+++E-Access Bulletin- Issue 88, April 2007.

Technology news for people with vision impairment ( http://www.headstar.com/eab/ ).

Supported by: 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/ .

++Special Notice: eAccess '07: Technology for All- 2 May 2007, New Connaught Rooms, London http://www.headstar-events.com/eaccess07/ .


E-Access Bulletin's third annual conference and exhibition on access to technology by people with disabilities is aimed at public sector bodies, technology suppliers, educational institutions, banks, private sector providers of goods or services, individuals with a disability and organisations providing at least some of their information or services digitally.

Supported by Ability Magazine and the RNIB, eAccess'07 is a high- level event drawing together all the strands needed for modern public and private sector organisations to draw up progressive policies on accessibility.

Speakers include: Richard Howitt MEP, President of the European Parliament's All-Party Disability Intergroup; Paul Timmers, Head of ICT at the European Commission's Inclusion Unit and Jonathan Hassell, Accessibility Editor, BBC Jam; and panellists from RNIB and University of Southampton.

For more information and to register visit: http://www.headstar-events.com/eaccess07/ And for sponsorship and exhibition opportunities please contact Claire Clinton on 01273 231291 or by email at: claire@headstar.com

[Special notice ends].

Section One: News.

+01: Home Computer Assessments Triumph In Ewell-Being Awards.

A remote home computer assessment service from UK computing charity for disabled people, AbilityNet, has won a prestigious annual award recognising excellence and innovation in the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs).

The eWell-Being awards ( http://www.sustainit.org/ewell-being-awards/index.php ), supported by E-Access Bulletin sister publication E-Government Bulletin, celebrate the social, economic and environmental benefits of ICT. They are hosted by SustainIT, a sub-group of the charity UK Centre for Economic and Environmental Development (UK CEED).

AbilityNet's remote assessment ( www.abilitynet.org.uk/athome_remote ) won the 'Age and disability' category, one of nine award categories. Using Voice Over IP Telephony (VoIP), instant messaging and webcams, an assessor remotely evaluates the computing needs of users to best suit their requirements in their own home. So far around 500 people have used the low cost service.

"Its strength is reaching out to disabled people and responding to their needs in a flexible way," AbilityNet Head of Operations David Banes told E-Access Bulletin. "It also has potential for opening up employment to disabled people and assessments are shorter and sharper." Previously, AbilityNet assessed disabled computer users from the charity's offices.

The BlueIRIS project from Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Society for the Blind in the UK and the Usability Exchange were commended in the same 'Age and disability' category.

BlueIRIS provides audio news, information and entertainment over the internet created exclusively for vision impaired people using its own software. Over 1,200 pieces of original content have been produced and a national roll-out is planned.

The Usability Exchange employs a range of disabled people to test the websites of organisations and companies as well as providing a platform to identify and resolve accessibility problems and help them understand the experiences of disabled web users.

+02: Un Launches Campaign For Inclusive Technology.

The Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technology, an international campaign to widen access to digital technologies, has been launched by the United Nations. It aims to encourage technology vendors to build accessibility into mass-market products by promoting worldwide adoption of new standards, regulations and legislation.

Launched at the UN's New York headquarters in March 2007, the Global Initiative ( http://www.g3ict.com/index.htm ) aims to remove the need for people with disabilities to buy assistive products that are often expensive and difficult to maintain. In this it supports Article 9 of the recently unveiled Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which requires governments to ensure that "technologies and systems become accessible at minimum cost." For more, see: http://fastlink.headstar.com/unaccess2 .

Hendrietta Ipeleng Bogopane-Zulu, a vision impaired politician from South Africa, told the UN that a screen reader is essential for her work as a member of parliament. "I use [the Freedom Scientific Screen reader] 'Jaws'. But it's very expensive because it's dollar-based. When converted to [South Africa's currency] the rand, it becomes unaffordable for most people," she said.

The main challenge is to strike a balance between changing industry practices while enabling global markets in accessible products to develop, which will help to drive down costs, said Axel Leblois, executive director of the Global Initiative. "Legislation and regulation can do a lot of good, but they can also fragment markets," he told the meeting.

In March 2008 the Global Initiative will meet in Geneva to hear commitments from industry and international organizations to pursue specific standardization efforts. Regional meetings will be held in Turkey, Brazil, South Africa, and India, before the campaign draws to a close in March 2009.

+03: 'Talking Lampposts' Hit The Streets Of Portsmouth.

A public outdoor navigation aid has gone live in Portsmouth city centre in the UK that "speaks" locations live to vision impaired pedestrians.

