+++E-Access Bulletin - Issue 100, April 2008.

Access To Technology For All, Regardless Of Ability

A Headstar Publication. http://www.headstar.com/eab/ .

Sponsored by: Ford Motor Company ( http://www.ford.co.uk ).

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: E-Access '08: Three Days To Go- Landmark Annual Event on Access to Technology by All - 23 April, Central London http://www.headstar-events.com/eaccess08/

Contents.

E-Access Bulletin's fourth annual conference and exhibition on access to technology by people with disabilities is on 23 April, sponsored by Fortune Cookie and supported by E-Access Bulletin, RNIB and Ability Magazine.

A fantastic line-up will look at issues surrounding access to the web; e- learning and education; digital TV switchover; accessible books; and employment issues. This is the place for all organisations in all sectors to find out how to comply with the law and how to make the best use of the talents of all your staff, students and service users.

Delegate rates are just 195 for public sector, 295 for private sector and 165 for small charities and non-profits (turnover under 150k). Book today for your last minute place, at: http://www.headstar-events.com/eaccess08/

[Special Notice ends].

++Section One: News.

Contents.

+01: Launch For Digital Tv 'Easy To Install' Badging Scheme.

A new scheme to badge certain digital TV products as 'easy to install' for older people and people with disabilities has been launched this week by the independent research charity Ricability.

Ricability - the former research arm of the consumer body Which? - is running the project in association with Digital UK, the broadcaster- funded body charged with overseeing the switchover from analogue to digital TV signals across the UK between now and 2012.

The 'Easy to install' research programme will test a wide range of digital TV recorders, set-top receivers and interactive digital TV sets (iDTVs) to identify those which are easy to install and retune at home without specialist assistance.

Product elements evaluated include packaging, labelling and instructions; accessories supplied such as leads and batteries; the user interface including on-screen menus and remote controls; the ease of first-time installation and retuning; and customer support including helplines and websites.

Ricability has issued its first 'Easy to install' badges to six Freeview Playback Digital TV recorders following tests earlier this year ahead of the full project launch. The six are the Digihome DTR160; the Goodmans GHD1621F2; the Humax Duovisio PVR-9200TB; the Technika AEDTR160S7; the Topfield TF5810PVRt and the Wharfedale 160DTR. Summary and detailed test reports for the six can be found online at: http://fastlink.headstar.com/ric2 .

In May and June the charity will be testing and awarding further badges to a range of set top boxes and iDTVs. The scheme is for self- installed products but the chairty also notes that many satellite, cable and phone based services like Sky, Virgin and BT Vision will install equipment for users, and some electrical retailers will also install equipment at a cost.

NOTE: For a full report on the history and work of Ricability see Section Three, this issue.

+02: E-Learning Access Research Project Comes To Uk.

A European research programme to improve access to e-learning platforms and courses by people with disabilities, with a special focus on distance learning, is to hold a consultation meeting in the UK next month.

The Accessible e-Learning Platform for Europe (ALPE) ( https://adenu.ia.uned.es/alpe/) complements the European accessible learning programme EU4ALL ( http://www.eu4all-project.eu/ ).

The UK workshop is being hosted by the Open University in Milton Keynes on 7 May ( http://eu4all.open.ac.uk/alpe/ ). The project is focused on learning about creating accessible content and delivery, while the project's business partners will analyse the commercial aspects of the European accessibility market.

Other partners in ALPE include the leading Spanish IT solutions and consultancy Indra, which is leading the project; UNED, the Spanish equivalent of Open University; and the Greek research body MetisNet. "The ALPE project has been a great opportunity to share findings with other project partners to understand the differences between the different countries," Christopher Douce of Open University told E- Access Bulletin.

+03: Councils Urged To Mix Technical Web Tests With User Tests.

Local councils should carry out both technical accessibility testing and user testing of their websites to minimise exclusion of people with disabilities, and not just take one or other approach, a new report from the local government Society of IT Management (Socitm) finds.

