+++E-Access Bulletin.- Issue 57, September 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: Techshare 2004- 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.

For further information email techshare@rnib.org.uk or visit: http://www.rnib.org.uk/techshare .

[Special notice ends].

++Section One: News.


+01: Public Sector Bodies To Face It Access Pressure.

Public sector employers in the UK are set to face stronger pressure to ensure their IT systems are accessible to people with disabilities under draft legislation that could become law as early as November. The proposed Disability Bill (http://fastlink.headstar.com/bill2 ) would require public agencies to take a more active approach to assisting employees with disabilities.

The draft law, which builds on the current Disability Discrimination Act 1995, sets out a general duty for the public sector to "promote equality of opportunity between disabled persons and other persons by improving opportunities for disabled persons." This is significantly stronger than existing law, which only requires organisations to avoid discrimination. In particular, the changes would increase pressure on public sector bodies to take accessibility into account when procuring new IT systems and equipment.

The draft is set to be given a final reading in Parliament next month, and barring events such as an early general election, could be included in the government's next legislative programme to be announced in the Queen's speech in November.

The latest government figures indicate that the public sector employs a total of around 5.5 million people, and rising: employment in the public sector is now 10 per cent higher than in 1998.

+02: Us Lawsuit Sends Web Design Warning To Uk Companies.

A US lawsuit which has forced two high profile leisure companies to make their web sites accessible should act as a warning to UK firms to shape up or face similar action, according to the RNIB (http://www.rnib.org.uk ).

Last month the New York State Attorney-General (http://www.oag.state.ny.us ) ordered hotel operator Ramada (http://www.ramada.com ) and travel company Priceline (http://www.priceline.com ) to make changes that will enable users of assistive technology such as screen readers to more easily navigate their web sites.

The Attorney-General ruled that the companies were in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/statute.html ). As well as the remedial action, they were ordered to pay 40,000 and 37,000 US Dollars respectively to cover the costs of the investigation.

While there is still some argument about whether the ADA covers web sites at all, no such ambiguity attaches to the UK's Disability Discrimination Act and the codes of practice published by the Disability Rights Commission (DRC http://www.drc-gb.org ). These make it clear that web site owners must make their sites accessible or face legal action, the RNIB said this month.

Although some cases of web site discrimination have been brought in the UK, to date they have all been settled out of court with confidentiality as one of the settlement terms. One reason for this is that web site owners don't want to be the first company to have their poor accessibility record aired in court, said the DRC.

Furthermore the RNIB, which deals with cases of vision-impaired individuals who have suffered discrimination online, says that its first priority is always to act in the interests of the complainant, who may prefer to settle rather than facing the media glare of a high-profile court case.

+03: First Magnifier Software Launched For Mobile Phones.

The first magnification software for mobile phones will be available by the end of this month, allowing users of compatible phones to enlarge their on-screen text by downloading the software over the web.

Various areas of a phone's screen display can be magnified, and the software can be configured to begin working as soon as the phone is switched on. Mobile Magnifier works with Nokia 3620; 3650; 3660; 6600; 6620; 7610; 7650; N Gage; N Gage QD; and Siemens SX1 handsets.

The software, whose price has not yet been decided, has been designed by Spanish programming company Code Factory (http://fastlink.headstar.com/code1 ). Testing for the system was undertaken by the technology department of Spanish blindness organisation Organización Nacional de Ciegos de Espana (ONCE - http://www.once.es ).

"We believe this will be an exciting development and may well be a solution for some users," said Steve Tyler, Policy and ICT Access Manager at the RNIB. "Whether or not magnification software is the answer remains to be seen through evaluation, but we are clear that in surveys carried out by service providers, well over 40 per cent of users comment on not satisfactorily being able to read the screen along with [problems] accessing very small keys."

A web site where people can download Mobile Magnifier and access a list of distributors is now under construction at http://www.mobilemagnifier.com . "We have received interest from many companies and individual users so far and we are now negotiating with distributors in different countries," said Irja Emma Gerdes, sales and marketing representative at Code Factory. Until then, users can purchase the magnifier software via email from Code Factory and have the option to try it before deciding whether or not a make a purchase.

