+++E-Access Bulletin- Issue 94, October 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: e-Democracy '07- 08 November 2007, London - http://www.headstar-events.com/edemocracy07 .


Dot.com entrepreneur Martha Lane Fox; Demos founder UK Parliament webmaster Dominic Tinley; and shadow Leader of the House of Commons Theresa May are among the unrivalled speaker line-up at e-Democracy '07, Headstar's annual conference on the use of the internet and other new technologies to improve the workings of democracy.

Back for our third year, the event is set to be the UK's largest ever dedicated e-democracy conference and exhibition, focusing this year on local e-democracy; a look at e-democracy in New Zealand; 10 Downing Street's e-petitions; and the role of social networking and virtual worlds in e-democracy.

Sponsors and supporters to date include ICELE (the International Centre for Excellence in Local E-Democracy); Cisco; the Hansard Society; Screenreader.net; the London Borough of Redbridge; MySociety.org and Prospect. For details on prices and to register see: http://www.headstar-events.com/edemocracy07 .

[Special Notice ends].

++Section One: News.


+01: Accessibility Ultimatum Proposed For Uk Government Websites.

Government websites may be stripped of their 'gov.uk' domain names if they fail to meet tough new standards of accessibility to web users with disabilities, according to confidential draft proposals seen by E- Access Bulletin's sister publication E-Government Bulletin.

The guidelines, entitled 'Delivering inclusive websites: user-centred accessibility', are being drafted by the Central Office of Information, the Whitehall agency which assists public bodies with communications campaigns.

If approved, they would mean that existing government sites would have until December 2008 to meet the 'AA' standard set out in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) developed by the World Wide Web Consortium. All new sites would have to confirm immediately.

"Any new site approved by the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Public Engagement and the Delivery of Service.must conform to these guidelines from the point of publication," the draft guidelines state. "Continuing standalone sites must achieve this level of accessibility by December 2008. Websites which fail to meet the mandated level of conformance shall be subject to the withdrawal process for .gov.uk domain names, as set out in Naming and Registering Websites."

Government will have a mountain to climb in order to comply with these standards, according to the best available evidence. No government websites achieved the 'AA' standard, according to the most comprehensive research in this area, published by the Cabinet Office in 2005 as part of the UK Presidency of the EU. Just 3 per cent of government websites in the EU reached the minimum 'A' standard ( http://fastlink.headstar.com/coi2 )

The CoI document includes guidance on how to achieve the required standards when commissioning new websites, such as how to check compliance with WCAG; and how to involve people with disabilities in planning and testing the website. Many of the essential elements are set out in the Publicly Available Specification (PAS 78:2006) 'Guide To Good Practice In Commissioning Accessible Website,' says CoI ( http://fastlink.headstar.com/pas3 ).

However, the CoI acknowledges that modifying existing websites to improve their accessibility will be more difficult and expensive.

NOTE: To comment on this story or the issues it raises, please visit the E-Access Bulletin Live blog: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/ .

+02: Vision-Impaired It Worker Wins Discrimination Case.

A vision impaired IT professional has been has been awarded 12,000 Euros compensation by an industrial tribunal in Ireland after it was accepted that a recruitment process used by multinational company Siemens discriminated against job applicants with disabilities.

The Labour Court in Dublin concluded that Martin O'Sullivan 'was denied an opportunity to undertake an integral and otherwise integral part of the selection process because of his disability. This meant that the whole selection process was tainted with discrimination' (see: http://fastlink.headstar.com/siem1 ).

For O'Sullivan, the hearing concludes a two-and-a-half year struggle to show that the recruitment process used by Siemens discriminated against vision-impaired applicants because of their disability, in contravention of Ireland's Employment Equality Act.

