+++E-Access Bulletin.- Issue 80, August 2006.

Technology news for people with vision impairment ( http://www.headstar.com/eab/ ). Sponsored by: RNIB ( http://www.rnib.org.uk ) BT Age and Disability Unit ( http://www.btplc.com/age_disability/ ) Ford Motor Company ( http://www.ford.co.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-Access '06' - Technology For All.- 14 September 2006 - New Connaught Rooms, London.


'e-Access'06' is the UK's leading annual event on access by people with disabilities to all technologies. The conference and exhibition focuses on how digital technology both enables and prevents people with disabilities to achieve greater independence.

Speakers include Peter White, BBC Disability Affairs Correspondent; Kevin Carey, vice-chair RNIB and Ofcom Content Board Member; and Guido Gybels, Director of New Technologies, RNID. Sponsors include BSkyB, BT, Jadu and Ford.

Places cost 195 pounds for public sector, 295 pounds for private sector and 145 pounds for small charities and not-for-profit organisations (all prices exclude VAT) See: http://www.headstar-events.com/eaccess06/ .

[Special Notice ends].

++Issue 80 Contents.

  1. Section One: News.
  2. 01: Google Research Labs Launches Accessible Search Service - pages ranked according to accessibility rating.
  3. 02: Access To Work Funding Closed To Central Government - funding for disabled employees handed to private sector.
  4. 03: Voice Activation Software Offers 99 Per Cent Accuracy - new version of product for PCs and mobile devices launched.
  5. 04: Free Screen Reader Released Online - Thunder goes on the market, free to individual users.
  6. News in Brief:
  7. 05: Shopping Trip - supermarket sites reviewed;
  8. 06: Cheap Talk - free and discounted; 07:
  9. 07: Sprechen ze English? - free online language courses.
  10. Section Two: 'The Inbox' - Readers' Forum.
  11. 08: Records Straight - British Museum responses; 09: E-Group Debate - continuing discussion on forums' accessibility.
  12. Section Three: Focus - Accessible DVD.
  13. 09: A Victory for Persistent Pestering: Navigating DVDs can be hard work even when they contain audio description but, a prototype product was unveiled at last month's Sight Village conference, that looks set to improve DVD accessibility. Dan Jellinek heard the latest on this and other key developments in audio description.
  14. Section Four: Focus - Accessible Gaming Part One
  15. 10: The Fight for Real World Innovation. Exciting developments are underway in the real and virtual worlds of accessible games development - just as well, according to one expert, who says imagination in the area of audio games has been lacking. Mel Poluck reports.

[Contents ends].

++Sponsored Notice: BT's Age and Disability Unit- Helping People to Communicate.


Communication is at the heart of BT's business, and the aim of BT's Age & Disability (A&D) unit is to increase disabled people's opportunities to communicate with the world around them.

Our research suggests that 23 million adults might be digitally excluded by 2025 if more is not done to encourage their use of the Internet. Our online guide to broadband http://www.btplc.com/age_disability/technology/broadband/guide/ provides our older and disabled customers with a step by step guide to understanding and ordering broadband, specific examples of how broadband may benefit them including case studies, and a number of easy options for ordering BT Broadband.

For more information about BT's Age and Disability work visit http://www.btplc.com/age_disability/ .

[Sponsored Notice ends].

Section One: News.

+01: Google Research Labs Launches Accessible Search Service.

Search engine giant Google has launched a service that prioritises its search results according to the accessibility of web pages it finds. In addition to standard search criteria, Google Accessible Search ( http://labs.google.com/accessible/ ) is designed to rank pages according to how much graphic content they contain and how easy they are to navigate using keystrokes only.

According to project leader TV Raman, of Google's research labs, Accessible Search is the first step in the company's strategy to make online content more easily available to people with disabilities. "The launch of Google Accessible search is a positive step towards our overall goal of making the world's information accessible and we're very excited about it," he told E-Access Bulletin.

According to Raman, work on Google Accessible Search is far from finished. "This is an early stage Labs product, and we are planning to enrich our features and functionality based on user feedback," he said. Future developments will include versions tailored to different countries, available in new languages. "Our goal is to provide a more useful and accessible web search for the future and as part of this commitment we'll continue to refine and improve upon Accessible Search in many ways including eventually making it available in other languages and countries," he said.

