+++E-Access Bulletin- Issue 83, November 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/ .

++Sponsored Notice: BT Age and Disability Action Team- BT recognised for serving the needs of people with disabilities.


The BT Age and Disability Action team's approach to accessibility has been recognised by the Southampton Centre for Independent Living in their annual Disabled People's Business in the Community Award.

The team beat off stiff competition to scoop the award in the Disability Equality Achievement for Services and Utilities category, recognising BT's long standing commitment to serving the needs of people with disabilities including the recent introduction of product information in British Sign Language.

Accepting the award for BT, David Barrett said "It's great to be recognised in this way and this award will certainly inspire the team to continue striving for more widespread inclusion of people with disabilities".

[Sponsored Notice ends].

Section One: News.

+01: Boost For Fans Of Bestselling Fiction.

The best-selling writer and Children's Laureate Jacqueline Wilson has become the first UK author to release accessible versions of a new book at the same time as its standard print version.

Large print, audio, Braille and DAISY digital talking book editions of 'Starring Tracy Beaker' appeared last month alongside the mainstream version. Earlier this year, Wilson became the first author to ask her publisher to add accessibility as a clause to her publishing contract, and has committed to ensuring all her future books are accessible to her vision impaired fans (see E-Access Bulletin, issue 75, March 2006).

Meanwhile the National Library for the Blind (NLB) has announced it has received a donation of 10,290 pounds from the organisers of the Man Booker Prize to create Braille, large print and DAISY formats of the novel that won this year's prize and the five other shortlisted books.

This is the third year that Man Booker Prize short listed novels have been produced in Braille and large print but the first time they have been produced in DAISY format.

This year, publishers were required to supply text files of the shortlisted books and all of them have done so. This speeds up the production process.

Currently only 4.4 per cent of books are translated into formats that visually impaired people can use, and conversion often takes months or even years, according to the NLB.

The RNIB and NLB are among 20 organisations which in 2002 formed a 'Right to Read Alliance', calling for people with sight impairment to be able to access the same books at the same time and the same price as everyone else.

+02: Experts To Provide Remote Help For Computer Users.

A low cost service to remotely evaluate the computing needs of disabled people is to be launched this week by AbilityNet, the UK computing charity for people with a disability.

Aimed at users in the home, workplace, college, school or rehabilitation unit, the 'Barrier-free assessment service' will enable users to be assessed by a trained consultant wherever they are located to establish which adjustments or assistive technologies are needed.

Once users have completed an online assessment form to gather background information about them, assessors make the necessary changes to the user's computer, using 'GoToAssist' remote desktop support from technology company Citrix. This allows assessors to download screen reader and magnifier demonstration software onto clients' computers from their own.

AbilityNet assessors plan to talk to users over the 'voice over IP' (VoIP) telephony service Skype and a webcam will be loaned to users so assessors can spot any physical access problems in their work station set-up. AbilityNet has a small stock of equipment to lend to clients so they can "try before they buy" any assistive devices or software.

"It's about what can you do to improve the accessibility of your work station without spending much money," David Banes, AbilityNet's Director of Operations told E-Access Bulletin. "The biggest barrier we face is cost."

The scheme aims to eliminate the need for users to travel to an AbilityNet centre, saving time and money, although the initiative does not replace AbilityNet's existing in-centre assessments. According to Banes, these can be "expensive to the point of insupportable," particularly where consultants need to visit people in remote areas such as the UK's small islands in Scotland, he told E-Access Bulletin.

The programme, which follows a year-long pilot in Scotland funded initially by the Big Lottery Fund, will be launched at an event at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster on 22 November.

+03: Public Sector Needs Improved Guidance On Web Accessibility.

A group of leaders in the field of accessibility, including representation from the government's, Central Office of Information (COI - http://www.coi.gov.uk/ ) are to call on the public sector to rethink policy and guidelines on accessibility of the web to people with a disability.

Some 19 experts from higher education, the private and non-profit sectors and central government, who met this month at the Accessibility Summit II in York, are to call for change in the way web accessibility is advocated particularly in local and central government, education and the museum and cultural sectors.

"What we're trying to do is address what we collectively felt are weaknesses in the way web accessibility is currently, promoted portrayed, supported and implemented in the public sector," said David Sloan, Research Assistant at the School of Computing at the University of Dundee and co-founder of the summit.

Sloan said the meeting unanimously agreed that the globally recognised World Wide Web Consortium's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG - http://www.w3.org/TR/WAI-WEBCONTENT/ ) were inadequate. "This situation [affects] formulation, implementation and monitoring of policy and law relating to accessible online information and services, but it also leaves web authors uncertain about what they can and can't do," Sloan said.

"At the moment the government is following highly specific [WCAG] points: some work, some don't," said Summit delegate Kevin Carey, Vice-Chair of the Royal National Society of the Blind and director of digital inclusion charity HumanITy.

Initially, a manifesto will be published by the end of this year outlining both the shared vision of Summit delegates and how best to implement improvements. The group is soon to reconvene to further discuss how each person can convey these messages to the communities they have most influence over.

NOTE: This story was first published in E-Access Bulletin's sister publication, E-Government Bulletin, issue 226, 13 November 2006.

+04: Bbc Blog On Second Generation Web Accessibility Goes Live.

A blog dedicated to the accessibility of the latest web-based tools and applications, 'web 2.0 technologies,' has been launched by the BBC online disability magazine 'Ouch!'

The blog, 'Access 2.0' ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/access20/ ), focuses on the accessibility of so-called 'Web 2.0' applications, the second generation of internet-based services. These could include "mash-ups" - applications that integrate content in various formats from one or more sources on the web; social networking sites; or wikis - websites that allow visitors to add, remove and edit content.

"We are all asked to be more than spectators on the web now, we're becoming participants. But if these websites are excluding sections of society then that's a real problem," said blog author Paul Crichton.

The blog site invites the public to comment on issues relating to Web 2.0 accessibility and focuses on the ways disabled people currently use the internet. "If we can push readers in the direction of good, accessible websites that help them to participate, that's got to be a good thing. Similarly, anything that can highlight accessibility issues to web 2.0 developers has got to be good," he said.

"Whether Web 2.0 is a revolution or just evolution, there's no doubt that the landscape of the web is changing," he told E-Access Bulletin. "It is still a place to gather information, or buy CDs [but] it's also becoming a place where so much more is going on, from social networking sites like MySpace, to Video-on-Demand. That's web 2.0 - simple in theory but if such things were made inaccessible it could be quite debilitating," he said.

The Access 2.0 blog will also focus on the latest web accessibility- related developments at the BBC. "I'm independent from the BBC so I'm in a position where I can be critical of what they do as well. In fact, they're encouraging me to do so," said Crichton, who is also a director of web consultancy Net-Progress ( http://www.net-progress.co.uk/ ), and creator of accessible search engine Net Guide ( http://www.net-guide.co.uk ).

++News in Brief:


+05: Universal Vision:

DVDs containing accessible navigation and audio description will go on the mainstream market in the UK on 20 November for the first time in the UK. Three disks containing 13 episodes of Series Two of the popular TV fantasy drama Doctor Who will include audible navigation of scenes, director's commentary and out-takes, as well as audio description of the action: http://fastlink.headstar.com/dvd1 .

+06: Access Course:

Improvement of the accessibility of e-learning programmes and services will be the focus of the Consortium for eLearn Accessibility, established this month by the European Network Visually Impaired Training Education Research. The group is open to all companies and organisations active in e-learning: http://fastlink.headstar.com/elearn2 .

+07: Word Up:

A free, accessible word game based on the popular game Boggle has been released by Spoonbill Software. Players must make as many words as they can from letters on 16 adjacent "cubes" arranged in a grid: http://fastlink.headstar.com/boggle1 . To order the game contact Ian Humphreys, with your full name and country of residence, at: irhumph@omninet.net.au .

[Section One ends].

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


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

+08: Rich Pickings:

Rich Caloggero, adaptive technology consultant at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Adaptive Technology for Information and Computing laboratory ( http://web.mit.edu/atic/ ) writes in to comment on a news in brief story from the last issue of the bulletin, 'Multimedia Initiative.'

We wrote: "The first draft of guidance for website developers to create accessible multimedia content has been released by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI): the Accessible Rich Internet Application suite."

Rich writes: "This is not about multimedia, although it could be. What they have rolled out is a suite of documents meant to be digested and acted upon by developers and others in the business of creating 'Web 2.0' sites. These are sites which [use] modern web browser technology to produce sites which look and feel like desktop graphical user interface (GUI) applications.

These sites are comprised of normal HTML elements such as headings, lists and paragraphs; things which current screen reader technology can handle quite well. However, they also contain custom-made "widgets." Think of these as custom-built form controls. They can act just like things screen readers handle quite well, like check boxes, buttons, or list boxes but because they are custom-built from more basic HTML fragments, the screen reader does not see them for what they are; it sees the elements from which they are built. This prevents screen reader users from interacting with these sites. [Further responses please to: inbox@headstar.com ].

+09: Open Invitation:

Jon Gibbins, who runs UK web design company November Fifth Web Solutions and is a member of the Guild of Accessible Web Designers (GAWDS), writes in response to DPM Weerakkody's request for information about Linux open source screen readers in the Bulletin's September issue: "The Linux Screen Reader project, which was part of [technology company] IBM, is now an open source project, and very active: http://live.gnome.org/LSR . People may be interested in the following list of resources on the open source Assistive Technology Software (OATS) website: http://fastlink.headstar.com/oatsoft - specifically, the section 'screen readers, TTS, speech synth" listed under "specific AT projects.' [Further responses to: inbox@headstar.com]

+10: Testing Times:

Claire Cheskin writes in about her experiences with the computing proficiency accreditation course, the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL). "I am registered blind and I have passed several modules, but have had trouble with others. I have been using LookOUT and Thunder screen readers, and also [screen magnifier] Supernova. I need a magnification of 20x, which is about half a word on the screen, or one toolbar button, which makes navigation difficult. "The problems are mostly concerning the appearance of toolbar buttons and changing colours. I cannot detect subtle variations in colours and am sometimes asked to change the colour to 'teal.' Excel uses click and drag with a mouse, and Powerpoint is a real problem. I downloaded a Powerpoint reader but it [requires] a lot of clicking and dragging to resize.

My employers want me to take the ECDL again but they have never made any real provision - apart from [supplying] large print - or understood my problems. I want to pass these modules. I have already passed the internet and word processing modules. I think the syllabus for people like me should include keyboard shortcuts, not mouse work or [a focus on] appearance. I am getting JAWS soon for work. [Comments to: inbox@headstar.com].

+11: Description Experience:

Steve Cutway, an Information Access Specialist in the IT Services department of Queen's University in Ontario, Canada writes on accessible DVDs: "There are a number of companies doing described video in North America and the quality of their work varies. The best description is done by the Media Access Group at WGBH TV in Boston.

"Quality has a lot to do with financial support and the WGBH Educational Foundation has money we can only dream about. Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) Library for the Blind patrons can enjoy movies from both sources on request free of charge.

"It may interest you to know how one Canadian satellite company, Bell ExpressVu, does [audio description]. I don't know how described TV shows are distributed or produced in the UK but in North America, the Separate Audio Program (SAP) Channel is used. Needless to say, the method of turning on the SAP Channel varies widely among TV and VCR brands with the result that availability of described programming is problematic. This means producers and networks claim there is no support for it, which is far from accurate.

"Bell ExpressVu eliminates the need to worry about turning on the SAP Channel by distributing the described content on a separate channel. So, instead of watching "PBS's Masterpiece Theatre" on the main PBS channel, I watch it on Channel 074 and am able to enjoy the audio description. The service is part of Bell ExpressVu's basic package and when I demonstrate it to subscribers, they're amazed. [Comments to inbox@headstar.com].

[Inbox ends].

++Section Three: Focus- Travel.


+12: Crossing Boundariesby Mel Poluck.

"I strongly believe that blind people do not just have to follow in the wake of the sighted, but that they can indeed be trailblazers," Amar Latif told E-Access Bulletin.

After finding the experience of travelling to many destinations with various organisations restricting and stifling as a blind holidaymaker, Amar Latif decided to set up his own company to provide customised trips for blind and sighted travellers.

While there is a 'buddying' system in place, meaning vision impaired travellers have a sighted guide that changes each day, independence is a key element of the trip. The website says: 'Travellers with Traveleyes ( http://www.traveleyes.co.uk ), are no longer patronized, nor are they placed in the ignominious position of having to plead for 'special case' consideration . . . the visually impaired traveller is no longer required to 'tag along' as either a welcome or tolerated appendage to the peer-group holiday.'

Traveleyes destinations have so far included trips through Berber villages in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco and exploring medieval towns in the Tuscan countryside, learning how to cook regional dishes.

"Accessible travel guides, GPS technology and electronic tactile maps can now open up new horizons which are waiting to be explored by the visually impaired traveller," Latif said.

Technology plays a major role in increasing independence during trips, according to Latif: his company provides personal digital assistants (PDA) with speech technology, an electronic talking tactile map, a Braille compass and the Trekker from Humanware, a navigational device with global positioning system (GPS) that provides accessible street maps from all over the world.

Last year Latif orchestrated the production of the first accessible electronic versions of the popular travel guide series Lonely Planet and plans to make them available for all the company's destinations, "so that people can develop a good level of knowledge before they travel," he said. There are now 15 on the market, including guides to Greece and Andalucia in Spain.

