+++E-Access Bulletin - Issue 153, November-December 2012.

Access To Technology For All, Regardless Of Ability

A Headstar Publication. http://www.headstar.com/eab/ . In Association With Go ON Gold: http://www.go-on-gold.co.uk/ .

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++Section One: News.


+01: Accessible Design Event Fuels User-Focused Innovation.

Sensors to help people secure their home and an accessible kettle were the winning entries in a recent event that encouraged participants to design and build products that are usable by everyone.

Created by accessible design social business and community Enabled by Design ( http://enabledbydesign.org/ ), the “Enabled by Design-athon” featured 13 teams designing and modifying innovative items.

“If you have design-for-all as your starting point, it was about asking how we can modify things and customise things – how can we take advantage of new technology, materials and new ways of working to make things more accessible to people?” Denise Stephens, Founder of Enabled by Design, told E-Access Bulletin.

Running over two days, the event began with sessions to help participants understand some of the challenges faced by people living with particular impairments, and how they might account for these challenges when designing a product.

Given access to a range of materials and equipment, including 3D printers, the teams then set about designing their own products. Two winners were picked. The first was ‘SafeHouse’, a project which tells homeowners if all their windows and doors are closed using sensors to complete circuits. “Rather than having to go round your whole house and check that everything is secure and closed, you could have a central panel, which can tell you if there’s a window or door open”, said Stephens. “Although SafeHouse could be used by anyone as a security feature, it may be particularly useful for older people or those with memory difficulties”, she said.

The second winner was ‘Paul’s Kettle’, a device designed for an attendee at the event who was born without lower limbs. A team designed a lightweight kettle with a jug shape, modified handle and pivot, allowing someone with limited mobility to easily pick up and pour the kettle.

The design consultancy and event partner IDEO, will now run a session to help the winning groups develop their ideas and examine possible methods of acquiring funding for their designs. Other partners included: the government’s Technology Strategy Board; Ravensbourne, a digital media and design higher education institution and the location of the event; the public service consultancy FutureGov; and sugru – a self- setting rubber which can be moulded and added to items to fix, modify and make them easier to use.

Stephens said that the event had proved particularly useful for designers, who found it useful to speak directly to people about potential ideas and developing their products. “A message [from the Design-athon] would be to really involve people from the beginning of the design process. Rather than retrofitting something for somebody, why not speak to people throughout and use that information to help inspire and influence your design?”

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=792

+02: Call For New Task-Based Approach To Digital Inclusion.

A “change in mind set” on digital inclusion is needed by organisations in all sectors after a general failure to create accessible digital systems – particularly for those with a disability or the elderly – a new report by technology access charity AbilityNet says.

“Mind the Digital Gap: It’s bigger than you think” says that although there has been much discussion on accessibility and inclusive digital systems over the past 15 years, this has not yielded significant results. “The reality is … that apart from a small number of good examples, many digital systems and content are inaccessible to the majority of disabled and older people. The current methodology … has failed and we need a change in mind set on how we approach digital inclusion,” it says.

The paper proposes a six-part strategy to help organisations develop a more inclusive digital environment and economy. This includes the creation of a “support service” to help disabled and older people use technology effectively; and encouraging business, government and the third sector to work toward digital inclusion together through a new forum.

The paper also stresses the importance of task-based testing – examining the achievability of individual tasks – in designing inclusive digital services. As an example of how not to do this, the report uses the example of an airline website where a user is sent back to the beginning of the ticket-buying process if the required information is not completed in a certain time. This security feature may make it difficult for someone with a learning or cognitive impairment to complete the process, and an adjustment to the cut-off time would increase usability for these groups, it says.

“We have to recognise that people use technology to complete a task, whether that is filling in an online form, buying something, looking for information and so on,” Nigel Lewis, chief executive of AbilityNet, told E-Access Bulletin. “The approach to inclusion and accessibility has [so far] focused on piecemeal elements such as alternative text for images rather than thinking of what the user is actually trying to achieve”, he said.

The new report builds on suggestions made by Kevin Carey, chairman of the Royal National Institute of Blind People, in a separate discussion paper commissioned by AbilityNet on improved consumer access to digital information, “Universal citizen and customer access”. Both papers can be downloaded at: http://bit.ly/R2ZqQM

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=790

+03: Personalisation Is Key To Draft E-Learning Standard.

