+++E-Access Bulletin.- Issue 79, July 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: '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, 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 79 Contents.

  1. Section One: News.
  2. 01: 'Pop Idol' Style Contest Launched To Find Accessible Games - technology companies worldwide invited to submit offering.
  3. 02: MPs Urge 2012 Olympics Venues To Install Audio Description. - Early Day Motion praises venues to have already done so.
  4. 03: Satellite Location Device 'Accurate To Within A Metre.' - Spanish navigation device under development.
  5. 04: British Museum Launches Audio Described Online Collections. - site adds audio feature for adults and children.
  6. News in Brief:
  7. 05: Beta Blog - RNIB launches web log;
  8. 06: Read Me - speaking handheld scanner;
  9. 07: Listen Up - podcast on mp3 players.
  10. Section Two: 'The Inbox' - Readers' Forum.
  11. 08: Any Takers? - access technology giveaway;
  12. 09: E-Group Response - reply about online community accessibility;
  13. 10: Opinion Response - reader's views
  14. 11: Input Wanted - web accessibility check;
  15. 12: 12: Seeking Reader - screen reader wanted.
  16. Section Three: Web Accessibility - User Testing.
  17. 13: Nevermind The Guidelines: A recent survey into the UK 's 'Top 20' council websites found local government still has some way to go before all users can fully interact and access all its online information and services. Stefan Haselwimmer reports on the details of the survey.
  18. Section Four: Research - Web accessibility
  19. 14: Keeping In Context: Full access to the web by people with a vision impairment is still patchy despite the work that has gone into raising awareness and developing testing tools for designers and end users. And while guidelines are important, context must always be a consideration.

[Contents ends].

++Sponsored Notice - U Can Do IT- Computer training for the vision impaired.


U Can Do IT is a charity which provides computer training for blind, deaf and disabled people in their own homes.

The basic course consists of 10 training sessions and includes email, surfing the web, and an introduction to newsgroups and chatrooms.

For more info call or write to: U Can Do IT, Highfield House, 4 Woodafall Street, London SW3 4 DJ Telephone and Minicom: 020 7730 7766. Fax: 020 7730 6822

[Sponsored Notice ends].

Section One: News.

+01: 'Pop Idol' Style Contest Launched To Find Accessible Games.

A major international 'Pop Idol' style competition to find the best accessible computer games is being promoted as part of a range of activities launched this week to raise awareness of the needs of disabled gamers.

'Accessibility Idol', named after the popular TV show, is the brainchild of the US-based International Game Developers Association ( IGDA - http://www.igda.org/ ).

The contest will take the form of a show with finalists presenting their accessible game to an audience at the Game Developers Conference ( http://www.gdconf.com/ ) in San Francisco, US, in March 2007. Some of the world's largest software and gaming companies have been signed up or invited, although the association has not yet publicly confirmed participants' names.

The move follows the launch of two other contests launched this month to find innovative, accessible games: one from Retro Remakes, which redesigns classic video games ( http://www.retroremakes.com/comp2006/ ) and another from US-based free software company Donation Coder ( http://www.donationcoder.com/ ).

And last week, an IGDA special interest group hosted a day-long workshop on accessible gaming held as part of the Develop computer games conference held in Brighton, England (http://www.tandem-events.com/workshops.html#accessibility ). E- Access Bulletin will report in full on this workshop in our next issue.

+02: Mps Urge 2012 Olympics Venues To Install Audio Description.

A group of MPs has called for all sporting venues to install audio description equipment to provide live commentary for blind fans, and in particular to ensure all Olympic venues have this facility ahead of the London games in 2012.

An Early Day Motion laid down in Parliament by the Labour MP Andrew Miller and signed by over 40 other MPs praised managers at Lord's cricket ground in London for going live last week with audio description, and urged all other sports grounds and all Olympic venues to follow suit (http://edmi.parliament.uk/EDMi/EDMDetails.aspx?EDMID=31015 ).

Miller is chair of the Parliamentary IT Committee (PITCOM) and a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Olympic and Paralympic Group. He told E-Access Bulletin: "When designing a sports venue, you need to take into account the needs of people with all disabilities. This is established in the Olympic ideals, a principle we've got to strive towards. Every citizen has the right that you and I have to enjoy the Olympics and support their country". However, he acknowledged grounds faced challenges in installing the equipment, not least from their cost.

Marylebone Cricket Club in London launched its ball-by-ball commentary service at Lord's in association with the RNIB, BBC radio's Test Match Special and BBC London. Commentary is transmitted from the ground's media centre to headsets that can be worn by blind and partially sighted spectators sitting anywhere around the stadium.

