Sep 192017
 
Group photo together with San Gwann and Oxford Dictionary Braille materials.

From Left to right, Ms. Margaret Zammit, Ms Cheryl Falzon, Ms Bridgette Micallef, Ms Elizabeth Olivieri, Ms Marcelle Cremona, Mr. Stanley Debono and Mr. Michael Micallef.

On 15th September, the Foundation for Information Technology Accessibility (FITA), presented the Malta libraries with Braille material, which will be added to the Talking Books section at the Public Library in Floriana.  This includes:

  • a Braille version, produced by FITA, of the novel San Ġwann by Ġuzè Galea, in Maltese.
  • a complete Braille version of the Oxford English Dictionary.

The novel San Ġwann was reproduced in Braille with the kind permission of Midsea books and the respective copyright holders.  This Braille embossing project, is made up of three volumes, and was sponsored by Ms Bridgette Micallef, the NGO ADVICE and FITA.

The original cover artwork was created by Mr. Trevor Grech of FITA.  It is a composition of different photos, which he himself has taken and processed for this edition.  A short overview of the project and production of the artwork, in both print and Braille, is included at the beginning of each of each volume.  Transparent Braille stickers are also present on the outside cover, with details identifying each of the three volumes, for easy reference by blind persons.

This version of the Oxford English Dictionary consists of 16 volumes.  This was kindly donated by Ms Marcelle Cremona.  While there is a lack of Maltese language Braille publications, such as the San Gwann novel, there is a greater availability of English language Braille media and this dictionary is sure to help people who are seeking to expand their vocabulary.

FITA promotes access for all.  We assist disabled individuals, business organisations and government entities, in making use of accessible ICT as an empowerment tool, particularly for education and employment. This includes promoting the use of voice recognition and speech synthesis tools.  Ongoing consultation with local associations of the blind, suggests that Braille remains an important tool in ensuring blind and visually-impaired people gain access to literacy.

Donation of Braille material from FITA, ADVICE and persons with disability San Gwann novel in 3 Braille volumesMs Bridgette Micallef reading from the Maltese novel San Gwann

Voice based media limits blind and visually-impaired individuals to mostly consume information that is accessible electronically in such a format.  FITA believes that despite the advantages of modern technology, an adequate literacy level remains important, as it enables individuals to produce and contribute information content that is text based.  This is particularly important within a clerical work environment, where emails and reports remain a common information medium.

According to the National Braille Press: “There is no substitute for the ability to read. For blind people, braille is an essential tool that aids in the process of becoming literate. Tape recorders and synthesized speech are useful tools, but they are inadequate substitutes for reading and writing. Braille literacy plays the same key role in a blind person’s life that print literacy does in a sighted person’s-it increases opportunities.  US based research shows that of the 26 percent of blind people who are employed, the majority of them are braille readers. The correlation is clear – braille is an extremely important tool for blind people to become literate, and it is a critical component that supports educational advancement and increases employment prospects.”

The Brailliant is just one of many refreshable Braille displays availableNowadays, Braille interfaces are integrated with many devices, including tablets and computers, thanks to the use of refreshable Braille displays.  These are used in conjunction with screen reader software, so that users can verify spelling when they read books, browse websites and access other forms of written information.

FITA provides a Braille embossing service, that caters for various projects, ranging from books, conference programmes and menus to business cards.  For more information about this and other ICT accessibility services, you may contact FITA at info@fitamalta.eu or phone us on +356 25992048.

The Braille materials, including the San Gwann novel, audio books and more accessible products can be borrowed from the Public Library.  You may contact the Public Library on +356  21240703 / +356  21243473 or  +356  21224044.  Alternatively they can be reached via email at customercare.cpl@gov.mt

 

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Sep 052017
 

To ensure the full participation of people with disabilities in society and to reduce the fragmentation of legislation governing their access to products and services, the Commission has adopted a proposal for a directive – often referred to as the European Accessibility Act. This will provide a common EU definition of, and implementation framework for, accessibility requirements for certain products and services in the internal market. Parliament is due to vote on the proposal in the September 2017 plenary.

European Accessibility Act – at a glance (quick reference PDF)

 

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Aug 122017
 

A recent EU research publication, bringing together data from across seven EU countries, analysed the causes and possible solutions, for addressing the relative lack of employment opportunities or workplace discrimination, faced by disabled women.

It confirmed multiple  discrimination  (i.e.  gender and disability) affecting the employment opportunities of these women.  In  addition,  the  study  analysed  whether  and  how  the  EU legislative and  national  policy  frameworks address the multiple  discrimination faced by women with disabilities, combining a  gender  mainstreaming  approach  (e.g.  the  internalisation  of  a  gender  perspective  in  all  disability policies and legislation) with specific measures targeted to women with disabilities  and clear indications on implementation and monitoring mechanisms.

The study collated comparable data from across Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, and the United Kingdom.  It reports that in the EU28 over 44 million people aged between 15 and 64 years have a basic activity difficulty, and almost 35 million registered a ‘disability in employment’. Women are the majority of people with disabilities and are more likely than men to report a basic activity difficulty.  Considering the increase of the number of elderly people and female longer life expectancy, this number is expected to increase.

Key deficiencies in the data being collected by Eurostat, were found to be

  • current data takes into account only 15_ year old disabled persons who live in private households, and total disregard of disabled persons living in institutions
  • different definition of disabilities among member states
  • gender disaggregated data prevents researchers from distinguishing between physical or mental disabilities and degree of disabilities
Disability definitions reflect different models of disability and impairment, which also affect the strategies  adopted  for  meeting  the  needs  of  people  with  disabilities.  Two  main  models  of  disability are considered:
  • the medical model: focuses on the individual’s health condition, which can potentially impact on her/his quality of life;
  • the social model:  focuses   on   socially-created   barriers,   both   physical   and   social/cultural, that do not accommodate the variety of abilities of the population.

These two models take a different perspective  of  the  interaction  between  the  health  condition  of  an  individual  and  the environment we all live in.  The social model is at the basis of the ‘evolving concept’ of disability adopted by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD).

The study states that women with disabilities are not an homogeneous group, and their experience and needs depend on the type and severity of disability, the age and manner of disability onset, socio-economic and demographic characteristics, and biographical experiences. On the other hand, social norms contribute to the stigmatisation of women with disabilities as
undervalued, undesirable, asexual and dependent, and give thus rise to abuse.

Percentage share of people aged 15 to 64 with basic activity difficulties or disability, categorised by gender and EU member stateEurostat  data do not show a gender  disadvantage  in the  access  to education  and  training. As  for  women without  disabilities,  on  average,  women  with disabilities  are  more  highly  educated,  more  likely  to  participate  in  education  and  training  and less likely to leave school early than men with disabilities; however, they have a lower education attainment, lower participation rates in education and training, and higher drop-out rates than women without disabilities.

On  average  in  Europe,  women  with  disabilities  are  more  likely  than both men  with  disabilities  and  women  without  to  work  part-time  and  to  work  from  home. While  disability  and  health  issues  are  among  the  major  reasons  for  leaving  a  job  (especially  for  men),  for  women  they  are  also  among  the  main  reasons  for  not  seeking  employment.  This is conducive to worse income, poverty and living conditions for women with disability.

Women and people with low educational attainment are highly over-represented in the group of people with a mental disorder in all countries. Gender-specific  risk  factors  for  common  mental  disorders  that  disproportionately  affect  women  include  gender-based  violence,  socio-economic  disadvantage,  low  income  and  income  inequality,  low  or  subordinate  social  status  and  rank,  and  unremitting responsibility for the care of others.

The difficulties faced by women with disabilities have been rarely considered in international and national legislation and policies.  There are gradual changes in legislation and policymaking taking place over the last decade, mainly driven by the entry into force of the2006 UN Convention of the Rightsof Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD), which recognises the discrimination on thebasis of gender and disability suffered by women (art. 6).

