+++E-Access Bulletinability - Issue 128, August 2010.

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

Please forward this free bulletin, so others can sign up to receive a copy (details at the end).

++Section One: News.


+01: Apple Devices ‘Revolutionary’ For Built-In Accessibility.

Apple’s iPhone and iPad devices are “revolutionary” and “game-changing” in offering built-in accessibility functions for people with disabilities, delegates heard at this year’s E-Access ’10 conference in London.

Kiran Kaja of the RNIB Digital Accessibility Team told a mobile phone workshop that while accessibility applications are available for other smartphones – such as the ‘Eyes Free Shell’ for Google’s Android phone – the iPhone 3G is a “game-changer” because its accessibility features are built in across all its functions.

Using the standard touch-screen you can move your fingers along and the phone reads what is underneath them; and if you swipe down with two fingers it reads from that point to the end, Kaja said. A double-tap with three fingers will magnify the screen.

“A lot of people say they can’t use a touch-screen, but when I show them this it really changes their perspectives,” he said. “People have started asking why they should pay extra money for accessibility on mainstream devices. So slowly we are seeing changing expectations. When Symbian [an operating system for mobile phones] was released in 2000, it was two or three years before assistive technology was developed for it, so phones could be out of date before assistive technology appears. With the iPhone, I could use it the same day as my sighted friends.”

Accessibility features that are built in by the manufacturer are also more stable than added extras like screen-readers running on top of an operating system, Kaja said.

Apple’s new ‘iPad’ table computer – which functions much like a huge iPhone – was also singled out for praise by Robin Spinks, Principal Manager, Digital Accessibility at RNIB.

The iPad’s size meant it was a “revolutionary” improvement for partially-sighted users, who could use it at a normal distance like a more visible smartphone, with applications and the keyboard feature all viewed larger, Spinks said.

Used as an electronic book reader, the iPad can also magnify text, and it featured the same built-in access functions as the iPhone 3G such as the double-tap with three fingers to magnify the screen, he said. “One of the advantages of Apple’s much-criticised “walled garden” approach is that is can build in accessibility to all functions.”

Further accessibility features are likely to be added to smartphones in future that make use of the built-in gyroscopes and accelerometers found in most modern phones, said Kiran Kaja. “They are mainly used by games developers now , but could also have uses for people with disabilities,” he said. Early examples include the free ‘Dasher’ app which allows the user to tilt and move the phone with one hand to select items, a feature of use to many people with impaired mobility: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/dasher/id315473092?mt=8 Short link: http://bit.ly/bQgqbm .

NOTE: E-Access ’10 was hosted by E-Access Bulletin publisher Headstar with One Voice for Accessible ICT Coalition ( http://www.headstar-events.com/eaccess10 ). For more coverage see feature, this issue.

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=457

+02: Voluntary Compliance To Web Access Standards ‘Inadequate’.

Voluntary application of technical standards on accessibility of web sites to people with disabilities has proved “inadequate”, suggesting more formal regulation is needed, the US government has said.

In a document issued as part of a public consultation process on four new proposed regulations to extend the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to improve technology access for disabled people, the US Department of Justice said: “Voluntary standards have generally proved to be sufficient where obvious business incentives align with discretionary governing standards as, for example, with respect to privacy and security standards designed to increase consumer confidence in e-commerce. There has not, however, been equal success in the area of accessibility.”

Overall, it says: “It is clear that the system of voluntary compliance has proved inadequate in providing website accessibility to individuals with disabilities” ( http://www.ada.gov/anprm2010/web%20anprm_2010.htm ).

As well as web accessibility – covering online goods and services – the four ‘advance notices of proposed rulemaking’ (ANPRMs) cover captioning and video description in cinemas; equipment and furniture; and the widening of how emergency (911) telephone calls can be made.

On captioning and video, comments are invited on the types of technology that could be used in cinemas to make film screenings more accessible, including closed captioning and audio description equipment. The department proposes a ‘sliding compliance schedule’, whereby the percentage of cinemas offering such technologies would increase from 10 per cent in year one to 50 per cent in year five.

The ‘equipment and furniture’ notice covers accessibility of ATMs (cash machines) and point-of-sale devices, asking for public comment on access technologies such as voice-operated and tactile systems.

The ‘Accessibility of Next Generation 9-1-1’ notice examines the possibility of internet-based text or video emergency calls being put through to an operator directly, rather than the individual having to go through a third-party telecommunications assistant who relays the call, as is currently the case.

All notice summaries can be viewed at: http://www.ada.gov/anprm2010.htm . And public comments are invited by the end of the year at: http://www.regulations.gov/ .

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=460

+03: Japanese Cloud ‘To Improve E-Government Accessibility’.

A ‘web accessibility cloud centre’ to help Japanese government departments improve online services to elderly and disabled people is being built by a consortium led by IBM Japan: http://www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/pressrelease/32265.wss Short Link: http://bit.ly/bEpADT

Working with IT solutions firm the KOA Corporation and the Tottori Prefecture Information-Center (TIC: a third sector Japanese company that supports government IT projects), the cloud centre will feature a collaborative system that allows citizens to browse government websites; report any accessibility issues they encounter; and suggest improvements. For example, users with visual impairments will be able to easily record difficulties in understanding text or images.

