Are Robots the Future of Education?

As much as you may have concerns about robots and the way we could be interacting with them in the future, it’s important to consider how AI and robotics can and do benefit the education of current and future generations.

Already robots are being used to help assist and teach children with autism and they’re being used to allow students with health conditions or impairments to attend school remotely.

The sector is on the grow 

It’s estimated that by 2019 the spend on robotics and related services will hit 135.4 billion US dollars. The types of technology we are talking about specifically for education will make up a very small fraction of this, infact the two fastest growing industries for robotics are healthcare and unsurprisingly process manufacturing. We feel it’s still fair to say technology will continue to play a pivotal role in all sectors, including education.

As accessibility specialists we’re passionate about technology and how it can help people with different health conditions and impairments to achieve their goals. For that reason we’re interested to see how robotics can help students with health conditions or impairments such as dementia, autism or mobility differences.

‘If you think you don’t know someone with a disability, think again’

Recent stats from you.gov shows that 1 in 4 students will experience mental health concerns during their education, stats from the British Dyslexia Association state that 10% of the population have dyslexia and there are 2 million people in the UK with visual impairments. '72, 000 children are missing out on their childhood due to long-term illness. That means in every eight classroom there is an empty desk' (source noisolation, 2017) This shows large numbers of people that could potentially have invaluable support from Artificial Intelligence.

So what about the future?

You might think we’re about to predict robots standing at the front of a classroom teaching or taking over the classroom altogether. The relationship between robotics and education might be a bit more complicated than that… An article from the BBC shows how students teaching a robot actually helps them to learn. Training the robots has also proven to be largely effective at training the students, and their patience is improved as they are learning by doing so. So, perhaps it could be time to embrace the future potential of Robots in Education.

If you'd like more information on how technology can support education contact us: Free phone 0800 269 545 or email enquiries@abilitynet.org.uk 

How you can use a computer if you have MND

Motor Neurone Disease is also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease (after an American baseball player). It affects the muscles in your body causing them to be weak.  There is no known cure for this condition, but symptoms can be managed to help people to achieve the best possible quality of life. 


This blog has been created to coincide with MND Awareness Month which runs throughout June.


Professor Stephen Hawking

What is MND? 

According to the MND Association there are 5000 people with the condition in the UK. The causes aren’t really understood but it may be something to do with chemicals and structures in the motor nerves.

The effects include difficulty speaking and movement; eating and swallowing are also affected and eventually the muscles that assist breathing fail. There are different types of the condition.   

Professor Stephen Hawking who sadly passed away this year was one of the most famous people to have the condition.  Other people that have the condition include ex Scottish international rugby player Doddie Weir.

FAQs about MND and computing

These commonly asked questions about having MND illustrate some of the many ways of using a computer can help someone who has the condition.

Q: I sometimes find it hard to use the standard mouse. What can I do?

There are lots of different mouse alternatives available, including rollerballs and joysticks. Take a look at our factsheet about mouse alternatives to work out which one may be best for you. 

If you have good head movement, you will be able to use a head mouse.  

If you have issues with “clicking” the mouse button you can download some free software which means you don’t have to do any clicking whatsoever. Eye gaze technology is advancing at a pace now and the cost is coming down all of the time. 

You can also check My Computer My Way to see if changing the way the mouse pointer moves might help!

Q: 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 Windows and Apple computers as well as most tablets and smartphones.

For more details have a look at our easy to understand step by step instructions on My Computer My Computer.

We’ve also written a factsheet about voice recognition that offers advice about various options.

Some times you might find that your voice changes throughout the day. We’d recommend that you have a couple of different voice profiles. So for example you might have a “Morning voice” profile and an “Afternoon voice” profile.

Q: Sometimes I have difficulty reaching all the keys on the keyboard. What can I do?

A lot of people like to use keyboards that don’t have the number pad on the right hand side. This means the keyboards are a lot smaller than normal ones. They are called “compact” keyboards.

A keyguard might also be useful. This will stop you from hitting two keys at once!  As the condition progresses it might be worth exploring other input options like switches.

There are lots of different keyboards available – take a look at our factsheet on keyboard alternatives to learn more about your options. 
 

Q: I've heard a lot about "smart-tech" devices. Would these help me in my home?

Amazon Echo DotWe are really keen on smart home devices especially such as Amazon Echo and Google Home devices.  These are voice controlled devices that can help you with tasks around the house. For example you can link your Amazon device up to your TV and you can change the channels on your TV screen by voice.  Want to turn lights on? you can use smart tech to help you out again.  Want to see who is at your door?

Your Amazon Echo or Google Home device can also connect to a smart door lock so you can let people in as and when you need to, without having to struggle to get to the front door.

We also like the fact that you can use Amazon Echo to make calls to other people who own Echo devices as well and you can use the Google Home as easily as you can use a landline phone. to make incoming and outgoing calls. 

Case study: Using Skype to help families keep in touch?

Jon called us on behalf of his brother Nick. Nick used to enjoy travelling and has made many friends across the world, but now finds it difficult to get out of his house. We chatted about technology such as Skype which would mean that he could stay in touch with his friends.

We also chatted about alternatives to the headset microphone which might be easier for Nick to use and identified some retailers that have a “try before you buy” policy.

We also arranged for one of our IT Can Help volunteers to come to Nick's house to check the current set up and help with installation of any new equipment.

More help from AbilityNet

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 

Our expert factsheets talk in detail about technology that might help you and can be downloaded for free. You may find our factsheets talking about voice recognition and keyboard alternatives useful.

My Computer My Way

Our free guide to all the accessibility features built into every computer, laptop, tablet and smartphone. We show you the adjustments that can make your time on the computer that bit easier.

Finalists announced for AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards!

The finalists have been announced for the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards 2018 – an annual showcase for the amazing people who use digital technology to make the world a better place. 

Sponsored by BT, they are the only awards to highlight the wealth of charities, businesses and volunteers across the UK that use the power of technology to improve the other people’s lives.

This is the eighth year of the awards, which are organised by national digital inclusion charity AbilityNet, and entry was open to any business, charity, individual or public body in the UK. 

The AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards 2018 finalists are:
 
AbilityNet Accessibility Award

  • Be My Eyes
  • Facebook
  • GiveVision
  • Seeing AI
  • WaytoB

BT Connected Society Award 

•    Alcove
•    Always in Mind
•    Greengame
•    Rafiqi
•    Small Robot Company
 

BT Young Pioneer Award

•    Code Camp
•    IMAREC
•    Mind Moodz
•    Water Watcher


Comic Relief Tech4Good for Africa Award

•    Amandla.mobi
•    Gather
•    Lynk
•    Unlocking Talent Through Technology

Community Impact Award

•    Digtial Voice
•    Kindergifts
•    Mind of My Own
•    Tap to the App
•    Relias

Digital Health Award

•    Apart of Me
•    Immersive Rehab
•    Moment Health
•    TapSOS

Digital Skills Award

•    CodeYourFuture
•    Generation Code
•    Nominet Digital Neighbourhood
•    Stretchlab

Digital Volunteer of the Year Award

•    Ann Crago
•    Anna Holland Smith
•    Graham Gunning
•    Richard Rankin
 

For more information about the finalists of the other award categories visit the website: https://www.tech4goodawards.com/finalists 

People’s Award – have your say!

Voting is now open for in the People’s Award, which is chosen by the general public. 

You can read about each finalist and their entry on the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards website and cast your vote by sending a tweet using the correct hashtag. 

Each entry has its own hashtag and voting closes at 5pm on Monday 09 July. 

For more details visit the People's Award page on the Tech4Good Awards website.

The Awards are organised by AbilityNet Head of Marketing and Communications, Mark Walker. He said:

“We are thrilled to announce this excellent range of finalists for the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards 2018.

“Each finalist has truly used their passion for digital technology to change the lives of other people.

“On behalf of AbilityNet, I want to thank BT for once again generously agreeing to sponsor this year’s awards – without BT’s passionate support these awards would not be possible.

“We are now looking forward to the awards ceremony on 17 July at BT Centre, London, where we will celebrate these amazing people who use digital technology to make the world a better place for other people. 

“You can also have your say and vote for the People’s Award, which is chosen from the finalists by the general public. 

“To cast your vote and to get more details about the finalists visit our website now."

 

AbilityNet at Number 10 to promote inclusive design during London Tech Week

We're very proud to say Robin Christopherson and Mark Walker were at Downing Street yesterday (Thursday 14 June) for a Breakfast Briefing about assistive technology as part of London Tech Week.

The session at No. 10 included 20 people hosted by the Secretary of State for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Matt Hancock, Minister for Disabled People, Sarah Newton and No.10 Deputy Director of Policy, Natalie Black - with colleagues from Action on Hearing Loss, RNIB, Scope, Leonard Cheshire plus Microsoft and several start-ups, many of whom have featured in our Tech4Good Awards.

Mark Walker and Robin Chroistopherson outside number 10

Key themes match AbilityNet's goals

We'll post a longer report next week to review what we discussed but it was a very interesting hour, taking in several subjects of direct interest to AbilityNet, including:

Lots of positive listening on the government side and some interesting ideas about connecting with the DWP on specific actions... so watch this space!

Communication Aids

Many people have difficulty speaking or understanding what is being said, and this communication disability can be a huge barrier affecting every aspect of life.

 

2.2 million people are affected by communication problems include people with Aphasia, Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Dementia, Head Trauma, Learning Difficulties, Motor Neurone Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s And Stroke.

 

How EyeMine enables people with physical disabilities to play Minecraft using just their eyes

Becky Tyler is 15 years old and has severe quadriplegic cerebral palsy. For most of her life, playing games such as Minecraft has been almost impossible because she can’t control the muscles in her body. But some recent tech developments by former AbilityNet Tech4Good (T4G) winner SpecialEffect have changed this.

SpecialEffect, the charity which won the T4G AbilityNet Accessibility Award and Winner of Winners Award in 2014, has developed new software called EyeMine for the hugely popular video game Minecraft. Combined with eye gaze/ eye tracker equipment, it enables people with limited mobility to play the game using just their eyes. Becky has been involved in developing and testing the software (the BBC recorded Becky playing Minecraft with her eyes - the video is here). 

The Windows-based EyeMine created as open source software by the charity is free to download for anyone with a Minecraft account. It works with any eye tracker that can control a mouse pointer, including low-cost units like Tobii 4C, says Mick Donegan, CEO and fouBecky Special Effect playing Minecraft with her eyes in her bedroomnder of SpecialEffect.

"My eyes become like my computer mouse,” says Becky. “If I stare long enough, that clicks the mouse. It’s changed my life and given me some independence. It has allowed me to develop my creative talents and it has meant I can be totally included in the fun. It has also meant I have more in common with my friends; I think it’s changed the way my friends see me. It makes me feel less disabled.

The software has a number of ability levels. If players are able to use eye gaze to select a square button about a quarter of the height of a monitor, they should be able to walk, fly and attack, says SpecialEffect. More accurate eye control enables players to build, select items from the inventory and chat.

How do eye trackers/ eye gaze work?

Eye-trackers have in-built infrared cameras which track where your eyes are looking, letting a user move the mouse pointer around on the screen. The user can 'click' by dwelling (staring at a screen button for a certain length of time) or by using a switch that’s plugged in to the computer. SpecialEffect’s EyeMine software harnesses this control specifically to play Minecraft. You can watch tutorials here. 

EyeMine is a fork of the opensource OptiKey project, which was a finalist in last year's Tech4Good Awards. It has been tested and developed with the help of a number of people with physical disabilities, such as Becky.

Donegan says: “So many young people play Minecraft. We wanted to use all the skills we’ve built up to make such software available open source so that everyone can be included in the fun as an equal player.”

Special Effect has also been working on similar projects, such as making the game Day of the Tentacle eye-gaze accessible.

What you need to play Minecraft with your eyes:

  • A Windows PC with Windows 7 or above (see more on the minimum spec for Minecraft). EyeMine software isn't compatible with online or games console versions of Minecraft.
  • An eye-tracker device. Any of these eye-trackers mentioned by special Effect will provide full functionality. Any eye tracker with its own software that allows a user to control the mouse will also work, but with more limited functionality.
  • A Minecraft account. If you don’t have a Minecraft account, you can try EyeMine to make sure the target sizes are appropriate before purchasing one.  

Find the latest info on this year's fantastic Tech4Good competition, here

How new eye-gaze technology is changing lives for children with life-limiting conditions.

Apple accessibility: Siri Shortcuts to give people with impairments a boost

This week saw Apple’s annual World Wide Developers Conference keynote event where the company revealed everything we can expect to see in the new operating systems come Autumn; iOS 12, watch OS 5, tv OS 12 and mac OS Mojave. Siri has some new capabilities and one, in particular, should give those with a speech impairment a big boost. It's good news for accessibility.

A smart use of smart assistants

We all know that we can use Siri to get information, schedule appointments, send text messages and much, much more. Siri is far from perfect and arguably somewhat behind in the smart assistant stakes, but nevertheless, when it works, it adds significant convenience. If you have a disability and things may take a little longer than usual, that convenience can turn into a pronounced productivity gain. Factor in a learning difficulty or fatigue, then using your voice to achieve tasks could substantially widen your use of tech.

iPhone Screen showing message from Siri about appointment

If you can’t see (like me) or have reading difficulties, then Siri can easily be set to speak out the results of an action. If you can’t speak clearly then you can also train Siri to better understand you by tapping on the history of spoken commands and correcting what it thought you said.

If, however, speech is very tiring or challenging, then the new Siri Shortcuts coming in iOS 12 may be just the thing for you.

New Siri ‘Shortcuts’

Coming in iOS 12 is a new way of assigning quick phrases to the things you most want to achieve with Siri. A previous update to iOS gave Siri new capabilities to interact with non-Apple apps, such as being able to ask her to start a Skype call. Now it seems that many more third-party apps will be able to integrate with Siri by using the new ‘Shortcuts’ capability. App developers can define trigger phrases (such as “Start sleeping” for a sleep tracking app or “Post to VORail” to open this excellent audio-only social network app and begin recording a new post) and Siri will obey. This radically expands its ability to interface with apps and, understandably, the developer audience at the event were suitably excited.

But there’s more. As well as developers being able to define new phrases for Siri, I mentioned that you would be able to assign your own custom trigger phrases too. You do this using the new Shortcuts app.

The new Shortcuts app

There’s a new app coming in iOS 12 called Shortcuts. Looking a lot like the Workflow or IFTTT apps, you can easily pick from a list of common Siri tasks, as well as a gallery of all the new trigger phrases provided by the third-party apps you’ve got installed on your device, bring them together into a list of actions that will all be performed with a single Siri command and then assign your own custom shortcut phrase to trigger the listed actions.

Apple shortcuts logo

This brings Siri in-line with other smart assistants such as the Amazon Echo, which has had a similar feature called ‘Routines’ for some time now. Say “Good morning” to Alexa and she can give you your news update, the weather, the state of traffic on your daily commute and then play your favourite breakfast playlist - all with one easy command. Now with Shortcuts, Siri will have similar smarts.

Choosing trigger phrases to suit you

These new expanded capabilities are good news for everyone, but especially for those with a range of disabilities where efficiency and ease of use is everything.

If a speech impairment makes using Siri more of a challenge, however, then these new shortcuts will be a game-changer. Pick a phrase that is easiest to say clearly and you’ll increase the chances of Siri successfully understanding what you’ve said. If you also have an Apple Watch and find saying “Hey Siri” a chore, then coming in watch OS 5 is the option to have Siri listen automatically when you raise your wrist. This, combined with simpler commands, should make a big difference for users with speech difficulties.

Similarly, if you had a learning difficulty and would prefer simple phrases to perform certain actions, then simply set up a shortcut trigger phrase that is easy to remember for each daily task you would usually use Siri to assist with.

Robin Christopherson is head of digital inclusion for AbilityNet. Find more of his blogs here. 

Related articles:

Why Apple’s problems with its HomePod smartspeaker may benefit disabled iPhone users everywhere

Alexa vs Google Home vs Cortana: The battle to reach every user intensifies

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

5 ways accessibility in video games is evolving

We asked our Accessibility and Usability Consultants to share their thoughts about accessibility in gaming.

Like most digital sectors the championing of inclusive design in video games has been ongoing and becoming more prominent in recent years. Companies such as EA (Electronic Arts) have for some time considered accessibility and have posted help articles for their titles, but it wasn't until earlier this year that the EA accessibility portal was launched.

In-game features that may have originally been developed for users with disabilities are now having an overwhelmingly positive effect on all players. Subtitles in games are no longer only for players with auditory health conditions or impairments...

"Subtitles are an accessibility feature being used by over 60% of gamers — an example would be gamers playing on the underground with no headphones..." - Ian Hamilton at London Accessibility Meetup

Inclusive design results in better products and is future proofing a service given the increased awareness of permanent, temporary and situational impairments. So how has accessibility been emerging in video games recently and how is it similar or different to other sectors?

We’ve looked at 5 developments in video game accessibility…

1. Building in accessibility from the start

Accessibility was considered right from the get-go in the side-scrolling game Way of the Passive Fist (WotPF), which was released in March of this year. Accessibility was part of the design and development process for this game, and as a result players can remap every control in the game, play it one-handed or adjust the difficulty level. The animators also considered players that have trouble seeing and/or are sensitive to flashing lights, all of this resulting in a game that everyone over the age of twelve can enjoy.

Way of the Passive Fists in-game screen capture of combat

 
As with web accessibility, considering accessibility at the start of a video game project just makes more sense. Many companies still struggle to do this though and have to retrofit accessibility, as was the case a few years ago when CD Projekt Red received negative feedback about the text size on their title The Witcher 3 and had to release a patch to fix the issue. Had they considered the implications of an inaccessible text size at the beginning of the project it would not have cost them anything extra to implement.

2. Accessible gaming is award-winning and newsworthy

As previously mentioned the championing of accessibility in video games has been ongoing and becoming more prominent in recent years. In 2014 SpecialEffect won the AbilityNet Tech4Good Accessibility Award for their work adapting game controllers to enable people with specific mobility issues to play video games. This year Microsoft reported on the charity as they've created a way to play Minecraft using just your eyes.

Man using assistive technology to play a video game

Photo credit: SpecialEffect technology being used to play a video game via tech4goodawards.com

Ongoing research is also constantly making the news such as the RAD (Racing Auditory Display) interface created by Brian A. Smith. This specialist technology was developed to convey the visual information of a racing game into auditory information. It gives blind and low vision users an opportunity to play racing video games with the same speed and control as sighted players.

3. Different people = different play styles

Tweet from Matt Rowlabo - "Celeste's 'Assist Mode' is such a clever way of making a difficult game accessible to a wider audience. It's framed perfectly too - not insulting, not condescending, just accepting."One of the goals of accessibility in gaming has been to increase the number of different people who can play video games, making the necessary adjustments in both hardware and software. Everyone is benefiting from these efforts being made, as by allowing all players to change the gaming experience it is enabling different play styles. This is evidenced by platform game Celeste's assist mode which makes the game accessible to a wider audience through options that include becoming invincible and slowing the game down.

Many video games and consoles allow remapping of controls to allow for different play styles. Again, this benefits everyone and allows the player to change the gaming experience to meet their requirements. The Copilot feature introduced on Xbox One also allows the same game to be controlled by two different controllers simultaneously, opening up a world of possibilities in terms of different play styles.

4. More and more gaming organisations are embracing accessibility

As mentioned earlier, EA have recently launched their own accessibility portal, created to better support diverse needs and make it easier to find accessibility-specific features and resources.  Many AAA games, a term used to classify games with the highest budgets and levels of promotion, are being recognised for the work they are doing - the accessibility options added by developers to Uncharted 4 is a good example of this.

With all the major console manufacturers and games publishers embracing accessibility it’s becoming much more common to incorporate accessibility at an earlier stage of development. This marks a gradual but fundamental move into mainstream acceptance of both video games and accessibility. Conversations about inclusive design are much more common and this has even resulted in new conferences and events dedicated to the topic of accessibility in gaming, such as the Gaming Accessibility Conference (GAConf).

GAconf banner image with sponsors and video game background

Photo Credit: GAconf banner image via Twitter

5. Future plans

Now as much as ever it’s important we continue to think about the ways video game accessibility can be implemented to enhance the gaming experience and reach even more people.

Video game accessibility developments are happening at a reassuringly rapid rate with the hiring of internal accessibility advocates and increasing pressure and support from developers, senior managers and even influencers. Video games have steadily become more mainstream, and are a real cultural phenomenon.

Increasing awareness of accessibility and the provision of available tools will ensure efforts to make gaming as inclusive as possible will continue. In terms of what will happen next we're excited to see if machine learning begins to surface in the sector - offering the ability for a video game or console to learn what considerations need to be made for the player.

The future of video game accessibility is indeed exciting!

Want to know more?

We'll be sharing content throughout the month about accessibility in gaming, so make sure you're on our mailing list and are following us on social media to stay-up-to-date and get notified when we publish.

Sign up for our newsletter to receive the latest accessibility news and information from AbilityNet.

Like the AbilityNet Facebook page or follow AbilityNet on Twitter to get notified when we publish new stories on our website and to join the conversation about how digital technology can help older people and people with disabilities achieve their goals at home, at work and in education.

Interested in a career in digital accessibility? View current vacancies in our Accessibility Services team.

This Month: Accessibility in Gaming

You're likely aware of the increase in popularity of video games in the last few years, particularly with the availability of games on mobile devices. However you might not know that an estimated 52% of the online population play games and recent predictions suggest that by 2021 the UK gaming market will be worth £5.2bn - making it one of Europe’s largest markets and the fifth largest in the world.

It's no surprise then, that as digital accessibility specialists many of us at AbilityNet are passionate about the technology in video games. We hope you will also be interested in this information, and for that reason we've focussed our comms this month on accessibility in gaming. We've shared some highlights from what's coming up this month below and details of how you can stay up-to-date.

What's Coming Up

This month we'll be sharing an interview with Ian Hamilton, an accessibility specialist and advocate working to raise the bar for accessibility in the gaming industry.

Ian Hamilton Twitter profile imageIan talked about how game accessibility is different to other sectors - "To meet the definition of 'game' there must be some kind of ruleset and challenge, and any kind of challenge will be an accessibility barrier for some people. If you remove the challenge what you're left with is no longer a game, it's a toy or a narrative."

He also shared what triggered his interest in video game accessibility - "It was seeing playtesting footage of preschool games that had been adapted to work with a single accessibility switch. Seeing kids who would otherwise have been passive participants in the classroom as a result laughing, playing, doing the same thing as their classmates, being equal participants in society."


We've been catching up with SpecialEffect, the self-described gamers' charity that helps people with disabilities play video games. Back in 2015 they were announced as winner of the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards Accessibility Award. We spoke to them about the new free software they've released this year called EyeMine, which enables people with physical disabilities to play Minecraft using just their eyes.

