Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Can Accessible Consumer Tech Bridge the Gap in AT Provision?

Current mobile phones are very accessible and can help users with disabilities not only access the device and online services, but also their environment and improve participation in society. However, smartphones can be expensive and so far, do not qualify for funding. Is there a case to be made that smartphones are Assistive Technology and should be funded for certain user groups? 

Join our panelists from WHO, DATEurope, Enable Ireland, the Association in Support of the Blind and Visually Impaired Austria and University College Cork in discussing advantages of AT funding for accessible devices such as mobile phones, tablets, Wearables, as well as valid concerns and practical hurdles. 

Our speakers are: 

  • David Banes, Director of David Banes Access and Inclusion Services & DATEurope
  • Siobhán Long, Manager, National Assistive Technology & SeatTech Services, Enable Ireland
  • Klaus Höckner, Director, Hilfsgemeinschaft der Blinden und Seeschwachen Österreichs
  • Wei Zhang, WHO Assistive Technology Program
  • Bryan Boyle‬ , Lecturer, University College Cork
  • Sabine Lobnig, MWF, Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative (GARI) 


The roundtable takes place as part of the Inclusion Forum of #ICCHP_AAATE_22 on Wednesday, 13 July 2022, 11:45: https://www.icchp-aaate.org/program#conf-day-1 

The discussions will serve as basis for a policy paper and a list of practical recommendations and joint action steps. Keep your eyes open for the publication of the session output. 

If you cannot attend in person, join our discussion on Twitter via @GARIupdates, following the hashtag #ICCHP_AAATE_22. 


Thursday, May 19, 2022

Are smartphones assistive technology and where do I learn about the accessibility of my device?

The Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) has become our yearly sign post to report on the progress made with the Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative (GARI) over the past year and give a glimpse at our commitments going forward in advancing mobile accessibility for consumers with disabilities, older users, their families and carers. 

Current mobile phones are very accessible and can help users with disabilities not only access the device and online services, but also their environment and improve participation in society. However, smartphones can be expensive and so far, do not qualify for funding. For this reason, the MWF launched a research project in 2021, investigating whether assistive consumer electronics could be considered assistive technology and hence would qualify for national AT funding. 

The research outcomes provide valuable input to discussions with policy makers on how to get people with disabilities better access to the technology that can help them – independent on whether it is classified as assistive technology or accessible mainstream devices. Furthermore, four academic publications are under preparation, which will inform the accessible ICT research agenda in this area. 

The GARI user survey showed that the wish for more information on how to use the accessibility features in the devices, remains constantly high. The MWF hence continued the series of short 1-2 minute videos, explaining where to find accessibility features in the device and how to activate them. The videos published to date can be found on the GARI website and YouTube channel. To date, 37 feature videos have been published covering both Android and iOS platforms. The MWF also started publishing feature videos for connected wearables. First videos include ‘Adjust Text Size’ for the Apple Watch and Smartwatch, “VoiceOver”, “Grayscale” and “Reduce motion”.

If you want to know more about insights made with the Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative last year and planned milestones for GARI in 2022, have a look at our GARI Annual Report 2021: https://www.mwfai.org/docs/eng/GARI%20%2D%202021%20Annual%20Report%2Epdf 

Monday, March 28, 2022

Are smart phones assistive technology? …. the 2021 GARI research project

Current mobile phones are very accessible and can help users with disabilities not only access the device and online services, but also their environment and improve participation in society. However, smartphones can be expensive and so far, do not qualify for funding. Is there are a case to be made that smartphones are assistive technology and should be funded for certain user groups? A 2021 research project looked into that. 

Today’s mobile phones include a long list of accessibility features that can support people with disabilities in accessing electronic content, using online services and participating in our increasingly online life. However, these devices can be expensive and people with disabilities often live in precarious economic situation, which increases the importance of funding to get access to technology. 

For this reason, the MWF in 2021 initiated a research project to investigate whether devices listed in GARI fulfil the requirements of assistive technology (AT) and could be eligible for national assistive technology funding. A team of researchers from the Global Universal Design Commission Europe (GUDC-EU), and David Banes Access and Inclusion Services analysed the current policy environment in six countries, analysed eligibility, approval, funding, and provision of assistive technology – checking against user needs, and developed initial indicators for the social return on investment (SRoI) for including mainstream consumer technology in AT provision schemes.

Their analysis of the key features that support accessibility for smartphones and tablets showed that these features focus on making the device more usable for people with disabilities and from this aspect do not directly fall under the definition of assistive technology. However, a comparison with international standards revealed that 25 of the over 130 features listed in GARI are assistive in nature and match the requirements laid out in the standards applicable for assistive technology. 

If the device is furthermore enhanced with a range of third-party products, including emerging technologies and innovative software, the complete package can be more clearly identified as assistive technology. Such a package is unlikely to be used by a person without a disability and therefore falls within the definition of assistive technologies.

The research further underlines the potential for AT to offer wider participation in employment for people with disabilities and increase their independence in everyday life. Mainstream AT devices supplied to people with disabilities based on their individual needs can widen the availability of support and choices based on each individual’s preference. The benefits of widening the reach significantly outweigh the cost of supporting funding for mobile assistive technologies.

Overall, GARI listed devices could bridge the gap in what is provided to people with disabilities and their specific needs. The GARI list describes many devices that can be helpful to people with disabilities having in mind that these devices are equipped with built-in accessibility features which are of great use and beneficial to people with disabilities. Supporting disabled people with access to AT can significantly reduce loneliness and allow them to be more active and participate in society.

To share the findings of this research more broadly, two publications in peer reviewed journals are currently under preparation. 

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Enabling remote work for people with disabilities

The value and feasibility of remote work has become readily apparent during the pandemic and for some it can mean the difference in even being able to take part in the workforce. 

In particular for people with disabilities, remote work can open up new opportunities by allowing them to work from home. But only if several basic conditions are fulfilled. In a side event to the 14th Conference of States Parties to the CRPD – COSP14 on 18 June 2021, the Zero Project and the ITU Office for Europe invited speakers from Austria, Spain, Switzerland and the UK to discuss “Remote working and the new elevated importance to build flexible work environments that facilitate People with Disabilities’ socio-economic inclusion”. 

A person with disability working from home, would ideally have an accessible device, work with accessible online content and take part in accessible online meetings. There are a few things necessary for that to happen. 

Firstly, the person needs to be aware of what kind of accessibility features are available and which one of those features can help in their personal situation. Then the person needs to understand what kind of devices have the needed features and thirdly, he or she would need to know how to use and make the most of them. 

The MWF tries to cover all three of those aspects in the Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative (GARI). It is a central source of information for accessibility that allows you to search accessible mobile phones, tablets, apps, Wearables and Smart TVs. You can search for an accessible device depending on your specific needs, or you can have a look at the comprehensive list of available features – in the case of mobile phones a list of around 130 features. 

For people who need a general orientation before launching the search for a specific device, the MWF has also developed feature guides, which match available accessibility features to the WHO’s categories of impairment. For example, if you have moderate hearing loss, you will find 8-10 features listed for moderate hearing loss that can help users with this condition. 

Following the request of GARI visitors for more information on how to use the accessibility features, the MWF has additionally started to provide short videos explaining where the  features can be found and how to activate them. 

Each of these elements can help support people with disabilities in remote work, but in and of itself, they are not enough. Even if the person has an accessible device and knows what kind of feature will help them, making the most of these features within the workplace still requires another level of training. In this context, employers are challenged to provide the necessary remote IT support and to ensure the integration of their remote workers (with and without disabilities) into the established workflows. They also need to facilitate exchange among the employees for official and social conversations – both of which are crucial for a functioning work environment. 

