The expert guide to creating a disability-friendly workplace

Is your workplace disability-friendly? Not sure? Read on for some excellent and easy advice which will help you ensure your organisation meets the needs of those with sight loss, hearing loss, dyslexia or dyspraxia and physical disabilities, as well as many other conditions. 

Nearly one in five people in the UK has a disability, including more than eight million of working age. Our new AbilityNet Disability and Employment factsheet shows the steps employers can take to recruit and support people with an impairment or long-term health condition in work. Below we've picked out some of the key points from the fact sheet. 

Benefits of a diverse workforce

Employing disabled people is good for business - it means you can draw on a much broader talent pool; maximise your chance of employing and retaining high quality staff; improve employee morale; reduce absence through sickness, and create a diverse workforce that more closely reflects your range of customers and the community where you operate.

Under the 2010 Equality Act, there can also be serious penalties for treating someone less favourably because of a personal characteristic, such as being disabled.

woman in the workplace

The Equality Act places a duty on employers to ensure that employees with a disability are able to perform effectively. If necessary, an employer must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to ensure that disabled job applicants or employees are not disadvantaged by their workplace or working practices.

There are myriad ways employers can make reasonable adjustments and they don’t have to cost a lot of money. What might be deemed reasonable will depend, in part, on the size and nature of the organisation.

Creating a disability-friendly workplace

  • Adapting the workplace or the working environment
  • Removing physical barriers
  • Making some changes to how work is organised
  • Ensuring that information is provided in accessible formats
  • Modifying or acquiring equipment – including assistive digital technology
  • Offering specialist training and support
  • Providing more flexible employment – including part-time hours and a phased return to work.

How tech can help your organisation be disability-friendly 

Continued advances in digital technology mean that an increasing range of assistive devices, hardware and software is now available to help disabled employees overcome potential barriers and succeed in work. You can find plenty of information about this in the AbilityNet blog.

Government guidance on Employing disabled people and people with health conditions includes information on how different specific conditions can affect people. It also gives related examples of potentially helpful adjustments.

As a starting point, AbilityNet recommends that job applicants and employees generate a ClearTalents profile. Answering a few simple questions about circumstances generates a simple report that can be used by employers to review your needs. Typically, this will identify all the adjustments you may require without the need for a full expert assessment. But, different people will need different adjustments, even if they appear to have similar impairments so an individual assessment with an expert practitioner is essential.

Practical advice on how to achieve the optimum setup for your computing equipment is available on My Computer My Way. This covers all the accessibility features built into your computer, tablet or smartphone, and all the main operating systems – Windows, Mac OS, iOS and Android. You can use it for free at www.mycomputermyway.com.

Access to work and help with costs for reasonable adjustments

Where reasonable adjustments are more costly, help for employers may be available under the government’s Access to Work programme. This can assist with the cost of providing an individual with required support or adaptations.

Useful links and resources for creating a disability-friendly workplace

Acas publishes extensive help and guidance for employers and employees on all aspects of disability discrimination.

Business Disability Forum aims to build disability-smart organisations to enhance participation and improve business performance.

The Disability Confident employer scheme offers guidance and resources around employing disabled people and how the Disability Confident employer scheme can help businesses

Call our free Helpline on 0800 269 545 to ask anything about how computers can be adapted to meet the needs of disabled people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So can you retrospectively fix accessibility problems?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now let's flip it.

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

It's all to do with simplicity.

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

Mobile phone screen with apps

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

Developers won't need to reinvent the wheel

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

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

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Tomorrow’s tech and the future for banking

By Paul Smyth, Head of Digital Accessibility, Barclays


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

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

Simpler interfaces

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

Personalisation

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

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

Inter-connection

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

Will AI work for everyone?

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

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

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

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Great ways tech and computers can help when you have osteoporosis

Many of us might break a bone sometime in our lives, but while for most people this is just a very rare occurrence, for those who have osteoporosis, bones can frequently break causing pain and leading to periods of time off work.

