+++E-Access Bulletin - Issue 135, March 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: Report Highlights Research Gaps For Assistive Technology.

Lack of awareness of the needs of users with disabilities; funding problems; user-testing problems and problems with ensuring use of open standards are all among barriers to successful transfer of new assistive technologies from the research laboratory to the real world, a new report finds.

The report was written by consultant Dr John Gill for the Cardiac project, a European initiative to identify research and development gaps in the fields of accessible and assistive ICT ( http://www.cardiac-eu.org ).

The project covers two main areas: transferring assistive devices from the laboratory to wide availability; and encouraging the introduction of more mainstream products and services which are usable by people with disabilities.

“In the area of assistive technology for people with disabilities, many devices have been developed, some of which were successful, but most have failed to make the transition from the laboratory to being generally available at affordable prices”, the report finds.

Problems have included:

- Assistive devices are often required in relatively small quantities, but modern production techniques require large quantities to keep prices low;

- Manufacturers often insist on using proprietary protocols, whereas users would prefer systems based on open standards to avoid supplier lock-in; and

- Widespread lack of awareness of accessibility issues among product and service design teams.

Organisations representing people with disabilities seldom join discussions on research priorities since they lack people with the skills to understand the potential of new developments to help people with disabilities, the report finds.

There is also a catch-22 situation regarding commercial risk: “Companies in the disability area tend to be risk-averse, so prefer to update an existing product rather than market a truly innovative concept”, it says. “New concepts may not get subsidised until such time that they have significant market penetration, but the market may not exist until a subsidy is available.

“Therefore, many projects are based on incremental improvements of available technology and produce only marginal advantages for end users [whereas] It is ... necessary to encourage research projects that are based on real technological innovations and produce significant advantages for users.”

‘Passing it on - technology transfer for assistive and accessible information and communications systems’ is available as a pdf file at: http://www.cardiac-eu.org/tech_transfer/report.pdf

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=569

+02: Council Web Access ‘Should Be Built Into Procurement’.

Website accessibility should be built into local authority software and IT systems procurement criteria, the leading annual review of all UK council websites has found.

More local authorities should also carry out user-testing on their websites using groups of people with disabilities, according to Better Connected 2011 ( http://bit.ly/hBOGUw ), conducted by the public sector Society of IT Management (Socitm).

A direct accessibility test was carried out for the survey of all 433 UK council websites, based on the World Wide Web Consortium’s international Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Using these guidelines, just 30 councils (7%) achieved the basic ‘Level A’ standard, compared with a similar number – 32 – in 2010. As in previous years, no council achieved ‘Level AA’ – the standard which the previous government encouraged all councils to reach.

Although the tests continue to use version 1.0 of WCAG ( http://bit.ly/cmbc4g ), the report says it is likely to switch to use of the newer version 2.0 guidelines for next year’s survey.

As in previous years the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), which advises Socitm on accessibility, carried out its own separate qualitative assessment for the survey on all sites that passed an automated test. This year, some 241 councils (56%) were rated by RNIB as satisfactory or excellent using this follow-up assessment of accessibility, compared with only 187 (43%) in 2010.

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=566

+03: Empowering Potential Of Technology Celebrated.

A new awards event aims to recognise the ability of computers, the internet and assistive technology to improve the lives of people with disabilities and empower vulnerable sections of society.

Organised by disability and ICT charity AbilityNet ( http://bit.ly/himPdh ) and supported by organisations including BT, Microsoft and Race Online 2012, the first Technology4Good awards ( http://bit.ly/gwQUvZ ) are looking for examples of charities, businesses, government organisations and individuals that have used digital technology to improve the work and home lives of others, including disabled people, the elderly and young children. Two Accessibility Awards are featured in the seven categories.

Speaking to E-Access Bulletin’s sister publication (E- Government Bulletin: http://bit.ly/aKaTdz ), Mark Walker of AbilityNet said that the event has two main aims: “The first is to share stories about what works. It’s a good chance for people to share knowledge and experience. Secondly, it’s a chance to inspire other people.”

At a recent launch event for the awards, a blind member of AbilityNet gave a demonstration of how his smartphone helped him to navigate and organise parts of his life on a daily basis. “I’m sure lots of people have gone away and shared that story”, said Walker. “The inspiration you get from hearing about how other people have succeeded is a big part of what we’re trying to do as well.”

Nominations for all the Technology4Good Awards (whose judging panel will feature members of AbilityNet, Microsoft, BT and Martha Lane Fox – the UK’s Digital Champion) are now open, and entrants may nominate themselves or others before the 9 May deadline. The results will be announced on 7 June.

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=562

++News in Brief:


+04: Copyright Controversy:

Continuing European Union and US opposition to a proposed law by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), which would allow people with print disabilities to share copyrighted works across international boundaries has been labelled as “rigid, insensitive and short- sighted”, by a former Member of the European Parliament for Spain. The WIPO proposal has been under discussion for several years, and had seemed to be edging forwards, though any clear agreement is still some way off (see E-Access Bulletin issue 131: http://bit.ly/eNgEDt ). David Hammerstein made the comments in an outspoken interview with a US website, in which he said the “EU-US coalition” has not put forward any solid economic or legal reasons for their opposition:

http://www.keionline.org/node/1087 Short link: http://bit.ly/hLOHmb

+05: Sunny Content:

Papers from the 26th Annual International Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference, which took place last week in San Diego, California, are now available to be read online. Hosted by the Center on Disabilities at California State University, Northridge (CSUN – the acronym by which the conference itself is usually known) – this year’s event featured presentations on hundreds of topics including accessibility developments in social media, and how assistive technology can benefit students with disabilities:

Short link: http://bit.ly/hQhn9p

+06: Settlement Complaint:

The US-based National Federation of the Blind (NFB) has expressed its disappointment at an American federal judge’s rejection of an agreement between Google and various publishing and authors’ groups which would have allowed the company to scan sections of any book and display extracts online, creating a global digital library. The NFB had previously expressed its support for the ‘Google Books Settlement’, claiming it would increase access to a wide range of books by blind people worldwide:

http://www.nfb.org/NewsBot.asp?MODE=VIEW& ;ID=778 Short link: http://bit.ly/ieMvSE

[Section One ends].

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[Special notice ends].

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


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

+07: Thunder Intact:

In last week’s inbox, Brian Gaff of Kingston upon Thames Talking Newspaper wrote in to bemoan the current government spending cuts, and suggested that two creators of free or open source screenreader software were being forced to scale back their operations as a result. However Roger Wilson-Hinds, director of one of the two firms mentioned, Screenreader.net, writes in to say: “I was very surprised to read in the February issue that we are cutting back our free screenreader development due to lack of cash.

“Actually, the opposite is the truth and there has never been more demand for free Thunder talking software.

“What we are really doing is moving into the smart phone sector with a plan to create some useful apps, low cost and aimed at perhaps a wider audience than merely those who can’t see. More about all this at a later date, but we are certainly not cutting back.”

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

+08: More Sound:

Steve Griffiths, Digital Accessibility Development Officer at the Royal National Institute of Blind People, writes in with a further tip in response to David Bates’ query in our January edition asking advice on free or open source software to convert Word files to audio formats.

“I wanted to mention the ‘Save as DAISY’ plug-in for Word, which uses the SAPI 5 voice on your Windows PC”, he says – SAPI being Microsoft’s ‘Speech Application Programming Interface’ for speech recognition and voice synthesis in Windows. A trial version of this plug-in was released last week that supports Word 2010, Griffiths says: http://www.daisy.org/project/save-as-daisy-microsoft-word- add-in . Short link: http://bit.ly/bAjxqY .

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

[Section Two ends].

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[Sponsored Notice ends].

++Section Three: Opinion - Open Source Software.


+09: Priced Out of the Market?

by David Bates.

There is now increasing emphasis on enabling more of the older and poorer members of the community to use computers to access information and to communicate with others. I see the primary need for non-computer-literate older people to be an inexpensive ‘net book’ with a very simple and easily- learned interface which will enable them to undertake basic tasks. But from where can such machines be purchased with suitable, simple software installed?

Like a new driver, learners are easily put off by technicalities – they just want to move forward by operating the controls without learning what goes on under the bonnet. This problem is especially acute for blind computer users, who have to control the machine in an unusual way: because they cannot read the text or see the cursor they must move it around the screen with the Alt, arrow and Tab keys, and then listen to the words under the cursor as they are read out with a synthetic voice. The link they require may be very visible on the screen, but it may well take the carefully listening user many keystrokes to locate it.

Many blind users consider themselves tied to Microsoft programmes and to Freedom Scientific, the company which makes the popular JAWS screenreader software which is optimised to read these programmes. These two brand leaders provide a first-class, premium-priced service for blind people in paid employment, but their sales policies largely exclude the needs of the great majority of blind people who are unemployed or retired.

Since my retirement I have continued to use Microsoft XP, Office 97, Outlook Express and JAWS, while working for two charitable organisations. However, I recently had to buy a new computer which came with Windows 7 and Office 2007 because the older programmes have been withdrawn.

Without the traditional fixed menus, the new programmes are much more difficult to use with a screenreader. To allow me to continue my work, Microsoft has therefore forced me to undertake a considerable and unnecessary learning curve, and they have also charged me for the privilege of doing this!

However, the crowning insult was that the JAWS upgrade needed to access these programmes would have cost me £330 ($500), which would have meant that the new unnecessary software programmes would have cost more than the computer itself. You need to be rich to be blind!

I have decided that if I must go through future learning curves I will move to open source programmes which are regularly updated for free and which will remain available. I have therefore replaced JAWS with NVDA ( http://www.nvda- project.org/ ), a free screenreader which is easy to learn and works as well as JAWS. My email client is now Mozilla Thunderbird, with Firefox replacing Internet Explorer, and I am now checking a free office programme so that I can get away from Microsoft Word with its less accessible ribbon menus.

Replacing the Windows operating system will need more care, but there are several free Linux operating systems out there whose developers could hopefully produce a simple desktop interface which will work with their vast assortment of free programmes, which, surprisingly, also includes a screenreader.

Blind people mostly have incomes well below the average, and government cuts are likely to reduce these still further, while also increasing the rate of unemployment among the blind to above the present level of around 65%.

The open source community should be encouraged to adapt and supply their software to this low cost market, thereby providing enormous benefits to both older and disabled members of the community, a market which appears to be outside the financial scope of both Microsoft and Freedom Scientific.

Note: David Bates is a member of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) UK Executive ( http://www.nfbuk.org ).

This article is the personal opinion of the writer, and does not necessarily represent the views of E-Access Bulletin or Headstar. To respond please email inbox@headstar.com

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=558

[Section Three 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 135 ends].