+++E-Access Bulletin.- Issue 74, February 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/ .

++Special Notice: GIS In the Public Sector- An EGB Seminar, 8 March 2006 - Places Limited, Sign Up Today - Royal Institute of British Architects, London.


Accessibility will be among topics to be discussed at E-Government Bulletin's second annual Geographical Information Systems (GIS) conference.

A huge proportion of public sector service data includes an address or location element, and electronic mapping underpins many modern web and intranet services. The event will cover what technologies are out there, how they could improve services and how they could save your organisation money.

Places cost 295 pounds plus VAT for public sector and 395 for private sector delegates, with additional delegates booking at the same time receiving a 100 pounds discount. Places are limited, so sign up today for the public sector GIS event of the year. For more information see: http://www.headstar-events.com/gis .

[Special Notice ends].

++Section One: News.


+01: Stand-Alone Device To Access Audio Content Over The Web.

A stand-alone device that provides access to selected news and entertainment audio web content without the need for high IT skills is planned for a launch later this year by a UK-based assistive technology charity.

The 'SpeakOn', developed by a-technic (http://www.a-technic.net ), will be about the size of a digital TV set-top box, and plug in to a phone socket to play its output through any standard speaker, TV or hi- fi. It will use software developed by a-technic trustee Professor Isaac Porat from the University of Manchester to present choices of content and download it automatically from the internet.

Content offered will include DAISY-formatted books, MP3 music files, internet radio stations, podcasts and other web site content including online newspapers. Users will not need to access web sites directly, making the system well-suited for vision-impaired users without high IT skills.

"You won't realise you're going to a web site," said A-Technic founder and chairman Chris Mairs. "If you select the Guardian web site, under the covers [content] is whizzed off the internet but users won't know that."

The device will be operated by a simple keypad similar to that of a phone. Four raised navigation buttons arranged around a moveable nob will allow users to scroll and select their choice, for example tracks from a music playlist or articles from an online newspaper. Subscription deals are still being sought for music download and audio newspaper content, but once there are in place the device will be released at a price of no more than 500 pounds, Mairs said.

+02: Talking Cash Machines Live Following Successful Trials.

Yorkshire Bank is the first English bank to introduce talking cash machines to its branches, following successful trials of the technology. The new machines will be phased in as older equipment is replaced.

The bank has deployed a talking cashpoint at its new flagship branch in Albion Street, Leeds, following trials at two other branches in Leeds and Hull in July 2005 and trials in Belfast, Northern Ireland and Glasgow, Scotland at sister banks the Northern Bank and Clydesdale Bank respectively. More branches are expected to follow, according to a Yorkshire Bank spokesperson.

Talking ATMs (automated teller machines) enable vision-impaired customers to hear details of their accounts and transactions spoken through a standard set of headphones when plugged into a socket on the front of the machine. To ensure privacy, customers are given the option of switching off the visual screen while carrying out transactions.

For more on previous trials see 'Talking Cashpoint Machines in Small- Scale European Tests', E-Access Bulletin July 2005.

+03: Inaccessible Web Sites 'Could Lose Billions'.

Web site owners stand to lose billions of pounds worth of business if they fail to tackle basic accessibility problems, according to research from technology access charity AbilityNet ( http://fastlink.headstar.com/ability1 ).

The charity surveyed the internet habits of 100 people with disabilities including vision impairment, and found that they tended to go to mainstream web sites for information, shopping, banking and leisure rather than to web sites specifically focused on their disability. The top ten most popular web destinations cited were the BBC, Nationwide building society, Google, eBay, Amazon, the Guardian and Times newspapers, Lastminute.com, Premierleague.com and Yahoo.

A major factor in these choices is greater accessibility of these web sites compared with their rivals, said the report. The survey found that many web sites are inaccessible due to basic design flaws. Typically, the size of text cannot be adjusted, images are not labelled properly, and animations are used extensively

Web site owners who are complacent about these issues risk losing valuable business to their rivals, according to the report's author Robin Christopherson. "These potential internet users represent a spending power in excess of 120 billion pounds. The arguments are compelling. Whether from a moral, legislative or commercial perspective, suppliers of goods, services and information on the internet are ignoring a highly significant market sector at their peril," he said.

+04: Blind Computer Trainer Named Volunteer Of The Year.

A blind volunteer from Somerset in the UK has won a prestigious national award for his work training vision impaired people to use computers, assistive technology and other electronic devices.

David Godly, who is a committee member for the charity Woodspring Association for Blind People (WABP - http://www.wabp.org.uk/ ) in Weston-super-Mare, North Somerset, was one of just five volunteers selected from more than 2,000 volunteer nominees to receive an award, winning in the 'Inspiration' category.

