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Dr Scott Hollier - Digital Access Specialist Posts

Guest post: 5 Ways Internet Connectivity and Technology Have Helped Overcome Disabilities

Today I”m featuring a guest post by Sean Humboldt who is sharing some thoughts on helpful technologies.

While there are benefits and disadvantages to everything, including technological developments, for many people in the disabled community there have been many things which have made life much easier over the last few decades, with the bonus that most of them are affordable and accessible by most people. And there is only more to come, with many companies including accessibility options by default (or through demand) in their software. While not everything is perfect, the future is looking much brighter.

Here are some of the most common and key ways connectivity and modern technology have helped people overcome or more easily live with their disabilities:

1) Text to Speech and Voice Recording Advancements

While closed-captioning technology was previously available for TV, it was impossible to have a transcriber for every piece of media. Now, however, closed captions are becoming the standard online, on top of the vast wealth of written information available at a quick search.

Additionally, larger video sharing sites are starting to use programs to automatically create captions for videos and even live content. And while the results are not always perfect (if humorous), then there is something to be said about its rate of improvement and implementation. As researchers are better able to pinpoint human speech patterns and notice common errors, the more accurate this technology will become and better able to help people access all information and content people with full hearing can.

Conversely, those with difficulty handling the fine motor movements necessary to operate a standard mouse and keyboard can much more easily find convenience in voice activated assistants and programs, with accuracy also improving every year, if not every few months.

2) Significantly Easier Text-Only Communication

For many people who have difficulties  with speech or are hearing impaired, the ability to communicate instantaneously has changed how they can live their lives. Most communication can be done on the computer without audio, and people now are able to type or text so quickly that long conversations can be had easily.

Combined with advancements in smartphone technology that make it easier for people with these abilities to communicate with those who might not understand sign language, we can remain hopeful that communication will continue to improve and build bridges between people of all backgrounds.

3) Additional Customization Options Online to View or Read Content

Most might not even notice the ability to easily change most font sizes on their computer, or the ability to zoom in on practically anything, or other settings of the sort. For people with visual impairments, these developments make life significantly easier, and can help people with light sensitivity, color-blindness of various types, and more.

And it makes sense. Given that there are literally billions of people that use the internet every day, there are hundreds of thousands to millions of people that could benefit from each of these options, making them absolutely worthwhile to software developers.

4) Social Media Is Connecting More People than Ever

Something that is not acknowledged enough is the fact that many people with disabilities find it much more difficult to be social. This can lead to challenges with mental health, a lower overall quality of life, and a myriad of other issues.

And while there is something to be said about the value of in-person communication and interaction, social media helps fulfill a need and find a community who millions of people who overwise wouldn’t be able to contact many people at all outside of their own families. In fact, one can say people are finding new families thanks to social media and other online platforms. And with developments in video chat and similar technologies, the limitations are becoming fewer.

5) Increasing Employment Opportunities

For many of the same reasons that social media and the other developments listed above have helped people with disabilities, communications technology is also allowing more people to work and make an income for themselves, allowing them to stay at home where accommodations are easier while still doing just as good a job as anyone else. Given the sheer amount of work done by computers and those operating them no matter where they might be, opportunities are

And given the increased shift over to remote work given the COVID-19 crisis and resulting shifts in the economy, even more options will be open to people who have no choice but to work from home. What will happen after the crisis remains to be seen, but we can hope that it opens up the prospective employee pool for employers across the world.

Conclusion

These are only a few of the tools and technologies people with disabilities can and have used to help overcome their challenges and struggles, and a brief search can find dozens more. Additionally, there are constantly new developments in both medical science and communications technology that are making it easier for people around the world to live a normal life no matter their circumstances, so always keep an eye out for what’s around the corner.

W3C WAI publishes Real-Time Communications accessibility requirements draft

I’m excited to report that the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) working group that I’m involved in, has recently published its first public working draft of the Real-Time Communication Accessibility User Requirements (RAUR).

The RAUR draft was developed by the W3C WAI Accessible Platform Architecture working group’s Research Questions Task Force (RQTF). The purpose of the draft is to outline user needs, requirements, and scenarios for real-time communication (RTC) to be accessible to people with disabilities. Accessible telecommunication technology is increasingly important for people who are working remotely and relying on RTC for daily needs. The document is designed to inform the development of specifications and underlying architecture at W3C and beyond. Some of the requirements apply at the system or platform level, and some are authoring requirements.

Feedback on the RAUR is welcome. To comment, please open a new issue in the APA GitHub repository, and add the “RAUR” label:

            https://github.com/w3c/apa/issues/new or e-mail public-apa@w3.org.

ANZ resolves issue requiring blind customer to collect refund during Coronavirus crisis

Earlier in the week I wrote an article titled ANZ requires blind man to visit branch during Coronavirus crisis to collect bank refund or money lost. In the article I discussed how ANZ posted a cheque to me to issue a bank refund, but required that I visit a branch during the Coronavirus crisis to cash it or the money would be taken away. I’m pleased to report that thanks in large part to the promotion of the article by Blind Citizens Australia (BCA), the story has had a happy ending.

The issues raised in the original article discussed how the ANZ, bank which has great accessible online banking features chose to provide a bank refund by cheque which needed to be cashed within a short space of time. This is virtually impossible during the current Coronavirus crisis and would go against current government advice. In Trying to contact the bank, an automated assistant indicated the call wasn’t important enough at this time and repeatedly hung up making it impossible to directly discuss the matter with ANZ,

In light of the article I wrote about it being shared by BCA and circulated on social media, ANZ heard about the issue and called me to discuss the matter. They offered and apology and have pledged to review their processes so that people with disability and vulnerable health conditions can be better supported by having similar matters handled electronically. The ANZ representative also explained that the call system, which is under tremendous strain due to the number of enquiries during the Coronavirus crisis, would also have its processes reviewed.

As discussed in the original article and with ANZ on the call, it is difficult to understand why when funds can be removed from a bank account in error electronically, the reverse can’t be handled electronically as well. ANZ have acknowledged the point and will look to improve their processes in the future. The refund of $16.74 was credited to my bank account today.

I’d like to take this opportunity to offer my thanks to BCA for their support in promoting the article which led to my concerns being addressed, and to offer my thanks and gratitude to ANZ for taking the time to provide the apology, provide the refund and pledge to improve their processes so people with disability can continue to use their accessible online services.

ANZ requires blind man to visit branch during Coronavirus crisis to collect bank refund or money lost

As a digital access specialist, there are times when issues arise that force people with disability to respond to things that are so completely unnecessary that there doesn’t seem to be any logic to it. I’ve just had  one such instance happened to me, and thought it was a great case study into the challenges of digital access.

ANZ bank sent a letter to me, which in itself is logistically difficult to read as I’m legally blind. In the letter which my daughter helped read out to me, it stated that due to the bank making errors in its deductions for cash payments, it had provided me with a refund of $16.74. Always happy to receive money that’s unexpected, I assumed that this would naturally be credited back to my account.

However, as my daughter continued to read the letter, it indicated that in the same envelope was a physical bank cheque which would need to be cashed at an ANZ bank branch. The letter stated that if this cheque was not cashed in a relatively short period of time, the money would be donated to charity.

Under normal circumstances this would be a bit challenging in itself: taxi fares for a round trip to my bank alone would cost more than the cheque is worth, and in the digital age there’s no reason they couldn’t  have told me about the payment via the SecureMail facility in my online banking, and just credited the amount to my account.

However, this isn’t a normal time: due to the Coronavirus when our society is being required to stay away from non-essential travel and self-isolate, my bank has threatened to take my money away if I don’t physically appear at an ANZ branch which goes against all the messaging currently coming from the Federal and state governments.

So, in essence, ANZ have sent me a letter saying they owe me money for a bank error but will also be taking it away from me shortly as I have no mechanism to effectively go to an ANZ branch to bank it. I tried calling ANZ but each time the automated voice said that based on my responses my request wasn’t important enough and hung up on me.

This perfectly illustrates why ensuring people with disability have effective access to digital content: if the letter was provided via an accessible secure portal and the amount added to my account, there would be no issue. The irony is that ANZ have very accessible banking products, even winning an Award for their digital access, so if they’d just used the channels available to them it would have been quite effective for me. The bigger issue though is that people with disability that have respiratory conditions may have also received a similar cheque, and it’s beyond comprehension that vulnerable people should be asked to visit a bank at this time.  

I’m not planning to cash my $16.74 now due to the Coronavirus crisis recommendations by the government. However, if I were in a difficult financial situation which many people who have just lost their jobs are, then ANZ would have created a whole lot of movement by people at a time when it’s least preferred.  I challenge ANZ and other financial institutions to consider the needs of people with disability when planning these processes

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W3C WAI publishes XR Accessibility User Requirements draft

I’m excited to report that the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) working group that I’m involved in, has recently published its first public working draft of the XR Accessibility User Requirements (XAUR).

The draft was developed by the W3C WAI Accessible Platform Architecture working group’s Research Questions Task Force (RQTF). The purpose of the draft is to provide guidance on the accessibility of XR – an umbrella term to cover the spectrum of hardware, applications, and techniques used for virtual reality or immersive environments, augmented or mixed reality and other related technologies.

The accessibility aspects of the XAUR looks specifically at the implications for users in the XR space. As described in the Abstract, “This document lists user needs and requirements for people with disabilities when using virtual reality or immersive environments, augmented or mixed reality and other related technologies (XR). It first introduces a definition of XR as used throughout the document, then briefly outlines some uses of XR. It outlines the complexity of understanding XR, introduces some accessibility challenges such as the need for accessibility multimodal support for a range of input and output devices and the importance of customization. Based on this information, it outlines accessibility user needs for XR and their related requirements. This is followed by information about related work that may be helpful to understand the complex technical architecture and processes behind how XR environments are built and what may form the basis of a robust accessibility architecture.”

Examples of scenarios and guidance provided in the XAUR include the ability for a vision impaired person to zoom into a second of an XR environment without losing context, overcoming current XR issues across proprietary platforms which don’t contain an accessibility feature set and guidance on providing sign language support. A presentation about the XAUR that I did at the recent OZeWAI conference can be viewed in the video above. The draft will continue to evolve and feedback is welcome.