The email newsletter on
technology issues for people
with visual impairment and blindness.
E-Access Bulletin web site:

Sponsored by the Royal National Institute for the Blind
the National Library for the Blind
and the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association <http://www.guidedogs.org.uk>

Please forward this bulletin to friends or colleagues so they can subscribe by
emailing <mailto:eab-subs@headstar.com> full details at the end of the bulletin. The more subscribers we have,
the better our free service can become!

[Issue starts]


Section One: News.
- Open University launches UK's largest assistive learning technology centre; US government sets standards for access; Listen to IVAN; Nystagmus and computer use; Immersion wins us patent for tactile web; A double first for universal design; Training course for powerpoint presentations.

Section Two: Special Focus
- Deafblindness.

Section Three: Case Study
- 'Sort It!'.

Section Four: Technology
- 'vOICe'.

[Contents ends.]



The Open University is to create a Centre for Assistive Technology and Enabling Research (CATER) for disabled students, backed by one million UK Pounds from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, in the largest project of its kind so far in the UK.

The OU is Britain's largest university, with more than 200,000 students undertaking its part-time distance learning courses. Currently more than 7,000 of its students have disabilities, and the numbers are growing.

CATER will build on and develop the
University's existing work on assistive technologies to facilitate the learning of disabled students.

This will include developing learning resources and communication methods; developing new technology based services for students; carrying out research to ensure that these services remain appropriate to the needs of disabled learners; technical support; and the creation of an Access Centre to conduct needs assessments for disabled students and staff and provide advice and training on equipment.

Specific projects will include further development of the university's ongoing DREAM (Digitally Recorded Educational Audio Materials) project to replace analogue audio recording of course materials with digital recording, to enhance their quality, interactivity and accessibility.

The university is looking to recruit a person to head the new centre. The appointment is initially for a three-year period, after which the HEFCE funding runs out, so an important part of the job will be to generate income to enable the centre's continuation.

The post has a salary range of 32,000-37,000 UK Pounds, and t he closing date for application is 30 January 2001. Further information from 01908 858251 or contact Liz McCarthy on 01908 653044 for further particulars in large print, computer disk, or audio cassette. Applicants who are deaf or hard of hearing can call a Minicom answerphone on 01908 654901.

There is also further information at:


The US Access Board, an independent agency that promotes access to services by people with disabilities across the whole of US federal government, has issued new accessibility standards for information technology and consumer electronics.

The standards have been produced under a 1998 amendment to section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which strengthened existing provisions covering access to government information. The finalised standards, issued in December 2000 following a consultation process, are legally binding and will become part of the Federal Acquisition Regulations.

The standards apply to the full range of technologies used by US government
departments and agencies, including the design of web sites. Technology developed or acquired for a federal agency by a contractor must also comply. However, the standards carry a rider clause: "A federal agency does not have to comply with the technology accessibility standards if it would impose an undue burden to do so."

The Access Board is now developing training materials to help people understand and comply with the new standards, including fact sheets, practical 'how-to' tips on making web sites accessible to people with disabilities, and comprehensive annotated lists of reference materials.

Further information at:


In the latest development in the voice-activated web arena, a character called IVAN � Intelligent Voice Animated Navigator - could help blind people navigate the Internet without a keyboard.

Users of IVAN describe aloud the topic they are interested in and the navigator � a cartoon icon that looks like a little globe with arms and legs - will find relevant websites, verbally list them and guide the searcher through them. If IVAN doesn't understand what you're looking for, it will ask for clarification.

Users need to download a piece of free software over the web and buy a compatible headset with microphone. You may already own a headset � the 'FAQ' section of the 'myIVAN' web site has details of compatibility. Once you're plugged in, IVAN will run a short training session to help him understand the nuances of your voice.

Its developer, US-based One Voice
Technologies, says IVAN works on mobile telephones and other wireless appliances as well as PCs. See:


The Nystagmus Network is planning to compile an information sheet about the use of computers by children and others who suffer from this eye condition.

Nystagmus is characterised by rapid, jerky eye movements, and may cause difficulties in viewing computer screens. The network is seeking tips and advice from anyone with any experience of the condition on what sorts of computers and software may be easiest to use; and what other relevant information resources may exist on the web or elsewhere.

Anyone who can help should email acting chairman John Sanders on eyesitejs@msn.com

For further information on nystagmus, and a range of resources and materials including information for schools and information on treatment and research, visit the network's highly accessible site:
http://www.btinternet.com/~lynest/nyhome_n.ht m


The Immersion Corporation, developer of the 'TouchSense' tactile computer mouse, has been granted a US patent for its system of enabling tactile 'force feedback' for web pages.