The report, a special supplement to Socitm's annual 'Better connected' review of all UK council websites, examines the reasons behind an alarming downward trend in accessibility in 2008. The accessibility of UK local council websites fell by almost 50 per cent since last year, with just 37 out of the UK's 468 council websites achieved the most basic technical standard of accessibility in 2008 - level 'A' of the World Wide Web consortium's web content accessibility guidelines (see E-Access Bulletin issue 99, March 2008 for further reporting on the Socitm findings).

The society's new supplement says that to avoid future problems councils should combine technical accessibility testing with user testing. The former is defined as measurable points that allow access; the latter as evaluation of actual attempts to perform tasks on a website.

"A site that offers good technical accessibility might not be usable by disabled people, if the layout and other issues do not take their needs into account," the report says. "It is not the case that organisations should follow one approach or the other. They should follow both.

"The one approach considers the key technical guidelines that should be adopted across the site. The other approach considers the many different perspectives of a website that depend on the tasks to be undertaken, the specific characteristics of the disability and the many different combinations of technology that one might be using.

"It is quite feasible that any failures in meeting technical guidelines may not apply in any single user experience, but they are very likely to apply in a significant percentage of user experiences. Equally, it is quite feasible that any failure in a single user experience may not relate to any of the technical guidelines and that this might be the case in a large number of user experiences."

The supplement also finds that five common errors account for 76% of all types of technical accessibility failure reported by RNIB, and that removing them would increase by up to 50% the number of technically accessible council sites. NOTE: For a full report on the five common errors see section four, this issue.

++News in Brief:

Contents.

+04: Conference Time:

Flash and accessibility; Managing e-access in large organisations; Technology aids for disabled students and Access to digital TV - moving to digital switchover are among the 10 plenary and workshop sessions at this week's E-Access '08. The biggest ever annual conference on access to technology by people with disabilities is hosted at Church House Conference Centre, Westminster, by Headstar, publishers of E-Access Bulletin. Sign up online for a last- minute place: http://www.headstar-events.com/eaccess08

+05: Controversial Statements:

According to BBC reports, online credit card statements from American Express have become less accessible to blind people since December after the company shifted from HTML formatting to PDF as the main way of viewing statements. According a recent Radio 4 Money Box programme, HTML versions are still available but harder to find: http://fastlink.headstar.com/bbc7 . In an update last week, the BBC reported that the person who raised the complaint with Money Box, Richard Godfrey-McKay, a blind solicitor from Perth in Scotland, was now threatening to sue American Express unless the problem was sorted out within days. A spokeswoman for American Express told the BBC the company was "working with Mr Godfrey-McKay to understand the problems" and said a range of alternative formats were offered including large print and Braille: http://fastlink.headstar.com/bbc8 .

+06: Librarian's Guide:

A guide book on web accessibility and usability aimed at library and information professionals has been published by Facet Publishing, the new name for the former Library Association Publishing. The book is edited by Jenny Craven and focuses on UK legislation and regulations: http://fastlink.headstar.com/bbc9 .

[Section One ends].

++Sponsored Notice: Fortune Cookie- Web Sites That Really Work.

Contents.

Fortune Cookie's dedicated web accessibility team makes sure that everyone finds the web sites we design easy to use. As well as being accessible, Fortune Cookie sites are beautiful and deliver stunning return-on-investment. They're award-winning too. In 2007, our work was nominated for major web design awards 11 times.

Legal & General, Kuoni, Diabetes UK, FT Business - just some of the big name brands on Fortune Cookie's client list.

Every business can benefit from making its web site more accessible. If you'd like to know what accessibility can do for your business, talk to Fortune Cookie.

Visit our web site at: http://www.fortunecookie.co.uk

Julie Howell is our Director of Accessibility. Email Julie at: Julie.Howell@fortunecookie.co.uk .

[Sponsored Notice ends].

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

Contents.

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

+07: Support Sources:

Last issue we published an enquiry from reader Patty Arnold about an apparently discontinued Access Technology Primer from the former National Library for the Blind, comprised of a series of free online training courses.

