+++E-Access Bulletin.- Issue 44, August 2003.

Technology news for people with vision impairment (http://www.headstar.com/eab ).

Sponsored by RNIB (http://www.rnib.org.uk ).

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

++Correction: July Issue.


In our July issue we ran a story, 'Secret action could trigger wave of cases,' about legal action over inaccessible web sites. In this piece an editing error led us to state that the Disability Rights Commission was involved in this action. In fact, the action is being taken by individuals supported by the RNIB alone, and we would like to apologise to the commission for this error.

[Correction ends].

++Section One: News.


+01: Assistive Technology Users

Many assistive technology products for people with vision impairment, such as screen-readers, are unreliable and do not serve their users well, the leader of the UK's largest ever web site accessibility investigation said last week.

Helen Petrie, professor of human computer interaction at City University London, is heading the major web research project on behalf of the Disability Rights Commission, managing a team of testers using a range of assistive products. "I was very struck by how poorly served people are by their assistive technology," she said at a progress briefing.

Assistive technology products are also often too complicated for users' needs, and cause computers to crash too often, Petrie said. "They are not as stable as one would hope."

Vision impaired testers have found filling in online forms using a screen reader particularly tough, she said. "Too much concentration is going on their assistive technology and not on the task they are trying to do."

At focus group meetings held as part of the research programmes, a long discussion was held about the problems brought about by assistive technologies, Petrie said. She said she was "shocked" by the responses when users were asked how the technologies were working.

"I think we'll make recommendations for people that work with assistive technology to make a range of systems ranging from simple to complex for people to access the web," Petrie said.

Project manager Steven Beesley, from the DRC, said he would be happy to put pressure on assistive technology providers to improve their products. Full findings of the research will be published at the end of the year.

NOTE: For a full report on the progress briefing see section three, this issue: 'Speak no evil'.

+02: Accessible Procurement Plans On Hold

An attempt to develop disability-friendly software development rules for all large organisations could be stymied unless the RNIB finds a partner willing to take it beyond the concept phase, E-Access Bulletin has learned.

Most large organisations commission the development of significant amounts of new or tailored software to assist aspects of their work or internal efficiency. The charity wants to ensure as much as possible of such activity is accessible by developing a standard policy which any organisation could adapt.

It will start by looking at its own software procurement practice, but is keen to sign up a partner to help develop the policy and ensure it is widely applicable.

"We need a large government department or a large employer," says the project's manager Ruth Loebl. "If partnerships are not formed, there will be a risk that many organisations create their own guidelines independently, which will mean that software developers will have to apply different criteria for different customers. This can only devalue the issues, and increase the cost of software. The seeming inability of customers to agree on what comprises accessibility would surely undermine the principles we are trying to promote."

However Loebl said that so far, only verbal support has been gained from three potential partners: the Department for Work and Pensions, the Office of the e-Envoy, and the Employers Forum (http://www.employers-forum.co.uk ). Other organisations that might make good potential partners include the BBC and high street financial institutions, she said.

The RNIB's thinking about software procurement is set out in an unpublished paper seen by E-Access Bulletin which suggests that accessibility rules should come in two parts: a concise set of legal standards and a lengthier code of practice. Failure to incorporate accessibility into procurement is likely to breach the Disability Discrimination Act, it warns.

The RNIB drew on three existing resources in drawing up its proposals, a checklist for accessible software drawn up by IBM (http://fastlink.headstar.com/ibm1 ); section 508 of the US Rehabilitation Act (http://www.section508.gov ); and the Irish National Disability Authority guidelines (http://www.accessit.nda.ie/guidelineindex_4.html ). To ensure the policy is sensitive to the broadest range of disabilities the paper has been sent to the charities Mencap, Scope, the RNID, the British Dyslexic Association, and AbilityNet for comment.

+03: Colleges Slow To Take Up Free Software Offer

Only a third of UK colleges and universities have taken up an offer of free software to test the accessibility of their websites, according to EduServ (http://www.eduserv.ac.uk ), the national education technology charity which has launched the new scheme.

Under a bulk licensing agreement negotiated by EduServ, all 750 UK colleges and universities have been granted free use of the 'LIFT' series of accessibility products developed by US firm UsableNet (see http://www.usablenet.com/products_services ). The products help designers and publishers make the content and navigation features of their web sites more accessible to people with visual impairments.

Under the scheme institutions may use versions of LIFT which work with the web site development software packages Dreamweaver and FrontPage, or LIFT Online (http://www.usablenet.com/frontend/demoform.jsp ). Each institution will pay a preferential rate for use of more than one product, and could save up to 8,000 pounds each on licence fees, which would add up to millions of pounds in all.

"So far, around 200 licences have been taken up, and we're anxious for more people to take up this opportunity," said Stephen Butcher of EduServ. "We ran several workshops before the summer break and it appears there is great variation in awareness of this issue."

There is increased pressure on colleges and universities to improve the accessibility of their web sites because the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (SENDA - http://fastlink.headstar.com/senda1 ) comes into force this autumn, setting new standards for study aids.

A good response to the LIFT initiative could mean that other tester products are included in the EduServ scheme. According to recent research it is advisable to test web sites using a combination of products, rather than relying on a single solution such as LIFT (see E- Access Bulletin, issue 42, June 2003).

+04: Mobile Speech Showdown Set For Autumn

This autumn the two main contenders in the field of mobile phone speech software - Mobile Accessibility and TALKS - will step up their competition with new products for a wider range of phones and portable digital assistants (PDAs).

The Spanish-developed software Mobile Accessibility (http://www.mobileaccessibility.com ) currently runs on Nokia phones using the Symbian series 60 operating system. The application - developed by the firm Code Factory in partnership with the Spanish national blindness charity ONCE - allows various features of the phone to be spoken aloud including text messages, a contact book, alarms and a battery and signal strength monitor.

This autumn Mobile Accessibility is set to expand to four other platforms including the SPV smartphone which uses Microsoft Windows.

Meanwhile the German system TALKS (formerly TALX - see http://www.talx.de/index_e.htm ) - came to the UK in January when Vodafone UK and the RNIB launched a 'speaking phone' based on the Nokia 9210i Communicator - a mobile phone/PDA hybrid (see E- Access Bulletin, issue 36, December 2002). TALKS is a screen-reader which allows speech output of everything shown on the display of a mobile device.

TALKS is set to take on Mobile Accessibility directly in September when it releases a screen-reader for phones which use the Symbian series 60 operating system. According to a TALKS spokesperson the new system will cost around 150 pounds, just 20 pounds more than the Mobile Accessibility application.

TALKS says its screen reader product offers more flexibility than the Mobile Accessibility solutions, giving access to all the hundreds of applications developed for the new phones. Mobile Accessibility, meanwhile, said it was ready to consolidate its lead in the series 60 market, launching an updated version before the end of the year along with Danish, Dutch and Norwegian speaking versions.

++News In Brief.



Two online discussion forums for people interested in accessibility issues have been launched over the past few weeks. The first is within the 'WebProWorld' site, run by the technology IT newsletter publisher iEntry: http://www.webproworld.com/viewforum.php?f=12 and the other from Accessify, the online accessibility information resource: http://www.accessifyforum.com .


An email group has been set up by a blind maths teacher in the US to dispel some of the myths about maths and blindness. The 'BlindMath' list will help members share information about accessible texts, tactile and sonic graphing programs, and techniques for blind teachers: http://www.smartgroups.com/groups/blindmath .

+07: teachers of children and young people with vision impairment, XX/20 VIEW, is to be held on 9 and 10 October at Birmingham University. The event is organised by the teachers' chapter of the blindness association VIEW. For details email: ecs.kay.wrench@oldham.gov.uk .

[Section one ends].

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



Last issue Peter Petersen wrote in with a request for information on finding internet radio stations on behalf of his mother in New Zealand, whose sight is poor.

Allan Thomas, a technician at Clarity Transcription Services in Hull, responds: "I'm not sure about software or hardware devices that will scan the internet for radio stations. However, you might want to take a closer look at web sites dedicated to internet radio stations such as Mike's Radio World (http://www.mikesradioworld.com ). Here you can browse through several thousand radio stations, and you can even download the radio players you may need."

And another bulletin reader, Prabal Basak, puts in a related request: "I want to know about digital radio: how it works, and how it can be received." Do any readers know of good basic information web sites about digital radio? [Responses please to inbox@headstar.com].


We have received a few offers of information and help for our reader Jane Sellers, who contacted us last month to see if anyone knew of any good tapes or other resources to help her learn Spanish.

Judy Haswell of the Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind Library in Auckland suggested she take a look at Linguaphone's 'All Talk' audio-only Spanish course available on CD or audio cassette. It costs about 50 pounds for beginner or intermediate level, or about 90 pounds for beginner and intermediate level combined. Linguaphone can be contacted on 0800 282 417 or at: http://www.linguaphone.com .

