Getting the best out of digital: moving towards a future for all

09/11/2016

Written by Mike Taylor (Senior Accessibility Analyst) DAC

Introduction

Our lives revolve around a numerous amount of technology, we are more connected and mobile than ever before; and it’s set to continue with wearable technology such as the various watches which are now available on various platforms. Certain movies which once contained touch-screen technology now give way to smart phones, tablets, house-hold appliances and more. This we already know, but what is not so obvious is how such devices can be used by persons who have a disability?

I write this as a totally blind person who is very technology focused, and use my iPhone for many things including making a simple phone call, and having used a touch-screen phone for 3 years I can honestly write that I wouldn’t go back to my nice tactile phone with an alpha-numeric keyboard, having been exposed to a world of possibilities that I could only have previously dreamed of. What is it that makes such devices so popular though, and what can be done to make things even better; and more usable and accessible in the future?

Many computers and mobile devices now have built-in software and settings, which can enable users who have a disability use and customise their device out-of-the-box. When I upgraded my iPhone a month before writing this article, the only help I needed was to insert the sim in to my new device, and once I am confident enough to do it myself next time (if sim cards are indeed still in use) I won’t need any support at all. Chances are that the very device you are accessing this article from will have a set of software packages installed to help not just blind users, but persons with limited mobility, users who are deaf, or users who have a learning disability for example access their device. I only ask 2 things after you have viewed this article, if you have never done so before, take a look at the accessibility settings for your device and I will give information on how to do this at the end. The second is if you do try any of the accessibility features listed and need some help, feel free to get in touch with our team and we are more than happy to advise.

Your digital life on tap

Many accessibility functions can be performed by using different commands or (touch gestures) to interact with a device. A blind person navigates an android and iPhone by using various touch commands, one involving placing a finger on the screen and flicking left or right to hear the next or previous item, and performing a single finger double-tap to activate it (rather than just tapping the icon like a sighted person would. The same idea by employing short cut key commands has been used on keyboard-oriented machines for many years now, so the concept to a degree was adapted for touch screen access. The result of this meaning that I and many colleagues, friends and relatives can independently use a touch-screen device. This need not only be attached to Android and iPhone though, as the world of possibilities now mean that if the same concept is taken to other devices, the increase of digital inclusion will be a sure thing.

Many buildings and homes in the future will have wifi connected technology other than the computer, tablet, TV and phone. Smart metres are already in use which at the time of writing are not accessible or usable to users who have limited or no vision. If more homes are to be suitable for our connected society, it’s my personal opinion that a similar approach (if touch screen is used) be adopted to that of iOS or android. Touch screen does not work for all though, and a keyboard alternative or maybe a mix of both could be made possible to include users who cannot; or prefer not to use a touch screen device.

Designing for usability and accessibility

Making devices which are suitable for all user groups is one thing, designing accessible user interfaces are another. A user interface which is purely graphical will not be accessible for users of some assistive technology such as screen readers. Ensuring that all controls respond to voice, switch access, keyboard only and touch commands also mean that as many users as possible can access whatever is displayed. Making sure that a sufficient colour contrast is used, and allowing for user customisation will give more options to end-users. A lot of work, will it pay off, and is it necessary? Absolutely. Why? End users will be fully independent and able to take advantage of such technology, and have a greater involvement and get as good an experience as possible. If the technology is accessible and usable, the take-up will quickly increase and through word-of-mouth and other means such as social media and forums, more users will adopt and become part of what is now known as the internet of things. It’s necessary as many people are still left with technology developing at a high speed, and who are left behind due to inaccessible content. The only true way to open up the technology to as many users as possible is to adopt an approach which actively includes functionality for users of assistive technology. We can identify already it’s benefits on laptops, desktops, mobile and tablet devices, it isn’t about re-inventing the wheel as much as adding additional features.

How to view and search for accessibility features

On iOS go to: Settings>General>Accessibility.

Android: Settings>Accessibility.

Windows phone 8: Settings>Ease of access.

Blackbery 10: Settings>Accessibility.

Windows desktop/laptop: Short cut command windows+U

Mac: Short cut command Function (FN key) +Option+Command+F5

The end of Tom Shaw's first week at DAC

17/02/2015

DAC this week welcomes our two new technical team support officers, Andrew Northmore-Thomas and Week on the Streets' external website campaigner for autism, Tom Nasmyth-Shaw.

Tom would like to share his first week on board the DAC team with you.

Day 4:

This week has been my favourite first week of any paid employment to date. I’ve always wanted to work with technology, I just wasn’t entirely sure in what field, and when this would come into my already manic lifestyle, running an Autism charity and being a father of two.

The team here I must say are fantastic; a mixture of personalities that all complement each other individually, all one unit working towards the same goal.

Throughout the week I have been proud to be a part of the Tech Team that has overseen the testing of many websites by well-known organisations that I never thought I would work alongside; providing technical assistance for a selection of analysts, that also test technology and, at the same time, look into other aspects of the digital world (coding, HTML5 etc ) – so to say I’m excited is an understatement. Nowadays, technology and the World Wide Web are not only moving fast, but frequently changing the game plan - if we’re not careful it’ll leave us behind.

My plan for the next 3 months is to learn the job thoroughly and pass my probationary period. In the meantime, I’ll try and gain knowledge in other aspects of the job like coding/HTML5 (one example) so in the future I can fully understand more complex technical issues.

More importantly, I love how everyone , no matter what disability, age or race, can unite and come together and create an equal playing field to try and help make this world a far better place, both digitally and non-digitally. Digital inclusion turned into social inclusion – that’ll do nicely.

Thank you for having me

Tom – Technical Team Support Officer

Tom Shaw's 3rd day with DAC

12/02/2016

DAC this week welcomes our two new technical team support officers, Andrew Northmore-Thomas and Week on the Streets' external website campaigner for autism, Tom Nasmyth-Shaw.

Tom would like to share his first week on board the DAC team with you.

Day 3:

I’m learning more and more each day. I was offered to sit in on another conference call today that’ll give me an insight into where a job starts and how it ends. The call was from a council in England that would like their Intranet tested on all browser platforms and mobile devices. Interesting stuff!

I also spent a portion of the morning as Tech Support for a high functioning man with Asperger’s Syndrome. Very smart man who was testing the home page of a website of a very well-known award winning mobile network. I’m really enjoying my first couple of days here at the DAC and it’s really opened my eyes to the digital world and what can be done to make sure it’s accessible to everyone!

Tom – Technical Team Support Officer

Tom Shaw's 2nd day with DAC

11/02/2015

DAC this week welcomes our two new technical team support officers, Andrew Northmore-Thomas and Week on the Streets' external website campaigner for autism, Tom Nasmyth-Shaw.

Tom would like to share his first week on board the DAC team with you.

Day 2:

A full office today!

I think I managed to count 14 people in the office coming into work that all had their own role to play. People of all walks of life and all disabilities making their way to their workstations ready for the day ahead. I introduced myself to the team and settled down at my workstation to check some e-mails before awaiting guidance of what today would bring. Everyone was told they needed to ensure latest versions of all browsing platforms (Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Firefox, Opera and Safari for the iMac) were installed on their systems, as the client would like their webpage tested on the latest ones.

First, my job was to ensure that everyone had cleared their cache. Next, I was paired up with a young man whose job role at the DAC is a Cognitive Analyst. This sounded interesting. ‘X’ has a learning difficulty, but his knowledge of accessibility was of a high standard. I observed his testing methods and no problems were found with this particular analysts testing. Looking around the room I could see that everyone had their own testing methods using various software. Some testers are very experienced and some need more support to help them get through difficult areas.

I floated around the office for the rest of the time looking at the different testing methods being used and providing technical support when needed.

After lunch Deb, one of the Technical Auditor's here at the DAC, who’s showing me the ropes, asked if I would like to have a go at collating all the information gathered from the analysts, and compile this into a report ready for the Technical Auditors.

3:00pm approached and my working day had come to an end. I decided to stay on for a couple of hours as I had started a piece of work that I felt needed finishing whilst the information was still fresh in my memory.

Deb hasn’t overloaded me with information and I enjoy her way of explaining the job role. I’m told as working weeks go, this is a relatively quiet week, so I’m glad I have this opportunity to sit down and absorb as much information and practices as possible.

The environment this week has been perfect for learning. However, jobs are coming in all the time so I better learn quickly!

Enjoying so far. . . .

Tom – Technical Team Support Officer

Tom Shaw's 1st day with DAC

10/02/2015

DAC this week welcomes our two new technical team support officers, Andrew Northmore-Thomas and Week on the Streets' external website campaigner for autism, Tom Nasmyth-Shaw.

Tom would like to share his first week on board the DAC team with you.

Day 1:

Finding a job that I enjoy, for me, has always been a problem throughout my working life. If I’m not chasing the annual wage, I’m chasing a comfort zone that offers very little mentally and financially.

So it was nice to start my first day at the Digital Accessibility Centre with a mixture of excitement and nervousness. I’d recently very kindly been offered an extended start date by the company’s directors, due to the delayed birth of my daughter Frankie. I already had an inkling of the type of people I was going to be working for, which eased the nerves a little.

I spent most of the morning chatting to colleagues and familiarising myself with the building and the IT equipment. The atmosphere was relaxed and I was made to feel welcome by everyone.

What I liked most about this morning, though, is that I wasn’t thrown into the deep end; been there, done that – worn the t-shirt, often. This may work for some, but not for me. I had the opportunity here to soak up the atmosphere and get to know my colleagues and this is what suits me best.

After an hour or so I was asked to sit in on a conference call with the team I’ll be working alongside. The call, from what I could gather, was between 3 people, one being the Team Manager, Geraint discussing a job that was due to start the next day. I listened in and it appeared that an organisation wanted a section of their webpage tested by the Analysts to ensure this particular section of their webpage was accessible for screen reader users.

The organisation were clear what they wanted, and the Manager, I thought, was exceptionally good at explaining how this was going to be delivered, offering alternative methods of testing, that would suit their needs and requirements. A mini tutorial of the webpage took place and a discussion was also had around whether or not testing should include a mobile platform, too; it was agreed both desktop and mobile ensuring accessibility on both.

I enjoyed listening to the call which gave me insight on how things would work tomorrow. Having previous experience in supporting people with learning disabilities and acquired brain injury, I am particularly excited to be working in a field I didn’t even know existed, until applying for the job.

I spent the rest of the day in some light training with a talented lady who is a Voice Activation and Keyboard Only Analyst. She uses Dragon Naturally Speaking to test websites due to her disability. She was extremely knowledgeable. In fact, I was quite impressed at her technical knowledge of her software. I learnt more from her in 30 minutes, than I did two weeks at home trying to retain some knowledge myself.

I know my way around a PC. Having said that, I know my way around my house. It means nothing unless you knuckle down and put the hard work in. I’m looking forward to this!

Tom – Technical Team Support Officer, Digital Accessibility Centre.