A week from this wednesday I’ll be speaking at the 29th International Technology and people with Disabilities conference in San Diego.
The talk will focus on the limitations of traditional screen readers, and how we can start to move beyond them.
Screen Readers are amazing tools for making computers and mobile devices minimally accessible, but the standard which we set for our tools should be much, much higher.
We should be creating applications and experiences that go beyond plain accessibility and focus instead on usability.
Stay tuned more more updates from the Conference. I’ll be posted slides from the talk…once I’ve made them.
In Spike Jonze’ Her, before we ever meet OS One(Scarlett Johansson), we are introduced to Joaquin Phoenix’ unnamed,
dumbnon-sentient operating system.
Using the same hardware piece, Phoenix issues voice commands to the near future version of Siri. Less annoying and more useful, this interface is much more likely to become a reality in the near future that the more prominently featured OS One. We see Phoenix control his music, check his email, and hear recent news items, all through conversational commands. there’s no having to down the home button like Siri, or saying “Okay, Google.” The process is so smooth and effortless, it just melts into the background of the movie, just like the rest of the technology in the movie.
It’s so close to how our voice-based UI’s will behave in the next few years that the movies technology designer KK Barrett deserves some serious kudos. That said, there are a few interaction missteps that will leave us looking back at the movie and comparing its UI to Geocities or Windows 8.
“Email from, email from, email from…”
Before reading every new email message, we hear “Email from.” Anyone sitting in the audience who regularly receives more than 5 emails a day is cringing. The context is already clear; every new item is already understood to be an email message. There is no reason to repeat it.
There are no cues to communicate the state of the UI
The app never tells you when it’s done talking. Is there more? Is it thinking? There is no way of knowing unless there is some audio cue. The same goes for the times that Phoenix issues a command. Sometimes we hear a pause, and sometimes we hear a confirmation tone. Inconsistencies aside, audio-based applications need to be communicating state to the user in the same way that visual ones do today.
As we become accustomed to interacting with devices using Text to Speech, we are going to speed up the rate that our apps speak to us. Over time, slower speech interfaces are going to feel like browsing the internet on a dial-up connection. Check out this video of someone who has used Text to speech based interfaces for years. It’s mnd-boggling that someone can understand an application speaking that fast (~950 wpm).
These are pretty small critiques, but it’s important to think about as owe move away from touch screens towards more wearable devices. The sooner we can move away from the current interactions with Siri and Glass, the better.
The professionalization of the Entreprenurial class: The future of the Accelerator, Angel, Acqui-hire ecosystem
There is a phenomenal series of essays from Venkatesh Rao over at Forbes.com which discusses the domestication of the tech entrepreneur:
Entrepreneurs are the new labor
The articles are over a year and a half old, but they are still exceedingly relevant. As the economy continues to to produce 20 somethings with college educations and no significant job prospects, there will continue to be an influx of people wanting to be come entrepreneurs. Understanding how the growing waves of these so called tech-entrepreneurs incorporate themselves into the economy is extremely important and by no means a settled matter.
In Part III of his essay, Rao recognizes the importance of this issue asking:
how might the new laborer-entrepreneur class moving through the acqui-hiring pipeline evolve into a new institution that is recognized as legitimate rather than criticized as a corrupted parody of entrepreneurship?
He sees a continuation of the current accelerators > angel > acqui-hire progression as a new acceptable norm rather than the graceful failure that is seen as today.
While these institutions will continue,I don’t necessarily think that we will see regulatory reinforcement of this trend benefiting the acquirers like Facebook, Google, etc.
More likely we will see organizations arise that reduce the transaction costs at each of these stages. And the transaction costs are indeed high in both time and money. Raising a round of funding can take 3-4 months and 5 figures in legal fees.
These costs are reasonable given the current model, but if you were to compare these costs to how existing firms bring products to market, they immediately seem unreasonable.
If we’re talking about entrepreneurs becoming the new labor, we’re talking about minimizing the risk in the system and creating a repeatable, low transaction cost process for creating tech-products. The accelerators > angel > acqui-hire model doesn’t completely address these issues.
There are firms that are beginning to internalize many of the functions that we currently see being carried out by different actors in the accelerators > angel > acqui-hire ecosystem. The best examples are German Venture Capital firms like Springstar and Rocket Internet.1 Both of these organizations internalize many of the functions that are carried out by separate entities in the US: They provide their own capital, they have their own pool of engineers, marketers, and business types, and they recruit entrepreneurs out of the various business schools across the country.
While the market forces that created these firms are different than those in Silicon Valley or the US more broadly, they have created a model for what a de-risked technology innovation ecosystem could look like. In this model, execution risk is all but eliminated, and the only concern is product risk.
By limiting the role of the entrepreneur to simply that of idea generator and general manager, the balance of power is very clearly shifted to the capital—the so-called entrepreneurs in the German system get a much smaller ownership stake than is common in the US—and the role of the entrepreneur is much more similar to that of hired labour.
The professionalization of the entrepreneur in the US is likely to happen in a similar fashion.2 While many will continue to progress up the career ladder by participating in accelerator programs, these incubator programs are going to resemble their german style counter parts more and more. Each new accelerator class will act as a hiring bootcamp to fill out the ranks of the incubators internal capacity for marketing, design, and engineering, while the successful companies will be able to take advantage of these services.
The transition of the tech entrepreneur from idolized cowboy to mere product manager will be complete when institutions of higher education being to offer under graduate majors in entrepreneurship. These programs are likely to have close relationships with the regional incubator offering internship opportunities across all job descriptions of the start up not replaced by online services.
Rao is absolutely right in saying that entrepreneurs are the new labor force. The next step in this evolution will bring firms organizing around this labor supply and building companies that can compete with the current tech giants in repeatedly bringing novel and very different products to market.
1 - It’s also interesting to note that both of these firms are very strong at international expansion, each having 20+ international offices. This is a feat that not even Silicon Valley has been able to achieve.
2 - Shops like Thinktiv re already beginning down this path. While their services are somewhat different. It’s easy to see them going down this path as they produce successful products/companies.
I’m excited to announce that my latest project, ConversantLabs.com has been accepted into an accelerator program.
The program includes office space, mentorship and funding, and will help us to develop our first product: a voice enabled iPhone app for the blind.
Stay tuned for more updates.
Android really isn’t an option as an accessible mobile device. Chris Hofstadter has a great article breaking down all of the reasons why:
In comparison to an iOS 7 device, with zero out-of-the-box accessibility failures and only a few accessibility bugs, a Nexus/7 comes shipped with zero built-in apps that do not contain between one and many accessibility failures. The accessibility issues on Android, therefore, are not just bugs but a systemic failure.
- It really seems like iOS is the only viable option for those looking for an accessible mobile device.
I don’t think I’ve ever read as much as I have this past year, even when I was being bribed with stickers and personal pan pizza’s from Pizza Hut.
I didn’t have some New Year’s resolution last year to read more. The reason I read so much more this last year was thanks to an amazing iPhone App, Voice Dream. I highly recommend it to everyone. It will change the way you
readlisten to books.
Having read all of these books, I’m desperately seeking to add to my queue for 2014. If you have any recommendations please, please send them over!
Books from 2013 in no particular order:
- Too Big To Know: David Weinberg
- Catch-22: Joseph Heller
- The Meme Machine: Susan Blackmore
- The God Delusion: Richard Dawkins
- Name of the Wind: Patrick Rothfuss (x2)
- Wise Man’s Fear: Patrick Rothfuss (x2)
- Daemon: Daniel Suarez
- Freedom: Daniel Suarez
- Homeland: Cory Doctorow
- The Quantum Thief: Hannu Rajaniemi
- Without Their Permission: Alexis Ohanian
- Swarmwise: Rick Falkvinge
- Swimming in the Sea of the Talmud: Rabbi Michael Katz
- People’s History of the United States: Howard Zinn
- The Box: How the Shipping Container…: Marc Levinson
- For The Win: Cory Doctorow
- This is How you Lose Her: Junot Diaz
- Chaos: Making a New Science: James Gleick
- The Reason I Jump: Naoki Higashida
- Zero to Maker: David Lang
- Seeing Like a State: James C SCott
- Always Coming Home: Ursula LeQuin
- Inferno: Dan Brown
- Jewish Literacy: Joseph Telushkin
- Complex Adaptive Systems: John H Miller
- Brave New World: Aldus Huxley
- Player of Games: Ian Banks
- Consider Phlebas Ian Banks
- The Democracy Project: David Graeber
- I am a Strange Loop: Douglas Hofstadter
- Axiomatic: Greg Egan
- Glasshouse: Charles Stross
- Neptune’s Brood: Charles Stross
- Permutation City: Greg Egan
- Schild’s Ladder: Greg Egan
- Imagined Communities: Benedict Anderson
- Deep Economy: Bill McKibbon
- Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom: Cory Doctorow
- Unbearable Lightness of Being: Milan Kundara
- Who Owns the Future: Jaron Lanier
- A Clash of Kings: George R. R. Martin
- A Storm of Swords: George R. R. Martin
- A Feast for Crows: George R. R. Martin
- A Dance with Dragons: George R. R. Martin
- Dead Air: Ian Banks
- House of God: Samuel Shem
- Quicksilver: Neal Stephenson
- Cryptonomicon: Neal Stephenson
- Rapture of the Nerds: Cory Doctorow
- Ready Player One: Ernst Cline
- Origins of Political Order: Francis Fukuyama
- Understanding Power: Noam Chomsky
- Makers: Chris Anderson
- Deepness in the Sky: Vernor Vinge
- A Fire Upon the Deep: Vernor Vinge
- Signal and the Noise: Nate Silver
- Ender’s Game: Orson Scott Card
- Speaker for the Dead: Orson Scott Card
- Xenocide: Orson Scott Card
We finally had out first Accessibility meetup last week, and it was an amazing event. We had representatives from many of the key organizations in the city and had a great conversation about what needs to be done moving forward. Below are a few notes and ideas for future events:
Ideas for future event topics:
- Panel of University Research in Accessibility (CMU + Pitt)
- Hackathon (job boards and resume generators for the disabled)
- BEst practices for web design
- Going beyond minimum compliance: What’s the best that we can do for accessibility?
- Computer and accessibility training for novices
- Upcoming challenges in accessibility: Silent cars and digital appliances.
Have ideas of your own? Add them in the comments or send me an email. Thanks again to everyone who came!
A lot has been said about the terrible impact of the DMCA on the disabled’s access to technology, but it bears repeating.
The DMCA makes it extremely difficult for the blind and hearing impaired to gain access to copy-righted content in formats that they can consume. You think that Netflix’ library is frustratingly limited? Imagine how inhibiting it must be to only be able to read works published in braille, or watch movies that have been audibly described?
The DMCA (and often DRM) prevents people who legally own content in one format to convert it into another. Not only that, but the tools that would help them to do so, are also forbidden.
The software to jailbreak a device is one of these tools.
Two examples of how the disabled can benefit from full control of their devices: those with motor disabilities can change the default gestures to make apps easier to navigate. Those with vision issues can adjusting the hue of the display to reduce eye-strain using apps like f.lux. There are myriad other examples for the long tail of disabilities
Preventing such usage is clear discrimination and puts the profits of large firms above the needs of a those who stand to gain tremendously from access to life enabling technologies.The DMCA is a terrible piece of legislation and needs to be repealed or at the very least amended; this campaign is a clear step in that direction. Until we have better legislation, jailbreaking iOS7 is a critical stopgap toward ensuring the disabled can best use the devices they own.