2015: The Year That Wearables Start Transforming Lives?

It can be hard keeping up with the constant stream of new gadgets and wearables that make life easier or more productive, such as Nike Fitbit Flex or Microsoft Band. And with the imminent release of the Apple Watch it's set to be the year of the wearables. But what will that mean for people with disabilities?

Microsoft BandWhat are Wearables?

Wearables come with a range of sensors. Some can monitor the number of steps you walk in a day, measure your heartbeat and quality of sleep and in some cases even your blood pressure and sugar levels. Often the goals we set ourselves are ‘gamified’ to pit us against our friends or strangers to see who can walk furthest or burn the most calories.

This is technology at its best – both encouraging us to change our lives for the better and giving us the information we need to make those crucial healthier lifestyle choices.

Here Comes the Apple Watch

Despite the proliferation of wearable technology now available, geeks and non-geeks alike are hotly anticipating the imminent arrival of the Apple Watch. It’s due to hit the shops in the next couple of months and has real potential to transform the lives of disabled people.

Like its counterparts the Apple Watch will provide a wearable device that can be always with you, always on (battery permitting) and always connected. Just like the advent of the first mobile phones, it’s hard to predict at this stage how popular the Apple Watch or ‘smart watches’ will be but, if smartphones are any indication at all, we’ll probably all be wearing something similar in a few years time.

Apple Watch is released in March 2015Accessibility built in

One thing we do know at this point is that, like every other Apple product, the Apple Watch will be packed with accessibility. From Zoom (magnification for those with impaired vision) to VoiceOver (speech output for blind users) to haptic feedback for those with hearing loss, the Apple Watch will uniquely provide access to this rich new area of data collection and presentation like no other wearable has to date.

What consumers get with Apple devices is an ‘eco-system’ of products that interconnect with each other. It doesn’t really matter what device you are using, Apple devices share information, data and settings.

Thinking of software and technology as an eco-system is a relatively new concept for those outside the tech world; and whilst it's not just Apple designing their products this way, it's currently only Apple that are truly including people who need a bit of help with accessibility.

Eco-systems and information hubs

A technology eco-system offers us a whole new way to input data into a personal ‘information hub’. And that hub could be accessed on your phone, your desktop, tablet or your wrist. Then, the information you’ve inputted might even be stored in the cloud and shared with health professionals and others depending on your needs. Imagine if you could share your latest blood pressure readings with your GP without having to book an appointment or even remembering that you have to take it. And people with disabilities are among those who would benefit most.

This year will see an escalation in such devices and their rival ecosystems vying for our attention, driven in no small part by the expected popularity of the Apple Watch. The technology is becoming much more familiar, people are beginning to get used to the idea of wearable, interactive technology and are looking to technology to solve some of the problems of modern life.

Watches that talk to your fridge...

Hand-in-hand with wearables will come a rapid extension of smart devices into the home. People can already connect to and interact with a vast array of ‘things’ from the TV to the home security and lighting system. Some refrigerators can even tell you the calorific content of the food you’ve chosen, let you know when you’ve run out of milk or if you need to buy more green vegetables.

Imagine if your fridge was connected to the pedometer in your watch, it might even let you enjoy a piece of cheesecake if you’ve completed the right number of steps for the day. Now imagine if your cooker could talk to you and tell you when it had reached the correct temperature, it might prevent a blind person from burning their dinner. Imagine if the spy-hole in your front door had face-recognition technology built in, how helpful that would be for someone with dementia who lives alone?

Smarter tech can transform lives

Personalised technology eco-systems will soon be able to support some of the most complex needs in our society and, with rapid uptake of such technology in the mainstream, specialist solutions will become more affordable than ever before.

For disabled and older people the smart home will deliver greater choice, control, piece of mind and independence. Technology will continue to rapidly change and diversify, and at the same time will continue to help change lives for the better. 