Public comment is being invited on a newly updated accessibility standard for students and learners, which focuses on personalising digital learning resources as a method of maximising accessibility for each learner.

The standard, Access for All version 3.0 (AfA v3.0), is produced by IMS Global Learning Consortium, a non-profit body whose members include more than 180 leading universities, educational organisations and technology companies worldwide. It aims to give a personalised experience for learners through use of a “common language” which describes a learner’s needs and preferences.

This information is not based around specifics of a learner’s medical condition or history, but how the learner interacts with digital resources, such as computers. Any specific needs of a user – if someone can only operate a computer using a keyboard, for example – are recorded, so resources can be adapted accordingly.

Although AfA v3.0 states that “no single resource has to be 100% accessible to all learners”, flexibility and the potential to alter a resource are important to the standard, as they increase the chances for personalisation.

The constituent sections of AfA v3.0 can be viewed on the IMS Global website: http://www.imsglobal.org/accessibility/ . Comments about the standard can be left in an IMS public forum: http://bit.ly/QvdjGb

A free webinar on AfA v3.0, hosted by EASI (Equal Access to Software and Information), an organisation that provides online training on accessible IT, will take place on 17 December. To register, visit: http://easi.cc/clinic.htm#december .

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=788

++News in Brief:


+04: Shock Stats:

One third 33% of disabled adults in the UK (3.89 million people) and 70% of people aged 75 and over (3.24 million people) have never used the internet according to the Office of National Statistics’ latest ‘Internet Access Quarterly Update’. According to report, which contains figures for the third quarter of 2012, “individuals with a disability are just over three times more likely never to have used the Internet than individuals with no disability:”

Quick link: http://bit.ly/TjgocL

+05: Nudge Online:

A new report has made a number of suggestions for tackling the digital exclusion of elderly people, including for government and the private sector to put more emphasis on “co-design” in the technology sector – that is, involving older people in the design of online services. The report, “Nudge or compel: can behavioural economics tackle the digital exclusion of older people?” was produced by the International Longevity Centre, a think-tank specialising in ageing and population change:

Quick link: http://bit.ly/VfEzer

+06: Directive Proposed:

A directive to increase the accessibility of public sector websites across Europe has been proposed by the European Commission. The proposal would introduce mandatory accessibility standards from the end of 2015, for 12 different types of website, based on Level AA of version 2.0 of the international Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0). The proposal complements the European Accessibility Act to improve the accessibility of goods and services in the European market, which the European Commission is also preparing:

Quick link: http://bit.ly/SryMy4

[Section One ends].

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


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

+07: Career Opportunity?

Our regular correspondent Clive Lever, Diversity and Equality Officer at Kent County Council, writes in to respond to the online comment published in our last issue from a reader using the pseudonym “Deaf”. Following our earlier piece commenting on Channel 4’s failure to caption paralympic TV coverage, “Deaf” had written in to point out: “There are many qualified stenographers who can type at the minimum of 200-220 words per minutes with at least 98% accuracy.”

Now Clive writes in to add: “In the days before word processors, many of those stenographers would have been blind audiotypists.

“In these times, when only half of disabled people of working age, and only one-fifth of people with visual impairments of working age have jobs, is there not potential for a career opportunity for blind typists?”

[Comments please to inbox@headstar.com ].

[Section Two ends].

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++Section Three: Profile FeatureRo O’Shay


+08: The World At My Fingertips

After training as a clinical support worker, US-based blogger Ro O’Shay was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2006, before losing her sight in 2008. Since then, the internet and new communications technologies have gradually become a lifeline for her, and she is now a keen writer and technology- user. Tristan Parker talks to her about her passion for technology.

TP: Please give us some background on yourself.

ROS: I grew up sighted in Arizona, without the kinds of technology young people grow up with today. I lived at home and went to college and eventually decided on phlebotomy [the process of collecting blood from patients for examination] as a career. In 2006 my right eye went blind and I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The internet and my PC quickly became my link to the world as I adjusted to suddenly being disabled. I became a moderator on a mental health forum and that was a huge sense of pride and accomplishment for me. When I suddenly became completely blind in 2008, all that was taken from me.

TP: How do you use technology and how does it benefit you?

ROS: I was without technology for eight months when a friend gave me an iPod nano. It had spoken menus! I called Apple, wondering what else they might have. It was explained to me that all their computers had built-in screen readers. I had heard about screen readers for Windows but the cost made me ill. I went to the Apple store and was able to log in and post on the mental health forum using the Mac screen reader, Voiceover. I could just afford the least expensive MacBook and began to painstakingly teach myself how to use it.

TP: Do you use other technologies - online tools, screen- readers, anything else?

ROS: I have an iPhone 4 that, next to my MacBook, is the most important piece of technology in my life. I have a typing app called Fleksy that really made using my iPhone all the easier and I have since gotten an app that scans and reads text, an app that scans barcodes and gives me product information, I am able to access my bank account with an app, I can listen to baseball games when I’m out of the house, I have a GPS app that helps me know where I am – the list goes on.

I’m able to read books with iBooks and I keep audio books with me as well, and the calendar app has been a lifesaver. Just about every app that comes with an iPhone is accessible and even most third party apps are. App developers are becoming more and more familiar with Voiceover on all iDevices and a lot of them are receptive when the blind and low vision users have suggestions for accessibility.

TP: You seem a very prolific writer on your blog. Is this one of your main activities when you’re online?

ROS: Blogging used to be one of my main activities online. I started my blog after I decided to begin the journey of getting a guide dog and that was just another way I began meeting people. I met one of the close friends I mentioned earlier because of the blog.

I found other blogs written by people who had lost their vision later in life and it helped me feel connected and find others like me. I was also helping people without even knowing it, and I had this entire fellowship of blind and low-vision people grow up around me, as well as puppy raisers and other dog people who helped me prepare for my life with a guide dog. My blog is very important to me and I recently had to move it to WordPress because Blogger made some changes that deeply impacted accessibility negatively. I was resistant to the move but am now grateful for it.

While my blog is still active I spend most of my online time on Twitter using an accessible Mac client called YoruFukurou. It has become another hugely important window to the world for me. Twitter leads me to websites I want to read and my blog friends link their new posts there. It has become a sort of one- stop-shop for the internet, putting all my interests into one easy-to-access place. One of my fears is that Twitter will change things so that my client will no longer work and then Twitter will not be nearly as easy to use as it is now.

TP: What are the main usability aspects you look for in a computer, and on a website?

ROS: I’m spoiled since the only computer I’ve used since going blind is a Mac. If it’s not a Mac, I’m not interested. The built-in screen reader and the fact that it works so well with Mac software has me a loyal customer. When it comes to websites, I like a nice headings structure I can use to quickly “glance” at the page and get an idea of the layout. Plain text is my friend since obviously image-based content is something Voiceover can’t read to me. Image descriptions are nice and clearly labelled buttons and links are a must.

Embedded media is a problem, since Voiceover and Flash aren’t always friends, so I like direct links. YouTube is great since content plays automatically, though I don’t like content that plays automatically on a page I’m not expecting. It drowns out my screen reader and makes it difficult to navigate. Pages that are pretty for the sighted might be completely inaccessible to screen readers.

TP: Do you think that more organisations are now making their websites accessible to blind and visually impaired computer users?

ROS: Yes. I think screen reading technology information is becoming more widespread, but technology changes so incredibly quickly that one site I visit today might go through an overhaul and be completely inaccessible the next. Here in the States it is law that government sites be accessible, which is great, but those laws haven’t expanded beyond government, that I know of.

Commercial sites such as Amazon are fairly accessible now and have been open to suggestions. I use Amazon a lot, and so I worry that one day when I visit, something will suddenly have changed. Lately, I have found that restaurants pose the biggest problem, either using images for their menus or putting the menus into a jumbled PDF file. It can be infuriating but it seems to me to be rarer and rarer that I am turned away from a website due to inaccessibility.

TP: What benefits can using technology and getting online bring to people with disabilities?

ROS: The benefits are endless. For me, the biggest benefit is the fellowship. The fact that I never have to be alone is huge. I can just jump on Twitter or read blogs or carry on a conversation with someone clear across the pond over email. For me, information is secondary to the people I get to interact with. From blind friends in Canada or Texas or New York or Ireland to fellow Tampa Bay Rays baseball fans in Florida, I am never alone. The world is at my fingertips, just like it was when I could see.

Ro O’Shay’s blog, In The Center of The Roof, can be found at: http://www.centerroof.com/ .

Her Twitter profile is: @Raynaadi

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=786

[Section Three ends].

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++End Notes.


+How to Receive the Bulletin.

+How to Receive the Bulletin.

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Copyright 2012 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 153 ends].