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[Issue starts.]

* ISSUE 28, APRIL 2002.


- Disability Act code of practice delayed. - New technology unveiled at Cambridge conference. - EU procurement laws get disability clause. - Education technology agency launches online advice service. - Accessible web rises up the EU agenda.

News in brief: Braille word; Specialist internet providers; Access to law; United colours.

Section two: 'The Inbox'
- Readers' forum.

Section three: policy
- 'E-Europe: laying siege to the city walls. The EU has placed access issues at the heart of its e-Europe initiative, but could the early recommendations of this project end up being ignored? UK representative Kevin Carey has the inside story.

Section four: reader response
- Braille music: Setting the standard. Last month's feature on the development of hi-tech alternatives to Braille music prompts a strong reader response.

Section five: focus
- Speech technology: any time, any place, any device. Speech technology is widely touted as the interface of the future, and not just for blind people. Judith Markowitz assesses the state of the art.

[Contents ends.]



A delay in the publication of guidance relating to the education provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act could cause problems with the act's implementation, a leading charity has warned.

The government was expected to publish codes of practice explaining the obligations of schools and colleges under the DDA in May but a delay in their presentation to Parliament has meant these may now not appear until July or even later.

Once implemented, the act will make it unlawful for schools, colleges and universities to reject applications from students purely on the grounds of their disabilities.

According to Skill (http://www.skill.org.uk/about), an education and employment charity that helped draft the code of practice, the delay may cause problems as schools, colleges and universities must review and amend each curriculum and their staff training, admissions and disciplinary procedures by September 2002.

Skill policy director Sophie Corlett said: �This legislation should have a major impact. In the past, colleges could be quite up-front about rejecting applications because of disabilities. It also means that education providers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to provide support and access to disabled people.�

The whole of Great Britain will be subject to the September 2002 deadline, with Northern Ireland expected to follow shortly after. By April 2003, the act further requires educational establishments to offer �auxiliary services� such as sign language interpreters, and by 2005 to complete physical adjustments such as installing lifts.

To help fund the changes, the Department for Education and Skills has made 70 million pounds available to schools in England, the second chunk of a total budget of 220 million under the Schools Access Initiative that will be spent on upgrading facilities for the disabled by 2004.

However, Caroline Ellis, parliamentary officer at the RNIB, said more sustained funding is necessary to make a substantial impact on disabled access to education. "RNIB strongly welcomes the increases but they will not touch on many of the key barriers faced by pupils with sight loss. Specific and sustained funding is needed from the government to ensure every school and local education authority can provide accessible information to children and to ensure each authority has enough mobility officers to train children to get around independently. The situation at the moment is dire on both counts, leaving parents, children and their teachers and support staff at their wits' end.�


A range of futuristic technologies for people with visual impairment were unveiled last month at �CWUAAT�, the first international Cambridge Workshop on Universal Access and Assistive Technology.

Research into three-dimensional virtual reality training environments for the visually impaired was presented by Dimitrios Tzovaras of the Informatics and Telematics Institute in Greece. The work, which forms part of an EU project entitled ENORASI, used a �CyberGrasp� haptic glove to create the impression of solid objects which could be felt, picked up, held and examined.

Trials undertaken by 26 blind volunteers included the identification of three-dimensional virtual geometric objects on a table-top which could be used in mathematics teaching; the physical representation of moving graphs such as sinusoidal waves; virtual maps with tactile features; a selection of virtual spheres of different simulated materials that could be lifted and squeezed; and some entertainment games including target shooting.

Another highly practical trial involved the simulation of a cane that could be used to tap virtual objects to simulate situations such as crossing the road at traffic lights. The users felt sensations of holding a cane and also realistic vibrations and sounds as virtual objects were tapped. For more information see:

Other technologies on display included a system to allow blind or visually impaired people to create and read graphs and charts such as bar graphs or pie charts developed by Professor Stephen Brewster of the University of Glasgow. Using a �haptic mouse� which creates a physical sensation when a user moves over a line on the chart, Brewster said the system might for the first time allow blind people to gain a proper overview of a diagram or chart (see http://www.multivis.org).

