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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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Standards Developers Urged to Support Older and Disabled People

People working on technical standards for mainstream products and services must be more aware of the needs of older and disabled people, delegates at eAccess 13 heard in a closing session in speakers raised key points for the future of accessibility.

Gill Whitney, head of the Design for All Research Group at Middlesex University, said that in a recent survey of committee members by the British Standards Institution, only one third answered ‘yes’ to the question: “Do any of your standardisation activities involve the standardisation of products or services where the accessibility for older and disabled people needs to be considered?”

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eAccess 13 – Debate: The Price of Software Freedom

By Dan Jellinek.

With some assistive technology software such as specialist text-to-speech screenreaders being relatively expensive to buy, moves have been underway for some time to widen the role that free and open source software can play in supporting the IT needs of people with disabilities.

However, while free software sounds like a great idea – and an even better price – its development is not always so straightforward, delegates heard at the recent eAccess 13 conference in London.

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Access to the Internet by Older People and Mobile Tips at Heart of e-Access 13

Access to the internet in homes for the elderly and developing inclusive services on smartphones and tablet computers are among topics on the agenda at e-Access 13, the UK’s leading event on access to technology by people with disabilities.

Delegates will hear about the Connecting Care project, looking at how care homes for older people can make the most of new technology to support their organisation, carers and service users. The project is run by Lasa, a technology support group for charities and public sector bodies, with funding from the Department of Health.

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Web Accessibility: One Million Steps: Boosting Access Awareness, One Website at a Time.

By Robin Christopherson

Recent research shows that the great majority of websites are still failing consistently to comply with even the lowest priority checkpoints of the accessibility guidelines set out by the international web standards body the World Wide Web Consortium. Despite a plethora of initiatives to raise awareness of this issue, from Citizens Online’s ‘Fix the Web’ campaign to Global Accessibility Awareness Day, the situation does not seem to be improving at a significant rate.

Little wonder, therefore, that one in six of us is still reluctant to venture into the online world and not surprising either that around half of those on the wrong side of the digital divide are disabled, and a similar number are aged 65 or over. The scope for mainstream technologies to transform the lives of this sizeable minority seems largely untapped.

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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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Digital Inclusion “About Everybody, Not Just Disabled People”

The concept of digital accessibility simply as a means of catering for disabled users is out-of-date: in the modern world, digital inclusion must be understood as the need to serve everybody, whatever their access method or device, a leading accessibility specialist has said.

Robin Christopherson, head of digital inclusion at technology access charity AbilityNet, told delegates at the recent national digital conference in London, ND13, that providers of digital content and services already need to adapt to new devices and access methods. With more people than ever accessing websites through mobile and other devices, we are in a situation where “everybody is disabled from time-to-time”, Christopherson said.

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Disability Still A Major Factor In Determining UK Internet Use, Report Finds

UK adults with a disability are still three times less likely to have used the internet than those without a disability, a report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has shown.

The figures in the latest Internet Access Quarterly Update, released every four months, show that at the first quarter of 2013, there were 3.7 million disabled adults – as defined by the Disability Discrimination Act – who had never used the internet, representing 32% of all adults in the UK with a disability.

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Tech Giant Launches Smartphone For Older People

A smartphone designed for elderly people has been developed by global technology company Fujitsu.

When setting up the Stylistic S01 phone the user inputs their age, which customises some aspects to work differently. For example, the audio frequency range will be optimised for older people so they can clearly hear the voice of the person they are speaking to, and the phone can also slow down the speech of a caller without losing audio quality, again making it easier to understand.

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