+++E-Access Bulletin.- Issue 75, March 2006.

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/ .

++Special Notice:- Milestone MP3 Player On Sale This Week From RNIB.


The Milestone 311 is a portable, all-purpose voice recorder and MP3 player specifically designed for people who are visually impaired, as so many MP3 players are inaccessible.

Due to be launched this week, the player is credit-card sized and easy to use. The sound quality is excellent and there is voice labelling for up to five folders on the internal memory with a total capacity of 120 minutes. A 128 Megabyte memory card is supplied with the player, although it can take memory cards of up to 2 Gigabyte capacity. It is available for 180 pounds excluding VAT.

For more information visit http://onlineshop.rnib.org.uk or call the Technology Team on 0845 9000 015 .

[Special Notice ends].

++Section One: News.


+01: Government Funding Gap Halts Progress On Accessible Books.

A project to make it easier for publishers to produce books in accessible formats has stalled because the government cannot agree which of its departments should provide the 200,000 pounds needed to kick-start it, E-Access Bulletin has learned.

The pilot project, devised a year ago, would see the RNIB work with the Publishers Association, the Publishers Licensing Society and publishers Harper Collins, Blackwell and Palgrave Macmillan to develop digital templates for books in the universal XML structure that could then be published in accessible formats such as Braille, large print, and synthetic audio in parallel with print production.

The proposal followed last year's Right To Read campaign, which saw a petition of 32,000 signatures handed in to Number 10 Downing Street requesting government funding for more accessible books. According to RNIB estimates, some 96 per cent of all books published are never made available in large print, Braille, or audio.

"We had a letter from Tony Blair expressing support," RNIB campaigns officer David Mann told E-Access Bulletin. "Since then there's been further correspondence with the Prime Minister's office, but somehow these letters avoid the issue of funding. They list other things that the government is doing, some of which is irrelevant to this project."

The lack of funding may be due to the fact that the project doesn't fit neatly into any single department's territory, Mann said. "The Minister for Disabled People [Ann McGuire at the Department for Work and Pensions] has no money, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is responsible for libraries but not publishing, while the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is responsible for technology innovation," he said. "We had a meeting at the DTI with a working group and they wanted to go ahead, but when we got to the next step - government funding - we were stymied," said Mann.

This year's follow-up Right to Read campaign saw the launch of the Chapter and Verse initiative, which encourages authors to request a clause in their publishing contracts which will make their books accessible to blind and partially sighted people at the same time as they are published in standard print. Jacqueline Wilson, author of the popular "Tracy Beaker" books for children, is the first author to ask her publishers to add this clause to her contract.

+02: Less Than One In 100 Uk Councils Hits Web Accessibility Goal.

Just three UK council web sites out of a total of 468 have reached basic accessibility levels as required by government policy, according to a report published this month.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's 'Priority outcomes' policy says local authority web sites must conform with 'AA' level of international Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (http://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/wcag.php ), by 1 April 2006.

But the new annual 'Better connected' survey of UK council sites, from the Society of IT Management (Socitm - http://www.socitm.gov.uk ), found just three councils have achieved this level - Clackmannanshire in Scotland, Kensington and Chelsea in London and Thurrock in Essex. The survey also found no improvement on conformance with the most basic accessibility level, Level 'A', compared with last year's report. Just 62 councils (13 per cent) achieved level A conformance, the same number as last year.

The report also finds a "disturbing picture" in the area of claims about accessibility made by council web sites. In a sub-sample of 296 sites examined, some 65 were found to make some kind of claim about accessibility levels, but of these just 10 were found to be justified, E- Access Bulletin has learned.

Accessibility was assessed by Socitm with the Royal National Institute for the Blind. For a full report on the survey see Section Three, this issue.

+03: New Draft Access Standards Unveiled For All Technologies.

Two new sets of official guidelines on access to technology - a draft British Standard and an international standard - were released last week.

The draft British Standard is a set of guidelines aimed at web site commissioners setting out general principles of good accessible web design and clarifying steps needed to ensure sites are easy for disabled people to use.

