Accessibility in the News: July 2006Sunday, August 06, 2006
The major story of the month is Google's Accessible Search, produced by T.V. Raman. It returns results where accessibility is a scoring factor for ranking, thus promoting more accessible sites with all other things being equal. It's part of Google Labs research project. It's an interesting move from Google, and with T.V. Raman in the driving seat, it certainly won't make the mistake of believing web accessibility can be properly tested programmatically. This story is a worldwide public acknowledgement of the importance of web accessibility - kudos Google.
The Disability Rights Commission have listened to public comments about PAS 78, and have taken action - it's now free via the Disability Rights Commission's website.
The OpenDocument Format saga trundles on, starting with an out-of-date report that criticises the selection of ODF, and Microsoft starting to cave in on its reluctance to support ODF in its Office products. Advocates of the Open Document Format have been cautious - Microsoft is playing the FUD game, and it's eroding its public trust.
- eWeek: Developers Working to Overcome Ajax Accessibility Issues
Yoram Meriaz, chief executive of MB Technologies, said his company worked closely with The Paciello Group, of Nashua, N.H., which specializes in accessible interface design, to add accessibility support to Bindows. Indeed, MB Technologies engineers spent more than a year working with TPG to make Bindows meet accessibility requirements, he said.
- FCW: Can Ajax find harmony on agency Web sites?
With Ajax, user interactions spawn updates to on-screen information. The changes can apply to different parts of a Web page without necessarily requiring user input. Because of that capability, Section 508-compliant tools such as screen readers often have trouble translating Ajax-enabled sites.
- eGov: e-Government, public services and older people
The first challenge is one of accessibility. It is an absolute scandal that significant numbers of public websites are still not meeting basic accessibility standards. Recent research for the Cabinet Office as part of their e-accessibility project, has highlighted that only 3% of European public websites meet the WC3 web content accessibility guidelines. 70% completely fail; 17% partially fail and only 10% limited pass. This is despite the fact that inaccessible websites potentially breach the Disability Discrimination Act.
For hundreds of years we have been designing houses which are inaccessible to many older and disabled people. It seems we are making the same mistake with technology despite the changing demography. The industry and Government has to act on this issue and act quickly.
In the book, readers will find all the code needed to produce the fades, slides, instant feedback, and drag-and-drop capabilities that make an Ajax application. Yet all features are implemented in realistic and pragmatic ways that address concerns of backwards compatibility and accessibility -- issues with which developers grapple daily.
- SF Gate: Google for the blind
Here's how it works. Most visually impaired surf the Internet using screen readers to convert text and graphics into audio. That used to be relatively easy, but now sites have added all kinds of fancy bells and whistles such as streaming graphics and video that trip up these screen readers. Google's new search engine hopes to weed out hard-to-read pages, Raman says.
- Washington Post: Google tests more accessible Web search for blind
T.V. Raman, a research scientist at Mountain View, California-based Google, said his project sorts search results based on the simplicity of page layout, the quality of design and the organization and labelling of information on each page.
- Vnunet: Google offers search for the visually impaired
"We take into account several factors, including a given page's simplicity, how much visual imagery it carries and whether or not its primary purpose is immediately viable with keyboard navigation," said Google.
The company urges web hosts wanting to improve the content of their pages to follow the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which encourages web developers to consider factors that can make their pages unusable to certain users.
- Earth Times: Google tests Accessible Search for the blind and visually impaired
"I knew it was a hard problem," Raman said. "What did I discover by doing this project? It's an even harder problem than I anticipated." He added that complex graphical layouts make it difficult for a visually impaired person to navigate the web since he/she has to rely on screen magnifiers to look at a small section of a page. "You get a lot of conflicting signals," said Raman. "This is a very early experiment. We are just beginning to ask the right questions and we are beginning to scratch the surface with respect to getting the right answers."
Raman, who previously worked at IBM Research said that Google could eventually opt for a system where people with specific disabilities can customize the way they access the web. "Perhaps senior citizens who want a less busy interface or for people who are color blind," he said. "How accessible or how inaccessible a Web page, from a user's perspective, is a really relative question."
- Streaming Media: AOL announces closed captions for online video
"Online captioning is a central accessibility issue for the deaf community and hard-of-hearing community and we are excited to be at the forefront of the movement," said Tom Wlodkowski, Director of Accessibility, for AOL. "Key to our progress has been our collaboration with WGBH and support from content partners such as CNN. We look forward to working with additional content providers to expand the availability of captioned video content across the AOL network."
Raman, a former IBM Research employee, said related research could lead Google to offer search systems designed for people with specific disabilities, according to Reuters.
