+++E-Access Bulletin.- Issue 41, May 2003.

Technology news for people with vision 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 .



The National Association of Disability Officers (NADO) will be holding its annual conference at the University of Lincoln on 1-2 July 2003.

The conference will focus on the roles, responsibilities, competencies, and terms and conditions of employment of people working with students with disabilities in post-16 education. It will include presentations and workshops, a suppliers showcase and the conference dinner, providing an opportunity for networking.

Delegates are encouraged to advise us of their needs, which we will endeavour to meet. A provisional timetable and booking forms are available from janepawluk@btopenworld.com or from our website: http://www.nado.ac.uk .

[Sponsored notice ends].

++Section One: News.


+01: Denial Of Access

Many web services provided by councils for e-voting trials in the May 2003 local elections were difficult to find and confusing to navigate, while pages providing background information for voters were often worse, according to research by the RNIB (http://www.rnib.org.uk ). The result was the services were inaccessible to people with vision impairment, who need simple web site structures to use text-to-speech or test-to-Braille interfaces.

This year's e-voting pilots, the largest so far, provided technology for around 1.5 million voters to cast their votes via the internet, touch-tone telephones, text messages, digital TV and kiosks. The government has set itself a target of offering e-voting nationally by the general election after next.

In 2002, RNIB called on the government to include accessibility testing in the pilot assessment process. "The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister said it wouldn't be necessary because the issue was being dealt with. Our results suggest that is not the case," said the institute. "In future we'll be contacting all councils reminding them of their duty to comply with human rights and anti-discrimination law. We want to see a scheme where all authorities running pilots gather together the information needs of voters and share best practices."

The RNIB report will feed into an Electoral Commission report (http://www.electoralcommission.gov.uk ) on e-voting to be published later this year. The report will also include findings from the Disability Rights Commission (http://www.drc-gb.org ), and the physical disability charity Scope (http://www.pollsapart.org.uk/survey.asp ).

NOTE: This article originally appeared in this month's issue of VoxPolitics Bulletin, our sister email newsletter on e-democracy. To subscribe email voxpol-subscribe@voxpolitics.com .

+02: School Test For Remote Control Support

A trial service allowing technical support staff to have remote online access to computers in schools could drastically cut the time that people with disabilities spend sorting out technology problems, according to the charity Abilitynet (http://www.abilitynet.org.uk ), a partner in the project.

The service, which is being offered to school pupils with disabilities under the government-funded Communication Aids Project (CAP - http://cap.becta.org.uk ), enables PC users to contact support staff through a web site. If the problem can't be resolved by email or over the phone, users have the option of granting support staff full remote access to their machine, allowing them to view and alter files and systems without a site visit.

"This is still at a very early stage, but we expect to provide this service to 200 users or so over the next few months," said Abilitynet operations director David Bains. According to Bains, the service could be valuable to the wider community of people with disabilities who rely on PCs. "There is a big gap between the help you can get on the phone and a site visit - this could help fill that gap", he said.

The service works over a standard 56K modem and requires no special equipment to be installed on the PC. The user can direct staff not to access files or applications containing confidential material and terminate the connection at any time. If the problem cannot be resolved, the PC is returned to its original set-up. "This is very useful for visually impaired people using a computer for the first time, for example if they're having problems with their printer or audio set-up," Bains says.


'A-Sites' (http://www.a-sites.org ), a long-awaited web service providing a searchable database of accessible web sites, has been launched by the National Library for the Blind (NLB - http://www.nlb- online.org).

The service currently lists 750 sites, according to the NLB, which began building it in summer last year (see E-Access Bulletin issue 31, July 2002). An original planned launch date of October 2002 was postponed to make way for a redesign of the library's main web site.

The delayed launch forms part of the NLB's contribution to a central government campaign to encourage individuals and social groups who are not yet making use of the internet to come online, 'Get Started' (http://www.ukonline.gov.uk/getstarted ). The library's other role has been arranging internet access taster sessions in libraries around the country (see http://fastlink.headstar.com/nlbuk2 ).

+04: Survey Finds Patchy Access Awareness In Government.

A new survey has revealed that only around half of those working to create online government services (55 per cent) say they are "very aware" of issues surrounding ways of making services accessible to people with disabilities.

A further 36 per cent of survey respondents said they had heard about the topic of accessibility, although they lacked strong awareness of the issues; and 9 per cent "have little or no awareness of the issues."

The survey was published last week in 'E-Government Outlook 2003- 2004,' the first comprehensive report on the state of e-government services in the UK from E-Access Bulletin publisher Headstar. An accessible version of the report is to be made available shortly - for further details please email: access-outlook@headstar.com .

++News In Brief.



The National Maritime Museum (http://www.nmm.ac.uk ) this week became the first ever winner of the UK Museums Computer Group's Jodi Mattes award for web accessibility: http://fastlink.headstar.com/mcg2 .

+06: TECHSHARE technology conference is seeking submissions from potential speakers, who will be rewarded with a discount on their attendance fee. The closing date for submissions is 31 July 2003: http://www.techshare.org.uk .


A pressure group which aims to establish the right of access to the cultural life of Europe for people with disabilities, 'EUCREA International', has launched a campaign to drum up support for its aims: http://fastlink.headstar.com/eucrea .

[Section one ends].

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



Geoff Doggett, project officer at Mid Suffolk District Council, writes in to canvass reader views on 'Suffolk DISC', a planned initiative to deliver concessionary smart cards for people on benefits and with registered disabilities in the county.

Typical providers providing discounted services would be libraries (for charged-for services such as CD or cassette loans); leisure centres; bus operators; and retailers. The card will also act as a single source proof of identity when claiming housing or council tax benefits, preventing the need for repeated proof of eligibility to multiple departments and organisations.

"I'd like to know, and understand, the issues of use of smart cards by people with a vision impairment, especially the physical characteristics of the card by way of the surface graphics and the possibility of adding a simple Braille ID label," Doggett says. "Also, are there issues surrounding use of photos on such cards? I would be very grateful for any advice." [Responses please to inbox@headstar.com].

+09: DRIVING TEST: Thomas Connole from the Republic of Ireland writes in with a response to our news story last month about the accessibility or otherwise of the European Computer Driving Licence computer literacy test.

"I am doing the European Computer Driving Licence training course and the only problem I found was that PowerPoint was a little bit inaccessible to me as I had to have assistance to use the mouse", he said. [Further experiences please to inbox@headstar.com].


Jorge Fernandes of the Portuguese vision impairment research and support body GESTA, who is also the translator for our Portuguese language version, writes in to see if he can generate a debate on some interesting theories published recently by the web usability expert Jakob Nielsen.

In the April issue of his 'AlertBox' newsletter, Jorge says, Nielsen wrote an article entitled 'Alternative interfaces for accessibility' (http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20030407.html ). The piece advanced two main ideas: first, that "The key difference between user interfaces for sighted users and blind users is not that between graphics and text; it's the difference between 2-D and 1-D [two-dimensional and one- dimensional information structures]," and second, that "The biggest potential gains [for blind and partially sighted readers] reside in creating a special design optimised for auditory presentation."

Jorge is interested to know what E-Access Bulletin readers agree with this assessment, And if so, what role remains for Braille? [Responses please to inbox@headstar.com].

[Section two ends].

++Section Three: Interview- Michael Burton.


+11: WINDOW ONTO THE WORLD by Jemima Kiss jemimakiss@hotmail.com .

The UK's Disability Rights Commission (DRC - http://www.drc.org.uk ), in partnership with the Centre for Human Computer Interaction Design at City University London (http://www- hcid.soi.city.ac.uk), announced last month it is to survey a thousand websites to identify barriers to accessibility and develop solutions (see E-Access Bulletin, April 2003).

The DRC was established by the government in 2000 to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people through research and a network of support services. Although the commission has been operating for three years, however, the new investigation will be the first web accessibility work it has carried out.

Michael Burton, the commissioner leading the project, defends its timing by saying it is all a question of priorities. "Important though I think this issue is, there are many more urgent issues facing disabled people and, quite properly, most of our energies are devoted to these."

However, Burton says the DRC does recognise the internet will become an increasingly crucial communications tool for people with disabilities. "The internet is tolerant of impairment because content can be translated into a form to suit the user," he says. "The web is a window onto the world, with the potential to liberate disabled people and enrich their lives in a variety of ways."

The UK disability and computing charity AbilityNet (http://www.abilitynet.org.uk ) estimates that 90 per cent of websites currently pose access problems for disabled users, despite the introduction in 1995 of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) which makes it unlawful for employers, businesses and organisations to discriminate against disabled people.

Since 1999, the act has required that organisations must "consider making reasonable adjustments" to the delivery of their services to allow access by people with disabilities, although it does not prescribe specific standards of web accessibility. The DRC could play a part in any eventual testing of the DDA's applicability to web accessibility, by supporting complainants in its role as a backer of key legal test cases relating to disability.

Overall however, the purpose of the project is simply to establish the current state of the art and identify what general measures need to be taken to improve accessibility. "Previous smaller scale studies suggest that nearly all sites will have potential for improvement and that many will have serious shortcomings," Burton says.

"The DRC is in the business of instigating systematic change in the environment, rather than setting specific standards - so the impact of these findings will not be fast," he says. But I would like to think that if we carried out the same report in three years' time, there would be a significant improvement," he said.

