Sunday, September 17, 2023

What are the difficult questions that we avoid asking? M-Enabling Summit 2023

"I worry that we have failed to effectively quantify the importance of having disabled people in every single space ... representation is incredibly impactful; there is so much reciprocity between disabled and non-disabled people negotiating and navigating spaces and processes together. There is value here that makes asking these questions worthwhile!"

The 2023 M-Enabling Summit will explore "AI and Digital Transformation: New Paradigms for Accessibility and Inclusion Strategies". In the run-up to the conference, one of the Summit speakers, Julie Eshleman, has agreed to share some of here insights from behaviour science to help people with disabilities the life they want and her expectations for the Summit. 

Julie is a behavior scientist and researcher with 20 years of experience working in the disability sector, helping make more spaces work better in more ways for more people. She applies behavior science to the systems where people need to thrive but might not be - this way she helps organizations plan and implement impactful policy and process changes so that more people are happy and successful. 

Q1: You are investigating how people with disabilities use technology to build the lives and experiences they want. What lead you to this field? And what are common misconceptions you encounter in this field? 

Julie: I started in this field because I have been working with disabled people for a long time, and began to feel a little uncomfortable with my relationship to how I was supporting people as a practitioner. Because of the kinds of activities that qualify as 'billable time', many clinicians struggle with the idea that the person in need of support is 'broken' and in need of 'fixing' - I felt like a better focus and use of my time was not on supporting disabled people individually but working with large organizations to make more policies and processes just work better for more people, and to create systems where more people can thrive and be successful. I think the most common misconception I encounter is that there are 'tech users' and 'tech experts' - these two groups overlap a lot more than we think, and we are just learning to include disabled tech users as the most important stakeholder group not only as consumers, but as designers, researchers, and practitioners. There isn't only one kind of expert in this space! 

Q2: Consumer electronics such as mobile phones, tablets and wearables are integrating more and more functionalities that help people with disabilities use the devices as well as access content and control the environment. How would you define the distinction between accessibility features and assistive features, and is this distinction even helpful? 

Julie: I tend to find that 'accessibility features' are features built in to consumer devices and software to make them easier to use for everyone (including disabled people), like adjustable font size and contrast, speech-to-text and text-to-speech, and live captioning. 'Assistive features' are more likely to be external devices or software applications to target specific kinds of compatible devices potentially needed for people with disabilities or impairments, and may include things like switch access for people with limited mobility, hearing aids for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, tactile input from prosthetics... The distinction between these two concepts may be helpful in terms of advocating for more inclusive designs of technology. There are a lot of examples on how both of these concepts are already being integrated into consumer electronics like smartphones being equipped with accessibility features like adjustable font size and contrast, screen readers, and speech to text; along with smartphone assistive features such as switch access and Braille displays. Ultimately, I think the goal is to find terms that encourage designers and manufacturers to make consumer devices that are as accessible as possible so that any consumer can get the most out of each device. Whether we call it accessibility or assistive, products that are more customizable and cooperate with other devices well will reach a wider market and have increased sales, so it is frankly just smart business. 

Q3: What are the difficult questions that we avoid asking when discussing how to facilitate access for people with disabilities to the workplace, education, social and public life? 

Julie: I think my questions are more closely related to disability and stigma associated with it - questions like "how do we balance the support needs of an individual with the needs of society as a whole? How do we find the synthesis between what works better for disabled people and what works better for everyone? How can we make sure disabled people have the same opportunities as non-disabled people? How can we build spaces that support positive changes in attitudes and perceptions toward disability and disabled people? How can we make sure disabled people have a LOUD voice in decision-making? Are we using these assistive technology tools to build the kind of life this person deserves? It is easy for experts (myself included!), or assistive technology professionals, or voc rehab therapists, or researchers to know what we are working towards: increased functionality, improved independence, more control and autonomy, better employment outcomes... but we aren't often reflective enough to think about what kind of life this disabled person wants to have and deserves. These ideas are often governed by what is funded - what technologies can this person afford?, what does their insurance cover?, what is this funding source willing to provide?... It is so easy to lose sight of the fact that our expectations are sometimes VERY LOW for what kind of quality, daily existence someone not only deserves to have but deserves to be supported to achieve. We get caught up in the process of finding and providing supports, and have to keep coming back to 'am I helping to build the kind of daily life this person deserves to enjoy? Am I finding tools to build the right experiences for this person and their family?' I worry that we have failed to effectively quantify the importance of having disabled people in every single space ... representation is incredibly impactful; there is so much reciprocity between disabled and non-disabled people negotiating and navigating spaces and processes together. There is value here that makes asking these questions worthwhile!

