Monday, September 7, 2020

Equal access for people with disabilities – can mobile phones make a difference?

It is often said that mobile technologies can be a key to inclusion for people with disabilities, giving them access to services otherwise inaccessible and offering new opportunities to participate in society on more equal footing. Data to support this claim has however been missing so far. For this reason, the GSMA undertook a research project to explore if people with disabilities in low- and middle-income countries have access to mobile phones and if yes, what difference it makes for their daily lives. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 15% of the global population have some form of disability, with their majority living in low- and middle-income countries. Anecdotal data shows that mobile technologies can have an even higher impact on this population group than on the rest of society, by substituting expensive assistive technology (AT) and providing access to economic and societal life hitherto impossible. However, there is a lack of statistics that would quantify the impact of access to mobile technologies on the economic well-being and inclusion of persons with disabilities on a global or national level. 


For this reason, the GSMA’s research team in 2019 set out to investigate mobile access, ownership and usage of mobile phones among people with disabilities living in Kenya and Bangladesh as example of low-income countries in Africa and South Asia. Their research found a “disability gap” in the ownership of mobile phones, with smartphones for the most part unaffordable for people with disabilities. While mobile phone ownership is high, 70% of people with disabilities in these countries own only a feature phone or basic phone. Relatives and caregivers play a key role in providing access to mobile phones for those who do not have their own device, but with restrictions in usage time and costs. 


Many different factors influence whether a person with a disability living in Bangladesh or Kenya will have their own device including for example: level of education, type of disability and gender. Interestingly, visually impaired persons are less likely to own a smartphone, even if they are not the least likely to own a mobile, but often their device is a basic or feature phone, the report states. 


On the other hand, the researchers found that people with disabilities can also be power-users of specific services: In Kenya, 63% of smartphone owners with disabilities use mobile internet daily, as compared to only 56% of non-disabled smartphone owners. A slightly higher percentage of Kenyans with hearing or speech impairment than non-disabled Kenyans have their own mobile money accounts. But only 10% of mobile phone owners overall in both Kenya and Bangladesh say they use accessibility features in their devices. 


One possible reason for this non-use of available accessibility functionalities – e.g. screen readers, magnifiers, voice control, color contrast, speech output etc. – is a lack of knowledge about either their existence or how to use them. A first step in remedying this issue is the inclusion of a video dedicated to the presentation of accessibility features in the GSMA’s Mobile Internet Skills Training Toolkit (MISTT). This concise 2-minute video gives an overview of the most important accessibility features found in today’s devices. 

All those who then would like to find out more about what kind of features their own device has to offer, can go to the GARI database, look up their own or a similar device model and see the full list of available accessibility features. In a next step, the Mobile & Wireless Forum (MWF) will provide short videos for the most prevalent accessibility features, explaining where in the device to find those features and how to activate them.  


The GSMA’s report concludes: “Mobile phones play a life-changing role for many persons with disabilities, who report that mobile phones help them to increase their independence, break some social barriers and isolation, and stimulate their participation in many areas of education, employment and social life.” But also: “Regardless of these benefits, persons with disabilities face barriers at all stages of the customer journey of mobile phone access, ownership and usage.”


Coming back to the question we started with – “Can mobile phones make a difference?” – yes, they can and they already do. And if we work together on making the access to the device easier and combine it with better information on what the device can actually do for users with and without disabilities, we will significantly improve access to what society has to offer to the individual. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

New accessibility features & GARI’s social impact - GARI Annual Report 2019

The publication of GARI’s Annual Report is our yearly opportunity to share with our many partner organisations around the world the progress we achieved with the Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative (GARI) in the past year and give a glimpse on what’s to come next.

In 2019, GARI went through its 5th Feature Review, receiving detailed feedback from organisations coming from 11 countries on four continents. This feedback resulted in proposals for 30 new features across the various product sections, recommendations to simplify descriptions of existing features as well as suggestions for improving the user interface. The detail of the feedback shows that the organizations invested a lot of time and effort in the analysis and we truly thank everyone who contributed!

To better understand GARI’s social impact, the MWF carried out a social research project which confirmed that mobile devices make a huge difference for users with disabilities in terms of having access to services and society. However, it also showed that the penetration of mobile technology among people with disabilities is still lower than among non-disabled peers even in countries with very high mobile uptake, suggesting that the problem is even worse in low income countries.

One of the issues identified is a knowledge gap among accessibility professionals and retail staff - leading to unhelpful advice being given to users with disabilities. GARI can effectively bridge this gap by providing an overview on accessible devices available on the market and helping uses with specific requirements identify devices that will fulfill these.

Our online survey showed, that the majority of users found GARI to be a useful source of information in selecting an appropriate mobile device. Their satisfaction was only limited by the need to investigate whether third party apps and whether the content that they regularly use is indeed accessible.

2019 furthermore saw the addition of Hebrew as 19th GARI language version and an increase of 3% in unique visits and pageviews. The Top 10 most searched for accessibility features were again topped by features for better hearing, the 3rd year in a row.

What’s to come in 2020? 

In the first half of 2020, we are still working on implementing the changes proposed and decided in the 5th GARI Feature Review – both in terms of adding new features as well as in improving the usability of the GARI website and database. We have also started working on short 1-2-minute videos that explain where to find the accessibility features in the devices and how to switch them on, and are about to add a 20th language version to GARI.

2020 will be the year to discuss the practical details of how industry will implement the European Accessibility Act (EAA) which has been adopted in 2019 and we will analyse how GARI can be used to report compliance as well as provide all EAA related information to consumers.

Finally, we will continue to work with organizations around the world to encourage greater awareness of existing accessibility features in devices today and expand the range of stakeholders using the GARI database.

Audio version of GARI report

For people who prefer to listen to the Annual Report, we have an audio version provided by Speech Code which can either be accessed through the “play” icon in the lower right corner of each page in the report or by using the links listed here below.

The following links provide the content to the GARI Annual Report 2019, page by page:

You can access and download the 2019 GARI Annual Report in PDF format:

Many thanks to all who participated in GARI’s progress in 2019 and we are looking forward to many more great collaborations in 2020!

For blind users, accessible mobile technologies are the means for a self-determined, independent life

The strength of the GARI project lies in the strong partnerships we have with the disability community and organisations such as the Austrian Association in Support of the Blind and Visually Impaired (Hilfsgemeinschaft). Over the years, the Hilfsgemeinschaft has given us feedback on the usability of the GARI website and the content of the GARI database for accessible devices and has helped us to improve the use of the database to blind and visually impaired users. Now, the Hilfsgemeinschaft has also implemented the GARI database in their own website, making the search for accessible devices more convenient for their members and helping spread the word about this service in the German speaking countries. 

The CEO of the Hilfsgemeinschaft, Klaus Höckner, has also given us some insights into what accessible mobile technologies mean for his members and which areas we need to further work on. 

  • Has mobile technology changed the life of the members of your organisation? 
Klaus: Definitely yes. For blind and vision-impaired persons, mobile technologies are a window into the world which allows them a self-determined and independent life. Mobile technologies have made it possible for people with disabilities – and not only them – to actively participate in social life and society. 

  • What do you consider the biggest challenge right now in the development of accessible technology? 
Klaus: The inclusion of these user groups into the development stage of technology as well as the compliance with existing guidelines and rules for the accessibility of devices, software and services. There exists a whole set of standards and guidelines for accessibility – they just need to be followed and implemented. 

More focus must also be placed on the accessibility of emerging technologies and the Internet of Things (IoT) and people with disabilities need to be included into their development from the beginning.  

Another important factor is the ageing of the population in parts of the world. Age often goes hand in hand with disability, with reduced mobility, diminished sight, hearing and cognition, which effects a large part of people above 65 years old. 

  • Are there any aspects we are overlooking in the public debate right now when talking about accessibility and the rights of persons with disabilities? 
Klaus: The diversity among people with disabilities. The disability community is a mirror of society. The is no such as thing as the “typical” person with disability. Just as in any human community, we find a broad spectrum of different capabilities, desires, education and skill levels, needs and restrictions. And they are not a minority –1.4 billion people in the world live with some sort of permanent or temporary disability. 

