+++E-Access Bulletin - Issue 120, December 2009.

Access To Technology For All, Regardless Of Ability

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

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/ .

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++Section One: News.


+01: Call For Compliance With Un Convention Covering Ict Rights.

Disability rights groups, organisations working with people with disabilities and all other interested parties must carefully monitor their home nations' compliance with the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities to ensure moves towards more accessible information and communications technologies (ICT) do not fall by the wayside, one of the world's leading accessibility analysts writes in this month's E-Access Bulletin.

Cynthia Waddell, Executive Director of The International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet (ICDRI - http://www.icdri.org/ ), says the Convention entered into legal force in May 2008 and starting next year, 2010, all states that have ratified it will be required to report to the UN Committee on Rights of Persons with Disabilities on measures taken to meet its accessible ICT obligations.

The Convention has helped to create a paradigm shift in the exercise of the rights of people with disabilities in the use of ICT, Waddell says, with many provisions relating to ICT availability, affordability and accessibility through principles of 'universal design'. "But it is one thing to have a law or policy, and another to implement it.if the UN Convention is to succeed, then its monitoring provisions need to be followed. The Convention requires the signatory states to designate focal points within each country to assist in implementation and monitoring. I encourage you to find out who the designated focal points are in your country and to contribute your voice to the Convention implementation effort and the country Monitoring Report."

The ongoing controversy over the Kindle 2 - an electronic book reader with a text-to-speech feature which has been embroiled in a row over royalties from what some see as a new 'audio book' format - "reminds us that the accessible ICT paradigm shift is fragile and can be broken," Waddell says.

NOTE: For the full article see Section Three, this issue.

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=368

+02: Uk'S First Educational E-Book Library Launched Online.

The UK's first online library of educational textbooks in a range of digital formats accessible to visually impaired students has been launched.

'Books for All' is a joint project between The Seeing Ear ( http://www.seeingear.org/ ), a website which provides electronic books for visually disabled people, and the University of Edinburgh. It allows authorised and registered teachers and students with visual impairments to access an online catalogue of alternative format educational books for free.

Accessible books are uploaded to the database by teachers, and can then be freely downloaded by other schools or registered users in formats such as plain text, Word and PDF. Tony Dart, chief executive of The Seeing Ear, said the system should eliminate the problem of people across the UK having to convert the same book into a format accessible for visually impaired students many times. "If a book is a set text, it's very often converted locally, with varying degrees of quality. This way, we can have one person upload an e-book to make it available for everybody."

Dart said that if successful, the project would have a "vast and positive impact" on accessible e-learning.

There are currently around 100 educational titles available through the service, and Dart says he hopes this number will increase as more schools join. Around 250 schools are already registered.

Future plans to improve the service include a collaborative editing system to correct any mistakes to uploaded texts, and an online converter to automatically switch between accessible formats as required.

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=370

+03: Automatic Captions Added To Youtube Videos.

Google, the owner of video exchange website YouTube, has started providing automatic captions for some English language videos on the website, increasing accessibility for deaf users.

The 'auto-caps' system is made possible by Google's own automatic speech recognition (ASR) technology, working alongside the current YouTube captioning system.

Although captions are already available on YouTube, it was previously necessary for the owner of the video to insert them manually - a time- consuming task, given the sheer number of videos uploaded to the site.

Ken Harrenstien, a Google software engineer who is also deaf, said recently on the official Google Blog: "Every minute, 20 hours of video are uploaded. How can we expect every video owner to spend the time and effort necessary to add captions to their videos? Even with all of the captioning support already available on YouTube, the majority of user-generated video content online is still inaccessible to people like me."

Google's ASR technology is also being used to make the manual captioning system on YouTube easier and more efficient to use. 'Auto- timing' will allow users to caption a video without any specialist technical knowledge through creation of a simple text file with a transcript of the video's speech. The ASR then converts this text to captions by searching for the words at the relevant point in the video.

The Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID: http://www.rnid.org.uk/ ) have supported Google's decision, saying that all on-demand content should be accessible. RNID director of external affairs, Emma Harrison, told E-Access Bulletin: "RNID welcomes Google taking this first step towards making YouTube more accessible for deaf viewers."

Auto-caps are currently live on a series of educational YouTube channels (including National Geographic and some American universities), in order for Google to gather feedback before rolling out the system on a broader basis. The auto-timing feature is currently available on all English-language YouTube videos.

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=372

++News in Brief:


+04: New Wheelies:

An award-winning disability-themed nightclub in the online virtual world Second Life has relaunched with new sponsorship. First opened in 2006, Wheelies 74 has a dance venue and activities centre, and will now feature a weekly music and entertainment schedule for both disabled and non-disabled Second Life users. The owner of the club, Simon Stevens, controlled the first avatar to use a virtual wheelchair in Second Life: http://www.wheelies74.com/

+05: Borderless World:

An online social networking portal for disabled people has been launched in Russia, allowing users to interact with each other using groups, forums and 'digital maps', and to access goods and services. Created by Alexandre Gorelik, director of the United Nations Information Centre in Moscow, the 'Bezgraniz' ('Life without borders') portal, which includes some English translation, features collaborative information on a range of subjects including e- learning, ICT accessibility, jobs, travel and music: http://www.bezgraniz.com/?s=1024

+06: Egypt Debate:

A debate on access and diversity in internet use, covering topics such as accessibility guidelines, was held at the fourth annual Internet Governance Forum in Egypt last month. Speakers on the panel included Shadi Abou-Zahra, activity lead for the World Accessibility Initiative international programme: http://bit.ly/67S49V

[Section One ends].

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


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

+07: Invisible Loan:

Our article last issue on the UK's first accessible web radio, 'Sonata', from the charity British Wireless for the Blind Fund (BWBF) , stated the radios were available on free loan to registered blind users.

However one reader, Delilah, commented on our blog: "I read this article with great interest, but cannot find anything on the entire [BWBF website] http://www.blind.org.uk [saying] that these devices are on loan free to blind people. It states that if you are registered blind or visually impaired you do not have to pay VAT. Otherwise the cost is £343.85 plus further annual charges of £25 each November."

She continues: "Their website does not work in my preferred browser either. The accessibility pages only give instructions for IE and firefox, neither of which I like. This is disappointing from a blind charity."

We contacted the charity, and a spokesperson responded to these points as follows: "Unfortunately the website hasn't been updated to reflect the fact that it is now available on free permanent loan, but it definitely is and if your reader is in receipt of a means-tested benefit and doesn't have a set from us already then she might be eligible for one. I will chase on getting the website up to date.

"As for the technical comments, this is disappointing to hear and a group is looking at the website at the moment so I will pass this on and hopefully it's an issue that will be addressed sooner rather than later."

Further comments please to inbox@headstar.com or direct to the website: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=363

+08: Microsoft Suspense:

In our October issue we published a query from a reader, who wishes to remain anonymous, about barriers to downloading accessible electronic books thrown up by international copyright laws. He wrote that none of the blindness-specific accessible electronic book players he had found supports the protected Windows media format, DRM (Digital Rights Management), due to the costs in licensing.

"Is there a way to play protected file types on non-standard players, and if not, what can we do to convince Microsoft or the producers of such players to play these formats?" he asked.

This month we have received an update from the reader, who has forwarded to us a long sequence of emails (more than a dozen in all) which followed his own attempts to ask Microsoft directly for answers to his questions.

The emails are all holding replies from Microsoft representatives and executives in several countries, carrying such statements as: "It appears that we are looking for an answer for you. I will contact you when I receive some information"; and "I am hoping that one of you may be able to help this gentleman" [an internal email copied to several people].

As E-Access Bulletin went to press however, the signs were more hopeful, with a senior executive saying: " Several people [are] looking at the situation and working on a response to you. I have pinged them this morning to check on the status of their work. As soon as I hear back from them, I will let you know when you can expect an answer."

The reader promises to keep us updated.

+09: Oneformat Update:

In our January 2009 issue, Diana Monahan of Moor End Technology College, Huddersfield, wrote in to describe a problem she met in using the 'Oneformat.com' website, which offers free accessible web browser style sheets. Diana had said she was "told by the school software that 'Virus/spyware Troj/Comic-Fam has been detected.'"

The site's creator, Daljit Singh responded to reassure readers that his site was safe, and this problem was a software glitch: "Try turning off the web shield on the anti-virus program while using Oneformat.com."

Now Diana writes in with her further response: "Thank you for chasing this up. My school is trying to contact Sophus who make the antivirus to see what can be done as it still says it has detected Troj/Comic-Fam so [the] school cannot give me access. The local authority use another anti-virus set-up which was also blocking the site but they checked up and have now allowed me access to the computer I use at my other base."

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

[Section Two ends].

++Section Three: Focus- Global Accessibility Policy.


+10: Technology Changes, Civil Rights Do Notby Cynthia Waddell

The UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities addresses the rights of 650 million persons with disabilities and impacts two billion persons worldwide, including family members of persons with disabilities.

Six years in the making, the treaty opened for signatures in March 2007, receiving the highest number of signatories for any UN treaty on its opening day; and entered into legal force in May 2008.

Starting next year, 2010, all states parties that have ratified the Convention (including the US, pending Senate ratification) will be submitting a comprehensive report to the Convention's monitoring committee, the Committee on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, on measures taken to meet the accessible ICT obligations of the Convention.

Some people have expressed surprise that even with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, there are still gaps in the US effort on accessibility. In fact, a gap analysis performed by an independent federal agency, the National Council on Disability, found there will be several changes needed to conform US laws and policies to the obligations of the Convention.

Worldwide, two paradigm shifts brought on by the Convention are having an impact.

The first is in our basic definition of disability, and how society views persons with disabilities. No longer is the medical approach valid, whereby we are viewed as objects of charity, medical treatment and social protection.

The Convention demonstrates that a shift is underway towards viewing persons with disabilities as holders of rights. We are individuals who can claim full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and full participation in society.

There is also a second significant paradigm shift underway concerning the exercise of our rights in the use of information and communications technology (ICT).

The Convention has many provisions that impact the development, procurement and deployment of ICT products and services, including ICT availability, ICT affordability and ICT accessibility through Universal Design.

But it is one thing to have a law or policy, and another to implement it, as we saw in the US when we tried to implement accessible ICT practices.

In 1986 Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to ensure that electronic and information technology would be accessible to persons with disabilities. But the prohibition against discrimination on the basis of disability in procurement was difficult to manage because there was no agreement as to what was meant by the accessible design of electronic and information technology.

And across the country, we were seeing our investments in assistive technology being torpedoed as software upgrades in mainstream technology destroyed compatibility and interoperability with assistive technologies in use by workers with disabilities.

It was not until 1998 - eight years after the ADA was enacted - that Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 by strengthening Section 508 through the Workforce Investment Act. It requires federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities, including all mainstream technologies procured.

In taking this action, it was recognised that we had to strengthen US law to define what was meant by accessible design and that we had to create marketplace incentives for businesses. This civil rights procurement law was fashioned as a way to enable businesses to recover their investment in accessibility and at the same time enable us to lower the cost of expensive customisation.

The US effort was only the beginning of what would become a global one. Japan, for instance, has been busy addressing accessibility within the Japanese Industrial Standards.

And at around the same time, in 1997, the World Wide Web Consortium launched the Web Accessibility Initiative, which has led to a number of valuable resources including its web accessibility guidelines.

We also saw the international standards-setting community becoming increasingly active. For example, since 2004 the ISO/IEC (International Standards Organization/International Electrotechnical Commission) JTC1 Special Working Group on Accessibility has been mapping accessible ICT standards worldwide. For the first time a systemic review of worldwide standards is underway to identify standards and to analyse gaps in standards.

Another significant international activity of interest is the effort underway due to the European Commission Mandate 376 to European Standardisation Organisations.

Recognising the need for a public procurement policy and practice for accessible information and communications technology, the mandate was launched to develop a solution for common requirements and conformance assessment in accessible ICT. It is expected that this effort in due course will result in a European standard for accessibility requirements in the ICT domain to be used as technical specifications.

So there is no question that an accessible ICT paradigm shift is underway. But now, back to the future. If the UN Convention is to succeed, then its monitoring provisions need to be followed. The Convention requires the signatory states to designate focal points within each country to assist in implementation and monitoring.

I encourage you to find out who the designated focal points are in your country and to contribute your voice to the Convention implementation effort and the country Monitoring Report. Cross-disability representation is vital in all sectors to ensure "Nothing about us, without us."

The recent and ongoing controversy over the Kindle 2, an electronic book reader with a text-to-speech feature which has been embroiled in a row over royalties from what some see as a new 'audio book' format, reminds us that the accessible ICT paradigm shift is fragile and can be broken.

Overall, I believe that ICT innovation embracing accessibility will bring a future of inclusiveness and economic sustainability, with greater percentages of persons with disabilities working and contributing to society. The Convention provides us with a framework for policy and implementation. But this cannot happen without universal design training in our schools and public policy awareness across disciplines so that our workforce is knowledgeable about accessibility and the Convention obligations.

Our investment in accessibility should be no different from any other ICT requirement. An accessible future is coming because technology changes, but civil rights do not.

NOTE: Cynthia Waddell is Executive Director of The International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet (ICDRI - http://www.icdri.org/ ). This article is an edited extract from her keynote speech to the RNIB's Techshare 2009 conference in London.

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=374

[Section Three ends].

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++End Notes.


+How to Receive the Bulletin.

+How to Receive the Bulletin.

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

Copyright 2009 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: Tristan Parker.
  • Editorial advisor - Kevin Carey.

ISSN 1476-6337.

[Issue 120 ends].