TechShare pro: How Barclays uses latest tech to offer more accessible services to disabled people

Barclays bank logoOne in five people in the UK is disabled, whether that be by sight loss, hearing impairment, a motor or cognitive disability or other - and 90% of Barclays customers now interact with the bank through a screen. As the bank's Head of Digital Accessibility Paul Smyth explained at TechShare pro, unless those services are accessible the business risks losing 20% of its customers.

“We became the first bank to offer talking cash machines when we signed up to the RNIB’s Make Money Talk campaign in 2011. We immediately saw customers vote with their feet and recognised it was good for business and good for society,” said Paul Smyth, who was a keynote speaker at the AbilityNet/RNIB TechShare Pro in London In November.

Paul SMyth is Head of Digital Accessibility at Barclays

“It was a huge catalyst for change. We now have virtual sign language interpreters and high visibility bank cards....people think accessibility market is a small market, or accessible design is boring, but the purple pound (estimated household spending power of disabled people in the UK) is worth £265 billion."

Listening to disabled customers 

Barclays keeps a range of people in mind when developing its services, said Smyth, and uses surveys, social media engagement and stories to listen and share disabled people’s experiences.

“As someone with a visual impairment, I can choose to interact with my accessible smartphone rather than the bank kiosk when requesting cash withdrawals, highlighting the benefits of offering multiple ways to do the same things….We aim to be the most accessible business in the FTSE100,”

The popularity of mobile banking has meant that banks are having to provide information in a more accessible way, he said. “Many of us are on a smaller smartphone screen these days, banks are forced to distil down and display only the core information that the customer wants less of the generic marketing blurb that the bank would want. Simplifying both interface, language used and ways of interacting.

AI and Chat Bots

Smyth sees the newest technologies as a way to make banking safer and simpler. “AI and chat-bots are helping customers wade through bank sites and make sense of the information that they want through conversational interfaces rather than reading lengthy FAQs." 

"Simpler information means such services will be more accessible to a wide range of people, including those with dyslexia or cognitive impairments, as well as those using a screenreader. The industry is ripe for a revolution of simpler, safer and smarter tech, powered by predictive AI and presented in a personalised way that works for everyone,” said Smyth.

More information

Accessibility Professionals: UK Chapter launched at TechShare pro 2017

The UK branch of the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) launched at the TechShare Pro conference in London on 23 November. The IAAP started in 2014 with 31 founding members including AbilityNet and Microsoft and has now grown to members in 40 different countries and recently launched chapters in the UK, India, and the Nordic countries.  It is a membership organisation for all people involved with digital accessibility working with websites, software, hardware, content and services. IAAP offers programs to support the advancement of skills and ways to demonstrate achievement of those skills and can be of particular interest to those working in web development and UX.

Barclays offered a chance to try new VR solutions at AbilityNet's TechShare pro event

TechShare pro was a sold out one-day conference organised by AbilityNet and RNIB and sponsored by Barclays, IBM, Microsoft, OrCam and Storm. As well as IAAP UK members it featured experts from the Google, Barclays, IBM and the BBC. Alongside practical sessions about accessible design much of the focus was on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, which could transform the lives of the world’s one billion disabled people (Unicef figure).

Employing qualified web accessibility experts

Launching the IAAP, managing director of the body Sharon Spencer (pictured below second from left), said:

“The aim is to help organisations integrate accessibility into their products and infrastructure and provide a professional qualification for accessibility professionals. We offer certification and these qualifications are something organisations can look for when employing experts to work on their websites to ensure they comply with the law.”

The majority of websites in the UK are not fully accessible to people who have sight or hearing loss and other disabilities. Accessibility is not taught as part of mainstream digital education at any level, and it is common for web developers to be unaware of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

AbilityNet CEO Nigel Lewis (Twitter: @NigelLewis18) has been involved in IAAP since its inception and sees a huge opportunity to recognise the skills of accessibility professionals: 

"I amd personally very proud to be a founder of the IAAP and AbilityNet fully supports its mission to help grow and develop the accessibility profession. We want accessibility to be recognised as a profession on a par with User Design & Experience, Development, Testing and Security and other disciplines IT profession. This will be a key factor in driving the delivery and uptake of accessible and inclusive technology, which in turn will help millions of disabled and older people around the world."

"IAAP provides a place for accessibility professionals around the world to gather, share experiences and enrich their knowledge of accessibility. The certification programme aims to better define what accessibility professionals are expected to know and increase the quality and consistency of work in this space.

Students of the accreditation will be given details on what kinds of skills they need in order to pass multiple choice tests, showcasing their knowledge. There are several certifications available:

  • The Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies (CPACC)
    This represents broad, cross-disciplinary conceptual knowledge about disabilities, accessibility and universal design, accessibility-related standards, laws, and management strategies.
  • The Web Accessibility Specialist (WAS)
    This represents an individual’s detailed technical knowledge about the WCAG guidelines and other related web accessibility topics.
  • Those who pass both the CPACC and the WAS exams will receive the designation of Certified Professional in Web Accessibility (CPWA).

IAAP President Sharon Spencer with other accessibility professionals at TechShare pro

Pankaj Bhasin (pictured second from right), an IT expert who volunteers with AbilityNet’s ITCanHelp service, said he would be looking to become accredited. “I have a Master’s Degree in Business and Information and at no point did we look at accessibility. This is something I would definitely be interested in to increase my career prospects."

Find live recordings of expert speakers from TechShare Pro here.

Find slides and presentations from speakers at TechShare Pro here, including BBC, Microsoft, Google and more.

Follow us on Facebook for more live videos and updates about next year's TechShare Pro.

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 early next year, 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

Amazon Echo Show includes a screenThese 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.

The 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 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.

Cortana and the Halo effect

Microsoft has entered the voice assistant market with the InvokeWhilst 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 years (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!

The Stress Management Society (SMS) describes stress as “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." 

the workplace can be a very stressful placeOur 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 achieve 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.

Why artificial intelligence needs to overcome the ‘evil’ image and embrace accessibility

No one wants to be remembered as the creator of something defined as "evil" to accessibility. So how can you make sure you aren't?

Captcha Challenge on YouTubeThe evil thing Robin Christopherson, Head of Digital Inclusion at AbilityNet, is referring too when he's talking about building tech that's accessible is the CAPTCHA security boxes. The ones you sometimes complete online to prove you are not a robot for security reasons. These nasty little critters by default (and even with audio options) make themselves inaccessible to many people with disabilities. You can take the '2 minute Captcha Challenge' on YouTube to experience for yourself what we're talking about.

At TechShare Pro we know creating interfaces that refuse to make themselves accessible is a big no-no. We want to bring together experts, developers and designers to make sure the next generations of artifical intelligence (AI) is accessible. You can find out more about TechShare Pro on our website.

Artificial Intelligence, once the realm of Sci-Fi, is fast becoming the norm as devices become smarter. Currently, chat bots help us online and intelligent office assistants help us manage our lives and homes. In the not too distant future there will be driverless cars to contend with.

How can developer and designers using AI make sure their products are accessible to everyone?

Photo of Robin Christopherson MBE"It's about choice. It's about developing artificial intelligence that will give you choice..." said Robin.

If you are going to build a website, bot or driverless car you need to make sure that it can be different things to different people. That it has choice built-in. That anyone can use it.

When Siri first came onto the market it could only be operated by Voice Control, which meant that it was no good for people who couldn't speak. The latest version has the option to type questions and instructions and if a person can't hear the audio response, they can read it in a conversation thread on the screen.

So can you retrospectively fix accessibility problems?

Accessibility features like the ones I just mentioned were worked into the software retrospectively. But, there is the real danger that If you haven't worked in accessibility from the beginning things can end-up fundamentally flawed. For instance, if you used Flash (notoriously inaccessible) to build your website there was no easy fix - you just had to start again from scratch.

Accessibility is about making sure no one is left behind. Once it was just thought of in terms of helping people with disabilities, but as technology has developed it's become about creating inclusive design for everyone.

We are all carrying our smart phones and tablets around 24/7. Because of using them in public spaces, we all need to be able to contrast the screen to make information clearer or have the option for subtitles, just like people with visual or hearing impairments.

One of the accessibility issues that was flagged up early on with AI tech was that Siri, Alexa and many other virtual assistants don't like non-American accents - reported on wired.com. For a global product like Apple that reduces the number of customers you can sell things to massively.  

How would it cope with computer-generated voices like those of Steven Hawking?

"Don't think about accessibility in terms of disability, flip it 180 degrees and think about inclusive design..." Robin told us. "You don't need to be just asking if your AI can understand people with speech impairments. You need to think wider. For instance, does it understand someone with a strong Glaswegian accent?"

Now let's flip it.

"Why AI is going to be massively useful to accessibility?"

It's all to do with simplicity.

Robin described virtual assistants as the "pinnacle of simplicity." People are going to be able to do things more easily and accessibly because AI requires it to be so.

Mobile phone screen with apps

If mobile phone apps made things cleaner and simpler than a full desktop experience, personal assistants like Alexa are another step ahead. You don't need to physically open your phone or computer to do things. Now you can just ask your assistant, without lifting a finger, to do stuff for you. If you layer on top of that the ability to do your online banking and checking when the next bus is coming, then life just got a whole lot easier. Artifical intelligence has huge potential to increase the accessibility of all these things, for people who find conventional channels more challenging than others.

Developers won't need to reinvent the wheel

The incredible thing too is that the big tech giants, like Google and IBM, allow developers to link to their AI research and development via APIs (Application Programming Interfaces). So, if you are developing an app and need to link to Google translate, that is possible and free, provided you're not reaching more than say 10,000 people. You just focus on the user experience and making sure that the interface you create is inclusive.

If you would like to find out more about accessibility and AI, meet the experts and speak to other like-minded colleagues, you can still book tickets for our TechShare Pro event in November.

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Tomorrow’s tech and the future for banking

By Paul Smyth, Head of Digital Accessibility, Barclays


Person interacting with virtual buttonsI'm looking forward to the TechShare Pro 23 November event where we'll be hearing from leading organisations about the emerging challenges and possibilities presented by tomorrow's technologies, including AI, robotics and machine learning. When I apply an accessibility lens to these new buzz words, there's certainly multiple use cases where these technologies could excel. Robotics can help automate household chores and in doing so support independent living for the elderly. Artificial Intelligence (AI) coupled with machine learning is helping to tackle more complex tasks, such as seeing (machine vision), hearing (speech-to-text) and understanding (natural language interfaces). As people's senses may deteriorate over their longer lives, the improved sensors being built into the collection of always-on, always-connected IOT (Internet of Things) devices around us will help in enhancing and augmenting our human capabilities.

But how will banking be impacted in this brave new world? The industry is ripe for a revolution of simpler, safer and smarter tech, powered by predictive AI and presented in a personalised way that works for everyone.

Simpler interfaces

Mobile Banking has ballooned in popularity, in part because of the cluttered and complicated banking websites of yesteryear. Now on a smaller smartphone screen, banks are forced to distil down and display only the core information that the customer wants and less of the generic marketing blurb that the bank would want. This relentless customer focus is simplifying both interface, language used and ways of interacting. For instance, AI and chat-bots are helping customers wade through bank sites and make sense of the information that they want through conversational interfaces rather than reading lengthy FAQs. Machine vision is helping customers deposit paper cheques with a more convenient snapshot of their smartphone and it's helping banks to continue to process cheques as they become increasingly obsolete. Biometrics is even making the security step far simpler, using your finger-print to access your mobile banking app or simply your voice-print to access telephone banking.

Personalisation

Person using contactless payment methodA great example of how technology is providing greater choice for enabling people to bank where, when and how they want is contactless payments. This convenient payment method in shops is now becoming the norm for interacting with cash machines. My forgetful friend can tap their smartphone instead of their debit card to transact and my grandma who has arthritis can tap her debit card on the ATM rather than struggling to pull it into and out of the kiosk. As someone with a visual impairment, I can choose to interact with my accessible smartphone rather than the kiosk when requesting cash withdrawals, again highlighting the benefits of offering multiple ways to do the same things.

With AI, digital assistants are becoming cleverer too - not just texting you towards the end of the month once you've gone over-drawn, but instead warning you mid-month based on your past behaviours and suggesting some course corrections. Even monthly budgeting will become easier as AI can better understand and visually present your in-goings and out-goings in a typical month, highlighting how much you're spending on over-priced coffee or perhaps flagging if your energy bills look a little high and if there's a better deal. In the future, loyalty schemes will become child's play too, taking the pain out of earning or burning potential loyalty points. Let's face it - everyone would benefit from their own financial advisor bot, informing you on the best way to manage your money with the most appropriate loans or accessing the most effective savings rates - providing informed insights and automating administrative tasks.

Inter-connection

Amazon Echo DotIn 2018, new bank legislation in the form of the Payments Services Directive will shake things up. This'll force traditional banks to share account and transaction information with trusted third parties, enabling customers to aggregate their various bank accounts across multiple institutions in a single view. In time it'll provide the means for customers to easily compare bank products for the best deals or more easily make payments. It's exciting to think about those new banking portals that'll be born that offer the most accessible and usable experiences, whether that be through Amazon Echo or the next big breakthrough technology.

Will AI work for everyone?

Many on-lookers raise the question of whether we can build AI and Machine Learning that is ethical but I think the bigger question is whether we can build these new technologies to be empathetic and adaptable to cope with the diversity of human users encountering them. We know that 'data is king' and that many new machine learning tools are launched and algorithms refined as digital savvy, early adopters use these systems in anger. The algorithms are tweaked to work out the most efficient predictions based on the least amount of data required, essentially averaging up expected user behaviours and chopping out outliers and anomalies. Whilst this may be the first step on the journey, interested parties need to remind technologists that it's the boundary between where tech meets human that is critical to get right and whilst tech has more 'smarts' built into it, these need to include being aware of and accommodating to the wide range of needs, abilities and preferences that humans have.

The future is bright and new tech promises a lot but we need to continue to lobby and remind technologists that it needs to serve all of us, including the edge cases and outliers. At Barclays we want to leverage technology to enable and empower all people to work, bank and reach their full potential. We can only achieve this by actively involving and listening to all potential users, including those with disabilities.

You can further explore the challenges and possibilities presented by tomorrow's tech at TechShare Pro.

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