Posts Tagged ‘accessibility’

The TechDis Toolbox has information on plug ins for the most popular types of browser.  Mozilla Firefox has a number of accessibility extensions that you can download to make browsing easier.  These include Reader for Firefox, which removed all the clutter from the page which could cause distractions.

Text to Voice is another plug in which does exactly that – turns text on the screen into audio that you can listen to. It also has a video download plug in which means you can download content you have found and view it again on a mobile device or offline.

Examples of these can be seen in the video below.

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The TechDis Toolbox has a full section on web browsers.  There is information on Safari, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Chrome.  There is a great general video on web browsers from Commoncraft and than a further one on  accessibility within web browsers – take a look at the basics!

The individual videos on different plug-ins for each browser will be on here in the next few posts.

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The TechDis Toolbox has resources to help with writing and creating documents which will help you ensure that your document is organised in a way that the reader can find their way around.  They can help you to structure your document, as they break the text up into smaller chunks and can make it easier for the reader to find the information they need.  If you use the headings provided in Word they act like bookmarks, making it much easier to move through the document on screen.

Check out the video and other Toolbox Delights on our website.

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Mike Thrussell is a technologist at Henshaws College in Harrogate.  He’s developed an accessible interface for the YouTube website.  Many of  the students at Henshaws have a visual impairment and additional difficulties so Mike has created  an interface to address the complexity of the standard YouTube website by simplifying the functions to search for and play videos. He has blogged about it here and will be a guest blogger on our new ISC blog – part of the main Techdis blog which is currently being re-designed by Laura in our team.

The home page is simple and easy to use.  Access YouTube home page

Although the most popular searches are listed at the bottom of the home page it works for any search.  Below is the result for the search RSA.  The search result page also has a large ‘home’ button taking the user directly back to the main page.

Search results for RSA animate in YouTube

Mike has stripped the pages of any unnecessary content and ensured that all the links are correctly named to give a clear indication for users of screen readers.

Once the video is chosen the player has clear and simple control buttons.

Kaiser Chiefs video showing control buttons

You can create permanent links for specific searches that a particular student likes – so http://access.mwjt.co.uk/youtube/index.php?v=take%20that  will take you directly to a page of links for Take That videos.  Mike is keen for others to comment on the site and you can contact him at  mike.thrussell@googlemail.com .  You can follow him on Twitter as @mikethrussell or follow his blog which has videos demonstrating the use of the site.

Well done Mike – a good example of working with students, listening to their needs and creating something which makes it easier for them to be more independent.

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I’ve spent the last two days up in Glasgow in order to take part in and present at the Scotland’s Colleges conference on ‘Accessible ICT on a budget and e-safety for learners with profound and complex needs’.  Scotland’s Colleges is an agency who exist to ‘support, represent and promote the college sector in Scotland.


  • seek to prepare and assist the sector deliver its vital contribution to the economic and social needs of Scotland
  • serve the ambitions of Scotland’s learners and the demands of Scotland’s employers
  • enhance the sector’s national and international reputation.

The event was organised by, Scotland’s Colleges, BRITE, RSC Scotland N & E and S&W and it was great to see Mags McKay, Joan Walker and Craig Mill from the Scottish RSCs.  I was with Rohan Slaughter from Beaumont College delivering a short workshop on e-safety for complex learners.  Rohan outlined the work on e-safety at Beaumont and I followed up with a short update on the current projects with JISC Techdis .   We had a stand with some of our resources and publications and I did a short demonstration of In-Folio during the lunch break.

The event documentation was available in print as both text and in symbols.  (Not the best image but it was from my phone)

image of a document of e-safety tips in symbol form.

The morning session included a demonstration of some free tools by Fil McIntyre from the Brite Centre in Edinburgh.    He included the use of Prezi as a filtering system for youtube videos and Maavis (nobody could agree on how this should be pronounced) which provides a simple version of a website for ease of navigation.  It did however seem a little complicated to administer which I fear will put many people off.

