+++E-Access Bulletin.- Issue 61, January 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 .

++SPONSORED NOTICE: LocalAlert- Accessible Email Newsletters for Councils.


Highlighted as an example of achieving Priority Outcome G3, LocalAlert allows local authorities to disseminate information on a wide range of topics including Planning, Liquor Licensing, Jobs, Procurements, Committee Minutes and Crime.

Newsletters are automatically generated in either HTML, Plain Text or Accessible Text (TEN) format, extracting content from databases as required. And, uniquely, subscribers may restrict information to a specified radius of their home(s).

LocalAlert also provides the ability to target consultations to specific areas. For further details or to register for our forthcoming seminar see: http://www.localalert.co.uk or call Hans Grefte on 0208 4523627.

[Sponsored notice ends].

++Section One: News.


+01: Opera Gains A Voice.

Advanced voice functions have been introduced into the latest version of Opera, the free web browser software compatible with Apple Mac, Windows, Solaris and Linux operating systems.

The new beta version of Opera, Opera 8, launched for testing at the end of December 2004, allows users to browse the web using spoken commands and to have web and email content read aloud to them.

Using a microphone and headset, users highlight the text they want read out and say "Opera speak" to have content spoken to them. There are 50 different voice commands, including browsing commands, such as "Opera next link", "Opera back" or "Opera home".

The voice feature uses IBM voice technology and is currently only available on the Windows operating system. Because it requires users to have some sight of the screen to highlight text, the Opera browser is principally of use to people with some residual vision.

However, the company claims that its product is "the most accessible browser on the market" with a range of features that includes a zoom function for enlarging content by 20 to 1000 per cent, the option to change text size and text and link colours, and the ability to disable animations, video or audio applications. Users can also implement their own style sheets to customise pages as they prefer to view them.

As well as new voice functionality, the next version of the browser also includes the ability to magnify web pages and have content adapted to fit the width of the screen. This means that users don't have to scroll horizontally when the web page width exceeds that of the screen - "a compelling accessibility tool for visually impaired users," says Opera.

Although not all the browser's functions will be compatible initially with screen readers, the company will continue to make improvements to offer full functionality to users of assistive techology, Opera told E- Access Bulletin.

The beta version of Opera's latest browser is available as a free download from its web site. The final version of the browser is due to be released at the end of February. Opera can be used freely with advertisements and at low cost for a version without ads.

+02: Safety Games Use Text-To-Speech Technology.

Interactive online games that educate children about fire safety using text-to-speech technology have been launched by the UK's Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM - http://www.odpm.gov.uk ).

The games, called Route to Safety and Hazard a Guess (both available at http://www.firekills.gov.uk/seniors/fun/ ), can be played with or without access technology, such as screen readers. This enables a blind or vision-impaired child to play the game together with a sighted sibling.

The games were developed as part of an ODPM inclusion programme to educate children who might return from school before a parent arrives home about fire hazards, and are also available on CD.

Hazard a Guess asks players to rank the severity of fire hazards in the home, while in Route to Safety players are asked questions about fire safety as they roll the dice and move across the board. To play the games online, the user has to download Macromedia's Shockwave plug-in.

+03: Accessible Conversion For Technical Drawings.

Free software allowing vision-impaired software engineers to read technical drawings produced in many common formats has been released following a two-year European Commission-funded research project.

Technical Drawings Understanding for the Blind (TeDUB - http://www.tedub.org/ ) has been headed by the TeDUB Consortium which comprises partners from the UK, Germany, Ireland, Italy and the Netherlands.

TeDUB works by uploading diagrams, such as the "box and pointer" diagrams often used to design family trees, to a web site where they are converted into a compatible format and then emailed back to the user. It has been designed to work best with diagrams created in Unified Modeling Language (UML), a coding language often used by software engineers to represent real-world objects.

The system also allows vision-impaired users to move around diagrams with a joystick. It provides basic sound to accompany navigation allowing users to hear where they are, and is also compatible with screen readers.

The software is available by download from the TeDUB web site where tutorials and examples of UML diagrams can also be found. It is funded by the sixth framework of the European Commission's Information Society Technologies research programme (http://www.cordis.lu/ist/ ).

+04: Improvements Urged For Library Computer Access.

More assistive equipment, trained staff, and consultation with users is needed if electronic services in public libraries are to be useful to vision-impaired people, according to a survey by Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen (http://www.rgu.ac.uk/abs ).

Although many respondents thought that electronic information services improve the lives of vision-impaired people, there was little reason for people to travel to a library when many services can be accessed at home using more familiar equipment, the report said.

The respondents, all experienced users of electronic services, said that providing assistive equipment without trained staff would not significantly increase use of library services by people with impaired vision. Respondents also highlighted the need to involve user groups from the start, and to adhere strictly to technical and accessibility standards.

The report, compiled by postgraduate student Andrew Lewis, also recommends further work on a national system for delivering information electronically.

++News in Brief:


+05: Working Practice:

Compliance with employment law, IT training for people with impaired vision and adapting computers in the workplace are among issues covered in 'See to IT at work,' a booklet aimed at employers. Published by the RNIB, it costs 10 pounds: http://onlineshop.rnib.org.uk .

+06: Game Boy:

An accessible interactive adventure game has been released that can run on Windows, Macintosh, handheld computers and Linux operating systems. 'Future Boy!', from the Toronto-based firm General Coffee Company Film Productions, is recommended for ages 13 and up and costs 20 dollars: http://www.generalcoffee.com/futureboy .

+07: Jaws Six:

The latest version of the JAWS screen reader for Windows, JAWS 6.0, has been released by US-based manufacturer Freedom Scientific. New features include a built-in DAISY electronic book reader, a customisable skim-reading tool and remote access allowing users to connect to a work computer at home and use JAWS with applications and files. The release coincides with JAWS' tenth anniversary: http://fastlink.headstar.com/jaws1 .

+08: TIE-In:

The European Training, Implementation, Education and Support project from the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative has published an update on its work. The WAI- TIES electronic newsletter may be freely distributed through mailing lists: http://www.w3.org/WAI/TIES/update3 .

[Section One ends].

++Sponsored Notice: J-Say Standard from T and T Consultancy Ltd.


J-Say Standard combines the unparalleled flexibility of JAWS for Windows with the outstanding voice recognition capabilities of Dragon Naturally Speaking Preferred.

Imagine being able to: - Create word processor documents using natural speech; - Create and process email using your voice; - Browse the internet using a combination of voice input and keyboard; - Rapidly move to specific cells within an Excel worksheet; - Access an interactive help system, manuals and a tutorial; - Train the speech recognition software to understand your voice, as well as having speech-based access to all the features of Dragon software.

J-Say Standard is ideal for any JAWS user wishing to use voice input as an additional means of computer input. For more information please contact T&T Consultancy Ltd by telephone on 08452 303015 or email on: enquiries@tandt-consultancy.com .

[Sponsored notice ends].

++Sponsored Notice: 'Advances In Technology' to Form Major Part ofthe World's Largest Conference on Low Vision and Sight Loss


'Advances in technology will form a major part of the Vision 2005 conference, the world's premier event on low vision and sight loss hosted by RNIB in London this spring. Designers, technology experts, scientists and academics will gather from across the world to share best practice in inclusive design and technology for people with sight problems.

Keynote speakers include inventor and entrepreneur Dr Raymond Kurzweil.

Vision 2005 takes place at London's Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre from Monday 4 to Thursday 7 April 2005. Day delegates can receive an early bird discount before 17 February. Register or see the full programme at: http://www.rnib.org.uk/vision2005 .

[Sponsored Notice Ends].

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


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

+09: European Invitation:

Jenny Craven, research associate at the centre for research in library and information management at Manchester Metropolitan University (CERLIM - http://www.cerlim.ac.uk/ ), writes in to invite readers to participate in a European Union-funded project to help make web sites more accessible.

She writes: "Your responses will help to inform the development of the European Internet Accessibility Observatory project (EIAO - http://www.cerlim.ac.uk/projects/eiao/ ). The goal is to contribute to better e-accessibility for all citizens and to increase the use of standards for online resources. The project aims to provide ranked lists of accessible web sites and to develop accessibility issues to enable policy makers to develop more effective policies, among others."

A questionnaire is available to complete online at http://www.ico-trg.mmu.ac.uk/eiao.html . For the plain text or Word version, please email Jenny on: j.craven@mmu.ac.uk . All responses will remain anonymous.

+10: CMS Response:

In our last issue, E-Access Bulletin technician Nick Apostolidis requested advice on content management systems (CMS) that work well with the JAWS screenreader. Bart Simons, a web accessibility specialist at Brussels-based communications company ASCii (http://www.ascii.be ) replies: "Depending on which kind of CMS you are looking for I might recommend Nucleus (http://www.nucleuscms.org/ ). It does not only provide accessible content but the machinery itself is accessible as well. Of course one is free to delete or add accessibility features. It is mainly a CMS to create weblogs but if you take a look at 'sites running nucleus,' you will notice a variety of sites."

Martin Vickery, corporate brand manager at the NHS Information Authority also responds to Nick's request: "You may be interested to know we have just relaunched the website for the NHS National Programme for IT (NPfIT - http://www.npfit.nhs.uk ) using [the open source CMS] Plone. The site was constructed by my team in less than six weeks without any prior knowledge of the system but with experience of working with open source products and Linux servers.

"The benefits of putting this together in-house were: speed of development; no long procurement process as nothing had to be purchased; it is highly accessible, although any CMS is reliant on the accuracy of content added by authors; it complies with XHTML, CSS and WAI; and we provide links to validators on each page for checking which is risky but assists in debugging the system.

"Based on experience with this product I can certainly recommend open source working."

[Further suggestions please to inbox@headstar.com]

+11: Third Degree:

Vicki Bale, a student at the University of the West of England in Bristol writes in inviting readers to respond to a questionnaire she has compiled as part of her dissertation on accessibility of web sites and software. For details, please email Vicki at: vicki@onecomputer.co.uk

+13: Gift Rap:

Elaine Ainsworth would like to hear from blind or vision-impaired internet users for a project she is undertaking on the market opportunities for Braille cards and gifts sold via the internet. "I am very interested to hear about types of assistive technology and am looking into web accessibility issues and would like to hear any positive or negative experiences users have.

"I am also interested to hear from people who are related to, work with, care for or are friends with people who are blind or vision-impaired and whether or not they would consider buying personalised Braille cards, chocolates with Braille menus, flowers with personalised tags or any other type of gift - your ideas are welcomed. I can prepare some specific questions to send to anyone who contacts me if this is preferable." If you would like to help Elaine, please email: elaine@sitesolved.com .

[Section Two ends].

++Special Notice: Web Accessibility Forum.


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

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

[Special notice ends].

++Section Three - Focus- Colour Contrast.


+14: Readers Move Out Of The Shadeby Peter Irons.

A quiet revolution is taking place across the UK. Day after day, new people are rejecting the white background on their computer screens and adjusting the gaudy colour displays on websites. Why? It is because they find reading screens difficult or tiring, and have realised that they can reset it to an optimum colour arrangement, according to their personal needs.

The reading process is akin to any sport: some people find it easier than others, and this has nothing to do with intelligence. Studying reading is a bit like studying sport science for eyeballs!

The Eye Science/TintaVision project (http://www.tintavision.com ) started in 1984 because many students found words so difficult when they had to read or write them, but not when they were discussing topics verbally. The visual component seemed to be getting in the way.

Whiteboards were being introduced into schools and perfectly rational, intelligent students started complaining about the colours of the markers that teachers were using. The colour palette on the Archimedes- an early desktop computer - soon allowed the first objective experiments on colour and reading.

In 1998, the foresight of David Laycock, manager at the University of Westminster's Computer Centre for people with Disabilities (http://www.wmin.ac.uk/ccpd ), led to a study of human computer interaction focused on access to text. My own team started a methodical study of the outcomes of changing the background and foreground colours on the computers that dyslexic students were getting as part of their Disabled Students Allowance.

In 1999 it started to become clear that people's access to text could be enhanced by measuring their response to changes in pixel brightness on a screen. Since then, things have moved a long way. For example, a person we have seen recently had been told that she needed a yellow filter because it "helped dyslexic people". She is now using a computer screen which is a sort of "muddy cyan" in colour, reading three times as fast and reading for fun. All web sites she views are now displayed with that background, and she now loves her computer!

Over the past two or three years it has become increasingly accepted by academic researchers that colour is important in access to text, and the growth in awareness seems to be almost exponential. In computing and retinal biology, colour is definable very precisely whereas many people see it as an "arty" or "fluffy" concept. Most people think that as long as the background is not "white," it is "colour". This is a bit like having a counting system that only goes up to two or three.

At a recent London seminar hosted by E-Access Bulletin's sister publication E-Government Bulletin (http://www.electronic- government.com/accessibility/), it became clear that the three main tools to be applied in response to disability legislation, with the purpose of improving access to the web are user's choice of font size, background colour, and compatibility with speech-generating software.

The challenge we face now is to raise awareness in the 'accessibility industry' to a level where precise, measured colour is understood to be part of creating a level playing field for users.

NOTE: Peter Irons is Technical Director at Tintavision (http://www.tintavision.com/ ).

[Section Three ends].

++Section Four - My Story- Angus MacKinnon.


+15: Fighting Against The Storm.

My story begins after the St. Lucia Blind Welfare Association (SLBWA) in the Caribbean received 14 reconditioned computers, equipped with speech output software JAWS, from a charitable organisation in Europe. The problem was that no one in St. Lucia knew anything about JAWS. But one person's problem is another person's opportunity, as I was soon to learn.

My opportunity to go to St. Lucia came when I convinced the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB - http://www.cnib.ca/eng/ ), and the SLBWA that I was the best candidate for a posting as an intern from Canada for the CNIB and Foreign Affairs Canada (http://www.fac-aec.gc.ca/menu-en.asp ).

I had never heard of St. Lucia, but so what! I knew this was an opportunity that I had to grab.

My guide dog Dabney and I landed at Hewanorra Airport on the south end of the island, where we were met by the director of the SLBWA and some of his staff. I guess we were quite a sight. After the long flight and my mobility challenge - of which they had been unaware - I came wobbling off the plane and through the airport. As I later heard, their initial reaction was: "What have we got ourselves into?"

Dabney was the first guide dog on the island, so the first couple of months was spent on orientation. Introducing St Lucians to the concept of a service animal that went everywhere with me proved interesting - most dogs in St. Lucia are feral or aggressive guard animals and receive little attention. But the education went smoothly despite a few confrontations with business owners and park managers and the staff and members of the St. Lucia Blind Welfare Association proved to be great allies.

Once orientation was complete, I began training blind and vision- impaired people on the use of JAWS. My clients were extremely varied in age, computing experience, visual ability and other factors. All of them were eager to learn but some had to overcome their fear of computers.

As time went on, I took a number of individuals into advanced computer literacy training and increased the independence of other trainees. For example Anthony Avril, director of the SLBWA, progressed from having no typing skills to writing documents on the computer. This was great for Mr Avril but worried his administrative assistant. Happily, in spite of Mr Avril's achievements, Angel Louis still has plenty to keep her busy.

Teaching other people taught me a lot. My first lesson was realising that my clients did not share the same level of computer literacy I was used to. To avoid losing my students, I had to organise and simplify my knowledge into a format that would work for them, a skill I had garnered from my training as a human resources generalist with a major interest in training and development.

All around us were constant reminders we were working in a developing country. While the expected computer lab was actually the kitchen because it had the fewest leaks and the most reliable electricity supply, electrical outages were a constant occurrence.

The infrastructure of St Lucia also leaves much to be desired for a vision-impaired person. Very few of the buildings, for example, are blind-friendly. The few elevators there are do not have Braille for the floor buttons. The sidewalks that do exist, mainly in the capital Castries, are continually changing in height, width, and state of repair or disrepair. Perhaps the greatest challenge is the storm sewers; open ditches of every size, depth and width imaginable.

All in all, my five months in St. Lucia were great. I watched the director of the SLBWA go from not knowing the location of the keys on the keyboard to receiving and sending his own email. I was able to help nine vision-impaired students learn the basics of computer-use and JAWS. My legacy is Magdelane Maxwell, who I trained to use and understand JAWS: she now continues training others.

These small successes stand in stark contrast to the circumstances of the great majority of the blind and vision-impaired community on St Lucia, which numbers over 2,500 - largely a community of the hidden and the ignored. The cause of sight loss is normally glaucoma but the outcome is always the same: people will often lose their job and thus go from being a contributor to being a lost member of society.

Fourteen reconditioned Pentium I computers do not go far. They do make a difference and offer some hope to people like my former students Jasmine, Stashia, Tony and others struggling to access a computer and some basic training to use it. But think for just a moment of how far and how fast other parts of the world are moving.

Developing countries like St. Lucia are being left further behind. The blind and vision-impaired citizens of these countries are being dumped in the storm sewers.

NOTE: Angus MacKinnon is vice president of the Choroideremia Research Foundation (http://www.choroideremia.org ). His personal web page is at: http://members.shaw.ca/dabneyadfm .

If any other 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 .

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

ISSN 1476-6337 .

[Issue ends].