Author: Clarizza Fernandez ,Date: 14 Aug 2013
Accessibility is driving competition in the mobile market, according to President and Executive Director of The Global Initiative for Inclusive ICT (G3ict) Axel Leblois.
Speaking today at the M-Enabling Australasia 2013 Conference held in Sydney, Leblois said leading manufacturers see accessibility as a competitive edge and this is reflected in innovation in accessibility for mobile devices.
Access iQ™ recently spoke with Leblois about trends in accessibility and the mobile market.
- Functionalities that persons with disabilities require happen to be useful to all users.
- Major vendors are competing for accessibility.
- Google’s Compatibility Definition Document (CDD) for Android 4.1 specifically mentions that manufacturers need to adopt Android accessibility. If they can’t, they must offer their own solutions.
- The biggest challenge in the mobile market is how accessible solutions are promoted to people with disabilities and their carers.
- Procurement policy that includes accessibility provides incentives for industry.
What are some of the trends you see happening in the space of mobile accessibility?
First of all, we see mobile technology as one of the most significant things for persons with disabilities. First, we now have 6.5 billion subscribers to mobiles around the world. It means that number one, almost everyone has a mobile phone.
Secondly, it means that technology is very widespread and because of the market size, we’re reaching unprecedented economy of scale which means that solutions can be leveraged on a very large population of users and therefore the technology gets cheaper and cheaper. And of course this is important for persons with disabilities because solutions on mobile platforms which would have cost quite a bit in the past are cheaper on mobile phones, so that’s another dimension.
Importantly, the third thing is that by its very definition, mobile technology allows persons with disabilities to connect and get services anytime, anywhere and in virtually any situation. And this is far superior to anything we have seen before and especially for those who have disabilities who are seeking greater independence. So those are the fundamental market forces behind it.
I would add also for the first time we see that functionalities that persons with disabilities require happen to be useful to all users in a very obvious way.
For instance if you use your mobile phones in the sun, you may not be able to see your screen. So you may have to rely on other alternative ways to look at your phone or perhaps to use text-to-speech functionalities. If you are driving in many countries you can’t touch your phone because it’s against the law and then you can possibly use functionalities [such as] speech recognition to access the menu of the phone or possibly dictate text. And if you are in a meeting, you can’t produce noises with your phone so you will probably rely on alternative vision. . . So all those functionalities happen to be very useful in a number of situations where persons with disabilities are looking at them as alternative modes of communications.
How do open-source operating systems such as Google’s Android and now Firefox OS compare to closed systems like Apple’s iOS in terms of accessibility?
My perspective is that for the first time in the history of information technology, you see major vendors competing for accessibility – that is for the reason I mentioned before which is that the features are really part of the ease of use for all users, in all circumstances. So for instance Android have put in a lot of effort to embed accessibility features. Quite a few of them are comparable to iOS, although you have to look at each of them to make a wise comparison.
One thing I would like to note is that when Google released Android 4.1 they have what they called the Compatibility Definition Document (CDD) (PDF 305 KB can be found at the link below), which is the document that is an agreement they have with handset manufacturers who want to use Android. So in that particular document for 4.1 they specifically mention that either the handset manufacturer has to adopt and implement all of the Android accessibility features in 4.1 or they cannot use Android. And if they can’t implement all of the functionalities they have to offer their own solutions.
So in essence you can see that the reason why Google does it is probably because there is strong advocacy in the company for accessibility but also they realised it’s a competitive edge, it’s a competitive solution to gain greater acceptance in the market place.
That’s the interesting thing about open-source software isn’t it? Even if there are accessibility features, it may work differently on another device.
Not quite. Under the CDD 4.1 document, manufacturers do not have the option; they have to do it.
So what you have is of course, that’s the operating system on one hand and then you have different app developers. . . You have apps for Android for instance which are free for persons with disabilities and they have tonnes of them.
I wanted to ask what you think manufacturer’s attitudes are to creating accessible products, but I guess the answer to that is yes?
Well I think for the mobile market, the biggest challenge in my opinion is not so much the manufacturers, because between the leading manufacturers such as Apple, Samsung, HTC and others . . . there [are already] good operating systems and they do have a number of applications around which are remarkable for accessibility.
So the technology, I would say, is there for the most part to make a huge progress for persons with disabilities. The problem in my opinion is much more on ‘how do you promote these solutions to persons with disabilities and others who service them’ and that is very much in the hands of the mobile service providers. So operators, rather than manufacturers. And it is far easier to kind of talk about it then doing it because the devil is in the details when you have large mobile service organisations and you want to promote solutions for persons with disabilities [but] the type of marketing, the type of customer support you need to have in-house is very important. If you don’t have the right mix of solutions for marketing and customer service, then you fail in reaching customers with disabilities.
And what can service providers do in order to reach customers with disabilities?
Well all the success stories we’ve documented in the past showed that those service providers adopted universal design strategies that includes first of all for those operators who sell handsets as part of their service, to make sure that in their policy when they negotiate the handsets with manufacturers, that they have specifications for at least a few product lines that address the most pressing need for different types of disabilities. So that means they need to have a clear understanding of the market place in terms of people with disabilities, what senior users would need and what solutions are there and then reflect that in the customer policy.
Number two, they must have sales and services that connect with their potential market. That means in many cases, in countries where you have high density population, we see vendors and services providers, for example Japan [where] they have created specialised shops that are fully accessible to serve seniors and customers with disabilities with trained personnel and a mode of communication outside. Those are more difficult to implement in lower density areas such as in the US or perhaps in Australia. The thing is when you have less density, it becomes more difficult to have those specialised. You can do a similar thing by having a very robust customer service that interacts with the customers. And that’s what AT&T does in the U.S. It’s also the way you advertise. For instance AT&T have videos which include sign language communications.
It’s a real important thing, which nobody wants to look at carefully, but if you don’t have those types of marketing and communications, you just can’t [reach] that audience.
How do you think Australia is doing compared to the rest of the world?
I have not been to Australia for a while, so it’s hard for me to give you a comparison. But what I can do is tell you what’s happening around the world.
For web accessibility policy, I have read the policy the government issued not too long ago. The policy looked like it did cover the practicalities of implementing web accessibility but I’m not sure to which extent that policy has been successfully implemented. Of course I would be curious to find out more when I’m visiting next week.
One thing that I see probably missing in Australia, and I am surprised it’s not happening yet, is having a procurement policy that includes accessibility because in my experience in the US and now in Europe, this is one of the tools that provides incentives to industry to pay attention to ICT accessibility.
The G3ict is an international Not-for-Profit initiative advocating ICT accessibility and digital inclusion for persons with disabilities.
The M-Enabling Australasia 2013 Conference will be held on 14th – 15th August at the Australian Technology Park, Eveleigh.