Transcription: Web Axe Episode 77 (Interview with Terrill Thompson)

[Introduction, woman's voice over music] Welcome to Web Axe, practical web accessibility tips. Web Axe dot blogspot dot com. Web Axe. Web site accessibility. Web standards. Web Axe dot blogspot dot com.

[Dennis] Hello, and welcome to WebAxe. This is your host Dennis. This is podcast #77, and today I have a special guest with us, Terrill Thompson. How you doing, Terrill?

[Terrill] I'm good. How are you, Dennis?

[Dennis] I'm good, thank you. Happy New Year to you.

[Terrill] And to you as well.

[Dennis] Thank you. We were just talking about taking vacation but actually working on vacation to tie up some loose ends, so hopefully you got a good part of all your tasks completed at least.

[Terrill] Yeah, I got a few things done. As I was just mentioning I tend to address all my back burner projects, or sort of plan on doing that, over the holidays. That's a couple of weeks when I can work uninterrupted because everybody else is taking vacation.

[Dennis] Yeah.

[Terrill] But I don't always get around to everything. I end up sort of tossing too many tasks into that pile, so I've got quite a few things to do in December 2010 I guess.

[Dennis] Yeah I hear ya. I had a big list of tasks to do myself, but I had a lot of personal staff I wanted to do so I kind of wanted to stick more to that, but we are doing this podcast so it's a good start to the new year.

[Terrill] Indeed.

[Dennis] Indeed. Terrill works at the University of Washington and we'll get more into that in a little while. But I guess if you could just give a basic background about yourself, Terrill, and your work, and how you got into the field of accessibility.

[Terrill] Ok, well I'm technology accessibility specialist. That's my official title. And at the University of Washington I work for the DO-IT project, which is an acronym standing for Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology. DO-IT has been around since 1992 I think. We got our first grant from the National Science Foundation and that was to host and coordinate a summer camp for students with disabilities in high school, started when they're sophomores in high school. They come to the UW campus and participate in all aspects of college life. They stay in the dorms for two weeks, take classes that give them a feel for what the curriculum is going to be like, mostly focused on science, technology, engineering, and math. They talk with disability services folks and learn about what sort of accommodations to expect and learn to self-advocate, and it's a really great experience. It's one that we actually continue to do. We've done that annually since '92 and continue to have that summer session every year.

[Dennis] Since '92? So you've been there that long, huh?

[Terrill] I haven't been there that long, but the program's been operating since then.

[Dennis] Oh. OK.

[Terrill] I came along in 2001. At that time I was at North Carolina State University doing assistive technology, technology accessibility campus-wide. Washington just geographically had always been appealing. We spent a lot of summers up here. My wife has a lot of relatives up here. So we always were kind of keeping an eye out for stuff that we could do in this neck of the woods. And DO-IT got a grant in 2001 called AccessIT. It was the National Center on Accessible Information Technology in Education.

[Dennis] Ah...

[Terrill] So that was a grant from NIDRR at the U.S. Department of Education. So I was hired to come on board as part of that grant, so I came up in 2001. So, it's almost a decade now that I've been working for the UW and that grant was a five-year grant that no longer exists but I still do kind of the same type of work, focusing on technology accessibility, particularly as it's used in education, and most of that is web excessively focused, although I do sort of explore other technologies as well.

[Dennis] Mm-hmm.

[Terrill] And all of our grants - we've gotten a number grants over the years sort of piggybacking off of that original effort with the summer camp. But our are focus is partly on empowering students so kids develop skills and learn what to expect and like I say, learn self-advocacy skills and those sorts of things. So we're basically empowering kids to pursue their dreams and challenging careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. But along with that we also have had a number of grants that work to build capacity within postsecondary education settings so that colleges and universities are better equipped to provide education to students with disabilities. And also with employers, we've had grants to work with employers and help to create internships and educate employers on accessibility issues - those sorts of things. So basically we're trying to break down all the barriers for these kids who are interested in challenging careers so that they indeed can go ahead and pursue their dreams.

[Dennis] That's great. And for those listening, if you're interested, it's at - I'll put any links we mention of course up on the show notes - but if you want to right now go to And that should take you to the main page that talks about a lot of these programs and stuff.

How did you - What were you doing before this position?

[Terrill] Like a lot of us, I think, it's kind of a crazy convoluted path. I got my bachelors in psychology and was determined to see what I could do with that, and everyone said "You can't do anything with a bachelor’s degree in psychology" (laughs). Everybody I went to undergrad with was going on to graduate school and had plans of getting their PhD's and so I took that as a challenge and thought I'd see what I could do with a bachelors in psych. So I blanketed the country with resumes and I get two nibbles. One of those took me to Kansas where I did psych research for the Menninger Foundation as a research assistant. And what I ended up doing there for the most part was database management. There really was nobody on staff that had any sort of technical skills, and I didn't have at that time either myself. But I had a least an adventurous spirit. So I was willing to plunge in. And at that time we had an IBM PC XT and everybody was really excited about it.

So I learned to use it, learned to use some of the tools. And after the grant I was working on there ended, I had computer skills so I was able to go out into the workforce and did corporate computing for a few years, and all the while I wanted to get back to using psychology and doing something more meaningful. And I discovered assistive technology to be an area where I could unite my interests, my new interest in technology and my long-standing interest in helping people.

[Dennis] Yeah, it's challenging work too right, and it's rewarding.

[Terrill] Yeah, from a technology standpoint it's cutting edge technology. There are some really interesting things that are happening in the AT world, and so I also at the time was commuting from - I lived in Lawrence, Kansas and was commuting to Kansas City, and it was about a 30 to 40 minute drive everyday and you know, doing a job that I wasn't enjoying a whole lot. So a position became available at a local independent living center there in Lawrence that had a computer training facility specifically for persons with disabilities, and they were looking for somebody to coordinate that. And it was within biking distance of home, so everything just sort of fell into place. So I applied for that job, and got the job, and that was my entry into the field. I worked there for a number of years and in that position we were sort of a regional resource related to assistive technology and web accessibility, technology accessibility. Did a lot of outreach working with educational institutions - both K through 12 as well as postsecondary - worked some with the University of Kansas as well as other institutions just trying to help students who were having some difficulty getting access to technology, you know, trying to work with educational entities to you provide more accessible technology-based curriculum and tools and resources.

And so as an outsider trying to tackle that problem, I came to appreciate that being an insider within higher education really would allow me to have a greater impact and so that's when I started looking around for jobs within higher education institutions that were doing this kind of work. And they actually at that time were plentiful in the late 90s, and I ended up going to North Carolina State to do that kind of work as their AT and technology accessibility person.

[Dennis] OK. Well that gives us a good idea of your background. Looking forward, you mentioned when we emailed that the focus in 2010 where you're at, or one of the focuses, is going to be video accessibility?

[Terrill] Yeah, I'm working on that from a couple of different vantage points. I do provide accessibility support for the University of Washington in addition working on the DO-IT grants. Actually at the moment I'm entirely funded by federal grant dollars but that kind of changes. The funding just sort of fluctuates all the time - every couple months I'm funded a different percentage here and a different percentage there. It's kind of tough for me to keep track of (laughs). But at one point I was 50% funded centrally by the university and DO-IT resides within the UW Technology group, and so that's the group that provides core technology support campus-wide. And so my role there is to provide accessibility support campuswide, and there actually are a few of us that do this kind of work. But so I'm no longer funded specifically by the university but I still work with the university funded by these grants. So with regards to video, I have been working with folks who are centrally spearheading YouTube video efforts that have become kind of centralized. Historically, video and most other technology-related things at the UW have been very decentralized. Everybody kind of does their own thing. It's the great frontier. And with YouTube there's a real effort now to sort of reign that in. 'Cause we had - I forget what the number was, it was something like - 25 or 30 different channels all representing groups at the UW out there on YouTube. And so I think it was sort of spearheaded by the central marketing group on campus who wanted to kind of reign some of that in and get people doing some consistent things related to branding, and so there's a real interest there. And so a video steering committee was formed that represented people from all across campus that are doing video work. And so I was actually invited to participate in that group and brought to the table accessibility concerns as well as the fact that we had done quite a bit of video production over the years ourselves with the DO-IT project. We've got over 40 videos that we've produced and we've done some pretty innovative things in terms of captioning and audio description. And so folks do kind of turn to us as an example I think.

[Dennis] So can we find this at that

[Terrill] Yeah, uwhuskies is the main UW presence.

[Dennis] I'll check it out now. Yeah, looks nice.

[Terrill] So hopefully, a number of the videos that you see there on the uwhuskies page are in fact captioned. Our goal at one point was for that to be 100% but we've fallen a little behind there. And at this point we've done the captioning manually and we're sort of exploring different strategies for doing that effectively and efficiently and you know, what sort of workflow models make sense for us. And how can we ultimately caption everything that we produce. But we produce thousands of videos, and so we have a lot of people at the table who are talking about this problem and our first effort was to do some benchmarking just using interns - we had a pool of student interns that was actually funded by one of our grants where we have money to provide internships for students with disabilities. And so we hired a team of students with disabilities to sort of manage this captioning project. We ended up using dotSub as our tool - I believe it is.

[Dennis] okay

[Terrill] And we built kind of an internal project management system and had this team of interns captioning uwhuskies videos as they went up on YouTube. And so the turnaround time was pretty quick and we logged how much time it took and we're now in the process of tabulating some of that information and doing a cost analysis. We captioned 30 videos with that team. I think there may be a couple that are still outstanding but we're sort of wrapping up that phase of the project I think. We've got these benchmark data and ultimately we'd like to see what we can put in place that will be a little bit more effective in terms of widespread implementation, a little more practical for getting all the videos of the university captioned. Thirty videos over - it's been like a two-month period - really is just a very small slice of the pie in terms of the overall number of videos that we're producing.

[Dennis] Hey, have you seen the presentation by John Foliot at Stanford about their captioning system?

[Terrill] Yeah, I've seen that. That has a lot of potential. It'll be interesting - it's fairly new still - and so it will be interesting to see what sort of buy-in they get from campus and how effective that ultimately will be. But it looks like a great system they've put in place there.

[Dennis] Yeah, it seems like it's working pretty well so far and like you said, it's not even a year old yet so...

[Terrill] Yeah, so we're looking at that. We're also looking with some excitement at what Google is doing with the Google captioning service. And we actually are in the queue to be part of the next wave of testing that they're doing. Right now it's only available for a limited number of channels and we're in the queue. They haven't given us a time specifically when we'll be up but...

[Dennis] Oh, for the auto-captioning?

[Terrill] Yeah.

[Dennis] Oh wow. Yeah, that'll be interesting to see how accurate it is, huh? (laughs)

[Terrill] Yeah, some of the early signs have been a bit laughable I think. There's a lot of inaccuracy still as would be expected, but I have hopes that with the Google engineers being who they are, they're going to be bringing lots of data in with this, and they're gonna be able to improve their product.

[Dennis] Now do you know - I wonder - say something's auto-captioned by them, will the owner be able to take that caption file and edit it themselves? I imagine they would, right?

[Terrill] I think so, yeah. But I haven't got my hands on it yet, so I don't know that for sure, but you know...

[Dennis] Sound promising though.

[Terrill] It does, yeah. I think it'll be editable. I've heard folks say that it would be exportable into other formats which is another interest of ours because YouTube is only one channel, we've got video all over the place in different formats. So we'd like to be able to not only automatically caption, but be able to export that into formats that we can use elsewhere and be able to edit as well.

[Dennis] Yeah. And translation too, especially for a university, right? Once it's captioned, you can - have you seen - not a lot of people are aware of this but the YouTube videos, if it's captioned it has automatic translating to different languages.

[Terrill] Yeah.

[Dennis] It's far out.

[Terrill] And that's a great selling point too for captioning. We've been talking about captioning for years, you know, as I mentioned I've been in this field since the early 90s and, you know, over the years largely as we talk about web accessibility we largely were talking about issues related to access for people who are blind, and that certainly extends to other groups as well, but they seem to be the group that was primarily affected by inaccessible web design. So we spent a lot of time talking about you know, alternate text on images and those sorts of things. But now as we're getting more and more multimedia, people who are unable to hear that content are really impacted significantly by the amount of accessible content that's out there. So we've been talking about that for years but we haven't gotten a whole lot of buy-in because it, you know, it just requires a lot of time and a lot of resources in order to caption or transcribe multimedia.

