Tag Archives: disability categories

Technology, mind maps and people! A blind man’s guide to MWC

The question I most often get asked at MWC is not what’s hot and what’s not. It’s always, how the hell do you cope with Barcelona and the FIRA as a blind person?  The answer is a combination of planning, people and technology.

Planning

  • The annual MWC Lewis spreadsheet is legendary. It’s a masterpiece in how to cluster meetings in the same or adjacent halls (and trying to avoid anything north of Hall 5)!
  • Taxis (the subway is a non starter for me). The GSMA put me in touch with a specialist disability taxi firm who sent the same driver each day and even negotiated with the police to drop me off in front of the FIRA South entrance (didn’t always work). NB: The white cane comes in useful in getting to the front of taxi queues – stick with me next year!

Technology

  • Mobile Apps: having all of my appointments in the iPhone and the diary announcing everything through Voiceover, meant that I was continually getting audible input whether I wanted it or not
  • Be My Eyes: an accessibility app with over a 100,000 volunteers around the world helping 400,000 visually impaired people. Simply point your smart phone camera at something, click and it polls for a volunteer who comes online via a Web RTC link to tell you what you’re looking at.
  • Tap Tap See: similar to the above, does what it says in the name. Tap when pointing the camera and the system tells you it sees.
  • Orcam:  this new self-contained device provides character, people and product recognition from its mounting on the arm of a pair of normal glasses. Tap the side and it reads any text in front of it. It recognizes people so that it tells you tChris Lewis 1heir names when they stand in front of you. You can even store products like cereal packets, wine labels etc and it will tell you what they are!

 

 

 

Navigation around the FIRA

  • A member of the GSMA customer team kindly arranged met me each morning outside and got me to my first meeting
  • The venue benefits from a grid system and the upper walkway spine: as long as I knew where I was relatively, I could vaguely find my way back to the Press Centre where I made my base
  • Collision avoidance: My low centre of gravity helps. I was bumped into so many times by people looking down at their phones or up at stands but never looking where they were going – despite vigorously waving my white cane. I was even rammed by a catering trolley but the person behind couldn’t see me and, not surprisingly, had expected people to get out of their way!

And, finally, just asking the hoards of people around me. Most are shocked that a man with a white stick is there at all but, as in life in general, the vast majority are phenomenally helpful. Most companies I saw actually walked me to my next meeting – a great excuse for them to get off the stand!

Just like living in London, I don’t allow myself be overwhelmed by the thought of over 100,000 delegates,  8 Halls,  an Upper Walk Way,  a Press Centre and even the new South Village. Just like commuting, you occupy a small island of the MWC at any time. What exists elsewhere is irrelevant, and optimising the route between islands is the goal. Shame Uber can’t operate in the aisles of the FIRA, or perhaps they, in a ground-based vehicle or a drone up near the ceiling, might well do so in the future. Or maybe I’ll give in to family pressure for a guide dog.

In terms of next year, my shopping list is pretty simple: HD Maps and iBeacons.  Despite the hype around autonomous vehicles, the GSMA and the mapping companies still haven’t come up with a walking navigation step-by-step tool to tell me exactly where I am.  For the premier telecoms industry event of the year, surely an app can be built based on all of that lovely tech to guide me? And, as with most accessibility technology today, everyone able-bodied I talk to say they would also love that for themselves!

Finally, my special thanks to all analysts, companies and GSMA employees who made this one of the best MWCs for me. Special mention to John Delaney from IDC who walked me back to my hotel when my taxi couldn’t get past the police barricades around the Catalonian independence demonstrators!

Tagged , , , , ,

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

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

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

Tagged , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: