+++E-Access Bulletin.- Issue 38, February 2003.

Technology news for people with visual 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.


+01: Audio

The RNIB is to urge the government to subsidise the technology needed to receive audio-described digital television, to ensure affordable access to description for all who need it, E-Access Bulletin has learned.

A proposal will be delivered to broadcasting minister Kim Howells later this month for three million pounds to subsidise the production of around 20,000 plug-in cards to allow users to access audio description on Freeview, the digital terrestrial service run by a consortium headed by the BBC.

If successful the bid could see audio description available later this year to visually impaired people at a cost of two hundred and fifty pounds - 110 pounds for the card and 150 pounds for the set-top decoder box.

When inserted into Freeview decoders the cards, designed by SCM Microsystems (http://www.scmmicro.com ), allow viewers to play an audio description track over headphones or through an amplifier into loudspeakers. Many hours of audio described programming are produced by the BBC, ITV, Channel Four and Channel Five each week, but go unwatched because there is no suitable decoder on the market.

Alongside the funding bid, the plug-in is due to be tested by 45 people who have been part of a group assessing broadcasters' audio description output using makeshift technology for the past three years run by the Digital Network, a consortium of broadcasters. The man running the trial, Jim Slater, does not expect the change to the units to present any technical problem. "Everybody who has audio description loves it," says Slater. "The only negative feedback is that there is not enough."

NOTE: Audio descriptions of video e-learning material could be automated by technology being developed by French company Ecrans Magique. The company, which specialises in technology that categorises online content, is looking for research partners to collaborate on 'VoxVision'. Interested companies or universities should contact director Jean-Paul Decle on jpdecle@wanadoo.fr .

+02: Concern Over Direction Of European Law

Plans for European legislation designed to ensure widespread access to digital television and third generation mobile services need to be radically reconsidered if they are to protect the rights of people with disabilities, according to international lobby groups.

The legislation, which is scheduled to be considered by the European Parliament by the end of 2003, will set out a framework within which broadcasting and communications regulators in EU member states will operate to ensure that interactive communications services are widely available.

However, at a meeting with the European Commission on 4 February, disability groups expressed concern that a report outlining the proposed direction of the legislation (http://fastlink.headstar.com/EU5 ) focuses on rolling out the technology infrastructure and the costs of services but overlooks the needs of people with disabilities.

"We were amazed that the commission can put out a report on access to services without mentioning accessibility," said Cathy Toscan of the European Design for All e-Accessibility Network (http://www.e-accessibility.org ). According to Toscan, the commission has "promised to take a closer look at accessibility issues" before a final report is drawn up.

Separately, the commission has supported a proposal for a UN Convention that would protect and promote the rights of disabled people, which is scheduled to be discussed at a UN committee meeting in June. The European Disability Forum campaign group (http://www.edf-feph.org/en/welcome.htm ) welcomed the move but emphasised that support from member states is essential. "Because of UN regulations, member states must negotiate as individuals rather than as communities, so it is important for ministers of foreign affairs to know about this issue and support it," said a spokesperson.

+03: Guidelines For Accessible Online Forms

Guidelines to help developers design accessible online forms were published this month by forms software company Mandoforms (http://www.mandoforms.com ).

The Manchester-based firm began drafting the guidance after an RNIB audit in August last year identified potential access problems with its forms.

According to product manager Kevin Trembath, the many accessibility pitfalls for online forms include not allowing people to use the keyboard to move the cursor between fields in a form; to make error messages hard for people using screen-readers by not putting them at the top of the screen; or to use a colour such as red to indicate there is a problem.

To provide an accessible form using the current version of Mandoforms software, version 4.1, designers need to provide a separate page. But the next version of the software will allow designers to make just one version accessible to everyone, Trembath says. "Our overall goal is universal design."

To view a text version of the guide visit: http://fastlink.headstar.com/mando1

And to submit comments visit: http://fastlink.headstar.com/mando2

+04: Signals From Space Through The Internet

Detailed spoken navigation instructions in an outdoor environment, accurate to 'a few metres', could be made available to visually impaired people with new satellite and wireless internet technology being tested this month by volunteers from ONCE, Spain's national organisation of the blind (http://www.once.es ).

Until now, positioning data from satellites has only been accurate to around 40 metres, and connections are easily lost in areas with tall buildings and underpasses.

The volunteers will test a small navigator that can be carried in a shoulder bag. The device, developed by GMV Sistemas (http://www.gmvsistemas.es ), combines data from satellites and mobile phone networks to deliver location information in voice and Braille formats. Because the system uses phone networks, systems could also be developed to allow users to request location-specific directions or assistance.

The satellite positioning data for the service is provided by the European Space Agency via an internet-enabled network called SISNet, which stands for 'signal-in-space through the internet' (see http://fastlink.headstar.com/sisnet ).

+05: The Dating Game

A virtual dating game launched by the RNIB for Valentine's Day aims to prove that accessible web sites do not have to be boring.

'RNIB Blind Date: an accessible game for Valentine's Day' (http://rnibblinddate.nomensa.com ) uses Flash animation to lead the player through an interactive adventure in which players have a choice of who to take on their blind date and where to go. In one possible story, players can take the sophisticated Tara to the cinema to watch an audio-described film; in another, you can invite James the 'technology genius' (or is that computer geek?) to a party (tip: order him a pizza). Just like in real life, depending on the choices made the evening can turn out to be a success or a disaster.

Developed for the RNIB by design company Nomensa (http://www.nomensa.com ), the game can be used with standard screen reader software. It was produced as part of the institute's campaign for good web design (http://www.rnib.org.uk/digital ) to make web designers aware of accessibility guidelines.

A poll undertaken to coincide with the launch to find the UK's best looking celebrity saw Tony Blair out-voted by over-weight comedian Johnny Vegas. That proved, according to the RNIB, that love is indeed blind.

++News In Brief.



The German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (http://www.faz.net/s/homepage.html ) has become the first to launch a web site producing text-to-speech output and accepting speech input. The voice portal, 'FAZ.NET Fonservice' uses ScanSoft's RealSpeak software (http://www.scansoft.com/realspeak ) to translate commands such as "news" or "traffic" to access content. For a report by European speech technology site 'Euromap' see: http://www.hltcentral.org/page-1058.shtml


A computer driven facility opened last week in the north western Indian city of Ahmedabad which will allow up to ten students to study Braille under the instruction of a single teacher. Run by the Blind People's Association (India), it is the first facility of its kind in the country: http://www.bpaindia.org


Information packs about digital radio services in the UK are now available in Braille, the Digital Radio Development Bureau has announced. The information in the pack also mentions products available, prices and coverage information. To request a Braille pack, call 08707 747474 or visit: http://www.digitalradionow.com

[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 .



Crispin Jewitt, director of the National Sound Archive (NSA) at the British Library, has written in to respond to Clive Lever's account of negative experiences when visiting the archive (see E-Access Bulletin, issue 36, December 2002).

He says: "Provision of services for the visually impaired has greatly improved since Clive's first visit in the early 1990s to the Victorian premises then occupied by the NSA. The new British Library at St Pancras incorporates far more facilities for the disabled.

"To deal with the points relating to Clive's visits, I assure your readers that the library makes no charge to those wishing to access its collection and there never has been any question of users having to 'pay up first . and take your chance'. The catalogue of the NSA is available on the library's website (http://www.bl.uk ) and on terminals in public areas.

"The British Library now has a readers' adviser whose role is to help users with disabilities to make the most of its facilities. Help available ranges from assistance with forms for readers' passes to escorting readers around the building and introducing them to the specialist equipment available in the reading rooms. For NSA users specialist staff are available to show users to the study carrels and explain how to use the equipment.

"For readers with visual impairments, some leaflets are available in large print format and on tape. In addition the library issues passes to those assisting readers with disabilities and assistance dogs are also welcome in the reading rooms.

"The library is committed to improving the level of service it offers to users with disabilities and welcomes feedback. I hope this sets the record straight and trust that Clive's next visit to the library will be a 100 per cent joyful experience."


Chris Gregory from Opsis, a group of blindness support charities in Birmingham, has information for Ellen Bedford of Connecticut who wrote in last month seeking assistance in starting a high school job club for visually impaired and blind students.

"There is a group that meets in this country twice-yearly called the VI Colleges Employment and Careers Advisers Group," he says.

