Saturday, March 17, 2018

ITU Forum: ICT Accessibility a Requisite Towards an Inclusive Digital Society

During the Zero Project Conference 2018, taking place 21-23 February in Vienna, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) organised a forum on “ICT Accessibility a Requisite Towards an Inclusive Digital Society”.

Roxana Widmer-Iliescu from ITU’s Development Bureau kicked off with some impressive numbers: 2.1 billion people aged 60 and above predicted by 2050 (UN Report on World Population Aging 2017). "An age-related disability is a reality for all of us”, Roxana said. Hand in hand with the number of the ageing population, we all know that according to WHO, over 1 billion people are or will be affected by a disability in their lifetime (UN WHO Report 2015). And a third shocking number indicates that 1.1 billion youth are at risk of hearing loss due to unsafe listening devices (as per U.N. WHO-ITU Making Listening Safe Initiative on-going since 2015). 

ITU Members identified at the last World Telecommunication Development Conference (2017) that ICT accessibility is a priority and development of public websites accessible to ALL a key topic to work on in the next 4 years (2018-2021). For this reason, ITU-D has developed a National Program on Web Accessibility “Internet for @ll” that includes a political buy-in session to raise awareness among government representatives and national stakeholders on the need and benefit of providing accessible websites and digital content to all public to enable everyone, including persons with disabilities and older users to access information, study and work and participate in the social and economic life. 

This program developed face to face in country over one week, provides “train-the trainers” trainings on development of accessible digital content and in the design and development of accessible websites to government's key personnel in communications and web development. Furthermore, ITU advices that this program is also followed by a National Tech University that will be then empowered with this capacity and related trainings curriculum to further replicate it throughout the country. To ensure that the knowledge process is completed, the program also proposes a self-sustainable model based on in-country certification. So while the country develops national capacities by creating a pool of trainers in ICT accessibility, it also creates a fund to enable development of digital training for end users on how to use accessible websites. 

Last but not least this model aiming at encouraging governments to “lead by example” to make information accessible and available to all its citizens, also seeks to create opportunities for inclusion of persons with disabilities in the country workplace, thus contributing to their social and economic empowerment as well as to country development as a whole.  

Accessible Europe - An event to look forward to 

During the forum, ITU also announced plans to organise its 1st Accessible Europe event in December 2018, following the successful Accessible Americas event series organised over the past 5 years in Latin America. To best respond to the region's concerns and needs the participants in the forum were asked about what kind of questions and topics they would like to see discussed at such an event in Europe, and five key issues emerged: 
  1. We have a lot of tools today for promoting and advancing mobile and digital accessibility, yet they are only used by a small number of organisations. Let’s ask a wide range of stakeholders about what is preventing them from using the tools available today and how we can help them. 
  2. We need to clarify definition of ICT accessibility across all sectors and understand its applications in terms of technical requirements. How can we achieve this? Which is the role of universal design?
  3. It would be interesting to mainstream accessibility and explore the link between accessible and assistive technologies.. 
  4. We should look at the whole customer journey in the delivery of accessible digital services. It would be helpful to get inspiration from best practices around the world. 
  5. We should include a panel with entrepreneurs who all create great solutions for society but might not have ever heard about accessibility. 
Another great event on accessibility to look forward to in 2018! 

Further information: 

ITU National Program on Web Accessibility “Internet for @ll
Zero Project Conference 2018:

Monday, March 12, 2018

Accessibility of information - online and offline

For a decade the Mobile & Wireless Forum (MWF) and the Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative (GARI) have contributed to making mobile devices more accessible and helping consumers identify devices with the features that best suit their particular needs.

Screen readers, universal design of mobile devices and accessible websites and PDFs have become very helpful tools for blind and visually impaired people. They provide access to information that is available online.

What about accessibility of offline information?

But even today, more than 90 % of all printed information is not accessible for people who cannot read. Whether it is signage, directions in public buildings, advertisements, flyers, posters, contracts, restaurant menus, product information or instructions for use: all require the ability to read.

Who is affected?

Those that are visually impaired or blind are just the tip of the iceberg: reading, especially fine print, is difficult - or even impossible according to EUROSTAT for almost every second EU citizen! The elderly, migrants with limited language skills and people with cognitive disabilities are equally excluded from access to any offline information in such circumstances.

Multi-sensory information access

Providing printed offline information also in an audio format would be the best solution for all these groups. Still, the addition of audio to a printed document has not become a mainstream standard. One of the reasons that it has not taken off is the perceived small target group, another is the expensive and inflexible production process of audio recordings and to date there has also been a requirement of having access to the internet to access them online.

Printing script AND audio

Incorporating multi-sensory information to the printed word via mobile devices would substantially  improve the accessibility of the information. And this is where rather innovative technology from Austria, Speech Code has a clever and low-cost solution to make that happen:

A coloured data code, which stores up to 30 minutes of audio information in the code itself, is simply printed next to the text or visual format. This allows people to use the same piece of paper and just scan the Speech Code - offline. This guarantees cost-free access always and everywhere. The text is shown on the display and read out at the same time.

Speech Code Audio files can be generated online by simply entering the text. The ready to print code is then available for download and inclusion in the document for printing. To show you how simple it is we have incorporated this blog post in a Speech Code. Download the SpeechCode app and scan the following code:

(When you click on the picture, it opens up in a bigger format and is easier to scan.) 

When you scan the code, the full article opens up on your mobile phone and the device can also read it out to you.

Accessible app "Speech Code"

The free app "Speech Code" is available for Android and iOS in 40+ languages - and is also listed on the GARI website. The app includes intuitive navigation, single-tap links, individual settings for contrast, font size and speed of voice. There is also a useful feature called Scan Guidance which offers verbal and/or tonal instructions for blind and visually impaired users to help them to find and scan the code on the page without help from others.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

#ZeroCon18: Advancing ICT Accessibility - some policy updates on where we are and where we are headed

It is difficult to summarise a three days conference that combined so many different contributions, views and discussions, but we would love to share some key impressions.

In the High Tech Solutions session for example, Rodrigo Huebner Mendes who is paralysed from the neck down, shared his experience of driving a Formula 1 car with his mind. Dr. Christopher Lee, expert on learning disabilities and assistive technology, talked about the first teaching robot which based on artificial intelligence and machine learning, managed to respond to a high percentage of student questions. He also mentioned the prospect of employing drones to support teachers for children with troubles in eye-hand coordination. And David Banes, accessibility consultant with a lot of experience in technology transfer across cultures, pointed out that the inclusive technology we introduce today is possibly the main way to guarantee that our planned smart communities will be inclusive communities. David also talked about the importance of linking the different concepts we have today together: only when we integrate the smart home data to the weather data to the transport data…. will we arrive at a truly smart city. In the smart home, our concept of universal design is no longer about adapting the physical environment to the person, but universal design has become about providing people with voice or touch control over their environment.

Interesting though in this context was the question on why the accessibility gap still exists. Our answer would have been, because of a lack of knowledge and awareness. David’s answer was, because the gap is moving. And indeed, some of the new technologies like smart speakers and other voice controlled devices become a new exclusion factor for people with speech impairment for example.

Dr. Victor Pineda presented the Smart Cities for all Initiative, launched by G3ict and World Enabled. The aim is to eliminate the digital divide for persons with disabilities and older persons in Smart Cities around the world and to define the state of ICT accessibility in Smart Cities worldwide. In this context, we are not talking about disability as medical diagnosis but we need to look at functional diversity, which only grows with age. So how can innovation and technology best deliver services in this context?

Data from G3ict’s DARE Index presented by Francesca Cesa Bianchi showed that Qatar and Oman lead the list of countries with a 25/50 score or greater for ICT accessibility implementation and outcomes, followed by the United States and Brazil, Israel and Italy, South Africa, the UK, France, Spain, Australia and Ireland. The DARE Index was created to assess the level of maturity of countries in promoting ICT accessibility. This work found early successes in countries of various levels of economic development which proves that ICT accessibility is achievable in all sectors and at every income level. Today, 84% of countries globally have institutionalised a global regulation defining the rights of persons with disabilities and 48% of countries worldwide have a definition of accessibility in their laws or regulations which includes ICTs.

