M-Enabling Forum: "The best assistive technologies cannot be useful if our digital environment is not accessible"
We asked ... Axel Leblois, President and Executive Director of G3ict
Self-determined living needs accessibility. This does not only apply to step-free entrance for wheelchair users, but also for the digital environment. For example, when blind people surf the internet with a screen reader, they need web sites that are accessible. But reality often looks different. Reason enough for the M-Enabling Forum to focus on this topic at this year's REHACARE.
Axel Leblois is the President and Executive Director of G3ict, the Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs, that co-organizes the M-Enabling Forum Europe. In this interview with REHACARE.com he talks about the role of digital accessibility and assistive technologies and what visitors of the M-Enabling Forum at REHACARE 2018 can expect.
Mr. Leblois, the M-Enabling Forum will take place for the first time alongside to REHACARE 2018. Why does it match the fair for independent living so well?
Axel Leblois: Over the past few years, and thanks in large part to the global scale and creativity of the mobile industry, a revolution has occurred in how people can interact with technology and connect with the world and their immediate environments. Accessiblity features that were not available or extremely costly a few years ago such as text to speech, voice recognition or near field communications are now embedded in mass market products. The M-Enabling Summit has established itself as the leading global venue where innovators from new industry segments can share how the power of new user interfaces, Internet of Things, video transmission, Artificial Intelligence, geo-positioning, high bandwidth low latency wireless communications and many other features born out of the global mobile market place can be leveraged in support of independent living solutions for persons with disabilities. Such interaction with a new breed of innovators considerably expands the traditional field of assistive technologies and rehabilitation equipment and services.
Another aspect which complements REHACARE is the focus of M-Enabling on the accessiblity of digital products, contents and services: the best assistive technologies in the world cannot be useful if our digital environment is not accessible. Similarly to a wheelchair user trying to enter an elevated building without a ramp, a screen reader user won’t be able to access information if a web site or electronic document are not designed following accessiblity standards.
What exactly awaits the visitors?
Leblois: The M-Enabling Forum at REHACARE includes both a one-day conference as well as exhibits dedicated to accessible and assistive solutions leveraging the latest accessiblity features. Visitors and attendees can expect an overview of the most advanced innovations available today as well as a discussion of how to best promote their adoption by persons with disabilities. Interactive panels will include user testimonies as well as policy and industry perspectives on how to ensure that all information and communication technologies, products and services are designed with accessibility in mind: in today’s world, it is essential that everything digital is designed with persons of older age and with disabilities in mind. For independent living to occur, one needs to be able to use mainstream digital products and services without restrictions, from ATMs to television, web sites, software, mobile apps or computers. One of the panels will review how accessibility standards and professional training and certification for IT professionals in accessibility should be implemented by all industries.
Similar to the M-Enabling Summit in Washington, there will also be an exhibition and conference during REHACARE at the M-Enabling Forum.
What kind of role do digital accessibility and assistive technologies play in the context of independent living for people with disabilities?
Leblois: Everything goes digital today: access to information, learning, working, interacting with others through social media, health monitoring, e-commerce, travel and every aspect of life. Inability to access digital interfaces in today’s world means exclusion from mainstream aspects of society: imagine your life without access to information, banking services, learning material or the ability to use a phone. Lack of digital access means loss of autonomy and complete dependence on others for essential aspects of life. In this context, the good news is that solutions exist today to make most digital interfaces accessible to persons with disabilities either with embedded accessiblity features or leveraging assistive technologies. The bad news is that few developers of products, contents and services are aware and skilled today to implement those. This is why the new European Accessiblity Act will be discussed during the M-Enabling Forum with representatives from the European Commission and European Disability Forum leaders – a development of great significance for all REHACARE visitors and exhibitors.
What does inclusion mean to you?
Leblois: Inclusion means ensuring that all people have access to all opportunities in life on an equal basis with others. This is the motivation of the two M-Enabling co-organizers: G3ict, the Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs, which was formed 12 years ago at the initiative of the United Nations to promote the digital accessiblity dispositions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and EJ Krause and Associates, a leading firm in organizing technology events around the world. Both organizations believe in the power of technology to ensure the inclusion of persons of all abilities in our societies. We are very much looking forward to sharing this vision with all REHACARE participants.