Access To Technology For All, Regardless Of Ability
- ISSUE 169, June 2014.
A Headstar Publication.
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++Section One: News.
+01: One Voice Launches 2015 Election Pledge Campaign
A campaign urging all UK political parties to add digital accessibility pledges to their 2015 election manifestos has been launched by the One Voice for Accessible ICT Coalition.
The coalition is an umbrella group of organisations from all sectors including Leonard Cheshire Disability; BT; Middlesex University; Business Disability Forum and Barclays Bank.
Its new campaign has two main parts: a direct approach to the political parties and a petition on the open campaigns website '38 Degrees' (https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/building-an-inclusive-society).
It is centred on a call for "all political parties to reaffirm their previously stated goals for equal opportunities and economic growth, by adding a statement to their 2015 election manifestos pledging to improve access by people with disabilities to digital public services, the digital economy and the workplace.
It is vital that action is taken in this field now, to ensure we keep on top of the rising problem of digital discrimination."
In particular, the coalition is asking the main UK parties to pledge if elected to t review of anti-discrimination law to "see if it is fit for purpose in the digital age; and to see how existing laws, guidelines and standards on access to digital goods and services by disabled and older people can be better enforced across all sectors."
In background information published alongside the petition, the coalition notes that the government has already published reasonable accessibility guidelines in its Government Service Design Manual for the Digital by Default Service Standard (https://www.gov.uk/service-manual/user-centred-design/accessibility).
However, it warns: "We are concerned that such messages are still not strongly enough promoted or enforced across the whole of government. And outside central government, in local government and the NHS for example, the pattern of accessibility of digital services is even more patchy.
"It is also a concern that the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which was set up in 2006 with a mandate to "challenge discrimination", has undertaken very little research, issued little guidance and carried out little enforcement work in this vital area. This is a clear indicator that review of anti-discrimination law enforcement in this field is urgently needed."
Andy Heath, a consultant on digital accessibility (http://axelafa.com ) and One Voice council member who is running the petition on behalf of the coalition, told E-Access Bulletin this week: "Technology can serve us all, or if we let it, it can serve only the few. Accessibility of digital information in the UK is not a done deal, its a work in progress.
"I see the support of the next government it as crucial to the progress of inclusion and accessibility in the UK and making a high level manifesto statement would show a commitment to that. We need the policy vision out there in view so all can see, not buried in a dusty filing cabinet. Whether you believe competition between people, organisations and nations, is a good way to go or not, we cannot afford to waste the talents of any of our people by excluding them - for their sakes and ours."
Heath urged all readers of E-Access Bulletin to sign the petition (The petition, Building an Inclusive Society
https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/building-an-inclusive-society), and promote it on social media and through other channels, as the parties enter the final stages of their manifesto-setting processes this summer.
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+02: Accessible Gaming Guidelines Win Us Award
A set of international guidelines to make computer games more accessible to gamers with disabilities has won an award from the US-based Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
The Game Accessibility Guidelines (http://www.gameaccessibilityguidelines.com ) won the intellectual and developmental disabilities category of the annual FCC Chairman's Awards for Advancements in Accessibility.
Launched in 2012, the guidelines were created by an international group of game developers, accessibility specialists and academics and cover six categories of impairment: general, motor, cognitive, vision, hearing and speech, and are divided into three levels of complexity: basic, intermediate and advanced.
Examples of guidelines at different levels of complexity include basic: to provide details of accessibility features on game packaging or website; intermediate: to allow difficulty level to be altered during gameplay; and advanced: to allow settings to be saved to different profiles, at either game or platform level.
Ian Hamilton, an independent user experience designer and consultant from the UK who contributed to the guidelines' development, told E-Access Bulletin: "Having a US government body make such a public statement about the importance of accessible recreation is a great milestone.
"It is recognition that other people are actually listening and paying attention, and they do value the work that various groups of advocates for game accessibility are doing to advance the field."
Since launching in 2012, the guidelines have been constantly developed and updated as a "living document" following feedback from gamers and developers. There is a continual open call to contact the authors, to keep the guidelines as inclusive as possible.