Joanne Coy of the privatised postal service Consignia, which sponsored the workshop, told delegates that new Disability Discrimination Act and an ageing population meant that large employers had to take access technologies seriously if they are to recruit from the best available talent and retain their existing staff. arger Because of their scale and profile, organisations like Consignia would be expected to lead in this field, she said.

CWUAAT is scheduled to be reconvened every two years. Its web site is at:
And to find out how to buy a copy of the proceedings email Simeon Keates at Cambridge University on lsk12@eng.cam.ac.uk


Accessibility issues could be allowed to overrule economic factors in the allocation of public sector technology contracts across Europe under new laws being considered by the European Parliament.

On Monday the Parliament is to hold a public hearing to discuss amendments to EU law that would apply to all public contracts within its borders. Although it would not oblige organisations to take accessibility issues into account, those that do could be protected from challenges mounted under existing competition laws.

Until now, EU laws on tendering have made promoting cross-border trade their main priority, and have encouraged competition for tenders by focusing on economic factors alone.

According to Labour MEP Richard Howitt, the move represents a significant change in direction for European law. �It�s a very important piece of legislation. It�s about Parliament revisiting social and environmental clauses that were abandoned years ago in favour of promoting competition, and recognising corporate and social responsibility as legitimate goals in the public sector,� he said. However, more progress is needed to bring Europe up to speed with the US, Howitt said.

Public procurement transactions are thought to account for over 11 per cent of EU nations' combined economic output, but also have a major impact on construction and public works, energy, telecommunications and heavy industry.

Readers can participate participate in the public hearing at: http://www.edf-feph.org/en/policy/empl/empl_pol.htm


BECTA, the UK government agency in charge of information technology in education, is this month running an online advice service on using technology to improve access to learning.

The panel has already been asked about the education of visually impaired people, with the question: "Where can I find good curriculum activities on the web for blind children?"

Panel member John Liddle from the technology access charity AbilityNet advised the consideration of consideration of the resources developed by the University of Birmingham's Visual Impairment Centre for Teaching And Research unit, VICTAR: http://www.education.bham.ac.uk/research/victar

To visit the BECTA forum and seek advice see: http://fastlink.headstar.com/becta


The Council of the European Union, the body representing EU governments, last month issued a resolution that aims to encourage its members to improve the accessibility of public sector sites.

The resolution supports a communication issued late last year by the European Commission that encourages European institutions and governments to improve web accessibility (see E-Access Bulletin, issue 22, October 2001).

The resolution "stresses" the need to increase efforts to improve the accessibility of the web and "encourages" member states and the commission to require their web sites to conform to the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility guidelines.

It is non-binding, but the council said it will be monitoring progress and has asked member states and the commission to submit a progress report in the first half of 2004.

To see the full text of the resolution see: http://fastlink.headstar.com/EU

NOTE: Last month the European Commission opened its first documentation facility for visually impaired people, the VIP Office at the Albert Borschette Conference Centre in Brussels. The centre offers access for up to three people at a time to all commission documentation currently available on the internet via technologies such as text-to-speech and Braille keyboards. Other such centres could follow in other EU institutions, and the commission hopes the initiative will help to increase the number of visually impaired staff working for it.


* BRAILLE WORD: A comprehensive new Braille tutorial for Word

2000 keyboard users has been published by Hotkey Systems. The paper version of the book costs 63 pounds plus postage from the US while a floppy disk costs 16 pounds. A table of contents can be found at the 'download center' at: http://www.wyfiwyg.com

* ISP INPUT: E-Access Bulletin is planning to run a feature assessing

internet service providers which provide services tailored to the needs of blind people. We would like to hear of readers' experiences of such services, positive or negative. Please contact Phil Cain on phil@headstar.com or call 01273 231 291

* ACCESS TO LAW: Information about accessible website law is

available at TechDis, a government-funded online service on technologies improving disabled access to higher education. It has been compiled by Martin Sloan of Glasgow University: http://www.techdis.ac.uk/resources/msloan01.html

* RESEARCH BULLETIN: The National Library for the Blind Research

Bulletin is a free, twice-yearly email newsletter covering national and international research projects in the visual impairment, library and information technology worlds. Anyone interested in receiving the next edition should contact Sarah Bundock on sarah.bundock@nlbuk.org or call 0161 3552089 � and back copies can be found at: http://www.nlbuk.org/common/bulletin.html

[Section one ends.]