Lord's Communications Officer Neil Priscott said: "We know that there are a lot of blind and partially sighted cricket supporters, and it is only right for us to have [these facilities]". Lord's also plays host to the Blind Cricket Final, an annual event for blind players of a specially adapted version of the game.

Audio description is already offered in several other cricket grounds including Old Trafford in Lancashire and the Riverside ground in Durham, though coverage is still far from complete.

+03: Satellite Location Device 'Accurate To Within A Metre.'

A prototype handheld device that uses next-generation satellite technology to locate its holder to within a metre and speak the results into an earpiece has been successfully tested, its Spanish inventors have announced.

The 'MOMO' experiment could pave the way for talking location and route-finding products for vision-impaired people about the size and weight of a portable digital assistant (PDA). The user chooses options from a spoken menu, entering their responses on a keypad.

The prototype has been developed by the Spanish company GMV Sistemas on behalf of the European Space Agency, as part of a programme to explore uses of the next generation European satellite technology known as GALILEO.

To improve the accuracy of spatial information delivered to the user, the MOMO device combines data from two sources: directly from satellites, and also from ground-based computers over the mobile phone network.

According to project leader Sara Gutiérrez-Lanza, the MOMO technology could be developed into a commercial product in around two years.

There are also other possible applications for the underlying technology, she said. "MOMO is designed for pedestrians, but it could also be integrated with public transport systems, such as the timetables shown on information panels in buses and trains," she told E-Access Bulletin.

+04: British Museum Launches Audio Described Online Collections.

The British Museum, one of the world's greatest collections of historical artefacts, has added audio description features to its main online collections for children and adults.

The museum has installed the Readspeaker SayIt tool (http://www.readspeaker.com ) to allow web users to hear descriptions of all 5,000 key objects within its 'COMPASS' and 'children's COMPASS' online collections, from Michelangelo's drawings to the Rosetta stone. The service is also available on terminals inside the museum.

The system, aimed at users with impaired vision or learning difficulties, does not require the user to download any 'plug-in' software for their web browser, though it does require a computer sound card.

Audio description has also been added to a series of virtual tours of the museum, each containing about 20 items from a selected culture, era or subject such as silver statues or works by a particular artist.

The website also lets you change the font, colour and size in the browser settings and features a text only version.

In addition, 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 for use in visits to the museum.

Unfortunately, there is a problem with the audio descriptions. Some people reported the galleries audio programs to be lacking in detail. To try to overcome these problems, the RNIB is sending 12 vision impaired people to 50 different museums and art galleries to investigate any problems faced.

++News in Brief:


+05: Beta Blog:

A trial version of a web log or 'blog' focusing on access to the web, including transcripts and podcasts of interviews between key players from the world of web accessibility; as well as web accessibility news and interviews, has been launched by the RNIB. To visit or post a comment go to: http://www.rnib.org.uk/wacblog/ .

+06: Read Me:

A handheld device aimed at vision impaired users that scans, speaks and stores printed material has gone on the market. The K-NFB can read documents from computers, labels and books, among others and has been developed by Kurzweil Technologies in association with the National Federation of the Blind in the US. Costing 2,625 pounds it is available in the UK from technology company Sight and Sound: http://www.knfbreader.com/ .

+07: Listen Up:

A podcast on the pros and cons for blind users of various brands of mp3 player is now available on Blind Cool Tech, which provides audio downloads on lifestyle and technology issues. The podcast lasts 40 minutes and takes the form of an interview between two experts: http://blindcooltech.xplorations.net/bct795MichaelLangInterview2.mp3 .

[Section One ends].

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


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

+08: Any Takers?:

Diana Monahan, who works with vision impaired pupils in a mainstream school in Huddersfield in the UK, writes in response to the debate on access to technologies in developing countries. "I have kept a 'Eureka' and manuals that we can no longer use in school as it is not compatible with our ICT curriculum, but I felt I couldn't scrap it. Does anyone have a use for it, assuming I can make it spring back to life after all these years? I have also lots of earlier versions of access software that run on Windows 3.1 and Windows 95 and 98. Are they any use to someone in the third world or elsewhere or should I just chuck them?" [Further responses please to inbox@headstar.com].

+09: E-Group Response:

Rich Caloggero writes in response to Deborah Hart from Women in London computer group Microsyster who asked for information on the accessibility of Yahoo e-groups.

"E-Groups are accessible, mostly due to the fact that you can subscribe and unsubscribe directly via email and you don't need a Yahoo account which means you don't need to deal with their inaccessible captcha (anti-spam) tests. If your group is 'cars,' then you can send an email to cars-subscribe@egroups.yahoo.com to subscribe yourself and to cars- unsubscribe@egroups.yahoo.com to unsubscribe yourself." [Further responses please to inbox@headstar.com].

+10: Opinion Response:

Tim Connell, Managing Director of Quantum Technology in New South Wales, Australia writes in response to Kevin Carey's opinion feature in the June issue of the bulletin, which suggested that the answer to true accessibility would only come through improvements made by the larger mainstream technology companies rather than smaller niche providers of accessibility tools.

"Kevin has really got it wrong on his opinion piece regarding the Holy Grail. This attitude is one I describe as WMD (white, male, and developed nation). At a time an estimated 90 per cent of the world's blind don't have access to any technology at all, it is a bit rich (so to speak) to suggest we abandon the small niche technology developers and manufacturers.

"I wholly support the notion of universal design and agree this is a critical issue for the blind community to embrace and champion. However it shouldn't be at the expense of the "Techies working on flimsy budgets with miniscule markets" because we offer the only hope of technology solutions for the marginalised - most blind people in developing nations - and the minorities within a minority, such as the deafblind. To think that universal design is going to cater for all these people in my lifetime or the next is fanciful.

"Kevin has a highly developed understanding of so-called "high" technology and this is the focus of his comments. It is prudent however, to remember the vast majority of blind students in the UK are still embarking on the path to Braille literacy using either a device from 1950 or 1830.

"There are many areas where the features of access technology can be incorporated into mainstream technology, most notably software. Hopefully the blind community can continue to embrace the small, possibly not all profitable or dynamic, businesses that are dedicated to the question of providing access, as well as embrace the notion of universal design. I truly believe we need both." [further responses please to inbox@headstar.com].

+11: Input Wanted:

Information Designer Stuart Spurring from charity the Sensory Trust in the UK wants to see that his organisation's website is accessible for vision impaired visitors. He writes: "Any input from readers would be fantastic. The website is: http://www.sensorytrust.org.uk ." [responses please to inbox@headstar.com].

+12: Seeking Reader:

Dhunjishah H. Bharucha from Atlanta, US writes: "I was looking for a reader for my mother who has Macular Degeneration. It was made by Vis-Ability, and is called the Ultra Reader. It magnifies a page or book, and has the ability to flip pages too. I have attempted to search for it, but am not successful. Have you ever heard of it, or would you recommend a website that I would be able to find more information about it? Thanks in advance." [responses please to inbox@headstar.com].

[Inbox ends].

Section Three: Web Accessibility - User Testing.

+13: Nevermind The Guidelines.By Stefan Haselwimmer.

In the last couple of years central government has put pressure on local authorities to make their websites comply with Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) standards. It is therefore not surprising that councils see accessibility primarily in terms of technical accessibility guidelines.

With the publication of the British Standards Institution's PAS 78 accessibility guidelines (free download at: http://www.drc.org.uk/library/website_accessibility_guidance/pas_78.aspx ), however, it is now important for councils to carry out disabled user testing when evaluating website accessibility, rather than relying purely on technical accessibility guidelines.

Testing your website with disabled people can highlight usability issues that may make your website fundamentally inaccessible to disabled users. Society of IT Management Body 'Socitm Insight,' representing ICT management in local public services, therefore commissioned the Usability Exchange ( http://www.usabilityexchange.com/ ) to carry out systematic disabled user testing on their "Top 20" council websites, to get a sense of how accessible and usable council websites were to real disabled people. Socitm's "Top 20" is a list of the best council websites in the UK, based on the results of annual expert review, Better Connected.

Each of the council websites was tested with a range of disabled users including visually impaired and dyslexic users and individuals with motor impairments. All testers were asked to attempt two tasks on each of the 20 websites: find the council's phone number and report an abandoned vehicle. Each tester recorded the time it took to complete these tasks. They were also asked to note down any accessibility or usability issues that they experienced during each task.

What were the results? The good news was that every tester found the council's phone number in 19 of the 20 council websites tested. In some cases users took an excessive amount of time to complete this task but simple design changes, such as positioning the phone number at the top of the home page, would have solved this problem.

With regard to the 'report an abandoned vehicle' task, the results were rather more disappointing. In only 8 of the 20 websites tested did every user report an abandoned vehicle successfully. The major problems with this task arose from the difficulty of finding the abandoned vehicle reporting system. Users had problems finding the reporting system through the search engine and the A-Z index, or were confused by where the reporting system was located - in some cases under 'Street defects' or 'Streetcare'.

Any efforts that may have been made to make the abandoned vehicle reporting system accessible were of little benefit to disabled users who could not locate the reporting system in the first place.

On both tasks a range of accessibility and usability problems were reported by users, with every council receiving at least three reports of an accessibility or usability problem overall. Most of the problems that were identified were not traditional accessibility problems, such as inaccessible forms or missing 'alt' tags, but usability issues. The accessibility and usability problems that were identified were in general easy to rectify.

