Top tips on hearing loss and computing

Copyright <a  data-cke-saved-href="http://www.dreamstime.com/amaviael_info">Monika href="http://www.dreamstime.com/amaviael_info">Monika Wisniewska</a> | <a  data-cke-saved-href="http://www.dreamstime.com/" href="http://www.dreamstime.com/" title="Stock Photos">Dreamstime.com</a>If you are one of the over 900,000 people with hearing loss in the UK there are some really useful functions built into technology. Here are some top tips.

Although I can’t hear very well my sight is fine.  Is there any way of having captions on the screen?

Yes, there is. You can turn on the captioning service which means that you will be able to understand more quickly what the device is doing. Both Android and Apple devices have this feature.

One useful feature is that you can change the font size and colour of the caption to make it more comfortable to follow.

I wear hearing aids. Can I connect these to my portable device?

If you have an Apple device you can connect your Bluetooth hearing aids to your device. This means that your hearing aid works in conjunction with your iPhone enabling you to have easier interaction with your device.

Can a smartphone help detect noises in my house?

Later versions of the Samsung Galaxy have a useful facility where the phone will vibrate if it hears the cry of a baby or the ring of a doorbell.  If you have a wearable device from Samsung it will also send a message to that too. It is no substitute for a baby sitter though. There are apps available from the Apple store, which do the same sort of job.

Case study: Using a Blutetooth hearing aid with your phoone

Ronnie called to see if we could help his partner Brenda out. She is hard of hearing and needed some help with connecting up her Bluetooth hearing aids up to her iPhone. 

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Dave, one of our IT Can Help volunteers went out to see them in their own home and managed to help Brenda. She is now more confident in using her iPhone because she can hear it more effectively.

How can AbilityNet help?

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

  • Call our free Helpline on 0800 269 545 and our friendly, knowledgeable staff will offer one-to-one help.
  • If you are in work your employer has a responsibility to make Reasonable Adjustments which include helping you with invisible illnesses. Find out more about how we help disabled in the workplace.
  • Arrange a home visit from one of our amazing AbilityNet ITCanHelp volunteers. They can come to your home, or help you over the phone.
  • We have a range of factsheets which talk in detail about technology that might help you, which can be downloaded for free. You may find our factsheets talking about voice recognition and keyboard alternatives useful.
  • My Computer My Way is our free interactive guide to all the accessibility features built into current desktops, laptops, tables and smartphones.

Award winners using technology to make the world a better place

The amazing people who use digital technology to improve the lives of others were recognised recently at the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards 2016 at BT Centre, London. Now in their sixth year, the awards are organised by AbilityNet and supported by BT and celebrate charities, businesses and volunteers from across the UK.

The panel of judges brings together experts from business, charity and the tech industry. They picked the winners for seven of the award categories and the pubic chose the People's Award winner.

Meet the winners

Nine-year-old Arnav Sharma was one of the big stars of the night.Arnav Sharma, age 9 He won the Tech4Good People’s Award for his AsthmaPi kit, which helps people with asthma to understand, diagnose and medicate for the condition. He was also a finalist in the BT Young Pioneer Award and topped the night by winning the audience vote for the Winner of Winners Award.

Arnav studied the causes, diagnosis and effect of asthma and came up with a unique solution: the AsthmaPi kit. Using hardware including Raspberry Pi and programmed using Python and C++, Arnav’s kit can help parents of children suffering from asthma and those not sure about the diagnosis of asthma.

Arnav said: “I love coding and this was my first attempt at creating something.  So, I am very happy to have won the Tech4 Good awards especially as all other finalists were so amazing. I also hope that winning the awards will help me make the Asthma Pi available for asthma sufferers to use!”

The AbilityNet Accessibility Award was won by Wayfindr, eWATERPay scooped the BT Young Pioneer Award and the BT MyDonate Fundraising Award went to Neighbourly.

SafetyNets/Ugly Mugs picked up the Community Impact Award, the Digital Health Award was claimed by MyWard and the Digital Skills Award went to BBC micro:bit and Maureen Johnston won the IT Volunteer of the Year Award.

AbilityNet’s Head of Digital Inclusion Robin Christopherson was honoured with the Tech4Good Special Award for his extensive experience in inspiring and educating people across the world.

