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E-Access Bulletin – Issue 201, July 2018

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

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Issue 201 contents

Section One: News

01: Government stands by accessibility directive exemptions amid sector criticism.

– Response to consultation on EU directive.

02: On-screen TV guides to become more accessible for people with sight loss.

– Ofcom introduces new rules for broadcasters.

03: Virtual reality immersing young people in the world of work.

– Training scenarios using Oculus Rift to reduce anxiety.

Section Two: News in brief

04: Scaling Up – Global project to improve assistive tech.

05: Textual Boost – Tweetdeck adds alt text function.

06: Lab Learning – ‘Accessibility empathy lab’.

Section Three: Report

07: From smartwatch wayfinders to robot farmers – Tech4Good Awards 2018.
The AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards were launched in 2011 to celebrate the power of technology to improve people’s lives, and the latest event continued this crucial cause. As always, a range of digital innovations and ideas were showcased, all designed to benefit individuals and communities across the globe. Find out more about the 2018 Tech4Good winners, including the Accessibility Award, in our report.

[Contents ends]

Section One: News

01: Government stands by accessibility directive exemptions amid sector criticism

The UK Government has published its response to consultation feedback on its plans to implement European accessibility legislation. At the end of April, the government launched the public consultation on the EU Directive on the accessibility of public sector websites and mobile applications, detailing how it planned to introduce and handle the directive.

The consultation gathered 44 responses from individuals and organisations, including the British Computer Society’s Digital Accessibility Specialist Group, disability charity Scope and RNIB.

One point of concern for many respondents was a proposal to allow schools, kindergartens and nurseries to be largely exempt from the directive. 62% of consultation respondents disagreed with the idea, questioning why such a large sector would be excluded, also suggesting alternatives.

However, the government response states that it stands by this proposal: “Government policy is not to go beyond the minimum requirements of European Directives unless there are exceptional circumstances. In accordance with this policy, we will make use of all exemptions available in the Directive.”

Other exemptions to the Directive include the websites and mobile apps of public service broadcasters (including the BBC) and some NGOs, plus some third-party content that appears on public sector websites. Some respondents questioned these exemptions and highlighted potential accessibility problems for users. Once again, the government response states its intention to ‘make use’ of all possible exemptions.

This harnessing of optional exemptions has been criticised by accessibility advocates, including Carine Marzin – a member of the European Disability Forum ICT Expert Group – who labelled the strategy ‘very disappointing’ in a previous issue of e-Access Bulletin.

The government response states that a review of the regulations will take place two years after they come into force, which will include examining how exemptions are working and “if these need to be changed.”

Enforcement of the regulations was another consultation topic. The consultation proposed that the Government Digital Service (GDS) monitor and record public sector bodies’ compliance with the Directive, but also that there were no plans to introduce ‘new fines’ for organisations failing to comply with the Directive.

Some respondents criticised “the lack of detail on a proposed enforcement mechanism”, and others suggested that fines or a published list of non-complying organisations should be used as penalties.

This lack of sanctions is labelled as “disappointing” in the consultation response of Policy Connect – a cross-party think-tank providing support to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Assistive Technology (APPGAT). Policy Connect claims that “Sanctions are a well-established part of effective enforcement mechanisms and should be a part of enforcement of the present regulations.”

The government response states that while GDS will monitor and report on compliance with the Directive, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) will undertake enforcement. Additionally, the Minister for the Cabinet Office will be given some enforcement powers. The government claims that this approach “makes sure the process for resolving accessibility concerns is robust.”

The Directive will be implemented on September 23. Deadlines for public sector organisations to comply with the regulations fall at different points during 2019-2021 depending on when content was created.

Read the government’s response in full at the GOV.UK website.

Read Policy Connect’s consultation response in full at the Policy Connect website.

Comment on the ‘Government consultation response’ story now at e-Access Bulletin Live.

02: On-screen TV guides to become more accessible for people with sight loss

Electronic programme guides used to navigate TV channel menus are set to become easier to use for people with a visual impairment or hearing loss, thanks to a series of new requirements for UK broadcasters.

Organisations using these electronic programme guides (EPGs) must now take the following four steps: provide a text-to-speech function within EPGs; highlight or list separately programmes with audio description or signing; provide a magnification or enlarging function, and; make sure that viewers can switch between default and high-contrast displays.

The new rules, which come into force on July 27, have been set by communications regulator Ofcom, and will affect all EPG providers in the UK, including Sky, Virgin, BT, TalkTalk and EE.

