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[Issue starts.]

* ISSUE 31, JULY 2002.


Section one: News.
1: Digital watchdog needs sharper teeth - public meeting on communications bill. 2: Disability guidelines for digital Ireland - wide-ranging advice.
3: Small steps forward for digital radio - new set is more affordable.
4: Test launch for 'A-sites'
- new portal picks best on the web.
5: Cinema audio description trials extended - from Harry Potter to Spiderman.
6: Double money for audit scheme
- expansion for 'See it right'.

News in brief: 7: Non-profit copyright � access bill reaches Lords; 8: Low vision conference � July gathering in Gothenburg; 9: Learning process � online education; 10: Software talk � voice standards.

Section two: 'The Inbox' - Readers' forum. - 11: Accessible code; 12: Library lowdown.

13: Special notice - Future Health Bulletin.

14: Section three: Preview - Sight Village 2002. The largest technology show in the UK calendar opens next week. Derek Parkinson reports on what�s in store.

15: Special notice - writing competition.

16: Section four: Special report - accessible banking (part two). - Money talks: Tamara Fletcher's two-part study of banking services turns to voice-enabled cash machines.

17: Section five: Opinion - social enterprise. - Affordable access: what business model is best for an access technology developer? Roger Wilson-Hinds champions a cheaper way.

[Contents ends.]



Proposed new digital communication regulations intended to safeguard the rights of users do not offer enough protection to visually impaired people, civil servants were told at a public meeting organised by the RNIB earlier this week.

A draft Communications Bill
(http://www.communicationsbill.gov.uk/text_only/text_only.html), due in parliament before the end of the year, replaces regulators that previously oversaw TV, radio and telecoms services with Ofcom, a single watchdog which will be responsible for setting communications licence conditions and standards of service.

Officials from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Department of Trade and Industry were urged repeatedly by speakers from the floor to require digital TV broadcasters to increase their quotas of audio-described content and provide accessible electronic programme guides and set-top boxes.

Concern was expressed that although providers of cable and satellite TV services will have to match levels of audio-described content provided by terrestrial broadcasters, these quotas will remain set at their current levels of 10 per cent. This compares with an 80 per cent requirement for subtitled content for the hearing impaired.

In a response which failed to spark much enthusiasm, Liz Ager of the DCMS confirmed the quota for audio descriptions will be kept under review. The RNIB confirmed afterwards to E-Access Bulletin that it will push for an immediate increase in the audio quota to 50 per cent.

Delegates were also concerned to learn that although Ofcom will have a duty to protect the interests of consumers, it will not have the power to make service providers offer accessible terminals.

�The distinction between being a service user and a user of terminal equipment doesn�t make sense,� said Sandy Bannister of the Worcestershire Association for the Blind. However, according to RNIB parliamentary officer Caroline Ellis, Ofcom could make it a requirement that service providers offer terminals which are compatible with assistive equipment.

Readers can make formal responses to the draft bill until August 2 � email Fiona Murray on communicationsbill@dti.gsi.gov.uk


New accessibility guidelines for digital technologies have been published by the Irish National Disability Authority (NDA), the independent statutory body which oversees disability policy in Ireland.

The guidelines (http://accessit.nda.ie), which aim to be useful to people who make procurement decisions as well as technology developers, cover everything from web sites to public access terminals, telecoms terminals and application software.

The NDA says the initiative adds a new practical dimension to Irish national and European laws on accessibility, as they are based on close consultation with users and procurers. An innovative web-based interface to the document uses hypertext to lead the user through the guidelines according to who they are and what they are doing, and the web section annotates and explains often impenetrable international standards.

�Guidelines like those contained in the Web Accessibility Initiative (http://www.w3.org/WAI), are quite technical and difficult to understand if you are not a developer,� said project leader Christine Whyte.

According to Whyte, the project took just one year to get off the ground. The NDA was supported by an advisory board that included RNIB chief scientist Dr John Gill and commissioned a private sector partner (http://www.frontend.com) to conduct background research and draft the guidelines.


The UK launch last week of a portable digital radio set at 99 pounds promises to make the medium much more affordable. But E-Access Bulletin has discovered that the set is only marginally more accessible to blind people than its more expensive predecessors.

Those in areas with a digital signal will be able to use the 'EVOKE-1' receiver from VideoLogic Systems (http://www.videologic.co.uk) to pick up the 50 or so free-to-air digital services from the BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/digitalradio) and commercial companies (http://www.ukdigitalradio.co.uk).

