+++E-Access Bulletin.- Issue 67, July 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: Techshare 2005 Call for Papers- 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.

Would you like to submit a paper to present? We are looking for innovative research and case studies highlighting the use of technology. Presentations need not be technical in content.

Speakers will be offered a reduced attendance rate. To download the paper submission form or simply register to attend, see: http://www.rnib.org.uk/techshare Closing date for papers is 1 August.

[Special Notice ends].

++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 Cashpoint Machines In Small-Scale European Tests.

Voice-enabled cashpoint machines are now being tested on a small scale in the UK, although most high street banks still have no plans to introduce them, E-Access Bulletin has learned.

This month the Belfast-based Northern Bank and Clydesdale Bank of Scotland have begun to test Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), equipped with a headphone socket for customers to receive audio instructions and feedback on their transactions, in a small number of locations in Belfast and Glasgow. The tests are scheduled to run for six months, after which the banks will consider extending the service to more branches.

"You could argue that a lot of people are being deprived of a basic right if they don't have access to this kind of service," said a Northern Bank spokesperson. The bank said it would be monitoring the public response to the service through informal feedback in its branches, and by liaising with organisations like the RNIB.

However, most other UK banks show little enthusiasm for following suit, despite the widespread availability of such systems in the US, Canada and Australia. "We have no formal plans at this stage," said a spokesperson for the high street bank Abbey. "If there had been a strong customer need, we would have come across it in the focus groups we use," he said.

Other banks were similarly reticent. "We do not have any talking ATMs and have no current plans to introduce them. However we do have systems in place to assist our visually impaired customers," a spokesperson for NatWest told E-Access Bulletin. HBOS, HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland and Nationwide offered similar replies. Only Barclays said it had plans to test accessible machines, but declined to be drawn on the specific details of its plans.

According to market analyst Retail Banking Research the UK ATM market is split between three manufacturers: Diebold, NCR and Wincor Nixdorf. "All of them produce the hardware needed to make ATMs voice enabled. Some machines would have to be upgraded, which is expensive, but there's no reason why the banks can't specify this capability for new machines," a spokesperson told E-Access Bulletin.

One high street financial institution which declined to be named told E- Access Bulletin it did already have machines installed with a headphone socket in the hardware, but it had not enabled the software and systems needed to make the machines talk due to concerns about software cost, the potential for vandalism and uncertainties over how to supply headphones.

The RNIB told E-Access Bulletin this week that failing to provide a service that vision impaired people can use unaided could be grounds for action under the Disability Discrimination Act. "Potentially, this could give rise to a claim of non-compliance," said the institute's legal adviser Jane Vernon.

+02: First Electronic Travel Guide Published This Month

Accessible electronic versions of printed travel guides are to be published online for the first time this month by Traveleyes, a holiday company for both vision-impaired and sighted travellers ( http://www.traveleyes.co.uk/ ).

Users will be able to download accessible Microsoft Word versions of the market-leading Lonely Planet range of guides, with discussions underway to offer guides from other publishers. Electronic guides will not include maps and diagrams.

The first guide to be available from mid-July will be on Andalucia in Spain. Five more titles will follow in August, on California; Egypt; Italy; Malta; and Morocco and future guides will cover Australia, the US and other European countries.

TravelEyes director Amar Latif told E-Access Bulletin the electronic guides are designed to be downloaded onto personal digital assistants (PDAs) and other portable electronic devices. Visitors to the TravelEyes site will be able to request areas for which they would like a corresponding travel guide; if there is enough demand, an accessible version will be created, Latif said.

+03: More Bodies Sign Up To Text Email Newsletter Standard.

Some 36 organisations have adopted a set of guidelines designed to ensure plain text email newsletters are easy to use by people using special access technologies such as screen readers.

The Text Email Newsletter (TEN) standard ( http://www.headstar.com/ten/ ), developed by the publishers of E-Access Bulletin, covers issues including consistency of text layout and headline format, making newsletters easier to search and navigate. It is intended as an optional tool for text structure only, complementing existing separate standards for web pages.

The standard was last month updated to version 2.1, following a consultation process with all signatories, who include nine UK local authority signatories; central government bodies, and 11 disability organisations worldwide. The full list can be seen at: http://www.headstar.com/ten/TEN-signups.doc .

