Access Technology - Now and Tomorrow

This Blog is my personal view of the development of technology for all. It reflects those technologies available today, and those that we should see in the immediate future.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

The Second Tasbo

For those who haven’t come across the concept a while ago I proposed an “Anti award” I guess with a view to naming and shaming, not simply for products or services that were in accessible (there would be too many) but for those vendors, developers, manufacturers etc who seemed to take a deliberate even perverse decision to create something which was more of a crime against accessibility.

Tasbo’s are technology anti-social behavior orders, and the first was given to Amazon and the Authors Guild of America.

This award goes to a single, specific website, and is equally shared between the Site owners and the Site developers. The former should have had the common sense to look at the site and say “what ??? your joking, were not trying to stop people coming to the restaurant” and to the developers who simply should have known better

The site in question is it is entirely programmed in Flash but that’s just the start of the problems. First up youd better have broadband, and not an Iphone as it’s a large file to load and Apple mobile OS don’t support flash, we are then greeted with a series of animations that are visually confusing and which successfully animate the text on screen. This means that the text that you are trying to read moves as you read it, which includes becoming a mirror image of itself at times !

Trying to view menus is an experience, having found the link a transparent window opens over the current text and animations meaning that you are trying to read new text with an animation and old text beneath it

The worst thing is the restaurant has some great reviews on the web, it’s clearly well thought of a stylish and innovative place to eat, but based on the website you might well decide that it really is just too much bother.

So having shown the website to a number of a people via networks and twitter we garnered a few judges reviews of the site – these included

“this site is an excellent candidate for a inaccessibility hall of shame”

“I'd say one of the worst websites in any category”

“I'd say one of the worst...”

So come on guys, im sure you can make it a little easier for me to give you my money because the pumpkin soup sounds great – but I only know that because someone else’s site told me !

Friday, 2 July 2010

Apple My Cheri Amour - I hate you

Ok I have to confess Im a little Bi-Polar about Apple, maybe schizophrenic is a better term. They have some great technology and have made great advances in builidng in access technologies that work really well out of the box. Voiceover on the iPhone is all that one Blind Friend needs - no extra costs than anyone else to run a an accessible mobile phone, he even tweets from it ! BUT .... and its a big but (giggles - I said Big But), it would be so wrong to say that Apple have really understood accessibility from top to bottom. Lets take the iPad as a starter - great kit with some wonderful AAC apps developed for it. But unless you have another computer its a bit of an expensive table mat. Apple seem to assume that anyone who buys the iPad is very tech savvy, on startup that first time it just shows a cable and an icon and says Sync with Itunes or some such thing assuming we understand what iTunes is and where we should stick our cables. For the amount of money some simple guidance out of the box would be helpful

Apple are being touted as great computers for the first timer, the touch interface on Iphone and Ipad is ideal for the elderly and those with Learning disabilities, FaceTalk much just be the first video calling application to actually offer lip rading and converstaion signing for the deaf, but this achievement is hugely undermined by lack of empathy with buyers other than the technocracy.

Which brings me onto another thing, apple love the opening weekend ploy, queues of people lining up to get the new gadget first, something Futrama have recently lampooned (see if you missed it) and again this gives a message that technology is something beyond the everyday. At the same time as Finland  is passing a law saying that broadband access is a legal right, Apple like to suggest that their products are for an elite and who doesnt want to be part of an elite ?

So come on Apple get in sync, get in (i)tune and in the words of the beatles "come together" If you are making a product that is inclusive, that is for the masses, lets get your backroom and marketing in order, if you are serious the concept of access to all needs to pervade all aspects of not only tech design, but marketing and help as well

I know you can do it - but do you really want to ? 


Saturday, 29 May 2010

Kill Accessibility - Another Response

I read with great interest a recent post by Gary Barber on his Blog entitled Kill Accessibility. Its the sort of nicely provocative Blog piece that appeals to me - and unusually for me with my ongoing attention defict, I read it all the way to the end.

Gary's piece makes the point that most developers don't really care about accessibility, and moreover pay lip service if they acknowledge the fact at all. He puts this down to the fact that few if any developers are AT users themselves.

This is the truth - but anyone with the ability to think 5 minutes ahead, will realise that this is not always likely to be the case. There are two types of people in this world, the "Disabled" and the "not disabled - yet" Ive been arguing for some time that the best motivation to think about access and accessibility is pure self interest. I have a healthy selfishness gene, verging on the sociopathic perhaps, but I know that I am now getting closer to 50 years old and in 10 years time I want to still be doing stuff online and unless I have good AT and good access that wont happen. (Notice we spoke of two aspects to access there - two sides of the same coin of course)

But perhaps the issues actually go wider, did we take a wrong turn somewhere along the line when the Access community became the access (and accessibility) industry. I have been aware of many examples over the years when  the driver for activity within the field is not impact but an ongoing search for profit or funding. I make no distinction here between the Not for profit sector starved of funding, and the private sector with pressure for cashflow and ROI. There is the potential that as a result both sectors focus on the low hanging fruit, dealing with one website at a time, advocating high end assistive technologies - or as a management consultant once said to me

"You cant take small steps across a chasm"   

We need to acknowledge this challenge, we are all aging and have a need for accessibility now or in the near future. Alongside this is the problem of access to Assistive technology. Increasingly then I begin to think that the concept of Universal design is not in itself the solution, that principle needs to be coupled with the integration of pervasive access technologies that operate from within the cloud or on portable and mobile platforms.

By building in accessibility not as a set of standards, not as a bolt on but drawn from the internet itself we may have an opportunity to create a network that is intrinsically accessible, the tools and resources that we use would be based upon a core principle of universal access.

There is some fantastic work being done in this area, and it is crucial that these projects link closely together, projects like Inredis, AEGIS and Raising the Floor need to integrate not only with eachother but also with the key technology drivers such as Microsoft, Apple and Oracle. It may be that we need to kill accessibility in its current incarnation and look again at where our research, development, energy and funding are going if we are not going to be having this conversation in 10 years time and still saying that for significant parts of the population the benefits of communication, collaboration and community are denied.

