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CES 2020: some interesting developments for people with disabilities

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is the world’s largest consumer technology exhibition and showcases the products likely to appear in our shops in the coming months. With over 40,000 new products and concepts on display, it stands to reason that there are some interesting products that open exciting possibilities for people with disabilities.

This year the big brands are continuing to refine new products such as foldable smartphones, driverless cars and 8K televisions which may offer promise in the future, but aren’t quite there yet for the everyday consumer with a disability. There were, however, some innovative niche products which are certainly of interest in the disability space. Here’s my pick for some of the interesting consumer electronics likely to help people with disabilities that will hopefully be available soon.

The Y-brush: clean your teeth in 10 seconds

When you look up a list of the most important inventions in recent centuries, the toothbrush always appears due to its significance to our overall health. It’s no surprise then that a toothbrush that allows you to brush your teeth in less than 10% of the time it usually takes was one of the big hits at CES this year.

The toothbrush achieves its task by cleaning an entire row of teeth in one go. It works by inserting the toothbrush in the mouth, biting on it to activate, then waiting five seconds while it brushes the entire row of teeth. The brush can then be flipped to clean the other row for another five seconds.

While aesthetically the brush doesn’t look particularly appealing, for people with disabilities it has the potential to be significant. People with a mobility impairment often find tasks such as brushing teeth challenging, so this simple and time-saving process is likely to be helpful for individuals and carers of people with disabilities as no rapid movement is required.

Samsung Selfie Type invisible keyboard

Recently I was setting up an Android TV box and found it difficult as I couldn’t set up the accessibility features until I had entered in my account information. As I’m legally blind, the on-screen keyboard wasn’t much help to me and I ended up having to hunt down a USB keyboard so I could manually type in my credentials. This is just one example of where the Samsung Selfie type keyboard could prove very useful for people with disabilities.

Using the camera in your smart device, you can put your fingers on a nearby surface and start typing as if you were using a keyboard. The camera calculates the location of your fingers on a QWERTY keyboard and starts to input your keys selections. While accuracy may vary, people at CES that have tested the prototype report that after a short bit of training, the virtual typing becomes reasonably accurate. The idea that I always have a keyboard available is something I personally find very exciting when assistive technologies on smartphones and other devices aren’t always available in every situation.

Code Jumper

There was also several disability-related benefits to products that were winners for the Best of Innovation awards.

Code Jumper is one such innovation which was developed by Microsoft and the American Printing House for the Blind (APH). It works by putting code blocks using audio to represent sequencing and variables to teach people who are blind and vision impaired how to code. This may improve employment opportunities for people who are blind and is a very exciting initiative.

Norm Glasses

Another interesting product is the Norm Glasses which contain a computer within the glasses. The accessibility aspects of this is that they have the ability to display captions during video playback and are based on Android so it contains basic smartphone capabilities such as the Google assistant and turn-by-turn navigation which has the potential to bring in augmented reality in an accessible way. Still very early days in this space but certainly the potential for real-time captioning and audio navigation could open new doors for people with disabilities in engaging with the environment.

NextMind

Perhaps one of the most interesting devices from CES 2020 this year is more about its future potential for people with disabilities than what it is currently able to achieve. The Next Mind allows for thought control interaction with virtual and augmented reality. It works by translating thoughts into commands which has a huge potential for supporting people with mobility, speech and cognitive disabilities to simply think about where they want to go or do and the command is represented in the visual interface. While it will also be some time before this is something that could be used everyday, its potential for a variety of disability groups could be groundbreaking.

That’s just some of my personal picks form CES 2020 this year. For in-depth coverage, please refer to the CES 2020 section of CNet website.

W3C WAI – 2019 year in review

Last year, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) was celebrated for the release of its updated Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 standard, providing additional guidance to mobile accessibility along with improvements in other areas. This year has seen additional resources built to support the standard along with significant updates to advice regarding the accessibility of technologies such as CAPTCHA. If you haven’t had time to follow all the significant updates of the W3C WAI this year, here’s a quick overview.

