In November 2009, some 30 European policy makers, experts and representatives from the ICT industry, standards organizations and NGOs met in Brussels for a workshop organized by G3ict, the Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs, in collaboration with Microsoft. The aim of the event was to facilitate a high-level multi-stakeholder dialogue identifying and addressing the many current challenges faced by the assistive technology (AT) sector and its capacity to provide accessibility solutions for mainstream information technology (IT) technology in the European Union and globally. In particular, they discussed how to promote greater interoperability between IT and AT.
Introduced by Axel Leblois, Executive Director of G3ict, the workshop was entitled "Transforming the Assistive Technology Ecosystem: A dialog among industry, government and NGOs". The attendees recognized that although the IT and AT industries already deliver excellent computing solutions to people with a broad range of impairments and disabilities, the interoperability between mainstream technology products and AT products must be improved. In a wide-ranging, lively and enlightening discussion a number of key themes emerged:
The expert attendees engaged in a lively and varied discussion of the issues. The introduction outlined the challenges facing efforts to implement the digital accessibility agenda and also highlighted the critical need to improve cooperation, collaboration and connectivity between mainstream IT and AT, both at the company and product levels. The participants agreed that promoting a healthy and competitive AT/IT industry is vital for Europe to comply with the requirements of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Digital Accessibility Agenda. This international instrument mandates concrete regulatory measures guaranteeing the accessibility of ICTs and the promotion of the AT industry and is therefore an important benchmark for the 133 signatory governments.
Following the introduction there were three key presentations and roundtable discussions.
Paul Timmers, Head of the European Commission's E-inclusion Unit, gave a realistic and hard-hitting presentation on the state of Europe's AT industry. His major points included:
Mr. Jose Angel Martínez Usero, of Technosite at the ONCE Foundation talked about the various ways of transforming the AT ecosystem from a cottage industry into a mainstream business:
Rob Sinclair, Director of Corporate Accessibility at Microsoft, presented a framework for addressing some of the challenges raised in the discussions and outlined potential next steps. His key points were:
As part of the workshop, participants were asked to fill in three different surveys and the results were discussed in the final session.
Mr. Timmers gave an overview of the responses to the questionnaire asking about barriers to the realization of a thriving AT ecosystem and how they can be addressed. Strikingly, participants felt that as well as the lack of standardization and public procurement support, the main reason for lack of progress in recent years was mainstream companies' limited interest, awareness and willingness of to engage. This was seen as a particularly acute problem for smaller vendors.
Mr. Martinez Usero discussed the results of the questionnaire on the future of accessible technologies in the light of emerging areas such as cloud computing and mash-ups. Open APIs were one of the solutions offered to drive greater up-take of accessible technology. During the discussion it was also acknowledged that much more needs to be done to increase the awareness and interest of customers, in particular on the organizational level.
Finally, Mr. Sinclair discussed the responses around long term strategies to drive AT/IT innovation. Funding and cost of maintenance were two of the challenges discussed and once again the participants believed interoperable APIs were high on the list of potential solutions for driving greater use of modern accessible technologies.
The complete results of the survey and the points raised are available below:
Paul Timmers, European Commission
Transforming the AT Ecosystem
Jose Angel Martínez Usero, Technosite at the ONCE Foundation
Accessible Technology Ecosystem and Why it is Critical
Please contact Francesca Cesa Bianchi at firstname.lastname@example.org for an accessible version of the survey.
Please contact Axel Leblois at email@example.com for further survey information.