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

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

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

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.

AbilityNet responds to government consultation on new digital accessibility laws for public sector websites and apps

Picture of an inaccessible websiteAbilityNet has taken part in the UK Government’s consultation on new digital accessibility laws for public sector websites and apps.

The new EU Directive on the accessibility of the websites and mobile apps of public sector bodies will be brought into UK law later this year.

The government will implement the new rules in UK law by passing regulations that will place new responsibilities on public sector bodies to make their websites and apps accessible.

We are a national digital accessibility charity that helps older people and disabled people of all ages use technology to achieve their goals at home, at work and in education.

So our response to the government’s consultation was a renewed opportunity for us to ensure that our views about the new rules and how they should be monitored and enforced are heard by the government.

Here are the highlights of the key points from our response:

Comments on the proposed timeline

The implementation timeline is too generous and should be shortened as public sector websites and apps are critical for disabled and older people. All public sector bodies have had ample time to factor accessibility into web development and procurement decisions. Only a tiny handful of websites (and virtually no apps) predate the Equality Act 2010, let alone the code of practice in 2003 that left people in no doubt that digital services were covered.

Exempt organisations

Some public sector organisations like schools, nurseries and kindergartens will be exempt from the new laws. However, we strongly feel that there is no excuse for any organisation to have an exemption from making their website or app accessible. There is no clear reason for an exemption.

We need the whole of the public sector including non-governmental organisations leading the change to ensure accessibility. Only by having all websites included will we make a step change - and the suppliers to the public sector will be forced to build and provide accessible digital solutions. Considering accessibility from the outset makes inclusion realistic and cost effective.

Content exemptions

The new laws will have some content exemption. Whilst some exemption cases are acceptable, this list goes too far and lets many organisations off the hook. For example, exempting documents not intended for primary use on the web, such as PDFs, Microsoft Word documents, etc, is unacceptable.

Such documents can be readily made accessible unless they are dynamic in nature (such as an interactive forms), but in such cases accessibility is even more important so extra resource should be identified. The fact that this type of content is not delivered through the web, but instead perhaps by email on request, is of no significance.

Disproportionate burden assessment

The concept of a ‘disproportionate burden assessment’ will be enshrined in the new laws. However, we don’t feel that the criteria are appropriate. Size, resource, nature, etc are not excuses for inaccessibility.  Arguably cost may not be a valid reason if the lack of accessibility prevents people from accessing or using online services or content and excludes or disadvantages users.

Budgetary restraints may be cited but exactly the same range of tools and guidelines exist for this sector as for others – making accessibility achievable and maintainable. There is no clear reason for the exemption. Considering accessibility from the start is shown to have a circa 2-5% additional cost saving and the return on investment is considerable – more future-proof, less bandwidth/hosting costs and lower risk of litigation.

Our comments on proposed enforcement of the Directive

We think that using the Government Digital Service (GDS) to provide the monitoring and reporting on the Directive is not appropriate, as they are not independent of government. Ideally a body that is independent of government would be set up to hold public sector bodies to account and provide proper credibility on the UK’s commitment to digital accessibility for the benefit of disabled and older people.

A model for this could be the National Audit Office which is accountable to Parliament, or the Parliamentary and Health Ombudsman – arguably this role could also be fulfilled by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Either way we need some ‘traffic wardens of the internet’ – see this article that kicked-off our longstanding campaign calling for compliance, along with several others since, culminating in our recent evidence to the Work and Pensions Select Committee in March 2018.

There should be real and suitable sanctions for those bodies that do not comply with the Directive, otherwise we will continue to have a commitment that has no teeth and has been ignored for far too long, leaving disabled and older people at a severe disadvantage.

Ultimately, what we need is a directive like this to apply to all organisations in the UK across government, public sector, private sector and the third sector.

AbilityNet and RNIB to hold joint tech volunteers day at IBM in London

Together with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) we are holding an event for tech volunteers at IBM Southbank in London on Friday 01 June, the start of Volunteers Week. Around 50 tech volunteers from each charity will attend the day, which is all about celebrating the great work they do.

What’s happening on the day?

