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A “tax on accessible books”: mixed emotions at Marrakesh Treaty progress

The latest agreement in the process of implementing the Marrakesh Treaty, which aims to help end the ‘book famine’ faced by blind and visually impaired people, has been met with a mixture of praise and frustration.

The treaty aims to increase the availability of books in accessible formats, such as Braille and e-books, by relaxing copyright laws which make it difficult or time-consuming to share accessible books across different countries (read e-Access Bulletin’s previous coverage of the Marrakesh Treaty at the following link: http://eab.li/6j ).

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New parliamentary group on assistive tech launches to level the playing field

A “flood” of new technology represents a unique opportunity to increase education and employment for those with disabilities in the UK, claims a new cross-party parliamentary group.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Assistive Technology (APPGAT) launched on March 6 and aims to spark debate and share knowledge on assistive technology (AT) throughout parliament. Its work will include contributing to government consultations and raising awareness of AT.

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Interview: Sonya Huber, Disability March – impactful online activism

On January 21 2017, around half a million people took part in the Women’s March in Washington D. C. Symbolically scheduled for the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration as 45th President of the United States, the aim of the Women’s March was to support and stand up for women’s rights and equality around the world, with millions more marching across the globe in related events. But what about those people who wanted to support the cause but couldn’t attend a march in person?

This was the dilemma facing many people with a disability or health issues. To address this widespread problem, an online virtual march was set up. The Disability March platform enabled anyone to show their support for the cause without having to physically march – a task that would have been dangerous for some and impossible for others.

Supporters signed-up to the online Disability March and shared their messages through the project’s blog and Twitter account. Thousands took part and others were able to see their stories unfold online.

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‘Hidden’ sight loss and dementia tackled in technology campaign

The Scottish arm of the Royal National Institute of Blind People, RNIB Scotland, has signed-up to the Technology Charter for People Living with Dementia.

Originally launched in December 2015, the charter was developed by organisations including Alzheimer Scotland, NHS Scotland and the Scottish Government. It encourages greater use of technology in health and social care for people with dementia, and features six key values, including: “Routes and access to technology are ethical, equitable, simple, understandable and user-friendly.”

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Steering digital inclusion from the driving seat: Q&A with Robin Christopherson, AbilityNet

When he helped co-found UK technology access charity AbilityNet in 1998, Robin Christopherson was already on his way to helping drive forward digital accessibility, and since then his work has continued to change people’s lives. He is now AbilityNet’s head of digital inclusion, after helping to grow the charity’s services. These services include website and mobile accessibility consultancy, which AbilityNet now delivers to companies including Microsoft, the BBC, HSBC and Sainsbury’s.

Christopherson has also led and worked on all manner of projects and campaigns to increase digital accessibility, particularly for blind and visually impaired people. This has included providing expert commentary for news sources such as The Guardian, and presenting on and testing new technology, whether that’s a driverless car or the latest smartwatch.

In recognition of his valuable contributions, he was surprised with a special award at the annual Tech4Good Awards earlier this month. e-Access Bulletin caught up with Christopherson to find out more about his work and get his thoughts on the evolution of accessibility.

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Conquering the website accessibility divide

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.

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Online resource to boost access to elections and politics

An online resource to boost access to elections and politics by people with disabilities is to be launched next month by the International Foundation For Electoral Systems (IFES), a non-profit based in Washington DC, E-Access Bulletin has learned.

IFES works internationally to promote access to democracy by all groups including people with disabilities, with funding largely from government agencies in the US, UK, Canada and Australia. Its work is aimed at many groups including governments, election management agencies, civil society groups, academics, lawyers, disability groups and people with disabilities.

The new online resource will be based on an overhaul of the foundation’s website ElectionAccess.org, IFES access and inclusion specialist Virginia Atkinson told E-Access Bulletin.

It will include an introduction to disability rights aimed at election management bodies and observer groups, giving examples of inclusive practice such as accessible voter education

“In many countries they don’t think at all about access to elections for people for disabilities”, Atkinson said. “Or maybe they build a wheelchair ramp, but they don’t think about other issues such as accessible voter education, websites or voting machines.”

Materials will include good practice examples such as YouTube videos, images or brochures and posters from other countries, as well as excerpts from relevant laws on election access.

“We are hoping the website will be used as an advocacy tool to create peer pressure, and help change discriminatory laws”, she said. “It will be the only site where all this information is collected in one place.”

Other aspects of the foundation’s current disability rights work includes a major project in South East Asia working with international teams of election observers, Atkinson said. “Many observer teams do not include people with disabilities, and then don’t include questions relating to disability access in their work”, she said.

