Tech4Good Awards: Winners help disabled students skill up in emerging digital fabrication job market

As a new academic year starts, a new growing season begins and the seeds of the future are being planted at FabFarm! N Ireland. Could a digital aquaponics unit, run by young people with special educational needs, boost employment chances for a marginalised section of society?

The job market can be tough for graduates, and for those with a disability the chances of securing a job are even further reduced. According to the charity Scope, disabled people are twice as likely to be unemployed than non-disabled people. 

fabfarm

But Fabfarm!, set up at Ardnashee School & College by creative media hub The Nerve Centre, is trying to challenge this. It gained recognition over the summer, collecting the AbilityNet Tech4Good Digital Skills award for its fantastic work in equipping young disabled students for the digital marketplace.

The farm, which is run as a commercial operation, with fresh produce sold to local businesses, is equipped with 3D printers used by students to create modular parts for the project and other items for the business.

Digital inclusion and STEM

Students also use the latest open source software such as Inkscape, Google Sketchup and Cura and, importantly, gain an accredited training certificate in Digital Fabrication & Design in the process. Digital Fabrication technologies, like 3D printing, are rapidly impacting upon the employment market but accredited training is still relatively rare.

“We are innovating here in Northern Ireland with something that has not been done anywhere before," says Donna Cartin, vice principle of Ardnashee School & College. The combination of technology, STEM and social enterprise is powerful in unlocking key areas of learning for young people and its application to special educational needs learners is particularly powerful and socially driven.” 

She continued: “We feel that inclusion should be at the heart oftechnological development and our learners should have the earliest opportunity to engage with new and emerging tech.”

Inspired by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s work in digital aquaponics and by digital aquaponics farms in the states and elsewhere, the team is developing its own model of creating sustainable food, while offering training skills to an underserved group. In the future there is potential for paid employment for FabFarm! graduates and expansion of the model to other schools."

Fabfarm collect the Digital Skills Award at Tech4Good 2017

Tech4Good Awards boost

The award means a lot to the project, which has just started the second year of its three year pilot. “The platform the award has given us has been fantastic,” says John Peto, director of education at the Nerve Centre.

“We want to share the work and see FabFarms growing beyond Derry and Ireland. The award can only help us to achieve that. It’s also been brilliant for the young people to achieve the recognition for what they do at such a high level. We think it can lead all of us on to bigger and better things.”

See the full list of AbilityNet Tech4Good Award winners 2017 here.

Scope Launches Work With Me Campaign

I'm 45 and have worked almost ever since I left university 22 years ago, and I think this is quite an achievement considering I have a moderate disability. I enjoy work because it helps me to have a great social life and I like the people I work with.  But for lots of people with a disability getting or staying in work is a real difficulty.

Scope is launching the Work With Me campaign today to try and try and change attitudes of employers and job seekers too.  I have quite a number of friends who have disabilities who are my age but have NEVER....NEVER worked.  I even know someone who has two degrees who has really struggled to find employment.

SCOPE has launched a campaign called Work With Me

How can technology help disabled people find work?

Regular readers of our blogs will be aware that there is technology out there that can help people succeed at their work.  Last week I was talking to some job seekers who seemed to think that they could never get work because they had a mental health issue.  I tried to explain to them that having a disability shouldn't actually stop you from being a real asset to an employer, but I could see that they weren't that convinced.  For me it has never been about earning money but I get a real sense of achievement too from helping people.

Getting your foot in the door of employment is really difficult.  I found that when I was first looking for work but I kept myself busy with volunteering so I could show a potential employer what I was capable of. Once you get your first job things can often be quite difficult at first. If you feel that you need any changes to be made at work, or further support we'd certainly advise you to fill out a Clear Talents profile and this could start a discussion between you and your employer so that they can help you make the most of your career.

We definitely support the work that Scope is doing to help end the awkwardness of employing disabled people.

How can AbilityNet help?

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

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

Apple turns inclusivity up to 11: iPhone X, iOS 11 and accessibility

All the amps on Spinal Tap can be turned up to 11

Last week I wrote about Apple’s mission to remove physical buttons from the iPhone and the many options we have in a buttonless future. Now we've seen the launch of the new IOS11 and the iPhone X - so let's look at the accessibility benefits this new combination could offer…

Apple turns inclusivity up to 11

I’ve written in previous posts about the excellent and comprehensive accessibility features already present in Apple's iDevices - including a recent article on using accessibility settings to get more out of your device, from longer battery life to better productivity.

Anyone who remembers the cult movie This is Spinal Tap will appreciate the reference to turning things up to 11 - and that isn’t an exaggeration for what Apple has done in terms of new accessibility settings and features within iOS 11, which it released this week.

Reading the excellent ebook iOS 11 Without the Eye by the ambassador of accessibility himself Jonathan Mosen is my top tip for finding out about all the accessibility additions in the new operating system. It has powerful productivity pointers as well as a comprehensive review of those adjustments that can make our smartphone more accommodating to our needs, regardless of impairment or environment.

Text resizing – now just one swipe away

New to iOS 11, one accessibility feature that should prove invaluable to many users is the ability to now readily access the text resizing widget from within Control Centre. Jonathan explains how to add this feature (and many others) to your Control Centre which is then easily accessed, as usual, with a swipe up from the bottom of the screen.

As outlined in my last post, if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on an iPhone X then swiping up the screen is actually now the new way to close an app (like clicking the Home button) so in this case the Control Panel is opened by swiping only half way up the screen instead.

Confusing? Perhaps briefly but if you’d prefer another method then that same post of mine also explained how to use an on-screen menu instead.

screen shot from Robin's iPhone showing the new style control centre

New screen recording options

As you see from the screenshot above I also have the new screen recording widget (the concentric circles icon) added to Control Centre on my phone. 

Of course, this feature has many more mainstream applications (such as creating tutorial videos on how to use an app, website or game), but as a blind person I plan to use this feature to record myself using an app with the screen-reading function (called VoiceOver) running to show a developer where things are not correctly spoken. The video that is captured would include the screen activity, the speech from VoiceOver and your own comments. VoiceOver also puts a black outline around spoken items so the developer could see exactly what is proving problematic.

Lock yourself into a leaner, meaner online experience

There are numerous new features in iOS 11 that could be considered accessibility features. Some are found in the Accessibility settings and others elsewhere. And anyone who reads my articles regularly knows that I feel it’s unhelpful to distinguish between features meant specifically to address disability, dyslexia or impairment etc and those that happen to be found in other areas of the Settings app than the Accessibility section. They are far too numerous to mention here (check out Jonathon’s book or other helpful resources such as the ever-comprehensive iMore.com website but I will mention just one more before closing.

iOS 11 now allows us to lock our Safari web browsing experience into the permanently cleaner and less cluttered view that is Reader Mode.

Reader Mode has been available for a long time (simply tap the Reader button at the top of your browser to get a version of the page without many of the ads, social sharing links and other detritus that litters the average web page) but now it’s possible to have Safari intelligently apply Reader Mode to all pages that you visit – only allowing the more complex view to appear when the website is more dynamic. 

Reader Mode is perfect for information sites such as news sites like the BBC, but less so for interactive sites such as the online shopping giants of Amazon or eBay. Reader Mode can also be turned on on a site by site basis so you can choose which sites to lock into this lovely, lean viewing experience.

More resources:

5 apps to help uni students with disabilities including autism, dyslexia and anxiety

In the second part of our student apps blog series for uni starters, AbilityNet's DSA (Disabled Student Allowance) assessors Abbie Osborne and Adam Tweed give their top app ideas for disabled students. The first part, last week, looked at apps for focus and motivation. This time we look at some of the top apps to support students who are autistic, who have dyslexia and students who need help with processing and organisation. 

AbilityNet's DSA assessors work with disabled students and those with mental health issues across the country to advise on the best assistive tech to support them in their studies and in managing their lives.

emergency chat app screenshot

Check out their list of game-changing apps below: 

Emergency Chat App
The Emergency Chat App is mainly designed for someone to use when they have an autisic meltdown. The person having the meltdown can bring up a pre-determined message on their phone for those around them. The message would explain what is happening and what they need. 