While not a complete British standard, PAS 78, a Publicly Available Specification from the British Standards Institution, ( http://www.bsi-global.com/PSS/Services/PAS.xalter ) will be reviewed every two years and could become a full British standard. It was compiled for the institution by the Disability Rights Commission.

PAS 78 recommendations include disabled people are involved in the site design process and organisations develop a web site accessibility policy. It endorses global benchmark the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines from the World Wide Web Consortium and is available for purchase from BSI priced 30 pounds.

Meanwhile, a draft of an international standard aimed at developers and designers of hardware such as printers and laptops as well as software, has been published for public comment. The draft from the International Standard Organisation (ISO) is entitled 'Accessibility guidelines for information communication equipment and services' (ISO 9241 - http://fastlink.headstar.com/iso2 ). It includes general guidelines for making software and hardware accessible to all users, including a recommendation that all technology interfaces allow for assistive technology.

The standard's steering group is made up of industry representatives from over 24 countries and the public is invited to comment on the standard via the British Standards Institute (BSI) web site (http://www.bsi-global.com/ ). The final draft will be made available from the national standards bodies of participating countries later this year.

+04: Audible Navigational Devices Go Live In Birmingham

Pedestrians in Birmingham city centre will soon have access to a loudspeaker system that announces information about their location and how to find places of interest such as travel services, shopping areas and public buildings. The Wayfinder service ( http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/wayfinder.bcc ), planned for launch in May this year, will feature 60 loudspeaker units dotted around the city centre in the largest UK deployment of 'React Unit' technology developed by the RNIB.

Users access the service through a credit card-sized device that can be clipped to a belt, but also works when carried in a pocket or bag. When the wireless-enabled card comes within a few metres of loudspeaker units mounted on street furniture, a voice message is automatically triggered.

The messages, designed with help from a vision-impaired user group, provide guidance on orientation as a well as information about location and directions, said project manager Julie Moss of Birmingham City Council. "It could be 'If there's traffic on your left, and a slope ahead of you, then New Street Station is on your right'," she told E-Access Bulletin. The user group, which included members of Birmingham Focus on Blindness ( http://www.birminghamfocus.org.uk/ ) also helped select the most suitable locations for the loudspeakers.

The two-year Wayfinder project, which has cost the council 165,000 pounds so far, will eventually be expanded by a further 60 units making 120 in all, although their exact locations have yet to be decided. The service will also be expanded to include languages that reflect Birmingham's diverse ethnic make-up, with services in Punjabi, Bengali, and Gujarati high on the list of candidates.

According to Moss, when the service goes multilingual users will be issued with a card that triggers messages in their languages alone. Cards will be priced at around 25 pounds each, and are powered by batteries that last around two years, she said. Similar services operating on a smaller scale are available in York and Leeds.

++News in Brief:


+05: Group Think:

A group of 12 people with direct experience of disability has been set up to advise the UK government on establishing a national forum for disabled people. The forum will allow disabled people to communicate directly with government on service provision and policy and will launch next year. Its establishment was a recommendation in last year's Prime Minister's Strategy Unit report 'Improving the life chances of disabled people:' http://www.officefordisability.gov.uk/national/

+06: Award Withheld:

Not one nominated web site in the children's category of the Visionary Design Awards 2006 received an award because none were judged to have reached sufficient accessibility standards. Vision-impaired people nominated over 100 sites for awards in eight categories for the annual National Library of the Blind awards that recognise good accessibility practice. Winners in other categories included online supermarket shopping site Ocado, and a booby prize for the most inaccessible site went to the pop singer Kate Bush: http://www.visionary-design.org/ .

+07: Moon Misprint:

Last issue we published an incorrect web address for a recently-launched web site on the tactile reading aid Moon (news story +07, 'Shining Example'). We would like to apologise for this error. The correct address is: http://www.moonliteracy.org.uk/ .

[Section One ends].

++Special Notice: Braille Translations.


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 Two: 'The Inbox'- Readers' Forum.


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

+08: Protest Time:

Fay Rohrlach from South Australia writes in response to the feature "A Brighter Future" (E-Access Bulletin, February 2006) which mentioned the high price of assistive devices for blind and vision impaired people. "It's high time that we as blind and vision-impaired people started to speak out on these issues," says Fay. "It is all very well for those privileged few who have plenty of money, but for those who have to work, save, skimp, and scrape for big amounts, it is another story.

"I had to get myself an Easy Reader, a device which, when plugged into the TV, makes small print look beautiful and large on the screen. But it's the price - mine was 890 dollars, money that you wouldn't spend on a regular basis, but if it's going to be an investment in saving your eyesight, then, and only then, it's worth it.

"It's time that manufacturers everywhere started to remove inaccessibility, to make things cheaper, for good quality [products], at the same price if possible, so that all people blind and vision-impaired people can read books, and whatever else we want to read and be able to read it more conveniently". [Further comments please to inbox@headstar.com].

+09: Benchmark Seeker: Dalia Zamuiskaite From Lithuania Writes:"I'M Looking For Help In Obtaining A List Of [Guidelines] For Web Site And Software Accessibility For Visually Impaired Users.

"The reason for my approaching you for help is this: I've finally succeeded in convincing an ICT teacher from the Kaunas school for the blind to be a co-author on a conference paper for the "Culture, Technologies and Languages" conference that'll take place in Kaunas, Lithuania in May 2006. Our paper is called "Technologies and their use for language acquisition by the blind and visually impaired."

"I'm sorry to say that we have no officially issued government requirements regarding web site accessibility in Lithuania, but I believe that the practice is quite different in some countries around the world. We would really appreciate it if you could refer us to some information about non-discriminative access regulations available on the web or send a brief summary of the assessment packages you use in your work as experts in the field." [Responses please to inbox@headstar.com]

+10: Copyright Question:

Tony Dart of the Seeing Ear online library wrote last issue in his response to an access request from Fiji that his license to publish copyrighted material issued by the UK Copyright Licensing Agency forbids him to offer the service outside the EU.

Don Wessels writes in response: "As a blind South African, I would like to know if the online library will be opened to blind people in South Africa? I am sure we have copyright legislation." [Further response to inbox@headstar.com please]

[Section Two ends].

++Special Notice: Web Accessibility Forum.


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 - Opinion- Accessible Multimedia Production.


+11: The Only Game In Townby Kevin Carey.

In his 1980 predictive commentary on the technological revolution 'The Third Wave', a lesser-known but in many ways more richly suggestive book than his previous work 'Future Shock', the US sociologist Alvin Toffler described an information age where the boundaries would blur between producers and consumers.

Toffler has already been proved right on many points: email, mobile phones, digital photography, personal web sites and weblogs are all now commonplace methods that ordinary people and organisations use to create as well as consume content; but the most spectacular change has been in the cost of making and the method of disseminating what we used to call broadcast material. Two-thirds of us have multi channel television but with greater bandwidth we will soon be enjoying high- definition television on our PCs and quite acceptable quality television on our mobile phones and it will be sent out over the internet rather than using scarce broadcast spectrum.

Behind Toffler's prescient analysis there was a deep point: in an information society you can only live and work as a fully functioning member of society if you produce as well as consume: if you are, in his word, a prosumer.

The problem for the visual impairment community is that for the past decade or so it has been pretty well exclusively tied up with accessibility as it affects information consumption. Given the scandalous lag over easing copyright restrictions to allow access to digital materials, the snail's pace of the Web Accessibility Initiative and the pass-the-parcel over digital television access, such a concentration of technical and campaigning effort is not surprising; but it is time to move on, even if there are some pretty long loose ends in the areas I have just listed.

If acquiring the tools to produce content takes as long as to develop those to access and process content, then we had better start now. This is a hugely complex issue as it involves multimedia (for television or video on demand), radio, web development and blogging as well as acceptable document preparation.

First, the move from broadcasting over spectrum to publishing over the internet will provide massive scope for self expression and entrepreneurial flair; there is a very clear market for people who can take masses of disparate information and boil it down to essentials. When people say they are suffering from "information overload," what they really mean is that they are suffering from information evaluation deficit.

Second, the cost of producing multimedia is falling through the floor: cameras, editing equipment and transmission are getting cheaper every day. The difference between this and the radio market is that production values need to be high and there is no good economic model for local television; but it is bound to happen.