Hamilton said he hopes the FCC award will help bring to prominence what remains a niche area in the field of digital accessibility.
"We've seen some pretty rapid development in the past couple of years, but the industry is still way, way behind others", he said. "Despite the progress that is being made, by far the biggest barrier to accessibility in gaming is just a simple lack of awareness amongst developers. So anything at all that results in more conversation about it is always a fantastic thing."
In an article on the guidelines written in a previous issue of E-Access Bulletin (June 2013 - see http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=891 ), Hamilton wrote that research commissioned in 2008 by US video game developer PopCap ( http://bit.ly/PYsRwl ) found a higher proportion of people with disabilities among gamers than in the general population.
"Games can be a huge contributor to quality of life for people who have limited recreation options, but they also enable access to culture and socialising, and can have therapeutic benefits", the article found. "In multiplayer games and virtual worlds, everyone is able to participate on a level playing field, with players' first impressions of someone being based on how they play the game and what they say, not on any disability they may have."
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+03: Customisable Digital Tube Train Map Wins Design Award
A customisable version of the London Underground map for people with impaired vision has won best transport app in this month's UK Mobile and App Design Awards, hosted by design100 (http://appdesignawards.co.uk/UKAPPS14/entry_details.asp?ID=12734& ;Category_ID=5615).
"Colourblind tube map" was created by digital agency 232 Studios - which also won best small studio - working with accessibility specialist Ian Hamilton, also known for his work on accessible video game guidelines (see previous story, this issue).
The app is based on the official tube map - "it took some tough licensing negotiations to allow that", Hamilton says - and offers combinations of colours and patterns which are easier to read by users with different forms of colourblindness.
Other versions are designed to cater for other vision impairments such as cataracts, loss of contrast sensitivity and myopia, with features including increased contrast; reduced glare; large detailed high-zoom maps; customisable text size; and simple interfaces with no fiddly gestures
The app previously won a Judges' Award in last December's Transport for London (TfL) accessible app awards, with the prize money from this helping ensure it could be made available to both Apple and Android users free of charge, Hamilton told E-Access Bulletin.
"The iconic London underground map is relied on by millions of travellers every day, but its white background, small text and low contrast differences in colour can cause problems for people with many different types of impaired vision", the app's developers say.
"There is a black and white pattern-based map available, but only as a PDF... [but this] is actually left over from the time before colour printing became cheaply available, it isn't actually designed for colour-blindness, so the first enhancement was to produce something that was actually tailored to that audience, that combined colour with pattern to create something ideally suited to people who see in a restricted palette.
"Additionally, due to our past experience working on video magnifier software, another use soon became apparent. A pattern based map is free from being constrained by colour choice, meaning those colours can be altered to suit the preferences of people with a wide range of different vision impairments."
The approach taken to develop the app is an example of the benefits digital technology can bring to all kinds of impairments, the developers say. "The tube map in the station is a physical object that has to compromise to work for as many people as possible, but digital products do not have the same constraints. Interfaces can be customised, the best solution tailored to each individual's need."
The same basic principles are also applicable to all map design, they say, and there has been interest in the project from across the cartography community. "Using symbols and pattern as well as colour, or providing high detail imagery that can in turn support a high level of zoom; these are things that are applicable to all maps."
Other winners of December's TfL accessible app competition included London's Nearest Bus, which helps people find what bus stop they are at and when the next bus will arrive; Station Master, which offers detailed train and station access information for tube and overground lines; and Tube Tracker, an app that uses text-to-speech and high colour contrast to ease access to live journey information.
