In the Recent Accessibility Tech News
The end of last month was marked by a few significant developments in the world of accessibility tech. No major breakthroughs this time — but even small steps indicate that people who can make a difference are working on making the world a little more comfortable and accessible to everyone — and maybe even a little brighter.
Understanding that everyone is uniquely abled is the key to realizing that we must have the tech available to everyone, including people with audio, visual, and physical limitations. As Selena Larson points out in her article in The Week:
“Although companies are required by law to make their apps and services accessible to people with disabilities, it’s still widely overlooked, especially among early-stage companies who are trying to build and grow quickly.”
Larson visited Yahoo’s accessibility lab at the company’s Sunnyvale, CA, headquarters, to get an idea how the company’s small accessibility team comprised of engineers and designers is making the Yahoo’s family of apps accessible, and also how it approaches the required accessibility training of all new employees.
Yahoo has its new employees attend a workshop with a slide presentation and hands-on testing. The process could be eye-opening, especially the hands-on part, as Larson reported:
“In the lab, goggles, gloves, and screen readers show people what it’s like to use services with visual, audio, or physical impairments. For instance, I wore goggles to simulate color-blindness and viewed ads for clothing I thought was a completely different color than it truly was; leather gloves with the fingers sewn shut demonstrated in a very low-tech way what it’s like to use a computer with limited hand movement, like arthritis or missing digits.”
Disney and Pixar bring Finding Dory to low-vision and blind audiences
Of course, many companies do realize the need for accessibility and inclusivity, as also illustrated by Disney and Pixar teaming up to offer smart-syncing audio descriptive narration feature in the U.S. movie theaters for Finding Dory, to low-vision and blind audiences (for iOS only — at least for now). As Engadget’s Mariella Moon explains, “the app will listen to the theater’s audio and insert narration in between dialogues.”
The new feature was originally released to home audiences only through the Disney Movies Anywhere app, but became available on the big screen for the film’s June 17 release. Hopefully this will continue to be offered, for more movies and on more platforms.
Amazon’s Kindle update will offer Bluetooth audio support
Amazon announced last month that it’s updating its Kindle. The updated e-reader is launching next week and will sell for $79.99. It will be thinner and lighter that its predecessor and will include 512MB of memory (up from the previous version’s 256MB).
Remarkably, this is the first Kindle to feature Bluetooth audio support. This is good news for thevisually impaired customers: They will be able to connect their Kindle to the speaker/headphones via Bluetooth without needing an adapter, to have the content read aloud.
Venkat Rao of the Assistive Technology Blog also likes the fact that the new Kindle will feature VoiceView, which will read navigation and menu items. “Amazon also introduced a new adapter last month for no extra cost that turns on VoiceView as soon as the adapter is plugged into Kindle’s USB port,” Rao notes.
Accessibility apps for city navigation
As CityLab’s Linda Poon rightfully points out, simply moving through the city can feel like an obstacle course for people with disabilities. There are busted sidewalks, uneven pavements, poorly designed and maintained curbs and ramps (or lacking altogether), disruptive pop-up construction sites, and hilly terrains. Despite the ADA’s requirements many cities still have public areas that aren’t accessible to people with impaired mobility, and to wheelchairs and guide dogs.
Poon quotes, Anat Caspi, a researcher at the Taskar Center for Accessible Technology at the University of Washington, who calls assistance available to people with disabilities “pretty dismal” overall. Caspi says:
“Because of ADA compliance, a lot of communities or institutions like universities might generate [accessibility maps. The problem is, everything is static on a PDF, and you can’t change it as conditions change, or customize it to a particular individual’s needs.”
Google Maps and Yelp aren’t always accurate, and, plus, they won’t provide crucial accessibility info like whether there’s a flight of stairs leading to the restroom in the place of business.
Poon mentions a few developers and entrepreneurs who want to change all that with tech solutions. For example, ChiSafePath app lets users report obstructions like closed or broken sidewalks in Chicago. WheelyApp helps navigate the subway in New York. The AXS Map app allows users to rate businesses, using the star system, based on their how accessibility, considering such factors as restroom accessibility, wheelchair-friendliness, and whether there are steps/stairs to navigate.
Poons also reports on some projects in the works:
Earlier this month Caspi and a team of developers from University of Washington began pilot testing a new interactive map for Seattle called AccessMap Seattle… [O]ne of its most important features is mapping out the elevation levels of all of the city’s sidewalks using publicly available information.
That’s just the beginning, says Caspi. Her team is looking to collaborate with Open Street Map to create a data layer with information just for pedestrians. This information could then be applied to a map of any city as data becomes available.”