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Issue 199 contents
Section One: News
01: Assistive tech can close disability employment gap and end UK’s ‘productivity deadlock’, claims parliamentary committee.
– Government must ‘up its own game’ and lead by example, report claims.
02: Improve online booking to make live music events disability-friendly, says report.
– Legal action considered by some customers due to access booking issues.
03: New online travel guide opens up UK attractions for accessible travel.
– Britain’s best sights reviewed for access.
Section Two: News in brief
04: Global Reach – Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2018.
05: Audiovisual Equality – Accessible media content legislation.
06: Translation Trial – AI-powered translator service in classrooms.
Section Three: The Inbox – Readers’ forum
07: Ray Vision Rating Required – Smartphone app queries.
Section Four: Report
08: Can smart tech create smart homes for older people?
Effective care for the elderly is a complex and urgent topic, but a new report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers suggests that technology can help create smart homes that older people can safely remain in for longer. What’s more, the move could save care services millions of pounds, says the report. E-Access Bulletin investigates what makes a smart home.
Section One: News
01: Assistive tech can close disability employment gap and end UK’s ‘productivity deadlock’, claims parliamentary committee
A new report from the Work and Pensions Committee (WPC) claims that the Government – and particularly the Department of Work and Pensions, DWP – must lead by example and focus on assistive technology (AT) to boost both disability employment rates and the UK economy.
Other recommendations in the report include widening the scope of Personal Independence Payments (financial help for people with disabilities) to allow claimants to lease or buy assistive technology, and updating training for Access to Work scheme staff to help more people use AT.
Key to the report is the idea that AT needs to be pushed into the mainstream market to increase its use and effectiveness, simultaneously helping to lift the UK economy and productivity. The report claims that “The necessary rapid innovation and mass-marketisation of AT will only happen if the Government makes concerted efforts to stimulate entrepreneurship and drive forward advances – in the interests of promoting equality but also in the national economic interest.”
Writing about the report, Frank Field MP, Chair of the WPC, said: “Assistive technology could be a real game-changer for the UK economy … But DWP must vastly up its own game so that employers and disabled people – in or out of work – are fully able to benefit from all it has to offer. If we are finally to make any real progress towards closing the disability employment gap and ending the UK’s notorious productivity deadlock, Government must put assistive technology at the centre of its whole approach to supporting disability employment.”
The report was broadly welcomed by charities and disability advocacy groups. Writing on behalf of RNIB (the Royal National Institute of Blind People), Lucy Dixon, RNIB’s Policy Manager, called for the DWP to implement the report’s recommendations “as a matter of urgency” and for the Government to commit resources to Access to Work, “to ensure that people with sight loss and employers are fully aware of and able to benefit from all that assistive technology has to offer.”
Technology access charity AbilityNet also supported the report’s recommendations, calling on Government to raise awareness of cost-effective mainstream AT among employers and people with disabilities.
The report’s findings and recommendations draw on a government inquiry into employment and ATorganised by the WPC in January, and a recent meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Assistive Technology (APPGAT), which explored the role of AT in the UK Industrial Strategy.
Read the Work and Pensions Committee’s report at the UK Parliament website. The report is available in full or summary, in a range of accessible formats.
02: Improve online booking to make live music events disability-friendly, says report
A survey has found that 79% of people with disabilities have been put off buying live music tickets due to problems with booking access requirements, and 73% have felt discriminated against when booking, with many of the issues related to problematic websites and online booking systems.
The findings are taken from the State of Access Report 2018, published by the Attitude is Everything charity. The report examines the process of ‘access booking’ for live music events, defined as booking ‘reasonable adjustments’ or access requirements alongside tickets. This could include wheelchair accessible spaces, step-free seats, or additional tickets for a ‘personal assistant’ to attend a show and provide support.
The State of Access results are based on the experiences of 349 respondents to a survey, comprised of 293 ‘deaf and disabled people’ (84%) and 56 people who book access on behalf of someone who is deaf or disabled (16%).
Other key findings were that 82% of respondents had experienced problems when booking access, and 11% had considered taking legal action as a result of problems encountered.
Although the majority of people (70%) preferred to book online, the report uncovered a number of issues with the process, including inaccessible websites and booking systems. As the report notes, “The industry makes considerable use of splash pages and pop-ups with images overlaid with embedded text – design decisions which render information effectively invisible to some users using assisted technology”.
