5 new accessibility features in Windows 10 Fall Creators Update

The Windows 10 Fall Creators Update released this month has promised ‘breakthroughs in creativity’ – offering options for mixed reality and faster broadcasting for gaming. But, the update - free until the end of the year - also offers several new and updated accessibility features.

Here we offer a snapshot of those updates and what they offer disabled people.

Microsft's latest OS update provides a range of assistive technologies

Eye Control

A beta version of the much talked about Eye Control is now available. It means those who use eye movements for communication, such as people with physical disabilites, can now combine a compatible eye tracker with Windows 10 to operate an on-screen mouse, keyboard and text-to-speech experience.

New Learning Tools capabilities in Microsoft Edge (the new Internet Explorer)

Microsoft Learning Tools are a set of features designed to make it easier for people with learning differences like dyslexia to read, says Microsoft. In this update, a user can mow simultaneously highlight and listen to text in web pages and PDF documents to read and increase focus.

Dictation on the Desktop



This feature already allowed people with vision, mobility and cognitive disabilities to speak into their microphone, and convert that using Windows Speech Recognition into text that appears on screen. In the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, a person can now use dictation to input text (English only) in a wider variety of ways and applications. As well as dictating text, you can also use voice commands to do basic editing or to input punctuation.

Narrator Screenreader new image descriptions and Magnifier link up

Microsofts screen reader - Narrator - now uses Microsoft Cognitive Services to generate image descriptions for pictures that lack alternative text. For websites or apps that don’t have alt-text built in, this feature will provide quick and accurate descriptions of an image. It's also now possible to use Magnifier with Narrator, so you can zoom in on text and have it read aloud.

Colour Filters for colour blindness colour blindness

Color Filters help those with colour blindness more easily distinguish between colours. All installed software and third-party apps will follow the filter a users sets up. The colour filters are available in greyscale, invert, greyscale inverted, Deuteranopia, Protanopia or Tritanopia.

More information

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

Bank robbers, future tech and the importance of inclusive design

On Tuesday I spoke at the excellent Beyond Tellerrand conference in Munich, Germany. I spoke about being lucky in 2018, bank robbers, the future of tech and the importance of inclusive design.

My talk was called 'From AI to robots, from apps to wearables - let's design for everyone, ok?' It covered a broad range of technology and how important it is to ensure that the tech of tomorrow is inclusive. If we get the design right it can be used by everyone, regardless of disability, impairment or environment.

The organisers have been swift in getting the video up online and I'd love for you to watch it.

From AI to robots, from apps to wearables – let’s design for everyone, OK? - Robin Christopherson - btconfMUC2018 from beyond tellerrand on Vimeo.

Bank robbers and lemonade

So where do luck and bank robbers fit in? Well you’ll just have to watch it for the full story (hot tip - it's right at the beginning) but one significant message I'd like people to take away is that, in large part, we make our own luck. Whether it’s being caught in the crossfire in a bank robbery, or something as every day (but still exasperating) as dropping your phone, how we choose to view that event can make all the difference to our day, our week, our lives.

When it comes to people with disabilities, you’ll find that they are often the most grateful and positive people you’d be lucky to meet. When life serves you lemons, often the best approach is to make lemonade.

Embrace inclusive design and give people a fighting chance to have a truly lucky 2018

One word that used to be used for describing people with a disability was ‘handicapped’. I actually quite like this term. The better the racehorse, the bigger the handicap (additional weight added to slow them down and level the field) and the better the golfer, the greater the number of shots added to his or her score at the start of a round.

sticks of celery

The thing is that no matter how good a golfer you are, if instead of your set of golf clubs you’re given a stick of celery instead, then even Tiger Woods wouldn’t make it past the first hole. There are some handicaps you just can’t get over however positive your outlook is.

The same is true of inaccessible design.

If you have a disability and a website, app or piece of software that you need to use for work, education or pleasure is not inclusive, then you’re stuck. You’re out of luck. Some things are out of our control.

If, however, you’re a designer or developer working on websites, apps or even robots or AI, then it’s completely within your power to make them inclusive and to help build a future for everyone.

