+++E-Access Bulletin.- Issue 66, June 2005.

Technology news for people with vision impairment (http://www.headstar.com/eab/ ). Sponsored by RNIB (http://www.rnib.org.uk ).

NOTE: Please forward this free bulletin to others (subscription details at the end). We conform to the accessible Text Email Newsletter (TEN) Standard: http://www.headstar.com/ten/ .

If you are a journalist interested in access technology issues and would like to be added to our specialist press list, please email Mel Poluck on mel@headstar.com .

++Sponsored Notice: QAC Sight Village 2005- Birmingham, July 19-21, 2005

Contents.

Ink My Dots and Blog Your Podcast: The latest in cutting edge technology for people who are blind or partially sighted will be on show this July at Sight Village in Birmingham. Celebrating its twelfth year, Queen Alexandra College's major international exhibition is gearing up for its best show yet.

Show sponsors ViewPlus Technologies will be showcasing their unique 'Ink My Dots' Braille embosser, developed with Hewlett Packard. The machine produces Braille and standard print or ink- enhanced tactile graphics on one document.

Other displays include podcasts; digital radios; accessible mobile phones; Braille note takers; and ultrasonic and GPS navigation systems. QAC Sight Village also welcomes organisations that provide information, advice and support, from accessible holidays to talking newspapers. See: http://www.qac.ac.uk/sightvillage/ .

[Sponsored Notice ends].

++Section One: News.

Contents.

+01: Many Blogs 'Impossible To Access'.

Internet users with impaired vision often find it impossible to access weblogs or 'blogs', the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB - http://www.afb.org/ ) has warned.

Blogs, which are spreading across the internet like wildfire, are online publishing systems allowing individuals or groups of people to publish journals or snippets of news and others to respond to them to create interactive discussion.

The problem for vision-impaired users is not just that blogs often suffer the same kinds of problem that make mainstream sites difficult to use, such as a failure to provide descriptions of images or poor page layout, says the AFB in a new report ( http://fastlink.headstar.com/afb1 ).

Blogs raise additional access barriers of their own, the federation says. For example, they often ask users to identify graphics as part of a registration process. Originally designed to deflect automated spamming software, the process usually requires a user to identify a visually distorted word or phrase displayed as an image, but this usually means that people with impaired vision cannot register without help from a sighted person.

The widely-used 'Blogger' product became the latest piece of blogging software to include these steps in its sign-up process, to the concern of many web users (see for example a discussion on http://fastlink.headstar.com/blog1 ).

The move was criticised because apart from the signing up procedure Blogger has won a lot of support because it is easy to use. "It took the need for technical knowledge out of blogging, and made it so easy," said Damon Rose, editor of the BBC Ouch online service ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/ouch/ ), who also runs his own blog BlindKiss ( http://www.blindkiss.com/ ).

As part of its research, AFB has published some tips to make blogs easier to use, at: http://fastlink.headstar.com/afb2 .

+02: Frustrated Consumer Launches Product Review Site.

A free web site allowing people with impaired vision to submit and read reviews of consumer products has been launched by partially sighted internet enthusiast Dave Goodwin.

VIP Consumer (http://www.vipconsumer.com ) claims to be the first online service of its kind. It collects feedback from users on how accessible and usable products and services are, and provides a forum where these issues can be raised and discussed in more depth.

The service is available in a test version at present, with a full launch planned for early August. Goodwin told E-Access Bulletin he decided to launch the service after a particularly frustrating experience: "I bought a multi-function remote control, the kind with a screen. I found it impossible to use because the characters were too small and no customisation of the display was possible. I'd read plenty of reviews, but none covered the vision aspects, not even the manufacturer's information," he said.

The discussion area of VIP Consumer may turn out to be as valuable as the individual reviews, Goodwin said. "What do you do if you come to the site and a review of the product you're interested in isn't available? You can go to the discussion area to raise the issue. I don't want people to just leave if they can't find the information they need," he said.

Goodwin has little experience in running an online service, beyond setting up web sites for friends, and says he would welcome advice on how to gain funding for the service through sponsorship or other means, while keeping it free for the users. Readers can contact him on: support@vipconsumer.com .

+03: World'S First Working Group On Accessible Biometrics.

A European group has been set up to research the potential of biometrics - the use of a body part to identify individuals and access their personal data - for people with a disability.

The Social and Environmental special interest group of the European Biometrics Forum (EBF - http://www.eubiometricforum.com/ ), which will also look at ethical and usability issues, will have its first meeting this Summer.

Its creation was announced at a recent London conference on accessible biometrics ( http://fastlink.headstar.com/bio4 ).

"There's a huge amount of work that needs to be done on how biometrics could help disabled people," said Will McMeechan, head of business futures at Nationwide building society and chair of the new group. "I want to try and show biometrics could be useful for people with a disability. It could be seen very much as an enabling technology."

The group will also produce best practice guides for creating accessible biometric systems, covering areas such as interface design.

McMeechan said he had conducted a trial at Nationwide that used iris scans to identify users of cash machines. "That [system] would be a boon to a lot of customers," he said.

NOTE: For more on the accessible biometrics conference see Section Three, this issue.

++News in Brief:

Contents.

+04: Discussion Forum:

An online discussion forum on access technology has been launched by the National Library of the Blind, alongside other new forums on public libraries, books and tactile formats: http://forums.nlb-online.org/ .

+05: Twenty Questions:

An accessible version of the game Twenty Questions, in which players of all ages and in eight languages can compete against a computer, has gone live online. Players win if the object they think of is not guessed correctly in 20 questions or less. The devisers of '20Q.net', Top Dot Enterprises, claim the more it is played, the smarter it gets: http://www.20q.net .

+06: Talking Macs:

Text-to-speech software 'ATandT natural voices' has been made available in English, French, German and Spanish for Mac OS X, the operating system for Apple Macintosh computers. According to its creators Wizzard, the software is superior to a text-to- speech facility already built into OS X: http://fastlink.headstar.com/wizzard1 .

[Section One ends].

++Special Notice: Techshare 2005 Call for Papers- 17-18 November, Jury's Inn, Birmingham, UK.

Contents.

The Techshare 2005 Conference is an international event for professionals who are interested in technology and the role it plays for people with sight problems. The conference will be arranged within the broad themes of Learning, Work and Life.

Would you like to submit a paper to present? We are looking for insight into innovative research, as well as case studies highlighting the use of technology. Presentations should relate to technology but need not be technical in content.

Speakers will be offered a reduced attendance rate of 130 for the full conference or 95 for one day. To download the paper submission form or simply register to attend Techshare, see: http://www.rnib.org.uk/techshare Closing date for papers is 1 August. If you have any questions please email us at: techshare@rnib.org.uk .

[Special Notice ends].

++Section Two: 'The Inbox'- Readers' Forum.

Contents.

Please email all contributions or responses to inbox@headstar.com .

+07: Electronic Sorcery:

The bulletin's esteemed Italian translator, Margherita Giordano, writes in with a request: "One of my students is willing to try to read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in English, but has no idea where to find them.

"This boy is almost totally blind but does not know Braille very well, so the best solution will be to obtain e-books for him. Can you suggest to me where to find them?" [Responses please to inbox@headstar.com ] .

+08: Microfilm Query:

Mark Pimm, Disability Coordinator at Birkbeck University of London, writes in with a query about the accessibility of microfilm.

He asks: "Where a visually impaired person wants to access materials that are on microfilm, how would they go about getting the microfilm documents converted into an electronic format so they could read them on a computer? Responses please to inbox@headstar.com ] .

+09: Tactile Intervention:

Rich Caloggero writes in to respond to Allen Hoffman's April contribution on ways of making 'LeapFrog' tactile maps and diagrams more accessible.

Rich is an adaptive technology consultant at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Adaptive Technology for Information and Computing laboratory (http://web.mit.edu/atic/ ). He writes: "Allen suggests that if the pages of the device were also embossed with raised lines, then a blind person could use this system to read maps. The problem is that you still need special ink, as the LeapFrog system uses special ink and a special pen to "read" pages prepared with this ink.

"With [Allen's suggested] method, you need to emboss this same page with raised lines. But with my approach, it does not take an extra step to emboss the figure: all you need is your two hands.

"There is a Braille printer called the Tiger from ViewPlus ( http://www.viewplus.com/ ) which can produce raised line drawings and ink print simultaneously. Add to this a touch tablet which is a smooth surface which sends information about where it is touched to any computer, and you have a system which can do the same thing as the LeapFrog, but be completely usable by the blind.

"Using special software called Iveo Creator, also from ViewPlus, you can create figures maps, charts or plans, print them out in both print and in Braille with the Tiger embosser, and then place the image on the touch tablet. When you move your hands over the figure which is raised, and press on various spots or within certain areas on the figure, relevant information about the image can be spoken via synthesised speech. This information can be added when the figure is initially created, or added or changed later via Iveo Creator." [Further responses please to inbox@headstar.com ] .

[Section Two ends].

++Special Notice: Web Accessibility Forum.

Contents.

Accessify Forum is a discussion forum devoted to all topics relating to web accessibility. Topics cover everything from 'Beginners' and 'Site building and testing' through to projects such as the new accessibility testing tool WaiZilla and the accessibility of the open source forum software itself.

All you need to register is a working email address, so come along and join in the fun at: http://www.accessifyforum.com .

[Special notice ends].

++ Section Three - Seminar Report- Accessible Biometrics

Contents.

+09: In The Public Eyeby Mel Poluck.

The use of people's physical attributes such as fingerprints, irises, DNA or facial features to identify them and access their personal information was once the stuff of science fiction.

But now, with the UK Home Office's plans to deploy ID cards due to come to fruition within a decade, biometrics are set to become part of daily life. By 2013, everyone in the country will have an ID card that uses a biometric to access the information it holds.

Creating a system that uses a biometric for an entire population means considering accessibility on at least two levels: at the moment of capturing the biometric and in the design of the reading device.

There are various potential problems in both areas. The sight loss condition Nystagmus, for example, which causes a vibration of the eyeball, means it may not always be possible to obtain a "readable" image for scanners.

So it is important to understand the needs of all users, but when designing a biometric accessible for all it is vital never to take disability statistics at face value, Dr John Gill, RNIB chief scientist, told the audience of a recent government-hosted conference on accessible biometrics (http://fastlink.headstar.com/bio2 ). For example, raw statistics do not offer any information about whether or not a task could be undertaken in a specific time and context, he said.

System designers must also bear in mind the various possible permutations of disability, Dr Gill said. "If you're talking about delivering a service, it's very important to take into account multiple impairments. It's anything but a homogenous population," Gill said. For example diabetes, the most common cause of vision impairment, can also affect circulation, ruling out use of Braille because the sense of touch is affected, he said.

One possible way to enhance the accessibility of biometric readers would be to introduce a smartcard on which user preferences such as large print; audio information; languages; or fonts could be stored, Gill said. This would mean vision-impaired users could have instant access to a tailored interface when having their biometric read.

Another application for biometrics could be bank cash machines (ATMs), according to Will McMeechan, business developer at the Nationwide Building Society and founder of the independent, European Union-backed European Biometrics Forum (EBF - http://www.eubiometricforum.com/ ). "Many ATMs have cameras built in; the facility is [there] already for facial recognition. We need a financial impetus to get this thing working," he said.

Access to data by a biometric would remove the need for people to remember or type a pin number or sign a form and would enhance security. But there has been doubt over whether systems are sufficiently mature to support a system used by everybody.

"I know a biometric system that couldn't be used because the interface wasn't designed properly," McMeechan said. "It was nothing to do with the [biometric] technology, it was to do with the way it was implemented. There probably isn't enough dialogue going on between representative organisations."

To answer this call, the EBF has recently established a special interest group ( http://fastlink.headstar.com/ebf1 ) which aims to raise awareness of accessibility and usability issues relating to biometrics and address any concerns.

But accessibility goes even further than registration and identification technologies. Peripheral aspects such as customer service must also be accessible if a usable card is to be deployed to everyone. "We're seriously looking at the internet as a form of interaction," said Henry Bloomfield, of the Home Office's technology department. "It provides an important channel for people with access or mobility problems," he said.

Last month, the results were published of a six-month Biometrics Enrolment Trial by the UK Passport Service which used 10,000 people including 750 people with various disabilities to test facial scanning, fingerprint and iris image enrolment (http://fastlink.headstar.com/bio3 ). The results will feed into the final design of the national ID card.

The trial found that for iris scan enrolment, 31 per cent of disabled participants found positioning for the recording 'very' or 'fairly' difficult. Success rates were around 90 per cent for all participants and 61 per cent for disabled participants.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, participants with visual impairment chose the fingerprint as their preferred biometric. This had a success rate of 81 per cent for verification overall and 80 per cent for disabled participants.

There is clearly room for more research and more testing. "Research to make biometrics more inclusive may be more important than to improve accuracy for "ideal" users," said Tony Mansfield of the National Physical Laboratory (http://www.npl.co.uk/ ).