In such situations talking can become impossible because speech centres become non-functional for a while, even after the person has recovered. Any kind of physical touch is often uncomfortable for the person experiencing the meltdown too. At university, where there are lots of new situations and new people, such an app could prove useful. The app also has a simple chat client which someone can use to communicate basic further information if needed.

Google Dictionary
This is a super-nifty app that anyone can use - just highlight a word and instantly see the definition of that word. 

Swipes
This is a popular to-do list application, which offers multiple options to categorise lists and postone and organise them for future dates. You'll have a separate list for complete tasks and can also have shared lists with course mates. Best of all you get a nice congratulations message when you've completed your tasks.

4 Hemingway app
This app can make writing kind of fun and less of a chore. Just enter your text and any lengthy, complex sentences and common errors will be highlighted, giving you the opportunity to edit. If you see a yellow sentence, the app is suggesting you shorten or split it. If you see a red highlight, it means that your sentence could be perceived as far too dense and complicated. A purple hightlight means you could use a shorter word, ie, 'use' instead of 'utilise'. If you move your mouse over the highlight, you'll get hints.

student with ipad

5 AT Bar
Not strictly an app, but this Google Chrome Extension is an open-source, cross-browser toolbar to help users customise the way they view and interact with web pages. Drag all of the functionality you usually find useful into the tool bar to change the look and feel of webpages to suit you. Try dragging in the increase and decrease font size options for quick access, have text read aloud, use coloured overlays, readability and a dictionary to aid reading. Spell check forms and try word prediction when writing.

It's designed for those who may not have their assistive technologies to hand and need a quick way of accessing text on the screen and can help those with low vision, dyslexia and other reading difficulties, as well as those who may wish to just reduce the glare of black text on bright white backgrounds.

 

Tech4Good 2017 Community Impact winner employs skilled refugees to teach language and culture in UK

When Mursal Hedayat's mum fled Afghanistan in 1994 during the Afghan Civil War, she was a qualified engineer with a decade of experience in her field and spoke four languages fluently. Travelling overland to London, she didn't realise that she'd spend the next decade working in a string of low skilled jobs, or unemployed, in one of the world's most developed economies.

Her qualifications had become meaningless, she couldn’t afford to re-qualify and she became trapped. Her story is anything but unique with hundreds of talented refugees facing a bleak future as their confidence and aspirations fade. This summer, a social enterprise set up by Hedayat (pictured) to help others like her mum get skilled work, picked up the coveted AbilityNet Tech4Good Award 2017 for outstanding community impact.

Mursal Hedayat winning Chatterbox T4G Award


The venture - Chatterbox - trains and employs refugees to be language and culture tutors for individuals and organisations. 
The refugees come from many diverse areas of work, but include architects, dentists and pharmacists from places such as Syria, Iran and and Congo.
 It means they can have more hope, feel respected for their skills and have a better chance of being able to support themselves in the UK.

Community Impact Award - AbilityNet Tech4Good 2017

A year after setting up, the team is thrilled by the recognition given by the AbilityNet Tech4Good Award for Community Impact. "It gave us a really good confidence boost to win such a well known award and some good attention too," says Hedayat.

Currently, 60 refugees are employed to teach, either via online video call, or face-to-face in schools, offices and universities, mainly in London. The number has doubled from 30 in the past couple of months. Most of the refugees employed have been to university and/ or worked as teachers in their own countries, but roles are open to anyone with refugee status who is capable of doing the job. The tutors work around eight to 10 hours a week earning the London Living Wage of £9.75 an hour.


Chatterbox is building up a variety of clients, which include SOAS (School for the study of Africa, Asia and Middle East) University in London and the Red Cross. "Students can learn a plethora of interesting languages, from Arabic, Persian, Korean, Swahili and French to Hindi and Turkish. Tutors and their students can also learn more about each other's cultures and countries," says Hedayat. 

"We've also recently started working with primary and secondary skills to provide taster sessions in these languages to entice them into language learning. With business clients, the interest is in provide language lessons for staff personal development, life long learning or just for something fun to do at lunchtime."

Superstar volunteer developers

Chatterbox homepage screenshot

A lot of the communication, bookings, scheduling and invoicing for Chatterbox is done using an evolving online platform. “We have a group of superstar developers who currently give up their Saturday mornings to help build calendars and chat tools and lots of other exciting things for us,” says the entrepreneur.

