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