Geek Speak: Glenda Watson Hyatt, Do It Myself Blog

Glenda Watson Hyatt is known as the Left Thumb Blogger. That’s because the 42-year-old Web accessibility expert uses only her left thumb to type up her blog posts.

Hyatt, who has cerebral palsy, is the principal of Soaring Eagle Communications, a consulting firm that specializes in accessibility issues. In 2006, the Surrey resident and Simon Fraser University graduate self-published her autobiography, I’ll Do It Myself, and started her Do It Myself Blog.

The former treasurer of the Social Planning and Research Council of B.C. is also the author of Simplified Web Accessibility Guide, published by Human Resources Development Canada and the B.C. Ministry of Advanced Education in 2002. The guide presents the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 in an easier-to-understand format.

On Saturday (August 22), Hyatt will speak about blog accessibility at WordCamp Fraser Valley. The conference, which focuses on the use of the WordPress blogging platform, will take place at SFU’s Surrey campus.

Hyatt answered the Georgia Straight’s questions by e-mail.

How did you get into blogging?

Four and a half years ago, I discovered blogs. I began reading bloggers like Andy Wibbels, Pam Slim, and the Book Sistah. Around the same time, a colleague in the Web accessibility field also began blogging. Having done research, he discovered that WordPress was the most accessible blogging platform available at that time. Relying upon his research and following Andy’s advice to just start, I hit published on “Hello world!” on my now-defunct blog at 1:02 a.m. on June 1, 2005, changing my life forever!

That first blog became my playground for learning how blogs worked and for finding my voice. For someone who grew up as “non-verbal” due to a significant speech impairment caused by cerebral palsy, blogging was very liberating! I now had a way to communicate with the world.

In 2006 I won a Mega Marketing Makeover from platform-building expert Suzanne Falter-Barns, which resulted in the creation of my current blog. With this blog, my voice has become stronger and clearer. I have developed friendships with amazing people from around the world—several of whom I have had the pleasure of meeting in person.

Blogging has opened the world to me and has enabled the world to finally hear my voice.

What do you blog about?

I share my experiences living with cerebral palsy to give my readers insight into not only the frustrations and barriers I face, but also the ordinary life and successes I experience to show that I am more than my disability. In doing so, I aim to motivate and inspire readers to think about how they perceive their own situation and their own world around them.

In the popular, ongoing series Accessibility 100, I am providing 100 easy-to-implement, free, and inexpensive tips for improving accessibility for people with disabilities.

I do all this by typing with only my left thumb and, hence, I have become known as the Left Thumb Blogger.

What are a few accessibility problems commonly found on blogs?

Bloggers unknowingly create accessibility issues for people with a variety of disabilities and limitations, which can limit or prevent people from reading their blogs and participating in their blog’s community.

Some of the accessibility issues include:

  • Colour schemes that, even though they’re aesthetically pleasing, make reading difficult.
  • Hypertext links that are difficult to differentiate from the surrounding text.
  • Images without any descriptive text.
  • Audio and videos without any captions or transcriptions.
  • Fonts that are too small or too difficult to read.

However, these accessibility issues are relatively simple to fix so that the blogosphere can be accessible and inclusive to all.

What are three things bloggers can do to make their sites more accessible?

Keeping in mind that accessibility is not an absolute but rather a continuum, bloggers can do much to make their blogs more accessible. Three ways they can increase their blog’s accessibility are by:

1. Providing alternative text: Images present problems for people with sight impairments using screen readers—software that reads aloud what is displayed on the computer screen. This technology cannot read content presented in an image or graphic format. The simple solution is providing a text equivalent, known as the alt attribute in HTML, for all images and graphics.

2. Maximizing colour contrast: Blogs entail countless hours of reading. Enhance readability by maximizing contrast between text and background colours.

3. Providing captions and transcripts: Audio and video add another dimension to blogs. These mediums benefit individuals with some kinds of disabilities, such as learning disabilities or cognitive impairments, who find reading long pieces of text difficult and laborious. However, for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing and those who don’t understand the speaker’s accent (we all have accents!), this content is inaccessible to them. Transcripts for audio and captions for videos make the content accessible to these individuals.

For more tips, check out 5 Ways to Increase the Accessibility of Blogs.

What challenges did you face and overcome in writing your book, I'll Do It Myself?

While writing my book, the biggest challenge was deciding what to include about my life and myself, and how to best word it. A balancing act with a touch of diplomacy definitely required. I had to balance what I wanted to share with the world at this point in my life, with what I thought readers might want to read. And, I wanted to accomplish that by sending a positive yet realistic message, all without offending anyone mentioned in the book. Judging from readers’ response, this was accomplished!

What are you working on right now?

I am busy creating content for a mastermind course to teach bloggers how to make their blogs more accessible. The plan is to launch in late fall. Watch Blog Accessibility for details or sign up to receive my blog posts via e-mail. I will be providing further information on my blog once the details begin taking shape.

Every Friday, Geek Speak catches up with someone in Vancouver’s technology sector, video-game industry, or social-media scene. Who should we interview next? Tell Stephen Hui on Twitter at twitter.com/stephenhui.

Comments

2 Comments

Glenda Watson Hyatt

Aug 21, 2009 at 3:27pm

Stephen,

Thanks so much for the honour to be interviewed by the Georgia Straight! I appreciate the opportunity.

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Lorelle

Aug 23, 2009 at 10:59am

If there is anyone who can simplify the complexities and myths around web accessibility, it's Glenda Watson Hyatt. Thank you so much for sharing her with us, helping us learn how easy it is - and more importantly, how critical it is to serve ALL our web readers. I love her ebook and give it to all my clients.

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