Skip to content

Author: Scott Hollier

Google Maps gets new crowdsourcing feature to improve accessibility

Google is continuing its initial efforts to provide accessibility features to Google Maps for wheelchair users by introducing crowdsourcing features. This allows Maps users to add accessibility information on their favourite places.

In a recent article written by Claudia.Cahalanefor AbilityNet, it is explained that “Google is asking the public – in particular its ‘local guides’ – to add accessibility information to Google Maps. It’s hoping that visitors to restaurants, theatres, offices and lots of other venues, will add info on whether entrances, toilets and spaces are suitable for wheelchair users.”

While wheelchair users are the primary group to benefit from the new feature, users of the Maps app can add other information such as whether or not a venue is noisy which is also likely to be helpful for people with a hearing impairment.

To add your accessibility information on an Android device:

  1. Open the Google Maps app
  2. Select the Settings icon in the top-left corner or swipe left-to-right
  3. Select Contributions
  4. Select Accessibility

The inclusion of the feature marks a significant expansion of the wheelchair maps accessibility information which was previously limited to Maps users in the United States.

How to fix Magnifier issues after Windows 10 Fall Creators Update

The Windows 10 Fall Creators Update is now rolling out to users worldwide. As discussed in an earlier post, there are many great accessibility improvements including the addition of the Eye Control feature along with many subtle improvements to Narrator and Magnifier.

However, a number of users have reported that since updating there have been issues with Magnifier. There are essentially two issues: the first is that the computer becomes jerky and slow when Magnifier is turned on, the second is that it jumps around the screen unexpectedly when used in partnership with Narrator.

The good news is that both issues can be quickly fixed, returning Magnifier to a similar state before the upgrade took place.

The reason for the first issue is that Microsoft have improved their bitmap smoothing with the update, meaning that the magnified area looks less blocky, and this feature is turned on by default after the update. However, for older computers with integrated graphics the processing required may be lacking, and as a result the computer becomes slow with jerky movements when Magnifier is turned on, but returns to normal speed when Magnifier is turned off.

The second issue relates to the use of Magnifier and Narrator being turned on at the same time. In this instance, Microsoft have enabled a feature by default that allows the Magnifier to follow the area that Narrator is reading. This can be useful, but if you zoom into a small area it may seem like the screen is jumping all over the place every time Narrator reads something out.

Magnifier settings in Windows 10

Image of Magnifier settings with Bitmap Smoothing and Follow Narrator settings unticked

To address these issues, follow these steps:

  1. Go to Settings
  2. Go to Ease of Access
  3. Select the Magnifier section on the left-hand side
  4. On the right-hand side, untick the ‘Enable Bitmap Smoothing’ option. Unticking this option will make the Magnifier smoother and less jerky
  5. Untick the ‘Follow Narrator Cursor’ option: this will stop Magnifier from following every word read out by Narrator, providing you with greater control of Magnifier

This issue and solution has been personally verified on three computers upgraded ot the Fall Creators update.

Additional information on Windows 10 accessibility features can be found in the Accessibility section of the Microsoft website.

W3C WAI updates Web Accessibility Laws and Policies listing

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) has recently updated its Web Accessibility Laws and Policies list. This list provides guidance as to which countries and regions have formal policies and legislative frameworks to support the preparation of online content for people with disabilities. In most cases this includes support for the internationally recognized Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 and other associated policies such as accessible procurement.

According to the list, countries and regions that currently have formal laws and policies related to web accessibity include:

  • Australia
  • Canada                     
  • China            
  • Denmark                    
  • European Union                  
  • Finland                     
  • France                      
  • Germany                  
  • Hong Kong               
  • India              
  • Ireland                       
  • Israel                         
  • Italy                
  • Netherlands             
  • Norway                      
  • Republic of Korea               
  • Switzerland              
  • United Kingdom                  
  • United States of America               

The listing also provides links to the relevant policy in each country or region. While this list provides information on countries and regions with formal policies, there are other countries that follow WCAG 2.0 principles such as Thailand and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia but in a less formalized manner.

Additional information on W3C web accessibility standards and resources can be found at the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative home page.

Apple iPhone X – access issues and workarounds

There’s no doubt that when it comes to digital access, Apple reign supreme in the mobile space. Prior to 2009, the idea that a blind person could effectively use a touchscreen seemed like an impossible dream – at least until the iPhone 3GS came out packing the VoiceOver screen reader. That Apple objective of universal access remains largely present in the current offerings with accessibility features available in most Apple products.

