Uber came to Coventry. Malcom (sic) Glenn has the grand title of Head of Global Policy, Accessibility and Underserved Communities and his job is to make sure Uber cars can reach people when and where they need them: ‘We discovered that there are many people in the USA who have restricted access to transport and, by extension, restricted access to work, to health services, social engagement and leisure opportunities too.’

By Sal McKeown

Uber was the headline sponsor for ATEC on March 28 th at Double Tree by Hilton Hotel in Coventry. ATEC stands for Assistive Technology Exhibition and Conference and their event showcases the latest developments in assistive technology for education and the workplace. Plus it provides the latest news about the Disabled Students’ Allowance and Access to Work funding.

Malcom Glenn came to ATEC as part of a Europe-wide tour. He was keen to meet professionals who could provide an insight into the transport needs of people with disabilities and the communities where they live.

Uber doesn’t just provide safe taxis via an app for the young and carefree on a Saturday night. The company also provides WAVs (wheelchair accessible vehicles), employs deaf and hard of hearing drivers and makes sure all staff are trained in disability awareness so they can support people who need extra help for whatever reason. They have been pioneers in using new technology such as Aira, an augmented reality solution that connects people who are blind or who have low vision to a person in a call centre who can help them access visual information.

Malcom hopes Uber can complement existing transport provision: ‘Your black cabs in London are accessible compared to cabs in many other countries, but the coverage is not so good in the outer suburbs, so we are looking to introduce Uber WAVs into a number of cities across the UK.’

Kamran (sic) Mallik (sic), CEO of Disability Rights UK, was very positive about his Uber experience on the day of the conference. He told the audience how in the past he had to enter into complicated negotiations with taxi companies, probably 24 hours or more before the time he needed a taxi. Now, thanks to the Uber app, he could make his way from his home, travel across London, get a train to Coventry and a taxi to the venue in the same way a non-wheelchair user would do. His Uber experience was in contrast to the prohibitive cost of equipment which has the disability label. As he pointed out, a top of the range bike is a bargain compared to the cost of even a basic wheelchair.

The final keynote was from Antony (sic) Ruck, ATEC Conference Director and Chair of BATA, about changes to the Disabled Students’ Allowance. This may bring assistive technology more into the mainstream but there are worries that it will open up the market for big mainstream companies which do not have a track record in assistive technology or experience of training users with disabilities. This could mean a poorer experience for Higher Education students in the future. Watch this space.

There were 23 exhibitors at ATEC. some were hi-tech companies while others were offering products and services that make an impact on daily life for people with disabilities. Here are a few highlights from the day:

Calibre Audio Books https://www.calibre.org.uk, a new ATEC exhibitor, offers 11,000 unabridged audiobooks. Crime and detective stories are by far the most popular adult books as authors such as Lee Child, Val McDermid and Agatha Christie are perennial favourites. As you might expect, their list of over 3000 books for children and young people is dominated by Harry Potter series, Michael Morpurgo’s books and anything by David Walliams.

Their patron is Simon Brett OBE, creator of the Charles Paris series, brought to life on radio by Bill Nighy. Simon has always supported Calibre’s aims but now it is personal: ‘Its small team works with exemplary efficiency and recently I have had cause to be grateful to the organisation… My ninety-eight-year-old mother-in-law, who suffers from macular degeneration, regretted being cut off from the world of literature but, thanks to Calibre, has now had the riches of books restored to her.’

Gordon Morris was showing the latest range of hearing products. My friend Hilary has hearing loss and finds it a challenge going out to dinner in modern restaurants with bare walls, stripped floorboards and plate glass windows. When a restaurant in Kenilworth brought in a saxophonist we had to leave and dine elsewhere. She also confided that new civic buildings are a nightmare with their state of the art atriums. One heavy downpour and she is cut off from all conversation.

She could benefit from Roger Select, a device that can pick up the speech from any direction, but can also let the user cut out some of the conversations in range and focus on the one they want to follow. For more information check out the video on https://vimeo.com/264983589.

Inspiration is going out and about this year. Many people love the mind mapping software which is not just used in education but also for home projects, planning trips and genealogy. The problem was that it was not very mobile. People needed either to cart their laptop around with them or make notes and update their mind map once they were home.

Now there is Inspiration Maps, a new companion product to Inspiration 9 for iPhone and iPads. Take photos, make notes and map ideas to show connections then fine tune it on Inspiration 9 at home. Alternatively, users can export a mind map from Inspiration to Inspiration Maps. This is a good idea, long overdue. https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/inspiration-maps/id510031612?mt=8

Keene and Sheraleen Braganza, owners of KAZ touch typing software, were the most local of the exhibitors at ATEC Coventry as they live close by, in Leamington Spa.

KAZ has been making inroads in education and the world of business for some months as people have begun to understand the benefits of touch typing as opposed to the hunt and peck method favoured by texters. Now KAZ is experiencing a surge in popularity in the home market too. It is ideal for those using technology to run a home business or who want to develop good typing habits without sore wrists, back ache and an increasing risk of Repetitive Strain Injury.

Robert, a recent customer, told them: ‘What is outstanding is that there is no fluff. Definitely helps to focus on the task in hand and not get distracted by games and a ton of overwhelming information.’

Users appreciate the fact that KAZ is a fast solution – 90 minutes and you have covered the keyboard; that it has a neurodiverse edition suitable for users with dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and autism, and that it offers the opportunity for certification via City and Guilds. https://kaz-type.com/city-guilds-edition.aspx

Finally, a good news story from Brain in Hand – the app that encourages people to plan ahead and reduce anxiety and panic attacks. Hannah has Asperger’s and is studying for a degree. She has started to use an app called Brain in Hand. This lets her enter all the trigger points for anxiety she anticipates in the week ahead, along with her best solutions. So now, when a bus doesn’t turn up, she no longer calls her mum. She simply looks at her Brain in Hand app on her phone and knows exactly what to do.

This has made her much more confident when dealing with the unknown. Recently she travelled from Macclesfield to London to meet up with friends and having managed the journey once, she knows she can do it again.

Her mum says: ‘Since using Brain in Hand Hannah is confident to go places and do things I never thought she would do by herself. Our conversations no longer begin with me trying to direct her somewhere. Instead, they are about Hannah, and what she is doing.’ https://braininhand.co.uk/

Save the date for ATEC 2020 – 26th March, Coventry