of the “N” is orange and looks like a slanted “V’. The bottom left part of the logo is purple and looks like a slanted “V’. Underneath the logo is the word “nvaccess” Note: the “NV” is purple and the “access” is orange.
Linda and myself (Paige) are big proponents of testing Document design and web design by using a screen reader to navigate the document and test for accessibility. That would be what I would recommend for you to do 1. Test for accessibility and 2. to proofread your work with a screen reader because it provides an auditory feedback.
So if you do decide to test you website with a screenreader. They are some basic command that will help you use the screen reader program.
THE 5 JAWS AND NVDA COMMANDS TO KNOW
- INSERT DOWN ARROW (from the point of your cursor) – It reads the entire document
- Control gets it to shut up
- Page Up
- Page Down
- The Arrow keys