+++E-Access Bulletin.- Issue 81, September 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/ .

++Issue 81 Contents.

  1. Section One: News.
  2. 01: RNIB Addresses Software Accessibility Gap - resource for developers and decision makers goes live.
  3. 02: Win For Campaigners In Massachusetts - government to accommodate users of assistive technology.
  4. 03: Councils To Launch Talkative Robots. - call centre services cut waiting time and keypad navigation.
  5. 04: Path Cleared For Wearable Navigational Device - research team wins funds.
  6. News in Brief:
  7. 05: Moving News - RSS feeds for mobiles;
  8. 06: Support - online radio show petition; 07:
  9. 07: Description Expansion -
  10. 08: more cinemas to have audio description capability; 08:
  11. 09: Price Error - screen readers price correction.
  12. Section Two: 'The Inbox' - Readers' Forum.
  13. 10: Reader Questions - screen reader feedback request; 10: Locked Out - debate on technology in developing countries continues; 11: Reading Linux - compatibility question.
  14. Section Three: Focus - Education.
  15. 11: Lessons Learned In Strathclyde And Malawi. The assistive technology team at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland is working with teachers and lecturers in Malawi to increase access to education for vision impaired students. Derek Parkinson reports.
  16. Section Four: Opinion - Personal Computing
  17. 12: All Change!: Providing working people with subsidised access to assistive technology is a wonderful thing, but technical support and replacements for faulty devices can be inadequate. And we must not forget unemployed people. Kevin Carey argues for alternative approaches.

[Contents ends].

++Sponsored Notice: BT's BSL Guide- Improving Communication for All.


To celebrate the third anniversary of British Sign Language (BSL) BT launched the first ever campaign in BSL to raise awareness of the benefits broadband technology has to offer to deaf people, the first time an internet communications organisation has run a commercial internet campaign in sign language.

High speed internet coupled with the use of web-cams and video streaming allows BSL users to communicate via the internet and break down geographical barriers.

By logging on to: http://fastlink.headstar.com/bt2 , users can access BT's BSL Broadband Guide which was created in partnership with SignPost, Britain's largest supplier of BSL on-screen services for all media platforms.

[Sponsored Notice ends].

Section One: News.

+01: Rnib Addresses Software Accessibility Gap

The RNIB has launched an online resource of advice and information, the first stage in a wider initiative to raise awareness of accessibility issues for software generally, rather than just the technology used for websites.

Aimed at web designers and developers, systems integrators, purchasing professionals and policymakers, the 'Software access centre' ( http://fastlink.headstar.com/rnib7 ) provides information and advice on testing and evaluating software for accessibility, procuring software and information on the relevant legislation in the UK and Europe.

The site will expand to include more examples of good software design and purchasing, tools and techniques including company case studies. The team behind the site also plans to introduce a software accessibility audit service and training courses.

"We needed to get some information and resources into the public domain," Senior ICT Development Officer and site author Ruth Loebl told E-Access Bulletin. She said there is already a glut of resources on web accessibility proved by the high hit rate of RNIB's 'Web access centre' on which the resource was based. "Access barriers in software are just as high," Loebl said.

The resource was launched in response to an assumption the word "accessibility" stands for 'web accessibility according to Loebl. "Web accessibility is generally easier and quicker to fix than software accessibility because software renewal cycles are in the range of five to 10 years compared with website renewal which is more like five to 10 months," she said.

The software centre includes the RNIB's top five recommendations for ensuring software is accessible including: 'get to know the standards and guidelines' and 'try to carry out every task and action without having to use a mouse.'

+02: Win For Campaigners In Massachusetts

Anti-discrimination campaigners in Massachusetts have won important concessions that will ensure electronic documents published by the State government are accessible to users of screen reader technology.

Campaigners attacked government plans to switch its electronic publishing from proprietary software such as the Microsoft Office suite, to software based on the Open Document Format ( ODF - http://fastlink.headstar.com/odf ), the first State in the Union to do so. See E-Access Bulletin Issue 73, January 2006 for more details.