Pathfinder Gold from Enable Enterprises is a database of over 11,000 contacts in the disability and lifestyle fields with email and web addresses where available, categorised in over 700 topics. The CD database covers all major disability organisations, national and international sporting bodies, educational institutions and more.

The CD will have three sections: companies, organisations and media, in a number of formats including CSV, Access and Outlook XP. The database is priced at 100 pounds for a single copy or 150 pounds for a copy and an updated copy in October.

Orders can be paid for by cheque or paypal. Contact pathfinder@enableenterprises.com

[Sponsored notice ends].


* EDUCATIONAL ASSISTANCE: In our last issue Juan Carlos Benito,

a special education teacher in Santander, Spain, wrote in to seek advice on helping his 18-year old pupil Bruno to use a computer. Bruno has cerebral palsy and cannot control the movement of his limbs.

In response Anna Dresner wrote in to say: �At the �Closing the Gap� conference in 1998, someone demonstrated a piece of hardware and a related computer program that allowed a person to control a computer via brain waves. They could move a mouse, type, play games and so on. It seemed to be easy to learn, and very effective.�

Following an enquiry Sarah Anderson, administrative assistant at Closing the Gap, said the technology remembered here was the Cyberlink from Brain Actuated Technologies, whose web site is: http://www.brainfingers.com
To find more about this product readers can also search by company or product name at the conference�s online resource directory: http://www.closingthegap.com/rd

Meanwhile Deanne Ferris of Augusta, Western Australia, suggests another possible solution - the Eyegaze Communication System by LC Technologies:

She writes: �I have no experience with this system, but the website appears to give all the relevant details (including the price in US dollars - youch) and mentions that the system has already been used in Spain.�

* ON THE MAP: Last month, Kate Page of English Nature asked for

advice on the creation of accessible maps on the web, for example maps that display information about sites of special scientific interest.

In response Dave Pawson from the RNIB wrote in to say: �I've been playing with a combination of scalable vector graphics (http://www.w3.org/Graphics/SVG) and Microsoft�s Speech Application Programming Interface (SAPI), to provide a keyboard based navigation of maps with voice output. It is very early days, but this looks like a very good example case.�

Other readers expressing an interest in this area include David Bailey of the British Geological Survey (http://www.bgs.ac.uk), which he says is interested in making its maps accessible; and David Hawgood of GENUKI, a virtual library of genealogy links for UK and Ireland, whose website provides and advises on maps which can be printed and raised: http://www.genuki.org.uk/b

* UNITED COLOURS: Further to our feature on technologies to help

blind people choose clothes (E-Access Bulletin, issue 17, May 2001), Anthony Barnett of Chris Kay International writes with more information on 'Lextra' Braille. Using heat applied transfers and welded graphics, the system carries information on colours and clothing care fused into clothing fibres. The company says it could also act as an anticounterfeiting device, and has support from Benetton. For more information email:

[Section two ends.]



by Kevin Carey humanity@atlas.co.uk

In the first half of 2000, during the Portuguese presidency of the EU, the 'e-Europe' initiative was launched. At its core was the idea that Europe needed to get its act together or it would be left totally behind by digital developments in the US. But although it already lagged behind in the use of desktop and laptop computers, the EU was heartened at the time by Europe's lead in the mobile phone and digital television fields.

At a ministerial conference in April 2000 there was a strand dedicated to discussing the disability and access chapter of the draft e-Europe Declaration. Of the 40 or so people present only three were disabled: Judy Brewer, a wheelchair user from the US representing the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI); Rodolfo Cattani, an observer from the European Disability Forum (EDF) who is totally blind; and myself, also totally blind and representing the RNIB.

Most participants in the strand were well-meaning but out of touch. They were too concerned with access to education and employment which are already an integral part of other EU and member states' initiatives, too interested in milestones and benchmarks and the paraphernalia of international diplomacy, and too little interested in access to shopping, banking, dating, broadcasting, health and financial information.

