Looking back at these last two years, I’ve overcome some obstacles, but I do have a lot to be proud of. Though it was the sum of hard work rather than a story in itself, I did apply for and earn the technical communication scholarship all 2 out of 2 years that I’ve been here. I had a great internship experience. I’ve maintained multiple part-time jobs while earning high honors as a full-time student. What’s more, catching up after losing 3 weeks of school due to an injury that required surgery while planning a wedding pushed me to grow in time management. Despite the challenges, I set a goal to earn a second BS in 2 years and I did it!
Outside of classes, there were some experiences that I’m glad I added this time around. When I was studying chemical engineering, I was very busy and focused. I wanted to graduate in 4 years and move on to the next thing. This time, studying technical communication, I was still focused, but I wanted to get the most out of my classes and work on people and leadership skills. I might have been able to get a second BS in less than 2 years because nearly all my core requirements counted, but then I would have lived a much less balanced life and I probably would have been set back when the unexpected happened. (I was not expecting to be getting surgery the same day as job fair during my last semester.) I’m really glad I decided to challenge myself to learn more people and leadership skills as a Resident Assistant. I’m an introvert, but I was able to use extrovert skills when required.
I’ve come a long way in 2 years. I thought I had a good start in visual and verbal communication, but my work has gotten much more professional. I got interested in web design and was able to explore that interest in Visual Communication (TC 151), Web Design (TC 351), and my Senior Thesis (TC 422) project. Studying technical communication challenged me in different ways than chemical engineering did. I got a strong foundation in math and science studying chemical engineering and I learned more ways to express these ideas in technical communication. I’m happy to have degrees in both of my passions.
For my last semester working on my BS in technical communication, I’m taking:
- Food & Culture (Anth 302)
- CPR & First Aid
- Painting in Acrylics
- Intro to Digital Photography
- Beginning Belly Dance
- Senior Thesis (TC 422)
- Special Topics in Science Writing (TC 491)
This semester, I’m taking
- Pilates Matwork
- Massage I
- Intermediate Yoga
- Elementary Spanish II (Span 114)
- Internship (TC 321)
- Senior Seminar (TC 420)
There aren’t enough keys on my keyboard! I used to look up special characters in the Character Map, but now I have found a more efficient way to add accents. If you’re using Windows, all you need is a keyboard with a number pad. Hold down the ALT key while you type in the number code on the number pad.
I searched for a table of often-used Alt Codes, and the closest one that I found to meeting my needs was from www.UsefulShortcuts.com; however, I found some errors in them and doubt the page gets updated anymore. So I made my own. Here’s what I put together for Spanish.
Alt Codes for Spanish
|Alt 168 ¿|
|Alt 173 ¡|
|Alt 0193 Á||Alt 0225 á|
|Alt 0201 É||Alt 0233 é|
|Alt 0205 Í||Alt 0237 í|
|Alt 165 Ñ||Alt 164 ñ|
|Alt 0211 Ó||Alt 0243 ó|
|Alt 0218 Ú||Alt 0250 ú|
|Alt 0220 Ü||Alt 0252 ü|
Let me know if you find this table useful and if you’d like me to create more reference tables like these.
I learned how to use Microsoft Office 2003 back in 2005 while participating in the Math Science Regional Center at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. I’ve been using Word and Excel regularly since then, but I haven’t been able to see the usefulness of Outlook until now. I’ve had to use Outlook during summer research in summer 2008 and work in 2010-2011, but I didn’t enjoy it. I’m not sure if they’ve updated features, but I think there are a few requirements of the work environment that make Outlook useful:
- working at a large company,
- where everyone uses it to schedule meetings,
- and you consistently work at the same computer.
I’ve been super busy since I got engaged, and we haven’t even done much wedding planning yet. What’s been keeping me busy is the end of the semester. I only had one final (Spanish I), but I did have a presentation for Media Studies, a proposal for Writing Workshop, and a project for Web Design to complete. Since I volunteered to help with the department redesign earlier in the semester, I had more time to work on a brochure during Web Design class to finish off the semester of Community Service. Once I got through all that, I had a little bit of time to relax before the start of my internship.
My internship is going pretty well so far. I am getting to learn new things while using existing skills to make a meaningful contribution. One of my main projects is updating the author information page and compiling additional writing resources for authors. This internship is right up my alley.
I wasn’t planning on posting much about my personal life, but this is big news. My fiancé is smart, funny, and cute. He’s also a good cook and really sweet. I worked with him on the Shattered FX website, and we put together a placeholder for a potential business website using a ThemeShaper theme before I got really busy this semester. We’ve started a wedding website of our own that we’re not sharing until the date gets finalized.
Editor’s note: Samantha Miranda is an enthusiastic new member of TechWhirl’s Special Writers Unit. For many professionals in our field, the life of a technical communication student is a distant memory or perhaps even a total guess. Samantha’s chronicle of a typical day reminds us how much—and how little—has changed for university students, and how much we can learn from a novice.
Today is a fairly busy day for me. I need to be in class and to work on assignments, I have a little bit of time devoted to work as well, and I plan to spend a little bit of time socializing in order to stay sane.
8-9:30 AM, Roll Out of Bed and Get Going
I’m more productive when I get enough sleep, so I usually get up early when I have more work to do. I eat a granola bar on my way to the library (breakfast might be the most important meal of the day, but sometimes you have to work it in on the run). This morning, I have to print out an assignment written about what Media Studies chapter I’m interested in exploring then presenting and why.
9:30-10:45 AM, Media Studies
Successfully turned in the assignment. Though I chose books, I look forward to learning more about other forms of media such as newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, video games, and more. Most people chose different chapters, but a few people ended up in groups of two. In today’s lecture and discussion, we analyzed some advertisements and touched on the social scientific and cultural approaches to media research.
11 AM-12 PM, Lunch/Homework/Reading
On good days, like today, I can spend more time on lunch than homework or reading.
12:30-1:45 PM, Professional Writing Workshop
Class today focused on a discussion of usability before we broke off into our small groups to work on our sections of a classroom technology manual–the big project for the first half of the semester.
1:45-3:30 PM, Directed Teaching
Once I complete this class, I’ll have enough credits for my education minor. The class itself involves a lot of reading and reflective essays, and I have to observe and then work up to teaching in a classroom for two hours per day for three weeks. My mentor teacher is finishing up a unit on energy and the kids were excited about preparing for tomorrow’s heat transfer lab: making ice cream.
4-5 PM, Work
I work part time at the Writing Center. Since there weren’t very many students coming in for writing tutoring (it’s still the beginning of the semester), I could work on my own homework and get started on some grading.
5-6:15 PM, Web Design
The assignment I submitted today was a group assignment to analyze a poster for the use of line, shape, texture, value, and color; and then to redesign it. Today’s lecture topic was typography. During class, I received next week’s assignment; I need to work in a group to design a poster on typography.
6:30-7:30 PM, Homework/Reading
I had to cram a lot into this timeslot since I still need to practice Spanish, continue reading chapter on usability (14 pages), and get started on the next section for Web Design on design principles (12 pages). But first, I had to discuss typography poster with my group.
8-10 PM, Dinner and Trivia
I’m lucky to see some of my close friends once a week, so competing at a weekly trivia contest is a good excuse to see some of them. Plus, most of the time my team comes in first or second!
10-11 PM, Winding Down
I managed to make more blocks of time available to work on homework tomorrow, so I’ll just finish a few things and start getting ready for bed.
Other than the all-important technical communication content, one of the things I’m learning in college is time management: I need to do the important things before they become urgent, and find the right balance between work and life. According to my friends and colleagues who have recently completed internships or graduated and become professionals, time management is an important skill for all technical communicators.
Originally published on January 30, 2013, at Tech Writer Today Magazine (http://techwhirl.com/life-technical-communication-student/).
What Every Technical Communicator Should Know About Accessibility
Brenda Huettner is currently a technical writer and webmaster for Microwaves101.com, owner and president of P-N Designs, Inc., a senior member of IEEE, and an STC Fellow. She has a variety of experience including usability, accessibility, and web design.
For technical communicators, accessibility is a topic that appeals to the principles of professionalism, quality, and legality. In a storied career that includes web design, technical writing, usability and accessibility consulting, Brenda Huettner constantly focuses on a central tenet—advocating for the user. Her experience in usability and accessibility gives her a unique perspective on developing content for users. In this interview, we hope to clarify myths and misconceptions technical communicators often hold about accessibility guidelines.
A Short Introduction to Accessibility for Technical Communicators
Brenda Huettner is primarily a technical writer, and, as a technical writer, she has always been an advocate for users. “The minute you try to use something,” Brenda says, “you are experiencing usability!” In her world, usability, accessibility, and web design pretty much encompass everything.
Surprisingly, 65% of the population has some sort of disability that may influence how they interact with documentation or interfaces. For example, it’s easy to identify a large number of people who have trouble reading fine print. Brenda believes keeping the user in mind is important for many business reasons, such as the potential implications of accessibility strategy to the organization’s sales/marketing and legal departments.
