Friday, 28 December 2007

Spain sets Penalties for Discrimination Against People with Disabilities

People with disabilities in Spain have had a welcome gift The Spanish government has recently published the Law 49/2007, of 26 December, which sets out “a regime of infractions and penalties relating to equal opportunities, non-discrimination and universal accessibility for people with disabilities”. Properly applied by plaintiffs and judiciary this could give real teeth to the different pieces of legislation passed in recent years.

The law complements any penalties at the regional level (Spain has an increasingly decentralised structure of government) as the nation's constitution assigns to national government the responsibility for “basic conditions for ensuring the equality of Spaniards in the exercise of their rights and the fulfilment of their constitutional duties.” It sets out the general guidelines for penalties at the regional level. It is also based on European Community provisions that require national governments to implement penalties for non-compliance with anti-discrimination legislation. Since the 1982 law on the integration of people with disabilities there has been a succession of laws. The latest provisions are intended to change the approach from that of protecting a minority in need of special care, to that of people who have difficulties in exercising their rights and obligations under the constitution.

The law provides for fines of 301 up to a million Euro, classifying violations as slight, serious and very serious. In the four years following the passing of the law the government is required to present a report to parliament on actions taken and plans for the following year.

The text of the law is available in Spanish in the online version of the Boletn Oficial del Estado, LEY 49/2007, de 26 de diciembre.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Postgraduate Diploma in Accessible Technology for the Information Society

The Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, an online distance teaching university and Technosite will jointly offering this postgraduate diploma course “Accessible Technology for Information Society Services” starting next 10th November. For 33 ECTS credits study over two years. Reflecting current demand, the curriculum emphasises Web content, but covers a wide range of other important areas from cash dispenser and information terminals, street maps, digital libraries, mobile applications, assistive technology, to comprehensive "info-accessibility" plans and legislation, all in the context of general design-for-all principles.

For disabled students who are unemployed, ONCE Foundation and the European Social Fund will provide grants and ONCE will provide grants for blind students eligible for vocational training. More information about student grants (in Spanish) in Technosite press release. The course will be taught in Spanish. More information (in Spanish) on the UOC information page.

I would be interested to know of any similar courses in other countries.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

MWeb'07 Event in Zaragoza

On 12 and 13 of this month of September my colleague José Montes and myself have been attending MWeb'07, a conference on the Mobile Web. As it might not get all the coverage it deserves beyond the Pyrenees, I'll post this summary in English. It's one of a week-long IT-fest in Zaragoza, Spain, the second CEDI Congress, a series of twenty-seven conferences on diverse areas of ICT. I thought it was a sign of the maturity of the Spanish ICT sector: a conference for Spanish computer people in their own language. The MWeb'07 sessions were attended by about 30 to 40 people, all, with the exception of invited guest Rotan Hanrahan, apparently from Spain. The city of Zaragoza is presently engaged in lots of building works for next year's Water and Sustainable Development Expo and the developments surrounding the AVE high speed train terminal.

MyMobileWeb is an open-source Java-based application for dynamically generating content tailored to different mobile devices, as a seperate mobile channel (not the One Web approach). MyMobileWeb was the subject of a paper by José Manuel Cantera of Telefónica R&D the second day. The first paper was about another project based on MyMobileWeb that uses RDF to allow the provision of information for form auto-completion, by authors from CTIC Foundation, Telefónica R&D, and Politécnica University, Madrid, given by Diego Berrueta. Filling out form fields is especially onerous for users of mobile devices with their limited keyboards. The data can be provided both server-side by site owners using what they have learned about the user, and client-side by users themselves.

Our friend Samuel Martín gave a talk on work he has been involved in at the Politécnica University, Madrid on developing methodologies for evaluating the accessibility of mobile Web applications.

Server-side monitoring of Web traffic can be used to select from among alternative strategies for adapting content for diverse mobile devices and to analyse the quality of service provided to them. Alberto Mijares of Fundación CTIC gave the talk about it. He also discussed the evolution CTIC's TAW automated tool and the extension from accessibility to MobileOK Basic.

Zaragoza City Council has been a pioneer in Spain in providing a single Web experience for users of its Web site. María Jesús Fernández and Ignacio (“Nacho”) Marín described the Zaragoza authority's long-term collaboration with CTIC Foundation. Nacho continued the second day, describing the way the work in Zaragoza is based on the proposed W3C Mobile Web Best Practices recommendation.

At the University of Salamanca a team has been developing a server-side adaptation application using open-source software and a Java-based mobile client to access the ClayNet e-Learning system, adapting content to suit the m-Learning environment for students on the move. The talk was by Miguel Ángel Conde.

On the subject of “Desktop Web or device independent design: starting points for the mobile Web” we finished off the afternoon, with an open discussion with an invited panel including former Technosite chief Enrique Varela, now independent consultant and head of R&D at ONCE Foundation.

A series of mobile applications used by government to reach out to citizens and to employees was the subject of a talk by Joan Borrás. My impression was that many of the applications for the public are push systems based on SMS messaging (pollen count alerts, bus wait times), while those that used Web technologies were stand-alone systems for employees rather than the real Web.

Telefónica is a member of the mTLD (.mobi) consortium, and Fernando Soriano gave a talk on the benefits of the .mobi top level domain.

Rotan Hanrahan of the Mobile Web Initiative gave an invited talk on Standardisation Efforts for the Ubiquitous Web which I thought was laudably clear and easy to understand.

The event ended on Thursday with a panel discussion on "Is One Web Possible?". María Jesús Fernández of Zaragoza City Council led the debate, with myself among the the panel members. The discussion drifted rather from the original subject, towards why the Mobile Web isn't being as successful as it might, and when one of the panel asked for a show of hands for "Who browses the Web on their mobile phones?" there was an embarrassing lack of movement.

Generally the two days gave us a good overview of what is happening in Spain at the moment. Although the large operators, with the exception of Telefónica, were conspicuous by their absence, as sponsors and participants, there are evidently a number of small and medium-sized companies and universities working on innovative applications, with many already successfully in production. Congratulations to Encarna Quesada Ruíz (W3C Spanish Office), Ignacio Marín (CTIC Foundation) and María Jesús Fernández (Zaragoza City Council) for organizing the event which was (I think) the first of it's kind in this country.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Green Light for Inredis R&D Project

The INREDIS Project (INterfaces for Relations between Environment and people with Disabilities), led by Technosite, has been approved for funding by Spain's Ministry of Industry (August 2007). The Project will develop basic technologies for communication and interaction channels between people with special needs and their technological environment.

The third call of the CENIT Programme approved funding for 16 projects, of which INREDIS was the only one in the ITC field. The CENIT Programme provides “subsidies for projects that develop stable public-private cooperation in research, development and innovation, in areas of strategic importance for the [Spanish] economy through the creation of strategic national consortia for technical research”.

The Project will be managed by a business partnership led by Technosite, and which also includes a number of other companies (all of them Spanish), La Caixa, Bankinter, Vodafone, Sabia, Alma Technologies, Ibermática, Inabemsa, Fundosa Accesibilidad, Moviquity, Mediavoice, Code Factory, TMT Factory, Iriscom, Smart Business and Ihman. The partners together are a diverse mix of large corporations, banks, technology companies, and public sector R&D bodies. The project has a budget of €24.1 million, funded half-and-half by the Spanish government and the partners themselves, and will be carried out 2007 to 2010.

The Project will carry out research on devices, security, interaction channels, communication protocols and systems interoperability and applications in several fields related to disability and inclusion of users with disability in the information society, including home and building automation, mobile communications, urban and local mobility, shopping, banking, and digital TV. The Project will develop protocols for interaction between assistive devices and technologies and the environment (interfaces based on psychology and physiology, emotional agents, haptic interfaces and smart textiles); a reference architecture for development of accessible software; integration of new television-based technologies; development of an adaptive universal interface for the digital home and the incorporation of new haptic technologies for cash dispensers.

The different technologies the project intends to produce should be an important advance in accessibility and improve the quality of life of people with disabilities.

Friday, 20 July 2007

MobileOK and Accessibility

Last Thursday (19 July) I gave a short talk to the W3C's Mobile Web Best Practices Working Group in London on the parallels and synergies between mobile Web best practices and accessibility. I also covered the parallels between the needs of users with disabilities and those using mobile devices and explained that knowledge of one W3C Recommendation (WCAG or Mobile Web Best Practices) can encourage adoption of the other. As a result the working group approved creation of a task force to produce a document about it. This post contains the presentation slides, mainly for the benefit of those present at the meeting.

About Web Accessibility

  • Access to Web content and services regardless of ability or disability, or assistive devices used
  • Sensory: Vision, Hearing
  • Motor: Use only keyboard; only mouse; touch screen
  • Cognitive
  • Ageing-related (in ageing population but also children)
  • Technological: old computer, slow connection, mobile device

Other considerations

  • Assistive devices
  • Services and applications
  • Mobile-enabled accessibility services
  • Mobile Text
  • Cost issues
  • Multicultural issues?

What Disabled Mobile Users Do

  • Blind or low vision: Screen reader (eg, Talks, http://www.nuance.com/talks/); screen magnifier (eg, Code Factory Mobile Magnifier)
  • Motor disability: Large keyboard (antiquated second-hand phones; DDC?)
  • Hearing: Captions, visual cues for events
  • Cognitive: more time (turn off auto refresh); text easier to understand annotated with images (adaptation);

Parallels

  • Disabled users have involuntary disability
  • All mobile users have voluntary “disability” due to mobile context that parallels innate disability
  • No mouse (motor disability)
  • No colour on monochrome display (colourblind)
  • Small view area (restricted vision and screen maginfier)
  • No sound, in public place (deafness)
  • No tactile feedback – device put away

Regulatory context

  • Law, eg. Disability Discrimination Act in UK
  • Required for mobile content, too
  • European objectives, Lisbon agenda; Information Society for all. EC Mandate M.376 (public procurement requirements; will be developed by ETSI and CEN/CENELEC) and others under drafting
  • MobileOk not yet (but look at regulation of TV for mobile devices)

What Do Stakeholders Need?

  • Users: Non-discrimination (mobile and disabled users share common cause)
  • Content providers: Advice on how to leverage investment (synergies):
    • in mobileOk compliance to be accessible
    • In accessibility to improve mobile OK-ness

Gaps and Problems

  • Developers may see WCAG and mobileOK as separate and disjoint, missing the synergy and the overlap between them
  • Many similar content development and evaluation processes in both; leads to duplication of effort

What Can MWI (and WAI) Do?

  • Descibe relationship, overlaps and differences (mapping) between MWBPs and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
  • Explain synergies in implementing WCAG and mobileOK together

Benefits for All

  • Save cost, effort
  • Integrated strategy
  • If you understand one set it's easier to learn the other
  • Organization aiming to create accessible Web site may also go for mOK
  • Partial compliance with “other” set: “While you're at it and designing mobileOK site, you could also consider some additional provisions and be WCAG compliant too...”

Three Primary Deliverables

  • Mapping: annotated mapping between MWBP and WCAG
  • Techniques: Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Techniques specific to mobile context
  • Gap analysis: in the wider and more modern perspective? May be part of the first deliverable? Including Mobile Web/Internet enabled accessibility applications?
  • Three documents or one?

MobileOK to WCAG Mapping

  • Which mobileOK provisions map to which WCAG provisions?
  • Which WCAG provisions map to which mobileOK provisions?
  • If I comply with some specific mobileOK provisions, which additional provisions do I need to implement to also comply with WCAG (A, AA, AAA)?

Mobile Techniques for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0

  • How to implement mobileOK provisions in a way that also complies with WCAG provisions at the same time?
  • How to implement WCAG provisions in a way that also addresses the mobile Web context at the same time?

Wish-list (1 of 2)

  • Once two primary documents are more stable
  • Business case (not just for accessibility)
  • Education & outreach resources (not just for accessibility)
  • Explanation of how each Mobile Web Best Practice affects disabled users
  • Investigate accessibility of Web content on mobile devices
  • Investigate special needs of mobile users with disabilities

Wish-list (2 of 2)

  • Describe assistive technology used by disabled users with mobile devices (for example screen readers and screen magnifiers).
  • Customised content adaptation for user accessibility preferences.
  • Describe special use cases relevant to disabled users (how disabled users get special benefit from mobile devices).
  • Business benefits of accessibility in mobile context

Participation

  • Mobile Web BP WG members
  • WCAG WG members
  • Disabled users, groups
  • Government
  • WCAG WG
  • Not a priority for vendors (not necessarily true!)