Switching on Pokémon Go for disabled gamers

Pokémon hunters come in all shapes and sizes – including on wheels. Let’s look at how easy it is for them to catch the elusive critters using their preferred method, which is sometimes a single switch (See more on Switch Access software here). For those who have difficulty using a mouse and keyboard, a 'switch' can be used to work a computer instead. Switches come in various styles and can be activated by certain actions including pushing, pulling, pressing, blinking, squeezing, kicking, puffing down a tube or making a noise, for example. 

Catching nearby Pokémon single-handed – or no-handed!

Can wheelchair users or people with limited or no use of their arms catch Pokémon? Tecla, who provide excellent switch access systems, similar to that used by Prof Stephen Hawking, have given Pokémon Go a road-test, as you can see on this video.

Last week we wrote a post about the Eye Tribe Tracker technology that promises to open up affordable eye-gaze access to computers, smartphones and tablets. Eye-gaze tech is fantastic but still not as tried and tested as the trusty switch as used by Stephen Hawking and tens of thousands of others. The guys at Tecla - Komodo OpenLab, based in Toronto - have been exploring how easy it is for wheelchair users with spinal injuries or multiple sclerosis to to catch Pikachu, Charmander and friends using a single switch combined with their switch access software.

Catching Pokemon's inaccessibility

As you can see from the video, the Tecla controller installed on the users' wheelchairs allow control over iOS or Android devices paired via Bluetooth. A control unit switches the target for the Tecla controller between their wheelchair and the smartphone with which they are hunting Pokémon. It also works with single or dual switches, including those that respond to light touch and ‘sip-and-puff’ switches for users with less or no mobility in their hands.

The team behind Tecla first did some testing on the use of their system with Pokémon Go in late July, but since then they've been able to run an actual field test with the help of local Toronto Tecla users Neil and James. The result? Some freshly caught Pokémon (as you can see in the video) but not without some accessibility shortcomings. 

Is Pokémon Go playing fair with inclusivity?

It’s all very well to have a fantastic method of playing an app, but when that app has some flaws in the inclusive experience for disabled users, then it might still prove too much of a challenge for many.

In our article last week Pokémon Go or Not to Go we explore some of these accessibility issues. A recent article on the accessibility of Pokémon Go by the American Federation of the Blind explains how, with a bit of tweaking, even blind users like myself could catch ‘em all. We’ll update this article with any new improvements (or decline) in the accessibility of Pokémon Go, but now it’s time to stop reading this article and start rounding up those pesky critters however you can – and the very best of virtual luck.

Next-gen eye tracking is a game changer for disabled people

Coming to a computer or tablet near you soon, Eye Tribe Tracker technology promises to take gaming to a whole new level. It's a great innovation for every gamer but it could transform the lives of disabled people - and not just those who play games. It is compact, much less expensive than previous solutions and could soon be working with other accessibility options in every mainstream laptop, desktop and mobile device. So what does this new tech offer and how could it change the lives of disabled people?

Fingers off that gadget

Most of us use our fingers to control our computers, tablets and smartphones but there are many other ways of interacting with our gadgets.

You could try voice control (“Hey Siri, what’s my next appointment?”), hand or body gestures (using Microsoft’s Kinect for your Xbox or Leap Motion for your laptop) - and at AbilityNet we’ve assessed people who use their feet to operate a trackball or all ten toes to touchtype at 100 wpm.

Technology is all about choice and it has the power to transform the lives of people who need to do things a little differently.

Keeping an eye on my tech

Another very powerful way of controlling a computer is by eye-movement alone and this is the basis of the new tracker from Eye Tribe. As well as the gaming applications it's designed for this tech could take someone who has no other way of operating a computer or smartphone to a whole new level

At present people who have no body movement or speech and who are only able to move their eyes can control a computer by doing a definite blink (the software ignores the unconscious blinks we do all the time). That action can start a scan through the options and menu items in an application - or all the links in a web page. When the desired item is highlighted, another blink activates it.

Many operating systems already have this capability built-in, including Windows, macOS and iOS. You can use a suitable switch to write documents, send a text or use your favourite apps - whether it’s by monitoring your blinks or activated by a muscle twitch in your cheek, as used by Prof Stephen Hawking etc.

The trouble is that this method can be incredibly time-consuming – especially where there are dozens of items on a screen or you just miss the one you wanted.

The Eye Tribe Tracker to the rescue

Eye-tracking tech is nothing new. It's been available on the PC for nearly two decades (most notably the Tobii eye-tracker) but the specialist hardware and software has cost many thousands of pounds.