He says the travel guides have so far been "immensely" popular. "Travel guides have not existed before in a format that is so accessible to blind people. They help not only to inform, but also to inspire the traveller and can be read at home or whilst on the move on personal digital assistants (PDAs). Blind and visually impaired people can browse through them faster than sighted people are able to do as they flick through a print copy in the conventional way," he told E-Access Bulletin.

And the guides have proven to be more than just a way of locating the wildest bars and how best to reach the tourist information office. "The travel guides have really helped to maintain a strong and constructive partnership between the blind and the sighted on a Traveleyes holiday. The blind are able to supply the knowledge whilst the sighted can supply the eyes," he said.

In the near future, Latif plans to provide further information on assistive navigational technologies for vision impaired people on the Traveleyes website, set to be re-launched this month, and is soon to announce forthcoming holiday destinations for 2007, to include Cuba and Gran Canaria in the Spanish Canary Islands.

"The blind not only can 'lead the blind,' we can also lead the sighted too and, for that matter, anyone else interested in creating a better, fairer and more universally accessible world."

[Section three ends].

++Section Four: Conference Report- e-Access '06


+13: The Future Of Accessible Bankingby Derek Parkinson.

Access to banking services is a necessity for us all, but new developments in technology could erect more barriers for vision- impaired citizens than they overcome, delegates heard at e-Access '06, ( http://www.headstar-events.com/eaccess06/ ), the conference hosted by Headstar, the publisher of E-Access Bulletin.

In an afternoon breakout session, RNIB chief scientist Dr John Gill, and Will McMeechan, a business developer at Nationwide Building Society, discussed how new technologies will change the way we access banking information and make financial transactions such as moving money between accounts, for example.

Before the rise of online services and mobile phones, there were already accessibility problems with user interfaces such as cashpoint machines, said Gill. Many have different keypad layouts, or vary in the options presented to users. Such differences may be negligible to a sighted user, but can be a major barrier to vision-impaired users, he said.

A concern for vision-impaired people is that in the rush to implement new systems such as "Chip and pin", there is a risk we will miss an opportunity to standardise user interfaces and simply duplicate the problems of the past, said Gill.

Recent developments in wireless products mean that payments, especially for small amounts, will not require users to input a number using a keypad, he said. Smartcards are already used to make small transactions in parts of the UK, and mobile phones with this functionality are almost certain to follow. Adding to the momentum are developments such as Near Field Communication (NFC), a wireless technology that provides high bandwidth over very short distances.

Such services could make life easier for vision-impaired people because they could enable numerous transactions and information requests to be made from a single device. In practice, this could be the mobile phone of a vision-impaired user, removing the difficulties created by unfamiliar keypads, said Gill.

"I expect around 50 per cent of all mobile phones will be enabled in this way by the end of the decade," he said.

Keypads are only one way among many for users to identify themselves, and biometric methods such as matching fingerprints, the iris of the eye, or facial characteristics are likely to pass into mainstream use. None of these are without problems as forms of identification, or as technologies accessible to vision-impaired people, said Gill.

The user interface is only one of the barriers to accessible banking, said Will McMeechan, a business developer at Nationwide Building Society with an interest in accessibility issues. Efforts to make electronic banking services accessible have been patchy and uncoordinated because although meeting the needs of customers is a major priority for the banking industry, there is little consensus about how to tackle accessibility issues in a practical way. "Part of the problem is that current anti-discrimination law is seen as ambiguous," he said.

Banks are almost certainly unaware of the true impact on customers of accessibility problems, he said. "It's difficult to find figures for people who don't use a service because it is not accessible," he said.

Participants agreed that a major flaw in our approach to disability is that accessibility problems with a product or service only come to light after it is launched, rather than before. "Typically, disabled consumers find a problem when a product or service is already out there, by which time it's too late," one delegate said.

However, there are problems with ensuring accessibility is included at the design stage of a product or service, said Gill. "Board members, who are responsible for setting out the direction over the next few years, tend to be the right age range - between 50 and 65 years old - to understand the importance of accessibility," said Gill.

"But the designers tend to be at the opposite end of the demographic spectrum, young, healthy and often unaware of accessibility issues. They are often under pressure to deliver projects on tight timescales too."

"In between is the middle management, who have the power to influence designers, but it is difficult to persuade them of the business case for change if it doesn't deliver results within six months," said Gill.

[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 - Judith Pope
  • Technical advisor - Nick Apostolidis
  • Editorial advisor - Kevin Carey.

ISSN 1476-6337 .

[Issue ends].