Tag Archives: technology

Disability Innovations: So, what do you think?

Disability Innovations is a blog series that gathers some of the most interesting new products and services that aim to make disabled people’s lives easier. We hope it will inspire more innovation in the disability field.

From the outset we’ve been hoping that by showcasing ideas and innovative products, this blog will help inspire and encourage other people in this field. We are passionate about how we can help share the news about innovative products, to allow all you lovely people to hear about, and hopefully benefit from them.

Since starting this blog series we have received emails from a number of people who are involved in making innovative products for disabled people. They are often looking for direct feedback to help them design the most exciting and useful product possible.

That’s where you come in! We’d love to present a couple of new ideas that have been sent our way to get your feedback. Whether you are disabled, or are interested in this area, your feedback (positive and negative!) is really valuable and could help in designing and perfecting the next great product.

We’d also like to hear what you have thought of other things featured in our blogs so far. We’ll do a round-up of some of them at the end and we’d love to know what you think and if you have any personal experience of any of the products. Have a read of the ideas below and get in touch either by commenting on this post or emailing us at innovation@scope.org.uk.

  1. Accessible, 3D printed products

We recently heard from Luca Parmegiani, an Italian product designer based in London working for Myminifactory. He is focused on creating products that offer solutions for a range of daily challenges that are linked to mobility or dexterity.

collage of 3D products

He has designed 3D printed items so that people who own a 3D printer can download and print them freely. They include key holders, bottle openers, and cup holders. He wants to work with individuals to make products as tailored as possible to the individual.

Luca is looking for constructive criticism, advice and suggestions around his products and idea. Check out his Facebook page to see more about what he is working on.

  1. Brunel University and Blue Badge Style winners

Fiona Jarvis got in touch with us from Blue Badge Style. They asked students at Brunel University to design accessories that would make a standard wheelchair more stylish. Fiona is looking for feedback on two of the three winning ideas.

Backback Pack

The first is the BackBack Pack, which fulfilled the criteria of being universally desirable, not just by wheelchair users. They are currently investigating production of the bag. The aim is that it will be a high quality, well designed item that is remarkable for its superior quality and design.

Cup Holder

The second is the cup holder that attaches to a wheelchair and is suitable for a number of different sizes and styles of glass or cup. Like the BackBack Pack it is also in prototype stage. Check out this video of how it works.

Image of an accessible cup holder

Fiona would love feedback on both of these ideas, what you think of their design and whether you think you might use any of these products. She would also more specifically like to know how much realistically you would be willing to pay for these items and why.

  1. Featured Innovations

Since we started this blog series we have featured 14 different innovations. We’d like to hear about whether you have followed up on any of the things you have read about, and what experience you have with these products. Some of them were still in the test phase and aren’t widely available, but we’d love to know what you think of them. Here is a quick rundown of six of the most popular ideas featured:

Talkitt – a voice to voice app which aims to enable people with motor, speech, and language conditions to communicate freely and easily using their own voice. We liked how it is based fully on the user’s own voice, enabling more natural communication.

RogerVoice – an App that enables people with hearing impairments to have conversations on the phone, by converting speech to subtitles in real time. What interested us was how it aims to make mainstream technology even more inclusive.

Una Tickets a new primary ticketing service that hopes to develop the most accessible ticket system out there. Una’s approach is hoping to improve accessibility at all stages of the ticketing experience, from purchasing a ticket, to accessing the venue. This is a mainstream service that wants to put a real emphasis on accessibility, which made it stand out for us.

Be My Eyesan iPhone app that connects visually impaired people with volunteer helpers from around the world via live video chat, to allow sighted volunteers to ‘lend’ their eyes and assist with tasks such navigating surroundings and identifying food labels. We love the sense of community and the simple pleasure of helping someone out that this app creates.

Andiamo a startup creating healthcare solutions for disabled children, with a mission to see no child ever having to wait more than one week to receive medical device. Their first venture is looking to 3D print orthotic supports, from back braces and wrist braces, to open foot orthoses. We like how this project is driven by parents of a disabled child who are using their first hand experience to find innovative solutions to real problems.

HandSteadya cup designed especially for people with arthritis, tremors, muscle weakness or limited dexterity, to help reduce spills when drinking and increase independence. It’s a simple design, and a nice reminder that innovation isn’t always ground breaking new technologies, but sometimes small tweaks that make a big difference.

Over to you!

So there you go. We hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about these ideas and products. Please send us your comments and feedback and together we can be part of creating innovative products that are centered around the user.

As with all our blogs, this is for information only. Scope does not endorse this product or service. We try to make sure our information is up to date and accurate at the time of publishing.

To give us feedback on these products, or to tell us about another disability innovation you have seen, please either comment on the blog or email us at innovation@scope.org.uk.

Disability Innovations: App enables people with hearing impairments to use the phone

Disability Innovations is a blog series that gathers some of the most interesting new products and services that aim to make disabled people’s lives easier. We hope it will inspire more innovation in the disability field.

What is RogerVoice?

