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22nd September 09, London

Keynote: Finite Incantatem – neither technology nor accessibility is dark magic

Christian Heilmann
Yahoo! Accessibility Evangelist


Speaker: Speaking last year he was inspired to create the easy access version of the Youtube player, which is fantastic. Today Christian will talk about Finite Incantatem, the gaps in communication between techies and accessibility world, parallels that exist that we mantel aware of and fantastic opportunities, that technology is becoming more mobile sensory and extendable, often for people with disabilities. Handover, Christian.

Speaker: Christian Heilmann

CHRISTIAN: I am sorry for being late for a keynote that is inexcusable, but BAA are bastards. I was in Spain yesterday in Madrid and gave a talk there and had 2 hours of sleep and completely out of it, wonderful so I didn’t know later on what I talked about!

What is Incantatem?

So incantatem is from the Harry Potter books?? as JK Rowling likes redheads she is not going to sue me and it means whenever there was a spell on, with that spell you stop it happening. And what I want to talk about is that we get the myth of accessibility being dogmatic and hard to do out there, it is not hard do, it is a matter of how we approach it. There will not be any code, so you can breathe easy again. There will be a lot of links but you don’t have to write them down because we have things like delicious where you enter the accessibility to actually get all the links that will be in that presentation the slides will be online later, so not to worry about that.

Last year’s accessibilit 2.0

So last year’s accessibility 2.0 was very inspiring. It was a great conference, several good talks and a lot of questions being asked. As a developer I don’t
know what the problems are most of the time. I make up my own problems to solve, which is not helpful but that is how developers roll most of the time. Following the requests and talks I developed and started a few cool things. The biggest was the easy You Tube player, which is like my Fisher Price You Tube player that works for people with learning disabilities and blind people could listen to You Tube videos and schools use it.

Other companies like electric wheelchair companies use it as a touch interface and it was a success. We had the videos on You Tube as well to educate people about it and someone with a learning disability plays with it and after 5 minutes says I don’t need you any more, I can watch my videos. And that to me was more than getting money, it was really good to see these kinds of things.
And the second one is a screen reader user that hates the web because the web promises and doesn’t deliver and in that case it did deliver and she said that is great!

Scripting Enabled

So that inspired me to do my own conference which was called Scripting Enabled and I had one day of people with different disabilities or people that work close with people with different disabilities tell us about the barriers that people have on the web. Like where does a blind or deaf user get stuff? Where are the problems?

On the second day I invited developers to build alternative interfaces like the easy You Tube interface to work around the problems. It was a successful conference, am amazed it happened because I spent 12 hours planning and 600pounds on the whole thing but with the right people and connections it works, and it was great.

So we had a great accessibility event, it was wonderful, yes this is George W Bush as a cheerleader but they don’t have to memorise complex sentences. We were all happy and shiny we had a bit of success, a bit of impact but I did not start the movement. I wanted to have that whole accessibility hacking to be there and to be ubiquitous and to be in the market and people know about it. I threw out Scripting Enabled as a free open source conference. If you wanted to do one anywhere else you can. You have to release everything for free, everything has to be there on online for the videos and presentations. Adobe did one in Seattle and then there was a silence and people said that was cool, when will you do the next one? And I said “How about you!” No I can’t do it, I don’t know what to do and I was getting annoyed with this because it works for everything else.

iPhone develop deaf camps, bar camps all over the place. People talk about everything, but accessibility is in the corner where no one talks about it. It is part of our world and if you look at figures people over 50 years old buy the most things online so if you think about accessibility don’t think about the guy in the wheelchair, think about your grandmother and building stuff for her.


It is actually not that hard to do. It is pretty easy most of the time, and some other longhaired disruptive proved that a long time ago. That is basically that a mass can only become a force if it has acceleration and movement. There is no way we can impact if we don’t move in the right direction right now. We are a mass but not a force because we don’t accelerate. We don’t move accessibility ahead. We talk about things important in 1999 and point at people when they don’t do it, rather than thinking about how can accessibility make things better. We don’t move in one direction. We don’t have much impact. So, when a mass has a movement and goes in one direction, it has an impact, that is what the people that tried to hold me back at Heathrow learned today, because I had to come here somehow, but we don’t move in the right direction and that is annoying me.

One of the reasons are we make presentations like this. This was from my conference and I was like “Who makes a slide with so many bullet points ? the audience reads while you are talking and don’t understand what is going on”. I have seen presentations like that that talk about easy English and talk about writing for disability and you are “Come on! Don’t put everything in there” so, we should not be the grumpy people in the corner. We should not be the guys that say ‘that should be accessible and you don’t do it right, what is going on with you… “. We should be smiling and be happier.


Who has heard of Tweenbots? It was a wonderful experiment, it was someone built this robot and he put it in a park on the north?east end. The robot had a little flag saying “guide me to the south?west end of the park”. And had a little smiley on it and they had a wonderful video online where people helped robot out every time it got stuck in the corner. One man shouted, “Don’t go there, there is the street”. It is wonderful how a smiley can help people.

Social Web

Then we had the social web problem and that was a big thing last year. We said “Oh social web, everything inaccessible, they are all bastards and hate disabled people”. To a degree we didn’t mention it that way but it was the gist of the problem. We bitched about web 2.0 a lot.

Nowadays we do embrace the social web. We all twitter, we do accessibility work and we go for web 2.0 and it works out. Or do we? This is a conference coming up and the conference title is “breaking the barriers between stakeholders bringing together service providers, policy?makers and suppliers of information and communication technology for people with disabilities”. If I want to tell someone about that conference on twitter, I’m 40 characters over the maximum. Which means I cut down on a hash flag and BBB et cetera et cetera et cetera et cetera is easy to remember, right? If we have conference titles like that we shouldn’t be wondering that people don’t talk about them because they would be tired by the time they read the title.

Cola Life project

A good example how someone can play the social web is… Coca?Cola is a company that has distributions channels worldwide for chilled drinks. So, a company came up and said “how about we use them and make a little thing to put between the bottles. We bring medication to Third Word countries in a safe secure way, because the distribution channels are protected and chilled. So we could bring medication there.” And they came to Coca?Cola and said that is a great idea, talk to lawyers and we will come back in 5 years time and see how many people die in between, maybe the problem solves itself. Then Colalife came up and used Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and told everyone to bitch at Coca?Cola and now they do it. Now they deliver rehydration medication and contraceptives to the Third World for free and that is because the power of the social networking, someone used it to do something good.


Then we have the technology problem, that is another thing we complain about. Technology doesn’t get updated, browsers are old, blind people cannot update browsers and computers, it is too hard and they need our help. Then a company like Nintendo comes around and builds something like the Wii. It is a game console that didn’t look as good as the competition by long shot, but it was so intuitive, an interface where I move my hand and play something on the screen. This worked across all ages, across all abilities ? my parents wouldn’t touch computers ? I gave my Godson a Wii for Christmas and they now play bowling with us. They don’t have to type anything on?? I move this thing and something happens on the screen. There is a wonderful video of older people playing the Wii. They left it in the room and 2 minutes later they started playing bowling and tennis and golf and then there is the website where you see the old people in different homes for the elderly playing the Wii and if your technology has that kind of impact, look at them go. This is unbelievable. The one down there, it could be a life safer really and they are having so much fun, and they have competitions, a league for people in homes and the main impact was because it is not a computer, it is a television set and a television set we already use and we don’t have to go over the barrier to touch the keyboard and such, a it doesn’t work. And it goes so far that one hospital in America got rid of the rehab hardware for people that had broken arms. They had lots of machinery that was expensive and didn’t work and they said “We will buy a Wii” and they called it Wiihab, and I love that because it is so much cheaper.

