Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Apps can make the in-accessible accessible – Ofcom accessible apps day

On 17 May 2013, the UK regulator Ofcom brought together a wide range of people with varying degrees of background in accessibility to discuss the status of accessible apps development.

Robin Christopherson from AbilityNet gave a great presentation on the potential that accessible technology constitutes for the disabled as well as the “temporarily bodily abled people” as the American disability community seems to call the non-disabled, because “for a lot of people, there is at least some time in life when everyone has some sort of disability”.  

Himself blind, he demonstrated in an amazing way how skilful he handles his smartphone and tablet, not being any less fast with these devices than any other user. “If you design inclusively, you level the playing field,” he said.

Paul Porter from RNIB, also a blind user, demonstrated how painful and frustrating it is when apps do not provide basic accessibility. However, when accessibility is built in the right way, it can tremendously improve the life of disabled persons. “If people ask the right questions about accessibility, you turn up getting more usable products,” said Peter Abrahams from Bloor Research. Indeed, more and more people regard accessibility as a proof of product quality.

“It is all about choice, about options for input and output technologies,” according to Robin Christopherson. “What are options for abled bodied people, can be life changing for disabled people.” Fortunately, the days of having low-volume, high-cost assistive technologies seem gone, and advances in accessible technologies come on a monthly basis.

Ben Shirley’s presentation on advances in speech recognition of course showed that there are still areas that do need substantial improvement before these technologies can be widely deployed at low cost.

All the same, many important players in the market invest in ensuring their services are accessible. While Gareth Ford Williams and Ian Pouncey from the BBC’s accessibility team explained about their efforts in making the iPlayer truly accessible for as wide a range of people as possible, Michael Day presented British Telecom’s Next Generation Text Service (NGTS) app that is intended to be complementary to text relay services and should enable hearing and speaking impaired users to communicate much more conveniently.

Ben Foster from the UK NGO Patient Services demonstrated the practical aspect of how apps can make the life of patients easier. The organisation offers a variety of apps - from helping people manage their medical conditions to apps that facilitate the setting up of doctors’ appointments and the filing of prescriptions.

The MMF was very happy to have the opportunity during this seminar to present the new GARI and invite all participants to name the accessible apps that they think should be included in GARI’s soon to come new section on accessible apps.

In response to questions from the audience about how accessible apps can best be made known by users, Richard Orme from RNIB replied that “when accessible apps come out, people notice fast and use them and talk about them and tell their friends”.

In this sense, please do let us know when you stumble upon new accessible apps and think that they should be included in GARI’s accessible apps section!

Presentations of the Ofcom accessible apps day will soon be available on the Ofcom website: http://www.ofcom.org.uk/


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