Category Archives: student-education

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.”


Occupational Therapy students’ experience of an observation placement in Assistive Technology

Barnsley Hospital’s Assistive Technology team have recently given two first year student Occupational Therapists from Sheffield Hallam University the opportunity to join the team on a week long observational placement. In terms of this Assistive Technology team, OTs are a fairly new introduction. There are currently two OTs working here, Stewart Barnes and Jenny Scott, however as the team is expanding, recruitment for another OT is ongoing. Here are their reflections:

Our names are Chloe Tivendale and Ellie Rodd, we have been studying OT for a little over a month now, In terms of what OT is, generally I would explain it as enabling individuals, no matter what their circumstances to participate in the activities of every day life. In terms of this placement, that would mean providing Environmental Controls, Augmentative & Alternative Communication and Computer access devices, to enable clients to live as independently as possible.

During our time here, we attended training on Environmental controls and Computer access- in depth. This was delivered to various professionals from around the local region in order to increase awareness of Environmental controls and Computer access as well as informing people about the role of the team as they expand.This was great as it gave us an understanding of assistive technology before we went out and visited clients within their own homes. We also got the opportunity to try out various pieces of equipment, such as computers which could be controlled by almost any part of your body, including Eyegaze. We also learnt about the various models and principles used within AT such as ‘Matching Person and Technology Model’ and the ‘Universal Principles of Assistive Technology’ and how this differs to “traditional” OT models.
When using such models, an OT must look at the person, their environment and their technology and how these affect each other, in order to decide which device would be best suited to the client. What surprised us personally was how much the OT must consider the prognosis of the client, as the client may be able to use a piece of equipment now but not in the near future, due to the effects of their condition. One example of this may be a client with Motor-Neurone disease who uses a voice controlled switch to access their device, however if the individual was to lose their voice, the device would no longer be of use. This means the client would need to learn how to use a completely new method, which as you can imagine may be difficult.

As students with no prior knowledge or experience of AT, we were surprised at just how sophisticated the equipment used was, which was great to see. For example, we watched a video previously filmed by the Barnsley AT team, of a client with MS using a Sip and Puff switch method to access her device, as well as headmouse being used as a cursor, which was particularly interesting.

This placement gave us the opportunity to meet clients with a variety of conditions such as Motor Neurone Disease and Wernickes Asphasia, seeing the equipment applied within a real life situation, within the home, made us realise just how important and life changing AT can be. We found that the way in which the AT team approach their work was very client centred and everyone was very willing to adapt the AT to suit the individual’s lifestyle and needs.

We would like to thank Jenny, Stewart and the rest of the AT team at Barnsley Hospital for the opportunity to join them on placement as well as being so welcoming, we had a brilliant time and it really opened our eyes to OT in a non-traditional setting. We would like to wish the AT team the best as they expand to cover the rest of Yorkshire and Humber.

Accessibility in Computer Science

As a team we see the need for good accessibility for information technology – on web pages, app decvelopment, within operating systems and in fact in any computer system.  To help train the next generation of developers on the importance of accessibility, Vicky from our team gave a seminar to students on the Sheffield Hallam computing degree course.  Here is some of the feedback:

” Accessibility and equal opportunities for all, when working with mobile apps is easily overlooked, especially when targeting the masses. The talk opened my eyes to how taking the extra time to implement simple, or in some cases more complicated UI systems can fundamentally change someones way off life. With so many options available in the form of technology, software created by major corporations, and smaller 3rd party API’s, there is no longer any excuse to not take the extra time as a developer to make your app available for all, and in many cases to those who could benefit the most. The talk offered a comprehensive overview and hands on with current technology used to help disabilities, as well as some use cases, which let me see how the simplest technology can make a huge difference in someones life.

Since the talk, I have continued development on my mobile app, now incorporating voice navigation through our UI. The app focuses on child safety, and I hope with the added accessibility options, it could offer some independence for more vulnerable children with disabilities. Without the insight from my lecturers, or guest speakers from the NHS, I would never have considered adding features to help with disabilities.

I would like to thank the NHS for taking the time to come and talk to us, and offer their professional insight.”

“The talk given by the NHS was fantastic. As we were just venturing into our project to develop an application for assistive technology; we were quite un-aware of what was currently out there. Both in terms of current technology and aid provided by the NHS. It was good to as it gave us some interesting ideas for our own projects. But the biggest benefit of the talk was the inspiration it gave us. We knew that is was not just another university projects, in fact what we would be creating could potentially change someone’s life. I think it was a great talk and definitely should be run next year.”

“I would like to thank the Barnsley Hospital and Vicky for taking the time to come and talk to us, the experience was invaluable. Prior to starting this project at University, I had no previous knowledge of assistive technology. As part of this project, we needed to develop an application for assistive technology, more specifically a communication aid. The talk by Vicky was excellent, it provided me with detailed knowledge on the level of technology both past and present as well as what to expect in the future. Providing us with some excellent ideas for our projects. It raised my awareness of the technologies that people with disabilities depend on. Vicky spoke about several people, how they use assistive technology and the importance of it needing to be tailored to their specific needs. This really opened my eyes on how some of the technology we take for granted can make such an incredible impact to someone’s quality of life. I hope that the application we produce can improve the independence of people with disabilities.”

“The NHS talk has given me a better understanding of assistive technology. I was made aware of the various input methods available for environmental control systems i.e. blowing. I also got a chance to hold and interact with various AAC devices which which was a nice touch. To conclude, I found the talk to be very beneficial to my module research and to anyone interested in the assistive technology.”

This course is taught by Dr Peter O’Neil as part of the Sheffield Halam’s computing course.