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[Issue starts.]

* ISSUE 30, JUNE 2002.


- Concerns over new anti-discrimination body. - UK launch for accessible laptop.
- Europe backs common design standards. - 'Cynthia' interprets the web.
- Techshare 2002: learning and work.

News in brief: iCan do - online consumer survey; Finger panic - free accessible games; Bright threads - RNIB fundraiser; On the ball - World Cup site.

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

Section three: Profile - talking newspapers. - All the news that's fit to email: the UK talking newspaper association has moved from audio tapes to a high-tech service that could represent the future of news for everyone.

Section four: Special report � accessible banking. - Usability on trial: Tamara Fletcher charts the patchy progress made by high street banks towards accessible online services.

Section five: Trade secrets � keyboard shortcuts. - Basic computer survival skills from John Wilson.

[Contents ends.]



Government plans to set up a single new anti-discrimination commission, replacing three existing agencies, could make disability laws more difficult to implement, the RNIB has warned.

The scheme, announced to Parliament last month by Home Office minister Barbara Roche (http://fastlink.headstar.com/anti), proposes to replace the Equal Opportunities Commission, Commission for Racial Equality and Disability Rights Commission with a single body that would also cover discrimination on the grounds of age, sexual orientation and religion.

However, the RNIB fears the new body would lack focus, which could jeopardise the effective introduction of new laws covering disability, with key parts of the Disability Discrimination Act and the Special Educational Needs and Discrimination Act being phased in over the next few years.

�It�s important that there�s a body focusing uniquely on disability, providing advice and consultation to employers and schools, for example, as each part of an act comes in,� Steve Winyard of the RNIB told E-Access Bulletin this week.

The government aims to report findings this autumn, but according to Roche, any major changes are unlikely in the short-term. �I would not expect any new structures to be operative in the lifetime of this Parliament,� she said.


LapTalk, a laptop computer with integrated screenreader designed specifically for visually impaired users, is expected to launch in the UK later this summer.

The product, developed by US company Beyond Sight (http://www.beyondsight.com), will be around the same size and weight as a conventional laptop computer and has the Window-Eyes screenreader built in.

LapTalk will run the Windows XP operating system, provide internet access through a built-in modem or network port, and offer full versions of Microsoft's Internet Explorer web browser and Outlook Express email software. Microsoft-compatible word processor, spreadsheet and database applications are also planned.

If it lives up to its maufacturer's claims, LapTalk could replace the combination of note-taker and computer to which visually impaired users have grown accustomed, at around half the cost. Beyond Sight is also expected to launch DeskTalk, a desktop version of the computer. Both machines will include a connector for screens, allowing visually impaired users to share information with sighted users.


European Union members will have to adopt common standards for the design of public sector web sites by 2003, making them easy to access by users with disabilities, under new laws set to be passed by the European Parliament.

The parliament debated a report yesterday on a common design framework (http://fastlink.headstar.com/ep) that will eventually form the basis of a Council Resolution. The resolution will also establish independent national bodies to handle complaints about inaccessible web sites.

The report, compiled by the Parliament Industry Committee, also reviewed the progress by member states in reaching accessibility targets already laid out in the EU's 'eEurope 2002' information society action plan. In particular, the committee recommended that government, health and education web sites include speech technologies that allow navigation by voice commands.

In addition, the report found that while all web sites use standardsbased technologies like XML in their construction, they do so in different ways, noting: �That is particularly problematic for disabled with special navigation apparatus.�

Meanwhile the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (http://www.etsi.org), has released a first draft of a standard that will define computer speech commands for all major European languages, making multilingual speech recognition technology more viable for a wide range of devices:


A web navigator with a built-in 'interpreter' that produces voice descriptions of web content is being developed by Paris-based technology company Daumas Informatique (http://www.daumasinformatique. fr).

'Cynthia' is designed to present web content to users in large, bright, customisable text formats accompanied by descriptions in English, French or German, in male or female voices.

According to its manufacturer, the technology can interpret pictures where a web designer has included a description in HTML. It is also designed to reveal some of the structure of a web site, such as numbers of pages and links, and short descriptions of their functions. Cynthia can also produce flexible voice responses, with louder output indicating titles of documents and lower volumes for body text, for example.

The browser's VoiceXML technology is designed to be compatible with all Unix, Mac and PC operating systems.

Daumas has also produced a small handheld device with Brailletagged keys, 'LISON', that speaks currency conversions to and from the euro. For more information on both these projects email: info@daumas-informatique.fr


Learning, work and the rise of a digital society are to be the three key themes at this year's Techshare, the RNIB's annual conference on technology for visually impaired people.

