Accessibility in the News: March 2004Friday, April 02, 2004
Biggest story of the month is Apple's unveiling of Spoken Interface - a screen reader built into Mac OSX. Hopefully this will spark off a price war between OS X and Windows screen readers, benefitting the blind community (Mark Pilgrim's blog entry on Spoken Interface is recommended reading). Opera are not far behind technology-wise with a speech-enabled browser. PDFs are still in the spotlight with the opinion they may not meet Section 508 compliance.
And the supposed "best-of-the-best" in British companies - FTSE100 companies and UK banks - all get slated because of inaccessible websites and online services.
For the interest of regular readers, I've started to collect accessibility-related links in my accessibility link log. News aggregator readers can subscribe to the RSS 1.0 feed or the Atom 0.3 feed which will serve the last 20 links, updated periodically.
- Central Maine: Disabled-friendly technology used, but too seldom Maine's congressional delegates' Web sites pose barriers to blind
Although Congress amended Section 508 of the federal Rehabilitation Act that requires federal agencies to make their Web sites more friendly to those with disabilities nearly six years ago, it exempted itself from the law and its members have since made few improvements to close the accessibility gap.
Maine's entire congressional delegation fails to meet the guidelines Congress established in 1998. This renders sections of their sites useless to those with disabilities.
- Press Herald: Internet opens up to visually impaired
Brian Higgins calls software that reads text on a computer screen the most groundbreaking invention for the visually impaired since Braille.
"This is bigger (than Braille)," said Higgins, 52, who has been legally blind for nearly 10 years. "How much do people use computers? Go into any library and ask how many Braille books they use. ... This is bigger to the blindness community."
- out-law: Ten basic tests to check your web site's accessibility
The Lynx browser is a text-only browser and does not support many of the features that other browsers such as Internet Explorer have. You can check how your site looks in this browser with the Lynx Viewer. If your web site makes sense and can be navigated through the Lynx browser, then it will be fulfilling many of the web accessibility guidelines.
- Internet Magazine: Well-intentioned sites still failing accessibility checkpoints
Internet monitoring company SciVisum studied 111 web sites that claimed to comply with the Web Accessibility Initiative's web content accessibility guidelines 1.0. The sites displayed the compliance logo, which web sites are invited to use to demonstrate their commitment to accessibility.
- Sitepoint: CSS at SxSW
There was great information presented in all of the above, but the point that struck home hardest, at least for me, was when Doug Bowman anounced the infamous Fahrner Image Replacement technique deprecated. Image replacement techniques are CSS methods of replacing text with an image, with FIH the first and most famous. Although designed to improve accessibility, the technique actually has the opposite effect thanks to many screen readers ignoring text that has been set to display: none in the CSS. Joe Clark's article in A List Apart from last year has the full technical details.
- out-law: Are web sites deceiving the disabled on accessibility?
Tests carried out on 111 web sites of UK organisations that claim to be compliant with web accessibility standards reveal that 40% of the sites do not meet the checkpoints for which they claim compliance - and government sites are the worst offenders.
- silicon.com: UK banking websites 'failing customers'
The sites were also tested against the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) guidelines, which aim to ensure people with disabilities are not prevented from accessing information on the website - though this score was not factored into the overall results.
Britannia had no pages that were WAI-compliant and 10 sites scored less than five per cent compliance. Eight achieved greater than 90 per cent with Royal Bank of Scotland coming top.
Hardware and software
- PRNewsWire: Avaya IP Telephony Solutions score highest marks in independent tests of support for people with disabilities
VoiceCon 2004 -- Avaya, a leading global provider of communications networks and services for businesses, today announced that the company's Internet protocol (IP) telephony solutions outperformed other solutions in industry benchmark tests that measured their ability to transmit teletypewriter, or TTY, signals reliably over an IP network. A TTY is a text terminal that is commonly used in place of telephones by people who have difficulty hearing or speaking.
- Planet PDF: DSI enhances PDFs for accessibility and usability
"Many Federal government and contractor Web sites have revised their HTML since 2001 to comply with Section 508," says Duff Johnson, CEO of Document Solutions. "However, their PDF files -- often a third or more of the total online content -- are the glaring exception."
- Mac Daily News: Apple announces "spoken interface" for next major Mac OS X release
The Universal Access capabilities of Mac OS X that provide equal access for everyone to the power and simplicity of the Macintosh are now enhanced to include a spoken interface for those with visual and learning disabilities. The spoken interface is a fully integrated, built-in enhancement of the Mac OS X Aqua user interface making it an additional and equal way of accessing the Macintosh. It reads aloud the contents of documents like Web pages, Mail messages, and word processing files; provides a comprehensive audible description of your workspace and all the activities taking place on your computer; and includes a rich set of keyboard commands that allow you to navigate the Mac OS X interface and interact with application and system controls. If you or someone you are assisting has visual or learning impairments, the spoken interface enhances the rich set of Universal Access features in Mac OS X to ensure equal access for everyone.
- Computerworld: Apple unveils Spoken Interface for blind OS X users
Spoken Interface provides a combination of speech, audible cues and keyboard navigation to help blind users navigate Mac OS X with the same ease of use as sighted users. It offers access to the Dock, menu items, tool bars, palettes and other on-screen objects, pressing buttons, activating sliders and checkboxes, selecting radio buttons and using all the other interface elements of Mac OS X and its applications.
- Business Week: Finally, Apple speaks to the blind
Lack of a screen reader could also preclude Apple from winning government contracts. Government info-tech departments by law must ensure that all their technology is accessible to the maximum degree possible. If Apple lacked a screen reader, Windows would be the winner by default.
- MacWorld UK: Apple previews Mac OS X Spoken Interface
The interface will be built-in to Mac OS X - vastly reducing the investment in terms of computer, OS and add-on software and peripherals that has been needed before. Screen readers for Windows can cost $1,000 or more. the new software will "makes owning a Mac a bargain for the visually disabled", writes Business Week.
- MacCentral: Apple unveils Spoken Interface for blind OS X users
Spoken Interface uses Mac OS X's built-in text-to-speech capabilities to describe much of what's going on. Visually impaired users can often listen to speech at a much faster rate than normally sighted users, so Apple has retuned the voices in its text-to-speech technology to be more clear at a faster rate.
- Tech News World: Finally, Apple speaks to the Blind
So far, the reaction from the folks in the assistive-technology community who worked with Apple on Spoken Interface has been largely positive. "I think they're doing phenomenal work. I wouldn't say [that] it's better than [leading Windows screen reader] JAWS yet, but it could be. Each time they show me a new version, it gets better and better," says Larry Goldberg, director of the National Center for Accessible Media, a Boston (Mass.) nonprofit that develops assistive-media technologies and advises companies on how to make their products friendlier to people with disabilities.
- PDF Zone: AIIM meeting sets PDF/Access standard in motion
That's why software companies, government agencies and advocates for the visually disabled got together for the first time at the AIIM show March 9. Under the auspices of the PDF/Access Working Committee, they formally kicked off discussions for developing a new PDF standard that is usable by people who rely on assistive technologies such as screen readers.
- ZDNet.co.uk: Opera to give its browser a voice
Opera is going to put IBM's ViaVoice technology into its browser, meaning users will be able to control their browsers and fill in voice-enabled forms without touching a mouse or keyboard
- Scoop.co.nz: Accessibility in action
"Producing the document in accessible formats allows us to overcome the barriers imposed by traditional print," says Councillor Graeme Mulholland, chairperson of Auckland City's Community Services Committee.
- LinuxWorld.au: GNOME version 2.6 released
In line with the GNOME project's focus on improving accessibility, the team has also further improved its keyboard and screen features to assist users with disabilities. These include a navigation and character entry tool called 'Dasher', which, Waugh claims, is a "very serious utility to users with motion impairments or other difficulties using a standard keyboard".
Real world accessibility
- Californian.com: It is time for us to focus on the real disability issues
The broadcast featured an informal parking lot survey of women asking their opinions about whether or not they would utilize a "pregnancy placard" if provided with the opportunity. Despite the fact that the mechanism for pregnant women to obtain a placard already exists, the media lauded this proposed legislation as an issue of the highest importance to people with disabilities. When are people going to understand that disability is about more than just parking? When is the media going to pay attention to the issues that are really important to people with disabilities?
- Santa Cruz Sentinel: Accessible condos get applause, OK from Planning Commission
What drew such enthusiasm from the commission at Thursday night's meeting was the combination of a "well-designed project" and the fact that all of the one-bedroom condos are either wheelchair-accessible or designed to be easily adaptable for wheelchair-using residents, said Commissioner Kaitilin Gaffney.
- Seattle PI: An architect with disabilities champions public accessibility for all
It takes only a few steps to violate your civil rights.
A skier temporarily on crutches, an elderly person with a walker or one of the millions of people with a permanent disability struggling to enter a public building all have protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
- Managing Information: National Maritime Museum wins praise for accessibility
The National Maritime Museum (NMM) has been voted as one of London's 50 favourite accessible venues. A number of venues throughout the capital including museums, galleries, theatres, restaurants and shops were voted for by disabled people from around the UK.
- BusinessWire: Abilities Expo/New York Metro to be held April 16-18, 2004
Abilities Expo/New York Metro is the one show dedicated to educating and improving the lives of people with disabilities, senior citizens, their families & caregivers, as well as healthcare and education professionals.
- North County Times: Houses built for wheelchair accessibility a growing trend
Homes designed to accommodate life changes are becoming more popular as baby-boomers age and are more likely to need, or have a family member who needs, an accessible home, said Susan Mack, president of Murrieta-based Homes for Easy Living.
- Croner Webcentre: The DRC warn of businesses missing out on cash bonanza
The Disability Rights Commission (DRC), Digby Jones, Director General of the CBI has told businesses that if they fail to make their services accessible and become "socially inclusive", they risk missing out on the £50 billion disabled people are estimated to spend each year.
- Japan Corporate News: Oki Electric to establish a teleworking company for severely challenged people
In 1998, Oki recruited three severely disabled employees and established a teleworking employment system to expand job opportunities for workers who have a hard time commuting due to their disabilities. The teleworkers are IT engineers who hold information processing or entry-level administrator qualifications. Through their PCs and use of the Internet from home, working as OKI Networkers, they have provided IT-related services that include developing web systems, creating and consulting websites with high accessibility, and designing posters.
- stuff.co.nz: Disabled man waits for apology
An unidentified Tranz Metro employee said the earlier train manager's attitude was wrong but claimed using the ramp on a crowded train was a cumbersome task which took several minutes and meant getting passengers to make way.
"This would have delayed the already-late train considerably, whilst embarrassing the man by having him as the cause for a long delay in front of hundreds of customers," the employee said.
- New Zealand News: Man receives apology for train ordeal
Muscular dystrophy sufferer Tim Dempsey has received an "unreserved" apology from Tranz Metro after he was forced to crawl on to an Auckland train on his hands and knees.
- KCBD: City recognized for strides in handicap accessibility
Pat Pound, Executive Director of the Governor's Committee on People with Disabilities, witnessed a milestone for Citibus on Friday. She honored them with "Access for All" sticker. It may look like a simple decal, but to her it's much more. "It's kind of like a disabled welcome mat. When you see it, you know when you go in a building, you'll be able to find the things you need to move around the building like everybody else," Pound says.
Is this an issue that can be sorted out by the time of the US Presidential elections at the end of this year?
- SFGate: Election lawsuit - Disabled seek upgrades in voting
A coalition of disability rights groups and voters sued San Francisco and three other California counties Monday for failing to provide in last week's primary election touch-screen voting machines that they say are specifically designed to allow those who are blind or with manual dexterity problems to vote independently.
- Mercury News: Senators want decertification of touch-screen voting systems
"California has a lemon law which protects consumers if they buy an automobile that doesn't work. So far, electronic voting in California is a lemon. It needs to be fixed," said Sen. Ross Johnson, R-Irvine.
- L.A. Daily News:
Poll workers are essentially volunteers with limited training, and often aren't able to help voters having difficulty with the machines. Voters have also complained of having less privacy when they use the screens.
- Kansas City Star: Negotiators agree on bill on accessible voting sites
A bill intended to make all polling places accessible to the disabled emerged Tuesday from legislative negotiations, pleasing activists who say Kansas' current law fails to ensure all citizens' right to vote.