[Dennis] Yeah.

[Terrill] But we're starting to get some traction by presenting that from a universal design standpoint. And I think that's why Google is interested. It's not just about accessibility, it's about being able to search. And that relationship between captions and search is a real important one, and one that - as we've been presenting that - more people have gotten interested than if we had just been talking a captioning for accessibility's sake. And now that we can present automatic translation on the fly, people are extremely excited about that. And at the UW, there was a key moment actually -- I can remember being at a meeting and turning folks who were sort of paying lip service I think to "yes, we need to caption", you know, "it's our legal obligation", "we have to make your video content accessible", you know, but they hadn't really done a whole lot other than say "yes, this is important". But in this meeting were I demonstrated the automatic translation capabilities, jaws just sort of dropped. And people became at that moment genuinely excited about making this work and getting more captioned content out there, if nothing else just so it could be translated on the fly.

[Dennis] Great. Hey, let's move on to some more fun topics. Well, captioning can be fun for some people (laughs).

[Terrill] It is fun! It's all fun.

[Dennis] No, captioning's cool. But this topic is even more fun - the NCAA college basketball tournament bracket.

[Terrill] Ah yes (laughs).

[Dennis] So this is one of your personal projects I assume, although I guess it could be a project for a college or university, especially if you're in North Carolina, huh?

[Terrill] Yeah, well, everywhere I've lived in my entire life has been - I grew up in Indiana which is - you know, basketball is <em>the</em> pastime. And then I moved to Kansas...

[Dennis] Another big basketball school, yep...

[Terrill] And North Carolina's basketball country. So it's in my blood. And this all stemmed from a conversation I was having with a couple of blind colleagues independently of one another, right around basketball time, March Madness.

[Dennis] So for those outside of the United States, March Madness is every year in March. There's a huge - how many teams is it? 64?

[Terrill] Yeah, it's now 65 but yeah, 64 plus they've added a play-in game for that 64th spot.

[Dennis] Oh, is there? OK. It's a 64 team gigantic tournament for the college basketball title... (phone rings) oops, there's my home phone... for the college basketball national title. So anyways, yeah, the brackets online are inaccessible. Sorry - that's what you were gonna say probably, huh?

[Terrill] Yeah, well it's true. Imagine a bracket online with 64 teams in it and they all sort of cascade down to there being one final champion and so...

[Dennis] Yeah, they - sorry, I just wanted to interject that you know, it's a challenge to make that on the web, both a usability challenge and a technical challenge to make that bracket, you know, on a web page, and I can imagine how difficult it would be for a blind user to try to use it, and how difficult it is to try to make it accessible.

[Terrill] Right. So as I was talking to my colleagues and friends who were basketball fans, the joy that I experience as a sighted user around March Madness time is looking over that bracket when it first comes out, and sort of looking to see who's playing who, and what potential match-ups are going to happen, you know, in the second round or third round, really studying that bracket and getting excited about what some of the possible games are gonna be. And then filling out a bracket and competing with other people...

[Dennis] No betting though.

[Terrill] Yeah, no money.

[Dennis] No money exchanges hands. (laughs)

[Terrill] Just bragging rights. So that's a very challenging thing for somebody who can't see this visual bracket to get a handle on, to be able to compare, games and you know, look further than the first round and try to understand who's going to playing who. And so the goal with this was to present this information in a way where non-visually, somebody could get a sense for the relationships between games and between rounds and could move forward and backward through that bracket and really get the same sort of pleasure that a sighted user gets and the same sort of information that a sighted user gets. And so it's been tweaked a little bit over the years. I've done this since - I think 2006 was the first one. The form that it currently is in, based on feedback from users, and it seems to be working pretty well, is... It's broken down into regions, so we've got regions in the country. So we break it down into manageable chunks. We break it down into regions and within that we break it down into four different rounds because there are four different rounds of games within each region. And then, each of these sections has a heading or subheading so that people can very easily jump within regions and within rounds using a screen reader.

[Dennis] So the regions are headings, and the rounds are headings underneath each region.

[Terrill] Exactly.

[Dennis] OK.

[Terrill] And then within that, each round of games is an ordered list of games, and then there's a nested list of two teams within each of those ordered list items.

[Dennis] Yeah. (laughs) The two teams that play in that game.

[Terrill] Exactly. So then we use CSS to stylize all so it's presented in the way that a sighted user would typically expect a bracket to be presented. And so it works really well then for sighted users as well as non-sighted users and...

[Dennis] That's awesome.

[Terrill] It's gotten a lot of positive feedback and folks who otherwise didn't have access to brackets now have access to brackets. I get a lot of feature requests too so every March it's kind of a time hog (laughs), where I have to devote some time to you know, getting it in shape before the next round, or before the next tournament comes around. One of the feature requests every year has been a pool - you know, again no money (laughs), bragging rights only, but screen reader users want to be able to participate in a tournament pool and the social aspect of doing that is a fun thing, and all the tournament pool forms that I've seen have been incredibly inaccessible. I haven't seen one yet that a person using a screen reader could fill out, or a person who doesn't use a mouse could fill out. And so, probably the goal this year is to create an interactive form that people can fill out and track their winners against the actual winners and participate in that whole tournament pool thing.

[Dennis] Ah.

[Terrill] And the World Cup is coming up as well and I've had some requests from folks to extend this to other tournaments, especially the World Cup, so I'm not 100% sure what I'm going to do with that but I'm kind of contemplating something like BracketML, you know, some sort of XML language that could communicate all the stuff that's in a bracket, you know, all those relationships, and could be easily portable from tournament to tournament and maybe use XSLT to stylize it.

[Dennis] (laughs) That would be really cool.

[Terrill] So there are lots of possibilities. I kind of see this as a playground too, you know, for playing around with different technologies, and I imagine the 2010 is going to include some ARIA markup as well. So it will be fun to kind of keep an eye on that as March rolls around see what the accessible tournament bracket looks like this year.

[Dennis] Awesome. And if you want to take a look at that, go to That's awesome. I'm looking at the code. It's really clean. I mean, I love your work, which is why I wanted to get you on the show.

[Terrill] Thanks.

[Dennis] Yeah, you do great work. And also - I didn't put this in the list of things to talk about but I did see that you kind of fixed up the Blogger template to be more accessible?

[Terrill] Yeah.

[Dennis] Is that what your is? Is that from Blogger?

[Terrill] It is, yeah. It's a Blogger blog. Basically I started blogging - I think I'm kind of late to teh blogging world but a couple years ago I jumped into the blogging area mainly because there were a lot of things I was doing at DO-IT that weren't being captured anywhere. My role at DO-IT as technology accessibility specialist is to provide consultation first of all, so people who are partners on our grants or people who are representative of populations that are targeted by our grants such as science educators or computer science departments, and so on. I provide web accessibility support to them and then I develop resources and provide training and accessibility support. But a large part of my time is also just spent exploring technologies and looking at accessibility issues related to those technologies and implementing and trying to innovate in terms of web accessibility. And so, all that - there really isn't an unofficial vehicle for distributing that within DO-IT. So I started blogging just to capture some of that work that was going on. And I wanted to kind of jump into it quickly and so I just signed up for a blogger account and grabbed one of their default templates and I've been using that just out of laziness every since. And as the blog has gotten a bit more traffic and a bit more attention then I started thinking well, if I'm talking about accessibility I really should have a more accessible blog here. And so let's see - some of the things - I blogged about this a couple blogs ago, so...

[Dennis] When did you make the update?

[Terrill] It was just like early December.

[Dennis] Oh OK. Cause I remember I saw a Tweet about it, and I wasn't sure if you had just done it or what.

[Terrill] Yeah, it's pretty new. I changed from what had been a fixed layout to a liquid layout, with a larger default font size. The original had had a very small font size, and had in a couple of areas some poor color contrast, which all of the default templates seem to suffer from that problem. I added some ARIA markup, just landmark roles, so folks using screen readers that support landmarks can jump from section to section. Visible focus for keyboard users, so if a person' not a mouse user and they're tabbing through they can easily keep track of where they are.

