Access To Technology For All, Regardless Of Ability
- ISSUE 144, January 2012.
A Headstar Publication.http://www.headstar.com/eab/
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++Issue 144 Contents.
01: Tesco pledges action over inaccessible app
- But customer questions why initial design was released.
02: Global investment plan for cheaper Braille displays
- Initiative hopes to slash prices by backing innovation.
03: Age alliance plans digital inclusion knowledge base
- Umbrella group plans to co-ordinate resources nationwide.
News in Brief: 04: European Question – consultation on
accessibility act; 05: New Editions – Adobe e-book reader; 06:
Speech Square: VOICEYE document barcodes win award; 07:
Free Reader – Nokia speech offering.
Section Two, The Inbox – Readers’ Forum. 08: Petition
Blocker – government web barrier; 09: Portable Query – pdf
file access question.
Section Three: Special Focus - Looking for work.
10: Ticked Off: On the face of it, Dr Norman Waddington –
the holder of two PhDs – should have what it takes to be
offered a job interview. But as for many disabled people, this
is not proving to be the case, and accessibility issues are among
the problems he faces. Dan Jellinek reports.
++Section One: News.
+01: Tesco pledges action over inaccessible app.
The UK’s largest supermarket chain Tesco has said it is taking
seriously concerns raised about the inaccessibility of its new
smartphone app, and is to work with the RNIB to improve the
The statement was issued after E-Access Bulletin raised
questions with the company about the experiences of Steph
Cutler, a small business adviser and personal coach who has
impaired vision. Cutler approached EAB after becoming
dissatisfied with the new Tesco shopping app and with the
retailer’s initial response to her complaints.
“I love the iPhone – it has really changed my life, and on the
whole, the apps I’ve got are pretty usable,” she said. “So when
I downloaded the Tesco app I was excited to think I could use
it to shop – although their website is accessible, I find it very
time-consuming. But it turns out that the app is totally
inaccessible with [the iPhone’s screenreader] VoiceOver.
Basically, the app says the same thing whatever product you
After Cutler asked the RNIB to take a look and they had
supported her assessment, she contacted Tesco to complain,
but says the company’s initial response was unsatisfactory.
“I emailed them and they rang me back very quickly, but the
poor lad from customer services just said ‘we know it’s
inaccessible’, though he didn’t seem to know what that meant.
He had obviously just been told to call, and he was trying to
say he accepted it didn’t work, but that it was OK. He also
categorically refused to let me talk to someone else.
“I emailed again, and another email came back saying they
care about accessibility – but with no details of any remedial
Subsequently, after E-Access Bulletin had made its own
enquiries into the case, Tesco did produce a fuller response. A
spokesperson for Tesco said: “The software used in the iPhone
application is cutting edge technology and we will be always
aiming to improve the functionality of the application.
“We have taken the concerns raised seriously and recently
contacted the RNIB to work with them in identifying features
that will improve accessibility for the product.
“At this time, we are unable to give any timescales as to when
this will be completed. Any amendments to the application will
need to be built and tested, and will therefore take time to
Tesco has now also been back in touch with Cutler to relay the
same message, which she welcomes. “I am hoping they will be
true to their word, and I do intend to monitor this one,” she
However, she says she still fails to understand why such a large
company in the 21st century is failing to design in accessibility
from the first release of a technology offering such as their
“One argument about whether accessibility can be included is
often resources, and rightly sometimes – but you just can’t say
that about Tesco,” Cutler says. “We are talking about a massive
retailer for whom resources aren’t a problem. They understand
some of it, because they do some of it. It made me, as a
visually impaired shopper, feel a little bit second class.
“I do accept apps are new, and the accessibility might change
in future, but as a user I’m discriminated against.
“The point I put to them is that at the start of anything, you
have a choice – you can choose to put accessibility into how it
will function. But this time, either they briefed a developer and
they didn’t put any emphasis on accessibility, or the developer
just didn’t do it. It is far harder for them now – they will have
to change code, which will be a biggish job. But it wouldn’t be
a big job if they thought about it as a matter of course and
didn’t put anything out that most of our customers can’t
Ultimately, she says, it is a question of leadership. ““The
bottom line is I feel as if I’ve been treated less favourably for
reasons of my disability. It doesn’t feel like it’s been taken
seriously from the top down – it doesn’t feel like the decision-
maker has taken an inclusive approach, so why should
- Comment on this story now, on EAB Live:http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=672
+02: Global investment plan for cheaper Braille displays.
An international plan for disability organisations and others to
invest in producing a refreshable Braille device hugely cheaper
than current systems on sale has obtained initial approval from
the international DAISY consortium for information standards,
E-Access Bulletin has learned.
The project is being led by the RNIB, which now has until the
next DAISY board meeting in June to flesh out the plan. If this
“charter” is passed, investors will be sought to identify and
back a new device.
Refreshable Braille devices are made up of individual plastic
“cells” with a grid of tiny holes through which a small rod rises
and falls, triggered by an electronic current. A line of cells
forms into a line of Braille as a computer reads across text.
As their production process is complex, cells currently cost
around 100 US Dollars each, and mark-ups are high among the
few firms which manufacture displays. With typical displays
carrying 32, 40 and even 80 cells, overall costs soon spiral into
thousands of dollars.
Kevin Carey, chair of RNIB, said this month there are already
currently as many as 34 technical ideas in outline or prototype
format at universities worldwide, any of which might lead to
the desired goal of a cheap Braille display roughly the size of a
stick of rock that could plug into the side of an e-book player.
“We need to narrow these 34 down to two or three – and
ideally go down to one - and get massive investment in to bring
prices down below 25 US Dollars per cell”, Carey said. At the
moment, no business model had been ruled in or out for
investment, production and sales, including models requiring
mass pre-ordering and the involvement of existing major
incumbent players in the Braille display market.
Carey first floated the plan in an address to last year’s
“Braille21” congress hosted by the World Blind Union in
He told the congress a cheap display would “save massive
amounts from hard copy Braille production which can be
ploughed back into expanding the range of files on offer and
into providing displays cheap or free to individuals.”
Anticipating complaints about market interference, Carey told
the Leipzig conference the high prices operated in a similar
way to a cartel, requiring intervention. “There are some who
say that organisations of and for the blind should not become
involved in the access technology market but the current cartel
does not have an automatic right to exist. For the last 30 years
of its operations the price of Braille displays has fallen slowly
when most other consumer electronics prices have plunged.”
Ultimately, the very survival of Braille as a language could be
at stake, he warned. “If Braille is to survive into the 21st
Century, it will have to re-invent itself as a mass medium,
simpler, cheaper and easier to render... unless we face up to
these challenges, Braille will die”.- Comment on this story now, on EAB Live:
+03: Age alliance plans digital inclusion knowledge base.
A plan to create an online “knowledge base” of resources
relating to digital inclusion for older people is being drawn up
by Age Action Alliance, an umbrella group of companies and
charities led by the Department for Work and Pensions.
The alliance ( http://ageactionalliance.org/
), whose members
include the BBC, Microsoft, mobile network Three, Age UK
and the digital inclusion charity for older people Digital Unite,
has tasked a working group with drawing up a “starter strategy”
for the knowledge base covering its potential usefulness,
purpose and viability. It will then make a final decision on
whether to go ahead with the project at the next meeting of its
digital inclusion group in February.
“The aim of the knowledge base is to gather in one place the
mass of extensive and varied research, analysis and evaluation
data on activities and projects that have, and still are, delivering
and facilitating digital literacy for older people”, Emma
Solomon, managing director of Digital Unite and the groups’
chair, said this month. “The aim is also to gather – or at least
signpost – practitioners to a variety of tools and resources that
can help them deliver or facilitate digital inclusion for older
The knowledge base will be aimed at all practitioners and
promoters of digital inclusion for older people, Solomon said.
“These may be formal intermediaries, informal intermediaries
and individuals as well as organisations and businesses from
third, private and public sectors.”
As a separate project, the group also hopes to help co-ordinate
the promotion of all actions, events and activities that promote
digital inclusion to older people by creating a searchable
national database of all campaigns, outreach projects, learning
and engagement activities in which older people are being
encouraged and supported to embrace digital technologies, she
- Comment on this story now, on EAB Live:http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=667
++News in Brief:
+04: European Question: Consultation on the possible creation
of a European Accessibility Act has been launched by the
European Commission. In an accompanying communication,
the commission defines accessibility as meaning that “people
with disabilities have access, on an equal basis with others, to
the physical environment, transportation, information and
communications including technologies and systems (ICT), and
other facilities and services in line with Article 9 of the UN
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”. It seeks
to identify which goods and services that should be covered,
suggesting key areas could include bank cash machines
(ATMs); health and emergency services; and online services to
buy public transport services or book tickets for cultural or
sport events. Provisions of any eventual act could include
harmonising accessibility requirements across Europe, it says.
Consultation runs to 29 February 2012, including an online
+05: New Editions: A new accessible version of the Adobe
Digital Editions e-book software reader has been released in a
trial format. The preview release of Adobe Digital Editions
1.8.1, which reads e-books created in the popular EPUB open
standard, works for the first time with the JAWS and NVDA
screenreaders for Windows and VoiceOver on Mac. It is also
able to access book content character by character and word
by word, and is designed to work with other Windows and
Apple accessibility features including high contrast. The new
reader currently lacks some features of its previous version
1.7, however, such as printing and hardware device support.
Adobe says future releases will incorporate more of the old
features while maintaining accessibility improvements:http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/digitaleditions1-8/
+06: Speech Square: VOICEYE, a software system that allows
documents to be stored in tiny bar codes just 1 centimetre
square so a decoder can convert them instantly to speech, large
print or coloured text, has won the ICT Special Educational
Needs category of this year’s BETT awards for education
technology presented by the annual BETT conference in
London. The software, developed in South Korea and
distributed in the UK by Forcentenco, means ordinary paper
documents can also include the code in the top corner allowing
users with free Android or iPhone apps to access the same data
in accessible formats:http://www.bettawards.com
+07: Free Reader: Mobile phone maker Nokia has launched a
free screen reader for some of its devices. Nokia Screen
Reader can be downloaded from Nokia’s “Ovi” web portal and
currently runs on three smartphones running the Symbian Belle
operating system: the C5 5MP, 700 and 701 handsets. The
reader was created by Spanish access software specialists Code
Factory as a simplified version of the company’s Mobile Speak
[Section One ends].
++Section Two: 'The Inbox'
- Readers' Forum.
Please email all contributions or responses to:
+08: Petition Blocker: David Bates, executive officer at the
National Federation of the Blind (NFB) UK, writes in with a
tale of democratic barriers for screen-reader users.
“A few weeks ago I received an email from a blind colleague
inviting me to sign a petition on the UK government e-petitions
)”, Bates says.
“I read the petition, filled in my name and details and was then
instructed to ‘type in the two words below’. I realised that this
referred to a graphic ‘captcha’ test which my screen-reader
could not see, but below was an invitation to open an audio
“Pressing enter started an audio playback with a group of
people talking overlaid by a voice reading out several words. I
selected the two clearest words and typed them into the
required field, but my entry was rejected, as were my 10
subsequent attempts. I then tried both the “Help” and
“Accessibility” links and was told how wonderfully accessible
the website was, but this information didn’t help.
“I later repeated this story to a sighted colleague who opened
the site while we were talking on the phone. She said the
‘captcha’ text was easy to read but found the audio much more
difficult to decipher. But she also said that on the page there
were two links to either replay the audio file or to download it.
This sounded very useful, but unfortunately my screen-reader
could not detect these links, so I reluctantly left the site without
recording my signature.
“I understand that less than 20% of blind people in the UK are
able to use a computer, or to visit a national or local
government website. I wonder what percentage of the general
public who visit a government website need to use an audio
captcha, and what percentage of these visually disabled people
are actually successful?”
[Editor’s note: the HM Government e-petitions website uses the
‘reCAPTCHA’ software owned by Google
). Responses please to
+09: Portable Query: Reader G F Mueden from New York,
New York writes in to add to our recent discussions about the
accessibility of Adobe pdf files.
“I have read about pdf and accessibility, but it is all from the
creator's point of view,” he writes. “They are not specific about
what I can do to have the copy suit my eyes.
“In charity websites I have been offered annual reports in pdf
and have been unable to read them because I need 2X
magnification with word wrap for my poor acuity, and choice
of font for my poor contrast sensitivity. How can the reader tell
if a file is accessible? If accessible, how do you approach it to
use the adjustments he needs? As normally presented, what
you see is not what you would see if you were in the full
Adobe Reader, it is bare bones with no suggestion of
accessibility adjustments. My guess is that you save it, leave
the website, open Reader, then open the pdf. But before doing
that I want to know if it will be worth the effort. Are they
marked? Would the copy have to say?
“I believe that the alternative is to save it and use a file
converter. I would love to read user experience on this. I don't
want to complain to the charities, I want to be helpful and let
them know what they can do to help me without it being a
burden to them.”
[Responses please to email@example.com].
