AbilityNet calls for government enforcement of website accessibility on BBC 'In Touch' programme

On yesterday's (Tuesday 8 Jan 2019) BBC Radio 4 programme 'In Touch' AbilityNet called for the government to finally begin enforcing the law that requires websites and apps to be accessible to all regardless of disability or special access technology.

Listen to In Touch online

Profile photo of Robin Christopherson alongside a photo of Peter White, both smiling facing the cameraIn Touch is a weekly programme aimed at listeners with visual impairments; covering topics such as technology, travel, dating, daily living and how to learn new skills if you're losing your vision later in life. Presenter Peter White often covers other important issues relating to laws and regulations that impact people with low or no vision, such as benefits, shared surfaces (where cars and pedestrians are forced to use the same spaces) and cases of poor customer service or outright discrimination.

I was more than happy to talk to Peter about the very important topic of website and mobile apps accessibility, and share why the government might finally want to step up to the task and begin putting some effort into enforcement.

You can listen to the episode 'Should fines be issued for inaccessible websites?' on the BBC website.

Let's get with the programme

AbilityNet has been championing the call for enforcement of digital accessibility laws for several years now.

Here are links to a few articles I've written on the subject that provide further discussion and information on the compelling case for government enforcement:

Open letter to government: Please ensure websites and apps comply with legal accessibility requirements

Here's how government can help disabled people in a digital world

Who cares more about an inclusive digital future: the CEO of Apple or the CEO of 'UK Plc' (our Prime Minister)?

Government identifies body to enforce website accessibility - now will they step up to the task?

‘Web Accessibility Guidelines 2.0’ turn 10 this month but less than 10% of websites are accessible

TechShare Pro reveals top tech innovations driving accessibility in 2019

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.

Check out the Difference Engine in action.
 

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.

Find out more about Samsung TVs' accessibility, here. 
 

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. 

For our full article on the WeWalk Smart Cane, click here.
 

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. 

No Isolation robot in classroom with 3 children

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.

Read more about No Isolation here. 


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. 

man in theatre audience wearing smart caption classes

Want to try out the Smart Caption glasses? Click here. 


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. 

More information on making your heating controls accessible can be found here. 
 

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.

Find out more about accessibility at Storm Interface
 

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. 

Check out this Be My Eyes film by the BBC.
 

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


10 SignVideo

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.

Explore SignVideo here.
 

11 Wayfindr 

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.

Read AbilityNet's full blog on Wayfindr.
 

12 WaytoB

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.

WaytoB smartwatch and app held in hands

WaytoB was nominated for a Tech4Good 2018 Award. Find out more about the technology here. 


13 Tap SOS

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.

 

TapSOS wins the Tech4Good 2018 Digital Health Award. Read more about it here in The Guardian. 


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.

Check out the Clear Talents' website here. 
 

Curious about TechShare Pro? Our highlights video below will give you all the best bits from this great event. 

 

www.abilitynet.org.uk/techsharepro

The easiest solution to website inaccessibility

We audit a lot of inaccessible websites. Many are created by FTSE 100 companies that are committed to accessibility. This begs the question: why are the websites inaccessible? 

Web standards provide the means for creating high-functioning, accessible websites. Not everything can be made accessible from standards-conformant HTML. Multimedia can be particularly challenging. Audio descriptions and captions require consideration. Nonetheless, well-structured, semantic HTML affords considerable accessibility. 

For example, the best way to ensure that a link is accessible is simply to use a native anchor tag. Consider what is required for a native and custom link to be broadly accessibile. This is a native link:

  1. Wrap the element in an anchor tag
  2. Give it a valid href attribute
  3. Ensure that it has a textual content

Native link example: 

<a href=”http://www.acme.com”>Acme Home</a>

The alternative is much more complex. This is a custom link:

  1. Wrap the element within a container
  2. Add the element to the focus order
  3. Define the element as a link
  4. Use device-independent event handlers
  5. Create a JavaScript function that loads a URL on request
  6. Create a CSS class that styles the element as a link
  7. Create a CSS class that provides focus indication
  8. Ensure that it has a textual content

Custom link example: 

<span class=”link” tabindex="0" role="link" onclick="goToLink(event, ‘http://www.acme.com')" onkeydown="goToLink(event, 'http://www.acme.com’)">Acme Home</span>

The above can contribute a similar node on an accessibility tree. This is a behind-the-scene document that assistive technologies use to interface with websites. It catalogues properies such roles (e.g. link) and names (e.g. acme home). These can then be parsed by assistive technologies such as screen readers.

accessibility tree for native link

The work required is widely different, however. The custom solution also adds dependencies. It relies upon custom-made CSS and JavaScript. It requires more dev time, degrades less gracefully, and is more likely to break. 

So why make development harder? It is the result of content creep.  Simply put, organisations want too much on their websites. It is common to have accordions, tab panels, and modal dialogs on a single page. But all these do is inelegantly side-load content. 

An accordion toggles the visibility of content. It is not available in the HTML specification. All it does is hide content that, if displayed by default, would clutter the page. At the same time, it can drastically hamper accessibility.

example accordion for checkout with billing address option expanded
Ample effort is dedicated to fixing inaccessibility. However, it is slow-going to fix problems created by content-bloat. It is considerably more effective to champion accessible practices throughout development. The result is slimline, well-curated and performant websites. 

The alternative is embedding complexity that engenders inaccessibility and user disengagement. User testing at AbilityNet indicates that users avoid anything complicated when simpler options are available. 

This includes date pickers. It is easier for users to enter this sort of information manually. Give them a standard input field and they can complete the task in milliseconds. That will never be true of a date picker. Users wade through years, months, and days. The design pattern looks more visually fit-for-purpose. But it is functionally much more complex.

The same is true with content in general. The more content on a website, the more difficult it is to use. Consider screen magnification users. Zooming into a page that is bloated with content can be extremely disorientating. A client might ask: “How can we make blocks of text easier to perceive for screen magnification users?”. The answer is: “Have less of it.”  

What makes matters worse is that complexity can require breaking the rules of accessibility. A cornerstone of keyboard accessibility is to never trap focus. Allow users to keyboard tab through everything. However, modal dialogs necessitate trapping focus whilst they are active. It would be confusing to tab behind one of them and onto background elements. Best practice for a complex pattern is to ignore best practice.  

example modal dialog with street, city, state, zip, and instruction fields

We often see developers attempting to remedy this with ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Application). This is code that can be added to boost the accessibility of patterns that cannot be made with semantic HTML. 

However, as WebAIM states: Almost every report we write includes a section cautioning against ARIA abuse and outlining ARIA uses that need to be corrected or, most often, removed. Ironically, this is often followed by a list of issues that can only be addressed with ARIA. - John Whitling, WebAIM - To ARIA!

The more we allow content bloat and retrofitted ARIA, the harder it becomes to create robust and sustainable websites. A hack used to visually declutter a page can be broken by a single browser update. Of course, small updates will always be required. No solution works forever. However, the issues that we identify at AbilityNet are symptomatic of fragile websites, bloated, and committee-designed websites.

Inaccessibility is caused by a desire to add more content. The easiest way to create accessible websites is to say no. Create lean designs and stick to them. Cut your copy in half. Then, cut it in half again.

Be elegant. Your accessibility will skyrocket.

‘Web Accessibility Guidelines’ turn 10 but still less than 10% of sites are accessible

On 11 December 2008, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) published an important update to their guidelines aimed at making the internet a more accessible place for people with disabilities. Ten years on and we’ve not seen much of an impact. Let’s look at why and what can be done to speed things up.

Accessibility for a Web2.0 world

A computer monitor showing java programmingRemember that phrase; ‘Web2.0’? It was coined to encapsulate the fact that websites had largely changed from being static pages of information to web applications full of functionality. Web pages were becoming complicated things full of JavaScript and (ugh) Flash and the internet was becoming an increasingly ‘no-go zone’ for people with a wide range of impairments. Not using a mouse on our new, sexy AJAX web application? Tough. Distracted by that constantly updating carousel full of animated ads? Our bad, but we’re still not going to allow you to stop that scrolling. Want to make changes to text size or colours in our new Flash-based website? Sorry – move on.

