Toyota creates robots to assist and support ageing populations

Not satisfied with racing competitors to be first at the starting line with self-driving cars, Japanese automaker Toyota is looking to a robotic future for its ageing population.

A caring crisis for the older generations

Much of the world is ageing. We’re living longer through better nutrition and medical care, but Japan has a considerably higher percentage of older people in its population than the global average. This is due to a very low birth rate that continues to decrease year on year. The over 65s accounted for 26.7% of the population in 2015, far exceeding the global average of about 8.5%.

With this demographic comes labour shortages, a looming pension crisis and the various challenges of caring for this ageing population and keeping them healthy and mobile.

At the same time, car sales in Japan have fallen 8.5% between 2013-2016, as older drivers stop buying cars and car ownership also becomes less of a priority among younger drivers.

This combination of reducing car sales and the increasing needs of older citizens to remain mobile has lead Toyota, the world's second largest automaker, to explore the possibility that designing and manufacturing robots to both care for the elderly and help keep this age group mobile may be as important as producing cars in the coming decades.

Toyota recently announced its first foray into commercialising rehabilitation robots, launching a rental service for its 'Walk Training Assist’ system, which helps patients to learn how to walk again after suffering strokes and other conditions.

"If there's a way that we can enable more elderly people to stay mobile after they can no longer drive, we have to look beyond just cars and evolve into a maker of robots," Toshiyuki Isobe, chief officer of Toyota's Frontier Research Center, told the news service Reuters.

Toyota's system follows the release by another major Japanese carmaker Honda of its own "robotic legs” in 2015 which were based on technology developed for its ASIMO dancing robot.

According to the International Federation of Robotics, global sales of assistance robots for the elderly and disabled communities will total about 37,500 units in 2016-2019 and this is expected to increase substantially within the next 20 years.

Rent a car – own a robot

In many countries around the world car ownership has been in decline. If you consider the implications of self-driving cars, which have the potential to turn private transport into a convenient commodity available at a moment’s notice and vastly more affordable than the purchase and up-keep of a car that, on average, sits unused for 96% of the time taking up space and depreciating at an alarming rate, then Toyota’s strategy to branch out into a growth area of consumer robotics seems to be a sensible one.

No matter how you do the calculations, in future we'll only need a fraction of the numbers of cars when cars can drive around the clock - only briefly stopping from time to time to top up their batteries. Thus it may be that the autonomous cars of the future will not be privately owned, but simply hailed as the need arises.

In contrast, the robots of tomorrow may be seen as an invaluable part of every home - helping everyone with daily tasks around the house, or assisting those with dexterity or mobility difficulties to move around, do the chores and stay active.

Robots are a man’s best friend

Disabled people have long had help on-hand to enable them to be more independent. Speaking as a guide dog owner, I know how extremely useful some extra help can be when getting around. Dogs are also used to help people with hearing, dexterity, mobility and anxiety challenges – as well as invaluable early-warning systems for those with epilepsy.

cartoon of small robotic dog

However, even man’s faithful friend has his limitations. Technology is increasingly augmenting the abilities of people with impairments due to age or disability. For example, I use my smartphone on a daily basis to know where I am and what’s around me – as well as for a thousand other things that vastly increase my life and work choices.

Thus, while I’m quite confident that robots won’t be replacing what a well-trained canine can do any time soon, they will undoubtedly be working alongside them (and their human counterparts) to ease and extend the everyday lives of millions of people in Japan and around the world.

From cars to carers

Toyota hopes to make a wide range of robots with practical applications. Isobe said that mass producing robots would be a natural step for the company whose mission is to "make practical products which serve a purpose.”

“The biggest challenges have been in determining the needs of the robot market, which is relatively new, and to ensure that our products are safe," Isobe add. “If there's a need for mass produced robots, we should do it with gusto."

Toyota’s vision for the robots of tomorrow is one of smart and sophisticated enablers, continuously helping you and your family members from minute-to-minute rather than just from A to B.

One day, in the not too distant future, the sight of robots helping people both at home and on the streets of our towns and cities, may be as common as the sight of cars is today.

Futher future-gazing

Are you an older person who needs help to make tech work better for you? Know an older person who needs IT help at home? Try our volunteer ITCanHelp service. 

