Open your eyes to accessibility

New Thinking 13 May 2018 Rupert Burton

For Global Accessibility Awareness Day and, as an accessibility advocate, I've tried to help raise awareness over the last few years by posing challenges to my colleagues or suggesting tools to help them make their interactions more accessible – read Get into GAAD.

This year, I've decided to do something slightly different, prompted by the realisation that I’ve been guilty of my own accessibility assumptions.

It’s easy to assume that people with specific disabilities will never be able to experience or use certain technology. I've heard it argued more than once, for example, that there's little use focusing on a particular accessibility feature because that demographic is not going to be able to use it or they're not the target audience.

Pragmatically, this might seem a reasonable assertion, but maybe there's value to be had by challenging this notion more often?

I’m a Virtual Reality enthusiast and have long-assumed that VR will never be fully accessible for visually impaired users due to its highly visual nature. Then I read an article that made me realise my error.

Blind VR


They’re experimenting with the use of spatial audio, audio labelling and location control to help users locate and interact within a virtual environment without the need for vision. It’s still early days but has huge potential. Here’s the full article (5-min read)… 'Daydream Labs: Accessibility in VR'.

Now imagine an augmented reality version of this combined with Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things. It could provide a whole new range of possibilities.

Another story that struck a chord with me recently comes from the UK...

Eye control for video games

The UNI device incorporates hand-tracking technology that can translate sign language to digital speech. It also features voice recognition to convert speech into text, making two-way communication easier without the need for both parties to understand sign language. Check out their video (1m58) on YouTube.

The challenge

These three stories are great examples of how digital innovation can solve difficult problems. But that's not all. They've not only provided a solution to a specific problem, but they also helped drive technological advances that can be used in other situations.

So next time someone suggests that a particular problem is not possible or not worth the investment to solve, maybe it's worth stopping to think why. Is it impossible or just difficult – and what might solving this problem also enable? I'm going to endeavour to do this more often and invite you to join me.

Look out for the #GAAD tag on social media or follow @gbla11yday on Twitter for more accessibility-related stories. If you want to talk about your accessibility needs, contact Rupert Burton.