The W3C press release at the time highlighted how the update to the accessibility guidelines (known as WCAG2.0) assisted in making the new wave of websites inclusive and, as it happens, easier to use by everyone. This latter fact should be obvious to anyone – make something easier to use for people that need extreme usability and you’ll make it better all-round. I should also mention at this juncture that following these same guidelines make a website more findable through search engines, quicker to download, more easily updated/refreshed, more screen size independent and more future-proof. Like I say; better all-round.

Less than 10% take-up

“So why,” I hear you cry, “aren’t more websites following these guidelines if they’re such hotcakes?” (or words to that effect). The answer boils down to effort and commitment – or lack thereof.

Today, organisations are well aware that it not only makes strong business sense to make their websites (and mobile apps, digital marketing campaigns and customer communications) inclusive to as many users as possible, and they almost certainly know that it’s a legal requirement under the Equality Act, but checking against the guidelines and making the necessary changes as a routine part of the development and testing process takes a little extra effort, as well as an on-going commitment to embed these additional steps into workflows. How much more? An estimated 2-5% if it’s done as a routine part of build and maintenance – which is far outweighed by the savings and extra business it brings.

So inclusive design is a no-brainer, most would argue. Oh, and it’s just the right thing to do too. I think you’d be hard-pushed to find anyone who would disagree.

Apple products on a tableIf you want a shining example of a successful business, with an eagle-eye on the bottom line, who have embraced accessibility in everything they do then you need look no further than Apple. Thank you Apple for doing the right thing by tens of millions of disabled customers around the world. Oh and for the record, I’d also like to thank Apple for their refusal to support Flash on iOS. This one single decision ultimately spelt the demise of one of the most challenging aspects of the Web2.0 world.

Forcing sites to get fit

We’re coming up to another anniversary – the annual celebration of a new year with all it’s fresh potential. Many of us make new year’s resolutions such as losing weight or getting fit. Embracing accessibility is a lot like getting fit – there’s on-going effort involved but you know in your heart that it’s important and worthwhile and that the benefits will ultimately outweigh the effort.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was some external influence encouraging you to take those first invaluable steps towards that better, healthier place? Many of us will virtually compete with friends or colleagues to give us that extra little incentive. Some of us may even pay to have someone shout at us and force us to get fit. The point is that it’s often necessary to employ sticks as well as carrots to help us overcome our natural state of inertia and get some momentum going.

When it comes to websites the stick, in the form of the Equality Act, has been all but invisible. It’s more of a limp twig. In the ten year lifespan of the above excellent accessibility guidelines and the nearly nine years in which it’s been a legal requirement to proactively address the inaccessibility of all your digital services, we’re still in single digit percentages of websites actually achieving compliance. The fear of the limp twig of legislation hasn’t provided that extra bit of motivation that companies obviously need to get with the programme and begin to feel the benefits.

Robin Christopherson and Ellie Southward on-stage at TechShare Pro 2018At our recent sell-out tech conference; Techshare Pro organisations including Apple, Google and Barclays spoke about the importance of getting with the programme. However, the day was kicked off with a keynote; ‘Carrots vs Sticks’ by Ellie Southwood (of the RNIB, co-organisers of the event) and myself in which we highlighted the on-going need for the legal stick to be strengthened to successfully support the very juicy carrots we’d be hearing about throughout the day. Whilst Apple, Google and Barclays are on-board, many companies are still lounging around on their collective couches - and the internet’s a place that’s unfit for many millions of users as a result.

Whilst governments of other countries such as Norway see it as their responsibility to enforce the law (fining companies up to €15,000 a day after a deadline is passed), our own government is yet to pick up the legal stick and start to make our legislation fit for purpose.

So, despite an open letter to our government written over three years ago in which we make this same plea for enforcement, and despite their recently identifying the EHRC as the government body responsible for monitoring and reporting inaccessible websites, they still have no plans to do anything about enforcement as far as we’re aware.

The next 10 years of accessibility

Birthday spelled out in colourful balloonsSo the guidelines that help companies achieve inclusive, flexible and functional websites that are better for everyone are ten years old this month. Happy Birthday WCAG2.0!

Looking ahead, it would be fantastic to think that the next ten years might bring a real increase in companies embracing these guidelines and building websites and mobile apps that don’t exclude many and are better for everyone. Unless the government joins the party, however, I’m not sure whether this will be the case. Let’s let them get Brexit out of the way (and that might take longer than anyone thought) but not lose sight of the fact that we need this to happen – and the sooner the better.

So Merry Christmas everyone and a very Happy New Year. May you keep all your resolutions – especially if they relate to embracing inclusive design and getting the accessibility agenda off to a really good start in 2019.

Related articles:

6 quick checks for website accessibility

Government identifies body to enforce website accessibility - now will they step up to the task?

Open letter to government: Please ensure websites and apps comply with legal accessibility requirements

How tech can help you with your tech addiction

Technology is helpful in so many ways, especially in education, but sometimes we need to step away from it and take a break. Although it may seem a bit counter-intuitive technology can offer the solution to help you take a break from technology. There are some handy apps that can help you ‘take time out’, put down your phone and embrace real-world interaction and reflection.

With the introduction of screen time with Apple’s iOS 12 I was horrified with my daily stats on smartphone usage. Within one day I had picked up my phone 89 times. It got me thinking - if I wasn’t checking my mobile so much, what more could I be achieving with my day? Being on our phone is an integral part of work-life for many of us, but 89 times seemed to be much more than friends I had spoken to, and I wanted to try and change this habit.

Social media icons on a iPhone

The negative effect of technology on mental health

There have been many news stories about how social media and smartphones can have a negative effect on mental health. We are all guilty of posting our ‘best lives’ on Instagram and sharing how brilliantly we’re doing at work on LinkedIn. Having your phone nearby can even have an impact in social situations, as reported in the BBC story ‘Is social media bad for you?’. The article reported that “those with a phone in eyeshot were less positive when recalling their [social] interaction afterwards, had less meaningful conversations and reported feeling less close to their partner than the others, who had a notebook on top of the table instead.”

So, there could be a good case for making better use of our time without the ties to social media and our smartphone. With this in mind, we’ve pulled together our best apps for positive mobile phone use that can also help you improve your time management.

Apps for positive mobile phone use

Moment: Simply put, your smartphone steals your time. Moment's purpose is to help give you back that time. Through short, daily exercises provided through Moment Coach, it can help you to use your phone in a more healthy way so you can be present for the parts of life that matter most. 

Aloe Bud: Aloe has been designed for daily check-ins and reflection, it covers all the essentials; from staying hydrated to maintaining relationships with friends, colleagues or your student co-hort and allows you to reflect on human interaction. 

Forest: This app gamifies leaving your p​​hone alone. It runs as the lockscreen on your device and presents you with a sapling that will grow all the time the phone is left alone but will die if you unlock your phone before the timer runs out (typically 25 mins). The app works on the principals of nudge; rather than stopping you from doing something, it encourages you not to with simple rewards. Each successful tree (as well as any unsuccessful dead trees) are added to your personal forest. You collect virtual coins with each successful abstinence that allows you to, for example, buy different species of tree to grow. For an additional incentive, the app-makers are also planting real trees as the virtual coins are spent in the app. It’s free on Android but around £2 on iOS. ​

Clockwork Tomato: This is a very simple pomodoro timer the main screen of the app features a clock face timer with representations of the 25 minute pomodoro and five-minute break.When the timer is started you get a ticking sound, but this fades after a few seconds. The app also tracks your ‘product​​ivity’ by showing the amount of pomodoro’s you have completed in a calendar. There are additional features such as setting activities as well as task lists. For an online alternative you can use Tomato Timer.

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.

10 amazing things we learned at TechShare Pro 2018

1. In Norway, you can be fined 15,000 a day for web inaccessibility

Last year, the Norwegian government threatened to fine Norwegian airline SAS 15,000 Euros a day if it didn’t improve its web accessibility. Robin Christopherson and Ellie Southwood gave a compelling argument on why the UK government needs to do more to penalise companies who are excluding disabled people from their websites.

Find out more about Robin and Ellie's talk. 

