Each year, we are stunned at the awesome entries to AbilityNet's Tech4Good Accessibility Award. As the competition intensifies for the 2018 award (closing date 8 May) we check in with some of the most recent award winners to find out how their technology inventions are continuing to change lives.
Special Effect works globally to enable people with disabilities get the most out of gaming and leisure technology, for fun and for rehabilitation.
In very big news for gamers with severe disabilities, the charity has just launched EyeMine, free open-source software which allows people to play the hugely popular game Minecraft using only their eyes. Users combine the software with an eye-tracking device which can be bought for around £150 and are ready to play. "This is a great way of levelling the playing field (making things equal) for many people who would otherwise not be able to join in with their friends and families," says Mark Saville, communications support for Special Effect.“
We're also collaborating with more and more games developers to make games more accessible. One example is making Double Fine's Day of the Tentacle game eye-gaze accessible.”
"All in all it's been an amazing last few years," says Saville. "We're also spreading the knowledge we've gained through a growing number of how-to videos that cover aspects of accessible gaming kit and techniques that we've used. They're all on our YouTube channel.
EVA Park, whose team works at City University, is a multi-user virtual world that gives people with aphasia unique opportunities to practice their speech and establish social connections. Aphasia is a language impairment typically caused by a stroke.
Richard Talbot, speech and language therapist at EVA Park says: "Funded by the Tavistock Trust for aphasia, we have successfully trialled five therapy approaches in EVA Park, adapting conventional, evidence based speech and language therapy interventions for the virtual world.
"Currently we are working on a project trialling EVA Park on a larger scale delivering group support therapy. This is attached to stroke and communication support groups across the UK.
The long term aim of our research activities is to make EVA Park freely available for download by support groups and speech and language therapy services, with technical support, therapy manuals, and hosting options. Working towards this we are planning a pilot release for this summer, targeting 30 speech and language therapists."
Wayfindr is an Open Standard for accessible audio navigation, offering users who are blind or have low vision audio navigation to get around public spaces more easily.
Since winning a Tech4Good award, the team has continued to carry out trials around the world to provide more research and input, including in London, Spain, Italy, Australia, and Norway. Last year, in a big win, the Standard was approved by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and could be used in more than 100 countries.
"In late 2017 and early 2018, applications using the Standard were used for the first time in the United States and Canada respectively," says Tiernan Kenny, head of communications for Wayfindr. "In the US, the first use was at the annual M-Enabling Summit and more recently, application provider Loud Steps has completed its first live installations in Chicago. In Canada, a one-day trial took place in Vancouver, with other Canadian cities actively exploring the potential of these systems for their public transport."
A Big Lottery Fund grant received at the end of 2017 will partly go towards creating training courses for accessibility professionals, enabling them to incorporate accessible navigation systems into the buildings of the smart cities of the future.
Bristol Braille won the Tech4Good Accessibility Award with their invention of the first multi-line Braille e-reader named the Canute, hoping to reverse declining levels of Braille literacy.
Since winning they've produced three new Canute 360 pre-production prototypes which are currently being tested. These are performing better than previous versions and, all being well, the product is set for launch in September 2018 with a wholesale price of around £1,000.
Liam Smyth, who works in publicity for the organisation adds some exciting news: "Discussions are on-going with several screen-reader developers regarding the potential for Canute 360 to act as an output device, displaying data sent to the unit in Braille over the full nine line display.
“While this presents a significant development challenge (existing screen-reader output technologies are calibrated for single-line Braille displays, meaning line and page breaks require careful consideration), we are excited to be working with some of the biggest names in the business to develop this functionality.”
It would mean that people who are blind could read webpages themselves should they prefer that, rather than having a voice over read to them.