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Nilofar Ansher


2013 M-Enabling Summit Highlights: Accessibility Drives Innovation

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What does it take to stimulate innovation in the field of accessible mobile technology and services? The answer: M-Enabling Summit Series! Read on for highlights from the 2nd edition of the Global Conference and Showcase on Accessible Mobile Technology for Users of All Abilities.
As G3ict President and Executive Director Axel Leblois emphasized in the opening session, not only is stimulating innovation M-Enabling's specific objective, "We have the perfect mix of private sector and business, government institutions, academicians, and civil society organizations here today to do just that."

After 200 days of preparations by a dedicated staff -coupled with an extended family of supporters and collaborators across the globe - the M-Enabling Summit took place June 6 and 7 at the Renaissance Arlington Capital View Hotel in Virginia. Here more than 450 attendees came from 32 countries, including 140 speakers presenting and moderating over 25 sessions. The conference and showcase saw participants and presenters share, engage, and move forward the latest research, case studies, and demonstrations in the field of mobile technology, services, and solutions geared toward not only persons with disabilities, but also users of all abilities including seniors and children.

Welcome to the M-Enabling Summit at the Renaissance Arlington Capital View Hotel

Image: 450 attendees came from 32 countries, including 140 speakers presenting and moderating over 25 sessions
In his keynote address on June 6, Sprint CEO Dan Hesse alluded to the pervasive and embedded nature of computing and technology, and how it benefits persons with disabilities (Apple's FaceTime was one example). He emphasized, "Mobile, Internet of Things, crowdsourcing, and social media, this is where technology efforts are now focused." The agenda kept pace with Mr. Hesse's remarks and allowed panelists to discuss everything from wearable technologies, such as Google Glass, to accessible navigational apps for commuting, visiting a museum or traveling to a foreign country, as well as solutions for seniors to live, work, recreate and communicate independently. Accessible mobile services and assistive technology programs for users in areas as varied as transportation, banking, education, emergency response, video relay and broadcasting, rehabilitation and assistive care centers, universal access, publishing, development and testing, as well as solutions for the entertainment and cultural avenues were highlighted. Check out slides of speaker's presentations at the G3ict website.

Save the Date! Be on the lookout for the 3rd edition of the M-Enabling Summit Series, scheduled from June 2-3, 2014 in Washington, D.C. Details coming soon!

One session of particular interest to ATIA members took place on June 7th: "Outreach and User Support: How Can Mobile Operators Partner with Assistive Technology (AT) Centers, Rehabilitation Centers and Nonprofit Organizations?" The session was chaired by Sandy Hanebrink, Executive Director of Touch the Future, Inc., and featured ATIA CEO David Dikter (find panel presentations at this M-Enabling agenda webpage). During the session Paul Galonsky, Project Associate with the RESNA Catalyst Project, shared the results of a statewide AT Program survey (conducted jointly by RESNA and the G3ict) which aimed to understand and identify trends and best practices for developing relationships between the State AT Programs and the mobile industry.

The responses demonstrate a high level of interest in mobile AT solutions and significant opportunities for public private partnerships. 100% of the AT Programs surveyed conduct mobile app demonstrations specifically designed as assistive solutions for persons with disabilities, yet 71% of respondents have no relationship with a mobile service provider and 73% have no relationship with handset or tablet manufacturers. Certainly the M-Enabling Summit is a great venue for closing this intriguing gap among AT Centers, industry, and service providers.

Day 2 of the Summit saw another timely session on Leading Mobile Solutions for Accessible Financial Services, chaired by Ms. Frances West, World Wide Director, Human Ability and Accessibility Center, IBM. One of the panelists was Ms. Pina D’Intino, a Senior Manager for Enabling Solutions and Support Management at Scotiabank. A native of Canada, Pina also happens to be blind. Ms D’Intino shared an anecdote about how she ended up tipping room service $20 instead of $2 because she failed to identify the differences in the United States currency bills. “In Canada, we have colored notes as well Braille bills, so it’s easier for blind or visually impaired persons to keep track of the notes.” We also happened to find a solution to the issue in the iPhone Money Reader app, which helps blind people identify American dollar notes!   

Three distinct thought trajectories were highlighted through out the day-two sessions. First, digital technology should be born accessible. This point was reiterated in the Keynote Address of FCC Acting Chairwoman Mignon L. Clyburn in the June 6 Opening Session, “We realized that our failure to consider accessibility issues in the early stages led to retrofit solutions that were more expensive, and yes, less effective.” Second, accessibility solutions need to work in tandem with the user it’s being made for; from the concept stage to design and implementation, and later, during development, testing and distribution, persons with disabilities need to play an essential role in providing feedback. Third, accessibility has universal benefits and therefore, the market-driven one-size-fits-all approach of designing will no longer work. Robert Sinclair, Chief Accessibility Officer at Microsoft, iterated in the Plenary Session on June 6: “The “typical user” is a mythical creature...conscientious innovation would take into account the overall complexity, economic impact and learning curve for the customer.”

We guess it’s a season for surveys! During the Closing Session on June 7, Mr Leblois announced the interim results of the HLMDD 2013 Survey taken by Summit participants. The UN ICT Consultation asked participants to best answer the question: how can ICTs help shape an inclusive future for persons with disabilities. One of the key questions of the survey is: To what extent are mobile devices currently imp-roving persons with disabilities access to social and economic activities? The response: Independent Living 45%; Tertiary, life-long education 42%; Employment 35%; Political & Public Life 35%; Healthcare 28%; Government 30%; Secondary Education 25%; and Primary Education 13%.

The global results of this consultation will be discussed on September 23, 2013 at the United Nations High Level Meeting of the General Assembly on Disability and Devleopment in New York. The HLMDD will result in a concise, action-oriented Outcome Document in support of the aims of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the realization of the Millennium Development Goals and other internationally agreed development goals for persons with disabilities.

See you at the 3rd Edition of the M-Enabling Summit on June 9 and 10, 2014! View Details.

A condensed version of this article first appears in the June 2013 ATIA Newsletter. Read the newsletter online

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