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[Issue starts.]

* ISSUE 29, MAY 2002.


- Multimedia boost for Braille.
- Objections raised over e-voting trial. - Local government site receives access award. - Competition � win an e-book reader.
- Shopping by voice with the Freedom Network.

News in brief: Internet Society opens disability chapter; How to find accessible e-books; Accessible law.

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

Section three: On site
- St Dunstan�s (part one). The charity has been rehabilitating blind exservice people since the First World War. Dan Jellinek finds that many veterans are as keen to use the internet as new recruits.

Section four: A reader writes
- St Dunstan�s (part two): a soldier�s story. Mark Threadgold served 17 years in the Royal Corps of Signals until losing his sight in an accident. He tells how two years at St Dunstan�s have opened up new opportunities � and challenges.

Section five: Focus
- Speech technology: the voice web 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.]



Blind children should be taught Braille in a rich multimedia environment, an international group of experts concluded at a conference held in Copenhagen last month.

The symposium, entitled �Braille in the age of digitisation� (http://www.ibos.dk/braille), was convened to examine how digital technologies could be harnessed to reverse the declining use of Braille. According to a study by the US National Federation of the Blind, Braille literacy levels in both the US and UK have fallen from more than 50 per cent 40 years ago to less than 10 per cent now (http://www.nfb.org/braille/brustoc.htm).

RNIB vice chairman Kevin Carey, who representated the institute in Copenhagen, said the internet has an important role to play in stimulating the uptake of Braille. �One of the reasons that children are keen to read print is to gain access to what is forbidden, but Braille content is almost entirely prescribed, so they lose interest,� he said.

Delegates also passed a resolution to encourage Braille production houses to pool their resources to form a unified Braille research laboratory. The unified body, they said, should aim to develop affordable tools that can render internet content in both standard and advanced Braille grades. Carey said the common policy of encouraging people to learn the sophisticated grade two Braille irrespective of their needs has not helped: �Learning grade two is hard: blind people have enough problems anyway, and many will think - why add one more?�

The conference agreed, however, that the unified approach would have limits, and that specialist Braille notations needed for mathematics, music and engineering should continue to be produced by specialist production houses.


Objections have been raised about the inaccessibility of one of the electronic voting trials held alongside this month�s local council elections.

The Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions held a series of e-voting pilots in nine local authority areas in England - Bolton, Chester, Borough of Crewe and Nantwich, Liverpool, Newham, Sheffield, St Albans, Stratford upon Avon and Swindon. The trials included internet voting from home, voting kiosks and mobile text messaging.

In Sheffield, 36 per cent of those who voted did so electronically through the Sheffield e-Vote 2002 gateway (http://www.votesheffield.com). However Julian Scarlett, web design officer for the education department at Sheffield which was not involved in the pilot, told the international Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI � http://www.w3.org/WAI) email list this month: �Although I applaud the project [for] those who find traditional voting methods hard to access, I am dismayed at the accessibility of the site; no alt text, no table summaries, no natural language declaration for body text, no labels for form elements, absolute font sizes�.

The Sheffield trial was run with private sector partners BT and Election.com. Charel Aoun, technical director of Election.com, admitted that the web gateway used to access the online voting system wasn�t run through the standard accessibility checker, Bobby as there was no time. However, he told E-Access Bulletin that the voting engine itself was accessible. �The engine conforms with WAI guidelines up to level 3 � in this pilot we missed a couple of details but it definitely is level 2. The project was a pilot and we�ll take on board any glitches and work to improve them in future.�

Meanwhile disability organisation Scope (http://www.scope.org.uk) is calling for feedback on the accessibility of the postal ballot or e-voting pilots during the local elections for a report commissioned by the Electoral Commission. For a survey form or more information call 020 7619 7252/3 or email campaigns@scope.org.uk


IDeA Knowledge (http://www.idea.gov.uk/knowledge), a web portal on e-government in the UK developed by the local government Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA), is the first local government site to pass an audit for the RNIB �See It Right� web accessibility campaign. The central government portal UK Online (http://www.ukonline.gov.uk) has already qualified for an award.

The IDeA Knowledge site aims to share insights and practices with policy makers and practitioners in local government through workshops, toolkits, case studies and online communities. According to IDeA, the site now sets a standard for accessibility that local authorities should try to emulate.

Although IDeA cannot impose accessibility standards, it warns that local authorities cannot ignore them. �If they do they�re going to be in trouble: if some local authorities are seen to be coasting or doing badly while others are doing well, people will start asking questions,� an agency spokesperson told E-Access Bulletin.

According to the RNIB, the �See It Right� campaign is a major step forward because awards for web sites are based on an independent human audit, unlike software-based approaches like Bobby (http://www.cast.org/bobby), or World Wide Web Consortium guidelines, which provide a set of standards for accessibility, but no checks on compliance. To date, the RNIB has only audited a handful of sites, but expects to deal with a further 50 sites from across the private and public sectors in the next six months.

The RNIB says projects like the London-based Accessible and Personalised Local Authority Websites initiative (APLAWS - http://www.aplaws.org.uk) represent the next important step in making government web sites more accessible to visually impaired people. APLAWS is run by a consortium of councils developing a content management system that will standardise the way content is laid out and navigated on council web sites.


E-Access Bulletin is offering blind or visually impaired writers the chance to win the latest in e-book reading hardware and software.

First prize in our writing competition is a �Victor� e-book reader worth more than 300 pounds donated by VisuAide (http://www.visuaide.com). Victor reads a new kind of CD talking book which allows for fast, easy navigation (for a review see E-Access Bulletin, March 2002). Runners-up will each receive a set of 10 classic e-books on CD worth around 100 pounds. Winners will also be published in a future issue of the bulletin - now with 3,000 readers worldwide and translated into five languages!

Entries should be between 500 and 800 words long and address the theme "keeping in touch with technology". The topic could cover online relationships, the pace of technological change, how technology has changed your life, or imagining what life could be like in the future.

The closing date is Friday 26 July 2002 and the results will be announced in our August issue. Please send entries to competition organiser Phil Cain on phil@headstar.com or call him on 01273 231 291 with any queries.


A voice-activated shopping centre has been added to the services offered by Freedom Network (http://www.freedombox.info), a USbased internet portal aimed at people unable to use graphical user interfaces.

Online book shop Amazon (http://www.amazon.com) is among retailers allowing Freedom Network subscribers to search, register and search their sites using their voices. Subscribers will also be able to receive sample audio tracks and customer reviews.

In a statement Freedom Network chief executive Mike Calvo, himself blind, said: "The launch is an important first step in our efforts to bring the products and services of our many online retailers to the blind and disabled in an environment where accessibility is guaranteed."


* SOCIETY CONNECTIONS: The Internet Society, the non-profit,

international membership organisation that champions and helps develop the internet, is forming a new chapter devoted to disabilities. Membership is free. Those interested should join the society (which is also free) at http://www.isoc.org and then email Michael Burks on mburks952@worldnet.att.net saying you wish to join the disabilities chapter.

* ELECTRONIC BROWSING: �Finding e-books on the internet�, a

new book from blind author and E-Access Bulletin reader Anna Dresner, describes how to obtain both free and paid-for books from many and various web sites:

* LEGAL ADVICE: The award-winning �law on the web� online

legal practice has adopted Web Standards Project guidelines on access to legal and advice information on the internet (http://www.webstandards.org.uk). Feedback on the site from people with visual impairments is welcomed:

[Section one ends.]


* SCALE MODELS: In our last two issues, accessible online mapping

has been a topic of discussion in the Inbox. John Gardner, director of the Science Access Project at Oregon State University, says he was particularly interested in last month�s note from Dave Pawson from the RNIB about scalable vector graphics (SVG - http://www.w3.org/Graphics/SVG).

Gardner writes: �My group is developing an extension to the Open Source SVG browser and guidelines that make SVG universally usable for all graphical information, including maps. We've published several papers on this project, such as the one at: http://www.csun.edu/cod/conf2001/proceedings/0103gardner.html

He also cites a Canadian cartographic project making accessible SVG maps, at:

* INTERNATIONAL SITUATION: Larry Johnson from Texas

writes: �The US National Library Service (NLS) maintains a web site with listings for books in Braille and recorded from organisations in the US, Canada and Great Britain. But when I asked my regional library for the blind in Austin, Texas for their assistance in borrowing a book from the UK National Library for the Blind, they told me they have no arrangements for doing so.

�I was shocked. Why are these listings on the NLS website? They replied that the website was also for the use of sighted librarians, and that these folks might have special access or arrangements with those lending organisations. Frankly, this makes little sense to me. Is there a way for a blind person in the US to borrow books from Braille libraries in the UK?� [Responses to inbox@headstar.com]

* WARNING SIGNAL: Our regular reader and correspondent David

Porter writes in to ask for advice on behalf of a friend of his who is registered blind. �Since she has retinitis pigmentosa, she has tunnel vision. As the condition develops, the tunnel will become narrower. When shopping in the supermarket, no matter how carefully she uses the shopping trolley, she bumps into other people.

�I wonder if any reader knows of a gadget (perhaps a battery operated unit with flashing light, with a bleeper - although this could alert potential thieves to her disability) or maybe an adaptation of the gadgets now built into cars, which warns drivers when they are moving too close to another vehicle, or other obstruction. If you've never seen one of these, they emit rapid bleeps, which increase in volume as the "closing distance" decreases - warning the driver to stop.

�My friend is also a keen swimmer but, because of her restricted view, frequently does not see other swimmers until she has bumped into them. I think electronic warnings would not cope well with water - any suggestions for this problem as well?� [Responses to inbox@headstar.com]

* UNIFIED MATHEMATICS: Susan Jolly from Los Alamos, New

Mexico, writes: �I am a sighted computational scientist in the US with an interest in Braille mathematics, and ran across your recent informative article on the subject (see issue 25, January 2002).

�What is actually happening regarding a possible Braille unification is that there is a proposal to make a new Braille code for maths that would be very similar to the current UK one and completely unlike the Nemeth code used here in the States. (These two codes are so different there is no way to merge them or come up with a compromise). This proposal has been designed mainly by non-technical persons. Naturally, the technical Braille readers here have very negative views about simply discarding what they feel to be a better code than the one used in the UK.

�I would love to correspond with someone who actually uses the UK Braille maths code in order to learn their opinion on the proposed 'unification' which is supposed to be voted on next year.� [Responses to inbox@headstar.com]

[Section two ends.]



by Dan Jellinek dan@headstar.com

The St Dunstan�s charity for blind ex-servicepeople (http://www.st-dunstans.org.uk) was founded in 1915 by the newspaper proprietor Sir Arthur Pearson, who was himself blind. Pearson wanted to support the many men and women being blinded in the First World War, often by mustard gas. As time has passed and major conflicts become less frequent, the organisation�s remit has been expanded to cover not just injuries suffered in active service but any sight problems suffered by ex-servicepeople and their families, including those resulting from old age.

There are now some 753 �St Dunstaners�, and the charity helps a further 500 spouses and a similar number of widows and widowers. It also operates the Diana Gubbay Trust for the benefit of men and women in the emergency services who become blind.

The charity�s headquarters is in London but its main centre for rehabilitation work, including computer training, is in Ovingdean, perched atop imposing white cliffs on the Sussex coast near Brighton.

Initial training in independent living including access to computers and other technologies where relevant usually takes place during residential courses at Ovingdean. Follow-up work takes place in people�s homes (which are often rented from or part-funded by St Dunstan�s), and further assistance can include loans for computer equipment.

The general manager at Ovingdean is Dick Lake, who joined last year following 35 years in the Navy as head of the service�s social work department. He is in no doubt of the value and importance of modern technologies for the sort of rehabilitation work that is central to people who are blinded or become visually impaired.

�Computers and associated technologies represent a quantum leap for blind people in terms of their quality of life and access to employment. In the past people had to learn Braille or Moon, whereas now they can stick with what they know using a computer keyboard,� Lake says.

�For older people in particular who are newly visually impaired, learning a new system like Braille is going to be hard and their touch sensitivity may have deteriorated so technology is of major importance.�

The Ovingdean centre is a striking building designed in the 1930s to resemble an aeroplane, with a high glass front echoing a cockpit and symmetrical wings that follow a standard lay-out on each floor to make it easy for people with visual impairment to find their way around.

The technology training centre is in a more modern annexe to the building and features around a dozen computers with large screens, plus special printers, scanners and a selection of access software and hardware including screen reader and screen magnification software. One of the machines has a CCTV camera linked to it so people can magnify documents and view them as part of a split-screen display controlled by a foot pedal.

Technology trainer Janis Sharp says that over the past two years interest among the older residents and visitors to Ovingdean has grown rapidly. �At first they said it was for the youngsters but as the internet continued to receive massive media exposure, and everything they came across has a �www� address linked with it they gradually started to come in and ask what it was all about.�

People using the machines now range from an old soldier with an eyepatch who slowly types out poems with his index finger, to people accessing machines remotely from as far afield as Ireland.

St Dunstaners living in the community have access to a telephone support service for help with computers and peripherals, and Sharp says it is usually possible to assist people fairly quickly over the phone since they can listen in to speech messages that the computer might be outputting. �We had one call recently about a jammed printer that turned out to be caused by creases in an envelope. The next day the St Dunstaner asked his housekeeper to iron all his envelopes.�

There is a swashbuckling feel to much of the activity around St Dunstan�s, as one might expect from an organisation working with exservicepeople including special forces personnel. St Dunstaners regularly run in marathons, break motorbike speed records using radio guidance, ride horses, ski and enter yacht races. Now to these acts of derring-do a more sedentary but no less adventurous computer club has been added which meets twice a year to build machines, discuss the latest technologies and exchange tips.

Technology training can also be the key for ex-servicepeople who lose their sight to find fulfilling new employment. �Not as many people find employment as we�d like, as it is hard to get people back into the workplace�, says Lesley Styche, head of rehabilitation and training at St Dunstan�s. �But there are St Dunstaners working as everything from accountants to hydrotherapists and even at the BBC following computer courses.�

[Section three ends.]


* Mark Threadgold spent 17 years in the Royal Corps of Signals,

which is responsible for the British Army�s global communications network, before losing his sight two years ago after receiving a severe head injury. He was subsequently helped in his rehabilitation by the St Dunstan�s organisation for visually impaired ex-servicepeople (see previous section, this issue) and writes here on his experiences in learning how to work with computers once more.


I was extremely lucky to be taken into the family of St Dunstan�s on leaving hospital. This was the start of a year of excellent training in mobility, independent living skills such as cooking, and computer use.

As I had been an electronics engineer prior to losing my sight, part of my job involved maintenance and repair of desktop PCs. It was also

something I tried to keep up to date outside work as a hobby. After my injury I presumed my use of the computer had come to an end. My introduction to screen-readers was, therefore, an absolute revelation!

The first stage in the relearning process was to master touch-typing. After four or five days, and one very patient teacher, I had the basics sorted out. Plenty of practice saw me racing round the keyboard with far more confidence than competence! My total lack of sight meant this device was to become my only method of both control and data input.

Having developed enough confidence to go a little further I had my own computer brought up to St Dunstan�s. The HAL screen reader from Dolphin Computer Access
(http://www.dolphinuk.co.uk/products/hal.htm) was installed for me so with this set up in my room I could practice all night if I so wished. Getting to grips with the different applications was the next logical step. Microsoft Word 97 had previously been my choice of word processor and this is where we started. Finding commands through the drop down menus quickly became a chore. Shortcut keys were the faster option, if only I could remember them all. While attempting to find a list of these in the help file I was told they had already been printed off. As it was sixteen pages of A4 long I decided that maybe shortcut keys were not for me and resigned myself to using the drop down menus.

I believe my previous experience with the programs helped a lot. As I could remember the various dialogue boxes and their layout it made explaining them to me simpler. This theory was reinforced when I was asked a question by another St Dunstaner, who was almost two generations my senior and had never previously seen computers. At the dinner table he asked, "What is the cursor?" I thought about this for quite some time! How on earth do you describe what a cursor is to someone who has never seen one? We had a hilarious discussion about the little flashing capital �I� that shows you where your typing is going to appear. Getting across that this moved by itself each time you pressed a key must have made it sound like black magic. I spent the next week praying that nobody would introduce him to the mouse!

Other applications came along quickly. I would experiment with my own computer in the evenings and ask how to fix it the following day! They say you learn by your mistakes, and I made plenty of learning opportunities. The various applications now required different devices to work. Setting up the printer and modem were simple enough. The internal telephone system did not like being dialled out through with the standard modem so I had my mobile phone soft modem installed. With this I got my web account settings put back in and started using email again. I am a huge fan of the internet and was now in touch with some of my friends again using it. Utilities such as the web search tool Webferret (http://www.zdnet.com/ferret) and the file compressor Winzip (http://www.winzip.com) were re-installed and learned again. Customising desktop settings and making up shortcut keys to launch programs was all refreshed.

One major leap in independence I found was through text reading software that works with a scanner to read printed text. After being introduced to the Cicero application, again from Dolphin Computer Access (http://www.dolphinuk.co.uk/products/cicero.htm), I could read my post simply and privately with the press of a single key. This did, of course, assume you had the text facing downwards on the scanner! I lost count of the times I was told the page on the scanner was blank. This led to a simple method of marking papers by turning down the top left corner of the page as I took it out of the envelope. I still use this technique with documents I print or receive through the post.

With my background in engineering my thoughts now turned to future employment. After a long search a local IT training company was found, and after a visit to introduce them to the screen reader and present myself as blind but mostly sane, they agreed to take me on a course. I am now midway through a Microsoft Certified System Engineer (MCSE) course with them for networking with Windows 2000.

This is proving very interesting as well as challenging. The main challenge is not with the computers, but with the course textual information. We all forgot I couldn't read the two inch thick books that form the course material! If the staff of St Dunstans hadn't done such a good job with the early training I would not have this problem now!

[Section four ends.]



By Judith Markowitz judith@jmarkowitz.com

Speech-processing professionals often point to the 'voice web' as the key to achieving the goal of developing content that is accessible anytime, anywhere and on any device.

The voice web has been defined in various ways. At its core, it possible to access content on the internet by voice, with speech input and output providing part or all of the human interface. The channel can be wired, but is expected to be primarily wireless, and voice web input devices extend from standard telephones to future generations of multi-purpose, internet-enabled devices.

Excitement about the voice web is predicated on continued strong growth of the internet, and global wireless deployments, and of the bonding of those two technologies. The Gartner Group, for example, has projected that the number of mobile phones deployed worldwide will exceed one billion before 2005 and has indicated that it expects 80 per cent of new handheld devices will feature some form of internet connection.

Another force driving the voice web is the formation of standards, most importantly VoiceXML. This standard sets out the grammar that will be used in interpreting speech and the XML extensions needed to create the voice web applications of today. VoiceXML's power lies in its sponsorship by the World Wide Web Consortium (http://www.w3.org) and the widespread commitment from speech technology companies, non- government and industry.

The VoiceXML Forum (http://www.voicexml.org), an industry organisation founded by AT&T, IBM, Lucent and Motorola, is working on extensions to the standard designed to support the next generation of input devices. It is not alone. In October 2001, Microsoft, Cisco, Comverse, Intel, Philips and speech technology specialist SpeechWorks announced the Speech Applications Language Tags initiative (SALT - http://www.saltforum.org). SALT will formulate XML extensions for incorporating speech into future generations of input devices capable of true multi-modal communication.

All of this work is designed to move the industry and the marketplace closer to anytime, anywhere, any device capabilities. This goal is achievable eventually, although voice web applications that are moving into the mainstream today are still at the earliest stage of evolution. They are highly constrained in the content which can be accessed, because interaction is menu oriented, designed primarily for standard telephones and often operating in only one language.

Having said that, consumers can already use voice portals to access weather information, find the nearest Starbucks or hear what is playing at local cinemas. Unified messaging systems provide mobile professionals and others with a single access point for voicemail, email and fax. Corporate customer relationship management (CRM) systems, such as the one deployed by car maintenance company JiffyLube (http://www.jiffylube.com), is starting to offer customers appointment scheduling and service alerts. Voice application networks within enterprises give sales reps and other mobile professionals access to a combination of the web and corporate data sources, including unified messaging and access to customer data.

Many first-stage voice web applications of today look beyond standard telephones. In warehouses and factories, speech input/output is achieved through wearable devices and radio-frequency transmission. The voice application network technology has already extended the reach of those systems to support just-in-time and ecommerce ordering systems. In-vehicle systems, such as the OnStar Virtual Advisor (http://www.onstar.com), embedded far-field microphones to provide many of the same services available from voice portals and voice application networks.

Distributed speech technology is enabling next-generation PDAs (personal digital assistants), such as Compaq's iPaq, to access a range of services from the voice web, including dictation and unified messaging. Compact voice biometrics are being embedded into toys and cell phones. They are also being put onto smart-cards for point-ofsale speaker authentication.

The voice web is not the only category of application moving the industry closer to anytime, anywhere, any device access. The ability to use advanced dictation technology in combination with information retrieval tools, and sometimes with text-independent speaker identification, has made it possible to add audio and audiovisual sources (news broadcasts, calls to a call centre, movies) to the content that can be mined for information. This constellation of technologies is called audio-mining or audio-indexing. Prior to its deployment, indexing of audio sources required a great deal of time-consuming manual labour.

Today, it is possible to index, search and retrieve information from large databases of audio and audiovisual sources in near real time. For example, it would be possible to index and search yesterday's CNN broadcasts for questions, such as "What did George W Bush say about Saddam Hussein?" It is also possible for a call centre supervisor to search last month's calls for all comments about a specific product.

Many of the advances and trends described above are available commercially by virtue of advances in the computing and communications infrastructures. The very existence of the voice web, like its name, is derived from the success of the internet. The Pentium III processor was dubbed "the ASR chip" because its instructions set supports the kinds of operations needed for advanced ASR (automated speech recognition). In telecommunications, 2.5G and 3G (third generation) systems promise support for advanced multi-modal devices. The recent economic downturn has delayed, but not stopped, this infrastructure evolution.

Sometimes speech acts as an enabling technology. One of the best examples of this effect is in-vehicle systems. There may still be discussions about whether speech should be a cornerstone of telematics, but those discussions are not being held in legislative bodies. One by one, legislators are climbing on the hands-free bandwagon.

Their actions have heightened the value of speech as an enabler of the

office-in-the-car. The rapid "miniaturisation" of mobile phones and other handheld devices has spawned add-on tools such as finger-worn pointing tools. None of these tools are as flexible as talking, making speech an enabling technology for next-generation handheld devices.

NOTE: This is the second part of an article that first appeared in Speech Technology Magazine
(http://www.speechtek.com/st.mag/index.shtml), a US-based publication. The first part was published in our last issue, and covered topics including text-to-speech technology; voice-based biometrics; and microphone technology. Judith Markowitz (http://www.jmarkowitz.com) is the associate editor of the magazine and is a leading independent analyst in the speech technology and voice biometric fields.

[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.]