Tech4Good and how new eye-gaze technology is changing the lives of children with life-limiting conditions

At the launch of the 2018 Tech4Good Awards on Monday 5 March at the BT Tower in London, we saw some amazing tech that’s changing lives for the better across the world.

The tech that caught my eye and my heart, however, focused on the ability to help desperately ill children control a computer with their eyes alone.

Previous winners with life-changing legacies

This is the 8th year of the Tech4Good Awards that celebrates the best of tech when it’s used to have a huge beneficial impact on people or the world. Every year the entries across a range of categories are among the very best examples of technology being used to include, innovate, empower and educate. In every case their products or projects have gone from strength to strength and are having an enormous impact upon people’s lives.

We heard from several previous winners. When Simone Enefer-Doy from Lifelites (a charity that brings empowering tech to terminally-ill children) spoke on stage it quite literally brought a lump to my throat and I was close to tears. More of Lifelites in a moment.

Also speaking on stage was Hector Minto. Senior Technology Evangelist at Microsoft. Hector spoke of the ever-more-comprehensive inclusion of historically specialist (and very expensive) technologies now freely incorporated into mainstream software and devices. A notable example is the new eye control capabilities now built-in to Windows 10.

Photo of Hector Minto, Microsoft
Hector Minto, Microsoft

Finally – affordable eye-control for paralysed children

If you’re not able to move your arms or legs, then by far the best and quickest way to control a computer is with ‘eye-gaze’ technology. Tracking your eye movements to control the mouse pointer and clicking by dwelling on an item is as quick as a mouse if the tech is good enough. If you also can’t speak, then entering text or selecting sentences on-screen using your eyes will mean you can speak with a computer voice at a speed fast enough to hold a comfortable conversation.

Photo of Simone Enefer-Doy from Lifelites
Simone Enefer-Doy, Lifelites, talking about life-changing eye-gaze technology

The Lifelites charity work with terminally ill (and often very disabled) children in hospices across the UK. They provide a wide range of software, equipment and adaptations so that in every case they open up a wealth of choices in entertainment, education and communication for these children in the last months and weeks of their lives.

Up until now, eye-tracking technology has been beyond their budget for many of those children who need it to play, learn and communicate. With the inclusion of sophisticated eye control built-in to Windows 10, however, and the now far more affordable eye-tracking bar from TOBII and options such as myGaze this life-changing tech can now be able to be provided to people who, without this, would not be able to do such basic and vital things as communicate with their families and play or work on a computer. This is where the lump came in.

Now help us find future winners with life-changing tech

Please help us find and recognize all those amazing projects, products and services that are using tech to change lives.

Entering the Tech4Good Awards is free of charge and we welcome you to nominate yourself or someone else. All the information you need is on the Tech4Good Awards website.

 

Using a computer after a brain injury

Between March 12 and 18,  it is brain awareness week.  The week is part of the global campaign to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research. This research is important to help people who have had any sort of brain injury.  Having a brain injury can cause many different issues but the use of a computer can certainly allievate some of these issues and make your day to day life that bit easier.Brain Awareness Week logo

What is a brain injury?

A brain injury happens when the brain gets damaged in some way, either by a traumatic occurrence, for examples a car accident, or the brain might be damaged by a stroke or an infection.

How many people in the UK have the condition?

According to Headway, the UK's leading charity for people with a brain injury,  there are one million people living with the long term effects of a brain injury the UK. (source:https://www.headway.org.uk/key-facts-and-statistics.aspx.)

How can computers help someone with a brain injury?

These commonly asked questions about having a brain injury illustrate some of the many ways of using a computer effectively.

I sometimes find it difficult to take my finger off the keyboard so I end up getting lots of characters. What can I do?

Firstly, it would be worth seeing if the keyboard you are currently using is the most effective one. You can also turn on a function called Filter Keys which is built into every new computer and basically slows down the keyboard repeat rate to your own specific needs. You can find some information on it within our website. (http://www.abilitynet.org.uk/mcmw/category/changing-keyboard-settings/) . There are lots of different keyboards to choose from so it should be fairly easy to find a keyboard that you can use easily.