Man using assistive technology to play a video game

Photo credit: SpecialEffect technology being used to play a video game via tech4goodawards.com


We also asked our Accessibility and Usability Consultants to share their thoughts on accessibility in gaming and have posted a blog about the 5 ways accessibility in video games is evolving. Like most digital sectors the championing of inclusive design in video games has been ongoing and becoming more prominent in recent years. In-game features that may have originally been developed for users with disabilities are now having an overwhelmingly positive effect on all players. We've looked at 5 developments in video game accessibility and discussed how accessibility in gaming is different to other sectors.

Way of the Passive Fists in-game screen capture of combat

Photo credit: Way of the Passive Fists in-game screen capture via venturebeat.com

Find Out More

We'll be sharing content throughout the month about accessibility in gaming, so make sure you're on our mailing list and are following us on social media to stay-up-to-date and get notified when we publish.

Sign up for our newsletter to receive the latest accessibility news and information from AbilityNet.

Like the AbilityNet Facebook page or follow AbilityNet on Twitter to get notified when we publish new stories on our website and to join the conversation about how digital technology can help older people and people with disabilities achieve their goals at home, at work and in education.

Interested in a career in digital accessibility? View current vacancies in our Accessibility Services team.

AbilityNet and RNIB Volunteers Day during #VolunteersWeek 2018

About The Event

Together with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) we held an event for our volunteers at IBM Southbank in London on Friday 1 June - the start of Volunteers Week. There were around 120 attendees from across the two charities at the event, which was all about celebrating the great work of our volunteers.

Sarah Brain, AbilityNet Free Services Manager and one of the event organisers, said "I can't think of a better way to kick off Volunteers Week than to have so many IT volunteers together in one place to celebrate the fantastic work they do. There was a real buzz on the day, some amazing presentations and workshops about the future of tech, and it was a great opportunity to get our volunteers together during Volunteers Week."

AbilityNet and RNIB's Volunteers Day event attendees group shot

On The Day

In the morning we had presentations from industry experts including Robin Christopherson, AbilityNet’s Head of Digital Inclusion, who spoke about technology including Microsoft Soundscape - maps in 3D sound for those with a visual impairment. Plus we heard about Robin's daily podcast Dot-to-Dot for everyone who is "dotty about Alexa" and the funny Amazon Echo spoof video from Saturday Night Live was shared.

We also heard from Robin Spinks, the RNIB’s Innovation and Technology Relationships Manager, who spoke about Microsoft's Seeing AI app, a talking camera app for those with a visual impairment - on a recent trip to a local zoo Robin was able to use the app to tell his son which animals they were looking at. Robin also spoke about Waymo - the driverless car which could greatly increase independence for people with disabilities. One attendee said "I enjoyed the variety of speakers... Hearing about new apps was especially interesting."

AbilityNet and RNIB Volunteers Day event attendees ask questions to a panel

In the afternoon we had a variety of interactive workshops including disability awareness training from Enhance the UK - a charity run by people with disabilities. The session challenged the attitudes and perceptions of disability and in other workshops assistive technology were talked about and demontrated.

AbilityNet and RNIB Volunteers Day event attendees receive a product demonstration

The event was a great success with one attendee saying "Many thanks indeed for a great event - I was very pleased to have the opportunity to come along, and so valuable to meet the AbilityNet team face-to-face. I picked up lots through networking as well as during the sessions. What a lovely lot of friendly people!"

Sarah expressed her gratitude to everyone who made the day possible - "A huge thanks to IBM for hosting us in their state-of-the-art client centre. It was also great to see our friends from other charities, the Stroke Association and Family Fund discussing how we can work together to support stroke survivors and families with children that are disabled and/or seriously ill. Thanks to Amazon, OrCam and Hands Free Computing we had demos of the latest technology and how it can enhance the day to day live of people with disabilities."

Find Out More

We plan to post further information from the event shortly - sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date.

Please enquire about joining our network of volunteers if you'd like to use your IT skills to help others.

AbilityNet's volunteers provide free IT and computer support to older people and people with disabilities of any age. Is there anyone you think is eligible and could benefit from our support to get the most out of their technology? Please share details of our Free IT Support at Home services with them.