IBM & CMU assisting in mobility

Mobility for the visually impaired is always difficult. From simple tasks as heading to Starbucks for a coffee, to jumping on a bus or grabbing a taxi. Lets take the first example, heading to Starbucks is certainly challenging when you are unable to see, but what about when you enter the store? Without sighted assistance locating the counter or indeed finding somewhere to sit is challenging.

Therefore, any technology that aims to improve any of these mobility issues is always a step in the right direction. With the fear that this blog is turning into IBM fandom, it is yet another project IBM are working on.

Along with Carnegie Mellon University, IBM have developed and open sourced a smartphone application that can help you move from point A to point B.

The app called NavCog utilises either voice or haptic feedback to aid in navigation. NavCog currently uses beacons to assist in the navigation process.

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Artificial Intelligence and accessibility

Over the past couple of weeks I have been fortunate enough to be exposed to some fantastic technology as well as ideas. Attending WiRED 2015 kickstarted my thought process on how artificial intelligence could be applied to accessible technology.

While attending the conference there were two ideas I wanted to pitch to people, emotion detection to facilitate social situations for the visually impaired and facial recognition. I felt both these technologies could improve an individuals ability to socialise greatly. After chatting to a few people and pitching my ideas on how these systems could work from a design, implementation and marketing front I managed to interest a few companies and institutions.

There is fantastic scope for these technologies and their assistive ability. I concentrated on the emotion detection system initially as I feel these could have the greatest and speediest impact. I have encapsulated the idea into a product for all, rather than a product specifically for the visual impaired, as I believe these to be key for mass market adoption which, in turn will reduce the price significantly and reduce that initial barrier on any accessible product, price.

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TICKR X & The 7 Minute Workout Accessibility

I am always looking for simple and effective ways to make workouts more accessible. It can often be difficult to monitor and track workouts so I was very excited when Wahoo sent along the TICKR X. The TICKR X is a very capable device that can track a whole multitude of stats, from HR, to body movement and more, but the data point I was most interested in was rep counting.

Utilising the TICKR X along with the Wahoo 7 minute workout app on my iPhone, all my reps could be automatically counted. No more writing it all down in an app afterwards, assuming I could remember how many reps I performed on each exercise.

What is the 7 minute workout

The 7 minute workout is a collection of 12 body weight exercises that you can complete anywhere with no equipment needed. It has been shown to give results comparable to longer running or weights sessions. It comprises of 12 work sets of 30 seconds each followed by a 10 second rest. It is a quick and highly effective HIIT workout.

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IBM Serendipity

Two years ago in the middle of my degree I went to meet with IBM HR. The idea was to have a chat to them about my vision of an inclusive and accessible world through technology..

IBM stand at a fantastic point within the technology sector where they have the ability to touch a huge amount of organizations in wildly different fields. It was this very point that made me think IBM and I could be a perfect match.

There is a need for all technology to be inclusively designed, to enable everyone to have universal access. From mobile devices, to the internet of things to access to transport. Indeed it was IBM’s Smarter Planet initiative that made me believe there was a way to make the world accessible through the advancement of new technologies.

I pitched to HR that I would be a wonderful fit for an accessibility evangelist, working with all manner of partners focussing on how technology could be made inclusive. From advising on human interface interactions that not only had visual elements but auditory and haptic, to communicating complex information in new and interesting ways. I continued by highlighting that the opportunity to interact with clients at the early stage would aid in a universal design approach amongst all technology.

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Looking forward to Apple TV OS

My favorite piece of technology in the living room is my Apple TV and it is about to see a significant update. I love the Apple TV for two reasons VoiceOver and Netflix. VoiceOver is fantastic at assisting in navigating the UI as it reads aloud all the elements and Netflix has fantastic audio described content.

However, it is limiting. I only access my media through Netflix but I have a world of other media. I have numerous DVD and Blue-Ray discs all with great audio described content. The problem is how I access this media. For example, identifying the discs or navigating the menus are both challenging and require sighted assistance. There just isn’t an a great accessible removable media device.