"The most recent meeting was last Wednesday, when Sue Murphy and Sarah Lang-Jones of Action for Blind People showed us a number of impressive job search modules that they have developed and which will be available in the near future. Sue has said she is happy to be contacted on 020 7635 4835 or email sue_m@afbp.org ."


Katy Dymoke of the Manchester-based arts group Touchdown Dance is still looking for an audio cassette copying machine, new or second-hand. If anyone has one to sell please email touchdd@aol.com .

+12: AH SO:

Ever thought about taking up martial arts? E-Access Bulletin reader Terry Taylor is a karate instructor based in Kent who runs weekly sessions for people with disabilities including visual impairment. For more information and to find out about a martial arts festival for disabled people in December - all very welcome regardless of ability or experience - see Terry's web site at http://www.twt.org.uk or email terry.taylor@dial.pipex.com

[Section two ends].

++Sponsored Notice: 'Csun' 2003 Internationalconference.


The 18th annual international conference on 'Technology and persons with disabilities', hosted by the Center on Disabilities at California State University (CSUN), will be held at the Hilton and Marriott hotels at Los Angeles Airport from 17 to 22 March, 2003.

The event is the longest-running and largest annual university- sponsored conference in its field, and serves as a major training venue for professionals worldwide involved in disability and technology.

A preregistration brochure is now available. For more information telephone +1 (818) 6772578 (Voice/TTY compatible service); email ctrdis@csun.edu or visit: http://www.csun.edu/cod/conf

[Sponsored notice ends].

++: Section Three: Report- Digital Politics.


+13: VOICES FOR CHANGEby Mel Poluck mel@headstar.com .

Hundreds of visually impaired and deaf-blind lobbyists from across the UK descended on Parliament last week to protest that their needs in accessing vital new technologies such as digital television were set to be bypassed by the new Communications Bill (http://fastlink.headstar.com/bill1 ) currently before the Commons.

The RNIB-organised lobby was convened to press for some 57 amendments to the bill, and the atmosphere as the protestors filled Westminster Hall to corner their MPs was one of indignance.

Lesley Kelly, honorary secretary of the UK National Federation of the Blind (http://www.nfbuk.org ) said: "We are hoping that someone will take notice of the fact blind people need access to the TV and radio and that the publicity will make people notice. What bothers me is that no one really seems aware of the need for telecommunications to be accessible: the manufacturers need to know."

The lobby's organisers urged visually impaired technology users - who are the experts on these issues, after all - to explain to their MPs the daily usability problems that they encounter, such as remote control handset buttons which often use colour to distinguish between functions. One suggestion for a practical demonstration was to ask MPs to cover up their mobile phone screen with a label and then ask them to attempt to use it.

As a minimum, lobbyists want to see all their proposed amendments established as guidelines for the new communications 'super-regulator' Ofcom (http://www.ofcom.org.uk ), which becomes operational later this year.

The RNIB supports the creation of a single regulator for the communications, internet and broadcasting industries because this may provide an effective joined-up approach to tackling accessibility obstacles. However lobbyists wanted to see increased pressure on Ofcom to use its powers to promote universal access and 'inclusive' product design with an enforceable framework that will ensure improved access to electronic programme guides, the text menus that will be a key feature of digital television.

Some lobbyists said they felt angry for paying for services for which they cannot reap the full benefits. "We are subsidising the whole service but not receiving it completely," one person told E-Access Bulletin. "We want every piece of menu-driven media equipment to be accessible for all."

Among key objectives demanded by the lobby on the day was that audio description be included not on ten per cent of all broadcasts - as laid out in the bill - but be increased to 50 per cent over a ten year period. They also sought a guarantee that the audio description will be receivable on all digital platforms at a price which is not significantly more expensive than standard equipment.

While there is the occasional late-night audio described broadcast on terrestrial television, Sky Digital is the only digital service to offer basic audio-description. Sky now carries listings of audio described programmes on its web site and is working on providing the service via telephone (http://www1.sky.com/disability/tvguide.htm ). The RNIB wants others to follow suit, and would like to see description made available through software downloads, although this would still require set-top boxes and televisions to be upgraded.

"We do not want expensive add-ons," said Chris Friend of Sightsavers International and the World Blind Union.