RogerVoice is an App that enables people with hearing impairments to have conversations on the phone, by converting speech to subtitles in real time. This innovative use of existing technology has already allowed deaf people to make their first ever phone calls, and has the potential to include millions of people in an activity which most of us take for granted. It has already received much positive media attention, so last week I excitedly tested it out with Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and founder Olivier Jeannel to understand how it works and what the potential for it is.

What’s the story behind it?

Olivier grew up in the US where he experienced the phone relay service that was available for free. He moved to France in his early 20s to work for telecom company Orange, while also helping friends on a communication project for deaf people in France. He became aware that the relay system which was so important to deaf people in the US was not available in France or worldwide. What was on offer relied on expensive human translators. His experience and perspective of both the telecom system and working for the deaf came together, and inspired him to want to work towards a system that allowed people with hearing impairments to communicate on the phone.

After seeing technology like voice recognition and Siri being introduced in the mainstream, Olivier felt it had huge potential beyond being a fun (but often useless) gadget for people.  Being young and impatient, and himself hearing impaired, he explains that all he wanted was for technology to do amazing things for people, so he started working on RogerVoice.

How does it work?

The App uses existing technology, including a standard telecoms system and a voice recognition system. If you are hearing impaired, you download the app and make a phone call. When the recipient of the call speaks to you, their voice is intercepted, transcribed, and can be read on your phone’s screen in real time. When you respond, your voice can be heard on the other end just like a standard phone call. The recipient doesn’t need to download the App, making it more seamless to make a phone call.

Currently people with hearing impairments either use message based systems to communicate, or the expensive relay system which uses human transcribers. The App works for people who can speak orally, but Olivier is also working on a function for people who can’t communicate orally so that messages they write can be read out over the phone via text-to-speech recognition.

What is the potential for the App?

Olivier describes two main possibilities that can be achieved through RogerVoice. The first is a practical aspect; using the phone for booking doctor’s appointments to organising taxis and meetings. But he has been most excited by the emotional aspect, where deaf people can now use the phone to talk to family and friends and can be included in an activity that is so important and so ingrained in day to day life.

Olivier expresses that even if he doesn’t need to use the phone a lot, the most important thing is that he can. He has been excited by the feedback so far from users and families testing the App who have had their first ever phone conversations. It’s this feedback which inspires him to keep working so hard on the technology, to make it available as fast as possible.

Is it available now?

Currently the app is undergoing beta-testing on Android so that the team behind RogerVoice can ensure that the tech is working smoothly and is bug-free. The App is compatible in many languages, and works particularly well with those that already have a lot of data around voice recognition. It is due to be available for the iPhone in August and the public launch will be in September this year.

Olivier wants to ensure that the tech is ready, but crucially that people are ready to use it and understand what it’s meant for. The technology is not meant to exclude any groups, but to make sure as many people as possible are included in everyday technology. He stresses that RogerVoice is not out there to compete with existing systems such as the relay system, but to be a complementary offer. Human transcribers offer a superior level of quality and accuracy which should still be relied upon for business or conference calls.

What we like about it

This seems like such an exciting development which uses widely available technology to make a real and dramatic difference to a huge number of lives. We often hear feedback from disabled people around how they don’t want niche services or websites that cater solely to their needs. They just want mainstream services to be accessible.

RogerVoice could offer a way for existing and accepted technologies to be inclusive for a new audience, and we will be watching their progress over the next few months with great anticipation.

This blog is for information only. Scope does not endorse this product or service. We try to make sure our information is up to date and accurate at the time of publishing.

To tell us about a Disability Innovation you’ve seen, please email innovation@scope.org.uk.

Disability Innovations: Smart technology pioneering independent living

Disability Innovations is a blog series that gathers some of the most interesting new products and services that aim to make disabled people’s lives easier. We hope it will inspire more innovation in the disability field.

What’s the big idea?

Alcove is an all-in-one technology service to help elderly and disabled people to live independently in their own homes. It harnesses the wealth of technology already out there, from smart home sensors to wearable technologies, and combines them in one easy to use, comprehensive system. It is designed to enhance and improve delivery of existing care systems by helping all parties involved in care to be more connected and to use technology to enable independent living.

Alcove was created to address the major problems facing the adult care system in the UK. Existing solutions for the provision of care are not enough to respond to the growing problem in the supply of care. This, combined with increasing demand, shrinking budgets and changing legislation means that as it stands, today’s system is unable to deliver the type and standard of care we need and expect, now and in the future. Alcove’s approach is threefold: improve the system, reduce the costs, and promote increased independence, choice and control for their customers.

How does it work?

There are four parts to Alcove each with a range of functions which complement one another. They are: the Alcove Base Package, Alcove Wearable, Alcove Connection, and Alcove Carer Monitoring.

The Base Package part is the ‘smart home’ part of the pack. It is made up of a smart controller and a set of wireless sensors. These sensors detect motion, heat and light and can be used around the home, in rooms, on doors, on the fridge or the medicine cabinet. The technology in these sensors does not require any form of action or behaviour change by the user – they simply collect data on users’ key daily movements which they then report back to care workers or family members via a web-based app.

