People with disabilities are the world’s largest minority, making up a whopping 10% of the world population according to the United Nations. Not surprisingly, the disabled are slow adopters of internet technology, which is the core of our world’s information sharing system. For many, the internet is simply inaccessible. However, recent transformations in technology have made it slightly easier for disabled persons to access the internet, and in fact, access to high-speed broadband internet has made it possible for the disabled to interact more successfully with the outside world.
Access to fast broadband internet has many benefits for the physically disabled. Live video streaming can allow the disabled to study remotely or to have online consultations with doctors or clients. They can even have the ability to go to a first job interview if leaving the house is too much of a strain. It doesn’t stop there. With the world of online shopping it is possible for disabled internet users to get groceries and clothing delivered to their very doorstep.
Often, those with disabilities feel isolated from the outside world, especially if those that they do come in contact with have limited understanding of their condition and the challenges that they face on a daily basis. Online streaming communities such as Twitch allow more than 9 million active users to log in and interact with their favourite online games. Online gaming in itself is a massive market and with high-speed broadband internet, those with disabilities that make it difficult to move about in the outside world can not only entertain themselves, but can also feel less isolated by becoming part of an online community.
There are a host of other online communities to belong to on the internet that would make those who feel isolated because of their disability or illness feel more involved in society.Those with hearing loss can become part of communities such as Hearing Journey which is specifically aimed at those with cochlear implants. Hearing Like Me is another community for those with hearing loss who want to connect with others. This community also provides several pages of information for parents with children who suffer from hearing disabilities.
Those with cerebral palsy or family members suffering from this condition can find solace on the internet on websites such as the Cerebral Palsy Guide which not only provides a host of information on the disability but also provides information on how families can find emotional and financial support.
Blind Planet provides podcasts for the blind around anything and everything that has to do with blindness, including ways to help them deal with their computer problems, such as freeing up disk space. Even True Love can be found on the online dating platform for those with disabilities, Dating Disabled.
Real-time text allows deaf people to communicate through text in real time in a manner that is very similar to voice conversation. Incorporating voice, video and text can allow the deaf to have a phone conversation. Online apps like Rogervoice uses voice recognition to convert voice to text which allows deaf users to read the voice message. By downloading the app on a smart phone, deaf callers can call mobile and landline numbers and even call into teleconferences. The caller types in what they want to say and it is converted to voice on the receiver’s end. They can even have the ability to go to a first job interview if leaving the house is too much of a strain. It doesn’t stop there. With the world of online shopping it is possible for disabled internet users to get groceries and clothing delivered to their very doorstep.
Screen readers are one of the major advances in internet technology for the visually impaired. Simply put, screen readers are devices that connect your computers operating systems, applications and the user. The visually impaired can use screen readers to:
· Speak automatically when something changes on screen
· Read or spell words, lines of text or a full screen of text
· Find strings of text on the screen
· Find the location of a cursor on screen
· Locate text in certain colours
· Read predesignated parts of the screen on demand
· Read highlighted texts
Screen readers are compatible with all major operating systems: Linux, Windows, Mac, and Android. JAWS, or Job Access with Speech, is a very popular screen reader and can be bought from Freedom Scientific. Braille display hardware that provides braille input and output to computers and new versions are ergonomically designed for easier accessibility. These technologies together in combination with high-speed broadband internet make it easier for the blind to connect to the global village.
Tablets can be a useful way to access the internet or even to facilitate treatment options for the disabled. Tablets and apps like Speak for Yourself and Augie AAC provide an easily accessible and portable option for speech therapists to help their patients. Voice recognition software can be of great value in the treatment of conditions such as aphasia, the loss of ability to understand or express speech due to brain damage.
Apple has gone the extra mile by developing Assistive Touch technology that helps people with motor control problems to use iPhones and iPads in a way that is aligned with their needs. Functions that would otherwise involve pinching, expanding and operating side buttons can now be done through simple tapping through and onscreen guide.In fact, tablets can be used to develop fine motor skills. They are more portable and less awkward to manoeuvre than traditional computer hardware such as keyboards and laptop touchpads.
Touch-to-speak apps on tablets has also made touch-to-voice technology more accessible to the masses. Similarly, voice recognition software has come a long way to help the disabled communicate through smart devices. Speech-to-text capabilities help children with disabilities to complete tasks with less dependence on teachers’ assistance.
The two main operating systems in the world of tablets are Apple iOS and Android. Both of these operating systems provide a myriad of major and minor features that makes life easier for the visual and hearing impaired.
Apple provides the voiceover built-in screen reader which acts in the same way as a regular screen reader. It also includes a Braille keyboard with direct braille entry. The famous voice recognition function, Siri, allows the ability to perform tasks hands-free including making phone calls, sending messages, finding information online and more. It is useful for those that are visually impaired or have limited motor functions. It is also integrated with VoiceOver.
The zoom function can zoom to up to 1500% to make it easier to see what is on display for the poor-sighted. Speak Screen is also a function that helps you if you can’t read text on your device as it reads the content of a page back to you. This can help with email, webpages, e-books and more. There are simple font adjustment options to help visually impaired persons to read the content on their tablet with more ease. The option of reducing contrast or colour helps to optimise the tablet’s readability to the individual’s needs.
Face Time is a video calling application that makes it easy for deaf users who want to lip read or communicate via sign language. Vibrating call alert is a simple feature that alerts deaf users to incoming calls or messages. A feature like Closed Captions provides captions to movies, TV shows and podcasts.
Android users can use the Talkback screenreader in the same way as using regular screen readers. A feature such as Soundback, which is automatically installed in Talkback on Android 4.0 and higher, allows one to assign sounds to different actions on the phone. Explore by Touch describes the items that your finger moves over using speech. Voice Access on Android 5.0 and higher allows you to use your device by speaking commands. Android also provides a BrailleBack service which shows content on your screen in braille.
Like iOS, Android also provides large text and high contrast text for those users with trouble reading as well as magnifying gestures to enlarge items that are difficult to read. Captions allow you to see words in text as they are spoken in certain apps, helping the hearing impaired to navigate their phone.
There are several apps available that help the disabled to operate more successfully in the world.
Talkitt helps those with motor, speech and language disorders such as Cerebral Palsy, autism, brain damage due to accidents or strokes and Parkinson’s disease to translate words that sound unintelligible into understandable language. Being able to communicate using your own voice is a very powerful motivator to stay positive when faced with the daily challenges of such conditions. The app recognises the individual users’ speech patterns and conveys the hidden messages more coherently. The program is available in most languages.
Be My Eyes helps blind people connect to sighted volunteers. They can connect via direct video connection. There are many different applications. For example, if the blind person needs to have something read to them on a food product, they can request assistance and the volunteer receives a message to respond. The app is already being used by 7000 blind users.
Avaz helps children with autism spectrum disorders and other disorders with speech disabilities to communicate in pictures instead of words. The app can be used in speech therapy or even on a daily basis. It uses pictures and symbols and highly effective voice synthesis to help the user create messages. There is also a keyboard that forms part of the application that helps the child go from picture to text as they develop their communication skills
There is a horde of broadband providers in the UK that will install broadband with a router in your home for fast and easy internet access. Love Money has done a comparison of the broadband providers operating in the United Kingdom to bring the best and the worst of 2016.
John Lewis scored the highest on scores based on ease of set up, value for money, customer service, technical support, reliability and speed. While it has outperformed the other suppliers on most of these aspects, John Lewis has been scored down on speed. Zen Internet, Utility Warehouse and Plusnet have all gotten scores above 70%. Virgin Media scored the highest regarding internet speed. The worst performers were EE, Sky, TalkTalk and BT who have mostly suffered in customer service and technical support.
John Lewis Broadband provide broadband and phone packages ranging from £22.50 a month to £36.50 a month. In all their packages, the line rental is included in the price. You have to sign a 12-month contract. Depending on your package you get between 17Mb to 76Mb speeds and unlimited usage.
Rated the fasted broadband internet service provider in the UK, Virgin Media provides several packages. Their SuperFibre 50 package sells for £22 a month for 12 months and £32.25 a month there after and includes an activation fee of £14.99. This option allows 1-4 devices to download data and provides download speeds for streaming and browsing. Downloading is unlimited.
There’s no denying that the internet is here to stay. The internet has become so involved in everyone’s daily lives that we can no longer envision a world without it. Gone are the days of slow modems and we can hardly wait seconds for information to download on our computers or smart devices. There are already several technological advances that have enabled disabled users to make use of the internet to enrich their daily lives with relative ease. Tech companies are dong more and more to help those in need to not only access the internet with more ease, but to also use the internet and technology to help solve some of their day-to-day problems. It’s truly a world of technological miracles and, with the help of volunteers and visionaries, the internet could also be the disabled person’s oyster.