Despite this it has revolutionised the lives of people with no other effective method of controlling their computer. Compared to using a blink to scroll through options you can simply look at the item you want to be activated, let your eyes dwell on it for a preset period and it will be clicked.

Dwell control has been added to MacOSX

Just like with switch control, we are now seeing elements of eye-tracking being included in mainstream operating systems such as the new dwell support in the latest version of macOS. The trouble is that special hardware such as a headband or multiple camera system is still required.

But that’s about to change.

Putting eye-tracking within reach of tablets and smartphones

Until now the two main factors preventing eye-tracking tech from coming to mobile devices was the size and price.

The good news is that Eye Tribe technology is far more compact and vastly less expensive than solutions that have come before. It is portable enough to be used with your laptop or tablet, and we may soon see it incorporated into everyday devices, alongside the accessibility settings that currently include speech output for the blind or switch control for the motor impaired.

Eyetribe has made and SDK available to developers

As well as cost and size advantages the Eye Tribe also includes an SDK (software developer kit) which means app developers only need to use a few lines of code for their apps to receive a real-time stream of eye coordinates.

Users could operate their game completely hands-free or, even more crucially, users such as Prof Hawking can put aside his switch and go for the steely gaze instead.

Keep your eyes on the prize!

This is an exciting development in mainstream tech that could be big news for people with very specific accessibility needs. It may be that tech similar to Google’s Project Tango beats the Eye Tribe in bringing eye-tracking to the smartphone – or perhaps Apple, ever-leading in accessibility, will just quietly incorporate it into a future iPhone.

But whatever way it develops, keep your eyes firmly fixed on this space.

Top ten apps for visually impaired students

visual impairmant and sight loss affects millions of people in the UKStarting university is a leap into an independent and self-reliant way of life. For students who are blind or visually impaired, some forward-thinking is essential to ensure that you have the right tools to ease this transition. The good news is that modern technology and smartphones have helped to close the gap between disabled students and their peers, particularly in the form of apps. Here's our selection to get you started.

Several are free in their basic form, some cost a few pounds and one is a heavyweight option. And don't miss number 10 which is an app that lists accessible apps.

DON'T FORGET DSA: Any UK student in HE or FE with a visual impairment could be eligible for extra funding from Disabled Students Allowances, which may cover some of these costs and will also recommend other changes to make sure your education is accessible.

AccessNote on the iTunes store1. AccessNote (Free)

The American Foundation for the Blind launched the official iOS notetaker, AccessNote. It works in collaboration with VoiceOver to create a systematic, feature-rich note taking aid.

2. Dragon Dictation (Free) on iOS and Android

Dictate your message, adding punctuation verbally, and receive it on screen instantly. Your delivery options for this message include text, email, copy-and-paste, and social media websites.

3. Evernote (Free)

The Evernote app stores voice notes, photographs and text providing users with a medium to share them between multiple devices. Photographs are scanned for text using VoiceOver support.

4. Kindle app (Free)

The Kindle app allows people to download books from Amazon.com. Supportive features for those with visual impairment include large print, computer generated speech and human narrators.

5. Audible (Free trial then monthly fee)

The Audible app is available on both iPhone and Android devices, providing easy access to a huge selection of audio books including academic titles.

Talking scientific calculator as it appears on the iPad6. Talking Scientific Calculator iOS (£3.99) and Android (free)

The talking calculator has a range of voices to choose from and allows you to record your own voice. It works with VoiceOver for the blind, or has a high contrast options for those with limited sight. Features include large colourful buttons and the option to use speech for answers, button names and formulas. Button names are read aloud as your finger moves over the screen. Double tapping a button enters the number onscreen.

7. Google Translate (Free)

Google Translate transforms words and phrases users say aloud into a specified foreign language. This function is particularly useful to visually impaired students.

8. KNFB Reader App (£79.99)

This app is a financial commitment, but promises to be ‘fast, accurate and efficient’. It converts printed text into speech to enable access to both single and multiple page documents. It promises to work with ‘the touch of a single button’ and is facilitated by ‘a field of view report, automatic page detection, and tilt control.’

9. Alarmed: Reminders + Timers (iOS Free + paid for extras)

Fully accessible with VoiceOver, this app is an excellent tool for organisation. It includes a notes area with reminders, a repeating alarm feature, a snooze option and a multi-use timer. Advanced features for a small cost provide you with the ability to set interval timers for doing repetitive chores, which could be used to set revision breaks.