Mobile phone will alcove app on the screen

The app creates a ‘dashboard’ for each individual for use by family and professionals, which flags alerts and emergencies as well as listing alert history, behaviour summaries, and reminders. This can be used to detect and monitor and behavioural changes such as an increasing number of restless nights and can track if this is related to certain trigger events. It is also linked up to a care line monitoring centre for emergencies to enhance safeguarding and react to anything unusual or unexpected.

wireless box and keyfob, part of alcove wearableAlcove Wearable uses wearable technology in a watch to help the wearer remain connected to family and professionals. It’s a bit like a wearable mobile phone, but is designed to be as user-friendly and easy to use as possible. It can be used to make daily checks and give remote reminders, such as for appointments or medication, and can be used to make an emergency call or receive calls from approved numbers. The emergency alarm can be used 24/7 and connects the wearer with a monitoring centre.

Alcove Connection is a tablet which can be fixed in one place, and hooked up to a charger so that it is always on. It has a video and voice call functionality to help make communication with family and friends better and easier and reduce social isolation. Contacts can be personalised and important people or services, such as family members and support workers can be contacted at the touch of a button on screen. Like the watch, the tablet can be used to send reminders and for remote medication prompts, and can be used for visual checks via video link. It also can be used for telehealth remote consultations with care and healthcare professionals to help monitor long term conditions. It can also be used to monitor the quality of care, providers are delivering by gathering customer feedback on the care and treatment they receive from professionals during care visits and appointments. This can be particularly useful to monitor agency staff and flag any unsatisfactory performance against set objectives.

The final element is Alcove Carer monitoring, which is a wireless box designed for care workers and other professionals to ‘check in’ and ‘out’ during each care visit using a pass or key fob. This is designed to improve safeguarding and security, and ensure accountability, by recording who is where, when and for how long!

What makes Alcove different?

Alcove works to make life easier and improve outcomes for everyone involved in care, from individuals themselves, and their families, to care professionals and commissioners. It works to improve planning and efficiency around care and is driven by data. The data collected on behaviour and movement patterns allows staff to be more efficient and move from reactive to proactive interventions and smarter deployment of manpower.

Alcove also helps reduce demand on care workers by alerting informal carers first, alerting the care line monitoring and responder service only if informal carers do not respond or are unable to help. Increased efficiency and better organisation for staff ultimately means better outcomes for users, and their families. Better coordination of care and use of smart technology for medication and other reminders has reduced the workload of staff and frees up more face-to-face time, meaning they can direct more of their time to meaningful interventions. As well as this, with a comprehensive system of support in place, Alcove helps individuals to be more independent by giving them the confidence they need, knowing someone is always at the end of a phone (or watch) and less reliant on constant 1 to 1 supervision.

Aside from being a comprehensive system with tangible benefits for everyone, one of the best bits about Alcove is the price: it works out at £13, or less than the equivalent of one hour of home care a week. By doing things more efficiently and doing simple tasks remotely, it can generate significant savings for care and support providers.

What’s does the future hold for Alcove?

Alcove is still being worked on and developed and is currently being tested by individuals, organisations and care providers. The system has been tested in disability and elderly care services alike and has seen impressive outcomes. One residential centre for disabled adults is using Alcove to support sleep-in night workers, so they are only woken up if sensors detect a resident leaving their room or moving around. Night workers are now able to respond in around a minute, and it is predicted that using Alcove will result in a saving of around £30,000 a year for the care and support provider. Outcomes for care workers have proved equally positive, with the data collected by Alcove being used to adapt systems and improve efficiency. By checking in at care visits, professionals are able to demonstrate the average time a visit takes, and adjust timetables and scheduling accordingly if the standard 15 minute visit is not enough.

One year on since they were founded, Alcove have come a long way, and Alcove’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Hellen Bowey was recently named Public Sector Innovator of the Year, 2015, in the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists (WCIT) Enterprise awards. Alcove will launch and be made available on the open market by this summer and you can sign up on Alcove’s website to be the first to hear about it when it does, and find out more about how Alcove can help you.

What we like about it

Too often we come across innovations which are solely focused on money and reducing costs for commissioners. Important as this is, for the care sector in particular, ultimately it’s about people. What’s great about Alcove is that it is a cost cutting approach, but not at the expense of customers or quality. In fact it also helps to manage demand for staff and improve outcomes and care for individuals. By providing greater choice and focusing on aspirations as well as needs, Alcove is designed to help older and disabled adults to lead fulfilling lives in their own homes. Alcove is a win-win idea as it offers families peace of mind, and benefits professionals and commissioners at the same time, improving everyone’s quality of life!

This blog is for information only. Scope does not endorse this product or service. We try to make sure our information is up to date and accurate at the time of publishing.

To tell us about a Disability Innovation, please email innovation@scope.org.uk.

Disability Innovations: Talkitt app helps disabled people use their voice

Disability Innovations is a blog series that gathers some of the most interesting new products and services that aim to make disabled people’s lives easier. We hope it will inspire more innovation in the disability field.

What is Talkitt?

Talkitt is a voice to voice app which aims to enable people with motor, speech, and language conditions to communicate freely and easily using their own voice. It works by interpreting an individual’s pronunciation of words into understandable speech. Talkitt recognises the user’s vocal patterns, translates words from any language and then speaks them aloud via an app.

