ACCESS TO ELECTIONS - SPECIAL ISSUE
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++Section One: News.
+01: Eu Elections 'Inaccessible For Many Disabled Citizens'
"Inaccessible and cumbersome administrative processes" including inaccessible websites are preventing people with disabilities in Europe from voting in elections, according to a new report by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), an EU advisory research body.
The report, published this month, examined how well the political rights of persons with disabilities are being upheld across Europe, and found significant barriers exist to the exercise of these rights. "Gaps between the promise of law and policy and their actual implementation - for example in the form of inaccessible polling stations or websites - persist", it says.
Information on elections remains largely inaccessible to persons with disabilities, the report says, and official voting information websites in most EU member states do not appear to meet the minimum accepted standard for website accessibility, the international Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.
The report can be accessed online. Short link: http://bit.ly/1vQFhOY . Full link: http://fra.europa.eu/en/publication/2014/indicators-political-participation-persons-disabilities .
In a move linked to publication of the FRA report, the European Disability Forum (EDF) urged EU member states to remove restrictions that were preventing persons with disabilities from voting in the run-up to the recent European Parliament elections.
The forum, an independent international campaign group, also called on those European citizens with disabilities that were able to vote to do so, and exert their influence. The group published its own policy manifesto, "The key priorities of the disability movement" ( http://www.edf-feph.org/page_generale.asp?docid=33367 ), aimed at political parties across Europe. These include making goods and services accessible for all, through implementing the proposed EU directive on the accessibility of public websites.
NOTE: Comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=1029 .
+02: Joysticks And 3-D Printing Among Election Access Prototypes
Voting with joysticks and 3-D printed accessible cases for tablet computers housing voting systems are among innovations presented in a new report on making elections more accessible for people with disabilities published this month by the US Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF).
"Innovations for accessible elections" ( http://www.itif.org/publications/innovations-accessible-elections ) assesses several years of ITIF research and development projects.
US elections make use of a range of electronic voting systems including touch-screen devices and although US law requires accessible alternatives to be offered such as audio, and tactile keys, many voters with disabilities still experience problems using these systems and with voting in general, the report finds.
As many as 47 million US citizens (almost one in four of the voting age population) face barriers to voting in person due to inaccessible devices, it says. Problems include a lack of accessible information about polling place locations; poll workers who do not recognise the needs of people with disabilities; electronic voting systems not set up for audio ballots; and keypads with confusing or unusual layouts and keys that are hard to identify by feel.
Recent innovation projects by ITIF with partners including the US Election Assistance Commission and the social innovation collaboration platform OpenIDEO have led to a range of ideas and prototypes to try to solve these problems.
They include a ballot designed for use on any device, codenamed the "Anywhere Ballot", presenting information in a clear reading order, at the place on the page or screen where the voter is already focused. Other work investigated use of a "smart joystick" as a universal voting control, after testing found the device can help individuals with a wide range of dexterity impairments.
Following these projects Los Angeles County, the most populous voting area in the US with almost 10 million residents, is using the Anywhere Ballot as the basis of its ballot redesign and is considering including a joystick as the tactile controller, the report says.
A voting system designed to be navigated using only two buttons with audio prompts, codenamed the "EZ Ballot", was another winner in an OpenIDEO voting challenge; as was an iPad case with additional accessibility features designed to enhance voting applications, such as tactile switches and a built-in stand to adjust the angle of the screen. The design for the accessible iPad case is now available online (see compressed Zip file at elections.itif.org/wp-content/uploads/ipad-voting-case.zip ) and can be built with a 3D printer, the report says.
Ideas such as these have shown promising results but with technology and election processes always changing, access work will always need to continue alongside, the report finds.
"While most elections are more accessible today than in years past, more progress is needed... [but] unfortunately, there is no simple solution", it says. "Creating accessible elections will require sustained research and funding to continue designing new technologies and processes, evaluating them in the field, and training election officials to use them."
NOTE: Comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=1026 .
+03: Election Access At Heart Of Canadian Disability Law Campaign
The removal of barriers to voting and elections is among key principles of a new Canadians With Disabilities Act which a group of Canadian disability rights advocates is urging all the country's main political parties to pledge to pass, E-Access Bulletin has learned.
The campaign is spearheaded by a group of five leading disability campaigners led by Donna Jodhan, who in 2012 won a six-year legal battle to force the Canadian government to makes its websites more accessible (see E-Access Bulletin September 2013 http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=932 ). Other members of the "Barrier-free Canada steering committee" are Steven Christianson, advocacy manager at baby health charity March of Dimes; David Lepofsky, a law professor at University of Toronto; Jutta Treviranus, director of the Inclusive Design Research Centre at Ontario College of Art & Design; and Marc Workman of the Canadian national blindness charity CNIB.
The group is urging all parties to support the principles behind passing a new law ahead of national elections set for October next year. "We believe more work is needed to ensure the rights of Canadians with disabilities remain intact", Jodhan told E-Access Bulletin this week. "Web accessibility is just one component of our landscape and if we hope to become an equal partner in society then other rights need to be respected and preserved. We need to have equity with the mainstream world."
The group has drawn up a list of 14 principles for the new law, which would echo the US Americans with Disabilities Act.
These include that it "should require providers... to ensure that their goods, services and facilities are fully usable by persons with disabilities"; that the government of Canada should lead other sectors in achieving the aims of the new law; and that it should provide for a "prompt, independent and effective process for enforcement".
The law should also require the government to review all current and future federal legislation and regulations to identify possible accessibility barriers that they may impose or permit, pass new legislation to address these barriers, the principles state. "As an immediate priority under these activities, the Government of Canada should get input from voters with disabilities on accessibility barriers in election campaigns and the voting process, and should develop reforms to remove and prevent such barriers."
The final principle says: "The Canadians with Disabilities Act must be more than mere window dressing... It must have real force, effect and teeth."
NOTE: Comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=1023 .
++News in Brief:
04: Good Shortlist: Therapy Box, an app development company that specialises in communication and therapy apps for people with communication difficulties, is among the finalists announced for this year's Tech4Good Awards, created by technology access charity AbilityNet with support from BT and other partners. Other finalists include Samsung Smart TV, which has built-in accessibility features including Voice Guide and a High Contrast User Interface; and SpecialEffect, a UK-based charity which helps anyone, whatever their physical disability, to enjoy video games and leisure technology. Youth Award nominees include Adam Pool, who with his mother has built MyPAL, a web-based information and resource centre to help families support a relative with dementia: http://www.tech4goodawards.com/finalist/ .
05: Audio Immersion: Advanced accessibility features have been built into a new standard for streaming audio signals online and to mobile devices, the European ICT standards organisation ETSI has announced. ETSI has released AC-4 (ETSI TS 103 190), an audio compression standard designed to support sophisticated entertainment and other experiences on home entertainment devices, computers and mobile devices. The standard enables immersive and personalized consumer audio experiences, for example allowing viewers of a football match to hear sound from the stands or the field or change sound perspectives within a video game or film. And its accessibility features Advanced Dialogue Enhancement, offering users control of the dialogue level in relation to other sounds, suiting individual hearing needs and preferences; and Advanced Accessibility, allowing service providers to deliver secondary audio in 5.1 surround sound for the visually impaired: http://www.etsi.org .
06: Tap App: TapTapSee, an app that can speak to identify common objects such as food tins or banknotes from photographs taken from any angle, has been made available for the first time on the Android mobile platform by its creator, Los Angeles-based company Image Searcher. The new app, of which a previous version on the Apple platform is already popular with blind and visually impaired people in the US, the UK and elsewhere, makes use of the Android text-to-speech facility Talkback for spoken identification. New users can take 20 pictures for free before being asked to subscribe to packages such as 50 pictures for $4.99 or one month of unlimited pictures for $9.99: http://www.taptapseeapp.com .
[Section One ends].
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++Section Two: Q & A- Ken Saunders, AccessFirefox.org .
+07: Community Service.
Ken Saunders is co-owner and founder of AccessFirefox.org, a web portal of accessibility tools and resources for users of the free Firefox web browser. Here, the US-based volunteer answers questions on his work, motivations and passions.
Q: What accessibility tools do you use to facilitate your own work?
A: I am legally blind due to a congenital condition known as ocular albinism with nystagmus. My visual acuity is documented at 20/200 right eye, 20/400 left which means I do have trouble seeing objects both near and far. However my visual acuity can't ever be accurately determined because of nystagmus, which is an involuntary eye movement that causes my eyes to move rapidly in a horizontal direction: side-to-side.
In terms of the tools I use, I get a lot done using many of the Firefox add-ons I helped develop like Big Buttons, Page Zoom and Font & Theme Size Changer (more on these later). Firefox itself is great because it is so customisable, meaning I can make it fit my needs so it is as comfortable for me to work with as possible.
There are a lot of free accessibility tools and default accessibility options I rely on like text-to-speech and magnifier applications. There are other more advanced tools out there but when you start to look beyond default accessibility features and free software, your options start to get very costly. I've never really understood why and I would love to see more affordable or free tools out there.
Q: When and how did you start coding?
Q: When did you get involved in helping to make Firefox more accessible?
A: Back in 2005, I downloaded Firefox and clicked on the "Get Involved" button, which was included as a default bookmark within the browser at the time. I soon started volunteering for Spread Firefox (a former website where enthusiasts helped promote Firefox) and eventually became an administrator on that site. Since 2011 when we retired that website, I've become involved in testing as part of Mozilla's quality assurance community, where I've handled testing for Firefox across all platforms - Windows, Mac, Linux and Android).
I've tried to help out wherever I can by testing and providing feedback for new projects too. One example is the early beginnings of the Mozilla WebMaker project (known as 'Mozilla Drumbeat' at the time). Webmaker is a fresh approach to teaching technology and digital literacy, the goal being to create a new generation of digital creators and webmakers.
I also spent some time as an Accessibility Steward, which saw me taking on the role of guiding and directing new and potential volunteers interested in contributing to Mozilla's accessibility goals. I'll be picking this responsibility up again soon as I start to help test Firefox OS devices and provide feedback from the perspective of a person with visual impairments.
Q: What is it that you like about Mozilla and Firefox?
A: I like that Mozilla fights for the rights of Internet users, especially the right to privacy on the web and user sovereignty; the idea that any data relating to an individual belongs to the individual.
What amazed me and really hit home when I first started volunteering was the sheer volume of like-minded people from all over the world who were coming together to work towards Mozilla's mission and goals; to keep the Web open and accessible to all. The community is very diverse; anyone can contribute, regardless of ability, income, education or background.
Q: How did Access Firefox come into being?
A: I co-founded AccessFirefox.org with Otto de Voogd when we were new to Firefox and the various accessibility options that came with it. At the time, the majority of information about these tools and features was spread across several websites, so we wanted to bring them under one roof. So we set about creating the project and the specific accessibility add-ons that come with it.
Over the years there have been several different contributors to Access Firefox from the Mozilla community. Some have written or contributed to the site's coding, some have created accessibility related add-ons, and many others have supported the site through advocacy.
Q: What are your favourite Firefox Accessibility add-ons?
A: Access Firefox accessibility add-ons are slightly different to standard Firefox add-ons. I briefly mentioned my favourites earlier, and I'm proud to have contributed to the development of all three of these: Theme Font & Size Changer, Page Zoom Button and Big Buttons.
Theme Font & Size Changer is a simple browser tool that lets people change the font size and type in Firefox. It is an especially valuable tool for visually impaired people and wide-screen users. It is different from add-ons that enlarge and reduce font size and type on web pages because it does so in all windows, menus and toolbars within Firefox itself. All font size and font family changes are instantly applied, saved permanently and maintained through sessions.
Page Zoom Button gives users control of all three page-zoom functions in Firefox from a single button. Users can click on or roll the mouse wheel over the button to zoom in, zoom out and reset a web page back to its default view. Users can also zoom in and out of local offline files such as photos, graphics, and various documents.
Big Buttons provides large and extra-large Firefox navigation toolbar buttons.
Q: How would you recommend accessibility users get started with Firefox?
A: I would recommend starting by taking a look at the features that Firefox offers its users and then download the browser. However, for more detailed information on accessibility add-ons we recommend you take a look at Access Firefox's beginners' guide. Then take your time getting familiar with what's possible. Once you've done that, invest some time in customising Firefox so that it is as comfortable to use as you need it to be.
Access Firefox: www.accessFirefox.org .
NOTE: Comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=1021 .
[Section Two ends].
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