Accessibility is not only for people with disabilities

Accessibility is in the news again:

“Advocates for the deaf on Thursday filed federal lawsuits against Harvard and M.I.T., saying both universities violated antidiscrimination laws by failing to provide closed captioning in their online lectures, courses, podcasts and other educational materials.”

“Much of Harvard’s online content is either not captioned or is inaccurately or unintelligibly captioned, making it inaccessible for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, the complaint said, echoing language used in the M.I.T. complaint. Just as buildings without ramps bar people who use wheelchairs, online content without captions excludes individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.”

“I’m also hopeful that Accessibility is the next big project to tackle for the engineering team. A 2.0 release, if you will. But more than anything, I am dismayed. I am dismayed that Accessibility was treated not even as a mere afterthought, but as something worth sacrificing completely for the sake of flashiness.”

“Website owners, audio and video producers, event organizers, those considering careers in captioning and interpreting, and anyone interested in improving communication and information access will find this book useful and enlightening. It dispels common myths about deaf and hard-of-hearing people, describes my personal experiences with deafness, and shares some examples of quality captioning for various types of aural information that can be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of hearing abilities.”

Many organisations have made their websites accessible, but there’s many (us included) that need to add subtitles (known as closed captions in the USA) to all the videos they publish.

Hopefully, the case for accessibility will continue to pervade over the desire to use the latest flashy, inaccessible, technology.

How to build a multi-million dollar business by putting manuals on the Web

One of the issues we’ve been promoting for many years is the importance for Technical Authors to publish their user guides and online Help on the Web. A surprisingly large amount of companies still don’t offer Web versions, for reasons that include:

  • It’s too difficult
  • Our competitors might read it and reverse-engineer our product
  • Support/Training/Marketing will object

The problem with this approach is that others are likely step in and fulfil this need. One such person is Kyle Wiens, CEO of, who I saw present at the STC Summit 2012 conference last week.

Kyle has built a multi-million dollar business on the back of offering repair manuals that manufacturers choose not to put on the Web. The manuals are available free-of-charge, with making money from selling spare parts.

self-repair manfiesto

Wiens said that if machines in other industries — for example, tractors used by farmers — were to break down over a handful of years and couldn’t be easily repaired, consumers would openly revolt. “In industries where consumers really care about a quality, long-lasting product, there’s no way companies can get away with it,” he said. more

We’ve suggested in the past that organisations publish Help for their competitors’ products, so they can engage with their future customers.

Publishing to the Web provides a path to publishing to mobile devices and tablets. It also means, finally, Technical Author can measure the value of what they produce – how many people want to read it and what they think of it.

Regardless of the objections from other departments, this is probably the single most important thing a Technical Author can do.

Do you agree?

Workflowy Help by email

Workflowy is a one-list-to-rule-them-all organization tool that takes an unusual approach to providing User Assistance.

Like with many other Web applications, the site contains a “how-to” video and a list of keyboard shortcuts. However, it also sends users an email that’s essentially the information you’d expect to find in a user guide or online Help file:

Hi there, new WorkFlowy user!

Mike and Jesse, creators of WorkFlowy, here. WorkFlowy is a super-powerful tool that’s going to clear your mind, hone your focus, increase your productivity, and bring peace to the Middle East. (We’ll get back to you on the last one.)

What should you be using WorkFlowy for? WorkFlowy is a single sheet of paper to hold your whole brain. The idea: put EVERYTHING you want to keep track of into it. Notes about your trip to Tahiti, stuff you need to get done in the next week, a list of your favorite Transylvanian romance novels, your Ph.D. thesis outline – they’re all fair game.

If you haven’t already, might we suggest you get started? Do it right now, before you forget.

Here’s what you should do:

  1. Go to
  2. Create top-level items called ‘Personal’ and ‘Work’.
  3. Click the bullet point next to ‘Personal’ to zoom in.
    • Create a ‘Chores’ item. List under it everything you need to do in the next week.
    • Create a ‘Goals’ item. List under it everything you want to get done in the next month and year.
  4. Zoom out and start on the ‘Work’ section.

This should be enough to get you started. WorkFlowy is free-form and you can use it however you like.

We’ll be getting back to you with more info on WorkFlowy’s features.

Does this approach work? It’s too early for us to tell. If you need to dip in and out of the Help, then you’ll need to store the emails somewhere and work out the best way to search the emails for the information you need. It depends really on the amount of Help that’s needed/provided for an application such as this.

Case Study: User Documentation at Red Gate Software

Our latest interview is between Ellis Pratt of Cherryleaf and Rachel Potts of Red Gate Software, concerning user assistance and documentation at Red Gate Software.

We discussed working in an Agile environment, providing a single support centre for all user information and how Web Analytics can help improve user documentation.

This is the full interview, and it lasts 30 minutes.

Part 1:

Link to Part 2

Link to Part 3

Link to Part 4

This interview will form part of Cherryleaf’s Learning Zone for technical writers. The Learning Zone has been our “skunkworks” project for 2010, which we’ve been mentioning for a while now.  All the initial content has been uploaded and reviewed, and we have additional content ready to be added. We’ve a few things to sort out before we can go live: User feedback/pre-release review (we’re looking for volunteers) and some shopping cart and folder security protection tasks.