However,  the European Union has still not mainstreamed a disability perspective in its gender policies and programmes, nor adopted a gender perspective in its disability strategies.  Likewise, although attention to disability has increased in the 2014–2020EuropeanStructural and Investment Funds (ESI Funds), gender and disability-related issues when addressed are usually tackled separately.  This perspective is also reflected at a National level.  Notable exceptions among the selected case studies are Germany, Spain and Italy.

It concludes that,  although  the  multiple  discrimination  faced  by  women  with  disabilities  is  increasingly recognised  in  the  debate  and  policymaking,  the  steps  taken  are  still  too  modest  and  austerity  measures  risk  the  impediment  of  further  developments.

The study makes 20+ recommendations, geared towards the EU decision making bodies and national governments. It stresses the need for this issue be taken up by women and disability associations and in academic research,  in  order  to  increase  the  social  and  political  awareness  on  the  multiple  discrimination faced by women with disabilities and the need for targeted measures.

 

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Aug 062017
 

Via a press release dated 4th April 2017, the European Parliament has announced that key products and services, like phones, e-book readers, operating systems and payment terminals, will have to be made more accessible to people with disabilities, under draft EU rules amended in committee on Tuesday.

Internal Market Committee rapporteur, Morten Løkkegaard (ALDE, DK), said: “Accessibility is a precondition for persons living with disabilities to enjoy equal participation and therefore to play an active role in society. To this end, it is vital to ensure smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. With greater accessibility for people with disabilities, we get a stronger Europe, which is not just a goal for politicians but also for businesses, which the European Accessibility Act will encourage to innovate with more accessible products and services.”
Daily lives made easier
There are around 80 million disabled persons in the EU, a figure that is expected to rise to 120 million by 2020. The proposed “European Accessibility Act” (EAA) would enable them to benefit from more accessible products and services. The draft directive sets out accessibility requirements for a list including ATMs, ticketing and check-in machines, PCs and operating systems, phones and TV equipment, consumer banking services, e-books, transport and e-commerce. MEPs added other items to the list, such as all payment terminals, e-book readers and websites and mobile device-based services of audio-visual media.
The accessibility requirements would also cover the “built environment” where the service is provided, including transport infrastructure (e.g. train stations), “as regards to the construction of new infrastructure or renovations with a substantial change of the structure of the existing building”, where member states do not already have requirements in place, the committee decided.

Room for innovation
MEPs agreed to base the requirements for accessibility on functionality, rather than on technical specifications. This means the EAA will say what needs to be accessible in terms of “functional performance requirements” but will not impose detailed technical solutions as to how to make it accessible, thus allowing for innovation.  All goods and services complying with the accessibility requirements would benefit from free circulation on the internal market.
Micro-enterprises excluded
Micro-enterprises (i.e. those employing fewer than 10 persons and whose annual turnover and/or annual balance sheet total does not exceed €2 million), would be exempted, due to their size, resources and nature.  Many may argue that since accessible ICT is becoming so common place, this exclusion will be detrimental to micro-enterprise, which can best compete with less flexible and bigger players, specifically when targeting niche markets, where a high level of client based customisation is in demand
The proposal also includes safeguard clauses to ensure that the EAA’s requirements do not create a “disproportionate burden” for economic operators. MEPs clarify that “lack of priority, time or knowledge” shall not be considered as legitimate reasons for claiming that a burden is disproportionate.
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Jul 212017
 

Mozilla Commonvoice mascotFITA has joined this project and is asking you to consider doing the same.

Meet Mozilla’s new project, Common Voice. It’s an open collection of labelled voice data anyone can use to create highly accurate voice recognition software. Well, it will soon be that, with your help. In order to create this valuable public resource, they need people who speak English in all sorts of wonderful ways to go and contribute voice samples. (Note: right now Common Voice is only collecting English samples, but stay tuned, we plan to add other languages very soon.) 

Here’s what you do — click over to the Common Voice website.

