+++E-Access Bulletin.- Issue 73, January 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: Flexible Working in the Public Sector- An E-Government Bulletin Seminar - 31 January 2006, Central London http://www.headstar-events.com/flexible/ .


Flexible working is a vital topic for the public sector. A recent Office of Government Commerce report found that: "Flexibility has become the byword. The need for efficiency gains [has] led to new approaches . . . people, information and communication technology and workspace need to complement each other so overall flexibility can be achieved."

The authors of this report, Professor Virginia Gibson and Rachael Luck, are our keynote speakers, joining a strong line-up of case studies and expert analysis and advice. Places cost 295 pounds plus VAT for public sector and 395 for private sector delegates. See: http://www.headstar-events.com/flexible/

[Special notice ends].

++Section One: News.


+01: Us State To Mandate Open Source Despite Access Fears.

The government of the US state of Massachusetts is pushing through a controversial plan to publish all its official documents in open source formats from January 2007, despite protests that this will make information inaccessible to citizens with disabilities.

The plan, unveiled in September 2005, will require electronic records such as text files, spreadsheets and graphical documents to be published in the OpenDocument format developed by an international consortium called OASIS ( http://fastlink.headstar.com/mass1 ), rather than mainstream proprietary formats such as Microsoft Word. Massachusetts will become the first state to mandate open standards.

The plan caused controversy because most screen-reader vendors have focused their efforts on developing products that are compatible with widely used products, rather than those built on open standards. Campaign groups such as the Disability Policy Consortium have warned that users of screen-readers will find it more difficult to work for the State, or to do business with it ( http://www.dpc-ma.org/opensource/positionstatement.html ).

However despite the protests, Massachusetts acting chief information officer Bethan Pepoli told E-Access Bulletin this week the state would be pressing ahead with its plans. "There is a need to save documents in a manner that enables the viewing of these documents without the reliance of a specific technology," Pepoli said. "We should not have to pay for a proprietary solution and maintain upgrades so that documents can be viewed."

However the plan will take the needs of assistive technology users into account, Pepoli said "We are working with the vendor community to ensure that the appropriate modifications are made to meet these needs. We are also working with the community of persons with disabilities to ensure that we understand all of their needs, develop the appropriate testing process and ensure that this becomes a standard business practice," she said.

Meanwhile the OASIS consortium behind the OpenDocument standard has set up an accessibility sub-committee to review the accessibility of the standard, although this group has yet to meet or carry out any work (see http://fastlink.headstar.com/mass2 ).

+02: 'Talking Bus Stops' Go Live In Scotland.

Trials of a pioneering new system providing spoken information at bus stops about bus arrival times have gone live this month in Scotland.

The three-month pilot will allow vision-impaired bus passengers to use Brailled buttons to listen to information from the Intelligent Bus Information System (IBIS - http://www.spt.co.uk/bus/ibis.html ). The units have been installed at 12 bus stops across the Strathclyde region, having received funding from the Scottish Executive.

Bus times are updated from the headquarters of Strathclyde Passenger Transport (STP - http://www.spt.co.uk/ ), the organisation behind the scheme, and sent to units using wireless technology - General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) - and mobile phone technology from UK transport information provider Tandata. It is thought to be the first time that GPRS technology has been used in this way. However, although audio information can be accessed on the next five buses due at each stop, complete bus timetables are only available on-screen for sighted passengers.

STP information and support officer Lindsay Mathie told E-Access Bulletin there was plenty of scope to develop the new system. "This is a base system and lots can be added. It's not the end product, we want people's feedback. We see the costs and the units getting smaller," she said.

In future, Mathie said STP may install hardware in the units that would allow passengers carrying a receptive fob that, on connection with a unit, would provide audible directions to IBIS bus stops.

In tandem with the project, directions to each of the bus stops from key locations have been published on the location description service Describe Online ( http://www.describe-online.com/glasgow/ibis/index.html ).

A similar scheme using special handheld devices to trigger spoken bus information is already being used at 70 bus-stops in Bristol. See 'Tickets Please', E-Access Bulletin issue 67, July 2005: http://www.e-accessibility.com/archive.html .

+03: Situation 'Critical' For Talking Newspaper Service.

The financial position of Talking Newspapers UK, the UK's main talking newspaper service for the blind, is now "critical," according to the charity's chief executive.

TNAUK ( http://www.tnauk.org.uk/ ), which records newspapers and magazines onto accessible formats for people with vision and motor impairments, including CD, DAISY, audio tape and email needs 200,000 pounds to continue its work through the year.

The organisation's chief executive Tim McDonald said mass public donation to the Asian Tsunami disaster last year had drained away 20 per cent of TNAUK's income. "The situation could become very precarious if the decline in income continues," he said.

TNAUK currently has 9,000 subscribers who pay rates in six bands ranging from 24 to 96 pounds a year depending on the number of publications received. "We can't charge more because it prices people out and the last thing we want is to exclude people that can't afford it," McDonald said.

TNAUK produces weekly spoken digests of most national newspapers as well as specialist magazines including Classic Buses and Astronomy Now. However, the organisation will be forced to drop some titles due to the lack of funding, McDonald said.

In future, McDonald said TNAUK wants to produce more electronic publications, particularly for mobile devices such as mp3 players. "We can go further but we are stymied by spending too much effort keeping things going."

+04: Mobile Software Makes Emails And Word Documents Speak.

Downloadable software that can read emails and Word documents aloud from mobile devices has been launched by the Irish company Magnetic Time ( http://www.magnetictime.com/ ).

The 'MT1' - which has not been developed specifically for vision- impaired users - can be installed onto Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs), some mobile phones and mp3 players, at a cost of 23 pounds. It is compatible with email programmes Outlook and Outlook Express and operating systems Windows 2000 and Windows XP. However, while it can read emails aloud, including 'from,' 'to' and 'subject' lines, it is unable to read symbols or web addresses.

The company is set to release a version of MT1 compatible with Apple Macintosh computers, the 'MT Mac' and will translate the tool into several languages including French, Belgium Dutch and Swedish.

++News in Brief:


+05: News Conversion:

Readers are invited to test a 'TENbot' tool to convert online newsfeeds in Really Simple Syndication (RSS) format to the Text Email Newletter (TEN) standard developed by E-Access Bulletin publishers Headstar. The TEN Standard allows easy navigation for screen reader and print impaired users. TENbot, aimed primarily at web site owners, has been designed by David Burke of UK technology firm Daden: http://www.daden.co.uk/tenbot .

+06: Poetic License:

Sound recordings of a wide range of English language poems read by their authors have been compiled into an archive by a charity co-founded by UK Poet Laureate Andrew Motion. The Poetry Online Archive contains recordings from as early as 1932: http://www.poetryarchive.org/ .

+07: Talking Back:

'Dolphin Producer' software that allows students with print impairments and teachers to create DAISY digital talking book content, and allows Microsoft Word documents to be converted into speech, has been launched by Dolphin Education: http://www.dolphinuk.co.uk/education/News/producer_released.htm .

[Section One ends].

++Special Notice: Email Management '06Best Practice and Compliance in the Public Sector 12 April 2006, CBI Conference Centre, London http://www.headstar-events.com/email/


With concerns about information law compliance and an urgent need to maximise efficiency and productivity, public sector organisations need to develop better strategies to manage their ever-growing email mountains.

Email Management '06 will provide a focus for sharing best practice. Compare email retention and retrieval policies with your peers; formulate policies for good HR practice and to improve productive time; minimise the risks of virus infiltration, email abuse and security breaches; plan requirements for infrastructure and storage solutions; realise the knowledge management benefits from handling email effectively; and much more. Attendance costs 295 pounds + VAT for public sector and 495 for private sector. See: http://www.headstar-events.com/email/

And for information on how to sponsor this event, email Laura O'Neil on laura@headstar-events.com .

[Special Notice ends].

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


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

+08: Broad Palette:

Andrew Lewis of the libraries department at Windsor and Maidenhead council in the UK writes with further advice for John Starbuck of Wakefield council who was seeking information on colour blindness for web designers. "I have used this web based tool: http://www.vischeck.com/vischeck/vischeckImage.php to check images for visibility for colour-blind people," writes Andrew. "It does give some idea of potentially surprising issues, and may be useful to help designers to reflect upon them." [Further responses to inbox@headstar.com]

+09: Members Only:

Rakesh Chand, a customer service representative at the Westpac Banking Corporation in Suva, Fiji writes in response to Tony Darts's request for readers to test the new online library 'The Seeing Ear' ( http://www.seeingear.org ). This free resource is currently only open to residents of the European Union.

