Accessibility, Conferences, Microsoft Technologies

Captioning Options for Your Online Conference

Many conferences have moved online this year due to the pandemic, and many attendees are expecting captions on videos (both live and recorded) to help them understand the content. Captions can help people who are hard of hearing, but they also help people who are trying to watch presentations in noisy environments and those who lack good audio setups as they are watching sessions. Conferences arguably should have been providing live captions for the in-person events they previously held. But since captions are finally becoming a wider a topic of concern, I want to discuss how captions work and what to look for when choosing how to caption content for an online conference.

There was a lot of information that I wanted to share about captions, and I wanted it to be available in one place. If you don’t have the time or desire to read this post, there is a summary at the bottom.

Note: I’m not a professional accessibility specialist. I am a former conference organizer and current speaker who has spent many hours learning about accessibility and looking into options for captioning. I’m writing about captions here to share what I’ve learned with other conference organizers and speakers.

Closed Captions, Open Captions, and Subtitles

Closed captions provide the option to turn captions on or off while watching a video. They are usually shown at the bottom of the video. Here’s an example of one of my videos on YouTube with closed captions turned on.

YouTube video with closed captions turned on and the caption text shown along the bottom. The CC button on the bottom has a red line under it indicating it is on.
YouTube video with closed captions turned on. The CC button at the bottom has a red line under it to indicate the captions are on.

The placement of the captions may vary based upon the service used and the dimensions of the screen. For instance, if I play this video full screen on my wide screen monitor, the captions cover some of the content instead of being shown below.

Open captions are always displayed with the video – there is no option to turn them off. The experience with open captions is somewhat like watching a subtitled foreign film.

But despite captions often being referred to colloquially as subtitles, there is a difference between the two. Captions are made for those who are hard of hearing or have auditory processing issues. Captions should include any essential non-speech sound in the video as well as speaker differentiation if there are multiple speakers. Subtitles are made for viewers who can hear and just need the dialogue provided in text form.

For online conferences, I would say that closed captions are preferred, so viewers can choose whether or not to show the captions.

How Closed Captions Get Created

Captions can either be created as a sort of timed transcript that gets added to a pre-recorded video, or they can be done in real time. Live captioning is sometimes called communication access real-time translation (CART).

If you are captioning a pre-recorded video, the captions get created as a companion file to your video. There are several formats for caption files, but the most common I have seen are .SRT (SubRip Subtitle), .VTT (Web Video Text Tracks). These are known as simple closed caption formats because they are human readable – showing a timestamp or sequence number and the caption in plain text format with a blank line between each caption.

Who Does the Captions

There are multiple options for creating captions. The first thing to understand is that captioning is a valuable service and it costs money and/or time.

In general, there are 3 broad options for creating captions on pre-recorded video:

  • Authors or conference organizers manually create a caption file
  • Presentation software creates a caption file using AI
  • A third-party service creates a caption file with human transcription, AI, or a combination of both

Manually creating a caption file

Some video editing applications allow authors to create caption files. For example, Camtasia provides a way to manually add captions or to upload a transcript and sync it to your video.

Alternatively, there is a VTT Creator that lets you upload your video, write your captions with the video shown so you get the timing right, and then output your .VTT file.

Another approach is to use text-to-speech software to create a transcript of everything said during the presentation and then edit that transcript into a caption file.

Services like YouTube offer auto-captioning, so if it’s an option to upload as a private video to get the caption file from there, that is a good start. But you will need to go back through and edit the captions to ensure accuracy with either of these approaches. Vimeo also offers automatic captioning, but the results will also need to be reviewed and edited for accuracy.

These are valid approaches when you don’t have other options, but they can be very time consuming and the quality may vary. This might be ok for one short video, but is probably not ideal for a conference.

If you are going to make presenters responsible for their own captions, you need to provide them with plenty of time to create the captions and suggest low-cost ways to auto-generate captions. I’ve seen estimates that it can take up to 5 hours for an inexperienced person to create captions for one hour of content. Please be aware of the time commitment you are requesting of your presenters if you put this responsibility on them.

Captions in Your Presentation Software

Depending on the platform you use, your presentation software might provide AI-driven live captioning services. This is also known as Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR). For example, Teams offers a live caption service. As of today (November 2020), my understanding is that Zoom, GoToMeeting, and GoToWebinar do not offer built-in live caption services. Zoom allows you to let someone type captions or integrate with a 3rd party caption service. Zoom and GoToMeeting/GoToWebinar do offer transcriptions of meeting audio after the fact using an AI service.

PowerPoint also offers live captioning via its subtitles feature. My friend Echo made a video and blog post to show the effectiveness of PowerPoint subtitles, which you can view here. There are a couple of things to note before using this PowerPoint feature:

  1. It only works while PowerPoint is in presentation mode. If you have demos or need to refer to a document or website, you will lose captions when you open the document or web browser.
  2. If you are recording a session, your subtitles will be open subtitles embedded into your video. Viewers will not be able to turn them off.
  3. The captions will only capture the audio of the presenter who is running the PowerPoint. Other speakers will not have their voice recorded and will not be included in the captions.

Google Slides also offers live captions. The same limitations noted for PowerPoint apply to Google Slides as well.

Third-Party Caption Services

There are many companies that provide captioning services for both recorded and live sessions. This can be a good route to go to ensure consistency and quality. But all services are not created equal – quality will vary. For recorded sessions, you send them video files and they give you back caption files (.VTT, .SRT, or another caption file format). They generally charge you per minute of content. Some companies offer only AI-generated captions. Others offer AI- or human-generated captions, or AI-generated captions with human review. Humans transcribing your content tends to cost more than AI, but it also tends to have a higher accuracy. But I have seen some impressively accurate AI captions. Captions on recorded content are often less expensive than live captions (CART).

Below are a few companies I have come across that offer caption services. This is NOT an endorsement. I’m listing them so you can see examples of their offerings and pricing. Most of them offer volume discount or custom pricing.