Possible Problems

  • WCAG WG tied up with GLs work
  • Can't publicly call for participation until MWBP WG launches TF
  • BPs not stable yet
  • WCAG 1.0 out of date, 2.0 not stable
  • People too busy with other things
  • Percieved as unnecessary
  • Already done elsewhere

Monday, 25 June 2007

Summer timetable at Technosite

Any normal year we would be enjoying the warm weather but until a week ago there didn't seem to have been more than a couple of days without cloud cover. But at last the summer seems to have finally arrived here in Madrid, and the summer holiday season has begun.

We all look forward to the months of July and August, because we change to the summer timetable, known as jornada intensiva or intensive day. Traditionally in the warmer parts of Spain it was too hot to work in the afternoon, and the way to work comfortably was to get up early in the morning, while it was coolest and to work through until it became too hot in mid afternoon, then stop for lunch and a sleep until the sun went down and the temperature dropped again. Of course now in our modern air-conditioned offices in the Antalia Building we tend to suffer more from cold draughts than from heat, but we have to keep up our traditions...

During the months of July and August we work from 8am through until 3pm, then go home for lunch and siesta. So if you're working and call us at Technosite after 3pm and we're not there, it's because we're at home having lunch, asleep or at the pool.

Another less beneficial feature of it is that we're obliged to take a lot of our holiday allowance in these two months of high prices and overbooked resorts. These two issues also affect our attendance at meetings and W3C conference calls that tend to happen for us Europeans in the mid afternoon, so there may be more than usual (not too sincere) regrets.

Monday, 11 June 2007

ONCE goes to the polls

Every four years the Spanish National Organisation of the Blind (ONCE) holds elections. These are elections in the commonly-understood sense of the word with parties, manifestos, campaigns and meetings. This year the election took place on May 14th. The winner was again, as usual, UP (United Progressives). After the election the winning party formed its government in order to put into practice its manifesto. Forming the new government of the ONCE also means reorganising the governing bodies of among others, ONCE Foundation and its business unit Fundosa Group.

The changes that will be brought in by the new ONCE General Council affect the strategy and organisation of the Fundosa Group. One of these is a greater emphasis on accessibility. Previously the sole administrator of Technosite, Enrique Varela Couceiro had two roles, he was also in charge of accessibility technology and R&D at ONCE Foundation. Now he has given up his role at Technosite to dedicate all his efforts to R&D.

While thankfully Blanca Alcanda continues as our Managing Director, Technosite now reports directly to the General Manager of the Fundosa Group, Nacho Tremiño. Other moves further up the hierarchy are that Alberto Durán continues as CEO of Once Foundation, Luis Crespo as General Manager of ONCE Foundation and José Luis Martínez Donoso as CEO of Fundosa Group.

Moving offices again

Today we did the second part of our move. Still at calle Albasanz 16, but back up to the third floor, where we were before. All our stuff was upstairs on the third floor, and we spent a couple of hours unpacking books and connecting equipment. There's no room for Witty under the new desk so she has to lie on the the floor where we can all see her. I feel better about being closer to the window but fear that blinds will soon start being pulled down again. Work was only disrupted for a couple of hours, which is quite good, I think. It's good having management and all the admin people close at hand. The best thing about the new arrangement is that all of us in the accessibility department are in one block of desks. On the other hand several of us don't work in the office any more, with Rafa in Valencia, and Marisol and now Jesús working at home here in Madrid.

Friday, 8 June 2007

Launch of Euracert label at last

It looks like it's finally happened, everything is more or less ready for the launch of Euracert, the European Web accessibility quality mark. BrailleNet has sent out a press release. It's taken about four years, but I'm sure it will have been worth the wait. Although the Web site may seem quite modest, it's been a long road and a lot of work to get to where we are now. The other European organisations currently in Euracert are ONA of Belgium, us Technosite of Spain and the BrailleNet Association of France. Some organisations from other countries are waiting in the wings, but there's no timetable for them to officially join yet.

With Euracert, a Web site can be labelled by a partner organisation in one country and get recognition in the others. So a Web site labelled in Spain can get a label that's also recognised in France and Belgium. But first it has to get the local label. This should help businesses operating in multiple countries have a single label, and allow free movement of goods and services, and ultimately (we all hope) lead to more accessible Web content in Europe.

There's more information on the Euracert Label website. Technosite is the first of the partners to award a Euracert label, and the site is Spanish bank Bankinter, which will be the first of many.