Friday Sep 20, 2013

New iOS 7 accessibility features... foreshadowed by AEGIS research

Apple just released iOS 7, a major update to their mobile operation system. As with the the last several major updates, this release includes a number of significant accessibility enhancements. This time the major emphasis seems to be an features for folks with severe physical impairments. These advances are part of "Switch Control", which comprises two key things:

  • A scanning UI that will scan through the interface, selecting the object the "cursor" is over when the user activates a connected "switch"
  • A "gesture switch" that uses the front facing camera to recognize certain types of head movements as activating a "switch"

Together these advances allow someone who has extremely limited motor control to completely control their iPhone or iPad - including the ability to make and receive phone calls and text messages. 9to5mac has a nice video showing switch control of an iPad using head movements.

It is particularly gratifying to see Apple commercialize these solutions, as these are two of the things we were researching and developing prototypes for as part of the AEGIS project from 2008 through 2012:

We did extensive user testing of Tecla in the AEGIS project, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. One user told us that they would happily pay many hundreds of dollars for software that would allow them to control a smart phone, and were stunned to find out the software was already in the Android store, available for free. We also did targeted user testing of OpenGazer with users with Locked-in syndrome (they couldn't speak or move muscles beyond those in their face), and there the feedback was also overwhelmingly positive. For one of the women we worked with, there was no other option that would work for her, including $10,000 camera systems that tracked eye movements (but not those of her eyes).

It is an incredible time to be alive and involved in the field of accessibility. Every year brings more and better solutions, at more affordable prices. I can't imagine any other field I would rather be in.

Thursday Sep 05, 2013

"Guidance on Applying WCAG 2.0 to Non-Web Information and Communications Technologies (WCAG2ICT)" was formally published today as a W3C Working Group Note

After an intense 16 months, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Working Group has published the Working Group Note "Guidance on Applying WCAG 2.0 to Non-Web Information and Communications Technologies (WCAG2ICT)".

I want to thank my co-editors Michael Cooper and Andi Snow-Weaver; co-authors Loïc Martínez Normand, Mike Pluke, Andi Snow-Weaver, and Gregg Vanderheiden; and all of the active and engaged participants in the WCAG2ICT Task Force and the reviewing and approving participants in the WCAG Working Group for all that they have done to draft, review, and publish this Working Group Note in record time. I also want to specifically thank Andrew Kirkpatrick and Joshue O Connor, the new co-chairs of the WCAG Working Group for their 11th hour work to get this document published this week.

Even though this document was only published today, it has already had a tremendous impact on regulatory efforts in Europe and the United States. Previous drafts of WCAG2ICT from last July and from last December formed the basis of the European procurement standards effort Mandate 376 and specifically the draft technical standard EN 301 549. Similarly in the United States, the U.S. Access Board decided to use the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 as the basis the refresh of Section 508 ICT accessibility standards as they are applied to non-web documents and software (as set forth in their 2011 Draft Rule).

I'm certain I speak for all members of the WCAG2ICT Task Force and the WCAG Working Group when I say that we look forward to the completed Mandate 376 and Section 508 refresh work, and hope that our Working Group Note will have proven helpful in the efforts to develop effective, meaningful, and globally harmonized accessibility standards for ICT procurement.

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Peter Korn

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