There are two ways you can help. You can click “Speak” and follow the instructions to leave some of your own voice samples. You’ll be asked to allow the website to access your microphone. Don’t worry, we’re Mozilla, we care about your privacy and won’t use your microphone for anything but recording the short sentences you’ll read. Have fun playing around with that. I know I did.

If leaving a voice recording isn’t your thing, you can also just listen. Click the “Listen” link and you’ll be asked to listen to some sentences others have read and verify they got it right. That’s it. It’s actually a ton of fun.

As voice recognition becomes more important in our digital world, everyone — from startups to students at university to that friend of yours who just likes to tinker — should be able to make sure their apps recognize all our beautiful voices. That’s how we build a healthy Internet, one step at a time.

FITA suggests you contact Mozilla and ask them to consider implementing the Maltese language voice recognition.

Collecting such data for the Maltese language will make it easier for researchers to implement a voice recognition system that every Maltese speaking person could use.

We tried reaching them via their contact page, https://www-archive.mozilla.org/contact/ but the necessary servers/links appeared to be down.  So the next best option seems to be to leave a message on their FB page at https://www.facebook.com/mozilla/

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Jul 192017
 

Please refer to the revised programme for tomorrow’s ICT Certification Ceremony.

This is being held at 11am at FITA, Gattard House, National Road in Blata l-Bajda.

11:00     Registration

11:15     Welcome speech by Ms. Elizabeth Olivieri

11:20     Personal experience by students

11:30     Speech by Hon. Silvio Schembri, Parliamentary Secretary for Financial Services, Digital Economy and Innovation

11:45     Presentation of Certificates

     –         Reception

FITA Computer Courses Poster

FITA delivers courses for persons with a vision impairment and persons with an intellectual disability.   Courses for the blind and visually impaired are subsidised by MITA.  These are delivered in-house, thanks to the professional expertise of Mr. Michael Micallef and Mr. Stanley Debono.  To date we trained in access of 120 individuals.  Many of these we keep in touch with, thanks to the online community that we nurture and support via our helpdesk service. FITA also provides complimentary resources like alternative media and an ICT Pool service.

FITA ICT Training Courses statistics 2010-2017FITA first started organising ICT training courses for persons with an intellectual disability in 2003 via a pilot project and volunteer students from the MCAST ICT institute.  We ventured in this field, because although commercial courses could be made accessible, the financial cost footed by students was prohibitive.    In the ensuing years we started also collaborating with the Education’s Lifelong Learning Directorate, SAPPORT and the Ministry for Gozo among others.  Since 2003 we have trained an average of 45 students a year.

Courses organised by FITA are geared towards the ECDL certification, however in order to address demand, we occasionally also provided specialised training like Web Design, Social Media and ICT Accessibility training.

We also organise ICT courses for Deaf persons when we receive sufficient applications to organise a course.  This quota requirement, is because of constraints imposed by the additional costs of a sign language interpreter.  Individuals with different impairments, like mobility and mental health are assisted in identifying mainstream ICT training that matches their needs.

For more information or in order to apply for future courses, you can contact FITA at info@fitamalta.eu or on telephone 25992048.

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Jul 172017
 

Information Session postponed

The information session which was due to be held on Tuesday 18th July is being postponed to a future date in October.  We regret the inconvenience caused.

FICTeX 2017

FITA visited the annual exhibition (13th to 14th July) held by the Faculty of ICT – FICTeX2017.  The event showcased the work of the Faculty’s students.  This year’s projects included areas directly relevant to the ICT & Disability sector. Among these were:

  1. Smart Home Automation
  2. PenTaGon- Personal Task Data Generator
  3. e-Voting using Blockchain for security
  4. Automated event scheduling systems
  5. Heart best rate calculation from facial images
  6. Keyboard layouts and dwell-free eye-driven typing
  7. Touchscreen interfaces and Voice interfaces
  8. HCI impacts on Maltese mobile users
  9. Sound localisation
  10. Interacting using technology – assisting speech pathologists

ICT Certification Ceremony 2017

Poster - FITA Photography Course 2017This year’s ICT Certification Ceremony is being held on this Thursday 20th July.  As with last year, we shall also be showcasing the work of students who participated in the Photography Course.  We wish to thank the students, teachers and supporting organisations, including MCAST, the Education Division, MITA and CRPD for their suppport.   If you wish to attend, please email info@fitamalta.eu or call 25992048.

ICT Certification event programme.

11:00 Registration

11:30 Welcome speech by Ms. Elizabeth Olivieri

11:45 Varying skill sets and learning media by Mr. Stanley Debono

12:00 Personal experience by students

12:15 Speech by Hon. Silvio Schembri Parliamentary Secretary for Financial Services, Digital Economy and Innovation

12:30 Presentation of Certificates

12:45 Reception

 

 

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Jul 122017
 

The Directorate for Lifelong Learning would like to inform you that applications for courses open today, Wednesday 12th July 2017 and close Friday 4th August 2017. Applications are on first come-first served basis.

Since 2003, when the Foundation for Information Technology Accessibility (FITA), together with its partners, including the Education Directorate and MCAST, first ran a pilot project providing ICT training for persons with an intellectual disability, we have gone a long way.  Thanks to the support of our project partners, we continue to deliver ICT training courses as part of our shared goal to address the digital divide and promoting opportunities for improving the quality of life of persons with disability.

FITA believes that access to computers plays a very important part in providing independence for individuals with sensory, physical and learning disabilities. Using computers and the Internet, employees or students with disabilities are able of handling a wider range of activities and work independently on a level footing with their non-disabled peers.”

FITA’s courses are geared for persons with visual or intellectual /communication difficulties, so as to help expand their ICT skills and be able to contribute productively to the society and the economy.

People interested in applying may do so online via www.lifelonglearning.gov.mt.  Applicants who are 60 years and over are entitled to one free course per year. Applicants who do not have access to internet or cannot apply themselves for some reason or another, can visit ‘One Stop Shop – servizz.gov’ and apply there.  Attached please find the details of ‘One Stop Shop – servizz.gov’ locations, which you can print and disseminate within your centres.

FITA ICT Training

Applicants with a disability who already informed FITA of their wish to attend ICT courses starting next October will have their applications processed by FITA.  Ms. Maria Mercieca, from FITA, will contact each applicant to confirm that the application was processed by Tuesday 25th July 2017.

Visual and Performing Arts Courses

For Visual and Performing Arts Courses, applicants are to follow the same procedures as other courses.  However, for further information, applicants are requested to contact their school of choice on the below details:

Johann Strauss School of Music

32, Joseph Abela Scolaro Street
Hamrun HMR1304
Tel: 21242549
Email: jstrauss.music.sch@gov.mt

 

Malta Drama Centre

San Gorg Preca College, Blata l-Bajda Secondary School
Mountbatten Street, Blata l-Bajda HMR1575
Tel: 21220665
Email: malta.drama.centre@gov.mt

 

Malta School of Arts

106 Casa Brunet, Old Bakery Street
Valletta, VLT1458
Tel: 21234351
Email: malta.art.sch@gov.mt

 

Visual and Performing Arts School

Triq il-Hamrija
Xewkija XWK9034
Tel: 27830774
Email: gozo.art.sch@gov.mt

 

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May 222017
 

The partnership between FITA and ADVICE continues to make available new technology solutions to persons with disability in the Maltese Islands.  Thanks to the support of suppliers and sales agencies, we are able to try out and demo the very latest products, for the benefit of our clients, many of whom get a chance to try out the technology for themselves before opting to buy it.

Two recent products which are being made available at the ICT Lab at FITA are the C-Pen Reader and OrCam device.

We published a video review of the C-Pen back in February 2017.  Scanning pens, such as the C-Pen Reader, are a popular and relatively inexpensive form of assistive technology which help people with literacy difficulties access printed text.  Different pens have different combinations of functions available.  Among these are: read back, dictionary definitions, scanning and storing and data transfer to PCs. These features make scanning pens especially handy for anyone with dyslexia as they can read aloud text from books, labels and documents.

