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[Issue starts]


Section One: News
Macromedia embraces accessible animation; Lastminute.com unveils voice portal plans; MSF union holds accessible online election; Date set for Olympics case;
Web sites that suck;
Tactile diagrams - guinea pigs wanted;
Free membership to audio book club

Section Two: Digital libraries
- Information retrieval

Section Three: Case study
- Guide Dogs for the Blind Association

Section Four: Back to basics
- Adapting Windows

[Contents ends]



Macromedia, the California-based leader in web animation, has announced a range of developments to make its software more accessible to blind people.

Free extensions to its Dreamweaver software will enable web developers to evaluate their sites for accessibility. They can be downloaded from: http://exchange.macromedia.com

Macromedia also announced plans for a Flash Accessibility Developer Kit and future enhancements to its Flash Player, expected by the end of the year. The developer kit will contain guidelines and sample code to fully support development efforts.

An upcoming version of the Macromedia Flash Player will be modified to allow access to underlying data within an animation file, permitting the text within to be interpreted by assistive devices. Two new commands for Macromedia's Fireworks package confirm that 'Alt' text tags for images are being used, and that complex sliced image maps are properly tagged.

For more see:


"I'm in the West End this evening and I want two tickets for Chicago and a nearby restaurant booking after the show". This is apparently the sort of thing that users of a new voice recognition portal to lastminute.com's online shop will be able to say and receive an immediate response with details of availability and live booking of all relevant services.

The voice recognition gateway will be accessible by telephone and mobile phone as well as PCs, digital television and personal digital assistants that have audio and telephone capabilities. It has been designed for Lastminute.com by Nortel Networks.

Unfortunately, the announcement from the two companies does not specify a date for the service to go live, because E-Access Bulletin is raring to try it out and see if the West End show example really works, or whether one would end up instead with plane tickets to fly to Chicago.

Nortel says the service will be the first fully transactional e-commerce voice gateway, although it says it is already working with a number of other unnamed customers on similar offerings.


The Manufacturing Science and Finance union (MSF) has become the first UK organisation to use fully accessible electronic voting in an internal poll of its 300,000 members.

The union joined forces with US software company VoteHere.net (http://www.votehere.net)
and Electoral Reform Ballot Services
to ask members whether they wanted to merge with the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union (AEEU).

The partnership provided email voting through the ERBS website. All members were sent individual PIN numbers to access the site, and voting ran from September 29 to October 23, resulting in a 90% majority in favour of the creation of a new superunion.

VoteHere says its 'Gold' online voting system, the one used by MSF, has been fully tested for accessibility to people with disabilities including blind people. A spokesman for the MSF said: "Though we do not know how many visually-impaired voters used the site this time round, we are planning to use the same system for the legal ballot later in the year, and we will definitely track them then."


The Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission has set a date of 6 November for a hearing to assess damages due to the blind Internet user Bruce Maguire, following a successful earlier complaint from Maguire about the inaccessibility of the official Olympics and Paralympics web sites.

The Australian Olympics organising committee SOCOG rejected last year's ruling by the commission that the web sites were inaccessible to access devices such as speech readers, arguing on the advice of its technology partner IBM that remedial action would be prohibitively expensive.

In a case which could set a valuable precedent for web accessibility campaigners worldwide, Maguire told E-Access Bulletin he will now be seeking damages for "humiliation, and loss of opportunity to participate fully in the Games, plus legal costs". If SOCOG refuse to comply with any damages assessment made by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity, Maguire will seek enforcement in the Australian Federal Court.


'Web sites that suck' is the new section for Ten-20.com, a UK web portal for disabled people. The section intends to name and shame sites that are inaccessible to disabled people, which should really know better - sites for example like 'youreable.com' http://www.youreable.com,
a disability information service which recently won 1 million UK pounds in development money from Channel 4's 'emillionaire' show.

Here is a typically colourful quote from Ten-20.com: "Business is not all about profit and loss, business is all about people, and people matter. Get the people factor right and you are half way to a successful business. What really gets my goat is when this profit factor is disguised and commercial companies try to give the impression they are just there for the greater good of mankind".

