Explaining Refugees

Since the Israeli government is having a very hard time explaining it’s aggressivedefiant and abusive policies abroad, it is losing international public appeal very quickly.

The Israeli ministry of Hasbara (propaganda), recently started a campaign to reach out to Israeli travelers abroad and expatriates, and provide them with resources for “explaining Israel”. They are recruiting citizen ambassadors, if you will. Supposedly, if you are a Hebrew speaker boarding an El Al plane in Israel, they will actually hand you a resource pamphlet that will help you make friends abroad and somehow justify Israel’s abominable behavior.

I finally bit the bullet, and visited the ministry’s resource site.

The first section I perused was titled “Israel Abroad: Myth vs. Reality”.  The first 4 myths were benign, things like “Israel is a large country” or “People only eat falafel and hummus in Israel”. It’s these amusements that get you sucked in, it is also the myths that they highlight in the televised campaign. I scrolled quickly down to find something a bit more controversial than hummus and camel riding.

One supposed myth is that “Israelis don’t really want peace”. First off, by saying Israelis and not Israel, they are off the hook from explaining government policies, and could get away with a vague (and arguable) public sentiment. By following links under that “myth” I got to a page dedicated to the green line. The initial facts were mostly accurate, but then later in the page it digressed into legalistic interpretations of resolution 242 and cherry-picked quotes of Lyndon Johnson.

Did you guys ever wonder what Israel’s official perspective is regarding Palestinian refugees? I know I did. So I was delighted to find a page dedicated to the refugee topic on the site. The refugee issue is seen as a topic with the potential of undermining Israel’s legitimacy, so it is often not touched with a ten foot pole.

Anyway, on the top of the page, they offered the following itemized list:

Arab Refugees: Facts and Figures

  1. 800,000 Arabs lived in pre-state Israel before the war of ’48-’49.
  2. 170,000 Arabs remained after the war.
  3. 100,000 were permitted to return to Israel for family reunification.
  4. 100,000 middle and upper class people were absorbed in their host Arab countries.
  5. 50,000 foreign workers returned to their countries.
  6. 50,000 Bedouins were absorbed by tribes in Jordan and Sinai.
  7. 10,000 – 15,000 were killed in the war of ’48 – ’49.
  8. Total refugees: 320,000.

Wait, what?? If you were reading that like I was and got to item number 8, you probably didn’t understand this as a subtraction exercise either. Did they just take some 8th grader’s homework and post it on the site? UNRWA alone reported aiding 711,000 Palestinian refugees back in 1950, and today has over 4 million beneficiaries – descendants of refugees from 1948.

Also, what is with the 50,000 foreign workers? Who are they talking about?

Before we explain the issue of the refugees of ’48, it’s important you understand this basic fact: Israel’s Arabs from before the war settled in the country as refugees from other Arab countries.

They go on and talk about Egyptian draft dodgers who came in 1831 to Acre, and cite British geographers from the 19th century. I don’t really feel like translating all of this disinformation, sorry.

To the point, I’ll paraphrase Israel’s excuse in a nutshell: We only displaced 340,000 Palestinians. It’s not us who told them to leave, their leaders did. They weren’t really Palestinian anyway.

Good luck with that message, citizen ambassador! I hope you find out sooner rather than later that students on foriegn campuses know full well that you don’t ride camels at home. Growing up in Israel does not provide you with innate historical knowledge, you are confusing that with the indoctrination you received your entire life.

Explaining Refugees

Morality Plays in Accessibility

Besides being a great designer, Seth Nickel is a really good writer. Maybe that’s what it takes if you want to pass on your vision and ideas to stubborn developers. He wrote one paragraph yesterday that resonated with me:

…we’ve been framing the hacker<->designer conversation around low level usability. Maybe we could get more done if the default conversation was different? If it happened earlier? If it was about deep design rather than surface bodangles?

This is exactly how I feel about the designer<->accessibility-advocate conversation. Accessibility is too often an afterthought that is divorced from the design process.

In the past I did some contract work as an “accessibility engineer” on a certain project. It went something like this (at the risk of encouraging an annoying meme):


projectmanager: It is soooo important for us that this application be really really accessible, and support ATK really really well. And that people with disabilities have really really good access to this. Also, if you could make sure your ATK support is good enough for automated testing, that would be greeaaaat.

accessibilityperson: I would love to help. I noticed that the color theme is hard-coded, this is problematic since users with visual impairments have different needs regarding color and contrast.

artsyfartspants: The color scheme is deliberate and has been very carefully thought out. And besides, it is white on black, which is technically high-contrast, so anybody could read it.

accessibilityperson: I also noticed that animations in this application are hard-coded and cannot be disabled. This is an issue since people may be very sensitive to animations and get motion sickness. The application should respect a system-wide animation-disable toggle.

artsyfartspants: Please see my answer above. The animation’s effect and timing have been very carefully thought out. This is old news, I wrote the design spec 6 months ago, you are wasting my time.

accessibilityperson: The user notification is transient, and disappears after a few, hard-coded, seconds. Users with cognitive disabilities, slow readers or users who are not native speakers of the interface’s language will have a hard time understanding the notification before it disappears.

artsyfartspants: By design, see above.

accessibilityperson: The user notification appears, hard-coded, in the upper right corner of the screen. Users with bad peripheral vision will miss these notification if their gaze is not set on the screen’s corner.

artsyfartspants: By design, go away.

accessibilityperson: But..

artsyfartspants: Bye!

A week later

accessibilityperson: I completed adding ATK support to the application, you could grab my branch and try it out. I have other concerns regarding accessibility issues in this application that need to be addressed.

projectmanager: Great! Could we now do automated testing on our POS and increase it’s quality a lot?

accessibilityperson: Sure. I also wrote an Orca script for the app so that screen reader users have a pleasant experience using it.

projectmanager: k. Write automated tests.

Do I have a good solution to all the accessibility issues I brought up? Not necessarily, that is why we have good designers.


designguru: Here is a writeup and a few mockups for the app. I did my best at universal design and included a diverse array of users in the use cases I designed for.

hackmaster2000 : This looks good! I will implement this while making sure that mechanism and policy are separate so that edge-case users can be accommodated for without intrusive patches and hacks.

projectmanager: Great work guys! The universality of the design, and the modular implementation will allow us to make some extra cash as we deploy this app for mobile devices and e-readers with little modification.

accessibilityguy: Lookin’ good. I have a branch with ATK support, I am currently testing this app with different assistive technologies. Could I suggest just tweaking this and that?

projectmanager, hackmaster2000, designguru: Absolutely, making sure our software is accessible is very important for our project. We support all our users, not just the first 80%.

projectmanager: I can haz magic testing now plz?


Máirín’s writeup about the accessibility discussions at the UX hackfest really made me happy. So glad Willie Walker made it there, I thought of going, but Willie really knows how to drive a point home.

My friend just came by and asked if I am blogging about Open Sores. I guess so!

Morality Plays in Accessibility

Telepathy Debugging

I have been working on different Telepathy pieces for the last month or two. And have been thinking a lot about how I run and test the different components. One of the first things I did was put together a script based on one in telepathy-glib to start a new session bus dedicated for testing with an alternative service directory. This allows me to use Empathy for communication uninterrupted by testing.

When I was working on Gabble. I had a python test client I would run against it, this meant I had to have two terminal windows open, one for the client, and one for the CM. Last week I started working on Mission Control too, and found myself quickly drowning in open terminal windows and debug output. What I needed badly was a debug log viewer.

There already is a log viewer in Empathy, but I found it tedious to restart it between Empathy runs, and it was missing some basic things like copy/paste, search, and category filtering. So over the weekend I hacked up a quick and dirty UI that does all of the above. Hopefully we could add these features back into the Empathy viewer, and make it possible to run outside of Empathy.

You could grab it from my git repo.

Telepathy Debugging

GNOME accessibility, don’t take it for granted

I have been on the road for the last two weeks. Headed back to Seattle tomorrow after a great FOSDEM in Brussels.

While on the road I have heard all sorts of news regarding GNOME accessibility, none of it good. I am angry, I feel like blaming somebody or something, but I am not sure what. Right now I am directing my frustration towards academics who still have funding to continue various assistive technology research that will probably never see the light of day as a usable application while the real bread and butter of an accessible platform is being taken away. It’s reflexive, I know it. Maybe later I will have a clearer picture of how we move forward.

Until then, here are some notes from Joanie and Mike.

While my initial reaction was what a damper this is on our first a11y hackfest, I really hope that it will be an opportunity to regroup, have some good discussions, interact with the wider a11y community, and have some business interactions. So please come to San Diego, you know who you are!

GNOME accessibility, don’t take it for granted