Accessibility and computing
The development of different input and output devices, as well as new software, has increased the accessibility of computing to those with different needs. For example, the XBox Adaptive Controller allows people to connect physical inputs according to what they find easy to use. T.E.D., the Talk Enabled Development project was developed to enable a blind child, Ted, to join in with the Scratch coding activities at his school’s Code Club.
Everyone is different, and so are the specific accessibility needs of different users. We caught up with Kevin Lloyd, a regular user of accessible computing devices, to ask him about his personal experiences.
Kevin Lloyd Interview
- Hi Kevin. Firstly, could you tell us a little about yourself?
I am a Software Engineer at Lloyds Banking Group and have worked for the Bank in it’s earlier guises for 33 years, starting out as a junior programmer and progressing through a number of roles to my current management position, but always retaining a strong technical element to my role. I have had guide dogs since 1986 and so I spend a lot of time walking and visiting Devon with my wife and our dogs. I enjoy music, classic rock, metal and blues, and play guitar really badly. I spend quite a lot of time reading with historic novels being my main subject matter.
- What accessible computing hardware and software do you use on a regular basis? What specific needs do they address?
My main access technology is screen reader software called Jaws. Jaws allows me to use windows and windows applications to browse the internet, do e-mail and use all other standard MS applications. At work, I also use a braille display. This is what is known as refreshable braille with a line of braille being represented by piezo-electric cells forming the 8-dot braille character. My braille display is a Focus 80 which means it can display up to 80 characters of text at a time, continually raising and lowering the pins as I move around the screen. It’s essential for reviewing in fine detail, particularly code, where speech software isn’t really sufficient on it’s own.
- Are there any frustrations that you encounter while using these?
Poor web design is always a frustration. Images that aren’t labelled, buttons that can’t be activated using a virtual mouse-click, and generally very cluttered and badly laid out web pages. Sometimes a website can be accessible without being usable, due to poor implementation of the website.
- How has your access to these aids changed over time? What was it like 10 years ago?
Better access to the internet and more powerful capabilities in the screen reader software market have probably been the main changes in the last 10 years. Windows and screen reader technology have been more seamless with more stability and less crashes. Apple have really lead the charge for accessibility with their built in screen reader technology known as Voiceover which is integrated at the very design of all of their products. They have raised the bar for everyone else to follow.
- What is your favourite piece of tech, and why?
Without question, the smart phone has to be the greatest piece of access technology introduced in recent years. I am an IOS user and have the XS at present. My iPhone allows me to access the internet, do e-mails and texts and is my main reading library and music library. I have apps that allow me to quickly scan printed material or even bus displays with instant OCR functionality. I use navigation apps on my commute so that I always know exactly where I am. Lloyds Banking Group, like other companies, are also introducing apps for employees as alternatives to windows equivalents. The experience is generally much better. Mobile apps are generally much better designed for efficiency and usability. Rather than the bloat that seems to always accompany windows web applications. Like many blind and visually impaired people, I couldn’t really function without a smart phone in today’s world. Did I mention you can even make phone calls on it?
- Do you use any accessible computing devices or software?
- Can you think of any changes that could be made to your favourite piece of software that could improve its accessibility?
- What impact could the lack of access to these devices have on people’s ability to participate in the modern world?