+++E-Access Bulletin - Issue 111, March 2009.

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/ .

++E-Access '09: Technology For All- Access To All Technologies By People With Disabilities - Fifth Annual Conference And Exhibition http://www.headstar-events.com/eaccess09/


In an ageing population, and in tough economic times, ensuring all your customers, service users and staff are included in everything you do is more vital than ever, from your externally-facing websites to internal IT systems.

E-Access Bulletin's fifth annual conference and exhibition on access to technology by people with disabilities is taking place on 23rd April 2009 at Olympia Conference Centre in London. Our keynote speaker is Bill Thompson, technology critic and broadcaster. Other speakers include Graeme Whippy, Senior Manager, Lloyds TSB IT Accessibility Group; Shadi Abou-Zahra, of the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative, on the new international web access guidelines WCAG 2.0; and Damon Rose, Editor of the award-winning BBC disability website 'Ouch', on the future of accessibility.

Places cost just £195 +VAT for public sector delegates; £295 +VAT for private sector; and £165 + VAT for small charities and non-profits (turnover less than £150k a year). To find out more and sign up today, visit: http://www.headstar-events.com/eaccess09/

[Special notice ends].

++Section One: News.


+01: Row Brewing Over E-Book Speech Function Removal.

A row has erupted over whether or not publishers should be allowed to disable the text-to-speech function on electronic book readers, after one US reader manufacturer bowed to requests from an authors' rights group and made the speech function optional.

Manufacturer Amazon made the move with respect to its new Kindle 2 e-book reader following representation from the Authors Guild, which had claimed that the automatic allowance of text-to-speech (TTS) conversion effectively created an audiobook device, even though no audio royalties were being paid.

Kindle 2 is marketed in the US (there are no immediate plans for a European release) as a 'wireless reading device', allowing users to read downloaded books, magazines, newspapers and blogs. Until now, all text downloaded to the device could also be read using the TTS function, but Amazon have now allowed the feature to be disabled if a publisher or author so wishes. Though the function is not marketed as an accessibility feature, and the Kindle 2 requires sight to navigate it effectively, blindness groups are pressing for the inclusion of TTS functionality by default.

Richard Orme, Head of Accessibility at the Royal National Institute of Blind People, told E-Access Bulletin this month: "We want manufacturers to make sure that text-to-speech is available for all people who have a legitimate print disability. It is essential for people using speech readers that they can access content which hasn't been blocked. Synthetic speech is not the equivalent to speech by a human. We refute that strongly."

However a spokesperson for Amazon said: "We believe that most authors will decide that leaving text-to-speech enabled on their titles is in their commercial interests, and will choose accordingly. So Kindle 2 will still provide an innovative option for handicapped customers."

In a statement, The Authors Guild says their objection to the audio function is solely a royalties issue, and that they support accessible technology. "[Some people] suggest that challenging Amazon's use of this software challenges accessibility to the visually impaired. It doesn't: Kindle 2 isn't designed for such use. The Guild continues to support efforts to make works truly accessible to the visually impaired."

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=244 .

+02: Itv Unveils 'Signed Stories' Treasure-House For Deaf Children.

What is intended to become the world's largest online library of contemporary children's books fully accessible in sign language, sound, animation and text has been launched by the British broadcaster ITV, for free use by teachers, parents and carers of deaf children.

Signed Stories ( http://www.signedstories.com ) has been created by ITV SignPost, the company's non-profit accessibility agency. Around 25 stories are already available to view in British Sign Language by streaming video alongside the other complementary formats, with a plan to offer 150 stories by the end of the year, and 300 or more by the end of 2010.

According to the site's creators, every major publisher approached has agreed to hand over rights to use their books in this way, with those signed up to date including Macmillan, Penguin, Hachette Children's Books and Walker Books.

