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++Section One: News.
+01: Launch For New National Disability It Network.
A new network of 51 specialist organisations across England have been funded to help local computer users with a disability or learning difficulty to get online and use government services.
The Disability Network initiative has been launched by the national technology access body UK Online Centres ( http://www.ukonlinecentres.com/ ), with specialist learning providers across England receiving funding of £7,500 each to provide training and support to disabled computer users.
Sarah Stabler, network manager at UK Online Centres, told E- Access Bulletin that the learning centres will introduce learners to basic ICT equipment and online resources, and show them what online government services are available which could be of use to them. “For example, a disabled person could register for a blue disability badge online, find out about benefits and support available to them, or use the part of the NHS Choices website with information for people with long-term health problems”, Stabler said.
Some learning providers have used the grant, which runs from 1 April 2012-31 March 2013, to invest in new equipment, such as iPad tablet computers, which allows the organisations to take the technology out to disabled learners, sometimes in their own homes. “The idea is for learners to use the iPad to give them an initial hook on the internet, and then progress on from there. Individuals may choose to then come into a learning centre and take up training on a more formal basis”, said Stabler.
As well as basic ICT skills such as using a mouse and sending emails, some learning centres offer programmes on areas such as using Facebook, studying family history, and digital photography.
“Once we’ve got people online, we can find what the personal hook might be to keep them online. It could be about communication, like using Skype to keep in touch with friends and family”, said Stabler. “What we’re hoping is that the Disability Network makes the end user a little more independent, and opens up access to a range of resources to things that might not otherwise have.”
The learning providers that make up the Disability Network include a range of community and training centres and grassroots organisations, and are all specialists in their field, including several organisations from mental health charity Mind, and centres that focus on assisting deaf learners and learners with mobility issues.
As part of their bid to UK Online Centres, each provider was required to demonstrate their specialist skills and estimate the number of learners they hoped to engage with during the funding period, and how many of those would complete an online basic skills programme, and how many of these learners would progress to using online government services.
UK Online Centres is in the process of looking for new specialist learning providers for the network, as there are still funds available. Interested organisations can email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=730
+02: Price Comparison Sites Excluding Millions, Report Finds.
Four out of five leading price comparison websites surveyed are inaccessible to disabled and elderly users, potentially putting them in breach of the Equality Act 2010, a new report has found.
Conducted by ICT access charity AbilityNet, the research presents a dismal picture of accessibility by disabled and elderly users for the websites, which allow people to compare prices of goods and services including online shopping and insurance prices.
A wide range of accessibility issues and barriers were found, including images without alternative text, rendering these images inaccessible to screen-readers; keyboard traps; inconsistent navigation of pages; colour contrasts which may be difficult for visually impaired users; and fixed text sizes.
Fixing these basic issues would be a relatively simple process, and “would benefit millions of potential customers”, Robin Christopherson, Head of Digital Inclusion at AbilityNet, told E- Access Bulletin.
Four out of the five comparison websites surveyed (comparethemarket.com, gocompare.com mysupermarket.co.uk and confused.com) scored just one star out of five, and failed to achieve the minimum standard for estimated legal compliance, as set out by AbilityNet’s rating system – based partially on checkpoints set out in the widely- used international Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
The fifth site, kelkoo.co.uk, scored two stars out of a possible five, achieving some of the legal requirements set out in the testing.
The sites were audited by AbilityNet using a mix of manual checks, an independent accessibility testing tool (the HiSoftware Compliance Sheriff: http://bit.ly/ITVZqz ), and testing by disabled computer users.
Unfortunately, price comparison websites are far from unique in their lack of accessibility, Christopherson said: “In our estimation, around 90%-95% of websites out there don’t meet a base level of accessibility and don’t comply with legal and moral requirements. There is also a very significant business case to making websites inclusive.”
The report is the latest in AbilityNet’s bi-monthly ‘State of the eNation’ reports, each examining the accessibility of websites in a particular sector. It is available as a Word document: http://bit.ly/IPTGE1 or as a PDF: http://bit.ly/IIgO3u .
And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=726
+03: Campaigners Urge Further Changes To Copyright Law.
The British Assistive Technology Association (BATA) and RNIB are calling for changes to the copyright law to allow disabled people to copy all legally owned digital books or multimedia into more accessible formats.
The calls come as part of the organisation’s response to consultation on proposed changes to copyright law from the UK Intellectual Property Office in a report by Professor Ian Hargreaves – chair of digital economy at the Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies – which would allow wider and easier access to a range of materials for disabled people.
The independent report, entitled ‘Digital Opportunity: A review of Intellectual Property and Growth’ (available here as a PDF: http://bit.ly/e7jPxQ ), proposes changes which would ease restrictions on individuals copying material that they own, such as music, films and documents that an individual has purchased, allowing copying to more accessible formats for personal use. For example, a PDF file could be converted to an audio file, or a document could be scanned in order to increase the font size.
However, BATA – which campaigns for the rights of AT users – is calling for stronger freedoms allowing individuals to copy any material that they have legal access to, and not just material that they own. This would include library books and information on public websites.
