Skype is paving the way to more accessible cross-platform apps

Last week I published an article about Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) - apps that can be run across different devices with minimal changes – and the challenges they represent when it comes to being accessible and inclusive for all. Since that post went live Microsoft has announced its roadmap for addressing some of the pitfalls posed by PWAs in relation to its new Skype app. This is great news for disabled users worldwide.

The Progressive Web App problem

As we discussed in my previous post on PWAs, while Progressive Web Apps are a handy new approach to ‘build-once’ apps because they can be easily repurposed for different platforms, they are basically websites that run in an app container (even when a connection to the internet is lost/ you’re offline). But they are a long way from offering the accessibility and usability of native mobile apps for people with disabilities.

illustration of web app development

A noteable example is the new Skype app that has recently popped up across Windows, Mac, iOS and Android. It showed all of the bad sides of PWAs: complex and confusing navigation for blind and low vision users, loss of keyboard support for those with dexterity or motor difficulties, and focus issues and difficulties identifying and activating controls for both of these groups and others besides.

Microsoft: When it comes to Skype accessibility, we hear you

In a post published on Friday Microsoft outlined planned accessibility improvements for Skype, which is great news for millions of users who have been struggling with the update in recent months.

From the post:

“Across Microsoft, we are working to make technology more accessible and empower people to achieve more. We take feedback very seriously and are grateful to our active accessibility community who point us to areas of improvement. Following recent updates to Skype, your comments helped direct us to the areas of our new versions where change was most needed and could be most impactful.

"We have been working continuously since that time to understand the needs of our customers and have recently issued updates across platforms containing several improvements to address those issues. Accessibility is a journey and there are more fixes to come and we actively want and encourage feedback so we can deliver the right experience that empowers all our customers.”

The outlined changes, slated for all supported platforms using the new web-app version of Skype, will focus on keyboard support (for those who can only use a keyboard and not a mouse), blind users and those with low vision. They include:

  • Improving visible keyboard focus - ie ensuring that it's obvious which link or button etc is 'active' as a keyboard user tabs through the application. Without this you have no idea where you are or what you can interact with. The app is effectively unusable.
  • Eliminating cases where keyboard focus moves to non-actionable controls - in other words as you Tab through the app you land on things that you can do nothing with. Dead space or eye-candy icons that aren't controls 'capture' your keyboard focus and are confusing and time-consuming.
    skype app on phone and cup of coffee, at desk
  • Ensuring keyboard focus moves back to the controls that opened a dialog or menu after the dialog or menu was closed - so that a keyboard or blind user who opens a pop-up box and chooses a button to close it again, say, is taken back to where they were before and not right at the top of the app once again only to have to Tab dozens of times to get back to where they were.
  • Improving the accessible names and labels of controls and improving the control types used - eg making sure that the button to hang up a call, say, is intuitively labelled 'End call' and announced as what it is, a button, and not a something else like a link.

Who’ll be willing to pay for PWA accessibility?

Almost all of the above issues (and many more) that will have to be ‘retro-fitted’ here in this PWA version of Skype, are an automatic aspect of accessibility that you largely get ‘for free’ in native applications – whether it be on Windows, Mac, iOS or Android.

So while Microsoft, with its continuing commitment to inclusion across all its products, is providing in Skype an excellent example of going that ‘extra mile’ to layer accessibility onto this new convoy of PWAs, how many other organisations – including those thousands of solo app developers – will go to that same additional effort and expense?

Despite Microsoft paving the way to more inclusive PWAs, how many others will follow them on this journey? It’s looking like, in a largely PWA-driven future, many people with disabilities will be left by the roadside.

Related blogs: 

5 ways AI could transform digital accessibility

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is increasingly being built into our digital world. And there are great opportunities to maximise AI to make the digital world more accessible for people with disabilities. Here, AbilityNet’s senior accessibility and usability consultant Joe Chidzik explores some of the possibilities and some of the ways AI is already changing things for disabled people.

1. AI could provide automatic sign language provision 

The UK government requires websites to meet level AA of the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) standard. The requirement for sign language is an AAA requirement under WCAG (higher than AA) so it is very difficult to meet and unfortunately very few websites will do it. It is also difficult to provide sign language for multimedia. With an AI-based service, this could potentially happen automatically, which would be would be of great benefit for people who are deaf or have hearing loss.

