+++E-Access Bulletin.- Issue 68, August 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/ .

++Special Notice: e-Access'05- 14 September 2005, CBI conference Centre, London. http://www.headstar-events.com/eaccess05/


E-Access'05 is a new major national exhibition and conference examining all the issues surrounding access to new technologies, information and digital services by all. Speakers include Jonathan Hassell, BBC New Media; John Williams, founder of internet TV channel at508.com; and Kevin Carey, vice-chair of RNIB.

Attendance costs just 145 pounds for public sector and 195 pounds for private sector delegates. Come along and experience what is shaping up to be the UK's largest ever event focused on access to technology by all. For more see: http://www.headstar-events.com/eaccess05/ .

[Special Notice ends].

++Section One: News.


+01: Talking Cash Machines Go Live In New Zealand.

New Zealand's first talking bank cash machines (ATMs) have been installed by 13 branches of the country's credit unions, it was announced last month.

And all machines installed in future will have speech capability, according to the New Zealand Association of Credit Unions ( NZACU - http://www.nzacu.org.nz/ ).

Customers of the not-for-profit unions, which provide banking and insurance services, can access the ATMs through a universal headphone socket using any standard set of headphones.

As well as providing vision-impaired users with greater independence, the new machines also enable more privacy when carrying out transactions, NZACU spokesperson Vicky Mackenzie told E-Access Bulletin.

"What's really good about the machines is that the screen goes blank once you plug the headphone in, so a sighted person standing close by would not be able to see or hear what transactions are being carried out," Mackenzie said.

The talking ATMs also provide users with detailed information about their withdrawals. "The machine tells the user the number of notes that have been dispensed. New Zealand currency varies only very slightly in size and the notes feel quite similar so it would be difficult to tell what denomination they are. But with the machine, if you withdrew 100 dollars, it would tell you that you've received five notes or 10 notes or two notes, so you would know what denomination they are in," said Mackenzie.

"The [New Zealand] banks do not have this facility available and the Association of Blind Citizens of New Zealand have been pressuring them to make a change but they have met with the same response as you have in the UK," said Mackenzie. "However, with the Credit Unions being the first to release these ATMs, there would be a fair amount of social pressure now on other financial institutions to upgrade," she said.

A recent E-Access Bulletin investigation revealed that most major High Street banks in the UK have no plans to introduce talking cash machines in the near future ( see also Issue 67, July 2005).

+02: Orange Admission Over Switching Off Wildfire.

The mobile phone operator Orange has admitted it underestimated the strength of feeling among vision-impaired users which has followed the withdrawal of Wildfire, a system which allowed people to access services using voice commands.

Plans to scrap the service, announced earlier this year, led users to campaign for the decision to be reversed, gaining widespread media coverage. Orange responded by delaying the closure, but the axe finally fell on Wildfire in July, after five years ( http://www.orange.co.uk/wildfire/ ).

The service was particularly valued by vision-impaired users because it enabled them to search for contact details, make calls, and manage messages using voice commands instead of the phone keypad.

"One thing we've learned from Wildfire is that we didn't appreciate how much this service meant to vision-impaired users," Jonathan Rose, Orange head of communications told E-Access Bulletin. The closure prompted some users to launch campaign web sites such as the Campaign to Access Orange ( http://www.croftsfamily.com/campaigntoaccessorange/ ).

According to Rose, the decision to scrap Wildfire was taken for a combination of technical and business reasons. "We don't have the ability to maintain the Wildfire platform," he said. He said Orange does now have a team that is actively looking at how to deliver longer term benefits to customers with disabilities, although he declined to give any specific details.

The company is offering former Wildfire users free use of TALKS ( http://www.scansoft.com/speechworks/talks/ ), a text-to-speech engine for mobile handsets, and a handset upgrade if needed. Customers should dial 294 from their Orange phones to find out more. However, TALKS does not interpret voice commands like Wildfire, which was installed on a remote server.

+03: 'Huge Talent Pool Squandered' If Technology Inaccessible.

A huge talent pool in every profession is set to be squandered unless technology companies can ensure better accessibility to computers and information, a leading US assistive technology broadcaster will tell a UK accessibility conference next month.

Accessible digital materials can increase opportunities in all areas of life for people with disabilities, but users must ensure mainstream technology companies pay more attention to their needs, according to John Williams, founder of US-based internet TV station AT508.com (http://at508.com/ ). The station is named after Section 508 of the US Rehabilitation Act.

"Most employers still have the idea that people with disabilities can not do the work that able-bodied people do," said Williams, who will deliver an address at E-Access'05 in London on 14 September (http://www.headstar-events.com/eaccess05/ ). The conference is hosted by the publishers of E-Access Bulletin and supported, among others, by the broadcaster BSkyB; the RNIB; content management systems specialist Jadu; web speech-enabler Browsealoud and the Society of Public Information Networks (SPIN).

"The conference can expand the awareness of the availability of [assistive technology] products," Williams said. "I am hoping to see new products, meet manufacturers and advocates and learn what is being done by governments in other countries."

+04: Onetel Most Accessible Of Telecoms Web Sites

Onetel ( http://www.onetel.co.uk ) has topped the results of a survey on the accessibility of UK telecommunications companies' web sites, published this week by the charity AbilityNet (http://www.abilitynet.org.uk/ ).

Kingston Communications ( http://www.kcom.com/ ) also gained a high rating for its site in the survey, which used both automated and manual accessibility checks.

AbilityNet also asked all companies surveyed to make a public commitment to web accessibility to which only Kingston Communications; Onetel; O2; Telewest; and Vodafone agreed. The remaining sites - BT; NTL; Orange; T Mobile; and 3 - failed to meet basic accessibility criteria, and failed to sign up to the accessibility commitment.

"[The report] encourages other companies to focus their minds," said Jon Gooday, senior consultant at AbilityNet. He said often there is one individual within an organisation keen to enhance the accessibility of their web site, but without access to resources or support from senior managers, the work cannot be carried out. Gooday said this report could help such individuals by raising awareness.

AbilityNet's next web accessibility report will focus on UK utility companies.

++News in Brief:


+05: Audible Monopoly:

A new audible version of the famous board game Monopoly has been launched by the accessible games site Kitchen's Inc. Players can compete against the computer or invite up to five others to play: http://www.kitchensinc.net .

+06: Working Practice:

Guidance on inclusive design in offices has been published in a new book aimed at managers and architects, published by RNIB access consultancy JMU Partnership. 'The accessible office' covers standards, research and regulations: http://fastlink.headstar.com/bco1 .

+07: Tactile Nomination:

GRAB, A European research project to develop tactile and audible versions of three-dimensional computer graphics has been shortlisted for the European Commission's 1 million euro Descartes Research Prize. The winner will be announced in December. GRAB's test applications include a 3D city map and an adventure game: http://www.grab-eu.com .

[Section One ends].

++Special Notice: Techshare 2005- Early Bird Rate to 1 October - 17-18 November, Jury's Inn, Birmingham, UK.


Techshare 2005 is an international event for professionals interested in technology and the role it plays for people with sight problems. The conference will take place on 17 and 18 November with pre- conference workshops - newly announced - on the 16 November. It will be held at the Jury's Inn, Birmingham.

This conference is aimed at professionals who work in the field of sight loss or have an interest in technology. Packed with presentations and workshops, Techshare is a fantastic opportunity to meet with experts and other professionals in your field.

To register visit: http://www.techshare.org.uk .

[Special Notice ends].

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


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

+08: Blog Suggestion:

Tom Worthington IT strategy consultant and Director of TomW Communications in Australia, writes in response to our June story 'Many Blogs Impossible to Access.' "On a positive note, I found the Atutor Learning Content Management System ( http://www.atutor.ca/ ) is reasonably accessible and just about works on mobile phones as well. But given it comes from the Adaptive Technology Resource Centre, that is not surprising. Perhaps they need to do some blog software." [Further responses please to inbox@headstar.com ]

+09: Talking Bank:

Graham Wilkins from Gillingham in Kent, UK writes in to add to our ongoing contributions on accessible banking, with praise for HSBC's First Direct web site. "I didn't expect much joy when I tried accessing my First Direct account using speech, but I was very impressed," he says. "I could navigate the pages, with some patience because of the number of repeated links, read my statements, and make a bank transfer payment using speech. I am running Window-Eyes version five on Windows XP, and used Internet Explorer.

"I helped my son access his new account with First Direct with exactly the same version of Window-Eyes on a different computer and we had problems, particularly moving between the on-screen elements and having all the text read out. I am assuming there is something different in the setup of our screen readers, though what it may be I have as yet to find out." [Further responses please to inbox@headstar.com ]

+10: Show Schedule:

Jim Taylor writes in to offer a source for BBC7 digital radio programme listings: "For those using DAB radios, there is a weekly, detailed guide to BBC7 programmes, distributed every Thursday morning. The guide, as far as possible, is designed by a blind person to suit the needs, and quirks, of speech synthesisers. For a sample week's programmes, subscribe to: bbc7-listings@yahoogroups.com Regards and happy listening."

+11: Game Check: Loh Kong Ken writes:

I am a keen blind chess player from Malaysia. Does anyone know any web site where I can play chess online? Your assistance is greatly appreciated!" [Responses please to inbox@headstar.com ]

+12: Life Story: Finally, a request from E-Access Bulletin:

If readers have their own true story to tell about an inspiring trip or episode in their life involving any aspect of the use of access technologies, please email Mel Poluck on mel@headstar.com . Your story may be published in the bulletin!

[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 - Technology Focus- MP3 Players.


+13: The Portable Audio Revolutionby Mel Poluck.

It seems like every other person in the street these days is wearing an MP3 player to listen to music: they are the 'Walkman' of the present day, and even more popular than those original portable music devices.

It is no surprise therefore that MP3 players have also proven hugely popular with blind and vision-impaired people, with their capacity to fit a vast amount of music or other audio content into a tiny device that fits comfortably in the pocket.

The problem for vision-impaired users comes with the accessibility of the device itself, such as the design of its screen or its buttons.

For example, when Sue Allard of the British Retinitis Pigmentosa Society bought Creative Labs' Nomad ZenXtra MP3 player ( http://fastlink.headstar.com/creative1 ) she had some vision, and could navigate her way around it using a magnifier

"However, now I can no longer see the screen, I have had to give up quite a few of its features as it is menu-based," she says. Without a text-to-speech option, Allard says she no longer has access to features such as 'bookmarking,' an experience she describes as "really frustrating.

"I have worked out how to get to the list of albums, artists and authors and can locate individual books or tracks by storing them in alphabetical order, but I can no longer use playlists. It's a brilliant but not accessible machine," Allard says.

One advantage of music storage devices for vision-impaired users is that they neatly double up as audio book players, and can be used to listen to 'podcasts': a term for distribution of audio content over the internet such as that used by many internet radio stations.

On the other hand, most standard players are not as sophisticated or flexible as the generally larger, specialist devices which are designed purely to play back audio books. "Most mainstream MP3 players offer few navigation options," says Anna Dresner, Publishing Associate from the National Braille Press in the US and author of 'The iPod Experience: Gaining Access to the iPod shuffle' ( http://fastlink.headstar.com/nbp1 ).

"If you're trying to read particular pages or look something up in a reference book, you need [standard e-book format] DAISY navigation features," Dresner says. "DAISY's ability to synchronise text and audio is a very exciting idea as well, because it would make it possible to search for specific words, check the spelling of unfamiliar words and make the book available to deafblind people if a Braille display could be used with the DAISY device."

However, there are MP3 players designed with vision-impaired users in mind, and which handle e-books well. The Book Port ( http://sun1.aph.org/products/bp_bro.html ) from the American Printing House for the Blind ( http://www.aph.org ) for example, plays music files, DAISY files, and text, including Word documents and has more advanced navigation features than mainstream players.

The problem with Book Ports, however, is that they use removable media. "You are then faced with organising, carrying and sorting memory cards," Allard says. "With my Nomad I have my entire music collection with me at all times and just about as many Audible books as I can download; and all in a device a bit bigger than a cigarette packet."

While levels of accessibility vary from player to player, Apple's iPod Shuffle - a device the size, shape and weight of a cigarette lighter with the most basic of buttons and space for 120 tracks and up to 120 hours of audio book time - rates high for accessibility.

"Except for the battery gauge, the iPod Shuffle is completely accessible, and very easy to use," Dresner says. "The major disadvantage is that Windows does not treat it like a standard USB drive, so you have to use other software to manage it, and iTunes, the most common iPod management program, is difficult to use without scripts or set files," she says. "This means that you have to spend more money to get software that allows you to manage it effectively."

To answer this problem, last month Brian Hartgen, technical consultant at UK-based assistive technology consultancy TandT Limited, released accessible scripts for 'iTunes,' (http://www.tandt-consultancy.com/itunesscripts.html ), allowing vision-impaired users of the JAWS for Windows screen- reader to manage their music files. It costs 30 pounds.

Other solutions include Steve Holmes's Window-Eyes set files for iTunes (http://www.holmesgrown.com/window-eyes/itunes.zip ) and the Anapod Explorer ( http://www.redchairsoftware.com/anapod/ ) from Red Chair Software in the US which costs about 20 pounds. This, according to Hartgen, allows you to "treat your iPod a little like windows explorer in the sense that you can copy files to and from the device using explorer as an interface."

So the market for both mainstream and specialist MP3 players is expanding, and for those devices that are inaccessible, solutions are emerging at a rapid pace. The MP3 revolution continues.

[Section Three 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 Four - Focus- Inclusive Design.


+14: A New Cash Fund Seeks New Ideasby Will Pearson.

There is ever greater acknowledgement in UK education that primary accessibility of technology resources is a fundamental right of all students and teachers.

With legislation in place, and burgeoning support networks among teachers and parents, inclusive schooling often incorporates advanced digital technologies alongside non-technological teaching approaches. More teachers than ever before are aware of the existence and capabilities of screen readers, Braille displays, text-to-speech, and British Sign Language avatars, among other access tools.

However, the debate around inclusion has seemed to shift over recent months from primary accessibility of educational materials to the need for a more radical overhaul of the entire structure and fabric of classrooms to create the kinds of flexible teaching solutions that so many parents and teachers desire.

Into this debate steps inclusive design, sometimes known as design for all, or universal design for learning. It is at heart a moral position that states quite bluntly that separate and distinct resources for diverse learner groups, while helping them attain against normative assessment scales, can leave them without an understanding of other needs and other possibilities, and lacking in vital social interaction.

Inclusive design, in the words of a recent Design Council briefing, is a challenge: "The challenge is to use design as a tool for delivering on social and political expectations of equality and inclusivity, and so create a supportive environment of buildings, products, services and interfaces that makes it possible for everyone to live independent and fulfilling lives."

The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) in the US has since 1984 championed digital technologies as the key to modelling and promoting the principles of inclusive design. The inherent flexibility of digital materials mean that transformations, changes in scale, contrast, use of multiple media and input and output options have been employed to address student learning needs.

However, this can be seen as having yoked input and output to accessibility too tightly, and specialisation has occurred to create very exclusive products. These are valuable tools, allowing researchers and consumers to test to the limits the capabilities of the internet, for instance.

One concern voiced by Bob Regan, head of accessibility at Macromedia, at a design conference in Brazil last December was that the single biggest failure of accessibility expertise is the lack of engagement with designers from a wide enough spectrum, from products designers through to software developers. It is almost as if aesthetic sensibilities, wide use and multiple functionality were somehow "detracting" from the core, primary accessibility, and worked counter to it in some way.

Inclusive design decisively challenges this separation. UK educational resources need a boost from new and innovative resources that can tear down some of the barricades, and a new fund may just hold the answer.

Inclusive Views ( http://www.nesta.org.uk/inclusiveviews ) is a new fund from the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) that aims to advance the use of inclusive design within learning tools and applications.

The fund has launched its first Call for Ideas which seeks to take early stage ideas for learning technologies through to market, providing seed investment and long term royalties for the selected four ideas. Working side by side with Inclusive Technology Limited, NESTA will be keen to evaluate hardware and software products that will be sold through Inclusive Technology's extensive networks.

Anyone can apply through the web site listed above: applications received so far range from games designers wishing to create fully inclusive 3D game worlds, to those wishing to use virtual reality avatars to guide users around learning resources on mobile phones.

All ideas will be judged by an expert panel after the closing date at the end of September. Members of the panel are already excited about the new solutions that might emerge.

NOTE: Will Pearson is programme manager, NESTA Learning at NESTA.

[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].