+++E-Access Bulletin.- Issue 76, April 2006.

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: QAC Sight Village 2005- Birmingham, UK - 18-20 July 2006


The latest in cutting edge technology for people who are blind or partially sighted will be on show this July at Sight Village at Queen Alexandra College in Birmingham.

Now in its thirteenth year, the event includes presentations covering tactile graphics and employment as well as panel discussions and high quality displays from companies and organisations from around the world and from all over the UK. Sighted guides and tactile maps will be available for delegates.

Registration for this major international exhibition is free. For details and to register go to: http://www.viewplus.com/sightvillage-registration/

[Sponsored Notice ends].

++Section One: News.


+01: Myguide Portal Prepared For Launch

Tests have begun on MyGuide, a new portal that helps people with little experience of the internet start to use email, search for information and browse web sites. The six month tests will gather feedback from user groups likely to be "digitally excluded", such as vision impaired people and the elderly.

MyGuide is being tested in Leicester, Blackburn, Gloucester, Kings Lynn and Wisbech, Southwark and Lambeth with the aim of tackling any remaining design flaws, and gaining valuable feedback about how useful the service is. The trials are being run by University for Industry (UfI - http://www.ufi.com/home/default.asp ), the body responsible for delivering the Learndirect service and running the 6,000 UK online centres. Depending on the response, MyGuide could be given a full launch, backed by a government publicity campaign later this year.

Development work on MyGuide, which has a key role in the government's digital inclusion strategy, is supported by 22.5 million pounds from the Capital Modernisation Fund and co-ordinated by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES), originally under the project name 'Cybrarian'.

According to DfES research, about 16 million of the 40 million adults in the UK could benefit from the service, including people with physical or cognitive disabilities, older people, those with specific cultural needs, those with low basic skills, and those who do not yet see the benefit of the internet for them.

MyGuide is designed to be used at home as well as in public libraries and community centres. Market research by Ofcom suggests that many people, especially the elderly, prefer to learn media skills from family and friends or by themselves, rather than in formal groups http://www.ofcom.org.uk/advice/media_literacy/medlitpub/medlitpubr ss/medialit_audit/. A range of stakeholder organisations are contributing to the project, including Age Concern, the Disabled Living Foundation, RNIB and RNID.

+02: Free It Skills Training Launches Across The Uk

A free training scheme aiming to broaden access to computers for vision impaired people went live across England and Northern Ireland this month.

The initiative introduces vision impaired people to computers who have little or no experience of technology and will focus on teaching those not currently employed or studying and those who have become blind later in life.

Training sessions will see qualified British Computer Association of the Blind (BCAB - http://www.bcab.org.uk/ ), tutors teaching basic everyday computer-based tasks to local vision impaired people, such as how to write a letter on a computer, send and receive email, listen to internet radio stations and scan and magnify printed materials. The one-day sessions, the first of which took place at Kent County Council, will be conducted in conjunction with local blindness societies across the country.

Students will learn on computers installed with accessible software packages: the voice recognition software 'Freedom box,' used for accessing email and the internet from US company Serotek Corporation ( http://www.freedombox.info/about.html ) and 'Guide' ( http://www.softwareexpress.co.uk/read_more_about_Guide.asp?P=GB P ), a magnifier and screen reader from UK company Software Express.

The scheme currently has funding for 30 more training sessions and has been funded overall by 26,000 pounds raised solely by sales of CDs of poetry read by celebrities, written by folk poet Les Barker.

The launch of 'EyeT4All,' by BCAB was described by BCAB Chair Dr Mike Townsend as "a special day" for blind people in the UK.

+03: Art Gallery Wins Major Web Accessibility Award

Online service i-Map, provided by the Tate Modern art gallery, has scooped the Jodi Award, the annual prize awarded to web sites that make museums, libraries and galleries accessible to vision-impaired people.

According to the judges, the service is one of the few to provide comprehensive audio descriptions of exhibits, and is destined to set the standard in global best practice, they said. The Tate's i-Map enables vision impaired people to engage with exhibits using animation, audio and raised image technology.

The Jodi Award for excellence with low budgets was awarded to Speaking Volumes, a community web site enabling vision impaired visitors to share opinions about audio books and set up reading circles from Wakefield Library ( http://www.24hourmuseum.org.uk/nwh_gfx_en/ART36038.html ).

The shortlist included the Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery web site 'Finds,' for amateur archaeologists run by the British Museum. Also shortlisted were Their Reading Futures, an online resource for library staff who work with young people and The History of Wolverhampton, a web site developed by Wolverhampton Arts and Museums Service with input from disabled users.

Selection for the shortlist was by a combination of automated testing and user reports. The winner was chosen by a panel that included Nina Baptiste of the Yorkshire Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, Ross Parry of the Department of Museum Studies, University of Leicester, Jon Pratty from the 24 Hour Museum, and Marcus Weisen, an accessibility consultant for the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.