On each of the two days the rapporteur - as the EU official responsible for recording proceedings is known - read his notes which I challenged for totally failing to reflect the substance of the discussions and for possibly being written in advance of the discussions. The notes were abstract, my calls were for concrete measures. However I made a fatal tactical error by calling for the currently trendy option of integrating disability into all aspects of the declaration (a cross grained approach) rather than keeping it as a separate chapter. In the next three months all the significant proposals in the original chapter on disability were traded away in their cross-grained manifestation. The only way you can get anything if you are disadvantaged is to camp outside the city but near its walls in order to cause trouble and get food parcels; once inside you become invisible.

The e-Europe Declaration was duly approved by the EU Council of Ministers in June 2000 and, as a result, a 'high level' committee was set up to handle the Economic and Social Dimension of the Information Society (ESDIS). For historical reasons this committee was linked to member states' departments of employment or social welfare under which disability usually falls. As far as I am aware, nobody from a department of trade, industry, technology or communications was nominated.

ESDIS subsequently established an 'expert group' in e-accessibility. Each member state could nominate two experts, one from government and one from the voluntary or academic sectors. But, because the EU would only pay for one per country, member governments concentrated on sending a government official, leaving the the voluntary sector to contribute a member if it paid for itself. This is a pity because, again, the officials almost all come from welfare and employment backgrounds whereas the expert group is necessarily supposed to contain technology experts.

I first heard about this group a year ago and it took me a while to find out who represented the UK. I then discovered that he wasn't all that keen on the assignment. So I proposed myself to the Department for Work and Pensions (http://www.dwp.gov.uk) as his replacement; and at the beginning of this year it agreed. So I am the first disabled voting member of the group, although the redoubtable Mr Cattani of the EDF is an observer.

The group is currently reviewing legislation on disability and e-Europe and is likely to come out soon with some recommendations on procurement. I doubt they will be as rigorous as those under 'Section 508' in the US but we must do our best once the proposals are published to tighten them up.

The group's second current work area is a review of technical standards which has been farmed out to a some consultants who will report back shortly. This is an interesting area of work but its impact on real life will be severely limited unless there is some political weight behind any emerging consensus. The problem is that accessibility legislation in general terms is being formed against a background of industrial deregulation. The outcome for access rights is as inevitable as that for a bicycle in the path of a juggernaut. Nonetheless, it may well be that formulating standards will be the new way forward.

Which leads, naturally, to the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI - http://www.w3.org/WAI). This has been a very successful instance of promoting a principle through a set of standards. The EU has now accepted WAI's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) at the level of basic ('A') compliance. There are four major issues to watch here:

The final current strand of work for the expert group concerns the establishment of an EU network of 'centres of excellence' to formulate a design for all curriculum. This may sound rather dull but it is potentially the most important development after the WAI work because one of the big problems of accessible design is that many designers don't have a clue what to do other than whip out all the graphics.

So a lot of good work is going on, but we are still a long way away from contemplating universal standards of service in banking, broadcasting, dating, shopping, health and financial information. Nevertheless, it is vital that we do eventually develop such standards.

[Section three ends.]



Last issue�s article on music notation from the blind (E-Access Bulletin, issue 27, March 2002) received a large response from readers, many of whom felt the article had been unfairly hard on the Braille music system. We reproduce edited versions of two of these responses below, and would like to thank their authors � readers with further views are welcome to email us on inbox@headstar.com

Lisette Wesseling, a soprano and Braille music teacher, writes: �As a fluent Braille music reader who performs and teaches professionally, I take issue with the general tone of the piece. A great deal of standardisation of Braille music notation was achieved worldwide throughout the entire 20th century.

�Music Braille has always had a great deal of standardisation, though there is always more that could be done. I have borrowed and purchased countless scores from overseas libraries, some produced early last century, and all have been completely accessible to me. To say that Braille music has had no standardisation until the 1997 manual was released is inaccurate.

