+++E-Access Bulletin.- Issue 62, February 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: Countdown to Vision 2005 - Register Now.


It is just a few weeks now until the world's biggest ever event on low vision and sight loss - Vision 2005. More than 600 presentations, discussions and workshops will take place during the conference with speakers and delegates from 60 countries attending.

Sessions within the theme of 'Advances in technology and designing for an inclusive environment' will include: accessible information; e- learning; web sites; multi-media; reading through technologies; DAISY; and IT demonstrations.

Vision 2005 takes place at London's Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre from Monday 4 to Thursday 7 April 2005. For more information or to register, go to: http://www.rnib.org.uk/vision2005/ .

[Special notice ends].

++Section One: News.


+01: Organisations Join To Create Free It Support Helpline.

A new partnership between two charities looks set to boost the levels of IT support and accessibility advice available to disabled computer users.

AbilityNet (http://www.abilitynet.org.uk/ ), which provides advice, training and assessments of computer needs for disabled people, has joined forces with ITCH Network (http://www.itcanhelp.org.uk/ ), a volunteer programme within the British Computer Society (http://www.bcs.org/bcs/ ), to provide free IT support to disabled people across the UK.

The charities have created a single helpline for computer-related enquiries (0800 269545) and are pooling their resources and expertise to offer a more comprehensive service to end users.

"While ITCH volunteers tend to help disabled people in their homes with everyday problems, such as installing and upgrading software, getting started on the internet and combating viruses, AbilityNet's consultants can provide individual assessments of computer needs and advice on assistive technologies," says Tom Mangan, vice-chairman of ITCH Network. "This means that when our volunteers recognise that a more complex solution to a client's computer access problems is required, they can refer to the client to AbilityNet."

AbiltyNet will also provide specialist training for ITCH Network volunteers to help them solve simple access problems. For example, ITCH volunteers could help a vision-impaired person adjust operating systems settings to aid magnification or help them with keystroke shortcuts for magnification software.

ITCH currently has some 250 volunteers in the UK and a significant proportion of its enquiries come from blind and vision-impaired users. Demand for its services is currently growing at 25 per cent a year and so it views the link-up with AbilityNet as a way of boosting service coverage.

+02: Democratic Picture Icons For Low-Vision Users.

An online resource to help local councils equip web sites with picture icons to help users with low vision is to launch in March, in a bid to improve access to local democracy.

The icons will be made available as part of the four million pound government-funded national project for local e-democracy. When the project's site goes live, it will be at: http://www.e-democracy.gov.uk .

According to their developer Community Living (http://www.communityliving.org.uk/ ), the new picture icons will be easier to identify and more meaningful than the buttons, bars and links which are usually used to aid web site navigation. The icons can be displayed in a range of image formats with tags for screen readers users, and in a Flash version with audio output, said team leader Andrew Holman.

The project will also provide councils with good practice guidelines, including tips on producing text that is easy to read and understand. Clearer and simpler communication from government would benefit everyone, said Holman. "It's possible to express quite complicated ideas using these techniques. For example, a report for Parliament on learning and disabilities was presented in an 'easy read' format that even government lawyers were happy with," he told E-Access Bulletin.

+03: Talking Tactile Device For Educational Diagrams.

A device that uses touch and sound to allow vision-impaired students of all ages to "read" educational graphics and text will go on the market next month.

The Talking Tactile Tablet, or "T3" (http://talktab.org/ ), allows students to "read" maps, diagrams and other images made up of embossed sheets with raised lines and areas, placed on top of a reader similar in size to a laptop computer. When symbols and regions on the tactile surface are pressed, audio information on these images is spoken to the user.

Tactile diagrams have been developed before, but the developers of the new system claim it has a uniquely sophisticated sound indexing and navigation system. For example, if a student wants to locate a feature on a map without knowing where it is, he or she can make a request and then place a finger anywhere on the device's surface, before being guided by speech to the desired location.

The T3 has been developed by the Royal National College for the Blind (RNCB - http://www.rncb.ac.uk ) with Anglia Polytechnic University (http://www.apu.ac.uk/ ) and US assistive devices company Touch Graphics (http://www.touchgraphics.com/ ).

