How built-in accessible tech has changed everything

By Paul Bepey, Access Technology Manager/Assistive Technology Lead, BBC, member of Business Disability Forum’s Technology Taskforce

Hi, I am Paul Bepey, a registered blind person working in the field of Assistive Technology and Accessibility. As its World Sight Day today (12 October) I wanted to look at what assistive technology means now that more and more mainstream products have accessibility built in.

So, these are my own views on what assistive tech means today.

Assistive Technology is a term which encompasses a huge amount of technologies and applications, but from my prospective it is anything which enables me to go about my day to day tasks both in work and the home.

In particular, what’s really interesting to me are pieces of technology which are mainstream but can be used by blind people because of their design and the thought which has gone into accessibility from the outset, rather than as an add-on.

The iPhone

In 2007, Apple released the first iPhone. We had no way of knowing at the time that such a device would be such a game changer for the accessibility of mobile devices in general, and that it would open up a whole new world and user experience to us.

It is fair to say that the first iPhones, namely the 2G and 3G, did not include screen reading technology, but with the release of the iPhone 3GS in June 2009, suddenly a whole load of visually-impaired individuals would now see assistive technology (such as Voiceover and Zoom) built into their devices, meaning that it was quite possible to walk into a shop, purchase an iPhone and set it up with no sighted help.

Office worker using a tablet

Since the introduction of Accessibility features on the iPhone and other products, Apple have gone a huge way in ensuring that people such as myself are able to perform most tasks using a mainstream item of technology, while at the same time adding additional accessibility functionality such as Braille screen input, hearing aid compatibility, and Siri, as well as the ability to use the camera as a magnifier.

From banking, to planning a route, answering emails, communicating with my daughter via Facetime, adding that forgotten item to either an online monthly shop or Amazon Wishlist, it’s all possible thanks to a pocket-sized device from Apple.

I guess some may be wondering just how much technology I use daily?

The answer, I would say is a huge amount.  If it’s new and shiny, chances are I have it, or will at some point soon.

Apple products and apps in the workplace and at home

I pretty much use my iPhone and associated apps for all kinds of tasks, from using services such as CBeebies Storytime to interact with my daughter, iPlayer for TV catch-up, purchasing train tickets and booking cabs to viewing emails, managing my calendar and associated cloud based file storage solutions, many of which are common within the workplace.

Recently, I have also added other tasks such as recognising items of clothing, Food products, and locating cooking instructions to make my life easier.

I am also due to fit a smart heating solution which I am hoping to control from both my iPhone and Alexa.

Improving AT in the workplace and elsewhere

From a visual impairment (VI) prospective, I feel we are somewhat entering a revolution: a situation where mainstream and assistive technology are merging and somewhat complimenting one another.

If we look at Amazon Alexa, which in simple terms provides a voice interface into items such as heating controls, smart plugs, switches, various music services, shopping sites, and travel services and calendars – we’re looking at a piece of AT which would sit well in workplaces if rules around data locations could be agreed.

I certainly feel that over time, home and workplace assistive technologies  will naturally become closer with the addition of services such as the Microsoft and iCloud accounts, all of which offer the capability of storing user settings for apps such as Siri, Voiceover, Braille devices and others.

In conclusion, Technology has served me extremely well. Huge thanks go out to organisations such as Apple, Humanware, Baum, VFO and a whole number of others for the work they put into this industry.

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