Advice on inaccessible CAPTCHA Note published

The biggest W3C WAI news for me personally in 2019 was that after several years of work, the Note that I’ve been involved in relating to the inaccessibility of CAPTCHA has been published. The purpose of this Note is to help developers understand the issues and implement accessible CAPTCHA solutions. 

As described by W3C, “First published in 2005 today’s 2.0 publication extensively updates the earlier version to bring our analysis and recommendations up to date with CAPTCHA practice today.”

As the lead editor for the Note, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank fellow editors Janina Sajka, Jason White and Michael Cooper for the opportunity to be involved with the update along with the many contributions provided by the general public during the feedback process. For more information on CAPTCHA and its impact on people with disabilities, please refer to the excellent ABC article The internet thinks you’re a robot, and other ‘dark patterns’ people with disabilities face online.

Translation efforts expanded

This year saw W3C WAI ramp up its translation of standards and supporting resources into other languages. As noted in the W3C media release, “Over 20 new translations of W3C WAI accessibility resources are listed at: All WAI Translations https://www.w3.org/WAI/translations/  You can get to that page from the “All Translations” link at the top of WAI web pages.” This is an extremely important development as prior to this year, languages such as Arabic were not well supported due in part to the strict rules that governed translation efforts. The new flexibility around language translation has expanded the number of people able to undertake this work and we’ve seen the welcome results of that effort this year.

Accessibility Conformance Testing (ACT) Rules 1.0 standard released

This year has also seen the launch of the Accessibility Conformance Testing (ACT) Rules Format 1.0 as a “W3C Recommendation” web standard. 

As stated in the Recommendation Abstract, “The Accessibility Conformance Testing (ACT) Rules Format 1.0 defines a format for writing accessibility test rules. These test rules can be used for developing automated testing tools and manual testing methodologies. It provides a common format that allows any party involved in accessibility testing to document and share their testing procedures in a robust and understandable manner. This enables transparency and harmonization of testing methods, including methods implemented by accessibility test tools.” 

It’s great to see this guidance made available to help provide consistency in the way online content is tested for accessibility.

Cognitive guidance for web content reaches first draft

One aspect of digital access that I get asked about a lot is if there are any plans to improve the guidance for people with cognitive disabilities. This year marks the start of what I suspect will be a critical contribution to providing support in this area, W3C has released a draft document titled Making Content Usable for People with Cognitive and Learning Disabilities – Working Draft to help provide guidance for cognitive disabilities not generally addressed in other W3C work. While it is a draft, I’d strongly recommend taking a look at the work of the COGA Task Force and I’m looking forward to seeing how this work develops in 2020.

Introduction to Web Accessibility MOOC commencing in 2020

Speaking of things to look forward to in 2020, the last announcement I’d like to draw your attention to is the launch by W3C WAI  of a four-week free self-paced course designed to provide a basic overview of broad web accessibility concepts designed for technical and non-technical audiences.

Enrolments for the course are open now and will be available on 28 January 2020. The course itself is free but the completion certificate has an additional charge. While the course is offered worldwide, there are some access restrictions in select countries.

It’s great to see W3C WAI build a course from its own excellent curricula resources and to see some familiar names, including a PCWA Alumnus and one of my former staff from my Media Access Australia days involved in the project.

Thankyou for a great 2019

As this will be my last article for 2019, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for your ongoing support of my work including the Centre For Accessibility’s fantastic Australian Access Awards event. Looking forward to continuing to support your digital access needs in 2020.

Logitech creates affordable accessory kit for the Xbox Adaptive Controller

Logitech, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of accessories for popular consumer electronics, has released an accessory kit for the Xbox Adaptive Controller (XAC).

The kit, which retails for $USD100, provides a full set of buttons, variable-actuation triggers and two mounting pads which can be plugged into the XAC’s interface jacks. The price is significantly cheaper than Microsoft’s own accessories, improving the affordability of accessible gaming.

The kit continues to add value to Microsoft’s XAC which has proved popular among gamers with disabilities. As discussed last year, the XAC can be connected to external buttons, switches, joysticks and mounts, giving players with a wide range of physical disabilities the ability to customise their setups. Although the focus of the controller is for Xbox, it can also be used with a Windows 10 PC. The addition of the Logitech kit ensures that people with a variety of disabilities can actively participate in the gaming community.

Additional information regarding the Logitech kit can be found in the Logitech XAC kit CNet news article.

Australian government commits to Audio Description TV funding

The following is a media release from Blind Citizens Australia. This is absolutely fantastic news and a day to celebrate for people who are blind and vision impaired after a long fight for video access.

Australians who are blind or vision impaired are celebrating today, following an announcement by The Hon Paul Fletcher MP, Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, that funding will be made available to Australia’s public broadcasters to implement Audio Description (AD).

AD is a verbal narration which describes scenery, costumes and other visual elements to make television accessible to people who are blind or vision impaired. It is available on some streaming services, however Australia is the only English speaking OECD country not offering AD on free-to-air television.

Emma Bennison, CEO of Blind Citizens Australia, (the national representative organisation of people who are blind or vision impaired), congratulated the Government on behalf of the blindness sector for recognising that provision of AD is long overdue. “This is a fantastic step forward for Australians who are blind or vision impaired. Blind Citizens Australia has been campaigning for AD since 1996 and more recently, organisations across the blindness sector have joined with us to highlight the human right of people who are blind or vision impaired to watch television with family and friends.”

“We welcome the provision of $2 million to each of the ABC and SBS to implement AD. We are scheduled to meet with the ABC early in the new year and look forward to working closely with them on the implementation of AD by July 2020. We also congratulate SBS on demonstrating their commitment to AD by broadcasting a recent series profiling artists with disability, “Perspective Shift” via their “On Demand” service. We look forward to working with them on their implementation also.”

“Now that the Government has taken this important first step towards bringing Australia into line with other western countries, people who are blind or vision impaired are keen to receive reassurance from the ABC and SBS that AD will be a permanent fixture, given we have already been subjected to several trials of the service. We also look forward to AD being enshrined in legislation, in the same way that captioning is for Australians who are Deaf or hearing impaired.”

Media Release Ends:

In celebrating this giant step forward we want to acknowledge the work of our staff who developed and have managed the TV4All Campaign and the many BCA members, who have kept the issue of Audio Description before their local politicians.

BCA’s leadership of the blindness sector working party and the TV4All campaign has no doubt added substantially to our advocacy. However, more recently, two factors have clearly pushed the Government to a positive decision: 

  • Firstly Lauren Henley has been relentless in her pursuit of implementation of AD on television, through her complaint to the United Nations, under provisions of the Convention on the Rights of People with Disability; and.
  • Secondly, when our CEO spoke to staff at the Department of Communications for International Day of People with Disability she, as always, stressed our need for AD.  In a conversation with the Department Deputy Secretary with direct responsibility for broadcast content, he told her that her explanation provided the clearest argument he had heard on why AD is so important to people who are blind or vision impaired.  It seems more than a coincidence that today’s release comes so soon after a senior officer with the direct ear of the Minister had the opportunity to brief him.

And to reflect on the history for just a moment, BCA first argued for the implementation of AD on Broadcast TV when John Simpson undertook a research project in 1996/97 which led to the publication of “When a Word is Worth a Thousand Pictures”. 

Congratulations to all who have worked so hard to achieve this very large step forward.  

Dr Scott Hollier talks digital access and Awards on ABC radio

Following on from the celebrations of Australia’s first Access Awards, I was interviewed about all things digital access and the Awards event on the national live ABC radio broadcast Saturday Afternoon with Will Schofield.

In the radio interview, I discusses the importance of digital access and the need to celebrate the good work that individuals and organisations are doing to make their content accessible through the creation of the Australian Access Awards.

The recording is available at the ABC Saturday Afternoon website with my bit starting around the 15 minute mark.