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.]

ISSUE 18, JUNE 2001.

Section One: News.
-'Chaos' as us government scrambles for accessibility: Tardy compliance leads to confusion.
-UK government Gateway may overstep the law: Microsoft-designed web may breach the law. -Ballot box access improves: "marked
improvement" recognised in access to voting -Techshare 2001 opens its doors to all: RNIB opens conference to wider audience.
-Sunlight sensitivity: an appeal for assistance -Access tip � the mouse that magnifies. News in brief: Meet your doom; Sky audio descriptions; Testing time.

Section Two: Special feature
-Time to stop the cycle of spiralling costs.

Section Three: Opinion
-Commercial sector must be driven to build in accessibility.

Section Four: Special feature
-The web is about communication, not

[Contents ends.]



Late action and a lack of awareness of technology access issues across many US government agencies is resulting in "chaos" as they scramble to hit Monday's deadline for tighter federal software and hardware standards, according to one leading US expert.

New 'Federal Acquisition Regulations' made under Section 508 of the US Rehabilitation Act 1973 stipulate that all development, procurement, maintenance and general use of electronic and information technology has to be accessible to those with disabilities (see E-Access Bulletin, January issue 2001).

The new law applies to all new IT systems purchased by the US government from desktop computers and software to office equipment. Companies that fail to meet accessibility standards may no longer be allowed to sell to federal agencies.

Implementation of the law has been shrouded in confusion, as public bodies are unsure of how the rules will apply to existing web sites and services. On the face of it, the law will not be retrospective, but under conditions applying to 'indefinite quantity contracts' new work on existing projects could be vulnerable to legal action. Accordingly, some bodies are preparing to shut down existing sites as they seek clarification.

Mike Paciello, founder of the technology accessibility group WebABLE
(http://www.webable.com) says one of the key problems for US government agencies is a lack of expertise. "There are not enough experts available to help federal agencies achieve the accessibility goals. Several agencies just did not prepare well for this mandate. As a result, many are scrambling and panicking. That causes chaos, stress, and usually results in poor quality product development."

Companies are being forced to take the issue of accessibility seriously as they fear losing federal contracts. It's not just about the web, it's everything - hardware, software, networks, documentation, and help systems.

The picture is not all bleak, however: "Section 508 is building awareness of accessibility issues for the blind at unprecedented levels. I believe it will encourage greater collaboration between the blind, government agencies, and industry to achieve optimal accessibility performance and productivity. Web designers are beginning to realize that the more they test their sites with blind co-workers and clients, they can develop truly accessible web interfaces".

The regulations allow individuals with disabilities to file a complaint against any federal agency that has not complied with the standards. For more information see:


The UK government Gateway, a Microsoftdesigned web site where people can sign up for egovernment services, may be in breach of law
protecting disabled people from discrimination.

According to Australian access consultant Tom Worthington design faults in the Gateway (http://www.gateway.gov.uk) may mean it contravenes a law that requires government bodies to provide the same standard of service to all.

Worthington was speaking at a seminar in London last week organised by the RNIB. Last year he contributed to a court case that found that the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games breached Australian law by providing a web site largely inaccessible to the blind (see E-Access Bulletin, May 2001).

This week another leading accessibility commentator, Kevin Carey of HumanITy, urged all major software suppliers including Microsoft to build accessibility into all their products from the outset, since the fragmented specialist access software marketplace was not a proper solution for most people's needs.

Writing in this month's E-Access Bulletin Carey said if the current Disability Discrimination Act was not strong enough to force the software and hardware giants to comply, the law should be tightened up further (see section three, this issue).


Scope, a disability charity focusing on cerebral palsy, has recognised a "marked improvement" in access to voting for blind and visually impaired people following a survey of disabled people's experiences in the recent UK general election.

The election was the first since the Representation of the People Act made new tactile voting devices mandatory. "The overall picture was somewhat different from what we had expected", a spokesperson for the charity said. "Cases of bad access were more isolated."

The conclusion was based on a preliminary review of responses to Polls Apart 3
(http://www.pa3.org.uk), a survey of access problems at polling stations led by Scope. So far volunteers have sent in around 1,000 responses from over 400 constituencies, or 61% of the total.