Q4: What are your expectations for the M-Enabling Summit and what would make your visit to the conference a success? 

Julie: I am anxious to hear about what different people and organizations are working on - M-Enabling pulls in such an impressive group of thought leaders and status-quo challengers. I enjoy hearing all of the different ways people are shaking things up in their organizations and sectors. I always leave M-Enabling with so many people to connect with on LinkedIn so I can keep following advancements and great work in the field. My conference visit will be a success when I learn about the work high-profile organizations are doing that are responsive to connections they have made at M-Enabling. Seeing these talks and networking conversations turn into collaborative actions by attendees is the most satisfying part of participating in M-Enabling! 

Julie's most recent work has been as a consulting researcher for a charity in the UK, Leonard Cheshire, helping to deliver assistive technology and understand the conditions under which people get the best use of their (assistive) technologies so that we can plan for organization-wide delivery. For any additional details, visit her LinkedIn page:

Link to the M-Enabling Summit:  

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Many new accessibility features and a big Thank You!

150 organisations from over 40 countries were invited to participate in the  6th GARI feature review and helped shape the list of accessibility features we report on. Below, we summarise the key changes that resulted from this review. 

Every two years, we review GARI’s reporting framework against the latest technology and to ensure that the features are what people are looking for. In our 6th review cycle, we invited 150 organisations from over 40 countries to provide feedback. We received feedback from stakeholders in Austria, Australia, Belgium , Canada, the Czech Republic, the EU, France, Germany, Ireland , Israel,  Lithuania, Mexico , Norway Slovenia , Sweden, the UK and the US. 


A big THANK YOU to all the organisations and experts who have taken the time to review GARI and provide us with feedback and concrete suggestions!

In our 6th review cycle, we invited 150 organisations from over 40 countries to provide feedback.

Proposed structural changes


Over the past 15 years, the database and website have grown, providing information on new product groups and additional information such as feature guides and short tutorials. The technology we report on has also progressed rapidly. Hence it is time to review the structure in which we present this information. 


For instance, in the beginning, there were barely any features that helped users with speech impairments, so Hearing/Speech features were combined in one only category. These two will be separated out, and users will have an easier time to search for hearing related or speech related features in the database. 


The same goes for feature phones versus smartphones. Ten years ago, many smartphones still had buttons or a physical keyboard and shared many form factors with feature phones. They will now be listed separately. 


New features 


The key changes are in the list of new features that you will find in the database and that will help identify devices that work for users with specific requirements. These include, 

- for mobile phones: 

  • Audio Streaming to Hearing-Aid (ASHA): Device allows direct Bluetooth streaming to hearing aids or cochlear implant.
  • Live transcription / captions: Does the device enable embedded live transcription or captioning features for audio, video and telephone calls?
  • Sound quality adjustable: Allows users to configure or customize specific audio parameters by allowing to adjust frequencies and sound from the device.
  • Safe audio: The device’s average sound level is set to a limit of 85 dB(A). The user retains the possibility to raise the sound level to a maximum of 100 dB(A). In this case the user is warned about the risks involved, by means of a warning after every 20 hours of listening time.
  • Total conversation capability: The device supports Real-Time-Text communication in video calls suitable for sign language communication, provided the network supports this feature.
  • Recognition of atypical speech patterns: The device’s voice processing is capable of being trained to recognize atypical speech patterns and allows for speech-to-text with atypical speech patterns.
  • Highlight content as it is spoken: Does the device allow to highlight content to have it read aloud? 
  • HD Audio: Does the device support High Definition (HD) Audio? 
  • Closed captions adjustable: Allows to adjust font style and size of closed captions.
  • Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA): Is the device capable of receiving messages from the US Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) system?  (North America Only)
  • Compatible with automotive infotainment systems: Which of the automotive infotainment systems is the device compatible with? 
  • Air gestures to control the device: You can use gestures in close proximity to the device to initiate specific phone actions.
  • Facial gestures to control the device: You can use facial gestures to navigate your device, incl. open mouth, smile, raise eyebrow, look left, look right, look up to initiate specific phone actions. 
  • Device size: (length width depth)
  • Headphone jack: Does the device have a 3.5 mm headphone jack?
  • Screen refresh rate adjustable: Allows to adjust the screen refresh rate in the range of 60 Hz to 120 Hz. A higher refresh rate can make motion appear smoother and can remove afterimages from fast-moving images.
  • Eye tracking: Does the device support eye tracking for navigation and action control? 
  • Display Characteristics - Enhance screen colour: Does the device allow to adjust the display colour to your preferences? 
  • Assistive touch: Can the user replace physical buttons or gestures with virtual buttons? 
  • Focus mode: Helps reduce distractions by muting notifications and in-coming calls while focusing on one task.
  • Manufacturer guaranteed years of software support for device model: Number of years that the manufacturer provides software updates for the device after putting it onto the market. 
  • Manufacturer guaranteed years of security updates for device model: Number of years that the manufacturer provides security updates for the device after putting it onto the market.

