+++E-Access Bulletin - Issue 84, December 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 '07 Date Announcement.


We are pleased to announce the date of e-Access '07, the UK's leading annual event on access to technologies by people with all disabilities, hosted by E-Access Bulletin. It will be held earlier than usual next year, on 2 May 2007 in Central London.

More information about e-Access '07 will be announced shortly, but please hold the date in your diary if you intend to come along!

As ever, sponsorship and exhibitor opportunities will also be available at the event. If you are interested in these please contact Claire Clinton at claire@headstar.com .

[Special Notice ends].

Section One: News.

+01: Windows 'Vista' Offers Enhanced Accessibility.

The new version of Microsoft's Windows operating system, 'Vista', offers enhanced access features including an improved screen magnifier, a basic screen reader and the capability to allow users to customise settings according to their needs.

The 'Ease of access center' ( http://www.microsoft.com/enable/training/windowsvista/eoa.aspx ), contains a set of 'recommended settings,' pages whose function it is to assess the level of the user's disability and make appropriate changes

Users are asked to tick boxes next to statements such as: 'I am blind,' 'Lighting conditions make it difficult to see a monitor' or 'Images and text on a TV are hard to see' in short questionnaires grouped by impairment.

The 'center' is available from the desktop, in a move to make access features easier to discover, Director of the Accessible Technology Group, Rob Sinclair told E-Access Bulletin at a Vista accessibility briefing in Brussels last week. User feedback revealed many users simply did not know access features existed in the previous version of the operating system.

The software giant has also shed the wheelchair logo that was previously used to open accessibility features available in the 'control panel' menu of its predecessor Windows XP. According to Sinclair, not everybody identified themselves with the symbol; particularly those with a temporary disability.

Improvements have also been made to the system's screen magnifier which now enlarges on-screen content by up to 16 times; and to Narrator, a basic screen reader with a new natural-sounding speech engine called Anna. The team aims to further improve these features said Sinclair.

The Vista operating system was launched to businesses last week and released on the retail market at the end of January 2007.

+02: E-Petition For Accessible Websites On Prime Minister'S Site.

An e-petition has gone live on the '10 Downing Street,' the British Prime Minister's website aiming to persuade Tony Blair to ensure government complies with basic web accessibility requirements from when they are launched.

One of 892 e-petitions ( http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/govaccessibility/ ), it reads: "We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to ensure that any website launched by the government complies with accessibility standards (WCAG AA at least)."

The open petitions initiative, which went live last month, from non- profit e-democracy organisation MySociety, allows the British public to start and sign any petition on a range of topics online.

The petitioner, web designer and member of the Guild of Accessible Web Designers (GAWDS) Ian Fenn published the plea after discovering the website of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) failed to meet basic accessibility standards despite the department's claims that it reached level AAA according to the Web Accessibility Initiative's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, following a 200,000 pound re-vamp last June.

The last attempt by Clackmannanshire Council web manager Dan Champion and Web Standards Project's Accessibility Task Force member Bruce Lawson to gain information from the DTI using Freedom of Information Law on why the lack of accessibility remained was refused on the grounds that it would take too long and cost too much money to answer, Champion told E-Access Bulletin.

"However, the new site was launched failing even basic accessibility guidelines, hence failing to meet the DTI's own standards and requirements as specified in official documentation," said Jon Gibbins of Fifth November web design

A DTI spokesperson said the website reaches AAA level of WCAG for its templates and checking and improving accessibility was an ongoing process. The petition deadline is 21 February 2007.

The plea has so far been signed by 198 people at the time of writing, whose names can be viewed online - meaning it has received less signatures than a petition for the Prime Minister to stand on his head and juggle ice-cream.

+03: Bbc Iplayer Team To Begin User Testing.

A prototype of the 'iPlayer', a new online multimedia content player developed by the BBC, is to be tested next month by 100 people with disabilities.

The iPlayer will allow UK viewers and listeners to stream audio and video content over the internet including all TV programmes broadcast on BBC TV - and later BBC radio programmes, for up to seven days after an initial broadcast. The service will include audio description where it is already included in programmes

The iPlayer project, which began in 2003, includes the 'display settings project' that develops the ability to customise content such as fonts size, adjust on-screen colour contrast, the spacing between letters and words and the ability to make content linear for ease of navigation by screen reader users.

Gareth Ford Williams, Senior Content Producer, Accessibility at BBC New Media said the iPlayer could create a template for a "completely accessible interface" that could be applied to other BBC online features and websites. "The long term plan is to get it site-wide," said Ford Williams. "You could log on from any PC and the settings will migrate with you."

Before the external user group begins testing the service, BBC staff with a vision impairment are also set to test the iPlayer and provide the development team with feedback. In future, Ford Williams said the BBC New Media accessibility team will also weave in feedback from users via the BBC's Web 2.0 blog and through the existing user groups.

"Access is being built in from the bottom up," says Paul Crichton, director of web analytics consultants net-progress ( http://www.net-progress.co.uk/ ) and author of the BBC's Web 2.0 blog. "The plan at this stage is to make it completely malleable. The degree of customisation sounds exciting. So if you missed the audio description version of Torchwood on BBC2 this week, log on to the iPlayer site and eventually you'll be able to watch it, audio description and all," said Crichton. The iPlayer will be released in April 2007, although Ford Williams said "In the first two years it will go through many releases. What we put out in the first release is not the finished article."

+04: United Stand:

News in Brief:

Access to information and communication technologies by people with a disability was the theme of the United Nations' international day of persons with disabilities on 4 December. To mark the event, the UN held a conference on e-accessibility; held the first meeting of the Global Initiative for Inclusive Technologies; and launched a "Global Audit of Web Accessibility," commissioned from UK consultancy Nomensa: http://fastlink.headstar.com/un4 .

+05: Netgem No More:

The Netgem i-Player set top box for receiving accessible, audio described programmes via audible on-screen menus has been discontinued. The company that produced the device, Netgem, says it will not know until the new year what replacement device may be made available, if any. Some models are still available from the online 'BT shop' although these would need to be upgraded by Netgem to receive audio description: http://www.netgem.com/EN/index.php .

+06: Nice Type:

An easy-to-read font aimed at low vision technology users for use by designers and manufacturers of any equipment with keys such as telephones, cash machines, computer keyboards, kitchen appliances and medical equipment has been released by accessibility organisation Tiresias. The font, Tiresias Keyfont V2, can be freely downloaded from: http://www.tiresias.org/fonts/keyfont.htm .

[Section One ends].

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


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

+07: Subsidy Question:

Roger Wilson-Hinds writes in response to a feature by Kevin Carey 'All Change!' published in our September issue, on the UK government's technology grant scheme Access To Work.

"I don't know whether Kevin Carey is unlucky, too patient in putting up with shoddy stuff, or typical of users. The equipment I use is great. I have an ET embosser which is like a workhorse. My low cost software LookOUT and more recently Thunder, crashes perhaps once or twice a month and even then I don't know whether it's the computer itself, other software or the screen reader at fault.

"I have been self-employed since 1992 and am delighted to be able to say that for the past four years I have earned enough to purchase my own equipment which is a great source of personal satisfaction and achievement.

"As far as unemployed people are concerned, I have become evangelical in promoting the freeware model: there should be and is a screen reader which is free for home personal use and chargeable to organisations on an annual subscription basis. Much better this way, I think, than hoping for cooperation from the charities, government and access suppliers.

"My experience is that there is good technology about and sometimes this is overpriced and oversold. Access To Work is highly desirable, but the very existence of such a subsidy only pushes the prices higher, leaving unemployed, unfunded or inarticulate people further behind and unable to pay. [further responses to inbox@headstar.com].

+08: Guidance Clarity:

Julie Howell Technical Author, PAS 78 and Director of Public Relations at Fortune Cookie web designers ( http://www.fortunecookie.co.uk ) writes in response to a story in the last issue, 'Public Sector Needs Better Guidance On Web Accessibility'.

"The piece makes no mention of key guidance that was published early in 2006," writes Julie. "I am referring to Publicly Available Specification 78: Guide to Good practice in Commissioning Accessible Websites (PAS 78), commissioned by the Disability Rights Commission and published by the British Standards Institution. RNIB was the Technical Author and the document was redrafted by a steering group that included: Abilitynet, the Cabinet Office, IBM, Tesco.com, University College London and the Usability Professionals Association. It was then reviewed by 120 industry experts and interested parties including representatives from Adobe, the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) and disabled people ourselves.

"PAS 78 contains detailed guidance on the process for developing accessible websites, and includes information on the role of automated testing tools, WAI guidelines and other web standards, and advice on when and how to involve disabled people in user testing your website. It is available free from: http://www.drc-gb.org/pas .

"I hope that everyone who cares about the inclusion of disabled people in public life will read PAS 78 and recommend it to everyone in the public sector who has responsibility for government websites. It would be tragic to overlook this document - the DRC invested public money in its production and I truly believe that it contains much valuable information that complements the WAI guidelines."

[Further responses to inbox@headstar.com].

+09: Training Tips:

Jonathan White from Crewe in Cheshire, UK writes in response to a note from Claire Cheskin in the last bulletin on her difficulty accessing European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) training materials. "Royal National College for the Blind have produced training materials for ECDL, plus other courses, for use with Jaws version 7.1 and Supernova version 7.0," he says.

