Posted on March 25th 2020 by Siobhan Long
Using technology to support people with disabilities, their families and those who support them during the Covid 19 pandemic
Some initial suggestions
Note: This is an evolving ideas post which we encourage you to contribute to: together we can be creative in how we use technology to support people with disabilities who may be feeling isolated and worried, and we can also consider innovative ways of remote working to benefit all.
This is already a very worrying time for people with disabilities, being constantly reminded that they are in a high-risk group when it comes to Covid 19. With schools and services shut down, how can we use technology to facilitate communication, prevent people feeling isolated and maybe provide some kind of distraction?
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WhatsApp or Viber Groups
This is something most of us use and find very useful. Disability services could set up a group/groups and use them as a way to keep communication open while people are at home.
WhatsApp is very accessible as it allows people to contribute to a group chat using recorded Video or Audio or text. It’s a good way to share jokes and funny stories and keep morale up. It supports individual and groups (up to 4) video and audio calls.
- Accessible (to many)
- Needs a smartphone, computer or tablet.
- Only supports groups up to 4 in real-time calls or video
- Your privacy is not guaranteed using these forums
Echo Dot or Echo Show
For some people, speech is the easiest way for them to access technology. The Amazon Alexa powered devices can be a very intuitive way of getting information, entertainment (music, radio, audiobooks adventure games). They also support a feature called “Drop-in”. When setting up a device you can add friends or contacts who also have Echo devices and allow them to “Drop-in”. This could provide a good means of keeping contact with people who may not be comfortable enough with technology to use a smartphone or WhatsApp. It works basically like an intercom. The person being dropped in on does not have to do anything other than answer, no buttons to press or commands are needed. It’s like talking to them if they were in the room with you. The Echo Show (only £50 on Amazon at the moment) has a screen and camera also. We are not sure if you can Drop-in with video of if you need to use a video calling service. (Maybe someone reading this already knows the answer?)
- Very easy to use natural speech interface.
- Lots of entertainment options
- Can open communication channels in a natural way with user input
- GDPR/Privacy/Consent considerations are an issue as you may not receive the privacy you expect
Microsoft Teams is a hub for teamwork in Office 365. It is currently free to download and use, during this Covid 19 pandemic. It is most likely to be initially at least, most useful to staff, as there is a degree of learning and familiarization involved: Here’s an introductory video illustrating how Teams works. Lately, Microsoft has added some great new accessibility and inclusive features such as focus mode, immersive reader, inline translation and live captions in meetings.
The following video demonstrates some of these new features.
For users with mobility or vision disabilities, keyboard shortcuts can be easier than using the touchscreen and are an essential alternative to using a mouse.
Here are a few common keyboard shorts to use with Microsoft Teams
|Accept video call||Ctrl+Shift+A|
|Accept audio call||Ctrl+Shift+S|
|Raise or lower your hand||Ctrl+Shift+K|
Finding multiple keys difficult to press
For user who find pressing multiple keys difficult to press you can use Autohotkey key scripts to remap a keyboard short cut to any key such as a function key.
Another alternative is to have a dedicated switch to send the shortcut.
The eneso enCore is a neat little USB switch interface that can be configured to work in various different modes. Simple setup software allows you to program the device to appear to the PC as a mouse, keyboard or joystick.
Or another alternative using a wireless Bluetooth option is the Puck.js. This can be set up to provide any keyboard shortcut.
Although there are some differences with the shortcuts used between the In the Teams Desktop app and the Web app, most are the same. A full list of the shortcuts is available here.
Skype should be familiar with being the original voice and video calling service. Perhaps not as popular as it once was it is still used by many people. Once someone is set up and signed in it should be easy enough to navigate. Skype is keyboard accessible, which will allow us to use alternative input methods or create a simplified interface using software like the Grid 3. Unfortunately, Skype no longer supports games like checkers and chess but it is still a good option especially if people are already using it.
Currently free, the video conferencing tool Zoom is a great way of bringing larger groups together via video. It supports all the main platforms (Windows iOS, Android and macOS). It’s quite an easy app to use and is free to install and use for up to 40 minutes. This could be used to bring everyone together at a certain time every day and would be probably the best way of simulating the atmosphere people would be familiar with within the services they normally attend. When hosting a meeting, you can select ‘share screen only’ to ensure that there is no potential for making any changes to attendees’ own devices. Without selecting this feature, it would be possible to remotely access devices, and this is something that would require written/recorded consent.
Note: Corporate IT Departments may have concerns re: this solution as they may not have any prior agreement with them. So for service providers, best to check with their IT and Data Protection officer before considering it.
- Free and relatively easy to use
- Supports large group video calls
- Great casting tool
- GDPR concerns given your privacy is not guaranteed
- Requires a computer or mobile device
- Will be new and unfamiliar to most (all)
Enable Ireland Communications Department have created guidelines for designated staff authorised to start Facebook Groups for the purpose of communicating with clients and their family’s. These guidelines offer some do’s and don’t in regard to moderating these groups and suggest the appropriate privacy settings that need to be applied. You can request a copy of this document from our Communications Department.
Set up an Internet Radio Station
There are services that allow you to create an online radio station (for example https://radio.co/). This would be a great way of keeping people in touch with news and entertainment custom made for a specific audience. Rotate DJs between services, have chats, play music, share the news. Bit of a mad idea but could be fun for everyone. If a live radio channel is a bit of a stretch we could maybe produce a daily podcast. Get people to record introduction to songs on their phones and send us the audio. Record thoughts, news, jokes, and we can try to put it all together and send out a link for everyone to listen. Video could also be used and make private links on YouTube.
- Accessible to (almost) all as listeners
- Offers opportunity to be a producer as well as consumer of news/entertainment
- All content curated by surface users
- Totally new to us, not sure of the requirements for setting it up but happy to hear from others more familiar, and happy to try it out.
YouTube is very popular and supports synchronised watching of YouTube videos and real-time chat.
There are lots of games available online that allow you to invite friends to play remotely. Why not curate and manage a range? Suited to Draughts, Battleship, Ludo, Scrabble, Chess although younger players might be more interested in Fortnite
- Many of these games will be familiar to people already
- Great distraction; Start a league!
- Many of the sites that offer these games are funded by advertising and can be difficult to navigate (auto-playing videos, links to products, flashing ads designed to trick people into clicking on them. This is not an insurmountable problem but it would be a good bit of work identifying appropriate platforms. iOS might be better.
Digital Educational books- free, accessible alternative formats
Learn new skills during Covid-19 pandemic
As mentioned, this is just for starters: if we all think creatively we can harness technology in many ways to support service users and staff through this difficult time. Please contact us with your suggestions and we’ll add them to this document. Thanks!
And check out Enable Ireland’s National Assistive Technology Training Service’s free online content on Assistive Technology for Creative Expression: on enableirelandat.com
Stay safe and well, and please share/respond/add your own suggestions/ideas. We’re all better together:) Or as we say in Ireland, Ní neart go cur le céile
Siobhan, Karl, Juliann, Sean and Shirley: The Enable Ireland AT Team
For Video, I would have preference solely for Teams easier to support one platform
Good documentation need to be provided for this and will work to provide
Thanks, Pat, yes I like Teams also. From a support point of view, I can see supporting one planform would be easier.