So the current solution is to rip these discs along with their audio described content and AirPlay them to my Apple TV. This allows me to use a screen reader to select the content I would like to listen too. But it shouldn’t be this hard and I hope the Apple TV can help in this respect.

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Learn to code in a day?

Learning to code in a day, the premise seems a little far fetched, so I was certainly intrigued by the event at Decoded in London.

With the breadth of possibilities of coding so large the focus of the day was on the specifics of creating an app that incorporated location data. Even this reduction in focus seems like a mammoth task, especially considering the course is not aimed at people with previous coding experience. In fact it is billed as aiding new comers in obtaining these skills in a day.

So with zero prior experience, is it possible to enable someone to create a location based app within a day? The quick answer is yes. Everyone on the course successfully created a location based app.

The day is broken into a few distinct learning methods, lectures, hands on and team tasks. These three different methods enable participants to gain a rounded knowledge of coding. The introduction lecture is a whirl wind tour of the beginnings of coding, I was disappointed that this didn’t feature Alan Turing, but it was a whirlwind tour after all! This lecture also included the technologies we would be utilising in order to create our app, HTML5, CSS and Javascript.

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The questions…….

My favorite part of public speaking is the Q&A section at the end. Its interesting to be challenged by people all the time, I especially like questions that start with “I know its personal but…..”. These questions are usually challenging to answer and I do enjoy that. While that may sound scary to be stood on stage while possibly thousands of people stare and wait for an answer, it always leads to interesting trains of thought.

Recently at an event for PWC I was asked the question “What is your biggest dream”. Now looking back and with time to think about it, while I answered the question honestly I didn’t feel I gave the justification as to why. It is after all the why that makes it interesting.

The question was – “What is your dream”. I responded with “to be VP of accessibility at a major tech company”, then went on to discuss my dreams within the realm of adventuring.

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Accessibility of Facebook on the desktop

Maximising the accessibility of a website is always of great importance. As well as the developers improving accessibility there are also a plethora of tools available that increase the accessibility client side. I always encourage the use of client side tools as it makes for a richer more seamless experience.

In the quick look video below I demonstrate the ability of Hacker Vision
for Google Chrome. Hacker vision is an extension which is capable of intelligently inverting websites, by which I mean will only invert text and background elements rather than images. This is a vast improvement over say the invert feature built into Apple hardware, as the built in invert operates at the hardware level the entire screen is inverted. Resulting in such elements as images becoming inverted. Hacker Vision negates that and makes for a far more pleasant web experience for the low vision user.

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TheTrainline – Accessible User Journey

In order to improve accessibility and user interface design, I am embarking on a project highlighting user journeys.

These user journeys are primarily aimed at user interface and user experience designers, with the idea to improve accessible design. However, they will also serve a purpose of demonstrating whether an app is accessible to the visually impaired community.

My first test video is for TheTrainline, this is an application that allows you to purchase tickets and check live arrival and departure times. I have concentrated on the purchasing ticket user journey for this video, but do intend to cover other features of the app, to discuss how the user interface can be improved.

Apple and IBM great partners for an accessible enterprise

Accessibility in the workplace is often viewed as a difficult task. Thanks to the increasing IBM and Apple partnership this may become a thing of the past.

Through the mobile first initiative IBM are now beginning to offer the mac desktop as an enterprise solution. This removes one of the biggest barriers to accessibility in the workplace. With Windows being the dominant platform within the enterprise there was a need to install additional software to increase accessibility. This could be seen as adding additional complexity and cost to the system. While there are solutions in place to finance this accessible needs, the additional cost will not be required with the enterprise level switch.

Accessibility will be baked in to every single Mac desktop. No need for specific accessible software or hardware. The same desktop that other employees utilise can now be used by those with a need for accessibility tools. This has removed any additional cost and complexity to supporting users who require the use of accessibility tools.

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