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I’ve been studying about web accessibility lately and have been thinking about how the frustrations I run into on websites I visit would be compounded if I had a disability. By extension,  I’ve renewed my patience with my grandmother when it comes to the web.

I frequently use the keyboard to navigate around pages. If that was the only means of interfacing with the computer I had, there are several websites I wouldn’t be able to use at all because the creators failed to include “focus” as a state when setting the display of links in the CSS. Without the “focus” state specified, keyboard navigation can be difficult or impossible. If you don’t know where you are, there’s no telling where you’ll end up when you press RETURN.

I know someone who has severe sight problems and can basically only see one letter at a time on a large monitor. For him, surfing the web is probably easier using a screen reader. For those who need a screen reader, if the document has no structure, i.e. there are no headings, ordered lists, or tables (for tabular data only, folks!), then the user won’t be able to know what’s most important on the page or that the random items being read are actually in a table.

A relative of mine has hearing loss. It’s not profound, but it is enough that it affects how he uses the web. He’s less likely to listen to a podcast, since the audio on those isn’t always clean. But, more importantly, he then has no access to the content because, more often than not, there is no transcript provided. Fortunately, in my research I came across a website that will provide a free transcript for any podcast submitted. This is a real boon, since most transcription services charge, and quite a bit I might add.

Universal accessibility remains an ideal to which we should aspire, a fitting topic to be thinking about on this MLK day. If web developers make it a priority to ensure their mark-up is validated, that will be a good first step. Beyond that, pledging to adhere to the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to at least level A conformance will go a long ways to making the web accessible to all.

Densmore Typewriter ad 1896Writing is everywhere – boxes, bottles, billboards, magazines, newspapers, flyers, email,  and websites- to name a few places. There’s one commonality between these disparate forms of writing: they use language. How each form uses language differs greatly and each has different expectations from the reader’s point of view.

Writing in newspapers and magazines is informative, educational, and opinionated depending on which section of the paper, or what kind of magazine, you’re reading. We, as readers, expect newspapers and magazines to have high editorial standards and be written clearly. OK, you got me there. I don’t think Us or People consider their editorial standards much, but I digress. Generally, we read these materials at leisure – over coffee in the morning, waiting in a doctor’s office, or riding on public transit.

From other printed ephemera (boxes, bottles, billboards, flyers, etc.) we decidedly expect less. The copy used on them is primarily for persuading – “Buy XYZ because it’s chock full of vitamins and minerals!” (Gee, I didn’t know foot powder needed vitamins and minerals.) The copy on these sources is written for accessibility and generally has a friendlier approach. These materials are typically read in passing – walking down grocery aisles, driving down freeways, grabbing the flyer off the windshield in the parking lot before tossing it in the back seat.

Websites, while including all genres of printed material, are read differently. We go to a website for information, to answer a question, to complete a task, and in doing so we expect to access that information or perform that task quickly and easily. Anything that gets in the way of our purpose is, at best, annoying, if not downright frustrating.

Across all these disparate forms of writing is an overarching expectation – good grammar. Reading something that’s well written imparts a sense of confidence in the information. If the writer misuses their, they’re, and there can we really trust him to know what he’s talking about? Likewise, if the writer’s writing lazily and using netspeak are you going to respect his opinion or knowledge?

In exploring writing, I came across a blog post on how to write a good first message for an online dating service. The number one rule was “Be Literate.” Messages that used netspeak, had gross misspellings, or bad grammar (or all three!) didn’t get a a response. I can’t agree more. Well written messages, articles, etc. give confidence to the information and, more importantly, eschew obfuscation. (One of my favorite phrases, because it doesn’t follow it’s advice.)

The show currently running in the Cress Gallery is of a collaborative team, Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick. I had the pleasure of seeing the Visiting Artist Lecture given by them just prior to the show opening, and speaking with them at the show.

Kahn and Selesnick have collaborated since finishing college in 1986. They specialize in mixing narrative histories with elaborately constructed “artifacts” of the time period depicted. Characters and artifacts are captured in panoramic photographs for posterity.

The show in the Cress Gallery features The Apollo Prophecies and the newest collaboration, Eisbergfreistadt. The former details NASA’s discovery of a Victorian settlement on the moon, with the astronauts being greeted as gods, while the latter covers the 1923 founding of a city on an enormous iceberg that floated into port in Lubeck, Germany.

My favorite aspect of Kahn and Selesnick’s work is that the line between fact and fiction is ambiguous. Obviously, it’s pretty easy to tell in the Apollo Prophecies what’s fiction (almost all of it – astronauts did land on the moon, but that’s the extent of the facts), but Eisbergfreistadt is entirely different. The “memorabilia” from the iceberg city mix actual artifacts with those constructed by Kahn and Selesnick and there’s no indication of which is which.

I asked Mr. Kahn how much of the historical narrative/artifacts were real and was told the economy in Germany, 1923, did crash. Inflation was exponential and cities started printing their own money. However, the money was devalued almost as soon as it was printed and eventually the paper it was printed on was worth more than the denomination of the marks. For example, one day an egg may cost 500,000 marks and the next day the same egg would cost 1,000,000 marks. People started using the marks as wallpaper, etc. One of the items on exhibit is a beautifully crafted coat made from marks.

Kahn and Selesnick use black and white for most of their photography. I had a chance to ask Mr. Selesnick how they choose the palettes they work with. Mr. Selesnick said he prefers not to use color at all, but when they’ve decided to use it, in general the palette has low saturation. The point of their work is to make things look historical, so rich bold colors wouldn’t convey age.

Kahn and Selesnick take their inspiration from many sources. One of the artists that stood out for me was William Blake. They showed several examples of photographs that were finely detailed derivatives of William Blake prints.

The show is very impressive and ought not to be missed. Definitely see it before it’s gone. The show runs in the Cress Gallery through March 16th.


When I moved a little over a year ago, I chose Lingo for my phone service because I have family in Canada and calls to Canada are included in the monthly service.

The phone service Lingo provided was very poor – ranging from the people I was calling not being able to hear me to dialing a number only to get a message that the number was no longer working. That was weird, considering it happened with numbers for people who had just called me and I was calling them back. I would dial 3-4 times and would finally be able to get through.

I did call tech support to try to get better service. I know I called at least twice, but after a while it was harder to call tech support than deal with the poor service, so I stopped.

I decided to switch to Comcast, because Comcast said Canada was now included and it would lower my bill for internet services. That seemed like a no-brainer.

I remembered when I switched phone service for my former employer away from Lingo that Lingo requires customers to cancel the service themselves as they do not accept other service providers requests for cancellation – so I tried calling yesterday. That turned out to be an exercise in futility. As soon as I pressed “6” to cancel my service, I was immediately switched to hold music. That music played for almost 10 minutes before the system announced the extension I had dialed didn’t answer. I was then switched to a menu system from which I could choose from several options, none of which would help me in my situation, but was not able to get to an operator or leave a message. I tried calling back several times and always got just the music.

I tried again today and was elated to be able to speak with someone right away. I stated my desire to cancel my service. I was told the cancellation would be effective immediately, that I didn’t have to return the equipment since I had had service for more than a year, and was asked if I was aware of the cancellation fee. I said I was and that Comcast was paying for that. (Lingo’s terms state that a disconnect fee of $24.95 is charged if a customer cancels service after the 30-day money back guarantee period or before the 24-month contract is up.)

Note there's only one "cancellation" fee is mentioned. (Click for larger view.)

I was told I would receive a confirmation email within 15 minutes. I was not given a cancellation confirmation number as stated in Lingo’s terms.

I was very surprised when the email arrived because it stated I would be charged a cancellation fee of $99.95. I called Lingo. This resulted in another round of hold music and being shunted around the system.

I called the FCC to file a complaint. I spoke to a very nice and helpful person who directed me to a form I could file online. I decided to try calling Lingo one more time before I filed a complaint against them and was pleasantly surprised to speak with a human.

III. Service, Rates, Term, and Fees: C Disconnect Fees

After giving my customer number and verifying the name on the account, I was told the account was canceled. What did I want? I wanted to know why the cancellation fee was $99.95. She said that is strange, let me transfer you to billing.

The guy in billing “researched” what I was told and then explained to me the extra charge. So, here’s the deal. If a customer cancels service after the 30-day money back guarantee period, but before the conclusion of the 24-month service contract, a Rebate Recovery Fee of $75.00 is charged. This is to cover the cost of the equipment, which they will NOT accept return of after the 30-day period. So, you’re locked into a 2 year contract or you pay $75 + $25 to get out of it. This is outlined in the Terms and Conditions, however the person I talked to to cancel service failed to state that. She just asked if I was aware of the disconnect fee. Note that the Disconnect Fee and Rebate Recovery Fee are separate items in the terms.

I won’t be filing an FCC complaint because, technically, Lingo isn’t hiding anything. They’re just dealing in deceptive business practices.

The only mention of the Recovery Rebate Fee, and it's not listed with the other fees. (Click to view larger.)

The Rebate Recovery Fee is clearly stated in the Terms & Conditions, although it is hard to find and the cost of the fee is only stated in one place while the term “rebate” and the cost of the Disconnect Fee are mentioned numerous times. Also, the confirmation email shows that Lingo deems the Rebate Recovery Fee and the Disconnect Fee as one cancellation fee. I think the price is arbitrary because Lingo sets the price of the fee and I seriously doubt that the modem actually costs $75. A Vonage modem from Amazon (D-Link VTA-VR Broadband Telephone Adapter with Vonage) costs $59.99.

Note that cancellation of service is ONLY accepted via telephone.

This looks like a scam. In reality, it’s Lingo’s under-handed way of retaining customers. If my phone service had been stable and clear, if the people I called weren’t constantly asking what was wrong with my phone, and if their customer service had been helpful and easier to deal with, Lingo would still have me as a customer. That’s a much better way to retain customers. As it is, I’m an unemployed, single-parent student. I don’t have the cash lying around to pay for their equipment, which I would be happy to return. But, I’ll find a way to scrape together the $75 to pay their Rebate Recovery Fee and be happy never to be a customer of their’s again.

So if you’re looking for VOIP phone service, do yourself a favor and don’t choose Lingo. The phone service is lousy at best and customer service is difficult to get a hold of and deal with. And, do your friends a favor and pass the word about Lingo.

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