We're currently moving from an off-the-shelf calendar, and creating a dashboard for tutors to track performance and invoice us
. We’d love to hear from any others who want to use their skills for social good and volunteer in our team, she adds.

Last month Chatterbox received more than 100 job applications from refugees and is keen to keep expanding to support those coming to Britain who need hope and the chance of a positive future. There is plenty of room for growth and the organisation, which has been supported with grants from NESTA, Bethnal Green Ventures, UnLtd and others, looks set to continue to attract interest and support. "The good news is we are increasingly taken on bigger clients," offers Hedayat.

  • AbilityNet Tech4Good awards, run in association with BT, are an annual event celebrating technology being used for social good. 

Read more about the awards

No Home button on the new iPhone? Here is the secret to going completely button-free

The next big Apple hardware updates (rumoured to be iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X) are announced tomorrow and we already have some ideas about what's coming. Or rather, what's not coming - and the big news is that it looks like the Home button will disappear altogether [UPDATE: we now know it's the £1,000 iPhone X which has no home button].

This may be hard to get to grips with for some. But for several years, plenty of people have been operating their iPhone without a home button. Yes, there's a built-in alternative to - not just the Home button - but indeed to all the hardware buttons that are found on an iPhone. Why avoid using the home button, you might ask? Perhaps because like millions of Chinese people, you want to keep your phone in pristine condition? Or you might have a disability, like Professor Stephen Hawking, and be unable to press the physical buttons. Or, you might not have one, like on the iPhone X!

The end of iPhone hardware buttons

Over recent years it appears to have been Apple's unspoken mission to remove as many of the moving parts from the iPhone as possible. The physical buttons (the sleep/wake button, the volume buttons, the mute switch and the Home button) all represent complexity and potential fail points in our heavily used devices.

The mute switch (pictured below) disappeared from iPads with the first iPad Air. On the iPhone, the Home button turned from being a mechanical switch to a fixed facsimile of a button in the iPhone 7 (giving us the illusion of movement with a simulated click) and now we're losing the Home button altogether in this year’s latest model.

It’s clear that Apple has it in for the remaining buttons on its mobile devices – just as it seems to want to spirit away ports on its laptops and earphone jacks on its phones. It appears that the sooner they can arrive at what they consider the ultimate aesthetic in electronic devices – namely a seamless slab of elegant material – the happier they will be.

While this will certainly assist in the long-term durability of devices (every moving part is a potential fail point and every port an invitation for liquid and pocket fluff to enter), it also represents a challenge of usability for everyone who is familiar with physical buttons and, in some cases, may find them easier to operate due to disability or impairment. For many with a vision or motor impairment, physical buttons make it easier to identify and operate controls - and I for one as a blind speech-output user don’t even need to take my phone out of my pocket to easily unlock it and choose the next album or podcast.

ipad 2 mute button

The secret to button-free iPhone operation

There is a secret already known to thousands of users who, Like Prof Stephen Hawking, have a physical impairment that gives them total button-free use of their iDevices. This secret is also shared by millions (possibly hundreds of millions) of iPhone owners in China.

What am I talking about? I’m talking about ‘Assistive Touch’ which is now a long-standing accessibility setting of several iOS versions. It puts a small menu, or toolbar, on-screen (see image below) which gives you all the functions of all the physical switches on your iPhone or iPad, including the home button - enabling you to use them all without touching a single button. It's also available using VoiceOver if that's easier for you, for whatever reason.

Apple assistive touch menu on iphone screen

Ensure that you’ve also activated the ‘Raise to wake’ setting and you now don’t even need to press a button to wake your device - complete button-free use.

Keep your iPhone buttons out-of-the-box-fresh

And what about those users in China? Why do millions of Chinese people without any sort of disability or impairment use Assistive Touch?

Turns out that the second-hand market for used iPhones in China is enormous. That appetite for used phones, however, comes with one stipulation; buyers demand a pristine Home button. Don’t ask me why and, if you don’t believe me, just check out all these Google results for yourself.