However, the set does not convert supplementary information about the content on air into voice output. With no verbal cue, blind users must select each channel to find out what it is and memorise the location for future reference.

VideoLogic told E-Access Bulletin this week there are, nevertheless, several design features of the set which may be useful to the blind, including its single raised and shaped control panel, and differing size and shape of its volume and tuning controls. Further improvements will be added to future models following discussions with the RNIB, a spokesperson said.

Whatever the design access issues, digital radio is still not the answer for everyone because signal coverage is not yet universal. Even in areas served by a digital transmitter, local geography can block the signal entirely, unlike analogue where reception varies on a sliding scale.

To check if you live in the 85 per cent of areas reached by commercial Digital One services you can enter your postcode at: http://www.ukdigitalradio.co.uk/coverage/search/ And, to see if you are living in the 65 per cent of the country covered by BBC services, call 0870 010 0123


A new online library of accessible web sites has been launched by the National Library for the Blind (http://www.nlbuk.org).

The �A-sites� portal (http://www.a-sites.org) has so far listed 153 accessible sites under 40 different categories ranging from government to food and drink, with an accessibility rating for each and a facility for users to recommend other accessible sites.

Each site is user tested and assessed on a broad range of criteria including compatibility with magnification and audio software and Braille keyboards.

After an initial test phase, only sites which are 70 per cent or more accessible will be linked to the portal. So far just under half the sites tested make the grade. A cut-off of 80 per cent was tried initially, but the NLB had to lower the barrier when it found less than a third of sites complied.

The Canadian National Institute for the Blind (http://www.cnib.ca) currently earns the highest rating so far at 99 per cent. The producers hope to have found 1,000 A-sites by the portal's launch in October 2002.


More films have been added to UK trials of a new system that makes cinema accessible to visually impaired people, delivering audio descriptions at adjustable volume through cordless headsets (See EAccess Bulletin, January 2002).

Described films now include Harry Potter and the Philosopher�s Stone; Monsters Inc; Ocean's Eleven; Panic Room; Time Machine; Star Wars Episode II and Spiderman.

Participating cinemas are located in Belfast, Cardiff, Gateshead, Glasgow, Guildford, London, Pontypridd, Uxbridge and Wolverhampton.

At present, each of the 11 cinemas involved has only one screen with the trial equipment and only certain films have audio description. Cinema-goers are strongly advised to ring in advance to check that their film choice is being shown on the correct screen, and a small deposit may be required for the use of headphones. Contact details can be found at http://www.rnib.org.uk/broadcast/cinema.htm.

E-Access Bulletin would welcome feedback from readers who have tried the system to email derek@headstar.com


The financial services group Standard Life has doubled its support for a free web site accessibility audit scheme - run as part of the RNIB�s �See it right� campaign � in response to high levels of applications to take part.

The company has raised its support for the scheme from a planned 50,000 pounds in year one to 110,000 pounds, and supplied a second member of staff on secondment to the scheme to join an existing person already in position.

Co-operative Bank Financial Advisers (http://www.cbfa.co.uk) is the first web site to successfully pass muster under the scheme, with a second organisation, the small Scottish internet service provider �Echoraith� (http://www.echoraith.net), due to be the second.

Under the scheme as originally planned free accessibility audits were to be offered to around 50 organisations a year for two years at an estimated cost of between 600 and 1,450 pounds per audit (see EAccess Bulletin, February 2002). Anyone can apply but organisations to be audited are selected to represent a cross-section of sectors including retail, charity, travel, education, utility and telecommunications, and government.

However after interest from over 200 organisations the extra funding has been pledged to allow a greater number to join in, with 76 audits already scheduled and 18 completed. The RNIB estimates that the cost of making the average site accessible following audit will be between one and two per cent of original design costs. For more on the audit scheme visit:


*7: NON-PROFIT COPYRIGHT: The Copyright (Visually Impaired

Persons) Bill has successfully completed its passage through the House of Commons and is expected to proceed through the Lords and pass into law by the end of October. The bill, a backbench measure which has gained government support, will legalise the limited nonprofit production of accessible digital versions of copyright material (see E-Access Bulletin, March 2002). The government has yet to name a timetable for subsequent introduction of the various sections of the bill but the RNIB is urging it to ensure full implementation by next Easter.