Five days to enter the Tech4Good Awards 2017

Digital tech inventors and innovators have just five days left to enter the seventh AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards.

Nominations close at 5pm on Monday 8 May 2017 for these unique awards, which celebrate the amazing people who use digital technology to make the world a better place. Entry for the awards, which are sponsored by BT, is free of charge and open to any business, charity, individual or public body in the UK – just submit your details at www.tech4goodawards.com/enter-now/.

Anyone can nominate themselves or someone else for an award in eight categories:

·      AbilityNet Accessibility Award

·      BT Connected Society

·      BT Young Pioneer 


·      Comic Relief Tech4Good for Africa Award


·      Community Impact Award


·      Digital Health Award


·      Digital Skills Award


·      Tech Volunteer of the Year


The Tech4Good Awards are organised by AbilityNet Head of Marketing and Communications, Mark Walker. He said:

“Now is the last chance for people to enter the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards 2017.

“These awards recognize people’s achievements and showcase them in the tech industry and in the wider world.

“This is a chance for digital tech inventors and innovators to tell their story and show people how they have used digital technology to improve the lives of others.”

There is a networking event for the finalists on 13 June at BT Tower, London, and the awards ceremony is on 11 July at BT Centre.

To enter the awards visit: http://www.tech4goodawards.com/
 

AbilityNet supports Mental Health Week

What do Lady Gaga, Robin Williams, Rio Ferdinand and Prince Harry have in common? Not much, you might think, but they have all opened up about their struggles with their mental health. Mental health seems to be one of the last taboos - we seem to be happy talking about our physical health but much less so comfortable discussing our mental health. 

This week is Mental Health week and as AbilityNet helps a considerable number of people with mental health issues we are sharing some useful resources. We're only too aware of the devastating effect that poor mental health can have on people at home, at work and in education - and we also know that getting the right computer set up can really help people manage the day to day impact on their lives. 

Computer technology can be a real asset to people with mental health issues. Here are 5 easy ways of your mental healthwhen using a computer.

  • The Free Mindfulness project showcases lots of simple exercises you can do to help relieve stress
  • Help me chill has a great playlist of calming ambient music. Really useful for when you need to get work done, or just to shut out the outside world
  • Mediation timer is a simple countdown timer which means you can just take a few minutes out of your day to rela
  • Podcasts are very popular and there are several on the subject of anxiety and how to cope with i
  • Natural readers can take the stress out of reading text. Just sit back and listen!
     
  • Have a busy life? Take control of your lists with an app such as Wunderlist or visual task manager Drop Task

Need more help?

Call our free helpline for one to one advice on 0800 269 545

Or contact a specialist mental health service:

WCAG2.1 Is the web about to become more accessible?

Joe Chidzik, senior accessibility consultant, AbilityNet

Moves to improve and update the global Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are underway

The guidelines produced by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), inform web developers how to make websites as user-friendly as possible. They cover a wide range of recommendations for people with disabilities including blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, learning disabilities, cognitive limitations, limited movement, speech disabilities, photosensitivity and combinations of these.

desk top with computer emblazoned with the word 'new' onscreen

When the guidelines - which are the result of cooperative efforts between software developers, academics and other related groups - are followed, they make web content more usable for everyone in general.

WCAG 2.1 is currently scheduled to become a recommendation in June 2018. At the moment it's available as a first working public draft, meaning a significant amount of refinement will happen before being adopted as a technical recommendation. For interest, here is the process through which W3C develops guidelines.

What's new in global web accessibility standards?

There are many proposals in the document, including one designed to ensure that websites are compatible with voice recognition software as a basic measure - a single A rating, and that to achieve a higher level AA rating, the guide says a site should have no unsolicited pop-ups or a way to turn them off.

These examples show that the guidelines are becoming more inclusive, and covering a greater range of abilities and needs.

A quick overview of the 28 proposed new criteria can be found on David MacDonald's CanAdapt blog.

Need help with making your site accessible?

We work with major businesses and organisations to make sure they reach more visitors, and ensure they meet legal accessbility requirements. Click here for help with web accessibility.

Tech4Good winners: "Our current mission is testing eye controllers for Minecraft"

While the old school joypads of the eighties might've been more user-friendly and inclusive for a wider range of people than today's games and consoles, the tech charity SpecialEffect doesn't want this to stop the adventures of disabled gamers in 2017. 

Winners of AbilityNet's Tech4Good Accessibility Award 2014, SpecialEffect has been customising gaming systems for the last ten years, so a wide range of people - from those who've had a stroke - to someone with cerebral palsy, can get the most out of Tetris, Mario or their game of choice.

“The old favourites are still the same as they were when we started,” says Mark Saville, communications officer at SpecialEffect. “We do bespoke adjustments for fans of Call of Duty, Fifa, Grand Theft Auto, and now we get a lot of requests for Minecraft from the younger ones too."

SpecialEffect also helps disabled people use computers for things like colouring in games, jigsaws and bowling - as is the case with Charlotte - featured here - who lost her limbs through meningitis.”

Speaking as the closing date for the Tech4Good 2017 awards approaches (8 May), Saville reflects on the coveted prize picked up at the BT Centre ceremony three years ago.

“I've got vivid memories of the presentation, and the networking and fundraising opportunities it opened up were fantastic,” he says.

Winning is often about having something relatable for judges and voters to connect with,” adds Saville. “We're fortunate to have so many great SpecialEffect stories from people we've helped over the years. I know it can be quite difficult for some charities, but the more compelling the stories, the better.”

Minecraft game in packing on a shelve at a store

SpecialEffect, which now has 19 staff and has helped many hundreds of people across the UK, often working with children's hospitals and injured soldiers, uses a wide range of modified and off-the-shelf technology. This includes custom games' joypads, eye-control systems, mouth/chin controllers and voice control software.

Sometimes the solution might involve remapping a game controller’s buttons to areas of the body that the person can control.

“What are we working on at the moment?” says Saville. “We're testing out eye controllers for Minecraft”.

The big new kid on the block is virtual reality (VR), of course. "We're working on building in eye gaze tech into VR games. We're working with a number of developers, quietly, who are asking how to make games more accessible. It would be great if developers all over the world were inspired. Good luck to all of this year's entries."

WCAG2.1: Web guidelines set for makeover, enabling better mobile and web access for disabled users

It’s a mobile-first world. The global web content accessibility guidelines WCAG are being updated to make sure that sites and apps are now inclusive for all users on the go, including disabled people. This post is based on an article which first appeared in E-Access Live, written by editor Tristan Parker.

New guidelines to focus on mobile access, vision impairment and learning disabilities

The first public draft of an update to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) has been released, with an increased focus on mobile content, users with low vision, and users with cognitive and learning disabilities.

The current guidelines – WCAG 2.0 – are seen by many as a benchmark for web accessibility. WCAG 2.0 is widely used by authorities and organisations seeking to review websites, and to make and keep them accessible for users with disabilities. For example, the Society of IT Management (Socitm) uses WCAG 2.0 to test the accessibility of UK council websites in its annual Better Connected review.

The public working draft of the update, WCAG 2.1, seeks to build on the existing guidelines, adding in new recommendations for those creating and designing web content.

WCAG2.1: By mid-2018

WCAG 2.1 is being developed by the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group (AGWG), a sub-group of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). WAI is part of the much larger World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) - an international voluntary standards community founded by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web.

Judy Brewer, director of the web accessibility Initiative at W3C, told e-Access Bulletin about some of the new measures which would be in WCAG 2.1 - includes an extension of requirements for mobile device access.

person using braille computer

Brewer said: “Research, tools and awareness in the areas of accessibility for people with cognitive and learning disabilities, and for people with low vision, have been increasing in recent years, and we are updating WCAG 2.1 to reflect this.”

The next steps are for AGWG to review and respond to public feedback, and make changes for new versions of the WCAG 2.1 draft. The draft will continue to be reviewed and evolve throughout 2017, with further testing in early 2018. “The goal is to finalise [the draft WCAG 2.1] as a W3C recommendation (a web standard) by mid-2018,” Brewer said.

Have your say on new web accessibility guidelines WCAG2.1

Speaking about W3C’s aim for organisations to begin implementing the WCAG 2.1 draft – and upcoming final version – Brewer called on readers to help get the message out: “There are many things that you can help with, starting with helping to spread the word of the update under development. Then, eventually, spreading the word that there’s an updated standard, encouraging people to implement it, and to adopt and reference it in policies that they have an opportunity to impact.”

Public feedback on the draft officially closed on March 31, but Brewer confirmed that comments received after that will still be useful. Feedback on the draft can be emailed to the following address: public-agwg-comments@w3.org.

Next: WCAG3.0 to embrace the ‘internet of things’

A longer-term ‘3.0’ update to WCAG is also being worked on by AGWG’s ‘Silver Task Force’, explained Brewer: “The [Task Force] are initially focusing on improvements in terms of usability of the guidelines themselves, but may also look at expanding the scope to encompass technologies that are converging on the web, such as digital publishing or the Internet of Things. The goal is to produce a very flexible set of guidelines that can adapt even better to evolving technology and user needs.”

More information

Charities' top tech for good innovations, and why we need even more

Digital technology is the most powerful tool for social innovation that we have ever had. Yet despite its undeniable impact on all aspects of our lives, and the growing momentum of the UK’s ‘tech for good’ movement, its potential still remains largely untapped by established charities.

But, well-designed tech for good should help existing nonprofits better serve their communities, drive down costs and free up employees’ time to focus on the work that really matters. It presents a huge and exciting opportunity to reach more people and deliver greater impact.

a group of people around boardroom table working on ideas for Safelives project

Through Fuse, our digital accelerator for nonprofits, we support charities to research, build and integrate tightly-focused digital products on an iterative and collaborative basis with their service users. We also run a Digital Fellowship for charity CEOs and trustees, which helps build their confidence and understanding to become leaders of the sector’s digital transformation. This is through a hands-on action learning programme, culminating in a product design sprint.

We have seen that the reach, networks and reputation of established charities makes them extremely well-placed to accelerate the speed of tech for good development. For example, last year's Tech4Good Awards winner, Wayfindr (from the Royal Society for Blind Childer and digital products studio UsTwo), evolved rapidly from being a prototype wayfinding product for people with sight loss, into a certified open standard for audio navigation. It is now being used and tested across the UK in multiple sectors, after it was conceived two years ago. 

Jointly, an app created by Carers UK in 2015, working with the CAST team, is now used by some of the UK's 6.5 million carers in Britain to help manage their role. One in eight adults cares, unpaid, for family and friends. The app can help them to co-ordinate their caring with others. What’s more, the process of developing Jointly catalysed a new strategy at Carers UK, which places digital at the heart of providing 21st century support for carers.

Our 2016 programme graduates are already showing promising progress and improving lives: Breast Cancer Care’s community support app, 'BECCA', was created last August and has already supported over 1,100 women to adjust to life after breast cancer.

Following their Digital Fellowship experience, the team at National Ugly Mugs (another former Tech4Good Awards winner) has grown to better understand and use the language and methodologies of development, such as managing a product build directly on GitHub, the code repository used by most programmers; while Quaker Social Action put their learnings about design processes and working with developers into action in the creation of their new website.

cartoon girl pointing brightly lit inspiration lightbulb

Senior leaders at some of our other Fellowship organisations, such as SafeLives (pictured above: domestic violence charity SafeLives works on digital projects) , ARA and Wales Co-op are now part of a growing tribe of sector advocates using tech in service delivery (see this more detailed profile on Diabetes UK for another example). Like Jointly before them, they have ma de digital a core part of the strategic plans and have recognised the opportunity it presents to fundamentally redesign their engagement with beneficiaries.

We believe the digital revolution gives us a chance to empower people and their communities to lead by supporting vital community organisations to respond to this dramatically changing context.

At a time when the sector is under increasing pressure from rising demand and decreasing funds, it is more urgent than ever to build digital capacity in charities, so that they can harness tech for good to make their services more effective, sustainable and scalable. 

Want more? Check out CAST's article on 6 tenets of tech for good

Authored by Ellie Hale, Associate at CAST, which supports organisations in digital development.  

Ellie leads CAST’s Digital Fellowship, supports on the Fuse accelerator and co-organises regular community meetups including Tech for Good London and NetSquared London.