  • Otter.ai – offers AI-generated captions for both recorded and live content, bulk import/export, team vocabulary
  • 3PlayMedia – offers AI-generated and human-reviewed captions for recorded content, AI-generated captions for live content. (Their standard pricing is hidden behind a form, but it’s currently $0.60 per minute of live auto-captioning and $2.50 per minute of closed captions for recorded video.)
  • Rev – offers captions for both recorded and live content, shared glossaries and speaker names to improve accuracy.

The Described and Captioned Media Program maintains a list of captioning service vendors for your reference. If you have used a caption service for a conference and want to share your opinion to help others, feel free to leave a comment on this post.

Questions for Conference Organizers to Ask When Choosing a Captioning Vendor

For recorded or live video:

  • What is your pricing model/cost? Do you offer bulk discounts or customized pricing?
  • Where/how will captions be shown in my conference platform? (If it will overlay video content, you need to notify speakers to adjust content to make room for it. But try to avoid this issue where possible.)
  • Is there an accuracy guarantee for the captions? How is accuracy measured?
  • Can I provide a list of names and a glossary of technical terms to help improve the caption accuracy?
  • Does the captioning service support multiple speakers? Does it label speakers’ dialogue to attribute it to the right person?
  • Does the captioning service conform to DCMP or WCAG captioning standards? (Helps ensure quality and usability)
  • How does the captioning service keep my files and information secure (platform security, NDAs, etc.)?
  • What languages does the captioning service support? (Important if your sessions are not all in English)

For recorded video:

  • Does my conference platform support closed captions? (If it doesn’t, then open captions encoded into the video will be required.)
  • What file type should captions be delivered in to be added to the conference platform?
  • What is the required lead time for the captioning service to deliver the caption files?
  • How do I get videos to the caption service?

For captions on live sessions:

  • Does the live caption service integrate with my conference/webinar platform?
  • How do I get support if something goes wrong? Is there an SLA?
  • What is the expected delay from the time a word is spoken to when it appears to viewers?

Further Captioning Advice for Conference Organizers

  • Budget constraints are real, especially if you are a small conference run by volunteers that doesn’t make a profit. Low quality captions can be distracting, but no captions means you have made a decision to exclude people who need captions. Do some research on pricing from various vendors, and ask what discounts are available. You can also consider offering a special sponsorship package where a sponsor can be noted as providing captions for the conference.
  • If you are running a large conference, this should be a line item in your budget. Good captions cost money, but that isn’t an excuse to go without them.
  • If your conference includes both live and recorded sessions, you can find a vendor that does both. You’ll just want to check prices to make sure they work for you.
  • If your budget means you have to go with ASR, make sure to allow time to review and edit closed captions on recorded video.
  • Try to get a sample of the captions from your selected vendor to ensure quality beforehand. If possible for recorded videos, allow speakers to preview the captions to ensure quality. Some of them won’t, but some will. And it’s likely a few errors will have slipped through that can be caught and corrected by the speakers or the organizer team. This is especially important for deeply technical or complex topics.
  • Make sure you have plenty of lead time for recorded videos. If a speaker is a few days late delivering a video, make sure their video can still be captioned and confirm if there is an extra fee.

Final Thoughts and Recap

If you’d like more information about captions, 3PlayMedia has an Ultimate Guide to Closed Captioning with tons of good info. Feel free to share any tips or tricks you have for captioning conference sessions in the comments.

I’ve summarized the info in this post below for quick reference.

Terms to Know

  • Closed captions: captions that can be turned on and off by the viewer
  • Open captions: captions that are embedded into the video and cannot be turned off
  • CART: communication access real-time translation, a technical term for live captioning
  • ASR: automatic speech recognition, use of artificial intelligence technology to generate captions
  • .SRT and .VTT: common closed caption file formats

Choosing a Captioning Solution for Your Conference

(Click to enlarge)

Diagram summarizing decision points when choosing a captioning solution. For high budget, choose human generated/reviewed captions from a service. For low budget and moderate time, choose ASR captions. For no budget, choose ASR built into presentation/conference software. Otherwise, someone will need to manually create captions. If you can't provide captions, let viewers know in advance.
This diagram represents general trends and common decision points when choosing a captioning solution. Your specific situation may vary from what is shown here

Summary of Caption Solutions

Manual creation of caption files for recorded sessions
Cost: None
Time/Effort: High
Pros:
• Doesn’t require a third-party integration
• Supports closed captions
• Works no matter what application is shown on the screen
• Works not matter what application is used to record and edit video
Cons:
• Accuracy will vary widely
• Manual syntax errors can cause the file to be unusable

Upload to YouTube, Vimeo or another service that offers free captions
Cost: None to Low
Time/Effort: Medium
Pros:
• Supports closed captions
• Works no matter what application is shown on the screen
• Works no matter what application is used to record and edit video
Cons:
• Not available for live sessions
• Requires editing of captions to achieve acceptable accuracy
• Requires an account with the service and (at least temporary) permission to upload the video
• Accuracy will vary widely

Auto-generated captions in presentation software (e.g., PowerPoint, Google Slides)
Cost: Low
Time/Effort: Low
Pros:
• Works for live and recorded sessions
• No third-party integrations required
Cons:
• Requires that all presenters use presentation software with this feature
• Must be enabled by the presenter
• Won’t work when speaker is showing another application
• Often offers only open captions
• Accuracy may vary
• Often only captures one speaker

ASR (AI-generated) captions from captioning service
Cost: Medium
Time/Effort: Low
Pros:
• Works for live and recorded sessions
• Supports closed captions
• Works no matter what application is shown on the screen
• Works not matter what application is used to record and edit video
Cons:
• Accuracy may vary
• Requires planning to meet lead times for recorded sessions
• Poor viewer experience if delay is too large during live sessions

Human-generated or human-reviewed captions from a captioning service
Cost: High
Time/Effort: Low
Pros:
• Ensures the highest quality with the lowest effort from conference organizers and speakers
• Works for live and recorded sessions
• Works no matter what application is shown on the screen
• Works not matter what application is used to record and edit video
Cons:
• Requires planning to meet lead times for recorded sessions
• Poor viewer experience if delay is too large during live sessions

I hope you find this exploration of options for captions in online conference content helpful. Let me know in the comments if you have anything to add to this post to help other conference organizers.

Accessibility, Data Visualization, Microsoft Technologies, Power BI

Stop Letting Accessibility Be Optional In Your Power BI Reports

We don’t talk about inclusive design nearly enough in the Power BI community. I was trying to recall the last time I saw a demo report (from Microsoft or the community) that looked like consideration was made for basic accessibility, and… it’s a pretty rare occurrence.

A woman, man, and another man in a wheelchair next to the Power BI logo.

Part of the reason for this might be that accessibility was added into Power BI after the fact, with keyboard accessible visual interactions being added in 2019 as one of the last big accessibility improvements. But I think the more likely reasons are that inclusive design requires empathy and understanding of how to build reports for people who work differently than ourselves, and Power BI accessibility features take time and effort to implement. While we can never make our reports 100% accessible for everyone, that doesn’t mean we should just not try for anyone.

Population statistics tell us that many of our colleagues have or will have a disability at some point, and many of them will be invisible. So even if you don’t see a report consumer with an obvious disability today, that doesn’t mean an existing user won’t acquire a disability or a new user with a disability won’t come along as people change roles in an organization. In addition to the permanent disabilities we normally think of, there are also temporary and situational disabilities that we should try to accommodate.

In order to start designing more inclusively, we need to increase conversation around accessibility requirements and standards for our reports. I fully understand that it can feel tedious or confusing as you get started. I hope that as Power BI matures, the accessibility features will mature as well to make it even easier to create a more accessible report by default. For now, the only way to make accessible Power BI report design easier for report creators is for us to start forming accessible design habits and to offer feedback to the Power BI team along the way.

My Accessible Report Design Proposal

This is what I would like to see from report creators in the community as well as within Microsoft. I’ll define what I mean by accessible report design in the next section.

  • Before publishing a report, implement accessible design techniques as thoroughly as possible.
  • For demonstrations of report design/UI techniques where you are providing a finished product at the end, implement accessible design techniques as thoroughly as possible.
  • For demonstrations of things that are not inherently visual, implement bare minimum accessibility or add a disclaimer to the report.
    Example: “Here’s a cool DAX technique that I just threw into a quick table or bar chart to show you the results. It hasn’t been cleaned up and made accessible (alt text, color contrast, etc.), but I would do that before publishing.”
  • For demonstrations of report design/UI techniques where you show only part of the process, implement bare minimum accessibility or add a disclaimer to the report. 
    Example: “This is the part of the report creation process about creating bookmarks, and before I publish to an audience, I want to make sure I’m following good design practices including accessibility.”

Power BI Report Accessibility

I have a full list of things to check here. That is the checklist that I use to ensure my report designs are generally accessible, when I have no specific compliance requirements or knowledge or any specific disabilities that need to be accommodated. In my opinion, this is what we should be doing in all of our reports because we want everyone in our intended audience to be able use our reports. You’ll find a very similar checklist on Microsoft Docs.

If you need to start smaller, you can go with my bare minimum accessibility and work your way up to the full list.

Bare Minimum Accessibility

This is the short list of the most impactful (according to me) accessibility changes you can make in your report. Use this because you have to start somewhere, but realize there is more we should be doing.

  1. Ensure text and visual components have sufficient color contrast
  2. Use descriptive, purposeful chart titles
  3. Avoid using color as the only means of conveying information
  4. Set tab order on all visuals in each page
  5. Remove unnecessary jargon and acronyms from all charts

Give It a Try

I just learned that the Power BI Community Featured Data Stories Gallery theme for September is Accessibility. So here’s your chance to win a free t-shirt and internet bragging rights by showing off your accessible design skills. You need to submit your report to the Data Stories Gallery by September 30th in order for your submission to be considered. But a well designed, accessible Power BI report added to the gallery is appreciated any time of year!

Accessibility, Data Visualization, Microsoft Technologies, Power BI

Fun with Power BI and Color Math

I recently published my color contrast report in the Power BI Data Stories Gallery. It allows you to enter two hex color values and then see the color contrast ratio and get advice on how the two colors should be used together in an accessible manner.

Screenshot of the Color Contrast calculator Power BI report. The report headline reads "How shoudl I use these colors together in my Power BI report?". There are 2 slicers that allow you to select colors by hex value. A contrast ratio is shown along with advice generated on how to use the colors.
Color contrast calculations in a Power BI report

I could go on for paragraphs about making sure your report designs are accessible and useful for your intended audience. But this post focuses on how I made this report.

The Calculations

Color contrast (as calculated in the WCAG 2.1 success criteria) is dependent on luminance. Luminance is the relative brightness of any point in a color space, normalized to 0 for darkest black and 1 for lightest white. In order to calculate color contrast you must first get the luminance of each color.

As an example, I have colors #F3F2F1 and #007E97. In this hex notation, often explained as #RRGGBB, the first two digits represent red, the second two digits are green, and the last two digits are blue. Each two digits is a value that represents the decimal numbers 0 to 255 in hexadecimal notation. The same red, green, and blue values can be represented in decimal notation as integers, and this is what is used to calculate luminance. #F3F2F1 is RGB(243, 242, 241), and #007E97 is RGB(0,126,151).

On a side note, there are places in Power BI where we can change the transparency of the color which is referred to as RGBA (where A represents opacity/transparency). But whenever you copy a hex color value out of the color palette in Power BI, you will just see the 6 digits without the A because the A is stored separately in the UI. When you set colors using DAX formulas, you can specify the A value.

The sRGB color space is non-linear. It compensates for humans’ non-linear perception of light and color. If images are not gamma-encoded, they assign too many bits or too much bandwidth to highlights that humans can’t distinguish, and too few bits to shadows to which humans are sensitive and would require more bits to maintain the same visual quality. To calculate luminance we have to linearize the color values.

For each color component (R,G,and B), we first divide our integer value by 255 to get a decimal value between 0 and 1. Then we apply the linearization formula:

  • if R sRGB <= 0.04045 then R = R sRGB /12.92 else R = ((R sRGB +0.055)/1.055) ^ 2.4
  • if G sRGB <= 0.04045 then G = G sRGB /12.92 else G = ((G sRGB +0.055)/1.055) ^ 2.4
  • if B sRGB <= 0.04045 then B = B sRGB /12.92 else B = ((B sRGB +0.055)/1.055) ^ 2.4

Note: You will find sources online that that incorrectly use the number 0.03928 in the linearization formula instead of .04045. My understanding is that this is incorrect for sRGB.

Then we plug those values in to calculate luminance:

L = 0.2126 * R + 0.7152 * G + 0.0722 * B

The luminance of #F3F2F1 is .8891. The luminance of #007E97 is .1716.

The final calculation is color contrast:

(L1 + 0.05) / (L2 + 0.05), where

  • L1 is the relative luminance of the lighter of the foreground or background colors, and
  • L2 is the relative luminance of the darker of the foreground or background colors.

The color contrast between #F3F2F1 and #007E97 is 4.24, and we usually write this as 4.24:1. You can check my math here.

The Dataset

The source data for the report is generated entirely in Power Query. It starts with a simple list of the integers 0 through 255. I placed this in a query called Values.

let
    Source = List.Numbers(0,256),
    #"Converted to Table" = Table.FromList(Source, Splitter.SplitByNothing(), null, null, ExtraValues.Error),
    #"Changed Type" = Table.TransformColumnTypes(#"Converted to Table",{{"Column1", Int64.Type}})
in
    #"Changed Type"

My linearization function is called ColorConvert.

(colornum as number) =>
let 
    Source = if colornum < .04045 then colornum/12.92 else  Number.Power(((colornum+0.055)/1.055),2.4)
in
    Source

My main query is called color 1. This is where all the calculations through luminance are done.

let
    //Get values 0 - 255
    Source = Values,
    //Call that column R for Red
    #"R Dec" = Table.RenameColumns(Source,{{"Column1", "R Dec"}}),
    //Crossjoin to Values to get Green values 0 - 255
    #"G Dec" = Table.AddColumn(#"R Dec", "Custom", each Values),
    #"Expanded G Dec" = Table.ExpandTableColumn(#"G Dec", "Custom", {"Column1"}, {"G Dec"}),
    //Crossjoin to Values to get Blue values 0 - 255
    #"B Dec" = Table.AddColumn(#"Expanded G Dec", "B", each Values),
    #"Expanded B Dec" = Table.ExpandTableColumn(#"B Dec", "B", {"Column1"}, {"B Dec"}),
    //Get hexidecimal values for R,G,B
    #"R Hex" = Table.AddColumn(#"Expanded B Dec", "R Hex", each Text.End("00" & Number.ToText([R Dec], "x"),2)),
    #"G Hex" = Table.AddColumn(#"R Hex", "G Hex", each Text.End("00" & Number.ToText([G Dec], "x"),2)),
    #"B Hex" = Table.AddColumn(#"G Hex", "B Hex", each Text.End("00" & Number.ToText([B Dec], "x"),2)),
    //Concatenate to get full 6-digit Hex color value
    #"Changed Hex Type" = Table.TransformColumnTypes(#"B Hex",{{"R Hex", type text}, {"G Hex", type text}, {"B Hex", type text}}),
    #"Full Hex" = Table.AddColumn(#"Changed Hex Type", "Hex", each [R Hex] & [G Hex] & [B Hex]),
    //Convert integers to decimals and linearize
    #"R Lin" = Table.AddColumn(#"Full Hex", "R Lin", each ColorConvert(([R Dec]/255))),
    #"G Lin" = Table.AddColumn(#"R Lin", "G Lin", each ColorConvert(([G Dec]/255))),
    #"B Lin" = Table.AddColumn(#"G Lin", "B Lin", each ColorConvert(([B Dec]/255))),
    //Calculate luminance with the linearized values
    #"Luminance" = Table.AddColumn(#"B Lin", "Luminance", each 0.2126 * [R Lin] + 0.7152 * [G Lin] + 0.0722 * [B Lin]),
    #"Changed Luminance Type" = Table.TransformColumnTypes(#"Luminance",{{"Luminance", type number}}),
    //Create a column for hexidecimal value with the hash/pound at the beginning
    #"Hex Dup" = Table.DuplicateColumn(#"Changed Luminance Type", "Hex", "Hex With Hash"),
    #"Hex with Hash" = Table.TransformColumns(#"Hex Dup", {{"Hex With Hash", each "#" & _, type text}}),
    //Remove Hex and linearized RGB columns to keep model under 1 GB limit for Pro license
    #"Removed Columns" = Table.RemoveColumns(#"Hex with Hash",{"R Hex", "G Hex", "B Hex", "R Lin", "G Lin", "B Lin", "Hex"}),
    //Rename Hex with Hash to Hex
    #"Renamed Columns" = Table.RenameColumns(#"Removed Columns",{{"Hex With Hash", "Hex"}})
in
    #"Renamed Columns"

In order to allow users to choose two colors, I made a reference query to Color 1 called Color 2.

let
    Source = #"Color 1"
in
    Source

If you are interested in these Power Query scripts, you can get them from this Gist.

DAX Calculations

The color contrast calculation is a DAX measure because it is dynamically calculated based upon the colors selected in the report.

Color Contrast = 
If( Max('Color 1'[Luminance]) > MAX('Color 2'[Luminance]),
    Divide((Max('Color 1'[Luminance]) + 0.05) , (Max('Color 2'[Luminance]) + 0.05)),
    Divide((Max('Color 2'[Luminance]) + 0.05) , (Max('Color 1'[Luminance]) + 0.05))
)

The advice given based upon the color contrast ratio is also a DAX measure.

Advice =
IF (
    [Color Contrast] < 3,
    "Not enough contrast for text or non-text content, use only for decorative items",
    IF (
        [Color Contrast] < 4.5,
        "Appropriate for large text at least 18pt, bold text at least 14 pt, or non-text content",
        IF (
            'Color 1'[Color Contrast] >= 4.5,
            "Appropriate for any size text and any non-text content"
        )
    )
)

The example charts showing the two colors as foreground and background are SVG measures.

Chart 1 =
VAR Bkgrnd =
    MAX ( 'Color 1'[Hex] )
VAR Frgrnd =
    MAX ( 'Color 2'[Hex] )
VAR chart = "data:image/svg+xml;utf8,<svg xmlns='http://www.w3.org/2000/svg' width='100' height='100' viewBox='0 0 24 24' style='background-color:" & Bkgrnd & "'><path fill= '" & Frgrnd & "' d='M7 19h-6v-11h6v11zm8-18h-6v18h6v-18zm8 11h-6v7h6v-7zm1 9h-24v2h24v-2z'/></svg>"
RETURN
    chart
Chart 2 =
VAR Bkgrnd =
    MAX ( 'Color 2'[Hex] )
VAR Frgrnd =
    MAX ( 'Color 1'[Hex] )
VAR chart = "data:image/svg+xml;utf8,<svg xmlns='http://www.w3.org/2000/svg' width='100' height='100' viewBox='0 0 24 24' style='background-color:" & Bkgrnd & "'><path fill= '" & Frgrnd & "' d='M7 19h-6v-11h6v11zm8-18h-6v18h6v-18zm8 11h-6v7h6v-7zm1 9h-24v2h24v-2z'/></svg>"
RETURN
    chart

The check or x mark to indicate whether the colors can be used together in a graph or in text is created using Unicode characters.

UseInGraph =
IF ( [Color Contrast] < 3, "✗", "✔" )
UseInText =
IF ( [Color Contrast] < 4.5, "✗", "✔" )

The RGB value shown for each color in the report is a DAX measure because storing it in the model made the model size larger than 1 GB, which would have prohibited me from deploying the report and publishing it to the web.

RGB1 =
VAR R =
    SELECTEDVALUE ( 'Color 1'[R Dec] )
VAR G =
    SELECTEDVALUE ( 'Color 1'[G Dec] )
VAR B =
    SELECTEDVALUE ( 'Color 1'[B Dec] )
RETURN
    R & "," & G & "," & B

Check Out the Report

This post was an enjoyable combination of color, Power BI, and a bit of math. It was fun to make the report since it brought together my interests in accessibility and Power BI model optimization. At the least I’m hoping this gives you some exposure to how accessibility guidelines are applied to reports. If you are like me, you’ll find the color math fascinating and go down that rabbit hole.

Take a few seconds, pick some colors, and give the report a try.

Accessibility, Conferences, Microsoft Technologies, PASS Summit, Power BI

I’m Speaking at Virtual PASS Summit 2020

PASS Summit has gone virtual this year, but that isn’t keeping PASS from delivering a good lineup of speakers and activities. I’m excited to be presenting a pre-con and two regular sessions this year. I know virtual delivery changes the interaction between audience and speaker, and I’m going to do everything I can to make my sessions more than just standard lecture and demo to keep things interesting.

Building Power BI Reports that Communicate Insights and Engage People (Pre-Con)

If you are into Power BI or data visualization, check out my pre-con session. It’s called Building Power BI Reports that Communicate Insights and Engage People. Unless we’ve had data visualization training, the way we learn to make reports is by copying reports that others have made. But that assumes other people were designing intentionally for human consumption. Another issue is that we often mimic example reports from tool vendors. That can be very helpful with the technical aspects of getting content on the page, but we often overlook the design aspects of reports that can make or break their usability and effectiveness in communicating information. My pre-con will begin with discussion on how humans interpret data visualizations and how you can use that to your advantage to make better, more consumable visualizations. We’ll take those lessons and apply them specifically to Power BI and then add on some tips and tricks. Throughout the day, there will be hands-on exercises and opportunities for group conversation. And you’ll receive some resources to take with you to help you continue to improve your report designs.

Agenda slide from my pre-con session: 1) Defining Success, 2) Message & Story, 3) Designing a Visual, 4) Refine Your Report 5) Applied Power BI 6) Power BI Tricks 7) Wrap-Up
Agenda for my PASS Summit pre-con titled Building Power BI Reports that Communicate Insights and Engage People

This session is geared toward people that have at least basic familiarity with Power BI Desktop (if you can populate a bar chart on a report page, that’s good enough). If you have never opened Power BI Desktop, we might move a little fast, but you are welcome to join us and give it a try. If you are pretty good with Power BI Desktop, but you want to improve your data visualization skills, this session could also be a good fit for you. I hope you’ll register and join my pre-con.

Implementing Data-Driven Storytelling Techniques in Power BI

Data storytelling is a popular concept, but the techniques to implement storytelling in Power BI can be a bit elusive, especially when you have data values that change as the data is refreshed. In this session, we’ll talk about what is meant by story. Then I’ll introduce you to tool-agnostic techniques for data storytelling and show you how you can use them in Power BI. We’ll also discuss the visual hierarchy within a page and how that affects your story. You can view my session description here.

Inclusive Presentation Design

I’m also delivering a professional development session for those of us that give presentations. Most speakers have good intentions and are excited to share their knowledge and perspective, but we often exclude audience members with our presentation design. Join me in this session to discuss how to design your presentation materials with appropriate content formatted to maximize learning for your whole audience. You’ll gain a better understanding of how to enhance your delivery to make an impact on those with varying abilities to see, hear, and understand your presentation. You can view my presentation description here.

