The barriers of social distancing for users with additional access requirements

While many parts of society try to deal with social distancing, the barriers for people who have additional access requirements have increased. For persons who are blind, have low vision, a cognitive difficulty or are deaf, understanding and staying within the new distancing guidelines can create confusion and have a direct effect on their ability to carry out daily tasks. People who experience anxiety or have panic attacks may also struggle, and feel overwhelmed by the on-going changes in their daily lives.


Clear information as well as using plane English to describe the restrictions is more important than ever before. In order to make all content available, such as providing information in alternative formats, the ability to talk, text or chat via the phone or an online chat client should also be offered. It also goes without saying, that a little understanding from others will go along way. People who are Deaf for example, are not able to lip read while others are using face masks.


As a blind person I can honestly write that I am sure I have not been maintaining the full social distance, not because I didn’t want to but because it’s difficult to guess this while shopping. While I believe myself to be pretty good at spacial awareness, judging the exact distance is difficult when asking for assistance to purchase items, and paying using my card. The Scottish Courier published a recent article, about the experiences of a guide dog owner and the worries he faces. Jonathan explained how it is not possible for Guide Dogs to identify the exact distance, and how his dog will take him to the shop Dorr, not the cue. Check out a guide dog owner’s concerns during coronavirus from the Scottish Courier website.


What are the solutions?

In order to maintain accessibility for everyone if communicating face-to-face, it’s important to politely explain who you are, and offer to direct someone to a safe distance when speaking to someone with no vision. For people who have low vision, its important to have clear markings which are easy to identify and are not visually obstructed. Purchase see-through masks for Deaf people to understand what is being said, as a recent Guardian article indicates that many people are currently struggling with face-to-face communication who are Deaf. Purchase see-through face masks say Charities who support Deaf people via the Guardian website.


In closing this post, I believe the best thing at the moment however, is to assume that most people are trying to social distance, rather than deliberately not. I include this, because a friend of mine was recently shouted at in a shop by another member of the public because she wasn’t social distancing. She could not see the sign which said ‘2 people only’. Thankfully in this scenario the shop owner intervened, however an experience like this could easily led to feelings of anxiety for example. Whatever your doing as we attempt to move in to a post-lockdown society, take care and stay safe.

How is Digital Accessibility Centre responding to Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Due to the recent increase in cases of Coronavirus (COVID-19), and following Government recommendations, our staff will be working remotely until further notice from today 18/03/2020. We can still be reached via our online channels, including our main email address: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , and would like to remind everyone to stay safe, and follow social distance and good hygiene practises. While normal operation continues, we hope to be back at our offices as soon as possible, until then stay safe, and thank you for your continued support.


Coronavirus Information

Don’t forget if you need further information about Coronavirus (COVID-19), view the latest Coronavirus information from the UK Government (external link.)


From all of us at DAC.

All you need to know about smart meters

Introduction

Over recent years you may have heard about the role out of smart meters across the UK, which make it easier to manage your energy use and bring an end to estimated billing. A smart meter tracks your energy use, and sends it over a secure mobile network to your supplier, meaning the end of submitting meter readings manually. How secure are they, and what if you want to change supplier? And The really big question, what about accessibility? Read on to find out more.


Getting a smart meter

A smart meter is free to have installed, and is done by a qualified person who works for a third-party organisation on behalf of your supplier. The time for installation typically takes 1 to 2 hours, in which time your existing meters will be removed and replaced with smart meters. If you have a supply for both gas and electric, 2 smart meters will be included.


How do they work?

The smart meter comes with an in-home display, known as an ‘IHD’, which is a small battery operated device which can be carried around your home, and placed in to a supplied charger to recharge the battery. The display allows users to track energy usage, such as what is using most energy at a particular time, as well as allowing users to set budgets if on a pay-as-you-go tariff. The smart meter is responsible for uploading your data to your supplier. The smart meter works on a secure mobile network, and will not need a separate mobile connection. Its secure because only your energy usage is transferred to your supplier, nothing else which identifies you. Any software updates are done remotely over the secure network. Your smart meter may not work if there is no mobile signal at your property though, and may cause problems when attempts to upload data due to signal failure.


How accessible is it

Smart meters are being rolled out starting from June 2019, after a trial period to ensure that the IHD is accessible. Once available, it is possible to ask for the accessible smart meter as required, which again will be installed for free. The smart meter will have tactile buttons, voice output, and contrast options as required.


General Limitations

At the time of writing this blog, I asked some of my colleagues here at DAC on their views of smart meters. One colleague told me that the IHD would be difficult to sea, and they were waiting to sea what features the smart meter had. Another colleague informed me that the mobile signal was not good enough to send a signal to the energy provider, so it was not possible to have one installed. My own personal experience is that a smart meter could not be installed at the property where I live, due to the location of the meters, and the structural design making it difficult to remove and include new meters. In conclusion, it really does depend on a number of factors weather or not a smart meter will be installed, and of course accessibility is a primary concern, however its not the only obstacle. For further information on smart meters go to The Ofgem website.

Digital Accessibility Centre (DAC) supports international day of persons with disabilities

What is it?

International day for persons with disabilities (IDPD), was first observed on the 3rd of December 1992, and has been an annual event since then. The event promotes the rights and wellbeing of disabled persons throughout the world, and focuses on an equal place in society for all. Each year a different theme is adopted, and following on from last year’s theme of ‘transformation towards a sustainable and resilient future for all’, this year’s event is focused on ‘empowering persons with disabilities for the inclusive, equitable and sustainable development envisaged in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.’ The 2030 agenda is aimed at providing ultimately a full and equal part in society for persons with a disability, by working within the 3 areas of human rights, piece and development, and security. Taken from the United Nations page about international day of persons with disabilities (external link).


To support IDPD, DAC have produced a video of one of our staff members, who talks about how his loss of vision affects him both on a professional and personal level. Physical disabilities though are not the only consideration, its worth remembering that there are many hidden disabilities which are miss understood, or not acknowledged. Persons who experience mental illness, or other life changing events are often not understood to have a disability, and can encounter different experiences depending on how they feel from day-to-day. It is not uncommon for people to have days where they feel worse than others, which again can cause difficulties when seeking support or going about their daily lives.


DAC employs members of staff which cover both physical and hidden disabilities, and we will be releasing another video over the next few days to give a view from another staff member with a hidden disability. To view our latest content check out: Our Screen Reader Analyst and team leader video for international day of persons with disabilities on YouTube.

Introducing FlickType, an accessible third-party keyboard for VoiceOver users on iOS

Introduction

There are many ways which iOS can be customised to improve text input, from handwriting mode, braille mode and the various typing options when using the iOS default keyboard. As smart phone use has increased among blind and low-vision users, the approach to text input has long been a debate, with various options for typing. While it is possible to use a third-party keyboard, sometimes a quicker way of typing has often been the wish of many iOS users.


What is FlickType and how does it work?

Earlier this year, FlickType hit the iOS app store, with amazing results. FlickType enables blind and low-vision users to type quickly using its third-party keyboard, by tapping where they think the letters are on the screen. The app uses a powerful algorithm to interpret the tap of each letter, and brings up a list of suggestions based on what was entered. The user can then flick down with 1 finger to move through the list of words, and flick to the right to select a word, before typing the next one. Readers will be forgiven for thinking it sounds confusing, however having used FlickType myself for 6 months, I can confidently say that I can type just as fast as my sighted peers. One of our analysts said this about FlickType. "I love this ap as I can add words that FlickType does not recognise to the dictionary. For example, my name is Tehani which, the algorithm itself won't recognise. Adding this to the dictionary means that I can sign off all my emails without needing to cycle through all the suggestions that aren't relevant".


What can you do with FlickType?

You can do everything that can be done with the standard iOS keyboard with FlickType, including editing, and inserting your favourite emojis. It is also possible to include any custom shortcuts you may have used with the iOS keyboard, such as the abbreviation ‘OMW’ for on my way. It is possible to export text you have typed if just using the standard app, to iOS notes, mail and so on. However, if using the keyboard option, you can use the keyboard in your chosen app also. To find out more about FlickType, check out The FlickType website (external link).