Technology can help you feel less stressed!

The Stress Management Society (SMS) describes stress as “primarily a physical response. When stressed, the body thinks it is under attack and switches to ‘fight or flight’ mode, releasing a complex mix of hormones and chemicals such as adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine to prepare the body for physical action. This causes a number of reactions, from blood being diverted to muscles to shutting down unnecessary bodily functions such as digestion." 

the workplace can be a very stressful placeOur cavemen ancestors used this physical response when they were in danger of getting savaged by sabre tooth tigers. Office workers don’t have much in common with cavemen. However, you could view deadlines and copious amounts of emails as our sabre-toothed tigers. Deadlines, emails and trying to do too many tasks at once brings on stress.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reported that in 2015-16 that more than 11 million working days were lost to stress alone. You'll be glad to know that there are lots of simple "hacks" that can make it easier for you to cope with stress and get your work done on your computer, at the same time. 

Check out our tech advice on the links below:

Here are six quick ways of helping you destress yourself. 

  • Use a meditation app to take some time out to calm your mind
  • 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
  • Headspace is a great app that will allow you to understand the basics of meditation
  • Have problems completing tasks? Why not use Drop Manager to aid your task management? 
  • Podcasts are very popular and there are several on the subject of anxiety and how to cope with it.
  • Natural readers can take the stress out of reading text. Just sit back and listen!

AbilityNet is  pleased to support the International Stress Awareness Day, taking place on Wednesday 1 November 2017

How can we help?

AbilityNet provides a range of services to help disabled people and older people with technology and communications.

  • Call our free Helpline on 0800 269 545 and our friendly, knowledgeable staff will offer one-to-one help.
  • If you are in work your employer has a responsibility to make Reasonable Adjustments which include helping you with invisible illnesses. Find out more about how we help disabled in the workplace.
  • Arrange a home visit from one of our amazing AbilityNet ITCanHelp volunteers. They can come to your home, or help you over the phone.
  • We have a range of factsheets which talk in detail about technology that might help you, which can be downloaded for free. You may find our factsheets talking about computers and vision impairment useful
  • My Computer My Way is our free interactive guide to all the accessibility features built into current desktops, laptops, tables and smartphones.

How Artificial Intelligence is empowering people on the autism spectrum

Artificial Intelligence, or AI, is empowering people with physical disabilities, allowing them to take charge of their own lives but it’s also having a surprising impact on people with neuro-diverse conditions like autism.

It’s easy to generalise about people on the autism spectrum; they like consistency, take things literally and like routine.

What is Autism? Link to Autism Society video on YouTubeAI and computer personal assistants, like Alexa, love these things too. They are built to provide consistency. They don’t (yet) understand sarcasm and they like logic, a lot.

But it’s important to remember that although people on the autism spectrum will share certain difficulties, everyone’s experience of the condition will be very different. Developers and Designers need to keep this in mind when creating a user experience.

Creating meaningful User Experiences

Those on the autism spectrum experience the world in a different way from neuro-typical people. Some people will struggle to have any social interactions, others may rely on a strict routine to get through their days.

AI has the potential to create more meaningful experiences for people on the autism spectrum. “There have been stories about children with autism who have formed in-depth relationships with Siri or their personal assistants. It’s because the assistant doesn’t make any demands on them; they are not inconsistent in their responses,” said Robin Christopherson, Head of Digital Inclusion at AbilityNet.  

Using an assistant like Alexa or Siri makes communicating very straightforward for someone with autism. They don’t have to contend with trying to understand nuanced body language, facial expressions, moods or the million-and-one other things that can be happening every time we talk to someone. An American writer wrote about her own son’s in-depth experience with Siri for the New York Times back in 2014.

Poster from the Home Office giving advice about designing for people on the autism spectrum

Things are moving fast now with the introduction of ambient computing systems like Alexa and Google Home and Apple Homepod. It’s providing incredible opportunities to make a huge difference to people with autism.

How can designers keep improving the user experience for people with autism?

“Diversity is the keyword when it comes to inclusive design,” said Robin from AbilityNet. “Make sure people on the autism spectrum have some input into your user experience, especially any key user journeys on a transactional site.”

Whatever your channel – a website, mobile app, chat bot or skill for the echo – you need to make sure you have as diverse a tester base as possible. Creating an inbuilt variety of options for design, layout and delivery can have a huge impact on user experience.

Designers need to pay attention to using Plain English (PE), avoiding figures of speech and idioms. Using euphemisms, like ‘passed away’ when talking about when someone’s died, can cause confusion. So, can phrases like ‘grey area’ when talking about something that is unclear. It’s best to avoid sarcasm, keep things to the point and matter-of-fact.

