Creating accessible emails

Email is now a part of our everyday lives.  We can't really escape them. Either it's an email from a business trying to encourage you to buy their product or an email from a charity telling you their latest news.  People read these emails in different ways and also on different devices.

You might find that people read these emails using screen readers or text to speech software.  Now here's the point - you spend lots of time looking at web accessibility so you can serve a wide range of customers.  Wouldn't it be a good idea to remember to make your emails to clients and customers as accessible as possible?

Here are some top tips to make emails accessible to all:

Macbook on table

  1. Subject lines matter.  If you are using a screen reader you want to make sure the email is worth reading. Otherwise it will get deleted!
  2. Use Headers. If you use headers screen reader users are able to work out the hierarchy of the page.
  3. Use Tables to present content. This helps people who are using keyboard only access to make better sense of content
  4. Use contrasting colours for backgrounds and text.  Some colours might look nice but don't work in terms of readability for visually impaired users.
  5. Use meaningful link text. If you label a hyperlink with "click here" it doesn't really help anyone let along people with cognitive or visual impairments.
  6. Use helpful description in ALT Tags within your images.

It is sometimes difficult to know where to start so here are some of our favourite email accessibility sites.

So as you can see, you don't have to go out of your way to make emails accessible. Just take some time to work on good design!

Digital Marketing Manager

This is an exciting time to join a dynamic communications and marketing team that is part of a unique not for profit organisation. The comms team includes marketing and content specialists with skills in blogging, video, PR and outreach. We have ambitious charitable and commercial goals and now need someone to join the team to create and optimise a programme of digital advertising and associated promotional activity.

Technology isn't just for Christmas: 6 ways to get help using your tech

It's Boxing day. The turkey has been eaten. There’s wrapping paper everywhere and everyone is happy with their presents. But you are not.Father Christmas. Photo from Flickr:

Father Christmas (and his many helpers) have bought you a nice shiny piece of technology.  Which is currently still in a box because you can’t work out what to do with it. Sometimes it can be very difficult to get the device out of the box, never mind knowing what to do with it.

Tip no. 1, the first thing to do - to use an oft-used phrase - is "Keep calm and call an ITCanHelp Volunteer".

We have over 200 volunteers who are keen to come out and help.  Thankfully unlike Santa's little helpers our volunteers aren't based in the North Pole but local to you. Best thing is that the service is totally FREE. After all you've probably spent enough money already this Christmas. 

The volunteers would be happy with a cup of coffee and a biscuit! If you are interested in finding out bit more information about our volunteers why don't you have a look at our video?

What sort of things can they help with? Well anything really from connecting your new tablet to the wifi network or doing some basic tuition on your smartphone. They can also help with putting ink cartridges into your new printer.  

Perhaps you need a bit more general tech training? There’s so much you can do with technology. On the Advice and Information line we have some great organisations that we refer people to all the time. Some of them will offer training in a local centre and some will offer 1-2-1 training and support in your home.

In no particular order here they are:

2. UCANDOIT- This well-established charity offers 1-2-1 training for disabled clients in their own homes.  There are 10 sessions, so by the end of the course students will have managed to get a really good understanding of basic tasks that can be done on their computer. This on is very popular and always has a waiting list.

3. Digital Unite has got some really useful online guides ranging from how to create a document in Word, right through to how to bank online safely.

4 offer lots of free online courses.

5. Local libraries are a great resource for training. They often have computers that you can use and  you can often get some basic trainig on how to use computer. Your local council should be able to give you more information.

6. There are always courses at local colleges where you can meet new people and learn how to use a computer. If you are on benefits you might be able to get the course at a cheaper rate.

Everyone at AbilityNet hopes you have a merry Christmas and technology-filled 2017! 

How can we help?

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

  • 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.





"This career has been a fantastic surprise": A day in the life of an AbilityNet DSA (Disabled Student Allowance) assessor

Abbie Osborne, 26, Birmingham DSA assessor (Disabled Student Allowance) for AbilityNet, talks about finding a surprise career working with assistive tech and accessible apps, and being a top-reviewed author on Amazon in her spare time. 

Can you sum up your job at AbilityNet for us?

I assess the needs of university students with dyslexia and related conditions such as dyspraxia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia. I work out how they can make the most of assistive technology, apps and any other support in order to do as well as they can in their studies.

What do you find most rewarding?

I love it when student is really amazed by the tech available. There's a lot of exciting stuff out at the moment; new developments all the time. I love learning about new apps and assistive tech and sharing it with clients and colleagues. Zotero is one of the most popular free tools I recommend. I've explained a bit more here. One of my other favourites is DyslexiaKey, which I've talked about here

What are the worst parts of the job?

Knowing that there's something that will help a student but not being able to recommend it because there are some things student finance will not fund. It can be very frustrating.

Can you give us an example of some of the disabled students you've helped with assistive tech?

One student I remember helping had dysgraphia – it meant that her handwriting was virtually impossible to read. She found it really difficult to produce good work when writing it by hand because she was concentrating so much on the process of writing. As a result, she was placed in the bottom sets at school. When she contested this and asked to use a computer to complete her work, she was accused of plagiarism because the work was so good compared to her handwritten work.

When we did her assessment, she was relieved that we were able to recommend she use a computer for everything including placements and practical sessions. As well as this we were able to recommend free apps that could help her day-to-day and also note taking software to help her with her processing difficulties in lectures. We also looked at Mind Mapping software so that the student could make notes in a visual and organised way.

How did you come to work at AbilityNet?

After doing English and History at uni I was an assistive technology trainer at another company. I'd never thought about this kind of job until I got a graduate email from university about becoming an IT trainer. After three years at the other company, much of the  work moved to London and my job became quieter, so I was happy to be head hunted by AbilityNet via Linkedin.

Is the job fulfilling your expectations?

Yes, my role is about to expand to cover all disabilities and I'm now on track to be a centre manager for a job I didn't even know I could do a few years ago. I thought I'd need a qualification. I never really knew what I'd do job wise, so this has all been a fantastic surprise really. I also get quite a lot of training days, which is helpful.

Tell us about a typical day as a DSA assessor for dyslexic students?

I'm either at home writing assessments or I drive between Birmingham and Coventry and sometimes Bristol, seeing students at our assessment centres. I generally do about three assessments a day and have to prep and write up each one. It's quite busy. Outside of that I do a lot of general research about the latest tech and apps.

What tech do you find useful in your own life?

The Global Auto-Correct software. The old school one that was used before Microsoft Office. It's great for when I'm trying to whizz through reports in an evening. When you make a mistake, it analyses the sound patterns in the word to understand what you're trying to spell and changes it as you go along.

What do you like to do outside of work?

In my spare time I love writing. I've self-published a thriller called The Puppet Master, which has 30 reviews (all positive) on Amazon. I used to read 100 books a year though I can't quite manage that at the moment. And I've written quite a few blogs for dyslexia blog The Codpast.

For job vacancies, follow us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. You might find it useful to follow our work related posts on Linkedin

We also post current vacancies on our website, here





RogerVoice app delivers phone calls to deaf people

Hearing impairment affects millions of peopleMost people take phone calls for granted but for people who are deaf or have hearing loss the ability to simply pick up the phone and chat is often out of reach. The good news is that a new real-time speech translation app called RogerVoice may soon make that a thing of the past.

Making phone calls when you can’t hear

The everyday ability to call a friend, the bank or doctor’s surgery is something we’re all used to. However, people with a hearing impairment are often unable to make phone calls as they can’t hear the person on the other end of the line. Being deaf from birth can sometimes also lead to difficulties in developing clear speech – making it hard for the other person to understand what’s being said.

Existing services such as NGT Relay have been incredibly useful in helping deaf people make and receive calls. They work by providing an intermediary – a person listens to the caller and relays the information by text to the deaf user. The user then speaks or types back and the intermediary speaks the message back to the caller. The deaf user is either using a special textphone (called a Minicom) or an app on his smartphone, tablet or computer.

This approach is very effective. The one drawback, however, is the inevitable delay as the intermediary relays the messages back and forth throughout the conversation. Conversations take much longer and feel a bit cumbersome and stilted.

Next Generation Text ServiceThe person being called is also always aware that a text relay intermediary is involved and that this isn’t a ‘standard’ phone conversation. This isn’t a problem in itself but wouldn’t it be great if it felt a little more like a normal chat?