Check out further information from Nvidia on AI and sign language

hands signing - sign language

Pic credit: Nvidia

2. AI already provides language translation and captioning for people who are deaf

Microsoft offers a free service through the Microsoft Translator app where audio is translated into other languages, and into text (for captions). People who have English as a second language benefit, as do people who are deaf or who have hearing loss.

Read more about Microsoft Translator app helping people who are deaf here

3. AI provides automatic image recognition and alt text for people who are blind

One of the most common issues with accessibility is the lack of alternative text for images, which means people who are blind or have sight loss could be missing important information. Google's Cloud Vision API uses neural networks to classify images, and to extract textual information.

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Read related article: How AI is empowering people on the autism spectrum

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There is a great deal of nuance when a web editor is selecting appropriate alt text, depending on the purpose the image is the image decorative, and so should it be ignored? If it’s information-rich, what information is the designer conveying?

We’re not sure if AI could crack these questions, but it would still be a useful step forward for it to automatically give some information when no one has entered information manually.

Find out more about the Cloud Vision API, image recognition and alt text.

4. AI could help make information easier to understand for those with reading difficulties

The internet is full of an ever-growing amount of information. Distilling that information is a challenge that machine learning is working towards. Services are being developed to automatically summarise lengthy articles by creating short abstracts, or related headlines.

If done well - and it might take machines a while to learn to do it really well—this could be good for creating ‘easier-to-read’ content or snapshots of articles to help users with reading difficulties or those who feel easily overwhelmed by information.

Find out more about how AI could help us more quickly find the info we need, on Technology Review and here on Machine Learning Mastery

5. AI could eventually make entire websites accessible!

One day AI might be so clever it can automatically make web pages entirely accessible. Until then, you can get your site checked by AbilityNet’s Accessibility team!

Further reading:

 

 

Alan Brooks becomes new AbilityNet Chairman

AbilityNet has appointed Alan Brooks as our new Chairman, replacing Dr Michael Taylor, who retired at the end of last year. Alan is an experienced charity Chairman, Trustee and Treasurer with a comprehensive understanding of charity governance, finance and law. He retired as Chairman of Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice Care in November 2017 having served a full term of nine years as a Trustee. He serves as Trustee/Treasurer of Aerobility and Chairman of Naval Families Federation.

Alan Brooks, new AbilityNet Chairman with CEO Nigel Lewis

In his professional career Alan has held senior management appointments in several diverse international corporations including Volvo, Dunlop, Nabisco and The Rank Organisation.

In recent years, he has worked as an independent management consultant which has enabled him to devote more time for pro-bono work in the charitable sector. Alan is also a Liveryman of The Worshipful Company of Information Technologists and Freeman of The City of London.

Nigel Lewis, AbilityNet CEO said:

“We are delighted to welcome Alan Brooks as our new Chairman of AbilityNet. Alan’s background and experience will be a real benefit to AbilityNet to help us to grow and help more disabled and older people now we are in our 20th year.

“I want to thank Dr Michael Taylor, who retired as chairman at the end of 2017, for all of his support, guidance and wisdom over the last nine years. He helped enormously and played a significant role in AbilityNet’s transformation over the last ten years. This has allowed us to help and support 100,000s of disabled and older people to use technology in a better way to improve their lives.”

 

Upcoming Web Accessibility and Autism Related Webinars

Accessibility never sits still and in the coming months we will be hosting two free webinars to share the latest news from the sector. Our first webinar in March will focus on 'What's new in WCAG 2.1' and will look at the new success criteria from the recent WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) 2.1 release.

Then in April we'll be focussing on autism and accessibility - looking at the design challenges but also the solutions for people with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). Make sure you register to secure your place, even if unable to attend, as you'll receive details about when recordings will be made available to watch.


What's new in WCAG 2.1

March 27 2018 at 1:00 PM BST

Summary of content:
This webinar will start with a general introduction to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), followed by an overview of WCAG 2.0 guidelines. On the 30th of January 2018 new success criteria were added as part of the WCAG.2.1 release which extends the guidelines. During the webinar I will talk about the additional guidelines which could address additional accessibility barriers - this is in anticipation of the final draft of the guidelines which should be released by June 2018.

Who it would be useful for:
Anyone working or interested in web accessibility and usability including but not limited to: developers, UX and UI designers, project managers, content providers, and business owners.

Please register for our What's new in WCAG 2.1 webinar to secure your place.
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.


Autism and Accessibility, Design Challenges and Solutions

April 17 2018 at 1:00 PM BST

Summary of content:
This webinar will begin with an overview of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The current accessibility concerns for people with ASD will then be shared along with details of why bleeding-edge technology may not be autism-friendly. The webinar will conclude with examples of how technology can be helpful and beneficial for people on the autism spectrum.

Who it would be useful for:
Anyone working or interested in web accessibility and usability including but not limited to: developers, UX and UI designers, project managers, content providers, and business owners.

Please register for Autism and Accessibility, Design Challenges and Solutions webinar to secure your place.
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

Why the future of apps is good news for developers but bad news for people with disabilities

Some say that Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) are the future for both desktop and mobile apps, but these ‘build once, run everywhere’ apps are almost certainly bad news for people with disabilities.

What are Progressive Web Apps?

Over the past 15 years websites have slowly become less like static sources of information and more like online applications that make heavy use of browser-based technologies such as JavaScript. Think of Facebook and how much more than a simple website it is.

Many developers wanted a way of taking their websites, which were close to being fully-fledged applications, and ‘wrapping’ them in a suitable app-wrapper, so they could qualify as apps in the iOS or Android stores for download like any other app.

vector image for PWAs For them the attraction is being able to build one website for use in a browser, and then simply tweaking it to be a deliver it as a native app. That way you get a consistent experience whether you access it in a browser on your computer, in a browser on your phone or as an app downloaded from your phone’s app store.

The one thing that these complicated 'all-doing' web applications have consistently needed is an internet connection. However, as mobile processors and browsers became more powerful, more and more web apps can run almost entirely offline. The mini programs, built with JavaScript and other technologies, running in the web page became so powerful that functions that used to be sent to the Cloud are now all performed in the browser.

In 2015, designer Frances Berriman and Google engineer Alex Russell coined the term "progressive web apps" to describe such websites that take advantage of these new features supported by modern browsers. Two significant features web apps need to qualify as a PWA is the ability to perform much or all of their functions offline, and also to responsively resize their layout to cater for a wide range of screen sizes.

The rise of the Progressive Web App

Being able to buildnonce and deploy everywhere (with minimal additional effort) may well have sealed the future of both desktop and mobile apps.

Microsoft, for example, has used a flavour of PWA to build new versions of their Skype 2 app, as well as their new workplace collaboration platform Teams 3. Their goal is to do away with multiple versions of these products and instead have a unified web-based core to the apps on all their platforms.

PWAs aren’t good for PWDs

The problem (and it’s a big one) is that the rise of complicated websites and web apps spells bad news for people with disabilities (PWDs).

Compared to a native mobile app or piece of software on your computer, modern websites and web apps are much less easy to navigate and operate for disabled users. 

Complex websites and web apps (PWAs) are rarely suitable for those using just a keyboard without a mouse. 

For example a screen reader like myself finds moving around new websites is tiring and laborious, as I have to tab through the pages as I can't see the page layout. Very often all the information menus, links and controls are all presented in one long overwhelming document - like a novel written on a roll of toilet paper. 

In contrast a native app is always restricted to a single pane, such as the in-box in an email app, and you can use hotkeys to jump to other areas, such as the menu or toolbar, when you need them. It's easier to navigate the whole app and much simpler to use each screen.

PWAs would've been difficult for Stephen Hawking too

It's also problematic for those using some voice commands on Dragon, as well as those using switch control such as that used by highly inspirational and sadly missed physicist Professor Hawking (pictured below).

Stephen Hawking

When the new web-app version of Skype came out for both Windows and Mac OS, the response on social media from the disabled community (lead in most part by blind users) was marked. People scrambled to locate and download the earlier version and hurriedly uninstalled the web-based update.

Microsoft values accessibility and inclusive design very highly, but it will take a significant effort to reproduce the usability benefits of native apps within these new PWA-style versions. It remains to be seen how easy it will be for companies to do this in their new PWAs going forward – and how many of them will bother.

Useful links

ENTER NOW: Tech4Good Awards 2018 - tech ideas that make the world a better place

Once again we're looking for the tech ideas that are making the world a better place as entries are open for AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards 2018. Take a look at the feedbcak from our launche event below - or head over to the Tech4Good Awards website to submit your entry now.

Amazing tech is changing lives

What Simone Enefer-Doy, CEO of Lifelites and winner of AbilityNet’s first ever Tech4Good Award can offer terminally-ill and disabled children through technology is wonder, connection and joy. The CEO and her team have always made the most of technology to offer better lives for children and their families. But she says a recent tech development has taken things to a new level. 

Lifelites young boy using Eye Gaze MyGaze tech

“Eye gaze changed everything,” she says of the tech which enables people to communicate with their computer and other people just by using their eyes (see photo above).

"In Kent, there are two brothers who’ve been able to communicate for the first time and play games together using eye gaze tech (a version called myGaze). It has given the boy (who is unable to use his body) a connection to his family; the family has suddenly become a unit."

The AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards offer new opportunities to winners and finalists

“Before winning the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards Accessibility Award in 2011,” says Simone Enefer-Doy, “I felt we were in a silo trying to deliver projects. But Tech4Good gave us the confidence to say to our peers that what we do is great, and 'please support us'. We were given incredible opportunities for networking and learnings around potential future development.”

Each year, AbilityNet champions some of the brightest ideas such as this at the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards, supported by BT.

Last week, some of the leading lights in this fast-evolving world, including Simone Enefer-Doy, were at the launch of the 2018 Awards at the BT Tower in London. We glimpsed what the future might hold in the #tech4good space in an age of 5G and AI (artificial intelligence).

Femi at Tech4Good awardsFrom the eleven year old with Tourettes Syndrome (Femi Owolade-Coombes, pictured right) who teaches coding skills to disadvantaged children - helping support future job prospects, to the two doctors working worldwide to identify cancer at much earlier stages using AI (C the Signs), to What3Words helping disaster relief teams pinpoint exact locations to within three square meters using encoded GPS coordinates - former winners and finalists really are changing the world.

Last year, finalists together received more than 35,000 votes on Twitter for the People's Award which is chosen by the public. In the eighth year of the Awards, we hope for even more votes. For our finalists, who’ll be announced on 12 June, this is a great opportunity for recognition and wider support.

It's not the tech, it's how you use it

“We’re not looking for the most state of the art technology out there,” says Mark Walker, who organises the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards. “We’re looking to see how people use technology to do something exceptional.” His AbilityNet colleague, Robin Christopherson, Head of Digital Inclusion commented: “People are awakening to the value of diversity. Tech is the single most empowering or enabling factor in society at the moment.”

There were clear signs and conversations pointing to a real drive to use technology positively and more effectively in society.

Microsoft hacks

Hector Minto, Technology Evangelist at Microsoft, highlighted the fact that in the regular technology hacks held by Microsoft, projects focusing on disability and accessibility have moved from “being in their tens to their hundreds” in recent times.

The event wrapped up with a comment from Adam Freeman, Managing Director of Freeformers, who encapsulated what the awards stand for. “We’ve (society) moved from an age of working with our hands to working with our head, and we are moving to work with our hearts, using technology. It’s about who you are and how you work with others, and technology can offer tools that help.”

heart circuit boardFreeman's organisation has trained more than 50,000 corporate employees and more than 4,000 young people to adapt to a digital economy.

Also giving his thoughts on a changing digital economy, panellist and young tech entrepreneur Ben Towers, whose in the stages of setting up a new app to help people achieve their health goal, told delegates: “We live at a time when there are all sort of things happening in the world, and young people have more access to it - we see the effects of war. Young people want to take action, they’re thinking 'how can I solve this?'."

Do you have a tech venture which is changing society for the better? You can enter on the Tech4Good website now:

Nominations close on Tuesday 8 May 2018.

Find out more about the 2018 AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards.

AbilityNet remembers Stephen Hawking

"It’s impossible to imagine a more inspirational ambassador for technology and its enormous potential to change lives."

Everyone at AbilityNet is saddened to hear about the death of renowned scientist Stephen Hawking at the age of 76. We have often featured him on our website because, apart from being one of the best, if not the best scientific minds of his generation, he became one of the best known users of adaptive technology. Most will know that he was diagnosed with the debilitating condition, Motor Neurone Disease in his twenties and only given a few years to live.

Without the ability to speak, Prof Hawking needed to harness the power of technology to help him In his work. He could at one time control the computer by using one hand, but by 2005 this movement was gradually deteriorating, and he needed another way to use the computer. The technology that he chose to work with to keep him working was a switch which was connected to his glasses and could detect movements in his facial muscles.

This switch was connected to software that enabled him to use the mouse to control his computer. Some people wondered if this would be a barrier to his work but we continued to benefit from his genius. Hear Professor Brian Cox reflecting on Stephen Hawking's legacy 

In 2012 Hawking was presented with AbilityNet's Tech4Good Special Award for the way that he embraced technology to enable him to keep working, despite his worsening condition. You can listen to his acceptance speech, below.  

 

Robin Christopherson, AbilityNet’s head of digital inclusion looked at the technology that Hawking was using back in 2015 to not only communicate, but to write papers and also to give lectures. Christopherson was lucky enough to meet the Hawking and gave his reflections on the scientist's death.

“I was fortunate to have briefly met Professor Hawking at technology conferences and exchange a few fascinating words,” says Christopherson. “It’s impossible to imagine a more inspirational ambassador for technology and its enormous potential to change lives and enable people, regardless of any disability or impairment they may have, to reach their full potential. Without technology the world would not have benefitted from the wry humour, immense intellect and almost incalculable scientific contributions of the dearly loved and now sorely missed Professor Stephen Hawking.”

Professor Hawking was a great example of someone who embraced adaptive technology to get his work done and he has been, and will continue to be, a great inspiration to people around the world for his spirit.

Are you an older person or someone with a disability who'd like help using technology?

Check out our IT free volunteering service.

Tech4Good and how new eye-gaze technology is changing the lives of children with life-limiting conditions

At the launch of the 2018 Tech4Good Awards on Monday 5 March at the BT Tower in London, we saw some amazing tech that’s changing lives for the better across the world.

The tech that caught my eye and my heart, however, focused on the ability to help desperately ill children control a computer with their eyes alone.

Previous winners with life-changing legacies

This is the 8th year of the Tech4Good Awards that celebrates the best of tech when it’s used to have a huge beneficial impact on people or the world. Every year the entries across a range of categories are among the very best examples of technology being used to include, innovate, empower and educate. In every case their products or projects have gone from strength to strength and are having an enormous impact upon people’s lives.

We heard from several previous winners. When Simone Enefer-Doy from Lifelites (a charity that brings empowering tech to terminally-ill children) spoke on stage it quite literally brought a lump to my throat and I was close to tears. More of Lifelites in a moment.

Also speaking on stage was Hector Minto. Senior Technology Evangelist at Microsoft. Hector spoke of the ever-more-comprehensive inclusion of historically specialist (and very expensive) technologies now freely incorporated into mainstream software and devices. A notable example is the new eye control capabilities now built-in to Windows 10.

Photo of Hector Minto, Microsoft
Hector Minto, Microsoft

Finally – affordable eye-control for paralysed children

If you’re not able to move your arms or legs, then by far the best and quickest way to control a computer is with ‘eye-gaze’ technology. Tracking your eye movements to control the mouse pointer and clicking by dwelling on an item is as quick as a mouse if the tech is good enough. If you also can’t speak, then entering text or selecting sentences on-screen using your eyes will mean you can speak with a computer voice at a speed fast enough to hold a comfortable conversation.

Photo of Simone Enefer-Doy from Lifelites
Simone Enefer-Doy, Lifelites, talking about life-changing eye-gaze technology

The Lifelites charity work with terminally ill (and often very disabled) children in hospices across the UK. They provide a wide range of software, equipment and adaptations so that in every case they open up a wealth of choices in entertainment, education and communication for these children in the last months and weeks of their lives.

Up until now, eye-tracking technology has been beyond their budget for many of those children who need it to play, learn and communicate. With the inclusion of sophisticated eye control built-in to Windows 10, however, and the now far more affordable eye-tracking bar from TOBII and options such as myGaze this life-changing tech can now be able to be provided to people who, without this, would not be able to do such basic and vital things as communicate with their families and play or work on a computer. This is where the lump came in.

Now help us find future winners with life-changing tech

Please help us find and recognize all those amazing projects, products and services that are using tech to change lives.

Entering the Tech4Good Awards is free of charge and we welcome you to nominate yourself or someone else. All the information you need is on the Tech4Good Awards website.

 

Using a computer after a brain injury

Between March 12 and 18,  it is brain awareness week.  The week is part of the global campaign to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research. This research is important to help people who have had any sort of brain injury.  Having a brain injury can cause many different issues but the use of a computer can certainly allievate some of these issues and make your day to day life that bit easier.Brain Awareness Week logo

What is a brain injury?

A brain injury happens when the brain gets damaged in some way, either by a traumatic occurrence, for examples a car accident, or the brain might be damaged by a stroke or an infection.

How many people in the UK have the condition?

According to Headway, the UK's leading charity for people with a brain injury,  there are one million people living with the long term effects of a brain injury the UK. (source:https://www.headway.org.uk/key-facts-and-statistics.aspx.)

How can computers help someone with a brain injury?

These commonly asked questions about having a brain injury illustrate some of the many ways of using a computer effectively.

I sometimes find it difficult to take my finger off the keyboard so I end up getting lots of characters. What can I do?

Firstly, it would be worth seeing if the keyboard you are currently using is the most effective one. You can also turn on a function called Filter Keys which is built into every new computer and basically slows down the keyboard repeat rate to your own specific needs. You can find some information on it within our website. (http://www.abilitynet.org.uk/mcmw/category/changing-keyboard-settings/) . There are lots of different keyboards to choose from so it should be fairly easy to find a keyboard that you can use easily.

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,

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 Way.

We’ve also written an overview of how voice recognition can help you. If you do have literacy difficulties it might be a really good idea to get support in reading the text to the computer.

Sometimes I have difficulty with reading text. What can I do?

There are a number of free and cheap text to speech packages which will read text out to you.  We really like the text to speech package at: http://www.ivona.com/en/.

I find it really difficult to remember important appointments. Can a computer help me?

Using Google's Calendar application is just one way of making sure you never miss an inportant appointment again. It is free of charge and you can synchronise it between your smart phone/tablet and your desktop computer meaning that you always have your schedule at your fingertips.


Case study

 Emma rang us to say that her boyfriend Bob was having issues with reading text on emails and web pages as well as PDF files. We suggested Tim ought to consider the Natural Reader software. This means that he is able to read documents independently.  He can also use the software to help him when he’s responding to emails too.

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, keyboard alternatives and learning difficulties 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.

Education apps for the digital age

This is the first time in recent history where children work, play and learn entirely differently from their parents. Technology seems as important to many of them as air, food and water. Having more access to a wider range of people living and working in their own way via platforms such as YouTube and Instagram is inspiring young people to dream big. This generation is known as Generation Z, anyone born between 1995 and 2012.

13% of ‘Generation Z’ already have their own business

A row of hands holding smart phones

According to eCampus News, many students are taking an entrepreneurial approach to various areas of their lives including expressing their thoughts on curriculum and educational change. For those who haven’t started their own company (13% have already started one) it is said that 22% of them would like to start their own business, with most seeking a role that makes their hobby their job.

The love of technology and social media platforms could be creating a change in the way the brain works with a need for more instant gratification, altering how students may focus and their levels of productivity throughout their education.

One size does not fit all

It could be said we are seeing a new generation, the digital generation, of learners for who didactic learning experiences might not be effective. As we all know - one size does not fit all. Perhaps we need to look at the DNA of education, think differently about ability and embrace the benefits of group work, creativity and technology.

With more things vying for our attention these days we all may increasingly struggle to stay focused. With this in mind making steps to support students with attention impairments could translate directly to the needs of every student.

Education needs to be tailored to each individual’s needs and technology can allow this freedom - that’s where AbilityNet’s technology expertise can help.

The average attention span of ‘gen z’ learners is 8 seconds

According to research from Sparks & Honey, minds are developing to be able to process information at a much quicker pace than older generations that preceded them, with more things vying for our attention these days we all may increasingly struggle to stay focused. With this in mind making steps to support students with attention impairments could translate directly to the needs of every student.

Education needs to be tailored to each individual’s needs and technology can allow this freedom - - that’s where AbilityNet’s technology expertise can help.

“Everybody is a genius. If we judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” - Albert Einstein

Animated picture of Albert Einstein

So, how do we keep up with these evolutionary changes? Luckily, you’re looking in the right place…these learning tools already exist, it’s just knowing where to go to get them. Having championed these ideas with our AbilityNet expert, Adam Tweed, we’ve put together some of our top tips for supporting focus and concentration in education.

1. Clockwork tomato - Clockwork Tomato is a time management application, based on the brilliant ‘Pomodoro technique’, a method that boosts productivity by breaking down work periods into 25-minute slices, separated by short breaks. Great for keeping your mind focused on your tasks and not on that important coffee break.

2. Coffitivity – Do you work best with background noise? The Coffitivity app is a clever way to help you to be more productive with your work and it is such a simple idea. This app recreates ambient sounds to boost your creativity and help you work better.

3. Forest - This app creatively helps you stay away from your smartphone and stay focused on your work. You plant a seed and lock your phone and watch as the tree grows. If you use your phone the trees die (it’s ever so sad). Users can earn credits by not using their phone and plant real trees around the world!

Don't forget, if you are you working in Higher or Further Education we offer free advice and information to students and advisors. Why not learn more about these apps and keep your staff and students up to date with one of our ‘Interactive tech days for Education’. Find out more about these events here.