�Blind musicians have used Braille music for professional and amateur reasons for 150 years. It has served us well all this time, and certainly does not need to be replaced. If anybody suggested changing the system of print music notation they would be told to stop interfering where they were not wanted.

�The beauty of Braille music is that the performer can have independent access to the score, making his or her own interpretative decisions as any sighted performer would.

�Using this system, we can sight sing in a sighted choir! No gadget would let us do that silently, or without headphones. Any machine which gives audio descriptions of a piece could not be used in an orchestral or choir rehearsal, since the "reader" is not actually accessing the score, but a second-hand version of it.

�Braille music scores can be, and often are, laid out so that information can be skimmed over, in headings, on lines of their own. Bar numbers can be judicially printed on a separate line above the bar to which they refer, so the fingers can easily locate them and any other such headings using good tactile navigation techniques. A purely pictorial method does not work, as we discovered 150 years ago. But there is a lot of spatially presented information in Braille music that can help the reader read in greater or lesser detail as desired.

�Braille music is linear because that's how Braille works, but a fluent reader can skim across a line and learn to recognise a phrase mark, word sign, or a staccato mark extremely quickly. He or she can then ignore that information if not required in that particular reading. Of course a Braille reader can't get an overview of a whole score as a sighted person can, and we all would embrace technology which would assist in this. But for detailed study the Braille music system works very well indeed.

�In my experience, it is also true that children take to it extremely quickly. Even my seven-year-old student loves using it, and doesn't find it confusing or unduly difficult.

�The lack of Braille music currently used or taught is due to a lack of available scores quickly enough, and a lack of teachers willing and able to teach it in a fun and relevant way. Funding should be directed at greater production (using Braille music translation software and manual transcription as appropriate), and in the area of producing good UK based teaching material.

Of course signs need to be added to Braille music to cope with 21st century compositional techniques (graphical scores and so on), as well as world musics, and I have no objection to research being conducted in technology which can give extra information about a score which Braille music does not, but let it be done in a spirit of adding to what we already have, not replacing it because people without proper knowledge think it's best for us.�

Meanwhile Bettye Krolick, Compiler of The New International Manual of Braille Music Notation, writes: �John Henry, the outstanding blind musician and scholar, asked me to share the following information about what is going on in North America with new developments regarding Braille music.

�Educators are realising that with a quick knowledge of how to help blind students read music, they can open the advantages of music participation to all youngsters by using the software that is now available. Vocal, orchestral, and band parts as well as keyboard music can be prepared by musicians who do not necessarily know Braille. Goodfeel from Dancing Dots and Toccata from Optek Systems are two translation programs that accurately produce Braille scores containing exactly what is in the print scores.

�I recently returned from a conference of transcribers and educators in the state of California where I showed a group of 26 sighted vision teachers how easy it is to read Braille music. As soon as I reassured them that there are only seven different notes in Braille music - the same seven notes that appear in each octave of a piano - they relaxed, and within the 90 minute workshop all of them were reading beginning music with great confidence. In order to read more music signs, each teacher now has a small dictionary of all the signs needed up through the first 12 grades of school with very few exceptions, and their blind students will have the same information in Braille.

�The complete Dictionary of Braille Music Signs that I wrote contains information about the international work that began with the Cologne Congress of 1888. It states details about the remarkable number of Braille music signs (notes, note values, octave signs, rests, accidentals, key and time signatures and so on) that have never changed since 1888, thanks to a series of international meetings and agreements.

�As far as tactile reading is concerned; it will die quickly - as soon as someone gives the tester a few pages of cello music that is commonly written with up to four different clef signs per page.�

[Section four ends.]



by Judith Markowitz

If you ask people in speech processing where the industry is headed, many of them will say they envision a time in the near future when speech will be a mainstream tool for communication and information access anytime, anywhere and using any device. I would add that this implies communication could be in any language.

Although opinions vary widely on how long it will take to achieve these dramatic goals, in the past couple of years speech technology has made significant progress. All major speech and voice-processing technologies have made huge gains in speed, accuracy, size and flexibility.

