Accessibility in the News: August 2006Sunday, September 10, 2006
Next generation mobile phones are taking ideas from assistive technologies as a starting point. The disabled people's Stockholm Syndrome relationship with Microsoft has kept the company barely alive in the Massachusetts OpenDocument Format. They've promised their open-source ODF plugin will be ready for December, and Massachusetts have set a deadline for November for the plugin. ODF is still the end document format.
- Computing: Online supermarkets fail the accessibility test
AbilityNet looked again at the top five food retailer's web sites, after an earlier review in 2004, to see what progress had been made, and found only Tesco exceeded minimum standards, gaining four out of five stars.
Morrisons achieved a three-star rating but is an information-only site, while Sainsbury's, Asda and Somerfield all failed to improve on their ratings in 2004.
- e-consultancy: Supermarkets make it hard for disabled users
Here is the return on investment argument for usability and accessibility as outlined in the roundtable notes.
- There are 8.6 million registered disabled people in the UK. (Disability Rights Commission)
- There are 1.6 million registered blind users. (Employers' Forum on Disability)
- Two million UK residents have a sight problem. (RNIB)
- One in 12 men and one in 200 women have some form of colour blindness - 9% of the UK population (IEE)
- 3.4 million people have disabilities preventing them from using the standard keyboard, screen and mouse set-up with ease. (Employers' Forum on Disability)
- There are 12 million people aged 60 or over. (UK government)
- UK population is also becoming older which means businesses will increasingly need to tap into an older - and often affluent - demographic.
- Online businesses are potentially losing out on some £50-£60bn per year buying power. (Employers' Forum on Disability)
- Businesses can effect significant upturn in online sales by making websites more accessible.
- Accessible web sites are better websites for users anyway, irrespective of disability.
- Better accessibility means better conversion rates.
- MarketWire: Travis County launches enhanced web site with greater accessibility for citizens with blindness or vision impairments
Travis County has selected Hamer Enterprises and IBM's Austin-based Human Ability and Accessibility Center to develop and deploy an enhanced county tax office Web site providing greater accessibility to on-line county services for more citizens, regardless of their abilities or disabilities.
The Web site, which goes live on August 14, enables users who are blind or visually impaired to gain access to more information on the Web, including on-line forms.
- PRDomain: Opening the web to the disabled
n Italy, the Senate took a confusing and often out-of-date Web site and transformed it into perhaps the most accessible and user-friendly government agency site in Europe. The redesigned site now offers free use of IBM Home Page Reader and IBM Easy Web Browsing to make it easier for senior citizens and people with disabilities to access content.
- CMSWire: XHTML 2.0 spec updated
XHTML 2 takes HTML back to these roots, by removing all presentation elements, and subordinating all presentation to style sheets. This gives greater flexibility, greater accessibility, more device independence, and more powerful presentation possibilities, since style sheets can do more than the presentational elements of HTML ever did.
- Internet News: Can Google's guide for the blind do more?
He pointed to elderly Internet users who don't necessarily think of themselves as visually-impaired, but yet nonetheless find very busy sites hard to handle. There is also the color-blind.
Raman said a Google Co-op "expert" algorithm could look for sites that the learning-disabled might find to easier to understand.
Hardware and Software
- Engineer Online: Next generation mobile web
Scientists at The University of Manchester have a launched a new project which seeks to combine web accessibility with mobile phone technologies.
The aim of the three-year project is to develop a host of new software with the potential to make the mobile web as simple to use as the internet.
- What PC: UK boffins aim to make the mobile web more accessible
The research, dubbed RAIM (Reciprocal Interoperability between Accessible and Mobile Webs), will draw on the experiences of blind and visually impaired users and the technologies they use to surf the internet, such as screenreaders, in a bid to simplify the content of conventional websites so that they can be accessed via the mobile web. It aims to move on from the existing process of mobile web creation, where sites have to be re-designed to work on mobile phones.
- Arstechnica: Steve Jobs shows off Leopard at WWDC
Apple will make some significant accessibility improvements to Mac OS X with Leopard. The familiar tones of Victoria, Trinoids, and Zarvox will be replaced with a new synthesized voice that sounds much more lifelike. There will also be built-in Braille and closed-captioning support, among other features.
- The Hindu: Four students develop software solution for visually impaired
Technology has no boundaries, and this has once again been proved by a group of four students of Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology (DA-IICT), who have developed a software solution enabling blind people to dynamically move around and perceive their surroundings.
- OS Weekly: Apple and the future of accessibility
Multilingual support is also included, and VoiceOver can even dynamically translate the output into standard Braille, which in my mind is pretty unbelievable. In addition, the software also acts like a buddy who's there to guide you by informing you of what's happening on the screen, telling you where certain items are located, and helping you to navigate though program and document windows. This guidance would definitely prove to be more of an assistance than an annoyance to those who are in need of it.
- Infoworld: US state to adopt near-term plug-in strategy for ODF
The ITD also signed a commitment with the Massachusetts Office on Disability and the state's Department of Health and Human Service to design, procure, certify and develop training for software that is accessible to people with disabilities, according to a document obtained by Computerworld. The memorandum of understanding also calls for ITD to establish a unit devoted to accessible technology.
- ZDNet: Blind leading away from open source
Because Open Document Format (ODF) software (Open Office) does not yet work with screen magnifiers, which make computer documents usable by those who are legally blind, the state of Massachusetts is backing-away from its commitment to mandate the format.
- IDM: ScanSoft Updated
PDF Converter Professional 4 also creates XML Tagged PDF, needed for proper read-order with screen readers, supports reading PDF documents in real-time using RealSpeak, and is U.S. Section 508 compliant, a government requirement for enabling accessibility of applications to disabled users.