Code Factory has previously released screen readers for mobile phones such as Mobile Accessibility (http://mobileaccessibility.codfact.com/ ) and Mobile Speak (http://mobilespeak.codfact.com ). Mobile Magnifier is compatible with Mobile Speak, allowing users to hear speech output and receive magnification simultaneously.

+04: Paralympic Web Site Fails To Learn Lessons Of The Past.

Sports fans with impaired vision face problems using the official web site for the 12th Paralympic Games which start today in Athens, despite pledges by organisers that they have learned the lessons of previous failures to make Olympic and Paralympic web sites accessible, according to a new report.

The damning assessment from accessibility experts at City University's Centre for Human Computer Interaction Design (CHCID - www-hcid.soi.city.ac.uk) is embarrassing for officials, following high profile failures in previous games. In 2000, Bruce Maguire won 20,000 dollars compensation from organisers of the Sydney Olympics over the inaccessibility of its site, and the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002 also drew criticism from web accessibility experts (see E-Access Bulletin, November 2001).

Tests by CHCID revealed that the new Paralympics site ((http://www.athens2004.com/en/ ) is too cluttered and difficult to navigate for people with sight impairments or dyslexia. It has poor contrast on some pages, with text on a grey background, and basic information, such as finding out the date and time of the women's marathon is difficult to access. Competition schedules are presented in tables that are hard to access with screen readers, the report finds.

"It is particularly disappointing that this site isn't fully accessible, as it is obviously of immense interest to disabled people all over the world," said Professor Helen Petrie, who led the testing work. "It could have been a shining example of how a site can be made interesting and informative, yet totally accessible." Despite the shortcomings however, some progress has been made on previous Olympic and Paralympic sites. For example, images are accompanied by ALT tags to describe their content, and generally there is a lack of moving text and Flash content on the site, Petrie said.

The Paralympic Games will see some 4,000 disabled athletes from 145 nations compete in Athens, including many competitors who are blind or vision-impaired.

++News in Brief:



The UK Audio Network, a web site with resources for blind and visually impaired people, has launched its fiftieth accessible game: 'Jungle Fever.' Players enter a jungle where they encounter animals, rickety bridges, volcanoes and lost cities, answering trivia questions along the way. Designers of the free game claim no two games will ever be exactly the same: http://www.yrguk.com/entertainment/jungle/ .


A team of programmers from US web design firm Sperling Corporation are seeking blind people to beta-test a free accessible internet browser for Macintosh computer users, as a non-profit project. Testers must be blind and have a Macintosh running OS-X with access to the Internet. If you are interested please send an email to: beta@sperling.com .


A font designed for vision-impaired people by the American Printing House for the Blind has been improved to make it even easier to read, and is available for free download on the web. APHont now has bold and italic versions, and results from user group testing found 60 per cent of users preferred it to other fonts: http://www.aph.org/products/aphont.html .

[Section One ends].

++Special Notice: Test Your Site's Accessibility.


Headstar, the publishers of E-Access Bulletin, is offering a range of independent, expert assessment packages to ensure your web services comply with best practice and the law. We can provide you with a clear, detailed report on the current access status of your site, and a list of tasks you will need to carry out to ensure compliance with government requirements.

Reports also include results from general quality assurance tests such as link-checking. Taking accessibility action benefits all users, will make your site easier to maintain, and can improve your search engine rating! Please note the service is tailored in particular to larger organisations with major web sites or services.

For more information please email: access-consult@headstar.com .

[Special notice ends].

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


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


Further to our recent discussions of 'chip and pin' authentication systems replacing customer signatures for credit and debit cards, Katie Ash, manager of educational charity Learning Links, writes in to say: "I am not a visually impaired person, but used to work for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. While there I used to assist many totally blind people with their shopping.

"Canada has had a chip and pin system for years and all of our clients used it without difficulty. The only thing they had to do was ask the shop assistants which way around the Cancel and Enter buttons where as they were different in different shops."

Estelita from Derbyshire, who formerly lived in Canada, adds: "I also strongly agree with the use of Chip and PIN. This is quick and easy and you don't need to worry counting loose change in front of board teller and the people behind waiting for their turns.

"This system is widely used in Canada as well and what I did was just look for the number 5 on the keypad and I know the rest. In Canada, they have slot machine where we swipe our card and all keypads have a raised dot on number 5, which leads us to the rest of the numbers. So I think the question here is if the machine and the keypad are accessible for us visually impaired users not only in UK but also through out the Europe."

On the related issue of telephone banking, she says: "I also recommend telephone banking as a good alternative. I came from Canada and used this system out there of all my banking needs and even paying bills with no problem. This service is available in all banks all over Canada free of charge not only to the visually impaired but also to all users.

"Our bank institution here in Derbyshire offers this service, but I found it difficult to access because I have to enter letters as part of password or code which as a totally blind person I couldn't see where it could be on my phone keypad. So still not accessible unless the telephone banking system will change the password and code system to all numbers without any letters."

Mike O'Brien of New York state, US, also writes in to add to our various debates about banking with a note on the potential use of emails to send out bank statements: "It would seem with good encryption methods, emailed bank statements would be as secure as any other method of sending them. No method is completely secure if an identity theft is determined enough."

And on the unrelated story we ran in our last issue (see E-Access Bulletin, section four, August 2004) on a possible 'Totally Integrated Portal' to offer access to a wide range of information and services to people of all abilities, he says: "Concerning the universal portal with the number-based menu system, it sounds quite similar to the way gopher used to work."


Further to her contribution to our debate on banking, our reader Estelita from Derbyshire says: "I am learning how to play musical keyboard and guitar but I can't afford to go to music school for proper lesson so I'm just teaching myself from what I can get through the Internet. I wonder if it's possible that you can pass on my email address to any blind musician to email me for friendship where we could discuss our interest in keyboard or guitar playing or perhaps somebody might know of a musical instrument discussion list that I could join." Anyone who would like to respond should contact us on inbox@headstar.com and we will pass your details on to Estelita.


Following our feature last issue about access to supermakret web sites, Danielle Cleary writes in to say: "Several times, I have tried to place orders with Tesco and the orders have gone through fine. However, on all occasions, I have had phone calls within the hour of supposed delivery time to tell me that my card has been rejected and did I have another one which I could use instead. On speaking to my bank, I was informed that there was no reason whatsoever for this to have happened so I called them back and asked that they retry my card. It still didn't work.

Grudgingly, I said that I would obviously have to come down to the store to get my shopping and could they please leave it at customer service. I was told that this wasn't possible and that, if I was going to come to the store, I would have to go around the store myself and get my shopping. The shopping that had been picked for me would be returned to the shelves.

So, I asked my mum if she could take me to Tesco so that I could get my shopping and, luckily, she agreed. So we went around the store and got my shopping. When we got to the checkout, I paid with my card and it was authorised no problem. The problem came when I was asked to sign the receipt. The two signatures didn't match because, obviously, I can't see what I'm doing. The cashier wouldn't accept my signature. The manager was called and I was told: "I'm ever so sorry . . . but we can't be seen to be making allowances for our customers based on such things or we'd never be able to draw a line." Was he saying that I was faking being blind?

Roll on chip and pin is all I have to say. I can't wait. Both of my cards are chip and pin now but I've not found anywhere yet where I can use them. I'm also looking into getting a signature stamp as well. I'm fed up with the grief that I get.

Another reader, Brian Williams, adds: "I have given up on the Tesco site as, after similar problems with the site and lack of response from the customer service department. It is interesting to note that each reply was from a different customer manager - too many chiefs and not enough indians. All we want, surely, is access to the same goods as anyone else. Are blind and visually impaired people only allowed down certain aisles if we physically visit the store?


Nancy Buchanan writes in to ask if anyone knows of a talking temperature tester for pools. "I have looked around the US but have not yet found one. This could be very helpful to persons who are blind that have pools or hot tubs. If you have any information it will be appreciated." [Answers 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: Focus- Speech-enabled web sites.


+12: The Controversial Voice Of The Webby Mel Poluck.

One option for ensuring the web is accessible to people with impaired vision is to enable web sites to "read" their content to users using a computer-generated voice, a service that is generally free of charge to the user.

The 'speech-enabling' of web sites is gathering momentum and recognition as more companies emerge in this field and more high- profile sites use the technologies. Uppsala City Council in Sweden, for example, recently received an "Excellence in e-government" award from the European Commission for its implementation on its web site of one such service from Swedish company ReadSpeaker (http://www.readspeaker.com ).

