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Digital Inclusion “About Everybody, Not Just Disabled People”

The concept of digital accessibility simply as a means of catering for disabled users is out-of-date: in the modern world, digital inclusion must be understood as the need to serve everybody, whatever their access method or device, a leading accessibility specialist has said.

Robin Christopherson, head of digital inclusion at technology access charity AbilityNet, told delegates at the recent national digital conference in London, ND13, that providers of digital content and services already need to adapt to new devices and access methods. With more people than ever accessing websites through mobile and other devices, we are in a situation where “everybody is disabled from time-to-time”, Christopherson said.

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Tech Giant Launches Smartphone For Older People

A smartphone designed for elderly people has been developed by global technology company Fujitsu.

When setting up the Stylistic S01 phone the user inputs their age, which customises some aspects to work differently. For example, the audio frequency range will be optimised for older people so they can clearly hear the voice of the person they are speaking to, and the phone can also slow down the speech of a caller without losing audio quality, again making it easier to understand.

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Courts Freeze Samsung Battle Against Apple Screen Reader

A lawsuit in Germany in which mobile handset maker Samsung is attempting to force its rival Apple to remove the VoiceOver screen reader function from its iPhone smartphones in the country has been halted by the courts.

VoiceOver allows users to have content on the screen read aloud to them. It is marketed as an accessibility aid for blind and visually impaired users, since it can help people use and navigate an iPhone by touch and audio alone.

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Signing Avatar App Prototype Wins Global Award

A Brazilian mobile app that translates Portuguese speech, digital text and photographs of text into sign language, all using an animated avatar, has been recognised at a global apps awards ceremony.

The Hand Talk app ( http://bit.ly/12DovWS ) – due to be publicly released later this year – was developed by Ronaldo Tenório, Carlos Wanderlan and Thadeu Luz to convert written or spoken Portuguese text into LIBRAS, the official sign language of Brazil. The app won the category for ‘mInclusion and Empowerment’ at the World Summit Award – Mobile ( http://bit.ly/Vrng8J ) for its potential as a communication aid for hearing-impaired people and others who want to learn LIBRAS.
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Guidelines Cover Accessibility For Smart Homes Of The Future

The latest version of a set of guidelines for accessible design in ICT systems, including information on making technology-enabled ‘smart homes’ accessible to disabled and elderly people, has been released by a leading consultant.

The guidelines are produced by John Gill OBE, consultant in technology for persons with disabilities and former chief scientist at the Royal National Institute of Blind People. Gill has compiled the guidance over a number of years, as an introduction to building accessible systems in a wide range of areas. A checklist, showing how different accessibility considerations in types of ICT equipment can aid different types of impairment, is also included.
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User Priorities Must Drive Accessible ICT Research, Warns Telecoms Expert

Research and investment priorities for the digital economy and development of internet services and mobile devices must reflect the needs of disabled and elderly people, a telecommunications expert has warned.

In a video address to a London event on the future of accessible ICT research( http://bit.ly/T0SkH2 ), Dr Mike Short, vice president of Telefónica Europe and former president of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, said customer demand for more accessible services has risen over the past ten years. Accordingly, mobile network providers need to think about different groups of users when planning for future growth, including the benefits that universal design can offer to everybody, Short said.
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“Georgie” Apps Make Smartphones Smarter

A new series of apps has been developed to enhance accessibility features for Android-enabled smartphones for blind and visually impaired users.

The “Georgie” apps allow blind and visually impaired users to perform a number of functions additional to ‘standard’ phone features, including recording and broadcasting audio blogs; photographing text and having it read out to them, using an optical character recognition feature; and audio tagging images with sound clips. It will also read aloud screen text when users touch the screen, and voice recognition software enables users to speak the content for text messages into the phone.

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eAccess ’12 Conference report: Time To Be Creative

A more creative, inclusive approach to accessibility is needed than simply following technical guidelines, delegates heard at the eAccess 12 conference co-hosted this week by E-Access Bulletin publisher Headstar.

David Sloan of the Digital Media Access Group at Dundee University said his university’s School of Computing had integrated user feedback into all aspects of its work, from the building’s open design to recruitment of local elderly people to come in and participate in research.

“Involving people who benefit from the skills you’re teaching is critical, rather than just presenting people with guidelines like WCAG and using that in an assessment”, Sloan said.

Paul Edwards, programme manager for Channel 4’s online coverage of the upcoming Paralympic Games, agreed that sticking too rigidly to accessibility guidelines can have a detrimental effect on your audience. Flexibility is crucial: “The most important thing we’ve been trying to do is make sure our process is flexible enough to react when a situation occurs. When you’re looking at guidelines like WCAG, sticking too closely to them actually blinkers you to what’s happening to your users.”

Henny Swan, senior accessibility specialist for iPlayer and mobile at BBC Technology, said modern developers should ensure a website responds to the device it is being viewed on, including smartphones and mobile devices: “responsive design”.

However, designing accessible content for mobile devices is still tough due to a lack of authoritative guidelines on the subject, Swan said. This led to Swan and her team at the BBC developing their own specialist guidelines for accessible BBC mobile content: “We decided to write guidelines for HTML, Android and iOS (the iPhone operating system), because those are our three biggest areas. We needed ‘device-agnostic’ guidelines, rather than writing three different sets.”

