Skip to content

Dr Scott Hollier - Digital Access Specialist Posts

Google Maps & Apple Maps – two useful accessibility tips

Using real-time maps on our smartphones has become an essential feature when navigating to different locations. Whether you prefer Google Maps or Apple Maps, there are a number of accessibility features in both apps which have been added over the past six months or so, but I’ve noticed that many people aren’t aware of the features.  As such, here’s two particularly useful tips to provide you with some additional information.

Google Maps – find out if a location is wheelchair-accessible

In late 2016, Google quietly added a feature to its Maps app for people in the US which provides information as to whether a selected location is wheelchair-accessible.  The is not specifically owned or collected by Google and there are many gaps, but as the service expands its likely to provide enough information to determine if a venue you are intending to visit will be a viable option before leaving home. There’s no specific information as to the rollout dates for other countries but Google have indicated they plan to continue expanding the service.

Importantly though this does not address one of the common complaints of mapping software which is the fact that maps don’t effectively indicate the topographical nature of a location. As a result, wheelchair users should still be wary of unexpected steep slopes or inclines when arriving at a new location. That said, it’s encouraging to see accessibility-specific information being included and it’s likely that information for wheelchair users will only get better in time. For additional information on the feature, please refer to the YouTube video on the wheelchair location feature in Google Maps

Apple Maps – points of interest

It’s fair to say that when Apple Maps launched in 2012 it had a pretty rocky start. However, its improved considerably over the years and now includes a useful Point of Interest feature that is proving very helpful to people who are blind or vision impaired.

To access this feature, start Apple Maps and start navigating to your destination. To find out what points of interest are near your location as you travel along the route, swipe up on the menu bar to pull up an overlay which will display different categories. You can then go into the category you are looking for, such as food, and it will provide you with nearby options. This is very helpful as it enables people with vision-related disabilities to quickly find out what’s near them as they travel without interrupting the overall journey.  It is also possible to add a nearby point of interest to the journey plan. Additional information can be found in the Maps for iOS section of the Apple website.

W4A2017 after-dinner address now online

On 2 April 2017 I was given the great honour and privilege to deliver the William Loughborough After-Dinner address at the International Web for All (W4A) 2017 conference. If you weren’t able to attend and would like to watch it, the video is now on YouTube and I’ve put a link to it below.

Many thanks to the W4A Conference Committee for a great event. For more information on the conference  you can read my W4A2017 highlights post.

Windows 10 creators update – benefits & issues for blind & low vision users

The Windows 10 Creators update is now rolling out to computers and tablets.  While many blind and vision impaired users have welcomed the updates as discussed in my March post titled Microsoft’s improvements for blind and low vision users in the Windows 10 insider preview, there is also an issue relating to a change in the keyboard shortcut that starts the Narrator screen reader.

While the Creators update has lots of great features, its important to first deal with the elephant in the room – the inability to start Narrator after the Creators update has been installed. If you are used to using the ‘Windows key + Enter’ to toggle Narrator on and off, you’ll be surprised to discover that after the Creators update is installed, this keyboard combination no longer works.  Instead, you will now need to use the ‘Windows key + CTRL + Enter’. This change is not obvious and it’s surprisingly difficult to find out about it, even in Narrator’s help options, so it’s worth making a note of this new default keyboard command.

While some of the changes in the Creators update can be tricky, one of the best new features is the addition of Cortana and improved Narrator support when setting Windows 10 up for the first time. If you purchase a new computer with the Creators update installed, or reset your current computer after updating, you’ll be greeted with a series of setup screens whereby Cortana talks you through your options and also prompts you to turn on Narrator if you wish. I tried this myself and found the process to be very helpful as a person who is vision impaired, and I suspect it’ll be helpful for everyone. The ability to verbally reply to some of Cortana’s questions and have clear instructions when information is to be typed in made the whole process much easier.

As mentioned previously, other aspects of Windows 10 have been improved for accessibility with Braille support now added and a number of tweaks to Narrator.  I’ve also noticed significant improvements in how screen readers interact with Microsoft Edge. While launching Edge when using Narrator for the first time still asks if you want to switch the default on Internet Explorer, it’s encouraging to see the support for assistive technologies improving for the default web browser. While not strictly accessibility-related, the addition of 3D Paint is fun too.

Overall the update adds some useful accessibility features, particularly for people who are blind or vision impaired but just watch out for that change to the Narrator keyboard shortcut. Additional information on the Windows 10 Creators Update can be found at the Microsoft website.

Outrunning the Night can now be ordered by a library near you

I’m very excited to report that my recently published memoir ‘Outrunning the Night – a life journey of disability, determination and joy’ can now be ordered directly by Australian libraries.

ALS Library Services, who have around 50 team members working each day to bring the latest Australian and international publications to public libraries throughout the states and territories, have now added my book to their catalogue. As a result, Australian libraries can now order the paperback as part of their regular ordering processes. In addition, ALS Library Services will be featuring ‘Outrunning the Night’ in the near future as a local author from Western Australia.  

