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Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 March 2000 Issue  Volume 1  Number 2

News

CSUN Center on Disabilities Founder Announces Retirement

Dr. Harry Murphy, founder and director of the Center on Disabilities, California State University, Northridge (CSUN), has announced plans to retire on March 31, 2000. During his 23-year tenure at CSUN, Dr. Murphy served as assistant director of the National Center on Deafness, coordinator of Disabled Student Services, and director of the Center on Disabilities. Dr. Murphy will continue to work as a consultant to the Center on Disabilities through December 31, 2000. A national search is underway to find a new director for the center. For more information, contact: Center on Disabilities, California State University, Northridge, 18111 Nordhoff Street, Northridge, CA 91330-8340; phone: 818-677-2578; fax: 818-677-4929; E-mail: <itm@csun.edu>; Web site: <www.csun.edu/cod/>.

Nominations Invited

The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) invites nominations for the 14th Alexander Scourby Narrator of the Year Awards. The awards will be presented this summer to outstanding Talking Books narrators of fiction and nonfiction. To vote, choose one narrator per category and send nominations to the address below before March 24, 2000. For more information, contact: Gabrielle Smith-Coventry, AFB Scourby Awards, 11 Penn Plaza, Suite 300, New York, NY 10001; E-mail: <gsmith@afb.net>; phone: 800-AFB-LINE (232-5463).

Good News for Gamers

ESP Softworks invites participation in the Name That Game contest for a chess game that will feature weapons and traps. The contest can be found at Web site: <http://216.103.87.194/forms/contest_to.asp>. The company is developing several games and entertainment software titles for people who are blind or visually impaired. The titles in development include: The Genesis Project, Thieves: Dark Shroud, Armageddon, and Star Quest.

For more information, contact: ESP Softworks; Web site: <www.espsoftworks.com>; E-mail: <info@espsoftworks.com>.

Tactile Talking Mouse

Screen Rover is a motorized mouse that provides tactile and verbal feedback to users, according to The Betacom Corporation. It was developed in partnership with Alliance Technologies, University of Waterloo Centre for Sight Enhancement, and Ontario Rehabilitation Technology Consortium. The Rover is designed to seek out new windows or dialog boxes as they appear on a computer screen and, while describing the location on the screen, to move the mouse and the user's hand to the new elements. It is compatible with Windows 95, 98, and 98 Second Edition.

For more information, contact: The Betacom Corporation, 2999 King Street W, Inglewood, Ontario, LON 1K0; phone: 800-353-1107; Web site: <www.betacom.com>; E-mail: <info@betacom.com>.

Video Description May Make Prime Time

If you enjoy movies or live theater and cannot see well enough to discern the details of costume, gesture, or facial expression, chances are you have already become acquainted with the joy of video description. Video description delivers the additional narrative, describing visual elements of a program, via a television's or VCR's SAP (secondary audio program) capability. With live description (also called audio description), FM or infrared technology is used to carry a describer's comments to the headsets worn by individuals in the audience. Audio description has been growing in popularity in theaters around the country for about 15 years, and video description for a decade. Although video description, pioneered by WGBH-TV in Boston, has been available only on the public television network PBS and some cable stations to date, a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last week has the potential to change that situation dramatically.

New FCC guidelines mandate that virtually all television broadcasts carry closed captioning for persons who are deaf by 2006. The audio equivalent, however—video description for persons who are visually impaired—has received far less attention. Finally, the FCC's chairman, William Kennard, has put some thoughts on the table to begin the process toward a formal commitment. The proposal in the FCC notice is that the four major networks—ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX—be required to have a minimum of 50 hours per quarter, or about four hours per week, of video description. The suggested guideline stipulates that priority be given to prime time and children's programming. The FCC will be accepting comments in favor or opposition to the proposal through February 23,2000. For one month after that time, there will be an opportunity for rebuttal. The broadcast industry is resistant, so all comments from the public are valuable. To read the Proposed Rule or other supported information, visit the FCC Web site at <www.fcc.gov>.

Better Tools for a More Accessible Web

On February 3, 2000, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) announced the release of the "Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines 1.0" (ATAG 1.0) <www.w3.org/TR/2000/REC-ATAG10-20000203/>. The guidelines explain how developers of Web-authoring software can encourage and assist in the production of content on the Web that is accessible to people with disabilities.

Authoring tools include a variety of products—such as text and multimedia editors, formatting and conversion software, and site management tools—used to create Web pages and Web sites. The guidelines will improve accessibility by recommending that authoring tools incorporate such approaches as automatically checking the accessibility of content as it is created; by prompting the author for necessary changes; and by providing information on how to create accessible content. The guidelines also address the accessibility of the software itself so that people with disabilities can use it for publishing on the Web.

"Most content on the Web is created using authoring tools. If authoring tools seamlessly guide authors in creating accessible content, the wealth of information on the Web will become more accessible," said Jutta Treviranus, chair of the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines Working Group and director of the Adaptive Technology Resource Centre at the University of Toronto. Treviranus added, "Just as important, the Web as a means of expression should not be reserved for people without disabilities. These guidelines promote authoring tools that create content that is accessible, and authoring tools that are usable by people with disabilities, thereby cultivating a World Wide Web that we can all participate in." Microsoft's Greg Lowney, director of accessibility, added, "Widespread adoption of the guidelines by companies that produce authoring tools—and in turn, widespread use of those tools—will make accessible Web sites the default rather than the exception."

ATAG 1.0 consists of 28 requirements, called "checkpoints." The checkpoints are organized according to seven overriding design principles, or "guidelines." Each checkpoint has been assigned a priority corresponding to its importance for accessibility.

W3C is also moving forward on the User Agent Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (UAAG 1.0) <http://www.w3.org/TR/UAAG>. UAAG was under review during February as a "Candidate Recommendation," the stage during which technical feedback is sought on the guidelines and potential implementation problems are tested. These guidelines explain to developers how to design user agents that are accessible to people with disabilities. User agents include browsers, multimedia players, and assistive technologies that give full access to Web content. The next step is the circulation of UAAG to W3 member organizations as a "Proposed Recommendation" for a decision on whether to adopt the guidelines as an official W3C recommendation. The Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines and the User Agent Accessibility Guidelines, together with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines issued last spring, are products of the W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI).

For more information on the accessibility guidelines or the Web Accessibility Initiative see <www.w3.org/wai> or call 617-253-2613.

Software for Completing Forms

FutureForms, a division of Pummill Business Forms, introduced Verbal-eyes, new assistive technology software that enables visually impaired persons to fill out forms on-line. Verbal-eyes is designed to scan the user's computer to determine if a screen reader is present and active. If a screen reader is active, the software will decipher the form on the screen for the user. Otherwise, it will remain quiet and allow the user to complete the form. For more information, contact Terri Pummill, Pummill Business Forms, 903 Chicago Drive, Grand Rapids, MI 49509; phone: 616-475-1204;Web site: <www.futureforms.com> or <www.pummill.com>.

Retirement

Jim Thatcher of IBM's Accessibility Center, formerly IBM Special Needs Systems, is retiring in March. He was the force behind IBM's DOS Screen Reader, OS/2 Screen Reader, and Home Page Reader.

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