+++E-Access Bulletin.- Issue 70, October 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: e-Democracy '05- The UK's Largest E-Democracy Conference. - 9 November 2005, CBI Conference Centre, London http://www.headstar-events.com/edemocracy/ .


Accessibility will be among topics discussed at e-Democracy '05, hosted by Headstar, publishers of E-Access Bulletin, with the Hansard Society. Speakers include Helen Petrie, professor of Computer Science at the University of York and Sue Mottershead of Age Concern's Digital Inclusion Steering Group. Set to be the UK's largest ever dedicated e-democracy conference and exhibition, it will also cover e- voting, e-campaigning and e-consultation.

Places cost 145 pounds for public, charitable and voluntary sector and 195 pounds for private sector. For more information, see: http://www.headstar-events.com/edemocracy/

[Special Notice ends].

++Special Notice- Techshare 2005 Pre-conference workshops - 16 November 2005, RNIB Conference Centre, Birmingham


There are still a number of half day pre-conference workshop places available at thisyear's Techshare' the RNIB's flagship event on access to technology. Workshops are open to everyone, not just Techshare delegates. Topics include basic web accessibility; Apple VoiceOver hands-on presented by Mike Shebanek, Senior Product Manager at Apple US; and creating DAISY talking books.

Workshops cost 85 pounds including a buffet lunch. For those attending a morning and an afternoon workshop the cost is 150 pounds. For more information and to book online - and to find out more about Techshare itself - go to: http://www.rnib.org.uk/techshare .

[Special Notice ends].

++Section One: News.


+01: Employers 'Ignorant Of Technology Access Issues'.

Employers across the public and private sectors do not know enough about technologies that could help people with disabilities in the workplace, according to new research by E-Access Bulletin.

The survey was taken of delegates to the recent e-Access '05 conference (http://www.headstar-events.com/eaccess05 ). Some 76 per cent of respondents said employers were not up to the mark, with just one person disagreeing.

The survey also found over half of respondents felt mainstream technology companies are not doing enough to ensure digital inclusion. Asked what they could do to ensure accessibility for all, one respondent replied: "Not enough consultation is being done with people with disabilities so they can tell the manufacturers what they want, instead of having to make do with what the manufacturers produce."

Another said: "There must be a huge array of good practice out there and it is important to bring that together so that it can be shared to improve access. This sharing must be free or funded centrally so that it reaches everyone."

The survey was completed by a total of 62 disabled technology users; local authority access officers; directors of disability organisations; librarians; government accessibility advisors; IT helpdesk workers and other conference delegates.

NOTE: For full survey results see 'Reviving the Wow Factor', Section Three, this issue.

02: Blunkett Announces New Disability Agency.

A new agency responsible for improving access to services for people with disabilities is to be set up by the UK government later this year.

The Office for Disability Issues (ODI) will be responsible for initiating and co-ordinating work on accessibility issues across central government, but will also link up with bodies such as the Disability Rights Commission and other campaign groups to promote access to services in wider society.

The plan was unveiled by Secretary of State for Work and Pensions David Blunkett during a visit to North America, where he met with Canadian officials who have had a similar agency up and running since 2001. Plans for ODI were originally sketched out earlier this year in 'Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People', a report from the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit, and Blunkett's fact-finding trip to Canada is likely to shape the finer detail of ODI's role and responsibilities.

Speaking from Ottawa, Caroline Weber, director general for the Canadian Office for Disability Issues, told E-Access Bulletin that the Canadian agency has four main responsibilities: co-ordinating work across government departments, building capacity in communities, funding, and influencing legislation.

Of these Weber is particularly pleased with the Canadian ODI's record in work in supporting community groups. "Compared with government, out in the community there are more people who can address these issues, there are so many effective NGOs out there," she said.

+03: Latest Version Of Jaws Compatible With Firefox.

The latest version of the leading JAWS screen reader is now compatible with Mozilla's Firefox, a free web browser that has rapidly gained in popularity, according to Freedom Scientific, the manufacturer of JAWS.

Work on making all the functions of Firefox accessible to users of JAWS version 7.0 is still at an early stage but will be ongoing, Freedom Scientific said in a statement. "The goal is to make all of the features and useful tools available in Internet Explorer available for Firefox as well. You'll be able to use navigation quick keys, PlaceMarkers, custom labels, lists of HTML elements, and more," the company said.

Users of JAWS will also be able to access the latest instant messaging products, MSN Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger. These enable users to be notified when friends or colleagues are online, exchange files and messages, and make phone calls using their computers. JAWS version 7.0 is also easier to use on the move, because settings can now be stored on the flash memory sticks that plug into PCs.

Users wanting to compare the product with earlier versions, or with other screen readers, can download a free demonstration version at: http://fastlink.headstar.com/jaws2 .

+04: European E-Accessibility Communication Is 'Waste Of Time.'

One of Europe's leading experts on accessibility has labelled a new policy paper from the European Commission "a waste of time".

The 2005 EC Communication on eAccessibility ( http://fastlink.headstar.com/comm1 ), adopted on 13 September, aims to encourage increased activity in key areas of accessibility across Europe including procurement; certification schemes and legislation. It describes the need for member states to work together on a consistent approach to e-accessibility as "urgent."

However Kevin Carey, vice-chair of RNIB and a member of the EU's Inclusive Communication Sub-Committee (Incom - http://fastlink.headstar.com/comm2 ), said this month the communication "has nothing significant to say about the present. And apart from a study, it proposes nothing for the future."

Writing in this month's E-Access Bulletin, Carey says the paper is in a "time warp," as it refers to "new technologies where accessibility must be considered early" where these technologies in fact had standards defined for them years ago. Additionally, no mention is made of interactive TV, radio, games, DVDs or converged media devices that serve more than one function, he said.

Last week a conference took place in London for stakeholders to discuss the communication ( http://fastlink.headstar.com/comm3 ). It was hosted by the RNIB as one of a series of events to mark the UK's presidency of the EU. The next stage of the work will include research into progress by member states towards implementing the communication, ahead of a full-scale review of the project in two years' time.

NOTE: See 'A Waste of Communication', Section Four, this issue.

++News in Brief:


+05: Digital Guide:

A handheld computer for outdoor navigation has been developed by assistive technology company Bones GmbH with two Swiss national blindness organisations. The 'Personal assistant for visually impaired people' (PAVIP) provides audible prompts for directions, locations of key landmarks and public transport information: http://www.bones.ch/english_version/pavip/ .

+06: PDF Converter:

Software allowing Adobe PDF documents to be converted to an audio format has been launched in the US and will be launched in Europe from next month by Texthelp. 'Lexiflow' works with Adobe Acrobat [? pdf?] documents, converting them to speech, and can be used on both Windows and Macintosh platforms: http://fastlink.headstar.com/pdf1 .

+07: Moving Experience:

Screen reader software for Windows-based personal digital assistants (PDAs) and smartphones has been launched by Spain-based Code Factory. Mobile Speak Pocket provides access to all the functionality of mainstream PDAs and supports speech synthesisers such as Fonix and Acapela in 11 languages: http://fastlink.headstar.com/factory1 .

[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: External Input:

Judyth Mermelstein from Quebec in Canada writes in response to Ron Milliman's question about how to allow a contributor to add web content to the Kentucky Council of the Blind's web site. "What seems simplest to me is the use of an old-fashioned web form," Judyth writes. "One can make a web page which already contains the header, menus, footer, and design elements one wants on the new pages.

"One can then place an ordinary text input box in the middle of the page where the author can type in his new contribution with his ordinary browser, and without the risk of disturbing the other elements on the page. There are a number of open source programs that make it fairly simple.

"An alternative is to provide that page, complete with the input box, as a plain text file the author can use as a template with any text editor or word processor he uses. In that case, he would be writing into a copy of the original file, saving it as text rather than exporting it with an HTML filter. The author then uploads the page via FTP.

"I would definitely not recommend any method whereby the author created his pages in Word. Microsoft's idea of HTML/XML is inelegant and doesn't necessarily comply with W3C standards. Mr Milliman might want to look at a few hosting sites before recommending one to his contributor." [Further responses please to inbox@headstar.com]

+09: Colour Theory:

John Starbuck, from the corporate ICT department at Wakefield Metropolitan District Council, has sent in the following web link, from Australia, which describes tests for colour blindness: http://www.toledo-bend.com/colorblind/Ishihara.html .

His question is - do readers know of a UK equivalent? [Responses please to inbox@headstar.com]

+10: Political Debate:

Mary Zaccai from Quadrant Media and Communications in Cardiff, Wales, writes: "We are currently evaluating the European Parliament Audio Book, the monthly half- hour broadcast, freely accessible via the internet to give visually- impaired people an insight to the workings of the European Parliament. The following link will provide you with the latest broadcast: http://www.epaudiobook.com .

Mary would be interested to hear feedback from any E-Access Bulletin readers who have listened to the broadcast. [Responses please to inbox@headstar.com]

[Section Two ends].

++Section Three - Accessibility- e-Access'05 Survey.


+11: Reviving The Wow Factorby Mel Poluck.

New information and communication technologies have the potential to enhance the lives of people with disabilities in many areas: employment, entertainment, education and public services.

But a new survey of delegates attending a major conference on access to technology - e-Access '05, hosted by E-Access Bulletin - found over half of respondents felt mainstream technology companies are not doing enough to ensure digital inclusion.

"Anything they do offer seems to be kept very cloak and dagger," according to one respondent. "Most assistance would need to be asked for, rather than offered upfront." Another said: "Not enough consultation is being done with people with disabilities so they can tell the manufacturers what they want, instead of having to make do with what the manufacturers produce".

The survey respondents - who were drawn from all parts of the accessibility debate, from people with disabilities to mainstream companies - acknowledged that cost could be a significant hurdle for technology suppliers and service providers to overcome in ensuring their products and services were accessible. "The financial impact on small companies can be very large," one delegate said. Another said: "Some are and some aren't [making technologies accessible], it still seems to be a learning process. We feed back our user experience and work with the suppliers to improve their product."

While many respondents suggested that technology providers should follow accessibility standards and guidelines as laid out by the government and the World Wide Web Consortium's Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), not all believed this would provide a panacea. "Keep in contact with end users to see how good things really are and do not just rely on meeting standards," said one. "Keep things simple and as constant as possible."

Some respondents said companies should make more of accessible IT products to give them the edge over other companies: "[Make] accessibility a bigger issue and a selling point in new developments," said one. Although others agreed some companies are already doing this, they said more specialist manufacturers still have a long way to go: "Some have realised that accessibility is a selling point for products, others in more graphical orientated [areas], for example Geographical Information Systems, have little knowledge."

A handful of respondents said companies should be raising awareness of accessible products through, for example, magazines and electronic publications since in some cases those implementing and using accessible technologies simply aren't aware of what is available. One attendee said companies should be: "informing people of the developments in non-technological language and visual demonstrations so that people can make informed decisions about which aspects they want to use. They should use the best form of media to inform people, aimed at interested parties."

For companies already producing accessible products, one delegate suggested they should be: "looking not just at the end product as being accessible, but the entirety of products they offer. A company might produce a content management system (CMS) that creates perfectly accessible web pages, but the CMS itself remains inaccessible, meaning that a disabled user cannot contribute to the content publishing process."

The onus to ensure technology does not exclude anyone from the information age does not only fall on IT manufacturers, but survey respondents generally felt the law in this area is weak. Over half of all those who responded to the survey said current UK law is not sufficient to ensure accessibility for all users regardless of their ability.

Comments such as "The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) doesn't have enough teeth" and "It's a good start, but because it is considered so grey by companies as to what to do to meet legal obligations, they are often ignored," highlighted the feeling by 32 out of 62 responses that the DDA's key provision that providers of goods and services should make "reasonable adjustments" for accessibility is too woolly.

The importance of case law to test the DDA was highlighted by many respondents. "The legislation is there, I believe that it is time for people to start taking companies to court. Once there is case law I believe that organisations will make more of an effort," said one. And one vision- impaired delegate said: "Its helpful, but not enough of a deterrent for companies. Not enough people are using legislation to bring forward cases. It's too slow and bureaucratic."

On the other hand, of the 18 respondents that said there was indeed sufficient legislation in place, one said: "the DDA shows that even with strong legislation to promote inclusion, it may take time for organisations to change accordingly - what is required is more application of existing legislation."

And another said: "It is not enforced as it should be and there is a huge amount of ignorance as to what legal obligations there are vis-à-vis accessible technology. The internet and web sites suffer particularly in this regard and the lack of a benchmark legal ruling on accessibility of web sites is a problem."

In terms of employment and accessible technology, just one respondent said there is enough awareness among employers about accessible technology that could assist staff. Of those that disagreed, some mentioned the need for staff training on the options available: "The sense is that the disability market is a very hidden market. Any improvements in this area would need to include disability awareness training," and another responded: "There is painfully little awareness, but awareness of the options isn't enough anyway - there needs to be an incentive to find out and implement systems."

Others mentioned the often-cited cost barrier. "I wonder if some smaller employers will feel that this is an additional cost that they can do without."

