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: https://www.m-enabling-europe.com/history-1/about-m-enabling/

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: https://www.m-enabling-europe.com/history-1/about-m-enabling/

“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: https://www.m-enabling-europe.com/history-1/about-m-enabling/

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: