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++Section One: News.
+01: Mps, Academics Condemn Research Funding Withdrawal
A group of MPs, academics and technologists have condemned the cancellation by the UK Department of Health (DH) of a long-standing contract for an annual independent report on assistive technology research and development.
Production of an annual report on government-funded research to improve AT is a statutory requirement, set out in the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970.
However after 15 years of allocating funding to the Foundation for Assistive Technology (FAST) to produce the work, the DH announced last month it is to bring production in-house to its research and development directorate, at an estimated annual saving of £68,000.
In a statement, FAST said the move was “short-sighted” and “a false economy”, as it would lead to lower quality information being made available to policy makers, funding bodies and others. Overall it “will significantly hamper efforts to support disabled and older people to become independent through the use of technology,” the foundation said, as the DH report proposal is “insubstantial” and “only minimally meets the statutory requirement.”
The withdrawal of the contract also means FAST will no longer have the resources to update a publicly-available database it has been maintaining on AT research and development, it said ( http://fastuk.org/research/projects.php ).
In its own statement, the DH responded that this public information is already available elsewhere online, such as Research Councils UK’s Gateway to Research, and the EU CORDIS database. However FAST says these sites do not provide a comprehensive picture.
Seven MPs and more than 30 academics and technologists have so far supported FAST’s call for continued funding including EA Draffan and Mike Wald of Southampton University; Gill Whitney of Middlesex University; and Tim Adlam of Designability.
NOTE: Comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=1073 .
+02: Lib Dems Are First To Make Digital Access Election Pledge
A pledge to review relevant laws, guidelines and standards on access to digital goods and services to ensure fair access by disabled and older people has become the official policy of the UK’s Liberal Democrats in the run-up to next year’s general election.
The pledge came as an amendment to the party’s equalities policy paper “Expanding opportunity, unlocking potential” which was submitted to the party's autumn conference for approval earlier this month.
The party has now promised, if elected to govern or as part of a new coalition government subject to negotiation, to conduct “a review of anti-discrimination law and of existing laws, guidelines and standards on access to digital goods and services to ensure they are fit for the modern age and so that, in particular, people with disabilities and older people have fair access to digital public services, the digital economy and the workplace”.
The amendment was moved by Mark Pack, Editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire, on behalf of One Voice for Accessible ICT Coalition, which is campaigning for all the main UK political parties to pledge similar action ahead of the 2015 elections. MPs and policymakers in the Labour and Conservative parties are currently considering making similar undertakings.
One Voice, an umbrella group of charities, businesses and other organisations pushing for better digital accessibility across society, has called for the review in light of poor legal enforcement of existing laws, rules and guidelines for accessibility of websites, mobile apps and other digital goods and services across the public and private sectors.
NOTE: Comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=1071 .
+03: Technology Pioneers In ‘Disability Power List’
Champions of digital accessibility feature prominently in the first ever “disability power list”, a round-up of Britain's 100 most influential people with a disability or impairment selected by recruitment firm Powerful Media in partnership with non-profit disability support group the Shaw Trust.
Top of the list is scientist Stephen Hawking, perhaps the world’s best-known user of synthesised speech communication and winner of a special prize at the 2012 Technology4Good Awards from charity AbilityNet. In second place is Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson, one of Britain’s greatest Paralympians and supporter last year of Go ON Gold, a national campaign to raise awareness about barriers faced by disabled people in accessing computers and the Internet.
Fifth overall came actor, writer, broadcaster and technology early-adopter Stephen Fry, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and has supported many disability technology access projects including the Fix the Web project led by Citizens Online.
Other digital pioneers in the list include entrepreneur and philanthropist Neil Barnfather, founder and director of TalkNav, a supplier of accessible mobile devices to the blind and low vision community; Gary McFarlane, managing director of Assist-Mi, a mobile app that allows people with disabilities to request assistance from service providers such as petrol stations and airports; Amar Latif, founder and director of ‘Traveleyes’, the world’s first commercial air tour operator to specialise in serving blind as well as sighted travellers; and Euan McDonald, founder of disabled access review website euansguide.com.
Also recognised are consultant Geoff Adams-Spink, who covered many technology accessibility stories in his former role as age and disability correspondent for BBC News; Caroline Waters, vice chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and former policy director at BT; and Paralympian gold medallist wheelchair sprinter Hannah Cockcroft, keynote speaker at last year’s eAccess 13 conference.
Disability power list long link: http://www.shaw-trust.org.uk/media-centre/news/launch-of- the-first-disability-power-list/ Short link: http://bitly.com/1wb9toy
NOTE: Comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=1069 .
++News in Brief:
+04: GARI First:
Australian telecom operator Telstra has become the first mobile communications carrier in the world to fully integrate data from GARI (Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative) into its own customer information portal, the initiative has announced. GARI is an information database on accessibility features of mobile devices launched in 2010 by the Mobile Manufacturers Forum (MMF), an international association of mobile equipment manufacturers. The new portal http://telstra.com.au/mobile-phones/find-accessible-devices allows Telstra users to search for handsets with specific accessibility features related to speech, hearing, vision, cognitive impairment and reduced mobility. Previously, promoters of the GARI service have tended to be public sector bodies and telecoms regulators and associations, such as new recruits the Romanian telecommunications regulator ANCOM and the South African Electronic Communications Association SAECA: http://www.GARI.info
+ promise of technology” is the theme for this year’s UN- backed International Day of Persons with Disabilities, set to take place on 3 December. Three sub-themes for the day focus on disability-inclusive sustainable development goals; disaster risk reduction and emergency responses; and creating enabling work environments. Any organisation with an interest in the field can organise an event to mark the day, the UN says, including public discussions, information campaigns, performances and innovation showcases. Organisations are also invited to send in links to videos or short films promoting any of the objectives of the International Day as part of the UN Enable Film Festival 2014: http://www.un.org/disabilities/default.asp?id=1620
06: Government Gaps: Fewer than a third of global governments (32%) provide funding to support digital accessibility work by disability organisations, according to an article published this month in the Journal of Disability and International Development. The article, “Removing barriers and advancing digital accessibility”, was written by Martin Gould, Axel Leblois, Francesca Cesa Bianchi and Viviana Montenegro of the UN-backed G3ict (Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs). The four write that “Removing digital accessibility barriers and developing sustainable local capabilities among [disabled people’s groups]... will require commitment by State Parties to capacity building.” However as well as the funding gap, the paper says only about a fifth of governments (21%) have systematically reviewed legislation or policies on digital access support for disability organisations; only 27% of government have set up national technical assistance centres in the field; and even fewer (11%) have mandated digital access training programs for future professionals at universities and vocational schools: http://www.zbdw.de
[Section One ends].
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++Section Two: International Focus:- Accessible elections.
+07: Declaration Of Independenceby Donna Jodhan.
In late 2013 the Canadian national elections agency Elections Canada formed an Advisory Group on Disability Issues, and I was invited to be a member. Initiatives the agency is working on include ensuring election staff are trained to meet the needs of voters with a disability; developing a Braille template to help Blind and partially-sighted voters; ensuring that voters with a disability can vote more independently and with greater privacy; and monitoring progress and how initiatives are being implemented.
This month, citizens in Toronto tested out some of these principles as they made a trip to the polls – their third in about five months – to vote for a new mayor; their local councillor; and a school board trustee in their area.
This time however, things were quite a bit different for voters with disabilities, as we were able to use a new “voter access terminal” allowing people with a disability to vote independently.
As a Blind voter, I was extremely excited about this new development as it gave me the opportunity to take my time when voting and I was able to do it without having to depend on a returning officer to help me.
I was able to take my headphones along and plug them into the terminal's jack. There were several well defined buttons that were easy to distinguish, enabling one to review the list of names for each category; make repeated reviews; select a candidate for each position; and confirm one's choice.
So in short, I was able to sit in front of this new voter access machine, fetch a list of candidates, make my choice from this list and then submit my choice. I also had the choice not to vote for anyone if I so chose.
The voice on this terminal was extremely clear and distinct and the beauty about it all is that I as a blind person was able to vote in private without anyone knowing whom I have voted for and at the end of it all I was able to remove my own ballot from the terminal's output tray and place it myself into the ballot box.
Easy as anything, and a terrific invention: now let us see if this terminal will be able to make its way up the ladder to provincial and federal elections. Some time during the course of 2015, Canada will once more be going to the polls to elect a new federal government, and Elections Canada has already indicated that we can look forward to some important changes when it comes to improved accessibility for these elections as well.
I believe that if countries are truly serious about wanting persons with disabilities to be an active part of their voting population then it is vitally important for meaningful dialogue to take place between the governmental body in charge of the running of elections and a representative segment of organisations for and of those with disabilities. We should never assume that governments would naturally know how to proceed in a matter such as this and it is up to voters with disabilities to speak up in a meaningful way.
NOTE: Donna Jodhan ( http://www.donnajodhan.blogspot.com/ ) is an accessibility and special needs business consultant and author.
Comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=1067 .
[Section Two ends].
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[Issue 172 ends].