Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Apps for all Challenge - Vision wins over Gaming

A cash prize of $1500 awaited the winner of the Apps for All Challenge, organised by the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) together with the Australian Human Rights Commission. 

The winners, announced at ACCAN’s 2014 conference, were rewarded in the categories of 

  • Most accessible mainstream app - ACCC Shopper

The ACCC Shopper app provides useful consumer information to users and includes tools to keep copies of receipts. It can be used to set reminders for lay-bys, warranties and gift vouchers, write complaint letters to businesses or ask common shopping questions such as “when can I get a refund?”

  • Most innovative app designed for people with disability or older Australians - OpenMi Tours

OpenMi Tours provides information to users at museums, art galleries and cultural venues in a variety of inclusive formats. These include audio only, audio with captions, Auslan with captions, audio description as well as foreign languages.

  • Most accessible children’s app - Row Row Your Boat & Positive Penguins 

The Row Row Your Boat app provides an interactive learning experience with educational ideas, games and sounds to encourage the development of listening and language skills in young children. The app is particularly useful to families of children who have reduced hearing or language problems.

Positive Penguins was created as a tool to help children understand their emotions come from their thinking and teach them to challenge (or problem solve) the negative stories they tell themselves. The app was created by a Melbourne student with the idea initially being created in a PowerPoint presentation on healthy mind, healthy body.

Interestingly, no nominations were entered for the fourth category of most accessible gaming app. 

In total, almost 30 apps were submitted, including a number of government services apps. The majority of nominated apps targeted persons who are blind or vision impaired. 

The objective of the challenge was to raise awareness about the need to ensure accessibility in designing smartphone applications, as to making them usable for everyone, including persons with disabilities and older citizens that start being confronted with hearing or vision loss, reduced mobility and cognitive impairments. 

The Apps for All Challenge was sponsored by Australian operator Telstra, who just recently launched an accessibility initiative, including the full integration of GARI’s search function for accessible mobile phones in a dedicated web portal

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Major Australian telecom operator using GARI to offer accessibility information to customers

Australian telecom operator Telstra has launched a new integrated web portal fully integrating the GARI database to allow their customers to search for devices with specific accessibility features related to speech, hearing, vision, cognitive impairment and reduced mobility.

“Telstra is the first carrier in the world to fully integrate data from the mobile industry’s Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative (GARI) - www.GARI.info. As a result, access to mobile communications has just become a lot easier for Telstra’s customers who live with a disability,” said Michael Milligan, Secretary General of the Mobile Manufacturers Forum (MMF), in a press release issued today.

The new Telstra web portal - http://telstra.com.au/mobile-phones/find-accessible-devices - is a wonderful example of how GARI can be used by operators to help older people and those with a disability search for mobile devices that best suit their specific accessibility requirements. For example, a customer with vision impairment can now use the Telstra web portal to search for a new smartphone that has a built-in screen reader that will read out screen content. Likewise a hearing impaired person might want to see which devices are hearing-aid compatible or that support closed captioning. 

GARI around the world

Just recently, GARI has also expanded to Rumania and South Africa. The Rumanian telecommunications regulator ANCOM has integrated a rumanian language version of GARI into their website, allowing the website visitors to directly access the GARI search interface, and the South African Electronic Communications Association SAECA has created in their website a section dedicated to GARI to offer the same service to their members. 

Telstra, ANCOM and SAECA join a number of governments, regulators and associations around the world that use GARI in different forms but all with the common objective of giving people access to information on available mobile accessibility solutions. 

Have a look at who else is using GARI: http://www.gari.info/government.cfm 

Learn how to use GARI on your own website: http://www.gari.info/download-gari-db.cfm 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Accessible apps: The sky is the limit

Audio description is an important element in making media accessible for people who are blind or vision-impaired. We talked to Joel Snyder, founder of Audio Description Associations, LLC, who is one of the pioneers in audio description, about how audio description fits into mobile accessibility and how he sees audio description evolving in a mobile ecosystem. 

How did you start in audio description and how do see the impact that mobile technologies like the smartphone and tablet have on audio description? 