Lib Dems are first to make digital access election pledge

A pledge to review relevant laws, guidelines and standards on access to digital goods and services to ensure fair access by disabled and older people has become the official policy of the UK’s Liberal Democrats in the run-up to next year’s general election.

The pledge came as an amendment to the party’s equalities policy paper “Expanding opportunity, unlocking potential” which was submitted to the party’s autumn conference for approval earlier this month.

The party has now promised, if elected to govern or as part of a new coalition government subject to negotiation, to conduct “a review of anti-discrimination law and of existing laws, guidelines and standards on access to digital goods and services to ensure they are fit for the modern age and so that, in particular, people with disabilities and older people have fair access to digital public services, the digital economy and the workplace”.

The amendment was moved by Mark Pack, Editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire, on behalf of One Voice for Accessible ICT Coalition, which is campaigning for all the main UK political parties to pledge similar action ahead of the 2015 elections. MPs and policymakers in the Labour and Conservative parties are currently considering making similar undertakings.

One Voice, an umbrella group of charities, businesses and other organisations pushing for better digital accessibility across society, has called for the review in light of poor legal enforcement of existing laws, rules and guidelines for accessibility of websites, mobile apps and other digital goods and services across the public and private sectors.

Technology pioneers in ‘disability power list’

Champions of digital accessibility feature prominently in the first ever “disability power list”, a round-up of Britain’s 100 most influential people with a disability or impairment selected by recruitment firm Powerful Media in partnership with non-profit disability support group the Shaw Trust.

Top of the list is scientist Stephen Hawking, perhaps the world’s best-known user of synthesised speech communication and winner of a special prize at the 2012 Technology4Good Awards from charity AbilityNet. In second place is Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson, one of Britain’s greatest Paralympians and supporter last year of Go ON Gold, a national campaign to raise awareness about barriers faced by disabled people in accessing computers and the Internet.

Fifth overall came actor, writer, broadcaster and technology early-adopter Stephen Fry, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and has supported many disability technology access projects including the Fix the Web project led by Citizens Online.

Other digital pioneers in the list include entrepreneur and philanthropist Neil Barnfather, founder and director of TalkNav, a supplier of accessible mobile devices to the blind and low vision community; Gary McFarlane, managing director of Assist-Mi, a mobile app that allows people with disabilities to request assistance from service providers such as petrol stations and airports; Amar Latif, founder and director of ‘Traveleyes’, the world’s first commercial air tour operator to specialise in serving blind as well as sighted travellers; and Euan McDonald, founder of disabled access review website euansguide.com.

Also recognised are consultant Geoff Adams-Spink, who covered many technology accessibility stories in his former role as age and disability correspondent for BBC News; Caroline Waters, vice chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and former policy director at BT; and Paralympian gold medallist wheelchair sprinter Hannah Cockcroft, keynote speaker at last year’s eAccess 13 conference.

Apple urged to act on app accessibility

The US National Federation of the Blind has called on technology giant Apple to include accessibility to non-visual users as part of its process of approving apps for supply through its App Store, or when they are updated.

The call came in a resolution passed at the federation’s annual convention held this month in Orlando, Florida.

This acknowledged that Apple has made major steps towards making its own products accessible, including integration in many of them of the screenreader programme VoiceOver. It also noted that VoiceOver can allow non-visual access to mobile apps, and praised Apple for releasing and promoting tools and guidance to make it easy for app developers to incorporate accessibility features for VoiceOver users.

However, the resolution said: “despite Apple’s efforts to encourage accessibility, too many applications are still not accessible to VoiceOver users because buttons are not properly labeled, images of text cannot be interpreted, and other display elements cannot even be detected by VoiceOver.”

Noting that Apple “is not reluctant to place requirements and prohibitions on application developers, but has not seen fit to require that applications be accessible to VoiceOver users”, it said accessibility “should be as important as any other requirement imposed on application developers.” It thus called on Apple to “create and enforce policies, standards, and procedures to ensure the accessibility of all apps… and to ensure that accessibility is not lost when an app is updated.”

In all, some 19 out of 22 resolutions passed at the Orlando convention relate to digital technology.

These include a resolution urging the Obama administration to act more quickly on its own pledge to introduce new regulations enforcing the accessibility of all US public sector websites, first proposed in 2010 but recently delayed until March 2015.

Others included resolutions urging better accessibility for Microsoft SharePoint collaboration software; apps and websites collecting data and interacting with devices to build the “internet of things”; tools and technologies helping people manage diabetes; enterprise software; electronic health records; educational tools used by science students in the laboratory; cloud storage services such as Dropbox, Box, SugarSync and Google Drive; home security systems; digital books; anti-virus software; apps made by airline companies to book and track flights; online ballot-marking systems; remote computer access tools.

All this year’s NFB resolutions can be read in Word ’97 format on the federation’s website.

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