Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Senior adults aren’t seeking accessibility - they just need a device that helps them see and hear better

Being able to use mobile devices has become as important for senior adults as for everyone else. Ideally, the devices should be accessible and easy to use for seniors, but what does this mean it practice? Amy VanDeVelde, National Connections  Program Manager at OASIS and member of AT&T’s accessibility panel, explains to us how to approach mobile accessibility for seniors and which features senior adults appreciate most.

  • OASIS is promoting healthy ageing. What are your main activities in this respect? 

Amy: 35 years ago our founder was asked to look at the state of services for seniors and senior housing. She discovered that there are three elements for a healthy ageing experience: engagement in life long learning, staying physically active and having a strong sense of social engagement. Out of these findings, she decided to develop interesting content and curricula for older adults. At the time, there was no science to back up her approach but now there is a lot of evidence that healthy aging is a mix of these three key elements. OASIS classes help the whole person. We offer fitness training classes, life-long learning classes, and enriching volunteer opportunities.

  • How do you reach the ageing population? 

Amy: We reach many people through classes and events at nine OASIS centres throughout the US, which are like senior centres. We reach a critical mass of people through community partnerships. For the technology training, I partner, for example with public libraries and other senior centres, in public locations where older adults would go to access technology they may not have at home. Similarly, our health team partners with libraries and local hospitals to offer fitness classes. Overall, we do everything possible to help people age in place. Our community partnership model has allowed us to serve hundreds of thousands of people.

  • How much of a supporting role do you think can mobile accessibility play in healthy ageing? 

Amy: I believe that the role of accessible technology continues to evolve as we use more technology in our daily lives. I have this perspective because my main activity is running OASIS Connections, which is a technology training program. Connections was originally created for older adults, but it can also help any digital newcomer. This is because learning technology is like learning a new language for digital newcomers. The Connections program is OASIS’ national program for intellectual stimulation and keeping your brain engaged. Is there a better way to keep your brain engaged than keeping up with technology? Our student materials are all available in English. We also have two classes translated to  Korean and eleven translated to Spanish. Our Mobile Accessibility Guide is the first Connections book we are publishing free on our website in English and Spanish:

Hopefully this free resource will allow to reach more people.

  • When senior adults come to your technology classes, what is the biggest hurdle that they need to overcome to be able to use mobile technologies? 

Amy: In the past, the key barrier was relevance. When older adults did not perceive the technology as relevant to them, they did not adopt. One factor influencing this change is the trend of ‘hand-me-up devices’. This is when children or grandchildren give a device to an older relative in order to keep in better touch. The idea is a good one but learning how to use the device can be a challenge.  Learning technology from family members can also be challenging at times... Additionally, seniors are not sure that they want to bear the cost of newer technology.

In the past 18 months, we are seeing a change in technology adoption patterns by older adults. The latest numbers (Benton Foundation) show that the need to have internet access is becoming more ubiquitous. Mature adults were early adopters of eReaders likely because they could adjust the size of the text to make it more readable. Caregiving, whether for a spouse or a grandchild, also has become more tied to technology. Diabetics can send their data to their doctors via the internet. Grandparents who want to be informed about things happening at their grandchildren’s schools can do so via the internet. The United States differs from Europe in access to broadband internet services, particularly in inner cities and rural areas. 2015 data by the Pew Research Center showed that people without broadband access are buying smartphones in order to have internet access. Pew has named this group ‘smart phone dependents.’

Many people who have said before that they did not want or need the internet, now understand that they do need access to the internet, and are beginning to do what is necessary to get the access. If that means buying a smartphone and using a data plan they will do so. This is not a very cost effective way of accessing the internet, but if there is no broadband and limited options for public internet access, people are adopting smart phones for this purpose.

These are really interesting shifts happening in the US. There has also been a jump in smartphone adoption in the boomer generation. The number one reason for adopting these technologies is still to stay connected with loved ones. Year after year, over 70% of people taking a Connections class do it to stay in touch with someone in their life. As younger generations adopt new methods of communication, older adults will follow them. We have seen this over the past four years with steadily rising numbers of older Facebook users. Texting is also becoming a more popular way that older adults can stay connected. And since many of us do not live close to family, when internet access is affordable, amazing applications like FaceTime, Skype and Google Hangouts allow people to see the faces of their loved ones. These communication applications are very appealing to older adults.

  • It is an interesting aspect that the lack of broadband access forces people to use mobile as their only access. It also shifts the whole burden of accessibility on the mobile device which needs to be simple enough to use. How do you accommodate this in your classes? 

Amy: Connections classes have always been written with the beginner in mind. That does not mean that all the people coming into these classes start with no experience. We believe that when students leave class with our handbook, it is reassuring and a resource they can use at a later date. Younger generations have become accustomed to finding information online, but that is not the default for mature adults. They are more likely to look for information in a book or call someone to ask for help. If you think about the way boomers learned in a classroom setting, it makes sense that the internet wouldn’t be the first place they would think to look. Once they are comfortable and familiar with the internet, we train them that the internet is an invaluable resource where they can find all kinds of information. Also, people do not know what the term “accessibility” means, so they might not ever look at that menu on a device. In the Mobile Accessibility Guide, they learn about the basics and then they can look for more information online if they want to.

Over the years, OASIS centres have offered classes about accessibility, but they were poorly attended, because senior adults do not identify with having accessibility needs or having a disability. So those classes were more likely to be attended by caretakers, such as the spouse of someone refusing to get a hearing-aid and so on. That is why in our catalogs we did not call our class “Mobile Accessibility” because that term isn’t meaningful. Instead we called it “Better Hearing, Better Seeing with a Smartphone or Tablet”.

We are piloting the class on mobile accessibility throughout the country and we will report on first outcomes at the M-Enabling Summit in June.

  • Are there particular aspects that need to be considered in making mobile telecommunications and devices accessible for senior citizens, aspects that would be different from making mobile telecommunications accessible for specific disability groups? 

Amy: Primarily, older adults do not identify with having a disability.  Unlike people who are hard of hearing, blind or low vision and work with organizations who share special resources designed just for them, it has been hard to reach the senior population... Research shows that hearing loss is a gradual process that affects everyone. Changes in vision also impact most people during the aging process. Still, most seniors will insist that they do not have hearing loss or are not losing some visual acuity. When we show them functionalities that make life easier and are fun to use, we have more success reaching them. That’s why we called our class “better hearing, better seeing” and that approach has worked well.

We have a short video where we have asked attendees of this class about what is important for them in mobile devices. Making text size bigger is certainly one of the first requests. Older adults see the usefulness of speech to text. The thought that they do not have to use their fingers to touch those tiny keys and type all those words is intriguing. When using speech to text, their messages may be longer and in full sentence form differing from messages sent by younger generations.. One of our participants in the video found this very helpful, especially when her thumbs hurt. The third participant in the video found the LED flash alerts super helpful to see when the phone is ringing.

  • What are your experiences with using the GARI database? 

Amy: I was originally introduced to GARI through my work with the Preferences for Global Access project and was involved with reviewing the CTIA’s website for its usability for seniors which links to GARI. Taking a closer look in the review process, I understood what a great resource GARI is both for people seeking solutions for themselves. Also, caregivers, are an important target group seeking technology solutions to help loved ones. In the last mobile accessibility class for example, two people attended who were looking for how to use mobile devices to communicate with their very hard-of-hearing parents.

If you would like to hear Amy’s talk about the experiences from OASIS' “Better hearing, better seeing with your smartphone” class, you can do so by attending the M-Enabling Summit, 13-14 June 2016 in Washington DC.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Press Release: Mobile accessibility – where are we today?

Vienna, 3 December 2015: The International Day for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is a good opportunity to take stock on where we are with the accessibility of mobile phones, tablets and apps.

Statistics released today by the Mobile Manufacturers Forum (MMF) for the Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative (GARI) show that:

  • Almost half of consumers look for devices with features that will assist with a hearing impairment, closely followed by devices with features designed to assist those with impaired vision.
  • Hearing-aid compatibility, improved call quality, adjustable alerts and maximum volume control are among the most searched for features; and
  • 30 organisations around the world are currently using GARI, helping consumers to search for and find phones best suited to their needs*. 

GARI was created in 2010 by the Mobile Manufacturers Forum (MMF) to provide information on accessibility features in mobile phones and to help consumers identify devices that support these features.

The GARI website ( features an evolving searchable database that lists information on more than 110 accessibility features and over 1,100 mobile phone models around the world in currently 16 languages. Since 2013, the database also includes information on accessible tablets and accessibility related mobile applications.

"Many of today's mainstream devices have great accessibility features included but most users do not know about them. GARI wants to help people get informed about existing mobile accessibility solutions so that they can fully benefit from them," said Michael Milligan, Secretary General of the Mobile Manufacturers Forum.

“In the past 12 months, we have increased the number of accessibility related apps listed to almost 300. This ensures that people can also check whether their favourite accessibility related app will work with the new device – or what apps are available for their new device,” Mr. Milligan added.

About the MMF
The Mobile Manufacturers Forum (MMF) is an international association of telecommunications equipment manufacturers with an interest in mobile or wireless communications, including the manufacturers of mobile handsets and devices as well as the manufacturers of the network infrastructure. More information:

Press Contact
Sabine Lobnig, sabine.lobnig(@)
Deputy Director Communications & Regulations
Mobile Manufacturers Forum (MMF)
Tel.: 0043 664 46 23 449

Monday, November 2, 2015

LATAM: Promoviendo la accesibilidad móvil, una app por vez

En noviembre, la Unión Internacional de Telecomunicaciones (UIT) celebrará la conferencia regional América Accesible en Colombia y en paralelo organiza un concurso sobre el desarrollo de apps que faciliten la accesibilidad, para Latinoamérica y el Caribe. En una entrevista para el blog GARI, Bruno Ramos, Director Regional de la UIT para Latinoamérica, nos contó más sobre el evento, el concurso de desarrollo de apps y la accesibilidad móvil en la región.

¿Cuál es la motivación para que la UIT realice la Competencia Regional para Latinoamérica y el Caribe “Aplicaciones Móviles para Accesibilidad”? 

Bruno: Permítame comenzar con unas breves palabras sobre el evento. América Accesible es un evento dedicado a explorar cómo podemos hacer las comunicaciones más accesibles para las personas con discapacidad. La idea del evento es reunir a las partes interesadas clave en el área de accesibilidad con las personas clave de la UIT con formación en telecomunicaciones, y crear un entorno en el que puedan debatir abiertamente sobre cómo mejorar la accesibilidad en las telecomunicaciones. Esta fue la motivación para el primer evento América Accesible realizado en 2014. Nuestra idea fue realizar tres eventos, para decidir sobre acciones y actividades concretas que se pueden tomar, y mostrar los resultados en el evento del año siguiente, teniendo en cuenta también que en 2016 se llevarán a cabo los juegos paralímpicos en Brasil. De modo que nuestra idea inicial cuando empezamos a pensar en estos eventos en 2013/2014, también fue proponer algunas acciones concretas al Comité Paralímpico.

Menciono todo esto porque la Competencia Regional para Latinoamérica y el Caribe “Aplicaciones Móviles para la Accesibilidad” es algo concreto y un resultado del evento América Accesible de 2014. Decidimos organizar este concurso y permitir a los desarrolladores presentar aplicaciones concretas que hagan mejor el cotidiano de las personas con discapacidades.

¿Cuáles son sus expectativas en términos de resultados del concurso e impacto de largo plazo en la región? 

Bruno: Nuestro  primer objetivo es promover la idea de accesibilidad en las telecomunicaciones y crear una red. Uno de los retos en nuestra región es la falta de coordinación. Tenemos muchas actividades relacionadas con accesibilidad, tenemos muchas instituciones que se ocupan de este tema, pero a menudo no se conoce qué están haciendo los otros países en el mismo campo. De modo que una de las primeras ideas fue crear una base de datos con los nombres de las partes interesadas clave en accesibilidad en la región. Y la iniciativa fue exitosa: ahora tenemos una base de datos relevante. Uno de los resultados del segundo evento América Accesible sería crear una lista de distribución y compartir noticias e información.

Nuestro segundo objetivo es aumentar la conciencia entre los desarrolladores de apps y alentarlos a crear apps para personas con discapacidades.

¿Quiénes esperan que participen en el concurso y cómo evalúan las apps presentadas? 

Bruno: Al comienzo, no teníamos una lista de los desarrolladores específicamente dedicados al desarrollo de apps relacionadas con accesibilidad. La idea entonces fue usar la cooperación con Samsung, que tiene una gran base de datos de desarrolladores de apps en la región, para distribuir la información sobre nuestro concurso de apps entre los desarrolladores. Finalmente, recibimos casi 50 propuestas de toda la región. Recibimos varias buenas ideas, tanto de desarrolladores experimentados que ya han desarrollado apps, como de personas comunes que todavia no se podría intitularlas como desarrolladores, pero que tuvieran muy buenas ideas, sin tener fondos para crear un app. En el futuro, podríamos dividir la competencia en dos segmentos: uno para apps ya desarrolladas y otro para proyectos/ideas de apps.

¿Cómo están accediendo a estas apps? 

Bruno: Dividimos el proceso de selección entre nuestra gente de la UIT que tiene experiencia en accesibilidad (UIT tiene un departamento que trabaja en telecomunicaciones para personas con discapacidades) y expertos de Samsung. En este comité también estaba una persona con discapacidad. Pero nuestra idea para la próxima edición para la competencia de apps es invitar a algunas organizaciones de personas con discapacidades para participar y ayudarnos en el proceso de evaluación. Ellas pueden mejor evaluar lo que es útil en la vida real para personas con discapacidades.

¿Cuáles son sus planes futuros de accesibilidad en el ecosistema móvil en Latinoamérica y el Caribe?

Bruno: Queremos que el evento América Accesible forme parte de la agenda de la región. Por ejemplo, en la última reunión de la Comisión Interamericana de Telecomunicaciones (CITEL), Perú solicitó organizar una reunión sobre accesibilidad, en conjunto con la siguiente reunión PCC1 (PCC1 es uno de los comités de CITEL que se ocupa de actividades regulatorias en el área).
Nuestra idea sería hacer esto en el marco del evento América Accesible y tal vez organizar una reunión conjunta UIT-CITEL, creando un foro en la región donde se puedan reunir todas partes interesadas de la accesibilidad y de las telecomunicaciones. Es importante reunir a todos y también recordar que las telecomunicaciones hoy no son el objetivo sino la base para crear accesibilidad. Si obtenemos buenas propuestas de estos eventos y feedback positivo de los países, continuaremos a organizar el evento también en los años futuros.

¿Qué tipo de acciones/medidas piensa que podrían permitir a las telecomunicaciones en la región volverse más accesibles para todos? 

Bruno: Las telecomunicaciones lo están cambiando todo y se están cambiando a sí mismas constantemente. Cada 2 o 3 años, enfrentamos nuevos descubrimientos. No creo que haya un elemento principal que permita a la accesibilidad avanzar.

En cambio, debemos asegurarnos de incluir la accesibilidad como un tema importante, motivando y apoyando los países para crear un marco legal nacional y regional. Debemos asegurarnos que las Organizaciones de Personas con Discapacidad sean incluidas, porque ellas saben lo que realmente necesitan, el que ya existe y el que todavia es necesario desarrollar. Debemos también trabajar con los proveedores de infraestructura para aumentar su conciencia que, juntamente con el aumento de banda ancha y la cobertura de redes en las áreas rurales, la accesibilidad también es tema  importante a ser incluido en sus agendas.

De 6 finalistas en el concurso Aplicaciones Móviles para Accesibilidad, una persona/grupo será seleccionado para participar y presentar su app en el evento América Accesible en Colombia, de 4 a 6 de noviembre de 2015.

La Competencia Regional IUT-Samsung para Latinoamérica y el Caribe “Aplicaciones Móviles para Accesibilidad”:

América Accesible II: Información y Comunicación para TODOS:

América Latina: promovendo acessibilidade móvel, um app por vez

Em novembro, a União Internacional de Telecomunicações (ITU) organiza o evento Accessible Americas, na Colômbia, e também realiza um desafio de apps de acessibilidade na América Latina e Caribe. Em entrevista ao blog do GARI, Bruno Ramos, diretor regional da ITU para a América Latina, falou mais sobre o evento, o desafio e a acessibilidade móvel na região.

Qual é a motivação da ITU para realizar a competição regional “Mobile Applications for Accessibility” na América Latina e Caribe?

Bruno: Vou começar contando um pouco sobre o evento. O Accessible Americas é dedicado a explorar como fornecer ferramentas às pessoas, para que as telecomunicações fiquem mais acessíveis a pessoas portadoras de deficiências físicas. O objetivo é colocar os principais interessados em acessibilidade com o núcleo de pessoas da ITU, que vêm das telecomunicações, e criar um ambiente onde seja possível discutir abertamente sobre como melhorar a acessibilidade em telecom. Essa foi a motivação para o primeiro evento Accessible Americas, em 2014. Nossa ideia foi realizar três eventos, onde nós decidiríamos sobre ações e atividades concretas a serem tomadas e mostraríamos os resultados no evento do ano seguinte, sem esquecer que as Paralimpíadas vão acontecer no Brasil em 2016. Por isso, nossa ideia inicial quando começamos a pensar sobre esses eventos em 2013/2014 também foi propor algumas ações concretas ao Comitê Paralímpico.

Falo isso porque a competição regional Mobile Applications for Accessibility na América Latina e Caribe é algo concreto e um resultado do evento Accessible Americas de 2014. Decidimos organizar essa competição e encorajar os desenvolvedores a criarem aplicações que possam melhorar a dia-a-dia das  pessoas portadoras de deficiências físicas.

Quais são suas expectativas em termos de resultados do desafio e impacto a longo prazo na região?

Bruno: Nosso primeiro objetivo é promover a ideia da acessibilidade nas telecomunicações e criar uma rede. Um dos desafios na nossa região é a falta de coordenação. Temos muitas atividades relacionadas à acessibilidade, temos várias instituições lidando com isso, mas normalmente há uma falta de conhecimento sobre o que os outros países estão fazendo na mesma área. Por isso, uma das primeiras ideias foi criar uma base de dados com os nomes dos principais interessados em acessibilidade na região. E tivemos êxito nessa tarefa. Temos uma base de dados relevante. Um dos resultados do segundo Accessible Americas poderia ser a criação de uma lista de distribuição, e o compartilhamento de notícias e informação.

Nosso segundo objetivo é aumentar a conscientização de desenvolvedores de apps e encorajá-los a criarem apps para pessoas com deficiências.

Quem você espera que participe do desafio e como vocês avaliam os apps inscritos?

Bruno: No começo, não tínhamos uma lista de desenvolvedores que tivessem foco em desenvolver apps voltados à acessibilidade. O caminho, portanto, foi usar a cooperação com a Samsung, que tem uma grande base de dados de desenvolvedores de apps na região, para distribuir a informação sobre a nossa competição entre eles. Por fim, recebemos quase 50 propostas da região toda. Recebemos várias boas contribuições, tanto de desenvolvedores experientes quanto de pessoas comuns que ainda não poderiam ser considerados desenvolvedores, mas que tiveram uma boa ideia e que não dispõem de condições financeiras para implementá-las. No futuro, poderemos dividir a competição em dois segmentos: um para apps já desenvolvidos e outro para projetos/ideias.

Como vocês avaliam os apps?

Bruno: Dividimos o processo de seleção entre o pessoal da ITU que tem experiência com acessibilidade, pois na ITU temos um departamento que trabalha com telecomunicações para pessoas com deficiência, e os especialistas da Samsung. Nesse comitê havia também uma pessoa com deficiência. Mas para a próxima edição nossa ideia para a competição é convidar algumas das organizações de pessoas com deficiência a participar e ajudar no processo de avaliação. Eles são os que melhor podem avaliar o que pode ser útil na vida real das pessoas com deficiência.

Quais são os planos futuros em termos de acessibilidade no ecossistema móvel na América Latina e Caribe?

Bruno: Queremos colocar o Accessible Americas na agenda da região. Por exemplo, na última reunião da Comissão Interamericana de Telecomunicações (CITEL), o Peru pediu para organizar um encontro sobre acessibilidade junto com a próxima reunião do PCC1 (PCC1 é um dos comitês da CITEL que lida com atividades reguladoras na área). Nossa ideia seria fazer isso no âmbito do Accessible Americas e realizar uma reunião conjunta ITU-CITEL, criando um fórum na região onde todos os interessados em acessibilidade nas telecomunicações possam estar juntos. É importante uni-los e também lembrar que as telecomunicações hoje não são o objetivo, mas a base para a criação da acessibilidade. Se conseguirmos boas propostas nesses encontros e feedback positivo dos países, então continuaremos a organizar o evento também nos próximos anos.

Que tipo de ações/medidas você acha que permitiria que as telecomunicações se tornassem acessíveis para todos?

Bruno: As telecomunicações estão mudando tudo e transformando-se constantemente. A cada dois ou três anos, enfrentamos novos desenvolvimentos. Não acredito que existam somente um elemento mais importante que possa fazer a acessibilidade avançar. Na verdade, precisamos incluir a acessibilidade na agenda da região como um tema importante, além de motivar apoiar os países a criar estruturas jurídicas ao nível nacional e regional. Temos que assegurar o envolvimento das organizações de pessoas com deficiência, pois apenas eles sabem o que necessitam, o que já existe e o que ainda precisa ser desenvolvido. Temos também que trabalhar junto aos provedores de infraestrutura  e temos que trabalhar com os fornecedores de infraestrutura, visando aumentar o entendimento de que, juntamente com o aumento da banda larga e da cobertura das redes em áreas rurais, a acessibilidade também é um item importante a ser incluído em sua pauta.

Dos seis finalistas no desafio Mobile Applications for Accessibility, um participante ou grupo participante será selecionado para participar e apresentar seu app no evento Accessible Americas, na Colômbia, entre os dias 4 e 6 de novembro de 2015.

O desafio “Mobile Applications for Accessibility” da ITU-Samsung na América Latina e Caribe:

Accessible Americas II: Informação e Comunicação para todos:

LATAM: Promoting mobile accessibility one app at a time

Most news related to the South American countries are published in Spanish or Portuguese, and we therefore do not read so often about activities to promote mobile accessibility in LATAM. But this fall, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is organizing the Accessible Americas event in Colombia and in conjunction carries out an accessibility app challenge for Latin America and the Caribbean. In an interview for the GARI blog, Bruno Ramos, ITU’s Regional Director for Latin America, told us more about the event, the app challenge and about mobile accessibility in his region.

What is the motivation for the ITU to carry out the Regional Competition for Latin America and the Caribbean “Mobile Applications for Accessibility”? 

Bruno: Let me start with a few words about the event. Accessible Americas is dedicated to exploring how we can make telecommunications more accessible for persons with disability. The idea of the event is to put key stakeholders in accessibility together with ITU’s core people which come from telecommunications, and to create an environment where they can discuss openly about how to improve accessibility in telecom. This was the motivation for the first Accessible Americas event in 2014. Our idea was to have three events, where we would decide on concrete actions and activities to be taken and show the results in the next year’s event, keeping in mind also that the Paralympics will take place in Brazil in 2016. So our initial idea when we started thinking about these events back in 2013/14, was also to propose some concrete actions to the Paralympics Committee.

I mention all this because the Regional Competition for Latin America and the Caribbean “Mobile Applications for Accessibility” is something concrete and an outcome of the Accessible Americas event 2014. We decided to organise this competition and encourage developers to come up with concrete applications that can improve the day-to-day life of people with disabilities.

What are your expectations in terms of outcome of the challenge and longterm impact on the region? 

Bruno: Our first objective is to promote the idea of accessibility in telecommunications and to create a network. One of the challenges in our region is the lack of coordination. We have several activities related to accessibility, we have many institutions dealing with this topic, but often there is a lack of awareness what the other countries around are doing in the same field. So one of the first ideas was to create a database with the names of key stakeholders in accessibility in the region. And we did succeed in that, we have now a relevant database. One of the outcomes of the second Accessible Americas could be to create a distribution list and share news and information.

Our second objective is to raise awareness among app developers and encourage them to create apps for the different types of disabilities.

Who do you expect to participate in the challenge and how do you assess the submitted apps? 

Bruno: In the beginning, we did not have a list of app developers that were particularly focused on developing accessibility related apps. The idea therefore was to use the cooperation with Samsung, who has a big database of app developers in the region, to distribute the information about our app competition among developers. We finally received almost 50 proposals from the whole region. We received several good ideas, both from experienced app developers that already have developed apps, but also from ordinary people who cannot be yet called a developer, but had a good idea and do not have the necessary funds to create an app. In the future, we might actually divide the competition into two segments: one for already developed apps and one for app projects/ideas.

How are you assessing these apps? 

Bruno: We split the selection process between ITU staff that have experience in accessibility - ITU has a department that works on telecommunications for persons with disabilities - and experts from Samsung. In this committee there was also one person with a disability. But for the next edition our idea is to invite some organisations of persons with disabilities to take part and assist us with the evaluation process. They are the ones that can better evaluate what is helpful in real life for persons with disabilities.

What are your future plans in terms of accessibility in the mobile ecosystem in Latin America and the Caribbean region?

Bruno: We want to get the Accessible Americas on the region’s agenda. For example, in the last meeting of the Inter-American Telecommunication Commission (CITEL), Peru requested to organise a meeting on accessibility in conjunction with the next PCC1 meeting (PCC1 is one of CITEL’s committees that deals with regulatory activities in the area). Our idea would be to do this in the framework of the Accessible Americas and hold a joint ITU-CITEL meeting, creating one forum in the region where all accessibility and telecommunications stakeholders can be together. It is important to bring all of them together, and also to remember that telecommunications today is not the goal but the basis for creating accessibility. If we get good proposals out of these events and positive feedback from the countries, then we will continue to organise the event also for the coming years.

What kind of actions/measures do you think would enable the region’s telecommunications to become accessible for all? 

Bruno: Telecom is changing everything and is changing itself constantly. Every 2-3 years, we are facing new developments. I don’t think that there is one main element that can move accessibility forward. Rather we need to make sure to include accessibility on the region’s agenda as an important topic and motivate and assist countries to create a national and regional legal framework, and we have to make sure we involve the Organisations of Persons with Disabilities because they know what they need, what is already there and what still needs to be developed, and we have to work with the providers of infrastructure to increase the awareness that along with the extension of bandwidth and network coverage in rural areas, accessibility too is an important issue to be included in their agenda.

Out of the 6 finalists in the Mobile Applications for Accessibility challenge, one person/group will be selected to participate and present their app at the Accessible Americas event in Colombia from 4 to 6 November 2015.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

"High quality, affordable hearing solutions are available"

Hearing is essential for our social live and, as more and more studies show, our cognitive functions. While many of us are or will be confronted with hearing loss, technologies have developed that can help us manage our individual levels of hearing. One of these technologies are personal sound amplifiers. To understand how they work with mobile phones and why they are different from hearing-aids, we have talked to Shawn Stahmer, Vice President, Business Development at Sound World Solutions, who designs, manufactures and markets high quality, affordable hearing devices that help people rediscover the power of connection, regardless of geographic location or economic circumstance.

Can you explain what Personal Sound Amplifier Products (PSAPs) are, and who they are designed for?

Shawn: The category of Personal Sound Amplifier Products covers quite a broad range of devices. Generally speaking, if the product is several hundred dollars (as opposed to less than fifty dollars) you can expect a hearing device that provides many of the same technical features and similar performance to hearing aids that cost thousands of dollars. PSAPs are a consumer product, not a medical device, and therefore are typically sold through consumer retail channels. The FDA provides the following guidance on the distinction between hearing aids and PSAPs.

"Hearing aids and personal sound amplification products (PSAPS) can both improve our ability to hear sound," says Eric Mann, M.D., Ph.D, deputy director of FDA's Division of Ophthalmic, Neurological, And Ear, Nose, and Throat Devices. "They are both wearable, and some of their technology and function is similar."

Mann notes, however, that the products are different in that only hearing aids are intended to make up for impaired hearing. The distinction is primarily on the marketing claims that can be made. When marketing hearing aids, discussion of degree of hearing loss is appropriate and permitted. When marketing PSAPs, no mention of hearing loss can be made, as PSAPs are not classified as a medical device, and therefore are not considered appropriate to treat a medical condition such as hearing loss.

Hearing-aid users often complain that they cannot really hear well on the phone. Do PSAPs work well on the phone? If yes, what makes the difference? 

Shawn: As a general rule, PSAPs will often have the same challenges and successes that hearing aids have. Those that offer Bluetooth technology (like our Sound World Solutions products) allow the user to connect the hearing device directly to the phone, permitting them to take and make calls where the audio is sent from the phone to the hearing device, resulting in a more direct and clear signal. Users can also take advantage of the Bluetooth link to stream audio podcasts or music directly from their phone to the hearing device.

