The Six Million Dollar man 40 years on. Wearables, Smartphones, 3D printing. Cost to you <$100k!

As a teenager in the 1970s I loved Steve Austin, the astronaut who crashed and was rebuilt. Remember the tag line “Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology, the capability to make the world’s first Bionic man”! It captured my imagination and has come to the front of my thinking now as I consider the possibilities of using technology to compensate for the different disabilities affecting people today. Perhaps we can’t replicate the eagle-eye zoom or the leopard-like speed of Lee Major’s character, but we can certainly bring functional replacement or complementary devices and applications to bring the astronaut-specific re-build of the 70s down to a very affordable level today.

The price of electronic components is continually falling, fueling the consumer electronics boom. Smartphones, and their associated explosion of applications, leverage the mobile network and the cloud computing phenomenon to deliver a wealth of apps both mainstream and specific to certain conditions, often free or at a minimal charge. On top of this comes the wearables revolution: watches, bracelets, eyeware, hearing devices, patches and exoskeleton limbs. 3D printing also means that the manufacturing of specialist devices is literally at the push of a button and can be taken to the most remote part of the world, delivering prosthetics to Africa at an affordable price point.

So how does the $6 million (not even allowing for inflation) look today? What gadgets, software and services could we pluck from consumer electronics retail outlets, apps stores and the medical community to build our modern-day bionic person?

  • Smartphone – $500
  • Exoskeleton bionic hand – $20,000
  • Exoskeleton legs with muscle stimulated control – $30,000
  • Sight (glasses) – $2,500
  • Hearing – $2,500
  • Bracelet with haptic feedback – $500
  • Smart watch – $500
  • Skin patches- $50

Total = <$100,000

There are, of course, some very expensive options such as retinal implants which still cost $100,000s plus complex surgery. However, most of the shopping list is literally off-the-shelf, or even off-the-printer.

The individual will need a subscription to a mobile provider, and probably also a link to their home WiFi, to enjoy the luxury of controlling the various household devices and services in the smarter-home environment; and, outside of the home, to link with the smart village, town and city services that can also complement the items in terms of navigation, linking into public services as well as the broader business community.

The e-health perspective also needs to be built into the thinking. Some of the devices will link into social and e-health services. Some of the information loops could potentially be to doctors and carers without the individual even needing to be involved. In effect, multiple information loops will feed off and to the individual, whilst improved monitoring and reduced cost of maintaining contact will help fund installations where required.

Steve Austin was funded by the US government in the TV show. In the case of a person being disabled through an accident, insurance would doubtless be involved, as would the medical authorities. Most of the items here are off-the-shelf and affordable for a vast swathe of society, not just limited to astronauts!

The world’s billion disabled people (source WHO) will have an increasing chance of joining in the digital revolution at home, at work and in society as a whole if we all help bring it to their attention. We also need to educate other relevant parties – family and friends, doctors and governments to name a few.

In the year that we all went Back to the Future, it just goes to show that time spent watching TV as a teenager wasn’t wasted. In Thunderbirds and Joe 90, Gerry Anderson predicted video mobile phones, Telepresence and brainwave transplants, and don’t forget the crew of the Starship Enterprise had mobile devices. If you want to predict the future, keep an eye on the TV!
six million dollar man

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What tech is out there for disabled people?

Recent interview with Telefonica about accessibility technology available today and in the future. I’m not the one in the bow tie….

Lewis Insight Interview with Telefonica

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What is the collective noun for a group of Smart cities? Let’s call it a Yinchuan.

200 representatives from City authorities around the world descended on Yinchuan, in the independent economic area of Ningxia in China, to put a stake in the ground for Smart City development. This was the TM Forum’s inaugural Smart City forum. Sponsored by the City of Yinchuan, its forward-thinking secretary and ZTE Soft, the event was to establish a base line of where we are on the much hyped journey to Smart cities. The notion of One Map, One Network and One Cloud was the theme of the opening comments from the Yinchuan dignitaries.