People with autism may also struggle to interact with interfaces that they find overwhelming. Use simple colours; structure your information with succinct sentences and bullet-points; and use consistent, predictable layouts.

Inclusive designs are helping everyone

Photo description: Poster from the Home Office giving advice about designing for users on the autistic spectrum

The benefits of inclusive design go way beyond helping people with autism or other impairments.  Accessibility used to be seen as a bolt-on and the danger with that was that it could easily be knocked off. By focusing on inclusive design, organisations will be making the experience better for everyone.

“People using mobile phones out and about have very similarities to people with disabilities. So, accessibility is no longer for people with disabilities with a capital D because if you have a small sheet of glass on a bright sunny day you need colour contrast, in the same way as someone with autism or impairment needs,” said Robin.

Over 700,000, or 1 in 100 people, are on the autism spectrum in the UK. The number of people being diagnosed with autism or other neurological disorders is increasing. So are the number of people temporally disabled or impaired by their new mobile tech.

Organisations and businesses need to think about how to create the best user experiences through their website, apps and bots. If they can achieve this then they will by default be reaching many more of their other customers and users. If your App or Bot isn’t accessible then your customers will go to other companies who have ones that are.

Find out more at TechShare pro

Tech which could help people with a stammer

What do King George VI, Ed Sheeran and Samuel L Jackson have in common?  The answer is that they all had a stammer.
 
Stammering is a condition which can make it very difficult for you to speak sometimes. It causes repetition of sounds of syllables or you might make sounds longer or sounds just get stuck.  This, as you can imagine can cause a lot of distress for the person who has a stammer and a lot of confusion for the person who is trying to listen to what they are trying to say. No-one is quite sure what causes people to stammer or stutter. 
 
stammering
 
Some people feel that is a developmental issue. In later life people who have had head injuries can experience difficulties with stuttering. Stammering is more common than you might think.
 
I seem to remember one of my childhood friends having a stutter and I remember that he was very aware of his difficulty, and sadly some of his friends would make fun of him.  Over 70 million people worldwide have the condition, according to the Stuttering Foundation.

How tech can help if you have a stammer

You might be surprised to hear that technology can help people with stammering.  In the past there has been technology available but this has often been cumbersome and difficult to use.  However, using iPads and similar tablets as well as computers can be beneficial for people to help control their stammer.  Lots of apps are available which use AAF or "Altered Audio Feedback" which means that you can use the app to hear what you've just said and there is evidence that this improves the fluency of the speaker.
 
An example of such an app DAF Beep Pro.  In fact, one of the students going through our DSA assessment service did have a stutter and was recommended this app by one of our assessors. The app comes with video guidance on how to use it.  DAF Beep Pro allows the user to hear their own voice played back in their ear at a slight delay which has been found to help a person control stammering during oral conversations.  You can get a lot of discrete Bluetooth earphones too, if you're worried about feeling self-conscious. 
 
It is important to point out here that we're not experts in this field and we'd say that if you have a stutter or a stammer your first port of call ought to be support groups such as The British Stammering Association or your local NHS speech therapy team (accessible through your GP).
 

How can we help?

AbilityNet provides a range of services to help disabled people and older people with technology and communications.

  • Call our free Helpline on 0800 269 545 and our friendly, knowledgeable staff will offer one-to-one help.

  • If you are in work your employer has a responsibility to make Reasonable Adjustments which include helping you with invisible illnesses. Find out more about how we help disabled in the workplace.

  • Arrange a home visit from one of our amazing AbilityNet ITCanHelp volunteers. They can come to your home, or help you over the phone.

  • We have a range of factsheets which talk in detail about technology that might help you, which can be downloaded for free. You may find our factsheets talking about computers and vision impairment useful

  • My Computer My Way is our free interactive guide to all the accessibility features built into current desktops, laptops, tables and smartphones.

A look back at retro tech for #StrangerThings2 weekend

coloured cartoon with Atari video game screens

Will you be one of the millions in Atari and walkie takie heaven this weekend as Stranger Things nostalgia-fest returns to Netflix for a second series? As it happens, I've been looking back at 80s (and 90s) tech for a presentation I'm doing next week on how technology has changed through my education and working life. From getting excited about Tetris and my Amstrad (and being able to type in bold!) to reminiscing about when I got my Alphasmart, which I still use to this day.

Just to set the scene, I have a rare condition called Mobius Syndrome and tech has been a key feature in getting through college and work, perhaps more for me than some of my peers. One of the characteristics of my condition is missing fingers. I am down by six fingers, so doing anything manual is, let’s face it, a bit of a challenge for me.  Especially anything that claims “Easy Open”!

