Thursday, May 18, 2017

A history of mobile accessibility - how far have we come in 9 years?

The Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) is a good opportunity each year to take stoke of how much progress we made in promoting and implementing accessibility. In April, the Mobile & Wireless Forum (MWF) published the GARI Annual Report 2016. This report does not only give statistics about use and content of the GARI database, but in this version also tells the story of GARI’s creation, evolution and outlook. And since GARI is the central if not only source of information on mobile accessibility worldwide, this summary of its development gives key insights into the evolution of mobile accessibility as such. 

In 2008, GARI started out as a simple spreadsheet listing accessibility features available in mainstream mobile phones. Since then, the database has grown to provide information on the accessibility of over 1,100 mobile phone models around the world, almost 100 tablet models, over 340 accessibility related apps, and since the end of 2016, over 100 Smart TV models. 

Some key facts: 
  • the GARI database currently provides accessibility information on
    • 110 features for mobile phones
    • 67 features for tablets
    • 57 features for Smart TVs
    • 52 features for Wearables
  • in 2016, the GARI website attracted on average over 16,300 unique visits and almost 330,000 page views per month 
  • in addition, several organisations use the GARI data via xml feed (available for 12 countries) 
  • the majority of visitors to the GARI online portal are coming from North America and Europe (28% and 35%) but the percentage of GARI users coming from Latin America has doubled in 2016 due to an increased focus in the region on mobile accessibility
  • 8 out of the 10 top searched for features in the GARI database relate to hearing and features to support hard-of-hearing users 

GARI’s strength lies in the participation of most of the major mobile phone manufacturers and the high number of devices the database provides accessibility information on. Its success is furthermore supported by the active use of the GARI database through national regulatory authorities, organisations of persons with disabilities, network providers and consumer organisations around the world. 

A further strong point is that GARI follows a bottom-up approach. Every 18-24 months, the MWF organises a feature review in which all accessibility stakeholders are invited to comment on the current list of features in the database, suggest new features and submit suggestions for improvement for the database. In fact, the 4th GARI feature review is under way and will officially be launched by the end of May. 

Lessons learned 

But what lesson do we learn from 9 years of promoting mobile accessibility? While over the years, a good number of accessibility features have become mainstream, information and education of consumers remain two of the biggest challenges to tackle. Still today, many users do not know about the features in their devices that can potentially help them overcome barriers in daily life and we still have older users, hard-of-hearing users, blind users who believe that there is no mobile device for them. 

So on this year’s Global Accessibility Awareness Day, we are happy to join the call for raising awareness about the importance and daily implementation of accessibility, and invite all of you to take out your mobile, check out its accessibility features, and more importantly inform your family and friends about these features whenever they would need a special function to help them use the device. 

More information about the Mobile & Wireless Forum (MWF):