Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Andrew Arch of W3C Visits Technosite

On the way back from giving a paper at the Workshop on Cognitive Ergonomics and the Web in Granada (also attended by my Technosite colleague Nacho Madrid) Dr Andrew Arch visited Technosite HQ in Madrid. Andrew now works with the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) at W3C. He is their WAI-AGE Web Accessibility and Ageing Specialist and visited Technosite to learn more about the needs of the elderly regarding Web accessibility in Spain.

Technosite's Sociology Research Group, lead by Luis Miguel Bascones as part of the Inredis project, together with our colleague Antonio Jiménez Lara, informed him about the results of their research and the “focus groups” they have carried out with elderly people about their use of the Internet together with researchers José Gimeno and Mercedes Turrero. We then went on to a meeting with Carlos Martínez Ozcáriz and Paca Tricio of the Unión Democrática de Pensionistas (Democratic Union of Pensioners and Retired People), who informed us about the needs and demands of their more than one million members.

Andrew Arch is carrying out a Literature Review and Analysis of Comparative Needs regarding the needs of people who have Web accessibility needs related to ageing as part of the WAI-AGE (Ageing, Education, and Harmonisation) project at W3C for the European Commission.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Farewell Witty

Yesterday I received the sad news that Witty, Lourdes' guide dog passed away on Saturday. When they first told us someone was coming to work at the office with a dog it seemed such a strange idea, but Witty was so amiable, fun and well behaved that she won us over right away. All of us enjoyed her being with us in the office. I just hope that the process of being assigned a new dog by ONCE won't take too long. Apparently it can take 18 months to a year.

On a happier note, we have a new colleague with us, Sara, who is guided by Jep, a black Labrador. Even Jep was in danger recently having swallowed three socks but I'm glad to say that he seems to have recovered now after his operation.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

How People with Mobile Phones Use the Web

Lately the WAI Education & Outreach Working Group and the Mobile Web Best Practices Working Group have been working on ways to help their respective stakeholders better understand the relationships between Web content accessibility for people with disabilities and mobile-friendliness. We have produced a draft of a good by rather lengthy document, but it has become apparent that we need something shorter, less detailed and easier to understand. There is what we call the “shared experiences” document, Experiences Shared by People with Disabilities and by People Using Mobile Devices that illustrates that the barriers experienced by people with disabilities are often paralleled by those imposed by the design features of mobile devices but I think that there is a need for an even more high-level introductory document that would help people understand the mobile Web experience from the user's point of view. This would be for accessibility people and for inexperienced mobile Web developers. It is something that is often misunderstood.

There's a document produced by the EOWG (still an internal draft after all these years) called How People with Disabilities Use the Web. It has three main sections:

  1. Scenarios of People with Disabilities Using the Web
  2. Different Disabilities That Can Affect Web Accessibility
  3. Assistive Technologies and Adaptive Strategies

For the mobile context the first two translate into:

  1. Scenarios of people using the Web on mobile devices
  2. Different aspects of the mobile Web context that can affect the user experience

The third doesn't seem to have an equivalent as there isn't normally much the user can do about the barriers caused by web content. But then again perhaps they can plug in alphanumeric keyboards or use plug-in large screens.

Mobile scenarios might include:

  • Bill lives in a developing country, his family has a shared mobile phone that he uses to browse the Web. There are no fixed Internet connections or computers in his village. It has a small black and white screen. Connection charges are high so he can only use it occasionally
  • Ben is a frequent flier who uses his top-end smartphone to keep up with business news in airports. It has a large color screen and an alphanumeric keyboard. He carries another phone for voice calls. His company pays all his connection charges.
  • Jill is blind and uses her mobile with a screen reader to catch up on the news during her one-hour commute to work. She doesn't care about the visual layout of Web pages as she can't see them, but does appreciate a simple layout with clear structure.

The section "different aspects of the mobile Web context that can affect the user experience" would analyze the aspects covered in the scenarios, and relate them to the Mobile Web Best Practices. For example:

  • Small screen
  • High network charges
  • Numeric keypad

This document would link to the “shared experiences” document which would provide a link between the Mobile Web Best Practices and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines recommendations.

Monday, 31 March 2008

ONCE International Research and Development Award in New Technologies for The Blind and Visually Impaired

ONCE has announced the Fifth International Research and Development Award in New Technologies for The Blind and Visually Impaired. Held every two years, the award aims to promote technological developments that make a substantial contribution to facilitating the integration and normality in the lives of blind and visually impaired people.The prize money (€240,000) is intended to contribute to the development of quality projects that are proven to be viable and likely to promote significant advances in engineering, artificial intelligence, computing, telecommunications, micro-technology and nanoelectronics, particularly in the fields indicated in the announcement. Entries should be received before 5 September 2008. Previous winning projects were from Spain (4th year), United States (3rd year), Sweden (2nd year) and the UK (1st year). Detailed information is published in English on the ONCE website: The 5th ONCE International Research and Development Award in New Technologies for The Blind and Visually Impaired

ONCE and Fundosa Group Serving Hospitals

ONCE and Fundosa Group (of which Technosite is a part) seem to be thriving. I went to the hospital this morning for a checkup. As I went in the door people were buying their lottery tickets from the ONCE seller. In the hall there's a small shop selling newspapers and magazines and gift items for people to take when they go to visit patients on the wards. The shop is run by Galenas, a chain that's part of the Fundosa Group. As I leave the building and cross the street, a van goes by, “Sistemas Integrados Sanitarios” another Fundosa company that provides services for processing and disposal of health sector waste.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Easter Week in Spain

It's Easter Week (Semana Santa or Holy Week in Spanish). It's a holiday here on Thursday and Friday. For the other three days hre at Technosite we work a continuous timetable (like in Summer) from 8am through till 3pm, and then go home for lunch. Traditionally this allows everyone to get ready for the religious processions, but I have my doubts about how much that still holds true. I'm off to London this afternoon for the Powder Stakeholder Event tomorrow where I'll be speaking about the Powder Accessibility Use Cases and the MobileOK Pro meeting on Wednesday. You can find more information on what's on in Madrid this week at the Madrid City Council's Easter Week page.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Election Rally with Disability Sector

Spain is in the throes of a general election campaign. Elections are on 9 March. As with previous elections the ONCE and its Foundation has organised rallies with the two main parties for them to present their policies to the disability community. Today we were supposed to hear the current incumbent José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero on behalf of the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE), but he was unable to attend and the Minister of Work and Social Affairs, Jesús Caldera came instead, accompanied by secretaries of State Amparo Valcarce for Social Services, Families and Disability, and [?].

In addition to individuals attending in a private capacity, there is a considerable effort to ensure participation by everyone from the extensive ONCE “family” including the companies in the Fundosa Group. About twenty staff from Technosite attended. We hired a coach to take us there and back. The rally was held at the sports hall of the ONCE School in Madrid. National television and radio were in attendance.

View of the hall as Jesús Caldera addresses the audience

At the start of the meeting Mario García, president of Spain's leading disability organisation, CERMI, the Spanish Committee of Representatives of People with Disabilities reminded us of what happened the last time around, four years ago, when the day after the rally a series of bombs on suburban railways killed 191 people and injured many more, some of whom are now disabled.

Jesús Caldera gave a good speech outlining all that the outgoing administration has done for people with disabilities in Spain, including laws on sign language, accessibility and provision for people in situations of dependency. Whatever one's political sympathies, nobody can deny that the government has done rather more than most for people with disabilities in the space of just four years. He then went on to say what the party plans to do in the next legislature, although having done so much already they have a hard act to follow. The plans include bigger quotas for companies to employ people with disabilities, reform of the system for disability certification, and universal anti-discrimination legislation including discrimination on the grounds of disability. Next week there should be a rally with the leader of the conservative opposition party, Partido Popular.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Discapnet Observatory Recognises Achievement in Web Accessibilty in Spain

The "infoaccessibility" observatory managed by Discapnet (ONCE Foundation's disability web site) staged a public event yesterday at the city hall of Pamplona, Navarra.

Commemorative silver plaques were awarded to the web sites with the highest compliance and those that had done the most to improve since the previous edition of the report. The awards were presented by Vice President of the ONCE Foundation, Alberto Durán. Blanca Alcanda, managing director of Technosite was also present.

The event was also an opportunity to present the Observatory's newly-published inter-sector Web accessibility report. The previous eight reports had covered different sectors including Spanish universities, national government online services, regional government, city and town councils, travel agencies and transport, banks, and online newspapers. The latest study was carried out by Technosite evaluators and covered 19 websites and 93 pages (hardly big sample when you're giving out prizes). An interesting aspect is that the overall accessibility score has not improved since the last report, and that while some sites have improved significantly, this has been counterbalanced by a deterioration in others that previously had done well. In spite of recent legislation that mandates accessibility of government websites, seven of those that had deteriorated were government-owned.

Those awarded for their efforts were: Seguridad Social (Spanish national social security), Generalitat de Cataluña (Catalan regional government), Bankinter (a leading Spanish bank), Pamplona City Council. Of course it is rather ironic that two of these were only doing what they are obliged to do by law.

The worst performers were Ceuta city Council (the Spanish city enclave in north Africa), and the regional governments of the Basque Country, Murcia and Madrid.

Discapnet, is the leading Spanish-language disability web portal. It is jointly funded by ONCE Foundation, the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the European Social Fund (ESF). It started its Infoaccessibility observatory in 2004. The observatory uses a methodology developed by Technosite that integrates W3C/WAI's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 and usability tests with people with disabilities. The latest report is available (in Spanish) and there is an English translation of the introduction (not by me). Previous reports are available from the Observatory section of Discapnet.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Technosite Ten Years Young

It's just ten years since Fundosa Teleservicios started life on 15 January 1998, with just four employees. While existing initiatives to create employment for people with disabilities had focussed on areas such as crafts, secretarial and administrative work, it had become increasingly evident that there was a growing number of people with technical qualifications that could benefit from the greater accessibility of the computerised work environment.

The company had been formed as a collaboration between ONCE Foundation's Fundosa Group and the Spanish telephone giant Telefónica, and its first contracts reflected this emphasis on telecommunications: managing the call centres for the 112 emergency service; managing tele-assistance and home help services for the elderly and disabled; telemedecine research projects; consulting for small and medium-sized enterprises on teleworking, and with a view to how our strategy would develop in the coming years, services to help businesses use the Internet for marketing.

You can see our first web site at the WayBack Machine, complete with a text-only version. Web accessibility did not become a line of business until several years later, when I joined the company around 2002.

In 2006, to reflect its changing strategy, Fundosa Teleservicios changed its trade name (but not company name) to Technosite, and its domain name to technosite.es.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Social library networking site LibraryThing

Although it's been in existence for some time this site was new to me. LibraryThing is intended as a social networking site based around books; not e-Books but real good old-fashioned paper ones. I catalogued our humble library of web development, usability and accessibility books. On the subject of bibliography, here at Technosite we maintain the Discapnet bibliography database of disability-related books, in Spanish.

Unfortunately it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of accessibility (main content in a a frame with no description, for example). On the other hand I can't pretend there isn't room for improvement in the Discapnet bibliography.

As I say, our catalogue is on the site now if you want to take a look: http://www.librarything.com/catalog/technosite.