+++E-Access Bulletin. - Issue 185, December 2016.

Access to technology for all, regardless of ability

Produced with the support of Thomas Pocklington Trust: http://www.pocklington-trust.org.uk .

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E-Access Bulletin conforms to the accessible Text Email Newsletter (TEN) Standard. Visit the TEN Standard website: http://www.headstar.com/ten .

++Section One: News.


+01: Inaccessible Websites Dent Business Profits, As Online Shoppers‘Click Away’.

UK businesses are losing out on huge sums of money – potentially totalling billions of pounds – by failing to make their websites accessible to users with access needs, new research claims.

Published by disability consultancy Freeney Williams, the Click-Away Pound (CAP) Survey assessed the “online shopping experience of customers with disabilities, and the costs to business of ignoring them.”

The report revealed that 71% of disabled customers with access needs will ‘click away’ from a website that they find difficult to use. A key finding from the survey was that the spending power of these online shoppers who click away is £11.75 billion – money which is then spent elsewhere by those same shoppers, on sites that they can access.

Launching the survey results at an event in London to coincide with the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Rick Williams – co-author of the survey and managing director of Freeney Williams – said: “As a business, why would you design a website that people can’t use? That £12 billion is displaced spending. It’s astonishing – the sheer size of that number surprised us. Businesses are losing opportunities for that money.”

The CAP Survey also notes that, “Businesses need to bear in mind that if a disabled shopper clicks away from their site to one of their competitors, they show little inclination to return.”

The CAP Survey was initially launched in January (as reported in e-Access Bulletin issue 176: http://eab.li/48 ) and closed in July, collecting results from 362 participants. Some estimates from the report are based around applying trends found in the results to national level, using data from the Office of National Statistics, among other sources.

While the key messages behind the research will be familiar to many e-Access Bulletin readers, the findings will likely come as a surprise to many businesses. The CAP Survey claims that, “Most businesses will be unaware that they are losing income, because more than 90% of customers who have difficulty using a site will not contact them.”

In fact, the survey found that over 80% of online shoppers with access needs will choose to spend their money on websites with the fewest barriers in place for them, as opposed to the cheapest.

The five most common website problems identified by survey respondents were: crowded pages; poor link information; filling in forms; moving images or graphics; and poor legibility, including colour contrast and text layout.

Screen-readers were found to be the most common type of assistive technology (AT) used by respondents, with 53% of all respondents using some form of AT. As the CAP Survey points out, “No matter how sophisticated or efficient AT might be or how competent its user, unless a website is designed and developed to take access needs into account, the capacity of AT to overcome access barriers will always be limited.”

The report finishes by explaining that while the 2016 CAP Survey has “established a point of departure,” a follow-up survey is also planned for next year. The 2017 CAP Survey will examine the subject in relation to specific business sectors, and beyond the UK.

Read the Click-Away Pound Report in full, as a PDF or Word document, at the CAP website: http://eab.li/49 .

Comment on this story now at e-Access Bulletin Live: http://eab.li/4f .

+02: Video Games Without The Visuals For Blind Gamers.

A series of five new audio-based video games for blind and visually impaired users are being designed, after a crowdfunding campaign to support the project achieved over 150% of its target funding.

The games, including versions of classic arcade title ‘Frogger’ and a cricket game, will be available on mobile devices, tablet computers and desktop computers, through the iOS and Andriod operating systems, as well as Windows PC.

In April 2016, the Audio Game Hub project released a free package of eight “experimental arcade videogames” that relied on audio, rather than visuals. Designed primarily for people with sight loss, the games were fully playable without the need to look at a screen, featuring an option to turn off the visuals completely. The games – including ‘Archery’, ‘Samurai Tournament’ and ‘Slot Machines’ – proved incredibly popular with both non-sighted and sighted users, receiving over 33,000 downloads.

Audio Game Hub founder Jarek Beksa told e-Access Bulletin that the idea came several years ago, when testing equipment at a telecoms company: “During one of the tests we spoke with a blind user. He told us ‘Nobody makes games for us.’ Since then, we started thinking about the idea of creating accessible games, Beksa said.

The team behind Audio Game Hub – based in Auckland, New Zealand – were soon inundated with requests for more games, so they launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign in November. People who backed the campaign also voted on which games the team should develop, chosen from a list of 14.

In just ten days, the campaign had exceeded its goal of 6,000 New Zealand Dollars (approximately £3,370) by 150%. Most of the money will be spent on sound production and voice recording for the games, Beksa said.

