+++E-Access Bulletin.- Issue 54, June 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 .

++Special Notice: Sight Village 2004- 13-15 July, Birmingham, Uk.


Around 3,000 people are expected to visit this year's QAC Sight Village, the exhibition for everyone with an interest in technology and services connected to visual impairment. Exhibitors and visitors come from throughout the UK, America, Canada, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Smaller organisations of or for people with visual impairment are particularly welcomed as exhibitors alongside the 'big players'.

This year the event has moved to a larger venue: the Clarendon Suites, a conference centre near to the exhibition's host Queen Alexandra College. All areas of the venue are accessible for wheelchairs, and admission is free. See: http://www.qac.ac.uk/sightvillage/6-1.html .

[Special notice ends].

++Section One: News.


+01: Europe Launches Major Access Programme.

The European Commission has launched a major new programme of research into accessibility policies across EU member states, paving the way for a set of accessibility guidelines to improve access to digital services and technologies for disabled users across the continent.

The eInclusion@eu project (http://www.einclusion-eu.org/) will examine national and regional policies on access to employment, public sector technology procurement, and access to online public services such as e-government, e-health and e-learning. As part of its work the 30-month project aims to build an EU-wide picture of accessibility requirements for government web sites, including which accessibility standards are used, if compliance is voluntary or mandatory, and whether feedback from users is collected and acted on.

Lutz Kubitschke of German consultancy Empirica (http://www.empirica.com/ ), which is co-ordinating the research, told E-Access Bulletin: "It is important to get a structured view of what is going on out there. It's no good if guidelines are issued in Brussels, but they are not practical for member states to implement." It is hoped that by the end of the year, the Commission will use the research to issue draft guidelines on public procurement, Kubitschke said.

The findings should also uncover valuable information such as problems with implementing international web accessibility standards. "In some cases it may be that the expertise needed to translate guidelines such as WAI (http://www.w3.org/WAI ) into procedures is missing, or that not enough money, time and resources are made available for accessible web design," said Kubitschke. The eInclusion@eu project is being driven by a core of research teams in eight member states, and is funded through the EU's 17.5 billion euro Sixth Framework research programme (http://fp6.cordis.lu/fp6/home.cfm ).

+02: Banks Named And Shamed Over Card Problems.

UK banks who fared poorly in a 'mystery shopping' exercise to test the accessibility of new-style credit and debit cards are to be "named and shamed" by the RNIB.

The cards tested use a new so-called 'Chip and PIN' system designed to combat fraud by requiring users to key in a security PIN number whenever a purchase is made. Banks are supposed to offer and explain an alternative to Chip and PIN called 'Chip and signature', which is easier for some people with impaired vision since they may find keypads hard to use. However, the survey found that many were not doing so.

Results of the mystery shopping experiment will be published towards the end of August and will include full details of which card issuers were contacted along with a breakdown of the results.

When a pool of vision-impaired 'mystery shoppers' (http://www.rnib.org.uk/xpedio/groups/public/documents/publicwebsit e/public_mysteryshopping.hcsp) initially contacted the call centres of fifteen banks, building societies and credit card companies to ask for advice on the accessible alternative, just 22 callers out of the total 67 calls made (33 per cent) were told about the alternative and 15 call centre employees (22 per cent) mentioned that customers could continue to sign but either gave incorrect information about the chip and signature card or knew nothing about it.

The RNIB campaigns team is currently working with banks to improve services, for example leading staff through practical issues such as how call centre staff can identify when to issue a chip and signature card. The RNIB has also suggested banks improve information on their intranets and external information on their web sites. "Internal communication is the issue," says Helen Dearman, campaigns officer at RNIB. Dearman says she has already noticed a reduction in the amount of calls to the RNIB from people complaining about their banks over this issue, although she adds that a high staff turnover in bank call centres is likely to hamper progress when the mystery shopper exercise is repeated in August

+03: Guidelines For Local Government Chiefs.

The RNIB has published guidelines for senior managers and policy- makers in local government on how to make new technologies, from smart cards to tactile displays, more usable by people with disabilities.

