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++Section One: News.
+01: Crowdsourcing Site Aims To Be World Leader For Venue Accessibilitydata.
A new online platform built around user ratings and feedback is aiming to become “the world’s leading provider of accessible venue information,” according to the site’s developer.
The Access Earth site is about to launch in full after ten months of public testing in beta stage, with a mobile app to follow soon.
The platform allows users to give scores and leave comments about the accessibility of hotels, restaurants and other locations around the world. This information is then available to other users.
The platform was developed in 2012, after Matt McCann – who has cerebral palsy – had booked a hotel describing itself online as ‘wheelchair accessible’. On arrival, McCann found steps to the entrance and rooms too small for his rollator mobility aid, sparking both frustration and a desire to help prevent these situations for others.
McCann told e-Access Bulletin: “I knew that being a software engineer I could do something about this lack of specific accessibility information.”
The site’s database of venues across the globe is currently split into four categories, covering places to eat and drink, places to sleep, shopping, and things to do. Users select a venue type and where around the world they want to search, before specifying accessibility criteria, such as step-free access, ground floor rooms, and accessible bathrooms.
Anyone can supply a venue accessibility rating, either by answering Access Earth’s ‘accessibility criteria’ or leaving a note: “This could be something like ‘the elevator is currently out of order’, or directions to the accessible bathrooms,” McCann said. “By keeping the access information up-to-date, we can ensure people have the most accurate information available to them.”
Users can also add and rate a new venue if it isn’t already on the database, as well as sharing information and tips with other users.
The full Access Earth site will allow users to personalise their searches based on their own individual accessibility criteria. Different profiles for different access needs can also be created, McCann said: “For example, someone may need only step-free access when on their own, but they might also want an accessible bathroom when with a friend. Users can now switch between those different profiles.”
An Access Earth app, scheduled for the end of August, will allow users to easily leave accessibility feedback about locations from a mobile device.
Access Earth is one of a number of new and existing platforms that provide crowdsourced location access information, including Johnny’s Pass, Euan’s Guide (read our interview with the founder of Euan’s Guide at the following link: http://eab.li/1l ) and Wheelmap. In March, one of Wheelmap’s developers, Holger Dieterich, told e-Access Bulletin that his goal was to share the site’s user-data with other location-based services, so that more people can use it.
McCann is also keen to explore the idea of information-sharing for Access Earth in the longer-term. “Collaboration is definitely something that we would look to try and do in the future,” he said. “It’s great that there are other people out there tackling this problem, it just shows that this is a worldwide issue that needs to be addressed.”
Read more at the Access Earth website: http://eab.li/1m .
Comment on this story at e-Access Bulletin Live: http://eab.li/1w .
+02: Social Networking Through Voice Rather Than Vision.
A free communication app based on voice messages is proving popular with blind and visually impaired users, and has launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to help expand its community.
Users of the Vorail app communicate by recording questions or thoughts as short voice messages, which are available for other users to listen to and reply. Users just need to set up a basic profile, without any photos or images.
One of Vorail’s co-founders, Tom Rosenthal, told e-Access Bulletin that although the app wasn’t designed specifically for blind and visually impaired people, most users are from these groups. As a result, the team behind the app now dedicate resources to making sure it is accessible. Rosenthal said: “Vorail was designed to create a safer place where we can see the true nature of others … There’s much more to a person than a photo or what is revealed in text messages. That’s why we developed Vorail – the voice is a window to the soul.”
Around 80,000 questions a day are asked on the app, covering a huge range of topics. Subjects discussed include: Braille and guide dogs; personal reflections on blindness; requests for relationship advice; and thoughts on anything from favourite foods to nightclubs.
Some Vorail members use the app for dating, but it is also widely used to meet new friends or simply connect with others. The user-community features people who are married, engaged, dating, single and even families, Rosenthal said. The first Vorail marriage is taking place soon, between two people who met using the app, one from the UK, the other from the United States.
Rosenthal said that while social media platforms like Facebook and Snapchat are useful for networking with existing friends, Vorail allows its community to meet new people easily. Similarly, while popular meeting and dating sites are based around users’ photos, “Vorail was designed for people that want to see beyond the picture … Technology can do better at helping us find people who we share chemistry with,” Rosenthal said.
Vorail went live at the end of 2015 on Apple’s iOS operating system, and recently launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to gauge public interest in expanding to the Android operating system as well.
Find out more at Vorail’s Kickstarter page: http://eab.li/1n .
Download Vorail for free at the Apple iOS App Store: http://eab.li/1p .
Comment on this story at e-Access Bulletin Live: http://eab.li/1v .
+03: Tactile Braille Tablet Brings Pictures And Content To Life Over 14lines.
A Braille tablet computer, thought to be the first of its kind available to the public, is about to be launched with a series of potentially game-changing features.
BLITAB is a tactile tablet computer designed for blind and visually impaired users, claimed to be the first such tablet by its developers. The design features a page of Braille over 14 lines, plus a smaller touch-screen below. Through the touch-screen, which has voice-navigation, users access the internet, email, documents and other content, which is then converted into Braille above. This includes pictures, graphics, maps and other images, which can all be represented on the Braille display.
