Access to technology for all, regardless of ability.
- ISSUE 195, November 2017.
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Section One: News.
01: New online platform aims to be a game-changer for accessible ICT.
- Resources portal acts as a collaborative space to bring industries together.
02: Funkify plugin reveals impaired browsing to all users.
- Simulator distorts web pages to highlight access issues.
03: New site guides businesses towards accessible tourism. - Tourist boards helping businesses to publish access information.
News in Brief: 04: Inclusive Accommodation – Airbnb accessibility improvements; 05: Mobile Knowledge – Access features explained; 06: Digital Developments – Government Digital Service announces changes.
Section Two: The Inbox – Readers’ Forum.
07: App Happy – Charity launches free guide; 08: Device Doctor: Advice on iPhone vs. Android debate.
Section Three: Report.
– AI at TechShare Pro 2017.
08: Artificial intelligence and accessibility: the voice of things to come.
How can artificial intelligence be used to improve accessibility and help people with disabilities? This was one of the key themes discussed at the TechShare Pro conference in London. Speakers from across industries examined the benefits, and setbacks, of AI, exploring systems and apps that currently use the technology and how this will evolve in the future.
An accessibility resources platform that claims to be ‘the first of its kind in the world” has been launched.
DeveloperSpace aims to be a comprehensive portal for information on inclusive digital content and systems, for a wide-ranging audience. Although primarily aimed at developers, designers and anyone building digital systems or content, the site has been created to foster collaboration between different industries and disciplines, in the hope of creating and sharing what the site calls ‘accessible solutions’ to ICT accessibility problems.
To identify and address these problems effectively, computer-users with a range of impairments were involved at all stages of building DeveloperSpace.
Key features of the site include an ‘Accessibility Masterlist’ (which gives information on a range of ICT accessibility features, such as alternative computer settings and audio enhancement), ‘Quicksheets’ (summaries of topics such as social media accessibility and PDF readers) and tutorials on a range of topics, such as inclusive e-publishing and accessible web games.
Other features include a question and answer forum and a ‘Challenges’ section, where people can volunteer to solve accessibility tasks, sometimes for prize money or funding. One challenge is based around improving a ‘photosensitive seizure tool’ (which detects flashing web content that could cause seizures in some users) so that it can be released as open source, carrying a reward of $10,000.
DeveloperSpace was created as the main outcome of the European Commission-funded Prosperity4All project and is part of the Global Public Inclusive Infrastructure (GPII), both of which aim to drive forward inclusive technology development and access to these technologies.
Gregg Vanderheiden – Prosperity4All’s Technical Coordinator and Director and Professor of the Trace R&D Center at the University of Maryland – told e-Access Bulletin that as well as providing key resources, another aim of DeveloperSpace is to collate knowledge and ideas from across the board. He said: “A goal is to bring together input from consumers and all members of a development team – specialists, testers, teachers, researchers and more – to provide individual guides about particular aspects of the site that may be helpful to them.”
Speaking about what makes the platform the ‘first of its kind in the world,’ Vanderheiden said: “The DeveloperSpace differs from other sites in that it looks at the problem comprehensively, providing tools for all types of information and communication technologies – including anything with a digital interface.”
DeveloperSpace has already been used to help build and improve a number of accessibility projects, some of which are highlighted on the site. These include printing services for visually impaired students and a programme to create accessible video for refugees in the Netherlands.
Find out more at the DeveloperSpace website.
Comment on this story now at e-Access Bulletin Live: DeveloperSpace.
A new browser plugin that distorts web pages to simulate the online experience for users with impairments is aiming to encourage developers to create more accessible websites and apps.
The Funkify tool features a range of filters, which intentionally make it difficult to read and navigate online content. The intention is to recreate how users with visual, print and motor impairments experience the internet.
Funkify was developed by a team of accessibility enthusiasts from companies and startup projects in Sweden. A prototype was created for a ‘hackathon’ competition in 2016 and was awarded a joint first place in the event.
The group then successfully applied for innovation funding to build the plugin during 2017. A new beta version has just been released for testing.
The team worked with people with a range of impairments, to develop the Funkify simulations, which imitate effects of sight loss (including blurry vision, tunnel vision and central vision loss), ‘trembling hands’, dyslexia and colour vision deficiency.
For example, the ‘tunnel vision’ filter blanks out a large part of the user’s screen, leaving only a small area to read text on the page, while the ‘trembling hand’ filter causes the cursor to judder constantly.
To make the simulations as authentic as possible, the team “interviewed, brainstormed and tested” with people with different impairments.
Speaking to e-Access Bulletin, one of Funkify’s co-founders, Lena Furberg, said: “We strive to make the experience as memorable as possible, so that people remember it and have accessibility in mind the next time they create a colour palette, choose font sizes or decide on the height of click targets.”
She added: “Of course, everyone experiences things differently, and we’re not saying that people will understand exactly what life is like with – for example – a tremor if you try the ‘trembling hand’ simulator.”
Reactions from users without impairments using Funkify have been positive, but the goal remains to drive forward inclusive web design and content by sharing the tool with developers. “It’s nice to see some people get the point of ‘design for all’ and accessibility for the very first time when they use Funkify,” Furberg said. “We hope to reach as many web and app developers as possible and make them understand the importance of making their products accessible, and prioritise this higher than they do today.”
As a follow-up to the project, the team behind Funkify are also building a separate tool that will simulate cognitive impairments, including ADHD and autism, which will launch in December.
Download the plugin for free at the Funkify website.
Comment on this story now at e-Access Bulletin Live: Funkify.
Tourism businesses in England and Scotland, such as hotels, restaurants and sightseeing attractions are being encouraged to produce ‘accessibility guides’ online to let visitors know about access facilities.
VisitEngland and VisitScotland, the official tourist boards for both countries, have launched a website that gives organisations a template for creating a guide. The result is a single, standardised page containing comprehensive access information for users.
This information is available in simple menus, telling users which areas in a venue have level access for wheelchair use, where there are hearing loops for visitors with hearing aids, and what facilities exist for visually impaired visitors, such as alternative print format menus.
Also on the page are contact details for each venue, travel and arrival information (such as accessible parking facilities and wheelchair-friendly ramps), and the option to download the page as a Word document.
Any business can use the site to produce a guide. Users just need to register through the site and are then guided through the process step-by-step. This includes looking at example guides, answering a questionnaire on access facilities at the venue and uploading photos.
Once the guide has been created, the business is given a unique URL to publish and share, allowing everyone to view the page. As the page is created through a standardised template, visitors can easily familiarise themselves with the format.
VisitEngland’s head of business support, Ross Calladine, told e-Access Bulletin that the guides enable potential visitors to make informed decisions about where to visit and stay, based on their individual needs. Calladine said: “One in five of the UK population has accessibility requirements, meaning that about 20% of potential customers would like to have practical information on accessibility. Furthermore, with an ageing population, those with accessibility requirements are likely to represent an even larger section of the potential customer base. An accessibility guide helps businesses to future-proof their venue.”
Find out how to create a guide at VisitEngland and VisitScotland’s Accessibility Guides site.
Comment on this story now at e-Access Bulletin Live: Tourism guides.
+04: Inclusive Accommodation: Airbnb has taken a series of steps to make its services more accessible for users with disabilities. The online accommodation rental platform will incorporate listings from accessible accommodation platform Accomable (which has been acquired by Airbnb) and use new ‘accessibility needs’ checklists, (which allow hosts to provide more detailed access info about their property for travellers with disabilities), as well as working to make its website and mobile app easier to use for all.
Read more about the accessibility improvements at the Airbnb website.
+05: Mobile Knowledge: A free guide on mobile accessibility features for iOS and Android devices has been released by accessibility consultancy The Paciello Group. The ‘mobile testing’ guide explains how to use built-in accessibility apps and settings (such as Android’s TalkBack and VoiceOver on iOS, including control gestures and shortcuts), as well as how to test mobile web content for accessibility. The document is aimed at anyone working with mobile apps and those who simply want to know more about accessibility features on their smartphone.