RogerVoice to the rescue

RogerVoice is a new app that’s set to make calls feel more natural and avoid those awkward delays. With a powerful speech recognition system the app transforms phone calls into a series of live instant messages for the deaf user. It's automatic and it works in real time. The text translation appears in the app at the same time as the person is speaking.

Here’s a short video of someone making a phone call for the very first time using the app.

ROGERVOICE - Deaf people can now make phone calls from Reithy Chhour on Vimeo.

Originally a Kickstarter project, RogerVoice is now available for both iOS and Android and is helping people with a hearing impairment make phone calls to anyone, anywhere – the person being called doesn’t need to have the app installed and they don’t even need to be using a smartphone themselves.

RogerVoice screenshot from an iphone shoiwng conversation in progressType or talk – whichever works for you

Many people with a hearing impairment can speak very clearly and understandably. However, if the deaf user doesn’t have clear speech they can choose to type instead. As there is no intermediary involved in the process with RogerVoice, the text is spoken to the person on the other end of the line using realistic synthetic speech.

This can often sound clearer to the listener than messages relayed by someone in a busy call centre environment. The app also has some stock phrases provided for quick responses.

How much does RogerVoice cost?

The app itself costs nothing but there is a monthly subscription to use it. The first hour of calls is free and thereafter you’ll need to pick one of their price plans. They currently start at €1.99 a month for up to an hour of calls – equivalent to around 3p per minute. The highest is €19.99 a month for unlimited calls.

Useful links:

The RogerVoice website

RogerVoice on the iOS app store

RogerVoice on the Google Play store

Writing for 9 year olds? Six expert tips for creating great accessible web content for everyone

The average UK adult has the reading skills of a 9 year old Many people are surprised to learn that the average reading age of adults in the UK is nine - that means the average person reading your website has the reading ability normally expected of a nine year old. And most people don't realise that at least one in ten visitors to a website will be dyslexic or that many more than that will have cognitive difficulties or a learning disability.

Many websites let themselves down and lose visitors because they don't understand how to make sure their content is easily understood and clear to navigate. And whatever their reading age everyone is easier using your website benefits if you provide information clearly and simply. So here's our quick guide to producing accessible content.

1 Avoid jargon and abbreviations

Know your expected audience, and write copy accordingly. Using financial jargon may be fine for visitors with a financial background, but other users may miss out. Good practise is to avoid jargon, or if it is necessary, provide a glossary. Similarly for acronyms and abbreviations: expand these when they are first used in any content so users are clear about their meaning.

2 Key information comes first

Start sentences, paragraphs and headings with key information. Users will typically read the first sentence or two of a paragraph to see if the information is relevant, before moving on if it is not.

3 Understand what information visitors need

Place yourself in the shoes of a site visitor -  what are the essential bits of information they will be looking for? If you are not sure, you should ask them.

4 Fewer words, greater impact

Don’t use 10 words when five will do. Users visit your site to get information, not read unnecessary content.

5 Structure your content

Make use of headings, paragraphs and bulleted lists to break text up into meaningful sections. Make one key point per paragraph. Make sure headings are labelled as such in your Content Management System (CMS) to help screenreaders differentiate content.

6 Consider audio, video or illustration instead of words

Some users will prefer to read content, others will benefit from a video, still others prefer a simplified, or illustrated guide. This obviously depends on what information you are conveying, but keep in mind the different options available.

How does your text score on readability? You can check here at 

Need help with creating an accessible website? Click here.

How AbilityNet volunteers help older people and disabled people get the most from their computer

Celebrate International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2016 by learning more about how our amazing IT Can Help volunteers can transform the lives of older people and disabled people of all ages.

Our volunteers visit people in their homes and help with all sorts of IT-related tasks, from installing broadband to removing viruses and even installing Angry Birds! They are all given backgrond checks and are supported by our volunteering team.

How Accessible Smart Cities Will Help Disabled People

Making our cities smarter and more inclusive will become increasingly important in the next decades. Current projections are that two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050, and with an ageing population comes higher levels of ill-health, impairment and disability. Futurists, tech visionaries and urban stakeholders have been talking about “smart cities” for a number of years but smarter, accessible cities promise to be more inclusive for every citizen – and could transform the lives of those with disabilities.

futuristic cityscapeSmart connected cities are a hot topic. I’ll be speaking at CSW Europe this week about crowd-sourced big data to make mobility easier for disabled citizens, and the up-coming Accessible Smart Cities Round Table event AbilityNet is organising with G3ict and Microsoft in London looks at how connected, digitally inclusive, cities of the future will be better for every citizen. So what benefits could there be for disabled people?

What is a Smart City?

A smart city is one that extensively uses connected devices, commonly called the ‘internet of things‘ or IOT, with the specific aim of delivering services as sustainably and efficiently as possible.

We’ve all heard of or seen gadgets that can be used around the house to automate some of the many tedious tasks we have to perform such as switching on or off lights, closing the garage door or turning up the heat. A tap on your phone’s screen or a voice command will do it for you

Automating your lighting may seem frivolous, but being able to turn off the stove from work when you get a notification that it was left on from a smart smoke alarm could prevent a catastrophe. And it’s hardly trivial when people with disabilities are being hugely empowered by IOT and smarter gadgets around the home.

amazon echo and it's smaller reelation the dot are on sale now in the UKMy sister, for example, is both blind and paralysed with MS and now has the world at her fingertips thanks to her Amazon Echo. She is able to choose her own entertainment such as music, radio stations or podcasts, control her environment with connected smart devices (such as operate her TV with audio description activated) and even make purchases online – all with her voice.

And as the Echo has no screen it doesn’t matter a jot that she can’t see.

Removing mundane tasks will help us work and play smarter

On a much larger scale smart cities will leverage digital-first services, informed by a veritable army of connected devices, to automate many of the more time-consuming tasks that we all have to undertake every day – tasks that contribute to cities being the crowded, chaotic and inefficient places they are today.

A classic example is the parking meter. An estimated 30% of inner-city traffic comprises people looking for a parking space. Give people an app that shows where available spaces are and allows them to pay digitally, and they will never again have to drive in circles, only to discover they don’t have any coins to feed the meter. This will save time and money and reduce frustration, stress, congestion and pollution.

Parking meters could soon be a thing of the pastNow imagine that you are disabled and looking for an even-more-illusive disabled parking bay. A smarter city, equipped with the sensors to know which bays (including disabled spaces) are empty and where, combined with the right digital infrastructure to guide drivers to them and easily pay for parking, will help every driver and especially those with more specific needs.  Add autonomous vehicles into the mix – driverless vehicles that are set to revolutionise the very concept of car ownership - and a smarter city will be a much less congested place.

At its core, the objective of a smart city is to remove these myriad of mundane tasks that don’t contribute to our work or enjoyment.

The end of queues?

In the connected smart city, people will only physically 'show up' to have an experience or receive a service, not to plan it or purchase it.

Time-consuming activities that do not contribute to work or recreation will be eliminated, such as standing in line to pick up tickets, traipsing to the clinic to pick up a prescription only to then have to take it to the pharmacy and come back again later when it’s ready, or still circling looking for that pesky parking spot.

All services will be optimised so that you only need to travel to experience things face-to-face, such as hands-on work, taking in a show or eating out. All other activities will either be fully automated or able to be done remotely. I’ve explored at length in other posts how technology is a great leveler for people with disabilities.

Providing an accessible (or inclusive) digital interface or technological solution to everyday or professional tasks will disproportionately benefit people with disabilities. If these solutions aren’t accessible, however, then they will be presenting virtual barriers that are as real as physical steps into City Hall.

The cities of 2050 – more people, more disabilities

Making our cities smarter and more inclusive will become increasingly important over the coming decades. According to the United Nations by 2050 more than 6.4 billion people will be urban — that's nearly two-thirds of the world’s population. Moreover, the world’s population is aging – and with age comes a higher level of ill-health, impairment and disability.

It’s clear that smart cities won’t happen overnight. Now is the time to begin the process of building integrated, tech-enabled cities, with a seamless flow between the different services provided for residents, commuters and visitors.

AbilityNet hopes that the principals of inclusive design will be placed at the very heart of this initiative, ensuring that everyone, whatever their needs, will benefit from a smarter urban future.

Bionic Olympians tackle everyday obstacles with cutting edge tech

Dubbed the ‘world’s first bionic Olympics’ the world Cybathlon championship in Kloten, Switzerland in October featured six types of contest, with disabled competitors contestants form around the world using and controlling assistive devices and robotic technologies. Cutting bread, climbing stairs and unwrapping a sugar cube may not sound like the ultimate in sporting challenges but the amazing competitions that took place showed how advanced technologies can help people with disabilities in daily life.

