+++E-Access Bulletin - Issue 99, March 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: Six Weeks 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 to guarantee your place, at: http://www.headstar-events.com/eaccess08/

And for information about sponsoring or exhibiting please email Will Knox on: will.knox@headstar.com or call him on 01273 267974.

[Special Notice ends].

++Section One: News.

Contents.

+01: Local Authority Website Accessibility Plummets In 2008.

The accessibility of UK local council websites has fallen by almost 50 per cent since last year, new research from the local government Society of IT Management (Socitm) shows.

Just 37 out of the UK's 468 council websites achieved the most basic standard of accessibility in 2008 - level 'A' of the World Wide Web consortium's web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG 1.0). This compares with 64 achieving level A the previous year; and 62 the year before that, according to the society's annual 'Better Connected' review (see http://www.socitm.gov.uk/socitm/Library/Better+connected+2008.htm ).

The news comes despite the fact that the UK government and the European Commission have actually been encouraging councils to set their standards even higher than level 'A', to level 'AA' compliance.

According to Socitm 'Better Connected' project leader Martin Greenwood, there are four probable causes of this year's poor results. These are low levels of accessibility training for web teams; historic procurement of inaccessible software, with councils now tied into contracts; budget constraints hindering the acquisition of new software; and a failure to include accessibility tests in basic website maintenance procedures.

The report says local authorities must increase awareness of website accessibility within the organisation, include those considerations into future website revamps and related procurement and realise that creating accessible websites is an ongoing task.

A special supplement to the Better Connected report on website accessibility, 'A World Denied', is due to be published by Socitm later this month.

NOTE: For a full report on the Socitm findings see Section Four, this issue.

+02: Communications Regulator Launches Access Workstream.

The UK's telecommunications, broadcasting and digital communications 'super-regulator' Ofcom has launched a dedicated workstream focusing on access and inclusion.

Ofcom was formed in 2003 from the merger of five former broadcasting and communications regulatory bodies. It has a duty to 'encourage' the development and availability of accessible domestic electronic communications apparatus, and though it has few powers of enforcement, the new move is aimed at drawing together its work in this field to have a greater potential impact.

The new workstream will include commissioning research, such as a newly released study into captioned telephony for the deaf and hard of hearing commissioned from City University. It will also support advertising and awareness campaigns, such as a current RNIB and broadcaster-led campaign to promote awareness and use of TV audio description services.

Another key area of work over the coming year will be to work with the new Equality and Human Rights Commission to look at ways of encouraging better harmonisation of UK law with European law on access to telecoms, broadcasting and IT and European law.

Ofcom Consumer Policy Manager Katie Hanson told E-Access Bulletin in an exclusive interview this month: "Good design, like handsets with big buttons, can help many people, from those with low vision to older people with dexterity difficulties," she says. "And good design doesn't cost any more than bad design - it just needs to be there from the outset."

NOTE: For the full interview with Katie Hanson see Section Three, this issue.

+03: First Techshare India Draws 400 In New Delhi.

The largest conference dedicated to access to technology by people with disabilities ever to take place on the sub-continent was held in New Delhi last month, with assistance from the UK's leading blindness charity RNIB.

'Techshare India' ( http://www.barrierbreak.com/techshareindia.php ), building on the RNIB's own 'Techshare' branded events in the UK, welcomed around 400 delegates and featured 21 exhibitors including Dolphin Computer Access, IBM and Caretec.

In addition to workshops and presentations delegates could get to grips with assistive technologies in the 'experience lab' which saw the first demonstrations in India of several new technologies including the unveiling of a Hindi language version of Dolphin's Supernova screenreader software ( http://fastlink.headstar.com/ti1 ).

The conference was organised by Mumbai-based accessibility consultancy BarrierBreak Technologies, and is planned as an annual event, with linked quarterly roadshows in other cities planned to spread knowledge and awareness and build towards the next event.

According to the BarrierBreak, most disabled people in India are still excluded from mainstream society, despite the passing in 1995 of the Indian Persons With Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act. The Indian government estimates that there are more than two million blind and more than 60 million disabled people living in India.

++News in Brief:

Contents.

+04: Thunder Wins:

The free talking-software provider Screenreader.net won a prestigious ministerial award at the e- Participation Symposium hosted in London last month by the UK's International Centre of Excellence for local E-Democracy (ICELE). Screenreader.net is a non-profit company that distributes the Thunder screenreader software to blind and visually impaired people via its website. So far the software has been downloaded more than 70,000 times: http://www.screenreader.net/ .

+05: Rights Application:

A free web-based application called System Access To Go or SAToGo, which provides text to speech and magnified visual access to digital information including software and websites, is being offered by a new US-based body called the Accessibility is a Right (AIR) Foundation. The foundation says: "Any person connected to the Internet can use it by simply typing www.satogo.com into their Internet browser. The software becomes active immediately and continues to run on the system until the user disconnects from the Internet": http://www.accessibilityisaright.org/ .

+06: Assistive Care:

A new organisation aimed at boosting the creation and marketing of assistive technologies has been launched by the London Development Authority. The ATcare Design and Development Centre will showcase several new technologies including a music player designed for people with dementia and the Dynamic Assistive Information System, a mobile phone based GPS navigational tool for people with learning difficulties. The centre is due to be opened this autumn: http://fastlink.headstar.com/ac1 .

[Section One ends].

++Sponsored notice: Xerox Copier Assistance- Come and see us at E-Access '08.

Contents.

Xerox will be demonstrating their innovative "Xerox Copier AssistantT" solution at this years 'E - Access' event. Xerox Copier AssistantT software can significantly increase the accessibility and usability of basic copying functions on Xerox Office copier and multifunctional devices.

Providing a real alternative to the standard touch-screen user interface, Xerox Copier AssistantT software helps everyone - especially those who are wheelchair users, blind or visually impaired and people with limited dexterity - to easily program copy jobs and make copies unaided.

Expanding the walk up usability of Xerox multi-functional devices can increase productivity and individual job satisfaction. Xerox Copier AssistantT software utilises client PC hardware and is exclusive to Xerox.

To speak to a Xerox Sales Representative call 0870 873 4519 or go to: http://www.xerox.com .

[Sponsored notice 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: Big Suppliers:

Our recent discussion on the accessibility of Adobe Flash software is continued by Jane Sellers who says that she has had past experiences of being blocked out from websites by the technology.

She wrote in support of comments from Julie Howell, head of accessibility at the digital agency Fortune Cookie, who said that major companies need to do more int he area of accessibility. Jane said: "What Ms Howell is stating needs addressing, and I liked her comments. Keep on pressurising the powers that be!"

Julie Howell adds: "I live in a state of perpetual amazement that the big IT companies continue to shirk what is arguably their social responsibility to ensure that everyone can access the output created by their tools. Then again, as the DDA excludes software accessibility I guess I shouldn't be quite so surprised.

"In the US, there is additional legislation (section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act) that has put indirect (but effective) pressure on software companies to make the output of their tools more accessible. Yet still there exists a disconnect between large software companies and the end user (by which I mean those people who seek to access content created by the software tools).

"Change is coming. At a European level, new legislation for software procurement is being drafted. This was delayed in the hope that the software industry would self-regulate.

"To be fair, many of the big software companies have done their bit to help the users of their tools (web designers, etc.) create more accessible content but they have fallen short of what is arguably their moral responsibility to help the end users of the content to enjoy the fruits of those labours. I confess to not understanding why this is the case as it seems an easy win to me!"

[Further responses please to inbox@headstar.com].

+08: Primer Vanishes:

Our reader Patty Arnold writes in with a query relating to a story we published in issue 51, all the way back in March 2004. She asks: "Do you know if the Access Technology Primer [covered in that issue] is still available somewhere? I have tried a number of times over the last month or so to access it with no success, although about six months ago or so I was able to. Below is the information from the article."

The story from the back issue was as follows: "The National Library for the Blind (NLB) . . . has developed a series of free online training courses for support workers and others on the basics of access technology [the web address cited, now defunct, was http://atp.nlb- online.org/Lessons/p_00.php].

"The 'Access technology primer' [includes] Introduction to access technology; Training visually impaired people to use computers; Changes you can make to your computer without access technology; Windows keyboard commands; JAWS; Supernova; and Zoomtext. The courses are funded by international independent charity the Health Foundation (http://www.health.org.uk )."

If any reader - perhaps a former employee at the National Library for the Blind which last year was merged with RNIB - has any information about the continuing availability of this primer, please email us.

[Responses please to inbox@headstar.com].

+09: Newsletter Access:

Jane O'Connell, Information Co-ordinator at NAVCA (National Association for Voluntary and Community Action), writes in to ask if any of our readers might be able to "point me in the direction of some guidelines on making html format e-bulletins accessible, or a couple of good examples of accessible html format bulletins."

As E-Access Bulletin itself is in plain text, we would be interested ourselves in finding out more about this for possible future HTML versions of the newsletter, which are requested by some readers from time to time.

[Responses please to inbox@headstar.com].

[Inbox ends].

++Sponsored Notice:- Full magnification and speech software helps more people to read.

Contents.

Software firms Claro Software and Dixerit UK (formerly ReadSpeaker UK Ltd) have teamed up to offer millions of children and adults the chance to read.

Dixerit Plus is the latest product in web accessibility technology, offering speech-enabling of websites and unique magnification software.

Dixerit Plus reads the website without downloads or plug-ins. It also allows users to point at text and click to read it, a feature requested by dyslexia groups. It is easy to install, and we customise the navigation so it blends into the site. Website owners simply subscribe to the service, add a link and the service is live.

For more information contact Carin Lennartsson on carin.lennartsson@dixero.com or by telephone on 01483 596580 or 07971-160702 or visit: http://www.dixerit.com .

[Sponsored notice ends].

++Section Three: Interview- Katie Hanson, Consumer Policy Manager, Ofcom.

Contents.

+10: 'Super-Regulator' Sharpens Focus On Accessibilityby Dan Jellinek.

The UK government set up Ofcom in 2003 to be a 'super-regulator' for the nation's communications industries, merging five former regulatory bodies across the television, radio, telecommunications and wireless communications sectors.

Part of the body's role includes ensuring equal access to communications technology for disabled people, and in its first five years of operation it has carried out various projects relating to access to television, telecommunications and radio by all users. People with disabilities have been involved for example in work by Ofcom's Consumer panel, an advisory body representing consumer interests; its broadcasting Content Board, which looks beyond consumer issues to the broader 'public interest'; and its Advisory Committee on Older and Disabled People.

Now, however, the pace of change in all its areas of activity including the convergence of internet services with television; the rise of digital radio; and the switchover to digital TV have prompted the regulator to give renewed priority to ensuring that all citizens are able to benefit from modern communications services.

This year Ofcom is duly launching a new dedicated workstream focusing on access and inclusion, including usability, across all its areas of work. One of the people working on this is new Consumer Policy Manager Katie Hanson.

Before joining Ofcom Hanson was public policy officer at deafblindness charity Sense, and worked to influence the fledgling Communications Bill to improve its provision for services to people with disabilities such as sign language, subtitling and audio description on TV programmes.

With a neat circularity, the consequent Communications Act 2003 set out the functions and powers of Ofcom, so Hanson is now helping to implement some of the provisions she championed previously.

"A lot of work on services for disabled consumers and usability has already been carried out within Ofcom", Hanson tells E-Access Bulletin.

The main part of the legislation relating to accessibility of communications equipment in the home is section 10 of the 2003 Act, which establishes Ofcom's 'Duty to encourage availability of easily usable apparatus.'

The duty is for the regulator "to take such steps, and to enter into such arrangements, as appear to them calculated to encourage others to secure (a) that domestic electronic communications apparatus is developed which is capable of being used with ease, and without modification, by the widest possible range of individuals (including those with disabilities); and (b) that domestic electronic communications apparatus which is capable of being so used is as widely available as possible for acquisition by those wishing to use it.

The problem Hanson faces, however, is that the duty carries no powers of enforcement "other than persuasion".

"Ultimately, we don't make the law, that is up to Parliament, and we don't have powers at the moment," she says. "We can't change the law, so we've got to use our imagination."

One of the ways Ofcom can work is to commission research, as they have recently in one their main areas of accessibility work, captioned telephony for the deaf and hard of hearing.

There is currently a text relay service in the UK, TextDirect, which is expensive to run since it requires the use of a live operator to either type what one or both callers are saying so the conversation can be read in text form by one or both participants.

The service is funded by telecoms providers under the universal service obligation, the same piece of law that stipulates the provision of public payphones in remote areas. However, Hanson says that one of the problems Ofcom faces now is that the universal service obligation does not provide for the use of new systems such as captioned telephony or video phones for sign language services - technologies that could theoretically make telephone use for the deaf much cheaper and easier.

"Technology has to move on, and we need to make sure the service reflects what is available now," she says. "But the wording does not provide for new technologies."

As a step towards spurring the telecommunications industry and government into new action in this field, therefore, Ofcom published research into captioned telephony last month. Commissioned from City University, the report looks at possible new captioned telephony technologies; new voice recognition techniques such as multiple speaker recognition; and alternative solutions such as video (see: http://www.ofcom.org.uk/research/telecoms/reports/captioned/captione d.pdf ).

Another piece of research has recently been commissioned into the barriers for communications access by people with impaired vision.

Another form of action Ofcom can take in the arena of 'persuasion' is to support advertising and awareness campaigns, such as a current campaign it is backing to promote awareness and use of TV audio description services.

Audio description is a digital sound-track describing what is happening during a film or television programme in-between spoken dialogue. After Ofcom discovered awareness was low among blind and partially sighted TV viewers, it decided to become a partner in an ad campaign running on television and in newspapers.

The campaign is funded by broadcasters with other support from the RNIB, which funded the creation of a logo and is helping to offer telephone support lines. Ofcom has contributed support in the form of staff time to help with planning and co-ordination.

The rationale of this kind of work is that "Awareness increases usage, and we can obviously make more of a case for funding something if more people are using it," Hanson says.

Another key area of work over the coming year will be to look at ways of encouraging better harmonisation of UK law on access to telecoms, broadcasting and IT and European law. Currently, the UK's Disability Discrimination Act covers services such as websites or the sale of mobile phones in a high street shop - outlawing discrimination in these areas - but not the basic accessibility of hardware devices such as the phones themselves. Hanson says. This is because all law related to the design of 'manufactured goods' is set by Europe.

"We are working with the new Equality and Human Rights Commission to look at how the UK's Disability Discrimination Act can be made to work well alongside relevant European law," she says.

"It's very tricky - like the scenario of a person going into the shop, and the service they receive being covered but not the goods they buy. You have situations where for example the manual that comes with a mobile phone does not have to be accessible, since it is classed as part of the 'manufactured goods' to which it belongs so a phone might actually be accessible but no large print manual can be requested. It's illogical to the disabled person - all they know is they're getting a raw deal."

Some disability organisations are calling for an EU Accessibility Directive which would encompass manufactured goods. Hanson says, "We want to make sure that if the European law is amended at some point, we are representing the interests of disabled users."

Ultimately, all parts of UK and European law need to work together to ensure accessibility and usability is designed into digital communications goods and services from the outset, Hanson says.

"Good design, like handsets with big buttons, can help many people, from those with low vision to older people with dexterity difficulties," she says. "And good design doesn't cost any more than bad design - it just needs to be there from the outset.

"With buildings, there are regulations that make doorways wider and light switches lower, to enhance accessibility for wheelchair users. But in the communications sector, we've got a long way to go."

[Section Three ends].

++Sponsored Notice: Able Magazine.

Contents.

Able magazine is the UK's leading disability lifestyle publication and focuses on what disabled people can do, not what they can't.

Every issue includes information on the latest products, accessible holiday ideas, inspiring real life stories and fantastic competitions! Due to this diverse content Able appeals to disabled people, carers and professionals in the industry. Visit: http://www.ablemagazine.co.uk or call 0141 419 0044 to subscribe today for only 12 for a year or 22 for two years!

[Sponsored notice ends].

++Section Four: Focus- UK Local Authority Websites.

Contents.

+11: One Step Forwards, Two Steps Back?By Majeed Saleh.

Despite rising awareness in the web development community of issues relating to access by people with disabilities, it appears that in one vital sector at least, things may be going backwards.

The 10th annual 'Better connected' review of every UK council website from the local government Society of IT Management (Socitm), published this month, has revealed an alarming picture of falling standards.

The number of local authority websites achieving the most basic standard of accessibility - Level 'A' of the World Wide Web consortium's web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG 1.0) - has fallen dramatically this year to just 37 out of 468. This compares with 64 achieving level A the previous year; and 62 the year before that.

The news comes despite the fact that the UK government and the European Commission have actually been encouraging councils to set their standards even higher than level 'A', to level 'AA' compliance. A 'Delivering inclusive websites' consultation launched in 2007 by the Cabinet Office, and due to conclude shortly with some new and eagerly awaited guidelines, suggested that government sites should have until December 2008 to meet AA standards or face having their .gov.uk domain withdrawn.

Many question whether such a Draconian pronouncement would be practical given that in the past four years, only a tiny number of local authority sites have achieved an AA rating: just three in 2006 and two in 2007. In 2008 not a single local authority website reached level AA.

The WCAG standards take into account problems such as those faced by visually impaired web users relying on access to information by converting on-screen text into speech. Examples of 'checkpoints' that web developers need to pass include proper text tagging of any images used; and clear layout of text on the screen.

The testing methods used by Socitm (and all reputable testers) are twofold. First, some basic 'stage one' tests are undertaken using an automatic benchmarking tool - in this case, the RNIB used tools developed by the Swedish company Greytower Technologies.

However, automated testing can only cover a third of the WCAG checkpoints, so 'stage two' tests require manual examination to ascertain some of the more complex elements of a site's compliance. These are the most difficult features to test, and also the hardest for developers to get right. This part of the survey is carried out by specialist consultants from the RNIB, recognised as among the foremost UK experts in the field.

Most accessibility testing failures fall into a small group of categories, including the absence of 'alternative text' on images; inaccessible JavaScript; and problematic 'simple' and 'complex' data tables. Indeed, if website operators fixed two of the most common failures - the lack of 'alternative text' tags on images and problems with simple data tables - some 48 more websites would have conformed to level A standards this year. A further 173 sites (39%) contained just three or four checkpoint failures.

Asked why he thought standards had been allowed to slip, Socitm 'Better Connected' project leader Martin Greenwood identified four probable causes. These were low levels of accessibility training for web teams; historic procurement of inaccessible software, with councils now tied into contracts; budget constraints hindering the acquisition of new software; and a failure to include accessibility tests in basic website maintenance procedures.

The report says local authorities of all sizes and types must realise the scale of the task required to bring their site up to level A standard and beyond. In particular, the people involved in running those sites which have achieved and then lost accessible status must look in detail at what has changed and what they need to do to improve. Furthermore, local authorities must increase awareness of website accessibility within the organisation, include those considerations into future website revamps and related procurement and realise that creating accessible websites is an ongoing task.

NOTE: A special supplement to the Better Connected report on website accessibility called 'A World Denied' is due to be published by Socitm later this month.

[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 99 ends].