School's out for summer...but here's how disabled students starting uni in autumn can get the right support

It seems like the summer holidays have just started, but it won't be too long before new students are going off to university for the first time. In 2016, Disability Rights UK came up with some handy guidance for disabled students about what Adjustments could be made by universities to help those students with a disability. It isn’t exhaustive, but it very long and does give some really useful hints and tips on what to do in order to accommodate students who might have additional needs and provide a more inclusive service.

The guidance is split into different categories.  So for example, under the General heading the guidance talks about university staff having disability awareness training so they are better informed to support students who might have additional needs.  Another category relates to General Access requirements. So for example you might require a longer time to complete an exam paper, and you may also need some rest breaks being built in so you can manage symptoms of fatigue more effectively. 

The last category relates to disability specific needs. So, for example, if a student has vision loss, they may need specific support in making hand-outs easier to read. So they might need to recieve hand outs on different coloured paper, or in larger print.

Those with hearing loss might need some of the following:

  • 'Remote captioning eg, using Skype to access a palantypist
  • Changing the language of exam papers if you’re pre-lingually deaf
  • Induction loop system in lecture halls and seminar rooms
  • Radio or infrared microphone system
  • Textphone (e.g. minicom) at home, in the Students’ Union and/or somewhere easily accessible at the college

It's hard to know how many higher education students claimed Disabled Student Allowance (DSA) across the board last year. AbilityNet carried out assessments for approximately 1800 students last year with a view to them receiving DSA. Some of the students we assessed had conditions such as dyslexia, or dyspraxia, others had depression and anxiety issues, as well as hearing and sight loss and it the difference that can be made with some simple help, is extraordionary.

In 2016 the Association of Colleges reported that between 2015-2016 some 2.9 million people were educated or trained at college.  Many of those students will have some sort of impairment that needs support.

It is one thing to explain on an enrolment form that you have a disability but another entirely for the education institution to put measures in place to help you. Under the Equality Act 2010, they must make reasonable adjustments to support you. 

Disabled students don’t want to shout about their disability, so it does make sense for staff to be well briefed on the additional requirements they might have. They also wants to be seen as individuals, so just because a member of staf helped a student with dyslexia last year and they have another student who has dyslexia this year, both might have had different requirements.

If you have students, or are a student who struggles with their IT and need some advice on adaptive equipment, you can always Ask Alex (me) AbilityNet's Advice and Information officer. I used IT equipment all throughout college and university to produce work of a high standard and I as don’t have all my fingers it makes writing really difficult.

How can we help?

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

Call our free Helpline. Our friendly, knowledgeable staff will discuss any kind of computer problem and do their best to come up with a solution. We’re open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm on 0800 269 545.

If you are in work your employers have a responsibility to make Reasonable Adjustment.   For more details on this have a look at www.abilitynet.org.uk/ctod and www.cleartalentsatwork.com

Arrange a home visit. We have a network of AbilityNet ITCanHelp volunteers who can help if you have technical issues with your computer systems. They can come to your home, or help you over the phone.

 

Microsoft is bridging the communication gap with advanced voice recognition and translation services

Microsoft is combining quick, reliable voice recognition with instant language translation and embedding it into more and more of its products - bridging the communication gap across countries and eroding the barriers of disability.

In the future of computing, your voice will be heard

Talking to your computer, smartphone or ever-helpful home assistants such as Microsoft/ Harman Kardon's up-coming Invoke speaker with Cortana (pictured below), the Amazon Echo or Google Home is now so normal that it’s become second nature for many of us. Of course they’re still far from perfect, but anyone who has experienced the uncanny ability of these assistants to correctly answer shouted questions from across a busy room is left with a feeling of wonder and a strong desire to ask another dozen or so questions to experience the magic some more.

Cortana and Harman Kardon Invoke speaker

For people with disabilities the magic is taken to a whole new level and there is little doubt that natural language smart assistants are going to play a major part in the future of computing.

The ability for these devices to help us with our requests is partly due to the AI smarts behind the scenes, but a large part is the increasingly accurate ability for them to understand exactly what we’re saying regardless of our accent, environment and language.

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HAVE YOU READ? 5 ways the NHS disables blind people, and 5 ways it could help 

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There’s some way to go with regards extreme levels of background noice (although machine learning is doing it’s best to learn how to filter out extraneous sounds) and recognising people with a speech impairment or disability, but the collosal number of people now using these devices is feeding vast amounts of valuable data into the central AI systems that drive these devices. Without buying a new gadget, or even having to update their software, these assistants will become better and better and more and more useful.

Microsoft - bringing language smarts to many platforms

While almost every operating system and device now has dictation capabilities built-in, Microsoft seems to be in the vanguard when it comes to embedding voice recognition and translation services across their most popular platforms and apps.

Speech recognition has been built into Windows for many years now and is getting better all the time. You can dictate into any application at up to 300 words a minute – faster than any touch-typist and with 100% accurate spelling too.

A more recent development is the ability to have live subtitles viewable by audience members while you present using PowerPoint. Check out this excellent article on their new Presentation Translator capability that not only provides live subtitles, but can also instantly translate them into several dozen languages. Individual attendees can even view synchronised subtitles in their own preferred language on their phone.

skype translator

Similar smarts have been available in Skype for some time. Skype Translator allows you to have voice conversations instantly translated into other languages and spoken out using clear synthetic speech – bridging the communication gap between millions of people world-wide. Not only that, but it’s available built-in to all recent versions of Skype on computers running Windows 7 and above.

Synchronised speech and text - assisting communication across impairments

Now consider someone with a hearing impairment. With Skype Translator the recognised text is not only spoken out but also comes up on-screen. This means that they can now read the other half of the conversation real-time and are now able to participate in a typical Skype voice call. Not a multi-lingual conversation?

No problem – simply set the language to be translated into to be the same as your own - i.e. set the language of both speaker’s to ‘English’, for example.
If you also have a communication impairment (many people who are born hard of hearing do) then no problem, you type your responses and the other speaker talks as normal and you’ll get their recognised speech as text on-screen.

This seamless integration of text and speech is a truly powerful combination of technologies, bridging the gap in communication across countries and disabilities.

Kudos to Microsoft for providing such power in these hugely popular applications – and when you combine this with the excellent image and object recognition  services they’re developing (that similarly disproportionately assists those with a disability or impairment) and the all-round excellent accessibility across all their platforms – Microsoft are really on fire at the moment when it comes to inclusive design. Guys, keep up the good work.

Here’s to a future in which the voice of every user can be heard and understood.

Resources:

5 ways the NHS disables blind people, and 5 ways it could help

*Jim lost most of his sight as a teenager because of a genetic eye condition. To support him, teachers would make his notes in class and his text books would be audio recorded for him. These days, he can read faster than sighted peers thanks to a screenreader, but he still finds himself disabled when dealing with the NHS.

doctors sit in front of high tech screens

Jim says: “I've had a few health issues over the last five years and it's felt like I've been thrown back into the dark ages. My independence stripped away; I've missed out on important information regarding my health and have had to rely on other people because lots of things are done on paper rather than electronically. This can be embarrassing and demoralising.”

Here he explains his experience and offers suggestions on how the NHS can be more supportive to patients with sight loss and other disabilities.  

5 ways the NHS experience isn't working for blind people

1 Medical records

For the last five years (until recently) I was – wrongly - told I had IBS. I asked my doctor about seeing my records but they said they couldn't email them to me, only print them out. I can't read a print out and it isn't always ideal to have someone else read your health information for you. This is not inclusive.

2 General written advice

Over the years, the doctor has given me slips of paper about tests and prescriptions, but I can't read them either. It's frustrating and you start to lose your independence. 

3 Prescriptions

When the chemist gives me information about when to take medication and side effects etc., I can't read that information, which can cause big problems and confusion.

It was only after four years of taking a medication for acid reflux that I realised that I shouldn't have be taking the medicine during a meal, it should be taken an hour before eating. I was also on another medication for IBS that relaxes the muscle above your tummy and I found out this results in more acid leaking up, so for someone with acid reflux, this not a great thing.

4 Appointment letters

After four years, I made the doctor refer me to hospital for a colonoscopy. They sent a letter telling me about the hospital appointment preparations, which I couldn't read. A neighbour tried to help, but it got embarrassing when the letter started talking about laxatives. I asked for the information electronically, but was told they couldn't do that and could only send a picture of the information electronically, which a screenreader can't decipher.

5 Test results

I had some tests at hospital and they found a small bacterial growth in my small intestine, so I didn't have IBS in the end. They gave me a letter with some information about the tests for my doctor. I couldn't read it. I asked for an electronic copy, but the member of staff insisted there was no need because it was for my GP rather than me anyway!

I mentioned the new Accessible Information Standard (a mandatory code of practice for the NHS as of last year) and declared that I wasn't happy because the letter could say anything; how did I know for sure it didn't say 'donate his kidneys to charity next week'? At that point she took me more seriously. But it took a whole lot of energy. 

 

How the NHS can help blind and disabled people have a better experience

1 Spread more awareness of the Patient Access Online service, and make it more extensive

Jim had been going to his GP for years no one told him about the Patient Access site. The site offers some information to be read online, in some areas of the UK - the offering varies. Ensuring comprehensive information is provided on the site including details on medical history and past and present medication, together with side-affects and instructions on when and how to take prescribed medication, is essential for inclusivity. Ideally login details for the site should be provided in a way a blind patient can read. Jim found his doctor could only give him a print out/ letter with login details.

2 Exercise thoughtfulness and consideration

Jim found an amazing administrator who went out of her way to email him letters, but she got into trouble for doing so as it was against policy. Security issues around online information are sometimes stated as reasons for not providing more information electronically, but Jim has been told recently that there is a policy around how to securely email patients after all. 

3 Educate staff about disabled patients' requirements

Everyone who is in touch with patients, from the receptionist as the first port of call, through to surgeons, should know how to offer the best service for people of all abilities to feel empowered and independent.

4 Provide orientation and travel support

More help for disabled people travelling to hospital and a network of volunteers to help someone who is blind to get around the hospital would be most useful. 

5 More electronic information
“IT systems need to be in place to stop the NHS disabling me,” says Jim. “I hope for the day I can manage my healthcare - from knowing when my next appointment is and how to prepare for it, to ordering my repeat prescription and reading my medical history on my phone electronically’.

*Jim is an alias name given to protect anonymity

Teenagers triumph in AbilityNet Tech4Good youth award with pioneering learning aid for dyslexia

What happens when two 14-year-old tech-minded friends witness some of their closes classmates and family really struggling with dyslexia?

Roughly three children in every class is likely to be dyslexic, and the opportunity to flourish in lessons and in life can become very difficult without tailored support.

Kiera McKillop (pictured below with award) and Sinead McKeown, from St Killian’s College in Northern Ireland wanted to do something to help their friends and got to work with their coding skills to invent the winning entry in the BT Young Pioneer category at the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards 2017.

Their handheld Dyslexic Aid device was created through coding with Python 2 using the Raspberry Pi computer and Sense Hat, and picked up the coveted award at BT Centre last week.

Kiera pictured with her award for BT Young Pioneer at the Tech4Good awards

McKillop, who attended with her mum because classmate Sinead was on holiday, said: “We seemed to see lots of people around us with dyslexia, including our best friend and thought it would be a good idea to do something to help."

“We actually can’t believe that we have won this award. We have worked really hard on Dyslexic Aid and winning the BT Young Pioneer Award is just the best feeling. This is just the start for us and we are going to keep on inventing and inspiring others.”

The two, friends since the start of high school - one a big fan of coding and tech, the other, a non-sporty type looking for a new hobby - connected with the British Dyslexia Association and the University of Ulster and did their own research on what was needed in this space. The result is a low cost learning device, featuring games to help young people with dyslexia learn how to recognise letters and spell words. 

Learning games to support children with dyslexia

There are three games (see them in action in the video linked via the tweet below) which can be played on a Raspberry Pi with Dyslexic Aid built-in  - one is a tracing game, which encourages children to trace letters of the alphabet on screen with their finger. The next is a spelling guessing game, which gives users 10 tries to get a word right before they move to a harder word.

The teenagers specifically wanted to give gamers lots of chances to get a word right, so there was maximum chance of users feeling accomplished and more confident.

The third game is based around orientation and invites users to turnaround letters which might be upside down or back to front and put them into their correct position.

Gamers can learn words in multiple ways with the device, including through seeing, hearing, writing and saying letters and words, to ensure those with different learning styles can benefit.

“Younger pupils really like what we've shown them and how the games work," says McKillop.