Ofcom has amended its ‘Code on Electronic Programme Guides’ to include the rules, as part of a drive to make EPGs easier to use for people with disabilities.

The move has been informed by a public consultation that ended earlier this year, which asked for views on proposed accessibility changes by Ofcom. Organisations including the BBC, RNIB, the Communication Consumer Panel and the European Guide Dog Federation (EGDF) responded to the consultation with suggestions and feedback on the proposed changes.

In a statement detailing the new rules, Ofcom notes that RNIB, EGDF and a number of individuals said they did not believe that Ofcom’s outline for broadcasters to use “reasonable endeavours” to improve EPG accessibility went far enough, and instead requested “a more prescriptive approach” for delivering accessibility improvements.

To help enforce the new rules, Ofcom will introduce “strengthened reporting practices”, which will require EPG providers to submit an annual report on EPG accessibility and future plans.

Cathy Taylor, Senior Standards Executive at Ofcom, told e-Access Bulletin that the revised code will “also give EPG providers the flexibility to innovate in this area and introduce other equally effective methods to help people with sight impairments navigate TV channels more easily.” Speaking about the consultation process, Taylor said: “It is crucial that we publicly consult on matters of public policy to offer those affected a chance to have their say, and to make sure we ultimately arrive at the right decision.”

Ofcom also notes on its website that it is supporting a national campaign run by major broadcasters to improve public awareness of audio description. The campaign will run until September 9 and is being highlighted by promotional adverts aired by Virgin, Sky, BBC, Channel 4, ITV and other broadcasters.

Find out more about the EPG accessibility changes at Ofcom’s website.

Read Ofcom’s full statement on EPG accessibility in PDF or rich text.

Comment on the ‘Ofcom EPG rules’ story now at e-Access Bulletin Live.

03: Virtual reality immersing young people in the world of work

A series of virtual reality (VR) simulations are helping young people with learning impairments in Australia to prepare for employment.

The training simulations are run on the Oculus Rift VR headset and are part of a ‘Virtual Learning Environment’ project by disability charity the Endeavour Foundation, originally developed in collaboration with Queensland University of Technology.

Users can experience a range of VR scenarios to build skills for specific jobs, such as barista and warehouse operative.

In addition to employment, other training programmes focus on a variety of real-world situations, such as using an ATM, catching a train and pedestrian safety. The idea behind the project is to let people experience these scenarios in a safe, controlled environment, for users who might otherwise find the situations stressful or overwhelming.

The aim is to build confidence and get the user used to certain environments, so that they feel equipped to deal with the situations later on.

The simulations were funded by partnering with relevant companies for each programme (including a banking firm, insurance company and rail freight company), whose business is then represented in the simulation.

Currently, the Endeavour Foundation operates around 15 programmes, with more planned for the future, including a driving simulator.

Read more about the Endeavour Foundation’s work at the charity’s website.

Comment on the ‘VR employment training’ story at e-Access Bulletin Live.

[Section One ends]

Section Two: News in brief

04: Scaling Up

A new partnership to improve access to and affordability of assistive technology has been launched at the UK Government’s first Global Disability Summit. The project, named ‘AT Scale’, aims to reach 500 million people around the world by 2030 and has been informed by a report on barriers to assistive technology, published by the Global Disability Innovation (GDI) Hub. Other partners in the initiative include the Department for International Development, the World Health Organisation and UNICEF.

Read more about the project on the AT Scale Twitter feed.

05: Textual Boost

Users of Tweetdeck, the popular Twitter management platform, can now add alt text to images, giving a more descriptive, accessible experience for users with a visual impairment. Users have already been able to add alt text descriptions in Twitter for some time, meaning that Tweetdeck’s decision was widely welcomed, although some questioned why the function is only ‘opt-in’ and not enabled by default. Announcing the move, Tweetdeck also reposted a guide from a Twitter user on writing effective image descriptions for screen-readers.

Read more about adding alt text at Tweetdeck’s Twitter profile.

06: Lab Learning

The Government Digital Service (GDS) has blogged about the continuing development of its ‘accessibility empathy lab’, which aims to give public sector employees a greater understanding of impairments faced by people using the GOV.UK website. Specialist equipment simulates different impairments, and various assistive technologies can be used and tested. The goal is for the lab to increase inclusive digital design across government.

Read more about the accessibility empathy lab at the GDS blog.

[Section Two 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 their work at 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 more information about the Early Edition at the RNIB Connect Radio website.

[Notice ends]

Section Three: Report

07: From smartwatch wayfinders to robot farmers – Tech4Good Awards 2018

Earlier this month, the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards took place in London, showcasing everything from tiny farming robots to an innovative new way of contacting emergency services.

Now in its eighth year, the event was created by technology access charity AbilityNet to celebrate digital technology projects designed to improve people’s lives and benefit society. Entries can be new or existing ideas, and can come from anyone, such as a charity, business or individual.

In 2016, for example, nine-year-old Arnav Sharma won the Tech4Good People’s Award for his asthma-managing digital device, the AsthmaPi, while in this year’s event, projects from Microsoft and Facebook both made the finals.

Awards are split into nine categories, each highlighting a different strand of digital innovation: accessibility; connected society; young pioneer; ‘Tech4Good for Africa’; community impact; digital health; digital skills; digital volunteer of the year, and; community impact.

A panel of 23 judges from across the technology and charity sectors selected 28 finalists chosen from over 250 entries, while the final category – the People’s Award – was chosen by the public.

Here’s a rundown of this year’s winners.

The AbilityNet Accessibility Award was won by Be My Eyes, a free app for iOS and Android designed to help people with sight loss live more independently by assisting them in completing everyday tasks.

The app works by connecting visually impaired users to sighted volunteers via video link. The volunteers then answer questions from the user, who might want to know, for example, whether the date on a food expiry label has passed, or what a nearby road sign says.

An additional feature is ‘Specialized Help’, which lets companies use Be My Eyes to provide tailored customer service to users with a visual impairment. Users can contact the Microsoft Disability Desk directly through the app to ask for help with Microsoft products.

As reported in e-Access Bulletin earlier this year, Be My Eyes has announced a partnership with transportation app Moovit, to help people with sight loss use public transport around cities.

The winner of the Digital Health Award was TapSOS, a non-verbal method of contacting emergency services through an app. Designed primarily for people who are deaf, hard of hearing, speech impaired, or in a situation where it’s difficult to speak, TapSOS lets users set up a profile with their medical history, which gets shared with emergency services when the user contacts them. GPS provides a caller’s exact location to emergency services, making it easier to send out a response vehicle.

Small Robot Company won the Connected Society Award for their miniature farm robots, designed to automate elements of the planting, feeding, watering and weeding process on a farm in a lightweight, environmentally friendly and cost-effective way.

The Water Watcher was the winner of the BT Young Pioneer Award. The device fits on to a tap and uses an alarm and timer system to alert users if the tap has been left on too long. Powered by a simple BBC Micro:bit computer (a winner in the 2016 Tech4Good Awards), the Water Watcher is particularly useful for people with dementia or dyslexia.

The Unlocking Talent Through Technology scheme, which provides solar-powered tablet computers and literacy apps for schools in Malawi, won the Comic Relief Tech4Good for Africa Award. Led by international development organisation VSO, the Unlocking Talent programme has reached 90,000 schoolchildren so far, and has been integrated into Malawi’s National Education Policy framework.

The Community Impact Award was won by MOMO (Mind of My Own), an app to help keep children and young people safe. MOMO encourages users to record thoughts, feelings and observations, which can help them communicate about difficult or dangerous situations which they might not feel able to discuss elsewhere.

A ‘wayfinding’ app for people with learning impairments was voted for by the public to win the Tech4Good People’s Award. WaytoB helps guide users who may not be able to fully operate other navigation or mapping systems. The app works through a smartwatch, giving users clear directions on a specified journey, and letting them know when to cross a road or which bus to catch, for example.

Crucially, WaytoB is used in harmony by a ‘navigator’ and ‘partner’, such as a family member or friend. Journeys are pre-programmed by the ‘partner’, who can track where the navigator is through the app.

The Digital Skills Award was won by Generation Code, a national scheme to help develop coding skills in young people around the UK. People aged 16-25 who already have coding knowledge are trained to become ‘Code Champions’, who then provide coding activities to people aged 11-19 in their local area.

The importance of coding was also recognised in the Digital Volunteer of the Year Award, presented to Anna Holland Smith. Anna is involved with a number of inclusive coding initiatives, including Manchester’s Codebar, which provides programming opportunities for underrepresented groups.

Read more about all of this year’s winners and other projects at the Tech4Good Awards website.

Comment on the ‘Tech4Good Awards 2018’ story at e-Access Bulletin Live.

[Section Three ends]

End Notes

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Editor: Tristan Parker

Technical Director: Jake Jellinek

Accessibility Advisor: Dr. Nick Freear

ISSN 1476-6337.

ISSUE 201 ends.


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