Does the quality of the mobile phone used play a role in the quality of the user experience with a PSAP? 

Shawn: Because our products interact with the phone through the Bluetooth link, the quality of the microphones or speakers in the phone does not have a direct impact on the user’s experience with our personal sound amplifiers.

What would you need or expect from the mobile phone manufacturers in order to mainstream PSAPs for people with hearing loss?

Shawn: The biggest challenge in getting more affordable hearing solutions, including PSAPs, into the mainstream is creating awareness in the minds of consumers that high quality, affordable hearing solutions are available. There are tens of millions of people in the U.S. and Europe (and many more in emerging markets) that would benefit from a solution that provides help with their hearing but have chosen not to acquire hearing aids from the traditional channel. Many of these consumers can be helped by the new technology solutions that are available. Mobile device manufacturers are in a unique position to communicate directly with their existing customers about the availability of these new solutions and the benefits provided.

In addition to PSAPs, are there other efforts underway to increase affordable hearing care options?

Shawn: There is currently much debate, particularly in the U.S., on how to make hearing care more affordable and accessible. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) earlier this year convened a committee on Affordable and Accessible Hearing, which sought input from a variety of sources and is expected to make recommendations in the next several months. The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) also took up this issue recently, and is similarly expected to make their recommendations in the next several months. Industry watchers speculate that the recommendations will include changes to the FDA hearing aid regulations, greater consumer access to PSAPs and other hearables for the mild to moderately impaired and possible Medicare coverage of low cost hearing devices.

Learn more about Sound World Solutions:

Sound World Solutions has also developed the CS Customizer app, which allows users of Sound World Solutions' CS50/CS50+ Bluetooth Series personal sound amplifier, Companion, or Sidekick products to personalize their settings and control the device via Bluetooth link from their smartphone.

See the CS Customizer app on GARI:

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Guiding app developers in ensuring accessibility

The Accessibility Testing Criteria that the App Quality Alliance (AQuA) has been working on, are published and ready to be used by all app developers who would like to ensure that their apps are accessible to persons living with vision, hearing, speech, cognition or mobility impairments. Feedback from a number of organisations of persons with disabilities, mobile industry, app developers and accessibility experts has been very valuable in developing these Testing Criteria.

“We are pleased to publish our first set of Accessibility Testing Criteria (for Android*). There is nothing like this out there in the industry and the reaction we have received tells us that this should be a great help to developers who want to make their apps widely accessible to all. The Testing Criteria are designed to guide developers to test their app from the point of view of people with restrictions in vision, hearing, dexterity or cognition and to test the developers' assumptions about their users. Some 20% of the world have some sort of restriction in ability and AQuA’s Accessibility Testing Criteria opens up that audience to every app that passes the tests,” says Martin Wrigley, executive director, AQuA.

Mobile accessibility is important given the impressive figure of one billion people (according to WHO) wo live with some sort of disability. But we also talk about a huge potential market for app developers. According to a report by Chris Lewis**, people with disabilities and their families and caretakers dispose of an annual budget of about 3.5 trillion dollars that they could potentially use on assistive and accessible technologies.

A good understanding of the motivation behind the Testing Criteria as well as its contents and intended use, can be gained by listening to the recording of AQuA's webinar. It explores the target market in terms of the number of people who have accessibility needs, dives deeper into how to use the Accessibility Testing Criteria and pulls out some examples of the specific tests.

The Testing Criteria have been broken down in different sections:

  • usage with limited vision (including usage without vision)
  • usage without perception of colour / minimising photosensitive seizure triggers
  • usage with limited hearing (including usage without hearing)
  • usage with limited manipulation or strength (including usage with limited reach)
  • usage with limited cognition 

The Testing Criteria then further look into a set of functional areas including navigation (how you move around within the app), control (how actions are executed within the app), feedback (how the user is informed that an app has started for example or that the app is doing something), display (how the app is laid out), any adjustments or settings (how the user can change to a high contrast display for example), and external devices (how the app can interact with switch controls etc.).

Download the Accessibility Testing Criteria: 

* Accessibility Testing Criteria for other platforms will follow.
 ** "Digitising the disabled billion. Accessibility gets personal." Chris Lewis, Lewis Insight, March 2015: