Apps for well-being and mental health

We use technology to enhance our lives every day by shopping online, keeping up to date with friends and making travel plans, but have you thought about using apps to look after your mental health? Stress is present in all of our lives at varying times but for students this is a particularly stressful point in the year with exams, essays and dissertations due, not to mention MA applications. Managing our wellbeing can largely increase our productivity in times of stress.

There are all sorts of apps being developed all the time so we’ve chosen five of our current favourites.

Please note, whilst these apps can be helpful, they are not a replacement for seeking medical advice if you have concerns about any symptoms you are experiencing.

SAM app: SAM will help you to understand what causes your anxiety, monitor your anxious thoughts and behaviour over time and manage your anxiety through self-help exercises and private reflection.This app has been developed in collaboration with a research team from UWE, Bristol.

SAM app on mobile phone

In Hand: This app has been made by a team of people passionate about technology and destigmatising mental health. They have worked together for nearly a year to create an app that promotes awareness of mental well being and could help you in a moment of anxiety or low mood.

In Hand app

Stay Alive: The first of its kind in the UK, the Stay Alive app is a free, nationwide suicide prevention pocket resource, packed full of useful information to help you stay safe. Their vision is that no one has to contemplate suicide alone, the app is designed to be a lifeline for people at risk of suicide.

Stay Alive app

Stop Breathe Think: A friendly app to guide people through meditations for mindfulness & compassion. Check in with how you’re feeling and try short activities tuned to your emotions.

 Stop, Breathe & Think app

Headspace: Headspace is designed to enourage positivity through meditation. Live a happier, healthier life with just a few minutes of meditation a day.

Headspace app

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 helps disabled people achieve their goals #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

My personal experience of inaccessible websites

By Rick Williams, co-author of the Click-Away Pound Survey

Rick Williams, who is blind, gives his own recent experiences of inaccessible websites to mark the launch of the Click-Away Pound Survey 2019.

Photo of a laptop and smartphoneAs a blind person I would describe myself as a moderately competent screenreader user. I use the internet every day, and as one of the co-authors of the Click-Away Pound Survey, I am keenly aware of the accessibility and usability barriers faced by many disabled internet users.

Like most people, when I have issues with a site I’ll usually shrug and go elsewhere if I can. So I thought it would be interesting to keep track of my personal experience of some of the sites I used during 2018. This is a random and rather small selection of what happened on some sites.

A well-known classified ads website

I tried to place a job advert on my local are page on the website and failed as it had a graphic Captcha with no working alternative. In the end I had to ask for help from someone although I would have preferred not to use the site. I will definitely look for an alternative next time.

A large railway franchise

I tried to book a train ticket on the website and gave up as couldn’t navigate to the Buy Now page. There was an email address to report accessibility issues, and for once I bothered to write but, to add insult to injury, I got a bounce back saying there was no such email address! So I then tried the app. This I did manage, but is so unintuitive that it took me 40 minutes of trial and error.

A mainstream UK news media publisher

I tried to sign up for a regular subscription through the app but the pages wouldn’t work properly with Voice Over on my phone. I did drop them an email and they answered the question wrongly twice. I eventually got them to understand and got a mail that said they knew about this issue and would sort it out, and invited me to ‘join by phone’. Why would I do that given they appear to not care overly much about my requirements? And of course, the last time I looked nothing had changed.

A popular vacuum cleaner brand

I wanted to buy an appliance because they offer an extra year’s warranty if you buy online. Gave up as couldn’t select the product and move it into the shopping basket. Bought it through a large global online retailer in the end but lost the second year’s warranty. Is that an Equality Act issue?  

A local authority in southern England

I needed to buy some parking permits but there is a graphic Captcha, again with no working alternative, which stopped me doing so. I dropped them a note and to be fair they called me within an hour and I bought the permits by phone. They said they would report the problem to the web team and someone would get in touch. So far nothing, and I’m not holding my breath.

