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[Issue starts]


Section One: News.
- 'Internet-ready car' is accessibility spinoff; Certification for access technology
trainers; Grabbing web pages over the
phone; Calling all UpStarts; Braille Voyager breaks new ground; Microsoft and Pulse Data collaborate.

Section Two: Conference Report
- Techshare.

Section Three: Case Study
- 'LOOK'.

Section Four: Online Learning
- The 'JOB' Project.

[Contents ends.]



Text-to-speech technology developed to help blind people access the Internet is behind an innovative new device for sighted people - an 'Internet-ready car' that allows drivers to access the net. The move highlights what advocates of inclusive design have been saying for years � that simple, accessible technology benefits everyone, not just people with visual or other impairments.

The prototype 'Bunnymobile' has been
developed by web usability specialists Bunnyfoot. It is a 1999 Volkswagen New Beetle convertible, fitted with a notebook computer and a GSM mobile phone. An
Internet connection is made using software developed by Bunnyfoot to emulate the main types of speech browser already used by blind people to surf the Internet.

The result allows drivers to listen to information online while keeping their eyes on the road. Dr Jon Dodd, Technical
Director at Bunnyfoot said: "When web sites are designed to be usable by blind people they also work in 'eyes busy' situations, such as driving a car. We found that web sites which have been designed following accessible web design guidelines worked really well in our web-enabled car, but sites which did not follow these guidelines could not be heard."

Julie Howell, RNIB's Accessible Internet Campaigns Officer, was one of the first people to go for a spin in the Bunnymobile. "When Bunnyfoot contacted me, I wondered how technology used by blind people would help people driving cars! But I was able to hear gardening tips from Bob Flowerdew on the BBC Online site and listened to the latest financial news on ft.com without taking my eyes off the road. I could even pick up my email."

For more information visit:


A new certification scheme for people who train others to use access technology is to be piloted in January by the British Computer Association of the Blind (BCAB).

Steve Plumpton of BCAB told the RNIB's 'Techshare' technology access conference earlier this month that the association has received many calls from people
complaining about access technology advice and training.

The BCAB Trainer Certification Scheme is an attempt to raise standards in this area using a three-part test for trainers comprised of a delivery skills refresher course lasting 3- 5 days; written coursework; and a product competency test. Separate tests will have to be passed for each piece of access
technology for which the trainer wishes to be certified.

As products are updated, new courses and certificates will be created, Plumpton said. It is also important that the scheme is
promoted not only to the trainers but to the customers themselves, he said, so they are aware that there is a required standard for their training.

A second pilot will be run in March, and it is hoped that the course will go live around Easter time. Further information about the scheme will appear in January at the BCAB web site:

* See also Techshare conference report,

Section Two, this issue.


The UK's first comprehensive phoneactivated
voice internet service,
BrowseByPhone, was launched this month by UK-based wireless Internet specialists Waperture (http://www.waperture.com).

BrowseByPhone allows telephone users to access Internet content by voice and a telephone keypad. The launch service � called GataGrab - lets people use the
BrowseByPhone website to tell the system which pages on the web they are interested in. At any time thereafter they can dial an access number, key in a 'grab code', and hear the page they are interested in being read back to them, live off the Internet.

Waperture says it is keen to investigate further applications for the visually
impaired. Once the service is established in the UK, the company wants to expand into the US and Europe, and plans to release a number of different voice services including conventional portal services such as sports, news and weather, and the ability for users to build their own voice sites and services.

The service uses 'SpeecHTML' technology from Vocalis. Many UK Internet Service Providers already use Vocalis 'SpeechMail' technology (http://www.speechmail.co.uk) to allow people to listen to their email messages, reply and delete them using
spoken messages over the phone (see EAccess
Bulletin, May 2000).

The BrowseByPhone service can be
accessed via the Internet from
http://www.wapgata.com or

However, when E-Access Bulletin tried to test it some gremlins were evident. Dialling the test number produced the message:
'Welcome to GataGrab at BrowseByPhone. Please enter the Grab Code for the page you want to access or press zero for the main browse portal'. When a zero was keyed, the same message was played, ad infinitum.


Budding social entrepreneurs are being invited to bid for a pot of 50,000 UK Pounds to help launch up to three projects designed to help a local community, in the first 'UpStart Awards'.

The awards are being hosted by New
Statesman magazine, with sponsorship from Centrica plc and further input from UNLTD, the first UK foundation for social
entrepreneurs (http://www.unltd.org.uk).

Those accepting an award must be prepared to commit to their project full-time. The entry period runs to May 2001, and details can be found at the BOBBY-compliant
UpStart web site:

The site will also act as an ongoing
information resource for social


A new refreshable Braille computer display from German group Tieman claims to
innovate in a number of ways.

It is extremely lightweight (1.2 kg), and connects to a computer via the USB
(Universal Serial Bus) port, from which it also takes its power. Low power Braille cells use just 5 per cent of a laptop computer's battery output.

The display can also be used to pass
commands back to the computer, controlling mainstream software applications over the Braille display. A further piece of 'Tiemans Express' software allows the construction of sequences of commands, or 'macros', that can be run with a single keystroke.

The Braille Voyager's UK distributor is Concept Systems. See:


Microsoft and Pulse Data International have announced their collaboration to develop an e-book reader for the blind and visually impaired.

Microsoft Reader software will be integrated with Pulse Data's BrailleNote family of screenless personal data assistants that offer feedback through speech and electronic Braille (http://www.braillenote.com/).

To read an electronic book with BrailleNote, users will need to download an e-Book title from an online distributor to their
BrailleNote device, then open the file. They will have the option to listen to the speech version of the e-Book or read the electronic Braille display.

Pulse Data's web site is at:

[Section One ends]



Talking books are about to enter the
mainstream, delegates heard at the RNIB's recent 'Techshare' conference on how
technology can help blind and partially sighted people in everyday situations like shopping, banking and in the workplace.

Peter Osborne, UK Network and
International Development Manager at the RNIB, said the new 'Open eBook' standard for digital talking books
(http://www.openebook.org) includes
accessible multimedia data (see also EAccess Bulletin, July and September issues).

This standard has grown out of various others including the DAISY standard. There are various portable hardware readers that are available to read this data.

Digital books are faster and cheaper to access than printed material. They are also searchable, portable and include active information by using hyperlinks.

John Worsfold of Dolphin Computer Access said it was important that a single standard should emerge for eBooks, and he hoped Open eBook would become that standard, since it has already been adopted for current or future use by more than 150 publishers.

He said eBook users could not only access the content they want but even add
information such as audio or text notes. Another key feature of eBooks is that the voice that reads it is not a synthesised voice, Worsfold said.

But there are some potential problems that can be identified as well. These include copyright protection, file format issues, accessibility, usability and a problem with small screens on some hand-held devices.

There are tools available to create eBooks from various formats. For example, 'TIPS' software can take analogue recordings and create a structured eBook; 'WIPS' can
change digital WAV files into an eBook; and 'TOPS' can change eBooks into analogue recordings.

This variety means there will become a blurring between media and users will be able to get precisely what they want through mainstream publishers, Worsfold said.

The conference also heard of a similar flexibility in publishing media which can arise from the use of the 'meta-language' XML (Extensible Markup Language).

Dave Pawson, Business Process
Improvement Facilitator at the RNIB, said XML is a way of describing document or application content so it can be used across a range of delivery platforms like the web, mobile telephony and digital TV. XML can include digital signature information so the user can be sure the information is secure and is from the right source.

Pawson said that in the RNIB's Technical Consumer Services Division there are
currently 10 magazines being produced in five media. So it seemed sensible to create them in XML, and then use transformation tools to export them into the other formats.

