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.

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 !

Im Holding out for a hero..... (c) Tina Turner

January 26th, 2009
We live in celebrity obsessed times, reality TV, 24 hour news and gossip mags reinforce this time after time. In the UK government changes to school diets were introduced when Celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver made it a cause celebre
Accessibility doesnt appear to have such a champion. It was great to hear Stevie Wonder speak out on the issues of touch devices and visual impairment at conferences
Equally we were delighted to have Francesca Martinez - comedienne, actress and AT user speak at our Access IT awards last year. But we dont yet have the level of celebrity endorsement for accessibility that would attract the interest of the mass media in the way that celebrity endorsement of anti hunting, anti fur or green issues have done
Its not as if celebrities dont get older, or dont develop needs like the rest of us, maybe its because as they get older so often youth obsessed media simply ignore them, In the past we have supported a number of “household names” but have never sought their endorsement publically
Perhaps we should - if we are going to really bring about systemic change - we need some champions, some heroes, that includes celebrities, but also grassroots “activists” who will tell the story, support the aims, help fund and act as gatekeepers
Still if Tina’s not currently available - any other ideas ?

Powerpoint - A guide to ease of use

I spent the last two days in Brussels looking at CIP funding for ICT and inclusion - throughout the workshops there were many presentations - at one point I was struggling to read the powerpoints and take notes and listen to the speaker when it struck me that many of my problems were caused by poor ease of viewing in the slides. Sligtly bizarre when yiou remember the topics we were there to discuss.
As a result I thought it might be helpful to have a quick and easy guide to some key things to get right when preparing a presentation - easpecially if we wnat those materials to be as accessible to the audience as possible and hence inclusive.
1 Colour Contrasts
Provide strong contrasts between your text and the backgrounds - make the words that you want to convey stand out clearly
2 One point per bullet
Avoid providing too much text on a slide - dont make us read long paragraphs with too much text - use bullet points with one clear message communicated on each
3 Avoid confusing backgrounds
Dont overlay text across graphics - its very visually confusing and makes it more difficult to understand your key messages.
4 Include Alternative Text for images
If you are going to distribute your powerpoint to the audience make sure you add text to images to say what information they convey - screenreaders need this information - its also useful to all users who dont have your narration to work from for context
5 Consider Size of Text
Think about the size of audience and size of screen - how long does it take to read the screen - be confident to communicate points across slides rather than cramp the slide visually
6 Use titles not text boxes
Again this makes it easier for users to navigate through the slides to find key information - especially useful for screen reader users
7 Use simple consistent fonts
A well spaced sans serif font such as Arial is ideal - dont mix and match fonts as much as possible
8 Use diagrams sparingly
Diagrams are very valuable - but think about the clarity and ease of use - try to aim for a simple layout to clarify complex messages - dont try to convey too much visually - confusing the users
9 Use the notes pane to give VI users additional Information
You arent there to explain your slides when they are distributed so notes may be important
10 Test it out
If youre not sure ask someone to look at it for you - projected and viewed from distance - if they are having to strain to read or understand your points go back and try again
Remember - good design benefits everyone on your audience disabled and non disabled (Noddy's) alike

MP brands dyslexia a 'fiction' - AbilityNet Brands Solutions a 'fact'

Always interested when someone with an audience decides to stir the pot a little, and MP Graham Stringer seems to have decided to do just that.
Without any sense of Irony Mr Stringer manages to condemn specialist teaching methods in schools, and then in the same breath suggest another approach.
It does seem odd - that so much time, and dare we say money, is spent on a debate on teaching methods and perhaps a "cure" for dyslexia when in fact technologies exist that make make reading and writing accessible anyway
For many years those with reading and writing challenges, including those with Dyslexia have been overcoming the problem through the use of technology, from spell checkers to voice output, voice recognition to predictive word processors people with Dyslexia have been guided to find solutions that are effective for them. Quietly adults failed by schools have addressed the issue through technology with advice and guidance from organisations like AbilityNet with free factsheets and the telephone helpline.
The latest technologies extend these free tools still further for users, helping to bridge not only the digital divide but the literacy challenge as well - we've already blogged on the new features in windows 7 - and are distributing open source support for reading via our main website pages. what do we know, we know these things make a difference, engaging people with learning and leading to qualifications and employment.
Maybe the label isnt helpful sometimes, but its important to focus on real issues rather than column inches. We know that many people struggle with reading and writing and we know that we have the technology, we know that we can help - we can make the difference - and the solutions may be free for many already
So if Mr Stringer would like to know more about how to help those that are struggling. you know where to send him -

When everything is streamed online - will we all be able to use it ?

February 2nd, 2009
I read this story with some interest - in the age of digitail TV - UK broadcasters are committing to streaming all of their content online
Now this only makes my ongoing schizophrenia rear its ugly head - am I pleased / am I worried ?
(Ok maybe its only lack of decisiveness rather than any underlying pathology)
But its perhaps indicative of the ongoing stresses and strains we see as new technologies evolve without real care taken to ensure they are accessible to all. There are already a number of providers offering streaming content. The problems of keyboard access to youtube are well documented - but equal problems arise with a number of the media streaming services for on demand TV.
It should be a great opportunity - modern computers have a host of features to maximise access to content, magnifiers, on screen keyboards etc etc - But poor design of the players, even when embedded within accessible webpages is an ongoing problem.
I know there are lots of people out there creating great scripts to help, but really is that the long term answer ? We shouldn’t be relying on talented and committed programmers developing scripts to overcome the problems of initial poor design
So what do you think ? Which of the streaming servcies do you use - and with what results ?
Im off to see if Lost series 3 is available on demand

Mobile Phone Choice - Form and Function

February 13th, 2009
I guess this blog is a work in progress as I start to gather thoughts for the 3rd european eaccessibility forum in Paris at the end of March. My talk is non provocative which is unusual for me, and draws upon research we have just completed on the factors influencing mobile phone selection amongst disabled users. This first blog post (just prior to me submitting the abstract, no coincidence there) is a chance to gather these thoughts into two broad categories - youve guessed form and function
Form refers to the handset design and ease of access, its all about how easy the handset and services are to customise. Can you change the font size, can you zoom, change contrast settings, use voice input or output etc weve begun a sort of grid of questions that you could explore based on operating system or handset manufacturer.
The main use for these questions is then to guide disabled users at work and beyond to select the handset that most meets their needs.
But the second part of the choice focusses on function, partly this is about the same functions that we all select handsets for, does it handle email, skype, take photos. etc But its also about how disabled people might choose to utilise those functions. It is this latter area that I want to explore more - how might people with memory loss be making use of phones with GPS or LIfeblog ? A blind user might make great use of voicenotes ? or those who get unduly stressed (like me) might find that some of the functions such as lava lamp or art galleries help relax and unwind alright that is just me
But you get the idea - and thast what Ill talk about in Paris on March 30 - Ill keep unpicking this a little more in the blog leading up to my presentation - you can help me out (although you cant come with me) by sharing your thoughts on the form and functions that influence mobile phone use amongst those that are disabled - Post them here !
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