Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Accommodations on mobile devices - options and trends - a #ZeroCon21 roundtable

During the Zero Project Conference 2021, a roundtable discussion was organised to examine how mobile technologies provide workplace accommodations for people with disabilities and what emerging technologies such as AI, wearables, the Internet of Things, and Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality will contribute in the future. 


Mobile technology solutions today in the workplace

Digital technologies and, particularly, mobile phones have transformed the workplace and reshaped our understanding of work and how we do it. Recent developments, including the global pandemic, have accelerated the push towards digitisation. In developing countries, mobile tech opens the door for people to start their own business and participate in the online economy in a way not possible before. 

Although it is hard to find concrete numbers, we know that mobile phones are the key for employment for people with disabilities in many developing countries, says Clara Aranda-Jan, Insights Manager at the GSMA. A GSMA report published in December 2020 showed that despite these benefits, there are fundamental gaps in mobile phone ownership. People with disabilities are less likely to benefit from using mobile access. 

Two conditions are crucial: the availability of accessible and affordable devices and that users have the necessary skill level in their use. Lack of knowledge about existing accessibility features is a critical barrier in low- and middle-income countries. As a result, GSMA developed a mobile skills training toolkit to help network providers in these countries to train users. Additionally, GSMA developed a set of principles for the digital inclusion of persons with disabilities to support the mobile industry close the digital gap. 

Accessible ICTs are a gateway to almost every aspect of today's life, including employment, Alejandro Moledo, Policy Coordinator at the European Disability Forum (EDF), confirmed. Whereas partially sighted users once needed many different devices such as a magnifier, telescope, scanner etc., to handle documents. Now, all of these functions are integrated into a mainstream mobile device. 

For people with disabilities to fully benefit from technology, the "AAA" conditions must be fulfilled, Alejandro continued. Technology must be accessible, affordable and available, as enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the first document to recognise access to technology as a fundamental human right.  

It is vital to create the legal grounds for this to happen. On the one hand, countries must have anti-discrimination legislation that ensures equal access to employment and reasonable accommodation in the workplace. Whilst on the other hand laws such as the European Accessibility Act create a baseline of accessibility requirements for products and services. 

The mobile device is a key to unlock other technologies and services that merge online. Mainstream mobile devices offer a wide range of accessibility features already, said Sabine Lobnig, Communications Director at the MWF, which has created the GARI database (www.gari.info). The database lists around 130 accessibility features for over 1,500 devices currently available in the market. Consumers can use this database to find a device that meets their access needs or to learn more about the accessibility features of a device they already own. 

Despite the availability of many accessible devices, we still face two significant barriers, lack of knowledge of features and the skills to use them. Additionally, such devices challenge the traditional understanding and definitions of assistive technology. As a result, funding bodies do not consider mobile tech appropriate for funding despite their capacity to meet the needs of people with disabilities in the workplace. 

Emerging technologies for the workplace

Mobile phones are and will continue to be at the heart of access and inclusion in the workplace as new technologies are delivered, building on mobile platforms, continued David Banes, CEO of Access and Inclusion Services

Mobile tech's crucial role in providing access is undisputed. Still, no technology can be the solution for all, cautioned Klaus H√∂ckner, Director of the Austrian Association in Support of the Blind and Visually Impaired (Hilfsgemeinschaft). Klaus highlighted two issues often neglected in the discussion. First, the growing percentage of older adults in developed countries who are likely to acquire a disability, and the reality that the majority of people with disabilities are living in developing countries, where affordability and digital literacy are crucial. 

One widespread accessibility app, "Seeing AI" from Microsoft, helps blind and visually impaired users experience the world around them by describing pictures, documents, reading out messages etc. The app uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) which demonstrates some of the challenges faced. It only works with a good internet connection though and requires users to both have a smartphone and the knowledge to use the device and app. 

The AI relies on a large volume of data, which needs to come from users so that it learns appropriately. This data might be traced back to the user raising privacy concerns. GDPR laws in Europe offer a solution to protect privacy, but many questions remain unresolved. 

Together with developments in sensor technology and connectivity, AI lays the grounds for the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT allows devices in our environment to collect, share, and interpret data and feed back to a central point, which can be a smartphone in many cases. 

While IoT promises greater control over the environment, there appears to be little evidence of use as an accommodation in the workplace, says Luc De Witte, Chair of Health Services Research at the University of Sheffield. He leads a large research project in the UK looking at IoT application in health and social care. 

Promising solutions include systems that allow users with smartphones to connect to beacons in the environment for orientation and additional information. They can also easily find a person in an emergency or where a user is disorientated or confused, to offer assistance. But actual use and application are surprisingly limited to date. 

The Internet of Things harbours enormous potential for inclusion. We are only at the beginning of its deployment. Still, as with other innovations, we need to take care to direct growth so that IoT helps to bridge the gap for people with disabilities rather than increase it. 

Even more challenging is to design Virtual Reality (VR) to be accessible. On a mobile device, the interface is flat. You interact with the device in two dimensions, explained Daniel Dyboski-Bryant, Director of Virtual Education & Platforms at Educators in VR. In Virtual Reality though, the user finds him/herself inside the technology and needs ways of representing him/herself. Today's VR platforms are not ready yet to allow users a complete representation of their abilities, but his is what users want. 

As Virtual Reality allows people to share a three-dimensional virtual space, Daniel sees it as an opportunity for people with disabilities and every user to be represented in new and exciting ways, including in the workplace. 

Conclusion 

The pervasiveness of accessible mobile technologies across all aspects of the lives of persons with a disability is offering a unique opportunity to address barriers to inclusion. Much of traditional AT products' functionality can be reproduced upon a phone as an app or built-in feature, reducing cost and breaking complex delivery chains. Challenges remain to ensure equitable access to these opportunities, including cost, digital skills, and funding mechanisms' rigidity. New and emerging technologies are accelerating this trend to benefit people with a disability. Further work is needed by policymakers, developers, distributors and disabled people's organisation to address the challenges and unlock the potential for all.   


Resources

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Making my mobile work for me – activating the right accessibility features

Today’s mobile phones are amongst the most accessible ICT devices. However, many users either do not know about the many helpful features they have already included in their device or they are not sure how to activate them. The MWF has started a series of short videos to help. 

Over 100 accessibility features in my phone – how do I know what helps me?

Most smartphones and even a good number of feature phones have an impressive number of accessibility features included. These range from features like the zoom function – being able to magnify the displayed content – to specialized applications such as the screen reader which need some knowledge on how to use them successfully. 

To give people an overview of the available features, the MWF provides a feature guide which explains what kind of features can help for different needs, ranging from mild hearing or vision loss to deaf-blindness, reduced mobility, dexterity or cognition. 

You can find a table giving you a brief but comprehensive overview here: http://www.mwfai.org/docs/eng/MWF_GARI_FeaturesAtaGlance.pdf 

Or a more detailed feature guide here: http://www.mwfai.org/docs/eng/MWF_GARI_FeatureGuide2.pdf 

How do you I activate the accessibility feature? 

Once people have selected the accessibility features that they would like to test or that are most likely to support their use of the device, they sometimes struggle to find the feature in their device, how to activate and fine-tune the feature to their needs. 

For this reason, the MWF has started a series of short videos, guiding users through the settings and accessibility menus for particular features, explaining how to switch them on and how to find the right option (for example the degree of magnification or amplification needed). 

Videos already published include: 


Videos for Android will be added shortly and we will be expanding the range throughout the year. 

If you would like to be notified about new publications, subscribe to the MWF’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvwTMEqvWD3BWx2tmxYGDUA 

If you are looking for an accessible device or would like to learn more about the accessibility features in your current device, we invite you to explore the GARI database: www.gari.info 


Sunday, February 7, 2021

Moving accessibility forward through strong partnerships: Associazione Luca Coscioni explains their approach in Italy and beyond

Accessibility is a human right and as such needs a global effort to advance. To understand the needs of disabled and older users worldwide and to promote the awareness about already existing accessibility solutions, the MWF builds connections with partners around the world. One of these partners is Associazione Luca Coscioni who shares with us their mission in Italy. 


  • Can you quickly present Associazione Luca Coscioni and explain your mission? 
Rocco Berardo, Disability Campaign Manager: The Associazione Luca Coscioni for Freedom of Scientific Research is a non-profit organisation of social promotion founded in 2002 by Luca Coscioni, an economist suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) who passed away in 2006. Its priorities include the affirmation of civil liberties and human rights, particularly the Human Right to Science, freedom of scientific research starting with research on embryos, access to medically assisted procreation; the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities starting with physical and digital accessibility. Furthermore, the organisation affirms policies allowing self-determination in terms of end of life decisions, the legalization of euthanasia, access to medical cannabinoids, global monitoring of laws and policies in the sector of freedom of scientific research, and civil liberties.
 
  • What would you like to achieve for people with disabilities in the short- to long-run? 
Rocco: The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its ratification represents a big step forward in recognising those rights, that even in the most advanced countries are too often considered second-rate rights. From our Italian observatory point of view, most of the times these recognitions do not correspond to a real implementation by public administrations. For this reason, we advocate for public economic investments in order to guarantee that what is enshrined in law is then implemented, with measurable objectives and public initiatives, also at the judicial level to guarantee physical and digital accessibility. 
 
  • Which are the major stumbling blocks on the road there? 
RoccoThe biggest limitation is institutions’ inertia in terms of accessibility, but also of control. In addition, most investments are mobilised for welfare measures meant for addressing immediate needs, rather than to fully implement accessibility or to allow for the use of services, which can be achieved by investing in liberty and on potentially independent and self-managed lives.

  • If you had one wish free to policy makers and to the disability community, what would you ask of them? 
RoccoI would ask them to monitor the state of investments aimed at ensuring an independent life, accessibility and the removal of architectural, digital and cultural barriers.
 
  • Are there any actions that your association makes available on the digital level?  
RoccoWe have created an app called “No barriers”, dedicated in particular to persons with disabilities to report their day-to-day obstacles: from missing ramps to impassable sidewalks, from inaccessible facilities to infeasible parking spaces. Thanks to relatively immediate geolocation, this app allows to publicly and quickly report problems, disservices and barriers. We partnered with Municipalities so that they receive real time notifications on the most visited and compromised places, in order to have an idea of the most urgent interventions needed. 

Furthermore, we developed CitBot (where Cit stands for “citizen”), a ChatBot offering answers to citizens on laws regarding civil rights but also, of course, accessibility and discrimination towards persons with disabilities, so that everyone can be informed on their rights and therefore have the ability to assert them.
 

About Associazione Luca Coscioni
The Luca Coscioni Association for the freedom of scientific research was founded on September 20, 2002 by Luca Coscioni, a victim of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. 

About GARI
The Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative (GARI) features an online database where you can find information on the accessibility features in over 1,500 devices including mobile phones, tablets, Smart TVs and Wearables. You’ll also find information on accessibility apps that work on these devices.
Connect on Twitter: https://twitter.com/GARIupdates 

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Accessible workplaces – accommodations on mobile devices today and in the future

A #ZeroCon21 partner session


Mobile technologies can help overcome many barriers faced by people with disabilities and older citizens in the workplace. In this roundtable, organized as a partner session at the Zero Project conference 2021, we will explore which features current mobile technologies offer to support people in the workplace including integrated screen-readers, magnification, virtual assistants, speech-to-text, assistive instructions, and voice control etc. In the second part of the discussion, we will focus on emerging technologies such artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, and the Internet of Things, to glimpse at what is coming next. 

In between the two panels sharing experience and tips for resources to learn more, we will invite attendees to share stories about how they are using mobile technologies in the workplace right now, what works and what does not. 

Our focus will be on available solutions in the marketplace today and tomorrow, how to increase reach and impact of these technologies, and reduce cost of accommodations in the workplace. 


Who should attend? 

Everyone interested in using mobile technology to support people with disabilities in the workplace, especially employers, AT funding authorities and policy makers of low- and medium-income countries to explore how to achieve impact and best value reducing costs and extending reach across a larger population. 


How to attend? 

Please register to the Zero Project Conference 2021: https://conference.zeroproject.org/zeroprojectconference2021/ - it only takes 2 minutes. 


The link to our session will then be shared in the conference agenda and will be promoted in the Twitter accounts @DaveBanesAccess and @GARIupdates