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[Issue starts.]


Section One: News
- Bush uses e-access as olive branch; UK government beefs up accessibility guidelines; New W3C standards released; Work continues on accessible job sites; Glove for deafblind signing; Describe-online engineering works on track; MyIvan � correction. News in brief: Irish discussion, Technology in schools, Beacon issues.

Section Two: Technology
- Audiobooks.

Section Three: Conference preview

Section Four: Business
- Blind Business Association.

[Contents ends.]



Newly inaugurated US President George W Bush has said he will increase the Federal support given to research into technology for the disabled and provide financial help to disabled people to gain access to assistive technologies and the Internet.

The rate of computer and Internet usage among US citizens with disabilities is half that of people without disabilities.

Bush hopes to reinvigorate research into assistive technologies by injecting funds into the Interagency Committee on Disibilities Research, which will coordinate Federal research efforts and encourage collaboration with the private sector.

The Federal administration proposes to guarantee any low-interest loans given by state administrations to disabled people to equip themselves for telework. Bush also proposed relief from corporation tax for cash spent on equipping disabled employees to work at home.

The proposals were part of the 'Freedom Initiative', a one billion US dollar spending programme that also attempts to remedy problems faced by disabled people in education, work, homeownership and transportation. While 71% of people without disabilities own homes, less than 10% of people with disabilities do.

Political correspondents in Washington interpreted the initiative as way for Bush to build bridges with members of the Democratic Party. Senator Edward Kennedy, a Democratic elder statesman, was present at the White House presentation. More information at:
http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/freedominitiati ve/


A draft of 'version 2.0' of the guidelines for UK government web sites contains an e-access chapter some five times longer than the one in the previous, first version issued last year.

The new guidelines, currently issued for consultation among government webmasters and due to be posted on the web in early March, strengthens recommendations to improve web site access to people with a wide range of disabilities including visual impairment, hearing impairment, motor disability, 'technophobia', 'economic disability', cognitive disability, and 'selective disturbances' such as epilepsy.

They include a 23-point accessibility checklist for government agencies, drawing heavily on recommendations published by the Web Access Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (see following news story, 'New W3C standards released').

Though there is currently no legal requirement for government departments to comply with the guidelines, the draft states that all web pages "must comply with the WAI 'A' standard", the lowest of three WAI access grades. The draft also sanctions the use of WAI logos to advertise its level of accessibility and recommends the use of the accessibility checker software Bobby (http://www.cast.org/bobby)

The Version 1.0 guidelines are at:
gov.uk/egovernment/iagc/guidelines/webs ites/websites.htm


The second version of the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines � the widely-used international standards for ensuring web sites are accessible to people with disabilities including visually impaired people � have been published.

A working draft of version 2.0 of the guidelines was unveiled on 25 January. Once completed, they aim to broaden accessibility standards beyond the basic language of the web, HTML, to scripting languages like Java and other technologies like WAP for mobile devices.

For a point-by-point comparison between version 1.0 and the new working draft, see http://www.w3.org/WAI/GL/WCAG20/2001/01/ 25-mapping.html


An online resource to help visually impaired people to gain and retain jobs is to be launched shortly as part of 'Out of Sight � Out of Work', a campaign instigated by Opsis, an association of eight charities providing education, training and support to the visually impaired.

The site, which is due to launch at the end of spring 2001, will include information relevant to blind employees and employers, case studies and links to participating organisations. Action for Blind People, RNIB, Guide Dogs for the Blind, Royal Federation for the Blind and Blind in Business are involved in the web project, in addition to Opsis members.

The eight regular members of Opsis are: Action for Blind People, Catholic Blind Institute, Henshaws Society for Blind People, Queen Alexandra College, Royal London Society for Blind, Royal National College, Royal School for the Blind (Liverpool) and West of England School and College. For further information about Opsis call Chris Gregory on 0121 428 5037.

The government, meanwhile, is inviting comments about the accessibility of its nascent one-stop government jobs web site, 'Worktrain'. The site provides an online equivalent of a job centre with information about benefits, training programmes, career guidance and national job vacancy notice boards.

A preview version of the site, which is administered by the Department for Education and Employment, can be viewed at

Comments on the site's accessibility should be sent to david.barrow@employment.gov.uk and copied to Julie Howell at the RNIB on


E-Access Bulletin reader Ed Meskys has submitted an open query following our January article on communications methods and
technologies used by deafblind people. He says: "About 20 years ago I read the book
'Independent living without sight and hearing' by the late president of the Hadley School for the Blind (http://www.hadley-school.org), Dr Richard Kinney (the book was published by Gray Dove, Illinois, 1972).

"Kinney mentioned one other communication technique not mentioned in your article, a glove with letters of the alphabet printed in specific places, which are memorised by the user. The user can then communicate with people
unfamiliar to him or her, such as a flight attendant on an aeroplane, using tactile signing. The deafblind person can point to letters to give a message to the other person, and the other person can touch the letters which the deafblind person will feel.

"Is this glove still made and used?" Answers to the editor please � Dan Jellinek on
dan@headstar.com - we will forward anything received to Ed and print it in a future issue.


Describe-online, the planned online database of audio-descriptions of railway stations and other public spaces, is inviting individuals or organisations to submit their own descriptions of national rail stations anywhere outside the M25 London motorway area.

Since its launch last year (see E-Access Bulletin, June 2000) the experimental service has expanded its initial database of London Underground stations and an audio version of the National Rail Map.

The service includes descriptions of platforms and concourses; which train lines a station is on; and the location of facilities such as telephone booths. It is at:


In our January issue we mentioned a voiceactivated web navigator agent called 'IVAN',
and said it was free to download from

A Bulletin reader, Barry Harvey, has since pointed out it is only the upgrade that is free: all that appears to be on offer for the first-time user is a 'starter kit' containing headset, microphone and software CD for 49.95 US Dollars.

We apologise for suggesting the service was free, although some confusion seems to remain, since in one place the IVAN web site talks about downloading the software, not buying it on CD, and it also has specifications for headsets it will work with, which seems puzzling if you have to buy their headset anyway. We have emailed the manufacturer for further clarification and will keep you posted.


IRISH DISCUSSION: A new un-moderated
discussion group is being formed for people interested in sharing news, information and opinion on Irish IT access issues. According to Frontend.com, the Dublin-based computer interface design company that is initiating the project, the discussion may ultimately become a formal special interest group allowing the Irish government, industry and lobbyists to interact: http://access.frontend.ie/mailman/listinfo/accessie

Technology in Learning and Education (TiLE) programme is looking into the impact of technology on the education of young people with visual impairment. TiLE's research into the impact of the technology used by 10 local authorities will be presented in case-study form. Previous TiLE reports are at:

BEACON ISSUES: The Department of the
Environment, Transport and the Regions has announced the 11 new 'beacon' themes by which local authorities can apply to have their services judged. Among this year's themes were the improvement of access to council amenities through improved mobility and the
transformation of libraries into community resources that can be both in person or electronically. See: http://www.localregions.

[Section One ends.]



When E-Access Bulletin subscriber Carl Wooten from the US complained he was fed up with the unreliability of audiobooks on magnetic cassette tape and said he couldn't understand why there weren't more available in CD or other digital formats, we thought we'd investigate.

With 'MP3' and other downloadable digital audio formats constantly in the news, you'd think that by now you could simply switch on the computer, pay a small fee and download the latest novels to a miniature audio player. Unfortunately, this is not yet the case.

Certainly in the US there are various
subscription-based 'audiobook clubs', which will supply by mail order a set number of audiobooks on CD, depending on the level of your monthly subscription. RecordedBooks
(http://www.recordedbooks.com) and
(http://www.audiobookclub.com) are just two US companies that offer books on CD for rental or purchase. But many visually impaired people may have limited finances and find it undesirable to pay for an audiobook they might listen to only once. The real problem is that few lending libraries, particularly those for the blind, don't stock audiobooks on CD.

Helen Brazier, deputy chief executive of the National Library for the Blind UK, explains: "For various historical reasons, we don't hold audiobooks at all at present. But we might consider distributing new formats of audiobooks in future if a convergence of technologies and agencies is realisable."

The crux of the problem is that just about everyone has access to a tape player, so the traditional audio cassette continues to be the favoured format for audiobooks. The most recent figures available for the US show that it's a major growth area, with 60 million books on tape sold in a year.

But there are many problems with audio tapes, as our reader Carl Wooten relates: "I have a cassette reader which is heavy and bulky. CDs would be a lot easier to play and carry, when you travel as much as I do. One of my main problems with books on tape is some are broken or have been stretched, or you might get a missing tape, and the person who uses them before you often doesn't tell the library. Also tape machines often break down: I have worn out three so far."

John Palmer, from Calibre
(http://www.calibre.org.uk), a library that offers 5,000 titles free on cassette to visually impaired people, says, "The main impediment to getting audiobooks into other formats, such as digital, is that publishers are nervous about copyright issues. There's no doubt that our type of service will become a virtual one eventually, but until there is copyright-protected software for digital versions and cheaper access to improved bandwidth technology, we're sticking with cassettes. They have stood the test of time so far and in 30 years have not yet been completely superseded by anything else.

"The next step in technological developments will probably leapfrog 'moving parts'
technology (ie cassettes and CDs) once we have achieved faster download times and improved solid-state storage technology. Most of our members are elderly � average age 78 � so the technology needs to be user-friendly and financially accessible. If this PC-based and portable audio technology doesn't improve, the next step may even be to receive audiobooks via digital TV."

Some books are available on CD, but even this format has its limitations. A CD can hold only 74 minutes of audio, compared with a standard 90- minute cassette, and most CD players cannot 'remember' where the recording was last stopped. The possibilities of DVDs are greater, but there are still only a small number of DVD players and recorders in circulation.

At the moment, says Kevin Carey, director of HumanITy and vice-chairman of the RNIB, music CD format is best for abridged books. "It's simple and it's tracklisted. But there is a lot of work being done on the DAISY (digital audio information system) standard
(http://www.daisy.org), which can be indexed and listened to via a player or PC software."

San Francisco-based Netread
(http://www.netread.com), a company that aims to exploit the latest web-based software to address problems in publishing, says: "Just as the new downloadable digital formats, such as MP3, are shaking up the music industry, it is almost certain that audio publishing will see a shift in format in the near future. Digital reproduction of spoken audio requires less dynamic range and fidelity than a musical recording. Put in the right format, a spoken audio file potentially could be much smaller than a music file. This would translate into faster download times and a higher storage capacity for portable players."

"The advantage of downloadable audio files is the elimination of manufacturing costs and retail prices reflect the savings � a recent novel by Stephen King would cost 40 US Dollars on tape and 18 Dollars in a digital format." Also, the production time is crucial. There can be a six to eight-month lead-time to manufacture and distribute a cassette version of a best selling book, whereas a company such as Audible.com can record and release an audio book in a matter of days.

Digital audio files can be played back on a PC, using free downloadable software, or on a portable device. And just as few people would choose to read a book on their computer, few audiobook listeners would like to be tied to their PC. So the future of digital audiobooks must lie in portable devices and there are a number these on the market, such as the Diamond Rio.

US-based Audible.com
(http://www.audible.com) currently leads the way in producing a downloadable format optimised for speech. MediaBay.com also allows subscribers to download books in digital format or to audiostream them to a PC, offering "20 hours of listening for 9.95 Dollars per month".

It seems that as with all innovative technology, for now we will have to second-guess which formats � and hardware � will end up as the standard. And certainly in the UK, with the high cost of Internet access as it currently stands, downloading hours of audiobooks is still prohibitively expensive.

[Section two ends.]



Some of the star items among the hundreds of presentations due to take place at the giant annual California State University Centre on Disabilities' 'Technology and persons with disabilities' conference in Los Angeles are new ideas to help visually impaired people get more from the Internet.

The conference, known as 'CSUN', will be held in Los Angeles between 19 and 24 March 2001. See: http://www.csun.edu/cod/

A method of using the Internet to deliver real time information to disabled people will be outlined by the Trace Research and Development Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (http://www.trace.wisc.edu/). According to researchers, the system could be used to deliver descriptions-on-demand. In one possible set up, verbal descriptions of images sent from a wireless Internet device linked to a camera in the end of a blind person's cane would be sent to an earpiece.

SSB Technologies
(http://www.ssbtechnologies.com/) will unveil a suite of programs designed to cut the cost of making existing web sites accessible. SSB claims its accessibility checking tool, 'InSight', can reduce the time spent spotting accessibility problems by 90 per cent and 'InFocus', which suggests solutions to access problems, can cut the time spent correcting them by 75 per cent.

Some of the first commercially produced 'Tiger' tactile graphics embossers from ViewPlus Technologies (http://www.viewplustech.com) will be on show. The embossers are able to render computer images in a way that can be felt at a resolution of 20 dots per square inch, which is sufficient to reproduce of charts and tables. ViewPlus shipped the first batch of hand-built Tigers in March 2000, before commercial production began in December 2000. The University of Hertfordshire's National Centre for Tactile Diagrams (http://www.nctd.org.uk) has had Tiger on loan since July 2000.

The Tiger embosser was developed by Oregon State University Science Access Project (http://dots.physics.orst.edu/) before being put into commercial production by ViewPlus Technologies. The Oregon researchers will present two applications which can operated using Tiger and a touch sensitive graphics pad, or using tactile devices like a haptic mouse. Haptic mice can guide a users hand and relay different sensations depending on their location within a graphic image.

In another development from the same team, a new application can identify the fundamental geometric elements of images even when they are not originally labelled by the creator. The prototype program can be instructed to give voice or Braille descriptions of each element as a user 'browses' the image. Alternatively, a user can instruct the program to guide them to a particular element of the image. The software package can provide tactile images at different levels of magnification, a particularly useful facility when using a haptic mouse.

The Oregon research team does not expect its smart-graphics package to move out of the lab for over a year, but an accessible graphing calculator is expected to be available within weeks. The calculator program will cost 75 Dollars and will be available for a 30-day free trial from the ViewPlus Technologies web site.

Finally, a team from the Assistive Technology Centre of the University of Sussex hopes to show programmers how to get accessibility right first time by presenting a paper on the
implementation of the National Internet Accessibility Database (NIAD).

The online database (http://niad.disinhe.ac.uk) aims to provide a product guide to technology which can help people study. It covers six product categories: audio equipment; ergonomic equipment; hardware products; miscellaneous equipment; software products and visual equipment.

NIAD is funded by the Disability and
Information Systems in Higher Education (DISinHE), an access project funded by the UK Higher Education Funding Councils (see EAccess Bulletin, March 2000).

[Section three ends.]



After a two-year 'fallow period' and a membership crisis the Blind Business
Association (BBA), which supports visually impaired people who are self-employed, is being relaunched under "new and energetic"
management. The BBA assists its members through networking, business mentoring, conferences, seminars and other events.

New president Brendan Magill, a self-employed business and information technology consultant and researcher, says: "Changes in the workplace are making it increasingly difficult for visually impaired people to compete with sighted colleagues, so self-employment will play an increasingly important role for these people."

Though visually impaired himself, Magill only became involved with blind organisations in 1996 after becoming a part time lecturer at the Royal National College for the Blind following an attempt to acquire some college
administration business. Magill became a consultant in 1991 after selling the six-person business he built after leaving a job as a computer programmer at a local authority in 1986.

Since the BBA's 1998 conference there has been a period of relative inactivity, which led to a dramatic fall in membership. "The members of the organisation are both self-employed and visually impaired, which is not always a mixture that lends itself easily to smooth operation," says Magill. "This was compounded by the fact that the officers and directors of the BBA give their time voluntarily, while having to run their businesses."

However, the process of rebuilding the membership, which at its peak was 130, is already underway. The BBA is undertaking a campaign of advertising on the Internet and in specialist publications and is promoting itself through the national network of people working in the visual impairment field. Work has also begun on developing a BBA website.

"In particular," says Magill, "we want to encourage young people who are visually impaired and wish to start new businesses. To do this, the BBA is promoting itself via specialist further education colleges. But we also want to encourage and support older members and people who may have become visually impaired at any point in their lives."

Working through its separate charitable arm, the Blind Business Association Charitable Trust, the BBA also offers start-up grants to people setting up new businesses. But Magill is cautious about the immediate benefits of new technology. "Information and communications technology is overrated as a solution to the problems faced by visually impaired people. Indeed, it often poses barriers. Consider websites that use different colours, fonts, character weights and graphics � most of these attributes are meaningless to most visually impaired people. Email, however, is important because it is universally accessible.

"The two major areas of ICT that could help our membership would be improved accounts and business contact information software, most of which is totally inaccessible to visually impaired people. We would hope to promote the
development of improved software or
adaptations in this area," said Magill.

The BBA is hoping to organise a conference in late summer, which it will market via its newsletter, internet mailing lists and specialist publications. For further information email: info@bbaltd.org.uk

[Section four ends.]


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

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 �Simone Kane skane@dial.pipex.com Editorial Advisor � Kevin Carey

[Issue ends.]