(14.09.09) Mobile Accessibility?
This blog post is setting the scene for the forthcoming Mobile Accessibility panel. First of all, we’re looking at the statistics and trying to establish where the potential of the technology lies as far as diverse users are concerned. Our definition of a diverse user is not just someone with disability, but anyone whose needs are outstandingly different. At the panel we will revisit the most significant barriers to accessibility and look at how they can be tackled to improve the situation.
Let’s look at the stats
Mobile phones have become incredibly popular very quickly.
Globally, there are more than 4 billion mobile subscriptions, making this the most pervasive technology in the world. That’s right, ahead of television, computers, and even the internet! Mobile phone penetration in the UK is 121%! That means that there are more mobile phones in this country than people, other European countries have similar percentages of phones to people.
The true potential
The true potential of the technology, however, lies in it’s ability to reach and empower populations previously disconnected. Imagine, a person with a learning difficulty always being a phone call away from his or her concerned family. Text messaging removes the boundaries between hearing and Deaf or hard of hearing people. Accessible mapping software allows a blind person to tell the taxi driver to turn left at next traffic lights for the shorter route. Mobile internet access allows people to gain instant access to information including those in countries or regions without a cable
Think what a financial worker in Central London has in common with an Indian farmer? They can both check share prices from their mobile to inform their business decisions.
What’s the situation now?
With these examples, I can say that some of it we’ve got right. But the purpose of our conference on the 22nd of September is to concentrate on what we’ve got wrong and how to improve it.
First of all, there’s the exclusion of some impairment groups. I’ve been contacted by a person paralysed from neck down, who told me that he would really love to have an iPhone, but he couldn’t find assistive technology to enble him to use it.
Then there are the high costs of accessing the technology. A blind person cannot access their phone without specialist voice output software, normally Talks, which costs £150 to buy (you also have to pay every time you change a phone).
There is also the lack of awareness. If a disabled person does venture into a shop, they will be faced with sales-oriented, pushy, and ‘distracting’ sales assistants, who want to sell a contract but are not sure how to meet the needs of a specialist group.
It’s not only the sales assistants who are not in the know. Many applications are created based on false assumptions that they shouldn’t or can’t be used by a disabled person. Would you think that a person with dyslexia would find a use for Nokia Bar Code reader (which she never managed to get working)? Many people with dyslexia have difficulties with reading and organising, a bar code reader could really help the weekly shop.
Many non-disabled people still get very surprised when I tell them that yes, blind people do use the camera on their phones, once someone sighted helps them through the unlabelled camera buttons.
The mobile internet is lagging behind the accessibility of basic phone applications, such as calling and SMS. ‘Suprise charges’ and complicated billing conditions scare people off. And if the reward of effort is to access a page that is quite likely to be inadequtely formatted for a mobile device, most people will just ‘forget about it’. At least for now.
A final word
Finally, there is the complexity of the accessibility of mobile devices as a concept. Just as Shawn Henry talks about the multiple components web accessibility, there is a similar complexity for mobiles. When talking about the accessibility of mobiles, we should be taking into account many interconnected components including:
- Physical design of the device
- Software made by the phone manufacturer
- Software bundled by the telecom companies
- Browser accessibility
- Content accessibility
- Customer services
This lead me to believe that mobile web accessibility should be a part of a fully integrated accessible mobile service.
If you would like to ask the Mobile Accessibility panel a question Tweet us at @millionflowers. We will be accepting questions by tweet up to and during the panel which takes place at 11.30–12.30pm on 22nd September.
Veronika Jermolina, Consultant AbilityNet
Veronika twitters from @welikethis
(14.09.09) Welcome to the Accessibility 2.0 blog
Over the next few days and after the conference we’ll highlight and discuss some of the issues raised during the conference. Podcasts and transcripts (sponsored by Opera) will be available shortly after the event.
See you there!
Follow Kath on Twitter @ladymoonani
Follow Accessibility 2.0 on Twitter @millionflowers