+++E-Access Bulletin - Issue 105, September 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: Target Agrees Six Million Dollar Accessibility Case Settlement.

Following a two-year legal battle, US superstore chain Target has agreed to pay six million dollars to settle a class action brought against it for the inaccessibility of its website.

The company also agreed to make changes to its site to ensure it is accessible, to pay for regular independent accessibility testing of its site, and to pay the legal fees of those who brought the case, although it does not accept liability or agree that the website is inaccessible ( http://fastlink.headstar.com/target1 ).

The case was brought in 2006 by Bruce Sexton, a blind student from the University of California Berkeley, then aged 24, with the support of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB - http://www.nfb.org/ ). Two other individuals subsequently joined the case, Melissa Williamson and James Marks.

The plaintiffs had alleged that Target's website ( http://www.target.com/ ) was inaccessible to visually impaired screenreader users in what amounted to "systemic civil rights violations" by the company ( http://www.nfbtargetlawsuit.com/ ).

They told a district court in San Francisco that the site "contains thousands of access barriers that make it difficult if not impossible for blind customers to use the website...Target thus excludes the blind from full and equal participation in the growing Internet economy that is increasingly a fundamental part of the common market place and daily life."

Although Target did not admit to liability, or accept that it had broken the law or that its website was inaccessible, many analysts feel the size of the payment may be enough to cause other website owners to improve accessibility now rather than risk being forced to make similar payments.

+02: Navigation Aid Among Insight Radio'S 'Vision 2008' Reports.

A new device called STEP-HEAR ( http://stephear.com/ ), enabling blind and partially sighted people to navigate in public places, is among technologies reviewed by the RNIB's radio station Insight Radio as part of its reporting from Vision 2008 (http://www.vision2008.ca/ ).

Vision 2008, held this summer in Montreal, Canada, is the world's biggest conference on low vision.

STEP-HEAR is a relatively low cost device consisting of two parts. A base station includes a speaker and a small recording device onto which the user can record, re-record or store sounds and messages. The second part, a remote control, can be worn as a pendant, strapped to the wrist or carried in a pocket. When a blind person carrying the remote control walks within range of the base the remote vibrates, prompting the user to press a button to hear the message or sound recorded.

In an interview with Insight Radio Nurit Neustadt-Noy, of the device's Israeli manufacturer Consultation and Rehabilitation Services, said it could help people distinguish between men's and women's toilets, or determine what number bus has arrived at a stop. Another feature could alert the bus driver that a blind person is trying to enter the vehicle so assistance could be offered.

Other possible uses if purchased by individuals could be to help blind people identify their own suitcase on an airport carousel, or to help people navigate back to their hotel room by hanging the base station on the back of the door.

"Or see here in this hall, how many blind people need assistance just to know who are the presenters?" said Neustadt-Noy. "If we put a device in each of the booths, as you walked by it would vibrate and you could press the button and you would know which company is represented there."

The interview and a wide range of others from the conference can be heard at Insight Radio's website: http://fastlink.headstar.com/insight2 .

Other coverage includes an interview with Vincent Lebec from Haptecs, discussing force feedback devices for mobile phones and refreshable tactile graphics devices allowing blind students to access mathematical diagrams in schoolbooks.

Insight Radio - the Glasgow-based station formerly known as VIP On Air - is now broadcast on the web, on Sky channel 0188 and 101 FM in Glasgow. A blind presenter and producer from the station, Michael Hughes, came second in last week's final of the TV show 'Big Brother'.

+03: Call For Research Into Elderly Access To Mobile Phones.

Mobile phones and other mobile technologies have great potential to help older people, but existing methods of evaluating older people's access requirements for such technologies are inadequate, according to a paper presented at last week's British HCI (human-computer interaction) 2008 conference at Liverpool John Moores University ( http://www.hci2008.org/ ).

The paper, by Sofianiza Malik and Alistair Edwards from the Department of Computer Science, University of York, was presented at a workshop on HCI and the older population.

"Many of the commonly-used techniques of requirements capture for mobile technologies are inappropriate for use with older people, for a variety of reasons," it says. "These may be related to problems associated with age, cognitive complexity and motivation. The result is to restrict the potential of mobile technologies to provide support to older people."

The York team is currently undertaking research to identify user requirement methods that are suitable and appropriate for older people using mobile technology.

Other papers presented at Liverpool covered issues including web access for older people; and inclusive design for older people. All the workshop papers can be accessed online at: http://fastlink.headstar.com/hci1 .

++ News in Brief:


+04: Invisible Touch:

A haptic device which can create the illusion of touching virtual objects using force feedback has been demonstrated by developers at the University of Tokyo. A camera attached to a computer detects the location of the user's hands and adjusts a beam of tactile ultrasonic waves to allow the user feel of different parts of a virtual object or an image on a computer screen: http://fastlink.headstar.com/haptic1 .

+05: Awards Deadline:

The deadline for entries to the European e- inclusion awards is approaching on 12 September. The awards recognise innovation in using ICT and digital technology to improve the lives of socially disadvantaged people, and will be presented in December in several categories including 'e-accessibility' and 'ageing well'. Many of the entrants will also be selected for recognition and showcased as examples of best practice: http://www.e-inclusionawards.eu/ .

+06: Institutional Threat:

The Accessibility Institute at the University of Texas has been threatened with closure after the death of its founder Dr John Slatin in March this year. The institute has developed a strong reputation for research in accessibility technology and universal design: http://www.utexas.edu/research/accessibility/ In response to the news, an e-petition has been posted asking the university to reconsider its decision and allow the institute to continue its work: http://www.petitionspot.com/petitions/SavetheInstitute .

[Section One ends].

++Sponsored Notice: Accessible Design in the Digital World 2008 http://www.addw08.org/


Following the successful conference 'Accessible Design in the Digital World' in Dundee in August 2005, we are pleased to announce Accessible Design in the Digital World '08, to be held at the University of York in September 2008.

The conference will provide an opportunity for researchers and practitioners to discuss and debate the possibilities for accessibility and usability in the emerging world of Web 2.0, ubiquitous and pervasive technologies, and user experience. Keynote speakers will include:

- Michael Paciello, The Paciello Group, USA - Graeme Whippy, Lloyds TSB, UK - Alan Newell & Maggie Morgan, University of Dundee, UK.

For more information and to register, see: http://www.addw08.org/

[Sponsored notice ends].

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


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

+07: Beijing Warning:

Tom Worthington, Adjunct Senior Lecturer at Australian National University and a long-time accessibility expert ( http://www.tomw.net.au/ ), writes in with a comment following last issue's coverage of the inaccessibility of the Beijing Olympics website (see E-Access Bulletin, issue 104, August 2008).

Tom was called as an expert witness in the 2000 tribunal case against the Sydney organizers of the Olympics in that year, and writes in with a link to a relevant presentation he gave in 2003 to the Beijing games organizers BOCOG summarising the 200 case: http://www.tomw.net.au/2003/bws.html .

"As you can see, I recommended they implement accessibility," Tom says.

+08: Mac Discomforts:

Karen Mardahl, co-manager of the Society of Technical Communication's 'AccessAbility' group ( http://www.stc-access.org ), writes in to report problems accessing one of the websites mentioned in our previous issue's inbox, the 'Macvisionaries' site: http://www.macvisionaries.com/ .

Karen writes: "When I visited the site, they had MySQL errors on several pages. I wrote to tell them, and the mail was returned because their mailbox is full.

"This resource sounded so great, so I hope the errors are a temporary issue. I just wanted to ask you in case you could help pass on the word."

And following up another of last issue's stories, on the launch of an online Disability Information Portal by the charity Leonard Cheshire Disability, Karen writes: "Going to the Disability Information Portal taught me about Leonard Cheshire Disability and their Creature Discomforts ads ( http://www.creaturediscomforts.org/ ). "They are wonderful.

"I like the communication angle - getting this kind of information across to everyone before they put up their barriers of "I don't want to know" or "doesn't apply to me, mate". I live in Denmark, which is why I am not familiar with these spots before now. Perhaps they could be a topic for another bulletin? Maybe a follow-up on their effect?" [Editor's note - we will try to do this soon, Karen!]

+09: Spam Tips:

A further spam-fighting tip has emerged from the ongoing debate on our E-Access Bulletin Live blog about the use of inaccessible 'CAPTCHA' anti-spam tools by some websites.

David O'Brien writes: "We recently relaunched our site and used server-side validation on forms, rather than javascript. Content spam has dropped dramatically (almost disappeared, in fact) since. The validation scripting is quite time-consuming, but if you subtract the amount of time colleagues are not dealing with spam, it is probably worth the effort (though I haven't done the sums yet).

"We get about 100 enquiries a month through forms on our site. We completely rejected the option of CAPTCHA (although it had been requested by some colleagues) because of the accessibility issues; but also because it makes it harder for everyone to use, not just those with disabilities. I have 20/20 vision and I sometimes have difficulty deciphering CAPTCHAs.

"Another possibility we considered was simply to classify any form submission with a URL in it as spam. Over 95% of the spam we used to receive contained a URL. So just add a note in the label of your form inputs to say 'do not enter a URL', and write a script so that any submission containing the string 'http://' is rejected."

To join the discussion, see our 'E-Access Bulletin Live' blog: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=183#comments We will track further comments in this section of the newsletter.

[Inbox 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 Three: Analysis - Target Web Lawsuit.


+10: The Six Million Dollar Question. By Majeed Saleh And Dan Jellinek.

For years the web accessibility community has been waiting for clear legal precedent to be set enforcing the accessibility of websites for people with disabilities, but to date the wait has gone largely unrewarded.

