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New trial in Spain for accessible medicines app

A major new trial in Spain using mobile devices to make prescription medicine information more accessible has been approved by the project’s partners including charities, pharmaceutical industry representatives and government bodies.

The “Accessible Medicine” project will use two-dimensional Data Matrix square barcodes placed on medicine boxes and packaging allowing people to use an application or “app” running on a smartphone or other mobile device with a camera to link to detailed medicine information online. The information can then be spoken aloud or conveyed in other formats on the mobile device according to user needs and preferences.

The project is being led by Vodafone Spain Foundation with a range of partners including Technosite, the trading and research arm of Spanish national blindness charity ONCE; and the Spanish Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (FARMAINDUSTRIA).

The partners say beneficiaries of the system will include not only blind people and people with impaired vision but also people who have difficulties handling the small folded leaflets currently issued with medicines.

The new trial has been approved following successful phase one trials ending last year. Developments for phase two include expansion of the online drug database from five to the 30 most commonly-used medicines; and improvements to the design interface.

Alongside the trials, ONCE is working with the Spanish Agency of Medicine and Health Products to create a database with accessible information on all available medicines.

According to the phase one report, the system has possible applications in other fields such as information about food and clothing. More information can be found in Spanish only at the project’s website.

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Tesco pledges action over inaccessible app

The UK’s largest supermarket chain Tesco has said it is taking seriously concerns raised about the inaccessibility of its new smartphone app, and is to work with the RNIB to improve the situation.

The statement was issued after E-Access Bulletin raised questions with the company about the experiences of Steph Cutler, a small business adviser and personal coach who has impaired vision. Cutler approached EAB after becoming dissatisfied with the new Tesco shopping app and with the retailer’s initial response to her complaints.

“I love the iPhone – it has really changed my life, and on the whole, the apps I’ve got are pretty usable,” she said. “So when I downloaded the Tesco app I was excited to think I could use it to shop – although their website is accessible, I find it very time-consuming. But it turns out that the app is totally inaccessible with [the iPhone’s screenreader] VoiceOver. Basically, the app says the same thing whatever product you touch.”

After Cutler asked the RNIB to take a look and they had supported her assessment, she contacted Tesco to complain, but says the company’s initial response was unsatisfactory.

“I emailed them and they rang me back very quickly, but the poor lad from customer services just said ‘we know it’s inaccessible’, though he didn’t seem to know what that meant. He had obviously just been told to call, and he was trying to say he accepted it didn’t work, but that it was OK. He also categorically refused to let me talk to someone else.

“I emailed again, and another email came back saying they care about accessibility – but with no details of any remedial plan.”

Subsequently, after E-Access Bulletin had made its own enquiries into the case, Tesco did produce a fuller response. A spokesperson for Tesco said: “The software used in the iPhone application is cutting edge technology and we will be always aiming to improve the functionality of the application.

“We have taken the concerns raised seriously and recently contacted the RNIB to work with them in identifying features that will improve accessibility for the product.

“At this time, we are unable to give any timescales as to when this will be completed. Any amendments to the application will need to be built and tested, and will therefore take time to complete.”

Tesco has now also been back in touch with Cutler to relay the same message, which she welcomes. “I am hoping they will be true to their word, and I do intend to monitor this one,” she said.

However, she says she still fails to understand why such a large company in the 21st century is failing to design in accessibility from the first release of a technology offering such as their new app.

“One argument about whether accessibility can be included is often resources, and rightly sometimes – but you just can’t say that about Tesco,” Cutler says. “We are talking about a massive retailer for whom resources aren’t a problem. They understand some of it, because they do some of it. It made me, as a visually impaired shopper, feel a little bit second class.

“I do accept apps are new, and the accessibility might change in future, but as a user I’m discriminated against.

“The point I put to them is that at the start of anything, you have a choice – you can choose to put accessibility into how it will function. But this time, either they briefed a developer and they didn’t put any emphasis on accessibility, or the developer just didn’t do it. It is far harder for them now – they will have to change code, which will be a biggish job. But it wouldn’t be a big job if they thought about it as a matter of course and didn’t put anything out that most of our customers can’t access.”

Ultimately, she says, it is a question of leadership. ““The bottom line is I feel as if I’ve been treated less favourably for reasons of my disability. It doesn’t feel like it’s been taken seriously from the top down – it doesn’t feel like the decision-maker has taken an inclusive approach, so why should customer service?”

Free Magnifier Among First Smart Accessibility Awards

A smartphone app which allows people to magnify text and adjust fonts and background colours was among the winners of the inaugural Smart Accessibility Awards for smartphone applications aimed at supporting disabled and older people.

Zoom Plus Magnifier, developed by a UK partnership of 232 Studios, Ian Hamilton and Digital Accessibility Centre, offers functionality for free that has previously largely only been available in software and camera products costing hundreds of pounds.

Four international awards of 50,000 Euros each were presented by the Vodafone Foundation – a charitable arm of mobile communications provider Vodafone –in partnership with AGE Platform Europe, a network of organisations working with older people, and the campaign group European Disability Forum.

The other winners were Help Talk, an app developed in Portugal allowing people who are unable to speak, such as those recovering from strokes, to communicate by tapping on icons; Wheelmap, an app developed in Germany which lets users rate the accessibility for wheelchair users of public places; and BIG Launcher, an alternative customisable Android home screen for elderly or visually impaired users who often struggle to use the small keyboards on most devices, developed in the Czech Republic.

BIG Launcher uses big buttons and large fonts to represent all the basic functions of a phone such as voice calls, text messages and cameras. Jan Husak, the app’s co-developer, says a typical smartphone home screen is not very accessible for elderly and blind people, being often crowded with all sorts of icons and widgets.

“On Android, due to its openness, you can choose from dozens of launchers, but they mostly offer functions which are only appealing to geeks – even more icons, special graphical effects and so on.

“BIG Launcher makes using the phone easy, even for users who are scared of new technologies. It allows its users to use the phone quickly in any situation, without pulling out their glasses or getting lost in the menus.”

Wheelmap is an app that builds on top of Google maps, overlaying information about wheelchair accessibility of any location such as a restaurant or railway station sourced from users. In its first month 1,200 users registered for the app, posting information about 180,000 places.

Andrew Dunnett, director of the Vodafone Group Foundation, told E-Access Bulletin the type of crowdsourcing used by Wheelmap held huge promise for disabled people. “The potential for that to change people’s lives is very impressive. The maps are there, the handsets are available – the key is the user groups, and how they engage with it.”

In all some 67 applications were received by the awards, with 12 shortlisted before the four prizes were award, Dunnett said. He confirmed that the foundation would be rerunning the awards next year.

The Guru Is In: High Street Support

The basement floor of the UK’s new largest outlet for mobile phone provider O2, which opened this autumn on London’s Tottenham Court Road, is a chic modern space echoing the metal and glass technology wonderlands pioneered by Apple.

The “workshop” area with Wi-Fi, sofas and meeting booths, staffed at the entrance by a “concierge”, feels a long way from a traditional cramped high street mobile shop.

The clear, large lettering of the shop’s signs are a hint that something else is different: the store is attempting to integrate support for disabled customers including deaf people and blind people into its mainstream service. Staff have received awareness training from the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and sign language agency Positive Signs.

Asad Hamir, one of the store’s directors, is a qualified optician, with direct experience of the poor level of service that people with impaired vision receive on the high street. He has been quoted as saying he would like to create the sort of environment to which opticians would feel comfortable sending their low vision patients, and this is clearly part of the motivation behind the store’s attempts to offer the best advice on the benefits that mobile devices can provide for people with sensory impairment.

It’s not just a moral stand: the directors also see inclusion as a business opportunity. “If a section of the population is not being catered for or looked after, it’s definitely a market”, says Andrew Levey, the store’s marketing manager.

Perhaps the most powerful advocate for the store’s approach is a member of its staff, Abigail Gorman. Deaf and fluent in BSL, Gorman is one of the shop’s three O2 “gurus” working through bookable appointments to offer specialist advice to both hearing and deaf customers.

One of the only people in the world currently working in an integrated high street role of this kind, she works with a sign language interpreter funded from the government’s Access to Work scheme.

Speaking to E-Access Bulletin with the help of her interpreter in a bright corner of the “workshop”, having just finished advising a hearing customer, Gorman said her work background did not have anything to do with mobiles. But thanks to text messaging and internet access they are an indispensible part of modern life for deaf people as for everyone else, and she had first-hand experience of the barriers that can be thrown up on the high street when she went with her mother – who is also deaf – visited one shop with a sign language interpreter.

“When we arrived, they said have you called customer services? If not, then we can’t help”, Gorman says. “What can you do? Deaf people can’t call customer services.”

So when she saw the job advertised she jumped at the chance, and with the selection process supported for O2 by Positive Signs, successfully won through a large number of candidates to become O2’s first deaf guru.

If a deaf person comes into the store or books an appointment with her, she says she tries to show there are ways to solve the inevitable problems and issues that they face in communicating using mainstream devices.

“It’s about problem sharing, making it normalised.”

The main ways deaf people use mobiles is for text messaging and video calls, and with more and more phones carrying a front-facing camera and the rise of apps allowing free international communication over the web, there are a wide range of solutions, Gorman says.

For Apple users, one of the most important features for deaf people is the video utility FaceTime; BlackBerry offers the BBM instant messaging app; and other multi-platform video, voice and chat clients include Skype, Tango and ooVoo.

