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[Issue starts.]

ISSUE 15, MARCH 2001.

Section One: News
- Still time for education bill; Telecoms report lays down the law; New Acrobat limbers up; Researchers look into tongue vision; Guide dogs win technology award; Gloves for
signing � part two; Browser launches through portal.

News in brief: Refreshable braille, Sky programme guide, Events.

Section Two: Analysis.
- Copyright.

Section Three: Adventure.
- Polar exploration.

Section Four: Media regulation.
- Convergence.

[Contents ends.]



New government legislation to improve
access to education is set to scrape though before parliament is dissolved for a General Election.

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill had its second reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday 20 March. It has now proceeded to committee stage, where final amendments can be made.

According to Olga Miller, head of the
children's policy unit at RNIB, the committee is likely to push the legislation through as quickly as possible. Throughout its passage compromises have been made on both sides to speed its progress, according to Miller.

The bill is widely criticised by representatives of the disabled for not requiring schools to buy equipment and not containing any
reference to accessible information. However, RNIB parliamentary officer Caroline Ellis says it establishes guidelines for schools to follow to provide disabled students "access to the curriculum", which may in some cases mean access to technology.

Such requirements do have "real teeth", Ellis says. Different modes of redress are open to students or parents who feel adequate access has not been provided, though its form depends on the age of the student. A new local-authority run tribunal process is planned for students under sixteen.

Litigation will be another means of seeking redress, but it will remain an expensive process. But, according to Ellis, the Disability Rights Commission would have the power to support some cases. Ellis said that
compensation awards made under the new legislation are likely to be practical rather than financial.

As the Bill reached committee this week, the government announced a separate package of 10 million UK Pounds in new funding for communication aids for children with special educational needs, including voice
recognition systems and hand-held spellcheckers.

For Department for Education and
Employment consultation on the subject of access see:


A report explaining the new rights disabled people have when they deal with telephone companies has been released by Ricability, an organisation specialising in providing research for disabled people.

The new rights will apply from October 2001, having been put forward in the
Telecommunications (Services for Disabled Persons) Regulations late last year.

New telecoms access rights include free priority repair services; the option to nominate someone that can deal with phone bills for them; and customer information in a form that can be read by the visually
impaired. The report also touches on issues surrounding access to digital telecoms devices.

Bob Twitchin, recently appointed chairman of the Telecommunications for Disabled and Elderly People (DIEL), a committee set up by parliament to advise the telecoms regulator Oftel, said: "DIEL commends Ricability for it's work along with the network operators that helped fund the project with DIEL and Oftel." For more information about on DIEL see: http://www.acts.org.uk/diel

The government is currently considering the nature of a single regulator for telecoms and media services called Ofcom into which Oftel will be merged. The RNIB recently made a response to these proposals: see section three of this issue of E-Access Bulletin.


A new version of Acrobat is due for release in April, with much being made of its enhanced access capabilities.

The most significant addition is the addition of an automated function that can assess the accessibility of pages it produces. Other new functions include keyboard shortcuts, high contrast viewing, zoom capabilities and the generation of a summary of a document's structure when imported from Microsoft Office.

Of course, the decision to produce an
accessible document will continue to rest entirely with the authors of PDF files. Authors are under no legal obligation to provide accessible versions of their file (see section two, this issue).

For more information on the accessibility of Adobe Acrobat 5.0, which is due for release in April, see: http://access.adobe.com


Scientists at the University of WisconsinMadison in the US are working on a device to
allow a person to 'see' using their tongue.

The device works by sending electrical signals from a video camera to a matrix of minute electrode 'stimulators' lying on the surface of the tongue. The concept was devised by Professor Paul Bach-y-Rita who discovered people could feel shapes with their tongue with a similar resolution as they can with their fingers.

To learn more about the tongue display device see the home page of on of the tactile tongue device's developers Kurt Kaczmarek: http://kaz2.med.wisc.edu/Publicity/FAQ.html


The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association's website at http://www.guidedogs.org.uk (see also e-access bulletin October 2000) has won the 'Charity Website of the Year' award or organised by publishing companies Popular Communication and Charity Times. Among the seven nominees for the award were nonprofit organisations including Action for
Blind People.

