Three amazing productivity apps which are also accessible

Two of the things that blind people like myself usually love are words and audio content of all kinds. I’ve been looking at three incredible and fully accessible iOS apps that help with speedy typing, finding and ‘pinning’ interesting items for later and efficient audio editing.

FlickType

FlickType is a bit like a new incarnation of Fleksy and has some of the FlickType team behind it. It works as a miraculous keyboard app that enables you to rapidly tap on the screen in a vague approximation of a word, possibly getting every single letter wrong but still giving you the right word as a result. FlickType matches the shape of the word you've tapped out with the shapes of actual words, and offers you the closest match by default, along with a list of other potential matches.

After an extensive period of beta testing, FlickType is now available as a free app for iOS. Here is FlickType in action as demonstrated by me, a completely blind person (which I’m sure will be all too apparent as I miss the majority/all of the letters I’m aiming for).

Currently only a standalone app, FlickType will soon also be available as a system keyboard. My concern about this is that, as a blind person tapping out words, if I accidentally tap too high and into the app above the top of the keyboard, what will happen? Well, the developers assure me that you’ll be able to do this and still be considered as typing on the keyboard. I’ve absolutely no idea how they’ll pull off this fantastic feat but I look forward to 'seeing' it in action. 

Pinterest

Pinterest is a free service beloved by over 200 million users worldwide. It helps you easily browse and ‘pin’ items such as posts, images and videos to save for later. Just as one might have done on an old fashioned cork board in real life.

Until a recent refresh, this app had a wide range of issues for people with low or no vision – from small fonts to poor colour contrast and unlabelled buttons (unlabelled buttons can't be read by screenreaders) that prevented a blind user from even being able to sign-up for the service in the first place – but now you’ll see (or hear) a huge difference. Check it out. For more details about changes and the team’s motivations, there's a great piece on the Fast Company website here. Or perhaps pin it for later?

Ferrite

Perhaps more than any other group, blind people love audio – and especially the spoken word. Podcasts and audio books are favourite methods of obtaining news and pursuing interests.

Many blind users are also audio creators. I’m personally involved in two podcasts: the daily Alexa skills podcast Dot to Dot and the all-things Apple podcast with a visual-impairment focus, called Maccessibility.

Being able to easily edit on the go is an incredible productivity boost - particularly if your podcast is daily like Dot To Dot. Ferrite is an amazing iOS app that takes the complex arena of audio editing and simplifies it into a really clean touch-first experience that is totally inclusive for everyone.

Ferrite is free with an in-app purchase available for some additional features. I.e advanced audio-editing (such as the magic auto-levelling for those times when voices are at a range of volumes or, in the case of recording demos of Alexa’s skills, when certain games or quizzes have sound-effects that would otherwise blast the ears of the listener), this app is the all-in-one studio on the go.

It’s an achievement to make a primarily text-based app accessible, but an audio-editing app with its playhead, waveforms and splicing points all accessible deserves a huge round of applause. If only I could edit such an applause into this article at this point!

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

If you need help making technology work for you, call our helpline on 0800 269 545. And, to make your app accessible, click here.


 

Don't miss the deadline for the Tech4Good Awards, 1 week to go!

Just one week left to submit your entries into the UK’s foremost inclusive technology awards – celebrating the amazing people who use tech to make the world a better place.

The Tech4Good Awards, now in their eighth year, are organised by AbilityNet and BT and look to recognise the organisations and individuals who create and use technology to improve the lives of others.

The awards are free to enter, and this year’s eight categories include those for digital health, community impact and young pioneers. Past winners include Canute, the world’s first multi-line braille reader designed with and by the blind community, the Dyslexic Aid developed by two school-girls and a breath-controlled video game to help make home physiotherapy practice more exciting.

Mark Walker, AbilityNet at the 2018 launch of the Tech4Good Awards

Mark Walker, Head of Marketing and Communications at AbilityNet says:

“We are so enjoying receiving the entries for this year’s awards. There is such depth and breadth to the ideas, talents and skills that go into making this technology, and the awards are the perfect way to celebrate them.”

“For example, last year’s Community Impact Award was won by innovative online and in-person translation service Chatterbox; which brings the talent of refugees together with people and organisations in need of language skills. An excellent example of seeing a problem and harnessing skills alongside technology to create a win-win solution for all.

