Chronicle

When new technology supports the users

It feels as if everything has already been said about how tired we are of starring at our screens. But at the same time, no one wants to think about living in lock down without digital solutions. Fortunately, people continue to develop smart things even in tough times.

Susanna Laurin
Title: Chief Research and Innovation Officer

Maybe technology will solve accessibility problems in the future and we can all retire? A few years ago, abbreviations in the field of technology started to make it hard to communicate. All self-respecting companies talked about AI, VR and AR, but it did not really feel like everyone understood what it was actually about - more than that, as usual, it was supposed to be the future.

We are not quite there yet, but there are many good examples to lighten up these troubled times:

As a web author, AI can help you when describing images for blind users, using automaticly generated suggestions for alternative text descriptions (ALT text). The suggestions are getting much better. Google, Microsoft, Facebook and others offer this as standard in their solutions. The proposals are not always right, but the fact that a proposal for an ALT-text does appear makes it difficult for the content creator not to act.

With the automatic suggestions, web authors who previously did not know that they should provide ALT-texts to their images become aware of it. At the same time, web authors who find it difficult or cumbersome can get help on the fly. The automatically generated suggestions provide support to anyone who is in a hurry or is just a little lazy (quite common among humans).

This way, technology can actually educate people, which is an overwhelming thought in all its simplicity.

At Funka, we have never met anyone like this, but we are told that there are people who do not care about accessibility. Their images also get an alternative description, which means the technology is both generous and democratic.

Similarly, automatic captioning is gradually getting better, which we have reported on several times before. Automatic captioning is built into more software, the quality is improving, and more and more languages ​​are covered. We believe that soon enough, there will be no valid reason to claim disproportionate burden when it comes to captioning – as technology is doing a good enough job for us.

Virtual reality, VR, is increasingly used, not least in healthcare. One example among many is a Danish company which specialises in ensuring that children have other things to think about - and also sit still - when they undergo medical examinations or treatments that may be scary or painful. A combination of gamification, emerging technology and understanding of human needs makes the innovation successful.

In one of Funka's research projects, we use virtual reality and 360 ° video to increase awareness and knowledge about hidden disabilities. With the help of this technology, it is easier to efficiently provide insights that are difficult to convey verbally. Well-made feature films with suggestive music have used this idea for many years, but with VR technology, it is possible to take the experience to a new level.

But what does this mean - really?

It is complicated with abbreviations that are difficult to explain, understand and translate into something most users can relate to. Technology, usage and terminology usually need some time to settle.

It is still difficult to know if the people you talk to grasp the inner meaning of artificial intelligence, machine learning and deep learning, let alone virtual or augmented reality. But that’s all yesterdays news – welcome to XR. The industry has not really decided what it means yet, but in essence it has to do with VR, AR and the so-called mixed reality.

The international standardisation body W3C recently published a first draft of a standard on user requirements for XR. It is valuable that a first attempt to define where different aspects of accessibility come into the picture is now published. While new technology can contribute to solutions, it also risks creating new problems, unless the users' needs are considered early on.

There is also a network of companies and research institutions that work with XR and accessibility, XRAccess, which publishes research results and guidelines on the subject for anyone who wants to learn more.

Maybe it's beneficial to cover all these new ideas in a single collective abbreviation that includes all the hardware, software and technology, or a mixture of everything? Or, XR will just add another layer of confusion, where the distance between "we who know" and "we who do not understand" becomes greater. Or, maybe I'm just getting old.

Using AI to Improve Photo Descriptions for People Who Are Blind and Visually Impaired - opens in new window

Specially designed virtual reality game for children who are afraid of needles - opens in new window

XR Accessibility User Requirements - opens in new window

A community committed to making virtual, augmented, and mixed reality (XR) accessible to people with disabilities - opens in new window

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