The email newsletter on
technology issues for people
with visual impairment and blindness.


Sponsored by the Royal National Institute for the Blind
the National Library for the Blind
and the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association www.gdba.org.uk

Please forward this bulletin to friends or colleagues so they can subscribe by
emailing eab-subs@headstar.com
full details at the end of the bulletin. The more subscribers we have,

the better our free service can become!


Section One:
News: Online copyright row edges towards solution; Samsung develops digital guide dog harness; Hi-tech retinal displays could help visually impaired; Web gateway expands into Europe; ILIAD - an offline odyssey; Notice to overseas readers - an online debate; Reader comment - radio on TV;
Contributions and feedback welcome.

Section Two:
Accessible banking - the Visionary Banking Project

Section Three:
Access technologies - back to basics

Section Four:
European policy - eEurope targets 'disappointingly weak'.



The long-standing problem of copyright infringements in the transcription of internet and other online information into braille or other accessible formats moved closer to a solution this week, following a meeting between rights holder groups and transcription agencies in the UK.

Rights holders, led by the Publishers Licensing Society (PLS), are now working on a form of licensing which would allow the RNIB and other named braille producers to capture copyright material in electronic formats with the purpose of transcribing it into braille or other accessible formats.

However the move could merely be an interim solution, with the RNIB and others continuing to push in the longer term for legislation for an absolute right of transcription. The transcribers object to a licensing scheme on two grounds: first, on principle, in that transcription should be a basic right for all visually impaired people; and second, on practical grounds, because a licensing system is difficult to manage and police.

The transcription problem arises because some electronic data, available on the internet or via other media, needs to be captured and altered prior to transcription into braille or other formats which are accessible to blind and visually impaired people. However, even where information is available to be read for free online, capture and manipulation will often infringe copyright because it will involve copying, storing and often transmitting the information between agencies, which is not usually allowed.

The copyright holders are happy to licence trusted bodies like the RNIB to use the data lawfully, but fear that wider transcription rights could lead to copyright material being freely emailed around the world between people who are not visually impaired.

David Mann, Campaigns Officer at the RNIB, said another potential problem could be caused in future by new electronic text formats which used encryption techniques to prevent copying, and thus block transcription. He said the only long-term solution was a general right of transcription for those in genuine need.

"Blind people are not expecting something for nothing, just the same rights as anyone else. If everyone has to pay a charge for certain online information, blind and visually impaired people have no problem with paying the same charge: it is only if information is free to read online, that blind and visually impaired people object to being prevented from accessing it as well".

Under the new licensing scheme, which is subject to a final proposal to be put forward by the PLS in the next few weeks, Mann said licensed transcribers would notify the PLS whenever they captured data for conversion, and in turn the PLS would indemnify them against breach of copyright. He acknowledged that it was a step forward for transcribers, as currently they had to track down individual rights holders to obtain permission.


The Korean electronics giant Samsung has developed a prototype digital guide dog harness which combines the use of the GPS global satellite positioning system with the ability to record vocal notes.

The harness works in tandem with a wrist-mounted device, and together the system will help guide dog owners achieve even greater independence and track new routes, according to a report in this week's Electronics Weekly magazine (web site
www.electronicsweekly.co.uk - although the story only appears in the printed version, cover date 16 Feb).

Since 1992 Samsung has funded Korea's only guide dog school. See:


Miniaturised laser displays which beam information and images directly onto a retina from a tiny device mounted in the frame of a pair of glasses could be used to overcome visual impairment in some cases, according to technology design expert Kevin Carey.

The Virtual Retinal Display, currently in development by US firm Microvision, uses a rapidly scanned beam of light to project images on the eye's retina, allowing the viewer to see large, full-motion images without the need for a conventional display screen. In conjunction with a chip technology called microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), the entire technology can be constructed in miniature.

Carey says that the technology could help people with imperfections in their eyes by focusing on parts which had greatest functionality. For example, people with an imperfect cornea but functioning retinas may be able to see the laser signals perfectly. The technology and others like it could prove of "immense importance" in helping the visually impaired gain access to the information age, Carey said.

Microvision has already pioneered various health applications of its retinal technology. An ongoing study at the University of California San Diego is detecting retinal diseases and vision disorders using a portable scanning display which scans a stimulus onto the patient's retina. Patients without retinal damage saw moving particles throughout their field of vision, while patients with areas of retinal damage are able to see their own blind areas, and map them using a pen-based computer program.

