Towards Accessible e-Book Platforms – New TechDis Publication

E-book accessibility has just moved up a notch as a result of work funded by TechDis to make good practice recommendations for the publishing industry. This work was done in conjunction with e-book publishers and has been described in a recent News Release from JISC.

The News Release describes some of the key messages, such as:

* The experience of the ‘keyboard-only’ user can be significantly improved through a feature known as skip links;
* Buttons or unique ‘link text’ descriptions, which allow a user with little or no sight to be able to use the menus, can easily enhance accessibility;
* It is important to maintain a consistent layout between the main page and sub pages. This is also a feature that is welcomed by people with low literacy levels or those who don’t have English as their first language.

Also, that a statement from the publisher describing the accessibility options (such as how to magnify the screen to fully personalising the e-book) can be helpful.

A practical guide Towards accessible e-book platforms (PDF format) has been produced, which can be downloaded from TechDis.

BSI BS8878:2010 Web Accessibility Code of Practice Now Available for Public Comment

The latest draft of BSI BS 8878:2010 Web Accessibility – Code of Practice is now available for public comment.

Here is an overview of the draft standard written for us by Andy Heath at Axelrod Access for All and includes information on how to provide feedback. Andy writes:

“On 30th April BSI published a Draft for Public Comment for a new standard in development – A Code of Practice for Web Accessibility.

Why is this draft standard important?

The work began as a planned update of the Publicly Available Specification PAS 78:2006 Guide to good practice in commissioning accessible websites (Available by search for “PAS 78:2006” at This was a very useful standard taken up by many organisations. But 8878 goes considerably further in its support for approaches to accessibility.

8878 gives broad support and advice to organisations in making Web Products (more than static html pages) accessible. It provides normative advice where that is clear and possible and informative advice where practice is less certain now but becoming clearer over time and it clearly distinguishes between them.

Included in the topics it addresses are:

* Recommendations to organisations on how to structure accessibility strategy and policy;
* How to effectively use web accessibility guidelines such as WAI Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 etc. in the context of web products (Relevant sets of guidlines include Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG), Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG), Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA) 1.0, Section 508 of the (US) Rehabilitation Act of 1973);
* Precisely where and how to use an inclusive design or audience-based approach, where to use an approach that treats each person as an individual and how to support each of these in technology and in the organisation;
* How to ensure accessibility through a product’s lifecycle;
* Principles for providing accessibility across heterogeneous platforms and technologies – the standard exposes the critical factors to consider in deciding what it is reasonable for an organisation to provide in a particular context and how that should be done;
* Effective approaches to testing;
* Advice on the Equality Act 2010.

Guidance is given on many other relevant areas.

The audience for the standard includes a wide range of stakeholders from implementers through many categories of manager to policy designers, individuals, disability experts and others. Organisations to whom it has relevance include individual web developers, content and system vendors and any organisation that provides content or system to a public or captive audience including corporations and government agencies.

Publication of the standard is scheduled to be around October 2010. Meanwhile, a draft for comment is available at:

It is open to any individual or organisational representative to comment.

A draft in Rich Text Format and a Comment Template can be downloaded at the URL given. The draft is also available for reading and commenting directly on the site (Press the View button) and should be accessible to all. Where that is not the case or for other reasons someone has difficulty making comment it would be helpful for that to be raised on the site, with BSI or with myself (Andy Heath) or any other community members who have worked on the standard (not named here). I will, where appropriate, present to BSI or the committee developing the standard any comments that are made to me.

The period for comment ends on June 30th 2010.

Comments received up to the deadline will be addressed (where appropriate) in producing the final version of the standard.

I believe this standard addresses issues that the community has highlighted as needing advice on for some years. I think it can be an important support to the community and it’s important that we get it right. I commend it to you and urge you to read it and make comment on how to make it better than it is. When doing so please bear in mind that at this point it naturally has some imperfections you would expect of a draft in edit but not of a final standard and we should be focussing for now mainly on whether it has the right content and whether the approaches recommended are the best ones.”

So after all that encouragement from Andy, please go and add your feedback to BS8878!

Mozilla Labs Design Challenge 2009: Re-inventing Tabs

Whilst this blog generally focusses on all things accessible, this design challenge from Mozilla Labs caught my eye. Sometimes ensuring an application is accessible can be considered as a hindrance rather than an opportunity to show off design skills and develop new ways of working. However, good design can provide benefits to many users, not just those with disabilities.

One of the aims of the Mozilla Labs Design Challenge is to inspire future design directions for Firefox, the Mozilla project, and the Web as a whole. New ideas and mockups for the future of the Web are invited from designers, students and design-focused people. The focus is on finding creative solutions to the question: “Reinventing Tabs in the Browser – How can we create, navigate and manage multiple web sites within the same browser instance?”

The Challenge website states: “Today, 20+ parallel sessions are quite common; the browser is more of an operating system than a data display application; we use it to manage the web as a shared hard drive. However, if you have more than seven or eight tabs open they become pretty much useless. And tabs don’t work well if you use them with heterogeneous information. They’re a good solution to keep the screen tidy for the moment. And that’s just what they should continue doing”.

All you need to is create a mockup of your proposed solution in any format – from a napkin drawing, to a wireframe, to a polished graphic – and create a short video presenting the mockup, explaining your idea and how it works. The submission deadline is 21st June 2009.

Good luck!

New Digital Inclusion Forum Launched

A new Digital Inclusion Forum, led by Dr Jane Searle from the University of Southampton, has been launched by the TLRP (Teaching and Learning Research Programme). It aims to identify the key inclusion-related research questions and issues for TEL (Technology Enhanced Learning) research.

The introduction to the site states that the “forum will seek to discuss and evaluate the contribution that the TEL programme can make to the digital inclusion research agenda. The initial focus for activity will be the development of an online space for sharing resources, discussing inclusion-related issues and scoping priorities for digital inclusion research. In the longer term, the forum will be a platform for the collaborative writing of a contribution from TEL on the theme of inclusion”.

Accessible Twitter

If you’d love to inhabit the Twitosphere but find it somewhat inaccessible, then you might want to try Accessible Twitter. Among other features, it provides keyboard accessible links, a larger default text size, and audio cues which let you know when you’re reaching your character limit.

The application is still at alpha stage with more features at the task list and wish list stage. There’s also an interview with its creator, Dennis Lembree, over on the Accessify blog, which will give you a good insight into how the design came about.

Whilst most Web 2.0 apps are initially inaccessible, once they become mainstream, there does seem to be a drive by independent developers to try make them accessible (providing they can hook into the relevant bits of the backend code). So is this almost collaborative approach to producing accessible, usable apps the way forward rather than trying to do everything in-house?

AccessApps Wins Best Accessibility Solution Award

Those of you who attended last week’s JISC CETIS Accessibility SIG meeting and saw Craig Mill (from JISC RSC Scotland North and East) demonstrate the AccessApps toolset will be pleased to hear that it has won the Best Accessibility Solution award at the IMS Global Conference in Barcelona.

JISC describes AccessApps in their news story as “a collection of open source and freeware portable applications – all running from a USB stick and designed to give learners the tools they need to experience learning in the way that suits
them, when they need it”.

It was great to see how customisable the toolset can be and for those of you who couldn’t make it, I’m just in the process of writing up my notes from last week’s meeting. They should be ready in the next day or so.

Congratulations to Craig and the AccessApps team!

WAI-ARIA: What does it do?

I’ve just been listening a podcast by Freedom Scientific (developer of the JAWS screenreader software), which focused on the WAI-ARIA (Web Accessibility Initiative Accessible Rich Internet Applications) suite.

The hour long podcast was conducted in the form of an interview by Jonathan Mosen with Freedom Scientific’s Chief Technical Officer, Glen Gordon, who gave an overview of what it does. Following the interview, Mosen gave an example of it in use.

Gordon started off by talking about Web 2.0 and how web pages are becoming more and more like applications and suggested that, in a way, we were returning to days of the dumb terminal. The distribution model has also changed. Nowadays, many applications are free to use, with funding either from advertising or as “pay-as-you-go” or “pay-in-chunks”. Web 2.0 has various benefits including centralisation of documents, which can be accessed from anywhere in the world via multiple device types, and ease of collaboration.

However, there can be accessibility issues. Prior to the development of the ARIA suite, there was no standard way of displaying web pages. Although HTML (Hypertext Mark-up Language) is a standard way of presenting content, it doesn’t actually cover concepts relating to the layout of applications or the web page itself (e.g. trees, the difference between a navigation menu and a list of resources in the content, etc). Therefore, it is difficult for other applications (such as screenreaders) to understand the layout of the page itself.

Most web pages are divided up into separate areas (e.g. navigation, content, banner, etc), but it is not always easy to tell where one area ends and another begins. ARIA, however, allows each area to be labeled as a “landmark” of a particular type (such as navigation, main content area, search, etc) so that other applications know how to interact with different parts of a web page. In a way, it allows web page developers to annotate pages in a standard way, which can then be interpreted by other applications.

ARIA consists of “roles” (“document” or “application”) for each page, with each role containing “attributes” (e.g. “menu item”), which are applied as an HTML tag. Changes in “state” can also be identified, e.g. whether a tree view is open or closed, and “alerts”, such as a change to an advert or a new contribution to an online chat, can be described as important or not important.

Mosen then demonstrated an example of an alpha version of an online player for Radio New Zealand, which includes an ARIA-enabled slide control for the volume (only usable in an ARIA-enabled browser or with other ARIA-enabled software, such as JAWS 10.0) and also allows the user to move forward in the programme.

At present, only the latest version of Firefox 3 supports some of ARIA’s features, although other browsers such as IE8 (Internet Explorer), Opera, and Safari are following suit.

Icon Chat and Search Engine for People with Low Literacy

Following on from my post about “Taking Symbols for Granted“, where I reviewed Jonathan Chetwynd’s paper entitled “Communication with symbols: from the web to the internet and beyond”, Jonathan has just let me know about the launch of his Icon Chat and Search Engine at The Opera browser is recommended for viewing the site, although you can use FireFox to get the general gist (IE7 is rather intermittant).

The site includes links to three short YouTube videos describing:
* how to chat and search with icons using the application. It shows how chat can take place using symbols, such as using a “heart” for love;
* how to create a web page with a live icon – i.e. a graphic feed which updates, for example a weather symbol which updates as the weather is updated for that location;
* a look at a feed which uses icons, i.e. Zanadu (SVG enabled, so may not work on Internet Explorer), which has live image feeds of pet images from Flickr, the latest news, the latest weather, a direct link to play Radio 4, etc.

The aim is to present information in the form of images or symbols, which are drawn in from feeds. This is similar to a widget based approach, but the concept behind this site allows people with low literacy levels to use the internet without having to navigate complex external sites.

Taking Symbols for Granted

The Journal of Assistive Technologies (Vol.2, Issue 3) has recently published a paper entitled “Communication with symbols: from the web to the internet and beyond” (see the list of contents and a sample article) by Jonathan Chetwynd.

Chetwynd begins by reminding us of how many symbols there are around us – from road signs in the physical world to emoticons in the virtual world. We use them so much in our everyday life that we take them for granted, even seeing and understanding graphics before (or even without) reading any associated text (c.f. the Apple iPhone interface, which has large symbols for each application and a small text name underneath).

Symbols are useful means of communication for people with low literacy levels or who do not speak the local language (although some symbols may also have localised or cultural meanings, which may be different from the universally understood meaning). Chetwynd suggests that as online computer games almost completely rely on graphics and symbols that games developers may be well-suited to make useful contributions to the development of symbol-based communication.

He also laments the fact that many groups which have an influence on web accessibility are effectively only open to people from large organisations, because of the financial or resource costs required. However, it’s not all bad news. The W3C SVG (World Wide Web Consortium Scalable Vector Graphics) Working Group has opened its work up to the public and has recently chartered a public interest group. Chetwynd’s peepo website is SVG enabled.

SVG is a graphics specification which can include text and metadata descriptions, so that they can be searched. It is a very flexible format and is well-suited to small and mobile devices. Most browsers (with the exception of Internet Explorer) have built-in support for SVG and even some mail clients are SVG-enabled. Theoretically, this means that e-mails containing symbols only can be exchanged and understood.

Chetwynd’s paper reminds that we don’t just live in a text-based world. Symbols are all around us. They instruct and remind us, and help us to communicate and navigate. They can be seen as a common, almost universal language, and provide benefits to people who, for whatever reason, have difficulties understanding text or language. By using them more on web-based resources, alongside text labels, not only will we help others to communicate but we will also help ourselves.

We Want to Show You the WCAG

If you thought standards and specifications were something that would definitely not make you want to get up and dance – think again.  This YouTube video about the new WCAG 2.0 will make you see it in a whole new light and may even have you tapping your toes.

It’s an innovative and fun way to promote a standard and maybe it’s something we at JISC CETIS could try!