+++E-Access Bulletin - Issue 159, June 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: Digital Inclusion “About Everybody, Not Just Disabledpeople”.

The concept of digital accessibility simply as a means of catering for disabled users is out-of-date: in the modern world, digital inclusion must be understood as the need to serve everybody, whatever their access method or device, a leading accessibility specialist has said.

Robin Christopherson, head of digital inclusion at technology access charity AbilityNet, told delegates at the recent national digital conference in London, ND13, that providers of digital content and services already need to adapt to new devices and access methods. With more people than ever accessing websites through mobile and other devices, we are in a situation where “everybody is disabled from time-to-time”, Christopherson said.

“People are accessing your content and your services while they’re on the go – from a small screen which might be more difficult to see, or while they’re driving they might need to have things spoken back to them and need to control things by voice,” he said.

“This idea of accessibility being for disabled people, I would argue, is now anachronistic”, he said. “Digital inclusion is… by far a preferred statement, because it talks about including everybody, whereas traditionally, accessibility has been this bolt-on activity to help disabled people, with additional budget, additional skills required.”

For people with disabilities, new technologies are also opening up new horizons, Christopherson said. Emerging technologies such as: Google Glass, a head-mountable computer that responds to voice commands; software that detects human facial expressions; and the ‘Talking Goggles’ app, which photographs an object and then tells the user what the object is, are all opening up new frontiers of communication.

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=893

+02: Practitioners Rally To Defend Web Access Guidelines.

Accessibility practitioners have defended the international standard ‘WCAG’ web content accessibility guidelines this month, in the wake of an academic study suggesting they were “ineffective”.

The PhD study by André Pimenta Freire of the University of York, as reported in E-Access Bulletin in May, said adherence to the WCAG guidelines could not resolve many problems on website pages encountered by print-disabled computer users. In a series of responses on the bulletin’s website, however, several practitioners raised objections to points raised in Pimenta Freire’s study.

Ian Hamilton, a user experience consultant who has also contributed this issue’s feature on accessible gaming, said the study referred to issues such as confusing web page layouts, which were problems for all users – not just those with disabilities. “These are not accessibility issues, and are not what WCAG is for”, Hamilton said. “WCAG is to help avoid being unnecessarily excluded because of disability, and not to guarantee that people with disabilities can use a website.”

While he said he agreed with the study’s assertion that user testing by people with disabilities is essential to check accessibility – and that guidelines should not be relied on alone – he said extensive testing at all stages of a design process would be too expensive and difficult for most organisations.

“Testing, guidelines and expert review each have their own major inadequacies, and their own major benefits. Do all three and they compensate for each other very nicely.”

In a further analysis, Grant Broome of DIG Inclusion said he and his colleagues were concerned that someone reading Pimenta Freire’s report might end up rejecting the WCAG guidelines, when they are in fact a valuable tool.

“Many of us who use the guidelines in the real world know how essential they are in educating web developers, unifying objectives for browser and assistive technology developers, and as a tool for measuring accessibility conformance metrics,” said Broome.

“As supporters of user-testing with disabled users, we would not promote WCAG as a be-all and end-all solution for accessibility: there are perhaps some improvements required to be made to the guidelines… however, we would not advocate building a web product without a framework which includes the support of a robust and recognised set of guidelines such as WCAG 2.0.

“Approaching the development or testing of web products without this framework and instead relying solely on feedback from users is likely to result in an inconsistent and unreliable approach to developing a site which is not based on measurable metrics, but on individual opinion or preference.”

Broome said the study’s finding that there was no significant difference in the number of user problems found on sites that did not conform to the guidelines, compared with those that did, was “troubling”, and “it is difficult for us to imagine how a study of this depth could arrive at such an impossible conclusion.” He said some of the problems found with non- conforming websites in the study – such as broken links – are in fact covered in the guidelines.

The University of York Computer Science Department said this week it was confident the results in the study were derived from rigorous scientific and mathematical analysis of the data gathered. Further detailed comment from the department has been invited by E- Access bulletin for our next issue.

To view the original report and join in the debate, follow the link below. Please post all comments on the topic there: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=873

+03: Employers ‘Need Support To Make Job Applicationsaccessible’.

Employers need more support to make their digital job application processes accessible to people with disabilities, according to a new report from disability employment services charity Shaw Trust.

The report, ‘Making work a real choice’, examines the government’s disability employment programme Work Choice through the experiences of more than 400 people – a mix of job applicants, employers, and Shaw Trust staff.

Employers’ online application forms acted as a barrier for some disabled applicants, as the process was not always accessible, the report finds. For example, ‘time-out’ features on some online forms, which force applicants to enter information within a time limit, were particularly problematic for some people with learning difficulties.

“One customer outlined how their learning difficulty prevented them from completing a screen of an online application form for a national company in the required time limit”, it states. “The failure to complete the task resulted in the customer being barred for reapplying for another job with the employer for two years.”

To help solve this and other related problems, the report recommends that employers should receive support to make their recruitment processes fully accessible. Although some government funding is already available for staff with disabilities through Access to Work, a scheme that offers funding for costs such as assistive equipment, this is focused on helping people once they have secured work, the Shaw Trust report says. “There is therefore a lack of subsidised support for employers to help make their application processes fully accessible. Increasing the accessibility of the application stage, could remove another systemic barrier to more people with disabilities entering work”, it says.

Speaking to E-Access Bulletin Ian Lyons, sales manager for digital inclusion at Shaw Trust, said that although many organisations are happy to fix digital accessibility problems once they have been pointed out, most do not have the in- house skills to consider accessibility from the outset. “In the life-cycle of the employment process, from when a candidate is looking for work to their first day [of employment] people forget how much of that process is actually digital. I think most organisations want to make employment a level playing field for everyone, but a lot of them don’t know where to go to get that support or to implement those processes.”

‘Making work a real choice’ can be downloaded from the Shaw Trust website:

Quick link: http://bit.ly/120eg9v Full link: http://www.shaw-trust.org.uk/support-us/policy-and- research/making-work-a-real-choice-report-and-consultation/

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=895

++News in Brief:


+04: Election Access:

Leaders of all political groups in the European Parliament (EP) have signed a declaration setting out measures to increase the rights of people with disabilities. This includes a commitment to ensure the accessibility of all EP websites and other information, so disabled citizens will have equal access to campaign information for the 2014 European elections. The signing took place during a meeting of the political group leaders with the independent European Disability Forum.

Quick link to declaration as Word document: http://bit.ly/19IrAXs .

+05: Classroom Captions:

Real-time captions will be delivered directly to deaf and hearing-impaired students’ laptops in some schools across New South Wales, Australia, after a captioning company, Ai-Media, won a tender to provide the service. A trained captioner will work remotely during lessons, clearly “respeaking” teachers’ words sent to them through a microphone. This speech is then converted into text using specialist software and sent back to students’ laptops or tablet computers within seven seconds.

Quick link: http://bit.ly/144tnTz

Full link: http://www.ai-media.tv/news/Ai- Media_Wins_NSW_Education_Tender

+06: Tablet Teaching:

The Royal National Institute of Blind People is assembling a collection of resources on how tablet computers, including iPads, are being used in schools by blind and visually impaired students. Articles, guidance, news and case studies on the topic are being collected by the charity, and any schools with experience in this area are being asked to share what they have learned:

Quick link: http://bit.ly/1ahDvNA

Full link: http://www.rnib.org.uk/professionals/education/support/tablets/ Pages/tablets-classroom.aspx

[Section One ends].

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Section Two: Special Report - Accessible Video Games.

+ By Ian Hamilton.

Video games are now a major part of our culture, but one in which accessibility for people with disabilities is comparatively low. Work in this field has been accelerating greatly in the past couple of years, however, making it a very exciting and fast- paced area of accessibility to be involved with.

Major players include the charities SpecialEffect and AbleGamers Foundation, and the International Game Developers Association’s game accessibility special interest group, alongside many other smaller groups and individuals working on advocacy and development in industry and academia.

A common question among people in the accessibility field is simply – “why games?” Why should we care about a few teenagers having a bit of fun, when there are so many other serious challenges that need addressing?

There are two key issues here: the scale of the industry; and the personal benefits. In terms of value the games sector is not far short of being a twelve-figure industry, roughly on a par with books, way ahead of music, films and DVDs and second only to television. Already, there are more twice as many female gamers over 18 as male gamers under 18.

