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[Issue starts.]

ISSUE 16, APRIL 2001.

Section One: News.
- Treasury banks on deafblind access; The bulletin goes multilingual; Pret a porter; Italian government site open for testing; Internet users look back on radio days; Cybersatirists wanted; quiet please: the RNIB library goes online; News in brief: BT results, drug talk.

Section Two: Democracy
- Electoral technology.

Section Three: Mobile technology
- Bluetooth.

Section Four: News analysis

[Contents ends.]



A 0.5 million UK Pounds research project into tactile Internet access began this week with the backing of a three UK government agencies.

The project aims to create a computer
communication device unifying tactile mice, gloves and screens with traditional deafblind communication techniques of palm spelling, tactile Morse code and 'tadoma', a way to recognise speech with touch.

Funding for the research comes from the Treasury's 62 million 'Invest to Save' budget, which was channelled through the
Department of Health to the Defence
Evaluation and Research Agency, which will be overseeing the work.

According to Maurice Bardsley at DERA, the research secured funding partly because it may help the government to reach its targets for the provision of government services online. A Treasury spokesperson said the savings which Invest to Save required of Invest to Save projects can be "savings in terms of convenience," not just of public money.

The DERA team will collaborate with
researchers at the Sensory Disabilities Research Unit at the University of
(http://phoenix.herts.ac.uk/SDRU/hmpage.ht ml); and Deafblind UK
(http://www.deafblinduk.org.uk), a charity which plans to find deafblind people to test the technology. Dr John Gill, who heads the RNIB's scientific research unit, will sit on the project's management board.

* See also 'Special needs � the mother of

invention', section four, this issue.


This issue sees the launch of an Italian language version of E-Access Bulletin, in partnership with the Cavazza Institute in Bologna.

The concept is the brainchild of the institute's director Mario Barbuto, who offered to translate each issue and the necessary subscription messages, and to help promote the bulletin in Italy. The Cavazza Institute for the Blind, founded in 1881, is one of Italy's leading organisations in the field of blindness. Its wide-ranging work includes education, vocational training, the distribution of technical devices, and Braille and talking book production.

The institute's Italian language web site is at www.cavazza.it and information on the
Italian version of E-Access Bulletin including an archive can be found at
To subscribe, Italian readers simply send a blank email to:

E-Access Bulletin is seeking partners in other countries to create new language versions. Partners will share copyright in their language version, and be able to promote their work through it. So if you represent an organisation outside the UK working with blind and visually impaired people, perhaps you could help us produce our next version in French, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian,
Norwegian, Swedish . . . the world's the limit! Please email the bulletin's Dan Jellinek on dan@headstar.com with your proposal.


E-Access Bulletin reader David Porter, who is visually impaired, has sent in a query about a hand-held device to help blind people select clothes to wear without choosing clashing colours, by emitting sound signals.

"My interest is in something which would enable totally blind people to find articles of clothing electronically, which would enable them to dress in appropriate colours or shades", he says. "This would be a great advance on sewing buttons to various
garments, so that they could be matched by button combinations. Some time ago I heard of the hand-held device and would like to hear from anyone who may know anything more about it". However, he adds that "even when my sight was normal, I could never match clothing colours which my wife said were right!"

If anyone has heard of such a device, please email the editor on dan@headstar.com and we will pass the information on to David.


The Italian government has taken the
innovative step of opening up a test version of its main web site for accessibility testing ahead of its relaunch later this year.

The test site, which has been publicised to the Italian speaking blind and visually impaired community through the World Wide Web
Consortium's accessibility initiative, is at and can be accessed using user name: 'wai' and password:
'demo'. It will eventually come online to replace the one currently at

The move follows a directive from the Italian government "inviting" all web designers who are in a position to comply with W3C web accessibility guidelines to do so � a
compromise wording after legislation forcing accessibility was ruled out.


A new email discussion group has been
created to provide a platform for blind and sighted people to reminisce about favourites of radio.

The group was started by Clive Lever of the Visually Impaired Radio and Electronics Society (VIRES), an organisation promoting the use enjoyment of radio and electronics by blind and visually impaired people.

"If you get half-a-dozen blind people together in a bar, within the first hour, the chances are that some of them will be comparing
experiences of radio", Lever says.

Recent topics discussed on the list range from radio versions of Balzac's Old Goriot to Meet the Huggets, a programme for children
broadcast on BBC Radio 2. To join in, send a blank message to uk-radio-listenerssubscribe


Web designers with an axe to grind about accessibility are invited to volunteer their ideas and services to produce a web site parodying the worst in commercial web

Once complete Joe Clark, the accessibility guru behind the project, says that the site will say to users: "After you're done laughing, you can learn how we made what seems to be a perfectly ordinary site completely

Since issuing his invitation to comedy coders in late May, Clark has been sent a handful of good ideas and had pledges of help from over twenty designers, but he is still keen to enlist more. To get involved email

And to read more about Joe Clark see


Europe's most extensive research and
reference library on sight loss and blindness went online this month. The resource is the result of a collaboration between the National Library for the Blind and the RNIB, which contributed their classification systems and publication archive respectively.

Other libraries, such as the Canadian National Institute for the Blind can also be accessed, along with a wide range of electronic

To visit the library, go to:


BT RESULTS: The telecommunications
giant BT has recently completed a user survey of the accessibility of its corporate web site (http://www.bt.com). Results are due in June - for more information email

DRUG TALK: A gadget that can read labels on medicine bottles is being tested by Chicago's Hines Veterans Administration Hospital and the Rush-Presbyterian-St.Lukes Medical Center. The system, called
ScripTalk, is manufactured by En-Vision America:

[Section One ends.]


By Tamara Fletcher tamara@headstar.com

If something good were to emerge from the US election fiasco in Florida, it could be that America takes a closer look at how their voting system could be improved, including new access facilities allowing people with disabilities to vote, unaided, in the privacy of their own booth.

From September last year, Texas reluctantly led the way with a law - forced through by litigation lasting a decade - requiring that any county in the state purchasing new voting equipment had to buy machines that are accessible to all. However in other states, disabled or visually impaired people who are not able to cast their own vote still have to be accompanied by another person to verify or cast the vote for them.

In the UK, in the forthcoming general
election voters will benefit from new
legislation � the Representation of the People Act 2000 - requiring that all polling stations must use a 'tactile ballot template' to slot over the ballot paper. Stations must also display a large print copy of the ballot paper, and a person requiring assistance in the voting booth is now legally entitled to second-person support.

The tactile ballot template was developed in consultation with organisations representing the interests of the blind or visually impaired including RNIB and launched by the Home Office in March. The template will slot over the ballot paper with raised numbers and Braille to represent each candidate. The voter will be able to lift the area of the template next to the corresponding number to mark the ballot paper and make his or her decision privately.

Research by the RNIB shows that 60 per cent of blind or visually impaired people voted at the last general election, compared with 71.5 per cent of the total UK electorate. More than half of those that did not vote felt that it was too difficult.

The institute hopes that the figure will improve this time around, although according to Dermot Ryan, Campaigns Officer for
accessible information, there are still a few problems associated with the new tactile device.

"While it's fantastic that the device has been implemented, the Home Office have not
given any money to publicise it so many people won't actually know about it", Ryan said. "Many people who are visually impaired don't look it and the use of the device in individual polling stations depends largely on the vigilance of the presiding officer recognising them as such.

"The device also has limitations as the presiding officer will need to tell the voter which number represents which candidate if they are unable to see the large print posters."

The Electoral Reform Society has similar reservations.

"The Home Office is progressing quite
slowly, which is disappointing", says Alex Folkes, the society's Press and Campaigns Officer. These are small steps in the right direction � however many people will still have to be accompanied".

"Small moves are being made in one area but not in others. It's a very serious issue � people should be able to vote privately unassisted. Having someone standing over you is a disincentive to vote.

"The Home Office seem to be offloading all the responsibility on to the Electoral Commission. I think there will be little impact on this election. Hopefully, they will look seriously at these issues for next time".

The RNIB also seem optimistic about
changes for the election in 2005 or 2006. "We imagine the next election will be very different with a promotional campaign, more people registering to vote by post and a move towards electronic voting", Ryan says.

At this year's general election a voluntary survey will issued to the administrators and returning officers so that the feedback can be used by the Electoral Commission. One
question covers the effectiveness of the tactile voting device.

"The general consensus is that if everyone is happy with it, it will probably stay as it is", says Home Office spokesman Martin Ellis. "Electronic voting has been considered but obviously one factor is cost, although it has not been ruled out."

Scope, the national disability organisation whose focus is people with cerebral palsy, is to publish results of a nationwide survey of polling stations across the country for the Polls Apart 3 campaign. The website,
www.pa3.org.uk is due to go live shortly. Scope are calling for disabled voters to complete a survey after they have voted to aid their research, and this will be made available from this site.

The RNIB has published a factsheet on voting and will also be looking for feedback on good and bad practice to help their campaign for further improvements after the election. For more information email

[Section two ends.]


By Kevin Carey humanity@atlas.co.uk

Bluetooth, named after the 10th century Viking King Harald Blatand who united
Denmark and Norway, is a wireless
communications protocol set to revolutionise the way blind people can access technology in the home and office.

Developed by the mobile phone giant
Ericsson and already adopted by such
companies as IBM, Microsoft, Nokia,
Motorola and Sony, it uses radio frequencies to enable a wide variety of devices to communicate with each other over short distances.

It expands the possibilities for devices to interact with each other way beyond the personal computer and its standard peripheral devices so that telephones, computers, consumer electronics, navigation systems and security devices can all communicate without the usual messing about with wires and cables.

In the office environment, Bluetooth will scrap the need for cables between pieces of equipment and make flexibility of ownership and use much more practical. And because it is radio-based there will be no need for the 'lines of sight' between equipment required by infra-red systems.

From the point of view of blind and visually impaired people this means that interaction will be easier between specially adapted kit and the ordinary stuff in the office. It also means that you will be able to avoid the tedium of updating information in currently incompatible devices like a Braille note-taker and a mobile phone, so that if you update the address book in your phone it will update the note-taker simultaneously. This will mean it is also much easier to change devices.

At home it really will be possible for your remote controller to drive everything from your television to your cooker timer and your curtains. The dream of the 'smart house' will finally come true. This will be particularly important for people who find moving around difficult but it will also save a good deal of dragging ones' hands across mucky surfaces to find a cooker knob.

Out and about it will now be possible for phones to link efficiently with satellite navigation systems so that it will be easier to find out where you are and specify where you want to go. At the macro level this means that your mobile phone will be able to tell you to within five metres where you are and at the micro level, as the uptake of the technology improves, you will also be able to find small objects such as the door handle of a specified shop.

You will also be able to use your own hand held device to interrogate public information systems and operate a bank cash machine, although for the next few years you will still have to grab bank notes rather than down loading digital money into your phone.

Of course, you can put all this together so that as you leave the office you can turn your cooker on and as you stand on the platform waiting for a train that never comes you can turn it off again.

One of the most important benefits for people with low vision, particularly the elderly, will be the reduction in learning required to access new devices. Once you have learned how to operate your remote controller, your handheld personal assistant or your laptop you will be able to run all your devices as long as they are Bluetooth enabled. The mechanism is a tiny chip attached to each device, together with a couple of lines of enabling software written into each operating system.

For more information see:
and Ericsson's Bluetooth page is at:

* Kevin Carey is Director of HumanITy


[Section three ends.]


By Phil Cain phil@headstar.com

The news of the UK government's Defence Evaluation and Research Agency's
involvement in developing deafblind
technology (see news, this issue) may seem surprising, but such interest is not
unprecedented and far from sentimental.

DERA, smarting from cuts in defence
spending and in the throes of having much of its operations semi-privatised, faces strong pressure to turn brainwaves into bucks.

Furthermore special needs have often inspired some extremely lucrative inventions: Cassette tapes were first designed to provide a medium for talking books; Alexander Graham Bell was moved to develop the telephone as a way to communicate with his partially deaf wife; Meanwhile, Josiah Wedgewood, the man who gave his name to a world famous pottery, is often said to have invented the revolutionary kick-wheel to overcome a problem with his leg. Some even contend that the idea of the biro came about as a way to stop visually impaired people knocking over inkpots.

In July the Ministry of Defence is scheduled to spin-off most of DERA's activities into a company called QinetiQ (pronounced
'kinetic') Plc. This new company, though still part-owned by the state, will operate on a fully commercial basis. Meanwhile the
smaller military-research side of DERA will change its name to the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory but will remain under MoD control.

When the DERA demerger occurs DERA's
existing assistive technology projects, including the newly funded deafblind project, will fall under QinetiQ's control. Should a product based on ideas arising from the research catch on, either as an aid to deafblind, or in a non-deafblind applications, the potential profits from intellectual property rights could be enormous. QinetiQ's military background will mean it is well placed to market its wares to both civilian and military buyers, the latter being particularly generous early adopters of new technology.

There are many possible commercial spinoffs from tactile interfaces, since the need to send messages in a tactile way can result from social pressure and sensory overload, not just from sensory impairment.

A simple tactile feature is already built into many mobile phones in the form of a
vibrating 'ring'. Some people are already using this facility to transmit discreet phone messages in Morse code, according to
BTexaCT Research (http://www.labs.bt.com).

Similar modes of communication may also find a place on the battlefield. Louis Braille, the inventor of the Braille system, developed the concept after learned a writing system called 'night writing' invented by Charles Barbier in the early nineteenth century for communicating on the battlefield in the dark.

DERA researcher Trevor Dobbins heads a tactile interface project which aims to find reliable tactile ways to relay navigational data from a global positioning satellite. As part of the research Dobbins equipped Steve
Cunningham with gadgets allowing him to set the blind water-speed record of 70 mph in a boat on lake Windermere in October last year (see www.blindvision.co.uk). A month earlier DERA's technology helped Graham 'GForce'
Hicks, a deafblind man, ride a pillion jet ski from Lands End to the Isle of Scilly (see www.deafblinduk.org.uk/text/quadbike).

From defence to derring-do, tactile
technology could be one of the secrets to the success of the newly privatised QinetiQ.

[Section four ends.]


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Copyright 2001 Headstar Ltd.
http://www.headstar.com 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 eaccess bulletin, a free monthly email
newsletter', and our web site address
http://www.e-accessibility.com is also cited.

Editor - Dan Jellinek dan@headstar.com Deputy Editor - Phil Cain
Reporter - Tamara Fletcher
Editorial Advisor - Kevin Carey

[Issue ends.]