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Archive for the 'Profiles' Category

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.


Erik Weihenmayer, Adventurer: Scaling The Heights Of Possibility

By Andrea Tarquini, translated by Margherita Giordano.

Erik Weihenmayer has climbed Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain, and descended Mount Elbrus, the highest peak in Europe, skiing to base camp. Now he is preparing to ride the rapids of the Grand Canyon’s Colorado River in a kayak. Extreme sports always offer extreme challenges, but for Weihenmayer, the level of difficulty is different: he is blind, after contracting retinoschisis at the age of three.

Weihenmayer, 44, an American of German origin, lost his sight gradually until his eyes were removed as a teenager and as a young man, to be replaced with prosthetics. “I was not afraid of going blind, but of ending up marginalised,” he told Lukas Eberle, a writer at the German newspaper “Der Spiegel”. “Sometimes it’s frustrating, it’s a daily struggle with yourself and with your limitations that you would almost pull out your hair,” said Weihenmayer.


How To Spell Innovation: Neil Cottrell – Founder, LexAble

By Tristan Parker

After being diagnosed with dyslexia as a child, Neil Cottrell used various forms of assistive technology to help him study. He went on to develop his own autocorrective software, Global AutoCorrect, forming the company LexAble to develop and market it. Global AutoCorrect has now sold about 10,000 copies. E-Access Bulletin spoke to Cottrell about how his own innovations helped him achieve a first-class degree at university and start his own business.


Karen Darke, Adventurer and Paralympian: A Thirst for Adventure

By Tristan Parker

Paralympic athlete and adventurer Karen Darke has always been a keen sports and outdoor enthusiast. At the age of 21 she became paralysed from the chest down after a climbing accident, but this did nothing to quell her passion for adventure. Over the coming years she undertook numerous intrepid – and often dangerous – trips across the globe before training for the 2012 Paralympic Games, where she competed as a member of the British Cycling Team.

Darke took part in several handcycling events at the London Games, including the road race over 48km (where she captured the headlines by crossing the finish line hand-in-hand with British team-mate Rachel Morris) and the road time trial over 16km, in which she earned a silver medal. Recently, she has supported Go ON Gold, a national campaign to raise awareness of the importance of access to technology by disabled people. Tristan Parker (TP) caught up with her (no mean feat) to ask her about her life, plans and greatest achievements:

Ro O’Shay: The World at My Fingertips

After training as a clinical support worker, US-based blogger Ro O’Shay was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2006, before losing her sight in 2008. Since then, the internet and new communications technologies have gradually become a lifeline for her, and she is now a keen writer and technology-user. Tristan Parker talks to her about her passion for technology.


Profile Feature – Simon Stevens: A High Flyer in Two Worlds

Simon Stevens is a high achiever. A manufacturing and business graduate of Coventry University, he now works as an independent disability consultant, trainer and activist and has provided accessibility consultancy to eBay, lectured to students at universities, and helped organise and run European youth seminars.

He has even appeared in a Channel 4 TV comedy series, ‘I’m Spazticus’ – a new take on the hidden camera prank show – which ran in August during the run-up to the Paralympic Games and can still be viewed on the channel’s “4oD” online catch-up service.

Stevens, who has cerebral palsy affecting his speech, mobility, hand control and balance, is also a techno-wizard. He uses a PC, iPad and Lightwriter text to speech communication aid, and says such advances have benefited him hugely in day-to-day life.

“Technology enables me to do so many things and to be an independent, active citizen”, he says. “Without computers, email and internet… I would not be able to work from home, I would be more socially isolated, and it would be harder to do my banking, my shopping and order takeaways to be delivered. Most importantly it would be much harder to have a voice in society as a contributing citizen and be able to be heard in the way I believe I am.”

As long-term readers of E-Access Bulletin will also be aware, Stevens is also a pioneer in the popular online virtual world Second Life, becoming its first full-time virtual wheelchair user – meaning his online character or “avatar” is also in a wheelchair – when he joined in 2006. “While this felt very normal for me, I was unaware of the impact my decision to use a wheelchair made on others,” says Simon. “I have been interviewed in top mainstream media, like BBC World Service, about the issue, and it has been studied and researched by people all over the world.”

Soon after joining, Simon opened ‘Wheelies’, the world’s first disability-themed virtual nightclub in Second Life, with the aim of it being a friendly and inclusive place for disabled and non-disabled people from around the world to meet and have a virtual dance to the club’s music. In 2008, Simon was awarded the UK Catalyst ‘Revolutionary’ Award by then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown for his work on Wheelies.

Simon believes it is important for people with impairments to recognise the solutions that technology can provide, although he is aware that cost can be a significant barrier. It can expensive to replace a computer or tablet computer that may only last several years, with the added difficulty of finding reliable repair services when needed, he says.

Despite this, Simon believes that technology can be a key factor for increasing the ability of disabled people to become “modern, contributing citizens.” He says: “The internet gives everyone direct power over their lives and the ability to express themselves… in a way no previous generation has had. The technology has its practical difficulties, but it is far more accessible in comparison with other methods of communication, and therefore is an equaliser for so many disabled people.”

The achievement of which Simon is proudest is his 2004 award in the ‘Community’ category of the first Enterprising Young Brits Award. “The reason it was my greatest achievement was that it was a mainstream competition where I was the only disabled finalist, and as someone with a speech impairment who has faced a lot of prejudices in my life, it is a true recognition of how far technology has enabled me to make a difference.”

As for the future, he says: “I would like to continue to make a difference and demonstrate what someone with a significant impairment can achieve with the assistance of technology. I also look forward to the continuing improvement of technology, where we can achieve more and more in a way that is easier and easier.”

NOTE: Simon is a video champion for Go ON Gold, a new national campaign to promote awareness of the barriers disabled people face in accessing technology, and help people overcome those barriers. The campaign is supported by E-Access Bulletin, To find out more, including an exclusive video interview with Simon Stevens, see the Go ON Gold website.

And to find out more about Simon and his work, visit his website.