The Mobile Accessibility Guide is available in accessible PDF at The Paciello Group’s website.
+06: Digital Developments: The UK’s Government Digital Service (GDS) Accessibility team have made a number of accessibility improvements across its operations. One of the steps has been to publish and update a series of guides, including an introduction to making services accessible, information on testing websites for accessibility and understanding the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. The changes have been informed by various pieces of research (including the 2016 GOV.UK assistive technology survey) which looked at how government teams approached accessibility and the challenges they faced.
Find out more at the GDS blog on GOV.UK.
[Section One ends].
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 charity’s work by visiting the Thomas Pocklington Trust website.
- Readers’ Forum.
Please email all questions, comments and responses to:
+07: App Happy: In last month’s Inbox, Tony Moss got in touch from Manchester to ask for advice on the accessibility pros and cons of iPhones and Android phones, and the apps for each device. Tony, who is registered blind but has some vision in his left eye, wanted to know which phone would be more useful for him before making a purchase.
Several readers contacted the Bulletin to flag up resources for Tony, including Sophie Grattidge from sight loss charity Henshaws:
“Henshaws has recently created a free e-book with the 24 best apps for people with a visual impairment, which I hope Tony or others may find useful. We’ve divided the apps by topic and it covers identification, social networking, navigation, shopping, work, reading and entertainment.
“We also provide free one-to-one training and assessments for visually impaired people in Manchester and Liverpool to guide them on what technology to use and how to use it. If Tony needs any support, he can get in touch by phoning 0161 872 1234 or emailing email@example.com.
“The e-book can be downloaded at the Henshaws website. Users just need to put in their email address first.”
+08: Device Doctor: Another reader, Hannah Bailey, offers Tony more advice on the iPhone vs Android issue, highlighting some other useful resources:
“Re: Apple vs Android, I think budget needs to be considered. Frustratingly, while accessibility settings have certainly improved, there is little consistency across brands as to how they are laid out and the terminology used in descriptions.
“I also suggest making sure any type of voiceover technology has a quick shortcut option for toggling on and off, as it can be difficult to navigate to it quickly in settings.
“The organisation I work for, Berneslai Homes [a social housing landlord managing properties on behalf of Barnsley Council], has made overview videos on Apple’s VoiceOver feature and apps for different sensory impairments. The videos are available on the Berneslai Homes ‘Device Doctor’ YouTube channel. We can take requests for app overview videos as well.
“RNIB’s excellent Online Today project can also help people navigate the choices.”
Please send any other ideas and advice to:
[Section Two ends].
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 can be found at this link. Find out more at the RNIB Connect Radio website.
– AI at TechShare Pro 2017.
Artificial intelligence (AI) was high on the agenda at the recent TechShare Pro 2017 conference in London. Hosted by AbilityNet and RNIB, the event explored a wide range of topics and ideas around digital accessibility and accessible technology, with a range of speakers discussing key ideas and developments.
One of the most popular themes of the event was AI and its potential benefits for accessibility. AI technologies have evolved at a tremendous pace over recent years and are now being used in everything from stock market trading to email management – but how can these technologies be utilised to help people with disabilities and impairments?
As delegates at the event heard, numerous innovative systems and projects using AI are being developed, which could have a huge impact in the near future, but as some speakers pointed out, AI is also being used to benefit people right now, in devices and apps that many people use every day. Here’s a summary of how AI was covered throughout the event.
Paul Smyth, Head of ICT Accessibility at Barclays, talked about the future of banking from an accessibility point of view and how AI is helping to enable this. Processes are becoming simpler, Smyth said, which helps users to complete tasks with fewer issues. As an example and to show how mobile banking is evolving, he then demonstrated a voice-operated payment system through an app.
“Rather than users having to learn increasingly complicated systems, there’s been a paradigm shift, where those systems now learn about users, which is very powerful,” Smyth said.
Smyth also talked about the increasing use of biometrics systems in banking, such as fingerprint recognition on apps, alongside voice and facial recognition to identify customers.