This process was tested initially using the departmental monthly briefing that goes out as Braille, HTML and print. The trials have been useful, although a few problems
remain, namely: XML has a steeper learning curve than HTML; Word 2000 does not
export good XML; and approximately 5%
intervention is still needed to complete a document in a specific new format after exporting it from XML.

Also on the agenda at Techshare was how technology is assisting blind and partially sighted people to travel within and use the built environment.

A number of projects within the RNIB's Joint Mobility Unit have combined design advice and the introduction of assistive technology to help blind and partially sighted people. Projects have combined the use of colour contrast, good design practice and tactile, audible and visual signage.

Gill Whitney, Principal Researcher at the RNIB's Join Mobility Unit, spoke about way-finding aids � remotely-triggered
speaking signs - for those people who cannot use a cane or a guide dog. There are
currently two main types of these aids, RNIB React and Infravoice.

RNIB React is a wall-mounted unit triggered by a credit-card sized radio transmitter or 'module'. It can detect ambient noise and increase the sound level when required to combat it, for example when a train comes into a platform.

It is possible to input up to eight different messages into the unit, and these can be in different languages as well. After
installation, the messages and configuration of the unit can be modified by plugging a laptop computer into it.

RNIB React units cost £1,300 each, and the modules cost £25, although the latter are usually distributed free of charge or loaned out. Some shops purchase their own units, so users are aware of the entrance to their shop. The system has been installed in Leeds City Centre and Golders Green High Street and Bus Station in London.

The Infravoice system operates by
transmitting an infrared signal. It is a unit that has infrared beams pointed in four directions. This can be stand-mounted or mounted in a dome-shaped unit on the
ceiling, looking rather like a CCTV unit. Its configuration can be changed in much the same way as the React system, using a

The Infravoice unit costs £690 and the receiver £230. Units have been installed in various shopping centres including
Kingfisher, Bluewater, Cribbs Causeway, Touchwood and Chimes, and the receivers are loaned out through shopmobility.

* Report by Sally Cain, Technology

Information Officer, RNIB. In our next issue, we will carry a further in-depth report from the Techshare Conference on issues surrounding access to technology by
deafblind people.

[Section two ends]



The National Federation of Families with Visually Impaired Children, more usually known under its snappier title of 'LOOK', is placing the web at the heart of its family support activities following the success of its first, volunteer-built site.

LOOK provides information and support to families with visually impaired children. It already has 35 regional support groups in the UK, but intends to set up many more to achieve its aim of better support and
awareness for affected families nationwide.

The centre of the organisation helps the regional groups fund-raise and train
volunteers, as well as providing legal advice through a network of links to top education lawyers. The charity links newcomers to other families with similar problems, and also helps set up Specific Eye Disorder groups.

The LOOK web site was initially created in March 2000. At first it consisted merely of an online version of its quarterly newsletter, as an experiment to see if a full-blown site would be well received.

Then along came Gareth Wait, a volunteer with two partially sighted children, both of whom have been helped by LOOK. By way
of thanks, he offered to use his Internet skills to design and build a fully accessible site, and he is now the organisation's webmaster.

"Before he made contact with us, Gareth had had some rather dire experiences with the specialists at his local hospital, where he was being fed medical babble", says LOOK
Development Director Jennifer Bowen. "As he was an old-hand at all things webby, he did not find it too difficult to pinpoint the information he required on the net. He then decided to simplify the process of finding information on vision-related topics.

"The LOOK site became more of a resource, and, while still very much in its infancy, the reception for it has been terrific. We are currently working on a huge new links
section, with all sites fully described and categorised."

The charity regards its web operation is a key part of its new focus

Last year a 'Youth LOOK' Project was
created after young people complained that the organisation needed a stronger youth presence. "We want them to be at the centre of the organisation," says Ms Bowen. "We aim to train a core of 'older' young people to lead weekends and forums, and would
eventually like the whole charity to be run by them and their families."

This year, the organisation has also led the development of the first national user-led research programme into the effects of visual impairment on children and their families. In a major new study, a team of researchers are looking at the effects of the disability on the child and family, and the type and amount of support families receive from health and educational services. They will also talk to professionals about issues of access, policy and funding.