In its own consultation response, the RNIB said it too supports a copyright exception to allow all private copying, and “breaking” of digital rights management (DRM) systems that prevent this.
Overall however, the charity – like BATA – welcomed the proposed changes. “These changes alone will not end the book famine, or problems with access to magazines, news and multimedia materials”, the RNIB said. “However, they will contribute towards that goal, and with just 7% of published works being accessible at present, all reasonable measures that can alleviate the book famine should be taken.”
And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=723
++News in Brief:
+04: June Event:
Places are still available for e-Access 12, the UK’s leading annual event on access to technology by disabled people. The event is aimed at public bodies, businesses and organisations of all sizes, charities and community groups who want to make their digital services more accessible and inclusive – for business, ethical and legal reasons. The event takes place on 28 June at the government conference centre in Westminster, central London:
Quick link: http://www.headstar.com/eaccess12/
+05: Travel Training:
An e-learning programme to help more than 600 Network Rail employees who have volunteered to become ‘Travel Champions’ during the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games has been developed by disability equality training organisation Wideaware. The online programme will feature information on how the Travel Champions can help disabled spectators at train stations throughout the games, including those with mobility, learning and sensory impairments:
Quick link: http://bit.ly/IPxk2s
+06: Turning Tables:
A new e-book explaining how to design and build accessible PDF tables is now out, written by Ted Page, director of web editorial services company PWS. The book – available in the free e-book format EPUB and for the Kindle e-reader – gives authors, designers, web editors and document producers advice on creating accessible PDF data tables and retrospectively revising currently inaccessible tables:
Quick link: http://bit.ly/IFzshq
[Section One ends].
++Section Two: 'The Inbox'- Readers' Forum.
Please email all contributions or responses to: email@example.com .
++Section Two: 'The Inbox'- Readers' Forum.
Please email all contributions or responses to: firstname.lastname@example.org .
+07: Commission Responds:
Clive Lever, Diversity and Equality Officer at Kent County Council, wrote in to bemoan the apparent inaccessibility of aspects of an email newsletter from an organisation that should be setting the standard: “Please can you advise on the best way that we may be able to persuade the Equality and Human Rights Commission (of all people) to send out newsletters that conform to accessibility standards? For instance, three links in a row that say "read more" doesn't seem the best example to be setting.”
After receiving the query from E-Access Bulletin, Jean Irvine OBE, Equality and Human Rights Commissioner, raised the matter internally and writes back to inform us of progress.
She writes: “I have checked this with the web site manager who has asked me to thank you for bringing this to our attention [and we are] working to resolve this. We now provide an alternative plain text version, as the e-newsletter is sent out as a MIME message, in otherwords it contains a message sent in both plain text and HTML. Recipients receive one version or the other depending on how their mailbox is set up.
“We also publish the newsletter on our website in an accessible format: http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/publications/email- newsletter/previous-editions/ Short link: http://bit.ly/KdvVEw .
“We are now looking at the links themselves, replacing the ‘read more’ description with more relevant and accurate link text descriptions.”
[Further comments please to email@example.com ].
+08: Television Continuation:
Phil Smalley, a reader from Leicestershire who is blind, writes in to add to last issue’s comments from reader Nigel Timbrell on a move by Panasonic to build text-to-speech functionality into 30 of its TV models. Nigel had welcomed this move, but said: “My concern would be how many people who need this facility are going to go out and purchase a brand-new TV set?”
Phil replies: “While I appreciate Nigel’s comments about existing users not having the resources to go out and purchase £430+ TV sets in order to benefit from the new technology, unfortunately, this is the way of technical advances – wouldn’t it be good to have “start-stop” technology fitted to your old banger rather than going out and purchasing a new model!
“No, the exciting thing about the Panasonic development is that it’s mainstream. This means those who need to purchase a new TV and require text to speech technology can go to the high street for a demonstration or purchase the best price online. Additionally, more exciting than a mere set-top box, the Panasonic range can enable sight-impaired people to record and retrieve programmes.
“Ideally, other manufacturers will follow suit and then when you, as a sight-impaired person, want to purchase a TV with text to speech, there will be far greater choice in facilities, quality and price.”
Phil concludes: “So thank you, Panasonic, for taking the lead. Sadly I won’t be rushing out and purchasing at the moment as I’ve just given up on my speech-enabled Freeview box as stuttering speech, automatic turning off of audio description and freezing/locking up have finally got the better of me, and I have switched to Freesat.”
Our regular correspondent Brian Gaff, who is on the committee of the Kingston upon Thames Association for the Blind, writes in to add his perspective to the debate on talking TVs – and talking home appliances in general.
“About talking domestic appliances: the history of these is not a good one. I recall in the late 1970s or early 1980s, Sharp had a talking video. Nobody seemed to buy it so they stopped making it. Admittedly, the voice was rather robotic. And what happened to the talking DAB radio by Pure?
“I'd like to see the same technology as on the Panasonics used on stereo systems and so on. But in a few years’ time, will anyone still be making voice-assisted units?”
Further comments please to firstname.lastname@example.org .
[Section Two ends].
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++Section Three: FocusWeb Accessibility.
09: Putting People and Processes First By Brian Kelly.
For many web authors, developers and policy makers, the issue of accessibility to disabled people is addressed mainly by trying to ensure that their sites conform with the international Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) maintained by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium.
For example, the UK Government’s ‘Delivering inclusive websites guidelines’ ( http://bit.ly/3lCReg ), published in 2009, said: “The minimum standard of accessibility for all public sector websites is Level Double-A of the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. All new websites must conform to these guidelines from the point of publication.”
However, as recently described in a blog post I have written (entitled ‘Aversive Disablism, Web Accessibility and the Web Developer’: http://bit.ly/ISdAhh ) which details the seventh annual Blogging Against Disablism Day, there is a need to ask: “Are web developers and web authors who have embraced WCAG guidelines unknowingly creating barriers for people with disabilities?” This question could also be asked of government policy makers. There is a need for an alternative approach which caters for the limitations of policy based solely on WCAG conformance.
The web’s inventor Tim Berners-Lee has said that “The power of the web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.” However, although this is a laudable goal, implementation of WCAG guidelines is not necessarily a way of achieving it. For example, WCAG 2.0 guidelines which state that “content must be understandable” would mean that the famous UK newspaper football headline from 2003 – “Super Cally Go Ballistic, Celtic Are Atrocious” – would not be allowed, since this wordplay will only be appreciated by those who are familiar with the song from the film ‘Mary Poppins’, and the football teams in question. In a more general context, while we can understand that people with Asperger’s syndrome may have difficulties interpreting common phrases such as “it’s raining cats and dogs”, it is unlikely that organisations will ban such usage in order to ensure that the content is “accessible by everyone regardless of disability”.
A more comprehensive critique of the limitations of the WCAG guidelines and the WAI model for addressing web accessibility issues is given in my papers on ‘Forcing standardization or accommodating diversity? A framework for applying the WCAG in the real world’ ( http://bit.ly/9BHyiH ) and ‘Accessibility 2.0: people, policies and processes’ ( http://bit.ly/LohYBA ).
We can agree that the WAI approach, developed in the late 1990s, has been valuable in raising awareness of ways in which web resources can enhance experiences for people with disabilities. But rather than regarding WCAG conformance as definitive solution, we should regard it as a useful set of guidelines, whose use and relevance needs to be considered in light of a variety of factors including the needs of the target audience and the resources available for the development of the service.
In addition, there will be the need to consider risks in failing to provide a service, even if it does not conform with WCAG guidelines. For example, should resources for an ‘amplified event’, in which the talks are made available by a live video stream and afterwards for downloading, be deleted if resources for captioning the videos are not available? Common sense would seem to suggest that deleting resources, particularly videos of talks which might be particularly valuable to some people, is not a great way of enhancing accessibility!
The BS 8878 Web Accessibility Code of Practise, which is summarised by Jonathan Hassell, the BS 8878 editor, on his Hassell Inclusion blog ( http://bit.ly/ugpXgp ) provides an agreed mechanism which allows guidelines such as WCAG to be used when they are fit for purpose.
The value of this approach is that it understands the importance of the context of usage.
In the past, criticisms of WAI’s limitations were met by the response of “WAI may be flawed, but there is no alternative”. We are now in a position whereby there is an alternative approach, which has been developed not as a competitor to WCAG, but as an overarching framework which enables the balanced application of guidelines such as WCAG.
The development of web services and web applications is a process. Accessibility considerations therefore need to be built into the everyday practices across the full web development life-cycle, from conception and specification through development to delivery and maintenance. BS 8878 has been developed to document the key stages in the life-cycle.
Section 6 is the core of the standard. It makes recommendations for accessibility being addressed across a 16- step model of the web product development and maintenance process (described below). These steps span initial conception and requirements analysis such as defining the target audiences for the web product, and defining the user goals and tasks it needs to provide. (steps 1 to 6); strategic choices based on that research (steps 7 to 11); the decision to procure or develop the web product either in-house or contracted out (step 11); production of the web product (steps 12 and 13); evaluation (step14); the launch, where it will be important to communicate the web product’s accessibility decisions (step 15); and post- launch maintenance (step 16).
Overall, users’ experiences are pre-eminent in assessing the accessibility of any web resource. This follows from the understanding of accessibility as a property of the relationship between the users and the resource, and that context is important. In seeking to ensure good experiences for disabled people in interacting with web resources, it is essential to consider their needs throughout the development cycle, and the value of systems that collect and respond to user-provided feedback on accessibility, in their own terms.
NOTE: Article edited from a paper by Brian Kelly (University of Bath), Martyn Cooper (Open University), David Sloan (Dundee University), and Sarah Lewthwaite (King’s College London) in a series exploring best practices for enhancing accessibility of online services ( http://bit.ly/Laov ). Kelly is also co-author of ‘A Challenge to Web Accessibility Metrics and Guidelines: Putting People and Processes First’ ( http://bit.ly/KgyDZz ), presented at accessibility workshop W4A 2012.
And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=719
[Section Three ends].
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[Special notice ends].
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[Issue 148 ends].