+++E-Access Bulletin.- Issue 45, September 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: 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 .

NOTE: See also feature, section four, this issue.

[Special notice ends].

++Section One: News.


+01: Councils Face Web Standards Mismatch

The RNIB's high-profile 'See it Right' web accessibility audit scheme, which launched in February 2002, does not match new government requirements for local council web sites, E- Access Bulletin has learned.

So far four local authorities - Kensington and Chelsea, Thurrock, Welwyn Hatfield and Wrexham councils - have paid to receive See it Right accreditation (http://fastlink.headstar.com/rnib3 ) although Welwyn Hatfield council covered their costs through sponsorship.

The See It Right scheme is based on a series of 'checkpoints' based on guidelines published by the global Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI - http://www.w3.org/WAI - see also issue 31, July 2003 and issue 38, February 2002).

For web sites to pass the audit and receive the See It Right logo, they need to fully comply with WAI level 'A' guidelines, but only partially with the higher 'AA' and 'AAA' standards.

The problem for councils is that the government-required standards they must meet in their Implementing E-Government (IEG) statements, which declare whether electronic public service targets are being met, were raised last July to a minimum of full compliance with WAI level 'AA'.

The discrepancy is causing confusion among councils currently waiting to join the RNIB audit scheme such as Dorset County Council. Martin Bottomley, communications manager at Dorset, is unsure whether his authority may incur government funding penalties by obtaining an audit. "All of a sudden the goal posts have been moved," he told E-Access Bulletin. His team will make a final decision on 16 October.

The RNIB does offer a service where they will audit a site against any chosen accessibility guidelines such as WAI AA, although the process takes longer and costs more than See it Right.

However, RNIB web accessibility best practice officer Lis Angle said the aspects of WAI 'AA' compliance that are excluded by the See it Right audit are "very difficult to achieve." She said the RNIB did not have plans to re-examine their audit guidelines. "Government sites are a small proportion of sites we audit. We're really happy with what we have in our requirements. We think we've covered everything. We are keeping our standards as they are".

NOTE: For more on local government web accessibility standards see section three, this issue.

+02: New Software For Musical Scores

Accessible Music, a software tool for blind and vision-impaired people that produces spoken and Braille scores from scanned sheet music in seven languages, is to be launched at the end of the year by FNB Netherlands, a Dutch state-subsidised accessible library.

The software allows users to hear the contents of an entire book of musical scores, saving what can amount to months of waiting time to obtain accessible sheet music. Users track detail down to individual bars and notes, playing fragments or accessing detailed spoken descriptions.

"Everything that's on the page of a music score is represented on talking music," a spokesperson from FNB Netherlands said.

The tool uses the structure of the international DAISY standard for e-books (http://www.daisy.org ). It will be marketed to amateur and professional musicians, composers, teachers, librarians, publishers, software engineers and technologists through the FNB web site (http://projects.fnb.nl/am/home.html ), conferences and workshops and sold initially under licence before it is sold to individuals. FNB has not yet agreed on a retail price.

A free demonstration CD of Accessible Music will be available from the end of October - email projects@fnb.nl . And a free email newsletter on accessible music is available from the FNB Talking Music project site: http://projects.fnb.nl/Talking%20Music

+03: Batcane Due By January

The 'Batcane', a cane for vision-impaired people that uses echo-location, is due to go on sale to a global market by the beginning of next year after almost two years of trials by user groups in four countries.

The cane is the result of a collaboration between independent technology company Cambridge Consulting (http://www.cambridgeconsultants.com ) and Sound ForesightLtd, (http://www.soundforesight.co.uk ), an assistive technologies company founded in collaboration with the University of Leeds. It won 'Design application of the year' at the European Electronic Industry Awards on 24 September (http://www.electronicsweekly.com/awards/ ).

The system works by bouncing ultrasound waves off objects close to the user, and detecting the echoes. The information is then transferred to software which interprets it as a distance between user and object and sends a vibration to four pads on the handle of the cane which relate to the space above, behind and to each side of the user. The vibration begins as a pulse and intensifies the closer it moves to an object.

"Testers found and identified street furniture without walking into it", says Jane Fowler, project manager at Sound Foresight. "It's been successful from the point of view that feedback has been so consistent. It has been very well received". The collapsible long-cane, which runs on two AA batteries, will go on the market after trials in the UK, Canada, Germany and the US.

However, Peter Hings, products and publications support service manager at the RNIB said the manufacturers are still consulting with the RNIB due to "some fundamental design faults". He said, "It picks up objects. It's good at picking up gaps and objects probably better than any other product of its kind on the market but so far, at a very slow walking pace".

Batcanes will be on sale for 399 pounds via the Sound Foresight Ltd web site, the RNIB and other vision-impairment organisations. "Four-hundred pounds is still a lot of money when you think a standard cane costs 25 pounds 50", says Hings. The Bat-cane continues to be tested by the RNIB until its launch.



'Thanks to technology, people with sight problems are better off than they were ten years ago." Such will be the topic of a new-format large-scale debate at this year's major UK conference on technologies for the vision-impaired, Techshare, hosted by the RNIB (http://www.techshare.org.uk ).

The conference, sponsored this year by Microsoft, will focus on the themes of learning, work and life.

"There are always a lot of product developers present so this year we are going to balance that with people speaking about user experience", a spokesperson said. 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.

Other presentation topics will cover the internet; e-learning; and making music and for the first time, there will also be the pre-conference workshop 'Techshare for Teachers' sponsored by government agency for technologyion, Becta. This will include presentations from five technology practitioners in the field of education for pupils under 16 with impaired vision and blindness.

Also new to the event the latest projects, products and services for the vision-impaired will be shown in the form of informal 'coffee table' demonstrations, including a new mobile phone for vision-impaired users from Spain, OWASYS. 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.

++News In Brief.


+05: NEW WAVE:

The first radio developed by the British Wireless for the Blind Fund (BWBF), which includes push button tuning among other new features, is nearing completion. The 'Symphony' should go into production early next year. : http://www.blind.org.uk/newsletter4.html .


The National Library for the Blind are calling for nominations for their visionary design awards for accessible web sites with UK-based content from individuals, organisations or web designers. Entries must be received by 10 October and awards will be presented in London on 2 December: http://visdesign.nlbuk.org .


The accessibility author John Wilson's latest tutorial, Microsoft Outlook 2000 and 2002/XP for vision-impaired users, covers emailing; customisation for screenreaders, shortcut keystrokes and 'hot keys' for screen-readers. It costs 30 pounds for an email version and 32 pounds on disk. Wilson has also created free accessible user guides for accessible home technologies such as the LG Talking Microwave oven, the Zeon talking watch and an answerphone and audio transcriber machine. See the 'free stuff' link at: http://web.onetel.net.uk/~fromthekeyboard .


The Spanish national blindness organisation ONCE is accepting entries for its biennial international prize for research and development in biomedicine and new technologies for the blind. Categories include 'technologies that aim to enhance blind people's access to information and communication' and entries are welcome until 31 May 2004. First prize is 180,300 euros and second prize 60,100 euros: http://fastlink.headstar.com/once1 .

[Section one ends].

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


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


Geoff Doggett, project officer for the Suffolk 'DISC' concessionary card scheme at Mid Suffolk District Council, says: "I'm working in Suffolk on a project which will deliver concessionary smart cards for people on benefits and with registered disabilities. I would like to 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. Also, are there issues surrounding use of photographs on such cards?

"Typical providers providing discounted services would include libraries, for charged-for services such as CD or cassette loans; leisure centres; bus passes and retailers. The card would also act as a single source proof of identity when claiming housing or council tax benefits - preventing the constant proof of eligibility to multiple departments and organisations" [Responses please to inbox@headstar.com].


Ray Cassar writes in to ask if any of our readers knows of a masters degree course in clinical psychology which can be taken online. "Does anyone know of any university which offers such a course? The university has to be accredited by the British Psychological Society or the American Psychological Association." Please send replies to Ray on raycassar@bigfoot.com .


Jamie Westall has another educational query. "I am interested in teaching the blind and would be grateful if you could point me in the right direction for suitable courses in the UK" [Responses please to inbox@headstar.com].


Long-time subscriber Fernando Botelho, Technical Development Director of the eSight Careers Network (http://www.eSightCareers.Net ), writes in with an interesting language-related request. "I have decided to study Chinese. Are any readers aware of any optical character recognition software, Braille or electronic dictionary, or any other materials designed to give someone who is blind access to the Chinese language? Alternatively, would anyone know someone I can get in touch with who might be able to help?" [Responses please to inbox@headstar.com].


Mike Brace, Development Director at the vision impairment umbrella organisation Vision 2020 (http://www.vision2020uk.org.uk ), writes in with a product recommendation.

He says the MP3 music file player from cd30 (http://www.cd30.com ) is an "interesting piece of kit. This device plugs in to your amplifier and then gives speech accessibility for any music recorded onto your computer [using a 'Voice-Guide' remote control]. You can search by artist, album or even for specific words in track titles.

"I gather that someone in Northern Ireland is looking into importing these devices to then sell at a reasonable cost and thus avoid the import costs. I have seen this device in operation and was immediately impressed and plan to get one as soon as possible." If anyone else has used this device, or knows about import plans, please email inbox@headstar.com .


Chris McMillan, a long-term reader and inbox contributor, writes in to add to our ongoing discussion about online radio stations and similar resources (see also the inbox section of our last two issues). She suggests readers tune in to ACB Radio for the Blind (http://www.acbradio.org ), an international resource funded by the American Council for the Blind which is run by Jonathan Mosen, a blind man from New Zealand. The station features blind broadcasters from eight countries.

Chris points out that Jonathan Mosen is "much more than just a radio station owner" as well - for details of his illustrious career as a broadcaster and assistive technology pioneer see: http://www.mosenexplosion.com/bio.html . Incidentally Chris now also has her own home page at http://fastlink.headstar.com/chris1

[Section two ends].

++Section Three: Analysis- Accessibility.


+15: RAISING THE STAKESby David Kreps david@fourquarters.biz .

Local councils and fire authorities in England are currently embroiled in the third round of 'implementing electronic government' statements (IEG3) - an annual task to record and demonstrate the progress they have made with e-government, and their plans for future improvements.

When the draft proforma for IEG3 returns was published for consultation early in the summer, among its proposed targets were that minimum standards of accessibility for council web sites should be set at level 'A', the lowest of three standard levels of accessibility specified by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI - http://www.w3.org/WAI ) undertaken by the World Web Consortium. The higher levels specified in the WAI web content accessibility guidelines are 'AA' and 'AAA'.

However, in the final IEG3 guidelines released in July, for return by 10 November, the government raised the stakes and set the minimum standard at level 'AA'. This upgrading of the standard will have a major impact on councils' web strategies.

It is relatively easy to upgrade most sites to level 'A' standards. Minimum requirements to achieve this include to ensure there are alternative text 'tags' in the code behind all graphical material, and to write basic HTML mark-up for speech synthesisers. The latter ranges from the simple - like marking-up natural language changes so phrases like "c'est la vie" and names like "Javier Solana" are pronounced by speech synthesisers as you would expect - to the more arcane, for example using special HTML tags that give basic co-ordinates for those listening to a web page with which to navigate data in a table.

Level 'AA' standards require much more, however. What is needed here is a fundamental change in working practices for web authors, towards allowing the users of their web sites to determine how pages are displayed. This is achieved by using a 'style sheet' alongside the HTML pages, containing the specifications for all visual formatting: and visitors with their own preferences can then simply substitute their own style sheet.

This change in working practices for web authors involves three fundamental requirements: to adhere to current World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) HTML code standards; to adopt the principle of fluid design; and to cater for people unable to use a mouse.

The first of these requirements implies perhaps the greatest change, requiring web authors to unlearn much of what they are used to and adopt whole new ways of doing things. They will need to retrain to apply style sheets and web accessibility techniques, and entire new web maintenance and updating strategies are likely to be needed to keep the site accessible.

The second requirement - for fluid design - makes the final break from print-based design, requiring web developers to create pages which the end user can see the way they want to see them, and not solely as determined by the designer.

Finally, it is important that anyone navigating without a mouse - be it with keyboard shortcuts or a TV remote - is not excluded from the very services from which they are most likely to benefit. Many browsers for the visually impaired, for example, scan web pages for hyperlinks and present them all at the top of the page. Taken out of context in this way, a link which is entitled simply "click here" means nothing. There are also UK Government Standards for use of the HTML tag "accesskey" which enables users to press, for example, Alt+0 and Enter, on their keyboard, to navigate to the webpage that has the list of which accesskeys apply to which page - typically Alt+1 for Home, and so on.

The effect of these changes on transactional sites - those which allow council tax payments for example - is likely to be profound, and a strategy for compliance has to be ready in the short timescale of the IEG3 return.

Unfortunately, recent research undertaken by web designers Gez Lemon and Jane Wilcock and published by Accessify (http://fastlink.headstar.com/accessify ) shows most local authorities are likely to score badly on this issue. In fact at the time of this research, the authors found only a single council web site that was properly accessible. E-government officers take note - the clock is ticking.

NOTE: David Kreps is Director of fourquarters Information Solutions (http://www.fourquarters.biz ).

[Section three ends].

++ Section Four: Focus- Debate Forums.


+12: TOPICS OF DISCUSSIONby Caroline White caroline@white-site.com .

Two new online discussion forums dedicated to accessibility issues have been launched in recent weeks, highlighting the rising profile of such issues and acting as a test-ground for the accessibility of the debate interfaces themselves.

The forums are run by WebProWorld, a site for web design professionals (http://www.webproworld.com/viewforum.phpf=12 ); and by the accessibility information resource site Accessify (http://www.accessifyforum.com ).

Garrett French, email newsletter editor at WebProWorld, told E-Access Bulletin: "We launched our forum to go with an article by Sue Bolander, giving five simple tests to show whether sites are accessible or not. We have around 400,000 regular users and we wanted to provide a place they could discuss these issues, because it's so important to e-business."

The second site, Accessify Forum, has already attracted nearly 2,000 contributions since it launched two weeks ago. Administrator Nigel Peck told EAB: "We felt the web needed a set of forums dedicated to discussing accessibility alone, rather than as one of many design topics covered. This way we can cover all the related issues without danger of them being lost and cluttered by other topics."

Interestingly, both sites use the free, open source 'phpBB' discussion software interface (http://www.phpbb.com ) because it was robust, popular with other similar sites and offers plenty of useful features. However, the interface appears to be raising its own accessibility issues.

With nice circularity, Accessify has set up a forum specifically to improve the accessibility of the forum itself, and is working towards making it compliant with the highest international standards. "Once we've brought the software up to standard I will be releasing the code to enable others to do the same thing," Peck said.

Garrett French at WebProWorld said his site would also be looking at ways to improve the interface: "I don't believe this software was designed with accessibility in mind." One forum user has already recommended adding subject and message body label tags to the online forms used by the software to input messages, and adding tags to the text formatting buttons.

Both sites are based in the US and are generating lively discussion about 'section 508', a 1998 amendment to the country's Rehabilitation Act requiring government web and other technology projects to be accessible, even where these are outsourced to suppliers.

"Right now in the US only government websites have to be accessible," said French. "Some of our members feel the government should step in and demand that all sites become so. However most people seem to feel the changes should be voluntary."

One WebProWorld forum user says: "I have used screen access technology almost since it was first introduced. I think that, just as with anything, training is the key. If accessibility programming is including in programming courses, then people will do the right thing."

Another says: "I now look at web accessibility very differently. It's not just about catering for blind people, it benefits everyone. Sites that follow the guidelines, even in a small way, are improving their overall usability."

It is not always a simple matter. At AccessifyForum, one recent contributor says: "Making your site accessible can seem like an impossible mission. The problem is that even validation tools like Bobby can only cover things which can be tested, like images and forms having the right tags. They can't test for readability, like contrast between text and background colour. Getting the validation logo saying "well done" is only part of the process."

There is a positive message as well however: "There is so much involved when you look at the overall picture, but if you take it a step at a time you will soon work it out."

[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].