Third, blind and severely visually impaired people will need to learn how to collaborate in multimedia content creation, although I see no signs of this happening. This is particularly important where sound and images need to be fused.

Finally, there is a special issue around the way in which our vision- impaired children are educated.

This is a daunting agenda because learning how to make things is almost invariably more difficult than learning how to consume things - it's easier to read a novel than write one, listen to Eric Clapton than play the guitar, access a web site than build one - but if we want to increase the number of vision-impaired people in work and decrease the number who are socially isolated, then this is the only game in town.

What we need is a combination of 'political' will from government, pump-priming cash from RNIB, broad minded academic researchers and a response from the hardware, software and creative industries. That is asking for an unprecedented degree of collaboration, but all four sectors are crucial to the success of the venture.

NOTE: Kevin Carey is editorial advisor on E-Access Bulletin, director of charity HumanITy, a Fellow of the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts and Vice-Chair of the RNIB.

[Section Three ends].

++Special Notice: Test Your Site's Accessibility.


Headstar, the publishers of E-Access Bulletin, is offering a range of independent, expert assessment packages to ensure your web services comply with best practice and the law. We can provide you with a clear, detailed report on the current access status of your site, and a list of tasks you will need to carry out to ensure compliance with government requirements.

Reports also include results from general quality assurance tests such as link-checking. Taking accessibility action benefits all users, will make your site easier to maintain, and can improve your search engine rating! Please note the service is tailored in particular to larger organisations with major web sites or services.

For more information please email: access-consult@headstar.com .

[Special notice ends].

++Section Four - Focus- Web Accessibility in Local Government.


+12: Better Connected But Not More Accessibleby Mel Poluck.

The recently published annual review of the UK's local authority web sites by the local government Society of IT Management (Socitm - http://www.socitm.gov.uk ) has found no improvement on basic accessibility since last year's report was drawn up.

The 'Better Connected' report found just 62 out of a total of 468 council sites meet basic web accessibility requirements, exactly the same number as last year.

"We know councils can do it, but they're not sustaining the effort," said Socitm Insight programme manager Martin Greenwood.

To compound this disappointing finding, the study found just three out of all the sites reviewed - less than one in 100 councils - reached level 'AA' of international accessibility benchmarks the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG - http://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/wcag.php ) from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) - Clackmannanshire in Scotland, Kensington and Chelsea in London and Thurrock in Essex.

And this despite the fact level 'AA' is required of all English councils by 1 April 2006 to comply with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's 'Priority outcomes' ( http://fastlink.headstar.com/od4 ), a set of 73 best practice targets to use technology to improve public service delivery.

"Most of it isn't complicated; it's pretty well known what they should be doing," Greenwood said. "People are not doing enough to make web sites accessible to a large minority of people whose lives could be transformed if designers took advantage of the technology,"

On a more positive note, even though just three sites reached 'AA', the number is an improvement on last year's findings when no local authority site reached that level.

The report team annually tests every local authority site, thoroughly analysing content for features such as quality of search functions and how well the site links with other public services, availability of discussion forum, usability and ease of navigation as well as accessibility. Results were collated by a combination of automated testing tools and manual testing conducted by RNIB.

For the first time, the Better Connected team investigated claims of accessibility made by council web sites - in other words, what people claim by displaying logos, as opposed to what the site's accessibility actually turns out to be through objective testing - finding a "disturbing picture." In a sub-sample of 296 sites examined, some 65 made a claim about accessibility levels but just 10 of these were found to be justified, Greenwood told E-Access Bulletin.

"This means either people were doing it deliberately - and I don't think people are - or it indicates they once reached [the standard specified] and have slipped back," Greenwood said. "Many people are lulled into thinking passing the automated tests . . . means you have achieved conformance at those levels," the report finds.

Other research new to the survey this year includes an analysis of the use by councils of interactive online mapping and Geographic Information Systems, a notoriously inaccessible technology.

"If you're cutting off your web site to a significant minority you're losing the possibility of making efficiency gains. If you're making money out of a web site, you're losing potential customers - the same applies to local government," Greenwood said.

[Section Four ends].

++End Notes.



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 2006 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.


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

ISSN 1476-6337 .

[Issue ends].