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++Section One: News.
+01: Uk Ignoring British Sign Language Video Technology, Analyst Warns.
Most British companies and government departments are ignoring new ways of offering video links to British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters because they misunderstand the value of this to deaf customers, a leading practitioner has told E-Access Bulletin.
Jeff McWhinney, chair of social enterprise SignVideo ( http://www.signvideo.co.uk ), was speaking following the launch of a trial service by the broadcaster Sky, allowing deaf customers to contact the company’s customer services team using SignVideo interpreters based in London and Edinburgh.
The cloud-based service – run through Sky’s Accessibility website ( http://www.sky.com/accessibility ) – facilitates the call between a member of Sky’s Accessible Customer Services team and the company’s customers, who use their own webcam.
However, use of such services by major firms is all-too rare in the UK despite advances in technology, McWhinney said, due to basic misunderstandings about the need to offer them. “The technology has been around for some time now, but there are a lot of misunderstandings about sign language”, he said. “Most people think sign language is a visual form of English, but that is not the case: it is actually a different language. Its grammar and syntax are nothing like English. Sign language is actually closer to languages in India in terms of word order, for instance.”
That misunderstanding creates a lot of barriers because companies usually just say that deaf customers don’t need to sign, they can just send an email, McWhinney said. The problem is, the average deaf person has a low reading age, so in email exchanges there will be misunderstandings, he said. “But when deaf people are able to use sign video as first language, they can express themselves confidently.”
Sky is the only major broadcaster outside America to use this service, McWhinney said, though one or two other UK firms such as BT and Lloyds Bank have used it. “It is crucial for financial industry: in the past, deaf people had to ask their neighbours and friends to phone in for them, and you can imagine the security consequences of asking your neighbour to call the bank for you.”
Around 40 UK local authorities also use the service, he said, in a similar way to offering telephone language interpreter services to customers with other spoken languages such as Polish or Hindi. But no central government body is using SignVideo, McWhinney said, despite many such as HM Revenue & Customs being huge, customer-facing organisations.
“I have major frustrations with HMRC: they refuse to speak to me via a third party. On three occasions I have been fined £100 for not filing a tax return on time due to confusion over my password, and I couldn’t phone them, I had to write to them and of course this meant the deadline was passed. All three times I have had my fine refunded because it was obviously not my fault, but all this just adds more bureaucracy.”
McWhinney said Sky has a good track record with deaf people who use BSL, as one of the main funders for the BSL Broadcasting Trust which produces independent content presented in sign language for the Community Channel on Sky, Virgin Media, Freeview and BT Vision services.
NOTE: You can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=941
+02: Access To The Internet By Older People And Mobile Tips At Heart Of E-Access 13.
Access to the internet in homes for the elderly and developing inclusive services on smartphones and tablet computers are among topics on the agenda at e-Access 13, the UK’s leading event on access to technology by people with disabilities.
Delegates will hear about the Connecting Care project, looking at how care homes for older people can make the most of new technology to support their organisation, carers and service users. The project is run by Lasa, a technology support group for charities and public sector bodies, with funding from the Department of Health.
Presenters of a mobile inclusion workshop include Shadi Abou-Zahra of the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI).
Mobile platforms such as iOS, Android, and Windows are rapidly evolving with richer and more robust accessibility features and support, giving developers more ways to create accessible mobile web applications, Abou-Zahra will say. His workshop – co-presented with Jon Gibbins of Dotjay consulting – will cover the accessibility features available on the major mobile platforms and suggest strategies for integrating accessibility into mobile projects.
Elsewhere on the agenda, GB Paralympics star Hannah Cockroft MBE, winner of two gold medals at London 2012, will help explore the ‘Paralympics effect’, focusing on how increased public awareness of disability issues after the 2012 Paralympic Games can be used to maximum benefit.
Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative industries Ed Vaizey will update delegates on how the government is addressing accessibility, and other speakers will cover a wide range of topics, including: user-testing of websites by people with disabilities; e-book accessibility; and how people can go about securing senior management support for digital inclusion strategies.
The event, hosted by E-Access Bulletin publishers Headstar in association with the One Voice for Accessible ICT Coalition, is held in central London on 31 October. For more information and to secure your place, visit: http://www.headstar.com/eaccess13/
NOTE: You can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=944
+03: ‘3d Search Engine’ Tested By Blind Tokyo Schoolchildren.
A voice-activated machine combining web search engine technology with 3D printing is giving visually impaired school children in Tokyo the chance to experiment with what could be a glimpse into the future for the creation of live tactile teaching aids.
Called the ‘Hands On Search’, users speak the name of an object into the machine which then searches the internet for modelling data. The 3D printer then creates a miniature model of it, using materials such as plastic, carbon and metal. If the machine cannot find enough modelling data, a request for the data will be posted onto the Hands On Search public website.
Developed by Yahoo! Japan and Tokyo creative agency Hakuhodo Kettle, the Hands On Search device is currently on free loan to the Special Needs Education School for the Visually Impaired, a laboratory school of the University of Tsukuba.
The aim is to allow children who cannot search the internet conventionally an opportunity to experience the results of web searches through touch, as opposed to vision. A video by Yahoo! Japan shows the machine printing out small models of items whose names children have spoken into the machine, such as a giraffe, dinosaur and the Tokyo Skytree, a landmark building in the city.
Yahoo! Japan plan to donate Hands On Search to an organisation at the end of October, though it has not been decided who will receive it. There are currently no plans to make a commercial version of Hands On Search, the company has said.
