+++E-Access Bulletin.- Issue 37, January 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

++Issue 37 Contents.

  1. Section one: News.
  2. 01: EU expansion threatens anti-discrimination law - new member states may stall legislation.
  3. 02: Mass communications protest set for February - Parliamentary lobby over Communications Bill.
  4. 03: Effectiveness doubts over e-government champion - access low priority for new US administrator.
  5. 04: First graduates from access training course - two teachers certified.
  6. 05: Writing competition winners online - the best of the entries.
  7. News in brief:
  8. 06: Link up - sight loss quarterly;
  9. 07: ITCH awareness - free IT assistance;
  10. 08: Rogue mail - anti-spam measure hits visually impaired.
  11. Section two: 'The Inbox' - Readers' forum.
  12. 09: Shared vision - on information points; 10: Transatlantic viewing -
  13. accessible TV nation?;
  14. 10: Job club - help needed;
  15. 11: geometry - Braille text book appeal.
  16. Section three: Focus - multiple disability
  17. 12: - A complex web of support: Nearly half the visually impaired community have further special needs. Phil Cain looks at some of the technology solutions open to them.
  18. Section four: Technology - 'thin clients'
  19. 13: - Return to the bad old days? You may have thought mainframe computers and 'dumb terminals' have been consigned to history, but new 'thin client' networks have many of the same characteristics - and access problems. Dan Jellinek reports.
  20. Section five: Viewpoint - product design
  21. 14: - Seeking out common ground: Small differences between manufacturers in the design of telephone keypads and television remotes can cause visually impaired people a great deal of difficulty. Kevin Carey says everyone would gain if companies agreed on standard layouts.

[Contents ends.]

++Section One: News.


+01: Eu Expansion Threatens Antilaw.

The expanded European Union negotiated by its members in December - with ten new member states joining by 2004 and three others in due course - could delay progress on toughening up anti-discrimination laws by up to five years, according to the European Disability Forum (EDF - http://www.edf-feph.org ).

It is feared that new entrant countries, where progress on anti- discrimination is less well-advanced, could block moves by the forum to include access to goods and services in EU anti-discrimination legislation. At present EU laws only prevent discrimination in education and the workplace (http://fastlink.headstar.com/EU4 ).

"We're working with other groups to try to and change the voting mechanism to qualified majority voting instead of unanimous support, but this is going to be extremely difficult," an EDF spokesperson told E-Access Bulletin.

On the positive side, the fact that this year is the European Year of People with Disabilities (http://www.eypd2003.org ) could provide an opportunity for campaigners to win support for the desired changes.

The centrepiece of the European year, which launches officially at the end of January in Athens, will be a session of the European Parliament drawing together disability campaign groups and aid organisations across Europe. Representatives will discuss proposals such as a UN Convention for Persons with Disabilities. A date for the Parliament has yet to be approved, but it is likely to take place in November.

+02: Mass Communications Protest Set For February.

A mass lobby being organised by the RNIB for 4 February will aim to force the UK government to make amendments to its Communications Bill to ensure digital TV, radio and mobile phones are accessible to everyone.

The institute is expecting up to 500 people to convene at the House of Commons to express dissatisfaction at the bill, currently proceeding through Parliament, which will set the standards for the digitisation of television and radio. Caroline Ellis, Parliamentary manager at the RNIB, said: "The objectives are not woolly-minded - there are precise amendments we want made to the bill."

Among the protestors' demands is the raising of the prescribed quota of audio description for TV programmes from ten to 50 per cent over ten years; and ensuring accessibility of digital products and services such as remote controls and electronic programme guides. Lobbyists want to see all such amendments established as guidelines for the new communications 'super-regulator' OFCOM (http://www.ofcom.gov.uk ).

Direct lobbying for change by disability groups has seen success in the past, with groups representing deaf people for example winning increased TV subtitle quotas.

The February rally, which is supported by seven other organisations including the British Computer Association of the Blind and the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, begins at 2pm at Westminster Hall in the House of Commons. A coach will take people from RNIB Judd Street in Kings Cross to Westminster. For more information email campaign@rnib.org.uk or telephone 0207 3912123.

+03: Effectiveness Doubts Over Echampion.