*8: LOW VISION CONFERENCE: Improving low vision

access to the web, satellite-enabled urban navigation systems and e-learning's role in rehabilitation are among many the topics under the spotlight at the five day International Conference of Low Vision in Gothenberg, Sweden beginning on 21 July: http://www.congrex.com/vision2002

*9: LEARNING PROCESS: A report on the accessibility of major

online learning software packages has been published by Techdis, the disability technology information service for further and higher education. The report highlights the need to address accessibility issues in light of current UK legislation: http://www.techdis.ac.uk/resources/VLE001.html

*10: SOFTWARE TALK: A 'Speech recognition grammar

specification', allowing voice-based application authors to create rules describing what users are expected to say after listening to prompts, has ben released by the World Wide Web Consortium (http://www.w3.org/). According to the standards body, this will benefit people with visual impairments, and is the first of a series of voice-based software trials:

[Section one ends.]


*11: MACHINE CODE: Samson Perera of the Sri Lanka Council for

the Blind writes in to say: �I have been working with Windows for several years and I can manage almost any speech friendly program.

�Now I am very much interested in learning something about hardware, how to manage the Bios setup and also some languages, such as Java and C plus. I would appreciate it very much if anyone could let me know where I can purchase or borrow material in Braille, cassette or ASCII on these subjects.� [Responses to inbox@headstar.com].

*12: LIBRARY LOWDOWN: In our May issue Larry Johnson from

Texas queried an apparent anomaly in the international library exchange system whereby his regional library for the blind cannot borrow from the UK National Library for the Blind.

Now Elaine Wilkinson of RNIB Library Services has further advice: �Although the RNIB is unable to lend directly to individuals overseas, you can request a library, university or organisation for the blind in your area to act as an intermediary on your behalf. Material (cassettes and some Braille) can then sent by inter-library loan in most cases. For further information please contact our Exports Department (email exports@rnib.org.uk).

The National Library for the Blind in the UK is also able to lend Braille to borrowers overseas, to individuals or organisations, in most cases. You will need to fill in a membership form. For further information contact National Library for the Blind (email enquiries@nlbuk.org).�

[Section two ends.]


E-Access Bulletin�s sister publication Future Health Bulletin is a free independent monthly email newsletter on the use of new technologies in the health care sector. Its next issue will analyse news of a recent General Medical Council decision to ban a doctor from conducting consultations over the internet.

To subscribe to the plain text version of Future Health Bulletin send a blank email to:
and, for text with HTML attachment, email: futurehealth-subscribe@headstar.com
For more information see:

[Special notice ends.]


PORTABLE NOTE-TAKERS SET FOR SEISMIC SHIFT. by Derek Parkinson derek@headstar.com

Exhibitors are busy gearing up for Sight Village 2002, the annual showcase for products and services for the visually impaired. The exhibition (http://www.qac.ac.uk/sight.htm) is free to visitors and will be held at the Queen Alexandra College, Birmingham from July 16- 18.

With more than 70 organisations setting out their stalls, visitors are sure to find something of interest, although a series of talks in the hospitality suite could grab most attention. Staff of Freedom Scientific (http://www.freedomscientific.com) will give daily presentations here, with overviews of features in the new JAWS 4.5 screen reader and MAGic 8.0 screen magnifier, both due for release later this year.

Perhaps the most interesting presentation will deal with the company�s new 'PAC Mate' portable computer for visually impaired people. The PAC Mate range, based on Microsoft�s Pocket PC operating system, offers the functions of a Braille note-taker but is directly compatible with off-the-shelf Microsoft applications such as Word, Excel, Explorer and Outlook.

According to Kevin Carey of the RNIB, products like PAC Mate should make communicating by email less error-prone. �The old way of converting Braille code for email meant that if I made a mistake typing, it would be almost impossible for my secretary to guess what I was trying to write,� he says. It should also eliminate the need for extra equipment.

�At the moment, if I go to a conference, take notes in Braille, but want to communicate with my secretary by email, I have to carry around 10 kilograms of stuff in my bag. With a stick in one hand it�s quite difficult to walk in a straight line � not good on station platforms,� he says.

By contrast, the PAC Mate is expected to weigh considerably less � about two kilograms. According to Carey, the new release may be the start of a seismic shift for note-takers, with rival manufacturers forced to follow the same route to keep their share of the market.

Other interesting new developments for note-takers will be demonstrated by Pulse Data
(http://www.pulsedata.co.nz/index.cfm/11,html), with products designed to allow users of the firm's BrailleNote and VoiceNote hardware to browse the web easily and navigate using links to the Global Positioning System (GPS) network of satellites.