Approximately 1.5% of the population in the western world has some form of difficulty communicating as a result of medical conditions including: Motor Neurone Disease, Cerebral Palsy, Stroke, Brain Damage and Autism. Current communication solutions include using eye and head tracking systems or using other body movements, but none of these enable the user to really communicate in the traditional sense, by using their voice. What makes Talkitt different is that it does not rely on expensive technology, simply a smartphone app and the user’s own voice. Talkitt wants to help increase participation in everyday activities, particularly when out and about and communicating with new people.

What’s behind the idea?

Talkitt’s Chief Executive (CEO) Danny Weissberg came up with the idea in Israel back in 2012 after his grandmother had a stroke that severely impaired her speech. As a software engineer himself, Danny wanted to come up with a solution to help his grandmother. The more he explored the issue and spoke to speech and occupational therapists about it, the more he was convinced that there was a need for this sort of solution.

In 2012 Voiceitt, the company behind Talkitt was launched as a joint venture between software engineers, technology officers and senior Occupational Therapists (OTs) to combine their technology background with the OTs experience and user insight. Inspired by Danny’s grandmother and working to use “technology for good”, Talkitt hopes to break down barriers between disabled people and their communities, and enable them to communicate and participate fully.

How does it actually work?

Talkitt is not your standard speech recognition app. The software works by creating a dictionary of sounds and their meanings, learning each individual’s way of speaking. First the user has to go through the calibration stage. This is when the app learns the user’s speech patterns by getting them to record a selection of set words and phrases dependent on their cognitive ability to create their personal dictionary. This dictionary helps the system to map what a person is saying to enable an accurate and personalised interpretation. Then the user can move on to the recognition stage where the app is able to interpret their individual pronunciation of words. The user speaks a word, it is associated with a word on the software, and the app speaks the interpretation. For example, the app can recognise the pronunciation of “o-ko-la” and the software will translate it to “chocolate”.

Diagram-of-how-talkitt-works

In techno terms, the approach is based on robust multi-domain signal processing, and an appropriate pruning of dynamic voice pattern classifier search space. Talkitt uses a smart system which uses machine learning so that the system continues to learn adaptively with the user over time to build and enhance the user’s personal dictionary. As the system is not language dependent but speaker dependent, there are no language restrictions as it works based on pattern recognition software. As it interprets vocal patterns, it can even interpret made up words or phrases such as an autistic child may use to communicate. Talkitt hopes that future developments will also enable the app to be used for degenerative conditions, by recording the user’s own voice to use later.

What’s next for Talkitt?

Talkitt is not yet on the market and is currently under development. They are testing the first release with users, working in partnership with disability charities across the globe. They are also in the process of collecting as many audio recordings as possible to help populate their audio recording database and inform the algorithm they are developing. The aim is to release a version one in early 2016. This will be a basic version of the system with a limited vocabulary for the user’s personal dictionary and will be able to interpret a few calibrated words. Version two is due to be released in 2017 and will incorporate the adaptive learning (without calibration) and continuous speech features as well as having an extended vocabulary.

Once released, Talkitt will run on a ‘freemium model’ with an initial period after the launch where it will be available for anyone to download for free. After that it will run on a monthly subscription fee of $20, around £12. The software can currently run on tablets and smartphones, but eventually they hope to offer it for wearable devices including smart watches and Google Glass. They also hope to integrate it into other devices such as a wearable necklace or wheelchair and browsers. Using this technology that is not currently found in mainstream speech engines to improve existing speech recognition technology. Ultimately, they hope that the data their app will gather in their speech database will help medical research centres and universities to further their research and understanding into neurological and cognitive diseases.

Talkitt has had many successes to date, including running a successful crowdfunding campaign which secured $87,000 (around £55,000) of funding to continue development and testing. They have also won some prestigious awards and competitions, including the Philips Innovation Fellows and Verizon Powerful Answers Competition, the Wall Street Journal Startup Showcase, Deutsche Telekom Innovation Contest and the Orange 4G Innovation Lab, to name but a few!

Why we love it!

What makes Talkitt really special is that unlike existing alternatives, it is a form of alternative communication that is based fully on the user’s voice. Everyone should have the chance to communicate in a natural way, and Talkitt aims to enable traditional communication using a person’s voice in a truly personalised way that’s not offered by text to speech systems. Talkitt will also offer an inexpensive alternative to traditional communication devices, and can cut waiting times as it can be downloaded instantly. The future looks bright for Talkitt, and we’re excited to see how this venture develops!

This blog is for information only. Scope does not endorse this product or service. We try to make sure our information is up to date and accurate at the time of publishing.

To tell us about a Disability Innovation, please email innovation@scope.org.uk

“Shopping with my son and wheelchair in tow is a challenge.”

Claire is a mum to Daniel who is six. Daniel has profound and multiple learning difficulties. Claire has discovered a great solution for taking her son on their weekly food shop and wants everyone to campaign for better trolley access.

As a mum, taking my son to the weekly shop is a really common thing. But, shopping with my son and wheelchair in tow is a challenge.

I really struggle with both the standard and disability trolleys that are available in most supermarkets. Neither provides my son Daniel with the trunk support that he needs. It is also impossible for me to lift him in to a standard trolley. He’s just too heavy and tall now.

This leaves me with very few options. I could do my weekly shopping online, leave Daniel at home while I go shopping, or settle for buying what I can carry as I push his wheelchair.

I am sure that this is a familiar story to many parents of disabled children up and down the country. All of this changed for me when Sainsbury’s rolled out the GoTo Shop trolley to 650 of its larger stores.

The GoTo Shop is an adapted trolley for disabled children that provides extra postural and head support and a secure five-point harness. The GoTo Shop Trolley keeps Daniel safe and secure on our weekly shop.

The GoTo Shop Trolley has been a revelation for us, it makes life so much easier and Daniel actually really enjoys our shopping trips.

I think every family with this a disabled child should have the opportunity to use a GoTo Shop Trolley, this is the reason why I became a GoTo Shop Trolley Champion.

I am very lucky I have two Sainsbury’s stores near to me, but I like having choice. I love collecting my Tesco Clubcard Points, you can’t beat the Asda Mother and Baby Events, Marks and Spencer for little treats and Lidl fruit and veg every time. So you see, I’d like every supermarket in the UK and Ireland to have a GoTo Shop Trolley.

If you’re looking for a supermarket with GoTo Shop Trolleys, you can use the Firefly Finder App.

How to get involved

If like me you’re a parent of a disabled child, who would love to have the option of shopping where and when you want to, then we need to work together to tell every supermarket about the difference a GoTo Shop Trolley can make to our lives.

All you have to do is print out and add your name to this leaflet (PDF) and hand it in to your local supermarket managers.

Let’s raise awareness of the challenges we face in our daily lives as parents of disabled children. By showing how simple solutions can make a huge difference to families like ours we can encourage all our supermarkets to provide GoTo Shop Trolleys.

If you’re not a parent or carer of a disabled child, don’t worry! You can still get involved. Support the #GoToShop Trolley in #EverySupermarket by using our ‘Friends of’ leaflet (PDF).

You can read more about the Firefly Garden GoTo Shop Campaign on their website.

Disability Innovations: Connecting isolated groups with Mifinder

Disability Innovations is a blog series that gathers some of the most interesting new products and services that aim to make disabled people’s lives easier. We hope it will inspire more innovation in the disability field.

What is Mifinder?

Mifinder is all about connecting people and building communities, targeting isolation and encouraging networks of support. It is a free app where you sign up, register your profile and are then able to ‘find’ and connect with others around you based on their location. Sound familiar? The unique thing about Mifinder is that it is aimed particularly at groups in society with often higher rates of isolation, and people connect with each other based on a shared ‘life experience’. This could be a visual, hearing or other specific impairment, or an experience such as being new to an area or learning a language. The app enables people to find like-minded others around them wherever they go based on their exact location.

How do I use it?

Mifinder app on iPhoneAfter downloading the free app (currently only available on the iPhone) you create a profile, involving selecting the communities that you belong to and uploading your profile text and photo. You can then select the communities that you are looking to engage with, and you will be shown the profiles of the closest 120 users who fit that criteria, in order of how far away they are from you at that time. You can see other people’s profiles, and if you would like to connect and chat with them you use the app’s instant messenger. Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and founder of Mifinder Gabriel Saclain hopes that the initial online conversation will prompt real offline social experiences, such as going for a coffee. Security is a high priority, and no specific locations are given out until people have decided that they want to meet.

How did the idea come about?

The idea came from Mifinder CEO and founder Gabriel Saclain, who had been working with isolated communities in Brighton. He was struck by some of the challenges faced by groups he worked with, acknowledging the effect of isolation on some communities and the importance of social support for mental well-being. He wanted to create a way for disabled and diverse communities to engage more easily, and while it initially focused on diverse ethnic groups, the app has evolved to focus on specific life experiences. So far over 300,000 users with disabilities have downloaded the app, and over 2 million connections have been made.

Why focus on life experiences?

The life experience groups include people who have visual or hearing impairments, those who have experiences of cancer, those who use a wheelchair, and many others. Mifinder is driven by the principle that people who have gone through similar experiences can have greater mutual understanding, and therefore can offer more support to one another. Support could also come in the form of advice and information. For example if someone with a hearing impairment moved to a new place, they could connect with others with similar experiences and seek advice about accessible venues, local support and information about the area. Mifinder is keen to emphasise that the focus is on community and friendships as opposed to dating, and previous features around dating have been removed from the app.

What is next for Mifinder?

Mifinder is continuously evolving based on what users want and what the creators think would be helpful and exciting to provide. They hope to expand from connecting people to each other, to connecting people to events, groups and organisations around them that relate specifically to their experience. One way of doing this will be to partner with charities and existing support groups. Following from this they hope that people will start to create their own meet ups and groups for people around them. They have loads of exciting plans, so make sure to keep checking out the Mifinder website.

Why we like it

Without assuming that people are only willing or able to connect with those who share similar experiences to them. Mifinder recognises that there can be increased understanding and support when there is a shared significant experience. It provides a way for people to meet in a social environment and share stories and advice, and is driven by the desire to build communities. We like how it recognises the very real issue of isolation, but the potential for what people can gain from it is so wide-ranging.

This blog is for information only. Scope does not endorse this product or service. We try to make sure our information is up to date and accurate at the time of publishing.

To tell us about a Disability Innovation, please email innovation@scope.org.uk.

Disability Innovations: A global system of inclusive communication

Disability Innovations is a blog series that gathers some of the most interesting new products and services that aim to make disabled people’s lives easier. We hope it will inspire more innovation in the disability field.

What is BlueAssist?

BlueAssist is a free-to-use system of communication to help disabled people engage with their community. BlueAssist aims to help anyone for whom communication is hard, whatever the reason, to engage freely (and for free!) with those around them to communicate their needs and is a simple way for disabled people to ask for assistance when they are out and about. Write your questions on the BlueAssist Card or app, such as ‘Please can you tell me how to get to the station’ or ‘Please look at me when talking so I can lipread’. Present your card to a trained member of staff, or member of the public, to make your questions and requests known to them. They are then able to quickly and easily understand what is needed and know how best to support you.

What’s behind the idea?

When you’re out and about and you get lost, or encounter a problem you ask those around you for help. But if you have a difficulty communicating this may not be something you can easily do. People may not be able to understand what you’re asking for, or may even ignore you because they don’t know how to help. Research estimates that only 1% of those travelling by train who need assistance actually ask for it. The idea behind BlueAssist is to create a universally recognisable symbol, which disabled people can use to get help and support.

At present there is no comprehensive ‘Blue Badge’ equivalent for people with communication and learning difficulties. BlueAssist want to change this, so that every person who finds it hard to ask for things, or communicate when out and about can ask for help to be as independent as possible. The BlueAssist symbol is there to help the public understand that the person asking for help may not be able to communicate easily and to provide an effective and mutually beneficial system of communication.

The idea began in Belgium in 2000, where the original BlueAssist card was trialled with a group of people with learning disabilities to help them to travel independently and ask for help when needed. In 2013 the team from Belgium presented BlueAssist at the Autism Show in London, and Barbara Dewar, now Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of BlueAssist UK Ltd was so impressed with the system that she bought it back to the UK and launched a charity in the same name. The BlueAssist movement has now spread worldwide to the USA, Holland and Germany.

How does it work?

What started life as a simple card has now developed into a family of different apps to make the system more practical and easier to use, although the original BlueAssist card is still going strong, and available to download online for free! The BlueAssist Light app is an smartphone version of the original card, and can be used to show messages on screen. With the BlueAssist Light version you get access to two messages, one a general request for help which you can connect to an emergency telephone number, the second a message you can edit change as often as you want.

phone using the BlueAssist app
Phone using BlueAssist app

An important part of the BlueAssist ethos is that the basic system is free to anyone who wants to use it, and as such the BlueAssist Light app is free to download from Google Play or the Apple Store. However, the creators of BlueAssist have also developed a subscription based version of the app, which offers additional functions, such as multiple pages, and a range of messages and images. In addition to the full version of the BlueAssist app , they have also developed 3 additional apps, which can be both used together or in isolation.

The first is a Calendar app which uses visual cues to create clear daily plans and outline different activities and when they are due to happen. The second is a Photo phone book, which is a pictorial phone book, to create an easy way to call contacts. Numbers can also be barred at particular times, for example when staff go off shift, to help the user know when it is the right time to call. Finally the Photo Gallery app helps users not only to share their experiences but also to help sequence tasks. They have even be used to create albums for pictorial shopping lists, or visual cues for what to pack from swimming, and which order to put clothes on when getting dressed. All 4 apps plus cloud storage are available for a small monthly fee of £10.92.

Who are they working with?

Since its UK launch BlueAssist has received widespread support from disability organisations such as Mencap, The National Autistic Society, and has even been trialled at Scope’s own Beaumont College. They are also working with 28 train operators across the UK to adopt BlueAssist, including the Department for Transport and First TransPennine Express, who have launched the system with BlueAssist cards available at all their stations. Aside from transport, BlueAssist are also working with museums. And even the Houses of Parliament, to aid assistance and create ‘do’s and don’ts’ guidance sheets for staff, to help assist someone who presents a BlueAssist card.

The big dream for BlueAssist is to become a globally recognised symbol for anyone needing assistance to be able to confidently ask anyone around them for help and get it. They want the system to be simple and easy for everyone to use, not just trained staff, but also members of the public more widely. If disabled people feel confident to ask for help, and the public feel confident to give it, then everyone’s a winner!

Why we love it!

The social model of disability is really important to Scope, and we love how BlueAssist is helping to remove barriers in society that restrict communication for disabled people. Everyone needs help at some point, whether it is finding the right bus station or asking for directions, and if you don’t ask, you don’t get! BlueAssist both facilitates and promotes independence for disabled people, by giving them a really simple tool to help them communicate. Plus it may even help prevent some of those ‘awkward moments’ we saw as part of Scope’s End the Awkward campaign along the way!

This blog is for information only. Scope does not endorse this product or service. We try to make sure our information is up to date and accurate at the time of publishing.

To tell us about a Disability Innovation, please email innovation@scope.org.uk.

“I didn’t know about web accessibility until I applied to Siteimprove!”

Lola Olson is Digital Marketing and Content Manager at Scope, which means that web accessibility is their primary concern. Lola says “having an accessible website isn’t just nice to have, it’s something we need as a disability charity.” One of the tools Scope uses to ensure our website is accessible is Siteimprove.

For Global Accessibility Awareness Day, Lola interviewed Bryn Anderson, Customer Experience Manager from Siteimprove about accessibility.

Lola: What personal interest do you have in accessibility?

Bryn smiling at the camera, wearing a blue shirtBryn: I am a partial albino and very short sighted, which is common for albinos. I can’t drive or read the number on the bus. On the whole, it’s fine but sometimes 2D vision makes heading the ball on a Sunday afternoon an act of God. So I think it’s fair to say I have always been interested in accessibility.

In regards to using a computer, I use a large monitor shifting my upper body from left to right and back again, a bit like a windscreen wiper. But I didn’t even know about web accessibility until I applied for a job at Siteimprove! It’s pretty unbelievable considering I have a degree in Interactive Media Production.

Lola: What part does Siteimprove have to play in web accessibility?

Bryn: On one level, Siteimprove’s Accessibility tool monitors how accessible websites are. But the key aspect of our tool is being able to check websites from conception throughout their entire life.

People mistakenly think that web accessibility is a project – but it’s not. Redesigning your website is a project. Moving content over is a project. But accessibility is an ongoing project that has to be maintained. It’s not just about building layouts that are accessible, but also keeping track of content. And having a quality monitoring tool is integral to web accessibility.

Lola: What difference do you think accessibility makes to people using websites?

Bryn: Responsive designs are key for retaining information and a useable layout when zooming in, which I do a lot of. Sometimes when I zoom in things disappear. And you wouldn’t want that happening if you’re trying to book a flight or buy a train ticket!

And for anyone using a screen reader I can imagine that when people link text like “Read more” instead of “Accessibility blog” it creates a lot of problems. Those kind of links are as useless as a tube map of stops all called ‘station’… no thanks!

Lola: Is Siteimprove doing anything special for Global Accessibility Awareness Day?

Bryn: Yes we are! In collaboration with the Danish Association of the Blind, we’re organising a biking event in Copenhagen for the blind, partially sighted and sighted people alike on May 21. Participants will ride 100 tandem bicycles and afterwards the bikes will be donated to tandem clubs and people with visual impairments.

To learn more about Siteimprove and accessibility, visit Siteimprove’s website.

Disability Innovations: Championing accessibility in online ticketing

Disability Innovations is a blog series that gathers some of the most interesting new products and services that aim to make disabled people’s lives easier. We hope it will inspire more innovation in the disability field.

What is Una?

Una is a new primary ticketing service that hopes to address many of the major problems facing the UK ticketing industry, such as booking fees, counterfeiting, touting, site crashing and lost tickets. Una have developed a system using smart technology which will help to streamline ticketing, and deliver a transparent service which prides itself on customer service, and putting fans first. Sounds great. But what makes Una really stand out, is that aside from all this, they are also looking to develop the most accessible ticket system out there. Una’s approach is hoping to improve accessibility at all stages of the ticketing experience, from purchasing a ticket, to accessing the venue.

Una-Brand-Logo

What’s behind the idea?

Behind Una is a group of avid gig-goers who want to create a ticketing system that is as easy and effortless for everyone as possible. This is music to the ears of disabled gig goers up and down the country! Currently getting your hands on an accessible ticket can be a lengthy process, involving buying a standard ticket and then trying to get it exchanged for an accessible ticket, which isn’t always guaranteed! Other obstacles include having to negotiate with venues for a free ticket for a helper, a limited number of accessible tickets being available, and having to provide proof of disability/eligibility with every purchase. Then there’s the problem of physical access once you eventually get there!

According to a survey in 2014 by the charity Attitude is Everything, 95% of disabled gig-goers have experienced disability related barriers when booking tickets, so much so that 83% were put off buying tickets at all. Attitude is Everything campaign for improved disabled access to live music and are working together with Una to improve reform the system and make it as accessible as possible.

How is Una improving accessibility?

Una recognises that accessibility for disabled fans is one of the biggest issues facing the ticketing industry and that’s why accessibility forms a key part of Una’s quest to streamline and improve the system.  The big idea behind it is the ‘Una Pass’. The Una Pass holds all the information from your online account and holds your tickets, meaning paper tickets are a thing of the past. The Una Pass also grants your entry into the venue, and stores information of any access requirements you may have, and it can be used for cashless payments at the event. You can also opt to age verify your Pass so you won’t need to show additional ID at events or when purchasing age-restricted goods.

They’ve taken a similar approach for verifying disability and access eligibility. Disabled people buying tickets through Una only have to provide proof of eligibility once. Customers can provide proof, in the form of benefits or PIP(Personal Independence Payment) registration, doctor’s notes, or using the Access Card. Once this has been approved and verified, the details are stored on your account, so when you log in to buy a ticket, you will automatically be offered the option of buying standard or accessible tickets for an event. They’re also working to ensure their website is fully accessible, and will also offer a ticket hotline for those who prefer to order over the phone.

What’s more, Una are working together with event venues themselves to get all the information about accessibility and disabled access, including viewing platforms etc. and put that into a user friendly platform. This cuts out the middle man and saves people having to negotiate directly with venues, and makes the process as simple and fair as possible. Through their work with Attitude is Everything, they are also campaigning to promote better access at gigs and venues for disabled fans.

Una also offers you the opportunity to transfer your tickets to friends and family at the click of a button if you are no longer able to attend an event. Or you can sell them up to the day before the event, for face-value or less on Una’s secure marketplace so you’re never out of pocket. If there is a reserve list for an event, and you can no longer attend, your ticket is then automatically matched directly to the person first on the waiting list. If that wasn’t good enough, they are also hoping to work with venues to ensure that all accessible tickets are fully refundable.

What’s next for Una?

It really does seem that Una have thought of everything, so it might not come as too much of a surprise that they have been shortlisted as one of 25 semi-finalists for Nesta’s Inclusive Technology Challenge Prize (check it out, there are some amazing ideas there!). The prize challenged anyone and everyone to submit their idea of an innovative product, venture or technology which aims to ensure disabled people and their friends and families have equal access to opportunities. Now they’ve been shortlisted, Una are in the process of developing detailed plans with Nesta to be in with a chance of winning the £50,000 prize contract. The winner will be decided by the judges in June of this year.

Una are currently in talks with festivals and event venues and are hoping that the service will launch later this year. But if you can’t wait that long, you can already get your hands on an Una Pass via the website. Una currently have 2000 Free Passes to give-away, so you can sign up for a free Pass and join the ticketing revolution before it even happens! Their ultimate goal is to be the leading agency provider offering theatre, sport, music, arts and conference tickets in the UK.

Why we love it!

What we think makes Una special, is that despite being a mainstream service, they have made improved accessibility part of their core business offer. They want to improve the ticket buying experience for everyone, by creating a hassle free system that puts fans first. That means disabled fans too! They’re looking to move the industry forward, and we feel Una really shares Scope’s vision of a country where disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else. And that’s really exciting. We think we’re going to see great things from Una, so watch this space!

This blog is for information only. Scope does not endorse this product or service. We try to make sure our information is up to date and accurate at the time of publishing.

To tell us about a Disability Innovation, please email innovation@scope.org.uk.

Disability Innovations – iBeacons help blind people conquer the Tube

Disability Innovations is a blog series that gathers some of the most interesting new products and services that aim to make disabled people’s lives easier. We hope it will inspire more innovation in the disability field.

What is it?

We all love to talk about how stressful travel in London is – particularity on the underground. Our usual complaints (the sights, the smells, the tourists standing on the left) pale into insignificance when compared with the challenge of navigating the system with a visual impairment.

Wayfindr is an app that aims to help blind and visually impaired people to use the London Underground (LU) more easily and independently, by giving the user accurate audible directions as they make their way through the station. A trial has just been undertaken at Pimlico station, and the hope is that if successful it will be rolled out across the LU and other transport networks.

“When I tested the app at Pimlico last week for the first time it was awesome, it made me feel free.” Courtney, Royal London Society for Blind People (RLSB) Youth Forum member.

Who did it?

The project was born out of the Royal London Society for Blind People (RLSB) Youth Forum, which in March 2014 highlighted travel as a key issue. They collaborated with ustwo (a studio which builds digital products and services) to develop the Wayfindr app. After an initial trial RLSB and ustwo approached LU to see how they could use this technology.

How does it work?

Bluetooth ‘iBeacons’ transmit signals that are picked up by the Wayfindr app, which uses them combined with ustwo’s positioning technology to work out where the user is. From this information the user is given audible directions which guide them around the ticket hall, down stairs and escalators, and onto the platform.  Directions are received though bone-conduction headphones, which are unique as they allow users to continue to hear what’s going on around them.

Young visually impaired Londoners involved with the charity were involved in testing the Wayfindr app. Feedback was positive, with those who were initially insecure reporting feeling more confident at the end of the trial sessions. There were some constructive points that will be addressed in future trials, and more iBeacons would need to be put in place before it can be used more widely.

Check out RSLBs Wayfindr page and video for more information about the trial and how the technology works.

What’s the dream?

The results of the trial will inform how this technology could work on the underground, to help fulfil the ambition of standardising all this technology and make it seamless across the transport network. Ustwo are also aiming to try out Wayfindr with multiple modes of transport, using various technologies to complement beacons for more accurate navigation.

If it is rolled out, it would offer a simple way for thousands of people to navigate public transport, making a dramatic difference to visually impaired people’s lives.

Why we like it

This ground breaking trial has been driven directly by a group of young people and the real issues they face, and has been achieved through close collaboration between charity and private company. We love how this technology is being developed on an open basis, to allow other developers to take the technology forward and build apps that work with the beacons. We hope the results of the trial mean that this is adopted across the London Underground and that other transport providers are encouraged to invest in this area.

This blog is for information only. Scope does not endorse this product or service. We try to make sure our information is up to date and accurate at the time of publishing.

To tell us about a Disability Innovation, please email innovation@scope.org.uk.