If you look at Easy You Tube, You Tube has that interface as well. And that one is the interface that is for the Wii or for TV sets and that almost does the same thing as Easy You Tube does. It is not as cool, of course, the software, but it has a really easy interface, it is keyboard accessible and if they just made a jump into it, it would be perfect for blind people as well, but I didn’t see any headlines about it, I didn’t see the interface until someone pointed it out on Twitter.

iPhone 3GS

So, the next thing is the iPhone 3Gs, which is, “We have to have an iPhone for everything and its the coolest thing out there and there is the touch interface, so it is completely inaccessible and Apple are bastards for releasing it”. If you go to Marcos accessibility blog who now works for Microsoft, on his blog he explains how he uses the iPhone as a blind user the touch interface and it works for him. He says step?by?step what you have to do out of the box when you get it from the vendor it comes with an interface for you to use as a blind user, although it is a touch interface. And the reason is that OSX and the iPhone comes with a screen reader out of the box called VoiceOver, which is free with the operating system. If you were a company that built a massive operating system you released a new version in 2009, it would be a good idea to have a free screen reader in there. A nice building here, by the way… I have to say. (laughter) but VoiceOver, it is not as cool as JAWS but it does the job and comes out of the box and if the thing were turned on from the beginning maybe more people would be aware of disabilities when they buy the new computer, rather than “You have to buy the software and install it and hope it works” so enough bashing of Microsoft!

iPhone as a hearing aid

Sound amp, this is basically a booster because it has a microphone and a headphone in it and you can amplify it via software so you make things louder. It is not an aid for people who are hard?of?hearing but it is good people build these things. The grumpy accessibility guys would say it is not a help for deaf people, you are wasting your time. We should go and give them a cuddle and say thank you, you have thought about it, you are a bit misled but we will help you to make it better and cooler. Who games up with the idea of an iPhone to make a hearing aid out of it, that is a wonderful happening and we should embrace and help people with.


Isign is a schooling programme, how you learn sign language on your iPhone. When you are on the train you could learn sign language by looking at your iPhone. It is American, but it should not be that hard to do. I always find avatars creepy but it is easier than having someone record this because the data is much smaller. This is something, I was one of the speakers at the iPhone deaf camp and I was annoyed that no one pushed the platform, no one did something cool with the iPhone that no one else has done before everyone had little applications. 5 minutes later you forget the application and never use it again – great business model. One of the designers came up with this thing and it is called Senyala. It is an iPhone interface without an iPhone interface. You can touch the iPhone and make different sentences or fragments by touching it in different ways. You can say: “Hello my name is Paul I’m hungry, I want to go to the hotel…” Which is not quite sign language but as it supports different languages and different input and it can be taught, it is a great step towards taking the touch interface and making it an accessible interface, a communication interface rather than something to play with. They are looking for feedback right now and they want to get to know people who know a lot about sign language and see how they don’t have to re?invent the wheel and come up with a language that doesn’t make sense to anyone else. But I love the idea that someone takes something as tacky as the iPhone and brings it back to no interface, just touch interface because it will work for everything, except for people without fingers.

Nokia Braille reader

Then Nokia came out with an experimental Braille reader for their mobile phone, which is a touch interface as well. It vibrates when you hit the right buttons. This is a wonderful example where a technology company is completely misled, where they think that every blind person reads Braille and they think it is a great user experience to read an SMS in 45 minutes!
But, once again, they asked for feedback. So, would be great. Step guides lets make it useful, at least we should applaud them for going there.

And more video. What I’m excited about now is the augmented reality stuff that you film with your camera. There is a tube app that shows you which direction the next tube station is in London, which lines are connected there. You go there and look around there and we wanted to build things that you can point at people and it overlays and you see the [inaudible].

Google Android

On the Google phone you have the same thing. This is a real estate agent in Germany that if you go through the street you find out where the next houses are, how far away they are and on the bottom is the card game for kids. They come with bar codes on the back and they have software that you have a video camera on your computer. You can see 3?D animations of the top trump cards and you get quizzes that you have to answer and can play with other kids on the Internet with your top trump cards with the cameras. This would be if you take communication fragments, for example, that would be a great example for someone who cannot speak or doesn’t want to or has some other disability that has a communication problem, you can hold up the different signs and talk to people over the video camera. That is what most people don’t understand is the video camera with a good barcode is a good input device and we can do something like that and a toy company has to do it.


The integration problem is another one. People don’t want to know about disabled people, this was in America at a heavy metal concert of a band, this was a guy in an electric wheelchair, a big fan of the band and was spinning circles was doing a burn out with the electric wheelchair. And you would expect heavy metal to be closed minded, get out of the way… and what they did, they took him and carried him up on stage, gave him a cool Viking helmet and the band sang together with him on stage if they can integrate it, how can a local council not? This is a wonderful example that you can see that it can be done. The next thing I hear is it is all too geeky, we are normal people, we have relationships and these kind of things and it is all fours.

Online Knitting Society

Then I found this. Who heard about This is a web 2.0 community about knitting crocheting. I would have expected there to be 20 users, and that is all the figures. 430,000 registered users, about 70, 000 in a day. 3.6m page views per day, 10million actual requests per day, 900 new users per day, 50,000 new posts written. 2.3m knitting and crochet projects, (on screens). Don’t come and talk to me that Web 2.0 is geeky. Knitting is too geeky for me but my Mum would love it. The real reason that we have lack of honesty, that is in New Zealand where it says: In case of fire do not use the lift use the stairs and if you are in a wheelchair, good luck! Which is not that legal, but at the same time it is honest at least: We are not going to do anything about it. In England it will be ‘that is under process, please call us on this number, if you have time before you burn”.


Branding holds us back. I have written a book and one of the chapters in there is branding competition, how to play with competition and how to remove your brand to advertise for your company. I have done that with Yahoo in the last 3 years. I don’t talk about Yahoo products, I talk about the impact and what you can do with them. I praise our competition for doing great products because it shows people that I care about technology, not about my company only and shames the competition into doing something about it. It is a great concept and we don’t do accessibility. We do a lot of surveys and then put the company logo on top of it and do the same thing over again in parallel rather than pooling our resource and doing something. Branding is not easy. That is oriental language school. And it is a pagoda in front of the setting sun, I think, but you are not quite sure… Keeping our eye on the brand leads to a lack of flagship examples of how to do things right. That is what we do all the time. We think about the print design rather than do we make our website accessible, no, let’s wait another 2 months.

Accessible doesn’t have to be ugly

Now I will bitch about the RNIB a bit. We have websites out there for accessibility and they look like this. This is and on the righthand side of the website is the big blue bar, that is blue text on blue background. This is what that website looks like and this is what people find if they look for accessible websites and this is what they judge us by if a designer says “do you want to think about accessibility, no I will not build this”. Then you have the RNIB website, blue, red and yellow in one menu bar. Even Superman had to give up on that! Accessible websites don’t have to be ugly. This is an example of JK Rowling’s flash website which explains they can be accessible.

Finding things on the web is very important and one of the things that most people forget when it comes to brand and website is your links. If I want to send you pictures of unicorns I send you to I have predictable links that I send someone on the email and I send someone on twitter and they understand what I am on about. If you are trying to find the JK Rowling website, this was the URL for it… (screen) It could be a virus, shall I click it, not necessarily. Enough because the RNIB are doing redesign now. It is prettier now, too many colours for my taste, also accessible website directory, listing your own website, linking back to the page I am on is not necessarily a good thing. The URLs are a bit clearer but there is still something to be thought of like the re?directs we don’t need them. Professionals web accessibility, should have been enough. Don’t make long links because people click on links, people understand links, people trust links and if your links are something like this long, I’m not going to click it because they probably break in my mobile phone, just be aware that this is interface as well, not only what the logo looks like. There is another way and I will talk about our stuff.

So the finance calculator on the Yahoo website is free, to a degree, but it is a finance website, and it is very usable because they can switch from different currencies without reloading the page, it does everything. It has a URL which is predictable, and it is fully screen reader accessible and it is keyboard accessible and it falls down to a normal form, has labels and everything on. Our new front page has a Facebook implementation and this is the first time that Facebook is available for blind users without having to go through a captcha or anything like that. So you can use Facebook as a blind user now because they have an API and we put it inside the Yahoo home page. If your company blocks Facebook you might be able to get through there.

Passion for accessibility

And why does it work for a company like Yahoo? Is it because you hire the best people, you have loads and of money and always people say it is because you are an amazing developer and I start believing you? It is because of our developers. It is not because your developers are better or not good enough, it is because of our people, people like the person on the screen, people like Benjamin, people like Mike in the back here, it is about people like Andy, it is about people like Ian here, it is about people like Victor and it is about people like Nicola. These were the people that built this website. You know why it worked, because they all had passion and talent. They had the passion to make it the best accessible website, no product manager told them to make it. They had to fight for it, but they did fight for it because they wanted to make it accessible and if your developers have the passion but not the talent, that is not a problem. The passion is the problem. Most people want to build something that works, but not the best thing out there. So, we have the knowledge and we need to show the passion and tell the world. You don’t need to know everything.

That is another thing: I can’t talk to technology people because they don’t take me seriously, because I don’t know what they are doing. It is the wrong idea that everyone has to know everything. What you have to do is listen, collaborate and communicate. So you listen to the problem of the techie when he said that that is not possible and you say “It has to be possible”. You collaborate with people like other companies. How did you solve that? And find it out. Most companies blog about these things and you communicate when you have done something cool. You tell people and invite them to look at it. Education is terribly important. People from Orange explained accessibility by doing magic tricks with the audience, blindfolding people, putting one arm behind their back and asking them to type things. It was a wonderful presentation. It got the human element andthe whole accessibility testing and it worked out well.

Teaching means being open

Teaching when you teach people something, when we go out to the world and say people something like hey, you have to think about accessibility, it means being open and being aware that people might actually step on our toes from time to time and say Don’t care about blind people. That’s your problem. This is Helen Keller, it’s a 1930s movie. Helen Keller couldn’t speak and see from a very young age and she learned to speak by actually touching the face of Anne Sullivan and finding out the muscle movements from her nose, lips and neck add mimicking them. You see the video, it is a five-minute thing and it shows how she touches her and learns about her movements and as a geek like a Vulcan mind-meld of course. No problem. At the end of the video she says ‘I can speak now, by mimicking what the other person has done. It is terribly intrusive. As a trainer I would be very annoyed if people touched my face all the time. I am happy if people touch each other, okay, but for three weeks! And trying to teach her all kinds of sentences, it is a pain. But we have to be aware, if we want people to learn about accessibility, we have to get off our arses and do something about it. It is about being up-to-date.


One thing to do when we talk about screen readers, people talk about screen readers and jobs. I want to talk now about NVDA, it is an open source screen reader. Innovation. JAWS has one thing in common with innovation, NVDA has 3 things in common with innovation, and 3 is better than one. My maths doesn’t lie.

Accessibility as a quality indicator

Accessibility is made in Germany, it is not German but it is about made in Germany, that’s the thing. 1887, the UK introduced made in Germany as a means and measure to name and shame foreign products and get people to buy British. It didn’t work. A month later, made in Germany evolved itself and a quality indicator and it still is. Accessibility can be the same if we sell it right but if wearer the grumpy guys in the corner, who else says it doesn’t work it won’t happen. We are going now into a break. Join me in getting off your bottoms. All stand up. Grab your bottom and say with me ‘Twill make the web more accessible, starting right now”. Thank you very much.


Speaker: Q and A.

Christian Heilmann: Okay.

Speaker: Anyone? No-one at all what’s to ask the flame haired geek warrior?

Speaker: I do, thank you. More of a congratulations really on the new Yahoo! Such page and use of ARIA which I know we are going to cover more in the day but NVDA in particular has had lot of work done on it and has sponsorship from Microsoft, from Yahoo!, from Mozilla amongst others and it is really going to streak ahead and its performance with ARIA usage on the new Yahoo! Such engine is above JAWS anthem, so use NVDA as your testing tool.

Christian Heilmann: Yes, it is free, open source. If you find a problem, fix it. Maybe not everybody here. It is a good opportunity for you to do that. Did I shock everybody into submission already? No a question there.

Floor: Stilling NVDA, what are the three things that make it better than Jaws?

Christian Heilmann: It is free. It is open source. And it is a lot smaller. I don’t have to reboot my machine every 30 minutes, I want to test it myself. And it fits on a CD or memory stick. Jaws, the first I installed it was Jaws 4 and it had a floppy disk to start with. I didn’t have a floppy drive so that was a problem. This is also cross platform, which is another interesting things about it.

Speaker: There are no more questions, what we could do is take our break now and then we have almost got the full 25 minutes to do the caffeine thing. Yes? Just to see can everybody, we really want to keep to time because we have so much fabulous content, so we’ll start herding you back in here just before 25 past. Can you put your hands together again? (Coffee break).