DIAGRAM Center Report 2019

Benetech just published their Third Annual DIAGRAM Report. This is a resource aimed at providing resources on digital accessibility for educators and parents of children with disabilities, largely in the K-12 age range.

I was pleased to contribute the chapter on Accessible Data Visualizations. This was an interesting challenge for me, because I normally write for a highly technical professional web development audience, while this audience is broader and more focused on the pragmatics of education, sometimes using low-cost and low-tech solutions.

Volunteering at Benetech

I’ve volunteered with Benetech for over 7 years. I met their technical director at Open Web Camp in Open Web Camp 2013, where I demoed my early prototype of a web-based sonification system. It turned out that Benetech needed someone to help convert a desktop application for an accessible graphing calculator, originally developed by NASA, to the web, and they needed to sonify it like the original. I signed up to do the work, and in lieu of payment, I asked them to join W3C, where I thought their money would be better spent. Benetech has been a core contributor to W3C accessibility standards ever since.

Over the years, I’ve contributed to their accessibility projects in one way or another, from serving on their advisory board to chairing their accessible dataviz task force to writing accessible open-source apps and components at their code sprints (like an annotation browser extension and a reusable infobox popup).

DIAGRAM Center

Benetech does many things to promote social equity through technology. In 2010, they launched DIAGRAM: Digital Image and Graphic Resources for Accessible Materials. Their goal is to develop tools and best practices to reduce costs and other barriers to accessible images in educational content. It’s a worthy goal, one I’m proud to be involved with.

Born Accessible

Benetech’s DIAGRAM Center has a mantra for digital content: “Born Accessible”. They urge everyone to think about accessibility when they’re first creating digital content, not to bolt it on as an afterthought, or worse yet, to publish inaccessible material that others have to remediate.

“Born Accessible” is a philosophy we embrace at Fizz Studio. When I first started talking about making data visualizations accessible by embedding the data in the SVG file, back in 2009, I often met with two primary objections:

  1. File size: the data would add too much content to the chart
  2. Proprietary data: authors would not be willing to share their data

But a decade later embedding data (part of what I call “Deep Graphics”) has emerged as a common practice for accessibility in web charts. Openness and accessibility will ultimately win the day. I’ll write more about Deep Graphics and embedding data in another post.

If you’re an educator, or the parent of a child with disabilities, or just someone who wants to learn more about making your digital content born accessible, I hope you’ll read the DIAGRAM Center’s 2019 Report and find it useful. We want to support you.