Contributions or nominations are invited to help the new site take shape at: http://www.ten-20.com/websitesthatsuck.html


Volunteers are being sought by a post-graduate student at Lancaster University, Leanne Thompson, to take part in her PhD project investigating the design of tactile diagrams and graphics for blind people.

Ms Thompson wants to conduct some practical experiments on how blind people's tactile perception works, with a view to applying the results to evaluate both standard tactile diagrams and computer-based designs, possibly including three-dimensional virtual reality graphics and diagrams.

Any readers of E-Access Bulletin who are blind, live within travelling distance of the Lancaster University campus and are interested in taking part in this project, should contact Leanne by telephone on: 01524 65201 extension 93560 or email: mailto:l.thompson@lancaster.ac.uk


'Expert witness' by Jeffrey Archer and 'Just practising' by David Grant from the BBC's Animal Hospital are among current best-sellers in the Audio Book Club, a commercial talking book service for the blind and visually impaired.

The club has announced that membership is now free "for the foreseeable future", so users need only pay when they buy a book on audio two-track cassette or CD. A list of selected products is sent out by email or floppy disk six times a year.

For more information visit: http://www.theaudiobookclub.com

[Section one ends]



A new research programme has been set up to investigate the way blind and visually-impaired people navigate digitised library catalogues and other information retrieval systems.

The NoVA (Non-Visual Access to the Digital Library) project will study the differences between library searching methods in partially and fully-sighted users, with the aim of influencing system design in future to ensure full accessibility.

Project manager Jenny Craven told EAB: "Fully-sighted people have a choice about how they view the screen, so they can navigate a website by jumping back and forward and from one image to another. Blind or partially-sighted users have to listen to all the information they are presented with. They don't have a choice.

"A good example of this is the use of frames in a web environment, to help the user perform complex selections between categories. A sighted person navigates in a nonlinear manner, whereas a non-sighted person has to navigate in a linear way within one frame at a time. They may also need to backtrack a long way, returning through information they have already received, to get to the desired point.

"Although much work is going on to make interfaces accessible - for example the World Wide Web's Accessibility Initiative - there is little current work going on about how blind people operate in this field. Work on accessibility tends to concentrate on transcribing text, or replacing images with text, when the problem may in fact be much deeper."

As part of the project, visually-impaired users will be asked to perform a series of searching tasks, using three different types of library search engine. They will be asked to explain how they do things and why.

The first pilot is to take place in early November, and the project is funded to last for two years. It is being run from the Centre for Research in Library and Information Management (CERLIM) at Manchester Metropolitan University.

CERLIM has already completed a research programme that made the case for fully-accessible information retrieval systems in libraries. Called REVIEL, the study took feedback from a group of blind volunteers who evaluated a series of websites which had already been studied by REVIEL. The volunteers accessed the sites through the internet and used pwWebspeak software.

The report said: "While in its formative years the web's use of visual images was largely decorative, but it is now much more commonly using each medium to carry significant content. Consequently a person unable to access one medium, whether it be visual, aural or textual, is unable to use the resource effectively. The WWW Consortium, the body responsible for web standards, has made a strong commitment to accessibility, but too often the issue is ignored or give low priority by content publishers."

The study used a group of volunteers with differing levels of expertise. It was decided that this reflected real life situations, with individual users of a library or information service having different levels of experience, and differing needs.

It found that: "In general, volunteers commented that sites did not provide an adequate explanation of the services they offered, what was included on the site and more importantly what their acronyms stood for". For example the national educational information body NISS simply describes itself at 'Information for education'. Web site addresses could also be confusing, with organisation names or acronyms used in web domains differing from those used elsewhere.

"The volunteers also found it frustrating to have to read through a lot of text in order to get to the link they wanted", the report said. "An example of this is where alternative text for an image has been included alongside the actual text. The screen reader will read not only read the alternative text, but repeats of the same text as it appears on screen. When this happens at the top of the page users find it time consuming and very tiring."

CERLIM's web site is at:
and Jenny Craven can
be contacted on

The REVIEL project report is at:

[Section two ends]



The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association (GDBA) has launched a new website to coincide with a major restructuring of its services.

The new site combines news, games, information on fund-raising and special interest information for both blind people and dog lovers, as the charity expands to provide more specialised social care support for its client group.

The site is now fully-accessible, so visually-impaired users need not browse a text-only version, as they did with the old site. GDBA publications officer Katie Roberts has overseen its development. She tells EAB: "Even on the old site we were getting 100,000 hits per month, so we would hope that figure will rise considerably with the redesign.

"We decided to build a new site after the findings of our research showed that around 200,000 people were crying out for better social care services. We will now be offering things like mobility training and low vision training, in conjunction with regional social services departments. With this major new aspect to service delivery we thought it would be a good idea to revamp the site.

"With the old site it was a case of 'blind people this way, fully-sighted people the other way'. Now we have tagging descriptions for everything, like buttons and photos."

The website uses bright colours and a mix of graphics. It features eight main sections: news and events; information on GDBA; user support and advice; fundraising and volunteering; dogs; puppies; eyesight issues and information on and from regional offices.

Within this the user can access everything from freebies and games - where they meet a set of animated puppy characters who live on the site - to benefits advice, pets travel schemes and information on vets and breeders. There are also schemes like puppy walking and sponsoring a litter.

"The site is much more dynamic, because all our regional offices are hooked up to it and are feeding in and updating information constantly", Roberts says. "It's still evolving too."

In the long term, plans for the site are even more ambitious. As the largest breeder of working guide dogs in the world, the charity hopes to raise extra revenue through providing international services. And it has already been contacted by a variety of dog-related companies, interested in offering sponsorship.

"The old site didn't even have the facility for online donations - this one does. It was really exciting when the first bit of money came in", Roberts says.

"Another long term plan is to develop really good chat rooms, so users can communicate with each other. This is really important for visually-impaired people because it's a great way to build support networks and discuss issues.

"Sound is another thing we want to experiment with, because of the obvious accessibility advantages for blind people. As the technology broadens, so will our horizons! We also plan to add more interactive games, which we are challenging a range of educational institutions to come up with ideas for."

The GDBA 'kid's club' already has 10,000 members, and it hopes to boost this through the site. Corporate sponsorship for the club is another priority.

The new site's overall budget - including advertising, design and freelance commissioning - is 50,000 UK Pounds, which hasn't been completely spent yet. It was designed by Synergy, in consultation with visually-impaired people. There are no drop-down menus on searches or forms, it runs with the latest version of Jaws and contains hidden links to the main body copy so visually-impaired users do not have to listen the same information again and again.

Roberts says: "This new website could open up lots of different avenues. The internet is very important for visually-impaired people, who often have difficulty getting out and about. We want to address those needs and at the same time broaden the organisation's horizons."

The site is at:

[Section three ends]



There are many ways that Windows operating software can be altered to improve visibility for people with a visual impairment.

Ensuring that your screen resolution is no higher than 800x600 is a good starting point - at this setting, text and pictures will be larger than at higher resolutions. You should probably not select a lower resolution than this, however - with versions of Windows any later than 3.x, choosing 640x480 resolution for example can cause problems with portions of more complex screens disappearing off the side of the screen.

To change the display settings, pull up the Windows 'Start' menu and select Settings and then Control Panel. Next double-click on the Display icon and find the Settings tab to make the necessary changes.

It is also possible to increase the size, and change the colour, of the mouse pointer icon, or change the shape of the icon from the standard arrow to various other shapes.

Go to the control panel window as above, then open the Mouse box by double clicking on the Mouse icon or moving to the icon with the arrow keys and pressing Enter. Bring the Pointers page to the front by clicking on the tab or pressing Control+Tab.

