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++Section One: News.
+01: Paralympics Effect ‘Challenges Perceptions Of Disabled People’
The impact of the 2012 Paralympic Games on public attitudes towards disabled people has been positive but some campaign groups have sought to “misuse” it for political ends, a leading activist told this year’s eAccess conference.
And disability consultant and campaigner Simon Stevens told delegates that while the London Games had raised the profile of disability issues, it would take some time before we could judge whether the effect will be lasting.
Stevens was addressing e-Access ’13, the UK’s leading event on access to technology by disabled people, organised by E-Access Bulletin publisher Headstar. He criticised the way some charities used the Paralympics alongside “anti-government rhetoric”, for example. “They argue that for the average disabled person, the Paralympics has not distracted from the supposed hardship that disabled people face from this Government’s welfare reforms”, Stevens said. “This use of the Games to promote a prejudiced victimhood viewpoint… is unhelpful.”
However he said the true value of the Games for the image of disabled people in the UK lies somewhere between positive and negative views. “I believe it is important that we see the Paralympics are just as one factor of many that has assisted to raise the profile of disability issues… The politics of disability has peaked and the Paralympics has been a part of them, adding another dimension to the public’s understanding of disability, contrasting the media’s portrayal of disabled people as vulnerable and or freaks.”
It would take some time to assess the Games’ true legacy, Stevens said. “The trick will be how to be keep this going in the long-term, and use it to challenge the perceptions of disabled people as merely vulnerable objects of pity. I fear the public still see disabled people as a single homogeneous group, who all think the same… We must start showing that disabled people are diverse individuals that have their own unique wants, desires, aspirations, goals, likes and dislikes...The Games must be seem as a part of a wider informal movement of action that is helping disabled people to achieve their status as fully contributing citizens.”
Conference keynote speaker Hannah Cockroft MBE – world-record-holding wheelchair sprint racer and winner of two gold medals at London 2012 – said the rise of the internet and social media had helped boost athletes’ profiles. The video sharing site YouTube, for example, had hosted short films on individual athletes and their training. “It really made people watch and take notice of our abilities for the first time,” Cockroft said. “It helped bring the Paralympics out of the Olympic shadow and celebrate us [Paralympians] as elite athletes. It really made people watch and [see] our abilities for the first time... what we could do instead of what we can’t do.”
Cockroft said interest in Paralympians had carried on into 2013, partly due to the extensive media coverage the Games had received. It was essential for this kind of exposure to continue, she said, “because otherwise a nation seems to be able to forget the Paralympians pretty quickly.”
And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=969
+02: Care Home Workers ‘Lack Digital Confidence And Skills’
Many people who work with older people and disabled people in care homes lack digital skills and are poorly placed to help residents use the internet and other vital tools, eAccess 13 delegates heard.
“We often find that the people who work with those in care are not particularly confident or skilled in their use of digital,” said Miles Maier, ICT champion at LASA, an organisation which helps charities and voluntary groups use technology.
To address this gap LASA has launched the Connected Care project, helping not-for-profit social care providers such as independent living centres, care homes and day care centres to use ICT more effectively, Maier said. Under the scheme, which has been funded by the Department of Health for three years, organisations receive an ICT ‘health check’ and an action plan to help staff become more digitally aware and boost skills.
The end goal is to enable those receiving social care to use technology more effectively, he said, allowing them to communicate with family and friends and have more control over their own care. “Our working theory is by providing people in social care with access to e-skills and digital technology, it is empowering and it is enabling,” Maier said.
In a complementary project the Disabled Living Foundation (DLF), which provides information on independent living, has launched a “Living Made Easy” web resource, offering impartial advice on assistive products and technology to everyone, the conference heard.
Ed Mylles, director of business development at the charity, said the resource is split into eight sections, including house and home; mobility and walking; leisure; and communication.
Users can browse a wide range of communications technologies and products including text-to-speech programmes, magnifiers, conversion amplifiers for hearing aids and mouse and keyboard alternatives.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport supported the development of the communication section including ICT access, helping to “widen the product area and specifically work on including software products”, Mylles said.
The communications section of Living Made Easy now contains details of more than 250 software products with prices and specification, as well as listing relevant ICT organisations that can provide further advice and support, he said.
And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=965
+03: Standards Developers Urged To Support Older And Disabled People
People working on technical standards for mainstream products and services must be more aware of the needs of older and disabled people, delegates at eAccess 13 heard in a closing session in speakers raised key points for the future of accessibility.
Gill Whitney, head of the Design for All Research Group at Middlesex University, said that in a recent survey of committee members by the British Standards Institution, only one third answered ‘yes’ to the question: “Do any of your standardisation activities involve the standardisation of products or services where the accessibility for older and disabled people needs to be considered?”
However, almost four-fifths of respondents (76.7%) had said yes to the question: “Do any of your standardisation activities involve the standardisation of products or services which are designed to be used by people?”
In an ageing society, these answers make no sense together, Whitney said, since all standards for people are also standards for older and disabled people. One development that might help is the current revision of the international standards creation guidance ISO/IEC Guide 71:2001, she said: guidelines for standards developers to address the needs of older persons and persons with disabilities.
“Embrace mobile first” was another key point presented by Jonathan Hassell, former head of accessibility at the BBC and founder of Hassell Inclusion.
“For me, the most natural place for somebody with any type of impairment to get a better experience of the world is through a mobile device. It’s the one thing they have with them all of the time, [that] they will depend on for absolutely everything,” Hassell said. “If you are not thinking about accessibility and mobile you’ve got it completely back to front.”
Mel Findlater, Director of The You Can Hub, made a similar point when she took to the stage dressed in a cardboard box. “As a society, we put people with disabilities in boxes all the time” Findlater said. “Technology, especially mobile technology, has real potential to help people with disabilities step out of their boxes. Can we start thinking in that way, co-design with people and help people step out of their boxes?”
And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=960
++News in Brief:
+04: Wiki Fix:
A website has been launched to give web developers and other internet users the opportunity to write their own accessibility “fixes” for popular websites, to be stored for others to view and use. The creator of “Accessify Wiki”, Open University web developer Nick Freear, says the site is intended to complement existing accessibility efforts and guidelines, and give website owners assistance in improving accessibility. A range of tools to help people use the fixes will now be developed, and volunteers are sought to help with all aspects of the project:
Short link: http://bit.ly/1aTcTxz
+05: Divide Displayed:
A visual information diagram or “infographic” visualising the UK’s digital divide reveals that 49% of disabled people and 61% of those aged over 65 are still not online. The ‘Digital Nation?’ graphic has been produced by the Tinder Foundation, based on figures from official sources including communications regulator Ofcom and the Office for National Statistics. It shows the kinds of people who are more likely to use the internet and for what purpose, with visual representations of how factors such as age and socio-economic status affect user-activity:
Short link to infographic as PDF: http://bit.ly/18l5R4E
Full link to infographic as PDF: http://www.tinderfoundation.org/sites/default/files/research-publications/digital_nation_infographic.pdf
+06: Increasing Expertise:
A new higher education qualification has been developed by Middlesex University for ICT professionals and others who want to improve their knowledge of accessible ICT design. The Post Graduate Certificate Professional Practice in Design for Diversity in ICT is a one-year course led by e-inclusion expert Gill Whitney, beginning in January 2014:
Short link: http://bit.ly/17PySWd
[Section One ends].
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++Section Two: Conference Report- eAccess 13: Debate.
+07: The Price Of Software Freedomby Dan Jellinek.
With some assistive technology software such as specialist text-to-speech screenreaders being relatively expensive to buy, moves have been underway for some time to widen the role that free and open source software can play in supporting the IT needs of people with disabilities.
However, while free software sounds like a great idea – and an even better price – its development is not always so straightforward, delegates heard at the recent eAccess 13 conference in London.
A discussion group chaired by University of Southampton internet research fellow EA Draffan focused on “the exciting expansion in the number of strategies involving free and open source software that can support access to technology”. It set out to examine “the robustness of this type of software; ongoing support and maintenance issues and whether this is a feasible route for government and other organisations to take in the long term.”
Free and open source software are notoriously hard to define, but in general terms, free software can mean both that which has no cost to the user, and software which people are free to adapt for their own ends. Open source software (which is sometimes, but not always, also free in either or both senses) is software whose source code is published so everyone can see it. There are various overlaps between these categories, and many varieties of copyright licence under which software can be distributed so as to remain “free”, but on the whole both free and open source software are either no cost or much lower cost to use than proprietary, specialist assistive software which only the developers or owners can sell or licence.
Free and open source software has advantages other than price: the ability for others to adapt it means, for example, that software produced in one language can be taken by another group and translated into another language. And its functionality can be tweaked to suit new groups of users by volunteer developer communities, often working together using online code exchange and development platforms, such as GitHub and SourceForge.
Sounds good, but the fact is there has been a surprisingly low level of free and open source software to emerge in the assistive technology arena, Draffan said. “There is lots of good free software in other sectors – what is stopping us in assistive technology?”
One of the main problems is funding, she said. Although developing software can be relatively affordable, open source software needs to have a community of users built around it to help maintain and strengthen the code, Draffan said. “You have to build your community, to blog, tweet – you have got to have your community stay with you. How do you do that? It is terribly time consuming, and without money, you can’t sustain it.
“The actual capital expense of developing something is 33% or even less of total cost. The real money goes on promotion and marketing.”
Some projects are supported by companies who allow their paid developers time to support voluntary open source projects. Google, for example, allows its engineers a certain percentage of their time to pursue creative projects such as writing open source software; and many other giant IT companies such as IBM support social projects.
For individual projects, however, support can still be a problem. And there are other barriers, too: free software licences sound simple but there are so many variations such as BSD and GNU that the field can be hard to understand, Draffan said. This matters: getting each licence exactly right to suit the aims of each project is “horrendously important”, she said.
Other issues include inevitable limitations to projects supported by volunteer communities: commercial tools, while they tend to be more expensive, often have access to better development funding and hence are generally more fully-featured and support more standard platforms, Draffan said. Open source software, on the other hand, often does part of a job very well, or supports one operating system or web browser well, but does not work so well across the board, she said.
But isn’t the world big enough for all kinds of software? Or, as Draffan put it, “Can we achieve a nirvana where we have a two-tier system?”
To do that, we need more encouragement for open innovation, she said. This could partly be achieved by promoting existing success stories, to fire people’s imaginations, and also by wider distribution of the free and open source assistive technology that already exists. “I give a pen drive with free assistive technology to new students – why is someone not doing it for people in care homes?”
The government may have a useful role to play here, and does support some open source software because it wants to avoid supplier lock-in and control, Draffan said. However, this support has so far mainly concentrated on well-established platforms and tools such as web content management software, she said, “whereas with assistive technology, we are asking for someone to create something new.”
One answer might be to look for software projects that have already been started but need support to reach the next level, she said. “We need to look for something already sitting there that is waiting to tip, that needs a bit of a nudge, so you can validate it, you can say here is what we think is the most promising one.”
The results will definitely be worth it, she said, in an ageing society. Some might think assistive technology is a small area of software development aimed at a small user community, she said, “but is it? If I am thinking of 25% of population that is getting old, it is not so small.”
NOTE: EA Draffan’s slides and other speaker slides and notes from eAccess 13 are available to view online at: http://www.headstar.com/eaccess13/agenda.html
And you can comment on this story now, on EAB Live: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=958
[Section Two ends].
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[Issue 163 ends].