There will also be a fresh batch of screen reader innovations on show. Choice Technology (http://www.screenreader.co.uk) is previewing its DUAL screen reader, which can translate screen content and keystrokes into voice output, while an enlarger program magnifies selected portions of text (see also section five, this issue). DUAL is designed to be affordable at 120 pounds and flexible � voice and magnification can be selected independently with a single keystroke. The company will also be demonstrating WebbiE, an application developed at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology that converts content from web pages into linear text.

Screen magnifiers get a useful set of new tweaks from Dolphin Computer Access. The company (http://www.dolphinuk.co.uk) has developed a set of customisation tools which can render screen colours in a mix chosen by the user and smooth magnified content, so even highly magnified text retains its sharpness and contrast.

Tactile interfaces will not be neglected. Duxbury Systems (http://www.duxburysystems.com) is flying over from the US to demonstrate DBT WIN 10.4, a product that converts mathematical notations, expressions and graphs into Braille output. Techno-Vision Systems (http://www.techno-vision.co.uk), a UK-based distributor of Duxbury products, is to demonstrate a Brailler that renders musical notation in UK standard formats. And Cheshire-based specialist Zychem (http://www.zychem-ltd.co.uk) will be demonstrating its latest tactile graphics products.

Optical devices will also be showcased, with Low Vision Supplies (http://www.lowvisionsupplies.co.uk) keen to demonstrate its range of telescopic and filtering lenses for spectacles.

If visitors tire of investigating the products on show, they can always turn their attention to an impressive range of new services. The UK's Talking Newspapers Association (http://www.tnauk.org.uk) is particularly proud of its new Electronic Newsagent, which delivers magazines on disk, by email, CD-ROM or over the internet. There will be taped excerpts of 200 magazine titles available at the show.

Getting to and from the venue and navigating around the exhibition should be made easier by Describe Online, a provider of online text guides for cities, stations and venues. Visitors to Sight Village can find a practical demonstration of the service on the Describe Online web site, which has a text guide to the exhibition itself at http://www.describe-online.com/sight-village/textguide.htm

Describe Online also provides text guides to parts of the National Rail network � including the main Birmingham stations � and the London Underground system (see E-Access Bulletin, February 2001).

[Section three ends.]


E-Access Bulletin would like to remind readers wishing to enter our writing competition that the deadline is Friday 26 July.

First prize is a �Victor� e-book reader worth more than 300 pounds donated by VisuAide (http://www.visuaide.com) while runners-up will each receive a set of 10 classic e-books on CD. Winners will also have their work published in the bulletin.

Entries should be between 500 and 800 words long and be on the theme "keeping in touch with technology". This could include online relationships, the pace of technological change, how technology has changed your life, or imagining what life could be like in the future. Entries to Phil Cain on phil@headstar.com

[Special notice ends.]


by Tamara Fletcher tamara@headstar.com

Although many UK banks are currently relaunching their internet services to improve accessibility (see E-Access Bulletin, June 2002), the accessible ATM (automatic teller machine) or �talking cash point� has yet to appear in this country. Several other countries however, including Australia, Canada and the US, are much further ahead.

A talking ATM machine has a universal audio jack into which a standard personal stereo type earphone can be inserted to allow the user to listen to private instructions. The service talks the user through all standard transactions such as cash withdrawal or deposit, money transfer and checking an account balance. Visually impaired people are expected to carry their own earphones, although sometimes banks may keep some for general use.

In Australia, National Australia Bank is leading the way, with the first audio-enabled ATMs in place and a pledge to make all new machines audio-compatible from January 2003.

In the US, regulations set out under the Americans with Disabilities Act have required that ATMs be independently usable by people with visual impairments since 1992, and there are now over 3,000 talking cash points across the country, with commitments from banks to install thousands more over the next few years.

And in Canada, the Royal Bank of Canada (http://www.royalbank.ca) installed its first audio ATM in October 1997 and has a total of 14 expanding to 250 nationwide by September.

Kirk Reiser, who has been blind since the age of 11, is a frequent user of RBC�s teller machines. He is also an experienced user of all kinds of technology, being a network administrator at the University of Western Ontario and the author of �Speakup�, the leading screen reader for the Gnu/Linux operating system (http://www.linuxspeakup. org).

Reiser says Royal Bank of Canada services do have good general accessibility, including a Braille accounts billing system, but there are occasional difficulties with the ATMs caused by the smallest of changes.

�Most ATMs are slightly different from each other in the ways they are laid out. So because I've sort of mastered one it leaves me still unable to access others. Even the one I use changed it's interface slightly recently which made me have to have someone go over its options and menus again to learn to use its new arrangement.

