Microsoft has announced its upcoming release of a game controller designed specifically for people with disabilities.
The Adaptive Controller for Xbox can be connected to external buttons, switches, joysticks and mounts, giving players with a wide range of physical disabilities the ability to customize their setups. Although the focus of the controller is for Xbox, it can also be used with a Windows 10 PC.
The project was developed by Microsoft in collaboration with AbleGamers, Warfighter Engaged, SpecialEffect, Craig Hospital and the Cerebral Palsy Foundation. While the controller is not the first to be designed with accessibility in mind, it is the first time that a major corporation has provided support to the concept, making the product available at a more affordable price.
Technical specifications for the adaptive controller include two oversized programmable buttons, 19 3.5mm input jacks and two USB ports, allowing disabled gamers to easily connect special joysticks, switches, and any other tools they may need. For homes with multiple gamers with limited mobility, the Adaptive Controller has three custom profiles, making it easy to switch between user preferences.
The controller will launch in the US for just under $USD100. There is currently no pricing or launch date for the controller in Australia. Additional information can be found on the official Microsoft adaptive controller website.
The Centre For Accessibility (CFA), an initiative created in partnership with DADAA, Media On Mars and myself, will be launched on 6 June 2018. Funded in part by the Disability Services, Department of Communities through an ILC grant, the purpose of the CFA is to create an industry and not-for-profit collaboration that will work to promote digital access.
My role in the CFA relates to the creation of a digital access training guide designed to deliver practical, up-to-date information as to how digital accessibility can best be incorporated into work practices for mainstream organisations. The free online resource will provide technical points and instructions for meeting WCAG Level AA compliance, as well as role-specific details for creating accessible documents.
The project is hosted by DADAA and together with Media on Mars have developed a marketing campaign and website to host the digital content, ensuring the resource can be reached by mainstream organisations across Western Australia and the country. The project is also looking to identify ways that the CFA can support employment opportunities for people with disability.
The event will be held on Wednesday 6 June, 8.30 – 10.30am, with the Hon. Stephen Dawson MLC, Minister for Disability Services and Environment, in attendance. If you would like to help us launch the Centre for Accessibility! you are welcome to register. The launch is a free, interactive event hosted at DADAA in Fremantle and will allow you to engage with accessibility experts, experience using assistive technologies and meet some of the people that benefit from accessible design. Places are limited and registrations are essential.
If you’ve recently been travelling through a part of the world without any form of internet, television or radio then you may have been one of the few to miss the recent Yanny versus Laurel debate. The premise is an audio sample in which some people distinctly hear the word ‘Yanny’ while others clearly identify the word as ‘Laurel’.
In my case, I hear ‘Yanny’ most of the time but recently I listened to it through a bad quality mobile phone speaker and heard Laurel, so it seems I’m in a good position to get into an argument with myself and represent both sides.
Yet while the online community has been in meltdown over the past week or so arguing about which word our ears should hear, I found that the cleverly designed sound sample brilliantly highlights an accessibility issue that is very close to my heart – how distorted electronic audio can be interpreted differently depending on a variety of factors, and a well-known example of this in action is the audio CAPTCHA.
CATPCHA is an acronym that stands for a Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart. The purpose of a CAPTCHA is ultimately to prevent personal data from being harvested by clever computer code known as bots or scripts. While it is important to identify whether there is a real person entering in information, the issue for people with disabilities is that CAPTCHAs not only tell humans and computers apart but also tend to put people with disabilities on the ‘computer’ side of the fence blocking access to processes such as buying tickets online or signing up to an online service.
The journey in fighting the use of CATPCHAs has been a long one for people with disabilities. The traditional CAPTCHA which features a bitmapped graphical image of distorted text is impossible for people who are blind or low vision to complete, so people started looking at the possibility of audio CATPCHAs.
As noted in the video above, the idea of an audio CATPCHA is that humans can pick out the ‘real’ audio information from the garbled background noise, while a computer trying to decipher it would get tripped up by the extra sounds.
However, what the Yanny and Laurel debate highlights beautifully is that how people interpret a combination of sounds will vary significantly from person to person, especially for people with a hearing impairment. It may be the case that you can hear the numbers read out in the video clip clearly, but for many identifying the information required and then typing it into a form to pass the CAPTCHA would be impossible. Furthermore, many audio CATPCHAs mix words and numbers together, making it difficult to know if a number should be entered as a numerical value like ‘9’ or typed out in full such as ‘nine’. For people with a hearing impairment, an audio CATPCHA is the equivalent of saying ‘because you can’t hear Laurel, you’re not allowed to buy a ticket to the football’ or ‘because you can’t hear Yanny, you can’t join our new social media platform.’ Thinking about audio CATPCHAs in this way really helps, in my view, to highlight the challenges such technologies pose.
In my work with the W3C Research Questions Task Force we’ve been looking at the issues of CATPCHAs closely as we have been working on an update to the W3C CATPCHA advisory note. The upshot is that CAPTCHAs such as those that depend on audio are not as secure as they used to be in the age of digital assistants that can understand a greater amount of spoken words than ever before. With ever-improving ways to tell humans and computers apart such as federated identities, multiple devices and biometrics such as fingerprint and facial recognition being built into our everyday devices, it is likely that more traditional CAPTCHAs will soon disappear and people with disabilities will once again be counted as human when completing an online task.
So next time you’re having a friendly debate over Yanny and Laurel, consider that for many people, how they hear things could actually be preventing access to critical online content. It’s exciting though to consider that in the not-too-distant future traditional CAPTCHAs will be gone, putting the focus back on our choices – not ears – that determine our online participation.
The Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (AFDO), with funding support from the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), has launched an initiative designed to help connect people with disability organisations around Australia.
The online Disability Australia Hub” aims to provide the community with a gateway to access high quality, up to date, disability specific information informed by people with disability and their families.
According to an AFDO press release distributed by e-mail, “The “Hub” will be the go-to destination for information about disability and inclusion generally and, through the networked websites, for information about individual disabilities. It will make it easy for people with disability, family members, NDIS staff and community partners, professionals and the community to obtain high quality, up-to-date, evidence based information informed by lived experience. By leveraging common templates, small, under-resourced organisations will be able to achieve a greater online presence and generate more content than they have been able to achieve in the past.”
The initiative has been broadly welcomed by disability groups as the resource makes it easier for people navigating NDIS processes to be aware of the full range of services available.
Updated with slides from A11y Bytes Perth presentation
The 2018 Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) has arrived with lots of digital access-related events happening all over the world. If you are interested in getting involved you can find a detailed list of worldwide events at the GAAD Global Events page.
Dr Scott Hollier presenting at A11y Bytes Perth (Credit: David Vosnacos)
My participation this year took place at the Perth A11y Bytes event Where I gave a lightning talk on the topic ‘The Death of Traditional CAPTCHAs and international developments on its replacement’. The presentation focused on how W3C is about to release an updated advisory note on CAPTCHA, the first in 12 years. so, what’s changed, and does it finally mean the death of unreadable and inaccessible image text? If you would like to learn more you can download my presentation slides (PDF file).
Many thanks to Julie Grundy for her hard work in organising such a great event and I wish everyone involved in GAAD events around the world all the best for their active promotion of digital access.