[Dennis] Good.

[Terrill] Also, Blogger has a CAPTCHA feature which can be turned on or off and I actually had always had mine off, just you know, so folks can comment without having to go through CAPTCHA, because Google - although they have the ability to do an audio CAPTCHA they don't have that - they're not utilizing that within the Blogger setting. So they're - it's just a visual CAPTCHA and so anyway, I turned that off so folks can comment.

[Dennis] So how do you get around the spam?

[Terrill] You know, I haven't been spammed excessively. There've been a couple of instances, but I filter all comments so everything has to be approved, and you know, if I get spammed then I'm willing to suffer through that.

[Dennis] (laughs).

[Terrill] At some point we might reach a breaking point I guess (laughs), but so far, again I haven't gotten that much spam so I'm willing just to go in and not approve spam. Then I'm the one who's burdened with having to do that rather than burdening my users who I'd like to be able to comment, but you know, not everybody would otherwise be able to do that because of the CAPTCHA.

[Dennis] Yeah, that's - you know, WebAxe is a Blogger blog. I have the same conundrum. 'Cause I get a ton of spam on there.

[Terrill[ Uh-huh.

[Dennis] So, yeah (laughs). It's a whole 'nother conversation we could have.

[Terrill] Yeah... So, the lingering problem is HTML validation. I'm not able to get it to validate. There are a few things that happen through Blogger tags and I don't see a way, at least at the moment, I don't see a way around that. Those tags are gonna inject invalid HTML yet they inject key dynamic content, so there really isn't any way around having those tags in place.

[Dennis] Any plans to maybe share some of your Blogger template knowledge?

[Terrill] Yeah, possibly. I don't have plans to do that specifically but I'm certainly willing or happy to. Everything I did is documented in that one blog post, and so you can kind of get an overview there. And you can probably also just check out the CSS and plug that into your own template as well. But yeah, I'm happy to share any of that.

[Dennis] Yeah, that would be great, because I think the community I'm sure could use something like that. And same with WordPress. I'm again running into - I mean, WordPress is set up pretty well, you know, web standards and everything. There's a lot here and there that can be fixed up, but... I'm starting a couple new projects with WordPress, and I'm also getting requests from folks, or just discussion on Twitter and everything about the fact that there's no accessible WordPress templates, or a pretty big lack of them. So I'm looking into that right now. Hopefully I can provide something to the community soon.

[Terrill] Yeah, that would be great.

[Dennis] The first stage I think is just a cleanup. And I think the second stage after that is to add in, you know, maybe do HTML5, or add in some more bells and whistles. Did you know (laughs) - I just found out in doing this that the latest default WordPress theme I guess they call it - has ARIA in it?

[Terrill] Oh does it?

[Dennis] Yeah, they've incorporated some ARIA landmark roles and stuff.

[Terrill] Oh, excellent.

[Dennis] Yeah. I was pretty happy to see that.

[Terrill] Yeah, that's nice. The word is definitely getting out.

[Dennis] Yeah.

[Terrill] It’s good to see.

[Dennis] Yeah, it’s good to see it happening.

[Terrill] Yeah, as somebody that's been doing work in the web accessibility/technology accessibility arena since the early days of the web it sometimes is frustrating that there's been so little progress, you know, that there still are so many sites that are inaccessible. But on the other hand, you see things like that, you know, where there is implementation at a high level within various organizations and various tools and... you know, that’s pretty exciting. And I think more and more web developers from my perspective- and vendors as well - are aware of accessibility and are starting to implement it.

We actually have done some research in that arena too, that shows that – our research is focused on higher education websites and we have just completed a longitudinal study that’s going to be published soon, in the next couple of months I think – that shows over a period of four to five years that the sites we measured - which is all institutions across Carnegie classifications within the Pacific Northwest - that they are getting better on support for basic accessibility features. So, images are more likely now to have alternate text they were four or five years ago. They're more likely to have a good HTML heading structure. So those things are gradually starting to fall into place. But we’re also observing a statistically significant deterioration when it comes to things like the ability to access all features just using keyboard, not using a mouse. So I think we’re seeing some Web 2.0 –type things, dynamic interactive kind of features and navigation menus that have fly-out or drop-down components and haven’t been encoded accessibly. Even though people are aware of accessibility, they’re choosing to deploy inaccessible new emerging technologies, maybe just sort of hoping or planning to fix accessibility at some point down the road. But they’re not letting that stand in the way of implementing some of these new technologies. So we still have an accessibility problem, but it’s shifting focus.

[Dennis] Shifting, yeah. Interesting. Hey so, you going to be at CSUN this year?

[Terrill] Yeah, I think I have been at almost every CSUN. It’s one of those conferences that I go to every year. I do a lot of conferences. With our federal funding that’s one of the things I do is go to conferences, do trainings, give presentations, workshops, those sorts of things.

[Dennis] So which conferences do you attend the most? So, CSUN…

[Terrill] What I consider my two, maybe three, regular conferences – you know, sort of the must-go-to conferences – CSUN is one of those. The other is Accessing Higher Ground, which I think you were at.

[Dennis] Yeah.

[Terrill] This past year. In fact, I think we may have even had dinner together and didn't realize it.

[Dennis] Really?!

[Terrill] (laughs) Yeah, I believe we were at one long table…

[Dennis] Oh yeah, at the brewery?

[Terrill] Yeah. I was on one end and you were on the other so we didn’t get to talk, but…

[Dennis] Oh, that’s funny.

[Terrill] Yeah. Small world.

[Dennis] Yeah.

[Terrill] Nevertheless, those are kind of my two main ones. I also EDUCAUSE. I’m pretty active within the EDUCAUSE organization. And HighEdWeb has also recently become one of my favorites. It’s a great conference for people are doing web development within a higher education context. It’s kind of similar to Accessing Higher Ground. It’s small enough where you got a very narrow focus and people who are all doing very similar sorts of things and similar type of work. It’s a great opportunity to network. CSUN I think is still the best in terms of, just, assistive technology and it's a place where you are pretty likely to run into anybody who’s working in this field. And a ton of great sessions and great networking opportunities.

[Dennis] Yeah, I’m going for the first time this year.

[Terrill] Yeah.

[Dennis] Yeah, I’m looking forward to it. Never been to San Diego.

[Terrill] Ah yeah, should be fun. That’s a new venue for CSUN, so it’ll be interesting to see…

[Dennis] Yeah, maybe we’ll see each other there.

[Terrill] Yeah.

[Dennis] If we see each other, maybe we’ll be able to talk this time (laughs). We’ll have to have a Tweet-up. We’ll get a Tweet-up going there.

[Terrill] Yeah, I think there’s already some talk of that, right?

[Dennis] Yeah.

[Terrill] One of the bad things about any conference really, but CSUN in particular, is that there always so many sessions that you want to go to that are maybe similar in focus or, you know - that's true of – I was looking over the schedule just recently and I’d love to see your Accessible Twitter session, which is what - 8 a.m. on Thursday I think.

[Dennis] Yeah.

[Terrill] And you’re up against another session with Andrew Kirkpatrick and Matt May talking about Flex and AIR accessibility.

[Dennis] Ugh (laughs)

[Terrill] And so, it seems like every time slot has something like that where, oh man I really want to see this, and I want to see this, and you know, it’s hard to decided between the two.

[Dennis] Right, right. Yeah, so I’m presenting with Joseph O’Connor on accessibility of Twitter. Not only the web accessibility – well, I’m going to be covering the web part and he’s going to be covering the other parts, you know, like mobile and desktop apps. So that’s the plan. What are you speaking on?

[Terrill] I’ve got a session later that day on video accessibility.

[Dennis] Oh, OK.

[Terrill] It’s gonna be kind of a step-by-step look at video accessibility. I really want to get beyond the abstract, you know, “why do we need to do this” presentation, and look at you know, what are some tools for adding captions, you how, how do you use them, how do you build an accessible player for deploying your video, and, you know, as much as I can do within 60 minutes, provide some real concrete usable information for people to take home and try.