GARI provides one part of the solution and the MWF wants to work with stakeholders that can provide the additional necessary components to create a truly accessible ecosystem. In this sense, we very much appreciated the opportunity to participate in this session organized by the Zero Project and the ITU Europe Office and are looking forward to future collaborations. 


More information





Thursday, May 20, 2021

Over 70% of people find the accessible device they are looking for on GARI - just one stat from the latest Annual Report

Learn about the progress made with GARI in 2020, the number of devices in the database, new languages added and new videos explaining how to find and activate accessibility features in your device as well as what’s to come in 2021. 


The report starts off with an overview of key statistics from 2020: 

  • over 63,500 unique monthly visits to the GARI website and database 
  • 1,500+ devices listed with their accessibility information 
  • 66% of advanced searches on GARI relate to hearing features
  • 20 language versions of GARI
  • 30+ manufacturers participating in GARI
  • 82% of searches in GARI relate to mobile phones
  • 14 videos on how to find and activate accessibility features in devices
  • 70% of visitors to GARI find what they are looking for
  • 40+ organizations and agencies around the world are actively using GARI 

After two years with the majority of users coming from Latin America, visitors from North America took the lead, following by Latin America, Europe and then in equal parts from Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa. 

As important as it is to provide information on the accessibility features in devices, it is equally important to provide the information in ways that can be accessed as widely as possible. For this reason, the MWF has been working to constantly improve the way that the information is made available and in the languages that it can be accessed in. 

If you would like to listen to the report, we have also included an audio format called Speech Links, which you can access via the “play” button in the lower right corner of each page. You’ll find also a list of the Speech Links for direct access here below. 


Title page - https://speechcode.eu/embed/audio/c91502a7-f188-4e18-a89e-d4483a1b2223?size=72&title

2020 in numbers - https://speechcode.eu/embed/audio/243564d7-b5d6-47e8-844d-a3914eafa02f?size=72&title

Contents - https://speechcode.eu/embed/audio/02bcc3e6-9216-4ae1-a539-cee6916d984d?size=72&title

Page 1 - https://speechcode.eu/embed/audio/4edd1022-3e61-48c1-a482-a8af58bf3e6c?size=72&title

Page 2 - https://speechcode.eu/embed/audio/c13fe4b5-bb2c-4347-83b9-0f486ceaba63?size=72&title

Page 3 - https://speechcode.eu/embed/audio/8311eb9d-8bf7-452c-b8c3-0803fb9742b2?size=72&title

Page 4 - https://speechcode.eu/embed/audio/202db599-e93c-48dc-ab2a-049d6472d96d?size=72&title 

Page 5 - https://speechcode.eu/embed/audio/b78f5e4b-7466-47c6-8e24-a666c02fe5a2?size=72&title 

Page 6 - https://speechcode.eu/embed/audio/a81b2ae5-5e2a-4ab6-b33f-57be7db5be64?size=72&title 

Page 7 - https://speechcode.eu/embed/audio/cc84e5d5-ae74-44f5-a6c9-8cfe920de995?size=72&title 

Page 8 - https://speechcode.eu/embed/audio/3a494b4c-422d-4be7-a702-12b30e5df12c?size=72&title 

Page 9 - https://speechcode.eu/embed/audio/8353e998-1f61-4b38-b028-8f44cc95b9c8?size=72&title 

Page 10 - https://speechcode.eu/embed/audio/8d2280f0-cfdc-4caf-ba6b-6decd525d8b5?size=72&title 

Page 11 - https://speechcode.eu/embed/audio/f437c357-1a17-4f93-b4bf-f03f93988bc6?size=72&title 

Page 12 - https://speechcode.eu/embed/audio/8461dc48-59eb-4dd8-b376-9da4c9052189?size=72&title 

Back page: https://speechcode.eu/embed/audio/d54a306c-c99b-4a86-993c-6bca6bc7131d?size=72&title 


You can access and download the GARI Annual Report 2020 here: http://www.mwfai.org/docs/eng/MWF%5FGARI%20Annual%20Report%202020%2Epdf






Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Accommodations on mobile devices - options and trends - a #ZeroCon21 roundtable

During the Zero Project Conference 2021, a roundtable discussion was organised to examine how mobile technologies provide workplace accommodations for people with disabilities and what emerging technologies such as AI, wearables, the Internet of Things, and Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality will contribute in the future. 


