Accessibility in the News: November 2005Sunday, December 04, 2005
Microsoft fought back bitterly after the US state of Massachusetts decided to adopt open standards in its document formats, and selecting Open Office's Open Document Format (ODF). Microsoft is petulant that it will not support the Open Document Format in its Office product range. Yet, Microsoft played the disability card, pointing out that disabled people work better using Microsoft Office (well, more accurately, people using JAWS).
This point is valid largely due to the proprietary work carried out in partnership between Microsoft and Windows-reliant screen-reader vendor, Freedom Scientific. JAWS has been heavily customised to work better with Microsoft Office, and for that reason alone, the Microsoft Office product is a better platform for users of that screen reader.
Joe Clark gets stuck in with A file format cannot be 'accessible', and nails the issue with a direct question:
If Microsoft Office could output ODF documents tomorrow, would the blind employees stop complaining?. The real problem, as Joe notes, is Microsoft's refusal to support ODF export (not to mention that this is an example of the Stockholm Syndrome - a psychological dependence or loyalty a hostage feels toward his kidnapper).
Microsoft claim that supporting ODF is far too difficult because ODF doesn't support all the features that the Microsoft Office format supports. But, as Jeremy Allison points out:
Does Microsoft Word refuse to save as plain text because it will remove the "advanced formatting information" ? No. In the same way is is also happy to save as RTF. It doesn't seem to bother you that you're losing the "advanced formatting information" in that case, so it shouldn't bother you here either.
- Web user: Make the most of the internet
Working together with leading computing and disability charity AbilityNet, the BBC developed My Web, My Way to help people make the most of the internet, whatever their ability or disability, and regardless of the operating system (Windows, Mac or Linux) they use.
- netimperative: BBC launches accessibility site
Jonathan Hassell, the BBC's digital accessibility editor, said: "As a public service Website, bbc.co.uk's goal is to ensure that we serve all of our users. In creating My Web, My Way, our work with AbilityNet helps make this objective a reality."
- The Open Press: Clackmannanshire Council website wins top prize for accessibility
According to Webcredible's Trenton Moss, Clackmannanshire Council's site is an "excellent example of best practice - images have descriptive alternative text, headings have been appropriately labelled and link text is informative". The site even takes that next step towards what Moss calls "true accessibility", by allowing easy tabbing through the website for motor impaired users and providing extra navigation for screen reader users.
- netimperative: Internet advances shift accessibility goalposts
The increased sophistication of websites has changed the priorities of web accessibility, with effective in-site search, good navigation, and clear, well-constructed content now the three most important usability issues for disabled Internet users, according to new research.
- Colorado Daily: Disability discourse
Today marks the final day of CU-Boulder's week-long conference focusing on using technology to make classroom materials more accessible to students with disabilities. The eighth annual event, called the "Accessing Higher Ground: Accessible Media, Web and Technology Conference," features over 50 presentations and workshops focusing on accessibility of Web pages, new media and online curriculum.
- ZDNet: UK financial organisations offer Firefox support
"In the past we have concentrated on Internet Explorer as this has been by far the most popular browser. However we aim to make our site accessible to all, and all future developments are intended to work across all of the main browsers," said the [Prudential] spokesman. "Our site is being updated to work with a number of the most popular browsers from February 2006: Internet Explorer 5+, Firefox, Safari, Netscape 5+."
- Legal Week: UK v US websites: different strokes for different folks?
Although not as distinct, a cursory check of some accessibility compliance features also shows a difference in attitude between the US and the UK. Based on universal guidelines issued by the World Wide Web's watchdog - the 'W3C' - some years ago, accessibility compliance moved firmly into the UK spotlight last year on the back of older DDA legislation. Conscious of leading by example, many UK firms have worked hard to ensure their online offering is accessibility compliant at least to the lowest priority level. It is not easy and continuous monitoring is essential to prevent fresh content from breaching accessibility guidelines.
- eGov: New innovations on website mean even more children can get the help they need
It's never easy to talk about abuse - and for disabled children or children with special educational needs it can be even harder. That's why the NSPCC has added new accessibility features to its website for teenagers, worriedneed2talk.org.uk, which go live on 17 November.
- eGov: Prestigious logo awarded to council website
North Wiltshire District Council has been awarded a prestigious logo for making the council website accessible to all. The Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) has awarded the website the 'See it right' logo, recognising the work that has been done to make the council's website accessible to all users.
- out-law: RNIB and AbilityNet join forces to test websites
RNIB will continue to offer the existing "See it Right" expert audit, and AbilityNet will continue to offer independent user testing of sites. However, website managers who are keen to use both of these services will no longer need to arrange each assessment separately. And if all of the recommendations from the combined assessments are implemented successfully, sites will be eligible to display the new "See it Right: UseAbility" logo.
- eGov: eAccessibility is an issue for all of us
The report revealed that only 3% of the 436 online public service websites achieved a Level A rating which is considered to be the minimum standard under the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. A further 10% achieved limited level A and 17% marginal fail Level A. The remaining 70% were found to fail Level A. No websites tested reached the higher double A standard.
- out-law: Public sector websites fail accessibility tests
The Resolution called for public websites to become Level AA accessible, a reference to the best known benchmark, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). The Resolution states that, "for websites to be accessible, it is essential that they are double-A compliant." Three years on, not a single website achieved this rating in the largest study of its kind.
Hardware and software
- ZDNet Between the lines: Auditor inquisition could determine ODF's fate in Massachusetts
After Massachusetts Office on Disability director Myra Berloff testified that her office was not consulted during the decision making process, the decision took a drubbing from two men with disabilities - Gerry Berrier (Bay State Council for the Blind) and John Winske (Disability Policy Counsel). The concern is that, if enforced, the new policy will result in a step backwards when it comes to the accessibility of computers to state employees with disabilities (an issue I will cover in painstaking detail in another blog).
- ZDNet: Massachusetts officials criticise OpenDocument decision
Quinn said OpenDocument-based products do need to be improved to address people with disabilities. He noted that IBM and Sun in the coming weeks intend to launch an effort within OASIS to improve the standard in regards to accessibility.
- Linux Pipeline: See what being nice gets you?
According to Microsoft, disabled workers prefer Microsoft Office, due to its ability to support assistive technologies. So far, so good: By almost any credible measure, Office does, in fact, support a variety of popular assistive-technology products. Over the past 15 years or so, this technology has improved life for millions of sight- or movement-impaired computer users, allowing them not simply to work, but to excel and to succeed in their chosen fields.
- PR Web: This is the ultimate in portable accessibility
"The built-in voice recorder even allows you to dictate notes or record lectures and listen to them later. Plug it into the USB drive and you have access to a 250,000-word Talking Dictionary. The Universal Reader is ideal for reading emails and web pages and E-Text Reader is a tremendous study tool that allows you to highlight, bookmark, search and extract text from a document. The Talking Word Processor has talking word prediction and the world's most powerful talking grammar check. Scan and Read Pro is compatible with most flat bed scanners. Just place a book on the scanner and within a few seconds Scan and Read can be reading it to you. PDF Magic is outstanding for converting inaccessible PDF files to accessible formats. Text To Audio application will take documents from your computer convert them to MP3 and put them right on your Key to Access player so that you can listen to them away from your computer."
- Businesswire: Percussion Software introduces Rhythmyx 5.7, newest version of award-winning Enterprise Content Management System
Accessibility and Section 508 Compliance - Like Rhythmyx's Content Explorer interface, EditLive! is designed to comply with US Section 508 regulations regarding software accessibility. Its full keyboard accessibility allows users to navigate its interface without a mouse. EditLive! also includes an Accessibility Check feature, which allows contributors to validate the compliance of their XHTML content against the W3C's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and against Section 508 standards.
- Computerworld: Team led by IBM, Sun formalizes OpenDocument support
The OASIS subcommittee the group plans to form first was one that addressed making OpenDocument more suitable for applications that provided accessibility to computer software for disabled citizens, he said.
- People's Daily Online: "100,000 blind people learn to use computer" activity launched
With "narrowing the digital gap and sharing IT civilization" as theme, the forum will discuss the Chinese government's strategy to promote accessibility, the global developing trend of accessibility, technological innovations in accessibility.
- David Berlind: MS competitors gather to fast track ODF's evolution
The agenda apparently looked to address some of ODF's biggest challenges including a key weakness when it comes to how accessible ODF-compliant solutions are (or will be when they ship) to those with disabilities. By way of support from commonly used third party accessibility applications like JAWS that don't support anything in the ODF ecosystem, Microsoft Office is the first choice for those with disabilities such as visual impairments when it comes to working with electronic documents and productivity suites.
- Game Shout: Firefox second release goes smoothly
Better accessibility including support for DHTML accessibility and assistive technologies such as the Window-Eyes 5.5 beta screen reader for Microsoft Windows. Screen readers read aloud all available information in applications and documents or show the information on a Braille display, enabling blind and visually impaired users to use equivalent software functionality as their sighted peers.
- Gizmodo: frog Design Mind
A 2004 survey by the American Foundation for the Blind lists the top two mobile phone accessibility needs as "keys that are easily identifiable by touch" and "voice output" - that is, the phone speaks menus options and settings, like the current time. Randy's last phone had both features, but his current phone, a Sanyo SCP-200, lacks voice output - his phone no longer talks (back) to him - but it does have voice input features, such as voice-enabled dialing.
- David Berliner: Top national advocate for the disabled sets terms for endorsement of OpenDocument Format
The information I have would lead me to believe that access technologies for the Open Source environment are in their infancy, and when they are compared feature for feature with what we have in Windows, they will come up short. When one compares the training resources and information available for access technologies in Windows against that available for Open source, this, too, demonstrates that the Open Source community still has a long way to go.
- Hearing Loss: Instant messaging reaches out and touches deaf people
IP relay is a new and evolving service in which operators transcribe phone calls over the Internet in near-real time to people who are deaf or hard of hearing and then read their instant message replies back to the hearing caller.
- eWeek: Microsoft promotes cross-platform accessibility tech
Microsoft is moving from its MSAA (Microsoft Active Accessibility) model to a new cross-platform accessibility model called User Interface Automation, which will be supported in Windows XP and Windows Vista, said Rob Sinclair, director of Microsoft's Accessible Technology Group.
- IT Analysis: Visual Studio 2005 makes accessibility a real possibility
In addition to this support, Visual Studio now comes with a validation program that will check that the code generated is firstly valid XHTML and then adheres to the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) accessibility standards. This function comes with the standard health warning that not all WAI requirements can be checked for automatically and human checking is still required. Notwithstanding the health check the validation program provides two important benefits, firstly it reduces the number of bugs the human checking will pick up, secondly once an accessible site has been set up it may not be necessary to run a human check against every new page. The reduction in the need for human checkers should translate in to a considerable cost saving.
- BBC: Government sites 'fail disabled'
Common problems suffered by the poorly accessible sites involved insufficient use of descriptive tags to label images and other screen furniture to help software readers work out what they are.
Legal US and Canada
- Brock Press: Disability discrimination is still common in Canada
We, all of us, are letting this discrimination happen. This is due largely to the fact that we are uneducated on this subject and, because of our lack of knowledge we tolerate these problems mostly out of ignorance. It is now our responsibility to start to open our eyes to the problems and to participate as citizens to remove barriers.
- Businesswire: Disability Access Consultants, Inc. awarded over $50,000 in contracts for the last two weeks of November 2005
More than 54 million people in the U.S. have a disability, a number equal to 20% of the population. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 requires all organizational entities, public or private, with more than 15 employees, to provide equal access for individuals with disabilities. It is estimated that there are more than 7 million sites at risk across the U.S.
- Yahoo: Disability groups call for Telecom Legislation
The National Association of the Deaf (NAD), joined by other disability organizations listed at the end of this press release, called upon Congress to enact legislation mandating disability access to Internet-based products and services by the end of this Congress. The nation needs broadband, everywhere, now, and at affordable rates -- this is true for no one more than people with disabilities.
Legal - UK, Europe and worldwide
- Haaretz Daily: Tel Hai College rejects disabled students due to inaccessibility
"This is outright discrimination. And as though it weren't enough that the college violates its legal obligation to make its facilities fully accessible, it also prevents a person with disabilities from enrolling in its ranks even though Al-Khof never asked for accessibility," added Executive Director Sylvia Tessler-Lozowick.
- OnRec: People with disabilities stake their workplace claim
More than nine in 10 (95.3%) of organisations surveyed now have a formal policy on disability, typically as part of a wider equality or diversity policy.
- Hastings Today: Stores 'failing' the wheelchair-bound
Debenhams had a purpose-built hoist lift fitted to help wheelchair users tackle steps in men's fashion. But the lift was out of order and one member of staff revealed it had been so for quite some time. Because of this any wheelchair-bound customer wanting to access the lower level of that department store would actually have to leave the shop and re-enter it further down the road, then move through the narrow aisled cosmetic department.
- i-Newswire: European e-Government: Ministers make unanimous declaration on 2010 targets
By 2010 European public administrations will have made public information and services more easily accessible through innovative use of ICT and through increasing public trust, increasing awareness of eGovernment benefits and through improving skills and support for all users.
- Scoop: Disabled daredevils tackle Mission Accessible
Fear will fall by the wayside when a wheelchair user abseils down a 13-storey building and a blind person walks a high wire as part of this week's 'Mission Accessible' event.
- Yorkshire Today: Station to improve disabled access
A £2m project to make Doncaster railway station accessible for disabled people is under way. The improvement works will include installing 16-person lifts to improve access to the platforms which are used by 12,000 passengers everyday.
- The Register: Government websites fail to meet standards
The latest estimates of internet usage in the European Union show that nearly 48.1 percent (222 million of the 460 million population) have access to the internet. Estimates also show that 39 million of the EU population are disabled and that by the year 2020 some 25 per cent of the population will be over 60.