+++E-Access Bulletin.- Issue 50, February 2004.

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: http://www.headstar.com/ten .

++Section One: News.


+01: Access Gap To Narrow Within Five Years.

The gap between accessible and mainstream technology in the US will narrow significantly over the next five years, according to one leading expert.

Mike Paciello, founder and president of accessibility consultancy the Paciello Group (http://www.paciellogroup.com ), made the prediction during the course of a seminar broadcast live on the web last week by internet TV station AT508 (http://www.at508.com ) The online debate, 'Homeland security - the roadmap for achieving section 508 compliance' (http://fastlink.headstar.com/seminar1 ), focused on section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act 2001 (http://www.section508.gov ), which requires all US government web sites to be accessible.

Paciello, who is also co-founder of the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative (http://www.w3.org/WAI/ ), said: "We see an accessibility gap. Advances made within technology where fields of accessibility are concerned tend to lag behind those advances made in mainstream information technology." However, he said: "As a result of compliance with section 508 and World Wide Web consortium standards, what we should see over the next five years is a closing of the technology gap, so we see more products coming out immediately and inherently accessible".

Viewers could email questions to the seminar. According to Paciello, the Department of Homeland Security (http://www.dhs.gov/dhspublic/accessibility.jsp ) is leading the way in Section 508 implementation within the US government, which is the single largest employer of people with disabilities in the US. In making a technology accessible it is crucial to involve users in the testing stages, said Paciello. "If you are solely relying on tools to ensure your web site is accessible, I can guarantee you it will not be; you need to get the users involved". He said there was also a need to educate staff: "Employees need to understand how people with disabilities use these electronic information technologies," Paciello said.

+02: Workgroup To Promote Open Source Solutions.

A US-based group which promotes open source software has launched an accessibility workgroup to establish standards for making the Linux operating system and associated software accessible to people with impaired vision.

The free standards group (http://www.freestandards.org ), an independent non-profit body, launched the workgroup at a Linux conference in New York last month (http://accessibility.freestandards.org ). The group will create standards to support assistive technologies for users of open source applications - the software that contains a free and openly available source code. One key priority will be to develop a standard to enable assistive technology such as screen readers and magnifiers to interact with graphical user interface controls. Janina Sajka, the group's chair, told E-Access Bulletin: "Technology is too expensive and too cumbersome to learn to use. Through the Free Standards Accessibility Workgroup we aim to change that; we will do so in full conformance with the communitarian spirit of open source development."

Currently, many open source platforms use inaccessible graphical user interfaces for which few assistive technologies exist. The group will work with Linux developers to make applications accessible, provide advice and information, and encourage the implementation of user support across platforms that promote free and open standards. "Users are invited to participate in the design and development of the technology they need. Our process isn't anybody's private property. It's fully public and participatory," said Sajka, who is also research director at the American Foundation for the Blind (see E-Access Bulletin, issue 49, January 2004, section three). Other members include representatives from Sun Microsystems; IBM and several open source organisations.

+03: Uk Radio Station Plan For Blind Community.

Plans to form a consortium to create the UK's first national radio service dedicated to blind and partially sighted listeners were unveiled last week by a leading charity.

St Dunstan's (http://www.st-dunstans.org.uk ), the charity for people with impaired vision who have served in the armed forces, has called on interested parties to form a steering group to explore broadcasting platforms, funding options and content ideas for the service. The UK lags behind other nations that already have bespoke national radio stations for the blind community such as Australia, with its Radio for the Print Handicapped (RPH - http://www.rph.org.au ). And America has ACB Radio, owned and operated by the American Council for the Blind (http://www.acbradio.org ), which webcasts programmes across 70 countries.

There is already an RNIB-backed web-based radio station based in Scotland, VIP ON AIR (http://www.junction-18.com/viponair/home/view ), which broadcasts from Glasgow to the world. But to date there is no comparable service for the whole of the UK. "Our vision is to create a service that is dedicated to the needs of the UK's blind and partially sighted communities, but doesn't focus solely on 'visually impaired' issues," says Nick Ward, fundraising and communications director at St Dunstan's. "We have had a lot of interest from blind and partially sighted programme makers. Engaging them in the service will ensure that we take a wide view on content." The steering group will explore broadcasting the service over BskyB's digital satellite platform, but there are other options, such as webcasting, that it wants to examine. It will also look at potential sources of funding such as grants, sponsorships, advertising sales and donations from members of the steering group.

