5 apps to help uni students with disabilities including autism, dyslexia and anxiety

In the second part of our student apps blog series for uni starters, AbilityNet's DSA (Disabled Student Allowance) assessors Abbie Osborne and Adam Tweed give their top app ideas for disabled students. The first part, last week, looked at apps for focus and motivation. This time we look at some of the top apps to support students who are autistic, who have dyslexia and students who need help with processing and organisation. 

AbilityNet's DSA assessors work with disabled students and those with mental health issues across the country to advise on the best assistive tech to support them in their studies and in managing their lives.

emergency chat app screenshot

Check out their list of game-changing apps below: 

Emergency Chat App
The Emergency Chat App is mainly designed for someone to use when they have an autisic meltdown. The person having the meltdown can bring up a pre-determined message on their phone for those around them. The message would explain what is happening and what they need. 

In such situations talking can become impossible because speech centres become non-functional for a while, even after the person has recovered. Any kind of physical touch is often uncomfortable for the person experiencing the meltdown too. At university, where there are lots of new situations and new people, such an app could prove useful. The app also has a simple chat client which someone can use to communicate basic further information if needed.

Google Dictionary
This is a super-nifty app that anyone can use - just highlight a word and instantly see the definition of that word. 

This is a popular to-do list application, which offers multiple options to categorise lists and postone and organise them for future dates. You'll have a separate list for complete tasks and can also have shared lists with course mates. Best of all you get a nice congratulations message when you've completed your tasks.

4 Hemingway app
This app can make writing kind of fun and less of a chore. Just enter your text and any lengthy, complex sentences and common errors will be highlighted, giving you the opportunity to edit. If you see a yellow sentence, the app is suggesting you shorten or split it. If you see a red highlight, it means that your sentence could be perceived as far too dense and complicated. A purple hightlight means you could use a shorter word, ie, 'use' instead of 'utilise'. If you move your mouse over the highlight, you'll get hints.

student with ipad

5 AT Bar
Not strictly an app, but this Google Chrome Extension is an open-source, cross-browser toolbar to help users customise the way they view and interact with web pages. Drag all of the functionality you usually find useful into the tool bar to change the look and feel of webpages to suit you. Try dragging in the increase and decrease font size options for quick access, have text read aloud, use coloured overlays, readability and a dictionary to aid reading. Spell check forms and try word prediction when writing.

It's designed for those who may not have their assistive technologies to hand and need a quick way of accessing text on the screen and can help those with low vision, dyslexia and other reading difficulties, as well as those who may wish to just reduce the glare of black text on bright white backgrounds.


Tech4Good 2017 Community Impact winner employs skilled refugees to teach language and culture in UK

When Mursal Hedayat's mum fled Afghanistan in 1994 during the Afghan Civil War, she was a qualified engineer with a decade of experience in her field and spoke four languages fluently. Travelling overland to London, she didn't realise that she'd spend the next decade working in a string of low skilled jobs, or unemployed, in one of the world's most developed economies.

Her qualifications had become meaningless, she couldn’t afford to re-qualify and she became trapped. Her story is anything but unique with hundreds of talented refugees facing a bleak future as their confidence and aspirations fade. This summer, a social enterprise set up by Hedayat (pictured) to help others like her mum get skilled work, picked up the coveted AbilityNet Tech4Good Award 2017 for outstanding community impact.

Mursal Hedayat winning Chatterbox T4G Award

The venture - Chatterbox - trains and employs refugees to be language and culture tutors for individuals and organisations. 
The refugees come from many diverse areas of work, but include architects, dentists and pharmacists from places such as Syria, Iran and and Congo.
 It means they can have more hope, feel respected for their skills and have a better chance of being able to support themselves in the UK.

Community Impact Award - AbilityNet Tech4Good 2017

A year after setting up, the team is thrilled by the recognition given by the AbilityNet Tech4Good Award for Community Impact. "It gave us a really good confidence boost to win such a well known award and some good attention too," says Hedayat.

Currently, 60 refugees are employed to teach, either via online video call, or face-to-face in schools, offices and universities, mainly in London. The number has doubled from 30 in the past couple of months. Most of the refugees employed have been to university and/ or worked as teachers in their own countries, but roles are open to anyone with refugee status who is capable of doing the job. The tutors work around eight to 10 hours a week earning the London Living Wage of £9.75 an hour.

