Monday, August 4, 2014

Low vision, low budget experiment

Getting good photos to promote a beep baseball team has been frustrating. We’ve had people with digital SLRs at the game, but that doesn’t make them a good photographer, let alone a sports photographer.

Having worked for newspapers and agencies over the years, I’ve worked with a variety of photographers. Some were great in the studio, some photo journalism, and just a few at sports.

My last managing editor was baseball mad and at that time, Mark McGuire was making his bid for home run history. Our readership was in a baseball frenzy. Several of my weekends were spent producing special sections. Three of our “photogs” always delivered good coverage and AP photos were abundant. People lined up down the block to purchase these special sections.

A dozen or so years later, with no sports photographers to call on, what could I possibly make happen?

My vision in bright sunshine prevents me from seeing anything on an LCD screen. Magnification won’t help. In shade I see enough to compose the picture and rely on AutoFocus. With this kind of vision I’m not going to spend much on a camera.

Armed with Nikon’s CoolPix 20.1 Megapixel, 8X zoom point and shoot, a tripod, and a prayer, I headed for the field.

Game day, the sun was beating down. One dugout provided just enough shade for me to get fairly close to home plate. Fat chance of getting an action shot with this camera and vision. My best bet was to catch batters waiting for the pitch.

The nice thing about shooting beep baseball is that the pitcher turns on the beeper and calls, “Ready, pitch.” On the down side, most of our new blind players need more coaching on stance.

Sorting through photos back home, two okay shots turned up. Knocking out the background in Photoshop is a little tedious but worthwhile. Here's the one photo used:

Next game I’ll tackle the fielding.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Why I am considering migrating a large site to WordPress

1. Accessible WordPress themes have been audited.

Hands down--this is the number one concern for an active organization of people who are low vision and blind. The Washington Council of the Blind (WCB) provides information and resources to the general public largely through its website. Our current website uses old code and looks very dated.

Sure, achieving 100 percent accessibility is almost impossible because there is no industry standard for browsers or adaptive software. And now people access the Internet with many different kinds of devices.

Who has the time to test forms for accessibility? WCB is an all-volunteer organization. Our website committee does well to submit content and edit. When we post a scholarship application it needs to work or credibility is lost.

George Williams posted a great article listing accessible themes that have been thoroughly tested.

2. People using screen-reading software can manage the admin controls.

This means empowerment for everyone. The Cisco Academy for the Visually Impaired offers an excellent online course on managing WordPress sites. Yes, there are blind designers and programmers who do very well.

3. New WordPress themes are responsive.

This means the themes reflow your content to work well on computers, tablets, and phones. You don’t have to build, test, and update three separate layouts.

4. Code is kept up-to-date.

This keeps my back-end programmer and the membership very happy when security is such a headache.

5. Dynamic header plug-ins give a fresh look when good photos are hard to come by. 

This means I can have four or five photo collages that swap out each time the site is visited.

Do blind people really care about how a site looks? Yes, and people losing vision are hyper-sensitive about design and fashion.

Content and authenticity matter with photos.

Visitors to a site need to know there are real people they can engage. Use action photos of real people in your organization, not stock photos. Fresh content tells visitors you pay attention. Using your website as an online brochure will not invite action or repeat visits.

(Of course, provide alternative text so someone using a screen reader knows what content is provided in each photo.)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Seven tips for creating an accessible PDF from InDesign

Accessibility is a hot-button issue for companies with federal contracts and not just from a litigation concern. Why would any business exclude certain consumers and limit profits?

When exporting from InDesign,  go to the General pane inside the PDF print dialog box.

1) Make sure the Create Tags option is on. Tags add additional structure for screen reading software and help rankings with Google and Bing searches (SEO).
2) Turn on bookmarks and links. Most online PDFs are a hybrid optimized for interactivity and printing.
3) Leave Embed Page Thumbnails off. This feature is not really needed anymore.
4) If your document is longer than four or five pages, turn on Optimize for Fast Web View. This allows the browser to download one page at a time.
5) For accessibility, use captions with graphics that contain important content.
6) If you have graphics or photos that use transparency (i.e., drop shadows), use the PDF/X-1a preset. This option flattens transparency that can cause image quality problems.
7) If you are distributing PDFs for other people to print at home, keep your images RGB for better results.

To learn more, check out:

Monday, March 24, 2014

Explaining logos

Discussing the logic behind logo design is always a challenge. Note the evolution of the Apple logo. The original logo from 1976 was a hippie-dippie illustration--very busy. Then the familiar apple with a bite taken out of it appeared. This logo is withstanding the test of time because it is distinct, compact. and easy to recognize at any size.

Now think about explaining logo design to an organization of people who happen to be blind. Below is a snippet I'm writing for the American Council of the Blind.

What is a logo?
A logo is an easy-to-identify, easy-to-reproduce design element. A logo can be a name, initials, or symbol with specified colors. 

Feel the top of a MacBook Pro or back of an iPad. In the center you’ll find the smooth flat shape of an apple. There’s a bite taken out of the right side and a leaf on top leaning to the right. This is the Apple logo. It’s distinct, simple, and compact—easy for a sighted person to recognize no matter what size.

Logos are everywhere. If you feel the front grill of a car you can usually find the logo. The Seahawks have made a mint selling all kinds of merchandise sporting their logo. Logos are on the sides of trucks. buses, planes, and buildings.

In an instant, the logo represents the organization's image or message and position. A well-designed logo evokes some memory or emotion from the viewer. 

A logo can be a distinct shape (icon), type, or a combination of the two. Companies spend a ton of many to ensure their logo is protected and used correctly. A corporation knows that a cohesive look to their products and communication materials builds credibility.

A logo should be simple, memorable, timeless, versatile, and appropriate. Does a logo for a blind organization have to include the white cane? Probably not. When reduced to business-card size, a cane looks similar to a tiny toothpick.

Think about your region and the qualities you want to project. Is there an indigenous plant that represents growth? Is there a geographical feature like a mountain? A historical monument like the Liberty Bell? Washington State has a distinct shape because of its coastline, Sound, and islands. This works as a logo element if it is a solid color. A thin outline of this shape would not reproduce well or be easy-to-recognize at a small size or at a distance.

Before working with a designer decide the qualities you want to project. If possible, clip logo samples you like and share them with the designer. Better yet, decide on a type family that offers a variety of weights: light, regular, bold, and black. Stay away from script fonts. As a rule they are difficult to read at small sizes.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Forms, forms, forms

Filling out forms is tedious, but some career sites make it hair-pulling torture.

The conclusion I've reached is that forms are tedious for web designers and programmers too. Forms don't get the loving attention, editing, or testing they merit.

For example, one major corporation in Seattle makes it almost impossible to find their career site login even after you've created an account. It's as if they would prefer you logged in to the main site to buy more of their product.

Another major corporation in Seattle tells you up front that their career website only works with Internet Explorer. After using the site, even that is questionable. People have certain expectations when uploading documents and editing profiles. This site did not follow the norms.

The text tells the user to upload their resume, but there is no button. A mad hunt for the mystery button ensued, hitting dead ends, having to login to the site repeatedly. Another bit of text tells me to click the edit button next to documents, but the edit button is nowhere to be found. Then there's the text asking me which option I want to use and only gives me one option.

This is not how they treat customers, so why do they treat me this way?

These companies have federal contracts and are mandated this year to hire a certain number of people with disabilities. They aren't prepared to do what it takes.

The most accessible and user-friendly career site I've used so far is Simple, clean, easy to follow interface. User friendly. Do what they do.