2. Apple spent loads of time adapting its fitness tracker for wheelchair users

Apple has carried out 3,500 hours of research across 300 different wheelchair users. This is to build fitness tracking into the Apple Watch for such customers. “This was the largest study of manual wheelchair users, including Paralympians, to see how calories are burned,” said Sarah Herrlinger, Apple's director of global accessibility policy and initiatives, in the opening session of TechShare Pro. “We created a new algorithm for this. This is not about compliance (with accessibility laws),” she said. “It’s about customisation.”

an Apple advert for the smart watch states 'a watch that considers the different ways you move' with a picture of the app on the watch

Find out more about the Apple Watch algorithm for wheelchair users. 

3. Google is working on Live Captioning for Hangouts

We don’t know much more than that at the moment. Christopher Patnoe, is senior programme manager at Google and was speaking at the event. He responded to an audience question about Live Captioning on Google Hangouts, saying the company is “working on it”. Google Hangouts offers group voice chat and sharing of videos, photos and other content. Deaf users would like to have the option to view live captioning of spoken words on their screen. At the moment, this exists via a volunteer or professional transcriber only. There is demand for live captioning to be built into Hangouts using artificial intelligence. 

Check here for updates on accessibility at Google. 

4. More than 50 people used the National Theatre's smart caption glasses in two weeks of launch

Jonathan Suffolk, technical director of the The National Theatre, London, gave an impassioned talk about the launch of smart caption glasses by the theatre this year. The glasses, designed and manufactured by Epson, are for theatre goers who are deaf or who have hearing loss. They broadcast subtitles to the user during certain performances at the theatre. Jonathan Technical Director, was buoyed to have had 51 people use the glasses in the first fortnight of launch. 

close up of man in sixties wearing smart caption glasses at theatre

Find out more about the smart caption glasses on the National Theatre. 

5. You can use immersive virtual reality to be your own therapist

Those behind Freud-Me at Virtual Bodyworks use immersive reality to help people be their own therapist. We learned more about this and many more fascinating things from Sarah Ticho’s speech. Sarah is founder of Hatsumi, a new platform designed to ‘enable diagnostic and therapeutic intervention through creative expression and mindfulness, to reduce perceived pain and create a greater understanding of ourselves and others’. Sarah talked about Freud-me. Based on the principle that we are better at giving advice to others than to ourselves, users go into an Immersive Virtual Reality (IVR) world to enter an alternate body. They can then give themselves advice to their own problems in a way which feels like someone else is helping them. A study shows that such a technique can be used to improve mood.

Find out more about the Freud-Me study and its results in this piece from Nature magazine.

6. 150,000 hours of TV was audio described, last year, but Goggle Box is tricky!! 

There’s lots happening in the world of accessible media. We learned some of the detail from a panel of experts from the BBC, Chanel 4, ITV. Audio description offers spoken detail of what’s happening on screen for those who are blind or have sight loss. There was a big commitment from all channels to bring audio description to more and more programmes and adverts across all platforms. But Channel 4’s representative admitted that audio describing Goggle Box is hard!

older man and woman and younger man look happy sitting on sofa in colourful lounge

Find out the latest news on audio description on the RNIB website.

7. There are loads of jobs going in accessibility! 

Neil Milliken is co-founder of AXS (accessibility) chat and accessibility lead at Atos. A big social change agent, he’s trying to get accessibility on the agenda at Davos. He said he’s already taken this idea to the Canadian minister for accessibility. Neil said there’s a shortage of accessibility experts. “We need to grow the next generation of accessibility experts,” he said. “It would be great if we taught accessibility from a young age and it was a recognised profession.”

You can find Neil's presentation here. 

8. Kids are sending robots into school to represent them


OK, so technically we knew this already. Lewis Hine won an AbilityNet Tech4Good Special Award earlier this year. Teenager Lewis has a life-limiting condition. When he decided to reach out to others like him via Youtube to tackle the loneliness and isolation he felt, he received 50,000 emails in one day. Lewis was too poorly to attend TechShare Pro in person but in his place he sent his mum and also communicated with the room live via a robot from noisolation. The robot sometimes attends college for Lewis too.  

No isolation robot on stage at TechShare Pro

Learn more about No Isolation on their website.

9. Be My Eyes helps blind people understand confusing Japanese toilets!

There were plenty of laughs when Hans Wiberg, founder of Be My Eyes showed us one of the situations in which Be My Eyes has proved useful. The app, which links people who are blind - via an app - to sighted volunteers, can be useful in many situations. People have used it to see results of a pregnancy test and to get live narration to a Badminton game in which their child was competing. And, the one that got the laughs - to understand a series of complex diagrams describing the various functions of a Japanese public toilet.  

