+++E-Access Bulletin- Issue 85, January 2007.

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/ .

++Special Notice: e-Access '07 Date Announcement.


We are pleased to announce the date of e-Access '07, the UK's leading annual event on access to technologies by people with all disabilities, hosted by E-Access Bulletin. It will be held earlier than usual next year, on 2 May 2007 in Central London.

More information about e-Access '07 will be announced shortly, but please hold the date in your diary if you intend to come along!

As ever, sponsorship and exhibitor opportunities will also be available at the event. If you are interested in these please contact Claire Clinton at claire@headstar.com .

[Special Notice ends].

Section One: News.

+01: Italian Government To Explore Route Finder Technology.

A handheld device for blind people to independently reach their destination on foot is to go on trial this month in Turin, Italy.

Conceived and funded by the regional government of Piedmont, 'Easy walk' uses a Global Positioning System (GPS) enabled mobile phone to provide audible directions. Once launched in August, it will be free to use.

The navigational device tells users the address their current location as well as directions, 'left,' 'right,' 'straight on,' and so on, until they reach their destination. For users that are stuck or lost, the system allows them to call a contact centre where an operator sees their position on a computer screen and guides them on their journey over the phone.

The pilot follows a campaign by the local branch of the Unione Italiana dei Ciechi (Italian Blind Union - http://www.uiciechi.it/piemonte/ ) to increase the safety of crossings in the region.

Problems with the accuracy of the precision of users' positions have been smoothed out, financial advisor at the Italian Blind and co-developer of the device, Federico Borgna told E-Access Bulletin, although there are improvements yet to be made. The GPS, for example, fails to work under tram wires, said Borgna.

In future, users will be able to personalise the device, adding the names of shops or offices on routes that are then saved, for example. Developers also aim for the Easy Walk to provide directions to users anywhere in Italy or France.

The device has been developed by the Italian wireless technology company Il Village ( http://www.ilvillage.it/ilVillage/ ).

+02: Ibm Builds Bridges For Commercial Screen Readers.

Software products based on open source technology could become more accessible to users of commercial screen readers following the release of a new set of programming interfaces by technology giant IBM.

Users of commercial screen readers, which are usually developed for Microsoft operating systems, often have problems accessing computer applications that run on rival operating systems such as Linux, which are based on open source software.

Collectively known as iAccessible2, the new interfaces released by IBM are the basic building blocks for programmers to join open source software products to Microsoft-based screen readers so that they work together seamlessly.

IBM has released the interfaces to the Free Standards Group, a non- profit organisation that will maintain iAccessible2 as an open standard that can be freely used by developers. A blog maintained by the technical director of the Free Standards Group is available here: http://ianmurdock.com/?page_id=215 .

The move is seen as a significant step towards building bridges between the most widely used commercial screen reader products and the open source community, which develops products that are often less expensive and more secure than those based on so-called "proprietary" technologies.

Roger Wilson-Hinds, developer of Thunder, the screen reader that is free to individual users of Microsoft operating systems, gave the news a cautious welcome. "The usual problem with open source is that you need to be a 'techie', or have a 'techie' around to access it. But this is good news and a step in the right direction," he said.

+03: Scottish Cinemas Receive Funds For Audio Description.

Scottish moviegoers will find films more accessible following the launch of a fund to encourage installation of audio description equipment in cinemas. Cinemas in Scotland can each apply for up to 5,000 pounds to cover the cost of the equipment from the Cinema Access Equipment Investment Programme.

Under the programme, a total of 100,000 pounds will be distributed to cinemas by the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen, the national development agency for the country's film industry. To qualify, each cinema must satisfy technical requirements for the equipment to be installed, and invest the same amount as it claims from the fund. For more details, see: http://fastlink.headstar.com/cin1 .

Scotland has 322 screens in 62 venues, according to Scottish Screen. "We're sending information ahout the funding to cinemas through all our usual communication channels," said a spokesperson. The initiative is also being supported by the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) Scotland, RNIB and the UK Film Council.

The scottish programme will be working closely with similar initiatives in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to ensure that people with sensory impairments can access as wide a range of films as possible.

++News in Brief:


+04: Open Sesame:

A programmable electronic door key fob for use in the home will be available on the market from next month. The Locca works with existing locks, needs only a plug socket and keys can be "deleted" if lost or stolen. The device, from ERA products, costs 149 pounds and is available from B and Q and locksmiths in the UK. For details email: info@era-security.com . or go to: http://www.era-security.com/Loccaabout.htm .

+05: Global Deficiency:

The websites of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Ministers Tony Blair in the UK, and Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero in Spain were the only to reach basic levels of accessibility, according to a United Nations report on global web accessibility. Carried out by web consultancy Nomensa, the survey looked at 100 sites across five sectors. Some 97 per cent did not allow users to resize text or pages: http://fastlink.headstar.com/unaccess1 .

+06: Audio Culture:

Podcasts of classic novels have been made available for free on the Open Culture website from Stanford University in the US. Authors including Dickens, Chaucer and Austen: http://fastlink.headstar.com/audbk1 .

[Section One ends].

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


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

+07: Switching Off:

Sabahattin Gucukoglu from London writes in response to David Bates, who asked in the December 2006 issue about using a screen reader to listen to the content of websites which automatically and continuously play music. "It depends on your browser, but for Internet Explorer go to 'tools,' then 'internet options,' then the 'advanced' tab. From the scrolling listbox, find and uncheck 'play sounds.' Oh, and while you're there, turn off the downloading of pictures for an improved browsing experience."

Steve Cutway, Information Access Specialist at Queen's University in Canada also responds: "Pressing the Escape key (top left corner of the keyboard) will usually stop sound playing on a website. I agree with his concerns though. When you can't see the screen and are expecting your screen reader to deliver information, loud, unnecessary sound is an unwelcome intrusion." [Further responses to inbox@headstar.com].

+08: Get Shorty:

John Loader of DotSix Brailling Services in Cambridgeshire in the UK writes: "As someone who does a lot of recording for visually impaired people I am getting increasingly infuriated by the length and complexity of website addresses (URLs) that people are expected to access - great if they can copy and paste, but [difficult] if they have to type from a tape, especially when I have to say the URL in an understandable way. Here are two from a leaflet on services for disabled people I have just worked on and yes, the second is correct, despite the apparent repetition: www.eaga.co.uk/Grants%20available/warm_front.html and: www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/social/disabled/disabled/dppdaotservice.h tm ."

John recommends people use automatic the free Tinyurl service at: http://tinyurl.com/ to help condense long URLs. [Responses to inbox@headstar.com].

+09: Remote Access: Jane Sellers from Surrey in the UK writes:"When are we going to see an accessible remote control for the DVD player or DVD recorder? I have a normal DVD player and recorder, but I have trouble using the handset as it is not really for someone blind like me." [Responses to inbox@headstar.com].

+10: Scripts Search:

IT Disability Support Officer Barbara Denton from Birkbeck College in the UK writes for advice on using the software application Student Information System (SITS) for educational establishments to manage student data. She writes: "Does anyone use JAWS with SITS? We are considering buying a new Accessibility Management Module for the SITS student database currently used at our University. It will be designed to store relevant information such as exam provisions and what lecturers can do to help.

"This module is currently being developed by Tribal group, and they have been to our University to do some initial testing with JAWS. We wonder if we are going over ground already covered by someone else. We would love to know if there is anyone out there using JAWS with SITS, or if there are any JAWS scripts for SITS." [Responses to inbox@headstar.com].

+11: Problem Magnified:

Andrew Day, Company Secretary of Ricability, the independent consumer research charity for older and disabled people in the UK writes: "Since upgrading my Internet Explorer to version 7, I have had problems while using Zoomtext version 8. On viewing web pages or getting search results, I find large amounts of blank screen appearing. The only way to get images to appear is to scroll up or down or highlight a section of the page to reveal text. "In addition, I am also experiencing text shadowing while using Outlook where the text of an email you have just looked at remains on the screen while going into another one. These are problems I have never experienced and are very annoying as there have been occasions when I have not had all the information on a web page showing and have missed bits. I am very curious to know if anyone else has had similar difficulties and can offer any solutions. I am very tempted to simply try to revert to the previous version of Explorer." [Responses to inbox@headstar.com].

[Inbox ends].

++Section Three: Focus- Educational Games.


+12: Sticky By Name, Sticky By Natureby Mel Poluck.

Audio and other accessible games for the blind have been around for some time and many have a loyal following. But although they could provide the ideal medium to engage children while learning, they are rarely used in the classroom.

Very soon that may be set to change however, with the launch of BBC Jam's new accessible learning materials: a set of online, fun and compelling games for learning National Curriculum topics, some of which were showcased for the first time last week at BETT, the world's largest conference on educational technology.

Sonic Science, to name one of these resources, aimed at vision impaired and sighted children of around seven years old, is a game using graphics and speech output for learning about Physics, providing teachers and pupils with a lesson about pressure. Using stereo sound and the directional keys - and peppered with puns perhaps only children could appreciate - the player, in the form of protagonist Harris Hotle must 'push' a cart by holding down the 'up' key for the correct amount of time before releasing to hit another cart at just the right speed so as not to cause a nasty accident. A talking power meter speaks the results to players.

"Usually people create resources then try to make it accessible. We're trying to work out something that will work for a lot more children," Jonathan Hassell told delegates at BETT.

But this development phase hasn't always been easy, particularly as far as Maths and Science-themed games are concerned. "How do you visualise an abstract concept? That was the challenge," said Hassell.

One aspect of the project Hassell and his team have found particularly tough was creating literacy materials for vision impaired pupils he said. "It's different for them - they always have to have someone to give them feedback." Despite this daunting challenge, the team has devised 'Benjamin's House,' named after its narrator, British poet Benjamin Zephaniah, which lets blind children develop Braille reading and writing skills as they explore Zephaniah's virtual house.

