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Archive for October, 2011

UK Charity Investigates Options To Back Disney Web Case

The UK’s leading charity supporting blind and partially sighted people RNIB is investigating whether people in the UK might be able to join a US class action against the Walt Disney Company for the alleged inaccessibility of its websites, E-Access Bulletin has learned.

On 29 June, California district judge Dolly Gee gave permission for three blind women – two from Southern California and one from Wichita, Kansas – to proceed with a class action against Disney alleging the company’s websites unlawfully include information which is visible to sighted users but not to screen reader programs, as well as options which are inaccessible to blind people such as the ability to make reservations and download electronic tickets.

Web accessibility is just one of five main areas of complaint being brought in the case, with others including issues in the theme parks themselves such as a lack of Braille maps. The plaintiffs are not seeking money damages, simply an injunction requiring Disney to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act by making its services accessible.

In her ruling judge Gee rejected as irrelevant arguments by Disney that the women could have accessed the same services and information elsewhere, and also rejected arguments that “there is no accepted accessibility standard”. In dismissing the latter argument she pointed out that nearly three years ago — “presumably when website accessibility standards were even less settled” – a similar action was allowed to proceed against the US retailer Target for alleged accessibility problems with its website

The three women are represented by Andy Dogali at Florida-based law firm Forizs & Dogali, alongside Los Angeles-based attorney Eugene Feldman, with the case set for trial in Los Angeles in January 2012.

Talking to E-Access Bulletin this week Samantha Fothergill, senior legal policy officer at RNIB, said she had contacted the US lawyers handling the case to see if UK citizens could potentially play any part in adding an international dimension to the case.

“There is no recourse under UK law for the websites as you can only sue a website under the Equality Act if the provider is established in the UK, but because this is an international tourist attraction people from around the world, including Britain, could potentially be part of the US case.

“If so we might be able to find clients who had gone to those resorts, and could make people aware this action is going on – we would not be encouraging them to join, just passing on the information.”

UK class actions are rare in the field of disability law, Fothergill said, not least because all such cases tend to be settled out of court.

“Class actions are often used here in product liability cases but disability lawyers don’t often think in that way. We’ve looked at possibility of class actions but the cases that we have always get settled, so we’ve never really got to that stage.”

Whatever happens, the fact that a company with such a high profile worldwide is being sued anywhere is bound to have an effect on corporate behaviour and lobby campaigns elsewhere, she said.

“The Target case got more publicity probably among IT professionals than it necessarily did among blind people, but this case is more likely to raise the profile of access issues with those responsible for services and websites around the world, which can only be a good thing wherever you are.”

Disney is connected with a huge range of public-facing websites including sites for media partners ESPN and the ABC television network.

Digital Inclusion Course Closure ‘Sets Dangerous Precedent’

The closure by Middlesex University of the first ever European MSc course in digital inclusion after just one year of operation sets a “dangerous precedent” for those trying to establish a business case for accessibility, the academic leading the course has told E-Access Bulletin.

The unique two-year part-time course was launched by Middlesex last year. Its curriculum included the social, ethical and business case for accessibility; regulations and standardisation; web accessibility; and inclusive user experience. The course’s overall goal was to improve participation in the digital society by older and disabled people as well as people at social disadvantage such as unemployed people, people on low incomes and those with low literacy.

However after just eight people joined the programme the university has decided that no more will now be taken on and the course will close when the current set of students – who include four public sector workers – have graduated. To make the course financially sustainable a minimum of 20 students a year would have been needed.

Gill Whitney, digital inclusion programme leader at Middlesex, told E-Access Bulletin the lack of demand for the course signalled a serious problem for the development of accessible digital services in the UK and beyond.

“Losing the MSc programme due to low student numbers sets a dangerous precedent – if there is truly no demand, then there is no business case for offering similar specialist programmes elsewhere”, Whitney said.

“Designing and developing more accessible systems depends on having suitable training or education courses in place for those involved in all aspects of the development process”, she said. “The essential element is to convince students of the value of taking such courses, for example better job opportunities for both students and disabled people.

“There is now recognition of e-accessibility at a political level, with the government setting up an e-accessibility forum, but we also need industry, not-for-profits and government bodies to demonstrate there is a market demand and that there will be better jobs for professionals who genuinely understand the complexities of delivering accessible ICT, systems and services.”

Whitney said options other than the MSc course could also play a role in the educational mix, such as better integration of accessibility issues into mainstream technology courses or offering short professional development courses or diplomas that enhance existing skills. But whatever the solutions, action was needed to ensure student demand, she said.

