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++Section One: News.
+01: Accessible Copyright Treaty Hits New Roadblock.
The World Blind Union (WBU) has reacted angrily to a new setback to long-running work on an international copyright treaty which could improve access to accessible books for blind and visually impaired people.
The union has been a key negotiator in talks at the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) which have been going on for almost five years. Following the latest round of talks from 18-20 April in Geneva, the WBU released a statement saying the discussions “devoted almost no time to insuring that the treaty will encourage the cross border sharing of desperately needed books for the blind”, concentrating instead on protecting the rights of existing copyright holders.
One of the main areas the WBU has been trying to negotiate is for exceptions in copyright laws which govern the sharing between countries, which would allow easier access to accessible versions of books and other materials.
When a “roadmap” for formalising a treaty was approved in October last year, WBU Vice Chair Dan Pescod had told E- Access Bulletin it signalled the “finish line” in sight. However, Pescod also warned against the creation of a “trophy treaty” which would have little or no use in allowing books to be shared more easily (see E-Access Bulletin 152: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=776 )
This threat now seems to be growing. In a statement about the meeting, Fred Schroeder, First Vice President of the World Blind Union, said: “WBU is alarmed that some of the negotiators have focused their efforts almost exclusively on crafting language around copyright protections that have nothing to do with the ability of authorised entities to produce books for the blind and visually impaired.” A two-week diplomatic conference will now take in place in Morocco in June to finalise the wording of the treaty and discuss how it will be implemented. The latest draft can be viewed in PDF from the links below.
Treaty draft – short link in PDF: http://bit.ly/17evViL
Treaty draft – full link in PDF: http://www.ip- watch.org/weblog/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Draft-text- SCCR-VIP-20-April-2013.pdf
And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=861
+02: Great Expectations Of E-Book Access Demonstrations.
Accessibility is “rising up the agenda” of the publishing industry as awareness grows of the value of helping people access electronic books in multiple formats, a publishing standards body said this month.
The statement came following a live demonstration of accessible readings from “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens at the London Book Fair in an event organised by the Royal National Institute of Blind People, the Publishers Licensing Society and EDitEUR – the trade standards body for the global book industry.
Technologies demonstrated live included font size adjustment on the Kindle e-reader; a text-to-speech reader; and use of an iPod to produce both text-to-speech and a Braille output linked to a Bluetooth Braille display.
Helen Gunesekera, Media Development Officer (Publishing and Reading) at RNIB, told E-Access Bulletin said the live Braille display demonstration in particular struck a chord with the audience. “Being able to see the Braille display in action really caught the imagination of people in the audience, few of whom were aware that this was technically possible,” Gunesekera said.
Speaking to E-Access Bulletin after the event Mark Bide, Executive Director of EDItEUR, said accessibility is “rising up the agenda” in the publishing industry. He said there are now good levels of compliance with a 2010 recommendation by the Publishers Association that text-to-speech be routinely enabled on all e-books across all platforms, except where there is an audiobook edition commercially available.
“It’s not at the top of the agenda but things have improved enormously over the last four or five years. There is a recognition that there are a number of very good reasons for making e-books accessible, one of which is market-driven: by bringing what has previously been a very specialist activity to the mainstream, you actually increase the overall market.”
Bide said progress was founded on the Joint Statement on Accessibility ( http://bit.ly/12IZBUl ), a pledge issued by the Publishers Association in April 2012, asking for sector-wide support across the publishing industry to improve e-book accessibility (see E-Access Bulletin, issue 147: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=714 ).
And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=858
+03: Location Networking Aims To Help Disabled Peopleconnect.
A free smartphone app that can help disabled people find and connect with others in their community and request social support has been launched in the UK.
MiFinder combines elements of social networking platforms with GPS satellite location, allowing users to engage and potentially meet with people nearby them who share similar interests. The app has a range of potential uses – including dating – but is unusual in promoting its use for social support, its owner says.
Users create a profile on the app and can choose to input personal information, including whether they consider themselves disabled. Users then write a short description of why they are using the app – for dating, to make new friends, or to find social support if they feel isolated – and the kind of people they hope to connect with. The app then shows where other MiFinder users with similar profiles are located, including those who may be in the same area at the same time. Users can switch off their precise location if they do not feel comfortable disclosing it to others.
