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Dr Scott Hollier - Digital Access Specialist Posts

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: https://www.w3.org/TR/turingtest/ 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.

Google Android apps round-up for people who are blind or vision impaired

There’s no denying that Apple led the way when it came to mobile accessibility for people who are blind or vision impaired. In 2009 when Apple released it’s iPhone 3GS, its integrated VoiceOver screen reader was revolutionary in making mobile touchscreen devices accessible. Over the past 10 years, competitors have gradually caught up meaning that both Apple iOS based devices and Google Android devices are largely comparable in terms of accessibility features out-of-the-box for people who are blind or vision impaired.

So why is it then that blind and vision impaired Android users still feel inferior when standing next to a person with an iPhone? It largely comes down to the apps. With Microsoft putting a lot of its accessibility emphasis into the Apple platform with apps such as Seeing AI and Soundscape, it often feels like Android users with vision-related disabilities are shut out of the benefits mobile devices can provide.

Yet it may surprise many to learn that the world’s most popular mobile operating system has a lot to offer people who are blind, or vision impaired with an assortment of useful apps and features. That’s not to take way from the iPhone, which is certainly a great device, but for those on a budget, here’s some guidance on what blind and vision impaired users can find if you are a Google Android user.

BUILT-IN FEATURES

TalkBack screen reader

First up it’s important to acknowledge that Google Android has a great built-in screen reader called TalkBack. On most Android devices this can be found by going into Settings then Accessibility. If TalkBack is not there, you can usually install it by downloading the Android Accessibility Suite in the Play Store which adds several great accessibility features.

Select to speak

Rather than turning on TalkBack, you can just select text, and have it read out which can be very convenient for people who just need some text read out occasionally.

Magnification

This is a feature that lets you zoom into a portion of the screen similar to a magnification tool on a desktop computer. This can be very useful for people with low vision who need to see a larger part of the screen.

Colour correction

For people with a colour vision impairment, Android has a number of features which that allow the user to modify the colour palette so everything on the screen can be seen.

Volume key shortcut

If you share a phone with others, you can quickly toggle an assistive technology feature such as TalkBack on or off by holding the two volume keys together for a few seconds. For example, you may want to turn off the screen reader when using a Camera app, then re-enable it after a photo is taken.

APPS

While Android is yet to receive some of the great Microsoft apps available on iOS, there are a number of Android apps which have some similar features and work really well.

Speak!

Speak! screenshot

Earlier in the year I was contacted by an Israeli engineer that developed and launched the free app Speak! This app is mainly designed to read out text with an auto-read feature so you can move the phone around and it’ll keep reading whatever text it finds. It also has useful text orientation features and works well if you want to read whole pages from books or menus. While the app may not be as polished as some similar apps, it meets two very important criteria – it works, and it’s free. I’d strongly recommend that every blind or vision impaired Android user download this app as soon as possible.

Eye-D

Eye-D screenshot

Another favourite app is Eye-D. There’s a free version available but I’d recommend paying for the Pro version which is very reasonably priced at $AUD6.99. Eye-D is a ‘swiss army knife’-style app which has a large number of tools including an accessible camera, a ‘where am I’ feature, the ability to find out what services are nearby and makes use of Google Maps to navigate you there, the ability to identify images and text in images just to name a few. Given its large number of features it’s another app worth considering if you have a vision impairment.

Envision AI

Heavily inspired by Microsoft’s Seeing AI app on iOS Envision AI also features a variety of tools relating to image and text recognition, it also has the ability to read out handwriting and scan barcodes. I used the app during its free demo period, and it worked very well. However, while Seeing AI on iOS is free, Envision AI are charging a hefty $AUD221.99 for a lifetime subscription which is apparently a discount price. For this amount you may be better off paying for an iPhone and then using the free apps available instead if this functionality is critical to your needs or consider the previous two apps which are far more reasonably priced.

KNFB Reader

A well-established app that can also help in reading out text in books and menus is the KNFB Reader. As with the above it also has a demo mode after which the price of purchase is $AUD159.99. Again, there’s no denying the effectiveness of the app, but I’d certainly recommend trying the free options first.

Magnification using the camera

In addition to speaking apps, there are many magnifier apps that can use your phone’s camera to view print up-close and inverse the colours of needed. There’s no one app to recommend as there are lots of good free options on the Play Store, but it’s worth spending some time trying them out to find out what works best for you.  

Google Lens

If you want an app that can describe your environment, Google Lens is a great option. It can be used both as a standalone app or as part of most Android camera apps, Lens allows you to take a photo and then have the scene described to you. Google is working on integrating search functionality and other helpful features so if you want to have Lense, have a look at your phone’s camera app and see if it is supported.

Uber Eats

It’s fair to say that Uber Eats is not an app designed specifically to assist people who are blind or vision impaired, but it is an important one to note for people that have the service in their area. Uber Eats is a food delivery app and unlike most websites and apps associated with food delivery, Uber Eats is completely accessible with the TalkBack screen reader. This means that you can confidently select a food outlet, choose items form the menu, pay and keep up-to-date with the delivery status without any accessibility issues. Given the challenges in trying to go out for food when you can’t drive, getting the food delivered to you in a convenient and accessible way can be a very positive experience for people who are blind or vision impaired.

Launchers

BIG Launcher screenshot

One of the best things about Android is that unlike iOS, your launcher can be replaced with one that better meets your needs. There’s a large number of custom free launchers available with Nova Launcher being one very accessible example. My personal favourite is BIG Launcher which works well for my needs by simplifying the interface making use of a high contrast theme and working well with TalkBack. It also allows me to customise the buttons such as putting my news app on the home screen. However, at this time of writing, the full version has been removed from the Play Store due to some issues with Google’s new policies on using the app for messaging. Hopefully it’ll return soon but in the meantime you can try out the demo.

ANDROID V IOS – WHICH IS BETTER?

If a direct comparison were made between the latest version of Android and iOS for a person who is blind or vision impaired, I’d say that Apple still wins out due to iOS being so well established in the community and the wealth of app options. However, if you’re looking for accessibility on a budget, it’s still worth considering Android due to it’s great out-of-the-box experience and some great free apps – and lunch thanks to Uber Eats!