“We’re looking forward to discovering the new ideas and recognising those in the country who have been working hard this year to create technological solutions to the challenges that many face.”

Any business, charity, individual or public body in the UK is eligible, and submit their entry by 6pm on the 08 May via the Tech4Good Awards website.

People can nominate themselves or others across eight categories:

  • AbilityNet Accessibility Award
  • BT Connected Society Award
  • BT Young Pioneer Award
  • Comic Relief T4G for Africa Award
  • Community Impact Award
  • Digital Health Award
  • Digital Skills Award
  • Digital Volunteer of the Year Award

Entries are judged by an expert panel of judges who have worked across the technology, digital and charity sectors and have the job of narrowing down 250+ entries to just 28 finalists.

Anna Easton, Director of Sustainable Business at BT - who sponsor the awards - says:

“Technology is the most powerful tool we have to take on society’s most pressing challenges. We founded the awards with AbilityNet to showcase those who are at forefront of technology innovation, designing solutions that deliver positive impact in communities all across the globe. Their stories will inspire the next wave of innovation and ultimately a better world”. 

The winners will be announced at a glittering ceremony hosted by BT on 17 July at BT Centre – a lively and inspiring occasion for all.

For more information and to enter go to:  https://www.tech4goodawards.com/enter-now/

 

Naidex 2018 Roundup: From Autism apps to saddle chairs and vibrating shoes

Alex Barker meets the TEC innovation the team behind the vibrating shoesYesterday we went and had a look at some of the new products on show at Naidex. Held annually at the NEC in Birmingham it describes itself as a marketplace for “innovations for the future of independent living”.

There were over 200 stands and we can’t confess to have visited them all, but here are some of the things that we liked. Salli Systems from Finland were there showcasing their saddle chairs and once you get over the fact that you do feel like you are getting on a horse the seats are quite comfortable!

 

Iansyst, and Smartbox Assistive Technology were there along with SignLive. They are well known assistive technology providers, and it was good to go and see what technology they had on their stands. More so this year, than in other years there did seem to be a real effort to show people what technology could do to help people become more independent in their own home.

 

Whether it was watches which doubled up as GPS locators so that people with dementia could be located and some of them even featured a useful “panic button” so they could call a nominated person to receive help.

 

Companies like Avail were also there and they were showcasing their app which helps people with autism and cognitive impairments become more independent by helping them to complete everyday tasks. On Wednesday 25 April our very own Head of Digital Inclusion Robin Christopherson was speaking about the importance of inclusive design in a mobile-first world.

 

Other companies displayed technology which could be used to help monitor elderly or vulnerable people in their own home. One of my favourite pieces of technology was shoes that could help visually impaired and blind people navigate around their area. If you got to close to an object the shoes would start to vibrate to warn you of danger. The shoes are called WALKASSIST and are made by an Austrian company, TEC innovation.

 

There were lots of leisure time organisations at the show too, from adventure holidays in the Lake District to holidays in Tuscany too. If you were interested in sports you could go and check out the action in the sports arena and if you wanted to find out how to get to places in specially adapted vehicles there were numerous dealers at the event.

 

Normally I don’t buy any products at these shows, but I always come back with a load of leaflets. However I did find a mug holder called a Muggi for carrying hot drinks. As I have difficulties carrying drinks at the best of times it seemed like a great idea. It’s purple and it’s plastic and it is a really simple idea. Some times the simplest of ideas can be the most useful!

Webinar: 5 ways to make digital services work better for people on the autism spectrum

Dafydd Henke-Reed, accessibility and usability consultant for AbilityNet, takes us through his recent webinar for organisations and individuals looking to make Autism-friendly websites, digital services and technology. 

Dafydd Henke-Reed writes:

It's my job to make sure websites are as accessible, easy-to-use and enjoyable as possible to use for people with disabilities, including people on the Autism spectrum.

Currently the most-used figure for the number of people on the autistism spectrum is one in 100, but the rate of diagnosis is rising and could be as high as 1 in 59 people. See more about the increase in diagnosis here. This means at least 700,000 people in the UK are on the Autistism spectrum. The NHS describes Autism spectrum disorder an umbrella term for a range of conditions… that affects social interaction, communication, interests and behaviour". The National Autistic Society (NAS) states that Autism is a a "lifelong development disability that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others". 