Joel: I have been working with audio description probably longer than anybody, around 34 years now. I was part of the group of people to really expand on the idea of audio description and develop the first ongoing audio description service in the beginning of the1980s in the Washington DC area. I had been working with a radio reading service, the Washington Ear, and they developed the service in response to discussions with Arena Stage, one of the nation’s finest regional theatres. 

I have not worked with Arena Stage in many years but one of the current contracts my company has is with the American Council of the Blind. I direct its Audio Description Project and one of their initiatives involves a grant to work with Arena Stage during this next season to make audio description available for every performance of two productions. Typically, audio description in performing arts is only offered at one or two performances in a run.  That, of course, restricts the ability of audio description consumers to access a theatrical event.  

My company works on audio description in all its genres and formats. We still do work with performing arts, museums, and media but also a great deal of work in training and speaking on description. I have helped introduce audio description in almost 40 countries and most of the United States. That has been a great honour. 

What are in your opinion the most valuable accomplishments in mobile accessibility so far? 

Joel: Mobile technologies present exciting new opportunities for the performing arts, but perhaps even more so for film, DVDs, and streaming content. My company is working closely with a group, Compass Interactive, and one of their projects is an app called Parlamo. Downloading this app enables you to use your smartphone to access audio description in any environment. It can be used primarily to access alternative language tracks for movies, but it also can provide downloads of free audio description tracks for movies, TV programmes, or arts events. Furthermore, the app has a feature, Crystal Sound, that enhances sound for the benefit of people who are hard-of-hearing. People who use assisted listening devices need more than simply increased volume; more importantly they need clarity. Crystal Sound essentially fulfils the function of an equalizer. It adjusts frequencies to enable people to hear more clearly, while it offers increased volume.  

So this app can enable people who speak other languages to access to content that may originally be in English. But it also allows people who are blind to access audio description and enables people who are hard-of-hearing to hear more clearly. 

All of this can apply to the performing arts as well,  As I mentioned earlier, theatrical productions may run for, say, six weeks of performances but audio description is often only provided at one or two performances.  Mobile apps can allow blind users access to the entire run of performances via their own devices. 

We have the Parlamo app already listed in GARI’s accessibility app section and are very happy about it. These apps also show wonderfully how audio description fits into the mobile ecosystem. What about tablets though? 

Joel: I have used apps like Parlamo on my desktop and, of course, they can also be used on tablets.  If you have your tablet on your lab in a movie theatre, you can plug in your earphones and use the app to access the audio description, alternative languages, or the Crystal Sound capability. Also, this allows the theatre to reduce the need to maintain and distribute cumbersome receivers and headsets. Generally, people have to receive a receiver and headset from the theatre, but as you might imagine batteries run out, other people have used the same equipment, users often are ill-trained in how the equipment operates and so on. The apps liberate the theatre and the consumer by letting consumers use their own equipment. The consumer simply downloads the alternative language or the audio description for a given film -it’s a win for both sides. 

What does the US Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) prescribe in terms of audio description? 

Joel: The CVAA mandates by law rules that were earlier developed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regarding audio description for broadcast television. It provides for approximately 4 hours of audio description per week for each of the top 9 broadcasters in the US. These audio descriptions must be provided in the top 25 markets.  

At the M-Enabling Summit we talked about the increasing impact of mobile apps. From your perspective as an audio description expert, what would be your key message to app developers? 

Joel: I think the only limit is the extent of a developer’s own imagination and technical skills. Apps like Parlamo represent the future for media access. I honestly think that wireless opportunities will open up the world to far greater access for people who are blind or have low vision. For instance, I am working with another company on an app that can identify products. Every smartphone has a camera that can be used to send  an image to a sighted person or be recognized via the app. This would provide swift access to information that might otherwise be unavailable. 

So our own creative and technical skills can foster apps that can help people with any kind of disability. They can offer an important sense of freedom, letting people do without a lot of hardware, like money identifiers, for example. So, the smartphone and new apps can be liberating in many ways. 