Furthermore, research commissioned by US video game developer PopCap ( http://bit.ly/PYsRwl ) showed a higher proportion of people with disabilities among gamers than in the general population. Games can be a huge contributor to quality of life for people who have limited recreation options, but they also enable access to culture and socialising, and can have therapeutic benefits (even being prescribed by doctors in some cases). In multiplayer games and virtual worlds, everyone is able to participate on a level playing field, with players’ first impressions of someone being based on how they play the game and what they say, not on any disability they may have.

It is not uncommon to hear of games having a truly life- changing effect. For example, one young man was in a horrific accident which left him quadriplegic and in despair, thinking his life was over, but he was then brought back from the brink through discovering gaming. He had found something meaningful that he was able to do independently. What brought this about were game developers simply allowing button configuration so he could move essential controls from the front to the top of his controller, meaning that although he had little fine motor control in his fingers, he could operate the buttons by moving his arms and wrists.

There are a few differences to how accessibility in games works compared to other industries. To meet the definition of “game” as opposed to a toy or an interactive narrative, there must be a challenge to overcome, a test of some kind of skill. Every challenge will be a barrier for some people, so universal design in its truest sense cannot really exist in games. However, because games are so technology-focused, there is great accessibility potential and a great deal that can be done to avoid unnecessary barriers.

Some of this potential can be achieved through: inclusive design, such as avoiding use of colour as a sole means of communicating information; providing gamers with options such as a choice of difficulty level or being able to configure which button does what on your controller; and providing support for assistive technologies such as switches or screen- readers.

There are some very common impairments that affect gaming, such as colour-blindness or impaired reading ability, translating into huge amounts of lost business, yet many access problems are cheap and easy to fix if considered early enough. The situation is rapidly improving, but the games industry still lags way behind others, and a large part of that is down to awareness.

There have been many attempts over the years to produce game accessibility resources, but these have generally been either too short or too detailed to be a practical reference for developers.

So in 2012 a group of game developers, accessibility specialists and academics collaborated to produce a set of game accessibility guidelines, divided into levels based on a balance of reach, impact and – uniquely – cost.

The guidelines were launched in September 2012, at: http://www.gameaccessibilityguidelines.com .

They are communicated in developer-friendly language, together with examples of best practice, and have already been used by many developers, publishers and universities around the world. They have even been used by the Australian Government as part of the application process for its 20- million-dollar games industry funding programme.

Looking ahead, as gaming technology continues to change rapidly, each new generation of devices will bring its own new potential accessibility benefits and hurdles, from motion and speech detection to touch-screen interaction and multi-touch gestures.

Two developments that have made a really significant difference in recent years have been mobile screen-readers and connected gaming.

Blind-accessible games have traditionally been a highly specialist area, but mobile devices have changed this. Users can now navigate using a mobile screen-reader, by dragging a finger around the screen. The screen-reader then describes what element the user’s finger is over, meaning that the finger can essentially be used to perform the same functions that an eye normally would, and the user can explore the screen in a similar way to a sighted person.

Also, unlike console games, many mobile games are based on navigating simple interfaces rather than complex 3D environments. These two factors combined have made it far easier to develop blind-accessible games – so easy, in fact, that Zynga, creators of the popular Farmville and Words with Friends games, actually managed to make their Hanging with Friends game blind-accessible by accident, simply by labelling elements correctly.

Games also allow reporting back of analytics over the internet, and this, too, has huge potential. While it is very difficult to find out how many people enter a building using a wheelchair ramp rather than stairs, or to know how many people accessing your website are colour blind, in games you can find out exactly how many of your players configure their controls or turn on subtitles, meaning accurate business cases can be formed.

One example of this is MUDRammer, a recent game designed for Apple’s iOS operating system which was made screen- reader accessible by its developer, Jonathan Hersh. Based on prevalence statistics you might guess that 1% of the players might be blind, but thanks to a single line of code the developer was able to find out that up to 10% of the players were screen-reader users. His game sells for five US Dollars, so the 24 hours work he put into making it accessible generated a profit “more or less immediately”, says Hersh.

Overall, there is a great opportunity at the moment to spread knowledge, educate game developers, and build some good foundations that will stay relevant for years to come, making a real difference to many people’s quality of life.

NOTE: Ian Hamilton is an independent UX (user experience) designer and consultant who contributed to the Game Accessibility Guidelines.

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=891

[Section Two ends].

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++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 159 ends].