So lets continue to make a case, companies will understand that there is a market for products delivered via accessible channels, developers may see that self interest and the interests of those around them demand access be made available, but we then need to ensure that the response to this self interest is not simply to try to place a sticking plaster over the wound, or even to try to sew the gaping edges together, rather it is to create a platform which facilitates that universal access.

That platform cannot be left in the hands of well meaning but probably misguided folks like me, nor can it be safely left solely in the hands of an Access Industry or Public sector, but instead within a growing ecosystem within which, each has a part to play. What those roles are and how they integrate together is beyond my tiny brain but Im sure that  there are others out there with the brainpower to think it through.

So perhaps we can't kill accessibility just yet, but maybe as we begin to co-ordinate our efforts in a common direction we might at least be able to put the sheets on the death bed, and take a shovel out to boot hill, just in case.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Workshop on Expanding Disability Access with Wireless Technologies

Ok now this is worth a watch - its an important event as the FCC recognised the importance of wireless and mobile technologies for people with a disability. It reflects my own experience in both the UK, europe and the Middle East which suggests that the key battle ground for accessibility is no longer the PC (however much still needs to be done) but is increasngly around portable devices and especially mobile phones.

The Access collective has a section on mobile solutions so watch out for it

Friday, 30 April 2010

and so the time is near and so I face the final curtain .......A personal review of the last 10 years

As I leave AbilityNet in two weeks I thought this was a good time to look back at what weve done and the things that im most proud of from that period. Im going to look ahead to the potential of the next stage of my career in another Blog.

One of the things in which I take most pride is in the development of teh concept of remote assessment, along with the team, especially Karen Maxwell and Pamela Hardaker we took this from an idea to a whole approach which sought to match services to need. This was enhanced by the development of the online self assessmnet tool and ultimately by the AAC and Easy assessment tools. This suite of tools, which are increasingly hard to find, offer users and professionals a structure by which assessment could take place, reducing the cost of identifying a solution to as little as possible.

The success of the concept, was one which I then applied t a range of other ideas. I wanted to explore how we could exploit web 2.0 technologies such as YouTube, Moodle, wiki's etc to reach tens of thousands of people without barriers of geography or cost. The success of that approach should have been clear to all, and my own personal commitment to it is shown that Im still maintaining these types of resources after many years.

Some of these ideas needed some funding to allow us to experiment, and the Communication Aids Project which we secured with John Liddle, took AbilityNet into the education sphere and the importance of early intervention. That work still has echoes in our work today such as the Play at IT and Low cost AAC projects

From an early stage we recognised that AT wasnot enough to bridge the digital divide. Access was reliant not only on having personal technoogy but also on the availability of Accessible digital content. With Robin Christopherson I was able to nurture the growth of the accessibility team from its early days and saw it establish itself as a genuine leader in its field - networked with some of the best in the world.

If the web was one network to build, Iwas fortunate also to be involved in building a physical network of locations and partners, from Scotland to Bristol with core resources and partners that would play a big part in the community hubs created through the Swicthed on Community projects.

Im writing this in Qatar where I'll be basing myself over the next two years. And that tells you much about those last 10 years. When we started I travelled to Newcastle, Edinburgh and on a really good day Dublin. But over those years AbilityNet became part of a much wider network and as a result I’ve had the chance to travel from one side of Europe to the other - from Turkey and Poland to Ireland - from Greece and Italy to Latvia. Throughout that travelling I was always struck by how the passion and commitment of those who want to bring about digital inclusion was universal.

I’ve taken the opportunity to see some of those places as well as work there, the Parthenon in Athens, the last supper in Milan the Warsaw ghetto and Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque in Istanbul and I’ve enjoyed them all - and I’ve appreciated the many people I’ve worked with showing me something of the culture and history in which we are trying to embed digital inclusion.

So ultimately it has been about the people I’ve worked with. The users of technology and the lives we’ve been able to impact upon. It’s easy to measure success by numbers of people helped. But it’s also important to measure success by the depth of impact on each person we have helped, balancing the superficial aid to 1000 people with the life changing impact on 100 - a balance of both needs to be sought and one loses sight of that at the risk of neglecting those in greatest need.

I’ve spoken about some of the many people I’ve worked with - in the UK, colleagues at AbilityNet but also those involved in digital inclusion in government and business, as well as in schools and charities. I’ve been able to work with colleagues from huge corporations such as IBM and Microsoft, as well as the European commission e-Inclusion team. and the principles we hold in common is far greater than differences in strategy and policy that might arise

I have to mention a couple of people we lost along the way, especially Dorothy and Dace. When you work closely together those losses count, but it’s those of us who carry on with the day to day work that I’m looking forward to collaborating with in the future. I want to see the partnerships I’ve had a role in, with Enable Ireland, with Telecentres europe, with Teleservicios and Barcelona Digital continue to thrive - so feel free to stay in touch - my email is and you’ll still find me on twitter and YouTube and my personal blog all with the same name. Ive recorded by final AbilityNet Podcast, but I’m not quitting podcasting and I have a new podcast I’m working on called the access collective which you can find on iTunes and the usual places

10 years ago I joined AbilityNet to be told that the team I was leading was at best unmanageable, total mavericks with an anarchc streak running right down the centre. At our first meeting we agreed that what we wanted working for AbilityNet to be "serious fun" and for so much of the time that’s just what it has been

So to paraphrase Jerry Garcia and Douglas Adams I can only say what a long strange trip it’s been, but in hindsight so long and thanks for all the fish

Saturday, 10 April 2010

The ethics of pirating ebooks you already own - a continuation

I read with interest the article by Randy Cohen on Gizmodo (see link above). In which he argues that whilst it may be illegal to download an ebook without paying for it, it isnt unethical, as long as you own a copy that you have purchased from a bookstore with money going to author and publisher. In doing so he introduces the moral dimension to what is an increasing acrimonious debate. Publishers are keen to "do a CD" where we all went out and bought music we had already purchased in a new format to take advantage of new players, and equally keep to avoid "doing an mp3" where we noticed we had bought the music twice already and just ripped or downloaded it to a new device.

Complicating this debate is that despite the reduced costs of distribution and production of ebooks as compared to both hard and softcover books, publishers are determined to squeeze every drop of blood out of the techie book buying market in a bizarre attepmpt to re-enact scenes from classic horror novels - but with more screaming.

Itnot even as if we get the added features of DVD's that sort of convinced us it was ok to update our VHS collection, we get a couple of mb of data to read at our leisure.

So in my view its ok to go into Tesco, buy a top 20 paperback and then have an electronic copy available - ESPECIALLY - if the print copy is not something you can use because becaise you have a print disability.

its not ok for publishers to offer special schemes where those poor disabled people can be tested to make sure they are disabled enough to have discounts, its not enough for publishers to claim that ebooks have to be this price to support investment in new technology - they have to produce electronic versions of texts, in accessible formats at a price that anyone can afford.

The whole point of books is that they are universal, something anyone can access regardless of time and place - as new technology offers increased universal access to reading we need to make sure that we pay a fair and reasonable cost for usage - regardless of format.

So it may well be illegal to download a copy of a book you have paid for - its probably equally illegal to photocopy it onto larger print - but that doesnt make it unethical or immoral. The sooner publishers and somne authors recognise this, the sooner the ebook explosion will actually happen - and everyone will benefit

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Enabling Technology - Time to stir things up

Now hear me out, but let's be honest, quite often accessibility is a bit boring. We are  all well meaning people and committed to social change and all that stuff. But when it gets down to it, when you really get down to it, we are all just a little bit geeky. Im sure that when the creators of "Big Bang Theory" were seeking inspiration, at some point someone said have you tried following these people on a11y threads. The writers must have looked at us and said "oh thank you god thats the first series in the can" 

So its time to have some fun. Ive written before that we needto rethink the language of accessibility if we are to gain widespread popular interest. One of the areas to consider is the term assistive technology. Assistive isnt a real word. Where else do we see that term ? Its one we made up in once upon a time, not really expecting anyone to ever actually use it. My definitions recently have become increasing vague culminating in "stuff that helps people do stuff" which even by my standards is a trifle imprecise.

So ive reverted to talking about "enabling technology" its easier to understand and doesnt have the "right on" clenched fist sense of "empowering technologies" Importantly it gives us a great hashtag (sorry for the use of the term) #ET

Why is this great, well because it takes us into a whole new world of popular litigation. The Geeks Vs Stephen Spielberg. We can take that iconic amblin logo and revamp it as a guy in a wheelchair, with a guidedog in a basket watching a GPS system. Now thats how you find your way home ET.

It would be great, and would help us get drinks in bars and get invites to better parties ..... hmmm perhaps my motivation is not altogther altruistic .... but whatever -"accessible but fun" thats   my marching call !

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Things that make you go hmmmmm - Paying through the nose for AT

As anyone who reads my blog knows, I get irate about stuff. At the moment my pet rant is the cost of hardware. Its not just the cost that riles me, its the comparitive price from specialist suppliers versus mainstream. Disabled users trust the specialists, trust them to understand their needs and recommend a solution that meets those needs. The problem is, that for some items the cost of that service is excessive.

Ive had a couple of examples given to me recently, indestructible keyboard - 29,99 from specialist - 7.99 from supermarket, large button mouse 34.99 from specialist, 3.99 from supermarket and a trackball 124.99 from specialist or 34.99 from the mainstream

Im not against a markup for service, but lets be honest in how many other fields would we accept 300% markup for someone giving us advice on what to buy. "No Dave" im told "its all about after sales support" but again lets be honest how much after sales support does a big mouse need. Its not as if a 6000 mile service needs to be booked in 

On top of that are the reseller arrangements, these deals prevent disabled people from one part of Europe getting the best price for solutions by buying from an alternatative supplier, as t vendor explains that they cant ship across borders etc.

So we face a number of issues, is it reasonable to make these levels of markup for product ? Are we using the markup from a low support item to subsidise the costs of meeting the needs of a user with a more complex solution. As  we move towards a customer driven AT market, should it be expected that elements of a solution such as support and training are priced seperately for the consumer to choose what they will buy.

Importantly here is some transparency and simplicity around the costs of inclusive technologies. As a consultant Im always telling companies that the cost of meeting needs is very small, but if some of the pricing is unrealistic that may fly in the face of their experience.

So im toying with some form of wiki where users can tell others about sources of good quality, but low cost AT or individualised solutions. Something that complements the growth of open source solutions in software - I may call it "" or maybe not

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Putting YouTube AutoCaption Feature through its paces

I saw the announcement from YouTube that the initial trials of the machine genrated captions had been well received so they were making the service available to all users. Great timing, I was just working on completing my first videocasts for YouTube using xtranormal state to create a virtual animated AT show.

The AT show used a range of voices, some synthesised, a recording of me and the audio from embedded videos, So to be honest I wasnt expecting much. But I hate captioning so was willing to give it a go. The actual download of the machine generated caption file is really easy - just click on the option when you look at editting your video. 

The file that downloaded has a combination of timings and machine generated text. The timings are extremely useful and seemed about 90% accurate for matching to the on screen speech. The actual text is a mish mash of very accurate transcription and complete nonsense. But editting the existing file is a huge timesaver for me as opposed to creating the file from scratch.

I loaded the YouTube file into Magpie 2 the open source caption editor - all the timings loaded and I then editted each line as I played back my original video. The whole thing took me aboout 90 minutes to do the best part of 20 minutes of video - for me that is a huge time saving. 

