Can technology combat social isolation?

A man sits alone on a bench in a crowded high streetA share of a £1 million cash injection and the chance to be coached, and mentored is up for grabs as part of a technology prize aimed at ending loneliness.

Nesta Challenges launched the Tech to Connect Challenge Prize at the end of June as part of the Government campaign, ‘Let’s Talk Loneliness’ backed by the British Red Cross, the Marmalade Trust, Public Health England and the Jo Cox Foundation. The aim is to encourage innovative ideas using technology to combat loneliness.

“People have never been so connected, and they have also never felt so disconnected from their communities,” says Kate Adams, Nesta Challenges’s Director of Operations and Special Projects. “Social isolation is a major public health concern affecting people from all walks of life. Where people are living with isolation and the cause is physical – such as a disability - it might be possible to solve that with a technological solution,” she adds.

Loneliness is just as applicable to younger people, the recently bereaved, new parents and those suffering from mental health conditions.

As an organisation that is dedicated to building a more accessible digital world, it is a cause that’s close to AbilityNet’s heart. “Technology has the power to greatly alleviate isolation in both young and old. AbilityNet is focussed on making sure that everyone gets the best out of technology. Barriers can be physical, mental or circumstantial. The good news is that mainstream tech itself is becoming ever more accessible,” said Gary Moore, Chief Executive of AbilityNet.

Innovating to combat loneliness

As an example, Adams cites the work of Lewis Hines, one of the winners at last year’s Tech 4 Good Awards who was using robots to connect children too sick to attend school.

Lewis who is battling a brain tumour is also keen to create a virtual world where isolated kids can connect with each other.

The idea is a great example of the type of project Nesta Challenges is looking for, says Adams.

“The solutions don’t need to be high-tech. One of the ideas Nesta has funded in the past, Good Gym, is an app that helps people get fit whilst doing good. It connects people who want to get fit by running with older people who are socially isolated,” Adams told AbilityNet.

Successful ideas will be those that are impactful, innovative, feasible/affordable and scalable.

The Tech To Connect Challenge aims to have 7-10 finalists who will go on to receive a 5 month support package; this includes financial support, but just as importantly “non-financial technical support, covering capacity development around tech, marketing/communications, business planning, partnerships, and coaching,” says Adams.

Apply for Nesta Tech to Connect Challenge

Submissions for the Nesta Challenges Tech to Connect Challenge are open until Wednesday 7 August. To find out more and register your interest, visit: https://techtoconnect.challenges.org. You can also follow @NestaChallenges.

Find out more about the Tech4Good Awards

For great examples of the positive impact of technology see our Tech4Good Awards. We’ll be announcing the winners on July 17 2019.

You can also follow us @tech4goodawards.

AbilityNet Factsheet - July 2019

Technical help and training resources

Although using and interacting with information technology (IT) is becoming increasingly intuitive, it is not a natural process and therefore, some level of training will be needed for anyone. Training is also the most efficient way to improve confidence and encourage further independent learning.

AbilityNet provides free IT support to help older people and disabled people to use technology to achieve their goals. We have a network of friendly volunteers who can help with most major computer systems, laptops, tablet devices and smartphones.

We are often asked about teaching and training on computer skills, this factsheet provides the details of the companies, charities, and government initiatives that can provide this.

Last updated: July 2019

Although using and interacting with information technology (IT) is becoming increasingly intuitive, it is not a natural process and therefore, some level of training will be needed for anyone. Training is also the most efficient way to improve confidence and encourage further independent learning. AbilityNet provides free IT support to help older people and disabled people to use technology to achieve their goals. We have a network of friendly volunteers who can help with most major computer systems, laptops, tablet devices and smartphones. We are often asked about teaching and training on computer skills, this factsheet provides the details of the companies, charities, and government initiatives that can provide this.
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Making creativity accessible: Tech4Good Accessibility Award finalists

AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards

According to psychologist, creative thinking expert and Nobel Prize nominee Edward de Bono, “There is no doubt that creativity is the most important human resource of all.” Sponsored by Microsoft, Tech4Good Accessibility Award demonstrate how tech can help harness disabled people's creative talents - the finalists this year include people and organisations making music production and poetry writing more inclusive.

Accessibility Award

Sponsored by Microsoft

Experts believe that creativity will be one of our key defining skills over robots in the future, so it's great to see a strong focus on making creativity more accessible among the entrees to the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards this year. The awards, sponsored by BT, take place in London on 17 July. 

Digit Music: Making music accessible to all

Founders of the product Control One, made by Digit Music are one of the four finalists.

The Control One has been essential to the musical compositions created by Jess Fisher, winner of the Emerging Artist prize at The Mighty Creative awards, earlier this year. A short film about Control One follows.

 

The musical interface and audio system which make up the Control One enable music creation through simple movements of a joystick attached to a wheelchair. The adapted wheelchair controller interacts with a computer and allows the user to make entire songs.

Fisher explains what the invention has meant to her: “Performing on stage has been amazing and it’s made me feel so blessed," she says. "It shows that despite having a disability you can still make music and it can sound good. I hope this opens people’s eyes to what the future holds for people with disabilities. But it’s not just for people with disabilities, it's for anyone with a desire to make music who might need an extra helping hand.”

The invention enables people with restricted movement to perform complex musical phrases. Musicians are able to work independently, using the controller to switch between instruments, genres and tempos, or in groups by selecting different instruments to play collaboratively.

Inventor of the Control One, Si Tew, suggests that as well as being used by music students and young people, the device could be useful for older people and those with dementia.

MakeWrite: Aphasia and writing

A fellow finalist in the 2019 AbilityNet Accessibility Award category is MakeWrite. Designed by the INCA Project at City University, London, this app makes creative writing easier for a range of people. It was built for those who have Aphasia, a condition which can happen to people who have had a stroke.

People with Aphasia can struggle to find the words to express themselves. The INCA Project’s work is directly addressing this challenge and enabling people with aphasia to be creative using the exciting principle of 'constrained creativity'. It was inspired by the concept of redacted poetry where a would-be poet sources words from an existing text to create something new and unexpected. With MakeWrite, users select a source text, automatically redact it to erase most of the words and arrange the remaining words to create a new piece of creative writing. A short film demonstrating how MakeWrite works follows. 

 

“Creative activities allow people to express themselves in rich, nuanced ways and have benefits for mental well-being and self-esteem,” a spokesperson for the app told AbilityNet.

As always, the Accessibility category of the Tech4Good Awards is a very strong category. The remaining two finalists are also doing excellent work to enable disabled people to more readily participate in life, work and fun.

Everyone Can: Disability and gaming

Everyone Can, which makes the list, provides a number of services, including an impressive gaming centre for disabled people and family and friends. The team offers around five gaming sessions a week in Manchester but also takes equipment in a van to different areas of the UK. Their Manchester facilities include 150 inch screens for multiplayer games, a driving rig, two virtual reality stations and three assistive gaming stations for children/adults who are unable to use a regular controller.

Each gaming station is set up to quickly assess the individual and then get them gaming in the way easiest for them e.g. joysticks, switch buttons, eye movements, head movements e.t.c. The Everyone Can team has seen first-hand the growth in confidence and life-skills among those who game with them. A short film of the Everyone Can centre follows.

 

Completing AbilityNet's inspiring line-up of finalists in this category is the Welcome app made by Neatebox. This creation makes the experience of going into shops, businesses and other venues a more welcoming visit for a disabled person.

Welcome by Neatebox: Making businesses and services more disability-friendly

As founder and CEO of Neatebox, Gavin Neate, explains the Welcome app was in response to seeing people with a disability going into venues, shops and retailers and not getting as good as service as they should. "One of the reasons for that," he explains, "was that people giving the service were maybe nervous or embarrassed, or just weren’t able to approach the person with a disability the way they would like."

Ken Reid has tried out the app and says: “I have walked into shops many times and I have stood there and waited, holding a cane in my hand, looking enthusiastic and nobody has come and talked to me. I’ve turned around and walked straight back out.” A short film demonstrates the app. 

