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Those WCAG Forgot: Designing for the Cognitively Disabled

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Alie Richardson 

 The World Wide Web Consortium promises that the WCAG 2.0 guidelines “will make content accessible to a wider range of people” and “work together to provide guidance on how to create more accessible content (Caldwell et al.)” and in some ways this is true. WCAG 2.0 does make the web accessible to a wider range of people. It also provides guidance on how to make the web more accessible for people with cognitive disabilities; but it is just that, merely Priority AAA guidance. But the required success criteria are primarily designated for individuals with sight, hearing, and motor impairments, while those for cognitive impairment typically remain priority AAA criteria that may or may not be implemented.

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Zero Project report

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Take a look at the Zero Project Report!

It is  packed with case studies of all kinds of accessibility projects from all over the world.

Zero Project Report, full version (164 pages, english, pdf)

Zero Project Report, At A Glance (16 pages, english, pdf)

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Google Glass For People With Disabilities: Indiegogo Campaign Aims To Modify Device To Improve Lives Of Disabled Users

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 Google Glass for People With Disabilities is an Indiegogo campaign aiming to modify the wearable device in order to improve the lives of disabled users. While Google Glass was designed for a mainstream market, many of its features are proving wildly advantageous for individuals with various disabilities, ranging from vision impairment to paraplegia. The project creator,Andy Lin, is a technology specialist at a center for applied rehabilitation technology. He hopes to use the funds to purchase an Explorer headset and further research how to alter Glass for the disabled population.

Using Google Glass as a tool to improve the lives of those with disabilities is not a novel notion. In fact, Google spotlights Glass Explorer Alex Blaszczuk, who was paralyzed from the chest down after a car accident. Blaszczuk shares her experiences with the wearable camera and how it allowed her to take part in activities she hadn't been able to since her accident, including camping and photography. Several Google Glass features can be expanded on to help people with disabilities.

Voice Activated Commands

Google Glass voice activated commands are incredibly beneficial to people with disabilities. The hands-free form factor allows paraplegics to easily stay connected without using their hands. By simply speaking to the headset ("Ok Glass..."), they can take part in a variety of online activities, like sending messages, checking messages, recording video, getting directions, taking photos, making phone calls, etc.

"I could cite academic papers for you, but Larry says it best, 'With Glass, we are reducing the time between intention and action,'" wearable tech pioneerThad Starner says. "Glass keeps you in the flow of what you're doing, and for people with disabilities, that's even more vital. Suddenly someone isolated at home is more fluent with (text) messages than their friends with a mobile phone. It really can change lives."

Environmental & Facial Recognition

The facial recognition technology for devices like Google Glass is here, but privacy concerns have caused many to be weary of such applications. However, for individuals with vision impairment, environmental and facial recognition capabilities using Google Glass could radically improve their lifestyles. This software can help alert wearers of their surroundings as well as identify people. It's a non-invasive solution to blindness that can aid all parties involved.

"Glass will be revolutionary for the disabled," says Rosalind Picard, founder of the Affective Computing Research Group at MIT's Media Lab. "With facial analytics, it's possible to, with the subject's approval, have Glass scan a face and put up a green light if the person is intrigued, yellow if they're confused or red if they're bored."

Wink To Take a Photograph

One of the latest Google Glass upgrades allows users to wink to take photos. For people with disabilities, such as paraplegia, this can bring back the joys of photography, videography and the like. All in all, the hands-free form factor and revolutionary software capable of integrating with Glass can fundamentallyimprove the lives of wearers - people with disabilities, who have vision impairment or can't use their hands, can now experience the world in ways they couldn't before.

"I'm a little frustrated with (Glass), not because it's something I can't use, but because with trivial modifications I would use it all the time," says Sina Bahram, founder of disability-focused Prime Access Consulting in Cary, N.C., and a Ph.D. candidate in computer science at North Carolina State University. "It's not pie in the sky. For me, Glass could be an amazing conduit to the outside world."

The Google Glass for People with Disabilities Indiegogo campaign is seeking to raise funds in order to bridge these gaps and tweak Glass to perfection so that all individuals can reap its benefits. The project currently has four days left, with $1,575 raised of it's $1,650 goal.


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Video modeling strategies using iPod Touch and Tablets from Tony Gentry

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Need help with wayfinding, social cueing, task sequencing, and/or behavioral prompting? Virginia Commonwealth University's Assistive Technology for Cognition Laboratory has been studying the use of smartphones and other PDAs for this assistance. VCU's Autism Center for Excellence Web site includes an eleven minute introduction to video modeling using iPod Touch and tablets by Lab Director Tony Gentry. Check it out his video here (opens in a new window).

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VirtuAssist: increasing the autonomy of persons with cognitive disability in working environments

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People with learning difficulties or memory problems face barriers in the working environment because they need extra supervision. New environments, unfamiliar equipment and changing of tasks can be especially challenging. VirtuAssist provides real-time guidance to operate working equipment so people can work with minimal supervision in these challenging environments.

VirtuAssist combines cutting-edge technologies such as computer vision, pointing gesture recognition, machine learning and task modelling with smart-glasses. This personalises information and interaction to the end-user’s needs and preferences in a fun and effective way. Through the smart-glass camera, the system recognises the equipment in front of the user (e.g. a printer). Then, through the smart-glass, VirtuAssist describes the equipment and provides operating instructions. A set of pre-recorded tasks are available to guide the end-user, step by step, in each action.

This reduces the amount of supervision and support required for those with learning difficulties or memory problems thereby increasing their employability by decreasing overheads for the employer. VirtuAssist improves the independence of end-users, increases their competence and confidence, and ultimately enhances their life and career opportunities. In addition, the VirtuAssist smart-glasses are fun, stylish and unobtrusive in comparison with many other wearable assistive technologies. VirtuAssist is being developed with funding from the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the UK’s innovation agency, the Technology Strategy Board under the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI). The SBRI programme encourages technology solutions to specific public sector needs. A total of £500,000 funding has been awarded to eight innovative projects that will make a real difference to people with disabilities.

This funding is going to be divided into two different competitions, and there are four successful bids for each of them managed by Jisc TechDis. The competitions are:

- ‘Ready steady STEM': for opening up access to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects for disabled learners.

- ‘Good to go’: for increasing independence in unfamiliar or challenging environments by giving people easy access to the information they need when they need it. VirtuAssist is one of the four projects inside the ‘Good to go’ competition.

For more information about the competition and the other successful companies, visit

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NAVI -- A very different use of Microsoft Kinect

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The technology behind Microsoft Kinect could one day improve indoor navigation for visually impaired people. The NAVI project at the University of Konstanz shows how to leverage the depth information provided by the Kinect camera, providing vibro-tactile feedback that reproduces the room's layout.

More info:

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