Chatterbox is building up a variety of clients, which include SOAS (School for the study of Africa, Asia and Middle East) University in London and the Red Cross. "Students can learn a plethora of interesting languages, from Arabic, Persian, Korean, Swahili and French to Hindi and Turkish. Tutors and their students can also learn more about each other's cultures and countries," says Hedayat. 

"We've also recently started working with primary and secondary skills to provide taster sessions in these languages to entice them into language learning. With business clients, the interest is in provide language lessons for staff personal development, life long learning or just for something fun to do at lunchtime."

Superstar volunteer developers

Chatterbox homepage screenshot

A lot of the communication, bookings, scheduling and invoicing for Chatterbox is done using an evolving online platform. “We have a group of superstar developers who currently give up their Saturday mornings to help build calendars and chat tools and lots of other exciting things for us,” says the entrepreneur.

We're currently moving from an off-the-shelf calendar, and creating a dashboard for tutors to track performance and invoice us
. We’d love to hear from any others who want to use their skills for social good and volunteer in our team, she adds.

Last month Chatterbox received more than 100 job applications from refugees and is keen to keep expanding to support those coming to Britain who need hope and the chance of a positive future. There is plenty of room for growth and the organisation, which has been supported with grants from NESTA, Bethnal Green Ventures, UnLtd and others, looks set to continue to attract interest and support. "The good news is we are increasingly taken on bigger clients," offers Hedayat.

  • AbilityNet Tech4Good awards, run in association with BT, are an annual event celebrating technology being used for social good. 

Read more about the awards

No Home button on the new iPhone? Here is the secret to going completely button-free

The next big Apple hardware updates (rumoured to be iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X) are announced tomorrow and we already have some ideas about what's coming. Or rather, what's not coming - and the big news is that it looks like the Home button will disappear altogether [UPDATE: we now know it's the £1,000 iPhone X which has no home button].

This may be hard to get to grips with for some. But for several years, plenty of people have been operating their iPhone without a home button. Yes, there's a built-in alternative to - not just the Home button - but indeed to all the hardware buttons that are found on an iPhone. Why avoid using the home button, you might ask? Perhaps because like millions of Chinese people, you want to keep your phone in pristine condition? Or you might have a disability, like Professor Stephen Hawking, and be unable to press the physical buttons. Or, you might not have one, like on the iPhone X!

The end of iPhone hardware buttons

Over recent years it appears to have been Apple's unspoken mission to remove as many of the moving parts from the iPhone as possible. The physical buttons (the sleep/wake button, the volume buttons, the mute switch and the Home button) all represent complexity and potential fail points in our heavily used devices.

The mute switch (pictured below) disappeared from iPads with the first iPad Air. On the iPhone, the Home button turned from being a mechanical switch to a fixed facsimile of a button in the iPhone 7 (giving us the illusion of movement with a simulated click) and now we're losing the Home button altogether in this year’s latest model.

It’s clear that Apple has it in for the remaining buttons on its mobile devices – just as it seems to want to spirit away ports on its laptops and earphone jacks on its phones. It appears that the sooner they can arrive at what they consider the ultimate aesthetic in electronic devices – namely a seamless slab of elegant material – the happier they will be.

While this will certainly assist in the long-term durability of devices (every moving part is a potential fail point and every port an invitation for liquid and pocket fluff to enter), it also represents a challenge of usability for everyone who is familiar with physical buttons and, in some cases, may find them easier to operate due to disability or impairment. For many with a vision or motor impairment, physical buttons make it easier to identify and operate controls - and I for one as a blind speech-output user don’t even need to take my phone out of my pocket to easily unlock it and choose the next album or podcast.

ipad 2 mute button

The secret to button-free iPhone operation

There is a secret already known to thousands of users who, Like Prof Stephen Hawking, have a physical impairment that gives them total button-free use of their iDevices. This secret is also shared by millions (possibly hundreds of millions) of iPhone owners in China.

What am I talking about? I’m talking about ‘Assistive Touch’ which is now a long-standing accessibility setting of several iOS versions. It puts a small menu, or toolbar, on-screen (see image below) which gives you all the functions of all the physical switches on your iPhone or iPad, including the home button - enabling you to use them all without touching a single button. It's also available using VoiceOver if that's easier for you, for whatever reason.

Apple assistive touch menu on iphone screen

Ensure that you’ve also activated the ‘Raise to wake’ setting and you now don’t even need to press a button to wake your device - complete button-free use.

Keep your iPhone buttons out-of-the-box-fresh

And what about those users in China? Why do millions of Chinese people without any sort of disability or impairment use Assistive Touch?

Turns out that the second-hand market for used iPhones in China is enormous. That appetite for used phones, however, comes with one stipulation; buyers demand a pristine Home button. Don’t ask me why and, if you don’t believe me, just check out all these Google results for yourself.

In their droves, Chinese iPhone users are avoiding ever touching their Home button to ensure it never gets worn or broken. Perhaps Home buttons are prone to wear, but if so, this isn’t widely experienced or reported on elsewhere in the world. It might all be over-caution on their part, but in any case, they are the champions of those button-free functions.

The iPhone’s new virtual Home button

The Home button has been a consistent and very useful feature of every iPhone to date. We use it for far more than just going back to the home screen; we double-click it when our phones are locked to bring up Apple Pay, do the same thing once unlocked to bring up the app switcher, and triple-click it to bring up your preferred Accessibility Settings such as VoiceOver or larger text. It’s a very versatile little doohicky.

As discussed above, however, this familiar and functional feature will soon be a thing of the past. In the latest version of the high-end iPhone, Apple's trusty Home button is rumoured to be replaced by a swipe upwards from the bottom of the screen [there is no bar at the bottom of the screen as was suggested in an earlier edit of this article]. Swiping half way up the screen and pausing briefly brings up the app-switcher and, swiping further still, closes the app and takes you back to the home screen with your grid of app icons.

Apple - always accessible and inclusive

It's not clear at the time of writing how Apple proposes to replace all the other functions that the Home button performs - and we haven’t even mentioned how you use it to reboot your phone (hold down the Home and sleep/wake buttons together for several seconds) or a long-press to invoke Siri. And let’s not even get started on what they propose to do after the loss of the beloved Touch ID (face ID anyone? Not from within my pocket, that's for sure!)

What is clear, however, is that all the familiar Home button functions will be covered in the Assistive Touch menu for the simple reason that Prof Hawking - and others with a disability - need to be able to do them too. The one thing we know about Apple for sure is that, from an accessibility and inclusive design standpoint, they never leave anyone behind.

Ahead of the iPhone 9 curve

So, if a standard menu sounds simpler than all this swiping, then Assistive Touch might be for you too. Why not check out the virtual versions of your iDevice’s buttons and switches. You may like using them with a subtle tap or two even more than having to laboriously press those clunky mechanical objects that litter the edges of your otherwise sleek and sexy smartphone - like some sort of animal!

Then, when the iPhone 9 comes out with even fewer buttons still, you’ll laugh at being so far ahead of the curve.

You’ll also be able to flog your old iPhone, with its pristine untouched buttons, for an excellent price on eBay China.


ARE YOU FREE on 23 NOVEMBER? Check out TechShare Pro, a new accessibility and UX conference for digital design professionals at IBM, Southbank

Great apps to help students with focus and motivation

student working in library

AbilityNet DSA (Disabled Student Allowance) assessor Abbie Osborne works with disabled students and those with mental health issues across the country to advise on the best tech to support them in their studies and in managing their lives.

As university students gear up for a new term, we think her list of apps to help with focus and motivation is a must-read. All these apps got good reviews and a high star rating on either iTunes or Play Store. Happy studying!

1 Break work into chunks

Clockwork Tomatio logo from app storeApp: Clockwork Tomato 

A timer and activity logger which aims to boost productivity by breaking down work periods into 25-minute slices, separated by short breaks. The idea is to move away from your desk and do something completely different, perhaps fun, active or relaxing. After four Pomodoros, you get a longer break of 15-25 minutes but you can set work slots and breaks times in whatever way you want.

Lifewire.com has a good piece here on Clockwork Tomato and other similar apps using the Pomodoro Technique.

2 The morning motivation alarm

App: Alar.my

Billed as the app that will make your roommates hate you, Alarmy can be set up to not switch off until you take a photo of something specific - ie the front of your house - which ideally encourages you away from the duvet and into study mode.

3 Work hard, get a kitten

App: Written? Kitten!

We bet the makers of this app have a few dollars in the kitty, after creating this genuis idea. Struggling to write that essay or novel? How about a cute kitten picture reward every time you write 100 words? Written? Kitten! offers just that.

4 Block distractions

App: Cold Turkey 

COld Turkey app logoSo obsessed we are with distracting ourselves with random web browsing that there are, of course, countless apps which now allow you to block websites that you find divert your work. You can look forward to receiving a joyful message of encouragement when you try to click on one of your banned sites. To feel super smug, you can tally up the time you would have wasted over the course of a day/ week/ month.

You can create various blocked website lists for different times / occasions/ situations or a white list just allowing yourself access to specific sites, such as your university research pages (not Bake Off). You can also completely freeze yourself out of your computer to ensure you take some time out.

5 Habit hacker

App: Habitbull

Need to finish a text book or get fitter? Want to stop a bad habit? Set tiny goals - such as read two pages a day, do three sit ups a week and call an old friend once a month and chart your increments. It's inspiring and motivating to see your progress, no matter how tiny.

Call our free helpline on 0800 269 545 for more advice. 

TechShare Pro brings together accessibility professionals to explore inclusive design for people with disabilities

TechShare Pro, a new accessibility and UX conference for digital design professionals delivered by AbilityNet and the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) takes place at IBM South Bank place in London this November. Global experts from companies including Google, O2 and Microsoft will explore the accessibility and inclusion challenges of the next generation of digital services.

TechShare pro 2017 logoThe one day conference, sponsored by Barclays, IBM and Microsoft, will look at how to manage change, the skills needed for a rapidly changing technology landscape, and how accessibility fits into it. Topics already confirmed include artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR), and each session will offer valuable insights and practical solutions from global experts. Designers and developers who attend will be able to hear about the latest developments and take part in practical challenges to test and grow their knowledge.

There will also be numerous opportunities for delegates to network with fellow accessibility industry professionals. TechShare Pro is also supported by the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) which will launch its UK chapter at the conference. The IAAP UK chapter was founded by AbilityNet, Atos, Barclays, Lloyds and TextHelp, and it promotes certification and the raising of professional standards in accessibility.

Nigel Lewis, CEO of AbilityNet, said: "TechShare Pro will be a great help to a range of professionals from digital designers and programmers to accessibility and inclusion practitioners. "If you want to hear valuable insights about the future of inclusive design from global experts then you should book your ticket now. "Over 150 people are expected to attend TechShare Pro, and we are looking forward to offering a fascinating and insightful experience to everyone who comes."

Robin Spinks, Senior Strategy Manager (Solutions) at RNIB, said: "Digital inclusion is becoming more important in society and organisations are recognising the need for all digital communications, products and services to be accessible to everyone. "That's why we have worked with AbilityNet and our other partners to create a specific inclusive design event for digital design professionals. "It will offer them a great opportunity to keep up-to-date with industry developments and to grow their skills and knowledge, whilst networking with like-minded professionals."

Tickets for TechShare Pro are on sale now at £150 or £75 for anyone from a not-for-profit organisation. Sponsorship opportunities are also available, including keynote sponsor slots, providing an opportunity to be a major contributor to this unique thought-leading event.

Are freshers' nerves worse when you have a disability?

Pint of beer on an outside tableOne of my university friends quite helpfully posted on Facebook that next year it will have been 20 years since we graduated. So it must be 23 years ago that I started university.

Pulp, Oasis and Michael Jackson all had top 10 albums and a pint of beer cost £2.50, and the British transfer record was broken with Manchester United paying Newcastle United £7 million pounds for footballer Andrew Cole.

This makes me sad because the years have gone by a bit too quickly for my liking. But I also feel very proud that I was the first in my family to go to uni and graduate.  

I’d always wanted to go to uni because all my peers had done so and I wasn’t going to let a disability hold me back. Anyhow, I had no idea what I really wanted to do with my life, so I thought I could take three years at uni and have a really good think about it.

Fresher's fears

Of course, at the start there were some nerves. Everyone is nervous. I was probably more concerned than most because I had a visible disability and I wondered how fellow students would react to me. I needn’t have worried, I soon realised that everyone was just as nervous as me.

I used technology even then to get my notes down but it was laughingly basic. It was an Amstrad NC100. I couldn’t even access the internet on it. How retro darling! Mobile phones were still really basic too, and useful only for making calls and sending texts.

Uni was a blast and I made some really good friends. A lot are still in touch with me through the magic that is social media. The thought of a 'status update' had never occurred to me during my uni days. Facebook, nor Twitter were even glints in their creator’s eye as far as I know. In fact I studied abroad in my second year which was an awesome experience but I must admit that it was difficult keeping in touch with what was going on at home through the medium of email!

Disabled Students' Allowance 

So for all you newbies out there, embrace the next few years. Make friends, work hard…. go to the pub occasionally if that's your thing (or perhaps a juice bar!).  If you have a disability, make sure you have all the support and provision you need via the Disabled Students Allowance. There’s so much technology out there that can help you with note taking and producing work that shows how able you are - more info on that below. 

Lastly ENJOY yourself. It can be a slog but it will be worth it in the end.

Alex Barker BA Journalism Studies. Class of '98. Falmouth College.


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.

"I carried out the instruction and the baby started kicking immediately" Award-winning text service supports African mums-to-be

“I was six months pregnant and my baby was not kicking. I was worried and planning to go to the health facility when I received the message that ‘if you are not sure the baby is kicking, sit-up, and take a cold drink.’ As soon as I carried out the instruction, the baby started kicking immediately,” says Itumo Nkechi in South Africa.

Praekelt's MomConnect system uses texts to reacj over 1 million South African mums

The Comic Relief Tech4Good for Africa Award 2017 has been won by MomConnect - an online and text messaging service for pregnant women and new mothers to receive vital medical advice.

More than 1.3 million South African mothers are currently registered on the platform, which was set up as a free service by the National Department of Health (NDOH) in South Africa. The NDOH works with an organisation called Praekelt. which designs and develops mobile technologies to deliver essential information and vital services to more than 100 million people in over 60 countries. The service gives pregnant women the chance to receive stage-based messaging from conception to the end of the first year of her baby’s life.

We caught up with the Praekelt team after the awards to find out more about their work. 

1 What did the AbilityNet Tech4Good Award mean to you?

So often with tech awards, we see them in the Silicon Valley or private space. Not only do we support these awards because they focus on Tech4Good, but we are proud to have won in the inaugural Africa category. African start-ups and technology are making headlines but still hardly get the attention they deserve.

2 What are the main ways you are using different tech platforms?

Our recent annual report focuses on our maternal health platforms and girl-focused mobile innovation projects. 

In Nigeria, the Hellomama programme addresses the fact that most women are illiterate and that SMS is seen as a premium service by utilising voice based technology for delivery of stage based messages. this pilot launched in two states of Nigeria in november 2016 and has registered over 6,000 women and gatekeepers and sent over 40,000 voice messages.

We also have our portfolio of programmes funded by Nike Foundation and supported by Girl Effect include Amadar Golpo, which uses interactive voice response (IVR) to offer peer leaders in BRAC’s Adolescent Development Programme additional support, training, and guidance; the financial literacy app Dooit in Indonesia; and the mobile mentorship programme, mentor To Go, in India.

3 What have you learned about what does and doesn't work?

What works is partnerships. Investing and spending time building partnerships with both global NGOs and governments is key to national-scale implementation. One of the reasons we are able to scale maternal health programmes in several African countries, is because of our partnership with governments.  We also very much believe in thinking of the users throughout the design and build process. 

We always build and create projects that are meant to scale from the start, to avoid problems with sustainability. We believe the power of mobile technology rests in scaling, and can often be complemented by local outreach.

4 Is there any tech/ new platforms that you're excited about?

The last decade has witnessed the incredible power of mobile phones and data connectivity when used to advance the delivery of vital information and services.  With the advance of data capable phones and the penetration of affordable IP connectivity, messaging solutions can now engage people at a previously unimaginable scale. These engagements will be richer, more conversational, immediate, and personal than ever before.
We look forward to how IP messaging, particularly Whatsapp, will make messaging more efficient and accessible for low and middle income communities.

5 What's next? 

At the moment, The NDOH and Praekelt are exploring how to reach mothers through different channels, such as WhatsApp. We have also been awarded a two-year grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to explore how mobile technologies can improve communication with patients.

6 Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Inclusivity, of genders, ethnicities, and abilities, is a key focus for us, especially because of the people who are our end users. We really support women in technology, and are proud that our organisation is run by a woman, and that many of our senior team who helped implement and build our maternal health platforms are women.

More information

5 ways to get more out of your device, from longer battery life to better productivity

Last week, I talked about Stevie Wonder reading out the name of award winner Ed Sheeran at the Grammy's using a card with Braille on. It meant that Wonder could freely wave the card around safe in the knowledge that no one could read the answer over his shoulder. This idea that adjustments can often come with additional spin-off benefits that many wouldn’t immediately appreciate is a linked theme I’ve also touched upon time and again in my posts.

Check out my five quick tech tips with benefits here and impress your friends: 

1 Turn your screen black and use speech output for much longer battery life

The fact that I use speech output on all my devices means that I can turn on the 'screen curtain'  - a feature for blind users that turns the screen black on my Mac, iPhone and Apple Watch. This is a feature which, like Braille, not only helps me avoid anyone looking over my shoulder when I’m putting in pins, passwords or typing a sensitive email on my phone, but also has the simultaneous spin-off advantage that it considerably increases my battery life.

Don’t fancy using your phone eyes-free? I don’t blame you, but there are always cases where an adjustment makes sense. Next time you need to read a long document on your iPhone, for example, why not try running VoiceOver - you can assign it to the accessibility shortcut (triple-clicking the Home button) in the Accessibility settings - and then, with the screen blank and saving you battery, simply swipe down the screen with two fingers to start reading through the document from top to bottom. Nice.


2 Keyboard shortcuts for comfort and a productivity boost

If you use keyboard shortcuts for all your common computer tasks this means that you not only avoid discomfort from over-use of your mouse, but also enjoy an enormous productivity boost. This is because shortcuts often replace several mouse movements and clicks with a single quick keypress.

Whether you choose to use shortcuts because of a disability (I can’t see the arrow on the screen) or preference makes no difference. The adjustment, and its benefits, are there for everyone. Click here for Mac keyboard shortcuts: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201236 Click here for Microsoft keyboard shortcuts https://support.microsoft.com/en-gb/help/12445/windows-keyboard-shortcuts  

3 Dictate and use autocorrect or Grammarly for speed and perfect spelling

Similarly, if you choose to use voice recognition to dictate your texts, emails or longform documents because of disability or discomfort, you get the spin-off benefits of incredible productivity plus perfect spelling. Nice. See how to dictate text on MacOS 10.12 Sierra.

Adding your top 50 or 100 most commonly mis-spelt or mis-typed words into Office’s Autocorrect (or something like Grammarly) will avoid corrections but also make your documents easier to read when you’re still mid-draft. Those green and red squiggles can be really distracting and break your flow.

4 Change the colour of your device's screen - give your eyes a break

Whether or not you have dyslexia, I’d strongly recommend trying different background colours as they can be much easier on the eyes and improve legibility of text.  Read how to change background colours on a Mac and how to change background colours in Windows

5 Read the tiny font in apps more quicky by setting up a 'bigger text' shortcut

I could go on and on. Adjustments (including the accessibility settings built into every common desktop OS and smartphone) are there for all of us to explore. Some will be very niche; I suspect you’ll find it challenging to double your battery life by using speech alone (but I’d applaud you for giving it a go), while other adjustments - such as bumping the text size on your smartphone and assigning it to the accessibility shortcut on your phone, so you can easily activate it when reading the tiny font on some apps, will be something that the vast majority of users would love.

Can we get tech to work better for you? Give us a call on 0800 269 545.


Are floodgates open for US citizens to sue companies over inaccessible websites?

There’s been some great news from the US for fans of web accessibility; a spate of cases brought by blind people against companies who are breaching discrimination law by failing to make their websites accessible, have been upheld by judges in America.

There are very good legal reasons to think about accessibilityWebsites in the US and UK are legally obliged to be accessible to disabled people (under the Americans with Disabilities Act or the UK Equality Act), but few websites are truly inclusive to those who have disabilities such as sight or hearing loss. 

A new era for web accessibility cases

In the eyes of the law, disabled people are being discriminated against, but up until now it appears that few cases have been brought or upheld against websites and business owners around the accessibility of their sites. However, according to the US disability rights lawyer, Lainey Feingold, it looks like times are changing.

In recent months, judges in four different cases have upheld complaints against companies regarding the accessibility of their websites.

June saw what Feingold believes to be the first trial of its kind under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In Florida, a blind customer of the Winn-Dixon grocery chain, brought a court order against the company because he could not read the store’s online coupons using his screen reader or use other features on the site.

 After a two-day trial, the court ruled in the customer’s favour, however, Winn-Dixie has decided to appeal. It comes a decade after the high profile case which saw US chain Target ordered to pay more than $6 million in damage for failing to make their website accessible.

In the same month, a California judge upheld a case brought by a blind customer of arts and craft brand Hobby Lobby. And in July, a judge in a New York federal court ruled that a web accessibility case against Five Guys restaurant chain should continue.

Biggest support yet for web accessibility?

This month, in what is perhaps the strongest support for web accessibility in the past several years according to Feingold, a federal judge in New York issued a “blistering and passionate defense of web accessibility” in refusing to throw out a web accessibility case against Blick Art Materials.

The Target case took three years and so we might not see the results of these cases for quite a while, but the fact that more companies are being challenged is a positive step for anti-discrimination.

Look out for more on this in up-coming blogs by AbilityNet's head of digital inclusion, Robin Chistopherson.

You might also be interested in:

Stevie Wonder says: Everything needs to be accessible to everyone

I've just come across the fantastic clip of the great Stevie Wonder, world-famous blind singer and tech advocate, speaking out on the importance of inclusive design at the glittering Grammy Awards.

Stevie – A wonderful advocate for accessibility

Last week I spotted a tweet that took me to a short but very inspiring clip on Youtube. It was of Stevie Wonder - a really nice chap and fellow technology advocate (he’s a pretty fine singer too!) and someone I've been very fortunate to meet in person. The clip was of him at the 58th Grammy Awards in 2015 and he had an important message for us all. 

Before announcing Ed Sheeran as winner of Song of the Year (for Thinking Out Loud), Wonder made a plea to the listening millions: “We need to make every single thing accessible to every single person with a disability.” This elicited a huge supportive response from the audience.

This passionate plea reminded me very strongly of our clarion call here at AbilityNet – a call for people to consider accessibility as nothing less than designing for everyone.

In many of my recent posts we explore how, in a world where mobile is often the go-to tech for most users, accessibility not only helps disabled people take part in this rich digital revolution, but how it’s actually also essential for everyone.


READ NOW Revolutionising tech for blind people: Is this the world's first multi-line braille reader?


We all use these small but oh-so-handy devices in all the extreme environments we find ourselves in every day - from juggling a phone one-handed, to squinting at your screen in the glare of the sun – check out many of my posts to explore this discussion in depth - believe me when I say that accessibility is no longer the domain of people with disabilities. Let’s call it ‘inclusive design’ and put it at the heart of every design, development and marketing decision we make.

It’s a wonderful world where small adjustments make a big difference

The other aspect of his appearance, that also happens to be a hot topic I’ve touched upon in many of my recent posts, was Wonder's use of a reasonable adjustment that itself also comes with unique benefits.

A reasonable adjustment (in the US it’s called an ‘accommodation’) is a tweak to how things are normally done (and often costs little or nothing to put in place) and it’s aim is to assist someone to meet a need associated with their disability or impairment.

Being blind, Stevie’s adjustment was to have a Braille version of the winning announcement. As a result of this simple adjustment he was able to read the winner himself – but not only that, he could be confident that no one would be able to get an advance sneak-peak at the name of the lucky winner - Ed Sheeran - over his shoulder.

Of course, such privacy might not have been that important here, but in our daily lives as blind people out and about, we often need to read sensitive information and often have no idea who is around us. Braille helps us be confident in the knowledge that anyone watching can’t read it. It’s an adjustment. But more than that, like so many adjustments, it comes with added benefits. More about that in an upcoming blog. 

It was Stevie Wonder's playful comment about his unusual Braille version of the famous winner’s envelope that prompted him to proceed to the much bigger plea for inclusive design we see above.

Wondering what adjustments Stevie uses?

Stevie Wonder is a huge advocate and user of tech. We once compared our gadgets and adjustments and believe me when I say that he, like me, finds the ever-changing advancements in tech a real eye-opener (I’m allowed to use cheesy puns like that).

Long-established adjustments such as Braille, and cutting edge tech such as voice-enabled smartphones, both have their role to play. I wonder if Stevie has an Amazon Echo? Voice-in, voice-out used to be a very specialised adjustment that was the very niche domain of people with both a significant motor and vision impairment. Talk about an adjustment with spin-off benefits!

So let’s end with a gratuitous plug for my daily Dot to Dot podcast covering top tips and skills to ensure that everyone gets the most out of their Echo. My blogs about Alexa and the Echo are always the most popular, too.