When I started school in the eighties, it soon became apparent that a handsplint with a pen attached wouldn't make my handwriting easier to read and so I progressed through a range of manual and electric typewriters. Excitingly I could type in two colours back then -  black and red.  Yay! But the keys were clunky and it was easy to hit two at once resulting in various issues. 

Canon Typestar 110 word processor 

Things got a lot better, ironically, when I moved from 'special school' to mainstream school. There, I was presented with a Canon Typestar 110. word processor. For the first time I could write and edit a whole sentence and see it on an LED screen in front of me before the Typestar actually typed it on the page. I could now write great essays, hurray! Looking back, it was very basic, but it meant that for the first time I could get work down easily and independently without an assistant helping me.

The home economics department even made me a smart blue bag for the word processor. It was very heavy. I mean really heavy. My parents also bought me a super awesome BBC B computer. It was powerful back then with 32K of RAM and and had some very useful word processing software built in. It also enabled you to do basic programming.  I loved experimenting with that computer so much. Even though it was annoying to try to load software by cassette tape, I could programme things like basic shapes on screen! It was really simple to use and a nice way to get into computing. 

1980s Liberator

There were more tech advancements in time for college. Well by 1980s' standards. I had a Liberator. Not the spaceship from Blake’s 7 but a very neat little word processor made by Thorn EMI. It was the first mass produced laptop on the market and was originally designed for civil servants. The idea was that it would help them produce work more quickly, without having to send it off to something called the 'typing pool'. It enabled me to produce work for my GCSEs much more efficiently because the screen allowed you to see a whole essay and save it to edit later. A revolution! What's more, it was lighter and more portable than the Typestar.

Tetris

Amazingly I passed my GCSEs and then for my GCEs things ramped up a little bit with the Amstrad NC100 word processor. This piece of kit allowed me to now store quite a load of documents and do fancy things like 'Bold' and 'Underline' text. It also, as I remember, had a Tetris style game which I became quite good at and used to beat my fellow students hands down. I used it until around 1995 and it was very portable, running on AA batteries for up to 20 hours. For the first time I had a machine which also had extras such as a calculator, address book and diary.

Tetris

I also used, and actually still have a device called an Alphasmart, which I used for my open studies course. I still think this kit is really underrated. It's a simple word processor and it includes word prediction too. I remember thinking they were fairly cheap and quite durable so if you dropped them, it wasn't the end of the world. One of the great things about these devices is that it has one function so you can't get distracted by running other software on it. So for people who had ADHD or learning difficulties, it helps with focus.

Retro tech: basic but brilliant

Looking back, these pieces of technology were basic. But I didn’t care. They enabled me to keep up with my peers. They might be retro now but at the time, this was cutting edge technology. Meanwhile, I can now, wonderfully, talk to my computer at the AbilityNet office (or my phone) and get it to do things. In fact, you've been able to since the 90s, but not a lot of people know that. Being able to talk to our phones and other devices such as the Amazon Echo or Google Home, in my opinion, has changed and is changing the way people with disabilities can control their technology and ultimately enables people to work with a bit more ease.  Now technology that was once considered adaptive is mainstream and built in to the operating system.

All of this has happened in the past 30 or so years. I can’t even begin to imagine what’s going to happen in the next 30, but I’m fascinated by the new tech discoveries to come, even if I am hanging on to my Alphasmart! It's still great for note taking, and is less likely to get nicked than a laptop!
 

How can AbilityNet help you get the most out of tech?

AbilityNet provides a range of services to help disabled people and older people with technology and communications.

Call our free Helpline on 0800 269 545 and our friendly, knowledgeable staff will offer one-to-one help.

If you are in work your employer has a responsibility to make Reasonable Adjustments which include helping you with invisible illnesses. Find out more about how we help disabled in the workplace.

Arrange a home visit from one of our amazing AbilityNet ITCanHelp volunteers. They can come to your home, or help you over the phone.

We have a range of factsheets which talk in detail about technology that might help you, which can be downloaded for free. You may find our factsheets talking about computers and vision impairment useful

My Computer My Way is our free interactive guide to all the accessibility features built into current desktops, laptops, tables and smartphones.


 

The expert guide to creating a disability-friendly workplace

Is your workplace disability-friendly? Not sure? Read on for some excellent and easy advice which will help you ensure your organisation meets the needs of those with sight loss, hearing loss, dyslexia or dyspraxia and physical disabilities, as well as many other conditions. 

Nearly one in five people in the UK has a disability, including more than eight million of working age. Our new AbilityNet Disability and Employment factsheet shows the steps employers can take to recruit and support people with an impairment or long-term health condition in work. Below we've picked out some of the key points from the fact sheet. 

Benefits of a diverse workforce

Employing disabled people is good for business - it means you can draw on a much broader talent pool; maximise your chance of employing and retaining high quality staff; improve employee morale; reduce absence through sickness, and create a diverse workforce that more closely reflects your range of customers and the community where you operate.

Under the 2010 Equality Act, there can also be serious penalties for treating someone less favourably because of a personal characteristic, such as being disabled.

woman in the workplace

The Equality Act places a duty on employers to ensure that employees with a disability are able to perform effectively. If necessary, an employer must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to ensure that disabled job applicants or employees are not disadvantaged by their workplace or working practices.

There are myriad ways employers can make reasonable adjustments and they don’t have to cost a lot of money. What might be deemed reasonable will depend, in part, on the size and nature of the organisation.

Creating a disability-friendly workplace

  • Adapting the workplace or the working environment
  • Removing physical barriers
  • Making some changes to how work is organised
  • Ensuring that information is provided in accessible formats
  • Modifying or acquiring equipment – including assistive digital technology
  • Offering specialist training and support
  • Providing more flexible employment – including part-time hours and a phased return to work.

How tech can help your organisation be disability-friendly 

Continued advances in digital technology mean that an increasing range of assistive devices, hardware and software is now available to help disabled employees overcome potential barriers and succeed in work. You can find plenty of information about this in the AbilityNet blog.

Government guidance on Employing disabled people and people with health conditions includes information on how different specific conditions can affect people. It also gives related examples of potentially helpful adjustments.

As a starting point, AbilityNet recommends that job applicants and employees generate a ClearTalents profile. Answering a few simple questions about circumstances generates a simple report that can be used by employers to review your needs. Typically, this will identify all the adjustments you may require without the need for a full expert assessment. But, different people will need different adjustments, even if they appear to have similar impairments so an individual assessment with an expert practitioner is essential.

Practical advice on how to achieve the optimum setup for your computing equipment is available on My Computer My Way. This covers all the accessibility features built into your computer, tablet or smartphone, and all the main operating systems – Windows, Mac OS, iOS and Android. You can use it for free at www.mycomputermyway.com.

Access to work and help with costs for reasonable adjustments

Where reasonable adjustments are more costly, help for employers may be available under the government’s Access to Work programme. This can assist with the cost of providing an individual with required support or adaptations.

Useful links and resources for creating a disability-friendly workplace

Acas publishes extensive help and guidance for employers and employees on all aspects of disability discrimination.

Business Disability Forum aims to build disability-smart organisations to enhance participation and improve business performance.

The Disability Confident employer scheme offers guidance and resources around employing disabled people and how the Disability Confident employer scheme can help businesses

Call our free Helpline on 0800 269 545 to ask anything about how computers can be adapted to meet the needs of disabled people.

Why artificial intelligence needs to overcome the ‘evil’ image and embrace accessibility

No one wants to be remembered as the creator of something defined as "evil" to accessibility. So how can you make sure you aren't?

Captcha Challenge on YouTubeThe evil thing Robin Christopherson, Head of Digital Inclusion at AbilityNet, is referring too when he's talking about building tech that's accessible is the CAPTCHA security boxes. The ones you sometimes complete online to prove you are not a robot for security reasons. These nasty little critters by default (and even with audio options) make themselves inaccessible to many people with disabilities. You can take the '2 minute Captcha Challenge' on YouTube to experience for yourself what we're talking about.

At TechShare Pro we know creating interfaces that refuse to make themselves accessible is a big no-no. We want to bring together experts, developers and designers to make sure the next generations of artifical intelligence (AI) is accessible. You can find out more about TechShare Pro on our website.

Artificial Intelligence, once the realm of Sci-Fi, is fast becoming the norm as devices become smarter. Currently, chat bots help us online and intelligent office assistants help us manage our lives and homes. In the not too distant future there will be driverless cars to contend with.

How can developer and designers using AI make sure their products are accessible to everyone?

Photo of Robin Christopherson MBE"It's about choice. It's about developing artificial intelligence that will give you choice..." said Robin.

If you are going to build a website, bot or driverless car you need to make sure that it can be different things to different people. That it has choice built-in. That anyone can use it.

When Siri first came onto the market it could only be operated by Voice Control, which meant that it was no good for people who couldn't speak. The latest version has the option to type questions and instructions and if a person can't hear the audio response, they can read it in a conversation thread on the screen.

So can you retrospectively fix accessibility problems?

Accessibility features like the ones I just mentioned were worked into the software retrospectively. But, there is the real danger that If you haven't worked in accessibility from the beginning things can end-up fundamentally flawed. For instance, if you used Flash (notoriously inaccessible) to build your website there was no easy fix - you just had to start again from scratch.

Accessibility is about making sure no one is left behind. Once it was just thought of in terms of helping people with disabilities, but as technology has developed it's become about creating inclusive design for everyone.

We are all carrying our smart phones and tablets around 24/7. Because of using them in public spaces, we all need to be able to contrast the screen to make information clearer or have the option for subtitles, just like people with visual or hearing impairments.

One of the accessibility issues that was flagged up early on with AI tech was that Siri, Alexa and many other virtual assistants don't like non-American accents - reported on wired.com. For a global product like Apple that reduces the number of customers you can sell things to massively.  

How would it cope with computer-generated voices like those of Steven Hawking?

"Don't think about accessibility in terms of disability, flip it 180 degrees and think about inclusive design..." Robin told us. "You don't need to be just asking if your AI can understand people with speech impairments. You need to think wider. For instance, does it understand someone with a strong Glaswegian accent?"

Now let's flip it.

"Why AI is going to be massively useful to accessibility?"

It's all to do with simplicity.

Robin described virtual assistants as the "pinnacle of simplicity." People are going to be able to do things more easily and accessibly because AI requires it to be so.

Mobile phone screen with apps

If mobile phone apps made things cleaner and simpler than a full desktop experience, personal assistants like Alexa are another step ahead. You don't need to physically open your phone or computer to do things. Now you can just ask your assistant, without lifting a finger, to do stuff for you. If you layer on top of that the ability to do your online banking and checking when the next bus is coming, then life just got a whole lot easier. Artifical intelligence has huge potential to increase the accessibility of all these things, for people who find conventional channels more challenging than others.

Developers won't need to reinvent the wheel

The incredible thing too is that the big tech giants, like Google and IBM, allow developers to link to their AI research and development via APIs (Application Programming Interfaces). So, if you are developing an app and need to link to Google translate, that is possible and free, provided you're not reaching more than say 10,000 people. You just focus on the user experience and making sure that the interface you create is inclusive.

If you would like to find out more about accessibility and AI, meet the experts and speak to other like-minded colleagues, you can still book tickets for our TechShare Pro event in November.

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Tomorrow’s tech and the future for banking

By Paul Smyth, Head of Digital Accessibility, Barclays


Person interacting with virtual buttonsI'm looking forward to the TechShare Pro 23 November event where we'll be hearing from leading organisations about the emerging challenges and possibilities presented by tomorrow's technologies, including AI, robotics and machine learning. When I apply an accessibility lens to these new buzz words, there's certainly multiple use cases where these technologies could excel. Robotics can help automate household chores and in doing so support independent living for the elderly. Artificial Intelligence (AI) coupled with machine learning is helping to tackle more complex tasks, such as seeing (machine vision), hearing (speech-to-text) and understanding (natural language interfaces). As people's senses may deteriorate over their longer lives, the improved sensors being built into the collection of always-on, always-connected IOT (Internet of Things) devices around us will help in enhancing and augmenting our human capabilities.

But how will banking be impacted in this brave new world? The industry is ripe for a revolution of simpler, safer and smarter tech, powered by predictive AI and presented in a personalised way that works for everyone.

Simpler interfaces

Mobile Banking has ballooned in popularity, in part because of the cluttered and complicated banking websites of yesteryear. Now on a smaller smartphone screen, banks are forced to distil down and display only the core information that the customer wants and less of the generic marketing blurb that the bank would want. This relentless customer focus is simplifying both interface, language used and ways of interacting. For instance, AI and chat-bots are helping customers wade through bank sites and make sense of the information that they want through conversational interfaces rather than reading lengthy FAQs. Machine vision is helping customers deposit paper cheques with a more convenient snapshot of their smartphone and it's helping banks to continue to process cheques as they become increasingly obsolete. Biometrics is even making the security step far simpler, using your finger-print to access your mobile banking app or simply your voice-print to access telephone banking.

Personalisation

Person using contactless payment methodA great example of how technology is providing greater choice for enabling people to bank where, when and how they want is contactless payments. This convenient payment method in shops is now becoming the norm for interacting with cash machines. My forgetful friend can tap their smartphone instead of their debit card to transact and my grandma who has arthritis can tap her debit card on the ATM rather than struggling to pull it into and out of the kiosk. As someone with a visual impairment, I can choose to interact with my accessible smartphone rather than the kiosk when requesting cash withdrawals, again highlighting the benefits of offering multiple ways to do the same things.

With AI, digital assistants are becoming cleverer too - not just texting you towards the end of the month once you've gone over-drawn, but instead warning you mid-month based on your past behaviours and suggesting some course corrections. Even monthly budgeting will become easier as AI can better understand and visually present your in-goings and out-goings in a typical month, highlighting how much you're spending on over-priced coffee or perhaps flagging if your energy bills look a little high and if there's a better deal. In the future, loyalty schemes will become child's play too, taking the pain out of earning or burning potential loyalty points. Let's face it - everyone would benefit from their own financial advisor bot, informing you on the best way to manage your money with the most appropriate loans or accessing the most effective savings rates - providing informed insights and automating administrative tasks.

Inter-connection

Amazon Echo DotIn 2018, new bank legislation in the form of the Payments Services Directive will shake things up. This'll force traditional banks to share account and transaction information with trusted third parties, enabling customers to aggregate their various bank accounts across multiple institutions in a single view. In time it'll provide the means for customers to easily compare bank products for the best deals or more easily make payments. It's exciting to think about those new banking portals that'll be born that offer the most accessible and usable experiences, whether that be through Amazon Echo or the next big breakthrough technology.

Will AI work for everyone?

Many on-lookers raise the question of whether we can build AI and Machine Learning that is ethical but I think the bigger question is whether we can build these new technologies to be empathetic and adaptable to cope with the diversity of human users encountering them. We know that 'data is king' and that many new machine learning tools are launched and algorithms refined as digital savvy, early adopters use these systems in anger. The algorithms are tweaked to work out the most efficient predictions based on the least amount of data required, essentially averaging up expected user behaviours and chopping out outliers and anomalies. Whilst this may be the first step on the journey, interested parties need to remind technologists that it's the boundary between where tech meets human that is critical to get right and whilst tech has more 'smarts' built into it, these need to include being aware of and accommodating to the wide range of needs, abilities and preferences that humans have.

The future is bright and new tech promises a lot but we need to continue to lobby and remind technologists that it needs to serve all of us, including the edge cases and outliers. At Barclays we want to leverage technology to enable and empower all people to work, bank and reach their full potential. We can only achieve this by actively involving and listening to all potential users, including those with disabilities.

You can further explore the challenges and possibilities presented by tomorrow's tech at TechShare Pro.

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Great ways tech and computers can help when you have osteoporosis

Many of us might break a bone sometime in our lives, but while for most people this is just a very rare occurrence, for those who have osteoporosis, bones can frequently break causing pain and leading to periods of time off work.

The condition means that your bones are weak causing them to break easily.  According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, more than 75 million people in the USA, Europe and Japan are affected by the condition. 

How can using a computer help people who have osteoperosis?

Every time you use the keyboard you put pressure on your fingers and your wrist. If you have osteoporosis, you might find that fingers and wrists tend to break easily and often. So it might be worth exploring technology where you don't have to use your hands and wrists so much. 

Using a compact keyboard can help so you don't have to move your hands and fingers so much. A light touch keyboard might also be useful to consider.  As part of looking at different keyboards, you might even want to consider using some type of word prediction software, so that you don't have to use as many keystrokes. There are a number of packages available, such a Typing Assistant and WordQ

I've heard of voice recognition. Tell me more about this. 

Voice recognition is a really quick and easy way of getting your thoughts down on paper, without using a keyboard. Voice recognition is available for desktop and laptop computers and if you have a smartphone or a tablet there is voice recognition already installed.   

With the advent of devices like the Alexa Echo or Dot from Amazon you can use tech to not only to select music from your playlists, but you can also get information from the web about train times and even order take-away food without using hands and fingers.  

Google has also brought out a similar device called Google Home. There is lots of potential we see here at AbilityNet, lots of it was explored at our event  'Building Better Bots' recently.

I find it very difficult to take breaks at work. What can help me?

Ergonomix screen shot

Research shows that exercise is important if you have a condition such as osteoporosis (or various other conditions for that matter). But in many places of work it can be difficult to take breaks.  Software such as StretchClock can actually help you exercise at your desk.  Other software such as Ergonomix and Workrave is also work checking out.  Breaks can encourage you to go and get up and stretch or just go and put the kettle on for a hot drink and enjoy a bit of movement in the process.

How can we help?

AbilityNet provides a range of services to help disabled people and older people with technology and communications.

  • Call our free Helpline on 0800 269 545 and our friendly, knowledgeable staff will offer one-to-one help.
  • If you are in work your employer has a responsibility to make Reasonable Adjustments which include helping you with invisible illnesses. Find out more about how we help disabled in the workplace.
  • Arrange a home visit from one of our amazing AbilityNet ITCanHelp volunteers. They can come to your home, or help you over the phone.
  • We have a range of factsheets which talk in detail about technology that might help you, which can be downloaded for free. You may find our factsheets talking about computers and vision impairment useful
  • My Computer My Way is our free interactive guide to all the accessibility features built into current desktops, laptops, tables and smartphones.