The result is ‘Mobile and tablet accessibility guidelines and techniques’ – an internal BBC guide for developers, designers and project managers when creating mobile content. Guidance includes ‘supporting device capabilities’, which states that content must try not to break specific device accessibility. An example of this is the ‘pinch’ zoom function on the iOS, said Swan, which allows users to magnify content with a small finger gesture on the screen. “If you’re coding in HTML you can suppress ability for user to do that, immediately preventing a lot of people being able to read content quickly and easily. Don’t suppress what the device allows you to do.”

New trial in Spain for accessible medicines app

A major new trial in Spain using mobile devices to make prescription medicine information more accessible has been approved by the project’s partners including charities, pharmaceutical industry representatives and government bodies.

The “Accessible Medicine” project will use two-dimensional Data Matrix square barcodes placed on medicine boxes and packaging allowing people to use an application or “app” running on a smartphone or other mobile device with a camera to link to detailed medicine information online. The information can then be spoken aloud or conveyed in other formats on the mobile device according to user needs and preferences.

The project is being led by Vodafone Spain Foundation with a range of partners including Technosite, the trading and research arm of Spanish national blindness charity ONCE; and the Spanish Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (FARMAINDUSTRIA).

The partners say beneficiaries of the system will include not only blind people and people with impaired vision but also people who have difficulties handling the small folded leaflets currently issued with medicines.

The new trial has been approved following successful phase one trials ending last year. Developments for phase two include expansion of the online drug database from five to the 30 most commonly-used medicines; and improvements to the design interface.

Alongside the trials, ONCE is working with the Spanish Agency of Medicine and Health Products to create a database with accessible information on all available medicines.

According to the phase one report, the system has possible applications in other fields such as information about food and clothing. More information can be found in Spanish only at the project’s website.

To receive more stories the moment they are published, subscribe by email to E-Access Bulletin. Simply email eab-subs@headstar.com with “subscribe bulletin” in the subject line.

Tesco pledges action over inaccessible app

The UK’s largest supermarket chain Tesco has said it is taking seriously concerns raised about the inaccessibility of its new smartphone app, and is to work with the RNIB to improve the situation.

The statement was issued after E-Access Bulletin raised questions with the company about the experiences of Steph Cutler, a small business adviser and personal coach who has impaired vision. Cutler approached EAB after becoming dissatisfied with the new Tesco shopping app and with the retailer’s initial response to her complaints.

“I love the iPhone – it has really changed my life, and on the whole, the apps I’ve got are pretty usable,” she said. “So when I downloaded the Tesco app I was excited to think I could use it to shop – although their website is accessible, I find it very time-consuming. But it turns out that the app is totally inaccessible with [the iPhone’s screenreader] VoiceOver. Basically, the app says the same thing whatever product you touch.”

After Cutler asked the RNIB to take a look and they had supported her assessment, she contacted Tesco to complain, but says the company’s initial response was unsatisfactory.

“I emailed them and they rang me back very quickly, but the poor lad from customer services just said ‘we know it’s inaccessible’, though he didn’t seem to know what that meant. He had obviously just been told to call, and he was trying to say he accepted it didn’t work, but that it was OK. He also categorically refused to let me talk to someone else.

“I emailed again, and another email came back saying they care about accessibility – but with no details of any remedial plan.”

Subsequently, after E-Access Bulletin had made its own enquiries into the case, Tesco did produce a fuller response. A spokesperson for Tesco said: “The software used in the iPhone application is cutting edge technology and we will be always aiming to improve the functionality of the application.

“We have taken the concerns raised seriously and recently contacted the RNIB to work with them in identifying features that will improve accessibility for the product.

“At this time, we are unable to give any timescales as to when this will be completed. Any amendments to the application will need to be built and tested, and will therefore take time to complete.”

Tesco has now also been back in touch with Cutler to relay the same message, which she welcomes. “I am hoping they will be true to their word, and I do intend to monitor this one,” she said.

However, she says she still fails to understand why such a large company in the 21st century is failing to design in accessibility from the first release of a technology offering such as their new app.

“One argument about whether accessibility can be included is often resources, and rightly sometimes – but you just can’t say that about Tesco,” Cutler says. “We are talking about a massive retailer for whom resources aren’t a problem. They understand some of it, because they do some of it. It made me, as a visually impaired shopper, feel a little bit second class.

“I do accept apps are new, and the accessibility might change in future, but as a user I’m discriminated against.

“The point I put to them is that at the start of anything, you have a choice – you can choose to put accessibility into how it will function. But this time, either they briefed a developer and they didn’t put any emphasis on accessibility, or the developer just didn’t do it. It is far harder for them now – they will have to change code, which will be a biggish job. But it wouldn’t be a big job if they thought about it as a matter of course and didn’t put anything out that most of our customers can’t access.”

Ultimately, she says, it is a question of leadership. ““The bottom line is I feel as if I’ve been treated less favourably for reasons of my disability. It doesn’t feel like it’s been taken seriously from the top down – it doesn’t feel like the decision-maker has taken an inclusive approach, so why should customer service?”

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