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

Monday, November 13, 2017

Feedback from around the world on what mobile accessibility should look like – results of the 4th GARI feature review

As part of the GARI project, the MWF has committed to regular reviews of the features that we report on, considering changes in the technology and customer needs. In our 4th review of the GARI database and website carried out in summer 2017, we received feedback from 23 organisations around the world about what they like in GARI and what additional features they would like to see.

These organisations coming from Europe, North America, Latin America, and Australia proposed new accessibility features that they would like to see listed for mobile phones and Smart TVs in the GARI database to further help consumers find and select devices that can support them in their daily lives. They tested the search interface and accessibility of the database, evaluated the information provided on the GARI website, suggested edits to the texts and provided content for updates.

From the feedback on the mobile phone section, we have already identified a few new features that we will be adding over the coming weeks. These include the following:

  • Real-time-text capability (North America region only for the moment)
  • Personal Assistant / Voice Control
  • Haptic Feedback
  • Mono Audio
  • Text-to-Speech / Dictation
  • Flashlight Notifications
  • Emergency services & location
  • Allows for sign language communication
  • Manufacturer custom overlay of OS
  • Dedicated and clearly distinguishable volume keys
  • Dedicated and clearly distinguishable key to lock the screen 

And these features will be added to the Smart TV section:

  • Video / Audio description volume control: The user can control the volume of the video or audio description independently from the main audio track.
  • Support for Web Closed Captioning formats - with manufacturers having the option to list all the formats they support
  • Support for Broadcast Closed Captioning Formats
  • Bluetooth Connectivity

We thank all of you who took the time to test the GARI website and database and provide us with such detailed feedback. We will be in touch soon to let you know more about the changes to come and provide more details on how these features can help.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Old and new features - GARI goes into its 4th feature review

Since its creation in 2008, the Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative (GARI) has evolved into the central source of information for mobile accessibility, used around the world by 17,000+ people every month. GARI is available today in 17 languages and still pursues its mission of helping all consumers to find devices that fulfil their individual needs - whether it is a mobile phone for a hard-of-hearing person, a Smart TV for a blind person, a tablet for a person with learning disabilities or a Wearable for a person who cannot move their hands.

One key factor in GARI’s success can be found in the fact that it’s not just a top-down approach but that it has developed into a collaborative platform - thanks to the regular feature reviews and stakeholder consultations the Mobile & Wireless Forum (MWF) has committed to. In these feature reviews, the MWF invites all stakeholders including those representatives of the disability community, consumer and senior citizen organisations, accessibility experts, industry and national regulators to comment on the current set of features the database reports on and to suggest new accessibility features to be added.

While the first two feature reviews in 2010 and 2013 resulted in many new features added to the database, feedback received in the last review in 2015 centred around improvements to the website, the ease-of-use of the search interface and some suggestions for improving the feature descriptions. We are curious to see what will be the feedback we receive in this 4th official GARI feature review and are looking forward to your comments.

If you would like to participate, please have a look at the guidance documents ( and send your contribution to or by 21 August 2017.

How accessibility helps your business - M-Enabling Summit 2017

"Accessible Technologies and Environments for All” is the motto of the 6th edition of the M-Enabling Summit taking place 13-14 June 2017 in Washington, D.C. This conference has become the yearly meet-and-great of the international accessibility community with ample opportunity for experience exchange, policy updates and practical discussions between end users, disability representatives, senior citizens organisations, industry, accessibility experts, policy makers and increasingly businesses who want to have an inclusive workforce.

For the 2017 event, there will be a full session on "Accessibility for Better Branding”, which will explore why and how major organizations successfully integrate accessibility in their products, services and web site design, and the impact that such strategies have on their business. In preparing for the Summit, we asked Debra Ruh, who will be chairing this session, about her expectations for the Summit in general and her panel in particular.