Written by Dr John Gill, chief scientist at the RNIB, the 'Access- Ability' booklet (http://www.tiresias.org/guidelines/access-ability/ ) provides an overview of design considerations to be taken into account when developing new services. From transport and financial transactions to telecommunications and computing, the publication outlines common problems experienced by the elderly and disabled and offers suggestions for addressing them.

"The booklet is targeted at senior managers who aren't specialists in technology and don't have in-depth knowledge of disability," says Gill. The guidelines were produced as part of the RNIB's collaboration with the National Smartcard Project (http://www.nationalsmartcardproject.org.uk/ ), one of 22 national projects commissioned by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to aid local authorities on the road to e-government (http://fastlink.headstar.com/nat1 ).

The collaboration identified three target audiences who needed more information about accessibility: senior managers and policy-makers in local government; project leaders responsible for implementing local e- government projects; and hardware and software designers who may or may not work for local government.

The guidelines were developed in collaboration with Comité Européen de Normalisation (CEN - http://www.cenorm.be/ ), the European technology standards body.

+04: Council Trio Claim 'Aaa' Rating.

Three UK local authorities now claim to have web sites which comply with the highest standard of accessibility under the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI - http://www.w3.org/WAI ), known as 'AAA' accessibility. One expert has questioned whether full 'AAA' compliance has indeed been achieved by these sites, although their intention to move towards full accessibility was welcomed.

Haringey (http://www.haringey.gov.uk/ ) in London, Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council (http://www.stockport.gov.uk/ ) and Tameside Council (http://www.tameside.gov.uk/ ) in Greater Manchester have all recently relaunched sites that they say now provide easy access to all visitors, regardless of ability.

Under a central government directive, all public bodies are required to meet the lower 'AA' standard of accessibility by the end of 2005.

Stockport relaunched its site at the end of May, improving its accessibility rating from 'A' to 'AAA' standard. It uses an 'off-the- shelf' solution from Mediasurface (http://www.mediasurface.com/ ).

Haringey's site was launched in March, using an accessible templated design integrated into a content management system. This means that editors enter content using templates with built-in accessibility checks. For example, they can't enter an image onto the site without including a textual description which can be read by a blind or visually impaired person using screen reader technology. Haringey also consulted a range of users, including those with visual impairments, throughout the design and build process.

Tameside unveiled its AAA site in December 2003, following consultation with the RNIB and other relevant bodies.

Helen Petrie, professor of human computer interaction at City University (http://www-hcid.soi.city.ac.uk/ ) and a leading accessibility researcher, says the efforts among local authorities to reach the AAA standard are highly commendable. However, she says some aspects of full 'AAA' compliance are complex, and the three council sites appear to fall short of full 'AAA' compliance. And she says compliance with standards alone isn't enough to create good web sites. "For example, the standards say you should provide clear and consistent navigation. But to achieve this, you need a good understanding of how a range of users find their way around web sites. This means you need to conduct user testing. Only by combining compliance with standards and guidelines with user testing - among the disabled and non-disabled - will organisations create truly accessible and usable web sites."

++News In Brief:



The seventh international conference on human services information technology applications in Hong Kong is to focus on the need to use technologies to build a more digitally inclusive society. The conference runs from 24 to 27 August: http://www.hkcss.org.hk/husita7/ .


Ulverscroft and BBC Audiobooks are the latest publishers to add their catalogues to Revealweb, the free national online database of over 100,000 titles available in accessible formats. Revealweb is run by the RNIB and the National Library for the Blind: http://www.revealweb.org.uk/ .


'Iinformation and communication technology for people with disabilities,' a conference in Beirut, Lebanon, has become the first event of its kind to focus on the promotion of technologies to people with a disability in Arab countries. As a follow-up activity, a speech-enabled web forum for the visually impaired will now be launched. The event was organised by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia: http://fastlink.headstar.com/escwa1.

[Section one ends].

++Special Notice: Techshare 2004 Call For Papers- 18-19 November 2004, Jury'S Inn, Birmingham, Uk


The RNIB's Techshare 2004 conference is an important event for professionals who are interested in technology and the role it plays in learning, work and society for people with sight problems.