Eileen Young, Manager of ITV SignPost, told E-Access Bulletin her team now wants the site to grow and eventually to become more interactive, with possible future features including book reviews by children; forums for deaf kids; and the ability for teenagers to communicate with each other by signing using webcams.

Malcolm Wright, Managing Director of ITV SignPost, said the initiative was born from a sense of deep frustration at a widening inequality between deaf children and hearing children in an area - reading stories - that might seem as if it presented no barrier for the deaf.

"The attainment gap was getting wider, and I was astonished that in a caring, first world country this could be happening," Wright said. An important subsidiary function of the website is its ability to provide other information to those working with deaf kids, he said. "The back end of the site contains a lot of advice and resources for deaf parents, parents with deaf children and teachers of deaf children."

NOTE: For a full report on Signed Stories see Section Three, this issue.

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=246

+03: Private Sector Slow To Address Access Queries.

A 'mystery shopper' test which sent emails to a range of UK local council and private sector websites requesting information on their accessibility to blind users has uncovered a pattern of poor responses, with around one in five sites not bothering to respond at all.

The exercise, carried out by the local government Society of IT Management as part of its annual 'Better Connected' review of council websites ( http://fastlink.headstar.com/so6 ), found local government websites performed better than sites in other sectors.

The test featured an anonymous email claiming to be from a blind person who was having difficulty using the website, with a request for help in accessing services. The same message was sent to all UK councils, plus a sample of 20 household name companies from the finance, travel and retail sectors.

Some 52% in local government sent back a satisfactory response, compared with just 27% of websites from other sectors. Additionally, in 13% of cases with websites from other sectors, an email address could not even be found, while there were no instances of this with local government sites. However, local government did perform marginally worse or similar to the public sector in some regards: some 20% of council sites failed to reply at all, compared with 18% from other sectors, and 43% of the other websites contacted sent a reply within two days, compared to 42% of council sites.

The report claims that "Generally, the differences in the quality of replies imply a lower level of awareness of website accessibility in other sectors," although the large difference in sample sizes between the two sectors (around 500 compared with just 20) should be taken into account.

Elsewhere in the Socitm report, general accessibility testing found a picture of low compliance with international standards, and little improvement on accessibility levels found a year previously. For a full report see Section Four, this issue.

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=249

++News in Brief:


+04: Standard Slips:

The chair of a British Standards Institution committee responsible for drafting a standard on web accessibility, Julie Howell of web design agency Fortune Cookie, has stepped down from the voluntary position. The new acting chair of the committee in charge of developing BS 8878, 'Web Accessibility - Building Accessible Experiences for Disabled People', is BBC head of audience experience and usability Jonathan Hassell. Publication of the standard is now expected to be delayed beyond its original planned date of summer 2009: http://fastlink.headstar.com/bsi3 .

+05: Readers' Rights:

From April, visually impaired readers will be offered first chapters of bestsellers for free from Read How You Want, an internet bookshop specialising in accessible formats. The chapters will be available from the website of accessible technology leaders HumanWare, who are partners in the project: http://www.humanware.com/en-united_kingdom/home . http://www.readhowyouwant.com/ .

+06: Free Sinhala:

New software to translate Sri Lankan text into speech for visually impaired people is to be made available to all, free of charge, by the Sri Lanka Council for the Blind. The 'Nuwana Sinhala text to speech' tool, developed by a division of the Sri Lanka Institute of IT, will help users to read documents and type in Sinhala, the most widely spoken language on the island: http://www.sliit.lk .

[Section One ends].

++Special 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 .

[Special notice ends].

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


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

+07: Karen Atkinson, Manager Of The Rnib Resource Centre At Theuniversity Of East London, Writes Looking For Advice On Disability, Dyslexia And Virtual Worlds.

She says: "I have had a query from a colleague and wonder if you could help. Here at the University of East London we have an island on Second Life which is intended to support students in their learning. A colleague at UEL Connect (the new name for our school of distance learning and e-learning) is interested in knowing who might be able to provide advice or to give a presentation on disability and dyslexia as relating to virtual world environments like Second Life.

"Do you know of or have any contacts that you might be able to suggest who could do something like this?"

Suggestions please to inbox@headstar.com .

+08: A Reader Called David, Who Is Visually Impaired And Works For Thenhs, Is Seeking Legal Advice About Access To The Web.

He writes: "I feel that everything relating to IT is geared around sighted people, and it is becoming more and more difficult accessing technology, especially when it is upgraded. The [NHS] website, electronic patient records and more recently the email website is just simply inaccessible for visually impaired people. [They] have limited function, and appear to have been designed without disabled people being considered. Simple features like being able to use the scroll facility on the mouse simply do not work.

"I am aware that there are some excellent guidelines on creating websites, however is there any legal policy to assist me in tackling this access problem that only seems to be getting worse?"

Responses please to inbox@headstar.com .

+09: Movie Vaults:

Finally, a request from a film fan. Reader Dan from Herefordshire asks: "This is a bit of a long shot, but do you know of any sites on the internet other than the Blind Mice Movie Vault that offer audio-described movies in mp3 format, which is the audio of the movie and not the picture with audio description?"

Answers to inbox@headstar.com .

[Section Two ends].

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Formats we produce include audio, audio description, Braille, BSL, Easy Read, e-docs for websites, large print, Makaton, Moon and sub- titles, at prices from a penny a word.

Whether handling a newsletter, training DVD, equality scheme, public service leaflet, contract or consultation, we provide: - One-stop shop for all formats - Products quality-checked by users - Corporate presentation including your house style - Fast turnaround of one document or thousands - Multi-format discounts - Accessible packaging

Contact us at: Tel: 0208 133 5418 (precede with 18001 for typetalk) Email transcription@adept-uk.org

[Sponsored Notice ends].

++Section Three: News Analysis- Signed Stories.


+10: The Music Of Signsby Dan Jellinek.

At last month's launch of Signed Stories ( http://www.signedstories.com ), an online treasure-house of children's stories in British Sign Language created by broadcaster ITV for free use by teachers, parents and carers of deaf children, the excitement was palpable.

G. P. Taylor, author of the best-selling 'Shadowmancer' series of children's books, said the service was "the most exciting thing to happen in children's reading since the invention of the book."

With first-hand experience of the communication and attainment gap faced by deaf people, as the child of deaf parents, Taylor said the site "hit on something all kids are in love with - the internet," and would have enormous benefits for all involved.

The creators of Signed Stories, the non-profit accessibility agency within ITV known as SignPost, hope it will grow into the largest online library of contemporary children's books fully accessible in sign language, sound, animation and text.

Around 25 stories are already available, with a plan to offer 150 by the end of the year, and 300 or more by the end of 2010.

ITV is contributing funds, staff - including signers - and technical facilities to the project, but the broadcaster is also looking for sponsorship for individual stories, which cost around £5,000 each to produce. The service will remain non-profit however, and will never carry advertising.

Book publishers have been invited to contribute the rights for use of their books on the service free of charge, and have responded positively. Around a dozen major publishers have already signed up including Macmillan, Penguin, Hachette Children's Books and Walker Books, and the service has also gained support from charities and other organisations including the National Literacy Trust and the National Deaf Children's Society.

Eileen Young, Manager of ITV SignPost, told E-Access Bulletin that "All major publishers we've approached have agreed to sign over rights, though some are still working on the paperwork."

Young said her team now wants the site to grow and eventually to become more interactive, with possible future features including book reviews by children; forums for deaf kids; and the ability for teenagers to communicate with each other by signing using webcams.

Technically the service does not demand a high specification of computer to receive the video streams, Young said: although the files cannot be downloaded for copyright reasons, they are streamed at four different rates and the service will automatically optimise to suit the computer used to access it.