He said: “These things are simple and secure, we just need to get more comfortable in using them and the technology needs to evolve too.”
Smyth also talked about how technology is increasing personalisation within banking and how this can improve user experience: “The exciting bit in terms of AI is how it can power predictive insights,” he said, explaining that AI will increasingly be used to advise customers on how they can manage their money more effectively.
Following on from Smyth’s presentation was a panel discussion on ‘What does AI mean for the future of accessibility?’, hosted by Robin Christopherson, Head of Digital Inclusion at AbilityNet. Ellie Southwood, Chair of RNIB, spoke about how various devices and apps are helping make life easier for people with visual impairments. She explained how her Amazon Echo Dot ‘smart speaker’ (which responds to voice commands and questions from users) makes it simpler to find information, before talking about a new talking camera app, Seeing AI.
She said: “The app’s ability to recognise not just text, but also people and scenarios, is incredibly exciting, because in order to make decisions about the world, you have to interpret it – and if you can’t see, the interpretation you have is usually somebody else’s.”
Hector Minto, Technical Evangelist for Accessibility at Microsoft, then explained how he thinks AI will change accessibility. He said: “One of the challenges we have is to make accessibility matter to a wider audience and this is one of the roles that AI can fulfil. Rather than expecting somebody to provide information in an accessible format, hopefully AI will mean that all documentation becomes accessible in the future.”
Minto also spoke about Seeing AI and how he believes the app, and other similar technologies, can change interactions for people with disabilities. He said: “Seeing AI can recognise text, it can recognise people and emotion, and recognising something changes the social dynamic around disability.”
Explaining how someone who is blind could use the app to quickly identify who is around them, Minto said: “It empowers people to enter a room with their disability and take control, and that is a leveller.”
Following the discussion, an audience member asked the panel about potential difficulties in using AI-based voice technologies, particularly for people with cognitive impairments, and how these systems could be made more accessible.
Responding to the question, Ellie Southwood said that there are still “gaps” in the technology, but that using voice-operated AI systems to carry out complicated tasks “has to be the future.” She explained that these systems need to be customer-led and built around specific needs of users to ensure they work effectively.
Hector Minto agreed with this point, claiming that: “People with disabilities are going to lead the knowledge base on voice interaction.”
Later on in the day, Gareth Ford Williams, Head of Accessibility for Design and Engineering at the BBC, hosted a session on ‘The BBC Accessibility Journey and the Impact of Artificial Intelligence.’ Williams discussed how new and emerging technologies are being used by the BBC to make its operations more accessible for users.
He explained how AI can be used in ‘object-based broadcasting’ to learn about users’ viewing habits and tailor how programmes are delivered to them based on their requirements.
Speaking more generally about the potential of AI systems, Williams said: “Disenfranchised audiences are really going to benefit. For older audiences and others who struggle to use some assistive technologies, having something more humanistic as a mode of interaction is going to create a lot of opportunities for them.”
In the afternoon, Kiran Kaja, Technical Program Manager for Search Accessibility at Google, gave some insights on current and future use of AI. He pointed out that “AI is everywhere. It’s already being used quite widely – for example, in speech recognition, which is based on ‘neural networks’. This uses ‘machine learning’ to replicate how the human nervous system works.”
He explained that improvements to text-to-speech and predictive text systems are being made using AI, before discussing ‘computer vision’, in reference to the kind of image recognition that apps like Seeing AI use. Kaja said: “Being able to use computer vision to recognise objects and find the relationship between the objects – those things have really big potential for helping people with disabilities.”
Kaja also addressed a key issue that delegates had been discussing throughout the day: ease-of-use of AI systems, particularly for users with impairments. He said: “The great thing about all of this is that as a user, you shouldn’t need to worry about what AI is and what it can do – it should all just work for you. That’s the hallmark of great UX [user experience] design.”
More information about TechShare Pro 2017, including videos and presentation materials from the event, can be found at the AbilityNet website.
Comment on this story now at e-Access Bulletin Live: TechShare Pro and AI.
[Section Three ends]
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[Issue 195 ends.]