Raman was also careful to specify that there is no "good" or "bad" in terms of website accessibility, Reuters reports.
"How accessible or how inaccessible a webpage, from a user's perspective, is a really relative question," he told Reuters.
- Post Gazette: Google, AOL, Yahoo improve service for the blind
AOL, a unit of Time Warner Inc., will soon update AOL Web mail to make it more screen-reader friendly. The revisions, which will be under way by the end of the year, will eliminate the need for users with screen readers to switch to a separate text-only page. While designing its new homepage, Yahoo Inc. considered ways to make it more accessible to blind users. For example, carving the site into a greater number of headings like "Entertainment" and "Sports" makes it easier for a visually impaired browser to navigate the site because the headings serve as built-in hooks.
- eGov: Even the best websites can be difficult for disabled people says Socitm report
According to Stefan Haselwimmer, MD of the Usability Exchange, the results of the testing highlight the importance of carrying out disabled user testing when evaluating website accessibility - something that is recommended by accessibility guidance such as the British Standards Institution's PAS 78. 'Such testing can also highlight many of the usability issues that affect non-disabled users' he says.
- out-law: BSI guide to commissioning accessible websites becomes free
DRC spokeswoman Alyson Rose said that BSI owned the copyright from the start. "We had to charge. We had no choice in the matter and we were under pressure to get the document out," she told out-law. While the DRC always offers its own guidance free of charge, Rose pointed out that it did not have the right to give away the BSI's guidance. Could it have been negotiated from the start? "Perhaps if we'd had more time," said Rose.
- out-law: Blind charities praise Google for finding accessible sites
Raman acknowledges the limitations of the automated tests and is not suggesting they are a substitute for user testing. He also knows that some developers may try to hoodwink clients that their sites are accessible solely by virtue of a good ranking in Google Accessible Search. With such practices, "there's a positive and a negative," said Raman. "A lot of people spend money on search engine optimisation. If someone starts optimising for our accessibility measure, it's a positive."
- IT Business New: Microsoft's Expression Web Designer vs. Adobe's Dreamweaver
When you open Expression Web Designer, the first impression you have is the Design Interface. It truly displays content correctly on the screen (Dreamweaver can often be more than a little hazy in this regard). You will find that, as you begin your page layout, Microsoft gently nudges you into using standards. Unless you get in and code by hand, Web Designer does not allow you design a page that is not CSS- or accessibility-compliant. This is no small achievement. Dreamweaver has been wrestling for years on how to add easy support for CSS and accessibility, without you having to take a night course in the two technologies.
- Tech Digest: Google still King of Search
Julie Howell, RNIB's Digital Policy Development Manager, said: "What's fantastic is that a company like Google thinks accessibility is important." She added that Google has always had a good user interface for visually impaired users. "Blind and partially sighted people reported to RNIB from the start that Google was their favourite search engine." It is the simplicity that appealed.
Hardware and Software
- Computerworld: Opponents to ODF strike back in Massachusetts
Also Thursday, the Danish government said it will launch a four-month pilot program in September to use the OpenDocument format (ODF), another part of the Scandinavian country's broad endorsement of open computing standards. The program will start with Denmark's finance and science ministries and possibly others, said Adam Lebech, head of the IT governance division within the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation.
- Star Telegram: New gadgets help blind, but at a cost
The gadget, the Kurzweil-National Federation of the Blind Reader, has been the highlight of the federation's annual convention this week in Dallas. Proponents say the mobile device, which can scan and read printed materials, represents a milestone in assistive technology.
The convention is more focused this year on technology than ever, as advances are creating a paradox of accessibility. Devices like laptop computers with Braille displays have been life-changing but cost thousands of dollars. At the same time, appliance manufacturers are increasingly making products less accessible by adding more digital screens.
- ZDNet: Mass. holding tight to OpenDocument
Gutierrez said he disagreed with the report's characterization of the process that led up to the state's decision to standardize on OpenDocument, or ODF. But he noted that the oversight committee was not opposed to the state's movement to open standards.
- Yahoo: Microsoft Expands Document Interoperability
Open XML and ODF were designed to meet very different customer requirements. By developing the bi-directional translation tools through an open source project, the technical decisions and trade-offs necessary will be transparent to everyone -- Open XML and ODF advocates alike. The Open XML formats are unique in their compatibility and fidelity to billions of Office documents, helping protect customers' intellectual investments. Open XML formats are also distinguished by their approach to accessibility support for disabled workers, file performance and flexibility to empower organisations to access and integrate their own XML data with the documents they use every day. In contrast, ODF focuses on more limited requirements, is architected very differently and is now under review in OASIS subcommittees to fill key gaps such as spreadsheet formulas, macro support and support for accessibility options. As a result, certain compromises and customer disclosures will be a necessary part of translating between the two formats.