Although there are problems to overcome with some schools - one SignPost technician told E-Access Bulletin that getting around the blocking of the service by the firewalls used by some schools was a "major challenge" - the early feedback from those schools that are using it is that they love it, Young said.

It is easy to see why: as well as being free, the service is valuable, imaginative, creative and fun to use. Story categories include 'fairytales and folktales', 'families and friendships' and 'slimy scary', and within each zone a 'story tree' with different coloured interactive branches helps guide users through books by level of reading difficulty.

The service has emerged from the combination of a few strands of work by ITV SignPost over the past few years. ITV already runs an online news service for deaf people in BSL. And the children's stories project was first considered as a TV format, with a series of 'sign a story' programmes mooted for broadcast over ordinary channels.

Within the emergence of the internet, however, online seemed the logical home for it, allowing greater flexibility, interactivity and ease of access.

Malcolm Wright, Managing Director of ITV SignPost, said the initiative was born from a sense of deep frustration at a widening inequality between deaf children and hearing children in an area - reading stories - that might seem as if it presented no barrier for the deaf.

"The attainment gap was getting wider, and I was astonished that in a caring, first world country this could be happening," Wright told the launch. "It was clear that the biggest problem was one of literacy in English - deaf children just don't read stories that much. So I went out and bought the domain signedstories.com, and then wondered what on Earth I was going to do with it."

What Wright eventually did was to assemble an eclectic and stellar supporting cast of publishers, story-tellers and celebrities - stars backing the project range from Children's Laureate Michael Rosen to Dame Helen Mirren, Robbie Coltrane, Zoe Wanamaker and Sir Trevor McDonald.

He said the site, which had its soft launch on 15 December last year, is "Fantastically well-watched already by thousands of kids in schools," and that "by the end of 2011 I hope that Signed Stories will be a repository of the best of children's literature not just for deaf children but for all children."

An important subsidiary function of the website is its ability to provide other information to those working with deaf kids, Wright said. "The back end of the site contains a lot of advice and resources for deaf parents, parents with deaf children and teachers of deaf children."

Asif Iqbal, Founder of Deaf Parenting UK ( http://www.deafparent.org.uk/ ), told the launch that some 90% of deaf and hard of hearing parents have hearing children, a situation which presents further barriers and parenting problems.

The new service "enables deaf parents to sit with their children, a fantastic opportunity where all family members can access the stories without barriers," he said.

David Lloyd, chairman of Walker Books ( http://www.walker.co.uk ), said the possibilities of story-telling through signs were about more than just access to words, but had their own magic, and sense of theatre, that was compelling for hearing as well as deaf readers. "It turns the music of words into the physical music of signs. It's a wonderful way to tell a story," he said.

"What an extraordinary medium it is - the internet - with such power to include us all," said Walker. "But don't forget the book itself - made out of trees and vegetable juices of all kinds and full of surprises, and it lasts - but then I would say that, wouldn't I - I'm a publisher."

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=251

[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: Focus- Council Website Accessibility.


+11: DéJà Vu All Over Again?By Tristan Parker.

Readers of the eleventh annual Better Connected report on UK council websites, published last month by the local government Society of Information Technology Management (Socitm), might be forgiven for feeling that time has stood still.

Last year's report found that only 37 out of 464 council websites (8%) attained the most basic level of accessibility, Level 'A' of the World Wide Web consortium's (W3C) web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG 1.0) ( http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=164 ).

But Better Connected 2009 shows that little, if anything, has been done to address the problem. Almost exactly the same number of councils surveyed (36) achieved a Level A rating, and for the second year running, none have achieved Level AA or Level AAA - the highest rating possible ( http://fastlink.headstar.com/so6 ).

This paints a gloomy picture, especially considering that all public sector websites have been advised to meet a minimum accessibility standard of Level AA by December 2009 in 'Delivering inclusive websites', a 2008 publication from the Central Office of Information. In fact, the original consultation process for 'Delivering inclusive websites' in 2007 had suggested that government sites should have their rights to use the '.gov.uk' web domain withdrawn unless they met Level AA by December 2008, a recommendation which, luckily for the public sector, was eventually watered down.

