The email newsletter on
technology issues for people
with visual impairment.
Bulletin web site (including archive):

Sponsored by the Royal National Institute of the Blind <http://www.rnib.org.uk>
and the National Library for the Blind

Please forward this bulletin to friends or colleagues so they can subscribe by
emailing <mailto:eab-subs@headstar.com> full details at the end of the bulletin. The more subscribers we have,
the better our free service can become!

NOTE: As a navigation aid for screen readers, all headings begin with an asterisk and end with a full stop. All items are also now numbered in the contents and throughout the issue, with numbers appearing immediately after the asterisks. Please let us know if there is anything else we can do to make navigation easier.

[Issue starts.]



Section one: News.

  1. Government 'losing momentum on disability' - no vote this parliamentary session.
  2. Landmark settlement for e-voters - Washington rethink on technology.
  3. And the winner is . . . - web awards embrace accessibility.
  4. Search the web by email - new Google services.
  5. A medal for Bill Gates - Microsoft founder wins Canadian award.
  6. 'Talking Link' postpones launch - funding hiccup slows down project.

News in brief: 7: Web Pulse � portable browser launch; 8: Electronic assistance � technology guide for the elderly; 9: Living free �London exhibition.

Section two: 'The Inbox' - Readers' forum. - 10: Flash features; 11: Design bombshell.

12: Section three: Opinion - web design. - Out of the ghetto: is text the only way to make electronic media accessible to visually impaired people? Kevin Carey argues for a true multimedia approach.

13: Section four: Focus - student services. - Access to learning: many new students who are visually impaired face the hurdle of finding help, advice and extra equipment. Tamara Fletcher reports.

14: Section five: Writing competition � runner up. Love grows over the wires, by Estelita Clayton.

[Contents ends.]



A government bill that would bring discrimination law more closely in line with legislation covering race, gender and religion looks set to be sidelined, E-Access Bulletin has learned.

According to the RNIB, the bill was designed to implement recommendations made by the Department of Work and Pensions Disability Rights Task Force (http://www.disability.gov.uk/drtf) and was expected in the Commons during the new parliamentary session. However, Caroline Ellis of the RNIB said this is now highly unlikely and the RNIB and Disability Rights Commission will now lobby sympathetic MPs to sponsor a Private Members Bill.

�When they�re not moving on these issues swiftly, the questions has to be � why not?� she said. �It�s a big blow. It looks like the government is losing momentum on disability.�

The government set up the Disability Rights Task Force in 1997 to advise on how to deliver its election pledges to the disabled, and initially appeared to support its conclusions (http://www.disability.gov.uk/drtf/towards_inclusion).

Accordingly, the new bill was expected to strengthen the Disability Discrimination Act and Special Educational Needs and Disability Act, both of which have been criticised by the RNIB and the Disability Rights Commission (http://fastlink.headstar.com/drc).

However, these plans now appear to have been sidelined. And concern over the slow progress on disability legislation has been heightened by government plans to replace the Disability Rights Commission with a single watchdog for all anti-discrimination laws (see Issue 30, June 2002).


The Council of the District of Columbia (http://www.dc.gov), the local authority which runs the US capital Washington DC, has settled a legal dispute with disability campaigners by agreeing to install accessible voting equipment in all its polling stations by 2004.

The settlement (http://www.aapddc.
org/docs/landmarksettledcvotemach.html) ends a landmark legal action which claimed that plans for new electronic voting machines violated the Disabilities Act of 1990.

The local authority had planned to introduce an optical vote-counting system that required voters to mark ballot papers with a pencil. However, a coalition that included the American Association of People with Disabilities (http://www.aapd-dc.org) and the Disability Rights Council of Greater Washington argued that the equipment prevented people with impaired vision and motor skills from voting in secrecy.

In each polling station the authorities will now provide a voting machine with both audio and touch-screen capability. For a visually impaired person, the machines produce an audio reading of the ballot through headphones. Voters select a candidate using arrow keys identified in Braille, while the touch-screen can be accessed with any part of the hand or a mouth stick. Voters can also spell the names of candidates by saying letters out loud.

The new machines will be demonstrated in local elections this autumn, but will not be used to cast actual votes until 2004.


Accessible web sites are being recognised for the first time this year at the annual Interactive Entertainment Awards of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA - http://www.bafta.org).

The judges will present the award to entertainment or information sites which best exemplify a 'design for all' approach.

BAFTA awards administrator Duncan Best said that in future the accessibility criterion might be applied to all entries into the competition. At present, however, media such as digital television, mobile phones and text messaging cannot be judged on this basis. "The technology is not going to be here for the next year and a half," Best said.

RNIB campaigns officer Julie Howell, one of the award's judges, said: "RNIB hopes BAFTA will incorporate accessibility into essential judging criteria for every category in 2003. Accessibility effects everyone at some time, so the issue should be regarded as mainstream."

For details of the four sites which have been nominated for the accessibility award - the UK Audio Network; I-Map; Foodlink; and Ouch! � see:


A service allowing people to use highly accessible text email to search the web using the popular search engine 'Google' has had nearly 60,000 users in the five months since its launch.

The bulk of those using the service are likely to have done so because the smaller connection time it requires means searching is cheaper or because it enables them to search easily using handheld devices.

However, the service has found favour among blind people, who find their screen readers work better with text email than the Google web page.

One frequent user told E-Access Bulletin, "I have used it quite a lot, but then I also find the web page quite easy to use also." He did however find fault with the system because it only returns up to about 20 matches.

The service is run by web software firm Cape Clear (http://www.capeclear.com). To use it, send a query in the subject heading of an email to:


Micorsoft founder Bill Gates was awarded a Louis Braille Gold Medal in Toronto last month in recognition of Microsoft Canada's support for a digital library system developed by the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB - http://www.cnib.ca/library). Development will begin on the system in October, and it is hoped to be fully functional within a year.

The project includes development of a Children's Discovery Portal � an online community for visually impaired children consisting of the CNIB library, accessible games, a community area and a news section. Using audio and voice technology, children will be able to search the library database and download materials, play games and chat with other visually impaired and sighted children.

Independent accessibility consultant Joe Clark, who attended the presentation, said: �The award was deserved, but Bill Gates shouldn't have been the recipient; it should have been the Microsoft accessibility group.

"Interestingly though, Bill did commit to spending the rest of his career advancing the needs of blind people. Perhaps we should hold him to that?�


Talking Link, a project developing technology for accessible internet services including innovative audio and search capabilities (see EAccess Bulletin, March 2002), has postponed its September launch due to lack of funds.

The project's Lanacashire-based former owner, the Link Group, went into voluntary liquidation in August. A new company formed to take on the work, Deck12, remains confident in the strength of its portal technology and is continuing to seek new funding. It is also keen to begin development work on an accessible games project.

�The idea is to develop accessible games that are also interesting to � for want of a better word � 'ordinary' people,� said Deck12 spokesman Richard Buchanan. �But in total, we�ve invested a quarter of a million pounds of our own money in the technology and we need financial backing if we are to move forward."

The company has formed a partnership with Disability World (http://www.disabilityworld.com), a provider of online guides and healthcare information for the disabled.


*7: WEB PULSE: Pulse Data is set to launch a portable web browser,

'KeyWeb', which will be available as a hardware or software upgrade to the New Zealand company's BrailleNote and VoiceNote portable notetaker products. The browser is designed to give visually impaired people access to the internet without having to use a computer and screen reader, and can be used to access search engines and fill in online forms:

*8: ELECTRONIC ASSISTANCE: The Centre for Accessible

Environments is to launch a �Specifiers guide on electronic assistive technology in the home for older and disabled people,� including profiles of successful commercially available �smart� products. Aimed at home improvement agencies, health professionals, local authority housing departments and architects, the publication is expected on 25 November:

*9: LIVING FREE: More than 150 manufacturers, healthcare

specialists, architects and surveyors will be attending the Independent Living London Show in Wembley on 18 and 19 September. The show, which is free to visitors, will also offer seminars on consumer issues and sports and fitness:

[Section one ends.]


* FLASH FEATURES: In our last issue, Kate Page of English

Nature asked if pop-up menus created using web animation software Macromedia Fireworks are accessible using JAWS 4.0. Robin Christopherson of AbilityNet replies: �I don't think JAWS will work with Fireworks at all. My understanding is that the latest version of JAWS, 4.5, works well with presentations created using the latest version of Flash - Flash MX - but not with previous versions.

�I don't believe that Fireworks, or even the latest version Fireworks MX, offers the same accessibility and there's no mention of it doing so on their website at http://www.macromedia.com, where they do talk at length about what Flash MX can offer.�

* DESIGN BOMBSHELL: Brian Payne, an accessibility trainer and

creator of Brailtalk, a way for sighted people to communicate in Braille (http://www.brailletalk.btinternet.co.uk), writes in with some comments on our story on a digital speech and voice solution to television programme guides (see �Open vista for digital television�, Story 3, E-Access Bulletin, August 2002).

�Being totally without eyesight myself, I was interested in this project, but the implications go far beyond television. I have long hoped that someone would develop a �common box� for analysing digital displays on such equipment as treadmills and other gymnasium devices, digital radios, fridge-freezers, other household items and, of course, television.

�Manufacturers continue to develop flat, smooth touch pads for those with sight to access numbers, letters and instructions. I am assured by others that such pads do not in any sense make the final products more beautiful in their appearance, so this gives me a small hope that such things will be dropped one day in acknowledgment of those who cannot read them.

�Cynically, however, I have to admit that I am probably wrong because, vision being our most powerful sense, it follows logically that most things will be developed with the eye in mind.�

[Section two ends].



by Kevin Carey humanity@atlas.co.uk

The RNIB's campaign for good web design recently hosted a debate in London on web accessibility and usability. I wasn't there, but I understand that the assembled panel of 'experts' were split over the question as to whether a site can be designed to meet all needs or whether blind and visually impaired people need a place of their own, a text ghetto.

It seems from the outside that these experts, like most web designers, know a heap about what they do themselves, but nothing about the market for which they are supposed to be doing it. Of those who could be registered legally blind in the United Kingdom, only a fraction - certainly less than ten per cent - totally rely on braille or audio and have no residual vision. And that is quite apart from those with vision better than 6/60 who are classified as partially sighted.

All of these people - the vast majority of the RNIB client base - need an environment in which text, audio and yes, pictures, are mutually supportive. So are we to stick with "the text, the whole text and nothing but the text" or go for a new slogan: "Multimedia must be multimodal"?

I suggest the latter. When people with standard sight and hearing sit in front of a television they don't choose a primary receptive medium, turning off either the sound or the picture, so why should people with poor vision be any different?

On the other hand they might find, on occasion, that they want text so large that they shift the picture off the screen, or conversely, they might be grateful for a graph which shows a broad trend, saving them acres of technical text.

Furthermore, at the root of this controversy there is one massive fallacy: that hypertext is just a minor digital variant on analogue text. The basic concepts behind hypertext are not new � indeed it could be argued that they were developed as far back as the 1690s by Gottfried Leibniz, one of the first thinkers to conceive of a perfect language which obeyed logical principles and in which sentences were conceptually interlinked. It is staggering, therefore, that most contemporary web designers and users don't understand what it is, and still, for example, array options in trees and menus. This approach is anathema to the basic concept of hypertext, which is that one item can have a wide variety of attributes.

It is with this in mind that I advocate building web sites using the plasticity of hypertext to allow blind and visually impaired people to choose what they want instead of shunting them off into an informational and psychological ghetto.

If you want to see how useless this ghetto strategy can be you only have to try to read the BBC Home Page with a screen reader. Last time I looked it had 103 live links, more than half of which had to be trawled through before I reached the links for the main channels. It's difficult to beat a good top line legend to help you jump around a page and this is much better for people with poor vision than shunting them off into a world of black and white.

On top of the ridiculous architectural metaphor of web 'sites' and the printing metaphor of 'pages' we now have the even sillier 'one size fits all' proposition.

The whole point about the web and its rendering in digital technologies is that there isn't one size but only, in the first instance, the author's preferred rendering. Indeed, splitting style from content and using a browser is a quintessential exercise in user preferenced rendering, so what is this debate about?

Not for the first time, it is really a power game between liberals and authoritarians, between those who make their living by telling people what to do and those who make their living by making it possible for people to do things. I know which side I'm on.

[Section three ends.]



by Tamara Fletcher tamara@headstar.com

Along with all the other concerns of a newly-enrolled student, visually impaired people entering university must also ensure they have the technical and personal support they need.

To assist them, a network of 34 specialist access centres has been established across the country. These offer independent assessment for students wanting to apply for the disabled students allowance (DSA) which helps pay for training and assistive technologies needed to complete their studies.

The DSA can total up to 4,300 pounds as an assistive hardware and software allowance over the duration of a course, but this is largely dependent on the assessment report drawn up by the access centres and sent to the local education authority. The authority will then either fund the recommended assistance themselves or issue funding direct to the individual if they are eligible.

More than 1,250 visually impaired students entered university in the last academic year.

Maxine Kemp, administrator at the National Federation of Access Centres (NFAC - http://www.nfac.org.uk) says: �When a student applies to university and indicates they have a disability, the admissions department will inform the disability service and we would then invite them to their local centre and if necessary, apply for the DSA for them.�

The centres assess the needs of each individual, covering everything from the equipment a student will need to technology training and personal support. The centres undertake 75 per cent of all disability assessments in England and Wales. The remaining 25 per cent are assessed by private organisations.

