Meet the 2020 Tech4Good Awards Accessibility Winner

AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards logo

The Accessibility Award - sponsored by all-round accessibility champions, Google - is one of my favourite categories in the Tech4Good Awards each year. As head of the judges I probably shouldn't have favourites but, being blind myself, there isn't a category or area closer to my heart than access to the world (both online and real) through the empowering potential of technology to overcome disability or impairment. So I’d like to take a moment to celebrate the worthy winner and flag the fantastic finalists.

The winner: The Clarion

Developed by charity Open Up Music, The Clarion is a digital instrument that enables disabled people to express their musicality in unprecedented ways. Installable on iPad or PC, it can be set up to work seamlessly with assistive technology like Eyegaze or Infrared head trackers. This means it can be played with any part of the body using mouse or finger touch, but also head movement or eye movement. By removing the barriers that can come with a conventional instrument’s shape, size or the need to bow, pluck or blow it, The Clarion makes music-making accessible to all.

Image of Barry Farrimond of The Clarion smiling, reacting to winning the Tech4Good Accessibility Award

We spoke with Barry Farrimond MBE, Chief Executive Officer of Open Up Music (the company that created The Clarion) for his thoughts on winning the award.

"This award comes at a crucial time for Open Up Music as we start to seek new funding and partnerships for developing Clarion. Having this vote of confidence from a community that's at the forefront of driving accessibility is hugely motivating and reassuring."

"We'll continue to work closely with National Open Youth Orchestra and Open Orchestras Clarion players and their tutors, but also explore ways we can make Clarion more widely accessible and improve its capabilities as an instrument. One of our ambitions for Clarion is to give it its own distinctive sound. We also want to improve the level of expressiveness it enables, so that talented disabled musicians are no longer limited by their instrument. This will involve collaborating with a wide range of research and development partners, from professional musicians to music tech specialists across industry and academia," says Barry.

Some comments from The Clarion players

For young disabled people, the experience of playing an instrument in a group brings significant musical and personal gains. The sense of achievement and belonging builds up their confidence and, since 2015, The Clarion has driven uptake for Open Orchestras; an accessible orchestras programme credited for changing the face of music education for young disabled people. 

Musicians playing with Open Orchestra

The sound musicians create through Clarion is down to how they hit the note. Starting to play The Clarion doesn’t require musical skills, but like all good instruments, it will take practice to play well; “This is the first music technology I’ve used that actually feels like an instrument! It’s great that The Clarion works with the movement of the musician, rather than the musician having to adapt to an instrument that has already been set” - Jocelyn Watkins, Classic FM's ‘SEN Music Teacher of the Year’

“My instrument is on my computer. It is called The Clarion. I can make different sounds and change the tone by moving my eyes on the screen” - Ella, National Open Youth Orchestra musician.

The Clarion player, Ibrahim, said: “It has taken quite a bit of practice, but now I feel like an expert. Having the independence it gives me makes me feel free.”

Find out more about The Clarion and Open Orchestras on its website.

The runners-up

Whilst The Clarion is a worthy winner, the other three finalists for the Accessibility Award were (and I really mean this) winners in their own right.

Present Pal

Present Pal is an innovative app that supports presenters with interactive and accessible flashcards for presentations. Since its launch in September 2018, it is now helping more than 3,000 students with dyslexia, autism and anxiety in more than 100 universities, colleges, and workplaces across the UK. 

“It’s the perfect sidekick to PowerPoint,” - Hector Minto, Accessibility Evangelist, Microsoft.

Sign2Word App

The Sign2Word app aims to transform the learning experience for Deaf learners by providing a platform to translate Sign Language into written English and create a personalised sign dictionary.

The signer uses their phone's camera to capture the upper part of their body. AI-based 'pose detection' software recognises the signs and translates them into text.

In the words of a professional BSL signer; “The app will revolutionise the way that Deaf learners access education and has the power to transform literacy levels. It will help Deaf people build their confidence socially whilst developing communication skills. Most importantly, it will enable Deaf students to take responsibility for their own education and encourage independent learning.”

BBC World Service Online 

The BBC World Service online provides regional and global impartial news and analysis in 44 languages with a focus on accessibility. There are up to 80 million visitors to its website each week - with around 85% being on mobile. 

Accessibility is usually considered from a Western assistive technology perspective. Disabled people in developing nations, regimes and war zones often do not have access to modern technologies, affordable data tariffs or a source of reliable, impartial information.

BBC World Service logo

Of the many positive aspects to their entry, the fact that much of the BBC World Service content is also available in accessible downloadable formats shareable by pendrive, CD, file transfer sites and telegrams - providing news in regions where BBC services are blocked for millions of additional readers – was of particular note. 

The app also has a ‘dial-to-listen’ feature for WS Radio in regions where the cost of a phone call is cheaper than streaming data; "We believe this approach of supporting developing nation technologies on available platforms informed by user data is unique. WS is enabling equal access to impartial information, positively impacting on the lives of millions of people."

Further resources

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