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6th European eAccessibility Forum
Putting eAccessibility at the core of information systems

26/03/2012, 9:00 - 18:00
Cité des sciences et de l'industrie, Paris

  Version française
Printable version

Accessibility - The Power and the Promise (How accessible desktop and mobile applications change the daily life of people with disabilities)

Robin Christopherson (London)
robin.christopherson (at) abilitynet.org.uk

Speaker's information

photo Christopherson

Robin CChristopherson has worked for the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) before being a founding member of AbilityNet in 1998 where he developed accessibility auditing, disabled user testing and the design of attractive websites that are both accessible and easy to use by all. Despite being blind, Robin uses technology very effectively using speech output to access computers, the internet, his iPhone and many other technologies to assist him in his work. He also advises companies on their obligations under the Equality Act and the Disability Equality Duty – including the evaluation of case specific reasonable adjustment. He co-hosts AbilityNet’s Tech for All’ podcast.



Warning : The short papers of this conference have been prepared by BrailleNet who accept any responsibility for them.

Technology has been transforming the lives of millions of disabled people around the world for decades - but there has never been a more exciting time than the present. Robin will demonstrate the amazing potential that accessible technology such as iOS devices (and even more so their apps) have to change the lives of users with disabilities. Robin Christopherson showed why a camera is so vital for blind users, and how apps that cost a few pence are replacing specialist equipment costing thousands of pounds. He also took a peek into the future where the sky is quite literally the limit!

Note : This presentation was largely based on live demonstrations of new technologies possibilities. Please see the video (or the slides) for a comprehensive presentation.

Technology has been transforming the lives of millions of disabled people around the world for decades - but there has never been a more exciting time than the present.

We shall briefly summarize the evolution of accessibility that began as soon as the advent of the personal computer brought powerful technology into people's lives. Computers from the very outset opened doors for disabled users whether at home or and in education because they were adaptable and flexible by their very nature.

We also quickly saw the evolution of specialist software and hardware that took advantage of the PC to specifically bridge the gap disability can represent in our daily lives. AbilityNet has assessed thousands of people over the years to identify the right technological solution to overcome even very severe impairments - like that used by Prof. Stephen Hawking that enables him to communicate, write ground-breaking scientific papers and control his wheelchair.

Absolutely vital was the accessibility afforded by platforms such as Windows (right from the earliest versions) and Office etc. If accessibility hadn’t been realised in Windows 3.1 onwards then I have no doubt that I would be one of the 73% of visually impaired in the UK currently out of work.

So why, with all this flexibility and adaptability that technology offers, are there still so many disabled people out of work? It comes down to a lack of awareness and imagination.

For example features such as changing the colour scheme to high-vis or reducing the mouse acceleration or double-click speed have been built-in from the start – not rocket science - but at the same time there has always been a significant awareness gap which means that the estimated 56% of users who would benefit from customising their computer are making do with the vanilla experience.

Today the level of sophistication of built-in features has increased significantly (such as Windows 7 magnification and speech recognition, or the VoiceOver screen reader built into the Mac), but the awareness gap is almost as wide as ever.

Until today one significant draw-back has always been the price of specialist solutions (such as £900 for screen reading software to make PC speak to us and a further £2,000-4,000 for a Braille display!) but this is now changing because mainstream devices are increasingly building in accessibility, whilst at the same time are becoming sophisticated enough to run software solutions where, until now, they needed a specialist device.

For example, a talking PDA to help a blind person refer to documents and take notes in meetings costs around £1,700 – whereas smartphones now have that capability and much, much more with built in speech and magnification at no extra cost.

Another example is a talking GPS solution to help get to client meetings (or here to speak to you all today). A specialist device would cost £750 but instead we can just use a free app on his phone.

You may also think that a blind person would have no need for the camera on his phone. Nothing could be further from the truth. We regularly uses apps to tell the colour of an item of clothing, or to identify money or any item of packaging using image recognition. We can even crowd-source the answer to any question, or just ask his phone to intelligently respond to his requests.

There are similar examples of how smartphones are bringing affordable solutions across the full spectrum of impairments – such as a free smartphone app that enables someone who can’t speak to quickly build sentences to have them spoken with a very human-sounding voice. That specialist device still costs £6,000 but Proloquo2Go costs just a few pounds.

This radical transformation in the cost and availability of accessible technology will have a profound impact on disabled people in every aspect of their lives.

Some video clips (see video and slides) show technologies that may seem futuristic, but that are actually here today; such as bionic legs and cars that drive and park by themselves. Technology will quite literally continue marching forward; transforming the lives of disabled people.




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