[blindza] Re: [Blind] Fw: E-Access Bulletin, February 2010: Braille Struggles Under Threat From Audio Technologies.

Very interesting and informative Jacob.  Thanks for sharing this with us.


Regards - Albert

On 2010/02/26 04:24 PM, Jacob Kruger wrote:
+++E-ACCESS BULLETIN
Access To Technology For All, Regardless Of Ability
- ISSUE 122, February 2010.

A Headstar Publication.
http://www.headstar.com/eab/ .

Please forward this free bulletin to others (subscription details
at the end). We conform to the accessible Text Email
Newsletter (TEN) Standard:
http://www.headstar.com/ten/ .


++Issue 122 Contents.

01: Braille Struggles Under Threat From Audio Technologies
- Exclusive translation of report from Italian newspaper La
Repubblica

02: Proposed US Law Would Force Product Accessibility
- Consumer electronics would have to include non-visual
interfaces.

03: Researchers Plan To Automate Web Image Description
- UK academic network launches globally pioneering work.

News in Brief: 04: Diary Date - e-Access '10 event date set;
05: Tablet Features - Apple's iPad and accessibility; 06:
Southampton Toolbar - internet accessibility download

++Section Two: Focus.
The Decline of Braille: Doomsday For The Dots? The advent
of information technology and audio learning has provoked a
decline in the take-up of Braille, with the traditional Braille
system being altered to provide for the age of the internet. In
an article for the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, translated
exclusively for E-Access Bulletin, Alessandra Retico
investigates whether we should fight to retain Braille, and
how new technologies may be able to complement and
increase the effectiveness of the system.

[Contents ends].


++Section One: News.

+01: Braille Struggles Under Threat From Audio
Technologies.

The future of Braille is being threatened by the rise of digital
audio technologies, but it continues to hold valuable potential
to enhance the lives of blind people, according to an article in
the Italian newspaper La Repubblica translated exclusively
for this month's E-Access Bulletin by Margherita Giordano.

Braille could become a "dead language" as new technologies
such as telephone services with synthetic voices to read
newspapers; talking computers and audio-books mean the
tactile alphabet is being used less and less, the article says.
These days, only 25% of Italian people who are blind
(362,000) and 10% of blind Americans (1,300,000) know
Braille, compared with a figure in the US of more than half of
all blind children in the 1950s, according to a recent issue of
the New York Times.

Braille has been adapted for the computer age with an eight-
dot version corresponding to the digital 'ASCII' screen
characters, used in refreshable Braille displays that translate
lines of text on a computer screen. However these displays
remain very expensive and are not as popular among young
people as text-to-speech tools, the article says. "More
prosaically, why should you read Harry Potter in 36 volumes
when you can listen to it in MP3 format?"

Braille's supporters, on the other hand, cite scientific studies
that show the importance of reading in a child's cognitive
development. They say it is a way to emancipate the blind,
offering independent and unmediated access to knowledge.

The way forward could lie in a combination of languages and
techniques: "old and new, dots and bits", the article says.

Tommaso Daniele, Chairman of the Italian Union of the
Blind (Unione Italiana Ciechi), told La Repubblica that new
technologies have the power not to destroy Braille but to
enhance it. "We deny the assumption that they are
competitive. The two . . . work together, they are
complementary. Technology is revolutionising the lives and
the autonomy of blind people, allowing them to surf the net
and to read texts that would be too bulky and expensive if
translated into Braille".

But Braille has its unique strengths too, Daniele says. "It is
original, universal, it is a direct way to access
communication...reading is slower, but allows a better
learning process. It does not need any mediation".

NOTE: For the translation of the full article by Alessandra
Retico for La Repubblica see Section Two, this issue.
Margherita Giordano is the translator of the Italian edition of
our newsletter, which is supported by the Cavazza Institute of
Bologna.

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live:
http://bit.ly/9t5O3L


+02: Proposed US Law Would Force Product Accessibility.

Manufacturers and suppliers of consumer technology devices
in the US could be forced to make all their products
accessible to blind consumers, if proposed legislation is
passed by Congress.

Introduced by Jan Schakowsky, a Democratic House of
Representatives member from Illinois, the Technology Bill of
Rights for the Blind Act 2010 (
http://www.opencongress.org/bill/111-h4533/text ) is based
around creating accessible alternatives to what it calls
"increasingly complex user interfaces" found in consumer
electronics.