NOTE: Comment on this story now, on EAB Live:
++News in Brief:
04: Be Resilient: A social enterprise which aims to help young disabled people share advice by telling stories about their lives is appealing for video clips to be used in a pilot TV programme. 'bResilient' is inviting young people (aged 25 or under) with disabilities - working alone or with friends, carers or family - to make video clips of up to three minutes telling stories about experiences connected with the arts or creating artworks. "Whether you have been gripped by reading a compelling novel; collaborated to perform with a disability dance group; are a sculptor who is blind; or just want to speak about a TV programme which has affected you, we would like you to make a short video and send it to us (or send us a link to it)", the organisation says. "We will take the best and edit them into a single programme, with a presenter adding commentary." For more information or to send in your clips, contact James Plummer on:
05: Action Stalled: The forthcoming Italian Presidency of the EU must implement a proposal for a Directive on the Accessibility of Public Sector Bodies' Websites, the European Disability Forum has urged. The forum, an umbrella organisation representing the interests of people with disabilities in Europe, said that despite the proposal being advanced over the past two years by the European Commission and the European Parliament, there has been no further progress in the European Council of Ministers during the last two presidencies of the EU under Lithuania and Greece. A clear political commitment is now needed to ensure rapid progress on the Directive during the Italian Presidency, which begins on 1 July, it said. "EDF regrets that the Greek Presidency failed to take this very important legislation further, and hopes that the forthcoming Italian presidency will treat the web directive as a priority... Non-binding political initiatives failed to make the web accessible for persons with disabilities. That is why this directive must cover all public websites as well as public services provided online, regardless of who owns the website, either it is a public or private entity":
06: Human Factors: Developing digital interfaces for users with cognitive impairments and people with low or no literacy; ICT for an ageing population; and speech intelligibility in mobile networks were among topics addressed by the annual workshop on Human factors in ICT hosted by European technology standards body ETSI this month in Sophia Antipolis, France. ETSI has already achieved a milestone earlier this year with the publication of the first European Standard for accessible ICT (EN 301 549), intended to ensure that publicly procured websites, software, and digital devices are more accessible to persons with the widest range of abilities (see E-Access Bulletin, February 2014 http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=1017 ). Presentations from the June workshop can be found online at:
[Section One ends].
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++Section Two: 'The Inbox'
- Readers' Forum.
+07: Election Glitches:
Our regular correspondent and leading accessibility campaigner from Canada, Donna Jodhan, writes in to describe a recent voting experience following our "access to elections" special issue last month.
"On 12 June I voted in an Ontario Provincial election and whereas my expectation was that I would have had greater access to the voting process, I was disappointed", Donna writes.
"Before 12 June I had seen several commercials on TV where it was stated that the Ontario elections would be accessible in Braille, and I was looking forward to this new feature, but alas! The process was not fully accessible in Braille as had been advertised.
"The staff were extremely helpful and friendly and were very quick on the draw when I asked for a Braille template but here is where the good news ended. The template contained numbers in Braille but there was no Braille list of candidates. Accordingly, the returning officer had to read out the list of names to me and I had to ask her to do this twice as there were five names on the list and I wanted to make sure that I remembered them all along with the corresponding parties that they were representing.
"Everything else went smoothly. I was allowed to vote in secret and to fold my own ballot and place it in the ballot box but there was one last thing for me to report. There was no way for me to verify that I had indeed marked my ballot in the spot that I had wanted.
"A good first effort on the part of [provincial election agency] Elections Ontario, but there is more work to be done and hopefully by the next time an election rolls around, these glitches will have been rectified."
Further comments please to email@example.com .
+08: Unfit Booth:
Our regular correspondent Brian Gaff, from the Kingston upon Thames Association for the Blind, writes in to describe his own recent voting experience, in the UK's recent European Parliamentary elections.
"I seem to be almost unique in my area to still go to a polling station", writes Brian. "It seems that most blind people around here either do a proxy or a postal vote, which is a little sad.
"Normally my borough is quite good at the access stuff, but I found this time all new people were there and the person who helped me did not even know they had to peel the backing off the plastic template, and had difficulty even reading the list in a good way. Still, we got there in the end.
"The booths used are not fit for purpose when you think that the European Parliament ballot paper had 17 parties on it and the booths were basically a circular card table with an X shaped divider, so four small triangular areas were all you had to put the ballot down on. One would have thought by now that at the very least a voting computer with headphones might have been in use!"
Further comments please to firstname.lastname@example.org .
+09: Firefox Additives:
Another story from last month's issue, on accessibility features of the Firefox web browser, is the subject of further comment from Brian Gaff.
