Last month, AbilityNet hosted the sold out TechShare Pro event in Canary Wharf, sponsored by Google. We learned more about some much-awaited and innovative accessible tech. In no particular order, here's 14 fabulous assistive and accessible ideas to watch in 2019.
1 Talking Birds Difference Engine
For people who are deaf or who have hearing loss, enjoyment of live theatre can be limited. Some larger theatres might offer LED captioning machines on stage, but this is rare. In any case, this option is often too expensive or logistically difficult for modern pop-up shows, touring or promenade style theatre.
Talking Birds theatre company’s Difference Engine app offers live captions of performances on any device (such as phone or tablet computer) that's connected to wifi. Talking Birds is also close to making the difference engine work for people who are blind or visually impaired too. The app will soon offer live audio captioning.
2 Samsung TV’s accessibility features
Samsung TV’s have a number of accessibility features. These include the 'voice control' option whereby TVs will speak information that’s on screen and provide verbal information about volume, current channel and programme information. There’s also a ‘learn remote control’ option which speaks out button features. In addition, the TVs offer enlarged text, high contrast menus, grayscale and colour invert options for those with visual impairment and colour blindness.
Multi-output Audio also enables the user to configure the television audio output when Bluetooth headphones are connected to the TV. You can choose to have audio directed to multiple devices with independent volume control. If one member of your family has hearing difficulties and needs to listen through their own headphones, Multi-output Audio facilitates this without automatically disabling the audio from the TV speakers.
3 WeWalk Smart Cane
The WeWalk Smart Cane is a technology which fixes to a traditional white cane and enhances its capabilities for people who are blind or visually impaired. The technology includes an ultrasonic sensor which detects obstacles above waist height and gives off a vibration to alert users of obstacles, as well as detecting obstructions below (in the same way a standard cane does).
When paired with the WeWALK mobile app via Bluetooth, users can access apps with WeWALK’s touchpad voice menu without holding their phone. For example, they can request rides and get navigation on the WeWALK device via apps such as Uber and LYFT. First orders of the cane are currently in production.
4 No Isolation Robot
The AV1 telepresence robot was in the delegation at TechShare Pro on behalf of Lewis Hine. The small, portable robot can be used as a child’s eyes, voice and ears in the classroom in cases where the student has a long term health condition. It's popularly used by TechShare Pro Special Award winner 2018 Lewis Hine to attend college.
Lewis speaks to his classmates and listens to his teachers through the robot and did the same with delegates at TechShare Pro. The teenager created his charity Friend Finder Official to bring together isolated children through technology and is a big fan of the AV1.
5 Smart Caption Glasses - by Epson
Smart caption glasses are now enabling people with hearing loss to enjoy performances at the National Theatre in London. On the lenses of the augmented reality glasses users see a transcript of the dialogue and descriptions of the sound from a performance. The glasses, released this year, are the culmination of a four year collaboration between the National Theatre and speech and language experts led by Professor Andrew Lambourne, as well as Accenture and Epson. They've proved very popular, with 51 theatre goers using them in the first two weeks of release this year.
6 RNIB Smart Meter
Current smart meters used to monitor home energy usage aren’t accessible to people who are blind. To rectify this, RNIB is working with Energy UK and a company called geo to create Accessible In-Home Smart Meter Displays. The displays are easy to use and include colourful and tactile buttons, along with speech output for more accessible interaction.
7 Storm Interface
Storm Interface has created accessible keypad interfaces for public kiosks. Users with sensory impairments, reading difficulties or limited dexterity can access information, products and services via a headset, with audio feedback and highly tactile interfaces. The systems are used in fast food restaurants, shops and at airport check-in desks in the US and well as at US voting terminals.
8 Be My Eyes
Be My Eyes is a free smartphone app for blind people and those who are partially-sighted. It's for those times when a pair of eyes are needed briefly to, for example, check sell by dates on items or find something that's lost around the home. Using their phone camera and an internet connection, the person without sight can quickly access a network of more than one million sighted volunteers who will help them see the world around them by explaining what they see via their camera link-up.
Used in more than 150 countries, with help in 180 different languages, users can ask for support choosing what clothes to wear, reading a bus timetable and much more. Blind people and those who are partially-sighted also have the option to call certain companies through the app. Ie, they can call Microsoft for tech help and link up with their camera so the agent can, for example, see the blind person's computer and offer more targeted help.
9 Hatsumi Ink
Hatsumi Ink’s platform uses virtual reality to help people living with chronic pain and mental health conditions. It also offers participants the ability to visually translate emotions and sensations onto a life size body using 3D painting tools. By exploring the human experience in more depth Hatsumi hopes to create more understanding off illness and reduce the distress of those with illness.
Find out more about Hatsumi Ink
Sigh Video provides British Sign Language (BSL) video interpreting services to enable communication between the community of over 150,000 deaf BSL users in the UK and hearing people. Sign Video’s relay service allows users to make and receive BSL interpreted video calls so that they can more effectively communicate with each other, in business or in personal conversations. This happens through a professional video interpreter who relays the call between BSL and English. This service is also used by the NHS.
Wayfindr enables people to receive audio instructions on their smartphone to help them navigate through public spaces, such as train stations. Wayfindr is an open code that can be used as a set of instructions and for example built into the Transport for London (TfL) app. When someone using the app passes a strategically-placed bluetooth beacon, they will get audio instructions and directions spoken via their smartphone to help get around their environment. The instructions are very detailed, so they tell a user how many steps they are about to walk down for example.
WaytoB has developed an integrated smartphone and smartwatch platform to help people with a learning disability navigate their environment independently.
To use WaytoB, a friend/ family member/ carer can add safe routes for a person with a learning disability to the platform with their smartphone. The person adding the routes is then able to track the location, heart rate and battery life of the person with the learning disability, as well as get notified of key journey events (e.g getting lost, stopping for a long time, showing high levels of anxiety, e.t.c). The person using WaytoB who has a learning disability follows icon-based instructions on their watch to more easily navigate their environment. The watch vibrates when there's a new instruction.
The TapSOS app is designed to help people who can’t hear or speak to communicate with emergency services when needed. At the tap of a few buttons, the app sends users’ location and medical history to the fire, police, ambulance services or coastguard. This was designed for people who are deaf or those who have hearing loss but can also be suitable for people experiencing breathing difficulties, allergies, or for situations involving domestic abuse or when someone being held against their will / unable to talk.
14 Clear Talents
Clear Talents can be used by employers to assess the needs and requirement of all job applicants to ensure they offer equal opportunities to everyone. There is a wide spectrum of workplace adjustments that can be useful for different people and often such adjustments can benefit someone who is not classed as disabled too. With Clear Talents, everyone can be upfront about the best working environment for them and employers can create an environment where more staff and interviewees can flourish.
Curious about TechShare Pro? Our highlights video below will give you all the best bits from this great event.