Campaigners protested that many screen readers are built to work with Microsoft products rather than those based on open source software. The move, originally intended for 80,000 desktops by January 2007, has been replaced by a plan that will see official documents published in both formats.

Beginning in January 2007 the State government will deploy plug-in software for its Microsoft products that will enable documents to be saved in ODF as an option. According to the State, the Massachusetts Office on Disability will be among the first wave of government agencies to deploy the plug-in, and the migration is set to be complete by June 2007.

However, an official statement from the government suggests that this is seen as a transition arrangement, and that regular reviews will be made of the software market for products that comply with ODF and are accessible ( http://fastlink.headstar.com/mass3 ).

The Information Technology Division of the State government did not respond to requests for further details from E-Access Bulletin.

+03: Councils To Launch Talkative Robots

By next summer, residents of Camden in London will access information about local services by phoning a council number and holding a normal conversation with interactive voice software, instead of using a phone keypad to navigate through menus, or waiting for an operator to respond.

Users can ask questions as if they were speaking to a human operator, and receive a natural-sounding spoken response. "It should be able to handle quite general queries like 'What's on tonight in Camden?'" said Alasdair Mangham, Camden Council's Head of Business Systems and IT. "It would probably respond with a question like 'Are you interested in cinema or theatre..?' and so on," he said.

According to Mangham, such a system is well-suited to local authorities because of the large number of services they deliver. "Councils deliver around 500 services. You can't have 500 options available through menus and key presses, there's a lot to gain from having an interactive voice technology like this," he said.

The system, put together from a mixture of existing technologies and bespoke components by councils in Camden, Barcelona and Turin ( http://www.bcn.es/hops/ ), also has the potential to respond automatically to a caller in a range of languages. So far it has been tested in Catalan, Spanish, Italian, and English, on two types of service: a guide to local events and entertainment and a service for removing large items such as unwanted furniture.

The next step will be to invite between 60 and 100 Camden residents to test the service, probably in late October or early November. "We hope to have a prototype built by the end of December, and to launch the service in Camden around April next year," said Mangham.

NOTE: This story was originally published in E-Government Bulletin, the sister publication of E-Access Bulletin.

+04: Path Cleared For Wearable Navigational Device

Research on a wearable device that provides a detailed "audio map" of a user's environment, enabling navigation around small obstacles in the street and through buildings, has been boosted by 600,000 dollars funding from the US National Science Foundation.

The System for Wearable Audio Navigation (SWAN), developed by the Georgia Institute of Technology ( http://sonify.psych.gatech.edu/research/swan/index.html ), provides audio "beacons" to help direct the user. As the user nears a destination their tempo increases until a chime sounds to indicate arrival. "Consider a ring around your head, about a meter away, at eye level," assistant professor in Georgia Tech's School of Psychology and College of Computing Bruce Walker. "Sounds seem to be located at any point on the circumference of the ring."

While other navigational devices for vision impaired people have been developed, few allow for indoor navigation. But the development team are to improve the indoors navigation capability of the device following the funding award.

At present, the system consists of a backpack holding a laptop computer, Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) and other sensors, a digital compass, a tracking chip, a head tracker, four cameras, a light sensor and bone-conduction headphones, which convert electric signals into vibrations, sending sound to the internal ear through the cranial bones thus allowing other sounds to permeate.

Work is also underway on reducing the size of the device. "We are relying on more wireless and bluetooth, to eliminate wires and cables," Walker said. "The dream is to make the cameras embedded in a headband," said assistant professor in the Georgia Tech College of Computing Frank Dellaert.

The project team will shortly begin usability testing of the device with sighted and blind participants. In future there are also plans to use the built-in camera for facial recognition to speak the name of the person to the user.

++News in Brief:


+05: Moving News:

A free pilot of a text-to-speech Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feed for mobile phones has been launched allowing vision impaired users to listen to up-to-the-minute sports, weather and news reports and blogs. SpeakFeed by US company DemandVoice, originally designed for trapped commuters, uses internet technology: http://www.demandvoice.com/news/speakfeed.html .

+06: Show Support:

Over 1,200 people have signed an online petition to reverse a decision to axe Ireland's only radio show dedicated to blindness issues. Audioscope, broadcast on Ireland's National RTE Radio One, had been running for 30 years. The National Council for the Blind of Ireland has called on the station's boss to reverse the decision: www.saveaudioscope.com .

+07: Description Expansion:

Some 240 screens at 200 cinemas will use digital projection allowing audio description to be more easily installed in the UK by Spring 2007. Following the rollout of the Digital Screen Network initiative, the overall scheme received 12 million pounds of funding from the National Lottery through the UK Film Council: http://www.creativematch.co.uk/viewNews/?92703 .

+08: Price Error:

In the last issue of the bulletin in story 04 on the launch of a free screen reader, Thunder, we wrote incorrect prices for screen readers Window-Eyes and JAWS. Window-Eyes costs 520 pounds and JAWS costs 655 pounds for operating system Windows XP Home Edition and 785 pounds for Windows XP Professional.

[Section One ends].

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


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

+09: Reader Questions: Don Wessels from South Africa writes:

"The August issue of the bulletin reports on the launch of a free screen reader called Thunder. Is there anyone out there that has tried it? How good is it for surfing the internet? I am still using the rather old JAWS 3.7 which is not very good with the internet." [responses please to inbox@headstar.com]

+10: Locked Out:

Asim Rauf from Islamabad in Pakistan writes in response to Diana Monahan's offer of a 'Eureka' with manuals and a range of access software: "Thanks Ms Monahan for your generosity. The fact is that although we are living in the third world by the standards of developed countries and we have access to all the latest inventions in the field of information technology, the only problem for visually impaired people is that they are not available at our price. I don't think that anyone in these countries is using those programmes you have mentioned in your mail. I have seen that even in England, the adaptive technology is so expensive that an ordinary person can't afford to buy it. The need now is to urge governments to take steps to bring down the prices of these things and to force the manufacturers to sell them on a no-profit basis. In my opinion, the price hike of adaptive technology amounts to inaccessibility.

Asim also asks readers: "Can any one guide me how to scan and read at the same time in Kurzweil?" [responses please to inbox@headstar.com]

+11: Reading Linux:

DPM Weerakkody, Professor of Western Classics and Head of the Department of Classical Languages at the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka writes: "I am writing to find out whether you have information regarding any screen reader with voice synthesis for use with the Red Hat Linux operating system?" [responses please to inbox@headstar.com]

[Inbox ends].

++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, BT, 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].

++Section Three: Focus- Education.


+12: Lessons Learned In Strathclyde And Malawiby Derek Parkinson

As the start of the new academic year approaches, university departments are gearing up for the new intake of students, but for Carol Murphy, an Assistive Technology Adviser at the University of Strathclyde, this summer has been busier than most.

This year, Murphy has been involved in the early stages of setting up a project to improve the accessibility of learning materials for vision impaired students at schools and universities in the African republic of Malawi.

Supported by 180,000 pounds from the Scottish Executive International Development Fund, the 'Making Wonders' project has supplied laptops, assistive technology such as screen readers and magnifiers, training and support to three schools and one teacher training centre in the African country ( http://fastlink.headstar.com/strath1 ).

This first phase of the three-year project involved laying the foundations, installing products such as the Freedom Scientific JAWS screen reader and the Zoomtext magnifier from AI Squared on computers, and training teachers in Malawi to use them effectively. "The training began with switching on the computer," says Murphy. "We taught them to touch-type without looking at a monitor, sometimes using headphones and sometimes with blindfolds," she says.

The teachers were also taught about how the operating systems worked using Sarah Morley's book 'Windows XP Explained' ( http://www.winguide.co.uk/ ), says Murphy. Over the next two years, Murphy and her colleagues will deliver further support for Malawi's teachers as they take their newly acquired skills into the classroom, providing educational opportunities that weren't available before. "Examination papers are available in Braille, but not course materials," says Murphy. Although the government of Malawi has little funding available to spend on technology, it is committed to helping support the training of teachers, she says.

Although there may not be obvious similarities between the education systems of the UK and Malawi, Murphy says that her experiences in Africa will certainly benefit her work in Strathclyde. "I've hardly had a chance to take my notes out of my case and look at them, but they're so comprehensive they will certainly be useful here," she says.

At Strathclyde, Murphy's work involves liaising with assistive technology developers and the IT department to ensure that the University's JAWS and Zoomtext equipment is up-to-date and the licences paid for, helping students use the equipment, and flagging up problems with the accessibility of coursework to academic staff. "Generally they're very good and try to help," she says. "There was one course that involved heavy use of websites, and some were very difficult to use with screen readers. The problems were fixed within days," says Murphy.

Unfortunately, other issues can take longer, she says. Overall, Murphy says that Strathclyde's IT staff, lecturers, and library staff are generally very supportive of her team's efforts. But the process of assessing a student, applying for funding, setting up equipment and training can take months. This can mean that most of the first term has gone before a new student has their assistive technology needs sorted out.

Strathclyde has found ways of minimising the worst effects, says Murphy. "We can loan students equipment until the funding is sorted out," she says. With 10 years work experience in this area, Murphy is well-placed to spot shifts in attitudes in the education sector. "Legislation has helped to focus people's minds," she says. "One of the changes is that dealing with disability is increasingly seen as everyone's responsibility, not just disability advisors."

[Section three ends].

++Section Two: Opinion- Personal computing


+13: All Change!By Kevin Carey

There is no doubt that, in terms of access technology, I am one of the elite: I am a self-employed consultant with a well appointed office where my Index Braille embosser is attached to my PA's computer. I work on a [HumanWare] BrailleNote qwerty version and tend to transfer all my messy files to my PA for editing and routing. The equipment was initially supplied through the Department for Work and Pensions's Access to Work (ATW) programme. It's a fine life.

Except that, in the past two years, since I acquired the new embosser neither the software it came with nor the software I used before work properly. I have had to settle for a situation where every apostrophe and single quote comes out as 'ae' (which makes reading awkward as these letters contract with contiguous characters); and I have to put up with huge slabs of Braille because the translator can't handle hard or soft line breaks. My BrailleNote is wonderful, as are the people who support it, but it hasn't worked properly for the past two years; and, as I write, I have been waiting for a new one for four weeks. I will have to buy this as ATW says the 'Friday afternoon' model that I've got is repairable; well, so is a vintage car!

In the past 10 years my whole system has never gone for more than four months without a fault. I gave up trying to use standard systems with bolt-on accessibility because the incompatibility disputes never got solved; but the turnkey solutions are provided by companies that are too fragile. Incidentally, I have never been able to work out how you stop the Braille display cursor in either kind of system defaulting to the extreme right or disappearing onto the invisible next line; this started when I moved from WordStar to Word on a bolt-on system and persists in the BrailleNote.

All in all then, with my sound basic knowledge of the technology, my accessibility life is quite difficult; so what must it be like for people who are unfamiliar with technology and find it hard to pick up the phone and get some service? And as the kit originally came from ATW, what about people who are not working?

I think it is time that we had a total change. Starting with the ATW programme, but expanding to all vision impaired people, there should be a legislated right to access information based not on grants for purchases of hardware and client side software, but on financial support for hardware leasing and a subscription-based server side service providing applications and storage.

Of course this will only work with broadband and flexibility will require that to be delivered by wireless, for example. But as the policy will take years to implement there is no need for my elite peers to worry about whether they will be able to pick up their emails on Mount Snowdon at three in the morning. Clearly a broadband, server side service will not be totally ubiquitous but anyone who wants something better should pay for it.

What I am proposing would spare us all the problems of incompatibility and the wretched upgrade. It would allow us to use much thinner clients with much less complicated technology and this would facilitate a much faster turnaround of faulty kit.

Obviously there will have to be a joint agreement between the Government and organisations like the RNIB and perhaps even the accessibility industry, as long as it does not try to preserve the status quo. The cartel of companies that run global accessibility have had their chance and failed; it's time to face the broadband future with a more viable accessibility package.

NOTE: Kevin Carey is director of HumanITy, a digital inclusion charity and vice-chair of the RNIB.

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

ISSN 1476-6337 .

[Issue ends].