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Interview with Penny Melville-Brown OBE: Baking Blind – an online and global adventure

Cooking is yet another daily task that many people take for granted. Having sight loss can make cooking incredibly difficult, but Penny Melville-Brown OBE – disability rights advocate and Director of Disability Dynamics – wanted to show the world otherwise.

Baking Blind is her YouTube channel and online project, featuring videos of Penny – who is blind – preparing all manner of dishes, from curries to quails’ eggs to Turkish delight.

Earlier this year, Penny entered the Holman Prize, a competition run by San Francisco’s LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired organisation to fund big ideas and innovative projects pitched by people who are blind. Penny’s ambition was to take her online cookery project around the world, cooking across the globe and filming it as she went.

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From 3D radio to disruptive innovation: evolving assistive technology at ATEC

Earlier this month, the second ATEC (Assistive Technology Exhibition and Conference) event took place, held in Sheffield, UK. A wide range of figures from the assistive technology (AT) industry were in attendance, including e-Access Bulletin.

Here, we present an overview of some of the many thought-provoking seminars and workshops that took place throughout the day.

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“Embedded outreach” key to digital inclusion, conference hears

Digital inclusion projects must work with community and voluntary sector bodies if the UK is to ensure people with disabilities engage with the digital world, a national conference has heard.

The call was made by Jude Palmer, managing director of Digital Outreach, a social enterprise formed in 2007 by three organisations – Community Service Volunteers, Age UK and CEL Group – to run outreach work for the UK’s digital TV switchover.

Research at the time from lead TV switchover body Digital UK found there was a group of about 20% of the population who would not naturally engage with a major mainstream publicity campaign, Palmer told delegates at November’s digital inclusion conference hosted by non-profit Tinder Foundation.

These included older people, people with a disability and those for whom English is not their first language, all of whom can be socially isolated, she said.

“A lot of people found the switchover daunting, because TV for a lot of people is their main connection out into society”, Palmer said. “They were putting their head in the sand, saying ‘it’s technical, it’s not for me, why do I need to change? I’m perfectly OK as I am’. So a lot of this resonates with why people have not got online yet.”

The key to developing a successful strategy to reaching people in these groups was to work with and through voluntary and community groups who are already interacting with and trusted by them, she said.

Palmer said the nature of “embedded outreach” was “about people hearing messages from the person they see every week, every day: finding that one person and that one organisation that they do trust and interact with.

“We often describe it as ‘knitting’ – we were able to knit organisations together so you can cut across geographical barriers, social groups. You need to ask – how can you develop relationships with local voluntary and community groups?”

Once the right groups have been found, it is important for digital inclusion groups to strike the right balance between passing them consistent materials to fit their own messages, and allowing the trusted intermediaries to remain in control, she said.

“It is about making sure you work consistently with every organisation so key messaging is cascaded down, and people are signposted consistently for where they can get further help.

But at the same time once you hand over the framework, [you must] leave it to the organisation to deliver that. What we find with embedded outreach is there needs to be an investment from those organisations as well, and that is a really big ask.”

In the course of its work, Digital Outreach was asked to run a trial project in the North West of England to see how its embedded outreach model for digital TV might work for broader digital inclusion, and the results strongly supported the concept, Palmer said.

Overall, research found that some 77% of people reacted positively to online training if it was led by someone they knew, compared with only 17% reacting positively to a session led by someone they did not know.

Paralympics Effect ‘Challenges Perceptions of Disabled People’

The impact of the 2012 Paralympic Games on public attitudes towards disabled people has been positive but some campaign groups have sought to “misuse” it for political ends, a leading activist told this year’s eAccess conference.

And disability consultant and campaigner Simon Stevens told delegates that while the London Games had raised the profile of disability issues, it would take some time before we could judge whether the effect will be lasting.

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UK Ignoring British Sign Language Video Technology, Analyst Warns

Most British companies and government departments are ignoring new ways of offering video links to British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters because they misunderstand the value of this to deaf customers, a leading practitioner has told E-Access Bulletin.

Jeff McWhinney, chair of social enterprise SignVideo ( http://www.signvideo.co.uk ), was speaking following the launch of a trial service by the broadcaster Sky, allowing deaf customers to contact the company’s customer services team using SignVideo interpreters based in London and Edinburgh.

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BBC Issues Draft Guidelines for Mobile Accessibility

A draft set of standards and guidelines to make BBC web content and apps more accessible when viewed on mobile devices has been released by the corporation following a year of testing and development.

The Draft BBC Mobile Accessibility Standards and Guidelines were announced in a blog post by Henny Swan, senior accessibility specialist at the BBC. Up to now the BBC’s existing accessibility guidelines have been used as a basis for creating accessible mobile content, Swan says, but it was felt that more specific mobile standards were now needed.

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The Story Behind the BBC Mobile Accessibility Guidelines

By Henny Swan.

The BBC has now published a set of draft Mobile Accessibility Standards and Guidelines to the wider web development community, a ground-breaking project which has been in development for a year now [see also – news, earlier in this issue of E-Access Bulletin]. While written primarily for BBC employees and suppliers to use, the corporation’s hope is that they might be useful for any individual or organisation building mobile web content and native apps.

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“Smart TVs” To Be Scrutinised For Accessibility

Accessibility features for “connected TVs” or “smart TVs” – television sets which can access internet content – are being examined by a working group from the Digital TV Group (DTG), the UK’s industry association for digital television.

The work will include an updating of guidelines first published in a 2011 TV usability document from the DTG usability group, which has been renamed the accessibility group to incorporate wider interests.

“The UK Digital TV Usability and Accessibility Guidelines” – nicknamed the U-Book – offer advice for manufacturers of digital TV receiving equipment on how to incorporate accessibility features into their products, including audio description services and text-to-speech conversion. The DTG accessibility group will be updating the U-Book in the autumn to include internet content on TVs.

“The guidelines are intended to document the best practice for supporting accessibility and are there to provide a reference tool for industry”, Simon Gauntlett, Technology Director at DTG, told E-Access Bulletin.

“Increasingly, we will see the integration of TV services and web-based content, and it is essential that, in the development of new types of services, accessibility is not compromised.”

The U-Book is available by email on request from the DTG website.

Paralympics Broadcasting: Winning The Accessible Games, Live and Online.

By Tristan Parker

For Channel 4, being the official broadcaster of the 2012 Paralympic Games comes with a lot of prestige, but there are also significant accessibility challenges. If the website and other digital services of this event were not accessible to disabled people, it would be absurd – not to mention catastrophic from a PR perspective.

However, rising to these challenges have helped improve the overall standard and awareness of digital accessibility within the channel, says Paul Edwards, Channel 4’s online programme manager for the Paralympics 2012.

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UK’s First Inbuilt Text-To-Speech TVs Hit The Shelves

Electronics manufacturer Panasonic has built text-to-speech functionality into 30 of its television models, designed specifically to help blind and visually impaired users, making them the first such TVs to become available on the UK general market.

After switching on the function during installation, text-to-speech will be present over a wide range of tasks in the televisions, including speaking the channel number and name of a programme when switching channels; the time that a programme begins and ends; and whether other accessibility features such as audio description are available for a programme.

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