Internet

Getting Accessible Internet to the Disabled Isn’t So Easy

Accessibility to the Internet is a hot topic because, at this point, almost everyone should be afforded Internet access. The fact that some people don’t have access to the Internet puts them at a severe disadvantage. One group that has major problems with accessibility are disabled people. Let’s discuss what can be done about that.

The Less Inclusive Internet

We all use the Internet for multiple purposes, and we all get extremely annoyed when we come across a webpage or an app that is poorly designed and provides a terrible user interface. For people with disabilities it can be even more frustrating. In fact, for some, it makes getting the goods and services they desperately need all but impossible to do online. 

Defining Accessibility 

In the context we mean here, accessibility is basically the usability of a website or app. When people can’t properly navigate, understand, and successfully interact with a web-based platform, its accessibility is limited.

A few standards have been outlined, known by the acronym POUR: 

1. Content and the overall user interface must be perceivable by everyone, accounting for those who rely primarily on visuals as well as those who require sound or tactile input.

2. A website must be operable, which requires that those with limitations must be able to identify and navigate through different elements of a webpage.

3. A user must also find the website understandable, with the information presented on it in such a way that the meaning is clear, and the formatting is consistent.

4. Finally, a website must be robust, which here means capable of operating properly on a variety of technologies—including assistive technologies.

As the COVID-19 pandemic hit, social distancing guidelines were implemented, making the accessibility of services to people with disabilities extremely important. With everyone thrust into a new system, the inconsistency of the accessibility of applications and websites became frightfully apparent. In America, one-in-every-four people have been diagnosed with some form of disability, so the pandemic made things difficult for nearly a billion people. 

Common Disabilities

Here are a few common disabilities that may make it difficult to work with web pages and apps that don’t work: 

1. Visual disabilities, including blindness, color blindness, and low vision.

2. Hearing disabilities, including deafness and hearing impairments.

3. Neurological disabilities, including conditions and disorders that impact the nervous system.

4. Cognitive disabilities, including those that impact attention, learning, and logic.

5. Motor disabilities, including those that limit fine motor skills, slow muscles, or prevent the full use of one’s hands.

These are officially listed in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, a standard that was created by the World Wide Web Consortium and specifically designed to establish some basic oversight over the Internet. It became clear that it woefully neglects some people with disabilities. The WCAG has been a foundational guideline for disabled Internet use around the globe. This includes Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), while others (like the European Standard EN 301 549 of the EU Web Accessibility Directive) incorporate the WCAG’s guidelines into its own contents.

While it’s a good start, these guidelines still seemingly come up short. 

The pandemic exposed the lack of inclusivity. Take a look at the state unemployment sites. Based on research completed by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, 86 percent of these sites failed at least one basic evaluation for mobile loading speed, mobile friendliness, or accessibility. 

Additionally, telehealth interfaces, something that has gained a lot of traction during the pandemic, have been exposed for their lack of usability, consistency, and availability of services like closed captioning have underperformed. 

Furthermore, a survey conducted by Pew Research Center in 2016 revealed that adults with disabilities were about 20 percent less likely to own the technology needed, which is either a computer or mobile device and the at-home broadband connectivity needed to run these platforms as many disabled people are living on a fixed budget and don’t have the resources to purchase these goods and services.

It is going to be extremely important, with social distancing likely extending into 2022, that more is done to provide disabled people with the accessibility to technology they require for certain situations. Of course, web-based applications and websites are crucial to a lot of people, not just the disabled. Education, healthcare, financial services, and more have to do more to make their applications usable for people as they depend on them during this difficult time. 

Have you had difficult experiences with technology in the last year? What do you think should be done about the lack of accessibility to easy-to-use applications and web interfaces? 

 

The Federal Communications Commission is Evaluating Mobile Broadband

Broadband Internet access is a critical consideration for today’s world, considering how much of daily life and business is now conducted online. Having said that, Internet access is still far from a given. In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission wants to work to fix this—but to do so, they need data. To help collect this data, the FCC wants you to install a speed test application on your smartphone.

The Importance of Broadband Access

Consider how prevalent the Internet is in everyday life right now: more and more is now handled online. This makes it challenging for many people in areas where broadband Internet connectivity is limited (or even nonexistent) to do very much at all—let alone shop, communicate, or as we tend to focus on, work remotely.

The past year or so has made the severity of this lack starkly apparent, with many people and businesses struggling under their current connectivity limitations. This is part of the reason that the FCC is reinvigorating an application that was originally launched back in 2013 and asking the public to install it on their mobile devices.

The FCC’s App

This application, fittingly called FCC Speed Test, will assist the FCC in evaluating which areas have the most prescient need of better Internet service quality, enabling them to more effectively fund the areas that need more help. Available on both Android and iOS, this app tests your mobile device’s upload and download speeds, as well as its latency, on either a Wi-Fi or cellular connection. By default, these tests take place once every 24 hours—although you can configure these tests to occur when it is most convenient, and how much data that can be consumed during these evaluations.

This app also allows you to test your connectivity speeds, plotting them out over time and by geographic location. In terms of privacy, the app collects a few different identifiers—location, IP address, operating system, device type, and ISP—but no personally identifiable details are recorded.

You’re also able to complain about your Internet speeds to the FCC directly, enabling them to collect even more actionable data.

Check out the FCC’s FAQ page about the application to learn more.

Hopefully, this resurgence in interest in accessible and equitable Internet access will prove fruitful, bringing the utility of the Internet’s full capabilities to more people and organizations. In the meantime, we’re here to help companies do as much as they can with the IT that is available right now. To find out what your technology could be helping you accomplish, reach out to Jackson Thornton Technologies at 334-834-7660. 

 

Looking Into the Growth of Digital Services

Over the past several years there has been a monumental shift in the availability of tools on the Internet, and at the beginning of 2020, analysts thought that this type of service delivery would continue to grow at a swift rate. They didn’t account for a global pandemic. 

The coronavirus outbreak enhanced the demand for services and increased the likelihood that smaller businesses would consider them. Over a year later, it seems that the innovation that experts predicted was going to happen over the course of the next three or four years, accelerated, and now businesses of all sizes are operating over the Internet. 

Internet-Based Companies

For quite some time there have been companies that operate solely over the Internet. Of course, retail companies come to mind when you think of “Internet business”. Amazon, eBay, and the like have made billions of dollars without the use of any storefronts (ironically, however, now they have some). Besides these retail behemoths, many other businesses moved their way online in efforts to open new revenue streams and tap untapped markets. 

Over the past several years we’ve begun to see a paradigm shift toward digital services happen pretty rapidly. Financial services were one of the first service providers to really embrace the benefits of providing online services, but they weren’t the only industry looking to make the whole new digital ecosystem work for them. The truth is, however, where money goes, everyone follows.

The Growth of Digital Systems

As mentioned above, the COVID-19 pandemic did the one thing that no other event could have done. It brought those companies who were reluctant to embrace the digital transformation into the fold; and many of those companies that came late to the party are extremely unprepared. While these companies scrambled to migrate their information systems and strategies over to ones that can be accessed online, other companies, who got out in front of this were well-positioned to succeed during these times. Even some companies who weren’t wholly prepared, but were able to transition to digital-only by already using cloud-based software and hardware, were able to flank slower-moving competitors. 

Additionally, many smaller businesses that didn’t have the liquidity to hold up against the tide of decreased consumer demand, found themselves closing their doors. Unfortunately, this was the fate for over 100,000 U.S. small businesses in 2020. This major crisis was always going to have a marked impact on SMBs, but seeing so many businesses failing, and the entire economy in a major downturn, you can’t help but think that if it wasn’t for the Internet, the whole world economy would be in tatters. 

The one thing that digital systems accomplish is that they can sustain mission-critical business processes while the workforce is in flux. Part of a business’ strategy at this point is to cut redundant and unnecessary costs and the digital transformation of a business can help do that in ways that could save millions of jobs and tens of thousands of businesses. One could make the point that businesses that are looking to cut spending should still be pushing money toward IT because it’s the most cost-effective way to keep from compromising business health. 

What Digital Systems are Being Used?

