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[Issue starts.]



Section one: News.

News in brief: W3C guidelines on use of patented technologies; Digital discrimination warning; Bookshare seeks volunteers; 'JawBone' software supplier.

Section two: Focus
- European Commission: Millions of euros invested in wave of accessibility research.

Section three: Interview
- Beta testing: AOL director of accessibility takes the chair.

Section four: Reader response
- Glucometers: technology advice from blind people who are diabetic.

[Contents ends.]



The European Commission is urging other European institutions and member states to abide by the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative guidelines, on the back of a major new research funding drive (see section two, this issue).

The commission said last month that the EU's office of publications has launched a pilot project to make European treaties accessible to people with visual impairment. Europa, the main EU site (http://www.europa.eu.int), will "adopt the guidelines" from the end of this year, the commission said.

Adoption of the guidelines, however, does not mean the site itself will be good enough to be awarded a World Wide Web Consortium 'web accessibility initiative' kite mark (http://www.w3.org/wai). "It is one thing to adopt the guidelines and another thing to apply them," a spokesperson said. One difficulty posed by the overhauling of Europa is that it is designed and maintained by a large number of independent groups.

An EU inter-services group on disabilities plans to build a web site giving all European agencies useful information about accessible design to a large number of independent designers responsible for the Europa web site. If opened up to developers beyond the European institutions as planned, the site could help further the commission's mission to encourage member states to take accessibility seriously.

The European Commission has already invested 2.5 million euros in research into Internet access for the visually impaired (see section two).


A new guide to help banks improve online services for the blind and visually impaired is to be launched next week by the British Bankers Association in association with the RNIB.

An earlier report published by the RNIB last year, 'Get the message online', had found that all banks surveyed failed to reach the most basic standards of accessibility in their web services. The BBA subsequently requested a meeting to ask how they could get it right, and the new report is the result of that process.

RNIB researchers examined how easy it would be for a blind user to set up a current account online. Six banks, which have requested to remain anonymous, offered privileged access to accounts and worked with visually impaired people to carry out user testing over a six-month period.

"The number one type of site we receive complaints about are banking ones," says RNIB Internet campaigns manager Julie Howell. "Blind people always have to queue inside the bank as the machines are impossible to use. If you are not confident about using the technology in the first place the last thing you would want to do is conduct financial transactions."

'Accessible e-banking' will be available in print, Braille, tape and electronic formats from the RNIB (http://www.rnib.org.uk/technology) and the BBA (http://www.bba.org.uk ).


The first Internet chat room service aimed at visually impaired and blind children has been launched by Visual Impairment Scotland (http://www.viscotland.org.uk), a new body of experts based at Edinburgh University's Scottish Sensory Centre.

"We wanted to bring together kids from all over Scotland � many go to mainstream schools and don't know other children with a visual impairment," says VIS research and service manager John Ravenscroft. "We wanted to develop a sense of community from the Borders to Aberdeen so it doesn't matter if you're the only kid in school with sight difficulties, you are not isolated - you can come here and talk about football, movies and kids' stuff."

The initiative, funded by the Scottish Executive, started a month ago and has about 30 children registered. There are two chat room areas: one for younger children around eight and another for those aged up to sixteen. Participants have to join the 'Viskids Club', open to young people in Scotland with a visual impairment

Ravenscroft says: "In future we would like to set up a voice activated site but the available software is too expensive and requires too much downloading time for the kids. At the moment the system we have gives fast access for everyone, but if we change it the service will start to become discriminatory as those with broadband get faster access. If anyone has a solution, I'd be pleased to hear from them."


The ninth International Computer Camp for blind and visually impaired teenagers is to be held in the UK next year, hosted by the RNIB.

Around 120 students aged 17-20 from 10 countries will come to Loughborough Vocational College to take part in workshops on everything from simple skills like adjusting a computer screen to making music using computers.

The ICC project is led by the Computer Science for the Blind team at the Johannes Kepler University Linz in Austria (http://www.mvblind.unilinz. ac.at) and has expanded to include some 21 partner countries. The first three camps were held in Austria, followed by the Netherlands, France, Sweden, Germany and this year in Slovenia.

Any student can apply to attend the camp, although only 12 will be selected from each country next year. Applicants should already have basic keyboard skills and an interest in technology, and should speak English.

A web site on next year's event will go live at the end of October [note at the time of writing this site is not yet live] at: http://www.rnib.org.uk/technology/icc
and potential UK applicants, who should not have attended a previous RNIB summer camp, should email Angela Dinning on angela.dinning@rnib.org.uk

For more information on the ICC project see: http://www.mvblind.uni-linz.ac.at/mvb/events/icc/


The Manchester-based arts group Touchdown Dance, which runs community dance workshops and projects for visually impaired and blind people of all ages, is set to release a CD-ROM on its work.

