Microsoft: Championing accessibility inside and out

In a recently published training video, Microsoft’s head of accessibility shows us the importance of inclusive design for every user - as well as providing some handy tips on disability etiquette and accessibility checking along the way.

The importance of accessibility – for everyone

In many of my recent posts, and in almost every one of my recent presentations (to see these just find me on Youtube, I've emphasised why accessibility is no longer just for disabled people in this mobile-first world.

The Microsoft staff video tells the same story. Featuring the company's head of accessibility, Jenny Lay-Flurrie, it includes some powerful messages and examples to back them up.

The examples include someone with autism who prefers using email to communicate, as well as the power of OneNote to capture thoughts and tasks, someone with a hearing impairment who uses Skype Translate to get instant ‘live subtitles’ to an online conversation, and someone who broke his right wrist playing soccer (we call it football) who uses voice recognition and Microsoft’s virtual assistant Cortana to efficiently complete his work and overcome his temporary disability.

A great intro to accessibility and disability

Microsoft's training video is a great introductory guide to disability and accessibility – including some top tips on both. For people creating documents in Office, for example, the guide mentions the Microsoft Ofice Accessibility Checker, which will help step you through the pitfalls of unlabelled images and poor document structure to achieve truly inclusive spreadsheets, slideshows and Word docs.

The guide also mentions some common dos and don'ts when it comes to disability etiquette. One example is to say who you are when starting a conversation with someone who is blind (if I had a penny for every time that didn’t happen…) For a pretty comprehensive list check out this excellent guide to disability etiquette.

New accessibility advances in the latest Windows update

One of the most powerful aspects of  what is now called 'Windows as a service’, which is being constantly updated with new versions on an almost monthly basis, is that we don’t have to wait till the next big release to receive advances in accessibility.

The most recent release (16215 if anyone’s counting) brought us some major new accessibility features. These include improvements to Narrator (the built-in screen reader) and most particularly with respect to Braille support, the introduction of system-wide colour filters and improvements to the user interface of the powerful built-in Windows Magnifier.

For a full break-down of new features check out this great On MSFT article.

All things Microsoft and accessibility

Thanks to their accessibility, I’ve been using Microsoft products as a blind person for nearly 30 years. To explore the wide range of information, guides and resources that Microsoft has provided on the accessibility of their products and services please go to

Assistive Technology Blog


32 Finalists Announced for AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards 2017 and Voting Begins in the People's Award

The finalists have been announced for the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards 2017 - the annual showcase for the amazing people who use digital technology to make the world a better place.Image of the 2017 Tech4Good Awards Finalists at BT Tower

They are the only awards to highlight the wealth of charities, businesses and volunteers across the UK that use the power of technology to improve the other people’s lives.

This is the seventh year of the awards, which are organised by national charity AbilityNet and sponsored by BT, and entry was free and open to any business, charity, individual or public body in the UK.

The AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards 2017 finalists are:

AbilityNet Accessibility Award

BT Young Pioneer Award

BT Connected Society Award

Comic Relief Tech4Good for Africa Award

Digital Health Award

Digital Skills Award

Community Impact Award

Tech Volunteer of the Year Award

Voting is now open for in the People’s Award, which is chosen by the general public. You can read about each finalist and their entry on the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards website and cast your vote by sending a tweet using the correct hashtag. Each entry has its own hashtag and voting closes at 5pm on Friday 07 July.

For more details visit:

Mark Walker, Head of Marketing and Communications at AbilityNet and organiser of the awards said:

“We are thrilled to announce this excellent range of finalists for AbilityNet's Tech4Good Awards 2017.

“Each finalist has truly used used their passion for digital technology to change the lives of other people.

“We are now looking forward to the awards ceremony on 11 July at BT Centre, London, where we will celebrate these amazing people who use digital technology to make the world a better place for other people.

“These awards celebrate their success and share their stories to inspire others, whilst recognising entrants’ hard work and creativity.

“This year we saw another large batch of high-quality entries that showcase how people are using technology for good.

“But you still vote for the People’s Award, which is chosen from the finalists by the general public.

“To cast your vote and to get more details about the finalists visit our website now: "

Volunteers change lives

Last week the UK celebrated the wonderful work of people who freely give their time to good causes with Volunteering Week 2017. It got us thinking about the efforts of our volunteers all around the country who change the lives of disabled and older people everyday.