The Braille is formed through a liquid-based system that creates small bubbles, which raise and fall on the page. BLITAB’s 14 lines of Braille presents an advantage over many standard Braille readers, which usually feature one single line for text.
The device was developed by BLITAB Technology, a Bulgarian start-up company now based in Austria. Kristina Tsvetanova, co-founder and CEO, had the idea for BLITAB after a blind student at a Bulgarian university (where Tsvetanova was studying industrial engineering) asked for her help to register for classes online.
“I did some research, and realised that the technology boom over the past few years had not benefited everyone,” Tsvetanova told e-Access Bulletin.
User-testing with visually impaired and blind participants helped shape BLITAB’s development, and all standard features found on other tablet computers (such as Wi-Fi, USB slots, Bluetooth and text-to-speech) are available.
As reported in e-Access Bulletin’s March edition, BLITAB has received funding from the Google Impact Challenge project. It was then demonstrated at an event in Brussels earlier this year, which showcased accessible technology that helps independent living.
BLITAB will be launched in beta (testing stage) at a mobile technology conference, Mobile World Congress Shanghai, at the beginning of July. It will be available for public purchase soon after that, said Tsvetanova, and will cost €2,500 – a price similar to or cheaper than many full-size refreshable Braille displays currently on the market.
Tsvetanova also wants BLITAB to help blind individuals in developing countries and low-income communities, with the device acting as a literacy aid, both for children in school and adults seeking employment. BLITAB can be “a tool and platform that engenders confidence and knowledge of the world, which is crucial for better quality of social life,” she said.
Find out more at the BLITAB website: http://eab.li/1j .
Comment on this story at e-Access Bulletin Live: http://eab.li/1u .
++News in Brief:
+04: Getting Better:
Local councils in the UK have ‘significantly improved’ their website accessibility for users with disabilities, according to a nation-wide assessment. The annual Better Connected report (carried out by public sector IT management body Socitm) found that 64% of council websites passed its accessibility test, compared to 43% in 2015 and only 26% in 2014. The test assesses sites for ease of use with technologies like screen-readers and keyboard-only controls.
Find out more at the Better Connected website: http://eab.li/1q .
+05: Progressing Print:
Blind and visually impaired people in Canada are on track for greater access to books and other printed materials in accessible formats (such as Braille and audiobooks), after a specially created bill has been passed. The Bill C-11 amends Canada’s Copyright Act and ratifies the Marrakesh Treaty, which sets out exceptions to copyright law to allow international sharing of accessible books. The treaty now needs to be ratified by several other countries to fully come into force.
Find out more at the Government of Canada website: http://eab.li/1x .
+06: Uniting Ideas:
Assistive technology was represented at a recent United Nations event on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Panel talk topics included ‘Tec Talk’, which featured members of the Hackaday platform and US publication ABILITY Magazine. Projects discussed included Canon printers and copiers with voice-operation software, and ABILITY embedding the VOICEYE text-to-speech print-reader to increase content accessibility.
Find out more at ABILITY Magazine’s website: http://eab.li/1r .
[Section One ends].
++ Notice: Thomas Pocklington Trust.E-Access Bulletin is brought to you with the kind support of Thomas Pocklington Trust, a national charity delivering positive change for people with sight loss. Find out more about the work of Thomas Pocklington Trust by visiting their website: http://www.pocklington-trust.org.uk .
++ Notice: Supernova screen-reader support.Are you a Supernova screen-reader user? Are you interested in having someone provide you with remote support, via email, FaceTime or even Skype? My name is Donna Jodhan and I am a certified Supernova instructor. I am based in Toronto, Canada, but this does not stop me from providing you with timely and reliable Supernova support. If you are interested and want to learn more, then please email me at the address below and I will be happy to respond: firstname.lastname@example.org .
++Section Two: 'The Inbox'- Readers' Forum.
Please email all questions, comments and responses to: email@example.com .
+07: Gaps in the Market:
Alan Philpott gets in touch to reply to a comment in last month’s e-Access Bulletin. In that issue, Clive Lever wondered why digital product accessibility doesn’t seem to feature in the training received by retail staff who sell these products. Here are Alan’s thoughts:
“For the most part, I don’t believe that the product training staff receive in most stores in the UK is adequate – and not just in the field Clive mentions. Everyone is affected by the poor service in shops (in terms of knowledge) that occurs, but this problem, which can be overcome by sighted people more easily, is very hard to deal with for blind and other vision-impaired people, through mobility restrictions. This may make it difficult to go to different shops before making a purchase, during which time they might be able to find out the answers they need from one of the ten or so shop assistants they encounter on their travels.
“For many blind and vision-impaired people, difficulties in accessing the internet also have an effect, and accessing computer training is also difficult, and may be very expensive and hard to come by when you are unemployed … IT skills can deteriorate, one falls behind, and the whole thing becomes a nightmare, as one struggles to find out the information which one should have been given in the stores one visited in the first place. Truly, a vicious circle in my view.”