An online supermarket

Some years ago, I decided to do my supermarket shopping online. I eventually chose this specific one as their website and app are great and I use them all of the time. I’ve never bothered to check with the others again although I suspect I could do my shopping cheaper.

Charity giving

Mixed results here. One charitable cause was easy and quick to donate to, but I had to give up on another well-known site due to poor usability which meant the charity didn’t get my donation.

A large global online retailer

Like most people I use this site and have learnt its funny little ways and can generally get what I’m looking for. However, when I was trying to get a refund it took 40 minutes to find how to do it and had to ask someone for help before I managed it.

All this is one person’s experience, but it reflects what we found from the Click-Away Pound Survey 2016. A mixed bag, but more barriers than not!

Clearly, my personal experience suggests that business isn’t learning the lesson and confirms our decision to re-run the survey in 2019 and see what has changed, if anything, since 2016.

Help us change the internet experiences of disabled people. Complete the survey and enter the prize draw at: Http://www.clickawaypound.com

Top 5 Alexa skills to help with your New Year’s resolutions

An Echo Dot seen from the front Many of you may have seen that the Amazon Echo; more affectionately referred to as 'Alexa' was an extremely popular Christmas present this year. In fact, so many units were sold that, as reported on Christmas day, Amazon servers could not handle the volume of traffic as excited new owners plugged them in and attempted to register.

With so many purchased, chances are one may have appeared on your gift list, and although many people will currently only have used it to play music or perhaps listen to a podcast or audiobook, there are over 50,000 skills you can now choose from (although it is a bit of a mixed bag). To enable a 'skill' all you have to do is ask for it; "Alexa open [name of skill]" and Alexa will talk you through the process. 

How can Alexa help people with disabilities?

The Alexa (and voice assistants in general) often feature in our blogs as a great example of a mainstream device that is of great benefit to many disabled people as they enable an interaction and experience of technology that is practically identical to that of a non-disabled person. In addition to this, it requires nothing more than the ability to ask a question or make a request and is therefore ideal for technophobes, the bamboozled or daunted, or anyone who simply struggles with technology.

Top skills to use in January 2019:

7-minute workout: Worried you've overdone it a bit this Christmas, or have you made a New Year's Resolution you're determined to keep this year? Try "Alexa, open 7-minute workout". This skill, as its name suggests, provides you with a 7-minute workout consisting of 45 exercises (not all in the one session) at three levels of intensity; low-impact, standard, and advanced. You can have accompanying 'chilled' or 'energetic' music or just a silent timer and you can ask for "help" at any time to have the exercise explained. At the end of the exercise you take a break and let Alexa know when you're ready to move on.

Tomato helper: If you're struggling with focus, you may want to try the 'Pomodoro technique' this takes a period of two-hours and divides it into four lots of 25-minutes with a five-minute break in between, followed by a longer break at the end. "Alexa, open tomato helper" will access the skill (be careful to get the name right or your Alexa will just set a regular timer). You can request a "silent timer" as the default timer 'ticks' and can get a bit annoying. At the end of the 25-minute pomodoro an alarm will ring and you simply say 'next' for the five-minute break, then 'next' when the alarm rings again and you start the next pomodoro. 

Sleep and relaxation sounds: As its name suggests this skill provides background noise to help you sleep, although equally, you can use it to drown-out a noisy flatmate. The skill has a free version with a selection of sounds from 'ocean' to 'cat purring', to the sound of crickets that can lend a tropical feel to the coldest of nights; "Alexa, ask sleep sounds to play [name of sound]" will access the skill. You can follow this with a sleep timer to have the skill switch off after a while rather than play all night; "Alexa, set a sleep timer for x minutes".

Connect your calendar: Rather than a specific 'skill', connecting your calendar (iCal, Google, Office 365, etc) via the Alexa app will mean that you can ask; "Alexa, what's in my calendar?" and Alexa will read out your next calendar entry. If this happens to be "meeting, tomorrow at 9:00am" and you're worried sleep sounds will have you sleeping too deeply, you can always say; "Alexa, set an alarm for 7am".

