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‘Hidden’ sight loss and dementia tackled in technology campaign

The Scottish arm of the Royal National Institute of Blind People, RNIB Scotland, has signed-up to the Technology Charter for People Living with Dementia.

Originally launched in December 2015, the charter was developed by organisations including Alzheimer Scotland, NHS Scotland and the Scottish Government. It encourages greater use of technology in health and social care for people with dementia, and features six key values, including: “Routes and access to technology are ethical, equitable, simple, understandable and user-friendly.”

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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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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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Your assistive technology queries answered online by an expert

Anyone seeking advice on assistive technology will be able to call on the expertise of a technology professional, thanks to a community forum on the website of disability charity Scope.

The charity’s ‘Ask an assistive technologist’ service allows users to leave questions on the forum, where they will be read by a specialist, who will then leave advice for the user to pick up. Users just need to register on the site to become part of Scope’s online community, and can then post questions.

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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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Innovations for independent living take a step forward

A Braille tablet computer, an online tool to seek out low-cost 3D-printed prosthetics and other projects to assist independent living were showcased earlier this month at the European Parliament.

The projects on display were part of an event in Brussels, ‘Accessible technology for independent living’, organised by the European Disability Forum and Google. Featured projects were supported by $20 million from the Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities – a scheme funding non-profit ideas that utilise new technologies.
(Read more at the Google Impact Challenge website: http://eab.li/a .)

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Mapping mobility access across Europe

An open source map that plots information on accessibility of public spaces is being enhanced by a European Commission-funded research project.

The CAP4Access project aims to improve the Wheelmap platform, an interactive website that allows users to input mobility information about an area using editable mapping platform OpenStreetMap. Information might cover issues such as how accessible an area is to those with mobility impairments, such as wheelchair users and those with walking aids.

Users visit the Wheelmap website and ‘tag’ areas with category symbols, such as ‘leisure’, ‘shopping’, ‘food’ and ‘accommodation’, before choosing a colour for the symbol to indicate partial, full or no wheelchair accessibility, or ‘unknown’ status.

CAP4Access aims to develop more advanced tools for the collection of accessibility data such as route planning and navigation for users with limited mobility. New accessibility data will be submitted through Wheelmap, as well as other OpenStreetMap platforms such as Mapping For Change, using a smartphone, tablet or desktop computer. Other accessibility information from existing sources, such as public sector open data, will also be added.

Partially funded under the European Commission’s ICT Policy Support Programme, CAP4Access is currently in a three-year test phase and is being piloted in four cities: Vienna, Austria; Elche, Spain; Heidelberg, Germany; and London. UK project partners include University College London.

Karsten Gareis, project manager of CAP4Access, told E-Access Bulletin one longer-term aim is to establish Wheelmap in countries that don’t currently use the platform. Another is to “firmly establish online routing and navigation for people in wheelchairs and other people with limited mobility – make it available in the same way that navigation and routing have become common tools for non-disabled travellers”, Gareis said.

Q & A: Euan MacDonald, Founder, Euan’s Guide

Euan’s Guide is a website and app that allows people to share reviews about the accessibility for disabled people of shops, restaurants or any community location. Its most-reviewed areas include Edinburgh; London; Glasgow; York; Sheffield; Cardiff; Birmingham; Aberdeen; Newcastle-Upon-Tyne; and Cambridge. In July, the website won the People’s Choice award in a BT Infinity Lab “Connected Society” competition seeking solutions to social issues, and celebrity supporters include J K Rowling and Professor Stephen Hawking. Here, the site’s founder Euan MacDonald speaks to E-Access Bulletin about the inspiration for his project.

- What motivated you to create Euan’s Guide?

I was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease 10 years ago, and then when I started to use a wheelchair five years ago I realised how difficult it was to find good disabled access information. It got myself and my sister Kiki thinking that we would like to share our favourite places that we had discovered had good disabled access, and learn from others about their favourite places too.

My family and I have funded the service’s development ourselves, and we have set it up as a not-for-profit organisation.

- Did you have any experience creating websites or apps?

Not really! Certainly one of our biggest challenges and one of the most interesting for me was making sure that the site and the app is accessible for everyone. For example, I use eye gaze technology with a hands-free system, which can make some websites tricky to navigate, so we have worked hard to make the navigation clear to follow and easy to use. Some areas required the creation of bespoke functions such as the buttons to move around the maps. We’ve also developed the site and app to exploit the native accessibility functionality of smartphones such as voice input and output.

- What are the main aims of Euan’s Guide?

The main aim of the website is to empower disabled people by giving them information that will give them choices and confidence for getting out and about. I call this “removing the fear of the unknown”, which is something experienced by many disabled people.

Success stories for us are getting reviews from places that we would not have thought were accessible and being told that they’re great! Edinburgh Castle, T in the Park Festival and London’s Cutty Sark are prime examples of this.

