BBC Radio 4 In Touch
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BBC Radio 4
Guest: Leonie Watson, Director of the British Computer Association of the Blind
As the internet increasingly becomes an essential tool, the issue of websites being accessible to the visually impaired is growing in importance.
A number of bodies have collaborated on drafting guidelines on a new standard for accessible websites
Comments on the draft guidelines are being sought at:
BRITISH COMPUTER ASSOCIATION OF THE BLIND
In just over a month, Barack Obama will be inaugurated as America's next president. The process of electing him for some disabled Americans has been made easier by accessible voting booths. These devices are not just usable by blind and partially sighted people but by those with a whole range of disabilities.
One American company, Sequoia Voting Systems, displayed equipment that was used in a recent presidential contest at an EU disability conference in Brussels. The organisers hit upon the idea of asking people attending the conference to use the voting booths to determine what should be on the agenda at next year's event.
In Touch went along to the Conference to find out how they work.
105 Judd Street
Helpline: 0845 766 9999 (UK callers only - Monday to Friday
9am to 5pm )
Tel: 0207 388 1266 (switchboard/overseas callers)
The RNIB provides information, support and advice for anyone with a serious sight problem. They not only provide Braille, Talking Books and computer training, but imaginative and practical solutions to everyday challenges. The RNIB campaigns to change society's attitudes, actions and assumptions, so that people with sight problems can enjoy the same rights, freedoms and responsibilities as fully sighted people. They also fund pioneering research into preventing and treating eye disease and promote eye health by running public health awareness campaigns.
HENSHAWS SOCIETY FOR BLIND PEOPLE (HSBP)
John Derby House
88-92 Talbot Road
Tel: 0161 872 1234
Henshaws provides a wide range of services for people who have sight difficulties. They aim to enable visually impaired people of all ages to maximise their independence and enjoy a high quality of life. They have centres in: Harrogate, Knaresborough, Liverpool, Llandudno, Manchester, Newcastle upon Tyne, Salford, Southport and Trafford.
THE GUIDE DOGS FOR THE BLIND ASSOCIATION (GDBA)
Tel: 0118 983 5555
The GDBA’s mission is to provide guide dogs, mobility and other rehabilitation services that meet the needs of blind and partially sighted people.
ACTION FOR BLIND PEOPLE
14-16 Verney Road
Tel: 0800 915 4666 (info & advice)
Tel: 020 7635 4800 (central office)
Registered charity with national cover that provides practical support in the areas of housing, holidays, information, employment and training, cash grants and welfare rights for blind and partially-sighted people. Leaflets and booklets are available.
NATIONAL LEAGUE OF THE BLIND AND DISABLED
324 Grays Inn Road
Tel: 020 7837 6103
Textphone: 020 7837 6103
National League of the Blind and Disabled is a registered trade union and is involved in all issues regarding the employment of blind and disabled people in the UK.
NATIONAL LIBRARY FOR THE BLIND (NLB)
Far Cromwell Road
Tel: 0161 406 2525
Textphone: 0161 355 2043
The NLB is a registered charity which helps visually impaired people throughout the country continue to enjoy the same access to the world of reading as people who are fully sighted.
DISABILITY RIGHTS COMMISSION (DRC)
Freepost MID 02164
Tel: 08457 622 633
Textphone: 08457 622 644
The DRC aims to act as a central source of advice on the rights of disabled people, while helping disabled people secure their rights and eliminate discrimination. It can advise on the operation of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).
DISABLED LIVING FOUNDATION
380-384 Harrow Road
Tel: 0845 130 9177
The Disabled Living Foundation provide information and advice on disability equipment.
The Geoffrey Udall Centre
Reading RG7 2AT
Tel: 0118 9885688
Thrive is a national charity, founded in 1978, whose aim is to research, educate and promote the use and advantages of gardening for those with a disability. Thrive’s vision is that the benefits of gardening are known to, and can be accessed by, anyone with a disability.
The BBC is not responsible for external websites
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TX: 09.12.08 2040-2100
PRESENTER: PETER WHITE
PRODUCER: CHERYL GABRIEL
Good evening. Well, they said Barak Obama was going to change the world and it looks as if he's already made it easier for visually-impaired people to cast their votes independently. We're not quite sure that it's all his own work, but we'll be finding out more about some electoral developments across the Atlantic later in the programme. And we have more of your wants, and not-wants, for Christmas.