Please send further replies and comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org .
+08: Smart Timing:
Martin Jones gets in touch with a request for information on accessible smartwatches with a voice navigation function.
“I recently bought a universal smartwatch, but the functions were not usable with a voice feature. Are there any smartwatches which are accessible, with a spoken voice function, but that are also affordable? I think others will be interested in this too, as it makes the technology accessible, but without leaving [blind and visually impaired] people vulnerable to theft, like mobile phones do.”
Suggestions and replies, please, to: email@example.com .
[Section Two ends].
++ Notice: RNIB Connect Radio and e-Access Bulletin.e-Access Bulletin will be appearing on RNIB Connect Radio each month in a new feature on the station’s Afternoon Edition programme. Hear more about the bulletin and upcoming content appearing in each issue, as we discuss the latest accessible technology news and readers’ questions with Allan Russell.
Episodes will be available after broadcast as podcasts. Listen to and download the latest edition at the following link: http://eab.li/1y .
Listen to RNIB Connect Radio online, or via television, smartphone or radio. Listening details at the following link: http://eab.li/1g .
Find out more at the RNIB Connect Radio website: http://eab.li/1h .
Section Three: Q & A. - Katherine Payne, Wayfindr.
+09: Navigating Life’S Obstacles.
Audio navigation systems can be a useful tool to help blind and visually impaired people become more independent and mobile, particularly when used in an app.
The Wayfindr project has just unveiled a valuable contribution to the field by releasing the first ‘open standard’ for audio navigation. The standard features detailed guidelines to help developers, transport services and building owners create digital navigation systems that can be used by blind and visually impaired people.
Last year, Wayfindr organised a trial in London’s Eutson Tube Station, featuring blind and visually impaired participants navigating the station through a demo mobile app. The app spoke directions out loud to the users, triggered by Bluetooth ‘beacons’ around the station. With the trial successful and the open standard released, it seems like there’s big potential for Wayfindr to make a real difference.
e-Access Bulletin spoke to one of the Wayfindr team, Katherine Payne, to find out more.
- How did the idea for Wayfindr come about?
“In 2014 the Royal London Society for Blind People’s Youth Forum released their youth manifesto, which detailed the challenges they faced as blind young Londoners. One of the main challenges was transport. They wanted to navigate the London Underground transport system independently. Working with digital product studio ustwo, the Youth Forum investigated how mainstream technology could support this. Using Bluetooth low energy beacons and smartphones, we have developed a system of audio-based navigation.”
- How does Wayfindr work?
“Emerging indoor navigation technologies, such as Bluetooth low energy beacons, hold the key to opening up the world for vision-impaired people. However, in order to achieve the greatest impact globally, there is a pressing need to develop a consistent standard to be used across wayfinding systems. This will truly open up a world where vision-impaired people are no longer held back by their sight loss, removing barriers to employment, to seeing friends and family, and engaging in their community.
“The Wayfindr Open Standard aims to do just that. It gives venue owners and digital navigation service providers the tools to implement high quality, consistent audio wayfinding solutions. It also includes an open-source demo app that enables people who download it to use Bluetooth beacons, to understand and implement the open standard with real users, in real contexts, in real time.”
- Who is the standard aimed at and where might it be used?
“The aim is that this open standard will help lower the barrier for built-environment owners and digital navigation services to make their environments, products and services inclusive from the outset, as we continue to weave technology into our cities.
“We hope it will be used across transport networks and digital navigation services, including places like Tranport For London and the CityMapper transport app.”
- What kind of research helped produce the standard?
“Various resources informed the content of the standard, which is still a first-version working draft. These resources include user-research from trials of London Pimlico Underground Station, Sydney Town Hall Train Station and London Euston Underground Station. Academic research supports the findings from these trials.
“Additionally, factual information about vision-impairment and the navigation techniques of vision impaired people was used, plus input and feedback from industry experts.”
- What applications does the Wayfindr open standard have for blind and visually impaired people?
“Eventually it will be other trains, and not just the London Underground, that vision-impaired people will be able to navigate on their own. It could then be expanded to city level, to restaurants and to shops. Ruksana, a member of the Royal London Society for Blind People’s Youth Forum, made the following comment about these ideas: ‘That would be really revolutionary, it would change our lives. We wouldn’t need any assistance to get anywhere.’”
- How do you hope to develop Wayfindr in the future?
“We want to see audio wayfinding solutions across the world – in transport networks, shopping centres, hospitals and other places. We can’t do this alone. We need the Wayfindr community to keep sharing their knowledge, expertise and experience, to strengthen the standard and implement accessible navigation solutions globally.”
Find out more at the Wayfindr website: http://eab.li/1k .
Comment on this story now at e-Access Bulletin Live: http://eab.li/1t .
[Section Three ends].
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- Editor: Tristan Parker
- Technical Director: Jake Jellinek
[Issue 180 ends].