Implications of Accessibility
According to Brenda, the organization’s strategy for accessibility has sales implications. “From a business standpoint, why would you want to exclude any percentage of your potential audience? If I can sell even a small percentage more widgets by making my product accessible, the ROI is easy to calculate.” Designing for accessibility helps technical communicators include more potential audience and increase profits.
Increasingly, a strategy for accessibility also has legal implications. “From a legal standpoint, we have ADA regulations. The biggest example, of course is the Target case, where their refusal to make their site accessible to the blind landed them in court (and they lost).” Ensuring e-commerce websites are accessible will help prevent companies from being subject to expensive legal actions.
The Target case that Brenda cites occurred in 2006, when the National Federation of the Blind filed a class action lawsuit against the Target Corporation. The claim that blind people could not purchase items from Target’s website independently and that that fact violated the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) was upheld by the courts. This case set a precedent for the ADA regulations applying to e-commerce websites.
Technical communicators should have and follow accessibility guidelines. However, contrary to what many technical writers may believe, the idea that accessibility guidelines increase usability for everyone is an overgeneralization. “Accessibility guidelines alone do not increase usability, but compliance with guidelines often does,” Brenda explains.
To further illustrate the concept of compliance with versus mere presence of guidelines, Brenda comments on the top things to remember about accessibility guidelines. “First, there are lots of types of disabilities – including temporary ones like loss of mobility due to, say, a broken bone. Or situational things like working on a factory floor where there is too much noise to hear a laptop tone, or in a place with too little light or too much glare that can impact visual issues.
“Secondly, accessible content tends to be easier to translate, and even if not translated, it tends to be easier for non-native speakers to understand and use.” In other words, making content accessible to people with disabilities may make content easier to understand overall, whether or not it is translated.
Brenda cautions, “be careful with blanket statements like ‘increasing usability for everyone.’ Sometimes increasing usability for one group actually reduces usability for another. It is always a balancing act.”
In fact, the accessibility balancing act has been around for many years, getting some of its impetus from the 1998 Section 508 amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Brenda believes that Section 508 is pretty straightforward, and serves as a good set of guidelines. However, “the thing that most people don’t realize is that the law does NOT say that everyone must comply with 508.” The law actually states that “the U.S. government won’t purchase technologies that aren’t compliant.” Therefore, only organizations that sell to the US government must comply with Section 508.
Brenda encourages people in technical communication to apply more recent guidelines such as Web Accessibility Initiative – Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA) is another set of guidelines, and as Brenda states “more people need to use the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).” She makes this recommendation because “WCAG has been through several passes of international review, and is currently released as a technical standard version 2.0 (whereas ARIA is still in draft form).”
In considering how to create technical content that is accessible to the widest range of potential users, it’s worth noting this quote from Mark Boulton, a UK-based designer, publisher, and speaker. “Design has been viewed as being aesthetic. Design equals How Something Looks. You see this attitude to design in every part of society …. I think design covers so much more than the aesthetic. Design is fundamentally more. Design is usability. It is Information Architecture. It is Accessibility. This is all design.”
Recommended Accessibility Resources
- http://www.section508.gov/ (official website for Section 508)
- http://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/aria (Web Accessibility Initiative – Accessible Rich Internet Applications overview)
- http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG/ (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0)
- usability.gov (accessibility chapter of the research-based guidelines, “it includes links to the studies and academics research to support each guideline”)
- Henry, Shawn Lawton. Just Ask: Integrating Accessibility Throughout Design. ET\Lawton, 2007. (highly recommended)
- Rutter, Richard et al. Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance. friendsofED, 2006. (especially the Understanding Web Accessibility chapter)
- Thatcher, Jim et al. Constructing Accessible Web Sites. Apress, 2003.
- Stephanidis, Constantine, editor. User Interfaces for All: Concepts, Methods, and Tools (Human Factors and Ergonomics). CRC Press, 2000. (especially the Everyone Interfaces chapter)
- Paciello, Mike. Accessibility for the Web. CRC Press, 2000.
Author’s Note: I’d like to thank Brenda Huettner for taking the time to answer my questions. I’ve learned a lot from this interview. Accessibility is a fundamental part of technical communication. As we design our documents, web pages, and other media, technical communication professionals have a responsibility to consider how to create content that is accessible to as many users as possible.
Originally published on January 7, 2013, at Tech Writer Today Magazine (http://techwhirl.com/technical-communication-accessibility-brenda-huettner-interview/).