Katy Roberts of Guide Dogs for the Blind Association believes the prize was won thanks to its easy navigation, accessibility and its unwillingness to compromise on visual appeal.

Treea Cracknell, a web producer at Synergy, the site's designer, said, "Our brief was it had to be visually exciting and we didn't realise that not all visually impaired people weren't blind and preferred graphical sites."

Roberts said that she thinks at least one of the judges was particularly impressed by its adaptability to the needs of the user including sighted ones.


Following our appeal for information on a glove used for deafblind signing (E-Access Bulletin, February 2001) Jim Valk, an
Adjustment Counselor at the Rehabilitation Center for the Blind, Daytona Beach, Florida writes in with some personal recollections of the method.

"I recall that in the 1960s I worked with a deaf-blind gentleman who used that method", Valk says. "I do not know where he learned it but I vividly remember the glove he used. It was a fairly light cotton glove, and the letters had been inscribed by hand with a pen. It appeared that the positions of the letters related to the knuckled and finger bones and to some extent also the palm of his hand.

"Walter was not deaf from birth, thus he was able to respond vocally. I have had virtually no experience communicating with
congenitally deaf-blind folks, but believe that the glove method, as I described it, might be less satisfactory unless they had mastered speech.

"I have no idea if these gloves are sold, but it appears that plain cotton gloves (white, to allow for visible lettering) are perfectly practical for adaptation. I believe that accomplished communicators using this
method would not need to use the glove, and such communication would afford a really intimate sense of communication.
Communicating experiences and ideas by touch directly with another human is beyond the range of most people's experience, but it surely made me feel very close and very loyal to Walter."


A free talking Internet browser for visually impaired people has been launched by
WeMedia, a US company that runs a portal for disabled people.

Though recognising that it is an admirable first effort, people who have tried it complain it is too verbose and the speech is too slow for someone who needs to use voice synthesis regularly. Among its more irritating foibles is to say, "I will now read the title for you," before reading a title.

The software can be downloaded from

[Section One ends.]


Services Programme in British Colombia (http://www.aett.gov.bc.ca/adultspecialed/) is keen to hear from developers and users of refreshable Braille devices as part of an extensive trial of refreshable technology. To join a related discussion list send an email message saying 'subscribe brl-net' to

pay television company, has introduced a programme guide that is delivered by email, promising greater accessibility than the electronic guide delivered to the television. To subscribe email diginews-epgsubscribe

EVENTS: On 18 April a seminar entitled 'Maximum access: missing markets in digital media' is being held in London. For more information email:
Then on 29 March the Local Government
Improvement and Development Agency
(IDeA) is hosting a conference tackling technology access issues faced by local councils. For more information email:


By David Mann david.mann@rnib.org.uk

In March, the UK government's Patent
Office, part of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), finally published its longawaited consultation paper called 'Exception
to copyright for the benefit of visually impaired people'.

The document explores options for changes in the law affecting the production of alternative formats such as digital files for copyright works in all situations - at home, in the workplace, in school or library. It covers activities by individuals and small
organisations as well as by larger agencies.

Currently, under the Copyright Design and Patents Act 1988 blind and visually impaired people are in a doubtful legal position when downloading information from the Internet and turning it into braille and other alternative format media, even when the information is in the public domain and even when it is provided by public bodies and utilities. The very act of digital capture of the material, even for the sole purpose of making it accessible, could be deemed illegal unless the rights holders specifically allows it.

The government appears to be proposing a two-pronged solution under which nobody would need to seek permission for the
creation of single accessible format versions for identifiable individuals. Where a multiple copy licence is not available, the consultation paper recommends that people should not be prevented from making multiple copies.

The initial response of the RNIB is to decry any reliance on licences. It feels that not only is it inappropriate to license what should be a basic right, but the fact that a licence might be available does not mean it would be on satisfactory terms.

As E-Access Bulletin went to press, the Publishers' Licensing Society
(http://www.pls.org.uk) and a number of other groups moved to partially pre-empt any ultimate legislation on copyright access by releasing the 'VIP guidelines', which waive their right to be asked for permission when single accessible format versions of
copyrighted material are being produced for identifiable individuals.