[Section Two ends].
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++Section Three: Special Focus
Looking for work.
+10: Ticked Off
by Dan Jellinek.
On the face of it, Dr Norman Waddington – the holder of not
just one, but two PhDs – should have what it takes to be
offered a job interview. But like many disabled people – he is
blind – this is not proving to be the case.
Early last year the government launched a programme of
Incapacity Benefit reassessment, under which recipients of the
benefit as well – as well as those in receipt of Severe
Disablement Allowance or Income Support paid on the
grounds of incapacity – were required to have their eligibility
reassessed by undergoing a new "Work Capability
Anyone assessed as capable of working were moved on to Job
Seekers’ Allowance or - for those with limited capability for
work - Employment Support Allowance.
While Waddington accepts this is fair, he says the way the
system has worked for disabled people is in danger of swinging
from one extreme to another – from a situation where people
were left isolated on benefits with no options, to one where
they are being moved off benefits when the work may not be
“When I was pushed onto it at the age of 34, it was a bitter pill
to swallow to be told you weren’t fit to work, when you knew
you were. Now the tables have turned – they want people off
incapacity benefit and back onto Employment Support
Allowance and back into work. If you look at the small print in
the DWP stuff, it seems you are likely to get benefit cuts after
six months, but it’s not clear. The Jobcentre people don’t know
what’s going on.”
Waddington has not worked since 1993, when he was made
redundant from a white collar post at the Sellafield nuclear
plant. Since then he has done some voluntary work, and
looked for other jobs sporadically but since the benefit changes
in Easter has been searching intensively.
“I must receive 1,000 job list emails a week now, people don’t
realise the time it takes to plough through them with a screen
reader,” he says. But despite having applied for some 800 jobs
in that time, and despite his PHDs – in biodiversity science and
clinical animal behaviour – he is yet to be shortlisted for any
“You get a bog-standard letter, saying you’re not successful on
this occasion – they don’t say why. It’s soul-destroying. These
email lists with jobs – sighted people can scan down them
quickly, but we’ve got to go down it and read it all – people
have no knowledge of the time it takes. And the time it takes to
do an application, to use a screen-reader, cutting and pasting –
for someone who didn’t have the computer knowledge I do it
would be impossible.
“It’s as if they’re not aware of the time and effort it takes.
They don’t want to know or they don’t want to know. And if
you put it all in a covering letter, explaining about Access to
Work, it’s as if they just throw your application out – though I
can’t prove that’s the case.”
It is now up to the government to work out how to make the
system fairer, he said.”They need to close the loopholes. The
classic is the two-tick system, by which if an applicant meets
the job criteria and is disabled, they are bound by law to give
you an interview. So they just don’t shortlist you, they say you
don’t meet criteria. Something needs to be done.”
The problems don’t stop there –applying for jobs in the first
place can be made all but impossible by inaccessible online
forms for job applications, he says. Recently he encountered a
problem with an online application form on a local authority
site, for example, which featured a visual icon to call up an
interactive calendar for applicants to select dates such as start
dates and end dates of previous jobs.
“Using JAWS for windows, you can’t access it. They very
grudgingly sent me a word copy of an application form, but
how accessible that will be, I’m not sure. They say they can’t
accept a CV and a covering letter for application, even though
under the Disability Discrimination Act you have an obligation
to find an alternative method. The Jobcentre people say this is
wrong, but I think half the forms I send are not getting to the
people they should be. If they’re not meeting the admin
criteria, they’re just scrapped.”
The Jobcentre itself is not providing enough information in
accessible formats either, Waddington says. “People could
possibly lose benefit, because it says in the small print you can
lose £26 a week after six months. I went on it in September, so
after March I could lose benefit if I don't turn up for the
Jobcentre interviews, or take up any placements they offer. But
you don’t get this information in a format you can read.
“After my last Jobcentre interview, they said do I want a typed
transcript – I said I couldn’t see it, can you email it to me?
They said no, their computer system doesn’t talk to the
internet. Then they gave me a whole load of leaflets I can't see
– I had asked for Braille, but it’s not available.”
Undeterred, Waddington says he will carry on trying to find
work. “Obviously if I can get back into work I will get back
into work. You can't let it get to you – you’ve just got to keep
- Comment on this story now, on EAB Live:http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=665
[Section Three ends].
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Editor: Dan Jellinek.
Editorial advisors: Kevin Carey, Tristan Parker.
[Issue 144 ends.]