Last month a further futuristic application was announced to be tested later this year: the live projection of medical scans directly onto a surgeon's eyes to improve hand-eye co-ordination during micro-surgery.

For more on Microvision see:

And for more on the retinal display and MEMs in general see Wired magazine online:


The International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet, a US-based body, is looking to expand its collection of links to European web resources relating to disability. Relevant organisations and individuals can register their web sites at: www.icdri.org


Another useful US site to know about is ILIAD, a simple and powerful tool that allows you to search the internet offline using email.

ILIAD was created by the educational arm of NASA as an intelligent search agent to help teachers and students who may have limited access to the web to conduct searches by sending email. Search results are then sent back by email and collected at their convenience. The system has become hugely popular with visually impaired and blind people because it bypasses the visual web browser interface.

For more on ILIAD see:
http://prime.jsc.nasa.gov/iliad/index.html or email:
with the subject line: 'start iliad'


All readers of this bulletin from outside the UK are invited to put themselves forward to take part in a global 'virtual think tank' to debate development of the digital economy, to be run in April on the internet by the bulletin's publisher Headstar. Access issues will be a central theme. Please email Dan Jellinek on dan@headstar.com with a brief biography.

Apologies to UK readers - we are already oversubscribed for the UK, but there will be an opportunity for anyone to contribute to the debate when it goes live in the web site's public area - full details in our March issue.


A reader writes: Dear E-Access Bulletin: Following on from the article on Digital Audio Broadcasting (section two, EAB January 2000), which expressed concerns for blind and visually impaired people about adding a visual data stream to a radio signal, I note that on satellite, you can already receive radio stations with data displayed on your TV screen, and there are a number of radio stations broadcasting music without DJs.

Because information about the records can be displayed visually on the TV screen, all you hear are records played consecutively. So if a blind or visually impaired person wants to know what a particular track was because they might like to buy it, they currently have to ask a sighted person what is on the screen.

This works no differently from the format of, say, the ITV Chart show, and I feel therefore that this practice lends weight to the argument that radio with a visual content is simply television. The purity of the medium is already being sacrificed in the interests of economy: you don't have to pay DJs to present the programmes. So how can we protect it, if it is not too late already?

Clive Lever, Maidstone, Kent


All contributions from readers to E-access Bulletin are extremely welcome, whether they be feedback about our coverage; ideas or requests for stories; or articles to be considered for publication.

All offerings should be sent by email to the editor, Dan Jellinek, on dan@headstar.com
- thank you very much in anticipation!


By Kristof Burek

It was a trip to California that led one woman to decide last year that enough was enough for visually impaired bank users in the UK.

Monica Davie has a visually impaired father, and had observed with increasing frustration the difficulties he routinely encountered in accessing the UK banking system. Inspired by finding Braille symbols on cash dispenser machines on a visit to California, on her return she began to raise interest among blind and partially sighted people in the UK in forming a group of consumers to talk to the banks about making their services accessible.

The fruit of this work was the Visionary Banking Project, set up in May last year to push for independent, confidential banking for visually impaired people.

The project is urging banks to realise the potential of various technologies that research shows can benefit visually impaired customers and others.

Many of the major UK banks have offered some level of provision for their visually impaired customers for a number of years, such as bank statements in Braille or large print, or instruction booklets on how to operate their cash machines in a limited way. Many also offer telephone banking services, which can be ideal for visually impaired customers.

However, there is little consistency between the banks, or even within banks. And as many building societies became banks, the proportion of banks offering any kind of accessible services has dwindled.

In October 1999, part three of the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act came into force in the UK. This makes it unlawful for anyone offering services directly to the public to discriminate against people with disabilities in offering the service, unless any such discrimination can be shown to be "reasonable".

However, although the banks' reaction has generally been positive, they have also sometimes appeared complacent. They are still not establishing as a matter of course whether their customers have any special needs, and nor has the consistency in the levels of service offered by different banks improved. There seems to be much resistance in making automated facilities such as cash point machines and kiosk services accessible to visually impaired customers.

There is no good financial reason why services should not be made accessible for all. A substantial amount of research, much of it EU-funded, has demonstrated there are many effective low-cost ways to make bank services more accessible. A prototype talking cash machine was demonstrated in 1996, and since then manufacturers have developed other solutions based on infrared technology or the provision of an earphone socket, which preserves the customer's privacy - and yet the results of all this work have largely been ignored.

As Ms Davie found out on her inspirational trip, in the US is picture is more advanced. An even stronger anti-discrimination law, the Americans with Disabilities Act, has been in force there since July 1990, and many visually impaired Americans now take for granted that they will be able to use a cash machine independently because it will guide them through the facilities and services with synthetic speech.

Other facilities available to visually impaired Americans include Braille embossing on credit cards, raised lines on cheques and even computer printed cheques. However, provision is still not universal even in the US, even after almost 10 years with the Act on the books.

The new UK Visionary Banking Project hopes to make faster progress. As well as pushing for accessible banking systems, it is stressing the importance of gathering reliable information about customers' needs and the training of bank staff at all levels. Ultimately the project intends to broaden its aims to other financial services such as insurance and pensions.

The project has built up a contact list of about 50 visually impaired people and many relevant organisations including the RNIB, the NFB and the British Bankers' Association, and is establishing a firm basis to be a credible consumer group to feed ideas to the banks, influence research and measure whether the banks are providing acceptable levels of accessible services.

Among its short term goals are to ensure all banks improve the lighting near cash machines; mark all machines with clear embossed symbols; and distribute comprehensive tactile instruction booklets on their operation. It is also urging banks to create an easily accessible and widely-known point of contact for all disability issues.

In the longer term the project feels it is realistic to expect widespread availability of accessible cash machines, kiosks, and other delivery channels such as Internet and mobile phone banking.

END NOTE: If you wish to express your support for this project or can help in any way, please contact Monica Davie on Monica.Davie@dial.pipex.com or telephone: 01483 502426; or Kristof Burek on Kristof.Burek@dial.pipex.com, telephone: 020 7700 0568.


by Robin Christopherson, AbilityNet

Some technologies enabling blind and visually impaired people to gain access to computers and computing are relatively expensive, like refreshable Braille displays, but there are also many extremely useful tools which do not mean a second mortgage.

Below is a run-through of the most useful of these technologies, many of them free or highly affordable.

As well as the changes that can be made to the appearance of the mouse pointer arrow within Windows, there are many little utilities that can make it any number of exotic shapes, colours and sizes, as well as including such features as mouse trails and radar-style aids to help find the pointer on the screen.

Useful free software includes the Microsoft "Intellipoint" mouse driver from
www.microsoft.com/enable or visit
www.shareware.com and search for "mouse pointers".

Many people find it difficult to locate the blinking vertical bar that indicates where you are typing in a word processor.

There is no way of increasing the size, or enhancing the appearance, of this cursor, but a free program called "follow.exe" can be obtained that makes the mouse pointer (that can itself be enhanced for easy visibility - see previous section) follow the blinking cursor as it moves, enhancing its visibility.

Magnification software enlarges the image on the screen up to 20 times and tracks whatever moves to compensate for the fact that the whole screen content is not visible at any one time. Magnification software is quite expensive but necessary for those with significant vision problems.

For Windows 3.1 there is a program called "Lunar Lite" that offers all such functionality and is free to download from the supplier's website at www.dolphinuk.co.uk and then clicking on the "Freeware" link.

For Windows 95/98/NT there are no such freeware programs. There are, however, certain magnification programs with limited functionality that are free and may help those who would like to enlarge the occasional item that cannot be enlarged by in-built Windows features.

One such program is the Magnifier in Windows 98. Another package is the Microsoft "Intellipoint" mouse driver that is compatible with all Microsoft mice, which includes a magnifying lens (Windows 3.X only). The lens is a small rectangle whose contents is a magnified version of whatever is around the mouse pointer. It is downloadable from www.microsoft.com/enable.

Screen Loupe (Windows 95/98/NT) is a similar lens program, which can be used with any mouse - free to try, 20 US Dollars if you decide to keep it. See: http://www.execpc.com/~sbd/Loupe.html

A set of large-character keyboard stickers can be purchased from Dolphin Computer Access (01905 754577) at a cost of £15 in a range of foreground and background colours. They are stuck onto the existing keys to improve visibility.

There are several programs available that enable blocks of text within a word-processor document, for example, to be read back with synthesized speech output.

For example, "Reader" enables text to be read back while at the same time highlighting words a word at a time or making them appear one after the other in the centre of the screen, in a size and colour of your choosing.

