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I'm a writer and accessibility nerd, among other things.

Heads-up: I've learned a lot about web design and accessibility since I created this site, which has inspired me to redesign my personal website/blog. You can view my new site in development at www.camcoulter.com.

I work as a training specialist for a disability services organization. I write about science fiction and fantasy for Skiffy and Fanty and blog about social justice, simple living, community, and spirituality at The Ruined Report. I also blog here, usually about books or accessibility.

You can also find me on Twitter and on the fediverse, although I'm really much more of a “blogs and emails” sort of person.

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2021 in Reading

January 10, 2022 reading

Photo of a library

Here’s most all the books I read in 2021:

  1. Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e by Eugene Marshall
  2. Uncanny Magazine Issue 37 edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas
  3. Star*Line 43.1 edited by Vince Gotera (poetry)
  4. Mooncakes by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker (graphic novel)
  5. The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson (audiobook)
  6. Ozy and Millie by Dana Simpson (comics)
  7. Star*Line 43.2 edited by Vince Gotera (poetry)
  8. Fratelli Tutti by Pope Francis
  9. Star*Line 43.3 edited by F.J. Bergmann (poetry)
  10. Star*Line 43.4 edited by Melanie Stormm (poetry)
  11. Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 1 by Hiromu Arakawa (manga)
  12. Persephone Station by Stina Leicht (audiobook)
  13. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
  14. Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 2 by Hiromu Arakawa (manga)
  15. More than Ready: Be Strong and Be You and Other Lessons for Women of Color on the Rise by Cecilia Munoz (audiobook)
  16. A Practical Wedding: Creative Ideas for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful Celebration by Meg Keene
  17. Think Small: The Surprisingly Simple Way to Reach Big Goals by Owain Service and Rory Gallagher
  18. Inclusive Design for a Digital World: Designing with Accessibility in Mind by Regine M. Gilbert
  19. Annihilation Aria by Michael R. Underwood (audiobook)
  20. Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace, Seventh Edition by Joseph M. Williams
  21. The Vital Abyss by James S.A. Corey (audiobook)
  22. Strange Dogs by James S.A. Corey (audiobook)
  23. Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 3 by Hiromu Arakawa (manga)
  24. Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 4 by Hiromu Arakawa (manga)
  25. Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 5 by Hiromu Arakawa (manga)
  26. Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 6 by Hiromu Arakawa (manga)
  27. Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 7 by Hiromu Arakawa (manga)
  28. Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 8 by Hiromu Arakawa (manga)
  29. Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 9 by Hiromu Arakawa (manga)
  30. Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 10 by Hiromu Arakawa (manga)
  31. Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 11 by Hiromu Arakawa (manga)
  32. Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 12 by Hiromu Arakawa (manga)
  33. Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 13 by Hiromu Arakawa (manga)
  34. Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 14 by Hiromu Arakawa (manga)
  35. Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 15 by Hiromu Arakawa (manga)
  36. Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 16 by Hiromu Arakawa (manga)
  37. Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 17 by Hiromu Arakawa (manga)
  38. Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 18 by Hiromu Arakawa (manga)
  39. Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 19 by Hiromu Arakawa (manga)
  40. Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 20 by Hiromu Arakawa (manga)
  41. Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 21 by Hiromu Arakawa (manga)
  42. Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 22 by Hiromu Arakawa (manga)
  43. Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 23 by Hiromu Arakawa (manga)
  44. Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 24 by Hiromu Arakawa (manga)
  45. Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 25 by Hiromu Arakawa (manga)
  46. Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 26 by Hiromu Arakawa (manga)
  47. Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 27 by Hiromu Arakawa (manga)
  48. Pizza Witch by Sarah Graley (comics)
  49. Star*Line 44.1 edited by F.J. Bergmann (poetry)
  50. The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers (audiobook)
  51. The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune (audiobook)
  52. The Feather Room by Anis Mojgani (poetry)
  53. The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin
  54. How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism by Cory Doctorow (audiobook)
  55. Think Like a Commoner by David Bollier
  56. An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon (audiobook)
  57. Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson (audiobook)
  58. The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson
  59. The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson
  60. A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers (audiobook)
  61. Everything for Everyone: The Radical Tradition that Is Shaping the Next Economy by Nathan Schneider
  62. We Are Satellites by Sarah Pinsker (audiobook)
  63. Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law by Haben Girma (audiobook)
  64. Tao Teh Ching by Lao Tzu translated by John C.H. Wu
  65. Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee (audiobook)
  66. Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Promise by Gene Luen Yang (graphic novel)
  67. The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin
  68. Tehanu by Ursula K. Le Guin
  69. Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee (audiobook)
  70. Introduction to Web Accessibility: Essential Accessibility for Everyone by Ryerson University, The Chang School
  71. Professional Web Accessibility Auditing Made Easy: Essential Skills for Web Developers, Content Creators, and Designers by Ryerson University, The Chang School
  72. Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee (audiobook)
  73. Questland by Carrie Vaughn
  74. The Excellents: Excellent Princess Roleplaying by Adriel Wilson and Chris O’Neill

Now, let me shout out the books that I liked the most.

Prose Fiction

Here are my favorite novels and novellas that I read last year:

  • The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson: A fantastic novel about climate change. Although it’s filled with tragedy, it’s fundamentally hopeful — it imagines a path toward a sustainable future.
  • Persephone Station by Stina Leicht: A fun, far-future science fiction story, filled with badass women and nonbinary mercenaries.
  • Annihilation Aria by Michael R. Underwood: A fun, modern, and colorful space opera adventure.
  • The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers: The fourth book in Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series. (It stands well on its own, but I’d recommend you read the series in order.) This is the best “cozy” novel I have ever read. I highly recommend this series (and this book) to everyone.
  • A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers: A beautiful, original meditation on vocation and sustainability. It’s about a nonbinary tea monk who befriends a robot. I am impatiently awaiting the sequel, A Prayer for the Crown-Shy.
  • The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune: A fun, colorful, queer fantasy novel about found family. A little simplistic, but a real joy.
  • Questland by Carrie Vaughn: Take Jurassic Park, swap out the dinosaurs with a fantasy wonderland, and you’ve got Questland, more or less. This was an easy, fun, and nerdy read. I should note, however, that the protagonist survived a school shooting and has PTSD. I really appreciated this representation and thought it added a great dimension to the book, but if you’re closer to gun violence than I am, this novel will likely be a harder read for you.

Mistborn: Era One by Brandon Sanderson

I read Mistborn: The Final Empire, The Well of Ascension, and The Hero of Ages by Brandson Sanderson, which comprise era one of his Mistborn series.

This was the most fun I’ve had reading in quite a while. Although these are long epic fantasy novels, they are easy and captivating reads, and they flew right by for me. The worldbuilding is fascinating and immersive, the plot is creative and compelling, and I really latched on to the characters. I am eagerly looking forward to reading more Sanderson.

We Are Satellites by Sarah Pinsker

I really enjoyed listening to We Are Satellites by Sarah Pinsker. It’s a near-future technology study about one family’s experience with Pilots, a brain implant that approximates functional multitasking. Here are some things I liked about this novel:

  • The family has two moms (in a queernorm sort of way).
  • One of the significant characters in the novel is a trans man (again, in a queernorm sort of way).
  • One of the major characters has epilepsy, and that isn’t the only character with a disability. I really appreciated the disability representation and themes in this novel. (Note: this isn’t a book in which the main character “just happens to be disabled.” Her disability is deeply intertwined with the plot.)

The Machineries of Empire Series by Yoon Ha Lee

I read Ninefox Gambit, Raven Stratagem, and Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee, which comprise the Machineries of Empire series.

It took me some time to get into this series, but I am so glad I read it. This is a military science fiction series that’s deeply critical of the military and of empires. Fundamentally, it’s about one character’s personal mission to change the toxic empire they serve. For me, the plot developed a little slow, particularly in the first book, but once it started coming together at the end of the first book, it really pulled me in and it paid off incredibly well. The third book, Revenant Gun, was my favorite. It went in a totally different direction than I was expecting, a direction that was compelling and surprising yet inevitable.

The best part about this series, though, was the world building. Yoon Ha Lee mixes Korean culture with a love of wild mathematics to craft an immersive civilization and a startlingly unique and magical science system. I go on walks in the morning, and as I read this series, I found phrases like “calendrical rot,” “exotic weapons,” and “Shuos agents” floating through my head as I walked. For me, there was just something so chewy and meaty about Yoon Ha Lee’s worldbuilding and the terms he uses — it was a fun challenge to wrap my head around, and it really captivated my imagination.

Tehanu by Ursula K. Le Guin

This was my first time reading Tehanu, and it was … not what I was expecting, which is kind of the whole point of this book. This is the fourth book in Le Guin’s Earthsea series. The first three books flip many of the traditional tropes of fantasy: they center women and people of color, and they eschew military conflict and violent action. Yet, those books still function under a certain patriarchal worldview. They center powerful people who don’t live ordinary lives, people who travel across the archipelago on epic journies. Tehanu, meanwhile, is a deeply feminist tale, feminist in a particularly domestic, reflective, internal-conflict oriented manner. This is a slow, character-driven story with a tone unlike the first three Earthsea books. For me, that made it the most interesting book in the series so far and, simultaneously, the hardest to get into. I look forward to re-reading this book when I’m older.

Fullmetal Alchemist

I read the manga series Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa, and I really enjoyed it. The worldbuilding is immersive and creative. The magic system and the characters are lots of fun, and the plot was skillfully crafted. This is generally an optimistic story, but it certainly has heartbreaking moments and heavy themes — Fullmetal Alchemist is fundamentally about power, war, and genocide on one hand and about redemption, loyalty, and perseverance on the other. If this sounds up your alley, I highly recommend it.

Nonfiction

These were my favorite nonfiction reads from last year:

  • More than Ready: Be Strong and Be You and Other Lessons for Women of Color on the Rise by Cecilia Munoz: A smart and caring memoir about her time working at the National Council of La Raza and in the Obama White House. I highly recommend this to everyone, particularly marginalized folks interested in politics, service, and/or activism.
  • A Practical Wedding: Creative Ideas for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful Celebration by Meg Keene: The best wedding book. If you’re planning a wedding, read this.
  • Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace, Seventh Edition by Joseph M. Williams (reread): This is the best book about writing that I’ve come across. I strongly recommend it to anyone who writes things other people will read.
  • Think Like a Commoner by David Bollier (reread): A great introduction to the commons. What’s the commons? A really promising alternative to the market and the state. If you’re trying to imagine futures beyond capitalism, read this.
  • Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law by Haben Girma: A fun and intelligent memoir about accessibility and disability justice.

Have you read any of these? What did you think? Do you have any book recommendations for me?


Accessibility Adventures: November 2021

November 11, 2021 accessibility

A tufted titmouse spreads its wings to start flying on a sunny winter afternoon.

My last Accessibility Adventures blog post was just over a year ago now: “Accessibility Adventures: October 2020,” and I’m happy to jump back into this column now. I’m hoping to write these a little more frequently and keep the posts a little shorter.

Accessibility Adventures is my roundup of things I’ve come across in the realm of accessibility. These posts are my way to signal-boost cool stuff, to leave notes for my future self, and to reflect on and engage with things I come across.

Contents

  1. Accessible Birding
  2. Accessible Podcasts
  3. Love Letter to HTML & CSS
  4. Description Lists (Featuring Dungeons & Dragons)
  5. HTML Essential Training with Jen Simmons
  6. Personalization & Accessibility
  7. Sheri Byrne-Haber
  8. Jennison Asuncion
  9. (Virtual) Braille Keyboards
  10. People Who Are Blind Play Video Games
  11. Black ASL
  12. Hocus :Focus (Keyboard Accessibility Horror Game)
  13. HTMHell
  14. Integrated Described Video
  15. Producing Audio Descriptions (With Text-to-Speech)
  16. Thinking More Deeply About Color & Contrast
  17. Accessibility Internet Rally

Accessible Birding

Accessible birding is a thing!

Bay Nature has a good article about this: “Accessible Birding for Every Body” by Chris Okon. www.birdability.org is also a good resource.

Accessible Podcasts

I love podcasts. Don’t you? Are you thinking about creating one? If you do, remember to make it accessible! Here’s a great resource for that. Nic Steenhout and Eric Eggert created a cool website all about podcast accessibility.

Love Letter to HTML & CSS

I enjoyed Ashley Kolodziej’s love letter to HTML and CSS on CSS Tricks. A lot of what Kolodziej says in this post resonates with me. I know the fundamentals of programming, and I enjoy programming, but markup languages are my true love: HTML, Markdown, Asciidoc, even DocBook.

Description Lists (Featuring Dungeons & Dragons)

Ben Myers has a great post — “On the <dl>” — about description lists in HTML, which don’t get the appreciation or use they deserve. I’ve tended to think of those as ways to represent simple descriptions or definitions, but Myers points out that the <dl> element is a good tool for name-value pairs, which actually have lots of potential uses. My favorite part of this post is that it incorporates Dungeons & Dragons: Myers writes HTML code for a monster stat block, and uses five <dl> elements in the process.

HTML Essential Training with Jen Simmons

Jen Simmons is great. I love and recommend her YouTube channel Layout Land. I recently saw that she has a course on LinkedIn Learning: HTML Essential Training. I watched it, I enjoyed it, and I recommend it! There wasn’t a ton in there that was new to me, but it always helps to review and solidify the fundamentals, and I appreciated the way she framed and explained the core concepts and integrated accessibility concerns into the course.

Personalization & Accessibility

Personalization is an upcoming frontier in accessibility and inclusive design. Ted Drake wrote a good post about this on Medium: “Personalization and Inclusive Design,” and I saw Carie Fisher give a great presentation about this at an A11yBay meetup: “The Future of Accessibility is Choice.”

I don’t believe either Fisher or Drake mentioned RSS feeds, but both Fisher and Drake got me thinking about those. RSS feeds are great for many reasons, but one big reason I love them is customization. I use NewsFlash to read RSS feeds. In NewsFlash, I can control which feeds I follow, how they are organized, and how each post is presented. I can choose between different color themes and change the font family and size. RSS feeds are great, and they can be great for accessibility. I think more people should use them, and I wish more websites supported them more robustly.

Sheri Byrne-Haber

Sheri Byrne-Haber is a wonderful accessibility blogger. She recently wrote a handbook about accessibility: Giving a damn about accessibility: A candid and practical handbook for designers. Check it out! She also wrote an interesting blog post about the handbook: “Why I wrote ‘Giving a Damn About Accessibility’ and why you should read it.”

Relatedly, I enjoyed Sheri Byrne-Haber’s post “Radical Candor about Accessibility Day-to-day Job Responsibilities.”

Jennison Asuncion

I enjoyed this conversation with Jennison Asuncion on Diamond’s blog. Jennison helps organize Accessibility Camp Bay Area and the A11yBay Meetups that I have started attending, and he also co-founded Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD).

(Virtual) Braille Keyboards

At Accessibility Camp Bay Area in May, I attended Brian Kemler’s talk about the TalkBack screen reader for Android. I learned that braille keyboards are a thing, and that Android phones now have a virtual braille keyboard. Very cool!

Here are two other videos about typing in braille that I enjoyed and which helped enlighten me:

People Who Are Blind Play Video Games

Imaginary Worlds is a wonderful SFF podcast, which recently released “Episode 181: Playing Blind,” an episode about blind people who play video games and about designing accessible video games. I enjoyed it and recommend it!

Black ASL

I knew there were different sign languages, such as American Sign Language (ASL) and British Sign Language, but I didn’t know that there are different dialects of ASL, such as Black ASL, until I encountered this post from 3Play Media: “Celebrating Black History Month: Deaf Culture and Black ASL.” Now that I think about it, it makes sense that Black ASL would be a thing, but it also makes sense that dominant culture would marginalize it and that I wouldn’t necessarily learn about it. So this is me signal boosting it!

Hocus :Focus (Keyboard Accessibility Horror Game)

I really enjoyed Hocus :Focus, a Halloween-themed keyboard accessibility horror game by Rémi Parmentier. It’s cute, fun, and educational.

HTMHell

I recently discovered the HTMHell website — and I love it! It’s a website by Manuel Matuzović that collects and dissects bad practices in HTML copied from real websites. In addition to surveying the wrong ways to write HTML, the site also collects best practices, tips, and tricks. Check it out! In particular, I’ll recommend this post about using landmarks in HTML.

On the topic of bad code and how you make it better, I enjoyed this post by Scott O’Hara, which looks at good markup and accessible forms: “Redundantly Redundant a11y Accessibility .”

Integrated Described Video

Audio descriptions are cool, but so is Integrated Described Video (IDV). It’s a way of creating videos that naturally integrates description into the “regular” audio track, so that a secondary audio description track isn’t necessary. It’s an approach to audio descriptions inspired by universal design.

AMI created a series of videos aimed at video creators which explain what IDV is and how to do it: Integrated Described Video Creator Series. These videos are funny and engaging and also quite informative and eye-opening. It made me realize we should probably have many more videos with integrated descriptions.

Producing Audio Descriptions (With Text-to-Speech)

When you’re creating a video, try to integrate descriptions into it, or at the very least plan for and create a separate audio description track during your video production process. But what if it’s too late?

It can be a pain to create audio descriptions after the fact. You need to write them, record them, and edit them into one file that aligns with the video track. Now, if you have experience recording audio descriptions, and if you can recommend a simple way to make them, please let me know! I’m curious about that.

That said, did you know that you can write audio descriptions in a WebVTT file? WebVTT files are typically used for captions and subtitles, but if you’re using Able Player you can use a WebVTT file for audio description, and Able Player will read those descriptions using text-to-speech as you watch the video. There’s even the option to pause the video when description starts, which could perhaps allow you to write extended audio descriptions. Here’s an example: Able Player with audio description via VTT track.

This is super cool! Look, I know it’s not as great as integrated descriptions or a human-voiced secondary track. But it’s awesome that this is a possibility. This approach makes it relatively easy to create both standard and extended audio description, and it can be especially helpful in remediating inaccessible videos. (Slight disclaimer: Users can select an option to automatically pause the video when description starts, but I’m not sure developers can set that as the default behavior.) Thanks to Sumner Davenport for putting this Able Player functionality on my radar.

Now, theoretically, you shouldn’t need Able Player to do this. I believe you should be able to use kind="descriptions" in the track element, and the default video player in browsers should support this functionality. (That is, it’s in the HTML standard for the track element.) but as far as I’m aware, no browsers support this functionality out-of-the-box. For more on the track element, check out “Issue #17 - the track element” over at HTMHell.

Thinking More Deeply About Color & Contrast

I really enjoyed Erik Kroes’s post about colors: “Color and contrast, what does it mean?.” Color is one of those things that seems simple, but every now and then I think more deeply about it, and it’s actually just so incredibly layered and complicated. In the accessibility world, I feel like I’ve come across a lot of writing about WCAG’s color contrast requirements and “don’t use color alone to convey meaning,” but I haven’t seen as much about how color contrast is measured or its implications for color palettes. This post does just that, and I recommend it!

On the topic of color, have you encountered the contrast triangle before? Basically, if you don’t underline your links, you need to ensure that your links have sufficient color contrast between your body text so that users can identify them as distinct. However, your link text and body text both need to have sufficient color contrast with your background color so that users can easily read them both. This puts you into a careful balancing act that can really constrain your color choices. For more on this, see Chip Cullen’s post “The Contrast Triangle” and the accompanying contrast triangle checker tool.

Additionally, on the topic of color, I enjoyed these two posts by Lea Verou:

Accessibility Internet Rally

One last thing: I recently finished participating in Knowbility’s Accessibility Internet Rally (AIR) program. AIR is a friendly competition where web developer teams create accessible websites for nonprofit organizations (NPOs). Knowbility provides accessibility training for both developers and NPOs, and developer teams are paired with mentors who provide coaching and guidance.

My team designed and developed an accessible WordPress site for our NPO. I served as our team lead, scheduling meetings, taking notes, and managing our to-dos.

AIR was a terrific experience, and if you’re interested in making accessible websites, I highly recommend it!

I learned a lot. I learned about accessibility of course, but it turned out that I already knew the fundamentals pretty well. I learned more about development and testing. I’m familiar with WordPress as a user, but this was my first time approaching WordPress as a developer. We created a child theme for our site, and it was … frustrating, honestly, but also a great learning experience. I also learned a lot about accessibility and usability testing. I learned what bookmarklets are, and I used axe DevTools for my first time. We also had the great fortune to conduct usability testing through Knowbility’s AccessWorks program, which paired us with a tester with disabilities.


CPACC Results

September 29, 2021 accessibility

Universal access icon: a stick figure with a circle around them.

I recently received word from the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) that I am now a Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Compentencies (CPACC). Yay! You can now find my name on IAAP’s list of CPACC certificants.

The certification exam has three domains: (1) Disabilities, Challenges, & Assistive Technologies; (2) Accessibility and Universal Design; and (3) Declarations, Standards, Laws, and Management Strategies. According to IAAP, I scored “above standard” in all three domains. Yay!

I feel happy, relieved, and grateful. See my last post, CPACC Reflection, for more of my thoughts on the exam itself, on preparing for it, and on my next steps.