Every computer, smartphone or tablet includes options for adapting the way the keyboard works. AbilityNet’s award-winning My Computer My Way provides information about all the main computer and smartphone systems,

Can I talk to my computer?

If your voice is clear then we’d advise trying out voice recognition. It’s built into all new computers that run Windows. For more details have a look at our easy to understand step by step instructions on My Computer,My Way.

We’ve also written an overview of how voice recognition can help you. If you do have literacy difficulties it might be a really good idea to get support in reading the text to the computer.

Sometimes I have difficulty with reading text. What can I do?

There are a number of free and cheap text to speech packages which will read text out to you.  We really like the text to speech package at: http://www.ivona.com/en/.

I find it really difficult to remember important appointments. Can a computer help me?

Using Google's Calendar application is just one way of making sure you never miss an inportant appointment again. It is free of charge and you can synchronise it between your smart phone/tablet and your desktop computer meaning that you always have your schedule at your fingertips.


Case study

 Emma rang us to say that her boyfriend Bob was having issues with reading text on emails and web pages as well as PDF files. We suggested Tim ought to consider the Natural Reader software. This means that he is able to read documents independently.  He can also use the software to help him when he’s responding to emails too.

How can we help?

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

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

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

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 voice recognition, keyboard alternatives and learning difficulties useful.

My Computer My Way. A list of free hints and tips that you can use to make your time on the computer that bit easier.

Education apps for the digital age

This is the first time in recent history where children work, play and learn entirely differently from their parents. Technology seems as important to many of them as air, food and water. Having more access to a wider range of people living and working in their own way via platforms such as YouTube and Instagram is inspiring young people to dream big. This generation is known as Generation Z, anyone born between 1995 and 2012.

13% of ‘Generation Z’ already have their own business

A row of hands holding smart phones

According to eCampus News, many students are taking an entrepreneurial approach to various areas of their lives including expressing their thoughts on curriculum and educational change. For those who haven’t started their own company (13% have already started one) it is said that 22% of them would like to start their own business, with most seeking a role that makes their hobby their job.

The love of technology and social media platforms could be creating a change in the way the brain works with a need for more instant gratification, altering how students may focus and their levels of productivity throughout their education.

One size does not fit all

It could be said we are seeing a new generation, the digital generation, of learners for who didactic learning experiences might not be effective. As we all know - one size does not fit all. Perhaps we need to look at the DNA of education, think differently about ability and embrace the benefits of group work, creativity and technology.

With more things vying for our attention these days we all may increasingly struggle to stay focused. With this in mind making steps to support students with attention impairments could translate directly to the needs of every student.

Education needs to be tailored to each individual’s needs and technology can allow this freedom - that’s where AbilityNet’s technology expertise can help.

The average attention span of ‘gen z’ learners is 8 seconds

According to research from Sparks & Honey, minds are developing to be able to process information at a much quicker pace than older generations that preceded them, with more things vying for our attention these days we all may increasingly struggle to stay focused. With this in mind making steps to support students with attention impairments could translate directly to the needs of every student.

Education needs to be tailored to each individual’s needs and technology can allow this freedom - - that’s where AbilityNet’s technology expertise can help.

“Everybody is a genius. If we judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” - Albert Einstein

Animated picture of Albert Einstein

So, how do we keep up with these evolutionary changes? Luckily, you’re looking in the right place…these learning tools already exist, it’s just knowing where to go to get them. Having championed these ideas with our AbilityNet expert, Adam Tweed, we’ve put together some of our top tips for supporting focus and concentration in education.

1. Clockwork tomato - Clockwork Tomato is a time management application, based on the brilliant ‘Pomodoro technique’, a method that boosts productivity by breaking down work periods into 25-minute slices, separated by short breaks. Great for keeping your mind focused on your tasks and not on that important coffee break.

2. Coffitivity – Do you work best with background noise? The Coffitivity app is a clever way to help you to be more productive with your work and it is such a simple idea. This app recreates ambient sounds to boost your creativity and help you work better.

3. Forest - This app creatively helps you stay away from your smartphone and stay focused on your work. You plant a seed and lock your phone and watch as the tree grows. If you use your phone the trees die (it’s ever so sad). Users can earn credits by not using their phone and plant real trees around the world!

