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.


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 ( 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