Yinchuan, a City of some 2 million people, has taken an aggressive approach to turning itself into a new Smart City hub for the region. By the way, this is where Genghis Kahn reached before being defeated! The centralised Citizen Hall demonstrates how they are transforming the delivery of citizens’ services:

  • All services can be accessed through the centre in phase 1 and will all go online and mobile in subsequent phases.
  • Smart housing also comes in the form of gated communities with facial recognition on the gates, Smart delivery systems for delivering goods and a Smart drinking water system in each building for citizens to fetch their daily requirements.
  • Terminals in each apartment also give people the means of connecting with medical services as well as the Citizen Hall in latter phases of the development.

From outside China, the input to the debate came from cities as far apart as Dubai, New York, Los Angeles, Amsterdam, Cape Town, Bristol, Singapore, Toronto/ Mississauga and Lisbon.

The themes throughout were consistent:

  • Transport and travel is one of the early focuses for the cities, reducing traffic and carbon footprint of congested cities through integrated bus, train, vehicle, bicycle (but not so much pedestrian) flows.
  • Open Data sets: all cities talked about the drive towards developing or mandating open data sets upon which the City as well as third parties could build functionally useful applications. This forces departments to their publish data on the web, also accelerating the availability of information based on legacy and diverse technology platforms
  • Data analytics for visualising the flows of all moving parts in the City “listening to the City” showed the potential for adjusting services on a real-time basis, whether it be pot holes, cycle routes or finding a doctor in a medical emergency
  • Putting the citizen at the heart of the Smart City rather than the governmental machinery delivering services
  • The Smart City initiative has to be driven from on high within the city: a champion is essential along with a mandate to drive the initiative across all formerly independent silos of local and regional authorities
  • Infrastructure is key: leveraging owned fibre and WiFi connectivity, along with data centre facilities
  • Building up the sensor and monitoring infrastructure to feed the data analytics engines should aim to be embraced by the citizens and not fall into the trap of being seen as Big Brother and just another means of monitoring what people are doing
  • Gamification of services to get people on board: animation using street lamps and videoing tricks as well as the chance to ‘talk’ to a lamppost!
  • The use of smart identity cards to act as the hub for citizen services also came through as an important contributor
  • Crowd-sourcing and collective development of smart services such as real time traffic reporting, means that the citizen becomes a vital part of creating, driving and continuously improving the suite of services supporting the city
  • Partnership between the city authority and local universities and business helps accelerate the smart deployment and develop a broader platform for all stakeholders to enjoy
  • Simulation: the data centre, compute and storage facilities can also be used to let other less developed cities test how theirs would look and behave

Some very impressive demonstrations of analytics, visualisation and how things might look in the future came from all points of the compass. Defining the Smart City still struggles to get a consistent answer but the City Protocol Group outlined their not-for-profit approach to defining the ‘anatomy’ of the city and the interrelationship between infrastructure, services and citizens. This will certainly help all parties work together to drive this initiative.

The City of Groningen in the Netherlands got the biggest round of applause from the audience. Their deputy mayor described the way in which they are making their city smarter. The best example was how analytics, combined with weather reports and the traffic light management system were being mashed up to give cyclists priority through traffic lights when it rains heavily.

Singapore provoked a strong reaction when describing how city planning, based on visualisation of patterns of travel, allowed the ‘smart state’ to redevelop a former cemetery by moving a key successful school into the district, subsequently removing peoples’ barriers to living in such an area!

Yinchuan should be praised for its initiative. No doubt the facilities being built around the city will attract significant business activity from inside and outside China alike. Ironically, communications was one of the short-comings of the event. Flying to Yinchuan via Shanghai or Beijing needs to be improved, as does the WiFi serving the international conference centre and the citizen centre.

The focus on citizens did raise an unanswered question as to how they will be segmented. After all, citizens represent a diverse set of communities, households, individuals of different earning power, ethnicity and disability. Conversations with many speakers afterwards revealed an acknowledgement of the need to work on this aspect of the Smart City. It was agreed that building accessibility for all citizens, an inclusive Smart City policy, was necessary in order to leverage the investment.

