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++Section One: News.
+01: Assistive Technology Industry Must Address Challenges, Warns Expert.
Poor levels of website accessibility, financial issues and pressure to integrate with mainstream technology are some of the challenges facing the assistive technology (AT) industry, according to the Executive Director of the British Assistive Technology Association (BATA).
Speaking at the second Assistive Technology Exhibition and Conference (ATEC), held in Sheffield, UK, BATA’s Executive Director, John Lamb, said that the industry must face and address nine key issues to succeed.
Lamb began by telling delegates at his session – ‘The challenges facing AT’ – that the overarching, crucial function that AT needs to perform at all times is to effectively meet the needs of users with disabilities.
While the spending power of £212 billion a year from more than ten million disabled people in the UK gives the AT industry a strong imperative to meet those specific needs, 65% of those people with disabilities are over 65, and therefore twice as likely to be unemployed, said Lamb. “Given that older demographic, it’s really important that the technology is user-friendly and that it’s affordable,” he said.
Achieving this affordability has been difficult, he continued, due to AT products and software being sold in small quantities, and a shortage of people with the skills to develop specialist assistive software.
Another key challenge facing the industry is awareness, Lamb said. “There is a low level of awareness of assistive technology, and also a lack of understanding of exactly what it’s capable of and – just as importantly – what it’s not capable of. It’s very important that people’s expectations of technology are managed.”
There is also increasing pressure on the AT industry to integrate products with mainstream services, Lamb said. He then used the BrailleNote Touch as an example. The BrailleNote is a refreshable Braille device, powered by the Android operating system and developed by visual impairment AT company HumanWare and Google, demonstrating how specialist AT is beginning to combine with mainstream technology.
Website accessibility remains a significant problem for the AT sector, Lamb said, and although there has been a general improvement across Europe, there is “still a huge job to be done.” He cited various website accessibility issues, including a lack of ‘alt text’, incorrectly titled frames and badly presented tables, as common problems in this area, “all of which are fixable.” Lamb said: “We do have the standards to guide people, so there’s not really an excuse. It’s crucial that the pressure is maintained on the owners of websites.”
Read more about BATA at the organisation’s website: http://eab.li/3r .
Find out more about Ability Magazine: http://eab.li/3s .
For a full report on ATEC, see Section Three of this issue.
Comment on this story now at e-Access Bulletin Live: http://eab.li/3z .
+02: Accessibility Survey Reveals Pdf Problems, Technology Types Andsatisfied Users.
The UK Government online services portal, GOV.UK, is aiming to cut down on PDFs after an accessibility survey revealed that many users encounter problems with them.
Launched in May, the GOV.UK 2016 assistive technology survey aimed to find out about the range of technologies that people are using to access and navigate the site. The survey received 712 responses from assistive technology users.
Results are now being published on the Government Digital Service (GDS) Accessibility Blog. Some of the key findings are highlighted below.
Screen magnifiers – used mainly by people with a visual impairment – are the most popular form of assistive technology accessing GOV.UK, used by 30% of respondents. ZoomText is the most popular magnification software.
Screen-readers – again primarily used by people with sight loss – are also commonly used, by 29% of respondents. The most popular screen-reader software is JAWS.
Read and Write, a type of software aimed at users with dyslexia, was found to be the most commonly used ‘reading solution’.
The survey also revealed that many assistive technology users accessing GOV.UK found PDFs difficult to access and read, and would prefer content in HTML format – an issue that many accessible technology users will be familiar with.
One of the survey’s designers, Chris Moore – a content designer and digital accessibility champion at HMRC – told e-Access Bulletin that GOV.UK is aiming to lessen its reliance on PDFs as a result of the survey findings. “Many users just don’t like PDFs,” Moore said. “We’ve run workshops to identify why content producers prefer to use that format and to enable us to provide them with solutions, so they don’t have to continue publishing that way.”
Other issues uncovered in the results included that some users felt that search results pages on GOV.UK are too complicated. Also, some users found the site’s use of black text on a white background difficult to read.
However, as well as identifying accessibility barriers, the survey results also showed that a “significant number” of people are happy with GOV.UK’s level of accessibility, with some users being pleased at the simple design of the site.
“It looks like we are on the right track,” said Moore, “as quite a significant number of users told us that they find GOV.UK to be really accessible for them, so we will continue our efforts to make GOV.UK as simple as possible. We are using the survey results to help us decide which assistive technologies we will use to test GOV.UK and which assistive technologies we will advise other departments to test with.”
Other findings and results from the survey will be published on GOV.UK, including blogs about the range of assistive technologies that respondents are using, and the issues around PDF content. Moore said that another assistive technology survey will be launched in 2017, using the data from the current survey to compare against.
Read the first batch of results from the survey at the GDS accessibility blog: http://eab.li/3o .
Comment on this story now at e-Access Bulletin Live: http://eab.li/3y .
+03: Tactile Technology Brings World-Famous Paintings To Life For Blindpeople.
A special version of one of the world’s most well-known paintings has been created through 3D-printing, so that people with sight loss can experience it by touch.
The tactile, ‘3D relief’ version of Gustav Klimt’s ‘The Kiss’ also features a series of audio triggers that explain different elements of the new work to visitors when they run their fingers over certain areas.
Housed in the Belvedere Museum in Vienna – the same museum that holds Klimt’s original ‘The Kiss’ – the 3D version has been developed through AMBAVis (Access to Museums for Blind and Visually Impaired People), a European Union-funded project that aims to improve the museum experience for blind and visually impaired visitors through 3D technology and “multi-sensory approaches”. ‘The Kiss’ is the seventh relief work developed through the project, with previous works housed in other museums around Europe.
The tactile version of ‘The Kiss’ sits in the Belvedere on a pedestal next to Klimt’s original, which was painted by the artist using oil paint mixed with gold leaf. Measuring 42 by 42 centimetres, the tactile version depicts the painting’s two figures – entwined and wearing colourful robes – entirely in white and with various features of the work available to explore by hand. For example, the robes feature intricate patterns that can be felt by touch.
Andreas Reichinger (who works in semantic modelling and acquisition at VRVis, a visual computing research institution in Austria) led many of the technical design aspects of the 3D version of ‘The Kiss’. Reichinger told e-Access Bulletin that the accessible cultural work of AMBAVis will be expanded in a new project, called ARCHES.
Reichinger said: “In ARCHES we will take things to the next level, and aim to include people not only with difficulties in vision, but with differences and difficulties associated with all kinds of perception, memory, cognition and communication.”
Six new relief works are planned for ARCHES, and each will be housed in a different participating museum, including two in London – the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Wallace Collection.
Both AMBAVis and ARCHES are funded through the Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020 programs. AMBAVis has been running for two years and is partnered with a number of European organisations, including the VRVis Centre for Virtual Reality and Visualisation Research, and the Austrian and German Federations of the Blind and Visually Impaired.
Read more at the Belvedere Museum’s website: http://eab.li/3p .
Find out more about AMBAVis at the project website: http://eab.li/3q .
Read more about the ARCHES project: http://eab.li/3u .
Comment on this story now at e-Access Bulletin Live: http://eab.li/3x .
++News in Brief:
+04: Future Driving:
An online portal of motoring research and future developments for older and disabled drivers has been launched by consumer research charity Rica. Sections in the portal include wheelchair accessible vehicles, autonomous cars, safer driving for older people, motoring for people with specific disabilities (such as cerebral palsy and arthritis), and a report on inclusive design. Researchers with relevant resources are invited to submit their contributions to the site.
Browse Rica’s online motoring research portal: http://eab.li/3t .
+05: Talking Success:
The Royal National Institute of Blind People’s Talking Books service has reported a 30% rise in new members since becoming free one year ago. Over 11,000 new members have signed up since November 2015, giving them access to over 25,000 titles available in a range of formats, including DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System) USB and CD, and MP3 download.
Find out more and subscribe at RNIB’s Talking Books page: http://eab.li/3- .
+06: Educational Equality:
A guide on integrating accessibility into education has been produced in the United States by the Consortium on School Networking and the Center on Technology and Disability. ‘Digital Accessibility Toolkit: What Education Leaders Need to Know’ features information on accessible learning for students with a range of disabilities. This includes tools, techniques and software – such as screen-readers, video captioning and alt-text – plus advice on procuring accessible technology, and an explanation of ‘universal design for learning’.
Find the full ‘Digital Accessibility Toolkit’ in PDF at the following link: http://eab.li/3n .
[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 .
++Section Two: 'The Inbox'- Readers' Forum.
Please email all questions, comments and responses to: firstname.lastname@example.org .
+07: Mobile Matters:
Long-time reader and correspondent Anthony Bernard writes in to ask if other Bulletin readers can help with information about the emporiaSMART, a smartphone with a removable keypad that he found on the RNIB online shop. Anthony – who is blind and currently works as a voluntary consultant to the Sri Lanka Federation of the Visually Handicapped – is after some advice on the functions of the phone:
“I’d like to know if the emporiaSMART phone can easily be used by blind users, both with and without the removable keypad. As it uses the Android system, does it have the Android ‘TalkBack’ software designed for blind and visually impaired users? Can anyone suggest other smartphones that are good and easy to use for blind phone users?”
Advice and information, please, to: email@example.com .
[Section Two ends].
++ Notice: RNIB Connect Radio and e-Access Bulletin.e-Access Bulletin will be appearing on RNIB Connect Radio each month on The Early 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/3e .
Find out more at the RNIB Connect Radio website: http://eab.li/1h .
+08: From 3D radio to disruptive innovation:
Section Three: Special report. - The Assistive Technology Exhibition and Conference.
evolving assistive technology.
Earlier this month, the second ATEC (Assistive Technology Exhibition and Conference) event took place, held in Sheffield, UK. A wide range of figures from the assistive technology (AT) industry were in attendance, including e-Access Bulletin.
Here, we present an overview of some of the many thought-provoking seminars and workshops that took place throughout the day.
The opening conference keynote speech was delivered by Hector Minto, senior technology evangelist for accessibility at Microsoft. Minto explained that there is now mandatory accessibility training for all Microsoft employees, but said that looking at the wider employment picture in society, “It’s absolutely clear that most people don’t consider accessibility in their role.”
Microsoft and other influential organisations have a part to play in changing that, he said: “The role of Microsoft and the largest companies around the world is to demonstrate clear starting points for accessibility, as well as improving what we’re doing over time.”
Minto also claimed that we have become “technologically blasé” in recent years, meaning that accessibility products, services and functions aren’t always publicised or exposed as well as they should be. “We almost just expect these advances to come so thick and fast that we don’t stop to tell people about them,” he said.
Gareth Ford Williams, head of accessibility at the BBC, gave the second conference keynote speech. Williams began by pointing out that “we all have accessibility requirements,” before talking about how the BBC’s access services have evolved.
While early access services like subtitling and sign-interpreted content are still widely used, ‘future content’ will be delivered through formats such as multi-screen and 3D radio, meaning that new forms of access services are needed, Ford Williams said. For example, increased used of virtual reality (VR) presents challenges for subtitling, as traditional subtitling will not work in a VR environment. “Content is rapidly evolving and there is a need for AT that responds to this change,” said Ford Williams.
In some cases, the methods used in providing ‘future content’ can also assist in accessibility. Binaural recording, a technique used in 3D radio (which immerses users in audio content, meaning that they hear sound from all around them, as opposed to one source), is now being used by BBC teams to create an immersive VR experience, replicating aspects of how people with autism experience the world. This project is planned to be used as a training tool for managers at the BBC, to give them a more in-depth insight of the experiences of employees with autism.
John Lamb of the British Assistive Technology Association (BATA) and Ability Magazine delivered a session on the challenges facing the AT industry (see Section One: News, in this issue). He concluded by talking about new and emerging technologies that can benefit people with disabilities. These included 3D-printing, wearable technologies, driverless cars, robots and digital navigation aids such as the Wayfindr system – reported on in the June 2016 issue of e-Access Bulletin (read our Wayfindr Q&A at the following link: http://eab.li/1t ).
David Banes, director of David Banes Access and Inclusion Services, hosted a fascinating seminar on ‘Accessible technology in an era of disruptive innovation’. Defined (in relation to technology) as something that displaces an established technology and produces dramatic, revolutionary change, disruptive innovation is already affecting the AT industry in a huge way, Banes said.
Commonly cited examples of disruptive technology models include transport service Uber and homestay accommodation network Airbnb. Both have shaken up their respective markets and both have been beneficial to users with disabilities, Banes said.
One of the most significant changes that disruptive innovation has brought to the AT market is a shift in traditional business models, said Banes: “There is increasing growth in free and low-cost solutions. These are now expected, and the market expectation of what people will pay has changed massively,” he said.
To demonstrate this, Banes gave an example of his time working in Qatar, where he was CEO of the Qatar Assistive Technology and Accessibility Center: “I worked with blind people who told me that they could achieve 90% of what they needed to do online every day, including work, using only their iPhone with VoiceOver. One person said: ‘I don’t know if I will ever buy a screen-reader again.’”
What is now important, said Banes, is how the AT industry responds to disruptive innovation. He gave three key steps that the industry needs to take in this respect: pay more attention to research from a wider range of sources; be willing to change traditional business models; and work to understand the broader, evolving needs of customers.
Banes said: “Many people with disabilities are beginning to see disruptive innovation as an opportunity, not a threat. This is a chance to get the things they want, at a price they can afford, at the time they want it. It’s going to bring short-term challenges for the AT industry, but it will have a huge impact.”
Some of these sentiments were echoed in ATEC’s closing Q&A panel session. Lucy Ruck – manager of the Business Disability Forum’s Technology Taskforce – spoke about the increasing prevalence of inclusive design: “AT is disappearing to some extent, because of the inclusive design approach that we’re encouraging organisations to take. Inevitably, that’s going to have an effect on AT suppliers.”
Later in the session, a delegate from Barclays asked the panel a question that had been touched on in many discussions throughout the day: “What can the AT industry do to support the needs of older consumers?”
Gareth Ford Williams’ answer summed up what many had been thinking: “This issue is going to affect everyone. We’re an ageing population and part of the ageing process is a decline in all our faculties – cognitive, physical and sensory. It’s part of getting old. [The solution is] about designing for your own future. Get it right now and you’ll have a much better future.”
Read more about ATEC at the event website: http://eab.li/3v .
Comment on this story now at e-Access Bulletin Live: http://eab.li/3w .
[Section Three ends].
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- Editor: Tristan Parker
- Technical Director: Jake Jellinek
[Issue 184 ends].