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[Issue starts.]

* ISSUE 25, JANUARY 2002.



Local authority sites 'a mixed bag'
- annual review of UK council web sites.

Mobile industry to guide itself
- companies exchange best practice ideas.

Classic heist movie captured in words
- �Ocean�s Eleven� to release mid-February.

Call for European Treaty reform
- to encourage design for all philosophy.

Government site updated, at last
- disability.gov.uk/ relaunches.

News in brief: Irish disability bill; Keyboard tutorials; accessibility monitoring.

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

Section three: Focus. Mathematics: Beyond pencil and paper. - Digitising the process of doing maths is proving surprisingly difficult, but computers are making it easier for blind mathematicians to engage with sighted colleagues.

Section four: Conference report. Design for all: Motivating the universal designer.
- European activists agree that something should be done to promote 'design for all'. But there is no clear consensus on the best way forward.

Section five: Law. Access legislation jigsaw nears completion. - Martin Sloan examines how the combination of evolving UK law and international standards may at last be set to provide a remedy for internet accessibility problems.

[Contents end.]



This year�s annual review of UK local authority web sites, due to be published in March by the Society for IT Management, will include an assessment of 30 council web sites for their accessibility to people with disabilities.

The 30 sites were chosen as among the best-developed and most �transactional� sites, for example those that allow people to pay council tax, reserve library books or interact with other local public services directly over the web.

Overall, the council sites are a mixed bag, E-Access Bulletin has learned. Problems found include unlabelled graphics; visual clutter; graphical links; general design and navigational inconsistencies; the use of frames; the use of �Flash� animation without alternatives; and problems with text and background colours.

But many display a good grasp of accessibility including clear, resizable text; helpful information about how to navigate the site; pages dedicated to accessibility, and invitations for feedback on accessibility issues. All in all, council sites are ahead of commercial sites for accessibility, the report finds.

The accessibility assessments were carried out for SOCITM by the charity AbilityNet (http://www.abilitynet.co.uk). For more information and to place an advance order for �Better connected 2002 � a snapshot of council web sites�, email Martin Greenwood on SocitmInsightUK@cs.com


UK mobile phone companies have agreed to collaborate to draw up a list of best practice to help make their services more accessible, but they will not be seeking the input of external groups, E-Access Bulletin has learned.

The decision to develop the standards was taken last week at the inaugural meeting of a new mobile industry acessibility group attended by the UK's mobile phone operators Vodafone, BT Cellnet, One2One and Orange (see also E-Access Bulletin, December 2001).

According to the group's chairman Mike Duxbury of Vodafone, the document will "give an honest overview of where we are now, and where we will be [in the future]".

The next phase of the drafting process will be a meeting in April, to which mobile handset manufacturers and suppliers from outside the UK will also be invited. The input of consumer pressure groups or of the government telecoms regulator OFTEL will not be sought, however.

According to Duxbury the presence of pressure groups at such meetings can be counterproductive. And he said OFTEL was not forward-looking, and only issued regulation on the basis of "the technology of yesterday".


'Ocean's Eleven', the Warner Brothers remake of a 1960 classic gangster movie, is set to be the third audio-described film to be given a trial release in 11 cinemas across the UK in mid-February.

The move is the latest in a six month trial of a digital technology called the Cinema Subtitling System made by US-based DTS (http://www.dtsonline.com ) which allows cinemas to add an extra soundtrack to a film, in this case adding descriptions of the action between dialogue for blind and visually impaired people. The same system can also be used to superimpose subtitles for the benefit of the hearing-impaired and foreign language audiences.

An audio described version of fantasy film Harry Potter was released in December and Rat Race, an all-star road race comedy, is due out next week. David Mann, an RNIB campaigner who has a small amount of sight, said following a showing of Harry Potter in Belfast: "I didn't think Harry Potter was my thing, but I thought it was brilliant."

For more on upcoming screenings call the RNIB broadcasting team on 020 7391 2398.


Treaty of Europe, the rulebook of the European Union, needs to be changed to encourage the 'design for all' philosophy for products and services, including those provided over the internet, a leading member of the European Parliament has said.

According to Richard Howitt, MEP for the East of England and President of the All-Party Disability Group of MEPs (http://www.richardhowitt.labour.co.uk), declaration 22 of article 95 of the Treaty of Amsterdam, the most recent version of the Treaty of Europe, needs to be made into a full article of its own.

This change would mean civil servants at the European Commission were obliged to ensure "institutions of the Community shall take account of the needs of persons with a disability� rather than simply being urged to do so, as they are under current rules. Crucially, the requirement to give this kind of consideration would extend to standards for products and services made at a European level.

Howitt's call came at a conference held in Brussels last month to consider what could be done to encourage designers to adopt the universal design philosophy. For a full conference report see section four, this issue.


The UK government this week unveiled a long-awaited update of its disability information web site (http://www.disability.gov.uk), which it had previously neglected for almost a year (see E-Access Bulletin, November 2001).

The updated site contains a basic introduction to legislation protecting disabled people, and links to consultation documents and information campaigns run by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the site's owner. One of the most useful new additions is a free-text search box.

A DWP spokesperson said the site is still under development, and that the department was committed to making this site as accessible and easy to use as possible. "We would welcome views on the accessibility and content of the site," he said.


DISABILITY BILL 2001: The Irish government has published a Disability Bill which will be heard in parliament later this year. If passed in its current form it will establish a Centre for Excellence in Universal Design whose remit would cover electronic systems: http://www.gov.ie/bills28/bills/2001/6801/default.htm

KEYBOARD ABCs: John Wilson, writer and narrator of a series of tapes on blind computer access, has released new information about his 'From the keyboard' series of manuals and tutorials. The cassettes give step-by-step lessons in how to use Windows, sound editors, CD burners and scan-and-read software using just the keyboard: http://web.onetel.net.uk/~fromthekeyboard/

SITE WATCH: A web site accessibility testing service has been launched by US software company HiSoftware. The service, which starts at 50 US dollars a month, tests sites for compliance to key US and international accessibility standards:

[Section one ends.]


* LOOKING OUT: In response to Andy Berry's request in last month's

Inbox for reports on the 'LookOUT' screen reader or Magnice screen magnifier, from Choice Technology (http://www.screenreader.co.uk), Chris McMillan writes: "I have just this morning acquired by snail post the details of this for a friend who is not on the net, so over the next few weeks I may well find out if its any good. She's a total newbie, and I'm not sure if she has a computer even - but I know she wanted me to advise her on how useful it will be since she isn't in the market for the bellsand -whistles packages like JAWS."

Mrs McMillan continues: "Its blurb sounds like it's what we've all been waiting for, but like your correspondent, I want to know what 'bog standard' users like myself think of it. I'm more into the Magnice side of it for personal use, though a combined version has its attractions for specific items." [Responses to inbox@headstar.com]

* SPEECH WAVE: Antonio Guimaraes writes: "One of your recent

features ['Speech wave breaks over Europe', September issue] said that BeVocal (http://www.bevocal.com), Tellme (http://www.tellme.com), HeyAnita (http://www.heyanita.com), and other voice portals offer web access. I think this is misleading. I have used a couple of these, Tellme being the one I am most familiar with, and there are many features such as news, weather, driving directions, wake up calls available, but I can not browse the internet using these services.

"I don't anticipate that we'll ever have full use of the web over the phone. Forget it! How does one save book marks, and navigate through links, and mark text to paste to clipboard, and save a web page, read tables and so on and so forth? There's something called Net by Phone (http://www.net-by-phone.com) which is very expensive, and claims to give easy access to the internet over the phone, but you will never catch me spending that kind of money on a service like that."

He concludes: "Blind people just need accurate training, and then they won't need someone to make the internet accessible by telephone." [Further thoughts on voice portals to inbox@headstar.com].

XP ACCESS: Paul Evans, Technology Project Officer with the RNIB's Technology in Learning and Employment programme, is compiling information about Windows XP and accessibility. Readers with any knowledge in this area are invited to email inbox@headstar.com

[Section two ends.]



by Phil Cain phil@headstar.com

Mathematicians are proud that their discipline has gained so much influence with the application of just a pencil, paper and a waste paper basket. But, while these are the accepted tools of the trade, the dots and squiggles that are the nuts and bolts of mathematics are largely innaccessible to blind people, whether on paper or a computer screen.

As Alistair Edwards, a researcher at the department of computer science at the University of York, told the RNIB's recent Techshare conference: "There is no reason why blind people cannot do the bit in the head . . . but they have difficulty with the 'paper'." Proving this point are the large number of blind people among the mathematical greats - people such as Leonhard Euler, Nicholas Saunderson, Lev Pontryagin, Alfred Loewy, Stephen Smale, WG Bickley, Bernard Morin and Joseph Plateau.

But the achievements of these exceptional individuals cannot obscure the fact the access problem presented by mathematical notation is, in the deadpan terminology favoured by mathematicians, �non-trivial�. A solution to this problem would not only mean a few more blind people would be able to become mathemeticians and prove �a sphere could be turned inside-out in a smooth manner�, as Smale did in 1959, but that many more people would be able to tot up their gas bill.

The fundamental difficulty faced here is that the reading of written mathematics depends on interpreting the relative positions of an enormous array of symbols on a two dimensional surface, while computer screenreaders and Braille convey their meaning simply by ordering of relatively limited number of symbols in just one dimension. To describe mathematical expressions in Braille or for a screenreader to interpret them requires an extremely complex codification and translation process.

In the case of Braille, the difficulty of the translation problem has led to the formation of a number of rival codes, each with their own loyal band of supporters. This fragmentation means that, unlike their sighted counterparts, people reading and writing Braille mathematics are not using a borderless language. To help resolve this problem there are moves afoot to unite the codes used in the UK, where a variety are used, with the Nemeth code, which was made standard in the US in 1952.

Despite the lack of an international standard, Braille is still the most practical way for most students to perform mathematical manipulations, just as pencil and paper still beats the computer in the sighted world of maths. This is because written Braille allows blind mathematicians to move their fingers from one line to the next to jog their memories, in the same way as sighted people can by moving their eyes.

For an account of a frustrated attempt to produce a computer-based alternative to the old fashioned Brailler, see Alistair Edwards' 'Access to mathematics' notes:

But being able to do mathematics alone or just share it with others using the same Braille code is not enough: to participate fully in mathematical discourse, blind people need to be able to access the work of their sighted counterparts. This is where computers are proving extremely useful, because they too need to be fed mathematical equations into a one dimensional form, and their interconnection over the internet is leading to standardisation.

Mathematicians' wish to communicate mathematical expressions using plain text email led to the creation in 1985 of the LaTeX typsetting language (http://www.latex-project.org) as a de-facto standard, mantained by an international working group.

Useful though it is, LaTeX is not the complete solution for the blind, however, being rather cumbersome and unintuitive in its raw form. To make matters worse there is no automated way of converting it into everyday speech or even standard Braille in the same way as it can be translated into graphics. It has even been mathematically proven that it is not possible to develop software to transcribe every LaTeX formula unambiguously into Braille.

Limited LaTeX-to-Braille translation programs do exist, with one of the most popular being MegaDots, made by US software company Duxbury (http://www.duxburysystems.com).

Partial solutions to the LaTeX-to-speech problem have also been developed. One of the more recent ones, Audio System for Technical Reading (ASTER), was developed by blind US-based mathematician 'TV' Raman. Though it is not openly available a demonstration of ASTER is available on Raman's web site: http://www.cs.cornell.edu/Info/People/raman/aster/aster-toplevel.html

Finally, the web standards body World Wide Web Consortium is engaged in an ongoing programme to create a standard for presenting mathematical expressions on web pages called MathML (http://www.w3.org/Math). This could be of potential use for visually impaired people, since the consortium says of its latest release: "MathML 2.0 attempts to capture something of the meaning behind equations rather than concentrating entirely on how they are going to be formatted out on the screen."

A gathering of those with an interest in the development of MathML is taking place in June this year in Chicago. See: http://www.mathmlconference.org/2002

NOTE: E-Access Bulletin would love to hear from any student, teacher or mathemetician with views on this topic. Email inbox@headstar.com

[Section three ends.]



by Phil Cain phil@headstar.com

The European Commission and the European Disability Forum, an international umbrella lobby group, recently assembled a high-level 'round-table' working group to consider steps that could be taken to prompt designers of mainstream products and services, including electronic ones, to consider the needs of people with disabilities.

With the odd exception delegates to the round-table were agreed on the merits of the all-embracing design philosophy often known as 'design for all' or 'universal design'. Among the benefits mentioned were that it is relevant to both disabled and non-disabled people and that businesses that have adopted it have been rewarded with bigger market share and revenues.

However, delegates were also agreed that the design-for-all philosophy has so far failed to make sufficient inroads into the European commercial sector. Jan Steyaert (http://www.steyaert.org/jan), lecturer at the Fontys University of Professional Education in the Netherlands, said survey results indicate that awareness, resistance and sheer negligence are among the most common reasons for the low level of adoption. Steyaert said: "We talked to a company for instance that did the electronic versions of 21 regional newspapers in the Netherlands. They have the whole population of the Netherlands as their customer base, and the guy did not know about design for all: he did not know about the concept or the need for it."

Another problem pointed out by Steyaert is 'untidy implementation', like the inconsistent use of raised dots on the keys of mobile phones or the use of black on green on mobile phone screens. Steyaert's conclusions were drawn from research done for a European Commission funded project called Dissemination Action Supporting Design-for-All (http://www.dasda.org).

Many felt legislation is the best way to make sure design for all is adopted. Bas Treffers, a member of the European Disability Forum in the Netherlands, said the EU should strengthen public procurement rules to make access requirements binding, rather than simply being optional criteria as they are now. In particular, Treffers said, design-for-all compliance should be mandatory for EU-funded projects.

Developments in North America were a rallying call to the prolegislative lobby. Many cited the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 508 of the US Rehabilitation Act 1973 Federal Acquisition Regulations (http://www.section508.gov) as examples of how changes to legislation and procurement policy can promote design for all. Other regulatory levers advocated at the conference including the incorporation of design for all in standards for consumer products, a process now under way in Europe.

The EDF is also calling for a new European non-discrimination directive, making it illegal to discriminate against disabled people. �We need a directive that includes sanctions for public or private companies that do not comply with it, and that gives the rights for NGOs and disabled individuals to bring to court companies that do not comply with that.�

Kevin Carey, director of the digital accessibility charity HumanITy, is skeptical about the possibility of creating legislation to enforce design for all. According to Carey the notion of design for all and the belief this approach could fulfill more or less all the needs of disabled people are too extreme. "No matter how good the designers are, as a blind person, nobody is ever going to get the Mona Lisa right for me," Carey said.

What is more, Carey said, "Either of these two statements would simply be minced by any decent lawyer." Because of this lack of legal rigour, Carey said he was more interested in MEP Richard Howitt's idea about changing declaration 22 of article 95 of the Treaty of Europe into something more concrete (see news, this issue).

[Section four ends.]



by Martin Sloan martin.sloan@orange.net

A combination of UK law, international guidelines and other international legal or tribunal precedents may finally be combining to help ensure the internet is made accessible for all.

Part three of the UK Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995 came into force in October 1999, imposing a series of duties on service providers including:

Although operators of web sites are not specifically included within the definition of a �service provider�, a term left deliberately vague, it is likely they are liable. Indeed, it seems impossible to reasonably differentiate between the service provided by a conventional retailer and one who is based online.

As �information services� are specifically included in section 19(3)(c), it is also arguable that all web sites are liable due to the internet being just that � an extremely large and varied information service. Whether rail timetables, Inland Revenue advice or a promotional site for the latest ad campaign, these are all sources of information.

The first duty imposed by the Act - "not to refuse to provide, or deliberately not provide a service" - could arguably apply where a service provider has deliberately chosen not to integrate accessibility into his web site. This might include where a Flash movie is used without an option to skip it, thus preventing people using screen readers to progress any further. Although some might argue this section is of limited application because knowledge is required on the part of the service provider, there is a duty to make reasonable inquiries under the code of practice that accompanies the Act.

The second duty - that of "standard of service" - prohibits service providers from providing a lower standard of service to a disabled person, compared to that offered to an able-bodied person. It is a straightforward argument that high street retailers offering innaccessible online shopping services are in breach of this rule.

The third, and perhaps most interesting of the relevant duties, is that of "reasonable adjustments". The issue of whether converting an inaccessible web site to an accessible web site was a reasonable adjustment to make has already been considered under similar legislation in Australia.

In the case of Maguire versus Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, the Australian Human Rights Commission (http://www.hreoc.gov.au) found in favour of the complainant, Bruce Maguire, that the committee had breached its duties as a service provider by providing an inaccessible web site (see E-Access Bulletin, May 2001). The commission rejected SOCOG�s claims that introducing accessibility would be an unreasonable burden in terms of cost and manpower, instead favouring the complainant�s expert witnesses, who said compliance costs would be marginal. The commission also made reference to the World Wide Web Consortium's accessibility guidelines (http://www.w3c.org/wai), the first time these have been mentioned in a court of law, as a recognised set of guidelines that should be followed.

Although Australian cases are not regarded as authority in by the courts in the UK, there is no doubt that they can be considered persuasive in coming to decisions considering similar cases. This is especially so where the foreign legislation is similar to that in the UK (as is the case here with disability legislation) and when dealing with issues raised by new technology. It is therefore reasonable to expect that if and when an action is brought against a service provider in the UK that the courts will follow the lead set in SOCOG and expect service providers to comply with the W3C guidelines by providing an accessible site.

Service providers would therefore be well advised to follow the advice of the DDA code of practice, which obliges them to continually review their duties and take into account �technological developments [which] may provide new or better solutions to the problems of inaccessible services� [paragraph 4.9]. This obligation is likely to be read as saying that: even if a web site was designed before the introduction of the WAI guidelines, they should still be adhered to as they are a new �standard�.

The accessibility cause is likely to be given fresh impetus by a new draft of the code of practice, to accompany the final part of the DDA which comes into force in 2004. This is currently before Parliament and is expected to contain more explicit references to web accessibility when it is published in final form in February. Not only will this act as a warning to service providers, but it is also likely to lead to increased awareness of rights amongst the disabled community. Combined, these factors should ensure accessibility will finally be given the recognition it deserves.

NOTE: This article is based on Martin Sloan's article 'Web accessibility and the DDA' which was published last year in the the Journal of Information, Law and Technology:

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

[Issue ends.]