The results show that even the best councils still have some way to go to ensure their websites are really easy to use and fully accessible to disabled people. Local councils should therefore carry out user testing with disabled users in order to identify and eliminate any usability issues that could affect these users.

Disabled user testing can transform the concept of accessibility within local councils, from a theoretical concept concerned with technical accessibility guidelines to something much more tangible and compelling - there is nothing more compelling than hearing that a real disabled user is having problems with your website.

NOTE: Stefan Haselwimmer is Managing Director of The Usability Exchange.

[Section Three ends].

++Section Four: Research- Web accessibility


+14: Keeping In Context

Accessibility of the web to end users, regardless of ability or browsing environment, is widely accepted as a fundamental requirement if the web is to reach its true potential as an enabler for the widest possible audience. Indeed, the rights of web users with disabilities are becoming ever more defined in anti-discrimination policy and legislation around the world.

Unfortunately, studies have regularly shown that the accessibility of websites falls short of an acceptable level. This is despite an ever- increasing quantity of work that has gone into developing tools to support web content providers in authoring accessible material and evaluation of the accessibility of content; developing assistive technologies for end users to allow disabled people to overcome or reduce the impact of their impairment when interacting with web content; and disseminating the importance of, and best practices in, accessible web design.

The reasons behind the continuing disappointing levels of web content accessibility have been widely discussed. What seems clear is that, while still a factor, a lack of awareness of the importance of accessibility among web developers and site commissioners is no longer the predominant issue.

A key challenge is effective and appropriate implementation of accessible web design techniques. Other challenges include the perceived complexity and cost of the task of making a website accessible, and also the need to unambiguously define what is actually meant by 'accessible', understand what is required to develop a web site to be considered to have met that definition, and to evaluate it such that once can judge whether it has met the specified level of accessibility. From the disabled web user's perspective, complicating factors include the browsing and assistive technologies available, the user's ability to use these technologies and the difference between the technologies available and those most appropriate for the user's needs.

We argue that while work to optimise the accessibility of the web through the publication and dissemination of a range of guidelines is of great importance, there is also a need for a more holistic approach in maximising the role of the web in enabling disabled people to access information, services and experiences. The persistently disappointingly low levels of usability of web content for disabled people indicates that focusing on the adoption of accessibility guidelines by content authors, tool developers and policy makers is not sufficient for a truly inclusive web. This approach fails to acknowledge the role of the web as an enabler in a broader context and may stifle creative use of web content and experiences to enhance social inclusion.

Designing digital systems to meet the requirements of the people who will be using it is the classic approach to usability. One can group requirements into several categories.

User characteristics are the abilities and disabilities of the target users, including perceptual, cognitive, motor, and linguistic abilities. Domain requirements are the tasks that need to be supported, group, social and cultural dynamics, communication patterns, environmental factors, and so on. Technological requirements include issues such as availability of hardware and software and the availability of plug-ins. Performance requirements specify task success rates, task-completion times, satisfaction ratings, and quality of task output, such as comprehension outcomes in an e-learning environment.

Taken together these categories of requirements are often called the "context of use". Ultimately the stakeholders associated with a particular digital system want that system to be "successful". Success, however, can only be identified and measured if requirements such as these are identified and, ideally, specified. The key measure of a digital system is whether it fits its context of use: whether the people for whom it is designed can use it with acceptable levels of usability, for the tasks that they need to do, in the social setting in which these tasks take place, using the technologies they have available.

We argue that only by taking this approach - by considering the context of use - can meaningful and productive discussions be conducted about the accessibility or usability of a system. Using context of use as a benchmark for success also eliminates the illogical situation in which some commentators reject sites that are usable by disabled people i.e. fit the context of use but do not meet specific Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG - http://www.w3.org/TR/WAI-WEBCONTENT/ ) conformance levels. Appropriate "fit to context of use" should be the goal of developers, with a recognition that guidelines can serve as means to this end, but that conformance to guidelines is not itself the end.

NOTE: This is an edited extract from 'Contextual Web Accessibility - Maximizing the Benefit of Accessibility Guidelines', by Brian Kelly, David Sloan, Andy Heath, Helen Petrie, Fraser Hamilton, and Lawrie Phipps. The full paper is available here: http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/web-focus/papers/w4a-2006/w4a-2006-contextual-accessibility.doc .

[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.


+How to Receive the Bulletin.

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
  • Additional reporting - Yasmin Foster and Grace Geilinger
  • Technical advisor - Nick Apostolidis
  • Editorial advisor - Kevin Carey.

ISSN 1476-6337 .

[Issue ends].