"It's our duty to be aware of accessibility concerns and this standard has been developed with those in mind," said Rick Mason from East Sussex County Council. "We've used it from the first issue of our [email] newsletter," he said.

"[Our newsletters] are now structured and consistent across subject areas, which is a great benefit; and more accessible obviously," said Daniel Champion, web manager at Clackmannanshire Council; the latest council to sign up. "Unlike other authorities we don't offer an alternative so all our subscribers are getting the accessible version," he said.

The TEN standard is free to sign up to and apply and is available in Portuguese and German.

E-Access Bulletin publishers Headstar are now appealing for volunteers to form a steering group to oversee TEN's future developments. Any interested organisations or individuals should contact: dan@headstar.com .

++News in Brief:


+04: Tickets Please:

Bus stops around Bristol were last week fitted with a device allowing vision impaired travellers to hear the time, bus stop names, route numbers, destinations and arrival times for eight bus routes across the UK city. Users point an electronic key fob at the passenger information display at stops to activate audio information. "Talking bus stops" were launched by Bristol City Council and RNIB: http://fastlink.headstar.com/bristol2 .

+05: Free Browse:

A new version of 'WebbIE', a free accessible web browser produced by the School of Informatics at the University of Manchester, has been released. Features of 'WebbIE 3' include a zoom button for web pages on Internet Explorer and better handling of more complex web page views: http://www.webbie.org.uk/ .

+06: Caribbean DAISY:

Jamaica has introduced DAISY audio books to its libraries for the first time, with 25 titles produced by the University of the West Indies' Radio Education Unit for the National Library of Jamaica. Plans are in place to provide libraries across the Caribbean with DAISY audio books by 2007, in a 3 million dollar project funded by UNESCO and the Canadian Local Initiative Fund: http://fastlink.headstar.com/jam1 .

+07: Access Survey:

Deafblind people fear they will continue to be ignored by manufacturers of technology and will be unable to afford new everyday and special access technologies, according to 'Make technology work', a new survey from the charity Sense. Devices found to be most difficult to use were everyday items including remote controls and mobile phones: http://fastlink.headstar.com/sense1 .

[Section One ends].

++Sponsored Notice: QAC Sight Village 2005- Birmingham, July 19-21, 2005


Ink My Dots and Blog Your Podcast: The latest in cutting edge technology for people who are blind or partially sighted will be on show this July at Sight Village in Birmingham. Celebrating its twelfth year, Queen Alexandra College's major international exhibition is gearing up for its best show yet.

Show sponsors ViewPlus Technologies will be showcasing their unique 'Ink My Dots' Braille embosser, developed with Hewlett Packard. The machine produces Braille and standard print or ink- enhanced tactile graphics on one document.

Other displays include podcasts; digital radios; accessible mobile phones; Braille note takers; and ultrasonic and GPS navigation systems. See: http://www.qac.ac.uk/sightvillage/ .

[Sponsored Notice ends].

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


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

+08: E-Books Located:

In response to last issue's request from Margherita Giordano for accessible versions of the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, David Owen of the UK's National Library For The Blind suggests the library's Revealweb catalogue service ( http://www.revealweb.org.uk ).

"It holds details of 192,000 books in Braille, large print, audio, Moon and electronic format from 102 suppliers in the UK. You can check whether the book you require is available in the format you need and who can supply it if it is available. It has been designed to permit independent searching by visually impaired people." [Responses please to inbox@headstar.com ]

Rod Carne from Somerset in the UK writes: "With regard to reading where Braille is not an option, if the pupil has any sight the best solution is to try the giant size print books produced by the National Blind Children's Society (NBCS). Books are available in up to print size N48 on various colour paper. Many of the titles can now be loaned via the National Library for the Blind (NLB)."

Leigh Myers from Library Services Specialist at the Hillsborough County Talking Book Library in Tampa, Florida recommends the Bookshare.org site ( http://www.bookshare.org ). "They offer the service to non-US residents, but it is limited. Please send an email to oreilly@bookshare.org." Leigh also suggests reading this fact sheet from the National Library Service: http://www.loc.gov/nls/reference/factsheets/etexts.html which lists many sources for ebooks.

