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Leuven, Belgium, 4 August 2010 – The Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (K.U.Leuven) today released an extension for OpenOffice.org Writer that enables users to save documents as Braille or to send them directly to a Braille embosser. “odt2braille” (http://odt2braille.sourceforge.net/) is a freeware extension for OpenOffice.org, a office suite that is freely available for Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, Linux/Unix and Solaris.
Due to the emergence of technologies such as audio books and synthetic speech on PCs in the last few decades the proportion of blind persons who know Braille has decreased. Some people consider Braille as an arcane system that will become marginalised or replaced by audio books and synthetic speech. Nevertheless, Braille is still important: it is not only a reading system but also a writing system, and its defenders maintain that teaching Braille to blind children is important for the development of functional literacy. Braille is also indispensable for persons who are deaf-blind.
odt2braille is available for Microsoft Windows (XP, Vista and Windows 7), and will later also become available for Mac OS X and Linux/Unix. The current version of odt2braille supports eight Braille embossers, and additional embossers will be added later. One of the supported embossers is the Elekul, which was developed at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven by Prof. Dr. Guido François, and which was the first system that could emboss Braille on both sides of the same sheet of paper.
odt2braille is being developed in the context of the ÆGIS project, a research & development project supported by the European Commission. The ÆGIS project develops software for persons with disabilities, covering the desktop platform, the Web (“Rich Internet Applications”, i.e. web-based applications that provide user interfaces and functionality that were formerly only available on the desktop) and mobile devices. In November 2009, the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven released another OpenOffice.org extension in the context of the ÆGIS project: odt2daisy (http://odt2braille.sourceforge.net/), an OpenOffice.org Writer extension that converts text documents to audio books in the DAISY format.

Downloading and Using odt2braille
odt2braille can be downloaded from http://odt2braille.sourceforge.net/. This website also contains installation instructions and a manual.
odt2braille is suited to both Braille experts and occasional Braille users. In addition to converting text documents to Braille, it also allows users to directly input Braille in a document. In other words, users can determine which specific Braille codes should be transferred to paper. The keys S, D, F, J, K and L can be used to simulate the keys on a Braille keyboard.
More importantly, text documents can be converted to Braille automatically. This type of conversion can also be done with other — typically commercial — applications, but odt2braille has important advantages:
Firstly, the whole process runs in a single environment, i.e. OpenOffice.org:

  • creating the document,
  • formatting the document (including both rich formatting for traditional printing and basic formatting for Braille),
  • printing and/or embossing the document.

Secondly, all data are saved in a single file:

  • the content,
  • the formatting for print (for sighted users),
  • and the formatting for Braille.

Consequently, there are no separate versions but a single document, which avoids synchronisation issues between several versions of the same document.
The new functionality is available through the “Braille” menu, which is added to OpenOffice.org Writer when odt2braille is installed.
The Braille conversion is an intuitive process and the output can be tailored by the user. Users with little or no Braille experience can rely on the existing Braille conventions. In this case the Braille conversion requires very little user interaction. odt2braille is also suited to experienced Braille users who prefer to use their own formatting conventions.
The list of supported Braille embossers is still limited and consists of certain models by Interpoint NV (i.e. Elekul), Index Braille and Braillo Norway AS.
It is also possible to export documents to computer files that can be read by other Braille software. In this way, Braille conversion and embossing can be separated in time, and the user can still modify the Braille document before sending it to the embosser.

Open-Source Software
odt2braille, odt2daisy and most other software developed in the ÆGIS project are or will be available as “open-source software”. This means that users will not only be able to download the finished product but also the programming code or “source code”. They can also modify and improve the source code, provided that they make their changes available to the developers or the community that maintains the software. This process enables a community of users to make improvements to the software and enables these improvements to be quickly available to other users.

About OpenOffice.org
Several partners in the ÆGIS project are making contributions to OpenOffice.org, including Katholieke Universiteit Leuven and Oracle. The OpenOffice.org Community is an international team of volunteer and sponsored contributors who develop, translate, support, and promote the leading open source office productivity suite, OpenOffice.org. OpenOffice.org’s leading edge software technology (UNO) is also available for developers, systems integrators, etc. to use in OpenOffice.org extensions or in their own applications.
OpenOffice.org uses the OpenDocument Format OASIS Standard (ISO/IEC 26300) as well as supporting legacy file formats such as Microsoft Office, and is available on major computing platforms in over 100 languages. OpenOffice.org software is provided under the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL) and may be used free of charge for any purpose, private or commercial.
The OpenOffice.org Community acknowledges generous sponsorship from a number of companies, including Oracle, the founding sponsor and primary contributor. OpenOffice.org is considered by Public administrations and people working at all levels of government (local / federal / regional / national etc.) as their ideal software solution.

The 2nd Pan-European Workshop/User Forum and the 1st International ÆGIS Conference entitled “Access for All in the desktop, web and mobile field: an end-user and developer perspective” will take place in Seville, Spain on 6 and 7-8 October 2010 respectively. All events are organised by the ÆGIS IP initiative (Open Accessibility Everywhere: Groundwork, Infrastructure, Standards – www.aegis-project.eu), partially funded under FP7 (Theme: ICT‐2007.7.1; ICT & Ageing).
Detailed info and registration about the 1st International AEGIS Conference is available through www.aegis-conference.eu. Registration is now open.

The Kessler Foundation and the National Organization on Disabilities commissioned Harris Interactive to conduct the 2010 Survey of Americans with Disabilities. Among the findings they identified that employment represents the largest gap between the two groups. Of all working-age people with disabilities, only 21% say that they are employed, compared to 59% of people without disabilities – a gap of 38 percentage points. People with disabilities are still much more likely to be living in poverty. People with disabilities are less likely than those without disabilities to socialize with friends, relatives or neighbors, once again suggesting that there are significant barriers to participation in leisure activities for this population. The second-largest gap between people with and without disabilities is regarding Internet access. 85% of adults without disabilities access the Internet, whereas only 54% of adults with disabilities report the same – a gap of 31 percentage points.
Source: Kessler Foundation

On 3-4 November 2010, the WSC will organize an international workshop in the premises of the World Meteorological Organization, in Geneva, Switzerland, on “Accessibility and the contribution of International Standards”.
Accessibility is the degree to which a product, device, service, environment or facility is usable by as many people as possible, including by persons with disabilities. Its importance is signified by the fact that the number of persons with disabilities, either congenital, acquired or as a result of age is estimated to be around 650 million worldwide.
International standardization can be a powerful tool for strengthening accessibility in all these areas by setting the same standards around the world for accessible products, devices, services, environments and facilities.
The World Standards Cooperation (WSC) brings together the three leading international standards bodies, namely the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
The workshop takes up the topic of the 2010 World Standards Day, celebrated each year on 14 October, which is “Accessibility”.
Workshop structure and expected outcome
The workshop will address three key subject areas:

  • accessibility in the field of everyday products
  • accessibility and buildings
  • eAccessibility and eInclusion (in Information and Communication Technologies)

In a combination of plenary and break-out group meetings these three subject areas will be discussed and the potential of standardization – and in particular international standardization – to contribute to strengthening accessibility aspects in the design of products, services, environments and facilities will be addressed.
Key stakeholder groups participating in the workshop will include disability organizations, governments and regulators, product designers and manufacturers faced with accessibility requirements, consumers and standards developers from around the world. Under discussion will be the current and future needs in the field of accessibility as well as the possible contributions international standardization can make in facilitating the development of accessible solutions around the world.
The expected outcome of the workshop is a better understanding of both the work on accessibility issues in standardization in the various areas and the needs of those most concerned. It is hoped that the groundwork will be laid and a road map drawn up for future standardization initiatives with the involvement of the key stakeholders.

More information at the event website.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Steve Jacobs
Phone: (614) 777-0660
E-Mail: steve.jacobs@ideal-group.org

Accessible Android E-Mail and Barcode Reader Available

Open Source, Android Applications Released in Support of Raising the Floor, Reducing the Cost, and Leveling the Playing Field for Individuals with Disabilities

HILLIARD, OH July 6, 2010 – IDEAL Group Apps4Android, Inc. announced today the release of the first Android e-mail reader for the blind. The IDEAL K9 E-Mail® reader is accessible using Google’s Talkback and other Android screenreaders. Also announced was the release of IDEAL Item Identifier®, an Android-based barcode reader. The barcode reader makes it possible to quickly, easily, and accurately identify products by using Android smartphones to read barcodes on standard products. Both applications have been open-sourced in support of the Raising the Floor Initiative.

