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Archive for the 'Digital inclusion' Category

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Innovation and impact honoured at Tech4Good Awards

A digital audio navigation system and a portable asthma management device are two of the winners in this year’s Tech4Good Awards, which recognises projects and individuals that are using technology to improve lives.

People honoured at the event included an IT volunteer who helped to set up a charity by establishing its ICT systems, and digital inclusion expert and campaigner Robin Christopherson.

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Steering digital inclusion from the driving seat: Q&A with Robin Christopherson, AbilityNet

When he helped co-found UK technology access charity AbilityNet in 1998, Robin Christopherson was already on his way to helping drive forward digital accessibility, and since then his work has continued to change people’s lives. He is now AbilityNet’s head of digital inclusion, after helping to grow the charity’s services. These services include website and mobile accessibility consultancy, which AbilityNet now delivers to companies including Microsoft, the BBC, HSBC and Sainsbury’s.

Christopherson has also led and worked on all manner of projects and campaigns to increase digital accessibility, particularly for blind and visually impaired people. This has included providing expert commentary for news sources such as The Guardian, and presenting on and testing new technology, whether that’s a driverless car or the latest smartwatch.

In recognition of his valuable contributions, he was surprised with a special award at the annual Tech4Good Awards earlier this month. e-Access Bulletin caught up with Christopherson to find out more about his work and get his thoughts on the evolution of accessibility.

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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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Governments warned not to “exclude millions” by legalising digital barriers

A letter from 20 NGOs has warned European ministers of the severe impact on disabled citizens’ lives that proposed changes to a web accessibility directive would have.

If exemptions to the EU Directive on the accessibility of public sector bodies’ websites are adopted, then electronic communication with public organisations, downloading documents and accessing intranets at work will all be affected, and in some cases made impossible for disabled citizens throughout Europe, say the NGOs.

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UK-wide digital champions network launches, backed by £2 million

Home-based digital skills training will be given to elderly people and those with disabilities in a newly launched project.

One Digital is a UK initiative to improve digital literacy around the country, led by a consortium of six charities and training organisations, funded through £2 million from grant-giving organisation the Big Lottery Fund. These partner organisations will work on separate projects, but all will be involved with training digital champions to pass on their skills.

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“Embedded outreach” key to digital inclusion, conference hears

Digital inclusion projects must work with community and voluntary sector bodies if the UK is to ensure people with disabilities engage with the digital world, a national conference has heard.

The call was made by Jude Palmer, managing director of Digital Outreach, a social enterprise formed in 2007 by three organisations – Community Service Volunteers, Age UK and CEL Group – to run outreach work for the UK’s digital TV switchover.

Research at the time from lead TV switchover body Digital UK found there was a group of about 20% of the population who would not naturally engage with a major mainstream publicity campaign, Palmer told delegates at November’s digital inclusion conference hosted by non-profit Tinder Foundation.

These included older people, people with a disability and those for whom English is not their first language, all of whom can be socially isolated, she said.

“A lot of people found the switchover daunting, because TV for a lot of people is their main connection out into society”, Palmer said. “They were putting their head in the sand, saying ‘it’s technical, it’s not for me, why do I need to change? I’m perfectly OK as I am’. So a lot of this resonates with why people have not got online yet.”

The key to developing a successful strategy to reaching people in these groups was to work with and through voluntary and community groups who are already interacting with and trusted by them, she said.

Palmer said the nature of “embedded outreach” was “about people hearing messages from the person they see every week, every day: finding that one person and that one organisation that they do trust and interact with.

“We often describe it as ‘knitting’ – we were able to knit organisations together so you can cut across geographical barriers, social groups. You need to ask – how can you develop relationships with local voluntary and community groups?”

Once the right groups have been found, it is important for digital inclusion groups to strike the right balance between passing them consistent materials to fit their own messages, and allowing the trusted intermediaries to remain in control, she said.

“It is about making sure you work consistently with every organisation so key messaging is cascaded down, and people are signposted consistently for where they can get further help.

But at the same time once you hand over the framework, [you must] leave it to the organisation to deliver that. What we find with embedded outreach is there needs to be an investment from those organisations as well, and that is a really big ask.”

In the course of its work, Digital Outreach was asked to run a trial project in the North West of England to see how its embedded outreach model for digital TV might work for broader digital inclusion, and the results strongly supported the concept, Palmer said.

Overall, research found that some 77% of people reacted positively to online training if it was led by someone they knew, compared with only 17% reacting positively to a session led by someone they did not know.

One Voice launches 2015 election pledge campaign

A campaign urging all UK political parties to add digital accessibility pledges to their 2015 election manifestos has been launched by the One Voice for Accessible ICT Coalition.

The coalition is an umbrella group of organisations from all sectors including Leonard Cheshire Disability; BT; Middlesex University; Business Disability Forum and Barclays Bank.

Its new campaign has two main parts: a direct approach to the political parties and a petition on the open campaigns website ’38 Degrees’.

It is centred on a call for “all political parties to reaffirm their previously stated goals for equal opportunities and economic growth, by adding a statement to their 2015 election manifestos pledging to improve access by people with disabilities to digital public services, the digital economy and the workplace.

It is vital that action is taken in this field now, to ensure we keep on top of the rising problem of digital discrimination.”