Other Pre-Cons from My Brilliant Co-Workers

If you aren’t into report design, my DCAC coworkers are delivering pre-cons that may interest you.

Denny Cherry is doing a pre-con session on Microsoft Azure Platform Infrastructure.

John Morehouse is talking about Avoiding the Storms When Migrating to Azure.

I hope you’ll join one of us for a pre-con as well as our regular sessions. With PASS Summit being virtual, the lower price and removal of travel requirements may make this conference more accessible to some who haven’t been able to attend in past years. Be sure to get yourself registered and spread the word to colleagues.

Accessibility, Microsoft Technologies, Power BI

Check Out My MBAS Presentation on Power BI Report Accessibility

I had the privilege of working with Tessa Hurr (PM on the Power BI team) on a presentation for the 2020 Microsoft Business Applications Summit (MBAS) about five features in Power BI that increase report accessibility. This 23-minute presentation is almost entirely demos, and only a few slides. While we talk about some features such as alt text and tab order that are primarily used for accessibility purposes, we also talk about how chart titles, header tooltips, and report themes can be used to make your report more accessible.

Presentation slide listing Five Features that Increase Report Accessibility: tab order, chart titles, header tooltips, alt text, and report themes
Slide from the MBAS 2020 session Creating accessible reports in Power BI

The conference was entirely online this year, and you can catch the sessions on demand now. I hope you’ll take some time to watch my session as well as the other great content that came from the conference. You can watch my session on the MBAS website.

Accessibility, Data Visualization, Power BI

PolicyViz Podcast Episode on Accessibility

I had the pleasure of talking with Jon Schwabish about accessibility in data visualization. The episode was released this week. You can check it out at https://policyviz.com/podcast/episode-169-meagan-longoria/.

Policy Viz
PolicyViz helps you do a better job processing, analyzing, sharing, and presenting your data.

If you’ve never thought about accessibility in data visualization before, here is what I want you to know.

  1. Your explanatory data visualization should be communicating something to your intended audience. You can’t assume people in your intended audience do not have a disability. People with disabilities want to consume data visualizations, too.
  2. We can’t make everything 100% usable for everyone. But that doesn’t mean we should do nothing. Achieving accessibility is a shared responsibility of the tool maker and the visualization designer. There are several things we can do to increase accessibility using any data visualization tool that don’t require much effort. Regardless of the tool you use, you can usually control things like color contrast, keyboard tab/reading order, and removing or replacing jargon.
  3. Accessible design may seem foreign or tedious in the beginning. We tend to design for ourselves because that is the user we understand most. But if we start adding tasks like checking color contrast and setting reading order into our normal design routine, it just becomes habit. Over time, those accessible design habits become easier and more intuitive.

I hope that one day accessible design will just be design. You can be part of that effort, whether you are a professional designer, a database administrator just trying to show some performance statistics, or an analyst putting together a report.

Listen to the podcast for my top 5 things you should do to make your data visualizations more accessible.

Accessibility, Azure, Conferences, Microsoft Technologies, SQL Saturday

I Presented with Live Captioning and Sign Language Interpreters

I had the pleasure of presenting a full-day pre-conference session on the Friday before SQLSaturday Austin-BI last weekend. I could spend paragraphs telling you how enjoyable and friendly and inclusive the event was. But I’d like to focus on one really cool aspect of my speaking experience: I had both live captioning and sign language interpreters in my pre-con session.

First, let’s talk about the captions. While PowerPoint does have live captions/subtitles, that only works when you are using PowerPoint. When you show a demo or go to a web page, taking PowerPoint off the screen, you lose that ability. So we had a special setup provided by Shawn Weisfeld (Twitter|GitHub).

How the Live Captions Worked

A presenter uses a lavalier mic that sends audio to Epiphan Pearl. The presenter's computer sends video to Epiphan Pearl. Epiphan Pearl sends audio to a computer that sends audio to Azure and receives captions. The computer overlays the captions above the images from teh presenters laptop. That is all sent to the projector.
Technology setup at SQLSaturday Austin- BI Edition 2020 that provided live captions

The presenter connects their laptop to the Epiphan Pearl with an HDMI cable so they can send the video (picture) from the laptop. The speaker wears a lavalier microphone, which sends audio to the Pearl. The transcription green screen computer takes audio from the Pearl, sends it to Azure to be transcribed using Cognitive Services, and overlays the returned transcription text on a green screen input that is sent back to the Pearl. The projector gets the combined output of the transcription text and the presenter’s computer video output.

You can see an example of what it looked like from my presentation on Saturday in the tweet below. There are lots more pictures of it on Twitter with the #SqlSatAustinBI hashtag.

While this setup requires a bit more hardware, it worked so well! It took about 10 minutes to get it set up in the morning. As the speaker, I didn’t have to do anything but wear a mic. It transcribed everything I said regardless of what program my laptop was showing. There was very little lag. It seemed to be less than one second between when I would say something and when we would see it on the screen. While I try to speak clearly and slowly, sometimes I slip and fall back into speaking quickly. But the transcription kept up well. Some attendees said it was great to have the captions up on the screen to help them understand what I said when I occasionally spoke too quickly. The captions are placed at the top of the screen, above the image coming from my laptop, so I didn’t have to adjust my slides or anything to allow space for the captions.

The live captions were a big success. They helped not only people who had trouble hearing, but also those who spoke English as a second language and those who weren’t familiar with some of the terms I used and needed to see them spelled out.

Presenting With Sign Language Interpreters

This was my first time presenting with sign language interpreters to help communicate with my audience. Since the pre-con session lasted multiple hours, there were two interpreters in my room. They would switch places about every hour. They were kind enough to answer a few questions for me during breaks.

I asked them if it was difficult to sign all the technical terminology used and if they tried to study up on terms ahead of time. One of them told me that they don’t study the subject and they fingerspell all the technical terms. Most of my terms were spelled on my slides, and I saw the interpreter look at the slide to get the spelling. When someone asked a question about the font I was using, the interpreter asked me to spell it out, since it wasn’t written anywhere. I asked if having printed slides helped (I provided PDFs of the slides to the attendees at the beginning of the session). One of the interpreters told me no, because they were already watching the signer for questions and watching my slides and listening to me.

What I loved most about having the interpreters there was that the person using the service got to fully participate in the session. They asked questions and made comments like anyone else. And they participated in hands-on small group activities.

Check out this great photo of one of the interpreters in action during a small group activity.

5 people sit in a group at a table while a sign language interpreter sits across the table and helps the group communicate
Photo of small group activities during my Power BI pre-con with a sign language interpreter in the group. Photo by Angela Tidwell

Having ASL interpreters didn’t require any extra effort on my part. I didn’t have to practice with them beforehand or provide them with any of my conference materials. They were great professionals and were able to keep up with me through lecture, demos, small group exercises, and Q&A.

Sign language interpreters cost money. And they should – they provide a valuable service. In this case, the interpreters were provided by the State of Texas because the person using the service worked for the state government. Because this was training for their job, the person’s employer was obligated to provide this service. So we were lucky that it didn’t cost us anything.

While the SQLSaturday organizers were coordinating the ASL interpreters, they found out that there is a fund in Texas that can help with accessibility services when a person’s employer doesn’t/can’t provide them. It may not be the same in every state, but it’s definitely something to look into if you need to pay for interpreters for an event like this.

Make Your Next Event More Accessible

I have organized events, and I understand the effort that it requires. I’m so happy that Angela and Mike made the effort to make SQLSaturday Austin-BI a more inclusive event. I would like to challenge you to do the same for the next event you organize or the next presentation you give at a tech conference.

Your conference may not be able to afford the Epiphan Pearl (note: the original model we used is discontinued, but there is a new model) and the Azure costs. I’d like to see SQLSaturdays join together and purchase equipment and share across events – it would be great if PASS would help with this. Or maybe a company involved in the community could sponsor them? If we can’t do that, we could always start small with the built-in capabilities in PowerPoint and work our way up from there.

It was a great experience as a speaker and as an audience member to have the live captions. And I was so happy that someone wanted to attend my session and was making the effort to sign up and request the ASL interpreters. I hope we see more of that in the future. But we need to do our part to let people know that we welcome that and we will work to make it happen.

Accessibility, Microsoft Power Apps, Power BI

Microsoft Can’t Make Your Power BI Reports Accessible Without Your Help

Every once in a while, someone asks a question like “Can Power BI be accessible?” or “Is Power BI WCAG compliant?” It makes me happy when people recognize the need for accessibility in Power BI. (I’ll save the discussion about compliance not automatically ensuring accessibility for another day.) But most people don’t appreciate the answer to either question.

A woman, man, and person in a wheelchair positioned next to the Power BI logo

The answer is that WCAG compliance and accessible design are highly dependent upon the report creator. Microsoft has added many built-in accessibility features such as keyboard navigation, high contrast view, and screen reader compatibility. But they can’t make your report automatically accessible as there are accessibility features requiring configuration by the report designer. We need to set the tab order and alt text and use descriptive chart titles – there is no artificial intelligence to do this for us (yet?). Beyond that, things like color contrast and colorblind-friendly design are almost entirely the responsibility of the report designer.

Accessible design used to be solely the domain of UI developers. But as we democratize analytics to have everyone building reports, we now have to create awareness and a sense of responsibility among Power BI report creators, especially those who don’t consider themselves developers.

There is a similar challenge going on with data security. It used to be that people thought of it as a concern only for the IT department. Now, it is widely accepted that everyone in an organization plays a role in maintaining data security. I hope the same attitude will be widely adopted when it comes to accessibility in data visualization and analytics.

This challenge is present in any low-code environment with users of diverse backgrounds and technical expertise, which means it is relevant to the entire Power Platform and other similar tools. There is a white paper on PowerApps Accessibility Standards and Guidelines that has a great description of the situation.

PowerApps embodies the idea of “democratization of development”—anyone in your organization can quickly and easily create a powerful app and share it broadly. But the app maker has an ethical, and sometimes legal, obligation to support “democratization of usage” as well—any user of your app must be able to use it as it was intended.

Based upon the popularity of the Power Platform, I’d say the democratization of development has been a wild success. But we still have some steps to take to democratize usage. Microsoft is doing their part to make their products accessible and to fix accessibility bugs quickly. Now we need to recognize and honor our obligation to design inclusively.

The Microsoft Docs on accessible report design were recently updated to provide more guidance. I hope you’ll check them out and start implementing the recommendations in your reports.

Accessibility, Data Visualization, Microsoft Technologies

How a new custom PowerPoint template is helping us to be more effective presenters

DCAC recently had a custom PowerPoint template built for us. We use PowerPoint for teaching technical concepts, delivering sales and marketing presentations, and more. One thing I love about working at DCAC is that each of the 6 consultants is also a speaker at conferences. So we all care about making presentation content understandable and memorable.

In addition to the general desire to be an effective presenter, I have a special interest in accessible design. I speak and consult on accessibility in Power BI report design. So I feel a responsibility to try to be accessible in all areas of visual design. In addition, I know that making things more accessible tends to increase usability for everyone.

PowerPoint templates in general reduce manual efforts to assign colors, set fonts and font sizes, and implement other design properties such as animations. I’m all for making a decision once, templatizing it, and making it easy to instantiate. But most of the templates available within PowerPoint and sold online don’t follow good presentation design practices. That is to say, the formatting gets in the way of the content.

Having a template made

Anyone can make a PowerPoint template. You just have to learn how master slides work. Lots of marketing and graphic design companies offer to create PowerPoint templates. But they are mostly concerned with staying on brand or making something shiny. And people make presentations because we want to communicate information. I wanted our template to make it easy for us to follow some good design practices, including accessibility.

