E-Access Bulletin – Issue 196, January 2018

Access to technology for all, regardless of ability..

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Issue 196 Contents.

Section One: News.

01: Innovative tech solutions sought to help ageing consumers.

– New year-long initiative will bring together experts to tackle challenges.

02: Websites, not assistive tech, are key to accessibility, say screen-reader users.

– Research uncovers clear priorities.

03: Facebook uses AI to open up photos for blind users.

– Facial recognition technology aids detailed descriptions.

News in Brief: 04: Cultural Call-out – Museums asked for access info; 05: Aira for Airports – sight-aided navigation app; 06: Captions, please! – Twitter request goes viral.

Section Two: Interview.

– Jackie Brown, Chair of the British Computer Association of the Blind.

07: Finding your game-changer.

Using an early speech synthesiser was the beginning of a revolution in Jackie Brown’s life. It led to her becoming a passionate advocate of assistive technology and eventually being appointed Chair of the British Computer Association of the Blind (BCAB). Here, Jackie talks about the kinds of technology she uses and her priorities as BCAB Chair.

[Contents ends].

Section One: News.

01: Innovative tech solutions sought to help ageing consumers.

A newly launched initiative is seeking innovative technological products and services to address some of the challenges presented by ageing.

The Innovation for Ageing project will bring together different groups to support older people as they become more vulnerable with age, through conditions such as sight loss, hearing loss and dementia.

The year-long programme is being led by the International Longevity Centre (ILC-UK) and is supported by financial services group Just. The aim is to uncover “technological and policy innovations and solutions,” as well as reworking existing products and services, according to a press release.

Innovation for Ageing was officially launched earlier this month in London. Speaking at the event, David Sinclair, Director of ILC-UK, revealed more about how the project will work. One focus will be on identifying different sets of problems associated with ageing, to ensure that a range of detailed solutions are found by teams of experts.

He emphasised the need for a range of ideas through the project, rather than relying solely on advanced technology: “There are smart meters with the potential to identify when someone falls over, there are initiatives that use Uber to deliver flu vaccinations – but I want to emphasis that Innovation for Ageing isn’t just about hi-tech. Some of the solutions might tackle questions like: how do we get a bath rail into someone’s home before they have a fall? And how do we ensure someone has access to information and advice, so that they can choose the right sort of care options?”

Speaking to e-Access Bulletin about how technology could be utilised in the initiative, Sinclair again stressed the need for diverse thinking. He said: “New technology offers significant potential for helping vulnerable older people manage in an increasingly complex world. Through Innovation for Ageing we will seek out innovative technologies and services that might help tackle the challenges faced by vulnerable older consumers. But the solutions are unlikely to lie just in designing new bits of kit. We must ensure that existing technologies that older people rely on are as usable and accessible as possible.”

Find out more about Innovation for Ageing, including how to contribute ideas, at the ILC-UK website:




Comment on this story now at e-Access Bulletin Live:

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02: Websites, not assistive tech, are key to accessibility, say screen-reader users.

New research into screen-reader usage has revealed the majority of users feel that improving existing websites would have a bigger impact on accessibility compared to better assistive technology.

The newly published findings are taken from the seventh Screen Reader User Survey by non-profit organisation WebAIM, conducted in October 2017. A total of 1,792 people responded to the survey, 89.2% of which reported using a screen-reader due to a disability.

Asked whether they felt ‘better (more accessible) websites’ or ‘better assistive technology’ would have the greatest impact on improvements to web accessibility, 85.3% of respondents opted for ‘better websites’, with only 14.7% choosing ‘better assistive technology’.

Jared Smith, WebAIM’s Associate Director, told e-Access Bulletin that the finding “puts the responsibility squarely on website authors to implement accessibility”. He said: “Over several years, the responses to this question have increasingly shifted from assistive technology improvements to website improvements, perhaps indicating that screen-readers have gotten better in recent years. It is of interest that while respondents increasingly need accessibility improvements to websites, they are generally optimistic about accessibility progress on the web.”

The results of the survey also shed light on a range of issues experienced by screen-reader users, as well as revealing preferred technology and browsing habits. CAPTCHAs were found to be the most significant problem for users, remaining the top problem reported by respondents since the last WebAIM survey in 2015.

Other issues noted in the report include ‘unexpected screen changes’, ambiguous links or buttons, Flash content, lack of keyboard accessibility, complex forms, and missing alt text.