We are currently looking for people to give presentations in the following areas: Practical applications of technology; Innovation in education; Accessible web authoring; IT training; Broadcasting and digital information delivery; Mobile technology; Producing alternative formats; Technology in the workplace; Access to operating systems.

If you are interested in presenting, please email techshare@rnib.org.uk for more information on the format of submissions. The closing date for submissions is 2 August.

Speakers will be entitled to a reduced rate when registering for the conference of 130 pounds (or 95 pounds for one day). Speakers and delegates will also have the opportunity to have an informal exhibit at a 'Delegate's showcase' table in the conference coffee area at a cost of 40 pounds per table per day.

For further information including standard attendance prices, email techshare@rnib.org.uk or visit: http://www.rnib.org.uk/techshare .

[Special notice ends].

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


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

+08: VALIDATOR PROBLEM: Karina Gregory writes:

"I just wanted to let you know that I used the World Wide Web Consortium's HTML Validator (http://validator.w3.org/ ) to validate a webpage that I have written for my university assignment. I found it incredibly difficult to use as it seemed to be such a visual thing and I didn't find it very easy to access, and I was wondering if you knew of anybody who I could contact to discuss making it more accessible to visually impaired users?" [Responses please to inbox@headstar.com].


Matt King, Accessibility End User Advocate with IBM Business Transformation, writes in with strong personal objections to some of the remarks made by Kevin Carey in his article 'Radio presenters have more fun' (see E-Access Bulletin, May 2004) which suggested that the job opportunities opened up by internet radio stations could be more attractive and accessible to blind people than traditional computer programming work.

"I strongly believe the conclusions Kevin Carey drew from the recent Disability Rights Commission research on web accessibility and conveyed in his article are invalid, irresponsible, and damaging," King says.

"Because blind participants in the study had more trouble completing tasks or working efficiently even on well-designed web sites, Kevin claimed that it is reasonable to conclude, 'although blind people will need IT skills for education, employment and leisure - as means to an end - they will rarely be good enough in overcoming systems design problems to secure employment in IT per se. The days when the words 'blind' and 'computer programmer' went together like Morecambe and Wise were brief and are long gone.'"

King continues: "The DRC study was focused on the web sites, not the abilities or aptitudes of the participants. It is not logical or valid to conclude that if the average blind person has trouble using the average or even better than average web site, that blind people are proportionately less likely to be able to develop skills that will result in success in an IT-related field. Even if the vast majority of IT jobs consisted of using web applications more than 50 per cent of the time on the job, such a conclusion would still be completely baseless.

"IT-related fields continue to be an excellent choice for any blind person with the appropriate aptitudes. And, as the accessibility of advanced development tools improves, the doors open still wider. True, not all blind people have the nature to be equally good at presenting radio programs and developing, supporting, or managing computer-related technologies. Thus, each to his own. However, it is a mistake to diminish the fitness for consideration of one over the other purely based on visual acuity. I think it would be tragic if Kevin's article dampened the spirits of any blind individual who aspires to become an IT professional. And, on average, I would be shocked if working in radio pays as well. There is no doubt that radio is a smaller and less diverse field." [Further comments please to inbox@headstar.com].


Javad Momayez of Indiana University in Indianapolis, US writes: "I am very interested to purchase some tutorial or training CDs for access software packages such as Co:writer 4000, ZoomText, Texthelp, JAWS, WindowEyes, Open books and Magic. Do you know the name and web site of any company so I can contact them?" [Responses please to inbox@headstar.com].


We did not receive a response last month to Brenda Nichol's query about whether anyone knew of an accessible computer game for the card game bridge, so we would like to repeat the request - surely one of our readers must be a bridge player? [Responses please to inbox@headstar.com].

[Section two 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].


+12: Chain Reactionby Mel Poluck.

Email discussions groups have long served as a convenient, accessible tool for like-minded people to exchange ideas and advice on almost any topic, including the use of special access technologies.

One such resource is the low vision computer access discussion list, or Magnifiers group, a dynamic group started by Peter Verhoeven. The list is an offshoot of a web site entitled 'The Screen Magnifiers homepage' (http://www.magnifiers.org/ ), from the non-profit independent organisation of the same name.

As with most such lists, subscribers send an email to a single address, and the posting can be viewed by all other members. It provides a convenient forum for professionals, manufacturers, distributors, vision- impaired users and potential buyers of assistive technologies to support and advise one another in the use of access products.

List members offer tips on and reviews of existing and new assistive technologies; tip-offs on good deals; problems found; and request tricks on how to overcome difficulties or simply share experiences.

Many subscribers also post basic product reviews and recommendations as well as more in-depth analysis of product features. For example, a member may ask the list whether they think there are too many menus in the main window of the screen magnifier ZoomText (http://www.aisquared.com/ ), or which hand-held portable magnifier they think is most efficient.

For Tom Whittle, product range manager of technology products at the RNIB, lists such as these - and there is at least one for every major product on the market - provide a means of flagging up important user issues that may remain undiscovered from the confines of his office. "I like flicking through them and seeing the problems people have," he says.

The potential of this simple way of communicating is wide: not only do such lists provide a place to share information and smooth out niggling mundane user problems; potentially, archived postings can act as a huge resource of market research for access technology companies who could use it to vastly improve their access products. "Email lists are a good way of getting customer feedback to the manufacturer - if manufacturers have any sense, they'll monitor," Whittle says.

Discussion lists can also be a way for manufacturers and others to put the record straight on rumours or malicious attacks, he says. "I contribute when I see something not true."

Some assistive technology companies actively develop and support their own user discussion lists. For example GW Micro, the company behind screen reader Window-Eyes, offers multi-lingual discussion lists, information discussion lists and newslists (http://www.gwmicro.com/support ).

Ultimately, such 'self-help' support options may even bring down product costs, Whittle says. "When you look at software access products, the main cost is support," he says. When buying or developing software for example, the initial costs may be outweighed by the ongoing costs of support, he says.

"The more complicated the product, the more support is needed," Whittle says. "It's a good idea to have as many [means of supporting customers] as possible. I've used them myself when I am a novice at certain products," says Whittle, who regularly tests new assistive technologies in his job.

In some cases, manufacturers are using discussion lists directly to improve their products. One such company is Plextor (http://www.plextalk.com/europe ), a leading US developer and manufacturer of CD-related equipment and software which researches and engineers products for digital talking book players.

Their recording e-book player, the Plextalk portable recorder 'PTR1' (http://fastlink.headstar.com/plex1 ) has its own email list, (http://fastlink.headstar.com/plex2 ) started out of a high demand from users for discussing features of this potentially complicated product. "These guys are good at taking tips from people - they've got a good development team," Whittle says.

However, Whittle does offer a caution: "People in groups have different agendas," he says. Some people may use the forum to market their own products for example. As with all information retrieved from the internet, it is important to check the facts, he says.

"I look at the Magnifiers list to see how people are coping with the technology that's there," says Colin Holloway, owner of assistive technology company New Vision, and a regular contributor. "It upsets a lot of manufacturers but I like that honesty."

[Section three ends].

++Section Four: Analysis- Web Accessibility.


+13: The Hard Road To Progressby Julie Hill

In April this year, the Disability Rights Commission (http://www.drc/-gb.org ) published the findings of the largest ever research project into web accessibility (see E-Government Bulletin, issue 159, 16 April 2004). Its conclusions make pretty depressing reading: only 19 per cent of a sample of 1,000 UK sites meet even the minimum standard for disabled web access under the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI - http://www.w3.org/WAI ) guidelines. There is also a distinct lack of awareness among web site owners and designers about accessibility.

However, despite the disappointing picture of web accessibility painted in the report, there are organisations making significant efforts to ensure their online services are accessible to all.

Laura van Weyenbergh is e-communications officer at Rushcliffe Borough Council (http://www.rushcliffe.gov.uk/ ), which launched its accessibility initiative in 2001. At that time, awareness of web accessibility issues was fairly low, she says. "Our original site was designed in the late nineties, when web accessibility issues simply weren't being discussed outside specialist organisations," says van Weyenbergh. "While it was expected that public buildings must have wheelchair access and induction loops for people with hearing aids, it was neither known nor understood how people with vision and motor impairments might use a web site."

