Penelope Rance

My UX research & design ramblings

RNIB and AbilityNet Volunteer Event

This week I was lucky enough to attend the RNIB and AbilityNet Tech Volunteer event. This was a full day conference in London with volunteers from both organisations from across the country coming together to find out more about accessibility technology.

I have been volunteering with RNIB for a couple of years now. As a member of the Tech Squad it means spending a couple of hours every month or so helping visually impaired people with issues with their technology.

I do not often get to meet other volunteers in the flesh so todays event was a nice change. It was also a nice mix as AbilityNet cover all impairments not just visual impairments, so the day was not too vision focused.

IBM were nice enough to host the event so we were in a lovely venue right next to the Thames.

We started off with a welcome from the leaders of both organisations, before getting into the future of technology

Robin Christopherson and Robin Spinks covered this subject well with everything from apps to help translate text, self driving cars and contact lenses with computers in.

While some of these ideas are already in the public mind, some of them felt closer to the realm of science fiction. But then as someone else said later, the first talking book machines were the size of washing machines so our smart phones with a link to millions of books is already pretty close.

Then it was an afternoon of workshops, where my only complaint would be that they were not long enough.

We were split into groups across four different sessions.

My group started with a chap from Hands Free Computing who talked us through Dragon and JAWS and the differences between them.

I found this really interesting as I had thought they were both screen readers, but Dragon is actually a speech to text tool.

The next session was about different disabilities. Jen from Enhance the UK, gave us some very useful tips on communicating, along with some eye opening stories of just how ignorant some people can be.

Next up were Amazon talking about how their voice assistant can aid people with disabilities, helping them to be more self sufficient.

The last workshop was about how everyday tech can make the impossible possible. We were shown several examples of different apps which can help with everyday life. For instance a bar code scanner that can tell you which tin is which, meaning you will get tomato soup for dinner instead of dog food.

The over-arching message of the day was that all these technologies help not just the disabled but everyone and that although many are expensive as they become known and useful to 'normal' people the prices will and are coming down.

By attending events like this I learn more to pass on to the people I am trying to help and hopefully give them more freedom.

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