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Archive for December, 2012

In my last radio interview with Peter Greco from Radio 5RPH Adelaide for 2012 we reviewed some of the major achievements in technology and accessibility over the last year.

We touched on the Australian Government’s goals to achieve W3C Web Content Accessibility 2.0 compliance to Level A standard by the end of 2012 and to Level AA by 2014, our Professional Certificate in Web Accessibility Compliance course, which has had four intakes since being first offered in October 2011, new developments in tablet devices and software, the launch of Windows 8 and the redesign of the Dignity for Disability Website in November 2012. Interview with Peter Greco from Radio 5RPH on 22nd December 2012

I look forward to returning to Radio 5RPH to continue monthly updates on developments in technologies for people with disabilities on the last Saturday in every month when the show resumes in 2013.

 

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With the release of Windows 8 RT and Professional versions in late October 2012, we are beginning to see a merging of the power of ultrabooks with tablet devices, without compromising the accessibility features of tablets that we have come to admire, such as the iPad.

For example, the top of the range of the new Sony VAIO Duo 11 and Dell tablet computers support an i7 processor, up to 8 GB RAM and either 128 or 256 GB Solid State drives (SSD) as well as usb ports and HDMI output.

Sony Vaio duo hybrid computer/tablet

Sony Vaio duo hybrid computer/tablet

Having used Windows 8 professional since its launch, I am now finding the interface more intuitive and enjoy the visual nature of the dynamic tiles. The nice thing about windows 8 Professional is that Windows 7 software still runs happily on this new platform. One very compelling reason for opting for Windows 8 Professional rather tan the more limited RT version, which is currently the only option for users purchasing the new Microsoft Surface computer launched at the same time as Windows 8. Media Access Australia has a nice review of the Surface computer as well as Windows 8: http://www.mediaaccess.org.au/latest_news/general/accessibility-review-microsoft-surface-tablet

The accessibility features of Windows 8 Professional can be accessed by either using the hot key combination (Windows key and pressing the ‘U’ key together) or via control panel > ease of access center.

Ease of Access Center accessibility options in Windows 8

Ease of Access Center accessibility options in Windows 8

As shown in the screen shot above, the ease of access center options include:

  • Quick access to common tools including: Magnifier; On Screen Keyboard; Narrator; High Contrast display
  • An option to use the computer without a display (optimised for people who are blind)
  • An option to optimise the visual display for those with vision impairments
  • The option to set up for alternative inputting devices
  • Adjustments to customise the mouse or other pointing devices to make them easier to use
  • Settings adjustments for the keyboard
  • The option to specify visual alternatives for sounds for hearing impaired users
  • Adjustments to decrease the complexity and distractions on screen – optimised for ease of reading and typing
  • The ability to customise touch settings for tablet computers

As the Media Access site notes, there are several enhancements to the accessibility features of this version of Windows including:

  • Improvements to narrator providing extra language support, new voices, better application support  and touch-enabled support
  • Improved magnifier with support for high contrast colour schemes and a new interface for touchscreen devices
  • An option to enable users to sign-in and specifywhich built-in accessibility features launch as the computer starts up
  • A range of new apps designed with accessibility in mind available via the Windows Store feature in Windows 8

As more hybrid tablet computers appear on the market we can anticipate improved affordability, which will make these tablets very attractive multipurpose devices that can perform the most demanding work related tasks while also supporting an impressive range of universal design features.

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Through funding support provided by Telstra Australia we have been undertaking research into the efficacy of mainstream devices such as iPads as assistive technologies over the last few months.  The aim of the research is to provide empirical evidence of the impact of the use of such mainstream technologies on the attainment of the participation goals of 10 adults with varying physical disabilities and communication needs.

The methodology employed has involved a mixed-methods approach incorporating: 1) evaluation of the participants’ use of the devices over a 12 month period (such as frequency of use, their choice of software applications and their interactions with others using the devices); 2) pre and post intervention  measurements using the Canadian Occupational Performance Measurement (COPM) instrument designed to detect changes in self-perceived occupational performance over time (Law et al, 2000) and goal attainment scaling (Kiresuk, Smith & Cardillo, 1994) in which each participant determines their own goals for the use of the iPads; and  3) analysis of social interactions facilitated through the use of the iPads as AAC devices using the Circle of Communication Partners Paradigm (Blackstone & Hunt Berg, 2003).

 

One of the participants in the trials of the iPads as assistive technologies undertaking training with research assistant Carolyn Bilsborow

One of the participants in the trials of the iPads as assistive technologies undertaking training with research assistant Carolyn Bilsborow

We presented interim findings to Department of Communities and Social Inclusion therapists on the 13th December and will be presenting the findings at the AGOSCI conference in May 2013.

The study contributes to the growing evidence-base exploring the potential of mainstream mobile devices such as iPads as assistive technologies and identifies both the benefits and challenges in adapting these technologies for use by people with physical disabilities and complex communication needs.

 

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I returned to South Africa in October 2012 at the invitation of Professor Judy Backhouse from the University of the Witwatersrand who also met the costs of my air fare. The purpose of my visit to Wits was to conduct a teaching and learning training session on the 10th October,  participate in a research workshop on the 11th October and also present an invited paper at a public lecture on the 12th October.

I took the opportunity while in South Africa to conduct further teacher training sessions in Limpopo and Gauteng provinces.  This training was conducted from the 3rd to 5th October in Tzaneen and was well attended with very positive feedback from the teachers who attended.

Teachers with their certificates following training conducted in Tzaneen in October 2012

Teachers with their certificates following training conducted in Tzaneen in October 2012

I then flew from Polokwane to Johannesburg and conducted teacher training at Thornbirds Convention Centre for Gauteng teachers from 7th to 9th October.

Teachers attending training at the Thornbirds Convention Centre

Teachers attending training at the Thornbirds Convention Centre

While at Thornbirds I met with Sr Mary, a Salesian nun who founded the Lerato Educational Centre for children, which caters for chidren up to 11 years of age from the Jackson’s Drift informal settlement in Eickenhof.  We are exploring ways that we might be able to include the children into our program operating out of Gauteng and will be exploring funding options in the new year.

Lerato educational centre for children from Jackson's Drift informal settlement in Eickenoff

Lerato educational centre for children from Jackson’s Drift informal settlement in Eickenoff

After leaving Wits I travelled to Cape Town to participate in meetings at the University of the Western Cape and to then travel with Professor Viv Bozalek, Director of Teaching and Learning at UWC) to attend a three day writing workshop at Mont Fleur. During that workshop we completed a paper on authentic learning which has been submitted for review to the British Journal of Educational Technology.

Participants at the Mont Fleur writing workshop in October

Participants at the Mont Fleur writing workshop in October 2012Participants at the Mont Fleur writing workshop in October 2012

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