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++Section One: News.
+01: New Parliamentary Group On Assistive Tech Launches To Level Theplaying Field.
A “flood” of new technology represents a unique opportunity to increase education and employment for those with disabilities in the UK, claims a new cross-party parliamentary group.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Assistive Technology (APPGAT) launched on March 6 and aims to spark debate and share knowledge on assistive technology (AT) throughout parliament. Its work will include contributing to government consultations and raising awareness of AT.
In an exclusive APPGAT interview with e-Access Bulletin, the group’s Chair, Seema Malhotra MP (a former Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury), said that those in government and parliament need to harness new AT, to “transform the lives and opportunities available to disabled people.” APPGAT will aid this process, acting as a forum for new ideas.
Malhotra also told e-Access Bulletin that disability is not yet given enough prominence in social reform. She said: “If we are to have a truly equal society, then we have to make sure that the issue of disability is as much on the agenda of education and of the workplace as we have seen with gender and race. In my view, we are certainly not there nearly enough.”
APPGAT’s co-chairs include Lord Low of Dalston CBE (current Vice President of the Royal National Institute of blind People), Lord Holmes of Richmond MBE (a Paralympian and multiple gold medallist), and Matt Warman MP (a member of the Science and Technology Select Committee).
APPGAT was set up by Policy Connect – a not-for-profit social enterprise – with input from disability and technology sector experts (including the ACE Centre), and the Leonard Cheshire Disability charity.
One of the first major projects planned is for APPGAT to submit a recommendation paper to the Treasury before the UK Budget statement in autumn. Malhotra said that the paper will look at the impact of AT within the workplace and education.
Following that paper, APPGAT will take a deeper look into employment and education gaps for persons with disabilities, and how AT can be used to address these gaps.
The group will also draw up a programme of events and meetings to progress discussion and awareness of AT throughout parliament. As well as parliamentarians, these events will feature sector experts, academics and AT users.
Speaking about the challenge of pushing disability and AT higher on to parliamentary agendas, Malhotra said: “I believe it is the next big nut to crack. I think parliament has to play its part in making sure that we not only change the attitudes of government, but also look at how that can be translated into attitudes in the workplace and society more generally. Incremental change can achieve so much, but to really build on that progress and create real transformation is going to need political leadership and action by government.”
Read more about the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Assistive Technology at the APPGAT website: http://eab.li/5c .
Comment on this story now at e-Access Bulletin Live: http://eab.li/5o .
+02: Impaired Users And Mobile Access Prioritised In New Web Accessibilityguidelines.
The first public draft of an update to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) has been released, with an increased focus on mobile content, users with low vision, and users with cognitive and learning disabilities.
The current guidelines – WCAG 2.0 – are seen by many as a benchmark for web accessibility. WCAG 2.0 is widely used by authorities and organisations seeking to review websites, and to make and keep them accessible for users with disabilities. For example, the Society of IT Management (Socitm) uses WCAG 2.0 to test the accessibility of UK council websites in its annual Better Connected review.
The public working draft of the update, WCAG 2.1, seeks to build on the existing guidelines, adding in new recommendations for those creating and designing web content.
WCAG 2.1 is being developed by the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group (AGWG), a sub-group of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). WAI is part of the much larger World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international voluntary standards community founded by Sir Tim Berners-Lee.
Judy Brewer, Director of the Web Accessibility Initiative at W3C, told e-Access Bulletin about some of the new measures to be included in WCAG 2.1. This includes an extension of requirements for mobile device access.
Speaking about other new measures, Brewer said: “Research, tools and awareness in the areas of accessibility for people with cognitive and learning disabilities, and for people with low vision, have been increasing in recent years, and we are updating WCAG 2.1 to reflect this.”
The next steps are for AGWG to review and respond to public feedback, and make changes for new versions of the WCAG 2.1 draft. The draft will continue to be reviewed and evolve throughout 2017, with further testing in early 2018. “The goal is to finalise [the draft WCAG 2.1] as a W3C recommendation (a web standard) by mid-2018,” Brewer said.
A longer-term ‘3.0’ update to WCAG is also being worked on by AGWG’s ‘Silver Task Force’, Brewer told e-Access Bulletin. She said: “The [Task Force] are initially focusing on improvements in terms of usability of the guidelines themselves, but may also look at expanding the scope to encompass technologies that are converging on the web, such as digital publishing or the Internet of Things. The goal is to produce a very flexible set of guidelines that can adapt even better to evolving technology and user needs.”
Speaking about W3C’s aim for organisations to begin implementing the WCAG 2.1 draft – and upcoming final version – Brewer called on Bulletin readers to help get the message out:
“There are many things that readers of e-Access Bulletin can help with, starting with helping to spread the word of the update under development. Then, eventually, spreading the word that there’s an updated standard, encouraging people to implement it, and to adopt and reference it in policies that they have an opportunity to impact.”
Public feedback on the draft officially closes on March 31, but Brewer told e-Access Bulletin that comments received after that will still be useful. Feedback on the draft can be emailed to the following address: firstname.lastname@example.org .
Read more about WCAG 2.1 at the W3C website: http://eab.li/5p .
Comment on this story now at e-Access Bulletin Live: http://eab.li/5q .
+03: Many Us Government Sites Not Accessible For Disabled Users, Claims Newresearch.
Various high-profile US government websites, including major service portals, are not accessible for users with disabilities, according to a new study.
The ‘Benchmarking U.S. Government Websites’ report found that 42% of US federal sites tested failed to meet the necessary accessibility criteria.
The report aims to give a broad picture of US government website usability across a range of categories. A total of 297 federal sites were reviewed for accessibility, speed, mobile friendliness and security.
One of the most common accessibility problems found was a failure to add labels to elements on a page. These text labels and descriptions help screen-reader users to navigate web pages, and were found to be lacking on images, buttons and input forms.
Other accessibility issues included a lack of contrast between text and background colour (making it difficult for some sighted users to pick out content), failure to put content in a sequential order (ordering content properly is important for screen-reader and keyboard-only users), and a failure to make text “sufficiently readable and understandable” (for example, not specifying the language used, which can impact on a screen-reader’s pronunciation).
The report was produced by ITIF (the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a non-profit think tank that aims to provide information for technology policy-makers) and authored by Alan McQuinn and Daniel Castro.
The federal sites were tested using AChecker, an evaluation tool that identifies accessibility problems on webpages using different sets of guidelines selected by the user. WCAG 2.0 (the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0) was used by ITIF to evaluate the government sites.
Although these types of automated tools can identify a number of barriers, relying on them is often discouraged by accessibility practitioners due to their limitations, such as the lack of direct user-testing by humans.
AChecker claims to bypass part of this problem, by flagging up ‘likely’ and ‘potential’ problems, which need human assessment to be resolved. However, the ITIF report only tested the US government sites for ‘known’ problems, which are automatically detected by AChecker. The report claims that this was “to avoid unfairly penalizing sites”.
Rated purely on these accessibility terms, the top three US government sites in the report were: weather.gov, usembassy.gov and whitehouse.gov. The three sites with the lowest accessibility scores were: mycreditunion.gov, presidio.gov (a national park site) and blm.gov (the Bureau of Land Management).
A number of high-profile federal sites also scored poorly for accessibility in the report. These included: trade.gov (the International Trade Administration), irs.gov (the Internal Revenue Service) and mymedicare.gov (a user portal for Medicare, a federal health insurance program for people over 65 and some younger people with disabilities).
When ranked by the overall score given across the four tested categories (accessibility, speed, mobile friendliness and security), the top five federal sites in the report were: healthdata.gov, healthfinder.gov, consumerfinance.gov, whitehouse.gov and usembassy.gov.
Read more about the research at the ITIF website: http://eab.li/5a .
Link to the full ‘Benchmarking U.S. Government Websites’ report below, available only in PDF: http://eab.li/5b .
Comment on this story now at e-Access Bulletin Live: http://eab.li/5m .
++News in Brief:
+04: Making a Digital Difference:
Nominations for the Tech4Good Awards 2017 are now open. Organised by technology access charity AbilityNet, the annual event recognises individuals and organisations using digital technology to improve people’s lives. Award categories include Accessibility, Community Impact, Digital Skills, Digital Health and Tech Volunteer of the Year. Anyone can nominate or be nominated until May 8. Entry details are at the link below.
Read more at the Tech4Good website: http://eab.li/5h .
+05: Developed and Deployed:
A free app to help people with disabilities find employment has been launched after winning a UK-wide competition. As with all projects in the Apps for Good Awards, DiPloy was designed by students aged between nine and 18-years-old. DiPloy allows users to build a CV, rehearse interview techniques and search for jobs using Evenbreak, a system that matches employers with disabled job-seekers. The app won the ‘Accessibility’ category in the 2016 Apps for Good Awards and has since been professionally developed, before being launched for Android devices.
Download DiPloy at the Google Play Store: http://eab.li/5d .
Read more about Apps for Good at the project’s website: http://eab.li/5e .
+06: 24-hour Inclusion:
A series of free, one-hour webinars on accessibility will be held as part of Inclusive Design 24 (#ID24), an event celebrating the work being done to help people with disabilities use the web. #ID24 is sponsored by accessibility agency The Paciello Group and the 2017 theme is ‘levelling up’, taking accessibility skills beyond basic compliance. A call for new presentations is still open.
Find out more at the #ID24 website: http://eab.li/5f .
[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: RNIB Connect Radio and e-Access Bulletin.e-Access Bulletin will be appearing on RNIB Connect Radio each month on The Early 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 from the RNIB Connect Radio site. Listen to RNIB Connect Radio online, or via television, smartphone or radio. Listening details at the following link: http://eab.li/3e .
Find out more at the RNIB Connect Radio website: http://eab.li/1h .
++Section Two: Interview.- Chad Leaman, Makers Making Change.
+07: The Access Makeathon:
building your own rules.
How do you ensure that the device you’re building for someone with a disability is going to be genuinely useful for that person, and that it meets their individual needs? Simple: put that person at the centre of the design process and find out exactly what they want.
This thinking is at the root of Makers Making Change (MMC), a new project that connects ‘makers’ (skilled individuals or small teams building things on a DIY-style basis) with people with disabilities. The person with a disability explains a piece of equipment they need built or a problem they want solved, and the makers design and build something that meets those needs – with the disabled person involved at all stages.
MMC was launched by Chad Leaman and Harry Lew of the Neil Squire Society, a Canadian not-for-profit that focuses on giving Canadians with disabilities access to assistive technologies.
In January, Leaman and MMC organised the Access Makeathon in Vancouver. Ten teams of makers were paired an individual with a disability. Over one weekend, the teams then built an ‘access solution’ tailored to that individual. The results were innovative, inspiring and genuinely useful for the individuals at the centre of the team.
e-Access Bulletin spoke to Chad Leaman to learn more about the Makeathon and MMC.
- How did the idea for the Access Makeathon come about?
“It started about a year ago with the grant we got from Google for our LipSync project. This is a mouth-controlled input device that allows people with limited or no hand movement to control a touchscreen device. As we worked on making it open source – so that other people could make it as well – we learned that a lot of people were doing similar work around creating open source assistive technology projects.
“But our concern was that a lot of them had people making things for people with disabilities without talking to the people with disabilities. So our idea was to make the person with the disability the captain of the team. They’re the people that know what they need, so it put those people in the centre of things.”
- Please give an overview of exactly what happens at Access Makeathon:
“Over 48 hours, a person with a disability connects with a team of makers who will build open source assistive technology that directly addresses a need the person has. The goal is for each team to help a person leave the event with a working prototype that improves their quality of life.”
- Tell us about some of the projects that were built:
“Team Ashley created a 3D-printed, self-levelling cup attachment for the clutch on her wheelchair. Team Timothy built a customised Wii joystick for a young person who couldn’t use a standard controller.
“One of the simpler projects was from Team Steve. Steve wanted a way to hold popcorn on the side of his wheelchair, because when he goes to see a movie and buys popcorn, it gets spilled because he’s trying to wheel across the thick carpet that movie theatres have. The team built a popcorn holder, but they also made it into a fold-out lap tray that can be used to hold any meal. Some of the teams really went above and beyond.”
- ‘Team Jim’ was the winning team. What was their project?
“Jim broke his neck and has very little lung capacity due to a breathing issue, and his wife, Isabelle, is hearing-impaired. So Jim is unable to wake Isabelle if something happens to him in the night. The ‘ask’ from Jim to his team of makers was: ‘Make a sip-and-puff-triggered vibrating alarm system that can call Isabelle even is she is in a different room.’ The team built a modified bed-shaker alarm system which can be triggered by a LipSync sip-and-puff device or a phone app.
“What struck me about the Makeathon was that a lot of makers involved talked about how profound the impact on them was. Some were bio-medical students or engineers, and some of them said they didn’t normally have the opportunity to use their skills in a way that would have a real impact.
“For the makers to see the person they were making for was really powerful. There’s something really magical when you put those pieces together, the people who are designing the solution together with the people who need the solution.”
- What are the next steps for MMC?
“The goal is for MMC to have two major parts. The first is to put these projects up on the MMC website for others to build, and release plans documentation all open source, so it doesn’t get lost in that one event.
“The second part is that we want to connect makers to people with disabilities. If you need a LipSync, you’ll be able to search for it or for makers in your area who will make one. We want viable solutions that really solve a need.
“The AT industry can be quite expensive, so we want to really try and provide a new way of getting AT to people who need it - especially people who don’t have things like a government programme or insurance provider, so that we can make sure that people aren’t slipping through the cracks.”
- When will people be able to get a LipSync?
“We have about eight with people now and the plan is to get 150 out to those who can benefit from them. If there’s someone out there that needs a LipSync due to disability constraints, I’m paying for the parts for the first 150 builds, so it won’t cost people anything. They can also tell me what they like or don’t like about it, and what they want changed. People can email me at the following address for more information about the LipSync: email@example.com .”
- Will there be more makeathons or other events?
“We recently finished a Lipsync-specific makeathon at BC Tech Summit, where we got 12 built. The next one is in April and we’re hoping to get 30 more Lipsyncs built.
“Then the plan is to do Access Makeathon three or four more times in Canada over the next 12-18 months. We’re also planning to do events in other parts of North America, and we’d eventually like to look at hosting events in the UK and Europe.
“There’s a willingness in the field right now to look at new solutions and delivery models. We’re trying to position makeathons as an opportunity for people – a chance to make an impact, to use the tech skills you might have to really serve a need within your community.”
Read more about Makers Making Change and the Access Makeathon at the MMC website: http://eab.li/5i .
Find out more about the Neil Squire Society: http://eab.li/5j .
Comment on this story now at e-Access Bulletin Live: http://eab.li/5l .
[Section Three ends].
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- Editor: Tristan Parker
- Technical Director: Jake Jellinek
[Issue 188 ends].