According to Steve Jacobs the President of IDEAL Group, “Given the efforts Google has put into Android, especially the work of their Eyes-Free Project team, we are convinced that Google is committed to making Android a world-class fully accessible platform and we want to help Google get there faster.”

IDEAL is also developing an open source Android web browser for the blind. In addition, IDEAL is developing an open source video magnification application that enables individuals with low vision to turn their Android smartphones into hand-held video magnifiers.

Given the high cost of dedicated devices that serve these purposes today, Jacobs hopes these free, high-quality open source Android applications will be Raising the Floor of opportunities for individuals with print disabilities.

Jacobs further stated, “While we plan to develop accessible applications for other platforms in the future, we love the openness of Android. It makes it easy for developers to figure out how programs function and has enabled us to innovate much more rapidly and easily than on any other platform.”

About IDEAL Group Apps4Android:
Apps4Android, Inc. is dedicated to developing low/no-cost, high-quality, Android applications that enhance the quality-of-life, independence, quality of education, and employability of individuals with disabilities… and everyone else! Apps4Android is the world’s largest developer of speech-enabled Android applications in the world with 750,000+ active users in 47 countries. For more information: http://apps4android.org/

About Raising the Floor (RtF):
Raising the Floor is an international consortium of organizations and individuals focused on ensuring that people experiencing disabilities, literacy problems, or the effects of aging are able to access and use all of the information, resources, services, and communities available on or through the Web. Of particular concern are those with limited or no resources. For more information: http://raisingthefloor.net/about

This work is supported in part with funds from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, U.S. Department of Education, grant number H133E080022 to the University of Wisconsin Trace R&D Center. Users of IDEAL K9 E-Mail® and IDEAL Item Identifier® should not assume endorsement by either the Department of Education or the federal government.

The ÆGIS project now also has a dedicated user forum available online where people that are interested to comment on various topics, can do so in various categories:

  • Developers: Developers involved in software development for desktop, mobile, internet and rich internet applications can comment here on accessibility aspects related to assistive technologies.
  • End-users: Web applications: What is your view on the accessibility of internet applications and the internet overall?
  • End-users: Mobile applicationsEnd-users: What are your thoughts on the accessibility of mobile applications?
  • End-users: Screen Readers: What are your experiences with screenreaders?
  • End-users: Assistive Technologies: End-users can comment here on their experiences and opinions regarding assistive technologies in general.
  • End-users: Desktop applications: Here is the area where end-users can comment on their experiences and opinions regarding assistive technologies in the area of desktop applications.

You only need to register after which you can share your expertise/experience with others.

The ÆGIS project seeks to determine whether 3rd generation access techniques will provide a more accessible, more exploitable and deeply embeddable approach in mainstream ICT (desktop, rich Internet and mobile applications). This approach is developed and explored with the Open Accessibility Framework (OAF) through which aspects of the design, development and deployment of accessible mainstream ICT are addressed. The OAF provides embedded and built-in accessibility solutions, as well as toolkits for developers, for “engraving” accessibility in existing and emerging mass-market ICT-based products, thus making accessibility open, plug and play, personalised and configurable, realistic and applicable in various contexts; ÆGIS is placing users and their needs at the centre of all ICT developments. Based on a holistic UCD, ÆGIS identifies user needs and interaction models for several user groups, (users with visual, hearing, motion, speech and cognitive impairments as well as application developers) and develops open source-based generalised accessibility support into mainstream ICT devices/applications:

  • desktop,
  • rich web applications, and
  • Java-based mobile devices.

All developments will be iteratively tested with a significant number of end users, developers and experts in 3 phases and 4 Pilot sites Europe wide (in Belgium, Spain, Sweden and the UK).

The project includes strong industrial and end user participation (the participating industries are among the market leaders in the corresponding mainstream ICT markets). The project results’ uptake is promoted by strong standardisation activities, as well as the fact that much of the technology results will be either new open source applications or will be built into existing and already widely adopted open source ICT.