+++E-Access Bulletin.- Issue 72, December 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: European Public Sector Fails On Basic Web Accessibility.

Just three per cent of public sector web sites in the European Union (EU) reach accepted minimum international standards of accessibility, according to UK government-funded research published last month.

The results were obtained by carrying out automated and manual checks on 436 public sector web sites across all 25 member states of the EU. The checks were designed to show how well the sites measured up to the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG - http://www.w3.org/TR/WAI-WEBCONTENT/ ), that grade sites 'A', 'AA', or 'AAA', in rising order of accessibility.

According to the research, only three per cent reached 'A' status, although a further 27 per cent narrowly missed out, either because they passed all automated checks but failed a manual inspection, or failed a small number of automated checks. No sites were found to reach 'AA' or 'AAA' status.

"I had expected and hoped that governments were doing better," accessibility expert Helen Petrie, Professor of Computer Science at the University of York, told E-Access Bulletin. "Such a low level of conformance is disappointing and shows that we have a mountain to climb."

The report, 'eAccessibility of public sector services in the European Union', ( http://fastlink.headstar.com/eur6 ), was commissioned as part of the UK's presidency of the EU. It revealed that few member states know how well they are doing in the accessibility field: of the 25, only six felt able to estimate the proportion of their web sites meeting 'A' requirements, but all six were found to have overestimated.

The poor showing may partly be explained by the fact that the WCAG are not available in all EU languages. At present, the guidelines aren't available in the national languages of Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Greece, Latvia, Malta and Slovenia; and a number of other minority languages. Translations are in progress for the languages of Poland and the Slovak Republic.

+02: Pilots For User Preferences Smartcard Go Live In New Year.

Pilots of a smartcard developed to allow vision-impaired people to customise the settings of public electronic terminals including banks' automatic telling machines (ATMs) will begin in the new year.

The 'Special needs application programming interface' (SNAPI - http://fastlink.headstar.com/snapi1 ) enables smartcards to carry data on user preferences such as a large font size, once inserted into an ATM, railway ticket machine or similar device.

"The software can use any existing or planned card scheme. And the system could work with any terminal and its screen, subject to the supplier using SNAPI specifications," said Geoff Doggett, e-services card manager at Mid Suffolk District Council, and SNAPI project manager. "Currently, all the accessibility options in Windows XP and 2000 [are stored on SNAPI]," Doggett said. "One of the great benefits is that simply withdrawing the card resets the computer automatically for the next person".

The pilots will begin in January at libraries in Cambridge and Suffolk; at the RNIB resource centre in London; and at several colleges and schools. Its developers are also currently creating partnerships with terminal suppliers and service providers and looking at ways to make the cards available to a larger number of people. Lessons learned from the pilots will be disseminated at a workshop in May 2006 where the project will be formally launched, Doggett said.

SNAPI has been developed by the RNIB, Mid Suffolk Council and the Black Country Knowledge Society ( http://www.bcks.org.uk/ ), a regional partnership of public, private and voluntary bodies. The initiative is managed by the 'Local authority smartcard standards e- organisation' (LASSeO - http://www.lasseo.org.uk/ ).

+03: 'Podcast' On Assistive Technology For Schools Goes Live.

A series of monthly online audio broadcasts or 'podcasts,' informing teachers, students, parents and administrators on the use of assistive technologies in schools and colleges, has gone live.

The service, entitled Building Educational Success Through Technology (BEST - http://bestpodcast.blogspot.com ) provides ideas and resources on assistive technology in education including news and product reviews. It can be played online using a media player such as 'real player' or 'itunes' or by downloading it onto a personal mp3 player, allowing listeners to hear shows at any time they choose.

"Podcasts are an innovative way of providing global access to information and are available to anyone who has access to the internet," said Brian Wojcik, Coordinator at the Special Educational Assistive Technology department at Illinois State University. The department collaborated with local education authorities and a Chicago-based cerebral palsy charity.

In future, a 'call for help' feature will be added, Wojcik said. "The aim of this is to provide a way for listeners to call in with questions or issues they are facing regarding using assistive technology with children in early childhood, in secondary classrooms or the home. We will attempt to provide answers or provide a forum for others to."

