Damian Radcliffe

Posts Tagged ‘older people’

June 11: stories and issues relating to older and disabled people which have caught my eye in the last month

In Monthly round up: Older People and Disability issues on June 2, 2011 at 5:48 pm

1.         Third Sector

  • A free BT web kit offers charities and community groups a free service to raise their profile. More than 3,500 websites in the UK have been built on the BT Community Web Kit service so far. The kit’s website service provides free website hosting as well as a free website address. Users can also choose layouts and design while uploading images and pictures to make each website unique with a professional look and feel.

 

Find out more:  www.btck.co.uk

2.         Smartphones / Apps

  • A smartphone application which transcribes audio museum tours into captions and sign language has been released.  Developed by the Australian Communication Exchange, the Smart Auslan service can be downloaded to a personal smartphone or accessed through museum-owned phones across Australia. The user scans a ‘Quick Response code’ on each exhibit which prompts the phone to display the relevant captions and sign language video:

Find out more: http://bit.ly/iiFNl4

3.         Services for Older People

  • Linda Natansohn, COO of eons.com, a US social networking site aimed at baby boomers, admitted the site is struggling to persuade the advertising industry that it offers access to an appealing demographic, but insisted: “This group has two trillion dollars in disposable income, and they are very web savvy.”

Read more: http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/making-sense-of-news/112370/seniors-increasingly-read-news-online-use-social-media-to-stay-connected/

  • In May, a plan to establish a new public service video-on-demand digital web TV channel which will focus on, and broadcast topical news and information relevant and of particular interest to, everyone aged 50 and over was announced.  Entitled BeetrootTV – you might like to see the Beetroot TV Briefing Note and Beetroot TV Q&A.  And the ‘taster’ web-site can be found at http://www.BeetrootTV.org

Beetroot TV is being developed by Sheena McDonald and Simon Gallimore in collaboration with Independent Age, enabled by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

 
     

4.         Telecare and Telehealth

  • The Guardian suggests Scotland is ahead of England in its approach to implementing telecare and telehealth technologies. Dr James Ferguson, the lead clinician at the Scottish Centre for Telehealth, argues that because patients in Scotland are often a long way from clinicians, there has been a drive to include remote monitoring and support as an integral part of care packages.

Read the article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/healthcare-network/2011/apr/13/scotland-teach-england-telehealth-james-ferguson

  • A survey of 200 patients using telehealth in North Yorkshire showed that patients with long term conditions prefer to be monitored from home. 96% of those currently using telehealth would recommend the technology to others.

http://www.nyytelehealth.co.uk/news/ninety_six_percent_of_north_yorkshire_patients_would_recommend_telehealth/

5.         Disability

  • A new government report argues that the 2012 Paralympic Games should transform perceptions of disabled people. The report also argues that London 2012 is already delivering improvements to the lives of people with disabilities, including offering jobs, training, sport opportunities and an uplift in awareness across the UK.

 Read the report here:  http://www.culture.gov.uk/news/news_stories/8058.aspx

  • Disabled People’s User-led Organisations have been given access to a new £3million initiative announced by the Minister for Disabled People, which includes a Facilitation Fund allowing these bodies to bid for small amounts of money for specific projects to improve their overall sustainability.

Read more: http://odi.dwp.gov.uk/odi-projects/user-led-organisations.php

6.         Web

  • A report by Gartner claimed that “digital media will cannibalise print media” after a study of consumers across six countries, including the UK and US, found more than half of tablet users preferred reading text on screens to print, with older demographics expressing the most attachment to paper products.

See: http://www.techeye.net/business/paper-screwed-up-in-favour-of-digital-readers

  • DCMS has published a set of 10 principles for inclusive web design to highlight the importance of building websites that can be used by as wide a range of people as possible.

The principles were written by Sandi Wassmer, managing director of web design company Copious and can be viewed on the DCMS site: http://bit.ly/mfx9ax

The ten principles are broken down into keywords such as equitable; flexible; straightforward; and perceptible, each followed by a brief explanatory statement to give guidance on how the term relates to inclusive website design.

  • Google and FutureGov  are holding a hack event later this month focussed on making the web accessible to older generations: http://goo.gl/7Gf8e

7.         TV / Advertising

  • A Wall Street Journal report on the US TV industry said networks are adjusting their pitch to advertisers as average audiences age, arguing the current generation of baby-boomers is fundamentally different from earlier generations who wound down their spending after the age of 55.

CBS chief research officer David Poltrack said: “Rather than saying a 22-year-old is more valuable than a 58-year-old, we’re saying, ‘Look, the fact is an affluent 58-year-old is certainly more valuable than a 22-year-old who is just getting by.”

See: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703559604576174983272665032.html

8.         Consumer

  • The Guardian has an article on the costs of calling 118 directory enquiry services. [Our] “research shows that being connected to a number via a 118 service can cost in excess of £10 for five minutes from a mobile. Calling directory enquiries from a mobile can cost more than £2, while a typical 45-second 118 call costs an average of £1.75 from a landline, research shows.”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2011/may/16/warning-118-directory-enquiries-charges

9.         Innovation, Ageing and Healthcare

  • Slides, and a short contextual blog post, from Simon Roberts based on his talk (in February) to Imperial Business School.

Visit: http://bit.ly/f8KvzN

 

Stories and issues relating to older and disabled people which have caught my eye in the last month

In Monthly round up: Older People and Disability issues on March 12, 2011 at 7:18 pm

1.         Older People

  • I recently came across Eldy, (Seniors Computer Software for Elderly) a piece of free software that turns a standard PC into an easy-to-use computer for people that have never used a computer before (one user described it as the “Fisher Price Internet”). It provides a six buttons interface with email, internet, chat, videoconferencing, documents, pictures, skype and more.

 

 

  • Angela Rippon told the Daily Telegraph that former BBC director-general John Birt had suggested her career was over when she became 50. Rippon is adamant Birt would not have treated her male counterparts in a similar fashion.

 

  • A reportby David Sinclair of ILC-UK, for Age UK, considers the market potential of the older consumer and highlights how companies can make more of this population. It notes that Older people’s spending reached an estimated £97 billion in 2008 (65 plus)‚ around 15% of the overall household expenditure. Those aged 50 or over spent £276 billion in 2008‚ making up around 44% of the total family spending in the UK.Yet despite the size of the market, this report finds that for many, the private sector does not meet their needs. This is not just a story of poverty or a lack of income to buy products, but of a consumer marketplace which frequently fails to meet the needs of an ageing population. People of all income levels are consumers. For the poorest consumer, they often find that they pay more and get less back in return.Some older people are well served by the market. And in some cases older people get fantastic service from the private sector. Yet there are significant issues facing the older consumer. Many of the issues highlighted below have been documented in literature as far back as the 1960s. David argues that some of the failings outlined in this report are indicative of market failure.

 

2.         Equality

  • Disability Now reports on how two English councils were forced to abandon plans to charge for Blue Badge parking, following threats of action under equality legislation.

 

  • The European Union has formally concluded the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, becoming the first intergovernmental group to sign any human rights treaty. The UK has already ratified the Convention, find more information here.

 

  • The Equality and Human Rights Commission has published guides for public authorities on the new public sector equality duty under the Equality Act 2010, which comes into force on 6 April 2011. They are available here.

 

3.         Telehealth

 

  • A new report from the NHS Confederation argues that an over-reliance on treatment delivered through face-to-face contact means the NHS ‘risks being stuck in the technological dark ages’. It notes that people increasingly expect to be able to manage parts of their healthcare remotely using modern communication technologies:

 

‘Progress has been made but health services have still struggled with new technologies as a combination of top down initiatives and a lack of engagement from clinicians and patients has meant new technologies such as telemedicine and telecare have failed to truly take off. In the future, government needs to support uptake of health technology in a sustained and systematic way without resorting to an overly prescriptive, centralised plan. Despite the huge funding pressures, NHS organisations should continue to make the case for new technologies as they will form the backbone for how we access many public services in the future. The key will be to address the cultural barriers that stop the uptake of new technologies’.

 The report called ‘Remote control: The patient-practitioner relationship in a digital age’, is available here.

