With all the mind-bending capabilities of technology, it’s easy to forget that it does have its shortcomings. Technology that relies on users seeing visuals or hearing audio cues isn’t always accessible to users that are visually impaired or hard of hearing. However, there have been leaps and bounds made in the areas of accessibility across websites and web applications. Laine Amoureux aims to ease the accessibility of these technologies with easier documentation.
Google Apps Accessibility
In 2014, Google launched improvements to Gmail, Drive, and Docs that made them more accessible to users. Since Google web apps are a large part of the digital ecosystem and business infrastructure, it’s vital that these technologies are accessible to everyone. However, there were numerous professionals in the blindness field that found the instructional materials difficult to use. As a part of the visually impaired community, Technology Specialist Laine Amoureux agreed with this sentiment and decided to dedicate her Masters project to creating better instructional materials for the accessibility of Google web apps.
While pursuing her master’s degree in Assistive Technology Studies and Human Services, Amoureux conducted an extensive literature review with colleagues Rich Baker and Daphne Brindle that focused on explaining the difficulties associated with accessibility and lack of helpful training materials for Google web apps, specifically how NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access) and Google web apps interact. After identifying the most consistent and reliable technologies for accessing the apps, Amoureux wrote step by step instructions on how to accomplish specific tasks in the web apps. She then recorded herself following the steps using Camtasia. Rich edited the videos and organized the content into modules on their website, which he created and maintains.
Technology Training with the Idaho Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired
Accessibility is not only a subject of research for Laine Amoureux, but it’s a necessity for her job at the Idaho Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Their primary goal is to help clients be as independent as possible. As a Technology Specialist, Amoureux assists by conducting assessments with clients and matching them with the most beneficial technology for their skills, strengths, and needs. She provides in-person technology training for clients and rehabilitation teachers who provide similar types of training and need help with new technology. However, it isn’t cost effective or realistic for Amoureux to be able to reach and train every client that needs help, especially if they’re far away.
To close the literal gap between her and her clients, Amoureux has begun creating instructional materials to distribute to clients and teachers statewide. By recording screencasts on how to use certain technologies or programs, she only has to share the information once. “I can move to other instructional topics in a more timely way. I don’t spend 6 months teaching and reteaching the same thing,” says Amoureux. She also emphasizes the importance of providing both audio and video, rather than just audio: “Blind doesn’t mean total darkness, and many of my consumers can see some and appreciate the combination of video and audio.” Amoureux also adds that while sighted service providers may know how to use these technologies, they don’t use them frequently, so it’s beneficial for them to see how they’re working.
Can’t see the embedded video? Watch it on YouTube.
As a visually impaired person herself, Amoureux is also personally invested in the materials she creates and the accessibility of the products she uses. For her instructional video material, screen reader software is a must. She’s tried a few different software options but found Camtasia to be the best solution for her needs. “The user interface of Camtasia is relatively accessible for me, as a screen reader user. I still cannot edit independently, but just having access to the interface has made it easier to record. I’m also finding it much easier to add captions to videos using Camtasia.” When it comes to editing, Amoureux contracts out to editors. This process has become simpler because more editors are familiar with Camtasia. By using audio and video to share her knowledge, Amoureux can reach a wider audience and spend more time creating these materials for her clients. By creating instructional materials, Amoureux makes technology more accessible and, in turn, helps make people’s lives easier.
Can’t see the embedded video? Watch it on YouTube.
While accessibility has come a long way, it still has a long way to go. As we’ve seen, even some of the most popular web apps like Gmail or Google Drive, still need some help with their instructional materials. You may think that accessibility is only the concern of the developers who make new leaps in technology, but every web user can actually make a difference. Even filling in alternative text tags on blog photos can help make web content more accessible to everyone. If you’re interested in creating accessible projects or how our products are accessible, read this document or take a look at this page.