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Archive for the 'Screenreaders' Category

New accessible ATM app points users in the right direction

A new app that helps blind and visually impaired users track down accessible ATMs has been launched.

The free LINK ATM Locator lets users search for cash machines that have a range of usability features, including: audio assistance; wheelchair access; free-to-use ATMs; £5 note dispensing; mobile phone top-up facilities; and PIN number management.

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Many US government sites not accessible for disabled users, claims new research

Various high-profile US government websites, including major service portals, are not accessible for users with disabilities, according to a new study.

The ‘Benchmarking U.S. Government Websites’ report found that 42% of US federal sites tested failed to meet the necessary accessibility criteria.

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Online shopping ‘not as inclusive as it should be,’ new research finds

The websites of six popular UK retailers would not achieve the basic standard of online content accessibility, according to new research by a usability consultancy.

After a series of ‘mini-accessibility audits,’ accessibility design consultancy User Vision found that some online shoppers with impairments would have difficulty purchasing items from each of the websites examined, due to a number of common barriers.

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One third of councils fail web accessibility testing in UK-wide survey

An annual review of council websites across the UK has revealed that one third of local government sites failed first-stage testing to find out how accessible their websites are for users with disabilities.

Carried out by Socitm (the Society of IT Management), the Better Connected survey is a nationwide examination to evaluate local authority websites on a range of factors.

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Accessibility without the excessive price: affordable tech site launched

A new online resource has been launched to help people make informed choices about low-cost accessible technology.

The Affordable Access project (found at the following link:
http://eab.li/2o )
provides easy-to-understand information on a wide range of products and devices, all for under 250 Australian Dollars (equivalent to around £150 / 190 US Dollars). Technology covered on the site includes: tablet computers, smartphones, apps, desktop computers and TV streaming devices.

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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.

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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.

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Firm in “revolutionary” move to give away £600 Windows screenreader

In a deal described as “a huge step forward” for blind computer users, the developer of one of the world’s most sophisticated text-to-speech screenreaders has announced it is now giving away for free its previously chargeable software.

US-based software firm GW Micro has revealed it has reached a deal with Microsoft – on unspecified terms – to provide people who are blind, visually impaired or print disabled with a free licence to use its Window-Eyes screen reader.

Window-Eyes is a highly-regarded screen reader first released in 1995, enabling people with sight problems or other print disabilities to access computers running Microsoft Windows by reading text on the screen as synthesised speech. The software is also designed to help people access major programmes that run on Windows such as Microsoft Office, with versions available in more than 15 languages.

Until this month, users had to pay hefty licence fees to use the software – in the UK, for example, a single licence had cost about £600. Under the new “partner” deal, however, Windows users who own a licensed version of Microsoft Office 2010 or later can download Window-Eyes for free.

Disability organisations in the UK and US have welcomed the move, while raising questions about its detail.

Steve Griffiths, digital accessibility development officer at Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), told E-Access Bulletin the move could help level the playing field between Windows and Apple computers in terms of accessibility. Until now the fact that Apple machines speak to the user “out of the box” through the built-in VoiceOver screenreader have led to many blind people favouring them over Windows devices, but this could now change, Griffiths said.

“It is a big step forwards in terms of Microsoft Office – people tout Apple as accessible but only way they did this was to drastically simplify [the Apple office software suite] iWork so it works better with VoiceOver. Because it was simplified however, it is no longer comparable with Microsoft Office.

“Maybe Apple will now start building more accessible functionality back in [to iWork] but to my mind, Microsoft has now jumped ahead. It’s a huge step forward.”

The move could also have significant repercussions in the wider market for screenreaders, which split roughly into two types: more expensive tools such as SuperNova from UK-based Dolphin Computer Access and JAWS from US firm Freedom Scientific (and formerly, Window-Eyes itself), alongside already existing free screenreaders which have tended to be less sophisticated such as NVDA from Australian firm NV Access and Thunder from UK-based Screenreader.net, he said.

“It will be really interesting to see how it affects other commercial products like SuperNova and JAWS and other low cost or free ones, but how it will pan out depends on how many people do actually put in the work and learn how to use Window-Eyes, because it is a bit different from other products,” Griffiths said.

Although GW Micro are offering free installation support by email or phone, and the software manuals and tutorials are available online, all other technical support must now be purchased. Another small potential extra cost may come from the third-party voice synthesiser programmes that have often been packaged with Window-Eyes: the free version comes with the open source synthesiser eSpeak or Windows’ own default text-to-speech voices, but many users will prefer to use alternatives, Griffiths says.

“Most people in my experience don’t like eSpeak as it is quite robotic, while most other ones now are easy on the ear.” Some people will be happy to put up with eSpeak for free, though it does not cost much to buy a better voice separately, he says – users can pay typically between £25 and £50 for synthesisers such as Eloquence, Vocalizer or IVONA.

As to why GW Micro has struck the new partnership deal with Microsoft to give away its flagship software, and on what terms, Griffiths said no details have emerged from the US. However he said observers have speculated that either sales of Window-Eyes have been so poor recently that GW Micro are trying a new business model based on selling support and training; or that Microsoft has paid a sum of money for the benefits the deal brings to Windows.

Roger Wilson-Hinds, founder of Screenreader.net which developed the first free screen-reader Thunder which is still available but is no longer being renewed, said the Window-Eyes announcement was “brilliant news.”

“Our business is getting free PC software to blind people worldwide. We have played a part and this is a huge step forward alongside NVDA and the Apple Mac story” Wilson-Hinds said. “Over the past seven years, we have had more than 400,000 downloads of Thunder, and Window-Eyes is superior to Thunder.

“So it is all good news, so long as GW Micro continue to invest in and update their offering to keep abreast with Windows advances. If the money from Microsoft tempts them away from their mission and vision and they stop changing and innovating, that would be sad.”

The announcement has also been welcomed by the National Federation of the Blind in the US, whose president Marc Maurer described it as “revolutionary”.

“For the first time, users of Microsoft Office 2010 or later will not have to pay hundreds of dollars… to obtain an accessibility solution,” Maurer said. However, he said the battle for computer access by screenreaders was far from over, as every other software developer must ensure their own packages are compatible with access technologies.

“The usefulness of any screen reader product, of course, is limited by the degree to which other products are compatible with it,” he said. “Developers of mainstream technology, as well as the businesses, institutions, and governmental entities that use it, must continue to do their part by making sure that screen reader users have full access to what they produce, procure, and deploy.”