Another Wall Comes Down – Accessibility Conference in Berlin

By: Noa Nitzan and Dana Cappel

25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and wall comes down – Apple Accessibility Summit, November 6-7, 2014

Last month, Berlin celebrated 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall.  We had the privilege to observe this emotional celebration thanks to an opportunity to attend an Apple Accessibility Summit that was occurring in Berlin at the same time. In the same few days we participated in celebrating the fall of a physical wall and championed the crumbling of barriers that prevent people with disabilities from leading independent lives. There were over 100 participants invited to the summit from various countries and we were treated to presentations, by Apple trainers, on various accessibility functions of iDevices.
There were also a number of impressive presentations given by educators and therapists currently working with adults and children with disabilities, and how they are using the iPad in their schools and institutions. The summit was moving and inspiring, and we were very happy to see the importance Apple gives to the issue of accessibility.

The opening reception was held in a hotel where we were treated to an impressive presentation and had the chance to mingle and network with other participants. The following day was spent in the auditorium over the Apple Store on Kurfürstendamm St.
In the coming weeks we will elaborate on iOS8 and the innovations it brings to accessibility. For today’s post we will give a brief summary of the summit itself.  
Sarah Herrlinger, Senior Product Manager for Accessibility, for Apple worldwide, presented an interesting summary of the accessibility features available today on the idevices. She showed a moving video of a young girl with severe CP, who does not have functional use of her hands, playing Angry Birds on her iPad. She played completely independently using a combination of two head switches, the switch scanning feature, and gestures created through the “assistive touch” options. It was captivating.
The features that most impressed us, however, were those that support people with visual impairments. It is particularly interesting, counter-intuitive even, that a device that provides no tactile feedback at all, and in fact is a device that relies heavily on its visual feedback, has changed the lives to such a degree for this population. Thanks to the VoiceOver feature, a screen reader built into the device, and to specifically developed apps, iDevices have become assistive devices for those with visual impairments. 
One of the presenters, with almost complete blindness, gave an engaging presentation showcasing how his iPhone helps him to get around in a new city, including how he pays for the train.  He demonstrated an app that uses the camera to identify bills or coins and speaks the denomination aloud.  Daniela Rubio, a woman with complete blindness demonstrated how a student can use VoiceOver to independently complete homework; including searches on the internet, copying, pasting and editing text into Pages, editing video and even taking photos. It was simply breathtaking.

A gril with visual impairment learing to navigate her iPad using a tactile model

Another very interesting presentation was given by Amanda Fourie and Karen Hart, from the Transoranje School for the Deaf, in South Africa. They presented digital book apps that they have created to improve the language and literacy of deaf children. Each page of the story has highlighted words, which when pressed activate options on the side such as video of the word in sign language and seeing the word in finger spelling.

Other presentations included those about the use of iPads for children with communication disorders, learning disabilities, dyslexia and other classroom uses.  
The day closed with a powerful and moving presentation by Srini Swaminathan, a teacher from India.  He shared his personal story and how it led him to dedicate his life to educating and improving the lives of children living in the poorest areas of Mumbai. His classroom is severely under-resourced and he has had to be very creative in his teaching methods. Srini believes that the best way to inspire the love for learning in children living under these conditions is through laughter, wonder, and creating a magical environment. Technological devices such as the iPad were indeed magical devices for him, especially for children that have little exposure to such things.  

Srini Swaminathan
Srini Swaminathan in action

He described one of his first experiences bringing the iPad to class, in which he attached it to a projector and hid the iPad under the table, so that each time the children touched the large screen, he simultaneously touched the hidden iPad which caused magical things to happen on the large screen. The children were obviously amazed.  He used the iPad to teach many things including maths and language, all the while maintaining a fun and engaging atmosphere. In order to acquire his iPad, Srini turned to crowdfunding.  He decided to train for a marathon, despite never having run a race before. He continues to run marathons on a regular basis, raising money for resources for schools around India.

We are grateful to have had the opportunity to attend this Accessibility Summit. To learn about important embedded accessibility features in the iPad and to hear about how others working with people with disabilities are using these features to improve the lives of their clients and students. It is essential that software and tech companies address these issues so that we can continue to break down the wall of exclusion.
Posted in Accessibility, Apple, Assistive Touch, VoiceOver
2 comments on “Another Wall Comes Down – Accessibility Conference in Berlin
  1. Thanks , I have just been searching for information about this subject for a while and yours is the greatest I have discovered till now.
    But, what about the bottom line? Are you positive
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  2. Dana Cappel, Technology Center Consultant says:

    Thanks for reading our blog! I’m glad that you were able to find some useful information. I’d be happy to answer your questions. Could you clarify which post and which information you are referring to? What do you mean by supply?

    Dana Cappel
    Technology Center Consultant
    Beit Issie Shapiro

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