[Section Three ends].

++Special Notice: Braille Translations.

Contents.

Braille Translations provides a fast, cost-effective, high quality service of translating any document into Braille. We are able to provide Braille menus, public leaflets and business cards in Braille and help make you compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act. We can translate from large print, audio tape or audio CD.

We can also help with premises accessibility including Braille Tactile Signs for toilets and other doors.

All work is proof-read before dispatch and we are able to provide an express 24-hour service. Please call our offices for an immediate quotation or for further information on Freephone number 08000 190 946; Mobile: 07903 996533; email ghow@brailletranslations.co.uk or see: http://www.brailletranslations.co.uk .

[Special notice ends].

++Section Four: Technology- JAWS Scripting.

Contents.

+10: The Language Of Flexibilityby Nick Apostolodis.

Although it is certainly not the cheapest screen reader software on the market, JAWS for Windows is considered to be the most powerful and flexible text-to-speech converter for home and office computer users.

One of its main strengths is that JAWS can be adapted to work with just about any software on the market and be customised to give tremendous power to the blind user.

Much of this power and flexibility stems from the fact that JAWS has its own scripting language. This language is built into the screen reader and allows users to write scripts that set the behaviour of JAWS, the way it reads, or interacts with other applications.

A scripting language, like a human language, contains small units. In a human language these could be paragraphs, sentences or lines, whereas in a scripting language they can be functions or logical operators such as 'if' statements.

So a line of written text like the following: "Please read me the current line of text" Would be translated in JAWS scripting as: SayLine()

The scripting language can even make decisions based on whether something is true or not. For example, you want to tell JAWS to speak a help message if an application is running for the first time. Here is how:

if (CalcFirstTime == 0) then SayExtendedHelpHotKey () let CalcFirstTime = 1 endif

The example above is from a script written for a calculator program. It may look a bit complicated for someone that doesn't understand the scripting language, but you don't have to know how to write JAWS scripts to benefit from them. All you need to know is how to download them into the correct folder (the precise location for your scripts will depend on which version of JAWS you use); and next time you use the application to which they relate, they will run automatically.

The tool for creating JAWS scripts is called JAWS script manager. It can take a source file of text instructions such as the example above and create a binary program that JAWS can follow. This procedure is called compilation. So you can write your scripts in text, and let the script manager compile them for you into instructions that JAWS can understand.

The JAWS help file contains a good scripting manual to get you starting to write your first simple scripts, and to help you develop up to a fairly advanced level.

There are also many web sites containing scripts to download, such as the Blind Programming site http://www.blindprogramming.com which has a JAWS scripting section where one can find scripts for many applications, as well as email lists that discuss JAWS and JAWS scripting.

Another useful resource is the Jaws Lite web site at: http://www.jfwlite.com . In the programs section of this site there are numerous popular programs along with their JAWS scripts, and also links to other pages that offer scripts.

Finally, simply using Google to searching for JAWS scripts will bring you more results than you can possibly look at in an afternoon, so if the above pages don't satisfy your curiosity that could be your next step!

So if you are using JAWS and have trouble using a software package, the chances are that the answer to your problem is a JAWS script for this application. And if after searching you can't find one, why not set yourself a challenge to learn the scripting language and write it yourself?

[Section Four ends].

++End Notes.

Contents.

+H

To subscribe to this free monthly bulletin, email eab-subs@headstar.com with 'subscribe eab' in the subject header. You can list other email addresses to subscribe in the body of the message. Please encourage all your colleagues to sign up! To unsubscribe at any time, put 'unsubscribe eab' in the subject header.

Please send comments on coverage or leads to Dan Jellinek at: dan@headstar.com .

Copyright 2005 Headstar Ltd http://www.headstar.com . The Bulletin may be reproduced as long as all parts including this copyright notice are included, and as long as people are always encouraged to subscribe with us individually by email. Please also inform the editor when you are reproducing our content. Sections of the bulletin may be quoted as long as they are clearly sourced as 'taken from e-access bulletin, a free monthly email newsletter', and our web site address http://www.headstar.com/eab is also cited.

+Personnel:

  • Editor - Dan Jellinek
  • Deputy editor - Derek Parkinson
  • Senior reporter - Mel Poluck
  • Technician - Nick Apostolidis
  • Editorial advisor - Kevin Carey.

ISSN 1476-6337 .

[Issue ends].