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++Section One: News.
+01: Closure Threat For Digital Inclusion Charity Seeking £20,000 Tosurvive.
A UK charity offering digital skills training to hundreds of people with disabilities will be forced to shut unless £20,000 of running costs are provided urgently.
Cambridge Online provides 4,000 one-to-one tutorials by ‘digital champions’ for over 300 disabled, disadvantaged and older people each year from around Cambridgeshire and beyond. The charity teaches learners a wide range of digital literacy skills, including beginners’ online courses, online shopping, services and job-hunting, Facebook and social media use, and individual training requested by learners.
Established in the mid-’90s, the charity currently relies on a mix of grants, donations and fees from a range of organisations, including Cambridge City Council and Good Things Foundation. These funds allow most services to be offered for free, with others at a low cost. Most of the skills training sessions and personal tutorials are given by a volunteer team of 30 digital champions.
However, in the last few years the charity has “struggled to make ends meet,” Andrew Entecott, Cambridge Online’s Chief Executive, told e-Access Bulletin. Entecott explained that raising the charity’s £70,000 annual running costs has not been possible due to a lack of business sponsorship, with only one business supporting the charity.
Separate grant and fee income for the charity is scheduled for April, but the situation has become urgent. Entecott said: “Cambridge Online only has a few weeks of running costs remaining. Although grants and fees are due to arrive in April, the charity does not currently have enough money to pay costs in February and March.”
Anyone interested in helping Cambridge Online continue to provide its services can contact the charity’s Chief Executive, Andrew Entecott, at the following email address: email@example.com .
Find out more about the charity’s work at the Cambridge Online website: http://eab.li/4j .
Comment on this story now at e-Access Bulletin Live: http://eab.li/4w .
+02: City Mobility Apps Trialled To Fight Blue Badge Fraud Across Europe.
A three-year pan-European project to improve urban transportation for mobility impaired citizens – featuring a smartphone-based parking card to stop fraud – is drawing to a close and preparing recommendations for the European Commission.
The aim of the SIMON project is to increase independent living for people in cities with mobility impairments. Two mobile apps were developed as part of the process: an ‘ICT-enhanced parking card’ for drivers, and a journey-planning app.
The parking card is effectively an updated version of the current European-approved Blue Badge held by drivers with disabilities.
Illegal copying of Blue Badges has become a problem in recent years, and the SIMON parking card aims to eliminate this by using contactless technology. The new card features a chip and QR code that connect to a mobile app, meaning that parking enforcement staff can scan the card from outside the vehicle and check the identity of the card owner, preventing misuse and fraud.
The mobile app allows citizens to plan accessible journeys across a city, based on their needs. Routes can be adapted to suit wheelchair-users, people with visual impairments, and different walking speeds. For example, the app can tell users about wheelchair ramps at metro and subway stations, or where to find disabled parking spaces.
An ‘international consortium’ of nine partners across five countries (Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany and the UK) are taking part in the project, with large-scale pilots in Madrid, Parma, Lisbon and Reading. At the moment, the SIMON mobile app (available to download for free on iOS and Android) is only usable in these four pilot cities
Planned as a three-year scheme, SIMON finishes at the end of March, and project leaders are drawing up conclusions from the work. The mobile app will continue to be available to download and use after SIMON ends. The project team are encouraging people in the pilot cities to continue using the app and leaving feedback on how it can be improved.
SIMON Project Manager Eva Muñoz Navarro told e-Access Bulletin about some of the key findings and conclusions: “We have found out how useful it is to have the end-users [older and disabled citizens] as part of the design process. We have also realised that even if the ICT parking card is welcome and everybody is happy to have a fraud-fighting tool, not everybody is used to mobile apps and technology – particularly the elderly.”
The last phases of the project include drawing up guidelines on how SIMON can be used elsewhere. Navarro said that the team is already working with other cities in Europe interested in using the SIMON platform to make their mobility systems more inclusive.
The project team are also preparing a recommendation for the European Commission to explain how the current parking card for mobility impaired drivers could be adapted, using the increased security measures trialled during SIMON. Navarro said: “The European Commission might decide to update the current recommendation, from 1998, and to consider the possibility of modernising the parking card based on SIMON proposals.”
Find out more about SIMON at the project website, including links to download the mobile app: http://eab.li/4k .
Comment on this story now at e-Access Bulletin Live: http://eab.li/4v .
+03: One Third Of Councils Fail Web Accessibility Testing In Uk-Widesurvey.
An annual review of council websites across the UK has revealed that one third of local government sites failed first-stage testing to find out how accessible their websites are for users with disabilities.
Carried out by Socitm (the Society of IT Management), the Better Connected survey is a nationwide examination to evaluate local authority websites on a range of factors.
Accessibility of those websites for users with impairments is always examined. This includes assessing how users with low vision, sight loss, mobility impairments, colour blindness, dyslexia and others using assistive technology or keyboard navigation can access council websites.
However, this year Better Connected introduced a new two-stage process for the accessibility assessment. The first stage examined all 416 council website homepages, based on 14 criteria.
These included: appropriate text alternatives for images (this is essential for screen-reader users); ability to resize text to 200% without loss of content (this helps a range of users with partial sight loss); and “present and functioning skip links,” (these allow screen-reader users to arrive directly at a web page’s main content).
Councils that failed to meet seven or more of these points on their homepages were not allowed to enter the next stage of Better Connected. Additionally, if any homepages were found to have ‘keyboard traps’ (elements that make it impossible for keyboard-only users to move around the screen) or lack of ‘visible focus indicators’ (these allow users to recognise where on a page they are navigating to and from – again crucial for keyboard-only users and people with certain visual impairments), the sites failed stage one immediately.
However, sites that did fail were given the opportunity to resolve their accessibility problems before the end of January.
These initial accessibility tests were carried out in December 2016 by non-profit social enterprise Digital Accessibility Centre, by users with a range of disabilities and impairments. These assessments found that around one third of the 416 councils tested failed to meet seven or more of the essential accessibility requirements. This means they are ineligible for the full assessment, unless the issues are fixed and the councils apply for re-testing.
The next stage of Better Connected testing will take place in February. This second stage will feature a broader accessibility examination for all councils that passed the initial test.
Read more about the assessment at the Better Connected website: http://eab.li/4l .
Read more about the Digital Accessibility Centre at the organisation’s website: http://eab.li/4m .
Comment on this story now at e-Access Bulletin Live: http://eab.li/4u .
++News in Brief:
+04: Honouring Inclusion:
Robin Christopherson, Head of Digital Inclusion at technology access charity AbilityNet and accessibility campaigner, has been made an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in the Queen of the UK’s New Years Honours list. The title recognises outstanding services to a community and was given to Christopherson for his services to digital inclusion and extensive work with technology that can help people with disabilities.
Read more about Robin Christopherson at the AbilityNet website: http://eab.li/4h .
+05: Video Intro:
Banking and financial services company Barclays has launched a short introductory video on accessible digital products and services. The video gives a simplified overview of why designing for users with impairments can benefit everyone, and sets out Barclays’ goal of becoming “the most inclusive and accessible company in the FTSE 100.” The video also highlights Barclays’ Pingit payment system and mobile banking, both of which have received recognition for their accessibility.
Follow the link below to Barclays’ video on YouTube: http://eab.li/4i .
+06: Puzzling Business:
A blog post on the topic of ‘Is there really a business case for website accessibility?’ has been written by Rick Williams, co-author of the Click-Away Pound report, (research examining online shopping for disabled customers – covered by e-Access Bulletin in December 2016: eab.li/49 ). Williams’ article is a guest blog for the Business Disability Forum (BDF), and questions why many businesses fail to make their websites usable by the UK’s millions of computer users with disabilities.
Read Williams’ full article on the business case for website accessibility: http://eab.li/4n .
[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 .
++Section Two: 'The Inbox'- Readers' Forum.
Please email all questions, comments and responses to: firstname.lastname@example.org .
+07: Researching Retail:
Regular e-Access Bulletin reader and accessibility advocate Carine Marzin, gets in touch to ask if other readers can share any knowledge about a hugely important topic – accessibility of online retail platforms:
“I would be interested to read about recent research on the accessibility of online shopping websites and apps, including for large e-commerce platforms, e.g. Amazon, eBay and so on. I am particularly interested in good practice where there is evidence of digital accessibility becoming a corporate priority.”
Any insights or research links, please, to: email@example.com .
+08: Accessibility Ask:
Mubanga Chipalo writes in to the Bulletin from Zambia, with three requests on how someone who is blind can effectively use social networking platforms, online payment systems and software:
“I am a blind person interested in writing books, and am looking for information on how to write manuscripts for print using a speech dictation programme. Secondly, can someone provide me with information on how a blind person can use LinkedIn?
“Last but not least, I would like to know about how a blind person can use PayPal, so that I can start sending money online to purchase whatever I would like, independently”.
Please send advice or information on any of those points to: firstname.lastname@example.org .
[Section Two 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 .
+09: ‘Tau Station’:
Section Three: Interview – Accessible gaming.
making a whole universe accessible.
As the accessible gaming community grows at a rapid pace, so too does the number of games being developed with accessibility for all users in mind. ‘Tau Station’ is a fascinating example of good practice in this area.
A free, text-based MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) with a science fiction theme, ‘Tau Station’ gives players an entire universe to explore – a universe which its developers have taken great care to make accessible for players with impairments, through a huge range of features.
Still currently in development, anyone wanting to play ‘Tau Station’ can register their interest in testing the game before the launch by signing up on the official ‘Tau Station’ blog – details and links at the end of the article.
e-Access Bulletin chatted to Lainie, one of the game’s developers, to find out more about the quest to make ‘Tau Station’ accessible for all.
¬- Please tell us about ‘Tau Station’:
“We don’t really think of ‘Tau Station’ as a game. It’s universe to explore and a place where people can make a life for themselves online. The setting is several hundred years in the future, not long after a mysterious event called the Catastrophe has occurred. Survivors are struggling to put civilisation back together again.
“What players do and who they are is up to them. They can explore the galaxy, start a career, fight other players, help rebuild civilisation or profit from its downfall, make friends, set up a social network, and much more. Some people take missions or interact with characters to get clues about what caused the Catastrophe. It’s a complete world, ready for people to experience.
“‘Tau Station’ is a text-based universe, but it’s more than just words on a screen. To create an immersive environment, we’ve supplemented the narrative with a user-interface and custom artwork that give it a strong science fiction look and feel. There are no moving graphics, downloads, or special controllers needed, so you can play it on any device with a browser.”
- How and when was the concept for ‘Tau Station’ developed?
“Curtis Poe came up with the idea in 2010. He’d been playing text games online and liked that their emphasis was on thinking and planning rather than reacting to action with lightning-fast reflexes. Having grown up reading authors like Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury, he enjoyed the grand vision of space opera and started thinking about how he could bring it to the text-based game environment.”
- Did you design accessibility features into the game as it was being built or add those elements in afterwards?
“We decided to make ‘Tau Station’ accessible after working with Job van Achterberg. Job is a strong advocate for accessibility, and he’s the one who made us realise we weren’t taking part of the population into account with our development. This realisation made the decision simple.
“A few weeks later, Rinchen Emma Ridley and Job joined us on the project, and they took everything apart to make ‘Tau Station’ accessible. After that, it simply became part of the process. Now, accessibility is taken into consideration with everything. It’s not an afterthought, it’s just our normal design process thanks to Emma and Job.”
- What measures have you taken to make ‘Tau Station’ accessible for players with disabilities and impairments?
“Our goal with ‘Tau Station’ is to be as inclusive as possible. This means building the game from a progressively enhanced and responsive point of view, as well as incorporating WCAG 2.0 guidelines. Beyond that, we consider a variety of users when adding features.
- Were there any big challenges in terms of accessibility?
“The more challenging elements of the game have been the navigation, and elements that require a lot of user-interaction and feedback. Designing the training sliders in the gym and our interactive star map are good examples.
“Probably the most challenging element is to ensure that processes are accessible from start to finish. We have to make sure that the context and flow is not lost at any point to any user, regardless of how they interact with the game.”
- Why was it so important to make ‘Tau Station’ as accessible as possible?
“That’s simple; when someone shows you that you’ve been ignoring a part of the population for a huge part of your life, you can’t go back. ‘Tau Station’ is accessible, as will be any other game that we develop. It’s not that difficult to make it happen. You just have to want it, and surround yourself with the right people.”
- Are games developers thinking more about accessibility nowadays?
“We’d like to think so, but it’s hard to see from within the ‘accessibility bubble’. But seeing conferences like #GAconf (Read about the conference at the following link: http://eab.li/4o ) and websites dedicated to the subject, such as Game Accessibility.com (found at the following link: http://eab.li/4p ) and Game Accessibility Guidelines.com (found at the following link: http://eab.li/4q ) leads us to believe that there’s increasing awareness.”
- How do you want ‘Tau Station’ to develop, and how will you keep it accessible as it evolves?
“‘Tau Station’ is going to evolve as stories in books evolve, with different chapters; chapters that we write for the players and the ones that they will write for themselves.
“Asking us how we’ll keep ‘Tau Station’ accessible is a little like asking us if it will continue to be a science fiction game as it evolves! ‘Tau Station’ is accessible and will stay accessible. It’s the choice that we’ve made and also part of the design process, so any new functionality that we implement will be accessible.
“With the right team, with the right people, there is no reason for that to change. Accessibility is a state of mind, and the fact that the technology evolves doesn’t change anything. We will evolve with it.”
Read more about accessibility in ‘Tau Station’ at the following link: http://eab.li/4r .
Find out more about the game at the ‘Tau Station’ blog: http://eab.li/4s .
Comment on this story now at e-Access Bulletin Live: http://eab.li/4t .
[Section Three ends].
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- Editor: Tristan Parker
- Technical Director: Jake Jellinek
[Issue 186 ends].