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The Center for International Rehabilitation Research Information and Exchange (CIRRIE) organises a conference on the World Report on Disability, which is being released by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank on 9 June, 2011. The two-day symposium on September 12 & 13, 2011 at the DoubleTree Hotel Crystal City, Arlington, VA (USA) will be conducted in cooperation with WHO, the Pan American Health Organization, the World Bank, the Interagency Committee on Disability Research, and the United States International Council on Disabilities. For more information, please see the conference’s website.

The EU eAccess+ thematic network is developing a range of support systems for co-ordinating, supporting and improving the implementation of eAccessibility throughout Europe. The network has a special focus on three topics within eAccessibility (Web accessibility, Accessible convergent communications and accessible digital audio-visual systems, Self-service terminals (SSTs) and devices for banking and financial services, public transport, tourism and cultural heritage, e-government).

The network will involve all stakeholder groups (including legislators, regulators, policy makers, commissioners, owners and deployers of systems, developers of hardware and software, user organizations, researchers, accessibility and usability experts, educators), analyse the state of the art on eAccessibility, and analyse the obstacles and missing links hindering the uptake of eAccessibility

To address the current problems of improving eAccessibility, the network will develop online resources such as a website, wikis, and podcasts to address key eAccessibility topics, gather and review relevant information such as standards and guidelines, seek out examples of good practice and relevant case studies, and provide initial advice and links to appropriate more detailed advice services when needed.
More information on the project website.

A new international research report commissioned by ACCAN (Australian Communication Consumer Action Network) reports on 16 high-speed broadband applications that can provide enormous benefits to people with disabilities. The report was conducted between November 2009 and January 2010 and discusses the uses of broadband applications in Europe, the United States and Japan. “This is ground-breaking research into how the innovative use of high speed broadband can deliver potentially life-transforming services for consumers with disabilities,” Allan Asher, CEO of ACCAN said. “If Australia were to adopt these uses it would set the standard in international best practice with this platform.”
Download the report here.

The FCC (Federal Communications Commission – USA) released “A Giant Leap and a Big Deal: Delivering on the Promise of Equal Access to Broadband for People with Disabilities“. It is the second paper in a series of working papers that are being released in conjunction with the USA’s National Broadband Plan, and it is the first time the Commission has issued a working paper addressing accessibility and technology issues.
References are being made to EU backed initiatives such as the ÆGIS and Reach112 projects.

As appeared on PlatformOnline:

After taking in some sessions on technologies designed to improve health and education, we took a moment to speak David Brown, professor of interactive systems for social inclusion at NTU, and Penny Standen, professor of health, psychology and learning disabilities at the University of Nottingham, about their research into ‘serious games’.

What’s the difference between serious games and commercial games?

David Brown: Commercial games can be serious games, but it just means that, unlike commercial games with an entertainment purpose, serious games usually have some kind of learning or rehabilitation focus rather than purely entertainment.

At today’s conference, you presented several games designed to rehabilitate people with disabilities and health problems. Can you describe how one of those games would be used?

DB: One of the games that we develop is a 3D introduction to work. [It] uses the [Source] engine that’s used to produce [Half-Life 2]. Except we produce a new level of the game – it is modded. And instead of running around killing everybody, we strip all the weapons out, and we just use the characters the environments, the settings, the buildings, to simulate what it might be like for a person with a disability on their first day. Because they might have more extreme fear or trepidation about their first day. And there might be some really particular information about what a person with a disability must know on their first day – we use the game, and that engine, to simulate their first day at work.

Why did you decide to pursue this research?

DB: Really it was about 20 years ago. I started working with Penny [Standen] and the Sheppard school 20 years ago, because people with a learning disability don’t particularly work [well] with abstract ways of learning, such as learning English to describe something or mathematics. They work very well with being shown or interacting with three dimensional, interactive environments – where you can learn by doing, learn experientially rather than learning something like English then reading a book about it, because it is an abstract [way] to learn about a real world system. So, we simulate the real world system.
Penny Standen: You can also do it over and over again. You can practice things as many times as you like without really getting your teachers fed up. And it’s a safe environment in which to practice in.

The possibility to repeat tasks is a key advantage for serious games, then…

DB: Yeah. [Users] can interact, they can get consistent feedback. It is your interaction at drives the learning process, so you’re fully engaged in the system. We started with the development of virtual environments way back in the day. But what we find more recently is, we can do the same kind of simulations, but the games’ engines give us all of the environments and the characters already developed up to a really high [level] of fidelity. That’s what our young gamers have come to expect. So, if we were developing those characters ourselves we [would] have to invest huge amounts of time and energy to produce that kind of level of system. Whereas, games’ engines do half that work for us. We just then have to embed the narrative in there, rather than developing the environment and characters as well.

What sort of limitations are there for serious games?

DB: The limitations would be whether we’ve actually embedded the learning objectives in them. Sometimes with serious games, we put lots of learning objectives in and that detracts from the game playing element. But with pure games, there isn’t the learning embedded in it either. It’s about finding that middle ground between the two, so you’re maximising the engagement from a computer game, but also getting the advantages of having learning objectives. That’s a really fine line to balance between. Sometimes you achieve it and sometimes you don’t.

Where do think your research will take you in the future?

DB: Well, there are lots of things we want to do, like a lot of the stuff we’ve been showing tonight, such as stroke rehabilitation. What I want it to be now. We’ve had lots of ideas for the last 20 years, but, perhaps over the last five or six years, we’ve been proving that serious games and virtual environments do have a real clinical effect – as Penny’s proved – on people’s choice reaction time or their independent decision making or in some of the other studies on memory. So, these games and environments do have a real educational or clinical effect and we need to go on proving that. Once we [establish] that, they’ll be embedded into real educational and rehabilitation [institutions].
PS: [Building] something that’s more acceptable to a wide range of age groups as well. I think people have been saying that some of the [users] are too old and they may not want to do it. But I think they’ve got to be acceptable to everybody, so that people use them as a natural form of learning or treatment.

To find out more about serious games research in Nottingham see ntu.ac.uk/sat.

RoboBraille is named winner at the BETT Awards in London – the prestigious annual recognition of excellence in educational ICT. The Danish team behind the danish e-mail service RoboBraille won the prize together with the British partner The Royal National College for the Blind (RNBC) who took the prize. Among the nominees were strong combatants such as British BBC.
The RoboBraille service is an email-service capable of translating your documents to and from contracted Braille and to synthetic speech.
You use the RoboBraille email accounts by submitting a document (e.g., a text file, a Word document, a HTML page) as email attachment. The translation is returned to you via email, typically within a matter of minutes. All files are handled confidentially and they are deleted from the server as soon as your translation is done.
The RoboBraille service is available free of charge to all non-commercial users.
The BETT Awards is an annual scheme that highlights exemplar digital products intended for the education marketplace. The event is produced by Emap Connect, the organiser of the largest educational technology show in the world – BETT. The BETT Awards is made possible by working in association with Becta, the Government’s lead agency for ICT in education, and BESA, the trade association representing the educational supply industry.
For more information please visit: http://www.bettawards.com