Free webinars about disability in the workplace

AbilityNet has launched a series of free webinars for employers, HR professionals and employees to understand how technology can help disabled people in the workplace. The sessions will be led by AbilityNet's workplace assessors and will focus on some of the most common problems they encounter in the workplace including workstation ergonomics, RSI, visual impairment and how to control your computer using your voice.

Each session will explain the reasonable adjustments that are recommended to meet the needs of the employee and ensure compliance with legal standards and best practice.

The monthly webinars are not technical sessions. They are designed to raise awareness amongst HR professionals and other non-technical staff of some of the issues that disabled people face in the workplace and some of the options which could meet their needs. Building better understanding amongst key HR staff is an important way of ensuring that disabled people get the support they need to be effective in the workplace and encourage diversity, as well as reducing the risk of claims of discrimination.

Robin Christopherson, Head of Digital Inclusion at AbilityNet said:

“Very often the technology to support a disabled person is already available in the workplace, but more support is needed for the employee to identify how it can be used, and training is needed to ensure it is being used effectively.

“It’s vital that HR professionals understand what’s already available in terms of technology and training. Many of the reasonable adjustments for disabled employees can be no-cost or low-cost if you know where to look.”

AbilityNet Workplace Webinars, Feb-July 2015

  • HR Update: Workstation ergonomics for a safer, more effective workplace
    Tue, Feb 10, 1:00 PM - 2:00 PM GMT 

Find out more at www.abilitynet.org.uk/webinars/workplace 


Parliamentary showcase of accessible technology

MPs and others in parliament had the opportunity to learn more about how technology can help disabled people. At a showcase event in Parliament’s Portcullis House on Tuesday 20 January there was cross-party interest in accessible technology from MPs and Peers. The event was organised by the recently launched Digital Accessibility Alliance, which AbilityNet supports, and was sponsored by Helen Goodman MP and Kate Green MP, Shadow Ministers for Work and Pensions.

Andrew Brigden MP and Robin ChristophersonAbilityNet’s Head of Digital Inclusion Robin Christopherson was on hand to show parliamentarians how everyday smartphone apps can help a blind or visually impaired person. Neil Cottrell and Abi James of British Dyslexia Association demonstrated a selection of specialist software for people with dyslexia and Lorna Stephenson showcased BT’s innovative text relay systems for people with a hearing impairment.

Robin Christopherson said:

“Acccessible and inclusive technology is now all around us thanks to the advent of smartphones and tablets. It’s so much easier for disabled people to customise a device so it works for them, without necessarily having to use specialist equipment. One of the main problems we face is letting people know what apps are available for them.”

As well as showing some of the latest innovations in accessible technology, the event was also about highlighting the importance of digital inclusion policies ahead of the next election.

Nigel Lewis, AbilityNet chief executive said:

“We help disabled people every day but we know that many people do not understand how modern technology can help overcome barriers. By showing Parliamentarians what solutions are available we’re hoping to build a cross-party consensus on the need for digital access and inclusion.”

Parliamentary interest in assistive technology is growing; the All Party Parliamentary Disability Group (APPDG) is currently planning a day-long exhibition of assistive technology in the Palace of Westminster in March and has invited members of the British Assistive Technology Association (BATA) to exhibit.

AbilityNet helps create new Accessibility Alliance

AbilityNet is a founding member of the the newly formed Digital Accessibility Alliance, which brings together the previous eAccessibility Forum and the One Voice for Accessible ICT Coalition. Its role is to encourage compliance with relevant legislation, promote universal access to digital services for older people and those with disabilities and generate and promote good practice in delivering eInclusion.

The new Alliance was announced by the UK Government in December 2014 and brings together key players from government departments, regulators, local government, business and the not for profit sector. AbilityNet's CEO Nigel Lewis has been a leading member of the One Voice Coalition and has played a very active part in the development of the Alliance. He said:

"The new Digital Accessibility Alliance has the opportunity to make a real impact by bringing this critical topic into the mainstream instead of being left as an afterthought. Only by working together can we make digital inclusion a reality and help to transform the lives of disabled and elderly people everywhere."

RNIB Chair Kevin Carey will chair the new AllianceThe Digital Accessibility Alliance will be chaired by Kevin Carey (pictured), who is also Chair of the RNIB. He said:

“After nearly 20 years of working in the accessibility field, we need to change with technology. We need an agenda to move forward and not play catch up. I look forward to chairing the Alliance to make a positive impact on the lives of disabled and older people.”

Culture and the Digital Economy Minister Ed Vaizey said:

“The explosion of digital services provides endless opportunities for all – but the Government is all too aware that disabled and older people can often unintentionally be left behind. By bringing together the various parties, through the Alliance, we can work together to address any issues and make a difference.”

The Alliance is open to all those with a publicly declared commitment to its aims and objectives, including, (but not limited to), government departments, regulators, local government, business, universities and academia and the not-for- profit sector. It will meet regularly to provide updates on progress and further suggestions to the Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy.

The Alliance will continue the work of the eAccessibility Forum, which worked to ensure accessibility, affordability and equal participating for disabled users in the digital economy. It will also build upon the work of the OneVoice for Accessible ICT Coalition.

IT Professionals Support AbilityNet

The Information Technologists company has donated £3,000 to support AbilityNet’s work. Also known as the Worshipful Company of IT professionals it is one of the City’s Livery Companies, whose 800 members are leading professionals from all segments of the IT sector – entrepreneurs, industry and government leaders, company directors, software engineers, project directors, games industry leaders, embedded software experts, academic pioneers and many more.

AbilityNet Trustee Nishita Sharma receives a large cheque from Mr Alan O'Connor who is Beadle for the Worshipful CompanyThe Company carries out a range of charitable activities and has supported AbilityNet for many years. AbilityNet Trustee Nisha Sharma was on hand to receive the money at a recent event, and is shown receiving a cheque from Mr Alan O'Connor who is Beadle at the Company.

AbilityNet CEO Nigel Lewis said:

“The Worshipful Company is a longstanding and generous supporter of AbilityNet - this donation will help pay for the free advice and support we offer to disabled people through our iT4Communities programme”

The Company has also confirmed support for the Tech4Good Awards that AbilityNet runs with BT.

So you've got a new device for Christmas... now what?

So what did Father Christmas bring you? Socks and underwear or toiletries? Or perhaps you've been very good in 2014 and he brought you a nice shiny laptop or tablet computer or an iPod? So you eagerly unwrapped it, plugged it in and tDid Father Christmas bring you and ipad?hen had the awful realisation that you're not quite sure what to do next... Well don't worry - here's our quick guide to the computer training and support that's out there for disabled people.

There's an assumption that as we're living in a 'switched on' age that everyone just instinctively knows what to do. Unfortunately it's not always that easy to work things out for yourself. Sometimes you just need just a bit of support. Thankfully there are lots of organisations that can help you become a bit more IT savvy.

Local help

If you are mobile and able to travel short distances you can attend either a Learn Direct centre or perhaps an Adult Education course. Not only is this a good way to learn but you can meet new people too.

Organisations like Age UK have silver surfers clubs where you can get computer training as well as tea and biscuits too and a warm welcome. Other community groups will also have specialist sessions so try asking amongst friends or family, or give your local council a call.

What about help at home?

AbilityNet IT Support at Home

Learning how to use a computer isn't just a case of attending a training course - sometimes you need someone to sit with you to make sure everything is working properly and help you feel more confident. It's no use having lots of lessons if your broadband isn't working, or if you have loads of viruses.

AbilityNet's IT Can Help volunteers can make sure everything's running smoothly, as well as helping you access online training via the Tinder Foundation's Learn My Way site. We have a network of really friendly Disclosure-checked volunteers across the UK who can visit you at home or help out remotely - and if there isn't a  volunteer in your particular area we can usually find a volunteer from another organisation to come and help you get the best from your new technology.

Just use our website to request our help. Or call our free Helpline on 0800 269 545.

There are a few other sources of support and training too!

