In May 2016 the accessibility team responsible for the GOV.UK domain posted a survey looking for information about the types of Assistive Technology (AT) people visiting the site were using. GOV.UK is the central online hub in the UK for all government services and information and as such, it takes accessibility very seriously. The survey which was open for 6 weeks, was answered by over 700 people and has produced some interesting results. You can read a post on their blog with all the results here.
Around the same time here in Ireland, Enable Ireland and the Disability Federation of Ireland conducted their own online AT user survey which also had some interesting findings. You can read more about that here.
Online Accessibility Vs Personal AT Use
Before comparing the results we must first highlight that we are not comparing like with like here. The UK.GOV survey was at heart about accessibility: the information we learn about AT is in the context of accessing a website whereas the Irish survey was seeking to find out about the range of AT which people use, and their experience in securing it through public or private funding. This will obviously skew the UK.GOV sample towards software solutions (they don’t appear to have asked about hardware like alternative input devices) to support computer access, literacy and visual impairment. Taking this into account what does stand out is the amount of “premium” AT solutions identified as being used in the UK. 29% of those responding to this survey used a screen reader and of these just under 40% identified JAWS as being their solution of choice. VoiceOver was next (but by far the most popular choice for mobile users) followed by just 12% using the free Open Source NVDA. (See graph below).
About 30% of respondents use magnification software, and almost 70% identified high end proprietary solutions like Zoomtext (54%), Supernova (11%) and Magic (4%). Within magnification the lack of a credible open source alternative could help to explain the result. There is a similar situation within literacy support software with Read & Write from TextHelp accounting for almost 70% of the total. Finally it’s no surprise that various iterations of Dragon Naturally Speaking from Nuance accounted for almost 90% of speech recognition software.
Do these results tell us that there is a thriving market for high end proprietary AT software in the UK? Maybe not, it’s far more likely that the people responding to this survey were professionals working in a corporate enterprise type environment which might favour proprietary over open source or inbuilt solutions.
Cost of AT
In terms of cost of AT, the surprise result of the Irish survey was that 62% of AT solutions cost less than €1000 and the UK.GOV results seem to be similar. JAWS and possibly some versions of Zoomtext would cost in excess of €1000. However, all other solutions identified here would come in below that.
It’s interesting to see both the U.K. and Ireland attempting to gather current data on AT use. What these surveys highlight most of all is the need for more comprehensive data gathering to enable us to plan for the future, across the life span: from early childhood to old age. Assistive Technology is a tool for all, but still, far too few people who could benefit from it, are aware of it, or know how to apply for funding for it.
Microsoft has donated a software package to Enable Ireland allowing the charity to move its operations to the cloud through Office 365 for its 1,200 staff and volunteers.
The announcement was made at the graduation ceremony for 17 students of the Foundations in Assistive Technology course, delivered by Enable Ireland and Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT).
Microsoft has supported the Assistive Technology course for 15 years, hosting training sessions at the company’s campus in Sandyford, Co Dublin and hosting fundraisers including an annual funding drive and volunteering to decorate local facilities.
A total of 365 participants have graduated from this course since 2001, including people with disabilities and their families, employers, educators and carers. The course trains people in the use of Assistive Technologies including desktops, tablets, smart phones and smart home devices as well as leisure pursuits such as gaming, music and photography. The course is aimed at providing a solid foundation in AT for diverse audiences: adults who are AT users, therapists, teachers, IT professionals, families and others.
Siobhan Long, national manager, assistive technology training service, Enable Ireland, said: “Well done to the 17 fantastically talented individuals who have worked so hard and today graduated from the Foundations in Assistive Technology course. We recently conducted an assistive technology survey which showed that users overwhelming appreciated the difference that AT makes to their lives.
This national online Assistive Technology survey was undertaken as part of the research process which informs the recommendations made. A total of 236 Assistive Technology users responded to the survey. The findings dispel the widely-held belief that AT is expensive, with 64% of respondents indicating that they used technology costing less than €1,000. 41% of AT users reported that they had self-funded their own AT. Respondents were extremely positive on the perceived usefulness of their AT equipment with 61% reporting that they couldn’t manage without it. However, nearly 30% of respondents experienced frustration and delays in the process of securing their AT. Waiting times were also highly variable, with 54% reporting that they received their AT in three months. However, 15% had to wait over 6 months and 16% waited in excess of a year.
“For people with disabilities and older people, technology can change the most ordinary of
daily activities from the impossible to the possible. Assistive Technology can support people
to live to their fullest, to participate in education and employment and to live independently
and as part of their communities.” Senator John Dolan, CEO
Disability Federation of Ireland.
Dan Klein, Microsoft Ireland, said: “At Microsoft we believe it is critically important that we think about making technology accessible to all. Our collaboration with Enable Ireland has given our team an important window of insight into people’s needs and prompted new innovation… Enable Ireland does critically important work in moving the focus from the disability to the person – not least through its Assistive Technology course.”
Microsoft announced earlier this week that they are building on the success of their much acclaimed literacy support suite for OneNote “Learning Tools” by making some of the features available within other products. First though, if you haven’t come across Learning Tools for OneNote take a look at the video below for an outline of what it offers. Take it away Jeff..
As you can see from the video, offering Text To Speech (TTS) with highlighting, easy to read fonts on distraction free, high visibility backgrounds as well as the comprehension supports, Learning Tools could be very useful to those who need a little assistance with text based content. Learning Tools was originally only available for the version of OneNote which comes bundled with Office 2013 and 2016. However earlier this week Microsoft announced that they are bringing some features to other apps, the most interesting and potentially useful of these would be Office Lens and Word. Office Lens is already a very useful multi-platform app with powerful optical character recognition (OCR) capabilities which allow you photograph a document and have it converted to editable text. Now with the addition of the Immersive Reader functionality of Learning Tools you can photograph a document, export it to immersive reader and immediately use the tools mentioned above to support your understanding of the text. For the moment this feature is only available on Office Lens for iOS but my understanding is it’s their intention to gradually roll it out to other platforms.
Within Word even more functionality is offered through the new editor feature. These include dictionary supports such as synonyms of suggested corrections for misspelled words that can be read aloud with TTS and additional support for commonly confused words. I’ll leave it to Jeff again for a full review of the new features (video below).
On November 7th last in Dublin, Enable Ireland and the Disability Federation in Ireland launched a Discussion Paper representing the views of a cross-sectoral stakeholder group convened through CHAT (Community Hub for Assistive Technology) which sets out a practical road map to improving the provision of Assistive Technology services and supports to people with disabilities and older people. Further details can be found here:
Currently, far too few people who could benefit from AT, have access to it here in Ireland, but with increasingly accessible mainstream solutions coupled with associated dramatic falls in cost, we believe that the remedy for this gap is more achievable than ever.
This report was published through a partnership between Enable Ireland and DFI, who share a concern regarding the under-resourcing of Assistive Technology nationally. Together, and in partnership with the CHAT community, and any other interested parties, we recognise an urgent need for advocacy and information campaigning in order to increase public awareness and understanding of the potential for AT to enhance quality of life and independence, as well as enhancing government’s awareness of their role in making AT available to those who need it.
The European Parliament has approved the directive on making the websites and mobile apps of public sector bodies more accessible. This means that people with disabilities – especially persons with vision or hearing impairments – will have better access to the websites and mobile applications of public services.
The updated version of the directive adopted by the Council in July 2016. The directive will soon enter into force, and Member States will have 21 months to transpose the Directive into national legislation.
The rules encoded in the directive reflect the Commission’s ongoing work to build a social and inclusive European Union, where all Europeans can take full part in the digital economy and society.
The text of the Directive covers websites and mobile apps of public sector bodies with a limited number of exceptions (e.g. broadcasters, livestreaming). This is a crucial milestone to achieve an inclusive digital society in which people with disabilities and other users have access to online services and information on an equal footing to other people.
Member States shall ensure that public sector bodies take the necessary measures to make their websites and mobile applications more accessible by making them perceivable, operable, understandable and robust.
For example for someone who is blind this will mean that public sector websites and mobile applications will have text alternatives for non-text content i.e. short equivalents for images, including icons, buttons, and graphics and description of data represented on charts, diagrams, and illustrations.
Or for someone with dexterity issues all functionality that is available by mouse is also available by keyboard. This will help people using alternative keyboards and people using voice recognition. Content will also have to be well organized which will help users to orient themselves and to navigate effectively.
New podcast uploaded. Listen, to Nial O’Hanlon, a disability office within the ESB talk about the traineeship program which the ESB provide for people with disabilities. The program provides paid employment within the ESB as well as valuable skills and experience for 10 people with disabilities every year.
At the recent Disabled Drivers Motor Show & Conference 2016 in Dublin, there were a range of companies showing interesting products that would make you believe that driving is open to much more people that you may think.
Driving your own car does have its benefits. The main one being that you have reliable transportation to get to your job, school or to do other various activities. You will also have space to hold your items and will be protected from the weather. For anyone with a disability or drivers who are experiencing changes in their vision, flexibility, strength, or range of motion there are various alterations that you can make that will optimize your driving performance and safety.
Anyone looking to add adaptive vehicle devices to their vehicle will benefit from a driving assessment. Typically an occupational therapist will recommend equipment and a Vehicle Adaptor.
Choosing the right vehicle is important as small differences in the shape and size of such things as doors or seats can make a big difference to how easy it is to get in and out of a particular car.
The Drivers and Passengers with Disabilities – Tax relief scheme are open to persons who meet the specified medical criteria. Relief in respect of Vehicle Registration Tax (VRT) and Value Added Tax (VAT) may be obtained.
People may require their vehicles to be modified in order for them to drive or to be carried as a passenger. Adaptations can be made to a vehicle to meet the needs of drivers and passengers with disabilities.
Diver adaptations that are frequently fitted include:
Hand Controls which allow people to operate the accelerator and brake pedals with their hands
Hand controls for accelerator and brake.
There are a range of hand controls to suit the needs of the driver. Such as standard push pull hand controls radial hand controls and the carospeed hand controls which can incorporate the auxiliary switches and cruise control.
The Brig-Ayd Electric Trigger Throttle and Brake Hand control is a push/pull hand control system. It allows users to control the throttle via a trigger incorporated in the handle of the controls, with just a few grams of force. The brake is operated by pushing the handle down; this gives light and responsive control of the vehicles brakes.
Guidosimplex Mechanical brakes
This Guidosimplex Long Arm Brake Lever allows the driver to apply breaks to the vehicle. Manufactured from aluminium and coated with embossed rubber, the brake lever is also fitted with buttons which activate both the horn and a locking system.
Guidosimplex Gas Ring
The Guidosimplex Over Ring provides a light acceleration control. The accelerator ring can be fitted to most vehicles. A simple push to accelerate, allows both hands to be kept on the steering wheel while driving. Quick Release version also available. Does not compromise steering wheel airbag.
Also an under ring version mounted directly underneath the steering well. This solution allows the end user to accelerate by simply performing a rotary movement (Clockwise and/or Anticlockwise) whilst keeping both hands on the steering wheel.
Guidosimplex Hand Held acceleration system
The Guidosimplex Satellite provides another option for vehicle acceleration. It is suitable to be fitted to most vehicles and is offered in either fully electronic or electro-mechanical versions. Since the unit is hand-held, all functions, such as air bag and secondary controls mounted on the steering wheel, are retained for use. The power to the Satellite accelerator is also cut when the brake is applied.
Adapted controls that facilitate the use of gear stick, hand brakes and car keys
Push Button Start
Not every Car model comes with Push Button Technology so for drivers who may find it difficult to use an engine key start, this simple push button start facility can be fitted.
For assistance selecting Drive, Park or Reverse with an Automatic Gear Shifter, then a personalized modification to suit a particular needs can be fitted.
Left foot accelerators which facilitate people who cannot use their right leg
Steering balls which facilitate steering wheel grip
There is a wide range of steering aids to suit all vehicles and also the needs of the driver. The steering aids range from a standard steering ball through to a steering aid that incorporates an infra-red system which allows the user to operate the auxiliary switches such as lights wipers of the vehicle from the steering aid. The steering aids can be used independently or in conjunction with driver hand controls.
Brig-Ayd Controls Ltd is the manufacturer and suppliers of a range of quick release steering aids for use by disabled drivers. These steering aids can be used in conjunction with hand controls or on their own to aid the steering control of cars, vans, and trucks. The design incorporates a simple to use release mechanism that can be operated with one hand to remove or refit the handle section of the device to the steering wheel. They are designed to fit modern wheels and do not affect the operation of the vehicle’s airbag. These steering knobs come with a range of grips such as a ball, mushroom, tee, and peg.
For drivers with a higher level of physical disability, a variety of high-tech adaptations are now available which include joysticks for braking and accelerating.
Passenger adaptations included:
Autoadapt Swivel Base
The Autoadapt swivel base in conjunction with the original vehicle seat it can also be used with the BEV, Compact and Recaro seat. The swivel comes as either manual or electrical operation.
Passenger lifts and chair hoists
Carolift 40 Boot Hoist
The carolift 40 Boot Hoist is suitable for most standard self-propelling wheelchairs. The flexible elbow joint on the boom allows the user to lift the wheelchair from the pavement and by bending the boom allow the wheelchair to be put into a narrow boot opening. The carolift can then be stored by lying the hoist down or by making it quick release.
the very cleverly named Tap Tap See is an app (you may have noticed, I like apps a lot!) which allows you to identify objects by simply taking a picture. Once you’ve taken the picture, the app searches through a huge database of objects and brand names to find a match foryour picture. The app then tells you what it sees.
I tend to use it when I need quick information, such as the flavour of a tin of soup or the colour of a piece of clothing, so it’s not an app which can give a lot of detail – but the detail it can give can be remarkably accurate.
It does also take a little time to get used to where exactly to point the camera, especially if you’re blind from birth (as I am), but the app is free to use, so yu don’t need to worry about the number of pictures you take.
The app also has a handy features which allows you to use it to identify photos in your library, which I really luke if I want to put a photo on Facebook but can’t remember which one I want to use.
So, all in all, I’d really recommend having a play with this app. have fun!
Interview with Kieran Hanrahan at the Comunity Hub for Assistive Technology CHAT meeting. Kieran shows that exploring ideas to see what is available and collaboration with different organisations can help make assistive technology solutions. Kieran’s discussion was about Assistive Technology need not be expensive, as we can use technology that is already available to people and design assistive technologies with universal design in mind, so technology is available for all user needs.
This podcast is an audio recording of an interview with Stuart Lawler. Stuart is a rehabilitation service manager at NCBI and talks about the Community of Practice and what it means to the NCBI. The Community of Practice group is organised by the Disability Federation of Ireland (DFI). This is the national support organisation for voluntary disability organisations in Ireland who provide services to people with disabilities and disabling conditions. Stuart tells why the NCBI were happy to get involved Community of Practice CHAT meetings and how he see it working for the rehabilitation service.