LOOK Development Director Jennifer
Bowen says: "Many of us have had to
struggle with doctors who ignore us,
teachers who assume visually-impaired
children's abilities are limited and social workers who have no idea what help is
available. And however knowledgeable
professionals are in health, education or social care, it is the way they work together and with families that will shape the
effectiveness of their care and the quality of people's lives."

LOOK wants its Internet activities to sit alongside its youth work, keeping all
interested parties abreast of developments. In particular an email list has been set up using the free 'Listbot' service so anyone can enter their email address, hit the button and register to be kept informed of developments by email.

In the longer term, the charity wants to spin off the 'Youth LOOK' section of its web site into an entire sub-site in its own right, with online services and information aimed at children and young people.

The LOOK site is at:

[Section three ends]



A consortium of UK academic and voluntary bodies is seeking European funding to
expand a virtual learning and mentoring project to help blind and visually impaired people gain employment.

The consortium � led by Learn Net, an
online training organisation � has already completed the first phase of its 'JOB' project, which assisted physically disabled people. Although it was originally intended to include blind people in this work from the outset, it proved too expensive to make the 'virtual college' software interface fully accessible as part of phase one.

JOB was funded under a European
employment programme for disadvantaged groups known as GATE, but this has now been replaced by a new programme dubbed EQUAL which has a slightly broader focus. The consortium are therefore looking at other possibilities for European funding such as the LEONARDO training programme, for which the next round of bids are due in January 2001.

The new project will retain the essentials of JOB, which allowed people to link from their homes via a personal computer to a 'virtual college' complete with tutors and online mentors.

Learn Net tutor Ruth Garner says: "Access to a learning environment is often
problematic for people with disabilities - crowds and communal areas may be offputting
for many. Fluctuations in mental or
physical health mean that people may miss classes, disrupted learning may lead to a person with disabilities dropping out and not achieving their goals.

"Attendance at a virtual college means students can take as long as they want to contribute to discussions - often more effectively, as time enables a more
considered response. Thus people experience real freedom within a virtual college because they are not being physically observed. There is more equality of opportunity than in a physical classroom."

Blind people stand to benefit a lot from inclusion in the second phase project, Garner says: "We did have one user in the first phase who was partially sighted, and she enjoyed the experience because she could mix with the other students freely online and nobody knew she couldn't see".

The JOB project started in January 1998. People who were recruited for JOB were loaned a computer, onto which was installed a virtual college interface with a study area, library, common room and evaluation room.

Virtual mentors were an important part of the programme. They 'sat' in the virtual common room (from which tutors and
managers were excluded) and informally mixed with the learners to pick up issues and offer support, either within the group or individually through email. This meant issues could be picked up early and tackled before they became insurmountable. In
addition, when a face-to-face meeting was needed by the learner, a mentor was sent out to work with them in their own home.

"'We originally decided that mentors were important because working remotely was potentially isolating for the learner", Ms Garner says. "What really happened though was that learners were not isolated at all, because they could make contact with others when they wanted to, 24-hours a day.

"Another concern was that we would be
isolating people with disabilities, but what we found was that people had more contact with others than they had before the started the course. They really enjoyed meeting other people through the computer."

Over the 15 week period, learners worked in groups of approximately 10 people. Each week an activity was set by the tutor and learners were asked to discuss this between them. The virtual college allowed people to work when they wanted to while still being able to join in a threaded bulletin board discussion.

Garner says Learn-Net is seeking new
partners to take its work forward, and would be keen to hear from any group in the visual impairment community which might be able to offer funding or other assistance to help develop the next phase of the virtual college work. Interested parties can contact her on Ruth.Garner@learn-net.co.uk

And there is more information on the JOB programme at:
NB: You need the capital letters in
'JOB.htm' at the end of this web address.

[Section four ends]


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[Issue ends]
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