 

The app enables a conversation between the business/ venue and a disabled customer or carer before they reach the service. Using a phone’s location service attributes, the Welcome app trains staff before the visitor walks through the door giving the person's name, profile picture, an overview of a condition, top tip and further learning (supplied by the organisation supporting the disabled visitor). The visitor remains at the very centre of this interaction, becoming more empowered and dictating the level of service they receive.

Some of the businesses using the app so far include RBS, The Scottish Government, House of Fraser, Dundee Council, Stirling Council, Guide Dogs for the Blind, NorthLink Ferries, Visit Scotland, NatWest Bank, DoubleTree Hilton.

Find out more

Introduction to web accessibility for HE

Laptop open with lady using smartphoneThe UK Public Sector Web Accessibility Regulations became law in 2018 and created a range of new responsibilities for universities, HE (higher education) institutions and other public sector bodies. The purpose of the regulations is to ensure any student can succeed in education, with a particular focus on making sure websites and digital learning resources are accessible to disabled students.

There's a lot of change ahead, and so we're hosting a series of workshops that will provide an opportunity for you to learn new accessibility skills and focus on the requirements of the legislation - in particular the need to produce an Accessibility Statement by the 23rd of September 2019.

Our first workshop is on the 23rd of July 2019 at 1pm, and will be an 'Introduction to web accessibility for HE'. Part of a series of four 90-minute online workshops, you can book each of the sessions separately at £90 each. Once the date of a workshop has passed we will offer a recording of the live online event for £45.

You can find full details of our HE Web Accessibility training programme on our website.


Introduction to web accessibility for HE

Workshop 1/4, 1:00-2:30pm, 23 July 2019

This entry-level session introduces the principles of digital accessibility and its impact on people with disability, with particular reference to higher education settings.

It is ideal for anyone creating, managing or procuring digital content or systems, including digital managers, web developers, learning technologists, student services staff, academics and others.  It will also be useful to staff who support disabled students and technical staff involved with evaluating and reporting accessibility compliance.

Contents include:

  • How assistive technology and digital accessibility helps disabled students and staff access online content
  • Key digital accessibility principles and guidelines 
  • Updates on regulatory requirements for universities

Book now on Eventbrite

Five ways to stay well with Alexa

We all know that the Echo can wake us up in the morning and time the perfect egg, can keep us up-to-date with the news and weather, and play music and games and so, so much more – but it can also help keep us fit, healthy and safe. Here’s a few top Alexa tips on keeping well.

Alexa, I’ve got this shooting pain down my left arm

Thanks to a recent collaboration with the NHS, your Echo now knows almost everything that there is to know about medical matters – quite literally. You don’t have to enable a skill or know a special command to conjure up the info – just like Wikipedia, Recipidea, Wiki-How and so much more, it’s now all built-in and all you have to do is ask.NHS.uk logo

Just ask, “Alexa, how can I treat a burn?” or “Alexa, what can I do about a headache?” or “Alexa, how do I treat a boil?” In each case, she will answer by saying, “According to the NHS website…”and continue to give you all sorts of essential information to effectively manage your ailments and patch up your accidents.

Of course, she’s still no replacement for a doctor – but an initial consultation with your GP may well soon be via your Echo Dot or Echo Show (that’s the one with the screen). In any case, she’s always there for you for all things medical.

Alexa, help me keep fit

There are quite literally thousands of superb skills that can help you with exercise, from gentle yoga to high intensity training – and we’ve covered many of them on Dot to Dot, the daily Echo demo podcast.

Woman holding a yoga pose on concrete floor

Try saying, “Alexa, start Easy Yoga,” for your personal yoga coach to take you through a range of poses to relax or energise you, “Alexa, open The Body Coach,” for an awesome HIIT (high intensity interval training) workout that gets harder day by day, or “Alexa, launch the 100 Pushups Challenge,” to build those dream pecs, and so many more. To give you an idea of just how many, there are currently 184 different yoga skills alone… 

Woman doing push up on outside deck

Alexa, help me eat well

There are a similarly dazzling number of recipe and food-related skills available through the A-lady. Recipedia was mentioned above – this used to be a separate skill you needed to invoke but now simply say, “Alexa, what recipes do you have for vegan sausage rolls?” or “Alexa, how many calories in a muffin?” (169 calories in one plain muffin, in case you’re interested).