Mary Ghatineh, a deafblind lobbyist, said: "I hope to raise awareness of the specific needs that people with sensory loss face each day when they want to use information and communication equipment. Now its going to be digital, these people will find it worse. I want the government to make changes so digital equipment manufacturers will consider accessible formats."

New communications technologies have the potential to bring strong practical and financial advantages to the growing section of society with visual and combined dual sensory impairments: the ability to shop, to email a care worker, to vote, to check the entertainments listings, to book a taxi, or pay bills. However, the protestors said that if MPs fail to act now, people with sight problems even stand to lose out on access to radio services in the digital era.

As Labour backbencher MP Dr Roger Berry told the gathering: "We have the technology, we can make communications technology accessible, all we need now is the political will."

[Section three ends].

++: Section Four: Debate- Web Testing.



by Mel Poluck mel@headstar.com .

The RNIB's web accessibility audit scheme, 'See it Right,' (http://www.rnib.org.uk/digital/siraccess/ ), checks sites for ease of use by visually impaired users. To receive a logo that denotes it has 'passed,' a site must attain what the RNIB describes as a 'reasonable standard of accessibility', and is then subject to annual re-audits.

See it Right uses test reviewers to visit and check sites rather than simply using automated review software, and bases its checks on the international standards set out by the World Wide Web consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative (http://www.w3.org/TR/WAI- WEBCONTENT). Auditors check, for example, that all images have text alternatives and check that links have clear destinations. Detailed reports are then compiled with any examples of inaccessible features.

Users are also encouraged to report inaccessibility on sites bearing the logo (by emailing webaccess@rnib.org.uk.) and the RNIB estimates that bringing sites up to standard is equivalent to one to two per cent of original design costs (for more on 'See it Right' see E-Access Bulletin, issues 26 and 31, February and July 2002).

The process is being watched with particular interest by public sector bodies, since government guidelines require public agencies including local councils to ensure their web sites are accessible. Last week Welwyn Hatfield Council (http://www.welhat.gov.uk ) became the first English local authority to receive the accreditation, following Wrexham council in Wales (http://www.wrexham.gov.uk ).

Other public sector sites to have passed the audit include the main government web portal UKOnline (http://www.ukonline.gov.uk ), Greater Manchester Police (http://www.gmp.police.uk ), the Criminal Justice site (http://www.cjsonline.org ), and the local government Improvement and Development Agency (http://www.idea.gov.uk ).

As with all systems of accessibility audit however, the RNIB initiative has its critics, who are quick to pounce on any apparent inaccessibilities which remain even after sites gain the stamp of approval.

According to Welwyn Hatfield, its site received the See it Right logo thanks to an appropriate font size; simple layout; the option of using a text only version; the use of descriptive tags to explain the content of pictures; easy-to-use navigation and little or no use of complex graphics. It also offers the ability to change typeface.

However Tavis Reddick, a web publishing technologist, told E-Access Bulletin this week that he has found an array of inaccessibilities on the council's site including moving text on the home page; and use of a smaller-than-average font size.

"If this is held up to other designers as an accessible website template, then it could be very damaging to future accessibility design," he says.

His comments highlight the fact that, alongside a range of accessibility features which are fairly simple to assess, there are many areas where best practice is more a matter of opinion, and much may depend on context and the expert assessment of the site testers.

Henny Swan, Website Accessibility Best Practice Officer at the RNIB, told E-Access Bulletin: "This is exactly the kind of feedback that is good as it provides us with the opportunity to discuss the areas of accessibility that fall into the 'grey' or 'judgement' areas, where interpretation of the WAI guidelines is required."

"With regards to blinking text, according to our See it Right guidelines this is acceptable, if the rotation is both slow and rests after 3-5 cycles. As with all instances of blinking text in sites that we audit a subjective decision is made as to how the image affects the page and the scope of causing problems for people accessing the page and whether blinking text has been used extensively in the site."

"In Welwyn Hatfield's case there is one image that rotates every three seconds which is considered slow. There is also a very small amount of text on the two sides of the images which makes it easier to read. In addition to this there is a text link directly below the image for users to access and the image is tucked away at the bottom of the page. All of this creates a strong case for passing the site, especially given blinking text has not been used elsewhere."