  • If you had any wish open, what would you wish from industry in regard to mobile accessibility? 
Klaus: Include people with disabilities from the beginning. Talk to them and their representatives. Don’t develop specialized solutions but embrace the concept of Design for All or Universal Design. 

  • Your organisations has recently implemented the GARI database into your website. What do you hope to achieve? 
Klaus: A higher visibility of accessibility solutions in the mobile technology space – both for consumers as well as manufacturers. 

The MWF is very happy that the Hilfsgemeinschaft has decided to use GARI very actively and to make the GARI database directly available to their members via this new page:

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Opportunities and pitfalls in mainstreaming accessibility

At the M-Enabling Forum in Düsseldorf, experts from the disability communities in the UK, Belgium, Germany and Denmark held a great panel discussion on “Latest Advances in Innovation and Impact on Solutions for Users”. What follows is a brief summary of some of the key points and comments raised during the discussion. 

One of the biggest trends we currently see is the mainstreaming of accessibility. What used to be specialized assistive technology (AT) is now embedded in mainstream technology. However, do accessibility features, like screen-readers for instance, work the same way, across brands and devices? It will be very important to standardize the different approaches to accessibility and to also include people with disabilities in the elaboration of the standards themselves, stressed Stein Erik Skotkjerra, Head of Accessibility Relations at Siteimprove in Denmark. 

People with disabilities should be involved in the design of products and services, however they also have their day-to-day life and cannot just volunteer for industry as test users. For this reason, Stein Erik emphasized, it would be important to find a way of abstracting the knowledge of the disability community in this regard and be able to share it with industry. 

He also advised industry to stop thinking about disability groups and rather focus on user groups. It does not matter why a user has a certain preference for doing things without vision, hearing, hand movement etc. It should only matter that the user does have the preference and how the device can address it. 

While Stein Erik pointed out that we need to focus on methods and process and not on one specific technology (like AI that is being hyped as the tool to revolutionize access to technology), Robin Spinks, Principal Manager for Digital Accessibility at RNIB in the UK is convinced that the trio of Artificial Intelligence (AI), 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT) will create great potential for accessibility. 

Beyond creating new solutions for everyday life, the 4th industrial revolution will also change the employment and labor markets radically as we move towards knowledge-based jobs that rely more on controlling ICTs. If these ICTs are accessible, they can provide new possibilities for people with disabilities in the workplace. 

Overall, Alejandro Moledo, Policy Coordinator at the European Disability Forum in Belgium, agreed that we see more and more mainstream accessible technologies taking over former tasks of AT. “But there will always be a need for AT”, he added. Unfortunately, there are still big hurdles to getting the most appropriate piece of AT or accessible technology to the person who needs it. 

In the beginning of the year, EDF published a report called “Plug and Pray”, looking at emerging technologies such as IoT, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, robotics, AI and automated decision making and highlighted some examples where these technologies advanced the accessibility and independent living of people with disabilities. The report however also stressed the risks and concerns in respect of accessibility standards, privacy, security, discrimination, bias in AI etc. Two major issues remain - the affordability of access to the most suitable piece of technology and the lack of digital skills among users with disabilities. The report ends with clear recommendations: 
  • for the ICT industry to make sure that teams are diverse – hire people with disabilities
  • for academia to work with people with disabilities and educate more professionals on accessibility
  • for policy makers to ensure the necessary legislative framework are in place; and
  • for organizations of persons with disabilities to help, be active at conferences and talk with people from all walks of life. 

Dagmar Greskamp, Expert Work and Inclusion at Aktion Mensch in Germany very much agreed with EDF’s point of view. They conducted a study called “parameter of inclusion”, which showed that ICT is seen as facilitator for change for people with disability although concerns remain, such as bias in ICT applications. The labor market must become more accessible and the exchange of knowledge on tools and solutions must be facilitated. 

“It is very individual how we approach and use technology”, said Lidia Best, Vice Chair of the European Federation of Hard of Hearing People, coming from the United Kingdom. AI is seen as having great potential but we need to understand how we are interacting with it. She remarked that often information on how much technology will be able to help users with disabilities is overstated – as was the case with speech recognition, which was sold as a great solution long before the technology had matured. Even today, speech recognition often only works in an ideal environment and does not work so well in emergency situations for example. For this reason, the International Federation of Hard of Hearing and the World Federation of the Deaf issued a statement that we need to come up with a good way to measure where, when and how automatic speech recognition can work and be employed.

“We are not saying no, we welcome new technology but we need to assess its effectiveness,” said Lidia. “Also, we need to make others understand that while we like new solutions, we also want to keep what we have and what works well”, she continued and shared the example of telecoils often not being activated in hearing-aids since audiologists think that users now prefer Bluetooth connections anyway. However, depending on the country and situation, the access to telecoils and the ability to use them can still be very valuable. 

The discussion was moderated by Christoph Jo. Müller,  Board President of the Association of Manufacturers and Retailers of Assistive Technology (BEH) in Germany. 

About the M-Enabling Forum Europe: 

The second edition of the M-Enabling Forum Europe 2019 took place on 19 September 2019 in the Congress Center of Messe Düsseldorf parallel to REHACARE. The event is dedicated to promoting accessible and assistive technology for people with disabilities and senior citizens. The M-Enabling Forum Europe is organized by E.J. Krause & Associates, Inc and G3ict, the Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technology. It is a crucial opportunity to link policy to practice through current and emerging technologies for all. Next year’s Forum will be held on 24 September, 2020. More information can be found at:

Monday, October 7, 2019

Accessibility on the new European Commissioners’ agenda from Day 1

In the first days of starting their position, each European Commissioner receives a mission letter from the president elect of the European Commission, Mrs. Von der Leyen. This time around, these letters contain a clear reference to the duty of the Commissioners to help implement the UNCPRD. 

“You will lead on the people with disabilities rights, you will work to ensure that our policies pursue this aim.” With this citation from the mission letter of new EC president Von der Leyen to her Commissioners, Inmaculada Placencia-Porrero started her keynote at this year’s M-Enabling Forum in Düsseldorf, in which she outlined the EU’s policy framework for accessibility.

The European Commission promotes accessibility via a number of complementary pieces of legislation:

  • the European Accessibility Act (EAA) contains direct obligations for economic operators to make ICT products and services accessible; 
  • the European Electronic Communications Code (EECC) has inscribed the obligation for equal/equivalent access and also sets conditions for availability and affordability of assistive technology as well as telecom services;
  • the Audiovisual Media Directive (AVMD) includes obligations on accessible content; 
  • the Web Accessibility Directive introduces obligations for pubic authorities to make their websites and apps accessible;
  • the Public Procurement Directives include clauses to obligate public authorities to take accessibility into consideration in their tenders and for products in the scope of the EAA it is compulsory to adopt the accessibility requirements laid out in the Act; 
  • even the European funds, like for instance the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the European Social Fund (ESF) or the Cohesion Fund (CF), have now some accessibility conditions included;

On top of these, the European Commission has initiated and/or mandated the development of several accessibility standards. These include the accessibility standard for public procurement EN 301 549 as well as the recently finalized standard for Design for All, EN 17161.

“Technology is advancing fast though and the European Commission is trying to look ahead and anticipate possible accessibility barriers of technologies which are yet to come – thinking of artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, robotics etc”, said Ms Placencia-Porrero.

Inmaculada’s presentation was followed by a panel on the general progress of digital accessibility in Europe. First, Francesca Cesa Bianchi presented G3ict’s DARE Index which provides macro data on the advances in accessibility on country level. Her findings were then substantiated by reports from national stakeholders in Spain, Slovenia and the UK.

David Zanoletty Garcia from the Fundación ONCE presented their efforts to make the pilgrimage route of El Camino de Santiago fully accessible, including the unforeseen pitfalls and barriers to overcome in such an endeavor. Starting from GPS data only being precise to a few meters – which can make a big difference if there is a cliff next to the route, or ascents, slopes or stairs not being indicated in the usual map apps.