NOTE: You can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=946
++News in Brief:
+04: Digital benefits:
A guide detailing the benefits that the internet can offer to older people has been published online by price comparison service Choose.net. Using research from charity Age UK, the government, think-tanks and other organisations, the guide explores the benefits that going online can offer to older people, including financial management; independence; and reducing social isolation:
Short link: http://bit.ly/VZP7Nv
+05: Guiding Resource:
A website has been launched by the Prevent Blindness America organisation aimed at helping people with sight loss in all aspects of their lives, ‘Living well with low vision’. The site includes a self-help guide for people experiencing low vision; links to and resources from more than 1,500 organisations, services and other websites; and a free online handbook to help people caring for someone with a visual impairment:
Short link: http://bit.ly/1d86x12
Full link: http://lowvision.preventblindness.org/
+06: Leaders’ Vote:
Adrian Goodall, senior eAccessibility policy advisor at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, has been nominated in the Digital Leaders 50 awards, which recognise innovation and achievement in the digital sector. Goodall – who has helped E-Access Bulletin publishers Headstar develop our eAccess conference over the years – is among several nominees linked with access to technology by people with disabilities. Others include Ed Vaizey MP, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, in whose office Goodall works – nominated in the politicians category – and charity AbilityNet, nominated among non-governmental organisations. E-Access Bulletin readers are encouraged to vote for their favourites online:
Short link: http://bit.ly/1g1VYPx
+07: Visual Paralympics:
An “infographic” visual data chart tracing the history and evolution of the Paralympic Games from its beginnings in the nineteenth century up to the 2012 London Paralympics has been released by a US-based website aimed at people working in special needs education. ‘Pathway to the Paralympics’ features historical facts and figures about the games, such as data on the growing number of female Paralympians and the identity of the most decorated athlete in the history of the games, who won 55 medals, 41 of them gold. What is her name? Find out at:
Short link: http://bit.ly/1734khY
[Section One ends].
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++Section Two: Opinion- Web Accessibility
+08: One Million Steps:
Boosting Access Awareness, One Website at a Time. By Robin Christopherson
Recent research shows that the great majority of websites are still failing consistently to comply with even the lowest priority checkpoints of the accessibility guidelines set out by the international web standards body the World Wide Web Consortium. Despite a plethora of initiatives to raise awareness of this issue, from Citizens Online’s ‘Fix the Web’ campaign to Global Accessibility Awareness Day, the situation does not seem to be improving at a significant rate.
Little wonder, therefore, that one in six of us is still reluctant to venture into the online world and not surprising either that around half of those on the wrong side of the digital divide are disabled, and a similar number are aged 65 or over. The scope for mainstream technologies to transform the lives of this sizeable minority seems largely untapped.
It is ironic that in this divided digital economy, the UK public sector – both local and central government – is now heavily promoting the elusive ‘channel shift’ – a switch from dealing with citizens by phone, post or face-to-face, to digital channels. This, we are told, is the holy grail of efficient modern public services.
But the truth is that in this same new digital world, some eight million UK citizens without full access to the online environment due to age, disability or economic situation could become progressively disenfranchised, economically, socially and even politically.
But there is a glimmer of hope. Just in time, it appears that technology has an emergent property – that of inclusivity. Mainstream devices are actually getting increasingly user-friendly for disabled and older people as design becomes more inclusive for all of us. And prices are dropping too as these products become more ubiquitous.
In the past, disabled people became accustomed to living in a ‘ghetto’ of specialist, bespoke products with prohibitive price tags that few could afford. But all of that specialist functionality and much, much more can now be supplied for a fraction of the cost by smartphones or tablets, using mass market applications and not expensively produced bespoke software. With the addition of inexpensive peripherals such as Bluetooth keyboards or switching devices, almost anyone’s needs can be served.
The trick is to know how to make the necessary adjustments in their operating systems and functions to make them more disability friendly and accommodate your own specific requirements.
AbilityNet’s contribution to solving this problem is “My Computer, My Way”, an online resource to which any website can link for free. It’s already embedded in various high profile sites such as Samsung, Barclays, Sky and NHS Choices, and now the charity has set itself the target of ensuring one million websites are linked to the tool.
Designed to help those who struggle at the digital interface (with a vision or hearing impairment, difficulties in operating keyboard and mouse; or simply reading and spelling), a link to My Computer My Way from a website’s accessibility page helps to equip users with the information they need to optimise their experience.
And you don’t have to be disabled to find this tool valuable. Have you tried to use your tablet device in strong sunlight? Wouldn’t it be easier to see what’s on the screen if you knew how to adjust the brightness?
It explains the accessibility features of many operating systems across a wide range of devices including Mac and PC desktops, tablets and smartphones. It now includes details of current desktop versions of Windows and Mac OS X, as well as newly launched versions of Android and iOS. The next version is due out by Christmas 2013 to explain what’s new in Android 4.3 Jellybean and iOS7.
Not only does this mean that end-users will be able to navigate online content more effectively, it also increases the legal compliance of any site as it shows a real commitment to accessibility and digital inclusion.
At AbilityNet we believe that communicating simple messages about accessibility is the most effective way to raise awareness and behaviour. It’s a slow process, but an incremental one, and we remain hopeful that significant progress can be made.
NOTE: Robin Christopherson is Head of Digital Inclusion at AbilityNet.
You can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=948
[Section Two ends].
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[Issue 162 ends].