However, for the large-scale uptake of accessible technology, harmonisation is key, said Inmaculada Placencia Porrero from DG Employment, giving a quick update on the pending European Accessibility Act (EAA). Once the EAA will be adopted, the reward for all companies fulfilling all the functional accessibility requirements will be the access to the huge European internal market. But while it is great and important to have accessibility legislation, Ms Porrero continued, that alone is not enough. “We need to keep accessibility on the agenda and put it into all our policy papers.” And, very importantly, we need to have accessibility experts in place so that the legislation can be put into practice.

One very concrete step forward in Europe, is the EU's directive on the accessibility of public sector websites, which sets out to increase digital inclusion and aims to reduce fragmentation in the digital accessibility market, as explained by Gail Kent from DG Connect. While there are today more than 300 standards on accessibility in Europe, the Directive intends to increase digital inclusion also by harmonising the national guidelines and laws.

"We have done a great job in writing down in legislation what we want to achieve", agreed Bobbi Cordano, first female deaf president of Gallaudet University. "However, in reality we often only see the implementation of the bare minimum”, she cautioned. Also, in light of all these initiatives, who will decide when accessibility is achieved? And who holds the power to establish the norms that determine access? Who needs to adapt to make access possible?

Accessibility means that everyone can live independently and participate fully in society, suggested Luis Gallegos, chairman of G3ict. Transformation will happen when we create authentic ecosystems based on the different ways of being, suggested Bobbi Cordano. It would seem we come back to the words of Dr. Victor Pineda: "I came into this world as somebody who did not quite fit in. But it is just a question of imagination. Let's all go away from ZeroCon18 with imagination and find the partners we need to make equal access for all a reality.”

#ZeroCon18 - the Zero Project Conference 2018:

GARI awarded as Innovative Practice 2018 on Accessible ICT

“Don’t just talk about barriers to accessibility - everyone knows them. Rather present some solutions.” This was the instruction given to the speakers at this year’s Zero Project Conference, taking place in Vienna 21-23 February 2018. And indeed, solutions were presented, including the 68 innovative best practice and 15 innovative best policies for ICT accessibility that were rewarded this year and which can be consulted on the website, including a beautiful fact sheet about GARI as Innovative Practice 2018 on Accessible ICT: 

In the Corporate and Entrepreneurship Forum on the 1st day of the conference, we had the opportunity to explain GARI’s value proposition: to empower consumers through information on accessibility features, to support governments in promoting accessibility in their countries, to help manufacturers with demonstrating compliance, and to support network providers in their service to clients with disabilities or older citizens.

"There are a lot of accessibility features built into our mobile devices today that people are not necessarily aware off. GARI brings this information to the consumers”, explained Michael Milligan, Secretary General of the Mobile & Wireless Forum.

Have a look at the award ceremony:

We say thank you to the Zero Project team for the award and for a great Zero Project Conference 2018!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

How does GARI fit into mHealth?

There is a lot of talk about the potential of ICT in healthcare. In a recent symposium on
"Building the European digital health environment" organized by the European Knowledge Tree Group (EKTG) a great many stakeholders (including health care providers, ICT startups, patient representatives, community groups, health care providers and policy makers) came together to discuss how some of the best practice examples successfully employing ICTs in this context can be put into mainstream practice.

The MWF was invited to present GARI and to explain how GARI contributes to raising awareness about mobile accessibility and how it helps consumers identify devices that have features best suited to their needs. This is really where the areas of mHealth and mobile accessibility meet: no matter what kind of digital health service is provided, it will be delivered via some sort of device or digital interface - and these devices or interfaces will need to be accessible and easy to use for patients, elderly users, people with chronic conditions and differing degrees of impairments.

Another common issue we see is the lack of information about existing digital solutions and a hesitance if not fear of using "complicated technology". On one side, we have some elderly people who are convinced that mobile phones are just too complicated. On the other side, we have people who want to continue living independently and the devices greatly assist them to achieve that.

For both user groups, there exist simple and readily available solutions. For those that feel the devices are too complicated there are actually simplified interfaces which present the core functions that are wanted and nothing else. For other users, there are great features for improved call quality, for creating individual hearing profiles and for linking the device directly with a hearing-aid if that is needed. Furthermore, there are now smart watches with fall detection systems, NFC tags that can be attached to objects of daily life and include simple reminders when scanned, remote monitoring that allows caregivers to intervene if needed, SOS alerts amongst a range of other features that can really assist independent living.