�They put in a new timed option to cancel or enter a new transaction which left me thinking the machine wasn't working for about two weeks because I was hitting cancel when I thought I was entering end-of-transactions. It's really irritating because now I have to count to five or six before pressing the button and if I'm not right then I have to go through the entire operation again, which doesn't make folks behind me in line very happy!

�Another frustrating thing about the new interface is that when I do hit end-of-transactions it spits out my card, the receipt and the money immediately and simultaneously making it difficult to grab everything at once.�

Meanwhile in the UK, while no banks have yet introduced accessible ATMs, almost all are investigating the options, not least because in 2004, banks will have to comply with a new code of practice under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) requiring them to make �reasonable adjustments� to their premises to overcome physical barriers to access.

The Centre for Accessible Environments (http://www.cae.org.uk), a charity which promotes discussion of accessible design issues, is currently working closely with a number of banks and building societies on accessibility of ATMs.

The centre has also published ATM guidelines which recommend �more emphasis�.on tactile and audio feedback, speech output, the avoidance of screen reflections, and innovative interface design that makes less demand on visual capacity�.

Installing upgrades or new machines can be an expensive business, however, according to Alan Looney, director of terminals engineering at global ATM suppliers Diebold (http://www.diebold.com).

�The premium for a new ATM to be capable of voice guidance is typically hundreds of pounds, but the real cost is upgrading the entire infrastructure that the ATMs are tied into,� Looney says. �This typically costs in the tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds to implement, depending on the age, complexity and size of the network and its host system.�

Most of the large UK banking groups run networks of several thousand ATMs, so the cost of full audio compliance will not be trivial. But with the new DDA provisions looming the banks may have little choice but to stump up.

[Section four ends.]


by Roger Wilson-Hinds info@screenreader.co.uk

There are two dominant business models in operation in the field of access technology: the pure business model and the charitable model.

In the pure business model, talented and dedicated individuals form a small company which generally uses borrowed cash to expand their business to reach their scattered, minority client group. There are several examples of technology resulting from this model, including the well-known JAWS, HAL and Window Eyes screen readers. On the surface at least, it seems to work well for everyone, satisfying the needs of entrepreneur, investor and customer.

Only not everyone does actually benefit, because the high cost of research and the need to reward investors for the high risks they take result in a high price to the consumer. Prices are so high in fact, that many cannot join in the game. Many visually impaired people often find it hard to afford the price of computers let alone the 600 pound price for software and 400 pounds a day for training.

As a result, it is generally the same small group of employed, funded or well-educated clients who receive the latest commercially built screenreaders and the fastest PCs. Meanwhile the majority of people who could benefit from screen readers - around 80 per cent of visually impaired people - remain unable to afford these systems.

So to the charitable model, built around the talent and enterprise of major charities like the RNIB. This has brought many useful products to the market, perhaps the best example being the digital talking book project. In the case of access technology, most of the large charitable organisations also provide the necessary assessment, training and advice. Again it seems like everyone's a winner.

But delivering major projects like talking books requires long development periods and large capital outlay to employ a highly skilled development team for a number of years. Again this system does not benefit everyone, because charities like businesses are forced to meet their costs. To do so they must focus their efforts on serving initiatives of well-funded government departments or large companies. Here again, it is those with low or no budgets who often miss out.

Given the failings of both the pure business model and the charitable model, the social business model offers the best way to aid disadvantaged groups within society. Using this approach a group of blind people decide what they want and enablers invest in and develop the thoughts of the group. A social enterprise like this is free from both the commands of government and the profit motive.

Early ventures have mainly been centrally or regionally organised for the benefit of the client group. But we are now learning that the best results emerge when the model is focused on a bottom up approach from within the community itself. This way everyone feels ownership of the project and within the community the necessary team talents can be encouraged by investment in training.

We believe that by using this approach Choice Technologies' LookOUT screenreader (http://www.screenreader.co.uk) can benefit even those on very low income. There are plenty of obstacles in our way, not least the large group of developers, assessors, trainers who make their living from selling or supporting expensive commercial software. Nevertheless, we will stick with the social enterprise model and keep selling our screen reader at 80 pounds. Many in the blind community simply cannot afford the alternatives.

NOTE: Roger Wilson-Hinds is a founder of Choice Technology, which has for 10 years delivered workplace computer access training. He is currently studying at the School of Social Entrepreneurs (http://www.sse.org.uk/network)

[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.e-accessibility.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.]