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Issue 203 contents
Section One: News
01: ‘Audiogame Jam’ will spawn accessible games for visually impaired players.
– Charity event to raise funds and awareness of blind gaming community.
02: One in five museums do not provide online access information, research uncovers.
– Report advises museums based on nationwide audit.
03: Accessible learning resources can help close disability employment gap, report claims.
– New legislation could help improve studying for all students.
Section Two: News in brief
04: Cultural call-out – Audio description study.
05: Fee-free tech – Free assistive tools.
06: Learning to navigate – Wayfindr e-learning course.
07: Gaming for good – ‘One Special Day’ fundraiser.
Section Three: Viewpoint
08: Digital banking – not a one-size-fits-all solution.
It’s no secret that banks are keen to move their customers towards digital services and online banking, but in doing so are they leaving behind blind and visually impaired customers? Canadian accessibility campaigner Donna Jodhan gives her view on the situation.
Section One: News
01: ‘Audiogame Jam’ will spawn accessible games for visually impaired players
A series of audio-based videogames that can be played without sight will be created during a ten-day ‘Audiogame Jam’ in October, to raise funds for the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and spread awareness of the barriers faced by blind and visually impaired gamers.
Game developers from around the world will take part in the event by developing and building accessible games during the ten-day period – October 12-28 – and uploading them to the Audiogame Jam website before the deadline. After the event, all games submitted are available for anyone to play for free.
Audiogame Jam was launched by James Kyle as a fundraising event for RNIB in 2016, after being influenced by other charity ‘game jams’ and similar events. Kyle – who now works for RNIB as a network administrator – is visually impaired and wanted to help the charity for the support he has received from them over the years.
In an exclusive interview with e-Access Bulletin, Kyle explained that he feels blind and visually impaired gamers are often overlooked by game developers. He said: “Very few games are marketed as being playable by blind people and those that are, are generally made by smaller studios and published independently. As a result, blind gamers have developed a community through which they share information on which ‘AAA’ games (high budget, high profile, popular games) are playable by them and what steps need to be taken to achieve this.”
Everyone who takes part in Audiogame Jam is encouraged to contact and work with visually impaired gamers throughout the event. Kyle, who completed a master’s degree in game design, said that although most developers in the event are sighted, he hopes that as many game submissions as possible will have featured involvement from someone in the blind gaming community as a tester or design consultant.
Kyle said: “While there are guidelines on making your game blind-accessible, having your game undergo regular testing by a visually impaired person is a great way to meet Audiogame Jam’s accessibility requirement. I hope this will build relationships between blind and sighted gamers and developers, and increase knowledge of the blind gaming community’s existence within the general game development community.”
Games created during last year’s Audiogame Jam include ‘EscapeBeat’, where players must find their way out of a series of rooms while fending off enemies, ‘Lab Invaded’, in which gamers take control of a robot trapped in a laboratory full of invading aliens, and ‘Dark Sounds’, a puzzle game where players have to escape from a room and dodge ghosts.
While there are currently no plans to showcase the games at public events, Kyle is looking into this option. “I would very much like to see some of these prototypes developed into full, finished games or shown at accessible game events,” he said.
Find out more about Audiogame Jam, including how to enter and where to play previously submitted accessible games, at the Audiogame Jam 3 website.
02: One in five museums do not provide online access information, research uncovers
Museums are inadvertently contributing to a “disability engagement gap” by not publishing accessibility information on their websites needed by millions of potential visitors, a new report has found.
The State of Museum Access 2018 report found that people with disabilities are less likely to visit a museum if it does not provide this information on its website. Published by VocalEyes (a charity working to increase arts access for blind and visually impaired people), the report recorded whether access information was available on the websites of the 1718 accredited UK museums.
Access information is crucial for many potential visitors with a disability or impairment, as it allows them to plan a visit based on their needs. It could include listing accessible facilities and equipment (such as audio description guides for blind and visually impaired visitors), providing a dedicated accessibility contact, travel information, and highlighting any relevant training that staff have undergone.
State of Museum Access 2018 is a follow-up to a 2016 report, but while the earlier version focused solely on online access information for blind and visually impaired people, the new report covers a range of disabilities and impairments.
VocalEyes Chief Executive Matthew Cock told e-Access Bulletin that the vast majority of museums still think of disability access information as only being relevant to people with mobility impairments. He said: “The access needs and barriers relevant to millions of people with hearing or sight loss – or other conditions that make visiting museums challenging, such as autism and learning disabilities – are ignored by the large majority of museums. It’s a huge shame, because so much can be done for very little cost.”
Although 19% of museums (one in five) provide no access information at all on their websites, this is still an improvement on the figure from the 2016 report, 27%. Despite this, the report notes that “overall, the amount of detail [where access information is provided] is poor”.
As well as highlighting gaps, a key aim of the State of Museum Access report is to help museums improve the situation. This is done through recommendations about the type of information to include on websites (for example: venue accessibility and website accessibility) and advice on communication with potential visitors with a disability (such as creating an effective welcome message or access statement).
The report also asks museums to make the Museum Access Pledge, based on four steps to improve website information for potential visitors with disabilities.
Asked what museums can do to improve on-site access for blind and visually impaired visitors, Matthew Cock said: “Only 20% of museum websites mentioned that they provide large-print labels, something that can be accessed by 75% of partially sighted people and 36% of registered blind people, and are often used by elderly people with poor vision or people with dyslexia. It costs little to produce and maintain such resources. We’d also recommend that front-of-house staff receive training in visual awareness and guiding, so that they are better placed to welcome and support blind and partially sighted people throughout a visit.”
Read more about State of Museum Access 2018 and download the report in full, including a large-print version, at the VocalEyes website.
03: Accessible learning resources can help close disability employment gap, report claims
Making digital resources in further and higher education more accessible – in order to comply with new regulations – can improve disabled students’ learning experience and help get more disabled people into work, according to a new report.
‘Accessible Virtual Learning Environments’ was published by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Assistive Technology (APPGAT) and cross-party think-tank Policy Connect, and written by Robert McLaren, Head of Industry, Technology and Innovation at Policy Connect. It sets out a series of recommendations on how institutions can make their digital content more accessible for students, particularly those with a disability.
The report has been produced to coincide with new legislation that came into force on September 23: the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018. The new rules detail how organisations – including universities and other further and higher education institutions – need to comply with the EU Directive on the accessibility of public sector websites and mobile applications. Any new public sector website launched after this date must comply with the regulations by September 2019, while existing sites have until September 2020 to comply (Read more about the EU Directive in e-Access Bulletin’s previous coverage).
Almost every further and higher education institution will have its own virtual learning environment (VLE), broadly defined as a digital space where learning resources and other information are stored for students and staff. Almost all content on VLEs will fall under the new regulations and so will need to meet accessibility requirements.
Current VLE accessibility varies widely. In the Policy Connect report, Piers Wilkinson from the National Union of Students’ Disabled Students’ Committee highlights that inaccessible VLEs can be a barrier for some students, rather than a learning aid. A statement in the report from a visually impaired student supports this, pointing out that documents uploaded to VLEs “are usually intended for sighted users. The formatting of a document can therefore be difficult to navigate at times … with a visual impairment.”
The report goes on to explain exactly what is required of institutions in terms of the new regulations, before setting out recommendations, such as implementing training for those who develop and build VLEs.
Highlighted in the report is the fact that “digital accessibility in VLEs makes for good teaching for all students,” using the example of course texts being available in a range of formats. This immediately helps students with, for example, visual impairments (who may require an audio file or HTML version of the course text), but it also extends that choice to others: “It gives students the choice to engage with the content in the way that suits them best,” the report states.
Improving digital accessibility in this way will benefit all students, the report claims, and will help the government’s efforts to tackle the disability employment gap and meet its target of getting one million more disabled people in wok by 2027. The report states that “Providing a variety of learning tools suitable for all students – whether disabled or not – will allow us to both close the skills and disability employment gap and provide all students with a better opportunity to succeed in education and work.”
Download the accessible VLEs report in full at the Policy Connect website.
Read the Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations 2018 in full at Legislation.gov.uk.
Read Government guidelines on making public sector websites accessible at the Government Digital Service website.
[Section One ends]
Section Two: News in brief
04: Cultural call-out
Blind and visually impaired people are being asked to take part in a new study to help improve audio description in museums and galleries, organised by the University of Westminster in collaboration with Thomas Pocklington Trust and VocalEyes. Participants will need to listen to descriptions of a series of photographs and discuss their experiences. Anyone with a visual impairment can take part and will be compensated for helping with the study, which takes place in London.
Find out more about the audio description study and apply to take part at the Thomas Pocklington Trust website.