[Dennis] Good, good. Yeah, I’ll have to try and attend that one. But, how many go on at one time? How many sessions? It’s all in that one same place though, right? This year is it in a new venue, that big hotel?

[Terrill] Yeah, I'm not sure exactly how it works at the new venue. Historically it's been in the Marriott in Los Angeles.

[Dennis] Oh I heard, like by the airport or something?

[Terrill] Yeah, so it wasn’t the best location from a tourism standpoint but I actually thought it was a nice site. Maybe we had outgrown it. But the Marriott over the years had gotten good at accommodating such a huge number of people with disabilities. After they had announced that they were in San Diego last year I was in the lobby of the Marriott and somebody dropped a glass, and it shattered so there’s glass and liquid all over the place.

[Dennis] Yikes.

[Terrill] And it was really impressive how quickly the Marriott was on top of that and they had staff standing around making sure that nobody way walked into that situation, you know, if they couldn’t see it. So I found myself wondering if the new venue was going to be as quick to respond to a situation like that, because these folks really seemed to have it.

[Dennis] Well let’s hope so. It looks like a really nice place.

[Terrill] Yeah, it does.

[Dennis] I think we’ve touch on everything we wanted to talk about, except one final even more fun topic. And that is your music.

[Terrill] Oh yeah.

[Dennis] So, you even have a MySpace page I checked out this morning (laughs).

[Terrill] Yeah, not very accessible but there’s not much you can do with MySpace.

[Dennis] No. So I listened to a few of the songs and I still think my favorite one is the one that I'm gonna play as soon as we finish the interview. Man With Small F. Is that the name of it?

[Terrill] Yeah, it’s Man With Small F, subtitled The Inaccessible PDF Song.

[Dennis] (laughs) Oh, it’s because of your inspiration right? I breezed over your – you had written something about the inspiration for that song. Do you want to talk about that?

[Terrill] Yeah, that was – a student had come into my office with a PDF document that she wasn’t able to access. She said “hey, I’ve got a problem with this document. It’s really being read in a strange way by my screen reader. I’m trying to figure out what’s going on with it”. So I gave it a listen. And this was during February last year. It was February Album Writing Month. There are a couple of web communities that I participate in in February. One of them is, and then there's another called the RPM Challenge. And both of these are communities that are focused on producing music all within the month of February. So, take the shortest, darkest, coldest, and wettest for us in the Northwest, month of the year…

[Dennis] (laughs)

[Terrill] and let’s just have a good time and make music during this month. So the goal is different depending on which community it is, but with FAWM you try to produce 14 songs within that month. So you’re looking for inspiration everywhere. In this case, when I took her PDF document, and I plugged it in and launched JAWS and what it read was this really interesting nonsense (laughs) but it was attempting to read it. So that was particularly interesting, that JAWS was reading it, and the Read Outloud feature within Adobe Acrobat Reader was also reading the document, with inflections, you know, but it wasn't making any sense was the thing.

[Dennis] (laughs)

[Terrill] So, I helped the student. And that actually – I think that was a non-standard font issue at the core of that particular problem, and that involved going back to the instructor and giving them some coaching on developing or creating accessible PDF, and having them redo that so that it was accessible, rather than trying to retrofit it. But as soon as I got home I had this document still, and I thought (laughs) this is just so poetic and so musical that I had to do something with it. So I set it to music.

[Dennis] Nice (laughs). OK, well, without further ado, I will play that right now.

[Terrill] Awesome.

[Dennis] So thanks for joining me, Terrill. It’s been a great pleasure speaking with you.

[Terrill] You too. Thanks for starting the new year with this conversation. It’s great - I feel honored to be doing this and I’m looking forward now to 2010.

[Dennis] Me too (laughs). We appreciate your work. You really do great work, and like I said, that’s the main reason I wanted to have you on the show. In addition to all the other cool stuff that you’re doing. So, thanks again Terrill.

[Terrill] You bet.

[Man With Small F (The Inaccessible PDF Song); Features a female screen reader voice rhythmically rapping a seemingly nonsensical string of characters and phrases, accompanied by drums and a screaming rock-n-roll guitar]