We have since received two helpful responses from staff at the RNIB, into which the NLB merged last year.

Jon Hardisty, Senior Librarian Digital Services at RNIB, said: "I'm sorry to say that the Access Tech Primer is no longer available. It was a funded project undertaken by National Library for the Blind several years ago, and the content was increasingly out of date, as the access tech packages covered were gradually updated by the software companies. This was perhaps reflected by the extremely low level of usage the site was receiving towards the end of its life.

"RNIB maintains a list of alternative sources of training and advice on the technology section of the RNIB website (http://www.rnib.org.uk/technology ), see particularly the 'information sheets' section."

And Steve Griffiths, Access Technology Trainer at RNIB, adds: "The Access Technology Primer has been discontinued.

"NLB and RNIB merged recently, and as part of that the NLB website has been incorporated into RNIB's. As an internal trainer in access technology I was asked to comment on the JAWS and ZoomText tutorials on the NLB site and my feeling was that they needed to be updated. We don't have the resources to do this update, and my understanding is that they were scrapped because of this.

"That's the bad news. The good news is that there is lots of material for the applications available from the relevant manufacturers.

http://www.aisquared.com/tutorial/ is a tutorial for ZoomText 9.1 (the current version) that can be run online or downloaded.

http://www.aisquared.com/Support/Documentation.cfm has links to download a quick reference guide or more complete user's guide for the last few versions of ZoomText.

http://fastlink.headstar.com/jaws3 gives access to a number of documents [on the JAWS screenreader]. The 'Quick start guides' are effectively tutorials for new users.

http://fastlink.headstar.com/jaws4 has a series of downloadable MP3 or DAISY files for various JAWS features, including a link to Surf's Up, which is about using JAWS on web pages. Surf's Up can also be viewed online.

http://www.yourdolphin.com/support.asp gives a variety of resources for Lunar, Hal and other Dolphin products.

"All the above sites are updated regularly when new versions are released."

+08: Design Hurdles:

David Bates, Chair of the National Federation of the Blind West Midlands Branch, writes in with a comment on website accessibility, particularly as relates to local councils, the subject of recent stories in E-Access Bulletin.

He writes: "Having recently lost my sight I access websites using a screen reader, and because I can't read the screen I usually turn it off to save power, navigating by listening to the voice, which reads onward from wherever the cursor has been placed by the web designer.

"Most council website staff could easily optimise their own websites for blind users by loading a screen reading programme onto their computer and thoroughly checking their own website by listening to the voice with their computers monitor turned off.

"They would then encounter the built-in difficulties, including continuity problems where a link opens a new page with the cursor in the wrong place, requiring several minutes of listening before the cursor reaches the chosen section, and trying to listen to the same piece a second time by returning an invisible cursor back to the start of the piece.

"Many web designers seem very reluctant to try the navigation hurdles which they set for their blind users, preferring to leave such checking tasks to blind people who are unlikely to understand the possibilities of the accurate cursor location which makes so much difference to accessibility. Can the experts design accessible websites, or must they be led by the blind?"

[Further comments please to inbox@headstar.com]

[Inbox ends].

++Section Three: Organisation in the Spotlight- Ricability.

Contents.

+09: The Consumer'S Championby Majeed Saleh.

With the switchover to digital TV rolling across the UK between now and 2012, blind people and people with impaired vision, who paradoxically are major watchers of TV, have more to cope with than most in finding and installing the best new receiving, viewing and recording equipment.

Although there is a national Digital TV Help Scheme offering (relatively) accessible digital TV receiver equipment and installation support at a low cost and free to people on benefits, people will often still be faced with tough choices about which equipment to choose or use when they want to buy outside of this scheme, or share a household with others.

It is fortunate then that one organisation has been testing every major piece of digital TV equipment to come on the market for the past three years with a specific focus on use by people with disabilities, and will continue doing so for some time to come. This organisation is Ricability ( http://www.ricability.org.uk/ ), a unique charity whose origins date back more than 50 years to the birth of the UK consumer rights movement.