The forthcoming appointment of a US e-government policy champion is unlikely to speed up the process of opening online public services to citizens with disabilities, a former Washington policy chief told E- Access Bulletin this week.

The country's new E-Government Act, signed into law by President Bush in December, provides for the appointment of an E-Government Administrator to help shape and implement national policy, including compliance with accessibility standards for government contracts set out in section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (http://www.section508.gov ).

However consultant Timothy Sprehe, a former senior policymaker at the US Office of Management and Budget, said the new champion would not make much difference to implementation of accessibility law as responsibility for the field would be shared with existing agencies such as the Center for Information Technology Accommodation. In the absence of a stronger mandate for the new champion these agencies would continue to take the lead, Sprehe said.

"The administrator is more likely to perform oversight of the center's activities, arguing that under his or her oversight the center is doing the job well enough," he told E-Access Bulletin.

Furthermore, a recent report in US publication Government Computer News suggests that current initiatives are making slow progress implementing section 508. Many government departments are reported to only be adapting their services a year beyond the deadline for compliance (http://fastlink.headstar.com/fcn ).

To see a copy of the new E-Government Act visit the Congress library service at http://thomas.loc.gov and enter bill number HR.2458.ENR in the search box.

+04: First Graduates From Access Training Course

Two UK-based computer access technology trainers this month became the first to win recognition of their skills from the British Computer Association of the Blind's Trainer Certification Scheme (BCTS).

The RNIB-backed BCTS (http://www.bcab.org.uk/btcs ) is intended to ensure access training in the UK is of a consistently high standard (see 'The battle for recognition', section four, E-Access Bulletin December 2002). More than 50 trainers are currently enrolled on the certification scheme, 30 of whom are expected to qualify by the summer of 2003.

However, the scheme has drawn criticism from access consultant Brian Hartgen (http://hartgen.org.uk ), who complained in a letter posted onto the 'access-uk' email list (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/access-uk/message/30740 ) that there is no compulsory 'blind-awareness' element to the course, ensuring trainers understand the basics of communicating clearly with blind people.

Manager of the course Steve Plumpton defended it saying a voluntary awareness class was available and that awareness would be part of the final assessment. He said attempts had been made to improve the awareness aspect of the course, but admitted he was unsure whether they had been adequately implemented.

Hartgen also complained the course costs too much at 1,500 pounds. However, Plumpton said an RNIB subsidy currently cuts the cost to the customer from over 4,000 pounds.

The first two to qualify were Charles Clark, a resource worker for the Grampian Society for the Blind (http://www.grampianblind.demon.co.uk ), and Barry Coates, an RNIB access technology trainer. Both received their certificate for their ability to train people in the use of the JAWS screen reader.

+05: Writing Competition Winners Online

The ten prize wining stories entered into E-Access Bulletin's recent writing competition on the theme of 'keeping in touch with technology' have been published online.

The stories offer fascinating insights into the profound effects new technologies can or could have on the lives of visually impaired people. The collection can be viewed as a text file at: http://www.e-accessibility.com/kit-winners.txt .

++News In Brief.


+06: LINK UP:

'Link Line' is a free quarterly magazine for people with sight loss and their families and carers, from the charity Positive Vision. It is available in large print, on tape and on disk. Other services provided by the group include a long-term loan scheme for unemployed people for equipment such as screen readers, and computer advice over the phone: http://www.positivevision.co.uk .


The ITCH Network is the new name for the former 'IT Can Help' project of the British Computer Society Disability Group. The relaunched network provides free technical assistance and advice in homes and day centres for people with disabilities in 10 UK regions: http://www.itcanhelp.org.uk .


A new graphic 'distortion puzzle' technique that prevents automated spammers from signing up for free email accounts, by requiring a human to read them and solve them, could block access to people with visual impairments and assistive equipment, according to a BBC report. The systems are known as 'Captchas', which stands for Completely Automated Public Turing tests to tell Computers and Humans Apart: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/2635855.stm .

[Section one ends].

++Sponsored Notice: Creating Opportunities Forpeople With Learning Disabilities.


A two day conference 'Computers - creating choice and opportunities for people with learning disabilities', including talks, workshops and an exhibition aimed at those working with adults with learning disabilities, is to be held on 27 and 28 June at Keele University, North Staffordshire.

To reserve a place at 235 pounds which includes one night's accommodation, all food and conference dinner please contact Sue Wilshaw on s.j.wilshaw@psy.keele.ac.uk . An early booking discount is available.

[Sponsored notice ends].

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



Last issue Mary Gwynne of Swansea Council wrote in to ask for advice on the software needed for computers and information points accessible to the public in libraries. David Owen, executive director of the 'Share the vision' project at the National Library for the Blind, suggested Mary should consult chapter 13 of the project's 'Library services for visually impaired people: a manual of best practice'.

"Although we donated a hard copy to Swansea and every other public library authority in the UK, this is such a rapidly changing area that I would advise her to check the web version at http://www.nlbuk.org/bpm because the relevant chapter has been updated by Sally Cain of RNIB," he says.

Mike Williams of the leading computing and disability charity AbilityNet added: "Mary may like to talk to her local AbilityNet centre about our services including 'Accessible IT kits'. These are designed to help organisations who offer IT facilities to the public make their computers accessible to all users." The AbilityNet centre for the West of England and Wales can be reached by telephone on 0117 3127362 or email: ligia@abilitynet.org.uk .


Jerry Weichbrodt of Livonia, Michigan, USA writes to say he was interested to read about the research on how effectively various types of user can interact with digital television technology (see issue 36, December 2002, section five).

"I would like to know if similar efforts are taking place in North America where over-the-air digital television broadcasting is gathering steam," he says. "It would seem that there could be room for collaboration in this area and that viewers on both sides of the Atlantic could benefit. As with so many technologies, accessibility is easiest if planned for during the early development stages." Responses please to inbox@headstar.com .

+11: JOB CLUB:

Ellen Bedford of Bridgeport, Connecticut says she found out about E-Access Bulletin through the eSight Careers network (http://www.esight.org ), which helps visually impaired people find fulfilling employment. She says: "I hope to be starting a job club in my high school for visually impaired and blind students. Please send me any information that might be helpful for them." Responses please to inbox@headstar.com .


A sixth-form level maths teacher from Mexico writes in to say: "After 15 years of teaching, I have the honour of having a very intelligent blind girl as one of my pupils. In the first term, I taught her geometry and I'm looking for a Spanish language geometry book in Braille. Its so hard to find one! Our 'multisensory' culture is very backwards." If any readers can help please email inbox@headstar.com

[Section two ends].

++Sponsored Notice: 'Csun' 2003 International Conference.


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 March 17-22, 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 (818) 6772578 (Voice/TTY compatible service); email ctrdis@csun.edu or visit our web site: http://www.csun.edu/cod/conf

[Sponsored notice ends].

++13: Section Three: Focus- Multiple Disability.


+A COMPLEX WEB OF SUPPORTby Phil Cain phil@headstar.com .

Visually impaired people often have additional special needs: among the visually impaired adults under 60 surveyed by the RNIB in 1991, some 46 per cent said they had another "limiting permanent illness or disability". In the population at large the figure is 16 per cent.

There is a strong need, therefore, for computer systems serving those with physical, mental or sensory impairments to also cater for those with low or no vision.

The problem of supporting multiple needs is complex, since the further needs of the visually impaired are, naturally, as diverse as those of the wider population. But among the many different combinations of needs there is one constant: in each individual case it is extremely hard to say with assurance which support organisation will be catering for a persons needs. "It is a matter of where you live," says Gill Levy, development officer at the RNIB's multiple disabilities service. "There is a game of pass the parcel between agencies when people have multiple disabilities."

The diversity of solutions matches the large number of causes for multiple disabilities which include visual impairment.

The main culprit is the same as that for visual impairment itself, old age. One of the most common problems found alongside visual impairment among the elderly is hearing loss, which presents particular difficulties in terms of access to computers if it affects someone who would otherwise use a screen reader. Such problems can be overcome by the use of refreshable Braille displays, but non-Braille users who use sign language must wait for machines which could translate digital text into manual signs to progress beyond the research phase. For more on deafblindness see E-Access Bulletin issue 13, January 2001, section two.

Other problems which commonly afflict younger visually impaired people include cerebral palsy, Down's syndrome, multiple sclerosis, head injuries, diabetes, strokes, sickle cell disease or autism. Each of these can give rise to disabilities which may have common elements but which differ enormously in their degree, meaning that each person's needs has to be dealt with individually.

The computing and disability charity AbilityNet has compiled various case studies of multiple disability. Among them is Steve, a cerebral palsy sufferer with no hand use who communicates using a head pointer and who recently began to lose sight because of retinal bleeding. To give him access to a computer he was equipped with an enlarged and visually enhanced keyboard called BigKeys (http://www.bigkeys.co.uk ) and a customised version of the JAWS screen reader. JAWS needs 'macros' - customised functions - to be written to allow it to work with 'sticky keys', a facility which allows users to perform functions with a sequence of key strokes which normally require several keys to be pressed at once.

In other cases users may need different adaptations such as the use of one-handed or chording keyboards; 'IntelliKeys' keyboards on which big symbols can be overlaid (see http://www.intellitools.com ); or a single switch which will allow someone profoundly disabled to select a letter from an alphabet read out in sequence.

According to Nuala Davis, manager of AbilityNet's London branch, there are four key rules to follow when assessing people's needs. These are to keep the number of access packages to a minimum; to gauge the level of support available to the person; to keep an open mind; and to select the best solution for the present, no matter what the future may have in store for the client.

Ultimately, technology can and should bring enormous benefits to those with multiple disabilities. "Email to those who are housebound is a tremendous motivation," says the RNIB's Gill Levy. She adds that she has often been amazed at the children who can these days recite the alphabet. "I suspect that with new technologies we will see a whole new range of people who are literate."

[Section three ends].

++14: Section Four: Technology- 'Thin Clients'.


+RETURN TO THE BAD OLD DAYSby Dan Jellinek dan@headstar.com .

"In terms of computer accessibility it's like going back ten to 15 years. Be afraid." Such was the stark message delivered by Andy White, RNIB technology officer, to delegates at the institute's recent 'Techshare' conference (http://www.rnib.org.uk/techshare ).

The reason for White's gloom is the rise of 'thin client' computing, the system whereby large organisations with computer networks hold almost all information and software applications on a central server or servers. The 'thin client' machines on users' desktops are little more than keyboards and screens, with almost no locally held data, software or processing power. It represents a move away from the high- specification desktop computer and back to the 'dumb terminal' days of mainframe computing. Even office software applications such as word processors are run on the server, with the output being sent to the terminal. The result looks the same to the user, but all the actual computing is taking place on the remote server.

There are many advantages of this kind of computing: it is easier to update software since you only need to do so once at the centre; security against hackers and viruses is far tighter; general maintenance is easier; and above all, it is cheaper.

Those that have already adopted the technology in the UK include the national health service hotline NHS Direct; Barclays Bank; and the Admiral Insurance Group. Indeed its appeal is so strong that even the RNIB has said it would implement thin client technology if it were not for accessibility problems.

These problems are not trivial. The great majority of access technology software relies on a fully functioning PC with its own hard drive, central processing unit, application software and operating system and so will simply not function on a 'thin client' terminal.

"Screen magnifiers have some functionality on thin clients. They can grab enough information from what is coming from the server for simple magnification," says White. "However, the more advanced manipulation features of magnifiers will not function, and as for screen readers, which convert data output from programmes rather than the purely graphical information sent to thin clients, it is a no-go area."

In moving to implement thin client technology, therefore, organisations have completely overlooked the needs of their visually impaired employees, White says. In the short term, there is only one solution: a visually impaired employee needs to keep his or her PC working alongside but outside the terminal system. "Typically organisations do have two regimes running, and data can still be got at from outside the thin client system.

"It can be politically hard to insist on this, and employers may not even realise it is possible. But people encountering problems when asking for a proper PC should ask if an organisation's technical people are also using dumb terminals? Are they hell - they're going to be sitting there with their fully functioning PCs."

On the other hand, running two systems is not ideal, he says. "It is a work-around, and work-arounds will only work around for so long," says White. "It is not good for visually impaired people to be working under a separate regime. Eventually their PCs will become outdated, for example."

In the longer term, therefore, there is a need to build accessibility in to thin client systems, and to this end talks are underway between makers of access technology and those of terminal technology.

Thin client systems generally use Microsoft Terminal Server software (http://www.microsoft.com/windows2000/technologies/terminal/defaul t.asp) at their core, often enhanced with software such as MetaFrame from Citrix (http://www.citrix.com ) which adds features such as improved load-balancing across a network.

Access technology specialists Dolphin Computer Access has been involved in discussions with both Microsoft and Citrix to see if they can work together to allow screenreaders to work. However as well as the technical problems, there are legal ones of copyright and commercial secrecy to overcome."

"You can run into a legal brick wall," says Mike Hill, software director at Dolphin. "We're waiting on Microsoft. The ball is in their court but they do seem keen to start testing solutions." Hill says Microsoft hopes to be able to announce further developments in time for this March's major international access technology conference in the US, 'CSUN' (http://www.csun.edu/cod/conf ).

If Microsoft does adjust its server technology to make it more accessible, the Citrix add-ons should not present any further major problems. However the commercial relationship between Microsoft and Citrix is complex and ever-changing, with the two firms oscillating between partnership and competition. With this in mind Citrix is not simply waiting for Microsoft to adapt its software, but is committed to finding its own accessibility solutions by the second half of 2003.

Some progress should be made this year, with the US 'section 508' law requiring accessibility of all technologies purchased by federal government agencies likely to be a further incentive for change.

On the other hand, even if server technology is adapted to run screen readers centrally, technicians admit there could be problems with the bandwidth needed to send the sound output over the network without unacceptable time delays.

Until lasting solutions to all these problems are found, however, Andy White says organisations should think carefully about the implications of their actions. "Any employer installing thin client technology is currently effectively making visually impaired employees redundant."

[Section four ends].

++15: Section Five: Viewpoint- Product Design.


+SEEKING OUT THE COMMON GROUNDby Kevin Carey humanity@atlas.org.uk .

Some years ago I experienced an evening of some frustration in a Danish hotel because I did not realise that the telephone's numeric keypad worked like an old fashioned calculator rather than a modern phone; but a totally blind friend beat that when he checked out of a Miami hotel to find he had somehow triggered 24 hours of 'premium' (referring to price but not necessarily content) pornography on his television with the sound muted!

I think of him every time I go into another hotel room or buy a new piece of consumer electronics, as I did last week. My new remote controller for a CD player and tuner comprises one row of three and nine rows of four identical buttons; it sits next to one for the television and another for Sky. It differs radically from those for similar devices in my study and office. So far I have learned how to play a disc and find Radio 3.

Now of course I don't expect` the remote for a TV to be the same as one for a hi-fi in every respect but in an age where devices proliferate and people live ever longer would it not be a good idea to have a few points of commonality?

It would not, for example, be too much to ask for a standard numeric keypad similar to that for a telephone with a button left of zero for multi-digit keying and a button to the right for clear/ouch!/I've made a mistake. These 12 keys might be distinguished from the others by being round, square, oblong, or whatever shape the industry pleases.

We might also reasonably expect a mode or function button to be clearly identified and always in the same place, top right or left, or in some given relationship to the numeric keypad; and the same for the on/off button.

Next it would be nice to have the directional buttons standardised and capable of use in different modes so that the cursor right might double up in audio as 'next track', and the cursor left as 'last track'. We might also have standardised buttons for raising and lowering the volume.

Past that, of course, there might be many different sets of buttons for respective modules; but when a blind person goes into a hotel it is often difficult to get help to find the room, let alone be given a lesson on the remote controller (always supposing the porter is button- literate).

When we got the hi-fi home my wife discovered to her considerable satisfaction that the tuner display shows RDS (radio data system, the service which allows basic data such as a station's name to be displayed). At which point I asked myself a further question: why can't remote controllers or screen devices have primitive voice output?

The answer is, no reason at all other than a tiny price differential. The adaptability, after all, might be built into the remote rather than the main unit. Customers could then be offered a choice of remotes. What about one with big, vivid buttons for the blind and/or flamboyant? What kind of market research is it that shows that as our waists and bums are getting bigger by the decade our fingers are getting smaller? It makes you wonder what market research is for.

As long as all manufacturers are indifferent to the market we will all suffer. But it only takes one to start to turn the tide, and that one should not have to be a niche player in the visual impairment world. We don't drop money into tins to teach global corporations the essentials of product design.

[Section five ends].

++End Notes.


+How To Receive This Bulletin

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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].