See or listen to the webinar below:

:

Traits common among people with autism, that may impact use of technology and the web, include:

  • Social anxiety
  • Osessive behaviours/ strong special interests
  • Ritualistic behaviour, i.e, repetitive movements of hands in a certain way
  • Sensory sensitivity 

Baseline checks for ensuring your website or app is Autism-friendly:

1 Avoid autoplaying videos

As people who are on the autism spectrum can be sensitive to sensory overload, it's not ideal to have a video automatically play unexpectedly with potentially loud output. Turning off autoplay also makes the web experience better for people with other disabilities, so is a good rule to follow. 

2 Ensure phones are not activated by shaking movements 

A friend of mine had what's known as a 'stimming' behaviour. Examples of stimming include repeating physical movements or sounds. My friend shakes her hands back and forth which seemed to automatically light up the flashlight on her phone so she became a human beacon. This is something to be mindful of.

3 Make sure any scrolling or moving info can be controlled

When looking to make sites autism-friendly for our customers such as high street banks and corporates, we ensure that there is always the option to stop and pause any moving images on a page. Otherwise moving features could lead to sensory overload.

4 A predictable website is more Autism-friendly

If you press the space bar or click somewhere and something unexpected happens on a website, that is not autism-friendly and is bad practice. A website should be predictable, organised, structured and logical for everyone. If a chatbot pops up, that might be unexpected and a user should be told what that is and also offered and alternative option such as an email address to converse with someone. We call this ‘consistent navigation’ and it is a legal standard, i.e an AA requirement under the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines - which we work from (see more on these guidelines below).

5 Consider softer pastel colour palettes

Pastel colours can be less overwhelming. Colour contrast is something different and an important accessibility requirement for people with certain vision impairments or colour-blindness so the two needs should be considered together. If you have some important information that needs to be very clear on your site, you could employ colour contrast principles and use some brighter colours for certain sections, but use strong colours sparingly and make the backgrounds and general pages more neutral / pastel in their tones.

pastel colour chart

Web Accessibility Guidelines

AbilityNet use the widely-employed World Wide Web Consortium's (W3) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to test sites. These guidelines are currently being updated and you can find more information in our WCAG 2.1 Webinar. Single A requirements under the WCAG are the basics which all websites should have, double AA is the next step up and triple A (AAA) is hard to achieve and very few websites meet it. 

Triple A (AAA) requirements includes the use of Plain English, which is an important consideration for any website and particularly for someone who has autism This means use of metaphors, sarcasm, poetic language and any language that isn't literal could be difficult for people on the autism spectrum and other sections of the population to understand. The average reading age in the UK is nine, so keep that in mind (check out our very useful piece on writing for nine year olds). 

Social interaction with technology

Autism is not on the agenda of developers and designers very often. But, as the web becomes more and more social and interactive, rather than just words on a page as was previously the case, it poses various questions around ensuring the digital experience is as smooth and enjoyable as possible for people who have autism. People on the Autistic Disorder Spectrum may feel more comfortable not interacting with people and feel more comfortable interacting with machines, this can become confusing and potentially scary when, for example, online characters are increasingly made to look more human. 

Finally, the most important rule when checking your website is Autism-friendly...

Testing is essential. Always test your website with a wide variety of different people. One person who's Autistic will be very different from the next, so check with a range of people. Offer quiet testing rooms and ask about anything that feels uncomfortable or off-putting offering verbal and non-verbal feedback options and/ or using clear multiple choice options. 

 

Digital Leaders and AbilityNet put accessibility at the heart of digital design

AbilityNet is the new Accessibility Partner for the Digital Leaders network.

The UK charity has been a global leader in accessibility for 20 years and delivers consultancy and design services to a range of blue chip clients, including Lloyds Banking Group and many other members of the Digital Leaders network.

AbilityNet will deliver a range of events and resources to enable network members to put accessibility and inclusive design at the heart of their digital projects. This includes weekly blog posts, regular webinars, salons and other one-off events.

