Web Accessibility Matters: Assistive Technologies Drive Innovation (with Audio Description)


There’s been more people liberated in all the history of civilization by information technology in the last 35 years then all the wars and revolutions in human history. And now I’d like to show you what some of those technologies are because we have such a panorama of human ingenuity going on that are bridging the challenges and making it possible for people with a variety of challenges or disabilities or even temporary impairments to be able to perceive and participate in ways that simply weren’t possible before. Living in a digital age means that everything’s now digitized it means that things that — words ideas innovations — that couldn’t be perceived before can now be perceived by everyone. Let’s look at what some of those technologies look like. When we talk about an assistive technology we’re talking about something that helps us has overcome a disability or impairment. Some assistive technologies are designed specifically to take care of a disability. For instance when we think let’s say if I had a wheelchair in front of me… a wheelchair is something you really wouldn’t use for anything but a mobility challenge. On the other hand, there’s other technology, say something like Skype… lots of people use Skype for typing back and forth to overcome various disabilities, even though Skype was not designed as an assistive technology. Now when we talk about electronic assistive technologies we’re talking about assistive technologies that were specifically designed to overcome challenges in a digital world. And we can think of them generally in two categories: as hardware assists and software assists. Let’s look at some of the ones that are most prevalent, keeping in mind that in general when we identify an assistive technology typically we’re either substituting one human sense for another for a sense that isn’t that isn’t available to us right then or we’re taking a sense and magnifying it. So for instance let’s say someone can’t read. And maybe they can’t read because they don’t know how to read or maybe they can’t read because they can see the letters. Either way we can use the ear instead of the eye. And so we have technologies that read things out loud. A screen reader then is often the most common example of an assistive technology that’s accommodated through good web design. And so a screen reader will simply read the content out loud, if the website, if the product, if the PDF, if the document is designed to be read out loud. And so one of the key things we do with websites is make sure that they work well with screen readers. We have a number of other technologies though that can help us as well: for instance we have software that’s actually designed to optionally read out loud. If someone can read, but they can’t read little things, we have technology that magnifies: makes things a larger. And one of the great things about Windows 8 over windows 7 or Mac OS is that they’re screen magnifiers built right into the technology, so that the operating system helps you enlarge things so you can see them better. Instead of reading we can use the sense of touch and so we’ve all heard of braille, and so here’s a case where someone can’t see, but they can still read by being able to feel the letters. But that technology has manifested itself in the online world through using innovation in Braille. So for instance if you have an iPhone, this clever guy in the United States, designed this thing called Speed Dots and what it is is a screen protector that goes right here on your iPhone and lets you feel where the keyboard is, as well as protecting the phone at the same time. We have much more sophisticated technology as well though for instance refreshable Braille display is a technology that has a series of dots which pop up to be just like Braille and they just keep popping up and showing different information depending on what’s going on right now. And in this case this is integrated into this entire device, which is a smart phone for people who can’t see. So of course it’s got no visual display, but has all the other attributes: a camera and braille line display. Now if you can’t type and maybe you can type because you don’t know how to touch type. Or maybe you can’t type because your hands shake or or perhaps you don’t have use of your fingers at all, hence we have technologies that allow you to speak. Now here’s another case where design for the extremes is benefiting everyone. Because of course in the last few years the ability to direct our smart phones — and who knows if sometimes soon perhaps our automobiles — through voice has become something that we’re all enjoying. But the technologies behind Siri and Google Now started two decades ago as technologies being developed specifically for people with extreme difficulties. Now if you can’t type as well, you could perhaps use different parts of your body to be able to simulate typing. I’m showing a picture for child and she’s wearing a SIP puff device. This is a device that let’s say you’re quadriplegic you have no use of your limbs below your neck, but wearing this headset she can sip and puff on a straw and that’s just like left clicking or right clicking a mouse. And by moving her head around that’s like moving the mouse around. So using this device, she can navigate any website in the world. Well, not any website, she can navigate websites that have been designed according to the standards that are becoming ubiquitous. And these are the very standards that are link to the legislation that we’ll be speaking about later. The key is if you create your website to be accessible, then your website is going to work with all of these technologies; as well as technologies and haven’t even been invented yet. See the key to future-proofing your website, the way of inoculating it against future innovation is to follow the standards. Anyone designing new technologies today new assistive technologies is designing them in such a way that they’re going to comply with the same standards. So we can’t anticipate what’s coming next but we know that if we follow these standards, our sites will already be compliant with browsers and technologies that haven’t even yet been invented. Here’s another example: something coming down the pipes hard. Instead of using a mouse you can just look and blink. This is a technology called the Nouse — nose and mouth — because what it does is the camera in the laptop tracks where your nose is and by tracking where your nose is it knows where your eyes are. So the idea is you just look at what you want and then you blink. And it can tell the difference between a clearing-my-eyelids blink and a let’s-launch-the-missile blink so the nouse — this type of technology is becoming is becoming so attractive that Lenovo is planning on building nouse-like technology into all their laptops over the next couple of years. Imagine people walking around with their with their with their tablets blinking and stuff. It’s coming coming to a tablet near you. Now when you combine that with the ability to have an on-screen keyboard it means that you can potentially choose letters as well. So it means someone can type just by looking and blinking. That opens up all sorts of possibilities for people with extreme situations as well as anyone who would enjoy the efficiency of that. Another swap is if you don’t have the ability to hear at a certain time or the ability to speak, we have alternatives using gestures of using typing, of being able to watch someone as they do sign language. There’s so many different techniques we’ve come up with to overcome (difficulties) and the new ideas are just propagating — as more and more people are able to develop — for tablets and all sorts of new touch-based technologies. This is all about paddling towards an ideal situation. Our goal is simply to paddle towards a common ideal. That ideal is that no matter what your disability, no matter what you difficulty, no matter your skill level, no matter what browser you’re using, what operating system you’re using, what type of technology you’re using, what speed your Internet connection is; no matter what, that you should be able to access everything all the time. And you know what, we’re never going to achieve that. And I don’t want you to be intimidated by that. Because we don’t have to do a perfect job. We simply have to do a better job than we’re doing today. And if we simply exceed these minimum standards that have been established for us, we can include everyone. We can not just accommodate everyone, we can have the ability to delight everyone. And that’s worth doing.

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