Godly has spent the last four years providing home training for vision- impaired people, many of whom are older or isolated, to help them to install and use specialist technology including screen readers, screen magnifiers and adapted keyboards.

"I'm very concerned about blind people who don't go to work and can't afford these machines," Godly told E-Access Bulletin. "I'm trying to solve this in my own way." As part of his mission, Godly began a scheme whereby he takes second-hand computers, installs free demonstration versions of assistive technology software such as JAWS on them and provides them to vision impaired people in the community for free.

The awards mark the end of the Volunteer of the Year ( http://www.yearofthevolunteer.org ) initiative, which recognised the work of volunteers across England in 2005 and was led by Community Service Volunteers, the Volunteering England Consortium and funded by the Home Office.

++News in Brief:


+05: Raised Standards:

A code of practice on web accessibility is to be published on 8 March by the British Standards Institution. The 'Publicly available specification' (PAS) was commissioned by the Disability Rights Commission and is aimed at web site commissioners and developers. 'PAS 78 - Guide to good practice in commissioning accessible web sites' could become a full British Standard in around two years: http://fastlink.headstar.com/pas1 .

+06: Audio Brainteaser:

An accessible version of the popular mathematical puzzle Sudoku, 'Sudo-San,' has been released by AudioGames.net. 'Mentor' Grandmaster San guides players by speaking the contents of a row, column or square. The game also features optional background sounds and music which change gradually as the player progresses: http://www.audiogames.net/sudosan .

+07: Shining Example:

A web site dedicated to resources relating to Moon - an alphabet of raised symbols allowing vision-impaired people to read by touch - has gone live, offering resources for users and teachers. The site features listings of Moon stockists, advice for teachers and events listings among others and has been launched by a partnership of disability organisations including RNIB and DeafBlind UK: http://www.moonliteracy.co.uk .

[Section One ends].

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


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

+08: Copyright Conundrum:

Tony Dart, Chief Executive of online library The Seeing Ear, ( www.seeingear.org ) writes in response to Rakesh Chand from Fiji, who wrote in the last issue to request the library be opened up to vision-impaired people outside the EU.

"I have had the unenviable task of having to refuse access to a number of people who need this service, because they are outside this geographical boundary," Tony writes. "The reason is simple. I have a licence to publish copyrighted material issued by the UK Copyright Licensing Agency and this forbids me to offer this service outside the EU, even in the US where many of the books are published!

"That is the bad news. There is, however, something that anyone who wants to see the online library in their own country can do. They can write to me with details of the copyright law in their country, or where I can obtain these details. Obviously, I am only interested in the law that applies to vision impaired people and how they can obtain books! I will try my very best to ensure that every print-disabled person can enjoy access to what they want to read, when they want to read it." [further responses to inbox@headstar.com please].

+09: Calling Out:

Ibrahim Gucukoglu writes in response to Stephanie Read's request for accessibility advice on her new mobile phone, the Orange SPV C550 powered by Windows. "To obtain the most accessible software for mobile phones," writes Ibrahim, "the mobile needs to run the Symbian operating system ( http://www.symbian.com ).

[Accessible mobile phone software] TALKS, a popular screen reading application will allow access to virtually all elements on the mobile screen including battery status and signal icons, date and time as well as other more useful functions including text messaging, email and WAP access. Another application is Mobile Accessibility which as well as providing speech, provides an excellent magnification application to enlarge characters on the screen. As I have not used this product myself, I can not vouch for its suitability but I am reliably informed that it is a good alternative to TALKS as it is aimed at the novice to intermediate user. I know of no product that works on Windows-powered mobiles with the exception of Pocket PCs, but that is an entirely different ball game." [Further responses to inbox@headstar.com].

+10: TV Guide:

Roger Petersen, a member of the Information Access Committee of the American Council of the Blind writes: "We are interested in improving the access for blind people in the US to television, including navigation of set-top boxes, TiVos [the digital video recorder] and all sorts of digital TV devices and systems. We would be interested in any guidance that you could provide." [Responses to inbox@headstar.com].

+11: Position Vacant:

A reader writes to ask about sources for job listings for assistive technologists: "I am an access technology specialist in California looking for any resources for employment for access technology specialists, such as job-opening lists, for anywhere in Europe, Canada or the US. I have searched but have been unable to find any such resources, other than an odd job here and there on Monster.com or newspaper classified ads. I was hoping that [readers] may know where organisations go to look for new employees. Any ideas you might have would be greatly appreciated." [Responses to inbox@headstar.com].

