Author Archives: Vicky Johnson

Accessibility in Information Technology Lecture

I recently gave a lecture at Sheffield Hallam University about the importance of building accessibility options into information technology. Dr. Peter O’Neill had invited me to speak – he is a senior lecturer at Hallam, and runs courses on mobile applications. These students could be designing the apps we use in a few years time, so it was great to have the opportunity to explain why it is important to consider accessibility during the software design process.

Following the lecture we received the following very kind feedback – thank you!!

“What struck me the most watching Vicky’s presentation is how recent evolutions in the computing user experience are already being considered for the potential uses in assistive technology. Most notably with the leaps being made in home automation and advancements in gesture based input. Similarly, I also absolutely fascinated by the input methods we already have in use – I especially had no idea that eye tracking software was so capable.

This is especially useful as we have been talking about how best to grant users access to the assistive mode in our game. The presentation has encouraged me to think creatively and far outside of the box for this problem. I was previously stumped, but after seeing other solutions we have in use I feel inspired.”

“I thought the presentation as a whole was very useful and provided lots of valuable insight into the different accessibility requirements. It was also very useful to see examples of devices which have been adapted for assistive technology, showing how different methods can be interpreted using physical implementation rather than just software based.

It was also very interesting to see how the devices are used in a real world situation, as demonstrated through the videos shown in the presentation. This gave a good idea for how I could interpret assistive technology into the mobile app we are currently developing in the module. One particularly useful discussion was the need for high contrast images (yellow text on black background, for example) as this will be one of the essential things to consider for our app.

To summarise, I think the presentation as a whole is key to understanding the needs and uses for assistive technology in application development as well as many other areas. I hope Vicky can return in future years so other students can be enlightened on the topic and gain further understanding.”


Cybathlon 2016

Peter, one of our clients, is taking part in Cybathlon 2016 (, which is a Championship for Robot-Assisted Parathletes taking place in Switzerland in October next year. Peter has entered the Brain Computer Interface race, in which he will control an on-screen avatar around a race track using his thoughts. There are two parts to the competition, the race itself and also the development of the technology that will make it possible to control the avatar. Peter is expecting a delivery of a prototype of the equipment any day now so that he can test it out.

Peter has a spinal cord injury, and one of his motivations for getting involved in this project is to assist with the development of brain-computer interaction technology, as it has the potential to assist him and others in similar situations to operate equipment more efficiently in everyday life. Peter currently uses a voice activated environmental controller to control equipment in his home such as his television and telephone, and he uses a combination of voice recognition and a Headmouse to control his computer (a headmouse camera tracks a reflective dot on your forehead, allowing you to control the movement of the mouse pointer with your head movement). The development of brain-control technology may offer alternative ways of controlling these sorts of things in the future, which is an exciting prospect.

We at the Assistive Technology Team would like to wish Peter all the best in this competition, and we look forward to hearing the next instalment in the build-up to the big day!

For more information on Peter’s and the team’s preparations, go to

New training date added!

There was a lot of interest in our ‘Introduction to Electronic Assistive Technologies’ course that we ran last week, so we have decided to run the course again on Thursday 12th September 2013.

For more information about what is covered in this course and the other courses in the series, please see our website or download the flyer from our website.  Courses are avaliable to professionals working in our service delivery areas (Barnsley, Rotherham and Doncaster). We may accept requests from other parts of Yorkshire and Humber subject to availability and a nominal charge.

If you would like to book a place, either phone our department or email us at:

Looking forward to seeing you there.

Mapping AAC Services in the North of England – The DfE AAC Project

Here in Barnsley we’re having a busy time identifying all the services in the North of England that are involved in AAC provision. It’s only going to get busier as this project draws to a close at the end of March!

AAC stands for Augmentative and Alternative Communication and includes all the ways in which people communicate if they find speaking difficult. This might mean using a communication aid, a communication passport, a word chart, a symbol chart, or signing. At the moment the services that provide AAC face different challenges depending on their local arrangements – for example some have no straightforward route for applying for funding for communication aids, and some do not have access to up-to-date equipment for their clients to trial during the assessment process.

The context for this project is the current re-organisation of the NHS. Nationally it has been recognised that these services are disparate and not commissioned appropriately. A number of reports have highlighted this and there is a high degree of campaigning around the current proposals as they are seen as an opportunity to improve provision.  The re-organisation means that specialised AAC equipment services will be commissioned via a national commissioning board.  Other local AAC services would be commissioned by ‘CCGs’ – local collectives of GPs.

This project is funded by DfE and it aims to pave the way for services that provide AAC to have greater equity across the country. The part I’m involved in is ‘mapping’ all the AAC Services in the North of England, so that we’ll get a detailed understanding of exactly how AAC Services are arranged at the moment. Its vital to know the starting point before attempting to improve the way in which AAC Services are delivered across the country.

I have made contact with lots of services already, and I am very grateful for the time everyone has spent answering my questions on the phone and providing me with details of their services! I am finding it fascinating to learn about services in different parts of the region, and to see how services fit together within regions. When I hear about the difficulties that some of the services face, particularly in getting equipment funded, I really hope that all this information we are gathering will help to improve services for people who require AAC in the long run.