+++E-Access Bulletin.- Issue 64, April 2005.

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: A Quarter Of Council Sites Make False Accessibility Claims.

Almost a quarter of UK council web sites are making false claims about how well they measure up to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) set out by the World Wide Web Consortium (http://www.w3.org/WAI ), E-Access Bulletin has discovered.

Research into the accessibility of council sites by the Royal National Institute of the Blind, published last month by the local government Society of IT Management, found that of the 468 UK council web sites, just 62 met level 'A' standards, and none achieved higher levels. WCAG specifies three levels of compliance: 'A', 'AA' and 'AAA'.

However, research by E-Access Bulletin into a sample of 68 sites on 24 March 2005 found widespread claims of 'A', 'AA' and 'AAA' accessibility, by the display of official WCAG logos on the sites, contradicting what the RNIB's expert testers had found.

Nine councils in the sample claimed 'AAA' accessibility for part or all of their sites at the time of testing, even though the RNIB found that seven of these sites did not even reach single 'A' accessibility, and the other two were are only single 'A' sites. A further three claimed 'AA' where RNIB found them to not even meet 'A', and six claimed 'A' status where only two were entitled to do so - a total of 16 false claims in the sample, or 23.5 per cent.

Donna Smillie, who heads the RNIB's web accessibility team, said: "The biggest problem is that it devalues the logos - if a site is claiming a certain level people won't trust it, because more often than not they don't comply." She said one possible reason for the discrepancies could be that councils are simply running automated checks for accessibility, when additional manual checks are needed to ensure a site qualifies.

NOTE: Full story in Section Four, this issue.

+02: Commercial Sites Lack Guidance On Accessibility.

E-commerce web sites carry little useful guidance about the level of accessibility they provide, according to an independent survey of the web sites of 500 top retail and financial services companies providing services to the UK.

Less than 10 per cent of the companies surveyed made any commitment to achieving standards set down in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (http://fastlink.headstar.com/wcag1 ), either by displaying a logo, or a written statement on their web sites, researchers from City University found. Of 250 retailers, just 10 web sites, or 4 per cent of the total, claimed to fulfill the requirements of WCAG, the internationally recognised benchmark of accessibility. From the financial services sector, 27 web sites, or 10.8 per cent did so.

But after running tests on a random sample of pages using the automated Watchfire Bobby tool (http://bobby.watchfire.com/bobby/html/en/index.jsp ), the researchers found that most companies either overstated or made confusing claims about the standards achieved by their sites.

Of the 10 retail sites tested, the Thameslink and Waitrose web sites claimed to be 'AA' throughout, but were found to reach just the 'A' standard the first level of accessibility, by the City University team.

Others were more ambiguous, with National Express claiming 'AAA' compliance "where possible", while Music Corner has a web page on accessibility that is claimed to reach 'AAA', although no specific commitments are made for the rest of the site. Neither National Express and Music Corner reached even 'A' according to City University. Only Marks & Spencer and JD Sports were broadly accurate in claiming 'A' compliance, according to the research.

Financial services companies faired no better. Of 10 sites claiming to comply with WCAG and tested with Bobby, just Standard Life and Royal Bank of Scotland achieved 'A' requirements, the rest failing to reach even this level.

+03: Kurzweil Predicts Accessible Future.

By 2020, technology will eliminate many of the barriers associated with sensory and physical disabilities, assistive technology pioneer Ray Kurzweil told delegates at Vision 2005, the international conference hosted by RNIB (http://fastlink.headstar.com/rnib6 ).

Computers as we know them will have changed beyond recognition by 2010, integrated into everyday objects such as clothing, he said. Instead of sitting at a computer, they will be our constant companions, feeding us the information we need in the way we choose. For vision- impaired people this could mean a whispered commentary, Kurweil told delegates.

The cost of hardware and software will decrease by around 50 per cent per year, making these technologies widely available, not just playthings of the rich, he said. He was keen to emphasise that this need not be a threat.

A pioneer of flat bed scanners, optical character recognition (OCR) reading technology and text-to-speech voice synthesisers, Kurzweil demonstrated his latest work, software that can translate human voice in one language to text, then text and voice output in a different language within seconds.

Showing a flair for showmanship, Kurzweil was not physically present at the event, delivering his presentation as a 3-D image at the speakers podium.

NOTE: For further reporting from Vision 2005, see Section Three, this issue.

+04: Us Supermarket Chain Tests Robotic Guide.

A prototype robotic guide has been developed in the US that allows vision impaired people to find their way in airports and locate products in supermarkets completely unaided.

The Robotic Guide uses a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) reader to locate objects attached to RFID tags; small disks containing information on an object, which can be attached to supermarket shelves or items. To avoid collisions, the device has a built-in "laser range finder" which detects objects up to 8 metres and 180 degrees in front of the user.

"It's intended for airports and grocery stores where a guide dog is not going to be much help; a guide dog can't recognise different brands of toothpaste," said project team leader professor Vladimir Kulyukin from the department of computer science at Utah State University (http://www.cs.usu.edu/ ). "It is not a replacement guide dog," Kulyukin said.

The prototype, the size of an upright vacuum cleaner, has been deployed in Lee's Marketplace (http://www.leesmarketplace.com/ ), a local Utah supermarket and is being tested by seven vision-impaired users.

To find a particular supermarket item, users type a serial number into a Braille keyboard attached to the back of the robot. When a brand is located, the device sends an audible signal to the user. However, Kulyukin said since many vision-impaired people do not read Braille, other formats may be investigated.

"If we're successful, then in [around] two years some grocery stores will have the device," Kulyukin said. Negotiations are currently underway on deployment of the device with a US supermarket chain and one airport. If deployed at airports, users could call the device and ask it to find them on arriving at an airport.

The robot guide costs 14 to 15,000 dollars but the price could be halved if it was produced on a large scale Kulyukin said.

"This robotic guide can give me more independence, for example, with shopping and the ability to find different offices within a business building without a sighted person's assistance," said one vision- impaired guide-tester.

"In order to get this robotic guide perfected, we need the help of big shopping chains, for example Walmart, or airports to give us the opportunity to test it out in different environments, he said."

++News in Brief:


+05: Strain Solution:

A CD that advises on how to avoid stress, back, wrist or eye strain due to bad workstation habits has been launched. It suggests cheap or free hardware and software to prevent and manage computer-related injuries. Aimed at staff and managers, 'The very best CD of office sense' from AbilityNet, costs just under 20 pounds and can be ordered by calling 01905 420520: http://www.abilitynet.org.uk/content/abilitynet/products/office.htm .

+06: Talks Two:

The second version of the screen reader for mobile phones, SpeechPAK TALKS has been released offering access to wireless application protocol (WAP) and web pages on Symbian series 60 and 80 phones for the first time. The software, which also offers Wayfinder's GPS navigation has been launched by ScanSoft: www.scansoft.com/speechpak/talks/.

+07: Arabic Honours:

The first batch of students on a course teaching Windows, Office, the internet and touch-typing to vision-impaired students in the United Arab Emirates has graduated. The three-month course was designed by the IT Education Project in collaboration with Tamkeen, a Dubaian vocational training centre for the vision-impaired. An Arabic and English portal has gone live to coincide with the event: http://fastlink.headstar.com/uae .

[Section One ends].

++Special Notice: E-Government for All: Planning for Accessibility- 25 May, Urbis Conference Centre, Manchester http://www.electronic-government.com/accessibility .


With the Disability Discrimination Act in full force there is a legal as well as a moral imperative for all e-government services to be accessible to all users. E-Access Bulletin and its sister publication E-Government Bulletin present a one-day seminar on accessibility of e-government services. Experts in the field will provide guidance on creating accessible and usable e-government services that need not be costly or difficult to produce.

Speakers include Shuna Kennedy, Chief executive, AbilityNet; Jenny Van Tinteren, Head of Accessibility Solutions, Job Centre Plus; Paul Blenkhorn, Professor of Assistive Technology, University of Manchester; and Jackie Driver, Service Improvement and Inclusion Team, Manchester City Council.

Places cost 295 pounds plus VAT for public, charitable and voluntary sector and 395 plus VAT 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/accessibility .

[Special Notice ends].

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


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

+08: Device Advice:

Alan P. Magson, IT Project Coordinator at Age Concern Bradford and District in Yorkshire writes: "I run a project at Age Concern Bradford and District to teach the internet and email to the over-50s in our area. I have recently come across at 93 year-old lady who would like to learn what we are offering but has very poor eyesight. Our local Social Services department has a scheme to enable partially sighted people to learn computers, and they have lots of specialist equipment but the terms of their funding restrict the scheme to 18 to 64 year-olds.

"I have some Dolphin demonstration equipment with which I could test the lady's ability, but thereafter, apart from Windows own Accessibility features I have no other way of catering for her. Can you advise please regarding any other means which might be available to assist? Thank you."[responses please to inbox@headstar.com]

+09: Research Request:

"I am currently studying for a Masters degree in Internet Systems Development, and have chosen the area of web site accessibility as the subject for my dissertation. I have developed a simple tool that enables users to change the appearance of a web page by clicking a link, but would be very interested in some of the difficulties that people with visual impairments experience when using the internet.