The RNIB is opening up its regular internal 'Techshare' conference on access to technology by blind and visually impaired people to a wider audience.

For the first time, Techshare 2001 will be open for all to attend, including all professionals who work in the field of visual impairment, or have an active interest in technology and how it facilitates independent access to education, employment, lifelong learning and society for visually impaired people.

Delegates are also expected from government, statutory bodies, the ICT marketplace and the voluntary sector, creating what should be the most influential UK forum to debate technology access issues.

The conference is to be held on 27-28 November 2001 at Jury's Inn, Birmingham. Cost is 90 UK pounds for one day or 150 pounds for two days. For more details or to apply telephone 024-7636 9548 or email: Techshare@RNIB.org.uk


An E-Access Bulletin reader in California, R De La Vega, writes to appeal for information about any devices people are aware of to help his young daughter who suffers from poor vision and sunlight sensitivity.

"I can't find anything to help her to see better. Everywhere I go they never have anything that will help her to see better in the sun", he says. If readers have any advice, with web links if possible to any recommended products, please email Dan Jellinek on dan@headstar.com


If you are looking to renew your computer mouse, E-Access Bulletin reader writes in with a tip: there is one model with a handy accessibility aid that is actually among the cheapest on the market.

The Classic Mouse Standard from Dexin
(http://www.dexin.com.tw/classic-big.htm) has a third, central, button, which operates a magnifier. The level of magnification can be set to suit the user and it is useful for reading e-mail addresses.

Placing the cursor at the beginning of text and pressing the centre button creates a small, rectangular window, showing enlarged text a few letters at a time. Holding down the button and scrolling horizontally, or vertically, moves the magnifier across the text and enables the user to read even the dots in email addresses. The mouse is available from many retailers for around 10 UK pounds or less.

Do you have a handy access tip? If so, please send it in to Phil Cain on phil@headstar.com


MEET YOUR DOOM: Shades of Doom, a
version of the hit 'shoot-em-up' computer game Doom designed for the blind and visually impaired, has launched. For details see: http://www.gmagames.com

multichannel television company, has launched a channel providing audio descriptions of its programming. For more information call the special needs helpline on 08705 66 33 33 if you are in the UK or 1 800 509085 for customers in Ireland.

TESTING TIME: Ricability
(http://www.ricability.org.uk), a product testing organisation, are asking parents of children under the age of two to help them research ease of use of baby slings and carriers. If you are interested, contact Dylan Simanowitz at

[Section One ends.]


By Phil Cain phil@headstar.com

The plummeting cost of computer technology means the cost of getting reliable access to the Internet at home has fallen dramatically for most. Not so for the blind, a group who have more to gain than most from the net's liberating potential.

Sighted people pay an initial cost of little more than 300 UK pounds for a minimum specification computer to get hooked up to the Internet at home, and can then expect to spend around 200 pounds a year for their connection. But the blind, and those who support them, have to find nearly 2,500 pounds a person, followed by as much as 800 pounds a year to maintain their connection and keep their computer skills up to date.

Top quality screen reading software and a computer powerful enough to run it costs around 900 pounds. A machine with a 133 MHz
processor, 20 megabytes of memory and 30 megabytes of hard disc space is needed to run this software, costing around 300 pounds � so far, not bad. But ironically, the easiest and most flexible screen reading packages to use are also the most expensive. Top of the range solutions include 'JAWS' - Job Access With Speech
(http://www.hj.com/JAWS/JAWS.html) and Window-eyes
(http://www.gwmicro.com/windoweyes/windowe yes.htm), which cost 585 pounds and 400 pounds respectively.

On top of these initial costs, blind users also need to finance essential ongoing software costs sighted people do not incur: yearly updates to screen-reading software often cost around 100 pounds each.

There are a number of organisations providing grants to help blind people in the UK to purchase computer hardware for home use. Among them are Leonard Cheshire (http://www.leonardcheshire. org), which helps disabled find work;
Electronic Aid for Blind People
(http://www.eabnet.org.uk), subject to a rigorous selection procedure; and Action for Blind People (http://www.afbp.org/homepage.htm) which provides 400 top-up grants of up to 300 pounds to people who have found funding elsewhere.