We currently have 230 volunteers for our free home support service ITCanHelp. Some, like David Brew, have been volunteering for 20 years.

Each of them makes regular visits to people who might need help to do things like online shopping, Skyping their family or getting the most out of technology which could help them, such as speech-to-text or screenreading equipment.

AbilityNet volunteers will also help with smartphones, TVs and often go above and beyond the call of duty. One particular volunteer who stands out is Allan, who helped 80-year-old Ruth trace her long lost brother. Or Pankaj, who helped Jannette synchronise all her IT to work efficiently for her 30 years after having a stroke. It truly changed her life. 

Brian, from Lancashire recently made a home video for us about how his AbilityNet volunteer has changed his world. 

This year, to date, our volunteers have clocked up 1,500 hours of volunteering between them, the equivalent of over 200 working days, all for free.

They have scored a customer satisfaction rating of 95% and received the following comments:

“excellent service and support”
“so understanding”
“a pleasure to work with”
“very patient”
“very kind, very thoughtful, very skilled”

For some of our very vunerable clients, their computer truly is a lifeline.

To join our group of volunteers, click here. 

To get help at home from one of our AbilityNet ITCanHelp volunteers, click here. 


Barclays says new bPay will make life easier for disabled customers

Barclays has said its new bPay method of payment, which sees customers using contactless wristbands and keyfobs on purchases under £30, is the latest of its tools that will make life easier for disabled customers.

Adi Latif interviewed by Paul Smyth

It handed out 100 wristbands last week at the Assistive Technology Exhibition and Conference, which is supported by the Barclays and held at ILEC conference centre in London.

The bank says that people with dexterity and mobility requirements, sight loss and dyslexia have found bPay has made making a payment easier.

Paul Smyth, head of IT accessibility for Barclays, said the business was aiming to be “the most accessible company in the FTSE 100”.

Customers can buy one of the contactless watches, wristbands, fobs or stickers for between £14.99 and £19.99 and activate it for payments.

"The fact you can wear it on your wrist and don't have to fumble around in your bag looking for your purse to get out your card made it much easier to use. I will carry on using it especially as I am disabled and have problems with both my hands,” says Sarah, a Barclays customer.

June, a blind customer of the bank, is quoted by Barclays as saying: "I love the freedom the wristband gives me because I don't have to worry about sorting out money in shops."

Speaking at the event, Adi Latif (right in photo with Paul Smyth of Barclays), accessibility consultant at AbilityNet said it was “fantastic that AbilityNet has been able to work closely with Barclays throughout all stages of the development life cycle to ensure their banking app is one of the most accessible in the world.”

He also discussed the innovations Barclays is making, such as the bPay and the new contactless cash feature which will allow a person to use their smartphone to withdraw money at Barclays cash machines without physically using a cash card.

ATEC, which was held on 6 June, showcases excellence in assistive technology that removes barriers to learning and work. It saw presentations from Lord Chris Holmes of Richmond MBE and former Paralympian and Molly Watt, Ambassador and advocate of Molly Watt Trust and Sense.

More on accessibility

For help with making your website more accessible, click on our accessibility services page


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

Making sure that websites, apps and devices are accessible and inclusive for everyone is imperative to a successful digital economy and vital for its disabled citizens. But who cares more about an inclusive digital future - commercial companies like Apple or the UK government itself?

The importance of digital inclusion

This week, containing both a general election and the week-long Apple World-Wide Developers’ Conference (WWDC), is the perfect time to consider the importance of accessibility (probably more usefully thought of as ‘inclusive design’ as it benefits everyone and not just those users with disabilities or impairments) and how much importance it is afforded by these two organisations.

I wanted to use the word ‘parties’ here but that’s probably not the best choice when we’re mentioning a general election – and in fact whichever political party is in power for the coming few years is irrelevant here. What is going to be significant is the emphasis they give to this vital element of a digitally-driven society.

In several earlier posts I have spelt out the importance of inclusive design and how, in this mobile-first world, we’re all temporarily disabled by our environment on a daily basis. I won’t go over all the arguments here, suffice to say that assuming that accessibility is only for disabled people is short-sighted in the extreme (being blind I’m allowed to make puns like that) and I’d point you at a recent LinkedIn Pulse article of mine for a good summing up – it's called Extreme computing calls for inclusive design for us all.

So let’s get down to brass tacks: which of these two notable institutions care more about this critical consideration that is so fundamental a factor in our digital future? Let’s take a brief look at each in turn.

