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Friday, August 20, 2004
Bloglines - Accessibility in the News: July 2004
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isolani: Web Accessibility As the online world in the UK starts waking up to the Disability Discrimination Act, I'll be collecting resources, ideas, success stories, and personal experience.
Voting issues are heating up again now that there's less than 100 days until the US Presidential Elections. Florida looks to be capable of reproducing its sparkling electorial form again. At least there's visible campaigning going on to ensure disabled voters don't keep getting a raw deal.
The Odeon snuffed out the accessible version of their website on the accusation of data protection - its been a backlash in the blogging community, and two high profile media reports - the BBC and Wired. The Odeon are pointing fingers at Matthew Somerville claiming he's "whipping up" support against the Odeon - which is completely nonsense. But then Matthew might be an easier scapegoat than Odeon incompetance.
IBM have been busy this month. First they unveiled a developer tool - called aDesigner - designed to show the effects of disability - so a test tool that might flag up various accessibility issues. Second a tool called Web Adaption Technology - which strips out a number of accessibility problems in websites. And thirdly they've allowed their text-to-speech technology to be used on Linux. Thank you Big Blue!
There is a real concern that regulation stifles creativity. I can understand that feeling but do not agree with it. I believe that our new site will be more creative and more aesthetic while still being compliant. For examples new buildings must be accessible but I do not believe that has made the architects less creative or the buildings less attractive, in fact I believe the opposite is true.
Websites will be rigorously audited under a number of headings including consistency, appearance, accessibility, privacy, navigation and service commitment. A certification report will be issued to the organisation following the initial audit. There will be two audits per annum conducted to ensure consistency in awarding the globally recognised website certification symbol.
The EIQA (Excellence Ireland Quality Association) product, which brings together quality associations from the UK, USA, Asia and Europe, allows organisations to have their websites independently audited under a number of criteria to ensure excellence and best practice. Ireland will be the global headquarters for the certification process.
The service was launched in Ireland, the UK and USA today and will be rolled out globally over the coming months. The first organisations to seek certification include Hewlett-Packard Galway Limited, financial services group Friends First and REHAB, which provides vocational training for people with disabilities.
The organisation said that Sainsbury's, Asda, Somerfield and Morrisons failed to provide even the basic levels of accessibility for disabled users - though the supermarkets denied that they ignored the needs of disabled customers.
The survey audited the UK's top five supermarkets, looking at both usability and accessibility. AbilityNet found that only Tesco's alternative website - www.tesco.com/access - provided easy access for people with a vision impairment, dyslexia or physical disability making mouse use difficult, gaining a four-star rating on AbilityNet's five-star scale.
AIM Relay Service will let hearing- and speech-disabled users place relay telephone calls using their AOL Buddy List or AIM Buddy List feature, the company said. The service can be accessed from any PC or device running AOL services and will be free for AOL members and Apple Computer's iChat users.
A new AOL service promises better access to telecommunications services for the hearing and speech disabled. Now, users can make phone calls using their AOL or AIM buddy lists without the need for a special TTY device.
Odeon Cinemas' website is so frustratingly bad that last year accessibility campaigner Matthew Somerville took it upon himself to recode a version of it that worked. The original site only allowed access to people using Internet Explorer and Windows and was in breach of the Disability Discrimination Act.
Lis Angle adds the bottom line, "The law has been in force since 1999. Websites should have been complying since then, and websites should be complying now! - if they are not they may be in breach of the DDA, which could lead to high profile, embarrassing court proceedings."
Another problem with some sites was poor accessibility - making it difficult for those with visual impairments, or on low-speed connections surfing with the images turned off, to use the websites. Ms Wolfe said this was a particular concern, as it was fairly common government policy to have minimum accessibility standards.
The cinema chain, currently for sale in an auction that has seen bids reach 380 million pounds (about $710 million), even fixed bugs on its site after being alerted by Somerville -- then served him with a terse cease and desist, claiming he was breaching copyright and data laws. Under legal pressure, he reluctantly killed off his unauthorized Accessible Odeon Website this week, counterclaiming that the official site breaks disability discrimination law.
The report highlighted that 4 out of 5 of the sites tested failed to meet even a 50% rating under SiteMorse's accessibility tests, which looked at WAI Priority 1 requirements. For some the figure was worse - a quarter (16 of the 65) of the sites tested achieved a 0% rating for accessibility.
DisabledGo-Wandsworth, a new online guide, will give information about access to shops, pubs, restaurants, cinemas and other public venues for people with hearing, vision or mobility disabilities. People will be able to find out about an array of access information, such as whether a cinema has a hearing loop, whether a pub is accessible to wheelchair users, or if a restaurant welcomes guide dogs.
Maestro features text-to-speech technology and a tactile keyboard membrane over its touch screen so the visually impaired can use essential information-access and communication applications without using a stylus.
VisuAide is one of the many leading assistive technology companies that use the HP iPAQ Pocket PC as a platform to create products for people with disabilities. VisuAide chose the iPAQ as their platform for its accessibility, efficient keyboard layout and central navigation key. The iPAQ allows for greater connectivity than the average Pocket PC via USB or serial port, and it uses a flexible, standard platform, Microsoft Windows CE.
To address this, Open Access has developed a Web-based service known as "EnablePDF". Organisations upload their PDF documents, which are processed and returned with the relevant accessibility features added. The service will be available online from September; and will "include the production of a full report as to the changes made to the document".
This new addition to the Wizzard family of offerings allows computerized text to be spoken "out-loud" while running in the Linux operating system environment. Users can utilize the TTS for a wide variety of tasks including having letters, instant messages and e-mails read out-loud and to help verbally guide visitors through web sites. In addition to assisting visually-impaired and mobility-impaired users on Linux it can make standard desktop programs more user-friendly for longer working baby boomers dealing with vision, hearing and mobility issues.
A Java-based developer tool called aDesigner is intended to ensure the usefulness of Web pages for people who are visually impaired, IBM said. Developed at IBM's Tokyo Research Lab, the tool detects accessibility and usability problems on Web pages and provides guidance on how to correct these issues. The issue of easily viewable Web sites is one that will grow, with seven in 10 Americans expected to work past the once-typical retirement age of 65, IBM stressed.
According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), five in 10 Americans expect to work well into their 70s and 80s; with the Internet as ubiquitous as it is these days, these workers will need Internet access and the ability to see or hear the site they're visiting.
IBM's aDesigner "presents a console to the developer and it basically provides it as a simulator," said Jim Chao, emerging technology strategist at IBM. "It simulates a low-vision mode and it also simulates a blind mode so it will take a look at your HTML and in this console list all the problems with your Web page."
WiderWeb enables Web site accessibility through automated gateway services allowing Web-owners to meet the W3C guidelines for accessibility and enhancing the user experience for disabled people. The gateway offers an accessible version of a site generated in real time according to each user's requirements, including increased font size and colour changes, and can be implemented without any Web site redevelopment.
Another frequent question: "How can I make the tiny text seen on some Web pages easier to read?" Well, my favorite way of handling this has always been to mouse-select the text and do Ctrl+C to COPY it, followed by using Ctrl+V to PASTE it into a blank word-processing document, whereupon the text can be edited in whatever way that seems most helpful.
The research suggests that many people who do not call themselves disabled struggle with an impairment, Ruby said. One in four have some vision difficulty, one in four have dexterity impairments and one in five have trouble hearing, according to the report.
aDesigner allows Web authors to easily determine how accessible or inaccessible Web pages are by simulating what it looks like from the viewpoint of a person with low-vision, such as weak eyesight, color vision deficiency and cataracts, and detects the inaccessible parts of the page by applying image analysis techniques. It also checks for fixed-font size, insufficient contrast between foreground and background, and inappropriate color combination in an image, all of which pose accessibility limitations on users with visual impairments. In the blind mode, aDesigner checks for excessive reaching time, which is the amount of time required to reach each element from the top of a page, as well as redundant text, insufficient intra-page linking, and failure to comply with accessibility guidelines.
Meanwhile, Open Access's EnablePDF service, which will be available shortly, assists organisations in making their sites more accessible. This service deals with Adobe Acrobat PDF documents, which are commonly used to publish documents on-line but which are often inaccessible to disabled users.
Someday someone will take the matter to court and somehow require an architectural committee, builder or whoever to spend a day in a wheelchair or on crutches. You can bet that the accommodations will be okayed by 10 AM, if not sooner.
"The Accessibility Award is important for two reasons," said the Rev. Lisa T. Cleaver, director for disability ministries, ELCA Division for Church in Society. "First, it brings awareness to ELCA's congregations about the need to be totally accessible and inclusive of all people who are differently-abled. Second, it provides examples of some of the excellent work that is being done in the area of disability ministries."
To make housing more accessible, the Fort Collins Commission on Disabilities -- led by Fort Collins resident Mark Beck -- is leading an initiative called Practical Housing for All. The initiative is an effort to educate home builders and their consumers on simple ways to build practical homes.
A total of 1,315 businesses are listed in the Business Accessibility Guide of "Ermis - Accessible Choice" programme, published by Athens 2004. The Guide includes businesses in Athens and the four Olympic cities that have applied for listing on the programme and have been declared by ad hoc inspection committees to be "friendly" to persons with a mobility challenge.
But even after nine years after implementation of the Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995, there is a serious lack of accessibility at workplaces, government buildings and other public places. This has forced social isolation and segregation of the disabled," says Sushama Oza, executive director of United Way of Baroda (UWB).
Although he has yet to take his place in the House of Commons, Canada's first quadriplegic member of Parliament is already having an impact. His supporters say Steven Fletcher, the newly elected Conservative MP from Winnipeg, has energized the hopes of the disabled community across the country.
"The term 'universal design,' on the other hand, expands on accessibility codes to address a broader mission. It recognizes choices and differences," she says, "and integrates usability with other important design concerns like aesthetics, sustainable design and efficiency. This home, for instance, can be accessed and used easily and efficiently by everyone, without sacrifice of beauty or functionality."
Easy Access Europe: A Guide for Travelers With Limited Mobility is a comprehensive resource for getting around easily, whether you're in a wheelchair or just need to walk slowly. The book focuses on Amsterdam, Bruges (Belgium), London, Paris and the Rhine, and includes accessibility ratings for all sights, hotels and restaurants; accessible "roll or stroll" tours for historic neighborhoods; budget recommendations; and advice from real travelers with mobility limitations.
Wilkinsons, in the Clock Tower shopping centre, and Marks and Spencer, in High Street, were both named as the most accessible for disabled customers, while Specsavers in Sheep Street and Transworld Army Surplus Supplies in Regent Street trailed at the end of the list. The Three Horseshoes, also in Sheep Street, was voted the most unwelcoming pub for disabled people because of its lack of a customised toilet, while the Black Swan in Chapel Street topped the list of bars.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the ranks of Americans over 65 will swell from the current 35 million to 40 million by 2010. AARP says that the vast majority of them (86 percent) plan to remain in their current home for life.
Although the group recognises that because many of the buildings are listed, the law does not allow drastic changes, it believes that measures can be taken to make things easier. 'Small improvements can make all the difference - fitting a handrail, improving the contrast on paving, or simply making sure that a glazed door has something on it so that a partially sighted person does not walk into it,' said Ms Tebbutt.
Anyone who navigates with the aid of a white cane already faces a steady string of potential trip-ups. There are sandwich boards, strategically placed to lure pedestrians into shops and businesses, bicycles chained to posts and a host of other obstacles. Under the city's accessibility guidelines, all should be shifted out of the walking area. Like newspaper boxes, for example, they should be relegated to the edge of the sidewalk, well out of the way of traffic.
"The most frustrating thing is to find three motorized carts in not-working condition," said Rosemarie Bockman, 72, who had polio as a child and has a full leg brace on her left leg. "About 60 percent of the time everything goes smoothly, but I don't think supermarkets pay enough attention to the issue."
Assistive technology covers everything from simple pencils with special grips to sophisticated voice-to-text computer systems. Hopkins' list offers suggestions on how to help kids from kindergarten to Grade 12. It covers all sorts of conditions, from low vision, impaired hearing and mobility challenges to learning disabilities and autism. And it's free to download from http://www.curriculum.org - just click on "learning resources" from the upper-left menu, then look at "teacher-developed resources."
The city's transit system has changed significantly in the 25 years since. About 10 percent of the city's 491 subway and Staten Island Railway stations now are accessible to disabled riders. All 4,566 MTA buses have wheelchair lifts. And Access-a-Ride vans completed 2.5 million trips last year.
In the last five years, 480 people have been issued tickets for parking in handicap parking spots. Six people have collected a second offense. The tickets carry a $306 fine - $356 for a second offense - but, for the people who need those spaces to go to a movie or buy some eggs, that's chump change.
Disability rights are a working-class issue. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, about one person in 10 in the U.S. has a condition that impacts on their major activities, like school or work. But in this capitalist society, in which accessibility is a low priority except where it has been won by the struggle, disability often means unemployment and poverty. As much as 15 to 20 percent of the poorest communities are disabled, while having the least access to adaptive services and technology. Wages for personal assistants are so low that it is often a case of "the poor caring for the poor."
"Golf is one of the few sports that a person with a disability can play with an able-bodied person on an even basis," said Jerry Hitzhusen, University of Missouri associate professor and an expert on therapeutic recreation.
A disabilities organisation claims that nearly all new private housing developments being built in the county are failing to comply with regulations that require new buildings to be accessible to people with disabilities.
Nowhere is the issue of providing voting access to the disabled more thorny than in far Southwest Virginia, where more than 30 percent of residents in some counties live with at least one disability, a rate far higher than in other parts of the state.
