Access and Inclusion through Technology

Access Technology - Today and Tomorrow

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Employing People with a Disability

First Published on Marahaba


David Banes – Global Access and Inclusion Consultant and Ex CEO of Mada the Qatar Assistive Technology Centre 


Work is important. It is how we achieve our aspirations and quality of life, how we contribute to the society in which we live and is often where lifelong attachments and friendships are formed. For people with a disability employment and meaningful work contributes to self-esteem, well being and inclusion within the community. It has been said on other places that for many people the only relief from poverty is through employment. Work matters.


Recent initiatives in Qatar have done much to expand the employment opportunities of those with a disability in Qatar, seeking to find purposeful jobs for those with additional needs, where traditionally no such job was available. Sheikh Khalifa bin Jassim al-Thani has said that the Qatar Chamber “strongly urges” local companies to recruit trained and qualified people with special needs “in appropriate jobs” and announced that Qatar Chamber “will bolster communication and co-ordination” with QSRSN “to bridge it with private sector institutions and companies, and enable members find jobs”, and legislation across the country supports the rights of people with a disability to enter the jobs market. Whilst such progress is applauded there is much that can be done to build upon this, not least within the private sector and Qatari businesses.


As we look towards 2022 and the impending world cup, it draws into focus the notion that people with disabilities can be customers. They have income and to spend it need to feel welcomed and valued. Restaurants, hotels, leisure facilities and a range of shops and services will hope that the influx of visitors will want to make use of their offerings whilst in the country. The same can be true of citizens, residents and visitors at all other times. People with a disability do not use facilities alone. The businesses they choose to use most are those that welcome them, and those decisions might include friends and family. When a business is inaccessible it is not only turning away one person, but all the people they might bring with them also.

It makes good commercial sense for businesses to encourage those with a disability to be customers. Achieving this can feel challenging and employing people with a disability, who bring their additional experience alongside the other skills and knowledge they have, is one way in which this challenge can be addressed. Employers need not create special posts for people with a disability, but once they have been employed in whatever capacity they offer added value.


Moreover, most people with a disability acquire their disability as adults. Either as a result of illness or a trauma, or as the natural consequence of aging, there are few businesses that can afford to lose the expertise and experience of great employees just because they have acquired additional needs.


People with a disability have many of the attributes that employers are seeking. Those graduating from Universities within Qatar and internationally are well qualified and eager to contribute to the country and their employers. Others who have graduated from high school often undertake further training to get qualifications in the areas in which they wish to work. In Qatar you can find people with a disability employed in almost every sector, banking, communications, law etc. They are valued and committed.


To acquire this added value that people with a disability can bring there are some steps that employers can take to recruit and retain those with additional needs. Some of the most important include

1 Demonstrate your Commitment

It is much easier to recruit and retain people with a disability if you promote your commitment publicly. There are many ways to do so, you can make sure that you connect with disabled people organisations, display posters and align your social responsibility or charitable activities with thinking inclusively 

2.    Prepare your team for working with people with a disability

Some of your team may be anxious or poorly informed about working alongside a person with a disability. Some simple, and even online disability awareness training will help, dispelling myths and especially reducing anxiety about what to say or not say with a disabled colleague. Preparing line managers to clarify expectations and support for a disabled team member will assist also, they represent the front line of your public commitment.

One message you may be communicating at this stage, is that anyone might acquire a disability at any time, the things we do now might be important to any employee one day.

3.   Anticipate adjustments in the workplace

Gather some information on simple things you can do to anticipate the needs of disabled people and set up a process to make any adjustments or accommodations that might be needed in the future. Some things are very simple, ensuring that there are ramps into your building, offering accessible documents, including technology for the deaf in reception areas etc. But it is also very important to get people thinking more inclusively, not blocking entrances or corridors with flowers or boxes, labelling routes and doors around the building etc.

One major adjustment you can consider, which may benefit many employees is the introduction of flexible working practices. Allowing those with a disability some flexibility over working hours, breaks and travel can make for a far more productive employee.

4.    Review your recruitment process

Think carefully about how you attract and recruit your employees, do any of your practices make it impossible to someone with a disability to know that you are seeking someone. Whilst it is useful to inform disabled people organisations of potential jobs, it is equally important to ensure that your advertising is accessible to all. Having job descriptions and other information available in accessible electronic formats will help also.

5.    Seek to retain those acquiring a disability

Encourage your team to be open about any difficulties that they are encountering as they emerge. If you have an HR department they should seek to communicate that you value your employees and can talk about some practical steps that they can undertake to assist anyone before an issue becomes a crisis.

6.    Offer inclusive products and services

As a business you will value all of your customers or clients Making it clear that you think about the needs of disabled customers will communicate clearly to potential disabled employees that you might be a good company to commit to..

7.    Communicate inclusively

Communications and marketing are your route and channel to the wider community, as well as serving the needs of your team. When you communicate, consider the needs of those with disabilities, to be as inclusive as possible and adjust where needed. Making sure that videos have captions, that documents can be converted to braille and that your social media posts are open to everyone will all help you to reach the widest possible audience. That helps with sales and with attracting or retaining the best talent

8.    Consider your Premises

Undertake a simple review of your workplace, try walking around it thinking about what problems a person using a wheelchair or crutches might have, is the workplace very noisy, is it easy to know who is behind an office door. A simple review process can help all of your employees.

9. Check your Information and communication technology (ICT)

Do you know if your technology is accessible and usable by those with disabilities and how you make adjustments for individuals? There is great expertise in Qatar and internationally who can advise you in your procurement and use of technology. Accessible technology tends to be more usable for everyone, reducing the risk of pain and strain at a workstation and helping to reduce days lost through ill health. 


There are some great sources of information in Qatar to draw upon. The work of SASOL, with their Definitely Able initiative and the accessible Qatar application demonstrates how much can be done with commitment and great leadership. Ultimately the most important thing you can do as a business and prospective employer is to engage with people with a disability. Use disability organisations as a means of inviting them to visit your company, even if you do not have a role now, their expertise will help you recruit more easily in the future, at careers fairs encourage disabled graduates to come talk to you, make it clear you want then to visit your booth.  


Open up your business to employees with a disability, your business, your customers and your team will all thank you for it.


David Banes is Director of his company David Banes Access and Inclusion Services and was formerly CEO, at Mada the Qatar Assistive Technology and Accessibility Center based in Doha where he worked for six years. Throughout his career, he has been responsible for developing services to ensure that people with a disability are digitally included, and in shaping the broad policy framework required to ensure and sustain this. As a Consultant addressing all aspects of access and inclusion through disability, he has a special interest in how access will be ensured as technology and our understanding of disability shifts.




Addressing Neurodiversity Through Universal Design

Originally Published at

When we discuss neurodiversity we are recognizing that the way we all process and perceive information, think, and learn can be different from person to person. This diversity may be mild, or can be significant and we have learned that traditional approaches to education and accommodations have not been successful in recognizing that diversity. Technology has had a crucial role to play in supporting those across a continuum, but the setting within which that technology is implemented is equally critical.

Accommodating individual difference through technology

Traditionally technology has been used to accommodate needs by addressing the mechanics of perceiving, creating and organizing ideas. Some of the best known examples include:

  • Text to speech – allowing text to spoken out by technology as an alternative way to present information

  • Word Prediction – As we type, our technology predicts the word we are typing and even the next word we want to type, making it easier to transfer thoughts to text

  • Spell and grammar checkers – that apply rules of spelling and grammar to our written work to help us correct any mistakes

  • Mind-mapping or graphic thought organizers – that help us to organize our thoughts visually, rather than just as lists or script

  • Voice recognition – translates our speech into the written word, making it easier to produce large amounts of text, especially when combined with other tools.

Increasingly these tools are incorporated into the technologies that we carry with us for use at work, in the classroom or as part of our daily lives. These technologies reflect an understanding that the ways in which we interact with information and communicate are varied. They may change as a result of our setting (voice control and hands free when driving) a need or disability (large text or high contrast in low light) or as a result of the ways our minds process that information. Neurodiversity is one of the reasons why universal design is valued and reflects the principle that we are all different and one size does not fit all.

The framework for Universal Design for Learning (UDL) adopts these tools and techniques and places them within a paradigm and setting based upon meeting that diversity of needs through fluidity of access

Core principles of UDL

Universal Design for Learning is an approach to providing instruction aimed at meeting the needs of all participants in a learning environment. It is based on three primary principles of providing:

  • multiple means of engagement,

  • action/expression and

  • representation.