So how does GARI fit into mHealth? First of all, GARI can help select devices that are accessible and easy to use for accessing the relevant mHealth services, be it a mobile phone, tablet, Smart TV or Wearable. And secondly, GARI can serve as example in how to raise awareness among concerned user groups and help them, their families and caregivers select the best solution available in the market place.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Milestones in Mobile Accessibility: the Tenth Anniversary of GARI

In 2008, GARI started out as a collection of features listed in a simple spreadsheet. Ten years on, we are looking at a database featuring over 1,500 devices in 5 product groups and 18 languages. GARI continues to serve its original purpose: the need to inform consumers about accessibility solutions currently available in the market place. To this day, we have elderly people thinking that digital devices are just too complicated for them and we still have persons with disabilities walking into phone shops and being told there is no device that would be suitable for them.

This is taking place against a backdrop when the mobile phone has developed into something akin to the universal remote control, a way of accessing a wide range of services and remote controlling other devices. It has also become our constant companion. A companion that we need to be accessible and usable. And many devices indeed are. However, the knowledge about the availability and use of many of the best features is still limited and there remain a lot of people who still need information on accessible devices and support in selecting those that best suit their needs.

While we continue to address those needs, we have come a long way over the last 10 years. So what have we achieved?

  • a freely available online database of accessible devices in 18 languages
  • information on over 100 accessibility features in 1,500+ mobile phones, tablets, Smart TVs and Wearables
  • a list of 400+ accessibility related mobile applications 
  • a de-facto industry standard for accessible devices that helps promote accessibility in all markets 
  • the participation of 19 different manufacturers 
  • presentations and awareness building at 3-4 major conferences per year
  • adoption of the GARI database by 9 government bodies around the world in order to advance mobile accessibility at a national level
  • over half a million page-views and over 50,000 unique visits per month to the GARI website 
  • 4 feature reviews with active participation from many international and national organisations of persons with disabilities, representatives of consumer and senior citizen organisations, accessibility experts and national regulators 

And just in time for our 10 year anniversary, GARI was selected as an innovative ICT practice in accessibility and will be presented at the Zero Project conference in Vienna in February 2018.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

How personal assistants, voice control and flashlight notifications are connected

How personal assistants, voice control and flashlight notifications are connected  

Thanks to the great feedback received in the GARI feature review, we will be adding a good number of new accessibility features to the database – meaning that users will be able to search for devices with these features to make the use of the device much easier.

Two of these new features that we will be adding are:
  • Personal Assistant / Voice Control; and
  • Flashlight Notifications
… and both can help users who are hard-of-hearing, deaf, or operate their device in very loud environments.

Below, we explain in this short blog article how these features work.

Personal Assistant / Voice Control

Whether the personal assistant on your mobile device is called Siri, Bixby or Google Now, they have one thing in common: they can greatly simplify the interaction with your device.

Personal assistants can help users with reduced vision and mobility to place calls, write text messages, open apps, and carry out searches. They are supported by artificial intelligence and learn the preferences of their users, and their built-in dictation function allows users to operate the device by simply using their voice.

Depending on the type of phone and its operating system, the user activates the personal assistant either by pressing a specific key (as in the case of Bixby), by pressing and holding the home button (as in the case of Siri) or by placing the finger on the microphone icon at the bottom left corner of the lock screen and swiping in any direction on the screen (as in the case of Google Now).

A great comparison of the three assistants can be found here:

Bixby vs Google Assistant vs Siri

Flashlight Notifications

Smartphone users can utilise the LED flash on the back of their phone to alert them of incoming calls, messages and notifications. This is a handy feature for persons with hearing loss and anyone who finds themselves in loud environments where ringtones cannot be heard.

Flashlight notifications can be activated by going to the accessibility menu and looking for Flash notification. If the accessibility features are categorized, the Flash notification will be under hearing features.

Further instructions on how to turn on flash notifications can be found here:

More information:

Use Siri on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch

How to Activate Google Now in Android Nougat