5 new accessibility features in Windows 10 Fall Creators Update

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

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

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

Eye Control

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

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

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

Dictation on the Desktop



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

Narrator Screenreader new image descriptions and Magnifier link up

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

Colour Filters for colour blindness colour blindness

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

More information

17 big ways tech is helping disabled people achieve goals: 2016 International Day of Persons with Disabilities #idpd

There are 12 million disabled people in the UK, and an estimated 1.1 billion worldwide. Since 1992 the UN has promoted a day of observance and understanding of disability issue and this year's theme is is 'Achieving 17 Goals for the Future We Want'. We asked 17 of our followers, supporters and staff about the role of technology can play in achieving current and future life goals.

What is the role of technology in achieving life goals for disabled people?

Prof Stephen Hawking has achieved amazing things in his life thanks to technology

Professor Stephen Hawking

“I was lucky to be born in the computer age, without computers my life would have been miserable and my scientific career impossible. Technology continues to empower people of all abilities and AbilityNet continues to help disabled people in all walks of life.” (2012)

Kate Headley, Director of Consulting, The Clear Company

“As someone who now has limited vision, I can honestly say that technology has been the game changer for me. Although I have no secrets - with large font on phone and computer and I regularly share my texts out loud with fellow passengers. But I am independent at home and at work and just awaiting the driverless car!”

Joanna Wootten: Age, Disability and Inclusion expert at Solutions Included

“Technology has transformed my working life. As a deaf person I can now communicate directly with hearing people using emails, text messages, live messaging, or have conversations with them via Skype or FaceTime.  For larger meetings, the advent of reliable wifi means I can use my mobile phone or tablet to access remote captioning so I don't miss a word."
 

Sarah-Jane Peake, assistive technology trainer, Launchpad Assistive Technology

"Working one-to-one with students, I’ve had the privilege of seeing the wonderful impact technology can make to someone with a disability or specific learning disabilities. The confidence of being able to proof-read an essay using text-to-speech, the independence offered by voice recognition software that finally allows a student to fully express their ideas, or the relief felt by a student who has just discovered mind-mapping strategies that compliment the way they think. Technology is changing people’s lives."
 

Sean Douglas

Sean Douglas, founder of dyslexia podcast The Codpast

"There's masses of tech out there that allows people with disabilities to reach their full potential. Long gone are the days when assistive tech was cumbersome, expensive and specialist, now your smart phone can give you much of the help you need to deal with everyday tasks you may find difficult. "Surprisingly a lot of this assistive functionality is built into your phone's operating system or is available from third parties for free or for a small charge."

Georgina Eversfield Tanner, client of AbilityNet's ITCanHelp volunteering service

I've never had a computer before, but it's opened up a whole new world since my stroke. But I did say one day to Andy, my ITCanHelp volunteer from AbilityNet, 'what idiot put Angry Birds on there. There are so many of them and I'm absolutely hooked! Technology and AbilityNet has helped me tremendously to be in the modern world." See more of Georgina here in our video. 

Gareth Ford WIlliams is Head of Accessibility at BBC Design and Engineering

Gareth Ford Williams, Head of Accessibility, BBC Design and Engineering

“For many disabled people, a simple daily goal is to enjoy the same entertainment options. For video and TV that could mean captioning or audio descriptions, or using the text to speech features in their computer or phone to read out newspapers, magazines or blogs.”

Abbie Osborne, Assessor for AbilityNet

“Education is a vital way for disabled people to achieve their goals. I work with many students who face cognitive impairments such as dyslexia and dyspraxia, which make it difficult for them to organise their thoughts.

"Zotero is one of the most popular free tools I recommend. It takes the pain out of managing references when you’re working on essays and reports and integrates with Microsoft Word to use those references in whichever style you require. It works for Mac and PC, creates an alphabetical list of your sources (bibliography) and can keep track across multiple essays.”

Robin ChristophersonRobin Christopherson, Head of Digital Inclusion, AbilityNet

“Technology helps everyone reach their full potential. Like nothing else on this planet, technology can embrace people’s differences and provide choice – choice to suit everyone and empower them to achieve their goals both at work and at play. On this day, please raise the cheer for technology and digital inclusion, wherever in the world you are.”

Morgan Lobb, Director, Diversity Jobs

“Assistive technology makes a real difference, without spellchecker I’d be doomed!”

Nicola Whitehill

Nicola Whitehill - founder of Facebook Group: Raynauds Scleroderma Awareness

“The internet is a lifeline for me. I'm under house arrest with Raynauds, but I still run a global community in my pyjamas!”

Nigel Lewis, CEO of AbilityNet

“Accessible technology can really help disabled people live their lives fuller, let’s all work together to make tech accessible and inclusive on this #idpd and always.”

Sarah Simcoe - chair of SEED Network, Fujitsu UK and Ireland

“Technology plays an important part in building an environment of accessibility and enablement – the use of tools, software and hardware in enabling disabled talent to fulfill their full potential is key to innovation and business growth.”

Hector Minto, Accessibility Evangelist, Microsoft

“There are so many things: Social media and the cloud's ability to connect us all and find people who can relate to our experience. Text communication and short messages are a great leveler. Images and video convey messages much more quickly. Twitter chats, blogs, Facebook Groups, LinkedIn groups all offer professionals with huge amounts of experience somewhere to share their knowledge. 

"It's all part of the Global Cloud for Good agenda - we need to understand Industrial Revolution 4.0 - the Internet of Things, and automation for example - and our place in it. We need a socially responsible cloud which improves life for everyone and leaves nobody behind.

"Finally I still think eyegaze as a direct control method needs to be tried first for people with physical access issues. The price is changing and the previously held view that it was only for those that had tried everything else is completely out of date but pervasive.”

Bela Gor is a Disability Legal Adviser at Business Disability ForumBela Gor, Disability Legal Adviser, Business Disability Forum

“In twenty years of disability discrimination legislation, the biggest change has been that what was once impossible or unreasonably difficult is now entirely possible - because of technology. Technology means that the way we all live and work has changed immeasurably and 'reasonable adjustments' for disabled people have become the ordinary way of life for everyone because of the technology on our desks, in our pockets and in our homes and workplaces.”

Kate Nash OBE, founder of PurpleSpace community of disability employee networks

"At PurpleSpace we are massive advocates of virtual networking and learning. While our members have a wide range of disabilities, the accessibility features built into smartphones, tablets and PCs mean that we can keep in touch and share career development opportunities on an equal level regardless of the different ways that we access technologies."

Ed Holland leads Driven MediaEdward Hollands, founder of Driven Media UK

“I use lots of assistance software to over come my spelling and grammar issues to look more professional as a founder. I don't write anything without Grammarly now. It's like having my own copywriter! Anyone who is dyslexic should definitely get it.”

How can AbilityNet help you make the most of tech?

AbilityNet staff gain national volunteer management qualification

AbilityNet staff have completed a national qualification in volunteer management to support their work with a network of over 8,000 volunteers with IT skills. This will help them support the continued growth of the volunteer network, who help meets the IT needs of charities and disabled people. Volunteer Administrator Josie Ray and Advice and Information Officer Alex Barker have both been awarded the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) Certification.

“It made sense to study for this qualification as AbilityNet works closely with volunteers” said Alex. "We have a UK-wide team of volunteers who provide home visits for disabled people in the community. They are all CRB/Disclosure checked and can help with all kinds of technical issues, from installing broadband and removing viruses to setting up new software and backups. We also have a network of IT professionals who provide IT support to charities, including web design, databases and troubleshooting and helping to reduce costs and improve services. ”

Volunteering manager Anne Stafford said “It is important to AbilityNet that we deliver high standards & our volunteers are important members of our team. I am pleased that our staff have the opportunity to demonstrate their professionalism in volunteer engagement.”

