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++Section One: News.
+01: World’S First ‘Bionic Olympics’ Will Tackle Everyday Obstacleswith Assistive Tech.
Cutting bread, climbing stairs and unwrapping a sugar cube all feature as competitions in an event being dubbed the ‘world’s first bionic Olympics’, which will set out to show how advanced technologies can help people with disabilities in daily life.
Taking place in Kloten, Switzerland, on October 8, the Cybathlon championship features six types of contest, with disabled competitors using and controlling assistive devices and robotic technologies.
The events will test how these technologies allow users to complete day-to-day tasks. For example, in the ‘powered leg prosthesis race’, competitors (referred to as “pilots”, as they need to control or steer their technology) are timed using leg prosthetics to navigate stairs, slopes and uneven surfaces.
In the ‘powered arm prosthesis race’, competitors with an arm amputation and prosthetic must complete tasks such as: cutting and spreading jam on a slice of bread, carrying a tray of items to a table, opening a door and fitting a light bulb.
Cybathlon was created by Robert Riener, head of Health Sciences and Technology, and Professor of Sensory-Motor Systems at the ETH Zurich university in Switzerland. Riener told e-Access Bulletin that he was inspired to start the event when he decided through his daily work that “current assistive technologies are not functional enough and not accepted by many people.”
Further inspiration for Cybathlon came after Riener read a newspaper article about a man with a motorised knee prosthesis running up 103 floors of Chicago’s Willis Tower.
Explaining the concept behind Cybathlon, Riener said: “We want to promote the development of useful, acceptable, assistive devices for people with motor disabilities, and not just find the strongest and fastest person with a disability. That is why we have designed race tracks and obstacles that have a meaning for daily life.”
Competitors in Cybathlon are not professional athletes, and instead have to master the devices and technology they use in the events. “That is why we call them ‘pilots’,” said Riener.
The technologies used are largely specialist and highly advanced. Asked if it presents a problem that many disabled people can’t access or afford these technologies, Riener said: “It is normal that the newest high-tech is most expensive … However, we need new devices popping-up to shift previous ideas. High-tech will become used by a broader population and become cheaper, if it functions well. Furthermore, we urge politicians to give larger funding to high-tech devices for people with disabilities.”
A total of 74 athletes from 25 countries will take part in Cybathlon. Other contests include the ‘powered wheelchair race’, the ‘powered exoskeleton race’, the ‘functional electrical stimulation bike race’ (‘pilots’ with a spinal cord injury – SCI – pedal bikes by stimulating their muscles with electrodes), and the ‘brain-computer interface race’ (‘pilots’ with an SCI navigate computer game avatars purely through technology that reads their brain signals).
Find out more at the official Cybathlon site: http://eab.li/2q .
Comment on this story at e-Access Bulletin Live: http://eab.li/2y .
+02: ‘Hidden’ Sight Loss And Dementia Tackled In Technology Campaign.
The Scottish arm of the Royal National Institute of Blind People, RNIB Scotland, has signed-up to the Technology Charter for People Living with Dementia.
Originally launched in December 2015, the charter was developed by organisations including Alzheimer Scotland, NHS Scotland and the Scottish Government. It encourages greater use of technology in health and social care for people with dementia, and features six key values, including: “Routes and access to technology are ethical, equitable, simple, understandable and user-friendly.”
As well as promoting technology as an aid for people living with dementia and their carers, by signing the charter, RNIB Scotland are also hoping to raise awareness of ‘hidden’ sight loss.
June Neil – training and development manager for older people and complex needs at RNIB Scotland – told e-Access Bulletin that signs of sight loss can go unrecognised in some people living with dementia, as the symptoms are instead attributed to that condition.
Neil said: “Symptoms such as: not recognising faces, becoming disinterested in hobbies, or not going out because someone can’t see the numbers on buses – all of those things could be because of dementia or could be because of sight loss, and [the individual] is unable to communicate these changes.”
The charter lists a wide variety of benefits that technology can bring to people living with dementia, including: reducing isolation and increasing communication with others; supporting memory and decision-making; and, reducing the risk of accidents.
For example, the MindMate app (available at the following link: http://eab.li/2p ) helps to increase independent living for people with dementia. The app provides reminders and gives advice about nutrition and exercise.
Sandra Shafii from Alzheimer Scotland told e-Access Bulletin that the Scottish Dementia Working Group recently used a Dementia Engagement and Empowerment Grant to purchase iPads. These will help individuals with dementia connect with each other, particularly in group meetings, where some members may live far away and not be able to travel.
Simplified interfaces on tablet computers and mobile devices are also helping to increase technology use in older people with dementia, Neil said, as are easy-to-use communication apps like FaceTime and Skype.
Websites like Dementia Circle (available at the following link: http://eab.li/2i ) also test and list devices that can assist everyday living for people with dementia.
RNIB Scotland’s move to sign the Technology Charter supports a long-established partnership with Alzheimer Scotland. The two organisations have previously worked together on similar projects, writing a best practice document on how various technologies can support people living with both sight loss and dementia.
Additionally, digital skills organisation Tinder Foundation recently released a separate report, ‘Dementia and Digital’, based on research around a similar subject. Key findings of that report include the following: tablet computers are the most effective devices for delivering digital skills and health training for people with dementia; and, access to online resources increases wellbeing and confidence for people living with dementia.
Read Alzheimer Scotland’s Technology Charter as a PDF: http://eab.li/2l .
Read Tinder Foundation’s ‘Dementia and Digital’ report as a PDF: http://eab.li/2k .
Comment on this story at e-Access Bulletin Live: http://eab.li/2x .
+03: Accessibility without the excessive price:
affordable tech site launched.
A new online resource has been launched to help people make informed choices about low-cost accessible technology.
The Affordable Access project (found at the link below: http://eab.li/2o ) provides easy-to-understand information on a wide range of products and devices, all for under 250 Australian Dollars (equivalent to around £150 / 190 US Dollars). Technology covered on the site includes: tablet computers, smartphones, apps, desktop computers and TV streaming devices.
Affordable Access was launched by non-profit digital accessibility organisation Media Access Australia (found at the link below: http://eab.li/2s ) in collaboration with the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network.
Four main areas of the site cover the following areas: common accessibility features; differing access needs and disabilities; information on available products; and a section for those with more advanced technological knowledge.
The section on common features includes a list of recommended accessibility software and apps (both built-in and third-party products) that work on different operating systems. This includes screen-readers, voice recognition software, magnifiers and Braille apps, all priced under $250.
Also included is a breakdown of accessibility features in different versions of Android and Windows, both chosen because of their pricing. The breakdown table also advises on how to enable these features and what kinds of users they will benefit.
While some specific information on Affordable Access is geared towards purchasing products in Australia, much of the content covers a wide range of globally available technologies. The advice and recommendations are applicable to anyone with an interest in accessible technology, particularly those who are new to the subject or unsure of what device will suit them.
Comment on this story at e-Access Bulletin Live: http://eab.li/2w .
++News in Brief:
+04: Nurturing Conversation:
A new, free service enabling people who are deaf or hearing impaired to make video calls via an interpreter has launched in Canada. SRV Canada VRS aims to improve communication between people who are hearing impaired and those who can hear. When a hearing impaired person makes an online video call using the service, an interpreter appears on the device screen. The interpreter speaks the hearing impaired caller’s sign language to the non-hearing impaired caller, and then translates the vocal response back into sign language for the hearing impaired caller.
Find out more at the SRV Canada VRS website: http://eab.li/2u .
+05: Tech Talking:
The accessibility challenges of new broadcasting technologies – such as 360-degree video and binaural audio-equipped virtual reality – will be explored in a keynote talk at the second Assistive Technology Exhibition and Conference (ATEC), held in Sheffield, UK, on November 24. Other sessions at ATEC will cover assistive technology investment, creating accessible text, and difficulties faced by the sector, with speakers from the BBC, Business Disability Forum and the British Assistive Technology Association.
Further event information at the ATEC website: http://eab.li/2j .
+06: Downloadable Library:
Over ten million accessible e-books have been downloaded through Bookshare, an online library for people with print disabilities. The achievement was announced by Benetech, the non-profit technology company that launched the project. Bookshare’s catalogue features over 470,000 titles – including textbooks – which can be converted to a range of accessible formats. More than 250,000 people in 70 counties have access to the Bookshare library, which is free to eligible United States’ students, and available for a fee to others.
Find out more at the Bookshare website: http://eab.li/2z .
[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: Accessible Artefacts:
Thomas Bryan gets in touch from New Zealand, where he works for the Blind Foundation, an organisation that provides support and services for people with sight loss (find out more at the following link: http://eab.li/2- ).
Thomas works with developers and manufacturers, looking at how emerging technologies can improve access to information and the environment for people with sight loss. He wants to know how museums and art galleries can use technology to improve the visiting experience:
“Can anyone point me towards information on equipment and services that will enhance tours and exhibitions, to make them more accessible and interactive for disabled visitors? I’d like to know about any technology that might help – navigation tools, virtual reality devices, or just anything that makes visiting a museum or gallery a better experience for people with disabilities.
“Also, I’d like to know how museums and galleries can make exhibition information on their websites more accessible and interesting for disabled users – especially anything that goes beyond just following standard web content guidelines.”
Suggestions and ideas, 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 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 .
+08: Government for all:
Section Three: Q & A. - James Buller, Home Office Digital.
opening up online services.
James Buller is a user-researcher at Home Office Digital (HOD) leading on access needs, and has been contributing to the Government Digital Service (GDS) accessibility blog on GOV.UK, the UK government services portal.
Below is a republished, adapted version of the Q&A in James’ GOV.UK post (with some additional material), explaining how he works with service users to meet accessibility requirements, as well as his own use of assistive technology and the wider work of HOD.
James’ original post can be found in full on the GDS accessibility blog, linked to at the end of this article.
- Please tell us about yourself:
“I’m a user-researcher at Home Office Digital. I talk to and observe users of our services to understand their needs. I relay these to my team to improve our provision. I’m also thrilled to be leading HOD on access needs alongside Emily Ball, raising peers and senior colleagues’ awareness, skills and standards of accessibility, plus sharing good practice across government.
“Outside of work, I’m a trustee for Aniridia Network UK (found at the following link: https://aniridia.org.uk ), the charity that supports people with my rare genetic eye condition. I manage all aspects of its communications, IT and membership.
“Aniridia means my eyes didn’t develop properly as a baby. Most obviously, I have no irises – no coloured part of my eyes. That means I can’t shut out sun or bright light. It also means I can’t see detail and am very short-sighted. Essentially, I see everything over-exposed and in low resolution.”
- What visual aids do you use?
“Various magnifying glasses, sometimes including the camera and an app on my phone. To see things like presentations, I use a monocular. It’s a mini-telescope capable of focusing very nearby. This is useful when a colleague wants to show me something on their computer screen a few feet away. When outside, rather than sunglasses, I wear special green-tinted eye shields to cut out blue glaring light, without affecting contrast too much.”
- What assistive technology do you use when you’re on the web?
“Since my job is about usability of website interfaces, I avoid overriding their designs, such as with high contrast colours or larger fonts. So I use screen magnification software set to at least 200%, often more. At my desk, the screen view is spread across two monitors so that (most of) a line of text can be read with just head movement, rather than horizontal scrolling.
“That’s not possible with my Android phablet, but the large screen makes interfaces like the keyboards appear large. Plus, even with large fonts or zoom, a decent amount of stuff is still in view.
“I keep up with blogs using RSS feeds and listen to blog posts during my commute. The pronunciations can be fun. For example: ‘Now read live reporting from GDS’ could sound like: ‘now red liv reporting from geedesh.’
“Podcasts and videos are great alternatives to articles. Particularly for tutorials – I’ll seek out an audio-visual tutorial rather than a written guide.”
- What barriers do you regularly face on the web and in other parts of your job?
“Reading written materials or filling in paper forms is hard. Beyond the obvious, examples include: labels on sandwiches inside a glass counter; a reception desk sign-in sheet; art gallery labels; colleagues’ notes. As well as being hard to see, there are physical barriers or social expectations that inhibit my methods of perceiving them.
“Online, when using screen magnification, the biggest difficulties are due to notifications, dialog boxes or buttons being out of my current zoomed field of view. I have to physically scroll around, hunting for the interface I need. That is disorientating, takes valuable time and lots of mouse movement effort, which could lead to repetitive strain injury.
“Applications with text that cannot be enlarged are a pain. I can use the Android zoom, but then I have to swipe back and forth to read lines of text. To avoid that, I’ve become good at reading the first three-quarters of each line and guessing the rest, only swiping across when necessary.
“I’ll often give up reading rather than excessively scrolling my zoomed view back and forth. Text that poorly contrasts with the background is also a big hindrance.
“Also, ‘mega-menus’ can be a nightmare. I’m constantly moving my mouse to the edge of the screen to move the area I’m zoomed into. I frequently open menus by accident as the cursor passes over the area that activates them.
“All that said, I far prefer electronic to paper in most situations. I’d much rather write or fill in a well-designed online form with a keyboard and monitor, rather than paper and pen.”
- (e-Access Bulletin Editor’s note: the following two questions and answers are from separate material sent by James to e-Access Bulletin, and are not included in the original GOV.UK blog post republished above)
- Tell us a bit more about your role at Home Office Digital and the wider accessibility team:
“I’m now dedicated to leading on access needs full-time, and other staff are coming on board to assist. The focus on accessibility within the Home Office Digital team has been driven by Katy Arnold, Head of User Research and Design. Everyone on her team received training on how to discover and meet the access needs of colleagues and service users. We then found 12 enthusiastic people from among the researchers, writers and designers, and paired them up to specialise on a disability.
“They are tasked with growing our knowledge of how different disabilities may affect use of our online services and what can be done to help. This can then be fed into the design. The results of this are epitomised in the ‘Do and Don’t’ series of ‘designing for accessibility’ posters we produced (link below to GDS blog about the posters: http://eab.li/2n ).
“Three developers have also been given responsibility for improving how we address technical aspects.
“Before we even start planning a project, let alone coding it, user-researchers interview relevant people with access needs. We learn how to make the service meet their needs. Then throughout development, we run usability testing sessions, often visiting their home or workplace to observe them using our system with their assistive technology, in their normal environment.”
- How has this approach changed ways of working?
“Here are two examples of how online forms have changed:
“1: When asking for a phone number, enabling users (especially D/deaf users) to specify that we should only text them instead of calling [over the phone]. 2: When uploading a photograph for a passport, providing a way for users (such as, people with facial disfigurements) to override the automated checks for compliance with the rules, and explain why to the human examiner.
“I’m supporting all this work by giving advice, delivering training and conducting site audits. Together with the fantastic accessibility team at Government Digital Service and colleagues across government, we are continuing to grow our capacity for understanding and meeting access needs. I am thrilled to be part of the movement that’s creating exceptional services for everyone.”
This article is a republished, adapted version of James Buller’s post on the GOV.UK accessibility blog, which can be found at the following link: http://eab.li/2m .
Licensing attribution: this article contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.
Comment on this story now at e-Access Bulletin Live: http://eab.li/2v .
[Section Three ends].
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- Editor: Tristan Parker
- Technical Director: Jake Jellinek
[Issue 182 ends].