The ruling cited most often dates back to 2000, when blind web user Bruce Maguire won 20,000 Australian Dollars from the organisers of the Sydney Olympics for failing to address the inaccessibility of the games' website (for case details see http://contenu.nu/socog.html and E-Access Bulletin back issues including August 2008). But the ruling was that of an equal opportunity commission rather than a full court, and has little resonance outside that country.

Since then, a series of cases brought in the UK and elsewhere have been settled out of court with payments made to plaintiffs, often in secret. Such settlements are frustrating: for while it is understandable that complainants, many of whom are people with disabilities, are inclined to accept offers of financial compensation in return for dropping their claims, only completed court cases can set a legal precedent.

On the other hand, if the settlement is large enough, and is made public, then even if it comes with a disclaimer of liability, other website owners may sit up and take notice: no-one wants to have to make large payouts.

Enter Bruce Sexton, a blind student from the University of California Berkeley. In 2006, when Sexton was aged just 24, he brought a class action over website inaccessibility against the American superstore chain Target, with the support of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB - http://www.nfb.org/ ).

Sexton, with the NFB and joined by two other individuals, Melissa Williamson and James Marks, filed a case centred on the inaccessibility of the Target website to visually impaired screenreader users ( http://www.nfbtargetlawsuit.com/ ).

Target runs more than 1,500 stores in the US, and its online store ( http://www.target.com/ ) receives around 25 million unique visitors a month, according to figures from compete.com. The plaintiffs alleged "systemic civil rights violations" by Target. They told the United States District Court, San Francisco Division, that "Target.com provides to the public a wide array of the goods, services, price discounts, employment opportunities and other programs offered by Target. Yet, Target.com contains thousands of access barriers that make it difficult if not impossible for blind customers to use the website.

"In fact, the access barriers make it literally impossible for blind users to even complete a transaction on the website. Target thus excludes the blind from full and equal participation in the growing Internet economy that is increasingly a fundamental part of the common market place and daily life."

After two years of wrangling, Target has finally agreed, in a settlement announced on 27 August, to pay the plaintiffs 6 million dollars plus legal fees. The company also agreed to make changes to their site to ensure it is accessible ( http://fastlink.headstar.com/target1 ).

It is true that Target does not admit to liability, or accept that it was breaking the law or even that its website was inaccessible. On the other hand, the size of the payment is enough in itself to send shivers down the spine of anyone offering large-scale services online.

Struan Robertson, Legal director at solicitors Pinsent Masons, told E- Access Bulletin that the ruling would have the strongest influence in California, meaning any website selling to customers in that state would have to make accessibility a real consideration. That influence, however, does not extend to other parts of the US, so much uncertainty remains.

"If it encourages other sites to improve accessibility then it's a good thing, and it's encouraging that the comments of the judge were supportive of the need for accessibility," Robertson says.

Peter Abrahams, expert on accessibility and usability at technology research consultancy Bloor, says companies faced with the possibility of a similar lawsuit are likely to look at the settlement and decide that it may make more sense for them to make the necessary changes to their websites now. "I would be surprised if people go to court again," he says.

Interestingly the standards of accessibility to which Target is bound to comply are not the most widely recognised ones such as the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), but standards developed by Target themselves. These 'Target Online Assistive Technology Guidelines' ( http://fastlink.headstar.com/target2 ) contain similar guidance as other accessibility standards such as the requirement to use alternative text for images, but make no reference to WCAG or any other generally accepted standards.

Abrahams told the E-Access Bulletin that this was not necessarily a problem. WCAG standards are highly technical, he said, and the Target standards are written in a way that people working at the company will understand and can implement. "It's a good document, a good example of what people should do," says Abrahams. "People should take advantage of the fact that it this document is now publicly available."

As part of the agreement, the NFB will perform quarterly automated tests on the Target website to ensure it is meeting its obligations. Every year an accessibility consultant will perform a detailed examination of the site and the NFB will conduct user tests with the JAWS screenreader, reporting the findings to Target. All this testing will be paid for by Target.

So from where might the next court action come?

Interestingly, the technology behind Target's website is provided by Amazon Enterprise Solutions ( http://www.amazonservices.com/amazoncommerce/ ), An offshoot of the online retailer Amazon which provides e-commerce solutions to various other companies including Sears Canada ( http://www.sears.ca ), Marks and Spencer ( http://www.marksandspencer.com ) and Mothercare ( http://www.mothercare.com/ ).

Could these other sites be vulnerable? Not necessarily. In March 2007, Amazon.com and the NFB signed an agreement which would see them "work together to develop and promote technologies that improve web accessibility for the blind." This agreement however covers the website Amazon.com, and not explicitly the technology that Amazon provides to other e-commerce sites ( http://fastlink.headstar.com/nfb1 ).

Only time will tell if other cases will be brought and settlements reached. But the incentive is there: six million dollars is an attractive carrot for potential plaintiffs, and a big stick for potential defendants.

[Section Three ends].

++End Notes.



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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

ISSN 1476-6337 .

[Issue 105 ends].