The event's organisers have issued a call for papers, and in the learning category, are keen to cover e-learning, computer training and regulation. The work theme covers procurement, standards, training and ways of working, while digital society topics include mobile phones, internet voting, digital television and e-books, together with the perennial issue of web accessibility.

The conference will take place on 21-22 November at the International Convention Centre, Birmingham. To submit a paper online visit:


* iCAN DO: The US-based disability portal iCan

(http://www.ican.com) has launched a consumer survey aiming to improve product development and consumer services for people with disabilities. To participate in the survey, which focuses on computers, travel, media and vehicles, visit:

* FINGER PANIC: Accessible gaming company BSC has released

two free games. Score points avoiding your computer opponent with �Deekout� http://www.bscgames.com/deek.asp and search for the �crackerjack� in �Finger Panic�:

* BRIGHT THREADS: The RNIB is launching a viral email

campaign today to encourage people to dig out their gaudiest clothes for its annual fundraising event, LookLoud. Users will be able to dress a virtual doll in loud clothes and email the result onto a friend: http://www.lookloud.co.uk

* ON THE BALL: A new web site aims to offer live text coverage of

all football World Cup matches from 15 June. User feedback is encouraged:

[Section one ends.]


* HOME ENTERTAINMENT: Bulletin reader Paul Schomburg is

seeking information on accessibility of the new Multimedia Home Platform interactive television standard (MHP - http://www.mhp.org) developed by the industry consortium Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB � http://www.dvb.org).

He says: �As much interactive TV will be in a textual format (including XML-based formats), I am looking for information on accessibility tools for MHP development. If interactive TV is launched without accessibility then many blind users will be unable to participate.

�In the US recently the cable industry research consortium CableLabs introduced a series of �OpenCable� specifications based on MHP, but apparently without accessibility tools (see http://www.opencable.com/specifications.html). The OpenCable application platform specification OCAP 1.0 defines a Java based execution environment, while OCAP 2.0 adds content formats based on web technologies such as XML.

�Any information on the European situation, or pointers to relevant discussion forums, would be appreciated.� [Responses to inbox@headstar.com]

* ONE-WAY TRAFFIC: In our last 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, despite these resources being listed in international catalogues.

Mrs Chris McMillan, a regular correspondent of ours from the US, confirms: �The answer Larry has been given is correct. The National Library for the Blind has a system which gives Canada and the UK readers access to both libraries but at present that�s as far as it goes. I believe there are discussions under way with other English speaking countries to extend this system though.

�I should point out that the National Library for the Blind in the UK only deals with material in Braille. Anything to do with audio would be a separate issue entirely. The RNIB supplies us with both Braille and audio material.�

* SHOP SMART: Several readers sent in advice following last

month�s appeal from David Porter on behalf of a friend of his with tunnel vision, for information on gadgets to help her avoid bumping into people when shopping in a supermarket and also when swimming in a pool.

Chris McMillan says: �Over the years there have been electronic warning or guidance devices, but they've been so expensive that they've never caught on. I haven't heard of anything in the UK for some years now.�

She also has visually impaired friends who swim and says they either swim with sighted help or swim when �lanes� are in use. �Growing up in a partially sighted school, we learned to swim without bumping into each other, and some of my schoolmates have gone on to become Olympic winners!�

Rod Carne, chief executive of the National Blind Children's Society, also has low-tech advice: �I walk in front of the shopping trolley and find this reduces accidents. If you are not hellbent on being independent the stores usually fall over themselves to provide an assistant to help you.

On swimming he says: �I crack this problem by using my local pool when they have lane swimming. I can at most times locate the black line on the bottom of the pool which fortunately is midway between the barrier ropes. Prior to this they would always put in a lane for me when it was not busy.

�I consider that you have a case for this sort of concession under the Disability Discrimination Act. If you cannot get anywhere with your local pool, try writing to the chief executive of the local council, or I could try negotiating for you.�

Larry Johnson says: �To deal with the problem in the pool, she might swim with a buddy along side to alert her about other swimmers or obstacles. Another technique, one which I follow, is to swim along the side of the pool touching it from time to time to keep position. A third alternative is to choose to swim at a time when there are fewer swimmers. None of these are perfect solutions, but they work.�

[Section two ends.]



by Phil Cain phil@headstar.com

There are now many up to date news services available on the internet, much of it accessible to visually impaired people. Nevertheless, the bulk of the information appearing in the latest newspapers and magazines in your local newsagent is still not online.