The Digital Leaders Network has over 50,000 members in the UK and many other countries. Its founder Robin Knowles has worked with AbilityNet over several years and sees this as an ideal way for network members to upgrade all their digital projects.

He said:  “Too many people see accessibility as a bolt on, but AbilityNet and their clients are showing that it is a cost-effective way of delivering better digital products and services for every customer.

“I’m delighted that we will be able to use their expertise to build awareness of inclusive design and demonstrate some of the practical lessons to be learned.”

AbilityNet CEO Nigel Lewis sees the decision to work with Digital Leaders as part of its mission to build a more accessible digital world.

He said: “The members of the Digital Leaders network deliver services and products to millions of people so this is a huge opportunity to change the world for the better. As a charity we use our expertise and resources to put accessibility and inclusive design at the heart of every project.

“Our consultants work with clients from wireframe and initial designs to final testing and customer research. We provide training to digital teams, we deliver events such as TechShare pro to share practical knowledge and we were founding members of the International Association of Accessibility Professionals alongside companies such as Adobe, Microsoft and Lloyds Banking Group.”

A well-known figure at many digital events, AbilityNet’s Head of Digital Inclusion Robin Christopherson was awarded an MBE for his contribution to digital inclusion. He’s excited by the prospect of connecting with the members of the Digital Leaders network.

He said: “I’ve worked in this field for over 20 years and have seen technology become a key part of everyday life. The big shift we’re seeing now is the move to inclusive design – making every digital project work for every possible user.

“That means we’re working with the whole digital team, including designers, researchers, UX specialists, marketing, developers and customer services. We still link directly with accessibility specialists across the world but we also see how this approach is bringing benefits across the business”.

The right swipe: 3 things you need to know about upcoming changes to mobile web accessibility guidelines (WCAG 2.1)

In June 2018 the final draft of World Wide Web Consortium's WCAG 2.1 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) will be released. AbilityNet accessibility and usability consultant Alladin Elteira offers some important information about the guidelines ahead of their launch in our latest webinar. 

 

 

Alladin writes:

WCAG 2.1 will use the same conformance model as WCAG 2.0 with some additions intended to address accessibility gaps. One of the three main points it is intended to address is the accessibility needs related to mobile, since back in 2008 when WCAG 2.0 came out mobiles were not as advanced as today. Our three points below are all basic recommendations - Level A. The government's accessibility standard, which organisations should ideally look to meet under the Equality Act 2010, is the higher Level AA.

The three main success criteria recommended for mobile accessibility under WCAG 2.1

Pointer Gestures (Level A): Avoid two-finger pinch zoom, swiping and dragging.

The use of complicated and complex gestures is discouraged, this also includes path-based gestures. This is because not all users are capable of performing them, nor have the dexterity accuracy needed - Tinder, we're looking at you! An example of such gestures would be two-finger pinch zoom, and path-based gestures like swiping and dragging.

A woman using Tinder with option to swipe right or left

As an author your responsibility lies in providing an alternative to these complex gestures, to ensure that users are able to perform the action with single-point activation. Examples of single-point activation methods would be tapping, double tapping, or long press.

It’s worth noting that this success criterion will often not only benefit users with dexterity limitations, but all users and users with cognitive impairments in particular, as they might not be aware of these complex gestures.

Motion Actuation (Level A): Limit shaking and tilting requirements

This success criteria ensures that users are not forced to rely on motion alone to activate or trigger a functionality. Its intent is to help users with motor impairments who for instance might have limited movements and be unable to shake or tilt the device to activate the camera or activate sensors to pick up their movement, as is sometimes required. We can also look at examples of some people with autism who might move their hands a lot/ quite fast. This could activate a flashlight on the phone example, without intention. 

Alternative user interfaces should be provided, unless the motion is absolutely necessary for the functionality, for example counting steps on an activity tracker.

An example of such solutions would be providing ‘Next’ and ‘previous’ buttons to navigate between pages, instead of only counting on tilting the device, as some smartphones currently do.

Orientation (Level A)

Both portrait and landscape orientations should be supported. Locking the orientation to only one of them means a failure against this success criteria as some people might find it easier to view or hold the screen in one particular way, or for example, might have their device attached to the arm of a wheelchair and not be able to easily re-angle their screen. 