Designers of web sites must think beyond accessibility standards such as those laid down in the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI - http://www.w3.org/WAI/ ), according to one of the judges, Jon Pratty of the 24 Hour Museum. "It's important to get the message across that flare and creativity are also important in making a web site accessible and engaging," he told E-Access Bulletin.

+04: Inaccessibility Will Create 'Second Class Citizens,' Says Mp.

Lack of access to computers by people with a disability will breed a class of "new poor," Member of Parliament Ann Widdecombe ( http://www.annwiddecombemp.com/ ) said at the launch of an initiative aimed to encourage vision impaired people to use computers.

The MP for Maidstone and the Weald in Kent told the audience at the launch event of the national UK computer training skills initiative 'EyeT4All' last week "You can become - by not having access to technology - second class citizens."

According to British Computer Association of the Blind (BCAB - http://www.bcab.org.uk/ ), just 31 per cent of vision impaired people have access to a computer, compared with 58 per cent of sighted people.

The event was hosted by Kent County Council, who held the first ever training day as part of the scheme. EyeT4All aims for vision impaired people with little or no experience of computers to learn everyday computer skills such as using email, internet, writing letters and accessing online audio content.

++News in Brief:


+05: Windows Explained:

An online guide designed to help people using magnifiers or Jaws screen readers to access Windows XP has been released by Henshaws society for blind people. The guides give step-by-step instructions on using email, documents and browsing the web, and are based on computer classes run at Chorlton Workshop in Manchester: http://vip.chowo.co.uk/

+06: Feedback Request:

Webwords, a library service run by the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead that enables vision-impaired users to hear audio samples of talking books is asking for feedback from users. The audio samples, designed to make choosing a book easier, are accessed by hyperlinks in the borough's online library catalogues: http://www.webwords.org/index.php

+07: Digital Europe:

The European Commission is holding a public meeting in Brussels on 25 April to help shape its future policy on digital inclusion, an important theme in the Commission's i2010 Information Society initiative for jobs and growth. Contributions can address a broad range of topics, including good practice promotion, research and regulatory work. More details on how to become involved are available at: http://europa.eu.int/information_society/policy/accessibility/eincl/polic y/2006-04ws/index_en.htm

[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 proofread 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 .

+08: Vacancy Feedback:

In response to a query in the February issue on assistive technology job vacancy sources, several readers have contributed ideas: Margaret Hill from the UK government's Department for Work and Pensions Accessibility Solutions Team and Aidan Parr, a researcher at London-based Foundation for Assistive Technology (FAST) both write to suggest FAST's online database of assistive technology jobs found at: http://www.fastuk.org/list_of_all_ATJobs.php . Aidan adds: "There's also the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA). See: http://careers.resna.org/ ."

Rachel Rosenbaum in the US writes: "Most people look for jobs through the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AERVI) in Virginia, US (phone number 877- 492-2708 or 703-671-4500) or through the Association of Agency Directors' National Council of Private Agencies serving Blind and Visually Impaired Persons (NCPABVI - http://www.ncpabvi.org/ ) in Missouri. The contact is Roxann Mayros, the Chief Executive. Her e-mail is roxannmayros@agenciesfortheblind.org .

[further responses to inbox@headstar.com].

+09: Radio Wave:

Terry Robinson, owner of Scotland-based online navigation service Describe Online, writes in response to Giovanni Urso's comments on two-way radio accessibility (E-Access Bulletin, February 2006): "Most modern amateur radio transceivers are equipped with a computer interface which allows them to be controlled remotely via a home computer or similar device, although you still need to buy extra parts to enable this.

"I'm sure things have moved on and transceivers can be plugged into computers without any of this messing about. The more recent models, including the Kenwood TS870 are supplied with their own software which simulates a transceiver on your computer but I'm not sure how accessible these programs are.

"You could acquire a self-tuning amplifier, thereby bypassing further potential accessibility problems.

"We can bypass many accessibility limitations of transceiver interfaces by controlling them remotely via an accessible home computer or similar device. I use an old DOS computer which can produce synthetic speech and Braille output. I prefer to use the Braille as I don't want a synthesiser talking away while trying to read a remote station.

"We can obtain usable, if not terribly accessible automatic tuning units to adjust aerials and can monitor the results through audio power or voltage standing wave ratio (VSWR) meters. We can also get self- tuning amplifiers. I have a rotator which has a tactile knob, so I can even set my own beam headings. Again, this can be done via software, according to the callsign or locator of the remote station.