Many thanks to ALS Library Services for their support and to Sue Murray at VisAbility for organising this fantastic distribution opportunity.

W4A2017 & WWW2017 accessibility conference highlights

After three years of being involved with the logistics to bring WWW2017 and W4A2017 to my home city of Perth, Australia, the Web for All (W4A) 2017 conference arrived in April with a host of great papers. Here’s a few of my personal highlights from W4A2017 and the W3C accessibility track at WWW2017.  W4A2017 conferenceWith this year’s conference focusing on accessibility and work, the first day kicked off with an excellent keynote by Alastair McEwin, disability commissioner for the Australian Human Rights Commission.   The presentation titled ‘Working together: technology as the foundation for better employment outcomes for people with disability’ noted that with 4.2 million Australians having some form of permanent disability, more needs to be done to improve employment opportunities.  In particular, Alastair explained that employers are often not prepared for people with disabilities which can lead to misconceptions about staff needs, and explained that the benefits go far beyond work itself as engagement in the workforce also means inclusion in society. Key recommendations discussed that could improve employment consisted of addressing inaccessible information in the workplace, and the potential benefit of the NDIS. Alastair highlighted that currently Australia has quite a low employment rate of people with disabilities when compared to comparable countries which is particularly concerning, so action is needed quickly.  

Jeffrey Bigham presented a paper titled ‘Scopist: Building a Skill Ladder into Crowd Transcription’.  The focus was on Stenography and the production of captions. It was explained that Stenographers use a special keyboard to reach 300 words per minute. While the equipment can be expensive, tools such as OpenSteno can map the commands onto a traditional QWERTY keyboard.  The challenge is to be able to swap between the two in real-time. The paper focused on how the required keyboard could be predicted meaning that there was no need to actually swap as the software would be intuitive enough to pick it up, and hence speeding up the process.

Another presentation I found really interesting was William Grussenmeyer who focused on the topic ‘Evaluating the Accessibility of the Job Search and Interview Process for People who are Blind and Visually Impaired’. This looked at a study of people who are blind or vision impaired and the main issues they had around the start-to-finish processes of finding employment. Interestingly two of the key issues raised were inaccessible PDFs for applying for jobs, and inaccessible on-boarding content that made it difficult to get set up in a new job.  I’ve had similar experiences personally whereby I have been able to do the job itself but completing the initial setup of a job such as completing the government form relating to personal details and tax information has only been available on paper and needing help with that.  This was picked up in the key note on Day 2 by David Masters from Microsoft who discussed ‘Microsoft’s Journey towards Inclusion’. David made the point that Microsoft has largely addressed its on-boarding issues and ensures that the recruitment and employment processes are accessible from start to finish which is encouraging. Rosemary Spark at W4A2017Rosemary Spark continued the discussion in the topic ‘Accessibility to Work from Home for the Disabled: The Need for a Shift in Management Style’ which made the point that a flexible workforce is beneficial to people with disabilities and despite the general perception that people don’t work as hard at home, the reality is that it actually improves productivity and performance.

 Outside of the topic of work, Keith Fitzpatrick from the City of Cockburn provided a great insight into the processes of local government in creating an accessible website. There was also a great paper on the Internet of Things authored by a number of people from W3C WAI.

 A role I shared with A/Prof Justin Brown for W4A this year was as co-chair of the Google Doctoral Consortium, and it was great to see the winner Tahani Alahmadi from Griffith University present her paper titled ‘A multi-method evaluation of university website accessibility: Foregrounding user-centred design, mining source code and using a quantitative metric’.

 There was also an excellent presentation by Kevin Carey who offered some interesting food for thought on the pursuit of access and much excitement in the Paciello Group challenge. This year the Challenge provided an opportunity to test out some products that had been created around research including a method to navigate website using only eye tracking and a clever use of simplifying words in e-mail to make it easier for people with cognitive disabilities to read.

In addition to my role as co-chair for the Google Doctoral Consortium paper, I was also given the great honour to deliver the William Loughborough After-Dinner address, focusing on the topic Technology, education and access: a ‘fair go’. With 100 people enjoying the beautiful warm autumn night overlooking the Indian Ocean, it was a great way to share a meal and a lot of fun was had by all. I’ll post a separate update with links to the video once it becomes available. With W4A wrapping up after three days, the accessibility-related conference was complete but some accessibity presentations remained.  On Wednesday 5 April the main WWW2017 conference had a W3C track which included three disability-related presentations.  The first topic was ‘Digital Service Standard for the Australia Government’ by Andrew Arch from the Digital Transformation Agency, followed by ‘A conversation without barriers’ by Marie Johnson from the National Disability Insurance Scheme. I rounded out the session discussing the future W3C standards of WCAG 2.1 and Silver that are currently in development.  With approximately 50 attendees in the room it was great to see accessibility issues get some mainstream traction.

 With W4A and WWW moving to France in 2018 it will be exciting to see what new and innovative research projects are presented as the great work being done in this space continues.