First, though, as the internet becomes more and more of an essential tool for joining in, not just with work but for just about every aspect of everyday life, the issue of those websites being accessible to us becomes more and more urgent. So important news that a new standard for making all websites accessible has just been produced. A number of bodies have got together to bring these guidelines out and I'm joined by Leonie Watson, who's the current director of the British Computer Association of the Blind, she's also director of accessibility with Nomensa, which is a company which creates websites.
Leonie, obviously without getting too technical, what are the key issues which these guidelines address?
What we're aiming to do with the standard is to put together some guidelines and recommendations aimed at non technical professionals. There's so much information out there aimed at the technicalities of how to make a website accessible, there's also a great deal of pressure on organisations to be accessible. What this does is bring the two together with information about policies, how accessibility fits into a project plan, how it affects people who are marketing a website, where people with disabilities should be brought into these processes. Just a wealth of practical information and guidance.
So these are the kind of people who aren't necessarily vastly technical themselves but are involved in company policy or organisational policy?
Absolutely and in fact that's one thing that the standard has in it is text that can be extracted for use in a web accessibility policy or a user experience statement.
So does this not then tell you how to put an accessible website together?
No, it very much references the guidelines and information that's out there that looks at that aspect of doing it. This takes a step back in the process. So what we've got at the moment - and we quite often find in the web industry - is that although websites are improving in the technical sense decisions are being made before that that has an influence. So people choosing the right technology to build the website, understanding what impact that will have on people with different types of disability, using different technologies like screen readers or screen magnifiers.
So presumably people quite often don't know that there are such things as screen readers that read the screens for us and magnifiers that make print bigger?
Absolutely, certainly in my experience with Nomensa that's something we come across very, very frequently. Unless people have had occasion to work with someone with a visual impairment or have some contact in their family or it's a personal experience of their own they're simply not aware, still, that actually we do use computers, we do get out there and get amongst it on the internet.
On the other hand, I mean presumably people are still a bit nervous about this, wonder what it is they're supposed to do, how difficult is it to balance this need of a company or organisation, perfectly reasonably, to make their website look as pretty as possible, as attractive, you know what if, for instance, the whole point of their work is visual, if say they're film animators or just people who want you to be able to see their product, you can understand why they fear this whole process and think they want to stop us making pretty websites.
Absolutely and that's the first myth that anyone working on the group towards the standard would be the first to dispel. There's absolutely no reason why you can't have a fully creative and accessible and usable website. And that's definitely something that we encourage in the standard. It's three levels: access to information - can you get to a website and can you do what you need to do; use of information - can you carry out your tasks successfully and then enjoyment - did you actually enjoy that experience on the website? And it's all three of those that are very important and that's good for a company, if you're promoting a brand or promoting a product knowing that all of your users, regardless of their disability, go away having had a really good time on your website, that they're out there recommending it to their friends and their family that's just marketing 101.
So what do you tell them about this? I mean are they able to put all those things on one website or do they have to produce a separate one, do they have to produce one that's just got text, if it's very visual, you know in real sort of basic lay terms what do you tell them that they have to do?
Quite often you find if you tend to produce a separate website for a specific group of people that website often falls out of currency - it's not updated quite as often - and so it becomes almost a second class option, that's a very real danger with providing two alternatives to a website. So in a practical sense we'd always encourage produce one website but think about different audiences, so don't let that restrict you.
So send them in different kind of directions to get different things possibly?
Absolutely, I mean in an ideal world we'd all log into a website, it would recognise our profile and immediately grab content and display it in the way most suited to us. I think we're a little way off that but that's where we'd like to be.
We're always hearing about guidelines and that sort of thing and sometimes my heart sinks, I mean what are status of these guidelines, how binding are they - they're not law are they?
No, they won't be law but they'll be a British standard so ...
Like a kite mark?
Yes, that's another form of British standard for safety in that particular case, this British standard of course will be for web accessibility, so it'll be a nationally recognised document. We're very close to publishing them, we're anticipating that they'll be published in the summer of next year and we're on the brink now of a public consultation period of two months, which is where we're very much asking everybody to take a look at the guidelines and give us their feedback and input, it's a critical stage ...
But if somebody were producing - if someone were producing a really wholly inadequate website in your terms would these standards enable you to do anything about it?
It would be a document that someone visiting a website, if they were unhappy with it, could point a company to. In the same way that you might say to a company whose business practices were not up to standard, you might recommend that they think about ISO 9000 accreditation, which is of course an international standard for business quality. You might suggest to them that they put this British standard for web accessibility as a document to explain why and how to successfully meet accessibility goals and targets.
As it stands at the moment it's wittily entitled "British Standard 88/78 Web Accessibility - Building Accessible User Experiences for Disabled People - Code of Practice" - could it be made a bit more cuddly do you think?
I dare say it could be, yeah, reduce in length perhaps - indeed if that's feedback that we receive over the next couple of months it's certainly something I'm sure we can look at.
And just finally, I mean what difference do you hope this will make?
I think it will give more people involved in the development of websites more information, so that ultimately websites do become more accessible.
But still work in progress by the sound of it?
Yup, as I say we've got a couple of months to collect some feedback and we're looking at a launch for summer 2009.
Okay Leonie, do stay with us a little bit longer, because we'd like your input on our next topic as well because we've invited a few more of our regular contributors to tell us what they want and don't want for Christmas. Starting with opera singer Denise Leigh.
Nothing to do with music really, I don't think, because I live and breathe it all year round, so Christmas has to be pure indulgence. I've always wanted to drive, so I think I'd have a nice red Ferrari, to match my hair, and to go round Silverstone for the day - well no just a couple of laps would do me, with Will Smith as a chauffeur. I can recline in the back of a glamorous car and he can feed me grapes and drive me around all day. Yeah that would do, that would be nice.
Hi, my name's Dave Kent. At the top of my Christmas wish list, now that I'm a poor impoverished student, would be a Franklin Talking Dictionary and Thesaurus, so I can look up all those really difficult words and actually spell them correctly and what's more find out what the word means exactly and hopefully get some better marks. Also an audible battery level indicator, so I can tell when the batteries for my dictionary are running low and I can go out and buy some new ones.
This is Sarah Newman. What would I like for Christmas? Well ideally I'd love to unwrap a chauffeur but failing that I would settle for some speaking weighing scales that you put pasta, rice, beans that sort of thing in, not me.
And, now, always more fun I always think, what don't they want:
What I don't want on my list is white chocolate, please keep that away from me, and also abridged talking books.
What I definitely don't want for Christmas is any kind of gadget that promises to put me in even more instant communication than I already am in and anymore smelly candles, don't need those.
Any skincare products that say over 40, I wouldn't thank anybody for buying me anything that remind me that I'm approaching 40 - 40's the new 20, as far as I'm concerned and that's how I'm breaking it to myself anyway.
But as for the dictionary and the battery level indicator - Cheryl, Peter - if you can dig deep into your pockets I really would appreciate that.
Dave Kent ending those thoughts.
Leonie Watson's still with us. The positive first Leonie, do you know what you would like for Christmas?
Well dinner with Stephen Fry wouldn't go amiss, I must admit. Otherwise a bottle of wine and a pile of good unabridged books would do me quite nicely.
So nothing technical in sight there really for you.
Nothing too much this year actually, which is a rarity it has to be said.
Okay, well we want to go back to Denise Leigh because there was one thing - and this has cropped up once or twice already - that she definitely didn't want.
One of these new fangled wonderful phones that everybody seems to be having - iPhones - because you can't put screen reader software on them can you - unless I'm very wrong, I'm sorry Apple if I'm wrong - but I wouldn't thank anybody for getting me one of those because I'd just probably end up throwing it through the window because I'd get frustrated with it.
So thumbs-down, yet again, for the iPhone amongst blind people. Leonie Watson, you're the expert on this kind of stuff, we've had a pretty much unanimous rejection, what's your own view about them?
Actually it's on my list if anybody were to give me one for Christmas, it would be off to the nearest recycle list I think. It's such a disappointment to find such a revolutionary technology that quite clearly offers so much to so many people being completely unusable and inaccessible by all of us visually impaired people.
So what's the problem, I mean in words of one syllable?
It's basically a touch screen interface, meaning that you don't have any keyboard or any other evident tactile buttons on it, there are a few but for the most part all the functionality is driven by touching a screen. And so quite naturally there's no tactile feedback for people who can't see it and consequently little in the way of screen reader or access technology developed for the platform.
Is there a solution?
I don't know that there is. Touch screen technology is something that's always been a challenge in terms of accessibility, whether you're looking at high street kiosks or things like the iPhone, I'm not sure what the solution is. Some have come up with tactile kind of rubber overlays that can be put, there are certain PDA - personal digital assistants - that use that approach but I don't think it would work particularly well with the iPhone because of the sort of versatility of the graphics.
Well as only seemed fair we relayed these rather negative comments to Apple and we asked them if they had a comment and they said they didn't. So there you are. Leonie Watson, thanks very much for joining us on the programme today. And if anyone else would like to give us their ideas, positive or negative, about presents you can contact our action line, details at the end of the programme.
Now in just over a month from now Barak Obama will be inaugurated as America's next president in Washington. The process of electing him for some disabled Americans has been made easier by accessible voting booths. These devices are not just usable by blind and partially sighted people; but by those with a whole range of disabilities. One American company, Sequoia Voting Systems, displayed equipment that was used in the recent presidential contest at an EU disability conference in Brussels. The organisers hit upon the idea of asking people attending the conference to use the voting booths to determine what should be on the agenda at next year's event. Well among the delegates was our reporter, Geoff Adams-Spink, who was given a demonstration of the booths by product manager Dave Moreno.
First let me show you how you vote if you can reach the screen. We can put this screen in what we call the wheelchair mode, okay...
So that's quite low level.
It's the standard height for wheelchair accessibility. As you can see there's a little check mark whoever you want to vote for.
Now I might tell you, for example, that that's too small for me to see.
We can touch the zoom button and it's going to enlarge the zoom.
Okay and now I'm reading education, employment, I can see, that's enlarged it a lot but of course now I've only got a partial view, so how am I going to see the whole ballot paper. Touch the down arrow and the whole thing is ...
Yes the whole thing scrolls. But if you can't see even that large print you can use the audio device.
To move backward or forward through the choices for each contest use the triangle shaped green next button ...
The machine will read the ballot to you - is going to read all the candidates and contests - and you're going to navigate the ballot with a special control. This control has Braille on it.
And it also has some nice big buttons, brightly coloured, and nice big text that I can see. We've got help, back, next and select.
Exactly. There are some people with some disabilities that probably are not going to be able to vote, a person that is blind and deaf at the same time, so they're not able to read the ballot and they're not able to hear the recording, so they'll need assistance to vote.
Please wait while the list of choices is read.
I've met my old friend, Robin Christopherson, from Ability Net, who's going to try the voting booth here, have you come across any other voting facilities Robin that would meet your needs?
Only online voting facilities on websites and things which tend not to be that accessible. I'm intrigued.
Let's go and see what David can show us.
The Braille is clear, although it's jumbo, which I always find quite difficult to read. And also the buttons are very well raised up, which is good for people to be able to locate where they are but it actually makes the reading angle of the Braille a little bit tricky because you can't put your finger tip flat down on the Braille. This will be my first time ever using a kiosk or a public access terminal that I will be able to use myself. Nice and clear. It's talking me through.
You don't need - if you feel comfortable you don't need to hear them all, you can click select and it's going to go straight to the ballot.
Okay, so I'm pressing the big round ....
Yeah, now it's going to start reading you the content of the ballot.
Awareness raising ...
Of the instrument contest, okay. So now you're going to go next through each candidate, you're going to select up to five.
So I'll hit the right arrow. Now it's saying this one is finished. So Dave is it coming up on the screen as well at the same time as I'm hearing it?
Right now the voting is on the screen at the same time. We all can see what you're doing but we have the ability to turn that off.
Because not being able to see you just don't know who's looking over your shoulder and I would imagine that a lot of people would like the option, at least, to be able to turn off the screen so that you know that your choices are private, so that's nice. Now it's quite easy to get to grips with but I would imagine that there are a lot of people who wouldn't want to make the mistake of voting for the wrong person by mistake through lack of familiarity or perhaps being a little bit unsure about - I mean the voice prompts are very good and very self explanatory but do these people get a chance to practise on the device?
Yeah, they send these machines with mock elections or fake elections to the disability centres so they can do outreach and training.
I think there is a learning curve involved with this, you have to be very patient and let it speak out the whole of the instructions. So if I hit right arrow. Voting is completed.
Will it catch on in the UK, do you think we'll be voting for our parish councillors, district councillors, MPs and MEPs in this way?
Yes from a technology point of view almost a thumbs up from a usability point of view and given enough time, enough preparation beforehand, if you can get your hands on the machine before the day, then yes.
Robin Christopherson ending that report from Geoff Adams-Spink. That number, if you want to tell us about your most or least favoured Christmas present or indeed anything else that you want to comment about, is 0800 044 044 or you can e-mail us here at In Touch via the website. And there'll be a podcast of today's programme as from tomorrow.
That's it from me, Peter White, my producer, Cheryl Gabriel and the team.
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