 

4.         Digital Participation

  • Two new internet champions have been crowned in a BT-backed initiative to show millions of people over 65 the benefits of using the web.  Margaret Goodwin, 64, from Henley-on-Thames and David Howe, 70, from Devon, were announced Age UK internet champions for 2011 at London’s BT Tower.

More information: www.bt.com/getittogether  

  • A survey by the Pew Research Center found that 2% of US adults – six million people – have a disability that makes it difficult or impossible for them to use the internet. 54% of US adults with a disability (around 45 million people) reporting themselves as going online, compared with 81% of non-disabled adults.

 

The quality of internet speed and access were also shown to vary according to a person’s disability profile. “People living with disability, once they are online, are also less likely than other internet users to have high-speed access or wireless access. For example, 41% of adults living with a disability have broadband at home, compared with 69% of those without a disability”.

  • The Fix the Web project, which launched in November, already helped to solve problems with 26 sites using volunteers to contact website owners on behalf of disabled internet users who encounter access problems.

 

Users contact Fix the Web with complaints through the Fix the Web site, email, Twitter or a new toolbar, developed by the University of Southampton ( http://bit.ly/exuzAc ), and the volunteers then take up the complaints on their behalf, allowing people to report any problems.

Companies that have resolved issues flagged up by Fix the Web include several BBC sites, with work on tagging of images and resizing of text, the Coventry Building Society’s online banking services and Doodle (an online scheduling service), which is currently making its site more accessible to screen-readers.

  • The disability charity Scope has launched Meeting Point, an online forum for young disabled people.

 

5.         Technology

 

This report looks at the ramifications of the digital future and the ways in which society must adjust to the technological changes to come; saying:

‘Computer technologies are not neutral – they are laden with human, cultural and social values.  We need to define a new agenda for human-computer interaction in the 21st century – one that anticipates and shapes the impact of technology rather than simply reacts to it.’

 

  • The Office for Disability Issues (ODI) Accessible Media Player promises to offer “an inclusive online experience for disabled and non-disabled users, whether watching video or listening to a podcast. The player, which has been tested with people with a range of impairments, works particularly well for people with learning disabilities. It is the first online media player to pass the RNIB Surf Right accessibility audit and is available free to any government department or voluntary sector organisation.” Full details here.

 

  • Significan’t has introduced a real time captioning service called WebCapTel in which operators transcribe speech into text using voice recognition software and display it on the screens of desktop and mobile devices. A report on the service in Ability Magazine is here and there is more about WebCapTel and other SignVideo services from Significan’t here.

 

6.         Disability – attitudes

The ODI has published a report: ‘Public perceptions of disabled people’ – which looks at attitudes towards disabled people, and how attitudes have changed between 2005 and 2009.

Key Points:

  • Attitudes towards disabled people have improved since 2005; for example a smaller proportion of people said that they thought of disabled people as getting in the way (7% compared with 9% in 2005) or with discomfort and awkwardness (17% compared with 22% in 2005). People were also more likely to think of disabled people as the same as everybody else (85% compared with 77% in 2005).

 

  • There is, however, belief that prejudice towards disabled people is widespread. Almost 8 out of 10 respondents felt that there is either a lot or a little prejudice towards disabled people.

 

  • Whilst few people reported openly negative views, many respondents expressed views that suggest they see disabled people as less capable than non-disabled people. Respondents were least comfortable with people with learning disabilities or mental health conditions in situations where disabled people were in positions of authority, such as being a Member of Parliament or a boss at work. These scenarios were also amongst those that respondents found least comfortable in respect of people with physical or sensory impairments.

 

  • Nearly four in ten people thought of disabled people as less productive than non-disabled people and three quarters of people thought of disabled people as needing to be cared for some or most of the time. This suggests that a degree of ‘benevolent prejudice’ exists towards disabled people.

 

  • Almost 8 out of 10 people thought that most people would feel very or fairly uncomfortable if someone said something negative about disabled people either in the local shops, with their close friends or at work in front of their boss or colleagues.

 

  • There is no clear relationship between age and prejudice. In general it was people in the youngest (18 to 24) and oldest (65+) age groups who were least likely to be comfortable in interacting with disabled people.

 

7.         Extended Feature – Excellent piece on web habits of 55-75 age group from Brand Republic

(Published at: http://bit.ly/hGvEXw – or below, but without the graphs)

Generation 62.0: Digital planning for an aging population

Richard Morris, brandrepublic.com, 31 January 2011

Older people aren’t just going online to check their bank accounts; they’re also getting social and playing games, writes Richard Morris, deputy managing director at Carat.

This article looks into an under researched demographic – 55-74 year olds – to uncover what they think of the internet, how they use it and what this means for advertising. The data is provided by Carat’s Consumer Connection System (CCS), giving in depth and media actionable lifestyle, attitudinal and demographic insight.

Who are we looking at and how often do they access the internet?

  • 55-75 year olds make up 28% of the total UK population, which translates to 12,868,000 people
  • Of those, three quarters of 55-64 year olds and 55% of 65-75 year olds use the internet at least occasionally (5,306 million and 3,158 million users respectively)
  • Interestingly, although over half of the 55-75 age group are light users (under 15 hours per week,) a quarter can be considered to be ‘heavy users’ (30+ hours a week) and 45% medium users (15-30 hours per week).
  • 83% of 55-64s and 61% of 65-75s access the internet at least once a week on their home PC or laptop.

What are they doing online?

Regular online activities, at first glance, appear relatively functional – fitting in with established research into this age group’s internet usage.  

They aim to make life easier for themselves, with personal banking and emails being one of the most frequent activities, undertaken at least once a week, while 38% look for the best products by using online reviews, and the same amount look to get them as cheaply as possible with price comparison sites.

What may come as a surprise, however, is that CCS suggests a third of this group access social networks.

Forty seven percent use either Skype or instant messenger services to communicate, and a quarter stream films/TV at least 2-3 times a month.

In addition, just over a fifth enter competitions at least once a week, and almost two fifths use the internet to access the news online rather than watching it on the television.

Furthermore, we can look at affinity (how more or less likely a group are to behave in a certain way compared to others – in this case 55-75’s compared to the overall UK population, expressed via indexes) when exploring consumer behaviours, enabling the planner to make crucial distinctions between age groups. 

The sites which have the greatest affinity vary slightly with age; respondents in the 55-64 group are more likely to look at holiday sites such as Expedia compared to the 65-75s. Within both groups informative sites such as Ask, directgov.co.uk and the Microsoft site have fairly strong indexes, as well as newspaper websites such as the Telegraph and the Readers Digest.

Social networking

Social networking has become an increasingly large part of people’s day-to-day lives and it’s no different for the older generation, although not quite as frequent as the younger groups.

The membership among Facebook is highest, although the greatest affinity lies with the more matured ‘FriendsReunited’, which has an index of 118 and 78 with the 55-64 and 65-75 age groups respectively.

However 30% of 55-75 year olds visit Facebook at least once a month (9% check it daily) while usership within FriendsReunited is considerably less, with only 15% checking it once a month and only 0.5% checking it daily.

We can also examine the most common activities on social networking sites. These include a third reading updates from friends, 30% posting/sending messages and a further 30% looking at content others have uploaded.

Nineteen percent comment on others statuses, 16% play games and 15% chat on instant messenger services on the sites.

Again, a pattern of expected behaviours as well as perhaps some slightly unexpected ones are emerging. 

These age groups are not merely part of the social media revolution – they are active participants within it. 

Attitudes to the internet

Looking deeper into what is important to these groups when it comes to the internet, it becomes apparent that attitudes in general do not shift much between the 55-65 and 65-75 age groups. 

There are, however, some differences to be found.

Sixty two percent of 55-64s and 57% of 65-75s agree that they look to the internet first for research on expensive items.  

Sixty percent and 52% respectively even say that the internet is the first place they look for information, while 42% of both groups are concerned about privacy on social networking sites.

A third say email is an important part of their social life. Forty percent and 31% respectively agree that they don’t know what they’d do without the internet, and 46% and 48% agree that they spend the majority of their time on just a small number of sites.

The 55-64 group are more likely to share sites they find interesting (35% agree compared to 25% in the 65-75’s), 38% say that gaming is for all people not just for children compared to 21% of 65-75s, and 42% say they generally tell the truth on their social networking site compared to only 29% of 65-75s.

The data indicates that, as people get older, the usefulness of the internet diminishes as their priorities shift. 

They do not avoid it necessarily because of a lack of understanding or an unwillingness to adopt new technology, more that the function it serves becomes less relevant to them.

While they continue to reap the benefits of being able to more easily manage their utilities/finances, gain access to the news and research/buy products, the aspects that have become increasingly relevant to the younger generation of internet users, of course, are simply no longer relevant.

Planning applications

Such insights can have profound implications for communicating with this audience, enabling us to truly optimise the online experience. 

For example, Facebook has clearly broken free from its stereotyped past and the information gleaned from CCS on membership, and even usage, now enables planners to fully utilise its possibilities. 

Furthermore, it is clear that traditional papers and TV are now not the only way to target older members of society, encouraging us to add a further layer to our communications as heavy usage of digital editions of papers and VoD becomes increasingly common among this group. 

Importantly, the insight that more than a quarter of this group share with friends the websites they find interesting indicates the exciting possibilities of what could be achieved with an effective digital campaign targeting this segment. 

In an age where media usage is increasingly fragmenting and becoming ever more digitalised, it is clear that the older generations are not being left behind.

Richard Morris, deputy managing director, Carat

Stories and issues relating to older and disabled people which have caught my eye in the last month

In Monthly round up: Older People and Disability issues on February 9, 2011 at 7:09 pm

1.         20% of people in the UK today to become Centurions (or at least live to 100)

Nearly a fifth of people living in the UK today are expected to celebrate their 100th birthday, according to government projections released recently. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said its figures suggested 10 million people – 17% of the population – would become centenarians.

These are based on Office for National Statistics population projections and life expectancy estimates.

Pensions Minister Steve Webb said the “staggering” figures brought home the need for pension reforms. “Many millions of us will be spending around a third of our lives or more in retirement in the future,” he said, adding the government was determined to reform the pensions system to make it “sustainable for the long-term”.

The DWP estimates there will be at least 507,000 people aged 100 or over by 2066, including 7,700 people aged 110 or over, so-called super centenarians.

Currently 11,800 people in the UK are aged 100 or over and fewer than 100 are over 110.

The government figures suggest that of the more than 10m who will go on to reach 100, 3m are currently aged under 16, 5.5m are aged between 16 and 50, and 1.3m are aged between 51 and 65. About 875,000 are already aged over 65.

See some charts showing this here: http://www.dwp.gov.uk/newsroom/press-releases/2010/dec-2010/dwp186-10-301210.shtml

 

2.         End of the default retirement age

The Government has indicated an end to the default retirement age (DRA), following the consultation launched by the Coalition last July.

Ministers have decided to proceed with their plan to phase out the DRA between 6 April and 1 October this year to both reflect the changing UK demographic and enable more choice for workers as to when they want to retire.

As well as benefiting individuals – the Government argues – the freedom to work for longer will provide a boost to the UK economy in the face of an ageing population.

 

3.         Older People on Television

Not surprisingly, lots of coverage in the past month about the successful ageism case former Countryfile presenter Miriam O’Reilly brought against the BBC.

Former Countryfile presenter Miriam O’Reilly, who won a landmark age discrimination case against the BBC, told the Sunday Telegraph she felt she had been “erased” from the Corporation. She said: “I found out through a press release that it was only the women who were going. It was like I’d never worked on the programme. I felt very hurt by it. I was very sad. I knew Jay Hunt [former BBC One controller] wanted to refresh the programme but I became angry when I realised it was only the women who were being ‘refreshed’.” She added: “I hope other women will take a similar stand. I think the BBC should be very worried.”

A recent edition of the Guardian’s weekly Media Talk podcast has a good summary of the case and its implications, you can listen to it online at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/audio/2011/jan/13/media-talk-podcast-countryfile-miriam-oreilly-arizona-shootings

Meanwhile, a number of other broadcasters commented on the case, see:

 

Whilst the Daily Mail has an extended interview with Miriam: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1347627/Countryfiles-Miriam-OReilly-says-theres-offensive-wrinkles.html   

Writing in The Times, Patrick Foster, notes that one study found last year that only 20 per cent of presenters and actors on BBC One were over 50, compared with 34 per cent of the population.

Most recently, the Guardian ran a feature entitled: “Who are you calling past it?” which features interviews with Joan Bakewell (77), Jennie Bond (60), and others on their experiences as women working in the media: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/feb/05/older-women-tv-radio-miriam-oreilly

Whilst The Sunday Times reported the BBC’s ratings-winning consumer show Rip Off Britain has given presenters Gloria Hunniford, Angela Rippon and Jennie Bond the chance to ‘defy the Corporation’s obsession with youth’ amid recent controversy surrounding the employment of older women. All of the presenters are in their sixties and seventies.

Rippon commented: “It shows that you should never underestimate your audience. They really do not care about the age or sex of the presenters. They just care about what they like. The public is more discerning than television executives over who they want to watch.”

 

4.         BBC Director-General to chair Cultural Diversity Network

Mark Thompson, the BBC Director-General becomes Chair of the Cultural Diversity Network (CDN) for a period of two years. He takes over from Channel 4’s Chief Executive David Abraham.  As Chair, Mark Thompson will lead an association of Britain’s leading broadcasters and independent production companies to improve diversity in the television industry – both on screen and behind the camera.

The CDN is an association of Britain’s leading broadcasters and independent production companies, originally formed in 2000, to improve the representation of ethnic minorities in television both on screen and behind the camera. It focuses on working with its member broadcasters on sharing expertise, resources and models of good practice.

As members of the CDN, programme makers and commissioners are encouraged to think about ethnic minority representation, disability, sexual orientation, age, gender and social background when casting or recruiting.

Diversity Pledge

The CDN introduced a Diversity Pledge in 2009 – a public commitment by independent production companies, in-house producers and their suppliers to take measurable steps to improve diversity in the television industry.

The pledge is split into four sections covering different aspects of diversity with practical suggestions on how to improve representation. The approach is flexible – it’s up to individual companies to set their own agenda.

The four aspects are:

1. Recruiting fairly and from as wide a base as possible and encouraging industry entrants and production staff from diverse backgrounds.
2. Encouraging diversity in output.
3. Encouraging diversity at senior decision-making levels.
4. Taking part in, or running, events that promote diversity.

 

5.         Digital Inclusion

“We don’t have a computer. Are we missing out?”

This was the question posed by two older Guardian readers recently. The responses from the public don’t say anything you probably don’t already know, but it ‘s good to hear readers outline the arguments for – and against – rather than simply people who work in this field.

Read the comments here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/blog/2011/jan/28/do-we-need-a-computer

 

6.         ‘Life Opportunities Survey’

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published interim results from the ‘Life Opportunities Survey’ (LOS), the first major longitudinal survey in Great Britain to apply the social model and explore disability in terms of social barriers to participation, rather than in terms of impairments or health conditions.

The LOS compares the experiences of people with and without impairments across a range of different areas. Barriers identified include ‘discrimination; the attitudes of other people; inaccessible buildings, public transport and information; as well as lack of support, equipment and adjustments’.

Key findings from the survey include:

  • 29% of adults had an impairment
  • 26% of adults were disabled as defined by the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA)
  • 56% of adults with impairments experienced restrictions in the type or amount of paid work they did, compared with 26% adults without impairments (equipment was identified by disabled people as an enabler in employment)
  • 74% of adults with impairments experienced restrictions in using transport, compared with 58% without impairments
  • 12% of adults with impairments experienced a participation restriction in housing (accessing rooms within their home or getting in or out of their home), compared with 1% without impairments, with common barriers in both cases including ‘stairs, lack of ramps/stair lift’
  • 29% of adults with impairments experienced a participation restriction to accessing buildings outside their home, compared with 7% without impairments

 

The survey was commissioned by the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) alongside two qualitative research reports. The research and factsheets summarising the findings are here.

 

7.         Disability Hate Crime

Almost half of all disabled people are affected by disability hate crime. However, only 1,200 cases were prosecuted in the three years to March 2010. To counter this, Radar, the Royal Association for Disability Rights, is working to improve the reporting and recording of disability hate crime by:

– mapping disability hate crime third party reporting sites that already exist or are being set up

– exploring disabled people’s experiences of reporting disability hate crime.