One issue for deaf users is that tariffs are based around voice calls, which they cannot use, she says: “At the moment, you have to pay for inclusive minutes. So though deaf people only benefit from internet and texts, we pay for calls as well.” The tariff she tends to recommend is 100 mins, 500 free texts and internet access, though a deaf person would use an internet app for text in any case.

Another minor irritation for a deaf user is voicemail, Gorman says. “A message comes up and says you have voicemail – but you have to call it to delete them. I have 52, because I never get round get round to asking someone to delete them for me!”

Gorman is the first deaf guru, but she says she hopes the concept will take off at other shops to allow proper research and trials to be run into how disabled customers can be served even better.

Since the store’s opening, use by disabled people has started slowly but a marketing campaign involving word of mouth, press campaigns, promotion through charities and disability networks such as deaf clubs around London is underway to spread the word and try to prove the concept makes good business sense.

Plans are in hand to expand advice and services for people with motor and learning difficulties, and the RNIB plans to hold events at the workshop looking at the accessibility of mobiles. The disability community will be hoping that this is the future of high street retail.

Smartphone App Launches Accessible Loyalty Cards

A smartphone app offering digital versions of shop loyalty cards will open up card schemes to many disabled people for the first time, its developer has said.

The “mClub” app from print and digital directories company Yell – which is free to download –allows retailers to offer deals such as “buy nine cups of coffee, get the 10th free” without using a physical card. A pilot service – available for both the Apple iPhone and Android phones – has been launched in London, Plymouth and Reading, with a BlackBerry service due to be released in the next few weeks.

Although the service was not originally designed for use by disabled people Artur Ortega, senior accessibility developer at Yell, told E-Access Bulletin this month that when he saw the idea presented internally he immediately saw the potential benefits for disabled people, and was able to influence the design process.

“Before, it wasn’t possible for blind people to use loyalty cards,” Ortega said. “You couldn’t find the right card in your pocket, and you didn’t know how many stamps were on it. The app is also useful for someone who has reduced mobility in their hands and who might have problems getting a card out of their pocket or wallet.”

Once the app is running, loyalty points are added for each participating retailer either by swiping it near a terminal on Android phones using near field communication, or by scanning a QR code (a square bar code) using the iPhone. Although there is a beep emitted when the app is successfully swiped, the lack of near–field communication on an iPhone was a limitation for blind users unless helped by a shop assistant, Ortega acknowledged.

Running the app itself was not too hard for blind users, with iPhones coming pre-installed with VoiceOver text-to-speech functionality and Android phones able to run similar software such as the Mobile Accessibility suite from Code Factory, he said.

This kind of approach, combined with geo-location technology, is implemented in the new smartphone version of the company’s home page www.yell.com, which is hugely liberating for disabled people, Ortega said. “If I need a taxi, I can find one immediately and then call the taxi using the same device, I don’t have to copy telephone number – it’s two clicks away. Or I can order a table in a restaurant – it’s a huge advantage for blind people or people with reduced mobility.

“Before, you had to call someone and ask them to put you through to the restaurant. If the line was busy you had to call again and ask them to look it all up again.”

RNIB Team Welcomes Off-The-Shelf iPhone Accessibility

An advanced screen-reader and other accessibility features on a new version of Apple’s iPhone represent an “extremely significant development” for a previously inaccessible technology, according to the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB).

‘Off-the-shelf’ features built into the iPhone 3GS allow blind and visually impaired users to send and receive text messages and emails, browse the internet, play music and make and receive phone calls.
(more…)

Finnish Trial For Touch-Screen Braille On Mobiles

A method for presenting Braille characters as a sequence of strong and weak pulses on the touch-screen of a mobile device has been developed by a research team at the University of Tampere in Finland.

The most successful method tested by the team involved sending sequences of pulses about a third of a second apart to a single point of the screen of a Nokia 770 Internet Tablet. Almost all participants could accurately recognise individual characters sent in this way, though faster speeds reduced the recognition rate.
(more…)

Mobile Browsing Barriers Linked To Accessibility

Two new draft documents relating to accessibility and the future of the web have been published in the past month the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C – www.w3.org).

The first, ‘Shared web experiences: barriers common to mobile device users and people with disabilities’, notes that many of the barriers faced by internet browsers on mobile devices are the same as those experienced by people with disabilities. The document provides examples of the barriers of access to web content for both sets of users (www.w3.org/WAI/mobile/experiences). (more…)

Kurzweil Unveils Smallest Text Scanner and Converter

The smallest ever portable device allowing users to scan printed text and convert it to speech has been unveiled by KNFB Reading Technology. The KNFB Reader uses software installed on a Nokia N82 multi-function mobile phone handset weighing only 114 grams
(www.knfbreader.com).
(more…)

Disability Advocates Gripe to FCC About iPhone

From PC World see: www.pcworld.com/article/id,137433-c,iphone/article.html

A group representing people with a hearing loss filed complaints with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last month, accusing Apple Inc. of not making its iPhone compatible with hearing aids.

(more…)

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