+++E-Access Bulletin - Issue 134, February 2011.

Access To Technology For All, Regardless Of Ability

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

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++Section One: News.


+01: ‘Fix The Web’ Project Makes Early Impact.

A three-month-old project using ‘crowdsourcing’ to improve the accessibility of websites for disabled people has already helped to solve problems with 26 sites, including those of the BBC and a large UK building society, E-Access Bulletin has learned.

The Fix the Web project ( http://www.fixtheweb.net/ ), which launched in November and was previewed in our September issue ( http://bit.ly/eQDmpC ), recruits volunteers to contact website owners on behalf of disabled internet users who encounter access problems.

Users contact Fix the Web with complaints through the Fix the Web site, email, Twitter or a new toolbar, developed by the University of Southampton ( http://bit.ly/exuzAc ), and the volunteers then take up the complaints on their behalf, allowing people to report any problems in one simple step.

Coventry Building Society (CBS) was one company contacted by Fix the Web after a disabled computer user experienced problems logging into its online banking services using an assistive technology head-operated mouse. The issue was found to be related to a function of the Trusteer Rapport security software recommended by CBS. Both CBS and Trusteer worked with Fix the Web, and have agreed to update their user instructions.

Other companies that have resolved website issues flagged up by Fix the Web include several BBC sites, with work on tagging of images and resizing of text, and Doodle (an online scheduling service), which is currently working on making its site more accessible to screen-readers.

“Website owners have responded well and have been keen to resolve issues and work with us”, Fix the Web spokesperson Nicky Ferry told E-Access Bulletin. “We’re not taking a name- and-shame approach or trying to make people look bad. Our work is much more collaborative”, she said.

Future plans for Fix the Web include looking at creating a ‘two- tier’ system of volunteers (as some posses technical web knowledge and can assist in fixing the flagged problems), and also to take the project to an international level in the long- term: “Once we feel that the system is robust enough, we will look at taking it into a European context and then globally. For it to be of real effect, it should be a global project”, said Ferry.

The project has also received celebrity endorsement, with the actor, comedian and technology fan Stephen Fry publicly backing the campaign this month.

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=549

+02: Canadian Coalition Pushes For Broadcast Access Revolution.

A coalition of Canadian disability organisations is set to hear if it has been successful in obtaining funding to create one of the world’s leading bodies promoting access to broadcasting services.

The Access 2020 Coalition ( http://www.mediac.ca/proj- Access2020.asp ), led by the non-profit body Media Access Canada, has asked the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to support the proposal as part of the conditions the commission is set to attach to its approval of a TV network takeover.

BCE (http://www.bce.ca/ ), owner of communications company Bell, announced in September last year it is to acquire Canada’s largest TV network, CTV. Any change in control of a Canadian broadcaster must include a package of benefits to the industry, and Access 2020 has asked the commission to require BCE to allocate 1% of the value of its purchase of CTV – around 13 Million Canadian dollars – to a trust fund that would ensure 100% accessibility for all Canadians across all digital platforms by the year 2020. The proposed initiative, A Bridge to the Future (see http://www.mediac.ca ), includes elements of technology, research and education.

In response, BCE has offered to allocate a lesser sum – 5.7 million dollars – to set up a ‘Bell Broadcasting Accessibility Fund’ with similar objectives, and in consultation with the disability community. However, Media Access Canada Executive Director Beverley Milligan told E-Access Bulletin this week that BCE’s counter-proposal was unacceptable, as it would not be fully independent or transparent. Disability organisations would continue to press for funding for a fully independent accessibility body, and were confident of winning the day, she said.

“We are convinced that this issue is critical to the success of the plan. Our goal of being empowered, will not be achieved if [we must] wait to be consulted by broadcasters and telecommunications companies, without resources of our own to initiate required research, but with our names appended to documents authored by broadcasters, telecommunications or their agents, and over which we have had little, if any, meaningful input.

“It is only through allowing accessibility organisations and experts to take the lead in decision, research and technological innovation that the real systemic barriers can be properly addressed. The broadcasters will never act on what they see only as a no-return expense line item.

“A ruling in our favour would mean we could get to work and get the job done.”

The CRTC is expected to render its decision around 25 March.

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=544

+03: Disability Severely Limits Net Access, Us Survey Finds.

Two per cent of US adults – six million people – have a disability that makes it difficult or impossible for them to use the internet, according to new research on the technology habits and abilities of disabled US citizens.

The survey by the Pew Research Center ( http://bit.ly/i0hWaq ), a non-partisan body conducting social science research, also found that Americans with a disability are less likely than other adults to use the internet, with just 54% of US adults with a disability (around 45 million people) reporting themselves as going online, compared with 81% of non-disabled adults.

The quality of internet speed and access were also shown to vary according to a person’s disability profile. “People living with disability, once they are online, are also less likely than other internet users to have high-speed access or wireless access. For example, 41% of adults living with a disability have broadband at home, compared with 69% of those without a disability”, the survey found.

The survey ( http://bit.ly/hv0Hrh ) said all these factors could impact negatively on an individual’s employment and life opportunities.

The research for ‘Americans living with disability and their technology profile’ was conducted using telephone interviews with more than 3,000 people from the US, between August and September 2010.

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=541

++News in Brief:


+04: Knowledge Exchange:

A collection of practical ‘skill improvement forms’, to help blind and visually impaired people use three types of modern technology – DAISY electronic book readers, mobile phones and the internet – have been published by the European Blind Union. The guidance was produced by the union’s Intergenerational Knowledge Exchange project (INTERGEN) to facilitate communication and knowledge exchange between different generations of visually impaired people:

http://www.intergenerations.eu/node/62 Short link: http://bit.ly/gHZ1Xp

+05: Diary Date:

Ed Vaizey, the Government Minister for Culture, Communication and Creative Industries, is to deliver the opening keynote at E-Access ’11, the UK’s leading annual event on access to technology for those with disabilities. The conference is co-hosted by E-Access Bulletin publisher Headstar with One Voice for Accessible ICT, and will take place on 28 June in central London. More details to follow: for now, everyone planning to attend should hold this date.

+06: Accessibility Masterclass:

A free workshop on Accessible Technology and Business Improvement is to be run next month by the Business Taskforce on Accessible Technology – part of the Employers’ Forum on Disability – with Microsoft. The half-day masterclass will cover how to procure, commission and deliver accessible technology products and services, and will take place in London on Tuesday 22 March:

http://www.efd.org.uk/events/2011-03-business-taskforce-on- accessible-technology-btat-and-microso Short link: http://bit.ly/gjshVu

[Section One ends].

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


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

+07: Sound Response:

Last issue, David Bates wrote in to ask advice on free or open source software to convert Word files to audio formats.

In the first of three responses, Daniele Marano of Hilfsgemeinschaft, a support organisation for the visually impaired in Austria, wrote: “The best open source [tool] to convert audio into mp3 or DAISY is RoboBraille ( http://www.robobraille.org ).

“The service supports many languages and the text to speech engine used is from Loquendo so that even an open source has high quality. The service is free for non-commercial purposes.”

Daniele acts as the local co-ordinator for RoboBraille in Austria.

Tavis Reddick, an ICT developer at Adam Smith College in Fife, Scotland, writes in to recommend another tool, called ‘Create&Convert’: http://www.rsc-ne-scotland.ac.uk/eduapps/createconvert.php “I believe that would do the job,” he says. “I tried an earlier version, and it worked quite well.”

Tavis says that Create&Convert is one of many free, often open source educational tools known as ‘EduApps’ provided by his local regional support centre for JISC, the higher education IT agency: http://www.rsc-ne-scotland.ac.uk/eduapps/

Finally, Adrian Isbrecht writes in to recommend the quick, flexible ‘DSpeech’ tool created by the Italian-based programmer Dimitrios Coutsoumbas, or ‘Dimio’, which offer “a really good spoken version of any text copied in... any size document can be converted easily.”

Find out more at: http://dimio.altervista.org/

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

+08: Future Imperfect:

In our last issue the Canadian accessibility consultant Donna Jodhan set out her vision for a more accessible future, expressing the hope that progress would soon be made in many areas including more affordable software through open source development.

However Brian Gaff, of Kingston upon Thames Talking Newspaper, writes in to say that, at least as far as the UK is concerned, “I suspect Donna may well be jumping the gun a little.

“Far from there being a feeling of optimism here, most companies and the government are back on access, indeed actually cutting services for disabled people, cutting their benefits and cutting investment in jobs and access technology generally, as the second wave of the recession starts to bite.

“It seems that disabled people are only worth supporting in times of plenty. Are we really such a shallow race that this is the way people feel? I suspect if asked, the answer is no. The problem is that accountants are paid be for saving money and increasing profit at any ‘cost’ to the culture and society in general.

“It’s notable that both the people at screenreader.net and nvda- project.org [both creators of free or open source screen-reader software] are talking about scaling back their development later this year due to a shortage of money pledged by either government in the first case or by the industry in the second.

“So unless something special happens, the fledgling open source and free screen-reader could be killed off before it’s reached its full potential due to over-zealous, short-term-vision bean-counters.”

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

[Section Two ends].

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++Section Two: Conference report - Vision for Equality.


+09: Mind The Gap By Tristan Parker.

The spectre of public spending cuts hovered darkly over last month’s Vision for Equality Conference in London, organised by the charity Guide Dogs ( http://www.guidedogs.org.uk ).

With much discussion on access to transport, delegates heard that many positive changes have already taken place, such as personal assistants being made available for visually impaired people on London Underground Tube trains.

But Fazilet Hadi, Group Director for Inclusive Society at the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), warned that ongoing government reforms and budget cuts “hold lots of threats” in this area. Specifically, the 28% budget cuts to UK local authorities would undoubtedly mean cuts to the accessibility of transport services, as well as to the accessibility of numerous other services such as social care and libraries, Hadi said.

Independent transport consultant Anne Frye OBE said there were three key elements needed for truly accessible transport: independence; control; and choice. Pushing for all these elements to be put in place is the UK Vision Strategy ( http://bit.ly/fCdSS4 ), a wide-ranging document developed by the VISION 2020 UK umbrella group for vision-impairment organisations and the RNIB. In the field of transport, the strategy calls for transport providers to make their services fully accessible and for the external environment to be made as easy as possible to move around in, which includes clear pavements, safe crossings and bold signage.

There is already a legal requirement to provide accessible transport in the Equalities Act 2010, which sets out clear technical standards both for transport vehicles and pedestrian environments, said Frye.

However, “It is one thing to pass an act of Parliament, but another to make sure it happens in trains and buses across the country”, she said. As an example, audible announcement technology on trains, which can assist both disabled and non- disabled passengers, is already “required very clearly by law in the Disability Discrimination Act, but more often than not is switched off. If you speak to staff, they often don’t know why the audible announcement facility is there, or have switched it off because they think passengers find it irritating”, said Frye.

Even though it may remain frustratingly unused, this audible announcement technology is at least a legal requirement on trains, said Frye. The same is not yet true for buses, although there are positive developments in this area, at least in the capital, in the form of Transport for London’s ‘iBus’ project – a radio and visual display and announcement system fitted on every London bus which can assist visually or hearing impaired passengers with journey information.

This system has “transformed the ability to travel around London for many people, including those with visual impairments,” said Frye. However, Transport for London’s primary motive for investing in the system was to replace out- of-date equipment, rather than to promote disability rights. “They couldn’t have made a business case on that alone, and I think that will increasingly be the case where budgets are cut”, she said.

Looking outside the UK, one of the simplest and most effective examples of accessible transport technology can be found in Barcelona’s Metro system, said Frye, where the transport authorities invited blind people to design ticket machines for the stations. “The result has been startling,” she said. “There used to be staff employed just to stand next to machines and explain to travellers where to put your credit card and where the ticket came out. They don’t need to do that anymore because suddenly the machines are intuitive; so there’s a clear economic benefit that comes from applying universal design.”

Another innovative example of how technology can create a more accessible transport system was described by Sandra Gollan, manager of the Dundee Blind and Partially Sighted Society. In Dundee, said Gollan, audio bus departure messages are available at city centre bus stops, accessed by council- issued travel ‘smart cards’. These cards contain specially fitted microchips, enabling visually impaired passengers to swipe the card and receive the live audible messages.

This kind of real-time information could also be used on board the vehicles, Gollan said. A chipped card could allow passengers in the seats put aside for disabled travellers to access audible information during journeys, without it being disruptive for other passengers, she said.

“The technology is out there, but we aren’t pushing it enough” Gollan said. “It’s the same with consultations; a lot of visually impaired people listen to [blind-specific] radio, so why not allow them to hear the debate over the radio and phone-in, so they don’t have to physically get to a destination and can just pick up their telephone to explain what their problems are? There’s a lot of technology out there that we could be using.”

NOTE: Presentations from Vision for Equality can be found at: http://www.guidedogs.org.uk/news/national-events/vision-for- equality-conference/ Short link: http://bit.ly/htoFmL

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=539

[Section Three ends].

++End Notes.


+How to Receive the Bulletin.

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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.
  • Reporter: Tristan Parker.
  • Editorial advisor: Kevin Carey.

ISSN 1476-6337.

[Issue 134 ends].