[blindza] Fw: E-Access Bulletin, February 2010: Braille Struggles Under Threat From Audio Technologies.
- From: "Jacob Kruger" <jacobk@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
- To: "NAPSA Blind" <blind@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Fri, 26 Feb 2010 16:24:35 +0200
+++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 ). 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]. ++Sponsored Notice: Adept Transcription - Alternative Formats At Affordable Prices. When you want alternative formats for disabled colleagues, customers and staff, call Adept. Formats we produce include audio, audio description, Braille, BSL, Easy Read, e-docs for websites, large print, Makaton, Moon and sub-titles, at prices from a penny a word. Whether handling a newsletter, training DVD, equality scheme, public service leaflet, contract or consultation, we provide: - One-stop shop for all formats - Products quality-checked by users - Corporate presentation including your house style - Fast turnaround of one document or thousands - Multi-format discounts - Accessible packaging Contact us at: Tel: 0208 133 5418 (precede with 18001 for typetalk) Email transcription@xxxxxxxxxxxx [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]. ++Special Notice: Fortune Cookie - Web Sites That Really Work. Fortune Cookie's dedicated web accessibility team makes sure that everyone finds the web sites we design easy to use. As well as being accessible, Fortune Cookie sites are beautiful and deliver stunning return-on-investment. They're award- winning too. In 2007, our work was nominated for major web design awards 11 times. Legal & General, Kuoni, Diabetes UK, FT Business - just some of the big name brands on Fortune Cookie's client list. Every business can benefit from making its web site more accessible. If you'd like to know what accessibility can do for your business, talk to Fortune Cookie. Visit our web site at: http://www.fortunecookie.co.uk Julie Howell is our Director of Accessibility. Email Julie at: Julie.Howell@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx . [Special notice ends] ++Sponsored Notice: Accessify Forum - Six Years of Accessibility Discussion. Accessify Forum has been the number one destination for accessibility discussion on the web for nearly six years. Celebrating our sixth birthday next month, you'll find discussion of accessibility at all levels, from beginner to guru. The site has recently been redesigned and the forum system improved. This is still ongoing and you can join in the discussions. So whether you're looking to learn more about accessibility, want to help others and improve on your own knowledge, or just to browse the archives, come and join us at: http://www.accessifyforum.com/ [Special notice ends]. ++End Notes. +How to Receive the Bulletin. To subscribe to this free monthly bulletin, email eab-subs@xxxxxxxxxxxx with 'subscribe eab' in the subject header. You can list other email addresses to subscribe in the body of the message. Please encourage all your colleagues to sign up! To unsubscribe at any time, put 'unsubscribe eab' in the subject header. Please send comments on coverage or leads to Dan Jellinek at: dan@xxxxxxxxxxxx . Copyright 2010 Headstar Ltd http://www.headstar.com . The Bulletin may be reproduced as long as all parts including this copyright notice are included, and as long as people are always encouraged to subscribe with us individually by email. Please also inform the editor when you are reproducing our content. 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