Priorities for Future Research on Accessible Information and Communication Technology Systems and Services
22 January 2013
Institution of Engineering and Technology, 2 Savoy Place, London WC2R 0BL
The aim of this conference was to obtain a consensus on priorities for future research on accessible information and communication technology systems and services. Funding bodies need to ascertain the best strategy for investing their finite resources in research and development to benefit disabled and elderly people. The scope included network-based services (social networks, collective intelligent systems, augmented reality, cloud computing, advanced location aware services and ambient intelligent systems) as well as novel user interfaces and technology transfer.
Videos of the presentations have been produced by the IET.
Prof Patrick Roe explained that the aim of the Cardiac project is to produce a roadmap for priorities for future research on accessible ICT. The primary audience for this roadmap is the European Commission to help them determine priorities in this area. He explained that the project had organised three workshops to identify the priorities in three areas – technology transfer, user interfaces and network applications. He walked the audience through the resulting roadmap, which can be found at http://www.cardiac-eu.org/roadmap/index.htm along with a questionnaire to collect views from all relevant stakeholders on the priorities of the identified research lines.
Dr Pier-Luigi Emiliani explained the work on trends on inclusive network-based applications. This was based on the model of ambient intelligent systems and on services which were useful to people with activity limitations. There is a change from the internet being a repository of information to an interactive system including the internet of things. This requires the development of new modalities of operation. It is important to ascertain whether people with disabilities can use these new systems and services.
Dr Iosif Klironomos presented research priorities for human-computer interaction. This included studies of user needs as well as trends in interaction techniques. The advances in ubiquitous computing are of significance to people with disabilities and elderly people. However attention will have to be given to the design of the user interfaces to ensure that new systems are fully accessible in practice.
Dr Helmut Heck discussed the problems of technology transfer for accessible and assistive ICT products and services. At present there appears to be fragmentary market without sufficient involvement of end users. An extra problem is the different service delivery systems in the various EU countries. There is a need for a systematic analysis of present and future user needs, as well as studies on appropriate business models including support services. An important aspect is the training of end users to understand what the technology can do as well as how to use it.
Dr Mike Short gave a virtual presentation on internet for all including the role of mobile communications. Digitizing is affecting many areas, but it is important new services are inclusive. The rapid rise of smart phones and the increasing role of tablets will significantly affect how people access the internet. There are about 6 billion mobile phone users and 1 billion smartphone users – it will not be long before there are more mobile phones than people in the world. Social networking is becoming of increasing importance which is no longer just for teenagers. By mid 2013 it is anticipated there will be more than 20 billion downloads of ‘apps’. Android is coming the dominant operating system for smartphones, at the same time as Symbian is becoming of less significance.
In terms of accessibility, the technological developments have provided the possibility of adaptable user interfaces (eg larger characters on a screen). This has implications that other services (eg billing) have to be appropriate for people with special needs. This raises a number of research challenges. New systems need to be inclusive both by geography as well as by customer. There appears to be insufficient input from the accessibility community on quantifiable user needs. There needs to be better guidance on data protection for location-based services. Inclusive design and global standards will be crucial if new systems and services are to be fully accessible. The demand drivers are the best way to influence inclusive design.
Graham Worsley explained that the Technology Strategy Board funds research and development in the UK; this includes the area of assisted living. He discussed the work on improving interoperability – device to device, device to system, as well as system to system. The present system is fragmentary, but a large number of stakeholders need to be influenced to improve interoperability in practice. The key issue is that scalability requires interoperability.
Gunela Astbrink addressed how to make systems accessible; she concentrated on the key people involved centred around the champions. A European report identified that the situation is characterised by deficit, gap and patchwork. However there are some business opportunities to improve the situation which some companies claim to be adopting in relation to accessible ICT. She described a number of initiatives including the European Mandate 376 to incorporate accessibility requirements into government procurement. She emphasised the need for end-user participation in the whole design and development process which includes research as well as standardisation. This end-user focus needs to be realistic.
Peter Ball described some current activities in accessible smart living. The Welsh government have a project on assisted living technology which included a demonstrator and a technology showcase. They are studying what mainstream devices and apps could replace expensive stand-alone technology designed specifically for elderly users. He explained that the Knowledge Transfer Networks can influence the priorities for UK funding.
Prof Alan Newell explained the need to improve communication skills in the community. Designers often over emphasise the importance of extra functionality without considering the effect of so doing. He said that data and guidelines are necessary but not sufficient – an empathy with potential users is required. Mainstream designers are not fully committed to inclusive design. Data informs, but a good story can change minds. Therefore we need to develop appropriate stories about disabled users to influence mainstream designers. There is a need to stress the positive aspects of inclusive design. He explained that actors can present behaviour in engaging ways, and can provide a human rather than a technological focus.
Prof Gregg Vanderheiden said that roadmaps have been developed but they were not implemented. The situation is changing by the rapid change in technology which is affecting most people in modern society. However there are numerous barriers, but access solutions are often excessively complex. Vendors of assistive technologies have concentrated on the main disability groups while ignoring the needs of minority groups. However the needs of the main groups are being partly addressed by mainstream vendors (often with special ‘apps’). Increasing product churn is causing extra problems for the assistive technology industry. He explained how the GPII project will address this problem using assistive software based in the cloud.
Prof Brian Collins explained that policy frameworks are often fragmented. Engineering policy is problematic since it is difficult to predict outcomes of a change in policy. He described various projects in UK universities looking at the likely effects of new technological developments – synthesis of design, engineering and policy is still in its infancy.
Guido Gybels stressed the need for finding mainstream solutions for most people whilst still providing specialist solutions for those whose needs are not met by the mainstream version. Too much assistive technology looks like it was designed 30 years ago, and lacks interoperability. People want to buy solutions and not technology.