10. And finally... an app about accessible apps

The Braille Institute has launched an iOS app called ViA (Visually Impaired Apps), which identifies the Pad and iPhone compatible apps that are useful for those with impaired sight. It enables users to sift through the 500,000 plus apps in the App Store and highlights those that were built to provide functionality to people with limited or no vision

The winners of the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards 2016 are...

The winners of the sixth AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards were announced today at a glittering ceremony at BT Centre in London. The Awards celebrate the amazing people who use digital technology to make the world a better place and winners included charities, businesses and a team based within the NHS.

All the Tech4Good 2016 winners and judges on stage together

And the winners are...

Digital Health Award winner: MyWard

MyWard is an at-a-glance electronic control board that gives NHS staff a clear picture of their ward and patient care, improving services and saving admin time.

Digital Skills Award 2016: BBC micro:bit

Given to every first-year secondary school pupil in the UK, BBC micro:bit is a small code able device introducing a whole generation of young people to coding.

AbilityNet Accessibility Award 2016: Wayfindr

This not for profit open standard enables visually impaired people to use beacon technology to navigate the world independently, using a smartphone to get reliable audible directions in public spaces.

Community Impact Award 2016: SafetyNet/UglyMugs

The SafetyNet mobile app created by UglyMugs allows sex workers to alert one another anonymously about dangerous perpetrators of crime – and with their permission this information is also passed onto the police.

BT MyDonate Award 2016: Neighbourly

Neighbourly has made connecting businesses with charities simple through their single online platform, raising over £3.7m and 10,400 volunteer days, supporting over 1,500 projects.

BT Young Pioneer Award 2016: eWATERPay

Designed by a team of schoolchildren the eWATERPay system enables 800,000+ water pumps installed in African villages to be effectively monitored and maintained for the first time ever.

IT Volunteer of the Year 2016: Maureen Johnston

As full-time unpaid Director of Information Systems, Maureen has developed The Silver Line’s helpline and IT, communications and telephone systems, changing the way the entire organisation is run, and how it supports lonely older people.  

Shining a light on inspiring people

Nigel Lewis, CEO, AbilityNet said:

“It's wonderful to see the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards go from strength to strength. They shine a light on some truly inspiring people and help all of us make the most of technology for the good of others."

Kate Russell, celebrated author and award-winning blogger, the UK’s 13th most influential woman in IT and host of the awards said:

"There are a lot of big problems in this world and as well as some really interesting solutions to those, its fascinating to me how some of the smaller world problems that are important to this year’s winners are being tackled through technology innovations."

Mark Walker, Head of Marketing & Communications, AbilityNet said:

“The AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards exist to celebrate achievement, encourage sharing and inspire social good. We all learn from the people around us so it is a huge privilege to be connected with so many amazing people."

For more information on the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards visit: www.tech4goodawards.com

What happens during a DSA needs assessment?

Find AbilityNet's DSA Eligibility Checker here.

Disabled Students Allowances (DSAs) can provide additional support and funding to UK students in higher and further education. It is extra funding designed to ensure a level playing field for people with disabilities of all kinds and can be used to pay for specialist software, computer hardware and a range of study support and extra resources.

The funding comes from the Government and AbilityNet provides one part of the process - a one-to-one session with one of our assessors. They will identify your needs and prepare a report that recommends the extra support you need. But what happens at an assessment? And how should you prepare for it?

An assessment is not the first step in the DSA process. Some people will already have extra support at school or college and may have help with the DSA application process. However many others may not have applied for extra support before and will have to go through the application process from the start.

The DSA-QAG website provides full details about the process and links to relevant funding bodies.

DSA-QAG is the body that adminsiters the DSA funding

What support will work best for you?

Once you have applied and been told you are eligible for extra funding you will be told you need an assessment, using one of the many centres provided by businesses and charities around the UK.

AbilityNet is the largest not for profit provider of assessments - we have various centres and you can choose one that is near your home or your place of study.

You can use our website to submit your details and upload relevant documents and will then be given an appointment date, time and location. This is a quick process so there's no waiting aroudn and you can seak to our staff at any time if you have questions.

"It's just a chat"

Then comes the assessment. Some people will be concerned that it is a test of some kind - that they will have to prove their disability or be challenged to demonstrate how it affects them. The good news is that it’s basically a chat.

You have already been approved for funding and the assessors are there as independent experts, using their skills and knowledge to advise you on the best options and make recommendations to the funding body. So you will be in safe hands for the duration of the two-hour assessment.

They will explain the equipment and other resources available to you. You may be given the chance to test out some of the equipment. The assessor is not trying to catch you out, so don’t feel self-conscious or wary of being analysed.

Identifying the effect on your education

The assessor will take you through different aspects of higher education study and ask how your disabilities affect you in these areas. Some won’t be relevant to your disability but they will put the questions to you anyway as part of protocol. Once your particular issues have been identified and their severity gauged, the assessor will propose options that could benefit you, for you to choose from.

The categories include, but are not limited to:

  • Reading printed material
  • Producing written work like assignments and exams
  • Taking notes in lectures
  • Speaking such as using a phone, face to face or in groups
  • Hearing
  • Practical aspects of your course
  • Using the library
  • Communication and Social situations
  • Attendance (some people's disabilities may leave them too ill to attend college some days)
  • Work placements

As an example, for someone with dyslexia who struggles to take notes in lectures, a laptop might be offered. In a more acute case, a voice recorded or livescribe pen may be recommended.

They inform you of your options and suggest solutions to suit your needs, and you let them know whether you agree that their suggestions. You can mention if you’ve tried them before or if you have any concerns you would like to discuss.

Remember, the assessor will have already been through your medical evidence and will have an idea of what they are willing to offer, so you are not in a position of needing to persuade or convince them. With the previous example, you could ask for a human note taker instead of a voice recorder, but if your report demonstrates that this wouldn’t be necessary, the DSA may not approve it.

It's a positive experience

We have lots of positive feedback form our students but we also picked up lots of positive feedback from people in the Student Room forum about their DSA assessment (which may not have been with AbilityNet):

“It was a very positive and supportive experience. Probably the nicest part of the entire DSA process!”

“Mine [assessors] were lovely, she already had a sheet filled out with everything they thought would benefit me and what I ended up being recommended was very close to it bar a few things I turned down because I had tried them before and they hadn't worked out, such as a scribe in exams.”

“It was really useful and the assessor came up with some ideas that I otherwise wouldn't have had. For example, she suggested I get some hours of proofreading to ensure that my essays look nicely formatted as that's something I can't actually see.”

Once complete, the assessor will write up a report on your assessment to specify the support they have recommended. The funding body will then send you a letter confirming what the assessor has been able to secure for you.

Further information:

For those with a medical condition unsure of where to get the right evidence, the funding bodies have produced a ‘Disability Evidence Form’, which a GP can fill in with details of how your disability affects your study. These can be downloaded online and are often processed more easily than alternatives.

Check out our DSA Eligibility Checker here. 

Down's Syndrome and computing

Smiling boy with Down's syndromeDown's syndrome (also known as Down Syndrome) is a genetic condition that may often cause some level of learning disability and can include characteristic physical features. There are over 40,000 people of all ages in the UK with the condition.

Modern technology can be a big help for people with Down’s syndrome, and many already use modern information technology - in fact a 2015 survey found that 83% use a laptop or PC, 77% a tablet and 55% a smartphone. Smartphones and tablets provide apps that enable people to better orient themselves when travelling, to remember appointments, remind them to take their medicine or stay in permanent contact with their caregivers. All of which encourages greater independence.

Benefits for children

A number of benefits of computer-assisted learning for children with Down’s syndrome have been suggested by a variety of authors.

  • Improving motivation: The learning experience is enhanced with pictures, sounds and animation which may increase a child's interest and attention
  • Multi-sensory experience: Computers provide both visual and auditory input. Children with Down’s syndrome are 'visual learners'. ICT is particularly well suited to this learning style
  • Non-verbal mode of response: Children are able to give non-verbal responses, enabling them to demonstrate their understanding without having to produce a spoken response, which may be particularly difficult for them due to troubles with articulation, word finding and intelligibility
  • Being in control: Children begin to understand that they can have an effect on their surroundings through 'cause and effect' software; this sense of being in control develops further as children start to use familiar programs unassisted; self-esteem develops as they become more independent in their learning and presentation improves
  • Immediate feedback: Children are rewarded for their successes immediately, e.g. with pictures, sound effects or music, or prompted if they need to try again
  • Errorless learning: Software can be designed in such a way that the child is supported in order to achieve repeated success
  • Opportunities for practice: Children with Down’s syndrome need much more practice to acquire new skills and ICT can provide as many opportunities as necessary to repeat the same objective in exactly the same way
  • Self-paced learning: The child is able to proceed as fast or as slow as he or she wishes; the computer will 'wait' for the child to respond without prompting them before they have had time to fully process the information and construct their response

Ergonomic equipment changes

Most people with Down’s syndrome are able to use the keyboard and mouse with practice. However, first-time users may benefit from adapted keyboards, touch screens, and overlays. Lower case stickers for the keyboard are available for children unfamiliar with capital letters.

For more information on adapting your computer use My Computer My Way, AbilityNet's interactive guide to all the many ways you can change settings in your computer, tablet or smartphone.

Software

Mind mapping software, such as Freemind or Inspiration, is useful for making notes on content that you want to include in your work. You can also get software to speak text out for you.

One of the ways that people who have Down’s syndrome communicate is via Makaton which is a sign language vocabulary. There are Makaton-based apps which will run on an iPad, although please note this is not free.

Education

Single task software is great for error free learning; simple matching exercises; simple puzzle programmes; simple sequencing. Early year’s games software using song and rhyme is very popular with children with Down’s syndrome and plenty of opportunities for these types of activity are available in Flash. The hugely popular Interactive Visual Timetable software and Talking and Listening begins to explore the use of the recorded voice to aid with productive language skills and enunciation.

Speech intelligibility is usually a difficulty for children with Down’s and hearing impairment is common. A great deal of evidence suggests that 'teaching reading to teach talking' is possibly the most important intervention to support speech and language development.

The Reading and Language Intervention for Children with Down’s Syndrome (RLI) is an evidence-based programme designed to teach key reading and language skills to children with Down’s syndrome. It follows a prescribed framework within which content and teaching are tailored to meet individual needs. (http://www.dseinternational.org/en-gb/resources/teaching/rli/).

Spell checkers should be used with caution as they can not pick up an incorrect spelling if it is in fact a real word. Inclusive Writer and Writing with Symbols, which are examples of talking word processors, offer an imaginative solution; spellings have pictures to help the user to access the specific spelling that they need.

Case study: Michael builds his computing skills

Michael (16) has Down’s syndrome and a moderate learning disability. When Michael was 10, his school purchased a BBC computer for each classroom. He began to have successful interactions with the computer using the space bar, return key and arrows keys to manipulate cause effect programs as well as pre-literacy and pre-numeracy programs. When his classroom got a stand alone PC, Michael was exposed to a variety of more interactive software which used colour, graphics, animation and sound.

At 16, Michael has now a variety of skills using computer technology. He can access whatever CD-ROM software he wants to use and can open and shut down the computer successfully. He can type his name and address proficiently. His teacher has inputted vocabulary to the Clicker Plus grid – a supportive writing and multimedia tool which allows him to write and print his daily news. Using the program he can also access other vocabulary which has been inputted and he can create and produce simple stories.

Five Top Tips to Make Your Website More Accessible

By Joe Chidzik, senior accessibility consultant at AbilityNet

Accessibility can be a daunting topic if you’re just finding out about it. But there’s a lot you can do that is pretty simple. These five tips will make your site slicker and better to use for a wider audience and will help you meet your obligations under the Equality Act 2010.

Accessible sites work better for everyone1. Hide your mouse to check keyboard accessibility

Making your site accessible without using a mouse is a legal requirement, and something that will benefit many of your visitors. People with little vision rely on keyboard access as they cannot easily see the mouse cursor on the screen. Sighted users with motor difficulties such Parkinson’s or a stroke can find keyboard access simpler as well.

Just by hiding your mouse and trying to access your site and all its options with only a keyboard can show how you're doing and how to improve this. In particular, make sure that a visible focus indicator is always present (preferably a highly visible one), ie, so it is very obvious where your mouse or cursor is at any given time. Also make sure that there is a logical focus order around the page, ie that the page is set up in a way that doesn't mean screenreaders or other technology jump all over the page and don't make sense to all users.

2. Avoid poor contrast

Everyone finds low contrast text difficult to read, particularly people with low vision. Use a contrast checking tool such as Tanaguru's Contrast Finder, this allows you to enter two different colours and check the contrast between them. It can also suggest alternatives if the colours have insufficient contrast. Alternatively, a colour picker tool like the Contrast Analyser from the Paciello Group will help.

Hint: Trust your eyes too - it can be simple to spot offending text colours by eye, and then just verify them with the tool. This is best used early in the design process, so that issues can be addressed before the site goes live.

3. Do a free accessibility check

The organisation WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind) provides a free, automated, online checker here. This can give you quick feedback on some more technical issues on your website eg, if forms are correctly marked up with labels. This is great way to highlight issues during the development process. Be aware that any automated testing can only cover a small subset of all possible accessibility issues. However it is a valuable technique when used alongside manual testing.

4. Provide an accessibility page

An accessibility page is often an opportunity for organisations to state what measures they have taken to make their site accessible. You can also use this page to let people get in touch with any difficulties they experience while using your site. See AbilityNet's accessibility page for an example.

Getting feedback from people visiting your site is very valuable. By making it easier for users to feedback to you directly, you will benefit greatly by both demonstrating your commitment to improving your site, and being able to respond to individual issues as they arise.

5. Content is king: know your audience

People come to websites to find information, or to carry out an action. It makes sense to make this process as easy as possible for people. Know your expected audience, and write copy accordingly. Using financial jargon may be fine for visitors with a financial background, but other users may miss out. Good practise is to avoid jargon, or if it is necessary, provide a glossary.

Make use of headings, paragraphs and bulleted lists to break text up into meaningful sections. Make one key point per paragraph. Use different methods to convey information. Some users will prefer to read content, others will benefit from a video, others prefer a simplified, or illustrated guide.

For more information on AbilityNet's user testing with disabled people, click here.

Motor Neurone Disease (MND) and Computing

Motor Neurone Disease is also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease (after an American baseball player). It affects the muscles in your body causing them to be weak.  There is no known cure for this condition, but symptoms can be managed to help people to achieve the best possible quality of life.  This blog has been written to coincide with MND Awareness Month which runs throughout June.

Professor Stephen Hawking

According to the MND Association there are 5000 people with the condition in the UK. (Source: MND Association). The causes aren’t really understood but it may be something to do with chemicals and structures in the motor nerves.

The effects include difficulty speaking and movement; eating and swallowing are also affected and eventually the muscles that assist breathing fail. There are different types of the condition. Famous people with the condition include Professor Stephen Hawking.

FAQs about MND and computing

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

I sometimes find it hard to use the standard mouse. What can I do?

There are lots of different mouse alternatives available, including rollerballs and joysticks. Take a look at our factsheet about mouse alternatives to work out which one may be best for you.  If you have issues with “clicking” the mouse button you can download some free software which means you don’t have to do any clicking whatsoever.

You can also check My Computer My Way to see if changing the way the mouse pointer moves might help!

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 Windows and Apple computers as well as most tablets and smartphones.

For more details have a look at our easy to understand step by step instructions on My Computer My Computer.

We’ve also written a factsheet about voice recognition that offers advice about various options.

Some times you might find that your voice changes throughout the day. We’d recommend that you have a couple of different voice profiles. So for example you might have a “Morning voice” profile and an “Afternoon voice” profile.

Sometimes I have difficulty reaching all the keys on the keyboard. What can I do?

A lot of people like to use keyboards that don’t have the number pad on the right hand side. This means the keyboards are a lot smaller than normal ones. They are called “compact” keyboards.

A keyguard might also be useful. This will stop you from hitting two keys at once!  As the condition progresses it might be worth exploring other input options like switches.

There are lots of different keyboards available – take a look at our factsheet on keyboard alternatives to learn more about your options. 

Case study

Ben called us on behalf of his uncle Terry. Terry has had MND for a year and is now starting to find it difficult to use the mouse. We had a chat to Terry and have suggested some alternatives to the standard mouse such as a rollerball. We’ve also suggested installing some software which will do automatic “clicking”.  We have identified some retailers that have a “try before you buy” policy. We have also suggested that one of our IT Can Help volunteers might come to her house and help with installation of equipment.

More help from AbilityNet

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 

Our expert factsheets talk in detail about technology that might help you and can be downloaded for free. You may find our factsheets talking about voice recognition and keyboard alternatives useful.

My Computer My Way

Our free guide to all the accessibility features built into every computer, laptop, tablet and smartphone. We show you the adjustments that can make your time on the computer that bit easier.