Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Discussing mobile accessibility over lunch in the European Parliament

On 27 November 2013, MEP Dr. Ádám Kósa invited policy makers, industry and representatives of European disability organisations to a lunch event entitled "With GARI and the Real Time Sign Language App to a more accessible European Union". The intention was to discuss openly what industry is already providing in terms of accessibility features of mobile telecommunication devices, how persons with different disabilities are using these features, what from their perspective is still missing and how European policy can contribute to making mobile accessibility a success. 

The Hungarian Member of the European Parliament Dr. Ádám Kósa said: "I have a disability that you can’t see but I have no communication problem." Deaf persons like him have for decades been excluded from telecommunications, but this has changed thanks to the advent of smartphones. "Nowadays, I feel fully included in the communication of society. Thanks to new technologies, thanks to apps, and certain programs which help me. At the same time, we haven't achieved full accessibility yet," he continued. 

Together with his colleague MEP Werner Kuhn, Dr. Kósa proposed last year the project of a real-time sign language application to the European Commission. The idea is to facilitate communication of deaf and hard of hearing persons with the European Institutions by providing a platform independent application offering real-time sign language interpretation as well as captioning. The budget for the realisation of the project has been approved and the European Commission has launched a call for tender, which has already been closed but the winner has not been announced yet. The Commission’s call for tender referred to the design of a total communication system, combining in a coherent and coordinated way voice, real-time text and video in order to be able to have access to sign language at the same time. The platform will in a first time be hosted by the Commission but there will be pilot services with the different institutions. Ideally, the platform would be ready to be tested for the European Parliament elections in May 2014, and if it works well would be taken up also by Member States in order to facilitate access to their institutions. 

Mrs. Inmaculada Placencia-Porrero, Deputy Head of Unit for Rights of Persons with Disabilities within the Directorate General for Justice, spoke about the Commission's plans for the European Accessibility Act and the influence that the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities has had already in policy discussions.  After the European perspective on accessibility, the Mobile Manufacturers Forum (MMF) took the floor to provide an update on the Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative. Following this Jean-Daniel Ayme, Vice President, European Telecom Operations at Samsung Electronics and Robin Christopherson, Head of Digital Inclusion at AbilityNet both demonstrated what mobile accessibility translates to in real life for users with a disability using either a Samsung or Apple device.

The list of accessibility features that are included in devices is certainly getting longer and longer. Relatively simple features such as the flash light, can give visual alerts for the deaf, while integrated sensors can tell the blind user if the light is switched on. Other features such as adaptive sound, where the user can test their own hearing with the mobile phone and adapt the sound accordingly opens new ways to customise the device for all users, including those with a hearing impairment. As one of the speakers reminded the audience - all of us can be temporarily disabled - whether by injury or an unfavourable environment - and in these moments we all benefit from the mainstreaming of such features. 

Mobile accessibility has certainly advanced quite rapidly in the last decade and work still continues. One can only imagine what the devices of tomorrow will offer.

Read here the press release by MEP Dr. Kósa:

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