+++E-Access Bulletin.- Issue 63, March 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: Last chance to book a place for Vision 2005- 4 to 7 April 2005, London.


Advances in technology and designing for an inclusive environment will be key themes at Vision 2005, the world's biggest ever conference on sight loss. The latest in accessible information, e-learning, web sites, multimedia and reading through technologies will be included in the four-day event's 600 presentations, workshops and debates.

Keynote speakers include access technology pioneer Dr Raymond Kurzweil, who will be "teleporting" himself to the conference from the US to deliver his address on "The future of blindness and disabilities in an age of accelerating technology".

Vision 2005 is hosted by RNIB and takes place at London's Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre. For more information see: http://www.rnib.org.uk/vision2005 .

[Special notice ends].

++Section One: News.


+01: Guidelines Place Inclusive Design On Boardroom Table.

A new standard aimed at ensuring inclusive design becomes a high- level strategic priority for organisations, not a low-level technical issue, was published this month by the British Standards Institute (http://fastlink.headstar.com/bsi1 ).

Unlike accessibility guidance for designers, which tends to focus on specific products or services, the new standard and accompanying practical guidelines support managers who need to make inclusive design part of the overall aims of an organisation, whether it be a small manufacturer, a multinational corporation or a government department.

"When people think about design they often think of the creative aspect, but there's plenty of evidence to show that managers have a greater impact than the creative people. Managers identify the problems to be solved, and how to tackle them," said Alan Topalian, chair of the panel that drafted the standard.

Many organisations will only take inclusive design more seriously to avoid falling foul of legislation such as the Disability Discrimination Act, but there are more positive reasons for doing so, Topalian told E- Access Bulletin. "Taking inclusive design seriously can open up a large potential market," he said. "Many companies only go for the 18 to 35 age group, which is nonsense when you think about increasing 'grey power'".

For Topalian, there was also a personal inspiration for the development of a new high-level standard. "My wife specialised in working with older people for Lewisham Council, so it's an issue that was discussed at home. [The council's chief executive] Barry Quirk once said . . . it should be a priority to design in diversity, and design out inequality."

+02: Californian Digital Library "Incredibly Popular."

An online library service that allows users to download e-books to mobile technology devices for free has been launched in California - by a consortium of seven public libraries.

Since the 'Califa' system (http://califa.lib.overdrive.com/ ) launched in mid-February, there have been almost 1,700 "checkouts" by users who are able to download audio books and e-books online.

Downloads of e-books and digital audio books can be downloaded onto mobile devices such as personal digital assistants (PDAs); mobile phones; laptops and mp3 players. "We didn't know what to expect [but] it's been incredibly popular," said Anthony Costa, operations manager of Califa. An additional order for more titles has been placed due to high demand. "The only complaint so far is that they are not compatible with iPods," Costa said.

Books are downloadable by chapter which according to Costa "Enables more usability on slower connections and facilitates burning" and readers can be directed to the last page read. Normal loan periods of 21 days apply to the service with loans automatically checked back in when the loan period expires. The service uses technology from e-book distributor Overdrive (http://www.overdrive.com/ ).

+03: New Web Standards Star At Csun.

New standards for accessible web sites took centre-stage at CSUN 2005, the annual international conference that highlights developments in access technology, hosted last week by California State University Northridge (http://www.csun.edu/cod/conf/2005/genconfinfo05.htm ).

An overview of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, the new global standard due to be published later this year, was presented by its developers, the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative (http://www.w3.org/WAI ). Delegates heard how content publishers can adapt to the new standard, and how to test their web sites for compliance.

Among the many new products on display, accessible handheld devices with wireless capabilities attracted much attention. There was a demonstration of Maestro, claimed to be the first off-the-shelf portable digital assistant (PDA) for the blind and now integrated with the Trekker GPS satellite location system. The product's manufacturer is HumanWare, the company formed from the recent merger of access technology firms VisuAide and Pulse Data. Delegates were shown how to link the PDA to other devices using the Bluetooth wireless standard, and to the web through Wi-Fi networks.

CSUN 2005 took place between 14-19 March. For full audio reporting on the event from ACB Radio visit http://fastlink.headstar.com/acb1 .

++News in Brief:


+04: Radio Play:

UK digital radio-related news, programme listings and product reviews aimed at people with a disability are available in the second edition of the free audio magazine "DAB digital radio". The magazine is produced by Digital One, the world's largest network of digital radio stations. For a cassette telephone 020 7288 4600 or see: http://fastlink.headstar.com/dab1 .

+05: Double Access:

A printer able to output printed text alongside corresponding embossed Braille text was launched this month. The ViewPlus Pro Embosser with Pro Ink Attachment also embosses charts, tables and images: http://www.viewplus.com/news/10 .

+06: Money Talks:

A new breed of voice-enabled cash machine using natural speech synthesis to guide vision-impaired users through transactions has been unveiled by technology company Diebold with assistive technology company ScanSoft. The machines offer six user languages: http://fastlink.headstar.com/diebold1 .

[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 .

+07: Bank Statement:

Several readers wrote in to respond to Fay Rohrlach from Australia who, in our last issue, urged banks to issue account statements in alternative and electronic formats. Jenny Finch from Brisbane, Australia, said: "The Commonwealth Bank sends all my statements in Braille, and Telstra sends Braille bills to me. It's lovely to just open and read them straight off, independently and nobody else knows what's in them!"

And Peter Catchpole writes: "I too am vision impaired and my bank, the Alliance and Leicester, have been supplying me with large print correspondence and documentation for some time. They also provide an online banking system where customers are able to manage their accounts, for example they can view statements, amend or cancel standing orders or transfer funds between accounts, both internally and to and from other banks.

"In the UK there is legislation intended to ensure equal access to goods and services by all disabled persons. It is up to us, vision-impaired people, to ensure that we continually press for the implementation of this legislation. At the end of the day, vote with your feet where this is possible. Even government departments require chivvying."

Meanwhile Sam Latif from Surrey would like to broaden the debate: "I would like to get peoples' thoughts on service providers for the blind who continue to send paper-based invoices to blind people rather than emailing them. Companies include RNIB and Cobalt systems. Can we not try, as a group, to get them to start emailing such things? Is there anything you can do?" She adds: "I did contact RNIB to tell them that they provided inaccessible invoicing. They thanked me for making them aware and said they will have a solution in six months' time - that is a poor excuse as the Disability Discrimination Act has been out since 1995! Frustrated and disappointed, Sam." [Please send further responses to inbox@headstar.com].

+08: Google Views:

Allen Hoffman from the Section 508 project at the US Internal Revenue Service writes to respond to a contribution by Katherine Schneider published last issue about the digital library initiative from search engine Google, 'Google print' (https://print.google.com/publisher/).

"I recently corresponded with the director of the 'print.google.com' effort, and was pleasantly surprised that he understood the need for more than image access of the materials. I urged them to work with 'bookshare.org' as a starting point to making image-formatted data available for the vision impaired. Having the images is half the battle, applying optical character recognition to those is the next step."

Hoffman has further comments to make about Google's email service, 'gmail': "It is an accessibility nightmare. I am disappointed in the extreme in this product from a company that should be able to produce better products. If you change the view in gmail from HTML to basic, you can then use the "compose message" and other options. To activate the strangely coded links, you can with JAWS use the mouse cursor and mouse keys to simulate clicking on the links and get things started. But this is a tremendously annoying amount of effort to put in. You also can't set the system to come up in basic mode when you log in, you have to set it by mouse-clicking the word "basic" each time you log in.

"I suppose it is free, but still, [this is] not a goodwill generator for the blind. One person on the net has made the analogy of this to tripping blind people on the street for fun and I'd agree with that! If Google, a premier technology company, can't do simple accessibility, then what are the others going to be expected to produce?" [Please send further responses to inbox@headstar.com].