Apple – a long history of championing accessibility

The importance that Apple has placed on accessibility, on making their products and services useable for the broadest possible audience, is legendary – most particularly (but certainly not exclusively) amongst the disabled community. Just glancing at this week’s WWDC schedule we see no fewer than eighteen separate sessions on accessibility. This is absolutely no surprise to me whatsoever. It reflects the huge and on-going efforts that Apple lavish on accessibility across all their products.

In an interview for Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) last month a blind blogger, James Rath, interviewed the CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, about accessibility and why Apple gives it such a high priority. It’ll leave you in no doubt as to Apple’s passion and commitment to inclusive design. It’ll be 12 minutes and 33 seconds of your life very well spent.

In the above interview Tim Cook speaks of how, in the past, people have questioned why Apple spend so much on accessibility. He may well have been recalling the occasion when an investor on a quarterly Apple earnings call very pointedly asked why Apple was spending all this money on accessibility (in other words on these poor disabled people who surely aren’t worth it) and Tim very calmly but with obvious vehemence responded that if he (the investor) felt that money spent on accessibility was money not well-spent then he’s in the wrong stock – basically sell your Apple shares if you don’t share our passion for inclusion.

As a blind person, there isn’t a single Apple product that I can think of that I can’t use to the full. Answers on a post card if you can think of one that perhaps I can’t. The same goes for people with the broadest range of other disabilities. Accessibility is in Apple’s DNA and they don’t just talk the talk, Apple walks the walk in everything they do.

Other manufacturers are similarly passionate about accessibility – I must of course add this here in case I’m accused of singling out Apple alone for such high praise. While many manufacturers are also on this journey, none in my opinion are so far along this road with all their various products and services and none so thorough in taking what is so evidently a ‘Rolls-Royce’ approach to implementing accessibility. Moreover, Apple were without doubt the trail-blazer in this area which encouraged others to join in, put their foot on the gas and shift into top-gear.

UK government – spearheading inclusion but is there ‘wood behind the arrowhead’?

Now let’s look at the venerable institution that is the UK government. With the advent of the general election, the government is also very much in the news this week (some might even say hitting the headlines even more than WWDC, but I’m not sure I’d personally go that far, winky face) and so I’d like to look at their score-card when it comes to making accessibility a reality for the 12.8 million people with disabilities in the UK today – a number which is set to rise to 15 million by 2050.

The UK government was relatively early in enshrining in law the protection from discrimination for disabled people. In October 1999 the Disability Discrimination Act DDA came into effect and stipulated that companies (and government) should “Make reasonable adjustments so that it is not impossible or unreasonably difficult for a person with a disability to use a service”.

Then, in 2003, an accompanying code of practice Rights of Access Goods, Facilities, Services and premises made it completely clear that this includes digital services – giving the example: "An airline company provides a flight reservation and booking service to the public on its website. This is a provision of a service and is subject to the act."

screenshot of flight booking page

In 2010 the Equality Act added further weight to the legal requirement and should have left no one in any doubt as to their obligations.

So the law has been very clear since at least 2003. And yet, nearly a decade and a half later, we still have Fewer than a third of UK council websites accessible to disabled people and, even more significantly, fewer than a tenth of all websites more generally meet even a base-level of accessibility in our experience.

Why is this the case? One reason might be that, while being in the vanguard of governments across the globe that have put in place the valuable legislation that protects people with disabilities from discrimination in an ever more digitally-focused world, the UK government has never (not once) felt it part of the remit of government to add their weight behind the legislation - to add the wood behind the arrowhead. They've never enforced the legislation or fined organisations that do not comply. The result is the woeful lack of progress outlined above.

A call to action for the CEO of UK Plc

10 downing street front door

In an open letter to government I published over a year ago for GAAD 2016, I outlined at length why the government should take the simple and obvious step of enforcing the law and encouraging companies to prioritise the accessibility of their websites and apps. The argument is beyond compelling and is quite obvious.

I’d invite you to read the post to get the full picture but, in a nutshell, it calls the government to take enforcement into their own hands much as they already do in a broad range of areas from taxation to parking. Where are the ‘traffic wardens of the internet’ that will champion the cause of the disabled user? Widespread government enforcement would see a seismic shift in the stubbornly immovable status quo. There has been no response to date.

By the time you read this article you might already know who won the election – who the resident of Number 10 and ‘CEO of UK Plc’ is. Whoever that person is, we call upon them to take their lead from the CEO of Apple.