- for Smart TVs: 
  • Zoom in on a sign language window: Does the device allow to zoom in on the sign language video? 
  • Closed sign language display: The device allows for closed sign language interpretation (graphic or picture in picture).
  • Positioning of closed captions adjustable: Does the device allow to change the positioning of the closed captions on the screen? 
  • Closed captions adjustable: Allows to adjust font and size of closed captions.
  • Dual output (headset and normal output): Allows users to control the volume of the audio directed to the assistive listening device, independently from the main audio output.
  • Independent volume control for assistive listening devices: Allows hard of hearing users to use headset jack to connect streaming device to allow them to control the volume, while the rest of the family can continue enjoying listening experience without having raised volume.
  • Shortcut to accessibility menu: Does the device have a shortcut to reach the accessibility menu in three steps or less? 
  • Remote control using infrared: Does the device’s delivered with remote control use infrared to connect with the Smart TV?
  • Remote control using radio-frequencies (RF): Does the device’s delivered with remote control use radio-frequencies for connecting with the Smart TV?
  • Remote control using mixed IR / RF: Does the device’s delivered with remote control use a mixture of infrared and radio to connect with the Smart TV?
  • Voice assistant: Does the device have a voice assistant built-in?
  • Device operating system
  • Standard formats for the region’s subtitles and captioning for web and broadcasting supported: Standard formats are content provider dependent. The device supports the standards formats for the region’s subtitles and captioning for web and broadcasting.
  • Support of HbbTV: The device supports a version of the HbbTV software application stack.
  • Spoken Subtitles – Broadcast: Reads out the subtitles on broadcast content appearing on the screen.
  • Spoken Subtitles – On demand: Reads out the subtitles on on-demand content appearing on the screen.
  • Receives free-to-air broadcast: Receives free to air broadcast via external Aerial or Satellite Dish.
  • Remote control audio tour: Audibly describes the button layout of the remote control to help users with sight loss learn where the buttons are.
  • Screen magnifier: Does the screen magnifier enlarge all views, including the web?
  • Key Feedback – Audible: When you press a key, the TV makes a sound to feed back that the keypress has been recognized. 

These new features have already been added to the English version of GARI and will be added in the 19 other language versions progressively over the coming weeks. 

There was also very strong support to use the GARI platform as a central source of information on accessible devices and to extend the database to new product categories. 

Again, a big thank you to all who have provided input and to everyone supporting the GARI project! 

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Finding accessibility features in your devices – our short video guides

GARI is an online database helping people find accessible devices. Following user requests, the MWF has started a series of short videos showing how to find the accessibility features in devices and how to activate them. 

The Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative (GARI, is an online database in 20 languages. It contains information on over 1,500 current mobile phones, tablets, Wearables and Smart TVs. Visitors to the website can search for specific features – for example looking up devices that have a screen reader or allowing a higher level of volume control for people who already experience hearing loss. 

The GARI website is constantly evolving based on feedback from the disability community, accessibility experts and the latest technological developments. In response to requests for more information on how to find the accessibility features within devices and how to activate them, the MWF started a series of short videos explaining these steps on Android and iOS devices. 

Currently, there are 47 videos on the GARI YouTube channel, which include explanations on features such as Noise Cancellation, Adaptive Sound, Invert Colours and many more: Subscribe today to follow the channel and learn when new videos are released.

Screenshot of the GARI video playlist on Youtube

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Celebrating 15 years of GARI and mobile accessibility development

Helping consumers find devices that work for them is the mission the MWF set out to accomplish by creating the Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative (GARI). From its beginning in 2008 in the form of a spreadsheet with accessibility features, GARI has grown into an online database comprising 20 languages and information on over 1,500 mobile phones, tablets, Wearables and Smart TVs. 

Still today, a majority of users are unaware of the many accessibility and assistive functions mobile devices offer. A 2019 GARI research project 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 – limiting the advice being given to users with disabilities. GARI can effectively bridge this gap by providing an overview of accessible devices available on the market and helping users with specific requirements identify devices that will fulfil their needs.

While we continue to address those needs, we have come a long way over the last 15 years. Some of the milestones on this journey include: 

the creation of a freely available online database of accessible devices in 20 languages;

a repository of information on over 130 accessibility features in 1,500+ mobile phones, tablets, Smart TVs and Wearables;

a de-facto industry standard for accessible devices that help promote accessibility in all markets; 

the participation of over 30 different manufacturers; 

the adoption of the GARI database by government bodies and disability advocacy organisations around the world in order to advance mobile accessibility at a national level;

the completion of 6 feature reviews with participation from international and national organisations of persons with disabilities, representatives of consumer and senior citizen organisations, accessibility experts and national regulators; and 

the completion of research projects that have investigated a range of topics including the  social impact of GARI and whether accessible mobile phones can bridge the gap in the provision of assistive technology. 

To celebrate the 15 years of GARI, the MWF is working on updating the GARI feature guides and website, organising online educational sessions with key partners around the world and expanding our audience reach further.  Follow us on Twitter @GARIupdates to keep in the loop, and get in touch with us if you would like to learn more about GARI or join in our efforts to raise awareness about mobile accessibility solutions. 

Logo GARI showing the number 15 with the belly of the 5 representing a tablet

Friday, February 10, 2023

Accessible, Assistive, & Available: Addressing Barriers to Use of Consumer Technology

More and more of the technologies that people with disabilities want and use are built into accessible consumer devices and many assistive technology services are delivered on smartphones, tablets, and wearables. Yet these devices are not included in the majority of provision schemes for assistive technology (AT), and if they are, they are often locked - meaning that everything that does not strictly serve the functionality for which the device has been provided, is being locked, cutting the user off from a range of other useful features. 

There are several reasons why accessible mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets, and wearables are under-utilized in filling the assistive technology gap. For one, the lack of knowledge about the capabilities of today’s devices and the built-in accessibility features. Secondly the fear of cost, outdated definitions for what qualifies as assistive technology, and inappropriate criteria for AT funding as well as the fast pace of technological change. An additional perceived barrier is access to connectivity: subscription, availability, and cost. However, there are, at least in the US, many different venues to get that access to internet funding for people with disabilities. The issue is yet again knowing about the different funding schemes in this regard. 

If we don't get it right for providing accessible mobile phones to people with disabilities, how are we going to get it right for Smart Homes, the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, Wearables, remote access (to work), autonomous vehicles, mobility as a service, and the many exciting emerging technologies? How then do we merge the definitions for assistive technology, accessible consumer, and digital technology to allow for including the right device for the right person in AT provision? It becomes evident that the focus must be on function and feature, rather than detailed technical specifications that get outdated rapidly.

Most promising in effective assistive technology provision seems direct funding: it empowers informed users to choose the technology they want to fulfill the function they need. And this might be an accessible smartphone rather than a specialized device or software. In selecting consumer technology, however, accessibility is only one of the important factors. In addition, users are concerned about cost, style, enhancements, interoperability, support, etc. The potential of consumer technology in AT provision is huge through the ease of use, the wide reach, the ease of distribution, the lower cost, and those devices serving as universal remote control and as a gateway to participating in today's society. The latter two are true for users with disabilities just as much as for users without disabilities. 

At the ATIA conference end of January 2023 in Orlando, Florida, the MWF had the opportunity to co-chair two education sessions. The first focused on the above-outlined policy questions regarding the role and potential of accessible consumer electronics in the provision of assistive technology, while the second session presented ways to find accessible devices and learn about how to use in-built accessibility features. Both sessions were attended by occupational therapists, special education teachers, speech-language pathologists, and people involved in their state AT-ACT programs, interested in how to best integrate accessible consumer technologies in successful assistive technology provision. Get glimpses of the live discussions by reading through the tweets around #ATIA2023 and #ATIAcon.