  •  U Can Do It logoUcandoit can offer you 12 sessions of computer training for a nominal amount of money.  They have coverage in many different areas of the UK.
  • Alison.com is an online training resource which might be worth looking at if you have some basic web skills and just wanting to enhance them.
  • Sometimes it's easier to do something by watching it and there are thousands of tutorial videos on YouTube. Just search using the question you want to know the answer to, such as 'How do I set up Facebook?'

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.

My Computer My Way. A free interactive guide to all the accessibility features built into current desktops, laptops, tables and smartphones.

Christmas gift ideas from AbilityNet

Christmas is fast approaching and although I'm smug and can say (for once!) that I've done nearly all my Christmas shopping there are probably people out there who have no idea what to get their nearest and dearest. If you're getting them an electronic device like a smartphone or an e-book reader you will want to make sure it has lot of accessibility setting that you can alter. So here are some ideas.

Everyone likes books don't they? What could be better then sitting on the sofa after Christmas dinner and starting to read the new blockbuster. Lots of people now like to use e-book readers as they are more compact then actual books and provide some really good accessibility settings too.

Adjust your settings

Here are a couple of links to configuring your e-book reader:

There are lots of cheap tablets out there. If you are on a budget the Hudl2 from Tesco looks really good and because it is Android based there are thousands of different apps you can download. Accessibility is improved on the latest version of  the Android operating system which is called Lollipop.

If you have a bit more money you can buy one of the many Apple devices. Apple pride themselves on their accessibility options and there are lots of different ways you can customise your Apple device. Magnification and voice over are two of many features that are built into Apple products to make them accessible to all.

Although Android and Apple are most common systems that people use on their tablets, Windows 8 is the operating system that is bundled with most computers and there are some good accessibility features available.

Give us a call

If you do get an electronic device for Christmas and you are struggling with it you can always give us a call on 0800 269 545 after the 5th January and we'll organise a volunteer to come out and help you.

Three lessons from Barclays about winning the business case for accessibility

Paul Smyth is Head of IT Accessibility at Barclays

Paul Smyth is Head of IT Accessibility at Barclays and has been a leading advocate of greater focus on the needs of customers with disabilities for many years.

In a recent AbilityNet webinar he described the journey they’re taking in putting accessibility at the heart of their business strategy, including three key things he would recommend to others embarking on the same process.

Making the business case

So, firstly, why has Barclays decided to commit to digital accessibility?

There are three reasons, with the primary reason being that it makes good business sense. As Ashok Vaswani, CEO of Personal & Corporate Banking, says:

“This isn’t CSR… it’s fundamental to our business model”.

Barclays logo

With disabled people, older people and their households estimated to have disposable income of more than £500bn in the UK alone, there is clear commercial value in focusing on the needs of these customers. There is a competitive advantage in being ahead of the pack in meeting their needs as well as broader benefits from making services easier for all customers.

Secondly, it also aligns with Barclays’ own values and a moral and social imperative to respond to people’s needs and help them achieve their ambitions in the right way.

And finally, there is a legal obligation to meet relevant requirements and, by doing so, it reduces the risk of expensive litigation.

Three key lessons about winning the business case

1. Senior executive buy-in is essential if you are to achieve your goals – but having a CEO of a major corporate make this sort of commitment doesn’t happen overnight. After a lot of internal advocacy, Paul points to an event called 'Living In Our Customers World’ as a key breakthrough moment.

“With the invitation issued from the very top, this was attended by our senior business leaders who were joined by a cross section of disabled people. As well as hearing about their experiences, we used a variety of disability simulation kit to bring the issues to life and deepen empathy –  winning hearts and minds in the process.

“There is no doubt this was the most significant milestone in our journey and was much more effective than trying to win the usual stuffy logical/rational business case argument. People left the room with a very personal insight into the challenges that our customers face, and were much more motivated to use their influence and resources to deliver strategic and operational change.”