I’m sure that our new PM will care as much about being inclusive as Apple’s Tim Cook so clearly does. They just now need to show it. They should take that most obvious of actions towards enforcing accessibility – a simple step that will forever change the digital landscape beyond recognition.

We call upon the CEO of UK Plc to act swiftly – perhaps even soon after taking that first step into Number 10.


Making sure Smart Cities mean inclusive cities for the world's one billion disabled people

As we've previously reported, 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 ...and they could transform the lives of those with disabilities,” said Robin Christopherson, AbilityNet's head of digital inclusion.

But, at a Smart Cities NYC conference in New York last month, there was concern that mobile apps, government services and other smart city tools aren't properly incorporating the needs of disabled people.

The event saw the launch of the Smart Cities for All toolkit to help city leaders be more inclusive in planning urban technology.

The toolkit, created by not-for-profits G3ict and World Enabled and backed by Microsoft, surveyed hundreds of world leaders from the public and private sectors, advocacy organisations, civil society and academia over the last year and less than half could identify a smart-city project that had any focus on accessibility.

Victor Pineda, president of World Enabled and an urban planner, called for Radical Inclusion of disabled people in Smart Cities plans (see video). He said: “Sustainable Development Goal Number 11 — inclusive and resilient cities — we are not going to meet that goal if we don’t think about people with disabilities in this digital urban infrastructure.”

The toolkit contains a huge database of more than 350 apps, websites, software and other technologies that demonstrate different ways of addressing the digital divide for people with disabilities. This is intended to inspire city leaders, as well as software developers, to come up with ideas for products.

In November 2016, AbilityNet hosted an event designed to gather information to feed into the guide as part of a global round table programme.

The guide also lays out the various international standards that have already been established for digital inclusion and features a model procurement policy for government officers, which draws on global accessibility standards.

Pineda warned that as things stood, cities we’re not going to meet the objective of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities or the New Urban Agenda.

It is hoped the guide will support cities to have smarter and inclusive offerings around emergency response, employment, public safety, justice and financial services for all citizens - including the one billion people worldwide with a disability.

Fewer than a third of UK council websites accessible to disabled people

Fewer than a third of council websites in the UK is currently accessible for disabled people, according to new research on web accessibility.

A total of 134 of the 416 council websites in the UK passed the Socitm (society for IT practitioners in the public sector) Better Connected stage two accessibility test, carried out in December 2016 with the Digital Accessibility Centre.

The test takes a full range of disabled users into account, including those who have keyboard only access and those who are blind or have low vision and are working with assistive technologies like screen readers.

website icon showing computer screen with ticks next to content

A lower level stage one test, designed to identify websites that would fail the full test, was done first. Overall, 275 sites passed this. Next, Socitm Insight member councils - a higher performing group than all councils – if successful at the first stage, were selected for testing at stage two. This saw 195 council sites tested with a pass rate of 69%. The previous year, that figure was 77%.

A statement by Soctim suggested the result was not as negative as it first appeared. “These results should not be read as a deterioration, however, because different, and arguably more difficult tasks were tested this year. In particular, to pass ‘order a bulky waste collection’ which was a test conducted on a mobile device, sites had to offer an online order form (not a pdf) and further, that order form and its associated payment module (as well as the site overall) had to be responsive.” It added that improvements had been made in other areas of council websites.

The Better Connected process tests sites against 14 criteria that are in line with the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0.

Most common reasons council websites fail accessibility tests - desktop

Unclear labels for form fields and/or associated controls

No visible working skip links – these were either not visible when tabbed to, or did not having the correct markup in order to skip a user to the main content within the page

Illogical heading structure – for those using screen reading software, jumping from heading to heading enables them to get an overall impression of a page’s content. This is problematic if headings have not been created with this in mind

Moving content without a means to pause or stop

No visible link focus on tab - This was an issue with desktop and mobile versions of sites. When keyboard-only users tab through a page they often become lost, making tasks difficult to complete. The issue seems to appear on websites designed to work more effectively in Internet Explorer 9 and above. It caused several sites to score no more than one on some or all tasks.

Most common reasons council websites fail mobile accessibility test

No online form available – this means some users with disabilities cannot complete the task because they cannot use the phone or email.

Sometimes forms were available but were themselves not responsive, or there was a non-responsive payment module.