In November 2004, O'Sullivan applied for a position as an IT Support Specialist with Siemens. Applicants were required to complete a written assessment and attend an interview, but O'Sullivan's request for a copy of the written test in an accessible electronic format was refused. "Instead they asked me some questions at the interview. The questions which they asked me at the interview were not as comprehensive as those which were given to applicants who undertook the written test. I formed the opinion that this would place me at a disadvantage when it came to assessing my application for the position," he told E-Access Bulletin.

When O'Sullivan was told that his application had been unsuccessful he phoned Siemens to find out more. "I was certain that I had been discriminated against, so I contacted them . . . to enquire as to whether or not my vision impairment was the factor by which they decided not to give me the job. They replied 'Yes'," said O'Sullivan.

Now working for IBM on its Easy Access Web Project, O'Sullivan told E-Access Bulletin that the time taken to resolve the issue was the most troubling aspect of pursuing Siemens. "I did not find the experience [of being cross-examined] very stressful. The only thing which was frustrating about it was the length of time it took. Almost two and a half years to complete," he said.

NOTE: To comment on this story or the issues it raises, please visit the E-Access Bulletin Live blog: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/ .

+03: Developers Fight To Save Bbc'S Suspended Learning Resource.

The developers of a free online learning resource for vision-impaired children, originally developed by the BBC but suspended from release following anti-competition complaints from private sector educational software suppliers, are seeking help to make the resource publicly available.

'Benjamin's house' is a game aiming to teach literacy, Braille, and IT through a virtual tour of British poet Benjamin Zephaniah's house. The resource is one of hundreds of free online learning resources aimed at five- to sixteen-year-old learners with and without a disability developed between 2003 and 2006 under the umbrella of BBC's 'digital curriculum,' also known as 'BBC Jam'.

But the BBC Trust decided to suspend Jam a month before it was due to go live, after legal arguments from private sector companies that it would damage their commercial interests. "We have the first English and Braille literacy software but we can't launch it," Jonathan Hassell, Accessibility Editor of BBC Jam Hassell told delegates at the annual RNIB-hosted conference Techshare this month.

Hassell and co-developer Nick Kind of not-for-profit e-learning organisation Spark Learning ( http://www.sparklearning.com/ ), of the development team, appealed to delegates for ideas on how to take the programme forward. "There's a possibility we can get this out there and transform kids' lives," Hassell said. Nick Kind has published a blog on the suspension of Jam - originally launched in October 2006 - at: http://nickkind.blogspot.com/ .

Benjamin's House users encounter colourful characters living in the house, including a spider and a hoover, triggering audible poems, stories and games about grammar and language, as they navigate rooms and furniture. "We wanted to do things that had never been done before using the wonderful archive of BBC materials," Hassell told delegates. The game has been tested across the country, from "Glasgow to Cornwall," he said.

Unusually, it was designed with both vision impaired and sighted users in mind.

All Benjamin's House content has audio output and plain text descriptions of the layout of the house including descriptions of the sights, sounds and smells of the house are available at each step of the "tour." The game was developed for mainly home use to "bridge the home-school divide through the internet," said Hassell.

NOTE: To see E-Access Bulletin's previous coverage of BBC Jam go to the free-to-use archives and search for Issue January 2007: 'Sticky By Name, Sticky By Nature,' Section Three at: http://www.headstar.com/eab/archive.html .

++News in Brief:


+04: Allowance Correction:

In the last issue of E-Access Bulletin we incorrectly wrote that Disability Living Allowance was a means tested benefit, when in fact it is not dependent on income or savings. We would like to apologise for this error.

+05: Virtual Libraries:

Over 34,000 accessible format audio books have been made available to international subscribers for the first time by Bookshare.org, a non-profit US-based organisation. The collection, in English, also includes 1,000 Spanish titles. Subscription costs 75 dollars, less than 40 pounds for the first year, payable by credit card: http://fastlink.headstar.com/bookshare1 . Meanwhile, more than a thousand downloadable audiobook titles in MP3 format have been made available by US based online retailer eMusic on a subscription basis, costing 9.99 dollars or around five pounds: http://fastlink.headstar.com/emusic1 .