Many of these devices, from televisions and dishwashers to
office equipment such as photocopiers and fax machines, are
operated by touch-screen technology or other visual displays
that are not accessible to blind people, the bill says. "This
growing threat to the independence and productivity of blind
people is unnecessary because electronic devices can easily
be constructed with user interfaces that are not exclusively
visual", it says.

The draft law builds on guidelines set out in Section 508 of
the Rehabilitation Act, which requires US Government bodies
to engage in accessible IT and electronics procurement ( See:
http://www.section508.gov <http://www.section508.gov/> ).

The bill is divided into three parts: first, to commission study
to determine non-visual control methods for consumer
electronics; second, to create a set of "minimum non-visual
access standards" to which devices should conform; and
third, to establish an "office of non-visual access
compliance" to carry out the study and enforce the access
standards.

Peter Abrahams, accessibility and usability practice leader at
IT research organisation Bloor Research (
http://www.bloorresearch.com/ ), told E-Access Bulletin that
as well as being a significant step for accessible
manufacturing of consumer electronics, the bill could, in
theory, also be used to enforce website accessibility. "I can
imagine you could say that [a website] is the interface to a
product or service, and therefore it has to be accessible and
be covered by the same bill. My view is that in the future it
could be used to push [the web accessibility] agenda as well."


However, it may take some time for manufacturers and
website owners to be affected by the technology bill, even if
it is passed, warned Abrahams. The bill needs to pass both
houses of the Congress by a majority vote, before being
examined and signed by President Obama. This process,
combined with setting up the office of non-visual access
compliance and carrying out the study and report as set out in
the bill, means it could be several years before the proposed
legislation comes into effect.

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live:
http://bit.ly/cRZVrs


+03: Researchers Plan To Automate Web Image Description.

Groundbreaking work to try to enable computers to describe
visual content on web pages begun this month with the
formation of a new UK academic research network.

The network is aiming to develop a web browser plug-in
which would be able to analyse an image and describe it to a
visually impaired user. It is one of a number of projects
exploring computer vision and computer language
programming to be undertaken by the new V&L Net (
http://www.vlnet.org.uk/ ) - the Vision and Language
Network of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research
Council (EPSRC).

The network, which will run for three years, is co-ordinated
by Dr Anja Belz from The University of Brighton. She told E-
Access Bulletin that it was important to improve web
accessibility from the user side, as many site owners still
ignore legal requirements to deliver accessible pages. "We're
looking at developing a general purpose tool which would
give visually impaired internet users some degree of access to
any visual information that's out there."

The project is thought to be the first of its kind and the
completed tool would make a significant improvement on
current accessible web browsers or extensions to traditional
screen-readers that try to make sense of an image file name,
Belz said. However, she said it is likely to be many years
before image description capability is achieved to satisfactory
quality and the tool is made available.

Other V&L Net projects to assist the visually impaired include
a tool that describes the colour and pattern of an object (an
extension to current 'colour teller' software), which could be
available in the next five to 10 years; and a product label
reader which scans information on packaging, such as food
labels, and reads it to the user, a task currently difficult to
achieve with standard optical character recognition
technology unless the product is completely flat.

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live:
http://bit.ly/99GolJ


++News in Brief:

+04: Diary Date: A date has been set for e-Access '10, the
conference and exhibition on access to technology for people
with disabilities, hosted by E-Access Bulletin's publisher
Headstar. The event, which features workshops, case studies
and seminars from leading industry figures, will take place on
24 June at Earls Court, London. To register and for more
information, visit:
http://bit.ly/atNK9r

+05: Tablet Features: The new iPad 'tablet' computer from
Apple contains several new accessibility features for disabled
users: increased magnification of many programs currently
used on the smaller iPhone and iPod Touch; an optional
external keyboard, increasing accessibility for blind users and
others that find touch-screen operation difficult; and built-in
speakers, meaning those with mild hearing impairments may
be able to use the iPad without external speakers. The iPad
also contains all the accessibility features already built in to
the iPhone, including a 'VoiceOver' screen-reader (though
this will include fewer languages than the iPhone); full-screen
zoom; white-on-black display option; mono audio; and
closed-caption support:
http://bit.ly/b22Q8U

+06: Southampton Toolbar: A toolbar to increase internet
accessibility, including social networking sites, which is
compatible with any web browser has been developed by
researchers at The University of Southampton. The Joint
Information Systems Committee (JISC) 'TechDis' Toolbar
features text-to-speech, simple magnification and a spell-
checker, and can be installed onto websites or downloaded by
users:
http://bit.ly/c2iJtw

[Section One ends].


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[Sponsored Notice ends]


++Section Three: Focus

+07: The Decline of Braille: Doomsday For The Dots?

by Alessandra Retico

They are letters you can touch: six little dots you brush with
your fingers, 64 combinations to encode the world. But now
Braille, the blind person's Esperanto, is set to become a dead
language.

New technologies mean the tactile alphabet is being used less
and less, as sound takes its place: technologies such as
telephone services with synthetic voices to read newspapers;
talking computers and audio-books. Many young blind
people no longer learn the physical grammar that would allow
them to communicate with any other user in any language,
preferring to put on their headphones. These days, only 25%
of Italian people who are blind (362,000) and 10% of blind
Americans (1,300,000) know Braille (compared with a figure
in the US of more than half of all blind children in the 1950s,
according to a recent issue of the New York Times). Invented
in 1829 by Louis Braille, who became blind at the age of six
and inspired by a military code for the transmission of
messages at night, the system still survives, but faces strong
competition from information technology.

So, is it goodbye? Not quite, but the six dots that, for more
than 180 years, have translated letters, musical notes,
numbers and chemical formulas, are no longer enough. The
old Braille has added more signs to conform to the language
of the web: eight dots instead of six and 256 combinations in
all, to allow blind people to read web pages. The translation
from video screen to fingertips takes place by means of a
refreshable Braille display, translating the words and icons
appearing on the screen into relief text using tiny pins rising
and falling, running information into a line of 20 to 80
characters.

Enhanced and enriched, this is the Braille of the internet age.
But it is still very expensive, and not very popular: even if the
National Health Service delivers these displays for free,
young people prefer to use their ears to connect to the web.

This is the era of sound. Marshall McLuhan argued that
technology would bring Western culture back to a tribal and
oral state: the decline of the world of writing would give birth
to a post-literate generation. From the beginning, Braille has
had its detractors, who considered it an arcane and marginal
form of communication, a segregational code. Others have
supported it as a way to emancipate the blind, offering
independent and unmediated access to knowledge. But today,
more prosaically, why should you read Harry Potter in 36
volumes when you can listen to it in MP3 format?

Should we worry? Braille's supporters cite many scientific
studies that show the importance of reading in a child's
cognitive development. For them, casting writing aside would
be like returning to pre-Gutenberg times, when culture was in
the hands of intellectuals and churchmen. But others argue
that after all, we have only been reading for 6,000 years and
mass literacy is a relatively recent phenomenon. The way
forward could lie in a combination of languages: old and
new, dots and bits.

Tommaso Daniele, Chairman of the Italian Union of the
Blind (Unione Italiana Ciechi), is among the supporters of the
old reading system and has been struggling for many years to
promote it, especially in schools. He argues that new
technologies have not set Braille aside - if anything, they
have enhanced it.

"We deny the assumption that they are competitive. The two .
. . work together, they are complementary. Technology is
revolutionising the lives and the autonomy of blind people,
allowing them to surf the net and to read texts that would be
too bulky and expensive if translated into Braille".

But Braille has its unique strengths too, Daniele says. "It is
original, universal, it is a direct way to access communication.
It originated from a brilliant idea, which made it accessible to
everybody. And it is very useful for training: reading is
slower, but allows a better learning process. According to the
Italian writer Camilleri, it is the only language that you can
touch with your fingers. It does not need any mediation".

NOTE: This article by Alessandra Retico first appeared in
Italian in the newspaper "La Repubblica" of 21 January
(Copyright La Repubblica 2010). Many thanks to Margherita
Giordano for this translation.

And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live:
http://bit.ly/b84WWr

[Section Two ends].


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[Special notice ends].


++End Notes.

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Copyright 2010 Headstar Ltd http://www.headstar.com <http://www.headstar.com/> .
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+Personnel:
Editor - Dan Jellinek.
Reporter: Tristan Parker.
Editorial advisor - Kevin Carey.

ISSN 1476-6337.

[Issue 122 ends.]


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