Julia Cosgrove adds: "I worked for the National Health Service and, four years ago, it was suggested I should do one of the college courses. Instead of doing this on my own, they referred me to North Tyneside College where, they have facilities for those who use screen readers, large print, etc.

In class, you are provided with your own personal assistant who reads you the questions. If you get stuck, the tutor is asked to help and the IT people there were helpful. As well as the ones in the normal help files of Word and Excel, JAWS also has its own range of keyboard shortcuts which can be found in help files. It has been three years since I did the course and I rather think Jaws will have improved quite a lot.

"I did all the modules within the year as we were tested after each module and this was placed in a book which was sent to the examining board at the end of the year. Powerpoint was, of course, the most difficult but my personal assistant and class tutor were very helpful and they even let me have extra lessons before the end of the summer term.

"I would advise Claire Cheskin to ask her employers to get in touch with a local college and see if they have the right facilities for her. Also, she should make sure they have an up-to-date version of JAWS." [Further responses to inbox@headstar.com].

+10: Sound Clash: David Bates, from Dudley in the UK writes:

"I recently visited a website to check some technical figures. The homepage was fine, but on clicking the required link I was met with a blast of music. Having recently lost most of my sight I use a programme, which reads out the text on the screen with a synthetic voice, which on this site was completely obliterated by the music. I waited for the music to finish so that I could listen to the text but, you've guessed it, the music was continuous.

"Does this trend mean that I will eventually be barred from all websites, or will I be allowed a 'no sound or video' option as the first link on the homepage? People who lose their sight can use a screen reader, just so long as website developers don't drive them away with a compulsory soundtrack." [Responses to inbox@headstar.com].

[Inbox ends].

++Section Three - Focus Windows Vista.


+11: 'Vista' Changes The Image Of Accessibility. By Mel Poluck

'Vista', the new version of Microsoft Windows available to businesses from last week and released to the public at the end of January, includes a range of new accessibility features. And interestingly, two of the most noticeable differences in its accessibility offerings compared with Windows XP are simple changes in terminology and imagery.

Microsoft's accessibility team has eliminated a couple of accessibility stalwarts: the old wheelchair symbol usually found in the 'control panel' option under settings' in the 'start' menu and the well- established term 'accessibility' has been ditched altogether.

"People had to click on a wheelchair. People don't identify with that," Rob Sinclair, Director of the Accessibility Team at Microsoft, told E- Access Bulletin. So unobvious were the access were access features in XP that, worryingly, when Sinclair demonstrated them, "people got excited because they think they're brand new," he said.

In its place, there is a set of short questionnaires allowing users to "let the system know" about their personal access needs, enabling the system to tailor its interfaces accordingly. The 'Ease of access center' has a set of 'recommended settings,' pages whose function it is to assess the level of the user's disability and make appropriate changes.

The first set of questions relates to vision impairment and asks user to tick boxes next statements like: 'I am blind,' 'Lighting conditions make it difficult to see a monitor' and 'Images and text on a TV are hard to see.' Other question pages relate to cognitive, hearing, and mobility impairments.

"I'm curious because it's our first attempt at asking questions of the customer and recommending settings." But he is cautious not to give the impression this is the be-all and end-all of the operating system's accessibility. "We see this first 'Ease of access center' as a baby step," said Sinclair.

Importantly, this feature is available from the desktop, so users may now find themselves more easily stumbling upon accessibility features whether they want to or not. And, juxtaposed against the previous situation, this becomes an important point, because according to Sinclair, based on customer feedback on previous Windows versions, XP and 2003, users often simply did not know accessibility features existed. Consequently, while the software giant's marketing team has decided to shed one piece of terminology, accessibility, they have coined a new one to help drive their strategy: 'discoverability.'

The 'Ease of access centre' is also the gateway to a set of new access features including a speech recognition feature, carried over from its predecessor XP, 'Narrator.' The screen reader has an updated, natural- sounding voice, 'Anna,' designed to read Vista operating system screen content only. Sinclair said this could not yet replace added-on assistive software. "We've focused on building a foundation," he said.

For the first time in its history, Microsoft invited the collaboration of assistive technology vendors during the development phase, which lasted around five years. Last February for example, some 25 assistive technology vendors including Freedom Scientific, Dolphin and GW Micro, came to Microsoft headquarters in Redmond where they wrote code alongside staff allowing the smaller companies to build compatible products. "Many left with a product running on Vista," said Sinclair. In turn, this allowed Vista accessibility developers to garner valuable feedback about the operating system. "We sent them a preliminary version of Vista and they built their product on that. In the past we'd ship Windows then assistive technology vendors would spend time getting their products ready," said Sinclair.

Another change is improvements to the built-in screen magnifier with the capacity to enlarge text to 16 times its original size. "The way the screen reader draws the screen is completely reinvented for Vista. It offers high quality magnification without jagged edges," he said. "It was harder than we imagined."

He added that with more time and people the team could have further improved the magnifier, but Sinclair doesn't see the development phase as over yet. "The infrastructure is in place to do more interesting things," Sinclair told E-Access Bulletin. "We still have a long way to go. Vista is the first step down a new path."

[Section three ends].

++Sponsored Notice - Becta consultation. - 'Reasonable adjustments' for educational software. http://industry.becta.org.uk/display.cfm?resID=25444 . Becta has launched a consultation process to seek your views on the 'reasonable adjustment' to be expected in future educational software and electronic materials for pupils with special educational needs or disabilities. This is an important milestone in the progress toward an inclusive and accessible curriculum. We have produced draft guidelines and invite your comments and contributions regarding the criteria for 'reasonable adjustment,' available from the Becta community pages: http://communities.becta.org.uk/digitalresources/reasonableadjustment/ The site also offers the opportunity to participate in open debate on this issue, which will continue after the consultation. The consultation period is open until 12 December, after which the guidelines will be revised and made available on the Becta website in February 2007.


[Sponsored notice ends].

++Section Four - Focus - Web 2.0.


+12: Leaving The Sensible Shoes At The Door By Kevin Carey.

We are already on the leading edge of what is somewhat pretentiously called Web 2.0, or "The Social Media". By the end of this year there will be: 100 million blogs and the number is said to be doubling every six months; 120 million YouTube downloads per day; and 130 million members of MySpace.

Meanwhile, back in the world where the one-eyed man is king, we are still wringing our hands or sitting on the edge of our seats in anticipation of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.

I can understand why we have concentrated on accessing and processing data but as far back as the writer and futurist Alvin Toffler's book The Third Wave of 1980, it was clear that to consume would never be enough; that to survive we had to become both producers and consumers - "Prosumers" he called them.

The nostrum of Mr Micawber, the Charles Dickens' character from David Copperfield - "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure 19 pounds 19 and six, result happiness. Annual income 20 pounds, annual expenditure 20 pounds ought and six, result misery' - was not peculiar to the Victorians, nor even to the analogue age!

In addition to the economics of creativity over consumption, there is the dimension of pleasure; it is rewarding to be able to contribute.

So what is the sector supposed to do? First, recognise the problem. Both employees and those who are too old to work - the majority of vision impaired people - need a balance between consumption and production. A symptom of our problem is the time it has taken for any consciousness in the sector of the importance first of television and then, more recently, of games. The message here is that production is a key concept in the unfolding of the 'Information age'.

Secondly, this initiative to create authoring tools cannot be left to the third sector, academia, business or government alone. We need: government commitment to creativity in general and that of disabled people in particular; academic interest in solution-based, closed-ended research; business interest in solutions which benefit our sector but have wider commercial possibilities; and voluntary sector leadership and seed capital.

Thirdly, the voluntary sector, primarily RNIB, needs to establish a major study into the creativity of blind and visually impaired people, looking at education, work and leisure in the digital age.

A survey of the British Journal of Visual Impairment, and the Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness of the American Foundation of the Blind, shows how far behind academics are. We know precious little about digital creativity in general and know next to nothing about the creative processes of blind and visually impaired people in particular.

The reason why third sector initiative is so important is that business and government are primarily concerned with consumption because this preserves the top-down model of sales and service delivery. The social media have arisen exclusively out of the tie-up between the entrepreneurial and third sectors.

It has to be admitted, however, that the US third sector is more independent and flexible than ours, relying as it does on unconditional tax-concession fuelled philanthropy rather than on project-funding painfully extracted from a grudging public sector.

Our dependence makes us cautious and so the conjunction of third sector and entrepreneurship has been rare. What our third sector needs to do is to float off some of its funding into satellite creativity ventures.

The culture of corporate worthiness - all sensible shoes and safe pairs of hands - is not conducive to the kind of enterprise which involves kids in jeans ordering in pizza at midnight and sleeping next to their computers. Postmodern problems need postmodern solutions.

NOTE: Kevin Carey is director of social digital inclusion charity HumanITy, Vice-Chair of the RNIB and editorial advisor on E-Access Bulletin.

[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].

++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 .

++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
  • Additional reporting - Jude Pope
  • Technical advisor - Nick Apostolidis
  • Editorial advisor - Kevin Carey.

ISSN 1476-6337 .

[Issue ends].