Where forms presented as non-HTML documents, users with disabilities often that they are not able to access them. Soctim said that councils should try to: use HTML pages as an alternative; if they are used, ensure that non-HTML documents are accessible; on any page where such a non-HTML page is used, include a link to the appropriate reader plug-in page

The site was not responsive or otherwise purposed for mobile access. When sites are purposed for mobile, there is usually more limited content, which is then easier to find on a small screen. The content will also be larger so that users with low vision do not have to magnify as much of the screen as would be necessary if they had a full desktop screen presented to them in a limited space.

‘Bleedthrough’ - where content not present on the screen was picked up and read out by screenreaders, this prevents content being reached in sequence, confusing the user’s progress through the task

How councils can improve the accessibility of their websites

Councils were advised to offer forms for reporting, applying, booking, and contacting the council, since some users with disabilities will be unable to communicate by phone or use email because of its unstructured format. Forms themselves must be responsive so that they are usable from mobile devices.

Mandatory fields were problematic if notified to users via an asterisk or notified in text. Notification also needs to be within the <label> so that screen reader users are also aware of the need to complete the field.

Visible labels that are easy to identify benefit all web users who are able to see them. Screen reader users also need to be able to identify and use form inputs. Most modern screen readers will automatically switch to ‘forms’ mode when focus is shifted to a form element, and back to ‘virtual cursor’ mode when focus shift to non-form elements. It is important that descriptive Labels or instructions are provided when content requires user input, sais the report. 

Need help with making your website accessible? Try our Digital Accessibility Services.

Our top related blogs

Disclosed: The secret to recruiting and retaining a diverse and healthy workforce

A diverse workforce is a healthy workforce, ripe to innovate and produce goods and services fit for the consumer of tomorrow. Employers, however, need to know what to do to ensure their valuable employees with a disability are allowed to shine. In this, the unofficial third part to our ‘To disclose or not to disclose’ series, we’ll look at the secret to a truly best-practice approach to diversity in the workplace.

Think the job market is tough?

If you don't have a disability and think that today’s climate is a tough one when it comes to finding the right job (or even any work at all) then spare a thought for someone with a disability. In my last post we looked at the difficulties disabled people face when trying to get work. If you tell recruiters about your disability then the response is often no response at all. You don’t even get a chance.

This is of course illegal. If you’re qualified for the job then, according to the Equality Act 2010, you aren’t allowed to be discriminated against on the grounds of disability, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or maternity. It’s the law to look at what reasonable adjustments can be put in place that could help in these areas but, while many very able candidates are still marked down on factors other than their qualifications and experience, it’s disability that is so often the most common area where rank discrimination still festers.

A clear path to inclusive recruitment

Not to worry, though. Step forward ClearTalents. In my last blog, we looked at this straightforward solution to the challenge of knowing what reasonable adjustments to apply for candidates across all these categories – a challenge faced by recruiters every day. With ClearTalents in place, every employer can get the diverse workforce they deserve. The next challenge is keeping that valuable level of diversity, making sure the right processes are in place to meet their needs, and frankly not making any dumb mistakes. We’ll look at both of those below.

office setting with man in wheelchair looking positive

Creating a clear path to diversity

We’ve discussed using ClearTalents during recruitment to ensure that the right accommodations are in place for every candidate throughout the application process. In the workplace the exact same legal requirement to make reasonable adjustments applies.

Luckily there is an in-work version of the solution, called ClearTalents At Work, that is specifically tailored to help employees get the (often very simple) adjustments to their workstation, tasks and working environment to help them perform their best at work.

Free to employees, this in-work solution takes a very similar approach to the recruitment version (again covering not just disability but all other protected characteristics mentioned above). It provides just the right guidance to line managers or wellbeing teams to help - as well as including a full Disply Screen Equipment (DSE) evaluation (which is also a crucial legal health and safety requirement).

Thus, when an individual has successfully progressed through the recruitment process and been on-boarded (with the help of their ClearTalents diversity profile) they can then create a similar profile using the in-work solution as a standard part of their induction process. By this time they’ll have been in post for a few weeks and know the ins and outs of work, including their workstation setup, working environment, the premises and daily tasks etc – all the things that they weren’t aware of before they began work.

This new profile will be tailor-made to help them shine at work, providing specific reasonable adjustments for line managers from the very beginning of their new role.