With all that’s happening, one question that has to be answered is: “what digital systems are being used by today’s businesses to keep from going belly up?” It’s not as easy as telling you which tools you need to use as it is to explain why certain tools can be useful. As we mentioned above, the digital tide was already turning before the pandemic hit; COVID-19 just moved things along. Here are some digital tools you should be considering:

Cloud Hardware and Software

Most parts of your organizational computing infrastructure can now be effectively rented. Infrastructure-as-a-Service and Software-as-a-Service offerings are becoming the norm as increased demand has reduced costs enough for even the smallest business to consider using some digital, cloud-hosted tool to try and help their operations. Not only can you get full servers with storage, you can also get individual licenses for all mission-critical management and productivity applications. All the management and maintenance and hosting is baked into the individual cost that is typically charged per user or per gigabyte. You can even get security suites and whole communication platforms with business-grade telephone systems and video conferencing in the cloud nowadays. If you are looking to digitally transform your business, shopping for cloud-based services is your best bet.

Automation

Much of the software that is available has some type of automation options built in. As businesses get more digital, they need to find ways to keep efficient. Much of today’s management and support software does this today by automating repetitive and mundane tasks that, up until recently, had to be completed manually. Many of today’s solutions are taking advantage of artificial intelligence and machine learning technology that adjust the automated responses to the information that is being taken in. This technology can work to automate more and more of your business processes. This can help you keep costs down and productivity up. The best part: automation can make every part of your business more efficient, from your sales and marketing, to your production, distribution, and customer support.  

Collaboration

With a focus on productivity, many of today’s essential business tools have collaboration baked right in. For those that don’t, they are almost certainly able to be integrated with today’s most innovative collaboration and project management apps. Today’s cloud-hosted collaboration tools provide team members a tool to actively work alongside each other from across a room or across the world. They integrate many of the top project management, marketing, communication, and productivity tools with a central hub where they can access the resources they need and conversate. The more coordination a team has, the more successful they are likely to be. With today’s collaboration software, your employees can do more, faster, and more effectively.

The digital economy is continuing to grow rapidly. Gartner has the rate of growth at about 17 percent per year over the next five years, to what is expected to be a trillion-dollar industry by 2025. If the past year is any indication, that figure isn’t too far off. 

If you would like to have a conversation with one of our trusted IT consultants about how to push the digital envelope for your business, give Jackson Thornton Technologies a call today at 334-834-7660. 

 

The FCC is Taking Measures to Assist with Internet Connectivity

Whether you’re referring to an individual’s personal needs or their work-related responsibilities, the Internet has become an essential component to most processes. Unfortunately, financial limitations often make sufficient connectivity unattainable for many. This is why the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) stepped in last month to provide some assistance.

What the FCC Has Done

On Thursday, February 25th, the FCC unanimously voted to give low-income households a discount on broadband internet service as a $3.2 billion part of the $900 billion that Congress earmarked for coronavirus relief in December. With up to $50 available to these households (or $75 for those on tribal lands) each month and a one-time $100 discount on a computer or tablet, this program will hopefully assist people in staying safe as the pandemic drags on.

Considering that the average bill for stand-alone broadband service was calculated to be around $66 per month by the Wall Street Journal, it should come as no surprise that this is too much for many households to swing. Laying the numbers out like this makes it clear that the Internet is a costly investment, even in the best of times.

The list of eligible households covers those that are already receiving low-income Internet benefits or pandemic relief recipients, as well as those who are eligible for free and reduced school lunches, Medicaid, SNAP, and Pell Grant recipients, and anyone who found themselves unemployed by the pandemic.

Set to open up in a few short months, this program isn’t without its flaws. First of all, the $3.2 billion won’t last very long when you divide it up amongst 117 million households that meet the eligibility requirements. Once that $3.2 billion is gone, the program is slated to end.

Deeper Connectivity Issues

This program also does little to address another, arguably larger issue—the fact that millions of families don’t have any reliable means of accessing broadband at all. With so many now working and learning remotely, we’ll likely see some considerable impacts due to this coming to the surface.

While the Federal Communications Commission has estimated that 18 million people lack reliable enough connections to access the Internet from home, the method they used to measure would allow these figures to be inaccurately skewed.

The reason is this: these figures are based on ZIP code-based census blocks. In order to be counted as broadband-compatible, only a single household needs to have such Internet services available within the block. However, in sparsely-populated areas it isn’t uncommon for census blocks to stretch hundreds of square miles, indicating that this metric is far from effective. Hopefully, this discount will be the first step to a more accessible Internet service with more equity for all, as the need has never been more well-defined.

Here, we’ll turn it over to you: are these steps the start of effective change? 

 

Tip of the Week: Introducing Google Chrome’s New Actions Feature

If it is going to remain the most common Internet browser, Google Chrome always needs to have new features added to it to make it the preferable choice for most users. Recently, Chrome Actions was implemented, likely contributing greatly to that goal. Let’s look at what Chrome Actions are, and how they could prove useful.

What Are Chrome Actions?

With Chrome Actions, the Chrome browser has a bit more utility crammed into its address bar (also known as the “omnibar”). In addition to helping users navigate to a webpage or network location, or facilitating a Google search, the omnibar can now accept and carry out a select few basic commands.

For example, if a user types “incognito” into the omnibar, pressing Enter will open a new window in Incognito mode.

Right now, Google has implemented just a few Chrome Actions into their browser:

● Clear Browsing Data - type ‘delete history’, ‘clear cache ‘ or ‘wipe cookies’

● Manage Payment Methods - type ‘edit credit card’ or ‘update card info’

● Open Incognito Window - type ‘launch incognito mode‘ or ‘incognito’

● Manage Passwords - type ‘edit passwords’ or ‘update credentials’

● Update Chrome - type ‘update browser’ or ‘update google chrome’

● Translate Page - type ‘ translate this’ or ‘ translate this page’

With this starting list came the promise of more Chrome Actions coming with future updates to the browser.

For more assistance with anything relating to your business’ IT, make sure your first call is to Jackson Thornton Technologies at 334-834-7660.

 

How AI Can Make the Internet More Civil

Artificial intelligence can be used in numerous different ways, but one way you might not have anticipated is as a means of making sure people on the Internet mind their manners. Rude and inappropriate comments are remarkably common online, so it stands to reason that many companies and developers are looking for ways to minimize them. Let’s look at what some have implemented, utilizing artificial intelligence to their advantage.

Comment Sections Have Devolved into Garbage

Whether you’re considering an online article, news story, or video, the comments section probably isn’t someplace you look for insight and civil discussion as it was intended to be. Instead, there’s an assortment of hate, lewdness, and spammy “advertisements” filled with malware and/or empty promises.

Naturally, the platforms and organizations that support and provide this content aren’t all too pleased with this situation, so they have taken various steps to try and eliminate these comments—some going so far as to eliminate their comment sections entirely. Others have taken a more progressive approach by leveraging advanced technologies—the aforementioned artificial intelligence playing a critical role in their strategies.

AI and Automation, Now Involved in Comment Moderation

Let’s start with Google, which has a dedicated AI conversation platform called Perspective API. Joining with OpenWeb to conduct a study, Google implemented Perspective API in some news platforms’ comment sections to test the real-time feedback functionality.

How Well Did AI Moderation Work?

This study examined comments that violated community standards on these websites and provided the user with a request to edit their comment—“Let’s keep the conversation civil. Please remove any inappropriate language from your comment” or “Some members of the community may find your comment inappropriate. Try again?” As a control, some commenters saw no intervention message.

According to the study, about a third of commenters went back and edited the comment. Of those, half took the advice to heart and made their message more acceptable by eliminating the problematic language. However, a quarter of these users doubled down, simply editing their comment to still make their message clear by evading the filter. For instance, rather than saying “booger,” the user would edit it to read “b o o g e r,” or would adopt a new word to stand in for an offensive one.

The rest of the responses were those that revised the wrong part of their submitted comment, misunderstanding the issue, or those that instead directed their comment to the AI feature, rather than the media they were commenting on, complaining about censorship.

These results were pretty much in line with those that came from a similar study that Google conducted with Coral, which showed toxic language being edited out in 36 percent of cases. Having said that, another experiment that The Southeast Missourian conducted showed a 96 percent reduction in “very toxic” comments after this feedback was provided.