The events thoroughly tested how these technologies allow users to complete day-to-day tasks. For example, in the ‘powered arm prosthesis race’, competitors with an arm amputation tried to complete tasks such as cutting and spreading jam on a slice of bread, carrying a tray of items to a table, opening a door and fitting a light bulb – all using a powered prosthetic arm. In the ‘powered leg prosthesis race’, competitors (referred to as “pilots”, as they need to control or steer their technology) were timed using a bionic exoskeleton suit to navigate stairs, slopes and uneven surfaces.

Cybathlon has been called the world's first bionic Olympics

Cybathlon was created by Robert Riener, head of Health Sciences and Technology, and Professor of Sensory-Motor Systems at the ETH Zurich university in Switzerland. Riener was inspired to start the event when he decided through his daily work that “current assistive technologies are not functional enough and not accepted by many people.”

Further inspiration for Cybathlon came after Riener read a newspaper article about a man with a motorised knee prosthesis running up 103 floors of Chicago’s Willis Tower. Explaining the concept behind Cybathlon, Riener said: “We want to promote the development of useful, acceptable, assistive devices for people with motor disabilities, and not just find the strongest and fastest person with a disability. That is why we have designed race tracks and obstacles that have a meaning for daily life.”

Pilots of future tech

Competitors in Cybathlon are not professional athletes, and instead have to master the devices and technology they use in the events. “That is why we call them ‘pilots’,” said Riener.

The technologies used are largely specialist and highly advanced. Asked if it presents a problem that many disabled people can’t access or afford these technologies, Riener said: “It is normal that the newest high-tech is most expensive … However, we need new devices popping-up to shift previous ideas. High-tech will become used by a broader population and become cheaper, if it functions well. Furthermore, we urge politicians to give larger funding to high-tech devices for people with disabilities.”

A total of 74 athletes from 25 countries took part. Other contests included the ‘powered wheelchair race’, the ‘functional electrical stimulation bike race’ (where pilots with a spinal cord injury or SCI pedal bikes by stimulating their muscles with electrodes), and the ‘brain-computer interface race’ (pilots with an SCI navigate computer game avatars purely through technology that reads their brain signals).

Find out more

Based upon a recent article in e-Access Bulletin and used with kind permission of the editor.

How can technology help people with Macular Degeneration?

According to the Age UK website, half a million people in the UK have some sort of macular condition. It normally affects people over 50 and especially over 65, but it can sometimes affect younger people. The macular is in the centre of the eye and cells can start to die. When they die you can lose your central vision, but peripheral vision isn't affected so you can still see to get around.

Commonly asked questions about macular disease and macular degeneration

x-ray of eyeball showing signs of macular diseaseMy Gran has macular disease and is struggling to order her shopping. What quick and easy changes could I make to help her out?

You might be surprised just how much you can do to change the settings on your computer just by making a few changes. A good start would be to go to our My Computer My Way website which provides step by step guides on how to customise Windows, Apple and Android computers, laptops and smartphones.

Hopefully that will help but if you are still having difficulties we have a network of volunteers who can help people in their own homes.

I can cope fairly well with using a computer but I struggle to cope with my correspondence.

There are definitely lots of options that can help. You can either scan letters in with a scanner and use Optical Character Recognition and text to speech to read it out to you, or you can use a device such as Readdesk to take a photo of the document and then have it read out to you. If you have a smartphone there are some really useful apps such as KNFB Reader that can scan text in and then read it out to you.

My Dad is trying to finish a book of poetry off but can't really see the letters on a keyboard. What can help him?

hi-vis keyboardThere are lots of different types of keyboards available which could help people who are having dificulty seeing the keyboard. For example a larger keyboard with hi-vis stickers on it might be useful - these can be purchased from many different places including the RNIB shop.

Case Study: Harry goes shopping again

Harry is very independent and enjoys going the local supermarket to get his groceries. Unfortunately due to his eye sight he now finds it hard to recognise the different sorts of products available.

One of our volunteers Lucy showed him how his smartphone could help him distinguish what products he was buying in the store using Talking Goggles. Harry uses the app at the shops and now feels a lot more confident in producing healthy meals.

How can we help?

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

  • 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.