Up until now this problem has been tackled by sighted people volunteering to reading the publications onto tape � the �talking newspaper�. From the beginnings of this work in the early 1970s the UK has become home to the world's most extensive network of volunteer newspaper readers, made up of some 520 local groups, 430 of which are affiliated to the Talking Newpaper Association UK (TNAUK - http://www.tnauk.org.uk).

Overall, the national network delivers around 1,100 of the UK's 1,500 local newspapers, to an audience of 200,000 visually impaired people. TNAUK, based on a small industrial estate in Heathfield, East Sussex, is also responsible for voicing the UK's national newspapers and around 200 magazines and newsletters in its eight on-site studios.

Though popular, the tape transcription method does have its drawbacks. The biggest problem is that the process is extremely labour intensive, with the Sunday Times alone taking around 30 hours to read from front to back. When this time is added to that needed to copy and deliver the tapes, it means a timely service is nigh-on impossible without cutting corners. And, when it comes to factual information, there is a fine line between cutting corners and censorship. In TNAUK chief executive Tim McDonald's point of view, "There should be a right to access newspapers and books under the Disability Discrimination Act."

Now however, new software tools and internet-based delivery methods are revolutionising the service, so much so that is sometimes now even faster than delivery of the paper version. Using automated text editing machines and email delivery TNAUK now delivers the complete text of newspapers to visually impaired people hours before they arrive at the newsagents. On a good day, TNAUK says a newspaper will be on the subscriber's electronic doormat by 4.30am.

Publishers play their part in the digital supply chain by sending the raw copy of their newspapers to the association in Quark or PageMaker desktop publishing formats. To do so is an act of trust, with publishers wary of piracy, but McDonald says they can rest easy: "We will fight piracy as hard as anyone.�

TNAUK's electronic catalogue doesn't stop with the national papers, offering subscribers around 200 other magazines and newsletters electronically. According to TNAUK programmer Ian McGregor, "These types of publications offer considerable challenges in their �standard� form for visually impaired people. They are difficult and often impossible to read, even with a strong magnifier. The pages are often printed in many colours on glossy paper, and text is sometimes superimposed over images."

Other tasks which need to be carried out before a publication can be despatched include the substitution of contractions for full words and linear text for tables, a particular favourite of consumer titles like Computer Shopper. "The biggest difficulty we have here is the rather slack standards of composition," says McGregor. "A lot of people don't know the difference between 'soft' carriage returns and 'hard' carriage returns. Nobody takes into account what we have to do later on."

Despite its advantages, TNAUK�s digital subscription rates remain low, with only 10 percent of the association�s 20,000 or so subscribers choosing this format. TNAUK's head of IT Tony Dart explains the low uptake on the fact that visually impaired people tend to be older and so are less likely to be familiar with computers.

For people who prefer the human voice, TNAUK is committed to continuing with the tape format. But even this trusty format is due to get a high tech facelift, with the studios due to digitise this year.

Ultimately, these high-tech developments for the visually impaired could even come full circle and end up teaching the sighted a thing or two. To Tim McDonald, email delivery is the future of news for everybody, and the techniques being developed by TNAUK could lead the way.

NOTE: For more information about subscribing to TNAUK publications email info@tnauk.org.uk

[Section three ends.]



by Tamara Fletcher tamara@headstar.com

Online banking is often one of the first ways in which people start to gain confidence in using the internet for everyday transactions, but for those with visual impairment it has not been so easy.

In September 2000, the RNIB tested the accessibility of web sites of 17 well-known high street businesses, including four banks: Abbey National, Alliance and Leicester, HSBC and NatWest. Of these four, none passed all the basic tests set for them, and one (who was generously allowed to remain anonymous) did not pass any.

Last year even more extensive usability testing took place at six banks and a follow-up report, 'Accessible e-banking', was published in October 2001 by the RNIB with the British Banking Association, ahead of a conference in April.

The conference heard of a situation which is fast improving, but still with some way to go before internet banking becomes fully accessible. Joe Norburn, head of the web team that runs Natwest.com and its parent company's site Royal Bank of Scotland (http://www.rbs.co.uk), said he would not consider using an agency that had could not understand how to make web sites accessible, not least because of the obligations for accessible digital services implied by the Disability Discrimination Act.

He advised developers to incorporate accessibility from the start of a project as it is more difficult to retrofit an existing site and underlined the importance of user testing while addressing the misconception that to make a web site accessible is to make the user experience less compelling � saying that it is possible to push the boundaries of design while still complying with accessibility guidelines.

Abbey National recently relaunched its e-banking service (http://www.abbeynational.co.uk/ebanking_home.htm) and is currently working on a text only version of their site, which may be available later this year. A spokesman for the bank said: �RNIB had been quite verbal about our previous web site. At the end of January we relaunched it and are committed to further improvements. We sit in the office and use the Jaws browser with it so we�re confident with it.�

Nationwide (http://www.nationwide.co.uk) is also making progress. One employee at the building society told E-Access Bulletin: �We�re making our pages more accessible generally. Parts of the site are already compliant, for example banking, credit cards, investment and pensions, but the home page is still very inaccessible � so the front door hasn�t been addressed but the hallway has.�

The online banking parts of the site are due to be relaunched soon, and the bank says during the development process of the new site they have learned much more about accessibility issues and will continue work to improve it.

One bank customer and experienced internet user who has been in communication with the RNIB about accessibility problems is Ian Dawson, who has been totally blind since 17, and has accounts with Nationwide and NatWest. He says he lost his original registration with the NatWest web site through problems logging on, and hasn�t been able to reregister since.

�Each bank has different security processes - with Nationwide, the log on process is relatively straightforward. You have a customer number, choice of password and a pass number. With NatWest there�s a random element to it � you have a user number uniquely identifiable to you, then they ask for three letters from your password. Using a screen-reader, you have a limited time to do this but it also depends much on which screen-reader you use.�

The RNIB/British Banking Association report highlights a series of other key features of accessible banking:

NOTE: Next month we look at the accessibility of ATM cash machines. 'Accessible e-banking' is available from the BBA in print, audio and Braille formats for 80 pounds - email publications@bba.org.uk

[Section four ends.]



By John Wilson jwjw@onetel.net.uk

I have been using computers for over ten years now, but I well remember some of the frustrations and seeming impossibilities I faced when I first started. Nevertheless, having grasped the essentials of using keyboard shortcuts, screenreaders and Braille displays, a blind person can quite rapidly turn a frustrating metal box into a very helpful and life-enriching aid and companion.

There are special programs written for blind people designed to be easy to use from the keyboard only. But the reality is that, both at home and at work, visually impaired people need to learn to use the same programs as their sighted counterparts. For visually impaired people this means learning to use keyboard shortcuts. There can be considerable differences between programs in how easily this can be done, with some having few or no 'hot keys'. But the main problem for visually impaired people is often obtaining meaningful feedback to check you have achieved your goal, not using the keyboard or remembering the hot keys.

Fortunately most Windows-based programs come with a enough keyboard shortcuts and a good screenreader will let you know if you have succeeded. But still, for the beginner, learning how to use some of these massive programs - such as the MS Word processor, the Sound Forge audio system, or Nero-Burner CD copying software - can be a daunting prospect.

This is where good quality training or good text and tape tutorials tailored specifically to the needs of visually impaired users is crucial. With the best will in the world, a sighted trainer of sighted people using sighted methods often cannot grasp how a blind person must use alternative methods to achieving their goal and verify the results.

I remember the difficulties I had years ago learning to use the DOS DataEase database manager with a sighted trainer alongside sighted colleagues. One problem the trainer had no answer for was the difficulty I had reading the tables the program produced. Once halfway down a page, the table's contents disassociated from their heading. I later discovered that DataEase reports can be created in a variety of formats, including one in line by line format, which meant reading and understanding the report file was much easier than in columns.

When using mainstream software such as Microsoft Word, Excel, WordPerfect, TextBridge Millennium, Sound Forge or the main web browsers, it is more important to learn the general shortcut keystrokes and hot keys embedded in Windows programs than learn the hot keys of your screenreader.

By becoming dependent on the special keystrokes of a particular screenreader, you could find yourself unable to operate a machine with a different screenreader on it. For example shortcuts such as Control + O to open a file, Control + P to print, Windows key + M to go to the desktop, Tab and Shift + Tab to move through web page elements, will work on most Microsoft software and packages following Windows conventions.

This said, it is useful to learn the keystroke shortcuts built into their screenreader where Windows does not have equivalents. For example, with the Window Eyes screenreader, Insert + S reveals the System Tray; with the JAWS screenreader, Shift + Insert + Down arrow tells you what has been highlighted; and with HAL, Control + 9 switches between column-reading and line-reading modes.

I would recommend the use of a modern Windows-based computer, together with a printer and print scanner, with a speech, Braille or magnification system, to anyone who has a need to read their own literature and a desire to be as independent as possible. They must be aware though, before they buy a computer, that it will require a considerable investment of their time and effort to become proficient, but the results will be well worthwhile.

NOTE: John Wilson is author of the 'From the keyboard' series of tutorials for visually impaired people. For more details call 0113 2575957 or visit:

[Section five ends.]


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Please send comments on coverage or leads to Dan Jellinek at: dan@headstar.com

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.]