On the first day of the meeting, Dr. Klaus Miesenberger (KM), research assistant at i3s3, welcomed the participants at the University of Linz (UL) (presentation also available). He presented that Johannes Kepler University of Linz is a relatively new University, founded at 1966. It was fully accessible by wheelchair from the beginning. The first Faculties of the UL were Business Administration, Economy and Sociology. Then the Technical Faculty developed including Computer Science, Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Biology, Statistics, etc.
In 1985, the idea to support the visually impaired students derived, inspired by the University of Karlsruhe. UL organised the first Computer Campus in cooperation with the Austrian Computer Society, which is an umbrella organization caring for Information Technologies and Computer Science. The attitude of the UL was to approach the end users not only through theoretical and research activities but activating practically and supporting the visually impaired students to integrate in the studies at multi-level.
From 1991-1994 the UL ran a model project. Research was the first step. In 1995 the Ministry was convinced that a Special Institute was worth to be established and therefore a fixed Institute was established for further investigation, further work. Running such a project exclusively at the UL would end up with problems between the UL and the rest Universities in Austria. All other Universities sent people to Linz. This was not fair to the target group. Plus, there were problems raising with the budget of the University.
The UL partner was now an Inter-University Austrian wide Institute, belonging at the UL and administrated by UL Senate. KM informed, though, that the i3s3 would from now on write its own proposal stating the annual budget required and would submit it directly to the Ministry. The full title of the Institute would be “Inter- University Institute for Information Systems to Support the Visually Impaired Students” = i3s3, which stands as a mathematical calculus.
The basic lines of the i3s3 support providing to the students are in brief the following:
- Work & Projects
- Time scheduling session of work: actually kept/ followed by the students
- Preparation of the students to enter the University
- Accompanying support = actual help to students during the whole studying period
- Job integration initiatives
One or two years before entering the University, their activities were addressed back to the secondary students in order to give a first context of orientation after school. i3s3 used to organise special activities like Information Days and Computer Training Courses. Their main concept was to go out and get into the schools. The purpose was to attract directly any visually impaired people who could be interested in studying and support them to get a profound decision by having heard global information.
The usual attitude and -unfortunately- belief in Austria said “the blind students can’t study, can’t go to the University, can’t do this, can’t do that...”. “Can’t - can’t - can’t...”: is the only thing that the visually impaired persons were hearing till 1991. KM said that the practice of the Institute was to get in contact with students even at the school grade and give them profound information about what they were able to do, where to go, location for study, what and where to study.
KM informed that i3s3 prepared the study materials for the visually impaired students on permanent basis. Since the lectures were obliged by law to provide their material in readable formats for all their students, then an amount from their “salary” / “benefit” was going to the preparation of accessible formats for the visually impaired students by paying -for example- the volunteers who were working on this production.
If the lecturers and professors provided materials in digital forms they did not transformation. If they provided in print, then the materials were scanned to obtain digital format again. i3s3 Institute did not produce any Braille material neither material in large print. The visually impaired users had the provisions of Braille display, Speech, Enlargement on their PC. Everyone has a portable computer using in the class and at home
Concerning the examination procedures that the visually impaired students had to pass in the University, the special law for the examination conditions said differently according to student’ s personal condition. According to the regulations, 50% more examination time is given to the blind students, 30% more examination time is given to the visually impaired students. Oral examinations were taken for the examinations in mathematics, statistics, graphics, etc.
Institute i3s3 provided also technical support to the users by given practical information on the use of the computer and the applications, Internet access, etc. They provided access to the server to get advice, training to use this system. Special lectures and courses on certain subjects were scheduled continuously. The point is the visually impaired students -in parallel to their main courses- to acquire computer knowledge as well.
KM added also to the profile of the University that UL was the first organiser of the International Computer Campus (ICC). ICC addressed to pupils between 16-18 years old who joined in and attend computer lessons for 2 weeks in the summertime. They firstly began in Austrian and then they expanded to other European countries which had been also hosts of ICC. Last year, 26 countries from Europe were participating (also from Africa). This is a means of integration / preparation for the visually impaired students before entering the Unis proved very helpful and effective. The Universities for example know the potential students already from the campus.
i3s3 Institute has been involving in several european and national projects like Library Catalogue projects by Uniability Association - managed by Bruno Sperl, Latex programming for mathematics: to make science better accessible for the visually impaired - developped by Mario Batusic, AVIS project, Austrian Literature on line, etc. An important initiative was also the trials to forward the value of ECDL (European Computer Driving License), to be expanded equally to the visually impaired users as well. Actually the visually impaired people proving that they have good handling of the Information Systems.
