Thursday, May 30, 2019

What are the accessibility features that are most useful for you?

Invitation to participate in the 5thGARI Feature Review

Since its creation in 2008, the Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative (GARI) has evolved into a central source of information for mobile accessibility, used by more than 55,000 people every month. GARI is available today in 18 languages and still pursues its mission of helping people to find a device that best fits their individual needs - whether it is a mobile phone for a hard-of-hearing person, a Smart TV for a blind person, a tablet for a person with learning disabilities or a Wearable for a person who cannot move their hands.

One key factor in GARI’s success is that it’s not a top-down approach but rather it’s a collaborative platform - thanks to the regular feature reviews and stakeholder consultations that the Mobile & Wireless Forum (MWF) engages in. In these feature reviews, we invite all stakeholders to comment on the current set of features the database reports on and to suggest new accessibility features to be added.

Coming out of our last review in 2016, we added 14 new features, a summary of which you can find in the blog entry we published at the time: http://blog.gari.info/2017/11/feedback-from-around-world-on-what.html

And now with the beginning of the next Feature Review, It will be interesting to see what new features have gathered your attention since then, and what kind of suggestions you have for improving the experience with GARI in order to ensure that it can continue to fulfill its role of helping people find the best device for them.

If you would like to participate, please have a look at the guidance documents (http://www.mwfai.org/publications.cfm?lang=eng&cat=) and send your contribution to michael.milligan (at) mwfai.org or sabine.lobnig (at) mwfai.org by 31 July 2019.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Brazil: Latin America’s biggest market promoting mobile accessibility

With the introduction of the General Regulation on Accessibility in 2016, Brazil became one of Latin America’s most active promoters of making telecommunications accessible for people with disabilities and older users. One important part of this initiative, is informing Brazilian citizens about the kind of accessibility features and solutions that they can already find on the market today and in mainstream devices.

Furthermore, ANATEL, Brazil’s national regulatory authority for telecommunications, is also working with the country’s network providers and device manufacturers, encouraging them to improve their offers to persons with disabilities. We have asked Miss Patrícia Rodrigues Ferreira responsible for Gerência de Universalização e Ampliação do Acesso at ANATEL to share some insights into her agency’s key activities in promoting mobile accessibility throughout the country.


What is ANATEL’s experience in promoting the accessibility of telecommunications? 

Anatel has been promoting accessibility:

  • On Anatel’s website and social media, such as Facebook and YouTube. On YouTube, Anatel published the General Regulation on Accessibility (Resolution nº 667/2016) in Libras (Brazilian sign language): https://www.youtube.com/user/Anatel/videos
  • At public events organized for private and public sectors.  It’s important to highlight  the “Anatel Prize for Accessibility 2019”. The first event will take place on 16 April, and Anatel will reward the operator most committed to accessibility in telecommunications services, based on a Ranking of Accessibility;


What measures have worked best so far to improve mobile accessibility? 

Anatel has involved in its regulation activities persons with disabilities, telecommunication companies, public bodies, associations representing persons with disabilities. This dialogue with the sector has been improving the regulation, helping Anatel to get to know the needs of the sector, especially in the mobile service, the most widely used service in Brazil;

Where do you see the biggest potential for improvement?

The biggest potential for improvement of the accessibility in telecommunication services is the expansion of the broadband. Anatel is working to expand the broadband in Brazil (which is a very large country) encouraging companies, establishing new covering commitments for operators and improving the regulation;

How does ANATEL use GARI for advancing mobile accessibility? 

Companies are enforced to disseminate the accessibility technologies available in the commercialized devices according to each disability, as it is established in the General Regulation on Accessibility. Anatel encourages the companies to use GARI to fulfil this obligation, because GARI is a worldwide platform. It is also important to mention that Anatel’s website includes information about GARI:
http://www.anatel.gov.br/institucional/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1336

What do you see as the necessary next steps? 

The next steps involve evaluating the impacts of Resolution nº 667  through a dialogue with telecommunication companies, public bodies and associations representing persons with disabilities.

What would you want from industry to support your objectives? 

The information about the accessibility technologies from industry is very useful for the companies to disseminate these information on their websites and on other platforms. So, the support from industry at this point is crucial for the success of the accessibility in telecommunication services.


Many thanks to Patrícia and ANATEL and we are looking forward to hearing about the winners of the “Anatel Prize for Accessibility 2019”.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Accessibility features for older users

Today, nearly one fifth of people living in the EU is 65 years or older (1), by 2030 this age group is expected to make up a quarter of the population (2), and the number of people aged 80+ is expected to more than double until 2080.