In addition, if a screen reader user is unaware that the orientation has changed, the user might perform incorrect navigation commands. Therefore, mobile application developers should try to support both orientations.

WCAG 2.1 also addresses accessibility issues related to low vision and cognitive impairments, with additional success criteria, all as usual falling under three levels of conformance A, AA, and AAA.

For more details on the remaining WCAG 2.1 Candidate Recommendation, see here.

London Accessibility Meetup 23 April

AbilityNet is proud to be supporting tonight's London Accessibility Meetup hosted by Sainsbury's. The theme of this month's event is best practice for the design, building and testing of accessible digital interfaces and services with 2 case studies from UK Government.

A case study from the Home Office showing how they approached accessibility on the Passport Renewal Service and how accessibility support is being embedded in teams.
- James Buller, Access Needs Lead
- Charlotte Moore, Lead User Researcher

A case study from Government Digital Services showing how they designed, built and tested the accessibility of 5 components for new GOV.UK Design System and will share the vision of the Design System.
- Ed Horsford, Lead Interaction Designer
- Alex Jurubita, Developer
- Alice Noakes, Product manager

Find out more about the London Accessibility Meetups and join us in May for the next Meetup.

Government must raise awareness of mainstream accessibility technology for disabled people says AbilityNet

Following today’s publication of a Work and Pensions Committee report on assistive technology (AT), leading digital incluRobin Christopherson, Head of Digital Inclusion, AbilityNetsion charity AbilityNet is calling on the Government to raise awareness among employers and disabled people of the availability of mainstream accessibility technology.

The charity supports the recommendations in the report, calling on the Government to further the promotion of mainstream, cost-effective AT and AT support, including the signposting of free resources including Microsoft's accessibility helpdesk, AbilityNet's My Computer My Way website or the Disabled Living Foundation's Living Made Easy website.

Robin Christopherson, Head of Digital Inclusion at AbilityNet explained that "ten or fifteen years ago AT was the domain of the specialist provider. With the advent of mobile computing, the vast majority of mainstream technologies can enable disabled people to work in full-time roles and embrace the benefits of modern life.”

Commenting further, he explained, “There is a widespread lack of knowledge and understanding of what mainstream technology can actually do for disabled people. Users themselves do not know what their existing system is capable of, which adjustments would be relevant, or which menu to use to make that adjustment.

"If Government can do more to raise awareness of accessibility options in partnership with organisations like AbilityNet and the major technology companies, everyone will benefit. Disabled people will become more confident in using technology and, this in turn will improve independence and employability, it’s a win-win.”

Earlier this year AbilityNet was invited to give written and oral evidence into the Committee's Assistive Technology Inquiry which led to the AT report. AbilityNet told Parliament that web accessibility, in particular making online job opportunities accessible, is also essential if the Government wants to hit its target of one million more people with disabilities in employment in the next decade.

AbilityNet is looking for technology that’s inclusive by design

Accessible gaming for disabled children, e-reader for blind people, AbilityNet is looking for technology that’s inclusive by design

Leading digital inclusion charity AbilityNet is on the hunt for inspiring tech projects for this year’s Tech4Good Awards. That includes the Tech4Good Accessibility Award, which recognises people using tech to transform the lives of disabled people. Past winners include SpecialEffect and Lifelites, who are doing amazing things like making computer games accessible for disabled people and helping children in hospices keep in touch with family and friends. Entries close on 8 May – it’s free to enter and is open to any individual, business, charity, social enterprise or other public body with a base in the UK.

Lifelites provides tech equipment and support to children with life-limiting conditions in everyone of the UK’s children’s hospices and was the first ever winner of the Accessibility Award in 2011. Their CEO, Simone Enefer-Doy, says:

“Winning the Accessibility Award was a pivotal moment for us. I realised that we weren’t just a start-up; here we were, being told by our peers that there was something very worthwhile about what we did. It’s helped us to sell our cause to potential funders and has helped us continue to grow and help more children and their families.”

Last year’s winner was Bristol Braille Technology, who have created an affordable Braille e-reader for blind people called Canute, designed with and by the blind community. Ed Rogers, Bristol Braille says: “Winning the AbilityNet Tech4Good Award came after a long stretch of work to finish the latest Canute prototype. We certainly weren't expecting to win but we're very grateful for the recognition after so many years' work."

The AbilityNet Accessibility Award is one of eight categories open for entry as part of the 2018 Tech4Good Awards, organised by AbilityNet and sponsored by BT. Now in its 8th year, the awards recognise organisations and individuals who create and use technology to improve the lives of others and make the world a better place. Other past winners include Open Bionics, WayFindr, Barclays Bank and LexAble – all of them demonstrating creative ways that tech can change people’s lives.

Mark Walker, Head of Marketing & Communications at AbilityNet says:

‘Technology has become part of everyone’s life but it can be a real game changer for disabled people. It’s always amazing to see the entries for this Award because there is so much innovation happening across the country, and we want to see how it is being used to make a positive impact in the lives of people with disabilities.’

Entries are judged by an expert panel of judges who have worked across the technology, digital and charity sectors and have the unenviable job of narrowing down 250+ entries to just 28 finalists.

So, if you or your team are working on something exciting that solves a problem for disabled people – be it the everyday mundane action, or the once in a lifetime experience - we want to hear about it. Let’s celebrate the brilliant work that the sector is doing in creating these life-changing and empowering technologies for good.

Deadline for entries is 6pm on 8 May 2018. For more information and to enter, go to: www.tech4goodawards.com/enter-now/

 

A new way to log in will put an end to passwords, and that's good news for people with disabilities

A new web standard called WebAuthn will soon remove the need to enter a password each time you log in to a website - and may even mean the end for CAPTCHAs - those evil and (quite literally) twisted codes that annoy everyone but often bar users with a disability.

The problem with passwords

Passwords are not a good approach to securing our online lives. Not only do we need to remember which username or email address we used on a certain website, but we also need to make sure we always devise a cunning password and then make sure we make a note of it.

Everyone experiences the challenge of remembering passwords that are complicated (or should be) and different from site to site. Yours aren’t different you say? Yikes – that’s another major aspect to the problem with passwords. Once someone has got yours for one website, they’re simultaneously into several others. Add to the mix a disability or impairment that makes the practicalities of remembering or retrieving passwords even more problematic, and it’s easy to see the benefits that a new approach might bring.

monitor with a post it note on it displaying the word 'security'

Another significant flaw in the whole password approach is that, with all that we betray of ourselves on social media and the internet, it’s almost child’s play for someone to masquerade as us when contacting a company to reset a supposedly forgotten password.

Finally putting passwords in the past

This new standard does away with the need for passwords by using some other device – it could be your smartphone, computer or a specialist handheld ‘widget’ – to enable you to confirm that you are who you say you are. We’re all familiar with receiving a code by text or an email with a link we need to click to complete a registration process.

Having to manually enter a code is inconvenient and may include mistakes, but clicking a link is relatively pain-free. This latter approach is in essence what is proposed by WebAuthn – but in a much more seamless way. Being a fully-fledged W3C standard means it won’t involve anything so clunky as email, it will be able to be built right in to the device you would use to provide that all-important authentication.

Got a smartphone? If so, when logging into a website on your computer using this new WebAuthn approach, a simple message will pop up asking you to confirm that you wish to log in and – voila! No need to go into your emails or open an app – the integration on a wide range of devices permanently authorised to approve your login will make it as simple as a click of a button, a tap of a screen or perhaps (for a little added security) the tracing of a special gesture.

Our passwords cannot be forgotten as they will no longer exist - and our online accounts will be as secure as those devices used to provide authentication.

captcha

Will WebAuthn kill CAPTCHAs?

And what about the dreaded CAPTCHA? I won’t go into the ins and outs of these critters here – go and read many of my other posts – but surely these scrambled codes that prevent so many disabled people (myself included) from being able to prove we’re human and not robots are just another point at which we are asked to prove that we are who we say we are.

Dear W3C, please say that WebAuthn will kill CAPTCHAs once and for all...

Take Robin's 2 minute CAPTCHA challenge!

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

Robin is hosting a webinar on the business case for accessibility, this Wednesday (18 April). Find out more now. 

Find out how Skype is paving the way to more accessible cross platform apps.