Debra is the CEO and Founder of Ruh Global Communications, helping clients reduce their compliance and brand risks associated with inclusion and create programs that act as a positive differentiator. Debra is a global leader and has worked with countries, UN agencies, national and multi-national firms all over the world helping then create programs, strategies and processes that fully include persons with disabilities. Her catalyst for starting RGC was her daughter Sara born with Down syndrome and who now contributes to RGC’s success in the role of Inspiration Officer. Debra is also the co-founder of the #AXSChat - a weekly tweet chat around all aspects of accessibility.

Here are Debra’s expectations for the Summit:

Q. In the upcoming M-Enabling Summit 2017, you are chairing a panel on "Enhancing Branding and Market Share with Accessible Communications and Web Sites”. Why do you think this topic is important and what would you like to hear discussed in this panel? 

A. I have been blessed to be part of the M-Enabling Summit for the last 5 years. This year Axel and I were talking about sessions and I suggested a track on branding. Why? Lots of work is being done to assure Access for All and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in the Workforce.  However, many brands still do not talk about their accessibility and inclusion efforts because they do not feel they have made enough progress.

That is a problem for many reasons. Many of the consumers with disabilities or people do not know about the services, products and accessibility options available to them. Plus, the rest of society does not know the stories either so how can they support and embrace brands that are having a social impact without knowing the stories.

When I wrote my book: Uncovering Hidden Human Capital: How Leading Corporations Leverage Multiple Abilities in Their Workforce" Published by G3ict – I wanted to explore corporations including and retaining persons with disabilities in their workforce.  My goal was to explore the topic from a global perspective. I invited companies based in the United States to be featured in the book. Many told me no – because they felt they had too much to do. They were also afraid that if I featured them as a Best Practice – (which they were) – that they might be a target of lawsuits because they had not done enough to assure accessibility and inclusion. That made me sad because if we do not reward and applaud efforts to include our community that is a loss for everyone.

The need for corporations to tell their stories has never been more important. I have written my third book (soon to be published) on this topic. Many corporations are making progress on accessibility and inclusion and we need to applaud the efforts. Of course, there is more to do but let’s celebrate the successes which will encourage the corporation to continue their good work. As we celebrate the companies including persons with disabilities in their workforce, customer base and efforts to assure Access For All – their competitors will notice the celebration and be tempted to join the accessibility and disability inclusion efforts.

Q. You are attending the M-Enabling Summit for the 5th time - what kind of progress in accessibility did you see over time and what was the M-Enabling Summit’s contribution to that? 

A: I have seen a lot of progress in the field. I mainly work with corporations and the UN agencies like the ILO. We are seeing progress all over the world.  Of course, we still have so much work to do but progress is being made.  Also the innovation, productivity and inclusion are changing the world for the better for everyone.

The M-Enabling Summit was one of the first conferences that looked at the role the internet, communications and technology plays in inclusion and accessibility by creating a summit around mobile inclusion. The summit is the place where I learn about innovation, best practices and meet global leaders. I believe the M-Enabling Summit is one of the most important places to have global conversations.

Q. What concrete outcome do you hope for in this year’s Summit? 

A. I hope that more corporations join the conversations. Many multi-national firms are making efforts with disability inclusion and accessibility. We want these leaders to join the conversations and share their best practices and lessons learned. We have to understand it is a journey and always a work in progress. We also have to stop along the path and celebrate our achievements both large and small.

Q.  How does your personal story tie in with the M-Enabling Summit?

A. I have a daughter and a son. Our daughter Sara is 30 years old and was born with Trisomy 21 (commonly referred to as Down syndrome). Our son, Kevin is also in the field. We believe that our family represents millions of other families impacted by disabilities. Also as my parents retired from AT&T and aged – they both acquired disabilities.  Disabilities does not mean a person cannot add value to society.  We are all part of the human family and have abilities and disabilities. Let’s celebrate our humanness.

We are looking forward to attending Debra’s panel and also to talk about GARI’s progress in the four end user solutions tracks. Join us in person at the M-Enabling Summit and/or follow the discussions on Twitter #menabling2017.

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):