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++Section One: News.
+01: Collaboration Urged To Boost Access To 'Connected Tv'
Broadcast, online and on-demand TV accessed on "connected TV" sets could be made more accessible if set manufacturers and content providers work together to improve standards, delegates heard at this year's eAccess 15 conference in London (http://www.eaccess-event.com ).
Advances in text-to-speech technology and voice control of sets mean it ought to be possible for all content to be made more accessible to visually impaired people, Richard Moreton, business development manager at Samsung Electronic Research Institute UK, told delegates.
"But to achieve a fully voiced ecosystem for the consumer is very much a collaborative effort", Moreton said. "Content providers, programme makers and broadcasters all need to participate - it's not something just down to TV set makers".
Samsung uses a Linux-based operating system for its TV sets which is being opened up to help content owners offer voice navigation for all kinds of video and TV applications, he said. "We're looking at ways to make the API (application programming interface) which accesses our voice engine available to application writers, so they can tap into the capabilities of our television".
The company has worked on accessibility features with RNIB and the accessibility working group of DTG (Digital TV Group), the body leading collaboration across the digital TV industry, Moreton said. These include text-to-speech access to the electronic programme guide and other menus; the ability to enlarge parts of the screen; high contrast display options; and voice control, "so not only will the TV talk to you, but you can talk to the TV."
New models have expanded text-to-speech access covering all user tasks including set configuration, app navigation and web browsing, he said. Another new feature is that use of the headphone socket no longer mutes the main speakers, "so if you are living in a household where someone can't hear so well. the user with the headphones and the rest of the family can control the volume independently."
With better collaboration on standards, it might also become possible in future to offer greater flexibility in display of subtitles, with the ability to adjust their size, colour and font, Moreton said. However here again, it would require content providers and hardware manufacturers to align standards, he said.
+02: Accessibility Campaign Targets Canadian Government.
A Canadian equality group is urging the country's government to pass a law giving more rights to citizens with disabilities, including better access to technology.
Barrier-Free Canada (BFC - http://barrierfreecanada.org ) is calling for the enactment of a Canadians with Disabilities Act (CDA), a draft of which it has drawn up based on existing disability law in the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Manitoba.
The proposed act centres on 14 core principles, including that it "should apply to all accessibility barriers, for example physical, legal, bureaucratic, information, communication, attitudinal, technological, policy or other barriers". If implemented, the CDA would require providers of good and services to make their products fully accessible through universal design, and employers and organisations to take steps to achieve a workplace free of barriers for those with disabilities.
BFC is chaired by Donna Jodhan, a blind accessibility advocate and author who won a landmark website accessibility case against the Canadian Government in 2012, as reported by E-Access Bulletin: ( http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=770 )
Jodhan told E-Access Bulletin her organisation will be "lobbying all federal parties - as this is an election year - through letter-writing, asking supporters to lobby their MPs, a town hall meeting and social media".
The group has sent letters to the three federal party leaders in Canada, requesting meetings to discuss the CDA. Other national disability organisations pledging their support to the campaign include CNIB - a charitable organisation that helps Canadians with visual impairments - and the Canadian Hearing Society.
+03: Uk Companies 'Need Guidance On Accessibility Law'.
UK companies need better guidance on digital accessibility law to help them understand their duties, according to a report from digital inclusion charity Citizens Online (http://www.citizensonline.org.uk ).
The UK's Equality Act 2010 is one of the furthest-reaching pieces of accessibility law in the world, but to date there has been no case law precedent set, the report finds. There has also been no significant pressure from government on service providers who do not make their websites, mobile apps, software, e-books or digital document formats accessible, it says.
One problem is that the law's requirement for organisations to make "reasonable adjustments" to their digital services is open to interpretation, making it hard to mount a robust legal challenge against a service provider, the report says.
"The law may need further elucidation to make clear what is and is not expected of companies and service providers in terms of compliance with standards and law", it says.
Although national and international accessibility standards, guidelines and policies are well-established, published research suggests at least 80% of websites are still failing to meet minimum requirements for accessibility, the report finds.
"The policy intentions are there, the standards, frameworks and technologies are there, the business case - compelling though not always totally straightforward - has been made. So why are accessibility levels so low? There seems to be little in the way of "teeth" to this issue, no case law precedent yet on web accessibility in the UK, and no significant pressure from government on service providers who do not make their sites or apps accessible," it says.
The latest version of Citizen Online's pilot project Fix the Web is to be launched later in 2015, the charity says. The project aims to challenge inaccessible products and sites and "crowd-source" digital accessibility fixes.
++News in Brief:
+04: One Ring:
A prototype device worn on a ring that could help visually impaired people read printed text is being developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The FingerReader uses a miniature camera to scan text as the wearer's finger moves along the bottom of a line. The device reads the words scanned out aloud, and gives vibration feedback to alert the user if they veer away from the text or reach the end of a line. Its developers say the device could eventually be used with a smartphone app although it could take several years to develop into a commercial product: http://fluid.media.mit.edu/projects/fingerreader
+05: ABBI Days:
Meanwhile a group of European academic institutions have developed another wearable device which can help blind people, a bracelet worn on the wrist or ankle that provides audio feedback about body movements. The prototype Audio Bracelet for Blind Interactions (ABBI) is a programmable, motion-sensitive audio device with Bluetooth communication capacity, controlled by a smartphone app. A special sequence of sounds allows wearers to build a sense of space and understand their own body movements, helping with posture control, motor co-ordination and social skills and hence reducing the risk of exclusion for disabled people. Partners in the EU-funded project are University of Glasgow; Chiossone Institute, Italy; University of Hamburg; Lund University in Sweden; and the Italian Institute of Technology. The research at Glasgow University includes exploring the potential of other wearable devices for providing information to visually impaired people: https://www.abbiproject.eu/
+06: Council Access:
Web accessibility will be on the agenda at this year's local government "Share Digital" event, the new incarnation of the former annual "Building Perfect Council Websites" event run by the Society of IT Management (Socitm) with E-Access Bulletin publisher Headstar. This year's conference will be composed largely of best practice sharing sessions, where people developing digital local public services will be able to learn from their peers and other specialists. The event takes place on 9 July in central London: http://www.sharedigital.net
[Section One ends].
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++Section Two: 'The Inbox'- Readers' Forum.
+07: More Description:
In our last issue Andrea Wilson voiced her frustration at the poor levels of audio description for DVDs as well as on-demand and catch-up TV services.
Reader Phil Jenkins writes in response: "First, I would like to say that I am pleased how an increasingly large number of new release DVDs do have an audio description (AD) track. OK, it's by no means enough of them, but some huge releases such as 'Star Trek' do have the AD track. Ditto I have found so at the cinema itself.
"I also agree how terrible the on-demand services are for not having an AD track and for the likes of ITV to dodge responsibility because programmes are made by independent production companies is terrible - doesn't similar apply to the Beeb?
"Finally, I use an Apple iOS device and I find that while the iPlayer app works very well and will list audio-described programmes, when one selects a programme from that list it is NOT audio-described as promised - last night I tried 'watching' Bluestone 42 and Call the Midwife, both of which were supposedly audio-described (and I know Call the Midwife is, when transmitted) but neither had the track on the iOS device. I'm not sure if this is a 'feature' of the iPlayer app on iOS or a failing of the BBC?
Further responses please to firstname.lastname@example.org .
[Section Two ends].
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++Section Three: Conference Report- eAccess 15.
+08: Home, Smart Homeby Dan Jellinek.
"Smart home" technologies linking environmental controls with wireless internet offer powerful potential benefits to people with disabilities. The ability to remotely control everything from lighting and heating to window curtains, home electronics and almost anything else in the home powered by electricity can be liberating for older people, people with restricted mobility and those with sensory impairments.
The problem, however, has been the balance between cost and accessibility of smart home control systems available to ordinary users, delegates heard at this year's eAccess 15 conference in London (http://www.eaccess-event.com ).
There is specialist equipment available for accessible smart home control but it is expensive due to the high costs of research and development and small market size, said Trevor Mobbs, lead assistive technologist at Beaumont College, a further education college for students with complex needs run by disability charity Scope.
Users of these specialist systems do receive a high level of support but they also then tend to be locked in to one manufacturer and may find their equipment becomes out of date, Mobbs said.
Mainstream smart home or home automation products are cheaper, cutting edge, and run on open standards, he said. However the problem is they are generally not particularly accessible.
Beaumont College's Connect to Control project, sponsored by BT, set out to address this issue by developing accessible smart home technology that connects with cheap, widely available equipment.
Students at the college helped to test a prototype, which in turn informed a challenge prize. This was won by the company Therapy Box which developed an app called SmartHub, which links off-the-shelf smart home equipment to an accessible interface usable on a tablet computer, smartphone or even over the web.
"With environmental controls nobody has yet won the battle of formats, so we want to look at an accessible interface that would be independent of the main current protocols", Mobbs said.
"With our prototype you can control devices using both Z-Wave (www.z-wave.com) and LightwaveRF (www.lightwaverf.com), which are different ways of controlling home features such as door openers, window openers, plug sockets or lights. We created a web based system where any device that could visit a web page could activate the controls."
Mobbs played delegates a video showing a student tester, Jodie, using a wheelchair-mounted communication aid controlled using a head mouse, a device shining an infrared beam on a reflective dot worn on her forehead to move the mouse pointer.
Jodie used a piece of accessible communication software called Grid 2 from supplier Sensory Software to control other software such as a web browser, allowing her to use social media and also to access the smart home system and control doors, lights, curtains, and even her music system.
"We're trying to use technology to give our students more independence", Mobbs said. "We're able to set people up with a system now that costs tens to hundreds of pounds rather than hundreds to tens of thousands. You can buy LightwaveRF gear from B&Q now, you just need a little box to plug into the router and then a series of plug sockets, probably for under £200. And we've had a bit of influence hopefully over the more specialist companies to move in this direction."
The project has also been working with the set-top box consortium YouView - whose members include the BBC and BT - to make set top boxes more accessible, particularly for users with motor impairments, Mobbs said. With YouView, the team created jointly a 'grid set' layout which can control every function of a YouView set top box using the Grid 2 system, he said. This is now published free of charge by YouView.
An alternative approach would be to open up the YouView interface to give third parties greater access into the system and hence greater control, he said. "At the moment our Grid 2 controller is just an infrared remote control as far as the set top box is concerned and the Grid 2 controller doesn't know what the set top box is doing. But if it could be integrated to be a true second screen so it had some knowledge of the status of the box it could be two-way, which would create much more functionality.
"That's the next thing we'd love to pursue - everyone's made encouraging noises so we'll see what happens."
[Section Three ends].
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[Issue 174 ends].