Using his vivid poems, he introduces us to rooms and objects in his home including the hoover, a spider and even well-known literary characters such as Dr Zeus, who happens to be in the sauna at the time. The whole game, which was tested among schoolchildren in Surrey, England, is replete with sound effects, activities and stories.

"We're trying to produce materials children can use on their own," Hassell said, although notes for teachers and parents will be available. And these resources encourage learning outside of the classroom too as users will be able to log in from any computer and everything previously created can be accessed again.

The Jam team have received assistance on accessible gaming by the Bartiméus Accessibility Foundation in the Netherlands where developers have created such games as Demor ( http://www.demor.nl/ ) which uses Global Positioning System (GPS) and 3D sound to guide players around a large physical area in which the game takes place.

Throughout Jam's development, learners with various disabilities have been considered, including hearing impaired pupils who will soon have access to a literacy game whose animated characters use British Sign Language. "We can do something a lot of companies are afraid to do - take into account children with all kinds of needs," Hassell told delegates.

All materials will be available for free, since the entire project was funded by BBC licence-payers, although the downside of this is that materials will not be available for users beyond the UK, although Hassell said this could change in future. "People in other countries who've seen what we've done are desperate for this," he said.

"We're re-imagining everything that happens in computer games," said Hassell. "We're re-inventing computer games for people that may have never used them before."

NOTE: BBC Jam's accessible games for learning go live in March.

++Section Four: Profile- Chris Hofstader


+13: Software For Everyone.By Mel Poluck

Before he took up the position of Vice President of Software Engineering at US assistive technology company Freedom Scientific, in between touring with his punk band the Corporate Pigs, developing computer software that blind people could use was just a hobby for Chris Hofstader.

Now, he has set to work on creating his own accessible software company as well as launching a website for blind and sighted programmers to share their knowledge about accessibility.

Hofstader worked at Freedom Scientific, which launched world famous screen reader JAWS, for 10 years, meaning he could begin to receive a salary for something he was passionate about. "The greatest thing for me was the freedom to invent my future. I was building technology that the next day I could use myself," he told E-Access Bulletin.

But it wasn't always plain sailing. He said despite being just as smart as his colleagues, he felt significantly slowed down by using a screen reader. "I reached the maximum amount of activities I could do with a screen reader." This, compounded by the fact Hofstader began to suffer from serious repetitive strain injury (RSI) and worked 80-hour weeks, resulted in his leaving the company. "I had RSI in both hands and shoulders - I was bed-ridden," he said.

He takes important lessons from his time at the company on to his current ventures though. "You've always got to focus on the customer. Sometimes a company needs to be a vanguard and invent things before the customer asks for them."

Hofstader says assistive technology companies around the world are far from reaching their target audience. Considering how many blind people live in India, let alone the rest of the world, a disproportionate amount of screen readers have been sold, he said. "The assistive technology industry has not done its job. It's not scratched the surface of [the market] it hopes to attract."

He said the assistive technology industry's downfall is "not listening to science" and believes they should have much more contact with universities, something he is putting into practice himself through his own recently-launched accessible software company Ad Lib Technology.

The company's aim is to design software, and possibly hardware in future, based on the principles of universal design. In case things got too quiet, he and his team are working on developing three products. "We're making a GPS product as useful for pedestrians with a guide dog [lead] in one hand and groceries in the other as it will be for a woman putting on her make-up while driving." The software will be designed to be used on handheld devices such as Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) or mobile phones.

Another device he is working on is a handheld barcode scanner that "reads" aloud product data on household items. The scanner tells the user what an object is, for example a CD, and any relevant data about it, so the songs on the track listing, for example. Similarly, it could read the cooking instructions on a bag of frozen peas. Hofstader envisages the product will be on the market for 300 to 400 dollars - undercutting an existing Freedom Scientific scanner by over 500 dollars.

He did not want to share details of his third product under development with E-Access Bulletin, but he did say it is the first of its kind for the low-vision market.

Besides setting up Ad Lib Technology, Hofstader's other new endeavour is the website Hofstader.com ( http://www.hofstader.com/ ), a hub for sharing knowledge on accessible technology. For this he has gathered together a group of volunteer programmer friends, about half of whom are blind.

His plans for the future for the site resonate with elements of the do-it- yourself ethic of the Punk scene Hofstader was once part of. "I want the volunteers to take over and make it their thing. I'm just the catalyst to get things started."

Everything Hofstader and his team produce will be available as open source versions. He sums up the premise for the new company thus: "People at large, group buyers or people buying [software] for non assistive-technology purposes, they don't want to have to go to a website with some civil rights nonsense. We like to say we don't make software for blind people; we're blind people that make software for everyone."

[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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  • Editor - Dan Jellinek
  • Deputy editor - Derek Parkinson
  • Senior reporter - Mel Poluck
  • Technical advisor - Nick Apostolidis
  • Editorial advisor - Kevin Carey.

ISSN 1476-6337 .

[Issue ends].