Author Archives: marcusfriday

About marcusfriday

Clinical Scientist, Assistive Technology Team, Barnsley, UK

BBC Accessibility Champions

In August Vicky Johnson and Marcus Friday from our Team were invited to present to the BBC accessibility champions event at BBC Media City in Salford.

BBC Accessibility Champions

BBC Media City, Salford

BBC Media City, Salford

This day was organised to bring together many BBC accessibility champions. The group included people who design BBC websites and apps to ensure accessibility. The audience consisted of programmers, user experience designers, researchers and testers, business analysts, assistive technology users and accessibility specialists.

The BBC now has approximately 85 accessibility champions which span across many BBC departments, eg TV, radio, sport and children’s. Presentations were given to explain the ways in which the champions ensure that accessibility is considered early in the design process, and that testing is carried out as a website, app or game is developed.

‘Physical’ ICT Accessibility

Vicky and Marcus, from the Barnsley AT team, were invited to speak at the event in order to provide the audience with an insight into how users with severe physical impairments access technology. The focus was on their clients who predominantly have upper limb physical impairments and sometimes have associated visual and cognitive difficulties. An overview of the Barnsley AT Team was provided, along with some powerful case studies of clients using their AT systems to enable computer access, control of the environment, and access to communication.

Three breakout sessions took place in the afternoon and we listened to the Head of Accessibility and Accessibility Specialists provide an insight into the developments in the accessibility of BBC output in recent years. Part of the discussion focused on how to ensure that breadth of BBC output is accessible to those with visual, cognitive or physical difficulties.

Looking to the Future

The day ended with a fun session spent in the Blue Room. The BBC have dream jobs where Technologists are employed whose role is to keep aware of new mainstream developments which may have an application or scope for development of interest to them.

We tried the Amazon voice recognition system called Echo which uses the protocol IFTTT (if this then that) which provides a flexible system, where for example the system recognises your request and you program it to perform any number of actions e.g. control your environment, interact with an app in order to order a taxi or food or action another command programmed in other IFTTT enabled apps. We also had time to try Google Glass and a relatively cheap head worn display called Glasshouse.

It was a privilege to meet some of the people behind the iPlayer TV and radio apps, including the Good Food site. Overall, it was an informative and enjoyable day which has opened up the opportunity for Barnsley AT Team to work further with the BBC.


Barnsley AT Team Published in Communication Matters Journal

Barnsley AT made a healthy contribution to the 2014 Communication Matters Conference at the University of Leeds with several presentations:


Review of AAC Stroke Cases to Identify Common Practice and Consider Outcomes

Using Speech Sounds to Construct Messages for Aided Communication

Where to Start? A journey through a complex AAC assessment

A Newly Developed Computerised Accessible Receptive Language Assessment (CARLA)

Could Speaker Identification Improve the Effectiveness of Aided Communication?

Some of those who presented in 2014 have subsequently had their work published in the latest copy of the Communication Matters Journal.

AT Training – 2014 dates and update on service commissioning

We have now published the dates for our 2014 training courses. The courses will take place in the week beginning 22nd September and the week beginning 17th November.

The courses are designed as either an introduction, refresher or update for staff who work with people with disabilities who may benefit from either Environmental Controls, Communication Aids, computer access or specialised wheelchair controls.  The courses are available to staff working in our current ‘patch’ of Barnsley, Rotherham and Doncaster.

NHS England is in the process of taking over responsibility for commissioning these specialised services and these sessions will include an update on this and provision within the region.  In addition the courses will cover how the care pathway will work – for example criteria for referrals, information required and expectations around local service provision.

The training page on our website has a PDF flyer with detail of our 2014 courses.

Accessible app developers of the future?

Yesterday I gave a presentation at Sheffield Hallam University following an invitation from Dr Peter O’Neill, Senior Lecturer and leader on modules including mobile applications and programming for computing. The students were from the BSc Mobile Application Development course and an MSc Group Project.

Considering that the audience could be web and app developers of the future, this was an opportunity to remind of the need to design for accessibility. To set the context I explained the role of our service in assessing for and providing electronic assistive technology such as AAC, EC and computer access and described how some of our clients access this technology. An illustration was given of well established methods such as switch access, alternative keyboards, mice, eye gaze, voice recognition, screen reading software and use of inbuilt accessibility features in Windows, iOS and Android.

This lead to highlighting more recent technology developments which have the potential to be used as Assistive Technology  – if developed in the right way:

Leap Motion –  non contact gesture input from hand and finger movement.

Google Glass – wearable computer and optical head mounted display.

Google 3D Sensors – Project Tango – phone with motion tracking and depth sensing.

Hopefully we enthused the students with the potential of using these novel technologies for Assistive Technology and in thinking accessibility in everything they did.

There are lots of exciting potential student projects in the area of Assistive Technology and Accessibility. We will continue to develop collaborations between the Barnsley AT Team and University groups such as Sheffield Hallam – hopefully, at some point, building on the Project Possibility model in the UK.

IPEM Integrated Access for Assistive Technology – York 25th Jan 2013

IPEM – Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine hosted a study day on Integrated Access for Assistive Technology. Integrated Electronic Assistive Technology (eAT) can be a combination that enables access to an environmental control system, communication aid, a computer and/or powered mobility.

Our team has many years of experience in providing integrated eAT. At the meeting I represented the Barnsley AT Team, initially providing an overview of some of the commercially available integration options we have employed over the previous 10 years. Then the focus shifted to our custom made microprocessor based Integrators designed and constructed by our Electronics Engineer, Graham. A typical application for our custom integrator is for an individual who can operate a single switch but needs to be able to access more than one device or function. One example being an integrator that allows the user to choose if the switch operates their environmental control or turn a page of their ebook forward or backward.

See the draft programme – Integrated Access for AT Programme

and my presentation – The Challenges of Integrating Complex Electronic Assistive Technology

In brief, a worthwhile study day by seeing what other departments are up to and encouraging that there was interest in our work, especially the custom made integrator.

Integrating computer access and environmental control

The Assistive Technology Team have worked with Susan since 2006. When we first met Susan she was finding computer use with a standard mouse and keyboard very difficult and eventually this became impossible. She was also struggling to control other equipment around her house.

As this video shows, Susan is now able to control her computer, her door, phone, TV and other equipment, all using her head!  As with most people, this set up evolved over a period of time, as she tried different options and also as Susan’s condition (Multiple Sclerosis) changed.  The rest of this post describes her journey and how the equipment was set up for Susan.