"On Firefox, I got the impression that the person you had in the article was mainly interested in partial sighted use", Brian writes. "Due to Firefox being completely devoid of any audio cues, I now always install an add on called 'navigational sounds', which restores the clicks for links, the sounds for alerts and the ding for download completed as in Internet Explorer. This makes it a whole lot easier.
"Another thing which for me at least, is very important, is an advert blocker. Firefox add-ons also has one of those. It's not that I do not want adverts, but it seems to me that increasingly, advert creators screw up the sites they are used on by not making them in a way that agrees with screenreaders, often throwing them into strange parts of the page due to odd graphic and clever animation. It's about time they fixed their errant ways."
Further responses please to email@example.com .
[Section Two ends].
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++Section Three: Digital inclusion:
- Shifting barriers for older people.
+10: Time For A Change
by Ann Bajina.
Why do older people make less use of computers and digital services than younger people?
Of course, there is the perception that they don't want to simply because the digital world is new, but I don't think that is always the reason. There are some real problems with access for older people.
Let's look first at the positives, as an older person myself - recognising that I couldn't do without my laptop now, having resisted buying one for a few years! It's great to be able to stay in touch with relatives and friends without needing to know if they are available to take a phone call, and without the feeling that a letter needs to contain important news. I have had health problems and have needed to report in to my daughter every morning and evening just to reassure her that I am OK. By email it is easy - I don't even need to know if she is up yet! And it's free, whether we are countries apart or next door.
Then mobile phones - what would we do without them now? I take issue with those friends who say they only use them in emergencies and switch them off otherwise - so my question is: so it's only an emergency you have that matters, not one someone else might have?
I understand they do not want to be fiddling with answering the phone in the middle of doing something else, and that's if they can actually find it - which leads to one of the difficulties for older people - hearing it ring in the first place! I think many older people find mobile phones intrusive, not helped by (mostly) younger people chatting at full volume on trains and buses! I haven't any experience yet with smart phones, for reasons I will describe shortly.
Other major positives for older people include remotely controlled burglar alarm systems, alarm systems on a phone to alert someone of health issues, and even for some people, games!
However, there are problems which get worse the older you get. Here are my main gripes.
Touch screens are a nice idea but almost impossible to use if you have shaky hands, and most of us do eventually.
Small devices are a problem as well, as we often can't read the screens. Even this Notebook computer I am using is difficult. It is rarely intuitive finding out how to increase the text size, and then there's no room on the screen without lots of scrolling. I've just found how to do it for this article!
Passwords and PIN numbers - another problem. We're told not to write them down but to have different ones for each application. I couldn't have remembered them if I'd obeyed this rule years ago, now it is impossible. Quite apart from issues such as failing memory, we now have so many.
Then there are constantly changing computer operating systems. I read a letter in the Saga magazine just this morning pleading for fewer of these. It nearly always depends on having some younger techie to explain and implement changes, and not all of us have access to such people. Even after a full career in IT I am seriously out of date and have no confidence in being able to deal with this problem. Associated with this is the cost of getting new hardware and software - many older people can't afford to change even if they wanted to.
Anti-virus systems are an even more complicated example of the above. And a particular irritation is being offered extra features on a trial basis and then not being able to say you don't want them.
Finally, spam is a nuisance for everyone, but it is counter-intuitive to expect older people to avoid putting details say of their email address on a form when asked to do so. We're much less likely to realise when this is risky. This leads to the issue of scare stories and hoaxes - I always advise my friends to check with Snopes.com before opening anything they don't recognise, and never to download anything they don't know about - but they don't know about software upgrades they need either!
In conclusion, there's quite a lot of education needed for my generation who mostly had almost no experience of computers in their working lives. But they are not going to do it - they don't see why they should and in any case, it just makes them recognise how little they know and how much can go wrong! And cost again is a factor.
So, what do we need? Fewer changes; cheaper support networks; clearer instructions on how to increase volume and text size and swap between mouse and touch screen systems; and older people serving in computer shops! And how about bringing back paper copies of manuals- if you don't know how to use your computer, how do you find the help system?
NOTE: Ann Bajina worked for more than 50 years in IT, and is now gratefully retired.
Comment on this story now, on EAB Live:
[Section Three ends].
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[Issue 169 ends].