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Archive for July, 2011

Prospects Brighten For Copyright Exception Treaty

The prospect of agreement on an international treaty to allow accessible versions of copyrighted works to be shared across borders, giving people with print disabilities wider access to books, has brightened following a recent meeting of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).

At a specially-extended June session in Geneva of the organisation’s standing committee on copyright and related rights (SCCR), WIPO member states agreed to merge previously separated formal positions on the issue into a single draft document, clearing the way for treaty negotiations later this year, E-Access Bulletin has learned.

Before the meeting, discussion of the issue had been fragmented between four draft texts developed separately by the World Blind Union; a grouping of African countries; the EU; and the US. In the run-up to the June meeting, the WBU had facilitated the merger of these documents into a single new draft.

“That was a big success, as countries were no longer defending their own proposals,” Dan Pescod, WBU Vice Chair, told E-Access Bulletin this month. “We are pleased with the text – negotiation by committee is always a compromise, but we are 80% of the way towards an acceptable final text of a law.”

Areas of compromise in drawing up the single text include a softer wording on the relationship between the new copyright exception law and contract law, Pescod said. “We wanted something that made it very clear that contract law could not undermine copyright exceptions, but it has been left somewhat open to interpretation in the new text as currently worded,” he said. “It has left it to member states to decide how they address this issue, whereas the WBU does not want any rights-holder to be able to draw up a contract which removes the copyright exception.”

Another ongoing area of debate is the issue of which organisations will be permitted to send digital files across borders under the copyright exception, Pescod said.

Some rightsholder groups want a system of formal requirements to determine who can become such ‘trusted intermediaries’, and also which books can be sent and which ones can’t, he said. But the WBU would prefer a less formal system whereby ‘authorised entities’ would not have to be pre-approved, or gain fresh permission each time for individual titles.

The discussion now moves on to the next SCCR meeting on 21 November, where the detail of the final text could be decided, and a decision taken as to whether it will become a full international treaty or simply a ‘recommendation’.

The EU has been the biggest block on creation of a full treaty (see E-access Bulletin, April issue), with strong pressure from rightsholders in countries including France to resist any systematic exceptions to copyright law.

But this would represent double standards, Pescod said. “In the very same committee meeting this June, WIPO Member States agreed that a treaty on the protection of audiovisual performances should be concluded. We do not think print disabled people deserve a lesser solution.”

Online Book Sets Out Seven Steps To Web Accessibility

An ‘online book’ setting out the first seven steps that any website owner or developer should take towards making their site accessible to people with disabilities was unveiled last month by the OneVoice for Accessible ICT Coalition, an umbrella group of accessibility and technology organisations.

‘The First Seven Steps to Accessible Websites’ was launched at the recent e-Access 11 conference, co-hosted by the coalition with E-Access Bulletin publisher Headstar.

The seven were chosen as the most important first practical steps that should be taken by most websites, and are all relatively easy to implement, the book’s author Peter Abrahams, Accessibility Practice Leader at Bloor Research, told the conference.

The steps are grouped into two types, Abrahams said.

Steps 1, 2 and 3 are ‘setting the scene’ steps. Step 1 is to do a quick accessibility check of a website: “We provide a methodology for doing that to give you an indication of whether your website is very accessible, reasonably accessible, partially accessible, or is an absolute nightmare. “ Step 2 is to publish an accessibility policy, and Step 3, is to provide a way for people to give feedback on any problems encountered.

The next four steps represent a few basic technical features that are most important for accessibility, for example helping people who navigate the web using keyboard only or blind people using text to speech screen-readers, he said.

Step 4 is providing a ‘jump to content’ link to allow people to jump over all the menus, adverts and “rubbish” that can clutter up a page and go straight to the main content. Step 5 is ensuring the tab sequence – jumping from link to link using the tab key – is logical; Step 6 is ensuring that pictures and links have alternative text; and step 7 is to ensure that text sizing works.

The book’s own website features a page for each step with background, information about implementation, links to good and bad examples, and instructional videos with closed captions, Abrahams said. Future plans include similar steps for accessibility of other technologies such as smartphones; and the building of an online community to discuss the continual refinement and development of the project, he said.

Open University Media Player Passes Accessibility Test

An online video and audio player being developed by the Open University (OU) for its students and the wider learning community has successfully passed through a round of accessibility testing including testing with deaf and dyslexic users, E-Access Bulletin has learned.

The generic media player, currently viewable as a ‘work in progress’ in alpha or prototype format, is being developed to allow the distance-learning university greater control over the technology used to access it extensive bank of podcast material.

The OU’s 200,000 students are likely to begin using the player on the university’s virtual learning environment by the end of this year or the start of next, according to Nick Freear, a web developer in the OU’s Institute of Educational Technology. It will also feature on ‘OpenLearn’, an open educational resources portal where anyone can access hundreds of online learning materials for free.

Accessibility features of the media player including the ability to add captions for video, and developers will be able to change the look and feel for use on their own websites, Freear said. The player is built on Flowplayer, an open source flash player which works on both desktop and tablet computers such as the Apple iPad, with HTML and Javascript additions, he said.

Eventually the source code for the accessible player might be opened up, Freear said. “but that’s down the line.”

Lack of Interoperability ‘Is Biggest Accessibility Barrier’

The biggest barrier to making make the web more accessible to disabled people is interoperability, Sandi Wassmer, member of the UK government’s e-Accessibility Forum, told delegates at e-Access ’11 conference in London last month.

Interoperability is “about having disparate and diverse devices that all communicate with each other,” Wassmer said. “To use a non technical way of explaining it, a postage stamp is interoperable. We have a system that everyone agrees upon around the world. The stamp makes sure your letter gets from here to where it’s going. It’s a system which is different in each country, but it is interoperable on a global scale.”

Without interoperability, inclusive design – creating websites of value to everyone – will fail, she said. “We can design inclusively all we want, but if I have one device that does one thing and you have another that does something different, if we don’t achieve interoperability, we won’t be able to connect.”

The key to interoperability is the use of the open standards created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and its accessibility arm, the Web Accessibility initiative (WAI), Wassmer said. However, although the consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are fairly widely followed by web designers and developers, two other key sets of guidelines – the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) which cover software used to create web content such as content management systems, blogs and social media; and the User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG), which cover software that displays web content such as web browsers and media players, have not yet been widely adopted, she said. Instead, the market is allowed to dictate how features are added to web browsers or social media networks, for example.

“People don’t really care about [ATAG and UAAG] as it is a case of market forces. To me, this is really what needs to be resolved before we can have an inclusive web.”

Meanwhile a range of new government initiatives relating to access to ICT by disabled people were announced at the conference by Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries Ed Vaizey and his senior digital inclusion policy adviser, including a new online forum to discuss key issues with government (see coverage from our sister publication E-Government Bulletin).

And click here for Sandi Wassmer’s slides and other presentations and transcripts from e-Access ’11.