Ambient Technology: Assistive or Intrusive?

A graphic of a blue body with different labels around it. For example, telehealth, patient monitoring, assisted living.Designing and creating electronic devices for older people so they can stay home in their later years is a good thing. But are they actually what older people want? It’s a balancing act between assistance for independence versus privacy intrusions. Where do you draw the line? And will the older person have a say in where that line is drawn? These are tricky questions and the answers are likely to be individual. And what happens to any data that are collected both deliberately and as a by-product?

A conference paper from Germany discusses some of these issues as we are increasingly looking to technology to solve our problems. The issues raised in could benefit from a universal design perspective. Taking this view, one would ask, “How can we make ambient technology more universal and general and less specialised so that people don’t feel stigmatised? As Eva-Maria Schomakers and Martina Ziefle say, privacy concerns include the feeling of constant surveillance, misuse of personal information by third parties, as well as the invasion of personal space, obtrusiveness and stigmatising design of these technologies.

The title of the article is Privacy Perceptions in Ambient Assisted Living 

Ambient Assisted Living is a growing field of research. A related paper on ResearchGate “Enabling Technologies for the Internet of Health Things”, might be a place to start. It contains some useful diagrams.

UD, ID, DfA, UX, UA: A terminology muddle

A hand holding a coloured pen is poised over a green post it note. There are drawings on the table and a smartphone. It indicates UX design.The aims of universal design (UD), inclusive design (ID), design for all (DfA), user experience (UX) and universal accessibility (UA), are basically the same – inclusion. So why should we be in a muddle about terms? For most designers and practitioners who understand the underpinning principle of inclusion, it’s not a big deal.  But shouldn’t the key issue be about implementation rather than discussing the nuances of terms? Even if we had one term, would that alter designer and practitioner attitudes towards inclusion?

Nevertheless, researchers find it frustrating not to have one term to cover the concepts. That’s because it makes it difficult to know if people are talking about the same thing when sharing research findings. The debate among academics has resulted in many papers on this topic. Some putting forth arguments that they are all different things. Others lamenting the problems of not having a consistent terminology. A few delve into philosophical arguments.

A paper from 2014 is still relevant today because the arguments haven’t abated. This paper discusses historical, methodological and philosophical aspects. It’s a long paper, probably best suited to academics. It covers just about every aspect of the issues. It also draws in the ICF (International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health) and international standards which is quite useful. 

The title of the paper downloadable from ResearchGate says it all, Universal design, inclusive design, accessible design, design for all: different concepts—one goal? On the concept of accessibility—historical, methodological and philosophical aspects.

Editor’s Note: I also wrote on the topic of terminology in relation to housing design, Calling a Spade a Shovel: Universal, accessible, adaptable, disabled – aren’t they all the same? 

Abstract: Accessibility and equal opportunities for all in the digital age have become increasingly important over the last decade. In one form or another, the concept of accessibility is being considered to a greater or smaller extent in most projects that develop interactive systems. However, the concept varies among different professions, cultures and interest groups. Design for all, universal access and inclusive design are all different names of approaches that largely focus on increasing the accessibility of the interactive system for the widest possible range of use. But, in what way do all these concepts differ and what is the underlying philosophy in all of these concepts? This paper aims at investigating the various concepts used for accessibility, its methodological and historical development and some philosophical aspects of the concept. It can be concluded that there is little or no consensus regarding the definition and use of the concept, and consequently, there is a risk of bringing less accessibility to the target audience. Particularly in international standardization the lack of consensus is striking. Based on this discussion, the authors argue for a much more thorough definition of the concept and discuss what effects it may have on measurability, conformance with standards and the overall usability for the widest possible range of target users.

Digital Accessibility: It’s not an add-on

A graphic showing a laptop with a green screen and several smart phones around it also with green screens. It is indicating that they are all connected.Beware digital consultants who offer a range of services “plus Accessibility services”. If they list it as a separate service then it is likely they don’t truly know what it is. Why? Because accessibility should be built-in regardless. It’s not an added extra. But it is specialised.

As Sheri Byrne-Haber says,
“Just because you are good at one does not make you good at the other”. If you say you are good at both it implies you don’t understand the business drivers for either.

In her article Byrne-Haber lists some other mistakes commonly made by consultants:
1. They assume that you can wave a magic wand over people and turn them into accessibility testers.
2. They rarely employ people with disability, but outsource to disability services and pay them a pittance for their knowledge.
3. They tell people they can do every type of accessibility testing in their contact messages.

Byrne-Haber also points out that digital accessibility specialists will be in demand as disability discrimination legislation gets tighter. Big tech companies are already on board with an increasingly diverse workforce. But you do need to know what questions to ask. The list of questions to ask is in her article, Vetting Accessibility Vendors.  


Artificial Intelligence: A framework

Infographic of the proportion of 272 different stakeholder groups.A discussion paper was released on 5 April 2019 to encourage conversations about AI ethics in Australia. This paper included a set of draft AI ethics principles. 130 submissions were received from a wide range of stakeholders, including one from CUDA. The Australian AI Principles are ready for testing and are:

    • Human, social and environmental wellbeing
    • Human-centred values
    • Fairness
    • Privacy protection and security
    • Reliability and safety
    • Transparency and explainability
    • Contestability
    • Accountability

You can find out more detail in a list of insights from the consultations. You can ask a question or give feedback via an online form at the bottom of the Department of Industry website on this topic.

It is good to see human-centred values and human, social and environmental wellbeing now included. A closer look shows that older people, people with disability, people from diverse backgrounds and children are included in these principles by virtue of including human rights. The Fairness Principle includes mentions of Inclusion and Accessibility. 

Smart Cities for All

cover of Smart Cities Toolkit.How smart can a smart city be? ‘Smart’ is everything from the footpath to the website. So not so smart if it doesn’t include everyone and join the dots between all the factors that make a city a city.  With digital transformations happening worldwide, the aim of the Smart Cities for All Toolkit is to eliminate the digital divide and improve urban environments for everyone. In the video below, James Thurston talks about the issues cities are facing.

The main part of the toolkit, the Inclusive Innovation Playbook, is detailed and aimed at a policy and planning level. Stakeholder participation and inclusion is an essential theme. Case studies assist with understanding. There is a helpful checklist at the end of the Playbook. There’s a lot to digest, but this means it isn’t a cursory overview with simplistic solutions. It goes much deeper than a digital accessibility checklist. This is about joining the dots across city assets and leveraging them for everyone’s benefit. Other sections of the toolkit cover: 

    • Toolkit Overview
    • Guide to adopting an ICT accessibility procurement policy
    • Implementing priority ICT accessibility standards
    • Communicating the case for stronger commitment to digital inclusion in cities
    • Database of solutions for digital inclusion in cities

“The toolkit supports a range of organizations and roles related to Smart Cities, including government managers, policy makers, IT professionals, disability advocates, procurement officials, technology suppliers, and developers who design Smart City apps and solutions.

Each of the tools addresses a priority challenge identified by global experts as a barrier to the digital inclusion of persons with disabilities and older persons in Smart Cities.”  See also Smart Cities for All: A Vision

James Thurston of 3Gict discusses the issues in the video below.  

Connect me to my car

Self driving vehicle on the road.Gerard Goggin has written a thoughtful piece on the issue of automated vehicles and how they might, or might not, be a boon for people with disability. The value of automated vehicles for people with disability is often mentioned in articles related to this technology, but will that value be realised? The article raises some important points about the depiction of disability and how it is communicated and how that plays out into the world of technological development. Goggin covers “blind driving”, developments by Google and Waymo and more. Mentioning the inclusion of older people and people with disability as good news stories is insufficient to put these users at the centre of designs. Written in academic style but important thinking going on here. The title of the article is, Disability, Connected Cars, and Communication.

Introduction: In this article, I take up a highly visible theme in discourses, experimentation, and manufacture of connected cars and autonomous vehicles: disability. I analyze the leading ways in which this new kind of technology is imagined for particular users with disability, as in the highly publicized case of Google’s pilot driverless vehicle promoted as a boon for blind people and those with vision impairments. Then, I try to stand this kind of framing of connected-cars-as-good-for-disability on its head, and discuss the implications for questions of emerging social technology, equality, diversity, and design. Reflecting on this analysis, I look at what disability tells us about connected cars, and, indeed, how we might rethink communication and technology.

Note: Gerard Goggin co-authored a book, “Disability in Australia: exposing a social apartheid”. Written in 2005, it is still relevant today. It can be bought online or accessed through the National Library of Australia.  


Do’s and Don’ts Posters

One of the six posters, mobility, showing a short list of do's and don'ts of accessibility.Six different posters help designers make online services accessible in government and elsewhere. They cover low vision, deaf and hard of hearing, dyslexia, motor disabilities, people with autism and users of screen readers. The posters are simple and this is what makes them effective. Basically they act as visual prompts to designers rather than offering technical know-how.  You can download each of the posters from the UK Government website. There’s other useful information and links too. Also available in 17 languages.

Poster for people with autism

Poster for people who use screen readers

Poster for people with low vision

Poster for people with dyslexia 

Poster for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing

Poster for people with physical or motor disabilities.


Australia’s Digital Inclusion Index

Front cover of the Digital Accessibility Report.The international Digital Accessibility Rights Evaluation Index (DARE) rates Australia as 71 points out of 100. Apparently this makes us 12th in global rankings with an implementation ranking of 10th. The index takes Australia’s laws and regulations, policies and programs, and capacity to implement inclusive technology into the scale. It seems Australia has full capacity to implement, but has only just passed the halfway mark in actual implementation.

More detail is available on the G3ict website. You can also see the score of other countries. Oman has the top overall global ranking of 81 points.

G3ict has also produced a report with more detail. “The report gathers insights from the survey by Level Access in cooperation with G3ict on the current state of accessibility in organizations as undertaken by 550 professionals from organizations of all sectors. The high number of responses shows the considerable interest for trends in accessibility implementation. Readers are encouraged to go through the detailed results of the survey and compare them to their own experience to help advance their own endeavors and the accessibility profession at large.”

Plug and Pray? AI and Emerging Tech

Front cover of Plug and Pray report People with disability are often early adopters of new tech, but these new ideas can also come with unintended barriers to users. As we improve built environment accessibility, it is important we don’t fall into the same design traps with digital designs. Plug and Pray? A disability perspective on artificial intelligence, automated decision-making and emerging technologies is the title of a report by the European Disability Forum. There are two versions of this report: the standard full text and an Easy Read version. The Easy Read version is great for non tech people. It is a great way to get your head around the many issues that need consideration without wading through lots of words.

Click-away customers

Five red balloons in a row with the title 5 common myths about accessibilityClick-away customers are not those clicking on the pages on your website. They are clicking off because they can’t navigate the pages. A neat video by Barclays Bank debunks common myths about customer complaints, costs of being accessible, access being someone else’s job, it’s too small a market for all that time and effort, and accessible design is boring design. Towards the end there is a great statement, “accessible design should work well for those who need it, and be invisible to those who don’t”. A really useful video for anyone promoting accessible customer service in our digital world, and for others wondering if it really is worth the effort. The video is captioned.