In particular, the coalition is asking the main UK parties to pledge if elected to t review of anti-discrimination law to “see if it is fit for purpose in the digital age; and to see how existing laws, guidelines and standards on access to digital goods and services by disabled and older people can be better enforced across all sectors.”

In background information published alongside the petition, the coalition notes that the government has already published reasonable accessibility guidelines in its Government Service Design Manual for the Digital by Default Service Standard.

However, it warns: “We are concerned that such messages are still not strongly enough promoted or enforced across the whole of government. And outside central government, in local government and the NHS for example, the pattern of accessibility of digital services is even more patchy.

“It is also a concern that the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which was set up in 2006 with a mandate to “challenge discrimination”, has undertaken very little research, issued little guidance and carried out little enforcement work in this vital area. This is a clear indicator that review of anti-discrimination law enforcement in this field is urgently needed.”

Andy Heath, a consultant on digital accessibility and One Voice council member who is running the petition on behalf of the coalition, told E-Access Bulletin this week: “Technology can serve us all, or if we let it, it can serve only the few. Accessibility of digital information in the UK is not a done deal, its a work in progress.

“I see the support of the next government it as crucial to the progress of inclusion and accessibility in the UK and making a high level manifesto statement would show a commitment to that. We need the policy vision out there in view so all can see, not buried in a dusty filing cabinet. Whether you believe competition between people, organisations and nations, is a good way to go or not, we cannot afford to waste the talents of any of our people by excluding them – for their sakes and ours.”

Heath urged all readers of E-Access Bulletin to sign the petition, Building an Inclusive Society, and promote it on social media and through other channels, as the parties enter the final stages of their manifesto-setting processes this summer.

Shifting barriers for older people: Time for a change

Why do older people make less use of computers and digital services than younger people? writes Ann Bajina.

Of course, there is the perception that they don’t want to simply because the digital world is new, but I don’t think that is always the reason. There are some real problems with access for older people.

Let’s look first at the positives, as an older person myself – recognising that I couldn’t do without my laptop now, having resisted buying one for a few years! It’s great to be able to stay in touch with relatives and friends without needing to know if they are available to take a phone call, and without the feeling that a letter needs to contain important news. I have had health problems and have needed to report in to my daughter every morning and evening just to reassure her that I am OK. By email it is easy – I don’t even need to know if she is up yet! And it’s free, whether we are countries apart or next door.

Then mobile phones – what would we do without them now? I take issue with those friends who say they only use them in emergencies and switch them off otherwise – so my question is: so it’s only an emergency you have that matters, not one someone else might have?

I understand they do not want to be fiddling with answering the phone in the middle of doing something else, and that’s if they can actually find it – which leads to one of the difficulties for older people – hearing it ring in the first place! I think many older people find mobile phones intrusive, not helped by (mostly) younger people chatting at full volume on trains and buses! I haven’t any experience yet with smart phones, for reasons I will describe shortly.

Other major positives for older people include remotely controlled burglar alarm systems, alarm systems on a phone to alert someone of health issues, and even for some people, games!

However, there are problems which get worse the older you get. Here are my main gripes.

Touch screens are a nice idea but almost impossible to use if you have shaky hands, and most of us do eventually.

Small devices are a problem as well, as we often can’t read the screens. Even this Notebook computer I am using is difficult. It is rarely intuitive finding out how to increase the text size, and then there’s no room on the screen without lots of scrolling. I’ve just found how to do it for this article!

Passwords and PIN numbers – another problem. We’re told not to write them down but to have different ones for each application. I couldn’t have remembered them if I’d obeyed this rule years ago, now it is impossible. Quite apart from issues such as failing memory, we now have so many.

Then there are constantly changing computer operating systems. I read a letter in the Saga magazine just this morning pleading for fewer of these. It nearly always depends on having some younger techie to explain and implement changes, and not all of us have access to such people. Even after a full career in IT I am seriously out of date and have no confidence in being able to deal with this problem. Associated with this is the cost of getting new hardware and software – many older people can’t afford to change even if they wanted to.

Anti-virus systems are an even more complicated example of the above. And a particular irritation is being offered extra features on a trial basis and then not being able to say you don’t want them.

Finally, spam is a nuisance for everyone, but it is counter-intuitive to expect older people to avoid putting details say of their email address on a form when asked to do so. We’re much less likely to realise when this is risky. This leads to the issue of scare stories and hoaxes – I always advise my friends to check with Snopes.com before opening anything they don’t recognise, and never to download anything they don’t know about – but they don’t know about software upgrades they need either!

In conclusion, there’s quite a lot of education needed for my generation who mostly had almost no experience of computers in their working lives. But they are not going to do it – they don’t see why they should and in any case, it just makes them recognise how little they know and how much can go wrong! And cost again is a factor.

So, what do we need? Fewer changes; cheaper support networks; clearer instructions on how to increase volume and text size and swap between mouse and touch screen systems; and older people serving in computer shops! And how about bringing back paper copies of manuals– if you don’t know how to use your computer, how do you find the help system?

NOTE: Ann Bajina worked for more than 50 years in IT, and is now gratefully retired.

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?

Care Home Workers ‘Lack Digital Confidence and Skills’

Many people who work with older people and disabled people in care homes lack digital skills and are poorly placed to help residents use the internet and other vital tools, eAccess 13 delegates heard.

“We often find that the people who work with those in care are not particularly confident or skilled in their use of digital,” said Miles Maier, ICT champion at LASA, an organisation which helps charities and voluntary groups use technology.

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