AbilityNet Using Eye Tracking Technology to Aid the Disabled
New progress often brings new limitations, and when it comes to the disabled, web technology is no exception. When cutting edge devices and software are introduced into consumer markets, they’re often released without much forethought in the way of universal accessibility, even if their goal might be to enable more people to access the world wide web for example.
Computers and the Internet have created new freedoms for people, helping them to work more efficiently and to better communicate. But for many individuals with varying degrees of disability, the internet and computers in general can offer an entirely new slew of obstacles, physical and otherwise.
Abilitynet, a British charity for disabled people using technology, was recently highlighted as having put efforts into helping the disabled overcome these new sets of obstacles. According to the charity, 10 million people in the United Kingdom alone struggle to use PCs on a daily basis. The numbers in the United States are likely higher.
Consumers’ disabilities vary across the board, and can be physical in nature, such as arthritis or blindness, or based more in learning and mental conditions. The problems begin when designers fail to take into account during the design process the various problems users might have. This includes web developers as well, those who design the portals through which the Internet is initially accessed.
Abilitynet, which offers free help to disabled individuals, was formed when the Foundation for Communication for the Disabled and the Compatibility Centre, a charity set up by IBM, were merged. The company provides various services including personal visits to an individual’s home to help install equipment, training, support, and a free telephone helpline. Computer and technology consultants can also access a disabled person’s individual’s home computer remotely, making the proper adjustments to enable easier access. And while programs are still in the developmental process, the company can help with anything from word-processing software to speech-recognition programs. Disabled volunteers can then test the programs while they’re still in the design phase, offering immediate feedback and effective usability studies.
And it comes as no surprise that Abilitynet is also utilizing eye tracking technology in their consulting work. Eye- and pupil-tracking technology have quite a few applications for disabled computer users, of course, not only during usability studies, but in final design. The charity assesses to see if alternative design and technologies are more appropriate, such as voice-recognition or eye-tracking systems for individuals who cannot use their hands. A collaboration between companies like these and designers is really what’s needed to take complete steps into the future of computer technology, and it’s good to see that certain companies are leading the way to make the Internet truly accessible to all individuals.
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