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Microsoft unveils $25 million ‘AI for Accessibility’ project

A heavily funded program announced by Microsoft will aim to create and nurture advanced artificial intelligence (AI) products and services that can assist people with disabilities around the world.

The five-year program, named AI for Accessibility, was launched at the Microsoft Build conference in Seattle and will be funded by $25 million from Microsoft. The project will provide developers with AI tools and will focus on three key areas: employment, modern life and human connection.

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Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2018 – a snapshot of an evolving phenomenon

By Mel Poluck.

Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) has grown rapidly in its short lifetime.

Beginning with a blog post in 2011 entitled ‘Challenge: Accessibility know-how needs to go mainstream with developers. NOW’ that triggered the annual event, GAAD now counts the world’s technology giants among its participants.

“It’s surreal that as a result of one blog post, tech companies with a market cap of almost two trillion dollars combined have changed their homepage to commemorate GAAD,” US-based developer Joe Devon, author of the post and GAAD co-founder, told e-Access Bulletin.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Boost UK industry through assistive tech, MPs and academics declare

Driving economic growth through technology, the disability employment gap, and robotics in healthcare were some of the topics discussed at the latest meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Assistive Technology (APPGAT).

The aim of the meeting was to explore assistive technology in relation to the UK Industrial Strategy, unveiled by the Government in November of last year, which set out plans to boost the UK economy and industry.

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3D audio maps out the world in new app for visually impaired users

Soundscapes and audio landmarks are two of the features in an innovative new navigation app designed for users with sight loss.

Designed by Microsoft, the Soundscape app maps out locations using 3D audio to help users build a picture of their surroundings, allowing them to locate specific places, such as restaurants, shops and specific addresses.

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Online toolkit aims to shake up Hollywood’s diversity issues

A free online resource has been launched to help the film and entertainment industries hire more people with disabilities.

Created by non-profit organisation RespectAbility, the Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit features information on specific disabilities, details about apps that can benefit users different conditions, a documentary on ‘the evolution of disability in entertainment’, best practice examples of disability represented in TV and film, and links to organisations that can help with hiring people with disabilities.

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Understanding screen-reader navigation: a tale of two rooms

By Ryan Jones.

[Editor’s note: This is an edited version of an article originally published by The Paciello Group, an international accessibility agency. The original post is linked to at the end of this article. Its author, Ryan Jones, is a project manager and trainer at The Paciello Group.]

For those of us who use screen-reading software such as JAWS, NVDA, or VoiceOver to access information on the web, the user experience can be quite different from those who can visually see the content. One of my goals throughout the many accessibility-focused training classes I have led has been to help others more accurately understand what it is like for someone using screen-reading software to navigate through a web page.

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