AbilityNet featured on the BBC

AbilityNet has been featured in an epiosode of Saints and Scroungers, a BBC TV show that highlights the differences between people who are cheating the benefit system and the people who are helping others get the support they need and deserve. The episode was first broadcast in March 2013 and follows Tom Synnott after he is accepted at university, although he fears his Asperger's will hold him back from fulfilling his potential.

screen grab from saints and sinners on iPlayerIt shows how AbilityNet's DSA team worked with the Disability Adviser from De Montfort University to understand Tom's needs so that he can access a government grant and buy software to help him complete his studies. But the advice he receives goes a long way beyond the IT issues.

Elizabeth Hughes, one of AbilityNet's Assessors, expalins how her assessment of Tom's needs looks at the whole picture, not just his technology needs. "I could see that Tom needs a lot of human support," she explains, "There's no problem academically, it's more about living with other people and practical things such as cooking, and integrating socially in a way which ensures Tom will feel comfortable staying at University."

As Tom says, the interview with Elizabeth was an important milestone for him. "She more or less straight away saw what the problem was so I really began to feel much better about my odds of surviving Uni."

Tom Sunod is a student diagnosed with Asperger'sTom's dad says the session with Elizabeth revealed a lot of information he hadn't heard before. "She was great at getting him to explain how he felt and it was good to know someone really understood what he was going through."

Elizabeth delivered a 37-page report, confirming Tom's eligibility for the DSA grant and identified his need for a laptop and specialist software to support his study. Students with Asperger's are particularly vulnerable to giving up their studies in the early stages so a key piece of the support jigsaw was a link to  a mentoring service provided by the Autism Society. Back at De Montfort University the Disability Adviser fast-tracked Tom's paperwork and set up the mentoring. That gave Tom the help he needed to get through his first days at Uni - something he was terrified of at first.

As Tom says he's he never thought I'd have any academic prospects but now he's really enjoying himself. "I've found I enjoy University much more than I did at school, where I didn't get this support. The best decision I ever made was to come to Uni."

Elizabeth Hughes is one of AbilityNet's DSA Assessment TeamIt's a heart-warming tale and a great way of understanding how AbilityNet's professional assessment team use their specialist skills to select the right technology and help change people's lives.

The episode was available on iPlayer until 11 March 2013.

Technology4Good Awards open for entries

Nominations have opened for the third annual Technology4Good Awards, launched at an event at the top of BT Tower. The Awards are open to businesses, public bodies and charities with a base in the UK and are designed to celebrate the hard work of people and organisations who use digital technology to improve the lives of others. Organised by Abilitynet and BT and suppoorted by a range of business and not for profit partners, previous winners include Professor Stephen Hawking, Child's I Foundation, Radio Free Brighton and Paignton Stroke Survivors Group.

Radio Free Brighton with their T4G2013Entry is free in eight categories:

AbilityNet CEO, Nigel Lewis said at the launch event: 

“As the leading experts in e-accessibility for people with disabilities, AbilityNet is acutely aware of the empowering influence of digital technology. Whether at home, at work or in education, access to the digital world can be life changing – economically, socially and psychologically.  We are delighted that BT has enabled us to make this awards scheme a reality."

Sponsors and partners of the awards include Barclaycard, Camelot, Go ON UK, IT4Comunities, Media Trust, Microsoft and UK online centres. The deadline for submissions is 17.00 on 3 May 2013.

Martha becomes Baroness Lane-Fox

Martha Lane FoxAbilityNet's Patron Martha Lane-Fox has been made a Baroness, one of two new non-party-political peers recommended by the House of Lords Appointments Commission earlier this week. As well as her role at Abilitynet Ms Lane Fox also founded the Go On UK charity to spread digital skills, has her own grant-giving foundation, Antigone, that funds charities that target neglected causes and has taken a leading role in developing the Government Digital Service.

Read more details on the BBC website.

The AbilityNet helpline needs you...

Fancy helping us to help disabled people?

Every day our busy helpline answers questions about all sorts of technology, from people with every kind of disability. One minute the team will be offering advice about dyslexia, the next we're working out which sort of mouse will help a person with cerebral palsy. We help people of all ages with any disability, working with disabled people themselves but also answering questions from carers, family, friends, parents and professionals.

Alex Barker answering calls on the AbilityNet helplineThis free service is a lifeline for many disabled people and now we're looking for a volunteer to help us keep up with demand. Ideally you would be available for around 12 hours a week and be able to travel to our Warwick centre.

Advice and Information Worker Alex Barker says this is a great opportunity to be part of a unique service.

"It’s all about improving access to computers. Everyone knows how important being able to use a computer is and most people take this for granted. However if you’ve got a physical,vision or cognitive impairment it does make things a bit more difficult. However one call to the Advice and Information Service can make it easy for you to continue to use technology which will keep you in touch with the world.”

We're not looking for an expert but this would be a great way for someone interested in ergonomics and adapted computer technology to gain an insight into this exciting world. In return we can offer you a great working environment and all the tea and biscuits you can eat.

If you are interested please email your CV along with a covering letter explaining why you should be considered for this role to enquiries@abilitynet.org.uk before the 4th March. If you are successful you will be invited into our Warwick centre for an informal chat about the position.

New Awards offer young entrepreneurs a chance to win £5,000

The Technology4Good Youth Awards reward young people who use technology to make the world a better place. Entries close on 30 November so there are just under 4 weeks left for young entrepreneurs to submit their ideas. Nine finalists will take part in a Dragon's Den-style event at Windsor castle, with a chance to win £5,000.

AbilityNet and Groundwork have teamed up with BT to create the Technology4Good Youth Awards, a chance to celebrate the talents of young people from across the UK. We're looking for groups of young people - aged between 14 and 21 -  to send us their ideas for how technology can help make the world a better place. That could be an app for their local community, energy-saving ideas to cut carbon emissions or new ways for using mobile phones to make our communities safer.

T4G Youth Awards 2013You don't have to build what you're proposing - at this stage we're looking for great ideas and motivated young people.

Entries need to be submitted by 5pm 30th November 2012 at  www.technology4goodawards.org.uk/youth/

After that we'll be picking nine finalists, who we will pair up with business people to prepare the idea for a pitch at a Dragon's Den that will take place at Windsor Castle in April. The mentors will get you working as a team and help you polish your presentation, with a prize of £5,000 available to the winning team.

Full details including guidance notes and the entry form are available at  www.technology4goodawards.org.uk/youth/

Please share this information with anyone who might be interested.

AbilityNet is Chosen Charity Partner for Midlands Business Show

AbilityNet has been chosen as the charity partner for The Midlands Business Show 2012 at Villa Park on Friday 9 November 2012. This free show features exhibitors from a range of industry sectors showcasing their products and services and is aimed at business owners, directors and other senior decision makers. There are best practise seminars designed to help with business development and workshops on social media.

Simon Harrington of Forwardline Events says that AbilityNet provides an ideal fit with the event:

"We all know that technology is a vital part of the modern workplace and we're pleased we can give AbilityNet an opportunity to tell people about their free services for disabled people. We also want to highlight the services they provide to help business reach more customers and comply with relevant legal requirements."

Anu Dhami is Corporate Fundraisier at AbilityNet and says they are always looking for similar opportunities to reach business audiences. 

"The free services we provide to disabled people rely on charitable income and the surpluses from the specialist professional services we sell to businesses and others who can afford them. We're grateful for Simon's support and look froward to meeting business people from across the Midlands."


Free events about employing disabled people

Many disabled people are unemployed and many more are not given an equal chance to shine when in work. However all the evidence shows that disabled people are a positive part of any workforce, being more productive and more loyal than the average employee. Robin Christopherson, Head of Digital Inclusion at AbilityNet will be answering questions from employers about how technology can help disabled people in the workplace at free events being held in London and Manchester during November.

These ClearExpertise events bring together a panel of experts in different areas of employing disabled people, who can help employers of all sizes understand the complexities of the Equality Act and provide practical solutions that support best practice.

  • 8.00am - 10.30, Friday 9 November, DWF offices, Manchester
  • 8.00am - 10.30, Tuesday 20 November, DWF offices, London

Places are free but must be booked by emailing enquiries@theclearcompany.co.uk saying which event you'd like to attend.

More details

AbilityNet has a range of services that enable employers and employees to use technology to make the most of the talents of disabled people in the workforce, helping them to recruit and retain the right person for the job. For example our MiDRAS service is used by some of the UK's largest employers such as Lloyds Banking Group to provide assessments of people's needs and recommend relevant adjustments to hardware, software and work patterns to enable them to be as effective as possible in their role.

ClearKit logoWe also work closely with the Clear Company to provide practical advice to employers about recruiting and retaining disabled people. The Clear Company provides advice about all stages of the recruitment and management of disabled people and AbilityNet has advised on making recruitment websites and documentation accessible as well as the technology used in the workplace. The ClearKit they use when working with employers was originally developed with employers including e-on, BT and the HMRC.

The ClearExpertise panel brings together a wealth of legal and practical knowledge that will be valuable to employers of all types and sizes:

  • Kate Headley, Director - the Clear Company (Inclusive Recruitment and Assessment Expert)
  • Robin Christopherson, Head - Digital Inclusion (Ability Accessible Technology Expert)
  • Dawn Milman-Hurst, CEO - Equal Approach (Inclusive Candidate Attraction Expert)
  • Morgan Lobb, CEO - Diversity Job (Inclusive On-Line Attraction Expert)
  • Kerren Daly, Partner - DWF LLP (Employment Law Specialist)
  • Dan Biddle (Physical Access Specialist)
  • Stephen Read, CEO - SHL UK & Ireland (Inclusive Assessment Champions)

Book your free place now

To book your free place please choose an event that suits you and register by emailing enquiries@theclearcompany.co.uk saying which event you'd like to attend.

  • 8.00am - 10.30, Friday 9 November, DWF offices, Manchester
  • 8.00am - 10.30, Tuesday 20 November, DWF offices, London


Siri vs Voice Assistant: An accessibility view

AbilityNet Head of Digital Inclusion Robin Christopherson spoke at Future of Web Apps in London on 16 October 2012 - here's a quick preview of one part of his talk.

UPDATE: You can read Robin's speaker notes from FOWA London 2012 on this site

Future of web apps logoThe battle intensifies …and disabled users win?

For some time now the two leading smartphone operating systems –Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android – have been vying for supremacy in the battle to have the best and quickest virtual assistant to help users with fast and intuitive ways to find out information and perform tasks.

Whilst these in-built artificial intelligence agents are hard at work making life easier for all smartphone users there is one group that is benefitting from the escalating efforts of the tech giants more than any other; the disabled community. But before we go any further with that thought let’s look at how the competitors are shaping up.

Siri vs Voice Assistant head-to-head: the video evidence

Both Apple’s ‘Siri’ and Google’s ‘Voice Assistant’ are able to tell you Winston Churchill’s birthday, what an ounce of Gold or any foreign currency is worth at today’s prices, whether it will rain this afternoon, turn-by-turn directions to your nearest pizza place, and pictures of pigmy marmosets (officially the cutest monkeys in the world). But a painstaking perusal of the many Youtube videos of phone face-offs between iOS6 and Jellybean provides some interesting results.

siri and google voice assistant logos

First is a good head-to-head test of the sort of questions we all use our AIs for every day: Siri vs. Google Voice: 21 Questions For iPhone 5 And Jelly Bean 4.1

From watching this I think you’d agree that there’s nothing between them for accuracy - but Google’s Voice Assistant wins hands-down on speed.

So far so good, but what about if we ask them something a little more challenging?

In another video Jelly Bean Samsung Galaxy S3 (Google Voice) vs (Siri) iPhone 5, we see that Google has some way to go on the tougher questions. I know that there is a vast variety of questions we could ask these assistants, and that the results might come out differently in each case, but I was unable to find a review that came out in Voice Assistant’s favour when their intelligence is pushed to the limit.

So what does voice recognition have to do with accessibility?

This is all very exciting (or at least I think it is). It’s shaving valuable seconds off the tasks we try to cram in to our already overcrowded lives, but what’s it got to do with disability and why is the disabled community the biggest winner in this escalating better artificial assistance arms race?

It’s to do with those valuable seconds that these apps save us.

Robin at Future of Web Design London, 2011For disabled users such as myself (I’m blind) what Siri can do in five seconds might take me five or sometimes ten minutes. In many cases I might not be able to manage to find what I’m looking for at all because the websites I’m using are inaccessible to my screen-reading software. A similarly slow and painful experience is had by many who can’t use a mouse. Try using your site from the keyboard and you’ll soon see what we mean – it’ll either not work at all or it’ll take you whole minutes to get where you want to go.

Everyone’s a winner?

So for the blind, the motor-impaired, those with learning disabilities or dyslexia, anyone who loves the KISS principal (and which of us doesn’t?), and for positively millions of smartphone users out there, this AI arms race has benefits far beyond the modest convenience bonus for by the average use. Even the contenders themselves have no idea how far this thing will go…

Please use the comments to tell me what you think the future will look like.

Follow Robin on Twitter @usa2day

Follow AbilityNet on Twitter @abilitynet