Ricability's roots are in the Consumer Association (CA) - now known simply by the name of its product comparison publication brand Which? - the body set up in 1957 by the activist, policymaker and entrepreneur Michael Young (later Lord Young of Dartington), who also invented the Open University. In 1963 the CA founded a research arm, RICA, to undertake research to a high academic standard in an eclectic mix of subject areas from estate agents to town planning. But the body soon found itself focusing on the specific needs of elderly and disabled consumers, a field that was to become its specialist area.

In the Seventies, RICA's work covered everything from medicines to special footwear, invalid mobility vehicles and ground breaking research into the sexual problems experienced by disabled people. Then a series of 13 comparative test reports launched RICA's central interest in the assessments of special equipment and mainstream products through laboratory tests and assessments carried out by disabled people, an interest which has carried through to today's digital TV tests.

RICA continued to be managed by the CA until 1991 when it became a fully independent product research and comparison charity known as Ricability - pronounced 'Ry-ka-bility' - with its own board of trustees and program of work. Through its trustees Ricability maintains a close association with Which?, and the latter still provides part of Ricability's core funding. The charity's other main source of funding is the Department of Health, and it also receives money for specific projects from various other companies, funds and organisations.

Recent Ricability reports -which are available online as well as in print and audio CD or cassette - have included 'Stay in touch', examining fixed and mobile telecoms equipment and services for older and disabled customers; 'What's new', a guide to the latest home gadgets and electrical goods for elderly and disabled people; and 'A guide to buying a textphone', for deaf people and people with impaired hearing. It will shortly be publishing reports on shopping trolleys and bath lifts.

In the area of consumer electronics, TV has been its strongest recent focus. Digital television can enhance a person's viewing experience in a number of ways, and new features such as Audio Description (AD) can radically improve access to programmes by the visually impaired. However the digital switchover will require many people to buy and install new equipment; more channels mean more complex channel navigation systems and more buttons on a remote control. Some set-top boxes incorporate AD while others don't; on some the feature is easier to use than others, some switch the feature off when the viewer changes channel.

In 2005 Ricability won the commission from the then DTI (now BERR) to carry out accessibility and usability testing on digital television products in anticipation of the digital switchover ( http://www.ricability-digitaltv.org.uk/ ).

Since then the body has reviewed, recommended and produced detailed reports for consumers on more than a hundred iDTVs, set-top boxes, indoor aerials and digital television recorders. The government commission was renewed in December and testing will continue until at least 2009.

The 'ease of use' research is conducted for Ricability at the Milton Keynes laboratory of Intertek RPT ( http://www.uk.intertek-etlsemko.com/ ), a global leader in testing and certification of electrical products with whom both Ricability and Which? have a longstanding relationship

This week Ricability and Digital UK have announced the launch of a new badge that will be applied to digital television products to identify those that are easiest to install (see News, this issue). Ricability has also been consulted over product design, one example being the SKY Digital remote control; information from testing is also fed back to the manufacturers in order to assist them improve their future designs.

As everyday consumer products such as television sets converge with more sophisticated information and computing devices, Ricability will continue to offer a helping hand to people with disabilities in the information age.

[Section Three ends].

++Section Four: Focus- Web Accessibility.

Contents.

+10: The Power Of Five.

The local government Society of IT Management (Socitm) this week published a report on website accessibility which included a round-up of the five most common accessibility errors.

The society estimates that these five errors account for 76% of all website accessibility failures, and it asked Robin Christopherson, Head of Accessibility Services at the charity AbilityNet, to describe their impact. Robin is blind and uses the popular 'JAWS' screen reader software to access the web.

An edited version of Robin's assessment follows.

"Common failure 1 is to have no alternative text for images.

