The Ideas Factory is an online community seeking to build credible evidence about how technology can enhance the lives of people with lifelong disability. This evidence will come from sharing lived experience, practice-based evidence and research.
The types of technologies include assistive technologies and medical devices, software, processes as well as enabling environments that can assist people with their rehabilitation and to live well in the community. We are interested in off-the-shelf technology that is not yet fit for purpose, as well as the creation of bespoke technology to meet individual needs.
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Accessibility in online environments
The coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) took us by surprise and led to a rapid transition to online communication, remote employment and distance education at all levels. The challenges of providing accessible and inclusive online environments were many. Online environments need to be accessible for everyone. A wide range of individuals benefit from the provision of highly accessible, inclusive and carefully considered online environments—the focus, therefore, should be on ‘good design’ for all users.
Many of our HabITec members have identified the challenges and struggles they have been experiencing. In response, and for the purpose of this IDEAS Factory, I thought I would share my knowledge and experience of accessibility in work and online environments with you. I have also touched on some new and accessible technology I have discovered that I thought you would enjoy trying for yourself.
Prior to this year, I worked in an open plan office environment. These tend to be busy and noisy places at the best of times, with conversations, phones ringing and people passing by my desk. As a hearing-impaired person who struggles to hear over top of noise or when using the telephone, this made communication near impossible. Team meetings were another area of concern for me, and I found it hard to follow, and at the end of every day, the listening and concentration fatigue I experienced affected my energy levels.
I was only a few days into my new role at The Hopkins Centre, Griffith University when COVID-19 forced us into work-from-home mode. This was actually really welcome news, because as a freelancer, I have been working from home for many years, and have my home office set up with the accessibility I need. Working from home is also a comforting experience for those with disabilities for many different reasons. But importantly, I feel that it creates a more level playing field.
Some accessible online tools you may like to explore for yourself:
Microsoft Teams is a communication platform belonging to the Microsoft 365 family of products. It is mostly used for education and business, so you may have access in your place of education or workplace. Being able to have accessible remote communication makes this tool ideal for PwD. Features: video, audio, chat feature and Live Captioning with speaker attribution. It also has accessibility tools used to change the size of text for low vision users.
Zoom is another online tool that allows you to interact with others online in place of in-person. Accessibility features include the ability to change text size and style, as well as the backgrounds for high/low contrast. Zoom does not automatically generate live captions (at this time); however, I have it on good authority that this feature will be added mid-2021. It does have the feature for third-party captioning, translating and Auslan services, which some users have available as part of their NDIS plans. Zoom is free to use and is a great option for tele-health.
Captioning and Transcribing
Happy Scribe is a free online platform that automatically transcribes speech-to-text. It comprises an automatic subtitle and caption generator, with an easy to use online transcription editor to tweak the accuracy of the generated text before downloading. It can also generate subtitles and captions in over 119 languages. Simply upload your audio/video URL and follow the online prompts. Use this program to generate captions for podcasts and videos which are not captioned. No log-in or account is needed – anyone can use this free online tool.
Speech-to-Text and Mobile Translation Applications
There are a number of free auto-captioning applications with speech-to-text and translation capabilities that can assist during face-to-face situations. These applications are run using wi-fi internet connections and use Artificial Intelligence (AI) based on millions of voice samples and algorithms to provide speech recognition technology. They enable the user to record notes, translate content and help with communication. For those who are Deaf, hard of hearing or people with English as a second language they serve as a vital communication tool.
- Streamer Captioning Interact Streamer, web-based captioning, translation and note-taking platform that is private and secure, a 12-month subscription is $195 (Funded by NDIS)
- MS Translator (Mobile application for Apple and Android devices, IE not supported)
- Google Live Transcribe (Android devices only)
- Webcaptioner (Browser based captioner)
- ai (600 minutes free use, after which a paid subscription is required)
- LiveScribe (Browser based captioner – Google Chrome only)
- Microsoft Word Dictate (speech-to-text feature which lets the user record, write and edit transcripts using voice recognition, available for both PC and Mac)
Google Action Blocks
Earlier this year, Google launched Action Blocks, an Android App designed for people with cognitive disabilities. This amazing new tool makes communication more accessible for people who are non-verbal. Features include:
- Customisation of the home screen buttons to make navigating mobile and tablet devices more accessible via Google Assistant. Use this feature to make a call, watch a video or control your Google Home automated devices such as air conditioning, security, lighting etc.
- Built-in picture communication symbols which can be used by those who communicate using Tobii Dynavox technology
Accessible Alt Text
Alt text (alternative text) is used to describe the appearance and function of an image on a page for people with low vision. Find out more about writing effective and accessible Alt Text: https://thegymnasium.com/take5/writing-effective-and-accessible-alt-text
Online Etiquette and Fostering Respectful Communication
- Set participation protocols and make as many of these as accessible as you can. Make everyone follow the same protocols i.e.: one speaker at a time
- Depending on Internet capabilities, all speakers should have their video turned on
- To minimise outside noise—unless speaking, all others to turn microphone off
- Use the “hand” emoji to indicate you wish to speak. The hand emoji, is also a useful signal for Deaf and Hard of Hearing or non-verbal participants to indicate they are not following, need a text-based rehash or short pause in discussion
- Show more than your head – visual cues are important for everyone
- Ensure your mouth is clearly visible and well lit. Being able to see lip patterns and facial expressions can help with communication and is vital for those who communicate by lip reading or through Auslan
- Do not obscure your face (facemask, hand, microphone, cup/mug etc)
- Slowing the pace of your speech and the discussion allows time for everyone to process verbal/visual information and for messages to be absorbed and understood
- Use the chat feature and non-verbal feedback. You can use non-verbal feedback to express opinions by using icons i.e.: thumbs up to agree, or hands up to speak etc.
NDIS and Job Access Funding Support
- Depending on your NDIS eligibility and individual plan, you may be able to access NDIS funding to pay for accessibility supports. Consult with your individual NDIS coordinators for accurate and current information. Alternatively, Job Access is an organisation who supports PwD in the workplace with accessible tools, advise on workplace adjustments and training.
Is there an accessibility tool that you would like to share with the group? If so, we would love to hear more. Please share your experiences with other readers in our Ideas Factory Forum, along with any tech and communication hacks.
The Hopkins Centre
Menzies Health Institute QLD
0478 709 990