Asked how they felt about the accessibility of web content overall during the past year, 40.8% of respondents said that content had become more accessible, 40.4% felt it hadn’t changed, and 18.8% said it had become less accessible.

Another key finding was the continued popularity of mobile apps as a means of accessing the web and, similarly, increased usage of mobile screen-readers: 88% of respondents used a mobile screen-reader – the highest figure yet recorded in a WebAIM survey.

Read more at the WebAIM site:




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eab.li/9l .

03: Facebook uses AI to open up photos for blind users.

Blind and visually impaired users of Facebook will be able to find out which of their friends are in photos thanks to facial recognition technology.

Facial recognition is already used by the social networking site – for example, to suggest friends that users may want to tag in photos – but the company recently extended the use of this feature for screen-reader users. The new feature means that those users will be able to hear which of their friends are in photographs that appear on the user’s news feed, even if those friends are not tagged in the picture.

A post on the Facebook Newsroom site describes how the facial recognition feature works by using AI (artificial intelligence) technology. “Our technology analyzes the pixels in photos you’re already tagged in and generates a string of numbers we call a template. When photos and videos are uploaded to our systems, we compare those images to the template.”

In 2016 Facebook launched an ‘automatic alt text’ tool that attempted to identify objects and people in photographs. The tool used object recognition technology to describe these elements for screen-reader users, though the scope of what it could identify was limited. Expressions, such as smiling, were described, but the tool was limited to mentioning the number of people in a picture, rather than their identities

The new feature means that screen-reader users will now be able to hear who is in a photo, with plans to continue developing the technology and what it can recognise.

However, as a privacy measure, all Facebook users will soon be able to switch this facial recognition feature on or off.

Find out more at Facebook’s Newsroom:

eab.li/9e .


newsroom.fb.com/news/2017/12/managing-your-identity-on-facebook-with-face-recognition-technology .

Comment on this story now at e-Access Bulletin Live:

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News in Brief:

+04: Cultural Call-out: 458 museums around the UK are being asked to add access information to their websites by accessible arts charity VocalEyes. An audit by VocalEyes in 2016, named State of Museum Access, found that these museums lacked visitor accessibility information on their websites, such as wheelchair access information and contact details for access queries. Ahead of the 2018 State of Museum Access report, the charity has contacted the 458 museums to request that they provide this information.

Read more about the State of Museum Access report at the VocalEyes website:




+05: Aira for Airports: Minneapolis-St. Paul International has become the second airport in the United States to offer blind and visually impaired travellers free access to Aira, an app system to help them navigate the building. Users wear smart glasses, the visual field of which is streamed to a sighted guide, who then gives the visually impaired user directions, enabling them to find their way around the airport. Aira usually costs $89 a month but is available at Minneapolis-St. Paul International and Memphis International Airport for free.

Find out more at the Aira website:




+06: Captions, please!: A tweet from a blind veteran asking Twitter users to add text descriptions to their photos has gone viral, having been retweeted over 146,000 times. Rob Long, who lost his sight in an explosion in Afghanistan, demonstrated how to turn the ‘image description’ feature on in the tweet, and then posted an audio clip explaining how captioning works and why it’s important for blind and visually impaired users. He was later interviewed on BBC Breakfast News about Twitter accessibility.

Read the tweet at Rob Long’s Twitter page:

twitter.com/_Red_Long .



[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 charity’s work by visiting their website:

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:

eab.li/3e .

Find out more at the RNIB Connect Radio website:

eab.li/1h .

[Notice ends].

Section Two: Interview.

– Jackie Brown, Chair of the British Computer Association of the Blind.

07: Finding your game-changer.

When Jackie Brown was introduced to the speech synthesiser on the Acorn BBC Micro computer in 1984, it was to be the beginning of a valuable and productive interest in assistive technology. Jackie, who is blind, continued to use and explore different technologies as they evolved, finding them beneficial to her career as a writer.

In 2007 Jackie subscribed to the email list of the British Computer Association of the Blind (BCAB). She went on to edit the BCAB newsletter and stood for the Board of Trustees in 2015 before becoming Secretary. In November 2017, Jackie was appointed as BCAB Chair. e-Access Bulletin spoke to Jackie about her work within BCAB and aims for the organisation, and about the kinds of assistive technology she uses on a daily basis.

