Technology, Design and Dementia

Most people with dementia live at home and can often benefit from a range of technologies – but what are the best and when should they be used? In a PhD study, Tizneem Jiancaro of the University of Toronto has sought some answers. The thesis looks at three perspectives, developers, people with dementia, and the caregivers and significant others. Design factors were considered alongside emotional factors as well as usability. Not unexpectedly, “…empathy emerged as an important design approach, both as a way to address diversity and to access users’ emotional lives”. The title of the thesis is Exploring Technology, Design and Dementia. It can be downloaded from the University of Toronto.

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Access inspector app

Screenshot of what the app looks like on a mobile. the colours are white and deep blue.Here is another app aimed at accessibility of the built environment. Access Inspector is from Japan and works with both iOS and Android devices. It is basically a checklist tool for assessing more than 40 common architectural features: accessible routes, doors, corridors, ramps, toilets, elevators, signage, etc. The developers claim it is based on international best practice and the principles of universal design. The details are on the official Access Inspector website.  It is available in English.  

Meanwhile Apple is proposing 13 new emojis to represent people with disability. People with guide dogs and hearing aids, and wheelchairs. Apple says its proposed additions are “not meant to be a comprehensive list of all possible depictions of disabilities – it is intended to be a starting point”.

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Artificial Intelligence: a re-think on inclusion

front cover with black upper case title, amplify accessibility with a purple V shape on its side and a young woman in sports gear runningAs technology and artificial intelligence (AI) evolves, businesses will have to consider the ramifications. Technology will determine the inclusiveness of our emerging digital society. These developments have the potential to bring many more people with disability into the workforce – provided accessibility and inclusive practice are considered today. Accenture.com has posted a report, Amplify You, on the state of play for digital inclusion. In the introduction they claim:

“As technology evolves and new platforms emerge, the way businesses design and develop new technology will determine the inclusiveness of our digital society. New technologies have the potential to bring an estimated 350 million people with disabilities into the workforce over the next 10 years—provided we design with accessibility in mind today.” 

The 24 page PDF report covers understanding the digital divide, design for humans, AI is the new UI, and more. I the last section, What to Do Now, it has bullet points under headings of: Understand the implications of accessibility, Design accessibility into your business, Build an ecosystem of accessibility – and continuously think about what is next.  

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Older drivers want universal design

View through a car windscreen to a country road with one car in front.Technology to assist drivers is not always user tested on older people who are more likely to have a decline in cognition and perception. Developers who wanted to develop an smart phone app specifically to help older drivers soon found that they didn’t want a special or segregated application just for them. The developers eventually found that by applying universal design principles to their design, it was useful for drivers of all ages. After adopting UD principles in development they were able to change the name from Older Driver Support System to Road Coach. The article is a long technical road safety report from University of Minnesota, but the executive summary and conclusions provide most of the key detail. You can skim read the rest unless you are a road safety person. The title of the paper is Older Driver Support System (ODSS) Usability and Design Investigation.  

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Pedestrians fast and slow

people stand on the footpath waiting to cross on the pedestrian crossing. The street is in JapanOlder people who walk slowly or unsteadily can find themselves bumped by faster walkers as they try to weave around them. This can be stressful for older people, particularly in crowded streets. A Japanese group think that a smartphone device could help this situation and their work is outlined in a conference paper. Regardless of whether a smartphone app would be of use, it is clear that this is an issue in some large cities. If being a slow walker in the midst of fast walkers is stressful it could stop some older people from getting out and about in such environments. Perhaps the answer is wider footpaths and narrower vehicle road space. The language used has not translated well, such as “wobbling elderly people”, but this is a new take on the issue of being about to get out and about. Here is a snippet from the paper:
“… it turns out that a lot of elderly people are physically challenged to realise the movement of pedestrians or bicycles approaching from the opposite direction. Moreover, it was found that there are a lot of elderly people who find it difficult to recognise the danger that they themselves pose to others. … Meanwhile, an elderly person with wobbly feet and weak balance begins to feel crowded while trying to walk at his own pace. However, unintentionally he ends up wandering to the left and right instead of walking straight. Hence, the situation requires other pedestrians to anticipate and react instantly to hinder a potential danger whether of a person walking fast, coming from the opposite direction, or of a passing bicycle speeding by the elderly person at a close distance.” 

Shows older Japanese people with wheelie walkers on the streetThe full title of the paper is, An information presentation system for wobbling elderly people and those around them in walking spaces. It is by Koshi Ogawa, Takashi Sakamoto, and Toshikazu Kato. 

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What is the meaning of inclusion in inclusive technology?

Line drawing of jon and kat. They re both wearing jackets and scarves around their necks. A very interesting conversation between a WordPress designer and an advisor to Automattic where they discuss inclusion and how people understand the concepts of inclusive design in different ways. They claim that a diverse team does not necessarily mean that diversity will be reflected in designs – it is a company-wide culture change that is needed. “Success is when inclusive design is the default way to design any aspect of society.” The conversation is between John Maeda of WordPress, and Kat Holmes the advisor to Automattic. Nicely written, large text, lots of good points and tips, and easy to read with extra links at the end of the article.  

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Can everyone hear me?

People sit around round tables discussing questions. There are four round tables shown in this pictureFinding a way to include people who are hard of hearing in workshops, brainstorming sessions and similar events is not easy. Time delays with live captioning and signing tend to reduce the spontaneity of contributions when working with people with normal hearing. Researchers have developed a device to help overcome these issues and provide instant talk to text. In the process they found some interesting things about the way hard of hearing and deaf people communicate. It seems electronic instant speech to text does not always work well for this group. Captioning provided by a living person cuts out all the ums and ahs and hesitations, but an electronic device does not. This makes comprehension difficult, especially for people who do not generally communicate this way. The article, Live-Talk: Real-time Information Sharing between Hearing-impaired People and People with Normal Hearing charts the development of prototypes involving users throughout. As always, a reminder that one in six people experience hearing loss. This is not a small group. Older rock stars such as Roger Daltrey, Eric Clapton and Phil Collins have gone public about their hearing loss.

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AI for Seeing: an new App

Picture of an iPhone magnifying a business cardMicrosoft has launched a new app, Seeing AI  that helps people who are blind or have low vision. It converts text to talk, and recognises objects and people. Vision Australia’s David Woodbridge provides a detailed review of the app, which is able to complete multiple tasks without having to switch apps for different tasks. It can capture a printed page to read, locates bar codes and scans to identify products, identifies bank notes when paying by cash and recognises friends and their facial expressions, and even describes colour. Unfortunately it is only available for iOS devices at the moment. This is a good one to add to the list previously posted on apps for people with low vision. The Microsoft website has videos to explain the different features.

Editor’s note: Sometimes I think I could do with an app that recognises people and can tell me their name – it made me think of people with dementia or acquired brain injury. Another case of “design for one” becoming “one for all”.

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Good example of an accessible website?

screnshot of expedia websiteExpedia gets a good write up from the Accessibility Wins blog site. Curator Marcy Sutton went looking for inaccessible tourism websites for a project she was doing and said she found many. However, she liked Expedia and claims: “They have a skip link, labeled form controls and icon buttons, and intuitive navigation. They’ve made it easy to navigate with a keyboard and a screen reader”. The blog site is aimed at web page designers and developers. Other posts are a bit more technical such as Google Chrome’s Color Contrast Debugger which tests the colour contrast ratios. Useful for anyone needing to brief a web developer as well as web designers and developers.

Editor’s Note: I haven’t checked this site out personally, but it seems Expedia is keen for any feedback about the accessibility of their site. 

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Apps for people with low vision

The Macular Society in the UK has a great list of different smart phone apps that help people with macular degeneration and low vision. Good apps can make a big difference to everyday life. The list includes both free and low cost apps as well as Android and iOS. A brief description is provided for each one with links to download the apps. Below are just some in the list. For more go to the Macular Society website:
BeSpecular
Aipoly Vision
iDentifi
Be My Eyes
TapTapSee
Color ID
CamFind
DAISY Talk
Kindle
ATM Finder

The Macular Society is a large well-established UK based organisation. They have many fact sheets on the condition. Their website can be read in text only and they have the option to listen. The website lives the message.

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