Chris McMillan suggests the following US-based web site to obtain the books: http://www.fictionwise.com/ebooks/eBook22586.htm .

And finally Tim Culhane of technology company Critical Path in Ireland writes: "I think the simplest thing is to buy the books in audio book format. There shouldn't be any problem tracking them down, given their popularity. They will be more expensive than the printed books, but if you buy them from Amazon or a US-based online bookstore you will benefit from the favourable currency exchange."

+09: Scan Plan:

In our last issue Mark Pimm, Disability Coordinator at Birkbeck College, University of London, wrote in with a query about the accessibility of microfilm. Robert Jaquiss of Louisiana, US responds: "There are various scanners on the market that claim to be able to digitize microfilm and microfiche. I would start off trying to scan the microfilm and then use either Kurzweil or Openbook to do Optical Character Recognition (OCR) on the images.

"OCR works best when images are sharp. A search on Google gave several sites that sell equipment and provide conversion services. Use the terms; 'microfilm scanning' or 'microfilm digitizing.'"

And Dick Myers adds: "The way to get microfilm into text usable by the blind is to use a photo scanner. These are cheap and fast. Scan the film into text using your favourite OCR. I use FineReader 4.0 Sprint, which gives over 95 per cent accuracy. The reason you should use a photo scanner is that its resolution is much higher than the resolution of a standard page scanner. You will need this extra high resolution to handle the extremely small print of the microfilm. I recommend a Canon photoscanner." [Further responses please to inbox@headstar.com .]

+10: Screen Solutions:

John Getz, director of the blind rehabilitation centre at the US Department of Veterans Affairs, writes in to comment on 'The Language of Flexibility', our June article on the scripting language used by the JAWS screen reader software.

"I think it would be important to make sure readers know that, for much less money, they could have a screen reader that didn't need any complicated scripts or compilation to work with even more off-the- shelf software applications than Jaws," he says. "This product is called Window-Eyes ( http://www.gwmicro.com ) . I use both programs in order to get the most out of my assistive technology but I realise this is not possible for many people, so when one screen reader is all you can afford, I'd recommend your readers try Window-Eyes because of its simplicity and flexibility."

+11: Music Request:

E-Access Bulletin would like to hear from readers about their experiences using mp3 players, 'iPods' or any electronic music storage device. Comments, ideas and issues on their accessibility may be included in a feature on the subject in the next issue of E-Access Bulletin. [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 Two: Focus- Geographical Information Systems.


+12: On The Mapby Mel Poluck.

Geographical Information Systems (GIS or GI) - computer systems which link data to location information such as a postal address, often linked to digital maps - can be a powerful means to access information about an area.

But such systems are not generally accessible to vision-impaired computer users, delegates heard at last months' seminar 'GIS in the Public Sector,' hosted by E-Access Bulletin's sister publication E- Government Bulletin.

Of UK local authorities that present services on their web sites using GIS, only a handful have made their online GIS services accessible, with pioneers including the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and Medway Council.

Awareness of the issues surrounding accessible GIS is increasing, according to Roger Longhorn, Director of Info-Dynamics Research Associates. But he said the problem for councils and others was that there are few accessible solutions out there.

"There are many ways of presenting maps to visually impaired users, even if it means describing the map to them over the phone and helping them with their spatial query by voice," Longhorn said. "It isn't the authorities who are failing in providing better access to maps and mapping for visually impaired, but the GIS industry.

"Maybe if enough of us join forces, we can get more attention paid to the less abled users of information in our society, including that which is underpinned by GIS and displayed on maps," he said.

One key new development could be the initiation in October this year of an 18-month project to produce a standard for accessibility for 'events and places shown on the web'.

"We expect to have a quality mark so users know it is valid," according to Martin Ford, a GIS consultant and convenor of a working group for geographic information standards, 'ISO/TC 211' ( http://www.isotc211.org/ ).

The group is currently putting together a programme on 'ubiquitous geographic information,' which includes use of devices such as mobile phones in a shopping centre, airports or the home for providing directions and receiving information. "We have some powerful players signed up to this," Ford said. A draft programme of work will be drawn up by September.