"In the past, visually challenged and blind Google users have often waded through a lot of inaccessible websites and pages to find the information they want or need. While we still have a lot of work to do, Accessible Search is an important step and I hope it improves web search accessibility for other people like me who are blind or visually impaired," he said.

Interestingly, entering the search terms "search engine" produces results that rank Google below one of its main competitors MSN, suggesting that the company may need to improve the accessibility of its own web pages.

+02: Access To Work Funding Closed To Central Government.

Disability groups have reacted with dismay to news that Access to Work funding is to be cut for all central government departments. The funding, which has been available since 1994, pays cash sums to employers for modifications or specialist equipment needed by disabled people in the workplace.

"We're very concerned about this, it doesn't augur well for the future," a spokesperson for the Disability Rights Commission (DRC - http://www.drc-gb.org/ ) told E-Access Bulletin. According to the DRC, payments under the Access to Work scheme have already stopped at the Department for Work and Pensions, the central government body responsible for administering the scheme, and other departments will follow suit.

According to DRC, the cuts will make it more difficult for central government departments meet their own commitments for employing people with disabilities. "They are already miserably off-target," said the spokesperson. In addition, the cuts come at a time of government reforms to the incapacity benefits system aiming to encourage recipients back into work. "Our position is that if this is achieved by punishment, penalties and sanctions, without the support disabled people need it would be brutalism of the worst sort," said the DRC.

According to DWP, the Access to Work funding previously made available to central government will now be paid to private sector employers. However, according to the DRC, the government's efforts to raise awareness of the funding have been poor. "It's been one of the best kept secrets of central government," said the spokesperson. According to a report presented to Parliament in October 2005, three- quarters of British employers have never heard of the scheme ( http://fastlink.headstar.com/mem1 ).

+03: Voice Activation Software Offers 99 Per Cent Accuracy

A new product from voice technology developer Nuance, Dragon Naturally Speaking 9, offers unprecedented levels of voice control over PCs and handheld devices.

The product ( http://fastlink.headstar.com/dragon1 ), which removes the need for keystrokes and mouse movements, is claimed by Nuance to be 20 per cent more accurate than the product it replaces, taking accuracy levels to around 99 per cent.

Naturally Speaking 9 can also process voice input at speeds up to 160 words per minute, which means that it is faster and more precise than typing. Nuance also claims that enhancements to the software eliminate the need for lengthy training to respond properly to the user's voice. The new release integrates with Microsoft Office, Outlook and Internet Explorer, as well as Corel and WordPerfect products. Naturally Speaking is also compatible with popular open source-based products such as Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird. The product also supports wireless technology, being compatible with Nuance-approved Bluetooth headsets. "It's a tremendous product, there's nothing else like it," Brian Hartgen of TandT Consultancy told E-Access Bulletin.

+04: Free Screen Reader Released Online.

A free screen reader has been launched at Sight Village, the annual vision impairment conference dedicated to blindness issues in Birmingham, UK.

The software, called Thunder, which provides all on-screen content as 'spoken' audio output, can be downloaded from Screenreader.net ( http://www.screenreader.net ), a new, non-profit, community interest company (CIC) from Choice Technology. Thunder was developed in partnership with international assistive technology UK company Sensory Software ( http://www.sensorysoftware.com/ ).

The screen reader is free to individual users, although organisations must pay a yearly subscription according to their size. Users will need a computer running Windows 2000, XP or Vista as well as speakers or headphones. "It will meet most of the needs of many blind users whether beginners or seasoned operators," Roger Wilson-Hinds, co- director of Screenreader.net, told E-Access Bulletin. "Apart from being free to blind home users, there is far less chance of conflict with other software running on a computer. This has very positive support implications and is great for family users" Other screen readers on the market include the widely-used 'JAWS for Windows' from US company Freedom Scientific, which costs 800 pounds and Window Eyes from GW Micro, also in the US, which costs 380 pounds. Another free screen reader 'Orca' is currently under development as the default screen reader of Ubuntu, an operating system based on the Linux open source platform.

"We support anything that will give visually impaired people more access to technology at a lower cost," RNIB's Head of Products and Publications John Godber, in response to the launch.

++News in Brief:


+05: Shopping Trip:

The Tesco website is the only supermarket site to exceed minimum accessibility requirements according to the 'State of the e-nation' report from AbilityNet. The research used manual and automated checks to review accessibility and usability. Morrisons was found to be the second most accessible although visitors cannot buy directly from the site: http://fastlink.headstar.com/an1 .

+06: Cheap Talk:

Some 300 talking glucose meters are to be made available to vision impaired Diabetics on low incomes following a Diabetes UK campaign about the high cost of the device. The price of the Sensocard Plus Meter, which measures blood glucose levels, has been lowered from 150 to 50 pounds and is available from Diabetes UK, among others: http://fastlink.headstar.com/diab1 .

+07: Sprechen ze English?:

Free online English and German language courses aimed at vision impaired learners have gone live. Intermediate and advanced courses are offered to native speakers of Czech, English, German, Norwegian, Slovak and Spanish. The courses aim to enhance employment opportunities. The courses have been designed to work on both open source and proprietary browsers: http://eurochance.brailcom.org/ .

[Section One ends].

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


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

+08: Records Straight:

Matthew Cock of the New Media Unit at the British Museum writes in response to a story published in the last issue, 'British Museum Launches Audio Described Online Collections.' Matthew writes: "I would like to set a few things straight about the two features we've launched. We've added one new tour with Audio Description of 20 objects to COMPASS (www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk/compass), not a series of tours, as your article stated.

"The article says '. . . some people reported the galleries' audio programmes to be lacking in detail.' We're not aware of any problems or comments on the content of the tours and we're not clear what you mean by the 'galleries' audio programmes. We've offered a web-based service for the Museum's web visitors, not at this stage part of any wider programme in the British Museum or sector.

"The article also states 'There are links on each web page containing an mp3 sound file of a description of a specific object which can be downloaded onto portable mp3 players.' This is in fact the primary way that we have offered the audio files. Visitors to the site can listen to the audio through their web browser, or download the file for future use on their mp3 players.

"Regarding the text-to-speech facility, Readspeaker, which we've launched on children's COMPASS (www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk/childrenscompass), is aimed mainly at children with reading difficulties, and not, as you say in your article, visually impaired. We've been very careful not to claim this as a facility primarily aimed at improving access for blind and partially sighted users, as we have been advised that Readspeaker, is not an adequate substitute for screen readers or magnification software.

"I'm sorry to say audio is not yet available on any of the public access terminals inside the Museum, though this is of course highly desirable, and something we're working on offering in the future." [further responses to inbox@headstar.com]

Gustaw Kon from Germany also writes in response to the British Museum story: "It is good that your sponsors got their advert. Their product is pricey and only suitable for organisations.

"No mention was made of the URL of the British Museum audio description site. Kind of useless really! [You could] just give the web address and let all those interested log on and make their own decisions and comments. Simple, don't you think? Cheap too, dare I say obvious?

[Editor's Note: Readspeaker are not currently sponsors of any of our activities, and the decision to cover the story was made independently by our editorial team. The omission of the web address was regrettable, however, and an oversight: we always intend to list all relevant web addresses in our stories. So apologies for that.] [further responses to inbox@headstar.com]

+09: E-Group Debate:

The debate on accessible e-groups continues. Deborah Hart of Women in London's Microyster computer group writes: "I was so astonished to see [Rich Caloggero's] reply to the enquiry you posted for me. Anyone who has used Yahoo will know that to configure a group you have to access the options via the web. Not only does this take you through the hideous process of creating a Yahoo identity - Google groups at least have an accessible alternative to the captcha graphic they use - but then all the other options of whether the group is to be private, how emails are to be delivered, etc, have to be set up via the web. This is also true for individual subscribers who may want to only receive emails as a digest.

"This is very disheartening. Despite the millions of pounds going into voluntary sector ICT via the Change Up scheme, very few practical day-to-day working solutions are likely to result, just more websites, and second tier groups giving theoretical advice.

I suspect a Mailman [the free software for managing electronic mail discussion and e-newsletter lists] type list would be easier to administer, but this type of service is usually out of the league of small self help groups. I was hoping to hear of a system that would allow a group of women with disabilities to be independent of 'help'. [further responses to inbox@headstar.com].

On the same topic and in response to Rich Caloggero's contribution on e-groups last issue, Kim Walker writes: "I am a freelance computer adviser assisting charities for the disabled in Edinburgh, Scotland. A chat group for some disabled people is required and Yahoo groups may be the answer but, although it is good to see that [their] Captcha is not a problem, is the Yahoo groups' site W3C Web Accessibility Initiative approved? Is it truly accessible to people using screen readers, switch access, on-screen keyboards or keyboards only, for example? If not, could you recommend any Bobby approved sites that would qualify, which are not barred by the Captcha problem? [further responses to inbox@headstar.com].

[Inbox ends].

++Section Three: Focus- Accessible DVD.


+10: A Victory For Persistent Pestering.By Dan Jellinek.

The menus on DVD disks are hard enough to navigate for sighted people, with jumbles of animated images often overlaid with confusing text menus leading to different episode or scene selections, and other disk features.

For blind people, however, finding one's way around a disk is all but impossible, even if the disk features an audio description track which allows them to enjoy and understand the film itself. The problem is, how does the user know how to access the audio description track, or how to choose an episode, or even know which disk is which?

At last month's annual Sight Village conference in Birmingham ( http://www.qac.ac.uk/sightvillage ), for which E-Access Bulletin was the main media partner, a prototype talking DVD disk was unveiled by the RNIB aimed at tackling these problems.

Currently in development in partnership with the BBC, which has implemented it on its new Doctor Who DVDs, the disk automatically starts with audio navigation, and then you use up and down arrows to access spoken commands such as Episode Selection, Play All or Special Features. Other functions reveal how many options there are, and give an overview of the disk's entire contents.

"For the first time, absolutely everything on the disk's menus can be accessed through sound," Joan Greening of the RNIB told delegates.

The Dr Who disks talk as soon as you put them into an ordinary mainstream DVD player. "It says 'Series 1, Disk 3', or whatever, so it is immediately clear which one it is out of a potential jumble of disks. How often have you dropped the lot on the floor?" Greening said, to sympathetic murmurs from the audience.

Greening says the RNIB would like this prototype development work to lead to an industry standard for audio navigation, but it would be a de facto standard rather than a formal technical standard with the RNIB as its guardian. "We just want it to be out there."

As well as audio navigation, which was needed on all disks, as many films as possible needed to be audio described, she said. The whole Doctor Who series is audio-described, following talks with the RNIB, as are around 150 films, most of which are listed on the RNIB website at: http://www.rnib.org.uk/dvd

Audio description is now part of the mainstream product for these DVDs, something for which the RNIB and other campaigners had been pressing for years, Greening said. "It will normally say on the back of the box if it is audio described".

Notable recent victories for Greening's own long-term, dogged campaigning work for RNIB have been pledges from Buena Vista and Warner Brothers to audio describe all future films, she says. Part of the problem faced has been identifying the right person to lobby in each film company, she says, as most do not have anyone tasked specifically with improving the accessibility of their output. But her persistence has paid off. "I'm like a dog with a bone, I don't give up, and I can pull in people to support us like people from the UK Film Council.

"Without RNIB there would be no audio description in this country, it would not be in the cinemas, it would not be on DVDs. If you ever go to broadcasting meetings, there is never anyone there representing blind people unless we are there. But we're there now at Ofcom and other meetings. Now we're leading the world in audio description.

Also on display in Birmingham this year was the Digital Media Centre from Portset Systems, the first receiver and player for TV, radio and teletext purpose-built for blind people ( http://www.portset.co.uk/pdmc.htm ).

The Portset device is the size of a largeish set-top box, and automatically tunes in to receive all Freeview TV channels, radio and teletext and output all signals as audio only. No TV screen is needed, although the device can have a picture signal routed through it to a TV set and tune in to a different channel at the same time.

A series of large, colourful buttons of different shapes laid out in logical clusters allows users to navigate channels and access an electronic programme guide that includes current and future programme start, finish and running times, plus descriptions of what is on now and what is on next. A teach mode helps users learn keypad functions and layouts.

The device receives digital radio, although it does not convert the text information stream broadcast with digital radio into an audio stream. It can record radio or TV onto an internal hard drive with a programmable timer setting, although it does not connect to a computer. It can play CDs and an upgrade to the system allows it to play DVDs, although it cannot record to DVD.

At a cost of 859 pounds, it is not cheap, so it remains to be seen how many users will opt for specialist systems such as this now rather than wait to see if cheaper mainstream technologies are made more accessible and usable through innovations like the DVD audio navigation being developed by the RNIB and the BBC.

[Section three ends].

++Section Two - FocusAccessible Gaming Part One


+00: The Fight For Real World Innovationby Mel Poluck.

"There are too few examples of game accessibility," Richard van Tol told E-Access Bulletin at last month's annual game developers conference Develop held this year in Brighton, England and hosted by Independent Game Developers Association ( IGDA - http://www.igda.org/ ).

There are around 200 audio games - those that use only sound to guide players - in existence today. Many are based on traditional board games such as Monopoly with sound added to represent players moving squares, picking a card and so on. But the majority are "boring and behind the times," according to van Tol, of the Bartiméus Accessibility Foundation ( http://fastlink.headstar.com/bart1 ) in the Netherlands, and a member of IGDA's game accessibility special interest group (GA SIG - http://www.igda.org/accessibility/ ).

"If you compare games from five years ago to now, there's hardly any increase in quality," said van Tol. He said the audio quality of many accessible games is basic, with some even sounding akin to alarm clocks. "That's what we're trying to change with the SIG," he said. Van Tol said many of the most innovative and exciting examples of accessible or audio games are to be found in the form of research and development projects of University students and this must change.

The GA SIG has among it's objectives: ". . . to help bridge the knowledge gap about how to increase the accessibility of mainstream games that exists between disability groups and game developers and game developers and publishers." In closing or at least narrowing this chasm, the group acts as an intermediary between disabled gamers and the mainstream game development industry, and informs companies creating accessible games will ultimately increase their market.

The group also notifies companies when they unwittingly create accessible games, a not uncommon occurrence according to van Tol. Video or arcade games are good examples. "Many are automatically accessible but the developers don't know that," said van Tol. "The genre of 'beat-em-up' games is really accessible," he told E-Access Bulletin. Last year the GA SIG told the company behind one popular mainstream games console their efforts to add extra features such as adjustable font size, considered "cool" and perhaps even gimmicky to sighted players, were in fact making their games accessible to vision impaired gamers and consequently opening their market.

Now, in the bid to lift flagging innovation and encourage the development of more imaginative accessible games, the GA SIG has invited some of the world's largest technology companies to submit games accessible to the widest possible audience for a worldwide contest, 'Accessibility idol.' Contestants will demonstrate their accessible game in a 'show' in the style of the popular TV singing contest Pop Idol at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco next March. The GA SIG team are seeking judges and disabled 'coaches' to advise contestants as their game develops.

Another competition from game remake company Retro Remakes ( http://www.retroremakes.com/comp2006/ ) calls on contestants to create: 'good remakes of good games that anyone can play, regardless of their ability.'

And games programmers and writers are invited to submit entries for a contest for a contest from free online computer software resource Donation Coder ( http://fastlink.headstar.com/agame1 ), based in the US. Entrant submit their games in two categories: audio- only or 'switch' games, where the only input is a single button, such as the spacebar, for people with mobility impairments.

But there are new signs emerging of innovative accessible games development. One of the most exciting examples is a location-based game for vision impaired and sighted players that uses satellite navigation system Global Positioning System (GPS) and 3D sound to guide vision impaired players to move around a large physical area such as a field or large room as they play. A shooting game, the player is equipped with a backpack containing a laptop, headphones, a GPS module, a head tracker and a modified joystick. The development team, comprising seven students under the Bartiméus Accessibility Foundation, are presently seeking funding to release the game, Demor, on the market. ( http://www.demor.nl/ ).

But to improve the accessibility overall of games, and to begin to make imaginative, exciting games the norm, van Tol calls on gamers themselves to make a noise. "I've noticed especially on [blind gamers' online magazine] Audessey, many gamers want to make themselves heard. The blind community is active but only within its own silo," said van Tol. "We need a community of disabled gamers to stand up and talk to the industry and make themselves heard more."

[Section Four 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].

++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 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].