Lack of clear access information was another issue. Respondents noted that not all music venues provide this information on their websites, making them reluctant to book tickets for gigs at those venues.
Jacob Adams, Campaign Manager at Attitude is Everything (which works to improve live music access for people with disabilities), told e-Access Bulletin that although stricter legislation on website accessibility might help the situation, the focus needed to be on other approaches. He said: “We think a bigger priority is to encourage companies to take a joined-up approach to website accessibility, incorporating not just the technical side, but the teams responsible for graphics and text-based information. We want to support the industry to pass on responsibility to all involved in working together to improve website accessibility.”
Despite the barriers, there were positive findings in the report. Three quarters of respondents thought that the situation for deaf and disabled customers when booking access for live music events “had either improved or stayed the same over the last four years.”
The report also discusses the potential for ticketing companies and venues to set up ‘online access booking’ – in other words, giving customers the ability to view and select different access requirements during the online booking stage.
To help work towards this and address other booking issues, the Ticketing Without Barriers Coalition has been established, featuring organisations from across the music industry, including key ticketing companies (such as Ticketmaster and See Tickets), live music venues (including The O2 and Barbican in London) and events companies (such as Live Nation and Festival Republic).
Speaking about the Ticketing Without Barriers Coalition, Adams said: “A major aim of the coalition is to encourage a uniform approach to access booking across the industry. An increasing number of ticketing companies are now engaging with us directly to assist them in looking at their website accessibility, so we hope that many improvements will be achieved in the coming years.”
Find out more about State of Access 2018 and read the report in full, in PDF or text, at the Attitude is Everything website.
03: New online travel guide opens up UK attractions for accessible travel
A comprehensive publication detailing access facilities at venues and attractions across the UK has been released digitally by travel guides company Rough Guides and made available for free.
‘The Rough Guide to Accessible Britain’ aims to help people with a range of access requirements plans trips around the UK. The newly updated seventh version of the guide features specific information for people with autism and cognitive conditions.
A wide variety of attractions, sights and cultural hotspots around Britain are covered in over 180 reviews, including museums and galleries, coastal trails, sports and activities centres, animal sanctuaries and zoos, markets and historical landmarks. The guide states that every venue has been reviewed by a team of writers who either have a disability or have visited the venue with someone who has a disability.
Reviews feature a summary of each venue and its highlights, and as the guide’s introduction explains, each review also includes “details about facilities for disabled visitors, plus ideas for places to eat on site or nearby.” Separate ‘town reviews’ explore access and attractions in different UK regions.
Venue facilities are flagged up, including facilities for those with mobility impairments, facilities for people who are blind or visually impaired, wheelchair access, guide dog access, accessible toilets and BSL (British Sign Language) interpreters.
The authors also worked with specialist organisations, including the National Autistic Society, to highlight features for people with autism and cognitive conditions, such as quiet spaces and ‘sensory stories’ for children.
‘The Rough Guide to Accessible Britain’ is available to view or download for free at Motability.co.uk, a vehicle and wheelchair lease scheme for people with disabilities.
[Section One ends]
Section Two: News in brief
04: Global Reach
Preparations are taking place across the world for Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) on May 17, to raise awareness of digital accessibility issues faced by people with disabilities. Public and virtual events are organised to mark GAAD, with the BBC and Lloyds Banking Group being two UK organisations involved this year. GAAD’s organisers are encouraging people to experience accessibility problems first-hand on the day, through actions such as ‘going mouseless’ and surfing the web using a screen-reader for an hour. E-Access Bulletin’s Accessibility Advisor, Nick Freear, has created an open source GAAD widget banner-link that can be easily embedded on any website. To find out more and try it out, visit Nick Freear’s blog.
05: Audiovisual Equality
Media service providers in Europe will need to make audiovisual content more accessible for people with disabilities, thanks to new revisions to the European Union’s Audiovisual Media Services Directive. The changes have been informally agreed and look likely to be transposed into law later this year. If this happens, the new rules will apply to broadcasters, streaming services and video-sharing platforms, including Netflix, Facebook and YouTube, and should mean increased audio-description and subtitling.
06: Translation Trial
The artificial intelligence-powered Microsoft Translator service is being piloted at Rochester Institute of Technology in the United States, to help 1,500 deaf and hard of hearing students. As professors speak in lectures, their words are translated into high quality, real-time captions on screens using speech recognition technology, which can be sent to students’ mobile phones using the Microsoft Translator app.
[Section Two ends]
Notice: Thomas Pocklington Trust
E-Access Bulletin is brought to you with the kind support of Thomas Pocklington Trust, a national charity delivering positive change for people with sight loss. Find out more about their work at the Thomas Pocklington Trust website.
Section Three: The Inbox – Readers’ Forum
07: Ray Vision Rating Required
Regular correspondent Anthony Bernard gets in contact to ask for advice about a mobile app called RAY Vision. The app is designed for people who are blind and visually impaired, and aims to make smartphones easier to operate without relying on a visual interface. Users can work features on their phone through gestures and voice operation, such as sending messages via the WhatsApp communication tool or emailing.
An optional add-on is a series of adhesive tags that are stuck to the back of the user’s phone, producing temporary ‘tactile buttons’ that create shortcuts to different functions. Anthony would like to find out more about the app from anyone who’s used it:
“Dear fellow readers, I am interested in the RAY Vision mobile app. Can any readers tell me about their experience of using it, including installation procedures and what phones it will work on? Also, can anyone tell me more about the hardware sticker that can be stuck on to the back of the phone? Some phones have fingerprint identification on the back, so will this prevent the RAY Vision sticker being attached there?”
If anyone has any experience of or knowledge about RAY Vision, please let Anthony know by contacting us on email@example.com. And that same email address can be used for any other questions or comments.
[Section Three ends]
Notice: RNIB Connect Radio and e-Access Bulletin
E-Access Bulletin will be appearing on RNIB Connect Radio each month on The Early Edition programme. Hear more about the Bulletin and upcoming content appearing in each issue, as we discuss the latest accessible technology news and readers’ questions with Allan Russell.
Episodes will be available after broadcast as podcasts from the RNIB Connect Radio site. Listen to RNIB Connect Radio online or via television, smartphone or radio. Find more information about the Early Edition at the RNIB Connect Radio website.
Section Four: Report
08: Can smart tech create smart homes for older people?
The phrase ‘smart homes’ may bring to mind images from science fiction, and thoughts of robots vacuuming and cooking for their human masters, but the reality is far simpler and within reach – and it could save the NHS and social care services millions of pounds per year.
Smart home technology is, in fact, already being used (the Amazon Echo, for example) and will only keep on growing in popularity. But its use and the types of technologies need to be assessed and accelerated in order to address a crucial and often-overlooked issue: care for the elderly.
A report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, ‘Healthy Homes: Accommodating an Ageing Population’, explores how home technology can benefit older people and allow them to stay healthy and independent, remaining in their homes for longer and therefore taking pressure off care services.
As ambitious as that may sound, it doesn’t have to mean creating incredible devices or building brand new homes fitted out with connected (and expensive) technology. As the Healthy Homes report highlights, retrofitting or adding “simple technological adaptions” (which could include something as basic as fitting handrails or changing the location of appliances to make them more accessible) can vastly benefit occupants and help drive a market for devices designed to assist older people.
Crucially, the aim of smart homes from this perspective is not to create an environment that does everything for an older person. Exercise, both physical and cognitive, is key to remaining healthy as we age. The report points out that “The objective is to encourage physical activities while performing routine tasks, by maximising [the occupant’s] activity in-line with their health ability.”
This could include a chair that assists an older person in standing, but still requires them to expend some effort in the process. Stepping it up a notch, those sci-fi devices are out there if you do want them, as Dr Helen Meese – Head of Healthcare at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and author of the Healthy Homes report – explained to e-Access Bulletin.
“One technology I like is the ‘fall prediction’ carpet, which can not only raise the alarm if you do fall, but through sensors built into the fibre weave, it can analyse your gait and predict if you are going to have a fall before it happens. This kind of technology could have a significant impact on hospital admissions and save the NHS millions.”
While smart carpets for every home may be a way off, smart home tech is already very much underway. Over 433 million smart home devices were shipped in 2017 and market research firm IDC predicts that 940 million devices will be shipped by 2022. Meese points to figures from research firm Gartner, predicting that by 2020, the average home will have more than 500 connected devices. While this doesn’t focus exclusively on technology that benefits older people, it shows that things are moving fast.
But if it’s clear that home technology can help older people, why isn’t it being used more widely? Joe Oldman, Consumer and Community Policy Advisor at Age UK, flags up a number of barriers, including lack of awareness of both the technology available technology and its benefits, both in older people and health professionals advising them. Oldman also points out that lack of internet access, particularly in rural areas with poor or non-existent Wi-Fi, will have an impact here.
Rachael Docking, Senior Evidence Manager at independent charitable foundation the Centre for Ageing Better, also cites lack of awareness as a barrier to adoption of smart home technology. “Many people in later life do not self-identify as needing to adapt their home or make other changes to help them as they enter later life. Those technologies and smart home solutions which are available are not necessarily driven by what older people themselves want or perceive as needed in their home.”
This is the root of a much larger problem in terms of assistive equipment for elderly people, as Docking explains: “There is a lack of understanding of who products are being designed for and the wants/needs of that market. It should be less about making new products and more about looking at how current products are marketed. There is no visibility of home aids and adaptations in the mainstream retail market.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, these problems and related issues are unearthed in the Healthy Homes report, as Helen Meese confirms when discussing some of its key findings: “All too often, technology aimed at older people emphasises their growing frailty and decline, and is regularly aimed at healthcare providers rather than actual users, rendering the product overly clinical and unappealing.”
So, what can be done to change the current situation? With such a range of factors at play and so many different parties involved (older people, technology manufacturers, retailers, government, housing associations, home builders), the solutions are varied and often long-term in scope.
However, it’s not difficult to see key themes emerge in these solutions. Raising awareness for everyone involved can only help the situation and lead to a deeper understanding of the benefits of home technology and what this technology needs to achieve.
And when it comes to raising awareness in end-users, this may not be as difficult as some might assume. “I think the assumption that older people don’t like technology is a misnomer,” says Meese, pointing to information in the Healthy Homes report: “Today’s over 65s are relatively well-informed about technology and often want to be engaged in decisions and processes regarding their health and care.”
Looking to the future, organisations that design and build homes will have an increasingly important role to play in creating effective smart homes. “Home builders need to think about the incorporation of age-friendly design into new homes that make the application of assistive tech easier,” says Joe Oldman. “The development of smart homes needs to be linked to improvements in building regulations to make homes more accessible and healthier. For example, improved design features to help people avoid trip and falls.”
Those involved with the design and manufacture of technology and assistive devices will quickly find themselves in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Speaking about the report’s recommendations, Meese explains that suppliers and manufacturers must prepare for increasing customer demand for devices that assist older people, or else “face losing out to more responsive, age-friendly businesses.”
As Meese puts it: “Manufacturers should be mindful of designing products ‘for all’ which offer self-improvement, stimulation and enhance lifestyle, not focusing on limited specialist use. Creating discreet devices and equipment that can either be worn or built into clothing – or hidden in home furniture and appliances and put away when not in use – must be a priority. The report highlights that incorporating simple technological adaptions could not only change the way we live, but create economies of scale for age-friendly devices.”
Rachael Docking also stresses the need for improved retailing and marketing: “We are currently completely missing the wider consumer market/universal design market and practical innovations that can support people to remain at home. We need to focus on how we stimulate design in aids and adaptations, and work with retailers to take those products to market. Until the products are right, people will not want them in their home.”
As all the experts we spoke to pointed out, however, the importance of utilising, fixing or updating existing devices already in homes cannot be underestimated. “There is a danger of being dazzled by new technology and forgetting the basic housing features that make a home comfortable, safe and accessible for older people,” says Joe Oldman.
Perhaps, then, the message is that until the day when those super-smart robots can take care of all our smart home needs and provide that perfect level of care for older people, it might be best to put aside the sci-fi dreams aside for a while and concentrate on what technology and care options are just around the corner – and what’s already out there. Ignoring this simply isn’t an option anymore for anyone, regardless of age or ability.
Find out more and read ‘Healthy Homes: Accommodating an Ageing Population’ in full (PDF only).
[Section Four ends]
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Editor: Tristan Parker
Technical Director: Jake Jellinek
Accessibility Advisor: Dr. Nick Freear
ISSUE 199 ends.