05: Fee-free tech
The Government Digital Service (GDS) has published advice on free assistive technology tools, aimed at organisations that want to improve their website’s accessibility, but may not be able to purchase assistive devices or software. Alternatives to popular, costed assistive equipment (including the JAWS screen-reader, ZoomText screen magnifier and Dragon speech recognition software) are highlighted, as well as a list of further resources on using and testing with assistive technology.
Read more about free assistive technologies at the GDS website.
06: Learning to navigate
Wayfindr, the digital navigation project designed to help people with sight loss, has launched an e-learning course on accessible audio navigation. The course is aimed at app developers, accessibility professionals and venue operators/owners, and explains how to develop indoor and outdoor digital audio navigation systems for visually impaired people, as well as providing general information on sight loss.
Read more about the accessible audio navigation course at the Wayfindr website.
07: Gaming for good
On September 28 over 60 companies from the videogame industry donated part of their day’s profits from games sold to the ‘One Special Day’ project, which raises funds for gamers with disabilities in the UK. Other fundraising activities took place throughout the day for the event, which is organised annually by gaming charity Special Effect. Read e-Access Bulletin’s coverage of One Special Day 2017.
Read more about the event at the One Special Day website.
[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: 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 Three: Viewpoint
08: Digital banking – not a one-size-fits-all solution
By Donna J. Jodhan.
Digital banking continues to be a hotly debated topic in Canada, but this subject doesn’t just affect Canadians, it affects all customers doing business with banks around the world.
On the one hand, we have banks claiming that digital banking is the way forward and that in the mid-to-long term it will benefit all customers, whether they are visually impaired or not. On the other hand, there are blind and visually impaired customers who feel strongly that they are being left out by digital banking.
Even taking both opinions into account, it’s no surprise that technology continues to set the pace and tone of this debate. As in many countries, Canadian banks have been focusing on digital services for some time and continue to move towards an increasingly digital outlook.
Speaking about how digital banking will affect blind and visually impaired customers, Alicia Jarvis, Inclusive Design Practice Lead in the Royal Bank of Canada’s Digital Design Team, said: “I see many benefits [of digital banking] for customers who are blind and low-vision. New technologies like voice and AI are already opening the doors for independence and inclusion in a lot of ways. So, I think the biggest advantage for customers who are blind and low-vision is that new technology will continue to equalise the playing field and accelerate their entry into mainstream banking.”
Despite this push towards digital services, we can only hope that banks will recognise that there are still issues which need to be addressed. If these issues are not dealt with in an efficient manner, then equal digital banking for all customers will be extremely difficult to accomplish.
Most banks are still working to make their websites usable and accessible to blind and visually impaired people like myself. For many of those people, forms on websites are still a challenge to complete independently, and as a result of this, many blind and visually impaired people have major concerns about their online privacy.
There are many sighted people who continue to complain that online banking is a challenge for them, so why would it be any different for blind and visually impaired customers?
In addition, banks are not providing adequate customer service to assist blind and visually impaired people in learning and understanding how to take advantage of digital banking. One potential consequence of this is that it will not be only blind and visually impaired people who are left behind, but also older people who did not grow up in the technology era.
One reason why it’s so easy for blind and visually impaired people to be left behind in this area is that accessible technology is not known for keeping up with technological evolution, and this includes digital banking. In short, accessible technology is continually having to catch up with technological changes and the gap continues to widen.
The potential benefits of increased digital banking are that blind and visually impaired people will be able to conduct their online banking more freely and independently, without having to rely on sighted assistance. Also, despite some people’s concerns, online privacy can be achieved if banks’ digital security systems are working correctly.
For many blind and visually impaired people, the move towards digital banking will be thought of as an upcoming nightmare that will soon become reality. What makes things more difficult is that there does not seem to be any way to change this push towards digital banking, leaving us to wonder what can be done to improve the situation. This is why we need to continue making our voices heard.
Some banks may think that the blind and visually impaired consumer market is not large enough to be a concern to them, but it is the right of those consumers to be able to access services in the same way as sighted consumers, and to have their privacy and confidentiality protected, no matter what.
If banks really want to ensure that the playing field is equal for all of their customers, they need to address the following issues:
- Ensure that their online banking facilities are usable and navigable.
- Ensure that their websites interact with accessible technology.
- Carry out meaningful testing to ensure the previous points, which means working with blind and visually impaired users.
- Work with manufacturers of accessible technology to develop mobile apps and computer programs.
Read more about Donna Jodhan’s work at her website.
[Section Three ends]
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ISSUE 203 ends.