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++Section One: News.
+01: Bcs To Tackle ‘Unconscious Bias’ Against Disabled Itjob Applicants
Training to tackle “unconscious bias” against disabled job applicants by recruitment staff at IT firms has been launched by BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT.
The institute is to receive £18,000 of funding from Royal Academy of Engineering to support bias training after signing up to the academy’s Engineering Diversity Concordat ( http://www.raeng.org.uk/about/diversity/resources/eng_div_con cordat.htm ). The training is aimed at tackling unconscious bias affecting disability, race, sexual orientation, age, obesity and gender.
About 300 BCS specialist group and branch committee members will be trained initially by the end of 2015, with the intention of ensuring those key individuals spread the learning more widely throughout the institute’s membership.
“We are hard-wired to prefer people who look like us, sound like us and share our interests”, Rebecca George, chair of the BCS policy and public affairs board, told E-Access Bulletin this week.
“Unconscious biases are simply our natural people preferences but this can lead to us making poor decisions, particularly around recruitment. It means that we are less likely to recruit people who do not look or sound like us, and this can lead to a workforce which doesn’t fully represent the demographics of society.”
Examples of action to tackle bias include removing names and photos from CVs and training interviewers in guarding against unconscious bias, George said.
“The first step is to help individuals become aware of their own unconscious bias which can be done through self- assessment”, she said. “Our aim is to raise awareness of unconscious bias through research, case studies and explanations of what it is, as well explaining the gap between explicit and implicit bias.”
To illustrate the urgency of the IT profession’s need for such traning, George quoted diversity analyst Tinu Cornish, a psychologist at consultancy Different With Difference, who has said: “At the current rate of change it will be 2080 before we elect a representative government, 2085 before we close the gender pay gap, and probably never before we close the disability employment gap”.
NOTE: Comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=983 .
+02: European Parliament Urges Stronger Public Web Access Law.
Members of the European Parliament have voted by a huge majority to beef up a proposed European Directive on the Accessibility of Public Sector Bodies’ Websites.
This week MEPs backed a move by 593 votes to 40, with 13 abstentions, to require EU member states to ensure all public websites are fully accessible, not just those in 12 categories proposed by the European Commission such as social security benefits and enrolment in higher education (see bit.ly/1jF3j99 ).
The parliament also wants the new rules to apply to websites run by private firms performing public tasks, such as energy utility companies and companies providing outsourced public services such as transport or health care.
According to the Parliament’s plan, an optional exemption would be included in the private sector condition for small businesses, however. This would mean companies employing up to 12 people could be exempted from the new law if member states wish. MEPs have proposed giving member states one year to comply with the rules for new content and three years for all existing content, with a further two years for live audio content.
The vote constitutes the European Parliament’s first reading of the proposed directive. The EU Council of Ministers, made up of government ministers from all member states, may now accept, reject or adapt the recommendations, for further subsequent discussion with Parliament.
In a statement following this week’s vote the European Blind Union, an umbrella group of blidness associations from 43 countries including the RNIB in the UK, welcomed “ the strong message sent by the European Parliament to EU governments”.
However it urged rapid action – “within days” – by the current Greek Presidency of the EU to schedule meetings to discuss the directive, something it says is currently not planned other than in general terms.
“It is not enough for the Greek Presidency to have this directive on their ‘to do' list”, EBU President Wolfgang Angermann said in the statement. “If the presidency refuses to organise a meeting to discuss the directive with member states then they are effectively blocking the legislative process.
“When 92% of MEPs are calling for action, we believe that council members should listen and engage… Failure to act will delay new rules for many months and therefore be hugely detrimental for the 30 million blind and partially sighted EU citizens who struggle to access information and services online”, Angermann said. “People with sight loss have been shut out of the online world for far too long.”
NOTE: Comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=986
+03: Audio Interaction For 'Swype' Virtual Keyboard App
The popular ‘Swype’ virtual keyboard app for Android smartphones, designed to allow users to type more quickly and effectively, has introduced audio accessibility features to its latest version in a move which will benefit users with impaired vision.
Users of the standard ‘Swype’ app type words by sliding a finger across a virtual keyboard in a continuous motion, beginning at the first letter and pausing briefly at each letter they want to include, before lifting their finger at the end of each word. The app then predicts the word, and correction features help the process.
In the latest version of Swype, users can activate it to work with Android’s ‘TalkBack’ and ‘Explore by Touch’ accessibility features so that individual letters and words are spoken out loud to users as they slide their fingers across the virtual keyboard.
Working in this ‘TalkBack’ mode also enables audio versions of the predictive text and correction features. For example, depending on what letters of a word have already been written, users can move their fingers to the top of the smartphone screen and scroll through lists of words suggested and spoken by Swype, navigated using circular finger motions.
Similarly, Swype suggests words to the user depending on what has been written, and will learn to recognise common choices. Other app navigation, such as switching to the symbols and punctuation menu, can also be managed using audio prompts.
The latest version of Swype also uses Dragon Dictation speech- recognition software to allow users to dictate text to the app rather than type. Swype can be purchased for a few pounds through the Google Play platform or Amazon Appstore.
NOTE: Comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=988 .
++News in Brief:
+04: Inclusion Price-tag:
The cost of ensuring every adult in the UK has basic digital skills by 2020 – including the ability to use email, browse the web and use online shopping and government services – would be £875 million, a new report estimates. The study, published by national digital inclusion bodies the Tinder Foundation and Go ON UK, covers all 11 million adults who currently lack such skills, including people with disabilities. It urges government, the private and voluntary sectors to work together to cover the training costs, which it says are needed on top of all current planned activity in this field. The report estimates the cost of training for each person will range from £47 up to £319 depending on various factors including disability: http://www.tinderfoundation.org/nation2020
+05: Collaboration Crew:
An online community to enable people working across all sectors to collaborate on projects to help mobile technology make a positive impact in the lives of older people and people with disabilities was launched this month. Get Tech Collaboration Crew is a project of community interest company the You Can Hub and was founded by social technology innovators Mel Findlater and Adam Gill. The project is inviting everyone from app developers to usability experts, social entrepreneurs, the older community and the disability community to come together and share ideas. For invitations to online and offline discussions, sign up at: http://www.get-tech.org
+06: Training Appeal:
The Fix the Web project – a service which allows anyone to report accessibility problems with websites, and recruits volunteers to liaise with site developers to fix them – is launching an appeal for information on accessibility training resources. The project has invited E- Access Bulletin readers to email in information about training courses, tutorials, useful sites, articles and blogs on accessibility training, both technical and non-technical. Please send ideas with a brief note and a web link where possible to accessibility consultant and Fix the Web project partner Graham Armfield, on: firstname.lastname@example.org and for more information on Fix The Web, see: http://www.fixtheweb.net
[Section One ends].
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++Section Two: 'The Inbox'- Readers' Forum.
+07: Eye Support:
Two readers wrote in to respond to last issue’s request for information on retina software to navigate an iPad, sent in by Alick Mackenzie of Enabled City (www.enabledcity.com) to help the father of a friend who has multiple sclerosis.
Gary Derwent, joint head of assistive and rehabilitation technology at the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability, wrote in to say: “The funding situation for eye-gaze technology in the NHS in England is very tricky right now. Some parts of the contry can get some funding and others cannot.
“We hope things will be better from the start of April, but right now we don't know for sure. There is a lot of politics and commissioning activity going on right now and the outcome remains uncertain.”
Health data accessibility campaigner Howard Leicester adds a little more detail to this analysis. He says: “Variations on funding are due to local politics; potentially competing calls on limited funds; and guiding documents (such as Joint Strategic Needs Assessments) which cover local population health and social needs, but often ignore the scale and characteristics of disability requirements.
“Extra-specialist services are not commissioned by Clinical Commissioning Groups led by GPs or by councils, but (I believe) directly by NHS England. Specialist services are grouped around Clinical Reference Groups (CRGS), with services commissioned and delivered in regional areas across England.
“Assistive technologies such as eye-gaze technology is covered under the group serving trauma patients, Group D, Howard says. Information can be found online under the heading ‘Complex disability equipment - Alternative/Augmentative communications technology’ at: http://www.england.nhs.uk/ourwork/commissioning/spec- services/npc-crg/group-d/d01/
“I don't think there are any details of what's provided, but you can see who's broadly responsible”, he says. “Note that reps are still being recruited for this CRG and its sub-components.”
Readers should please send any further comments in this field to: email@example.com .
+08: Strings Attached?
Our regular correspondent Brian Gaff, from the Kingston upon Thames Association for the Blind, writes in to comment on the news we reported last issue that software developer GW Micro had reached a deal with Microsoft to give away its Window-Eyes screen reader software for free.
“I feel [the Window-Eyes offer] is not as good as it sounds”, Brian writes. “When people want a screenreader, they often try them out and decide on what is best for them. Now we have Microsoft saying ‘this one is free if you pay for our Office package’, so lots of people will make do with it, and not try the others.”
He writes that it is also unfair to bundle together mentions of the two free screenreaders Thunder and NVDA, since NVDA is has been more extensively developed than Thunder. “NVDA now supports touch in Windows 8, and has better support for many other programs, and a team of add on writers making it work with other software.
“So really NVDA still has many things to make it worthwhile. Additionally of course, not everyone can afford Microsoft Office in the first place, and work between [free open source office software] LibreOffice, Open Office and NVDA teams are gradually cracking this.
“Incidentally, You mentioned in your piece, the voice synthesiser Eloquence. As far as I am aware, this is now only bundled with [certain commercial] products. It is not available to buy. It would be great if someone outside could investigate the situation here. I personally find the voice sounds like a person with a clothes peg on their nose, but many do like it.”
Further comments please to: firstname.lastname@example.org .
+09: Shared Spaces:
The same reader, Brian Gaff, adds a request for comments on a separate topic, to which our readers may like to respond. He asks if modern consumer satellite location technologies (GPS) are now accurate enough to keep blind people safe in shared or partially shared outdoor streets or areas – partly pedestrianised areas where cars can pass through, and where there are no tactile indications of the safe areas.
“So on a street, usually a shopping street, where there are no kerbs, but cars are only allowed between lines, could GPS be used to warn a blind person that they are about to go into the shared area?
“I suspect not, but it was a suggestion brought up by a traffic engineer of our council the other day. Presumably he did not want to have to dig up his pretty street to put in tactile chevrons or whatever.”
Responses please to email@example.com .
[Section Two ends].
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++Section Three: OpinionTechnical support.
+10: Escaping The Mousetrapby Clive Lever.
Heard the one about the technological mousetrap?
No, not the play which has been running in the West End since the 1950s: it’s the situation that has trapped people who navigate computers using just the keyboard –not the mouse – for far too long. It’s time to solve this case.
The pace of technology change in the work place is growing ever faster, and wherever there are changes, there are inevitably teething troubles. These in turn drive up the need for people to call their technology help desks when things go wrong, or when it’s not obvious how to change software settings.
Whatever the reason for contacting them, the majority of support engineers can answer the query for mouse users in about ten seconds flat. However, when the caller says they need to perform the action using only the keyboard shortcuts, more often than not the engineer runs off to find who knows something about this, and the caller is put on hold.
When the support officer returns, his or her next gambit generally begins with the dreaded “unfortunately”, and ends with a call being logged to have the problem looked into. What happens next is someone usually emails you back the following day with the answer you would have got instantly if you had been a mouse user.
It may not be possible to consider training all IT support engineers to be experts in the detailed use of keystrokes, or in meeting the needs of people who use access technology. It would ease the frustration of those people though, if at least one member of every support team could be trained in access technology awareness and in using a computer without touching the mouse, so that we don’t risk having to wait for a day or so to get answers that would ordinarily be on hand during the first call we make.
It would also be useful if all IT support engineers setting up new software for people who do not use a mouse at least know where keyboard shortcut lists can be found on the system – by use of keystrokes.
They also need to know, at the very least, how letters are highlighted to indicate what keystrokes will perform the operation. It would even help if all IT support engineers knew that, for example, you can jump to icons on your desktop, or files in a tree structure, by typing in the first part of the names of the items. It would appear that even this is often fresh news to some technicians. So, it is so much easier to find items on your desktop named “Word”, “Excel”, “Access” “Outlook”, than it is to deal with them when all of their names have the default prefix ‘Microsoft’, because the system administrators do not know that this can be unhelpful.
One way or another, the matter of supporting non-mouse users in the workplace needs to be addressed, or we risk having a two-tier system of support, where mouse users get instant help, and non-mouse users are trapped in a slow lane of tech support.
Support query systems could even be structured so that access- related calls automatically go to the top of the queue.
Either way, IT departments need to capture and make available knowledge of the experience of working without a mouse as they acquire it, so non-mouse users are not forced to wait unnecessarily for service while technicians go off and re-learn what should already be known.
That is the technological mousetrap: and it is time to break free.
NOTE: Clive Clive Lever is a local government diversity and equality officer. Views stated here are his own.
Comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=992 .
[Section Three ends].
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[Issue 165 ends].