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[Issue starts]


Section One: News.
- Design forum champions usability and aesthetics; 20,000 dollar penalty for
Olympics web site; Canadian institute
expands digital library; Future bright for web accessibility; Disability Commission
publishes workforce figures.

Section Two: Web accessibility
- Public sector.

Section Three: Education case study
- Washington University.

Section Four: Technology
- Speech enablement.

[Contents ends.]



Design issues facing young disabled people are the subject of a public forum to be hosted next month by the Helen Hamlyn Research Centre at the Royal College of Art.

Design Challenge 2000, in partnership with the Design Business Association (DBA), recognises that design can play a crucial role in improving the quality of life for disabled people.

According to the forum's organisers, four million disabled people in the UK use
equipment or assistive technology to
improve the quality of their lives. However, although many of these products meet the specific clinical needs of disabled users, they fail to address their aesthetic or lifestyle aspirations.

"They are engineered rather than designed and stigmatise rather than integrate, even where they are intended for use as a
consumer product."

The forum's launch follows the publication of reports by the Department of Trade and Industry, the Audit Commission and leading disability organisation RADAR on the poor design of products and services for disabled people.

Some of the UK's leading design
consultancies have been working with user groups ahead of the event to develop design initiatives focused on the aspirations of younger disabled users, identified as the one group most overlooked in all product and service categories.

Design consultancy Priestman Goode
(http://www.priestmangoode.com) is
developing a 'Sensory Web' interface to aid internet browsing and interaction by disabled users. And Design House
(http://www.designhouse.co.uk) is creating an accessible interface for a broadband internet access using ADSL digital line technology.

The Design Challenge site is at:
http://www.hhrc.rca.ac.uk/events/DBAChall enge/


A blow has been struck for web site
accessibility worldwide with an Australian ruling this month that the organisers of this year's Sydney Olympics and Paralympics must pay 20,000 Australian Dollars'
compensation to a blind internet user.

Bruce Maguire successfully took action against the Olympics committee (SOCOG) in Australia's Human Rights and Equal
Opportunity Commission when SOCOG
refused to make its websites accessible to blind and partially-sighted people (see EAccess Bulletin, September and October
issues). On 6 November, the commission ordered SOCOG to pay the compensation by way of damages for the "pain and suffering" they had caused him.

Mr Maguire told E-Access Bulletin this week: "This is one of the highest disability discrimination damages awards ever made under Australian disability legislation, and the commissioner's decision makes
compelling reading in its condemnation of the conduct of SOCOG."

The commission's rulings are not legally binding unless taken to the Federal Court, although Maguire had said he was prepared to take the court action if necessary. There were fears, however, that the committee � set up as a temporary body to oversee the Olympics with no ongoing role - might be dissolved before the matter could be

Australian politician Lee Rhiannon, a Green Party member of the New South Wales
Legislative Council who had taken up
Maguire's case on her website
discovered recently that there was legislation being drafted to wind up SOCOG's

"Naturally this was of concern, because it meant there might not be anyone to take to the Federal Court, and the perpetrators of the original discrimination would not be held accountable", Maguire said.

After making the discovery, Ms Rhiannon began a lobbying campaign to obtain
assurances from the New South Wales
Premier and Minister for Sport and the Olympics that SOCOG would comply with
the damages order. Last week SOCOG
finally confirmed it would comply.


The Canadian National Institute for the Blind has launched a range of innovative new digital library services for its users, including web and telephone access to daily newspapers and a customisable interface to accessible web and reference resources.

The 'VISUNET Canada' service includes
'VisuTEXT', a gateway to accessible digital information including electronic books and electronic Braille files. Clients can also link to web sites selected by CNIB librarians for their accessibility and quality; access VisuCAT, the Library's online catalogue; and browse Encylopedia Britannica online and other reference resources.