More information:

Mind the Digital Gap: AbilityNet proposes new digital inclusion strategy

In our increasingly digital self-service economy technology now dominates shopping, entertainment, work and communication, as well as citizenship itself, but age and disability are barring people from full participation. Organisations like AbilityNet, Go ON UK and its disability focused partner, Go ON Gold, are making great strides to close the gap between the computer literate and the technologically disenfranchised, but the gulf is wider than that. 

AbilityNet’s new digital inclusion strategy ‘Mind the Digital Gap’ looks at the obstacles faced by the huge numbers of people who struggle to use digital technologies that are badly designed and just don't meet their needs. AbilityNet believes that we urgently need to recognise the social and economic costs of this digital gap, and identify clear actions to begin closing it.

Mind the Digital Gap logoThe strategy was launched at the House of Commons on 21 November at a reception hosted by Anne McGuire MP, Shadow Minister for Disabled People. It calls for better design practices through implementing user-focused testing at all stages of the design of digital systems (rather than relying on post-hoc accessibility checks).

AbilityNet urges those who commission and build online services, operating systems and digital devices (whether business, government or third sector) to put a user-centred approach at the heart of the design process. The strategy also proposes tax incentives to promote inclusive design, closer partnerships between business and other sectors and a commitment to embed inclusive design at all levels of professional design education.

AbilityNet CEO Nigel Lewis says it's time to change how we design and deliver inclusive digital systems:

"For too long the debate about accessibility has focused on issues that are specific to disabled people, but testing a website after it has been built, or pursuing legal action to ensure that every website includes alt-tags for people who use a screen reader, just isn't working.

“There is a much more important strategic issue at stake and we need a new approach that goes beyond what we currently think of as ‘Accessibility’. To close that gap, it’s imperative that business, government and the third sector work together."

AbilityNet patron and chair of Go ON UK Martha Lane Fox agrees and believes that in addition to making design practices more inclusive we need to focus equipping people with the skills they need to participate in the digital age:

"Both Go ON UK and AbilityNet are working on building digital skills to enable everyone to benefit as much as possible from available technology."

The full strategy is available for download on the AbilityNet website.

 

Anne McGuire MP and Nigel Lewis of AbilityNet at the launch of AbilityNet's Mind the Digital Gap, House of Commons, November 2012'

Shadow Minister for Disabled People Anne McGuire with AbilityNet CEO Nigel Lewis at the reception at the House of Commons.

See more pictures from the event on Flickr

Alexa vs Google Home vs Cortana: The battle to reach every user intensifies

There's been an explosion of Echos! We’re not talking the sort of effect that we’d get if Captain Caveman went wild in his mountain dwelling, we’re talking about an absolute explosion of Amazon Echo models in recent weeks. From a new incarnation of the big black column to the tiniest of cute (and very smart) bedside clocks, there’s something for every ear, every location and every budget.

The cute clock that is the soon-to-be-released Echo Spot is probably my favourite - here’s a sneak peak courtesy of the nice people at the Verge.

And of course the arms-race that is ambient computing contains several other horses - to horribly mix metaphors (and split infinitives). The Cortana-driven Invoke speaker is also in the running and, at the time of Amazon’s Echo announcements, you can’t have missed the simultaneous release of a similarly large range of Google Home speakers.

Last out of the gate, due out sometime before year end, will be Apple’s HomePod.

Ambient computing is about to change everything

I’ve discussed voice assistants in several recent posts and shown how simply speaking to the air and getting useful information, being entertained and even performing sophisticated tasks is the next significant chapter in computing.

But how well are these new devices keeping up with inclusive design?

Again, in many recent posts (you really should follow that link above), I’ve explored the imperative that is inclusive design. For anything to be fit for purpose in this rapidly changing world where most people on mobiles are temporarily impaired by extreme environments on a daily basis, and a proliferation of platforms means that your content and functionality needs to be able to morph to fit any number of devices and use-cases, inclusive design is the only real way of ensuring that you’re reaching the broadest possible audience and future-proofing your projects going forward.

Yes, I am talking accessibility here but, as I’ve said so many times before, accessibility is now for everyone so let’s give it a new name for a new reality.

Anyone who has experienced ambient computing knows it is here to stay. It represents an entirely new use-case (or whole range of use-cases) and accessibility will play its part in weeding the winners from the also-rans.

Showing the way with VoiceView

These smart speakers will only truly be inclusive when everyone’s needs are taken into account. Just as we have the excellent ‘type to Siri’ in iOS11 (thus making the virtual assistant available to those without speech or for anyone who finds themselves in a noisy environment), the ability to review a text version of everything that an Echo speaks out within the Alexa app (or on the screen of those models such as the Echo Show) makes the A-lady accessible to people without hearing.

Amazon Echo Show includes a screenThe Echo Show, however, also includes a full ‘screen reader’ (software to help blind users access screen text and functions) meaning that the addition of a screen does not suddenly exclude a group of die-hard fans from a whole new range of features.

VoiceView is the name of this screenreading ability and, just like Microsoft’s excellent advancements in the built-in screenreader in Windows 10, Amazon should likewise be applauded for bringing inclusion to their latest models out-of-the-box. Here’s a full break-down of all the accessibility features found in the Echo Show.

Google’s smart speaker – accessibility home run?

We know an awful lot about the accessibility of the various Amazon Echos, but what about the Google Home? Is it a home run or a rookie batter wildly swinging at the plate. Well the jury is still out (I’ve decided to see how many metaphors I can mix and mangle in one article).

We know that Google can make accessible products (a good example is the screenreader built into Android) but we also know that they aren’t averse to releasing products without a whiff of inclusion, such as Android Wear, the version of Android that runs on smartwatches.

The good news is that the accessibility of the companion app used to set up and control your so far screenless Google Home <is nicely inclusive>6 and this represents a vital component to the overall accessibility of each solution. We also know that, whilst the Echos are chockablock with accessibility features, Amazon has some way to go before its Echo companion app, again so vital in every Echo users' experience, is truly inclusive.

As a screenreader user myself, I can attest to just how awful the Alexa app is on both iOS and Android.

There is increasing evidence that a Google Home with a screen is on the way. Will it be as accessible as the Echo Show or a strike-out like the Android watch? When it lands we’ll line up the jury, present the evidence and let them deliver their verdict. Baseball bats may or may not be involved.

The Microsoft Invoke includes Cortana voice control and a Harman Kardon speaker

Cortana and the Halo effect

Whilst it’s natural to assume that, as Microsoft has been a long-time champion of accessibility, the new Invoke speaker with built-in virtual assistant, Cortana will be inclusive. We’ll again have to see when they fall into the hands of hundreds of eager users with a range of impairments.

Microsoft has produced a huge number of truly inclusive mobile apps in recent months (not least the all-important Office suite) and so I’m confident the Cortana companion app will be accessible.

For my money, the acid test will come with the first model to include a screen. I’m rooting for a home run…

Related links

Technology can help you feel less stressed!

What is stress? It is a very difficult question to answer. The Stress Management Society (SMS) describes stress as being “primarily a physical response". "When stressed, the body thinks it is under attack and switches to ‘fight or flight’ mode, releasing a complex mix of hormones and chemicals such as adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine to prepare the body for physical action. This causes a number of reactions, from blood being diverted to muscles to shutting down unnecessary bodily functions such as digestion." 

Our cavemen ancestors used this physical response when they were in danger of getting savaged by sabre tooth tigers. Office workers don’t have much in common with cavemen. However, you could view deadlines and copious amounts of emails as our sabre-toothed tigers. Deadlines, emails and trying to do too many tasks at once brings on stress.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reported that in 2015-16 that more than 11 million working days were lost to stress alone. You'll be glad to know that there are lots of simple "hacks" that can make it easier for you to cope with stress and get your work done on your computer, at the same time. 

Check out our tech advice on the links below:

Here are six quick ways of helping you destress yourself. 