In common with speech simulation technologies in other fields, the quality of the synthetic voices produced by such solutions has become quite naturalistic. The voice synthesis used by ReadSpeaker - provided by Edinburgh based text-to-speech software company Rhetorical, (http://www.rhetorical.com ) - sounds "very human" according to Carin Lennartsson, head of ReadSpeaker UK. Rhetorical's voice synthesis is also used by the RNIB for the magazines it published in e-book standard format, DAISY (http://www.daisy.org ).

"The intonation is very life-like; you can never get a download with that kind of quality," Lennartsson says. The service also allows users to listen to Word, rich text format and PDF file formats, working on any web browser with a connection speed of at least 33 kilobytes a second.

ReadSpeaker software is used by 80 public and private web sites in Scandinavia, including the Swedish Parliament, and 10 web sites already use it in the UK including the Dyslexia Institute (http://www.dyslexia-inst.org.uk/ ), Lincolnshire County Council (http://www.lincolnshire.gov.uk/ ) and public sector community advice portal CASweb (http://www.casweb.org ).

"Before ReadSpeaker there was no server-based speech-enabling solution on the market. Many people with reading difficulties and disabilities found it difficult to download and to use screen-readers," says Niclas Bergstrom, chief executive and founder of Phoneticom (http://www.phoneticom.com ), the company that has developed the technology for ReadSpeaker. "Furthermore, every upgrade meant that the user had to re-install the software again," he says.

Talking web site technology is useful as a complement to, but not a replacement for, traditional screen-reader technology, Bergstrom says. "[Vision impaired people] use their own screen-readers. However, if the user has a lighter impairment and is still able to navigate and find the website ReadSpeaker can be of assistance but it can never replace screen-readers," he says.

Another leading solution for the speech-enabling of web sites is Browsealoud (http://www.browsealoud.com ), from Northern Ireland- based independent software company Texthelp (http://www.texthelp.com ). Browsealoud is designed to work most effectively with those web sites built with accessibility and WAI guidelines in mind, according to its head of marketing Ian Stuart.

"Auto continuous reading is designed to provide the user with the ability to have all the content read aloud to them without any user interaction," Stuart says. "This is of major benefit to users where they demonstrate the need for digital inclusion, and have trouble using a pointer device," he says.

"The user can also "read" the text on the page in the order that they want - other systems force the user to read the navigation text on every page of a web site," Stuart says. "Some web speech-enabling technologies rely on creating recorded sound files. These systems are impractical with dynamically generated content such as search engines, shopping baskets and so on."

Browsealoud allows users to read the content of drop down lists as the mouse is passed over them and the content of text boxes on forms after the user has typed into them. Besides web site content, it can also read alt tags, accessible flash and java web site content.

Speech output is offered in some 20 US or UK accents, and users can choose if they want male or female "readers," and change the pitch, speed and volume of speech to suit their tastes. However, asked how natural-sounding the voice sounds, Stuart says: "You would still notice it was computer-generated."

Browsealoud can also be modified to read out initials in full. This has allowed for example, the Department of Health (http://www.dh.gov.uk ) to have recently altered all instances of 'DH' to read 'Department of Health' and government web site UK Online - now called 'DirectGov' (http://www.direct.gov.uk ) - to change their settings after users heard "yuke" Online instead of UK Online.

Site owners subscribe by downloading a browser plug-in in return for an annual subscription which varies from 325 pounds per year for non- profit organisations to around 5,000 pounds for private companies. Browsealoud currently has around seven hundred subscribers.

Not everyone is convinced of the benefits to people with impaired vision of speech-enabling the web, however. "Solutions such as these have only limited value to blind and partially sighted people," says Julie Howell, digital policy development officer at the RNIB. "They are a poor substitute for access solutions such as screen readers and screen magnification."

Neither does the RNIB approve of the commercial flavour of most speech solutions. "Individual web site owners are required to install the solution on their server or pay to have use of the product on their web site," she says. "RNIB strongly discourages this approach in favour of the [World Wide Web Consortium's] Web Accessibility Initiative guidelines (WAI - http://www.w3.org/WAI/about.html ). The guidelines are freely available and have the advantage of opening access to all users, using any technology.

"In RNIB's view, speech-enabled web sites bring nothing to the party and effort would be better spent raising awareness of the WAI guidelines and promoting best practice in web design," Howell says. "Why should a blind person be restricted only to the sites that have been software-enabled? Surely the great attraction of the web is the endless possibility. The notion that blind and partially sighted people will be satisfied with only the handful of sites that have adopted these solutions must be challenged. RNIB believes that disabled people have the right to visit any web site they choose."

[Section Three ends].

++Special Notice: The UK Association of Braille ProducersConference - October 4-5, 2004 - The Albright Hussey Hotel, Shrewsbury.


The UK Association of Braille Producers is holding a conference in Shrewsbury on Monday 4 and Tuesday 5 October 2004. The two days will be packed with presentations, demonstrations and workshops of interest to anyone involved in Braille production including staff of charities, prison Braille units, school resource bases and local societies, commercial producers, and voluntary transcribers. Topics will include changes to the Braille code, copyright rules, DAISY, tactile diagrams and Moon production. Developers of Braille software, embossers and raised diagram machines will be demonstrating their latest products.

For more details and to register see: http://www.ukabp.org/conference.asp or email conference@ukabp.org or phone 0870 765 9388.

[Special notice ends].

++Section Four: Web Standards- Access Keys.


+13: The Future Of Access Keysby Derek Featherstone.

Access Keys (or 'accesskeys' as they are commonly known in technical circles) are keyboard shortcuts on a website that provide the site user with quick and easy access to areas of a site. The way they work varies slightly by browser type, but generally they involve hitting the ALT or CTRL key followed by a number and then often the enter key as well, allowing the user to jump straight to for example the home page or the contact details page. There are standard access keys for key tasks like 1 for the home page and 2 for a site map.

My consultancy WATS.ca has carried out extensive research on accesskey availability. We like the idea behind accesskeys, but find the implementation very problematic. It boils down to a few key points. Authors usually define too many accesskeys; they are used inconsistently across sites; they can cause conflict with other keystrokes; and usually, they cannot be defined by users or turned off.

It appears that a new strategy has emerged in recent efforts by the World Wide Web Consortium to define new standards for XHTML, a general purpose markup language. The XHTML 2.0 Working Draft of July 22, 2004 takes a big step forward by dropping the accesskey attribute and introducing a much more powerful and flexible access attribute. This will allow authors to define their own keystrokes to take them to various defined 'access points.'

This significant change means a few things. Authors will no longer have to worry about keystroke conflicts because it is no longer their job to define keystrokes. Instead, they can focus on defining logical and meaningful access points in their documents. Users that really need and could benefit from this functionality can define their own keystrokes, eliminating or at least minimising conflict with their software. Users will also benefit from consistency across sites, because the keystrokes are defined at the browser level, eliminating the struggle to remember which keystrokes do what on particular sites.

This strategy requires clearly defined access points. Perhaps well- understood navigation functions such as Search, Home, Help, and Contact, would be a good place to start. These could be expanded to include content, form, accessibility, and privacy. This would allow me as the user to define keystrokes that work across all sites that implement these access points, and also to create a highly customised set of keystrokes for working with various web applications that define additional access points. If I want a particular combination of key presses to take me to the home page, or search form or page for a site, then it will work on any site where these access points have been defined.

Looking forward, it might be useful to allow custom keystroke profiles so that users can create and save different sets of keystrokes for use in different applications. Site authors could also provide an XML version of the access points defined with the access attribute so that users could import the access points directly into one of those custom profiles.

This latest XHTML working draft is a very big step forward. It recognizes that keyboard users are best equipped to edit and add to the keystrokes they need, and so fits with most of what good design and standards is about: people, and putting people in control of their own environment.

Unfortunately however, it may be some time before we realize the benefits of this change in strategy, as XHTML 2.0 may be a long way from the mainstream. However, there are positive signs. For example, the Opera browser is already a leader in this respect as they allow the user to create highly customised keystrokes and multiple keyboard configurations through their Preferences interface. Let's hope that other application developers catch up soon.

NOTE: Derek Featherstone, a co-founder of Web Accessibility Testing and Services (WATS.ca - http://www.wats.ca ), has worked as a web developer, consultant and educator for the past nine years. WATS.ca is based in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

[Section Four ends].



+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].