KM making an overall reviewing on the issues to be taken care in the aspect of Unis running services for the visually impaired students, he highlighed the following key-fields of action:
- training material
- pilot courses
- exams’ engine
- the follow up of a pilot project: absolutely necessary, for example: ACCELERATE must have a successor project as well
- special organization must be established within the Universities
- new services for interlibrary loans/ not shipping the books but getting digital, clear books (from copyright)
- the digital formats whose the added value is huge (e.g. OCR process produces HML - no OCR for maths, formulas, e.t.c.)
- the dealing procedures with the publishers: to establish a central contact. The publishers need to know one access point, to have one contact, not every student or every lecturer to contact them
KM ended up his presentation by stating the human resources of their Institute. i3s3 occupied 2 ½ employees with fixed contracts: 2 researchers and 1 part time (½) secretary. 10-15 students help one day a week (not volunteers, get paid by the money related to the lectures cause they “support” the lectures to have there material accessible by all students. The scientific staff always controls the results.
After the coffee break, Mr. Thanassis Taramopoulos (TT), Communication and Networks specialist from the Library of UOM, talked about the adaptive workstation installed in the University of Macedonia Library. The installation finished at the end of August and the workstation is comprised of a modern personal computer with the following peripheral devices:
- a double-sided Braille printer,
- a refreshable Braille display with 40 cells and special navigation keys acting like the keyboard
arrows, tab keys etc,
- an external speech synthesizer module and
- the necessary software to drive these devices
Concerning the software the two most popular packages (HAL and JAWS) were both installed so that the users can use the one they are most accustomed to. In addition to these, a trial version of a very powerful screen magnification program was also installed for the partially sighted users (it works for 40 minutes and then needs a reboot to work for another 40 minutes and so on). All this software and hardware worked very well with the Greek language and the Braille representation of the Greek letters. In particular the Braille printer prints traditional 6-dot Greek Braille symbols and the Braille display shows 8-dot Greek Braille symbols.
TT pointed out that JAWS was working very well in the Greek language with the Braille display but needed the external speech synthesizer to produce Greek speech, whereas HAL could produce Greek speech through the computer sound card, but was not able to drive the Braille display (a new driver of the Braille display for HAL was expected to be released and installed soon). He, then, emphasized that even though the Greek language did not seem to be a technical problem after all, the 8-dot Braille representation of the Greek letters is not in any way standardized and that the Braille display of the University of Macedonia Library is the first device of its kind in Greece.
At this point, Mario Batusic (MB), Educational Endeavor for the blind Students from i3s3, asked about the representation that was currently adopted at the University of Macedonia. TT replied that for the 8-dot representation the 6-dot representation was adopted with the 7th dot acting as a capital letter indicator and the 8th dot as a number indicator. MB suggested that perhaps the 8th dot could be used as a language indicator if there existed multi-language documents which confuse the users, or URLs written with Greek letters.
TT replied that there were existed no URLs with Greek letters and that there would be ambiguities left with some letters and numbers having the same representation. It was also noticed that the main multi-language documents are the translational vocabularies. MB suggested that a way of producing a useful 8-dot representation for Greek could be to “lower” the numbers by one row and thus avoid ambiguities with letters and have the eighth dot available to use as a language indicator. It was agreed that this should be further investigated by the Library of UOM in cooperation with the Greek blind users.
Then, MB asked about the accessibility of the Library of the UOM Web site. TT replied that there exists a text version of the site but it was not designed for blind users and suffers several shortcomings. Therefore it will be redesigned soon, together with the Library’s online public access catalogue (OPAC) which has to be given a textual interface for easy access of the blind users. MB and TT agreed to check the accessibility of the Library’s online CD-ROM database system after the end of that day’s meeting.
After the lunch break, Mr. Filippos Tsimpoglou (FT), the Director of the Library of the University of Cyprus (UCY), reported on Action 2. Only last week, the adaptive equipment arrived at the University Library and Mr. Marios Zervas, the computer technician responsible, would have to install it and put everything together. He stated that the equipment was quite similar to the one obtained by the Library of UOM, as previously described by Thanassis Taramopoulos.
FT reported that three (3) new students at the UCY were blind. A Greek blind professor, Mr. Takis Antonopoulos, was visitor professor at that time at UCY. He was scheduled to stay for that current semester and maybe for the next one. He was taking part in the ACCELERATE user group for the evaluation of Action 2.
FT said that the professor supplied them with his practice on the adaptive equipment use and gave also feedback of the use he was making on his own at home. Trying to find some solutions for producing accessible material, FT stated that the pdfs that are convertible to txts changed in to this alternative format in two minutes (!)
FT gave to the participants some data about the Library of the UCY. There were installed / in use:
* Web catalogue on line (accessible through LAN)
* 30 databases ULTRANET on the web (accessible through LAN)
* 1600 electronic periodicals
Concerning the new library service provided to the blind/ visually impaired users, FT said that to begin a dialogue on the everyday problems would be expected to derive from the use now on. There was no the intention the Library to produce Braille books. There was the School for the blind in Nicosia that was preparing these books. The students at UCY can record the lectures.
FT informed the participants that there was a special Department at UCY called “Student Care”. Their task was to provide work for special activities mainly in the social field. There were working groups organising to providing social offer. The Library had the intention to involve them in helping in the production of alternative material (mainly the lessons/the classes of the students) by reading and/or scanning the printed material.
Next, the discussion moved to Action 3: “Train the trainers” package. Before Mr. Bruno Sperl (BS), Librarian-Head of European projects of the Central Library of the University of Graz, responsible for Action 3, proceeded to the development of teh package, he updated the participants on a new project run by the Austrian Literature Association called “Austrian Literature on-line”. At the site: www. Literature.at anybody can download for free literature texts. A UNIX prototype server software produced by a student was used. (html pages administrate pdf). A follow up project would give a next upgraded version. The idea was to get students on Phd. studies to produce appropriate software tools.
Continuing, BS thanked all partners for their contribution to the Guidebook and said that Mrs. Anna Fragkou would have to provide the Introduction Chapter (Chapter 01.). Despoina Karachlani (DK) asked his opinion especially about her input in Chapter 02. She thought that maybe the input was too big. BS replied that he found that input complete and useful for the librarians and rest employees to read about.
At that point BS distributed to the participants two sections to do as homework!
a) a test asking 10 questions on the blindness where the respondent had to put “True” or “False and b) a list of a hints of behaviour towards a blind person.
All participants read and replied the test. There were different opinions heard which led to the result that there are things in the “dark” as the common knowledge on the blindness situations and data were concerned. The people had some idea about it, but most of the times not the right one.
Concluding, BS stated that the Guidebook for the trainers, as soon as it finished, should be in general containing:
- Reporting on what is accessible or not, mentioning of course the date of the information
- An addition to distance learning chapter on whatever existing in Greece and Cyprus
- The two section previously given by BS: the test and the hints: these would be of direct practical use of the librarians and rest helpers.
Last, BS asked whether one version would be produced covering both UOM and UCY. The participants discussed and concluded that one version of the Guidebook should be produced, containing wherever necessary any special information or different situation. MB stressed the matter of the Guidebook translation from English into Greek, as time was concerned since it was going to be a long procedure checking out -little by little- all this material. Plus, he said UOM had to estimate also the production timing and preparation.
On Friday morning , the partners visited “Michael Reitter Landesschule”, the special school for deaf and blind pupils at Linz. Mrs. Irene Muhlbach, teacher for the blind pupils welcomed the visitors and gave them a guided tour to the School. The pupils greeted the visitors and wanted to follow also the tour!
The classes were constituted by a small number of pupils ranged from 4-5-7 and maximum 15 pupils each. Both abled and disabled pupils attended the same class. There were 7 teachers working in the School where 1 teacher + 1 assistant were distributed in each class. The teachers of the School were working from Monday to Friday there while in the weekends they “saw” and support external blind pupils.
The age range of pupils at the School covered the ages of the obligatory education which according to the Austrian Law is between 6-15 years old. The pupils between 10-14 years old were learning practical things like orientation, mobility and the use of the things. Besides the school lessons attended in the School, the deaf and blind pupils were taught to get the skills of independence.
Learning computers classes: The pupils were practicing in both computer and typewriter. They were starting by using the typewriter which made them to make mistakes and therefore improved their skills by looking at the mistakes. While starting learn typing at the computer and look at the screen made them not to concentrate on typing. The method was to put their scripts to the magnifier to magnify what they printed to typewriter and then use the computer for their lessons.
Landeschule there were Special Rooms for teaching the daily living skills starting from mobility- orientation to cooking and eating, learn the coins, the tools and everything. All shelves were marked with Braille. Feeling by hand is very necessary for a blind person and in School they were starting from the very basic touching like to learn “what is a stone on the ground?”. Systematic and continuous practicing on touching and feeling can dramatically improve a blind person’s orientation and mobility skills, provided that the position of things is not changed.
Prof. Wilfreid Schogl, the director of the School joined the visitors in the middle of the tour. He said that the Landesschule is the second bigger school in Austria with 160 children, most of them with hearing problems. 16 of them (10%) are blind or partially sighted pupils.
In Upper Austria there are at the moment 160 disabled pupils in other ordinary schools ( mainly VIP). These schools have very good methodology concerning the integration of the disabled pupils and help them with two ways: The first one is the preventive Integration: the schools are bringing able pupils and the second one is the opposite way 'the social integration' : the pupils are going outside the special school. Another point that needs to be emphasized concerning the deaf pupils is that the school does not use the method of sing language to them.
The able pupil prefer attending that school because they have many benefits. Fist of all in each school class there are the maximum 15 pupils(10 able- 5 disabled) . Also 2 teachers correspond with 15 pupils. The totally number of the teachers is 50. In addition the pupils have the opportunity to learn two foreign languages (English and France). Moreover there is a laboratory for hearing disabled pupils.
Later the visitors entered the Meeting Hall which was a special room for the teachers’ meetings and the Organizational meetings between the schools and the parents. In this place teachers from all over Austria join and keep workshops on the programs of pupils, on the methods, etc.
The parents meet the teachers to get information about their children's progress and problems or to discuss with the teachers.
In Landesschule too, there was no big library facility for the blind but rather a small collection. Also the school run courses of professional training in shoemaking, haute couture.
Last, a remarkable comment made by the Director of the School was that during the last 5 years deafness has been highly increased in the ages between 6-18 years old in Austria and Germany. The reasons of this increasement are not known yet.
The rest Friday was devoted to Action 5: Evaluation procedure. There were two central topics for discussion: a) the 0 Measurement Report and b) the 1st measurement Questionnaire, both prepared by Mrs. Marian Oosting/ FNBB. Since she was not participating in this 3rd meeting, Mrs. Despoina Karachlani presented both documents coordinating the discussion.
The feedback concerning the results of "0 Measurement" was containing the following remarks:
1. To provide separate tables per country. No comparison figures needed. Each Library could be able to use the results for their own purposes, even though both countries speak the same language.
2. To have all results in percentages (%) as well.
3. Page 5, table 2: To correct Gymnasium to Lyceum. The total of Greeks was 15 and not 14..
4. Page 7, table 7a: The one Greek missing means "No knowledge" (this refers to questionnaire 14), to change the total number.
5. Page 8, 3.2 USE OF COMPUTER: A comparative table needed here to match the adaptive equipment and software application used.
Software applications should appear in the rows (e.g. Word, Excel, Explorer, etc.)
and adaptive equipment should appear in the columns (Braille display, speech synthesis, etc.).
The purpose of these cross-match answers is to know how the users access the applications
6. Page 10: A table was needed for the adaptive equipment
7. Page 11: We also need a table here indicating how the respondents search for books, magazines, etc. (Separately again for both countries)
8. Page 14 and 15: CONCLUSION. To use also percentages (%) here to indicate the conclusions. .
Concerning Questionnaire 2 for the 1rst Measurement, the participants made a first series of remarks and excluded a number of questions. Mrs. Yota Patragkou said that she should discuss once again the questionnaire with her colleagues at UOM and let Mrs. Marian Oosting know the final remarks.
In the evening, a special dinner was offered to the visitors by the University of Linz.
On Saturday morning, the participants met at a computer classroom where Mario Batusic presented the Manual he was preparing on Action 4: “Train the users”. The full content of this analytic Manual can be reached at http://www.aib.uni-linz.ac.at/accelerate/ttu/, to follow its development, as is not finished yet.
Mario explained that his trial is to attribute all the windows and its applications to the blind people. In succession, he presented some parts of the training package: the windows printed table, writing always in brackets or (ctrl-Alt-O) or (Alt-F, X), layout of the MS keyboards, using a keyboard. Mario also pointed out that both typewriting and the use keyboard are essential to be learned by the blind users. Modern screen readers use a simulation or on emulation of the mouse
He said that JANS (program) helps blind people to use mouse without using the external mouse devise.
Mario Batusic emphasized that the University of Linz have never had such a guide not even in campus so it is a great opportunity for them also to make such a work. He made other remarks such as that windows for blind is only used for having many things running, at the same time switching between them as He also reported that the most important for blind are menus and not the taskbar, or mouse movement.
Behind, a graduate student presented his work which was part of his thesis in the University of Linz. He presented embossed printouts with graphical information. Franz developed a program to print in a Braille printer dots which follow the lines in a drawing (e.g. the frame of a window, how menus are arragned etc) giving to a blind person the idea of various shapes and how these shapes are organized together. He used this program to produce a series of printouts concerning the shapes and the positions of things in a computer screen so that a blind person can have a better idea of how to move in a Windows environment and use the computer more effectively.
After the presentation of Action 3, the participants had as last duty to overview the time schedule of the project’ s activities to follow and reschedule where necessary. The workstation installation in Nicosia in November 2000, plus the Christmas holidays, led to a necessary postponement of the
activities of Action 5: Evaluation procedure. In particular, they agreed: