Lego and disability

So I read this:


But for all the mini-figures in the world, Lego does not produce a single one with a wheelchair or a disability.

…in the Guardian, which really should know better.


Of course, like most people of my generation, I immediately thought of this:


Lego Pirate, from via creative commons...

Lego Pirate, from via creative commons…


Also this excellent reddit build from a little while ago…

View post on


Here, for example, is where to buy them online. Professor X, that most famous of fictional wheelchair-users gets a lego figure of course that appears in the lego video games and videos.  He might have a minifig you can buy.


There is a lot wrong with how disability is represented (including, of course, the fact that for many people in the media disability=wheelchair, which is really unhelpful), but lazy fact-checking is still lazy.

A system that bribes its way out of change.

I took this photo myself one morning.

I took this photo myself one morning.

I wrote this almost a year ago, and never got around to putting it up because there wasn’t much of a perosnal connection.  Then, over the last few months, someone very close to me had their support massively cut. I helped fight it, and all the time we fought it, we knew that if we won, it would only mean that some other borderline case would have their support cut. We won, but I feel deeply deeply sad about the whole thing.
In my younger days I lived with someone who had the worst job in the world that I could conceive
She worked for a particular admin branch of the NHS. Doctors can give eight weeks notice to take leave, but patients were booked into their clinics about 12 weeks in advance. So doctors would take leave and the clinic would flag up as cancelled and my friend had the job of ringing people to tell them the appointment was cancelled.
All day. Every day.
And the thing that she found really sad, where the people who just accepted it. Who just meekly said “okay”.  The people who shouted and screamed until they got transferred to a manager would eventually be given a better slot, but the people who accepted it would get nothing.
We’ve ended up with a health and social care system that bribes its way out of change.  I’m not cynical enough to suggest that there are people actively engineering it,  but  the organizational organism best reflects the set of factors it works under.
We as a country have a lot of social care to do and not enough money to do it. Going bankrupt is not an option.  So we cut every corner we can, pay the bills on the final demands, remove safeguards and drop the standards far beyond those required by our social responsibilities.
That’s terrible, but it’s not the worst bit.
The darkest bit is that people can fight.  They can dig in heels, shout and scream and go to war over what they are entitled to. There are systems for dealing with ‘grievances’, and those systems redirect and frustrate – not because they were designed to do so, but because there is little motivation to change.

…and some of us get though. Because we were loud enough, because we worked out the right people to call, wrote to MPs, threatened legal action in a way that was credible, and gave off 100 other signals not that we were desperate or deserving, but that we were likely to cause problems at a high pay grade. And those of us that get though we get the payments that are statutorily required, the facilities that are needed, the support that helps.  And we go quiet, because we’re exhausted by the process and we’ve fought for ourselves or the family member and now things are moving.

But the people who got though – they were exactly the people who could cause real change, the people who have the power to change the system.  As so the system identifies these people, gives them what they need and continues cutting everyone else.   It’s an evolution of a bribe.  A bribe that lets the system avoid change.
(relevant to current affairs is that the people who have the power are influence to make a difference to public health and education are the ones who find it a lot easier to pay for private health and education.)

On consent in AAC user testing

We’re in the process of running some user-testing for CommuniKate and AzuleJoe.   User testing is an interesting proposition for the sort of things that we are building given the extreme ranges of situations that people in AAC deal with.


User-testing is that thing that designers don’t want to do because they know their design will work.  And user-testing just wastes time.  The world is littered with the bones of people who have that view.

We’re using our user-testing as a chance to get to proper grips with where some of our users are, with the issues that they want to talk about (often different from the ones that affect them), and with the stories that they want to tell.


Time allowing, we’ll talk properly about the user-testing itself in a later post, today I’d like to show off our information sheet for the study. Kate made it, and it is a work of art in its own right.


Screenshot 2015-11-16 20.30.13

We want to make sure that our information sheet is a real one, and it genuinely gives of all the information it possibly could do for users with cognitive issues.

Of course, aspects like data retention and anonymity are difficult to pull off.  Kate and I went back and forth quite a bit on a suitable symbol for ‘anonymity’ (more on that in a future post).

Screenshot 2015-11-16 20.39.52This is the first draft of our information sheet. You can view the full on in Word and Pdf, we’d be interested in any comments people might have.


