Year End

Dec 24, 2016

A year building meaningful apps for people with impairments

It’s been a full year working for a company that spends its energy building meaningful products, to fundamentally make a difference.

Although the above sounds so cliche, and it could come straight out of every start-ups manifesto, it really is the case at AssistiveWare.

My work year has seen me face a number of challenges, many of which I am unable to mention until the products they relate to are actually released. But trust me, there are some really exciting things coming in 2017 which will be hugely beneficial to parents, teachers, and users of our apps.

Of the products and updates that are out there, I worked on two of our biggest products, which I mentioned in the previous post. I reworked the ‘create a new user’ flow in Proloquo2Go, and I did the same to the edit section in Proloquo4Text, and worked on a ‘flip text’ function.

Below are three things that I would like to mention that aren’t directly related to products, but had a huge impact on my year.

ATIA and Florida

ATIA took place in Florida, way back in January, and it was my first Assistive Technology conference. Although I spent some time in the AssistiveWare booth, I was free to explore and attend any talks which appealed to me.

These talks covered a broad range of topics, from Third-Party keyboards, Empowering people with disabilities with wearable technologies, Disability wayfinding solutions for Urban Transit Systems, and Digital Accessibility policies. The latter may have been the driest topic, but Mary Smith from the SSB Bart Group provided a wealth of useful insights.

The Accessibility Policy is a high level document used to implement standards and plans. The Accessibility Statement is a public facing document, that is usually placed in the footer of your website. The statement should include an accessible form/email link to contact your company, and not be a dead end.]”
Mary Smith, SSB Bart Group

The standout of ATIA for me was waking up early to attend the Disability Wayfinding talk, I was interested more on a personal level, especially because of an idea I explored earlier, Ramp Requester.

The room was made up primarily with blind people, and I sat next to someone who was using KNFB Reader to scan the text from the slides, and have it read back to him. We were sat on the 5th row back!

Joe Cioffi from ClickAndGo Wayfinding had some interesting statistics which show how poorly implemented certain things are in the US, for instance, tactile paving which you see in all of the train stations in the Netherlands is not fully implemented in the US.

Last year 145 blind people were hit in the NY Subway system, and 58 died. In Tokyo there were 3 blind travellers who died.
— Joe Cioffi, ClickAndGo Wayfinding

After the conference, I spent a week travelling around Florida visiting a number of schools and seeing just how the products are being used, as well as attending some fun social events, meeting some of Apple’s Distinguished Educators, and also going to the graduation party of Sady Paulson, who later in the year would be the star of Apple’s Accessibility Video. An aside, but it’s been quite a year for people I’ve met starring in videos, this is Callee from Melbourne, who is the star of the new V/Line AAC video.

Keeble testing

One huge challenge I have had this year is being able to see first-hand people using the products, remote usability testing has been quite challenging, something that Yossi Langer of Iteration Group also found, which he shared in his talk Switches, Keyguards, Eyegaze Trackers: Designing Device Interfaces for Extreme Accessibility.

Although I’ve had the pleasure of performing in-person usability tests in The Netherlands, The United States of America, Australia, and the United Kingdom this year, and I’ve spoken to many teachers and parents worldwide, I think my favourite test situation was one with a Canadian teen with Cerebral Palsy.

At the time he was in Grade 12, and exploring post-secondary education paths and career options. He is fascinated with technology, and wants to become a universal design tester. Tech & Design, I knew we’d get on.

Participant performing remote usability testing
Remote usability testing

We ran through a number of tests which relate to one of our Accessible third-party keyboard apps, Keeble, the participant used his tongue to navigate his iPad, and he flew through the screens faster than myself as an able bodied person could. Not only were these tests wonderful to take part in, I also had a colleague sat in as an observer, this colleague worked heavily on the code for Keeble so this was an enlightening experience for us both.

Tim Cook

I would never have expected to have an opportunity to meet Tim Cook, let alone present to him, but this is something that sprung up this year.

Tim was in Amsterdam as the opening keynote for Startup Fest Europe, and as Accessibility is something that Apple care deeply about, he chose to visit the AssistiveWare office.

Presenting my work on Proloquo4Text to Tim Cook
Tim Cook in the AssistiveWare office

After presenting my work on Proloquo4Text, we spoke briefly about the challenges with usability tests that I face, and then it was time for selfies!

Fin

2016 on a global level has been a rough year, and as we move into 2017 we will undoubtedly be entering a period of uncertainty and concern. But we must still strive to do the best we can with the tools that we have. I look forward to doing my part, along with the team I work with, to keep building tools that make a difference.