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[Issue starts.]

ISSUE 20, AUGUST 2001.


Section One: News.

Email and shopping by voice power - 'voice portal' goes live. Half the country fails polling test - half of UK polling stations flout law. Accessibility means prizes - Internet sites eligible for European award. Voice recognition - advice wanted.
Word up - new accessible books for blind users of Microsoft Word. News in brief: Talking medication; Disability direct; AOL test.

Section two: Opening the description window on digital TV. Digital television may give audio-described programming a longoverdue boost in the next few years.

Section three: Russian hacker enters copyright minefield. The FBI's arrest of a Russian hacker puts digital copyright laws under the microscope.

Section four: Training the trainers.
Independent consultant Richard West describes the process of setting up a recognised benchmark for assistive technology training.

[Contents ends.]



The mobile phone 'voice portal' service eckoh went live in the UK last month, with E-Access Bulletin as one of its first 100 trial users. The service allows people to use email, shop, access news, set up conference calls and use a range of other customisable services through voice commands alone.

Similar services are already running in the US, including AOLbyPhone which is powered by 'Quack' (http://www.quack.com). There are also voice-activated services to enable people to interact with their mobile devices such as Orange's Wildfire (http://www.wildfire.com). But eckoh is Europe's first 'comprehensive voice portal'.

Online media specialist 365.com, eckoh's creator, has struck deals with Dominos Pizza, Virgin Wines, the bookmakers William Hill, Teleflorist, Ticketmaster and HMVDirect for online shopping. When you access these services through eckoh you leave the 'site' for the respective call centres of the services providers but can return to the eckoh portal at any time at the touch of a key.

To navigate around the service keywords are spoken. Menus are read out to you (by a choice of 'characters' including a gangster and an au pair) or if you know the keywords already you can speak them at any time. Some keywords are universal such as 'home' that will take you back to the home menu from anywhere.

There are some annoyances - at one stage the service reads through a tediously long privacy statement, and occasionally external noises (such as a door shutting) are picked up as attempted commands.

A good feature, however, is that you have the option to key in the first four letters of a command using the standard three letters per key system for phones, so you don't have to sit in a public place like a train speaking odd words into your handset like a lunatic.

The main problem is simply that it takes some time to get used to eckoh's menus and commands. Once these are mastered, however, the service works smoothly enough. Full details at: http://www.eckoh.com


Almost half the polling stations in the UK failed to comply with a new law to make it easier for visually impaired people to vote in this year's General Election, according to new research sponsored by disability organisation Scope (http://www.scope.org.uk).

According to 'Polls Apart 3', an online survey of around 2,000 polling stations in 474 constituencies, some 49 per cent of polling stations did not provide a tactile voting template as required by the Representation of the People Act.

Even when the devices were supplied, "staff often did not know how to use them or where they were", said Scope campaigns officer Ruth Scott. "One device was actually faulty and if it had been used it would have caused a vote for the wrong candidate."

There had been a marked improvement in providing disabled access to the ballot since 1997, Scott said, but there was still a lot of work to do.

The Electoral Commission, the body in charge of overseeing the electoral process, has said it will consider the findings. The commission's postelection report is at:

Meanwhile the US Federal Election Commission has produced a draft report containing accessibility standards for computer-based voting systems. See:


Accessible websites and accessibility aids will be eligible for nomination to the 'Breaking barriers' awards to be held as part of this year's European Day of Disabled People on 3 December.

For the past nine years, the European Commission and the European Disability Forum have hosted the day to raise awareness of issues affecting disabled people.

This year's theme is 'Design for all', and the awards will fall into three categories: home and daily living; travel and leisure; and work and the workplace. To make a nomination or for further information contact Andre Wilkens andre.wilkens@ogilvy.be

And the European Disability Forum's new web site, with further details of the awards, other activities related to the December day and the planned European Year of Disabled citizens in 2003, is at: http://www.edf-feph.org

Meanwhile Dr Leonard Kasday of the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University, Philadelphia has been given a 'Lifetime achievement award' by the International Coalition of Access Engineers and Specialists (ICAES) for the development of a tool to check web accessibility. The WAVE Web Page Accessibility Checker
(http://www.temple.edu/inst_disabilities/piat/wave) is widely used by US government agencies to check their sites.