The condition means that your bones are weak causing them to break easily.  According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, more than 75 million people in the USA, Europe and Japan are affected by the condition. 

How can using a computer help people who have osteoperosis?

Every time you use the keyboard you put pressure on your fingers and your wrist. If you have osteoporosis, you might find that fingers and wrists tend to break easily and often. So it might be worth exploring technology where you don't have to use your hands and wrists so much. 

Using a compact keyboard can help so you don't have to move your hands and fingers so much. A light touch keyboard might also be useful to consider.  As part of looking at different keyboards, you might even want to consider using some type of word prediction software, so that you don't have to use as many keystrokes. There are a number of packages available, such a Typing Assistant and WordQ

I've heard of voice recognition. Tell me more about this. 

Voice recognition is a really quick and easy way of getting your thoughts down on paper, without using a keyboard. Voice recognition is available for desktop and laptop computers and if you have a smartphone or a tablet there is voice recognition already installed.   

With the advent of devices like the Alexa Echo or Dot from Amazon you can use tech to not only to select music from your playlists, but you can also get information from the web about train times and even order take-away food without using hands and fingers.  

Google has also brought out a similar device called Google Home. There is lots of potential we see here at AbilityNet, lots of it was explored at our event  'Building Better Bots' recently.

I find it very difficult to take breaks at work. What can help me?

Ergonomix screen shot

Research shows that exercise is important if you have a condition such as osteoporosis (or various other conditions for that matter). But in many places of work it can be difficult to take breaks.  Software such as StretchClock can actually help you exercise at your desk.  Other software such as Ergonomix and Workrave is also work checking out.  Breaks can encourage you to go and get up and stretch or just go and put the kettle on for a hot drink and enjoy a bit of movement in the process.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Mixmag journalist: Nightclubs still not thinking about disabled customers and accessibility

The latest edition of renowned dance-music magazine Mixmag, published in LA, Cape Town, London and Sydney, explores the difficulties of accessing nightclubs for disabled clubbers and DJs.

Journalist Alex Taylor, who uses a wheelchair, writes the article Nightclubs need to be way more accessible for disabled clubbers, calling out the fact that music fans are still often struggling to get into or around nightclubs. Though he does praise Ibiza's latest arrival Hi, for being fully accessible. 

Amnesia nightclub Ibiza door sign

Alex begins: "This summer, I made a clubbing pilgrimage to the White Isle, Amnesia my final port of call. Ticket in hand, I joined the throng – only to find the door shut in my face unless I paid double. My crime? I use a wheelchair and need a carer to help me on nights out.

At some clubs, the fact that I need a qualified carer with me to help me transfer to the toilet, navigate stairs and – perhaps most importantly – reach the bar to order drinks – is a burden I must, literally, pay the price for. Disability and clubbing, it seems, still causes trouble in paradise.

Amnesia have since apologised, saying that, where possible, “full details” of carers should be given in advance. For spontaneous visits, Amnesia requires “some type of ID proving the position of the carer”. Given that such ID is not standard practice, it remains unclear what exactly would be accepted," writes the journalist. 

Taylor continues: "In the words of Tom Head, a disabled clubber who also performs as DJ Void, “I don’t think clubs think about disabled customers or accessibility. It’s as though anyone with a disability isn’t expected.” Little surprise, then, that he sees “few obviously disabled people in clubs”."

The inaccessibility of ticketing websites

2014 Research by Attitude is Everything (AIE), a UK charity dedicated to improving access to live music for deaf and disabled pe

ople, found that many were put off even going to an event because of the inaccessibility of booking websites.

The charity's State of Access Report 2014, found that, of 228 disabled people surveyed: 

  • 95% had experienMixmag October 2017 cover featuring Bicepced disability-related issues when booking tickets
     
  • 88% felt discriminated against due to an inaccessible booking system
  •  
  • 83% had been put off buying tickets after finding it inaccessible
     
  • 47% considered taking legal action as a result.

