Unlocking accessibility through wearables

Posted on: March 6, 2015 by Neil Milliken

Could you invent the next big thing?

Living in the digital era, we’re more accustomed to accessing services online, both as consumers and workers. But these services are not universally accessible. Today, there are 49m adults living in the UK, with 6.7m unable to get online. Three-quarters of these individuals are 65 or older and over half have a disability. For the older generations especially, this digital exclusion is often down to a mix of inexperience and lack of trust.

It can be incredibly frustrating trying to access these services. Living with dyslexia, for example, I struggle with sequencing, which makes it difficult to remember passwords and pin numbers. For security reasons, we’re encouraged to have different passwords for everything, from your email account and online banking system to your social network profiles and mobile phone, but I’m constantly finding myself locked out of systems because I’m unable to remember all the sequences.

Elsewhere, screen readers enable people who are blind to read text that is displayed on a computer with a speech synthesizer or braille display. But if web page fields or digital images haven’t been labelled correctly, the screen reader won’t be able to interpret the code, making it impossible for the person to read.

Using wearables to increase accessibility

Image courtesy of NFC RingThe one word on everyone’s lips at CES 2015 was wearables, and advances in this area are already bringing hope to those working to improve digital inclusion. For instance, I wear a Near Field Communication (NFC) ring that contains chips that trigger actions within an application downloaded on my smartphone, enabling me to unlock the device without entering my passcode.

While this device makes my day-to-day life easier, there’s still a long way to go before wearables become mainstream; with greater interoperability between providers being one challenge that needs to be addressed.

“Image courtesy of NFC Ring

Calling all entrepreneurs!

That’s why initiatives such as IC tomorrow’s Contest for Wearable Technologies are so critical for development in this area. The competition invites entrepreneurs to create the latest wearable innovations in areas such as health and fitness trackers, identity and authentication, and smart textiles. We wanted to get involved at Atos in the competition because digital inclusion is an integral part of our company ethos. We’re committed to our work towards ensuring that each of our 90,000+ employees can access all of our internal services.

Judging the “Unlocking accessibility through wearables” category, I’ll be looking for something that solves an existing problem that affects a broad spectrum of people, and that as a result, has the potential to go viral. The joy of the competition is that it’s extremely open. We’re asking entrants to come to us with totally new concepts, and I’m looking forward to seeing all the inventions put forward, no matter how wild they may be!

So if you think you have what it takes to dream up something that simplifies access to digital services and makes someone’s life easier, don’t hesitate to enter IC tomorrow’s contest. The deadline of competition entries has now closed. I will be taking part in the judging panel on 20th April. I will also be invite the winning entrant to participate in our event for Global Accessibility Awareness Day of 21st May which we will be holding in our London Business Technology Innovation Centre. I look forward to blogging again once a winner has been selected.

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About Neil Milliken

Head of Accessibility & Digital Inclusion and member of the Scientific Community
With over a decade of experience in the assistive technology industry, Neil is the subject matter expert on Accessibility and Assistive Technology for Atos, delivering consultancy, expertise and supporting bid and delivery teams across customer accounts and internally. Neil is the Atos representative on the Business Taskforce For Assistive Technology which has members across industry and government. He also sits on various advisory bodies including the e-accessibility forum for the UK Department for Culture Media and Sport. Previously Neil ran the operations for one of the world’s leading Assistive Technology suppliers where he was instrumental in the creation of industry standards and Supplier SLAs for the Disabled Student Allowance. He was also a director of a Joint venture company that developed an award winning Mobile app for dyslexia. He has a passion for his subject matter and loves mobiles, technology and music in no particular order.

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