St Dunstan's says several organisations including the RNIB, the Royal London Society for the Blind (http://www.rlsb.org.uk ) and National Talking Express (http://www.ntexpress.org ), have already expressed an interest in joining the steering group.

NOTE: For more on St Dunstan's see E-Access Bulletin issue 29, May 2002 (http://www.headstar.com/eab/issues/may2002.html ).

+04: Spoken Text Messages'Live Within Weeks'.

The telecoms giant BT (http://www.bt.com ) is set to launch "within weeks" a new service allowing text messages from mobile phones to be sent as synthesized voice messages to fixed-line phones. The service represents an important breakthrough in mobile technology for the blind and partially sighted. "Until recently, SMS [the system used to send text messages] has been a no-go area for blind people," says Julie Howell, digital development policy officer at the RNIB (http://www.rnib.org.uk ). "But if you can use a landline to receive speech-enabled text messages from mobile users, that represents an interesting opportunity."

Users with voicemail can have messages delivered directly into their mailboxes and for those who don't have voicemail, a synthesized voice will deliver the text message to them in an automated phone call. BT Wholesale (http://www.btwholesale.com ), the network services arm of BT, will offer the SMS-to-voice service to other fixed line and mobile operators in the UK. A number of mobile operators have participated in trials and have already signed up for the live service.

"We fully expect all of them to come on board," says Andy Jugg, head of messaging products at BT Wholesale. The operators can then determine their own pricing for the service to consumers. BT says the new service could not only benefit people with sight problems who have not been able to use SMS to date, but also business users and parents who aren't comfortable with texting but want to keep in touch with their children. "This is a great example of a technology that happens to be particularly useful for the blind and partially sighted, but also has some great mainstream applications," says Howell.

++News In Brief:



The RNIB is inviting nominations for its 'Simply the best' awards that recognise employers, companies and organisations that have enhanced the lives of people with impaired vision. Categories include 'accessible information', including web sites, and 'accessible TV, film, books and leisure'. Nominations must be submitted by 31 March, with awards presented in May: http://fastlink.headstar.com/rnib4 .


Free 'style sheet' files that allow users of the Internet Explorer web browser to quickly and easily view web sites in their preferred colours and font sizes can be downloaded from the 'One Format' site created by Daljit Singh. The style sheets cover five font sizes, 10 colour combinations and the option to add or remove underlining and bold text; and they can be used with or instead of screen magnification software: http://www.oneformat.com .


Access World, the American Foundation for the Blind's bi-monthly publication on assistive technologies, has been relaunched as a free newsletter available solely on the web. New features include 'e-mail this article to a friend' and the option to send files directly to Braille printers or Braille note- takers. The first online issue includes a feature on Access World's ongoing investigation into accessible mobile phones. http://www.afb.org/accessworld .


The Old Bailey Proceedings web site (http://www.oldbaileyonline.org ), an online edition of accounts of thousands of trials from the London court, has been announced as overall winner of the Cybrarian project awards. The awards, run by the Department for Education and Skills, recognise web site accessibility; usability and quality: http://www.shef.ac.uk/marcoms/2004/194.html .

[Section one ends].

++Special Notice: Web Accessibility Forum.


Accessify Forum is a discussion forum devoted to all topics relating to web 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.

All you need to register is a working email address, so come along and join in the fun at: http://www.accessifyforum.com .

[Special notice ends].

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


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


A large number of readers have responded to John Conway's query in our last issue about the best fonts to use for readable text - clearly a hot topic. Veronica Dry was brief and to-the- point in describing the first choice of font for many: "Definitely Arial.

Everyone I know who can still read prefers Arial to all other fonts." Sue Allard, Co-Editor of the Gloucestershire magazine for people with impaired vision Modern-Eyes (http://www.modern-eyes.co.uk ), agrees: "We have carried out extensive research to find out the fonts most visually impaired people prefer and Times Roman was a definite no- no. Just about everyone we asked preferred Arial as a usable font. We also use bold as a matter of course and Arial Black for headings as we found that italics and underlining were also found to make reading difficult."

Percy Limb writes: "I am registered blind and have little sight in one eye. I find that Arial font 24-point size is the best for me although, even to read that properly, I need to use a magnifying glass. When I receive E-Access Bulletin, I click on 'Reply to Sender' and then 'Format' and 'Rich Text' and that automatically changes it into my default setting of Arial 24."

And the Arial vote is strengthened still further by Erica Cole from RNIB New College in Worcester, who says: "All our students use Arial, and whatever size they want. It is however, a good idea to ask people which font they would like as some people have specific requirements."

Sylvie Kashdan, instructor with the Seattle-based KAIZEN programme for English learners with visual impairments, largely agrees: "We have found that Arial is generally most preferred. We have also found that most students and volunteer tutors find a 20-point text size most readable, even though we know that 18-point and even 16-point was recommended in the past as a standard. [However] now that we have the flexibility that computers permit, if it is possible, it is always best to allow each person to choose whatever size font suits them best. "We have also found that most of our large print readers find text more readable if there is no bolding, italics or underlining. Spacing between words, between letters and between the lines seems to be the best way to set things off while maintaining the maximum readability. But, of course, there are always some people who find bolding helpful. "Finally, we have found that a few people whose primary problem is limited field of vision find it easier to use 13-point Century Schoolbook rather than Arial."

And Jane Fowler, marketing officer at Hampshire County Council, says serif fonts are not always a no-no: "Our guidance for staff on making communications accessible currently advises the use of sans serif fonts, particularly when producing information in large print formats. However, we are currently reviewing this guidance and will be amending it to follow the 'Clear print' guidelines in the RNIB's 'See it right' pack which state that serif fonts are often easier to read for large bodies of text, but warns against using highly stylised typefaces."

Judyth Mermelstein from Montreal adds a note about ensuring flexibility with fonts when sending emails: "Sending e-mail in plain text means your messages go out without any font specifications -- each recipient gets to see your message in the default font he or she has chosen in the email program used. Sending e-mail in HTML normally means that the user's default font will also be respected, whether the message is read in an email program or directly in a browser. "On the other hand, people who use Microsoft products usually don't know exactly what tags their programs are embedding. Microsoft has built its empire on doing things in ways that violate standards and inconvenience people using standards-oriented software. "If you are writing your message in Outlook Express and sending it in Microsoft's version of HTML (which is rather different from both standard HTML and standard XML) the program itself inserts the tags and specifies that recipients must see the message in the fonts and sizes you've chosen. From the perspective of the visually-impaired, this is not a good thing. Microsoft software also has a nasty habit of inserting far more tags than are necessary which results in doubling or tripling the size of the file, a real inconvenience for those who pay by the minute for their data transfers or have slow connections." Elizabeth Izatt of the Scottish Sensory Centre, University of Edinburgh, sends in a useful reference to an academic article on this issue: 'Size counts: the significance of size, font and style of print for readers with low vision sitting examinations', by Marianna Buultjens, Stuart Aitken, John Ravenscroft and Kevin Carey. This piece, published in the British Journal of Visual Impairment volume 17, 1999 (ISSN: 0264-6196), "concludes that Helvetica N24 plain text was the winner by a whisker over Arial N24 plain text." And John Thompson, managing director of Mousetrap Media, adds another useful reference, to a book on accessible web typography: http://www.scotconnect.com/webtypography .

Finally Peter Thomson, e-government policy officer at Wolverhampton City Council, has a supplementary question which may keep the discussion bubbling into our next issue: "In a recent course I attended about the Disability Discrimination Act, it was stated that it is preferable to use a font in which the letters 'a' and 'g' look like their hand-written versions, rather than the fancier ones typically used in print. The argument was that people with reading difficulties are confused by the different forms of these letters. This was news to me, is it an accepted idea?

Also, it seems that unfortunately the only common Windows font that meets that requirement is 'Comic Sans' - not really ideal as a corporate standard"

[Responses please to inbox@headstar.com].


Last month Rebecca Redmile, a daily living skills instructor from Toronto, asked about software or screen readers which will read the Welsh language. Bob Hall, RNIB technology officer for Wales, wrote in with news of the institute's Welsh Access Technology project, the development of a Welsh language synthesiser so that the speech output is in a near naturally- sounding male or female voice.