This is an extremely positive development, and will be of particular benefit to small voluntary groups and libraries, even though it has as yet no statutory backing and individual rights owners retain the right to opt out.

The digital access charity HumanITy
(http://www.humanity.org.uk) has welcomed the government consultation process as "eminently superior to reliance on agreements with individual authors and publishers".

However, HumanITy's director Kevin Carey said it was "a matter of deep regret that such access has not been included in the European Union Copyright Directive still under
discussion". And he added: "As they
currently stand, discussions between
alternative format producers and the licensing regime have produced a proposed protocol more onerous than that which currently operates and so the consultation paper is unduly optimistic".

Carey says that much confusion has arisen between the fundamental right to access information and the occasional discretionary privilege of accessing it for free.

The essence of the latter point is that, where sighted people must pay to access
information, there is no reason why visually impaired people should not pay as well, although they should perhaps pay less, since some of a work's value (for example book illustrations) is lost in translation to other formats.

To avoid endless discussions over every copyright work, Carey says the government should establish guidelines on the price to be paid for access via alternative formats. Authors could waive this if they wished.

Carey says fears among copyright holders that alternative format production will lead to an increase in pirating of material are not backed up by evidence. "On this basis, technical blocks [to alternative format files] are a tedious, injurious and insulting irrelevance," he says.

Developments in the UK are set against an equally confused international background.

In December 2000, a delegation representing the World Blind Union approached the World Intellectual Property Organisation to ask it to encourage the introduction of provisions for blind and partially sighted people into the copyright legislation of all countries. The representatives also explained that an accumulation of national provisions was in itself inadequate, and an international arrangement needed to be reached if the electronic age was to bring its full potential to all.

On the first of these points, some progress was made, with WIPO pledging to examine ways of encouraging countries, particularly developing countries, to introduce appropriate measures into their national legislation.

Less comfort was offered on the international front. WIPO treaties do not enshrine access rights, and any change to this approach would have to be agreed unanimously by all
signatories. This would clearly be an
extremely tall order, and the delegation's leaders concluded that the best way forward would be to prepare proposals for new
international 'understandings' for WIPO to consider backing as a starting-point.

The delegation also drew attention to the importance of audio-description of films and television programmes for blind and visually impaired people, and of ensuring that
provisions on moral rights did not allow performers to object to this practice per se, while retaining the right to object to low standard audio-description if it distorted their performance.

WIPO is currently negotiating a treaty on audio-visual rights, which includes an 'agreed statement' on what could constitute distortion of a performer's work. The organisation claims this means artists cannot object to an audio-described version of their work. However, the World Blind Union regards it as a fudged outcome which will disappoint those fighting for the rights of blind and visually impaired people in a rapidlychanging
technological environment.

* Additional reporting by Dan Jellinek

* The UK government consultation document

is at:
http://www.patent.gov.uk/consultations/visual ly_impaired/index.htm
or email teresa.arnesen@patent.gov.uk or telephone: 020 7596 6513

[Section two ends.]


By Phil Cain phil@headstar.com

Zimbabwe-born Miles Hilton-Barber's recent bid to be the first blind man to reach the South Pole showed how the Internet could be used to involve people in one man's
adventure. But his journey also showed how old-fashioned technologies, ranging from two-way radio to cosmetic mirrors, were still very much needed to push the boundary of the Internet to ends of the earth.

Challenging Horizons
(http://www.rnib.org.uk/horizons/), a section of the RNIB site dedicated to derring-do, provided news and background information and a place to email the expedition team. During the expedition itself around 5,000 people a month tracked Hilton-Barber's southerly progress online.

The usage levels were given a helping hand by strong traditional media interest in the expedition, which the site's organisers tried to foster. Among the eclectic range of
organisations to cover the story were The Sun, The Mirror, The Guardian, Channel Five and Christian World, together with a host of web sites dedicated to exploration. According to the expedition's PR manager the media campaign was helped by the ability to send weekly interview questions to Hilton-Barber.

The site also offered the chance to donate cash to the expedition online, a feature an unusually high proportion of visitors people used. Most sites find it extremely difficult to instil enough confidence to enter credit card details online. Puttick believes visitors to the RNIB site were particularly willing to give because of the relatively high level of trust instilled by the RNIB and the extreme nature of Hilton-Barber's challenge.

Perhaps the most surprising, given the slick Internet publicity, was that the technology used by the explorers themselves was
relatively crude. Hilton-Barber said that the most useful piece of guidance equipment were the ends of his ski-tips, which he could use to sense the nature of the terrain immediately ahead of him. He also has stories of an aircraft landing system relying on local women marking the edge of a blue-ice
runway with cosmetic mirrors while a man on a skidoo shouted wind speeds to a radio operator in a tent.

The team had originally hoped to be able to communicate directly with home base using a satellite link-up, but unfortunately the Inmarsat satellite service they planned to use was not in service. So unlike sailors, like Hilton-Barber's brother who recently became the first blind man to sail solo from the US to Australia or round-the-world yachtswoman Ellen MacArthur, the team was unable to stream live video footage of the trip.

Also, without a direct satellite linkup, emails submitted to the web site could not be sent to the Antarctic team directly. Instead they had to be forwarded to the expedition's coastal base in Patriot Hills where they were relayed over short wave radio. The radios were also used to send back temperature and mileage updates for navigation purposes and for inclusion on the site.

Hilton-Barber said they had also looked at various pieces of hardware to make
communication between team members
easier, among them an avalanche detector and a miniaturised microphone and earpiece system. In the end, though, they all turned out to be "too finicky", so the team turned back to large old-fashioned two-way radios.

In the end Hilton-Barber was forced to abandon his attempt on the pole before he made it because he succumbed to frost bite of the fingers. But this has not stopped people sending hundreds of emails of congratulations through the web site, Puttick says.

Ultimately the plan is to replace the polar expedition information featured on the Challenging Horizon's portion of the RNIB web site with other exploits of this nature. Hilton-Barber looks set to take centre stage once again, with plans to take part in the 200 kilometre Silk Run in China, a marathon following the course of the Silk Road. That is unless someone can come up with any more daring ideas.

[Section three ends.]


By Phil Cain phil@headstar.com

The UK government's recent communications white paper "fails to deliver adequate consideration to the needs and interests of blind and partially sighted people, and of older and disabled people in general," according to an official response published by the RNIB.

Though it supports the general idea of a single regulatory body, the RNIB concludes that the regulator proposed in the bill, Ofcom, would not have the clout to make sure the necessary level of access is available. The institute criticises the bill's failure to employ primary legislation and licence conditions to ensure access compliance, saying this
weakness would mean universal access to post-switchover public service broadcasting and the Internet will not be met.

Disappointment was also expressed that the bill did not contain the means to enforce Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) standards even on the government's own web sites. The RNIB recommends government sites be
required to meet at least level one of WAI web content accessibility, the lowest grade handed out by WAI. It also says the
government should legislate to ensure all communications companies with web
presences to do the same.

Another criticism levelled at the bill is that it has a limited view of access difficulties. Section 5.2.1 of the bill says "everyone now has access to radio and television
programmes," a statement the RNIB believes is untrue. To help improve the situation it is recommending that a future bill requires digital television providers to dedicate a channel to audio descriptions.

The RNIB also takes exception to the bill's propagation of "the myth that the cheapness of ICT technology equates currently to full accessibility and usability". It points out that the inaccessibility of mobile phones and settop boxes means those they exclude miss out on subsidised access. The RNIB suggests Ofcom helps visually impaired and blind people make better choices of technology by encouraging ISPs and digital television providers to promote their services
specifically to these people.

According to the RNIB it is economically or legally tenable to exclude people from voting on-line or receiving medical advice or vital health information through an interactive digital television. It would ultimately be cheaper to provide these services online. It would also be unfair, says the RNIB, if sighted people registering tax returns or civic licences on-line receive financial rewards denied to other who cannot access these online facilities.

The proposed powers for Ofcom over
electronic programme guides, which help people navigate digital television services with hundreds of channels, was said to ignore problems they cause for visually impaired people. Ofcom must enforce clear guidelines on how such information is presented for visually impaired people. The white paper also ignores the fact that radio receivers will become more complex and more inaccessible to visually impaired people too. The RNIB called on Ofcom to ensure they were
accessible to the visually impaired.

The white paper is online at:

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

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

[Issue ends.]