Apple iPhone XApple iPhone X (Image © 2017 Apple)

However, the release of the iPhone X, pronounced ‘iPhone 10’, makes some changes that have raised concerns for people with disabilities. While there are some benefits to the new phone such as the inclusion of wireless charging, the two big things that have access implications are the removal of the home button and the new Face ID at the expense of the fingerprint sensor.

Home button removal

From the perspective of people who are blind or vision impaired, the removal of the home button is a pretty big deal. As noted in an AppleVis blog post about the Apple announcements, the use of the Home button to activate various assistive technology tools such as VoiceOver has to now be achieved in a different way. The article confirms that to address this issue, Apple have movved the three-button tap and Siri support to the side button. In addition, the accessibility shortcut to activate accessibility features will be supported by haptic feedback and a gesture which may be awkward to use, but ensures the functionality remains.

In addition, the Assistive Touch accessibility feature may be helpful by providing a virtual home button. A detailed tutorial on how to set this up can be found in Alyssa Bereznak’s article What to Do If Your iPhone’s Home Button Breaks.

Face ID at the expense of Touch ID

The next issue is the Face ID which relies on the iPhone picking up that a person is looking at the phone for it to be activated. As a person who is legally blind I can vouch for the challenges in trying to look at something you can’t see. As there is no Touch ID fingerprint option to fall back on in the iPhone X, this has the potential to be difficult. There is, however, a workaround for this as well in that the specific need to look at the iPhone will be disabled if VoiceOver is enabled, meaning that the user just has to hold the phone up in line with their face to achieve the same effect. How easy it is to use though for a blind person remains to be seen.

For other disability groups, it’s difficult to say at this early stage whether Face ID will be helpful or not. For some people with motor function difficulties it may be much easier to be able to look to the iPhone and unlock it, while others may struggle to get the iPhone in the right place to trigger the feature, whereby in comparison a fingerprint swipe may have been the easier option. While new features always have the ability to make things easier, it’s the removal of long-established accessibility features to incorporate the changes that have raised the concerns of many.

Accessible smartphone alternatives

While some of the design decisions for the iPhone X may have negative access implications, it’s important to remember that there are plenty of alternatives out there. In addition to accessibility, there’s also affordability considerations as the price of the iPhone X starts from $AUD1579 for the 64GB model.

Firstly, if you’re particularly keen on Apple products, it’s worth mentioning that the other two iPhones announced, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, retain Touch ID while picking up the benefits of wireless charging and still have all the fantastic accessibility features built-in for several hundred dollars less. There’s also high-end Android smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy S8 and a new Google Pixel just around the corner which are slightly cheaper still.

Finally, if you’re looking for a mid-range smartphone that still has most of the features as the flagship phones along with fingerprint sensor and a wealth of accessibility features, I’d recommend my personal favourite the Moto G5 Plus rated by NET as  ‘Simply the best budget phone’. It’s also one-fifth the price of the iPhone X.

So overall it is understandable that the removal of the Home button and Touch ID from the Apple iPhone X may make the phone more awkward to use for people with disabilities, but in fairness to Apple it also appears the company has endeavoured to ensure that the functionality remains with workarounds to address the issues. Additional information on the iPhone X can be found on the Apple website.

Eye Control feature coming soon to Windows 10

Microsoft has recently announced that it will be adding the ability to control elements in Windows 10 through the use of eye movement.

The feature known as Eye Control, was added in Build 16257 of Windows 10 for beta testing. Microsoft have stated in an e-mail to subscribers of their Insider program that “Eye Control makes Windows 10 more accessible by empowering people with disabilities to operate an on-screen mouse, keyboard, and text-to-speech experience using only their eyes.”

While the inclusion of eye control in Windows offers a significant improvement in the provision of accessibility for people with a mobility impairment, it is currently a difficult process to set up. This is due to the feature currently relying specifically on the use of a Tobii Eye Tracker 4C and the need to install an Insider build of Windows 10. However, this issue will be addressed in the near future as support for the feature will be expanded of the Tobii Dynavox PCEye Mini, PCEyePlus, EyeMobile Plus, and I-series devices prior to the feature’s formal launch. The formal release of the feature to the public is scheduled to be included in the next significant Windows 10 update due before the end of the year.

Additional information on the Eye Control feature including its installation, use and supported devices can be found in the Microsoft Insider blog.