Sussex University is one example of an institution with an access centre set up on campus. The centre here was established with funding set up in memory of Sally Marriott, the University's former deputy personnel manager who dedicated much of her career to helping students with disabilities.

In 2000 a new Visual Impairment Unit was established at Sussex with funding from the University and the Blatchington Court Trust (http://freespace.virgin.net/blatchington.court), a local charity promoting education and employment for visually impaired young people in Sussex. Last year the unit assessed 23 visually impaired students from all over the country who were looking to attend a university in the South.

The centre's assessor Argie Labib, who is himself visually impaired, said the assessments help different people in different ways. �Nearly all visually impaired students work with computers and we can recommend things for their studies. Some are not aware of what�s available and we have access to all the latest technology and carry out research to find out what works with what and what doesn�t work.�

One student who has been helped by an access centre is Saqib Shaikh, who lost his sight when he was seven years old and is in his second year at Essex university studying as an undergraduate in Computer Science. The Middlesex access centre carried out his initial assessment and sent it to the disability support unit in Essex University who signed and verified it and helped him in many ways.

�Our disability coordinator, while she has little money to spend on disability, is very helpful and will always try to do her best to get the right things done. She listens to what I want, and tries to provide it, and there's no bureaucracy and red tape to get through,� says Shaikh.

�Being a computer scientist, I just told them what I needed, and they agreed. They also helped me interview potential readers, and a nonacademic helper for laundry, shopping and so on. They liaised with the Computer Science department to make them aware of the situation. They help by sorting out applying for DSA - the university pays and then claims it back from the local education authority.�

Shaikh uses scanning software to read books and letters, a note taker for making notes and a four-track tape recorder for listening to taped text books. He relies on his computer for work, internet research and communicating by email. �I couldn't exist without it,� he says.

[Section four ends.]


The following story by Estelita Clayton has won second place in our competition for creative writing on the topic 'keeping in touch with technology' (the first prize story, by Neill McBride, was published in our last issue). The other runners-up were Marvin Atkins; Husna Begum; Amiyo Biswas; Peter Davey; Billie Jean Keith; Patricia Livingstone; Dave Reynolds; and Jerry Weichbrodt, each of whom will receive a set of classic e-books on CD.


by Estelita Clayton

My story started over 40 years ago when, at the age of 18 months old, I lost my sight.

Living in the Philippines and going through school was very difficult with no technology aids to help me cope with my studies, but I successfully graduated and earned a college degree in teaching. With the help of generous people I was able to get a job as a schoolteacher by teaching Braille to blind children.

Later on I got married and my husband, who was also blind, took me to live in Canada, where the way of living was different. There I learnt how to use a computer with an early voice synthesis machine called DECtalk (http://www.fonix.com/products/dectalk) and JAWS software. As a first timer, I found my computer amazing as it can do wonders. It fired my interest to learn more and enjoy finding new things that I could do.

After a short time, I lost my husband. I was left alone, and having to rely on a few friends to help me when they could, I was very lonely. I had my computer to use to while away the time. I started working on correspondence courses from Hadley School for the Blind (http://www.hadley-school.org). The tutors were very helpful.

Then I ventured out on to the internet and found it interesting. I made internet friends to chat with till I found a pen pal from thousands of miles away in the UK to exchange email with. With his help online I learned more how to navigate around the web and found many new things to do with computers.

Meanwhile, I decided to take a year long course at college. By this time, I had progressed from the desktop to a laptop, which gave me more freedom and confidence to go through college. My pen pal was still there online to help me with my computer related problems and to teach me some of my course's assignments. I called him my 'techie guy'. By the time I was halfway to finish my course, we realised we were falling in love with each other and decided to meet after I finished the school. When the school was over I had passed the course with excellent grades. The long awaited time for me to meet my techie guy was over and soon I was on my way to meet him.

By September 2001 we were married and enjoying our life together and learning more about computers. My guy is sighted so he has learnt how to use all types of different programs with Access Technology and then teaches me how to do it. I continued with the Hadley courses and one of the courses I took recently was Introduction to Personal Computer, which I earned excellent grade of A+. So I am learning more each day.

Technology has helped to change my life for the better, without it my life would have been very different. I can only imagine life will get even better in the future for the visually impaired and the deafblind.

[Section five ends.]


To subscribe to this free monthly bulletin, e-mail eab-subs@headstar.com with 'subscribe eab' in the subject header. You can list other email addresses to subscribe in the body of the message. Please encourage all your colleagues to sign up!

To unsubscribe at any time, put 'unsubscribe eab' in the subject header.

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.]