"I must congratulate the team for such a wonderful resource. I would like to humbly request that the service should be open to any vision- impaired person regardless of what country he or she is living in. Please don't just tie it to the UK or the EU. In many developing countries, visually impaired people hardly have access to any books." [Further responses please to inbox@headstar.com]

+10: Talking Shop:

Roy Drever who works in IT for the UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs writes to ask whether readers know of a database of "talking" gadgets. "I read in the RNIB's 'Shop window Christmas guide,' November 2005, an article called 'The 10 best talking gadgets,' [taken] from the Independent newspaper.

"The list did include two Cobolt products (http://www.cobolt.co.uk ) but I am certain there are more than 10 talking consumer gadgets out there apart from those sold by the RNIB and Cobolt. Does anyone know of a maintained database containing a list of all talking gadgets? 'Talking' should not be the only criteria as there are gadgets that are moderately accessible owing to 'beep' feedback, for example the Panasonic SD253 bread maker.

"Such a database could be useful in persuading manufacturers of the competitive and ergonomic advantages of enhanced accessibility in product design. Even when manufacturers have included enhanced accessibility they fail to promote it effectively in their marketing strategy." [Responses please to inbox@headstar.com]

+11: Mobility Aid: Stephanie Read writes:

"I have recently upgraded my mobile phone to an Orange SPV C550 Windows phone, which is made by Microsoft with Orange. I am blind and need a screen reader and I was wondering if anyone could give advice on a good text-to- speech system that will enable me to do most things on my phone, including if possible going on the net." [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 - Focus- Audio Description in Sport.


+12: A Level Playing Field?By Carli Hawes.

"Part of going to a football game is coming out and being able to debate what you've just seen."

Most sports fans would view this statement - from an Arsenal fan - as unremarkable. But for people with impaired sight - and this fan also happens to be blind - understanding a live event to the extent of being able to discuss it later is a pleasure they are often denied.

At many sports grounds this is beginning to change with the introduction of audio description technology - portable high frequency radio receiver packs which link to a live, specially-broadcast commentary. The receivers are issued on request to people with sight problems to allow them to follow the action as it unfolds. These small, lightweight packs can be clipped to a belt, and users can bring their own headphones.

In autumn 2005 the RNIB launched a pilot project called 'Soccer Sight' which aims to improve audio description services at sporting events by providing seven football league clubs - Brighton and Hove Albion, Bristol City, Cardiff City, Doncaster Rovers, Halifax Town, Huddersfield Town and Swansea City - with up-to-date audio description technology and training for new and existing commentators.

"Soccer Sight is looking at access in its broadest sense," RNIB Recreation Manager Eleanor Ellison told E-Access Bulletin. "We are working with clubs to look at ticketing, access for guide dogs, improvement of signage and audio programmes as well as playing opportunities for young blind people."

According to the BBC Radio Four programme 'In Touch', around 60 per cent of the 134 league football clubs in the UK provide some kind of audio description services to their vision-impaired fans, although this can range from specialist modern systems to simply recommending a local radio service. The Soccer Sight project aims to raise the standard of audio description nationwide to the highest possible level.

The system used in the RNIB pilots is called Radio Audio Description (RAD), manufactured by Access Audio (http://www.accessaudio.co.uk ). The company's managing director Douglas Telford says good audio commentary is like "painting a picture with words." However he says many venues fail to offer a proper service by trying to adapt other technologies to broadcast the commentary.

"They are normally adapted from other uses such as tour guide systems, and not designed specifically for audio description," he says. "Systems like these have been known to fail in bad weather, and infrared audio systems are redundant if the signal becomes blocked by anything from a waving banner to a pillar."

Sports venues are often helped in their accessibility work by relevant supporters groups such as the National Association of Disabled Supporters (NADS - http://www.nads.org.uk ) and the Visually Impaired Supporters Association (VISA).

Wayne Busbridge of VISA - the blind fan whose statement opens this article - says where clubs take appropriate action, they can transform the experience of blind supporters. However, blind supporters need to enjoy the same opportunities as everyone else, he says, and if it is denied them they may be forced to look at the options for legal action.

"[Audio description] gives me the same opportunities and information as the other fans," Busbridge says. "But clubs have a duty to provide a service to everywhere in the stadium. If the quality of audio services does not improve it will get to the stage where disabled supporters will be left with no choice but to sue individual clubs and sporting associations on violations of the Disability Discrimination Act."

