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Archive for September, 2011

Site Owners Ignore Requests to ‘Fix The Web’

Some 60% of website owners contacted about accessibility problems by the national ‘FixTheWeb’ project either ignore the contact or “duck the issue”, according to the project’s director. And just 10% take action immediately to fix the problem.

FixTheWeb is a national programme allowing any disabled person encountering accessibility problems online to inform a group of volunteers – now morethan 600-strong – who will pursue the issue with the website owner on their behalf. Volunteers can be contacted using email, Twitter, a web form or a special browser toolbar, allowing anyone to report any web accessibility issue quickly and easily. The project is led by the digital inclusion charity Citizens Online with funding from Nominet Trust.

So far about 700 websites have been reported through the service, Gail Bradbrook, the project’s manager, told the second annual Web Accessibility London Unconference at City University last week. However of these, only about 50 have been fixed by their owners.

In all, 40% of contacts made by volunteers received no response at all, said Bradbrook: “Somebody probably chose to ignore it, unless we got spam filtered.” In a further 20% of cases the volunteers were “fobbed off, with people kind of acknowledging issue but ducking it”, she said, or in some cases showing they had not previously registered the issue of accessibility at all.

Some 30% of people contacted agree they have an accessibility problem and say they can’t deal with it now, but it does matter to them and they will try and address it in future, she said. And in 10% of cases the problem is fixed right away, with half of these needing help to do so.

However even in cases where no response at all is received, the project may be achieving something by raising awareness that accessibility problems exist and that people are noticing them, Bradbrook said.

One of the project’s high points so far came when actor, writer and technology lover Stephen Fry posted a message of support for the campaign, with the resulting PR boost producing its biggest rise in activity to date, she said.

FixTheWeb is currently focused on the UK but is now looking for partners to go global, Bradbrook said. Within Europe, it is already in the process of setting up a key partnership with eAccess+ , a European network of e-accessibility experts.

Canadian Government Access Guidelines ‘Not Fast Enough’

A blind woman who is battling the Canadian government in the courts over the inaccessibility of its websites has said a new initiative to improve the sites does not move fast enough.

Donna Jodhan, a blind accessibility consultant, sued the Canadian government last year over the inaccessibility of its websites after she was unable to apply for a government job online. In December 2010 a judge ruled in favour of Jodhan but the government is appealing against the ruling, claiming that the judge exceeded his jurisdiction in finding a “system-wide failure” of government through its websites, when it was only Jodhan who was proved to be directly affected (see our January issue ).

The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) has now published a new standard on web accessibility for government agencies ( ). Under a phased programme, agencies have until the end of the year to submit a report on their current state of accessibility. Inaccessible web sites will then have to be made accessible in stages, with home pages and pages providing “the most important information and services” ordered to comply by the end of February 2012; and all remaining pages by 31 July, 2013. All new web pages published after 1 October, 2011 must immediately conform, although exceptions will be allowed to all deadlines in circumstances where “exclusion for a period of time can be demonstrably justified.”

A government-wide compliance report will be released by the board at the end of February 2012, with updates published annually thereafter. If government bodies do not comply a range of sanctions are possible including suspension of public sector staff from web duties.

Jodhan told E-Access Bulletin she thought the release of the new guidelines was linked to her legal action, but that it was an inadequate response. “It does not go fast enough; their time frame is too long,” she said. “I think that a year would be more reasonable.”

She also questioned the government’s commitment to accessibility in appealing the 2010 decision in her case. “If the government feels that this is going to address the issues raised in my court case, then why is it spending all this money to appeal the decision that was handed down on in 2010?” she said.

Dates have now been set for the appeal of 15 and 16 November.

Jodhan suffered a minor disappointment in August when two of three disability organisations which had sought intervention status in her case had their requests turned down by the court.

These were the national blindness charity CNIB, the Canadian Council of Disabilities (CCD) and the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC) of which Jodhan herself was elected president in May of this year. In an August ruling, the AEBC was the only one granted intervener status, allowing it to speak in court about the wider implications of any decision taken.

Responding to this decision, Jodhan said: “These three organisations felt that they had a vital and vested interest in this case to represent other concerns on a broader level. We were all quite surprised that the other two were not granted similar status.” The two unsuccessful applicants would have offered a broader perspective to her case, Jodhan said, “but they can still help in other ways.”

Charities Push For Binding Treaty On Global Book Access

UK and European blindness charities are stepping up the pressure on politicians ahead of a decisive meeting of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) to consider rules allowing accessible versions of copyrighted works to be shared across borders, giving people with print disabilities wider access to books.