Ford has recently also submitted a technical proposal to the European Committee for Standardization's Information Society Standardization System (CEN ISSS - http://fastlink.headstar.com/cen1 ), covering "Accessibility Metadata for Places and Events," in a bid to receive funding for further development.

One Geographic Information Specialist working for the UK government told delegates that the key to attaining GIS accessibility is: "Awareness, followed by vendor-initiated development. Customers need to make their needs known to their GIS suppliers," he said.

According to the specialist, the most exciting or promising development currently in the area of GI accessibility is not a technical but a "soft" development. "It is the increasing awareness of the need for and right of people with disabilities to access GIS. The technology will derive from this."

++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: Analysis- Accessible Information.


+13: From Games to Word Processing:

The Structure of Inclusion by Matthew Atkinson.

It is 6pm on Sunday 25 July, 2004. Down the corridor you can hear screams and the all-too-familiar sound of grenades being launched into the ether. You move towards the room where the sounds seem to be coming from. Two people are frantically yelling and bashing away at their computer keyboards. It appears that they are playing some kind of game against each other, but there is something missing: their monitors are turned off.

That was the first time a blind person ever played a networked game of Quake, the seminal first-person-shooter computer game for the sighted.

Over the past two years, I have been co-developing some software that converts the visual aspects of the Quake interface into speech and other sounds (see http://www.agrip.org.uk/ ). It also allows internet play, which is something very new for accessible action games.

Improvements planned for the future (such as 3D audio and alternative user interfaces) will add improvements for both sighted and blind gamers. The ultimate goal of the project is to provide accessibility not just as a separate entity, but as an integral part of mainstream software and the surrounding community. This includes affording vision- impaired and blind gamers the ability to view their progress online and create new levels and modifications for the game: all activities that sighted people have been enjoying for some time.

These are welcome developments, but they are very much the beginning of a process which will hopefully lead to greater accessibility being built in to many other forms of digital information.

The Quake work has raised a number of general questions about just what makes something as complex as a 3D game accessible. Finding solutions will teach us a lot more about accessibility and its links to the structure of information in general. Based on the progress made so far, a number of related areas need to be explored.

For example, an XML-based standard for describing 3D worlds is in development that could lead to a standard and accessible editor program being able to create levels for many different games, applications, design and visualisation programs. XML stands for eXtensible Markup Language; a customisable text-based tool for exchanging information in hierarchical layers.

And there is great potential in examining the use of alternative user interface devices and techniques such as 3D audio in representing traditionally inaccessible materials such as mathematical equations and flowcharts. I have begun designing a number of techniques for generalising the principles used in AudioQuake to these tasks.

These and other similar avenues of research are exciting, and I am hoping to explore them during my PhD. However, there is a key element that links the AudioQuake project and these ideas - the question of "Why?" It is currently a combination of common sense and convention that leads us to believe we might get some advantage from developing using the approaches detailed above, but wouldn't it be better if we could get some guidance as to the correct approach?

A core issue of the work I hope to embark upon will therefore be the determination of how to present information in the most accessible way given its format (a 3D model, flow chart or word-processing document, for example). This will be achieved through the use of theory, empirical evidence on how blind and sighted people navigate information, and a number of existing technologies for the manipulation of data such as XML.

But what sorts of benefits would such generalised rules, or an automated system that uses them, provide?

When you consider that in 2003, research carried out by Forrester for Microsoft discovered that 60 per cent of adults in the US aged 18-64 would benefit from some assistive technology for computer use, the case makes itself. It is clear it would benefit software developers and creators of content on the web and in other digital formats to have better direction on how accessible their system is and how it could be made more so.

But accessibility is just the start: in almost every walk of life nowadays we are overwhelmed with information. Wouldn't it be convenient to have this presented to us in the way we find most intuitive? That is yet another benefit this research could deliver.

NOTE: Matthew Atkinson is seeking a sponsor for his PhD at the Research School of Informatics, Loughborough University, to top up a half-scholarship. Sponsors would gain access to his system and associated software as it is developed. Any organisation interested please email matthew@agrip.org.uk .

[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].