Ultimately, the number of people who persisted in posting their comment unedited or simply chose not to post anything after all show that these gentle reminders are only effective to a degree, with people who legitimately don’t mean any offense.

Fortunately, there is also some indication that the number of so-called Internet trolls is overestimated, and that most inflammatory comments come from people feeling some strong emotion. This interpretation was boosted by the findings of another study conducted with Wikipedia. Most offensive content was reactive and isolated.

Besides, compared to the scale of the Internet, the 400,000 comments sampled by OpenWeb and Google are far from statistically significant.

YouTube—one of Google’s most prominent possessions—has especially been active when it comes to comment moderation. Its comment sections are notorious for exactly the kind of problematic dialogue that these enhancements are looking to correct. 

This kind of approach isn’t unique to Google and its subsidiaries, either. Instagram has adopted machine learning tools that can identify offensive content and hide them from users who have enabled the comment filtering option in their settings.

Is This Really Such a Bad Problem?

In a word: yes.

Think about it. How many times have you seen an article posted without a comment section, or have seen a social media account have comments disabled? How often have you just avoided looking at the comments at all, because of how notorious the idea of a comments section has become?

Therefore, it makes sense that various platforms—including Google—would invest heavily in the technology to keep the Internet relatively clean. After all, the Internet is financed through advertisements… the longer a user spends on a website, the more money that website can garner from ads. In turn, it makes sense that a website will try and make the user’s experience as beneficial as possible, something that just doesn’t come with comment sections filled with hate, spam, and other toxicity.

In this case, it appears that one of the most effective means of fighting a technology issue is through more technology. As an MSP, we are very familiar with this concept, as we put our technology to use every day as we help you maintain yours. Give us a call at 334-834-7660 to find out how we can help benefit your business processes. 

 

What Kind of Network Would Best Serve Your Business?

The way your business uses and accesses data is changing. A short time ago, you couldn’t imagine that you would have a comprehensive strategy to keep data secure when sending and receiving it wirelessly, but today wireless transmission methods have become more secure, reliable, and fast. This month, we’ll take a look at the difference between wired and wireless connections in the modern business.

A Wireless Connection

The Pros

There is one obvious benefit to the wireless network: No wires! It is a big benefit not having to run cable, and being able to access resources anywhere within range on nearly any device makes a big difference. In giving your team access to network resources wirelessly, your business will be better suited for collaboration and enhanced productivity.

What’s more, with a strong wireless network in place, you can promote some strategies that can work to improve your operational effectiveness. One of those strategies is a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy. Many of your employees bring their smartphones with them when they come to work and if you don’t have a BYOD policy, they are absolutely a risk. By enacting a BYOD strategy, your staff firmly understands that while their phones can be a positive for the company, they can also be a problem and that the company has steps it can take if that negative reality comes to fruition. 

The Cons

With the convenience of a wireless network, the speed and security aren’t what they would be with a wired connection.

You see, wireless connections are more vulnerable than wired ones. It’s easier for unauthorized individuals to hijack the signal of a wireless connection and can provide a third-party with access to the critical information that is transmitted wirelessly. 

The Wired Connection

The Pros

When dealing with wired networks, IT administrators maintain a higher degree of control over what devices can connect to the network. This presents value is multiple ways, none more important than the degree of security wired connections promote. 

Additionally, wired networks are usually much faster than wireless networks. This speed boost is magnified if there are walls, floors, ceilings, or any other potential interference to seeing optimal speeds over Wi-Fi.

The Cons

The biggest drawback to a wired Internet network is the act of wiring the network. The cost and time are higher than it would be to set up a wireless network, and it can also be a hindrance for maintenance if a cable fails or hardware has to be moved around due to business growth or restructuring. 

Another detriment to the business is that a wired connection doesn’t allow for the type of mobility many businesses are looking for nowadays. With a wireless connection, meetings are faster, more to the point, and collaborative work can be fluid.

If your business is looking to build a powerhouse wireless network, or if you prefer a wired network and need help networking your office, give the IT professionals at Jackson Thornton Technologies a call at 334-834-7660.