These principles lay the foundation to approaches that address all learner’s needs. It is vital in that it that seeks to accommodate not just those who are neurodiverse, but anyone to help achieve their potential and aspirations.

The role of accessible technology within Universal Design involves the implementation of digital tools that support these three main principles. Whilst accessible and assistive technologies are not essential to a universally designed classroom or environment, there is little doubt that those environments are more responsive to difference and diversity than those which do not embrace the opportunity that technology offers. Examples of the integration of technology into environments have included the use of screen reader technologies for those with visual impairments or literacy challenges or magnification/zoom features in operating systems and smart phones.

How do we apply UD and UDL to Neurodiversity

Recognising that diversity is important, but in the Universal environment we anticipate and plan for diversity offering a range of ways for people to interact with the environment, with information and to communicate. It empowers people to engage with these in their preferred manner, that allows them to demonstrate their capability and potential in a form that is most effective. It doesn’t require teachers or employers to accommodate needs on the basis of having identified a disability but instead understands that a breadth of ways of interacting provides a the greatest foundation to accommodate diversity.

There will always be those who have clearly identified needs, who will need individual accommodations and technology solutions, tailored to that need and designed to provide the greatest level of support. We need to ensure that those needs are never ignored. But for many a fluidity of approach to three principles will ensure that they can fully participate in the classroom, workplace or social setting. Because those settings are truly inclusive, not only of variations in the ways we think, but also because of other differences we can embrace – culture, language, context age and capacity.

Actions and recommendations  

Rethinking our environments on a universal design basis is not simple. It takes time and consideration and needs to be based upon a broader definition of inclusion. Some things to consider would include

  • The setting focuses on both what is to be achieved and how.

  • We seek to find ways to engage with tasks and resources in a range of ways that reflect diversity and choice. We don’t assume that we are dealing with someone who we consider to be “typical”.

  • We present materials in a variety of ways. A meeting or discussion, a video with captions, a written summary with action points.

  • We understand that these accommodations are for all.

  • We use tools that allow text to be made available in multiple formats, including text-to-speech, Braille, digital text and large print.

  • We support our teams or learners to understand and choose how they want to engage productively.

  • We set goals and targets that are owned by all.

  • The environment has a flexible setup, where space and noise can be controlled and privacy respected. Rooms are configured different for different kinds of work, quiet, individual, small and large groups.

  • There are multiple ways to complete a task.

  • There are many options to demonstrate what we know, and that those options are helpful to the recipient as well as the producer.

  • Everyone gets continuous feedback on how they’re doing and are all encouraged to reflect on achievements and the extent to which we achieved our goals, personal and within teams. Such reflection is given time and space to be undertaken in a setting that feels “safe”.  This might involve peers rather than those seen as being in authority.


Recognizing that creating classrooms, workspaces and social settings that can be configured, reconfigured and used in many ways is at the heart of engaging with universal design. Understanding that those that use those spaces to learn, work or relax are all different helps us consider those that are neurodiverse, helping us achieve greater access for all, to the benefit of all.

That’s “Amazing”, “Awesome” – Can We Avoid Fake News on Access and Inclusion?

Originally published at

In many cases, the traditional role of Assistive Technology (AT) specialists has been to discover and assimilate information about persons with disabilities. They then map their knowledge of technology, more specifically, access technologies and provide recommendations. This process of assessment and evaluation of needs, of matching people to technology has provided the fundamental basis of assistive technology services in much of the US and Europe and has influenced models of delivery across the world. As the demand for service and accessible technology increases, it recognized that this model of direct service is unable to fulfil the need for AT across the globe.

In response, and within underserved communities, there has been a significant shift in recent years from people with a disability waiting for an expert to become available towards personal identification and self-determination of AT needs. The challenge lies in ensuring that such self-determination is based on valid assumptions and independent information.

In some cases, information and knowledge required to make decisions are structured and presented in the form of databases and guides. I have previously highlighted the value of the Gari database, as well as the potential of AI-driven innovation to improve the likelihood of good choices in personal assistive technology. Sources of potential information have diversified, and encompass sites such as "Ask Jan" and the Southern Africa AT database.