– E-Access Bulletin: Tell us about the work of the British Computer Association of the Blind.

– Jackie Brown: “BCAB was founded in 1969, primarily as a group of blind computer programmers. But with the changes in, and pace of, technology, the Association now helps people use a wide range of equipment, from computers with screen-readers through to smartphones, tablets, digital assistants and everything in between.

“We have an email list, a quarterly newsletter, monthly online presentations, our annual TechABreak weekend, a podcast, and even an Amazon Echo Alexa ‘skill’ that allows users to access BCAB content. My motto is that if we can help at least one person to get to where they want to be with their technology, then of course BCAB is worthwhile. It isn’t an elitist charity, it’s for everyone.”

– How did it feel to be appointed as Chair of BCAB?

“I was absolutely thrilled and honoured to be elected. I care very deeply for the BCAB community and want to devote as much of my own time as possible to taking the Association forward to make it more appealing and accessible to a wider audience.”

– What do you hope to bring to the role?

“As a woman who is passionate about technology and its many uses, of course I would like to see more women standing for the Board of Trustees in the future and generally getting involved. There are a lot of people out there who regard this field as a man’s world – not so!

“But I also want to be able to offer our members more for their money and reach a wider audience, not just around the UK, but internationally as well. We have lots of exciting plans and I feel incredibly privileged to lead and be a part of that.”

– You are currently the only female Board Trustee at BCAB. Do you feel that the technology and assistive technology sectors are male-dominated?

“Yes, very much so. Sometimes it comes across to me as though only men should know what makes various components of a computer tick or have an association with the tech industry and its gadgetry. This is very sad, since there are plenty of tech-savvy women out there who have a rightful place in the field.”

– How could more women be encouraged to work within the assistive technology sector, rather than just using the technology?

“I think men need to stop thinking that technology is only for them and start treating women equally. Perhaps it is a cultural thing that has evolved around the world, but this is the 21st century and women need to start being counted in this sphere.

“It takes time to get noticed, but my advice is not to be intimidated by a man who thinks he knows better just because the subject matter is technology. I used to work on a technical support desk for a screen-reader company, and one man actually asked to speak to my male colleagues when he had a problem, because he didn’t think a woman would know what to do!”

– When did you first start using assistive technology and what kinds of systems or devices were you using then?

“I started my working life on an old manual typewriter. From there, I began using an electric typewriter and then, in 1984, was introduced to the Acorn BBC Micro and primitive speech synthesiser. For me, this was a real game-changer. It meant I could read back my own work, and while it was fairly basic, it provided an independence that was unparalleled at that time. From there I went on to DOS, then all platforms of Windows. As the years went by, the technology and what a blind person could do with it just kept getting better.”

– What types of assistive technology do you use on a day-to-day basis?

“I use Windows 10 with the JAWS screen-reader software and Braille display attached to my computer. This enables me to send and receive email, compose and proofread Word documents, work with spreadsheets, browse the internet and shop online, access my music collection, participate in online meetings and lots of other things.

“I have a smartphone with text-to-speech that lets me send and receive text messages, access email, use apps and keep in touch with people in the same way sighted people do with their bits of kit. I love using digital assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home, and wireless speaker systems in the form of Sonos. I also convert print to Braille for embossing, and scan print to text using Optical Character Recognition (OCR). My whole life is geared around technology.”

– You run The Browns’ Place, a website with reviews of assistive technology products. How do you decide which products to review? And how do you approach reviewing the assistive features of a product?

“Generally speaking, if I purchase a piece of kit or a company loans me something, then I try to review it. I get some practical hands-on experience of the gadget first: learning where its buttons are situated and what it does. Once I’ve done that I write my review, describing it to readers in the way I would want something described to me.

“I try to be as honest and balanced as possible. If something isn’t particularly accessible for a blind person, I will say so. There is no point misleading your reader just to please whoever loaned you the gadget in the first place. I like to think I have a good reputation with readers and companies, but it takes time to build up a rapport and trust.”

Find out more about the British Computer Association of the Blind at the BCAB website:




Read Jackie’s product reviews at The Browns’ Place:




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[Section Two ends]

End Notes.


How To Receive E-Access Bulletin.

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  • Editor: Tristan Parker
  • Technical Director: Jake Jellinek
  • Accessibility Advisor: Dr. Nick Freear

ISSN: 1476-6337.

[Issue 196 ends].