Judd street: Where Progress Goes To Die

When i saw Google had released a new assistive tool, i was reminded of a meeting i had just under two years ago. The CEO of a large assistive technology company wanted to meet. I found this surprising as it was well known that i had progressive ideas on where assistive technology should be going. What would someone from the old guard want? Perhaps they were ready to change?

We met in a cafe on Judd street a few doors down from the RNIB headquarters. Quickly the CEO began to pitch to me their exciting new product. I imagine from the expression on my face they quickly deduced i was not quite sold. The product would cost around the same as an iPhone, increase access to information – but only the information on their system and apparently open up new ways for users to experience information.

I could not get over the capital cost. The intention was to sell a product at an equivelant price of an iPhone but with less functionality. THey intended to develop their own software that would run on a platform they had to licence, develop and partner with someone to make the hardware, deliver and support both hardware and software and make a great user experience. From a business and end user experience this made no sense to me. The only reason the product would cost so much was due to the direction they had chosen. read more

Treadmill Training For The Blind And Visually Impaired

Training on a treadmill when blind has a number of challenges mainly interacting with the controls, monitoring progress and trying not to fall off. There are however, a number of steps we can take to make the experience as accessible as possible. THis is thanks to a few pieces of technology: an iPhone, some Bluetooth sensors and an Apple Watch.

The key to tracking progress is having two metrics. For example, time and heart rate, time and distance etc. With two data points progress can be tracked. Therefore, that is our target, to always have two accessible data points for progress monitoring.

Treadmill

Before we can start using technology to make tracking progress accessible, we need the right treadmill. Any treadmill that has speed and elevation as physical buttons will suffice. Generally, even touch based treadmills still have physical buttons for speed and elevation. read more

Last year -> this year

Entering a new year always makes me ponder the challenges and goals for the year ahead. The past year has been the usual treading the lines of technology, inclusivity and running so the year ahead will cover those bases but in new ways.

Last year my two technology highlights were creating an eye gaze control system and working on user led accessible hackathons. The eye gaze system saw its first use in a real time painting robot, its applications however, are much broader and would be great to see it integrated with environmental control in 2019.

The hackathons were also a fantastic success. There was a careful and thoughtful focus in the projects being user led. This allowed a number of disabled people to nengage, highlight a goal they had and be a key driver during the hackathon. This is something we hope to grow not only this year but in future years. read more

HOWTO change the font size in safari on the iPad and iPhone

The ability to change font size can have an enormous impact on accessibility. Pinch and zoom is wonderful for this on iOS, but it introduces another problem. Zoom to much and you now have to scroll sideways as well as down to consume content.

There is however, a little workaround. You can increase and decrease the font size on a per site basis in Safari. This is done through a bookmark, adding two bookmarks one for increase and one for decrease. You can manually set the appropriate font size. Reloading the website will return the font to its original size. read more

Apple defining the future of accessibility

with the public beta of iOS 11 now well underway, I thought it was time to dive in. There have been a number of improvements for accessibility but the two i would like to cover are smart invert and image description.

For the past few years the way we interact online has been changing. In the early days of the internet and indeed the early days of social media, interactions were predominantly text based. Now however, images and video reign supreme. This leaves the blind and people with low vision at a disadvantage. We now struggle to interact online. It is easy to miss out on the thread of a conversation if it begins with an image or if images are posted as comments. Facebook and Twitter have made improvements on this front, the former adding automatic image tagging and the latter allowing the user to add tags to an image. This is however, restricted. Not only to Facebook in its case but for TWitter relies on the user to add those additional tags. It is easy to see how restricting this can be for the blind and visually impaired. Dare to go outside these wall gardens and ;it becomes even worse. read more

AirPods, The Most Accessible Headphones

Headphones are an often overlooked but essential piece of equipment for the blind. Accessing a screen reader in the privacy of your own home in a quiet room is a simple affair, you can just use the loudspeaker of your phone or computer. Add some environmental noise, head outside or dare to venture into a coffee shop and the loudspeaker is no longer functional.

Headphones enable me to use my iPhone both indoors and out and about, i literally couldn’t use my iPhone without headphones. Therefore, over the years i have amassed a rather substantial collection. Everything from a cheap pair of JVC up to a rather expensive pair of active noise cancelling Bose. I am rarely seen without a pair of headphones and have them stuffed in every pocket and every bag.

I am constantly looking for the perfect pair of headphones, the pair that will make using my iPhone that much more accessible. Now i have found that elusive pair, the Apple AirPods.
The AirPods are Apple’s truly wireless earbuds. Two single ear pieces that fit snugly inside their own charging case. read more

Thank goodness for technology

When my sight began to slip away, I feared losing so many things I love. After all, so much of our daily lives revolves around the ability to connect on a visual level.

My first love has always been technology and just as touch screens were becoming common place, I was unable to see them. How could I possibly interact with technology that was so heavily visual? There wasn’t even any tactility to the screen, it was a perfect smooth piece of glass. No raised buttons to identify what I was pressing, no way to memorise an elaborate process of taps and clicks – I felt lost. Lost but not defeated; I clung steadfast to the belief that there must be a way to adapt this to make it work to my benefit.

There was an unforeseen advantage- and as a result an adaptability – to this. The migration to touch screen forced the industry to reimagine how we would interact with these devices. The result was Apple developing VoiceOver for the iPhone, a gesture based screen reader. I didn’t realise it at the time but this would be my entry point to making the world accessible. read more

Accessibility – low hanging fruit

There is a lot of low hanging fruit ripe for the picking within the inclusive design realm. So in 2017 what fruit do i think is the ripest?

Dark mode. This one feature alone implemented OS wide could make a huge difference to a substantial user base Not only would it solve a problem for the visually impaired for whom contrast is a major issue, but those with situational requirements where dark mode makes the most sense. Think late at night in bed, that white screen just makes your eyes ache.

So will there be an appetite for this in 2017? My gut says yes. If rumours hold true and the iPhone moves to an AMOLED display, we will see an introduction of dark mode. This will have a wonderful knock on affect of influencing design direction for a while. So not only we will see dark mode introduced at the OS level, but we will start to see a whole host of apps fall in line. read more

Lightweight night vision goggles

Night blindness is a common issue for people with low vision, especially those with Retinitis Pigmentosa. While your vision may be adequate for mobility in daylight, as the night draws in and contrast begins to drop, night blindness occurs. 
When i had sufficient vision for this to be a problem for me, I was always tempted by night vision goggles. There have even been research projects exploring this possibility. The good news is it can really help with mobility, the bad news night vision goggles are expensive, cumbersome and heavy.
Due to these restrictions i never quite took the plunge. But an interesting development once again has me intrigued in night vision. Thanks to a new breakthrough the advantages of night vision goggles can be had in a spectacle frame. There is still a need for external power, but great to see this moving forwards.
As augmented reality products advance it would be great to see this technology integrated to enable low light navigation. read more

Blind hiring? Use the blind

Technology has a diversity problem, as do many other companies. An immediate point of change is the hiring process, my interest was peaked from a comment by Leslie Miley, of Slack. It was proposed that a blind assessment process is used during hiring, stripping applications of identifiable data.

This is an interesting proposition and similar to one i have been proposing for a while. Don’t simply do blind assessments, use blind people to do the hiring.

Passed the application assessment stage, blind people really come into their own. The inability to see the applicant massively reduces implicit bias. It cannot be overstated how important it is to remove those unconscious bias that we all possess but find it difficult to identify. Removing the ability to visually trigger these unconscious biases will assist in improving the diversification of the hiring process. read more