Monday, August 3, 2020

Android Accessibility Updates

Accessibility has always been at the forefront of the Android platform and Google has recently implemented some Android Accessibility updates and added even more features. These are excellent additions for anyone to make use of, but especially people with disabilities.

Action Blocks

Action Blocks is a feature that has been in development for a while and finally it has been released to the public. This groundbreaking app allows users to perform complex actions with a single tap.  Using a widget on your home screen, you can program the widget to carry out any task on your phone.  Then with a single click the Action Block can repeat the task.

Action Blocks comes with a number of actions already installed and ready to use immediately. You can also create your custom actions for anything you can imagine. For anyone with a cognitive disability, Action Blocks can really make life easier.

Live Transcribe

 Google’s “Live Transcribe” application is also getting a few upgrades. A new update which allows the app to learn new specialised words, improves on what was already a very useful app. Google have also added functionality that allows you to search through all of your transcriptions for any keyword.

Another great feature is that you can set a keyword and then your device will vibrate when this keyword is mentioned. This could be extremely useful if you need to listen out for a specific topic or if you have a hearing impairment.

Voice Access

Android users who have motor or physical impairments can make use of the newly improved “Voice Access” app. The app is more fluid than ever and allows users to carry out basic functions on their phone using just their voice.

Previously apps used to just be numbered on your screen and you would say the corresponding number. With the latest update Voice Access recognises the app’s name, so you can be a lot more direct and just say exactly what you need.

Sound Amplifier

 Sound Amplifier would previously only increase the volume with wired headphones, but with the new update it will also boost the sound over Bluetooth.

Google Maps

Wheelchair users will be happy to hear that the latest Google Maps update allows you to show wheelchair access from the main screen, instead of having to hit a button and select it. A small but time saving feature.

You can download all of these updated app for free from the Google Play Store

Check out our full guide to Android Accessibility.

Thanks for reading

A2B Assessments DSA Assessors

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Thursday, July 30, 2020

Accessibility In Video Games

In this post will take look at the current state of accessibility in video games and games for disabled people…

20 years ago, no one would have predicted how far along the video game industry would come. Today, video games have become more than tools to pass the time. They are also used for training, research, education, and even rehabilitation. The only limits are those imposed by the imagination of the programmer. One key factor in determining how far the video game industry can go, and the amount of impact it can have is accessibility and games for disabled people.

Some of the main issues some users face with video game accessibility are:

  • Not being able to receive the desired feedback from an interaction in the game, as a result of a sensory impairment. For example, being unable to decipher spoken instructions mid-game due to impaired hearing. Or being unable to read visual cues due to visual impairment.
  • Not being able to provide the required input, due to some sort of motor impairment. For example, users who make use of eye trackers will not get the same level of immersion in video games which need a large amount of input as regular users. Think button bashing on fighting games.
  • Not being able to fully comprehend the intricacies of game play, or an inability to provide the right kind of input. Normally stemming from some level of cognitive impairment. For example, a user with learning difficulties may experience poor comprehension when playing.

How can developers help overcome some of the above issues? All video games should include Tier 1 accessibility.

As the name implies, this is the lowest level of accessibility that video game developers should hope to achieve. It includes the use of:

Remappable buttons – This allows users to change the configuration of the video game controls in a manner that makes the most ergonomic sense to them.

Colour-blind options – Research has shown the most common form of colour-blindness is the red-green variety. As many as 8 percent of all men have some variation of colour-blindness. So, video game developers should include an alternative way to provide in game information, other than colour.

Closed captioning – Most games these days include subtitles as an option and this is a very useful feature. However, closed captioning takes this one step further and encompasses the entire range of verbal communication; including voice tones and other auditory cues. This is vital in some video games where picking up on these cues may be the difference between success and failure.

Tutorials – Many people in the world are kinaesthetic or tactile learners. Meaning they learn by actually carrying out the activities themselves. For these people tutorials are invaluable. Tutorials give users the ability to learn how to play the game without fear of loss or defeat. This allows users with cognitive disabilities to learn the mechanics of the game without fear of failure.

video-games-for-disabled-1

Accessible Controllers

Some developers are dedicated to eliminating the exclusionary elements in hardware controllers. Developing new ways of inputting commands that a more universally applicable. For example, controllers that allow more complex controller inputs with a single motion can help individuals with conditions that affect motor movement.

In 2015, the PlayStation 4 redefined the landscape of accessibility in gaming by introducing a system-level re-mapping of controller buttons. This gave users with motor impairments the chance to enjoy games that they would otherwise be unable to play. In 2018, the Microsoft released it’s Xbox Adaptive Controller. This gave gamers the opportunity to make use of a range of assistive devices such as switches and bite pedals.  Microsoft have also released diagrams for their patented braille controller. As significant as these achievements are, there are still giant strides to be made in the field of inclusive gaming.