Craig from RSC NE Scotland did another of his wonderful presentations on the work he’s doing with free software.  I took a usb stick of the latest content but unfortunately something on the stick alerted the anti virus on my laptop so couldn’t access it properly.

In the afternoon, we had a presentation from Marilyn Slavin from Common Knowledge.  Common Knowledge or CKUK is a website and much more which “provides online learning, accessible information and social networking for people with learning difficulties.”  They are a small independent charity which provides  opportunities to make friends, tell their stories, learn about life, their rights and share with others their skills, talents and interests for people with learning difficulties.

Home page for common knowledge website

The site has a number of mini sites within – these cover a range of subjects including – CK respect ( bullying), CK pose (developing positive images of adults with LDD), CK sex talk (clear unambiguous information about relationships, sex and sexual health)  and CK grows (gardening).  CK click is an online user generated news magazine with stories, videos and quizzes.

All content is accessible, appropriate, interactive and engaging.  

The main thrust of the site is as a social networking tool – CK Friends.  CK Friends has been going longer than Facebook and has a very strict vetting procedure.  All prospective members are telephoned by a member of the team.  There is a very clear message also that – “If you send a bad message on CK Friends you will be banned” .    The site is getting up to 20 new members each month and in April 2011 they had over 46,000 hits.  This is a small charity and they are very short of funding.  There is an opportunity to donate to the charity on the site.

A great event and in keeping with my usual comment – the chocolate covered strawberries were truly delicious.

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I’m a great believer in making things easy.  I used to work in a college where we had to contribute to a 25-30 page report for each student.  It was difficult enough to find you own department’s section when using the search facility but most staff simply scrolled down – a frustrating waste of time. If we had formatted the documents correctly we could have just used the document map and gone directly to the right place.

I wanted to demonstrate two things with this post – one that formatting a document correctly is easy and saves time and two that you can create a simple ‘how to’ video guide in a very short time.  This was done using camstudio free software for capturing what happens on the screen.  It’s not polished, it’s not perfect and there are a couple of mistakes – but – it was quick and simple to do.  In fact it took as long as the video runs – 2 minutes.

The video shows how the use of  the document map view can help a user navigate round a long document.  The fact that this then makes the document very accessible to all users is an added benefit.  This was done using word 2007 – 2010 is much the same but the option to be clicked is ‘document view’.  Why isn’t information like this included within mainstream training courses?

There is a much more comprehensive details of this on our main website as part of Accessibility Essentials

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There is an interesting paper in the recently published International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning (iJET) on the use of mobile devices for learning for the Elderly.  Unlike most existing research it seeks to throw light on the use of mobile technologies for elderly learners rather than school or college students.  The study indicates that elderly people are interested in using mobile devices and services, but these services need to deliver real value for them.

They look at the barriers to older people using mobile technology such as lack of confidence, age related impairments like limited vision, motor skills or cognition.  They comment that ” Although there have been numerous efforts at making desktop computers accessible, there have been almost no efforts to improve mobile  device accessibility.”  A literature review was the first part of the research and they use some interesting quotations taken from various previous published papers.

The second stage was original empirical  research using qualitative expert interviews with older people on their experiences and expectations of using handheld devices.   The interviews were semi structured, face to face and greatly facilitated by the interviewer’s knowledge and extensive experience.   During the interview, the researcher was able to comprehend suggestions and concerns by participants, and to immediately speculate and table possible design solutions for discussion.

The results showed that nearly 100% of the resondents found the size of the small buttons on the devices hard to use and the text on the screens and interfaces difficult to read.  Key combinations need to be simple and to give immediate feedback to the user. Interfaces need to be simple, with a consistent appearence.  Generally, an overriding multi-functional interface is needed for all possible combinations of tasks and user populations.

they suggest the following point for addressing impairments in vision, speech and hearing, psychomotor skills, attention span, and memory:

  • Use layout simplicity, clarity, and consistency
  • Use lower frequency tones for sounds
  • Design speech recognition software to cope with slower speech
  • Allow double-click speeds to be slower
  • Avoid delays and distractions to minimize short term memory loss
  • Use only simple, relevant graphics
  • Prefer short text or lists to paragraphs of text
  • Don’t rely on colour alone
  • Provide larger graphics and click targets

“One of the main objectives  is social inclusion: especially the integration of older people and people with disabilities into the information society.  The means to achieve this is to design mainstream products and services to be accessible by as broad a range of users as possible operating within the widest possible range of situations. ”  Well I can’t argue with that.

I’ve highlighted only a few of the results of the research and would recommend anyone interested in either accessibility or mobile learning to read the full paper which is available here. Please note you will have to register with the iJET but it is a free to access journal.

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Since it’s launch last  year, AccessApps has blossomed and won a number of awards. AccessApps won the Scottish Open Source Award for Excellence in Education, 2008 and best in class award for Best Accessibility Solution at the IMS Global Learning Impact Conference in Barcelona, May 2009. AccessApps has now gone even further by receiving a highly commended award from the Guardian newspaper for its Rewarding Excellence in Public Sector IT Awards.

For those not familiar with AccessApps and its now full suit of applications – EduApps, the team at RSC North East Scotland have produced a ‘Common Craft’ style video.

On a personal level AccessApps has provided access to learning providers that I had previously not been in contact with.  I’ve done staff development for learning support staff and only a week or so ago was doing training for the inclusive learning team at Preston  College.  What a creative bunch they were with some excellent versions of ‘Let it Be’ and ‘My favourite things’ amongst the work done using Audacity.  On a more flippant note – AccessApps has provided more free lunches than any bit of kit in the last 3 years!  So thanks Craig and the chaps at NE Scotland and keep up the good work!

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Nokia Labs have produced a application that reads sms messages in braille.  No it doesn’t produce raised bumps on the screen but vibrates for each letter according to which of the 6 dots in the braille cell are raised.  The buzz will be loud or soft according to the status of the dot. This in effect means that there are 6 different ‘buzzes’ for each letter.

Braille users are very enthusiastic about using braille but I wonder how difficult it will be to wait for 840 buzzes for a full 140 character text message.  the application is free to download here. As I’m not a brailler, I’ll wait for feedback from those who are.

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Wednesday was the CETIS Accessibility SIG (special interest group) meeting in Bangor in North Wales.  My what a long way away that is!  The taxi picked me up at 5.50 am and I got home at about 10 pm.  However, it was an excellent day with some really good presentations and the chance to talk and meet other people in the same line of ‘business’.  The first presentation was from Dr Elaine Pearson from Teesside University, Accessibility Research Centre on a symbol based VLE for learners at Portland College.  They’re doing some really interesting work on adaptable learning objects and VLEs.

E A Draffan gave an introduction to the Lexdis project which is exploring the eLearning experiences of disabled students at Southampton University.  It contains a whole range of useful resources including guides for making accessible learning materials, .  It’s worth while spending some time hunting round the site – lots of good stuff there.  She also went through the Techdis Web2Access site which comments on the accessibility or otherwise of various Web 2.0 applications.

After lunch Craig my colleague from RSC North East Scotland did his presentation on AccessApps.  This started as a small project to provide free assistive software on a USB stick and it’s grown and matured into a fantastic resource for both teachers and learners.  They are now developing TeachApps and LearnApps to complement the orignal.  We heard this morning that the team have just won a prestigious IMS Global Learning Consortium Award for accessibility.  Well done guys.

Finally it was my turn and as usual I didn’t stick to what I’d prepared and wandered about the subject (Accessible Log-ins) with the promise to send the presenation for later.  The Specialist Colleges in the North West had given me some really good resources and I emphasised that there were no actual ‘solutions’.  I’ll post seperately on this.  All in all an interesting and constructive day .

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