One potential barrier to progress is that clubs tend to think of themselves as individual businesses, rather than a collective group, and sporting associations such as the world soccer body FIFA and the European body UEFA appear not to be taking a strong lead in this field. "At present we have very little contact with these organisations", says Access Audio's Douglas Telford. "Their attitude seems to be that we should contact the clubs directly."

The situation does seem set to improve in the next few years, however, with some high-profile projects in development. The new Wembley stadium, due to open this year, will provide 100 per cent wireless audio coverage for disabled fans, and the RNIB is campaigning for audio description to be installed at all venues for the 2012 Olympics in London.

Other sports are looking to follow suit. Sussex County Cricket Club already offers audio description from Access Audio and the RNIB are in talks with Middlesex Cricket Club and Surrey Cricket Club to provide a full audio service at their Oval and Lords grounds. A few rugby clubs are also introducing audio description: in rugby union, Cardiff recommends local radio commentary while in rugby league, Wakefield Wildcats and Wigan Warriors are cited by the RNIB as providing some form of audio assistance.

And it is not just the live match, but the attendant paraphernalia of sports fandom that is gradually being made accessible to all. Arsenal Football Club is already using E-Com Communications (http://www.e-comcommunications.co.uk ) to create audio CD versions of its matchday programmes, those treasured lifelong souvenirs for the dedicated fan. E-Com is now in discussion with the All England Tennis Club about providing the same service for Wimbledon programmes.

In future, technologies such as these could allow blind sports fans to feel the same buzz as everyone else: the feeling of being part of a vibrant live atmosphere without being hampered by delays in understanding what is happening on the field of play.

[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 - Techshare Conference Report- Multiple Disability Services.


+13: Stimulation And Responseby Derek Parkinson.

In many cases of impaired vision, the nature and extent of the problem can be identified in a fairly straightforward matter, for example through tests by an ophthalmologist. But when the person is a young child with multiple disabilities, it is not such a simple matter, delegates heard at November's Techshare 2005 conference hosted by the RNIB ( http://fastlink.headstar.com/mdvi1 ).

Many tests for vision problems assume that the patient has basic communication skills, or at least responds to stimuli in a way that helps medical professionals arrive at a diagnosis. But for a significant proportion of cases of children with multiple disabilities, neither of these assumptions can be made, Kay Wrench of Oldham Local Education Authority told delegates.

This can create difficulties when trying to distinguish between children who receive little or no visual information, and those that have problems understanding it. "There can be vision impairment due to a problem with the eyes, or cerebral vision impairment, where the eyes are functioning properly, but there is a problem with interpreting visual information," she said.

In Wrench's experience computer-based teaching aids can help distinguish between these two types of problem, and help develop a child's visual and motor skills where cerebral impairment is a factor. Typically, teaching aids will include line drawings of different shapes and objects, often highly coloured, and sometimes accompanied by another stimulus, such as a sound. "We tend to work with extreme stimuli: strong contrasts between light and dark, bright colours. Effects like flashing and glittering can work well too," said Wrench.

Initially, the teacher simply aims to produce a response from the child. "You look for a change in behaviour. It could be as simple as the child lifting its head up. By experimenting with the stimulation you can try to find things that they enjoy," said Wrench. If this is successful, there are opportunities to experiment with recognition of two-dimensional shapes. "We've had a lot of success with simple things like black and white line drawings," she said.

Further along, these materials can be used in animations, simple stories and games. Such graphics can also be printed out on stickers and cards for offline activities, reinforcing what is learned through a personal computer (PC), she said. "Refining visual skills can be extremely valuable. A child may struggle to interpret all the detail in an image or object, but can still learn to respond to the presence or absence of something," she said.

As well as supporting offline activities, computer graphics can be used to teach a child how to interact with PCs in a simple way. Often this requires a large, easy-to-use switch, or a tracker ball or roller ball as an input device. A child can be taught how to use these by introducing them to simple games and scenarios that prompt them to intervene at some point, with the possibility of gaining a reward.

A particular strength of computer-based aids is that they don't become weary of repetition, said Wrench. "A computer can give a child a reward for an activity that would be quite tedious for a teacher to reproduce," she said. The combination of simple inputs, strong stimuli and tireless repetition make PCs a very useful teaching aid, she said. "Kids will do things with PCs that they won't do any other way."

[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].