"That said, the instance of blinking text was not on the home page when the site went through both the initial audit and the re-audit which shows how problematic is to monitor sites once audited. This also displays how useful it is to get feedback from users! I have been in touch with Welwyn Hatfield to notify them of the issue."

The issue of 'less-than-average' font size was also one discussed with the council, Swan said . "The font size on the page is fixed, however an 'accessible alternative' is provided in the form of buttons to switch text size from the browser default to 16-, 14- and 12-point sizes. These images also have alternative text links at the bottom of the page."

"As this is an accessible alternative, the site passed the audit checkpoints. Again this is a unique case and one that requires judgment and interpretation of the WAI Guidelines."

Clearly all this means that automatic software checking can never offer the same sophistication of assessment as human checkers. "Automated checking tools can only provide 55 per cent accessibility checks, and some guidelines may fail an automated check as the tools are unable to detect an accessible alternative," Swan says. Subjective it may be, but human judgment seems to be the best system we have for accessibility testing.

[Section four ends].

++: Section Five: Product Review- Talking Books.


+15: PICK OF THE DAISY PLAYERSby Phil Cain phil@headstar.com .

The DAISY digital book format, developed by an international consortium of talking book libraries formed in 1996 (http://www.daisy.org ), has many advantages to visually impaired people.

The ability to bookmark a page and search the text for key words makes it far easier to find the appropriate section, particularly in complex reference works. Also extremely useful is the ability to speed up and slow down recorded speech without changing its pitch. Meanwhile the option to record in MP3 format, which compresses data up to 12 times, allows more audio material to be fitted onto fewer discs.

With no DAISY player hardware manufactured in the UK, however, until recently the only way to get hold of a player in the UK has been to import one from abroad, a process fraught with pitfalls. Even after the user has managed to modify the power supply and translate the instructions, he or she will still only have access to technical support in another country.

In December last year the RNIB began to address this gap by selling the Victor Reader Pro player from Canada-based company Visuaide. According to marketing manager Tom Whittle, some 40 Victor Reader Pros have been sold so far at a price of 350 pounds, despite a lack of publicity. Among the keenest customers for the device are educational bodies, says Whittle. Unlike its rivals, the Pro is designed to cater for the sophisticated reading needs of students, with a number pad making it easy to skip between numbered pages easily (for a review of this reader by Saqib Shaikh, see E-Access Bulletin issue 27, March 2002).

In the coming months three other hardware DAISY book players are set to join the Victor Pro on full UK release, and as with this player the RNIB aims to ensure they conform to UK safety standards and are adequately documented, and will also provide users with ongoing local support.

One of the most eagerly awaited DAISY machines among technology buffs is the Japanese-built Plextalk PTR1 (http://www.plextalk.org/plextalk_portable.html ), due to go on sale at the end of March. Combining the portability of the Telex and having the numeric keypad functions of Victor Pro, the machine also allows people to record DAISY books on the move. There has already been interest in this device from the BBC, Whittle says, whose radio journalists - visually impaired or not - may find its recording and indexing useful in the field. The price tag of around 800 pounds means, however, the machine is likely to be the preserve of the professional and enthusiastic amateur.

Next to appear will be Visuaide's scaled down Victor Classic (http://www.visuaide.com/victorclassic.html ), which is expected to come on sale in April following RNIB testing. Unlike the Pro it does not have a numeric keypad and is less easily moved, having no integral rechargeable battery pack. Priced at around 280 pounds plus VAT it hopes to find users, possibly older people, who are happy to sacrifice high-sophistication for lower cost and operational simplicity.

Another lower cost option will be the Telex player (http://fastlink.headstar.com/telex ), which will go on sale in May for around 175 pounds. The machine's design is based on the 'clam shell' design commonly used for market portable CD players, which will make it far more easy to carry around than either the Victor Classic or Pro.

To place an order for any of the machines mentioned above contact the RNIB on 0845 7023153; email cservices@rnib.org.uk or visit the online shop at: http://onlineshop.rnib.org.uk/storefront.asp Or if you want to keep informed of latest availability please email your contact details to: ict@rnib.org.uk .

[Section five ends].

++End Notes.


+How To Receive This Bulletin

To subscribe to this free monthly bulletin, email 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 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].