VisuTEXT also allows CNIB clients to
customise their online experience so that they can easily organise and access Internet resources. For example, if clients need information on eye conditions, they could search the system for relevant magazine and journal articles; locate websites relating to eye disorders; or search for books and place requests for them online.

Another new service, VisuNEWS, allows
people to use a telephone to listen to any stories from the entire content of 13 daily newspapers in English and French, or access the papers through the library's web site. The VISUNET site is at:


Visually-impaired and disabled people will be empowered by the next generation of internet software to gain full access to the web, according to a new book by Michael G Paciello, founder of the web accessibility group WebABLE!

The book explains how to make sites
accessible as well as looking at how
advances in technology could boost
accessibility. It explains current accessibility initiatives; how to evaluate site accessibility; and web design and programming for users with disabilities including coding

'Web accessibility for people with
disabilities' is published by R&D books, ISBN: 1929629087. More information,
including how to order, is at:


Disabled people are only about half as likely as non-disabled people to be in employment, according to the latest quarterly labour force survey from the Disability Rights
Commission, an independent body set up to advise the UK government on civil rights for disabled people.

There are currently more than 3.1 million disabled people in employment - 12% of all people in work. However, there are more than 6.6 million disabled people of working age in Great Britain, accounting for nearly a fifth of the working age population.

Disabled people are twice as likely as nondisabled people to have no qualifications, the
figures show. They were published via the commission's web site:

[Section One ends]



The Irish government has taken a firm stance on the accessibility of web sites produced by its departments and agencies. It has stated that it wants all sites to be fully accessible by the end of 2001, and the country's National Disability Authority has been invited to monitor standards.

However many key sites including that of the Department of the Taoiseach (the Irish Prime Minister) have a fair amount of
progress to make. A new accessibility primer for public sector officials with responsibility for websites, published by web usability experts Frontend, confirms that most
government sites in Ireland are still

Using the 'Bobby' international accessibility test (http://www.cast.org.bobby), Frontend tested three sample sites: Donegal County Council (http://www.donegal.ie/dcc); The Department of the Taoiseach
(http://www.irlgov.ie/taoiseach/) and The Revenue Commissioners (http://revenue.ie). The first two were found to be wholly
inaccessible. The text-only version of the Revenue Commissioners passed the Bobby test, although the graphic homepage, which is the main point of entry for the text-only pages, failed.

The most common problems identified with the sites were images missing 'alt' text tags, poor use of frames, and poor navigational structure, for example with links appearing out of context.

The paper sets out how current legislation applies to the web, what accessibility means and how to apply the right site building techniques.

"Accessibility is a usability issue", it says. "Make a commitment to investing in
usability and accessibility. Your investment will produce a measurable return by
delivering a better service to your customers and reducing development times and costs in the long run, while reaching a larger
audience. The sooner you introduce good usability and accessibility practise, the greater the saving on repairs or "retrofitting" a web site to make it accessible.

"Database-driven web sites in particular can grow at a tremendous rate, as it is easy to add content on a regular basis. If this is not accessible, the problems and costs of repair are compounded. Investing in usability and accessibility will reduce the likelihood of suffering potentially expensive legal actions.

"The best practise is to pursue an inclusive development process. Involve users who are representative of your target audience from the onset of your project. Include people with disabilities as well as those without."

Local councils in Ireland are involved in an accessibility project of their own. The Irish branch of the European Institute for Design and Disability (http://www.design-forall.
org/) is carrying out a major campaign entitled 'Citizen 2000' to obtain the
agreement of all local authorities in Ireland, North and South, to adopt the Barcelona Declaration. This commits them to ensuring the access of disabled persons to all
information they generate.

So far Drogheda, Dublin, Limerick, Wexford and Sligo councils have adopted the
declaration and are in the process of
completing the formalities of registration. It is envisaged the project will take two years to complete.

Although there is as yet no direct legislation in Ireland concerning web accessibility, planned legislation dealing with
discrimination against people with
disabilities could be used as a basis for legal action against web site providers.

The Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, has stated his commitment to the work: "The preparation of a Disabilities Bill will proceed as quickly as possible. I would envisage that the Bill will cover areas such as access to public bodies, the use of telecommunications
services and participation in the judicial system. The providers of basic state services will, from today on, have the concerns of people with disabilities as part of their core work."

An Inter-Departmental Web Publication
Group chaired by the Department of the Taoiseach was set up in 1999 to prepare guidelines and standards for public sector web sites. Its first report can be found at: http://www.irlgov.ie/taoiseach/publication/w ebpg/guidelines.htm

And the Frontend paper, 'Accessibility and usability for e-government - a primer for public sector officials', is at:
http://www.frontend.com/accessibility_paper .html

[Section two ends]



Internet-based mentoring, Internet training at youth camps and disability awareness
training for primary school children are among the expanding range of innovative projects being pioneered by Washington University under its 'DO-IT' initiative.

DO-IT � which stands for 'Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking and
Technology' � has a Scholars Programme which assists 20 disabled maths, science and technology high school students from every year.

Students accepted onto the scheme must show an interest in pursuing a college course or career in one of a range of specified fields in which people with disabilities are
traditionally underrepresented, including maths, science, technology-related fields and business studies.

Other programmes under DO-IT include
DO-IT Pals, an online community for
teenagers with disabilities considering applying for college or starting a career; and DO-IT Campers, in which children and
young people with disabilities are taught at summer camps how to use computers,
prepare for college and employment and network with other students with disabilities.

All these three programmes are backed up by a system of mentoring which takes place online, mainly using email lists. Adult academics or former students with
disabilities are matched with current students or prospective students with similar
disabilities, and offer them ongoing advice and support.

There is a central email list for all DO-IT participants, and separate lists for the DO-IT scholars and mentors, plus five groups of participants with similar disabilities.

Imke Durre, a blind former student at
Washington University, is a DO-IT mentor. "I monitor, contribute to, and initiate discussions on the DO-IT email lists", she says. "As a blind DO-IT Mentor, I am part of the general list, the mentors list, and the list for participants with visual impairments.

"Besides participating in list discussions, I also exchange emails with individual
scholars. I have been in particular close contact with an eleventh-grader who is blind and joined the program this year. We just write about our lives, and sometimes she asks me questions. These are usually work and study related, but often people want to talk about personal experiences with their disability.

"As a blind individual who has completed a PhD in a scientific field (atmospheric science), I can share my experiences with students who are interested in pursuing a career in science or in going to college in general. I can provide advice based on my own experience and on what I have heard and read about others."

DO-IT grew out of a proposal to the
National Science Foundation by Sheryl
Burgstahler, IT director at Washington University. Its core programme is DO-IT Scholars, which has so far had about 25 blind members.

DO-IT scholars receive adaptive equipment on loan, attend summer camps at the
University of Washington for two
consecutive years, and are in touch with each other and with DO-IT mentors all year-round through the scheme's various email lists.

A separate DO-IT project, 'Show and Tell', is aimed at younger schoolchildren. It sends successful college students with disabilities to visit pupils in elementary schools to help them develop positive perceptions of people with disabilities and experience how people with disabilities use computers and perform day-to-day tasks.

Presenters share information about their disability, set up problem-solving activities in which the children participate, answer questions, and demonstrate technology.

Imke Durre has been involved in this project too, visiting first-grade classes once a week to talk to children about what it's like to be blind. She demonstrates refreshable Braille display and speech output from computers - the children love to hear the computer talk. She also demonstrates how she uses a cane for mobility and brings along a child-size cane for the children to try. She shows them the alphabet in Braille and produces each child's name in Braille for them to keep.

Recently Durre won a University of
Washington 'Hall of Fame' Award for
students who have been involved in
community service and student organisations for at least two years, for her involvement in the DO-IT program.

