Positive Applications of Tech Giving Us Some Welcome Spring Accessibility Vibes 

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!

Carina Birt

Sarum PR & UKAAF Board Member

Let’s All Make a Small Dent by Promoting Full Accessibility

Last month, high profile developer-focused independent analyst firm RedMonk held its 8th annual ‘Monkigras’ conference in the Plexal innovation centre in Stratford, London, with a theme this year of ‘Accessibility’. Team UKAAF was there too!. Here, the group’s Analyst & Co-Founder James Governor explains why Continue reading Let’s All Make a Small Dent by Promoting Full Accessibility

What the Domino’s Pizza Accessibility Case Means for the Purple Pound

A US court this week told one of the most popular British food brands it needs to pull its accessibility socks up.

Domino’s Pizza must now take steps to ensure its mobile app is fully accessible to every user who might fancy it as their takeaway choice, as the BBC reported on Wednesday.

The case came under one of the most well-known of all accessibility regulations, the US’s Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

A blind customer, Guillermo Robles, says that in 2016 he tried to change a topping for a Domino’s he was ordering off his iPhone, but that the app was unable to complete for him.

It seems that the app’s builders had not fully tagged all images with the right text – rendering his iOS screen-reading software unable to support full navigation of all functionality.

And he was unable to make use of discount vouchers, for the same reason: the designers of what’s a very popular app hadn’t fully thought out the accessibility gaps in what they were offering consumers.

His action, which began in 2016, was initially rejected but won on appeal – with judges deciding that Guillermo’s case does indeed fall under the Act the pizza maker wasn’t fulfilling its responsibility to provide “full and equal enjoyment” of its services to blind people.

The case isn’t quite done yet, but the BBC also reports that another blind user is pursuing similar legal action because his screen-reading software is unable to fully interpret a US supermarket chain’s website.

The case is depressingly similar to how British banks aren’t fully enabling blind people to read all the new functions in their online banking sites, which the BBC also reported on last year.

It’s just not acceptable in this day and age that big companies don’t fully think through what a change or addition of great new functionality on their web or smartphone presences will mean for all of their user base.

It’s also, let’s be totally frank, just not great business either – with some commentators believing there’s around seven million people of working age with a disability that could be better catered for – the so-say £250bn ‘Purple Pound’.

The message has to be don’t get caught out and end up with an embarrassing legal case like this – but look for ways to work better with standards that can mean ALL of your digital offering is accessible to all users.

The author, Jeff Mills is Founder at GrackleDocs, a pioneering software company building Add-Ons and applications for Google Apps for Work including Grackle Talks for Accessibility. 

He is also a Trustee and Board Member of UKAAF, The UK Association for Accessible Formats, an industry association setting standards and promoting best practice for quality accessible information based on user needs and enabling businesses and organisations to deliver a quality service to meet the needs of people with print impairments.