Dušan Caf from Slovenia’s Digital Society Forum contributed some insights that he gained from recent work for the ITU, in which some countries reported only 1% population with disabilities while some other countries recorded up to 23% population with disabilities – clearly a matter of how disability was defined. We know that in some countries, we have too narrow a definition of disability and that the actual number might be much higher. Estimates are that we have around 100 million people in Europe who have some form of disability.

In Slovenia, the legislation regarding disability and accessibility was adapted when the country joined the EU in 2005. Around 80 different pieces of legislation deal on a national level with disability, however monitoring and enforcement are not very effective.

Robin Spinks from the RNIB in the UK stressed the importance of including people with disabilities in the accessibility training given to organizations and companies – both actively in the development of the content and with the staff who need to understand how to assist people with disabilities.

Accessibility is a process and every interaction with a product or service should be better accessible. This includes updates and refreshing of products. The envelop of accessibility needs to be pushed constantly and this can be accomplished through partnerships with the disability community, Robin added.

The discussion panel was chaired by Gerry Ellis from Feel The BenefIT in Ireland who not only contributed his long experience in the accessibility sector but also his views as a blind user himself.

About the M-Enabling Forum Europe:
The second edition of the M-Enabling Forum Europe 2019 took place on 19 September 2019 in the Congress Center of Messe Düsseldorf parallel to REHACARE. The event is dedicated to promoting accessible and assistive technology for people with disabilities and senior citizens. The M-Enabling Forum Europe is organized by E.J. Krause & Associates, Inc and G3ict, the Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technology. It is a crucial opportunity to link policy to practice through current and emerging technologies for all. Next year’s Forum will be held on 24 September, 2020. More information can be found at:

“We would need a GARI for everything…”

This was one of the conclusions of the M-Enabling Forum in Düsseldorf. Speakers and participants agreed that we have made great advances in accessible technologies that can make lives of people with disabilities or senior citizens easier, yet most people who need it, do not know about what is available in the market or how to use it. 

“Senior living in the city and at home” was the topic of one of the afternoon sessions at the M-Enabling Forum which took place on 19 September in Düsseldorf. And the conclusion of the representatives of senior citizens organizations, the hard of hearing community, academia and the assistive technology industry in this session was unanimous: neutral advice and training are key factors in the uptake of technology.

Senior citizens as well as people with disabilities often face challenges in the area of mobility, when getting from a point A to an unfamiliar point B becomes stressful and difficult, as well as in the interaction with a range of devices all with different user interfaces. In the discussed scenarios, it was clear that accessibility features and apps can help, but the key to fulfill their potential is awareness and training, meaning that users must be informed about the solutions and be offered training  in how to find and use these features and apps. 

The participants in the session shared examples of great solutions that can help, such as the apps of Seeing AI and BeMyEyes, but emphasized the need for a central source of information that everyone would know and go to for information on accessible solutions. For the product ranges it covers (namely mobile phones, tablets, smart TVs, Wearables and apps), the GARI database can certainly fulfill this role, but there is still need to make it known more widely. 

In his closing words to the M-Enabling Forum, Axel Leblois from G3ict underlined how encouraging it is to see the number of legislative and civil society initiatives on national and European level to advance accessibility, which demonstrates a big change in attitude as compared to a few years back. Throughout the discussions during the M-Enabling Forum it became clear that the human factor is crucial in everything we do, to make sure that technology will be accessible and that inclusive technology will be adopted. This can only be achieved by creating even more collaborations, more partnerships, bringing in more stakeholders and working on making the world accessible together. 

About the M-Enabling Forum Europe: 
The second M-Enabling Forum Europe 2019 took place on 19 September 2019 in the Congress Center of Messe Düsseldorf in conjunction with REHACARE. The event is dedicated to promoting accessible and assistive technology for people with disabilities and senior citizens. The M-Enabling Forum Europe is organized by E.J. Krause & Associates, Inc and G3ict, the Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technology. It is a crucial opportunity to link policy to practice through current and emerging technologies for all. The 2020 Forum will be held on 24 September. More information can be found at:

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:

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 ( and send your contribution to michael.milligan (at) or sabine.lobnig (at) by 31 July 2019.