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DISCOVER: How to Learn Sign Language

Four photos of individuals learning sign language

NOTE FROM MARY: This is the second post of a four-part series related to the WCAG 2.1 Guideline Success Criterion 1.2.6 Sign Language (Prerecorded) (Level AAA). Though not currently required, adopting Level AAA guidelines now and going forward can provide a better user experience for persons with disabilities.

by Emma Mankin
Guest Blogger

Did you know that American Sign Language (ASL) is the third most-used language in the United States, behind English and Spanish?

Have you ever wanted to learn sign language? Now, you can! Here are some easy ways to help you start learning sign language.

  • Take a sign language class: ASL is taught as a foreign language in many American high schools and colleges. Having Deaf teachers and/or students as language models in the classroom will help you learn about the language from a cultural background. If you have a busy schedule during the weekdays, you can even take an evening or online ASL class. This allows you to learn and practice signing as much as you want without feeling pressured with deadlines.
  • Watch online sign language videos and DVDs or download applications on your phone: In today’s technologically savvy world, there are free videos on YouTube and other signing websites and phone applications, such as Signing Savvy, Handspeak, and Pocket Sign, that can watch as many times as you want to help you learn and practice fingerspelling, signs, expressive and conversational skills, and more. Many ASL workbooks, such as DawnSignPress’ Signing Naturally, include DVDs that you can watch as you teach yourself each lesson. If you would like to find other options, please contact your local library, or research available resources online.
  • Read sign language books: If you don’t want start by watching videos, sign language books are a great way to read about how it is used around the world. The history of how signed language and Deaf culture have evolved is fascinating! There are sign language dictionaries, children’s books, step-by-step learning books, and more. However, drawn handshapes with directions may not be as helpful as watching videos.
  • Attend Deaf events or cafés: These are great ways to practice your signing skills outside of your class and individual studies. You’ll meet plenty of Deaf people, ASL students, teachers, and more, in your local Deaf community. Everyone you meet at Deaf events is willing to help you practice and improve your signing skills as you communicate with them. You can contact local Deaf organizations or search for an ASL social group through websites such as Facebook or Meetup.com. Here is a list of deaf-owned restaurants as well.
  • Hire a private certified sign language tutor: If you don’t want to take an ASL class, you can research and hire a local private tutor who can help you learn the language. You can ask for one-on-one or group instruction if your family and/or friends would like to learn sign language, too.
  • Ask Deaf friends or family members to teach you: If you have Deaf friends and/or family members who are fluent signers, consider them to be great resources! As personal teachers, they will help you learn and practice signing, as well as teach you what being Deaf is like from a cultural perspective.
  • Watch and mimic sign language interpreters: If you have ever been to or watched live events, you have probably seen sign language interpreters before. Their job is to interpret spoken language into signed language for deaf and hard of hearing audience members. It may not be the best option as you are first learning, but depending on their signing speed, you can always watch them to test your knowledge and try to learn some new signs.

Once you’ve found your preferred way(s) to learn sign language, here are three key things to remember:

  1. Practice your fingerspelling: This will be one of your first lessons. Proficiency in expressive skills (spelling out) is more attainable than receptive skills (reading fingerspelling) at first. After you learn and master fingerspelling, you are ready to move on to the next levels of signing!
  2. Facial expressions are important: Sign language is more than just talking with your hands. You must also use your facial expressions, eyebrows, and other body movements to indicate the mood and character of your topics and conversations.
  3. Use real-life situations: As previously mentioned in the Deaf event point, practice your conversational signing skills with your teachers, classmates, friends, family, and other members of the Deaf world. As a result, you will gain a greater means of identity, interaction, values, customs, and information by meeting and communicating with other members of the Deaf community.

By learning ASL, you are bound to learn a lot and make new friends as you navigate a new and exciting language and culture. Happy signing!

[SOURCE]

BIO: Emma Mankin is a freelance blog and technical writer located in St. Augustine, Florida who specializes in explaining technical topics so that they are easy to understand. She holds a B.A. in English with a minor in American Sign Language from George Mason University. Email Emma.

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DISCOVER: A Quick, Fascinating History of Sign Language

Hands forming sign language letters that spell love

NOTE FROM MARY: This is the first post of a four-part series related to the WCAG 2.1 Guideline Success Criterion 1.2.6 Sign Language (Prerecorded) (Level AAA). Though not currently required, adopting Level AAA guidelines now and going forward can provide a better user experience for persons with disabilities.

by Emma Mankin
Guest Blogger

Even though there is no archeological proof of when people first developed hearing loss, scientists claim that Deaf history started at the beginning of mankind.

Deaf people are often credited for gesturing early human language by pointing and signaling “come here”. Their grunting eventually evolved into communicable speech. Throughout history, anthropologists believed that spoken language evolved from gestures and signs that were created millions of years ago.

Sign language is not universal

Deaf people created sign language as a visual-gestural, nonverbal language to express their feelings with their bodies. It is important to remember that sign language is not universal. There are hundreds of dialects around the world. Sign language’s grammar involves signers’ eyes, face, head, body posture, hands, and arms.

Sign Language Hand Signals Letters A through F

Their fingers and hands represent three-dimensional shapes’ depths and definitions, demonstrate changes in size, and describe height, width, interior/exterior space, people, and objects in action. Similarly, signed words include handshapes and hand orientation, movement, and position parameters. Like spoken languages, signed expressions have evolved over time.

“Deaf” vs. “Hard of hearing” – what is the difference?

Throughout history, the Deaf World has been composed of deaf and hard of hearing individuals with common identity, interaction, values, customs, experience, and information. But how are ‘Deaf’ and ‘hard of hearing’ defined?

Deaf people cannot hear many sounds because their ears do not work well.

Therefore, hearing aids do not usually help. However, not all deaf people are born deaf or have the same degree of hearing loss. Some who cannot hear have good speech, while others prefer to sign or write.

In contrast, hard of hearing people can hear some, but not all sounds.

Hearing aids are often helpful, even though they cannot hear everything. Some have good speech and understand many words, while others only understand a few words and do not speak clearly. Both deaf and hard of hearing people are considered ‘hearing impaired’ because of their hearing problems, but they would rather identify themselves as deaf or hard of hearing.

Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts is one of the oldest and largest American deaf communities

Map of Martha's Vineyard

Signing in the United States has dated back before the 1600s. At the time, deaf people who were poor farmers living in eastern England migrated to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, which is home to one of the oldest and largest American deaf communities. By 1880, one in nearly 6,000 U.S. residents was deaf.

However, in Martha’s Vineyard, the statistics were higher – one in about 155 people. Here, Islanders created a signed language for both hearing and deaf people and treated deafness as a difference instead of a disability. As a result, geography, attitude, and access to communication sustained the Martha’s Vineyard signing community. Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language was likely absorbed into current-day American Sign Language.

How Modern American Sign Language Evolved

Laurent ClercASL originated from French Sign Language when Laurent Clerc, the first deaf teacher for the deaf in America, promoted deaf education and trained teachers how to educate deaf students. He could read, write, and communicate in sign language.

He initially taught in French sign language, but his literacy skills in French and English proved that deaf people could be educated around the world. After Gallaudet University, the first permanent institution for the education of the deaf in Washington, D.C., opened in 1864, more schools for the deaf opened in D.C. thanks to the Gallaudets, Clerc, and other educators for the Deaf.

The first permanent school for the Deaf

Dr. Mason Fitch CogswellIn 1817, Clerc, along with Dr. Mason Fitch Cogwell and Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, founded the first permanent school for the Deaf, the Connecticut Asylum for the Education and Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Persons, which still stands today.

Gallaudet: “Alice could learn just like hearing children”

Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet was inspired to educate deaf individuals when he realized Dr. Mason Cogswell’s deaf daughter, Alice, learned to write HAT in the mud and point to his hat. He was convinced that she could learn just like hearing children.

Thomas Hopkins GallaudetAfter learning the manual alphabet from Abbé Sicard’s Theorie des Signes, he taught Alice and many other children to sign and fingerspell. Throughout his life, Gallaudet advocated for secondary and postsecondary education for the deaf. He helped open the first permanent school for the deaf in America and helped many states establish schools for the deaf. Gallaudet University was named in Gallaudet’s memory.

[SOURCE]

BIO: Emma Mankin is a freelance blog and technical writer located in St. Augustine, Florida who specializes in explaining technical topics so that they are easy to understand. She holds a B.A. in English with a minor in American Sign Language from George Mason University. Email Emma.

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TECH TOOL: CopyChar for Typing Non-Keyboard Characters

Chart of Special Math Characters

CopyChar is a basic app that allows you to find and copy special characters to your clipboard.

Simply click or tap on a character and it will be copied to your clipboard.

Letters
Punctuation
Math
Numbers
Currency
Symbols
Hieroglyphs
Arrows
Emoji

Click the black info icon in the top right corner of the app

Toggle Character Info Icon

to toggle character information.

Toggled characters

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ACCESSIBLE LEARNING: How to Convert Handwritten Math to Accessible Formats

Illustration of math formulas and diagrams

Students who study math, chemistry or physics create lots of handwritten notes.

How can instructors help make math and STEM information more accessible and engaging for every student, breaking away from pen and paper as the only option?

Here are two tools that can help.

EquatIO

EquatIO allows you to create equations, formulas, and more…digitally.

EquatIO gives students the opportunity to speak, draw or type problems and equations directly onto their devices. By moving to digital instruction, EquatIO makes math more accessible. Students with learning difficulties or visual impairments can hear their math read aloud to them.

