1999 Conference Proceedings

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Howard C. Shane and Brent Koeppel

Short Description: The Companion (TM) software, a flexible authoring tool, and the Freestyle (TM), a tablet style, accessible computer, were used to create a prototype electronic conference program enabling access by persons with visual, hearing and motor disabilities.


The enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act (or ADA) mandates long awaited, substantive and beneficial changes in the areas of communication, transportation, and entertainment. Such improvements allow for access to these domains regardless of the nature of a person's disability.

An area that has received relatively little attention since the enactment of the ADA is strategies to enable persons with sensory and / or physical disabilities to access the written information contained within a conference program schedule. A conference program booklet typically contains multiple pages of written text and tables that detail information relevant to a particular convention. As a result, persons with disabilities are often unable to independently access a program's schedule of events unless pages are turned or print is read by another.

Myriad strategies exist for enabling persons with sensory (visual and / or auditory) or physical (motor) disabilities to access written information. Screen enlargement or readback in conjunction with navigational software, for example, allows persons who are blind or visually impaired to discern what text is contained on a monitor. By the same token, persons with motor disabilities are able to access printed matter through dedicated page turners, or via adapted keyboards, mice or switches. However, in all cases the material itself needs to be in digital format so that a person with a visual or physical disabilities can gain access.

Companion (TM) is a flexible authoring tool designed for teachers, therapists and parents to customize multimedia materials. It has a set of internally designed preferences for enhancing access by persons with motoric and / or sensory disabilities.

Freestyle (TM) is a tablet computer based on the Macintosh Power PC. The Freestyle was designed as a tool for persons with disabilities. It offers considerable access options including multiple single switch ports, voice input control, alternative mice capability, and alternative keyboards.

With regard to the problem of accessing conference program material, Companion with Freestyle represents a unique platform and tool set for creating an accessible conference program. This relates to features inherent to the Freestyle including:

The Companion's multimedia authoring capability offers several features important to providing information about content of a conference program. These include:

Program Goals

The aim of this presentation is twofold:

  1. To offer a set of design suggestions and requirements for the creation of a functional (having genuine accessibility capability) electronic conference program; and
  2. To demonstrate a prototype electronic conference program system having accessible features taking the above design features into consideration. The specific design requirements are detailed below.

Accessible Design Features

A number of design requirements are critical to the development of a functional electronic program. These issues are related to the realities of existing and current paper format programs as well as the needs of persons experiencing both sensory and motor disabilities who desire complete and independent access of program information. In the development of this prototype system a number of accessibility features and factors relevant to conference programs in general were taken into consideration. These considerations are contained within the specific topical areas reviewed below:

Representation of Conference Information: Depending on the nature of a person's sensory disability, the strategy for how information is consumed will vary. For a visual impairment it is text driven with auditory output or feedback and for hearing impairment it will be text alone. The task becomes more difficult for graphic material which needs to be described to an individual who experiences a visual impairment. In this case some sub-level descriptive tags may be useful. The design requirement here is one of flexibility for broadcast or clear portrayal on the screen.

Organizational Strategies for Conference Information: Gaining access to information occurring within a conference is important. A number of different search strategies are useful including a search by date/time, topic, index. Additional Informational Considerations for Conference Information: There is a great deal of information that conference participants need access to. An overview of this additional information follows:

Input method / system orientation: A truly accessible conference program needs to take into consideration a variety of access strategies. These include:

Miscellaneous Considerations: Consideration needs to be given to a number of miscellaneous considerations. These include:

Future Design Considerations

A number of considerations relate to the overall design of an electronic kiosk-like, accessible conference program. While these factors are important they are beyond the scope of this particular presentation. Three such factors are reviewed below:

2. Locating input device on electronic program station: A number of design features relate to the manner in which a potential user will interact with the electronic conference program kiosk itself. These include access via or from:

3. Start up and Initial use: Consideration needs to be given for on-screen or spoken instructions for the new user of such a system. Possible introductions would include:

These three design considerations will be more readily implemented following more widespread use and more importantly, standardization of kiosk based electronic conference programs.


In the actual presentation, a prototype of an electronic program will be presented that takes the above design issues into consideration. The prototype system will use the 1998 CSUN program as the basis for creating, in an electronic format, a sample accessible program. This simulated format will show accessibility for persons evidencing visual, hearing and / or physical disabilities.

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