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First Apple centre for blind opened in W Cape

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Kaleidoscope has launched the first technology centre for the blind in Worcester in the Cape. Aimed at empowering the blind and visually impaired with employability skills for the open labour market, the Apple training centre is believed to be one of the first.

Equipped with modern information technology equipment and software, Kaleidoscope will be the first organisation in Africa that will be able to empower blind and partially sighted persons by training them in the most recent accessible Apple touch screen and touch type technologies which will result in more successful job placements of blind persons.

“Considering the fact that currently 97% of persons who are visually impaired are unemployed, there is an enormous need amongst blind and partially sighted people in South Africa to be trained in affordable accessible modern technology to enhance their employability,” says Freddie Botha, Executive Head of Kaleidoscope (previously known as the Institute for the Blind).

“It is very important to empower our blind and partially sighted persons to enable them to enter the open labour market on the same level as sighted applicants and employees. This centre will be an extension of our rehabilitation, skills training and career development department.”

He continues: “No other organisation in Africa provides in the all-inclusive, comprehensive, specialised training needs of visually impaired persons.  The establishment of a new modern technology-training centre will be the final stage where blind and partially sighted school learners, students and adults will be referred to in their rehabilitation process. After completion of their training in this technological field they are qualified for their future of independence and self-sufficiency.”

Being visually impaired is in itself is a major challenge, however, according to Hein Wagner, Kaleidoscope’s brand ambassador, motivational speaker and global adventurer, with the appropriate training, support and guidance, quite possible to overcome.

He says that the additional challenge in the South African context is the huge cost of importing adaptive technology to make computers accessible for the blind. “Up until a few months ago it would cost you more than R10 000 to convert a standard PC into an accessible text to speech computer for the blind,” he explains. “An average Braille display would put you back just short of R80 000 and with 97% of the blind in SA unemployed, it is time to find an alternative way to equip the visually impaired with affordable tools and training that will help them to enter the job market and become economically active.”

This is exactly what Kaleidoscope will aim to achieve with the opening of the Apple training centre. “Since I moved over to the Apple product range three years ago I’ve never looked back. All Apple’s equipment including the iPhone, iPad, MacBooks and even the Apple TV as well as the Apple arm watch is fully accessible to the visually impaired, straight from the box. Whether I’m tweeting, sending a whatsapp, checking in on Facebook, reading my daily news, tracking my fitness, answering my e-mails, browsing the web or working through a complicated spread sheet, I am using an Apple. I further never thought I would buy an Apple TV as a blind person, however due to Apple’s inclusive design principles, for the first time even television became accessible to me.”

Wagner says that the training will focus on both using the technology for personal and business use and the aim is to train at least 400 students in the first year of operation. “It is our duty to train the visually impaired on the most recent accessible touch screen, laptop and desktop computers, to make them more employable once they leave our facility,” he adds.

“ABSA understood our vision for technology empowerment and partnered with us to make this dream a reality with a R3-million initial investment into the facility.”

The centre will be equipped with iPhones, Ipads, Macbook airs, Mac minis as well as the latest Apple technology used to do visual/keynote presentations.

All the training modules will begin with the basics of Voiceover – the Apple accessibility tool for the blind. Students will also be trained on both iOS and the latest Apple Mac operating system.

“We’ve designed the facility to be very blind friendly with a logical layout and underfoot tactile markings in order for the blind to navigate the open-plan centre with ease and independence,” says Wagner. “Our trainer, Philip Crous, is also blind as we believe that a trainer who is blind himself will use the most ideal method to transfer his knowledge and skill to the students in such a high tech facility.”

“On the personal computing side we will focus on social media, i.e. Facebook, Twitter, whatsapp, and a number of accessible apps for the visually impaired. On the business side we will focus on e-mail, safari/web-browsing, Pages, numbers to mention a few.”

Students will also receive training on the latest ERP and CRM applications that they will most likely face in the corporate environment once employed.

Wagner says that Kaleidoscope will also engage with the corporate sector to ensure the placement of persons with visual impairments and support the employee as well as the employer to ensure effective work and training placement.

As to why Absa got involved in the initiative, Wagner says: “We shared our vision and dream with Willie Zastron head of ABSA Business Banking and his team that we aim to develop a training model where persons with visual impairments are empowered in effective career development skills so that they will be able to function on the same level as sighted persons in the corporate sector and other training and working environments.

He continues: “They immediately understood our need for work and training empowerment and advised us to present them with a business and implementation plan.  Willie Zastron and his team’s commitment and trust towards Kaleidoscope is so inspiring and gives us so much strength in the fulfilment of this great need in technology empowerment of persons with visual impairments.”

Commenting on Absa’s involvement, Sazini Mojapelo, Head of Citizenship for Barclays Africa, says: “A key priority of our Citizenship strategy is to help young people gain access to the skills and opportunities they need to unlock their potential. To this end we seek to empower young people with the skills necessary to achieve financial and economic independence and security.

Mojapelo adds: “In our interactions with Kaleidoscope we identified numerous synergies between the work they were planning and our involvement in enhancing the employability prospects of young people. We are extremely proud to partner with Kaleidoscope and extend services to more people –including those visual impairments.”

Substantial initial funding for the centre was also received from Blinden Stichting voor Zuid Afrika (Blind Foundation for South Africa) – initiated by Rene and Sandra de Vries from the Netherlands after visiting Kaleidoscope and the Rotterdamse Stichting Blindenbelangen (Rotterdam Foundation for the needs of the Blind) which supports and promotes social and cultural well-being of partially sighted, blind, deaf-blind and multi-disabled persons irrespective of their circumstances.

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Ford speeds into esports

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Across the world, millions of people every day get behind the wheel of a virtual Ford vehicle and enjoy racing against friends and as part of online communities. Now the company is going to be seeking out the best online racers to form its first-ever esports teams.

Starting at Gamescom, Europe’s leading trade fair for digital games culture, Ford will recruit national Fordzilla teams for France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK – as well as a European team consisting the star players from each national team.

In 2019, the global esports market is expected to generate revenues of about R16, 7 billion ($1.1 billion) up 26.7% year on year; the audience will reach 453.8 million people, made up of 201.2 million esports enthusiasts and 252.6 million occasional viewers. Contrary to the popular stereotype, the average gamer is in their early thirties.

Ford is increasingly intrigued by synergies between gaming and mobility and how they could help shape the way in which we all get about in the future – whether that is as commuters, as passengers in autonomous vehicles or simply enjoying the thrill of performance.

“The distinction between real and virtual worlds is blurring. Gaming is now a part of mainstream culture. Top gamers challenge professional race drivers in real life and many of our day-to-day activities are ‘gamified’, from using fitness apps to collecting loyalty points for a free coffee,” said Amko Leenarts, director, Design, Ford of Europe. “Harnessing the passion and expertise of the gaming community will help evolve our thinking around what future journeys will look like – something that we are all committed to and really excited about.”

In 2017, Ford became the first manufacturer to host a stand at Gamescom, which boasts more than 1,000 exhibitors that attract hundreds of thousands of visitors every year, and last year, the company pioneered the first-ever vehicle reveal at the show – unveiling the Ford Ranger Raptor.

Among the games that Fordzilla will compete on is the award-winning Forza Motorsport 7, developed by Microsoft Game Studios’ Turn 10 Studios. The Forza franchise is the best-selling racing franchise of this console generation and is home to one of the largest racing communities in the world. Millions of people worldwide play Forza games each month with 1 million players choosing Ford vehicles.

“We are pleased to see Forza Motorsport continuing to be the game of choice for big brands like Ford as they launch esports initiatives,” said Justin Osmer, Sr. Manager of Partnership Development at Turn 10 Studios, the creators of Forza Motorsport. “With millions of fans playing Forza games, we’ve seen significant growth in the numbers who want to compete, or simply spectate, in esports and it’s great to see a long-standing partner like Ford Motor Company bringing even more opportunities to participate.”

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How tech is keeping us young

Research by Lenovo revealed people who use tech feel, on average, 11 years younger.

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Technology is making the world feel younger, healthier and more emotionally connected, reveals new research by Lenovo, suggesting a growing relationship between technological innovation and wellbeing.

The research, which surveyed over 15,000 individuals from around the globe, from the US, Mexico, Brazil, China, India, Japan, UK, Germany, France and Italy, not only found 40% of global respondents feel “a lot” or “somewhat” more youthful thanks to technology, but on average it made them feel younger by 11 years.

This rings most true in China, where 70% of Chinese respondents said technology made them feel more youthful, which could be perhaps due to technologies ability to build connections between generations, especially those who might have once felt disconnected from tech-savvy youngsters. For example, grandparents are now able to better communicate with their grandchildren via smart technology due to its growing ubiquity and ease of use.

The research suggests that this sentiment is felt world-over, across genders and ages. “To know how to operate newer technology makes me feel younger” one US woman, said.  Another woman, from France, also stated, “Compared to the younger generation who are born with all these technologies, my adaptability makes me feel younger”. On the other side of the globe, one female respondent in India cited tech as making her feel like she “can do anything with it which any youngster can do,” and one Chinese male respondent said: “It helps me catch up with the times – not only gaining more knowledge, but also feel that I’m on-trend; I feel younger”.

The research generally revealed that many older generations think using technology helps them to connect better with younger people as well as feel livelier and more knowledgeable. This is especially evident when it comes to the role smart devices (from PCs, tablets to smart home assistants and more) play in terms of relationships with family and friends. When asked to compare technology today to those of 20 years ago for giving them the ability to feel connected to what is going on in the lives of the people they care about, 65 percent answered it’s “getting better”. While 75% also said technology is improving their ability to stay in touch with family and friends who live far away.

The global research also revealed that tech is helping people when it comes to mental health and wellbeing, offering emotional gains, particularly in parents. Over three-quarters (78%) of working parents stated the ever-connected nature of technology helps them feel more emotionally connected to their children, even when they are away from home. An even larger portion (83%) of working parents agreed that emerging technologies are making it easier for them to feel confident that their kids are safe and secure while they are at work.

Over two-thirds (67%) of respondents in the survey stated they were optimistic about the future of technology and the role tech can play in our lives and society, especially in wellbeing, with 67% believing devices are currently having a positive impact on the ability to improve their overall health. And that’s hardly surprising, considering 84% also said tech has empowered them to make improvements in their lives overall.

Take for instance how one respondent, a 51-year-old woman from the US, highlighted how science is using technology to do great things for amputees, and enabling those suffering from mental illness to better connect with people from all over the world. “I think that the medical breakthroughs we’ve had are a tremendous statement on how we can have a positive relationship with technology,” she said.

The recognition that tech is helping to improve the quality of life could also be a result of the time it tends to save people. Half of respondents across all markets (50%) feel their smart devices save them 30 minutes or more a day by helping them do something faster or more efficiently. Similarly, over half (57%) agreed smart devices, such as computers and smart home devices like smart displays and smart clocks, are making them more productive and efficient, the highest perceptions of which were seen in China at 82% and India at 81%.

In terms of personal health, 36% of respondents said smart devices have made it easier for them to access health care providers and make doctor’s appointments, and a further 39% of those under 60 years of age stated modern tech makes it easier for seniors to contact emergency services.

A 23-year-old woman from India, for example, expressed her belief that the technological advancement of medical science is helping people better fight diseases and potentially cure them. “Lives of people are better off nowadays because they know ways of curing such health hazards,” she said. “Through technology, increasing the life span of an individual is very much possible.”

Psychologist and founder of Digital Nutrition, Jocelyn Brewer, said: “Keeping up with advancements in technology can feel like a full-time job, but it can have positive impacts on people’s sense of themselves and their age. While older people are stereotyped as being techno-phobic or inept at staying on-trend, this research points to the fact that maintaining currency in the digital space helps people feel more youthful, more connected to young people and youth culture, which in turn is a social currency for feeling valued and a sense of belonging or in ‘the know’.

“It’s this tech knowledge that drives the perception of feeling younger, without having to revisit the angst of our adolescence!

“Staying connected to the people we care about is a wonderful feature of technology. And while it is no replacement for face-to-face connection, it is a valuable supplement to communication for those who might be geographically divided. Parents can manage a range of responsibilities and provide increasing appropriate autonomy to teenagers through a variety of communication tools, reminders and systems that can help take the struggle out of the daily juggle.”

Dilip Bhatia, Vice President of User and Customer Experience, Lenovo, said: “There is a growing relationship between innovation and wellbeing as smart technologies are not only helping people globally to stay more connected but aiding wellbeing in the form of compassion and empathy by building better connections between them.”

“Technology has a transformational ability to unite people across generations and walks of life around the world, with the potential to help them to live healthier and more fulfilling lives. At Lenovo, we passionately believe in creating smarter technology for all, which is why we focus on making our technology accessible, blending into the everyday lives for the benefit of more people.”

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