It’s Global Accessibility Awareness Day on 17 May and, as an accessibility advocate, I've tried to help raise awareness over the last few years by posing challenges to my colleagues or suggesting tools to help them make their interactions more accessible – read 'Could you go mouseless for 30 mins?' and 'Get into GAAD'.
This year, I've decided to do something slightly different, prompted by the realisation that I’ve been guilty of my own accessibility assumptions.
It’s easy to assume that people with specific disabilities will never be able to experience or use certain technology. I've heard it argued more than once, for example, that there's little use focusing on a particular accessibility feature because that demographic is not going to be able to use it or they're not the target audience.
Pragmatically, this might seem a reasonable assertion, but maybe there's value to be had by challenging this notion more often?
I’m a Virtual Reality enthusiast and have long-assumed that VR will never be fully accessible for visually impaired users due to its highly visual nature. Then I read an article that made me realise my error.
They’re experimenting with the use of spatial audio, audio labelling and location control to help users locate and interact within a virtual environment without the need for vision. It’s still early days but has huge potential. Here’s the full article (5-min read)… 'Daydream Labs: Accessibility in VR'.
Now imagine an augmented reality version of this combined with Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things. It could provide a whole new range of possibilities.
Another story that struck a chord with me recently comes from the UK...
Eye control for video games
The charity SpecialEffect develops a range of technologies to enable people with accessibility needs to play video games – “By levelling the playing field, we're bringing families and friends together and having a profoundly positive impact on therapy, confidence and rehabilitation”.
This has big therapeutic and social benefits not just for the individuals who they seek to help; it has implications for society as a whole and creates technology that will open up a wide range of other possibilities. Watch Becky’s story (1m46) at 'I play Minecraft with my eyes'.
If you’d like to help SpecialEffect, you can volunteer or donate on their website. Or you can choose them as your preferred charity when you buy content through Humble Bundle, scoring yourself some bargains at the same time!
Enabling better conversations with the hearing impaired
Motion Savvy has created a device and software to help reduce communication barriers for those with a hearing impairment.
The UNI device incorporates hand-tracking technology that can translate sign language to digital speech. It also features voice recognition to convert speech into text, making two-way communication easier without the need for both parties to understand sign language. Check out their video (1m58) on YouTube.
These three stories are great examples of how digital innovation can solve difficult problems. But that's not all. They've not only provided a solution to a specific problem, but they also helped drive technological advances that can be used in other situations.
So next time someone suggests that a particular problem is not possible or not worth the investment to solve, maybe it's worth stopping to think why. Is it impossible or just difficult – and what might solving this problem also enable? I'm going to endeavour to do this more often and invite you to join me.