The disk will include information on dance workshops and the group's working methods; a performance section with video clips, and a section on touch-based work. It will also carry links to other relevant and partner organisations.

"We hope to provide a full picture of the potential of touch as a language; this hits back at the hysteria around touch in educational settings," says the group's director Katy Dymoke.

However she says there have been some technical problems with making the CD accessible, and would appreciate advice from E-Access Bulletin readers in a number of areas. "I am struggling to get good information about the compatibility of software such as voice translation software and enlargement software.

"The CD-ROM carries mostly text and images with some video clips and sound. What seems to happen is that [the screen-reader] JAWS doesn't recognise the text. It has been suggested that the music file on the CD may compete with JAWS for the sound card, so I need to find out about compatible software.

"For navigation we are using the arrow keys to move to the home page, back, next, and exit. We have soft pastel colours behind the text, and would also like to know if there is any preference for suitable colours. I imagine it is hard to have a general view on this but any suggestions are welcome."

Anyone with any advice should email E-Access Bulletin editor Dan Jellinek on dan@headstar.com and he will forward it to Katy Dymoke. Touchdown's fledgling website is at:

* The Grange Museum of Community History, run by Brent council in

London, has recently opened a two-month 'Makonde' exhibition of East African Sculpture aimed partially at people with visual impairments. Visitors are able to touch the sculptures and Braille labels and large print information are available. See:


Blind people in Italy will soon be able to send and receive text messages thanks to a new service launched by Telecom Italia Mobile (TIM) in association with the Italian Union of the Blind (http://www.uiciechi.it)

TIM (http://www.tim.it) will produce GSM cards that are able to translate and send vocal format messages. A sound signal will indicate an incoming message and the recipient will dial 49600 to access it. To send a message the user will key the same number. The service will be provided at no extra cost.


PATENTLY UNFAIR? - W3C, the Internet standards body, is seeking the opinions of access developers on its controversial new draft policy on the potential formation of guidelines in the future that imply the use of patented technologies. The deadline for feedback has been extended until tomorrow (11 October) following protests from the open source lobby: http://www.w3.org/TR/2001/WD-patent-policy-20010816

DIGITAL DISCRIMINATION: If large companies are found in future to have discriminated against disabled people by producing inaccessible web sites, the consequential media coverage could have a substantially detrimental effect on their image, according to a new report by Martin Sloan, associate at digital charity HumanITy: http://www.humanity.org.uk/research/martin_sloan_article.html

BOOK APPEAL: Bookshare.org, a web site which plans to allow US citizens who are registered blind to share digital books, is inviting people to volunteer to scan and prepare books. http://www.bookshare.org/next/volunteer

JAWBONE SUPPLIER: Our September article on voice recognition technologies suggested there are a number of UK companies that could supply 'JawBone' software
(http://www.ngtvoice.com/software/jawbone), which links together the JAWS for Windows screen reader and the Dragon NaturallySpeaking voice recognition solution. In fact, T&T Consultancy is the sole authorised UK distributor of JawBone:

[Section One ends.]


By Phil Cain phil@headstar.com

The European Commission's adoption of W3C accessibility guidelines (see news, this issue) follows a significant new cash injection by the organisation in this field. In the past nine months alone it has invested 3.7 million euros, or 2.5 million UK pounds, in technology accessibility research projects.

The first access project to gain commission backing was 'IRIS', an initiative that upholds the commission's proud tradition of acronymic creativity � it stands for 'Incorporating Requirements of People with Special Needs or Impairments to Internet Based Systems and Services'. The 1.8 million euro project received commission funding of 1.2 million euros in January.

By the end of its 30-month lifespan IRIS aims to create a commercially viable software package and user community to help designers create accessible web sites. Project leader Nikitas Tsopelas of Greek web consultancy European Dynamics (http://www.eurodyn.com) said development would begin in 2002 and that news will be posted to the project's web site: http://www.iris-design4all.org/progress.htm

According to Tsopelas the last nine months have been spent assessing user requirements with the assistance of Belgian charity Information Society disAbilities Challenge (ISdAC, http://www.isdac.org). According to IsDAC chairman Tony Verelst, IRIS recently commissioned his organisation to provide feedback on a web forum.

In August, the commission contributed a further 1.4 million euros towards a 2.0 million euro project snappily entitled Smart Interactive Tactile Interface Effecting Graphical Display for the Visually Impaired. 'ITACTI', as it is thankfully known for short, is a three-year project to use new 'smart' materials to make tactile displays and software to drive them from a standard PC.

According to the project's funding statement, "It is expected that electrorheological fluid will be chosen to facilitate the production of a matrix of moving dots." The technology referred to here is that of 'smart' or 'intelligent' fluids that change their viscosity massively on application of an electronic current, effectively temporarily solidifying.