Immersion's software tools allow web
developers to embed touch elements in a page that are converted by the TouchSense mouse into different kinds of vibration or pressure on the user's fingertips. They can be used on computer desktops and in gaming software as well as on the Internet, enabling users to physically experience interactions with menus, icons, windows and other web page elements.

Tactile cues range from simple pressure to highlight when a cursor moves over an animated button, to the addition of different 'textures' to products that are offered for sale online.

TouchSense-enabled computer mice � also known as 'haptic' mice - include the iFeel Mouse from Logitech (http://www.logitech.com) which uses different kinds of vibrations. Other TouchSense technologies work by making the cursor an extension of the hand.

Immersion has developed a suite of software tools that enables web developers to add tactile feedback to web pages. They are available free at:


CHI 2001, this year's Human Computer
Interface conference staged by the US-based international Association for Computing Machinery, will cover topics including universal access and usability of technology, and the social implications of interface design.

It is to be held in Seattle from 30 March � 5 April. Further information at:

Confusingly, a second conference that claims to be 'the first international conference on universal access in human-computer interaction', UAHCI 2001, is to be held alongside the 9th
International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction from August 5-10 in New Orleans.

The event aims to establish an international forum on research related to universal access in the development of interactive software. See: http://uahci.ics.forth.gr


The British Computer Association of the Blind, in association with Blind in Business, is to run a three-day course in May introducing Microsoft PowerPoint 2000 to visually impaired computer users. The course will look at the fundamentals of design and creation of PowerPoint slide-show style presentations. For further information please email the administrative assistant at the BCAB at admin@bcab.org.uk by 14 February, telephone 0845 660 6234 or see:
http://www.bcab.org.uk/courses/powerpointprop. htm

[Section One ends]



The term deafblindness reflects a number of different states of sensory impairment. The 1988 RNIB report 'Breaking through' defined the condition as "a severe degree of combined visual and auditory impairment, resulting in problems of communication, information and mobility".

It is important to remember that deafblindness is a disability in itself, and more than the sum of the parts of being visually impaired and hearing impaired: the effects of the hearing impairment modify and multiply the effects of the visual impairment, and vice versa.

The largest group of deafblind people are people aged around 65 or older who have acquired sensory impairments late in life and who have been used to an independent lifestyle. People who lose their hearing or sight later in life, particularly if they have residual hearing and vision, are often unlikely to label themselves as deafblind and may think services aimed at deafblind people are not relevant to them.

Other causes of deafblindness include serious accidents; the genetic condition Usher Syndrome; and congenital deafblindness resulting from an illness such as Rubella or due to prematurity.

Deafblindness has a major impact on a person's mobility, ability to communicate and access to information. Deafblind people experience the world very suddenly and without warning. For example, a deafblind person will not know that you are approaching them, or are near them, until you touch them. They will not be aware of the processes required to do something unless they are specifically shown that process, and this will have an impact on how they interact with the world.

The main factor affecting how a deafblind person communicates is whether they possess a spoken language such as English, or a non-spoken language such as sign language, as a first language.

Communication methods based on English include 'Block', where letters of the alphabet are drawn onto the deafblind person's hand with a finger. 'Deafblind manual' is another tactile language where letters of the alphabet are represented by touching the deafblind person's hand. For example, touching the top of the deafblind person's thumb represents the letter 'A'.

In a high-tech twist to these manual solutions, some research groups are developing mechanical hands that can convert digital text into manual signs that can be felt by deafblind people as with a human hand, although these solutions are not yet available commercially.

For some people a hearing aid can help and an induction loop installed in a room will assist hearing-aid users by picking up and transmitting sound from the room direct to the hearing aid, and stripping out background noise. However, loops frequently suffer technical problems. It may be that they are not switched on and are used so rarely that no one knows how to activate them. In other cases they are not installed correctly and will receive interference from equipment such as PCs.

There are other types of hearing aid, but generally when speaking to someone wearing a hearing aid a person should not shout, but talk clearly and at a normal speed.

Communication methods based on other
languages include 'restricted sign language', used with people who have some vision. An interpreter signs in a restricted space in front of the deafblind person in their field of vision.

With 'hands-on signing', the deafblind person puts their hands on the interpreter's hands while the interpreter signs what is being said. Again, it is based on standard sign language but uses a restricted or slightly modified version.

For face to face situations, a computer can help with the conversation. If the person reads Braille then special programs can be used to control a Braille display (one such is 'S-Com', developed by a deafblind person). The screen is split into two. The main part of the screen is used for the interpreter or speaker to type what they want to say. The bottom line of the screen is viewed using the Braille display.

The 'Tellatouch' is a portable (but quite bulky) device with a QWERTY keyboard and a single Braille cell. In addition, computers with refreshable Braille displays attached can be used to talk to a deafblind Braille reader.

It is also possible to use a standard word processing program with speech and Braille output. This allows the better magnification facilities available under Windows to be used for people with some residual vision, and to provide communication using speech and Braille together.

One of the advantages of using a PC is that a sighted or visually impaired person can talk to a deafblind person directly without knowledge of specialist communication methods. It is also faster and less tiring than speaking through an interpreter.

For telephone contact a deafblind person might use a phone system with Braille output or a textphone with a large or magnified display. Direct conversations are possible if both people have a minicom or use RNID Typetalk, the national telephone relay service

A phone conversation of this kind will take longer than an ordinary phone call and it will take time to become accustomed to talking via an intermediary. People using a textphone to communicate with a deafblind person should think carefully about the words that they use. It should be remembered that the listener cannot pick up any voice inflexions and nuances of emotion may not therefore be apparent.

In all communication with deafblind people, it is necessary to have some options from which to choose the most appropriate method for the situation, and to have a contingency plan in case one method fails. For further information on deafblindness see James Gallagher's awardwinning 'A-Z to deafblindness' site at:

* Article by Cathy Rundle, RNIB. This article is

adapted from a paper given at the RNIB's 'Techshare' conference on 30 November-1 December 2000 (see also E-Access Bulletin, issue 12).

[Section two ends]



Blind and partially sighted children and young people want to watch television, read books, play video games, go out with friends and plan careers � in other words, to do all the things that their peer groups do.

But it may not be that easy. According to 'Shaping the future', the first ever survey of the experiences of more than 1,000 visually impaired children aged between five and 25, one in three feel excluded from many classroom activities and more than one in four reported bullying.

Late last year the RNIB, which carried out the survey, launched a new web site aimed at 11-16 year olds with serious sight problems to try to address some of these issues in an accessible way.

'Sort it!', at http://www.sortit.org.uk, draws together a range of social and educational resources for young people while highlighting the problems of visual impairment and how they can be dealt with.

"The feeling behind the creation of the site was that children and young people enjoy using the Internet but there's not a great deal for blind and visually impaired people that is fully accessible and fun", says Becca Bryant, RNIB
Communications Manager and one of a small team charged with maintaining the site.

The site's launch generated extensive media interest, particularly among young people's magazines. As a result it is already receiving around two thousand hits a month.

Content includes a section headed 'Your voice', which explains to young people their rights under legislation such as the Disability Discrimination Act, and how to enforce them. There is also advice on how to obtain help at school, and from other sources.

A 'What's on' section includes information on 'Let's go!', a quarterly guide to cultural events such as galleries where you can touch the exhibits, days out and holidays.

The 'Braille trail' includes information about how and where to get text books and magazines in Braille, tape or large type. The RNIB publishes two magazines for 12-15 year olds - 'Sugar and Spice' and 'Slugs and Snails' - with the latest celebrity gossip, pop news and sport. They cost 32 pence each, although they cannot yet be ordered online.

Interactivity is a key feature - throughout the site youngsters are encouraged to join mailing lists, enter competitions or send in their own ideas, comments, reviews and opinions.

The idea is that the feedback received will help the RNIB in future campaigns for increased use of Braille resources in schools, greater participation in sports for the blind and the need to give teachers in mainstream schools visual awareness training.

Interactive features include a message board where users can ask for help with homework, projects, share news about computer games or find new networks of friends to share
experiences with.

Young people do seem to be using the board already to swap stories about their experiences, exchange ideas, and equally importantly, to let off steam. One typical message under the heading 'aaaaaaaaaah!' reads: "Hey do any of you guys find that teachers always ask the support teachers if things need enlarging? And they always enlarge stuff that was fine, and they always tell you what you can see and what you can't instead of asking. I HATE IT!"

The message elicited a sympathetic response: "Yes, it absolutely annoys me. Do they ever think they should ask us?"

Following the success of the message board, the Sort it! team has plans to set up some kind of live chat facility, although they currently lack the funds. The team is shortly to set about seeking corporate sponsorship for the site as a whole.

Other plans to expand the site include a section about careers and how to get ahead, which will profile successful people both with and without sight problems. They are also going to invite celebrity chefs to suggest recipes that are easy for blind and partially sighted people to follow.

