+++E-Access Bulletin. - Issue 181, July 2016. 29.7.2016

Access to technology for all, regardless of ability

Headstar Publication, produced with the support of Thomas Pocklington Trust: http://www.pocklington-trust.org.uk .

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++Section One: News.


+01: Top Travel Websites Still Failing Users With Disabilities, Reportuncovers.

Many of the most popular travel companies are still not making their websites accessible, new research has found.

The report (named ‘Are travel companies burying their heads in the sand when it comes to user experience and accessibility?’, compiled by digital user experience agency Sigma), tested ten of the most popular travel websites in the UK over three main categories: accessibility; usability; ease of use on different devices.

The accessibility testing uncovered a wide range of problems across the sites for users with disabilities, particularly those with visual impairments.

The ten sites tested were: Airbnb, Booking.com, British Airways, Co-operative Travel, Expedia, lastminute.com, LateRooms, On the Beach, Skyscanner and Virgin Atlantic.

Molly Watt, an independent accessibility consultant and founder of the Molly Watt Trust charity, tested the travel sites as part of the report. Watt, who has Usher syndrome, was born deaf and is registered blind, retaining a small degree of vision.

Problems that Watt discovered with the sites included: colours and fonts being “too garish”; zooming features being disabled; cluttered content; and “design-based trends” on web pages, such as text over images, or moving images.

Watt told e-Access Bulletin that the biggest improvement travel websites need to make is to “simplify”. Giving examples of this, she said: “Travel websites need to avoid temporary pop-ups, as they can confuse or worry some users who might then think they have missed an important message … Colour contrasts also need to be improved, especially in drop-down menus and calendars – these are all crucial details.”

A number of other accessibility problems were also found. Only two sites (Expedia and Virgin Atlantic) were rated as being compatible with a screen-reader, some sites had switched off the zoom function, many images weren’t accompanied by alt text, and not all sites were navigable with the ‘tab’ key.

The travel site with the highest overall accessibility score was Expedia, which scored 10 out of a possible 11. Co-operative Travel scored lowest, achieving just 1 out of 11 (colour contrast, confusing drop-down menus and overly busy page layouts were some of the reasons given).

Watt told e-Access Bulletin that travel companies are missing out on business by not properly catering for users with disabilities. “So much is advertised online these days. It’s ridiculous, therefore, that these websites aren’t fully accessible, and as a result, disabled users are missing out. Something needs to change, and fast.”

This view is supported by a summary of key findings at the end of the report, including an observation that although accessibility is crucial, many travel websites still aren’t prioritising it. The report says: “If companies continue to ignore accessibility, they could be isolating millions of users, risking reputation, customer loyalty, and profits.”

Read more about the report and download it in full at Sigma’s website: http://eab.li/21 .

Read more about Molly Watt’s work at her website: http://eab.li/20 .

Comment on this story at e-Access Bulletin Live: http://eab.li/2c .

+02: New Guide On Home Technology Launched For People With Sight Loss.

The “blurring” of assistive technology and inclusive design into mainstream technology is helping to provide both high-end and everyday devices that can benefit visually impaired people around the home, claims a new publication.

Talking microwaves, smart watches, audio thermometers, e-readers and online banking apps are some of the innovations featured in ‘Assistive and Inclusive Home Technology: A guide for people with sight loss’. The free guide has just been published by UK sight loss charity Thomas Pocklington Trust, and covers a wide range of devices that can improve independent living. Assistive technology funding information and tips for product designers are also highlighted.

Subject areas covered include: household chores; home shopping and finance; health, fitness and wellbeing; reading and writing; entertainment and leisure. The guide provides a thorough introduction to the many useful technologies available for visually impaired people in these areas, as well as explaining the difficulties and pitfalls with existing devices.

One of these difficulties is the increasing use of digital and touch-screen displays on household appliances, such as boilers, which can be difficult or impossible to control for someone with a visual impairment. The guide notes that: “Modern appliances can be an accessibility rollercoaster, with many ovens, microwaves, dishwashers, washers and dryers being hard to operate by people with sight loss.”

However, many useful exceptions are explained, such as a combined washing machine and dryer that uses audio description to tell users about different washing cycles.

Both everyday devices and hi-spec technologies can benefit people around the home, the guide says – for example, in home security: “Some recent technology trends threaten to undermine home access and security for visually impaired people, with concerns that touch-screen-reliant systems could make front doors inaccessible. On the other hand, biometric security technology can improve accessibility, with fingerprint locking mechanisms making it unnecessary for people to have to fiddle around finding the right key and guiding it into the keyhole. Lower-tech solutions such as keys with in-built torches and basic intercom systems can also assist people.”

A series of real-life case studies are also highlighted in the guide, with accounts of visually impaired people using assistive and inclusive technology to help with everyday tasks, like reading books, cooking, mowing the lawn, and blogging.

Also included in the guide are hints and tips on getting to grips with technology, a checklist for finding the right device, funding options for purchasing assistive technology, and a selection of other resources.

The guide is available at the link below, in accessible PDF format: http://eab.li/1z .

Read more about Thomas Pocklington Trust at the charity’s website: http://www.pocklington-trust.org.uk/ .

Comment on this story at e-Access Bulletin Live: http://eab.li/2b .

+03: Innovation And Impact Honoured At Tech4good Awards.

A digital audio navigation system and a portable asthma management device are two of the winners in this year’s Tech4Good Awards, which recognises projects and individuals that are using technology to improve lives.

People honoured at the event included an IT volunteer who helped to set up a charity by establishing its ICT systems, and digital inclusion expert and campaigner Robin Christopherson.

Now in its sixth year, Tech4Good (organised by technology access charity AbilityNet) features ten categories, including awards for accessibility, digital health, community impact, digital skills, and a ‘people’s award’.

Winners at the 2016 event – announced at a ceremony in London earlier this month – included Wayfindr, which received the AbilityNet Accessibility Award. Wayfindr is a set of tools for developing audio navigation systems which can help visually impaired people navigate the built environment.

Wayfindr CEO Umesh Pandya told e-Access Bulletin that the team were “truly honoured” to win: “It is an incredible recognition of our efforts supporting vision-impaired people to navigate the world independently. It is indicative of a move across the sector towards weaving accessibility into mainstream technology,” said Pandya.

(Read e-Access Bulletin’s interview with Wayfindr from issue 180, at the link below: http://eab.li/1t ).

Other winning projects included Neighbourly (a platform to connect charities with businesses and people that can donate time or funds), BBC micro:bit (a pocket-sized programmable computer given out in schools to teach children coding and digital skills) and AsthmaPi (a portable, affordable device that helps children manage their asthma and prevent severe attacks by recognising triggers).

The AsthmaPi was built by nine-year-old Arnav Sharma, who won the ‘People’s Award’ and the ‘Winner of Winners’ Award chosen by the audience at the ceremony. Sharma told e-Access Bulletin that he was “very happy but also overwhelmed” to win. He said: “I am really thankful that I won these awards and for all the nice things everyone said.”

Individuals recognised at the Tech4Good Awards included Maureen Johnston, who won IT Volunteer of the Year. Johnston volunteers at The Silver Line, a free helpline for older people, and has helped the charity to grow by setting up a virtual call centre. This centre assists volunteers with speaking to older people who use the service.

Robin Christopherson, head of digital inclusion at AbilityNet, received a Tech4Good Special Award for his 20-plus years experience in promoting and advising on digital skills (see this month’s feature – the final item in e-Access Bulletin – for an in-depth interview with Robin Christopherson).

Read more about the Tech4Good Awards at the event website: http://eab.li/1- .

Comment on this story at e-Access Bulletin Live: http://eab.li/2a .

++News in Brief:


+04: Helpful Hacks:

The Hackaday Prize – a competition that asks designers and developers to create something that impacts social change – is returning in 2016 and once again features an assistive technology (AT) category. Last year’s winning AT entry (the Eyedriveomatic, a wheelchair controlled by eye movement) also won the overall competition prize, and other previous entries have included a 3D-prined, open source, affordable prosthetic hand. The competition is open now and AT finalists will be announced in October.

Read more, including entry details, at the Hackaday Prize website: http://eab.li/26 .

+05: Public Policy-Shaping:

The Canadian Government has launched an online public consultation to help shape accessibility legislation, which will include looking at how people with disabilities use technology. Feedback from Canadian citizens will inform future policy, and contributions can made until February 2017. The consultation is available in text, American Sign Language and audio, and other accessible formats can be requested.

Contribute to the consultation at the following link: http://eab.li/2d .

+06: Tech For Teaching:

A free technology resource for teaching staff working with pupils who are deaf or hard of hearing has been released. ‘11 easy to use technologies to enhance learning in your classroom’ was developed by the Conexu Foundation, an Australian not-for-profit, and advises teachers on how different technologies can improve the learning experience for pupils.

Download the resource for free at the following link: http://eab.li/27 .

[Section One ends].

++ Notice: Thomas Pocklington Trust.E-Access Bulletin is brought to you with the kind support of Thomas Pocklington Trust, a national charity delivering positive change for people with sight loss. Find out more about the work of Thomas Pocklington Trust by visiting their website: http://www.pocklington-trust.org.uk .


[Notice ends].

++Section Two: 'The Inbox'- Readers' Forum.


Please email all questions, comments and responses to: eaccessbulletin@gmail.com .

+07: Smartphone Stats:

Barry Ginley, who works at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, writes in to ask for statistics on smartphone operating systems, as part of a new project that aims to make galleries and museums more inclusive for people with differing abilities:

“I am undertaking a project on apps in cultural heritage venues to aid in accessibility. The ARCHES project will last for three years and is European-funded. We will be working with organisations from around Europe and partners in the UK, including the Open University, the University of Bath and the Wallace Collection.

“I wonder if there are any statistics on the most popular operating systems for smartphones or tablets used by people with disabilities? For example, do people prefer Android or iOS operating systems on their phones?”

Facts, figures and other ideas, please, to: eaccessbulletin@gmail.com .

[Section Two ends].

++ Notice: RNIB Connect Radio and e-Access Bulletin.e-Access Bulletin will be appearing on RNIB Connect Radio each month in a new feature on the station’s Afternoon Edition programme. Hear more about the bulletin and upcoming content appearing in each issue, as we discuss the latest accessible technology news and readers’ questions with Allan Russell.


Episodes will be available after broadcast as podcasts from the RNIB Connect Radio site. Listen to RNIB Connect Radio online, or via television, smartphone or radio. Listening details at the following link: http://eab.li/1g .

Find out more at the RNIB Connect Radio website: http://eab.li/1h .

[Notice ends].

Section Three: Q & A. - Robin Christopherson, AbilityNet.

+08: Steering Digital Inclusion From The Driving Seat.

When he helped co-found UK technology access charity AbilityNet in 1998, Robin Christopherson was already on his way to helping drive forward digital accessibility, and since then his work has continued to change people’s lives. He is now AbilityNet’s head of digital inclusion, after helping to grow the charity’s services. These services include website and mobile accessibility consultancy, which AbilityNet now delivers to companies including Microsoft, the BBC, HSBC and Sainsbury’s.

Christopherson has also led and worked on all manner of projects and campaigns to increase digital accessibility, particularly for blind and visually impaired people. This has included providing expert commentary for news sources such as The Guardian, and presenting on and testing new technology, whether that’s a driverless car or the latest smartwatch.

In recognition of his invaluable contributions, he was surprised with a special award at the annual Tech4Good Awards earlier this month. e-Access Bulletin caught up with Christopherson to find out more about his work and get his thoughts on the evolution of accessibility.

- Tell us about your work at AbilityNet and how it’s changed over the years:

“AbilityNet is all about empowering people through accessibility and technology, and has been changing lives since 1998. As a blind person, I’m just one example of how tech has helped improve the life choices for people with disabilities. We now have all the power of computers with us wherever we go, and with a range of sensors – such as camera, GPS, accelerometer and compass – that can be incredibly empowering when one or more of your own senses don’t work.

“Whereas a disabled person used to have to purchase expensive (and often limited) devices, they can often now use mainstream gadgets, such as smartphones, that have all the necessary accessibility features built-in, and which offer thousands of apps that perform the same functions for a fraction of the price.

“I used to need a talking GPS device (£750), a talking notetaker (£1,500), a talking barcode scanner (£150) and many more specialist devices. Now, I have all that functionality and an awful lot more in one device. That same device is also almost infinitely expandable with each new app or service that comes along.”

- What kinds of work were you doing before AbilityNet?

“I was an IT instructor for the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), and was able to play with (I mean ‘research’) incredible technologies, such as screen-reading software for Windows, flatbed scanners that can read back-printed materials and talking notetakers.

“In the UK today, 90% of jobs include a computer of some sort, and these technologies helped make many more careers possible. That said, 73% of people with a vision impairment in the UK are still without paid work, which is why I feel so strongly about the main aspect of my work today – regular public speaking to both conference and corporate audiences. If you’d like to see these strong messages about the empowering potential of tech, simply Google me or search on YouTube or Vimeo.”

- How has digital accessibility improved over the time you’ve been working in the sector?

“The accessibility of devices has been transformed in recent years, driven largely by Apple. Apple has led the way and shamed or energised others to follow. Disabled people are using their smartphones to aid mobility, manage their health, interact with more people, play an active part in commerce and also have a lot of fun. The accessibility of the Mac and i-devices has ‘mainstreamed’ inclusion and, because of its influence on Android and other manufacturers, this has meant inclusion is now more affordable than ever.

“The accessibility of these devices has also impacted a second area, web and app accessibility, and there are tens of thousands of accessible apps to choose from – replacing hard or impossible-to-use websites. This has had a massive impact on choice for disabled people. As a blind person I would always reach first for an app which is a more accessible, cleaner and more distilled user experience. Actually, I would first reach for Siri to see if the information or interaction I want can be done in a few seconds flat.

“Having said that, I actually use my phone considerably less since getting my smartwatch, which is like a quick window into my phone’s most commonly used features. It taps me on the wrist when I need to turn down the next street, it means I can pay for items without even taking my phone out of my pocket, and it lets me know how bad my night’s sleep has been – but behind the watch and all its services is always the smartphone.”

- Is accessibility now more of a mainstream issue than it used to be?

“The concept of digital accessibility is now not only more mainstream an issue – it is, in fact, a purely mainstream issue. So, ‘accessibility’ (with its historical connotations of being solely for the disabled user, requiring extra budget and being a ‘bolt-on’ that may be dropped off) should probably now be replaced with the idea of ‘inclusive design’. Inclusive design is for every user and is factored-in from the very start of any project, informing every decision along the way.”

- What can be done to improve the state of digital accessibility?

“The single most impactful development that will see a seismic shift is for government to actually enforce the law. This sounds odd, but I explained it in a recent open letter to the UK Government (link to Robin’s letter below: http://eab.li/2f ).

“To summarise, it’s been a legal requirement to have an accessible website since 2003, and yet we estimate that more than 90% of websites in the UK still don’t even meet ‘single-A’ standard [of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines], let alone ‘AA’, which is arguably the legal requirement.

“The trouble is that authorities don’t appear to feel that checking for compliance is their job. Instead it’s been left to individuals or those representing them, such as the RNIB, to help enforce the law. You can barely leave your car one minute over time without getting a parking ticket, but where are the government’s wardens of the internet? The law on accessibility matters too – arguably much more so for those disabled users directly impacted, and more widely for our digital economy.”

- What have been some of the most exciting projects you’ve worked on?

“This is going to sound quite pedestrian in light of the amazing technologies available today, but I think that AbilityNet’s ongoing involvement in the accessibility of Microsoft products is something I’m most proud of. When I consider how many people we’ve potentially helped by assisting in the accessibility of Microsoft Windows and Office, etc, I’d have to say that this was some of our work that I am most proud of.”

- What has been your biggest achievement?

“I’d hope that my involvement with the UK Government Digital Strategy, and my blogs and public speaking, have impacted people’s lives for the better. I’m also very proud to have been a judge in the recent Global Mobile Awards in Barcelona, and to have received two recent awards: runner up in the 2015 UK Digital Leaders Awards (after Baroness Martha Lane Fox) and the special award at this year’s Tech4Good event.

- How did it feel to receive the Tech4Good Award?

“It was amazing, although I was totally unprepared, unlike the winners of the other categories, who had been shortlisted in advance. I had just finished my on-stage presentation about the power of tech, and suddenly they were asking me to stay on the stage, and presenting me with an award. The Tech4Good Awards are for the best of the best – recognising people and products that are changing lives for the better – so to be part of that excellent process is truly humbling. I’m still getting over the shock!”

- You recently tested a driverless car. Tell us about that.

“I had a taste of potential future adventures behind the wheel when a colleague gave me the opportunity to ‘drive’ his Tesla [a company that makes self-driving cars]. Okay, so I wasn’t actually driving, but I sat in the driver’s seat with my feet off the pedals, while my colleague summoned the car into auto-drive mode.

“I could feel the wheel turning in my hands as the car moved out of the parking space. Were it legal to use a fully autonomous car on UK highways, I would have headed off into the sunset, but currently it’s only legal to do this off public roads. So instead, we reversed the process with the auto-park button and I slid back into a parking space. For many people, that doesn’t sound like much, but growing up and knowing that my vision would get worse until I had none, I thought I’d never be able to drive. However, things are changing fast.”

- What have been some of the most important developments in technology for blind and visually impaired people in recent years?

“The top three most significant developments for blind users are, in order: 1. The smartphone. 2. The smartphone. 3. The smartphone. To give the merest inkling of how broad the uses of the smartphone are for vision impaired users, take a brief look at the AppleVis site that catalogues hundreds of people’s favourite accessible iOS apps.” (link to AppleVis site below: http://eab.li/22 ).

- Are there any accessibility developments that you’re excited about for the coming years?

“One area that is seeing significant growth is wearable tech and the ‘quantified self’. This means that gadgets which monitor your steps, exercise and heart rate are encouraging a healthier lifestyle and gathering data which can assist on a personal diagnosis level. Apple is leading the way in these areas; the Apple Watch, for example, is totally accessible and can monitor a wide range of activities.

“As a blind person, I can use the stair-stepper workout to go up and down the stairs at home (who needs a gym?), and all my calories burned and heart rate activity are measured. This data can provide valuable information for monitoring individual health, but Apple also has a much broader programme (called ‘Research Kit’) that is taking anonymous, aggregated data and making it available to medical research projects on a scale never available before.

“Another area that has huge potential is the connected home, also known as the ‘Internet of Things’ or IOT. We’re all familiar with devices like heating thermostats being controlled via an app or smartwatch, but what isn’t always appreciated is that those apps are often more accessible than the device’s own interface.

“Now imagine if your cooker could talk to you via an app and tell you when it had reached the correct temperature. It might help a blind person like myself be a better cook. Imagine if your doorbell had a webcam with face-recognition technology – how helpful would that be for someone with dementia who lives alone? What about a medicine dispenser that tells you if you’ve forgotten to take your tablets, or can inform the doctor if you need a fresh prescription? Many of these technologies already exist.

“For disabled and older people, wearable technologies and smarter homes will undoubtedly deliver greater choice, control, peace of mind and independence. While it is impossible to say which device or technology will have the biggest impact going forward, at the heart of it will undoubtedly remain the smartphone.”

Follow Robin Christopherson on Twitter using @usa2day (link to Robin’s Twitter page: http://eab.li/25 ) or read more at AbilityNet’s website, at the link below: http://eab.li/24 .

This feature is an extract from a longer interview with Robin Christopherson. The full interview can be found online at e-Access Bulletin’s blog site, at the link below:

Comment on this story now at e-Access Bulletin Live: http://eab.li/29 .

[Section Three ends].

++End Notes.



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  • Editor: Tristan Parker
  • Technical Director: Jake Jellinek

ISSN 1476-6337.

[Issue 181 ends].