17 big ways tech is helping disabled people achieve goals: 2016 International Day of Persons with Disabilities #idpd

There are 12 million disabled people in the UK, and an estimated 1.1 billion worldwide. Since 1992 the UN has promoted a day of observance and understanding of disability issue and this year's theme is is 'Achieving 17 Goals for the Future We Want'. We asked 17 of our followers, supporters and staff about the role of technology can play in achieving current and future life goals.

What is the role of technology in achieving life goals for disabled people?

Prof Stephen Hawking has achieved amazing things in his life thanks to technology

Professor Stephen Hawking

“I was lucky to be born in the computer age, without computers my life would have been miserable and my scientific career impossible. Technology continues to empower people of all abilities and AbilityNet continues to help disabled people in all walks of life.” (2012)

Kate Headley, Director of Consulting, The Clear Company

“As someone who now has limited vision, I can honestly say that technology has been the game changer for me. Although I have no secrets - with large font on phone and computer and I regularly share my texts out loud with fellow passengers. But I am independent at home and at work and just awaiting the driverless car!”

Joanna Wootten: Age, Disability and Inclusion expert at Solutions Included

“Technology has transformed my working life. As a deaf person I can now communicate directly with hearing people using emails, text messages, live messaging, or have conversations with them via Skype or FaceTime.  For larger meetings, the advent of reliable wifi means I can use my mobile phone or tablet to access remote captioning so I don't miss a word."

Sarah-Jane Peake, assistive technology trainer, Launchpad Assistive Technology

"Working one-to-one with students, I’ve had the privilege of seeing the wonderful impact technology can make to someone with a disability or specific learning disabilities. The confidence of being able to proof-read an essay using text-to-speech, the independence offered by voice recognition software that finally allows a student to fully express their ideas, or the relief felt by a student who has just discovered mind-mapping strategies that compliment the way they think. Technology is changing people’s lives."

Sean Douglas

Sean Douglas, founder of dyslexia podcast The Codpast

"There's masses of tech out there that allows people with disabilities to reach their full potential. Long gone are the days when assistive tech was cumbersome, expensive and specialist, now your smart phone can give you much of the help you need to deal with everyday tasks you may find difficult. "Surprisingly a lot of this assistive functionality is built into your phone's operating system or is available from third parties for free or for a small charge."

Georgina Eversfield Tanner, client of AbilityNet's ITCanHelp volunteering service

I've never had a computer before, but it's opened up a whole new world since my stroke. But I did say one day to Andy, my ITCanHelp volunteer from AbilityNet, 'what idiot put Angry Birds on there. There are so many of them and I'm absolutely hooked! Technology and AbilityNet has helped me tremendously to be in the modern world." See more of Georgina here in our video. 

Gareth Ford WIlliams is Head of Accessibility at BBC Design and Engineering

Gareth Ford Williams, Head of Accessibility, BBC Design and Engineering

“For many disabled people, a simple daily goal is to enjoy the same entertainment options. For video and TV that could mean captioning or audio descriptions, or using the text to speech features in their computer or phone to read out newspapers, magazines or blogs.”

Abbie Osborne, Assessor for AbilityNet

“Education is a vital way for disabled people to achieve their goals. I work with many students who face cognitive impairments such as dyslexia and dyspraxia, which make it difficult for them to organise their thoughts.

"Zotero is one of the most popular free tools I recommend. It takes the pain out of managing references when you’re working on essays and reports and integrates with Microsoft Word to use those references in whichever style you require. It works for Mac and PC, creates an alphabetical list of your sources (bibliography) and can keep track across multiple essays.”

Robin ChristophersonRobin Christopherson, Head of Digital Inclusion, AbilityNet

“Technology helps everyone reach their full potential. Like nothing else on this planet, technology can embrace people’s differences and provide choice – choice to suit everyone and empower them to achieve their goals both at work and at play. On this day, please raise the cheer for technology and digital inclusion, wherever in the world you are.”

Morgan Lobb, Director, Diversity Jobs

“Assistive technology makes a real difference, without spellchecker I’d be doomed!”

Nicola Whitehill

Nicola Whitehill - founder of Facebook Group: Raynauds Scleroderma Awareness

“The internet is a lifeline for me. I'm under house arrest with Raynauds, but I still run a global community in my pyjamas!”

