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Top travel websites still failing users with disabilities, report uncovers

Many of the most popular travel companies are still not making their websites accessible, new research has found.

The report (named ‘Are travel companies burying their heads in the sand when it comes to user experience and accessibility?’, compiled by digital user experience agency Sigma), tested ten of the most popular travel websites in the UK across three main categories: accessibility; usability; ease of use on different devices.

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New guide on home technology launched for people with sight loss

The “blurring” of assistive technology and inclusive design into mainstream technology is helping to provide both high-end and everyday devices that can benefit visually impaired people around the home, claims a new guide publication.

Talking microwaves, smart watches, audio thermometers, e-readers and online banking apps are just some of the innovations featured in ‘Assistive and Inclusive Home Technology: A guide for people with sight loss’. The free guide has just been published by UK sight loss charity Thomas Pocklington Trust, and covers a wide range of devices that can improve independent living. Assistive technology funding information and tips for product designers are also featured.

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Innovation and impact honoured at Tech4Good Awards

A digital audio navigation system and a portable asthma management device are two of the winners in this year’s Tech4Good Awards, which recognises projects and individuals that are using technology to improve lives.

People honoured at the event included an IT volunteer who helped to set up a charity by establishing its ICT systems, and digital inclusion expert and campaigner Robin Christopherson.

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Steering digital inclusion from the driving seat: Q&A with Robin Christopherson, AbilityNet

When he helped co-found UK technology access charity AbilityNet in 1998, Robin Christopherson was already on his way to helping drive forward digital accessibility, and since then his work has continued to change people’s lives. He is now AbilityNet’s head of digital inclusion, after helping to grow the charity’s services. These services include website and mobile accessibility consultancy, which AbilityNet now delivers to companies including Microsoft, the BBC, HSBC and Sainsbury’s.

Christopherson has also led and worked on all manner of projects and campaigns to increase digital accessibility, particularly for blind and visually impaired people. This has included providing expert commentary for news sources such as The Guardian, and presenting on and testing new technology, whether that’s a driverless car or the latest smartwatch.

In recognition of his valuable contributions, he was surprised with a special award at the annual Tech4Good Awards earlier this month. e-Access Bulletin caught up with Christopherson to find out more about his work and get his thoughts on the evolution of accessibility.

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Crowdsourcing site aims to be world leader for venue accessibility data

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.

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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.

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Tactile Braille tablet brings pictures and content to life over 14 lines

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.

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Navigating life’s obstacles: Wayfindr Q&A

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.

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A cautious welcome as Europe looks to lock-in web accessibility

A provisional agreement to make public sector websites and mobile apps across Europe more accessible has been reached, creating mixed reactions from the accessibility community.

The deal between the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union and the European Commission was made earlier this month, and relates to the existing ‘Directive on Web Accessibility for Public Sector Websites’, which has been the subject of debate since its introduction in 2012 (See e-Access Bulletin’s previous coverage at the following link: http://eab.li/b ).

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The Kindle begins to find its voice with text-to-speech

Amazon is making its Kindle e-readers more accessible for visually impaired users by introducing a screen-reader feature.

The VoiceView screen-reading function is now available on the Kindle Paperwhite model by plugging in the ‘Kindle Audio Adaptor’, a USB device designed by Amazon specifically for use with the Kindle. Users plug the adaptor into the Paperwhite charging jack, before plugging in headphones to the adaptor, and can then listen to e-books and navigate the Kindle interface through text-to-speech and touch-screen functionality, with eight adjustable reading speeds.

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