2. Secondly, it’s a team effort.

To achieve success, you have to have a cross-departmental approach to tackling the whole accessibility agenda. Addressing the technological barriers faced by disabled and older customers is not solely an IT issue to fix, but rather requires a co-ordinated effort including HR, Marketing, Sourcing, Change teams and the wider business.

3. And, finally, be clear on your commitment and the resources you need to achieve it.

Making a public statement of intent with regards to Barclays’ ambition to become the most accessible ‘Go-To’ bank demonstrated that the organisation is serious and committed. We’ve started on this journey, but we will need to continuously seek feedback from and consult with disabled people in order to understand their needs and to keep us on track. Partnering with disability charities, external experts and our internal colleagues is playing a major role in improving our accessible services and support.

Barclays high visibility bank cards are proving popular with all its customersReal business benefits

Barclays has already seen several tangible business benefits from adopting this strategy, including the introduction of award-winning talking cash machines, hi-visibility debit cards and advances in using voice biometrics for telephone banking security. The latter is an alternative to traditional password and PIN-based systems which are a barrier for many disabled and older customers, but also has the potential to increase ease of access to services for every customer.

This final example is typical of what Paul sees as the next stage of the journey:

“Rather than thinking about what extra accessibility projects we can deliver to improve banking for disabled and older customers, we need to embed an accessibility mindset into the entire organisation and into everything we change and build. If we can achieve this, then it will lead to greater innovation and greater customer-centered service.”

View a recording of the AbilityNet webinar featuring Paul from October 2014

What every HR professional needs to know about reasonable adjustments

Employers have a legal obligation to provide effective reasonable adjustments in recruitment and at work. This is not only the law, it is good practice. It maximises employee potential and provides an inclusive employment experience. HR professionals need to understand the current law about reasonable adjustments and how best to identify and implement the support required by disabled colleagues.

FREE webinar: 1.00-1.30pm, Tuesday 14 October, 2014

Did you know:

  • There are at least 11 million disabled people in the UK
  • Just 8% of disabled people are in a wheelchair
  • As many as 20% of adults in the workforce have a disability or impairment

Please join us if you are interested in exploring the following questions

  • How disability confident is your organisation?
  • When is an adjustment reasonable and when is it not?
  • How can workplace adjustments positively impact on sickness absence?
  • Do you have an effective system for supporting disabled people in your workplace?
  • How can simple adjustments to technology, work patterns, communications or equipment significantly impact on levels of engagement and productivity for colleagues?

This is NOT a technical session but will include:

  • Current legal requirements for reasonable adjustments
  • Common adjustments recommended by AbilityNet
  • Building support systems that increase levels of disclosure and remove barriers.

AbilityNet's specialist team provides hundreds of workplace assessments every month and our free resources explain how technology can remove barriers for people with all kinds of disabilities. The session will be delivered AbilityNet¹s Head of Digital Inclusion Robin Christopherson and Kate Headley, Director of Consulting at The Clear Company. It will include an opportunity for questions.

Register for this free webinar now.

A video recording of the webinar will be shared with everyone who registers.

How Barclays made the business case for accessibility: Free webinar

Why would a global bank put accessibility at the heart of its business strategy? How does it relate to their marketing strategy? What does it have to do with the drive for better customer services or competitive advantage?

""This webinar took place in October 2014 and included an interview with Paul Smyth, Head of IT Accessibility at Barclays who has been a leading advocate for accessibility inside the organisation. Although it focused on Barclays this session will show how accessibility can bring benefits to any business. It is of value to anyone trying to win the case for accessibility in their own organisation - and will be a wake up call for the business leaders and digital decision-makers who have yet to be convinced. It includes:

  • the breakthrough moments which led to the Chairman and CEO placing accessibility at the heart of their business strategy
  • the tangible benefits the business is already seeing
  • the effect it has had on internal culture and digital design processes.
  • advice to organisations starting out on their accessibility journey as to how to organise themselves for success.

Read Paul's guest blog post in which he shares three lessons for winning the business case for accessibility.

A recording of the webinar can be found on YouTube and is embedded below

View the slides used in the webinar on Slideshare