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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.

Personalisation Is Key To Draft E-Learning Standard

Public comment is being invited on a newly updated accessibility standard for students and learners, which focuses on personalising digital learning resources as a method of maximising accessibility for each learner.

The standard, Access for All version 3.0 (AfA v3.0), is produced by IMS Global Learning Consortium, a non-profit body whose members include more than 180 leading universities, educational organisations and technology companies worldwide. It aims to give a personalised experience for learners through use of a “common language” which describes a learner’s needs and preferences.

Martyn Sibley: From LA To Australia: Travels Around Technology

By Tristan Parker

Co-founder and co-editor of the online disability lifestyle magazine Disability Horizons, Martyn Sibley has become an influential voice in the disability community. A keen technology user and advocate, Martyn has run his own social media consultancy, is a frequent blogger, and has developed a number of e-learning and e- campaigning projects alongside his journalism. Here, he talks to E-Access Bulletin about the opportunities new technologies have given him over the years.


Access technology – Is It Best To Go Mainstream?

The topic of which is better – special access technology designed specifically for use by disabled people, or mainstream technology that is made accessible and used by everyone – is very near and dear to my heart.

To put things into perspective: access technology is generally much more expensive than its mainstream counterpart and much less available on the market. It can also be extremely challenging to have access technology repaired, compared with mainstream technology.

There are far fewer manufacturers of access technology hardware and far fewer developers of access technology software, than of mainstream products.

The profit to be made for those who develop and sell access technology is much less than for those who do the same for mainstream technology.

Access technology has to be developed in such a way as to adapt to the mainstream world.

Those are the key issues. Now, where do we go from here?

About 18 months ago, I bought a PDA (personal digital assistant) that was developed for blind people; a real find for me and one that I found to be really forward thinking because of its features. A few weeks ago, I was told that this PDA will no longer be manufactured and as of June 2012, no more hardware maintenance agreements would be available. Accessories will still be available as long as supplies last. That was quite a shock and now we are all left holding the bag, so to speak.

I am not going to identify the manufacturers of this wonderful product but suffice it to say that it has made me rethink how I go about choosing my mobile devices. Do I continue to buy access technology that is extremely expensive and one that I am not sure will be around for too long? Or do I move towards the mainstream world?

Do I expose myself to heartbreak if I continue to buy these pieces of access technology only to learn that in a short space of time they are off the market and no more supplies of accessories or support is no longer available? Should we as blind people continue to put up with such factors as unaffordability, unavailability, and inadequate support? Or is it time for us to start embracing the world of Apple and thank the late Steve Jobs for having taken that big step to make all of his devices like the iPad and iPhone accessible to us?

Android devices are also out there for the exploring, and of course there are other tablets and mobile devices out there that are becoming more accessible to us. There are ever more choices to help us join the mainstream technology world.

The landscape is rapidly changing and who knows for how long the manufacturers of JAWS Screen Reader, Window-Eyes and other types of access technology be able to hold on to their respective turfs? Only time will tell.

NOTE: Donna Jodhan is an accessibility consultant who is involved in an ongoing legal battle with the Canadian government over accessibility of its websites.

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ICT Access Barriers ‘Common Across Europe’

The problems encountered in putting ICT accessibility policies into practice are common across Europe, according to early findings of a survey of policies in 30 nations (the EU countries, plus Norway, Iceland and Switzerland), E-Access Bulletin has learned.

According to research carried out in June for the EU-funded ‘i-access’ project on access to electronic information and lifelong learning, problems encountered include creating accessible content; standards compliance; problems procuring accessible systems; and a lack of awareness and understanding.

The project is run by the European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education to raise awareness of the issues surrounding accessible information provision for lifelong learning. While some survey respondents said their organisations provided style guides for creating content, only about half of these addressed accessibility aspects such as considering how a screen-reader would cope.

“There are an estimated 80 million people in the EU with disabilities of varying sorts and to differing degrees, and as the age profile shifts, so too will the proportion with disabilities”, John Galloway, a consultant working on dissemination of i-access findings told E-Access Bulletin this week. “There is no one solution to the issue of ensuring that any information in an electronic format, whether a web-page, a text message, an on-screen document, or an information film, is available to all of them equally,” Galloway said.

“For each country, we need to find out – what policies do they have, and how do they put them into practice? What are the differences and similarities? The lessons learned from across Europe will be brought together for everyone to share, so this difficult issue can be addressed.”

Full details of the research and a report of a project conference co-hosted by the Danish Ministry of Education in Copenhagen this June are due to be published shortly, with the final project recommendations expected towards next summer, Galloway said.

Forced Choice: Accessibility in the Real World

The social model of disability holds that it is socially constructed barriers, rather than the impairments of disabled people, that limit their opportunities.

Disabled people are disadvantaged by the way society is organised by non-disabled people. Take any issue or area of society such as employment, education, housing, transport or poverty and you will find that disabled people are more disadvantaged than non-disabled people, and that the difference cannot be explained or excused by impairment.

The explanation of this deep rooted “structured disadvantage” lie in the social, physical and attitudinal barriers that society creates, stopping disabled people from fulfilling their potential and from achieving the same life chances as non-disabled people.

ICT is thought to hold great promise for disabled people because it has the potential to reduce or eliminate many of the disabling barriers that impair or completely prevent disabled people from working, learning, shopping, banking, being entertained, and communicating with others.

But many barriers still remain.

New technologies are constructed, tested and designed for non-disabled people. They empower people with new abilities, but also rely heavily on the existing ones. Telephones depend on the capacity to speak and to listen; computer screens on the ability to see; satellite navigation systems on the ability to see and to hear. And so on.

Any new technology brings with it a new power for those who can use it, and a new disability for those who cannot.

How ICT strategy is developed and implemented can mean for disadvantaged people the difference between dependency or autonomous living.

I’ve heard the economic argument that disabled people need to be “reconceptualised” as a potential market (18% of the population) and need to trust the market and industry to address accessibility.

However, I reject this business argument and would rather assert that the industry needs to embrace the “mind set” of the social model of disability.

The three critical building blocks of this approach are first, respect for the human rights of disabled people. For example, product developers need to employ disabled people and consult actively with the disability community to ensure that access is a fundamental part of products.

Second, respect for personal choice. ICT options must not be imposed on disabled people – often choices for accommodating impairments are made by a technical “expert”—someone who knows the technology options and assesses what they believe is best for the user. If only certain ICTs are accessible, then disabled people can only choose the accessible option – it is a forced choice. Forced choices carry with them the message that non-disabled people warrant a full range of affordable options, while disabled people only deserve the few, often specialised and expensive, options that are made available to them.

And the third building block is development of universal design and disability-related supports. Often the solutions developed in accordance with the social model of disability help not only disabled people but also non-disabled people.

Additionally, there are differences in how disabled and non-disabled can access and use ICTs that may be beyond the reach of universal design. These differences create the need for disability-related supports, as well as information, training, and local support services in order to become successfully connected to the digital world. The social model perspective holds that society should make necessary supports available to people. In this way, disabled people can both enjoy the benefits of society and be productive citizens.

In summary, ICT isn’t the powerful agent of change – it is the strategy that is adopted that will be the change agent.

My personal experience of using ICT during higher education – I am a post graduate student studying for a masters in disability at Leeds University – has, on balance, been a positive one. However, there are a few issues it will be useful to highlight.

Disability Student Allowance (DSA) funding is supposed to help meet the extra course costs students can face as a direct result of a disability.

I am a wheelchair user and have a neuromuscular condition associated with muscle weakness from the neck down. When I went to have my assessment for DSA I requested several types of equipment that were appropriate for my type of impairment.

The first item I requested was a computer multi-monitor application. Typically, a student works surrounded by numerous text books to read and reference. In my case I am unable to lift, hold or turn the page of book. So I requested this piece of kit – three monitors and some software – to flip from monitor to monitor to access written material or documents. The total cost was about £700. Instead I was given a non-mainstream mechanical page turner. It takes up about all the available desk space, has limited functionality, costs about £2,500, is totally inappropriate and was a “forced choice” as described earlier. In the end I had to go out and buy the multi-monitors myself.

Second item was a laptop – I need a laptop that is ergonomically suited to my impairment, and requested a model that I considered functionally appropriate for my access needs. Again, I was given the “forced choice” and subsequently had to go out and buy myself a laptop that I was able to access.

Similarly, I wanted a Kindle so I could access reading material while lying on the bed. I spend 14 hours a day sitting in my wheelchair and sometimes I would like to study lying down. I requested the Kindle because it was lighter and ergonomically suited to my impairment. They gave me the heavier Sony Reader with the buttons at the top which I couldn’t access.

I went out and bought a Kindle.

This illustrates that it is not the ICT that is the problem but has more to do with the strategy and the prescriptive approach of the “gatekeepers” of the service. Thus the “technical expert” knows what’s best for the user.

Then there was the set book list. All the course material was electronically accessible, but most of the set books were not accessible, so I was faced with paying somebody to scan my purchased books and format them into PDFs. This cost me three times the price of each book.

The point I want to make is that I am not on “equal basis with other students”. And many disabled students may well have given up the course because of issues of affordability.

ICT has to be affordable; available; accessible – and applicable.

© Copyright Miro Griffiths 2011. Miro Griffiths is a disability equality consultant. This article is an edited version of a talk given at this year’s e-Access ’11 conference, hosted by E-Access Bulletin’s publisher Headstar.

Digital Government ‘Must Not Increase Exclusion’

Digitisation of government services must not take place at the expense of increased exclusion of people with disabilities, a leading national policy adviser has told E-Access Bulletin.

Felicity Shaw is senior policy advisor for Race Online 2012, a campaign headed by the UK’s Digital Champion Martha Lane Fox to bring online the nine million people in the country who have never used the internet ( ).

Accessibility Is ‘Opportunity For Business’, Minister Tells EAB

The work of the government’s newly-launched e-Accessibility Forum will include demonstrating to businesses that accessibility is a financial opportunity rather than just a cost, the Minister for Culture, Communication and Creative Industries, Ed Vaizey, told E-Access Bulletin in an exclusive interview this week.

Led by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the e-Accessibility Forum ( ) will bring together more than 60 members from government, industry and the voluntary sector, working to deliver more accessible digital services, content and goods for disabled consumers. Some of the forum’s work is detailed in an e-Accessibility Action Plan which will be updated quarterly ( available as a PDF at: ).

Web Accessibility Unconference: Open For Access

Delegates at this month’s ‘Web Accessibility London Unconference 2010’ ( ) were treated to a run-through of the state-of-the-art for open source accessibility solutions by one of the world’s leading experts in the field.

Steve Lee, of consultancy Full Measure ( ), is the driving force behind many open source accessibility projects and is also a contributor to ‘OSS Watch’ ( ), a service advising higher and further education institutions on use or development of free and open source software. It is funded by higher education IT support agency JISC.


E-Access ’10 Conference Report: Digital Lifeline

By Dan Jellinek.

For people with motor disabilities, who may have problems leaving the house, communicating or with social confidence, online social networks can be a true liberator, delegates heard at this year’s E-Access ’10 conference hosted by Headstar and E-Access Bulletin with One Voice for Accessible ICT Coalition (

A discussion group on the accessibility of social networks to users with motor disabilities was hosted by Makayla Lewis of the Centre for Human-Computer Interaction Design, City University London, and herself a carer for her parents and a voluntary worker for people with cerebral palsy.

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