Avoid Unintended Barriers Accessing Assistive Technology

An image of a braille keyboard and an audiobook keyboard.
Alternative keyboards, including braille keyboards, and audiobook players assist in reducing barriers to accessing technology.

Have you ever been given a tool or a piece of technology with the promise of it making life simpler…only to find it adds more complexity to your life because you just don’t know how to use it?

Consider the needs, then, of our learners using assistive technologies to access learning who may face unintended barriers. Being aware of some practical strategies to avoid inadvertently building more barriers to access learning through assistive technology is beneficial.

For anyone frustrated with an unresponsive program on their device, it is likely the keyboard command ‘Ctrl-Alt-Delete’  will come to the rescue. Having keyboard commands as alternatives to mouse functions supports accessibility. Therefore,  provide alternate keyboard commands for mouse actions.

To improve access for learners and ensure students have alternatives to using a keyboard, deploy switch and scanning options. With the click of a switch, switch control assists uses to, for example, enter text, select from menus and move the cursor. Switch control is available in the ‘accessibility’ menu of many computers.

For keyboard users with physical, sensory, or cognitive challenges, standard keyboards pose functional barriers. Depending on your learner’s needs, AbilityNet highlights the following alternatives to standard keyboards:

      • ergonomic keyboards
      • smaller, compact keyboards
      • separate numeric keypads
      • keyboards with larger keys
      • high-contrast keyboards
      • early learning keyboards
      • more specialist keyboards – Braille, chording and expanded devices
      • typing without a keyboard

Spectronics provide information regarding a range of on-screen keyboards to limit or remove barriers to computer use stemming from a range of physical or cognitive challenges.

Tactile feedback overlays added to touch screens can improve their accessibility to vision-impaired users. Microsoft’s touchplates are tactile guides that provide tactile feedback for touch screens. Touchplates are physical guides that overlaid on the screen that are recognised by the underlying computer application. Additionally, customised overlays for touch screens and keyboards provide support for interacting with large touch screens or accessing spatial data. Read more regarding the challenges with touchscreens faced by vision-impaired users, and some overlay options.

Implementing the above practical strategies could go a long way in supporting access when using assistive technologies. Be sure that any software selected for use works flawlessly with the tools!

There are more practical suggestions on reducing barriers to learning on the CUDA website.

Call of the Wild in Inclusive Tourism

A man is walking and holding the handles of a wheelchair which is mounted on the Freedom Trax device. A child sits in the wheelchair and a woman is walking alongside.Wide open vistas, mountain wilderness and crystal clear lakes attract visitors from near and afar. But the very nature of these landscapes means they aren’t easily accessible to everyone. This is a situation where assistive technology meets universal design. Providing a specialised track wheelchair or beach wheelchair, for example, cannot do the job alone. It still needs an accessible travel chain.

Having an all-terrain wheelchair is only one part of the tourism experience. A paper reporting on a case study of specialised mobility devices shows the importance of user testing. Getting in and out of the device, operating it, and being part of a group, all need testing for convenience and useability before they become part of the service. The authors used the principles of universal design in their study and sum up with the following:

      • The entire customer journey must be accessible: toilets, parking, cafes, cable car, etc.
      • Transfers must be supervised by trained staff
      • Trails must be tested, marked and secured
      • Emergency procedures set up in case of an accident
      • Training courses for tourism service staff in the use of assistive technology
      • The devices are expensive and hiring might be a better option

Tourist destinations based on the natural environment can be inclusive if there is joined up thinking. That is, joining up service delivery and staff training with the physical environment and, at times, the addition of some assistive technologies. 

The title of the article is, Improving the Accessibility of Touristic Destinations with an Assistive Technology For Hiking – Applying Universal Design Principles Through Service Design. The article mentions the Freedom Trax device and the video below shows the device in action. Courtesy their Facebook page.

Abstract: Accessible Tourism focus on the logistical attributes being accessible to all and on the process to develop accessible products and services with all stakeholders of the touristic destination. Assistive technologies can be used to improve the accessibility of touristic destination and attraction. Some assistive technologies are designed for hiking. However, their integration on the customer journey has to be designed as a service. To this end, universal design principles and guidelines can be used to design products and services accessible to all. Universal design and accessible tourism are both rooted in the social model of disability, which states that it is the society who is disabling. The potential and the conceptualization of applying universal design principles for tourism has been widely discussed. However, little has been done to operationalize this idea. In this article, we demonstrate how to cocreate with users an accessible touristic service based on an assistive technology who enables hiking for people using wheelchairs. Our main findings illustrate the pros and the cons of using and assistive technologies and the importance of considering the whole customer journey to improve the accessibility of touristic destinations.

Clever design for assistive devices

A mannequin bust with hands showing the bracelets and necklace for the GPS. At last some creative design thinking in assistive technologies. No, assistive devices do not need to look ugly and purely functional, but too often they are. The FastCompany website has an interesting article about technology designed to be discrete and not stigmatising. Probably the most interesting design is a robot disguised as a coffee table that is also a walking aid. Then there is the GPS navigator for people who are blind that is designed as bracelets. Not keeping up with the App world and the move from CDs to Spotify? There’s a device to help which is especially useful for people not born in the digital age. The link to the coffee table is well work a look.  

Communication strategies for inclusion

Two green statues, one a man the other a woman sit facing each other in a gesture of communicating with each other.There are lots of reasons why some people have difficulty communicating. It can arise from a brain injury, a stroke, or a condition such as motor neurone disease. Inability to communicate easily often means that people avoid social situations due to feeling inferior. The Conversation article, We can all help to improve communication for people with disabilities, lists some of the simple things that remove the barriers to communication. They range from the kind of devices used by Stephen Hawking, to just giving the person time to finish what they are trying to say. Speech is just one aspect of the issue, hearing is the other. There is useful information under each of the headings in the article:

  1. Remove communication barriers
  2. Prepare for communication success
  3. Build a conversation together
  4. Use communication aids and alternative strategies when you talk.