+++E-Access Bulletin.- Issue 51, March 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: Accessible Cinema Set To Treble.

Audio description and subtitling equipment is set to be installed in 78 cinemas across England, more than trebling the number of accessible cinemas in the country, the UK Film Council (http://www.ukfilmcouncil.org.uk ) has announced.

The project, which is part of the council's 500,000 pound National Lottery-funded Cinema Access Programme, will enable thousands of people with sight and hearing impairments to enjoy movies, from the latest blockbusters to independent releases.

The majority of popular film releases are now distributed with an audio description narrative and subtitles embedded in digital files. However, until now only around 30 cinemas in the UK and Ireland have been equipped to read these files so that audio description can be broadcast through personal, wireless headphones, and subtitles can be projected on to the screen.

Some 350,000 pounds has been allocated to buy and install the equipment, covering 50 per cent of its costs; cinemas will have to provide the other 50 per cent themselves. The equipment costs between 5,000 and 8,000 pounds per screen, although a cinema would typically only need to install it on one screen.

"When 'silent' movies were replaced by 'talkies' over 70 years ago, people with visual impairments began to enjoy the cinema experience," says Derek Brandon, editor of yourlocalcinema.com (http://www.yourlocalcinema.com ), a web site which informs people with sight and hearing problems about local cinema screenings. "But for those with hearing impairments, the loss of captions on the screen to explain the plot was the end of their cinema enjoyment," he said. "This year, over 100 cinemas nationwide will become fully accessible again for people with sight and hearing problems." Brandon's site has now received 50,000 pounds of funding over three years to help publicise the new services.

The new equipment will only be installed in cinemas in England, although the UK Film Council is working with the Northern Ireland Film and Television Commission (http://www.niftc.co.uk ), Scottish Screen (http://www.scottishscreen.com ) and Sgren Cymru Wales (http://www.sgrin.co.uk ) to ensure that similar services can be provided across the UK.

+02: Technology Starter Courses Simplified.

The British Computer Association of the Blind (BCAB - http://www.bcab.org.uk ) is to simplify its foundation training course for the use of assistive technology, making the intensive one-day course cheaper and providing more places for students.

The 'Access technology foundation certificate' (http://www.bcab.org.uk/btcs/atfc-handout.htm ) will from next month cost 350 pounds, a drop of 150 pounds. The course is designed for all professionals who work with vision impaired people and who need to understand access technology, such as teaching assistants and rehabilitation workers.

According to course manager Stephen Plumpton, students do not need to have a training background. "The course encompasses some very basic coaching skills and an introduction to access technology for the visually impaired, such as CCTV; screen readers and screen enlargement," he says. "It is intended to ensure access training in the UK is of a consistently high standard."

Plumpton is also working on a training video designed to lead people into the foundation course, which has run in its current format since last August. BCAB has also been in meetings this week with international charity Sightsavers International (http://www.sightsavers.org.uk ) to discuss working with them to help develop similar programmes for development work in Africa.

Beyond the foundation course, BCAB offers a five-day Trainer Certification Scheme (http://www.bcab.org.uk/btcs ) for those new to training and a two-day course for those with some experience. Trainers have a written assessment on their assistive technology product of choice, followed by a face-to-face assessment. Students are re-assessed after three years and the product knowledge course can be re-taken as new versions of products emerge.

"We aim to take to the fear out of taking access products out of the box," says Plumpton.

+03: Museums Urged To Consult On Technology.

Museums must consult people with disabilities before implementing new technologies, Peter Berridge, head of Colchester Museums (http://www.colchestermuseums.org.uk ) told a conference on the accessibility of cultural institutions last month.

'Is your museum fully accessible?' was organised by the Museums Association (http://www.museumsassociation.org ) with the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA - http://www.mla.gov.uk ). It aimed to provide practical advice for museums working towards the Disability Discrimination Act, which comes into full force in October 2004.

Berridge said Colchester Museums' own experience of introducing induction loops for people with hearing difficulties had taught it valuable lessons about introducing new technology. The museums only realised that deaf users received conflicting commentaries for audio- visual presentations when people complained, as the technology hadn't been sufficiently tested on users prior to implementation.

"This was a key turning point for us," he said. "Never again would we spend scarce resources on technology without consulting users first." Colchester Museums has since established an access advisory group called Portal, with a membership of nine people with visual, hearing, physical and other impairments. The group, whose members are paid for their services, ensures that accessibility is now built into all new projects at the museum from the outset.

Colchester Museums is currently exploring the use of different technologies to make visiting its exhibitions more rewarding for people with impaired vision. These include audio guides delivered through handsets; Braille labelling; a greater emphasis on touch in its displays; and an accessible web site, due to be launched in a few weeks' time.

The MLA has produced a guide offering museums advice on how they can use technology to provide better services to disabled people (http://www.resource.gov.uk/documents/dis_guide07.pdf ).

+04: National Library Launches Free Online Guides.

The National Library for the Blind (NLB), the library service for vision-impaired people, has developed a series of free online training courses for support workers and others on the basics of access technology (http://atp.nlb-online.org/Lessons/p_00.php ).

The 'Access technology primer' is aimed at rehabilitation workers, library staff and educational support staff. Its initial sections are: Introduction to access technology; Training visually impaired people to use computers; Changes you can make to your computer without access technology; Windows keyboard commands; JAWS; Supernova; and Zoomtext (these last three are types of screen reader and screen magnification software).

The courses are funded by international independent charity the Health Foundation (http://www.health.org.uk ), and a spokesperson for the NLB told E-Access Bulletin the courses have already attracted a lot of interest.

The library is also developing a visual impairment directory, an online introduction to working with people with impaired vision, and a guide to working with people with mobility issues. It is also gearing up for its annual 'Make a noise in libraries week' (MANIL http://www.nlb-online.org/campaigns ), a campaign 19 to 25 July to encourage libraries to improve access to libraries for vision impaired people.

++News In Brief:



Former US congressman Benjamin Gilman has recommended that communities worldwide form advisory councils and liaise with business and marketing experts to develop new policies to use technology to enrich the lives of older people. Gilman was a keynote speaker last month's UN-hosted meeting, 'Age of connectivity: harnessing the generations': http://www.un.org/events/agingcf.htm .


St Dunstan's, the independent charity for vision-impaired ex-service men and women, will shortly be posting members' eyewitness accounts of the D-Day landings in the Second World War on their web site to mark the 60th anniversary of D-Day. In the past two weeks, secondary school pupils have begun using bulletin boards with similar stories as part of a GCSE module on citizenship which includes the use of new technologies to help people with disabilities: http://fastlink.headstar.com/dunstans1 .


Techshare, the annual international conference on technologies for vision-impaired people, is to be held this year on 18 and 19 November 2004 at the Jury's Inn hotel, Birmingham, with pre-conference workshops to be held on 17 November. The RNIB event is aimed at professionals supporting people with vision impairment and costs 195 pounds, with an 'early bird' rate of 130 pounds for those enrolling by 1 October: http://www.rnib.org.uk/techshare .

[Section one ends].

++Special Notice: Accessible E-Government- Planning For Accessibility Seminar - 30 March, Globe Theatre, London.


On 30 March, E-Access Bulletin's sister publication E-Government Bulletin presents a one-day seminar on strategies for ensuring your e-services are accessible to all regardless of ability. Government guidance for public sector web sites is clear that accessibility needs to be radically improved, and the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act means that this is now a legal as well as a moral imperative for all e-service channels.

'E-government for all: planning for accessibility' takes place at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, central London. Speakers include Helen Petrie, Professor of Human Computer Interaction Design at City University; Guido Gybels, Head of Technology, Royal National Institute for Deaf People; and Kevin Carey, vice chairman of the RNIB and Director of HumanITy.

The event is aimed largely at our public sector readers and their private sector partners, and there is a fee payable. Places cost 295 pounds plus VAT for public sector and 395 for private sector delegates. Additional delegates booking at the same time receive a 100 pound discount. For more information and to register see: http://www.electronic-government.com/access.htm .

[Sponsored notice ends].

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


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


Karina Gregory writes in with two queries. First, she asks: "Does anyone know of an accessible compiler that I can use to write and compile Java? I am currently using jGrasp but am not finding it very easy to use. Any recommendations gratefully received."

And secondly, she asks: "Does anyone know where I can get a Braille font to translate on-screen text into Braille so that it can be printed out and transferred onto 'swell paper' to create readable Braille? I am aware that the RNIB offered one that could be downloaded from their website a couple of years ago, but this has been removed and I was wondering where else I could get one from?" [Responses please to inbox@headstar.com].


Meanwhile the discussion about readable fonts continues. Karina Gregory (see previous item) says: "I use Arial or Tahoma as my standard fonts as I find these the easiest to read and most people who I have met, both visually impaired and fully sighted, also recommend the use of these two fonts."

And Terry Kenaghan of Optek Systems in Australia (http://www.mpx.com.au/~terryk ) says: "I became involved with this issue of fonts when I was requested to create software for a typing program for vision-impaired children.

"Initially I used large Arial fonts in the program, which seemed OK, until the software was used with very young children, and we ran into the problem of recognition where the letters differed from the shapes that the child had been introduced to by their parents. I found that by using the Century Gothic font it solved these problems and seems acceptable to all - a better solution than the Comic Sans font [Last issue Peter Thomson of Wolverhampton City Council said Comic Sans was the only font he knew of where the letters 'a' and 'g' looked like their handwritten counterparts.]


Rebecka Boman, who works for a manufacturer of assistive technology in the US, has a question about Braille: "I have heard that there will be a Braille standard implemented in the UK in May, 2004. I would like to know what this means "Braille standard" and also how will the making of Braille be affected?" [Responses please to inbox@headstar.com].


Peter Taylor suggests we should start a section of the bulletin where second hand access equipment can be bought and sold. For the moment, we propose to do this at the end of the 'Inbox' section if there is demand, starting with his own requirement: "I personally would like to find a Dolphin JUNO speech synthesiser, which many will have ceased to use long ago but I still find extremely useful for using dbase3 in DOS." [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].

++Section Three: Snapshot- Local Government.


+12: A Mountain To Climb.By Dan Jellinek And Derek Parkinson.

The annual 'Better Connected' survey provides a useful snapshot of local e-government across the UK. Conducted on behalf of the Society of IT managers (Socitm - http://www.socitm.gov.uk ), the survey looks at each of the 467 council web sites in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and assesses the range, design and sophistication of online services.

This year, Better Connected has tested all the sites for accessibility against standards set out by the international World Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative (http://www.w3.org/WAI ), which rates sites as 'A' for basic accessibility; 'AA' for higher level accessibility and 'AAA' for near-perfection.

These standards form the cornerstone of UK policy on web accessibility. In the government's guidance for the third round of council 'implementing electronic government' (IEG) statements (http://fastlink.headstar.com/ieg3 ), councils are urged to work towards 'AA' standards.

All web sites were initially tested using automated software tools, and those that passed were then subjected to thorough manual tests by a team that included specialist consultants from RNIB. The Socitm report finds that just 18 councils achieve level 'A' conformance, and of the 23 sites assessed as transactional, only three achieve level 'A': Surrey, Tameside and Wrexham. Only one site - Tameside - achieves 'AAA' standard.

Around half of council sites fail to attain very basic accessibility levels due a lack of meaningful text tags for images on their sites; and many sites failed latter stages because when accessed by a browser that does not support JavaScript, the functionality did not work and there was no alternative provided. 'Text-only' alternative sites are not much help either; of the 143 council web sites with a text-only alternative, just seven reached 'A' standard overall.

While awareness of accessibility has improved greatly among UK councils, the survey shows that many are failing to translate this into effective results. According to Helen Williams of the Socitm Insight team, this could be because councils are under more pressure to launch transactional services and publish a wider range of content on their sites. "For example, more councils are publishing data like council tax bandings on their sites in the form of tables. But they often forget to include table header codes for screen readers," she said.

The general trend is a widening gap between those councils getting to grips with accessibility, and those that are failing to act, according to RNIB consultant Donna Smillie. "The sites that were doing well were doing very well. Even some that failed are paying a great deal of attention to accessibility," she says. "But some that get it wrong get it very wrong." According to Smillie, this may be because some councils can't meet staff training requirements, or because a completely redesigned site is in the pipeline, soaking up all available resources.

"With accessibility, there is clearly a mountain to climb," says Martin Greenwood, who leads the Better Connected project for Socitm. "I don't think there's any chance of councils achieving 'AA' within two years." Councils that had made efforts to meet accessibility standards were "very concerned" about the amount of effort involved, Greenwood says, with particular problems arising where councils were trying to make sites accessible that had not had accessibility in mind when first created.

"But in a sense, they don't have a choice," he says. "The fact is that there is a law about accessibility - the Disability Discrimination Act - so it would seem single 'A' accessibility is a minimum."

Note: A version of this feature appeared first in our sister publication, E-Government Bulletin (http://www.headstar.com/egb ).

[Section three ends].

++Section Four: Focus- Broadcasting.


+13: A Solid Startby Mel Poluck.

Audio description of television programmes and the accessibility of electronic programme guides to digital TV were chief among topics raised at an open meeting last month at the RNIB's headquarters in London.

The meeting was called to feed into a consultation on access to TV services being run by Ofcom, the UK's new broadcasting and telecommunications 'super-regulator' (http://fastlink.headstar.com/ofcom2 ).

Ofcom is seeking the views of people with disabilities to ensure it fully understands their needs. It is looking to bodies like the RNIB to help it decide how to regulate television, and has drafted two codes of practice: 'Provision of television access services' (http://fastlink.headstar.com/ofcom3 ), and a code for electronic programme guides (EPGs - http://fastlink.headstar.com/ofcom4 ), the on-screen programme menus that will eventually appear on all TVs.

This month, Ofcom will be appointing the first chair of its advisory committee for older and disabled people.

Currently 10 per cent of programmes per channel are obliged under the Communications Act 2003 to carry audio-description within 10 years of the date the channel starts broadcasting. This follows a victory achieved by a group of activists including RNIB who lobbied parliament last year, when targets were raised from 5 per cent (see E-Access Bulletin, issues 37 and 38, January and February 2003). However the majority at the consultation felt that the new 10 per cent target remains disappointing, particularly when compared with an 80 per cent target for subtitling.

Although the audio-description targets are now hard-wired into the Communications Act, changes could still be made, particularly as technical restraints lift, according to Ofcom policy executive Peter Bourton. "We have pretty low levels of audio description and I'm sure that's going to increase," he told the meeting.

Caroline Ellis, Parliamentary Affairs Manager at the Disability Rights Commission, said that while government said last year they couldn't raise audio description targets, later in the year the TV channel Five became the first UK public service broadcaster to broadcast audio described programmes using the Sky satellite service (see E-Access Bulletin, issue 48, December 2003). It emerged that, while the BBC quoted 640 pounds an hour to provide description, Sky undercut this price. "The BBC was a blockage on progress," Ellis said.

One topic on which Bourton was seeking feedback was Ofcom's aim to introduce a requirement that 1 per cent of service providers' budget should be spent on TV access services. One idea fed back from the workgroups was raise this to the RNID's suggestion of 2 per cent.

Bourton told attendees that according to the law, the requirement for whether audio description provision would be provided at all will depend on a channel having an audience share of at least 0.05 per cent. However, feedback from attendees' workgroups suggested that the decision to use audio description should not be dictated in this way.

Also under discussion was the way in which audio description is transmitted. The usual way is to have a separate audio-described soundtrack which gets transmitted to headphones during a programme. "There's a working assumption that people would still prefer to have audio description on separate soundtracks," Bourton said. But this may not be so among users. "Why should blind people have to sit in the corner with headphones on?" said one attendee, arguing that the need to always wear headphones isolates vision-impaired users and prevents interaction with co-viewers.

RNIB members argued strongly that repeat programmes should not be counted as part of reaching targets. "It's outrageous to count repeats to up the target figure," said one RNIB employee. Also, "frontloading" targets for audio description should be avoided, they said, and Ofcom should instead ensure there are incremental increases year-on-year.

The need for variety among programmes chosen for accessible broadcasting - not just "soaps, soaps, soaps" - was also stressed. Some programmes which are already highly verbal, such as University Challenge, were thought by some to be "a waste of audio description," although another said it was dangerous to "say no to anything."

With the draft code on electronic programme guides also under consultation, Bourton said Ofcom has informed EPG providers that they are expected to make 'reasonable adjustments' to ensure accessibility in line with the Disability Discrimination Act and to consult with disability groups about what they should be doing. "We've asked for statements to be ready by September and annual statements to be produced thereafter," he said.

While 'talking EPGs' are in development, Bourton said technology currently limits what accessible services can be introduced.

"Set top boxes lack the processing power - they simply can't handle talking EPGs," Bourton said. However he was promptly contradicted on this point by RNIB's demonstration to attendees of the Netgem box (http://www.netgem.com ). This provides full audio description as well as internet and radio access and went on the market last January.

All present agreed, however, that where technical restraints do exist, service providers should use other methods such as web sites, radio announcements and publications from disability organisations to disseminate their programme guides.

And Ellis concluded on an optimistic note: "At least the government can't lower the audio description targets," she said. "We have parliamentarians working very hard for us. The only way is up."

NOTE: The deadline for comments on the access services consultation was Friday 12 March, and the EPG consultation closes on 25 March.

[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 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].