Mozfest: my second day.

Sunset seen thought the windows at the Mozfest venue.

Sunset seen thought the windows at the Mozfest venue.

I’m writing this on the train, and I suspect I’d only get a chance to edit after the whole thing has finished, so apologies for the slightly stream-of-conciousness approach.
I missed about half of the second day arriving just before lunch.  In the process I managed to miss the opening speeches.
Funnily enough I’m generally in two minds about opening speeches.  At most conference I avoid opening speeches and keynotes like the plague, but mozfest is subtlety different: spending an hour or two listening to words like ‘sharing’, ‘connecting’, and ‘openness’ is like a small massage for the soul even without the informational context.

Today I spent quite a lot of time on the topic of food

Regular readers will remember my rants on the topic of vegan events like ‘vegfest’ – it turns out that Mozfest, the technology conference, does vegan food and debate better than vegfest does.  That’s like finding out that Microsoft makes better cakes than Kipling.  Typically conference food for vegans is nice, but contains about 200 calories, which means that often pop out to a local pub during the session after lunch, but Mozfest provided a stonkingly good spread.
The hyperlocal low-carbon lunch.

The hyperlocal low-carbon lunch.

After lunch, wandering around without my glasses on (a random, but enjoyable way to explore) I found myself at a table sent for lunch. It turned out to be a separate lunch provided by some mozfest attendees to promote discussion – the food was ‘low-carbon’ sourced from near the conference venue (given we were near the O2 arena, this is nontrivial) and that was the topic of conversation for an hour.  It was a perfect example of the wide range of approaches and topic areas around Mozfest.
Then there was vegan cake from The Depressed Cake Shop, bought for a donation of £1, which will go to MIND.


It wasn’t all stomach oriented – I met Metod Beljec who was making a language of emoticons: this isn’t conceptually far away from communiKate and we had a lot to talk about. I met designers from Holland who were running workshops on what the future looked like using newspapers as prompts and chatted to some lovely 3d printing experts who gave me the keywords I need to put into Google to make a disability project happen.   I spend an hour working with a group in the ‘TV hacking’ session and enjoyed getting a wider view than the one I’d built up working on Supertitle.

The Language of Mozfest

One of my favourite things of the event is listening to the way people talk – there’s a real sense in some of these areas that people are developing a distinct set of terms and languages for working in the areas they are. I heard ‘onboarding’ used as a verb yesterday, and it got me thinking about the levels of language – there’s a language used by the programmers and developers (that I like to think I speak) but there is another one used by the designers and facilitators that is newer (and still evolving faster that a language normally does), deals with more social concepts, and is being used to map out an area that I’m slightly unsure of…

Sudden Sadness

One minor thing is, that though I was talking to a wide range of people about technologies would be really distributive in the disability space (Oh, hey, now I’ve started talking like Mozfest) I found I was generally the one bringing forward the disability space as the application.  Once I realised that late on, I started to look around and realise I hadn’t seen any wheelchair users at all at the conference, which for a 900 person technology event in a really accessible bit of London, is a bit odd. I’ll see if I can get some demographic information from the organisers but I worry that disability is a little underrepresented in the festival. (It’s very likely I just wandered past the relevant sessions without paying attention of course…)

AAC – NO such thing as bad data…

Well, obviously, sometimes there is…


I’m ill this week (Chest infection in right lung if you are interested and you aren’t) so it’s a very short post to promote a data gathering exercise that AssistiveWare are doing.

The post announcing the survay is here. I had a fairly vigorous conversation with David at AssistiveWare at CM a few weeks ago about the nature of the data that could and couldn’t be collected – but the important thing is that there is effort being made and I think it would be good if more people got involved.

Here are the direct links to the surveys:
AAC user survey:

Family members of AAC users:


…and you’ve got until 22nd October to fill them out. Have fun!






This year CM was a relatively new experience for me.

When I was working in academia, my research interests moved around quite a lot over the years I was publishing, which oddly enough meant that I never  attended the same conference twice. This meant that most of the time I was at conferences I’m was seeking people out to learn from them, to get questions about their work answered and, occasionally, to try and get a job from them.


However, I’ve been going to Communication Matters National Conference pretty regularly.  Communication Matters is a UK organisation that aims to increase understanding, awareness and knowledge of the needs of people with complex communication needs.  Their yearly conference is something I’ve blogged about before.