One problem with this idea is that the commission itself may not be around in three years' time. In August 2002 the UK government began a consultation process to establish whether a Single Equality Commission (SEC) might better implement tighter new EU rules on combating discrimination of all kinds. However, despite media speculation that such a move might mean the end of the DRC, Burton is confident that the future of the organisation is not in doubt.

"We feel strongly that disability issues have very specific concerns and these need to be represented by a specialist organisation. Whatever the new umbrella structure of an SEC, we have made it clear that we must continue to do this."

Burton was selected to oversee the web accessibility project because of his experience as a former chief executive of LIMNET, an interactive digital network allowing brokers and underwriters to process insurance contracts. He says that for most businesses, the problem of tackling web accessibility is likely to be administrative rather than technical. "I don't want to prejudge the findings of our research, but I suspect that we'll need to ensure that what may be seen as a peripheral issue is given due attention at every stage in the specification, development and maintenance of websites."

For the tests themselves, some key web sites will be pre-selected, although most will be chosen randomly from both the private and public sectors. The survey will use standard accessibility testing software alongside physical testing by people with a variety of impairments, to establish the correlation between technical compliance and practical usability. The aim is to systematically evaluate sites from across England, Scotland and Wales that will be representative of those typically used by disabled people - including both the private and public sectors.

The work is expected to be completed at the end of 2003, and Burton believes the results will be hugely influential in helping to empower disabled people as virtual citizens.

"It will be years before the full potential of the web is realised but I am delighted to have the opportunity to ensure that the foundations being laid now do not disadvantage disabled people, as those laid in the physical world too often do."

[Section three ends].

++Section Four: Round-Up- International.


+12: ACCESS ALL AREASby Mel Poluck mel@headstar.com

Over the past 12 months there have been many significant developments in Europe and across the world to boost access to digital technologies for all.

The European Commission has dubbed 2003 the European Year of People with Disabilities, with the aim of encouraging action, new initiatives and alliances within member states to prevent discrimination. In March, measures forming part of a wider European anti-discrimination initiative were proposed by the lobby group the European Disability Forum (EDF - http://www.edf-feph.org ) together with the European Parliament Disability Intergroup (http://fastlink.headstar.com/apdg1 ), a grouping of MEPs working on disability policy.

The two bodies unveiled a set of proposals that aimed to ban discrimination against disabled users of media, telecommunications and online services. The draft required all public bodies to deliver internet services in accessible formats, asking for all telecommunications services to be made accessible within five years. If all proceeds according to plan, the measures could be passed into European law by the end of 2003.

In Ireland, new accessibility guidelines for digital technologies were published in July 2002 by the Irish National Disability Authority (NDA), the independent statutory body that oversees the country's disability policy. The guidelines, which were based on consultation with both service users and providers, used a broad-brush approach to cover electronic services such as web sites; public access terminals; telecoms terminals and application software aimed at procurement managers and technology developers (http://www.accessit.nda.ie ). The authority said the guidelines, and associated innovative web-based tools to help bodies comply, represented "a new practical dimension to Irish national and European laws on accessibility".

The US has been a legislative pacesetter with the enactment of section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (amended in 1998) (http://www.section508.gov ) which requires that all new technology systems designed or commissioned by federal agencies must be accessible to people with disabilities. The law also covers federally funded programs and services, but not web pages of private industry. An independent Access Board created by the law regulates accessibility and develops technologies providing technical assistance and training on the guidelines and standards of section 508.

Early in 2003, however, US publication Government Computer News reported that US government initiatives were making slow progress implementing section 508 regulations. Many departments are reported to only be adapting their services a year beyond the deadline for compliance (see http://fastlink.headstar.com/gcn ).

In lower-income countries, heightened problems exist for people with disabilities due to a general lack of funds for technology and training. Special access technologies, which often require extra investment, are rarely available, so people with disabilities find themselves doubly disadvantaged.

Moves to tackle this problem by raising awareness in the development community were launched in March 2003 at a meeting held in the Philippines, attended by representatives of ten Asian countries, the US and Canada (see http://www.worldenable.net/manila2003 ).

Delegates issued an urgent call to the United Nations to build basic technology accessibility rules into all its development programmes. The countries also called for the undertaking of a global study on norms and standards for technology accessibility in the developing world.

The event, 'empowering persons with disabilities through ICT', suggested a pilot 'web site accessibility assessment tool' and training materials should be developed which are specifically tailored to the needs of people living in poorer nations. It remains to be seen whether the UN, in these busy times for world diplomacy, will take action in this vital area later in the year.

NOTE: This article is extracted from 'E-Government Outlook 2003- 2004,' the first comprehensive report on the state of e-government services in the UK from E-Access Bulletin publisher Headstar. An accessible version of the report is to be made available shortly - for further details please email: access-outlook@headstar.com and for information about paper copies email outlook@headstar.com .

[Section four ends].

++End Notes.


+How To Receive This Bulletin

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  • 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].