And John Coggans from Ontario says: "The Hadley School for the Blind at 700 Elm St, Winnetka, Illinois 60093, US (http://www.hadley- school.org) offers a course in conversational Spanish in Braille and tape. The tape version, besides providing the course material available in Braille, also gives guidance to pronunciation. It is offered as a conversational course rather than a detailed grammar course, so for example there are no long lists of verb conjugations."


Susan White of Shropshire County Council writes in to say: "I was interested in the news about the specially- adapted computer suites in Leicester to allow people with vision impairments to learn new IT skills (see E-Access Bulletin, issue 43, July 2003, story 07).

"Here in Shropshire the Disability Consortium (http://www.shropshiredisability.org ) has been offering training to vision-impaired people for the past two years. This has now been extended out and offered to disabled people in general. The training is supported by the Learning and Skills Council.

"The accessible software in Shropshire libraries on the machines funded by the People's Network project (http://www.peoplesnetwork.gov.uk ) is the same, to provide the link with the training offered for those people unable to afford or not interested in acquiring their own software. The training will also be offered using some library sites on their closed days to reduce the amount of travelling for disabled people as a partnership agreement between Shropshire libraries and the Disability Consortium."

[Section two ends].

++Section Three: Research- Web Access.


+11: SPEAK NO EVIL by Mel Poluck mel@headstar.com .

"If you're hoping to hear lots of exciting results, I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed - we want to identify bad practice, not bad practitioners."

Such was the news from Helen Petrie, professor of Human Computer Interaction at City University's School of Informatics, (http://www- hcid.soi.city.ac.uk), at a briefing last week on her team's ongoing investigation into web site accessibility on behalf of the Disability Rights Commission (DRC- http://www.drc-gb.org ).

The investigation, described by Petrie as having now reached 'halfway house', is entitled "an in-depth study of the current state of web site accessibility in Britain". It will survey the web sites of 1,000 randomly selected organisations in both the public and private sectors, testing for compliance with accessibility standards. In addition, a panel of 50 disabled people will take part in more in-depth testing of a sample of these sites (see E-Access Bulletin, issue 40, April 2003).

As Petrie was keen to stress, the project's final report will not name poor sites. Instead it hopes to increase awareness of web accessibility by detailing cases of good practice and creating resources to help organisations to measure the accessibility of their site. However, the intention is not to create a new set of standards or a new standards body, Petrie said.

Project manager Steven Beesley from the DRC said: "We want to work with people. We'd like to help, advise and conciliate rather than wade in with big boots."

As an initial part of the work, a group of unnamed firms were given a questionnaire with a scale rating for various questions about accessibility. The question "How interested is your company in web accessibility?" gave rise to particularly disappointing results, with a low response rate, and those that did respond demonstrating a lack of awareness. Consequently, the investigation team will be making recommendations in the area of training, Petrie said. Pressure will be applied on organisations such as the British Computer Society to make accessibility training more widely available, she said.

Respondents were also asked how easy or useful are the guidelines developed by the international Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI - http://www.w3.org/WAI/Resources ), regarded as the industry standard. Interestingly, they found that newer guidelines developed by the RNIB (http://fastlink.headstar.com/rnib1 ) are more commonly used than WAI guidelines. One attendee said: "We struggle to understand in terms of plain English some of the WAI and government stuff - we've found it gobbledygook." Petrie said it was likely the team would make recommendations to WAI based on their findings.

Another attendee said WAI guidelines were hard to follow, and she would like to be able to turn to a recommended audit procedure. To this Petrie said "That's an absolutely brilliant idea - watch this space."

The project's panel of testers, ten of whom are blind and nine partially sighted, have now completed a basic accessibility check - using a newly-devised automated method - on the home pages of the 1,000 sample web sites across five categories including governmental and entertainment. Of these, 100 sites that did well in this test were selected for more detailed analysis, and this is now half-completed. Testers with a range of disabilities, IT knowledge and assistive technologies are being filmed as they participate in task-based sessions such as filling out an online form - particularly troublesome for vision-impaired users according to the team - and performing simple searches.

One clear early finding is that images on web pages are rarely 'tagged', meaning that no text alternative is provided, and texts that are provided are not good enough, Petrie said. "This needs to be part of the editorial work and not just left to the people implementing the code."

Another finding was that technology that aims to help people with disabilities may not be performing well. "It's very easy to place all the blame about accessibility on the web but I was very struck by how poorly served people are by their assistive technology" Petrie said. She cited screen reader inefficiency and frequent crashing as particular problems, and said the team will be making recommendations to manufacturers of assistive technology.

All the project findings will be made available in a DRC report at the end of 2003. Most organisations examined will not be named, although sites in the top 100 will be allowed information on user testing results and awards will be offered to the top ten.

The creation of a good practice web site may also result from the study. Petrie and Beesley plan to make recommendations for resources for web site developers, with prototype examples.

"The challenge is to the web development community," Petrie concluded. "If you test your web site on people who use assistive technology, then it'll be easy for everyone to use: this is the real business case that we can develop."

[Section three ends].

++ Section Four: Opinion- E-Equality.


+12: BUILDING A DREAM by Andres Crespo andres.crespo@londonconnects.org.uk .

Back in the 1960s Dr Martin Luther King had a dream in which black children and white children were playing together. I may not be quite as high-achieving as Dr King, but I reserve my right to build my own dreams.

Last night I had a dream.

I dreamed of an internet playground where all visitors could experience the full benefits irrespective of their differences. An internet playground where everybody was different but with equal rights to get as much as anyone else . an internet space where information (and according to Francis Bacon information is power) was not in the hands of the establishment, as in previous centuries, but in the hands of all of us.

I woke up this morning and thought about my dream. These days legislation is abundant and the technology is mature. In broad terms, the Freedom Of Information Act makes it an obligation to make information available. The Disability Discrimination Act requires the provision of services in equal terms. Conferences constantly remind the public sector why and how it should build this paradisiacal internet playground where all people, not just the majority, can reap the benefits.

With all this, I naively felt the battle of 'accessibility' had been won, and I went to my local pub to celebrate this social victory on e- equality. My mate Robin was there, chatting with Ken and Dane. Robin is totally blind but can still 'see' more than the average person with his sharp hearing, his sense of smell, his touch and his uncommon common sense. Ken had been a bright engineer until multiple sclerosis hit him and left him severely disabled. Dane is a successful technology professional who is dyslexic.

I told them about my triumphal dream and that in my view the dream had become a reality. Looking at their astonished straight faces, I couldn't quite make out if they were "pissed" or "pissed off" (excuse the language) until I heard what they (the people with disabilities) had to say.

Ken told me that due to his physical condition he cannot use a mouse, but this is no problem if developers make sure that navigation is possible just by pressing the 'Tab' key. For example, only yesterday he visited the central government site that dictates technical standards for information exchange, 'Govtalk' (http://www.govtalk.gov.uk ). He couldn't navigate through the information available in their inaccessible scrolling headlines right in the beginning of the home page.

This could have been usually sorted by producing a link to a page with breaking news as opposed to scrolling text that is to be avoided according to any guidelines available.

Robin explained that on Ken's example, his speech synthesiser wouldn't even pick up the fact that breaking news was being offered and was also surprised to see that an HTML frameset, so discouraged by every guideline available, had been used. This could have been easily avoided if HTML had been used to display the breaking news as opposed to a heavily JavaScript solution.

Dane confessed that he had given up on using "Search" in any government site as searches are based on a keyword typed by the user. With his dyslexia, words are frequently misspelled (and one cannot spell-check when trying to search, can one?), leading to the response: 'No matches found'.

This could have been easily avoided if a 'knowledge management' package had been used as opposed to a keyword-based search engine. Knowledge management allows for misspelling and synonymous terms when searching.

After my enlightening encounter, I decided to wake up and smell the coffee. Those that we are looking up to as role models are saying "Do as I say, not as I do". Until we see a move from legislation to implementation, the accessibility war is still on.

And you! Yes, you! Whose side are you on? Are you with the ones that act positively and don't talk about it, or those that preach impressively but then act against their own advice? The ball is in your court.

NOTE: Andres Crespo is partnership manager at London Connects (http://www.londonconnects.org.uk ), the agency responsible for delivering electronic government in London.

[Section four ends].

++End Notes.


+How To Receive This Bulletin

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  • Editor - Dan Jellinek dan@headstar.com
  • Deputy editor - Derek Parkinson derek@headstar.com
  • News editor -
  • Reporter - Mel Poluck mel@headstar.com
  • Correspondent - Phil Cain phil@headstar.com
  • Editorial advisor - Kevin Carey humanity@atlas.co.uk .

ISSN 1476-6337 .

[Issue ends].