Getting Dyslexic Aid to market

Now on their summer break, the two will look at developing new games when back to school in September as well as creating a smaller version of the device, to make the Dyslexic Aid games more portable and most cost-effective.

“The awards ceremony was overwhelming, everyone wanted to talk to me, it was exciting,” says McKillick. “It was amazing to meet Maggie Philbin who my mum knows from Tomorrow's World; I also saw her on Bang Goes the Theory. And I got my picture with Kate Russell (pictured far left, above with Kiera) who I wasn't expecting to even talk to me!”

Kiera with BBC presenter Kate Russell at the Tech4Good Awards

Ian Caveney, senior consultant in sustainable business at BT, praised the inventors: “What impressed us about Dyslexic Aid is how it has brought technology to help support those with an existing difficulty in a new and innovative way. At the same time, the work of Kiera and Sinead should inspire all young people, and those with dyslexia in particular. It truly shows what you can do with simple, but powerful technology.

“We hope the recognition from this award will help them go on to take the Dyslexic Aid from prototype to marketable reality.”

Now in their seventh year the awards recognises organisations and individuals who use digital technology to improve lives.

See the full list of AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards 2017, supported by BT, here.

 

Lightbulb moment? How smarter homes, Alexa and the age of automation will help disabled people

 

My first hands-on use of connected devices has opened my eyes to the impact that smarter more connected homes will have on the lives of people with disabilities – as well as everyone else. Combining the new age of ambient computing represented by Alexa, Google Home and the soon-to-be-released Apple HomePod with smart, connected, devices offers a sense of independence that was sci-fi fantasy until a few short months ago.

What happens when you give Alexa the skills to affect the physical world?

Wasserstein smart home plugSmart, connected devices (also known as IOT or the ‘Internet of things’) are nothing new, but it took a first-hand experience to really drive home to me the impact these devices could have for people with disabilities.

I looked at a smart power plug that can be remotely turned on and off by your phone or Alexa, as well as a smart colourful lightbulb:

Setting up IOT devices involves a few steps and sometimes a little frustration.

Step 1 is to connect your phone to the devices by downloading the associated app and using it to create a temporary wi-fi network. You can then communicate with the devices - which have no screen or other interface - and give them permission to connect to the real wi-fi network in your home.

wasserstein smart bulbOnce this little dance is done (and it took a couple of attempts to enable it) then you can control the devices through the app. In the case of the smart bulb you can turn it on and off, change it to any number of colours (well, 16 million in fact), dim or brighten it and make it pulse like a disco light in time to music.

In the case of the smart plug it simply lets power through to the device that is plugged into it like a remote on-off switch. On the day of testing the news said it was hotter in Warwick than in in Marrakesh and Majorca - so we hooked up a fan.

The devices, once set up, were an absolute pleasure to use – if you can use the apps, that is.

Smart apps - but ignorant of accessibility

Both the apps needed to set up these devices (‘Magic Home’ for the plug and ‘Wasserstein’ for the bulb) are completely inaccessible to me as a blind VoiceOver user.

Their functionality, comprising a number of buttons and sliders, would have been easy to make inclusive and this has been fed back to the developers. At the time of writing, however, these apps are strictly out-of-bounds to anyone with accessibility needs.

Adding Alexa to the mix

Alexa is used to control the Amazon Echo Dot Echo to the rescue. By searching for the associated ‘skill’ (these are like apps for the Echo) and linking them to your device you are instantly able to control your smart devices by voice through Alexa.

Of course if you can’t speak then this option isn’t for you, but for anyone who finds the apps problematic (like me) this is magic. It’s just like being on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. And if all you have is your voice - for example I’m thinking of my sister here who is both blind and has very advanced Multiple Sclerosis - then sci-fi fun becomes serious functionality.

Combining the new age of ambient computing represented by Alexa, the Google Home and the soon-to-be-released Apple HomePod with smart, connected, devices is opening up options for independence that were sci-fi fantasy until a few short months ago.

The age of automation

As if being able to control various appliances around your home, either by the tap of a finger on glass, or by the casual thrown voice command in the general direction of your favourite home assistant, wasn’t cool enough you can considerably augment your available options by adding in a bit of automation.

IFTTT - short for If This Then That - is a free and very popular system that helps connect a myriad of possible triggers and potential actions, and can also be used to voice-enable many devices and services other than your connected IOT gadgets.

You can then define a specific voice command and set it as the trigger for your Echo or Google Home. The resulting action (or actions) could be trivial but fun – such as adding what is currently playing on the Echo to a Spotify playlist or asking Alexa to ring your phone as you wander aimlessly around the house. Or they could be something potentially life-changing - such as sending an emergency call, text or email alerting someone when you are in distress, are having an attack.

If the extensive built-in features of the Echo and the thousands of additional available skills aren’t already enough, then the fantastic functions offered by IFTTT can take you well and truly into the age of automated, ambient computing.

Resources

Maggie Philbin OBE Honoured with a Special Award and 9 Amazing Tech4Good Awards Winners are Chosen!

Maggie Philbin OBE, star of the BBC’s legendary technology show ‘Tomorrow’s World’ was the worthy recipient of the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards 'Special Award' for her contribution to technology, particularly for her role as CEO and Co-founder of TeenTech. Maggie received her Award along with our 8 amazing category and our People’s Award winners at a glittering ceremony at BT Centre in London on 11 July 2017.

Photo of Maggie Philbin OBE getting the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards Special Award 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Congratulations to all the 2017 Award winners:

AbilityNet Accessibility Award: Bristol Braille Technology
Bristol Braille Technology is building a revolutionary and radically affordable Braille e-reader for blind people called Canute, designed with and by the blind community. The Canute is the world’s first multiple line Braille e-reader, forty characters per line by nine lines, and it will be affordable too. They want to be able to sell it for the price of a Perkins typewriter or iPhone. This would make it 20 times cheaper than existing digital Braille devices.

BT Connected Society Award: Sky Badger
Sky Badger finds educational, medical, financial and social support for families with disabled children all over the UK. Over the last five years, Sky Badger has supported over 1.02 million disabled children and their families. With 981,958 visitors to its website and over 17,470 fans and followers on social media, it is clearly reaching lots of people.

BT Young Pioneer Award: Dyslexic Aid
Year ten school pupils Kiera McKillop and Sinead McKeown from Killian’s College created the Dyslexic Aid, with a very limited budget, by using a Raspberry Pi computer. They have used their technical knowledge, skills and enthusiasm to design and make a device that helps children who are struggling to learn because of dyslexia.

Comic Relief Tech4Good for Africa Award: Praekelt.org
In South Africa, Praekelt.org’s Maternal Health Platform connects more than a million pregnant women and new mothers to vital services and information through the National Department of Health’s MomConnect programme.
Launched in 2014, so far it has sent out over 54 million messages to millions of women, with 95% of clinics in the country signed up to the service.

Community Impact Award: Chatterbox
Chatterbox is an online and in-person language tutoring service, delivered and developed by refugees. It brings together refugee talent with people and organisations that need people with excellent language skills. Since starting up in August 2016 they have supported more than 30 refugees with aspirations to rebuild their professional lives in the UK.

Digital Health Award: Fizzyo
Both of Vicky Coxhead’s sons have Cystic Fibrosis and because of this they have to do regular physio to keep infections at bay. She applied to feature on a a new BBC2 documentary asking for families with a problems to get in touchand was introduced to Haiyan Zhang, who volunteered to help. Haiyan works as Innovation Director at Microsoft Research in Cambridge. She enlisted the help of Creative Technologist Greg Saul to create a device that could take the boys’ breaths and turn them into controls for a videogame. Together, with Lee Stott at Microsoft UK, they organised hackathons where volunteer designers and engineers from across the UK came along to make new video game experiences for the Coxhead boys.

Digital Skills Award: FabFarm
FabFarm is a digital aquaponic farm that is designed, built and operated as a social enterprise by disabled students in Derry, N.Ireland. Developed by the Nerve Centre, FabLab, it uses new and emerging technologies to help empower, engage and inspire young people with special educational needs to develop new skills which are directly focused upon their employability in the digital marketplace.

Tech Volunteer of the Year Award: Simon Cook
Simon Cook started volunteering for Centra Group five years ago. Since then this digital champion has managed to set-up IT equipment in 52 sheltered housing schemes across London, and as far-a-field as Norfolk and Telford. His achievements are astounding, and are driven by his absolute determination and perseverance to use tech for good. In the beginning, it was difficult to get elderly residents involved in the IT projects, they were wary of him and the new technology. But, he has won them over and now runs a computer club four days a week that supports more than 30 people.

People’s Award: C the Signs
C the Signs, a decision support tool that enables GPs to see the early signs of cancer, was chosen as the winner of this award by the general public. The public were encouraged to read about each finalist and their entry on the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards website and vote for their choice for the People’s Award by sending a tweet using a dedicated hashtag.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tech volunteering with: older people, those with sight loss, young innovators and those disenfranchised - meet the AbilityNet Tech4Good Volunteer of the Year finalists

Four fantastic volunteers have made it to the finals of the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards Volunteer of the Year category. We think you'll agree, they all deserve praise and recognition. Choose of the four, or one of our other finalists (pictured below) to vote in the People's Choice award, which closes today. 

On 11 July we'll be tweeting the results of the awards from the BT Centre in London. Join us here

Simon Cook: Digital champion for older people

Simon has helped hundreds of elderly people gain access to IT equipment and a wifi connection for the first time,” said Paula Blackledge from Digital Unite.

He started volunteering for Centra Group five years ago. Since then this digital champion has managed to set-up IT equipment in 52 sheltered housing schemes across London, and as far-a-field as Norfolk and Telford. He runs a computer club four days a week that supports more than 30 people, has recycled old equipment and made grant applications for communities."

Julia the scheme manager at Kestrel Court, where Simon runs his weekly club, said: “Simon has been so amazing to work with, he is so kind and generous with his time and his patience is never-ending. Kestrel Court now has amazing tech."

 

Tech4Good 32 finalists 2017

 

Christine Dodd: Helping people with sight loss navigate Facebook and assistive devices

Former nurse, Christine Dodd is a smartphone and tech whizz. She is blind and teaches everything she knows to other people with sight loss, so everyone can benefit from tech.

Philip, an RNIB assistive aechnology coordinator said of Christine: “ It’s her unique combination of kindness and technical knowledge that makes this tech volunteer stand out from the crowd.”

She runs home and group technology learning sessions covering everything from specialist assistive devices to how to use Facebook. She has run sessions as part of RNIB’s ‘Living With Sight Loss’ courses.

When someone with sight loss becomes confident in using technology, the benefits can be life changing.

 

Emily-Jayne Crittenden: Inspiring community digital skills and innovation

Emily runs two local tech businesses and in 2014, volunteered to organise Norfolk Developers, a technology community group.

Through Norfolk Developers she organised over 90 events and workshops. These workshops are pivotal in keeping the local digital and technology community skilled and relevant, which in turn breeds innovation. This directly impacts start-up growth, as well as enabling traditional businesses to understand what technology can do for them.

After her success with Norfolk Developers, she has now kicked off a venture called Digital East Anglia to inspire younger developers, engineers and creatives to share tech skills and create digital hubs.

 

Steve Smith: Using his networks to suppot disenfranchised people with IT

The Collett Special Educational Needs School for children from 4 to 17 years is one of the lowest funded in Hertfordshire. Many of the children have no access to IT outside of school.  Steve, who is a key volunteer with the Charity IT Association (CITA) has come to the rescue, advising us on wifi and supporting funding applications.

In the last year, Steve has helped fourteen small charities via CITA and every time he is the first person to respond every time to special requests. He has a willingness to call on his wider networks to request support for others and has personally donated/brokered several additional items of IT equipment that have enabled organisations to do more than than they dreamed of. 

“Because of Steve’s skills and advocacy, not only do we have a fully-modernised learning suite that works seamlessly, we also have two amazing digital whiteboards which have made our group IT sessions so much more engaging and energetic for the people taking part," says Christina Lake, from the charity Blenheim which supports people with drug and alcohol problems.

 

 

Healthy games for kids and virtual reality for amputees - meet finalists of the AbilityNet Tech4Good Digital Health Award

Great Ormond Street Hospital's (GOSH) new app called ‘Blood Quest’ is helping to alleviate young people’s anxiety over blood tests and has reached the finals of the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards.

Blood Quest uses creative animal games (see image below) which explore the workings of the heart to entertain and distract children when blood is being taken.

It was developed in response to nursing staff working on the children’s cancer wards at GOSH, where patients often need multiple blood tests during treatment.

Cartoon still image of animals on GSOH game

The app features a ‘quest’ game with different levels to complete. Game levels last the length of an average blood test.

A research team at the hospital developed the application in collaboration with the hospital’s art programme, GOSH Arts.

The creation is one of 32 finalists in the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards in association with BT (finalists pictured below). Blood Quest is one of four finalists in the health category. There are eight categories in total across the competition, including the AbilityNet Accessibility Award and the BT Connected Society Award.

C the Signs - early cancer diagnosis tool

Also in the AbilityNet Tech4Good Digital Health Award category is C the Signs, a tool which aims to help early cancer diagnosis.

Diagnosing cancer is extremely challenging. Unlike other diseases, there is no single identifiable symptom or test that can alert doctors to a potential cancer diagnosis. Cancer is a collection of signs, symptoms and risk factors, which often overlap with many other long-term diseases, says co-founder Dr Bhavagaya Bakshi, one of the two doctors responsible for the new health technology start-up.

pic of 32 finalists at tech4good finals in BT Tower

The innovation is a decision support tool, available on iOS, android and as a website. It uses artificial intelligence, combined with national evidence-based guidelines, to help GPs identify patients with cancer early.

Using primary care data and evidence, their support tool can spot other less obvious signs and symptoms that feature in the early stage of cancers.

Making physio fun: Fizzyo

Thirdly, we have Fizzyo, a clever way of spelling physio! A few years ago Vicky Coxhead was very tired of forcing her young sons to go to physiotherapy to help with their cystic fibrosis when their friends were having fun playing games. But she was also aware that regular physiotherapy is essential to keep infections at bay and prolong life for people with cystic fibrosis.

Spotting an advert for a new BBC2 documentary Big Life Big Fix asking for families with a problems to get in touch, she sent a request and was introduced to Haiyan Zhang, innovation director at Microsoft Research in Cambridge.

Together with creative technologist Greg Saul and a growing team they created a device that could take the boys’ breaths and turn them into controls for a video game.

Hackathons followed where volunteer designers and engineers from across the UK came along to make new video game experiences for the boys and others in the same situation.

Virtual reality to support amputees' rehabilitation

Completing the section is an entry from Sheffield Hallam University.

Using technology first developed for virtual reality gaming, Ivan Phelan, associate researcher working in gaming development and his team, are currently working on a project to support amputees prepare to use prosthetic limbs.

The new tech is helping designers create faster and more accurate real-life prosthetics.

The researcher has been involved in this area for the last ten years: “I really like the idea of using gaming technologies in a clinical setting and how it has the potential to make rehabilitation more engaging and even speed up recovery time,” says Phelan.

During trials, researchers placed a special armband, called a Myo, around peoples’ stumps. Once immersed in the virtual world, amputees can see the prosthetic limbs and are asked to do different everyday tasks in a kitchen, from turning on taps to slicing up food.

By using this new technology, researchers are able to see how these electronic limbs will work in real life, improve how it looks, how its grip function works and reduce the costs involved in getting equipment working more efficiently with fewer attempts.

Refugees and teenagers offered job prospects thanks to the finalists of the AbilityNet Tech4Good Community Impact Award

Around 117,000 people with refugee status are currently living in the UK. On average, those classed as refugees have higher levels of education and training than the rest of the population, but they often end up in low-skilled or exploitative work which hampers future prospects, says Mursal Hedayat from Chatterbox.

Chatterbox is an online and in-person language tutoring service, delivered and developed by refugees and has made it to the finalists selection at the coveted AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards.

The project brings together refugee talent with people and organisations who need people with excellent language skills. They recruit, train, and support talented people, who have become refugees, giving them stimulating work as language tutors, and creating a pathway into even better employment opportunities.

The Tech4Good award crowns those who are using tech skillfully and innovatively to positively effect communities.

Chatterbox has generated hundreds of hours of employment and engaging conversations, numerous friendships, and an abundance of cross-cultural learning. It has grown rapidly since starting up in August 2016 and has recently taken its first big contract with SOAS University of London.

The other three finalists in the competition, which will see winners announced on 11 July at BT centre in London, include miFuture Foundation.

Inspiring a jilted generation with targeted opportunities

Set up in 2011, the foundation is a social enterprise app and website which aims to link the seven Million 16-24 year olds in England and Wales to inspiring career and continued education opportunities.

miFuture founders say they take into account the perspectives and behaviours of young minds today; those who've grown up in a digital world full of short attention and filtered content.

It's using an intuitive system which sends young people ‘personalised‘ opportunities, and offers them easy one-click application processes. It also custom builds CVs.

The enterprise, which is based in South Wales, has already made sure over 2000 16-24 year olds have a CV, and is branching out to other areas of the UK.

Completing the category are Special iApps and Our MK (Milton Keynes). Special iApps started in 2011 when Beverly Dean (pictured below with her son) couldn’t find any educational apps that suited the needs of her youngest son, who has Down's Syndrome. The apps on the market were too distracting and complex for him.

Special apps for children with special educational needs

She worked on creating a series of clean, clear and simple apps for children with special educational needs.

The organisation has now worked with over 50 volunteers to translate content into 20 languages.

Our MK is a website which invites citizens of Milton Keynes to put forward ideas that will impact the community and help shape the future of the area. Hundreds of ideas have been gathered with 13 of these being turned into reality.

Founder of specialiapps Bev and her son William

Many of the funded projects are tech-based. For example, a cycle path treasure hunt app and another app which promotes breast-feeding-friendly locations.

They’ve also supported a food passport scheme to promote independent food and an advertising scheme for low cost solar panels.

To help them understand the community better and to get people talking to them online, the team has employed Community Mobilisers who support local people to take action within their socially disadvantaged areas.

See the full list of 32 AbilityNet Tech4Good finalists 2017 here. 

Vote for your favourite finalist in the AbilityNet Tech4Good People's Award 2017, before 5pm on the 7 July.

Connecting people in need reaps rewards for AbilityNet Tech4Good finalists

Empowering others is what the Tech4Good awards are all about. And this year's finalists in the Tech4Good BT Connected Society Award encapsulate this aim perfectly.

The finalist list demonstrates how technology can be used simply or more intricately to help connect and empower those who need each other.

In the top four is SignVideo. This idea was born in response to the frustration of the deaf British Sign Language (BSL) community who can find it incredibly difficult to communicate with hearing people and do normal, everyday things like visit the doctor or contact a service provider.

Ten years ago, Jeff McWhinney created a Video Relay Services and Video Remote Interpreting provider to enable communication between the community of over 150,000 deaf BSL users in the UK and hearing people.

This service is available instantly on tablets, smartphones, computers and laptops via apps and software for communication between friends, family, ordering a take away or going to the bank. The company has partnered with organisations such as BT, Barclays, HSBC, SSE, British Gas, Sky, Santander, DWP, Nationwide, RBS, Natwest, Prudential and more who offer the service to customers.

Connecting families with disabled children

Next is Sky Badger is an online charity connecting the families of disabled children. “When your child gets diagnosed with a medical condition or disability, it can feel like the loneliest place to be. You don’t know what to do, you don’t know where to turn. Sky Badger was created to give power back to families, so they know how to help their children to have the brightest futures,” said Naomi Marek from Sky Badger.

“We are here to empower other parents to connect. Technology has allowed us to share tools, to make a real difference that continues to be shared 24 hours a day in every corner of the UK.”

Atticus Link is web app founded to enable the efficient delivery of pro bono legal advice and improve the experience of advice seekers, advisors and the legal centres that support them. The app automates the routine fact-finding exercise common during legal centre appointments and provides a secure environment to review, evaluate and advise on legal issues remotely.

The Founders are addressing a systemic and growing problem in the UK: the decline in access to legal advice and the rise of advice deserts.

Linking lawyers with those critically in need of advice

One of the founders Fatiha explains: “Today, people who might be in a difficult legal situation will have access to justice without leaving their house. They will be able to use either their computer or their phone to log onto the Atticus-Link app. They will not have to wait in a queue with no guarantee to be heard. This, to me, is priceless, an amazing innovation that will make people’s lives easier and save their time.”

Completing the category, we have the OrCam MyEye, a wearable vision device gives people their independence back. MyEye provides advanced text-to-speech from any surface, sign, document or computer. Users will be able to identify regular shopping items and products around the home, and they won’t have to worry about not recognising familiar faces, as it stores them too.

It helps those who are visually impaired or blind, as well as those who struggle with learning difficulties such as dyslexia.

MyEye does not require an internet connection or power outlets to operate. A tiny camera fits onto the side of any glasses and this connects to a pocket-sized computer and battery pack.