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Hello everyone! Staying up-to-date on a variety of topics is an important part of legal aid work. But checking several websites each morning can quickly become time-consuming. Subscriptions and RSS readers are a great solution: basically, they aggregate updates from sites you specify and keep track of what you’ve already read. Google Reader, a longtime standard, is being discontinued on 1 July, but there are several other great options.
Feedly. I use Feedly and it works great. You can start off by importing your Google Reader data, so you don’t have to completely start over and rebuild your content list. From there, just click “+Add Content” to add additional blogs or sites. You can also search for general topics and find blogs you didn’t previously know about. Create categories to organize your blogs, choose how they’re displayed, and bookmark articles for yourself or instantly share to Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest if you find something you like. There’s even a set of keyboard shortcuts to help you move through and categorize information faster. It’s a pretty simple interface and is just generally easy-to-use. It’s also available as a smartphone app so you can keep up on the go! Check out this review on Business Insider for more.
The Old Reader. Built to resemble Google Reader before it got rid of its social features, the Old Reader is designed to allow you to comment on and share articles on social networks if you choose to; otherwise, your comments are kept within the Reader itself. Like Feedly, you can import your Google Reader sites when you begin. See this (lengthy) BuzzFeed article for more.
Newsvibe. A very light and minimal reader, Newsvibe is meant to work very simply with no fancy extra features. It’s not as social as The Old Reader, but, like Feedly, you can import your Google Reader sites to get started. See this Lifehacker article for more.
Newsblur. Not to be confused with the above Newsvibe, Newsblur is a little more feature-rich and less minimalist (more maximalist?). Newsblur does have some of Google Reader’s and The Old Reader’s social functionality, as well as being trainable – that is, over time, you’ll see more stories similar to those you’ve marked as good, and less that you’ve marked as bad. It has a free service for following up to 64 sites, as well as a paid version with unlimited sites (as well as a few other expansions). See this review for more.
Reeder. Specifically for Apple products, Reeder is another minimalist-design, Google Reader-importing RSS reader, which is now available for free on Mac and iPad (they’re still charging $2.99 for the iPhone version). A bonus is that you can also download articles to read offline.
Digg Reader. As of this writing, Digg Reader is not actually released yet – it’s set for 26 June. The reader’s development was heavily influenced by user feedback and promises to be simple and light with a “powerful backend infrastructure than can operate well at scale.” See this article on TechCrunch for more.
Google Alerts. Also worth noting here is the simple Google Alerts service. Visit the Alerts page, type a query, and specify what type of results you’d like and how often you’d like them, and a selection (or all) of the content matching your request will be emailed to you. For example, I get aggregated news stories related to Sri Lanka sent to me once a week. I find it useful because Sri Lanka isn’t usually headline news, so I don’t really come across anything in my normal news reading, and a Google Alert fixes the problem easily.
YouTube subscriptions. Finally, I’d like to bring up subscribing to channels on YouTube – basically the “video” version of an RSS reader. Each YouTube user has a “channel,” analogous to a blog, to which you can subscribe so that you see their most recently-uploaded videos (I think you get the analogy, but videos = articles). Just click “My subscriptions” to the left of your YouTube home page to see new items listed chronologically. It’s a great one-stop shop for videos from other legal services organizations, your favorite musicians, talk show hosts, etc.
That’s it for now – happy reading!
Hello everyone! Make sure to attend LSNTAP and ProBono.net's training this Wednesday, 19 June! It begins at 10am Pacific/11am Mountain/12noon Central/1pm Eastern and will last 75 minutes. Click https://join.me/NTAPtraining to join. Here's what we'll cover:
"A growing majority of legal services clients access the internet through cell phones or mobile devices. As the numbers increase, so does client and attorney demand for mobile-accessible information, and mobile specific services. Technology plans increasingly contain mobile access as part of the services provided by legal aid agencies. This webinar will survey relevant mobile initiatives, planning considerations and strategies, as well as look forward to new types of mobile technology."
- Gwen Daniels, Director of Technology Development, Illinois Legal Aid Online
- Raquel Colon, Director of Development, Legal Services of Northern Virginia
- Liz Keith, Pro Bono Net, LawHelp Program Manager, Pro Bono Net
- Tony Lu, CitizenshipWorks Project Coordinator, Immigration Advocates Network
- Mike Monahan, Pro Bono Director State Bar of Georgia Pro Bono Project
- Moderator: Xander Karsten, LawHelp Program Coordinator, Pro Bono Net
Hope to see you all there!
Hello everyone! Earlier this week LSNTAP and Idealware hosted a great webinar on “Improving Your Website’s Accessibility.” Our speakers were:
To begin, Quinn talked about the people who are excluded by inaccessible websites: those who are color blind or have low vision, those who have difficulty using their hands, are deaf, don’t speak English well, those who are unfamiliar with US/Western technology standards or technology in general, and those who don’t have a fast Internet connection. With such a broad audience in mind, Quinn moved into a discussion of “Six Steps to an Accessible Website.”
Step 1: Make your text itself accessible. First, Quinn recommended breaking text into scan-able chunks. This can benefit those who don’t speak English well, those with low vision, those who aren’t very literate, or just anyone in a hurry!
Second, create summaries of paragraphs and sections so that visitors to your site can tell if they should read the section.
Make sure that you consider the reading level at which you’re writing (WriteClearly.org is a great resource for the legal aid community on readability, and read-able.com will give you an estimate of your site’s reading level).
Providing content in more languages is also a great way to increase accessibility.
Step 2: Provide alternatives to images. Images can’t be seen by those using screen readers (devices which read Internet pages aloud for a visually-impaired person’s benefit). To make content accessible to screen readers, make sure that your text is actually text and not an image of text – if it’s an image, it won’t be readable by the device. The same goes for links – make sure it’s text and not an image.
Next, Magario talked about “alt tags,” those little descriptions that appear when you hover your mouse over an image. These tags are readable by screen readers, so the person using the device can access the information conveyed by the picture.
The same goes for videos, according to Quinn. Make sure that captions are available, and that the same information is available as text so that it can reach a wide audience. Rowe recommended YouTube’s automatic caption function as a time-efficient way to caption videos, and Magario noted that links embedded in videos are not accessible.
Additionally, Quinn noted that screenshots are not accessible ways to provide instruction (on how to fill out a form, etc), but Magario added that including links to instructions that only a screen reader can “see” (for example, they may be the same color as the page) can be helpful.
Finally, Quinn noted that icons should not be relied upon as shorthand for links, unless their meaning is clearly established. For example, a “house” means “home screen” for most Western and US users, but its meaning might be unclear to people from other cultures where houses look different or where they are simply not used to the association.
Step 3: Make text high contrast and legible. Color choice is very important to making your site accessible. Usually, the best route for this is dark text on a light background, and black and white provide maximum contrast. Magario noted that for a small group of people (such as stroke survivors), white text on a black background is actually more accessible, so providing that option as well may be helpful.
Make sure that the size of the font is legible; the default is usually large enough but including an option to make text larger is a good idea as well.
Finally, avoid using color to convey information. If you do need to use color (as in a graph), make sure to use colors which will be distinguishable for the color blind. Red/green colorblindness (meaning the inability to distinguish those two colors) is the most common, followed by blue/yellow and then purple. Try putting your site through a service like http://colorfilter.wickline.org/ to see what it looks like to a colorblind person.
Step 4: Accommodate screen readers. To begin, Magario talked about the experience of using a screen reader. It’s a piece of software which helps the user to navigate a system (in this instance, the Internet). It doesn’t allow the mouse to work and is dependent on keyboard commands. Depending on how the site is laid out, it can take a lot of time for the user to locate what they need – so a search function is very important.
With that in mind, Quinn talked about a few important design elements. She advised careful consideration of the order that content appears in; it should default to a good order, but don’t “muck around” with it too much. Magario also advises the use of links allowing the user to “skip to next content,” “skip to the navigation bar,” and so on.
To check how your site works with screen readers, Rowe recommends either getting someone who uses a screen reader to test your website, or to go to a public library and test out the screen reader software that most libraries will have installed on their computers. Magario mentioned that JAWS, a major screen reader company, will allow you to use its software for free for 40 minutes before having to reboot your computer and start the clock again.
Furthermore, make sure that link text is descriptive. “Click here” and “Find out more!” don’t mean much; “read about eviction” is a much better link title. Magario mentioned that if she sets her screen reader to just read links, a series of “click here” will not be very helpful.
Finally, Quinn advises avoiding the use of all caps. Screen readers aren’t sure what to do with all caps, and will sometimes think it’s an acronym. An audience member pointed out that it’s not a good idea for anyone since it feels like the reader is being shouted at.