"I suggest others on the 'blind-hams' mailing list would know more. To join send a blank email to: blind-hams-subscribe-request@listserv.icors.org" [further responses to inbox@headstar.com]

+10: Price Slash:

Roger Wilson-Hinds, director of UK-based Choice Technology ( www.screenreader.co.uk ) writes in response to Fay Rohrlach who, in the last issue, wrote on the high cost of assistive technology: "I am blind and have worked for several years on low-cost technology. It's not easy because selling at low cost fails to bring in money for marketing our products.

"However, we have taken the bull by the horns. In July, we shall launch a free screen reader which will give excellent access to Microsoft Word, email, the internet and others within the Windows Operating system. It will be free to home users and we anticipate organisations will pay for the use of the screen reader. Our enterprise must be financially sustainable. We view what we are doing as an opportunity to ensure computer literacy is [acquired by] blind people regardless of financial circumstances." [further responses to inbox@headstar.com].

+11: Web Wise:

Dr Mark Magennis, Director of the Centre for Inclusive Technology of the National Council for the Blind of Ireland ( www.cfit.ie ) writes to respond to Dalia Zamuiskaite from Lithuania who last issue requested guidance on web accessibility standards.

Mark writes: "The international standard for website accessibility is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) from the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium (www.w3.org/TR/WAI-WEBCONTENT/). These are a little difficult to read and understand, so the Irish National Disability Authority (NDA) has produced a resource with a simpler structure and clearer explanations of WCAG ( http://accessit.nda.ie/technologyindex_1.html ). "For application software, the NDA provides a good set of functional guidelines ( http://accessit.nda.ie/technologyindex_4.html ).

"These guidelines cover design for all users, taking into account all disabilities. Guidelines specific to vision impairment may exist but it is not good practice to design for a specific impairment. This is itself discriminatory. It promotes the incorrect view that accessibility is about design for specific disabilities rather than design for diversity and leads to fragmentation of the disability community, dilution of power and internal divisions that ultimately work against all people with disabilities." [further responses please to inbox@headstar.com].

+12: Size Settings:

Geoff Adams-Spink, Age and Disability Correspondent at BBC Online writes: "I'm using Internet Explorer (IE) version 6.0.2900.2180.xpsp.040806-1825. It seems unable to remember the text size setting so that I'm constantly having to reset it to 'largest'. This is irritating and utterly pointless: does anyone know how to get around this?" [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 Three - Opinion - Accessible Gaming

+11: Adventures In Endless Soundscapesby Justin Daubenmire

I founded BSC Games in 2002 to create accessible computer games for the blind or visually impaired. I enjoy it tremendously. It is my deep respect and identification with the blind community that encourages me to bring audio games to them.

I oversee the work of the company's dedicated programmers, sound engineers, content writers, musicians, sales support, technical support, technical writers, marketers, and beta testers, all of whom are blind or visually impaired.

At BSC Games we create exactly the types of games sighted gaming enthusiasts play, with one exception: there are no graphics, which forces us to be more creative with audio imagery and interactive devices such as game pads or joysticks. We have sounds at our fingertips to paint the scenes of the games in the mind of the blind gamer.

Although we create audio games for the blind, there are sighted gamers who play our games, who enjoy the challenge of an audio game since it tests their skills in new ways that graphical games cannot. One of those sighted gamers is Anne Walker who plays our Pipe2 Blast Chamber game ( http://www.bscgames.com/pipe2.asp ), a game in which players assume the role of an undercover agent whose mission is to prevent the San Diego Mafia from blowing up the city. "Playing games in the non-visual realm makes it more interesting to figure out what it is you are supposed to be doing!" Walker says. "Rather than just looking around and going for it, with these games I have learned to listen more and be more attentive to what the game documentation says."

It is interesting to see the accessible games industry creating online group multiplay games. The fun part of this type of game is joining with groups of friends, moving through cities, going on quests for items, having adventures and fighting enemies together. These games come with a chat program so you can communicate with your friends as you quest around the world. Players log on with a user name and password and pay a monthly fee to play the game and for good reason: hours of entertainment at their fingertips.

This style of game typically takes mainstream companies four years to create. This is roughly equivalent to producing a movie as nearly all the same concepts and resources apply to it. It is common to have a staff of around five full-time programmers, content writers to create scripts that voice actors must act out, graphic designers to create pictures to represent cultures, tribes and characters in the world. Finally, sound engineers and musicians must co-ordinate their sounds and music to fit these and the programming team must programme the engine to render all content. To say the least, multiplay games are a very involved and extremely expensive effort.

At BSC Games we are in the initial exploratory phase of programming a game with both graphics and audio for the blind and sighted to play together. One setback has been finding qualified programmers to assist on the project, and trained consultants to instruct us on it. We are progressing and hope our next title will be internet-enabled.

More generally, accessible games developers are slowly making progress with programming multiplay games - some companies have accomplished this large task already. Our progress is slower, but consistent. Because of our limited resources, we have to take smaller steps than mainstream game companies but there is a cameraderie among us accessible games developers that you don't often see in other industries.

