+++E-Access Bulletin.- Issue 46, October 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 .

++Special Notice: Techshare: Learning, Work And Life


This year's major UK conference on technologies for the vision- impaired, Techshare, will focus on the themes of learning, work and life. The event, hosted by the RNIB and sponsored this year by Microsoft, will cover the internet; e-learning; and making music. There will be a pre-conference workshop 'Techshare for teachers' sponsored by government agency for technology in education, Becta.

The results of a survey of blind and partially sighted people in the UK on their current use of, and attitudes towards technology will be presented to delegates. Techshare is held on 20-21 November 2003 at Jury's Inn, Birmingham and costs 180 pounds per person or 120 pounds for one day. To register visit: http://www.techshare.org.uk .

[Special notice ends].

++Section One: News.


+01: Uk To Pioneer Location

A UK-based research consortium is undertaking a pioneering project to develop location-based services for people with mobility problems. The project, called LBS4ALL, will exploit new mobile computing, global positioning and communication technologies to aid navigation for older, visually impaired and blind people in urban environments.

The project's partners are the Department of Information Science (http://www.soi.city.ac.uk/organisation/is/ ) and the Centre for Human Computer Interaction (HCI) Design (http://www-hcid.soi.city.ac.uk ) at City University, London; the Age Concern Institute of Gerontology at Kings College, London (http://fastlink.headstar.com/kings1 ); the mapping agency Ordnance Survey (http://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk ); and the RNIB (http://www.rnib.org.uk ). It is funded until January 2006 by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Location-based services, which use knowledge about where a person is located to deliver relevant information to a mobile device, could offer blind and vision-impaired people far greater independence of movement. "At the moment blind and visually impaired people have to plan every journey meticulously and can't really be dropped into a new environment," says Kevin Carey, honorary research fellow at the Centre for HCI Design. "A location-based service could allow them to be more spontaneous in their movements and give them greater freedom and autonomy."

LBS4ALL has four strategic objectives: to develop applications to deliver maps, navigation, directions and other information to mobile devices such as smart phones; to develop a wearable mobility aid using an earpiece for aural communication; to create maps offering a "walking eye view" of areas, including localised elements such as pavements and pillar boxes; and to work with commercial organisations such as mobile phone companies.

"We see location-based services as complementing the use of canes or guide dogs among the blind and visually impaired," says Jonathan Raper, professor of geographic information science at City University. "Micro navigation - avoiding banging into low branches or stepping down a manhole - will be covered by existing mobility aids. But by developing new mobile navigation applications, we hope to give the blind and visually impaired greater freedom."

+02: Accessible Formats Copyright Law Enacted

A law will come into force next week allowing UK schools, libraries and non-profit organisations to provide accessible versions of printed materials to vision-impaired people without having to receive permission from the rights holders.

The law applies to the production of books in accessible formats by individual vision-impaired people, schools, colleges and non-profit bodies.

The Copyright (Visually Impaired Persons) Act (http://fastlink.headstar.com/copy1 ), which comes into force on 31 October, says if a non-profit or educational organisation has the master

copy of a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work, it does not infringe copyright for them to make or supply accessible copies for "vision impaired persons to whom the master copy is not accessible because of their impairment".

This means vision-impaired people will receive accessible copies of books in weeks, not months as is commonplace under current arrangements for distribution of accessible versions through a handful of authorised bodies such as the RNIB.

According to Barbara Stratton, copyright adviser at the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP - http://www.cilip.org.uk ), "no-one may derive any profit from making an accessible copy but a charge may be made to the user".

"It is very positive that [the law] doesn't specify the format, it just talks about making an accessible format" says RNIB campaigns officer David Mann. "The only significant limitation is if an equivalent accessible version exists commercially", he said, since the law only allows for vision-impaired people to obtain accessible versions of materials if one does not already exist.

+03: Web Design Body Embraces Accessibility

The British Web Design and Marketing Association (BWDMA - http://www.bwdma.com ) has formed a new usability and accessibility working group to combat the exclusion of people with disabilities from the internet. The group, which will hold its first meeting in London in early November, has attracted 18 members to date, including professionals from the blind and deaf communities, academics and industry professionals.

