Parkinson's and Computing

Parkinson's Awareness Week 2014As it is Parkinson's Awareness Week in April we thought we would write a blog to show people who have the condition how easy it is to use their computer.

What is Parkinson’s?

Parkinson's is a degenerative condition which affects the central nervous system. It causes tremors and difficulty with movement. Speech may also be affected. The condition is caused by lack of a chemical called dopamine. Famous people with the condition include retired boxer Muhammed Ali.

How many people in the UK have the condition?

According to Parkinson’s UK there are 127,000 people with the condition in the UK www.parkinsons.org.uk/content/what-parkinsons

How can computers help someone with Parkinson's?

These commonly asked question about having Parkinson’s illustrate some of the many ways of using a computer effectively

1. My hands shake and I can’t use the standard keyboard. What can I do?

If you have the condition you might want to use a different keyboard (perhaps also using a keyguard which is a piece of plastic which fits over the top of the keyboard making it easier to hit the right key.) You may even want to change the way the keyboard reacts when you hit a key, such as slowing it down.

Every computer, smartphone or tablet includes options for adapting the way the keyboard works. AbilityNet’s award-winning My Computer My Way provides information about all the main computer and smartphone systems. We also have a Factsheet about alternatives to keyboards and a mouse and there are lots of different keyboards to choose from.

2. I find it hard to use the mouse. Are there any other pointing devices out there?

If you’re having issues with the mouse then there are lots of different pointing devices (such as rollerballs) to choose from. It’s a really good idea to try them out before you buy; additionally it is worth considering if you might want to install some software that does automatic clicking. Dwell Clicker 2 is a very effective piece of software.

3. Can I talk to my computer?

If your voice is clear then we’d advise trying out voice recognition. It’s built into all new computers that run Windows. For more details have a look at our easy to understand step by step instructions on My Computer My Computer. We’ve also written an overview of how voice recognition can help you.

4. My speech is good sometimes but gets worse throughout the day. People find it hard to understand me. What can I do?

If your speech is affected there are a number of packages which you can install on a smartphone or tablet computer. However, if you’ve got issues with tremors then using a smartphone may be difficult for you to use. Switch access is possible on a Mac or Windows tablet. The switches can be wireless too for easier use. Search for more information about switches on our website.


Case study

Kenny called us as his partner John was having difficulties researching information on his Android tablet. Our A&I team talked to him about the different ways that John can access his tablet, using Google’s voice control and we went on to tell him about a piece of software called Evi which you can ask questions with your voice and it will go away and find the answer.


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 list of free hints and tips that you can use to make your time on the computer that bit easier.

Hannah Cockroft launches Tech4Good Awards 2014

Double Paralympic Gold Medallist Hannah Cockroft MBE officially launched this year’s Tech4Good Awards at an event that took place at BT Tower last week.

Hannah is one of the judges of this year’s Awards and will be present at the ceremony itself on 10th July at BT Centre. Although she was unable to attend the launch event in person she sent a video message from her training base, which you can view below.

Nominations are open until 5pm on Tuesday 6th May.

How Preston City Council got to grips with web accessibility

February’s AbilityNet webinar saw us join forces with SOCITM to give a practical overview of web accessibility. Our Head of Digital Inclusion, Robin Christopherson shared his expertise in the area, helping attendees with web accessibility queries.

A key element of the webinar was the contribution of Mel Moville, Web Manager for Preston City Council (PCC) who shared the story of her organisation’s journey towards a more accessible website.

Preston’s website failed the accessibility test in SOCITM’s Better Connected assessment (an annual assessment of all local authority websites). From the feedback in the report, Mel and her colleagues were surprised to find that their website was nowhere near as accessible as they had thought and particularly surprised that some of the third-party elements of the site weren’t as accessible as they had been told.