So I reached out to my friend Echo Rivera who has her own company, Creative Research Communications, that specializes in making visually engaging presentations about highly technical topics. I came across one of her tweets a couple of years ago and visited her website. Some of the things I have learned from Echo’s courses and blog posts include:

Echo worked with me to make a template that followed good design practices but was flexible enough for a variety of content and audiences. And we also made the template fairly accessible! I’m pleased with the way our template turned out. A template can’t do everything for you, but it can give you a good start.

The process of presentation template design

I found the process of designing the template interesting, so I thought I would share a bit about that.

First, I sent Echo some samples of the presentations we give and some ideas on a color palette. We met to discuss our corporate personality, our presentation needs, and our goals for the template. Then a few members of the DCAC team helped me pick some potential images for the title slide.

Next we picked icons and colors for sections that we thought we would commonly include in presentations. We stuck with a white background on some content slides to make it easier to use images and diagrams from online (so we wouldn’t have to expend effort removing image backgrounds when they weren’t transparent). It also made it easier to choose colors with good contrast.

Once we got the full draft of the template, the team reviewed it and tried it out on some slides. And because things were going too smoothly, we decided we didn’t like the image we selected for the title slide, and chose another one. We made a few adjustments to default font sizes so that slides would fit our company name and slide headings with long technology names on a single line. We also adjusted the position of the slide heading text on slides with the line and icon at the top (shown below) so the text didn’t sit directly on the line.

We made a version of the slide template that has a small single-color logo on each slide. I plan to use this for sales slides and other situations where we need to ensure our name is on a slide when taken out of context (like a screenshot of a single slide). But the logo is small and not distracting so it doesn’t negatively impact design.

We made the template expecting that team members would adjust the master slides and use the provided multi-purpose layouts as needed for each presentation. We will change icons and use blank slides to add diagrams and big images. We also have multiple options for title and thank you slides.

Benefits of our new PowerPoint template

There is a lot to the new template, and examples below are shown without a ton of background explanation. But I couldn’t write this blog post and not show some examples, and I didn’t want this post to turn into a novel.

Our slides use color contrast to create visual interest while staying close to our corporate color palette.

The spacing and font sizes allow for about 6 lines of text max in an all-text slide. Our default font size for text content is 32pt.

Content slide with large text and clean formatting
Content slide from Meagan’s presentation on accessible Power BI report design

We used icons and color to denote sections in our presentations.

I think the best thing that this process has done is encourage us to use less text and more images. Check out the recently created slides from one of John’s presentations below.

My checklist for accessibility in visual presentation design includes:

  • font sizes no smaller than 24pt
  • color contrast that meets WCAG standards (3:1 for large text, 4.5:1 for smaller text)
  • avoiding using color as the only means of conveying information
  • avoiding color combinations that are problematic for people with color vision deficiency

Echo worked patiently and diligently with me to measure and adjust colors to meet these criteria. It was great to have someone that understood these goals.

Feedback from other team members

To be honest, I think it took some time for the template to grow on people. But most of us have warmed to it. If you are used to small images, lots of text, and extensive use of clip art and smart art, switching to the template can be a bit difficult. But that’s kind of the point.

Echo gave us some videos on how to use the template and some slide makeover examples when she delivered the template, and I asked the team to watch this TEDx talk. That reinforced the design goals and choices.

I asked the team for comments, and this is what they said.

“I like having a professional-looking, themed template that isn’t just something out of the box that looks like everyone else’s. The template, plus the helpful background info force you to think about what you are puking onto a single slide. It will lead to some semi-major rewrite/re-evaluation of about every presentation I do.”

Kerry

“The template, in part with its notes and reminders, helps me to ensure that I put the proper amount of context on a given slide.  It’s a balancing act with font size and content.  If I have to reduce the font size below 32 pt and I still have content to provide, it goes on another slide.”

John

Final thoughts

Will every slide we make be perfect and beautiful? No. But this template will help us avoid common mistakes like having too much text on the slide, and it provides some built-in accessibility without us having to remember to make adjustments.

I really enjoyed working with and learning from Echo, and I recommend her for your presentation design needs. I want to note that she prefers that you take her training before she does custom design work for you so you have a mutual design foundation to build upon. But her courses are great, so that’s not a hardship.

It’s also a privilege to work with people that share and support my goals of effective presentation delivery and accessible design. PowerPoint templates are part of the branding and marketing collateral in an organization, and I love what this says about DCAC.

Accessibility, Conferences, Microsoft Power Apps, Microsoft Technologies, Power BI

I’m Speaking at Microsoft Ignite 2019

I’m happy to be speaking at Microsoft Ignite this year. I have an unconference session and a regular session, both focused on accessibility in the Power Platform.

The regular session, Techniques for accessible report design in Microsoft Power BI, will be Wednesday, November 6 at 2:15pm. In this session I’ll discuss the features available in Power BI for making accessible reports and demonstrate techniques for making your reports easier to use. This session will be recorded, so if you can’t make it to Ignite, you can catch it online.

My unconference session, Accessibility in the Microsoft Power Platform, is a chance to have a discussion about accessibility in Power BI and PowerApps. It will be held on Thursday, November 7 at 10:45 am. Unconference sessions at Ignite include facilitor-led discussion and exercises that encourage audience participation where everyone can share their experiences and opinions. If you will be at Ignite and want to share struggles or successes in improving accessibility or raising awareness of accessibility issues, please join me.

This year at Ignite there is a reservation system for unconferences. You can RSVP while you are building your schedule on the website. Walk-ins will be accepted just before the session, assuming there is room. But please RSVP if you want to be sure to get a seat in an unconference session. Unconference sessions are not recorded, so this will be an in-person session only. But I will post materials through the Ignite website once the session is over.

If you will be at Ignite, please stop by and say hello and meet Artemis the Power BI accessibility aardvark.