Thursday, June 21, 2018

Trends in mobile accessibility : artificial intelligence and smart cities

Report from the M-Enabling Summit 2018

The 7th M-Enabling Summit opened its doors to around 600 participants from 30 countries. The opening panel on Artificial Intelligence (AI) heard representatives of Microsoft, Amazon and Oath (the company coming out of the merger of AOL and yahoo) talk about the immense and exciting potential of AI. These included how Amazon’s Alexa is helping in speech therapy for autistic children, Microsoft’s Seeing AI and inbuilt accessibility features in Microsoft Office that make power point presentations automatically accessible, and how Oath’s human-AI collaboration is captioning thousands of videos per day.

But there was also a voice of caution from Steve Tylor, Director of Assistive Technology at Leonard Cheshire, a UK health and welfare charity: “We will never fix people's ability or disability to use technology, unless devices start understanding or at least second guessing what the user wants to do. For this to happen though, it isn’t sufficient just to consult people with disabilities, but rather they must be involved in the design and development of such products and services because they will build in accessibility from the beginning in a way we could never think of otherwise."

So the big companies see tremendous potential in AI. The disability community shares the positive outlook but also cautions that AI alone will not be the miracle solution.


The question to the panel and audience on Smart Cities was also thought provoking - do smart cities leave accessibility behind?

Commissioner of New York City Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities Victor Calise opened the session with some insights on the challenges of making a city as big as New York smart enough to accommodate not only their 8 million plus citizens with and without disabilities, but a huge number of old and young tourists visiting every year. He also shared the struggles the city faced when trying to re-invent the pay phone or Emergency Call Boxes in an accessible way for both the blind and deaf community.

On the topic of universal access to information and emergency services, Betsy Beaumon, president of Benetech, explained how her company tries to improve the social services in cities by crowdsourcing and connecting information like free places in shelters, where to get help in case of domestic violence, available resources in times of natural disaster etc. Benetech tries to achieve this by creating an open infrastructure that allows many different systems to access the same data, and incentivizes the stakeholders to collaborate.

In time, IoT sensors across the cities and real time information will help in projects like the one initiated by Benetech and will render our cities smarter and hopefully more accessible. Real time information in particular has already found wide spread application in public transport and is rendering the navigation of cities much easier. But the availability of this information alone is not enough. Holger Dietrich from the German NGO Soziale Helden emphasized the need for making big data actionable. His NGO, which has created the popular Wheelmap app (which is also listed in GARI:, which maps wheelchair accessible places around the world, has gone the next step by creating an accessibility cloud, where they combine similar efforts all around the world and feed various maps of accessible places into one big system, so that users can access to get a comprehensive view of accessible places worldwide.

Two technological developments are essential in bringing all these trends to fruition: 5G and our trusted companion, the mobile phone. The rollout of 5G networks will provide both more detail and better geographical location information, explained John Bruns from the US network operator AT&T. And the mobile phone, a device that usually never leaves our side, has the potential to be that universal remote control allowing us to access these new technologies and services in a comfortable way. This means that it is even more important to enable every citizen, old and young, with and without disability, native speaker in the country or foreigner, to find a device they understand and that best meets their needs – a goal we have been working towards with GARI for 10 years now.

Dina Grilo from JPMorgan Chase & Co is convinced that smarter cities will be built on 5G, big data and artificial intelligence that all serve the individual. It will be these cities that business will want to settle in since an accessible smart city allows companies to tap into the talent of employees with disabilities who might otherwise not be able to work for them for purely logistical reasons, such as inaccessible public transport. But to make this a reality, we need to integrate people with disabilities into the development of smart cities from day one.

M-Enabling Summit 2018:

Thursday, May 17, 2018

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

The Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) every year provides the opportunity to assess how far we’ve come in regards to accessibility, to readjust where we want to go and to discuss which should be the next steps to get there. 

For this year’s GAAD, we have prepared a draft feature guide for GARI. The intention is to give users an overview at one glance of the 120 accessibility features listed in GARI along with thoughts as to who they might be useful for. Using this guide, we invite users to go and explore the database for devices that provide these features in order to find a device that best suits one’s needs.

You can download the draft feature guide here: 

We would love to hear from you, if our categorisation is useful, or if you would change things around. The categories are based on those used by well-established international organisations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO). Since one feature or function can serve users in different ways, a feature might be listed in multiple categories. 

“Captions” for example make video content accessible for deaf and hard-of-hearing users but are also helpful to people with comprehension difficulties or non-native speakers of any given language. “Screen-readers” on the other hand are a very specialised feature that is mostly used by blind users. 

Looking forward to hearing your feedback and happy GAAD 2018! 

Feedback can be sent to accessibility(at)


Global Accessibility Awareness Day, 17 May 2018:

Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative (GARI):

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.