The five games chosen by people who donated to the campaign were: ‘Frogger’, a version of a 1981 arcade game where the user has to guide a frog safely across a busy road; ‘Cricket’; ‘Simon + Super Simon’, a memory game where users remember commands and sequences; ‘Blackjack – 21’, a popular casino card game; and ‘Runner’, where users control a character running through different terrains.

The new games will be available as in-app purchases through the existing Audio Game Hub collection, which is free to download.

In addition to the five chosen titles, another game, ‘Whispering Tunnels’, will be released as a standalone purchasable app. According to the Kickstarter campaign page, ‘Whispering Tunnels’ is “an audio role-playing game specially tailored for the visually impaired”. Players must solve puzzles, avoid traps, battle monsters and engage in dialogues to escape from a tunnel.

Audio Game Hub was created in collaboration with the Gamification Lab of the Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Germany, and the School of Computer and Mathematical Sciences of Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand. The project is also sponsored by Auckland University and the AbleGamers Charity.

Read more about the project and download the original eight games for free at the Audio Game Hub website: http://eab.li/45 .

Comment on this story now at e-Access Bulletin Live: http://eab.li/4e .

+03: Google Maps Begins Listing Venue Accessibility Information.

Google Maps app now tells users whether some locations are wheelchair-accessible, thanks to the efforts of a Google employee in his spare time.

Rio Akasaka, a product manager for cloud storage service Google Drive, undertook the project using his ‘20% time’ – a well-known Google employee policy that allows staff to spend 20 per cent of their time working on projects unrelated to their role at the company.

In an interview with the ‘Business Insider’ news website earlier this month about the project, Akasaka explained that he led a small team of Google employees, who worked to add the accessibility information to certain venues in the mobile app version of Google Maps. The data was collected by Google’s ‘Local Guides’, a community of millions of users who volunteer to answer questions about places they visit when using Google Maps. This information helps Google improve its maps and provide more detailed information to other users.

Earlier this year, Google began asking its Local Guides accessibility questions about venues they were visiting. Millions of responses were collected, enabling Google to begin adding this information to map venues.

When users click on a venue description in Google Maps to view its features, the ‘Amenities’ section now lists whether the venue has a wheelchair-accessible entrance – as long as the information has been collected and logged.

Akasaka also said in the interview that he believes this information will benefit other users, as well as those using wheelchairs, such as people with prams or those who use a cane to walk.

Comment on this story now at e-Access Bulletin Live: http://eab.li/4d .

++News in Brief:


+04: Assisting Vision:

Digital vision aids, such as a handheld digital magnifier, are the preferred tools of young people with low vision, according to new research. ‘Design and Low Vision Aids – a Youth Perspective’ is published by Thomas Pocklington Trust, the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, VISION 2020 UK and VICTA, and explores how 12-18-year-olds with low vision use vision aids – such as smartphones, magnifiers and screen-readers – to increase their independence. Good design and covertness of vision aids were found to be important to young people, as was mainstream technology which combines traditional functions with assistive features.

Read the full report in Word of PDF format at the VISION 2020 website: http://eab.li/46 .

+05: App Spectacular:

An app from a South African technology start-up company has been helping solve information requests from users with visual impairments. Users of the BeSpecular app take a photograph of an object they want information about, and send the picture, with a voice message, to the BeSpecular community. A sighted user will be forwarded the request, before replying with the required information, via text or voice message. Earlier this year, BeSpecular’s CEO, Stephanie Cowper, received an ‘Innovator Recognition Award’ in light of her work on the app at a Women in ICT Awards event.

Read more and download the app for iOS and Android at the BeSpecular website: http://eab.li/47 .

+06: Home Help:

Technology access charity AbilityNet is using the Christmas period to remind people of its free ‘ITCanHelp’ service. Persons with disabilities and older people can request a home visit from an AbilityNet volunteer to help them with IT issues, such as installing new software, choosing equipment and smartphone assistance, or even help with printers, games and tablets – a useful service for people who may be struggling to use a new device given to them as a Christmas present.

Read more about ITCanHelp and request a home visit at the AbilityNet website: http://eab.li/4a .

[Section One ends].

++ Notice: Thomas Pocklington Trust.E-Access Bulletin is brought to you with the kind support of Thomas Pocklington Trust, a national charity delivering positive change for people with sight loss. Find out more about the work of Thomas Pocklington Trust by visiting their website: http://www.pocklington-trust.org.uk .


[Notice ends].