Really importantly all the tools I needed were free and were really easy to use - which for a man of little brain like myself is a major asset. 

Have a look at the final productions below 

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Lets hear it for the BBC - Accessibility and the Future

Lets be honest it cant have been a great week to be an employee at the BBC. Closing radio stations, public outcry and hidden in the press the announcement that the web team would be cut.
Now im not going to argue the merits or otherwise of the need to reduce their output, I happen to listen to 6Music and will be bitterly disappointed if it goes. But what really worries me is the reduction in the web team. Over the past five years, the BBC have been at the forefront of the digital inclusion movement within the UK. iPlayer BBC  many the opportunity to access their favourite TV on demand on a computer as and when they were able to access it. But more than that, the  BBC committed to designing a website to accessibility standards when many others were hoping the issue would go away. They commissioned, maintained and recently updated the "My Web, My Way" information resource that is now becoming an intrinsic part of other organisations accessibility portfolio. Under the guidance of Jonathan Hassell and his team, the BBC grappelled with some difficult and challenging issues, most recently the need to produce content suitable for people with learning disabilities. The use of video within the BBC website to communicate with non readers is consistently of a high standard.

There were other initiatives as well, some of the ceebeebies website was designed to allow children who were switch users to access games, the ill fated BBC Jam had some superb age appropriate resources for learners with disabilities, through these and its BBC ouch channel the BBC has truly shone as a very clear beacon or standard of commitment.

Clearly things are changing at the BBC - I blame Jonathan Ross, thats just a general blame nothing specific, but lets hope that the BBC recognises and values what it has itself achieved in deleivering the mandate from the Royal Charter.

That charter lays out the mandate of the BBC  as including 

  • A redefinition of the BBC's "public services" (which are considered its prime function):
    • Sustaining citizenship and civil society;
    • Promoting education and learning;
    • Stimulating creativity and cultural excellence;
    • Representing the UK, its nations, regions and communities;
    • Bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK;
    • Helping to deliver to the public the benefit of emerging communications technologies and services, and taking a leading role in the switchover to digital television.
  • The BBC must display at least one of the following characteristics in all content: high quality, originality, innovation, to be challenging and to be engaging.
  • The BBC must demonstrate that it provides public value in all of its major activities

The accessibility portfolio of the BBC is one of the finest ways in which this is achieved. So make sure that if you have an opportunity you applaud their work, the web would be a poorer place without it  

Monday, 1 March 2010

The State of the Internet - and accessibility

Interesting perspective on the current use of the Internet from Jesse Thomas on Vimeo

Now this is quite interesting showing the scale of use of the internet, especially social media and rich media. We can see the discrepency between countries around the world and speed of use etc.

What the video doesnt really say is the levels of usage amongst disabled users in each sector, and what factors in each influence their take up. Its very easy to assume that similar issues face all users or all disabled users regardless of geography.

What we face is a matrix of barriers for disabled users

One one axis we have all the barriers that related to generic access to technology, cost, availability of broadband, censorship etc

On a second axis we have issues of access to a platform and availability of assistive technologies. That includes the extent to which we have availability of free and open source solutions as well as awareness and funding for commercial solutions 

On the third axis we have design and accessibilty - looking at the available of accessible content that will effectively interact with the assistive technologies. 

Jess3's video analysis is disturbing enough in analysing the growth of social media and dependency, unsettling in the implications of inequalities of access to knowledge in the future - but for those with a disability - it hardly begins to tell the story.    

Monday, 22 February 2010

Glove Controllers for Rehab

I spent a little while in Barcelona recently and was fortunate enough to visit UPF to look at some of the new technologies that they were working with. I know its a tough job, but i rose to the occasion as ever. One technology I managed to get my hands on (or in) was a set of Glove controllers.

Whilst they took a bit of getting used to, especially with my big hands, the technology was very easy to use and certainly encouraged co-ordination and movement.  

The question that sprang to mind as I used the technologies was how was the specialist technology different from many of the things that I could do on a Nintendo Wii or more recently things that we see developing on the Microsoft Natal platform. The real difference that the system offered lay in the software, which leads us to the potential of such virtual worlds being made commercially for mainstream platforms or dare we suggest as open source or creative commons options. Those could then be made available via the online delivery of software that is available via wii points or Xbox live.
But the really important thing is that after practice I became really good at hitting the ball back and Im happy to take on all comers !

Sunday, 21 February 2010

AT of the Week - Potential New Service

I was thinking the other day about what can I do to help make access technologies more widely available. In the past I've worked with large IT companies to help integrate free and open source technologies into gold build systems for schools and companies, and Ive supported the work of Raising the Floor whenever I've been able to. But the trurth is Id like to do a little more - and something which would reach directly to users as well as to those working with them.

One of the things Ive done in the past was to set up a bittorrent tracker for open source AT and information resources, my timing wasnt the best as it coincided with the announcemnet from ISP's that they would close down your connection if you were caught file sharing - no regards to social responsibility was made !

But for  a while Ive been a follower of giveawayoftheday a great source for freebie versions of software which has at times included magnifiers or text input solutions and that led me to think could I create a small repository of AT that was released to users on a regular basis - say a new programme each week or so - that would give people time to find out about them - and would give me time to find, upload and share those resources 

I could probably do that via dropbox or similar - but Id love to know if it is something you would see as useful 



Sunday, 14 February 2010

Introduction to AAC

This slideshare is from my colleagues at Enable Ireland

Welcome to my Personal Blog

Hello to anyone who comes this blog. For those who dont know me I work as Director of Developmnet at AbilityNet in the area of assistive technology and access technologies. For the past few years Ive managed our web 2.0 presence and developed our online communities. More recently Ive wanted to talk a little more personally about the field within which I work and this is part of that response. 

Im especially interested in the integration of online communities into a single network, and wanted a degree of flexibility to test and trial ways of doing that so creating a personal blog will help me to do that.

Ill still be contributing to the AbilityNet blog from time to time, but to help integrate that thinking, Ive archived all of my personal bloggings from the past couple of years onto this blog as well (if for no other reason to remind myself what Ive already said !) 

I guess the final thing to say in an introduction is the disclaimer - I like these, they hopefully get me off any hooks I impale myself upon - but basically all the ramblings here are the product of my own head, they certainly dont reflect any views held by my employers, and may not even reflect my own views tomorrow. 

I look forward to sharing those ramblings in the future  

Some thoughts on Apple

Why do I not love apple products - its not rational I know - I admire their build, their interface, the clarity - all of that stuff, but for some reason I dont love them
I was sitting here looking at my Ipod today, its silver and shiny and plays back music, shows me my videos photos all sorts of things, but I have the same affection for it that I do a housebrick
I think I feel no affection because it doesn't reglect me individually at all. My PC is an extension of me, where files are stored, how backups are run what it looks and feels like are all extensions of me, they are shaped arround my needs and preferences
My Ipod just stares at me, daring me to want it to be different, in my more paranoid moments it seems to be saying "Im an Ipod - you have to love me" its like my cat used to be - demanding but inflexible.
And thats my problem with the IPod - its so good out of the box that I can do nothing with it - and I want - right down to how I copy my music over to it - I dont wnat to use Itunes - its slow and irritating to me but there doesnt really seem to be an alternative - My Napster subscription doesnt work with my Ipod, I suspect because Apple dont want me using Napster.
On a serious note this lack of ability to customise impacts upon the usability of the device - I cant seem to increase fonts, change contrasts all of the things that help me as a user - its really quite frustrating
I suppose its allways good to come up with new analogies - but the Ipod is like a supermodel, expensive, cool, beautiful but really out of reach for people like me - I htink Ill stick with the girl next door

eBooks - killing a new media

Ok so Im not in the best of moods tonight, despite a 3-1 win for England, I still feel grumpy.
But thats not been helped by my recent visit to Waterstones online, I thought I'd cheer myself up by actually purchasing a new ebook for the great Sony eBook reader. At this point I felt myself transform into Richard Wilson (the funny version not the current model appearing in the appalling Merlin) How much do they want for an ebook ???  This must be some form of a joke because the print versions of tehse are selling for £3.84 in Tesco, let me get this right, no print run, reduced distribution costs, simpler editting process and you want me to pay 50-100%  more for the privilege ?
Hang on I get it now - Im an early adopter of a technology, or in marketing speak "Ripe for exploitation" but actually heres the thing - I can make really simple comparisons of prices, I dont normally carry more than one paperback at a time anyway - I like this new media but I have alternatives. Well I do, but not everyone does have.
What i really liked about ebooks was the potential for the content, be it Horror, Humour or whatever, to be serperated from the presentation. Want your book in large print Press "+" want to hear speech output press "Speech" but if I want this flexibility - I need to pay a premium - those that dont want it - will stick with traditional media, hence keeping the market small and the prices high
I thought publishers and booksellers were going to learn from the mistakes of all those other media companies, music, and films faile dto grasp the potential of this market. Television is getting there, and here was an opportunity for publishers to make a killing, instead they seem to determined to kill the medium instead.
And at the end of the day, its readers with individual needs who will find that once again thos eneeds can only be met at a price.

Wearable computing - a new generation

Very interesting idea at - The technology described appears to take a heads up camera or audio headset and allow a remote guide to provide a report on visual information that a blind user cant make sense of. The technology is intended to enhance the work done by a guidedog with more specific information on demand.
Its a really interesting idea and certainly adds a new dimension to options for wearable computing - most wearable systems integrate computer generated data with a real world view. This works by taking a real world view - transferring it to a sighted guide who then relays that imnformation back to the user.
The basic principles would be one sthat might interest other users, the idea of being able to remotely support a user with alzheimers who feels lost or disorientated by grabbing a camera view of surroundings and getting guidance from an aide could be quite valuable
You can of course take the concept still further, if we have mobnile phones that can extract data from an image and present it as text, (phots of lists, recipes etc) which can then be read by a screenreader - could we extend this further, integrating better GPS systems, or technology that recognises visual cues and gives feedback as a result. Such information could be relayed automatically through a heads up display - or could offer something simple into the display such as a magnification of fine detail that the user can't manage naturally.
Genoaconnections Video
It does pose some interesting concepts, where technology still further connects users to services, in this case on demand - but relies uponthat connection to deliver human intervention - plenty there to think about

4x4's in the parking bays

We took my father in law out this week, he's nearly 90 and very slow on his feet. As the weather wasn't great we decided to go for lunch. He has a blue disability badge so we hoped to park near the entrance in the disabled bays. It wasn't to be - 5 spaces, 2 taken up by 4x4's driven by folsk with kids who felt they needed a big space with those big wheels and stuff. 
Ok I was very irritated, but it got me wondering, whats the technology equivalent of a 4x4 in the parking bay. What are the things that are stopping universal design happening ?
Well a couple of things struck me - the first was the design ethos - make it small, make it sexy - sell it by appeal. Yes I am talking about mobile phone designers. Surely the cost of designing a keyboard for human fingers, or adding extra features to manage menus such as voice output are much smaller than the quest to convince us that the phone that was so "it" six months ago now marks us out as a pariah in a hip society  (when they get to be 2 years ago they are retro and hip again - but only if we buy a new retro phone not just kept the old one) Technology as fashion is killing usability.
But its more than that, the obsession with speed isnt helping - Google Chrome sacrifices massive functionality in the desire to startup faster than IE - thats not good, we dont take the brakes out of cars to make them accelerate sooner (atleats not as far as I know)   
Im sure there are other chelsea tractors out there - any ideas ?

$100 Laptop - Not like this

October 24th, 2008
I opened the parcel eagerly, a new portable PC £99, was this the tools by which we could help bridge the digital divide ? Nicely packaged - big corporate logo and inside the box a matt black device awaited me. I slowly lifted it out of the box, actually quite slowly because as I lifted it there was a strange rattling noise coming from in the case.  I took it over to my desk, opened the screen out, whereupon it immediately tipped backwards. I stood it up, it tipped backwards It was like have my very own weeble that wobbled but it did fall down. Oh I thought looking at the back, it has an inbuilt stand to stop it tipping up……. it has a what ? What one earth is this ?
I started it up, it slowly, oh so slowly started - I went and made coffee - I came back and began to use the mouse replacement to click on the start button and to open its word processor, oh dear god its awaful. And it gets worse …. imagine a mobile phone keyboard for 101 keys, rubber keytops, and a sense of the most cheap keys imaginable - my letter h keeps sticking out of the box, two keys only respond some of the time
No mouse included in the box so I persevere
No I dont - my review has lasted 15 minutes and I really cant bear it much longer, is this really how we see the digital divide being bridged, how we see the world embracing a knowedge society, how we see disabled people on low income joining the online community ?
I dont think so - someone needs to take the developers of this and say - its not good enough, its not going to work if we need to get people online we need to give them real tools to get online, this isnt worth £100, or £50 or pretty much anything bacuse the digitaly excluded will simply choose to remain excluded if this is teh best we can offer them
Im not sending it back though - its a great prop to show at courses to explain how not to design a computer - I think I can fill 30 minutes at least on every course I run whilst people tell me whats wrong with it !   

Sunday, 7 February 2010

So the keyboard and mouse are dead ?

October 28th, 2008
When Bill Gates announced that the Keyboard and Mouse were dead, I took each word with a pinch of salt as usual. But events seem to be proving him right. my local train station is festooned with posters for new mobile phones - now we wont go into the pros and cons of phone marketing, but the big posters have one thing in common, they are all promoting touch based devices. Most of the devices dont even come with a keyboard alternative and the dynamic screens scroll through various menus dynamically, as you touch them. We’ve all seen these and can look forward to seeing this interface being built into PC’s systematically with Windows 7 - Asus have just released their £399 touch minibookso we can see increasingly direct interaction growing in the future
But touch isnt the only interface that is growing, Voice control is a real optrion for all now with the advent of VR in Vista, if you havent tried it - why not ? Apple have announced voice output on the nano 4th gen (albeit through an incrediubly convulted route involving itunes) and thrid party developers are getting in the act. Accenda have introduced a hardware addon to the ipod that gives vpice control over menus simlar to the voice tags in my N95 mobile
Weve been keeping tabs on new control systems on our youtube channel - go to or you can try this playlist

Time for TASBO's?

November 3rd, 2008
I do need to get out more, I know that. But I was surfing the web last night, looking for information about local fireworks and as I did so was struggling to find information on our council website - poor design, poor navigation just poor everything. That led me to think - its time to introduce TASBO’s. Technology Anti Social Behaviour Orders ! We could “award” them, not just because technology is poor, or because a website is inaccessible, but reserve them for people who seem to deliberately and consistently ignore the basic principles of design for all.
There are so many of them - and not just web and software developers - manufacturers of mobile phones, digital TV desktop sets, MP3 players - so often you look at a new product and wonder - how could you not think about disabled users, or at least make as cursory nod in their direction ?
I sued to think it was just lack of awareness, I once was asked to look at a kiosk designed for wheelchair users, it was smooth and sleek, the sort of kiosk you would want to take home to meet your Mum, and enjoy showing off to your friends, beautifully designed to accomodate wheelchairs, a sleek silver trackball and button navigated the web browser. Which was great unless you coldn’t manipulate a trackball, when I discussed this the company turned into Homer Simpson “Doh!!!”
But thats not a good enough explanation for why new hardware and software are so poor - I see reps from these companies at exhibitions meetings and conferences - but they are willing to sacrifice access, for speed or other functionality.
To each of them a TASBO - maybe one day a hall of infamy ? who knows ?

Shout and Shoot !

November 6th, 2008

I dont excited that often - you may have noticed. But Ive just seen an advert on The TV that got the juices flowing. Endgame a new game for PC and Xbox 360 claims to be the worlds first game that can be completely controlled by voice alone. There have been other voice games, but nothing that is of true arcade quality and will appeal to hardcore gamers. (if you havent seen it try “pah!” on the web.

We’ve seen other technologies make the transition from mainstream to assistive and vice versa - eyetoy on PS2 and camgoo on the PC are good examples, but this is the first time that I feel that voice control has moved from being functional and into being central.

So if you are a voice user,and you wnat to become part of the bizarre online gaming world - this might just be your chance - let us know what you think, im off to see if PC world is still open 1

Friday Night is YouTube Night

November 7th, 2008
ok actually most nights are YouTube night in our house. I mostly blame my son, he bought himself a laptop and now seamlessly multitasks between Lost (we bought the DVD’s and are now hooked midway through season 2) and YouTube. Now the problem is every 45 seconds he interupts my attempts to make sense of the magical island with “have you seen this !!!!” And we pause the DVD whilst we attach something he has found. All of which is ok - and reflects the popular image of YouTube as home to the best trash TV in the world
But theres a whole lot more there, and the popular image of the resource is doing some harm. Im midway through the ubuntu training course I found on the site, ( ) Im Watching Eric Nindens Video Blog regularly - but he hasnt posted for a while is he OK ??? - Ive learnt about new technologies, approaches to different needs, perspectives froma  global community - it has honestly broadened my world outlook. Yet in schools and in many workplaces its blocked - we seem to be still runnng through the same arguemnets with the social networks as we did when the Internet and web first became popular - yes there is material I find abhorrent and offensive, yes I have to know how to be safe, but I want the benefits most of all.
And those benefits are potentially huge for disabled people, a group that has traditionally been denied much access to the mass media have an opportunity to have their voce heard - if you dont believe me check out Keith Wanns comedy - how technology killed deaf culture and his take on Ice Ice Baby do as much to dispel any preconceptions of deaf people you might have as anything the deaf organisations might want to say.
Oh to hell with it - thats the great thing about networks - lets share

Now its back to Lost, although its always possible to combine of our obsessions into one neat package

The power and cost of ignorance

November 11th, 2008
I spent some time looking at youtube videos tonight - nothing new there - but just for a change I decided to look at some of the comments and replies that videos generate. What is scary - is the amount of opinion that is posted as fact - and often based on little more than prejudice and bias.
Just for the record im not talking about the Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross debate, Im thinking about how easy it is to mislead vulnerable users.
I was looking at opinions and comments on videos uploaded that demonstrated Vista voice recognition. Now Vista VR is a powerful tool that works well for many if not all users. Its helpful for people with Dyslexia, Physical disabilities, RSI and a range of other needs where keyboards become inaccessible. It has a number of really useful tools, not least of all the show numbers command and the mousegrid. I also like to see users talking about their experience the positives and the negatives.
Importantly for Vista users its free, and allows everyone the chance to try this technpology perhaps for the first time. So it is especially frustrating when people give opinions based on  no experience, evidence or knowledge.
Telling people that VR is hopeless, useless and a joke, based on how you dont like the developer is immensley childish. Users who need the tools, are encouraged not to try them based on “experts” giving ill informed opinions. As a result, people remain in pain, don’t get online, dont get the chance to gain qualifications, or a job or whatever else might have been possible.
I know that everyone needs to learn to appreciate the quality of what they find on the internet - but for many users - simply the fact that someone knows how to use YouTube or a Blog or whatever marks them down as some form of expert and hence ill informed opinions are validated.
For this reason if no other its important to help users find genuine independent advice and guidance - our helpline on 0800 269545 is one example and there are others, where ive seen bad advice I try to encourage people to use this website and make a call for advice - let us know if you see bad advice and we’ll try to balance that out and help users make informed decisions.
Of course equally tell them where to find us - if you find us helpful - spread the word

Things to add to World Usability Day

November 13th, 2008
I hadn’t realised, it was like missing my wife’s birthday - all I can do is pop into a garage and find flowers and chocs - but today Im celebrating world usability day !!!  What a great idea, lets delve into the website and explore the burning issues of how we grapple with an inaccessible web, how we celebrate the advent of voice and touch as a real interface - what lessons do we learn from 20 years of inclusive design as we move into a new web 3 era
Hang on  - let me looka that website again
Ohhhhh its about usability of tranportation - well thats still cool…. low level buses, RFID tags on public transport, the advent of GPS with voice as a wayfinder ……….
Hang on lets look at that website again
Through the Global Transport challenge ill be able to …..
  • MEASURE your everyday transportation usage
  • MONITOR your  personal carbon travel footprint and compare yourself to othersaround the world
  • MINIMIZE your energy usage through alternative transportation choices, carbon offsets, and simple travel changes  thereby  maximizing the impact on our world.
WHAT !!!
Hang on this was supposed to be about usability - its there at the top of the page - ok maybe its my mistake - Ill look it up on the web …. hmmm no cant see it there “Carbon emissions and usability” nope not really related…. in any way…. whatsover
Now Im all for reducing greenhouse gases, I believe in recycling - I even do it
But…. why is world usability day focussing on the environment ?
Maybe someone somewhere decided this was more important - well OK - lets see what else we could usefully lump in on Nov 13th to cofuse people
1 Usability and Obesity - the social networks of healthy school dinners
2 A usable economic downturn - how to design your very own credit crunch
3 Usable Obama ?
Its not as if we get a lot of days to draw attention to usability and accessibility - so you might have thought, you might have even felt strongly, that World Usability Day should make some vague attempt to talk about usability
OK its a precedent - the important thing is to identify a public day and then talk about something completely different on it
1 World Innovation Day -Does Santa Exist ?
2 World Health Day - World of Warcraft - where now ?
3 World Carfree Day - How to stop your computer making every part of your body hurt so that you cant access education, employment or connect to people
Your ideas for other things that World Usability Day might like to cover in 2009, and inappropriate days to draw attention to usability are always appreciated

Come the revolution - the first against the wall will be .... (part 1)

November 20th, 2008
This is likely to be a running theme - depending on who has wound me up most on any particular day. In the past I’ve included people with pseudo therapies, people with good ideas who bury them in academic papers that no-one reads, marketing executives who insist that a  web page cannot be viewed in anything but the corporate style and probably myself for constantly failing to meet my own low standards.
But today I need to turn my attention to people who design inaccessible forms. I am sitting at my computer looking at a form in word format to fill out to support an application to a public funding stream. I really, really want to meet the person who designed it like this
Lets take a few examples of things that are making me fume
If I click on any of the pre-populated text telling me what to do - it leaps 6 pages to the first text entry box !
The spell checker is disabled on the text I’m typing
If I try to navigate around my text using the arrow keys - it leaps to the next text entry box
Copy and Paste do not seem to respond
All the text is in bold
Tabbing between boxes appears to tab between pages
It is truly a hideous document - and its not the first Ive had - is it a test of my commitment (or sanity) is it someone’s idea of a joke on their last day in post ? Maybe it is just me and I upset the developer ( that does seem feasible now I think about it)
And you know the funny thing, the thing that will make you fall off your chair giggling inanely
The application is all about how to help people engage with technology !!!
No.1 big letters EASE OF USE - dont ever ever ever ever ever send them any forms like this !!!!
Oh by the way  it doesnt work with screen readers either - clearly blind people dont run projects  - Doh !!