Got a great tech/ digital project which is focused on social good? Enter AbilityNet's Tech4Good Awards NOW.

Here's how government can help disabled people in a digital world

A new report confirms that there's been twenty long years of legislation and very little action on the part of the government when it comes to helping disabled people in the UK get equal breaks. Let’s start with the easy steps the government can take that will make a massive impact.

What the report says

The newly published report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) titled 'Disability report: Being disabled in Britain' has clearly outlined that very little progress has being made in the UK over the past two decades. Things are still very challenging for people with disabilities and, in many cases, getting worse.

The report highlights concerns in areas including:
 

  • A lack of equal opportunities in education and employment
  • Barriers to access to transport
  • Health services and housing
  • The persistent and widening disability pay gap
  • Deteriorating access to justice
  • Welfare reforms significantly affecting the already low living standards of disabled people.young woman sat at laptop looking frustrated

David Isaac, chair of the EHRC, said: “This evidence can no longer be ignored. Now is the time for a new national focus on the rights of the thirteen million disabled people who live in Britain.

They must have the same rights, opportunities and respect as other citizens … We cannot, and must not, allow the next twenty years to be a repeat of the past.”
 

What the government can easily do today to help disabled people

This report tells us nothing new – although it does serve the valuable purpose of throwing into stark relief the plight of disabled people in the UK today. People who find it so difficult to get the same breaks as everyone else in these already challenging times.

A recent 5 live interview gave me a very public opportunity to re-emphasise my favourite theme - that the tech of today has the potential to empower everybody, regardless of any disability or impairment they may have, to effectively level the playing field and give everyone the same opportunities to reach their full potential – but only if developers and employers make this possible through inclusive design and practice.

Click the link above to hear it, or see the attached transcript.

Tech can be made inclusive and allow people to use it whatever their particular needs might be. So many of AbilityNet’s factsheets and wide range of disability and tech webinars describe simple adjustments that can help people in education, at home and at work.

And many more of our tech blog posts and articles highlight built-in solutions to everyday tech (such as Siri on the Mac and 9 other simple fixes that will make your life easier and Dyslexic student's top 3 tech hacks to improve grades), as well as the potential of cutting-edge tech to change the lives of disabled people tomorrow (such as Could Microsoft’s in-car AI for driverless vehicles make us all safer and more equal? or Reaching out with your mind - a new age of thought-controlled robotics empowers people with disabilities).

So many developments have happened over the last twenty years, and the pace of progress is showing no signs of slowing.

All that remains to help disabled people to well and truly get on-track, as I said in my 5 live interview, is for people to “Get with the programme”.

Getting with the programme – with a little (make that 'a lot') help from the government

As I outlined in my open letter to the government drafted for Global Accessibility Awareness Day last May, and have reiterated many times since in interviews and articles, it’s well past time for the government to start enforcing their own legislation with regards to digital accessibility.

Inaccessible software, websites and apps are just one small part of the problems that disabled people face in the UK today – but with digital being so central to everyone’s lives, education and employment opportunities, without this vital accessibility we might as well go back to barring people with wheelchairs or babies in buggies from entering every second building in their town or city.

In these virtual buildings of the internet age lie the potential knowledge, hopes, health, wealth and aspirations of disabled people across the UK – and the government is doing nothing ‘on the ground’ to help. For this reason the last twenty years have seen little progress and, in many cases, we’re regressing instead.

Calling on the government to enforce the law

The EHRC report calls on the UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments to place a new national focus on disability equality, so that the rights of disabled people are fully realised, and also to deliver improvements in their experience and outcomes.

Isaac continues: “This report should be used as a call to arms. We cannot ignore that disabled people are being left behind ... Britain must be a fair and inclusive society in which everyone has equal opportunities to thrive and succeed.”

I agree with the EHRC’s findings and my call is a simple one - and one that might baffle some people as to why it needs to be said at all - government: please start enforcing the law.

man in wheelchair struggling with steps

You’ll have to read the article accompanying my letter to appreciate the numerous and very valid reasons for government to start doing its job.

