Summary of my keynote delivered at iPad Accessibility Summit, South Africa, October 2020.

Image for post
Image for post
Grateful to Julie Penrose for creating this visual sketch note of the themes I covered in my keynote :)

Conversation #1

Inclusion: The Universal and The Individual

A couple of years ago I had the privilege of visiting a public library that had a reputation for being a beacon of forward thinking accessibility. I went on a tour with the director of the library who showed, in one area of the library, the book scanning devices for visitors to check out books. …

Today is Global Accessibility Awareness Day (#GAAD). Every GAAD I like to focus on new innovative solutions that make accessibility more personal and more intuitive across our devices. In this article I’ll be talking about one of these, Shortcuts for iOS. You can find Shortcuts on your iPhone or iPad, it is an Apple app that comes included with your device, and what Shortcuts allows you to do is to do everyday tasks with apps on your device just with a tap or by saying Hey Siri. Where it gets really fun and incredibly useful is when you start creating connections between apps to perform life hacks that can be transformative to the way you use your iPhone or iPad. …

Every year the United Nations sets a theme for World Autism Awareness Day. The theme for this year is ‘Assistive Technologies, Active Participation’. At first, the definition of the term assistive technologies might seem quite obvious — you might think of technology like a hearing aid to support someone with hearing related needs, or perhaps even a motorised wheelchair to help with physical access. These are definitely pieces of assistive technology, but what else fits into this space, and how does assistive technology relate to autism?

When I think about assistive technology, I think about technology that helps you participate in all the activities of your daily life, on your terms. Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple and developer of technologies like the iPhone, used to talk about technology being a ‘bicycle for the mind’. What he meant by this, is that a bicycle allows you to travel much further than you would be able to without one. Before bicycles were invented, if you wanted to travel to another town you would have to walk a long way. And then you would have to walk back. So, we didn’t get very far. But the invention of bicycles changed all of this — we could travel across great distances and meet new people we would have never been able to meet before. If technology is a ‘bicycle for the mind’ it means that our mind can do things with technology that it could not as readily do without it. Technology does not always have to mean a computer, of course — a paper calendar can be a technological tool. Before calendars, how could you remember all the important dates and events in your life? We used to use paper calendars for everything — now, many of us have our calendars on our phones, synced with our e-mails, set up to send alerts to remind us about upcoming events. And while this is a useful technology for some of us, it is life changing technology for others. …

Image for post
Image for post
A photo taken at the beach, in the waves, at the same level of the water. The camera is looking out towards the sunset. The sky is blue, yellow and full of clouds.

As the year comes to an end, I am starting to see a lot of messages coming through the inbox and social media lines making predictions about what 2019 will deliver us. Some of these catch my attention more than others — an e-mail from LinkedIn about ‘50 Big Ideas for 2019: How Australia will change next year’ contained the following two notions that relate to my field of work:

11. Inclusive design will go mainstream.


48. Employers will make room for neurodiversity.

Under both notes it makes the points we would expect — inclusive design is, across every passing month, becoming more and more understood and visible in the public space. The success of Apple’s ecosystem is a strong demonstration of this — commercial products that have inclusive design built in from the start rather than bolted on later. And so too for the increased emergence of neurodiversity in the workplace — as systems are realising the benefits that come from adopting a strengths based approach to education and employment, workplaces across many industries have been sharing their stories of success through the support of employees who bring with them a much wider range of minds and approaches to problem solving than have previously been embraced. In the conversation I had with neurodiversity pioneer Judy Singer, video below, she reinforces how this idea engages the social principle of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”. …

I have just returned from a week in Dubai, presenting at a summit on accessibility and inclusion. I was fortunate to be invited to present the closing keynote on both days of the summit, as well as to collaboratively deliver practical workshops across the event. Undoubtedly the most enriching part of the experience was the opportunity to collaborate with peers who I have met in other parts of the world previously, for us to find ourselves in Dubai and to share the work we have built up through our practice across the areas of special education, accessibility and universal design. …

