The right to read: Copyright barriers and e-publications

Picture of a Kindle reading deviceFluent readers might be surprised to find that their world of books is not accessible to everyone. In Gerard Goggin’s foreword to Paul Harpur’s book, Discrimination Copyright and Equality, we are introduced to some thorny problems in the e-publications world. The ability to read is something that most people take for granted. Books can expand a person’s worldview, be entertaining, enlightening, and of course open up a world of knowledge and understanding. But what if you can’t read the printed word? Hard print books are translated to Braille, talking books, and there are apps that will ‘read aloud’ the text. But the e-Book world is another matter.

Goggin provides a comprehensive overview of the issues covered in Harpur’s book and gives an excellent snapshot of things we should all consider. The actions of Amazon and the impact on Kindle are mentioned. The right to read is clearly not recognised in the e-publication world. Goggin says, “The continuing oppression of print disabled readers, and their exclusion from the world of books, can no longer continue…” It is time to bring these issues into the mainstream, apply the principles of universal design, so that those who need accessible formats are no longer considered an exception needing special treatment. 

Those unable to access the printed word include people who are blind and have low vision, people with difficulty holding or manipulating a book, and people with cognitive disabilities such as dyslexia, autism, and acquired brain injury.

Gerard Goggin was a presenter at the 2016 Austalian Universal Design Conference. He is Professor of Media and Communications at the University of Sydney.


Maps and colour deficient users

The colours of the rainbow arranged as a wheelColour is often used in map designs to help observers locate places of interest, and community amenities, among other features. However, not everyone can perceive colour in the same way as map makers. Members of the Faculty of Computer Science and Media Technology, Norway have turned their attention to map reading and the ability to discern different colours. Two articles were published from their research: Quality of color coding in maps for color deficient observers; and Colour coding of maps for colour deficient Observers. The latter requires purchase or institutional access. The abstract from the former follows:

Abstract: For a color deficient observer, the quality of a map or other information design may be defined as the ability to extract features. As color is such important conveyor of information, the colors need to appear correct and be perceived in the desired and intended way. As color appearance is affected by the size of the stimuli, the task of discriminate colors may be even more difficult for a color vision deficient observer. In order to investigate the discriminability of the color coding in an official Norwegian map product, we conducted an experiment involving both color deficient and color normal observers. Also, we investigate to what extent the ability to discriminate colors is influenced by size of the visual field. The experiment revealed that the color vision deficient observers made significant more errors than the normal observers, especially when the visual angle was reduced.



Economics of UD ICT

Front cover of publicationWhen governments and private enterprise fail to listen to social justice arguments it is often thought that economic arguments will win the day. This may be partially true if these arguments are allowed to be heard. “On Assessing the Costs and Benefits of Universal Design of ICT”, is another attempt at showing that universal design has cost benefits, particularly if you take the longer view. 

Abstract: In the ICT and IT domains, Universal Design is typically viewed as a burden and an expense, and its application is often justified only by ethics and/or legislation. Advocates for Universal Design (UD) are arguing that it is cost-effective, but so far there are few studies that document this in a detailed way. In this work, we discuss related research and studies dealing with the costs and benefits of accessible and usable ICT solutions. In particular, we discuss the findings regarding what is a universally designed solution, what is needed to make such a solution, how much does it cost, what impact can be anticipated by the extra effort, and how it can be measured. Finally, we suggest an approach for carrying out cost-benefit analyses of developing universally designed solutions. There is a weak indication that the economical benefits of UD solutions are much higher than the initial and running costs.

I think it is problematic to talk “cost-benefit” because politically it seems it has to benefit those who are not excluded. “Cost effectiveness” is a somewhat different measure with a focus on outcomes rather than outputs. Schraner et al have developed a different model using assistive technology as a case study. Jane Bringolf, Editor.


The Eyes have it!

Picture of Jordan NguyenThe recent ABC science program, Catalyst, featured a new invention by Dr Jordan Nguyen. It demonstrated how a 13 year old boy living with cerebral palsy could use his eyes to directly control the lights, the fan and the television. Various environmental control systems designed for people with disability have been commercially available for many years, but these often require the use of a tablet or computer. Occupational therapists and bio-medical/rehabilitation engineers can skillfully adapt existing devices to suit individual needs. 

Research on eye-tracking or eye-gaze systems is going on all the time and David Hobbs and his team at Flinders University are at the forefront of such inventions and adaptations. For those interested in some of the background to these systems, you can download their most recent publication on using low cost, portable, tablet-based systems for children.

Spectronics Australia has a catalogue of assistive technologies for children with disability, including devices using eye-gaze techniques. 



Engaging Children in Visual Art

Picture of rainbow coloured background with a paintbrush and the word free written diagonally on the bottom left hand cornerWhile very few art apps are designed with children with disability in mind, some of the mainstream iPad and Windows apps could be useful. There is strong scientific evidence that digital art is beneficial for children both developmentally and therapeutically. Laura Diment and David Hobbs provide a review of the readily available apps that children with disability can effectively use to create visual art. They provide a table comparing the various apps, level of customisation needed, level of motor control required and level of creativity. Perhaps over time designers of these apps will consider the wider population of users and be more inclusive.

Interactive Technologies that Engage Children with Disabilities in Visual Art – A Review by Laura Diment and David Hobbs was accessed on David Hobbs has a particular interest in children and assistive technologies to help enjoyment and development. He works at Flinders University in South Australia.


Google Maps – how accessible is this app?

picture of a Google map with icons for parking and transportGoogle Maps and similar web and mobile apps are being used more frequently as a means of getting around easily. But the rapid growth of technology often means that accessibility for all is getting left behind. While work continues on the accessibility of the web in terms of text and graphics, maps have not attracted much research and development. 

The study by Tania Calle-Jimenez and Sergio Luján-Mora presents an analysis of the barriers to the accessibility in geographic maps, and explains how technologies and tools have evolved. In their conclusions they claim to have a technical solution that enables maps and map symbols to be intepreted by a screen reader for people with low vision or who are blind. The format can describe elements such as polygons, lines and points which can be interepreted by screen readers for people with low vision.

Download Web Accessibility Barriers in Geographic Maps article from the International Journal of Computer Theory and Engineering


Teaching UD in computer science

dublin institute of technologyIn this increasingly digitised world, the principles of universal design are becoming more of an imperative in software design. One of the basic tenets of UD is user involvement, but in software design this comes late in the development stage. Damien Gordon and Ciaran O’Leary from the Dublin Institute of Technology report on their study using the principles of universal design to form guidelines for software development. They present the study and the findings using the classic principles of universal design. Well designed graphics assist understanding.  

Extract from the Abstract: “An often overlooked element of Universal Design in software design is to consider the software itself, on how it is built, and how it is formatted, using the lens of Universal Design. Given that the reality is that most code will be modified by a developer who may be unknown to the original developer, it is important that code is designed (both in terms of build and format) in such a way that it is future-proofed and therefore universally designed.”