- The Register: Microsoft dragged into accepting ODF
Open XML Translator Project, developed under BSD, has been posted to SourceForge. A complete version of the Word translator tool is expected by the end of 2006 with add-ins for Excel and PowerPoint due in 2007. A free compatibility pack will provide interoperability with older versions of Office.
- Seattle PI: Microsoft makes concession to rival Office format
Andy Updegrove, who follows these issues closely on his Consortiuminfo.org Standards blog, calls the project "the latest in a series of concessions to the rising popularity of ODF" by Microsoft. "Clearly, Microsoft realizes that ODF is not going to go away, and that it is necessary to adjust its strategy accordingly," he adds later. "I expect that this latest concession won't be the last, as Microsoft's defensive perimeter continues to shrink."
- eWeek: Playing the Standards Game the Microsoft Way
"Microsoft's announcement on plug-ins is being treated in the press as 'new news,'" Updegrove said. "Ray Ozzie actually let slip mention of the project last October, and an open-source converter project was started by the same French company last September 26."
"Still, as recently as May 19, Microsoft did not disclose the project when it replied to a [Massachusetts] request for information on plug-ins. Why go public now? Presumably due to the series of pro-ODF announcements made in Europe," he said.
- Earth Times: Microsoft says 'yes' to interoperability with Open Document Format
The Belgian government became the first to start this process of moving to ODF last month. The Massachusetts government is also on the road to making a similar shift. In such a scenario, Microsoft really had no choice, but to bow to the pressure and demands of the market. It announced the introduction of the Open XML Translator project through which Microsoft Office Open XML formats and ODF will be interconnected.
- IT News: Microsoft's Office software 'translator' praised, faintly
Updegrove, a partner in the Boston law firm of Gesmer Updegrove, called Microsoft's action a "concession (that) clearly makes it easier for governments and other users to feel safe in making the switch from Office to ODF-supporting software, since Microsoft will be collaborating to make document exchanges smooth and effortless."
- Internet News: Open docs faithful tell Microsoft to cut the FUD
When pressed, Phipps said that Microsoft has spent so long telling the world that ODF isn't enough and that Open XML is superior, that it essentially scared some of the customers that were unsure what direction they wanted to go into demanding ODF support from Microsoft.
"If we want to see Microsoft behaving in a way that respects customers and standards, they will need to be dragged kicking and screaming and FUDing all the way to that conclusion," he wrote in his blog.
- FT: The week in technology: Microsoft goes open source
Microsoft backed down on its proprietary stance over document formats but, if it was hoping for a pat on the back from the wider Internet community, it should have known better.
- GCN: More details on the Microsoft Office ODF translator
The Open XML formats are unique in their compatibility and fidelity to billions of Office documents, accessibility support for disabled workers, performance and flexibility to empower organizations to access and integrate their own XML data with the documents they use every day.
In contrast, ODF focuses on different requirements and is now being modified in OASIS subcommittees to fill key gaps such as spreadsheet formula and accessibility support.
- Guardian: Office opens its doors
Bristol city council, which is moving 5,500 staff to Sun's StarOffice which uses ODF, sounds unrepentant. "Our decision was very much driven by cost," says Gavin Beckett, the city's IT strategy manager. Escaping manufacturer lock-in was "a fairly minor part of the decision" - Bristol was to adopt StarOffice before its formats became approved as an open standard.
But he is pleased by the move. The city is keeping a few employees on Microsoft Office, because they need specific spreadsheet and accessibility functions that are not available in StarOffice. "What will be great is that we will be able to exchange ODF documents with them completely transparently," he says.
- IT Director: Don't type - dictate with Dragon
Dragon NaturallySpeaking V9 is Section 508 certified (the main US legislation on computer accessibility); this means that V9 can be used by people with disabilities; for example everything can be controlled without needing to use a mouse.
- eMedia Wire:
International Web Accessibility Tools Consortia releases toolbar plug-in for Opera browser
The Web Accessibility Tools Consortium (WAT-C) today announced the release of the popular testing tool, the Web Accessibility Toolbar for the Opera web browser. Based on the original web testing toolbar created by Vision Australia, this new version of the toolbar provides Opera accessibility developers, testers, and accessibility analysts a rich set of tools available through their browser.
- Finance Visor: The National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute unveils prototype of braille-embossed TouchBook with digital capabilities
Touch the Earth is a proof of concept demonstrating how a paper-based Braille book with tactile images can be connected to supplemental digital content stored on a computer simply through the touch of a page. The demonstration book includes five Braille pages, four tactile map images created from NASA satellite imagery, and an additional tactile page, which serves as a remote control to access the associated digital content. The NFB believes this innovative approach to educational material could serve as the guide to produce a full-scale book to help teach Earth science concepts to both blind and sighted students alike.