Image for post
Image for post
QR Code Flower, Source Unknown

Flowers are restful to look at, they have neither emotions nor conflicts, wrote Sigmund Freud around the turn of last century. Two days ago I played a new game that I learned about on Twitter, called Blossom, created by Ken Wong of Mountains Games, previously lead designer of the wonderful Monument Valley. Blossom is a procedurally generated game that creates a flower-like organism called a blossom that, when you run your mouse over the individual parts of the blossom, change colour and shape in very tactile ways. Every blossom is unique, and when you move on from one blossom to the next, the blossom you were just playing with disappears forever. …

At the heart of this think piece is a reminder to myself. I attended an event recently on smart city initiatives. The event gave me pause to consider the scope of imagination that we employ for these occasions — it reminded me that we must not be afraid of dreaming big. Philosopher Slavoj Žižek made an interesting observation on the idea of the constraints we sometimes put on our imagination — consider for a moment that an asteroid is on its way to smash into the side of our world. We can dream up all sorts of ingenious solutions to deflect it, we have libraries of science fiction novels as well as astrophysics and engineering papers that can help us determine and implement a plan of staggering potential that can do its best to deflect the rock and save the world. And yet when it comes to imagining new ways of providing health coverage to the community or considering slight tweaks to environmental policies, very often we just cannot do it, we cannot dream big enough to see an alternative for these present day challenges. On one level we might say, well sure, this is nothing more than the difference between a desperate situation provided full control over extreme resources to achieve a big and critical goal like knocking an asteroid off course, versus the realities of policy and process that must be mediated in slow, strategic ways in order to make incremental changes to legislation over time. I argue however that we must not take our eyes off the potentials that can be achieved by acknowledging the incoming asteroid. …

Last week I gave a talk at a Newcastle Futurist meet-up on the ‘Future of Accessibility’. The brief for the talk was to review the current state of the field of accessibility, to then consider where accessibility might be heading in the next few years, and then to make a few predictive leaps into future decades of progress. I was excited by the potentials of the brief — aware of course of the folly of predicting the future, but still — and I enjoyed sharing some of the work I’ve been doing in this space over the past couple of years. While I did record the talk, the positioning of the camera and the sound did not turn out very well. Hence I thought the best way to share the talk would be through the following recount. Think of it as an index of the key concepts that were discussed on the night, with links to further read up on any ideas that take your fancy. …

I have just returned from a big week of work in Singapore — I was fortunate to have been invited to present workshops to individuals on the autism spectrum, their families, educators, service providers, therapists, psychologists, and members of the Singapore Ministry of Education, across a broad range of focus areas. I was also privileged to have been invited to deliver a fun ‘Today at Apple’ interactive workshop to the public as my final session of the week before flying back to Australia. …

In September the new operating system for mobile Apple devices, iOS 11, will likely be released, and with its release will come a new world of apps that build on the new development platform that Apple has created, ARKit, which puts unprecedented opportunities to develop augmented reality solutions in the hands of the world. We have already seen some spectacular demonstrations of what ARKit is capable of, and as always when new technological opportunities present themself, I consider what this could mean for the world of autism support and the education of children on the autism spectrum.

Image for post
Image for post

Augmented reality has been a focus of autism education research for some years new, but most often on a very introductory level involving small scale experimental case studies. With ARKit, the size of the stage to explore augmented reality will render the stage into the world, in much the same way that Pokemon Go instantly put a new world of augmented reality into everybody’s hands as they chased pocket monsters around their neighbourhoods. I developed what turned out to be my most popular educational resource, ‘Explore Everything with Pokemon Go’, when the game came out, such was the excitement of my students on the autism spectrum and my friends and family on the spectrum. I saw immense potential to meet personal and academic goals through the power of augmented reality in the game as it so directly tapped into the special interests of our students. …


Craig Smith

Project Manager, Autism Educator, Learning Designer, Sound Artist, Author + Creator.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store