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E-Access Bulletin – Issue 197, February 2018

Access to technology for all, regardless of ability.

For HTML and text versions of all previous issues, please visit the e-Access Bulletin Archive.

Thanks to Dr. Nick Freear for maintaining the Bulletin Archive.

E-Access Bulletin is produced with the support of Thomas Pocklington Trust.

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Issue 197 contents.

Section One: News.

01: Government asks the experts for guidance in assistive technology inquiry.

– Assistive technology in the spotlight to help close disability employment gap.

02: “Born accessible” e-books is the grand plan for new e-publishing tool.

– DAISY Consortium’s new system tests for accessibility errors.

03: Apps combine forces to give visually impaired passengers a smoother ride.
– Transit data service teams up with sighted video service app.

News in Brief:

04: Tech Support – Google Disability Support Team; 05: Virtual World – VR cane developed; 06: Coding By Voice – Hands-free video game developed.

Section Two: Research.

07: Inclusive fitness equipment – an exercise in missed opportunity.

A new report from Thomas Pocklington Trust and Rica has uncovered a vast lack of accessible fitness equipment that can be used by people with sight loss. Gyms, leisure centres and machines available for home purchase were all found to be lacking, signalling a continued problem across the fitness industry. E-Access Bulletin spoke to Thomas Pocklington Trust and Rica about the report to find out what can be done.

[Contents ends].

Section One: News.

01: Government asks the experts for guidance in assistive technology inquiry.

Accessibility professionals and assistive technology users have given the UK Government recommendations in an inquiry organised by the government’s Work and Pensions Select Committee.

The inquiry looked at how technology can help improve employment rates among those with disabilities, as part of the government’s response to a report on the disability employment gap.

During the inquiry, held at the House of Commons, assistive technology users were asked how technology supports them in the workplace, and two other ‘witnesses’ – Robin Christopherson, Head of Digital Inclusion at technology charity AbilityNet, and Hector Minto, Senior Accessibility Evangelist at Microsoft – were called on to answer questions from a panel of MPs.

Christopherson talked about the usefulness of mainstream technology in providing assistive functions, explaining that mobile phone apps now allow him to do what used to require thousands of pounds’ of specialist assistive technology.

He told the Committee, “We have really moved away from the idea of ‘specialist’ being what disabled people need, to having to get the right advice, the right recommendations, to help people customise what they have on their desk in front of them or in their pocket”.

Responding to a question from Alex Burghart MP, on how government and employers can keep up-to-date with evolving assistive technologies, Minto said: “I don’t think you can claim to be disability confident, both in terms of accessing customers with disabilities or employing people with disabilities, if you don’t have basic technological experience.”

Minto also urged the need not to overlook users of older assistive technologies. He said: “There is a huge base of people using legacy software and legacy AT. So, we must make sure we’re not saying, ‘Everyone move across to the built-in mainstream solutions’. People are still using JAWS, NVDA and Dragon Dictate, and our systems must still support those people rather than forcing them to use modern technology.”

In the first part of the inquiry, a cross-sector group of assistive technology users and trainers spoke about their experiences. Asked how she uses assistive technology in the workplace, senior civil servant Jo-Ann Moran said: “It is my equivalent of free access into a building … Effectively, assistive technology is my enabler to maintain full-time employment.”

However, Moran also said that assistive technology systems used in some parts of government are not reliable enough, explaining that this unreliability has held her back in her job: “My problem now is I will not go for promotion because of my IT. I am a top performer in my grade and I keep getting told, ‘Come on, go for it,’ but I cannot, because I am just not going to be reliable. If I go for a job working for a minister, a minister is not going to accommodate me when I say, ‘Sorry, my computer is not working today.’ That is where my barrier is at the moment.”

E-Access Bulletin asked Christopherson the inquiry signalled a step forward for awareness of assistive technology. He said: “It is encouraging to see accessibility, assistive technology and the importance of digital inclusion being highlighted in this inquiry. For far too long (nearly two decades now) we have had legislation without action or impact. The result, we hope, will be more enforcement, more proactivity in applying adjustments to assist applicants and employees to perform at their best, and more business benefits for companies everywhere as they embrace inclusion and diversity in their products and processes.”

In a written response provided as part of the inquiry, AbilityNet CEO Nigel Lewis also explained the assistive benefits of mainstream technology, stressing the need for personalised recommendations in the workplace. Lewis wrote: “Giving disabled people access to the correct assistive technology means they will succeed in their role, which in turn raises awareness, challenges prejudices, promotes inclusion and encourages diversity in the workplace.”

Read the full transcript of the inquiry at the website.

Watch a video extract of the inquiry at

Find out more about the inquiry at AbilityNet’s website.

Comment on the ‘government technology inquiry’ story now at e-Access Bulletin Live.

02: “Born accessible” e-books is the grand plan for new e-publishing tool.

A free tool to test e-book content for accessibility errors has been launched.

The ‘Ace’ tool has been developed by the DAISY Consortium, a global organisation working to improve and promote accessible publishing and reading. The aim is to improve e-book usability for a wider audience and eliminate the barriers to reading e-books encountered by people with disabilities.

Ace works by assessing the content of e-books published in the widely used EPUB format. Automated checks are performed and accessibility issues are flagged-up in a report generated by the tool.

The hope is that the tool will assist the publishing industry and authors in creating e-books that conform to the EPUB Accessibility specification. Speaking to e-Access Bulletin, DAISY Consortium’s Chief Operating Officer Avneesh Singh said: “We expect the publishing industry to use Ace widely, integrate it in their production workflows and improve accessibility of all their publications over time, leading to ‘born accessible’ publications.”

However, Ace’s developers are keen to stress the tool’s limitations as well as its benefits. They point out that Ace performs only automated checks and does not provide a complete picture of all possible accessibility violations, and should therefore be used alongside other forms of testing and evaluation.

Singh said: “Automated tools like Ace can help in identifying the accessibility issues and greatly help in reducing human labour involved in manual accessibility testing, but it cannot completely replace the human intervention and judgement. We have provided this statement to make it clear that one cannot claim conformance to standards like WCAG by just using Ace. Ace will definitely provide great help in accessibility inspection, but it will not replace human driven checks and human judgement.”

An additional manual inspection tool is also being developed by DAISY Consortium, Singh said. This tool uses the accessibility reports generated by Ace and guides the user through the manual inspection process.

Grant money from the Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities project helped to fund the development of the Ace tool. DAISY was selected as one of the winners of the project, which awarded $20 million to 29 non-profits developing accessible technology.

Find more information about Ace at the Inclusive Publishing website.

Find out more at the DAISY Consortium website.

Comment on the ‘Ace e-book tool’ story now at e-Access Bulletin Live.

03: Apps combine forces to give visually impaired passengers a smoother ride.

Popular global transportation app Moovit has partnered with Be My Eyes, an app service providing sighted assistance to visually impaired people, aiming to make transit easier for users with sight loss

Moovit, which is used by over 120 million people in 80 countries and claims to be ‘the world’s number one transit app’, helps people move around cities by providing users with transport information, such as bus and train trackers and real-time updates. Be My Eyes connects visually impaired users with sighted volunteers to answer queries through a video call– for example, checking the sell-by date on food packaging. The service is used by over 60,000 people with sight loss and has over 876,000 sighted volunteers.

The partnership means that anyone using Moovit can now navigate to Be My Eyes through a new menu command, so that users can combine the two services. For example, someone with sight loss who is using Moovit to find out bus arrival times can then switch to Be My Eyes to help them get on the correct bus and find a seat once on-board.

After working with a blind developer, Adi Kushnir, to make the service more accessible for visually impaired users, all Moovit screens were made compatible with Apple’s VoiceOver and Android’s TalkBack features in 2016.

In a separate collaboration, Be My Eyes has also teamed up with Microsoft, to offer users access to the Microsoft Disability Answer Desk for technology-related queries. The latest update of the app features an additional ‘Specialized Help’ menu that takes users directly to the Disability Answer Desk, where they can ask a dedicated team for assistance with Microsoft services and products.

Find out more about at the Be My Eyes website.

Read more about Moovit at the app’s website.

Comment on the ‘Moovit and Be My Eyes’ story at e-Access Bulletin Live.

News in Brief:

04: Tech Support: Google has launched a disability support team to answer accessibility queries from users. The team will answer questions about using separate assistive technology with Google products, as well as Google’s own accessibility features, such as ChromeVox or TalkBack. The support team will answer questions by email and are available Monday-Friday, working on Pacific Standard Time. To contact the team, email:

Read more about the support team at the Google Accessibility Blog.

05: Virtual World: A cane that lets people with sight loss experience virtual reality has been developed by Microsoft. Named the Canetroller, the system features a ‘haptic cane controller’, which generates sounds, physical resistance and vibrations when it encounters objects in a virtual landscape, simulating how a cane behaves in the real world. One aim of the project is to help people with sight loss practice navigation skills in a controlled environment.

Read more about the Canetroller at the Microsoft Research portal.

06: Coding By Voice: A developer has coded a video game without using his hands, instead using only his voice, through a customised version of speech-recognition software. In an interview with technology news website Ars Technica, Rusty Moyher explained how he was unable to use his hands to code after severe repetitive strain injury (RSI), but discovered a system from developer Travis Rudd, who converted Dragon NaturallySpeaking to write code using just his voice. Moyher’s resulting game was ‘Dig Dog’, where players control a dog hunting for treasure.

Read more about Rusty Moyher’s hands-free coding at Ars Technica.

[Section One ends].

Notice: Thomas Pocklington Trust.

E-Access Bulletin is brought to you with the kind support of Thomas Pocklington Trust, a national charity delivering positive change for people with sight loss. Find out more about the charity’s work by visiting the Thomas Pocklington Trust website.

[Notice ends].