Ok the whole world has finally gone mad

December 15th, 2008
Ive not been well you know, a touch of flu - the real thing - not wimpy man flu
So maybe thats why I found this news story so confusing
A US company has created a new gun designed to be used by the elderly and is claiming that it has gotten approval to market the 9mm handgun as a ‘medical device’.
The odd-looking Palm Pistol is designed for those old folk that can’t fire normal guns due to arthritis or other conditions. Some would argue that old folk, or anyone else, shouldn’t be firing guns in the first place.
The sales material reads:
“It is also ideal for seniors, disabled or others who may have limited strength or manual dexterity. Using the thumb instead of the index finger for firing, it significantly reduces muzzle drift, one of the principal causes of inaccurate targeting. Point and shoot couldn’t be easier.”
I dont even know how to categorise this one - portable solutions ? Funny how it doesnt turn up on world usability day anywhere ?
I guess somewhere I have to appreciate the intent, there are older people out there who like shooting things, tin cans, maybe rabbits, im not sure that there is a huge problem of drive by’s amongst the over 65’s but I may be wrong. If its legal, and they enjoy it I guess I should welcome the design
But im so confused - maybe cos - ITS A GUN
There are lots of things that people enjoy - maybe it would be really good to see these design skills focussed on something a little less lethal - how about a one handed gaming controller - or …. well just about anything.
It poses another thought - what else do we not want to see adaptations for, where do we draw a line or is that just my liberal bias showing through again
Anyway back to Skynyrds’ Gimmee Back My Bullets for me

Keeping it personal

January 5th, 2009
So there I am on Itunes - downloading podcasts - like many I spend too much time in the car and listening to something other than my favourite albums is a good way of staying awake at the wheel. There are a great range of podcasts, football phone ins, disability shows, film reviews and music compilations and shows. I’m just downloading new music from BBC 6 when it hits me - I sued to do this with a cassette player.
Home taping it was called and I was often reminded that it was “killing music” (that’s before ripping CD’s was killing music and before file sharing was killing music - it was an early death) But hang on, here I am downloading lots of new music from the BBC and they’ve actually made it easy for me to do so, and rather than killing music apparently now I’m taking part in a vibrant youthful pastime. My Music My way (or something)
So it appears that someone has realised that in this bright technological era we like our music on demand - in a format we can use when we want it - its  a bit like Sky + I suppose or Ch 4 + 1 using technology to suit my lifestyle
It struck me that this principle is one we see in various media - I guess the web itself is about information on demand, but movies, software, images are all available to us on demand, on demand is about the user being in control of the point of delivery.
Its the same concept that is applied increasingly to assistive technologies. We want out support to be available anytime anywhere, not limited by installations on single machines but recognising the fact that many users are mobile - using multiple technologies such as phones, laptops, or hot desking on a network.
So its for this reason that we should welcome some of the developments that are taking place, in the free and open source arena we see NVDA, System Access to Go and Portable apps being developed that can either be streamed across the internet or installed on a flash drive and carried with the user. It was these resources that we utilised in equipping the cyber cafe at the einclusion event in Vienna last Month. Similarly we should welcome the flexibility that companies such as Dolphin, Crick and ClaroSoft are offering with their on demand solutions for screen readers, predictive word-processing and reading support.
It seems a good sign that the At companies seem to be embracing the new technologies whilst perhaps the media world had to be dragged kicking and screaming to meet the new methods of distribution. But what will the next evolution of AT solutions look like ?

Windows 7 - A step forward to disabled users ?

January 16th, 2009
This week Microsoft released its beta of windows 7. Ive been able to take a good look at some of the new features that are available for disabled users and to share some first impressions. The version I looked at was described by one Microsoft guy as vista point 1 - and it is impressive.
Some of the immediate things that jumped out at me were
1 The new On Screen Keyboard
In the beta the OSK is completely re-sizable and has word prediction integrated. Both of these are really important, for many users the old OSK was just too small to be functional, and the ability to make it fill as much of the screen as you like is great. That’s especially true when you combine it with a touchscreen device. (more of that later) The word prediction seems very functional and clear - its great that its built into the OS rather than Office as it means that it should work with all applications.
2 Magnification
Magnifier now has a full screen mode as well as a lens allowing you to view a part of the screen at any one time. It seemed very easy to use and whilst the fonts dont smooth quite as well as I would like it still seemed quite readable at up to 200% - This is now a great way to introduce levels of magnification to users without any software to be installed.
3 Voice recognition
Lots of general improvements have taken place, but I especially noted  the ability to create individual profiles for users easily. You can also introduce a hands free operation mode for those with no use of mouse or keyboard. The system I was using had no headset but immediate responses were favourable.
4 Touch
Windows 7 comes with drivers to support tablet, touch and multitouch interfaces. Let me say that again, native drivers for touch and multitouch. This is going to make touch devices widely available - Ive blogged before on the value of touch but this is a major step forward, watch this space for more details on this
5 Display settings
Changting display settings has always been a bot of a pain in windows but this has been improved in a big way. You can now choose between font sizes and presentation in windows as 100% 150% or 200% at one click from the display option in the control panel, very easy to use and reset.
Before you ask I didnt get a chance to test narrator - but watch this space for more details when I do
So first impressions are really positive the whole thing is faster and has a smaller footprint – users I met described it working on a 233mhz Pentium 2 or on a netbook with 1gb ram - thats got to make the uptake of some of these new technologies  easier and cheaper for users.
The other area which was worth noting was the new compatibility wizard. windows now takes you through a step by step wizard to try to get software that wont run in windows 7 to work with some OS changes. It seemed very easy to use and quite effective and may well help those with older AT or legacy software. Microsoft assured me that pretty much all Vista software will run on windows 7 unless the software had been written to exploit a bug in Vista etc
You can download a copy of the beta at
There are also some videos of the beta at
Sadly no video of the accessibility options yet !
Overall what can I say - is it a step forward to disabled users ? well first impressions seem to suggest its more of a leap really !