Sunday, 21 September 2008

On Friday in London, I attended a conference entitled “Scripting Enabled” which in advance was described to me as a hackers’ day. So this was about good hackers lending their skills to the disabled community, hurrying up the process of accessibility and inclusion.. Scripting Enabled is the vision and brain-child of Christian Heilmann , a developer evangelist with lots to contribute. Its well worth searching on Scripting Enabled at and following the story as it will unfold.

The morning session was all about the very diverse needs of various disability groups. People with learning disabilities might need pictures where we blind users need words. Christian has developed an excellent Easy YouTube video player with big buttons, clear colours and built-in keyboard accessibility which just works out of the box. It really is the easiest way to enjoy the YouTube experience and there must be something for us all there.

After the break, AbilityNet presented videos showing people with vision disabilities struggling with JAWS and ZoomText and I was left smugly thinking how much easier is the web with WebbIE which works with all screenreaders, free or expensive and offers magnification as well as the speech. But I very much took to their approach of open evaluation and user-lead opinions and experiences. This is something we at need to take on board now.

The afternoon was not so good for me as I am not up there with the Techy JAWS brigade and, sadly I had to miss the panel session at the end. I can’t cover more in a short blog but try and particularly to dig deeper.

There really now is a shift of emphasis within the Assistive Technology industry compared to when we set up two years ago. The market leader remains for blind and VI users but the pack are coming closer and freedom is better understood in terms of usability and user limited cash flow rather than being merely scientific. Though not cheap, Guide is there for the older population with poorer memories; NVDA from Australia,, is chasing Thunder and each have their strengths and weakness, no doubt. At least for free you can enjoy the benefits of both or either.

And today I heard of another free player from the States which sounds great but which I have not tried yet. At you can read about Adept1 which has received pretty massive Government developing backing in the States and which claims to offer Voice Input and voice output access to much of what the non-techy computer user might need. The software will be free, like ours. Nice to know we had a great idea like others.

The vision, so far as we are concerned, is nearer to reality and we welcome competition and or cooperation in this field. We will not hesitate to continue to develop and promote Thunder and WebbIE and speak openly about its ease of use as well as what it can’t currently achieve; but full marks to all others with a similar vision and mission.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Web Accessibility and iTunes

There is plenty to blog about again this time round. We are busy but need a holiday after working very hard through the so-called UK Summer.

DDA Accessibility Laws:
The American Store Target will revamp its Web site to make it more accessible for the blind and pay $6 million in damages to plaintiffs who joined a class action lawsuit against the retailer, under a settlement announced with the National Federation of the Blind. The $6 million will be placed in an interest-bearing account so that plaintiffs in the lawsuit, filed in California two years ago, can make claims. Most plaintiffs will get about $3,500, an NFB spokesman said.

Under the settlement, the Baltimore-based NFB will test the Web site for three years and certify it once it is completely upgraded. The lawsuit was filed after earlier negotiations between the two sides broke down.

Many blind people use screen-reading software such as Thunder that vocalizes information on a computer, but Web sites must be made accessible for the technology. The lawsuit complained that was not accessible.

But our contention goes further. Accessibility is far more than a software package and a legal decision. Most blind people can never raise the cash to buy costly assistive software and, even if they do, training, patience and a level of computer skill is required far above that of the average seeing user who clicks a mouse on what she sees.

But, on the assumption that many things come over to Europe from across the pond, we should sit up and take notice that the law will soon be more strongly on the side of the blind user here too. Maybe it won’t be long before a courageous blind person here, with the backing of a courageous blind agency, will strike a similar blow in the UK or within a European country. I never thought I would be taking such a stance!!! Its just that the years go by and still government, local councils and the private sector in general continue to take the micky, talk the talk and fail to actually make computer accessibility and usability available to the mass of ordinary blind and partially sighted people, even in some Western wealthy countries.

Such access really is the modern Braille and a great way to mainstream blind people so all power and well done to the American pioneers.

The Worsening Economic situation:
We have had the good times here in the West and the coming year or two look not so good. But will not be changing the price of free Thunder. We will never be wealthy here but are financially secure for the future because we don’t need paying for the work we do and we don’t need buildings and expensive staff.

But we do have ongoing expenses like everyone else and we do, therefore, ask that if you value the Thunder software and want to make a donation towards its upkeep, this would be very welcome indeed.

iTunes, LastFM and the BBC iplayer:
Like me, many of you will enjoy listening to music, listen again radio and TV programs etc. So now, as well as being able to enjoy LastFM and the BBC iplayer,

iTunes V8 works well too. For those who don’t know, is a website where you can download the music of your choice and listen to it free. There is a purchase opportunity too, of course. The BBC iplayer delivers on demand listening to radio programs from the whole of the BBC service as well as selected items from BBC TV 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. And iTunes is the Apple music store widely used to download a massive music library and save to your iPod or other portable device. So, if this is your bag, check it all out and enjoy. And if you want to let us know how you get on, we welcome your emails or phone calls.