For those who need to rely entirely on speech or Braille output to use their computer they require a screen-reading program such as "Hal Lite", which is available for DOS free of charge. It requires a synthesiser called an Apollo 2, which costs £310 in its cheapest form (an internal card) but is often available for sale second-hand in publications such as the RNIB's "New Beacon". Hal Lite is available for download from the freeware section at www.dolphinuk.co.uk or you can pay a few hundred quid for the full version with technical support.

Another screen-reader is Jaws, which also requires a hardware synthesiser such as the Apollo, and is quite pricey. It is available for download from www.hj.com

There are several web browsers that offer speech and/or large character output.

One of these is IBM's "Home Page Reader". It does not include enlarged text but gives excellent access to even the trickiest web page. It is available for download from www.austin.ibm.com/sns/hpr on a trial basis and can be purchased for 149 US Dollars on-line. It may soon be available here in the UK for purchase through normal IBM retail outlets.

"PW WebSpeak" is a similar web browser that includes larger text as well as speech output, but does not offer quite the sophisticated functionality in dealing with very complex web pages. It is available for download from www.soundlinks.com on a trial basis and costs 78 UK Pounds for disabled individuals. It is also available on CD-ROM from Soundlinks (01494 794797) at 95 UK Pounds.

END NOTE: AbilityNet is a charity concerned with all areas of computing and every disability, which acts as an independent assessor of access technologies. For more information, or for a factsheet on 'High visibility features in Windows', contact AbilityNet on freephone 0800 269545, email: enquiries@abilitynet.co.uk or see its web site: www.abilitynet.co.uk



The Royal National Institute for the Blind has attacked "disappointingly weak" proposals from the European Commission's eEurope initiative for improving accessibility for all to the information society (see E-Access Bulletin, January 2000).

While welcoming the general aims of eEurope, the RNIB said in its official response that "the targets and objectives with regard to blind and partially sighted people are far below what might have been expected".

In particular it said that the needs of disabled people should have been considered throughout the document, and not just in their own section. "A major failing of the communication is the 'ghettoisation' of the access needs of disabled people in section seven . . . the theme of access should run throughout the areas of action . . . Indeed, the targets in the other sections could not be successfully met without the incorporation of disabled people".

Thus for example the programme's targets for employment; the cost of accessing the internet; and access to healthcare online should all take into account the importance of accessibility to blind and visually impaired people, the RNIB said.

The most extreme criticism was reserved for the commission's "inexcusable" blunder of releasing the eEurope document only in an online format - pdf - that is not itself accessible. The RNIB said it was "extremely disappointed to find that, ironically, a document with a significant section on accessibility for disabled people, was not in fact accessible to blind and partially sighted people".

The RNIB said that the accessibility targets which were set in section seven were too distant. "By the time they come into effect they will be meaningless. The targets are also unnecessarily weak, with too much emphasis on commitments and not enough on actions".

Thus for example the commission has proposed a target by the end of 2001 that: "The commission and member states should commit themselves to making the design and content of all public web sites accessible to people with disabilities". The RNIB says this target should specify full adherence, not just "commitment".

Further revised and additional targets suggested by the RNIB include:

"By end April 2000: The European Commission and member states should adopt the standards of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) in relation to the design of web sites, web authoring tools and agents.

"By end April 2001: All for-profit and public sector web sites must adhere to WAI standards to ensure full participation.

"By end 2001: Development of a piece of browser software that people with disabilities can use to browse the web, that is written to WAI standards and that can read web sites that are written to WAI standards. This software should be distributed to disabled net users at no cost."

The full RNIB response is at:

And the eEurope home page is at:
http://europa.eu.int/comm/information_society/eeuro pe/index_en.htm

* * * ISSUE ENDS * * *

To subscribe to this free monthly bulletin, e-mail eab-subs@headstar.com with 'subscribe eab' in the subject header.
You can list other email addresses to subscribe in the body of the
message. Please encourage all your colleagues to sign up!

To unsubscribe at any time, put 'unsubscribe eab' in the subject header.

Please send comments on coverage or leads to Dan Jellinek at: dan@headstar.com

Published by Headstar Ltd www.headstar.com Copyright 2000 Headstar Ltd
The Bulletin may be reproduced in full as long as all parts including this copyright notice are included. Sections of the report may be quoted as long as they are clearly sourced as 'taken from e-access bulletin, a free monthly email newsletter sponsored by RNIB', and our web site address (www.e-accessibility.com) is also cited.