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Issue 200 contents
Section One: News
01: Government asks for public input on accessibility directive, but exemptions remain.
– Implementation plans begin with public consultation.
02: Tech funding, employment and apps on the agenda at assistive conference.
– Minister of State for Disabled People on tech and Access to Work.
03: Microsoft unveils new $25 million ‘AI for Accessibility’ project.
– New program will fund developers, universities and inventors.
Section Two: News in brief
04: Citywide Inclusion – Venue reviews database;
05: Illuminating Information – Lighting guide launched;
06: Window to the World – ‘Smart window’ creates tactile view.
Section Three: The Inbox – Readers’ forum
07: Smart home solutions needed – Intelligent, but not-so inclusive.
Section Four: Overview
08: Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2018 – a snapshot of an evolving phenomenon.
On May 17, the seventh Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) took place, with technology giants and individuals alike helping to raise awareness of digital inclusivity issues around the world. Mel Poluck looks at some of the activity from this year’s event and asks co-founder Joe Devon why GAAD has become such a success.
Section One: News
01: Government asks for public input on accessibility directive, but exemptions remain
The UK Government is using a public consultation to help plan how European accessibility legislation will be implemented later this year.
The EU Directive on the accessibility of public sector websites and mobile applications is scheduled to become legally binding in the UK on September 23 of this year. It aims to make public sector digital content easier to access, particularly for people with disabilities.
At the end of April the government launched a consultation to help determine the level of understanding of the directive, and what guidance it can offer to organisations to help them comply with the new regulations. The consultation closed on May 29, and a Cabinet Office spokesperson told e-Access Bulletin that the government “will consider all of the points raised and will respond in due course.”
A Government Digital Service (GDS) blog post sets out more about how the directive will be introduced and the reasons behind the consultation. It explains that public sector bodies will need to evaluate their website and mobile app accessibility, and will then “be expected to fix any issues and provide detail of this in an accessibility statement hosted on their website.”
Although the directive is intended to broadly apply to all public sector organisations, there are exceptions, including public service broadcasters (such as the BBC) and non-governmental organisations providing “services that are not essential to the public … or services that do not specifically address the needs of persons with disabilities”.
An “optional exemption” chosen by the government means that schools, nurseries and kindergartens will be exempt from complying with the directive, except in “essential online administrative functions”.
A significant amount of content will also be exempt from the directive. This includes “documents that are not intended primarily for use on the web” (which covers PDFs and Microsoft Office documents) published before September 23, 2018, pre-recorded media (including videos and podcasts) recorded before September 23, 2020, live video, online maps and mapping services, third-party content, and content on intranets and extranets published before September 23, 2019.
Speaking to e-Access Bulletin, Carine Marzin, a member of the European Disability Forum ICT Expert Group, pointed out that the directive sets the minimum requirements needed to comply, meaning that governments can introduce more stringent accessibility measures and do not have to follow the optional exemptions.
Marzin said: “It is unclear why the government intends to use the directive’s optional exemption on schools, nurseries and kindergartens. This decision is likely to affect disabled children and disabled parents and, in my opinion, should be challenged. The government also proposes to exempt types of content which one would expect to be accessible. The UK Government’s apparent decision to use all possible exemptions in the directive, where it has no obligation to do so, is very disappointing.”
She continued: “The directive states that enforcement should be ‘adequate and effective’, yet the government’s proposals do not include details on the required enforcement mechanism. All we know is that the government does not intend to introduce fines and has not yet decided which body will be responsible for enforcement. This is wholly inadequate.”
The directive will be implemented in stages over three years. Websites created after September 23, 2018 must comply before September 23, 2019, while websites created before September 23, 2018, have more time to adjust, and need to comply from September 23, 2020. Mobile apps need to comply with the directive from June 23, 2021.
For more information, read Carine Marzin’s e-Access Bulletin article on the EU Directive.
02: Tech funding, employment and apps on the agenda at assistive conference
The government’s technology fund, disability in the workplace and new apps were among the topics discussed at the latest Assistive Technology Conference and Exhibition (ATEC).
Taking place in London earlier this month, the conference featured a wide range of speakers from the accessibility sector, charities, government and beyond.
In an opening keynote speech on ‘Government approaches to assistive technology’, Sarah Newton MP, the Minister of State for Disabled People, Health and Work, said that the government is “keen to include” assistive technology (AT) as part of its ten-year plan on ‘Improving lives: the future of work, health and disability”. Newton said that AT plays a “huge role” in helping people with disabilities find and stay in work.
She also spoke about the government’s new ‘Tech Fund’, which covers employers’ costs when purchasing AT for employees through the Access To Work scheme. Previously, medium and large employers had to pay a mandatory contribution, but the cost is now being waived through the fund.
Newton concluded her speech by putting out a call to ‘people who are innovating in technology’ to join Open Lab, a network that focuses on inclusive design and works to create new accessible products and services.
Later in the day, a session hosted by the British Assistive Technology Association (BATA) highlighted a recent change in VAT rules that now allows devices such as mobile phones and tablets to be VAT-exempt, as long as they are being used for assistive purposes – a change that BATA has been campaigning for.
In a session on ‘New and emerging technologies’ hosted by Andy Hall, Head of Assistive Solutions at charity Scope, Microsoft’s Seeing AI app was discussed and critiqued. The app assists users with sight loss by ‘recognising’ text, objects and even facial expressions, and narrating the content to users.
The final session of the day was a panel debate, with questions from the audience. A key theme was disability and employment, including changing attitudes towards disability in the workplace and what organisations can do to attract a diverse workforce.
Responding to a question about how the AT sector can support people with disabilities who are looking for work, Neil Milliken – Head of Accessibility and Digital Inclusion at IT services company Atos – said that the general view of AT as niche needs to reframed. He said: “AT enables people to be effective at what they do, and helps them help the business [they’re working for], but it’s about communicating that clearly.”
Speaking about why employers might be reluctant to implement AT, Sal McKeown, a freelance journalist specialising in disability, said that there is still a fear of the unknown when it comes to specialist technologies. She also cited lack of knowledge as a factor: “There are some people in technical support with no knowledge of AT. If we could change that and say ‘To be an inclusive organisation, you have to have somebody, somewhere, with an understanding of AT, that would be a step forward.’”
Find out more about the event at the ATEC website.
03: Microsoft unveils $25 million ‘AI for Accessibility’ project
A heavily funded program announced by Microsoft will aim to create and nurture advanced artificial intelligence (AI) products and services that can assist people with disabilities around the world.
The five-year program, named AI for Accessibility, was launched at the Microsoft Build conference in Seattle and will be funded by $25 million from Microsoft. The project will provide developers with AI tools and will focus on three key areas: employment, modern life and human connection.
An introductory page for the project on the Microsoft websites states that the unemployment rate for people with disabilities in the United States is twice as high, according to the US Office of Disability Employment Policy. The introduction then goes on to outline the benefits of AI in employment: “AI can help people develop professional skills and influence workplace culture and inclusive hiring.”
In a blog post announcing AI for Accessibility, Microsoft President Brad Smith writes that the project will “accelerate the development of accessible and intelligent AI solutions to benefit the one billion-plus people with disabilities around the world.”
The program will do this in three ways, initially by providing seed funding to developers, universities, non-governmental organisations and inventors taking “an AI-first approach” to building products and services to help people with disabilities.
The next stage will involve nurturing the most promising projects through further investment and assistance from Microsoft’s AI team. The final stage, writes Smith, will involve Microsoft working with its partners “to incorporate AI innovations into platform-level services to empower others”.
AI for Accessibility follows Microsoft’s AI for Earth project, which works to tackle environmental issues through artificial intelligence.
Read more about the program at Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility project page.
[Section One ends]
Section Two: News in brief
04: Citywide Inclusion
Accessible venues in Leeds, UK, are being collated for a new online platform by University of Leeds students. The Leeds Access Advisor pilot project asks people to rate venues around the city on access reviews site Euan’s Guide, and will then build a database with this content. As well as increasing venue accessibility across Leeds, the project aims to provide a model for other cities to launch similar schemes. Anyone who reviews a Leeds venue on Euan’s Guide should let the project know via Twitter (@LeedsAccess) or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more about the Leeds Access Advisor at Euan’s Guide.
05: Illuminating Information
A guide on lighting around the home for people with visual impairments has been released by sight loss charity Thomas Pocklington Trust, featuring information on how assistive technologies can make lighting setups more inclusive. This includes devices such as counter lights, which can help illuminate surfaces more fully, and lighting systems controlled remotely, via phones and tablets.
Read the ‘Lighting in and around the home’ guide at the Thomas Pocklington Trust website.
06: Window to the World
A car window that lets blind and visually impaired passengers ‘visualise’ passing landscape through touch is being developed by Ford Italy. Named ‘Feel the View’, the prototype ‘smart window’ takes photos of scenes outside the car and reproduces them using LEDs. Passengers inside can then touch these images, which vibrate at different intensities, allowing them to build up a picture of views outside the car.
Read more about Feel the View at Ford Europe’s 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.
Section Three: The Inbox – Readers’ Forum
07: Smart home solutions needed
Regular correspondent Brian Gaff gets in touch about a feature from last month’s e-Access Bulletin that looked at whether ‘smart home’ technology can help create safer, more liveable homes for older people. Brian also comments on general web accessibility issues faced by many people with sight loss:
“On smart devices around the home, what is very urgently needed is for appliance-makers to stop producing touch-screen items that blind people cannot use. At the very least, these either need to talk, have buttons and switches as before, or maybe integrate with all the common home assistants so everyone can use them.
“I’d like to widen this to cover consumer exercise equipment, as many people cannot handle gyms, and they can be dangerous to use without constant supervision, due to the number of people in them. So let’s have talking treadmills and bikes, etc. It cannot be that hard, since we have talking TVs.”
Brian continues: “With regard to websites, I think we have hit a full stop. The current state of the art needs to be sorted. So many companies and councils now need us to be online and fill out forms, so they need to make these forms much simpler, as many screen-readers cannot cope with the changes of text before the field, after the field, in the field, and complex tables where the tab order is not logical.”
Any responses or further comments, please, to: email@example.com.
[Section Three 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.
Section Four: Overview
08: Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2018 – a snapshot of an evolving phenomenon
By Mel Poluck.
Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) has grown rapidly in its short lifetime.
Beginning with a blog post in 2011 entitled ‘Challenge: Accessibility know-how needs to go mainstream with developers. NOW’ that triggered the annual event, GAAD now counts the world’s technology giants among its participants.
“It’s surreal that as a result of one blog post, tech companies with a market cap of almost two trillion dollars combined have changed their homepage to commemorate GAAD,” US-based developer Joe Devon, author of the post and GAAD co-founder, told e-Access Bulletin.
Devon connected with accessibility expert Jennison Asuncion by chance on Twitter and together they founded the annual one-day celebration, which invites individuals and organisations to get people talking about digital inclusion, marking the day with events and discussion.
This year marked the seventh GAAD, held on May 17, and as ever, the event provided lots of simple ways for people to experience everyday accessibility challenges. The GAAD website suggested the following: set aside an hour to go mouseless, use your keyboard or a screen-reader to navigate, or create/share a video online demonstrating how you use assistive technology.
Apple used the event to announce that its Everyone Can Code program, which teaches students to code and build apps, was expanding to US schools for blind and deaf communities. The course uses Apple’s programming language Swift and was developed with engineers, teachers and programmers specialising in accessibility.
Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Adobe and Oath announced their forthcoming week-long accessibility course, Teach Access Study Away: Silicon Valley. Aimed at students, universities and industry partners, the course is funded by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and includes a module on accessibility careers.
Microsoft chose GAAD to announce the launch of its Xbox Adaptive Controller. Scheduled for release later this year, the controller is aimed at gamers with impairments and features ports that players can connect switches, buttons, pressure-sensitive tubes and other assistive devices into, so that no gamers are excluded.
In the UK, the BBC held a day-long livestream of events called Access All Areas, discussing innovations in assistive technology, with sessions on digital inclusion, accessible gaming and inclusive workplace design.
For other organisations, webinars were a simple, popular tool used to spread the accessibility message. Some of the many topics covered included an introduction to screen-readers, e-reader accessibility, and accessibility for local government.
Some of the day’s activity simply highlighted the everyday challenges that people with a disability face. For example, technology access charity AbilityNet shared a video on Facebook showing the experience of keyboard-only user Alex Barker, unsuccessfully trying to book flights online for his wedding using travel website Skyscanner (the company subsequently responded, offering to fix the problem).
Argentina-based accessibility organisation Fundación Comparlante announced the launch of IncluYes, an online platform that makes it easier for people in South America and the United States to buy products and services adapted for people with a disability.
The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) called on Twitter to make its image accessibility features simpler to use. “It’s great that Twitter has image descriptions, but why aren’t these settings automatically switched on?,” RNIB tweeted.
Individuals also used the day to pool their expertise for the benefit of others. One group of accessible gaming professionals offered a Q&A on Reddit. “As part of industry-wide pushes happening all over the world,” reads the introduction, “a bunch of us have come together for all your questions. Whether you’re someone with a disability, a gamer, a developer, none of the above, all of the above, hit us up … All of us are working towards raising the bar for inclusion of people with disabilities in gaming.”
Throughout the day, Twitter buzzed with comments, links and videos using the hashtags #GAAD, #GAAD2018 and #GAADTweetChat.
One of Joe Devon’s personal highlights of the day was new new Californian legislature that recognises Global Accessibility Awareness Day and calls on public bodies and businesses in California to make their websites accessible for people with disabilities. “We have no idea how it came about. That was pretty cool,” Devon says.
So, how does he explain such incredible and rapid growth of the event? “In the start-up world there is a concept of ‘product/market fit’ that venture capitalists love to talk about. This year’s epiphany is that GAAD has hit product/market fit.”
The call to those beyond the accessibility community will also remain important in achieving the goals of GAAD.
“The accessibility community is in a lot of pain because digital products are so close to changing people’s lives drastically, but when they fail because of an accessibility oversight, it’s beyond frustrating,” says Devon. “I was personally failing people that depend on technology to improve their lives. Our whole industry was.
“I get the sense that the community felt that developers just don’t care. It meant something to that group that a developer outside that community realised we were failing and wanted to change things. It was an outsider preaching to other outsiders to come in and join the community.
“I also think that diversity has become an important topic in our culture,” Devon continues. “Millennials are demanding corporate responsibility, so GAAD is in-line with that desire.”
In future, Devon would like to see local media ask their readers to celebrate the day and ensure their websites and products are accessible. “Developers will feel the need to be up on accessibility even more if customers demand it.”
Find out more about GAAD at the Global Accessibility Awareness Day website.
[Section Four ends]
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ISSUE 200 ends.