Other winners include AbleTV (http://www.abletv.net), an online video and multimedia portal for people with disabilities which includes audiodescription for blind users. The DAISY Consortium, National Information Standards Organization (NISO) and Open e-Book (OEB) Forum were also rewarded for their work developing electronic talking books.

A full list of winners is at:


A request for advice from our readers on voice recognition software has been sent in by Gill Burrington of Burrington Partnership.

She says: "I am currently using IBM's voice recognition software ViaVoice for dictation and read-back, which is all right as far as it goes. However, I really need a totally hands-free system. I want to able to navigate my computer, open documents, open other programmes than Word, and even read the dialogue boxes which tell me that I made mistakes! I also want to be able to navigate the Internet and to dictate email and email addresses straight into Microsoft Outlook Express.

"I am told that NaturallySpeaking from Dragon Systems (http://www.dragonsys.com) is more flexible than ViaVoice, but I do not want to make any more costly mistakes.

"Ideally I would like text-to-speech, dictation, and Internet navigation that work well together. and are not outrageously expensive. Help or advice from readers will be most welcome." Please send advice or suggestions to the bulletin's editor Dan Jellinek on dan@headstar.com to forward to Gill and publish in our next issue.


Two new accessible format books for blind users of Microsoft Word have been produced by the Boston, Massachusetts-based non-profit Braille publishers the National Braille Press (http://www.nbp.org).

For complete newcomers to Word the fourth edition of 'Word for Windows, quick and easy' by Christian Crumlish has appeared in an accessible edition by Sharon Monthei. It includes advice on how to create, save, and print your first Word document in short self-contained lessons.

For more experienced users of the programme there is 'Word Wise 2000 - an intermediate guide for blind users', also by Monthei. In her introduction she says: "I fell in love with my computer the day I discovered it took the drudgery out of writing and editing, so I could focus on the fun part: creating. Unfortunately, as computer programs have become more sophisticated, some of the drudgery has returned. In too many cases, features intended to assist the user simply complicate the task of writing."

Both books take the user through the complex procedure required to disable the graphical pop-up help feature called Office Assistant, which does not always work well with speech or Braille, and often appears without warning, causing confusion.

The books cost 18 and 22 US dollars respectively and are available in Braille, large print, ASCII disk, or 'PortaBook' - a Grade 2 Braille file on disk that is formatted to be read easily with any portable device that can handle Braille files or a computer with a Braille display (for more information on PortaBook see http://www.nbp.org/portafaq.html).

Orders from outside the US are accepted but payments must be in dollars. Please email enquiries on postage fees to orders@nbp.org


TALKING MEDICATION: Talking Rx, a device which attaches to medicine bottles and records verbal dosage instructions given by a pharmacist or GP, has been released in the US: http://www.talkingrx.com

DISABILITY DIRECT: A new US government web portal on services for people with disabilities is being developed as part of President Bush's 'New Freedom Initiative'. It is due to go live in October at:

AOL TEST: Registered users of the online service provider AOL have been invited to test the accessibility of a new version of the service's software. Those interested should enter the keyword 'Beta' in their AOL browser, select the 'AOL 7.0 Beta' link and then 'focus tests'.

[Section One ends.]



Digital television could give audio-described programming a longoverdue boost in the next few years, a welcome development for the visually impaired. Audio-description is the addition of a new sound channel with verbal descriptions of visual elements of television programmes, greatly enhancing the experience of blind people.

However the transition may not be an easy one, generating new potential accessibility as a range of different types of digital set-top boxes and digital TV sets offer a variety of more or less accessible ways to decode digital channels as they are broadcast.

In some countries traditional analogue television has been used to transmit audio description as far back as 1983, when Japanese state broadcaster NTV began running audio-described programmes in off-peak hours. Subsequently Spain's TelevisiĆ³n de CataluƱa made occasional audio-described broadcasts on its free-to-air television channel towards the end of the 1980s.

Serious consideration of audio description in Europe had to wait until the completion of a European Commission-funded study called Auditel. But while Europe pondered, the Boston-based public broadcaster WGBH was already producing up to 10 hours of audiodescriptions a day - see:

WGBH's headstart came thanks to a quirk of the long-established US analogue cable network: each TV channel has a second audio channel which, although not high fidelity, can be used to overlay audio description. Through the public service network the channel reaches around 50 per cent of US homes.

In the UK and most other European countries there was no suitable readymade multichannel infrastructure in place, and the first wave of analogue satellite services had no second audio channel either. Consequently the wholesale delivery of audio description had to wait for the advent of digital television.

In preparation for the dawn of the digital age, in 1998 the UK's Independent Television Commission issued guidelines for commercial broadcasters on the proportion of digital terrestrial programming which should carry audio description. Within 10 years, the commission said, some ten percent of programmes should comply, with a series of lesser targets set down for the interim period. The BBC, which regulates itself, has agreed to meet similar quotas.

In June this year BSkyB, the UK's dominant digital television company, launched a channel providing audio descriptions of its own programming. Sky's recent compliance with the ITC code (see E-Access Bulletin, June 2001) has meant most access campaigners are generally satisfied that UK broadcasters are meeting their quotas. But other fundamental access problems remain.

Initially the biggest bugbear was that the first generation of digital set-top boxes were not designed to pick up the audio-description channels. Though new set top boxes or modified versions of the old ones have been made to play the audio track, they still do not make it easy to navigate the hundreds of channels on offer.

This has meant that blind and visually impaired people often miss out on programmes broadcast with audio description. The complex schedules associated with digital television is displayed in the form of an on screen electronic programme guide (EPG).

BSkyB has made an effort to overcome this problem by distributing its schedule by email, but this is believed to be a makeshift solution by many. To subscribe send a blank email to: diginews-epgsubscribe @yahoogroups.com

Access campaigners hope a more satisfactory remedy is on its way with the introduction of software driven set top boxes. The RNIB is now working with Sony and Nokia to help develop the softwarebased operating systems that will appear in their next generation set-top boxes. Because the systems are software rather than hardware based there is hope that access problems can be tackled continually as they are identified.

Nokia's Linux-based box, called the MediaTerminal, will launch in Sweden later this spring and come to the UK next year. It promises to provide a means of viewing and storing digital television, radio together with a gateway to full Internet access. And because its Linux operating system will make it open source, such developments can be made openly by third-parties.

But such advanced technology is unlikely likely to come cheap. The Nokia box itself is expected to cost in the region of 400 UK pounds; and if the television and computer technology markets do converge as widely expected, accessible software that really works is likely to come at a premium.

[Section two ends.]



Digital copyright law, not generally front page news, hit the headlines last month following the FBI's arrest of Russian hacker Dmitry Sklyarov for telling people how to bypass Adobe's eBook copyright protection system.

Part of the novelty was that hackers, a sedentary bunch, felt strongly enough about the case to get out of their swivel chairs and take to the streets. Sklyarov's arrest following a presentation to the 'DefCon Nine' hackers' conference in Las Vegas (http://www.defcon.org) violated freedom of speech, they said, because he was being locked up not for actual copyright piracy but for presenting legitimate research. For its part the FBI believes propagating this kind of knowledge is a breach of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

The rights and wrongs of the Sklyarov case, which may turn out to be the first criminal prosecution under the DMCA, are complex, all the more so because of the defendant's somewhat questionable motives. Among his dubious claims to fame are programs to harvest email addresses off the Internet for companies to use to send junk emails and programmes to 'recover passwords'.

Whatever the case's complications, it clearly illustrates one fact: ebooks are already a potent symbol for free speech advocates, just like their paper predecessors. And, in criticising certain aspects of the DMCA, the case has also led many people to disregard other more positive aspects of the US law.

Visually impaired people and the organisations that support them are exempted from the copyright restrictions. Section 17 of the law states that: "it is not an infringement of copyright for an authorised entity to reproduce or to distribute copies . . . of a previously published, non-dramatic literary work if such copies . . . are reproduced or distributed in specialised formats exclusively for the use of the blind or other persons with disabilities."

Thanks to this exemption, a US company called Bookshare (http://www.bookshare.org) has been able to start planning a webbased service to allow people with disabilities and the organisations that help them to share copyright works freely. By pooling digital copies of books Bookshare hopes it can reduce the inconvenience and cost of scanning books.

To ensure the only people able to read the books are those entitled to do so under the law, Bookshare uses digital certificates issued by medical professionals or by approved bodies such as the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped and the Library of Congress. As part of the arrangement Bookshare and the copyright authorities are required to constantly scan the Internet for the illegal distribution of e-books bearing a Bookshare digital watermark.