Don't forget, if you are you working in Higher or Further Education we offer free advice and information to students and advisors. Why not learn more about these apps and keep your staff and students up to date with one of our ‘Interactive tech days for Education’. Find out more about these events here. 

Global Mobile Awards: Microsoft's Seeing AI app for blind people wins accessibility and inclusion prize

gloom awards logoMicrosoft's excellent iOS app for blind people and those with sight loss Seeing AI picked up the Accessibility and Inclusion prize at the Mobile World Congress 2018 Global Mobile Awards in Barcelona today.

For the last three I've years been a judge in the Best Use of Mobile for Accessibility & Inclusion category. It’s a very prestigious honour to win a GLOMO at the Mobile World Congress and Seeing AI is a worthy winner. Take a look at previous excellent winners, here

Seeing AI uses the smartphone camera to recognise and narrate the world to people with little or no vision. Functions include the ability to describe scenes (mentioning what furniture and other objects are around you), people (estimations of their age, gender, emotions and clothing etc) and text recognition (to take a letter or magazine and read out the text). These features represent enormous opportunities for blind people to get more information and support in their work or daily lives.

With a recent update to the app – bringing several new functions including light detection, colour and handwriting recognition - we recently put our appreciation for this excellent app on the table with an article: Microsoft Seeing AI - the best ever app for blind people just got even better.

Hector Minto, Microsoft senior tech evangelistHector Minto (pictured), Microsoft's senior technology evangelist (accessibility and assistive tech), told AbilityNet: “It’s fabulous for the Seeing AI app and its team to be recognised by the GLOMO Awards judging panel. Artificial Intelligence can and will be grabbed by the disability and accessibility world to design a whole new set of tools to level the playing field. I think Seeing AI will be the first of many apps to recognise the opportunity here. “

Useful links

Speaking of the future: Robin Christopherson at BDF Technology Taskforce

AbilityNet's Head of Digital Inclusion Robin Christopherson is a speaker and an expert panelist at the Business Disability Forum (BDF) Technology Taskforce event at KPMG, Canary Wharf tomorrow (Tues 27 Feb). Anyone familiar with Robin’s recent presentations across the UK and Europe will not be surprised to hear that he’ll be talking about the rapid rise of those ever-more-intelligent smartspeakers, such as the Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple’s new HomePod. Millions of these devices have now been sold around the world and Robin will be explaining the impact they will have for people with an impairment or disability. 

Business Disability Forum tech Taskforce takes place in London on 27 February

The event promises to be one of the best BDF Tech Taskforce line-ups yet. Other highlights include a speaker from the BBC talking about Autism from both a personal and professional perspective, as well as an IBM expert on their on-going development of Watson, their awesome Artificial Intelligence platform.

Related links:

Tech4Good Award Entries Open on 5 March

AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards LogoNominations for the 2018 AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards open at midday on Monday 5 March, following a launch event at BT Tower that will feature past winners and special guests from the technology and charity sectors. Awards organiser Mark Walker is looking forward to hearing more inspiring stories on the day.

UPDATE: watch our video from the 2018 AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards launch event:

Photo of Mark Walker, Head of Marketing and Communications at AbilityNet

“It’s a real privilege to be involved in these Awards,” Mark said, “and I’m very proud that we are now in our eighth year, celebrating the amazing people who are using tech to make the world a better place. The support from BT and our other partners and sponsors is wonderful and we have seen our network of past winners and finalists grow and flourish."

“We’ll be announcing new sponsors and partners at the Awards launch, as well as a new event to celebrate our winners. Entries will be open from midday on Monday 5 March and will close at 6pm on Tuesday 9 May. We’re expecting another bumper crop of entries and I know that all our judges are looking forward to the difficult task of selecting this year’s winners.”

The AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards recognise and celebrate the organisations and individuals that are using digital technology to improve the lives of others. These are the only awards to highlight the wealth of charities, businesses, volunteers and members of the general public that are harnessing the power of technology to make the world a better place.

You can visit the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards section of our website for more information about the awards and the 2017 winners or visit the official AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards website to stay up-to-date with the latest news about this year's Awards and for details of how to enter.