Daily News Briefing: This skill allows you to pick and choose to have the news headlines from a whole host of news providers read out to you. Some services use human newsreaders, others Alexa will read out. You can pick your favourite providers and across a broad selection of themes from world news to entertainment, sports to fashion, and many more. There are many different ways to ask for your news feed (referred to as your 'flash briefing'), but the easiest to remember is; "Alexa, what's the news?" If fake news is a concern, why not try "Alexa, open the fake news game" and Alexa will play a real/fake news story game with you; a news story summary is read out and you have to decide whether it turned out to be real or fake.

Want more skills?

Our own Head of Digital Inclusion, Robin Christopherson, hosts a daily podcast called 'Dot to Dot' in which a new skill or built-in feature of the Echo is demonstrated each and every day. Taking around five minutes, make it a New Year's resolution to check out Robin's Dot to Dot podcast on iTunes or simply search for it on your podcasting app of choice. 

Further reading

Can Alexa improve your health?

Is there an Echo in here? Six ways that Alexa can help you be organised and productive

GOV.UK and Alexa: Government keen to hear the voice of the people

AbilityNet can help

AbilityNet is a UK charity that helps people to use technology to achieve their goals. If you have questions about disability and technology you can call us on 0800 269 545 or email enquiries@abilitynet.org.uk.

TechShare Pro 2018: Where is TV and advertising audio description heading in 2019?

It’s 25 years since the first audio described programme arrived on UK TV, believed to be Coronation Street. Last year more than 150,000 hours of television were broadcast with audio description in the UK - a big win for those who are blind or have sight loss. In addition, 2018 also saw the first audio described advert - for Fairy liquid - broadcast on ITV.

For any fans out there - Gogglebox is now audio described, but still a lot of top TV programmes aren’t audio described across all viewing platforms and options. So what can we expect in 2019?

At the Google-sponsored TechShare Pro event in London on 30 November, it looked promising that an increasing amount of audio described programming and advertising would be available this year - meaning that people who are blind or have sight loss should miss out on fewer of their favourite programmes. 


W3C Community Group on Audio Description

In the Accessible Media and Advertising session of AbilityNet's event, we heard from speakers at BBC, Channel 4 and ITV, about how the broadcast sector is working to streamline and standardise what is still a relatively new practise.

Perhaps one of the most important developments, is the creation of the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) Community Group on audio description, which met for the first time in October 2018. “The aim is to agree requirements and proposals for a workable open standard file format for audio description,” said Nigel Megitt, executive product manager at the BBC and chair of the W3C group.

“Audio description is fantastic, but all of the tools that you use to make it are proprietary - there’s no way to exchange information about the production of audio description,” he said.
 

The art of audio description

There is clearly an art to creating useful and appropriate audio description which fits between dialogue, and this is something the industry is working to keep improving. Megitt added: “All the way through from writing the scripts to mixing the audio - there are no tool providers for this. The W3C group exchanges audio described scripts and is all about finding the right mix (of dialogue and audio description).

Having some ‘standard tooling’ would make it cheaper and easier for more people to create audio description, he told delegates.

The W3C group is also working on audio description being available for Braille devices or via speech-to-text, so that audiences who are blind or who have vision loss have a choice of how to receive information about what’s happening on their screen.

media panel on stage at TechShare Pro, smiling. Sonali Rai speaking at podium.

The W3C group has 19 participant organisations across the media industry and hopes to have open standard recommendations on audio description by the end of this year.

Getting audio descriptions on all platforms

Delegates shared their frustrations about how audio description is not currently available on a number of digital platforms such as Facebook and Youtube. But Sumaira Latif, special consultant for inclusive design at Procter & Gamble (who spearheaded the industry’s movement towards audio described adverts in the UK) said she was pushing for this. She said she was hopeful this would change in the near future and is working closely with key players in the industry to help find a solution.

Rachel Yendoll, head of content management at Channel 4, spoke after Latif, revealing that since she took over Access Services at the channel two years ago, her team has been on “quite a journey”.

“We had a lot to fix and I am happy to say we are getting there. In terms of making sure we have content there for viewers, we have listened to them, so stuff like Gogglebox is audit described. It's difficult to do. It's delivered to my team at 7pm in the evening and I have two teams on standby waiting to audio describe it.”

Audio description on Catch up TV

Yendoll said that progress is slower than she would like on getting catch up All4 programmes audio described across the 26 platforms that it’s available on. “We are on a journey of making those platforms accessible but it’s expensive and complicated,” she said. She hinted that there are “a couple of exciting things that will happen next year (2019) at Channel 4” in this space.

The BBC offers audio description on iPlayer as does ITV on its app.

Meanwhile audio described adverts are new to broadcasting. But they look set to grow considerably this year as the business case around audio description becomes obvious.

The business case for audio described adverts

Last year the first audio described advert was broadcast on ITV, largely driven by the work of Sumaira Latif at P&G. The other mainstream channels followed. Latif outlined the business case for advertisers such as Procter and Gamble, who spend £150 million a year on advertising. “By 2020 there's predicted to be 2.25million blind people across the world. That's an obvious audience who shave and wash their hair like everyone else,” she said.

However, Latif also pointed out that the current rules around audio described advertising are tight and she is asking for more realistic rules. “With the Fairy advert we had to go slightly over the dialogue in the advert with our audio description to make the commercial meaningful for blind viewers and those with low vision. We are supposed to keep audio description outside of dialogue but in a 30 second commercial this is very hard."

Check out one of Fairy's audio described adverts below. 

Sonali Rai, the RNIB’s broadcast relationships and audio description product manager, praised the broadcasting sector at the event. “I don't think there is a group that is more committed to accessibility,” she said. “It's not just about doing the right thing, but the sector is very progressive - looking at how it can extend accessibility into other services and how can it make the processes more efficient and improve the user experience.” 

One of the challenges, added Rai, is that platforms have been built and are now having to be retrofitted to include audio description. “If you build accessibility into the structures in the first place that is much easier."

Rai added that: “On television and video boxes, there is the capability to do audio description, but on the web, and on mobiles, there's still a bit of catching up to do - even though the capabilities are also there.

Latif, who is blind, is a big advocate for audio description and concluded the session by reminding broadcasters that they need to act more quickly. She said those who lag behind are missing out a large group of potential customers and viewers.

“We (people who are blind or have sight loss) don’t watch anything unless it is audio described. The people spending all this money making TV programmes are losing millions of people who can't enjoy catch-up TV. She urged the relevant figures in the industry to “put the business argument forward and help to accelerate it.” 

“You guys are doing the right thing, but we need to move faster,” said Latif. 

Find out about the current world of audio description at cinemas, on Netflix, in theatres and more on the RNIB website

For more about TechShare Pro's fascinating programme, click here. 

 

 

 

 

Techshare Pro 2018: Accessibility Professional Development and Certification Initiative – how important is it?

By Christopher Lee, Managing Director, International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP)

Locating accessibility (a11y) professionals can be challenging for organizations requiring their products and services to be used by all consumers, including those with disabilities who happen to make up the largest minority on the planet. 

Person using silver laptop computer on deskThere is a good reason for an organization not being able to track down a11y professionals.  Becoming an effective accessibility professional takes time and dedication to the field, which is one of the reasons why many IT related products still don’t include a11y as part of the development lifecycle. However, we have seen movement in the field through employees around the globe addressing the lack of internal a11y knowledge by engaging in professional development and certification on their own. In many cases these professionals are not being asked by their employer to pursue certification or being compensated for their extra time and dedication to equal access for all their customers.  In many cases these dedicated professionals are making a personal and professional statement that a11y matters.  Every time I have a chance to meet or work with one of these self-driven a11y professionals I am reminded of a quote I once read by Steve Krug, “The one argument for accessibility that doesn’t get made nearly often enough is how extraordinarily better it makes some people’s lives.  How many opportunities do we have to dramatically improve people’s lives just by doing our job a little better?”  

Over the last several years we have seen not only individuals, but also organizations making strategic steps towards improving their internal and external accessibility policies and processes. At the November 2018 TechShare Pro Conference in London, hosted by Barclays and organized by AbilityNet, I was able to engage with participants to learn more about how or if their organizations were addressing a11y from an internal professional development standpoint.  As the newly appointed Managing Director for the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP), whose mission is to define, promote and improve the accessibility profession I wanted to soak in everything. The conference provided a platform to learn how companies were dealing with digital accessibility for assistive technologies, a11y standards and laws, and universal design. I was enthused to see how many entities were participating in the IAAP a11y professional certifications program or were considering getting involved.  I noted the presentations and discussions were not quite on the level of a movement of system change, but companies were engaged and energetic about the importance of their employees needing a11y professional development and certifications.  

I was delighted to hear from companies like Apple and Google who talked about their impressive a11y initiatives. In his presentation, Neil Milliken, Co-Founder of AXSChat, highlighted the importance of solidifying the accessibility profession lifecycle through education, internships/apprenticeship, and certification. Neil’s and other presenters' comments were perfectly aligned with the message that IAAP was there to share at the conference. Since 2014, IAAP has noticed a growing need from our membership base for training leading to core education and specialized knowledge around the digital accessibility profession in areas of design, content creation, web/mobile development, and usability testing. Highlighted in the December 13, 2018 24 Accessibility Blog, “Accessibility Pro Certified: To Be or Not To Be,” Glenda Sims, Team A11Y lead at Deque, examines pursuing a11y certification. In her blog post Glenda highlights the IAAP certification initiatives, Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competency (CPACC) and Web Accessibility Specialist (WAS), as steps towards collaboratively defining the accessibility profession.    

Are you working towards being a champion in a11y or developing a11y professional development opportunities for your organization?  Join IAAP and Glenda Sims for our AXSChat Tweet Chat event. AXSChat is an online community of individuals dedicated to creating an inclusive world.

The AXSChat takes place on January 15, 2019, at 3 pm ET/ 8 pm GMT and will be archived for individuals who can’t attend. 
 

How to give legal teeth to digital accessibility - New York vs Norway

The plain fact is that there are an awful lot of inaccessible websites and apps out there - contrary to both legal requirements and good business sense. We've been calling for the UK Government to give the law some teeth for several years now. Let's look at the two main methods by which companies can be made to take their legal responsibilities more seriously.

Method 1: The New York (and Florida) way

The New York skyline, including the Empire State building, photo taken during daytimeThe US are a much more litigious lot than we are in the UK. Sometimes that leads to unwelcome outcomes (such as MacDonald's customers around the world having to settle for luke-warm coffee), but sometimes it can be helpful too. One example is in the area of digital accessibility, where their level of litigation is orders of magnitude higher than ours – and nowhere higher than in New York State.

So how do we in the UK do it? We don’t have clear figures for legal cases concerning inaccessible websites or mobile apps here. This is because companies are loathed to lose a legal case and henceforth become a legal and very public precedent. As a result, they settle out of court with a sum for the plaintiff and a promise to resolve the issues. As this is prior to any legal outcome it is not binding. It also doesn't come with any publicity as anonymity as part of the settlement agreement. It doesn’t lead to headlines and often doesn’t lead to an accessible website either.

So that's how it's done here in the UK; low-key and low impact and a landscape of inaccessibility a decade and a half after the law came into effect.

Compare that to the US. In the US their dirty digital laundry is very much aired in public. Going for the big buck settlements with legally-binding outcomes is very much their bag. As a result we have solid stats and substantive, positive outcomes for users with disabilities. Let's look at some figures:

An infographic with text that reads: DA web accessibility-related lawsuits exploded with a 181% increase in 2018 over 2017. In 2017, there were 814 cases. In 2018, we tracked 2285 lawsuits filed.

Photo credit: 2018 ADA Web Accessibility Lawsuit Recap Report [Blog] via Usablenet

Website monitoring company Usablenet have published a web accessibility lawsuit report that has captured every legal case in the US throughout 2018. There were over 2,200 cases in all; a massive 181% increase over the previous year. Interestingly, though, the vast majority of cases (96%) were filed in either New York or Florida. It should be noted, however, that only the filings are in these two states - the companies listed are from all over the US. Goodness only knows what levels of litigation would result if other states decided to champion digital accessibility in this way.

Being involved in such a legal case has an obvious financial risk to the company in question. Moreover, being conducted in the public domain, it also has the potential for significant accompanying brand damage too.

"And what has been the result?" I hear you ask.

Well, apart from a thousand or so extra accessible websites a year, having strong, longstanding legislation (the 'Americans with Disabilities Act' and 'Section 508') with such concrete consequences for non-compliance has resulted in tangible benefits for disabled users everywhere. As a direct result of the legal requirement for accessibility before products are able to be purchased at scale for US Government and the education sector, the likes of Microsoft and Apple have given accessibility the Rolls-Royce treatment (I've no idea what the equivalent analogy would be in terms of American cars I'm afraid).

We are now in the fortunate position that the big tech manufacturers are vying for brand dominance in the area of accessibility and see performance in meeting the diversity and inclusion agenda on par with user security and data privacy. The average company delivering services online, however, still needs a wake-up call.

So that's one way to give the law some teeth; rely on dynamic disabled individuals or organisations (usually charities) to fight cases one by one. There's no doubt it works, but it takes huge amounts of effort and money and isn't really having a noticeable impact in the digital Wild West that is the world wide web.

Method 2: The new way like Norway

The second approach is a radical one. Brace yourself. Ready? Here it is… Have the government enforce the law the way they already do in so many other areas, like crime, taxation or even parking tickets and fishing permits.

Why leave it to individuals to fight it out in the courts when governments already have all the machinery in place to enforce the law and ensure a high level of overall compliance?

Digital inclusion is important. Anyone that's read any of my posts will be aware of the overwhelming ethical, legal and very real business cases for accessibility. In this mobile-first world of computing in extreme environments, inclusive design quite literally benefits every user on a daily basis. That's why we've been calling for a bigger player to assist in realising significant change before another decade passes.

Oslo, Norway skyline with tower blocks on the water front

The Norwegian government has decided to step up and begin web accessibility enforcement. DIFI (their equivalent of our Equality and Human Rights Commission, EHRC) evaluates websites for compliance and then issue a deadline and subsequent fines.

One example is the national airline, SAS, that was given a year to comply and, when it didn't, they were given an additional week and threatened with a tough €15,000 fine every day thereafter. After no movement and lots of complaining about how hard it would be to remedy the issues and no action whatsoever, they then fixed the issues in 12 days to everyone's satisfaction.

Hear from myself, representatives from Norway, and presenter Peter White on this week's BBC In Touch programme discussing enforcement and how a new approach such as this is actually making a difference. There's still a long way to go, but Norwegian travelers can now at least browse and buy tickets with their biggest airline regardless of disability or impairment - along with many other sites too.

The law needs teeth

Here in the UK, we need Government to champion millions of users who are being left behind by the digital revolution. With public and commercial services being driven ever-more online, and our employment and education options, entertainment and social interactions dependant upon digital, why does Her Majesty's Government see this area of enforcement as less important than parking in the wrong spot or illicitly catching a fish? The course and quality of people's lives are at stake.

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