Project manager Lesley Wells said the device could potentially be used by students with dyslexia, early years learners or students with a print disability. Discussions are underway with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA - http://www.qca.org.uk/ ) to allow its use in exams.

The RNCB has developed 30 sets of diagram sheets on various topics including the skeleton, nursery rhymes and a world atlas and intends to cover all UK National Curriculum topics to assist mainstream schooling for all children. The device costs 600 pounds, with sets of sheets costing 10 to 20 pounds.

+04: First Accessible Strategy Game To Launch.

What is claimed to be the first accessible strategy game for blind and vision-impaired people has been launched by the Israeli accessible gaming specialist VIP Games Zone (http://www.vipgameszone.com/ ).

Strategy games are war-games involve the role-playing of opposing armies or forces on a grid-based map. Galaxy Ranger (http://www.vipgameszone.com/granger/granger.php ) is set in space, and gamers can play against the computer or online with a friend.

The online version includes a "text messenger" feature, allowing gamers to communicate with each other during the game. The messages can be converted to speech using the KeySpeak SAPI voice engine (http://www.portset.co.uk/keyspeaksapivoice.htm ) or a screen reader.

Galaxy Ranger - which runs on Windows - is the eighth accessible game from VIP Games Zone. "The idea behind all our games is that you don't need the help of a sighted person to play them," says the company's founder Igor Kmiletzof. "We want to make all of the types of games currently available on the mainstream market accessible to blind and visually impaired people. We launched Super Tennis last year, the first accessible online sports game, and now we've launched the first accessible online strategy game."

++News in Brief:


+05: Early Day:

The RNIB with accessible search engine Net-Guide are asking UK citizens to write to their MPs asking them to sign an 'Early Day Motion' expressing support for web accessibility issues. Early Day Motions are a form of awareness-raising petition within Parliament, though they do not lead to any specific legislative action. Letters must direct MPs to "EDM 461", which can be viewed by searching at: http://edm.ais.co.uk .

+06: HumanWare Born:

Assistive technology companies Pulse Data International (PDI) of New Zealand and VisuAide based in Canada have merged to create the HumanWare Group. The former chief executive of PDI, Russell Smith, will lead the company: http://www.humanware.com/ .

+07: Improved Recorder:

Version 2.0 of accessible CD and DVD burner Premier CD/DVD Creator has been released by US-based company Premier Assistive Technology. Compatible with screen readers, new features include improved album and track retrieval, the capacity to rename tracks before they are 'ripped' and faster and more efficient DVD burning. It costs around 30 pounds and a trial version can be downloaded from: http://www.premier-programming.com/cdcreator/cd_creator.htm .

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


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

+08: Format Appeal:

Fay Rohrlach writes in from Australia to respond to Amar Latif, who wrote in Issue 55 about bank statements in alternative and electronic formats. "I couldn't agree with you more," Fay writes. "I am a vision-impaired person, and when I receive my bank statements, I have to use an easy reader, which is a small handheld device, when plugged into the TV, enlarges small print onto the screen.

"I can manage with this device, but at the moment, it is out of whack, and needs maintenance repairs yet again. But yes, the print [on bank statements] is very small, and yes, if sighted people can receive anything in their letterboxes at home, so too [should] we, right into our inboxes."

[Further responses please to inbox@headstar.com]

+09: Reader's Block:

Katherine Schneider, Senior Psychologist, at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire's Counselling Service writes in to tell us about a recent disappointing exchange of correspondence she has had with Google Print (https://print.google.com/publisher/), an initiative from leading search engine Google which plans to digitise library books.

Katherine says the company is doing this in a way that would make the service inaccessible for those using screen readers. So Katherine wrote to them: "As a blind person using a screen reader, I cannot read the scanned image. Are you going to provide alternative access for these scanned images, which is permitted under copyright law?"

Google Print replied: "Thank you for your email concerning Google Print pages. Google's mission is to organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. As part of this mission, we understand the importance of making Google Print accessible to those who are visually impaired.

"At this time, Google Print content excerpt pages may not be compatible with many text-to-speech applications. We're aware of this issue, and are always working to improve the Google Print program for all of our users. We apologise for the inconvenience, and will take your comments into account as we move forward."