This tackles literacy difficulties surrounding reading that many children and adults with Dyslexia, face on a day to day basis.  In very practical terms, this means that students with literacy difficulties can independently take their exam knowing that they can read and understand each question. Other portable scanner pens include the Exam Pen Reader from C-Pen, IRIS Pen and the Wizcom Reading Pens.  Please note that only the C-Pen Reader is presently available for you to try out at FITA.  For more information on these products contact FITA or visit http://www.dyslexic.com/product-category/hardware/portable-scanners/

At the time of writing, the OrCam comes in two flavours.  The MyReader which is designed specifically to read printed text and the MyEye which goes a step further by also identifying people’s faces and different everyday items or products.

Mr. Joe Cauchi, President of ADVICE trying out the OrCam device together with Mr. Stanley Debono, CEO of FITA

Mr. Joe Cauchi, President of ADVICE trying out the OrCam device together with Mr. Stanley Debono, CEO of FITA, at Gattard House in Blata l-Bajda.

If you already visited FITA and tried out the desktop or tablet based magnifiers and OCR readers, you shall realise that the OrCam pioneers similar OCR technology but in a compact and portable format.  With the OrCam you can hear any text, appearing on any surface. Recognize the faces of people in your life. Identify supermarket products and money notes. For people who are blind, visually impaired, or have dyslexia, aphasia or other conditions. OrCam MyEye gives a good deal of independence.

During our testing at FITA we confirmed that most of the capabilities covered by the marketing videos of OrCam are true and work quite well.   It takes some time and patience to teach it to identify new products.  However it learns faces quickly and identifies both products and people quite reliably once it learns them.  Reading books, magazines, small phone screens and shop signs requires good lighting conditions.  When it works and this happens quite consistently, it delivers a big sense of freedom and independence.

On the downside, battery life though respectable, is less than we expected.  With regular moderate use it lasted about 3.5 hours.  The manual needs some corrections, as it feels like the product continued to develop beyond the level described by the manual.  For example, the menu system as described in the manual is organised differently from that on the device.  Some gestures like reading time, by simply pointing at your wrist orcam devicewas also not covered in our copy of the manual.  However this detracts little from the overall experience, since the product is relatively easy to use once you master the first few commands, which mainly involve pointing at any text around you and having the device automatically read it out for you.

We invite you to visit us at FITA in order to try out the different products we have on display.  You may contact us at info@fitamalta.eu or on 25992048 in order to set up an appointment.

 

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May 222017
 

On Wednesday 17th May, FITA representatives attended the the half day conference organised by the Directorate for Lifelong Learning on the above subject.DLL seminar May 2017

Dr Mario Cardona,  Director at DLL, kicked off the session, stating that “Adult education depends on what many agencies are doing in this area. The Directorate looks forward to hear the views so that together we can have a fruitful morning”

Ms Rhoda Garland, Executive Director, National Commission for Persons with Disability stressed that everybody’s “Rights to education and employment are fundamental”

Ms. Rhoda GarlandMs. Garland spoke about how important that persons with disabilities have access to education and be included. She said how  important the technology is and how  it can be used to help people lead a normal social life. She also said how persons with a disability face problems during class. She said some teachers do not feel comfortable when a  person with disability approaches them and tell them that they need the educational material to be more accessible. She said that this cannot be the case as the material can be shared easily as a soft copy.  She concluded by saying that persons with disability have to have equal rights and  access for information to seek employment and  education.

The conference covered other aspects not directly linked to disability.  These included a talk by Ms. Marcelle Bugre who spoke about migrants and how they face injustice on a daily basis.    Ms. Penelope Lewis covered many case studies where she presented various scenarios where disabled and migrant people have to face unnecessary and avoidable difficulties in their daily life.

FITA continues to organise regular ECDL training courses for persons with disability, in collaboration with the Directorate for Lifelong Learning.  More information about these courses is available here.

The conference report was submitted by Ms. Maria Mercieca, FITA.

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