The most visible advances towards the anytime, anywhere, any device goal have been made in automatic speech recognition (ASR). ASR systems are now being successfully used in environments as diverse as handheld devices, automobiles, public telephone networks and warehouses. These implementations can range from a dozen words to a million or more proper names. They can require command-and-control, dictation and increasingly complex dialogue structures.

Overall, the technology is far more accurate than it used to be, although noise and deviations from standard speech patterns (for example when someone has a cold, a speech impediment, or is shouting) still cause performance degradation. Support of multiple languages is increasing and a few systems incorporate language identification technology so that the choice of language can be done unobtrusively.

Distributed technology, which does some processing on the device and some on the network, represents a significant advance towards the anytime, anywhere, any device goal. Using distributed processing, a person can use device-embedded ASR technology to navigate a menu on a hand-held computer device or dial a telephone number by voice. That person can also use the same device to access network-based ASR, such as dictation tools, directory assistance and other more complex, largervocabulary systems.

Text-to-speech synthesis technology (TTS) is another area that has seen major developments recently. Some of the new breed of �concatenated� TTS systems, which create words by linking together or concatenating pre-recorded spoken sounds, are almost indistinguishable from human voices. These systems have made it possible to deliver news, alerts and frequently changing customised information to people automatically - anytime, anywhere and to any device. Today, these high-quality systems are too large to embed in handheld devices, but the trend is to use compression and other techniques to reduce the size of good TTS.

Voice-based biometrics, whose most widespread implementation is speaker authentication to allow access to be blocked by unauthorised users, supports anytime, anywhere, any device access to data and services. Today, access is primarily via telephones, but there is a strong trend to reduce voice models to sizes suitable for embedded deployments.

As with ASR, noise remains an issue, particularly when a person enrolls on one type of telephone but authenticates on another, for example a mobile phone. Companies have begun to deploy model noise conditions on different kinds of telephone channels. Another important trend is the use of "background models" and other techniques that model the voices of potential imposters.

Access control is also being enhanced through the verification of knowledge. In some instances the person is asked to supply specific pieces of information, (for example favorite colour, father's middle name) and both the content and the voice speaking it are authenticated. Other systems perform knowledge authentication unobtrusively, as part of a general dialogue that the system or an agent is having with the user.

Another key area of development to track in the field of speech technology is one that is often overlooked, but an essential component - that of microphones. Good audio input is an unobtrusive asset to both ASR and voice-based biometrics. Poor audio input can lead to higher error rates and the failure of an application.

Significant advances in microphone technology include far-field technology and miniaturisation. Far-field technology can process speech at distances of a foot or more, and makes wearing a headset optional and supports spoken input to handheld devices and embedded systems, for example in cars.

Tools that identify and extract noise from a signal are now provided by microphone manufacturers, ASR technology developers and by companies for which noise cancellation is important. The results can be excellent, especially when the person is using a close-talking microphone. It is also improving at a rapid pace for far-field input. There is, for example, a great deal of work being done in telematics on modeling noise associated with different driving speeds. Unfortunately, with dynamic noise cancellation, too many cooks spoil the broth. When a noise-canceling microphone is used with noise-canceling ASR, the signal is actually degraded.

Unexpected variability in noise, for example from passing vehicles, represent a persistent challenge. Variable noise and extremely high noise levels are, however, also challenges for human listeners. Addressing those problems is likely to require intelligence about dialogue content and may need to exploit image processing such as lip reading for disambiguation.

NOTE: Part two of this article in our next issue will cover topics including voice-driven web technologies. This article first appeared in the US-based magazine �Speech technology� (http://www.speechtek.com/st.mag/index.shtml). Dr. Judith Markowitz (http://www.jmarkowitz.com) is associate editor of the magazine and a leading independent analyst of speech technology and voice biometrics.

[Section five ends.]


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Copyright 2002 Headstar Ltd. http://www.headstar.com ISSN 1476-6337
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.eaccessibility. com is also cited.

Editor - Dan Jellinek dan@headstar.com Deputy Editor - Phil Cain phil@headstar.com News Editor - Derek Parkinson derek@headstar.com Reporter - Tamara Fletcher tamara@headstar.com Editorial Advisor - Kevin Carey humanity@atlas.co.uk

[Issue ends.]