The future of inclusive design: From AI wheelchairs to smart caption glasses

AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards

The finalists in this year's Inclusive Design Award demonstrate the amazing quality of entries in this year’s AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards, including cutting edge tech, a groundbreaking Tech4Good Inclusive Design AwardGovernment team, a business and a theatre company. Sponsored by Scope, the Inclusive Design Award celebrates those who are thinking about inclusion from the very start of their project and is the first time it has been part of the Tech4Good Awards.

Inclusive design is for everyone

Our four finalists in the 2019 awards are improving people's lives by designing products which make the world more accessible and inclusive, which is something that every single member of society could consider more.

What projects are you working on that would benefit from more accessibility? How can you ensure your content and materials are open to a wider range of people? Can you invent something using new technology that will open up a different world for people with disabilities? If you’re not sure where to start, our finalists are likely to inspire you.

Find out more about them below and follow us on Twitter on the day of the Awards Ceremony (17 July 2019) to find who the lucky winners are.

Access Needs Team, Home Office: Making government services more accessible

The Home Office’s Access Needs team was formed by a group of staff dedicated to enabling the creation of accessible digital services which work for all Home Office users – staff and public.

One of their first actions was to create a set of posters based on general accessibility guidelines and best design practices for making services inclusive in government. Currently, there are seven different posters in the series that cater to users from these areas: anxiety, low vision, D/deaf and hard of hearing, dyslexia (shown below), motor disabilities, users on the autistic spectrum and users of screen readers.

dyslexia accessibility do's and don'ts

(Dyslexia poster reads Do: Use images and diagrams to support text and do align text to the left and keep a consistent layout. Don't: Use large blocks of heavy text and don't underline words, use italics or write in capitals)

The group consists of 14 user researchers and designers who specialise in one of the conditions set out in the posters, learning as much as possible in order to share their specialist knowledge within and outside the team.

So far, 17 translations and at least nine complementary posters covering additional conditions and situations have been created. They’ve been used far and wide, including within the Canadian government.

Read more about the Home Office Access Needs team on the Awards website. 

Blackboard Ally: Helping universities create inclusive course content

Blackboard Ally focuses on making digital course content more accessible for students. It integrates into the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) and works directly within the workflows that students and instructors already use.

The software runs course materials through an accessibility checklist that finds common accessibility issues. Using advanced Machine Learning algorithms, Ally will generate a range of alternative formats such as audio, mobile-friendly HTML, ePub, electronic braille and translated versions for the instructor’s content and make these available to all students in the course.

Using the insight gained from its accessibility checks, Ally will also provide instructors  and institutions specific feedback about the accessibility of their course content and guidance on how to fix the identified accessibility issues.

Find out more about Blackboard Ally on the Awards website.

Imperial College London: Driverless wheelchairs of the future

Imperial College London is currently researching and developing a self-driving AI-powered wheelchair. The project combines existing widely available technologies, such as eye-tracking system and laptops, with electric wheelchairs.

AI powered wheelchair crosses a room avoiding obstacles

The wheelchair uses a Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) sensor, which is an infrared-based sensor commonly used on self-driving cars, to build a 360-degree map of the user’s environment.

The eye tracker gathers information on eye movements, the AI programme defines where the wheelchair should move to, and guides it to avoid obstacles. The AI system uses the LiDAR to build maps of the environment as the wheelchair moves about, just as in self-driving cars.

The team has recently won $50,000 from the Mobility Challenge Fund for further development.

Read more about Imperial College's AI powered wheelchair on the Awards website. 

National Theatre Smart Caption Glasses: Inclusive theatre for D/deaf people

AbilityNet has written about the high-tech National Theatre’s Smart Caption Glasses before. They offer an automated captioning service which pairs speech-following technology with smart glasses; the system “listens” to what is being said or sung on stage and text is sent to glasses via Wi-Fi.

theatre audience wearing smart caption glasses

The service has increased accessible captioned performances from five to 80%. Existing open captioning, which normally takes place on a screen near the stage, can be limiting. It’s not always a truly immersive experience with users having to look away from the stage to read the captions, the service is mostly only available on a limited proportion of performances, and captioning screens can be distracting to other audience members and performers.

Since the beginning of the year, Smart Caption Glasses have been available for all performances at the National Theatre. One user commented: “It’s a mind blowing realisation that we can now attend any mainstream performance at the National without being tied to special Access performances at limited times.”

Read more about the National Theatre Smart Caption Glasses on the Awards website

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