Category Archives: News

Sam uses Realise for new ideas for Accessible Apps.

Sam has been asking the ECS Accessibility Team to develop several apps to help him work around difficulties he has encountered with his course materials.

He has added a request for an accessible version of the Spotify and Kindle Apps as ideas on the REALISE market place.  Neither work with VoiceOver particularly well when he is using his iPhone – the screen reader does not allow him to access content whether it is music or books.

Sam has also found that he cannot use Radio Sonar with his screen reader software called Window-Eyes.  Sonar is a radio control software application that is used on his course so we are hoping we can find a developer to assist with this problem along with some funding to cover the costs.

Realise market place receives further funding from D4D

D4D logoDevices for Dignity (D4D) has kindly supported the continuation of the Realise market place for the innovation of open source assistive technologies. The aim is to investigate the market and to follow through a series of case studies from idea to project implementation.

D4D in their news item titled ” New online marketplace to create Assistive Technologies“  announced that:

Project REALISE was developed through JISC funding awarded to the Universities of Southampton and Sheffield and will now continue to develop with the National Healthcare Technology Co-operative, Devices for Dignity (D4D).

REALISE will support some of the most innovative projects through the next steps of their development. Commercial companies and researchers are invited to become involved in open project development at any time.

Senior Research Associate at the University of Sheffield, Dr Peter Cudd said: “REALISE facilitates the development of software that ensures online equality. We hope the launch of this exciting online workspace at RaATe and KT-Equal will inspire individuals and companies to join us in this exciting endeavour.”

REALISE Transferability Workshop

building 32

©2010 François-Xavier Beckers (CC-BY)

The Realise project held its Transferability Workshop on June 7th at the University of Southampton in Building 32.  Thirty brave souls, all experts in their own fields accepted our invitation. (Word doc download) We are incredibly grateful for their time and energy as the day was spent discussing elements of the REALISE market place, its use, community involvement and improvements that could be made to ensure its sustainability.  There were five groups of six, each table taking on different ideas with the notion that they could become open innovation projects thanks to community involvement, mentoring and online guidance.  But what of the transferability!

“Transferability refers to the degree to which the results of qualitative research can be generalized or transferred to other contexts or settings.” (Research Methods Knowledge Base)  With this in mind those attending the workshop came from different sectors of both education and health with links to assistive technology (AT).  Experts came from the two regions of Southampton and Sheffield as well as other parts of the country.  There were several individuals from other universities and organisations already involved with open innovation projects such as the JISC funded ‘Rave in Context‘ (Oxford University) and the Widget Design Authoring Toolkit (WIDGaT) (Teeside University).  Plus those from three companies who are members of the British Assistive Technology Association with developers from the NHS, education and business such as TDM

Attendees came from Devices for Dignity who have been involved with the project from the outset along with colleagues from Sheffield 50+ and REMAP (Southampton) and Paxton Crafts Charitable Trust providing the open source Straight Street Mulberry symbol system added their user knowledge to the discussions.  Our critical friend Nigel Spencer from the British Library mentioned his EU funded Open innovation project about ‘Working with others to make new ideas fly’ and Andy Heath brought his experience of the EU4ALL project to the table.

sound levels

Thanks to Deafness Research UK

The discussions topped the 100 decibel level at times and the team had to keep a strong handle on the time table to allow for a few speaking slots!  Punam Khosla from TechDis talked about her BCE and Stakeholder work and ACUMEN work with small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), which was mentioned at our last Support and Synthesis group meeting. Dr Nasser Siabi as CEO of MicrolinkPC talked about his work with open source tools in South Africa and the transfer of applications such as ATbar to other sectors such as employment and charitable organisations e.g.  Fix the Web.

The team also had the support of two researchers to collect data and recordings of the hands-on sessions around ideas, incubation and projects which each ended with a little form filling to provide feedback. Points of importance were mentioned in whispered tones by Will Allen to some us seeking advice and networking was well underway in the intervals. The plan for the day, questionnaires plus results were made available on paper and as a set of slides (download .ppt) at the end of the day. We have to thank Peter Cudd for this output, Lauren for organising all the food plus all those who came from near and far to make it an amazingly useful day for us all. Thank you very much.

Last Iterations, Business Ideas for open source AT and Dissemination.

Business case for closed and open innovationThis last month has been very busy with new additions to the REALISE market place and discussions around the business case for open source AT illustrated in the two Powerpoint slides made by team member,  Peter Cudd. The first looks at the idea of offering some sales, support and services as a way of sustaining a project with some research and development plus consultancy and the second slide shows the option of much more research and consultancy with some support and services, whereas the closed innovation usually depends on large sales and less on  support and services.

business case for open innovation

There are several blogs on the subject for general open source software but rarely articles that relate to Assistive Technology that also discuss matters around the business case other than to say there are an increasing number of people who will need to use assistive technologies in the future.

However, one particular article written by Fernando Botelho (who works with groups in low income areas across the world)  makes for an interesting read – “Open Source Software-Based Assistive Technologies“(download PDF) He comments that: “Ease of localization and low cost are the most widely mentioned reasons for choosing open source software solutions but they are not the most important ones. While the viability of localization for languages that are not very profitable would indeed be very difficult to replicate in closed source models, the cost of proprietary solutions can be made irrelevant in the short term through donations or substantial discounts.  In this regard two important considerations come to mind: First, donations of proprietary assistive technology software are never made in a large enough volume to actually reach a large portion of the population that needs the technology; and second, governments, foundations, and NGOs need assurance that an investment made in training today will still be relevant in a decade or two and only open source models ensure that.”

One of the issues facing users of open source assistive technology nearer home is training and support for these products and it seems that there really needs to an increased amount of ‘awareness raising’ to fill the gap as an increasing number of open source assistive technologies come to market.  We are beginning see these ideas turn to viable projects on the REALISE market place and this will be discussed at the JISC RSC Scotland NE Open Education event in Edinburgh on May 20th, 2011.  Download or view the PowerPoint slides on SlideShare – Realise project introduction

View more presentations from E.A. Draffan.

Toby Churchill 2011 Seminar on open innovation and open accessibility

Steve Lee and I attended a fascinating seminar day hosted by Toby Churchill Ltd – a company specialising in AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication).  There were a series of very interesting talks and lots of networking moments.   Meanwhile all the staff were amazingly modest about the fact that during the day the BBC were interviewing some of them, as a result of the company winning the 2011 Queen’s Award For Enterprise, International Trade.

David Collison as Chairman, accompanied his invitation to the day with a series of very apposite questions in relation to our project.

Q: Can these projects (AEGIS & REALISE) use the open source / free software model to avoid duplication and encourage innovation by creating new open standards which will be adopted by industry and seen as valuable by fund holders?

Q: Is it a case of formal standards or would frameworks or guidelines be more useful? Who would create and maintain formal standards?

One common problem with the use of AAC and AT technology is fitting the entire bundle into a single cohesive system for a user with complex needs, not just so that it all works but so that carers and professionals can quickly identify and contact the relevant support teams for each component in that system. It would seem intuitive that a set of standardised, reusable, components which can be selected and arranged to suit the needs of individuals would assist in such problems.

Q: Can industry and academic bodies co-operate in ways to ensure such a standard toolkit can exist at the design stage and would open standards aid or hinder such development?

Inclusive design is not about manufacturers conjuring a model user out of thin air and designing a single product to meet all the needs of that model as has been done in the past Manufacturers already aim, internally, to produce a range of products based on a common core and support the remodelling of those products to further widen the net. To reach the widest market of social need on the basis of inclusive design, a common core could be shared between manufacturers to create products which are versatile and adaptable, rapidly designed and mass market.

Q: Can this work in the AAC market? If not, why not?

Q: What might be the role for standards in defining the common core?

Whilst the open source development model clearly can and does work for software, questions remain about how such standards can be utilised for hardware without making costs prohibitive, especially in small scale, niche, markets like AAC/AT where new technology becomes a medical device with the associated regulatory burdens. There is, therefore, a risk that mainstream hardware supporting the standards-compliant software would make custom hardware even harder to produce.

Q: How are the problems of small scale / high cost production going to impact on the inclusive design of AAC devices? Which parts of AAC can go mainstream and how do manufacturers handle the transition?

With these thoughts in mind we had a series of talks that covered topics from the incubation of new technology in the AT Industry to user perceptions on communication aid design, inclusive design and designing AAC products in the commercial world.  There was also a talk about developing language and communication strategies through AT which highlighted the issues around largely human issues rather than open innovation ones.

All the talks will be available online from Toby Churchill but what really came out during the discussions was how important the user is within the design process and the need for communication at all levels.   Graham Pullin has a book out on the subject of ‘Design meets Disability‘ and discussed the concept of 6 speaking chairs of design in relation to speech and tone and the follow on with Speech Hedge.