On a practical note, one suggested: "There must be a huge array of good practice out there and it is important to bring that together so that it can be shared to improve access. This sharing must be free or funded centrally so that it reaches everyone."

First-hand experiences of the workplace from respondents with a disability drive home a lack of awareness of accessible technologies available, let alone their lacking implementation: "From personal experience it is apparent that many employers, even if they have heard of the technology, have never used it themselves, so do not have a grasp of what it could mean or how it could be a help".

And another said there is no substitute for showing people at first hand what access to technology can do to transform people's lives: "I don't have enough fingers and toes to count the number of times the 'wow factor' has kicked in when I have shown an employer or work colleague the software I use to access all areas of the computer. This can be explained in some way by the few numbers of disabled people in the workplace. It is always the lived experiences that perpetuate greater awareness and a proactive approach to disabilities and assistive technological awareness."

NOTE: The presentations from e-Access '05 can be found online at: http://www.headstar-events.com/eaccess05 .

[Section Three ends].

++Special Notice: Test Your Site's Accessibility.


Headstar, the publishers of E-Access Bulletin, is offering a range of independent, expert assessment packages to ensure your web services comply with best practice and the law. We can provide you with a clear, detailed report on the current access status of your site, and a list of tasks you will need to carry out to ensure compliance with government requirements.

Reports also include results from general quality assurance tests such as link-checking. Taking accessibility action benefits all users, will make your site easier to maintain, and can improve your search engine rating! Please note the service is tailored in particular to larger organisations with major web sites or services.

For more information please email: access-consult@headstar.com .

[Special notice ends].

++Section Four - Europe- EU Communication on Accessibility


+12: A Waste Of Communicationby Kevin Carey

At last, the EU Communication on eAccessibility has been published - but it is little short of disastrous. On behalf of the UK Government, I have been a member of groups that provided feeder reports for the document, and I do not suppose there has been a disabled person with more detailed involvement in the lead up to the communication than myself (. I say this without pride, as it has largely been a waste of time.

The communication (http://fastlink.headstar.com/comm4 ) proposes a set of policy actions that foster e-accessibility. It calls on member states and stakeholders to support positive actions to make products and services far more widely available in Europe.

In the Working Paper Annexe the options are clearly set out. The commission could: do nothing; co-ordinate and promote; or legislate. Industry wanted the first but did not mind leaning towards the second; users wanted the third; and so, predictably, the Commission opted for the second.

The communication then cites an impressive list of simple problems that have not yet been solved such as incompatibility of text phones, non-acceptance across Europe of 112 as the single emergency telephone number; and lack of Europe-wide standards for accessibility.

According to the communication, "most of these problems could, conceptually, be solved from a technical point of view, but require co- operation, co-ordination and determination at European level as market forces alone seem not to have been sufficient to date." But what is going to change the market failure, and what signs have we ever seen of determination?

The next paragraph begins: "In the near future, examples of new technologies where accessibility aspects must be considered early include digital television, third generation mobile telephones, and broadband communication". I had to read this many times because I couldn't believe it was serious.

Officials have since explained that these technologies will soon become widespread enough to present problems, but the standards for all these were defined years ago! Indeed, the standards for 4G phones, high definition television, the next iteration of the internet and many other technologies are already complete. Further, there is no mention of interactive television, radio, games, DVDs and converged media. In fact, the whole concept of convergence between media is ignored.

The communication proposes three allegedly new solutions: accessibility requirements in public procurement, accessibility certification, and better use of existing legislation.

The first of these is very popular with disability groups, if not the commission. The commission has not been pushing for joint standards, and a move towards accessible accessibility certification could, perversely, impose burdens on the accessibility sector rather than the generic market. There is also a call for an EU web accessibility label which isn't a bad idea if it is granted after manual rather than automated testing.

So what conclusions can we draw from this? First, that this communication is obsessed with legacy issues and has nothing significant to say about the present, let alone the future. Secondly, in spite of its rhetoric, the commission is honest in rating the interests of industry above those of disabled people. Thirdly, it proposes to do nothing significant in this area. Finally, apart from a study it proposes nothing for the future.

This only leaves one viable option. Rather than bitching any further, we need to work towards establishing a common, platform neutral, regulatory framework for accessibility that can drive standards. This in turn can create a market in accessible goods and services. This will be a long haul because, ultimately, this means establishing a generic right to information; but if we sort this out we won't need a campaign for each emerging technology.

[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
  • Editorial advisor - Kevin Carey.

ISSN 1476-6337 .

[Issue ends].