The vision is of an inclusive set of services available to all citizens through mobile and fixed connections, delivering an improvement in quality of life, ‘happiness’ and a brighter economic future for the smartest cities. The transformation required from the city organisations themselves is significant. Political will, along with appropriate investment in infrastructure and service culture will be the acid test for the world’s Smart Cities and this initiative from the TM Forum.

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You’re blind: How do you ‘read’, join in social media and find your way around, let alone run a business?

Picture the scene: a blind man walking down the street moving white stick to and fro. He is muttering to himself while clicking a small black thing in his left hand. What is he doing? Actually, he is running his business, doing email, messaging, reading documents, checking-in for his flight and working out the best route using bus and tube to get to the airport. The black device is a mini keyboard, controlling the iPhone in his pocket and it is talking to him via his in-ear Bluetooth device….

Having been registered blind for over 30 years, I am accustomed to the regular question about how the hell do you run a business? I thought it worth while to put this down in writing both as a record of how things stand in 2015, but also as evidence of how my world has changed since the days of cumbersome magnifiers, papers being sent off to be recorded, and very clunky interfaces with early PCs.

Equipment & technology

  1. iPhone 6. This is my main means of consuming content and keeping up to date using the built-in Voiceover feature, (not Siri) as a screen reader that describes to me what is on the screen. Add to this larger than necessary device (the screen size is irrelevant to me) is a small mini Bluetooth keyboard, the RiVo, which I use as a remote control to the iPhone (leaving the phone in my pocket or bag) and a Plantronics Bluetooth earpiece.
  2. Lenovo laptop with Windoweyes and Zoomtext: I still use a laptop for main content creation such as this blog. This is now simply on account of the fact that I like the feel of a full old-fashioned keyboard and a large screen magnified to make me feel I am still working properly! There are no specific built-in applications on the laptop beyond this add-on assistive technology. Updates to Windoweyes and Zoomtext can often cause problems because their interworking with either the hardware from Lenovo or the Windows operating system is a continuous struggle.
  3. Standard TV: On the main TV in the house I do insist on Audio Description being turned on so that I can better follow those tricky dialogue light films and programmes. The verbal description woven in between the actual dialogue often enhances the programme for all the family members – try it for yourself sometime!
  4. Victor Stream Reader from Humanware: This is the one specialist device I use. This no-screen device has very tactile buttons, long battery life and stores my talking books from Audible along with podcasts and access to live streamed radio and some Internet.

Apps

On the iPhone I have a mix of regular and specialist apps. The regular apps I use most often are:

  • BBC Sport:
  • BBC New: simple interface and straight forward despite the picture contents
  • Podcasts: annoying interface but great to have access to all that content: perhaps publish a list of my favourites at a later date
  • BBC Weather: simple and really useful when travelling around although not always accurate!
  • British Airways: for managing flights, getting mobile boarding cards – however, the latest version has lost some of its accessibility features and says ‘button’ an awful lot of the time!
  • Google maps: still struggling to get the most out of them but they are good
  • Virgin Media TV Anywhere to manage my set top box and record programmes
  • BBC iPlayer to give me access to my favourite radio  stations and podcasts
  • Twitter: pretty straight forward with Voiceover
  • Google docs to get access and manage my documents on my Google Drive: really useful when out and about
  • LinkedIN: somewhat easier to navigate than LinkedIn on the laptop/web but still clumsy
  • Hailo & Uber for taxis both work well once you have struggled through what needs to be input, when!

In terms of specialist apps, I mainly use:

  • Blind Square for finding restaurants, previewing menus and finding numbers to call for directions in case the map app fails
  • Be My Eyes: for identifying things via a video link to a volunteer when nobody sighted is around to help
  • Tap Tap See: ditto
  • RNIB Navigator: finding my way around and checking that cab drivers are not taking the micky
  • RNIB Overdrive: for access to the library of talking books and magazines!
  • Lire: not really a specialist app but it is a simple RSS app that scans the web for news feeds from your favourite sources.
  • Movie Reading: a beta version of an app that downloads audio description and synchronises with the cinema, TV programme or DVD
  • Camcard: a business card scanning app that uses the phone camera to scan and turn content into input for your contacts

Using the RiVo mini keypad does make navigating the iPhone a lot easier. It also makes typing easier. My preference is using it in the old T9 format, the one you would have used for text on your old Nokia phones. However, it does have a small QWERTY setting but I haven’t gone there.

Using the iPhone with keyboard and earpiece does mean that I can carry on doing email, listening to content, while walking along carrying my white stick. I suspect this is a little like people using their phones while driving but it does make my travel time walking, being driven, flown or sailed, a lot more productive and interesting.

As you may gather, I am close to dispensing with the services of a laptop if I can get a high quality full QWERTY keyboard that fits my aging fingers and suits my typing style! I would still plug it into a big screen in the office to give me the option of magnifying as and when necessary.

With most content now being available digitally and via the web or an app, I can consume and create content almost as readily as a sighted peer. Spreadsheets do pose a problem, as does Power Point. So, as with the apps world, I do draw on some human sighted assistance when this poses a problem.

The good news is that barriers are coming down, the more digital society gets, the more I should be able to join in on an equal footing.

I will keep you posted as things change.

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Big Screen, Small Screen, No Screen – Assistive Technology for the Visually Impaired

At the recent Vision UK 2020 conference, stakeholders in the eye-care sector pulled together a Tech Table to demonstrate the breadth and depth of current and emerging technology available to the visually impaired (VI). In the mainstream telecoms market, people talk about Big Screen (television) to Small Screen (smart phone) as a continuum of devices through which people consume their digital lifestyles. We demonstrated that these are equally relevant for the visually impaired as well as extending the continuum with a few ‘No Screen’ devices specially developed for the VI sector.

The Big Screen is represented by increasing number of accessible televisions on the market. Samsung has now released its accessible sets where on-screen menus can be turned into speech generating prompts for the visually impaired. They don’t yet work with set top boxes provided by Sky and Virgin, but apps are increasingly available on smart phones to step in and provide this element of accessibility.

In between the Big and Small screens come tablets that are increasingly peoples’ preferred devices. Android and Apple provide a range of accessible tablets that can help the visually impaired, both through magnified screen and screen readers. They are affordable, light, and can act as peoples’ access point into the digital world. Looking a little further forward, they can also be the hub for controlling many aspects of the household as well as a link for e-health services.

The now traditional laptop fits in here as well. It is unfortunate that screen readers are not designed as part of the operating system, except for Apple. This tends to make many of the required apps not totally accessible. However, as a tool for creating documents and for those of us who grew up believing a computer needs a physical keyboard, they still play a vital role. Hopefully, as Microsoft releases Windows 10, we will have a built-in screen reader, whilst benefiting from a much cheaper braille display.

The small screen is represented by ubiquitous smart phones. Apple, Samsung, Microsoft, amongst others, provide a very accessible platform for people at home and out and about. The trend in this market is for larger screens, creeping up to the tablet level. However, the availability of high quality Bluetooth earpieces and mini Bluetooth keyboards does mean that the chunky smart phone can stay in the pocket, and all its wonderful apps can be used, even while walking along carrying a white cane!

There is an even smaller screen in the form of the smart watch. Apple recently brought out its watch that certainly helps seed the market. It has accessibility built in both in terms of speech output and haptic feedback. However, it still needs a smartphone to operate and the screen is only useful to a small minority of VI people. A nice piece of fashion but, for now, it seems to be in the luxury category rather than essential.

No Screen is, for the time being, something specific for the VI community. Humanware’s Victor Reader and the SonataPlus from the British Wireless Association for the Blind, are two great examples of devices made specifically for the blind and partially sighted community. Simple, tactile button operated devices linking the VI person to both downloaded and streamed content including radio, podcasts and those lovable audio books all make life a lot easier. And, with no screen, the Victor Reader battery life lasts a lot longer than your average smart phone. The Sonata has a very simple set of buttons to operate and also has the possibility of remote assistance to help users set up and manage their digital content – blending a little human help with the wealth of technology available.

From a mainstream technology point of view, the assistance provided by Siri and Cortana on smart devices is now going to be joined by solutions such as Amazon Echo, a general purpose screenless device for your home providing voice activated information and entertainment.

It is also worth mentioning a non-smart device at this point. The Bradley Time piece is a great example of watch design with magnetic ball bearing providing a tactile minute and hour information. It is a fine example of beautiful design and absolutely practical function that compliments all of the computer-based technology on the continuum.

Across all these platforms exist a series of apps that come from both the open market and the VI market. An accessible device allows us to do online shopping, banking and web browsing that our sighted peers have enjoyed for some time. In addition, our daily lives can be helped by specialist apps that address our lack of eye sight and use computing power, image and recognition software as well as volunteers to help provide some human sighted assistance. Perhaps more importantly, an accessible smart phone will also increasingly link to household devices, cinemas and the outside world in the form of city information and services to facilitate a lot more accessibility.

In the digital accessibility stream, we also heard from Oxford University and Microsoft (working with RNIB and Guide Dogs respectively), about future looking projects which will enhance our lives through incredibly powerful camera and recognition software as well as the ability to navigate with smart technology on our streets and buildings. Combine this with the range of peripheral devices, (some might call wearables) becoming available and we can leverage bone conduction headsets with CD quality 360 sound to complement all other senses at play.

In short, there is a wealth of technology available today. It is increasingly accessible and relatively simple to use. Some need hand-holding to get started, but nobody should fear technology when sight is a problem. Spread the word: technology as a life enhancing tool is here to stay and it is there to be adapted to the visually impaired and not vice versa.

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Are telcos losing pole position as digital disruption impacts demand and supply?

A client recently asked me to present on the top 5 disruption themes in the industry. A pretty broad brief given that I have covered almost every aspect of the industry over the years of being an analyst. So, I had to find a framework within which to identify the disruptions. The following evolved:

  1. Demand is taking over from supply in shaping the telecoms market so the start point has to be the demand side.
  • The individual: how do individuals see the telecoms piece of their digital lives?
  • Households: is the household a market and if so, who is the domestic CIO?
  • Business: what is driving business’ use of telecoms services?
  • Society/government: how is telecoms fitting in with the increasingly joined up whole public sector play?
  • IOT: Cuts across all the segments above, throwing a whole new light on the demand side with its mix of personal, household and business/industry connections. How will this fit and who will provide these business process services?
  1. Supply has to face this massive shift in demand with several constraints:
  • Firstly the flat if not shrinking market for telecoms services in terms of revenue. This is especially acute in the highly regulated European markets but it is increasingly true around the world.
  • Secondly, the revenue position belies a massive uplift in volumes and complexity of traffic. The more granular networks have to cope with video but also with complex series of loops including our personal, business and society links that may be private, open to public scrutiny or part of a 3rd party business process such as in the healthcare sector.
  • It is not that the role of connectivity is lessened, but that it is being absorbed into much broader business activities. The clear end-to-end nature of the early telephony systems has been replaced by either ‘end’ being variable, virtual, and dynamic and often via cloud-based 3rd party application. The connectivity provider may get the blame for poor performance of an application despite there being many steps in the process beyond their control.
  • The disruption on the supply side in terms of investing in the long term suitability of the networks to cope with this new age demand means that NFV , SDN , small cells, WiFi, shorter application development cycles and a generally more agile approach to business all add up to a short term need to increase budgets to get over the investment hump of removing siloed, legacy networks and services in favour of simpler more adaptable fixed and mobile services.

Given the pressures on the connectivity front, telcos are, of course, tempted to shift up the value chain towards the applications that really make different industries tick. And, the IOT also represents new territory to ‘conquer’. Neither, in my opinion, are that easy to achieve. The business applications players are already well versed in the industry-specific apps and that also translates for the major integrators when it comes to IOT in specific industries.

