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NETWORK-BASED ACCESSIBILITY SERVICES

Presenter
Jim Tobias
Inclusive Technologies
Email: tobias@inclusive.com

Introduction

The predominant model for accessible technology has been to include accessibility features in products that consumers have right in front of them, such as computers, telephones, and assistive technology devices. Networked technologies offer a different solution. The accessibility can exist within the network instead of within a hardware product. The user then accesses a customized service as needed. A number of developers and researchers [1,2,3] have commented on the potential of network-based accessibility services (NbAS), which can include speech technologies, translation, intelligent routing, and other features.

NbAS do not have to be completely technological; it is their use of networks rather than their technical sophistication that distinguishes them. An example of an existing network-based accessibility service is the telecommunications relay service (TRS). This service allows TTY and voice phone users to communicate through a relay operator, who speaks the typed text and types the spoken replies. Consider the only equitable alternative to TRS: assigning an interpreter or transcriptionist to every Deaf person, 24 hours a day, just in case the person wants to receive or place a telephone call. The network service provides almost all of the functionality at a tiny fraction of the cost.

Another example is speech delivery of email or web content. Although these services were designed for non-disabled users, they can be effective assistive services for people who cannot access regular text or screens.

Network-based accessibility services will not replace assistive technology devices; they will offer an additional way of improving accessibility. NbAS also have some interesting options hard to match in standard assistive technologies.

Network technologies

Each assistive functionality in the network can use one or more of six categories of technological capability:

Speech recognition.

Speech synthesis.

Routing - automatic delivery or connection. For example, the network can send messages or calls to someone regardless of location, based on a schedule or network locator.

Translation and medium conversion. The network can translate between languages or convert from one medium to another, such as sign language to English text. Some of these gateway services already exist, such as TRS and the TTY-to-wireless text messaging service provided by Wyndtel.

Interpretation and support. The service can help a user understand where they are, what to do next, etc. An example of this is "augmented reality", in which additional information is superimposed over a live video. A mainstream application would show English words over Japanese store signs; an accessibility application might interpret street signs to locate a person with a cognitive loss, and help them get to their destination.

Automatic setup. A service can automatically identify the user and establish the proper connections and service preferences.

Advantages for users

Low capital cost. Since the user is not buying the technology, but only "renting" it, there is little or no initial cost. This reduces the potential risk of abandoning the solution if it is not effective, allows for participation by low-income users, and may simplify public funding.

Improved maintenance. Since the technology is not owned by the user, there is less concern about maintenance. The service owner is responsible for upkeep. Improved upgrades. Similarly, users do not have to install new versions, because the service owner takes care of upgrades.

Customization. Because the mass market offers more products and services, there may be more choices and options in NbAS.

Portability. Network-based services have better portability in two senses. First, because they involve less user equipment, they may be smaller and lighter. Second, they can be accessed from anywhere, since the user is either automatically identified or logs into the service.

Access to advanced technologies. In many cases new, powerful technologies are beyond the reach of people with disabilities. For example, although inexpensive speech synthesizers are built into most computers, the best quality speech is still expensive and not available for use with typical assistive technology products.

Scaling. In order to offer standalone assistive technology, a company must develop a production capability and a distribution capability above a certain size. Networks are designed to scale more smoothly. They can respond to small increases in usage with small increases in resources.

Both existing and prototype services will be demonstrated.

  1. Tobias, J. "Shared Resource Assistive Systems", Technology and Disability Journal, v.3, No. 3, 1994.

  2. National Committee for Information Technology Standards; Information Technology Access Interfaces Technical Committee (NCITS V2) ANNUAL REPORT, 2001.

  3. Zimmerman, G., Vanderheiden, G., Gilman, A. "Internet-Based Personal Services on Demand" in Emerging and Accessible Telecommunications, Information, and Healthcare Technologies RESNA, 2002.

Introduction

The predominant model for accessible technology has been to include accessibility features in products that consumers have right in front of them, such as computers, telephones, and assistive technology devices. Networked technologies offer a different solution. The accessibility can exist within the network instead of within a hardware product. The user then accesses a customized service as needed. A number of developers and researchers [1,2,3] have commented on the potential of network-based accessibility services (NbAS), which can include speech technologies, translation, intelligent routing, and other features.

NbAS do not have to be completely technological; it is their use of networks rather than their technical sophistication that distinguishes them. An example of an existing network-based accessibility service is the telecommunications relay service (TRS). This service allows TTY and voice phone users to communicate through a relay operator, who speaks the typed text and types the spoken replies. Consider the only equitable alternative to TRS: assigning an interpreter or transcriptionist to every Deaf person, 24 hours a day, just in case the person wants to receive or place a telephone call. The network service provides almost all of the functionality at a tiny fraction of the cost.

Another example is speech delivery of email or web content. Although these services were designed for non-disabled users, they can be effective assistive services for people who cannot access regular text or screens.

Network-based accessibility services will not replace assistive technology devices; they will offer an additional way of improving accessibility. NbAS also have some interesting options hard to match in standard assistive technologies.

Network technologies

Each assistive functionality in the network can use one or more of six categories of technological capability:

Speech recognition.

Speech synthesis.

Routing - automatic delivery or connection. For example, the network can send messages or calls to someone regardless of location, based on a schedule or network locator.

Translation and medium conversion. The network can translate between languages or convert from one medium to another, such as sign language to English text. Some of these gateway services already exist, such as TRS and the TTY-to-wireless text messaging service provided by Wyndtel.

Interpretation and support. The service can help a user understand where they are, what to do next, etc. An example of this is "augmented reality", in which additional information is superimposed over a live video. A mainstream application would show English words over Japanese store signs; an accessibility application might interpret street signs to locate a person with a cognitive loss, and help them get to their destination.

Automatic setup. A service can automatically identify the user and establish the proper connections and service preferences.

Advantages for users

Low capital cost. Since the user is not buying the technology, but only "renting" it, there is little or no initial cost. This reduces the potential risk of abandoning the solution if it is not effective, allows for participation by low-income users, and may simplify public funding.

Improved maintenance. Since the technology is not owned by the user, there is less concern about maintenance. The service owner is responsible for upkeep. Improved upgrades. Similarly, users do not have to install new versions, because the service owner takes care of upgrades.

Customization. Because the mass market offers more products and services, there may be more choices and options in NbAS.

Portability. Network-based services have better portability in two senses. First, because they involve less user equipment, they may be smaller and lighter. Second, they can be accessed from anywhere, since the user is either automatically identified or logs into the service.

Access to advanced technologies. In many cases new, powerful technologies are beyond the reach of people with disabilities. For example, although inexpensive speech synthesizers are built into most computers, the best quality speech is still expensive and not available for use with typical assistive technology products.

Scaling. In order to offer standalone assistive technology, a company must develop a production capability and a distribution capability above a certain size. Networks are designed to scale more smoothly. They can respond to small increases in usage with small increases in resources.

Both existing and prototype services will be demonstrated.

  1. Tobias, J. "Shared Resource Assistive Systems", Technology and Disability Journal, v.3, No. 3, 1994.

  2. National Committee for Information Technology Standards; Information Technology Access Interfaces Technical Committee (NCITS V2) ANNUAL REPORT, 2001.

  3. Zimmerman, G., Vanderheiden, G., Gilman, A. "Internet-Based Personal Services on Demand" in Emerging and Accessible Telecommunications, Information, and Healthcare Technologies RESNA, 2002.


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