The ITACTI project is the only one of the three commission-backed ITaccess research projects to be led by a UK-based organisation � the Faculty of Applied Sciences at De Montfort University (http://www.dmu.ac.uk/Faculties/AS ). The non-UK members of the ITACTI consortium include Italy's Associazione Nazionale Subvedenti (http://www.subvedenti.it ), a charity for the visually impaired.

The third and most recent commission-backed accessibility project is Voice for Information Society Universal Access Learning (VISUAL), which in September received 1.1 million euros from the commission towards its 1.6 million euro costs. The project will last for a year, with the first partners' meeting scheduled for 17 October in Madrid.

VISUAL plans to use VoiceXML technology to develop software to enable people to design web sites which can navigated by voice. The group aim to ensure the design software itself is accessible and compatible with mainstream web design packages.

Among VISUAL's other aims is the creation of a multilingual, voiceactivated e-learning portal. The cosmopolitan make up of the VISUAL team may prove useful in achieving this ambition: Keith Gladstone of the RNIB and Helen Petrie of the University of Hertfordshire are the only native English speakers in the team.

The initiative is being led by Spanish telecoms technology firm Soluziona Telecomunicaciones (http://www.ipt.es), with other participants including French charity La Fédération des Aveugles et Handicapés Visuels de France (http://www.faf.asso.fr ) and German and Italian charities Deutsche Blinden- und Sehbehindertenverband (http://home.t-online.de/home/dbsv_) and Unione Italiana dei Ciechi (http://www.uiciechi.it) and the European Blind Union (http://www.euroblind.org).

All three of these new research projects could prove useful to the European Commission in its attempt to kick-start the process of making the web sites of European institutions and member states accessible. IRIS in particular seems like it could be particularly useful resource for EU institutions themselves � and who knows, one day EU sites might be voice-enabled in all official member languages using VISUAL technology.

[Section two ends.]



Last month we looked at the issues surrounding accessibility 'beta testing', the practice of inviting blind and visually impaired people and other groups to test pre-release versions of software for ease of use (see E-Access Bulletin, September 2001). In particular we looked at concerns raised by the beta testing process for AOL's new service software, AOL version 7.0. This month, AOL's director of accessibility Debbie Fletter offers answers some of these concerns put to her by E-Access Bulletin � these are reproduced below in a Q and A format.

Q: Which countries are involved in the beta testing?

  1. The current beta test focusing on accessibility is for people accessing the AOL service in the US. Although the beta testing service is also available in the UK and some other places, each country has both a different beta area as well as a different schedule for the release of AOL 7.0 - the AOL software that has the majority of accessibility improvements. Each country also has different schedules for accessibility. We have not announced a schedule.

We plan to incorporate the improvements for increased accessibility across our international services as we roll out future versions of AOL.

Q: Are beta-testers required to submit their credit card numbers and personal details, and if so, why if the service is being offered to them free?

AOL can only be accessed through our proprietary software and service, every one of our more than 400,000 beta testers must have an AOL account in order to participate. So taking part in this special offer does require a credit card, as all of our members must provide one in case additional services are charged to their accounts, but nothing will be charged to it unless the member adds additional services or chooses to stay with AOL after a special free one-year period has ended.

Q: How do you qualify for the free period?

  1. You need to be recommended by our Accessibility Advisory Committee. To gain their approval, a person needs to be a Microsoft Windows user, and a user of screen readers, screen magnifiers, text output, voice recognition, or alternatives to keyboard and mice. Testers must also be willing to report back to us on their AOL experiences at least once a week for the duration of the beta test.
  2. How long will the testing period last?
  3. AOL will contact testers when the beta test is complete.
  4. Is there any automatic mechanism build into the site to terminate membership when the beta test period ends?
  5. We hope that most of our beta testers enjoy our service and decide to stay as AOL members after the one-year ends, but if a beta tester chooses not to do so, they can call our member services representatives at 1-888- 265-8008 or go to keyword: Cancel.
  6. Is there any documentation that testers can retain to prove they have terminated their membership?
  7. They can ask the member services representative to send a confirmation if they choose to do so.
  8. Are personal details and credit card details verified or stored for future use?
  9. As we state in our privacy policy, AOL does store credit card information for billing purposes, but we do not use any information about where our members go on the Internet or the service, nor do we share that information with any outside entities.
  10. Has the new version eliminated the ability to produce plain text emails?
  11. No, our members can produce plain text email, by following 'help' instructions that show them how to do so.
  12. How many in-house accessibility experts does AOL employ?
  13. AOL's commitment to accessibility can be seen not just in the creation of my own position as director of accessibility, but in the hundreds of our employees who have been trained on numerous aspects of accessibility and assistive technology. We have staff who know how to build and test for accessibility across the company including development, project management, quality assurance, and design, to name but a few. More importantly, every new service or product developed by AOL must now be reviewed and approved by the the accessibility group within AOL.

Which consultancies and/or non-profit groups does AOL work with?

We convene an accessibility advisory committee in person twice a year and communicate via email list on a regular basis. This committee includes experts from the American Federation for the Blind; National Federation of the Blind; National Organization on Disability; World Institute on Disability; Visions for Independent Living; American Association for People with Disabilities; National Centre for Accessible Media; Alliance for Technology Access; and the National Association for the Deaf.

We also work with disability and accessibility consultants who assist us in areas of product development and design, assistive technology, and consumer help as well as development and/or software licensing agreements with screen reader vendors.

AOL strongly believes that the Internet and the AOL service should be friendly and easy-to-use for all customers, including those with disabilities. That's why - starting with our beta testing for AOL 6.0 last year - we've made a focused and concerted effort to make sure that our products are tested and enhanced for accessibility.

[Section three ends.]



In our last issue a reader wrote in for advice from blind people who are diabetic and use speaking blood sugar monitors, or 'glucometers', on the effectiveness of these technologies.

In response, Anna Dresner from the US wrote in to say that she has had a few weeks' experience using an Accu-Chek VoiceMate (http://www.accuchek.
com/products/products/mn_voicemate_system.cfm? ), a meter manufactured by Roche which is fitted to a voice synthesiser that can also read certain insulin vials.

"I'm not using the vial reader feature, so can't speak to its effectiveness. But the system works well, reading blood sugar results and values stored in memory," Dresner says. "The only problem is knowing whether you have enough blood on the strip you use to measure the blood sugar level. The meter beeps when it thinks there is enough, but in reality the strip can be anywhere from half full to full, and when it isn't full, you can get some mighty strange readings. This is a limitation of the meter itself, not the adaptive synthesiser."

Another limitation of this system is that if the battery in the meter dies, "which mine did after three weeks instead of the year it's supposed to take," the user receives no indication ahead of time that it is low, she says. "The meter and voice synthesiser each have their own batteries; they're two separate units. I don't know whether it would be possible for the synthesiser to detect that the meter's battery is low, but it would certainly be nice if it could.

"Still, the synthesiser does what it's supposed to do - it reads the results given by the meter. If you can't see to read a standard meter and want to be able to check your blood sugar independently, it's worth the money."

Being in the US, her health insurance paid 90% of the cost of the system, Dresner says. "I don't know much about the British health care system, but I would definitely check to see whether some or all of the cost could be paid through that system or an organisation for the blind."

Meanwhile another reader, Martin Slack, writes in to say: "I was diabetic on insulin when registered blind a couple of years ago and up to that time had used an ordinary meter with a three-quarter inch high LCD display. When I became unable to read this, I too began to investigate speaking glucometers with the assistance of my local diabetes nurse at Stafford District General Hospital.

"The hospital did in fact have a British speaking glucometer but its technology was not very up to date as its manufacture had ceased some years previously, and apparently the whole thing was about the size of a shoe-box and not very user-friendly. As your correspondent says, the US versions cost about 500 US dollars but if one already has access to a computer with a screen reader there is a cheaper alternative."

"There are on the market a small number of meters which can transfer their readings to a computer and screen reading software can then do the rest. Of course if you have to start by buying the computer then it will be cheaper to go for the speaking meter but otherwise it is simply a case of sorting through the few computer aware meters available."

Diabetes UK (http://www.diabetes.org.uk) has recently reviewed glucometers in its membership periodical 'Balance', says Slack.

The glucometer he settled for is the Bayer Glucometer Esprit (http://www.glucometer.co.uk). As well as its computer connection, this system features test strips which are not the usual 'open' type but are folded in half longitudinally so that when the end of the strip touches the drop of blood on the finger the blood is sucked into the strip by surface tension. "This is somewhat easier than trying to aim the drop of blood onto the sensitive area on a normal test strip," Slack says. The meter can be set to beep when sufficient blood has entered the test strip, as well as when the reading is ready about 30 seconds later.

"Using this approach means that it takes about five minutes to take one reading, but on the other hand the software provides a ready-made record of the readings with convenient graphical displays and printouts available."

The software required, called WinGlucofacts, can be downloaded from the Glucometer Esprit web site at:
http://www.glucometer.co.uk/esprit/glucofacts.html WinGlucofacts is free but about 5 MB in size. There is also a form to email an order for the interconnecting cable which links the meter to a serial port on the computer.

* For a comparative list of glucometers from Diabetes UK including

details on computer compatibility, see: http://www.diabetes.org.uk/manage/products/meters.htm)

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

[Issue ends.]