Step 5: Design for those who aren’t using a mouse. This includes the elderly, people using screen readers, or those who simply prefer to navigate from a keyboard. Quinn recommends using a simple list of links as an easily-navigable setup. Make sure your page is designed to support common keyboard shortcuts.
Think also about the “tab order” of any forms you use. If, in a fill-able form, the user just presses the “tab” key, they’ll jump from field to field. Make sure that the order of those fields makes sense – for example, the full name, then birth date and phone number, instead of interspersing the latter two between a first and last name.
Step 6: Code pages according to standards. The basic gist of this step is not to mess up browser defaults. Most browsers support software like screen readers and keyboard navigation, unless you mess with their settings too severely. So, hands off!
Finally, use tables and lists thoughtfully. Don’t force your content into formats which are inappropriate for what they’re trying to convey, just for stylistic purposes.
Tools for testing web accessibility. Next, the group discussed a few tools for testing websites. One of the most popular is WAVE, the Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool. It’s a good place to get started with a general check.
Firefox also has an Accessibility Extension, which can check more technical things like scripting, text, styles, and more.
WebAIM also produces a Screen Reader Simulation which allows the user to experience the web through a screen reader.
W3C and 508 Compliance. There are two sets of standards which web developers can follow when considering accessibility issues: Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C’s) set of non-mandatory guidelines. For the most part, the two are pretty similar; Quinn used Section 508 for reference.
Some of Section 508’s requirements include providing text alternatives for non-text elements (images, videos, etc) and making sure that information conveyed in color is also clear in black and white. Make sure that form controls are labeled properly and that their functionality is accessible to those using assistive technology. Allow users to skip repetitive navigation, and allow sufficient time if a timed response is required. Use markup to associate data cells with data headers, and don’t make your screen flicker, because it can cause epileptic fits. Finally, the guidelines provide a catch-all stating that if you can’t make your site accessible, you can provide a separate and equivalent text-only page that is accessible and is updated as frequently as the main page.
Quinn wrapped up the session with a discussion of balancing legal versus human requirements of websites and a brief list of changes that web designers can look at making. These include text, images, video, icons, forms, and navigation. The panelists then took a few questions, and Magario estimated that 70 percent of accessibility is navigation, and 15 percent is alt tags and text alternatives, and the final 15 percent is making sure the site is usable and intuitive. Watch the video below for more!
Hello everyone! This week we'll take a look at another series of videos, this time from The Legal Aid Society in New York. The Legal Aid Society works with a variety of legal issues for low-income people, not only civil but also criminal and juvenile cases, as well as some advocacy. As such, and in response to the economic downturn, they've put together a series of "Know Your Rights" videos (and corresponding brochures) on topics ranging from what to do when you need repairs done to your apartment to what to do if you're stopped by the police or age out of the foster care system. In all, there are 26 videos, each about 90 seconds long.
Each video begins with a short opening sequence to unify the "look" of the videos, and closes with another sequence, often including a summary of the video's content. Each is narrated by a staff member, and is presented simply against a backdrop of the city or the office. I think these videos are great because they are so simple and short; many of them direct viewers to the Legal Aid Society website for more information and just tell them the basics in the video. They calmly and clearly outline what steps to take or list things to know about a situation. There's a different narrator for nearly every video, which I also think is great because it gets the whole staff invovled, has experts to talk about each area, and makes the attorneys more approachable to their potential clients.
I'm not sure how The Legal Aid Society put these videos together; they look very professionally-done. Of course, you don't need a huge budget to recreate videos like these! All you need is a few minutes of an attorney's time, a script, and a nice place to have them stand while they talk - some motion and a little noise in the background seems to help, but too much will be distracting. Point a camera at them, let them roll through the shpiel, and presto! The video's practically done already!
Here's the introductory video; The Legal Aid Society's YouTube channel has many more!
For more on making your own videos, check out some how-to videos by LSNTAP on our Video Camera & Editing Tech playlist. See also a list of high-quality low-cost video cameras, and low-cost or cheap applications for editing video on a computer or a smartphone.
What do you think? Would you make videos like these? Tell us in the comments!
Hello everyone! Those of you who've attended an LSNTAP webinar in the past six months know that we have switched over to join.me for our trainings. It's a great platform, but the transition from other, more familiar platforms like GoToWebinar might be a bit tricky. So we've put together a few resources to help you use join.me:
- a short video (also embedded below)
- handouts on presenting at and attending join.me trainings
Let us know if you have any other questions in the comments below!
Have a great week!