+++E-Access Bulletin - Issue 155, February 2013.

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: Courts Freeze Samsung Battle Against Apple Screenreader

A lawsuit in Germany in which mobile handset maker Samsung is attempting to force its rival Apple to remove the VoiceOver screen reader function from its iPhone smartphones in the country has been halted by the courts.

VoiceOver allows users to have content on the screen read aloud to them. It is marketed as an accessibility aid for blind and visually impaired users, since it can help people use and navigate an iPhone by touch and audio alone.

In a case first brought in December 2011, Samsung had tried to argue that VoiceOver on the iPhone, which has been a standard feature on all iPhones since 2009, infringes on one of its patents. VoiceOver is built-in to a range of Apple products – including Mac computers, iPad tablet computers and some iPod mp3 players – but Samsung’s claim relates only to the iPhone.

Titled “speech output device for data displayed on mobile telephone converts data from display into speech data for output via loudspeaker”, Samsung claimed patent covers the act of pushing a button on a mobile device and having content from the screen, including both text and icons, read out through speech.

Apple argued that they are not in breach of Samsung’s patent, as VoiceOver’s speech output is triggered by tapping the screen of an iPhone and not a button. However, Samsung then brought a second infringement case, arguing that triple-pressing the ‘Home’ button while in VoiceOver also causes content to be read out from an iPhone screen.

Last week, the Mannheim Regional Court in Germany ordered a ‘stay’ or suspension on proceedings, after it found the way Samsung presented its case for the alleged patent was invalid.

Discussing the case with E-Access Bulletin, Florian Mueller, a patent and intellectual property analyst who has followed the case, said: “The stay is based on the court’s assessment that everything the patent discloses already existed at the time Samsung applied for this patent, so the court expects the patent ultimately to be deemed invalid for lack of novelty.”

The next stage is for the Federal Patent Court to rule on the case, which Mueller believes is unlikely to happen before mid- 2014. The federal court could dismiss the case, but if they were to support Samsung’s claim, Apple could be forced to remove VoiceOver from iPhones sold in Germany, meaning that blind and visually impaired iPhone users in the country would no longer have access to the feature. Alternatively, the court could partially support Samsung’s patent claim, and allow Apple to retain VoiceOver on the iPhone, but with modifications that keep it from infringing on the patent.

Mueller (who has written about the case and the ruling on his blog, Foss Patents: http://bit.ly/XEtgvy ) told E-Access Bulletin that “It’s unfortunate that a patent that relates to accessibility was chosen by Samsung as a potential tactical weapon … I wouldn’t have considered it inconsiderate for Samsung to ask the court for damages, but seeking a sales ban, which could have resulted in the removal of the feature, is what I take issue with”, he said.

In a statement on the case, Robin Spinks of the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) said: “VoiceOver on the iPhone has provided an unparalleled level of access to mobile devices for blind and partially sighted people all around the world. Any situation which might threaten the existence and continuing development of that functionality would represent a clear injustice.”

Both Samsung and Apple declined to comment when asked by E-Access Bulletin. The episode is just one of a long series of court battles over patents between the two companies, now running to 50 actions pending in 10 countries.

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=826

+02: Signing Avatar App Prototype Wins Global Award

A Brazilian mobile app that translates Portuguese speech, digital text and photographs of text into sign language, all using an animated avatar, has been recognised at a global apps awards ceremony.

The Hand Talk app ( http://bit.ly/12DovWS ) – due to be publicly released later this year – was developed by Ronaldo Tenório, Carlos Wanderlan and Thadeu Luz to convert written or spoken Portuguese text into LIBRAS, the official sign language of Brazil. The app won the category for ‘mInclusion and Empowerment’ at the World Summit Award – Mobile ( http://bit.ly/Vrng8J ) for its potential as a communication aid for hearing-impaired people and others who want to learn LIBRAS.

Hand Talk translates Portuguese into LIBRAS in three different ways: users can type directly using their mobile device, or use email or SMS text; the user can speak or record a voice into the mobile device; or the user can take a photograph of text (a newspaper headline, for example) with their mobile. For each method, the Hand Talk 3D avatar, named Hugo, will translate the text or speech into LIBRAS through an animation.

The app will be available for free during the second half of 2013 for iOS (Apple’s operating system) products, Android smartphones and tablet computers, and BlackBerry smartphones.

There are also plans to release a version of Hand Talk for the web, Thadeu Luz told E-Access Bulletin. “With Hand Talk for web, it will be possible to make the content of any website, like a news portal, financial institution or public service, available in sign language as well”, he said.

Initially Hand Talk will only translate to LIBRAS, but the app’s developers intend to expand to other world sign languages in the future, Luz said.

Although Hand Talk has not been released yet, there has been a lot of positive anticipation, Luz said: “We get emails all the time from people, saying how much our product is needed today… The response that we get whenever we do a presentation at a deaf school or deaf association is unbelievable. It’s just amazing to see how excited everyone gets because they know that Hand Talk will have a major impact on their lives. This is our greatest reward.”

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=823

+03: Guidelines Cover Accessibility For Smart Homes Of Thefuture

The latest version of a set of guidelines for accessible design in ICT systems, including information on making technology- enabled ‘smart homes’ accessible to disabled and elderly people, has been released by a leading consultant.

The guidelines are produced by John Gill OBE, consultant in technology for persons with disabilities and former chief scientist at the Royal National Institute of Blind People. Gill has compiled the guidance over a number of years, as an introduction to building accessible systems in a wide range of areas. A checklist, showing how different accessibility considerations in types of ICT equipment can aid different types of impairment, is also included.

Topics covered include telecommunications, including mobile phones and video phones; financial transactions, including online banking; computing, including software and web accessibility; transport, including passenger information systems; and e-government, including electronic voting.

One area explored in the guidelines is how to increase the accessibility of ‘smart homes’, where technology systems or services have been built into a home to improve the quality of life for people including disabled and elderly residents.

The guidelines give the example of a lighting system controlled by pressure pads. The system would automatically switch on the relevant lights when the householder gets out of bed and goes to the bathroom during certain hours of the night. Additionally, a safety alarm could be set off if the householder does not leave the bathroom after a specified time.

Recommendations for making “smart home” technology accessible include providing voice-operated or hands-free facilities where possible, and displaying any screen information in a range of formats.

A new inclusion for the latest version of the guidelines is a section on “smart meters” – newer designed electricity and gas meters that offer real-time readings and allow users to easily manage their energy supply. Accessibility issues advised on include positioning and representation of the smart meter display; options for speech output; and design of function buttons.

Gill told E-Access Bulletin that the guidelines were written after he began receiving enquiries from companies asking how to design accessibility into their products. “I often find that the designers are looking for information about accessibility since it has been specified or mentioned by the client (typically a service provider). This does not mean that either party has any clear idea as to what is involved in designing an accessible system, or how to assess it prior to deployment”, he said.

The guidelines have recently been updated, and need frequent editing and additions because of constant changes in technologies, legislation and standards, Gill said. New sections on the accessibility of televisions, smartphones and tablet computers are currently being written by Gill and his team.

The guidelines are available at: http://www.johngilltech.com/guidelines/guidelines_list.htm . Short Link: http://bit.ly/VqrRIq .

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=821

++News in Brief:


+06: Limited Access:

More than half of UK adults who have never used the internet have a disability – a total of 3.80 million people – according to the latest Internet Access Quarterly Update released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS). The figures cover the last quarter of 2012. The number of disabled people who have never been online has dropped slightly from the preceding quarter (3.89 million at quarter three of 2012, as reported in E-Access Bulletin issue 153), and is at its lowest since quarterly updates began at the beginning of 2011. However, people with a disability are still more than three times likelier never to have used the internet than those without a disability, the report finds.

Quick link: http://bit.ly/XiD25n .

+05: Emergency Texts:

Canadian citizens with a hearing or speech impairment will be able to communicate with 911 emergency services by text message, the Canadian Radio- television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has announced. Users must register their mobile phone number with their service provider and must also dial 911 initially in an emergency. Staff will then be notified that the conversation needs to proceed by text. CRTC have given telecommunications providers until 24 January 2014 to upgrade their networks to enable the service.

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

+06: Social Awards:

Nominations for internet projects that help create positive social change are being sought for the Nominet Internet Awards 2013. The awards include categories for “Doing good online” – which recognises charitable initiatives or campaigns, or those that promote charity fundraising – and ‘Online skills and training’, which recognises projects and websites that help people to learn new skills or access information online. Projects can be run by businesses, charities, public sector organisation or individuals, and entries must be submitted by 28 March 2013.

Quick link: http://nia.nominet.org.uk/ .

[Section One ends].

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+07: Section Two:

Special Report - Age UK’s Internet Champion.

My Online Life Began At 75 by Brenda O’Mulloy.

I have had a fantastic year as Age UK’s Internet Champion of 2012. First there was the honour of winning, followed by the excitement of being broadcast live on BBC radio, speaking at high profile conferences and events and being interviewed by a variety of newspapers and magazines all with the aim of extolling the virtues of using the internet in later life.

My son bought me a computer when I was 75. He connected me to the internet and changed my life! I had been feeling very cut off after moving away from my friends and family – my family live 200 miles away – and the passing of my husband.

The computer was a real lifeline. It enabled me to stay connected and later gave me more. First I learned how to send emails and gradually moved on to other things like Facebook, Skype and instant messaging. It wasn’t long before the internet became something I could use for everyday life because I learned how to do a lot more, like shop online, book flights and theatre weekends and play games. What I love is that I no longer have to fuss with the VHS player to record a favourite programme, because I can catch up using iPlayer or Demand5 [the online ‘watch again’ service from Channel 5].

When I am tired or when the weather is bleak, I don’t struggle against the elements in order to pick up the newspaper from my local newsagent. Instead I can stay at home in the warm and read the Daily Mail online, do a crossword or two, search recipes and shop for the ingredients using my computer. I can say with absolute certainty, eight years on, that the internet has had such a positive impact on my life.

As Age UK’s Internet Champion it’s been a real privilege to promote the benefits of the internet for everyone because it is so accessible, and to spread the message that it’s never too late to take that first step. Having the opportunity to share my story to encourage others has been empowering and a true pleasure.

Age UK is about to appoint a new Internet Champion for 2013. While I’ll be sad to relinquish my official title I’ve had so many new experiences this year and at 83 that must be rare. I will always be an Internet Champion at heart and will look forward to celebrating with my successor when they are announced in March.

NOTE: More information about Age UK’s Internet Champions can be found at the Age UK website: http://bit.ly/YCov2o

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=818

[Section Two ends].

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++End Notes.


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

ISSN 1476-6337.

[Issue 155 ends].