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  • Writer's pictureShayna Gavin, Splash Principal Physiotherapist

Accessibility, inclusion and participation with technology

Global Accessibility Awareness Day #GAAD

Global Accessibility Awareness Day was May 21st. It aims to "get people talking, thinking and learning about digital (web, software, mobile, etc.) accessibility and users with different disabilities".

Here's a little round up of some of the cool things people are talking about. #GAAD is the tag to follow.

The Apple Watch

The Apple watch has had plenty of media coverage since it was released, and it will be exciting to see the apps that developers create for this new device. Apple has information about its accessbility features here.

VoiceOver, font adjustment, grey scale, zoom and mono audio are all there. The Taptic engine is the new feature that's getting people excited.

Where possible I love to here directly from people who are using and designing accessibility features to make their own lives easier.

This is Molly's blog about her experiences with the Apple watch and its features after her first 5 days of using it. She talks about the features she's found helpful, especially the Prominent Haptic which give syou a tapping sensation under the watch to replace sound or vibration alerts. She has been using it to assist with visual and hearing impairments. She says using the Prominenet Haptic along with Maps to naviagate has been the most exciting change so far. I often find reading about one person's experiences will start me thinking about how the ideas could be helpful for someone else, so I think it's worth a read, and I'll look forward to her next instalment too.

Five: This app allows quick messages to be sent using custom hand signs, developed by a 17 year old high school student for sending quick messages between friends. It's being used by people with hearing impairments, and the developer is working on building in a dictionary to translate text to sign. If that works out he will look at making the app a complete translator. Available for Apple and Android.

Have a look at this round up of features and apps to consider for students from Craig Smith, including facilitating organisation, emotional regulation and communication.

Tips to make websites and apps accessible

There's a great little video by A11y bites about "embracing differences and creating delightful experiences for everyone" so that "all users can do what they need to do". They've included some tips for making your apps and websites inclusive:

  • use text that easy to see with enough contrast.

  • code text so that a screen reader can be used to read it out loud

  • code text so that the user can increase the size if required

  • if using sound, provide an equivalent way of getting the message across for people with hearing impairments, or who process information better in another way (eg. use captions, transcribe an interview, or use sign language)

  • allow for varying navigation options eg. swipe on a screen, use a mouse, use a keyboard to move across, use a head stick, use a switch. Make it easy to get around your site.

  • don't rush your user. Some people process information quickly, and others more slowly.

  • allow for varying methods of processing information: reading, hearing, seeing, or changing languages.

Apple devices and Accessibility

I receive no perks for endorsing Apple products. They're just what I use and what I see many of the families who I work with using. I'm just writing about what I'm familiar with!

Christopher Hills has a great Youtube channel showing how he uses accessibility devices to work. Christopher is a video producer, and is an Apple Certified Professional in Final Cut X. He uses a range of devices and apps, including dedicated Bluetooth switch hardware with Apple’s Switch Controls to navigate sequentially through on-screen items. He has athetoid cerebral palsy with quadriplegia with motor difficulties.

Here's some of the features to consider using:

  • Text messaging and email have clearly revolutionised non- verbal communication. There's much more to it all now that that!

  • VoiceOver is an advanced screen reader that will read aloud text on an iphone/ ipad, which is helpful for many people for many reasons, including for people with vision impairments, and learning and literacy needs. "Touch the screen to hear what’s under your finger, then use gestures to control your device."

  • Speak Screen is a screen reader. You can change the reader's dialect and reading speed, and opt to have words highlighted as they are spoken to help you read along.

  • Third party apps allow you to type in your text and have the device read it aloud for you. There are plenty of cheap ones, as well as Augmented and Assisted Communication (AAC) options such as Proloquo2Go which uses 14,000 word symbols, and Verbally Premium which uses text to speak for you. Your Speech Pathologist is the person to help you out with AAC.

  • Siri is the famous assistant in your device, which you can ask questions

  • Invert Colours can be used if that contrast helps you to better see the screen. Use of gray scale is also an option.

  • Dictation allows you to speak instead of typing.

  • Keyboard shortcuts and predicative text can help you to minimise typing (if you're careful to watch out for errors and unintended messages!)

  • Zoom is a built in magnifier to enlarge any section

  • Larger Dynamic Type allows for larger font sizes across the device, and you can set fonts to bold to make things easier too

  • Wireless Braille displays are available and integrate with iOS devices

  • Facetime allows video calls so you can catch every facial expression, gesture or use sign language

  • Closed captions for video are supported and the font can be customised

  • Mono Audio plays the sound that is usually split between two headphones into the one headphone for people with a hearing impairment in one ear.

  • Alerts with visual or vibrating cues instead of sounds

  • There's information about compatability of hearing aids with iphones

  • Assistive Touch allows gestures to be customised. eg if a pinch in and out to zoom is difficult, this can be altered to a tap. Or Siri allows the device to be controlled by talking, with no gestures required.

  • Apple Switch controls are connected by Bluetooth and alow full navigation of iOS devices.

  • Guided Access allows a device to be limited: stay on one app by disabling the Home button; limit the amount of time spent in one app; restrict "access to the keyboard or touch input on certain areas of the screen. So wandering taps and gestures won’t distract from learning".

  • Dictionary gives quick access to definitions of unfamiliar words

  • Safari Reader "reduces the visual clutter on a web page by removing distractions" to avoid sensory overload when looking at websites

Apps, apps and more apps

There are so so so many apps around that improve accessibility. Here's one list of apps that might be useful for people with hearing impairments to get you started.

This is just the beginning!

There's just so much going on it's a cliche to say there's new ideas every day. But it's true. It's an exciting area to watch.

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