Have a look at the Parlamo app on GARI: http://www.gari.info/findapps-detail.cfm?appid=105

The website of Audio Description Associations, LLC: http://www.audiodescribe.com 



Monday, July 28, 2014

Bridging the gap between technology and people with disabilities

An incredible number of apps is being created and published ever day, many of which claim to provide better accessibility for persons with disabilities. Be it by providing a colour or currency identifying function, sign language support, or communication for tools with persons with autism etc. However, in the absence of an international accepted quality control for accessibility related apps, it is very difficult to assess whether an app will hold its promises before downloading it, which sometimes can be quite costly. 

The platform BridgingApps is trying to fill this gap. BridgingApps is an online community of parents, therapists, doctors and teachers who share information on how they are using mobile phones and tablets with people with disabilities, publishing a newsletter with information on accessibility related apps that they have tested. Cristen Reat, co-founder of BridgingApps, told us a little bit about their motivation and background as well as how they carry out their assessment of apps. 

Can you shortly explain the mission of BridgingApps and where the motivation for its foundation came from? 

Cristen: BridgingApps’ mission is to bridge the gap between technology and people with disabilities. Recently developed mobile technology, if properly used, has the ability to empower people of all ages with disabilities to reach their fullest potential. These touch-based, low-cost, commercially available tools can augment or, in some limited cases, replace traditional therapies, expensive equipment, and/or curricula, leading to better physical, educational, and social outcomes for people of all ages.

BridgingApps began as a support group of parents of young children with special needs and therapists who were exploring how these devices paired with apps could help build skills and address developmental goals. We immediately saw the power of the technology for engaging, motivating, and allowing our children to independently control an educational tool in astonishing ways. We joined Easter Seals Houston to help extend the reach of our work.

How do you select and evaluate the apps that you are appraising every month? 

Cristen: Anyone can submit an app to be reviewed on our website. We value our community of parents, therapists, doctors, teachers, people with disabilities, assistive technology professionals, and developers and have received suggestions from all of these groups.

What sets our app reviews apart from other review sites is although anyone can rate and comment on apps housed on our site, only professionals can write an app review. Our reviewers are speech language pathologists, occupational therapists, special education teachers and assistive technology (AT) professionals. We use standards-based measures to assess an app, and one of the requirements is that they must trial the app with at least one person who has a disability before they write a review. A BridgingApps app review has such valuable information that we consider them to be mini-trainings. We view our site to be a shortcut for finding apps for specific needs.

If you could address the whole app developer community at once, what would be your key message to them? 

Cristen: Our message would be to please keep in mind Universal Design principles and user customization when developing products. Good design with considerations (to the greatest extent possible) for everyone regardless of age, ability or status in life means that all users benefit!

What advice would you give to a person searching for mobile accessibility solutions? 

Cristen: Always consider what goals you have in mind when looking for a particular solution. We find that many people unintentionally make purchasing mistakes because they don’t fully consider which specific goals they are trying to achieve. Instead of buying a device and/or software first, then looking to see what it can do for you, make a list of goals that you have or tasks you need to do and then match those with the features of a device and apps. For example, many parents of children who are non-verbal have purchased an e-reader thinking they could load a sophisticated communication app on it, but have been disappointed to find out that particular app is not available for that platform. 

What is your vision for the future for BridgingApps? 

Cristen: We hope to grow our community of shared knowledge to become a recognized center of excellence in mobile device technology for people with special needs. Our long term goal is to become the premier website where people of all ages with disabilities and those who support them come to find mobile technology solutions that includes training, best practices and original research to enhance lives.


You can sign up for BridgingApps’ newsletter here: http://bridgingapps.org/wp-login.php?action=register 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Accessibility solutions: Lack of information to consumers remains barrier

The 3rd M-Enabling Summit, which took place 9-10 June 2014 in Washington, gathered over 500 stakeholders in mobile accessibility and was the forum for many interesting discussions. Participants that had also been at the 1st and 2nd Summits, noted that the centre of discussions has shifted from explaining what accessibility is and why we need it, to concrete exchanges on how to achieve it. Indeed, this 3rd Summit seemed marked by the acceptance amongst regulators, industry and consumers that accessibility is happening.

Nonetheless, a constant theme throughout was that people still do not receive the necessary information on existing accessible and assistive solutions. According to Mike Shebanek, Yahoo, “one of the most challenging aspects is that users are still not aware of the existing accessibility features”. And Kevin Carey, RNIB, pointed out that the most important development in the next few years will be to improve consumer support in selecting the right product for a person’s individual situation.

Closing the gab for the ageing population 

One major focus was on how to close the gap for senior citizens, how to get them to open up to the possibilities provided by new technologies. The focus in this endeavour should not be on the technology as such but on what the seniors want to do and helping them to do just that. The technology has to adopt to the person and their environment, not the other way around. One good motivation for older people to use mobile technologies for example is communication with their family and friends. However, it does not suffice to just provide the technology, it is very important to also provide eduction and guidance on how to use and personalise the available solutions, especially as we are often not looking at single device solutions anymore (i.e just a mobile phone or a tablet by itself) but about connected devices that fit into a bigger technological ecosystem within the home.

Another important observation was that if companies do not catch up with accessibility they could lose market share with the ageing population. To give an impression of the market potential of this ageing population: in the US alone, over 9,000 people turn 65 everyday (1). Also, “once older users feel comfortable with the technology they take off with it”, says Matthew Gerst, CTIA. Today, 40% of households in the US have cut the cord and are relying on wireless only. Interestingly, the adoption rate of tablets amongst the 65+ range has been much higher than that of smartphones, although in general the 50-and-older population is the fastest growing market segment in mobile technology, according to Microsoft.

However there remain challenges. Aaron Smith, Pew Research Center, summarised the barriers to adoption of mobile technologies for senior citizens as follows:

  • physical - difficult reading, chronic health issues etc.
  • tech literacy - 77% of seniors would need help learning to use new devices 
  • attitudinal - perceived relevance of having such a device is often a major barrier to use

Senior citizens are also in general more worried about safety and (data) security and they are afraid of breaking the device when using it wrongly. So again, emphasis must be on education and teaching them how to use these technologies.


(1) http://www.gao.gov/assets/660/654741.txt

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Apps For All Challenge 2014: Australia is looking for accessible apps

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) and the Australian Human Rights Commission have launched Australia's first competition for accessible mobile apps. The Apps For All Challenge 2014 is looking for the 

  • most accessible mainstream app
  • most innovative app designed for people with disability or older Australians
  • most accessible children's app
  • most accessible gaming app

Wayne Hawkins, Disability Policy Advisor of ACCAN, has told us a bit about background and motivation of this initiative: 

ACCAN's aim in organising the app challenge is “to raise awareness of issues people with disabilities and aging Australians face with apps that are not accessible”. Do you already see progress in mobile accessibility or is this still a new topic for most developers? 

Wayne: Our experience is that many developers are unaware of how lack of accessibility can prevent many people from using mobile apps and technologies. There a  many apps being developed for the general market which can also provide greater participation for people with disability if they are designed with usability awareness. The hope with our challenge is that it will raise awareness among developers to think about how people with different abilities could use the app, to ask questions like "Could I use this if I couldn’t see the screen? How would this work if I couldn’t hear the instructions?". Accessibility guidelines already exist for web design, many of those guidelines are transferable to mobile apps and devices making it relatively easy for developers to incorporate accessibility.

Do you have an estimate on how many % of apps are accessible of all the apps out there? 

Wayne: No reliable data on how many apps are accessible. Anecdotally and from user feedback it seems the majority of mobile apps have accessibility issues which make them difficult to use for many people.

Apps can be submitted until 14 July 2014. How many submissions would you hope for? And what is the award for the lucky winner? 
Wayne: We have had a lot of keen interest in the Challenge and hope to receive a manageable number of nominations for our first year. Right now the winning apps will receive what we hope will become the sought out, prestigious ACCAN/Australian Human Rights Commission Award; acknowledging excellence and best-practice in accessibility and usability. We are hoping to get sponsorship over time in order to support aspiring developers. Of course cash prizes are always appealing but we are also very interested in sponsorship which can provide developer mentoring, product development and marketing possibilities.

Who is evaluating the apps and what are the most important criteria besides the fact that the apps need to be accessible? 
Wayne: We have had great support from accessibility groups and individuals. The judging panel is made up of 7 accessibility experts with a wide range of experience in telecommunications, web access and mobile technologies. The panel includes a number of highly skilled accessibility ‘evangelists’ who also have a disability. Obviously, our primary criteria for the apps is that they meet minimum levels of accessibility, in addition we are looking for apps which are innovative, fill a clear market need and provide value for many users.

What has been the most surprising accessibility feature in a mobile app that you have come across so far? 
Wayne: I can’t really point to one feature but I will say the originality of idea and the variety of applications is really positive and exciting.


Nominations for the Apps for All Challenge 2014 close on Monday 14 July 2014.

For contact details and more information on how to submit apps, have a look here: http://www.accan.org.au/our-work/app 




Monday, May 12, 2014

"Can you afford to let over 100,000 potential users of your mobile app go to a competitor?"

This catchy question posed by Appcessible caught our eye. Many app developers have heard these days about the need to make their apps accessible, but struggle on how to do it or how to check whether they did it successfully. For this reason, Jonathan Mosen founded Appcessible. Jonathan is a blind user himself and has set up the company to help raise awareness about the need for apps to be accessible as well as assist app developers in getting there. We have talked to Jonathan about his experiences so far. 

What was your motivation to create Appcessible.net?

Jonathan: I’ve been totally blind since birth, and just like most business professionals, I love being part of the mobile lifestyle. With Apple's innovative VoiceOver screen reader built into every iOS device, and Talkback for Android available on many Android devices, blind people can now make use of smartphones. Some of the things we do with smartphones are blindness-specific, but the vast majority of the things we use our smartphones for are just the same as everyone else. I set up Appcessible to help app developers tap into the growing market of blind people using smartphones by providing capable evaluators who can provide quality feedback on how accessible an app is, and make specific recommendations about how it can be made more accessible and thus more attractive to this growing market.
Making the mobile world a more accessible place is a win win situation. Blind people gain a wider range of apps from which to choose, and developers increase revenue through purchases from a market very keen to pay for apps that work well for them.

What do you consider the biggest challenges in mobile accessibility in general and in making apps accessible in particular?

Jonathan: Actually I think the biggest challenges are genuine lack of awareness, and then attitudinal barriers. A lot of people just don't realise that blind people are using smartphones in increasing numbers. I've spoken to many developers since Appcessible started, who've said, "I really had no idea blind people were using my app, it was a revelation". What's nice is that once they're made aware of it, many app developers get incredibly enthusiastic, and keep striving to make the experience better. This is in part influenced by the fact that the blind community is usually very big in developer interaction. If they like an app because it's accessible, they really spread the word and like to offer constructive feedback to developers.
In terms of attitudes, occasionally we get people who shrug and say, "oh blind people wouldn't want to use my app". Inaccurate assumptions are often made about the apps we as blind people will and won't want to use. Blind people work in a range of professions, they're parents, sports enthusiasts, news junkies, keen gamers etc. So there are few apps we wouldn't want to use were they made accessible.

What are the most common mistakes in mobile accessibility?

Jonathan: The biggest one is the failure to give buttons and other elements a clear textual label. On iOS and Android, the app development guidelines are very clear about how to do this simple task and it makes a huge difference.

Does it suffice to follow the general accessibility guidelines for iOS, Android and Windows or is there more to developing a truly accessible app?

Jonathan: That’s a very good start, yes. But I think only real-world blind end-users can give quality feedback on whether an app is too verbose, not verbose enough, or perhaps just saying things that are irrelevant. A sighted app developer, no matter how well-intentioned, doesn't use VoiceOver or Talkback on a daily basis like we blind end-users do. That's where Appcessible comes in. You can do all the technical things right, but that's no guarantee of a really pleasing user experience. The interface may be great, but the UX encompasses more than that.


If you would like to know more about Appcessible's activities have a look at their website at or listen to the Talking Apps Podcast