Mel and PCC wanted a clear picture of where their website was performing well in terms of accessibility and any areas for improvement, so they commissioned a Digital Accessibility Centre (DAC) accessibility audit of the website in April 2013. Mel travelled to the DAC centre to watch the tests being carried out, a step that she found really helpful and one that we at AbilityNet recommend with our testing. She said, “It was good to go in and see the videos of the testing so we could understand exactly where the problems were. It was interesting to see the technologies being used.”

In total, the audit identified 24 web accessibility failures on the website and third-party add-ons. The problems took a total of eight months to resolve, with the third-party elements proving particularly problematic as Mel and the team at PCC had to work through the actions with the third-party suppliers.

Among the problems highlighted was the fact that Google Maps plugins on the site, which were used to show locations of services, were inaccessible to non-visual users. This is a common issue that is easily solved by adding a list of addresses to the maps page.

Preston City Council web accessibility issue, Google Maps

PCC received accreditation from the DAC in November 2013 but they are glad of the lessons learned during the process. According to Mel, they learnt how vital it is that accessibility be included from the start of any new web build, with the web development team conducting tests at every stage of the process. The other major area highlighted by their problems with third party suppliers was the need to have accessibility requirements built into the procurement process.

Click here to find out more about AbilityNet’s web accessibility services.

To view the full video recording of the webinar and hear Mel's story in her own words, please click here.

Webinar slideshow available on Slideshare here.

 

 

 

Chris Bailey heads up accessibility for UK UX Professional Association

Dr Chris Bailey, senior consultant in AbilityNet's London office, has been elected Accessibility Officer for the UK Chapter of the User Experience Professional Association. Chris recently completed his PhD in Human-Computer Interaction at Teesside University and is keen to promote better understanding of accessibility in the UK's growing UX community.

Dr Chris Bailey, Accessibility & Usability Consultant, AbilityNetUXPA UK is a not-for-profit organisation which supports UX practitioners in their professional development and promotes all disciplines of user-centred design. His role involves leading UXPA activities around accessibility and inclusive design as well as raising awareness of the need to cater for users with diverse needs in the wider community and industry. He will also build and maintain UXPA UK relationships with other organisations related to accessibility and inclusion.

As Chris says:

"Accessibility and UX best practice share a great deal in terms of putting users’ needs at the centre of design processes. I really believe that developing an accessible product showcases the discipline of user-centred design at its very best.

"I know many UX professionals are committed to ensuring that accessibility is embedded in every digital project and I hope I can help build awareness of the business benefits and UX enhancements that inclusive design can bring to a product."

Find out more about UXPA at www.uxpa-uk.org

UK User Experience Professional Association

Down's Syndrome and Computing

The needs of people with Down's Syndrome vary enormously and there may be many ways that computers could help them with communications at work, at home or in education. This blog covers just a few of them and is written to mark World Downs Syndrome Day on March 21.

Down's Syndrome, also known as Down's Syndrome in the USA is a genetic condition that typically causes some level of learning disability and a characteristic range of physical features. Source: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Downs-syndrome/Pages/Introduction.aspx. There are over 40,000 people in the UK with the condition. Source: http://www.downs-syndrome.org.uk/

Top tips for easier computing for people with Down's Syndrome

It’s difficult to be specific about what the challenges and obstacles that someone who has Down’s Syndrome might face but whatever they are ther will almost certainly be there will be software or hardware adaptations available that will help.

World Downs Syndrome Day is 21 MarchIf you have the condition you might want to use a different keyboard (perhaps alphabetical) or alternative pointing device to make it easier for you to use the computer.  You may even want to change the way the keyboard reacts when you hit a key. Ifg you're not sure how to do that check out My Computer My Way, AbilityNet's interactive guide to all the many ways you can change setting in your computer, tablet or smartphone

You also may benefit from some software which helps you plan and write your work and have text spoken out to you.  Mind mapping software such as Freemind (http://freemind.sourceforge.net/wiki/index.php/Main_Page) or Inspiration (http://www.inspiration.com/) is useful for making notes on content that you want to include in your work. You could even use the outline feature in Word to help you make brief notes.