Negotiations at the WIPO General Assembly later this month, followed by a meeting of the organisation’s standing committee on copyright and related rights (SCCR) in November, are likely to settle a long-standing debate on whether access rights to copyright works should be the subject of a binding international treaty of merely a voluntary ‘recommendation’.

EU negotiators have been lobbying against full treaty status under strong pressure from rightsholders in some member states. However the European Blind Union has now submitted a petition to the European Parliament’s Petitions Committee to be heard on 3 October saying the EU’s position contravenes its own charter.

“By opposing such a treaty, the EU Commission and Member States are clearly failing to recognise and respect the right of persons with disabilities to benefit from measures designed to ensure their independence, social and occupational integration and participation in the life of the community”, the petition says. “In doing so the commission is failing to live up to its commitments to article 26 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights on the integration of persons with disabilities.”

Meanwhile the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) has responded to a UK government consultation on the copyright negotiations saying the EU’s position in calling for a voluntary code or ‘soft law’ runs counter to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which “makes explicit disabled people’s right to accessible information… and that ‘laws protecting IP rights should not place unreasonable or discriminatory barriers in the way of access to cultural materials’.”

“No rights holder organisation would accept the idea that voluntary codes of good behaviour signed by consumer organisations could be so effective in ensuring an acceptable level of rights holder protection that they would remove the need for binding copyright law. We likewise reject the argument that voluntary cooperation and licensing can replace a legally binding right of access to works by print disabled people.”

The RNIB rejected moves by some EU negotiators to suggest a ‘two-step’ approach, with a joint recommendation to be followed by returning to discussions on a treaty at a later date but with no guarantee any treaty would emerge.

“RNIB would like to underline that a two-step approach simply postpones – possibly for many years- a full and long overdue solution to a problem first identified back in the 1980s… it would put in place a second class solution for disabled people, in contrast with the first class solution –treaties – offered to rights holders to protect their interests.”

The November meeting is also likely to settle the final wording of the text of the proposed recommendation or treaty, including the relationship between the new copyright exception law and contract law, following progress in June towards a single draft document involving compromise on both sides (see July issue coverage).

Internet Campaigning: Time To Make Our Voices Heard

Our accessibility campaign and consultancy group Pesky People started life as a blog developed in response to Digital Britain, the UK government’s strategy for boosting our digital economy which did not include people with disabilities in any way. We responded by campaigning against this digital discrimination and evolved from a blog into a website and now a company.

We are just one example of how disabled and deaf people now have the opportunity to be a part of the web – to use it, to come up with ideas that work for them and others and to make them happen. Go Genie ( is our response to the need for easy to find access information that crowdsources information from disabled people themselves, but is useful for everybody.

It isn’t so much about ‘helping’ disabled people: we are not just passive recipients of the wonderful technologies and assisted technologies available – although many organisations and companies see us like that and would prefer us to remain like that.

I am horrified that companies developing digital products for disabled people seem to only see us in monetary terms and fail to develop useful products that are funky and stylish and affordable. Why not?

The cost of some of these products are prohibitive so many disabled people can’t buy them (I’m told it is the low number of units made that make them expensive – though I’m not totally convinced by that).

Assistive technology can be expensive and out the reach of many people’s budgets. Is it fair that while a smartphone can cost £500, to purchase screenreader software for one computer costs around £1,000? Or that eye-tracking technology assisted products can cost up to £8,000, while in the high street a Kinect box using motion technology can cost £199.99?

It’s no wonder people with severely restricted mobility are using head wands and wooden visual alphabetical keyboards. Where are the affordable assisted technology products?

Mainstream companies are ignoring us as a market and failing to make their products accessible. Have you ever tried to find a mobile that works with your digital hearing aids or visual impairment? It took me six months to find a new mobile that met my needs. The information is not out there and companies are ignoring us.

The UK Disability Market is worth around £80 billion a year and last year the older market was worth £100 billion or more. So what is their excuse? By 2033, 23% of the population will be aged 65+ so maybe the economics will drive the innovation and companies will rise to the challenge.

I see our future as being a bigger part of digital technology, making our mark and actively engaging with the technologies on offer.

I’m a newcomer to this sector but with 20 years’ experience of working in the cultural sector as an artistic programmer and project manager particularly in disability arts I’ve discovered that if I can work to see our ideas into action then others can too. The concepts have potential for disabled people as artists, entrepreneurs, and consumers.

We can turn the old order on its head so that disabled and deaf people take the lead and initiative to use the internet and the technologies available for our benefit.

It is empowering that social media connects us up. It gives us a voice and the opportunity to say what we need and want and come together easily to achieve that.

The opposite side of the coin is that real life barriers are also virtual barriers, unless we challenge them and do something to change them ourselves. We need to grab that opportunity.

Alison Smith is founder of Pesky People.