+12: Poor Reception:

Giovanni Urso from Naples in Italy writes on the accessibility of two-way radios and receiving devices. "The world of radio amateurs and listeners has always been crowded with blind people, who carry out this hobby with the utmost passion and devotion. Unfortunately their commitment is not always reciprocated by the manufacturers, who have rarely paid attention to the accessibility issues of sight-impaired people.

"With the exception of Kenwood and a few other manufacturers, who created voice-based software for reading the frequency when the two- way radio is being tuned, and apart from the introduction of an automated tuner allowing the amateur to reach any frequency without damaging his or her radio, almost nothing has been done in this field. As a result, it grows more and more difficult to cultivate this interesting hobby. Many highly-developed devices appear every day on the market, full of every kind of menu, but they are almost off-limits for a blind person. Therefore, I believe it is high time to raise our voices, so that the most important manufacturers of these devices pay more attention to this range of customers, who are surely not few. I hope you will welcome my appeal." [Responses to inbox@headstar.com].

NB: Thanks to Margherita Giordano for translating Giovanni's contribution.

[Section Two ends].

++Special Notice: Web Accessibility Forum.


Accessify Forum is a discussion forum devoted to all topics relating to web accessibility. Topics cover everything from 'Beginners' and 'Site building and testing' through to projects such as the new accessibility testing tool WaiZilla and the accessibility of the open source forum software itself.

All you need to register is a working email address, so come along and join in the fun at: http://www.accessifyforum.com .

[Special notice ends].

++Section Three - Focus- Podcasting.


+13: The Future Is Pod-Shapedby Carli Hawes.

'Podcasting' has taken little over a year to become the newest internet revolution. But while the technology may be just entertaining and fun for most computer users, for blind and visually impaired people podcasting could be the most important innovation in communication technology since the invention of screen readers.

'Podcast' was a term coined in 2004 when the technology allowing audio content to be broadcast online, received and stored on mobile devices and computers became commercially popular. The word is derived from a conflation of 'iPod' (the popular MP3 music file player from Apple) with 'broadcast'. However, you do not need an iPod to listen to podcasts, nor is the content broadcast in the traditional sense of the word, which would only allow users to listen to one source at a time at a predetermined time.

In fact, your podcast receiver software or 'podcatcher' allows you to 'subscribe' to as many audio programs as you want, which will be downloaded automatically for you to listen to whenever and wherever you want.

The software needed to download and play podcasts varies in its accessibility to blind computer users. iTunes, the software application from Apple, is hard to navigate, so despite being a free application blind computers users have to purchase a 30 pound piece of additional software available from T and T Consultancy Ltd (http://www.tandt-consultancy.com/itunesscripts.html ) to translate the system into a series of easy to remember keystrokes.

There are a few podcatching systems that have been built specifically for the blind. In the UK Alasdair King has developed a piece of accessible software called WebbIE which allows blind users to download and listen to podcasts or the radio by incorporating their own screen reader or other access solution. "Web pages are often hard to navigate for visually impaired people. WebbIE podcatcher software is much more accessible," said King, "Podcasting is an infant technology - as yet there is no Google directory equivalent, there is no way to make it simpler in the mass market."

Meanwhile in the US Dr Susan Gerhart is working with a team of students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona to produce a podcatcher fully accessible for blind people called @Podder ( http://www.apodder.org/ ). Gerhart's team is also compiling an extensive library of podcasts relating to sight problems and the vision-impaired community. "Since podcasting is only a year old, collectively we should be able to put a well-organised library of audio information drawn from podcasts into the hands of many who need the information and appreciate having a community of similarly interested people," Gerhart says.

The huge new demand for podcasts has already resulted in an abundance of variety shows, news bulletins, comedy shows, religious sermons and political statements being produced every day.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper launched a daily news podcast in December 2005. It currently offers extracts totalling around 20 to 30 minutes in duration. "We don't have plans to read out the whole newspaper, it would take about eight hours and be very hard to navigate," the Telegraph's podcast editor Guy Ruddle told E-Access Bulletin. However the newspaper is eager to improve its services for people with disabilities and has a meeting planned with the RNIB later this month to discuss possible improvements to their current audio service, he said.

As podcasting technology develops, people are finding more and more inventive ways of using it. One eBay seller, Mark O'Neill, has added a podcast link to a selection of his eBay auctions to try and encourage blind computer users to venture onto the site and force the site's developers to improve accessibility. "Many people who surf eBay may have problems with their eyesight. Wouldn't they instead appreciate an audio description of your item, instead of struggling to read your auction text?" O'Neill said.

Producing your own podcast is not as complicated as you might think; the requirements are a high quality microphone and a good understanding of the podcast software you are using. Recording and producing podcasts is a great opportunity for blind people to get their voices heard, says Nick Apostolidis, a blind computer user and technical adviser to E-Access Bulletin. "Podcasting is a lot like being a journalist, you have to do research, find an audience and build a reputation." The technology can support online communities of blind people who can communicate with each other about all manner of issues, he said.

The continued rise of podcasting can only be good news for blind and visually impaired people. And with whispers that ITV is going to start producing audio-only versions of popular TV shows such as the Bill and Coronation Street, the future is looking promising.

[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 - Focus- Turing Lecture.


+14: A Brighter Futureby Mel Poluck

"There are two common themes in developing specialist technology," Chris Mairs told listeners at the annual Turing lecture hosted this month by the Institute of Electrical Engineers and the British Computer Society. "Access for people with a disability will lag behind the mainstream population and secondly, such technology is often commercially unviable."

But Mairs is not easily deterred: he is co-founder of a telecommunications company, Data Connection; founder of assistive technology charity a-technic and winner of the world waterskiing championships with the assistance of the Bat Blaster, a device he developed and now sells through the charity.

The lack of viability of most assistive products is highlighted by the costly and slow development period of the Bat Blaster, and the fact few are manufactured, Mairs said. This results in an expensive product that only the privileged few can afford, a situation all too familiar in the specialist technology sector.

This model for manufacturing assistive technology will not be sustainable, he said. "If we have to build specialist technology we won't reach the 2025 objective," Mairs said. The objective was contained in last year's 2005 Prime Minister's Strategy Unit report, "Increasing the life choices of disabled people" ( http://www.strategy.gov.uk/work_areas/disability/ ), which said: "by 2025, disabled people in Britain should have full opportunities and choices to improve their quality of life and will be . . . included as equal members of society."

The only way this target will ever be hit will be to build in accessibility from the start, Mairs said. "Disability is very diverse. Building in accessibility from day one is practical for all disabilities."

But the need for technology providers to provide new functionality and new trends may be preventing them from incorporating accessibility from the outset. "Manufacturers are reluctant to remove the 'sizzle' to increase accessibility," Mairs said.

Many people with a disability are caught between a rock and a hard place when trying to access computers, mobile phones and other electronic devices. "Either they can't use them at all or they have to use a specialist device, most of which are prohibitively expensive," he said. Often, it is digital interfaces that make them inaccessible. "Devices often exclude people that can't use those interfaces."

To compound the problem, digital interfaces - an on-screen menu for example - have become cheaper to manufacture than traditional button-based designs, Mairs said.

With so many obstacles to accessibility, one wonders where manufacturers wanting to reach wider markets should begin. But according to Mairs, two simple tenets should steer manufacturers in the right direction: "You need appropriate interfaces between function and content and you need affordable technology," he said. In the meantime, Mairs is working on removing other obstacles - the obstacles to making effective text-to-speech, particularly on the web. Any aspect of, say, a web page of no consequence to the vision impaired user should not be read aloud. "Audio [output] shouldn't have the clutter associated with a visual interface," he said.

Mairs and his team are currently developing 'SpeakOn' ( http://www.a-technic.net/speakon.htm ), a low cost computer that aims to solve this conundrum. Designed to deliver only audible content such as podcasts; simplified web pages and electronic books, it will be released later this year (see lead news story, this issue).

While the picture Mairs paints of the current accessibility scene is far from rosy, the future as he sees it is set to be brighter. "The explosion of digital technology can provide enormous gains by creating specialist devices," he told the audience. "The ever-reducing cost of resources, the continuing trend of open multi-modal interfaces (presenting information in more than one way) and improving legislation," he said, are all leading to improved accessibility across the board.

"I believe we are at the watershed of opportunity to affect this 'random walk' with technology," he said.

NOTE: The Turing lecture series is named in honour of Alan Turing, one of the founding fathers of computer science: (http://www.bcs.org/BCS/Awards/Events/TuringLecture/ ).

[Section Four ends].

++Special Notice: Braille Translations.


Braille Translations provides a fast, cost-effective, high quality service of translating any document into Braille. We are able to provide Braille menus, public leaflets and business cards in Braille and help make you compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act. We can translate from large print, audio tape or audio CD.

We can also help with premises accessibility including Braille Tactile Signs for toilets and other doors.

All work is proof-read before dispatch and we are able to provide an express 24-hour service. Please call our offices for an immediate quotation or for further information on Freephone number 08000 190 946; Mobile: 07903 996533; email ghow@brailletranslations.co.uk or see: http://www.brailletranslations.co.uk .

[Special notice ends].

++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].