However, websites are not the primary means by which many users seek information. Social media has progressed to be the channel of choice for many who seek to identify and purchase solutions for their use. This trend can be challenging - we live in an era of fake news and viral outrage. It is paramount to ask - how can persons with disabilities trust the information they find online, share with friends and vividly presented in their newsfeed.

Empowering persons with disabilities to make critical decisions about their lives and technology must be based upon the capacity to gain access to valid information. For this, AT services need to help users spot fake news and stories. It is challenging to divide fact from fiction, and many stories seem to span the two ends of truth. How can this issue be addressed? AT services can establish themselves in the role of a trusted intermediary that authenticates, curates, and validates information gathered from across the world. However, it is essential to advise users on how they may trust stories, and these could include:

1. Be Critical: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. As you scroll through your newsfeed, a healthy cynicism might be valuable. We need to be cautious about stories that hype an innovation or development beyond what is viable. Stories that suggest, "everyone" is "amazed" by this "genius gadget" "sweeping" the nation may at the very least be exaggerating reality. It is important to read such stories critically and not get carried away by the emotion. It is an important skill to ask questions such as why the story is written, is it trying to over-sell or diverting traffic to another website. Most importantly, avoid making a decision based on the headline and opening paragraph - convincing as it may sound.

2. Check the Source: Look at the sources your trusted people are using; these are more likely to be sources you can also trust. Investigate a story when it's from a new source. Deep dive into the publisher - is it a professional, a company or someone's blog? Look at what else they have shared. If they share stories repeatedly about one product or manufacturer, you may question that trend.

3. See Who Else Is Reporting the Story: Check whether the story has been picked up by others and what comments the audience has. A single initial source has led many stories about new technology. Simply because a story has many shares, it does not mean the story has been read and understood thoroughly. You may find that a single press release drives a story featuring new, amazing technology or is an "advertorial."

4. Look at the background: A credible story will consist of independent information including facts, quotes from experts, survey data and official statistics. It is important to explore who has provided these facts, whether they are validated and if there are real-life instances of persons that use and can review the technology. Most people don't book a hotel without looking at reviews, and the same process helps understand assistive technology.

5. Does It "Sound Right": Trust your common sense and intuition. If an item in your newsfeed or tweets sounds unbelievable, it probably is. Healthy cynicism is helpful. Connect with other readers of the story and talk to the technology or service users. Seek answers by posting the story with accompanying questions like, "who have used this", "what did you think?" If there are few replies, or the replies seem to be by someone with a vested interest – beware.

Increasingly, there are opportunities for persons with disabilities to control the decision-making process for assistive technology. In meeting global needs, this shift is inevitable. However, AT services and experts have an essential role to play to ensure that transference is successful. Providing reliable sources for day to day information will be at the heart of that success.

Recipes for Success, Integrating Options for Impact

Originally at

Bruce Springsteen once wrote “57 channels..and nothing on” - an indictment of cable TV when quantity of programming seemed more important than quality. It might need updating in 2019 when we think about accessibility to “1001 channels..and something on each one!”

This random thought floated in my head while attending a Microsoft accessibility event to explore the range of of access tools now available including those within Windows, MS Office Suite, other applications and standalone tools for persons with disabilities. The diversity of these tools was admirable, but as an access specialist I was surprised at how many I had been unaware about.

I am active on social media, read widely and attend conferences throughout the year. It struck me that if I, and many others in the room, had been unaware of the solutions available then what chance was there for teachers, therapists, parents and persons with disabilities themselves to be fully aware?

The range of solutions include not only those developed by Microsoft, or Apple, Google, and Amazon Each integrate access tools into the devices they sell and there are 1001 add-ons and additional tools that add functionality and value to devices and platforms to enhance ease of access.

In the face of this maelstrom of innovation, traditional approaches to assimilating information and implementing access from the possible options do not appear to be effective and as a result, the impact of new technologies is reduced.

Establishing access through, and with technology, is not simply a case of installing an app or buying a peripheral. Access lies in integration of hardware with the software, with a role played by operating system and applications with settings and options configured to fully meet the needs and preferences of an individual. These combinations are fluid, changing as we switch devices, or as our needs and preferences change throughout the day. Technology users are a complex bunch.

It feels like we have been asked to prepare a meal for friends, each with different tastes. So we visit the market to buy ingredients without knowing what we plan to cook, or which ingredients are needed. We face an uphill task.

The solution is to find ways of creating recipe books. Combinations of features which can be customized for each dinner. Recipes are a great starting point in preparing a meal but are often fine-tuned by the chef.

We have an opportunity with the advent of Machine Learning, harnessed with Artificial Intelligence (AI) to generate a wide-ranging collection of recipes as access solutions. Each recipe reflects the experience of individuals with similar needs and is based on the combinations of options that have been found and used to establish effective access.

The recipes start by establishing expectations, and the parameters we are working within. Identifying needs and the barriers to be addressed, the technology platforms and tools we have available, and the tasks to completed. Artificial Intelligence has the potential to examine the interplay between each of these and to suggest solutions. It does so by analyzing successful recipes enjoyed by others, identifying the ingredients or options we have, those we might need to add, and how to best combine these for each person.

To achieve this, we need to generate distinct datasets and then recognize patterns of integration between them. We need to first start with a set that describes our individual needs, including our experience and age, that identifies our capacity and capability to interact with technology and the barriers we experience. The second describes the tasks and activities we want to undertake and what we want to do as a result of having access to the technology. The third explores the context in which we want to undertake those tasks, at work, at home or at school, but might also describe the language or cultural norms within which we complete those tasks, and finally a dataset of the technology options available to us. Artificial Intelligence starts from these fixed points, our needs, the technology we have, and the activities we want to undertake. Thorough analysis of successful combinations and patterns of use recipes can be generated which are tailored to the individual.

Such analysis is increasingly feasible, and resources such as the GARI database, demonstrate the value of providing tools by which those with, and without, a disability can identify the composite solution they require.

Importantly, if assistive and accessible technologies are to reach a broader global population, such AI driven tools will be essential to ensure that quality recommendations are provided - even where expertise and knowledge is still only emerging. The challenge to the companies generating the ingredients is to integrate recipe analysis into their platforms, moving the agenda subtly from technology creation to implementation.

“If You Build It, Then What Happens?” - Awareness in the Assistive Technology Ecosystem

Originally at

In this series of blogs around the creation and maintenance of the assistive technology ecosystem, David Banes will explore some of the areas of activity that when integrated and delivered, support the implementation of Assistive Technology (AT). In this first blog, we think about “awareness.”


There are many things one can blame Kevin Costner for, including the “Waterworld” and “The Postman.” Both are high on the list. Although usually he only gets plaudits for the movie “Field of Dreams.” But there is a problem- that lies with the much-quoted strapline from the movie “If you build it, they will come” which seems to work well for ghosts of the much-loved baseball players but as the basis of the distribution of innovative assistive and accessible technologies, perhaps not so much.

When working with startups, and in judging innovation awards, I have observed that much of the creativity and energy is expended on the design of products; as a result, leaving little to promote and disseminate to ensure the product is used. In many cases, teams pitching ideas for awards lack marketing and communications expertise, and dissemination is based on the power of social media and loosely defined “networks.” Developers are so convinced of the quality and value of the product that they find it hard to understand why anyone would fail to grasp this immediately. Helping potential users to recognize that value is essential to success.

To gain that traction, a company and developer needs to understand their market and audience. Making the audience aware of the existence of a product is the first hurdle to overcome. Social media can be a powerful tool; however, different segments of the audience access social media quite distinctly. Parents appear to congregate around Facebook and Pinterest, professionals tend towards LinkedIn and Twitter, whereas persons with disabilities form and use WhatsApp groups in many parts of the world. To customize messages for each of these formats and platforms can be challenging yet may also reap the rewards.

Beyond initial awareness, a case must be made for the product. Rarely is a new product the only option for a potential purchaser, developers must demonstrate that their solution is more effective, easier to use, cheaper or more convenient to encourage people to make a switch. That case depends on an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the existing market to guide the case for the new opportunity.

