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Author: Scott Hollier

Apple adds new accessibility features to iOS, iPadOS

As Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) draws to a close for 2019, it’s a good time to recap its announcements regarding accessibility improvements for its portable devices such as the iPhone running iOS and the iPad running iPadOS, a recently announced OS improvement for the tablet.

In an interview conducted by Tim Hardwick for TechCrunch with Apple’s Director of Global Accessibility Policy & Initiatives Sarah Herrlinger, several new accessibility features were revealed relating to voice control and display features.

Features include:

  • Voice control: a new feature that provides support to editing and menu navigation and advanced dictation capabilities. Apple has also indicated that the update provides better support in understanding different accents.
  • Mouse support: provided as an accessibility feature, a mouse can now be used for people with a mobility limitation that makes it difficult to use a touchscreen. Apple will provide additional information on which USB and Bluetooth models will work n the near future.
  • Dark theme: this will allow the interface to feature a darker background with light colour text which will significantly improve the ability to see the screen for some vision impairments

In addition the updates have included some minor improvements to established assistive technologies such as the VoiceOver screen reader.

The iOS13 and iPadOS updates are currently only available to developers but will roll out to compatible iPhone and iPad devices in the coming months.

W3C WAI CAPTCHA Note third draft now online

The formalising of advice by W3C WAI regarding the the inaccessibility of CAPTCHA has now published its third draft as it draws closer to becoming a formal advisory note.

The update, which I’ve been involved in, follows on from the original CAPTCHA draft at which point it was announced that:  

“The Accessible Platform Architectures Working Group has published a Working Draft of a revision to Inaccessibility of CAPTCHA at: Inaccessibility of CAPTCHA has been a Working Group Note since 2005. It describes problems with common approaches to distinguish human users of web sites from robots, and examines a number of potential solutions. Since the last publication, the abilities of robots to defeat CAPTCHAs has increased, and new technologies to authenticate human users have come available. This update brings the document up to date with these new realities. It is published as Working Draft to gather public review, after which it is expected to be republished as a Working Group Note.”

This latest version of the draft includes a general restructure of the Note, new guidance relating to Google reCAPTCHA and new guidance on CAPTCHA as it relates to security authentication and biometrics.

As an invited expert for the W3C WAI APA Research Questions Task Force (RQTF), it’s been a privilege to work with Janina, Michael and Jason on updating the note alongside the hard work of all the RQTF members.  As the Note continues to be refined ready for publication it remains a great experience to be involved in the process.

Retrogaming arrives for the Xbox Adaptive Controller with Recalbox 6.0

Travel back in time to the 1980s ind you’ll be almost certain to find a Galaga arcade machine in a local café, a Commodore 64 in an office or an Atari 2600 games console connected to the family room TV. However one thing you wouldn’t be able to find back then was a game controller that supported people with a mobility impairment. Fortunately, access to classic gaming has just changed with the Xbox Adaptive Controller (XAC) receiving support in a version of the Recalbox retrogaming software platform.

While it may seem that the computers and games of yesteryear aren’t quite as popular these days, there is a strong retrogaming community with modern-day computers being able to emulate the hardware, and in turn the games, of the 1980s and 1990s with ease. One such platform that can turn a modern computer into a retrogaming powerhouse is Recalbox which can run on PC, Android and even the credit-card sized Raspberry PI line of computers. It provides support for 80 systems including names like Atari, Nintendo , Sega and Commodore.

In its most recent release, Recalbox 6.0 plug-and-play support was added for the XAC. As a result, people with a mobility impairment that use the XAC can now play games that had been inaccessible for decades.

In a statement, the Recalbox devevelopment team explained that:

 “We have always steered Recalbox towards accessibility: financial accessibility (it’s a free, open-source solution for cheap hardware), technical accessibility (it’s a beginner-friendly, plug-and-play solution) and historical accessibility (it’s a wayback machine to forgotten software legacy).

A few months ago, we added human accessibility to our mission and we wanted to make Recalbox available to everyone.Everyone is indeed quite a wide scope, but there’s something we knew we could do that would allow disabled people to play more than 40k games on more than 80 gaming systems from the last decades.

So we did it, and we are so proud of it. In Recalbox 6.0 DragonBlaze, we added official, plug-and-play support for the recently released Xbox Adaptive Controller by Microsoft. We strongly believe it’s a huge leap towards disabled people integration and we really hope that, as we expect, it will bring people together.”

Recalbox 6.0 is available for free from the Recalbox website.

Centre For Accessibility launches the Australian Access Awards

On Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2019, Co-founder of the Centre For Accessibility initiative Dr Scott Hollier launched Australia’s first dedicated Access Awards at an event hosted by VisAbility.

A core reason for the Awards is due to the fact that accessibility of websites and apps is not always easy to identify visually, but has a significant impact on the independence of people with disability. The Australian Access Awards is about celebrating the organisations, service providers and designers/developers that make the effort to support people with disability, but to date have received little recognition for that work.

Australian Access Awards homepage screenshot

This Centre for Accessibility initiative is a chance for everyone in Australia to acknowledge best practice, celebrate a job well done and encourage organisations that may not have a good understanding of digital access to step forward and have a go at making their content accessible.

Entries are now open!

Anyone can nominate a website or app for an Award in the appropriate category. Nomination is free and we invite any organisations to submit themselves for an Award. We also encourage anyone within the disability community to make a nomination based on their own personal experiences.

Centre For Accessibility founders, DADAA, Media On Mars and Dr Scott Hollier, would like to thank sponsors VisAbility, Web Key IT, OZeWAI, ACCAN, the Centre for Inclusive Design and the Attitude Foundation for their support of the Awards.

To learn more about the Awards and the associated website and app nomination categories, please visit the Australian Access Awards section of the Centre For Accessibility website. Nominations close 30 August 2019.

Google introduces live captioning and Lens improvements to Android Q

Google announced at its 2019 I/O developer conference that the upcoming version of Android, currently codenamed ‘Android Q’, will feature some significant accessibility improvements relating to the automated captioning of video and the addition of search to Google Lens.

Live Captioning

The Live Caption feature will allow users to download a video to their device and play it back with captions regardless as to whether the video was formally captioned or not. This makes use of similar technologies currently found in YouTube’s automated captioned service whereby Google scans a video and adds captions for you. The main difference here is that the ability to scan a video is built into Android Q, and the process appears to be relatively instantaneous once a video is downloaded to a device.

While the Live Captioning feature is focused primarily on pre-recorded videos, it has also been demonstrated with real-time video calls. This has the potential to improve the communication options for people who are Deaf or hearing impaired worldwide. The following YouTube video showcases the feature in action.

While the promise of every video featuring captions and even live calling is extremely exciting for people who are Deaf or hearing impaired, there are currently few options to test the feature at this time of writing outside of specific beta testing programmes. There is also some scepticism about its accuracy given that the effectiveness of the YouTube automated captions feature relies heavily on broadcast-level audio quality and only caters for a limited number of languages and accents.

While the feature is primarily focused on people with a hearing disability, it is likely to have wider benefits for people wanting to watch video content in noisy environments such as on a bus or plane.

In terms of availability, people using Pixel and recent mobile devices affiliated with the Android One programme are likely to receive the update before the end of the year. Once a device is updated to Android Q, the feature can be enabled in the device settings.

Google Lens

Another accessibility-related improvement is an update related to Google Lens. Google has incorporated search and some additional real-time functionality to help people interact with your environment by taking a photo.

According to Natt Garun from The Verge, “Google says Lens can search for exact dishes on a menu and surface photos of that dish based on Google Maps information to show you just how it looks before you order. You can also point the camera at the receipt to bring up a calculator that lets you add a tip then split the bill or at a sign in a foreign language to hear a text-to-speech translation.”

Google Lens remains a popular feature in Android for people who are blind or vision impaired as it allows for a person with a vision disability to take a photo and find out what is in the surrounding environment. The added functionality is likely to continue making Google Lens more useful.

Accessibility features aside, the one remaining mystery about Android Q is its name. Google traditionally names its android releases after sweet treats and in alphabetical order, but as there aren’t many desserts that start with ‘Q’ it will be interesting to see what choice Google makes.

For additional information on Google 2019 I/O announcements, visit The Verge website article.