Katherine has an appeal to E-Access Bulletin readers: "Maybe people at your level of computer knowledge can work with them to change their minds?"

[responses to inbox@headstar.com]

[Section Two ends].

++Section Three - Focus- European Centre for Accessible Media.


+10: Raising The Barby Mel Poluck.

"Digital broadcasting is the only serious way of improving the lives, options and knowledge of half of the population.

This was the view of accessibility campaigner Kevin Carey, discussed last month by a group of interested parties gathered in London for the launch of Carey's plan to establish a new European Centre for Accessible Media (ECAM).

The plan has been drawn up under the remit of Carey's fellowship awarded by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA - http://www.nesta.org.uk/ ). The fellowship, of almost 73,000 pounds over 20 months from January 2004, is designed to advance the development of digital broadcasting to improve access to information, particularly for people with a disability and the elderly (http://www.nesta.org.uk/ourawardees/profiles/4067/index.html ).

Under Carey's proposals, if ECAM is set up it is likely to be a hub for providing accessibility resources, sharing best practice; establishing technical standards; promoting accessibility legislation and good practice; and undertaking training and research in accessible media.

"It will be interested in all forms of digital information, including web accessibility, even if it is most sharply focused on television," said Carey, who also sits on the advisory board of the broadcasting regulator Ofcom.

Carey feels strongly that the future of accessible media will be found in digital television rather than the web. However, the current background of European broadcasting regulation is a "cartel model," he says, although it is starting to break down.

"Whatever the variety of regimes, television regulation holds out the best prospect for providing most of our people with information which is as accessible as it can be," Carey said. "I do not think that the regulatory framework will last. All the more important, then, to get people so accustomed to factoring in accessibility to production budgets that it becomes unquestioned, good practice."

One of his visions for ECAM is that it becomes a centre for best practice in broadcasting access services: subtitling, signing and audio description - an area, according to Carey, that needs a lot more work.

In terms of funding for the centre, one attendee, Helen Petrie, professor of human computer interaction at City University, suggested raising funds from the production of accessible media.

If, however, ECAM did not make a profit from this - and he specified that the centre would not undercut other commercial operators - it would need to raise revenue from ECAM members and other European organisations.

Petrie said while awareness of web accessibility issues has heightened, there are still major gaps in knowledge. This has been highlighted by the findings of a Department of Culture, Media and Sport initiative with which she is involved, aimed at training young web developers in accessibility issues, she said. "They all know about web accessibility and have looked at Web Accessibility Initiative standards, but they don't understand the relationship between following standards and using a web site," she said.

With that in mind, Petrie suggested that a new European centre could play an educational role: "It could provide training to web developers," she said.

Carey envisages that support for ECAM would come from the European Union, the European Broadcasting Union (http://www.ebu.ch/en/index.php ) and the Council of Europe (http://www.coe.int/ ). A small, core staff would be seconded from broadcasters, producers, regulators, academics and the voluntary sector.

It is early days, and the seeds of Carey's plan are only beginning to sprout. During his "voyage," as he calls it, he has already learned a lot: for example, he has found the contrast between the world of computing and the world of broadcasting striking.

"Computing is like the wild west. In accessibility terms you have the messy paraphernalia of the World Wide Web Consortium with its accessibility initiative, WAI. It can command a certain degree of industry participation, but when the standard is delivered it is up to national governments to decide what they will do.

"In the case of broadcasting the opposite procedure applies. There is no government on earth that does not want to regulate broadcasting," Carey said.

The centre could potentially become a European centre for creating accessibility standards in this area but the plans are still setting. "The key decision we will have to take is whether ECAM, like its North America cousin the National Centre for Accessible Media (NCAM - http://ncam.wgbh.org/ ) should be a producer of accessible material or whether it should simply be a high level body," said Carey. Later this year he will visit NCAM to gather information.

"There may be a number of broadcasters, particularly in small or applicant countries, which want ECAM to produce and modify material but a majority of ECAM's members, being commercial operations, may vote to stop ECAM's production work so that it is divided between them."