In the morning we have presentations from industry experts including Robin Christopherson MBE, AbilityNet’s Head of Digital Inclusion, and Robin Spinks RNIB’s Innovation and Technology Relationships Manager.  

Following this Orcam will be demonstrating how technology is advancing to help blind and partially sighted people, using their latest intuitive smart camera that fits on eyeglasses, you will be also be able to trial this later in the day.

To end the morning session there will be an interactive Q&A session with representatives from AbilityNet, RNIB and our guest speaker from Amazon, Mark Wood. During the afternoon we will break into smaller groups to take part in some interactive workshops:

  • Workshop 1: Disability Awareness training from Enhance the UK, a charity run by disabled people which offers interactive training sessions that challenge the attitudes and perceptions of disability. 
  • Workshop 2: Using everyday accessible tech to make life easier (apps/software). 
  • Workshop 3: Guest speakers from Amazon will be demonstrating the Echo and its uses as well as answering your techie questions.

We'll end the day with some afternoon tea and the chance to chat to our marketplace exhibitors who are on hand to answer your questions. They include Hands free Computing, Stroke Association and Family Fund.

We're delighted to say that this is event is already fully booked! If you'd like to find out more about the types of support our volunteers provide, you can read our IT Support At Home page

Join our volunteers!

Our UK-wide team of wonderful volunteers provide one-to-one IT and technology support to older people and disabled people of all ages through home visits and remote support. We're always looking for more volunteers, so if you think this is for you apply now to start the process of becoming a volunteer

5 Tips to create accessible Facebook posts

How can you make your Facebook posts reach millions more people? These tips will help make sure that people with disabilities can still access your photos, videos and words. 

1. Add captions or alt text to photos

So that people who or blind or who have vision loss can understand your photos, you could either add more detail about a picture into the Facebook post which includes your photo - that way the post makes more sense everyone. Or you can edit the automatic alt text which Facebook automatically generates on images. This text is often quite simplistic - ie, it might just say something like ‘1 person’ or 1 person, glasses, smiling’. Note you can only do this using a computer as it doesn’t work on a phone.

To change this automatic text, choose one of your uploaded photos. Click the ‘edit’ button in the top right-hand corner, then select ‘change alt text’. Keep the text short and to the point. If the image is purely decorative, you can leave the box blank. But if the image contains words, it’s good practice to convey those words in the alt text, or better still, in the main post.  

2. Automatic video captions

Facebook adds automatic captions to videos, as does Youtube. For users of your page who are deaf or who have hearing loss, as well as people who might just prefer to have the sound off because they’re at work or in a public place, this feature is useful. People who are blind can listen to the captions. Find out more about how to edit captions here. If a video has few words in it, it’s good practice to provide a written or audio description of what's happening/explain the message or meaning. 

3. Facebook live streaming

Live streaming is becoming increasingly popular on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. As a baseline of accessibility, you might want to think about how your video will be received by someone with vision or hearing loss. Can the speaker in the video be more descriptive to help a blind person? Can you provide a sign language interpreter in the live stream, for example? You could also upload the video with captions as soon as possible after the event. 

4. Keep words simple and clear

The average reading age in the UK is nine years old, so keep sentences and keep posts simple. Think about the fact that someone with memory loss might also read your post, or someone with learning needs or autism might also read it. Your words will be more widely understood if you’re as clear and direct as possible. You can check the reading age of your text here. Keep acronyms to a minimum, write words in full and avoid abbreviations. 

5. Check colour contrast on images, animated GIFs and infographics

Be aware that about 2.7 million people in the UK alone are colour blind. Therefore any infographics and images, particularly those with text included in them, should be well colour contrasted to be more clear - this is a requirement under Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. There are free colour contrast checkers online, such as this one.

For the latest on creating accessible Facebook posts and how to make the most of Facebook if you have a disability, click here.

Celebrate Global Accessibility Awareness Day with us

Thursday 17 May marks the seventh annual Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). The purpose of GAAD is to get everyone talking, thinking and learning about digital aGAAD logoccessibility and inclusion for people with different health conditions and impairments.  We'll be doing our part, with our team attending and talking at a variety of GAAD events throughout the day...