Related links

How contact lens computers could help those who are partially sighted see the future more clearly

It’s predicted that, by 2021, contact lens computers will be a reality. A recent patent and detailed tech-spec for such a device by Sony (see video below) shows how every element of a computer  – from a screen to a battery and even a camera – can be condensed down to fit in a contact lens. Such tech could be a real eye-opener for people with disabilities.

Sony has submitted a patent (including a detailed technical specification) for a ‘contact lens computer’. It fits over the eye and contains everything that you need for a fully-functional computer, as well as wi-fi, storage, a built-in camera and even a piezo-electrically-charged battery that happily keeps the miniscule micro-components powered simply by your natural eye-movements. The company predicts that it will be available as early as 2021.

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Seeing the future clearly with contact lens computers

With a computer screen nestled on your eyeball and its image able to occupy your entire field of vision, the applications for both augmented reality and virtual reality are obvious. You can work and play wherever you are – using applications that either layer important information on top of the real world or else immerse you in another world of your choosing -  and without the need for any devices or power supply. For those with a vision impairment, however, this ability to see a virtual screen that is effectively so enormous as to fill what field of view you do have, has obvious benefits.

While larger and larger screens are available, for someone who is partially sighted, the further away those outer edges of monitor are, the harder they are to see. And there is also the obvious question of the cost for such massive monitors. This virtual view of a screen gets around those issues and affords the user much easier access to their computer and the internet.

How a contact lens computer works

Most computer monitors comprise a liquid crystal display (LCD) panel that contains millions of pixels that can change colour or block light altogether. Then there’s a backlight panel that shines through to light up each pixel so we can see the colours shine.

As we see in this quick DIY video on how to make a see-through screen, if we dismantle our monitor and take away that back panel then what we get is a transparent display through which we can see the world – as well as the information or images on our computer screen. If the world behind is a white wall, say, then it might look a little like a normal monitor.

In newer, organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays that comprise pixels which produce their own light, the process is even easier. Here there is no back panel so all you need to do is remove the back of your monitor.

Making minute contact lens computers

Having a transparent display is a crucial part of making the concept of a contact lens-sized computer a reality. Obviously, there’s much more to a computer than simply the screen, but we are seeing a marked reduction in size of each and every element of a computer. We see those in the field taking complex circuit boards and several components such as memory and CPU etc and creating a minute ‘system on a chip’ and taking bulky battery and camera technology and making squeezin them into ever-thinner smartphones.

The ultimate head-mounted computer

Many tech companies are producing smart glasses that give you a similar ‘heads-up display’ (Vuzix glasses pictured below) . Here are the top five available on Amazon today, but having both a display that is in front of you wherever you look combined with a camera that is always looking where you are, will make these bulky unappealing gadgets of today look hopelessly out-of-date.

vuzix smart glasses

Such smart glasses with head-mounted cameras have many disability-specific applications - from using AI to read text or identify what objects a blind person is looking at, to highlighting (with a hi-vis outline) such objects to assist those with partial vision, to layering helpful info or icons on top of what someone with a learning difficulty sees when performing everyday tasks. Now these capabilities will be available with less inconvenience and, we hope, expense.

Gazing into the future

In a few short years there will no longer be people walking around looking down at mobile phones, oblivious to their surroundings, blundering into people, lamposts or on-coming traffic. People will instead be empty-handed and gazing blankly into the middle-distance. Whether they will see the wisdom of standing still while they view a screen that potentially takes up their whole field of vision… we’ll just have to wait and see.

Resources

How Image Recognition and AI is Transforming the Lives of Blind People

Microsoft Seeing AI - the best ever app for blind people just got even better

 

For advice and news on disability and tech, see abilitynet.org.uk

 

3 ways students can reduce stress and create better essays

Now the festivities are over it's time for us all to start thinking about the year ahead. For most students it's time to get to work. Whether you've got a thesis, dissertation or a simple report to write, these student apps will help to maximise productivity, reduce procrastination and even improve the eloquence of your writing.

1  Zotero 

This is particularly good for science students who need to reference, but good for anyone writing essays and thesis. Use it to collect, organise, speedily cite, and share your research sources. 