Ultimately, the goal is to boost accessibility across Europe, Carey said. "The diversity of the European situation [calls] for the establishment of standards to which all can aspire, so that the bar in every aspect of production and transmission is steadily raised."

[Section Three ends].

++Section Four: Gaming- Multi-User Dungeons (MUDS).


+11: In A World Of Fantasy, Anything Can Happenby Gabriele Battaglia.

Are many readers of E-Access Bulletin familiar with MUDS, I wonder? It would take a long time to explain everything about MUDS, which is short for 'Multi-User Dungeons': what they are, how to join them and how to explore them. But even a brief introduction should be enough to rouse your curiosity and to start some of you off on the road to playing these beautiful games.

There are many MUDS. Many of these are completely accessible to blind people, if the proper software is used. Some of them can be found on several different platforms, specifically the ones which are completely text-based such as Ancestral, the MUD I'm playing at the moment.

MUDS are whole worlds in themselves. They have cities, forests, lakes, roads, bridges, caves, inns, palaces, villages, deserts, hills and mountains. They also feature a series of fantastic places, depending on the chosen MUD and its temporal location. Most of them are located in a "swords and sorcery" medieval period, in the style of the Lord of the Rings. Also the inhabitants are more or less the same, being creatures such as dwarves, humans, elves, fairies, giants and dragons, plus the different crossbreeds and other much rarer and hidden creatures like vampires, angels, half-gods, devils and more.

When we enter a MUD, we play the part of one of these characters, created by us according to our requirements as players or just according to our fantasy.

Characters must grow up and become strong, and possibly also rich and respected, avoiding all the dangers of their lives. They will have money, and skills that will increase by practising them. They will have friends to protect and enemies to fight, or to escape from. They must buy and sell, establish alliances and make agreements, or become part of a group in order to be protected. They will have to develop as a person, by learning trades or magic arts; in other words, they must accumulate experiences.

In Ancestral, for example, the quantity of a character's experiences is expressed by a score. When the player builds up experiences, his or her score increases and at a certain point he or she will reach a new level. Every level gives new skills and abilities, new powers and spells and upgrades those already possessed. The MUD game starts at level 1 and ends at level 50, when your character has become an avatar: practically a god.

The great thing is that the game is never the same, because it is played in an ever-changing community. There are many characters managed by the computer, or NPCs (Not Playing Characters), who have schematic behaviours, but lots of other characters are being controlled by other real people who play their parts, as on a stage. Therefore anything can happen, and anything can change.

Why not give it a try?

First of all, you have to prepare your computer. All Windows systems are supported. You must download a client that works properly on a MUD server, such as GMUD32 version 1.9, and users of the JAWS screen reader must also download its JAWS scripts. These scripts are a real touch of genius because they have unusual power and functionality. The right version of the scripts we need is the last released version, V 7.0. Both GMUD32 and its scripts can be found in the 'Program and Script Downloads' area of the accessible technology site GutterStar.net (http://www.gutterstar.net ).

The GMUD software is completely free, while the scripts are shareware (with a time limit); after 35 minutes, they actually lose some of their advanced functions, although the most important ones can still be used, and they are all you will need to play.

After installing GMUD32 and its scripts, we are ready to go online and to enter this beautiful and fantastic world. And if, like me, you read Italian, you can even try out my own game. All you have to do is to open GMUD32, select "connect" from the file menu and fill in the fields as follows: Host address of the MUD: italcomp.net, MUD Port: 4000. Ignore the other fields and buttons for now.

When you have typed OK, and possibly authorised GMUD to connect by your firewall, you will be online and Jaws will read you all that you have to do. Now you can start creating your character.

When you are there, remember that the keyword "WHO" will show you the list of players who are connected to the game in that moment. My character is a magician and his name is Nishu. If you are joining my game, I'll be waiting there for you online!

NOTE: Gabriele Battaglia is a reader from Italy, and a former student of the translator of our Italian language version, Margherita Giordano.

[Section Four ends].

++End Notes.



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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
  • News reporter - Julie Hill
  • Technician - Nick Apostolidis
  • Editorial advisor - Kevin Carey.

ISSN 1476-6337 .

[Issue ends].