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++Section One: News.
+01: New Standard Aims To Make 'Rich' Web Content Accessible
A new technical standard to ensure so-called 'rich' web content - dynamic, interactive features of many modern web pages - can be made more accessible to people with disabilities have been published by the international World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI).
The Accessible Rich Internet Applications 1.0 specification (WAI-ARIA - http://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/aria ) has become a W3C 'Recommendation' - the body's term for an official standard.
WAI-ARIA sets out ways such content can be identified, described and controlled by users of assistive technology such as screenreaders, or people who cannot use a mouse. For example it offers a framework for drag-and-drop feature properties that describe drag sources and drop targets.
The new standard is designed to help implement existing web accessibility standards such as WAI's own Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 in a modern context, W3C WAI director Judy Brewer told E-Access Bulletin.
"WAI-ARIA is essentially one way of meeting WCAG 2.0," Brewer said. "The principles, guidelines and success criteria from WCAG 2.0 remain remarkably stable - so the "rules," so to speak, haven't changed. It's just that there are now more powerful ways to use those in websites and applications because of the availability of ARIA."
One of the benefits of creating the new ARIA standard and implementation guidance is to ensure developers do not needlessly work in parallel creating their own accessibility solutions for each new interactive web feature, she said.
"Without the WAI-ARIA technology, developers would have to customize their accessibility solutions for different platforms and devices. With ARIA, they get cross-device, cross-platform accessibility support, and can more easily repurpose their content and applications in different settings without losing any accessibility support."
The specification will now evolve, with a working draft of WAI-ARIA 1.1 already published for consultation ahead of an even stronger 2.0 version, as her team continues to watch how technology changes and keep ahead in the race for accessibility, Brewer said.
"The constant emergence of new technologies requires a lot of vigilance on the part of accessibility experts and advocates", she said.
"There's still a tendency for developers of new technologies to forget that people using the web have varied physical, sensory and cognitive capabilities - and that the digital medium provides such an excellent platform for accommodating all of these variations in human functioning if one just remembers to plan for it at the design stage."
NOTE: Comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=998 .
+02: Only A Quarter Of Uk Council Websites Accessible, Report Finds
Only a quarter of UK local authority websites are accessible to people with disabilities, significantly fewer than last year, according to this year's 'Better Connected' council website review by the public sector Society of IT Management (Socitm).
Overall, 105 councils (26%) were rated by the Socitm report as at least 'satisfactory', defined as having few serious and practical accessibility problems, with just one- Preston City - rated 'very good'. Last year, 194 councils (44%) were rated at this level.
Some 311 sites (76%) this year were rated as 'poor', and 12 (3%) as entirely 'inaccessible', according to tests checks carried out for Socitm by non-profit accessibility testing firm Digital Accessibility Centre, based on the WCAG 2.0 global web access standard. The tests checked website 'top level' pages - the main index pages for each council service - as well as the accessibility of carrying out sample tasks such as reporting flytipping to a council using a mobile phone; or finding out about a care home for an elderly relative.
The drop in standards this year is attributed by the report to the introduction of accessibility tests on the site carried out using mobile devices, which resulted in scores on average only half as good as those recorded in tests using desktop computers.
The most common accessibility problems for council websites accessed by desktop computer were lack of clear labels for form fields and associated controls; downloadable 'non-html' documents such as pdf files being inaccessible; poor heading structure; and insufficient colour contrast. For access by mobile devices, common problems also included a lack of mobile alternative option for the desktop site.
The report (http://www.socitm.net/research/socitm-insight/better-connected ) recommends all councils should build accessibility into their criteria for web site procurement; build accessibility checks into their web publishing process; and carry out user testing with disabled people.
The figures emerged just a few days after the European Parliament voted to strengthen a proposed European Directive on the Accessibility of Public Sector Bodies' Websites, which would require EU member states to ensure all public websites are fully accessible.
The new law could come into force as early as next year, suggesting UK councils would struggle to comply, although member states would be likely to be allowed a further year to comply for new public sector web content, and three years for existing content (see E-Access Bulletin, February 2014 issue).
NOTE: Comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=1000 .
+03: Global Mobile Accessibility Database Set For Overhaul
The world's leading database of information on the accessibility features of mobile phones and tablet computers is set to be refreshed with extensive new information, E-Access Bulletin has learned.
GARI (Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative - http://www.mobileaccessibility.info ) was launched in 2010 by the Mobile Manufacturers Forum (MMF), an international association of mobile telecommunications equipment manufacturers.
Initially covering just a few accessibility features for mobile phones, it has since been expanded to store information on more than 100 features of phones and tablet computers of interest to users with access issues relating to dexterity; vision; hearing/speech; and cognition.
Last year it was further expanded to include 'apps' (applications) that help to make mobile devices more accessible such as screenreaders, or help people with disabilities to perform everyday tasks such as TapTapSee, an app which can use a phone's camera to identify objects and speak them out loud.
The resource - which covers all global regions - was developed with international disability organisations including World Blind Union, European Disability Forum, World Federation of the Deaf. It holds information in 12 written and spoken languages plus American Sign Language with a 13th language, Japanese, to be added shortly.
It was originally set up because accessibility information on consumer devices seemed to be getting lost on the way to the user, Sabine Lobnig, communications and regulatory officer at the MMF, told E-Access Bulletin. "Manufacturers had feedback from disability organisations that even if they do provide accessibility information for devices, this information does not usually arrive with the end consumer", Lobnig said.
"Whether it is sold through a wholesaler, on the internet or wherever, information on accessibility is lost. So consumers end up with a device that could be accessible for them but they do not have the information."
Another purpose for GARI is to act as an official compliance reporting mechanism for mobile manufacturers in countries such as Australia, Portugal and the US where legal accessibility requirements are already in place, she said. The system pulls in data to templates designed to meet the requirements of each country's relevant law. In Europe, no such legal requirements currently exist at EU or national level, though an EU accessibility act currently in development might introduce them in future.
The GARI dataset available for organisations to embed in their own websites (free for non-commercial use); and acts as a platform where policy makers, industry and disability organisations can exchange information and work together on improving accessibility of mobile phones, tablets and apps.
Its main data store is reviewed every 12-18 months with the most recent consultation with suppliers and disability organisations being held in November 2013, Lobnig said. The results were then considered with new features set to be agreed by the GARI management team next week, she said.
GARI is free to use and developers list apps for free, though manufacturers pay to have their hardware products included.
NOTE: Comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=1002 .
++News in Brief:
+04: Learning Signs:
A computer programme that can recognise sign language and convert it into text or speech; and conversely convert text and speech into sign language using an animated avatar has been developed by a Polish company, Migam. The project appears in an international 'Social Tech Guide' listing examples of technology for social good, compiled by charitable foundation the Nominet Trust. According to a report by Dan Sutch and Ed Anderton of Nominet Trust published on the Real Business website, the Migam system uses neural network techniques to "learn" sign language from repeated inputs of sign language expressed both correctly and incorrectly many times over: Short Link: http://bit.ly/1lf7ZTJ Long link: http://realbusiness.co.uk/article/25799-6-inspirational-examples-of-european-tech-for-good
+05: Spanish Eyes:
Software developer GW Micro has announced it has launched a Spanish language version of its screenreader software Window-Eyes through a collaboration with the M&B Trading Company (http://www.mb-internet-ideas.com ), an IT company based in Mexico. The news follows GW Micro's announcement earlier this year that it had reached a deal with Microsoft to give away Window-Eyes for free. The Spanish version will come under this free deal, though the firm says customers seeking training for the version will need to contact M&B. A paid version is also available with unlimited technical support: Short Link: http://bit.ly/1h8GgyZ Long link: http://www.gwmicro.com/News_& ;_Events/Latest_News/?newsNo=305
+06: Social Survey:
Academics at Middlesex University are conducting an online survey into the use of social networking by vulnerable young adults who may have special needs, learning disabilities or mental health issues. The purpose of the questionnaire is to ascertain what research, if any, is happening in this area with a view to either support it or develop research proposals to fill the gaps. The long term goal is to raise awareness of the need to improve inclusion on social networks through education, legislation, or the development of standards and resources. Readers are invited to take part, at: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/3886P5S
[Section One ends].
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++Section Two: 'The Inbox'- Readers' Forum.
+07: Irrational Fear:
Reader Hugh McLeod writes in with a personal response to our lead news story last issue, "BCS to tackle 'unconscious bias' against disabled IT job applicants", which reported on a new scheme to combat unconscious discrimination against disabled people.
"Fear of blindness, like fear of falling or of drowning, is natural" writes Hugh. "But like so many natural fears, fear of blindness among the sighted is irrational or ignorant bigotry.
"Yesterday I told my 64-year-old brother that a blind man on a flat roof is at no more risk than a sighted man. The danger for both arises from getting on or off the roof and from pure stupidity. But my brother, after more than half a century still loves me and does not understand that my blindness is just part of me.
"I think most sighted people, and too many blind people, refuse to see. Like racism, sexism and any other phobia or "-ism", the demeaning of the blind is due to unexamined ignorance."
Please send further comments to: email@example.com .
+08: Thunder Rumbles:
Roger Wilson-Hinds, director of Screenreader.net which has developed free screenreader software Thunder, writes in to respond to a comment in last issue's Inbox from our reader Brian Gaff. Brian in turn was commenting on our previous news report that software developer GW Micro had reached a deal with Microsoft to give away its Window-Eyes screen reader software for free. Brian had suggested this offer was "not as good as it sounds", since it may mean people 'making do' with Window-Eyes because it is free, when other screenreaders may be better for them.
However, Roger counters: "The current screenreader position for blind and visually disabled people has never been better. Now we have choice: Window-Eyes free with up-to-date Microsoft software; JAWS widely used in the work and education situation; NVDA up to date and becoming more and more sophisticated; Guide for the less technical; and our Thunder, getting on and out of date but easy to use on old machines. Not to mention the Mac, when Apple were the first to integrate our needs into the bowels of their system.
"Why grumble? We are spoiled for choice, and many of us spend more time on our mobiles or tablets than on the PC, in any case."
Please send further comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org .
+09: Remote Control:
Meanwhile our same trusty correspondent Brian Gaff writes in with his response to last issue's feature by Clive Lever about a lack of awareness among IT support staff of issues faced by keyboard-only computer users.
"One thing Clive does not mention in his piece is the increasing use by support staff of remote desktop systems", Brian writes.
"I have run across this quite a bit and the pitfall here is they offer to sort out a problem you have, but in doing so, often change settings without telling you, so the software is no longer configured as it was before, and this can under some circumstances mean another call just afterwards asking for it to be changed back again.
"There is another issue here too: if a blind person nowadays wants to apply for a job as a support engineer, it is often specified that they must be able to use these remote access programs, and sadly I know of none that can actually be used by blind people, unless there is a screenreader on the remote machine itself."
Further comments please to email@example.com .
[Section Two ends].
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++Section Three: Case Study- Access Dorset.
+10: Citizen Journalists Find Their Voice On The Virtual High Streetby Tristan Parker.
A wheelchair user's struggle to use the car park at the town hall, to attend her brother's wedding; an elderly man's description of how he improved his diet to help his health; and one woman's tale of learning sign language to help others. These are all real examples of self-help and mutual support videos created by and for an inspirational project in the South West of England offering older people and people with disabilities peer support for independent living.
The online video project 'ADTV' ( http://www.accessdorsetcentre.org ) was launched by Access Dorset, a user-led charity partnership formed in 2010 by 17 organisations across the county supporting people with disabilities, older people and carers.
The project's website features a 'virtual high street', with different areas representing different aspects of independent living such as transport, safety, money matters and leisure. Clicking on each of these topics takes the user to a series of videos made by the site's members sharing stories and experiences on that topic.
The videos are well-made, thanks to 'citizen journalism' skills such as writing a storyboard and producing a short video taught to some of the site's members by Bournemouth University. Members are also taught how to train others as citizen journalists, to help the project grow.
Dave Thompson, development manager at Access Dorset, told E-Access Bulletin the idea for the virtual high street and user-centred videos arose from extensive consultation with organisations that work with older people and those with disabilities.
"We're a small organisation without a huge amount of funding, so how do we go about making films that can actually tell those stories and produce them as cheaply as possible? That's where we came up with the idea of looking at the broader concept of citizen journalism", Thompson said.
Dr Einar Thorsen, senior lecturer in journalism and communication at Bournemouth University, has been taking a key role in teaching Access Dorset members the citizen journalism skills needed to produce their videos. "The project has different ways of empowering people", Thorsen told E-Access Bulletin.
Many of those making the videos are concerned about a lack of coverage or inefficient coverage of issues associated with disability, impairments and ageing in mainstream media, Thorsen said. "The website has an empowering function to give otherwise marginalised voices an ability to be heard, and that's quite a powerful thing", Thorsen said.
Funding for ADTV has arrived from a diverse range of national and local funders and sponsors. The Office for Disability Issues has provided grant funding, and organisations can sponsor individual sections of the virtual high street: Bluebird Care in Dorset sponsor the 'Our Home' section and Castlepoint Shopping Park in Bournemouth sponsor 'Leisure'.
In the longer term, Thompson said there is "a possibility of replicating and broadening out" the project in other parts of the UK, although the current focus is on developing it around Dorset. "We've already had a few conversations about the possibility of how we could take the concept and share it with others", he said. "We need to look at different ways of funding the project, and part of that is scaling up."
Coming soon to a virtual high street near you?
Comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=1006 .
[Section Three ends].
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[Issue 166 ends].