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Shannon Kelly

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09/08/2014

Accessibility Meets Mobility: M-Enabling Summit 2014

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Shannon Kelly attended the third edition of the M-Enabling Summit on Accessible Mobile Technology for Seniors and Users of All Abilities, this year in Washington, D.C. Here's her review of the event highlights.

A significant segment of potential mobile customers have disabilities, including those with low or no visionHow important is mobile technology?

To answer that, you need to consider not only the mobile usage of your friends and colleagues – who, if they’re anything like mine, probably pull out their smart phones and tablets every chance they get – but also the usage of mobile technology around the world. That includes developing countries and rural areas, where the placement of cellular service towers and affordable mobile devices have given even remote and underdeveloped communities access to goods and services via the internet. This global access has opened up commerce for a market that now reaches all corners of the world.  

Mobile technology has become incredibly important from both a social and commercial perspective – ensuring more widespread access to services, information and products. But its new prevalence also highlights the importance of making the technology accessible to everyone – including seniors and individuals with disabilities, particularly visual and hearing impairments.

It’s with that in mind that in June this year, I attended the 3rd annual M-Enabling Summit in Washington, DC (check out event proceedings).

Enabling Everyone 
Focused on “accessible mobile technology for senior citizens and users of all abilities,” the M-Enabling Summit this year featured discussions on everything from social media and web search accessibility, to mobile accessibility as it relates to commerce. Accessibility on the mobile front is an area Actuate is interested in examining further, so I went hoping to learn more about trends in the field. I wasn’t the only one either: a who’s who of the accessibility thought leaders attended, coming from both the private and public arenas – including representatives from the big telcos and cable providers, and financial institutions and – the likes of AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon, Comcast, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Scotia Bank; Technology leaders Adobe, Microsoft, Yahoo, and IBM were onboard, as were several federal government agencies and non-profit disability advocacy groups. For a conference with an estimated 500 attendees, it was certainly a highly concentrated and focused accessibility group!

So, why this focused accessibility attention on mobile technology? After all, a significant segment of potential mobile customers have disabilities, including those with low or no vision. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, approximately 285 million people around the world are estimated to be visually impaired – of those,  90% live in developing countries, where mobile devices may be their only way of participating in online commerce. Approximately 82% are 50 or older, meaning seniors also have a vested interest. Those customers don’t want to have to rely on someone else looking over their shoulder, having access to and reading their personal information. They want solutions that enable them to get information independently. And they want to – and have the right to - participate in commerce and make payments on their phones and tablets the same as everyone else does.

One of the sessions I attended at the summit – called Making Mobile Payments Accessible – examined just that. The panelists estimated that within five years mobile payments are likely to become as prevalent as GPS mapping or taking photos with your phone. Building accessible but mobile commerce options, then, is more important than ever.

Summit Highlights
The event didn’t disappoint. While the session on mobile payments was one of key interest to me, I also sat in on several others. Another was Integrating Accessible Mobile Solutions in the Workplace: Challenges and Opportunities for CIOs, which looked at how CIOs can integrate accessible mobile platforms into the workplace, to include and enhance the productivity of their employees with disabilities. What Corporations Need to Know About Mobile Accessibility Compliance: Latest Rules for the Implementation of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, meanwhile, examined new regulatory developments regarding the accessibility of mobile devices and services – and how those changes may affect corporations of all stripes.

It was an informative two days that broadened my knowledge of mobile accessibility, and that will hopefully help influence Actuate’s own accessibility efforts going forward. In fact, it may have been my first time attending the M-Enabling Summit, but it definitely won’t be my last. It’s an important, ever-changing field, and I can’t wait to see how it develops!

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Related Resources:

Blog: A World of Access for the Widest Possible Audience | Read Robert Pearson's Article.

Publication: The ICT Opportunity for a Disability-Inclusive Development Framework | Download PDF.

Event: CTIA Super Mobility Week - Las Vegas, USA | September 9-11, 2014 | View Event Details.