+++E-Access Bulletin.- Issue 43, July 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 .

++Sponsored Notice:- Disability Rights In Europe: From Theory To Practice


The UK Disability Rights Commission, with the Department of Law and the Centre for Disability Studies at the University of Leeds, is pleased to announce a conference to celebrate the European Year of Disabled People to be held in Leeds on 25-26 September 2003.

The conference will examine legal strategies adopted internationally to counter discrimination against disabled people. It will also lead to the creation of a network of interested parties to develop ongoing work. This event has been accredited with eleven 'CPD' (continuing professional development) points by the Law Society and the Bar Council.

For more information and to book visit: http://www.disability-europe.info/lawconference or email Anna Lawson on a.m.m.lawson@leeds.ac.uk or telephone 0113 2335054.

[Sponsored notice ends].

++Section One: News.


+01: Secret Action Could Trigger Wave Of Cases

A landmark legal action, launched in secret this month against companies with web sites that are difficult to access for people with visual impairments, could be the trigger for many more cases, E- Access Bulletin has learned.

The cases are being brought by the RNIB. Details cannot be revealed for legal reasons, although E-Access Bulletin understands one of the cases may involve a well-known online shopping site.

The action is believed to be the first time the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA - http://www.disability.gov.uk/dda/ ) has been used to compile a case against site owners.

"We could well see a lot more cases like this. It raises the profile of web accessibility and many people will realise they have rights and can exercise them, instead of just putting up with problems," according to a spokesperson for the Disability Rights Commission, which is not itself involved in the action.

According to the commission, although this is the first time the DDA has been brought to bear on web sites, settlements will be reached in a similar way to other anti-discrimination cases. An initial independent assessment is made to identify the problems, followed by negotiations to resolve them. Only if negotiations fail will a full court case follow.

"The main objective of this legislation is not to tell people they will be fined if their sites are inaccessible, but to encourage them to go away and change their sites," said solicitor Richard Swinburne. The RNIB declined to comment on the cases in detail. A spokesperson said: "Cases can halt, reach confidential settlement or be obviated by conciliation at any stage and cannot accurately be commented on until these processes have been completed."

+02: European Procurement Embraces Accessibility.

Public sector bodies will need to take into account the needs of vision- impaired people when awarding contracts for digital services, following a European Parliament vote this month.

The parliament voted to adopt a proposal now set to be included in an EU public sector procurement directive by the end of this year (http://fastlink.headstar.com/europroc ). The Council of the European Union, made up of the economic and finance ministers from member states, will now consider whether any final amendments are necessary before voting on a final draft of the proposal within the next three months. If this process runs smoothly it will become part of public sector procurement policy across all EU member states by the end of 2003.

Although the new directive falls short of obliging public bodies to include accessibility in all procurement contracts, they are strongly recommended to do so. Specifically, the draft requires of authorities that "whenever possible, the contracting authority should take into account accessibility criteria for people with disabilities or design-for- all requirements when laying down specifications".

According to campaign group European Disability Forum (http://www.edf-feph.org/en/welcome.htm ), the new draft carries a significantly stronger commitment to accessibility than existing procurement legislation. "Previously, accessibility was included in the criteria that could be taken into account when awarding contracts, but now authorities will have to provide a good justification if they don't," said a spokesperson (see E-Access Bulletin issue 28, April 2002).

+03: Harry Potter And The Missing Version

The audio-described version of the latest Harry Potter book has been delayed, meaning vision-impaired readers will not be able to enjoy this publishing phenomenon until the end of September, E-Access Bulletin has learned.

BBC Books has been commissioned by Bloomsbury, the publisher of 'Harry Potter and the order of the phoenix', to produce the audio version on cassette and CD. However it says it has to wait until actor Stephen Fry is ready to undertake the reading. "The aim was to get the audio version out at the same time [as the book]", a BBC spokesperson said. "But Stephen Fry is in the middle of directing a film. The first chance he will get to record will be the last two weeks of July."

The audio version will be available on cassette and CD on 22 September at a list price of 75 pounds, although according to the BBC its own shop and a number of other retailers will be offering discounts of 20 to 30 per cent.

Once complete, the RNIB will duplicate the audio version for its Talking Books membership scheme (http://fastlink.headstar.com/talk2 ), which costs 60 pounds a year to join.

An RNIB spokeswoman said: "It's very frustrating and disadvantageous for people who are blind or visually impaired but this situation is by no means unusual - over 90 per cent of books are not put into any accessible version."

Braille translation of the Harry Potter book is already underway, with work beginning within two weeks of its general release by the charity Scottish Braille Press (http://www.scottish-braille-press.org ). The charity's general manager John Donaldson said: "Just 5 per cent of books are produced in Braille. Harry Potter is a high profile book so we decided early on in the year that we would get it out as quickly as we could".

Scottish Braille Press have so far received 70 orders for the book, split into 16 volumes, at a subsidised price of 12.50 per book. Donaldson said there has been a higher demand for it than for any of the previous four Harry Potter books.

+04: Talking Lampposts For North London

A trial that uses talking lampposts to orientate vision-impaired people began last week in the London borough of Barnet, and may roll out to other parts of the capital if successful.

The project, entitled 'React', will involve audio guide units fixed to 26 lampposts, mostly in the Golders Green area. It was instigated by non- profit disability access consultancy JMU (http://www.jmuaccess.org.uk ), with support from the RNIB and Zurich Financial Services.

Mark Rose, electronic signs consultant at JMU, said "It's a typical London suburb with difficult crossings and junctions. The area has had a similar system in place for two years at its bus and train stations."

Users of the system will carry a matchbox-sized activator, which when held in an upright position triggers audible orientation guides attached to lampposts. Mounted speakers provide information about the location of the user when they are eight to nine metres away. Activators, which are standardised across the UK, can be obtained for free from the RNIB, JMU or Jewish Care Homes.

"Its a system that tells you where you are," said Rose. "For example, it tells you what road or crossroads you are on or what bus stop you have just got off at. While most vision-impaired users have good local knowledge, that is different to knowing where you are at a given time, or knowing the distance between places."

Other UK cities testing the scheme are Leeds - where users can hear messages in Hindi, Gujarati or Urdu - Birmingham, Bristol, Glasgow and York. The projects in Birmingham and Bristol are being funded by the local council, while the other areas have drawn funding from a variety of sources, including lottery money.

In future, the scheme could also be used to provide tourist information Rose said, although he was unsure whether vision-impaired people would still receive the cards for free if this became the case.

++News In Brief.



The role of accessible digital technologies in tackling social inequalities will be discussed at 'Accessibility, ICT and digital bridge solutions', a conference running from 23 to 25 September at the School of Public Health, University of Sao Paulo, Brazil. For a Portuguese-only language site see: http://www.fsp.usp.br/acessibilidade .


The American Foundation for the Blind has launched a virtual museum for children devoted to Helen Keller, the deaf-blind advocate for people with disabilities. The exhibition is the latest to be added to the foundation's award-winning children's site 'Braille Bug', and contains video footage, photographs and a reading list for schoolchildren. http://www.afb.org/braillebug/hkmuseum.asp .


Nine specially-adapted computer suites and several touch screen kiosks were launched in Leicester last week, allowing people with vision impairments to learn new IT skills. A web portal providing information on disability issues and services was also launched: http://www.ldicn.org.uk .


Dolphin Computer Access has announced that users of the company's 'HAL' screen reader will be able to access 'thin client' computer terminals with a new version of the software to be launched later this year. According to Dolphin, the upgraded product is compatible with Microsoft Windows Server, a leading solution allowing large organisations to hold data on central servers to be accessed by pared-down desk-top terminals (the 'thin clients'): http://www.dolphinuk.co.uk .

[Section one ends].

++Special Notice: Techshare Call For Papers -Reminder.


Techshare 2003 is an important conference for professionals interested in technology and the role it plays in learning, work and life for people with sight problems.

Do you want to showcase your new products and services at Techshare? If you are planning on submitting a paper for this event, then this is a reminder that the deadline is fast approaching. The call ends 31 July, so get your paper to us as soon as you can.

Successful speakers will be offered a reduced rate on their conference fee. For more details see www.rnib.org.uk/techshare or e-mail: techshare@rnib.org.uk .

[Special notice ends].

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



Jane Sellers, a reader from Surrey, England, writes in with a request related to learning a language: "I am looking for a box of tapes which will enable me to learn the basics of Spanish as my parents are moving to Malaga next year - as they are going to a little village, I need to learn the language because very little English is spoken there.

"Does anyone have such tapes, or does anyone know of anyone who could teach a nearly-blind girl a crash course in Spanish?" [Reponses please to inbox@headstar.com].


John Knight of the Birmingham Institute of Art and Design, part of the University of Central England, is conducting an online survey into views on web accessibility. E- Access Bulletin readers are encouraged to take part by filling out the form at: http://www.biad.uce.ac.uk:8080/questionnaire/accessibility

To receive the questionnaire in alternative formats, including by telephone interview, contact John on john.knight@uce.ac.uk or telephone 0121 331 7868. The personal data you supply will be processed in accordance with data protection law, and results will only be made available in an anonymous format.


Peter Petersen writes in with a request for information on internet radio on behalf of his mother, age 93, who lives in a retirement village in New Zealand.

"Her sight is not good and she finds it difficult to watch television," he says. "It seems to me that one way she could keep in touch with the world is to listen to worldwide radio stations on the internet. I only discovered the variety of internet radio by accident but it means that a person in Australia or New Zealand can have good quality reception for an enormous variety of small European or North American music or talkback stations.

"I can organise a computer and an internet connection for her but there may be some excellent software suitable for her to use or learn to use that would enable her to scan the world for music and news or talk- back shows. Do you know of any such software or even hardware internet devices? Or is there a special subject list or internet radio chat- room that I could enter to collect and swap information?" [Responses please to inbox@headstar.com].


Last month we erroneously located the State of Maine in Canada - it is of course a US state. Apologies to web designer Leesa Lavigne whose 'Inbox' item we relocated in this way!

[Section two ends].

++Section Three: Interview- Higher Education.


+13: MAINSTREAMING CHOICE by Mel Poluck mel@headstar.com .

One of the most basic ways of improving access to education for people with sensory impairment is the provision of course materials in a range of formats.

The need for such provision has now become a legal imperative in the UK, with the introduction of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 (SENDA - http://fastlink.headstar.com/senda1 ). One higher education institution which is responding positively to the new requirements is Kings College London (KCL - http://www.kcl.ac.uk ), where equality and diversity officer Emma Price says accessibility work "is about mainstreaming: getting it into people's consciousness".

At KCL, alternative formats - including Braille, CD, floppy disk, internet, large print, cassette, tactile maps and Moon - are offered when anything is produced for mass distribution among students or staff, from departmental prospectuses to leaflets for student healthcare provision or classroom handouts.

To provide guidance and to ensure no student is deprived of any information offered by the college, Price has written a policy on accessible formats, in line with the college's equal opportunities policy and current UK legislation.

Suggestions from staff and students were used in the policy drafting process and a volunteer from the employment training programme at RNIB's Redhill College (http://fastlink.headstar.com/redhill ) contributed by assessing existing facilities. "I also used the RNIB's See It Right package (http://fastlink.headstar.com/see1 ), to help me draft the policy," Price says.

Throughout the college, departmental disability liaison officers were given specific training by Price and her team and by SKILL: the National Bureau for Students With Disabilities (http://www.skill.org.uk ) They then advise students on specific subject areas and specific disabilities.

As to which formats are requested the most, she says: "Disk and internet are the most popular, it is really going that way - the majority of students use email. Lots of work is uploaded onto the internet to update departmental pages. We have not had one request for Braille".

Some formats cause particular problems. "Attachments are hard to read with assistive software. For example, portable document format (pdf) files need to have a Word or plain text alternative," she says.

To solve this problem, the policy says a web link should be provided with any pdf, linking it to Access Adobe, a programme that translates pdf files to html or text versions which can then be read using assistive software. "I had a meeting with the director of web services about accessibility and they are now feeding it into their training," she says.

The policy is not just about technology: style is an issue for accessibility too. "Clearly written and printed materials are valuable for all," Price says. Accordingly, the policy states: "Accessibility of information should always be borne in mind, not only for disabled students but also for the wider community."

What targets do Price and her team have now? "It's very difficult to ensure 100 per cent of staff are aware of the issues, but for the short to medium term it would be wonderful to have every access request responded to quickly," she says. "We need more talk in this area, more staff training and more awareness".

What about other institutions - are they set to follow suit? Alarmingly, Price has noted a lack of enthusiasm from other institutions' disability departments. "I sent an email to an online discussion forum recently but the only kind of response I got was 'yes, it's an issue for us too.' I was surprised only three people came back to me - for us, it was something we just had to do".

The perceived high cost of accessibility work is likely to be the sticking point for many, she says. "In many institutions the initial gripes are usually 'how much will it cost?' but there is now a business case as well as a moral and a legal case for it".

Ultimately, Price says the crux of good accessible format provision is to include its planning early in the publication process. "For example, if the School of Medicine produces a handbook, it's important to work transcription services into the strategy at the planning stages."

A Catch-22 situation can arise however where some people say they'll only take action on accessibility if they receive a request for it, but if information is not available in accessible formats then people will not request it or know that it can be made available, she says.

"The more requests received, the more people realise we must provide accessible formats. But unless you say you produce alternative formats, no-one comes forward."

[Section three ends].

++ Section Four: Debate- Local Government.


+14: NO ALTERNATIVE TO ACCESSIBLE SITESby Dan Jellinek dan@headstar.com

Web site accessibility was the hottest topic for debate on this year's 'Better Connected Live' online forum, hosted by the local government IT managers' body Socitm (http://www.socitm.gov.uk ).

Accessibility refers to the ease with which all types of user, including people with disabilities such as vision impairment, can access the information on a web site. Many local authorities and other public bodies offer a text-only version of their web sites as these are considered more accessible for example to text-to-speech screen readers: but most participants in the online debate said such a strategy was misguided.

Martin Bottomley of Dorset County Council said: "I continue to be amazed that virtually every local government website has a text-only alternative, in spite of the fact that this is not best practice.

"In fact, there should be one graphical version of a site that meets a minimum of the international WAI accessibility standard (http://www.w3c.org/wai ), to 'priority 1' level. This is because people with disabilities dislike being given special provision, and text-only sites are unnecessary if the graphical site is accessible. It also follows central government guidelines, which state: "alternative text-only pages should rarely be necessary and are not best practice"; and "the challenge to your web developers has to be in creating web pages that are both visually appealing and fully accessible to a wide range of users" (see http://fastlink.headstar.com/oee2 ).

"Another reason not to use text-only sites is that there is a very real possibility of creating a separate but inferior site for some groups of people, to a much greater extent than their needs. For example, 90 per cent of people who are registered as blind have some vision. Their needs may well be better met by using a graphical version with increased font size, where the text is supported by graphics, rather than just plain text."

Chris Swaine, webmaster at Reading-city.net, said: "One huge problem is that many council members and officers - even those responsible for council websites - know very little about e-government, and they know even less on the issues surrounding accessible websites.

"I find this extremely frustrating as a member trying to educate both colleagues and officers. I have also not been particularly impressed with the many content management software solutions and companies who demonstrate their extremely expensive options, yet who are not genuinely interested in creating truly accessible websites, and templates that meet basic accessibility standards, which is not particularly hard.

"As a professional, involved in accessibility issues with the UK online movement, I would like to see solutions that integrate full accessibility as a norm, without people thinking of it as an add-on."

Mary Ann Hooper, adult care services web site project manager at Herts County Council said: "I think much more work is needed to ensure that website designers, providers, and users understand what accessibility means. There seems to be an assumption that it is about blind users, which it is of course, but they are only one group which need website design to be accessible. It is also needed for a very wide range of users, such as those with old browsers, those who can't physically use a mouse, or those who need large or different-coloured text, and many more. Universal accessibility is what we should be aiming to achieve."

Steve Crossan of open source programmers Runtime Collective said: "The only way to really make it work is to have a representative group of users involved throughout the process, preferably sitting down with the designers as much as possible. This doesn't have to be large - three to five people works well - and in the context of most e-government budgets it does not have to be expensive. It should represent a range of potential users. On top of that you can use an accessibility consultancy where appropriate - at the very least get a screen reader and put all your designs through it.

"And here's my number one top tip for accessibility from experience which is very cheap to implement: big text."

NOTE: This article first appeared in our sister publication, E- Government Bulletin (http://www.headstar.com/egb ). 'Better Connected 2003 - a snapshot of all local authority websites' is available from Socitm. See: http://fastlink.headstar.com/soc3 .

[Section four 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.headstar.com/eab 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].