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++Section One: News.
+01: Low-Cost Refreshable Braille Display Set To Revolutionise The Market.
A device that could become ‘the world’s most affordable refreshable Braille display’ – costing around 80-90% less than current systems – has been unveiled, and should be available for purchase later this year.
The Orbit Reader 20 was announced at the Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference – known as CSUN – in the United States, by the Chair of the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), Kevin Carey, in his role as president of the Transforming Braille Group (TBG).
TBG was conceived to realise and produce an affordable refreshable Braille display, partly as a way to give people in developing countries greater access to refreshable Braille. Current devices are prohibitively expensive, often running into thousands of US Dollars or British Pounds. TBG set about raising 1.25 million US Dollars for the Orbit Reader 20 to be produced by assistive technology company Orbit Research (further background in a previous e-Access Bulletin at the following link: http://eab.li/v ).
Refreshable Braille displays allow blind or visually impaired users to read text from a computer screen via a system of small rods in Braille cells. These rods are electronically raised and lowered, creating readable Braille that constantly changes, or ‘refreshes’, as the user scrolls or moves across the screen.
The Orbit Reader 20 features 20 Braille cells and can be connected to a computer or mobile phone via USB or Bluetooth. There is also an SD card slot to enable loading and reading of books and other files.
Speaking to e-Access Bulletin, Carey explained that the aim is for the Orbit Reader 20 to be sold for $320 per unit, but this is dependant on Orbit Research receiving enough pre-orders for the device: “Orbit need an order of 200,000 to make the optimum price of $320 a unit, so what they’re doing is collecting wholesale orders. If it’s below 200,000, the price goes up,” Carey said.
On its website, Orbit Research claims that the Orbit Reader 20 will be the “world’s most affordable refreshable Braille display”.
User-testing of the Orbit Reader took place in January on 27 prototype machines, in North America and Europe, by testers both with and without experience of refreshable Braille systems. Carey will be supervising further testing in India and Kenya. Speaking about the results of this testing in his CSUN speech, Carey said that the refreshable Braille on the Orbit Reader was “the best that experienced users have ever seen”.
The refresh rate on the device was found to be suitable for “poor-to-average” Braille-users, but not effective enough for “experienced users”. However, as Carey then pointed out: “Those who have reported dissatisfaction with the refresh rate are very experienced users of high-end refreshable Braille note-takers or Braille bars attached to generic devices – but it is important to note that these are precisely the Braille readers for whom the Orbit Reader was not designed.” (Read Kevin Carey’s CSUN speech in full at the Transforming Braille Group’s website: http://eab.li/r .)
Carey told e-Access Bulletin that the device could be revolutionary for visually impaired Braille-users due to its low cost. “Whichever way you look at it, the [price] is just way below anything anybody else is offering,” he said. Carey also pointed out that the timing of when the Orbit Reader will be available, “is simply to do with how fast the orders come in [to Orbit Research].”
The Orbit Reader 20 isn’t yet available to purchase by the general public, but Orbit Research’s website says that the device will be available in “late 2016”. It appears that when it does go on sale, the Reader will be sold through the website of the American Printing House for the Blind (APH), one of the shareholders in the project.
Find out more about the Orbit Reader 20 at the links below:
Orbit Research website: http://eab.li/s .
APH website: http://eab.li/u .
Comment on this story at e-Access Bulletin Live: http://eab.li/z .
+02: Integrate Accessibility Into Teaching Practices, Says Field Expert.
Accessibility should be weaved into more educational curriculums and demonstrated in teaching, a specialist consultant told delegates at a recent conference.
Speaking at the ‘Digital Accessibility in Higher and Further Education Conference 2016’, David Sloan, a user experience engineer from accessibility agency The Paciello Group, said that accessibility needs to be integrated into the fabric of any curriculum featuring digital content creation, and can no longer be taught in isolation.
“It’s not something we can treat as a specialism, that inevitably becomes a class that somebody can skip because they are busy or doing something else,” Sloan said.
He went on to say that accessible communication is a “core digital literacy” that everyone should develop. “It’s not something we [can] leave to computing science to teach and everyone else can forget about. If we are thinking about digital literacy as a general concept that we want our employees of the future to acquire and use, then accessible communication needs to be part of that,” Sloan said.
Another crucial challenge, said Sloan, is for educators to directly apply inclusive practices when teaching: “Too often, I have seen [a situation] where somebody will stand up and talk about accessibility, saying something like: ‘Here’s an example of an inaccessible image that doesn’t have appropriate alt text, as you can see in the slide beside me.’ Hang on a minute, you are talking about an accessibility issue and assuming that everybody can see the slide on the screen.”
Addressing these kinds of oversights through inclusive teaching should be a “core professional skill” among educators, said Sloan: “A failure to do that weakens the message that digital accessibility is a core skill that our learners should be acquiring.”
The conference was sponsored by BCS (the British Computer Society), and took place in London. More information about the presentations can be found at the link below to the BCS website: http://eab.li/l .
Comment on this story at e-Access Bulletin Live: http://eab.li/y .
+03: Technology Company Wins Award For ‘Helping Kids Learn’ Across Theglobe.
A UK assistive technology company has been given a prestigious business award for exporting an e-learning software package for children with disabilities.
Inclusive Technology – which provides equipment for individuals with physical disabilities, sensory impairments or learning difficulties – received a Queen’s Award for Enterprise for its HelpKidzLearn product. HelpKidzLearn features games, activities and tools designed for young children with a range of specialist learning needs.
The company was recognised in the ‘International Trade’ category of the Queen’s Award for Enterprise (an annual event that commends a range UK business achievements), for signing up over 25,000 paying subscribers to HelpKidzLearn across 148 countries.
The United States is the largest user of HelpKidzLearn, and the product is also being used in 14 countries across Europe, in eight different languages.
The basic HelpKidzLearn package costs £55/$99 for one annual subscription (the idea is for a teacher or parent to purchase the subscription, and use the package with a child). Other multiple subscriptions (for use in schools, with multiple learners) can also be purchased. The package provides over 80 activities designed to aid learning.
The activities – including games, quizzes, stories and songs – can be accessed on a range of devices and equipment, such as keyboard switches, touch-screen, rollerball mouse and eye-tracking technology. A free, basic version of HelpKidzLearn is also available, featuring ten activities (Read more at the HelpKidzLearn website: http://eab.li/o ).
Chairman, CEO and co-founder of Inclusive Technology Martin Littler – who also founded the British Assistive Technology Association (BATA) – will collect the award at Buckingham Palace, London, in July. In a statement on the Inclusive Technology website, Littler said: “I am absolutely delighted with this brilliant award, which I feel recognises the huge contribution that the whole British assistive technology industry has made during the past 40 years. Of course, the award is also a huge pat on the back for our team of developers, teachers and therapists, all of whom get a buzz from producing resources which can transform the lives of learners with special educational needs and disabilities.”
Find out more at the Inclusive Technology website: http://eab.li/p .
Comment on this story at e-Access Bulletin Live: http://eab.li/x .
++News in Brief:
+04: Talking Tweets:
Twitter has taken a step to improve its accessibility by allowing users to add descriptions to their images. Assistive technologies such as screen-readers can now pick up these descriptions (known as alt text) and read them to users who are unable to see the images. However, the feature is currently only available on the Twitter mobile apps for the iOS and Android operating systems.
Read more at the official Twitter blog: http://eab.li/m .
+05: Invaluable Insights:
UK bank Barclays has launched an online portal offering free advice to businesses on making products and services more accessible. The portal features information on why accessibility matters, potential barriers for businesses to avoid, and insights from its own work, which has led to the company receiving praise for its accessibility efforts.
Read more at the Barclays accessibility portal: http://eab.li/n .
+06: Tech Deadline:
Entry for the 2016 Tech4Good Awards closes on May 6. The event champions individuals, charities, public bodies and businesses across the UK that are using technology to improve lives. Founded by technology charity AbilityNet, the awards – which are split into categories including ‘Digital Skills’ and ‘Community Impact’ – are open to all, and people can nominate themselves or others. Entry details are at the link below:
Read more at the Tech4Good Awards website: http://bit.ly/212Ddpp .
[Section One ends].
++Section Two: 'The Inbox'- Readers' Forum.
Please email all contributions, requests and responses to: firstname.lastname@example.org .
+07: Refreshing Braille:
Long-time bulletin reader Anthony Bernard writes in from Sri Lanka to express support for an item featured in this very issue – the affordable refreshable Braille display masterminded by the Transforming Braille Group (TBG). The topic was first covered by e-Access Bulletin in 2014, when Dan Jellinek reported on an initial one million dollar funding-boost for the project (read Dan’s 2014 news report at the following link: http://eab.li/v ).
Anthony was pleased to hear about the unveiling of the new device (and its intended price tag of 320 US Dollars) when he read the online transcript of a speech by TBG founder Kevin Carey, from the device launch at a recent assistive technology conference.
“I read the launching speech from Kevin Carey and was much encouraged. If Kevin wants me to be one of the testers and suggest ideas, I am available. We in developing countries will welcome this new product. It promises to give another lease of life to Braille. $320, or even $350, is not too much to ask for a Braille display, considering the more advanced displays costing thousands of dollars. Please keep me updated with the latest developments of this product.”
Read the lead news story in this issue for more coverage, found above.
Further responses and comments, please, to: email@example.com .
+08: Virtual Viewing:
Steve Brazier, another long-time bulletin reader, writes in with an information request about virtual reality equipment as a potential viewing aid, and to express his sadness at the passing of e-Access Bulletin editor and founder Dan Jellinek.
“I’m so sorry to hear about Dan. We never met, but had corresponded over the years since the Bulletin began. It is very good that the bulletin is going again. I wanted to ask if anyone had information on virtual reality headsets or goggles. I wondered if a partially sighted user might be able to maximise the use of their peripheral vision by viewing live TV, a smartphone screen or a PC screen via such a headset.
“I have suffered from macular degeneration [a condition which affects central vision of the eye], due to myopic maculopathy, and for years have watched TV with ‘8x’ magnification binoculars, mounted on a microphone stand. Even football matches are reasonably easy to see. It struck me that if any virtual reality headsets allowed live video input, they might do the job even better.”
Please email any responses, advice or comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org .
[Section Two ends].
++ Notice: Thomas Pocklington Truste-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 .
Section Three: Special report. - ICT barriers for older people.
+09: How Can We Keep In Touch With Technology?
By Kate Hamblin and Sue Yeandle.
All too often, the deterioration of sight and hearing are seen as ‘just part of getting older’, and as a result are under-reported and inadequately assessed. When hearing and vision are both impaired, they present a unique challenge which requires new strategies and management. It’s estimated that 222,000 people in the UK aged over 70 have dual sensory impairment (DSI), and that by 2030 that number will be close to 418,000. Recognising this, UK deafblind charity Sense established a research team in 2010 to undertake new projects evaluating the impact of DSI across the lifespan. One of these projects created a screening tool for DSI for use in residential care settings, while another project explored issues related to living independently in older age with DSI.
A study at the University of Sheffield, ‘Keeping in Touch with Technology?’, is part of this research, and explores the use of assistive technology and telecare by older adults with DSI. Sense commissioned the study in 2014 and we completed it in 2015. The University of Sheffield’s CIRCLE (Centre for International Research on Care, Labour and Equalities) worked with Sense and the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing to examine issues related to the challenges faced by older adults with DSI, and the role of assistive technology and telecare devices in promoting active and independent lives.
As part of a previous study that looked at independence in later life, we regularly visited elderly participants over a period of 4-6 months, to explore their use of technology and their wider lives. This included their personal biographies, relationships, communities and health. We adapted this methodology for our work with Sense and our research team, making 146 household visits to 38 older adults with varying degrees of DSI. These adults had a variety of assistive technology and telecare in place, ranging from quite ‘low-tech’ devices to expensive, highly specialist equipment.
We explored participants’ use of technology in managing difficulties they faced in everyday life. These difficulties were arranged into three groups: activities outside the home (transport, shopping, socialising); activities inside the home (household chores, personal care); and, communicating with others. Some participants had coped well with single sensory impairment for many years, but now had to adjust to the deterioration of the other sense on which they had previously relied. Technology could sometimes help: GPS devices helped with navigation, ‘talking’ kitchen technology items made cooking easier, and personal loop systems and Braille displays promoted communication.
In some situations, technology gave people with DSI valuable extra support, but there were also barriers in using and accessing technology. Some felt intimidated by technology, or felt that it was not “for them”. Limited awareness was another barrier – people in the study were often unsure what technology was available, and even if they felt an item of equipment might be useful, they found the huge variety of manufacturers and suppliers confusing and off-putting. Specialist technology can be very expensive, so making choices based on limited information or experience was deemed to be “risky”.
Cost and choice were also major barriers. Those who had resources felt that some equipment was prohibitively expensive, while those who relied on equipment provided by their local authority said their choice was limited. Some participants felt their local authority’s assessment for equipment focused only on safety and risk, and failed to address other needs or give them access to activities where technology could help.
Some felt that the products they had tried were not “fit for purpose”, and that a lot of equipment had been designed with only single-sensory impairment in mind. Participants felt that using these devices involved a “compromise”, and in many of our research visits, the team saw assistive technology equipment which had been abandoned. Inadequate training and follow-up support was another issue, with some participants unsure as to how to use their devices correctly, or what to do if they went wrong.
Our findings indicate that service providers, equipment suppliers and product developers need to do more to meet the needs of older people with DSI – the size of this group is growing fast, just as technology is also advancing at a rapid rate. Where technology was successfully adopted, the following things happened: participants felt much safer at home; they were using public transport alone; they could manage everyday chores unaided; and they enjoyed new modes of communication and social interactions.
However, we also found worrying barriers to accessing and using technology. To address this, we recommend an increase in awareness-raising and campaigning around technology and DSI. This will help older people with DSI find out what products are available, and where and how they can obtain them. We also highlight the importance of raising awareness of the needs of people with DSI in the product-design community. This will ensure that, in future, products are developed with this growing group firmly in mind.
The ‘Keeping in Touch with Technology?’ report was compiled by Kate Hamblin, Sue Yeandle and Emma-Reetta Koivunen. Dr Kate Hamblin is James Martin Senior Research Fellow at the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing, University of Oxford. Sue Yeandle is Professor of Sociology and Director of CIRCLE at the University of Sheffield. Dr Emma-Reetta Koivunen is Research Associate in the Faculty of Health and Social Care, Manchester Metropolitan University.
The full report can be found at the link below in PDF: http://eab.li/t .
Comment on this story now at e-Access Bulletin Live: http://eab.li/w .
[Section Three ends].
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- Editor: Tristan Parker
- Technical Director: Jake Jellinek
[Issue 178 ends].