Each accessibility request will be stored in a bank for later consultation by designers of government website pages, allowing them to address issues raised.

The collaborative aspect of the web accessibility improvement system is based on technology developed in 2008 by the Tokyo arm of IBM Research as part of its Social Accessibility Project examining issues faced by visually impaired internet users (see http://sa.watson.ibm.com ).

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=464

++News in Brief:


+04: Equality Shift?

The new UK government has backtracked on a firm timetable for implementation of all parts of the Equality Act 2010, a leading lawyer has said. Audrey Williams, partner at law firm Eversheds, said that while the coalition government has confirmed the act will begin coming into force in October as originally planned, guidance from the Government Equalities Office (GEO) suggests that some elements of the law, such as the extension of public sector equality duties and the introduction of rules prohibiting age discrimination by service providers, have been put on hold, with no set implementation date: http://press.eversheds.com/Latest-views/Eversheds-comment- Government-announcement-fails-to-extinguish-equality-law- speculation-717.aspx Short link: http://bit.ly/duw6Yc

+05: Inclusion Masters:

A Masters Degree course and Postgraduate Diploma in Digital Inclusion are being offered by Middlesex University, in what is claimed to be a European first. The courses focus on the social and ethical issues of digital inclusion as well as technical aspects of access of to ICT, with modules including accessible web design; design for all regulation, legislation and standardisation; and inclusive design and user experience: http://www.mdx.ac.uk/courses/postgraduate/computing_and_it/ digital_inclusion_msc.aspx Short link: http://bit.ly/bRUpjg

+06: DAISY Diversity:

The world’s largest library of educational audio textbooks for people with impaired vision, the US-based Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic, is working with technology companies to widen the range of reader devices on which its content can be played. First steps include availability of the library’s DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System) content to its 270,000 members using the Intel Reader, a mobile device that magnifies or reads out text. Future plans include availability on Apple iPods and iPad tablet computers, E-Access Bulletin has learned: http://www.prweb.com/releases/2010/07/prweb4328054.htm Short Link: http://bit.ly/drRT9S

[Section One ends].

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


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

+07: Money Talks:

AnnaMarie Beresford, a trainer at the Sunderland-based community interest company ‘Disability Arts Empowerment’ ( http://www.dartecic.org.uk/ ) that trains people who have long term disabilities and mental ill health, writes in with a heartfelt comment about a major accessibility issue that is not always properly recognised: affordability.

“I have found that as many as 8 out of 10 of our learners cannot access the internet due to the expense of adaptive software (as many free to install items just don't cut it),” Beresford says.” Also the sheer lack of money and computers on the cheap are often out of their reach even if they can access training.

“I am a deafblind physically disabled person who has mental health issues, and it is only the fact that I have been lucky enough to gain employment, and have the knowledge to use the ‘Access to work’ scheme as well as being a specialist in access technology that I can afford to have the luxury (to me a necessity) of being able to access the web and do many functions other people without impairments take for granted.

“I too have been isolated due to affordability issues with regard to cost of equipment and technology - not to mention the price of software! Until this changes many of us will stay isolated.”

[Responses please to inbox@headstar.com].

+08: Links Support:

Fay Rohrlach, a reader from Australia, writes in to lend her support for our recent changes to the presentation of web links in the bulletin – offering a short link alternative to longer links, alongside the original link.

“I would like to agree with you, as... you get all these letters and numbers, which make it very confusing, and half the time when you're trying to access something, it's hopeless.

“A shorter link would be far better, and yes, you can have the longer address for the other link, and that way you are giving a person the option to choose what they want. I'm glad someone is doing something out there, to making things more simpler for everyone.”

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

[Section Two ends].

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++Section Three: E-Access ’10 Conference Report - Social NetworksDiscussion Group.


+09: Digital Lifeline By Dan Jellinek.

For people with motor disabilities, who may have problems leaving the house, communicating or with social confidence, online social networks can be a true liberator, delegates heard at this year’s E-Access ’10 conference hosted by Headstar and E-Access Bulletin with One Voice for Accessible ICT Coalition ( http://www.headstar-events.com/eaccess10 ).

A discussion group on the accessibility of social networks to users with motor disabilities was hosted by Makayla Lewis of the Centre for Human-Computer Interaction Design, City University London, and herself a carer for her parents and a voluntary worker for people with cerebral palsy.

People with disabilities suffer from high rates of depression, said Lewis: many may only see one person a week, their carer. To such people social networks are a good way to share experiences and meet new people, even if their disability is severe, she said.

One young woman she had worked with had no siblings and stayed in her room most of the time, said Lewis. “She just used to sit in the corner.” For her, social networks had become indispensible.

“She says ‘I can’t socialise without it’, it’s is like food to her – she’s on it from the moment she wakes up to the moment she goes to bed. Social networking allows you to portray yourself how you want”, Lewis said. Although the interaction is virtual, it can also help to build real friendships and help boost confidence for face to face communication as well, she said.

The average person with a disability has 250 friends on Facebook, for example, compared with 130 for non-disabled people, Lewis said. Unfortunately, however, many people encounter barriers in using such networks, of which the biggest is accessibility. One problem was that while many people with motor disabilities would benefit from technologies such as voice recognition and text-to-speech screen-readers, public funding for these expensive tools is geared towards people with impaired vision.

“People with motor disabilities are given big keys and so on. Screen-readers would be very useful but they are not funded for that. You never find a screen-reader on a list of aids for them - they are not considered necessary for people with motor impairments. Funding is geared towards blindness.”

The problem can be even more basic, Lewis said: many occupational therapists, GPs and users themselves don’t have the technical awareness or understanding to know what tools are available to help people access computers. “They don’t know the stuff is out there. The way you find out about access technologies these days is on the internet, but if you don’t have access to the internet...”

Some people with severe disabilities are helped in accessing computers by their carers, but this means their interactions cannot be independent and can be hampered by a lack of trust, Lewis said. “If you get tired, and a carer types for you, how is that independent communication? How is that private communication? A carer might leave after a few weeks, and a new one comes. So people can’t always trust them straight away, and just ask them to send messages online like ‘I’m fine, see you soon’ – they don’t open up and say what they want to say.”

There are also problems with the design of the main social networks, Lewis said, not least that the main sites often change their layout, which can present huge challenges to someone accessing a computer using a tool like a switch, who has learned over painstaking hours to navigate one layout only to find it has all been changed around. “With Facebook, they are always changing the site. Using a switch, you learn one format but then all of a sudden they rearrange the layout and task structure.”

One answer might be for sites like Facebook to have a fixed layout of their core features, such as your friends list and your profile, which would remain stable across redesigns, she said. Another might be to offer a simpler, pared-down version of the site which only presented the core features. However Facebook had removed just such a simpler version, ‘Facebook Lite’, for commercial reasons, despite it being used by many people with severe cerebral palsy, Lewis said.

Where changes are made, more understandable and relevant help could also be offered to users in working out what the differences were, she said.”Often changes are made to a site and people just have to work it out. They could be uploading photos showing how to use the new site step by step, like Twitter does online, with arrows.”

People with disabilities often prefer help information that is not text-based, such as videos or avatars, Lewis said. But they want to see images that are relevant to their own lives: “Many people with disabilities want help from an avatar who is also disabled”.

Apart from layout, many problems are caused by the small size of online features which can be not only hard to see but extremely hard to use for people with motor impairments, she said. Thus for example Facebook features such as the ‘like’ button to express your approval for something is too small for use by people with impaired motor control.

Because of the way Facebook is formatted – text size is hard-coded in - it s pages are also hard to magnify, Lewis said: users can zoom in using their own magnification tools, but the result is pixellated.

Nevertheless, many people persevere, she said: one user she knows highglights all the text from her Facebook news feed every hour; pastes it over into Word, where she can increase the text size smoothly; writes her replies or posts in Word; pastes them back across to Facebook; and then spends 10 minutes trying to click on the ‘update’ button, because it is so small.

The fact someone is prepared to go to all this trouble “shows you how important it is for some people”, said Lewis.

When asked about accessibility, Facebook tends to say that only a small number of people with disabilities are using the site, but one of the main reasons for this is the inaccessibility of the ‘Captcha’ system of keying in distorted words that is used for registration to the site, Lewis said. Also, while there are tools specifically aimed at helping people with disabilities access Facebook and other networks, there is low awareness of them, she said.

Of course, Facebook is not the only network people can use, but the others are not much better, Lewis said. “MySpace is terrible. Bebo is better, but it is aimed at young people.”

Some other communities are set up specifically by and for people with certain disabilities, the workshop heard, such as Living With Ataxia (LWA - http://www.livingwithataxia.org ), set up using the ‘Ning’ platform which allows anyone to set up a social network.

Alan Thomas, UK Community Manager of LWA,told delegates that such focused networks helped people with particularly problems overcome feelings of exclusion, by allowing them to share experiences.

On the other hand, people with disabilities also need to be able to access the same mainstream networks as everyone else, Lewis said. “Often networks are divided. Maybe they should link up more and integrate more.

“It is disgusting that some people have to go to such lengths to do something that is so fundamental for all human beings – to communicate with each other.”

NOTE: On 21 September Makayla Lewis is hosting the ‘Web Accessibility London Unconference 2010’. At time of writing this was oversubscribed but a waiting list had been established: http://a11yldn.eventbrite.com/

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=468

[Section Three ends].

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++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 2010 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.

+Personnel: Editor: Dan Jellinek. Reporter: Tristan Parker.

  • Editorial advisor: Kevin Carey.

ISSN 1476-6337.

[Issue 128 ends].