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Archive for June, 2011

European Projects To Explore Accessibility of Terminals

A European working group to develop guidelines and standards for the accessibility of self-service terminals such as cashpoints and transport ticket machines has been revived by the European standards body CEN.

The group – to be convened by user interface consultant Julian Jones – is a successor to the former user interface working group WG6 of CEN technical committee TC224 on ‘Personal identification, electronic signature and cards’, which has lain dormant for two years.

The revival is needed “because human interfaces have moved on a lot in last couple of years, with i-pods, i-pads and so on,” Jones told E-Access Bulletin this week. “There is far more use of touch-screens and operations which use multiple fingers. We also want to reflect the use of near-field communication and the use of tokens on personal handheld devices as well as contactless cards.”

These developments mean the range of possible user preferences has become much wider, he said. Preferences could now include colour combinations, font size, volume of audio feedback, cursor behaviour and many other factors.

The new group will run a UK open meeting at the end of the summer to explain the workgroup’s objectives to interested parties and gather input before the membership is nominated by national standards bodies, Jones said. All those interested in attending should email him on juliang.jones@btinternet.com .

Meanwhile a European research project into personalisation of digital self-service terminals, ‘APSIS4all’, has been launched with the aim of overcoming accessibility barriers faced by people unfamiliar with ICT, people with disabilities and older people.

The three-year project is being led by the Technosite Foundation in Spain, with other partners from across Europe including John Gill Technology and AbilityNet from the UK. It will focus on two areas – first, how users might be able to connect a mobile device such as a smartphone to any self-service terminals so they can carry out interactions on their own personal device; and second, that of personalisation according to preferences held either on a smartcard or in the cloud – work which will overlap with that of the revived CEN working group.

‘GoGenie’ Platform To Gather Live Access Information

An online platform to help disabled and deaf people find access information online for any location such as a shop, cinema, cultural event or town centre, based on the recommendations and comments of others, is set to go into beta testing next month.

The ‘GoGenie’ pilot project is initially focused on the West Midlands. Its development phase was supported by the Arts Council England Digital Content Development programme and support for the pilot has come from NESTA’s Reboot Britain programme.

Alison Smith, director of GoGenie developer Pesky People, told E-Access Bulletin the project is aimed at “taking the best of social media and using it for the benefit of everyone in planning a visit. We are not replacing existing social networks, we are working with them and enhancing them.”

The result could embrace a mix of technologies including smartphone apps and tools that can be embedded into partner websites, with each format being shaped by its disabled and deaf users, Smith said. “We are not waiting until it is perfect and launching it – the whole point of crowdsourcing is to be organic.”

Other partners for the pilot include Telford and Wrekin Council; the arts marketing agency Audiences Central; and community theatre and dance organisers Black Country Touring. “We are also in discussion with a number of cultural organisations outside of the region,” said Smith. “The pilot has an emphasis on cultural venues but has potential for wider application.”

Various members of the wider digital community, such as Will Perrin of local networking group Talk About Local and Nick Booth of community social media specialists Podnosh, have been major supporters of the project from its outset, she said. “Much of what we are doing has been influenced by attending hack days, unconferences, and networking – very much the opposite end of formal conference events and the way businesses usually operate within the sector.”

This approach brought unexpected success recently when a partnership forged with the design for all consultancy Enabled By Design and others to create an android mobile phone app in less than 24 hours ended up winning an award at Interactivism, a ‘hackday’ focused on finding accessible solutions for older people. The day was hosted by consultancy FutureGov and Google, and the mobile phone app ‘Spotted’ won the Gransnet award for most useful app.

Assistance Apps Set For Live Testing This Autumn

A series of smartphone apps to let disabled people contact shops, petrol stations and other locations to let them know their access needs before they arrive is being developed by Sunderland-based social enterprise DisabledAccess4All.

The ‘Customer Assist’ app will let users request assistance both en route and after arrival. When the user arrives, the shop, service or petrol station will have received information about the assistance he or she requires so they can have an attendant ready to help.

The app will also offer directions to accessible services, and a separate ‘Parking Space Finder’ app is being developed to work with local authorities to offer people directions to the nearest blue badge parking spaces. The parking app is due to go live for testing in October, with Westminster and Sunderland councils signed up to take part.

Gary McFarlane, managing director of DisabledAccess4All, said the apps would be free to use, with various business models being developed including a possible licensing deal for service providers, or sponsorship deals which would allow stronger accessibility branding for some businesses.

“We are currently negotiating to sign up a range of public and private sector bodies such as banks. If they don’t want to sponsor, will still carry the information, but sponsors can gain brand awareness, more prominence.”

The potential of mobile apps such as this to give people with disabilities more freedom in their everyday lives is enormous, McFarlane says.

“It breaks down social and physical barriers as well as attitudinal ones. If someone is relying on a personal assistant to help them going out shopping, when they implement this, they may not need that assistance. It means life with a lot less fuss, with much more independence and choice.”

Towards An Information-Accessible Village, County – And World

Twenty-six years ago Howard Leicester was unexpectedly diagnosed with genetic deterioration of his eyes and ears, halfway through taking his first degree. Simple things became difficult; difficult things impossible.

However, with help and guidance from the charity Sense, which supports children and adults who are deaf and blind, Howard has since gained a PhD, run an academic department, and served on various boards in health and social care. Dr Leicester is now an independent consultant supporting change in healthcare planning and delivery.

This year, he had a chance to offer some help in his turn to Sense when he received a grant from the Vodafone World of Difference programme which offers people the chance to donate their time and skills to their chosen charity. Here, he picks up the story in his own words:

“Deafblind myself and working from home as an academic in health information systems (health informatics), I’m well on my way to providing accessible information across Kent from my native village of Otford.

“My progress has been made partly thanks to Headstar’s events and bulletins. Last year’s e-Access 10 conference introduced me to PDF accessibility expert Ted Page of PWS Ltd. Now we’re converting advanced academic textbooks from inaccessible PDFs into usable versions. Many such texts have been standard on MSc courses I’ve taught for years. But it’s only now that I’ve been able to “read” them myself. Moreover, Kent Library Services will get the products for their online library portals throughout the county.

“Then E-Access Bulletin issue 129, September 2010 introduced me to open source accessibility software expert and guiding force Steve Lee. In particular, the EduApps resource range, specially collected by the TechDis Regional Support Centre in North and East Scotland, allows us to generate and convert documents from and to various output formats. Local documents, like menus and newsletters, can thus be made more accessible for Otford residents and visitors.

IT Can Help, the network of volunteers to help older and disabled people with IT run by the British Computer Society, is also on board. My local ambitions also stand a better chance because I’m now an Otford Parish Councillor.

“In recent months (mid March to mid May) I have also been working with the major deafblind charity Sense, generously supported by Vodafone’s World Of Difference programme which funds people to work for charities.

“I have been working with Sense, fellow academics and other local and national organisations to help promote the charity, and help to identify additional needs of deaf-blind patients in the UK in the modern digital age. Aims include to:

– Develop a standard for including ‘special needs’ in patient records;
– Produce models of local populations for predicting ‘special needs’ for planning and awareness;
– Promote computers for production and sharing of information in formats better suited to those with ‘special communication needs';
– Make Otford a more information-accessible village, and spread these principles across Kent; and
– Gather stories promoting a greater sense of humour on disability issues.

“Currently, patient ‘special needs’ are not formally collected, and data is too limited to estimate national or local needs. Most leaflets, books, mainstream and mobile websites are still inaccessible, and there is a general lack of awareness and understanding of accessibility issues.

“But”, continues Howard, “there’s progress on some of my national aims on top of my Otford activities. The ongoing Life Opportunities Survey (LOS) carried out by ONS/ODI deserves special attention by anyone involved in population modelling. For the first time, it maps up-to-date numbers on disability types to various barriers in society – and I’ve received generous, personal guidance from the official statisticians.

“Recording patients’ accessibility needs is also justified by LOS. I’ve produced a method based on self-completion linked to GP practices. I have received some encouragement for this work from various academics, Department of Health Informatics folk and RADAR, but further development and adoption will depend on receiving further help from other organisations, and I would be keen to hear from anyone interested.

“Please follow my activities in Otford and Kent, as well as my wider activities, via my website:
http://home.btconnect.com/howardleicester

“The home page has a link to the programme with subsequent links to the specific strands.”