++ Notice: RNIB Connect Radio and e-Access Bulletin.e-Access Bulletin will be appearing on RNIB Connect Radio each month on The Early Edition programme. Hear more about the bulletin and upcoming content appearing in each issue, as we discuss the latest accessible technology news and readers’ questions with Allan Russell.


Episodes will be available after broadcast as podcasts from the RNIB Connect Radio site. Listen to RNIB Connect Radio online, or via television, smartphone or radio. Listening details at the following link: http://eab.li/3e .

Find out more at the RNIB Connect Radio website: http://eab.li/1h .

[Notice ends].

++Section Two: Special report.- The NHS Accessible Information Standard.


+07: Changing Standards.

At the end of July, the National Health Service (NHS) Accessible Information Standard was implemented throughout England. This means that any organisation providing NHS care or adult social care is now legally obliged to provide information in accessible formats, so that people with a disability or impairment (those who may not be able to access or read text and information in the traditional form) have the same access to health information as any other NHS user.

This includes an obligation for organisations to provide alternative information formats to meet individuals’ requirements, including Braille, electronic and audio formats.

The specification of the Accessible Information Standard highlights the Equality Act 2010 as a legal basis for implementation (alongside a ‘compelling moral and ethical imperative’), and also notes that the Standard is “unashamedly ambitious” in its overall aim of providing “clear direction for a dramatic improvement in the ability of the NHS and adult social care system to meet the information and communication support needs of disabled people.”

It also notes that applicable organisations have a legal obligation to follow the standard.

This is clearly a much-needed and positive step forwards in terms of accessible information, and many people with an impairment have been waiting years for such a move.

However, e-Access Bulletin has received correspondence from some readers who have had continued problems and difficulties in obtaining alternative format information, despite the Standard being in place. Their suggestion was that the Standard has not been properly or effectively implemented in all organisations.

In the interest of balance, it is worth noting that implementing such a Standard is clearly a huge undertaking. Some have argued that teething troubles are to be expected, while others say that things are simply not working as they should be. The important thing now, it seems, is for the Standard to be understood and implemented as widely and effectively as possible, so that people who need accessible information can receive it as quickly and smoothly as possible.

To give an overall picture of the current situation, e-Access Bulletin has collected comments from four different sources: two Bulletin readers who have encountered difficulties in obtaining accessible information; the Patient Information Forum (an independent, membership organisation for people working in healthcare information and support), and NHS England. These comments, published below, aim to explain the Standard and provide a view of how well it is currently working, but also – crucially – to explore what can be done to improve implementation.

- Penny Melville-Brown OBE, Director of Disability Dynamics and e-Access Bulletin reader:

“Like other organisations providing services to the public, the NHS knows that some disabled people have extra needs when it comes to communications and information. The NHS Accessible Information Standard requires accessible and alternate formats.

“More disabled people should get the healthcare we need – people with visual or hearing impairments have a higher risk of other long-term conditions, including dementia. People with alternative information or communication needs should take the following steps:

“Tell their GP practice manager; ask them to share those needs across the NHS; make sure their reasonable needs are met – not just what someone thinks will work; make sure the Standard is applied to all information; keep on asking – people are still learning; encourage others to ask too.

“Personal struggles with a leading eye hospital and GP practice show that some organisations need help to understand and change their systems. To get standard letters, appointment confirmations, surgery consent forms, routine leaflets, after-care instructions, etc, sent by email without hopelessly complicated security, I had to escalate requests to chief executive-level.

“One response included asking a blind person to read the bold wording – showing what still needs to be learned.”

More information on accessible communications can be found and downloaded at the Disability Dynamics blog: http://eab.li/42 .

- Brian Gaff, of Kingston upon Thames Talking Newspaper (run by the Kingston upon Thames Association for the Blind), and e-Access Bulletin reader:

“One of the most frustrating things we hear about – and encounter – at the newspaper is lack of knowledge of healthcare and other government departments, about how it is possible to make their information accessible.

“Many people have asked for things like appointment letters in either plain text emails or audio. Surely, with access to the raw text that most government sources must have, this should be a no-brainer.

“Now that the Accessible Information Standard has come into force, we are meant to be able to tell our GP our information choices, which feeds through to every part of the NHS and social care that we access – except it is not working, since everyone thinks it is somebody else’s job, not theirs.

“Seeing as this is not just an access issue but an independent living one as well, it seems to me that the Standard has been rolled out with little or no training to people in the areas who are going to implement it. There is web training and tests, but a busy department head is unlikely to have seen any of this.