The National Library for the Blind has contacted Bookshare about working on similar services in the UK. However unlike US law, UK copyright law does not make any specific exceptions for the use of copyright material by visually impaired people. Despite the difficulties, NLB Electronic Services Manager David Egan says: "We are working hard across the sector in the UK to ensure we can be part of this if at all feasible."

According to Egan, the Sklyarov case shows that "the problem of inaccessible standards and the vigour with which the companies defend remains real." Some progress has been made already, he says, with the addition of some local history e-books to the NLB web site. But he says digital books "represent a complex area and we need to keep on chipping away at the obstacles as they arise."

* The UK government has published a consultation paper on

copyright law and the visually impaired at: http://www.patent.gov.uk/about/consultations/visually_impaired

[Section three ends.]


by Richard West rwest@gtnet.gov.uk

Over the past few years research by the RNIB with the British Computer Association of the Blind has uncovered worrying evidence of an urgent need to improve the standard and quality of assistive technology training. This is particularly important when training is provided through such government schemes as 'Access to work', but is also vital for the increasing number of people who have to pay for training themselves.

More than 90% of those surveyed in the course of the research felt a certification scheme for trainers would be beneficial, though many said the objective was too difficult to achieve.

Rising to the challenge, the two organisations set up the BCAB Trainer Certification Scheme earlier this year, to ensure assistive technology training programmes meet the needs of visually impaired people (see E-Access Bulletin, December 2000).

Having reached this agreement in principle, a small working group was assembled comprising experts and representatives from the industry. The group drew up a comprehensive list of competencies and duties of a trainer, together with an outline of a proposed scheme.

Arrangements were next made with the Institute of IT Training (IITT) to adopt an accessible version of their training Delivery Skills Refresher course and negotiations commenced with developers of assistive technology products to ensure assessment of a trainer's product knowledge was founded on the key features of each product.

Training skills will be covered through attending The IITT threeday training Delivery Skills Refresher course for applicants who already have training experience or a five-day Training Delivery Course for those new to training. Successful participation on either course will lead to the award of a nationally recognised certificate in training skills.

Product knowledge will be assessed through scenario-based written work, requiring the trainer to prepare a full training course outline programme, plus a detailed script for a twenty minute training session. This will be followed by a short demonstration training session and interview. Both elements will be assessed by a qualified assessor and expert visually impaired user, working from a detailed product feature list agreed with the developers. Successful performance leads to a certificate in product knowledge for the product. This is repeated for each product for which the trainer wishes to be certified.

A successful applicant therefore receives certification for both training skills and product knowledge of one or more products. The trainer will be registered on the BTCS list of certified trainers, will sign a professional Code of Practice and be subject to maintaining a high level of professionalism, including keeping skills and knowledge up-to-date.

Visually impaired people seeking training will therefore be able to approach BTCS to obtain information on suitably qualified trainers in their area. For the first time, the Department for Education and Skills will be able to stipulate that training provided for students or under the Access to Work Scheme must be provided by a person who has BTCS certification.

The first course under the scheme is scheduled for September this year, and there will be at least one course a month thereafter.

The anticipated cost to applicants for the IITT three-day course plus certification on one product is 1,000 UK pounds. The cost of the IITT five-day course plus certification on one product is 1,500 pounds. The cost of each subsequent product assessment is 250 pounds. Attempts are being made to register BTCS for Individual Learning Accounts, which could lead to a reduction in cost to the certified trainer.

For the future it is planned to produce a similar certification scheme for assessors of the technology needs of visually impaired people. It is also known that other countries, including the US, and New Zealand are interested in the trainer certification scheme, with negotiations commencing shortly.

Developing and establishing BTCS has been a lengthy, costly and sometimes difficult process. However, the scheme produced is effective and workable and sets strong new standards for training visually impaired people.

* Richard West is an independent consultant. For further

information about the certification scheme email BTCS@bcab.org.uk or visit http://www.btcs.org.uk

[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 e-access 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 phil@headstar.com Reporter - Tamara Fletcher tamara@headstar.com Editorial Advisor - Kevin Carey humanity@atlas.co.uk

[Issue ends.]