It is not all bad news this year, however. Some encouragement can be drawn from the implementation of a new additional qualitative assessment system, carried out for Socitm by the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB), and designed to give an overall picture of council website accessibility. The system used its own 0-3 rating, with 0 representing a frequent absence of accessibility and 3 representing a site that was functionally fully accessible. Under this system, 136 councils (33%) were rated by the RNIB as satisfactory or excellent; a far more encouraging statistic than the 8% who achieved WCAG Level A.

Speaking to E-Access Bulletin following the publication of this year's report, Socitm Insight Programme Manager Martin Greenwood said the 2009 survey did not present a negative picture of council website accessibility but said further advances should now be made. "In terms of a strategic improvement, councils must make a commitment to accessibility. Specifically, they must ensure that any new software purchased is not inaccessible. There were some bad decisions made four or five years ago regarding software procurement."

Greenwood also said councils can take rapid and effective action by addressing a list of five common accessibility errors identified in the report. As with Better Connected 2008, these errors accounted for a large proportion (76%) of failures to meet the Level A guideline, he said. The common errors were the presence of images without alternative text; inappropriate use of JavaScript; simple data table errors; complex data table errors; and a lack of accessible alternatives to website features.

Greenwood also said that there was "no chance at all" of all public sector websites achieving a Level AA rating by December 2009, as set out in 'Delivering inclusive websites', but said that in any case this target may now be superceded by the introduction of the revised WCAG 2.0 guidelines from W3C in December 2008, while work on Better Connected was ongoing.

The introduction of WCAG 2.0 represented a significant step forward, Greenwood said, allowing for clearer guidelines and an approach that is "more flexible in dealing with issues such as the impact of new technology." However, websites that failed to achieve a Level A accessibility rating under WCAG 1.0 will be unable to use the 'outdated' status of the older system as a get-out clause. The Socitm report states: "Most websites that conform with WCAG 1.0 should not require significant changes in order to conform with WCAG 2.0. Just as importantly, for those that do not conform with WCAG 1.0, the task is not likely to be much easier under WCAG 2.0."

The RNIB was also largely positive about the report's findings, claiming that the figures do not necessarily represent a widespread lack of accessibility. "In fact, we noticed a significant improvement in the real accessibility of most of the websites we assessed. Unfortunately that doesn't always show in a strict conformance check," said Bim Egan, Senior Web Access Consultant at the RNIB.

Egan said there were also extraneous factors which contributed to some of the websites failing to meet the guidelines: "Third party content has a big part to play in the use of technologies that failed the previous guidelines [WCAG 1.0]. We had to fail 263 sites for using JavaScript, for instance, [but] in the majority of cases this was due to providing benefits calculators and online payment services."

Better Connected 2009 also makes a series of accessibility recommendations for councils to improve their sites, including securing a commitment to accessible websites; building accessibility into procurement criteria; supporting a programme of user education; and carrying out user testing with groups of disabled people.

Councils can also draw encouragement from the feeling that they are not alone in the struggle to become accessible online. According to a separate Socitm study due to be published in full in April, local government outperforms various other sectors in terms of website accessibility, including FTSE 100 companies, finance companies and the travel industry.

The opportunity is now here for the public sector to take the lead as it works towards implementing WCAG 2.0.

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=253

[Section Four ends].

++End Notes.


+How to Receive the Bulletin.

+How to Receive the Bulletin.

To subscribe to this free monthly bulletin, email eab-subs@headstar.com with 'subscribe eab' in the subject header. You can list other email addresses to subscribe in the body of the message. Please encourage all your colleagues to sign up! To unsubscribe at any time, put 'unsubscribe eab' in the subject header.

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 111 ends].