  • Use a meditation app to take some time out to calm your mind
  • Help me chill has a great playlist of calming ambient music. Really useful for when you need to get work done, or just to shut out the outside world
  • Headspace is a great app that will allow you to understand the basics of meditation
  • Have problems completing tasks? Why not use Drop Manager to aid your task management? 
  • Podcasts are very popular and there are several on the subject of anxiety and how to cope with it.
  • Natural readers can take the stress out of reading text. Just sit back and listen!

AbilityNet is  pleased to support the International Stress Awareness Day, taking place on Wednesday 1 November 2017

How can we help?

AbilityNet provides a range of services to help disabled people and older people with technology and communications.

  • Call our free Helpline on 0800 269 545 and our friendly, knowledgeable staff will offer one-to-one help.
  • If you are in work your employer has a responsibility to make Reasonable Adjustments which include helping you with invisible illnesses. Find out more about how we help disabled in the workplace.
  • Arrange a home visit from one of our amazing AbilityNet ITCanHelp volunteers. They can come to your home, or help you over the phone.
  • We have a range of factsheets which talk in detail about technology that might help you, which can be downloaded for free. You may find our factsheets talking about computers and vision impairment useful
  • My Computer My Way is our free interactive guide to all the accessibility features built into current desktops, laptops, tables and smartphones.

How Artificial Intelligence is empowering people on the autism spectrum

Artificial Intelligence, or AI, is empowering people with physical disabilities, allowing them to take charge of their own lives but it’s also having a surprising impact on people with neuro-diverse conditions like autism.

It’s easy to generalise about people on the autism spectrum; they like consistency, take things literally and like routine.

What is Autism? Link to Autism Society video on YouTubeAI and computer personal assistants, like Alexa, love these things too. They are built to provide consistency. They don’t (yet) understand sarcasm and they like logic, a lot.

But it’s important to remember that although people on the autism spectrum will share certain difficulties, everyone’s experience of the condition will be very different. Developers and Designers need to keep this in mind when creating a user experience.

Creating meaningful User Experiences

Those on the autism spectrum experience the world in a different way from neuro-typical people. Some people will struggle to have any social interactions, others may rely on a strict routine to get through their days.

AI has the potential to create more meaningful experiences for people on the autism spectrum. “There have been stories about children with autism who have formed in-depth relationships with Siri or their personal assistants. It’s because the assistant doesn’t make any demands on them; they are not inconsistent in their responses,” said Robin Christopherson, Head of Digital Inclusion at AbilityNet.  

Using an assistant like Alexa or Siri makes communicating very straightforward for someone with autism. They don’t have to contend with trying to understand nuanced body language, facial expressions, moods or the million-and-one other things that can be happening every time we talk to someone. An American writer wrote about her own son’s in-depth experience with Siri for the New York Times back in 2014.

Poster from the Home Office giving advice about designing for people on the autism spectrum

Things are moving fast now with the introduction of ambient computing systems like Alexa and Google Home and Apple Homepod. It’s providing incredible opportunities to make a huge difference to people with autism.

How can designers keep improving the user experience for people with autism?

“Diversity is the keyword when it comes to inclusive design,” said Robin from AbilityNet. “Make sure people on the autism spectrum have some input into your user experience, especially any key user journeys on a transactional site.”

Whatever your channel – a website, mobile app, chat bot or skill for the echo – you need to make sure you have as diverse a tester base as possible. Creating an inbuilt variety of options for design, layout and delivery can have a huge impact on user experience.

Designers need to pay attention to using Plain English (PE), avoiding figures of speech and idioms. Using euphemisms, like ‘passed away’ when talking about when someone’s died, can cause confusion. So, can phrases like ‘grey area’ when talking about something that is unclear. It’s best to avoid sarcasm, keep things to the point and matter-of-fact.

People with autism may also struggle to interact with interfaces that they find overwhelming. Use simple colours; structure your information with succinct sentences and bullet-points; and use consistent, predictable layouts.

Inclusive designs are helping everyone

Photo description: Poster from the Home Office giving advice about designing for users on the autistic spectrum

The benefits of inclusive design go way beyond helping people with autism or other impairments.  Accessibility used to be seen as a bolt-on and the danger with that was that it could easily be knocked off. By focusing on inclusive design, organisations will be making the experience better for everyone.

“People using mobile phones out and about have very similarities to people with disabilities. So, accessibility is no longer for people with disabilities with a capital D because if you have a small sheet of glass on a bright sunny day you need colour contrast, in the same way as someone with autism or impairment needs,” said Robin.

Over 700,000, or 1 in 100 people, are on the autism spectrum in the UK. The number of people being diagnosed with autism or other neurological disorders is increasing. So are the number of people temporally disabled or impaired by their new mobile tech.

Organisations and businesses need to think about how to create the best user experiences through their website, apps and bots. If they can nail this then they will by default be reaching many more of their other customers and users. If your App or Bot isn’t accessible then your customers will go to other companies who have ones that are.

Find out more at TechShare pro

Tech which could help people with a stammer

What do King George VI, Ed Sheeran and Samuel L Jackson have in common?  The answer is that they all had a stammer.
 
Stammering is a condition which can make it very difficult for you to speak sometimes. It causes repetition of sounds of syllables or you might make sounds longer or sounds just get stuck.  This, as you can imagine can cause a lot of distress for the person who has a stammer and a lot of confusion for the person who is trying to listen to what they are trying to say. No-one is quite sure what causes people to stammer or stutter. 
 
stammering
 
Some people feel that is a developmental issue. In later life people who have had head injuries can experience difficulties with stuttering. Stammering is more common than you might think.
 
I seem to remember one of my childhood friends having a stutter and I remember that he was very aware of his difficulty, and sadly some of his friends would make fun of him.  Over 70 million people worldwide have the condition, according to the Stuttering Foundation.

How tech can help if you have a stammer

You might be surprised to hear that technology can help people with stammering.  In the past there has been technology available but this has often been cumbersome and difficult to use.  However, using iPads and similar tablets as well as computers can be beneficial for people to help control their stammer.  Lots of apps are available which use AAF or "Altered Audio Feedback" which means that you can use the app to hear what you've just said and there is evidence that this improves the fluency of the speaker.
 
An example of such an app DAF Beep Pro.  In fact, one of the students going through our DSA assessment service did have a stutter and was recommended this app by one of our assessors. The app comes with video guidance on how to use it.  DAF Beep Pro allows the user to hear their own voice played back in their ear at a slight delay which has been found to help a person control stammering during oral conversations.  You can get a lot of discrete Bluetooth earphones too, if you're worried about feeling self-conscious. 
 
It is important to point out here that we're not experts in this field and we'd say that if you have a stutter or a stammer your first port of call ought to be support groups such as The British Stammering Association or your local NHS speech therapy team (accessible through your GP).
 

How can we help?

AbilityNet provides a range of services to help disabled people and older people with technology and communications.

  • Call our free Helpline on 0800 269 545 and our friendly, knowledgeable staff will offer one-to-one help.

  • If you are in work your employer has a responsibility to make Reasonable Adjustments which include helping you with invisible illnesses. Find out more about how we help disabled in the workplace.

  • Arrange a home visit from one of our amazing AbilityNet ITCanHelp volunteers. They can come to your home, or help you over the phone.

  • We have a range of factsheets which talk in detail about technology that might help you, which can be downloaded for free. You may find our factsheets talking about computers and vision impairment useful

  • My Computer My Way is our free interactive guide to all the accessibility features built into current desktops, laptops, tables and smartphones.

A look back at retro tech for #StrangerThings2 weekend

coloured cartoon with Atari video game screens

Will you be one of the millions in Atari and walkie takie heaven this weekend as Stranger Things nostalgia-fest returns to Netflix for a second series? As it happens, I've been looking back at 80s (and 90s) tech for a presentation I'm doing next week on how technology has changed through my education and working life. From getting excited about Tetris and my Amstrad (and being able to type in bold!) to reminiscing about when I got my Alphasmart, which I still use to this day.

Just to set the scene, I have a rare condition called Mobius Syndrome and tech has been a key feature in getting through college and work, perhaps more for me than some of my peers. One of the characteristics of my condition is missing fingers. I am down by six fingers, so doing anything manual is, let’s face it, a bit of a challenge for me.  Especially anything that claims “Easy Open”!

When I started school in the eighties, it soon became apparent that a handsplint with a pen attached wouldn't make my handwriting easier to read and so I progressed through a range of manual and electric typewriters. Excitingly I could type in two colours back then -  black and red.  Yay! But the keys were clunky and it was easy to hit two at once resulting in various issues. 

Canon Typestar 110 word processor 

Things got a lot better, ironically, when I moved from 'special school' to mainstream school. There, I was presented with a Canon Typestar 110. word processor. For the first time I could write and edit a whole sentence and see it on an LED screen in front of me before the Typestar actually typed it on the page. I could now write great essays, hurray! Looking back, it was very basic, but it meant that for the first time I could get work down easily and independently without an assistant helping me.

The home economics department even made me a smart blue bag for the word processor. It was very heavy. I mean really heavy. My parents also bought me a super awesome BBC B computer. It was powerful back then with 32K of RAM and and had some very useful word processing software built in. It also enabled you to do basic programming.  I loved experimenting with that computer so much. Even though it was annoying to try to load software by cassette tape, I could programme things like basic shapes on screen! It was really simple to use and a nice way to get into computing. 

1980s Liberator

There were more tech advancements in time for college. Well by 1980s' standards. I had a Liberator. Not the spaceship from Blake’s 7 but a very neat little word processor made by Thorn EMI. It was the first mass produced laptop on the market and was originally designed for civil servants. The idea was that it would help them produce work more quickly, without having to send it off to something called the 'typing pool'. It enabled me to produce work for my GCSEs much more efficiently because the screen allowed you to see a whole essay and save it to edit later. A revolution! What's more, it was lighter and more portable than the Typestar.

Tetris

Amazingly I passed my GCSEs and then for my GCEs things ramped up a little bit with the Amstrad NC100 word processor. This piece of kit allowed me to now store quite a load of documents and do fancy things like 'Bold' and 'Underline' text. It also, as I remember, had a Tetris style game which I became quite good at and used to beat my fellow students hands down. I used it until around 1995 and it was very portable, running on AA batteries for up to 20 hours. For the first time I had a machine which also had extras such as a calculator, address book and diary.

Tetris

I also used, and actually still have a device called an Alphasmart, which I used for my open studies course. I still think this kit is really underrated. It's a simple word processor and it includes word prediction too. I remember thinking they were fairly cheap and quite durable so if you dropped them, it wasn't the end of the world. One of the great things about these devices is that it has one function so you can't get distracted by running other software on it. So for people who had ADHD or learning difficulties, it helps with focus.

Retro tech: basic but brilliant

Looking back, these pieces of technology were basic. But I didn’t care. They enabled me to keep up with my peers. They might be retro now but at the time, this was cutting edge technology. Meanwhile, I can now, wonderfully, talk to my computer at the AbilityNet office (or my phone) and get it to do things. In fact, you've been able to since the 90s, but not a lot of people know that. Being able to talk to our phones and other devices such as the Amazon Echo or Google Home, in my opinion, has changed and is changing the way people with disabilities can control their technology and ultimately enables people to work with a bit more ease.  Now technology that was once considered adaptive is mainstream and built in to the operating system.

All of this has happened in the past 30 or so years. I can’t even begin to imagine what’s going to happen in the next 30, but I’m fascinated by the new tech discoveries to come, even if I am hanging on to my Alphasmart! It's still great for note taking, and is less likely to get nicked than a laptop!
 

How can AbilityNet help you get the most out of tech?

AbilityNet provides a range of services to help disabled people and older people with technology and communications.

Call our free Helpline on 0800 269 545 and our friendly, knowledgeable staff will offer one-to-one help.

If you are in work your employer has a responsibility to make Reasonable Adjustments which include helping you with invisible illnesses. Find out more about how we help disabled in the workplace.

Arrange a home visit from one of our amazing AbilityNet ITCanHelp volunteers. They can come to your home, or help you over the phone.

We have a range of factsheets which talk in detail about technology that might help you, which can be downloaded for free. You may find our factsheets talking about computers and vision impairment useful

My Computer My Way is our free interactive guide to all the accessibility features built into current desktops, laptops, tables and smartphones.


 

The expert guide to creating a disability-friendly workplace

Is your workplace disability-friendly? Not sure? Read on for some excellent and easy advice which will help you ensure your organisation meets the needs of those with sight loss, hearing loss, dyslexia or dyspraxia and physical disabilities, as well as many other conditions. 

Nearly one in five people in the UK has a disability, including more than eight million of working age. Our new AbilityNet Disability and Employment factsheet shows the steps employers can take to recruit and support people with an impairment or long-term health condition in work. Below we've picked out some of the key points from the fact sheet. 

Benefits of a diverse workforce

Employing disabled people is good for business - it means you can draw on a much broader talent pool; maximise your chance of employing and retaining high quality staff; improve employee morale; reduce absence through sickness, and create a diverse workforce that more closely reflects your range of customers and the community where you operate.

Under the 2010 Equality Act, there can also be serious penalties for treating someone less favourably because of a personal characteristic, such as being disabled.

woman in the workplace

The Equality Act places a duty on employers to ensure that employees with a disability are able to perform effectively. If necessary, an employer must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to ensure that disabled job applicants or employees are not disadvantaged by their workplace or working practices.

There are myriad ways employers can make reasonable adjustments and they don’t have to cost a lot of money. What might be deemed reasonable will depend, in part, on the size and nature of the organisation.

Creating a disability-friendly workplace

  • Adapting the workplace or the working environment
  • Removing physical barriers
  • Making some changes to how work is organised
  • Ensuring that information is provided in accessible formats
  • Modifying or acquiring equipment – including assistive digital technology
  • Offering specialist training and support
  • Providing more flexible employment – including part-time hours and a phased return to work.

How tech can help your organisation be disability-friendly 

Continued advances in digital technology mean that an increasing range of assistive devices, hardware and software is now available to help disabled employees overcome potential barriers and succeed in work. You can find plenty of information about this in the AbilityNet blog.

Government guidance on Employing disabled people and people with health conditions includes information on how different specific conditions can affect people. It also gives related examples of potentially helpful adjustments.

As a starting point, AbilityNet recommends that job applicants and employees generate a ClearTalents profile. Answering a few simple questions about circumstances generates a simple report that can be used by employers to review your needs. Typically, this will identify all the adjustments you may require without the need for a full expert assessment. But, different people will need different adjustments, even if they appear to have similar impairments so an individual assessment with an expert practitioner is essential.

Practical advice on how to achieve the optimum setup for your computing equipment is available on My Computer My Way. This covers all the accessibility features built into your computer, tablet or smartphone, and all the main operating systems – Windows, Mac OS, iOS and Android. You can use it for free at www.mycomputermyway.com.

Access to work and help with costs for reasonable adjustments

Where reasonable adjustments are more costly, help for employers may be available under the government’s Access to Work programme. This can assist with the cost of providing an individual with required support or adaptations.

Useful links and resources for creating a disability-friendly workplace

Acas publishes extensive help and guidance for employers and employees on all aspects of disability discrimination.

Business Disability Forum aims to build disability-smart organisations to enhance participation and improve business performance.

The Disability Confident employer scheme offers guidance and resources around employing disabled people and how the Disability Confident employer scheme can help businesses

Call our free Helpline on 0800 269 545 to ask anything about how computers can be adapted to meet the needs of disabled people.