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Neil Milliken, Atos Head of Accessibility and Digital Inclusion, pinpoints the areas of greatest promise for assistive technology in the workplace
Making assistive technology (AT) tools discreet and integrating them into commonly used products should be an important objective for businesses seeking to be more inclusive. Social media has allowed people to share information and ideas around accessibility in the workplace, bringing these topics out into the open.
Much of the innovation in AT right now is happening in the mobile/wearable space. This is really positive because if you need AT, having it available wherever you are is liberating. We have been involved in the "Unlocking accessibility through wearables" competition run by Innovate UK and will be working with the winner, dbGLOVE.
The dbGLOVE places sensors along the fingers enabling a wearer to mark out the deaf-blind Malossi alphabet by touching various parts of the hand using their other hand. The built-in Bluetooth connection transmits the data to a mobile phone which enables two-way communication. The dbGLOVE translates replies to messages into vibrations mimicking touch cues representing the Malossi alphabet, so the wearer can receive the message. This technology enables deaf-blind people to communicate remotely, which had previously not been possible.
We are working on a number of projects to improve the working environment for people with hidden disabilities. We are contributing to the BBC's neuro-diversity initiative which is looking to create guidelines and toolkits for managers to support staff with neuro-diverse conditions such as autistic spectrum disorders, dyslexia, dyscalculia and dyspraxia.
The team are also contributing to the W3C cognitive accessibility task force. One of the technologies we are proposing is an extension to ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) which will enable people with neuro-diverse conditions such as dyscalculia to have information presented to them in ways that enable them to understand more easily. For example, if you're presented with a statistic such as 80% of owners say their dog loves doggie treats you could change 80% using ARIA No Numbers to almost all.
Another area with great potential is the middleware that makes these tools work together, storing preferences and enabling users to personalise devices and software to meet their needs. For example, you could visit a ticket kiosk, touch your near-field communication device against the machine and it would recognise that you are blind and need audio feedback.
By making these ideas a working reality we can enable people with disabilities to have the same opportunities as everyone else to reach their full potential and that can only be a good thing for employers.
Explore the next article "Changing lives with assistive tech" the potential of the FingerReader wearable device for people with disabilities.