- CNet: Massachusetts to release ODF update
The Massachusetts Information Technology Division on Wednesday is scheduled to send a letter to disability advocacy groups to address accessibility and the state's move to the OpenDocument format, according to a government spokesperson.
- CNet: Mass. to use Microsoft Office in ODF plan
Massachusetts will begin using OpenDocument as the default document format later this year as planned, but it will be sticking with Microsoft Office in the near term, the state's top technology executive said.
- Mac World: Massachusetts confirms it will stay on Office for now
The announcement is a victory for local advocates of people with disabilities, who had fought against the state move to alternatives to Microsoft Office, which they said were less compatible with accessibility tools used by blind, deaf or mobility-impaired computer users in conjunction with Office. It is also a triumph for Microsoft, which views Massachusetts as a key battleground as it tries to maintain Office’s dominance.
- US Newswire: OpenDocument Format Alliance applauds Massachusetts' continued commitment to implement ODF in January 2007
The Alliance also hailed progress that is incorporating accessibility into the ODF standard. An OASIS subcommittee has identified, and is addressing, several aspects of the specification that will make it possible to preserve accessibility information in the document format itself. As more mainstream applications become accessible, a broader range of applications will be available to people with disabilities. The format conversion approach will allow documents to be created, exchanged, and stored in ODF across multiple platforms by multiple applications - including office suites that have been slow to respond to the growing demand for ODF. This has been, and continues to be, the goal of the ODF Alliance in Massachusetts and around the globe.
- Computerworld: Group backed by Microsoft may have to hurry on plug-ins
The November deadline set by Massachusetts CIO Louis Gutierrez for the state to receive plug-ins enabling compatibility between Office and the OpenDocument file format could prove to be too tight for a series of open-source plug-ins that Microsoft is funding.
Microsoft said early last month that it expected a third-party Word plug-in being developed with its financial backing to be ready by December. Similar plug-ins that will let users store Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations in the OpenDocument format are scheduled to follow next year, according to Microsoft.
- Seattle Times: Vista from an accessible view
Some 57 percent of U.S. computer users between 18 and 64 were likely or very likely to benefit from the use of accessible technology, according to a 2003 Forrester Research study commissioned by Microsoft.
Demographic trends are swelling the ranks of those who could benefit most. Older people reported more impairments, and nearly 19 percent of the U.S. labor force will be 55 or older by 2010. "The aging labor force is likely to mean greater pressure from businesses to help keep their aging employees as productive as possible throughout their careers," the Forrester study noted.
Legal - US and Canada
- Capital Notes: Lawsuit Filed Against Voting Machines
But the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed in San Francisco today say that for many disabled voters, both provisions were violated in at least five California counties on June 6. They also claim the state is in violation of the equal protection provisions of the U.S. Constitution. The case says that in San Francisco, Marin, and Sonoma Counties, voters with manual disabilities are unable to use a machine known as the AutoMARK (made by Election Systems & Software) without assistance-- a violation, they argue, of HAVA.
- Mercury News: Disabled voters sue five counties, state over access
In June, San Francisco, Marin and Sonoma counties used the AutoMARK voting system, which opponents claimed was not fully accessible to impaired voters.
The groups also said the electronic voting system used in Alameda County uses a state-required paper-verification system that can't be checked by blind voters.
Yolo County also did not comply with the federal accessibility requirements in June, according to the suit.
- Computerworld: 'Assistive technology' could mean almost 200,000 more workers - and an $11bn boost to the economy
If more attention was paid to accommodating disabled people in the workforce, 186,000 new productive workers could be employed. This would result in a massive boost to the economy - to the tune of $11 billion, according to two IBM specialists who develop technology that helps disabled people use computers.
Disabled people's abilities are underused. "[And this is] the most challenging social issue we face," says Mark Bagshaw, of IBM Sydney, who works with the company's Human Ability and Accessibility Centre.
- Oped News: Controversy about VotePAD: demonstration and press conference before voting system certification
Staff and consultants of the California Elections Division have issued negative evaluation reports recommending against state certification of the VotePAD assistive device intended to help disabled voters cast their votes independently. The Secretary of State usually follows the recommendations of the Voting Systems Technology Assessment Advisory Board in making voting system certification decisions.
- Oped News: Vote-PAD defends itself in public hearing in California
My primary concern is that the testing procedures failed to simulate a live election, so it's difficult to know how the results would compare with the results of using the Vote-PAD in a live election. It is clear, however, that in spite of the artificial environment, and with qualitatively more difficult tasks than voters would perform, participants did very well.
Legal - UK, Europe and Worldwide
- Cheap Flights: Disabled air travel should be made easier, study finds
Aviation companies are required to adhere to 1995's Disability Discrimination Act and encouraged to follow a voluntary Code of Practice issued by the DfT in 2003 that gives guidelines on access to air travel for the disabled.
The latter sets out the minimum standards that should be set within the industry, but the latest research indicates that not enough is being done.
- eGov: E-accessibility to be theme for international day of disabled persons 2006
The Day, which is marked on 3 December, seeks to promote the integration of people with disabilities into society.
Although access to information and communication technology (ICT) has created opportunities for everyone, these advances have been particularly meaningful for persons with disabilities, allowing them to overcome the societal barriers of prejudice, infrastructure and inaccessible formats that stand in the way of participation.
- IPS News: Disabled treaty to reverse years of neglect
The new treaty, unveiled last Friday, would require countries to guarantee freedom from exploitation and abuse for the disabled, while protecting rights they already have, such as ensuring voting rights for blind people and providing wheelchair-accessible buildings. The convention calls for the "progressive realisation" of most of its provisions, in line with the resources of individual countries.