Get Zoreto here

See this useful short video guide for a Zoreto demo
 

student looking relaxed writing in cafe with hot drink

 2 Dragon Dictation

Dragon Dictate is a voice recognition app that listens to you speaking and automatically converts those words into digital written text. Obviously useful for essays, but you could also try it for capturing notes and ideas. If you have trouble getting your words down and prefer to speak, or are dyslexic or have trouble writing for physical reasons, this could ease the pressure. By allowing users to dictate a stream of thoughts and words, it takes the pressure off students who feel it’s difficult to put words on the page while thinking. 

Get Dragon Dictate for iOS, here

There’s a super quick demo of Dragon Dictation here
 

3  Evernote

A popular organisational tool, where you can keep different notes and subjects in order and in separate sections and add and subtract from them when you wish, syncing across your devices. Handily it’s also an audio recorder for lecturers or verbal notes and ideas. You can share notes with course mates too, but this might involve a charge. One extra really cool feature - scan and search - means that if you take pics of whiteboard content or handouts, you can search them using any of the words in the image, because Evernote recognises content within images. In addition, you can write or draw on those PDFs on screen. Try Trello too if you want a project management board where you can see your projects’ workflow really easily and clearly. 

Get Evernote here

Find out more about how Evernote could help you in this video

How tech can help disabled people: AbilityNet's top 10 blogs of 2017

AbilityNet's website saw more traffic than ever before in 2017. Here are the top 10 most viewed articles published last year. 

man wearing VR glasses in a mountain scene simulation


1 Virtual reality 
From trying out-of-reach experiences to aiding muscle recovery, we looked at 8 ways virtual reality could enhance the lives of disabled people 

2 iPad / iPhone settings and tremors
How the latest version of the software that drives iPads and iPhone (iOS10) offers significant improvements for people with tremors due to conditions such as Parkinsons, Cerebral Palsy or old age

3 Government and disability
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)'s Disability report says government has failed to support disabled people over the last 20 years. 

4 Windows 10 Fall Creator
The new accessibility features which came with Microsoft Windows Fall Creator update

5 AI and blind people
The artificial intelligence app which helps blind people hear the world

6 Dementia and digital design webinar 
Advice for developers on creating online services which are dementia friendly 

7 Robin's MBE
Our tech guru Robin Christopherson picks up a well deserved MBE for services to digital inclusion

8 BBC producer on life with dyslexia
Ed Booth opened up about his life, from struggles with dyslexia to writing top BBC programmes

9 Dementia-friendly websites
An AbilityNet accessibility consultant's top 6 tips for a dementia-friendly website

10 Microsoft's SEEING AI app
Robin, who is blind, blogs about the updates to Seeing AI. He was excited that it can now read colours and handwriting


What else was popular?

 

How Image Recognition and AI is Transforming the Lives of Blind People

A demo of the Orcam MyEye 2.0 was one of the highlights at the AbilityNet/RNIB TechShare Pro event in November. This small device, an update to the MyEye released in 2013, clips onto any pair of glasses and provides discrete audio feedback about the world around the wearer. It uses state-of-the-art image recognition to read signs and documents as well as recognise people and does not require internet connection. It's just one of many apps and devices that are using the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to transform the lives of people who are blind or have sight loss.

the new Orcam MyEye clips onto a standard pair of glasses and can recognises every day products

Last week, we took a look Microsoft’s updated free app Seeing AI and its amazing new features for people who are blind or have sight loss, including colour recognition and handwriting recognition. The app proved popular with AbilityNet’s head of digital inclusion, Robin Christopherson. 

And it's not the only innovation that is helping blind people. In the last few years we’ve seen popular and loved apps such as TapTapSee powered by Cloudsight.ai image recognition. This app allows users to take a photo and the details of what and who is in the photo are then spoken to the user. Similarly, Aipoly Vision app gives real time image recognition using Deep Learning. 

New smaller Orcam MyEye

Version 2.0 of the MyEye can clip onto a standard pair of glassesAt TechShare Pro, Orcam, the makers of AI vision tech MyEye who've recently launched MyEye 2.0, gave delegates an advance look at the updated tech before launch (6 December). The MyEye 2.0 consists of a very small camera and microphone attached to a pair of glasses linked to a smaller processor that can be clipped onto the body. A user can point to text, for example on a menu or notice board, and will hear a computerised voice read out the information. The device can also recognise faces, money and other objects.

Presenting the technology, Leon Paull, Orcam’s international business development manager, said: “You can teach it to identify certain items and it will find those in a supermarket. It’s ability to find products has been enhanced. The device is being used all around world and the new version understands multiple languages and can read barcodes and has colour recognition." 

He used simple hand gestures to work the technology, such as pointing a finger towards a page to have the text on the page read discreetly into his ear. With a wave of his hand, the system then stopped reading out text. He looked at his wrist to mime that he wanted to know the time, and MyEye 2.0 spoke the time. 

The MyEye 2.0 builds on the previous model for blind people, offering a more discreet and portable device with no wires. It currently costs around £3,000, but the creators say they are hoping funders will come forward so the devices can be provided at a cheaper cost or for free. 

Useful links

Five top tips for building accessible conversational interfaces

Leonie Watson of WC3 The Amazon Echo and Google Home top of many Christmas lists this year. Both of these amazing devices can use our verbal instructions to play music, turn our lights on and off, exchange the basics of a short conversation with us, and of course, tell us the weather. Amongst the highlights of our TechShare pro conference in November was a talk by Leonie Watson - who offered her five top tips on creating accessible conversations with our machines.

Legends of talking machines

“There are reports that as far back 1000 years ago people were thinking about the concept artificial speech,” says Watson, director of developer communications for the Paciello Group, a member of the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) Advisory Board, and co-chair of the W3C Web Platform Working Group.

Legends of talking “machines” go 1000 years back to Pope Sylvester II (950–1003 AD), the first French Pope who supposedly created a very basic first dialog system including components of speech recognition, understanding, generation, and synthesis - according to the essay Gerbert, the Teacher by Oscar G. Darlington in The American Historical Review.

Steve Jobs introduces the first talking Apple Mac

Fast forward to the 1980s, when the first text-to-speech synthesiser by DECtalk was introduced. 1984 also saw Steve Jobs demonstrate the Apple Mac’s talking capabilities for the first time with Apple MacInTalk. See the video below from 3 minutes 20.


"There’s been some good marketing around such technology", said Watson, who has sight loss. "But I've found that talking to tech has been a laborious process - with a person having to speak very, very clearly and with specific phrases for machines to understand. Even then, the interaction has ended up bearing little resemblance to an actual conversation", said Watson.

Siri

“The thing that really changed that was Siri in 2011. For first time we could have something that felt a lot more like a conversation with technology. In 2014 the Windows Cortana launch followed, giving us another digital assistant that would talk back to us.”

“The same year, with the Amazon Echo, we started to see digital assistants be able to do practical things around the house, but we still needed very structured language and to ask very carefully phrased demands to get it to do things," explained Watson. "A further leap forward came in 2015 with Google making it’s technology more context aware. Meaning, for example, if a song was playing, you could ask your Google device ‘where’s this artist from? Or what’s his real name?” without having to specifically state who you were talking about.”

How to build accessible conversational interfaces

Watson laid out five ways that developers could make interactions with machines as clear as possible for a wide-range of people.

1 Keep machine language simple

  • Think about the context of how people might be using the device. They might be driving or cooking and need short, simple interactions.
  • Offer choices but not too many choices.
  • Suggest obvious pointers to useful information.

2 Avoid idioms and colloquialisms

  • ie, terms like “it’s raining cats and dogs” or “coffee to go” might only be understood by certain audiences and so lack inclusivity.

Amazon echo3 Avoid dead-ends in conversation

  • Give the users cues around what to say or ask next to get what they need.

4 Use familiar, natural language.

  • Ie for time, say ‘three thirty in the morning’ for a UK or US audience. Don’t say ‘zero, three, three zero a.m’.

5 Provide a comparable experience

  • Users of such technology will generally require speech and hearing to talk to machines.
  • For those with hearing loss, conversational transcripts could be posted on screen.
  • For those without speech, the only obvious option at the moment is using simulated speech, like Stephen Hawking does, for example.

Learn more