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Customisable digital tube train map wins design award

A customisable version of the London Underground map for people with impaired vision has won best transport app in this month’s UK Mobile and App Design Awards, hosted by design100.

“Colourblind tube map” was created by digital agency 232 Studios – which also won best small studio – working with accessibility specialist Ian Hamilton, also known for his work on accessible video game guidelines (see previous story, this issue).

The app is based on the official tube map – “it took some tough licensing negotiations to allow that”, Hamilton says – and offers combinations of colours and patterns which are easier to read by users with different forms of colourblindness.

Other versions are designed to cater for other vision impairments such as cataracts, loss of contrast sensitivity and myopia, with features including increased contrast; reduced glare; large detailed high-zoom maps; customisable text size; and simple interfaces with no fiddly gestures

The app previously won a Judges’ Award in last December’s Transport for London (TfL) accessible app awards, with the prize money from this helping ensure it could be made available to both Apple and Android users free of charge, Hamilton told E-Access Bulletin.

“The iconic London underground map is relied on by millions of travellers every day, but its white background, small text and low contrast differences in colour can cause problems for people with many different types of impaired vision”, the app’s developers say.

“There is a black and white pattern-based map available, but only as a PDF… [but this] is actually left over from the time before colour printing became cheaply available, it isn’t actually designed for colour-blindness, so the first enhancement was to produce something that was actually tailored to that audience, that combined colour with pattern to create something ideally suited to people who see in a restricted palette.

“Additionally, due to our past experience working on video magnifier software, another use soon became apparent. A pattern based map is free from being constrained by colour choice, meaning those colours can be altered to suit the preferences of people with a wide range of different vision impairments.”

The approach taken to develop the app is an example of the benefits digital technology can bring to all kinds of impairments, the developers say. “The tube map in the station is a physical object that has to compromise to work for as many people as possible, but digital products do not have the same constraints. Interfaces can be customised, the best solution tailored to each individual’s need.”

The same basic principles are also applicable to all map design, they say, and there has been interest in the project from across the cartography community. “Using symbols and pattern as well as colour, or providing high detail imagery that can in turn support a high level of zoom; these are things that are applicable to all maps.”

Other winners of December’s TfL accessible app competition included London’s Nearest Bus, which helps people find what bus stop they are at and when the next bus will arrive; Station Master, which offers detailed train and station access information for tube and overground lines; and Tube Tracker, an app that uses text-to-speech and high colour contrast to ease access to live journey information.

Practitioner heralds ‘new phase’ of digital learning for disabled children

New technologies such as tablet computers and techniques such as online data analysis are heralding a new age of customised learning assistance for young people who are severely disabled, a practitioner has told E-Access Bulletin.

“We’re entering into a really interesting phase where technology is starting to make massive changes in the way we teach and assess children with the most complex difficulties, allowing us to give them independence and access that we haven’t seen before”, said Sandra Thistlethwaite, specialist speech and language therapist at Oldham-based firm Inclusive Technology.

“For example, we have seen some extremely interesting results using eye gaze technologies with children with complex difficulties, and in using iPads and tablets that people now have as a mainstream device.

“With a good scientific grounding – the right content, structure and theory behind what people are doing with those devices – technology opens up massive potential for health, therapy and learning.”

Thistlethwaite was speaking after one of Inclusive’s software packages, ChooseIt! Maker 3, won the ICT Special Educational Needs Solutions category at last week’s 16th Bett Awards for education resources and companies.

The software allows teachers or parents to help students create and play personalised learning materials. It uses photographs and sounds – including those taken or recorded by the user – with symbols and text to build activities, helping learners who respond best to familiar sights and sounds including those with autism spectrum disorders, communication difficulties, language impairment, developmental disabilities, Down’s Syndrome, Aphasia and traumatic brain injury.

Desktop computers, tablets, touch screens, interactive classroom displays, switches and eye gaze devices can be used with the software, and materials created can be played online or downloaded to mobile, playable offline.

Because the system automatically records learners’ progression, and online activities can be shared between users, a new world of analysable data is being built up that could help not only to improve future products but to determine which interventions work for which children, for the good of all, Thistlethwaite said.

“We are looking at undertaking data analytics over a range of products. We are still at very early stages of looking at how teachers and children are using our software, and it will also give a chance to see how children are learning, what they are looking at, what access methods are used.

“Eventually we plan to have data research tools that would inform education, communication and health, as well as real feedback and real data to inform our practice and improve future products.”

The Bett awards are co-hosted by education suppliers’ association BESA with the organisers of education technology event Bett.

Talking Cash Machines Win Technology4Good Award

Banking and financial services company Barclays is among winners of the Technology4Good Awards 2013, an annual event which celebrates the potential of technology to affect social change.

The award recognises Barclays’ use of technology in making its services more accessible to people with disabilities and impairments. This includes adapting more than 3,500 of its ATMs (automated teller machines, or cashpoints) – 84% of the bank’s network – so that they can be used with earphones, allowing people with impaired vision, dyslexia or other reading problems to listen to the on-screen options.

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Signing Avatar App Prototype Wins Global Award

A Brazilian mobile app that translates Portuguese speech, digital text and photographs of text into sign language, all using an animated avatar, has been recognised at a global apps awards ceremony.

The Hand Talk app ( http://bit.ly/12DovWS ) – due to be publicly released later this year – was developed by Ronaldo Tenório, Carlos Wanderlan and Thadeu Luz to convert written or spoken Portuguese text into LIBRAS, the official sign language of Brazil. The app won the category for ‘mInclusion and Empowerment’ at the World Summit Award – Mobile ( http://bit.ly/Vrng8J ) for its potential as a communication aid for hearing-impaired people and others who want to learn LIBRAS.
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Autism Communication App Wins Smart Accessibility Award

A Spanish developer who created an app to help his five-year-old autistic son communicate has won 50,000 euros at the second annual “Smart Accessibility” awards for Android smartphone apps, presented by the Vodafone Foundation.

Ablah ( http://bit.ly/10JJ5F6 ) is an augmentative communication application developed by Juan Carlos Gonzalez. Users select images, text and sounds on a touch-screen to make the device “speak” for them.
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Dyslexia Spelling Checker Wins Techology4Good Award

A piece of software that can correct spelling as the user types into any programme – hugely valuable for people with dyslexia – has won the accessibility award at the second annual Technology4Good awards, presented in London this month.

“Global AutoCorrect” (
http://www.lexable.com/GlobalAutoCorrect )
is the brainchild of Neil Cottrell, a 24-year-old graduate who is himself severely dyslexic.

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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.

Empowering Potential of Technology Celebrated in New Awards

A new awards event aims to recognise the ability of computers, the internet and assistive technology to improve the lives of people with disabilities and empower vulnerable sections of society.

Organised by disability and ICT charity AbilityNet ( http://bit.ly/himPdh ) and supported by organisations including BT, Microsoft and Race Online 2012, the first Technology4Good awards ( http://bit.ly/gwQUvZ ) are looking for examples of charities, businesses, government organisations and individuals that have used digital technology to improve the work and home lives of others, including disabled people, the elderly and young children. Two Accessibility Awards are featured in the seven categories.
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MP’s Website Wins Award, But ‘Vast Majority’ Inaccessible

The website of Labour MP for Newcastle Upon Tyne East and former Cabinet minister Nick Brown has won the accessibility category in the 2010 MP Web Awards, hosted by BCS – the Chartered Institute for IT (formerly known as the British Computer Society).

The awards are presented to politicians who best use new technologies to engage with their constituents. The accessibility award was judged by representatives of technology charity AbilityNet, who reported a number of features that caused Brown’s website ( http://www.nickbrownmp.com/ )
to stand out, including no unlabelled images; a good default size for text, which can be resized; no distracting or moving images; keyboard access for the whole site; and no issues when using a screen-reader.
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‘Podcasts From Past’ On Cultural Access Prize Shortlist.

A Museum of London project recruiting and training unemployed people to describe objects in its collections and relay historical information into a series of podcasts, opening up some of the museum’s collections to visually impaired visitors, is among shortlisted nominees for the 2009 Jodi Awards, which recognise best use of digital technology for disabled people in the arts, cultural and heritage sectors.

‘Podcasts from the past’ ( http://bit.ly/2IO1cw ) is joined on the shortlist by (among others) Leeds Library and Information Service, for its ‘Across the Board’ project ( http://bit.ly/PCwot ). The library offers a series of services and digital communication tools for autistic children and their parents, making it a more natural environment for those affected by autism.
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