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:
http://www.mwfai.org/docs/eng/MWF%5FGARI%2D2019%5FAnualReport%2Epdf

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 H√∂ckner, 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: https://gari.hilfsgemeinschaft.at