+04: Accessibility Accreditation To Use Vision-Impaired Testers.

A new UK-based system of audit for web accessibility is using a panel of testers with disabilities as an integral part of its accreditation process.

The 'See It Right: UseAbility' audit is based on the RNIB's existing 'See It Right' accessibility audit, in partnership with testers recruited by the charity AbilityNet (see http://fastlink.headstar.com/sir1 ). It checks sites against the 'priority areas' of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines,' from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

"We thought it would be a good idea to get an accreditation going that included user testing rather than doing it ourselves and being a competitor to See It Right, a popular and worthwhile award," said Robin Christopherson, Web Consultancy Manager at AbilityNet.

"You need disabled testers if you want to make sure there are no obstacles to technology such as screen readers," he said.

For large sites, the panel will comprise eight volunteer testers with sensory, motor and learning impairments including three with vision impairments to assess sites' compatibility of magnification software, screen readers and text options found in browsers.

Web sites that pass the audit will be entitled to display an audit logo on their home page. An unnamed high street insurance company is set to be the first to undergo the new scheme, AbilityNet says.

The disability charity Shaw Trust operates the only other web accessibility logo scheme, introduced a year ago, that uses a group of disabled web testers (http://www.shaw-trust.org.uk/ ).

++News in Brief:


+05: Personal Contact:

Software for the PAC Mate personal digital assistant has been launched allowing deafblind users to read and write messages, send and receive emails and mobile and analogue phone calls from vision-impaired contacts. FaceToFace, produced by PAC Mate's maker Freedom Scientific, uses a refreshable Braille display, bluetooth and wireless technology and costs around 700 pounds: http://fastlink.headstar.com/face2 .

+06: Command Control:

A simplified voice recognition programme that can control a computer with a few commands has been developed by US assistive technology firm RJ Cooper and Associates. 'Speak to me' responds to frequently used commands such as 'save,' 'open,' 'copy and paste,' and users can ask to be directed to web pages. It costs around 50 pounds: http://www.rjcooper.com/speak-to-me .

+07: Favourite Things:

A web browser toolbar has been launched allowing print-impaired users including dyslexics to customise web sites and Windows programmes according to their preferences. The Textic Toolbar is compatible with all browsers and costs 25 pounds for individual users: http://www.textic.com/ .

+08: Guide Correction:

Last issue, we wrote that the online guides to central Glasgow's buildings, transport and streets produced by Describe Online with Glasgow City Council are available in audio format. In fact, they are available in plain text only. We would like to apologise for this error. For more information see: http://www.describe-online.com/glasgow/ .

[Section One 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 Two: 'The Inbox'- Readers' Forum.


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

+09: Information Rights:

John Nissen, founder of inclusive technology company Cloudworld ( http://www.cloudworld.co.uk ) writes in response to Kevin Carey's feature in our October issue on the recent EU Communication on accessibility, which he labelled a "waste of time."

Nissen says: "[Carey's] comments set me thinking that what is needed is to establish access to information as a basic human right. This would open up all sorts of possibilities: taking organisations to the Court of Human Rights would be the ultimate recourse.

"For Europe, we could have something like the US's Section 508, whereby "reasonable accommodation" has to be made for access to information and services for people with a disability.

"One would need to define 'information' as 'information relevant to oneself,' [for example:] information for education, health, employment, government, voting, financial, legal, and personal data held by organisations about oneself. One would need to define 'access' as 'equality of access as regards cost and convenience, whatever one's age or disability and the information must be made available in a timely fashion.

"Some information would be withheld for security and confidentiality reasons, and some information one might have to pay for, but otherwise all information should be freely available on a need to know basis. Regarding the internet, everybody should have equal access, on the assumption that anybody might need to know anything." [Further responses please to inbox@headstar.com ].

+10: Colour Sources:

John Starbuck of Wakefield Council in the UK writes in to follow up his query in our October issue about web-based colour-blindness tests. He says: "My main concern at present is to find a good source to direct web page designers towards, so they can appreciate the problems. All too often, they tend to think that including more text than images and ensuring the text can be enlarged will suffice to deal with vision problems, but I need to show that more has to be done.

"The Web Accessibility guides don't seem to cover colour-blindness very well, although I believe cyan is recommended for backgrounds." [Responses please to inbox@headstar.com ].

+11: Readers Needed:

Tony Dart of the online library 'The Seeing Ear' writes with a request for testers. He says: "The library ( http://www.seeingear.org ) is totally internet-based. All the books are electronic text files and can be read on virtually any reading machine, Braille terminal or computer. To access the library you have to fill in a simple registration form online. There are no charges for members and membership is open to UK and EU vision-impaired people.

"We are looking for vision-impaired people who will test the site with a variety of hardware and software and point out any problems so they can be fixed during the next month." The library launches in January 2006. [Responses please to inbox@headstar.com]

[Section Two ends].

++Special Notice: Web Accessibility Forum.


Accessify Forum is a discussion forum devoted to all topics relating to web accessibility. Topics cover everything from 'Beginners' and 'Site building and testing' through to projects such as the new accessibility testing tool WaiZilla and the accessibility of the open source forum software itself.

All you need to register is a working email address, so come along and join in the fun at: http://www.accessifyforum.com .

[Special notice ends].

++Section Three - Techshare Report I- A DAISY Browser.


+12: Electronic Books - Online And On Demandby Derek Parkinson.

Many barriers stand between vision-impaired people and accessible books, delegates heard at this year's Techshare conference, the RNIB's flagship access technology event ( http://www.techshare.org.uk ).

Piotr Brzoza and Ryszard Winiarczyk of the Silesian University of Technology in Poland (http://www.polsl.pl/ ), demonstrated how new browser technology might help overcome some of these barriers.

A very small proportion of all books published are provided in formats such as Braille, because of the high cost of doing so and the relatively small market for them, said Brzoza. Electronic formats such as cassette tape made talking books easier to produce and to market, leading to a great increase in the availability of accessible material. The arrival of digital technologies promised another leap forward, but progress has been slower than expected for several reasons, he said.

Manufacturers of desktop software have developed so-called e-book formats, enabling vision-impaired people to access books on a range of devices such as dedicated e-book players, home computers and palm- top computers. However, these formats are usually the property of the software companies, and are often incompatible with each other.

In response, during the 1990s work began on an open, standards-based alternative known as the Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY - http://www.daisy.org/ ). The same period witnessed the explosion of content on the internet, and efforts to develop assistive technology such as screen readers.

But both DAISY and screen readers have their limitations, delegates heard. So-called Digital Rights Management (DRM) systems - technologies designed to prevent illegal copying of material - can also prevent screen readers accessing digital content. On the other hand, although DAISY technology is widely praised for its accessibility, it needs complete files to be downloaded to a computer hard drive or a compact disc before the content can be read.

"Downloading an entire book is time-consuming, particularly for people who want to use a library to access a large number of books on a particular topic, for example," said Brzoza.

To remedy this problem, Brzoza, Winiarczyk, and their colleagues at the Silesian University of Technology built a content management system and a web browser that can access content in the DAISY format over the internet, as and when the user requests it. The team have since used the technology to access the library catalogue and books at the Laski School for the Blind in Poland ( http://www.laski.edu.pl/ ).

"It can play books online, it works with the library multimedia system, and it provides useful DAISY functions like bookmarks and notes in the text," said Brzoza. The browser component can be downloaded for free at the Key Foundation web site ( http://www.key.org.pl ), he said.

Many delegates wanted to know more. Did the system enable many users to access the same content at the same time? Did it allow readers to skip text like a standard DAISY player? Yes, it could do both these things, said Brzoza. Some delegates wanted to know how expensive it would be to install the system. He explained that although the browser is available free, there would have to be a charge for using the content management system.

The presentation attracted a great deal of interest, as a practical example of how DAISY technology can be adapted for online content.

[Section Three 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 Four - Techshare report II- Access to Mobile Phones.


+13: Free Learning Blended With Treacleby Dan Jellinek.

A unique online training resource bank to help blind and vision- impaired people use mobile phones was unveiled at this year's RNIB Techshare conference by a team from Harrow Council in London.