Every employee creates one, because everyone potentially has something they may want to disclose across such a broad area. In reality, we find that very consistently, across all organisations using the ClearTalents in-work solution, around 65% of employees have something they disclose – even if it’s just that they need the double-click speed of their mouse to be slightly reduced. Such a level of disclosure, and an empowered line management equipped with the specific reasonable adjustments they need to implement changes without escalation or overhead, has a massive impact upon an organisation.

So now, rather than employees having to ‘put their hand up’ as having a ‘problem’, every colleague in every office is completing the same regular diversity profile and everyone gets the adjustments they need. Nice for the employees, and nice and compliant for the employer.

Top tip for employers: Sickness shouldn’t go in one big bucket

OK – on reflection that probably isn’t the most delicate of subheadings, but the message is an important one. At this point I want to briefly draw your attention to a big mistake that employers can often make in evaluating the efficiency and productivity of employees with disabilities.

We know that, with the right adjustments in place, disabled employees can be as productive as their able-bodied colleagues. Recent research by the TUC, however, highlights that employers often make a fundamental miscalculation in this area. The critical point is that employers must ensure that absence for reasons associated with disability is counted separately from sickness absence. This is often not the case and hence people with disabilities are identified as being less productive. This is discrimination. Beware not to fall into this trap.

Reaping the on-going rewards of diversity best-practice

Speaking of sickness, having a process that carefully explores the needs of every employee leads to much more wide-reaching benefits than one solely focused on disability and totally reliant on self-disclosure.

Organisations using ClearTalents experience an average fall in sickness across the entire organisation (not just those with disabilities) of between 0.75 and 2.3 days. I’ll leave you to do the calculations for your organisation but, assuming a typical figure of £150 for the daily cost of an employee, an organisation of any size is suddenly enjoying thousands, tens of thousands or even millions of pounds benefit each year.

These same organisations also experience a considerable reduction in compromise agreements and industrial tribunals (cases where employees have legal grievances against their employer), typically seeing a reduction of between 75 and 100% in this area. This too can save a company tens of thousands of pounds and often much, much more.

Way beyond being disability confident

Such a solution applied to diversity in the workplace goes far beyond a best-practice approach to disability. However, becoming Disability Confident is a goal that many organisations have in their sights. The Clear Company, which co-developed the ClearTalents solutions, also co-authored the Disability Confident scheme. 

disability confident logo

The logo for the scheme includes two ticks which (as pictured right), ironically, might seem to bring us back to where we started with the dreaded ‘I have a disability’ tickbox on an application form. Adopting the guidance and processes in the Disability Confident scheme is, however, far more than twice as good - it’s infinitely better than a simple tickbox approach. ClearTalents can catapult an organisation into the vanguard of best practice organisations who are on their Disability Confident journey.

Employees – want to make your talents clear at work?

Using ClearTalents is free to employees. If you would like to create a diversity profile and share it with your line manager or wellbeing team, simply go to and get started today.


ClearTalents On Demand
ClearTalents At Work
TUC guidance on sickness and discrimination

13 super-useful time-saving tech tips for less stressful working and living

It's excellent when technology makes your life easier, right?  With this in mind, we've put together 13 time saving tips together to make it easier for you to use your devices, including tips on text-to-speech and speech-to-text options. These are game changers!

how to use your tech to save time1.  Let your virtual assistant, such as Siri/ Google do all the work: All smartphones and computers now come with a virtual assistant. By speaking into your device you can get help with tasks such as navigation, making notes, writing texts and finding out where local businesses are.

2. Here's a brill list of Google voice commands you can use to get your virtual assistant to do stuff. Here's some ideas for Siri commands.

3.  You're sitting in front of an open document, due to write a report or essay, but are unable to type or would like to give your eyes a break. Use Nuance or your built-in voice recognition options  such as Apple's Dictation or Windows Speech Recognition to speak your words and you'll be amazed at the results.

4. If you are completely unable to use your hands and arms because of a disability or injury, you can try something like Nuance Naturally Speaking Premium edition which has more advanced features than some of the in-built versions, such as the ability to get your computer to put text into bold or italics. This is available on mobile phones too. 

builder with tablet looking happy and confident

5.  Out of the box, your device's virtual assistant will require you to tap a button to get it to start listening. You can remove this feature and talk handsfree to your phone using the 'Hey Siri', 'Ok Google, or 'Hey Cortana' commands. Have a look in your settings. Here's how to open Siri handsfree.

6.  Your virtual assistant can even set reminders for you. Click the link to see how to do it with Cortana. You never have to forget that important event ever again!

7.  Got Windows and want to have texts, emails or articles read out to you? Have a look at Natural Readers or TextAloud.

8. Apple types can have texts, articles and documents read aloud either using the in-built options like VoiceOver or try software like Ghostreader.  You can even have your electronic ibooks read out to you. This, like a lot of the tips here could be useful if you are dyslexic and would like a break from reading and writing sometimes. 

9. If you're a Android user, you can have emails, webpages and all sorts of other things read to you. Perhaps a bedtime story? Try Google Text-to-Speech.

10. If you are visually impaired you can use your computer quite effectively with an in-build screenreader (though we would like to see more work going into making sure webpages are optimised for screenreaders). In-built ones include Windows Narrator and Apple Voice Over and free open source ones include NVDA.

11. Have Norwegian, Arabic or even Canadian French as your mother tongue? The good news is that text-to-speech comes in lots of languages. This could be very useful if you work as a translator.

12. Text to speech can be fun too! You can have a chat with your own personal assistant.

13. Youtube has some really good clips of how to set up text to speech on an Iphone and Android devices and will likely have videos for everything mentioned above.

Find out more

  • Need more help? Call our free helpline on 0800 269 545 and Ask Alex (me!) about how tech can change your life

Latest version of Smart Specs is sleeker with a focus on users who have tunnel vision

Around 85% of blind people still have light retention in their eyes, but this has historically been perceived as light 'noise' and has been of little use to a blind person in comprehending their surroundings.

smart specs being trialled at a demonstration

Could this light be made more meaningful with a bit of technological intervention, changing the lives of some of the 285 million blind people worldwide? According to finalists of the 2016 AbilityNet Tech4Good Accessibility Award, Oxsight – yes it can.

OxSight created Smart Specs to do just this. Using augmented reality, the invention enables the wearer to make more sense of their surroundings by simplifying the ambient light, translating it into shapes and shades that allow people to discern physical objects and depth perception within the physical environment.

The Oxfordshire-based company uses see-thru Epson projection lenses in conjunction with three infrared and depth sensing cameras in order to 'project' the outline of people and objects into the remaining eyesight of users. They can then navigate through space with a depth recognition of up to four metres (see the Techcrunch video below).


Dr Stephen Hicks, research lecturer at the University of Oxford and co-Founder and head of innovation at Oxsight Ltd talked to AbilityNet about what's been happening at Oxsight since last year's Tech4Good Awards...

How did it feel to be a finalist in the Tech4Good Awards?

It was a great way to get our young team to recognise the importance of working in an area where we are building technology to change people's lives. Also, we met lots of other people in similar spaces, particularly the guys from Wayfindr (winners of the Tech4Good Accessibility Award 2016), and that's helped us build up collaborations and hopefully better products. We've also been given the first prize in the Industrial and Life Science Design Competition by Thinkable since Tech4Good.

Have the Smart Specs developed or change in the last year?

Yes, we've spent time working on making them more discreet and less bulky (photo above shows an older version), as well as making them run more efficiently with less power. It's really important that they look good and don't make people feel conspicuous.

Has the technology behind the Smart Specs changed?

Yes, we're pushing hard on machine learning so that future versions of the glasses can detect and recognise different objects in the environment. We've got a nice mixture of research and application and are testing internally. Currently deep learning requires very serious hardware so we are putting effort in to reducing that.

girl drinking tea in black and white with outline shapes showing depth of field

(Image: Oxsight uses depth to determine what level of enhancements to apply to a scene. If it is very far away it is turned black, in the middle distances Oxsight enhances the object boundaries, and close objects are treated with an algorithm that essentially turns everything in to a high contrast cartoon)

Are you focused on blind people in the UK?

Yes, but we are also very keen to develop markets in areas of world that really need such a product, such as India and China which have huge populations of people with low vision.

What's next for the Smart Specs?

We're starting a new trial with the Guide Dogs Association next month in London. A number of people will get the glasses over several weeks. We're mostly focusing on people with tunnel vision as this may suit the new type of display better. We still want to work with people who have macular degeneration (loss of central vision, usually associated with ageing). We're doing further work at Oxford Uni, funded by the National Institute for Health Research i4i (Invention for Innovation programme), to look at displays and algorithms that should be able to make a big difference to people with macular damage.

When do you think Smart Specs will be on the market?

We expect to have our first product out before the end of the year.


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