News from the Round Table on Information Access 2013

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Monday, 3 June 2013 16:27pm

Access to information through digital technologies was discussed and highlighted at the 2013 Round Table on Information Access for People with Print Disabilities held last week in Sydney. The conference covered a variety of subjects including access to arts and culture, access to desktop computers and mobile devices, regulation, publishing standards and access in education.

People with a print disability include those who are blind or vision impaired, have impaired mobility such as diminished dexterity, or cognitive disabilities such as dyslexia. The purpose of the conference was to provide information and generate discussion on how people with print disabilities can access information and services through technology

Speaking at the conference were Media Access Australia’s chief executive Alex Varley and project manager Dr Scott Hollier.

Highlighting the trial of audio description on ABC1 in 2012, Varley’s presentation, titled ‘Regulation is the way forward', argued that regulation, like that which is in place for television captioning, is the only way to guarantee an across-the-board audio description service in Australia.

Project manager Dr Scott Hollier’s presentation focused on a resource developed with the Council on the Ageing Western Australia (COTA WA). Helping seniors with disabilities get online, was designed to help seniors with disabilities use online services such as social media and video chat service Skype.

“Seniors are rapidly getting online to share photos with loved ones over social media, making and booking travel plans, and managing superannuation and banking,” said Hollier. “People aged 55 and over are the fastest growing age group on Facebook.”

Paul Paradigm, adaptive technology consultant at Vision Australia, spoke about the accessibility of different mainstream technologies and the need to celebrate out-of-the-box accessibility. This refers to the ability of the user to access the device with inbuilt accessibility features or without the need to purchase third-party assistive software such as a screen reader. 

“It’s an exciting time for desktop accessibility,” said Paradigm. “It’s the first time a blind or vision impaired person can access a PC without installing anything.”

He said while Apple’s operating systems OSX (desktop) and iOS (used on mobile devices such as the iPhone and iPad) continue to provide the best accessibility for people with disabilities, Microsoft’s latest software releases and products have improved.

Android, Google’s operating system for mobile devices, has also improved its accessibility with the latest software release Jellybean 4.2. Paradigm said despite this, the accessibility of the device will vary. As Android is available on devices made by different manufacturers, the software is often customised and this may result in the removal of some accessibility features.

Paradigm said for screen reader users, true accessibility starts at Android 4.1. He notes that in most cases, it’s difficult to upgrade the software on an Android device, so he recommends purchasing a device with Android 4.2 installed for the most improved accessibility.

“Accessibility may not be perfect but […] today you’re guaranteed some accessibility out of the box without spending thousands on JAWS [a brand of screen reader],” he said. He also said that the only way to keep accessibility a priority for developers and manufacturers of mainstream technology is to keep campaigning for it.

Accessibility improvements made on Windows 8, for example, include a much-needed upgrade to the built-in screen reader Narrator. The screen reader now has extra language support, can be used with more applications and can be used for touch screen devices. However, Paradigm also suggested more can be done to improve the accessibility of Microsoft products.

Senior consultant at Microsoft Kenny Johar Singh also talked about the accessibility features of Windows 8, particularly how it has been improved for touch screen devices. 

In addition to improvements made to the screen reader Narrator mentioned by Paradigm, Singh said the built-in screen magnifier has also been improved in Windows 8. The magnifier’s interface has been changed so that users can enlarge the screen using a bar that appears along the edges of the screen.

Singh adds that accessibility can be set up in Windows 8 more easily than in previous operating systems. Options including setting colour contrast can be accessed on the initial set-up screen. He said Microsoft takes accessibility seriously and is working to improve it within its products.

“The only way to make a difference in accessibility is to keep lobbying for improvements because it does make a difference,” Singh said.

More information on the 2013 Round Table on Information Access to People with Print Disabilities can be found on the website.

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