MiFinder founder and CEO Gabriel Saclain told E-Access Bulletin that he hopes that eventually, if enough users join, the app will provide a unique means of engagement for people who may be isolated and lack the opportunity to meet others near where they live.
“I did know of other location-based apps which were much more focused on dating and things like that, but I felt there was a need for something which was much more community- focused, that allows people to get to know other people in real- time, using GPS”, Saclain said.
As well as allowing users to build up social connections and engage with similar communities nearby, MiFinder will be developed to give support groups – such as organisations that offer support to disabled people, for example – a real-time presence, he said.
Short link to MiFinder: http://bit.ly/ZAdfnj
Full link to MiFinder: http://www.mifinderapp.com/page/mifinder/8/
And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=856
++News in Brief:
+04: Cynthia Waddell:
A wave of tributes has followed the sad death in April of accessible web design pioneer Cynthia Waddell, who will be deeply missed by the world technology community. Waddell contributed hugely to advancing the cause of IT equality for disabled people in the US, writing the country’s first accessible web design standard in 1995. These paved the way for Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards legislation, known as Section 508, which used the public procurement process to have a huge impact on how technology companies design their products and services. Cynthia also founded and was executive director of the International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet, which under her leadership has tirelessly championed universal design and equal opportunities:
Short link: http://bit.ly/ZBg47H
Full link: http://itu4u.wordpress.com/2013/04/05/accessibility- loses-a-great-champion/
+Sister Company Natwest, Are The Latest To Commit To Introducing “Talking Atms” To Help Blind And Visually Impaired Customers Operate Their Network Of Cash Machines Around The Uk. Around 80% Of Rbs And Natwest’S 4,800 Atms Will Be Speech-Enabled, With Work Beginning In Early 2014 And Concluding By The End Of 2015, Following A Long-Running Campaign From The Royal National Institute Of Blind People (Rnib). Six Other Financial Services And Cash Machine Companies – Barclays, Lloyds, Nationwide, Link, Co- Operative And Visa – Have Also Signed Up To The Campaign:
Short link: http://bit.ly/17r3jkD
Full link: http://www.rnib.org.uk/getinvolved/campaign/yourmoney/cash machine/Pages/ATM_Latestnews.aspx
+06: Travel Prize:
Transport for London (TfL) have launched a competition to find an app that relays real-time travel information in formats accessible for disabled or elderly users. Anyone is free to enter and develop an app, and the winner will receive up to £5,000. The competition is being run in association with the One Voice for Accessible ICT Coalition, and the deadline for entries is 30 August:
Short link: http://bit.ly/12pRR9B
[Section One ends].
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++Section Two: 'The Inbox'- Readers' Forum.
Please email all contributions or responses to: firstname.lastname@example.org .
+07: Visible Speech:
Keith Paterson, a volunteer web trainer for older people, posted onto our website following last issue’s piece on training courses for blind and visually impaired people on the “Georgie” package of smartphone apps that can help with communication.
His comment relates to his own imaginative idea about possible new digital technologies to help people with impaired hearing, building beyond the world of mobile apps to Google glasses.
“I have good vision but my hearing is almost gone”, Paterson writes. “Fortunately I have a cochlear implant which is a tremendous help. However it is very surprising to me that I have yet to see a proposal for Google glasses to be used in connection with speech recognition so I can SEE what people are saying.
“With a billion hard-of-hearing people worldwide there is a great need for this and it is something I have been pushing for over ten years. Speech recognition on things like this iPad I use has come on tremendously, so it is just a question of time before Google or someone catches on. But the glasses are more likely to sell to gadget freaks who want to show off or watch the sport while walking around!”
+08: QUAIL Concerns:
Following the piece in our last issue “Web Content Accessibility Checker Pitched At Wider Audience”, which described an updated version of free web content accessibility checker QUAIL ( http://quailjs.org/ ), reader Steve Faulkner posted onto our website with some concerns.
“While the concept of QUAIL is interesting, the default guideline set contains a significant amount of tests that are out of date or incorrect, which may lead developers into unnecessary code additions or additions that do not have the desired benefit”, Faulkner said.
“Until the default set of tests match reality QUAIL should be treated with extreme caution.”
However, Steve’s comment prompted a further reassuring response from Mike Gifford, President of Canadian open source web development group OpenConcept.
“This [QUAIL] is a great project, because it is open source”, Gifford said. “It does take a while to build and maintain any test. Folks should consider adding to the issue queue if they find tests that are insufficient: https://github.com/kevee/quail/issues
“It’s a great start to get content editors more aware of the accessibility challenges of their work. No automated tool will catch everything though.”
[Section Two ends].
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Section Three: Profile - Erik Weihenmayer, Adventurer.
+09: Scaling The Heights Of Possibility.
Erik Weihenmayer has climbed Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain, and descended Mount Elbrus, the highest peak in Europe, skiing to base camp. Now he is preparing to ride the rapids of the Grand Canyon’s Colorado River in a kayak. Extreme sports always offer extreme challenges, but for Weihenmayer, the level of difficulty is different: he is blind, after contracting retinoschisis at the age of three.
Weihenmayer, 44, an American of German origin, lost his sight gradually until his eyes were removed as a teenager and as a young man, to be replaced with prosthetics. “I was not afraid of going blind, but of ending up marginalised,” he told Lukas Eberle, a writer at the German newspaper “Der Spiegel”. “Sometimes it’s frustrating, it’s a daily struggle with yourself and with your limitations that you would almost pull out your hair,” said Weihenmayer.
After graduating with honours he took a teaching job, but soon decided the quiet life was not for him.
“At the end of the 90s I decided to take the plunge and to devote myself to sports”, Weihenmayer says. He began by climbing Mount McKinley, the highest mountain in North America, then Kilimanjaro. But that wasn’t enough; nothing seemed to satisfy his desire to prove to himself and to others his ability to achieve what seemed to be impossible. Accompanied by a helper, he went to Vietnam with a mountain bike tandem, and rode across the country for 1,740 km.
Today Weihenmayer relates his exploits at meetings and conferences where tens of thousands of people come to listen. He is in demand everywhere, from his native US to Hong Kong, Thailand, Chile and Germany.
“There are some days in your life when everything is as difficult as if you were blind and had to climb a mountain”, he says. “But you must not be defeated by those days. They can transform you into pioneers, they can make you turn lead into gold”. Weihenmayer earns a good living as a lay preacher of the courage to live: only Bill Clinton and a few other speakers are paid more than him.
His most extreme adventure was climbing Mount Everest, the roof of the world. Erik’s Nepalese Sherpas, seeing him move easily and nimbly, could not believe that he was blind. They tried to gently take away the snow and the ice from his face to check if he could see, and in the end he had to take out one of his artificial eyes and show them his empty orbit to persuade them.
Being a sightless champion of extreme sports is tough. Weihenmayer has developed some personal techniques and systems: when climbing a mountain, he wears special sunglasses with an integrated minicam, transmitting signals to a sensor. This sensor is connected to his tongue by a cable, and he has learned to use it to recognise the shape of rocks. When skiing or racing, he always has a helper, but he has learned to distinguish between each type of soil, from sand to asphalt, by the sound of his footsteps and the surrounding noises.
“I partially put my life in the hands of others, of those who accompany me; only sport can give me this special feeling of confidence”, he says. “When I am on a mountain, or in the most remote places, I take a great delight in this feeling, as I cannot see the splendid views around me.”
Weihenmayer has founded a charity, “Soldiers to Summits”, which organises climbing groups with veterans from Iran or Afghanistan, some of whom are blind, have lost their limbs or experienced severe trauma. He gives them back the extreme but normal sensations of life by climbing mountains from Nepal to Ecuador.
Now, for his latest feat in the Grand Canyon, Weihenmayer is being trained by US Olympic canoeist Casey Eichfeld. “I help him to control his feelings and nerves while going down with the kayak,” Eichfeld says, but when asked if he would ever come down the rapids of the Colorado blindfolded, the Olympian is clear. “Absolutely not. Never!”
NOTE: Article reproduced with permission from the Italian newspaper “La Repubblica”, where it first appeared on 25 February, 2013. Written by Andrea Tarquini and translated for E-Access Bulletin by Margherita Giordano. Our thanks to Margherita.
And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=853
[Section Three ends].
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[Issue 157 ends].