Get involved now by visiting the Radar or ODI website: http://www.odi.gov.uk/about-the-odi/odi-news.php#radar

 

8.         Wayfinding Technology

The installation of digital ‘wayfinding’ technologies to help blind people find their way around railways stations and other public spaces might not be cost-effective for five years or more, according to Dr John Gill, a consultant and former RNIB chief scientist.

His comments follow the publication of a report on “Evaluating wayfinding systems for blind and partially sighted customers at stations” has been published by the Rail Safety and Standards Board and is at http://www.rssb.co.uk/sitecollectiondocuments/pdf/reports/research/T881_rpt_final.pdf  with the  appendices at http://www.rssb.co.uk/sitecollectiondocuments/pdf/reports/research/T881_apps_final.pdf

The research found that there are a significant number of existing or potential rail passengers who are blind or visually impaired. Improvements to the network are being undertaken by several parties within the GB rail industry to provide benefits to passengers with a range of specific needs, building on the considerable investment in recent years in systems such as real time audio and visual information and provision or improvement of step free access to stations.

This work has included a pilot deployment of the RNIB React system in Scotland, RNIB ‘React’ is a talking sign system whereby audio messages are triggered by users carrying a special trigger fob when they approach. Whilst demonstrating some benefits of the React system, there were problems with planning, implementing and maintaining the React system cost-effectively: current estimated costs for implementing such a system across the entire UK rail network are between £250 million and £500 million.

Given this size of cost, “only those systems which provide some benefits to the wider rail-travelling community (as opposed to only the visually-impaired) look likely to be even worth considering”, the report says. In the meantime, the provision of extra staff to assist people with disabilities might be more cost-effective, as such staff would also be able to undertake other tasks, it says.

Dr Gill, who contributed to the report on the potential benefits of future technologies in this field such as radio frequency tags (RFID), smartcards and satellite location systems, said in time cheaper technologies could be developed combining positioning systems with live train information accessed over the web.

These alternative technologies include:

  • Infra-red
  • Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)
  • Bar codes
  • Wireless (including Bluetooth and React)

 

“The problems with implementing systems like React were not just related to technology but maintenance”, he said.  “You need systems to see if it is working reliably. If there is a talking sign on the end of a platform saying don’t walk any further, and it’s not working, is actually creating a safety hazard. Any system has got to work 99.9% of time, so you can rely on it.”

The decision on when to make investments in wayfinding technologies is ultimately a political one, Dr Gill said. “It’s a matter of who is going to pay, and who else is going to benefit.

The rate of change of technology and economics is so fast that one hesitates to predict exactly when it will work out.”

Quotes from: http://www.headstar.com/eablive/?p=530

 

9.         Europe

A proposal for a ‘European Accessibility Act’, which will include accessibility measures on ICT and websites, will be put forward during 2012. The act, part of actions following on from a wider European Disability Strategy ( http://bit.ly/fDCRlP ) unveiled last year, will be based on an upcoming commission study of accessibility barriers for disabled citizens across Europe. The study will cover access to public services, public buildings and transport, as well as other areas.

The act will set out contain common standards to help regulate accessible design in a number of areas including ICT, the built environment and product design.

 

 10.      Next phase of superfast broadband plans announced

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has outlined government plans for ‘the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015’, working in partnership with the private sector, councils and communities. To reduce the ‘digital divide’, all parts of the UK will be covered, with government funding for areas that the market cannot reach. A ‘world class communications network’ is seen as fundamental for economic growth and for more efficient and accessible public services.

Plans include:

  • a mix of technologies –fixed, wireless and satellite – to deliver superfast broadband
  • developing the next generation of mobile broadband services, based on new wireless technologies
  • a Publicly Available Specification for new build homes to give developers and builders a steer as to what connectivity homes should contain

 

Recognising the need to ‘ensure that consumers are comfortable with technology and that those currently excluded from the digital world, for whatever reason, are able to join it and reap the benefits’, the strategy refers to Martha Lane Fox’s Race Online initiative (details here).

There are also references to tele-working for disabled people and to the Whole System Demonstrator programme. The press release is here.

Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) is the delivery vehicle for these policies. To find out via this link.