There are a whole host of related things that we hope will follow, such as businesses realising how much of a demand there is for their services to be accessible. There are more than 11 million disabled people and more than 6.5 million carers in the UK alone. We’ve already had venues that have contacted us saying that they have acted on what our reviewers have told them and made improvements. It is also worth mentioning that not all changes have to cost lots of money – there are some really simple things that some businesses can do to improve their accessibility and staff play such a huge part in this too. And of course, making your venue or service more accessible will not only help disabled people but will also aid the elderly, infirm and parents with buggies too.

We also hope that Euan’s Guide may encourage more disabled people online. There are stats to suggest that in the UK, disabled people are a third less likely to have used the internet than non disabled people.

- Do you think new technologies such as smartphones, apps, GPS and mobile social networking have a liberating potential for people with disabilities?

The combination of accessibility, portability and mobile data have created fantastic opportunities when out and about. It is now possible to ask your phone verbally where you are, have your location read aloud to you, receive directions and find places of places of interest that are near to you, all combining to give people spontaneity in their daily lives.

As for the future – who knows? From turning your phone into a magnifying glass to becoming a telecare tool, a portable health monitor and AAC device, there are apps that can already do so much to help people live an independent life… and these are just apps that we’ve heard about in the last couple of weeks!

We’re starting to see emergence of disabled people working with talented technically minded people to identify problems and create the solutions.

- How important is digital accessibility?

Digital accessibility is critical as it may be the only means a disabled person has of independently engaging in a timely fashion with service providers.

A classic example of this is a friend of mine who is registered blind. Digital accessibility allows him to read his post and check his bank statements, and therefore to run his business and earn a living. Just 10 years ago much of this was not possible and he had to employ a PA to manage these tasks, which often took much longer and encroached on his privacy.

However, one of my pet hates at the moment is where organisations have attempted digital inclusion but have not ‘connected the dots’. Regularly I come up against this when trying to buy tickets for events and accessible tickets are not available to buy online. There is inevitably a phone number to ring and as I can’t use the phone I have to get other people to do this on my behalf – frustrating is an understatement!

- What does the future hold for Euan’s Guide?

Of particular interest to me is what people think of the site and how we can improve it and we regularly make changes to the site based on their suggestions. And we would always like more reviews, by more reviewers!

Euan’s Guide

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.

Citizen journalists find their voice on the virtual high street

A wheelchair user’s struggle to use the car park at the town hall, to attend her brother’s wedding; an elderly man’s description of how he improved his diet to help his health; and one woman’s tale of learning sign language to help others. These are all real examples of self-help and mutual support videos created by and for an inspirational project in the South West of England offering older people and people with disabilities peer support for independent living, writes Tristan Parker.

The online video project ‘ADTV’ was launched by Access Dorset, a user-led charity partnership formed in 2010 by 17 organisations across the county supporting people with disabilities, older people and carers.

The project’s website features a ‘virtual high street’, with different areas representing different aspects of independent living such as transport, safety, money matters and leisure. Clicking on each of these topics takes the user to a series of videos made by the site’s members sharing stories and experiences on that topic.

The videos are well-made, thanks to ‘citizen journalism’ skills such as writing a storyboard and producing a short video taught to some of the site’s members by Bournemouth University. Members are also taught how to train others as citizen journalists, to help the project grow.

Dave Thompson, development manager at Access Dorset, told E-Access Bulletin the idea for the virtual high street and user-centred videos arose from extensive consultation with organisations that work with older people and those with disabilities.

“We’re a small organisation without a huge amount of funding, so how do we go about making films that can actually tell those stories and produce them as cheaply as possible? That’s where we came up with the idea of looking at the broader concept of citizen journalism”, Thompson said.

Dr Einar Thorsen, senior lecturer in journalism and communication at Bournemouth University, has been taking a key role in teaching Access Dorset members the citizen journalism skills needed to produce their videos. “The project has different ways of empowering people”, Thorsen told E-Access Bulletin.

Many of those making the videos are concerned about a lack of coverage or inefficient coverage of issues associated with disability, impairments and ageing in mainstream media, Thorsen said. “The website has an empowering function to give otherwise marginalised voices an ability to be heard, and that’s quite a powerful thing”, Thorsen said.

Funding for ADTV has arrived from a diverse range of national and local funders and sponsors. The Office for Disability Issues has provided grant funding, and organisations can sponsor individual sections of the virtual high street: Bluebird Care in Dorset sponsor the ‘Our Home’ section and Castlepoint Shopping Park in Bournemouth sponsor ‘Leisure’.

In the longer term, Thompson said there is “a possibility of replicating and broadening out” the project in other parts of the UK, although the current focus is on developing it around Dorset. “We’ve already had a few conversations about the possibility of how we could take the concept and share it with others”, he said. “We need to look at different ways of funding the project, and part of that is scaling up.”

Coming soon to a virtual high street near you?

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