Accessibility in the News: September 2005Monday, October 17, 2005
The highlight of the month is the RNIB. Their TechShare conference in November is being keynoted by a representative of Apple, talking about the screen reader technologies they have in their new operating system Tiger. This along with a forthcoming media briefing from Adobe about the accessibility of PDFs signals a shift into looking how assistive technology can better serve the needs of people with disabilities. I think its an incredibly positive step from the Royal National Institute of the Blind.
A second positive step is the official launch of ClearLeft - a Brighton based web standards and accessibility focused consultancy headed by Andy Budd, Jeremy Keith and Richard Rutter. I've met with and spoken briefly to the first two people, and the impressions I took away were of to people interested and passionate about web standards and web accessibility.
The new Apple Operating System MacOS X Tiger is hitting the news for all the right reasons. Apple have made some impressive steps forward in their accessibility features in their operating systems. There's no need to pay £700 plus for specialised screen reader software when it comes as a standard part of Apple's MacOS X. Apple and IBM are the two forerunners in cutting edge assistive technologies at the moment.
- Newswire: Proven return on investment from website usability study
"Due to the high level of accessibility ( which also makes it far easier for the search engines to find and digest each site page ) and the optimisation of content, its pages have already been indexed and ranked by Google and other major search engines." said Rosie Freshwater, Director of Leapfrogg Internet Marketing, search engine marketing specialists. "Sigmer's new site has gained immediate high rankings for relevant terms which have already driven increased amounts of qualified traffic to the site. The successful search engine optimisation ( SEO ) of the site, attributable to Sigmer's expertise in usability, design and accessibility, demonstrates an obvious core business benefit for any customer outsourcing to Sigmer for website design and development and content management."
- Public Technology: ODPM launches 11 Government Office web sites to improve comms
Aware of differing expectations on website accessibility standards in the public sector, RCU aimed to produce the best network of sites they could possibly manage. The goal was to exceed government targets and achieve WAI AAA status on the entire network of sites. External auditors have checked the sites and in-depth examinations have included extensive user testing.
- OnRec: Skillsarena is proud to announce the launch of its new and improved web site
Online skills testing provider, Skillsarena, is delighted to unveil the new web site to coincide with the launch of a new version of the skills testing product featuring new tests, improved usability and loads of new functionality including a brand new reporting module. As a result of this, Skillsarena's new website is now compliant with the DDA and the W3C, scoring very highly for both accessibility and design.
- Pressbox: Black Stallion - Gran Culom's site is re-designed to be more user friendly
An added benefit of having an accessible website, incorporating well structured code and layout, is that sites are likely to do better in the search engines, such as Google, Yahoo and MSN. Using Black Stallion as an example, on MSN Search the keyword phrase "stallion for stud UK" gives a placing of 3rd, despite competition from much larger sites.
- Creative Match: Clearleft - Brighton based consultancy launches today
Aimed primarily at the public sector and publicly funded organisations such as museums, charities, universities and local councils, Clearleft demonstrates high levels of accessibility and web best practices. Offering services ranging from initial site audits to full-scale web development, Clearleft is ideal for clients that have experience of dealing with external consultants and are seeking valued partners rather than standard suppliers.
- 24-7 Press Release: on-IDLE to design and launch The Variety Club website
Managing Director and Co-Founder Ane-Mari Peter at on-IDLE explains, "It is a truly modern makeover and places The Variety Club as a forerunner of design and online accessibility in the charity sector. The new design will reflect the charity's X factor and drive their offline offerings, bringing together output across all regions under one distinct and recognisable style.
- Public Technology: Web accessibility at museums: on the agenda next week...
At the conference Marcus Weisen, MLA's Health and Disability Adviser will talk about MLA's report on the "Accessibility of museum, library and archive websites [PDF]". The report which is based on an audit of the accessibility of 300 museum, library and archive websites is available - and was researched by City University.
- PR Newswire: Knowledge Now e-learning solutions will evolve to meet W3C Web Accessibility Initiative
At the IDEAS 2005 conference, Thomson NETg will unveil a new initiative to develop its e-learning products to the broader accessibility standards of the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (Conformance Level Double-A) that many leading global companies are beginning to adopt for their employee training and development initiatives.
- eGov Monitor: PITO awards police portal replacement contract to QinetiQ
QinetiQ will now begin the design and build of the replacement portal, which is expected to launch in April 2006 and will offer new functionality and additional public services. These include digital mapping to support crime reporting, greater accessibility through voice services for users with impaired sight and increased message broadcasting options (including e-mail, SMS and voice) that enable the police to rapidly disseminate advice to the public. The portal will be load balanced across two separate secure sites in order to ensure greater robustness and resilience.
- Information World Review: Government web must ensure disabled access
Local authority services such as schools admissions, vote registration, planning applications, government information, and council tax administration have to be online by December 31, 2005. By April 2006 government bodies will have to achieve a second IEG deadline of ensuring that all their website information complies with the e-government metadata standard and be accessible to the AA standard set by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international organisation for internet standards.
- SitePoint: Web Essentials 2005: Day Two
Derek delivered the coup de grace when he showed a fully accessible DHTML crossword puzzle. It's worth tracking down the slides and source code from this session just to see this one example with and without stylesheets enabled.
Hardware and software
- IT Analysis: Better accessibility for all
The IBM extensions enable the screen readers to give much clearer descriptions of what is going on. So for example, when traversing a tree structure the reader announces information such as:
- How deep you are in the tree
- How many nodes are at that level
- If a folder is open or closed
This has been receiving rapturous reviews from the blind volunteers who have been testing it.
- Linux World: Firefox 1.5 beta released
"IBM is working with us on accessibility," Beard said. Firefox 1.5 is up for certification under Section 508, a federal law requiring the government to provide access to electronic information for the disabled.
- Australian IT: Building sites for the colour-blind
A researcher at the University of East Anglia is working on plug-in software that tweaks colours to counter the colour-blindness in computer users.
- Hearing Loss: AOL and Sorenson Communications team to offer text-to-speech relay calls
Sorenson IP Relay, a free service provided by Sorenson Communications, lets deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals place text-to-speech relay calls to any standard telephone user in the United States. Under the new alliance, the free AIM Relay service provides individuals with a new access point to Sorenson IP Relay via the AIM service and Buddy List feature on their personal computer or mobile device (i.e., Sidekick, BlackBerry, PalmOne, Treo etc.).
- Public Technology: Eastbourne Borough Council puts in new Content Management System for its website
"Throughout the tender process we were very impressed by the usability of the EasySite CMS product and we consider the accessibility of the product itself to be a great asset. We plan to make the CMS available to users outside the council as part of the community websites project, and an accessible CMS is therefore essential." remarks Henry Branson, Web Development Manager, Eastbourne Borough Council
- Telephony World: Wizzard Software and Dolphin Computer Access Limited make a splash in the accessibility market with IBM's ViaVoice
For example, IBM's ViaVoice is one of the voices behind Dolphin's Supernova, a magnifier screen reader that allows user to navigate Windows applications, the Internet and email easily. Dolphin's LunarPlus Enhanced Screen Magnifier offers people with a visual impairment the advantage of highly intelligible speech output available with IBM's ViaVoice. The Hal Screen Reader from Dolphin provides the very best intelligent screen access for blind computer users through a speech engine such as IBM's ViaVoice.
- Tech Tree: "Microsoft Expression" introduced
With standards-based design, web designers can create accessible, standards-based websites by default and configure flexible schema settings to support all combinations of HTML, XHTML and CSS standards as well as browser schemas. Built-in compatibility and accessibility checkers ensure that websites render properly in any browser.
- eContent: Elluminate launches Elluminate Live! 6.5
In support of the American Disabilities Act (ADA), Elluminate Live! 6.5 provides a number of new features that promote accessibility, such as multiple streams of closed captioning, increased font sizes for text messages, the ability to automatically detect platform colour themes, and the ability to work with screen reader products. The new closed captioning capability is designed to enable the use of multiple language streams in a single session. The moderator determines which attendees can provide the closed captions during the live session, and can allow attendees to provide closed captions enabling them to blog the session live. All of the closed captioning or blog streams can be recorded and are available for review while watching the recording. In addition, installation of the Java Accessibility Bridge allows screen reader products, such as JAWS and Narrator, to provide verbal cues within the Elluminate Live! interface.
- DMN Newswire: Acapela lends a voice to Proloquo
Proloquo is a multi-purpose and multilingual speech solution, for Mac OS X which provides: a complete communication system (AAC) for people who cannot speak, an improvement of accessibility to Mac OS X for people with visual impairments, speech feedback in any application while typing, talking word processor, the conversion of text to speech, a tool to learn the pronunciation of foreign languages and finally, an advanced, multilingual speech engine for KeyStrokes on-screen keyboard and SwitchXS Assistiveware's switch access solution.
- Macworld: 'Accessibility-ready' MacJournal 3.2 ships
Minneapolis, Minn.-based Mariner Software Inc. on Thursday announced the release of MacJournal v3.2, a new version of their personal journaling software for Mac OS X. The new version uses the accessibility API Apple has exposed in Mac OS X v10.4 "Tiger" to improve support for users with disabilities. A free update for MacJournal 3.x users, MacJournal costs US$24.95.
- Business wire: Mariner Software ships accessibility-ready MacJournal 3.2 for Mac OS X "Tiger"
"With over two hundred breakthrough features, including VoiceOver, Apple's built-in screen reader, Tiger is changing the way people use their computers," said Ron Okamoto, Apple's vice president of Worldwide Developer Relations. "We are thrilled that Mariner Software is taking advantage of the accessibility technologies built into Tiger to address the creative writing and journaling needs of our users with vision disabilities."
- KDE News: KDE Accessibility Cooperation
Recent weeks have seen a lot of cooperative activity between the KDE Accessibility Team and various other Free Software accessibility teams. The Free Standards Group Accessibility Workgroup, KDE Accessibility and GNOME Accessibility teams have now released a joint statement describing some of this cooperation. "We believe users who are persons with disabilities should be empowered to choose technologies from any and all environments which provide accessibility just as other desktop users today routinely use a mix of technologies from different desktop environments. Our goal is seamless interoperability."
- Macworld UK: Apple talks access at RNIB UK show
Apple will discuss its OS-level accessibility solution Voice Over at a key UK event hosted by the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB). Mike Shebanek will offer a keynote speech on November 17 during RNIB's Techshare show in Birmingham, UK.
- Web Wire: IBM introduces new consulting services to help employers prepare for baby-boomer transition
Accessibility: Maintain older worker productivity. Building upon many of the lessons learned from developing technologies to make IBM's products - including software, hardware and services - accessible to the disabled, IBM Research is now adapting these solutions for mature workers. The tools allow older workers with vision, cognitive or hand limitations to continue to use computer technology and remain productive beyond retirement age.
- DevX News: IBM Pools Accessibility Tools
The accessibility resource site within Big Blue's alphaWorks is the third area of focused research - semantics and visualization are the other two - featuring technology downloads, articles and other online resources. The launch of the alphaWorks accessibility site is timed to coincide with the launch of IBM's Mature Workforce Campaign.
Legal US and Canada
- Inc.com: Broader wheelchair access rules proposed
The Justice Department is mulling changes to the Americans With Disabilities Act that, as written, would affect every company in America. The Access Board, a federal agency that sets office architectural standards, recently proposed requiring that businesses make office interiors accessible to wheelchairs. For a decade, companies have had to make entryways accessible. The Justice Department will finalize the rules early next year.
- St Petersburg Times: Touch screens will ease voting for visually impaired
But the voice-guidance feature enables blind or visually impaired people to vote unassisted in complete privacy by sequencing through the entire ballot using verbal prompts. The AccuVote-TSX even allows voters to control the speed of the audio ballot. The unit's ballot magnification feature, which can be activated by the voter, enables people with limited sight to easily read the touch screen ballot and make selections. The complete system is portable and adjustable, making it accessible to people with physical limitations.
- Cincinnati Post: Advances made by ADA law saluted
The Center for Independent Living Options works to help people with disabilities live as independently as possible. Support groups help people share information and support each other. The agency can coordinate programs and services available in the community including personal care attendants, sources for technical assistance and life skills training. The center works with business owners and community leaders to remove barriers and educate the community on accessibility issues. The agency can do accessibility audits to assure businesses are meeting ADA guidelines.
- Yes Weekly: Blind voters don't see eye to eye with election officials
Neely expressed concerns over the reliability of the reel machines and the confidentiality of votes recorded in sequential order on the paper record. She has used a variety of machines aimed at providing access for the disabled and settled on the Automark machine as the user-friendliest model. Unlike Gilbert's preferred model, the Automark relies on the old technology of optical scan ballots.
Legal - UK and Europe
- out-law: IT accessibility must improve, says European Commission
The accessibility of websites, software, digital TV and 3G phones could become a legal requirement across the EU if plans announced today by the European Commission fail to improve accessibility for elderly and disabled people within two years.
- Digital Media Europe: Commission calls for improved e-accessibility
Coordinated action by EU member states is needed to make information and communication technologies (ICTs) more accessible to all, and particularly to people with disabilities and some older persons, said the European Commission today.
- Silicon: Make tech accessible to all, demands EC
Information society and media commissioner Viviane Reding said the latest wave of devices and services can be used to enable older people to live more independently and improve their quality of life.
- ZDNet: Europe demands action on IT accessibility
Information society and media commissioner Viviane Reding said the latest wave of devices and services can be used to enable older people to live more independently and improve their quality of life. She also predicted a new market will grow up around providing accessible digital services.
- Public Technology: Office for Disability Issues to launch: but will it enforce web accessibility?
"Rather than people fitting into services - services need to fit to individuals. Every person with a disability should have the power to choose the support and services they need from a wide range of possibilities that exist within a given community. This concept of individualisation is now becoming global. The idea of a menu of choices - focused on the individual but supported by the community - is both powerful and inspirational.
- eGov Monitor: e-Government: reaching socially excluded groups?
To be effective and efficient, e-government needs to reach people who need local authority services most. These are often the most disadvantaged people in communities - unemployed, people with disabilities, people with language and literacy difficulties, elderly, lone parents etc.
These groups (and others) are recognised as being at risk of a digital divide - not being able to access electronic services, and not having digital literacy skills or motivation. Accessibility is being addressed to a certain extent through web accessibility standards, or legislation such as Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). However, there are serious gaps in understanding the diverse needs of citizens and how to make e-government inclusive. Digital inclusion is core to this.