"This is an extremely common occurrence. I visit a website and am confronted with numerous unlabelled images. For mouse users this 'alternative text' is what pops up when you hover over the image. The average web page has dozens of images, from photos and adverts to 'eye-candy' such as spacing graphics and design flourishes. Many of these images are also clickable links or buttons, and not knowing what these are makes navigation impossible. Imagine trying to drive from A to B where the signposts at every roundabout or junction are blank. A disaster!

"Every single image on a website should be properly labelled. You don't need to begin captions by saying "Picture of.", as I already know it's a picture. You don't need to label 'spacer' or 'eye-candy' images (but give these a default caption so that the page still passes the accessibility checkers) and, above all, make sure that all images that are also links or buttons describe what will happen when you click on them, eg alternative text as "Marilyn Monroe - click to read her life story".

"As well as revolutionising the site for blind users, labelled images will also help those with dyslexia and literacy difficulties who use text to speech software (they hover their mouse over any text or image and the content is spoken out). It will also help those with images turned off (many hand-held users do not display images) and, last but by no means least, Google loves labelled images.

"Common failure Two is the inappropriate use of JavaScript.

"JavaScript is used to write mini-programs that are embedded in web pages and can enhance their functionality. They are very widely used and set to increase dramatically with 'Web 2.0' applications.

"My screen reader (JAWS) is one of the most sophisticated, but there are still many occasions when some uses of JavaScript leave me confused or frustrated, roaming at length to discover what bit of the page (if any) has changed after clicking that link, or finding that I am totally unable to access that shopping cart as selecting that button using the keyboard does nothing at all.

"It isn't enough to offer an alternative for those not using JavaScript, thinking that disabled users do not have JavaScript switched on as a matter of course. The vast majority of users of assistive technologies (such as screen readers, voice recognition, magnification, alternative keyboards and mice) can benefit from JavaScript functions as much as anyone, with the major caveat that there are certain uses of JavaScript that are not accessible to these technologies.

"The simple solution is to test your pages with these technologies to ensure that your particular application of JavaScript is not problematic.

"Common failures 3 and 4 are errors in simple and complex data tables.

"Thankfully, these days most websites use style sheets rather than tables to style and arrange the blocks of content on a web page. Where data tables are concerned, however, it is still the case that most are not coded in such a way that the relevant headings are spoken by a screen reader when moving from cell to cell. I hear '1327' and '1727' with no idea of whether these are sales of widgets or notable dates in history.

"The solution is to make sure that all headings of columns and rows are coded using the 'th' tag instead of the 'td' tag. A screen reader will then announce these along with the contents of the cell, putting the data in context (eg "Widgets sold in June, 1327").

"And finally, common failure 5 is the use of features with a lack of accessible alternatives.

"Here you are confronted with an inaccessible bit of content or function and you search for a way around the obstacle, but to no avail. A classic example is 'CAPTCHA'. A CAPTCHA is a type of security test used to determine whether the user is human (and so exclude automated spamming programmes). A common type of CAPTCHA requires that the user type the letters of a distorted image. Since the image is by definition unlabelled (as otherwise it can be read by malicious software) an alternative (such as an option to register by phone or email) is essential.

"When it becomes clear that you have content or function that cannot be made accessible, offer an accessible alternative. For example, the Google accounts sign-up process that uses CAPTCHA also has a link to an audio version of the code to be entered plus a link to contact customer services for those who cannot access either the visual or the auditory option.

"Always remember that an accessible site is a popular site - and not just for the disabled community. Research has shown that a site that is designed with accessibility in mind is also easier to use by all."

NOTE: 'A world denied: a supplement for Better connected 2008 on website accessibility' is available from Socitm. It is free to subscribers to the society's Insight programme; 50 for non-subscribers in the public and voluntary sectors and 99 for private sector non- subscribers.

[Section Four 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 .

++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 2008 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
  • Reporter: Majeed Saleh
  • Editorial advisor - Kevin Carey
  • Marketing Executive - Claire Clinton
  • Sales and Marketing - Jo Knell, Will Knox.

ISSN 1476-6337 .

[Issue 100 ends].