+++E-Access Bulletin - Issue 129, September 2010.

Access To Technology For All, Regardless Of Ability

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

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++Section One: News.


+01: Volunteer Pool To 'Crowd-Source' Web Accessibility.

An online service helping web users with disabilities report accessibility problems by linking them with thousands of tech- savvy volunteers is to be launched later this year by digital inclusion charity Citizens Online.

A trial version of 'Fix the Web', sub-titled 'crowd-sourcing e- accessibility', was unveiled at this week's Web Accessibility London Unconference 2010 by Dr Gail Bradbrook, the charity's lead consulant.

Web users will be able to report accessibility problems directly to the service using Twitter, email or online forms. Members of a pool of registered volunteers will then take responsibility for finding the correct official path or website owner contact to lodge the complaint on the user's behalf, follow up any response and feed back to the user.

The project's initial goal is to sign up 10,000 volunteers to cover 250,000 websites a year, Bradbrook said. Eventually she hopes to sign up 1.5 million volunteers worldwide.

Research has found that people with disabilities face many access issues, but do not often complain about them, Bradbrook said. "This isn't surprising - if so much of your time has already been wasted, why would you spend further time trying to communicate with the website owner?"

Benefits of making it easier for people to complain could include greater pressure for accessibility; feedback that website owners can work with or use to justify changes; and increased knowledge and skills for volunteers, she said.

Generally, volunteers would simply be raising awareness of accessibility issues, but if some major companies repeatedly ignored requests for help the project might consider working with campaign groups to lobby for action, Bradbrook said.

One business manager present welcomed the project, saying it could save firms like his money by providing valuable user feedback. "We want to make our websites as accessible as possible to everyone, so we would put your link on all of our sites, and I don't see why anyone else wouldn't," he said. However, a web developer delegate said he was worried that unfounded complaints passed on by volunteers with insufficient technical understanding could be used to criticise web developers unfairly.

In response, Bradbrook said volunteers would be given guidance, and the project would be monitored for potential problems. "We are not asking them to be experts in e- accessibility - just to go to the website and log the problem formally. We hope it will open up communication which can be carried on by the volunteer so that proper understanding can be reached."

Anyone interested in helping develop a trial version of the system is invited to visit: http://www.fixtheweb.net .

NOTE: Web Accessibility London Unconference 2010 was organised by Makayla Lewis at City University London: http://www.a11yldn.org.uk . And for further reporting see section two, this issue.

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=472

+02: Kindle 3:

Better Accessibility, But Still Not Perfect.

Improved accessibility features on the new Kindle 3 electronic book reader will help vision-impaired users, but do not yet go far enough to make the device fully accessible, a leading analyst said this month.

The Kindle 3, developed by the online retailer Amazon, features a display with improved contrast and an audible menu facility, 'Voice Guide', enabling users to select an e-book using sound and activate the device's text-to-speech 'Read to Me' feature. The Kindle 3 also features a display with 50% improved contrast between the text and background, improving the readability of text for partially sighted users.

"The Voice Guide does improve the accessibility of the device significantly", RNIB Principal Manager of Digital Accessibility Robin Spinks told E-Access Bulletin. "However, certain functions are not yet possible, for example, being able to browse the electronic bookstore using text-to- speech and being able to select, purchase and download book content from the device [using Voice Guide], rather than having to do that from a computer."

Amazon's decision to incorporate audible menus follows growing pressure over the past year about the device's inaccessibility to visually impaired users, much of which arose after several US universities rejected the Kindle as a teaching aid (see E-Access Bulletin issue 119: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=357 ). In January, Amazon agreed to incorporate audible menus and an extra- large font size into the Kindle (see E-Access Bulletin issue 121: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=383 ).

Furthermore, some publishers are still refusing to allow their books to be converted into text-to-speech on the Kindle, due to an ongoing row over publishing rights (see E-Access Bulletin issue 110: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=244 ). "We hope that through the ongoing campaign work that RNIB and other organisations are engaged in globally, we will be able to secure universal availability of text-to-speech on e-books" said Spinks. "It's vital that blind and partially sighted people are able to be part of the e-book revolution."

The Kindle 3 is available now in the UK. The RNIB has published a detailed accessibility review of the device and other e-book readers on its website: http://www.rnib.org.uk/livingwithsightloss/readingwriting/ebook s/Pages/ebook_readers_compared.aspx Short link: http://bit.ly/cNZKJz

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=474

+03: Inclusive Island 'Discovered' In Second Life.

A new island themed around disability and inclusion has been 'discovered' in Second Life, by the man whose online character or 'avatar' was the first to use a wheelchair in the virtual world.

Llamdos (try reading the name backwards) was created by Simon Stevens, a consultant who in 2006 created Wheelies, the first virtual night-club in Second Life aimed at both disabled and non-disabled users.

The island, which Stevens estimates has already received more than 10,000 visitors from around 30 countries, is now home to Wheelies plus a range of virtual shops and services such as the Understand training centre and Viewpoint conference centre, where Stevens organises and hosts workshops and seminars on a wide range of issues in the fields of disability and social care.

Stevens told E-Access Bulletin that although Llamdos has the themes of disability and inclusion, the island is not solely "for disabled people, and is intended to be a place for both disabled and non-disabled Second Life users". Although Llamdos is "probably not as technically accessible as it can be", he said "many organisations have become too obsessed with the rules of [accessibility] and they have forgotten the spirit of the intentions. My aim is for the island to feel inclusive and welcoming."

A number of communities in Second Life now explore themes of disability, such as Ability Island, a training and discussion area owned by US organisation Virtual Ability. Virtual Ability also own Cape Able Island, designed primarily for deaf and hard of hearing Second Life users.

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=476

++News in Brief:


+04: Radio Assistance:

An assistive technology discussion programme is now being broadcast every weekend on Insight Radio, the radio station of the RNIB and Europe's first station for blind and partially sighted people, available online, and also through Sky, freesat and 101 FM in Glasgow. The slot forms part of Weekend Edition, hosted by Allan Russell with software developer Monty Lilburn and broadcast every Saturday from 10am to 1pm. Anyone wishing to pose a technology question - no matter how simple or complicated - can email info@insightradio.co.uk , putting 'tech question' in the email subject box: http://www.insightradio.co.uk/ or http://bit.ly/b0Lw4X

+05: iPhone Version:

In the last issue of E-Access Bulletin, we used the wrong model number in referring to the accessibility functions of Apple's iPhone as discussed by the RNIB's Kiran Kaja at our E-Access '10 event. The "revolutionary" features built into the phone's touch-screen that Kaja mentioned are in fact only available on the newer iPhone 3GS, and not the iPhone 3G. We apologise for this mistake, which has now been corrected in the online version of our article: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=457 or http://bit.ly/ase5No

+06: European Nominations:

Three Members of the European Parliament have been nominated for the European Blind Union's MEP Awards 2010, to recognise their contribution to the advancement of disability rights over the past year. The three are German member Ska Keller, who called for legislation to increase disabled citizens' access to reading materials, including e-books; UK member Liz Lynne, who raised awareness of the need for accessible manufactured goods, including consumer electronics; and Italian member Antonio Cancian, who highlighted the bus and coach travel needs of disabled people. Winners will be announced in Brussels at the end of this month: http://bit.ly/dCmt0Z

[Section One ends].

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++Section Two: Event Report - Web Accessibility Unconference.


+07: Open For Access.

Delegates at this month's 'Web Accessibility London Unconference 2010' ( http://www.a11yldn.org.uk ) were treated to a run-through of the state-of-the-art for open source accessibility solutions by one of the world's leading experts in the field.

Steve Lee, of consultancy Full Measure ( http://www.fullmeasure.co.uk ), is the driving force behind many open source accessibility projects including several of those gathered under the umbrella of 'OSS Watch' ( http://www.oss-watch.ac.uk/ ), a free public service to help higher and further education institutions in the UK use or develop free and open source software. It is funded by higher education IT support agency JISC.

"There are some very strong potential benefits of open technology for users with disabilities," said Lee. These included making it easier for developers to create new tools and innovations, by working with what is already there; the creation of shared resources; and greater user engagement in the creation of new technologies, he said. "With open standards, the users are the developers."

Projects highlighted by Lee included:

- AccessApps http://www.techdis.ac.uk/getaccessapps AccessApps is an initiative supported by JISC TechDis, the accessibility advisory arm of JISC. It consists of more than 50 open source and freeware Windows applications, running from a USB stick, to support writing, reading and planning for students with sensory, cognitive and physical difficulties;

- Simon Listens http://www.simon-listens.org An open source speech-recognition programme, allowing users to control the computer by voice alone, bypassing mouse and keyboard;

- NVDA http://www.nvda-project.org/ NonVisual Desktop Access (NVDA) is a free, open source screen reader for Windows. It supports more than 20 languages and has the ability to run entirely from a USB drive, with no installation;

- Opengazer http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/opengazer Opengazer is an open source eye-tracking application that uses an ordinary webcam to estimate the direction of your gaze. This information can then be passed to other applications. For example, used in conjunction with the smartphone app Dasher, Opengazer allows you to write with your eyes;

- GOK (GNOME on-screen keyboard) http://www.gok.ca/ Free software working with GNOME, the popular GNU/Linux desktop environment, that provides text entry and graphical user interface interaction using only switches or mice;

- Caribou http://live.gnome.org/Caribou Another on-screen keyboard application for use with switches;

- Straight-Street http://straight-street.com An open symbol set known as 'Mulberry' - a free, scalable collection of about 800 picture symbols, and growing - 3,000 are promised by this time next year. Symbols like these are very useful for clear communication, particularly for use with solutions aimed at those with literacy issues like dyslexia or learning difficulties;

- Maavis http://maavis.fullmeasure.co.uk Project from Sheffield University and Barnsley NHS offering simple access to a range of tasks and games such as viewing photographs and making skype video calls, for older people including people with dementia. Applications, images and information are accessed by touching the screen and the interface is so simple and intuitive that users are not aware they are using a computer, Lee said. Buttons are also spoken aloud when pressed.

Overall, the key to developing successful open source solutions is the creation of a vibrant developer community, and the commitment of as many users as possible to helping with development, Lee said.

"A lot of people latch onto open source software and say 'free stuff - great'. And there are some things that are just free to download and that's it, no community.

"But where there are communities, it is always better if you engage with them, try and contribute something - it could be a graphic, it could be some help text for the online manual. And if you are a programmer, you could contribute code - or fix something - that will get you a lot of brownie points."

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=478

[Section Two ends].

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[Special notice ends].

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[Special notice ends].

++End Notes.


+How to Receive the Bulletin.

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  • Editor: Dan Jellinek.
  • Reporter: Tristan Parker.
  • Editorial advisor: Kevin Carey.

ISSN 1476-6337.

[Issue 129 ends].