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

Top Tips for Accessible Apps

Like everything else in the digital world, accessibility has gone mobile. Whatever business you’re in your users are choosing to connect with you when they’re on their phones and tablets. But what should be a convenience for them may be a usability nightmare if you haven’t thought about their needs - and if you haven’t thought about accessibility it may be the same as shutting them out of your shop. Forever.

This article reviews the best approach to creating accessible apps and links to relevant resources about accessibility features of iOS, Android, Windows Phone and Blackberry.

You may have a website that could really do with being made mobile-ready and your users switch between that and a separate mobile version you’ve created.

Or they may be accessing your nice, responsive site using a range of different screen sizes. Perhaps some are using that app you so lovingly created - a space where you decide the rules; clean UI, perhaps custom gestures and the reassuring tabbed interface which means you can keep each page as simple as possible. This has got to be a recipe for the best possible user experience, right?

Well, maybe not...

Think about accessibility at every stage

""Many of the most common rules about accessibility also apply to apps.

For example the use of colour is equally as important in an app as it is in the browser - the UI should have good contrast between background and elements and does not use colour alone to convey information. This benefits not only those with a vision impairment of colour-blindness but also anyone using their phone on the go on a sunny day.

Another example is the size and proximity of links and buttons – in the browser someone with mouse difficulties needs generous ‘hot spots’ to click on and well spaced out so they don’t activate the wrong one. Similarly on a small screen app touch-targets need to be generous and sufficiently separated to make it easier for people with disabilities and people with sausage fingers alike.

Get to know the relevant guidelines

If you’re not familiar with the accessibility guidelines, and the options in the platform you’re using, it won’t be easy to create an accessible app.

For example an app developer may not consider users of the built-in screen reading software called ‘voiceover’. Blind users need controls to be visible to VoiceOver and, ideally, have some helpful spoken hints about how to interact with each element that only they will hear.

This is also an important consideration because there could be many different situations where using speech output is preferable to reading the screen for users without a disability. Similarly there are times when being able to issue voice commands instead of a tap or a swipe makes using an app in some situations much easier. For example a app that can be used when driving would readily be able to include spoken functionality if it had firstly been made voiceover-friendly. Even if accessibility isn't your number one requirement, learning to use the accessibility features of the platform will undoubtedly help you build better apps for every mobile user.

So what are the options when it comes to different operating systems? What features are available for users and why would developers use them ?

Accessibility of apps in iOS

Apple has made the strongest and most clear-cut commitment to accessibility of the providers in this review  and Accessibility comes 'free’ in all versions of iOS. All standard controls are accessible and so long as you build your app using them in accordance to the guidelines then you're pretty much guaranteed an accessible result.

If you want to add accessibility to custom controls then this is covered in great detail too:

Accessibility of apps in Android

Not so easy to create accessible apps without some effort and considerable thought going into the process but it is certainly possible to do so if you carefully follow the guidelines:

Accessibility of apps in Windows Phone

This platform has been historically very poor with regards to accessibility and is only recently catching up. The OS now has built in magnification and screen reading capability but still some of the core apps that come with the OS are not accessible and neither are third party apps, so stay away from this platform if you wish to develop apps specifically for certain cohorts of the disabled community.

Accessibility apps in Blackberry

Blackberry devices are on a par with Windows Phone when it comes to accessibility. Once the mainstay of enterprise, since BYOD (‘bring your own device’) they have largely been replaced in the workplace by other, more accessible, devices which is good news for disabled employees.

Multiple Sclerosis and computers

Multiple Sclerosis is a lifelong condition which affects the central nervous system and the spinal cord. 

Symptoms can include fatigue, vision problems and sometimes people with the condition can have cognitive issues too. Famous people with the condition include Jack Osborne and Jim Sweeney (UK comedian.)

How many people have the condition in the UK?

According to the MS Trust there are over 100,000 people in the UK with Multiple Sclerosis.

How can using a computer benefit someone with MS?

Based on calls to our helpline here are three of the most common questions asked by people with the condition or their carers.

I’m having difficulties using the keyboard. What can I do?

If you have the condition and it causes tremors you might have lots of unwanted extra characters and there are many ways you can adapt your keyboard to make it easier for you to use.

Use our easy to follow instructions to turn on Filter Keys on so that even if you find it really hard to take your hand away from the keyboard you won't end up with lots of unwanted letters.

You may also want to look at one of the many adapted keyboards which are available?

If you decide that you want to try and mimise your use of the keyboard, and if your voice is good you could look at using Voice Recognition. It's built into all current Mac and Windows computers and is also found on ANdroid, iOS and Wondows phones and tablets. It needs is a little bit of patience to get used to but can be a very effective way of working without using the keyboard.

My eyesight isn't as good as it was. How can I make it easier for me to see the screen?

If you struggle to see the screen you can make the text easier to see, either by increasing the text size or changing the colours used on screenIf you have issues with not being able to see the different colours on your computer you can customise them to your own particular needs.                                           

I'm fairly confident about changing settings on my computer. How do I customise my mobile device?

Technology is certainly a lot more mobile these days and all phones and tablets have accessibility options built in. Use My Computer My Way to identify your system and work out how to set up your mobile device to suit your needs.

Need more help?

There are plenty of other options that may be relevant to you. If you need more help just call our Helpline on 0800 269 545.


Case Study

Chung emailed us because his sister has MS and she likes to keep in touch with her friends and family using social networking sites. We suggested how she could tweak her mobile device to maske it easier for her to sdtay in touch with her friends wherever she is. We even arranged for a volunteer to go out and support her.


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 and keyboard alternatives useful.

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

Free Webinar: Building and Testing Accessible Apps

Are you planning to launch an app? Have you thought about accessibility? If you get it wrong you may be closing a door in the face of millions of potential customers.

FREE Webinar: Tuesday, September 30, 2014 12:00 AM - 1:00 PM BST

""This free webinar is for business decision makers and app developers who need to know how to meet legal guidelines and build apps that work for every user. It will feature practical tips and examples from the AbilityNet labs, where more than half of our auditing and testing work is on mobile content and apps.

It will include:

  • Three things to consider when building accessible apps
  • Don't break what's already fixed
  • Testing apps for accessibility

AbilityNet’s Robin Christopherson and Raphael Clegg-Vinell will explain how to build an app that is accessible, legal and usable.

A recording of this webinar will be made available to everyone who registers.

Sign up now for this free webinar.

Understanding Invisible Illnesses

Claire Millross, AbilityNet's Volunteering and Free Services Administrator, explains the impact of invisible illnesses on her life


Invisible Illness Awareness Week (8th-14th September 2014) may be an American thing but I for one will be doing my best to take part, in even just one small way. Why? Because like so many of us in the UK, I have an invisible illness. Well, actually, I have 2 invisible illnesses - firstly I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and more recently I have been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. Although I would consider myself to look as normal as most people, I am in constant pain and suffer with fatigue all the time.

Claiure Millross works at AbilityNet. Her cat doesn't.This is why I do what I do in my work at AbilityNet. I have experienced the frustration of being too unwell to seek help when my computer breaks down - the gadget I rely on for everything from clothes shopping to keeping in touch with friends. I therefore feel great empathy with the clients I am helping - while I may not be physically able to help them myself I know that by working for AbilityNet I am doing my bit, however small.

Invisible Illness Awareness Week started in 2002 when Lisa Copen, founder of restministries.com saw so many people who felt misunderstood by everyone. She decided that everyone with a chronic illness could do with validation that their feelings were normal. And so Invisible Illness Awareness Week was launched and since then it has gone from strength to strength.

Sometimes with an invisible illness it can feel to onlookers like we are pulling the wool over their eyes but take it from one who knows, we aren’t. When we smile and laugh and seem to be enjoying ourselves, it is not because we’re not in pain, instead we smile and laugh and enjoy ourselves despite the pain.

So what do those of us with an invisible illness need?

We need understanding and acceptance. We do not need to be made to feel like we have to prove ourselves. And most importantly, we need functional tools to enable us to lead our lives as fully we can - and one such tool is our computers. This is where we at AbilityNet can help.

If you have an invisible illness and your computer is not working, please give us a call on our Freephone helpline 0800 269 545 and we will do our best to help.

For more information please see:

 

Making the business case for accessibility

The headline finding of our recent report into digital accessibility in the travel industry was that businesses could do a lot more to improve the accessibility of their websites and help disabled people book their holidays. There at least 1.1 billion disabled people on the planet, with a combined spending power in excess of $4 trillion. Even diluted across different industries, that’s a sizeable base of potential customers and revenue.

The changing environment of accessibility

The London Paralympics did much to encourage awareness of the broad spectrum of disabilities and to redefine what ‘disabled’ means in the public sphere. At the same time, the increasing desire for mobile technology means that features that would once have been seen as accessibility bolt-ons have become essential, for example mobile users are often 'temporarily disabled' in bright sunlight or when using their phone one-handed whilst walking, or hands-free whilst driving.

Getting ahead of the competition

As this example shows, accessible design offers an opportunity for any business to respond to customer needs and gain a competitive advantage.

Anyone in a global, highly competitive industry such as travel and tourism needs to take every opportunity to stand out from the crowd. It is also an industry that has started to recognise the market opportunities in catering for disabled customers, with many catering for their needs when travelling and providing specialist facilities in their destinations. This is especially true for those sectors that target older customers - such as cruise companies that provide extensive facilities on board and are careful to design their ships to cater for older customers.

However they aren't so careful when it comes to making sure that their website is accessible - which means some of their potential cusotmers won't be able to browse their site or make a booking.

Our accessibility team recently conducted tests on some of the biggest sites of the UK travel industry and their research shows how badly they are performing when it comes to accessibility. You can read the full report and review the findings in more detail in our e-Nation Report.

 SITE	Technical Compliance	User  Testing	Accessibility Help - British Airways	AMBER	AMBER	GREEN Carnival	RED	AMBER	RED Club Med 	GREEN	AMBER	RED EasyJet	AMBER	AMBER	RED First Choice		RED	AMBER	GREEN Monarch	RED	AMBER	RED Quantas	AMBER	AMBER	AMBER Ryan Air	RED	AMBER	RED Saga	RED	AMBER	RED STA Travel	RED	AMBER	RED Thomas Cook	RED	AMBER	GREEN Virgin Atlantic	AMBER	AMBER	AMBER

 

The travel industry is a highly competitive, billion dollar industry where a small change in market share can mean a massive uplift in revenues. Knowing that your competitors are performing poorly in a particular area offers a huge opportunity to reach new audiences and provide a much better service.

AbilityNet’s Head of Digital Inclusion, Robin Christopherson points out that a niche subject like accessibility can offer huge gains for any business that takes it seriously. “It’s a very neglected area that can have a massive impact. Following the accessibility guidelines (WCAG2.0) is the quickest way to get a competitive edge because your competitors are doing so poorly.”  

By improving the accessibility of their website and other digital content, any one of these companies could expand their customer base and earn millions in increased revenue in the process.

To find out more about the business case for accessibility, you can watch this presentation by AbilityNet's Mark Walker.

How Accessibility Helps SEO

Getting on the first page of Google results is the holy grail for SEO, but many web designers and marketers don’t realise that optimising their website for accessibility will help achieve their goal. 

""Search engines are central to the way we browse the web, which is why Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is vital for businesses across the world. For many of us the way Google produces the results is akin to magic, but for the SEO industry it is a moving target, always evolving and requiring constant attention on your website and in the network of online content that feed Google's robots or spiders, that constantly scour the web.

Like any search engine Google's 'magic' is built upon powerful algorithms that evaluate the data collected by the robots and decide which page provides the 'best' answer to any given question. The SEO industry is built on an understanding the rules that govern that algorithm - and those of other search engines - so that you can optimise what you present to the robots and reach the front page for those terms that relate to your business or service.

There are all sorts of ways of achieving this, and the SEO business has a chequered history. Although many agencies behave ethically and work hard at producing high quality content, each iteration of the search engine algorithms brings a fresh wave of tricks and dodgy practices designed to push specific results up the rankings.

Google's goal is to make sure that only the best, most relevant content is linked on its results page. That's why it each update seeks to weed out the worst examples of so called Black Hat SEO, such as building automated websites that generate spurious links to content, or stuffing alt-text and other meta-tags with endless streams of keywords. 

Some of the most recent changes are more subtle, however, such as penalising the use of guest blogs. Although the use of guest blogs isn't, of itself, an unethical practice, it has become a common tactic employed by SEO professionals to circumvent previous Google iterations. Some sites that rely on links to connect within their network will lose rankings - innocent bystanders in the ongoing cat-and-mouse games that characterise SEO.

Optimising for SEO and accessibility

However things are now reaching a point where only the best practice in content creation are likely to succeed. In a recent AbilityNet webinar on the subject, Gerry White of digital agency Site Visibility explained that best practice for SEO now reflects best practice for accessibility.

As he said, "Making your web content accessible to all will make it available to the widest possible audience, as well as making it work harder for SEO purposes. Google's changes increasingly put the focus on what you can do on your own site, to make the content as transparent and accurately described as possible."

One of the key threads in the webinar was how Google’s algorithm changes are geared towards serving its users with the best content to answer their queries. Optimising for accessibility does this by allowing users with accessibility requirements to fully access content on your website, reducing the risk of them bouncing out of your site - negatively impacting your site in the eyes of Google - and increasing the chances of retaining them as a customer.

Robin Christopherson, AbilityNet's Head of Digital Inclusion, also used the webinar to explain in more detail some of the best practice for alt-text and other tagging.

"This is really about quality over quantity," he explains. "You don't need to stuff a site with keywords if you are clearly labeling your content. Thinking about the needs of someone using a screen-reader, for example, is a great way to describe the content and will also be lapped up by the Google robots who scour the web."

Find out more about how accessible design helps SEO by viewing the recording of our SEO and Accessibility webinar (60 mins) - or read the full transcript.

SiteVisibility: Think beyond the clickYou can also view our recent webinar about accessible alt-text and read the blog by Senior Accessibility and Usability Consultant Stefan Sollinger outlining how to ensure your alt-text is correctly optimised.