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++Section One: News.
+01: A Cautious Welcome As Europe Looks To Lock-In Web Accessibility.
A provisional agreement to make public sector websites and mobile apps across Europe more accessible has been reached, creating mixed reactions from the accessibility community.
The deal between the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union and the European Commission was made earlier this month, and relates to the existing ‘Directive on Web Accessibility for Public Sector Websites’, which has been the subject of debate since its introduction in 2012 (See e-Access Bulletin’s previous coverage at the following link: http://eab.li/b ).
If formalised, the directive would demand that both new and existing public sector sites and apps be more accessible to citizens with disabilities across the European Union (EU). Older public sector content would also be made accessible when requested by citizens.
Carine Marzin, Chair of the European Blind Union (EBU) Campaigns Network, told e-Access Bulletin that the EBU welcomed this “significant milestone” based on the information publicly available, but warned that the final text of the directive is still to be released.
Marzin said that the EBU is also encouraged at the inclusion of mobile apps in the initial agreement – an issue it has been campaigning for. Another EU campaign focused on eliminating proposed exceptions to the directive, which would have meant that public sector intranet services and other content formats would have been excluded from accessibility regulations. Marzin said that “significant progress” appeared to have been made on some of these exceptions, again based on available information. Such intranet services are “very important for all disabled people in terms of access to education and jobs,” she said.
However, there is still some way to go before any enforceable web accessibility regulations appear. The agreement needs to be formally adopted by the Council and the European Parliament, and then formed into legislation across all EU countries. In practice, it could be several years before the proposed new accessibility rules are applicable; legislation would first be created for new websites, followed by remaining public sector sites, and mobile apps after that.
Technology access charity AbilityNet also welcomed the initial agreement, but called for the measures to go further than just regulating public sector content. Writing on the charity’s website, CEO Nigel Lewis said: “AbilityNet wholeheartedly welcomes this recent move … but it doesn’t go far enough … Policy makers are missing a trick by not including websites and apps in the private and third sectors. Their sheer volume vastly outweighs public sector websites and in our experience, they lag behind the public sector in accessibility terms.”
Comment on this story at e-Access Bulletin Live: http://eab.li/19 .
+02: The Kindle Begins To Find Its Voice With Text-To-Speech.
Amazon is making its Kindle e-readers more accessible for visually impaired users by introducing a screen-reader feature.
The VoiceView screen-reading function is now available on the Kindle Paperwhite model by plugging in the ‘Kindle Audio Adaptor’, a USB device designed by Amazon specifically for use with the Kindle. Users plug the adaptor into the Paperwhite charging jack, before plugging in headphones to the adaptor, and can then listen to e-books and navigate the Kindle interface through text-to-speech and touch-screen functionality, with eight adjustable reading speeds.
VoiceView was previously only available on Amazon’s Fire tablet devices, but the company has now extended it to the Paperwhite – seen as the ‘mid-range’ Kindle option. Currently, it’s only this one model that supports VoiceView, but a post on Amazon’s blog says that the feature “will be available in the future with other Kindle e-readers as well.”
The VoiceView-enabled Paperwhite Kindle is being sold in a special package, including the audio adaptor, for $140. This is $20 more than the standard Paperwhite price, but Amazon is supplying a $20 Amazon account credit with all purchases, to offset the extra cost.
Comment on this story at e-Access Bulletin Live: http://eab.li/18 .
+03: Your Assistive Technology Queries Answered Online By An Expert.
Anyone seeking advice on assistive technology will be able to call on the expertise of a technology professional, thanks to a community forum on the website of disability charity Scope.
The charity’s ‘Ask an assistive technologist’ service allows users to leave questions on the forum, where they will be read by a specialist, who will then leave advice for the user to pick up. Users just need to register on the site to become part of Scope’s online community, and can then post questions.
Kim Lawther, an assistive technologist at Craig y Parc School in Cardiff, Wales, will be answering the queries. Lawther works with children and young adults with a range of disabilities at the Cardiff school, and has extensive knowledge of assistive equipment.
Lawther explained more about the process to e-Access Bulletin: “Scope has a phenomenal team of assistive technologists, so if I don’t know the answer to someone’s question, then I am sure one of us will. I also intend to point people in the direction of more information – for example, about suppliers or funding.”
The service was initially available in 2014 with a different assistive technologist, but after a temporary hiatus, the new appointment of Lawther as the community advisor has effectively relaunched the initiative.
So far, questions left for Lawther have covered a wide rage of topics in just a few weeks. Forum members have asked about: speech-recognition software; Google Cardboard (a newly launched virtual reality headset); making banking accessible for users of eye-tracking technology; games programming for users with learning disabilities; and a new app to help people with communication difficulties, AzuleJoe.
Find out more and ask a question on Scope’s ‘Ask an assistive technologist’ forum, at the following link: http://eab.li/13 .
Comment on this story at e-Access Bulletin Live: http://eab.li/17 .
++News in Brief:
+04: Route Finding:
The first open standard for digital navigation services, which can assist people with visual impairments in independent navigation, has been published by non-profit organisation Wayfindr. Feedback is invited on the draft standard, which aims to improve the navigability of the built environment by informing developers, venue owners, and researchers. Look out for more on the Wayfindr standard in June’s e-Access Bulletin.
Read more at the Wayfindr website: http://eab.li/1e .
+05: Citizen Feedback:
The UK Government services citizens’ portal, GOV.UK, has launched a survey to find out what types of assistive technology its audience uses to access the site. Users of screen-readers, screen-magnifiers, voice-input applications, and literacy software are invited to take part, and can also comment on any accessibility barriers they encounter on GOV.UK.
Take the survey at the following link, before the end of June: http://eab.li/1d .
+06: Testers Wanted:
A free web browser extension that makes social media platforms (including Facebook, YouTube and WhatsApp) and other websites more accessible for screen-readers is looking for user-testers. After launching in October 2015, the team behind F123 Access now want to make customer relationship management (CRM) software accessible for blind and visually impaired users, and are seeking users of NVDA, Orca, Jaws, and Window-Eyes screen-readers to help develop their work. Anyone interested can email the following address for details: email@example.com .
Find out more at the F123 Access website: http://eab.li/12 .
[Section One ends].
++ Notice: Thomas Pocklington Truste-Access Bulletin is brought to you with the kind support of Thomas Pocklington Trust, a national charity delivering positive change for people with sight loss. Find out more about the work of Thomas Pocklington Trust by visiting their website: http://www.pocklington-trust.org.uk .
++Section Two: 'The Inbox'- Readers' Forum.
Please email all questions, comments and responses to: firstname.lastname@example.org .
+07: Time for Translation:
Zeljko Bajic, a blind journalist working for public radio in Serbia, has been reading e-Access Bulletin for a number of years, and gets in touch to ask about the possibility of getting it translated.
“Do any opportunities exist to run e-Access in our languages – Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian? Unfortunately, we don’t have anything similar to E-Access Bulletin here. It would be very important additional support, for me and others. I wait for your answer with hope!”
Please send suggestions and comments to: email@example.com .
+08: Getting on Course:
Digital inclusion consultant Clive Lever, formerly a local government diversity and equality officer, writes in with a general accessibility query that many readers will have encountered in some form before.
“A blind friend of mine asked me why it is that we get accessible mainstream technology (both hardware and software), and then a couple of releases later, access is broken and we have to start again.
“His question, and my own recent experiences of support at a popular consumer technology store (where the in-store agents didn’t have a clue how to work a device’s accessibility speech navigation), have convinced me that the answer could lie in training: do all IT training courses include access and inclusion? If not, why not?”
Replies and comments, please, to: firstname.lastname@example.org .
[Section Two ends].
++ Notice: RNIB Connect Radio and e-Access Bulletin.e-Access Bulletin will be appearing on RNIB Connect Radio each month in a new feature on the station’s Afternoon Edition programme. Hear more about the bulletin and upcoming content appearing in each issue, as we discuss the latest accessible technology news and readers’ questions with Allan Russell.
Episodes will be available after broadcast as podcasts. Listen to and download the latest edition at the following link: http://eab.li/1i .
