+++E-Access Bulletin- Issue 91, July 2007.

A Headstar publication.

Technology news for people with vision impairment ( http://www.headstar.com/eab/ ). Sponsored by: 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: Techshare Expo 2007- 4-5 October 2007, Novotel, London


Techshare Expo 2007 is set to be the biggest ever European exhibition on access to the information society by people with disabilities.

Supported by RNIB, RNID, Dyslexia Action and E-Access Bulletin, Techshare Expo 2007 is a fabulous new showcase for products, services and organisations working to ensure that people with disabilities can participate fully in the information age. It is the place where decision makers from across the private and public sectors, and people with disabilities and their carers will attend to source new products and services, meet with suppliers and be inspired by the innovations and ideas on show from exhibitors.

For details and to register see: http://www.techshare-expo.com/ .

The exhibition is expected to attract more than 1,000 visitors. To find out more please contact Claire Clinton at Headstar at: claire@headstar.com .

[Special notice ends].

++Issue 91 Contents.

  1. Section One: News.
  2. 01: Training Portal For Personal Computing Launches - ground-breaking e-learning resource from AbilityNet.
  3. 02: Guide Aims To Push Accessibility Up The IT Agenda - free advice and information for IT Directors in all sectors.
  4. 03: New Accessibility Guidelines Will Be More "Testable" - W3C member offers insights into WCAG 2.0.
  5. News in Brief:
  6. 04: News in Brief: 04:
  7. 05: year award launched; 05:
  8. 06: Face Up - popular social networking site
  9. 07: creates accessible user verification; 06:
  10. 08: Easy Read - Google book search enhances accessibility.
  11. Section Two: 'The Inbox' - Readers' Forum.
  12. 09: Underground Scene - tube train navigation update; 08: Course
  13. 10: Response - web design course suggestions; 09:
  14. 11: CMS Enquiry - Help
  15. 12: the Hospices charity request; 10:
  16. 13: Inaccessible PARIS - legal and technical questions.
  17. Section Three: Conference Report - Web Accessibility.
  18. 14: Power To The New Generation: The launch of the second version of WCAG, the global benchmark for web accessibility, has been mired in delays. Experts updated delegates on progress and gave some insights into the changes it will bring at the annual conference 'Building the perfect council website,' in London. Mel Poluck listened in.
  19. Section Four: Multimedia Devices - Q and A.
  20. 15: Moving On Up: E-Access Bulletin interviews Isaac Porat, the creator of exciting new free software providing access to selected news and entertainment audio content from the web, among others, aimed at users with lower IT skills, developed as a labour of love.

[Contents ends].

Section One: News.

+01: Training Portal For Personal Computing Launches.

What is thought to be the biggest online training portal created to date for learning about assistive technology, featuring e-learning and live online tutoring, has been launched by the charity AbilityNet.

The AT training portal ( http://www.abilitynettraining.org ) is based on the open source learning platform Moodle (http://moodle.org ). Courses available range from a general introduction to assistive technology; through courses on healthy computing; how technology can help people with dyslexia; access to mobile phones; and courses on specific technologies such as the Jaws and Thunder screen readers.

One year's access to all courses currently costs 100 pounds per user, and single courses can be purchased for 25 pounds, with online payment possible using PayPal. One or two courses, such as one on making your computer talk in Windows, are free to access.

David Banes, acting Chief Executive of AbilityNet, said that since the service went live at the beginning of June, just over 100 users had signed up "from all sorts of backgrounds."

"There is interest from individuals with a disability in receiving personal online support from a tutor since the cost of having someone come in to train you is high," Banes told E-Access Bulletin.

As well as individuals, organisations such as schools and learning centres have shown a strong interest in the site, he said. "They may have a lot of assistive technology, but staff only use it infrequently. So they may use us for Thunder refresher training, for example. They may have had a half-day training in the past but need an update."

Future developments could include courses in languages other than English, particularly if partners came forward to assist with translation, Banes said.

+02: Guide Aims To Push Accessibility Up The It Agenda.

A free, comprehensive guide published this month outlines steps IT managers should take to ensure staff and service users with a disability can access all internal and public facing technologies.

'The IT directors' guide to accessible IT,' aimed at the public and private sectors, explains the needs of people with temporary and permanent disabilities; and the steps that IT managers can take to move accessibility higher up the corporate agenda. The guide also explains how staff and the public can be assisted by technology and what software, information and devices are available.

"This is the law," said report author and Publisher of Ability Magazine John Lamb. "You can't recruit a disabled person if they cannot work in your organisation."

On the other hand, some 50 per cent of disabled people in employment whose work life could be improved by simple enhancements to desktop systems struggle on unaided, says the guide. The need for IT Managers to take action is strengthened by the fact some disabled staff prefer not to describe themselves as such and consequently will not ask their managers for "special treatment."

"It's not expensive - most adjustments that need to be made to make IT systems accessible can be found in Windows," Lamb said.

The guide also highlights any major adjustments to IT systems to enhance accessibility should be made at the earliest possible stage. "The most important thing is to make systems accessible when planning and designing systems," said Lamb. "And to convince people to include accessibility in their checklist when they're [buying] a new system. Then people can't say 'this is not a reasonable adjustment' because it's too expensive.

"There is a lack of easily digestible information on accessibility. Something was needed that isn't only for the tecchies," Lamb said. Organisations that advised on the guide and are helping distribute it are: the Government's Chief Information Officer (CIO) Council, the Society of IT Management; National Computing Centre; British Computer Society Elite Group and CIO Connect.

The guide was sponsored by Royal Mail in association with the Information Technologists' Company. The guide can be downloaded for free from: http://fastlink.headstar.com/lamb1 .

+03: New Accessibility Guidelines Will Be More "Testable".

The long-awaited second version of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the global benchmarks of web accessibility, will include far more detailed practical help for designers, a conference for public sector web teams heard this month.

WCAG 1.0, the most recent set of guidelines from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), was released in 1999. WCAG 1.0 suggests websites achieve one of three levels of accessibility from a minimum of level A, to levels AA and AAA, by meeting several of its 14 "checkpoints."

But the forthcoming second version, WCAG 2.0, has been updated to make checkpoints for accessibility more "testable," said W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) Steering Council and WCAG working group ( http://fastlink.headstar.com/waiabout ) member Alex Li, at this month's conference "Building the perfect council website," ( http://www.headstar-events.com/council07 ) hosted annually by E-Government Bulletin and the Society of IT Management (Socitm).

"How do you know you've passed [colour contrast checkpoints]?" said Li of WCAG 1.0. "Ask everyone with a colour deficit?" he said. To address the issue, checkpoint 1.4.3 of the updated guidelines, for example, will say text and images must have a contrast ratio of five to one, said Li.

Senior web accessibility consultant at the RNIB, Donna Smillie, agreed. "One of the nice things about WCAG 2.0 is criteria are much more testable than was the case for many checkpoints with WCAG 1.0," said Smillie. "It'll be easier to standardise testing of many aspects of the guidelines," she told delegates.

Other changes include two less checkpoints in WCAG 2.0 - there will be 12 rather than 14 - but the three levels of attainable accessibility, A, AA an AAA will remain in the second version. Also, web 2.0 features such as interactive mapping, blogs and social networking sites will be taken into consideration said Li. "The way we use web content is very different [now]. As a result a lot of these things need to be updated in WCAG 2.0," he told delegates.

"WCAG 1.0 is still sound. We're not changing its principles but we're recognising changes in the web and updating them accordingly," said Li. Details of all documents relating to the WCAG 2.0 working draft are found at: http://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/wcag20 . The guidelines will be finally released by early 2008.

NOTE: Building the perfect council website is an annual UK event hosted by E-Access Bulletin sister publication E-Government Bulletin and the Society of IT Management (Socitm). For more on this session on WCAG 2.0, see section three, this issue.

++News in Brief:


+04: Innovators Sought:

Entrants are invited to enter a contest to find the UK's best disabled entrepreneurs. The British Chamber of Commerce, disability charity Leonard Cheshire and businessman Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou have launched the competition to find the person who can show barriers placed in their way have not stopped them in their quest for success. The winner will be rewarded with a cheque for 50,000 pounds: http://www.leonard-cheshire.org/?lid=5087 .

+05: Face Up:

One of the world's largest social networking websites is to launch an alternative to security test captchas, inaccessible to vision impaired users because they use images of text and numbers. Facebook now allows vision impaired users to register their mobile phone number to verify their identity when registering a user account to receive a text message with a verification code. When the code is entered, the user's identity is confirmed and such security tests avoided: http://www.facebook.com/ .

+06: Easy Read:

A "View plain text" option link, enabling access to the text layer of electronic books has been made available on Accessible Google Book this month. The facility, on the Google Accessible Search project, was launched by search engine company Google allowing users of assistive technologies such as screen readers, speech output and Braille display to read the available online books: http://fastlink.headstar.com/googlebook1 .

[Section One ends].

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


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

+07: Underground Scene:

Terry Robinson, of Describe Online writes in response to Lynn Holdsworth's comments on the London Underground guide in the Directory Enquiries site last issue: "I understand this is based on the accessibility booklet which was developed some time ago and, whilst it clearly states how many steps there are and what's involved in moving through each station, it stops short of telling you how to do it.

"The Describe Online service, on the other hand, tells you what the station is like and how to use it. Sadly, at the time of writing, we don't have guides to all stations, but hope we can provide this essential service in due course.

"While explaining how to use the station, we also explain the accessibility, or otherwise, of that station and recommend easiest routes to, around and through it. Please visit: http://www.describe-online.com and follow the links to the National Rail and London Underground pages. You'll note that we have a text map and station finder for each network, plus a growing number of guides to stations. I hope this helps." [responses to inbox@headstar.com].

+08: Course Response:

Phia Damsma from Sonokids, an international organisation aimed at developing web based educational materials for vision impaired people, writes in response to the following request from the June issue: "Norman Waddington writes on behalf of an acquaintance looking for a web design course suitable for a blind person with additional disabilities."

Phia writes: "The information does not say if the acquaintance really wants to do a course, or if he is just interested in creating his own website. If the latter is the case, a free 'sonoplanet' website would be ideal. It comes with a fully accessible web content management system, which assists in the creation of a fully accessible website. Each web account includes a guestbook, blog, photo album and poll. We will gladly provide Norman's acquaintance with such a free website account. The web address starts with http://www.sonoplanet.com and he should choose a name or word. Please let me know and I will prepare an account.

And Jacob Kruger, AKA "Blind Biker" also responds. He writes: "Although I'm not sure how accessible it would be to someone who has no previous experience related to web design or layout, there is a very good website with various tutorials related to web development and design at: http://www.w3schools.com . The tutorials are freely available, and while somewhat technical, they are pretty accessible using, for example, something like Jaws. I was a web developer before becoming blind, and I have used this place to remind myself about quite a lot of the details involved in web development, design and layout. [responses to inbox@headstar.com].

+09: CMS Enquiry:

Simon Brasch, Database and Website Manager at charity Help the Hospices writes: "Can you tell me anything you may have heard of a Content Management System (CMS) called EasySite by EIBS? They claim it has basic back-end and front-end accessibility built in, and a company can choose to make these features mandatory. Just wondering if you have come across them in your travels?" [responses to inbox@headstar.com].

+10: Inaccessible PARIS:

David Rosser from the Sensory Team Torbay Care Trust writes: "I am visually impaired and use a piece of software called PARIS at work on a daily basis but find it inaccessible due to my limited vision even though I use Supernova (screen reader or magnification).

"Is there anything I can do or is there any legislation around that could assist me? Furthermore the company's website has recently been redesigned but could be made more accessible as well.

"Do websites or software bought by local authorities have to be tested before they are bought or undergo any test?" [responses to inbox@headstar.com].

[Inbox ends].

++Section Two - Focus- Accessibility Guidelines.


+11: Power To The New Generationby Mel Poluck.

In terms of popular culture, the world has changed since 1999: pop group the Spice Girls were at the peak of their fame; Bill Clinton was President of the US Government; and we downloaded our music from Napster for free. The internet has changed too, but at least it is still relevant.

Alex Li, Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) Steering Council and Web Content Working Group (WCAG) Working Group member, invited delegates of this month's conference "Building the perfect council website," ( http://www.headstar-events.com/council07/ ), in London, to look back to what was "hot" in 1999, the year that also saw the release of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) version 1.0.

The WCAG guidelines are now used across the globe to shape inclusive website design and development to ensure accessibility to all users with a disability and users of assistive technologies. The guidelines recommend that website developers comply with three levels of accessibility ranging from level 'A' for minimum accessibility; level 'AA' or the rarely achieved level 'AAA.' These will remain in WCAG 2.0.

This second version, subject to several delays since its inception, is the result of five years collaborative work between the WCAG working group and individuals; researchers; disability organisations; people with a disability; educational institutions; industry; web developers; and government. The working draft can be seen at: http://fastlink.headstar.com/wcag2complete and has many supporting documents to accompany it at: http://fastlink.headstar.com/wcag2intro .

Since WCAG was first conceived, the web has become a more colourful place, with blossoming virtual worlds; countless blogs; social networking sites and interactive digital maps. The second version, due by the beginning of next year, has had to adapt accordingly. "The way we use content is very different. Collaborative content such as MySpace, YouTube and Google Maps are very rich in content," said Li. "As a result a lot of these things needed to be updated in WCAG 2.0."

"One thing to ask yourself is what [web-based] interaction are we doing?" Li asked the public sector delegates. " - Live traffic information? Online education? Online tax payment? Blogging? Podcasting? - these are all web 2.0 activities. If you are, you have to look at WCAG 2.0. WCAG 1.0 would slow you down significantly," said Li. "WCAG 1.0 is still sound. We're not changing its principles but we're recognising changes in the web and updating them accordingly."

Not only has the web expanded greatly, but so has the choice of assistive technologies people use to access it. "WCAG 2.0 is much more flexible in terms of technology," said Li. "In Version 2.0, everything is written in such a way that is technology neutral," he said. He said in WCAG 2.0, for example, there is less emphasis on the use of HTML and Cascading Style Sheets, used by web authors to define document presentation and allow the same page to be rendered on- screen, in print, by voice when read by a speech-based browser or screen reader and on Braille-based, tactile devices. Perhaps the most important change from WCAG 1.0 is that under each guideline, there will be so-called "success criteria" describing what must be achieved to conform to each guideline, similar to the "checkpoints" of WCAG 1.0. Each success criterion is written as a statement that will be either true or false when specific web content is tested against it. As ever, while some can be tested by computer programs, others must be tested by qualified human testers and occasionally, a combination of those two may be used. Donna Smillie, Senior Web Accessibility Consultant at the RNIB, said changes to the guidelines would impact on the accessibility testing that takes place at the charity, which tests and accredits websites as part of one of its services. "From the point of view of the RNIB one of the nice things about WCAG 2.0 is criteria are much more testable than was the case for many checkpoints with WCAG 1.0," said Smillie. "It'll be easier to standardise testing of many aspects of the guidelines," she told delegates.

NOTE: 'Building the perfect council website' is an annual UK event hosted by E-Access Bulletin sister publication E-Government Bulletin and the Society of IT Management.

[Section Three ends].

++Section Four: Multimedia Devices- Q and A.


+12: Moving On Upby Isaac Porat.

In February last year, E-Access Bulletin reported on development plans for 'SpeakOn', a hardware device aimed at providing access to selected news and entertainment audio web content without the need for high IT skills. The project is being headed by assistive technology charity a-technic ( http://www.a-technic.net ). Planned content included DAISY-formatted books, MP3 music files, internet radio stations, podcasts and other web site content including online newspapers.

Since that time, the project has split into two elements: SpeakOn which is a free software product, now available, that anyone can download and run on their PC; and the original concept of a hardware box, now codenamed 'Pipistrelle' and still in development. This month, E-Access Bulletin interviews the creator and developer of SpeakOn, Isaac Porat, and finds out exactly what is planned for this new technology.

Q: What is SpeakOn and what can it do?

A: SpeakOn is free, self-voicing software for finding, retrieving and listening to media.

The E-Access Bulletin news item about SpeakOn in February 2006 talked mainly about a self-contained box, but we subsequently decided to launch SpeakOn first as software for the PC. This software caters for people who are comfortable with computers but are looking for an easy and relaxing way to enjoy media.

SpeakOn was launched in June 2006 (almost exactly a year ago) and has had a number of major upgrades since. It now covers pretty well all specialized media services for blind people in the UK, as well as general types of media such as internet radio and podcasts. Much work has been done to improve the user interface for ease of use and more features in handling general formats and media types have been added.

In its most recent feature release last month, support is provided to browse and listen directly to the latest audio narrated streaming service provided by the talking newspaper organisation ( TNAUK - http://www.tnauk.org.uk/ ). It also closes some gaps in SpeakOn's media cover by handling CDs of MP3 books such as those supplied by Calibre and support for audio CDs. The album and track names are spoken to the user if available on the internet repository. Although SpeakOn is free for use, it is not open source. This is because we want to maintain control over its development path.

Q: What first triggered the development of SpeakOn?

A: SpeakOn was born out of my own frustrations as a blind person in finding, retrieving and playing media such as music, books, newspapers and magazines using conventional PC access technology. I was tired of memorising endless shortcut keys for different applications and wanted a more relaxing way of listening to media rather than having to sit upright in front of my computer. I started to develop SpeakOn essentially for myself to address these issues.

Q: What unique features does SpeakOn offer that differentiate it from other products and tools already on the market?

A: Currently, SpeakOn contains two applications; the first one, the 'Media Centre' covers a range of general purpose and special media services for the blind. All these media can be accessed by conventional means, but SpeakOn offers a uniform approach and therefore ease of use and speed for finding, retrieving and playing the media it supports.

The second application includes a player for the popular 'Last.FM' internet music service. The players available already for this service are to my knowledge essentially not accessible for blind users.

Q: What has been most challenging about developing the SpeakOn software?

A: SpeakOn is all about using the same interface, regardless of the media used. In the real world, the various media are available in different locations remotely and on the user's computer. These media come in different text and audio formats, and a great challenge has always been for the software to do as much work as possible 'under the hood' so that to the user it all appears the same.

Q: How have you overcome these challenges?

A: I started with the basic interface model and a range of supported media. Feedback from users started to arrive after the launch of SpeakOn in late June 2006. There are a number of enthusiastic fans who are prepared to stay in touch on a regular basis and test new features of the program, giving advice and suggestions; this proved invaluable and I am grateful to them.

Over the past year, the user interface has been gradually improved and more features based on user feedback added. I realise that as SpeakOn grows, more help will be needed from the community in providing links to media resources, documentation and just spreading the word.

Q: How many people use SpeakOn?

A: There have been over 1,000 public downloads so far. Now that the features and support for specialised media are generally complete, I feel that SpeakOn is ready for a bigger audience.

Q: Is SpeakOn a type of screen reader?

A: Most blind people know about screen readers or magnifiers and their use in a Windows-type system. Screen readers try to enable access to conventional programs designed for sighted users with a varying degree of success, depending on how the mainstream software is written.

SpeakOn is different in its interface and approach in that it has no visual interface. It is designed from the ground up for input by a limited number of keys and speech is built in for communicating with the user. The interface is optimised for easy media access.

SpeakOn is not competing against screen readers as screen readers are an essential tool for everyday use in accessing mainstream software. SpeakOn just addresses a specific problem in providing a quick and relaxing way to access media from the comfort of your armchair. Because of its unconventional approach, it may not suit everybody.

Q: Can SpeakOn be used by organisations as well as by individuals?

A: The SpeakOn licence does not distinguish between use by individuals or organisations, and any organisation is welcome to train users to access media using SpeakOn if they wish.

We are currently collaborating with screenreader.net, the distributor of the Thunder screen reader, to provide free computer access for the broadest user-base possible. We recognise that we both are providing products that complement each other.

We are also collaborating with organisations that provide specialized online content, notably TNAUK and the Seeing Ear Library. Other online content such as the Soundings magazine and ACB radio for example can be accessed using SpeakOn with its standard interfaces. DAISY and MP3 books distributed by various organisations can also be easily played, and we are in discussion with various other organisations in the UK and the US about possible further developments and provision of content.

Q: What is planned for the future of SpeakOn?

A: SpeakOn so far has been aimed at people who are reasonably comfortable using computers. This version of SpeakOn will always be there and will be developed further to include more media and possibly applications beyond media as well.

However, I am currently developing a version of SpeakOn specifically for people who have limited knowledge of computers. This version will be offered to the public in the next few months for the Windows operating system.

It is recognised that some people will never use computers and to that end we at a-technic would like to offer the 'easy' version of SpeakOn or similar, operating in its own box. Together with my a-technic colleagues, Chris Mairs and John Batty, I have started to work on this project, codenamed Pipistrelle. SpeakOn already runs under the Linux operating system but more work needs to be done to make this a practical proposition. Linux is free and can be tailored to do specifically what SpeakOn requires for its functionality running on a dedicated hardware.

In its own box, Pipistrelle like the existing SpeakOn software running on a standard laptop, will communicate through WiFi and broadband, using a simple numerical keypad or a similar device for input and will connect to standard speakers and HiFi.

For this stage in the development, specific hardware will be required and we will need to form partnerships with companies and organisations that will help us by manufacturing, distributing and supporting the product.

NOTE: For more information about SpeakOn and to download the software and view the manual, see: http://www.a-technic.net/speakon.htm .

Isaac Porat is a professor of materials science at the University of Manchester. He is also a trustee of TNAUK and a-technic. SpeakOn was developed as a labour of love in his spare time. Isaac can be contacted at: speakon@a-technic.net .

[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
  • Editorial advisor - Kevin Carey.

ISSN 1476-6337 .

[Issue ends].