Taylor writes: "A senseless situation given that disabled people have a combined purchasing power of £80bn in the UK alone. But even for clubbers like Head, who persevere, a lack of info online is the next hurdle. “Is a club accessible? Is there a disabled toilet and parking? These are vital questions that need answers,” he says.

Club music should heal not hinder

The article discusses the healing power of music and clubbing for people with disabilities and references Chicago DJ Paul Johnson, famed for house classic Get Get Down, who uses a wheelchair, as well Ibiza’s newest – and fully accessible – super-club Hï, which has signed up Black Coffee - who performs without the use of his left arm - for a residency. 

 

Artificial Intelligence could offer a boost to charity giving

Technology using Artificial Intelligence (AI) / bots will likely encourage donors to donate even more money and increase their understanding of charities, according to the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) thinktank's recent article titled "Is AI The Future Of Philantrophy Advice".

AI: reducing costs and increasing reach

The current and future use of AI by charities is expected to help better deliver services and inform donors.

Conversation on mobile phone with botAlmost everyone will have experienced 'AI' on the internet; either when using an automated chatbot linked to a website or via ads on the internet that use carefully crafted algorithms to target them.

As the internet grows smarter and better able to offer you a tailored service, without the need for human involvement, the more an organisation can use it to help maximise both the satisfaction and the engagement of the stakeholder.

In the case of charities, this promise of being able to extend the reach of your services through more meaningful messaging, whilst at the same time reducing the cost of delivery by offering automated advice and information, makes AI a very attractive project to pursue.

Earlier this year, in a news release from IBM, the details of Arthritis Research UK's virtual assistant were announced. Their IBM Watson-powered chatbot offers web visitors personalised information and advice on arthritis. Others are improving real-time language translation services for refugee and migrant projects or helping predict patterns of poaching and supporting conservation efforts.

Using AI to make giving quick and simple

Whilst AI, bots and better algorithms are helping charities to pursue their goals, there is one very significant application of AI that is ready to give ‘giving’ a boost.

Amazon Echo Dot light ring

We have had virtual assistants in our smartphones for several years now, but the popularity of the Amazon Echo and subsequent similar ‘smartspeakers,’ like Google Home, has taken everyone by surprise. Consistent best-sellers, they are helping to bring the benefits of artificial intelligence to the very air in our homes. It won’t be long before almost every house will have one or more such devices – either standalone or coming as standard in any white good you purchase. Soon speaking to a smart digital member of the family will be as normal as having a television or toaster – and infinitely more useful at almost everything (except perhaps making toast).

The abilities of these virtual assistants are almost inexhaustible. You can listen to my daily podcast on the Amazon Echo in which I demonstrate one or more Alexa Skills. Think of these 'skills' as new abilities, or apps, that you can add to your Echo simply by asking. You can visit the Amazon website for more information about Alexa Skills and to discover the breadth of 'skills' that are available. Since the Echo adds several hundred new skills each week, I'm not about to run out of new, entertaining and useful abilities to demonstrate.

Now let’s focus on the use of such smarts to make donating easy. Imagine that the ability to give to a good cause, at the very moment you’re moved to do so, is as simple as saying to the air around you “Alexa, give £100 to the Red Cross hurricane relief fund” or “OK Google, give £5 a month to Comic Relief.”

Donation and gift iconography

These devices already have your credit or debit card details. It’s already possible to purchase any number of products from Amazon through your Echo with a single command, for example; “Alexa, order more Paul Smith Floral Eau de Parfum please” which just happens to be my wife’s favourite perfume. You certainly aren’t restricted to purchases of a few pounds (again I refer to that same pricey perfume). Amazon wants to make buying through the Echo as natural and frictionless as possible – and the same is undoubtedly true of Google with their home assistant. Apple, will likewise, already hold your card details (via your Apple ID which you use to make iTunes and app store purchases) and we’d like all the manufacturers of these virtual assistants to extend that capability to charitable giving too.

The ability to use your Echo to make a donation, in a way that is as simple and straightforward as purchasing goods online, is not yet built-in. But, the option of adding a third-party skill that turns the Echo (or Google Home etc) into a giving machine for worthy causes certainly is possible today.

Just Giving and other high profile giving sites such as BT My Donate (which takes no commission whatsoever on donations) would be obvious and ideal organisations to create such a skill. Many donors already have accounts with these websites. So, enabling the giving process would be as easy as asking the Echo (or Google Home etc) to add the BT My Donate skill, for example. Then donations can be made as quickly and easily, whenever the generous owner of the smart assistant is moved to do so.

Such smart-giving skills needn’t be limited to the likes of Just Giving or BT. Any organisation could create a similar skill and accept donations through Alexa or the Google Home. An extra step of entering card details would need to be added by way of the Alexa app, say, but this would still make such smart-giving simple.

Making smart-giving more mobile

iPhone and Apple watchSeeing a campaign or real-life need might induce us to give and, with the virtual assistants built into our phones or other wearable technology, the act would almost be as natural and seamless as saying out loud; "I'd really like to give to that cause..."

There have been articles published and it is rumoured that Amazon plans to bring out a pair of smart glasses with Alexa built-in by the end of this year. The ambient nature of an ever-listening assistant might make giving that little bit more frictionless. We then wouldn't even need to take our phones out of our pockets to give to good causes.

These smart glasses wouldn’t of course be the first of their kind.  But unlike Google Glass and many similar smart glasses, Amazon's planned wearable avoids the option of a built-in camera - making it a far less controversial product. Wearers of Glass were banned from public restrooms (that's 'toilets' to you and me) and Google were quick to release a version that had a prominent light that clearly indicated when someone was using the camera. Snapchat's glasses similarly sport a circle of yellow lights when the user is recording.

Amazon's offering is said to simply include a microphone to hear you ask Alexa questions and issue commands. It will have an unobtrusive bone-conducting speaker tucked behind your ear to convey her response. This should make these smart glasses look relatively normal and avoid the disquiet that head-mounted cameras can evoke. At the same time they will give you all the functionality of the Echo wherever you are. Let's hope that they avoid the pitfalls experienced by earlier products, are attractive and affordable. And also bring all the utility of smart assistants to users in whatever they do - including giving.

Adding a safety-net to smart-giving

Security lettering with cursor hovering overBut what, I hear you say, about rogue donations made by madly generous family members or a change of heart when you realise that you were moved more than your bank balance can bear? In the case of online purchases made on the Echo, you have half an hour to cancel the order - and of course you would already have that capability turned on in the first place if you routinely had unpredictable or unscrupulous people around.

In just the same way, regardless of whether the capability was built-in or provided by way of a third-party skill, it would be easy to build in the ability to change the donation or cancel it altogether within a predefined period. Adding in a notification sent to the smartphone of the cardholder would also make sure he or she was aware of every donation made through the virtual assistant.

Related links

TechShare Pro on 23 November 2017 is a full-day conference aimed at accessibility and UX professionals, digital designers, developers and product managers. Expert contributors will explore the accessibility and inclusion challenges of the next generation of digital services.

Visit our wesbite to find out more about TechShare Pro 2017 and to book your ticket.

Google asks users to improve Maps feature with accessibility info

Google is asking the public - in particular its ‘local guides’ - to add accessibility information to Google Maps. It's hoping that visitors to restaurants, theatres, offices and lots of other venues, will add info on whether entrances, toilets and spaces are suitable for wheelchair users.

The company is encouraging its guides, and anyone else interested in improving accessibility, to hold group meet-ups with each other to populate Google Maps with such info.

Last month, AbilityNet accessibility consultant Guerman Botten, attended a Local Guides event hosted by Google to find out more and was inspired to see the initiative taking off.

Not just wheelchair accessibility 

“The latest update to Google Maps allows people to add information to venue detail. I’ve reviewed lots of places. You can say stuff about whether it’s noisy, busy, expensive or family-friendly, for example, and now we’re being encouraged to add information on wheelchair accessibility."

He added: “There’s nothing to stop people adding detail on whether a place has braille menus, for example, or audio guides for people with vision loss. We could also add other detail that's useful to people with a range of disabilities too."

There’ve been several hundred meets over the last few weeks focused on adding accessibility information to Google Maps including events in Gujarat, India, Tomsk, Russia, Vancouver, Canada, and Batticloa, Sri Lanka.

Check out g.co/localguides/meetup to see if a meet-up is being hosted near you, or add one in if you'd like to host one yourself. You can share your discoveries of accessible places on Twitter and social media using the hashtags #LocalGuides and #a11y.

How to add detail about wheelchair accessibility on Google Maps

• Go to “Your contributions” on your phone (click on the three horizontal verticle lines, normally in the top left hand corner of maps) 
• Tap “Answer questions about a place” or "uncover missing info" under 'improve the map near you' (Don’t see it? Make sure Location History is turned on.)
• Answer as many accessibility questions as you can (use this guide for reference).
• You may see other questions as well, until you move on to the next place.
• If you have an Android device, you can find places near you that are missing this info and edit these attributes by checking the facts.

See this article on Google Guides Connect for more information

Sci-fi Fun Becomes Serious Functionality – Making Home Automation Accessible Through AI

Robin Christopherson"It's just like being on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise... and if all you have is your voice - for example I'm thinking of my sister here who is both blind and has very advanced Multiple Sclerosis - then sci-fi fun becomes serious functionality..." says Robin Christopherson MBE, the Head of Digital Inclusion at AbilityNet.

He made the comments after recently discovering how bringing together home automation devices with new ambient computing technology, like Alexa, has the power to dramatically improve accessibility and improve the lives of disabled people.

Are you keeping up?

The tech industry has been working towards a future where everything is smarter including your phone, TV and home. Things that seemed to belong in sci-fi a few years ago are suddenly becoming a reality, so it's important to keep up.

These tech advancements are good news for everyone, but its turning out to be life-changing for people with disabilities - if only they could access them!

It's a huge shame that many of the apps used to set-up and control home automation just aren't accessible to people with disabilities. Just a few small tweaks by developers could have made a huge difference.

Robin recently tested a couple of home automation products (Wi-Fi Plug by Wasserstein and The Smart Home LED Lightbulb) and neither of them were accessible to him as a blind VoiceOver user until he combined them with Alexa.

Instantly accessible, instantly empowered

New ambient computing products like Alexa, which is used to control the Amazon Echo Dot, and others such as Google Home and the Apple Home Pod (due to be released in December this year) allow people to use their voice to control things in their home.

Amazon echo dot

Need to lock the door? "Alexa lock the door". Turn on that light? "Alexa turn on the light". They have made these smart home automation devices instantly accessible.

Now instead of having to fiddle with inaccessible apps or rely on friends or family to set things up, people with disabilities just plug them in and connect via their ambient computer, using voice control. It's really very simple and straightforward.

Imagine until now having to rely on other people for everything. With the cost of this technology falling home automation has the potential to empower disabled people, giving them back their dignity and allowing them to look after themselves on their own terms. If we go back to the earlier Star Trek reference - they can be the captain of their own ship.

Working together to make inclusive apps

It's important that tech developers and designers work together and make sure new home automation tech is accessible to all people and that industry experts work with different groups of disabled people to spot these new opportunities and potential pitfalls.

TechShare Pro - AI, UX and the future of accessibility

TechShare Pro is an upcoming conference organised by AbilityNet in partnership with RNIB wher we will be bringing together industry experts to explore inclusive design. It will give people the chance to network with other like-minded people, passionate about making a difference to people's lives through accessibility.

To find out more about TechShare Pro 2017 and to book your tickets click here.

Guardian urges disabled shoppers to call out inaccessible shopping sites

Online shops who want to benefit from the £200 billion purple pound each year are being further urged to make their websites fully accessible to disabled customers. 

online shopping

The Guardian newspaper is currently asking Britain’s 12 million disabled people, who have a perceived spending power of at least £200 billion, known as the 'purple pound' to reveal and share which clothes websites are falling short of expectations.

The Guardian call out follows a report by the Extra Costs Commission last year, led by pan-disability charity Scope, which highlighted its research showing that 49 per cent of disabled people feel they only have some of the information needed or wanted when shopping on or off-line.

Inclusive fashion

The charity We Are Purple, which connects businesses and disabled people, also launched their Help Me Spend My Money campaign over the summer, encouraging businesses to offer an inclusive experience for all shoppers.

It is a legal requirement in the UK for public-facing websites to be accessible to disabled customers. This includes sites being created to interact with screen-readers for blind people, and to interact with customers who can only use a keyboard, rather than a mouse.

The Guardian writes:

“Where designers have supported the move towards diverse casting and even showcased disability models, many disabled consumers cannot access these trends due to poor shop accessibility. Retailers are commonly unaware of the needs of disabled customers…”

The paper also hopefully points out that Edward Enninful, the new editor of British Vogue, has said he wants the fashion industry to be more inclusive.

In the piece, the newspaper's readers are encouraged to fill in a form explaining their stories and experience to inform Guardian articles and coverage on this subject.

Complaining about inaccessible shopping sites

Almost one in five people has a disability. In last year’s report, the Extra Costs Commission, said: “Only by sharing information about our needs and expectations as shoppers, by complaining and speaking up when dissatisfied and by being more demanding as consumers, will companies have the market data to serve us better and to help reduce the cost of essential goods and services."

Joe Chidzik, senior accessibility consultant at AbilityNet works with businesses such as those in the fashion sector to ensure their websites meet legally accessibility requirements.

Commenting on the Guardian call out, he says:

“Shopping websites exhibit some particular types of issues. As transactional website, it is important for people to be able to not only add items to their basket, but also know that they have done so, and then be able to manage their basket eg, update amounts, remove items and add items."

"With shopping websites, more even than other sites, it is easy for users to ‘vote with their feet’. If a site is inaccessible, chances are that a more accessible site is a few clicks away. The additional difficulties that some disabled people encounter navigating physical shops, mean online shopping has the potential to be a life saver for some, but it must be accessible!"

Any type of e-commerce website is a prime method of tapping into the purple pound; the disposable income of disabled people is 100s of billions of pounds. A more accessible website leads directly to more customer conversions.

Care about accessibility?

Would you like to know more about creating an accessible website? Check our blogs below or find out more about our accessibility services.

 

 

 

 

Building Better Bots: Can Next Gen Tech Make the World a Better Place?

Robin Christopherson MBE is a founding member of AbilityNetEvery day brings news of amazing new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, robotics and automation. It's the age of ambient computing and everyone’s world is about to change. In the build up to an AbilityNet event Brighton Digital Festival, Robin Christopherson, Head of Digital Inclusion at UK tech charity AbilityNet, asks whether the next generation of tech will make life better for disabled people.


A version of this post first appeared on the blog of Equal Experts, who are sponsoring Building Better Bots in Brighton.


We’re seeing a revolution in the power and capabilities of mainstream technology. Hardware costs are falling, software is becoming more intelligent, our phones, cars and washing machines have more and more computing power. We’ve moved way beyond the mobile revolution into the age of ‘ambient computing'.

Every day brings new stories about AI, bots and robots - from BBC stories about faking Obama’s mouth movements to DeepMind beating humans at Go and Honda using IBM Watson for its F1 IOT systems these are stories that pop up across everyone's news feeds.

What's a bot?

In this fast moving space the term Bot is used in various ways but in this case I'm referring to those digital tools or services that use these new capabilities – a piece of software that draws on the power of AI and the internet of things to create new functionality. Bots are linked to this next generation of tech in the way that Apps are now synonymous with mobile.

C The Signs uses advanced algorithms to help early diagnosis of cancerChatbots are increasingly common on websites, whether offering pre-qualification for insurance products or simply serving as glorified FAQs. We've had Siri for several years but I’ve been living with Alexa and my Amazon Echo Dot for almost a year and by my definition the Alexa skills I podcast about are also Bots

Services such as C The Signs uses a form of AI to help early diagnosis of cancer, we have apps and bots that use image recognition to help people with disabilities and the tech giants are competing to sell us the Bots that will control our homes. 

The world isn’t short of Bots, or people talking about AI, but why is it of interest to AbilityNet?

Using tech to make the world a better place

AbilityNet is a charity that helps disabled people use tech to achieve their goals at home, at work and in education – any disability, any age, any digital technology.

We started life in the 1990s, helping people like Prof Stephen Hawking use cutting edge tech such as voice recognition. Twenty years ago we spent most of our time talking about highly specialist and often very expensive technologies, that had to be carefully customised. These days we very often recommend mainstream technologies, and they’re usually built into the phone or PC in front of you. 

There are an estimated 12 million disabled people in the UK and the great lesson is that one size doesn’t fit all – there isn’t one app for blind people, or a piece of software that solves every problem for people with dyslexia. Every person has different needs, depending on the obstacles they face and the tasks they’re trying to complete.

So what does this next generation of technology offer disabled people?

A new kind of interface

Well the best place for me to start is voice controlled interfaces.

I am completely blind and even though I have learned touch typing I use the power of my voice everyday, from dictating emails and reports to asking Siri or Alexa to help with daily tasks such as checking train timetables. The speed and accuracy of the voice interface has improved at an incredible pace in recent years, it no longer needs extensive training and is built into phones, TVs and 101 other interfaces.

Or how about autonomous cars. Like most people who are blind or have physical disabilities I can’t wait to tap my phone and jump into a car whenever I fancy - free to go wherever I please.

So much potential...

Before I get carried away we need to sound a warning signal about the way that tech is built and the barriers we are likely to face in achieving this dream.

I’ve been involved in digital tech for over 20 years and as each wave of tech comes along we see almost as many barriers as we do opportunities. Whether that is websites that are not accessible, apps that can’t be used by disabled people or services that can’t be used by people with particular impairments, I know from bitter personal experience that it doesn’t happen by accident.

The good news is that we work with clients such as Barclays Bank, who are embracing inclusive design and building accessibility into every digital product and service. They recognise the moral case for better design but they also embrace it for commercial reasons – what will you do if millions of people with dyslexia prefer someone else’s Bot because they've designed it better than yours?

It's about people, not technology

But the people building the future bots need to work to agreed standards – the next version of the globally agreed Web Consortium Accessibility Guidelines, known as WCAG, will encompass mobile standards. But will they be relevant in the age of AI? How will we test a Bot – in all its various forms - for accessibility?

Will the law keep pace with changes in technology?More widely still, there are ethical and legal issues relating to disability. When will it be legal for a blind person to travel unaccompanied in an autonomous car? What about someone with a learning disability? At what level of impairment will the solo traveller be kept off the roads? Hopefully (and ethically) the answer will be “Never”

Similarly, we’re all worried about Bots taking our jobs, but how many employers will level the recruitment playing field for people with disabilities, when at the same time they may be using Bots to outstrip even their able-bodied counterparts? What will the law say when you may be able to choose between an exceptionally brainy Bot and a human for your next hire?

Our event in Brighton Digital Festival, sponsored by Equal Experts, is a chance to explore these questions. We want to engage with the humans who are building bots as well as some of the people who can benefit from them.

More information