The 'blended learning' package combines classroom-based learning with online learning, and teaches people how to use software to make the phone talk for phoning and text messaging, plus other software that can magnify the screen. A prototype version of the online learning module plus full classroom notes to enable other learning providers to deliver all parts of the course will be made freely available on the web by Christmas, Harrow Adult and Community Learning Programme Development Officer Karen Bhamra told E-Access Bulletin.

"We've created a resource bank aimed at tutors, with all the resources, lesson plans and so on that you need to run a course," Bhamra said. "There is also an e-learning element, with tests."

When complete, the resource will be made available on the web at: http://www.learninharrow.org.uk by following the link to 'Online Courses'. The project was made possible by funding from the enticingly named Project TrEACL (pronounced 'treacle'), which stands for Technology to Enhance Adult and Community Learning. Some 23 projects across England have been funded in round three of this programme, including the Harrow work (see http://www.aclearn.net/display.cfm?page=951 for more on TrEACL).

Alex Hills, chair of the Middlesex Association for the Blind which has partnered with Harrow on the project, said the project had begun by some work with a focus group of people with impaired vision, to select a preferred mobile phone handset to use in the training course.

The group looked at a few models and eventually selected the Nokia 3230 handset to use with Mobile Speak talking phone software. "There are a number of handsets that we could have used - they just need to run the Symbian phone operating system - but we felt as a group that the 3230 was the most tactile, with an easy layout," Hills said.

"Personally I find the 'clear' and 'edit' keys a bit hard to use, and if you've never used a mobile phone before it takes a while, but you do get familiar with it. And a range of users generally found the 3230 was the easiest to use."

The next step was to test and evaluate some draft classroom and web- based training materials, with sample lessons. All training in Harrow has been offered free of charge to learners, using volunteers for the teaching.

The Mobile Speak software package for mobile phones was purchased for the course from Optelec (http://www.optelec.co.uk ), part of the Tieman Group which is the exclusive distributor of the software in Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and the US. As well as English, Mobile Speak is available to buy and download in Arabic, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Icelandic, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish Swedish and Turkish. The screen magnifier used in the lessons is Mobile Magnifier, also from Optelec.

"There is a point in loading Mobile Speak onto a phone where users do need sighted assistance," Hills said. "It's unfortunate but it's a fact. But the training documents including the schemes of work and lesson plans are available in accessible text files."

Louise Hamilton, Outreach Tutor at the Harrow learning centre, said the Harrow team had learned some important lessons in developing training courses for people with impaired vision in previous work they had done developing training materials for people in using the Book Courier electronic book reader.

"For example, it is vital in a class not to have two people talking at once in a room, for example with more than one working group: only one person must talk at a time, with the others listening.

"It is also important to explain what you are going to do first at each stage, and then do it, as people cannot pick up visual clues. The focus group sessions were also useful in helping to pick up on technical words that some people couldn't understand."

It is also important to start each lessons with a reminder of the basics, Hamilton said. "Every lesson at the start we do familiarisation so the learners remember where the keys are," she said.

Future plans include some videoing of learners as they move on from the lessons to going out into the real world of the high street mobile phone shop and try to buy a handset and download Mobile Speak for themselves, she said. "We needed to have some evidence to show our funders the work has been successful, so we are asking learners if they are going to buy a phone if they could video the process."

Other plans include working with mobile phone dealers and manufacturers to disseminate the fruits of their work, Hills said. "We hope to work in partnership with the main dealers and manufacturers to see if we can include our training material at the point of sale," he said.

The courses will help people use their phones, including SMS text messaging, but it was not really possible to access much information on the web yet over a mobile, Hills said.

"Access to the web using a mobile phone is still in its infancy - there is a bit of hype but not a lot people are doing it," he said. "Web site owners need to design their sites so it can be accessed by a mobile, like the BBC's mobile site http://www.bbc.co.uk/mobile . But it will be better developed in future."

[Section Four ends].

++End Notes.



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

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  • Editor - Dan Jellinek
  • Deputy editor - Derek Parkinson
  • Senior reporter - Mel Poluck
  • Technical advisor - Nick Apostolidis
  • Editorial advisor - Kevin Carey.

ISSN 1476-6337 .

[Issue ends].