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.

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 "comparethemaltron.com" 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.    

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