1999 Conference Proceedings

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THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION R & D INITIATIVE TO PROMOTE "DESIGN FOR ALL"

Egidio Ballabio
Inmaculada Placencia Porrero

Ivor Ambrose
European Commission DG XIII

1. Introduction

The origins and development of "Design for All" research can be clearly traced to the Assistive Technology (AT) field in particular, through almost 10 years of R & D projects funded by the European Union's TIDE programmes. TIDE is an acronym for "Technology for the Integration of Disabled and Elderly people".

Traditionally, within AT, "dedicated" devices are developed in order to enhance the twin goals of independence and social integration of people with disabilities and older persons. Whilst it has given immeasurable benefits to some, the development of "dedicated" devices, addressing some particular - often narrow - range of functions, has often lead to very expensive and inefficient solutions. Historically, tailor-made technologies cannot match off-the-shelf products for price and the volume of outputs will be relatively very low. In most respects, the integration of older people and people with disabilities into society will only come about as a result of designing mainstream products and services to be accessible by as broad a range of users as possible. This is what we call "Design For All".

Design for All - whether we are referring to products, services or applications - can be achieved in one of three ways:

The TIDE programme has contributed in different ways to the development of the "Design for all" approach. This contribution is intrinsically connected to the development of the TIDE Initiative itself and the evolution of this concept during the history of TIDE.

TIDE has existed for almost 10 years now, which in these times of a rapidly changing Information Society constitutes a large span. The TIDE Market Survey started in 1990 with a study of the European AT market but preliminary work at the European level started in 1987 through the programme of Co-operation in the Field of Scientific and Technical research (COST). The COST 219 project addressed "Future Telecommunications and Tele-Informatics Facilities for Disabled People".

One of its aims was to develop the "application of new technologies to facilitate communication, mobility and employment of handicapped people" and it is made clear in various publications from that time that this aim should be achieved through Access for All and Universal Services including Disabled and Elderly, as these persons should not exist in isolation from society. Issues like accessibility to telecommunication terminals, universal telephone services, relay services etc., which are addressed by the Design for All, were very much discussed in those days.

2. The Design for All concept in the TIDE Pilot- and Bridge Phases

In 1991, TIDE started the Pilot phase with the overall objective of promoting research and technological development to meet social and industrial goals. As in all European Union R & D programmes, a Workplan was developed by the Commission, after an extensive co-operation with the experts in the field. Here the priorities for research were focused on Rehabilitation technologies within four technological lines: control technologies, communication technologies, integrated systems technologies and manufacturing techniques.

There was no explicit mention of "Design for all" in this document. The Commission provided 18 Million ECUs of funding (about 16.5 mill. US dollars at today's rates), for 21 selected projects and notably, at this point, "Design for all" began to emerge. Commission funding for R & D projects is normally at 50% of the cost of the projects, the matching 50% being provided by the project consortium. Most of the projects in this programme were dealing with specific tools for disabled persons.

A good example of a project which embodied a "design for all" approach is the AUDETEL project (AUdio DEscription of TELevision for the visually disabled and elderly) which was completed in 1994. The stated objective of the project was to give access to television for blind and older persons. It was also clear that by adopting a design for all approach, the product could have a much wider application than to disabled or older people alone. The challenge was defined as "…achieving universal access to audio-visual services, and integration of ALL users watching TV (disabled, older people or their families)", and the need to find a solution which would satisfy this large part of the audience. To achieve this, a compromise was needed in the amount and type of information provided to reach a large number of users.

Other projects like ASHORED (Adaptable Smarter HOmes for Residents who are Elderly or Disabled), were confronted with the problems of accessible environments or housing for all when trying to develop smart homes for disabled persons. The type of technology, and what is more important, even the interfaces to address and control that technology had to be designed to serve a large number of users. Similar issues arose in the projects VISA (Universal Access to WIMP-Software for Partially-Sighted and Blind Users) and GUIB (textual and Graphic User Interfaces for Blind People) when dealing with accessibility of Graphical users interfaces and access to software environments. The need of having software designed for all and not having to develop ad-hoc solutions to specific programmes for each particular user was strongly evidenced by these projects.

The next TIDE phase, the "Bridge" Phase, started in 1993, the main objective being to: "stimulate the creation of the single market in Assistive Technology in Europe to facilitate the socio-economic integration of older and disabled persons". The Workplan, covered the topics mentioned in the pilot phase and a new area called "Integrated Systems Technologies". Also the line on communication was re-formulated as: "access to communication and information technology and support for interpersonal communication". Issues related to Design for All, were emerging more strongly in the documentation from the Bridge Phase projects, for example: "existing white goods in the mass markets in Europe are not designed considering the needs of disabled and older persons".

Also a number of related R & D tasks were formulated: human-machine interaction, access to alarm services, access to documentation, access to audio visual services, access to social interaction services, accessible environmental controllers, robot systems for assistance with common household and workplace tasks, multi-purpose vehicles, standardisation of modular components and also the role of training in the use of technology. Although no explicit mention is made of the Design for All concept it was evident that it was not possible to make specific AT products for each user in all these areas.

Following the call for proposals in the Bridge Phase, 55 projects were selected for community funding with a budget of 42 MECUs (38 mill. US dollars). Many of the selected projects were dealing with the above-mentioned issues. Some of these will be described below as an illustration of their explicit contribution to the development of the Design for All concept.

The first project to mention is ACCESS (Development platform for unified ACCESS to enabling environments). Its goal was to provide new technological solutions for developing user interfaces, facilitating unified access to computer based applications for users with different characteristics, abilities and preferences, and implementing some demonstrators in the area of interpersonal communicators and access to information in hypermedia environments. The tools developed permit the design and implementation of user-adapted interfaces.

The SATURN project (Smart Card and Terminal Usability requirements and Needs) dealt with the development of smart card systems for use in public terminals to increase the accessibility of such systems to all persons. The same terminal i.e. a cash dispenser, would be used by ALL users but the proximity of the smart card automatically adapts the User Interface (voice, speech volume, size of characters, colour, speed...) to the specific requirements of the user.

Several projects were dealing with the problems of better access to the built environment and transport: for example 2 can be mentioned: OPEN - developing an aid to provide access to the subway; TURTLE - developing an on-line system that provides information at home on public transport. There were also about 8 projects dealing with "smart home" systems including access to services and alarms.

There were also two "horizontal activities" that were dealing with and making recommendations about "Design for all" issues:

3. Design for All in the TIDE Telematic Phase

The third phase of TIDE, sometimes referred to as the Telematics phase, is under the IV Framework Programme of EU research (1994 - 1998). While the Pilot and Bridge phases' work programmes concentrated on the development of specific solutions or assistive devices, now in the main phase two other types of activities are promoted.

Firstly, the development of IT-based systems and services, and secondly, the implementation of projects that take into account the Design for All approach. This is made explicit in the TIDE workplan of 1994 for the first time. Here can be found several explicit references to Design for all but also a significant reference to the need in Assistive Technology and Design for All to involve designers, rehabilitation specialists, human factors engineers, end-users and researchers, manufacturers, and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises which recruit and exploit new technology opportunities. In most of the areas of the workplan, and in particular in the first one: Access to Information and Communication Technologies, Design for all is requested in most of the activities: "…developing tools which support the Design for all principle…", "…developing systems and services designed for all..." and, of course, the need to apply this principle to the standardisation process.

The issue goes even further as a key aspect of Design for all - the incorporation of a wide set of user requirements - has been exported to the Telematics program as a whole in that its workplan makes a reference to have all the projects of all the sectors taking into account the needs of disabled and older persons. Needless to say, this overambitious objective has been only partially implemented.

In the IV Framework Programme there have been 2 calls for proposals for a total of 50 Mecus where about 50 projects have been selected. All of the projects of the first call are still running and many of the ones of the second call are commencing in 1998. Many of them deal directly with the Design for All concept. For example, the following can be mentioned:

  1. MORE : developing a GSM mobile telephone with built in GPS adaptable for older persons and persons with disabilities
  2. SAFE21 : providing access to remote alarm services VISTEL : which adapts screen phones and provide accessible services
  3. ACTION, RISE, SERVICE 2000, DAILY : contributing to the promotion of independent living,
  4. HOMEBRAIN : integrating the needs of disabled and older persons in a main stream product for 2 way communication service for alarm and safety purposes in private houses.

Again this list is not exhaustive, it is just meant as an illustration of the contributions of some projects. In the second call it is important to mention projects like W3C that involves the working group on accessibility of this consortium and has the objective to contribute to the universal access to the WWW.

4. The Future: the "User-Friendly Information Society" R & D Programme

The next step of the TIDE work will be carried out within the V Framework Programme (1998 - 2002). Notably, Design-for-all is planned as a "horizontal" Action Line which will conduct RTD to complement, link and support RTD in the Key Action "Systems and Services for the Citizen" under the specific R & D programme, "User-Friendly Information Society". Key activities are likely to include development and pilot demonstration of "design for all" products, systems and services (e.g. on-line information services of general interest), improved participatory design methods, tools for designers and identification of the critical factors affecting the take-up of Design for All methods and tools. Essentially R & D will address the issue of how mainstream manufacturers of ICT products and tele-based services can be provided with knowledge and skills which can lead to solutions which meet the requirements of the people widest range of abilities.

The research activities outlined earlier need to be complemented by a series of actions aimed at identifying and disseminating good practice in this area, and raising awareness of the potential benefits of the Design for All approach amongst product managers, marketeers and designers of products, systems and services. There should be another action aimed at identifying the opportunities for promoting Design for All through legislative, regulatory and policy-making mechanisms

To conclude, the TIDE R & D programmes have identified many problems in implementing the Design for All principle. Lack of awareness on the part of manu-facturers and suppliers is compounded by difficulties in terms of technical feasibility and economic viability. These obstacles will be reduced by the research and the support activities we are planning in the framework of the future EU research.

Related literature

1. Proceedings of the 3rd TIDE Congress, June 1998, Helsinki, Finland. Ballabio E. and I. Placencia-Porrero (eds) 1998. IOS Press Amsterdam.

2. Research and Technological Development for the Integration and Independence of Disabled and Older People; Strategic requirements board report for the V framework programme EC, DG XIII, final report - Brussels, 20 June 1997.

3. Telematics Applications Programme - Project Summaries - D&E Sector, DG XIII, Brussels, November 1996.

4. Proceedings of the Workshop on Elderly, elderly disabled and technology, EC, Brussels, 17-18 January 1994.

5. USERfit - A practical handbook on user-centred design for Assistive Technology, TIDE office.

6. HIGH TIDE -A review of the results of the pilot phase of the TIDE projects from 1991 - 1994. European Commission. 1998.


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