Access and Inclusion through Technology

Access Technology - Today and Tomorrow

header photo

and so the time is near and so I face the final curtain .......A personal review of the last 10 years

As I leave AbilityNet in two weeks I thought this was a good time to look back at what weve done and the things that im most proud of from that period. Im going to look ahead to the potential of the next stage of my career in another Blog.

One of the things in which I take most pride is in the development of teh concept of remote assessment, along with the team, especially Karen Maxwell and Pamela Hardaker we took this from an idea to a whole approach which sought to match services to need. This was enhanced by the development of the online self assessmnet tool and ultimately by the AAC and Easy assessment tools. This suite of tools, which are increasingly hard to find, offer users and professionals a structure by which assessment could take place, reducing the cost of identifying a solution to as little as possible.

The success of the concept, was one which I then applied t a range of other ideas. I wanted to explore how we could exploit web 2.0 technologies such as YouTube, Moodle, wiki's etc to reach tens of thousands of people without barriers of geography or cost. The success of that approach should have been clear to all, and my own personal commitment to it is shown that Im still maintaining these types of resources after many years.

Some of these ideas needed some funding to allow us to experiment, and the Communication Aids Project which we secured with John Liddle, took AbilityNet into the education sphere and the importance of early intervention. That work still has echoes in our work today such as the Play at IT and Low cost AAC projects

From an early stage we recognised that AT wasnot enough to bridge the digital divide. Access was reliant not only on having personal technoogy but also on the availability of Accessible digital content. With Robin Christopherson I was able to nurture the growth of the accessibility team from its early days and saw it establish itself as a genuine leader in its field - networked with some of the best in the world.

If the web was one network to build, Iwas fortunate also to be involved in building a physical network of locations and partners, from Scotland to Bristol with core resources and partners that would play a big part in the community hubs created through the Swicthed on Community projects.

Im writing this in Qatar where I'll be basing myself over the next two years. And that tells you much about those last 10 years. When we started I travelled to Newcastle, Edinburgh and on a really good day Dublin. But over those years AbilityNet became part of a much wider network and as a result I’ve had the chance to travel from one side of Europe to the other - from Turkey and Poland to Ireland - from Greece and Italy to Latvia. Throughout that travelling I was always struck by how the passion and commitment of those who want to bring about digital inclusion was universal.

I’ve taken the opportunity to see some of those places as well as work there, the Parthenon in Athens, the last supper in Milan the Warsaw ghetto and Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque in Istanbul and I’ve enjoyed them all - and I’ve appreciated the many people I’ve worked with showing me something of the culture and history in which we are trying to embed digital inclusion.

So ultimately it has been about the people I’ve worked with. The users of technology and the lives we’ve been able to impact upon. It’s easy to measure success by numbers of people helped. But it’s also important to measure success by the depth of impact on each person we have helped, balancing the superficial aid to 1000 people with the life changing impact on 100 - a balance of both needs to be sought and one loses sight of that at the risk of neglecting those in greatest need.

I’ve spoken about some of the many people I’ve worked with - in the UK, colleagues at AbilityNet but also those involved in digital inclusion in government and business, as well as in schools and charities. I’ve been able to work with colleagues from huge corporations such as IBM and Microsoft, as well as the European commission e-Inclusion team. and the principles we hold in common is far greater than differences in strategy and policy that might arise

I have to mention a couple of people we lost along the way, especially Dorothy and Dace. When you work closely together those losses count, but it’s those of us who carry on with the day to day work that I’m looking forward to collaborating with in the future. I want to see the partnerships I’ve had a role in, with Enable Ireland, with Telecentres europe, with Teleservicios and Barcelona Digital continue to thrive - so feel free to stay in touch - my email is and you’ll still find me on twitter and YouTube and my personal blog all with the same name. Ive recorded by final AbilityNet Podcast, but I’m not quitting podcasting and I have a new podcast I’m working on called the access collective which you can find on iTunes and the usual places

10 years ago I joined AbilityNet to be told that the team I was leading was at best unmanageable, total mavericks with an anarchc streak running right down the centre. At our first meeting we agreed that what we wanted working for AbilityNet to be "serious fun" and for so much of the time that’s just what it has been

So to paraphrase Jerry Garcia and Douglas Adams I can only say what a long strange trip it’s been, but in hindsight so long and thanks for all the fish

Go Back