Awareness of assistive technology, and the potential benefits is a function within the ecosystem that needs to be addressed beyond individual products or services. Independent, trusted information on the availability of products and services is often the responsibility of public sector and non-governmental organizations and are equally dependent on understanding stakeholders and addressing any anxieties they might have about assistive technologies. Campaigns need to make a case for assistive products and demonstrate value, reaching out to the audience in ways that they are likely to respond to. Case studies of successful use shared across a range of media are very powerful. Such studies are useful when the audience recognizes the example as being “someone like me” sharing their need, context, or challenges. When the example is drawn from the same community and culture as the audience, it is most likely to resonate with the audience.

There is an excellent value in increasing awareness of assistive technologies and communicating the case for use. At the risk of mixing metaphors, it is more than throwing a party and sending out invitations; it is more than selling a new product, it is beyond building a solution and waiting for users to come. It is all these things and without a focus on raising awareness that our chances of successful implementation are always reduced.


Working with Delegates at ATIA 2017

I had the good fortune to spend much of the ATIA conference this year in the company of international delegates in my role as International ambassador. For those who have never been ATIA is a major US conference devoted to the AT industry with over 300 seminars, a major exhibition and over 2000 delegates. The days are long with sessions starting at 8am and events running until 7.30pm,  and that's when the informal networking starts ! It is the very scale of what is available that can seem daunting. For those flying from Europe, Middle East and the Far East some support to get the most from the event is appreciated.

One of the first things we encouraged new delegates to consider is registering as a speaker. Whilst this might sound onerous, there is no better way of finding fellow delegates with similar interests, it is very usual at the end of sessions to find the speakers and their audience arranging times to continue conversations and discussing potential sharing and networking for the future. Take plenty of business cards !

Once registered as a speaker, you will start to see the conference program emerging, and at this point a little help in understanding some of the sessions and choosing those that really helped hit the aims of attending was appreciated. One of the interesting things is that a terminology begins to emerge around conferences, buzzwords and jargon can sneak in, and understanding what some of that means makes decision making a,lot easier. What exactly is the difference between a Bootcamp, a town hall and an unconference, the terms can appear a little daunting.

Knowing what you really want to achieve in attending is very helpful at this stage, it is also a good time to start to apply for visas, leaving the application late can cause last minute problems and event an inability to travel. Fortunately ATIA were very helpful and supportive of those whose visa requests were rejected.

So at this stage we have planned to go round the exhibition and have filled the diary with seminars, when the opportunity to meet with other delegates emerges. One of the main reasons to attend ATIA is to network with like minded professionals, and there are a lot of them!.Setting up those meetings, brokering introductions and helping make the most out of every minute our delegates were attending was our objective, and we seemed to achieve it.

So we are starting work on ATIA 2018, it will soon be time to promote the call for papers and im looking forward to continuing the role in 2018. Why not think about joining us, Ill be there to help!

Supporting AAC Users in Pakistan

I was very fortunate to be invited to visit both Pakistan and parts of the Middle East in the last year. Looking back it is interesting to consider the common challenges and opportunities faced in providing services and assistive technologies that we encountered. In this blog, I reflect upon my time in Islamabad and Rawalpindi

In discussing how to meet AAC needs in Pakistan it is important to understand the size of the country, much larger than most of us from the west anticipate. That has significant implications for how services can be delivered. In a country where the rights of people with a disability are recognized, but where there are major barriers to delivering upon that commitment the need to share best practices across the country is a constant challenge. People do rise to that challenge, after it was announced that both EA Draffan and would I be in Pakistan, a number of people thought nothing of driving for four hours to engage and discuss ideas despite fog and crowded roads. There was a passion and interest in the work - a half day public event on disability and communication drew 1500 people to an events marquee in Islamabad. They heard from those of us from the west about best practices and examples of the impact of technology, but also listened intently to politicians and religious leaders share perspectives and ideas. Above all the theme emerged that we must, and can do more.

Outside of the large public event, we delivered some in depth training on aspects of AAC provision to Speech and Language therapists locally. EA explored the concepts of AAC, investigating how assessment can take place and I added to this by exploring the continuum of technology devices and how we can use those devices to stimulate communication in a purposeful manner. From those discussions we identified some common issues to consider.

1 The delivery of AAC services needs to be integrated into the wider experience of the user

One of the issues we discussed at length was how speech and language therapists could integrate their knowledge and expertise with other members of a multidisciplinary team. The therapists I met recognized the limitations of working on a withdrawal method to deliver AAC training and assessment. We began to explore what drove the maintenance of that model and what could be done about that. Some of the themes that emerged were   

  • The baseline of knowledge and experience among other professionals including teachers
  • The availability of equipment for use outside of the therapy session
  • Time management challenges to meet the levels of demand

We recognized that addressing these challenges not only required a commitment by all members of the team, but also policy and actions from service managers to incentivise team members to apply AAC programs with the therapist was not present.   

2 Technology availability in Pakistan needs to be stimulated

The availability of technology with which learners could develop,practice and generalize their communication skills was a real barrier to uptake of AAC in Pakistan. Much of the equipment was based around simple hardware devices such as a big mack or gotalk. These were easy to use, reliable and used digitised speech making recording and speaking messages in Urdu easier. There was a great deal of interest in the availability of low cost AAC apps, especially for Android platforms which are far more pervasive than Windows Phone or iPads. As we spoke, it seemed unlikely that the market in Pakistan was large enough to attract the interest of western AAC manufacturers, especially as there were some technical limitations to localising apps to support Urdu. As a result, it was clear to us that the challenge of providing AAC apps in Pakistan had to be met from within Pakistan. Relationships between therapists, services, researchers and developers needed to be nurtured to bring products to market. Who would lead that effort needed to be clarified and acceptable to all.     

3 AAC products need to be available to support local language and culture

The challenge of producing new products for Urdu, that could be available at a price point that was accessible in Pakistan is significant. We all felt that there were some significant building blocks that needed to be created, which could be integrated into new products by innovators and entrepreneurs. The most significant of these were

  • Urdu Text to Speech
  • Urdu work prediction
  • Graphic symbols reflecting the culture and values of Pakistan

To develop the technologies required to meet the first two needs, it was clear that researchers needed to be encouraged to enage with the issue. There was great consensus that this could best be done by the government funding the development of the technology under open source licence to support developers of AAC solutions and reduce the cost of the final products.

On the third point, there was considerable discussion about taking the Tawasol Arabic/Islamic symbol set and modifying the symbols for the culture of Pakistan. Pakistan is an immensely rich culture, I was taken to see hugely colorful locations, and clothing worn by many women was bright whilst modest. Similarly the clothing of men was different to those we had depicted in the Arabic symbol set. But despite this, many felt that the symbols provided a much firmer starting point for the creation of a Pakistani symbol dictionary than western symbols and that the availability of the Tawasol set under a very broad creative commons licence was welcomed.         

These themes were reflected when I had the opportunity to visit a child development center in Rawalpindi. Whilst meeting members of the teams delivering AAC and discussing how it was being provided for individual children, the limitations we had discussed the day before were apparent. There is no lack of commitment or passion in Pakistan and there was evidence of a strong foundation of knowledge in Islamabad, the challenge is to provide the resources and technology which unlocks that potential.

On a personal note, I should describe how welcome I felt in Pakistan. I had great pleasure in meeting people, there was a willingness to debate the way ahead and everyone that I met took time to help educate me about the culture of the country and the experience was personally fulfilling. If others get a chance to visit, take some pleasure in it, enjoy the beautiful mosques, but visit the preserved sites sacred to Buddhists, Sikhs and others, prepare to be challenged and to engage in debate with both men and women. Take pleasure in the beauty of the country, and try to understand the economics and culture to help bring access and inclusion to all.

World Autism Awareness Week - After awareness what can you do ?

This week marked World Autism Awareness Day – it’s become a major global initiative that has been hugely successful in increasing awareness of Autism. I have some mixed feelings about how autism is portrayed in the campaigns having spent much of my early career working with young people with very deep and profound autism, but one cannot deny the success of the campaign in changing attitudes. But once you have created an appetite for making change on behalf of people who are on the Autistic Spectrum, you need to fill the demand of information on approaches that it generates.
So in no particular order, here are three of my favourites

AIM the autism internet modules - is an amazing resource developed by OCALI. AIM is designed to provide high-quality information and professional development for anyone who supports, instructs, works with, or lives with someone with autism. Each module guides you through case studies, instructional videos, pre- and post-assessments, a glossary, and much more. AIM modules are available at no cost. If you would like to receive credit for your time on AIM, certificate and credit options are available for a fee.

PrAACtical AAC supports a community of professionals and families who are determined to improve the communication and literacy abilities of people with significant communication difficulties. It was founded in 2011 by two SLP professors, Carole Zangari and the late Robin Parker, around a shared passion for AAC. It’s a remarkable collection and much of the work shared is directly relevant to people with Autism

The final one is something I’ve put together, it’s a collection of resources and links on Autism and Technology that you can access for free on Pinterest. I try to check all of the links but can’t promise 100% - social networks like Pinterest are a really easy way for people to access information, and I’ve found it especially popular with families who like the very easy to digest style of the pins with the capacity to go into greater depth. It’s part of my ongoing commitment to trying to provide free advice and information whenever I can, and by following the board (or the AAC board) you’ll get updates and interesting links a couple of times a week. Hope you find it useful

Personal Mobility, “One day we will look back and this will all seem funny.”

Personal Mobility is changing, and we are approaching a period where our current concept of wheelchairs will feel as outdated as crossing the Atlantic by sailboat.

Two significant trends are emerging that will see the business of the provision of powered mobility aids being one that will be subject to significant disruption.

The first is obvious, more people are acquiring wheels. Every time I walk through a park, go to a mall or stroll along our seafront in Doha its remarkable to see how many people now use forms of powered mobility. People have always used wheels for personal mobility, bicycles, skateboards, skates have been available for many years. But in recent years these have been enhanced with powered solutions. It started with the Segway, beloved by city tours and security guards, the upright device can be found around the world, although it is perhaps not as ubiquitous as the “hoverboards” that emerged world wide as a toy and leisure activity over the past 18 months. As I walked through our local park a few weeks ago I dived for the grassed areas to avoid the youngsters on powered bicycles and they sped along the paving. Powered personal mobility is moving into the mainstream.

This may or may not be a good thing, as these devices become increasingly widespread they will increase the demand for environmental access to be considered. Curbcuts and accessible routes will be demanded by the new breed of mobility device users. However the increasing use of these by mainstream communities may lead to some areas being protected from “wheelies” so that those who walk are not put at risk of being mown down

But this trend is being contradicted by innovation by research and commercialization of exoskeletons, the technologies that enhance our current physical abilities and which can operate in a wider range of environments than any wheeled device can. It is not my intention to enter into the debate about where funding should be prioritized, towards environmental access adjustments or into research, I tend to believe that both are needed to provide for both current and future needs. I don’t accept the argument that human augmentation is necessarily simple an attempt to repair or “fix” the person, both wheelchairs and exoskeletons can be seen from within a social context, they are both technologies that provide a means by which needs are accommodated within the environment. There is a strong parallel with assistive technologies here. The user needs assistive technology (screen readers, keyboards, switches, joysticks etc) but also needs accessible content (websites, apps, ebooks etc). Within the built environment the user currently needs personal technology (wheelchair, scooter, smartcane) alongside an accessible environment, (curbcuts, ramps, tactile flooring). Access currently is dependent upon both factors interacting.

Increasingly it appears that the need for environmental change may fade, not overnight, not immediately, but over time. Instead we will see new technologies empowering the user to have control over their mobility in new ways. We should and can stimulate and embrace that shift but to do so at the cost of people currently living with a disability may be too great a cost.

Im 53 and part of an aging demographic, slowly my capacity for mobility will decline, but I suspect that one day a grandchild will sit on my enhanced knee and ask “tell me the story about how they made you sit, in a chair with wheels ! That must have been so funny!”

ATIA 2016

So this time next week I will be on a plane bound for Florida and ATIA 2016 - I do often get asked for recommendations for those who can only get to one conference a year, and this is usually my number one choice.

First it covers the broadest spectrum of needs, autism, physical, sensory needs are all covered. Second it has a diverse exhibition and is attended not only by sales people but senior manages of companies as well, Third it has a huge workshop program that is predominantly practitioner driven and hence practical. Finally it is very welcoming to overseas visitors, it does no harm that if you can take a couple of days leave you are only a few miles from the best theme parks in the world.

It would be a real pleasure to meet anyone who is attending and catch up face to face, let me know if you will be there.

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