For the visually impaired, the bulk of the expense of getting online is not the technology but the specialist training and technical support needed to operate it. Like any specialist training, it does not come cheap.

A skills shortage, particularly acute in the area of access technology, combined with a backlog of people wanting training, mean this already expensive services are only likely to get more so. Access training is particularly expensive because it has to be one-to-one, usually with a trainer who is blind themselves.

According to Mark Prouse, technology advisor at the RNIB, most new users need five days of oneto -one training before they can go it alone. At 300 pounds a day, the sum charged by the RNIB, this brings the total initial training cost to 1,500 pounds. For those wanting to top up their computing knowledge so they can tackle ongoing problems, another two days a year may be needed, costing 600 pounds.

Government help in gaining access training for blind people is provided on the condition that it is needed to get a job. Maria Lennox, a Jobcentre disabled employment advisor, said those hoping to take advantage of vocational training must go through an "in-depth assessment", before being offered residential training at an RNIB centre in Redhill. "I haven't sent anybody in the last six months," Lennox said.

As in the UK, people in the US need to prove that Internet access is needed in the workplace before the state will pay for training. Psychologist Nancy Badger, an E-Access Bulletin reader based in the US, said she received a week's free vocational JAWS training through the Services for the Blind section of the US Vocational Rehabilitation Government Agency.

While the RNIB does not subsidise its training programmes, regional charities do offer cut price training IT training. One such organisation is the Brighton Society for the Blind
(http://www.bsblind.co.uk) which provides vocational computer training for registered blind people at a price to the client of just over 20 pounds a day.

According to director Gloria Wright funding the training service costs the charity 20,000 pounds a year despite a subsidy from the government's Employment Service, which until recently sent local people to the centre rather than to the RNIB at Redhill. Though no longer contracted to the Employment Service, Wright said the society is considering alternative ways of contributing to the the training.

In general, the stringent conditions attached to government help for blind people to have ready access to technology risks creating a situation whereby blind people can't receive assistance unless they prove they are actively seeking work, but they can't seek work without the technology skills. With 71% of blind people of working age not in employment, it is in everyone's interest, not least the taxpayer's, to ensure this cycle is broken.

*This article is the first in an occasional series

dealing with the practical side of how blind and visually impaired people gain and maintain access to the Internet. We are keen to feature the experiences of our readers, including those outside the UK - please email Phil Cain on phil@headstar.com with your personal stories.

[Section two ends.]


By Kevin Carey, Director, HumanITy

A few years ago I caused something of a stir at the 'Sight Village' visual impairment conference by asking some representatives of Microsoft why the company was bothering to go through the tedious and somewhat chancey process of handing over its software code to accessibility developers, in order to make its products accessible. Why, I asked, didn't it just build in accessibility features in its own products from the outset?

The disingenuous answer I received was that Microsoft didn't want to put small developers out of business, a rather odd statement given the firm's appetite for putting its rivals out of business.

Leaving aside, for a moment, the question of Braille, there really is no reason why major software developers can't provide such good synthetic speech, screen magnification and screen reading features built into their products that we don't need to bother with the niche market access suppliers. For all its faults - and they are well enough known - you would bet on Microsoft producing the goods and surviving over any access supplier, even the mighty Freedom Scientific (http://www.freedomscientific.com).

This is not to say that the accessibility sector is not committed, even heroic. Some of its enthusiasts are almost missionary in their zeal, but the marketplace as a whole is fragile and ramshackle and ultimately investment and reliability are more important than improvisation and enthusiasm.

That, at any rate, has long been my theoretical framework but it was given a huge practical boost by two recent events, both involving the products of a major access software developer.

In the first, one of the world's leading access technology academics and I wasted hours failing to add a Braille display to an access package producing speech. A third of the way round the world from the product's manufacturer, with a proportionate eight hour time difference, we would not have been able to access telephone support even if we could have afforded it.

The second event was the arrival of my wonderful new Sony Vaio laptop computer, a present from Sony for some work I had done for the company. My local fixer soon ascertained that my access package would need a major and expensive upgrade because the machine came with
Windows 2000. I asked him to put in Windows '98 and install my old access package but the Vaio's drivers weren't having any of that. Result - lovely new laptop in a box.

It is to be hoped that legislation on both sides of the Atlantic will put a stop to the mainstream fiddling with access and the niche market struggling. If we could overcome the irrational prejudice of the elite in favour of an overcomplex, contracted Grade II Braille diktat, the simpler alphabetic Grade I Braille could be simply dropped into a style sheet. After all, if you can convert the standard computer character system ASCII 256 into a huge combination of pixels, you ought to be able to convert a quarter of that number of characters into six pixels, which is essentially what Braille is.

The visual impairment sector cannot go on like this. Major agencies like the RNIB are plagued by niche developers who are at once wheedling and defensive, wanting grants but resenting competition. We need to find out if the UK's Disability Discrimination Act is strong enough to force the commercial sector and the government to make its information accessible which will, in turn, force them to put pressure on their software suppliers. And if the law is not up to it, then it needs to be changed.

[Section three ends.]



Clarity of style and design in a web site are important for all audiences, not just for visually impaired web users. The golden rule of clear web site design is to decide what you want your site to do, and then use technology to achieve this goal.

Too many designers find out what technology can do first and then try think of something to do with it. But a web site is a means of communication, not a way of showing off your technical knowledge.

There are several basic ground rules for good site navigation. When a visitor comes to your site, it should be clear straight away to whom the site belongs; what purpose the site serves; and how to contact the people behind the site. If you are tempted to only put an email address and no phone number or postal address, remember that you may be asked for these details regularly through emails, so you will waste your time replying; and having a phone number and 'reallife' address will reassure visitors that you are a genuine organisation.

However you organise your site, try to make sure that the structure is as logical as possible; and that there is a back-up (such as a guide to the site, or a 'site map') for visitors who can't find what they are looking for.

Remember that visitors may not always enter your site at the home page. For example, they may be following a link to one of the other pages on your site, or they may have found another page through a search engine.

This means it is a good idea if every page on your site has clear links to basic information about your organisation or subject; a guide to pages on the site (often called a 'site map'); and contact information for you or your organisation. Try also to make it easy for visitors to find which parts of your site you have changed recently.

A good guideline that many web designers use is that you should be able to get from any page on your site to any other page with just three clicks of a mouse.

When you use pieces of text as a link, try to avoid just using the words 'click here'. This is because visually impaired people using a screen reader, which converts the text on a website to speech, will only hear the words used for the link. Just hearing 'click here' will not give any idea what the link is for.

When using pictures and images, try to use 'thumbnails'. These are small copies of a picture that the visitor can click on to then see a full-sized copy. This saves them having to wait for unwanted images to download to full size.

Always remember to include an 'Alt description tag' with the picture. This is a piece of text that appears in place of the picture if the visitor has their computer set to not show pictures. It also allows people with visual problems who are using screen-readers to know what the picture shows.

If your design package allows it, make sure to set the height and width of the image. This means that when the page loads, the visitor's computer will leave a space for the image and load the text first. The visitor can then start reading the page without having to wait for the image to load.

Many sites feature a 'splash' page. This is a page that appears when somebody first visits your site which displays a large image or animation and then takes you to the home page. This is useful if you want to create a particular first impression, but is a bad idea if the page takes a long time to load.

Remember that most web designers have better computers and faster connections to the Internet than most ordinary visitors to your site. What takes a couple of seconds to load on a fast computer can cause a frustrating wait for others. If you do use an animated 'splash page', always give people the opportunity to skip past the animation and go straight to the rest of your site.

Finally, if you do hire outside help for your site, remember one golden rule. The designer is there to produce what you have asked for, not to use your site to show off what they can do!

* This article is based on the Plain English

Campaign's free guide to clear web design. For more information see
http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/ or telephone: 01663 744409

[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:

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
Editorial Advisor - Kevin Carey

[Issue ends.]