+++E-Access Bulletin - Issue 106, October 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: Designing for all: an inclusive approach to web,print and electronic publishing - A practical, one-day training course and document clinic - Wednesday 3 December, RIBA, Central London http://www.headstar-training.com/dfa/ .


Trainer: Katie Grant, former publications manager, Disability Rights Commission. 'Designing for all' is a practical course designed to introduce organisations to the importance of designing accessible, easy to read information for a range of different audiences including older people, people with disabilities and people for whom English is not their first language.

It will help you assess current design and content of information - please bring examples to our document clinic. The course will be of interest to anyone who is involved in the design and delivery of information in print, electronic and web formats. To book a place see: http://www.headstar-training.com/dfa/

[Special notice ends].

++Section One: News.


+01: Final Countdown To Long-Awaited Web Access Guidelines.

A long-awaited updated version of the main international standard for making websites accessible to people with disabilities is expected to be published in December, E-Access Bulletin has learned.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) version 2.0 from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C - http://www.w3c.org ) have been in development for several years.

The first version of the WCAG guidelines now dates back around a decade, and though it has proved a vital tool for raising awareness of accessibility issues it has long been seen as over-technical, complex and unclear in many situations.

Version 2.0 is set to address many of these problems by moving away from rigid technical 'checkpoints' to more flexible 'success criteria.'

Earlier this month week, the responsible World Wide Web consortium working group met in Boston, US to finalise the current 'Candidate recommendation' phase of WCAG 2.0 in which the new guidelines have been tested on real web sites to confirm their applicability.

The group will debate which success criteria can be considered sufficiently stable to be implemented, and some of the requirements previously marked as 'At risk' will be reviewed to ensure the guidelines can be met in practice. A W3C spokesman told E-Government Bulletin this week that publication in December was now expected, and that if the deadline did slip any further it would be a matter of weeks, not months.

NOTE: For an exclusive interview with two W3C staff see 'Organisation in the spotlight', Section Three, this issue.

+02: Recession Is Poor Excuse For Exclusion, Analyst Warns.

Organisations should not use the economic downturn as a reason not to carry out work to make their websites more accessible to people with disabilities, a leading analyst said this week.

In fact there is extensive evidence that an economic downturn is a good time to increase such activity, with significant opportunities to increase market share, Ted Page of PWS web services told the Law Society of Scotland's 'Nothing But The Net' conference (http://www.lawscot.org.uk/update/NBTN/ ).

"A study published by McKinsey in 2002 found one of the most significant differences between the most and least profitable firms over the economic cycle was with respect to their spending on marketing and advertising during the recession period," he said.

"Far from battening down the hatches when the economy turned down, the best performers actually increased spending in these areas, not just relative to their competitors but also compared to their own spending in better economic times. There have been many similar studies that have come to broadly the same conclusions."

A recent survey by PWS found more than 80 per cent of professional services firms are failing to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act with respect to their websites, despite the costs of fixing accessibility problems generally being moderate or low, Page said.

Fixing problems would enable companies to better reach 10 million disabled people in the UK, with �80 billion annual spending power, he said. It also offers better access to people using mobile web devices which are not designed to cope with inaccessible websites; and could improve access to the �160 billion a year public sector procurement market which encourages and may soon be made dependent on accessibility of goods and services purchased.

There is one final reason why accessibility should not be ignored, Page said - Google. "It is in no way controversial to state that an accessible website is almost always a Google-friendly one. When Google comes to index your web content it navigates in much the same way that a blind person using screen reader does. It is for good reason that Google is often referred to as the "big blind billionaire". Shut it out at your peril."

For a full copy of Page's talk see: http://www.pws-ltd.com

+03: People With Impaired Vision 'Less Likely To Be Employed'.

People with visual impairments are less likely to be employed than people with other disabilities, according to a report on the UK labour market experiences of people with sight problems prepared for the RNIB by the Institute of Employment Studies ( http://fastlink.headstar.com/ies1 ).

The report was compiled through secondary analysis of the UK Labour Force Survey (LFS - http://fastlink.headstar.com/lfs1 ) over the period July 2004 to June 2007. The LFS recorded 184,000 people of working age in the UK who describe themselves as having 'seeing difficulties'. Of those 108,000 are classed as disabled, 95,000 of whom have a 'work-limiting' disability.

The RNIB report finds people over 55 are three times more likely to have seeing difficulties as those in the 16-24 age bracket, which is a greater increase with age than with other kinds of disabilities.

In addition, the report finds that people who are disabled with seeing difficulties are less likely to be employed (48 per cent) than those with other kinds of disability (50 per cent); this compares to an overall employment rate of 75 per cent among people of working age. For people with more than one disability, the employment rate drops to 38 per cent, however for people with 'seeing difficulties' that do not constitute a disability the rate is much higher at 83 per cent.

The unemployment rates are 8 per cent for disabled people as a whole but 13 per cent for those disabled by visual impairment.

In contrast, the report also found that a higher than average proportion of visually impaired disabled people are employed in high-level positions.

++News in Brief:


+04: Action Plan:

This Friday, the government is set to launch a draft of its first ever Digital Inclusion Action Plan, marking the beginning of a major public consultation exercise including online responses via the Department of Communities and Local Government website. The 24 October was selected for the launch because it is also 'Get online day', an event to encourage new internet users hosted by more than 6,000 government-funded UK Online centres: http://www.getonlineday.com

+05: Mobile Future:

A Bluetooth tagging system designed to provide information to blind people about their surroundings has been unveiled by developers at the University of Michigan. The system, known as Talking Points, uses Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips to impart information to passers-by with a special reader device. Reader equipment is currently expensive, but the developers say the use of Bluetooth means that in the future mobile phones could be used as readers: http://fastlink.headstar.com/umich1 .

+06: Nano Praise:

Apple's latest iPod Nano has been praised by the American Federation of the Blind for incorporating innovations that make the device accessible to blind users. The latest model of Apple's popular portable music player features spoken menus to allow listeners to hear track names and details, a variable contrast screen and the ability to resize text. Screen reader users will also find it easier to access the features of Apple's iTunes music store after accessibility improvements were made to the website: http://fastlink.headstar.com/afb3 .

[Section One ends].

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


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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].

++Special Notice: E-Democracy '08- Tuesday 11 November 2008, RIBA, Central London - Less Than One Month To Go - Don't Miss Out! http://www.headstar-events.com/edemocracy08/ .


The UK's biggest and best annual conference on 'E-Democracy' is back for a fourth year, with a range of unmissable speakers. Anyone with an interest in connecting with communities; consultation; e- participation; or campaigning should register.

Confirmed presenters include Mark Byford, Deputy Director-General of the BBC; Bethan Jenkins, Member of the Welsh Assembly; Andy Williamson, head of the digital government programme at the Hansard Society; James Crabtree, Trustee, UK Citizens Online Democracy; and Tom Steinberg, founder of MySociety.org. Partners and supporters include the Hansard Society, Cisco and the London Borough of Redbridge.

Plenary sessions, networking and lively workshops combine to create the buzz that always surrounds this event. Fees are �165 + VAT for public and voluntary sector and �215 +VAT for private sector: http://www.headstar-events.com/edemocracy08/

[Special notice ends].

++Section Two: Organisation in the Spotlight- W3C.


+07: Global Standards Giant Gears Up For Battleby Dan Jellinek.

With the long-awaited appearance of version 2 of the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) now expected in December, the spotlight is set to fall once more on the workings of this key international standards body.

The consortium, known as W3C, was founded in 1994 by the inventor of the web Tim Berners-Lee, who remains its director. It functions as a developer and repository of key technical standards and protocols that are needed to be shared by technology companies and users to ensure that the web remains open and universal.

With a current membership of more than 400 organisations, from large multinational technology companies to universities and charities, W3C has three main global bases: the European Research Consortium for Informatics and Mathematics (ERCIM) at the Sophia Antipolis technology park in the South of France; Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Computer Science and Artificial Technology Laboratory; and Keio University in Japan.

The consortium has a core staff of around 70, with around 30 in Europe, 30 in the US and 10 Japan. But the actual headcount of those involved in its work is more than 500 if a tally is taken of everyone in the consortium's working groups, interest groups, and the wider community.

The WCAG work falls under the auspices of W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), a programme that cuts across all the consortium's other areas. In a UK visit last month, two WAI staff Shadi Abou-Zahra and Andrew Arch met E-Access Bulletin in London to explain their work programme.

"WAI is one of the consortium's main work areas, and cuts across all the W3C's global locations," said Abou-Zahra. "One of our tasks is to cross-check all W3C's work such as that on [the web's core protocol] HTML to check it supports accessibility, because if standards like HTML don't support accessibility, you won't have accessible websites.

"This is really one of the most important pieces of work we are doing, though it is the least visible to the outside world. What's most well- known about WAI's work is its development of three guidelines - WCAG, ATAG (Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines) and UAAG (User Agent Accessibility Guidelines).

Authoring tools guidelines relate to content management systems, and are aimed at ensuring these systems need to create accessible content, while user agents are tools like browsers and media players, Abou- Zahra says.

"Other areas of our work include education and outreach, which is really important, because most people who make inaccessible websites are often unaware of the issues for people with disabilities."

One major new piece of work undertaken by WAI is the EC-funded WAI-AGE Project ( http://www.w3.org/WAI/WAI-AGE/ ), a look at the implications of an ageing population for web access, given the older people are more likely to have disabilities and may also be less familiar with new technologies.

"Demographics worldwide are dramatically changing at the moment," says Andrew Arch, who works with Abou-Zahra on WAI-AGE. "The proportions of older to younger people are changing as well as the numbers. We're living longer, and we haven't got the support behind us.

"Lots of things have got to change in governments and organisations - with an ageing workforce, you have to keep learning to stay accessible."

The WAI-AGE project is partly aimed at finding out whether there are any significant new pieces of work needed to ensure web accessibility for an older population, Arch says.

"We've looked at what research and user observation has gone on over the decade. There is a pretty big overlap between older people and others with disabilities - sight starts to decline, motor dexterity - and individually these overlap. But with older people there is often a lack of recognition that there is a disability there. For example some people might just say they can't remember so well, rather than that they have a cognitive impairment. Or people won't see failing eye-sight as a disability, it's just 'part of growing old'. But they are disabilities, and often multiple disabilities."

Having gained a grasp of current research the project returned to guidelines such as WCAG 2.0 to see if any changes might be needed. "A large proportion of the needs of older people are met by the new guidelines, but other things might need to feed into the guidance we will issue on implementing the guidelines, for example guidance on how people prepare content for older people.," said Arch.

"Many older people have not grown up with computers, and may not realise their capabilities, for example that you can magnify text in your browser."

However as well as helping to address the problems of ageing it is also important to challenge myths and assumptions about older people such as none of them have any interest or expertise in using computers, says Abou-Zahra. "Social networking is an important part of ageing, for example. And making social networking sites more accessible for older users benefits everybody."

This argument is a development of the age-old mantra from the accessibility sector that people with disabilities want to use the web in the same way as everybody else - "it is a human right recognised by the UN," says Abou-Zahra. But he recognizes that businesses in particular will also be interested in the additional business benefits, especially in the current financial climate.

"With commercial organisations the return on investment is often an important argument. Well, a few years ago, companies might have said 'how many older people are online?' but with demographics changing they know the answer. And with the current surge in mobile phone use there is another incentive, since accessible sites work better on mobile phones."

Other financial factors include helping to hold onto employees as their average age rises through making internal web systems more accessible, though more work is needed on in all these areas, he says. "We know there are not enough numbers attached to these business cases, and we hope for more soon. There is a business case document for accessibility on the WAI website, and we are updating it to reflect new developments."

For many, however, the key accessibility event of the year - assuming it does scrape into 2008 - will be the release of WCAG 2.0.

The WCAG working group held a face-to-face meeting in Boston at the beginning of October to examine the results of trial implementation of the draft guidelines on real websites, and now expects to finalise WCAG 2.0 as a fully-fledged W3C recommendation by December or at the latest by early next year, Abou-Zahra says.

The first version of the WCAG guidelines now dates back around a decade, and though it has proved a vital tool for raising awareness of accessibility issues it has long been seen as over-technical and complex and unclear in many situations.

Version 2.0 is set to address many of these problems by moving away from rigid technical 'checkpoints' to more flexible 'success criteria.'

Another change of style will be a greater separation between the core guidelines and references to specific technologies such as Javascript or browser types, Abou-Zahra says.

"The work needs to be coupled to technologies, but how do we do that in such a way as to not make it outdated the moment it is released? This is the complex issue," he says.

"WCAG 1.0 was too technology-specific. Back then HTML was more dominant, and there was less use of multimedia, but today we have a flurry of technologies such as Ajax, so the first lesson we learned is don't write for a specific technology. Also, in the days of WCAG 1.0 we had to exclude Javascript because it was not sufficiently standardised and assistive technology could not handle it consistently, but now that has largely changed so you need to include it, to look at how any technology should be accessible. The requirements - such as tagging images with text - needs to apply to any technology you are using.

"So WCAG is more decoupled - but having said that, no matter how much you decouple it from specific technologies, there still need to be points of contact with real technologies, places where the tyre hits the road. It is an issue the group is looking to resolve by updating implementation guidance."

Another ongoing problem with the WAI web content guidelines is that they do not fully address the needs of people with cognitive disabilities, admits Abou-Zahra, though he says this is a challenging longer term issue that the organisation is working to resolve alongside the wider access community.

"We know it does not fully meet the needs of people with cognitive disabilities such as some forms of learning disabilities, we admit this up-front," he says. "It is a longer term project, maybe one for WCAG 3.0. I feel this is an issue that the accessibility community as a whole needs to address, more research is needed."

Beyond the publication of WCAG 2.0, W3C and WAI will continue to prioritise accessibility across all its areas of work, he says. "WAI's work is often reduced to WCAG in the public eye, but it is a whole lot more than content, it is about making the web accessible in its broadest sense."

[Section Two ends].

++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

ISSN 1476-6337 .

[Issue 106 ends].