+++E-Access Bulletin - Issue 143, December 2011.

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).

To all our readers - Happy Holidays.

++Section One: News.


+01: New Setback For Global Copyright Exception Treaty.

Moves to create an international treaty to allow accessible versions of copyrighted works to be shared across borders, giving people with print disabilities wider access to books, received a setback this month following “aggressive” intervention by EU negotiators.

Between 21 November and 2 December, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) held a meeting in Geneva of its standing committee on copyright and related rights that negotiators for the World Blind Union (WBU) had hoped would clear the way for agreement on a copyright treaty.

Hopeful signs had emerged from a June session of the committee, at which WIPO member states had agreed to merge several previously separate positions into a single draft document which became known as “the chair’s text” (see E- Access Bulletin, July 2011 http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=615 ). The new meeting, however, cast uncertainty on the plans after the chair, Manuel Guerra Zamarro from Mexico, unexpectedly invited members to submit further amendments.

Negotiators for the EU subsequently attempted to reintroduce clauses that would require rights-holders to formally authorise and pre-approve organisations to use any exception, a condition the WBU says would render the whole exercise close to pointless.

“The EU decided to submit a raft of new and aggressive amendments which moved us even further away from an agreed text”, WBU Vice Chair Dan Pescod told E-Access Bulletin. “They were trying to shoe-horn back in the idea of authorisation, but this is a no-no – the whole point of this exception is you will use it when you haven’t been given any help from rights-holders.”

The new proposed amendments have now been captured in a working document which Pescod says must be fully discussed between member states ahead of the next WIPO meeting in July 2012. “What we are now urging is for the member states to come together before the next meeting to agree the basis for a new single text, rather than have a situation where each time people throw down amendments, go away and don’t consider them until the next meeting,” he said.

Another vital issue remains, of whether the new agreement becomes a legally binding treaty – as urged by the WBU – or softer non-binding guidelines, but Pescod hopes all can be resolved in July. “I am still optimistic that we can finish this work next year, ahead of a formal diplomatic conference in 2013.”

If he is right, new ground will be broken: WIPO normally acts to reinforce protection for rights-holders, whereas this treaty would reinforce access for users. And it will not have been easy: formal negotiations on a treaty began two and a half years ago, in May 2009.

- Comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=659 .

+02: ‘Fix The Web’ In Struggle For Survival.

A ground-breaking project to enlist the power of volunteers to fix web access problems for disabled people is at risk of closure, after failing to secure government funding.

Fix the Web ( http://www.fixtheweb.net/ ) was launched in November 2010 to allow disabled internet users to complain quickly and easily about inaccessible websites using Twitter, email or online forms. Members of a pool of registered volunteers then take responsibility for contacting the website owner on the user’s behalf, following up any response and feeding back results to the user.

Since launch, the project has recruited almost 700 volunteers who between them have handled more than 1,000 website reports and helped to solve problems with several high profile sites including the Coventry Building Society, various BBC sites and the online scheduling service Doodle. A major rise in activity was triggered earlier this year after actor, writer and technology lover Stephen Fry posted a message of support for the campaign.

However, despite gaining £50,000 of initial funding from the Nominet Trust, and receiving publicity support from organisations including RNIB, the project has failed in attempts to raise further cash and has now been running for a year without any external funding.

After it emerged that a recent bid for funding from the government’s new £10 million Social Action Fund has failed, Fix The Web founder Gail Bradbrook, director of programmes at Citizens Online, told E-Access Bulletin the project would struggle to survive.

“The government asked for charities to innovate, and that’s what Citizens Online has done – we have raised multi-millions across all our projects over the years, with not a penny from central government. So we’re not a cap-in-hand charity, but equally we can’t run on fresh air.

“Fix The Web still has a huge amount of potential, but it needs some design work and some funding to oversee the work by volunteers. Come the New Year, if there isn’t a clear plan for the project, Citizens Online might have to withdraw because our brand will be associated with something that isn’t being looked after properly.”

The project could eventually be sustained by small donations from multiple sources, but in the short term needs around £150,000 over the next 18 months to help it reach a sustainable level, Bradbrook said.

Citizens Online managed to raise pledges of services worth some £270,000 to use as “in kind” match funding for its recent Social Action Fund bid. "This shows the level of support and commitment to the project. The issue is securing money, when so few funders fit to the aims of this project. Times are really hard for the voluntary sector, competition is steep," she said.

Ironically, the project has attracted interest from organisations in other countries including Canada who would like to replicate it, Bradbrook said. The intention had always been to expand the work internationally, but this vision is now also in jeopardy.

- Comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=656 .

+03: Free Magnifier Among First Smart Accessibility Awards.

A smartphone app which allows people to magnify text and adjust fonts and background colours was among the winners of the inaugural Smart Accessibility Awards for smartphone applications aimed at supporting disabled and older people http://developer.vodafone.com/smartaccess2011

Zoom Plus Magnifier, developed by a UK partnership of 232 Studios, Ian Hamilton and Digital Accessibility Centre, offers functionality for free that has previously largely only been available in software and camera products costing hundreds of pounds.

Four international awards of 50,000 Euros each were presented by the Vodafone Foundation – a charitable arm of mobile communications provider Vodafone –in partnership with AGE Platform Europe, a network of organisations working with older people, and the campaign group European Disability Forum.

The other winners were Help Talk ( http://www.1000empresas.com ), an app developed in Portugal allowing people who are unable to speak, such as those recovering from strokes, to communicate by tapping on icons; Wheelmap (http://wheelmap.org/en ), an app developed in Germany which lets users rate the accessibility for wheelchair users of public places; and BIG Launcher ( http://biglauncher.com/ ), an alternative customisable Android home screen for elderly or visually impaired users who often struggle to use the small keyboards on most devices, developed in the Czech Republic.

BIG Launcher uses big buttons and large fonts to represent all the basic functions of a phone such as voice calls, text messages and cameras. Jan Husak, the app’s co-developer, says a typical smartphone home screen is not very accessible for elderly and blind people, being often crowded with all sorts of icons and widgets.

“On Android, due to its openness, you can choose from dozens of launchers, but they mostly offer functions which are only appealing to geeks - even more icons, special graphical effects and so on.

“BIG Launcher makes using the phone easy, even for users who are scared of new technologies. It allows its users to use the phone quickly in any situation, without pulling out their glasses or getting lost in the menus.”

Wheelmap is an app that builds on top of Google maps, overlaying information about wheelchair accessibility of any location such as a restaurant or railway station sourced from users. In its first month 1,200 users registered for the app, posting information about 180,000 places.

Andrew Dunnett, director of the Vodafone Group Foundation, told E-Access Bulletin the type of crowdsourcing used by Wheelmap held huge promise for disabled people. “The potential for that to change people's lives is very impressive. The maps are there, the handsets are available - the key is the user groups, and how they engage with it.”

In all some 67 applications were received by the awards, with 12 shortlisted before the four prizes were award, Dunnett said. He confirmed that the foundation would be rerunning the awards next year.

- Comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=654 .

++News in Brief:


+04: Birthday Standard:

A call to make the British standard for developing accessible web sites BS8878 more affordable for small businesses is among responses from the user community collated on the first birthday of BS8878 by its lead author, Jonathan Hassell of Hassell Inclusion. One year after its initial publication, the standard has been adopted by organisations across central and local government, the NHS, police, retail, housing, education and charities, the report says. Although the precise number of users is kept confidential by the British Standards Institution, organisations known to have adopted it in year one include the government services portal Beta.gov; Royal Mail Group; and University of Southampton. Many of those interviewed felt that the cost of BS8878 was a constraint to its uptake, saying the £100 price tag is putting off smaller organisations. Support activities planned for 2012 include expansion of the BS8878 community of practice on meetup.com; and creation of ‘starting point’ templates, case studies and tools to help organisations create and share the policy documentation needed to follow the standard. Steps are also being taken to internationalise the standard: http://wp.me/p1NwIQ-5y

+05: Appeal Heard:

An appeal by the Canadian government against a 2010 ruling which branded its websites inaccessible to disabled citizens, and ordered it to remedy the problem, has now been heard. Last year Donna Jodhan, a blind accessibility consultant from Canada, successfully sued her government after she was unable to apply for a public service job online. The government appeal came to court in November. Jodhan told E-Access Bulletin the government argued that blind Canadians did not have a right to equal access to online information, as people could use other channels or gain help from sighted staff. The government also claimed the case about inaccessible websites had not been proven, referring to previous evidence as mere ‘spot checks’. A ruling is now expected in the New Year. In September, the Canadian government published a new standard on web accessibility for its agencies, though Jodhan said at the time this was an inadequate response to her case: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=621

+06: Charter Points:

A 10-point ‘Accessible Technology Charter’ aimed at blue-chip corporations and government departments has been launched by the Business Taskforce on Accessible Technology, a sub-grouping of the Employers' Forum on Disability. Pledges contained in the charter include that “We will appoint an executive level ICT access champion who will report to the board”; “We will routinely consult with disabled employees, customers and experts to ensure that we understand the impact of our technology on talent management, employee productivity and our diverse customer base”; “We will allow reasonable personalisation of technology by our employees and customers”; and “We will give our relevant ICT people the ‘disability know how’ needed to deliver effective business processes and reasonable adjustments for disabled colleagues and customers”. Launch signatories include BT, BUPA, the Department for Work and Pensions, Lloyds Banking Group and Sainsbury's: http://www.btat.org/charter

+07: Future Web:

A European project to investigate the accessibility for disabled and older people of ‘Web 2.0’ applications including mobile web; user-generated content; social networks and web TV has been launched. The 2.7 million euro “Inclusive Future Internet Web Services” (I2Web) project is being led by the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Information Technology in Germany, with partners including the UK’s Foundation for Assistive Technology and the University of York. Initial work has investigated the ways that disabled and older people currently use web 2.0 services, and before the project’s completion in April 2013 it will look to create new tools to help developers produce more accessible applications: http://i2web.eu

[Section One ends].

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


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

+08: PDF Assistance:

There was a big response to last issue’s request from Fay Rohrlach from South Australia for help with using the ZoomText magnifier to magnify PDF files without distortion; and her related query about how to convert PDF files into Word 2003 files.

Ted Page, director of accessibility consultancy PWS, writes that if PDF text is appearing fuzzy when using the magnifier, “the problem here lies with ZoomText rather than the document author. ZoomText uses a really effective technology called xFont to smooth out fonts in web pages, but in the current version (ZoomText 9) it doesn’t work in PDFs.”

However, the next version - ZoomText 10 – is set for imminent release, Ted writes, and this might extend xFont to PDF files. “I have emailed the makers of ZoomText, ai squared, to see if they will let on... I will let you know if I hear anything.”

Meanwhile reader Paul Wood writes in to recommend the website DocsPal (http://www.docspal.com ). “This site can convert pds to word files that can easily be read, though the old adage still remains - ‘rubbish in, rubbish out!’

“There is also the 'Copy as text' feature of Acrobat Reader, if desperate. And other paid for applications that will do optical character recognition on the pdf, if it’s an image.”

Martin Slack writes in to add that text in a PDf can be magnified from within the free Adobe Acrobat Reader, without the use of ZoomText, as long as the file has been created using text and not images of text.

“Under the View > Zoom menu in Acrobat Reader is an item called Reflow. It is the last item on its sub-menu, and may also be activated by the hotkey Control+4, without going into the menu system at all. When Reflow is activated, the normal Acrobat Reader magnification hotkey (control+plus) will magnify the text in such a way that when the line becomes too long for the screen, it will wrap.

“Naturally this means that you lose the original document formatting, but on the other hand you can magnify the text until each word is on its own line.”

Finally Opeolu Akinola, an assistive technology consultant from Lagos in Nigeria, writes to answer Fay’s second query, on converting PDF filesinto Word.

“I don't know any direct way of converting PDF directly to Word but you can convert it to text by going to the file menu and selecting the Save As Text... option. Then open your Word and use the Open dialogue to locate and open the file (Word opens text files). If this does not work, open the text file in Notepad, select all the text and copy and paste into Word.”

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

+Allan Milne, Senior Lecturer In Software Engineering At The University Of Abertay In Dundee, Writes In To Respond To A Complaint Published Last Month From Martin Jones About The Inaccessibility Of The Online Auction Service Ebay To Blind People Using Screenreaders Who Want To List Items For Sale.

“The author was firstly asking if anyone had a work-around or other way of using the web site... why should we be asking this in today's equality environment?

“It is about time the RNIB, the Equality and Human Rights Commission or some other national representative organisation took one of these large sites to court under equality law.

“From the description in the article, the author seems to have a prima facia case that he cannot use a service provided by eBay, and that no alternative exists. This is not even a case of "reasonable adjustment", this sounds like a case of systemic inaccessibility.

“When is someone going to stand up for us and take one of these companies to court? I have heard of no such case in the UK and yet your newsletter reports in the same issue of a US case against Disney so come on UK organisations, stop being nice and "co-operative" with companies; take them to court and make them meet their equality requirements.”

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

+10: Crash Course:

Meanwhile the same Allan Milne – he has been busy – writes with a complaint of his own about an initial flaw in a service also mentioned in our last issue – an online course on web accessibility launched by digital inclusion charity AbilityNet with the Equality and Human Rights Commission and BCS (the Chartered Institute for IT).

“On 23 November I went to the supplied web address which was a simple form with only a few straightforward controls, using my Dolphin SuperNova screenreader; the first few boxes were fine with "first name" and so on announced for the form edit boxes. But then I got down to an edit box with no prompt announced, followed by a button simply announced as "button".

“After reading around in virtual focus eventually I found the last edit box was for comments. I then made a leap of faith that the final button would be for submitting the form so I went ahead, entering comments about these accessibility issues and pressing the button.

“Obviously my assumptions were correct since I received an email the following day apologising for the lack of labels accessible to my screenreader and intimating these had been corrected. So that was good customer service – but the email also contained a request for me to try these out myself... did the web development team not have the facility to test this out?”

Allan did try the site again, this time from his work computer using a JAWS screen-reader, only to find that while the comment and button were now correctly announced, announcements were now missing from the initial edit boxes.

“After further communication to the authors of this issue the form was then reported as being fully labelled. I have not verified this.

“My analysis of this is that this was because SuperNova reads any text to the left of an edit box, while JAWS only reads correctly attached labels. From this I infer that none of the edit boxes on the original form had labels or captions associated with them. When the authors were made aware of the comment and button issues I can only assume they only amended this code without any checking of the other edit boxes.

“What hope is there for accessibility when a page that is promoting a web accessibility course and is authored by the professional IT society is inaccessible in the first place and incorrectly updated when this is brought to their attention?”

[Responses please to inbox@headstar.com].

[Section Two ends].

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++Section Three: Focus- High Street Support.


+11: The Guru Is Inby Dan Jellinek.

The basement floor of the UK’s new largest outlet for mobile phone provider O2, which opened this autumn on London’s Tottenham Court Road, is a chic modern space echoing the metal and glass technology wonderlands pioneered by Apple.

The “workshop” area with Wi-Fi, sofas and meeting booths, staffed at the entrance by a “concierge”, feels a long way from a traditional cramped high street mobile shop.

The clear, large lettering of the shop’s signs are a hint that something else is different: the store is attempting to integrate support for disabled customers including deaf people and blind people into its mainstream service. Staff have received awareness training from the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and sign language agency Positive Signs.

Asad Hamir, one of the store’s directors, is a qualified optician, with direct experience of the poor level of service that people with impaired vision receive on the high street. He has been quoted as saying he would like to create the sort of environment to which opticians would feel comfortable sending their low vision patients, and this is clearly part of the motivation behind the store’s attempts to offer the best advice on the benefits that mobile devices can provide for people with sensory impairment.

It’s not just a moral stand: the directors also see inclusion as a business opportunity. “If a section of the population is not being catered for or looked after, it’s definitely a market”, says Andrew Levey, the store’s marketing manager.

Perhaps the most powerful advocate for the store’s approach is a member of its staff, Abigail Gorman. Deaf and fluent in BSL, Gorman is one of the shop’s three O2 “gurus” working through bookable appointments to offer specialist advice to both hearing and deaf customers.

One of the only people in the world currently working in an integrated high street role of this kind, she works with a sign language interpreter funded from the government’s Access to Work scheme.

Speaking to E-Access Bulletin with the help of her interpreter in a bright corner of the “workshop”, having just finished advising a hearing customer, Gorman said her work background did not have anything to do with mobiles. But thanks to text messaging and internet access they are an indispensible part of modern life for deaf people as for everyone else, and she had first-hand experience of the barriers that can be thrown up on the high street when she went with her mother – who is also deaf – visited one shop with a sign language interpreter.

“When we arrived, they said have you called customer services? If not, then we can’t help”, Gorman says. “What can you do? Deaf people can’t call customer services.”

So when she saw the job advertised she jumped at the chance, and with the selection process supported for O2 by Positive Signs, successfully won through a large number of candidates to become O2’s first deaf guru.

If a deaf person comes into the store or books an appointment with her, she says she tries to show there are ways to solve the inevitable problems and issues that they face in communicating using mainstream devices.

“It’s about problem sharing, making it normalised.”

The main ways deaf people use mobiles is for text messaging and video calls, and with more and more phones carrying a front-facing camera and the rise of apps allowing free international communication over the web, there are a wide range of solutions, Gorman says.

For Apple users, one of the most important features for deaf people is the video utility FaceTime; BlackBerry offers the BBM instant messaging app; and other multi-platform video, voice and chat clients include Skype, Tango and ooVoo.

One issue for deaf users is that tariffs are based around voice calls, which they cannot use, she says: “At the moment, you have to pay for inclusive minutes. So though deaf people only benefit from internet and texts, we pay for calls as well.” The tariff she tends to recommend is 100 mins, 500 free texts and internet access, though a deaf person would use an internet app for text in any case.

Another minor irritation for a deaf user is voicemail, Gorman says. “A message comes up and says you have voicemail – but you have to call it to delete them. I have 52, because I never get round get round to asking someone to delete them for me!”

Gorman is the first deaf guru, but she says she hopes the concept will take off at other shops to allow proper research and trials to be run into how disabled customers can be served even better.

Since the store’s opening, use by disabled people has started slowly but a marketing campaign involving word of mouth, press campaigns, promotion through charities and disability networks such as deaf clubs around London is underway to spread the word and try to prove the concept makes good business sense.

Plans are in hand to expand advice and services for people with motor and learning difficulties, and the RNIB plans to hold events at the workshop looking at the accessibility of mobiles. The disability community will be hoping that this is the future of high street retail.

- Comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=652

[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 2011 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.
  • Editorial advisors: Kevin Carey, Tristan Parker.

ISSN 1476-6337.

[Issue 143 ends].