"This has taken a large step forward recently with the announcement of a grant from the European Social Fund and Welsh Language Board to fund a project at Bangor University to produce a synthesizer which has a wide range of applications. RNIB Cymru has held meetings with the grant-holder and Dolphin Computer Access (http://www.dolphinuk.co.uk/index_dca.htm - the producers of the Hal speech output software) to ensure that one of the first uses of the synthesiser will be in access technology software. It is hoped to have a prototype Welsh language synthesiser ready in July 2004 with an improved version available in November 2005. "In the interim there is an 'Apollo 2' hardware synthesizer available from Dolphin with a Welsh language voice but it is expected that the new synthesizer described above will be much more advanced." Vicky Millson, rehabilitation officer at the Gowerton Resource Centre for Visually Impaired People in Swansea, adds that if anyone is interesting in buying an Apollo 2 synthesiser "It may be worth trying to get a second-hand one as for most [purposes] they are now obsolete, but were previously such expensive pieces of hardware that some may be reluctant to part with it!"

Finally Russell Bloom, chair of the Wales Council for the Blind, adds that Braille Maker for Windows (http://www.braillemaker.com ) has a Welsh module. [Further responses to inbox@headstar.com].


Further to last issue's tips on technology to help people with impaired vision read sheet music, Jerry Weichbrodt writes: "In addition to the specific sources of Braille music and instruction you gave in January, I'd like to suggest that people interested in Braille music join the 'braillem' email discussion list. This is a relatively low-traffic list but is frequented by some of the best-known leaders in Braille transcription of music from around the world. To subscribe, send a blank e-mail message to: braillem-subscribe@topica.com ."

[Section two ends].

++Section Three: Opinion- Retrospective.


+12: IT'S 50 STEPS FORWARD - AND 49 BACKby Kevin Carey humanity@atlas.co.uk E-Access Bulletin is 50 issues old today. Now, anybody who knows the variety and extent of my cellar will readily appreciate that I am no party pooper; but on this day of celebration, I feel I need to tell you just how miserable I am when I think of the last 50 months.

In December 1999 I was very happy with my mid-range 486 laptop computer running WordStar 7 for DOS, my Navigator 40-character Braille display and its software. The whole unit was heavy for travel but everything else about it was efficient and comfortable. But in 2002 the hardware of the laptop gave out: the disc drive died; the space bar stopped working; and when we opened it up we found all sorts of other emerging corruptions.

I switched to a Sony Vaio, an ALVA refreshable Braille display and JAWS screen-reader software. This was a disaster in spite of the huge cost of the assemblage, which was slightly heavier than the old kit: the cursor clung slavishly to column 40; fighting for autonomous control of layout was exhausting; everything was slower; I missed block- marking and needed three hands for most editing operations. After four months of hell I gave up and moved to a BrailleNote portable notetaker which was brilliant with its cursor tending to the left of the display; block markers; ability to output a variety of formats; and, of course, size and lightness. However, I subsequently stupidly agreed to have it upgraded, at which point: the cursor took residence on or near the farthest left column; the system refused to recognise the existence of files typed from the prompt, particularly if they had the digit 4 in them (which is pretty inconvenient in 2004); the conversion protocols began to throw out or swallow work on a random basis; and, as I write, the machine is given to showing rubbish on the majority of the display.

So, on the whole I am worse off than I was four years ago, with much more expensive kit but less control and more faults. Never mind. This is, after all, the age of the mobile phone. Four years ago I had a Nokia which was the size and weight of a quarter of a brick. Now I have a Nokia 9210i Communicator of the same weight and size but this one has a full qwerty keyboard, sends e-mails and texts, and talks. I am theoretically much better off but in practice the front panel with the standard phone doesn't talk and the keyboard controlled part of the phone is too much of a faff. I just want a phone which tells me in speech what number I have pressed; and I want voice out to accompany my use of cursor keys so that I can use standard menus.

I am also sad to report that although I am no worse off in the area of television access, I am comparatively much worse off. Four years ago hardly any of my friends had multi channel satellite television; now most of them have it, as I do, but my electronic programme guide is inaccessible. Instead of one remote controller I have two; but neither of them talk. And every time I go into a hotel I have a struggle to master yet another remote controller configuration. My good old 1980s hi-fi gave out two years ago and I could not find a new one to buy that I can tune myself. I can still tune my good old Sony portable ICF-SW 7600 radio, but I have not yet found a digital radio that I can access autonomously.

Wherever I go I meet numeric key pads which will not talk to me so I have to hope that I am keying accurately. It would be so easy to produce synthetic speech. Neither would it be difficult to standardise key features on remote controllers, as we have done so on telephones. The shining exception to this depressing trend is my microwave cooker all of whose keys 'talk', assisted by my 'talking' kitchen scales. So unless there are some basic improvements in access to technology during the period covered by the next 50 issues of E-Access Bulletin, I will grow fat from eating for comfort.

[Section three ends].

++Section Four: Research- Web Access.


+13: Problems Dissected In The User Labby John Knight And Marie Jefsioutine .

During the summer of 2003 the Birmingham Institute of Art and Design's usability centre User-Lab (http://www.userlab.com ) ran an online questionnaire, conducted interviews and carried out a literature review on web accessibility. Some 117 respondents participated including designers, information officers and accessibility advocates. The survey found that 86 per cent of respondents agreed that most web developers do not have adequate training in web accessibility. Indeed, 'Lack of expertise' was cited as the main barrier to developing accessible web sites.

The survey results also indicate a lack of awareness among managers of the importance of accessibility and the barriers to improving accessibility. Some 64 per cent of respondents agreed that 'Management is unaware of the importance of web accessibility', and 'Lack of policies/management' was the second highest barrier cited to web accessibility. This might suggest that improving accessibility requires high profile campaigning.

Interestingly however, the vast majority of respondents (94 per cent) said that 'Clients ask for their sites to be accessible'. Whether these clients are representative of all organisations with a web presence is unclear.

The World Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) guidelines, the generally accepted international standard for accessibility, came in for some criticism from respondents. In all, 67 per cent agreed that 'Some WAI guidelines are difficult to implement', and difficulties with the guidelines were placed third in 'Barriers to developing accessible web sites.'

The accessibility consultant Joe Clark (http://www.joeclark.org ) notes that "Virtually all online accessibility resources are glorified rehashes of the WAI guidelines, which are opaque, very poorly organised, daunting, and in many cases unrealistic". Providers of software tools designed to audit sites automatically for accessibility - usually against the WAI guidelines - were also said to provide a raw deal.

One accessibility testing officer posted an apocryphal tale: "Previously, when we planned for the cost of accessibility testing software, we planned to purchase one copy of Bobby. Now, Watchfire's new policy meant that we would instead have to buy up to ten copies of Bobby, increasing the cost to us from 299 US Dollars to 2,999 Dollars - hardly a trivial increase".

The consultant Cheryl Wise adds: "Tools are lacking or horribly expensive for AAA compliance [the highest benchmark for accessibility set by WAI]". And the very notion of accessibility standards is criticised by some, who say: "What good are standards when browsers change so fast by adding new features every month? The needs or demands of the users change with the latest killer applications."

Most respondents accepted there is a trade-off between accessibility and other design issues. Just over half (56 per cent) agreed with the statement: "There is a conflict between usability and accessibility". Much of the literature on accessibility questions the tendency for people to advocate text-only web sites or versions of sites, and points to the opportunities for enriching user experiences for everyone. On a more positive note, 48 per cent disagreed with the statement: "Most development life-cycles are too short to incorporate accessibility." Some 51 per cent agreed that "web accessibility provides a return on investment" and 80 per cent that accessibility does not inhibit innovation.

Finally, food for thought in a contribution which noted: "There are situations where different problems may impose conflicting requirements on accessibility . . . up to now, there has been little open discussion about this."

NOTE: John Knight is usability engineer at User-Lab, Birmingham Institute of Art and Design (BIAD), University of Central England and Marie Jefsioutine is Senior Research Fellow in Digital Media at BIAD. A version of this article was originally published in Usability News (http://www.usabilitynews.com ).

[Section four ends].

++End Notes.


+How To Receive This Bulletin

To subscribe to this free monthly bulletin, email eab-subs@headstar.com with 'subscribe eab' in the subject header. You can list other email addresses to subscribe in the body of the message. Please encourage all your colleagues to sign up! To unsubscribe at any time, put 'unsubscribe eab' in the subject header. Please send comments on coverage or leads to Dan Jellinek at: dan@headstar.com .

Copyright 2004 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
  • Deputy editor - Derek Parkinson
  • Senior reporter - Mel Poluck
  • News reporter - Julie Hill
  • Editorial advisor - Kevin Carey.

ISSN 1476-6337 .

[Issue ends].