Web and Computer Accessibility

Web and computer accessibility refers to the practice of removing barriers that prevent interaction with, or access to, websites and computer systems by people with disabilities. This month we asked members of the Legal Technology Resource Center to give some insight on best practices when it comes to web and computer accessibility.

Our Panelists

William D. Goren, Esq. (WG), Jonathon Israel (JI), Dennis Kennedy (DK) Steve Embry (SE) and Alexander Paykin (AP)

Do you use any software to access your computer without typing? If so, what software do you use?

WG: Yes. To go mouse free, you actually have to deal with software and one extension. With respect to software, you need Dragon NaturallySpeaking. I prefer to use Dragon Professional Individual 15. The real cool thing about Dragon Professional Individual 15 is that it allows you with a simple command to put in whole paragraphs if need be. For example, if you have a standard email that you use to discuss how you go about your business. You could just say the name for that particular command and then the entire email would appear every time you say that command. Professional also allows you to import and export vocabulary, which can come in handy when you upgrade to the next version. Dragon NaturallySpeaking also offers a Dragon NaturallySpeaking Legal. That particular product is much more expensive than the Dragon professional.

Another available option is using Knowbrainer and its vocabulary editor. Knowbrainer basically supercharges Dragon Naturally Speaking by giving you all kinds of custom commands that enable you to accomplish things on your computer very easily. For example, simply saying “print document,” allows you to print anything you see on the Internet. A great command that comes in real handy for me when I am writing on my blogs is, “insert hyperlink,” which allows me to link to a case or something on the Internet. Another one I like is, “insert file.” With Knowbrainer, you can come up with all kinds of custom commands. They give you plenty of commands to begin with. I probably only use about a half-dozen custom commands on top of what they already have. The great thing about Knowbrainer is their customer service is fantastic and they have a great support forum. Definitely worth paying extra for the yearly customer support by phone.

Another tool that I use is PC By SpeechStart. That tool comes in handy at times. What it does is it shows flags around your computer when you say “show flags,” and then enables you to say the flag, and the particular site or section of the computer screen gets activated. This comes in real handy when I am downloading files or inserting files.

Finally, I am finding that the best browser for voice dictation is chrome. However, without the extension click by voice, you simply will not be able to use chrome and voice dictation. With that extension, it’s fabulous. What it does is it shows a bunch of numbers in a square box next to the various places on the Internet site you are on. You then just tell it to click that number and that particular part of the site will automatically get activated. It’s great because by seeing the number you are not tempted to use the mouse.

IJ: My primary computer is a Mac which has Siri built into it. Unfortunately, I have not trained myself to use it as much as I should. I still find it faster, as that is what my brain is conditioned to do, to work on the computer by manually typing or clicking with a mouse.

DK: I was an early user of Dragon and some of the other speech recognition programs, but I have drifted away from using them. Lately, I find myself using voice on my phone and iPad much more often than before. In part, that’s due to using my Amazon Echo and becoming accustomed to using voice for commands. I’m using Siri a lot with voice and will occasionally use the voice option instead of the keyboard in mobile apps, such as Amazon. The gains in quality of output in the last couple of years have been astonishing to me. As an aside, we’d all benefit by revisiting the accessibility tools and preferences built into our standard software tools. You’d be surprised how many useful changes you can make.

SE: I use Siri and Cortana and the dictation feature on my iPhone. It’s funny, when I first started practicing I dictated documents. Now I am once again dictating but the difference is the transcription is now done by a machine instead of a human.

AP: Dragon NaturallySpeaking Legal.

Do you blog? What steps did you take to ensure your law firm/blog site is accessible to persons with disabilities so as to comply with the ADA?

WG: Blogging is an absolutely critical part of my practice. I will say don’t do it unless you love to educate and write. You will get clients eventually but it may take years. I have been blogging for almost seven years now, and I would say the vast majority of my business comes from my blog. It also establishes me as a thought leader, which is a critical part of my practice as I do a great deal of Consulting in addition to a smaller representation side. With respect to making the blog accessible, I use Word Press and Word Press has a template purposely designed for accessibility. I worked with my IT person to make sure that accessibility for people with disabilities was not an issue.

IJ: Yes, we run a blog for members of The Florida Bar to stay up to date with the latest law office and law practice management information. The blog runs on WordPress and was built with ADA in mind. The Department of Justice has done a very good job with the website. It has a lot of great information including guidelines and standards for website design to ensure ADA compliance. We follow these guidelines as much as possible. Another great resource is the Website Accessibility Initiative.

DK: I’ve been blogging since 2003. Because I want to make things easy for my audience, I’ve always given a lot of thought to accessibility, especially on mobile devices. Although I tend to rely on my service provider and WordPress for basic accessibility and compliance, I also try to use simple designs and approaches. I also make a concerted effort to add an alternative text tag (e.g., “photo of pineapple”) when I use photos on my blog.

Do you deal in or follow website accessibility litigation? If so, do you see the lack of final regulations as a problem or as an opportunity?

WG: I absolutely do deal in and follow website accessibility litigation. You can find numerous entries dealing with these issues on my blog. The recent decision from the United States Supreme Court allowing South Dakota to tax out-of-state corporations whose only tie is their Internet site, will have tremendous implications for title III cases. See the link below. That said, I think there is a tremendous opportunity for businesses with respect to their website in the absence of regulations. That is, the legal standard is meaningful accessibility. So, that should give businesses a lot of options on how to achieve that. The gold standard is web content accessibility guidelines 2.0, at least at the AA level. There is one case that held that was the standard in a bench trial, but no cases have followed suit. DOJ in past years has many times settled lawsuits insisting on WCAG 2.0 as the standard for web accessibility. All that said, there are no regulations out there at the moment though several state Atty. Gen.’s and politicians have petitioned the Department of Justice to get regulations on the books. Currently, such regulations are on inactive status.

IJ: We closely follow website accessibility litigation as this is a major concern and topic of interest for attorneys. There is a lot of confusion out there as to what attorneys’ obligations are as it relates to ADA compliance with their websites. Final regulations might help to alleviate some of that confusion as it could help to define a uniform set of standards for all websites to follow.

DK: I don’t, but as a general rule, the lack of clear regulations always seems to provide opportunities for lawyers and problems for clients. That said, regulating technology is always a challenge in a world where technology changes as quickly as it does today.

SE: Yes, I have represented defendants in some of this litigation. Final regulations would at least provide a standard by which conduct could be measured and companies could determine whether their site meets them.

If my site is accessible for screen readers, will my site be accessible for voice dictation users?

WG: Not necessarily, though possibly so. They both need to have the code behind the screen in order to tell the screen reader or the voice dictation program what to click on. However, they work on different principles so it is important to ensure that your website is accessible for both screen readers and voice dictation users. An easy thing to do to ensure accessibility for voice dictation users is to make sure that not too much is written on the screen at one time. Also, stay away from drop-down boxes as they are a nightmare for voice dictation users. Again, I don’t know how too much on the screen and drop-down boxes affect screen readers, but it is conceivable they may have the same problem. Also, if you have a video, you want to be sure it is captioned for those who are hard of hearing or deaf.

IJ: Yes, I believe this is true. While I think these are two different issues. Website accessibility is built into the design/code of each individual website. When designing the website, the designer/coder needs to adhere to the ADA standards/guideline to make sure the design elements are able to be identified by the screen reader. With voice dictation, that will be built into the operating system or underlying application (i.e. web browser). The operating system and/or application will have the ability to accept input from the user via voice and enter the inputted information into the appropriate field. So in theory, a website would need to be accessible by a screen reader so the user knows when and where voice dictation is necessary and available.

DK: I always thought that the great potential of coding like XML (extensible markup language) was that the same underlying content could be tagged in ways to make it usable in the way the user wanted or needed. Wouldn’t it be great if a paragraph of text could display optimally in my favorite font and font size, tailored to the device I was using, or delivered as text-to-speech? I like the notion of the “smart” tailoring of a site for users. If someone is using a screen reader, it could trigger logical accessibility features and configurations.

Is there law practice management software accessible to voice dictation technology? If so, any recommendations?

WG: Much of law practice management software is not accessible to voice dictation technology. I do not know about screen readers. It is for that reason why I latched on to Clio. They are coming out with a new version, which unfortunately is not accessible to voice dictation technology the way the old version was; a fact Clio has confirmed with me. They are now aware of the problem but have no timeframe as of yet for fixing it. Clio has assured me that until the new version is made accessible, I will be able to use the old version. I also like its trust management feature as well as its time billing feature.

They also have an arrangement with LawPay to make for easy accounts receivables with your clients. The problem I had with Clio and its improved product is not unusual. It happens quite frequently software or software as a service originally accessible to voice dictation users winds up not being accessible when it is “improved,” with a later version. That drives me crazy. Whenever software is moved into another version, software developers need to take note that the new version has to be every bit as accessible as the old one or they are just asking for trouble.

IJ: Yes, many of the modern cloud-based practice management software systems have the ability to use voice dictation. While we do not use a practice management software we have seen a lot of them in action. Practice Panther, Rocket Matter, Clio, MyCase, and Cosmolex are all great options. The important thing, as with any new software, is to demo each one and see which one best fits your needs and likes. While they are all great options they each have subtle differences, which may lead you to choose one over the other.

DK: I’m not a big user of practice management software these days. However, I’m intrigued by what the company Tali is doing with voice entry via Amazon Echo/Alexa by using APIs provided by practice management software companies. Tali could become the way that you access your practice management tool. If a company is using voice APIs, you will want to explore whether there are voice tools like Tali that you can use. That could mean that you don’t have to change from your current practice manager and that more practice management tools will be in play for you than you might think.

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