In their droves, Chinese iPhone users are avoiding ever touching their Home button to ensure it never gets worn or broken. Perhaps Home buttons are prone to wear, but if so, this isn’t widely experienced or reported on elsewhere in the world. It might all be over-caution on their part, but in any case, they are the champions of those button-free functions.

The iPhone’s new virtual Home button

The Home button has been a consistent and very useful feature of every iPhone to date. We use it for far more than just going back to the home screen; we double-click it when our phones are locked to bring up Apple Pay, do the same thing once unlocked to bring up the app switcher, and triple-click it to bring up your preferred Accessibility Settings such as VoiceOver or larger text. It’s a very versatile little doohicky.

As discussed above, however, this familiar and functional feature will soon be a thing of the past. In the latest version of the high-end iPhone, Apple's trusty Home button is rumoured to be replaced by a swipe upwards from the bottom of the screen [there is no bar at the bottom of the screen as was suggested in an earlier edit of this article]. Swiping half way up the screen and pausing briefly brings up the app-switcher and, swiping further still, closes the app and takes you back to the home screen with your grid of app icons.

Apple - always accessible and inclusive

It's not clear at the time of writing how Apple proposes to replace all the other functions that the Home button performs - and we haven’t even mentioned how you use it to reboot your phone (hold down the Home and sleep/wake buttons together for several seconds) or a long-press to invoke Siri. And let’s not even get started on what they propose to do after the loss of the beloved Touch ID (face ID anyone? Not from within my pocket, that's for sure!)

What is clear, however, is that all the familiar Home button functions will be covered in the Assistive Touch menu for the simple reason that Prof Hawking - and others with a disability - need to be able to do them too. The one thing we know about Apple for sure is that, from an accessibility and inclusive design standpoint, they never leave anyone behind.

Ahead of the iPhone 9 curve

So, if a standard menu sounds simpler than all this swiping, then Assistive Touch might be for you too. Why not check out the virtual versions of your iDevice’s buttons and switches. You may like using them with a subtle tap or two even more than having to laboriously press those clunky mechanical objects that litter the edges of your otherwise sleek and sexy smartphone - like some sort of animal!

Then, when the iPhone 9 comes out with even fewer buttons still, you’ll laugh at being so far ahead of the curve.

You’ll also be able to flog your old iPhone, with its pristine untouched buttons, for an excellent price on eBay China.

Related:

ARE YOU FREE on 23 NOVEMBER? Check out TechShare Pro, a new accessibility and UX conference for digital design professionals at IBM, Southbank

Great apps to help students with focus and motivation

student working in library

AbilityNet DSA (Disabled Student Allowance) assessor Abbie Osborne works with disabled students and those with mental health issues across the country to advise on the best tech to support them in their studies and in managing their lives.

As university students gear up for a new term, we think her list of apps to help with focus and motivation is a must-read. All these apps got good reviews and a high star rating on either iTunes or Play Store. Happy studying!

1 Break work into chunks

Clockwork Tomatio logo from app storeApp: Clockwork Tomato 

A timer and activity logger which aims to boost productivity by breaking down work periods into 25-minute slices, separated by short breaks. The idea is to move away from your desk and do something completely different, perhaps fun, active or relaxing. After four Pomodoros, you get a longer break of 15-25 minutes but you can set work slots and breaks times in whatever way you want.

Lifewire.com has a good piece here on Clockwork Tomato and other similar apps using the Pomodoro Technique.

2 The morning motivation alarm

App: Alar.my

Billed as the app that will make your roommates hate you, Alarmy can be set up to not switch off until you take a photo of something specific - ie the front of your house - which ideally encourages you away from the duvet and into study mode.

3 Work hard, get a kitten

App: Written? Kitten!

We bet the makers of this app have a few dollars in the kitty, after creating this genuis idea. Struggling to write that essay or novel? How about a cute kitten picture reward every time you write 100 words? Written? Kitten! offers just that.

4 Block distractions

App: Cold Turkey 

COld Turkey app logoSo obsessed we are with distracting ourselves with random web browsing that there are, of course, countless apps which now allow you to block websites that you find divert your work. You can look forward to receiving a joyful message of encouragement when you try to click on one of your banned sites. To feel super smug, you can tally up the time you would have wasted over the course of a day/ week/ month.

You can create various blocked website lists for different times / occasions/ situations or a white list just allowing yourself access to specific sites, such as your university research pages (not Bake Off). You can also completely freeze yourself out of your computer to ensure you take some time out.

5 Habit hacker

App: Habitbull

Need to finish a text book or get fitter? Want to stop a bad habit? Set tiny goals - such as read two pages a day, do three sit ups a week and call an old friend once a month and chart your increments. It's inspiring and motivating to see your progress, no matter how tiny.

Call our free helpline on 0800 269 545 for more advice. 

TechShare Pro brings together accessibility professionals to explore inclusive design for people with disabilities

TechShare Pro, a new accessibility and UX conference for digital design professionals delivered by AbilityNet and the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) takes place at IBM South Bank place in London this November. Global experts from companies including Google, O2 and Microsoft will explore the accessibility and inclusion challenges of the next generation of digital services.

TechShare pro 2017 logoThe one day conference, sponsored by Barclays, IBM and Microsoft, will look at how to manage change, the skills needed for a rapidly changing technology landscape, and how accessibility fits into it. Topics already confirmed include artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR), and each session will offer valuable insights and practical solutions from global experts. Designers and developers who attend will be able to hear about the latest developments and take part in practical challenges to test and grow their knowledge.

There will also be numerous opportunities for delegates to network with fellow accessibility industry professionals. TechShare Pro is also supported by the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) which will launch its UK chapter at the conference. The IAAP UK chapter was founded by AbilityNet, Atos, Barclays, Lloyds and TextHelp, and it promotes certification and the raising of professional standards in accessibility.

Nigel Lewis, CEO of AbilityNet, said: "TechShare Pro will be a great help to a range of professionals from digital designers and programmers to accessibility and inclusion practitioners. "If you want to hear valuable insights about the future of inclusive design from global experts then you should book your ticket now. "Over 150 people are expected to attend TechShare Pro, and we are looking forward to offering a fascinating and insightful experience to everyone who comes."

Robin Spinks, Senior Strategy Manager (Solutions) at RNIB, said: "Digital inclusion is becoming more important in society and organisations are recognising the need for all digital communications, products and services to be accessible to everyone. "That's why we have worked with AbilityNet and our other partners to create a specific inclusive design event for digital design professionals. "It will offer them a great opportunity to keep up-to-date with industry developments and to grow their skills and knowledge, whilst networking with like-minded professionals."

Tickets for TechShare Pro are on sale now at £150 or £75 for anyone from a not-for-profit organisation. Sponsorship opportunities are also available, including keynote sponsor slots, providing an opportunity to be a major contributor to this unique thought-leading event.

Are freshers' nerves worse when you have a disability?

Pint of beer on an outside tableOne of my university friends quite helpfully posted on Facebook that next year it will have been 20 years since we graduated. So it must be 23 years ago that I started university.

Pulp, Oasis and Michael Jackson all had top 10 albums and a pint of beer cost £2.50, and the British transfer record was broken with Manchester United paying Newcastle United £7 million pounds for footballer Andrew Cole.

This makes me sad because the years have gone by a bit too quickly for my liking. But I also feel very proud that I was the first in my family to go to uni and graduate.  

I’d always wanted to go to uni because all my peers had done so and I wasn’t going to let a disability hold me back. Anyhow, I had no idea what I really wanted to do with my life, so I thought I could take three years at uni and have a really good think about it.

Fresher's fears

Of course, at the start there were some nerves. Everyone is nervous. I was probably more concerned than most because I had a visible disability and I wondered how fellow students would react to me. I needn’t have worried, I soon realised that everyone was just as nervous as me.

I used technology even then to get my notes down but it was laughingly basic. It was an Amstrad NC100. I couldn’t even access the internet on it. How retro darling! Mobile phones were still really basic too, and useful only for making calls and sending texts.

Uni was a blast and I made some really good friends. A lot are still in touch with me through the magic that is social media. The thought of a 'status update' had never occurred to me during my uni days. Facebook, nor Twitter were even glints in their creator’s eye as far as I know. In fact I studied abroad in my second year which was an awesome experience but I must admit that it was difficult keeping in touch with what was going on at home through the medium of email!

Disabled Students' Allowance 

So for all you newbies out there, embrace the next few years. Make friends, work hard…. go to the pub occasionally if that's your thing (or perhaps a juice bar!).  If you have a disability, make sure you have all the support and provision you need via the Disabled Students Allowance. There’s so much technology out there that can help you with note taking and producing work that shows how able you are - more info on that below. 

Lastly ENJOY yourself. It can be a slog but it will be worth it in the end.

Alex Barker BA Journalism Studies. Class of '98. Falmouth College.

 

How can we help?

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

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

"I carried out the instruction and the baby started kicking immediately" Award-winning text service supports African mums-to-be

“I was six months pregnant and my baby was not kicking. I was worried and planning to go to the health facility when I received the message that ‘if you are not sure the baby is kicking, sit-up, and take a cold drink.’ As soon as I carried out the instruction, the baby started kicking immediately,” says Itumo Nkechi in South Africa.

Praekelt's MomConnect system uses texts to reacj over 1 million South African mums

The Comic Relief Tech4Good for Africa Award 2017 has been won by MomConnect - an online and text messaging service for pregnant women and new mothers to receive vital medical advice.

More than 1.3 million South African mothers are currently registered on the platform, which was set up as a free service by the National Department of Health (NDOH) in South Africa. The NDOH works with an organisation called Praekelt. which designs and develops mobile technologies to deliver essential information and vital services to more than 100 million people in over 60 countries. The service gives pregnant women the chance to receive stage-based messaging from conception to the end of the first year of her baby’s life.

We caught up with the Praekelt team after the awards to find out more about their work. 

1 What did the AbilityNet Tech4Good Award mean to you?

So often with tech awards, we see them in the Silicon Valley or private space. Not only do we support these awards because they focus on Tech4Good, but we are proud to have won in the inaugural Africa category. African start-ups and technology are making headlines but still hardly get the attention they deserve.

2 What are the main ways you are using different tech platforms?

Our recent annual report focuses on our maternal health platforms and girl-focused mobile innovation projects. 

In Nigeria, the Hellomama programme addresses the fact that most women are illiterate and that SMS is seen as a premium service by utilising voice based technology for delivery of stage based messages. this pilot launched in two states of Nigeria in november 2016 and has registered over 6,000 women and gatekeepers and sent over 40,000 voice messages.

We also have our portfolio of programmes funded by Nike Foundation and supported by Girl Effect include Amadar Golpo, which uses interactive voice response (IVR) to offer peer leaders in BRAC’s Adolescent Development Programme additional support, training, and guidance; the financial literacy app Dooit in Indonesia; and the mobile mentorship programme, mentor To Go, in India.

3 What have you learned about what does and doesn't work?

What works is partnerships. Investing and spending time building partnerships with both global NGOs and governments is key to national-scale implementation. One of the reasons we are able to scale maternal health programmes in several African countries, is because of our partnership with governments.  We also very much believe in thinking of the users throughout the design and build process. 

We always build and create projects that are meant to scale from the start, to avoid problems with sustainability. We believe the power of mobile technology rests in scaling, and can often be complemented by local outreach.

4 Is there any tech/ new platforms that you're excited about?

The last decade has witnessed the incredible power of mobile phones and data connectivity when used to advance the delivery of vital information and services.  With the advance of data capable phones and the penetration of affordable IP connectivity, messaging solutions can now engage people at a previously unimaginable scale. These engagements will be richer, more conversational, immediate, and personal than ever before.
We look forward to how IP messaging, particularly Whatsapp, will make messaging more efficient and accessible for low and middle income communities.

5 What's next? 

At the moment, The NDOH and Praekelt are exploring how to reach mothers through different channels, such as WhatsApp. We have also been awarded a two-year grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to explore how mobile technologies can improve communication with patients.

6 Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Inclusivity, of genders, ethnicities, and abilities, is a key focus for us, especially because of the people who are our end users. We really support women in technology, and are proud that our organisation is run by a woman, and that many of our senior team who helped implement and build our maternal health platforms are women.

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