Accessibility of the future

The exciting work we did for the Norwegian monitoring agency Difi, to develop guidance material with a focus on universal design for the deployment of ATMs and vending machines, eventually led all the way to ICCHP, a conference we rarely participate in since it takes place in the middle of the summer holiday period.

The work for Difi meant to dig into a number of standards, and to create meaning and comprehension for non-experts. There is great interest in this kind of experience, how can we make standards understandable for humans? Several other speakers also pressed on the need for updated and harmonized standards and guidance materials.

Attending the conference also gave me the opportunity to listen to many interesting presentations. How do you sum up your impressions from a three-day conference focusing on accessibility and assistive technologies only? A conference where scientific articles on a total of 1253 pages were presented. Where each article covers only a small part of a much larger work? It is, of course, an impossible task.

For three days, I feel like I was standing with a paper mug and trying to catch water from the Niagara Falls. With four parallel tracks and often interesting subjects at the same time in all four tracks, of course, you can’t cover it all. At the same time, it is incredibly exciting to have so much to choose from.

Many new technologies under development

Working with facilitating the lives of persons with disabilities through brain-controlled interfaces, ultrahaptic interfaces, 3D audio, VR, AR, AI and 3D-enabled devices will undoubtedly revolutionize the lives of many people in the coming decades.

Brain-controlled interfaces have been around for a long time, and we have come a long way from the simpler solutions that only felt if there was brain activity and tried to control the interface (on / off). Today, researchers can design solutions that not only sense an activity in the brain and map it against controlling a prosthesis. It is even possible to know more exactly what the user is trying to do, such as grabbing a glass with the right hand. In addition, it is possible to provide sensory feedback on the action. We are far from prostheses that feel like a real arm / hand, and it takes a long time for it to work, but the development is amazing.

Ultrahaptic interfaces allows you to create perceptible levers in the empty air. You can create environments that the user can explore with the sense of touch and then control them with movements in the empty air.

3D audio can be used to allow gravely visually impaired users to place virtual audio beacons in a room to easily find their way back to the coffee machine or to the exit, or to train persons who have recently become visually impaired to use their sense of hearing in navigation. There are infinitely many exciting things going on, and many technologies that really are just waiting for the next "iPhone" to get a serious breakthrough.

Accessibility that facilitates everyone

For me as an IT accessibility expert, it is also liberating to see how much ongoing work that focuses on developing good interfaces for person with cognitive impairments. It's not just about apps and assistive technology to help the individual, but also about involving users in the development process of new interfaces. Interfaces that in themselves do not necessarily have anything to do with disabilities. More and more see the need to include this group to create better interfaces for all users. The fact that the issue is raised in the academic world is incredibly important for the development.

The trend is clear. There will be more and more ways to control and access information and services. We will have more and more help with the technology to find, soar and understand our environment and the interfaces we encounter. This, of course, implies that what we develop is robust, meets standards and is as simple as possible. Standardisation is also important, as is the development of the new Accessibility Guidelines in the W3C “Silver” Project.

I have no opportunity to give as many examples of all the interesting things that are going on as I would like, but please take part of the articles from the conference through the links below, and search on Youtube for "brain controlled interfaces" and "ultrahaptics", there are lots of interesting videos out there.

Information on Funka's guidance material on ATMs and vending machines for Difi

Link to Part 1 of the material, opens in new window

Link to Part 2 of the material, opens in new window

Conference Program "International Conference on Computers Helping People with Special Needs, with a part of the presentation, opens in new window

Andreas Cederbom