GAAD began in 2012 and now takes place on the third Thursday of May each year. The idea for the event was started by a single blog post written by Joe Devon, a web developer at the time, tentatively suggesting the event and encouraging people to spread the word.

AbilityNet sponsors London Accessibility Meetup

We are one of the sponsors for this month's London Accessibility Meetup which takes place on GAAD. There are three talks lined up; 'Think inclusion, not Accessibility', 'Top down and bottom up: Gaining insights from the people who know best' and 'Accessibility is Usability'.


Find out more about the London Accessibility Meetup on GAAD


Tune in to see AbilityNet as part of BBC Accessibility Awareness Day

Robin Christopherson MBE, AbilityNet's Head of Digital Inclusion, will be speaking as part of the inclusive output from the BBC for GAAD. There will be content throughout the day from the BBC, with Robin talking about voice assistants and spoken interfaces at 1:45pm BST.


Find out what the BBC is doing on GAAD and access live coverage


Join AbilityNet at the UXPA event, hosted by Barclays

Alladin Elteira, an Accessibility and Usability Consultant at AbilityNet, will be speaking at the User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA) GAAD event hosted by Barclays. Alladin will talk about upcoming updates to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) - version 2.1.


Find out more about Alladin's talk on the upcoming updates to WCAG


Alex and Adi go LIVE on Facebook

Facebook logo

Alex Barker is AbilityNet's Advice and Information Officer. He has a rare condition called Moebius Syndrome and a characteristic of this is restricted hand dexterity. Alex will be going live on Facebook, completing a task on his computer to raise awareness of accessibility features.


Adi Latif is an Accessibility and Usability Consultant at AbilityNet. He has a visual impairment and uses a screen reader that converts visual information into auditory information. Adi will be completing a task to show how a screen reader communicates the information on a website.


Follow our Facebook page to get notified when Alex and Adi go LIVE


Join in the GAAD celebrations, follow us @AbilityNet #GAAD

5 ways to make your tweets accessible

About 14 million people in the UK have a disability, and many more around the world. Perhaps your tweets aren't getting the biggest audience that they could? Making your stream accessible could help.

Twitter bird cartoon

1. Use accessible photo captions and alt text when tweeting

In 2016, Twitter brought in an option to give descriptions for images on Twitter. The descriptions are read out by screen readers to let blind people or those with low vision hear what’s in the picture.

To enable this (it sounds complicated but is very quick to activate):

  1. Go to Twitter’s app/website
  2. Go to your image in the top right-hand corner of your screen
  3. Select ‘settings and privacy’
  4. Choose ‘accessibility’ from the list on the left.
  5. Click the ‘compose image descriptions’ box to activate this option.

Then, when you compose a tweet with an image, an ‘add description’ button will appear and you can input ‘alt’ (alternative) descriptions of up to 420 characters.

This is particularly important if there are words in the picture but not always necessary if the image is abstract or purely decorative.

Note: If you're adding an infographic with complex information, it’s a good idea to link to a data table with the same information, which is likely to be more easily accessible.

For full info on adding Twitter image descriptions using your voice or with screenreader assistance, see Twitter’s help page here.

Most Tweet scheduling platforms don't have an Alt text option, but Buffer and Twitterific do offer this option. 

2. Add full photo description within the main Tweet for text-heavy images

For infographics or images with big chunks of written information contained in the picture, ie a menu - it’s simpler and neater to add a text alternative in the main text of the tweet.

3. Make your hashtags accessible

Use what’s known as ‘camel case’ for the hashtags in your tweets - #ABitLikeThis. When you do, it means screenreaders used by people who are blind or visually impaired will hear the words individually rather than as a long incoherent word, as is likely to be the case if no letters are capitalised.

4. Use plain English

Avoid acronyms and make sure the meaning of the tweet is very plainly clear. This is likely to help people on the autistic spectrum, as well as someone with a learning disability or dementia. In addition, the average reading age in the UK is nine years old. Try these tools to check the readability of your tweets - Flesch–Kincaid readability metrics or

5. Colour contrast

If your tweet contains an infographic, make sure the colours are well contrasted, so they are easy to decipher for people who are colour-blind or have a visual impairment. There are various free sites which will check your page for colour contrast. Click here.

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