In terms of the future of accessible game development, I think initially you will see one-on-one internet-based games then, as resources permit, larger games where you can play in teams and quest around worlds. Typically, the worlds in these types of games are endless. That is what makes them so fun.

[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 Two: Focus- IT Procurement.


+08: How To Buy Software And Not Break The Lawby Ruth Loebl.

Have you heard of the public sector duty to promote disability equality, which forms part of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA)? From the perspective of voluntary bodies and charities like the Royal National Institute of the Blind, the duty (known as the Disability Equality Duty, or DED) is a great step forward. From your perspective it may have had little impact. But if you are involved in IT procurement, you should know about it.

The Disability Rights Commission (DRC) publishes a code of practice ( http://www.drc-gb.org/thelaw/publicsectordutycodes.asp ) that offers practical guidance about the DED to public authorities. One of the examples given by the code reads as follows: "A government department that is planning to procure a new IT system should ensure that its action plan includes the work it will do to ensure that the new system is suitable for use by disabled employees. The action plan should also indicate the way it will develop the specification so that the system delivers the right products for disabled customers. This might include having a means of identifying those customers and their requirements, which could lead to being able to, for example, print notifications and letters in accessible formats for visually impaired people."

The RNIB's legal team receives a large number of complaints about citizens' interaction with government. Sometimes 'The System' cannot produce the information in a format that the service user can actually read. Sometimes it can, but there is no way to indicate that an alternative format is required, so print is sent out every single time, and the recipient then has to go back and request the format he or she actually needs. Every single time.

The most effective time to address this issue is during procurement, as the DRC's code of practice suggests, but what if there is no accessible option on offer by suppliers? This is a situation that arose about six years ago with a software system called CareFirst, a system designed to help local authorities run their social services.

In 1999, Glasgow City Council was beginning to implement CareFirst in its social services department, and all was going well. The system met all the council's business requirements, it made data collection and reporting much more efficient, and seemed sure to improve services to clients. But there was a problem - CareFirst was not accessible, and Glasgow employed quite a number of blind people who would need to use the system, as well as serving many residents who as service users would need accessible output.

Glasgow contacted quite a few other CareFirst customers, and found they had the same problem. Together with RNIB, they approached the software developer OLM Group ( http://www.olmgroup.com/ ), and explained what was needed. With considerable effort, OLM, RNIB and the users fixed the immediate problems by redesigning some of the software's interfaces and configuring them for speech output.

So far so good, but the truth is a one-off fix is never going to change an inaccessible product to an accessible one. The real trouble was that OLM didn't really see the point of putting a lot of effort into accessibility, which they perceived as being peripheral to their main business objectives.

"During the initial testing and configuration to get the system working effectively it became apparent that this was going to be a long term task and that the costs could potentially be significant," says Brian Paterson of Glasgow City Council. "We also realised that other users were all at different levels of knowledge, understanding and development. It therefore made sense to look at a consortium approach."

The CareFirst Access Consortium was duly formed in 2002, comprised of CareFirst customers from local authorities around the UK. Membership fees contributed to the campaign and to supporting end users, as well as setting up an accessible web site ( http://www.cfaccess.org.uk/ ).

Realising that numerous customers throughout the UK felt that accessibility was an issue that needed to be addressed, OLM started to appreciate the benefits of an accessible product to all users, not just to those few using speech output.

The process needed more time than consortium members initially anticipated - it has taken six years from that initial contact - but when OLM recently announced the latest version of CareFirst, the consortium was able to endorse it as a fully accessible product, making it a major success story.

The software has now changed to a browser-delivered application, usability is vastly improved (not only for disabled people but for all its users), and it has cost OLM no more to develop into an accessible version than it would to have made it inaccessible. The consortium's work is done, and it will shortly be disbanded.

Together, the consortium's members have learned a lot about how to make software accessible, and not just the technical stuff. We learned that a lot of very small steps forward can lead to tremendous outcomes, given time. We learned about the power of collaboration, uniting many disparate interests behind a common objective.

We learned there can be benefits for suppliers in compliance as well: with awareness of the DED rising, OLM may well be asking procurers whether their competitors' products are compliant with the provisions of the DDA.

But perhaps the most important lesson of all is that suppliers listen hardest to customers, not to well-meaning representatives of user communities like RNIB. Money talks louder than discussion about the benefits of accessibility.

NOTE: Ruth Loebl is Senior ICT Development Officer at the RNIB ( http://www.rnib.org.uk/technology ).

[Section Four ends].

++End Notes.



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Please send comments on coverage or leads to Dan Jellinek at: dan@headstar.com .

Copyright 2006 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
  • Technical advisor - Nick Apostolidis
  • Editorial advisor - Kevin Carey.

ISSN 1476-6337 .

[Issue ends].