Taking part in the Jisc Accessible by Design competition has been one of the high points of my time at Jisc thus far. We have seen a number of highly innovative projects come to fruition as part of the project. This has included the UCanCook augmented reality cookbook from Doncaster College, the visual programming for the visually impaired project from Shipley College and the Specific learning difficulties stories e-book (now video) project from Sheffield University.
On the 12th of May it was the turn of the MAP project as developed by National Star College in Cheltenham to pitch the project to us. The Jisc team arrived at the fantastic National Star College campus in glorious sunshine which nicely matched the enthusiasm of the MAP team Simon Bartlett, Neil Beck and David Finch. National Star College is an Ofsted Outstanding College for young people with a range of learning difficulties and disabilities. The College and it’s students were featured in a series of programmes on the BBC called ‘The Unbreakables’ which you may have caught in 2015. We had a tour of the College starting with coffee in the Star Bistro, which is an award winning restaurant on the College campus that provides the Students with work experience opportunities and visiting Jisc staff with great coffee and tasty lunches. The site tour took in the sensory rooms, the Karten funded print shop StarPrint, a number of classrooms and dedicated spaces such as the adapted dance studio, performance spaces and hydrotherapy pool in the therapy centre.
The MAP (My Access Passport) presentation from David, Neil and Simon showed off a functional prototype of the tool. Essentially MAP allows a Windows computer user to customise their desktop accessibility options and ‘save’ these settings to a flash drive or to a cloud based server. You can think of MAP as a ‘portable roaming profile’ in that the settings can be taken from a computer on one domain to a computer on another domain or indeed to any standalone computer. For a good description of roaming profiles see the AbilityNet factsheet. One of the reasons why this is powerful is that users can now have their profile configured with the support of an assistive technologist such as Neil, save these settings and then have the settings applied to any computer that they choose. However the profile is setup, this is going to save a lot of time and could be the difference between a user being able to use a computer and simply not being able to use it at all.
The software is still in development and at this time the prototype can set a limited range of options, however the potential for this approach to make things much easier for the many people who can only use computers thanks to the built in Windows accessibility options is fantastic. I noted on the day that this is an idea ‘that really needs to exist’ having seen students frustrated with having to recreate their settings on personal computers at home, in a public library or on an employer’s computer when on work experience. With this project a profile that you configure at College can easily be transferred to home, work or any other context that will support it. The MAP project requires client software that is installed on the machine that you wish to use your profile on, this means that computer networks will have to become ‘MAP ready’ and Simon has already designed an icon to indicate that an organisation is using MAP. This icon is similar to that used to denote an induction loop is available for use.
I was really impressed by the progress the MAP team have made since we last saw them in January. This project has the potential to make a real difference to a lot of people and is a great example of how the pioneering work of an Independent Specialist College such as National Star can have an impact at scale for many more people. For more information on Specialist Colleges, take a look at the Natspec (The Association of National Specialist Colleges) website.
If you like the look of the My Access Passport project you can vote for it on the Elevator site. If the project gets at least 250 votes the team will be invited to an initial meeting where they will have the opportunity to convince a panel to help fund the project’s development. Voting closes on the 6th June 2016.
Rohan Slaughter – Jisc Subject Specialist.