“So, as far as getting government departments to get on the accessibility train with the commercial sector, somebody in government is going to have to bite the bullet and spend some money to train people, or else no matter how many times the law is broken, nothing will happen.

“I will say, however, that my local GP Practice Manager has tried long and hard to make this work, but outside of their practice it seems that the doors are closed right now.

“In terms of solutions, I would say: get a standard of good practice and get everyone using the same resources. This would hopefully save money and hopefully get communication about patients’ health working.”

Find out more about the Kingston Upon Thames Talking Newspaper at the following link: http://eab.li/4g .

- From NHS England, with a contribution from Dr Clare Mander, Clinical Lead for Accessible Information at Solent NHS Trust:

“The Standard sets out, for the first time, how all providers of NHS or adult social care must identify, record, flag, share and meet the information and communication support needs of people with a disability, impairment or sensory loss.

“Co-produced with a range of voluntary organisations, and with disabled people themselves, the Standard has been called a ‘step change’ in disabled people’s access to healthcare.

“As with any new, national initiative, the speed and effectiveness of implementation will vary. We are aware of fantastic work going on (for example, East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust has made significant progress in implementing the Standard) and have seen an increase in requests for large-print formats and audio, as well as via email, text and British Sign Language interpreter.

“As Dr Clare Mander, Clinical Lead for Accessible Information at Solent NHS Trust, explains: ‘We welcomed the opportunity to contribute to the development and implementation of the national standard. The legal requirements have galvanised a decade of local developments, which include qualitative research, service evaluations and innovation projects. Implementation of the standard across a Community and Mental Health Trust, with over 100 clinical sites, is no easy task.

‘In 2015, we began a project to develop a tiered model of accessible information training that was co-produced with patients living with communication and information needs. Our awareness DVD has now been rolled out across the Trust, an interactive accessible information learning platform is in development, and a programme of specialist training has been piloted with ten services.

‘Through this specialist training, champions were identified and formed a new accessible information network that will link with our patient leads. The network aims to facilitate collective intelligence and social learning to improve accessible information practice across the Trust. We still have a long way to go, but together we have the opportunities to make a real difference.’

“We advise anyone experiencing difficulties with receiving accessible information and/or communication support to follow the relevant complaints process. The NHS complaints process is explained on the NHS Choices website, at the following link: http://eab.li/40 .

“Resources to support implementation are available on the NHS England website, at the following link: http://eab.li/41 .

“During January-March 2017, there will be a review of the Standard to look at the impact it has had and to ensure that it is ‘fit for purpose’. Anyone wanting to get involved should join the distribution list, by emailing the following address: england.nhs.participation@nhs.net .

“Patients can also contact the Customer Contact Centre on the following phone UK number: 0300 311 22 33.”

- From The Patient Information Forum (PIF), with a contribution from Claire Murray, Joint Head of Operations:

“To support organisations to implement the Accessible Information Standard, PIF has launched a free-to-join online discussion group, where members can ask questions and share their experiences.

“Nearly 500 people have joined the group so far, and discussions have covered topics such as patient records, service user surveys in alternative communication formats, consent and ‘flagging’ communication needs.

“The group brings together people from across the NHS and local authorities, including people with specialist experience in developing accessible information from voluntary, statutory and commercial organisations. Through these interactions, the group has also shared useful resources on developing information in accessible formats, locally developed policies, and debunking some myths about the Standard.

“Claire Murray, Joint Head of Operations at PIF, says: ‘It’s been great to be part of bringing together such a diverse group of people around this important new Standard, to help increase understanding and expertise in developing truly accessible information.

‘Good information is vital to support people to understand and engage with their health and health services, and we know people with communication needs still face significant barriers in accessing this.

‘It’s not just the format of an information resource that affects its accessibility, and the ultimate judge of the usefulness of any piece of health information is the patient or service user engaging with it.

‘At PIF we believe that involving users in developing or adapting accessible information resources is a crucial step to delivering genuinely accessible information.

‘Implementing the Accessible Information Standard is not just a box-ticking exercise, it’s a fantastic opportunity for organisations to learn what really makes health information understandable for their users, and how best this can be delivered.’”

Join PIF’s ‘Accessible Information Group’ at the following link: http://eab.li/43 .

Read more about the Accessible Information Standard – including the specification in Word document format and PDF – at the NHS England website: http://eab.li/44 .

Comment on this story now at e-Access Bulletin Live: http://eab.li/4c .

[Section Two ends].

++End Notes.



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  • Editor: Tristan Parker
  • Technical Director: Jake Jellinek

ISSN 1476-6337.

[Issue 185 ends].