By Daniel McKeown
Learners who find themselves all at sea with digital information in today’s high-tech world could be thrown a line thanks to two new competitions for technology developers launched by JISC Techdis, the UK’s leading advisory service on technology and inclusion.

The first, titled "Plain Sailing", focuses on enabling users to produce and access navigable and personalisable digital information independently. The second, "Making Waves", aims to develop technologies enabling learners with communication difficulties to function effectively and independently across the range of learning and living situations.

“Digitisation has opened up access to a mass of information for a vast number of people across the globe," says Sal Cooke, JISC Techdis director. "Yet in spite of legislation, accessibility standards and guidelines, equality of access is still denied to millions of people.”

“The breadth of potential beneficiaries as a result of the competitions is huge. The reach for 'Making Waves' could be in excess of 1 million learners and, for 'Plain Sailing', the impact is likely to be in excess of 10 million learners. The name of the game here is ease of use for all.”

Following consultation with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Technology Strategy Board, joint sponsors of the initiative, JISC Techdis chose the two competition areas, concluding that learners too often find digital information difficult to access or navigate successfully, often due to problems with the rendering software rather than the information itself.

John Hayes, minister for further education, skills and lifelong learning, says, “In today's world, those who find it difficult to engage with digital information also find it increasingly hard to access life, learning and employment opportunities.

“These competitions not only represent a fantastic opportunity for companies to help learners overcome these obstacles and make a real difference to their lives, but also for the companies taking part to improve their prospects.”

A total of £250,000 is available for each of the competitions, which were launched officially at BETT 2011. Both are part of the SBRI (Small Business Research Initiative) programme, which promotes solutions to public sector needs by involving companies in contests that result in technology development contracts.

More information

Visit the JISC Techdis competitions website