Blog

Accessibility and Innovation

4 min read

Free Accessibility Assessment

Even today, people with disabilities often encounter digital barriers. Assistive technologies help to reduce these barriers and even promote innovation, as our two concrete examples show.

This is the third article of our series in connection with the Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD).

In the first blog post, we described the different types of disabilities and their impact on the lives of affected persons. In the second blog, we provided some facts and figures on people living with a disability. Now we take a closer look at the term «assistive technology» – also known as AT. The interaction of AT and technology in general has repeatedly resulted in amazing innovations in the past. Therefore, we will also show how AT can be combined with the technologies currently being promoted as new, with the help of specific examples.

What are assistive technologies?

AT are tools used to compensate for the loss of an ability or at least to provide support. «Abilities» in this context means sensory perceptions such as seeing or hearing, motor abilities such as walking or grasping, and cognitive abilities such as concentration and the ability to learn. Assistive devices used to be stand-alone tools or devices designed for a very specific purpose, e.g. canes for the blind, wheelchairs, screen readers, and hearing aids. However, with the advancement of the computer and the smartphone, there are many new possibilities for the use of AT. All modern operating systems and smartphones now offer assistive technologies such as screen readers, zoom functions, support for the hearing impaired, and configuration options for the motor impaired. In addition, the available accessibility APIs also allow new applications to be implemented in a barrier-free way and made available to a larger audience. The resulting fields of application are promising. In this blog post, we will focus on two interesting applications which are not available yet.

Indoor navigation

Accessibility goes beyond making a website barrier-free. Let's imagine the following situations:

  • A blind person is looking for directions to a specific lecture hall on the university campus
  • A person in a wheelchair is looking for the same lecture hall, but wants to know if she or he has to climb stairs on the way

In both situations, indoor navigation is a tremendous help. The app, which runs on the smartphone, gives instructions to the blind person as she or he walks along the path. These instructions include directions such as «straight ahead», «left», «right», «you are in front of the elevator» or «you have reached your destination». Additional haptic feedback signals whether the person is approaching or moving away from the destination. The app also provides information on whether there are stairs along the way, whether an elevator can be used, or whether there are doors to pass through. If there are different ways to get to the destination, the person can select the one that seems to make the most sense.

woman looking at laptop and communicating with sign language

Key to the success of such a solution is the accuracy with which the app guides a disabled person to their destination. Prototypes with ultra-wideband (UWB) technology or machine learning have an accuracy of between 30 cm and 1 m. This is sufficient to guide a blind person to the reserved seat in a stadium with 20’000 seats. Accessibility APIs allow the app to be implemented in a barrier-free way. If the app is based on machine learning, especially image recognition, there is no need to install additional hardware such as Bluetooth beacons or UWB stations. Instead, the building must be extensively and visibly provided with signs that the smartphone camera can capture. Based on the building plan, the current position and the distance to the next Point of Interest (POI) are calculated. If the app receives the information from UWB stations or Bluetooth beacons, the smartphone can remain in the pocket if the person in question is using a headset.
The calculated positions and distances as well as the instructions are communicated to the blind person via screen reader. The person in the wheelchair, on the other hand, is informed via the app whether a certain path is barrier-free for her or him and, if not, whether there is an alternative path, for example without stairs. The use of indoor navigation is suitable on a university campus, in a museum, in hotels or office buildings.

The app is not only useful for people with disabilities, but also for those who don't want to get lost in poorly signposted buildings or stand in line at the information desk.

Voicebots

Voicebots have become increasingly important in recent years. However, as with indoor navigation, the potential they offer to people with a disability has not been exploited. Yet voice recognition in the context of AT is nothing new. Since voicebots relieve the user from typing on a keyboard, they are equally interesting for people with a motor disability as for blind and visually impaired people who do not want to deal with the barriers on a bad website. Also, a person who has just broken her or his hand may be grateful for the alternative.

A real-life example: A blind or motor-impaired person wants to reserve concert tickets with a known event organizer. At the start of advance sales, the order hotline is constantly busy. The person thus tries the website, which is only partially accessible. Since it usually takes a disabled person longer to select tickets and complete the purchase, it is likely that there will be a timeout and the entire purchase process will have to be repeated. In addition, if the form for providing credit card information is not accessible, it is impossible for a disabled person to order tickets without assistance.

A carefully programmed voicebot can turn this situation into a pleasant buying experience. The user is guided through a structured dialog in which he can select the tickets according to price category and complete the purchase with the payment process. A barrier-free implementation makes everyone happy, including the employees of the order hotline. The use of a voicebot is also interesting when shopping in online stores, on SVA websites for clarifications regarding pensions and filling out forms, as well as for clarifications with health insurers or insurance companies.

From awareness to innovative solutions

Global Accessibility Awareness Day primarily draws attention to the fact that there are numerous people with different impairments and abilities. Secondly, it draws attention to the needs and desires of these people.

It is equally important to promote awareness of the potential of AT and new technologies. After all, these lead to innovative products and solutions that are developed with a focus on accessibility from the very start and thus benefit the greatest possible number of people. It is therefore key to make CTOs, CPOs, PMs, UX designers, front-end and mobile developers aware of the technical possibilities and fields of application of AT.

Adnovum takes accessibility requirements seriously. We have broad experience with new technologies such as machine learning and voicebots, and we also have a highly qualified accessibility team, which will be pleased to advise and support you.

Interested? Call us or contact us via our website. 

Do not forget to register for our free accessibility assessment!

Published May 19, 2022

Written by

Picture of Werner Hänggi
Werner Hänggi

Senior Software Engineer