Because I’ve been going to CM quite regularly, my approach to conferences has had to change. This year I had a long list of people to see, but it was all people to thank – I had to track down suppliers who had lent us equipment, I had to follow up with people who had written feature articles for me, I met up with people who had supported various ideas and projects (both successful ones seen on the blog, and some that never even made it that far). In all honesty I barely got time to visit any presentations at all because I spent all my time thanking people.  It was lots of fun.


In the midst of all of this, Kate and I gave a presentation about Communikate (it was one of about five live presentations that Kate was doing over the weekend).  We introduced it formally, – but talk itself felt a little bit like a groom’s wedding speech: we had so many people to thank  (Many of whom where present).

A nice touch was that all the manufactures that were present donated a device for us to show CommuniKate on. Table shot Hummm the table   FullSizeRender



AzuleJoe Hacking

Table shot

The purpose of this post is to show you how easy it is for a hobbyist to retarget AzuleJoe with nothing but Paint and Notepad.


The injection of the Inclusive Technology Prize money has meant that I have been able to spend a lot of time recently developing on AzuleJoe – it’s moving forward on a variety of fronts and there will be a couple of proper announcement posts in a few weeks.

This is, obviously, fantastic.

On the other hand – it’s also making it a little less ‘hackable’. One of the joys of the original code was that it was easy to retarget – if you had a bunch of pictures of grids and a text editor, then you could retarget AzuleJoe to talk about anything you wanted.

In recent months the code has started to look a little more professional – we use JSON for the data rather than Javascript, and quite a lot of extra code has been added to do all sorts of other things.  Our next big push will probably obliterate most of the original code anyway.

I think this is a bit of a shame, because I’d like to keep that ‘hackability’ as available  as possible.

The code

In an effect to keep an easily ‘hackable’ version of the code around. I’ve released a ‘tagged’ version on the github repository: (at the time of writing there have been 69 commits to the repo since the release, so the code is moving on without it).

The Demo

To show how easy it was to retarget the software to any pageset, I prepared a three minute video (bits of it are sped up – it was about 10 minutes in real life)

The voiceover was recorded while I was sick with cold and the mouse movement and even the typing is difficult to follow at times, but the point is that it points the curious in the direction of the right files to play with. And I’m on the other end of email if anyone would like more info.


London Catalyst


photo 1

In what can only be called ‘typical’. I’ve once again forgotten to announce some funding on the blog.

Last time I’d forgotten to report that the Supertitle project had won National Lottery Funding, this time I entirely failed to tell readers that AzuleJoe and CommuniKate have won some funding from the London Catalyst.


London Catalyst have been a really interesting group to work with actually – before our application was considered by the trustees the CEO interviewed us at their offices to get a bit more of a sense of the projects and the bid. I think this is a fantastic system; I’m constantly amazed that grant committees can get a real understanding of the passion and potential behind an idea just from the application form itself.

The grant itself is for £2,500 ( £1000 for software and £1500 for outreach, facilitating and volunteer support) and is predicated on us doing a large amount of outreach in London – so we’ll be looking for venues to come and visit shortly.  If you have such a venue – and you know a group of people that might be interested to hear the story behind CommuniKate and AzuleJoe – then please get in touch! 🙂


Funding Success – Awards for all and Supertitle!

So I’ve the last few months I’ve been talking a little about the Supertitle project,  We introduced the concept, talked a little bit about the prototype and dealt with our first funding rejection.
As a bit of a change of fortunes.  This turned up in the post:
letter from Awards for All awarding funding to Supertitle
Awards for all have given eQuality Time £8,995 to pilot the project across London.  The grant covers equipment, training, publicity, and has ring-fenced budgets for all the little bits of overhead that an organisation runs into – things like insurance, accounting, and so on.
We’re a transparent organisation, so we can show you the original application form (with some parts, like director’s addresses redacted).  The intention is that we make as much of the process transparent as possible, so you might get some fairly boring posts coming up over the next few months.
This is a big boost for us, we’ve actually known about it for a few months but we’ve been waiting Award’s for All’s permission to announce.  We’ll be looking for schools for a full pilot soon, so do please get in contact if you are interested.
As you can see by the date of the letter – this post was going to go out months ago – indeed, I thought it had. It was only when I did the logo post and tried to refer back to this one that I realised it was missing… 

Open source for intellectual disability

Screen Shot 2014-07-26 at 20.05.4220140718_150925Screenshot 2015-07-08 12.01.27
Much of this site’s unexpected popularity comes from being fairly rare.  Although it’s covered an extremely wide array of topics in its time (and will do in the future) much of the content has focused on disability from a technical point of view. We have posts by people who build things, alter things, fix things, and hope for things that help people with disabilities.
With the noted exception of, which tends to concentrate on ‘made’ rather than ‘making’, and also on physical disabilities rather than cognitive ones,  that makes the site extremely unusual in terms of the most heavily trafficked disability blogs.
Although my editorial policy can best described as ‘chaotic’ or possibly even ‘promiscuous’, one of my goals in the building of the site was to bring out some of the people doing interesting things in (particularly intellectual) disability technology and link them together. This is why I try and seek out people like Kate, the other Kate, Christine, groups like special effect and companies like Talkit and campaigns like AV.   If you, or someone you know is doing something cool and open source around disability, then I’m probably keen to talk them.
The reasons these links are so important is because there are so few of them.  People like Kate and Christine and the others are surprisingly rare in the intellectual disability space, and that’s a significant problem.
Why the problem?
From, as ever, wikipedia:
The open-source model, or collaborative competition development from multiple independent sources, generates an increasingly diverse scope of design perspective than one company development alone can sustain long term. And a report by the Standish Group (from 2008) states that adoption of open-source software models has resulted in savings of about $60 billion per year to consumers.
I’m a big fan of the open source model. I think it’s revolutionised operating systems, applications, all the way from fundamental aspects of our life, down to saving each other just a few hours every so often.  I release almost all my code on github and I’ve talked about how I made that transition.
The problem is that people producing open source code tend towards a particular model. They tend to be young, male, with a technical education and a certain amount of free time.  By contrast, people working in the care sector tend to be giving, loving, generous people. They are tireless.  They can be smart and passionate, and they have vision.  But, they tend not to be technical.  Worse… they tend not to know that many people who are.
Oh there are examples were the worlds meet – in addition to all the people above there are people like Will Wade who is filling github with useful scripts, and projects like OATS that at last acknowledge the problem, but these are tiny projects that for the most part have one contributor for open source projects to grow and work there needs to be a network and one of the big things we are trying to do here is draw together a network. And it’s that network that has lead to thinks like AzuleJoe and CommuniKate and will hopefully lead to many more cool projects.
So if you know of someone whose got something cool, technical and disability friendly, then let them get in touch and we’ll see about making a stronger network.

Inclusive Technology Prize finalists!


Screenshot 2015-07-08 12.00.34

Kate and I are in there somewhere!


Bit of an announcement – AzuleJoe, has been chosen as one of the ten finalists for the Inclusive Prize (we’ve known for a little while, but the embargo has only just been lifted).
We’d reached the semi-finals a few months ago, I didn’t do a post on it at the time for a few reasons – I didn’t feel it was interesting enough for the readers, and it was a relatively self-centred thing.  More to the point, I was still getting my head around the business aspects of the prize and hadn’t got a far as a clear vision about how everything fitted together.
Kate and Joe holding a tablet in front of an 'inclusive technology Prize' sign

This is us showing off something that I haven’t even mentioned on the blog yet… *blush*

I have now reached that point and we have a clear view on how we can keep our development open source, ensure that it’s free at the point of delivery, and user-focused, while still presenting strong business outcomes.  More on that in a future post.
As a sidebar – we were slightly unusual in avoiding publicity at this stage – because of my position as a blogger I was getting a few press releases from (to be fair, media departments that worked with) other competitors about their work and how the’d reached the semi-final – although to be fair, everyone who sent a press release also made it to the final…     
A lot of the other semi-finalists do have extremely strong ideas and I intend to be featuring some of them on this blog in the near future. I’m going to start with my favourites of the ones that didn’t make it to the semi-final so that there is no suggestion of competitive scheduling 🙂
The final is slightly different. For a start, it’s one of ten, rather than one of 25, and for another thing, finalists are given £10,000 and, equally importantly, lots of help and guidance in the following eight months to develop to a full prototype.  This money is desperately needed to help develop both AzuleJoe’s technologies and CommuniKate’s reach.  The development day Kate and I went to yesterday was fun and interesting – we chatted to Justin Tomlinson the new minister for disability, and we worked with lots of cool and interesting people to really nail down some of the ways to move forward.
It’s also the biggest grant that eQuality Time has ever received.  This means excellent things for eQuality Time.  Not only is it definitely going to be in operation come April 2016 (which, as you’ll remember, is almost twice as long as we expected it to be running when we started), but it’s got budget, and guidance and a clear vision going forward.
As always, there best part was meeting the very cool people there… This is me getting the opinion of Open Bionics on a 3d printing project that is completely separate to either of our projects but that should be part of the blog sometime soon…
Screenshot 2015-07-08 12.01.27
…and us having a really good chat about going forward with handy experts from Leonard Cheshire Disability (I know it looks like we were the only people having fun, I think that is just a trick of the photo, I’m assuming everybody else was having fun too… )
Screenshot 2015-07-08 12.03.09

Speaking at TEDx Derby

So a few months ago I gave a talk on CommuniKate and associated ‘stuff’ at TEDxDerby.



I’m putting up this post to supply some of the supporting information.  The information on how expensive AAC devices get comes from the Domesday Dataset, as does the “9,000 who do” part.  The 32,000 people in the UK who would be helped by AAC comes from this report (and a small piece of maths via the size of the UK population). The transcipt for the talk is here for the talk is here in case anyone is interested.


CommuniKate, AzuleJoe and the Awesome Foundation.

Screenshot 2015-03-17 17.43.38
The idea of launching CommuniKate as the first open licensed AAC page set was conceived exactly here, when Kate and I had dinner after BETT2014 (you can read my opinions of the event itself here).
So it was kind of nice that, exactly one year later, that Kate and I were invited to pitch CommuniKate to the Awesome Foundation.

The Awesome Foundation

If you are unfamiliar with the Awesome Foundation it’s worth learning more. Here’s the blurb from the website.
The Awesome Foundation is a global community advancing the interest of awesome in the universe, $1000 at a time.
Each fully autonomous chapter supports awesome projects through micro-grants, usually given out monthly. These micro-grants, $1000 or the local equivalent, come out of pockets of the chapter’s “trustees” and are given on a no-strings-attached basis to people and groups working on awesome projects.
(The UK version is £1,000 rather than $1,000)
The pitch events are wonderful.  Kate and I pitched alongside Board of Media, a performance poet, people with a concept for reusing food and Soundcastle. For most of the evening you are mingling with these guys and the trustees (who are all people who’ve made very cool things in their own right). So you have an evening of chatting to driven, open, wonderful and emphatic people.  In every conversation you find yourself saying “oh I know a guy who can help you with that” or people saying “Try Fund X, they are interested in what you do”.  To paraphrase Terry Pratchett “there’s nothing like being near happy startup people, it’s like giving your brain a hot bath”.
You absorb all the passion, drive and energy;  it really lifts you.

The Contest

After all that, the contest element appears a little bit separate… you’d certainly go home happy if they just didn’t bother to announce the winner.
Luckily, they did announce a winner, and even more surprisingly it was CommuniKate. (and it really was surprising – no false modesty here, the other groups were good).
So we had a bit of a party.
Screenshot 2015-03-17 17.44.03

The Speech

For two reasons, firstly because we like transparency, and secondly because I like the speech, I’m putting the speech I gave to the evening here. It was very much under-rehearsed on the night and most of the best interactions of the evening were unscripted.  I like to think the pitch clearly sets out the problem, what we want to do to solve it, and what’d do with the money.  Beautifully, when the trustees announced the awards they said: “We’re giving you the award, but we don’t think you should spend it on that.”.
So. This is Richard.  He has severe learning difficulties, many physical issues, and behavioural issues that often result in violence.  
He’s also my little bother.  
Richard can’t speak or read. Until he was about 19 we managed on maybe 90 signs, mostly nouns.  It’s worth considering what your life would be like if you only had 90 words.  
Then, when he was 19, he got this.  It’s an AAC device.  AAC devices work like this: 
(Show this video) 
Suddenly Richard has 5,000 words,  it ab-so-lute-ly changed his life.  
The problem is that Richard isn’t alone. There are 32,000 people in the UK that would benefit from powered AAC.  Unfortunately there are only 9,000 people who do.  That means that there are 23,000 people who can’t choose what they want for dinner, can’t tell a doctor their symptoms, can’t tell their family that they love them.  
If you are wondering why do these people not have access.  This device was £5,000 at the time.  I saw devices at BETT today that were £15,000.  Communication is priceless, but there are families who have to choose between heat and food right now.  
So last year Kate, who has worked in AAC for about 15 years, came to me and said “I have a page set that has been working really well with my clients – I want to launch it worldwide, can you help?” and I said “Let’s talk about open licensing”.  
So ten months later we launched CommuniKate, a completely free, Creative Commons licensed page set that people could use on their own hardware.  Complete with manuals, online versions and testimonials. You’ve actually already seen it in this video. The response was amazing.  We’ve now got volunteers working on the code to improve it, and we’ve got teams translating it into Portuguese, Spanish, French, Swedish, Urdu and Arabic.   Kate had people she didn’t know the name of hugging her in the street.
I can give you a link, and you can play with it yourself inside of 20 seconds.  We think this is going to make a difference to thousands of people in the UK and we hope it’s going to make a difference to many more outside.  
So here’s the problem.  Free text to speech software sounds like this:
(play first recording) 
   and doesn’t support languages like Urdu and Arabic. 
A decent commercial service would sound like this:  
(play better recording) 
and it would be much faster.
But a decent commercial service and all of the licensing for this sort of thing costs around £700 and we don’t have that money.  We were hoping the awesome foundation might be willing to help.  

“Data Protection”

This has been rattling around in my subconscious for a little while as a nice neat example of a post. I dug out the emails recently for someone as an example and given that I edited it down for them, I thought I’d share it with everyone. I think it’s a nice example of several things:

That freedom of information staff are often undertrained, and this lack of training manifests as a tendency to give out less information (because institutions generally don’t like to give out information); That, in freedom of information terms, it’s often insufficient to ask – you also have to know your rights, and be able to present evidence.

As a bit of context: In 2012 I was gathering data for the Domesday Dataset, which went on to reveal hosts of issues, including device obsolescence, postcode lotteries, and the rising dominance of the iPad.  I do think of it as my greatest academic work (at at some point in 2016 or so I should repeat the study to see what’s changed).

I’d asked Walsall Healthcare Trust for a list of devices they’d purchased between 2006 and 2012. I’d let you look at the resulting correspondence (the bits that have been edited out are things like overly long signatures and quoting previous emails).

0210/11: FoI Response Letter
8 messages
Freedom Of Information (RBK) Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust <> 11 January 2012 at 11:20
To: Me
Dear JosephThank you for your Freedom of Information request.  I am pleased to attach our response to your request.


Please do not hesitate to contact me should you have any queries.


Joseph Reddington <Me> 11 January 2012 at 12:06
To: “Freedom Of Information (RBK) Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust” <>
Thank you so much for your quick reply – very efficient :)Just a quick query – is it possible to be a bit more exact on the numbers? 1-5 is a bit vague when some of these devices are £10,000 a pop…


The other minor thing is that I meant to ask for the results broken down by year – apologies for not including this at first – would it be possible to do this? I’m happy to put in another FOI request if necessary…






Freedom Of Information (RBK) Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust <> 11 January 2012 at 15:48
To: Joseph Reddington <Me>
Dear JosephUnfortunately, due to Data Protection we are only allowed to specify between 1-5.  In terms of the data to be provided by year please would it be possible to put in as another FOI request.

Kindest Regards


Joseph Reddington <Me> 11 January 2012 at 16:11
To: “Freedom Of Information (RBK) Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust” <>
Could you tell me what aspect of Data Protection is involved here? In particular why it affects the data supplied by your trust and not the 56 other trusts who have so far responded with exact data to the same question (for reference I’ve listed their responses below)?(Also please consider this the formal request for breakdown by years – I’m entirely happy for the 20 day cycle to start from today for this additional request)





Classicly done

[Quoted text hidden]

Freedom Of Information (RBK) Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust <> 12 January 2012 at 11:01
To: Me
Dear JosephPlease find attached a list of the exact number of devices purchased as requested. 

Kindest Regards