Thursday, June 25, 2015

Spotlight on… the accessibility of apps

Only last year when we attended app developer events, we were astonished to hear intense discussions about how to reach more customers, how to expand market share, how get more users focusing solely on server capacity, stability of the app and so on….  without accessibility ever coming up. However, if apps are not accessible they are effectively not usable for a large group of users that might live with some sort of disability. The statistics are impressive: the WHO estimates that over 1 Billion people in the world are or will be effected by disability. And while a majority of this people live in developing countries, there are also a large number of persons effected by disability in developed countries, influencing according to LewisInsight a spending power of over $3.5 trillion, and more than $8 trillion when combined with the spending power of friends and family around them.

Accessibility in apps made easy - AQuA’s Testing Criteria 

Accessibility in apps does not have to be complicated. All major OS platforms provide accessibility guidelines for developers, but still for newcomers to the topic, it can be intimidating. To help overcome this hurdle and help developers perform a simple check of their app to see whether basic accessibility requirements are fulfilled, the MMF teamed up with the App Quality Alliance (AQuA) to develop App Accessibility Testing Criteria.

These Testing Criteria are meant to be a checklist that app developers can work through step by step. Some of the checkpoints are for example:

  • Verify that audio feedback of multiple elements is not confusingly similar
  • Display schemes and content should avoid using known photosensitive seizure triggers

A first version of the App Accessibility Testing Criteria has been published for Android and is still submitted to public consultation; take a look and download it here. Once finalised, the Accessibility Testing Criteria will also be adapted for other platforms.

If you have questions, want to learn more or have constructive criticism or ideas for ameliorating the Accessibility Testing Criteria, we invite you to register for the free AQuA webinar on Tuesday 30 June 2015 at 5pm CEST / 4pm BST.

Report by LewisInsight:

App Accessibility Testing Criteria:

AQuA webinar:

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Mobile Innovation: Smarter Living for All - M-Enabling Summit 2015

A lack of information about existing mobile accessibility solutions among those who would benefit the most from these features (persons with disabilities and seniors) is still the major issue. That is the conclusion from policy makers and representatives of persons with disabilities from Europe, Asia, the Americas, and Australia sharing their experience on promoting mobile accessibility in their countries at the M-Enabling Summit 2015 that took place 1-2 June in Washington.

The first day opened with keynotes speeches and panel discussions with speakers of mostly technical background. From discussions around the Internet of Things and how it might serve to make the lives of persons with accessibility needs easier, to the efforts by major mobile phone manufacturers to make their mainstream devices accessible and wireless carriers to offer services such as text relay nationwide, passing by the presentation of a smartphone that can be operated entirely without touch developed by an Israeli startup, technological developments for accessibility do not seem amiss.

Kevin Carey, Chair of the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) in the UK, challenged his panel by asking how to leverage the economic aspect of making all these pits of generic technology work for accessibility. One possible answer to this was given by Lama Nachman from IntelLabs who was part of the team working on the upgrade of Stephen Hawking’s communication system. In a fascinating talk about how they worked with Stephen Hawking to adapt the system to his needs, she explained that in the process the team realised that they often did not need to invent new features from scratch but that they could build on accessibility features that existed in other contexts (such as predictive text in mobile phones). Her short answer to the question how to make generic technology work for accessibility was therefore “integrative systems” - systems that integrate already existing accessibility solutions and bring them to the persons who need it most. Intel also decided to make the system they developed for Dr. Hawking open-source so that more researchers and technicians around the world might work on adapting it for people suffering from motor neurone disease and quadriplegia.

Trained assistance versus crowd-sourced help

The afternoon session on Assistive Mobile and Wearable Solutions for Blind and Low Vision discussed the fast expanding sector of mobile apps and services available to users with visual impairments.

An interesting discussion ensued about a payable service that TCS Associates is working on where an app would connect blind users to "visual agents" for remote visual assistance versus free services such as BeMyEyes that connect blind users with sighted volunteers that lend them their eyes via the smartphone camera. The visual agents of TCS Associates receive specific training to best help low vision and blind users and they can build relationships over time with the persons they help more often, which makes helping them more efficient as needs are better understood and can be anticipated. BeMyEyes on the other hand crowd-sources help and puts someone in need of assistance in touch with a random volunteer willing to help. Both system clearly have advantages and disadvantages and only the personal preference of the user can decide which one is better for a given situation. But both solutions empower blind people and allow them to finally “just be friends with their friends” instead of feeling the need to use their eyes, as one woman from the audience put it.

The closing session was dedicated to the US Federal Communications Commission’s fourth annual Awards for Advancement in Accessibility (FCC Chairman’s AAA) which recognises and honours innovative achievements in communications technology that benefits people with disabilities. We were happy to hear that the Award for Augmented Reality went to one of the apps listed in GARI: BlindSquare. The app uses GPS and a compass to help blind travellers navigate routes, discover points of interest in the environment and network with friends around venues of mutual interest.

More information on the FCC Accessibility Awards:
More information about BlindSquare: 
More information about Intel working on Stephen Hawking’s communication system on