A combination of legislative pressures and feedback from citizens who couldn't access the council's site compelled Rushcliffe into action. It formed a dedicated communications team to deal with web accessibility in 2001 and is now working towards AA compliance with the WAI guidelines, which it hopes to achieve by the end of this year. Indeed, like other public bodies, the council had to commit to AA compliance by 2005 as part of its Implementing E-Government (IEG) statement to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister this year.

At Rushcliffe, the formation of the communications department was a catalyst for change, although the council recognises that accessibility is an ongoing challenge that requires new mindsets and new ways of working. "It is crucial to do the groundwork to ensure that web site contributors understand their role in accessibility," she says. "We have tried to encourage staff to view accessibility as the norm rather than extra work, but admittedly this has been difficult." There are always instances of where content needs to be added immediately and this is difficult to plan for, she says. "In these instances, we try to add a more accessible version of information as soon as is practicable," van Weyenbergh says.

One of the other challenges for Rushcliffe was its relationship with suppliers. When it first launched its initiative, few suppliers knew about web accessibility. "But we didn't come across any that weren't willing to have a go," van Weyenbergh says. "The knowledge of suppliers has improved considerably since then, although we do still come across one or two who aren't familiar with accessibility."

The imperative towards web accessibility for commercial organisations is perhaps less clear-cut. Centrica (http://www.centrica.co.uk/ ), a conglomerate whose brands include the AA (http://www.theaa.com/ ), British Gas (http://www.house.co.uk/ ) and One.Tel (http://www.onetel.co.uk/ ), is among a minority of corporates who have taken this issue seriously. Since 1999, it has been working towards making sure all its sites are accessible to all its customers. The impetus came from a commitment by senior management to embrace the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, which requires all organisations to ensure that their services, including web sites, are equally accessible to disabled people. However, there was a broader perspective to the company's thinking. "The commercial logic was clear," says James Donnan, corporate brand manager at Centrica. "Investing time and money to create effective and usable web sites would deliver a payback by generating customer loyalty and more return visits - and would ultimately lead to more business."

Both van Weyenbergh and Donnan agree that it is crucial to set up formal structures and to get people's buy-in to make accessibility initiatives successful. Centrica pooled expertise from across the organisation by setting up a web accessibility group, consisting of representatives from its main web sites. The group sought to interpret the WAI guidelines in practical terms that could be understood by web development teams and sought advice from external experts, such as the charity AbilityNet (http://www.abilitynet.org.uk/ ). "It is important to get all the right people together at the outset and to gain a clear understanding of what the accessibility guidelines mean in real terms for your site," Donnan says. "You then need to raise awareness about accessibility across the business, so that you get everyone's buy-in to what you are doing."

Neither Rushcliffe nor Centrica feel that they have had to compromise creativity in creating accessible web sites. "Some people think that accessible sites are dull and worthy, but we don't think so," says Donnan. "With centrica.com, we have used prominent imagery and created an attractive environment for the user which is still accessible. Once our programmers and designers understood the parameters they had to work in, they saw it as a challenge to see how creative they could be."

Nor have accessible web sites necessarily created extra cost for Centrica - another common misconception among commercial organisations, in particular. All new developments are built with accessibility in mind from the start and the company has found that the cost of programming and development is much the same. And for existing sites, the company has made improvements as part of phased site updates. "If you plan your site development so that accessibility improvements can be incorporated along with other work, then it may not necessarily create greater expense," says Donnan. "It has really helped to take a long-term view, as accessibility has now become second nature to our web teams."

Taking web accessibility on board has resulted in a better online experience all round, says van Weyenbergh. "Once you start to look at creating an accessible web page, you are forced to confront issues, such as usability, the importance of well-written content and consistency," she says. "This benefits everyone who visits your site."

[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 .

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  • Editor - Dan Jellinek
  • Deputy editor - Derek Parkinson
  • Senior reporter - Mel Poluck
  • News reporter - Julie Hill
  • Editorial advisor - Kevin Carey.

ISSN 1476-6337 .

[Issue ends].