“Alexa, start the BBC Good Food skill,” will open a world of great cooking options, categorized by Dish, diet, course or cuisine. You can also search by ingredients to help use up what’s been lingering in the fridge.

So there’s now no excuse for not knowing a good, healthy recipe to make with what’s already in your cupboards, and just how many calories are in that slice of cake or chocolate biscuit.

Of course you can also order a dozen cupcakes through Just Eat, or a large pepperoni pizza through the Dominoes skill – but we won’t mention either of those here.

Alexa, help me relax, sleep well and stay focused

OK – if we thought there were a lot of skills in the aforementioned categories, these pale into insignificance when compared to the sheer number of relaxation, meditation, mindfulness, mind-coaching, hypnotherapy, time management or study focus skills that Alexa has to offer.

Just ask, “Alexa, help me sleep/relax/focus/stop smoking etc, etc,” and she will suggest a selection for you to try in each category. The A-lady is now exceptionally good at offering you skill options related to any question or request you may have.

There are even skills that will help your pets relax. Say, “Alexa, start Relax My Dog,” or “Alexa, open Calm My Dog,” and so many more. Want to do the complete opposite? Then simply say, “Alexa, meow.”

White shorthaired dog sleeping on wooden deck

Oh and by the way, you can also ask Alexa to pretend to be a dog to protect your home while you’re away (“Alexa, launch Burglar Deterrent.”)

Alexa, help me get help – fast!

If you need to ask a friend to come round to help open a jar or pill bottle, have those sharp pains and need to get help fast, or if you just need someone to talk to to help stave off feelings of isolation experience by so many (particularly if a disability is keeping you indoors or even in bed), then being able to call a friend or family member by voice can be a life-saver.

You have always been able to call other Echo devices using your voice (“Alexa, call Susan,”) but now, thanks to a recent feature to come to the UK, you can also call the mobile or landline of everyone in your contacts too – completely free of charge.

If you’ve had a fall and can’t reach the phone, being able to call for help via the A-lady could make all the difference. For the full low-down on how it works check out my recent post on hands-free calling using Alexa. Note – current exceptions include premium numbers and, importantly, emergency services so it’ll have to be a friend or family member who helps make that crucial visit or emergency call.

Related articles

Inclusive technology for disabled students: your questions answered

On our recent webinar on 'Free Training on Inclusive Technology for Students' we shared some of our favourite free and low-cost apps that can help students facing barriers to learning related to focus, note-taking and organisation, time management and mental health.

The webinar was well attended and well received with 100% of those in attendance responding 'Yes' to 'Have you found the information shared on this webinar useful?'. There were a lot of great questions asked by the attendees on the day and we were unable to answer them all. In this blog we respond to your questions about inclusive technology for students. A recording of the webinar is also included below if you missed it, hosted on YouTube.

Content blockers - are they for PC?

A content blocker can help students to stay focused and be present by encouraging them to put down their smartphone or stop looking at their computer screen. There are multiple types of content blockers that work across all different platforms. Of the apps mentioned in the webinar Forest is an app based blocker and will work on both Android and iOS devices (currently £1.99 on iOS). Cold Turkey is a website blocker which can be downloaded on both Windows and macOS.

Can Office Lens capture information displayed on a computer screen, such as a database?

Office lens uses your smartphone's camera with advanced settings to help make photographs of whiteboards and printed documents easier to read. Unfortunately it is unlikely to perform well reading detailed information displayed on your screen. However, if you were to use the Snipping Tool on your Windows computer to capture screenshots of your display, you would then be able to drop that image into an app such as OneNote and annotate in the same way. There are macOS alternatives to the Snipping Tool.

I've personally been using Evernote for years but I'm happy to consider recommending OneNote to students. Evernote is multi-platform, but other than that is there much difference?