Mobile technology solutions today in the workplace

Digital technologies and, particularly, mobile phones have transformed the workplace and reshaped our understanding of work and how we do it. Recent developments, including the global pandemic, have accelerated the push towards digitisation. In developing countries, mobile tech opens the door for people to start their own business and participate in the online economy in a way not possible before. 

Although it is hard to find concrete numbers, we know that mobile phones are the key for employment for people with disabilities in many developing countries, says Clara Aranda-Jan, Insights Manager at the GSMA. A GSMA report published in December 2020 showed that despite these benefits, there are fundamental gaps in mobile phone ownership. People with disabilities are less likely to benefit from using mobile access. 

Two conditions are crucial: the availability of accessible and affordable devices and that users have the necessary skill level in their use. Lack of knowledge about existing accessibility features is a critical barrier in low- and middle-income countries. As a result, GSMA developed a mobile skills training toolkit to help network providers in these countries to train users. Additionally, GSMA developed a set of principles for the digital inclusion of persons with disabilities to support the mobile industry close the digital gap. 

Accessible ICTs are a gateway to almost every aspect of today's life, including employment, Alejandro Moledo, Policy Coordinator at the European Disability Forum (EDF), confirmed. Whereas partially sighted users once needed many different devices such as a magnifier, telescope, scanner etc., to handle documents. Now, all of these functions are integrated into a mainstream mobile device. 

For people with disabilities to fully benefit from technology, the "AAA" conditions must be fulfilled, Alejandro continued. Technology must be accessible, affordable and available, as enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the first document to recognise access to technology as a fundamental human right.  

It is vital to create the legal grounds for this to happen. On the one hand, countries must have anti-discrimination legislation that ensures equal access to employment and reasonable accommodation in the workplace. Whilst on the other hand laws such as the European Accessibility Act create a baseline of accessibility requirements for products and services. 

The mobile device is a key to unlock other technologies and services that merge online. Mainstream mobile devices offer a wide range of accessibility features already, said Sabine Lobnig, Communications Director at the MWF, which has created the GARI database (www.gari.info). The database lists around 130 accessibility features for over 1,500 devices currently available in the market. Consumers can use this database to find a device that meets their access needs or to learn more about the accessibility features of a device they already own. 

Despite the availability of many accessible devices, we still face two significant barriers, lack of knowledge of features and the skills to use them. Additionally, such devices challenge the traditional understanding and definitions of assistive technology. As a result, funding bodies do not consider mobile tech appropriate for funding despite their capacity to meet the needs of people with disabilities in the workplace. 

Emerging technologies for the workplace

Mobile phones are and will continue to be at the heart of access and inclusion in the workplace as new technologies are delivered, building on mobile platforms, continued David Banes, CEO of Access and Inclusion Services

Mobile tech's crucial role in providing access is undisputed. Still, no technology can be the solution for all, cautioned Klaus Höckner, Director of the Austrian Association in Support of the Blind and Visually Impaired (Hilfsgemeinschaft). Klaus highlighted two issues often neglected in the discussion. First, the growing percentage of older adults in developed countries who are likely to acquire a disability, and the reality that the majority of people with disabilities are living in developing countries, where affordability and digital literacy are crucial. 

One widespread accessibility app, "Seeing AI" from Microsoft, helps blind and visually impaired users experience the world around them by describing pictures, documents, reading out messages etc. The app uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) which demonstrates some of the challenges faced. It only works with a good internet connection though and requires users to both have a smartphone and the knowledge to use the device and app. 

The AI relies on a large volume of data, which needs to come from users so that it learns appropriately. This data might be traced back to the user raising privacy concerns. GDPR laws in Europe offer a solution to protect privacy, but many questions remain unresolved. 

Together with developments in sensor technology and connectivity, AI lays the grounds for the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT allows devices in our environment to collect, share, and interpret data and feed back to a central point, which can be a smartphone in many cases. 

While IoT promises greater control over the environment, there appears to be little evidence of use as an accommodation in the workplace, says Luc De Witte, Chair of Health Services Research at the University of Sheffield. He leads a large research project in the UK looking at IoT application in health and social care. 

Promising solutions include systems that allow users with smartphones to connect to beacons in the environment for orientation and additional information. They can also easily find a person in an emergency or where a user is disorientated or confused, to offer assistance. But actual use and application are surprisingly limited to date. 

The Internet of Things harbours enormous potential for inclusion. We are only at the beginning of its deployment. Still, as with other innovations, we need to take care to direct growth so that IoT helps to bridge the gap for people with disabilities rather than increase it. 

Even more challenging is to design Virtual Reality (VR) to be accessible. On a mobile device, the interface is flat. You interact with the device in two dimensions, explained Daniel Dyboski-Bryant, Director of Virtual Education & Platforms at Educators in VR. In Virtual Reality though, the user finds him/herself inside the technology and needs ways of representing him/herself. Today's VR platforms are not ready yet to allow users a complete representation of their abilities, but his is what users want. 

As Virtual Reality allows people to share a three-dimensional virtual space, Daniel sees it as an opportunity for people with disabilities and every user to be represented in new and exciting ways, including in the workplace. 

Conclusion 

The pervasiveness of accessible mobile technologies across all aspects of the lives of persons with a disability is offering a unique opportunity to address barriers to inclusion. Much of traditional AT products' functionality can be reproduced upon a phone as an app or built-in feature, reducing cost and breaking complex delivery chains. Challenges remain to ensure equitable access to these opportunities, including cost, digital skills, and funding mechanisms' rigidity. New and emerging technologies are accelerating this trend to benefit people with a disability. Further work is needed by policymakers, developers, distributors and disabled people's organisation to address the challenges and unlock the potential for all.   


Resources

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Making my mobile work for me – activating the right accessibility features

Today’s mobile phones are amongst the most accessible ICT devices. However, many users either do not know about the many helpful features they have already included in their device or they are not sure how to activate them. The MWF has started a series of short videos to help. 

Over 100 accessibility features in my phone – how do I know what helps me?

Most smartphones and even a good number of feature phones have an impressive number of accessibility features included. These range from features like the zoom function – being able to magnify the displayed content – to specialized applications such as the screen reader which need some knowledge on how to use them successfully. 

To give people an overview of the available features, the MWF provides a feature guide which explains what kind of features can help for different needs, ranging from mild hearing or vision loss to deaf-blindness, reduced mobility, dexterity or cognition. 

You can find a table giving you a brief but comprehensive overview here: http://www.mwfai.org/docs/eng/MWF_GARI_FeaturesAtaGlance.pdf 

Or a more detailed feature guide here: http://www.mwfai.org/docs/eng/MWF_GARI_FeatureGuide2.pdf 

How do you I activate the accessibility feature? 

Once people have selected the accessibility features that they would like to test or that are most likely to support their use of the device, they sometimes struggle to find the feature in their device, how to activate and fine-tune the feature to their needs. 

For this reason, the MWF has started a series of short videos, guiding users through the settings and accessibility menus for particular features, explaining how to switch them on and how to find the right option (for example the degree of magnification or amplification needed). 

Videos already published include: 


Videos for Android will be added shortly and we will be expanding the range throughout the year. 

If you would like to be notified about new publications, subscribe to the MWF’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvwTMEqvWD3BWx2tmxYGDUA 

If you are looking for an accessible device or would like to learn more about the accessibility features in your current device, we invite you to explore the GARI database: www.gari.info