Japanese toilet sign with an array of instructions

10. Lost Voice Guy thinks Simon Cowell is a nice guy

Up on the 30th floor of Barclays HQ, Canary Wharf, Lost Voice Guy got roaring laughs at TechShare Pro’s evening reception. Winner of this year’s Britain’s Got Talent, Lee Ridley’s condition - Cerebral Palsy - affects his ability to speak. He uses a voice synthesiser for his act. “The judges have been great. Simon is a nice guy. I’ve met them a few times and they’ve given advice and stuff.” He said he doesn't experiment with different voices because he's been used to having the same voice since he was a young boy. But joked that on a Tuesday evenings he sometimes uses a woman’s voice for fun.

Lost Voice guy on stage at Barclays HQ with Mark Walker AbilityNet, Christmas tree in background

Check out slides, videos and more from this year's TechShare Pro. 
 

TechShare Pro: WeWALK smart cane now in production

Thanks to an Indiegogo crowdfund, the WeWALK smart cane designed for blind and visually impaired people is now in production. So far 1,500 customers in the UK, US and Turkey have ordered the invention. As one of the innovations taking part in AbilityNet's sold out TechShare Pro event in London yesterday, the team behind the product received plenty of positive feedback.

Ahead of the Canary Wharf event hosted by Barclays and supported by Google, Gokhan Mericliler, one of the founders, told AbilityNet more about how the smart cane works.

Hi Gokhan, what is WeWALK?

It’s a technology which fixes to a tradition white cane and enhances its capabilities for people who are blind or have visual impairment. Although technology has been steadily improving, the white cane has stayed the same for a hundred years. We saw an opportunity to enhance it.

man smiling uses WeWALK smart cane at office

We have created a ‘smart cane’ which attaches to the traditional white cane. It transforms the cane into an innovative smart cane with a number of features. These include 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 application via Bluetooth, the customer can use 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.

Tell us more about the technology involved in WeWALK?

WeWALK incorporates many cutting-edge technologies including a gyroscope, accelerometer, compass, directional vibration motors, microprocessor, touchpad, microphone, speaker and Bluetooth Low Energy module. It synthesises these technologies so that the user can easily access these features on one device.

WeWALK is currently integrated with Call Management, Google Maps and Amazon Alexa (in Beta mode). Soon it will be integrated with Voice Assistant, Uber and Lyft. These new features are installed through periodic software updates. With WeWALK’s touchpad, users are able to perform certain gestures just like using a smart watch and listen to the instructions and outputs via WeWALK’s speaker.

WeWALK has a voice menu that allows the users to control its integrations and features. For example, users can perform a gesture to listen to next GPS direction instead of taking their phones out of their pockets and check the next step via their phones.

Who is the team and funding creating the WeWALK?

The WeWALK team met seven years ago on a leadership development program at university run by the Young Guru Academy (YGA) - a non-profit organisation founded in Turkey. The Academy works on breakthrough social innovations in the field of technologies for the visually impaired. One of the previous projects includes My Dream Companion - a platform that aims to provide smooth and unlimited access to contextual and spatial information for the visually impaired. Our team has worked on various technologies for blind people and those with sight loss and have patented the WeWALK.

Most of the funding comes from WeWALK’s strategic partner, Vestel. Vestel is one of Europe’s largest consumer electronics company and WeWALK is being produced in their factory in Manisa, Turkey. Customers also paid a discounted price of $350 in advance via Indiegogo, though the updated cost is to be determined, we are aware of the fact that visually impaired people have a low-income level, thus, we will be doing our best to offer WeWALK in a way that people can afford easily.

For more on TechShare Pro, including videos and slides from the event, click here. More content will be added over the coming weeks and months. 

 

How to build accessibility into your organisation - BBC Accessibility Champions

Ahead of the Accessibility Champions professional practice workshop at TechShare Pro, London, Emma Pratt-Richens (pictured), senior accessibility specialist at the BBC talks to AbilityNet about how the BBC is growing its network of accessibility champions.
 
Emma Pratt Richens

AbilityNet: What are the BBC accessibility champions?

Emma Pratt-Richens: A growing network of people who champion accessibility and share relevant knowledge across BBC departments and teams. Champions are encouraged to complete training courses, access resources and communicate with each other to increase their understanding of accessibility and share it with their teams. They are the people who ask questions about accessibility day-to-day and at all stages of projects so that we can build accessibility into everything and not just make it an afterthought.
 

What is your own accessibility experience?

I’ve been at the BBC for 12 years - most of that as a front-end developer. Accessibility was something I first encountered in a previous role at a borough council, and became a key part of the work I did. Around four years ago I changed team and became an accessibility specialist.
 

What sort of accessibility training is on offer at the BBC?

Training isn’t exclusively for champions, it’s for anyone in a digital role at the BBC. We have an online course which offers a concise introduction to accessibility for developers and testers. There’s a full-day face-to-face course for designers and researchers too, which is mandatory for everyone in the User Experience & Design department. There’s a full-day face-to-face course introducing screen readers. AbilityNet developed and delivers that session for us. And we provide more hands-on support and customised sessions on request, e.g. around alt text, WAI-ARIA, switch devices, focus groups, and interactive content like games.

With technology changing so quickly, how do champions stay up-to-date?

There are always new ways and new approaches and different talks we can go to. Different people take interest in different areas and then share their knowledge. For example, currently Jamie Knight is looking at mixed reality, I’m talking with others who are developing understanding around voice control and Alexa, and our colleague Michael Mathews is focussed on new ways share our knowledge. Sharing is key. Another approach is focussed support. For example, there has been much more HTML/JS interactive content coming out in the last few years, so we’ve worked closely with the Children’s Games, Visual Journalism and the Bitesize teams.

How big is the accessibility team at the BBC?

There are five of us looking after audience products, and a few other smaller teams focussed on different aspects of accessibility. We do training and hands on support where we can. We do a lot of conversations, email, online chats, and sharing knowledge. We’re constantly learning more, because a lot of the time the BBC is breaking new ground, and we will also look to gov.uk or Barclays, or the Guardian, as they may have done research we can learn from. 

To find out more about TechShare Pro, hosted by Barclays and organised by AbilityNet, click here. 

Two steps to ensuring usability for every user: Testing, testing. One two, one two.

Making sure your websites and mobile apps are usable by the broadest possible audience is essential to ensure that your product is truly competitive. Real-life usability for users regardless of impairment or environment takes two distinct steps.

Step 1: Technical compliance

The first step to ensuring that your products and projects are as inclusive as possible is to use the appropriate handy accessibility checklist and start ticking off those issues you find. Of course for web these are the 'Website Content Accessibility Guidelines' (WCAG) found on the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) website - where you’ll also find lots of useful resources and techniques to test for compliance. Similar guidelines exist for mobile platforms such as iOS and Android.

A woman lifting her glasses off her face, struggling to read something on her phoneOK – hands up. Testing your app or website for compliance isn’t necessarily a quick and simple process – but it’s well worth the effort. An accessible product is easier to use by everyone. This makes eminent sense if you think about it for a second; improving an app or website so that it is easier to use by those with difficulties will make it better for all users (particularly when you consider that most of us are now ‘extreme users’ on a daily basis – using our phone one-handed, squinting at our screens on a sunny day, quickly sending a WhatsApp before we rush out the door or order an Uber a little worse for wear). Oh, and it’s also the law. Want some help? Check out AbilityNet's range of Digital Accessibility Services.

Step 2: Testing, testing

Great – so now your website, app, e-marketing campaign and customer comms are technically compliant. Fantastic. So what’s the second step?

Well, just as you wouldn’t design a product on paper and then unleash it on the world without a significant bit of user testing, you shouldn’t do the same for your digital products either. Car manufacturers wouldn’t design a new model on a computer and then roll thousands of units off the production line without first doing some serious road-testing. I know what you’re saying; “We always do user testing before we launch any product or update” and I’m sure that’s true, but you aren’t testing it with the right users if you want to ensure true usability by the broadest audience possible. What good is a car that has only been tested in the most moderate of environments? The resulting product would be the car equivalent of the iPhone 4 (remember ‘Antennagate’ which resulted from Apple only ever testing the handset’s reception in and around Cupertino, California, where phone signals are always strong and you’re never “Holding it wrong”).

Raphael Clegg-Vinell, an AbilityNet consultant, conducting user testingTesting with users that have a range of disabilities and impairments is vital. The adjacent image is taken from a video by Barclays about user testing on their online banking services to explain the on-going impact that crucial second step is having across their range of products. You really should check it out.

Want some more ammo on the case for extreme user testing? I’d thoroughly recommend reading Ethan Marcotte’s excellent 'Accessibility is not a feature' article, in which, at one end of the scale you have the conviction that accessibility can be delegated to the tools you’re using alone (“We don’t have to worry about accessibility. The framework we’re using takes care of it for us”), with conscientious checking for compliance being sufficient somewhere in the middle, and at the other end of the success-spectrum you get the likes of Barclays.

Award-winning extreme user testing

So strongly do Barclays believe in extreme user testing, that no new website or mobile app is released without first being tested (and then badged for customer confidence) by AbilityNet.

Check out a recent article we published about AbilityNet winning a Barclays' top supplier award in 2017 or else go straight to our Digital Accessibility Services page for the low-down on our award-winning extreme testing services.

Further reading:

AbilityNet's Head of Digital Inclusion proud to present at third European 'Total Football Total Access' event

Building excitement and building accessibility know-how for TechShare Pro: future proofing future tech

Websites and apps: How to make accessibility user-friendly

Embed inclusive design to reach a wider audience, says AbilityNet expert

Tech innovation for accessible arts and culture

The social school of thought or model of disability says that people are disabled by barriers in society, not by their impairment or difference.

By removing those barriers you overcome the disability. So, we can actually make everyday life as accessible as we want to for people with disabilities, and tech and innovation play a huge part in this.

Around one in five people in the UK have a disability or impairment, according to the office for national statistics, which is set to rise due to our ageing population, so it’s crucial that all areas of society use tech to cater for people with disabilities.

This includes making services, such as the creative arts, accessible for everyone including people with so called ‘hidden disabilities’ such as hearing loss, which aren’t immediately visible to others, but exist none the less.

The societal impact of theatre 

a stage with bold lightingTheatre has been a staple of society for many years now, it has many proven benefits of its patrons including enhanced imagination, increased self confidence and enrichment of social and societal knowledge. 

Theatre requires a diverse set of thinking and communications and relies quite heavily on technology. When we embrace diversity and accept the challenges of ourselves and others we can free up the barriers that may exist to the arts and allow inclusion to a much loved industry.

Innovative accessibility by the National Theatre

Arts and culture is an area that is making great strides in accessibility through developing innovative technology. For example, the National Theatre has introduced smart caption glasses, which offer a revolutionary new way for people with hearing loss to enjoy performances at the National Theatre.

Users can experience productions from any seat in any theatre. When wearing the glasses, users will see a transcript of the dialogue and descriptions of the sound from a performance displayed on the lenses of the clear glasses.

You can learn more about the glasses and making arts and culture accessible at Tech Share Pro 2018, where Jonathan Suffolk, Project Director at the National Theatre, will discuss this amazing new technological advancement.

TechShare Pro 2018, which is the UK's largest accessibility and inclusive design event, is organised by AbilityNet and the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), sponsored by Barclays and Google. This year's theme is how we embed accessibility and inclusion in every digital project. audience members wearing the smart caption glasses

Accessible arts and culture on display

At TechShare Pro 2018 you’ll also be able to hear from some other front runners in theatre who have made huge steps in the direction of inclusive design in arts and culture.

These include Richard Matthews and Lizzy Leggat from the Graeae Theatre Company. They will discuss the fantastic use of embedding inclusivity from the ‘get go’ of Graeae Theatre, working with disabled actors, and the use of inclusive tech in every production.

And Phillipa Cross, from Talking Birds, will look at the process Talking Birds went through in designing their ‘difference engine’, and how from every challenge comes a creative opportunity.

For the second year running Tech Share Pro has sold out 2 weeks before the show! Don’t worry if you haven’t got a ticket, we’ll be sharing loads of great content and insights on the AbilityNet website and you can follow the whole day on Twitter using #TechSharePro.