Notice: RNIB Connect Radio and e-Access Bulletin.

e-Access Bulletin will be appearing on RNIB Connect Radio each month on The Early Edition programme. Hear more about the bulletin and upcoming content appearing in each issue, as we discuss the latest accessible technology news and readers’ questions with Allan Russell.

Episodes will be available after broadcast as podcasts from the RNIB Connect Radio site. Listen to RNIB Connect Radio online, or via television, smartphone or radio. Find out more at the RNIB Connect Radio website.

[Notice ends].

Section Two: Research.

07: Inclusive fitness equipment – an exercise in missed opportunity.

Going to the gym or using exercise equipment at home is simply part of a daily routine for many, but locking-in this routine isn’t as easy for some people. A huge amount of modern fitness equipment just isn’t accessible for those with a visual impairment, as a new report has demonstrated.

The study, ‘Inclusive fitness equipment for people with a visual impairment’, was commissioned by sight loss charity Thomas Pocklington Trust and carried out by Rica (the Research Institute for Consumer Affairs). It showed the prevalence of console systems that are partially or entirely unusable to people with a visual impairment, despite a widespread desire among this group stay physically active.

e-Access Bulletin found out more about the study from Lynn Watson, Head of Research at Thomas Pocklington Trust, and Chris Lofthouse, Outreach Manager at Rica.

– E-Access Bulletin: Does the topic of fitness for people with a visual impairment get overlooked?

Lynn Watson: “Research from RNIB showed that 64% of visually impaired people would like to be more physically active and that many feel held back by various barriers. These include persistent social attitudes and the slowness of many designers and manufacturers to embrace inclusive design.”

Chris Lofthouse: “Our research with gym managers and equipment manufacturers showed a low level of awareness of the needs of visually impaired people. Until they become aware, inclusive gym equipment is likely to be a low priority for them. We hope that our research will help to raise awareness of visually impaired people’s enthusiasm for getting and staying healthy, as well as the barriers that stop them taking part.”

– What did the study find to be the biggest issues faced by visually impaired users?

Chris: “Participants found that consoles with tactile buttons, audio output, colour contrast and block colours were more accessible. Our testers unanimously agreed that there was a need for voice-over on all console types.

“In terms of environment, use of cardiovascular fitness equipment had a substantial impact upon users’ lives, including improvements in everyday fitness and mental health. However, our testers found accessing fitness equipment and facilities challenging because of drawbacks in the built environment and customer service.”

– How important is audio output on fitness machines to make them inclusive for a visually impaired audience?

Lynn: “Very important. Voice-over technology was seen by participants as an urgent requirement. From interviews with industry representatives, the barriers to progress were: cost, industry culture, lack of awareness and over-reliance on formal standards, which have not kept pace with advances in technology.”

Chis: “There are limited options available, because there is no discernible trend within the fitness sector toward audio output. Some said that the way ahead would be to integrate gym equipment controls with smartphone technology.”

– Were there any pieces of equipment that stood out as being particularly inclusive for visually impaired users?

Lynn: “This doesn’t come through in the research. The study indicates that LED consoles are moderately more accessible than touchscreen consoles, but neither type performed very well.”

Chris “None stood out. A rowing machine manufacturer, Concept2, has introduced ErgChatter, a free software tool which provides audio output, but there is little else on offer.”

– What were participants’ key recommendations from the study?

Chris: “Wider use of audio output and voice-over technology; use of wireless technology; ability to increase font size on screens; tactile buttons and high-contrast colours on LED consoles; improved layout, colour use, signage and lighting in leisure centres; trained staff to assist VI people in using equipment.

“People in focus groups argued that VI-friendly adaptations would also improve going to the gym for other users, such as people with learning disabilities and people with different motor or sensory skills.”

– What can gyms and leisure centres do to become more inclusive for customers with a visual impairment?

Chris: “1. Develop a best-practice guide for manufacturers, outlining design features most appropriate for visually impaired users.

2. Support an update to the Inclusive Fitness Initiative (IFI) standards set by the English Federation of Disability Sport, reinforcing the case for inclusive design.

3. Product design teams to make better use of guidelines and best practice from other industries, independent organisations and governmental bodies.

4. Improve staff training and communication procedures across the fitness sector, using the NHS Accessible Information Standard.

5. Implement a voluntary ‘buddy scheme’ at all public sector leisure centres to assist visually impaired users and other disabled users.”

Read the inclusive fitness guide in full, in Word or PDF, at the Thomas Pocklington Trust website.

Find out more about the study at Rica’s website.

Comment on the ‘inclusive fitness equipment’ story at e-Access Bulletin Live.

[Section Two ends]

End Notes.

How to receive E-Access Bulletin.

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To view previous issues in text or HTML format, please visit the e-Access Bulletin Archive.

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Editor: Tristan Parker

Technical Director: Jake Jellinek

Accessibility Advisor: Dr. Nick Freear

ISSN 1476-6337.

[Issue 197 ends.]


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