Nigel Lewis, CEO of AbilityNet

“Accessible technology can really help disabled people live their lives fuller, let’s all work together to make tech accessible and inclusive on this #idpd and always.”

Sarah Simcoe - chair of SEED Network, Fujitsu UK and Ireland

“Technology plays an important part in building an environment of accessibility and enablement – the use of tools, software and hardware in enabling disabled talent to fulfill their full potential is key to innovation and business growth.”

Hector Minto, Accessibility Evangelist, Microsoft

“There are so many things: Social media and the cloud's ability to connect us all and find people who can relate to our experience. Text communication and short messages are a great leveler. Images and video convey messages much more quickly. Twitter chats, blogs, Facebook Groups, LinkedIn groups all offer professionals with huge amounts of experience somewhere to share their knowledge. 

"It's all part of the Global Cloud for Good agenda - we need to understand Industrial Revolution 4.0 - the Internet of Things, and automation for example - and our place in it. We need a socially responsible cloud which improves life for everyone and leaves nobody behind.

"Finally I still think eyegaze as a direct control method needs to be tried first for people with physical access issues. The price is changing and the previously held view that it was only for those that had tried everything else is completely out of date but pervasive.”

Bela Gor is a Disability Legal Adviser at Business Disability ForumBela Gor, Disability Legal Adviser, Business Disability Forum

“In twenty years of disability discrimination legislation, the biggest change has been that what was once impossible or unreasonably difficult is now entirely possible - because of technology. Technology means that the way we all live and work has changed immeasurably and 'reasonable adjustments' for disabled people have become the ordinary way of life for everyone because of the technology on our desks, in our pockets and in our homes and workplaces.”

Kate Nash OBE, founder of PurpleSpace community of disability employee networks

"At PurpleSpace we are massive advocates of virtual networking and learning. While our members have a wide range of disabilities, the accessibility features built into smartphones, tablets and PCs mean that we can keep in touch and share career development opportunities on an equal level regardless of the different ways that we access technologies."

Ed Holland leads Driven MediaEdward Hollands, founder of Driven Media UK

“I use lots of assistance software to over come my spelling and grammar issues to look more professional as a founder. I don't write anything without Grammarly now. It's like having my own copywriter! Anyone who is dyslexic should definitely get it.”

How can AbilityNet help you make the most of tech?

AbilityNet staff gain national volunteer management qualification

AbilityNet staff have completed a national qualification in volunteer management to support their work with a network of over 8,000 volunteers with IT skills. This will help them support the continued growth of the volunteer network, who help meets the IT needs of charities and disabled people. Volunteer Administrator Josie Ray and Advice and Information Officer Alex Barker have both been awarded the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) Certification.

“It made sense to study for this qualification as AbilityNet works closely with volunteers” said Alex. "We have a UK-wide team of volunteers who provide home visits for disabled people in the community. They are all CRB/Disclosure checked and can help with all kinds of technical issues, from installing broadband and removing viruses to setting up new software and backups. We also have a network of IT professionals who provide IT support to charities, including web design, databases and troubleshooting and helping to reduce costs and improve services. ”

Volunteering manager Anne Stafford said “It is important to AbilityNet that we deliver high standards & our volunteers are important members of our team. I am pleased that our staff have the opportunity to demonstrate their professionalism in volunteer engagement.”

More information:

Mind the Digital Gap: AbilityNet proposes new digital inclusion strategy

In our increasingly digital self-service economy technology now dominates shopping, entertainment, work and communication, as well as citizenship itself, but age and disability are barring people from full participation. Organisations like AbilityNet, Go ON UK and its disability focused partner, Go ON Gold, are making great strides to close the gap between the computer literate and the technologically disenfranchised, but the gulf is wider than that. 

AbilityNet’s new digital inclusion strategy ‘Mind the Digital Gap’ looks at the obstacles faced by the huge numbers of people who struggle to use digital technologies that are badly designed and just don't meet their needs. AbilityNet believes that we urgently need to recognise the social and economic costs of this digital gap, and identify clear actions to begin closing it.

Mind the Digital Gap logoThe strategy was launched at the House of Commons on 21 November at a reception hosted by Anne McGuire MP, Shadow Minister for Disabled People. It calls for better design practices through implementing user-focused testing at all stages of the design of digital systems (rather than relying on post-hoc accessibility checks).

AbilityNet urges those who commission and build online services, operating systems and digital devices (whether business, government or third sector) to put a user-centred approach at the heart of the design process. The strategy also proposes tax incentives to promote inclusive design, closer partnerships between business and other sectors and a commitment to embed inclusive design at all levels of professional design education.

AbilityNet CEO Nigel Lewis says it's time to change how we design and deliver inclusive digital systems:

"For too long the debate about accessibility has focused on issues that are specific to disabled people, but testing a website after it has been built, or pursuing legal action to ensure that every website includes alt-tags for people who use a screen reader, just isn't working.

“There is a much more important strategic issue at stake and we need a new approach that goes beyond what we currently think of as ‘Accessibility’. To close that gap, it’s imperative that business, government and the third sector work together."

AbilityNet patron and chair of Go ON UK Martha Lane Fox agrees and believes that in addition to making design practices more inclusive we need to focus equipping people with the skills they need to participate in the digital age:

"Both Go ON UK and AbilityNet are working on building digital skills to enable everyone to benefit as much as possible from available technology."

The full strategy is available for download on the AbilityNet website.


Anne McGuire MP and Nigel Lewis of AbilityNet at the launch of AbilityNet's Mind the Digital Gap, House of Commons, November 2012'

Shadow Minister for Disabled People Anne McGuire with AbilityNet CEO Nigel Lewis at the reception at the House of Commons.

See more pictures from the event on Flickr

Teenagers triumph in AbilityNet Tech4Good youth award with pioneering learning aid for dyslexia

What happens when two 14-year-old tech-minded friends witness some of their closes classmates and family really struggling with dyslexia?

Roughly three children in every class is likely to be dyslexic, and the opportunity to flourish in lessons and in life can become very difficult without tailored support.

Kiera McKillop (pictured below with award) and Sinead McKeown, from St Killian’s College in Northern Ireland wanted to do something to help their friends and got to work with their coding skills to invent the winning entry in the BT Young Pioneer category at the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards 2017.

Their handheld Dyslexic Aid device was created through coding with Python 2 using the Raspberry Pi computer and Sense Hat, and picked up the coveted award at BT Centre last week.

Kiera pictured with her award for BT Young Pioneer at the Tech4Good awards

McKillop, who attended with her mum because classmate Sinead was on holiday, said: “We seemed to see lots of people around us with dyslexia, including our best friend and thought it would be a good idea to do something to help."

“We actually can’t believe that we have won this award. We have worked really hard on Dyslexic Aid and winning the BT Young Pioneer Award is just the best feeling. This is just the start for us and we are going to keep on inventing and inspiring others.”

The two, friends since the start of high school - one a big fan of coding and tech, the other, a non-sporty type looking for a new hobby - connected with the British Dyslexia Association and the University of Ulster and did their own research on what was needed in this space. The result is a low cost learning device, featuring games to help young people with dyslexia learn how to recognise letters and spell words. 

Learning games to support children with dyslexia

There are three games (see them in action in the video linked via the tweet below) which can be played on a Raspberry Pi with Dyslexic Aid built-in  - one is a tracing game, which encourages children to trace letters of the alphabet on screen with their finger. The next is a spelling guessing game, which gives users 10 tries to get a word right before they move to a harder word.

The teenagers specifically wanted to give gamers lots of chances to get a word right, so there was maximum chance of users feeling accomplished and more confident.

The third game is based around orientation and invites users to turnaround letters which might be upside down or back to front and put them into their correct position.

Gamers can learn words in multiple ways with the device, including through seeing, hearing, writing and saying letters and words, to ensure those with different learning styles can benefit.

“Younger pupils really like what we've shown them and how the games work," says McKillop.

Getting Dyslexic Aid to market

Now on their summer break, the two will look at developing new games when back to school in September as well as creating a smaller version of the device, to make the Dyslexic Aid games more portable and most cost-effective.

“The awards ceremony was overwhelming, everyone wanted to talk to me, it was exciting,” says McKillick. “It was amazing to meet Maggie Philbin who my mum knows from Tomorrow's World; I also saw her on Bang Goes the Theory. And I got my picture with Kate Russell (pictured far left, above with Kiera) who I wasn't expecting to even talk to me!”

Kiera with BBC presenter Kate Russell at the Tech4Good Awards

Ian Caveney, senior consultant in sustainable business at BT, praised the inventors: “What impressed us about Dyslexic Aid is how it has brought technology to help support those with an existing difficulty in a new and innovative way. At the same time, the work of Kiera and Sinead should inspire all young people, and those with dyslexia in particular. It truly shows what you can do with simple, but powerful technology.

“We hope the recognition from this award will help them go on to take the Dyslexic Aid from prototype to marketable reality.”

Now in their seventh year the awards recognises organisations and individuals who use digital technology to improve lives.

See the full list of AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards 2017, supported by BT, here.


Lightbulb moment? How smarter homes, Alexa and the age of automation will help disabled people


My first hands-on use of connected devices has opened my eyes to the impact that smarter more connected homes will have on the lives of people with disabilities – as well as everyone else. Combining the new age of ambient computing represented by Alexa, Google Home and the soon-to-be-released Apple HomePod with smart, connected, devices offers a sense of independence that was sci-fi fantasy until a few short months ago.

What happens when you give Alexa the skills to affect the physical world?

Wasserstein smart home plugSmart, connected devices (also known as IOT or the ‘Internet of things’) are nothing new, but it took a first-hand experience to really drive home to me the impact these devices could have for people with disabilities.

I looked at a smart power plug that can be remotely turned on and off by your phone or Alexa, as well as a smart colourful lightbulb:

Setting up IOT devices involves a few steps and sometimes a little frustration.

Step 1 is to connect your phone to the devices by downloading the associated app and using it to create a temporary wi-fi network. You can then communicate with the devices - which have no screen or other interface - and give them permission to connect to the real wi-fi network in your home.

wasserstein smart bulbOnce this little dance is done (and it took a couple of attempts to enable it) then you can control the devices through the app. In the case of the smart bulb you can turn it on and off, change it to any number of colours (well, 16 million in fact), dim or brighten it and make it pulse like a disco light in time to music.

In the case of the smart plug it simply lets power through to the device that is plugged into it like a remote on-off switch. On the day of testing the news said it was hotter in Warwick than in in Marrakesh and Majorca - so we hooked up a fan.

The devices, once set up, were an absolute pleasure to use – if you can use the apps, that is.

Smart apps - but ignorant of accessibility

Both the apps needed to set up these devices (‘Magic Home’ for the plug and ‘Wasserstein’ for the bulb) are completely inaccessible to me as a blind VoiceOver user.

Their functionality, comprising a number of buttons and sliders, would have been easy to make inclusive and this has been fed back to the developers. At the time of writing, however, these apps are strictly out-of-bounds to anyone with accessibility needs.

Adding Alexa to the mix

Alexa is used to control the Amazon Echo Dot Echo to the rescue. By searching for the associated ‘skill’ (these are like apps for the Echo) and linking them to your device you are instantly able to control your smart devices by voice through Alexa.

Of course if you can’t speak then this option isn’t for you, but for anyone who finds the apps problematic (like me) this is magic. It’s just like being on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. And if all you have is your voice - for example I’m thinking of my sister here who is both blind and has very advanced Multiple Sclerosis - then sci-fi fun becomes serious functionality.

Combining the new age of ambient computing represented by Alexa, the Google Home and the soon-to-be-released Apple HomePod with smart, connected, devices is opening up options for independence that were sci-fi fantasy until a few short months ago.

The age of automation

As if being able to control various appliances around your home, either by the tap of a finger on glass, or by the casual thrown voice command in the general direction of your favourite home assistant, wasn’t cool enough you can considerably augment your available options by adding in a bit of automation.

IFTTT - short for If This Then That - is a free and very popular system that helps connect a myriad of possible triggers and potential actions, and can also be used to voice-enable many devices and services other than your connected IOT gadgets.

You can then define a specific voice command and set it as the trigger for your Echo or Google Home. The resulting action (or actions) could be trivial but fun – such as adding what is currently playing on the Echo to a Spotify playlist or asking Alexa to ring your phone as you wander aimlessly around the house. Or they could be something potentially life-changing - such as sending an emergency call, text or email alerting someone when you are in distress, are having an attack.

If the extensive built-in features of the Echo and the thousands of additional available skills aren’t already enough, then the fantastic functions offered by IFTTT can take you well and truly into the age of automated, ambient computing.


Maggie Philbin OBE Honoured with a Special Award and 9 Amazing Tech4Good Awards Winners are Chosen!

Maggie Philbin OBE, star of the BBC’s legendary technology show ‘Tomorrow’s World’ was the worthy recipient of the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards 'Special Award' for her contribution to technology, particularly for her role as CEO and Co-founder of TeenTech. Maggie received her Award along with our 8 amazing category and our People’s Award winners at a glittering ceremony at BT Centre in London on 11 July 2017.

Photo of Maggie Philbin OBE getting the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards Special Award 2017









Congratulations to all the 2017 Award winners:

AbilityNet Accessibility Award: Bristol Braille Technology
Bristol Braille Technology is building a revolutionary and radically affordable Braille e-reader for blind people called Canute, designed with and by the blind community. The Canute is the world’s first multiple line Braille e-reader, forty characters per line by nine lines, and it will be affordable too. They want to be able to sell it for the price of a Perkins typewriter or iPhone. This would make it 20 times cheaper than existing digital Braille devices.

BT Connected Society Award: Sky Badger
Sky Badger finds educational, medical, financial and social support for families with disabled children all over the UK. Over the last five years, Sky Badger has supported over 1.02 million disabled children and their families. With 981,958 visitors to its website and over 17,470 fans and followers on social media, it is clearly reaching lots of people.

BT Young Pioneer Award: Dyslexic Aid
Year ten school pupils Kiera McKillop and Sinead McKeown from Killian’s College created the Dyslexic Aid, with a very limited budget, by using a Raspberry Pi computer. They have used their technical knowledge, skills and enthusiasm to design and make a device that helps children who are struggling to learn because of dyslexia.

Comic Relief Tech4Good for Africa Award: Praekelt.org
In South Africa, Praekelt.org’s Maternal Health Platform connects more than a million pregnant women and new mothers to vital services and information through the National Department of Health’s MomConnect programme.
Launched in 2014, so far it has sent out over 54 million messages to millions of women, with 95% of clinics in the country signed up to the service.

Community Impact Award: Chatterbox
Chatterbox is an online and in-person language tutoring service, delivered and developed by refugees. It brings together refugee talent with people and organisations that need people with excellent language skills. Since starting up in August 2016 they have supported more than 30 refugees with aspirations to rebuild their professional lives in the UK.

Digital Health Award: Fizzyo
Both of Vicky Coxhead’s sons have Cystic Fibrosis and because of this they have to do regular physio to keep infections at bay. She applied to feature on a a new BBC2 documentary asking for families with a problems to get in touchand was introduced to Haiyan Zhang, who volunteered to help. Haiyan works as Innovation Director at Microsoft Research in Cambridge. She enlisted the help of Creative Technologist Greg Saul to create a device that could take the boys’ breaths and turn them into controls for a videogame. Together, with Lee Stott at Microsoft UK, they organised hackathons where volunteer designers and engineers from across the UK came along to make new video game experiences for the Coxhead boys.

Digital Skills Award: FabFarm
FabFarm is a digital aquaponic farm that is designed, built and operated as a social enterprise by disabled students in Derry, N.Ireland. Developed by the Nerve Centre, FabLab, it uses new and emerging technologies to help empower, engage and inspire young people with special educational needs to develop new skills which are directly focused upon their employability in the digital marketplace.

Tech Volunteer of the Year Award: Simon Cook
Simon Cook started volunteering for Centra Group five years ago. Since then this digital champion has managed to set-up IT equipment in 52 sheltered housing schemes across London, and as far-a-field as Norfolk and Telford. His achievements are astounding, and are driven by his absolute determination and perseverance to use tech for good. In the beginning, it was difficult to get elderly residents involved in the IT projects, they were wary of him and the new technology. But, he has won them over and now runs a computer club four days a week that supports more than 30 people.

People’s Award: C the Signs
C the Signs, a decision support tool that enables GPs to see the early signs of cancer, was chosen as the winner of this award by the general public. The public were encouraged to read about each finalist and their entry on the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards website and vote for their choice for the People’s Award by sending a tweet using a dedicated hashtag.


















Tech volunteering with: older people, those with sight loss, young innovators and those disenfranchised - meet the AbilityNet Tech4Good Volunteer of the Year finalists

Four fantastic volunteers have made it to the finals of the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards Volunteer of the Year category. We think you'll agree, they all deserve praise and recognition. Choose of the four, or one of our other finalists (pictured below) to vote in the People's Choice award, which closes today. 

On 11 July we'll be tweeting the results of the awards from the BT Centre in London. Join us here

Simon Cook: Digital champion for older people

Simon has helped hundreds of elderly people gain access to IT equipment and a wifi connection for the first time,” said Paula Blackledge from Digital Unite.

He started volunteering for Centra Group five years ago. Since then this digital champion has managed to set-up IT equipment in 52 sheltered housing schemes across London, and as far-a-field as Norfolk and Telford. He runs a computer club four days a week that supports more than 30 people, has recycled old equipment and made grant applications for communities."

Julia the scheme manager at Kestrel Court, where Simon runs his weekly club, said: “Simon has been so amazing to work with, he is so kind and generous with his time and his patience is never-ending. Kestrel Court now has amazing tech."


Tech4Good 32 finalists 2017


Christine Dodd: Helping people with sight loss navigate Facebook and assistive devices

Former nurse, Christine Dodd is a smartphone and tech whizz. She is blind and teaches everything she knows to other people with sight loss, so everyone can benefit from tech.

Philip, an RNIB assistive aechnology coordinator said of Christine: “ It’s her unique combination of kindness and technical knowledge that makes this tech volunteer stand out from the crowd.”

She runs home and group technology learning sessions covering everything from specialist assistive devices to how to use Facebook. She has run sessions as part of RNIB’s ‘Living With Sight Loss’ courses.

When someone with sight loss becomes confident in using technology, the benefits can be life changing.


Emily-Jayne Crittenden: Inspiring community digital skills and innovation

Emily runs two local tech businesses and in 2014, volunteered to organise Norfolk Developers, a technology community group.

Through Norfolk Developers she organised over 90 events and workshops. These workshops are pivotal in keeping the local digital and technology community skilled and relevant, which in turn breeds innovation. This directly impacts start-up growth, as well as enabling traditional businesses to understand what technology can do for them.

After her success with Norfolk Developers, she has now kicked off a venture called Digital East Anglia to inspire younger developers, engineers and creatives to share tech skills and create digital hubs.


Steve Smith: Using his networks to suppot disenfranchised people with IT

The Collett Special Educational Needs School for children from 4 to 17 years is one of the lowest funded in Hertfordshire. Many of the children have no access to IT outside of school.  Steve, who is a key volunteer with the Charity IT Association (CITA) has come to the rescue, advising us on wifi and supporting funding applications.

In the last year, Steve has helped fourteen small charities via CITA and every time he is the first person to respond every time to special requests. He has a willingness to call on his wider networks to request support for others and has personally donated/brokered several additional items of IT equipment that have enabled organisations to do more than than they dreamed of. 

“Because of Steve’s skills and advocacy, not only do we have a fully-modernised learning suite that works seamlessly, we also have two amazing digital whiteboards which have made our group IT sessions so much more engaging and energetic for the people taking part," says Christina Lake, from the charity Blenheim which supports people with drug and alcohol problems.



Games with aims: Gaming blood tests and physio for kids, plus virtual reality for amputees - meet finalists of the AbilityNet Tech4Good Digital Health Award

Great Ormond Street Hospital's (GOSH) new app called ‘Blood Quest’ is helping to alleviate young people’s anxiety over blood tests and has reached the finals of the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards.

Blood Quest uses creative animal games (see image below) which explore the workings of the heart to entertain and distract children when blood is being taken.

It was developed in response to nursing staff working on the children’s cancer wards at GOSH, where patients often need multiple blood tests during treatment.

Cartoon still image of animals on GSOH game

The app features a ‘quest’ game with different levels to complete. Game levels last the length of an average blood test.

A research team at the hospital developed the application in collaboration with the hospital’s art programme, GOSH Arts.

The creation is one of 32 finalists in the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards in association with BT (finalists pictured below). Blood Quest is one of four finalists in the health category. There are eight categories in total across the competition, including the AbilityNet Accessibility Award and the BT Connected Society Award.

C the Signs - early cancer diagnosis tool

Also in the AbilityNet Tech4Good Digital Health Award category is C the Signs, a tool which aims to help early cancer diagnosis.

Diagnosing cancer is extremely challenging. Unlike other diseases, there is no single identifiable symptom or test that can alert doctors to a potential cancer diagnosis. Cancer is a collection of signs, symptoms and risk factors, which often overlap with many other long-term diseases, says co-founder Dr Bhavagaya Bakshi, one of the two doctors responsible for the new health technology start-up.

pic of 32 finalists at tech4good finals in BT Tower

The innovation is a decision support tool, available on iOS, android and as a website. It uses artificial intelligence, combined with national evidence-based guidelines, to help GPs identify patients with cancer early.

Using primary care data and evidence, their support tool can spot other less obvious signs and symptoms that feature in the early stage of cancers.

Making physio fun: Fizzyo

Thirdly, we have Fizzyo, a clever way of spelling physio! A few years ago Vicky Coxhead was very tired of forcing her young sons to go to physiotherapy to help with their cystic fibrosis when their friends were having fun playing games. But she was also aware that regular physiotherapy is essential to keep infections at bay and prolong life for people with cystic fibrosis.

Spotting an advert for a new BBC2 documentary Big Life Big Fix asking for families with a problems to get in touch, she sent a request and was introduced to Haiyan Zhang, innovation director at Microsoft Research in Cambridge.

Together with creative technologist Greg Saul and a growing team they created a device that could take the boys’ breaths and turn them into controls for a video game.

Hackathons followed where volunteer designers and engineers from across the UK came along to make new video game experiences for the boys and others in the same situation.

Virtual reality to support amputees' rehabilitation

Completing the section is an entry from Sheffield Hallam University.

Using technology first developed for virtual reality gaming, Ivan Phelan, associate researcher working in gaming development and his team, are currently working on a project to support amputees prepare to use prosthetic limbs.

The new tech is helping designers create faster and more accurate real-life prosthetics.

The researcher has been involved in this area for the last ten years: “I really like the idea of using gaming technologies in a clinical setting and how it has the potential to make rehabilitation more engaging and even speed up recovery time,” says Phelan.

During trials, researchers placed a special armband, called a Myo, around peoples’ stumps. Once immersed in the virtual world, amputees can see the prosthetic limbs and are asked to do different everyday tasks in a kitchen, from turning on taps to slicing up food.

By using this new technology, researchers are able to see how these electronic limbs will work in real life, improve how it looks, how its grip function works and reduce the costs involved in getting equipment working more efficiently with fewer attempts.

Refugees and teenagers offered job prospects thanks to the finalists of the AbilityNet Tech4Good Community Impact Award

Around 117,000 people with refugee status are currently living in the UK. On average, those classed as refugees have higher levels of education and training than the rest of the population, but they often end up in low-skilled or exploitative work which hampers future prospects, says Mursal Hedayat from Chatterbox.

Chatterbox is an online and in-person language tutoring service, delivered and developed by refugees and has made it to the finalists selection at the coveted AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards.

The project brings together refugee talent with people and organisations who need people with excellent language skills. They recruit, train, and support talented people, who have become refugees, giving them stimulating work as language tutors, and creating a pathway into even better employment opportunities.

The Tech4Good award crowns those who are using tech skillfully and innovatively to positively effect communities.

Chatterbox has generated hundreds of hours of employment and engaging conversations, numerous friendships, and an abundance of cross-cultural learning. It has grown rapidly since starting up in August 2016 and has recently taken its first big contract with SOAS University of London.

The other three finalists in the competition, which will see winners announced on 11 July at BT centre in London, include miFuture Foundation.

Inspiring a jilted generation with targeted opportunities

Set up in 2011, the foundation is a social enterprise app and website which aims to link the seven Million 16-24 year olds in England and Wales to inspiring career and continued education opportunities.

miFuture founders say they take into account the perspectives and behaviours of young minds today; those who've grown up in a digital world full of short attention and filtered content.

It's using an intuitive system which sends young people ‘personalised‘ opportunities, and offers them easy one-click application processes. It also custom builds CVs.

The enterprise, which is based in South Wales, has already made sure over 2000 16-24 year olds have a CV, and is branching out to other areas of the UK.

Completing the category are Special iApps and Our MK (Milton Keynes). Special iApps started in 2011 when Beverly Dean (pictured below with her son) couldn’t find any educational apps that suited the needs of her youngest son, who has Down's Syndrome. The apps on the market were too distracting and complex for him.

Special apps for children with special educational needs

She worked on creating a series of clean, clear and simple apps for children with special educational needs.

The organisation has now worked with over 50 volunteers to translate content into 20 languages.

Our MK is a website which invites citizens of Milton Keynes to put forward ideas that will impact the community and help shape the future of the area. Hundreds of ideas have been gathered with 13 of these being turned into reality.

Founder of specialiapps Bev and her son William

Many of the funded projects are tech-based. For example, a cycle path treasure hunt app and another app which promotes breast-feeding-friendly locations.

They’ve also supported a food passport scheme to promote independent food and an advertising scheme for low cost solar panels.

To help them understand the community better and to get people talking to them online, the team has employed Community Mobilisers who support local people to take action within their socially disadvantaged areas.

See the full list of 32 AbilityNet Tech4Good finalists 2017 here. 

Vote for your favourite finalist in the AbilityNet Tech4Good People's Award 2017, before 5pm on the 7 July.

Connecting people in need reaps rewards for AbilityNet Tech4Good finalists

Empowering others is what the Tech4Good awards are all about. And this year's finalists in the Tech4Good BT Connected Society Award encapsulate this aim perfectly.

The finalist list demonstrates how technology can be used simply or more intricately to help connect and empower those who need each other.

In the top four is SignVideo. This idea was born in response to the frustration of the deaf British Sign Language (BSL) community who can find it incredibly difficult to communicate with hearing people and do normal, everyday things like visit the doctor or contact a service provider.

Ten years ago, Jeff McWhinney created a Video Relay Services and Video Remote Interpreting provider to enable communication between the community of over 150,000 deaf BSL users in the UK and hearing people.

This service is available instantly on tablets, smartphones, computers and laptops via apps and software for communication between friends, family, ordering a take away or going to the bank. The company has partnered with organisations such as BT, Barclays, HSBC, SSE, British Gas, Sky, Santander, DWP, Nationwide, RBS, Natwest, Prudential and more who offer the service to customers.

Connecting families with disabled children

Next is Sky Badger is an online charity connecting the families of disabled children. “When your child gets diagnosed with a medical condition or disability, it can feel like the loneliest place to be. You don’t know what to do, you don’t know where to turn. Sky Badger was created to give power back to families, so they know how to help their children to have the brightest futures,” said Naomi Marek from Sky Badger.

“We are here to empower other parents to connect. Technology has allowed us to share tools, to make a real difference that continues to be shared 24 hours a day in every corner of the UK.”

Atticus Link is web app founded to enable the efficient delivery of pro bono legal advice and improve the experience of advice seekers, advisors and the legal centres that support them. The app automates the routine fact-finding exercise common during legal centre appointments and provides a secure environment to review, evaluate and advise on legal issues remotely.

The Founders are addressing a systemic and growing problem in the UK: the decline in access to legal advice and the rise of advice deserts.

Linking lawyers with those critically in need of advice

One of the founders Fatiha explains: “Today, people who might be in a difficult legal situation will have access to justice without leaving their house. They will be able to use either their computer or their phone to log onto the Atticus-Link app. They will not have to wait in a queue with no guarantee to be heard. This, to me, is priceless, an amazing innovation that will make people’s lives easier and save their time.”

Completing the category, we have the OrCam MyEye, a wearable vision device gives people their independence back. MyEye provides advanced text-to-speech from any surface, sign, document or computer. Users will be able to identify regular shopping items and products around the home, and they won’t have to worry about not recognising familiar faces, as it stores them too.

It helps those who are visually impaired or blind, as well as those who struggle with learning difficulties such as dyslexia.

MyEye does not require an internet connection or power outlets to operate. A tiny camera fits onto the side of any glasses and this connects to a pocket-sized computer and battery pack.