OneNote and Evernote are both powerful note-taking apps which share a lot of similar features, including optical character recognition, web clipping and tagging. With all of the apps we recommend it is down to personal preference, trial and error, and seeing what works best for the student. However, we usually recommend OneNote as the must-have note-taking app for students because it is free, flexible and user-friendly. OneNote lends itself to more personalisation, both aesthetically and functionally, with each page in OneNote acting more like a piece of paper, allowing for completely free-form note-taking with text boxes and images being able to be placed anywhere on the page.

OneNote is also multi-platform, available on Android, iOS, macOS, web and Windows. The functionality and aesthetic of the app changes platform to platform. Another bonus for OneNote is it’s ease of use with other programmes in Microsoft Office 365, which is free to all students with a university email address.

Check out the great blog by Zapier for more of an in-depth comparison of OneNote and Evernote.

Are there any apps for promoting more sleep, for students who don't have a healthy sleep/study balance?

There are definitely apps out there for promoting healthier sleep patterns, such as Sleep Cycle, Relax + Sleep Well and Pzizz. Meditation features are common amongst all of them, as well as tracking natural sleep cycles in order to encourage the user to wake up at the lightest points of sleep. Although these apps are advertised as free they all appear to have in-app purchases so you have to pay a subscription to access the meditation elements of the apps.

Any app suggestions for planning/tracking progress of a longer project such as a PhD?

We would recommend you have a look at Trello for a longer project, which is a free collaboration tool that organizes your projects into logical progress boards. In one glance, Trello tells you what's being worked on, who's working on what, and where something is within a process. It allows you to add extensive notes and pictures to each board and you can move notes across boards as you work through each section. Trello works on web, Android and iOS.

Does the SAM app signpost towards local human help (presuming location services are turned on)?

The SAM app is an application that can help students to understand and manage their anxiety. The app does signpost to human help available in the UK, for example the Samaritans, but it does not suggest specific organisations local to the individual. Our research has found this is generally the case across many wellbeing apps, possibly due to the fact that they don’t have the ability to source human help organisations across the whole of the country.

How can the students and staff at my institution learn more about these apps and others/alternatives?

A photo of students around a table with pens and markers, working on a projectAll of the apps suggested have their own websites which typically include supporting information. We also run in-person Tech Demo Day sessions for staff and students in higher education institutions across the UK, where we dive deeper into the functionality of the technology we recommend. These sessions are also an opportunity to tailor the information we provide to meet the specific needs of the students at your institution. We also have more in-depth pieces on OneNote and other tools like Google Keep on our website, highlighting the ways they can help make students’ lives easier. You can find links to these blog posts detailed below as further reading.

Further reading

Watch the recording of our webinar on 'Free Training on Inclusive Technology for Students'

Google Keep hacks for students with dyslexia

Note-taking hacks for students with Autism

Four game-changing apps every student needs at university

HE Web Accessibility Training Programme - Summer 2019

The UK Public Sector Web Accessibility Regulations became law in 2018 and created a range of new responsibilities for universities, HE (higher education) institutions and other public sector bodies. The purpose of the regulations is to ensure any student can succeed in education, with a particular focus on making sure websites and digital learning resources are accessible to disabled students. 

There's a lot of change ahead, and so we're hosting a series of workshops that will provide an opportunity for you to learn new accessibility skills and focus on the key requirements of the legislation - in particular the need to produce an Accessibility Statement by the 23rd of September 2019.

The series consists of four 90-minute workshops:

  • 1pm 23 July 2019: Introduction to web accessibility for HE
  • 1pm 30 July 2019: Developing and maintaining an accessibility statement for HE
  • 1pm 4 Sept 2019: Introduction to accessibility testing for HE
  • 1pm 18 Sept 2019: Understanding accessibility evaluations and testing results

You can book each of the sessions separately at £90 each. Once the date of a workshop has passed we will offer a recording of the live online event for £45.


Introduction to web accessibility for HE

Workshop 1/4, 1:00-2:30pm, 23 July 2019

This entry-level session introduces the principles of digital accessibility and its impact on people with disability, with particular reference to higher education settings.

It is ideal for anyone creating, managing or procuring digital content or systems, including digital managers, web developers, learning technologists, student services staff, academics and others.  It will also be useful to staff who support disabled students and technical staff involved with evaluating and reporting accessibility compliance.

Contents include:

  • How assistive technology and digital accessibility helps disabled students and staff access online content
  • Key digital accessibility principles and guidelines 
  • Updates on regulatory requirements for universities

Book now on Eventbrite


Developing and maintaining an accessibility statement for HE

Workshop 2/4, 1:00-2:30pm, 30 July 2019

This session looks in detail at the requirements for universities to provide an accessibility statement under the new Public Sector Web Accessibility Regulations. As well as being a legal requirement the accessibility statement is an opportunity to explain to your website users, staff and students how you support their needs, as well as communicating how your website meets accessibility standards. 

This entry-level session introduces the principles of digital accessibility and its impact on people with disability, with particular reference to higher education settings. It is ideal for anyone creating, managing or procuring digital content or systems, including digital managers, web developers, learning technologists, student services staff, academics and others.  It will also be useful to staff who support disabled students and technical staff involved with evaluating and reporting accessibility compliance.

Contents include:

  • The legal requirements for accessibility statements in universities
  • How to provide information on complying with accessibility standards.
  • Additional information to include in the accessibility statement to support the student experience
  • Requirements for updating and reviewing accessibility statements.         

Book now on Eventbrite


Introduction to accessibility testing for HE

Workshop 3/4, 1:00-2:30pm, 4 September 2019

Learn how to undertake quick accessibility checks to test whether your website(s) comply with accessibility principles. Being able to undertake these checks can help you with developing an accessibility strategy, improve procurement decisions and create an accessibility statement. 

This entry-level session is aimed at anyone creating, managing or procuring digital content or systems in Higher Education. It will also be of value as an introductory session for developers and eLearning content creators looking to develop accessibility skills.  

Contents include:

  • Learn simple techniques for identifying accessibility issues.
  • Explore free tools that can help you understand if there are potential accessibility issues in your digital content or underlying accessibility issues in your platforms.
  • Understand which common interface components that need additional care when testing and remediating.

Book now on Eventbrite


Understanding accessibility evaluations and testing results

Workshop 4/4, 1:00-2:30pm, 18 September 2019

The new Web Accessibility regulations require Universities to conduct audits and testing across all their digital estates, form websites to learning environments. These tests can be carried out by external contractors or your own in-house teams (see Workshop 3 for how to do this yourself)

Although built around common standards such as WCGA2.1, many people find accessibility test results and audit reports difficult to understand. Automatically generated reports or expert audits can produce a list of issues that need prioritising. Organisations must also decide how these accessibility barriers are communicated through their accessibility statement and how they can remediate them in the future.  

This session is aimed at anyone creating, managing or procuring digital content or systems. It will also be of value as an introductory session for developers and eLearning content creators looking to develop accessibility skills. While not compulsory, it is strongly recommended that attendees attend the session “Introduction to accessibility testing” if they have no prior knowledge of accessibility tests. 

Contents include

  • Learn about the process of testing sites for accessibility using automatic scanning tools versus an audit
  • Understand how accessibility issues are reported and how to validate if they are issues that need addressing
  • How diverse user testing can inform accessibility audits and future development plans

Book now on Eventbrite

Being labelled as disabled (or not) at university

The Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA), is a UK Government grant which provides support to disabled students in higher education, playing a huge role in breaking down barriers and levelling the playing field. 

A recent survey carried out by the Department of Education in January 2019 showed that over half (59%) of students said they would not feel confident about passing their course without DSA. However, many students are missing out because they are either reluctant to disclose their disability, do not identify as being disabled or are simply unaware of what is available to help them. 

Just as support is not one size fits all, being disabled means different things to different people. In this piece we unpack some of the different barriers students face when seeking support in higher education. 

“…but I’m not disabled”Male teacher stood with back to class writing on a blackboard

39% of surveyed students who considered but did not apply for DSA revealed they did not think they were eligible, many were under the impression you are only eligible for DSA if you have a visible, physical disability.

Perhaps due to this traditional view of disability, there is a worrying pattern of students not seeking out support or finding out about DSA until they reach a crisis point in their course. An estimated 25% of all students assessed are in their second year or above with a significant number of them seeking support for mental health conditions often linked with an undeclared diagnosis of a condition such as dyslexia. 

 “….but I’m not disabled enough”

There is also evidence to suggest a case of students recognising they need extra support, but not considering themselves “sufficiently” disabled. The DfE survey found many students believed you were only eligible for DSA if you required specialist software or equipment.  

Maddie, who received DSA for anxiety, told AbilityNet that “I kind of felt like I wasn’t eligible for what I was about to be given, but she (the assessor) reassured me that what I was feeling was necessary for me to get all this extra help”. Find out how DSA can help students with mental health conditions.

To other students the label can be an unwanted inauguration into a group they have never felt the challenges of. They do not consider their condition to have a significant enough impact on their life to be labelled a disability. As part of a 2016 survey, one student stated “I have a condition. I see a disability as something that holds you back.” 

Stigma Man studying on his own wearing headphones and watching computer screen

Perceived stigma surrounding disability plays a big part in preventing students from disclosing their disability or applying for DSA. Student Megan stated: “from my experience, if you admit that you have a disability, people treat you differently."

A post-graduate with a mental health condition states that “people sometimes think it’s in your head, sometimes you’re not sure yourself why you’re feeling like this and I just decided that it was too difficult to do.” Self-doubt, a lack of understanding and the pressure to enjoy university can result in students ignoring symptoms and failing to seek support. 

Inclusive practice in higher education should create equal opportunities for everyone, anticipate the diverse needs of all students and enable them to worry less about seeming different to others. Gemma Long, who received her autism diagnosis after graduation, tells the Guardian that “making specialist software and training generally available, rather than confining it to disabled students, makes it more widely known, as well as removes stigma.” 

Social consequencesGroup of three students sat at a wooden table studying

The transition into university can be daunting, as can making new friends.  Many disabled students consider their disability to be a barrier to them fitting in, leading them to reject additional support. Whilst they may be comfortable with disclosing their disability to their peers, highlighting the same in a lecture theatre is a very different prospect. 

One student revealed in the DfE survey that they did not take up the offer of a note-taker by their university as they would rather not have an adult sitting next to them in lectures. Now, thanks to accessible digitised university resources, free note-taking apps such as Microsoft OneNote and Google Docs and even transcription apps such as Otter Notes students are afforded more independence and control over their learning without the need to disclose. 

Some students forego DSA recommended software/equipment in lectures because “people might say, oh she has a disability so she will get this and that for free.” More awareness of the benefits and availability of low-cost assistive technology to students of all abilities would help to create an inclusive environment wherein disabled students do not feel like they are receiving ‘special treatment’.

Academic discrimination

The social model of disability is being implemented across more and more HEIs as the focus shifts from support for individual impairment to anticipatory, universal considerations. However, the medical model of disability, the attitude that disabled people need to adapt to fit in with ‘normal’ expectations, can still be found in the long-standing academic tradition. 

Student Miriam says that “most of the lecturers are great but I have had the odd one that although nothing has been said, I felt at a disadvantage. I have always got the impression they were not seeing past my disability. They were seeing my disability as a bar to achieving things.” 

Some lecturers forego inclusive practice as they are not familiar with the technology or terminology surrounding some disabilities. The ‘fear of getting it wrong’ ends up hindering dialogue with students and discouraging lecturers from diversifying teaching or assessment methods to suit specific needs.

So, what can I do?

The UK Equality Act requires all institutions to offer reasonable adjustments to ensure disabled people are not excluded. 

Disabled Students’ Allowance recommends support based entirely on your individual needs and preferences, discussed in a one-to-one DSA Needs Assessment. It is completely confidential and there is no requirement to disclose your disability to your university in order to receive support. You can find out if you are eligible now with our free HE Support Checker.

Companies such as Microsoft, Apple and Google all now recognise the importance of accessible by design and their products include a wide range of accessibility features. There are also free and accessible apps for helping you to overcome common barriers and get the most from your time at university.

AbilityNet Factsheet - June 2019

Vision impairment and computing

This factsheet provides an overview of the main ways in which computers can be adapted to help anyone with a visual impairment. Some of these accessibility features are built into standard computers.

Advances in assistive technology are opening up a world of productive possibilities for blind and partially sighted people in work and education, and at home. Finding the right technological ‘solution’ for anyone with a visual impairment can enable them to carry out a wide range of computing tasks very effectively. Access to these technologies can have a profound impact on peoples’ lives, from enabling career advancement, to increasing peoples’ sense of independence and self-esteem, while also helping reduce social isolation.

Employers have a duty of care to all their employees under the Equality Act 2010 and must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to prevent discrimination against disabled staff.

This factsheet has been written to help visually impaired users begin to identify the particular configuration of hardware and software options that will best meet their individual needs.

Last updated: June 2019

This factsheet provides an overview of the main ways in which computers can be adapted to help anyone with a visual impairment. Some of these accessibility features are built into standard computers. Advances in assistive technology are opening up a world of productive possibilities for blind and partially sighted people in work and education, and at home. Finding the right technological ‘solution’ for anyone with a visual impairment can enable them to carry out a wide range of computing tasks very effectively. Access to these technologies can have a profound impact on peoples’ lives, from enabling career advancement, to increasing peoples’ sense of independence and self-esteem, while also helping reduce social isolation. Employers have a duty of care to all their employees under the Equality Act 2010 and must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to prevent discrimination against disabled staff. This factsheet has been written to help visually impaired users begin to identify the particular configuration of hardware and software options that will best meet their individual needs.
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Finally, full hands-free mobile and landline calling from your Echo

Last week was a good week for accessibility. Thursday 19 June saw the 10th anniversary of blind access to the iPhone and the day after finally saw Alexa calling to landline and mobile phones come to an Echo near you. For those with a motor or dexterity impairment (including those who are completely paralysed) this is huge.

Setting up Alexa calling

For a while now, we've been able to call other Alexa-enabled devices using just our voice - that's the whole range of Echo smartspeakers, Fire TVs and tablets and all smartphones that have the 'Amazon Alexa' app installed. 

"Alexa, call Bob," and all of Bob's Echo devices will ring (unless he's altered the settings on some - although you can still pick up from those devices) as well as all of Bob’s smartphones and tablets. 

"Alexa, pick up," says Bob and, when he realises it's you, he says, "Alexa, hang up." It's that simple!

Photos of an iPhone, landline telephone and Amazon Echo

Not set up for Echo calling yet? Go into the settings section in your Alexa app, turn on the calling feature from within 'Communications' and allow the app access to all your contacts when prompted. 

Now you can call everyone in your contacts on all their gadgets completely free of charge. Free? But surely it's somehow using my mobile minutes or piggy-backing on my landline package? No. Don't ask me how Amazon does it, but calls to all mobiles and non-premium landline numbers are completely free of charge.

You can say, "Alexa, call Mum's mobile," or "Alexa, call Richard's home phone," or "Alexa, call Bob." In the latter case Alexa will prompt you for which number or device to call Bob on - i.e. "Would you like me to call Bob's alexa devices, mobile or home phone?" 

Alexa knows which number to call by the labels you have assigned to your contacts' different numbers on your smartphone - e.g. 'iPhone', 'Mobile', 'Home' or 'Work' etc - so you may want to go through and check that the labels you've assigned to each number using that little pop-up menu is intuitive and consistent.

Voice calling in action

So setting up voice calling is simple. Everyone can use their voice to make calls to all their family, friends, colleagues, carers and doctors’ surgery etc. The only numbers not yet supported are 999 and premium lines.

If you want to hear it in action, we covered voice calling to UK phones in a recent episode of the Dot to Dot daily Echo demo show. Please do subscribe to the show in the podcatching app of your choice, or else you can listen to just that episode below.

Where else can I call?

As well as UK calls, also included are all US, Canada and Mexico mobile and residential numbers - oh, and of course all Alexa-enabled devices around the world. That’s an awful lot of hands-free empowerment for everyone – but most especially for those for whom letting your fingers do the talking isn’t an option. (At least a few of you out there will be old enough to get that one.)
 

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