The association aims to devise practical initiatives to stimulate greater adoption of usability and accessibility practices in the digital economy. It wants to simplify these issues for web owners and web developers who it says are confused by - or oblivious to - current legislation relating to accessibility.

Part III of the Disability Discrimination Act, which came into effect in October 1999, stipulates that service providers must make "reasonable" adjustments to ensure their services are accessible to disabled people. The association says awareness of the Act is particularly low among large corporations.

"When you mention usability and accessibility to some companies, they have visions of text-only web sites which will ruin their corporate branding," says Leonie Watson, acting chair for the working group and usability and accessibility consultant for the digital design company Nomensa (http://www.nomensa.com ). "But you don't have to sacrifice accessibility for creativity. We want to reassure businesses that they can have all the bells and whistles while making their sites accessible to a greater number of people."

One of the items on the agenda for November's meeting will be to discuss the merits of an accreditation scheme for web suppliers with expertise in usability and accessibility. This would provide a valuable resource for corporate and government purchasers and give web developers something to aim for, says Watson.

+04: Politicians Promote Benefits Of E

A meeting this week of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and election officials to discuss accessible voting in the 2004 European Parliament elections could pave the way for a series of co-ordinated studies to assess the benefits of e-voting for people with disabilities.

The European Parliament Disability Intergroup (EPDI - http://fastlink.headstar.com/epdi1 ) met in Strasbourg to discuss past and present experiments with e-voting, and to lay foundations for sharing knowledge and good practices in future.

"It seems intuitively likely that e-voting is a positive thing for people with disabilities, because it enables them to vote independently and in privacy," said MEP Richard Howitt, president of EPDI. "But we need more hard evidence to support this," he said.

According to Howitt, the meeting discussed the planned UK e-voting pilots for the May 2004 elections to the European Parliament, and heard from representatives of the UK Electoral Commission (http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk ). "The Commission welcomed the suggestion that it could go back to its unpublished data and look for evidence, and to take part in evaluations in other EU countries," he said.

At present there is little political will to mandate e-voting across Europe, according to Howitt. However, EPDI will continue to promote best practice in evaluating its impact on people with disabilities.

++News In Brief.



The European Blind Union (EBU) is calling for vision-impaired people from across Europe to send in contributions for a new website, 'Indigo', created to mark the European Year of People with Disabilities. The European Commission-funded site aims to promote an exchange of views from 'dreams of a better world' to experiences of discrimination: http://www.ebuindigo.org .


The telecommunications regulator Oftel - soon to be incorporated into the communications super-regulator Ofcom - has launched a guide to encourage mobile phone service providers to make their products more accessible. The 'Good practice guide for service delivery for disabled and elderly customers in the UK' covers the use of larger fonts and adjustable screen contrasts for mobile phones: http://fastlink.headstar.com/oftel1 .


The London Borough of Brent has added speech software to its web site for people with vision or reading impairments. Users can adjust speed, volume and language according to their needs. The software, 'Browsealoud', is free to download: http://www.brent.gov.uk .


The National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM), based at public broadcaster WGBH in the US, has published a set of guidelines on talking menus for TV set-top boxes and DVD players: http://ncam.wgbh.org/resources/talkingmenus . Meanwhile, WGBH has been awarded a three-year grant from the US government for a project, 'Beyond the text', which aims to study ways to add multimedia - images, audio and video - in to e-books in ways which are accessible to vision-impaired people: http://ncam.wgbh.org/ebooks .

[Section one ends].

++Special Notice: Accessibility Discussion Forum.


Accessify Forum is a web-based discussion forum devoted to all topics relating to accessibility. Topics cover everything from 'Beginners' and 'Site building and testing' through to projects such as the new accessibility testing tool WaiZilla and the accessibility of the open source forum software itself.

The forums were launched by Nigel Peck on 6 August and have already attracted nearly 2,000 contributions. All you need to register is a working email address, so head over and join in the party at: http://www.accessifyforum.com .

[Special notice ends].

++Section Two: 'The Inbox'- Readers' Forum.


- Please email all contributions or responses to inbox@headstar.com .


Following last month's news piece 'Web standards mismatched?' describing the government's decision to raise council web site standards to a minimum 'AA' requirement, Vicki Cookson of the RNIB writes in to clarify the organisation's position.

"We welcome the government's decision to raise the accessibility bar to AA," she says. "This is the strongest signal yet that it is truly committed to making the UK's web presence one of the most accessible in the world.

"Local authority web site managers should be reassured that RNIB offers an auditing service to AA standard. This has not been widely publicised until now, as there has been little demand for it beyond the assessment of individual templates. However, we'll be happy to renegotiate the terms of any impending audit.

"To set the See it Right audit in context, we're confident that the WAI checkpoints covered in our standard represent best practice accessibility in the real world of the web - the standard includes the checkpoints which we believe are realistic, achievable and have the highest impact on the accessibility of a website.

"To qualify for the See it Right logo, websites must achieve a standard of accessibility exceeding WAI single A and close to WAI AA. See it Right incorporates nearly all WAI priority one checkpoints, as well as a range of priority two and three checkpoints which have particular relevance to users with sight problems.

For more information on See it Right, visit: http://www.rnib.org.uk/digital/siraccess . Web site managers and designers should also visit our new free accessibility resource at http://www.rnib.org.uk/webaccesscentre for a complete guide to planning, building and testing accessible websites."


Last issue Fernando Botelho, Technical Development Director of the eSight Careers Network (http://www.eSightCareers.Net ), wrote in with a request for information on materials to give someone who is blind access to Chinese.

It turns out that our indefatigable inbox contributor Chris McMillan, with Stephen Hallett, runs a charity called China Vision (http://www.xanadutv.com/chinavision.html ) to assist vision-impaired people in China.

She recommends the World Radio Network's china programmes, which include a language series, and also has a valuable personal contact: "Mr Ye Zijie, a blind man living in Huhhot, Inner Mongolia, is one of the visually impaired Chinese people with whom I correspond regularly and who has visited the UK to learn computer and other western skills," she writes. "Ye is also a teacher in a school for the blind, and would like to help Fernando learn mandarin."

And some advice from Ye Zijie himself: "There are several types of software containing electronic dictionaries for blind people, with voices in both English and Chinese. The software I use is called QingHua ShuangXing (in English the name is QingHua Double Stars). This software was created by Professor Mao YuHang at QingHua University in Beijing. It cost around 90 English Pounds, and the electronic dictionary I bought is around 50 English Pounds."


Last month Geoff Doggett, project officer for the Suffolk 'DISC' concessionary card scheme at Mid Suffolk District Council, wrote in to ask for pointers to information on the issues surounding use of smart cards by people with a vision impairment. Sylvie Perera of the RNIB Scientific Research Unit has responded with some useful links in this field.

"I suggest a search of the RNIB Scientific Research Unit web site for smart cards," she says. The address is: http://www.tiresias.org Resources to be found there include general card guidelines at: http://www.tiresias.org/guidelines/cards.htm A paper on 'selecting cards by touch,' at: http://www.tiresias.org/reports/tdiff.htm And a European project on smart card user requirements: http://fastlink.headstar.com/smart4 .


Steve Richards has a query about flat-screen computer monitors. "I am thinking about getting a TFT (thin-film transistor) monitor. However, I use Zoomtext as a magnifying glass on my monitor which I have set to cover about a quarter of the screen area.

"When I experimented with it on my wife's old laptop, I found that as I moved the magnifier across the screen the image beneath it just died and then came back as I brought the magnifier to rest. This is no good because I cannot see where I wish to get to as the image has faded. My wife says that the fading image is a sort of blurring which gives the impression that it has faded. My big question is: Is this to do with refresh rates and would a more modern TFT prevent this problem? It is useless trying to get any help from places like PC World! [Responses please to inbox@headstar.com].


Sondra Billings of the John Innes Centre (http://www.jic.bbsrc.ac.uk ), a botanical research institute, says there is a "gap in the market" in the UK for basic accessibility training for people who are not web experts.

"I should think that there are many other people like myself who have a communications background rather than a computing background but have still been asked to take on web management responsibilities. I [have searched on the web] for tutorials and background reading but this only takes a novice so far down the road to a full understanding of accessibility. Are list members aware of any hands-on training for web accessibility, particularly for the novice level, available in the UK?"


Finally Dave Williams, Interim Director, ACB Radio (http://www.acbradio.org ), writes in to correct a small inaccuracy in our September 'inbox' about ACB radio, an international resource run by the American Council for the Blind.

The piece stated that Jonathan Mosen was responsible for the running of ACB Radio, but in fact he stepped down in July, and Williams himself has been in charge since then on an interim basis. The ACB is now seeking a permanent replacement: http://www.acb.org/magazine/2003/bf092003.html#bf03 .

[Section two ends].

++Section Three: Interview- Peter Barker Obe.


+15: BUILDING BRIDGES by Phil Cain phil@headstar.com .

"A number of things in life change when you can't see any more," says Peter Barker, visiting professor at Reading University's research group for inclusive environments (http://www.rdg.ac.uk/ie/staff/peterbarker/pb.htm ).

Less than 15 years ago Barker had good enough sight to drive a car, as he held down a high-powered job as a director in a building and construction materials company. Soon afterwards however, his failing sight meant he could no longer drive, and keeping up with paperwork became almost impossible despite his use of a closed circuit television document magnification system.

But Barker's problems gave him a new perspective on the industry in which he had forged his career. As far as providing for the needs of the disabled, "I was probably doing it the wrong way," he says. And so he began to concentrate his efforts on researching ways to improve the navigability of buildings and transport systems.

In this new career - which would eventually see him awarded an OBE for services to the mobility of disabled people - his rare combination of personal and professional experience has proved greatly advantageous. "I can talk the same language [as architects] and can also speak with some credibility because they know I have personal experience of visual impairment," he says. One of his first research projects, Project Rainbow (http://fastlink.headstar.com/rainbow1 ), concentrated on the use of colour within a building.

The conclusions were startling. "When I started in the field there were people who said: "You need to talk about colour-contrasting important areas of a building and managing lighting levels." But what you really need to talk about what is 'effective' contrast and 'effective' lighting." In many cases, says Barker, it is hard to tell the difference between what is effective and what is ineffective.

The outcome was a way for architects to rate the effectiveness of colours they like and compare them to a definition for accepted levels of colour contrast. Part of this measurement technique has now been incorporated into British Standard BS8300 on accessible building design (http://fastlink.headstar.com/bs1 ) and government road vehicle accessibility regulations.

Barker's attention has now turned to trying to bring about changes for visually impaired people in physical mobility and access to information.

Barker is computer literate, using a computer by converting most text into speech but also using Braille. But like many who become blind later in life, he says he is not fluent in Braille. He has a desktop computer, a laptop and a 'Braille Lite' notetaker (http://fastlink.headstar.com/fs1 ), a portable computer with a Braille output and Braille keyboard with three keys on the left, three on the right and a space bar across the bottom. The Braille Lite can be used to download emails and read them in speech or Braille.

On a typical day he says he downloads his emails and newspapers and magazines sent by email by the Talking Newspapers Association UK (TNAUK - http://www.tnauk.org.uk ), and reads them during his journey from his home in Tunbridge Wells to his London office. He also finds time to reply to emails so he can simply upload them on arrival at his office or hotel.

He regularly reads the Financial Times, the Guardian, Disability Now and New Scientist, but he complains the Daily Telegraph only arrives at 2pm because the paper's publisher is slow in sending the digital copy to TNAUK to be reformatted.

"I don't usually bother with the internet," he says, blaming the frustration caused by the inaccessibility of most web sites. But he is beginning to use it more often these days as people increasingly refer him to sites.