Listen to RNIB Connect Radio online, or via television, smartphone or radio. Listening details at the following link: http://eab.li/1g .
Find out more at the RNIB Connect Radio website: http://eab.li/1h .
Section Three: Opinion. - Conquering the website accessibility divide.
+09: Realising The Dream.
By Donna Jodhan.
There is the digital divide and then there is the technology divide. Now I’d like to add the website accessibility divide to this list.
The ‘website accessibility divide’ refers to those of us who are unable to access websites due to navigable and usability reasons, versus those who do not have any difficulty accessing websites.
The former group often describes those of us who are visually impaired, and for me, as one who falls into this category, I can tell you that it makes a huge difference in my personal life whenever I am unable to do things such as: access information independently and in privacy; complete forms on my own; request information without having to ask for sighted help; download and read documents without having to ask for sighted assistance; read content on a website on my own.
On a personal level, inaccessible and unusable websites have a direct affect on my life. My ability to protect and maintain my confidentiality, independence and privacy are all affected. In short, I often have no alternative but to place all of this in the hands of strangers if I am unable to find a friend or family member that I trust to assist me.
For me and others like me, we are all in the same boat, so to speak. We cannot have access to vital information if we are unable to access websites independently. We cannot make vital decisions on our own behalf if we are unable to read information for ourselves in an independent manner.
For example: important information pertaining to such things as public safety, security, health, job and financial markets, social programs, and up-to-the-minute news are often beyond our reach, because of the website accessibility divide.
This is the main reason why I launched a charter challenge against the Canadian Government in 2006 – because their websites were inaccessible to me and to other blind Canadians. I could not apply for a job through their websites on my own, and access to vital information was horribly lacking.
Yes! True it is that we won a landmark victory that mandated the Canadian Government to make all of their websites accessible, and true it is that things have improved in a noticeable way, but there is still a lot of work to be done when it comes to this.
Canada does not have any sort of legislation in place that mandates and penalises federally regulated companies and agencies if their websites are not accessible to Canadians with vision impairments. As a result, inaccessible and unusable websites continue to be a part of the lives of those Canadians with vision impairments.
We, as visually impaired Canadians, continue to live at the whim of website developers who do not believe that website accessibility and usability are important enough for them to include in their design, and this is why I personally decided to take one more step.
In early 2015, I, along with a small group, launched Barrier Free Canada – Canada sans Barrières; a non-partisan grassroots organisation whose main objective is to lobby the Canadian Government to pass a Canadians with Disabilities Act. During the October 2015 Canadian election campaign, three parties committed to passing such legislation, including the governing Liberal Party lead by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
This new government has committed two million dollars towards this initiative in its most recent budget. This is good news for us! We are now waiting on the minister responsible for disabilities issues to commence public hearings, as part of the process to pass a Canadians with Disabilities Act. It is our cherished hope that such an act can be passed in time for Canada's 150th anniversary on the first day of July, 2017.
As it stands now, the majority of Canada’s new Parliament supports the passage of a Canadians with Disabilities Act, so that is one major hurdle that has been overcome. Now comes the more difficult task of actually getting the act drafted and placed before the Canadian Parliament.
It is my personal dream that some day soon, all Canadians will be able to access websites independently, and in doing so be able to protect their privacy and confidentiality. This should not be a dream, because under the Canadian Charter of Rights, all Canadians are guaranteed equal access to information. Yet I can only continue to dream – for myself, for all Canadians who are visually impaired, but most of all, for our children of the future.
As Robert F. Kennedy, paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw, once said: “Some men see things as they are and say, ‘Why?’; I dream things that never were and say, ‘Why not?’” Maybe I should be a bit more realistic, but in my heart I know that somewhere over the rainbow I will some day realise my dream.
I promised Steve Jobs to help change the world and I will keep this promise, because he kept his promise to us.
Find out more about Barrier-Free Canada at the following link: http://eab.li/15 .
Read more about Donna Jodhan at her website: http://eab.li/14 .
Comment on this story now at e-Access Bulletin Live: http://eab.li/16 .
[Section Three ends].
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- Editor: Tristan Parker
- Technical Director: Jake Jellinek
[Issue 179 ends].