+++E-Access Bulletin - Issue 97, January 2008.

Access To Technology For All, Regardless Of Ability

A Headstar Publication. http://www.headstar.com/eab/ .

Sponsored by: Ford Motor Company http://www.ford.co.uk .

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 '08: Bigger And Better Than Ever- 23 April, Central London - Register Before 8 February For 50 Pound Discount - Further Discounts for Exhibition and Sponsorship http://www.headstar-events.com/eaccess08/


E-Access Bulletin's fourth annual conference and exhibition on access to technology by people with disabilities is on 23 April, sponsored by Fortune Cookie and supported by E-Access Bulletin, RNIB and Ability Magazine.

It's not just about the web, but about e-learning, digital TV, mobile phones, and other portable devices: this is the place for all organisations in all sectors to find out how to comply with the law and what to include in your access policies and strategies.

Normal delegate rates are £195 for public sector, £295 for private sector and £165 for small charities and non-profits (turnover under £150k). Book before 8 February to qualify for our £50 Early Bird Discount, at: http://www.headstar-events.com/eaccess08/

And for information about sponsoring or exhibiting please email Will Knox on: will.knox@headstar.com or call him on 01273 267974.

[Special Notice ends].

++Section One: News.


+01: February Milestone On Road To Web Access Guidelines.

Another step towards publication of the long-awaited international Web Content Accessibility Guidelines version 2.0 (WCAG 2.0) will be reached on 1 February, with the closing of the call for public comment on a final working draft.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the web standards body responsible for WCAG 2.0, says the project "may" now be completed in 2008. It will have been a long journey: the first working draft was published in 2001 and since then eleven different versions have been produced addressing more than 2,500 issues raised in public consultation. Previously promised publication targets have come and gone several times.

The guidelines are the main international benchmark for accessibility of websites to people with disabilities. According to W3C, WCAG 2.0 will apply more broadly to different web technologies as they develop in the future. The WCAG 2.0 requirements will also be more testable, and better guidance for compliance will be issued.

The three current levels of compliance - 'A', 'AA' and 'AAA' - will remain, although the series of prioritised 'checkpoints' of WCAG 1.0 will be replaced by 'success criteria' which can be graded by level. For example, for on-screen text, a colour contrast ratio of at least 5:1 would meet level AA requirements, while 7:1 would meet AAA.

Most web sites that conform to WCAG 1.0 should not require significant changes in order to conform to WCAG 2.0, and some organisations have already started to use the draft guidelines, according to W3C. Issues and comments on the latest draft may be submitted until 1 February 2008, at: http://www.w3.org/WAI/ .

+02: New Uk Equality Commission Gears Up For Action.

The UK's new Equality and Human Rights Commission is likely to be a more effective ally for those lobbying for better access to technology by people with disabilities than its predecessor Disability Rights Commission, a senior official told E-Access Bulletin this month.

The new commission (http://www.equalityhumanrights.com ) was formed as an interim organisation in October 2007, with its full active launch set for April 2008. Covering England, Scotland and Wales, it replaces, unites and adds to the work of three former agencies: the Commission for Racial Equality; the Disability Rights Commission; and the Equal Opportunities Commission. Its statutory disability committee is chaired by Baroness Jane Campbell.

Sarfraz Khan, senior legal officer at the new commission, said the work of his former employer the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) in the area of championing access to technology would be continued by the new body.

"The new commission offers an opportunity for a joined-up approach, not necessarily just considering technology access issues from one particular group, or piecemeal, but allowing us to deal more holistically," Khan said. "It could pick up on issues that might demonstrate multiple disadvantages, for example older people and disabled people."

The new organisation will also have deeper pockets, he said. "It has greater resources than the previous commissions individually and collectively, which will probably mean it is in a position to do much more work, and access a greater number of areas. It also has a broader remit, covering human rights, and we will see how this applies to access to technology."

The commission's duties include to fight discrimination in the fields of age, disability, gender, reassignment of gender, race, religion of belief, and sexual orientation; and to promote awareness, understanding of and protection of human rights. Next month, it will publish a consultation draft of a three-year strategic plan for 2009-2012 covering legal assistance; research; codes of practice; and inquiries and investigations.

+03: Study Finds Mixed Response To Digital Tv Switchover.

The 'help scheme' on offer to people with disabilities to assist with the UK-wide switchover to digital TV works well, though many users will find digital services harder to use, research from the RNIB has found.

The institute surveyed a group of 30 people with impaired vision in the Whitehaven area of Cumbria, where a live digital TV switchover pilot is underway. Under a help scheme funded by the Department for Culture Media and Sport with the BBC, eligible households, including those where people have disabilities, can receive a Freeview set-top box with audio-description and other special access features for just £40, including installation and some training (see http://www.digitaluk.co.uk/helpscheme ).

In the run up to the Whitehaven pilot, information was made available to people in their preferred format on the options available to them. Of the 30 respondents to the RNIB survey, seven had already switched to digital television before the pilot, and the remaining 23 took advantage of the help scheme. All the respondents who used the scheme agreed it offered good value for money. Help scheme staff were praised as friendly and helpful, although some respondents felt that certain aspects of the technology, in particular the audio description option, had not been explained adequately.

But while the respondents thought that on the whole digital television is a good thing, and they appreciated the increased number of channels on offer, they found that digital television is more difficult to use. Currently no digital service offers a set-top box with a voice-output menu and the use of on-screen menus make it difficult for a visually impaired user to navigate. As a consequence some users are reluctant to venture beyond the traditional channels for fear of being unable to find their way back.

RNIB Media and Culture Department Manager Leen Petr� says voice- output technology could become readily available, and is working with manufacturers to develop an affordable solution. The decision on whether set-top boxes with voice-output will be included in the help scheme will be made by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport next month (see E-Access Bulletin, issue 95, November 2007).

Nationwide digital TV switchover is due to start at the end of 2008 in the Scottish Borders and sweep across all regions over five years, ending in the Channel Islands in 2013. For more details of the RNIB's TV-related campaigns see: http://fastlink.headstar.com/rnib9 .

++News in Brief:


+04: Global Gateway:

An interactive online resource for everyone concerned with improving ICT access for people with disabilities has been launched by the Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs (G3ict), a partnership initiative of the United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development. The site, which is aimed at private, public, and non- governmental organisations includes news, reports, country and company profiles and case studies: http://www.g3ict.com/ .

+05: Robo Contribution:

An email-based service which translates electronic documents into Braille or synthetic speech has won the British Computer Society's 2007 Social Contribution Award. 'RoboBraille' is a free service and currently supports seven languages. It was developed by a consortium led by the Danish National Centre for Visual Impairment for Children and Youth: http://www.robobraille.org/ .

+06: Free Tutorials:

A series of free teaching documents aimed at helping visually impaired people access common software using keyboard shortcuts and screen readers and achieve recognised IT qualifications including GCSE, ECDL and CLAIT has been posted online. Andy Spong, a teacher from Humberside, produced the tutorials in response to the expense and poor quality of others available: http://www.spong.uk.net/tutorials .

[Section One ends].

++Sponsored Notice: Fortune Cookie- Web Sites That Really Work.


Fortune Cookie's dedicated web accessibility team makes sure that everyone finds the web sites we design easy to use. As well as being accessible, Fortune Cookie sites are beautiful and deliver stunning return-on-investment. They're award-winning too. In 2007, our work was nominated for major web design awards 11 times.

Legal & General, Kuoni, Diabetes UK, FT Business - just some of the big name brands on Fortune Cookie's client list.

Every business can benefit from making its web site more accessible. If you'd like to know what accessibility can do for your business, talk to Fortune Cookie.

Visit our web site at: http://www.fortunecookie.co.uk

Julie Howell is our Director of Accessibility. Email Julie at: Julie.Howell@fortunecookie.co.uk .

[Sponsored Notice ends].

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


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

+07: Apple Digested:

Following our call for information about the accessibility of Apple products, Jude DaShiell, a computer programmer in the US civil service from Lexington Park, Maryland, writes: "I'm totally blind and own and use a mac mini computer running tiger with VoiceOver on it. I haven't upgraded to Leopard yet, but expect to sometime in 2008.

"The Apple web site, which is important here because Apple sells .mac accounts, is inaccessible in the .mac sign up area, [but] this is known by Apple and I understand that is something Apple is working to fix. People who have problems signing up for .mac accounts can call up Apple and get a technician to do it for them while on the phone. A reason to get this done is that isync, which is accessible and can copy your contacts on your cell phone and save them for you, now does it on a .mac account rather than on your local computer.

"I haven't got all of iTunes working but hopefully accessibility will have improved in Leopard. There is now an accessible spreadsheet for Apple computers not made by Apple and I've been using that on a trial basis. It's a little different from Microsoft Excel, but an Excel background will be helpful in learning to use it. The terminal environment in Leopard did improve over what it was in Tiger, but it's still useable in Tiger.

"The biggest problem for software accessibility any new Mac user will have to contend with is not the operating system accessibility, it's the extra software, since not all of [it] is accessible yet. Developers are not interested in many cases, so don't use the accessibility resources made available by Tiger to make their add-on software accessible.

"It took three years for the first of the spreadsheet applications to become accessible and that spreadsheet comes from a German software developer, not from anyone in America. It's called x-tables and you need to download the latest beta edition and toggle VoiceOver on with command-f5 to see how well or poorly it works.

Another suggestion would be to go to [the technology access advice site] 'ICanWorkThisThing': http://www.icanworkthisthing.com and use the VoiceOver link on that page's instructions to set up VoiceOver first before doing any live testing of it since those instructions optimise VoiceOver accessibility settings. The MacVisionaries [Apple accessibility company website] http://www.macvisionaries.com has a sign-up link for a discuss@macvisionaries.com email list which is one place new users and those not so new can go for help and advice." Jude warns that this email list is high volume, however.

[Further comments please to inbox@headstar.com].

+08: More Apple:

Also on the topic of Apple, Dan Tevelde, a computer programmer and access technology user from Chicago, writes: "Although there is a website devoted to all things related to VoiceOver and Leopard, the information seems out-of-date. I have read that Leopard now supports refreshable Braille displays but can't find any solid information listing how this works, or what displays are supported.

"I also think that if Apple is committed to accessibility than they should make the iPod and iPhone accessible. If anyone has information about using Leopard with Braille displays, please write to me."

Please send information to Dan via inbox@headstar.com .

+09: Deafblindness Resources:

Chris Glavin, editor and owner of the US-based education website K12 Academics, writes in with a request for help in compiling a section with resources relating to deafblindness.

Glavin is looking for people who might be willing to add resources onto the site including articles, studies and blogs. For more information see: http://www.k12academics.com/deafblindness.htm .

[Inbox ends].

++Special notice: Mobile and Flexible Working in the Public Sector- 23 January 2008, RIBA, London http://www.headstar-events.com/flexible08/ .


Do you work in or with a public sector body? Mobile and flexible working practices can help public sector staff work closer to the citizen and reduce the carbon footprint of your organisation. And flexible working practices ensure that services can be delivered 24-7.

The third annual conference on Mobile and Flexible Working in the Public Sector will take place on 23 January 2008, at RIBA, central London. A superb speaker line-up features Stephen Regan, Head of Management and Technologies Programmes at Cranfield University; and Colin Rowland of Cheshire County Council. To see the full programme and to register online, see: http://www.headstar-events.com/flexible08/ .

[Special notice ends].

++Section Three: Special Technology Focus- Flash and Accessible Video, Part One.


NOTE: In this month's special two-part feature, this section looks at the accessibility of Adobe's 'Flash' web video and multimedia software, interviewing independent expert Niqui Merret; while the next section delves deeper into the accessibility features of Flash, as related by the company's own responsible senior engineer Andrew Kirkpatrick.

+10: A Positive School Of Thoughtby Dan Jellinek.

The multimedia software 'Flash' has been around since the early days of the web. Originally developed by Macromedia, now part of Adobe, it became one of the most commonly used ways of creating and playing video and animation content over the web.

Flash has become a de facto web standard due to its large numbers of users. The Flash player, which allows users to view Flash content, is now in its ninth version and is built into many web viewing platforms.

In the accessibility community, however, the software has not always been viewed with pleasure. As a largely visual medium, websites which make extensive use of Flash animation and video at the expense of text have generally been perceived as completely inaccessible to people using text-based access devices such as screen-readers.

Nevertheless the software's developers have been working hard for some time to make it accessible in a variety of ways, such as tagging animation content with text.

Someone who has been following developments closely for many years now, and has had a hand in shaping them, is Niqui Merret, a UK- based consultant and developer.

"With Flash, there have been two schools of thought," Merret says. "The first is that Flash just cannot be accessible. This prejudice tended to prevail in the access community. And when you say it actually can do this or that, they say yes well, but it can't do X.

"But a lot of people are starting to tolerate it now. In the past year there has been a huge change of attitude towards Flash."

This change is attributable to the fact that Flash has now become almost completely accessible by most accepted web standards, she says. "There is very little now that Flash doesn't do from the point of view of access."

In August 2007 Merret posted onto her blog a list of all the outstanding accessibility issues with Flash of which she was aware. The list, which was focused on the Flash player which works within web browsers - in other words, the way in which the user receives Flash content, rather than the way in which developers make the content - was not intended to be complete, but after being widely discussed by developers, Adobe and others seems to be as near definitive as possible. It has generated a great deal of discussion online, and been cited by other influential groups such as the Web Standards Project, a grassroots coalition of developers pushing for open and accessible standards.

The 'Accessibility in Flash bug and issue list' has two important features. First, it is short: there are just nine items on it. Second, many of the issues are not actually within Adobe's remit to fix: of the nine, in fact, Merret says two are caused by issues within Microsoft Windows and related software and interfaces; one is a problem caused by the Firefox browser; and one is now fixed. This leaves five outstanding issues for Adobe to work on - not that many for a complex piece of software which has been scrutinised for years by the demanding accessibility community.

"Adobe has seen the buglist," Merret says. "They clarified one point. One bug was caused by Mozilla [the open source producers of Firefox], which did not have Flash keyboard access - you can't tab into a Flash movie, you have to click on it first. There is nothing Adobe can do to fix that. Though a Mozilla developer has since got in touch and apologised for it!"

In contrast, the manufacturers of screen-reader software and other special access tools are extremely hard to pin down in discussions about adapting products to work with Flash. "Screen reader manufacturers don't respond to emails," Merret says. "It is impossible to get them to do anything at all."

She anticipates that in the long term, all the outstanding problems will be fixed, though it does take time to introduce new features, and for the results to filter through as new players are upgraded and downloaded.

In the meantime, other tools are being developed that may try to take away some of Flash's user base, such as 'Silverlight', Microsoft's cross-platform browser plug-in for video, animation, and interactive content that supports various programming languages.

For the moment however, Flash would appear to have a headstart on Silverlight in terms of accessibility, Merret says.

"Silverlight is not accessible - it doesn't talk to screenreaders, and keyboard access is very basic. In Flash, if you tab, you know where you are, but in Silverlight, you can't see where you are unless you programme it in. Flash is now very accessible by default. But I hate to compare Silverlight to Flash, because Flash is version 9 and this is version 1."

There are also other software areas where Microsoft's solutions are more accessible than their Adobe equivalents, Merret says. "[The website creation tool] Microsoft Expression Web, http://www.microsoft.com/expression/ their equivalent to Adobe's Dreamweaver, complies with web standards. Accessibility is built in from the word go."

In the world of accessibility, nothing is simple.

NOTE: Niqui Merret is a Flash consultant and trainer and ActionScript developer. Her Flash and Accessibility blog can be found at: http://niquimerret.com .

[Section Three 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].

Section Four: Special Technology Focus - Flash and Accessible Video, Part Two.

+11: Flexible Guides To A World Of Sound And Visionby Dan Jellinek.

There are three elements to accessible video content: an accessible interface for controls such as pausing and stopping the video; audio description; and text subtitles or captions.

These three elements were reviewed as they related to Flash video, the popular web plug-in software, at the recent Techshare conference hosted in London by the RNIB.

The session 'Accessible video with Flash technology' was led by Andrew Kirkpatrick, Corporate Accessibility Engineering Lead for Adobe Systems. Adobe now owns Flash after buying its inventor company Macromedia - Kirkpatrick's former employer - in 2005.

Flash content has encountered criticism in the past in relation to accessibility, but it now covers all the three elements outlined above, Kirkpatrick said.

Using the 'Flex' tool for building rich internet applications based on the Flash platform, developers can customise the Flash Player interface, adding control buttons and keyboard shortcuts to simplify processes and make them more accessible, he said.

Number keys can be used to change sound volume, for example, although access to the 'slider' - a visual tab which is dragged along a line to track backwards and forwards through a video - is "a challenge," Kirkpatrick admitted.

Moving to the second element of accessibility, audio description, Flash can be set up to detect that a screen reader is being used and run audio description automatically, Kirkpatrick said. The software will work with the JAWS screen reader, for example, as long as it is JAWS version 4 or newer.

'Cue points' can be use to trigger sounds to be played for audio description at the appropriate times, and developers can also tweak the user interface to add a toggle button to turn audio description on and off, he said.

Perhaps the most vital aspect of making video accessible is the third element to be reviewed - text captioning and subtitling.

Flash has always been able to deliver text equivalents to audio, Kirkpatrick said, but improvements in recent versions of the Flash Player for parsing XML have brought new possibilities.

The software uses DFXP (distribution format exchange profile), a World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standard for encoding and exchanging Timed Text Authoring Format (TT AF) information, which is textual information linked to timed points in audio or video content.

As with audio description tracks, subtitling and captions can be triggered by timed 'cue points' created using "ActionScript", an object-oriented programming language built into Flash. Caption style information can also be embedded. Other options include viewing large captions with full-screen video, and the ability to view a transcript on its own without viewing the video at all.

"Anyone with minimal experience with FLVPlayback [the component of Flash Professional 8 which allows developers to use ActionScript and customise the video player interface] can have subtitles functioning in under five minutes," Kirkpatrick said.

Captioning of video can benefit a huge range of users, and not only those with disabilities, he said. As well as the deaf and hard of hearing, people who are working in a noisy environment such as a factory floor; people in a quiet environment such as an office where they do not want to turn up the sound; and people watching video with poor quality audio will all find captions useful.

The biggest challenge with adding captions is the initial generation of the text, Kirkpatrick said. Those attempting to caption video manually themselves, perhaps because buying in a professional service is too expensive, will find that transcription takes between 5 to 10 hours per hour of video, he said.

Once a transcript is written, there are automated sync software solutions that will match up the text with the spoken word in the video automatically. This is much quicker than manual synchronisation, but is still not as good as using a professional captioner, Kirkpatrick said. And at the far end of the automation scale are voice recognition technologies that will generate text automatically from spoken words, but these do require correction, often extensively.

Kirkpatrick played an excerpt from an example of an online captioned Flash video created by the King Tut exhibition currently showing at London's O2 arena. The video player has been fully customised to fit in with the style of the website, and the captions appear automatically (see: http://www.kingtut.org//flash/video/tut_cc.html ).

Answering a question from the floor about the possibility of simultaneously running different kinds of text, Kirkpatrick said: "You could have multiple caption tracks with the ability to switch between them, for example one for children and one for adults. It can also support multiple characters [for different languages] using Unicode."

In conclusion, he said that Flash and its related tools comply with the W3C's WCAG 1.0 accessibility guidelines, and will comply with WCAG 2.0 once these appear.

[Section Four 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.


+How to Receive the Bulletin

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Please send comments on coverage or leads to Dan Jellinek at: dan@headstar.com .

Copyright 2008 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
  • Reporter: Majeed Saleh
  • Editorial advisor - Kevin Carey
  • Marketing Executive - Claire Clinton
  • Sales and Marketing - Jo Knell, Will Knox.

ISSN 1476-6337 .

[Issue 97 ends].