When wishing to recall recorded information he tends to rely mainly on speech output, because like many people who become blind later in life, his Braille is not fluent. "In a meeting I use an earphone. But it is sometimes hard to listen to what people are saying with one ear and what is in my notes with the other. On these occasions I tend to use Braille."

He does carry a mobile phone, but can't send text messages or use the directory of telephone numbers. "I only use a very small part of its capabilities." This is ironic since the mobile phone is meant to be a speech communication system. "It will change, I'm sure."

When asked to name the one thing about information technology which annoys him most, Barker returns to an early technology in need of improvement. "Why can't you hear the radio on the train when you go through a tunnel? You can when you drive through the Dartford tunnel." One feels that if Barker ever becomes involved in railway construction, such communications problems would soon be solved.

[Section three ends].

++ Section Four: Focus- Web Standards.


+16: FIGHTING EUROPEAN FRAGMENTATION by Mel Poluck mel@headstar.com .

Although awareness of the need to make web sites accessible is now widespread in Europe, a large number of different guidelines, audit processes and testing tools exist within each country, creating a confusing hotchpotch of standards.

To address this problem, the European Accessibility Consortium (http://www.euroaccessibility.org ) was launched in Paris in April this year.

Some 25 organisations from most European member states and some countries which are set to join the EU signed a memorandum of understanding to form the body at this year's annual conference of the French web portal for people with impaired vision, BrailleNet (http://www.braillenet.org ).

Although most accessibility tools are based around the international World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) guidelines, the founding members of the consortium noted that there was no harmonised methodology for implementation of the guidelines; no harmonised methodology for assessing the quality of web sites; and several different "labels" emerging to certify web accessibility. It was particularly important for European governments and other public sector bodies to be working to the same standards, the members said.

The idea is that eventually, popular accessibility checking tools such as Bobby, Ask Cynthia and LIFT would become compliant with the consortium's standards and receive certification to that effect.

But is there a potential of the consortium's work actually clashing with that of the W3C? "The W3C provide a very important base, they are internationally recognised," says says Charles McCathieNevile (http://www.w3.org/People/Charles ) from Spain's Fundacion Sidar (http://www.sidar.org ). "We don't want to change [the WAI guidelines], we'll provide input. It's very important to us that we're absolutely compatible and we're working with them, not against them".

However McCathieNevile says the new consortium is similar to the W3C in that "like them, we encourage participation". Indeed, the only prerequisites for an organisation to join are that they come from a European member state; are proposed for membership by a current member; and are willing to work. Members come from backgrounds ranging from private companies like IBM; research institutions like the University of the Aegean in Greece (http://www.aegean.gr/intro_en.htm ); and disability-related organisations such as the RNIB, one of three UK members.

It was important that the consortium's membership should embrace both large and small organisations, McCathieNevile said. "What your local school does may not be the same as what larger organisations do in terms of accessibility."

McCathieNevile is chair of the consortium's technical task force, one of five working groups charged with developing a common evaluation methodology providing consistent results for web accessibility testing across different countries and in different languages.

Last month, the task force held its first major technical meeting, out of which a working draft emerged of a European accessibility testing methodology, with further technical meetings to be hosted shortly in the UK by the RNIB. The draft will also be published on the consortium's web site, one of a series of actions to be taken to ensure there can be public participation in the body's work.

So, does the consortium seek to create a single way forward on accessibility to which all of Europe must comply? "Its not about pushing everyone into a box," McCathieNevile says. "We may be able to provide technical insight on what can work and what can't but [policy] is not our role.

"What we're doing is making sure that if you take 10,000 vision- impaired users across Europe and say 'this will work for you', they will know that the application of that standard is reliable, and that web accessibility will be the same in Czech Republic as it is in Denmark".

[Section four 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.headstar.com/eab is also cited.


  • Editor - Dan Jellinek dan@headstar.com
  • Deputy editor - Derek Parkinson derek@headstar.com
  • Reporter - Mel Poluck mel@headstar.com
  • Correspondent - Phil Cain phil@headstar.com
  • Editorial advisor - Kevin Carey humanity@atlas.co.uk .

ISSN 1476-6337 .

[Issue ends].