You can now use the arrow keys to move up and down through the standard pointer schemes. There is one called 'Windows Standard Large'. You may or may not see 'Windows Standard Extra Large' depending on your installation. If you do not, AbilityNet can supply the necessary software (see contact details at the end).

The 'Windows Standard Inverted' schemes make the pointer white over a black background and black over a white background.

The mouse pointer changes shape when it is over different objects. For example, when it is over the document window it is a thin 'I-beam' that might be difficult to see. It is possible to assign a more visible shape, such as the arrow, to make the pointer easier to see at these times. The Large and Extra Large pointer schemes have the larger arrow assigned to all instances where pointers are more difficult to see.

Another visibility enhancement option is to change the colour schemes used within Windows. Open the Control Panel as before and then open the Accessibility panel by double clicking or moving the highlight with the arrow keys and pressing Enter. Bring the Display page to the front by clicking on the tab or pressing Control+Tab twice.

Now click the check box next to "Use high contrast" or tab once and press the spacebar for the same result.

Click on the High Contrast Settings button or tab again and press spacebar. A dialog box appears that allows you to choose the high contrast colour scheme of your choice. These are predominantly white text on a black background or black text on a white background. Click on your choice or tab once and arrow up and down.

To increase the sizes of fonts used by Windows 95 or later versions in menus, buttons and some dialogue and message boxes choose the Custom option and tab again to the box in which you can arrow through schemes that include the words 'large' or 'extra large' next to them which indicate that they will affect the size of the text.

The one that might be considered to offer the best support for many visually impaired people is 'High Contrast Black Extra Large'.

These colour schemes can also be used as a starting point for your preferred combination of colours and text sizes. Each screen element may be changed and the new colour scheme saved under a new name.

To customise the colour schemes, open the Control Panel as before and then open the Display item by double clicking or moving the highlight with the arrow keys and pressing Enter. Bring the Appearance page to the front by clicking on the tab or pressing Control+Tab twice.

This page contains a snapshot of a sample Windows screen and below a bar listing the currently selected `colour scheme'.

To change to a new pre-set scheme, click the mouse on the `colour scheme' box and press the up and down arrow keys. When the snapshot looks good press the enter key to select it. Some of these " 'High Contrast' schemes include contrasting colours and larger fonts.

To create an entirely new colour scheme, first select one of the pre-defined schemes as a basis for your own as above. Choose the item you wish to change by clicking on a particular element in the snapshot window or by Tabbing three times to and moving up and down through the 'Item' box below it with the arrow keys.

You can change the foreground (text) and background colours of each item by clicking on the coloured block (bottom right) or pressing Tab until highlighted the block is highlighted and and pressing Enter. A colour palette will appear and you can click on or arrow around and press Enter on the desired colour.

To save changes click or Tab to and press Enter on the 'Save As' button, give it a name and press Enter.

Windows 98 also has a utility that can enlarge part of the screen. If it is not to be found in the Start menu, under Programs, 'Accessories', 'Accessibility' and 'Magnifier' then it will need to be installed from your Windows CD.

When running there appears at the top of the screen a window that shows a magnified area of the lower screen. It will follow whatever is moving (although there are bugs that mean that it won't track as you type in Word 97 and perhaps other packages too). Whenever the mouse is moved it will follow the pointer to include that part of the screen in the magnified window.

Microsoft's magnifier is really only useful as a backup for those who can see the larger of the fonts in the 'High Contrast' colour schemes but who have difficulty reading certain dialogue boxes that are unaffected by the larger font changes.

* This article was produced in association with AbilityNet, a charity concerned with all areas of computing and every disability, which acts as an independent assessor of

access technologies. For more information contact AbilityNet on freephone 0800 269545, email: enquiries@abilitynet.co.uk
or see its web site:

[Section four ends]


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Published by Headstar Ltd
Copyright 2000 Headstar Ltd

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[Issue ends]


National Helpline: 0800 269545 e-mail:enquiries@abilitynet.co.uk http://www.abilitynet.co.uk PO Box94 Warwick CV34 5WS Tel: 01926 312847 Fax: 01926 407425