Using the mobile version, students can take a photograph of written work and create a digital document.

Students and educators can also create and customize graphs with EquatIO. Powered by Desmos graphing calculator, EquatIO helps students to visualize and explore a written equation.

EquatIO is available as a Chrome extension, Web app or as a desktop app for either Windows or Mac. Try EquatIO free here.

The EquatIO premium subscription is also free for K-12 teachers. Apply for the subscription here.

Mathpix

Mathpix helps students convert images and PDFs to LaTeX, DOCX, Overleaf, Markdown, Excel, ChemDraw and more, with an AI-powered document conversion technology.

Mathpix equation shown on mobile phone and desktop devices

Mathpix Snip Editor converts scientific PDFs to editable formats like MS Word, HTML, Markdown, and LaTeX fast.

  • Works on PDFs containing math, tables, and figures
  • Works on 2-column PDFs
  • Optimized for scientific papers
  • Edit files in-app or export to your favorite tool
  • Converts PDFs to screenreader accessible Word documents

Mathpix Snip is available for Mobile Phones & Tablets (iOS & Android), Desktop Systems (MacOS, Windows and Linux) and as a Web app (Snip Notes). A free version is available for educators. STEM professionals can purchase access to MathPix for $4.99 per month. An account for multiple users (departments, schools and companies) is available for $9.99 a month.

An API MathpixOCR is also available for developers who wish to to integrate OCR capabilities into their own applications.

Find out more about Mathpix here.

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ACCESSIBLE WEBSITES: Test for These 10 Common Failures

Website Design Icons

In the Search Engine Land article The cost of ignoring website accessibility, author George Nguyen writes,

“Non-compliant sites are vulnerable to lawsuits, but SEOs can help protect them by advocating for accessibility, which can serve both differently-abled audiences as well as your business goals. When sites aren’t accessible, they are not only going to lose out on potential conversions from differently-abled users, but they also become vulnerable to legal action.”

Common factors site owners can get sued over

He cites the following common factors as part of the lawsuits many clients face:

  • A drop-down menu wasn’t fully keyboard-accessible due to some JavaScript.
  • Insufficient text/background contrast.
  • Site text was not scaleable.
  • Image alt text wasn’t unique.
  • Menu navigation did not properly support screen readers.
  • There were no “skip navigation” options for screen readers.
  • Password requirements did not support screen readers.
  • Actions, like adding a product to cart, weren’t designed to support screen readers.
  • PDF content was not able to be read in HTML format.
  • Phone number on the website lacked a full description, potentially barring users from understanding what the number is for.
  • Site information, such as the company address and hours of operation, were not labeled.

Read the rest of The cost of ignoring website accessibility

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ACCESSIBLE IMAGES: Use a Nested List to Describe a Simple Flow Chart

Flow Chart illustration

When it comes to accessibility, flow chart images can be difficult to describe.

SOLUTION: Convert the simple flow chart info to a nested list so the content is available to assistive technology.

The “boxes” are presented as the initial list numbers and the possible transitions are coded as nested sub-bullets within the list.

I coded this simple flow chart:

Flow chart example

as a nested list:

Flow Chart Nested List Code - Download it from the link below
Click here for accessible description of this basic flow chart

BEST PRACTICE: Create the nested link description as an HTML file and publish the link underneath the flow chart image on your website page so it can be accessed by screen reader users.

FOR YOU – DOWNLOAD THIS NESTED LIST CODE NOW: Download this code set (HTML5 and CSS files) via a .zip file to take it for a spin.

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[ORIGINAL RESOURCE]
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ACCESSIBLE BUSINESS: Stop Confirmation Humiliation

The word Anxiety spelled out

Call to action (CTA) is a marketing term for “any design to prompt an immediate response or encourage an immediate sale.” A CTA most often refers to the use of words or phrases that can compel an audience to act in a specific way. [SOURCE]

I don’t know about you, but I find some online CTA messages overly manipulative and incredibly insulting.

Using these types of over-the-top directives may also cause you to lose business with a particular audience…namely people who suffer from social anxiety who find these types of messages overwhelming.

FACT: Social Anxiety Disorder Affects 15 Million U.S. Adults

The ADA defines disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH):

“Social anxiety disorder (SAD – also called social phobia) is a mental health condition. It is an intense, persistent fear of being watched and judged by others. This fear can affect work, school, and other day-to-day activities. SAD affects 15 million adults, or 6.8% of the U.S. population. SAD is equally common among men and women and typically begins around age 13.”

According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America:

“The defining feature of social anxiety disorder is intense anxiety or fear of being judged, negatively evaluated, or rejected in a social or performance situation. People with social anxiety disorder may worry about acting or appearing visibly anxious (e.g., blushing, stumbling over words), or being viewed as stupid, awkward, or boring.”

Ashley Firth, author of Practical Web Inclusion and Accessibility: A Comprehensive Guide to Access Needs lists some of these types of CTA message examples from a website called confirmshaming that seek a website visitor’s confirmation:

1) Choosing not to sign up for a beginner’s guide to gardening

Vegetable Gardening Book Offer

“No thanks, I know everything about gardening.”

2) Choosing not to subscribe to a magazine

Magazine Subscription Confirmation Method

“I’m boring.”

“In both cases,” Firth writes, “you can clearly see how the option that the site doesn’t want to happen is intentionally worded to either shame or scare the user, whether they meant to or not. Here, those who are susceptible to feeling embarrassed, humiliated, or judged negatively have their access needs used against them, simply because they don’t want to sign up to a newsletter or give out their details. Even if they choose not to perform the action, they still had to face the decision.”

BEST PRACTICE

Use CTAs that don’t shame or manipulate users.

How about simply using the confirmation options of “Yes” or “No” to be the most inclusive.

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ACCESSIBILITY TESTING: How to Copy Comments from One PDF to Another

Adobe Acrobat Pro DC Comment Icons

As an accessibility testing auditor & remediator, I provide commented layouts in PDF format to website developers to help them fix the sections of web pages that need to meet WCAG 2.1 Guideline compliance.

Many of the web pages have the same header and footer content. It is time consuming to have to comment the same sections over and over again for each PDF website page layout.

SO…HERE’S THE FIX

1) In Acrobat Pro DC, add comments to the header and footer (or any other sections that are consistent on all the website pages you are testing) of a “master” layout PDF file…most likely the Home Page. Save the PDF file.

PDF Comments - Files

2) In Acrobat Pro DC, open the “clean” copy of the PDF where you want to import the comments.

3) Click the Comment Tool to open the Comments panel.

Adobe Acrobat DC Comment Tool

4) Click on the three dots in the top right corner of the Comments panel.

5) Select Import Data File.

Import Data File in Adobe Acrobat Pro DC

6) In the Import Comments dialog, select the PDF file that contains the tester’s comments you want to import.

7) Click Open and the comments will be imported into the “clean” PDF. Save the PDF.

Import Comments - After

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ACCESSIBLE PDFs: Discover How to Correct Typos in Tagged Text

Four Adobe PDF Icons in a row

What happens when your tagged text doesn’t match visual text?

Even though the text in your PDF looks correct, there may be typos or extra spacing behind the scenes that causes screen readers to announce the content incorrectly.

Tagged text must be free from line breaks and split words. The Adobe Accessibility Checker does not alert you to these issues.

Here’s how you can determine the back-end content issues and fix them, using Adobe Acrobat Pro DC.


How to Figure Out What is Wrong with the Content

1) Open the PDF in Adobe Acrobat Pro DC.

2) Select File > Save as > Text (Plain).

3) Save the file to your computer.

4) Open the text file in Microsoft Word.

5) Use the grammar and spell check tools to find typos or spacing issues.


How to Fix These Problems in the PDF File

1) With the PDF open in Adobe Acrobat Pro DC, select the Tags Tree

Tags Tree Icon in Adobe Acrobat Pro DC

2) Locate the tag containing the typo or spacing issue.

3) Right click and select Copy Contents to Clipboard

Copy Contents to Clipboard Command in Adobe Acrobat Pro DC

4) Right click the tag again and select Properties

Properties option in Adobe Acrobat Pro

5) Paste the copied content into the “Actual Text” field and make the corrections.

Actual Text field in Object Properties of Adobe Acrobat Pro DC

6) Save the PDF file.

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WEB DEV ACCESSIBILITY: Use Relative Rather Than Absolute Units in CSS Property Values

abstract pixel art design wallpaper background backdrop

Low-vision users, and a lot of people over 50, need to increase the browser default font size to make text easier to read.

If your web content font sizes are set in absolute units, such as pixels, the user will not be able to re-size the text.

Relative units like EM and percentages “stretch” according to the screen size and/or user’s preferred font size, and work on a large range of devices.

Using relative units helps satisfy the WCAG 2.1 Guideline 1.4.4 Resize text Level AA.

Need to convert pixels to EMs?

Use this handy online tool, developed by Brian Cray: http://pxtoem.com

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WEBSITE ACCESSIBILITY TESTING & REMEDIATION SERVICES: Mary Gillen is an experienced Website Accessibility Compliance Auditor and Remediator. She can test your website to determine if it meets accessibility standards:

WCAG 2.1: 312 checkpoints covering A, AA and AAA W3 accessibility guidelines
Section 508: 15 US federal guidelines covered by 59 accessibility checkpoints

Find out more about Mary Gillen’s Accessibility Testing & Remediation Services: Websites, PDFs, Office Docs & Videos

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