Parallel to this demographic trend, information and communication technology (ICT) is increasingly replacing and supplementing many services in our societies and often constitute the only way to access certain information and services.

For all these reasons, it is important that older users feel comfortable with using ICT and in particular mobile devices and tablets which have, for many, become the main access to the internet and online services.

Indeed, mobile phones and tablets, but also wearables, come with a number of in-built features that can make their use a lot easier.

These features offer help with vision for example:

  • users can chose higher contrast, which allows to increase the contrast between writing and background for example,
  • they can increase the font size to a degree easily readable for them,
  • they can use screen magnifiers to see details and non-text elements larger;

To support hearing, devices have features such as:

  • subtitles or closed captions for video and audio content, 
  • the ability to create hearing profiles for the left and right ear individually,
  • some mobile phones can synch directly with certain hearing-aids,
  • and in some cases speech to text apps can transcribe the spoken word into text; 

Features that help with memory, attention and decision-making are also very helpful too. These include:

  • phone and address books that associated names with photos of the person, 
  • simplified user interfaces that reduce the number of options on the screen, 
  • assistance instructions that give helpful tips on how to proceed,
  • the no-screen time-out function which means that the device will wait as long as necessary for the user to enter PIN or password or answer a yes/no question without turning off;

These devices can be wonderful tools for older users to better hear and see, get access to additional information and services and stay connected with family and friends.

Organizations such as Oasis Connections in the US are developing how-to guides and booklets that try to explain features particularly useful to older users in a concise way. The latest guides on accessibility features in iOS9, iOS10 and Android 7 (Nougat) are available from the Oasis Connections website in English and Spanish: https://www.oasisnet.org/National-Programs/Connections-Technology/Accessibility

Resources:

(1) https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Population_structure_and_ageing
(2) https://www.theparliamentmagazine.eu/articles/opinion/healthy-ageing-eu-new-balance
(3) https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Population_structure_and_ageing#Past_and_future_population_ageing_trends_in_the_EU

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Accessible Americas V: Five years of promoting mobile accessibility

A short report from ITU’s 5th Accessible Americas event


At the end of November 2018, Jamaica hosted the ITU’s 5th Accessible Americas event, which every year brings together government representatives of Latin American countries, telecom providers, manufacturers of wireless devices, innovators in ICT, researchers, representatives of the disability community, older users and a wide variety of stakeholders in accessibility.

The event addresses challenges and opportunities related to the accessibility of mobile phones and services, television and websites, public access and public procurement as well as innovation in ICT accessibility and broadcasting. It also serves to create awareness among Latin American governments about effective measures they can take in ICT accessibility that can help ensure an inclusive society in which all citizens have full access to products and services.

Indeed, a survey run in the months before the conference in 14 countries of the region showed that the countries of the Americas region are at different stages in regards to promoting accessibility on national level. Several countries are in the phase of discussing the introduction of national regulations on accessibility of ICTs and inclusion of persons with disabilities. Some countries already have such regulations in place and focus now on awareness raising and capacity building. A third group of countries is in the phase of creating accessible services and infrastructure adapted to the needs of persons with disabilities, and the most advanced countries try to mainstream accessibility through inter-sectorial collaborations among difference sectors of government and society.

Since the event in Jamaica was the 5th Accessible Americas event, it also provided the opportunity to take stock on how much progress there has been over the past 5 years. One remarkable difference is how organizations of persons with disabilities have been involved into the event, the trend going clearly towards more interaction between representatives of governments and regulars on one hand and representatives of civil society and the disability community on the other hand. This has evolved to a full-day training session as a pre-conference workshop on how countries deal with accessibility on a national level and on what can be done better.

Building on this positive development and recognizing the key role of ICTs in creating an inclusive digital society, the ITU opened the Accessible Americas to other groups with specific needs such as women and girls, youth, the elderly and indigenous people, facilitating open discussions on how to empower all groups of persons with specific needs.

The event was also preceded by a Regional Competition for Latin America and the Caribbean “Mobile Applications for Accessibility” in partnership with SAMSUNG Brazil and SIDI. The 2018 winners are Shawn Melville from Trinidad & Tobago with the MobiAssist app for persons with visual impairment, enabling them to navigate independently by providing the user with real time feedback about their environment through the use of wearable electronics that pairs with an application on their cellular phone; and João Marcos Barguil from Brasil with the Guia de Rodas, the largest mobile guide for accessible places offering over 150k reviews in more than 60 countries.


Resources:



Friday, December 7, 2018

Another year in mobile accessibility – what has changed and what is the same?

Taking stock on occasion of the International Day for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December.

On last year’s International Day for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (IDRPwD), we celebrated having passed the half million mark of monthly page-views on the GARI website (www.gari.info). This positive trend continued with over 650,000 monthly page-views over the past 6 months period and shows that people are still very much looking for information on accessibility features in devices such as mobile phones, tablets, wearables and Smart TVs. 

What else happened for mobile accessibility over the last 12 months? 

New standards…

New accessibility related standards have been published, like version 2.1 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) by W3C. This new WCAG 2.1 standard addresses items related to mobile devices (small screens and touch screens) that accommodate users with motor and dexterity disabilities, users with low vision, and users with cognitive disabilities. 

Other relevant standards published this year include a revised version of EN 301 549 defining the “Accessibility requirements suitable for public procurement of ICT products and services in Europe", and guidelines published by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) for safe listening devices and systems (ITU H.870). 

New regulations…


After long discussions and many amendments, the European Accessibility Act (EAA) was adopted and joins the ranks of Europe’s accessibility directives, which include the Web Accessibility Directive and the Directives on Public Procurement. 

15+ events and international conferences…

In 2018, the MWF attended a wide range of conferences and events related to accessibility across the globe. From the Accessible Americas event in Latin America, to the M-Enabling Summit and Forum in the US and Germany, to conferences organized by the European Disability Forum in Austria, including expert meetings organized by the International Telecommunications Union and stakeholder meetings in South Africa and Taiwan. 

One common thread…

While we were presented with many innovative approaches in making ICT more accessible for users with disabilities, older users and anyone with specific accessibility needs, we also heard at every single one of these events that what we need foremost are information and education on accessibility features – both among the users who need these features as well as among the people who support and work with them. 

Taking this message to heart, we tried to simplify the information on accessibility features in mobile devices by creating a GARI Features Guide, trying to explain in a succinct way what kind of features exist in today’s devices and in what situation they might be helpful, as well as a table with GARI Accessibility Features at a Glance: 

But more remains to be done and we are taking on the challenge for the next 12 months to come up with better information material, to reach new stakeholder and user groups and find new ways of making all users aware of the great accessibility features we have, why they are important and how to use them. 

If you want to be part of this journey, follow us on Twitter (@GARIupdates), explore the GARI database and/or get in touch with us directly



Thursday, October 18, 2018

“Don’t take technology too seriously - it is people who are using the technology and need to make sense out of it”

A report from the 1st M-Enabling Forum Europe, 27 September 2018, Düsseldorf

As much as technology is our beacon of hope to give people with disabilities equal access to society, we must not forget that it will always be only a helper or facilitator and not the solution in and of itself. The title statement by Dr. Thomas Kahlisch, board member of the German Association for Blind and Visual Impaired (DBSV), added an important dimension to the discussions at the 1stM-Enabling Forum Europe, which assembled 100 accessibility experts in Düsseldorf. 

Policy ambitions and the reality on the ground 

Representatives of the European Commission gave updates on the status of Europe’s efforts to create a binding legal framework for ICT accessibility in the form of the European Accessibility Act (EAA). Once the European Parliament and European Council agree on the final content and wording of the text, the EAA will introduce obligations for the private sector, mainly for ICT products and services, and strengthen the accessibility requirements in public procurement already in force. After the adoption of the EAA, which is expected for the end of this year, countries will have two years for transposing the requirements into national law, followed by a four year implementation period.

Going by the outcome of a survey presented by Yuval Wagner, founder and president of Access Israel, legislation such as the EAA will be important. Access Israel carried out a survey among more than 500 persons with disabilities in Israel. 56% stated that their N°1 issue is a lack of accessibility, and for 64% out of these it was a lack of accessibility in ICT.

On the other hand, we have today a plethora of accessibility features in mainstream devices, dedicated apps and accessibility services which in theory could ensure seamless access to information and communication for everyone. The panel about “Innovative apps, products and services for independent living” for example painted the picture of an entirely accessible mobile ecosystem, starting with a central source of information – the GARI database with information on the accessibility features in over 1,500 devices – passing by accessible devices such as Apple’s who was also on the panel, and freely available apps specifically designed for accessibility such as Speech Code, another panelist. To finish with,  assistive technology and services like sign language relays for phone calls can supplement these accessibility features.

Where is the disconnect?

It would seem that our stumbling block is well targeted communication. While all attendees to the Forum are clear on the need, importance and availability of accessible solutions, we need to get better in reaching those user groups who have never heard of accessibility and those who are reluctant in using new technologies all together.

“This future is all about technology”, said one of the attendees. “The big question is, can digital accessibility solve the physical and social accessibility?”

For one, we do have the amazing opportunity of making technology accessible from day 1 and avoid being pushed into a retro-fit mode in which we find ourselves today in trying to make the physical world accessible. Ensuring that ICTs are accessible has the potential of reducing the gap for persons with disabilities and also saving a lot of money.

However, tackling accessibility from the technical side alone will not suffice. We need to raise awareness and we need a system that provides consulting and guidance to companies and hands-on training for persons with disabilities. Or to put it in Dr. Kahlisch’s words: We need to help people make sense out of the technology and help them understand how using the technology is relevant to them in their individual situation.

More information:

The GARI database
Apple’s accessibility page
Speech Code
Tess Relay
Association manufacturers and retailers of assistive technology in Germany (BEH)
Association for Blind and Visual Impaired (DBSV)


Monday, October 1, 2018

What do CSS, standards and “easy” sign language have in common?

For one, they were all topics of very interesting presentations at this year’s A-Tag, the Austrian accessibility day, organised by accessible media. Secondly, they are all important components in making digital content accessible. 

Cascading Style Sheets (CSS)  is a style sheet language used for describing the presentation of a document written in a markup language like HTMLBoth CSS and HTML as key elements of the web need to be accessible and coherent between each other to make a website accessible. 

What can go wrong? 

Manuel Matuzovic provided a great example of how things can go wrong. Imagine if you have 8 elements on your website and just for one week you would like to push your newsletter by moving it up to third position on your website. Your web developer quickly changes the position of the newsletter in the CSS code and it appears now on third position on your website. However, the underlying HTML was not changed and a screen-reader or the focus indicator of somebody who uses not the mouse but the keyboard to navigate the website, will jump to the element that is still third in the HTML code and will only come later to the newsletter. That can be confusing and impractical and it breaks the accessibility tree of the website. It is therefore important that the developer understands accessibility, so they would know that such an approach would make the site inaccessible, and that another solution would need to be found.

The web of things rather than the internet of things 

W3C’s Shadi Abou-Zahra then spoke about the “web of things” on top of the internet of things. A smart home, where everything is connected, could potentially be very accessible for persons with disabilities. But not if for example the smart radiator gives out his readings only in GIF format. GIF is a format that screen-readers cannot read so it would be inaccessible to blind home owners. This example shows us that we need to have accessibility considered from the very beginning and ensure that it forms part of the core programming of every IoT device, rather than trying to add it on later. 

The ‘web of things’ concept is interesting in that it would allow all objects to communicate via one surface, like how we currently access the internet via our browsers and apps. If all devices can be accessed via one surface and that surface is accessible, it could indeed create an accessible world. 

The building blocks…. are standards

The different components can only work together, if we all agree on standards. All developers and manufacturers need to be aware of and follow the latest accessibility standards - in October 2018 that would be WCAG 2.1 and the revised EN 301 549. Eric Eggert, also from W3C, did a great job in explaining and demonstrating what the new components in WCAG 2.1 are, why they are relevant and how they can be implemented in practice. His explanations of the new success criteria in WCAG 2.1 can be found on the Knowbility blog linked in the recourse section and are definitely worth a read.

Another aspect is to integrate accessibility in all standards relevant for persons with disabilities or just adopt it for every user. The credo of “nothing about us, without us” does not apply to standards yet, but standards determine most of our products and services. 
Christian Galinski from Infotherm argued for a special interest group (SIG) on accessibility in standards. The SIG would promote Recommendation 2016 which advocates for introducing the obligation to mention in every standard whether they have accessibility relevance or not, which would make finding relevant standards much easier than it is today and hence easier to apply them. 

Last, but in no way least… the content  

On top of products and services, the content of course  needs to be accessible as well. 
For deaf users this means, content needs to be made available in sign language. And as with the hearing community and written language, the levels of understanding of sign language differ among people. So parallel to the need for “easy language”, there is also a need for “easy sign language”. For this reasons, the Austrian Sign Language interpreter community has introduced the concept of ÖGS+. This is interpreting into sign language (in this case Austrian Sign Language, ÖGS) in a way that is more pictographic and easier to understand. Since there is an extra level of explanation provided, the interpreters chose to design it with a +. Hence the name ÖGS+. Very soon, news and stories will be available on their website duooo.at in Austrian, German and International Sign Language as well of course in ÖGS+. 

A great one-day training event

Again, the A-Tag proved to be a very good one-day training event, bringing together the many different stakeholders needed to make digital content accessible to users of all abilities. Looking forward to next year's edition! 


Resources: 

W3C CSS Accessibility Task Force: https://www.w3.org/WAI/APA/task-forces/css-a11y/
Recommendation 2016 concerning standards on eAccessibility and eInclusion: http://aaate.net/recommendation-2016-concerning-standards-on-eaccessibility-and-einclusion/