"I would like to get some feedback on what I have produced already to develop the tool further. It can be accessed via the following link: http://www.adsandtaz.com/dynamiccss/csstest.aspx . Clicking on the links in the top-right corner of the screen will alter the appearance of the page, without changing any of the page's content.

"There are certainly areas that could be improved and I would welcome any comments on how this could be achieved. I look forward to hearing from you." Please email adam@adsandtaz.com if you are able to help Adam.

+10: Statement Views:

The debate on accessible bank statements continues and following Sam Latif's comments in March's Inbox, asking for peoples' thoughts on service providers for the blind who send paper invoices. Sam said " I did contact RNIB to tell them that they provided inaccessible invoicing. They thanked me for making them aware and said they will have a solution in six months' time." However, Brian Williams has written: "I have been receiving Braille invoices from RNIB for some years now." [Further responses to inbox@headstar.com please]

Dan Thompson from Worcester in the UK contributes to the debate: "I use NatWest Bank in the UK, and though I'm not aware of other formats, I find their large print statements extremely good. They, unlike some other banks I have used, have thought about this and come up with a nice, clear print in adequate size, about 18pt and a good contrast font.

I also use online banking, which I have found to be very good as well, with clear layout and information, though I haven't tried this yet with a screen reader, as I mainly use ZoomText magnifier. I'll have to let Jaws loose on it shortly to see how it goes! Hope this is of some interest to readers." [Please email comments to inbox@headstar.com]

+11: Braille Dispute: Ellen Miros from Michigan writes:

"I am a special education teacher with a third grade student that is blind. She is currently using the Perkins Brailler for all writing that is not transcribed to her para-educator. I am currently having a disagreement with the VI consultant and would like to move her to an electronic Brailler. Apparently in Michigan, it is the custom not to do this prior to fifth grade.

Ellen would like to know if any readers have any articles on research regarding when she can implement an electronic Brailler for her student? "Thanks for any help you can give!" says Ellen. [Responses please to inbox@headstar.com]

+12: Musical Access:

The Inbox has received a request from Marta Gil, manager of the SACI Network Network, an organisation that deals with information and communication about disability which is based at the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

"The Director of the Music Department put a request to us: a blind student has enrolled and she needs software that can translate print musical score to Braille, so she can read them," Marta says.

"We do not have such a software in our language, Portuguese, but she understands English as well as the professors. So we would like to be directed to such software, sites or other contacts." [Please email responses to: inbox@headstar.com]

+13: Tactile Tactics:

Allen Hoffman from the Section 508 project at the US Internal Revenue Service writes: "After reading much about systems that offer audible and tactual mapping combinations, I sent an email to the company that manufactures the Leap Frog line of products, which function as follows: Printed pages with special ink are placed on a plastic surface, when the pages are touched with a special connected pen, the coordinates trigger the unit to set particular variables, or emit specific audio content, for example.

"The software is loaded on the little unit on a ROM in a little plastic holder like Nintendo Game Boy games. One can play a game with the map of the United States to find States in so many seconds, or get the distance between 2 points, for example. If those pages were raised as well as printed, then visually impaired folks could have a tremendous cheap system to obtain spatial data from, for example, leave spatial representations to the tactual graphics, and textual data to the audio. I received this in response to my enquiry to the company however: "LeapFrog has pursued this concept in the past without much success. At this time we are not seeking development partnerships for products developed for the blind." [further responses to inbox@headstar.com]

[Section two ends].

++Special Notice: Braille Translations.


Braille Translations provides a fast, cost-effective, high quality service of translating any document into Braille. We are able to provide Braille menus, public leaflets and business cards in Braille and help make you compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act. We can translate from large print, audio tape or audio CD.

We can also help with premises accessibility including Braille Tactile Signs for toilets and other doors.

All work is proof-read before dispatch and we are able to provide an express 24-hour service. Please call our offices for an immediate quotation or for further information on Freephone number 08000 190 946; Mobile: 07903 996533; email ghow@brailletranslations.co.uk or see: http://www.brailletranslations.co.uk .

[Special notice ends].

++Section Three - Conference Report- Vision 2005


+14: Accessibility Is Not Science Fiction.By Derek Parkinson

When thinking about how technology can improve our lives it's easy to stray into the realms of science fiction, conjuring up a wish-list of devices that would be so useful, if only they existed. And were affordable, accessible, and properly supported of course.

One of the striking impressions from the Vision 2005 conference (http://fastlink.headstar.com/rnib6 ) was how much more we should be getting out of the technology that is already available, but that achieving this needs much more than just technical research. When problems accessibility problems arise, awareness and commitment are often the culprits, rather than the technology itself.

In a session on employment, Ruth Loebl of the RNIB identified IT support in the workplace as a potential barrier for vision impaired people seeking work. This can be because the services are difficult to access, requiring use of a mouse for example, or because staff may not know how to install or maintain assistive equipment. The situation is further complicated by the trend for large organisations to outsource their IT infrastructure and support services, while small organisations may be wary of investing in the equipment and expertise needed.

"We have to be realistic about small companies. We argue that they should balance the cost of coping with a disability - when a member of staff's vision worsens, for example - against the cost of recruiting and training new personnel," said Loebl. "But that argument gets weaker, the smaller the company," she said.

Anti-discrimination law could be one of the most effective way to change attitudes, delegates heard. "In the US, we've seen the effects of [the anti-discrimination law] Section 508. There has been a trickle- down effect, so although it only covers the public sector its influence has spread more widely," said Loebl. Suppliers to the public sector are forced to invest in accessibility, but they then use it as a way of competing for private sector business, she said.

The UK may be about to experience a similar effect, with legislation being drawn up that would require the public sector to take a more active role in promoting equality of opportunity, particularly among disadvantaged groups. This will make accessibility a higher priority for procurement decisions, said Loebl.

Impressive research efforts are going into direction-finding services, and many people will have heard about the new PDAs available with satellite technology, but Vision 2005 also revealed how much interesting work is being done on ground-based wireless technologies. For example, a team from the Polish university of Podlasie (http://fastlink.headstar.com/podlasie ) demonstrated a prototype that uses standard mobile phone technology to give location and direction information.

The system requires infrared transmitters and receivers to be embedded in fixed objects at a location, and a standard internet-enabled mobile phone. The phone collects information about the identity and direction of the nearest object and sends it via the internet to a server which computes the best route to a destination. An appealing aspect of this approach is that infrared, Bluetooth, and internet connectivity are mainstream technologies for mobile phones on sale today.

Delegates also learned of efforts in Japan to integrate data from a wide range of wireless sources, including satellites, radio, infrared, and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) devices, to deliver directions to pedestrians. The four year Barrier-Free IT project, funded by the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, aims to build these capabilities into a small attachment that is compatible with standard mobile phones.

Making better use of existing technology was also a strong theme in sessions dedicated to accessible web design. Professor Helen Petrie of City University (http://hcid.soi.city.ac.uk/index.html ) ran over the main points of her research into web site accessibility for the UK Disability Rights Commission. From a sample of 1,000 web sites in five sectors Petrie found that only 19 per cent achieved the most basic requirement set down in Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (http://fastlink.headstar.com/wcag1 ), the internationally recognised benchmark of accessibility. Partially sighted people were only able to achieve 76 per cent of basic tasks on the sites, while blind people could only complete 53 per cent of tasks.

Delegates also heard about Petrie's plans for future research that will shed new light on accessibility problems with web sites, with further investigation into the tasks that vision impaired people find difficult, and how these compare with problems experienced by sighted users.

A major problem with web site accessibility is the gulf between the clinical reality that determines what users can do, and the technical reality of web site design, Jim Tobias of Inclusive Design told delegates. "Let's face it, many web sites are designed by 25 year-olds who weigh 180 pounds and are as strong as a horse," he said. There are an increasing number of tools available that can simulate vision problems, enabling designers to build accessibility into a web site from an early stage in the building process, he said.

The challenge, he said, is not so much the technology, but in raising awareness and encouraging people to use it. "We must take this to the designers, they won't come to us," he said.

[Section Three 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 Four - Research- Web Accessibility


+12: Claims And Counter-Claimsby Dan Jellinek

There are widespread and major discrepancies between levels of accessibility claimed for themselves by local government web sites and their actual levels of accessibility, research by E-Access Bulletin has found.

Accessibility of sites to people with disabilities is usually measured against the international standards set out by the World Wide Web Consortium (http://www.w3.org/WAI ). Their Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) specify three levels of compliance: 'A', 'AA' and 'AAA'.

Research into the accessibility of council sites by the Royal National Institute of the Blind, published last month by the local government Society of IT Management as part of their annual 'Better Connected' review of sites, found that of the 468 UK council web sites, just 62 met level 'A' standards, and none achieved higher levels.

However, research by E-Access Bulletin into a sample of 68 sites on 24 March 2005 found widespread claims of 'A', 'AA' and 'AAA' accessibility, by the display of official WCAG logos on the sites, in direct contradiction of what the RNIB's expert testers had found.

The sample of sites was selected to include all 38 sites classified as 'Transactional' in the Socitm research - the highest overall accolade awarded to council sites - plus a further 30 sites selected at random. Of the 68 sites examined, just 10 were found by the RNIB to pass 'A' level accessibility. None were found to have reached 'AA' or 'AAA' standard.

However, some eight councils in the sample - Barking and Dagenham, Chester, Dudley, Hertfordshire, Reigate and Banstead, Stockport, Stroud and Tameside - claimed 'AAA' accessibility at the time of testing, even though the RNIB found that six of these sites did not even reach single 'A' accessibility, and Reigate and Banstead and Tameside are only single 'A' sites. In addition Liverpool claimed 'AAA' for large parts of its site, and 'AA' for the rest, though the RNIB found it did not even meet 'A' level. However, since publishing a report on these discrepancies in our sister publication E-Government Bulletin, Stroud District Council has removed the misleading logos from its web site.

Three other sites in the sample - Gloucestershire, Tower Hamlets and Watford - claimed 'AA' level, although they were not even 'A' level according to RNIB.

And six councils - Kensington and Chelsea, Kirklees, Maidstone, Swale, Tamworth and Wrexham - all claimed 'A' status when only Kensington and Chelsea and Tamworth were entitled to do so, according to the RNIB.

In all, 16 councils in the sample of 68, or 23.5 per cent, were making claims about their accessibility which were not borne out by the RNIB's assessment.

The RNIB says it stands by its assessments of all the sites, and that no council site reached 'AA' or 'AAA' standards of accessibility when it tested them in December last year, despite current government guidelines specifying that public sector sites should reach 'AA' compliance wherever possible.

Donna Smillie, who heads the RNIB's web accessibility team, said the E-Access Bulletin research tallied with her own experience. "I also have found big discrepancies between what is claimed and what is found. The biggest problem with this is that it devalues the logos - if a site is claiming a certain level people won't trust it, because more often than not they don't comply."

She said one possible reason for the discrepancies could be that councils are simply running automated checks for accessibility, which sometimes seem to specify that a certain level has been reached, when in fact further manual checks are always needed to ensure a site qualifies.

The World Wide Web Consortium does not audit the use of its logos, and is careful to point out that the system is self-policing. However, it recommends owners of sites displaying one of the logos "use a variety of review methods to ensure that any page using this logo meets the conformance level claimed. Providers should also ensure that anyone maintaining or updating the site is familiar with logo use, and either re- reviews the page or removes the logo from the page if they are unsure whether it still meets a specified conformance level."

The consortium is also careful to point out that use of the logo should not simply be contingent on a site passing automated tests, and that manual checking is always essential to determine compliance. "Please note that use of this logo is not conditional on an automated test. There is as yet no tool that can perform a completely automatic assessment on the checkpoints in the guidelines, and fully automatic testing may remain difficult or impossible," it says in a statement on its web site.

Smillie said councils should not necessarily be taken to task for small over-claims on accessibility, but that where major discrepancies are found, web site users would be within their rights to complain.

"We found that failures at 'AA' level for example are often quite small technical issues, that might impact on a few web users, but not many. So maybe, in the context of an aspiration to meet 'AA', a site could be entitled to use a logo.

"But where claims are wildly inaccurate, it is legitimate to query why this should be. For example, to ask why a site is claiming 'AAA' accessibility, where its 'ALT' tags [to provide text descriptions for images] are not useful."

She said the problems arise from a situation where there is very little independent audit of sites for accessibility. Currently in the UK, the RNIB's own 'See it Right' service is the only audit in operation, and its scope is restricted by the size of its review team.

But there is an initiative in hand to address the problem at a European level, Smillie said. The 'Support-EAM' project (http://www.support- eam.org) is attempting to define a European Accessibility Mark based on existing international guidelines, which could be used as the basis for clear independent audit across the continent. Only those organisations who had been properly audited would be able to display the mark.

[Section Four ends].

++End Notes.



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

Please send comments on coverage or leads to Dan Jellinek at: dan@headstar.com .

Copyright 2005 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 bulletin 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
  • Technician - Nick Apostolidis
  • Editorial advisor - Kevin Carey.

ISSN 1476-6337 .

[Issue ends].