Making Progress

Many of the recent innovations in inclusive gaming have stemmed from the willingness of major developers to incorporate accessibility into their big-budget gaming designs. Ubisoft, for example, had begun to enforce stricter requirements for sub-titling and the use of trigger warnings in 2008, and the rest of the industry had slowly started to adapt (learn more). In 2015, World of Warcraft, one of the biggest online games, added a colour-blind mode. This feature was met with universal acclaim by gamers and gaming enthusiasts.

Many current-gen titles have embraced inclusivity in gaming. Naughty Dog’ Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and The Last of Us titles are hailed as some of the most inclusive games of all time (BBC Article). Josh Straub, an avid gamer couldn’t get past a section on Uncharted 2 due to his disability. He complained to Naughty Dog and they brought him in and worked with him to ensure the same issues didn’t occur in future games (further details).

All game developers and designers can benefit from making their games more inclusive. Hopefully, other developers will follow in Naughty Dog’s footsteps. The new wave of inclusive gaming is still in its infancy, but it has already shown signs of blossoming into a full movement. Things can only get better.

Thanks for reading,

A2B.

Further Resources:

This is a great article from Lad Bible on the history of accessibility in gaming.

Josh Straub, mentioned above was the gamer that helped Naughty Dog improve their accessibility.  He has his own website Dager System where he reviews the accessibility of new games.

Steve Saylor is a visually impaired gamer who has a popular YouTube channel showcasing the challenged he faces while gaming. This is a popular video of his and check out his channel for more…

Book a DSA assessment.

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Thursday, June 25, 2020

Studying At Home Tips

How to stay focused at home? Here are our studying at home tips

We all have different ways of processing information. If your method of studying usually involves sitting with your head down in the library, then having to change because of the global pandemic may be a bit tricky.

Here are our top studying at home tips to help you make the most out of your home study time.

1. Stick to a routine

Most of the problems associated with home study have to do with a lack of motivation. Having a strict routine helps you stay motivated and driven even in the midst of distractions.

Of course, setting a routine that deviates wildly from your normal activities may be more of a hindrance than advantage, therefore it is best to stick to a routine that doesn’t change your usual pattern of activities too much.

2. Create a study schedule

When you don’t have lectures and seminars to keep you on schedule, your study habits can suffer. Having a study schedule is essential in making sure you set your focus on the most important task at hand.

schedule your work tips

3. Stay in touch with your tutor and classmates

Getting in contact with your tutor or classmates creates a shared sense of purpose, and it goes a long way in sparking motivation and keeping you driven in times like this.

Virtual meetings can be held with the use of apps like Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, or good old phone calls, and they give you the ability to bounce ideas off your peers as needed.

4. Have a dedicated workspace

At this point we should start to notice a trend; a lot of the issues with studying at home arise from an interruption in your normal pattern, and the only way to reverse that is by creating a pattern similar to your old one. Creating a dedicated workspace in your home is a study pattern that mimics the library environment and can help you settle in to home study.

study at home tips

5. The Pomodoro Technique

This is a tried and tested technique to help improve focus and reduce distractions. It works by focusing on a singular task for about 20-25 minutes, then taking a five minute break to refresh your mind.

It has been proven to help increase motivation and renew your mental energy when it starts to flag.

Getting started with the Pomodoro technique.

6. Engage your learning

Try to learn as you would at university. For example, if you take notes in lectures then also take notes at home. Always have a notebook and a pen handy. If treat your home study with the same attitude as studying at university then you’ll definitely reap the rewards.

how to study at home

7. Give yourself something to look forward to 

Research has shown that humans are motivated by the idea of reward at the end of periods of stress or intense effort. Studying is no different.

Because of this, setting some sort of reward for yourself can be a great way to keep yourself motivated, in the face of what often seems like monotonous and unrewarding work.

8. Take regular breaks

It’s even more important to take regular breaks during home study than when you’re at university because you will usually have more distractions in your home. Having regular scheduled breaks will help you deal with these distractions.

effective ways to study at home

9. Block out Distractions.

If you really can’t focus, using apps like Forest or Freedom can help you shut off some of the more tempting apps (like Instagram), while you get some studying done. We have full articles covering how to use these apps below…

How to use Forest

How to use Freedom

If you are a student with additional needs going to university in September, make sure you get your dsa assessment booked as soon as possible. 

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Thursday, June 18, 2020

Decision Day: To Study or Defer?

Today is the final day you are able to accept your place at University in September. Are you going to choose to study or defer?

UCAS has said there are still 65,000 applicants who have yet to make their mind up.

What is normally a fairly straight forward decision is being made harder by the difficulties COVID-19 has introduced.

With the social side of the University experience looking like it will be restricted come September, you may be faced with the reality that your first year will not be as you imagined.

However, at A2B Assessments we prescribe more to the glass half full analogy, rather than the glass half empty.

Some positives to consider:

Universities are doing everything they can to make this year as normal a University experience as they can.  By September this may not be too different from the usual experience. There will still be face to face classes, social events and pubs and bars will be open! The only real difference is that social distancing will likely be enforced.

Due to people deferring, there are more places available at some of the top Universities in the world. Be warned that it is possible the intake in 2021 will be much larger than normal and therefore places may be limited.

With online lectures and seminars everything will be recorded. This means you can can really make the most of your learning and re-watch any content that you found confusing or tough.

Decision Time

Whether you decided to take your place or not, good luck with whatever the next year brings.

If do decide to take your place and you have additional needs, then make sure you get your Disabled Students Allowance in place before you start in September. This can be imperative to your success! You can find all the details you need on our website here, and you can can also book your DSA assessment.

All the best,

A2B

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Friday, June 12, 2020

Transitioning To University During Covid-19

In this article we will be looking at 7 tips for transitioning to university during Covid-19.

Check your University for specific updates regarding Covid-19

Get educated on how your university is handling the pandemic.  They will likely have a support page with details on how they are being affected and what they are doing to overcome any difficulties experienced. Many Universities also have a frequently asked questions page In relation to the coronavirus which may be a great place to start. Just do a quick Google search for your university + Covid 19.

Get Informed about your course.

In order to make sure that you have selected the best course for you, it is vital that you understand how your course is structured. Look for details on how it’s going to be taught, how it’s assessed and what you are required to do as a student. Don’t be afraid to get really technical, it’s in your best interest to understand how the current global pandemic affects how you’ll be taught and assessed.

If there is insufficient information available on your university’s website, then get in contact with your course leader or the student support team. They should be able to provide you with information on any changes you need to make in order to make the most out of your university experience.

Attend a virtual open day.

It is likely that your university will be hosting a virtual open day. Attending this is a useful way to get used to the university’s layout and the best way to check out how accessible the buildings are and whether or not you vibe with the university environment.

Reach out to fellow students online

In light of Covid-19, more people are socialising online than ever before. Make sure you take advantage of this by signing up to your university’s Facebook group. Here you will be able to find other students on your course or discover your neighbours before moving into halls. Be proactive and make the most of this, if you can make a few acquaintances before you even attend university you will have made a head start.

Prepare yourself for University life

If you’re going to be living alone for the first time, you’ll need to learn how to budget, cook and do your own laundry. It may take some getting used to, so it’s always advisable to get some practice in before you begin.

Check out our videos on 7 tips for making friends in freshers

How to survive financially at University

If you have additional needs get in touch with your disability team

In light of Covid-19, now more than ever your university is poised to make sure you get the very best learning experience. One of the ways with which they hope to achieve this is by ensuring that students with additional needs can still access the support they need.

However, the university won’t know about your particular needs unless you tell them, so your very first task is to get in touch with your disability advisor. A google search with the name of your university followed by disability team should bring up the details of someone to contact.

If you intend to move into Halls of Residence and have additional needs, you may need to make enquiries about the suitability of available accommodation. If you feel the accommodation isn’t suitable for your needs, you should ask what reasonable adjustments can be put in place by your university e.g. if you require ensuite accommodation for medical reasons. 

Apply for the Disabled Students Allowances (DSA)

Make sure you take advantage of the available funding options available such as the Disabled Students Allowances (DSA), and try to get yours in place before the beginning of the academic year.

To learn more about the DSA watch our video below.

 

If you haven’t applied for the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA), you can get all the information you need to do so right here and start your application here.

Good luck on your course.

A2B Assessments.

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Monday, June 8, 2020

How To Do A Digital Detox

For a great number of people worldwide, digital screen-time has significantly increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. In times when social distancing and isolation have become essential, modern technologies have made it possible to work, study, and live remotely.

With the help of the internet and technology; work, education and socialising have all moved online.

While taking advantage of this technology, we can lose track of how much time we spend on our devices and the impact this may have on our mental health.

Why is Digital Detox Important?

Research suggests that non-stop connectivity is linked to stress, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and other mental health issues. If you spend a lot of time in front of the screen, it is probably necessary to practice a digital detox: take breaks and refrain from using your smartphone, social media and other tech devices for a period of time.

Heavy Device Use Affects Mental Health

Heavy device use can cause mental health concerns, particularly among adolescents and young adults. Different studies showed that passive Facebook use leads to declines in emotional well-being over time by increasing envy in people.

Constant connectivity makes it hard to feel content and happy with your life. The fear of missing out (FOMO), as well as social pressures, may cause you to present yourself in one way online while you actually feel differently. This feeling of “not being yourself” can trigger feelings of dissatisfaction and unhappiness.

Under constant pressure from social media to filter and adapt, many young people tend to sacrifice their values, emotions, and needs, just to fit in. Unrealistic expectations, social pressures, FOMO, and comparing ourselves to others make our experiences seemingly gloomy and isolating, triggering feelings of loneliness, worthlessness, and depression.

Detoxing from social media can be a great way to stop comparing yourself to others and focus on more important things in your life.

digital-detox

How to Do a Digital Detox

Taking a break from your devices can benefit your mood, stress levels, and mental well-being. However, a digital detox doesn’t mean you have to completely detach from your tech devices. A digital detox is more about setting the limits when it comes to device and internet use.

  1. Set Boundaries

Limit your device use during some parts of the day and refrain from using them before you go to bed. Turn off push notifications on your smartphone and resist the urge to check your screen every few minutes.  You can use apps like Forest and Freedom to aid you in this.

  1. Mindfully Connect with Nature

Spend time outside whenever you get a chance. Sit on the ground, take your shoes off, and feel connected to nature around you. Practice mindfulness meditation for a few minutes to focus on the present and relax. Taking regular breaks to connect with nature and practice mindfulness can help you quiet down, alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression, and think positive thoughts.

  1. Read a book

Reading is a great way to pass the time and stay entertained when staying away from your devices.  Dive into a new book and feel the stresses of the world float away.

  1. Connect with People in Real Life

Spend time with people you love, even if you need to follow the social distancing rules. Have a meaningful conversation with your friend face-to-face, grab dinner with your sister, or cook a new recipe for your partner. No digital relationship can replace real-life interactions with people we love.

Although sometimes necessary, spending too much time glued to your screen can have a negative impact. Taking a break from your devices from time to time can help you feel rejuvenated, less stressed, and happier.

Further reading

Check out our blog on how social media affects your mental health.

A2B Assessments

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Wednesday, June 3, 2020

4 Awesome TV Shows Featuring Disabilities: Netflix Edition

Lockdown can be boring. We’ve decided to help you get through the boredom by selecting 4 awesome TV shows featuring disabilities. These shows feature characters who have disabilities acting in a manner that is both realistic and compelling.

We have selected these based on several criteria:

  1. The nuance of the character portrayals.
  2. The acting talent on show.
  3. The sheer entertainment value of the shows in question.

Without further ado, here are our 4 awesome TV shows featuring disabilities.

All currently available to stream in their entirety on Netflix (UK). We hope you have as much pleasure watching them as we did.

Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad tells the story of Walter White, a struggling chemistry teacher, who discovers that he has cancer and a limited time to live.

Driven to take care of his disabled son, his wife and his new daughter, he ventures into the illicit production of crystal meth. While the show shines in the portrayal of a man’s descent into the seedy underbelly of the drug trade, it also excels in how it depicts Walter White’s son in one of the strongest examples of a disabled actor being cast in a role that doesn’t focus on his disability in anyway.

IMDB Rating 9.5/10

Stranger Things

Set in the 1980s, Stranger Things follows a groups of friends as they uncover sinister government conspiracies and meet a young girl with supernatural powers.

While Stranger Things got a great deal of critical acclaim for its storyline and acting, it also impressed viewers with the way the writers of the show incorporated Gaten Matarazzo’s disability—Cleidocranial dysplasia, into the show after his audition. This was significant because it lends credence to the fact that specifying that characters be non-disabled in casting requirements is slowly becoming a thing of the past.

IMDB Rating 8.8/10

tv-shows-featuring-disabled

Atypical

Atypical is not your everyday romantic comedy. It follows Sam, a teenager on the autistic spectrum, as he navigates the thrilling and confusing world of dating and relationships.

As if this wasn’t complicated enough, Sam also has to assert his independence from his doting mother, father and sister, and navigate what normal truly means in a world where nothing seems to be typical.

IMDB Rating 8.3/10

Maniac

This last entry on the list is by no means the least. Maniac is a funny, yet realistic portrayal of what it feels like to love someone with mental illnesses.

It follows Owen and Annie as they take part in a pharmacological trial that they hope will help them deal with their Paranoid Schizophrenia and Borderline Personality Disorder, respectively.

Maniac wins the creation points for its sensitive portrayal of the issues they struggle with, and the challenges they face as they try to live life free of their demons.

IMDB Rating 7.8/10

If you prefer movies to TV series then check out our recent blog post on 10 disability aware movies to binge in lockdown.

A2B Assessments

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