+09: Mystery Shopping:

Paul Hamilton-Ritchie, a student of Management, IT and Language at the University of York, writes in to appeal for volunteers to participate in his research into supermarket web site accessibility. "The research, which is for my dissertation, will be looking at the extent to which Sainsbury's, ASDA and Tesco have gone to comply with the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative guidelines and how this translates into ease of use by their vision-impaired online customers.

"I need participants who are willing to answer a short questionnaire about their surfing habits, then carry out an online shopping exercise on their own and then, if they wish to, have a chat with me over the phone about their attitudes and feelings about the issue of web accessibility." Please contact Paul directly at: pchr100@york.ac.uk if you would like to help.

+10: Trainers' View:

Tim Pennick of BT's Research and Venturing department writes: "I'm currently working on the EU-funded ENABLED project to improve accessibility of information to vision- impaired people. Part of the work on this project involves assessing the availability of training for vision-impaired users of enabling technology such as screen readers. We'd be very grateful if people who are involved in providing this kind of training would spend a few minutes filling in a questionnaire." Relevant organisations who would like to help should contact Thierry Raguin on t.raguin@netunion.com for the questionnaire.

[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- Local Government and the Web.


+11: A Game Of Snakes And Ladders, by Mel Poluck.

The end of this year marks the deadline for UK local authorities to make all their services available in electronic formats, in most cases over the web. But how accessible will these services be?

The annual 'Better connected' review of all 468 UK council web sites was published last month by the council IT management body Socitm (http://www.socitm.gov.uk/ ). The review focuses on site usability and provides an insight into the quality of experience the public have when interacting with local government online.

As part of the review process, this year the RNIB checked all the sites against the standards of web accessibility specified by the international Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG - http://www.w3.org/TR/WAI-WEBCONTENT/ ).

The report found 62 sites achieve level 'A' conformance, a substantial improvement on last year, when only 18 reached this first basic level. However, it was cause for concern that, of those original 18, only eight maintained the achievement. Ten councils have slipped back and 54 councils have moved up - "A game of snakes and ladders indeed!" in the words of the report.

Some common problems were noted by the team. Many web sites slipped back this year because they omitted ALT text tags for images. Indeed, the survey says 40 per cent of all sites fail this basic test. However, this is an improvement on last year's report which found 55 per cent of sites failed on that point.

The report team detected widespread confusion over the application of accessibility rules, which it attributed to four factors: a lack of a single accreditation body for local government WAI compliance; a lack of clarity over the WAI checkpoints themselves; accessibility testing tools that each test different criteria; and web developers that fail to realise that both automatic and manual tests are absolutely necessary for a council site to claim full WAI compliance.

"The fact that 10 sites have slipped back, having reached high standards before, shows the importance of ongoing testing and maintenance of a site," the report said. "Achieving level A compliance is only the start."

Geographical trends were spotted for those sites passing level 'A' accessibility checks. In terms of types of council, shire areas do marginally better than elsewhere with 18 per cent of counties and 17 per cent of districts meeting the standard.

The Better Connected team found the most striking example of good practice is found in Cornwall with five of the six shire districts achieving the standard. The South West performs best, most likely boosted by the Cornwall figures, with 28 per cent of councils achieving level A, followed by the East Midlands, with 21 per cent of councils. The lowest performing regions are the North-West with success rates of 7 per cent and Yorkshire and Humber with 9 per cent. Only one council in Scotland achieved the standard.

The use of joined-up working to develop web sites has been neglected in recent months, the report found, and the Better Connected team predicts this situation may remain unchanged. This is attributable to the priority outcomes, a set of key targets for electronic service delivery for local authorities to attain, which have become "an urgent task," it says.

The report says despite this, "better working together will lead directly to efficiency gains as the districts of Cornwall have illustrated in achieving high standards of accessibility."

Another interesting and new part of the report dealing with accessibility issues was a review of the state of text-only versions of web sites, undertaken for Socitm by web testing company SciVisum (http://www.scivisum.co.uk/ ). The goal of this exercise was to inform the ongoing debate as to whether it is good practice to have a separate text-only site running parallel to the main graphical site, or whether it is better to construct a single fully accessible site - the usual choice of accessibility purists.

The report found that of the 147 text-only sites belonging to UK councils, an "overwhelming majority" have problems. Text-only sites are being produced so badly in almost all cases that "it must be time to take them down altogether and apply resources to making graphical sites more accessible," the report found. Web designers have been warned.

NOTE: 'Better Connected 2005' is available for free to Socitm members and 350 pounds to non-members from the Socitm web site (http://www.socitm.gov.uk ).

[Section Three ends].

++Section Four- Focus- Readers' Stories.


+12: Rising To The Challenge Of Life, by Stephanie Read.

Technology has been a great help to me and has been the reason why I have managed to complete my education, which is no mean feat considering my life events.

When I was three months old my parents were told I was partially sighted. My sight stayed steady until the age of 12 when a problem with my macula meant that I lost my sight completely. This upset me, but I was at a school for the visually impaired so mobility and Braille training was soon in place.

I was very active and took part in swimming and athletic competitions, running and swimming in the B1 category. My favourite activity was riding. However, this came to an abrupt end when at the age of 14 I started to get spine and hip problems. I was told I was "putting it on" and to pull myself together. As the years went on my physical disability increased but nobody had the answer to what was wrong.

Despite my disabilities, I continued my education, going on to achieve eight GCSEs, three 'A' levels and one 'AS' level and in October 2000, started a psychology degree.

But in February 2001 things got even worse after I lost all sensation and movement below my waist. I spent three-and-a-half months in hospital but still no one knew what was wrong. When I came out of hospital I wanted to continue my degree and although I was told I would have to retake the first year again, I started the first year for the second time and passed all 12 modules.

At the same time things seemed to be getting worse - I was starting to have problems with my hands which meant that typing became a problem, so I ended up in hospital again having more tests. The doctors at Kings College hospital withdrew my drugs, leaving me in agony and unable to get out of bed, so we spent the next 18 months trying to get my drug regime reinstated.

But I was not going to let my disability win. During this time I was trying to carry on with my degree but because of my health, however hard I tried I didn't manage to pass all the second-year degree modules. Finally I was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a rare condition that affects about one in 10 million.

This diagnosis meant so much: it gave me the courage to carry on fighting. In September this year my medication was reinstated and a new computer was bought for me, so that I could continue with my university degree. In October 2004 I restarted my second year and plan to finish my degree in Summer 2006.

I have been using laptops and desktop computers for a long time, with the JAWS for Windows screen reader. In the last two months I have received my new laptop, with JAWS plus the speech recognition software J-Say, which means I can now just dictate documents and JAWS will read back what the computer has written.

The internet is also very important to me as lecturers and my enablers can email things to me when I'm not well enough to physically get to university. It also opens up a huge world of information that can be used to complete assignments.

For me the most interesting piece of technology I have got is the Possum (http://www.possum.co.uk ). This is a computer that can operate almost everything within my bungalow, from the television and hi-fi to the phone and windows and doors. This gives me back my independence and means that the bungalow is secure. Before owning this piece of equipment, my front door had to be left open all day, so that carers and friends could get in. The Possum means that I can be in bed and still manage to open the front door for visitors.

Many people have said they don't know how I do it and that I could live my life on benefits. I disagree - because my body doesn't work it doesn't mean that I should spend my life relying on the state. I want to give just like everybody else.

I hope to train to become a clinical psychologist and to help others with disabilities and mental illness. Disability is not a passport to an easy life, it is a challenge to fight and win!

[Section Four ends].

++End Notes.


+How to Receive the Bulletin.

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].