For more information see:

[Section three ends]



A major community web site in the Scottish Highlands is taking a novel approach to speech-enabling its services, using a lesserknown piece of free software from none
other than Microsoft.

The Caithness Community Web Site
(http://www.caithness.org), set up and built by volunteers in the most Northerly
mainland county in Scotland, has grown in under two years from a two-page site to a 300-page resource with more than 600
visitors a day. It is now the main source of information for news and events in the region.

The original concept behind the site was to offer free web space to every local group and business in the county. "It all started with Caithness Voluntary Group, where we were putting together information about all the voluntary organisations in the county", says site founder Bill Fernie. "I thought we could go one better and prepare a computer
database, then I thought we may as well put all that information on a web site too.

More recently, a desire to make the site more accessible to visually impaired and disabled people has led to innovative trials of audio capability for the site, combining voice recognition with speech navigation.

"While we realise that in many ways our site is not good for people with sight problems we hope to solve these problems by making it talk. We are at the start of a trial to see if we can make the site have audio and speech capabilities. That is the possibility to give audio commands and get the web site to reply and carry out the orders given by the user."

The group is using a free but little-known piece of software called Microsoft Agent, a voice recognition tool created to work towards more intuitive ways for people to interact with their computers.

The software is described by Microsoft as "a set of services that supports the presentation of software agents as interactive
personalities within the Windows interface. Microsoft Agent's conversational interface approach is an extension and enhancement of the existing interactive modalities of the Windows interface".

What this rather confusing waffle often seems to mean in practice is a slightly irritating little green cartoon parrot that tries to help computer users. However the
Caithness web team, led by Bill Fernie's son Niall, has adapted the system for genuine voice interaction with the web.

"A couple of years ago while trawling
newsgroups for web design tips I came
across a discussion about the Bobby web accessibility project", Niall says.

"I am a JavaScript programmer and this was a big no-no with Bobby. It seemed to me that instead of trying to advance the technology of the web, this project was going to take it back to the Dark Ages. I could not get my head round the reasons for giving visually impaired people such a raw deal.

"So I introduced the newsgroup to MS
Agent. Many were amazed with the
possibilities and with the addition of a small plug-in called the 'Agent Powertoy' from Costas Andriotis
(http://members.theglobe.com/costas5/windo ws_05.htm) they could see how much better Agent was than the other text-reading
software. The only limitation I saw was the interface between user and PC but as far as reading web pages is concerned I feel it is second to none.

"This prompted me to start work using the speech recognition engine also supplied free from Microsoft as it was already integrated with MS Agent. This I felt could bridge the gap for people who could not see the screen to select passages or pages to be read.

"With the business pages on the Community Site a perfect candidate for another project of mine - the removal of all the HTML - I knew that this would render them unreadable by most text readers but a perfect testing ground for MS Agent. Voice navigation and the ability to request information from any page is my long term goal. As all of the text most users see on the screen is created by
JavaScript I would like to have all of the text users can read from the screen be read by Agent."

So far, the Caithness site's business section is the only area to implement the technology. As E-Access Bulletin went to press, the section was being transferred to a new server, but should be back online within a few days and the team is welcoming
feedback from blind users from next week.

"So far it's going well, and we each have readout functions on our PCs", says Bill. "This can read any website, not just our own. The opening business page will have a
limited audio function and response to audio commands, after the Agent software has been installed on the user's computer. All of the instructions are on the site but we are encouraging people to get in touch if they have problems.

"We hope to be in a position eventually to add full readout functions and possibly even the ability to go into other web sites from Caithness.org and have them read out as well.

"We think Microsoft Agent has good
possibilities and are surprised that the software - which we understand is aimed at speech engines for typing - has not been used in this way before. We would be
interested to hear from anyone involved in similar projects".

Bulletin readers with knowledge of similar work can contact Bill Fernie on

And the Microsoft Agent home page is at: http://msdn.microsoft.com/msagent/default.a sp

[Section four ends]


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[Issue ends]
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