+++E-Access Bulletin.- Issue 59, November 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: Free Talking Book Service Launched.

A free DAISY digital talking book transcription service for teachers and students has been launched by Virtual SEN (http://www.virtualsen.com ), a digital publishing collective that develops accessible new media resources for special needs education.

DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System - http://www.daisy.org ) is the key international standard for talking books which can be accessed by blind people and others with problems reading print.

The DAISY and education area of the Virtual SEN site (http://www.virtualsen.com/daisy/daisy.htm ) allows teachers and students to submit content - worksheets, essays, booklets - along with relevant pictures, for manual transformation by specialists into downloadable DAISY books, with synchronised, searchable text and audio.

An archive will then be made available for free to users, providing a pool of accessible education content.

"We wanted to offer a free service to pupils and teachers interested in creating and accessing DAISY content," says Will Pearson, founder of Virtual SEN. "This forum enables teachers and pupils to share material and encourages them to experiment with the DAISY format."

Pearson recently left the RNIB (http://www.rnib.org.uk ), where he was responsible for the DfES-funded "DAISY Literacy Materials for the Inclusive Classroom" project to explore how DAISY content could be exploited in schools. The initial focus of transcription work is likely to be on early years fiction, he said.

In order to access the free archive, users will need DAISY playback software, such as EaseReader from Dolphin (http://www.dolphinuk.co.uk/audio/ ) or the DAISY Consortium's free TPB Reader (http://www.daisy.org/tpbreader/index.asp?lang=en ).

+02: Mixed Welcome For First Accessible Dvd.

The RNIB has issued a qualified welcome to a new DVD version of the Shawshank Redemption, the first general release film DVD to be issued with audio description and talking menus for vision-impaired people.

Audio description offers a descriptive narrative of actions, gestures, scene changes and other visual information which would not otherwise be available to vision-impaired people.

The new DVD has been produced by Granada Ventures (http://www.granadamedia.com ) on the tenth anniversary of the film's initial release

The RNIB has broadly welcomed the new three-disc boxed set DVD, although it criticised the fact that only one of the three discs has audio- described content with talking menus. This means that while vision- impaired people can access the main feature and choose specific scenes, they can't, for example, access interviews with actors on the other discs.

Additionally, when the discs are put into a DVD player, there is no way of identifying which disc is which.

"The talking menu feature should be available on all three discs. If you couldn't see at all and put disc two or three into your DVD player, you'd have no idea what was on that disc, let alone how to get to the area you were interested in," says Jill Whitehead, broadcasting and talking images officer at the RNIB. She also criticised the fact that the disc that contains audio content only speaks three out of six of its menu options, meaning vision-impaired people are excluded from some content such as the directors' cut.

"The problem with this product is that the publisher has decided for blind and visually impaired people what they might want to access," says Whitehead. "This is in effect a form of censorship." If Granada Ventures had consulted with the RNIB it would have been able to avoid such basic design faults, Whitehead says.

However, she welcomed the broad efforts towards accessibility being made. "Granada have made a giant step forward in making DVDs accessible and showing to the rest of the industry what's possible, they just haven't gone quite far enough. Hopefully this will be the first of many more and, for a first attempt, this is a very commendable effort."

+03: Directory Targets Every Uk Business.

A free online directory has been launched with the aim of providing information on the accessibility of facilities and services provided by every UK business.

'Direct Enquiries' (http://www.directenquiries.com ) provides details about the current accessibility of facilities such as lifts; toilets; counter heights; lighting; alternative formats such as large print and Braille; and staff assistance; and also what new accessibility features are planned to be provided in the future.

Users must register with the service, and can then search for information by business type, name or location. They may also request email alerts to notify them when frequently-used businesses update information. Users may also send feedback on what they think about services and facilities.

"The goal over the next year is to get every business service provider in the UK on board," said Liz Hollander, a spokesperson for the service. The latest signatories are London Transport and the Metropolitan Police, and discussions with the prison service are ongoing.

The directory was set up as a private company by its chief executive Grant Kennedy, whose father is wheelchair-bound, in association with the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation (RADAR - http://www.radar.org.uk ) and the Employers' Forum on Disability (http://www.employers-forum.co.uk/www/index.htm ). Businesses pay 35 pounds to register with Direct Enquiries, of which around 10 pounds goes to its two charity partners.

+04: Pda Debate Warms Up For Techshare.

An application that allows personal digital assistants (PDAs) to "talk" to users is to be launched in the Spring and will be showcased at the RNIB assistive technology exposition Techshare this week (http://www.techshare.org.uk ).

The software speaks aloud to PDA users who navigate using a tactile interface. "What we hope to do is give customers the option of taking an off-the-shelf PDA and installing the software," said Steve Bennett, sales director at the software's creator Dolphin Computer Access (http://www.dolphinuk.co.uk/index_dca.htm ). It will work with the Windows CE operating platform and the objective, Bennett said, is to adapt it for use with the majority of existing PDA brands.

While as yet unnamed, it may be called HAL for PDAs.

According to Bennett, vision-impaired PDA users previously had to buy specialist hardware which was costly and only manufactured in small quantities.

However, according to Bill Alker of the RNIB press office, other companies designing accessible PDAs are "talking down" the new development, suggesting such "add-on" technology could never be as good as a product with built-in accessibility.

"Other companies have tried to get into the PDA market by putting a screen reader on top of existing PDAs," said Jonathan Mosen of Pulse Data International (http://www.pulsedata.com ), which produces the BrailleNote PK, a PDA with an interface designed for blind people. "However the 'P' in PDA stands for 'personal,' and our research has shown that what's most important is how quickly you can get information in and out of the device. KeySoft, our blindness-specific interface, is efficient yet intuitive."

However Richard Orme, assistant director of ICT services at the RNIB, said the Braillenote PK was the subject of controversy on its release, as it cost some 3,500 pounds.

The debate will continue at Techshare, to be held in Birmingham, UK tomorrow and Friday. Other highlights include a presentation by Web Accessibility Initiative director Judy Brewer. Full Techshare reporting will appear in our December issue.

++News in Brief:


+05: Judicial Correction:

Cynthia Waddell, Executive Director of the International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet and a leading expert on accessibility law, has written in to correct "significant errors" in the article we ran in our last issue headed 'US law unravels over the web'. The article related to the application of US disability law to web sites, and her letter is carried in our Inbox section (see story number 8, Section two, this issue), along with a similar contribution from another reader, Sailesh Panchang. E-Access Bulletin regrets any inaccuracies contained in our previous article, and is grateful to Cynthia Waddell and Sailesh Panchang for their contributions.

+06: Accessible Result:

A search engine that only returns accessible web sites and rates them for accessibility for any query entered is to be formally launched by the end of the month. Web site consultancy Net Progress's 'Net-guide' currently features 1,000 sites from around the world in its database: http://www.net-guide.co.uk .

+07: Class Mate:

A new version of accessible software for students to assist writing, vocabulary-building and document preparation using Macintosh computers has been launched by US assistive technology company Kurzweil Educational Systems. 'Kurzweil 3000 Macintosh Version 3' allows students to access personal files and settings regardless of which computer on the network they use: http://www.kurzweiledu.com/press_102004.asp .

[Section One ends].

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


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

+08: US Law:

Cynthia Waddell, Executive Director of the International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet, writes in to correct "significant errors" in the article we ran in our last issue headed 'US law unravels over the web' (issue 59, October 2004). She says: "Unfortunately, the Southwest Airlines accessible web case has generated a number of misleading articles in the US and abroad regarding the status of accessible web and disability rights in the US.

"It is not true that the US Court of Appeals ruled on whether or not organisations providing online services needed to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In fact, the court did not reach that issue and simply dismissed the case due to procedural issues. Contrary to what was reported, this means that the court did not rule on the merits of the case and did not uphold the lower court ruling. As the court stated in their opinion, none of the issues on appeal were properly before them and so they were unable to reach the merits of the case. (See page two of the opinion filed September 24, 2004 - http://fastlink.headstar.com/findlaw1 ). In fact, one of the difficult issues before the lower court was the fact that airlines such as Southwest are generally not covered by the ADA, but by another disability access statute, the pre-ADA Air Carrier Access Act.

"However, the US Court of Appeals opinion noted that even though the merits of the Southwest Airlines case could not be evaluated, the court found that the legal questions are significant. The court stated that "The internet is transforming our economy and culture, and the question whether it is covered by the ADA - one of the landmark civil rights laws in this country - is of substantial importance."