The answer is to adopt a much more open stance towards partnering with other specialist players and accept a supporting role. As ever, the caveat is that every country market is different. Some telcos will continue with prime contracting with a strong business, retail and/or media presence, but all players should seriously consider a multi-channel approach to the customer and let the customer choose.

And, by the way, there is little sympathy for the telco from outside. It is often perceived as having taken high profits over many years and neglecting to invest for the long term of the industry. Outsiders see the telcos as fair game when it comes to exploiting them in the digital marketplace. Customers, of course, see the benefits of their app-based worlds across their different devices as either part of their hierarchy of needs or just their basic human right.

Policy has to ultimately rebalance this demand and supply issue. If telcos are not incented properly to build future-proof networks then the politicians won’t be able to use broadband and digital inclusion as just another thing to throw around during election times.

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Accessibility At The Top Table At Mobile World Congress 2015

At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last week accessibility took to one of the main stages. IBM, Microsoft, Google and the Mobile Manufacturers Forum (MMF) joined me to present perspectives on how accessibility is going mainstream.

I introduced the session with some of the key findings from the second Telefonica accessibility report “Digitising the Billion Disabled: Accessibility Gets Personal“. In summary, the billion disabled people represent a major spending group, combining earnings of some $2.3 Trillion and state support of $1.3 Trillion. Disabled people on average earn only 60% of their able-bodied peers and, of course, many disabled people don’t get the opportunity to work at all. 4% of children and 10% of the working population are disabled, but perhaps most striking, over three quarters of the elderly. Combine this dynamic with Douglas Adams theory of adopting technology getting harder as we get older and you can see the ticking time bomb of disability and age.

The good news is that the technology required to assist the Billion is getting more mainstream, affordable and accessible. Mobile sits at the centre of this change. As devices arrive with built-in accessibility, the emphasis shifts to the applications and web content being correctly labelled to trigger the necessary assistive input and output.

The flow of the session was as follows:

  • Frances W West, Chief Accessibility Officer at IBM told us how Big Blue has been dealing with accessibility for over a hundred years! She talked about ‘Millions of Markets of One’, a mobility accessibility app checker and a move to hyper personalisation in a broader context of smart cities. Accessibility is more than just accommodating disabled people; it is about inclusive innovation.
  • Rob Sinclair, Chief Accessibility Officer at Microsoft took us through the way in which they are “Rethinking Interaction and Design” educating their engineers around disability. The pentagrams he used to illustrate a reduction of peoples’ senses is a powerful method of raising awareness of a lack of vision, hearing, touch etc. Rob interacted with the audience to identify examples of temporary disability or situationally disability adding some more instances such as under water, gloved hands in the frozen North as well as the often cited driving example.
  • Eve Andersson, Manager Accessibility Engineering at Google introduced the accessibility features of Android including TalkBack, BrailleBack, magnification, switch access, captioning and Android Wear – an open platform for everyone to embrace.
  • Michael Milligan, Secretary General, Mobile Manufacturers Forum described the way in which the Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative (GARI) has compiled over eleven hundred mobile devices along with their accessibility features into a single database. Mobile operators can draw upon this database to highlight accessibility features to people when visiting their web sites or retail outlets anywhere in the world.
  • Henry Evans, Adaptive Technology pioneer then finished the session by presenting his view as a quadriplegic only having access through slight head and thumb movement to produce his presentation, demonstrating how he can use remote control robots to virtually visit museums around the world and fetch things from his fridge

I can honestly say that, being registered blind and interacting with Henry and his wife Jane via a letter board and the Beam robot on stage, was the strangest but most rewarding experience of over 25 years running industry conferences.

As well as getting accessibility on the main MWC agenda, it was also important to hear consistent messaging from the main vendors on stage. We all agreed that the worlds of accessibility and mainstream technology are converging. Most importantly however, we need education and training at every step of the value chain and channel to market. Disabled people themselves need to be better informed as to possibilities for complementing or replacing particular sensory experiences. And, the people training and educating the billion need better information and training. Like so many other eco systems, it is a matter of taking the holistic view and identifying individual actions that will help the overall flow. And, this is a matter for everyone to consider; it is about those who are disabled and those not yet disabled. The ticking time bomb of age, combined with the temporary disability during our daily lives, all means that this is becoming a more mainstream topic. Onwards and upwards everyone!

View the panel session here.

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Telefonica publishes Lewis Insight Report on Accessible Technology for Mobile World Congress

Digitising the Disabled Billion – Accessibility Gets Personal 2015 is released today to coincide with the start of Mobile World Congress 2015. #MWC15

This is the second in a series of white papers looking at disability and the role that accessible technology and services can play in bringing the ‘Billion’ into the digital world.

Chris Lewis will be presenting a summary of the findings at an Accessibility workshop on Wednesday 4th March at 2pm CET in the main conference area. Also presenting will be IBM, Microsoft, Google and the Mobile Manufacturers Forum, along with examples of accessibility in action. Follow it at #MCW15ACCS

You can also read my recent blog on this subject below.

Disability, accessibility and the emerging digital world – a personal and professional perspective

Throughout my career as a telecoms analyst I have been using assistive technology (AT) such as magnifiers, closed circuit TVs and screen readers to help me consume and create content.  I’ve doggedly insisted that I want to live in the real world and not in a ‘blind’ or ‘disabled’ one. But, joining the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) Solutions Board and chairing the UK Vision 2020 Technology For Life group, has brought me into close proximity with the breadth of issues surrounding AT.

Furthermore, over the past year, working with Telefonica on accessibility across all disabilities, has opened my eyes (excuse the pun) to the many issues around developing specialist and mainstream technology to help all disabled groups as well as the education and training required for people at every stage from diagnosis of a condition through to adapting equipment and the environment to allow disabled people to benefit from technology and embrace the digital world. I never thought my two very distinct worlds would come together so easily.

The worlds of AT and mainstream technology are increasingly converging. The smartphone is becoming the device that everyone uses to anchor their personal and work lives. As these devices become increasingly accessible, and as apps embrace accessibility more and more, everyone has a chance to claim the digital bonus of interacting with the world the way they want – rather than being constrained by a disability or indeed by technology.

If we get it right – and I mean ‘we’ as a whole – what we call accessibility and AT today will become part of the personalisation of services that the mobile industry in particular has been talking about for years. The addition of wearables and the Internet of Things (IOT) to the smartphone begins to complete our digital persona. Add to this the development of smarter cities bringing public services together and you begin to have an environment where a disabled person, of whatever nature, can become a much more engaged citizen, worker and community member.

So, working with stakeholders from Service Providers (SPs), technology vendors such as device manufacturers, wearables, charities/NGOs, governmental bodies – local and central – as well as specialist AT organisations makes for a fascinating melting pot.

Someone said to me recently that it’s about everyone: it’s about the disabled and the not yet disabled, since we will all be disabled at some point, as we grow old and things stop working. And, indeed, before that we are often temporarily or situationally disabled  – e.g. Driving and not looking at the mobile but exchanging messages through speech input. And, most importantly, disabled people don’t want specialist devices, they want the latest, shiniest mobiles. If the apps on these devices are well designed and the buttons are correctly labelled to trigger accessible output, then everyone benefits as the apps will have been more inclusively designed.

At MWC in Barcelona, Telefonica is publishing the second report I’ve recently completed: Digitising the disabled billion – Accessibility Gets Personal 2015 which is now available to download . You can also read The Untapped Billion – the report I wrote with Telefonica last year.

Also at MWC on March 4th at 2pm CET I will be chairing a workshop on Accessibility where we will look at the broader issues with IBM, Google, Microsoft and tje Mobile Manufacturers Forum. Please join us there or follow #mwc15accs. Please get in touch if you’d like to receive a copy of the new report and the slides from the workshop.

With a billion people in the world having some form of disability, I know that it touches most people in some way. The good news is that the AT world is quickly allowing people like myself to fully participate in the digital world.

I’m always happy to discuss how your organisation should be looking at accessibility as an issue or to speak at workshops, internal meetings and events where the topic comes up.

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