The 'talking lampposts' from REACT, provide an audible confirmation of their location when activated by an electronic fob carried by the pedestrian. This "audible signposting" is emitted from a small box attached to nine lampposts located in the city's retail centre using radio frequencies.

Users hear audible messages such as "you are now at the junction of Arundel Street and Slindon Street, access to Post Office." Users purchase the activating fob for 30 pounds or pay a five pound returnable deposit for daily use, available from council mobility charity Shopmobility and from the Portsmouth Association for the Blind. "It gives reassurance. It allows more independence," Portsmouth City Council City Centre Manager Barry Walker told E-Access Bulletin.

The fobs will also activate REACT boxes located in Leeds where a similar initiative has been rolled out. The Portsmouth scheme was funded with 35,000 pounds from Portsmouth City Council, the Single Regeneration Budget and private companies. The REACT system was developed in conjunction with the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB).

+04: New Browser Aims To Make Video Accessible.

Technology giant IBM aims to launch a new web browser providing vision impaired users with new levels of control over multimedia content by the end of 2007.

The browser will enable users to adjust and navigate through audio output from streamed video content using keyboard shortcuts.

Developed by vision impaired employee Dr Chieko Asakawa at IBM's research laboratory in Tokyo, the browser includes pre-defined shortcuts that enable users to start and stop video files, adjust the volume and playback speed of audio output, and choose whether to listen to the video soundtrack, output from a screen reader, or an audio description track if it is present. ( http://fastlink.headstar.com/abrowser ).

The browser aims to solve two main problems vision impaired people experience with online video content: playback is usually controlled with buttons, and files often launch automatically when a web page is opened. At present, the so-called 'A-Browser' has been developed to work with the Windows Media Player and Adobe Flash content, but it is not yet clear how many of the numerous other multimedia formats it will be compatible with.

++News in Brief:


+05: Easy Converter:

A desktop application allowing organisations to convert their Word and pdf documents into accessible structured html web pages has been launched by Northern Ireland software company RiverDocs. RiverDocs Converter costs 399 pounds and is available from: http://www.riverdocs.com .

+06: BBC Jammed:

The free interactive online learning service for schoolchildren aged between five and 16, 'Jam' from the BBC, has been suspended after legal arguments from private sector companies that it is damaging their commercial interests. Ofcom is undertaking a market impact assessment and public consultation on the issue: http://fastlink.headstar.com/jam2 .

+07: Site Rewarded:

British charity Vision 2020 has won an award for its user friendly website which provides vision impaired people with an online library, bulletin board and online discussion forum as well as alerts for relevant events and activities. The National ICT Hub Awards are hosted by the UK charity the National Council for Voluntary Organisations: http://fastlink.headstar.com/vision2020 .

+08: Free Speech:

Free text to speech software for speakers of Belarusian, Russian and English has been launched aimed at students. The Sakrament LibReader has been developed by Russian speech technology company Sakrament with the support of UNESCO Moscow: http://fastlink.headstar.com/sac1 .

[Section One ends].

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


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

+09: Italian Literati. Corrado Calza writes:

"Salve! This is a very brief contribution to let readers know about a new service by the Italian National Broadcasting Company (RAI). Through its internet site, RAI provides plenty of mp3 audiobooks free to download. They are regularly updated good quality Italian readings of novels, but mostly short novels, by major international authors like Katherine Mansfield, Guy De Maupassant, Kafka and many others.

"This is the direct link to the download web pages: http://fastlink.headstar.com/itrai1 .

"The site is only in Italian but there is a text only version you can get by clicking on the 'Solo testo' hot spot at the bottom left of the page. Once you get the 'Solo testo' version, downloadable audiobooks are in the last chapter named 'Audiolibri.'

"'Ascolta' is listen; 'Scarica' is download. To scroll the list of all the audiobooks available you can use the hotspots 'Precedenti 10' (Previous 10) and 'Prossimi 10' (Next 10). The pages are sponsored by the Italian National Blind Association (UIC) but none of my blind friends have ever heard about this service." [Responses to inbox@headstar.com].

[Inbox ends].

++Section Three: Web Accessibility- Alt Tagging.


+10: Now You See It, Now You Don'Tby Leonie Watson And Patrick H. Lauke.

The following exchange comes from posts made on E-Access Bulletin Live, the blog of E-Access Bulletin (http://www.headstar.com/eablive/ ):

So just what is a decorative image? It seems to me that one person's eye candy is another person's emotional link to a website. For some, decorative images are those horizontal rules, bullets and other forms of minor 'clip art' we find sprinkled around the web. For others, the term is wider ranging. It includes more content rich images such as photos and artwork. So, you might ask, what's the problem with this varied point of view? The answer is simple: alt texts. If you Google for the term "decorative image + alt texts", you'll come across countless sites that suggest that a decorative image be given a 'null alt text.' It's possible that we can all agree that for minor forms of clipart, a null alt text will do nicely. But it gets a little more difficult when it comes to more complex images. I'm not talking about diagrams, blueprints or other information rich images. There's no argument that they should always carry an alt text, possibly even a long description. I mean the vibrant, emotion rich images that provide a website with a sense of atmosphere. It's sometimes argued that providing such images with descriptive alt texts provides too much "noise" for a screen reader user. If we screen reader users stopped to listen to every alt text, every time we came across an image, then this assumption would probably be right. But I'll let you into a secret: we won't. Like sighted users, we'll skip around the content of the page until we find something that interests us. If the first few syllables of an alt text sound promising, we'll pause to read. If they don't, we'll move on to the next element on the page. Also like sighted users, we're often likely to pause on something unimportant, but which captures our imagination. A good alt text can conjure up wonderfully stimulating mental images. A friendly smile is the same in print, photo or wax crayon. Whether you listen to an image or see it, the emotional response is the key factor, so why should we recommend that these emotion rich images should be given a null alt text and hidden from screen reader users? Perhaps it's time we introduced another group of images: 'emotion rich images' and encouraged the practice of providing descriptive alt texts for them. If people don't want to listen to the alt text, they won't. If people don't want to pause and look at the image, they won't. In either case, it's good to have the choice. What would they sound like? For me, they would describe the content of the picture to the extent I could understand the reason it had been put there. [Web consultancy] Nomensa's Christmas card last year, sent out digitally, contained a picture of a little girl standing in the middle of a snow covered glade, surrounded by fir trees. She had her arms flung out sideways and her face lifted to the falling snow. The strapline was "experience is everything". I could picture that scene perfectly. Even if I'd never seen fir trees or had no idea what different colours really looked like, I could still conjur up the feeling of snow falling, the bracing air, feeling good, feeling happy, feeling alive. People get worried about alt texts, but they're just the same as describing a picture to a friend on the phone. You use language that describes the moment captured in the image, that's all. - Response by Patrick H. Lauke: In many situations, 'fluff' images, I'm particularly thinking of those stock photography monstrosities like 'businessmen shaking hands,' are only there to give a visual representation of the tone of voice that should already be present in a page's copy. In those situations, I would strongly argue that, even without descriptive alt text, the mental images would be conjured up by the tone of voice of the body copy itself. As ever, it's impossible to generalise rules for alt [tagging]. It all depends on context, and on whether or not the same meaning and the more ephemeral "feel" are maintained. - Response by Leonie Watson: Patrick's right, in as much as it's difficult to create general rules for this, but I'm not sure I place so much faith in the linguistic capability of body copy. If every web page were littered with evocative phrases such as "stock photography monstrosities", then things might be different. The catch is that a phrase like that is only evocative because I know exactly what he means when he writes it. Perhaps this is the rub. Not every visually impaired person was born that way. I could see perfectly until my mid 20s, so I know what Patrick means by "stock photography monstrosities." Someone who had never seen at all would have less understanding, but the description "business men shaking hands" still conveys something to everyone. That's the key factor, one person's monstrosity is another person's Van Gogh. The choice should be theirs, not the developer's. Of course, stock photography is something I personally don't miss in the least. NOTE: Leonie Watson is Head of the Accessibility Research Programme at web consultancy Nomensa and Patrick H. Lauke is a freelance web developer.

[Section Three ends].

++Sponsored Notice: Describe Online - Bringing Customers to You!- Providing Online Text Guides to Public Venues.


Our mission is that every public venue shall have a text guide which explains that it exists; where it is; how to get there via public transport; what's on offer and how to obtain and use it.

Our accessible website at: http://www.describe-online.com contains models of guides to a wide range of transport, civic, commercial and other venues. Our guides complement emerging technologies such as GPS and GIS systems.

Bring more customers to your venues through our service. Contact us on: 0141 423 2683 or: terry@describe-online.com .

[Sponsored Notice ends].

++Section Four: Focus- Geographical Information Systems.


+11: Online Mapping For Everyoneby Christopher J. Andrews. The Geographical Information Systems (Gis) Profession Has Always Maintained A Community-Focused Perspective That Pervades Both The Development And Use Of Geospatial Technology. That Perspective Undoubtedly Grows Out Of The Fact That Working With Map Data Leads To The Realisation That The World Is Fundamentally Finite And Has Few Insurmountable Barriers. Geospatial Technologists Currently Find Themselves In The Whirlwind Of Web 2.0 Technology, Which Has Popularized Web-Based Gis In A Manner That Threatens To Wrest The Concept Of The Gis Developer Away From The Gis Community. The Gis Establishment Has The Responsibility To Bring Its Heightened Level Of Community Awareness To These New Technologies And Applications Of Gis. An Area That Has Been Underrepresented In Gis Technology But Which Addresses Fundamental Characteristics Of Gis Data Openness And Sharing Is Making Web-Based Gis Tools More Accessible To Visually Impaired And Blind Users.

Many writers have described the internet as a levelling technology that improves access to information for everyone. The reality is that the internet offers a variety of technologies for information sharing, some of which are accessible to anyone who can read text and some which are not as accessible. Companies are rapidly adopting web development techniques such as Adobe Flash, graphic design and [programming language] JavaScript to enhance the user's experience. Unfortunately, poorly designed Flash animations, images with no descriptive, alternative ('alt') text, and JavaScript-masked hyperlinks (anchors in a Web page that use JavaScript to redirect the page instead of simpler html) will impede the ability of blind users to access internet-based information. Also, poor colour choices and fixed text sizes may render websites useless for colourblind or moderately visually impaired users.

The population of web users with some sort of visual impairment may be larger than you realise. It's safe to say that at least 5.5 per cent of the web-surfing population is colourblind (based on a calculation of the proportion of the general public that is colourblind - http://waynesword.palomar.edu/colorbl1.htm . Male-to-female internet usage ratios actually suggest that the number may be closer to 7 per cent or 8 per cent in the US). According to the American Foundation for the Blind, approximately 1.5 million American computer users are blind or visually impaired (see: http://www.afb.org/Section.asp?SectionID=15#num ).

Furthermore, consider anecdotal evidence such as this: during a casual conversation, a friend of mine mentioned that the CEOs of her two former companies both needed to adjust web browser fonts to the maximum size to read web pages. Some of the current web technology trends include [programming tools] Ajax, user interface tools that heavily employ JavaScript, complex style sheets that use fixed font sizes and even mapping applications with built-in Flash and other less accessible technologies. Because of these trends, a gap has developed that threatens to make web-based GIS and non-GIS applications less accessible to the blind and visually impaired.

There are compelling legal reasons for GIS developers to build web- based mapping applications that provide access to the range of visually impaired and blind web surfers. Numerous localities including the UK, the US and many individual states have legislation that has been interpreted by their respective courts to require that websites used by government employees or served by the government to the general public must be accessible to internet users with visual disabilities.

Once the need for creating accessible GIS websites is recognised, the next step will be to figure out how to evaluate a website for accessibility. For legally blind web surfers, a website needs to be "readable," in that an assistive technology application is used to speak aloud all of the readable text on a page with some context information to support navigation. A combination of straightforward html element use and nuanced page layout combine to facilitate website readability for such users. Additional techniques improve readability for colourblind and visually impaired users.

Although many projects may not budget the time for accessibility development and the expense of acquiring text to speech software for web browsing, the Lynx text-based Web browser ( http://lynx.browser.org/ ) can show the sighted user a rough idea of the website text that will be read to a blind user. While not used heavily by the blind or visually impaired community, the Lynx browser is free and offers sighted users some insight as to how informative and navigable the text information in a web page may be. Be aware that some page reading software will process JavaScript and Flash, so Lynx is not a complete representation of how a website reads to a blind surfer. Once the GIS developer has digested all the tools to assess website accessibility, the realisation strikes home that ultimately GIS has one simple problem. The most popular representation for GIS data on the internet is an image. Is it even possible to make an image more accessible to blind or visually impaired users? In fact, there are many techniques available to GIS developers to make map applications compliant with accessibility laws and standards.

New technologies, such as the recently introduced Google KML search ( http://fastlink.headstar.com/kml1 ) may also open up the interaction between the web and the real world for the blind mapping enthusiast. Future web mapping applications and GPS sharing sites might keep in mind the use of technologies such as voice- and GPS-enabled personal digital assistants (PDAs) and touch tablet technology that open up geospatial data collection and analysis to the blind. The GIS industry has long recognized the levelling ability of mapping data and technology. The industry must ensure that its traditional community-based ethics perpetuate, even as inevitable changes in technologies and applications take GIS in new directions. Ensuring and enhancing accessibility to web mapping applications for blind and visually impaired web users seem like the obvious place to start. NOTE: Christopher J. Andrews is a Senior Consultant at MWH Global in the US. This article originally appeared in Directions Magazine and is reprinted here with permission, copyright Directions Media, 2007.

[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.



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 2007 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].