I attended a major conference last week, the RI World Congress.
The conference is held every 4 years and covers a range of disability issues. This year I was lucky enough that it was held in my home city of Edinburgh.
As someone interested in accessible and inclusive design, particularly for the Web, I was keen to learn more.
The tagline for the conference was
Create a more inclusive world
Covering 3 days, there was a huge range of speakers, including VIPs like the Princess Royal and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
This post will focus on some of the technical talks and solutions presented.
Ed Mylles of the Disabled Living Foundation spoke about assistive technology (AT), which has quite a wide remit.
An assistive technology enables independence for disabled and older people. It could cover anything from a gadget to pull on your socks to eye gaze technology.
Many people who could benefit from ATs don’t know what they are or how to get hold of them.
A couple of good resources to help with this are:
Living made easy – lists products to assist with daily living. IT-related products are found under Communication.
Ask SARA – helps drill down into specific needs by asking questions about common tasks. There’s a specific section on using a computer. Recommended products are based on the answers given.Product design is important too. Both these chairs are ATs, but one of them looks a lot more attractive.
Product design is important too in takeup of ATs. Both these chairs are ATs, but one of them looks a lot more attractive.
This initiative aims to bring ATs to people worldwide. The focus is on low and middle-income countries.
He helped to produce a Priority Assistive Products List of the top 50 most needed AT products “for many older people and people with disabilities to be able to live a healthy, productive and dignified life”.
The top 12 are shown below.
Apple and iOS Accessibility
Sarah Herlinger of Apple spoke about their strong commitment to accessibility in their products.
Apple builds accessibility into their products from the design stage. It’s not added on by third parties.
I’ve met a few disabled people who view their Apple products as a godsend as a result. It’s helped them to be more independent.
Some of the Apple accessibility features are:
- VoiceOver – the inbuilt iOS screen reader
- Siri – your friendly neighbourhood digital assistant – ask and it shall be found! Now in mainstream usage.
- Switch Control – control your Apple device with single or multiple switches. The iPhone was the first phone with this feature.
- Magnifier – use your device’s camera to magnify nearby objects.
- Closed Captioning – subtitles for videos.
- Live Listen – in conjunction with Apple hearing aids, this feature boosts the sound level of conversation in noisy environments.
Moreover, Apple support over 30 languages and 30 braille tables.
And it’s not just inbuilt into the OS. Many apps are accessible too. Here’s a list of accessible iOS games for blind and low vision users.
App developers interested in accessibility are encouraged to visit the Accessibility for Developers portal.
Or read this article: How to Develop Accessible iOS Apps.
Neatebox: building apps for inclusion
I met Gavin Neate at the RI World Congress. Gavin is based in Edinburgh and runs a mobile app company, Neatebox. He has experience of working with visually impaired people through his work with Guide Dogs.
Gavin gave a talk about their inclusive apps in one of the parallel sessions, which unfortunately I didn’t catch.
He also demoed the company’s new pedestrian crossing app at the conference.
It scans for the nearest road crossings and notifies the user if the red or green man is currently active.
It then allows the user to control the crossing with their phone, rather than needing to find and press the button.
This makes life easier for anyone with impaired mobility.
Here is a video demo of the app:
Hi-tech robots for improved care
Anja Höthker of Toyota showed us some robots that had been developed by Toyota in Europe to assist with rehabilitation.
The gait assist robot supports people when walking.
The balance training robot uses games to help patients improve their balance. This increases confidence when walking.
A patient transport robot helps lift and move patients, reducing the burden on caregivers.
Their future goal is a human support robot, which would do tasks like opening the fridge to get a beer, or picking up dropped items from the floor.
Here is a prototype:
Why social media is important (especially if you’re disabled)
Kaz Laljee spoke about the benefits of social media for the disability community. I enjoyed his talk and chatting with him afterwards.
After founding Positive About MS, Kaz found social media invaluable in promoting it and keeping in touch with other people with MS.
Kaz now runs his own social media consultancy Soc-Med, and helps guide others in using social media.
Social media has opened up the world for people with disability or illness, allowing friendships and connections in a way that wouldn’t have been possible thirty years ago.
Facebook groups are a positive source of support for many.
Twitter is popular with people who have chronic fatigue, as it is much easier to write a short tweet as opposed to a Facebook update or blog post.
Downsides of social media? There are a few, like spammers, cyber-bullies and lack of privacy. But you don’t need to share what you are not comfortable sharing.
Social media accessibility
Kaz mentioned that not everyone can get online, and of course not every social network is as accessible as it should be. Some relevant links on the subject are:
Some relevant links on the subject are:
- ACCAN’s tip sheets for using social networks with a disability.
- EasyChirp: a more accessible version of Twitter.
- Accessible YouTube: a version of YouTube with large button controls.
- Read about making Facebook more accessible. Facebook now has automatic alt text.
- Twitter’s alt text for images: a post by my fellow accessibility advocate Deborah Edwards-Onoro.
Social media usage at the RI World Congress
The conference made good use of social media.
The plenary sessions were live streamed on the conference website, Facebook Live and Periscope. On the website, this included a stream with palantype (live subtitles).
The FB live stream came in very handy for me on the third day when I realised I had forgotten my conference lanyard! I was able to return home and retrieve it and catch the start of the session on the live stream.
The conference hashtag was #inclusiveworld. All participants were given a green bag with the hashtag emblazoned on it. I enjoyed tweeting but felt that more people could have been encouraged to join in.
Media accessibility: Channel 4 leads the way
Graeme Whippy, disability specialist at Channel 4, explained how they take their responsibility for diversity seriously as a public service broadcaster.
They’ve just shown over 700 hours of coverage from the Paralympics. Their Paralympics trailer received over 7 million YouTube views and positive feedback.
In 2015, they published a 360° Diversity Chartershowing their commitment to equality and diversity across the board.
The successful show The Last Legfeatures two disabled presenters. It encouraged viewers to engage with disabled people by asking questions using the Twitter hashtag #isitok.
The highly acclaimed Maltesers ad series shown during the Paralympics came about due to a competition from Channel 4 to feature disability in an ad campaign. This was Mars’ most successful campaign for 8 years.
Channel 4 try to make their programme content as accessible as possible, too. Their channels are 100% subtitled and they’re trying to improve the percentages for signed and audio description.
Ability Magazine and web accessibility
Chet Cooper, founder of Ability Magazine, spoke about accessibility features on their website. They don’t claim it’s perfect, but they are using some innovative features.
They use ReadSpeaker text-to-speech software to read out the content of web pages. It highlights text as it reads it out.
Closed captioning for video is an area that the magazine takes seriously. They have a team of 650 volunteers through the Amara subtitling platform to translate their videos into different languages. Each video has 2-20 language captions.
AI Squared is another tech Ability Magazine uses. Their Sitecues app builds in zoom and text-to-speech reading into web pages.
Chet and his colleague Lia Martirosyan are now redeveloping Ability Magazine’s website to be more mobile-friendly. They are also involved in Ability Corps, which focuses on helping people with disabilities get involved in their community.
It was a pleasure to chat to both Chet and Lia after their conference sessions.
The future looks positive for technology in building a more inclusive world. But we need to make sure that everyone who needs it has access to it.
It was so good, we were rewarded with this post-conference entertainment. 🙂
Did you attend? Got something to say? Leave a comment.