Photo of the winners from the 2017 AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards

Global Mobile Awards 2018: Will Turkey's accessibility efforts triumph again?

Since 2016 I have been fortunate to be a regular judge in the category of 'Best Use of Mobile for Accessibility & Inclusion' for the GloMos (Global Mobile Awards) at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) held in Barcelona. This year, 2018, the Mobile World Congress commences next week 26 Feb - 2 Mar, and as always I look forward to seeing the best advances in this space. 

Global Media Awards logoThe category I'm judging is described as an "award (that) recognises innovation in the vital development of mobile products, applications, services, devices and other initiatives and projects that enhance accessibility and inclusivity for billions of people afflicted with disabilities, both physical and mental impairments, as well as older users."

I'm not sure about the word 'afflicted', but nevertheless there's no mistaking MWC's commitment to this important area of mobile - an area which in reality impacts every user who squints at their screen, juggles their phone one-handed or endeavours to use an app whilst distracted by the busy environment around them. We’re all, in very real terms, disabled on a daily basis when it comes to using our mobile phones.

2017 Best Use of Mobile for Accessibility & Inclusion winner

In my three years of judging we've seen some exceptional entries from a wide selection of countries and continents. It would seem, however, that Turkey stands out in the number and quality of their mobile-focused inclusivity initiatives. In particular, Turkey's telecoms industry is a hotbed of competition with rival providers trying to outdo each other in helping their disabled customers. Oh I wish it were the same here in the UK.

Last year's overall winner in the accessibility and inclusion category was Turk Telekom (also known as Avea) for their Loud Steps app that assists visually-impaired and blind users with indoor mobility through the smart use of existing beacon technology. Here's a short video about the app:

Here's how they describe their entry, which uses inexpensive mainstream bluetooth beacons:

"The Loud Steps application, which is designed to enable visually impaired people to walk in indoor spaces without need for help, aims at supporting them to mingle in social life. Together with its technological infrastructure, the Loud Steps application features a first in the world, where it can be used by all visually impaired people independent of the operator. The application is planned to be used in public areas such as airports and hospitals. Until today, 15,000 people downloaded the Loud Steps application."

As well as Loud Steps, Turk Telekom has also produced a large number of products and services with a focus on accessibility – a really exceptional effort to assist disabled people across Turkey and further afield.

2016 winner Best Use of Mobile for Acessibility & Inclusion winner:

In 2016, rival Turkish telecoms company Turkcell won this category for their My Dream Companion app for blind movie-goers. Adding audio description (an additional spoken track that describes the action on-screen) for visually-impaired visitors, this app was previously recognised in 2014 Global Mobile Awards following its launch.

The application, which was developed by Turkcell and the Young Guru Academy, also provides access to current news, more than 100 columnists’ daily columns, thousands of audio-books, training programs, magazines, indoor navigation services and practical information including weather and exchange rates.girl at cinema wearing headphones and laughing at film

Amazon Echo wins Disruptive Device Innovation Awards

Last year’s winner of the ‘Disruptive Device Innovation Award’ was Amazon for the Amazon Echo. Did I ever mention that I have a daily podcast covering Alexa skills? We will definitely look back at 2017 as the year when smart voice assistants landed in many homes and hearts. For millions of disabled people they represent true utility, where so many other options are often far more effort and far less accessible.

The 2017 best overall mobile app (Judge’s Choice) went to Niantic Inc. for Pokémon Go - an honour that went to Google for Google Cardboard the previous year. These winners use augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) – both AR and VR being areas ripe with potential to assist those with a range of impairments and the subject of an article for another day – and there’s no question that we should watch this space very carefully in 2018.

One other notable winner – last year ‘Best use of mobile for travel, leisure & hospitality’ award went to what3words for 3 word addresses. What are three word addresses? Well I’m currently sitting at carry.sailor.shapes which is an exact 3m x 3m location. The whole world has been divided into such squares and an address which is easy to remember and so precise to locate that it is proving revolutionary in many parts of the globe where more conventional addresses are unusual or unusable.

If you’d like to find out what three word address you’re currently sitting in, why not use their world mapping website. What3words (and their accompanying app) were also recognised for this groundbreaking approach to addressing in AbilityNet’s Tech4Good Awards.

Robin Christopherson is head of digital inclusion at AbilityNet. You can see a full list of Robin's blogs, here

 

Raynaud's Awareness Month: How to work with cold fingers

With February statistically being the coldest month of the year it's no wonder Scleroderma and Raynaud's UK (SRUK) choose this month for Raynaud's Awareness Month. Raynaud's affects up to 10 million people in the UK yet SRUK's research (ComRes Poll of 2,000 general public in May 2016) reveals that only 4% of people are able to identify the symptoms of Raynaud's and only 10% of people on average who had Raynaud's symptoms would visit a GP.

person working at computer wearing gloves

If you have cold fingers and toes that change colour from very white, to blue/purple and then red, which go numb, tingly or cause pain, then it is advisable to get checked by a doctor. 

The condition can be triggered by a change in temperature, emotional changes, stress, hormones or using vibrating tools. Cold hands and tingling fingers can make it impossible to use a standard computer keyboard, so as well as making sure a workspace is warm enough, what other ways can technology help someone with Raynaud's?

Technolgy to help you work with Raynaud's

*Amy, who has Raynaud's and Systemic Scleroderma (SSc) along with Ehlers Danlos Type III (which is unconnected), told AbilityNet in 2016:

“Since I can remember I've always had hands that felt a bit 'dead'. I went to the doctors because I heard there were treatments for Raynaud's," she says.

“My employers have been a fantastic support and we have sat together and agreed adjustments to help me in my role - from little things, like ensuring I am seated away from draughts, to bigger things - like agreeing circumstances where I feel I need to work from home, where they provided me with equipment to do so."

How AbilityNet can help you work with Raynaud's

Mary Steiner, a former AbilityNet assessor in the Midlands, said the important thing is to keep the working environment warm, but there are some other adjustments that can be made to make life easier.

One thing to look at, she said, is using voice recognition software to dictate to the computer and minimise the need to type or use the mouse. However not everyone will want to do this, or find it practical in their situation, and there are other options.

“I saw a client who worked all day in a call centre and she found that gripping the mouse made things worse because it further reduced the circulation to her fingers.

"She was having to stop working for 10 or 20 minutes each time her fingers went numb until the feeling returned, so we recommended a flatter, larger mouse which didn't require as much grip.

“Another was a student whose fingers were sore and cracked because of Raynaud's, I recommended an ergonomic pen," says Mary.

She said these adjustments won't stop the symptoms happening, but it's sometimes about using a "mixture of little things which each help to improve the situation".

Raynaud's: A quick guide to helpful tools for working with cold fingers

AbilityNet assessors suggest the following could help those with Raynaud's work more easily (some products are available at the SRUK online shop)

  • A portable heater
  • Heated mouse
  • Heated gloves and socks
  • Self-insulating gloves and insoles
  • Silver fibre gloves (opposite) can work phones, tablets and your MAC/PC
  • Body warming products because keeping your core warm can help
  • Voice recognition software
  • Word prediction software
  • Light / soft touch keyboard
  • Ergonomic pens such as PenAgain (above)
  • Foam pen grips

Also check out the air conditioning, if it's problematic ask to be moved, turned up or wear additional clothing to ensure you stay warm, suggests the SRUK team.

Need help adapting your technology at home, work or college?

Call AbilityNet's free Helpline on: 0800 269 545.

Friendly, knowledgeable staff will discuss any kind of computer problem and do their best to come up with a solution.

Get help at work

Every employer must provide Reasonable Adjustments to accommodate the needs of employees. This could mean support to use the tools we've suggested, or changes to your duties when Raynaud's is affecting your work.

Use Clear Talents On Demand to let your manager know what would help you be more productive. It's free and confidential.

Get help at home

Do you need IT support at Home? AbilityNet At home volunteers can help people with disabilities deal with computer problems at home, either on the phone or in person.

Read more personal stories like Amy's from people living with Raynaud's.

If you would like to share your experiences of how your employer or colleagues help you manage your condition or have a question around the workplace, please email info@sruk.co.uk.

 

Why Apple’s problems with its HomePod smartspeaker may benefit disabled iPhone users everywhere

Apple’s new HomePod is less of a smartspeaker and more a great quality speaker, but I thinks its advent spells good news for disabled people everywhere.amazon echo

The smartspeakers sensation

Smartspeakers or ‘Home Assistants’ are here to stay - the best-selling item in the UK and US Amazon stores was the Amazon Echo Dot (pictured right), which has sold in the millions and is the home of Amazon’s popular artificial intelligence (AI) Alexa.

Less popular, but no less useful and entertaining, is the Google Home series. From the Google Home Mini to the huge Google Max, there is a Google equivalent speaker at a price and audio-quality to match Amazon’s range.

Some of these smartspeakers have screens but these are an incidental extra to an otherwise audio-only interface. You talk to your favourite home assistant and she (it’s usually a female voice) helpfully replies with the information, music or game of your choice.

Apple’s HomePod hits the scene

Coming very late to this party is the Apple HomePod (pictured right). Almost three years after Amazon created this category of tech, Apple has released a single model of smartspeaker which, due to its limited smarts at this time, is marketed as being a great speaker that can also do a very few home assistant-type activities.

Undoubtedly a beautiful product in both looks and sound, the HomePod at £329 is comparable in price to other high-end speakers that have built-in music streaming capabilities such as those from Sonos. However, the HomePod will inevitably be compared with other home assistants that have better AI capabilities. Even Sonos speakers which, until very recently, had no AI now have models that ship with Amazon’s Alexa built-in and for a comparable price.

Siri must now step up to the mark

The problem is that Siri, the AI built-into iPhones and iPads, has been falling behind in the smartness-stakes for some time. And the version that ships with the HomePod offers only a fraction of what Siri on your phone can do. 

When compared to Alexa or Google’s Assistant the HomePod looks fancy but doesn’t seem that clever. 

Apple HomePodDespite trying to focus on the quality of the sound, Apple is already suffering some poor press due to this obvious comparison with other products in this space. 

I’m sure they predicted this and I am equally sure that they are pulling out all the stops to improve the version of Siri that lives in the HomePod so that, within months, it will do all the basic features (such as being able to check your calendar) we’ve all come to expect from other Home Assistants.

The clock is well and truly ticking

Apple needs to ensure that Siri on the HomePod can do the basics, but it will also need to be extensible like its competitors. It needs the ability to add third-party utilities, games and features such as Echo’s ‘skills’ and Google Home’s ‘apps’. Apple says that there are no plans for a ‘skill store’, but it will have to happen for them to compete – and again sooner rather than later.

A smarter Siri is better for everyone

Siri is a handy helpmate when you want to find a fact, set a timer, quickly send a text or create an appointment. For iPhone users with disabilities, however, that ability to have AI assist you with tasks can knock whole minutes off the activity. As a result, some disabled smartphone users consider their AI-assistant as not just a nice option for doing daily tasks, but as a massive time-saving addition to the smarts of their phone.

In routine tests of Alexa and Siri, in which I ask each to give me even the simplest of information (such as “When did America gain its independence?”), the Alexa comes up trumps every time, while Siri falls back on a web search. This will have to change – and quickly. Now that the screenless HomePod is on sale and open to public scrutiny, the imperative for it to become smarter is all-important for Apple. 

The no-screen advantage

The fact that Alexa was developed in devices that did not have a screen means her abilities to give you information in a smart, conversational form has pushed the Alexa far ahead of Siri; who until now has only existed in devices that have a screen.

As I mentioned above, how many times have you asked Siri a seemingly straightforward question only for her to say “I’ve done a web search for that” and give you a number of search results – none of which immediately furnish you with the answer you were after. Alexa has never had the option of falling back on such a lazy response and, as a result, has now had many months of development that largely explains her huge popularity (that and the price). 

An AI race to be best is good for everyone, including disabled people

As Apple scrambles to improve Siri’s smartness in the screenless HomePod, the company must surely bring those improvements back into the iPhone and iPad. No longer will we be thrown out to a web search or have her say ”Hmmm, I’m not sure about that” – instead we should actually get us the answer we need.

Siri getting smarter will help everyone - but every disabled iPhone or iPad user will be doubly delighted. A race to be the best is just what we need to help these smart assistants be great at assisting those most in need.

Robin Christopherson is AbilityNet's head of digital inclusion 

Read related blogs

Alexa Vs Google Home vs Cortana: The battle to reach every user intensifies

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

Inaccessible websites keep disabled people out of work, AbilityNet tells government taskforce

AbilityNet has told the UK government that web accessibility, in particular making online job opportunities accessible, is essential if it wants to hit its target of one million more disabled people in employment in the next decade. AbilityNet was asked to give written and verbal input into the government’s Work & Pensions Select Committee’s Assistive Technology Inquiry at the end of January 2018. 

man at work in front of computer screen displaying the word inaccessible

In his written response, AbilityNet’s CEO Nigel Lewis, explained: “Much of recruitment is now online; the problem is that inaccessible websites and online application systems remain a big barrier for disabled people looking for a job. Over 90% of websites, for example, don’t even meet single-A compliance with the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) set by the World Wide Web consortium (W3C), whereas the legal minimum is AA (a higher standard than single A and lower than top compliance level AAA).”

Enforcing the law on accessible websites and apps

AbilityNet has previously called on government to enforce the legal requirement for websites and apps to be accessible in accordance with the 2010 Equality Act. In the US, it is becoming more common for companies to be sued for having inaccessible websites. Sadly the trend seems to be going the wrong way - as we recently reported 40% of local council websites are inaccessible to disabled people, an increase from last year's figure of 35%.

“We don't need new laws to help disabled people, but a high-profile shift to enforcement of existing legislation could have a significant impact on the landscape,” said CEO Lewis.

The Inquiry has been set up in light of the government’s commitment to remove barriers to employment for disabled people, following its research finding that one million disabled people are unemployed but want to work. 

Is assistive technology still needed?

AbilityNet’s head of digital inclusion Robin Christopherson (far right in photo) was also called to give evidence to the Inquiry on the 31 January, along with Hector Minto (pictured below in middle), senior technology evangelist at Microsoft. Discussions centred around the role of assistive technology in removing barriers to work for disabled people, and whether the government's Access to Work service is the most effective way of providing access to assistive technology. 

Tracey Johnson, Hector Minto and Robin Christopherson in ParliamentChristopherson told the inquiry that many of the latest smartphones and computers have built-in, free software to assist disabled users and that while assistive technology can be useful still, more education and awareness is needed around what standard devices can do for free using the newest software and artificial intelligence. He highlighted that information on making the most of technology for individual abilities and conditions was freely available on the My Computer My Way website

Inclusion maximises talent

The Select Committee asked Christopherson about Access to Work - a government scheme that provides workplace adaptations for disabled people who are already employed. He says that Access to Work only reaches 25,000 people in the UK - whereas millions are in need of adjustments. It also doesn't support job seekers in the same way as something like Clear Talents, a tool developed jointly with AbilityNet which gives employers and applicants tips and advice on simple changes which will support individual workplace requirements for everyone. 

Hector Minto, who works in accessibility and assistive tech for Microsoft told the Inquiry that Microsoft, Google and Apple, all have a disability answer desk to support people to make simple useful adaptations to their technology. However, he said this service is not being maximised. “We took 400,000 calls last year (on the Microsoft answer desk) yet most Access to Work suppliers are not using them.” The majority of the calls, he said, were from people working on US government and council communications and websites.

An Opinium survey of 4,000 people released in September 2017, commissioned by pan-disability charity Scope, found that when applying for jobs, half of applications result in an interview, compared with 69% for non-disabled applicants. It also found that on average disabled people apply for 60% more jobs than non-disabled people in their job search.

The Inquiry is still open for those who would like to give their opinion on disability, employment and assistive technology. See the link at the bottom of the blog to contribute to the Inquiry.

Related blogs

Read Robin's earlier blog on what he told the Inquiry: "It's important for individuals to be given a level playing-field"

Need help making your website accessible?

Speak to our accessibility team here.

Want to have your say on assitive technology and disability in the workplace?

The Inquiry is still open, here. 

* Assistive technology software advisor Tracey Johnson, who also gave evidence, is pictured on the left of the above photo