"Readers may be interested to know that at this time in the US, our courts are split on the purely legal question as to whether or not the ADA applies to private web sites. Our case law is behind the times, hence the statement by the US Court of Appeals that this is a significant legal question.

"As for government web sites, which are not private or commercial web sites, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended by the 1998 Rehabilitation Act Amendments, requires US federal government web sites be accessible. Today, many states across our nation have also adopted Section 508 accessible web design requirements, either by statute or by policy. As a result, non- governmental organisations using state funding may also be subject to the requirements of accessible web design."

Sailesh Panchang, senior accessibility engineer at Deque Systems in Virginia, writes to comment on the same article: "I was distressed to note that the bulletin has not correctly portrayed the recent ruling regarding Southwest Airlines and the ADA. The decision was largely based on procedural grounds and the judge recognised the significance of an inaccessible web site (for a media report see http://fastlink.headstar.com/ada1 ).

"I feel such unfair portrayal of facts by your newsletter misinforms readers and is a disservice to web accessibility efforts. Additionally, the ADA in the US predates the internet and hence makes no references to web accessibility. The UK's DDA was passed in 1995 and could not have ignored the web."

+09: Sign Here:

Further to our ongoing debate on 'Chip and Pin' bank payment cards, our reader Estelita from Derbyshire writes in to respond to Debbie Payne's account of problems with signatures. "I understand her feelings as I myself experienced the same," she says. "The time came that I had to provide my signature, and my teacher suggested using my right thumb mark next to my name printed by whoever is there to assist me. This system was accepted in Philippines and Canada but here in England, I don't think it is.

"My thumb mark is easy to use: I have a rubber self-inking name pad to stamp my name on, and then I have to ink my thumb to sign. This type of signature cannot be forged or stolen. In some cases, Chip and Pin appears to be the best solution; so what if keypads are different? We can learn different ways of using them and it's not hard to do, just get on with it! What do you think readers?"

+10: PHP Course:

In response to last issue's request from the E-Access Bulletin team for online PHP resources, Rich Caloggero from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Adaptive Technology for Information and Computing department writes: "The site http://www.php.net/ is one of the best I've seen. I learned the language from the site, and its reference manual is excellent and a snap to use, even via screen reader."

+11: Online Therapy:

Our reader Tamera Snelling from the US would like to invite readers interested in massage therapy to join the first e- group of visually impaired and blind massage therapists. The 'BLMT' group (http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/BLMT/ ), hosted by Yahoo groups, is aimed at helping people share tips and ideas in handling their practice of massage therapy in relationship to vision impairment and or blindness.

Tamera says: "The group was formed over two years ago and is a place for those considering training to those who have been in practice for many years to network and share ideas related to the profession of Massage therapy. Yahoo doesn't do a very good job at responding to those of us needing the visual code to join their groups but typically an email sent to subscribe-blmt@yahoogroups.com will get you in."

[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: Web accessibility- Speech enabling II


+12: The Controversial Voice of the Web:

Part II. by Julie Hill.

Our recent discussion about the relative merits of software to "speech- enable" web sites (see E-Access Bulletin, issue 57, September 2004) provoked responses from vendors and web accessibility experts alike.

Products such as Browsealoud (http://www.browsealoud.com ) and ReadSpeaker (http://www.readspeaker.com ) are available to web site owners to allow their site's content to be "read" to users using a computer-generated voice. The web owner pays the service provider an annual subscription, while users can access the service for free using a browser plug-in.

In our September article Julie Howell, digital policy development officer at the RNIB (http://www.rnib.org.uk ), criticised these text-to- speech solutions as having limited value for blind and visually impaired people. She said that they were a "poor substitute for access solutions, such as screen readers and screen magnifiers", and that web owners would do better to concentrate their accessibility efforts on the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI - http://www.w3.org/WAI ) guidelines, which are "freely available and have the advantage of opening access to all users, using any technology."

Both vendors interviewed in the original feature, ReadSpeaker and Browsealoud, emphasise that their software wasn't intended as a substitute for implementing the WAI guidelines. Indeed they say that in order for their products to work effectively, a web site has to be designed in an accessible way in the first place.

"ReadSpeaker has the same requirements on accessibility as a screen reader," says Carin Lennartsson, head of ReadSpeaker UK. "So it isn't a matter of simply adding ReadSpeaker instead of making the site compliant with the WAI guidelines."

Gary Morrison of Texthelp (http://www.texthelp.com ), the company behind Browsealoud, concurs. "The more accessible the web site, the more likely it is to be accommodating to assistive technology, such as screen readers and text-to-speech software. This means that the blind person with software such as JAWS can read the text on a site, as can a person with dyslexia with a screen reader like Browsealoud."

Both companies emphasised that their products weren't intended to replace screen readers used by blind and visually impaired people to access web sites. "We make it clear that our product isn't aimed primarily at the blind and visually impaired communities," says Lennartsson. "These people will continue to need screen readers in order to access web sites."

Browsealoud and ReadSpeaker read out web content as the user scrolls over it with the cursor. So the fact that users need to be able to find a web site in the first place and see the cursor to navigate precludes the usefulness of these products for blind people.

However, both companies cite people with mild visual impairments as one of their target groups. Indeed Texthelp says that it modified the beta version of Browsealoud in order to make it more user-friendly as a result of feedback from visually impaired users. The current version of Browsealoud includes a colour highlighter, which highlights the text being read out as the user moves their mouse. This feature helps people with visual impairments and other users to navigate sites more easily, says McKay.

Meanwhile ReadSpeaker says that its product has been welcomed - and in some cases adopted - by blind and visually impaired advocacy groups in other countries. For example, Synskadades Riksforbund (http://www.srfriks.org ), the Swedish Association of the Visually Impaired, uses ReadSpeaker on its web site. "There are many people out there who are not our members, but they still have a milder visual impairment and may not have access to assistive technology," says Vivianne Emanuelsson of Synskadades Riksforbund. "So 'talking' web sites can still be of use."

However, the primary audiences for these technologies, say the vendors, are people with dyslexia, people with low literacy and reading skills, people whose first language isn't English and anyone else who, for whatever reason, might have difficulty browsing and reading content online. These target groups constitute a significant proportion of web users, says David Sloan of the Digital Media Access Group at the University of Dundee (http://www.dmag.org.uk ).

"I agree [with Julie Howell] wholeheartedly that these solutions are not appropriate for people who already use screen reading technology to access the web," says Sloan. "However, to discount them as not benefiting the accessibility of the web as a whole is, I feel, failing to take into account all those other people who can see but have difficulty reading on-screen content."

One of the merits of text-to-speech technologies is that they are free for users. Indeed Texthelp says that it originally developed Browsealoud as an e-government product, so that citizens from lower socio- economic backgrounds with reading or print difficulties would be able to access online public services from which they would otherwise be excluded.

The RNIB acknowledges that, unlike user access tools such as screen readers which are prohibitively expensive for the majority of blind and visually impaired people, the fact that these solutions are available to users for free is commendable. However, it is also wary of their commercial nature. "The RNIB continues to lobby for web accessibility based on the WAI guidelines," says Howell. "They are available for free in the public domain and we aren't keen to endorse solutions where there is a cost involved."

In Sloan's view, the proliferation of automated text-to-speech solutions, such as Browsealoud and ReadSpeaker, should be encouraged, because they contribute towards making the web accessible to more people. And they don't have a negative impact on traditional access technologies such as screen readers used by blind and visually impaired people. "I don't believe that if such solutions become more widespread, then screen reader users will be adversely affected or forced to use the site's proprietary text-to-speech solution," he says. "In fact, screen reader users may well benefit from being part of a larger group who listens to rather than sees web sites."

However, if competing text-to-speech solutions proliferate, one of the dangers is that users will become confused, says Sloan. "There will be a lack of standard method for enabling the text-to-speech facility of a particular web site," he says. "Where's the button to listen to this page? In the top left or top right of the page? What will it look like?"

One of the RNIB's main concerns is that web owners will see these solutions as a quick fix for accessibility. "There is the very real risk that some web managers will regard these speech systems as all they need to make their web site accessible, ignoring all of the other issues that go into making a site truly accessible," said Smillie. Howell agrees: "We fear that [text-to-speech software] isn't a complete solution and emphasise that it shouldn't act as an alternative to following WAI guidelines."

The vendors maintain that this worry is unfounded, however - not least because their technologies only work effectively if the web site concerned has already been designed to be compliant with the WAI guidelines.

Howell agrees: "As long as organisations understand the context of why WAI is so important, they can add specialist solutions to speech- enable web sites for the benefit of wider groups".

[Section Three ends].

Section Three: Focus - handheld computers

+13: A Guided Tour Of Pac Mateby John M. Williams

The PAC Mate (http://www.freedomscientific.com/fs_products/PACmate2.asp ), a personal data assistant (PDA) for people who are blind, was introduced by Freedom Scientific and Microsoft Corporation in October 2002. There are two versions of the PAC Mate. The BNS version uses an eight-dot Braille keyboard: thus, a user needs familiarity with inputting Braille symbols, but does not necessarily need to read print or refreshable Braille. The TNS version uses a standard Qwerty keyboard.

The PAC Mate offers anytime, anywhere access to documents and web content through the Windows CE operating system, Microsoft Pocket PC technology and JAWS screen reader speech technology. JAWS is PAC Mate's backbone.

The device's screen reader technology allows blind and low-vision users to hear documents, images and web content. It integrates with desktop software and other Pocket PC devices, takes notes, and allows users to make and track appointments in real-time.

There is a PCMCIA connection for either a dial-up or broadband optional modem (56K, Ethernet) or peripheral plug-ins such as a micro-drive, diskette drive or CD-ROM. Using a modem, users surf the internet and send and receive emails.

There is a USB port for connection with desktops, laptops, printers and other devices in either host or client mode. Other functions include a calculator, linear formatting editor, clock and stopwatch. An Infrared Data Association (IrDA) port allows the user to transfer files between PAC Mate and other PC products. For example, users can transfer an Excel worksheet, from their PAC Mate to their desktop or laptop, or vice versa. The document exchange can be accomplished wirelessly, thus providing document management within the Windows environment.

The PAC Mate accesses streaming media with synthesizer speech on the same sound card, so users can listen to internet broadcasts through Pocket Internet Explorer.

Braille users can input in Grade 2 Braille, and at the end of 2002, Freedom Scientific released the PAC Mate BNS with Braille-in and speech-out capabilities and the PAC Mate TNS with speech output. These models were followed by 20- and 40-cell refreshable Braille options.

There is a Compact Flash port for unlimited document storage capacity when used with commercial data storage cards and a serial port for use in those circumstances where a USB and an lrDA are not applicable for connectivity.

How easy is it to learn to use PAC Mate? I am told by Freedom Scientific's marketing director Scott Meyers that people familiar with the JAWS screen reader and Windows applications such as Word, Excel, Internet Explorer and Outlook will require little training to become proficient with its use. Meyers concedes that learning curves vary from person to person.

Future PDAs from other companies will have a global positioning system (GPS) integrated. Freedom Scientific has already worked with VisuAide of Canada for an optional GPS component to provide orientation by describing surroundings and assist in directing users to a predefined location. The GPS function was made available in 2003.

The PAC Mate is an excellent product with benefits to blind, vision impaired and learning disabled individuals working and studying. In fact, it can surpass its promise to play a key role in empowering and increasing the productivity of persons with disabilities in the work force provided it reaches a wider market and its price drops.

PAC Mate BNS and TNS both cost 2,595 dollars. This includes the carrying case but does not include the modem. Buyers can offset the cost by trading in an older model Freedom Scientific notetaker. Nevertheless the high price tag prohibits many students and professionals with disabilities, as well as schools, from buying the product.

Students with disabilities can gain particular benefits from the PAC Mate as it provides them with tools they need to compete in the IT field now. While middle grade students without disabilities are already using Compaq iPAQs, PalmPilots and other handheld communications devices, students with disabilities need access to handheld assistive technology such as the PAC Mate sooner rather than later.

The BNS version is approximately 10 inches across at the bottom of the unit and approximately 6 inches in height, and weighs a little more than 1 and a half pounds with the user-replaceable battery installed. The TNS model is 12 inches across and 6 inches in height and weighs just more than 2 pounds with the battery. Because both models are really too large to fit in a pocket, the name "Pocket PC" is something of a misnomer. But the usefulness of the device is unquestionable.

NOTE: An earlier version of this article was first published by the National Organization on Disability web site in the US. John Williams is an author and journalist specialising in assistive technologies.

[Section Four ends].



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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].