Making Multimedia Better for the Visually Impaired - An Interview with Orville Maxon

by John Pollard on May 12, 2009

I'll say it again - we learn a ton at our UNLEASH Mediasite User Conference every year. And a lot of what we learn is absolutely worth sharing with you as well. Case in point: I was chatting with Orville Maxon during one of our evening social events. What made his insights particularly interesting? He is both the Director of Instructional Technology and Learning Systems at Bellevue University College of Distributed Learning AND he is also visually impaired. We chatted about what it's like to be blind and also what it's like to try and work with multimedia when you lack most of your visual capabilities.

The next day, I grabbed Erica's (Erica St. Angel) Flip camera and asked Orville if he might repeat a few of his tidbits for the greater Mediasite community. (Of course, everything he said applies to most any multimedia presentation, not just Mediasite.)

Here's about seven minutes of goodness. Read below for highlights and some additional comments about Mediasite and accessibility.

Why are most PowerPoints worthless?
The first topic we touched upon - which really has nothing to do with visual impairment - was "why are most PowerPoints worthless?" I couldn't help but work this topic in after talking with him about it the night before. (I realize this part is probably preaching to the choir for many of you).

What would be a good use of PowerPoint?
He refers to some nice concepts here including a reference to some of Guy Kawasaki's principles. (This blog entry on Guy's 10/20/30 rule of PPTs may be the source of some of those principles.)

How can I make my slides more informational to someone who is visually impaired?
We then jumped into a discussion of making slides more useful to those not fully blind. This included some of the color combinations that make it especially hard for blind or color blind people to work with. Orville also pointed out a number of the challenges he has with websites and PDFs in particular.

Ask questions
One of the last things Orville points out, and I'll repeat here in text in case you don't watch the video, is that the best way to understand someone with disabilities is simply to ask questions of them. Consider this post your permission to be curious and ask questions of those with disabilities.

Don't assume anything
Orville has some nice final general comments on (often incorrect) assumptions we may make about those with disabilities. Good stuff.

Sonic Foundry's Commitment to Accessibility
Let me finish by emphasizing how important it is to Sonic Foundry to support your entire audience - including those with visual and hearing disabilities.

We've been long supporters of closed captioning in Mediasite and have also supported screen readers for a number of years. We've also added additional keyboard commands and re-architected our solution in a number of areas to provide even better support for those with disabilities. Do we have it perfect? No. But I would argue it's one of the most (if not THE most) accessible multimedia solutions available. And we're constantly improving.

If you are a customer, we have a number of Knowledge Base articles on our Customer Assurance Portal related to accessibility:

We have also just completed an Accessibility Tech Planner you can use to support your diverse audiences in the most effective way possible. (All of these resources require your Customer Assurance Portal login.)

As always, if you have questions about Mediasite and Accessibility, we're here to listen and help.

Thanks Orville for taking the time to share your insights.



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