The 41-year-old Sterling Heights resident, who uses a wheelchair, couldn't reach the levers in the voting booth without help. Now, when she goes to cast her ballot at Carleton Junior High School, poll workers have a detachable voting booth that can be set on a table for her.
Despite initial efforts to correct problems widely publicized during the 2000 election, Congress has yet to back up HAVA with appropriate funding, effectively denying millions of Americans with disabilities equal access to the ballot. President Bush requested only $65 million for HAVA in his 2005 fiscal year budget, though HAVA authorizes $650 million. As of April 2004, only 18 percent of the total funds authorized for HAVA have been disbursed according to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
Upon learning that Georgia's under-count due to spoiled ballots was even worse than Florida's, Secretary of State Cathy Cox launched a reform. The result: a $54 million investment - since repaid by the federal government - in a statewide electronic voting system from Diebold Election Systems.
HAVA reworks the nuts and bolts of federal elections, raising the accuracy and accessibility of voting machines, introducing provisional ballots to states without them, mandating accurate and comprehensive voter registration lists and tightening security at the polls to stop ballot fraud.
But HAVA's key requirements do not kick in until 2006, when voting systems used in federal elections will have to provide for error correction by voters, manual auditing, accessibility, alternative languages and comply with federal error-rate standards.
The committee also liked a machine called AutoMARK, which is for voters with special needs. They are meant for voters with hearing or sight impairments and people who do not speak English. The machine can communicate in 32 languages, according to Electronic Systems & Software Regional Sale Manager Keith McGinnis.
"People with disabilities have traditionally not received the same attention from elected officials or candidates . . . as members of other groups such as older people, ethnic minorities and labor unions, all of whom are organized to vote," said Contarino. According to Contarino, the 2000 census found that more than 25 percent of voting age constituents in every congressional district in Illinois are people with disabilities. She said that while just 30 percent of disabled people are registered to vote, more than 70 of those registered voted in recent elections.
Disabled Americans have also complained about malfunctions in e-voting systems, although their complaints stem from problems with special features that they say "are not yet the panacea for disabled voters" that vendors say they are. According to advocacy groups, a significant percentage of disabled citizens still need help when using current DREs and, as a result, can't vote in private.
With less than three months to go until the latest part of the Disability Discrimination Act comes in to force there has been increased demand for information and training amongst some sectors of Shropshire business.
While Barnard stands to make a bundle off of noncompliance cases, the promise of increased earnings is tempered by a need to correct widespread confusion. In 1998, he began working with members of the Disabled Rights Action Committee, a Utah-based nonprofit watchdog, on a case against Stonebridge Apartments and its parent company Pentalon Corporation. DRAC approached Barnard on behalf of tenants unable to gain full access to the Stonebridge complex located in West Jordan. The suit resulted in a pricey - and perhaps avoidable - settlement. "After attorney fees on both sides [plus retrofitting and fund expenses], this case has cost Stonebridge $200,000 to $250,000. It shouldn't have cost them anything at all," Barnard said.
Fourteen years after the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signed into law July 26, 1990, too many people with disabilities are still locked out, left out or overlooked. While the ADA addresses fundamental civil rights for people with disabilities, the basics of everyday life are still out of reach for 54 million Americans with disabilities: going to school, getting a job, accessing health care, finding housing, using transportation, and voting independently.
Almost 140 updates to city buildings, parks and other facilities, training for employees and revision of programs to make them more friendly to those with disabilities will be done over the next three years under an agreement to make Davenport more compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA.
The ADA was designed to create an equal opportunity for people with disabilities in employment, education, transportation and accommodations. "The concept is one of reasonable accommodation, to help the person gain an education or do their job effectively, right along with other sighted people," Szilagyi said. "Give them what they really need to work like a sighted person, just in a slightly different way."
"We want to take time to celebrate the landmark, but our job now is to get the word out that this law is totally being dismantled in the court system," Fisher said. "It doesn't mean the same thing today that it meant in 1990." A series of legal setbacks and lackadaisical enforcement has caused the law to become less effective, Fisher said.
The Austin businesses being sued are Bank of America, Dillard's, Pizza Hut and Sonic Drive-In. The Travis County Clerk's Office also is being sued for allegedly lacking accessibility at some polling places.
Hailing the agreement as a major victory for people with disabilities, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced last week she has reached a settlement with Walgreen Co. that will resolve a suit she filed last year alleging that many of the drug stores had barriers that limited access for individuals with disabilities.
The move to bring Norfolk's public infrastructure up to scratch comes two years ago after the Evening News revealed a damning report found nine out of 10 public buildings were failing to meet the needs of disabled people.