A couple of interesting news items have crossed my desk recently that exemplify how technology is continuing to make a really useful contribution to helping with accessibility.
For example, I was really interested to note how AI (Artificial Intelligence) is helping people in the real world – with this great story, originally published in Les Echos and then on the WorldCrunch website about how a software developer for the French equivalent of the RNIB, the French Federation of the Blind (FAF), called Christian Laine uses multiple devices to help him – from Google Home to and his voice-activated smart Samsung TV.
The story – How AI Can Revolutionize LifeFor The Disabled – points out that, “Digital assistants like Google Home are marketed to everyone. But for disabled people, in particular, they can be a godsend.” It also shows how 1.7 million smart speakers were sold in France during their first year of availability, while worldwide between 62 million and 75 million units were sold in 2018, at least double the previous year’s reports.
The story also details other new tools, also powered by AI but which aren’t driven by voice but support vision – like Israeli company OrCam’s so-called intelligent camera for the visually impaired called MyEye that can be mounted on glasses and equipped with a small loudspeaker, and which can then read text and recognise banknotes or people and announce them aloud.
Microsoft also has its Seeing AI, which can also describe scenes (imperfectly) and people, or indicate the brightness level – developments that the reporter, Remy Demichelis, suggests pent-up commercial interest in a great new market, the disabled user: “Catering to disabled people makes sense just from a market standpoint. France has an estimated 1.7 million blind or partially-sighted people. Worldwide, there are around 250 million, a number that could double or triple by 2050 due to population growth and the ageing population… [these new products] aims to provide accessibility to people who are too often left out of the loop. And provided the right kinds of regulations are in place, and the interest is there among corporations and developers, what we’re seeing now is just the beginning of what AI can offer [to help with accessibility].”
Harry Potter And The Finally Readable Text
All very welcome – as is this lovely snippet in Metro that shows how a new range of the Harry Potter books that have been specially adapted for people with dyslexia: “In an effort to make the Wizard World accessible for everyone, Bloomsbury Publishing, the company who publish the books, has released a range of books that have been adapted for people with dyslexia.”
It’s done this with large, dyslexia-friendly fonts, tinted paper for glare reduction and maximum contrast, clear captions and detailed descriptions to accompany each illustration, with the publisher collaborating with trusted experts in dyslexia, sight impairment and accessible formats to ensure that this re-presentation of the beloved Hogwarts Library is “inclusive and user-friendly” – and even better, each book has also been approved by the RNIB.
I know lots of people will be really excited by this probably overdue assessment – as they will by the growing set of tools that are making their way to our homes and smartphones to help make our digital world truly one we can all live in. Don’t know about you, but I think that’s genuine a basis for some Spring Equinox accessibility enthusiasm!