- NewsForge: ODF, Openness and Accessibility
On July 27, the OASIS announced that the first draft update of ODF (version 1.1) had been posted for public comment. This draft is more than usually significant, since it seeks to assist those that implement ODF make their applications more accessible to those with disabilities. After early concerns were expressed about the accessibility of ODF-compliant applications, there has been a great deal of effort expended, both within OASIS and elsewhere, on closing the gap between ODF supporting applications and Microsoft Office, further to a commitment by those involved to not only equal, but exceed Office in accessibility. Those efforts included formation of an accessibility subcommittee within the OASIS ODF Technical Committee charged with addressing accessibility needs within ODF. Like all other OASIS committee work (but unlike committee work at Ecma, where the OpenXML specification is being developed), all comments, minutes and other data is open and public, which will allow the community of the disabled to make their thoughts known throughout the further development of ODF.
- International Paralympic Committee: Assistive Technology in the Spotlight
From 10 to 12 October 2006, Hong Kong will be the venue for the first Assistive Technology Conference entitled 'Assistive Technologies: Expanding a Universe of Opportunities for People with Disabilities'. The conference is the first in a series of three and is hosted by Assistive Technology News (ATN) and Concurrent Technologies Corporation Foundation (CTCF) with assistance from the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), Disabled Persons' International and the Asia Pacific Centre on Disability.
Legal - US and Canada
- Newswire: Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance
Now a discrimination victim files a discrimination complaint with the Human Rights Commission. The Commission must publicly investigate all non-frivolous cases. It can prosecute the case if the evidence warrants a hearing before the Human Rights Tribunal. The McGuinty government's bill would take away from discrimination victims the important right to a public investigation of human rights cases, and the right to public prosecution where evidence warrants. It forces discrimination victims to fight their own case at the Human Rights Tribunal. Attorney General Michael Bryant admitted his bill needs amendments, but hasn't revealed his planned changes.
- Oped News: Vote-PAD invites people with disabilities to the CA certification testing July 19, 20
Vote-PAD, Inc. is a small company, formed in response to complaints from people with disabilities about the overstated accessibility of e-voting systems. The company's mission was to develop an assistive device that would remove barriers to exercising the right to vote and allow people with a wide range of disabilities to mark a paper ballot independently and privately.
- PR Web: The National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute Unveils Prototype of Braille-Embossed TouchBook with Digital Capabilities
The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) announced today that it recently demonstrated a prototype tactile book with a computerized Touch User Interface (TUI) at its national convention in Dallas, Texas on July 1-7, 2006. The book entitled Touch the Earth is the first Braille book combining MODIS Sensor imagery and science content from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) along with the TUI technology of Somatic Digital. Touch the Earth, conceived by the NFB Jernigan Institute, offers new educational opportunities for blind students to break through barriers to accessing printed and pictorial information in existing materials.
- US Newswire: DOJ announces settlement agreement with Jo-Ann's stores, creating accessibility improvements for people with disabilities
The agreement resolves alleged violations of the ADA. The Justice Department initially conducted an investigation after it received complaints about accessibility at Jo-Ann's stores from individuals with disabilities in several states. The investigation concluded that many of the spaces and elements of Jo-Ann's stores were not in compliance with the ADA. Jo-Ann's has worked actively and cooperatively with the Department throughout its investigation and to reach this settlement agreement, which resolves complaints from the Eastern District of Michigan, the Northern District of California, and the Eastern District of Wisconsin.
- Managing Information: WAI To Advise On 508 Standards Update
WAI says it looks forward to continuing to coordinate with organizations around the world to develop harmonized standards for Web accessibility. Additional information is available in the US Access Board article: "Board Names Advisory Committee for 508 Standards Update."
- GovTech: Improving IT access for people with disabilities focus of 2006 International Day of Disabled Persons
By focusing on e-accessibility, this year's Day of Disabled Persons is intended to mobilize action to allow persons with disabilities to participate in the global vision. Persons with disabilities are at a considerable disadvantage by not being able to access information technology. For instance, as education becomes increasingly dependent on information technology, not being able to access the Internet limits the learning potential of persons with disabilities.
Legal - UK, Europe and Worldwide
- Manchester Evening News: Disabled dad's holiday payout
"If Thomas Cook Holidays' website was possible for me to use and carried relevant accessibility information, then I could have used that, but again, the company fails to cater for disabled people by not having the right information online."