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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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ICT barriers for older people: 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.

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Academia and industry combine forces to push forward gaming accessibility

Research into how video games can be made more accessible is being led by a computer science team from a UK university, who will work with game developers and partners including the BBC.

Dr Michael Heron and Dr Michael Crabb from the School of Computing Science and Digital Media at Robert Gordon University, Scotland, will also explore how academic institutions can help identify problems faced by gamers with disabilities.

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Survey puts a price on frustrated shoppers ‘clicking away’

Widespread research will find out how much money UK businesses are losing by failing to make their websites accessible to users with disabilities.

The Click-Away Pound survey (CAP) asks internet users with disabilities about their online shopping experiences across a range of sectors, including banking, supermarkets and travel. Rick Williams, managing director of disability consultancy Freeney Williams, came up with the idea after 15 years of assessing and auditing poorly designed websites through his work.

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MPs, academics condemn research funding withdrawal

A group of MPs, academics and technologists have condemned the cancellation by the UK Department of Health (DH) of a long-standing contract for an annual independent report on assistive technology research and development.

Production of an annual report on government-funded research to improve AT is a statutory requirement, set out in the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970.

However after 15 years of allocating funding to the Foundation for Assistive Technology (FAST) to produce the work, the DH announced last month it is to bring production in-house to its research and development directorate, at an estimated annual saving of £68,000.

In a statement, FAST said the move was “short-sighted” and “a false economy”, as it would lead to lower quality information being made available to policy makers, funding bodies and others. Overall it “will significantly hamper efforts to support disabled and older people to become independent through the use of technology,” the foundation said, as the DH report proposal is “insubstantial” and “only minimally meets the statutory requirement.”

The withdrawal of the contract also means FAST will no longer have the resources to update a publicly-available database it has been maintaining on AT research and development, it said.

In its own statement, the DH responded that this public information is already available elsewhere online, such as Research Councils UK’s Gateway to Research, and the EU CORDIS database. However FAST says these sites do not provide a comprehensive picture.

Seven MPs and more than 30 academics and technologists have so far supported FAST’s call for continued funding including EA Draffan and Mike Wald of Southampton University; Gill Whitney of Middlesex University; and Tim Adlam of Designability.

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