 

 

 

 

 

Mixmag journalist: Nightclubs still not thinking about disabled customers and accessibility

The latest edition of renowned dance-music magazine Mixmag, published in LA, Cape Town, London and Sydney, explores the difficulties of accessing nightclubs for disabled clubbers and DJs.

Journalist Alex Taylor, who uses a wheelchair, writes the article Nightclubs need to be way more accessible for disabled clubbers, calling out the fact that music fans are still often struggling to get into or around nightclubs. Though he does praise Ibiza's latest arrival Hi, for being fully accessible. 

Amnesia nightclub Ibiza door sign

Alex begins: "This summer, I made a clubbing pilgrimage to the White Isle, Amnesia my final port of call. Ticket in hand, I joined the throng – only to find the door shut in my face unless I paid double. My crime? I use a wheelchair and need a carer to help me on nights out.

At some clubs, the fact that I need a qualified carer with me to help me transfer to the toilet, navigate stairs and – perhaps most importantly – reach the bar to order drinks – is a burden I must, literally, pay the price for. Disability and clubbing, it seems, still causes trouble in paradise.

Amnesia have since apologised, saying that, where possible, “full details” of carers should be given in advance. For spontaneous visits, Amnesia requires “some type of ID proving the position of the carer”. Given that such ID is not standard practice, it remains unclear what exactly would be accepted," writes the journalist. 

Taylor continues: "In the words of Tom Head, a disabled clubber who also performs as DJ Void, “I don’t think clubs think about disabled customers or accessibility. It’s as though anyone with a disability isn’t expected.” Little surprise, then, that he sees “few obviously disabled people in clubs”."

The inaccessibility of ticketing websites

2014 Research by Attitude is Everything (AIE), a UK charity dedicated to improving access to live music for deaf and disabled pe

ople, found that many were put off even going to an event because of the inaccessibility of booking websites.

The charity's State of Access Report 2014, found that, of 228 disabled people surveyed: 

  • 95% had experienMixmag October 2017 cover featuring Bicepced disability-related issues when booking tickets
     
  • 88% felt discriminated against due to an inaccessible booking system
  •  
  • 83% had been put off buying tickets after finding it inaccessible
     
  • 47% considered taking legal action as a result.

Taylor writes: "A senseless situation given that disabled people have a combined purchasing power of £80bn in the UK alone. But even for clubbers like Head, who persevere, a lack of info online is the next hurdle. “Is a club accessible? Is there a disabled toilet and parking? These are vital questions that need answers,” he says.

Club music should heal not hinder

The article discusses the healing power of music and clubbing for people with disabilities and references Chicago DJ Paul Johnson, famed for house classic Get Get Down, who uses a wheelchair, as well Ibiza’s newest – and fully accessible – super-club Hï, which has signed up Black Coffee - who performs without the use of his left arm - for a residency. 

 

Artificial Intelligence could offer a boost to charity giving

Technology using Artificial Intelligence (AI) / bots will likely encourage donors to donate even more money and increase their understanding of charities, according to the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) thinktank's recent article titled "Is AI The Future Of Philantrophy Advice".

AI: reducing costs and increasing reach

The current and future use of AI by charities is expected to help better deliver services and inform donors.

Conversation on mobile phone with botAlmost everyone will have experienced 'AI' on the internet; either when using an automated chatbot linked to a website or via ads on the internet that use carefully crafted algorithms to target them.

As the internet grows smarter and better able to offer you a tailored service, without the need for human involvement, the more an organisation can use it to help maximise both the satisfaction and the engagement of the stakeholder.

In the case of charities, this promise of being able to extend the reach of your services through more meaningful messaging, whilst at the same time reducing the cost of delivery by offering automated advice and information, makes AI a very attractive project to pursue.

Earlier this year, in a news release from IBM, the details of Arthritis Research UK's virtual assistant were announced. Their IBM Watson-powered chatbot offers web visitors personalised information and advice on arthritis. Others are improving real-time language translation services for refugee and migrant projects or helping predict patterns of poaching and supporting conservation efforts.

Using AI to make giving quick and simple

Whilst AI, bots and better algorithms are helping charities to pursue their goals, there is one very significant application of AI that is ready to give ‘giving’ a boost.

Amazon Echo Dot light ring

We have had virtual assistants in our smartphones for several years now, but the popularity of the Amazon Echo and subsequent similar ‘smartspeakers,’ like Google Home, has taken everyone by surprise. Consistent best-sellers, they are helping to bring the benefits of artificial intelligence to the very air in our homes. It won’t be long before almost every house will have one or more such devices – either standalone or coming as standard in any white good you purchase. Soon speaking to a smart digital member of the family will be as normal as having a television or toaster – and infinitely more useful at almost everything (except perhaps making toast).

The abilities of these virtual assistants are almost inexhaustible. You can listen to my daily podcast on the Amazon Echo in which I demonstrate one or more Alexa Skills. Think of these 'skills' as new abilities, or apps, that you can add to your Echo simply by asking. You can visit the Amazon website for more information about Alexa Skills and to discover the breadth of 'skills' that are available. Since the Echo adds several hundred new skills each week, I'm not about to run out of new, entertaining and useful abilities to demonstrate.

Now let’s focus on the use of such smarts to make donating easy. Imagine that the ability to give to a good cause, at the very moment you’re moved to do so, is as simple as saying to the air around you “Alexa, give £100 to the Red Cross hurricane relief fund” or “OK Google, give £5 a month to Comic Relief.”

Donation and gift iconography

These devices already have your credit or debit card details. It’s already possible to purchase any number of products from Amazon through your Echo with a single command, for example; “Alexa, order more Paul Smith Floral Eau de Parfum please” which just happens to be my wife’s favourite perfume. You certainly aren’t restricted to purchases of a few pounds (again I refer to that same pricey perfume). Amazon wants to make buying through the Echo as natural and frictionless as possible – and the same is undoubtedly true of Google with their home assistant. Apple, will likewise, already hold your card details (via your Apple ID which you use to make iTunes and app store purchases) and we’d like all the manufacturers of these virtual assistants to extend that capability to charitable giving too.

The ability to use your Echo to make a donation, in a way that is as simple and straightforward as purchasing goods online, is not yet built-in. But, the option of adding a third-party skill that turns the Echo (or Google Home etc) into a giving machine for worthy causes certainly is possible today.

Just Giving and other high profile giving sites such as BT My Donate (which takes no commission whatsoever on donations) would be obvious and ideal organisations to create such a skill. Many donors already have accounts with these websites. So, enabling the giving process would be as easy as asking the Echo (or Google Home etc) to add the BT My Donate skill, for example. Then donations can be made as quickly and easily, whenever the generous owner of the smart assistant is moved to do so.

Such smart-giving skills needn’t be limited to the likes of Just Giving or BT. Any organisation could create a similar skill and accept donations through Alexa or the Google Home. An extra step of entering card details would need to be added by way of the Alexa app, say, but this would still make such smart-giving simple.

Making smart-giving more mobile

iPhone and Apple watchSeeing a campaign or real-life need might induce us to give and, with the virtual assistants built into our phones or other wearable technology, the act would almost be as natural and seamless as saying out loud; "I'd really like to give to that cause..."

There have been articles published and it is rumoured that Amazon plans to bring out a pair of smart glasses with Alexa built-in by the end of this year. The ambient nature of an ever-listening assistant might make giving that little bit more frictionless. We then wouldn't even need to take our phones out of our pockets to give to good causes.

These smart glasses wouldn’t of course be the first of their kind.  But unlike Google Glass and many similar smart glasses, Amazon's planned wearable avoids the option of a built-in camera - making it a far less controversial product. Wearers of Glass were banned from public restrooms (that's 'toilets' to you and me) and Google were quick to release a version that had a prominent light that clearly indicated when someone was using the camera. Snapchat's glasses similarly sport a circle of yellow lights when the user is recording.

Amazon's offering is said to simply include a microphone to hear you ask Alexa questions and issue commands. It will have an unobtrusive bone-conducting speaker tucked behind your ear to convey her response. This should make these smart glasses look relatively normal and avoid the disquiet that head-mounted cameras can evoke. At the same time they will give you all the functionality of the Echo wherever you are. Let's hope that they avoid the pitfalls experienced by earlier products, are attractive and affordable. And also bring all the utility of smart assistants to users in whatever they do - including giving.

Adding a safety-net to smart-giving

Security lettering with cursor hovering overBut what, I hear you say, about rogue donations made by madly generous family members or a change of heart when you realise that you were moved more than your bank balance can bear? In the case of online purchases made on the Echo, you have half an hour to cancel the order - and of course you would already have that capability turned on in the first place if you routinely had unpredictable or unscrupulous people around.

In just the same way, regardless of whether the capability was built-in or provided by way of a third-party skill, it would be easy to build in the ability to change the donation or cancel it altogether within a predefined period. Adding in a notification sent to the smartphone of the cardholder would also make sure he or she was aware of every donation made through the virtual assistant.

Related links

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