+++E-Access Bulletin.- Issue 40, April 2003.

Technology news for people with vision impairment (http://www.e-accessibility.com ).

Sponsored by RNIB (http://www.rnib.org.uk ) and National Library for the Blind (http://www.nlbuk.org ).

NOTE: Please forward this free bulletin to others (subscription details at the end). We conform to the accessible Text Email Newsletter (TEN) Standard. For example, all items are numbered. For details see: http://www.headstar.com/ten

++Section One: News.



A breakthrough in screen reader technology could soon allow vision impaired people to access 'thin client' computer terminals, the low-memory networked machines which until now have proved incompatible with special access technologies, E-Access Bulletin has learned.

Many large organisations are installing 'thin client' networks, where almost all information and software applications sits on a central server. The 'thin' machines on users' desktops are little more than keyboards and screens, which call out information and software as needed, enhancing security and cutting costs.

However, the majority of access technology software relies on a fully functioning desktop computer and will not function on a 'thin client' terminal. This led the RNIB to warn last year the phenomenon was in danger of setting the cause of accessibility back ten to 15 years (see E-Access Bulletin, issue 37, January 2003).

The breakthrough happened at a meeting between assistive technology developer GW Micro and representatives of the RNIB at the March international access technology conference 'CSUN' (http://www.csun.edu/cod/conf ). At the meeting, GW Micro was able to demonstrate a fully functioning prototype of its Window-Eyes screen reader on a computer terminal running thin client software from Citrix, E-Access Bulletin has learned.

"This is a significant development. There was no glimpse of a screen reader that was compatible with this technology before CSUN," said Ruth Loebl of the RNIB technology department. According to Loebl, other assistive technology developers such as Freedom Scientific, maker of the popular JAWS screen reader, are also working on products which are compatible with thin client networks. "We're still some way from products coming onto the market, but this demonstration is important because it shows that the problems can be solved," she said.

UK access software specialist Dolphin Oceanic has also confirmed to E-Access Bulletin it has developed a working prototype of a thin-client compatible screen reader. And Loebl says Microsoft is thought to be developing accessible thin client server software, "but it's more difficult to assess progress because its developers are tied into non-disclosure agreements," said Loebl.

+02: Flaws Detected In

Standard systems for training and examining people for the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL - http://www.ecdl.co.uk ), an international test of computer literacy, have design flaws that could disadvantage vision impaired users, according to the RNIB.

The licence (http://www.ecdl.co.uk ) is a UK version of a European training standard managed by the British Computer Society (BCS), consisting of seven online learning modules on computer basics such as use of word processing and spreadsheets. It is rapidly being adopted by large organisations from IBM to the National Health Service as a minimum standard of IT competence. Tests can be partially automated, making it easy to use on a large scale.

The RNIB and other organisations that work with blind people last month met with representatives of the BCS and companies that deliver local training, to identify potential problems with the system.

"So far we've been getting mixed messages, with some blind people saying they have completed ECDL, and others saying that parts are not accessible," Zoe Neumann of the RNIB Technology unit told E-Access Bulletin. "It needs to be crystal clear where the sticking points are, so that we can do something about it".

Early feedback suggests that parts of the training and examination assume that the trainee can use a mouse unaided, Neumann said. Concern has also been expressed about some of the formats used for training, such as PowerPoint. "Some ECDL tests ask the user to change the background colour on the screen. Using only a keyboard, this can be very difficult in PowerPoint," she said.

NOTE: Vision impaired readers who have taken an ECDL course are invited to contact E-Access Bulletin with their experiences. Please email inbox@headstar.com .

+03: Disability Commission To Survey The Web

The Disability Rights Commission (DRC - http://www.drc-gb.org ) is to conduct a survey of web site accessibility across England, Scotland and Wales, analysing the causes of difficulties and recommending ways to make the web more inclusive.

The investigation will survey the web sites of 1,000 randomly selected organisations in both the public and private sectors, testing for compliance with industry accessibility standards as laid down in the international Web Accessibility Initiative (http://www.w3.org/WAI ). In addition, a panel of 50 disabled people will take part in more in-depth testing of a sample of these sites. The commission will work in collaboration with a team from the Centre for Human Computer Interaction Design at City University London (http://www- hcid.soi.city.ac.uk), led by Professor Helen Petrie.

The project aims to report by the end of 2003, although it will not identify particular organisations as examples of good or bad design. "The reason we're conducting this investigation is because generally, we suspect that standards of accessibility are quite low, but this is not about naming and shaming," a DRC spokesperson said.

+04: Equality Resource For Universities

A new online resource for UK colleges and universities to ensure equal opportunities for all their staff with disabilities has been launched by the Equality Challenge Unit, a body sponsored by the UK higher education funding and representative bodies to promote equal opportunities.

The site (http://www.ecu.ac.uk ) combines policy advice with good practice recommendations designed to combat discrimination of all kinds and foster diversity in the higher education sector. It also draws together legal resources such as the parts of the Disability Discrimination Act dealing with employment and education (http://www.ecu.ac.uk/disability ), codes of practice from the Disability Rights Commission (http://www.drc-gb.org/campaign/law/code.asp ), and useful sources of technology information such as the accessible technology in education agency Techdis (http://www.techdis.ac.uk ).

"This is a significant area of employment - around 345,000 people in the UK are employed in higher education," an ECU spokesperson said.

Separately, disability campaign group Skill (http://www.skill.org.uk ) has called on the government to revise proposals for the new Office for Fair Access, a body that will promote greater access to colleges and universities for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. "The proposals make no mention of disabled students," Skill said last week.

+05: Cynthia Says

An new international group which aims to help addressing the internet needs of people with special needs has launched a new free service to evaluate web page accessibility.

The Internet Society Disability and Special Needs chapter (http://www.isocdisab.org ) is the first ever non- geographical chapter of the society, a free membership organisation comprised of 11,000 individual and institutional members from 182 countries.

Together with technology company HiSoftware and the International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet (http://www.icdri.org ), the chapter has helped develop Cynthia Says (http://www.cynthiasays.com ), an online web accessibility test similar to the well-known software Bobby (http://bobby.watchfire.com ).

The chapter is currently inviting people to contribute to forthcoming projects which include the creation of a member newsletter and the identification of issues it ought to address.

Membership of ISOC and the chapter are free. For ISOC membership see: http://www.isoc.org/members And to join the disability and special needs chapter email Michael Burks on: mburks952@att.net

++News In Brief.



Nominations are invited by the national Museums Computer Group for awards to recognise the most accessible museum web sites, to be presented in memory of Jodi Mattes, a pioneer in this field. The adjudicators say they are prepared to recognise worthy sites of all sizes and budgets: http://fastlink.headstar.com/mcg1 The presentation will be made at conference on 20 and 21 May marking the end of the Talking Images project on the accessibility of museums and galleries: http://fastlink.headstar.com/talk1


O'Reilly, the leading computer book publisher, has reached an agreement to make accessible copies of its titles available to vision impaired people in the UK through the US-based book-sharing platform 'Bookshare.org'. E-Access Bulletin will inform readers when the service goes live: http://www.bookshare.org/web/PressReleaseC.html


The public and private sectors have successfully developed reasonable accessibility standards, but they have yet to show that they can stick to them, according to a new report by the universal access charity HumanITy: http://fastlink.headstar.com/humanity1

[Section one ends].

++Special Notice: 'Access It' And 'Compute It'- Monthly Technology Magazines From Rnib.


'Access IT' provides computer access technology information of particular interest to blind and partially sighted people. It features articles both for the novice and experienced user. 'Compute IT' is designed for the computer enthusiast/amateur and will bring you the latest information on hardware and software developments.

To subscribe to either of these magazines by email, Braille or disk, at a cost of 49 pence an issue, email RNIB Customer Services at cservices@rnib.org.uk or call 0845 702 3153

[Special notice ends].

++SECTION TWO: 'THE INBOX'- READERS' FORUM. - Please email all contributions or responses to inbox@headstar.com .



Trevor Frost, Adaptive Technology Coordinator at the Royal Society for the Blind of South Australia, appears to have captured the mood in our last issue when he noted that the phrase 'visually impaired' is not as accurate as 'vision impaired' - the term more commonly used in Australia - since it is a person's vision that is affected, not their appearance.

Annette Peter agrees: "As a 'blind' person, happy to be described by that term as people understand what it means, I was interested to read Mr Frost's item. I must agree with him that 'visually impaired' is not a correct term, and is one that I have never been particularly comfortable with. 'Vision impaired' is a much more correct term and I would like to see it adopted in this country."

Robin Christopherson, web consultancy manager at the charity Abilitynet, also concurs: "Trevor's observation that the term 'visually impaired' means that the person is unattractive to look at was indeed greeted by great mirth by myself as predicted. I am a UK resident.

"I'd never thought of it before but now it's obvious that 'vision impaired' is a better term. I'd better get started on changing the many dozen references that exist within AbilityNet's website and our numerous factsheets on technology for disabled individuals."


Last month John Loader wrote in on behalf of his mother-in-law to enquire if anyone knew of software which could change a computer cursor into a big black rectangle.

Terry Balon replied: "Further to the enquiry about large cursors I have purchased the Valerix MetaMouse Cursor set and found it absolutely brilliant for the needs of my family. We are able to change the colour of the cursor, give it an edge and so on to each of our individual needs without too much trouble. You can download a free demo version or purchase from various sites including http://www.regsoft.com ."

Robin Christopherson adds: "Windows ME and Windows XP have a feature in the 'Accessibility' option (Start menu/Settings/Control Panel) to do this. Go to the 'Display' page of this dialog box and there is a slider to adjust the width of the flashing cursor.

"Unfortunately, however, the change is not universal. You get the fat cursor in Notepad and all areas of Windows where you can type text (such as the 'Find Files and Folders' dialog box) but not in WordPad or, more importantly, Microsoft Word.

"For a fat cursor in Word the only option I know of is to use a little program called "follow.exe" (which AbilityNet can send out free of charge) that locks the mouse cursor to the flashing cursor. You can still move the mouse to free it, but when the cursor moves again it jumps back and follows along. When the mouse pointer is over the document window it is still a slim line, but you can easily redefine it for something really high-visibility like a big black arrow.

"You can email AbilityNet on enquiries@abilitynet.org.uk or visit http://www.abilitynet.org.uk ." [Further responses to inbox@headstar.com].

+11: PURSEfrom Sri Lanka writes in to ask all our readers what, in your experience, is the best and hardiest Braille printer for personal use, and just as importantly, the one that is easiest on the purse? [Reponses to inbox@headstar.com].


Jackie Wright (email wright.jackie@btinternet.com), who wrote in last month to invite feedback on the accessible CV design and job search site 'Bounce Back' (http://www.bounceback.org.uk ), would like to point out that her firm Disability Dynamics is not a technology company as we stated but rather a disability consultancy. She says: "We advise organisations on employment of disabled people and provision of accessible services. We also advise schools on accessibility law."

[Section two ends].

++Section Three: Interview- Jakob Nielsen.



by Dan Jellinek dan@headstar.com .

One of the world's leading champions of web usability, Jakob Nielsen, was in the UK last month to run a week-long series of seminars. He took time out to talk to E-Access Bulletin about the connections between usability and accessibility, and the poor track record of government sites in particular in meeting user needs.

Nielsen says the field of usability - how easy it is for a user to find information on a site or carry out a transaction - overlaps in many areas with that of accessibility - the ease with which people with different needs or using special access devices can gain access to the information on your site.

"Often accessibility is viewed as totally divorced from usability, but actually how you present information is just as important for accessibility as merely being able to get at it. Even if a web site is accessible according to the various technical standards, and for example is able to be read aloud by a screen reader, if there are endless lists of menu options usability will be heavily impaired."

Both usability and accessibility are assessed in the same way, by testing against real human needs, he says. And both cover not only use by people with disabilities, but also people with different levels of education or computer skills, he said.

Nielsen (http://www.useit.com/jakob ) is principal of the user-centred design consultancy Nielsen Norman Group (NN/g - http://www.nngroup.com ) which he co-founded with Donald Norman, former vice president of research at Apple Computer. Before that he was a senior engineer with Sun Microsystems, helping the company establish its first web services.

NN/g has carried out extensive testing of government sites in the US and Australia, and Nielsen says that his own informal reviews of public service sites in other countries including the UK has shown that the lessons to be learned are universal.

"Government sites are very patchy. You come across a few good ones from time to time, but they are not nearly as good as they should be," he says. "They are usually among the lowest scorers in our usability tests."

The most common failing for public sector sites is that they are focused too closely on their own internal departmental structures and initiatives, or their current work programmes, and not on what information the user is actually likely to be seeking, Nielsen says.

"This shows a bureaucratic way of thinking. You see it a little bit on company sites, but it is predominant on government sites."

He said government agencies may find it hard to see the need to spend money on boosting usability, as they do not make the same 'return on investment' judgments as companies. "But the fact is that better usability leads to increased satisfaction for the citizen, which to me is the reason we have government in the first place."

In fact, government agencies have even more need to consider usability than companies, he said. "For commercial sites, you can make a trade-off and decide to reach a few customers where you can make the most money. But for government you can't say that, you can't decide to only serve a part of the population."

Nielsen's company is one of the pioneers of controlled user testing of web sites, which he argues is the only way to properly gauge a site's usability. A group of ordinary users are observed attempting to perform tasks on the web, such as find a tax form or a bus route. "It's so common that people can't find what they are looking for - it's tragic. And the government agencies that call us in are the ones who are bothered about usability. The average agency won't bother looking at it at all."

Nielsen says one example of a US government site that is highly usable is 'Ready.gov' (http://www.ready.gov ), the Department of Homeland Security's site with public information about how to prepare for and respond to various forms of terrorist attack.

"The site explains what to do in clear and simple terms. But it is a new project, so it was easier to build in usability."

In the US, the requirement for accessibility standards to be built into all government technology contracts set out in section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (http://www.section508.gov ) had increased awareness of the issues, he said. But progress is slow, since it mainly affected new projects. "Section 508 boosted interest in accessibility, but in practice not many sites have been affected. The major departments have spent a very long time implementing it."

As for the precise costs of making a web site more usable and accessible, Nielsen said that it was possible to spend a lot of money, and it was right for large organisations with public-facing sites such as the NHS to do so, but it was also possible to make at least some progress for a small outlay.

"There is no such thing as the perfect user interface, a site that is equally usable by everybody. And it would be very expensive to come close to such a site. But people should not think that there is a binary choice between a horrible web site and a perfect one. No matter what the budget, you can always take a site and make improvements. Within three days you can do some testing and draw up a list of the top ten things you need to do to improve usability. You should attack the biggest stumbling blocks first."

[Section three ends].

++Section Four: Opinion- Government Policy.


+14: OUT OF FOCUS by Kevin Carey humanity@atlas.co.uk .

At the beginning of the year I drafted a paper which called for policy on accessibility to be concentrated in one place within the UK and in Europe.

The paper argued that in the EU, accessibility should be the responsibility of the Information Society Directorate, and in the UK it should be co-ordinated by the Office of the e-Envoy (OeE - http://www.e- envoy.gov.uk), the cross-government technology policy and implementation body based in the Cabinet Office.

I still have a chance with the first objective, but I am having to rewrite the paper's UK section because the OeE has just lost about a quarter of its budget and, I would guess, three-quarters of its importance in co- ordinating functions.

This leaves us in the awkward position of fighting to save something we don't love very much, but the fact is that the OeE is the best mechanism we have. In the UK, there is simply nowhere else to go. We might try the Disability Rights Commission which, better late than never, has just become interested in web accessibility (see news, this issue); or we might place all our hopes in the new broadcasting and telecommunications regulator 'Ofcom' (http://www.ofcom.org.uk ). But when it comes to getting the government to obey its own accessibility regulations, the best mechanism is a body such as the e-Envoy's office which is acknowledged as interdepartmental.

What we don't want is a situation where the four separate government departments with the biggest interest in technology policy - the Department for Education and Science, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department of Trade and Industry - are fighting so hard for the honour of co-ordinating disability access so that they don't have time to actually implement anything.

Meanwhile over the past five years the accessibility lobby has not been doing at all well on broadcasting. The EU (as reported in the last issue of E-Access Bulletin) is in the last lap of legislation on digital TV and broad band access and the draft bill doesn't even mention disability access. Nor does the UK's Communications Bill which is almost through Parliament.

To some extent, from the mighty pinnacle of the UK's e-Envoy himself Andrew Pinder down to the humblest charity policy officer, we have all made the same mistake. We have been travelling into the future with our backs to the engine, concentrating in the information age on the computer and not on the information industry which is driven by broadcasting and will be supplied through the telephone. Thus, while we have been worrying purely about web site accessibility, broadcasting, telecommunications and their user interfaces have been steadily deregulated as the result of globalisation.

The reality at the political level is that there isn't much the OeE can do in a dog fight with the DTI and, it is becoming increasingly clear, there isn't much the OeE can do across government because there are two many departmental interests getting in the way. This is not surprising. When we call for joined up government, we forget for example that the NHS, as the biggest corporate entity in the UK, has enough problems getting itself a common technology policy, let alone one which also fits the DfES, itself the size of the HSBC banking group.

So it looks like the OeE will soon sail into the technological sunset: an entity that came too late, did too little and left too soon. Meanwhile, we need to cast about for another centralising entity. It may have to be the Disability Rights Commission, but the problem is that even this body will soon be rolled up with the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality into a generic equality commission.

It may be that the major disability non-governmental organisations (NGOs) will have to get together and start their own small but supercharged agency. The problem with that course is that it will have to have autonomy and NGOs that spend most of their time squabbling are not very good at empowering what they perceive may turn into a rival. But we haven't much time for paperwork on this issue: it just needs to be done.

NOTE: Kevin Carey is Director of HumanITy (http://www.humanity.org.uk ), a charity focusing on technology and social inclusion.

[Section four ends].

++Section Five: Viewpoint- Career Paths.


+15: STEPPING AHEAD by Nolan Crabb ncra@teleport.com .

There is an ancient Chinese proverb which says: "A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step."

For me, the journey to a writing career began in high school with a single raised hand. During journalism class, I volunteered to write the weekly school activities column for the Ogden Standard-Examiner, the daily paper in Ogden, Utah where I grew up. That column ultimately led to a summer internship with the paper during college and then to my first job as a reporter.

Since then, I've held a variety of writing jobs in various cities around the country. For a brief time, I abandoned writing altogether to teach technology. So how does one manage a career that includes so many twists and turns?

The first important point to make is that, as a blind or vision impaired person taking your own thousand-mile journey, don't be afraid to take risks and follow your hunches. I've had seven jobs and lived in every time zone in the US since 1982. Many would say that such a lifestyle is unstable or problematic, but I saw those job changes as new opportunities that would allow me to better my life, and that of my family.

Every move had its attendant risks. In 1986, I moved from Chicago to the Bay Area of northern California. I'd learned of a job with a small company that produced newsletters for various businesses. I used what meagre savings I had to pay for my plane ticket to California for the interview. Foolish? Perhaps. But at the end of the day, I had a job offer, and suddenly my apparent foolishness paid off.

I don't recommend that everyone live their lives as nomadically as I have. But after you've researched the job you want, you may have to risk moving to a bigger city to secure that job. Comfort zones are wonderful places, but they can be stifling, too. The alternative to taking a risk could be growing old and bitter, obsessing about jobs that might have been.

Its important to plan for the possibilities in attending an interview. It's not enough to just badly want to work. At the last minute, as I was leaving my home for that job interview in California, I grabbed my Optacon - a device that allows blind people to read printed material - flung it into my bag, and headed for the airport.

During the interview, the company's chief executive said he expected me to take a writing test. He gave me two pages of notes on a real estate deal. "Take these and turn them into a hot news story," he said. "I've another interview to do; I don't have time to sit and read you these notes. I guess I can find a staff person to do this, but . . ." I interrupted and assured him that as long as those notes weren't hand-written, I could handle them fine. I was glad I had my Optacon with me.

I'm not suggesting you can plan for every possibility. But you can take an active part in your interview by thinking about answers in advance to questions you're sure you'll be asked. Better yet, think about how to openly present, from your perspective, some of the concerns that the interviewer may hesitate bringing up.

Immerse yourself in your chosen career. I don't mean spend all hours at the office, abandoning family and all other vestiges of life. I mean immerse yourself in the industry's publications; learn its buzzwords; learn something about the players in that industry; by immersing yourself in the literature of your field, you're better prepared to change the way you do things so you won't become a burdensome dinosaur.

Reading trade magazines in your field is a great way to learn about job openings. If you're just browsing the newspaper or even internet job boards, you're probably missing some great opportunities that are announced in trade publications. The advent of the internet makes such magazines even easier to read.

Technology is good, but attitude and technology are better. There's no question that getting and retaining a job depends a lot on the technology you can use and how easy it is to get at that technology.

My first experience with computers at a newspaper came in 1977 while in college. Those computers didn't talk, and there was no Braille display. I had to memorise long keystroke sequences to file a story with the editorial desk. But as my jobs changed, so did my ability to use technology.

For years, I feared making the jump from DOS to Windows. At the time I was contemplating making that jump I was working for the American Council of the Blind, where LeRoy Saunders was president. I expressed my concerns to him and, in that straightforward way that was his trademark, he said with a smile: "It's not the technology that's the problem, it's your attitude." His point was well taken. By January 1997, I was using Windows with a screen reader.

So if you're looking for the right career or to change jobs, you can start by taking small steps. For me, it all began with something as simple as a raised hand - that single step on the way to a fruitful and enjoyable career.

NOTE: Nolan Crabb is assistant editor of Dialogue (http://www.blindskills.com ), a US-based journal for vision impaired people for all ages. This article is reprinted with permission from Dialogue, winter 2002. Dialogue is available in braille, large print, four-track cassette, and computer diskette. For a free sample, email blindskl@teleport.com or if you are in the US call (800) 860-4224 .

[Section five ends].

++End Notes.


+How To Receive This Bulletin

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Copyright 2003 Headstar Ltd http://www.headstar.com . The Bulletin may be reproduced as long as all parts including this copyright notice are included, and as long as people are always encouraged to subscribe with us individually by email. Please also inform the editor when you are reproducing our content. 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 - Mel Poluck mel@headstar.com
  • Editorial advisor - Kevin Carey humanity@atlas.co.uk .

ISSN 1476-6337

[Issue ends].