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++Section One: News.
+01: Accessible Book Body To Focus On Developing Countries
An initiative to increase production and dissemination of accessible format books for blind and print-impaired readers in developing countries has been launched by a group of international bodies.
Members of the new Accessible Books Consortium (ABC) include the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO); the World Blind Union (WBU); the DAISY talking book format; the International Publishers Association; and the International Authors Forum. It is intended as a stop-gap measure pending implementation of a WIPO treaty on access to printed works for blind and print-impaired people, signed in July last year.
The ‘Marrakech Treaty’ will eventually allow exceptions to international copyright laws permitting sharing of accessible printed materials, but must first be ratified by 20 countries, a process still being completed.
Maryanne Diamond, chair of the WBU’s ‘Right to Read’ campaign, told E-Access Bulletin the consortium will be testing some elements that need to be in place for implementation of the treaty.
“[It] provides the opportunity to trial different ways to get books in the hands of persons who are blind,” Diamond said. “It will undertake capacity building of: publishers to publish accessible [books] and organisations in developing countries to produce and distribute accessible books,” she said.
Further work will focus on will focus on boosting demand for accessible books among groups of blind and print-impaired people in developing countries, including work already underway in Bangladesh.
Other areas of work for the ABC include talking with publishers and (printed materials) rights holders, and urging them to publish their texts in accessible formats. Once the Marrakech Treaty is fully ratified, the body’s work will scale back, Diamond said.
A detailed report on the Marrakech Treaty and its background can be found in a previous issue of E-Access Bulletin, linked to below: Short link: http://bit.ly/1ls8pEK Full link: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=913
NOTE: Comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=1052 .
+02: Apple Urged To Act On App Accessibility.
The US National Federation of the Blind has called on technology giant Apple to include accessibility to non-visual users as part of its process of approving apps for supply through its App Store, or when they are updated.
The call came in a resolution passed at the federation’s annual convention held this month in Orlando, Florida.
This acknowledged that Apple has made major steps towards making its own products accessible, including integration in many of them of the screenreader programme VoiceOver. It also noted that VoiceOver can allow non-visual access to mobile apps, and praised Apple for releasing and promoting tools and guidance to make it easy for app developers to incorporate accessibility features for VoiceOver users.
However, the resolution said: “despite Apple's efforts to encourage accessibility, too many applications are still not accessible to VoiceOver users because buttons are not properly labeled, images of text cannot be interpreted, and other display elements cannot even be detected by VoiceOver.”
Noting that Apple “is not reluctant to place requirements and prohibitions on application developers, but has not seen fit to require that applications be accessible to VoiceOver users”, it said accessibility “should be as important as any other requirement imposed on application developers.” It thus called on Apple to “create and enforce policies, standards, and procedures to ensure the accessibility of all apps… and to ensure that accessibility is not lost when an app is updated.”
In all, some 19 out of 22 resolutions passed at the Orlando convention relate to digital technology.
These include a resolution urging the Obama administration to act more quickly on its own pledge to introduce new regulations enforcing the accessibility of all US public sector websites, first proposed in 2010 but recently delayed until March 2015.
Others included resolutions urging better accessibility for Microsoft SharePoint collaboration software; apps and websites collecting data and interacting with devices to build the “internet of things”; tools and technologies helping people manage diabetes; enterprise software; electronic health records; educational tools used by science students in the laboratory; cloud storage services such as Dropbox, Box, SugarSync and Google Drive; home security systems; digital books; anti-virus software; apps made by airline companies to book and track flights; online ballot-marking systems; remote computer access tools.
All this year’s NFB resolutions can be read in Word ’97 format at: https://nfb.org/resolutions
NOTE: Comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=1050 .
+03: Equality Analysis Vital For Council Websites, Conference Hears
Local authorities planning to redesign their websites or make any major changes to them must carry out equality analysis from day one of the project, delegates heard at this month’s ‘Building Perfect Council Websites’ conference http://www.headstar-events.com/bpcw14 in Birmingham.
And suppliers or contractors designing a council’s website or taking on responsibility for uploading web content to the site must be instructed to do so to the same standard local authority staff would be expected to perform, Clive Lever, diversity and equality officer at Kent County Council, told a conference discussion group.
“Make them aware of our Public Sector Equality Duty [introduced by the Equality Act 2010]”, Lever said. “When commissioning others to work on your websites, do not settle for promises of accessibility – get evidence of how they will do it or have done in the past.”
When offering website users content in accessible alternative formats, use content that is appropriate for your target audience, he said. “So ’Keeping safe’ advice specifically for people with learning difficulties needs ‘Easyread’ versions as a matter of course. But minutes of cabinet meetings may not, so you would only provide them in Easyread if asked to do so. This approach means that you may only need to show clearly how people can get alternative formats if they need them. Do this in the files and on the pages which hold them.”
When running usability tests on a website, it is vital to bring in a wide cross-section of members of the public including disabled people; people of all ages; people with low literacy skills; and both experienced computer users and novices, Lever said.
“Remember that a person who cannot reach the information they need may think they are failing. In reality they are being failed by the website. Make sure at the start of the session that testers are clear that we are not testing them. They are testing us.”
While he said it was understandable that local authorities are currently looking to save as much money as possible, he said they should still offer a small payment to members of the public who are asked to test the website. “Travelling to our sites to do test tasks costs them time and money, and the experience of carrying out the user tests may be frustrating and stressful to them.”
Another key accessibility practice is to always use everyday language and terms online, he said.
“Remember that people rarely come to our site to have a look around and find out what we do. They come because there is something specific they want to do. So, our search box could say: ‘What do you want to do?’ instead of ‘Search’”.
The conference was co-hosted by E-Access Bulletin publisher Headstar with the local public sector IT management body Socitm.
NOTE: Comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=1047 .
++News in Brief:
04: Winning Effect: SpecialEffect, a pioneering UK charity helping people with physical disabilities to play video games, has won the Accessibility Award at this year’s Technology4Good Awards. The charity, which also won the coveted ‘Winner of winners award’, is the subject of this issue’s feature article (see Section Two). UCanDoIT, UCanDoIT, a charity which teaches people with disabilities basic computer skills in their own homes, won the Digital Skills Award and the People's Award. The Tech4Good Awards celebrate people and organisations using the power of computers to make the world a better place. They were created by charity AbilityNet, with support from BT: http://www.tech4goodawards.com
05: Nuance Sale? Speech-recognition, language and voice technology software leader Nuance Communications is in discussions with potential buyers of the company, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. Possible buyers include South Korean electronics firm Samsung – a major existing customer for its mobile handsets, TVs and tablet computers – and private-equity firms, the report says. Other customers include Apple, with Nuance technology used in its Siri mobile voice interaction system; car maker Daimler; games company Nintendo; and electronics firm Panasonic. Nuance is worth about $5.5 billion: Short Link: http://on.wsj.com/1pBh7GV Long Link: http://online.wsj.com/articles/nuance-communications-explores-possible-sale-1402936735
06: Petition Time: E-Access Bulletin readers are invited to sign a petition urging all political parties to develop better policies to help make digital information, communication and technologies as accessible as possible to people with disabilities and older people. The petition was launched by the One Voice for Accessible ICT Coalition, an umbrella group of charities, public sector bodies and firms supporting this message. The coalition is calling for the parties to write a pledge for action into their manifestos ahead of next year’s general election. Readers are also urged to promote the campaign on social media: Short Link: http://bit.ly/1oAjacR Long Link: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/building-an-inclusive-society
[Section One ends].
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++Section Two: Focus- Accessible video gaming.
+07: Gateway To Modern Life.
This month, SpecialEffect (www.specialeffect.org.uk), a charity pioneering access to video gaming by people with disabilities, won top prize in the Accessibility category at the national Technology4Good Awards. Here, the organisation’s head of communications Mark Saville talks to E-Access Bulletin editor Dan Jellinek about how it goes about bringing games to everyone – and why this matters.
- How would you summarise the work you do?
SpecialEffect is a charity that is helping people with physical disabilities to enjoy video games for fun, inclusion and rehabilitation. There is no one-size-fits-all way of doing this, so we visit people to find out exactly what they want to play, and what they need to play it. We will then match, modify or create equipment to lend to them, and give support so they can get the best out of it. It takes time, patience and expertise, but it opens the door to self-esteem, confidence and a better quality of life.
- Why is access to gaming important?
For a whole bunch of reasons, not least to level the playing field. The people we see often cannot play real, physical games with their friends and families, so virtual games offer an important opportunity for inclusion. It is also the case that, love them or loathe them, video games are here to stay and are a huge part of modern life. It is estimated that more than 50 million people in the UK have played video games at one time or another, whether that be the latest [XBox or PlayStation??] shoot-em-up or a few minutes of fun on a smartphone. And this figure is only going to rise, along with the number of potential players who cannot join in because of a disability.
- Why is it so important to customise gaming support for each individual?
In the six years that we have been around, no two people we have seen with the same disability have had exactly the same physical abilities. And that matters when you’re talking about getting to grips with a standard handheld games console controller with a couple of small joysticks and around 10 tiny buttons and triggers on the front, sides and sometimes rear of the unit. People also want to play different games, so there is a big variety (and speed!) of button and trigger combinations to factor in.
When abilities change over time - for example with muscular dystrophy – we will make several visits to adjust or change the technology if necessary, so video games can be accessible for as long as possible for that person.
Our occupational therapists play a massive role in everything. They bring a huge amount to the process, including making sure the mounting and positioning of the equipment is safe, and sometimes enabling tiny extra finger or hand movements which can make the difference between a particular individual being able to play games, or having to just sit and watch. They have a whole assortment of wonderful stuff in their boxes, from padded garden twine to heat-mouldable resin, and different types of Velcro… all useful in some way, at some time or another.
- Do you receive much recognition and support from the mainstream gaming community?
We do not charge for our help, so we are 100% reliant on the goodwill and generosity of people to keep going. We are very fortunate in that many in the gaming community do understand what we are trying to do.
We encourage game developers to get in touch if they are interested in learning more about how their games could be made more accessible to a greater number of people, and that is beginning to happen. However, because of the complexity of video games and their controllers, we took the conscious decision not to prioritise the advocacy of accessibility within video games directly. Instead we put our efforts into working with individuals with disabilities, and by demonstrating the difference in quality of life that this level of personalised support is able to bring, we hope to inspire developers to make their games more inclusive.
- Are the techniques you develop useful in other areas of digital access or communication?
We are mixing, modifying and matching hardware and software all the time, and yes, there is often overlap into other areas of digital access. To take an obvious example, if we enable someone to access a drop-down menu in a video game, then that might have implications for other areas of computer control for that individual. It is the same for eye gaze technology, and there is plenty of crossover there in terms of using the same technology for both games and everyday communication.
- What new technologies are the most exciting for future access possibilities?
We have pretty much got our hands full trying to keep pace with the constant changes and innovations in mainstream video game control technology, but we are also currently keeping tabs on development of brain control interfaces and other biosignal systems. We’re also looking at facial and other gesture recognition systems. These all offer interesting potential for future access to video gaming.
- Why is recognition from an award such as Tech4Good important?
It was an honour and a privilege to receive the Tech4Good Accessibility Award this year. I think it is a recognition of the positive impact that our work is having on individual lives, and is a real encouragement to us that we’re doing the right thing. I also think it is a recognition that video games are becoming a huge part of society.
We are not just helping people to play video games for fun, we’re increasing their quality of life by opening the door to integration into a massive digital social network. We have often heard people say: “I can’t imagine life without video games.”
Comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=1045
[Section Two ends].
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[Issue 170 ends].