+06: Leopard's Hotspots:

Support for Braille displays and note taking devices and a more natural sounding voice output are among the improved accessibility features from the latest operating system from Apple. Leopard's new feature for the 'VoiceOver' tool monitors an object or area in an accessible window using "hot spots" and notifies the user when something changes: http://fastlink.headstar.com/leopard1 .

[Section One ends].

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


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

+07: Chinese Picture:

Kevin Chow, a blind person living in Hong Kong, writes in response to the feature published in the last issue 'The Distance Between Rights And Reality,' Section Three, by Julie Howell. "I read Ms Howell's article on her trip to China with great interest. Many of the disadvantaged groups in China are still deprived of the benefits of ICT, especially those living in the rural areas, but I have witnessed many big strides made by the Chinese Government in bridging the digital divide for people with vision impairment in recent years," he writes.

"The following are some of the major programmes and initiatives: In 2004, the first National Accessible Information Conference was held in Beijing, which I believe has now become an annual event. The conference, which aims to promote accessible digital technologies and electronics services for people with disabilities, has successfully gained participation and support from many of the big names in the ICT industry, such as Microsoft, IBM and HP.

"The China Disabled Person's Federation (CDPF) has rolled out free ICT training classes in its centres in many of the cities to teach vision- impaired people to use computers and browse the net.

"The most significant initiative however, is its support provided for the development of assistive tools for the disabled. In China, you can acquire a Chinese screen reader with reasonable functions, nothing compared with that of JAWS or SuperNova, for around 60 pounds, a mobile phone with built-in, fully-fledged speech-enabled functions for well under 70 pounds, and a speech-enabled MP3 machine for a mere 40 pounds.

"In regarding to digital divide in developing countries, I reckon the hardest hurdle for vision-impaired people in closing the gap is the prohibitive high price tag that comes with most of the assistive tools now produced in western countries. China is worthy of exploration in sourcing affordable assistive aids for people in need. Anybody who wishes to discuss more on the above is welcome to contact me: [Further responses to inbox@headstar.com] .

+08: Sound Advice:

There have been several responses to John Turley's request for help accessing his Apple iPod. He wanted to know if on-screen information could be made audible. Rich Caloggero, Accessibility Researcher with the National Center for Accessible Media suggests he should download 'Rockbox': http://www.rockbox.org/

Rich says: "This is "firmware," essentially system software, which you can load onto your player. It makes the menus and controls talk. I haven't got an mp3 player, so have no first hand experience with this, but have heard good things about it."

The Rockbox software will run on a wide range of players including most iPods: a full list is on the home page of its website.

Akbar Currim from Bombay, India also offered advice on Rockbox including an online talk: "Archives for the Tech Talk training on Rockbox, the open source firmware system that makes many off-the- shelf mp3 players accessible, on podcasting, on Windows Vista and many others are now available. See: http://accessibleworld.org/show.php?contentid=43 ."

And Anna Dresner from the US, an author who has written about media player accessibility was another recommending RockBox, and also writes:

"There is also a program called VoiceBox that finds the files on your player and generates voice clips so that Rockbox can speak file and folder names. The software is still under development, so it's not always as stable as you would wish, but it can be a good option if you don't mind that sort of thing. Check out Brian Hartgen's Portable Players Portal at http://www.hartgen.org for more information." [further reponses to inbox@headstar.com] .

[Inbox ends].

++Section Three - Conference Report- Techshare 2007.


+09: Conventional Access by Derek Parkinson.

Access to online services for people with disabilities, including e- government services, is set to become a key focus of efforts by the United Nations (UN) to promote human rights, delegates heard at Techshare 2007, a conference staged by the Royal National Institute for Blind People this month ( http://www.rnib.org.uk/techshare ).

The UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities is the first human rights convention adopted this millennium, and almost half of the convention is devoted to access to information technologies, said Axel Leblois, Director of the Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies (G3ICT).

"The key aspects are the definition of disability, which takes an important step in acknowledging that society bears some responsibility for the barriers that people with disabilities face. Also significant is the focus on use of ICTs. There are 32 articles, and 14 deal with ICTs," said Leblois, whose organisation is leading the UN effort to discover what progress nations have made in ensuring that technology is accessible.

Some 114 countries have signed the convention since it was introduced in March 2007, said he said. The next step is for these countries to ratify the convention, implementing its articles in national legislation, where necessary, he said. "In the short term, most states will be looking at their own legislation and comparing it with the Convention. Some will have to introduce a lot of new legislation. Others, such as the UK for example, will be identifying any holes and taking steps to fill the gaps," said Leblois. The public sector will have a key role in helping to put the Convention into practice, he said. "Government has to do something. In many cases it will be changing procurement rules, starting with public procurement," said Leblois.

Later in the day, Leblois led a round-table discussion with participants from across all sectors to identify examples of good practice in ensuring that new technologies are accessible to people with disabilities. The public sector in the UK has based its approach on two main pillars: legislation and standards, participants said. The Disability Discrimination Act sets out the main legal requirements of access to technology, including special provisions for the public sector such as the Disability Equality Duty, which requires public bodies to actively promote the interests of people with disabilities.

The UK government has also mandated standards for public sector IT, to ensure that online services are of a consistently high quality, participants said. Some of these standards, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines drafted by a special interest group of the World Wide Web Consortium, are international, while others are "home grown", Leblois heard.

This approach has delivered improvements, but the UK public sector could do more to improve the accessibility of e-services, participants said. Mandatory standards and legislation can encourage a "tick-box" approach to accessibility, rather than a focus on the needs of end-users, Leblois was told. Some UK government websites comply with accessibility requirements in a technical sense, but are still difficult and unrewarding to use by people with disabilities, the meeting was told. More effort has gone into promoting accessibility standards for e- services than in sharing good practice and actively helping bodies who are struggling. Little effort is made to check compliance with standards.

In many public bodies it is difficult to identify a single person or department in a public sector organisation who is responsible for accessibility of e-services, participants said. Until relatively recently UK e-government had a champion in the form of the e-Envoy, but holders of this post, first Alex Allan and subsequently Andrew Pinder, were charged with promoting e-services to the public sector to migrate rather than accessibility specifically, Leblois heard. Ultimately, responsibility for central government websites has been spread between the Cabinet Office, the Central Office of Information, and the Department for Work and Pensions, participants said.

This lack of ownership can also has be seen at local government level, participants said. However, some councils have made good progress and central government could learn from their example, Leblois heard. Participants said the achievements of individual councils can often be attributed to a desire to distinguish themselves from neighbouring authorities, or in being lucky enough to have staff with a strong personal commitment to accessibility. Local government also examines its own achievements with initiatives such as the annual 'Better Connected' survey of council websites, run by the Society of IT Management, the meeting heard. The only other publicly available assessments of how well government is progressing comes through the efforts of organisations such as RNIB to reward good practice, but awards ceremonies are no substitute for a comprehensive audit of accessibility, Leblois heard. Overall, the result is patchy progress across government.

The first visible impact of the convention will be the publication this month of G3ICT research falling under four themes: examples of good practice; analysis of the barriers to accessibility by private sector suppliers; standards, and how they can be harmonised; and legislation and regulations, Leblois said. The research will be published in print and accessible electronic formats, he said. "We want to encourage feedback. We would like to see people sending us their own case studies," he said.

[Section Three ends].

++Section Four - Focus- Education.


+10: Moodling About by Nick Freear And Chetz Colwell.

The Open University is the only university in the United Kingdom dedicated to distance learning, with a mission to be "open to people, places, methods and ideas". It is one of the largest universities in Europe, with approximately 150,000 undergraduate students, and 1 in 20 of these students declare some type of disability.

In October 2005, the Open University adopted the open source learning software system 'Moodle' as its virtual learning environment. Moodle is a learning or course management system that supports an educational model whereby learners are also teachers, and vice versa. Students, teachers and lecturers access Moodle over the internet via their Web browser.

The software was first developed by Martin Dougiamas from Perth, Australia as a PhD project in 2002, based on his experiences as a university system administrator. It is open source, like Linux and Mozilla Firefox, which means that anyone can download, modify and use it for teaching. Its name stands for 'Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment', and there are many modular activities that can be mixed and matched: blog, forum, glossary, quiz, wiki and so on. There are various other plug-in features available including course formats, question types, text filters, language packs and themes (for styling) - about 20 in all.

There are now more 25,000 registered Moodle user sites in universities, colleges, schools, government and companies across the world, in 75 languages. The Open University has funded and contributed a lot of development work to the project since 2005, including necessary improvements to accessibility (together with the Italian research groups FORMEZ and ISS). The worldwide use of Moodle ensures that these advances will affect many users in the university, the UK and beyond.

Since February 2006 ongoing expert evaluations of accessibility have been conducted. These have covered the majority of available Moodle tools and activities. The initial testing fed into a long list of issues that became the specification for further accessibility developments. Regular evaluations with students are also being conducted, involving disabled and non-disabled students. Three rounds of evaluations have occurred since December 2006, involving 32 students, of whom 14 have disabilities. These have focused on course web sites, forum, wiki, quiz, and profile. These student evaluations are observational sessions using the 'think aloud' technique while students conduct realistic tasks in an educational context.

The accessibility problems that have been identified during expert and student evaluations are in the process of being fixed in each new Moodle release. In Moodle 1.6, released in June 2006, some missing ALT text was provided, heading markup was used for headings, layout tables were removed, colour contrast was improved, and list markup was used for lists.

In version 1.8, released in March 2007, a forms library was adopted in order to standardise forms to use appropriate form markup, and this work is still ongoing. Some deprecated tags were removed, keyboard shortcuts were added to the text editor, alternatives were provided where colour or format were used alone to convey information, additional list markup was added, and there was work to ensure that all aspects are usable without Javascript.

In the next release, due in October 2007, it is anticipated that there will be further improvements to form markup, and list markup will be added. There are further outstanding issues which it is hoped will be addressed in future versions of Moodle (version 2.0 is expected mid- 2008) including removal of remaining layout tables, further forms improvement, and removal of remaining deprecated tags.

Clearly there are challenges when working on this type of large-scale project. Firstly there is the difficulty of fixing accessibility issues retrospectively. Moodle is a large and complex system with over 1 million lines of code in the core product, and an estimated development time of 275 person-years. Developers use a wide range of tools and searching for and fixing problems within it is not a trivial task. Secondly, while it will be possible to resolve the user interface accessibility problems, it is more difficult to ensure teacher and student-generated material will be accessible. For example, when using collaborative tools such as wikis and forums it is difficult to ensure that students use heading tags for headings and meaningful text in links when creating online content. Of course this is an issue for all user-generated online content.

Other challenges include raising the awareness of accessibility issues and techniques among an international group of paid and volunteer developers and maintainers from a diverse range of backgrounds. This is particularly an issue for third party modules, themes and language packs.

The potential of online learning to widen participation should transform the educational experience for many, including those with disabilities. We hope that the accessibility improvements being undertaken in Moodle will help achieve this goal. To find out more, please visit: http://moodle.org and http://docs.moodle.org/en/Accessibility .

Acknowledgements: This work is a collaboration involving Open University colleagues, Moodle.com developers, and the community on the Moodle.org forums.

NOTE: Dr Nicholas Freear is a Technical Developer for Learning and Teaching Solutions and Dr Chetz Colwell is Project Officer at the Accessibility in Educational Media team, Institute of Educational Technology, at The Open University: http://iet.open.ac.uk/aem .

[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 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].