“There is a strong need for this sort of training to make accessibility happen.”

One of the course’s students, Big Lottery Fund head of new media Claudio Concha, said the course had already proven valuable in his work.

“Inclusive design is pretty much taken for granted in architecture and product design, yet online content and digital channels still suffer from a lack of user-centred development and there is a complete lack of consideration for disabled and older people,” Concha said.

“This course has helped me understand the gulf that exists between content producers and organisations on one side and the reality of customers with differing needs on the other. It has allowed me to influence design and development projects with an authority that comes with real experience.”

RNIB To Launch Largest Ever Web Testing Exercise

The RNIB is set to conduct its largest ever manual website accessibility testing exercise later this year, when it will check all 433 UK local authority sites against a specially-devised set of criteria.

The project will form the charity’s latest contribution to the annual ‘Better Connected’ review of UK council websites conducted by the public sector Society of IT Management (Socitm).

In previous years RNIB has run initial automated accessibility tests on all the sites, only carrying out more detailed manual assessment on those passing a certain threshold. This year, however, it will carry out manual checks on all sites based on attempts to perform three practical tasks on each such as paying council tax or renewing a library book online. A few other random top level pages will also be checked.

Marco Ranon, Principal Web Accessibility Consultant at RNIB, told a recent Socitm seminar in London the tests would not use a checklist approach against all the principles of the internationally accepted ‘WCAG [web content accessibility guidelines] 2.0’. Instead, though the guidelines would be used as a reference, the performance of tasks would be rated from 0-3 against 14 criteria such as presence of ; unique and informative page titles; and clear labels on forms, Ranon said. Some criteria such as the presence of keyboard shortcuts for tasks would be considered essential “showstoppers”, whose absence would spell failure of the test as a whole – again with close reference to WCAG, he said.

“Web accessibility is not about going through every page, unless you have a very small website,” Ranon told E-Access Bulletin this week.” You have templates and then try to educate content people. This is the largest group exercise we do as a team, and conformance testing with WCAG 2 takes a long time, so it was not practical.”

‘Better Connected’ reviews are carried out in November and December, with all results including accessibility test results due to be published at the end of February 2012.

Accessible Kids’ Computer Games: Serious Fun

Each time I hear those commercials on TV of kids having fun with learning games, I ask myself how much of this is or can be available to blind and sight-impaired children. The truth is that, as modern technology develops, we find that more and more blind children are struggling to keep up when it comes to being able to enjoy the excitement and fun. But with more and more toy manufacturers coming out with nifty ways for kids to learn to read, write, do maths and spell, blind and sight-impaired kids need to be given ways to enjoy all of this as well.

It’s true that some major strides have been made in making mainstream games – whether educational or otherwise – more available and accessible to blind and sight-impaired kids but there is a great deal more that needs to be done. Blind and sight-impaired kids need to be able to access more mainstream technology. In short, they need to have equal access to whatever game or learning tool is out there for the mainstream kid.

Some strides have been made in the area of ball games; a beeping baseball or hockey puck, a beeping ball for lawn tennis, and look how Goalball has been developed for blind people. So all is not lost.

So progress continues to be made.

For example Spoonbill Software, run by “happily retired computer programmer” Ian Humphreys in Albany, Western Australia, now offers some 18 free computer games for sighted, vision-impaired and blind players. The Spoonbill’s newest accessible game, BG Codebreaker, substitutes all the letters of the alphabet with numbers and then invites you to decode words. You can browse all 18 game descriptions online.

Other useful sites include, a portal for games based entirely on sound;

Accessible chess puzzles, hosted by Mario Lang;

And One Switch, a gaming resource for people with physical and learning disabilities.

So can we allow ourselves to dream and hope that the blind children of tomorrow will have a better opportunity to move a bit closer to the mainstream world of games and toys? That they will have more to choose from and that they will be able to enjoy them that much more? Will they have a greater chance to participate in mainstream fun or will they continue to lag behind and need substitute games and toys?

I am sure that as time goes on, more and more toys and games manufacturers will develop products that are more accessible. Products that will benefit all kids. This may even be closer to becoming a reality than many would think, though we can lend a hand by lobbying these companies to move in the right direction.

NOTE: Donna Jodhan is an accessibility consultant who is
involved in an ongoing legal battle with the Canadian
government over accessibility of its websites (see E-Access Bulletin, September issue).