One interesting example of crowd sourcing and sub-cultures was discussed –  Kuler – people making a process open – openness in terms of inclusive design - kuler.adobe.com

Would this way of working be possible with AAC and  Assistive Technology?   Being Creative and sharing the results…

What is design? – “it is the combination of artifice with technology the intangible with the unintelligible.” according to David Bisset, Principal Design Consultant at Toby Churchill Ltd – he went on suggest that AAC design goals have these items in common…

  • “Products must efficiently fulfil user need
  • Need to be cost effective to make and maintain
  • Must be reliable and appropriate
  • Must provide value for money.

Commercial Goals

  • Adaptable to different sets of needs.
  • Cover as much of the user spectrum as is viable
  • Keep life cycle costs as low as possible
  • The USP should be clear and communicable
  • Brand enhancing
  • Clear IP ownership”

There followed an ever increasingly complex development process diagram!  David then asked the question…

“Consumer products influence the AAC market – true or false?

  • They do through user expectation – such as slim lightweight products, touch screen, chic,
  • They make other technologies available so they can be incorporated in AAC devices
  • Influence standards, app stores, social networks, etc.

Can consumer products work as AAC products?

  • Sometimes
  • If they fulfil a need
  • In conjunction.

It is about ‘Structural Deepening’

  • Specialist domain knowledge drives technical innovation to improve products with a market niche
  • If the niche is sufficiently specialised the products will take on a unique character for that market
  • That leads to increasing technical complexity as new layers of function are added

In niches all these levels and layers add to the specialist domain knowledge

This is a self organising evolution - The niche becomes deeper -You end up with single companies controlling whole markets.  Designing AAC products require deep domain knowledge.

Designing for AAC users - The designer can’t always assume the customer role. It may not be ethical to run user trials this makes it very hard to establins the right design choices – Appreciating the sensory motor constraints of the AAC iuser is difficult.

Comprehending how a user interface looks can be hard - Does open help?

Open development, open software, open design, open hardware, open standards.

  • Open development works when the people that benefit from the software are the people that write it.
  • This is not applicable in all domains
  • The coincidence of skills is rare.
  • It works well for defined generic technology like Bluetooth
  • Not good for defined technologies

Standards and Approvals. – do we want them for AAC?

How do we make better products?

  • Using better design processes
  • Engaging with users
  • Meeting new needs”

Join the REALISE Market Place! Open innovation for Assistive Technologies

Screen shot RealiseThe team have been working on the final phase of the REALISE Market Place. Recent changes to the website have been the result of our evaluation and discussions both off and on the project Google Group .  Do come and join us there!

The team’s 2 day meeting in March has resulted in the addition of the OSS Watch Openness Rating that is really an experts view on how to rate progress in readiness for a project’s launch onto the Open Source market.   You can now follow this progress once you have signed in.  The latter is possible through a Linkedin account or you can register separately to join REALISE.

Do you have an Idea?

If you have an idea that might help someone who has a disability or help those professionals working in this area of assistive technology – Add it now! Comments can be made about submitted ideas as well as votes if you think there is a good one.  Anyone can take an idea through into the incubator and there you will discover more advice about how to build a community and good governance around the project.

Projects in the Incubator may need both financial and programming skills to take them into the final section under the Projects Tab – Here you will see their Openness Rating once you have selected an individual project,  if it is being carried out.  Code maybe available, licences discussed and websites developed for each project with their own discussion forums and bug tracking sites.  At any stage you can follow progress and become involved whatever your skills. You may be a user offering advice about features, a developer solving particular problems or even someone with a commercial eye who can help sustain a project.

question markFinally we want to generate a series of FAQs to help users.  A small sample of the planned questions are already available under the Resources tab.  Send your queries to the Google Group or add them as comments under the REALISE idea on the actual site or at each stage as we push it into the Incubator and onwards as a living project!

Is the time right for ‘Free and Open source’ Assistive Technology?

circle of arrows

Open Source is about Community (OSSWatch)

In recent months as part of the REALISE project learning curve I have attended several conferences where there appears to be more interest in open source assistive technology and the community around its development.

I am tempted to say this is due to the present economic constraints, and my interest in the subject – weighing up the true nature of each technology against the real costs and suitability for each individual case.  For each project there needs to be a debate around the need for maintenance, training and support as well a healthy developer community to continue to grow the project that supports the application.  In the assistive technology world an example could be NVDA – a screen reader for the blind that has been going since 2006.  The project has had support from companies such as Mozilla,   Yahoo and Adobe.

csun conference

BBC Ouch review of CSUN conference

AT CSUN – California State University Northridge 26th Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference, groups such as GNOME,  Mozilla and Google accessibility communities were discussing their latest ideas around Accessibility, along with the Raising the Floor and with the concept of Building a Global Public Inclusive Infrastructure (GPII) “to make development, delivery and use of access technologies and services easier, less expensive, and more effective.”   There were several talks about specific open source AT projects including one give by Paul Lloyd (download .docx) who mentioned Android products such as Project Eyes Free and The vOICe.

Trinity College

Trinity College, Oxford

The second conference I attended was Open Source Junction run by OSS Watch in collaboration with 100% Open.  This conference was not specifically about accessibility or assistive technology, but it turned out that a fifth of delegates had links with assistive technology and two were from companies selling these products – Iansyst and Toby Churchill.  Three of the REALISE team will be attending the Toby Churchill seminar day on the subject next week.

The discussion at ‘Open Junction‘ was around mobile technologies and it is interesting to note the divide that is appearing between apps specific to an operating system and web based apps that are cross platform compatible and largely work with Webkit which can be totally accessible.   Julian Harty from ebay very kindly shared his work in the field and was looking for a community of developers to help out with his work on Android Daisy e-pub reader.

Nick Allott, Director of Nquiring Minds Ltd also discussed his work on the Webinos project that has just released a report which aimed to survey and assess:

1. The platform and application technologies that are relevant to home media devices, automotive, mobile and PC tablet distributions

2. The IPR and governance frameworks that underpin many of the organisation and open source initiatives that are significant in this space.

The conference summary said that the benefits to attending were to:

  • become familiar with the basics of open innovation in software

There were several really  useful talks on this subject and slides are available on the subject of ‘Processes and tools for open development collaboration’

  • explore partnership opportunities relevant to the cross-platform mobile apps space

This came out in several presentations and these can be found under the various headings on the programme page

  • join a community of industry-academic practitioners interested in pooling resources for co-developing mobile open source software

Certainly there was plenty of time for networking and finding out more about other projects.

  • find out about successful software partnerships created via open innovation


Several successful partnerships between organisations were presented and the speaker list shows who was involved.

  • have your say in setting up an industry-academia open source mobile community
2 minute clock

Seconds to go!

Finally, there were several chances to present ideas and take part in Open Source Junction speed-date!

Is the time right?  Well it is coming …

Update and Minutes taken from the Advisory Group Meeting

snow on pondThe weather around the country did not prevent the members of the REALISE team meeting in Southampton – luck was on our side that it was on 1st Dec and not the 2nd! This is the view from my kitchen this morning!

We were also lucky to have Lester Gilbert, Gary Wills and Nasser Siabi as CEO of MicrolinkPC,a company supplying and supporting users of Assistive Technologies and Mike Littler to represent assessors of Assistive Technology.  Apologies were received from Garry Paxton, Clare Chiba, Prof. Mark Hawley and Prof Lynn Martin.

Peter Cudd presented an overview of the project (PowerPoint video) and this complements the overview provided by Mike Wald at the Support and Synthesis meeting (video and notes) on 12th November, 2010.  This was follwed by Ross Gardler’s workshop launching the online OSSWatch licencing differentiator tool that is designed to aid developers when making choices about the licencing of open source software.  This is a very complex subject, but it is now possible to learn how to make a more informed choice as a result of working through a series of questions with explanations to guide the user.  Ross is keen for a further discussion to take place around this online tool which is one of the outcomes for the REALISE project. Please use this blog for comments or our Project-Realise Google group

One of the discussion points over lunch was to try to embed this Google group within our website – this is the REALISE market place for future ideas, project incubation and spin offs.

Again feedback is needed for this part of the project in the spirit of co-design and open innovation! Everyone is welcome to contribute.

As timings for the day went a little awry lunch was taken up with further discussion around the differentiator tool and then Steve Lee presented his online Community Explorer tool. This is once again in draft mode and we are sharing this so that everyone can see how the market place will contain some really useful tools for users.   More advice will be added to this tool in the future with pointers being available from Steve’s discussion today around Community and Governance (video with Synote transcription) with a few remaining MSc students at the University of Soutampton before the university closed for the day.

As for the key points mentioned in the previous blog:

  • Try and connect tools that already exist including finding out existing projects

The tools mentioned once again included Mozilla Drumbeat Barracuda and on Monday at RAATE several other sites were mentioned including  Kickstarter, Donationcoder and specifically for ideas around AT there is Enabled by Design just for starters. This all ties up with our wish to “Keep it simple so tools don’t get in the way – in particular the online market place”

  • Focus on people rather than tools and keep the language around Assistive Technology easy to understand

Peter mentioned this in his discussion with links to Devices for Dignity and by the end of the day Ross pointed out how important it will be to engage through carers and assessors as they may lead us to more ideas from users as well as linking up with charities and other organisations.

  • Login – is it neceassary – via Linkedin? Facebook? Google, OpenID – lazy login, no login?

The debate continues as to whether a login is really necessary and at what stage – at present – we may have to have a poll on this one but the preference is to leave it all as open as possible.

  • How do we link developers, business and users?

By the end of the afternoon it was clear that we could have a case study of a particular group to illustrate how business can be linked to the carers and assessors and so to the users with the support of Nasser and MicrolinkPC with Mike Littler. It would be good to have other examples of how this open innovation could work.

  • Is it important to have a separate AT community? Or to join mainstream communities?

This quandary was clearly illustrated in a BBC news item this morning about mainstream technologies being used with disabled individuals to provide independence.

  • Terminology for the main tabs…. Incubator works in Italian – incubator (for eggs, baby)  incubatrice  f Translation English – Italian Collins Dictionary

It became clear in the discussion that people may not have a notion around an ‘idea’ for a project or program but they would have a notion around a problem or need and that we need to offer examples and include this type of language on the initial pages for the Market place.

  • Timing of when an idea moves into the incubator remains uncertain but it was agreed a summary must be added when the move occurs

This was extended to the view that you could dip into the market place at any stage and there may even be commercial AT products that had been abandonned and could be revived under an open source banner.

The meeting ended early as the snow was threatening and is still continuing as I type this up!  Thank you so much to everyone who made it and we plan to have our next Advisory Group meeting when Spring has arrived!

snowy garden

AAATE and RAATE 2010 – Agenda for 1st December meeting.

It is perhaps not surprising that when workshops occur between technology developers, professional AT folk and users that some of the same themes appear when discussing open source assistive technology softeware.  This seems to have been the case during the two recent AT conferences as the main topics seemed to be around licencing, IP, funding and maintenance leading to the success or not of certain types of business models.

Three members of the team ran workshops at AAATE and RAATE 2010 around the concepts of open innovation and AT software  and REALISE.  Ross Gardler from OSSWatch also discussed with a group of University of Southampton MSc students, some of the issues around licensing related to the REALISE project and open source.

Key points that came out of all the discussions that need to be taken forward to the Advisory Group meeting and workshop.

  • Try and connect tools that already exist including finding out existing projects
  • Focus on people rather than tools and keep the language around Assistive Technology easy to understand.
  • Keep it simple so tools don’t get in the way – in particular the online market place
  • Make use of Tags, vocabulary, icons, to aid navigation and searching.
  • Make sure users are engaged – A member of Scope offered beta testers/link up with D4D for trials of website.
  • Login – is it neceassary – via Linkedin? Facebook? Google, OpenID – lazy login, no login?
  • How do we link developers, business and users?
  • Is it important to have a separate AT community? Or to join mainstream communities?
  • Terminology for the main tabs…. Incubator works in Italian – incubator (for eggs, baby)  incubatrice  f Translation English – Italian Collins Dictionary
  • Timing of when an idea moves into the incubator remains uncertain but it was agreed a summary must be added when the move occurs
  • Link up with Drumbeat: similar but not focused on AT but with support from Mozilla

Discussions around open source projects

We are planning a workshop with our Advisory Group in the next month and have been discussing the issues around licenses, business models, community and governance supported by OSSWatch,

In the meantime the subject has come up as part of a MSc course module on Assistive Technology and Universal Design and Seb Skuse, Russell Newman and Chris Phethean presented on the subject tying in with the Accessibility projects they have developed during the last year.   Their slides can be seen in pdf format “Developing Free and Open-Source AT Software.” The session is available on Synote with a transcript.

Steve Lee and Ross Gardler will also be hosting sessions on the subject in the coming month.  All the transcripts from the sessions will be available on Synote.