Currently on the site Comedian Harry Hill recalls light-heartedly what it was like for him growing up with poor eyesight, and promises to come round and sort out the bullies at your school.

[Section three ends]



The sensation of 'hearing' colours in a painting or the depth of a room is described by the volunteer developers of 'vOICe', a piece of 'video sonification' software that creates 'soundscapes' of a person's environment.

"The vOICe [brought] my hallway from a blurry image in my mind's eye to what seems like actual dimensional sight", says Pat Fletcher, a volunteer from the US who is testing the technology. Fletcher was blinded in later life, and so has memories of vision.

"It doesn't matter to me that my ears are causing the sight to occur in my mind. What matters is that the soundscapes are triggering a pathway for me to see again."

The vOICe system works by translating images from a miniature 'eye-ball' PC camera or webcam into sounds. Different shapes create different sounds and even colours sound different. Once a user is accustomed to the vOICe, they can begin to comprehend more complex or moving scenes simply by listening to them.

The system was invented by Peter Meijer, a senior computer chip scientist working for Philips Research in Holland
(http://www.research.philips.com). The vOICe project is a subsidiary activity that he runs in his spare time and at his own expense, although Philips has supported him in publishing material related to the technology.

Fletcher is the first user to embark on fully immersive use of the vOICe, using a mobile set up and wearing it every day. For about six months she has been wearing a head-mounted webcam (sported, Cyclops-like, on the forehead), stereo headphones, a microphone for speech commands and a powerful notebook PC inside a backpack running the vOICe software.

She found that once she became accustomed to it, the system added depth to practical activities. In one testimony posted onto the web, she says: "One day I was washing the dishes and turned to get a towel to dry my hands. When I turned back to the sink, I was stunned to see it in a depth-like image. I stepped away from the sink and walked slowly up to it again to see if my mind was playing tricks on me. But, no, the feeling of seeing depth in the sink bowl was still there. I can now also stand in doorways of the rooms in my house and sense the depth of the room. I can't yet feel this when I am walking, but it is there when I am standing still."

Meijer says that because no congenitally blind people have so far undergone fully immersive trials, it is hard to say whether such users would experience the same sense of depth. "But if the sense of depth is due to visual perspective, then one could argue that a congenitally blind person might learn it just as well as a late-blinded person," he says. "Visual perspective is a matter of optics, governed by physical laws and mathematical rules. There is no 'magic' to it, except perhaps in the speed and ease with which sighted people have learned to make sense of it, even in visually cluttered scenes."

The system can have its drawbacks, however, as Fletcher found when she tried to listen to music on a portable CD player while doing her housework. "While standing still, it was no problem. But when I began to walk around, suddenly I was stumbling into walls and over tables. I couldn't believe how clumsy I was being. Then it hit me that the CD was not giving me the information I had grown accustomed to from the vOICe. I had to concentrate while wearing the portable CD headphones � it was like being blinded again."

As well as acting as a navigational aid, vOICe could also help visually impaired people to gain some kind of feel for visual items such as photographs, drawings, signs, graphs or pictograms, by providing information on perspective and colour.

Meijer describes another experiment in which development volunteer David Poehlman pointed his camera around and at his fingers, and across the Internet Meijer and Fletcher listened to the live soundscapes from his hand and heard his fingers moving in front of the camera, "in my case at a distance of thousands of miles across the Atlantic".

He says different blind people might stand to gain different things from vOICe. "For some it may be their first direct and interactive relationship with visual experience, possibly fulfilling a curiosity to learn about visual perspective, occlusion, parallax, shading and so on beyond the accounts that they got from sighted people. For those who lost eyesight later in life the reasons may again be very different. It can also be just a tool to gain access to graphs or to tell the colours of objects by means of the built-in colour identifier".

vOICe is available free for non-commercial purposes, although Meijer warns it is not an easy technology to use: "Vision is a complex mode of perception, involving a lot of learning and adaptation. Mastering the vOICe requires lots of effort and practice, perhaps comparable to learning a foreign language."

For more information visit:
http://www.seeingwithsound.com/winvoice.htm Further testimonies are at:
http://www.softcon.com/ftp/magazines/aud21.txt And to join an email list on vOICe send a blank email to:

[Section four ends]


To subscribe to this free monthly bulletin, e-mail eab-subs@headstar.com with 'subscribe eab' in the subject header. You can list other email addresses to subscribe in the body of the message. Please encourage all your colleagues to sign up!

To unsubscribe at any time, put 'unsubscribe eab' in the subject header.

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.

[Issue ends]