In essence it boils down to it being as easy as falling off a log to test a website or app for inaccessibility, that fining organisations for non-compliance will have a very significant and immediate effect (especially if fines get ever-bigger the longer the issues remain unaddressed), and that it frankly shouldn’t be the responsibility of disabled individuals to have to take organisations to court.

Should disabled people, currently being permanently robbed of essential life-choices by employers and developers who have never felt the sting of legal consequences, be afforded as much consideration as motorists temporarily robbed of a parking space by someone staying a few minutes over-time on a meter? I’d say they deserve as much consideration – if not a whole lot more.

So, dear government, where are the traffic wardens of the internet?

Resources:

Deaf film student, James, reveals the keys to his communication

James Blake is a film student at City College Brighton. James is deaf. He features here in part three of the Me, Myself & IT series made by City College students in collaboration with AbilityNet. In the series, students talk to disabled peers about the ways they communicate and make the most of tech at college and in their free time. From retro gaming, to Google Keep. the series features tech hacks and solutions for students and beyond. 

The ways I love to communicate:

"I can't hear anything at all, so I use Skype or Facetime to contact other people who can do sign language, so we can chat. At college I have a student support worker who translates any instructions and so on from my tutor.  Subtitles really help me understand what's being said on TV and 'm always texting and emailing. A lot of people would perhaps mime what they want to say, but I prefer to talk to people via email and text." 

You might also be interested in

See the full Me, Myself & IT series here. 

Are you a university student who needs help with getting the right technology/ assistance with tech to get the best results? Check out our DSA assessment pages

More tech resources for people with hearing loss.

The main reason why most web homepages are inaccessible and how to change this with an accessible carousel

Lots of websites still have a carousel feature on the homepage - ie, a box featuring scrolling slides highlighting the latest/ most interesting content on the site.

The problem is that most web developers and designers don’t make carousels accessible, so a whole range of people - from those using screen readers, to those with motor difficulties, will struggle as soon as they arrive on a site, and often click away in frustration.

If you want to cater for a wider audience, AbilityNet’s senior accessibility and usability expert, Alladin Elteira, recently gave some great advice on accessible carousels in our webinar. Of those who tuned in, 91% said they found the session useful. You’ll find the video and tips below covering:

  • Creating accessible carousels for keyboard users

  • Creating accessible carousels for screen readers and voice over equipment

  • Creating accessible carousels for users with cognitive impairments

 

1 The first rule of accessible carousels is, don’t have a carousel if you can avoid it! They are generally problematic for a number of different disabilities as well as for accessibility equipment such as screen readers.

2 Secondly, you could hide the carousel, if the information available in it is presented elsewhere.

3 Some people, such as those with motor conditions might not be able to use a mouse. So, all interactive features of a carousel should be accessible/ reachable using the tab keys on the keyboard. This includes clickable images, the pause and play and the numbers - ie 1, 2, 3 - which are sometimes used to click from one slide to another.

4 Users who have low vision or cognitive impairments may get confused by quickly moving content which updates automatically, which many carousels have. It’s advisable to implement a pause button, or better still to make sure the carousel doesn’t update automatically. 

s screen shot of a carousel in automatic motion from The Times newspaper website

5 Ensure the visual focus indicator (normally the arrow on screen which indicates where the mouse is) works with tab keys too.

6 If there is no tab focus, a designer can use the tabindex attribute, which makes elements that aren't accessible using the tab key, easier to use for keyboarders.

7 Make sure the carousel is not using a keyboard trap, ie, that people using a keyboard rather than a mouse don’t get stuck in the page of a carousel without being able to get out of it.

8 Screen readers often have big issues with carousels. It’s good practice to inform screenreader users that they’re within a carousel, including when they’re at the beginning and end of a carousel. Most sites currently don’t.

9 Use Aria Hidden to hide slides 2 and 3 while someone is on/ reading slide 1, or vice versa. Otherwise the screenreader will just read through all the information on the series of slides in one go - this can become very confusing for a user/ listener.

10 Labels, buttons, the ‘next’ and ‘previous’ buttons, 'play' and 'pause' buttons, headings, links that open in a new window, images and so on should have descriptive labels / equivalent script alternatives, as well as be accessible using the tab keys.

 

Useful links for more information

 

You might also be interested in: