+++E-Access Bulletin.- Issue 39, March 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: Planned Eu Directive To Ban Technology Discrimination

Proposed EU rules banning discrimination against disabled users of media, telecommunication and online services have been unveiled this month by European disability groups, which hope the provisions will pass into law by the end of this year.

The draft directive would require all private and public bodies to deliver their internet services in accessible formats, and all telecommunications services to be made accessible within five years.

The measures form part of a broad anti-discrimination initiative developed by the umbrella lobby group the European Disability Forum (EDF - http://www.edf-feph.org/en/welcome.htm ) with the European Parliament Disability Intergroup (http://www.edf-feph.org/apdg/index-en.htm ), an informal grouping of MEPs working on disability policy.

If passed, the rules would represent the first European move to prohibit discrimination against the disabled across multiple sectors and services including the workplace, healthcare, social services, education, goods, facilities, services and product design. At present, most anti-discrimination law in EU member states is contained in provisions which form part of broader laws governing areas such as transport, education or social security.

The law would also introduce enforcement procedures, including the right for people with disabilities to go to court in any EU member state.

"We expect changes will be made to the draft in the next stage, where it is considered by the European Commission directorate concerned with employment and social affairs. But the draft has been two years in the making and we have been very careful not to exceed the powers of European institutions. We hope the commission will give its support," an EDF spokesperson said this week.

+02: Education Support Database Goes Live

Students with disabilities can check what kinds of accessibility and support facilities and services are provided for them by colleges and universities in 17 European countries with the Higher Education Accessibility Guide (HEAG - http://www.heagnet.org ), a European Commission-funded service that launched earlier this month.

HEAG users can access online information resources on each country or find telephone contacts for educational and government bodies. In the UK section, users can search for all colleges and universities that provide syllabuses or books in alternative formats such as Braille, large print, tape or disk.

Most institutions have provided links to their web sites together with contact information for disability advisers. "The idea is to provide people with a general idea of what is available," said a spokesperson for the education and employment charity Skill (http://www.skill.org.uk ), the UK partner in the HEAG project. According to Skill, a student needing information about a specific course should contact university disability advisers directly.

+03: Call For Un Action On Technology Access

An urgent call for the United Nations to build basic technology accessibility rules into their development programmes was launched last week at an international meeting in the Philippines, attended by representatives of ten Asian countries, the US and Canada.

The event, 'empowering persons with disabilities through ICT' (http://www.worldenable.net/manila2003 ), was organised by 'WorldEnable' (http://www.worldenable.net ), an international accessibility consortium developed by Canadian company Vision Office (http://www.visionoffice.com ) and US social sector consultancy AIMS (http://www.intlmgt.com ). It was supported by the Philippine government and the United Nations department of social and economic affairs.

The problems of access to technology in the developing world are particularly acute because of lack of funds and training, so people with disabilities faced even more severe problems unless action is taken, the conference heard. A joint statement from delegates called on the UN to undertake a global study on norms and standards for technology accessibility in the developing world; develop a pilot web site accessibility assessment tool for use in a development context; and develop relevant training and resource materials usable by poorer nations.

Cynthia Waddell, director of the US-based centre for disability resources on the internet (http://www.icdri.org ) and co-facilitator of the conference, said: "The call from Manila is for a minimum threshold worldwide for accessible design of all technologies in general, and of web technology in particular."

Waddell said the remit of an existing UN committee on rights of people with disabilities (http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable/disA56168e1.htm ), which is working towards a global convention, could be expanded to specifically mention accessible design of technology.

+04: Audible E

A set of audible 'e-greetings cards' accessible to visually impaired people (http://www.yrguk.com/poetry ) has been launched by the UK Audio Network, a free resource created by accessibility enthusiast Bill Teale.

Users can choose from 25 poems grouped by themes such as 'humour' and 'birthday', which are played using the Real Audio standard and are compatible with major types of screen reader software. Using number keys for navigation, audio instructions lead the user through options, which include sending a personalised message with a poem.

The UK Audio Network site (http://www.yrguk.com ) also provides links to online radio stations, news, sports commentary, interactive audio quizzes and games for visually impaired people. In 2002 the site and was nominated for a British Academy of Film and Television Arts award for accessible interactive entertainment (http://www.bafta.org/interactive ), to the astonishment of Teale, who runs the entire operation unfunded, from his bedroom in Halifax.

++News In Brief.



An innovative mobile phone and personal organiser with a Braille display and keyboard, providing text messaging, email, mobile telephony and note-taking functions, will be launched by Dutch company Alva (http://www.alva-bv.nl ) this month, E-Access Bulletin has learned. The project was first unveiled at last year's RNIB Techshare conference: http://www.rnib.org.uk/techshare/phone_weij.htm


This year's eWell-Being awards are inviting nominations by 31 March for 'digital inclusion' technology projects which have helped improve access to jobs, education, entertainment and leisure interests for disadvantaged groups. The awards are hosted by non-profit body SustainIT: http://www.sustainit.org/ewell-being/2003_info.htm


The digital satellite television broadcaster Sky has added audio description programme schedules to its web site. Sky currently exceeds the government quota of 4 per cent of programming to be audio described: http://www1.sky.com/disability/tvguide.htm

[Section one ends].

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


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

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

[Special notice ends].

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



Trevor Frost, Adaptive Technology Coordinator at the Royal Society for the Blind of South Australia, writes in with a point of terminology. "As someone with an almost radical disrespect for political correctness I find it difficult to believe I am writing on just that topic.

"As a reader of E-Access Bulletin I am constantly confronted with the term 'visually impaired', a common enough term worldwide but one seldom used here in Australia where we refer to people with sight loss as being 'vision impaired'.

"I believe this came about when some pedant decided that a 'visually impaired' person meant someone who is unpleasant to look at. When I have pointed this out to visitors from the UK it has been the cause of great mirth but one must concede that it is the vision that is affected not the looks of the individual.

"As a 'vision impaired' person I am curious for others' comments on this" [Reponses to inbox@headstar.com].


Jackie Wright of technology firm Disability Dynamics writes in following last month's 'Inbox' snippet from Chris Gregory about online job search modules developed by Action for Blind People.

She says: "I thought readers might be interested to look at an accessible CV design and job search site 'Bounce Back' (http://www.bounceback.org.uk ) we developed last year with EU funding, which is being used by the Wheatsheaf Trust Employment Access Centre in Southampton and a number of local colleges. We are keen for people to make use of it and wish to develop it further, so any feedback would be welcome." Please send feedback to Jackie at: wright.jackie@btinternet.com .


John Loader of DotSix Brailling Services writes in for assistance on behalf of a relative: "My mother-in-law has macular degeneration and can no longer see the standard cursor on her computer screen, even at 18 point. I've tried in Windows for a more prominent cursor to no effect, and searches on the internet seem only to give animated and fun cursors. What we want is a big black rectangle. Any idea where I might be able to download one please?" [Reponses to inbox@headstar.com].


Camilla Oldland of The Living Paintings Trust, which provides free tactile versions of paintings and illustrations for visually impaired people, is seeking help in a review of the charity's web site (http://www.livingpaintings.org ) .

"We are keen to improve the quality of our web facilities, and are looking for visually impaired internet users who might guide us in this development. Our web developers have put together a brief questionnaire that should take no more than five minutes to complete - all responses will be treated in confidence". For a copy of the questionnaire please email lpt@livingpaintings.org .

[Section two ends].

++Section Three: Conference Preview- Csun 2003.


+12: MOBILE HIGHLIGHTS FOR TECHNOLOGY SHOWCASE by Derek Parkinson derek@headstar.com .

The largest annual global showcase of new technology for people with disabilities, staged at California State University (CSUN - http://www.csun.edu/cod/conf ), opens on Monday and runs for six days.

Topics of interest to the visual impairment community this year include developments in mobile computing; educational games; and the latest thinking on technology training.

The conference, which will receive visitors from more than 35 countries, will feature a keynote speech by technology pioneer Ray Kurzweil, who pioneered reading machines for visually impaired people (see http://www.kurzweiltech.com/aboutray.html ).

The mobile technology highlights will include the unveiling of new capabilities for the PAC Mate, a handheld computer made by Freedom Scientific that combines a JAWS screenreader, browser, email, calendar, contacts and document functions (see http://fastlink.headstar.com/csun1 ). The company will demonstrate how to connect PAC Mate - which uses the Microsoft Pocket PC operating system - to a mobile phone, printer or home computer using Bluetooth wireless technology. It will also preview future models.

Pulse Data will demonstrate KeyWeb, an accessible web-browser for the company's mobile BrailleNote notetakers and other devices; and KeySync, which enables accessible mobile access to Microsoft Outlook email software (see http://fastlink.headstar.com/csun2 ). The company is also expected to demonstrate new multilingual capabilities of these products.

VisuAide, a developer of advanced audio products, will demonstrate Victor Trekker, which combines GPS satellite connectivity with audio navigation guides (see http://fastlink.headstar.com/csun3 ). The company will also release a new, lower cost version of its Victor Classic e-book reader (http://www.visuaide.com/victorclassic.html ). The device retains full functionality and a rechargeable battery pack, but the power transformer has moved from inside the player onto the power cord to reduce its weight when used with batteries. E-Access Bulletin would like to correct a statement implying reduced functionality for this device carried in our last issue.

GW Micro will announce the inclusion of a Macromedia Flash online animation reader for their leading Window-Eyes screen-reader, which can also now access multimedia content in formats used by Real Audio players (see http://fastlink.headstar.com/csun4 ).

Meanwhile Freedom Scientific and others will demonstrate how the latest version of its JAWS for Windows screenreader can navigate forms, tables and frames on web pages (see http://fastlink.headstar.com/csun5 ).

As in previous years, training and education will be a key theme, and this year a European Commission- funded project exploring educational online games for children is likely to stir particular interest. The Tactile Interactive Multimedia (TIM) project intends to develop and to adapt computer games, making them accessible through devices like tactile boards, Braille displays or speech synthesisers. Children as young as three will be able to navigate through sound environments to boost their academic and social or emotional learning (see http://fastlink.headstar.com/csun6 ).

Among others, the session will examine 'Reader rabbits', an adaptation of a mainstream discovery game designed for very young children; 'MudSplat', where the player defeats mud throwing monsters by squirting water at them; 'Tim's journey', an exploration game where the player solves a mystery by exploring a sound environment; and 'X-tune', a musical game where the player can sequence and play with different sound environments. 'TiM's Magic dictation' is a educational game for learning reading and writing.

New ways of teaching music will be explored by technology developer Dancing Dots in a session showcasing its Speech-Assisted Learning product (http://fastlink.headstar.com/csun7 ). SAL works by placing a standard page of embossed braille over a flat touch-screen. When the student presses on a Braille character, SAL responds with auditory feedback. The system also incorporates a Braille keyboard, a synthetic speech engine and an audio file player. After completion of a set activity, the product can report the results to a tutor.

Finally, a session led by Harris Rosensweig of the Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind; Steve Tyler of the RNIB and Shan Sasser of the Iowa Department for the Blind will assess the viability of forming an international consortium that will provide professionals from around the world with a resource for information and training materials on providing computer training to blind, visually impaired, or deafblind individuals (http://fastlink.headstar.com/csun8 ). The session will discuss the approaches and materials currently used by the three organisations.

[Section three ends].

++Section Four: Focus- The Arts.


+13: PAINTINGS THAT SPEAK VOLUMES by Mel Poluck mel@headstar.com .

Many museums and galleries are seeking to enhance access to exhibitions for visually impaired visitors by combining tactile experience with use of technologies such as web sites and audio guides.

The National Gallery web site for example, since January 2003, has featured an online zooming system whereby users can enlarge details of paintings such as Van Gogh's 'Sunflowers' (http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/collection/news/newsitems/zoom.htm ). And recent exhibitions at Newcastle's Laing Art Gallery have incorporated relief versions of paintings by artists such as Stanley Spencer with accompanying audio descriptions, some of which remain as permanent exhibits.

The problem with many of these services, however, arise from a lack of detail in visual descriptions issued through audio channels. One regular gallery visitor with a visual impairment told E-Access Bulletin that audio description often comes over as superficial and lacking in detail. "I would love to have the textures, perspectives and information about techniques explained to me," she said. "These are the kinds of details sighted people absorb unconsciously. I want to be able to feel the depth of a painting."

To explore such issues further and examine possible solutions, the Arts Council is funding 'Talking images,' a project to interview around 300 visually impaired people to discover and analyse their attitudes towards museum and gallery visits. Another strand of the 18-month project - run by RNIB with accessible arts charity VocalEyes (http://www.vocaleyes.co.uk ) - is sending 12 visually impaired 'auditors' to around 50 cultural institutions to test the accessibility of their audio guides.

Some galleries are already attempting to set the pace for accessible art. Tate Britain (http://www.tate.org.uk/britain ) provides a service whereby visitors can feel mock-up canvases of paintings by artists such as Jackson Pollock and handle sculptures. It also began last month to offer free audio description tours in association with VocalEyes using new, lightweight hand sets. In future, the Tate is aiming to create an audio description 'bank' online, which rotates according to changing displays.

The British Museum's Compass project (http://www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk/compass ), a web site containing images of and information about 5,000 key artefacts, has also been made accessible for visually impaired people. Users can change the text size, style and colour through browser settings and view a text only version of the service (see http://fastlink.headstar.com/museum1 ). Besides Compass, which last year won the National Library of the Blind's visionary design award (http://fastlink.headstar.com/nlbuk1 ), a terminal for audio-described literature about the museum's collections was installed in the museum's reading room last month.

Compass project manager Matthew Cock told E-Access Bulletin: "People are realising that to start an accessible site is not just a question of making a text-only option, but that accessibility for visually impaired people should pervade the whole site. Not to do so is like only putting a wheelchair ramp round the back of a building."

NOTE: For more coverage of access to art galleries and museums see E-Access Bulletin, Section Four, Issue 35, November 2002 and story four in the News section of our October 2002 issue.

[Section four ends].

++Section Five: Banking- Talking Cash Machines.


+14: FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCE by Julia Schofield julia.schofield@jsc.co.uk .

Australia, Canada and the US currently lead the world in the development of talking 'ATMs' (automated teller machines) at banks, for visually impaired customers (see E-Access Bulletin, issue 31, July 2002, story 16).

In Australia, two banking groups - National Australia Bank, and Westpac which incorporates Bank of Melbourne and Challenge Bank - have been the first to deploy the systems in selected locations, and earlier this year I had the chance to assess one of these cash machines in Melbourne.

The idea is to provide fully independent access to the ATM for people with poor or no sight. The ATMs used by Bank of Melbourne are manufactured by NCR and are available for normal use, with additions to make them 'talk'. The main external changes are some transparent Braille labelling and a walkman-type audio socket beneath a small sliding cover.

Whenever visually impaired customers enquire about the system, they should be directed to a bank that has a talking machine. Staff in these branches have been trained in how to show people with poor or no sight the machine and are instructed too that they must cover how to find it from the entrance - the present machines are inside the bank.

Accessible ATMs must be positioned near a door in a location where someone can easily find it, for example by following a wall along a route that does not have furniture or queues of people in the way.

The first time the talking ATM is used, a member of staff at the bank will accompany the visually impaired person to ensure they understand how it works. At this short training session, they provide a small earpiece with a hook to attach it to the ear so that both hands are free, but subsequently it is most convenient for users to bring their own earpiece. In Melbourne, staff training is provided by the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind.

On the machine itself, slots have been marked in Braille with what they are (for example "cash", "receipt", "card"). A jack socket has been placed under a small cover so that the headphone can be plugged in.

The keyboard has tactile markings - the '5' key is marked with a raised bump, as with a telephone, and the 'enter' and 'clear' keys have additional markings. And then, of course, there are the spoken instructions - the element that makes it a 'talking' machine.

To hear the instructions, the customer plugs in their earpiece. Instantly the machine introduces how it works in brief, good quality speech. It invites the customer to put in their card, describing the orientation - "place your card in the slot marked 'card' with the raised printing uppermost and to the left".

The customer is next asked to type their card number on the keypad and press 'Enter' (they are told this key is next to the 9 and it has a tactile marker). The 'Clear' button is also described, in case of error. For withdrawal of cash, the customer is asked to press 1 for 20 Australian dollars, 2 for 50 dollars, 3 for 100 dollars and so on. When there is a pause, a message reassures the user that their transaction is being processed.

Whether the customer wants a receipt is also confirmed with keystrokes on the numbers and the customer is told to remove their card then take the money and receipt. Other transactions work in a similar way and if a balance is requested then this is given through the earpiece, which ensures the information remains secure.

Overall, the machine was very usable. The audio instructions were carefully worded, and the assistance I received from staff was efficient, sensitive and extremely clear. Machines such as this represent a major step forward in financial independence for visually impaired people.

NOTE: Dr Julia Schofield is Founder and Director of Julia Schofield Consultants Limited (http://www.jsc.co.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].