Saturday, June 28, 2014

Accessibility solutions: Lack of information to consumers remains barrier

The 3rd M-Enabling Summit, which took place 9-10 June 2014 in Washington, gathered over 500 stakeholders in mobile accessibility and was the forum for many interesting discussions. Participants that had also been at the 1st and 2nd Summits, noted that the centre of discussions has shifted from explaining what accessibility is and why we need it, to concrete exchanges on how to achieve it. Indeed, this 3rd Summit seemed marked by the acceptance amongst regulators, industry and consumers that accessibility is happening.

Nonetheless, a constant theme throughout was that people still do not receive the necessary information on existing accessible and assistive solutions. According to Mike Shebanek, Yahoo, “one of the most challenging aspects is that users are still not aware of the existing accessibility features”. And Kevin Carey, RNIB, pointed out that the most important development in the next few years will be to improve consumer support in selecting the right product for a person’s individual situation.

Closing the gab for the ageing population 

One major focus was on how to close the gap for senior citizens, how to get them to open up to the possibilities provided by new technologies. The focus in this endeavour should not be on the technology as such but on what the seniors want to do and helping them to do just that. The technology has to adopt to the person and their environment, not the other way around. One good motivation for older people to use mobile technologies for example is communication with their family and friends. However, it does not suffice to just provide the technology, it is very important to also provide eduction and guidance on how to use and personalise the available solutions, especially as we are often not looking at single device solutions anymore (i.e just a mobile phone or a tablet by itself) but about connected devices that fit into a bigger technological ecosystem within the home.

Another important observation was that if companies do not catch up with accessibility they could lose market share with the ageing population. To give an impression of the market potential of this ageing population: in the US alone, over 9,000 people turn 65 everyday (1). Also, “once older users feel comfortable with the technology they take off with it”, says Matthew Gerst, CTIA. Today, 40% of households in the US have cut the cord and are relying on wireless only. Interestingly, the adoption rate of tablets amongst the 65+ range has been much higher than that of smartphones, although in general the 50-and-older population is the fastest growing market segment in mobile technology, according to Microsoft.

However there remain challenges. Aaron Smith, Pew Research Center, summarised the barriers to adoption of mobile technologies for senior citizens as follows:

  • physical - difficult reading, chronic health issues etc.
  • tech literacy - 77% of seniors would need help learning to use new devices 
  • attitudinal - perceived relevance of having such a device is often a major barrier to use

Senior citizens are also in general more worried about safety and (data) security and they are afraid of breaking the device when using it wrongly. So again, emphasis must be on education and teaching them how to use these technologies.


Sunday, June 1, 2014

Apps For All Challenge 2014: Australia is looking for accessible apps

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) and the Australian Human Rights Commission have launched Australia's first competition for accessible mobile apps. The Apps For All Challenge 2014 is looking for the 

  • most accessible mainstream app
  • most innovative app designed for people with disability or older Australians
  • most accessible children's app
  • most accessible gaming app

Wayne Hawkins, Disability Policy Advisor of ACCAN, has told us a bit about background and motivation of this initiative: 

ACCAN's aim in organising the app challenge is “to raise awareness of issues people with disabilities and aging Australians face with apps that are not accessible”. Do you already see progress in mobile accessibility or is this still a new topic for most developers? 

Wayne: Our experience is that many developers are unaware of how lack of accessibility can prevent many people from using mobile apps and technologies. There a  many apps being developed for the general market which can also provide greater participation for people with disability if they are designed with usability awareness. The hope with our challenge is that it will raise awareness among developers to think about how people with different abilities could use the app, to ask questions like "Could I use this if I couldn’t see the screen? How would this work if I couldn’t hear the instructions?". Accessibility guidelines already exist for web design, many of those guidelines are transferable to mobile apps and devices making it relatively easy for developers to incorporate accessibility.

Do you have an estimate on how many % of apps are accessible of all the apps out there? 

Wayne: No reliable data on how many apps are accessible. Anecdotally and from user feedback it seems the majority of mobile apps have accessibility issues which make them difficult to use for many people.

Apps can be submitted until 14 July 2014. How many submissions would you hope for? And what is the award for the lucky winner? 
Wayne: We have had a lot of keen interest in the Challenge and hope to receive a manageable number of nominations for our first year. Right now the winning apps will receive what we hope will become the sought out, prestigious ACCAN/Australian Human Rights Commission Award; acknowledging excellence and best-practice in accessibility and usability. We are hoping to get sponsorship over time in order to support aspiring developers. Of course cash prizes are always appealing but we are also very interested in sponsorship which can provide developer mentoring, product development and marketing possibilities.

Who is evaluating the apps and what are the most important criteria besides the fact that the apps need to be accessible? 
Wayne: We have had great support from accessibility groups and individuals. The judging panel is made up of 7 accessibility experts with a wide range of experience in telecommunications, web access and mobile technologies. The panel includes a number of highly skilled accessibility ‘evangelists’ who also have a disability. Obviously, our primary criteria for the apps is that they meet minimum levels of accessibility, in addition we are looking for apps which are innovative, fill a clear market need and provide value for many users.

What has been the most surprising accessibility feature in a mobile app that you have come across so far? 
Wayne: I can’t really point to one feature but I will say the originality of idea and the variety of applications is really positive and exciting.

Nominations for the Apps for All Challenge 2014 close on Monday 14 July 2014.

For contact details and more information on how to submit apps, have a look here: