A starting point
12 February 2018
By Steve Tyler
As an organisation Leonard Cheshire has fully recognised the game-changing nature of technology and in particular the transformational nature of it in all of our lives.
Perhaps the biggest advances and certainly the biggest effects have been felt by the disability community.
Who I am?
I’m Steve Tyler and I’m in my sixth month at Leonard Cheshire as director of assistive technology. I have spent my whole career in the voluntary sector — most of it involved with technology. I am totally blind and as such have witnessed first-hand the degree to which technology can be a great leveller.
My original plan was to become a clinical psychologist and for two years after leaving University that was the trajectory I was on. But it was an exciting time in technology development — there was a lot of talk about the potential power of computing and where it might lead, with much research and thought being put into Artificial Intelligence. The internet was in its earliest development with a great deal of envisioning and hope around what it would bring.
Very quickly I realised the potential for disabled people and became attached to the idea that, if the web and everything it promised delivered a quarter of what was being talked about, it would change our world forever.
It could give employment opportunities, education opportunities, access to libraries of every conceivable kind, and connectivity. In 1990, hard though it is to visualise for some of us, the idea of mobile phones, of connectivity everywhere for everyone, was still a dream.
Some past achievements
I like to think that I’m a leader of teams and ideas — of creating strategies to get us what we want. However, the benefits of technology we have today could never have been brought about by just me or any other single individual — it’s been a team effort!
Some products and services that I’ve either led on or been part of include:
- The first accessible mobile devices (setting up a partnership between RNIB, Vodafone and an amazing German guy called Torsten Brandt).
- The first accessible set top boxes and then TV sets. Today you can talk to your TV and it will talk back, or you can gesture to it and it will respond.
- Ensured there are ways of rendering web pages accessibly through the web consortium. Getting people to do it is now the challenge and of course the work goes on in small teams around the world to keep up with the next iteration of the web.
- Again through the web consortium, we ensured that EPUB, the electronic book standard, has accessibility built in to it.
- Through on-going support and work with Google, Microsoft, Apple, Samsung and many others, mainstream operating systems also now have accessibility built in.
- I was part of the team that built the best synthetic speech in the business. Later bought by Amazon, this became what we now know as Alexa — Amazon’s flagship personal assistance device.
- Provided technical support to the payment industry that delivers payment solutions from cash dispensers to payment cards, from banking websites to everyday products if you’re online like PayPal.
A lot of the quiet and hidden work that has been taking place has maintained or improved the small accessibility wins we had to start with. But there is more to do — not just to secure what we have now but to build a future that assures the on-going safety of our accessibility.
My next blog will focus on my earliest experiences of technology and how this worked as a student.
Steve Tyler is the director of assistive technology at Leonard Cheshire Disability.