If you find reading a bit difficult you could change the font style (http://www.abilitynet.org.uk/mcmw/changing-your-fonts/) for one that is easier for you to read. You can also get software which will actually speak text out for you. (http://www.ivona.com/en/mini-reader/). Best of all, this package is free!

One of the ways that people who have Down’s Syndrome communicate is via Makaton which is a sign language vocabulary. There’s a Makaton-based app for this which will run on an Ipad although please note this is not free.

Case study

Imran’s dad called our helpline as Imran had some difficulties with using the keyboard. We suggested using an alphabetic keyboard and some word prediction software so that Imran could effectively use the computer and do his homework for college.

If he gets tired he can also get the software to read back what Imran has written. After he’s done his homework he can chat to his friends on social networking sites.

How can we help?

AbilityNet helps disabled people use computers and the internet at work, at home and in education. There are a few ways that we can help:

  • 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 list of free hints and tips that you can use to make your time on the computer that bit easier. http://www.abilitynet.org.uk/mcmw

Five golden rules for compliant alt text

Are you using alt text properly?

Inconsistent use of alt text is one of the most common problems found in our web audits. These golden rules make your alt tags more useful to your site visitors and mean your site is more likely to be legally compliant. These rules are aimed at content editors but may also be useful for anyone producing content on the web.

  • Rule 1: Every <img> must have an alt= attribute
  • Rule 2: Describe the information, not the picture
  • Rule 3: Active images require descriptive alt text.
  • Rule 4: Images that contain information require descriptive alt text.
  • Rule 5: Decorative images should have empty alt text.

What is "alt text"?

Alt text is a text alternative defined for images. The typical image is coded in HTML in the following form: 

<img alt="text alternative">

You might never actually see the code of the page when you are editing your web site or when you are adding new content, instead you will probably use a CMS (Content Management System) of some kind. Whatever you are using to add content to your web site, when you add an image you should get asked for "alt text" or a text alternative (it may be called slightly differently, but you should be asked for some kind of name for the image, chances are this is the alt text).

What is the reason for alt text?

Not all users can see the images. Disabled visitors to your site may be using assistive technology like screen readers or other text to speech software which reads the page out loud, and this software will read the alt text instead of the image. There are other situations when the alt text is used too, e.g. if a user has images turned off (e.g. because they use a very slow internet connection – still happens occasionally!) then they will see the alt text instead of the image. 

There are other ways how images can be implemented, e.g. it is possible to use CSS styles to add background images, but this is usually done by the front-end developers and not by content editors, and will therefore not be covered as part of this article. We will concentrate on alt text of traditional <img> images here.

So what do you need to do?

Every image must have the alt attribute included:

Rule 1: Every <img> must have an alt= attribute 
There is no exception to this. The <img> element must always contain the alt= attribute. It doesn't matter what the image is used for, or what it shows, or even how small it is.
What text you should use for the alt attribute depends on the type of image and is explained below, but you always include either alt="" (empty alt text) or alt="descriptive text" (descriptive alt text).
And another mistake I've seen a few times on web sites:
Rule 2: Describe the information, not the picture 
In other words, you almost never describe what the picture looks like, instead you explain the information the picture contains.
Example:
Twitter logo
The alt text for this image should be alt="Twitter" or similar (depending on the context and how the image is used), but it should not be "blue bird" or anything similar. Sounds obvious? I have seen several sites that did include descriptions of what the image shows in the alt text of an image, usually on sites that had made an effort to improve accessibility but misunderstood the requirement.

Types of images

So what exactly should the alt text be? Well, it depends on the image… 

Luckily, there are only 3 fundamental types of images you need to consider:
  1. Type 1: "Active" images, i.e. images that perform an action (links, buttons etc.)
  2. Type 2: Images that contain information
  3. Type 3: Images that are purely for decoration
When deciding how to make an image accessible, first you need to choose which type of image it is from the above list.

Type 1: Active images

What is an Active image?
It is quite easy to check if an image is active or not: An "active" image is an image that performs an action or has some functionality. The most common example is a link image, i.e. where an image is the only content of a link.
Note: When a single link contains an image as well as text then this doesn't count as an active image here.
How to implement it?
Rule 3: Active images require descriptive alt text. 
The alt text for an active image should describe the action the image performs. So if you have a link image then the alt text should tell the user what the link does. If it's a link to another page then it could be the name of that page, if the link performs an action on that page then name that action (e.g. "expand" if it expands a section, "Email this page" if it's an email link, etc.)

Type 2: Images that contain information

If the image is not an active image (type 1 above), then you need to check if it contains information or not.
Sometimes this is easy, e.g. a chart or graph will contain some information, or an image of text contains information. Unfortunately this is not always straight forward, in some cases you will need to use your judgment to decide if an image contains information or not. The essential question is, would the user miss something if you remove the image? If the user would miss out on some information without the image, then it is a "type 2" image. If the image is just for decoration, or if the same information is already in the text somewhere, then it is a decorative image (type 3).
How to implement it?
Rule 4: Images that contain information require descriptive alt text.
If an image contains information, then you need to offer this information to the user in an alternative format. If the user can't see the image, they need to get the information in another way. The alt text should be a brief description of the information.
There are some special cases for images containing information that are worth pointing out:
Images of text
Try to avoid using images of text. In the vast majority of cases where I come across images of text there is no need to use images, instead the page could just use normal text with some basic formatting applied. Reason? Some users increase the text size, images don't resize in the same way as text. If zooming into a page, images of text get blurred, normal text usually doesn't. There are many other reasons…
If you do need to use images of text, then in almost all cases the alt text will be the text shown in the image. After all, that's usually the information the image contains!
Charts, Graphs, etc
Graphs and charts usually contain a lot of information, too much to include as part of the alt text, as the alt text should be kept very brief. There will be a separate article here that looks at complex images.

Type 3: Images that are for decoration

If the image is not an active image (type 1), and if it doesn’t contain information (type 2), then it is a decorative image. Images that are only for decoration should not have any (descriptive) alt text, instead you should use the empty string as alt text.
How to implement it?
Rule 5: Decorative images should have empty alt text.
The alt text should be the empty (null) string, i.e. alt="". The code for your image should look like this:
<img alt="">
Even if the image is for decoration, it still must have the alt attribute (remember rule 1!), but it doesn't contain any text. If you read somewhere that certain images should have no alt text, what is meant is that the alt text should be empty. To repeat: Never define any <img> without the alt= attribute!
Reason:
If the alt attribute contains no text (alt="") this tells screen readers to ignore the image. Screen reader users don't need to know about decorative images, it would just add to "audio clutter" on the page, so by assigning an empty alt text to an image the screen reader is told to ignore it.

Remember

Whatever you're developing or delivering remember these five golden rules to making Alt text work for your site visitors:
Rule 1: Every <img> must have an alt= attribute
Rule 2: Describe the information, not the picture
Rule 3: Active images require descriptive alt text.
Rule 4: Images that contain information require descriptive alt text.
Rule 5: Decorative images should have empty alt text.
  • Stefan Sollinger is an Accessibility and Usability consultant in the web team at AbilityNet.

Free help to make your computer system work for you

So there’s no such thing as a free lunch.  However the next best thing to free food has to be free computer technology.

AbilityNet has always been at the forefront of helping disabled people get the most from computers and the internet and other digital technology. The  people calling our helpline or using our factsheets usually don’t have too much money to spend, so they want to do things on “the cheap”. For cheap, read free. The good news is that AbilityNet has a number of free services:

If you need a guiding hand to work out what technology might be useful for you, or your clients have a look at our online Assessment Tool

A lot of people who call us aren’t aware that there are a lot of built in packages which can help you make your computer more accessible for you. 

A good example is the ability to turn the repeat rate down on the keyboard, so you don’t get multiple characters in the event that you can’t take your finger off the keyboard quickly enough.  It is your computer. You can customise it your way. (http://www.abilitynet.org.uk/mcmw/). The site is split into sections for people who have motor difficulties, sight issues or cognitive issues and it covers both Windows and Mac computers.

Step by step instructions will ensure that you can be up and running fairly quickly, and if you ever get stuck you can always call us and we can arrange for a volunteer to come out and see you, for free.

How can we help?

There are a few ways that we can help:

  • 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 IT Support at Home 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 list of free hints and tips that you can use to make your time on the computer that bit easier. http://www.abilitynet.org.uk/mcmw/

 

Raynaud's Phenomenon and Computing

What is Raynaud's Phenomenon?

Raynaud's phenomenon is a common disorder in which the small blood vessels in the extremities are over-sensitive to changes in temperature.  In some instances it can be a sign of another issue.

The effects of the condition include having white, red or blue, cold fingers, and very cold feet.

How many people in the UK have the condition?

It affects between 3-20% of the adult population worldwide, mainly females and there may be as many as ten million sufferers in the UK (Source: http://www.raynauds.org.uk/)

Top tips for easier computing

If you have the condition it might well be a really good idea to consider looking at ways you can use the computer without using a keyboard. Voice recognition might be a viable alternative, if your fingers become too numb to use the condition. If you do want to continue to use the keyboard you could consider a soft touch keyboard, and perhaps even consider using word prediction to cut down on keyboard use. Using fingerless gloves might help too.

Case study

Zoe called us because she has Reynaud’s and uses a computer at home. She finds that her fingers get very sore fairly often and this means she cannot use the keyboard as much as she would like. We suggested using voice recognition, to take some of the pressure of using a keyboard off her. We also suggested using a light touch keyboard along with some word prediction software. This meant that she was able to use social networking sights more effectively to share her experiences of living with the condition.

How can AbilityNet help?

Call our free Helpline: 0800 269 545

  • Our free helpline is open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm. Our friendly, knowledgeable staff will discuss any kind of computer problem and do their best to come up with a solution.

Arrange a home visit

  • Our network of AbilityNet ITCanHelp volunteers help disabled people deal with computer problems at home. They can come to your home, or help you over the phone. Click here to book a free home visit

Free Factsheets

My Computer My Way

Use our free website to find all the ways that you can adjust your computer, laptop, tablet and smartphone at www.abilitynet.org.uk/mcmw

eNation: Supermarkets fail disabled people this Christmas

Shopping online for those Christmas dinner essentials is needlessly difficult for disabled people, concludes a new 'State of the enation' report by AbilityNet. Testers with a range of conditions from blindness and low vision to learning difficulties, shopped for a turkey, a Christmas pudding and a dozen crackers at the five top online food retailers using both website and mobile apps (where available).

state of the eNation reportsOf the five websites sampled – Sainsburys, Morrisons, Asda, Tesco and Ocado – only one met the base-level of access requirements needed for stress-free shopping, with disabled users on some sites taking over an hour to make their purchases and on others unable to complete the checkout process altogether. Apps fared a little better, with two achieving minimum requirements - which still means that much frustration will be experienced by many users on their mobile devices this Christmas.

Sites and apps were tested with the most commonly encountered access technologies (such as magnification software and screen readers) and whether or not they could be accessed using the keyboard instead of the mouse. Of the top five supermarket sites, only Tesco’s met the needs of visitors with a visual impairment, physical difficulties or dyslexia, and attained three stars on the five star scale. Ocado performed best out of all the mobile apps tested, achieving a four star ranking with Tesco’s app a close second with another three star rating.

Explains Robin Christopherson, AbilityNet’s Head of Digital Inclusion:

“The websites and mobile apps were a challenge to our testers. Three stars suggests that the site or app satisfies many of the technical and legal requirements (Equality Act 2010) that enable disabled visitors to undertake the tasks set, albeit with some difficulties along the way.

“A score of less than three stars means that many customers will fail to fill their basket let alone successfully complete the purchase and confirm a time for delivery. That only one website met this criteria promises little online festive cheer for our testers this Christmas.

“Latest figures show that a tipping point has been reached in online retail with all growth going forward resulting from sales via mobile devices (smartphones and tablets). This trend makes the accessibility of apps to disabled users a strategically even more important factor looking ahead.”

Morrisons doesn't offer online shoppingPerhaps most disappointing however was the fact that Morrisons, unlike its rivals, does not sell online at all – a huge drawback for disabled customers for whom home delivery or at least an in-store collection service is of enormous benefit. Robin adds: “Retailers who ignore the needs of disabled people risk missing out on a market which represents a spending power of some £120 billion every year (the so called ‘purple pound’).

“The Law is clear on this issue. It is just as illegal to bar disabled visitors from accessing your goods and services online as it would be to keep them out of your building in the ‘real world. Whilst no company would do this knowingly, as this report shows there are plenty of high profile companies that are contravening legal requirements by not considering their disabled customers.”

Download and read the eNation report in full now

Comments from disabled people conducting the tests include:

Tesco website

"I couldn't see the 'Skip to content' link on the Tesco site and for the tabbing you have to have good eyesight to spot, some are just a slight colour change but at least it is some indication which is more than most!"

Blind screen reader user

Tesco App

"I had trouble finding them. I didn’t realise that the crackers would be under the category 'Groceries' but overall very fast and efficient and precise."

Magnification user

Sainsbury’s website

“This site was difficult to use with misleading buttons such as 'Disabled save trolley', 'Disabled empty trolley' all of which are in fact active. There were also some unlabelled images such as 'icons/grid_British-Flag_v1_m56577569834232415'. Despite these difficulties I was able to complete the tasks with some effort.”

Blind screen reader user

Sainsbury’s app

“I found this app completely unusable as the mobile version of the site it accesses is full of incomprehensible links such as 'Deeplink.js' and you are unable to do anything.”

Blind screen reader user

Asda website

"Did not complete checkout process as found too time-consuming and frustrating. Also there is no accessibility page."

Blind screen reader user

Asda App

“Really confusing. I wasn't able to view the contents of my trolley and couldn't choose a timeslot for delivery (all grid cell items appear blank) and I gave up. Aaaagh!”

Blind screen reader user

Morrisons website

"What a very inaccessible site - I couldn't find anything I was looking for"

Magnification user

“I found it frustrating not being able to easily search for information on items. Get a search engine."

Dyslexic shopper

Ocado website

"When I was looking for the Christmas pudding and I clicked onto the heading browse shop that's when the problem occurred that if I moved my mouse off the icon the information would disappear and I would have to start the whole process again. I found this irritating."

Magnification user

"I added my items to the trolley and then had to register and afterwards my trolley was empty and it was a bit annoying that after registering I had to do it all over again."

Dyslexic shopper

Download and read the eNation report in full now

Disability statistics

In the UK an estimated 2 million people have a vision impairment, some 1.5 million have cognitive difficulties and a further 3.4 million have a disability which prevents them using the standard keyboard, screen and mouse set-up with ease. In addition, an estimated 6 million are dyslexic and many millions experience literacy difficulties, not to mention the increasing number of elderly ‘silver surfers’ with failing eyesight or arthritis.

About State of the eNation reports

AbilityNet is at the forefront of a number of initiatives both at home and abroad to improve website accessibility for disabled people and provide both private and public sector organisations with the expertise they need to ensure that their websites, apps and other digital content are meeting guideline levels of compliance (such as those recommended by the W3C/WAI). For more information on website accessibility, usability and design, contact AbilityNet on 0800 269545.


Download and read the eNation report in full now

Issued by the AbilityNet Press Office - for press contacts please call 01926 429595