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New parliamentary group on assistive tech launches to level the playing 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.

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Impaired users and mobile access prioritised in new web accessibility guidelines

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.

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Many US government sites not accessible for disabled users, claims new research

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.

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Hollywood-voiced avatar solves citizens’ accessibility queries

An online avatar voiced by an Oscar-winning actor has been created to give disabled Australian citizens information on the country’s National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

The virtual assistant ‘Nadia’ is voiced by Australian actor Cate Blanchett and is able to answer common questions about the NDIS – a support scheme for Australian citizens under 65 with a permanent disability, replacing a previous national disability scheme. Users interact with Nadia through their computer’s webcam and microphone. This gives the process a human element and means that only minimal keyboard or mouse navigation is needed.

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Online shopping ‘not as inclusive as it should be,’ new research finds

The websites of six popular UK retailers would not achieve the basic standard of online content accessibility, according to new research by a usability consultancy.

After a series of ‘mini-accessibility audits,’ accessibility design consultancy User Vision found that some online shoppers with impairments would have difficulty purchasing items from each of the websites examined, due to a number of common barriers.

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AI app learns as it provides a window to the world

An image recognition app that identifies objects and colours for blind and visually impaired people through AI (artificial intelligence) technology can ‘learn’ about its surroundings as users teach it.

The free version of the Aipoly Vision app comes pre-loaded with information and is able to identify around 1,000 ‘essential’ items (such as coffee cups, headphones and flowers) immediately after being downloaded.

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Closure threat for digital inclusion charity seeking £20,000 to survive

A UK charity offering digital skills training to hundreds of people with disabilities will be forced to shut unless £20,000 of running costs are provided urgently.

Cambridge Online provides 4,000 one-to-one tutorials by ‘digital champions’ for over 300 disabled, disadvantaged and older people each year from around Cambridgeshire and beyond. The charity teaches learners a wide range of digital literacy skills, including beginners’ online courses, online shopping, services and job-hunting, Facebook and social media, and individual training requested by learners.

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City mobility apps trialled to fight Blue Badge fraud across Europe

A three-year pan-European project to improve urban transportation for mobility impaired citizens – featuring a smartphone-based parking card to stop fraud – is drawing to a close and preparing recommendations for the European Commission.

The aim of the SIMON project is to increase independent living for people in cities with mobility impairments. Two mobile apps were developed as part of the process: an ‘ICT-enhanced parking card’ for drivers, and a journey-planning app.

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One third of councils fail web accessibility testing in UK-wide survey

An annual review of council websites across the UK has revealed that one third of local government sites failed first-stage testing to find out how accessible their websites are for users with disabilities.

Carried out by Socitm (the Society of IT Management), the Better Connected survey is a nationwide examination to evaluate local authority websites on a range of factors.

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Inaccessible websites dent business profits, as online shoppers ‘click away’

UK businesses are losing out on huge sums of money – potentially totalling billions of pounds – by failing to make their websites accessible to users with access needs, new research claims.

Published by disability consultancy Freeney Williams, the Click-Away Pound (CAP) Survey assessed the “online shopping experience of customers with disabilities, and the costs to business of ignoring them.”

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