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Issue 202 contents
Section One: News
01: Lawsuit claims Apple’s website is inaccessible for visually impaired users.
– Complaint alleges violation of rights and “intentional discrimination”.
02: Driverless cars and advanced tech highlighted in new Government transport plan.
– Digital wayfinding systems and dementia-friendly apps also featured.
03: Disabled music fans asked to get vocal about access barriers at live shows.
– Online research and ‘mystery shoppers’ aim to guide the music industry.
Section Two: News in brief
04: Streamlining Braille – Reprogrammable shell could reduce book size.
05: Innovation Extension – Solving problems faced by older people.
06: Accessibility Award – WAI Director’s work recognised.
Section Three: Interview
07: Going global – The Global Disability Innovation Hub.
In the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London, a small team has been working on all manner of disability-focused projects that are having an impact around the world, including a high-level assistive technology programme that aims to reach three million people. We talk to Paul Steynor, Research Development Manager at the Global Disability Innovation (GDI) Hub to find out more.
Section One: News
01: Lawsuit claims Apple’s website is inaccessible for visually impaired users
A lawsuit has been filed against electronics giant Apple in the United States, over claims that its website violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and is not fully accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired.
The action has been taken by Himelda Mendez, described as “visually-impaired and legally blind” in the complaint document. Mendez is filing the lawsuit on behalf of both herself and “others similarly situated”, according to the complaint text.
In the complaint, Mendez is described as a “proficient JAWS screen-reader user,” but has encountered “multiple access barriers” when visiting Apple.com that denied her the same level of access to the goods and services offered by the company as sighted users.
The barriers listed by Mendez include: a lack of ‘alt text’ on the site (which allows screen-readers to describe an image to the user), empty links (links without text to let the user know where it goes) and redundant links (successive links that direct to the same page), all of which can stop screen-readers from working effectively, therefore preventing the screen-reader user from understanding or navigating the page.
In the complaint document, Mendez claims that as well as violating the ADA, Apple’s site does not conform to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, an internationally recognised set of accessibility standards. This lack of WCAG-compliance, says Mendez, means that Apple has “engaged in acts of intentional discrimination” against people who are visually impaired.
To resolve the issue, Mendez is seeking a ‘permanent injunction’ that requires Apple to take various measures. These include: training Apple website developers on WCAG 2.0 compliance; regular checks of the company’s website based on WCAG 2.0; ensuring that people who are blind and visually impaired are involved with user-testing the site; and developing an accessibility policy which is “clearly disclosed” on the Apple website, with contact information so that users can report accessibility issues.
It is alleged by Mendez that Apple has “invested substantial sums in developing and maintaining” its website, and has generated “significant revenue” from it. The complaint claims that “these amounts are far greater than the associated cost of making their website equally accessible to visually impaired customers.”
Mendez is also seeking “compensatory damages” and “reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs” through the lawsuit.
As yet, Apple has not publicly responded to the lawsuit.
Read the Mendez versus Apple complaint document at Scribd, where it has been uploaded by Mike Wuerthele from the AppleInsider.com website.
02: Driverless cars and advanced tech highlighted in new Government transport plan
Autonomous vehicles, digital wayfinding systems and other technologies will play a key role in making transport more accessible for people with disabilities, according to plans in the UK Government’s Inclusive Transport Strategy.
Produced by the Department for Transport (DfT), the strategy sets out the Government’s goal to create an equal access transport system by 2030. Responses to a public consultation in 2017 on a draft ‘Accessibility Action Plan’ were used to help develop the strategy.
The potential of technology as an enabler is highlighted throughout the strategy, and the topic is explored in Chapter 9 – The Future of Inclusive Transport – in more depth, beginning with a quote from the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC): “Technology has huge potential to make transport much easier for disabled people and bring advantages to some people who will never otherwise get the benefits of the private car.”
However, the strategy also stresses the need for future transport policy not to “repeat the mistakes of the past”, highlighting the risk of technological advancements excluding those users that it aims to help: “Without active engagement and consideration of [older and disabled people’s] needs, innovations can risk accidently ‘designing out’ sections of society who might benefit most.”
These design omissions could include vehicles that are too small for larger electric wheelchairs or mobility scooters, or which lack “detailed consideration of the audio visual requirements of those with sight loss or hearing impairments”.
Autonomous vehicles are cited several times as a potentially useful method of transport for people with disabilities. Although specific details are not mentioned, the strategy claims that “connected and autonomous vehicles … have the potential to change the way disabled people travel.”
The strategy also flags up Wayfindr, a project to help developers create digital navigation systems that use audio beacons to assist visually impaired passengers on transport networks. The project was trialled at several London tube stations in 2016 and was funded by a Transport Technology Research and Innovation Grant from DfT (Read e-Access Bulletin’s previous coverage of Wayfindr).
Two apps to assist people with dementia when travelling are also highlighted in the strategy. The first helps to guide people from their home to the hospital department they are travelling to. The second app, still in prototype, is a journey planner and navigation aid that supplies users with routes to avoid stressful environments, such as particularly busy locations. Image recognition technology is also being trialled in this second app, as a way of letting users know they are following the correct route. Both apps have been funded through a project funded by DfT and the Welsh Government, and led by by Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board in North Wales.
Looking to the future, the Government states that it is “committed to going a great deal further” than just the accessibility measures covered in the strategy, and will “set a clear direction to the transport technology sector on the importance of inclusive design.” This will include working directly with older people and people with disabilities, and “challenging technology developers and designers on the extent to which they have considered the needs of disabled and older people in the design of a product or service.”
Read the Inclusive Transport Strategy at GOV.UK (only available in PDF, accessible formats can be requested).
03: Disabled music fans asked to get vocal about access barriers at live shows
A charity is asking people with disabilities to contribute to new online research about accessibility issues at live music events and nightclubs, and by acting as ‘mystery shoppers’ at gigs and events.
The research is being conducted by the Attitude is Everything charity, which works to make live events more accessible for people with disabilities. The charity is asking anyone with a visual or hearing impairment to complete a survey on ‘sensory impairment and live music’ on its website.
In the questionnaire, respondents are asked to describe any barriers they may have faced when trying to get their access needs fulfilled at music events. Respondents are also asked to record any good experiences they may have encountered.
The survey closes on October 31 and the Attitude is Everything website states that the results will “inform new guidance for the music industry on making their events as accessible as possible to people with hearing and visual impairments, and for people who use BSL.”
The charity is also asking for people with disabilities to act as ‘mystery shoppers’, to report on positive and negative experiences from live music shows, clubs and festivals. The mystery shopper project is described by Attitude is Everything as the ‘cornerstone’ of its work, as it allows for detailed feedback, which can then be passed on to some venues to make improvements.
The new research follows the publication of the charity’s ‘State of Access Report 2018’, released in April, which found that a large percentage of people with disabilities had been put off booking tickets to live music events or clubs or had felt discriminated against during the process, often due to inaccessible websites and online booking systems (Read more in e-Access Bulletin’s coverage of the report).
Find out more about the ‘Sensory Impairment and Live Music’ research and take the survey on the Attitude is Everything website
Anyone interested in becoming a mystery shopper for Attitude is Everything can find out more about the project and apply online at the charity’s website.
[Section One ends]
Section Two: News in brief
04: Streamlining Braille
A system for reprogrammable Braille has been developed, which could drastically reduce the number of pages needed in Braille books. The system has been built by researchers at Harvard University, using a curved, elastic shell. Indents are made on the shell using a stylus, which the shell is then able to ‘remember’. The shell is then stretched out and returned to its original shape, ready for new letters to be indented.
Read more about reprogrammable Braille at Harvard University’s website.
05: Innovation Extension
The Innovation for Ageing competition, which invites participants to develop solutions to challenges faced by older people, has extended its deadline to September 9. The project features a category devoted to digital exclusion, featuring four sub-topics, including ‘Introducing older people to the internet’, ‘Instilling confidence in digital transactions’ and ‘Digital inclusion and financial services’ (Read e-Access Bulletin’s previous coverage of Innovation for Ageing).
Find out more, including how to submit a solution, at the Innovation for Ageing website.
06: Accessibility Award
Judy Brewer, the Director of WAI (the Web Accessibility Initiative) at W3C (the World Wide Web Consortium), has been given the Award for Outstanding Contributions to Computing and Accessibility by the Association of Computing Machinery’s (ACM) Special Interest Group on Accessible Computing (SIGACCESS). Under Brewer’s leadership, the WAI has developed the highly influential Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), alongside other accessibility standards.
Read more about Judy Brewer’s award at the SIGACCESS website.
[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.
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 Three: Interview
07: Going global: The Global Disability Innovation Hub
In July, a bold new partnership to improve global access to assistive technology was announced at the UK Government’s first Global Disability Summit. The ‘ATscale’ project features various strands being worked on by different partners, including the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Department for International Development (DFID), UNICEF and GDI (Global Disability Innovation) Hub.
For some, this will be the first they’ve heard of GDI Hub, although the organisation has been active in a wide range of global, disability-focused projects since launching in 2016.
Here, we take a closer look at the Hub and its work – including the ambitious assistive technology (AT) project announced at the Disability Summit – through a chat with its Research Development Manager, Paul Steynor.
- E-Access Bulletin: Please give us some background on GDI Hub.
Paul Steynor: “The Hub is a 2012 Paralympic Games legacy project, and it was formally launched by the Mayor of London in 2016. We’re based at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, which is becoming something of a hub for innovation. We have a number of founding partners, including three educational partners: University College London, Loughborough University London and the London College of Fashion.”
- What are the Hub’s aims?
“The broad vision is to accelerate disability innovation for a fairer world, by focusing on three main areas: teaching, research and practice. A lot of our early projects had a computer science focus, but across the partnership we have academics from a whole range of disciplines, from engineering to the arts, so the application for what we could do is quite broad – it’s not really a case of ‘We do do this and we don’t do that.’ We’re extremely open and we work on projects of any nature.
“One thing that’s key for us is to make sure disabled people are embedded in the process from start to finish. My role as Research Development Manager is to work with all of the partners and generate research funding ideas to take to funders.”
- Tell us more about AT:2030, the project that GDI Hub is working on as part of the ATscale partnership.
“DFID commissioned the Hub to do a small scoping exercise around disability and inclusive international development. From that, it was evident that a lot more research was needed and that there could be a substantial project within it. The key facts are:
- One billion people in the world today are in need of AT, which is expected to double by 2050.
- There’s a huge lack of access to AT by the people who need it most.
- This lack of AT is inextricably linked with poverty.
“There have been many attempts by many organisations to address this, but there’s never really been a coordinated approach. That’s what AT:2030 is aiming to do.
“For example, lots of AT used in lower and middle-income countries basically consists of older versions of AT from western society that’s no longer needed and was sent over as donations. But there’s no assessment of whether the technology is actually useful to the individual user. So there may be a number of wheelchairs sent to Kenya in a year, but when they arrive, no one’s assessed whether someone can use one of the wheelchairs – maybe this person has steps outside their house and no ramp, for example.
“AT:2030 is about taking a joined-up approach to AT in lower and middle-income countries to see how we can close the gap and achieve better outcomes for users. By 2030, one of the goals is for AT to reach at least three million people. DFID have committed £10 million investment to the project and Microsoft will be coming on-board, focusing on their Seeing AI app.”
- What does GDI Hub have planned for the future?
“AT:2030 is the main thing we’re working on at the moment. From 2019 we’ll be jointly delivering an MSc course: Disability, Design and Innovation. We’ve also been interested in the Government’s Industrial Strategy and we’ve been trying to influence that from a disability perspective.
“From my point of view, I want us to build an ecosystem of researchers that can drive forward the next generation of research and innovation projects related to disability. And we need to continue getting research funding in, because the more people we can engage with through that, the greater the solutions are that we’re going to be able to come up with.”
Read more about GDI Hub and AT:2030 at the GDI Hub website.
Find out more about ATscale at the project website.
[Section Three ends]
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Editor: Tristan Parker
Technical Director: Jake Jellinek
Accessibility Advisor: Dr. Nick Freear
ISSUE 202 ends.