Inclusive Design of Wireless Systems
Dr. John Gill, Chief Scientist, RNIB
with the help of Jan Ekberg, Jan-Ingvar Lindström and Mike Martin
A new era in telecommunications is about to begin. The issue of the first European licences for 'Third Generation' mobile systems signals the introduction of wideband communications on the move. Personal portable terminals will handle data transmissions of all kinds as well as conventional voice messages. It will no longer be necessary to find a fixed terminal to send or receive text and graphics, or to connect to the Internet. The mobile phone will become a portable information terminal whose capacity is limited only by its ability to display information to - and receive it from - its user.
For people who are elderly or who have disabilities, there are exciting possibilities in prospect. They should expect to share in the new Information Society on equal terms, freed from the handicaps associated with gaining access to fixed terminals and using them. But they will achieve this equality only if the systems and equipment of the Third Generation networks have been designed to take account of a diversity of abilities amongst users. If this inclusive design approach is rejected, they will find themselves barred from access to the new services by network protocols and mobile terminal features which serve to exclude them.
The infrastructure of the Third Generation networks will be complex and expensive to set up. There will be reluctance to make material changes once they are operating. Terminals and operating systems can be changed more easily, but only as long as compatibility is preserved. Therefore there are elements of the design of both networks and terminals which need to be considered very carefully at the outset. If this is not done, opportunities to make these new services fully accessible will be lost. Because of the highly complex technologies involved, this consideration of accessibility has to be made largely from within. What is needed to achieve this is a culture of disability awareness throughout the entire telecommunications industry.
Such an awareness culture can be and must be promoted from outside the industry. Older and disabled consumers, as well as those who speak on their behalf, need to make their views and needs known in a climate of informed expectation. Design information related to disabilities is currently incomplete and scattered over a wide range of specialist databases; it needs to be assembled coherently and updated. Reviews of Standards and Guidelines need to encourage a pro-active approach and avoid repetition of short-term solutions. Legislators and Regulators have to consider whether there is scope for any 'future-proofed' legally binding requirements which could underwrite progress towards accessibility and inclusion. In so doing they will be aware of the danger, in areas of fast-moving technology, of mandating familiar but obsolescent practices which could prove counter-productive. In those areas where anti-discrimination legislation operates, it can be brought to bear to support inclusion. But it is preferable that suppliers of products and services should find it in their own self-interest to take an inclusive approach to the design of whatever they offer. In that way they can market a better product, acceptable to a greater range of consumers, without resort to the cost and inconvenience of special provisions or clumsy adaptations to reach users who could, with some thought, have been catered for from the start.
This is not to suggest that inclusive design is an easy
or an intuitive process. Like quality, it needs to be imbued in a company's
culture and ethos. It calls for information about the potential consumers
who are to be included, their needs, their abilities and their expectations.
Companies do not generally have expertise on the subject of disability
and may find difficulties in applying inclusive principles. The process
could be assisted by establishing a forum for the telecommunications industry
where the issues of inclusion and accessibility can be freely discussed
and information shared.
THE KEY OBJECTIVES SUMMARISED
We are moving into a new age of telecommunications. Wireless links are replacing cable with advantages in portability, installation cost and technological flexibility. Cessation of manufacture of fixed terminals has already been predicted. What commercial and technological factors are pushing development of wireless communication systems? Is there a risk that vital market sectors will be overlooked? Will older people and those with disabilities be left out? Their numbers are large and their spending power significant, but do they figure in the market-leaders' calculations? These are crucial questions in need of urgent answers.
For most of the twentieth century, telecommunications as perceived by the domestic consumer has changed very little. Advances in voice Telephony have been concentrated upon network aspects, giving improvements in service reach and quality without any major change in the type of service. All the time, the local loop stayed virtually unchanged and so did the telephone instrument, except that it did not have to be black and it acquired buttons in place of a dial. Voice Telephony was apparently a mature and stable technology and consumers' expectations of it reflected this assessment. When the mobile phone reached the domestic market it was seen by the user, and to a large extent it still is, as simply a voice terminal freed from the constraints of wires.
Technological, social and economic factors have combined, from the third quarter of that century, to produce change of such magnitude that it is difficult for the ordinary consumer to comprehend it. No sooner does a new facility become accepted than it becomes obsolescent. Mobile phones now rival the fixed networks. GSM mobiles have largely replaced the first generation of analogue services but will themselves be challenged by the arrival of UMTS, the 'Third Generation'. The pace of change is so fast that only those who are close to the forefront have any real understanding of what the future may hold. It is not realistic, in these circumstances, to seek to impose very specific technological requirements by means of standards or legislation. This can be done only in periods of technological stability, otherwise the standards would be out of date by the time that they were written.
In order to protect the interests of groups within the community who might be disadvantaged in the implementation of new telecommunications technologies, particularly disabled and elderly people or those on low incomes, it is possible to impose regulations of a more general nature. Some regulation of this kind will almost certainly be necessary, thr ough telecommunications legislation as well as in the wider area of anti-discrimination action. But even this must be regarded as a stop-gap, for it cannot ensure that new equipments and services are developed in a way which results in the greatest potential to benefit disadvantaged consumers. If this potential is not appreciated, it may prove too late to add corrective measures afterwards. Dealing with service availability for people on low incomes may be just a matter of regulating economic structures but the needs of disabled and elderly people must be fully considered at a very early stage, before the architecture of new systems reaches the point of no return and opportunities are lost. This calls for an inclusive approach in the design, planning and roll-out of new telecommunications technology and this booklet seeks to highlight the issue now, before too many of the proposals are set in stone.
Awareness is needed by the telecommunications industries, who need to appreciate that a large, and increasing, proportion of their consumers will have disabilities that may be long-standing or may be acquired as a consequence of getting older. It is needed by the groups who speak and campaign on behalf of disabled and elderly people, and who have to spell out the possibilities of the future as well as the failures of the past. It is needed also by the legislators and regulators, who have to find a means of promoting equality of access to the promised Information Society without strangling the infant at birth.
Producing this booklet involved the preparation of several drafts, and comments were sought at every stage. The editors are most grateful to those who gave their time to reading and commenting. Every effort has been made to take account of the views expressed and the booklet is much the better as a result. Inevitably, perhaps, views emerged in the process of commenting which reflected a diversity of standpoints, both within the telecommunications industry and also within the disability bodies. The key objective of accessible communications was never at any point in question, but opinions differed as to the best means of its achievement. The booklet seeks to show why previous measures that proved so successful in relation to the built environment may not work here. It also tries to explain why the industry should, in its own interests, take a pro-active role in promoting inclusivity in its products and services. Either of these issues may seem merely academic to one group or another. They could have been addressed by preparing two publications, for different audiences, but that would have impeded the prospects of getting industry and consumers to work together thr ough a common understanding. It would also have ignored the role of legislators and regulators, who must preserve a balance that takes account of the interests of all the stakeholders.
Mobile communications are spreading, not only in quantity but also in diversity. More and more applications that either extend the traditional pattern of fixed communications or are entirely novel are appearing on the mobile market, with increasingly shorter times between launching events.
Radio telephones began as heavy and bulky pieces of equipment, used mainly by the military. Now they have become very small lightweight pocket instruments, regarded as fashionable accessories for trendy people to carry. When radio Telephony came to be linked with the Internet a communications tool of unbelievable power and reach was created. The real extent of that enormous power is only slowly beginning to be appreciated.
At first, the acceptance of radio telephones by the civil market was a very gradual process. The size and weight of early instruments meant that they were best suited for use in vehicles, mainly on private networks run by fleet operators and the emergency services. Later, the popularity of the minimally regulated 'Citizens' Band' facility led to gradual expansion of the public networks and then the advantages of having a personal telephone in the car were quickly perceived, especially by anyone concerned for their own safety and security. The in-car phone ceased to be an exclusive facility for business people as it caught on with the general public, and the well-being of those who had felt at risk of being stranded - such as disabled people and lone women drivers - suddenly increased dramatically. This marks the point where the radio telephone entered the consumer market as a product targeted at, and designed for, ordinary members of the public.
Personal Mobile Phones
The first portable phones to be put in a pocket, albeit a rather large one, appeared in the middle of the 1980's, and all operated on analogue networks. Since then the rate of development has increased with miniaturisation as a leading objective - to the extent that today it has become a problem to make the keypad large enough to be operated by normal fingers, and the screen big enough for comfortable viewing. In spite of these seeming disadvantages, the market penetration of the mobile phone has reached a point within just over 10 years that matches the growth of fixed Telephony over a century. It is widely predicted that the mobile phone will become truly personal, with the mobile number being as much a part of any person's identity as their home address or their State Insurance number. If this comes about the fixed networks would cease to be used for voice Telephony and short text messages, although other uses for the fixed network infrastructure would surely emerge. The European Union is planning to free further large sectors of the radio spectrum for terrestrial and satellite mobile phone pathways, so as to accommodate additional traffic using greater bandwidth.
Analogue or Digital?
Mobile telephone systems were based upon analogue technologies up till about 1990, although it had become evident much earlier that there would be problems in finding sufficient frequency allocations to satisfy growing demands. Part of the solution was presented by sending the messages in short intervals - a kind of telecommunication 'time-share' - with other messages squeezed in the gaps between them. This digital technology contributed to the rapid spread of GSM (Global Systems for Mobile communication) Telephony, which is currently the dominant system.
GSM provides most of the services normally associated with a telephone system, but freed from the constraints of a fixed terminal. Considerably more functionality is now available from mobile phones thr ough the introduction of WAP (Wireless Application Protocol). This recent development (see box for details) will allow the terminal to access a range of on-line text services in the manner of the Internet. A WAP-enabled mobile phone will handle Email, will download and display the text portions of some Web pages, and will facilitate interactive functions such as on-line financial transactions and information searches. It will enable such tasks as reloading an electronic purse without the need to return to a fixed terminal. The encryption and digital signatures can reside on the phone itself, with appropriate protection, so there is no need for additional authentication measures. This all points towards the possibility of financial and information management anywhere on the move, once a global set of standards has been agreed.
WAP (Wireless Application Protocol)
To make use of WAP facilities, you need
These hardware and service elements are likely to be expensive, at least initially.
WAP services on the GSM networks will be overtaken within a few years by the 'Third Generation' of mobile phone services, which will incorporate WAP functions on a truly global basis. Introduction of WAP on GSM could be therefore be seen as something of a trial run, were it not that the rival system in Japan is already well-established. WAP will give European manufacturers and service providers the opportunity to find out how acceptable the facility is to consumers, how satisfactorily the functions of a data terminal can be accommodated in a pocket sized device, and how the service delivery and charging packages are best accomplished.
It is already being suggested that WAP-enabled GSM systems, upgraded by GPRS (General Packet Radio Service, see box for details), will provide most of the intended function of third generation networks at a fraction of the infrastructure cost. This raises the possibility that some network operators will pause at that point in order to re-coup some of their high outlay - before incurring very heavy additional costs. Consumer acceptance of WAP systems, and their accessibility to disabled and elderly people, therefore need to be examined very carefully as the consequences for future services could be critical.
GPRS (General Packet Radio Service)
GPRS is a high speed packet data technology which, together with WAP, offers a means of upgrading GSM services towards the third generation systems. Use of GPRS will permit data transmission speeds over GSM networks of up to 144 kbit/s and even higher peak rates. This is well suited for the frequent transmission of small amounts of data and could be used for a variety of remote management and checking functions, for example the control of household appliances using local links such as Bluetooth.
UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) is the third generation, after GSM and the analogue first generation, of mobile telecommunications systems. It will have seamless operation between terrestrial and satellite links, and will provide high speed access to the Internet with data rates of up to 2 Mbit/s for a stationary terminal, less when on the move. It will include packet data transmission with the potential to adjust bandwidth on demand for asymmetric traffic. In the UK and Germany the network licences have been sold by governments for vast sums (the first five UK licences sold for over £22 billion), which will have to be recouped from the consumers. This, in addition to the start-up costs for a new infra-structure, may make the licence holders anxious to recover their outlay as quickly as possible by concentrating upon the most profitable sectors. They may be reluctant to extend the service beyond these sectors and to provide tariff packages that would be attractive to disabled people and other disadvantaged consumers. It will be most unfortunate if this does happen, because third generation services such as UMTS have so much to offer them (see below and box).
The high bandwidth and the text facility available with UMTS mean that text messaging could be as cheap and straightforward as voice calling, because the bandwidth would be paid for 'on demand' and not during waiting periods. It seems highly probable that this technology will transform the way that deaf people use text telephony and will put it on a par with voice telephony - indeed it may be that text users come to enjoy an advantage over voice traffic. There is a problem with this, although not one that the mobile networks can solve. The text protocols on these digital mobile networks will not be compatible with those used for analogue text telephony on the fixed networks, and although the fixed network operators can solve this problem up to a point it would not be a long term solution. Once UMTS is able to offer wide geographical coverage at affordable tariffs, textphone consumers will want to migrate to the new and better services. Their existing terminals will be obsolete and they will have to purchase new ones. This is the point where some managed conversion from the old technology to the new would seem to be only fair and equitable
Special Services which UMTS might offer
Realisation of these possibilities depends upon the third generation services developing quickly to the point where they reach, and are used by, the great majority of the general public.
Bluetooth is one example of a short range wireless technology that can link appliances and devices together, so that control and communication can be managed remotely. It offers a number of very interesting and important applications for people with disabilities. Small devices that have tiny knobs - mobile phones, hearing aids, pocket calculators etc. - could be controlled from a separate keypad, appropriate to the user's needs, connected via a Bluetooth link. This is of great significance because the mobile phone itself could replace the remote control for televisions and video recorders. It can provide an interactive channel (for services such as tele-shopping) while connecting to the television via Bluetooth. It could also be the 'magic wand' which delivers all the user commands in the smart house and acts as the alarm button in supervised and sheltered housing situations. The limit is set by fantasy - not by technology, but the price of getting the design principles wrong is that access to many essential facilities would be severely hindered for an important section of the population.
Bluetooth - What is it?
It is a short-range radio link, with circuitry built into a microchip.
It can transmit voice, data, still images and control signals.
It offers data speeds of up to 780 kbit/s.
It has an operating range of about 10 metres, extendable to 100 metres using additional amplifiers.
It uses powerful encryption techniques, and frequency hopping at 1600 times per second, which should ensure reliable and secure communication.
It offers the possibility of a standard interface that connects mobile phones to peripheral devices and to a whole range of domestic equipment.
Problems with Wireless Systems
The GSM system is ingenious, but unfortunately it causes noise in near-by electronic equipment, like radio receivers and sensitive electronic instruments. Hearing aids are especially vulnerable, so many hearing impaired people have not been able to benefit from the GSM services. Similar problems are encountered with DECT and digital cordless telephones working on the fixed networks. Some efforts have been made to overcome these, but it is difficult to establish long-term solutions when all the underlying technologies are subject to continuing change. Australian use of CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) technology for digital mobile phones has shown that this tends to produce less interference with hearing aids. This technology is almost certain to be used in third generation systems, but there remains a possibility that it will operate in parallel with TDMA (Time Division Multiple Access), which is known to cause problems.
The present trend of marketing mobile phones that are smaller but with an ever-increasing number of features, ranging from memory store to calculator functions, is good for many people - but not for everybody. Blind people cannot use text-based information on the screen at all, while those who are partially-sighted have great difficulty with very small displays. Voice outputs are of no use to deaf people and may be difficult for those who are simply hard of hearing. The extensive range of network based facilities like automatic answering and voicEmail: functions, text messages and call progress announcements require either useful vision or useful hearing, if not both. The Internet-based applications, such as sending and receiving Email:s, surfing the net and engaging in e-commerce, are all visually oriented and so exclude blind consumers. Manufacturers and service providers seem to give low priority to solving these problems, for example by offering alternative output modes. Yet some problems are being overcome: hands-free operation is now offered on some models, not in response to demand by disabled people who have difficulty in using a very small keypad, but because it is wanted by drivers who wish to use their mobile phones in a moving vehicle.
There has been much discussion about developing special mobiles with better accessibility, but all efforts to develop dedicated mobile phones for disabled people have been rejected, by disabled people themselves because they do not wish to be stigmatised as 'abnormal', and by the manufacturers because they regard this market as too small to be viable. The mobile phone business is characterised by high sales volumes and low prices with short product life-spans. Dedicated products aimed at specific parts of the community tend to be made in low volumes, at high prices, and with long periods between design updates. This does not make them attractive for manufacturer or consumer.
Scope for Improvement
Extension of the range of GSM network services by adding technologies such as WAP serves to highlight the difficulties encountered by disabled consumers, but it also offers the opportunity to address and solve them. Extra functionality to suit visually impaired consumers could be built into the terminals, but this in itself is unlikely to provide full access to services. It will be necessary to change the service characteristics, for example by modification of the network servers that handle the added facilities (see boxes).
Customising Service Characteristics
Neither of these profiles covers the needs of people with disabilities, although this could be done very simply by addition of a user profile stored in the user's own phone.
This is a European standard for storing user preferences such as text size, choice of colours, voice output, and interface complexity. The scope for including other preferences of importance to disabled people is already there, but the standard will need to be extended to allow for the facilities needed by mobile phone users with disabilities.
SIM Cards and Security
The SIM (Subscriber Identification Module) card in a GSM phone can be used to facilitate interaction with Internet and other services, as well as giving the network essential data concerning the user. A significant problem, as more and more sensitive personal information about the user is held within a mobile phone, is the potential for fraud if the phone should be stolen or used without authority. Security measures need not only to be effective, but also compatible with the requirements and abilities of disabled consumers.
A Non-trivial Problem
The potential value of the planned and proposed wireless systems for all citizens, but particularly for those who have disabilities, has been explored in the preceding sections. Ensuring that this value is delivered requires determination. A major problem results from the separation of the network function from that of the terminals, which has been a consequence of liberalisation within the EU. For many disabled consumers, the most important factor is the end-to-end operability and that is no longer within the responsibility of any single agency. For most consumers, market forces will ensure that systems and terminals work effectively, for the customers will simply go elsewhere if they do not. Those consumers who, like disabled people, have limited market power but may have specific needs are likely to be disadvantaged in this situation. It is important that administrations and regulators are alert to this danger, for meeting these needs will often require a combination of facilities in the network and on the terminal. There will be difficulties in achieving universal service for people with disabilities unless the provision of affordable mobile terminals with appropriate facilities can be guaranteed. These difficulties will be made worse if, as seems all too likely, fixed network facilities such as public payphones become less available and less affordable as most consumers migrate to the mobile networks.
Civilisation has moved on from the times when good sight, sharp hearing, and the ability to run away from danger were essential to survival. Now we overcome natural obstacles and create man-made ones. In order to benefit fully from the technical solutions created by our civilisation these abilities are still essential, for we have created systems and services which exclude people who lack some or all of them. Invention of the telephone may have stemmed from attempts to make a hearing aid, yet there are few technological innovations which have been more effective in excluding deaf people. Their exclusion was inadvertent, as hearing people realised what a marvellous facility had been offered to them, and forgot about those who were deaf. Other examples are evident - the VDU excludes the blind and the small screen on the mobile phone excludes even the partially-sighted. We need reminding to look critically at each new package to see who is likely to be excluded.
In the broad span of the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), exclusion may result from inability to handle the devices or to press the necessary keys, from difficulty in seeing what is on screen or hearing the acoustic output, or from weakness or absence of voice. It may also result from an inability to understand or remember procedures which assume a high level of computer literacy. It is important, therefore, when developing a new ICT system or terminal, to recognise which sections of the community might be excluded from making use of it and to plan for system or product variants which will address the problem. The excuse of lack of awareness of disability is no longer available.
Exclusion is by no means a simple concept, although many people do view it as such because its effects on the individual are so stark, direct and dehumanising. For those who find themselves excluded, it is often hard to accept that it is not the result of a malign influence or an inexcusable degree of indifference. Those whose actions produced the exclusion may be equally puzzled by this attitude. After achieving a technological near-miracle, it is rather disheartening to be criticised by those who clearly were never intended to use the product. But there should at least be common ground in the recognition that technology, especially in the ICT domain, now has profound effects upon our daily lives - so much so that exclusion from it is a denial of freedom. Who then should take the lead in preventing and removing that exclusion? When it results from poverty, and not disability, there is no question. Social issues of that kind are the responsibility of the State, not of industry and commerce. Why should this not apply in the case of disability? The answer is that addressing exclusion which is linked to disability calls for the intelligent use of technology, rather than financial subsidy. That is fairly and squarely a task for industry and for the technologists whom it employs. If the State has a role here, it is arguably in the role of legislation - in requiring manufacturers to produce products that are accessible just as it requires them to produce products that are safe.
Safety, like quality, is not a factor which can be added at the end of the production line when all the other processes are complete. Safety and quality are both objectives that have to be taken into account from the very beginning of the design process. The avoidance of exclusion - through making products accessible - is another. Indeed, the concept of accessibility has much in common with safety and quality. None of these is absolute, all are dependent upon the circumstances of use and all are linked to subjective interpretations. 'State of the Art' practice coupled with use of formal standards go to define what is achievable and what is expected in each case. The state of the art and the standards associated with accessibility are very much in their infancy, but exclusion can still be minimised by making more products more accessible. In that way we can move towards inclusion.
This is not as difficult as it might appear. There is no need to banish the telephone because there are people who cannot hear, or to scrap the VDU because some cannot see. We do not outlaw steps and stairways because some people cannot climb them, but we do provide an alternative if we are thoughtful. Alternatives always exist, sometimes simple, sometimes not. The more simple ones can be provided as a matter of course, because many people prefer them and the product becomes more widely acceptable as a result. This is inclusive design, recognising the diversity within the community. Where inclusive design still leaves products inaccessible for some people, special devices will be needed. That is not inclusion in the real sense - rather a form of adaptation - but it does meet the objective of enabling more people to participate fully in everyday activities.
Inclusion does not mean Uniformity
It is sometimes claimed that inclusion, and inclusive design, would impose a constraint upon designers that would stifle aesthetic innovation and lead to uniformity in structures and products. This is very far from being the case. Of course, unthinking designers can always import standard solutions into their work, whether in the name of inclusion or not. The essence of inclusive design is that careful consideration is given to the nature of the intended consumers, while covering as wide a range of their attributes as possible. Making buildings accessible does not inhibit architects any more than does making them structurally safe. Designers can always exercise their ingenuity while recognising the needs and expectations of their end-users. They can continue to aim at specialised markets, with products that may for example be specifically for children, or athletes, or any other group with common interests and requirements. But the number of instances where there is no call to make even specialist products inclusive is on the decline, as disabled people continue to demonstrate that they can do most things if the barriers are removed. The justification for not addressing their needs - even in niche market products and services - is therefore vigorously challenged.
Seeing the Need
We have to accept that it is not reasonable to ask that every new technological avenue should be accessible from the outset. If that were required it would severely inhibit technological development. The VDU may exclude blind consumers, but without the VDU there would be no computers as we know them. Even Babbage's Difference Engine relied upon a visual read-out. Television had developed a long way before optional sub-titling was available, and audio description is only now becoming possible. However, it is entirely reasonable to expect that the options are explored when rolling-out a new development, so that inclusion is achieved.
Exploring these options is also sound business sense, as few commercial operators would deliberately aim to exclude a sizeable part of their market. Where it is not possible to avoid exclusion from the very beginning, the problem should be addressed and other solutions examined. In the ICT sector, these solutions will generally take the form of alternative modalities - sound for those who cannot see, vision for those who cannot hear (and touch for those who can do neither). Since the number of alternatives is necessarily limited, the system capacity needed to carry them is predictable and the bandwidth needed for this type of multi-media approach can be reserved. The importance of making ICT accessible is so great, the benefits of minimising exclusion so extensive, that system design should always allow of this degree of redundancy so that terminal devices can be made to display all information in an appropriate format for the user.
The Question is 'When?'
There is a point in the development of any technology when it becomes clear that it is ready for application in an arena - such as the consumer sector - where the characteristics of the people who will use it have to be considered. Prior to that, the technology may have been too immature to warrant assessment or it may have been applied exclusively in sectors where the users could be specially selected and trained. From the moment that it is considered to have potential for wider application an appraisal should be made of its accessibility. Any necessary refinements should then be put in hand, or at least a capability for future updates should be provided. Such appraisal is in the self-interest of the promoters, and it would have to be a voluntary action on their part, for no-one else could gauge the potential of the innovation at that stage. If this appraisal is not made and acted upon, the consequences could be that consumer resistance will limit take-up if the potential market has been viewed too narrowly, and legal requirements on avoidance of discrimination may bear heavily. By that time, however, it may be too late to introduce inexpensive refinements to remedy matters.
The principles of inclusive design - or 'Design for All' - if applied at the appropriate time in the development cycle will avoid these problems. For, just as exclusion means that significant sectors of the population have been ignored when bringing a product to market, inclusion means that the diversity of the consumer base has been recognised. Designing with inclusion in mind does not mean that every product has to be made suitable for all consumers, but it does mean that a product will reach as much of the population as is reasonably possible. Within a range of products it should therefore be feasible to ensure that very few potential consumers are excluded, even when user requirements in different segments of the market are found to be mutually incompatible.
The Inclusive User-base
Inclusion - and hence inclusive design - is simply a matter of viewing the user population in terms of a wide spectrum of needs, expectations and abilities. Instead of seeing the buying public as composed principally of agile young adults, with other and definably separate groups existing at the fringes, inclusion views all of these as a totality. In statistical terms, their distribution of attributes, such as height, waist measurement, shoe size, dexterity, visual acuity or hearing ability, amounts to a general description of consumers. This core represents the mainstream, whose needs should be addressed by design in all ranges of products and services for the general market. Only the extreme ends of this spectrum, the 'outriders' in the statistical distribution, would be excluded and treated as special cases.
Even for them the boundaries are not fixed. A growing ability to cater for unusual requirements through standard production and delivery processes has meant and will continue to mean that the special cases diminish in number. Inclusive design is an evolving process that gradually embraces an ever larger proportion of the population.
Manufacturers and designers tend to be strongly influenced by market research, which looks at people's buying habits and at their behaviour when confronted with choices. It recognises that choice is not always based upon rational analysis and may be strongly influenced by preconceptions which the seller would be unwise to ignore. Some of these preconceptions, such as the negative images associated with disability and old age, have been enhanced by the market research process so that these are now seen as market areas to be handled separately - if at all - from the mainstream. This ignores the practicality that everyone is liable to experience disability at some time, even if only temporarily. There may be an inability to see because of poor lighting or sunlight glare, difficulty in hearing due to high ambient noise, or dexterity problems with wet hands on a slippery surface - all not uncommon problems when answering a telephone, but not at the front of one's mind when buying one. A product design which takes such problems into account illustrates the maxim that inclusive design is good design, being more acceptable for more people. Market research, by asking appropriate questions of larger target groups, could prove the key to greater success in this objective.
The Inclusive Design Process
The mechanisms of inclusive design are diverse and they must be linked to the attributes of the population to whom the product or service is addressed. Problems of vision in poor light or glare, for example, might be solved by improving visual contrasts, minimising reflections and adding controlled illumination. Features of this kind may be combined with facilities to assist hearing, especially in high noise conditions, while due attention to ergonomic design would ease many dexterity problems. Of course, these measures will not serve to make the item accessible to anyone without any sight, or hearing, or use of arms, wrists or fingers. Addressing these much more dramatic needs calls for use of alternative modalities; sound (or touch) for those without sight, visual signals for those with no hearing, and 'hands-free' systems to replace manual handling. Achieving these alternatives is not outside the scope of inclusive design, but it is very likely to involve options in the presentation of a product, with the facility for hardware add-ons such as loudspeakers, or software facilities like speech input.
Achieving inclusion should by no means imply a denial of individuality, but rather the reverse. Those consumers who fall within the 'normal' boundaries, in the sense that they are now catered for by the standard product ranges offered by manufacturers and suppliers, have a freedom of choice of style, quality and price in a competitive market. Those who are not so catered for have difficulty in finding any product to suit their needs and choice is denied to them unless they can afford the expense of bespoke solutions. Inclusion through inclusive design extends the boundaries and delivers availability and choice for consumers who are poorly served by the core of products and services currently on offer. The inclusive design process is therefore particularly important within the de-regulated Single Market of the European Union, which has produced opportunities for manufacturers and also benefits for consumers - as long as they are not excluded from the heart of this widened market-place.
Inclusive Design in ICT
The accessibility of most computer systems is due to the multi-media concept embodied in their design, which creates a redundancy of facilities that (when supported by appropriate peripherals and software) usually ensures that one communication mode is accessible when others are blocked. It may not be practically or economically feasible to match this flexibility in other types of product, in which case the feature-sets in each model will be chosen with the needs of a part of the market in mind. It will still be possible to extend accessibility by means of accessories and by ensuring that a spectrum of needs is met by careful planning of a whole product range.
Inclusive design is not simply a matter of making some token adjustments in an assumption of accessibility. It hinges upon a process of regarding disabled and elderly people as informed and discerning consumers who will, when asked, express their requirements as well as their own pre-conceptions just as readily as any other section of the public. In developing inclusive ICT products, a range of requirements will be encountered that could not reasonably be catered for within a single instrument. Careful study is needed to determine how to spread the necessary features within a product range, and in what combination in each single product, so as to address the market in a sensible fashion.
There are no fixed answers in inclusive design of ICT products, for the pace of change is too great . There are some fixed principles, the main one being the enlargement of the target market group. In order to be successful, manufacturers need to understand their markets and, in this respect, there can be no doubt about the success of the mobile communications industry. Inclusion is fundamentally a matter of applying that understanding to an increasingly wider section of the public, so that recognising and meeting that additional market demand becomes an automatic part of the design process.
The Only Certainty is Change
The next chapter gives a brief account of how the concepts of Inclusion and Exclusion have altered within an evolving culture, strongly influenced by the extension of the man-made environment. If, as is widely assumed, the Information Society is about to exert an even greater influence upon its citizens than any previous social revolution, the ideas that we take into it will inevitably be modified as events unfold. We cannot usefully write sets of prescriptive rules based upon past experience but we can use that experience to assess the ethical integrity of new approaches. The ability of the Information Society to remove barriers is already becoming evident, but we must all be alert to the dangers of creating new ones.
In putting forward the case for combating exclusion it has often been necessary to over-simplify the argument, to bring home the stark message to the majority of people. This has tended to create a view of exclusion, and of the means to prevent it, which is closely linked with the nature of the built environment. When we look at exclusion in relation to manufactured products and systems, we need to take a wider view.
People who have disabilities have been in the forefront in wanting to celebrate the diversity of humankind, for that diversity reflects a spectrum of attributes, ambitions and abilities which accounts for the individuality of human beings. These inter-personal differences, for the most part agreeable and instructive, distinguish us from robots but this same diversity means that we do not all wish to pursue the same activities or conduct our lives in the same way.
To take some examples, not everybody wishes to watch football matches, or to go to the opera, so they adopt a self-imposed exclusion from such pursuits as a result of personal choice. Some might harbour long-cherished ambitions to become international footballers or operatic stars, but find themselves excluded through lack of the relevant talents. Still others are excluded because of a perception by the people around them that they are incapable of, or unsuited to, active participation. It is this third area of exclusion that has to be challenged, and the validity of the perception questioned. This is the area where people are unreasonably prevented from engaging in activities which they are quite capable of carrying out, were it not for obstacles which others have created - or have failed to remove.
By removing these obstacles, we make the activity accessible. Accessibility is all about enabling people to do what they want, and freely choose, to do. It does not hinge upon any pre-conceptions of what they ought to want to do, or might be persuaded to do. Accessibility therefore means putting the user first, and giving the disabled consumer a range of realisable options which is comparable with that offered to anyone. This user-centred approach points up the real issue, for when their requirements are not researched, their opinions not sought and their needs not addressed, the true meaning of exclusion becomes apparent.
Exclusion in the Built Environment
The public debate about exclusion of disabled people began in the 'built environment' sector. It concentrated upon the problems of people in wheelchairs who could not gain access to public buildings, libraries, offices, theatres, cinemas and even lavatories. The barriers were obvious, but the debate concentrated upon the awareness issue; it was necessary to make planners and architects aware that wheelchair occupants might want to enter their buildings, and might have legitimate reason to do so.
This is not to imply that planners and architects were particularly insensitive to obvious problems, but rather is an indication that the perceived wisdom assumed that wheelchair users could find their own solutions. In earlier centuries, grand houses with flights of steps and heavy doors were designed to keep unwanted people out rather than to facilitate entry. Steps, stairs and heavy doors were key features of respectable architectural statements, with no evident backlash from clients in chairs on wheels. Accessibility, if it was considered at all, was secondary to the objectives of security and an outward display of status. Applying these same principles to the architecture of public buildings was perhaps an error, although it made a very deliberate statement about the importance of the stakeholders.
The change began when other developments enlarged the horizons for wheelchair users. Instead of having to be pushed around - and occasionally carried - by carers, they could propel themselves in light-weight chairs and drive on the public roads in adapted vehicles. Powered electric wheelchairs that could be driven on the pavements gave new freedom to people whose disabilities were considered to be severe. Technology brought empowerment which was briefly curtailed by the barriers in the built environment, but the pressure for recognition and inclusion was there. Countering this type of exclusion was to prove a slow and expensive process but the techniques are now well established.
A series of building regulations and standards went a long way towards reducing these barriers in the built environment, sometimes with surprising consequences. The provision of ramps and lowered kerbs was welcomed by parents with young children in push-chairs, who suddenly realised that struggling with flights of steps had been a quite unnecessary imposition. Older people, and those with temporary disabilities walking with crutches, found that ramps were often preferable to stairs, while building managers discovered that doors that were heavy enough to keep out the wind could also discourage customers. The planned incorporation of design features to assist disabled people was proving of benefit to others as well, in large numbers. Design for inclusion was therefore good design - 'Design for All'.
More importantly, the principles of inclusion are beginning to be followed in new building design while still allowing architects freedom to demonstrate the individuality and importance of their clients. These instances serve to emphasise two factors. Firstly, that exclusion of disabled and elderly people is usually an unintentional act that could have been avoided if the issue had been given consideration in due time. Secondly, that retrospective attempts to embody the principles of inclusion are often expensive and unsatisfactory.
Other Forms of Exclusion
Physical access to the built environment is primarily a matter of accommodation of wheelchairs, rather than their occupants. Although wheelchairs do vary in size, common standards for ramps, door widths and the so-called 'disabled lavatory' allow most users of wheelchairs to have access to buildings. This has tended to promote the view that there are standard solutions which, if adopted, will overcome the problems for the majority of disabled people. Even if this approach is valid for many forms of physical disability, it fails dismally when other disabilities are encountered. The wide variety found in sensory disability, together with the various restrictions of physical dexterity (as distinct from mobility), mean that a correspondingly wide range of solutions is called for.
The debate over exclusion has moved on from the built environment. It has extended to transport and the result has been the appearance of accessible taxi-cabs and buses, and initial moves to make the mainline and underground railways more convenient for people in wheelchairs. Legislation, in the form of the UK's Disability Discrimination Act, now enhances the right of disabled people to equal treatment in areas such as employment and provision of goods and services. Although the early stages of this debate were largely motivated by the needs of people with physical disabilities - to the extent that the wheelchair icon has virtually become the symbol for disability - other forms of disability are now being given prominence. As Europe develops the concept of the Information Society, it is inevitable that the sensory and learning disabilities should dominate the exclusion issue. Equally inevitably, the issues become more complex.
Exclusion and Innovation
The previous paragraphs have demonstrated the significance of exclusion and the ways in which it has often come about. In the context of embryonic and insecure technologies, exclusion has usually arisen not just unwittingly, but even excusably. We need to remember that ground-breaking innovations are very fragile and uncertain creations in their formative period. Only later, when technological sophistication has been coupled with commercial acumen, might they seem to acquire a power of their own. At some undefined stage in between there would, ideally, be an appraisal of the merits of the invention and of the modifications that might be needed to make it most widely accessible. In practice, it has to be said, there may be very little incentive to do this in the face of the commercial pressures to take the invention to the market-place.
Innovations that have revolutionised the lives of ordinary people have rarely reached that stage within the lifetimes of their originators. For a variety of social, cultural and economic reasons, their initial impact has been confined to a very select audience. Public railways, telephones, motor cars, radio, television and computers were all, in their early days, aimed of necessity at a narrow and prosperous section of the population. It took several decades, and usually some adjustments to the technology, to make these innovations more generally available - although the pace of change is now much more rapid. This process of gradual introduction allows the acceptability of the innovation to be tested and its economic viability assessed, but with an emphasis upon the perceived core markets. All of the examples of innovations given above exclude people with disabilities in one way or another and, with the exception of computers, countering those exclusions has proved to be a slow, difficult and expensive process. Yet it is possible to counter those exclusions, except for radio broadcasts for the deaf, and it would have been very much easier if the need could have been foreseen in the formative period of each technology.
It is sometimes difficult to recognise when inclusion needs to be considered so that timely adjustments can be made, without hindering the development of a technology at a stage when its viability is still in doubt. As noted earlier, only the active participants are in a position to see this but they may lack the inclination to take action. With wireless communication systems many new avenues of technology are being explored, but the whole process is taking place within an arena where legislative and regulatory control is not far away. The industry players can be spurred to take timely action by the expectation that it will be ultimately be demanded of them.
To promote inclusivity in design it is first of all necessary to understand something of the design process. Design is a concept with a very wide span of meanings, ranging from the aesthetic to the functional, and applicable to every single object which is man-made. It is just as appropriate to use the term 'design' in the context of objects which command attention for their artistic value as it is for those which are entirely utilitarian. 'Good design' must therefore mean that the artefact is pleasing to the senses, and at the same time is highly effective for its intended purpose. In other words, 'good design' is an epithet to apply to an object which looks good and works well. It is, however, much easier to make this kind of assessment with a simple object such as a paper-weight than with a complex product like a mobile phone, and much the same is true of the design process itself.
Division of Responsibility
For any product that relies upon sophisticated technology for its functionality, the probability is that the responsibilities for design will be divided. The more technologically complex aspects will lie within the province of an engineer while the aesthetics will be seen as an opportunity for an artist. In the worst instances, the 'works' of the product will be placed in a package designed by another hand, with yet another designer's input to turn the concept model into something which can be made. Inclusivity requires a fully co-ordinated approach to all the aspects of design through all their stages. The same may be said of 'good design', which is evident when all the factors are in harmony, so these two objectives have much in common. Divided responsibilities for design therefore make success in both of these aims less likely.
The tendency to divide responsibility also creates a problem for those who would influence designers. It is not always easy to know whom to approach, so the message of inclusive design has to be put across separately to engineers and to design artists. Although the reality of good design is that it results from close teamwork between both professions, in practice there may be little encouragement for this in all too many design situations. This situation is not helped by the tendency of engineers and artists to speak in incompatible professional languages, and even to have different task objectives which make for rivalry rather than cohesion. On this particular battleground it is difficult for the ergonomist, who would like to make the product user-friendly, to have any influence upon events. A further complication is that many of the component parts of a manufactured product will be designed and made by suppliers who sell only to industry and have no consumer customer base themselves. In the ICT industry, microchips, visual displays, acoustic transducers and even keypads are sourced in this way. The extended chain between designers and consumers makes for very ineffective feedback of information from those who use the products.
In consumer products for telecommunications, the processes of design embrace a particular set of objectives. These are the technological development of a device that will meet exacting performance specifications and the placing of that assembly in a suitable housing. The housing has to protect the device from the environment, be ergonomically appropriate and attractive to the purchaser. The whole object has to be suited to economic and repeatable manufacture to yield a finished product which is safe, reliable and acceptable to the user in both performance and appearance. All of this has to be achieved within the cost constraints of a highly competitive market. Inclusivity might then be seen by some as a further constraint, demanding the addition of further features and therefore calling for a formal business case to justify the outlay. In practice the inclusive design approach will frequently yield a better product at little or no additional cost, but only if the philosophy is followed from the earliest concept stage. The result, if the principles are diligently applied, is pleasing to see and handle and is effective in use - ie, is good design.
A small and well-integrated design team may be better placed to achieve good design than a large and functionally separated organisation. The mobile phone industry provides an example of a close-knit design approach producing attractive products, but these still lack essential features of inclusivity. What is needed is a recognition of the wider user base that the product should be able to reach, but here the small design team may be at a disadvantage. It may not have access to the kind of user data obtained by the 'human factors' sections working in the larger organisations. Without this information on the ergonomic needs of a wider population, the smaller group will have to rely upon personal experience and intuition. Put bluntly this means designing on the basis of peer group expectations, with other types of user being catered for only on a basis of anecdotal descriptions of their wants. This can be overcome, but only if those ergonomic design characteristics are derived on a non-commercial basis and placed in the public domain.
Studying the Consumers
In order to make a design inclusive it is essential to know, at the very outset, by what wider groups of consumers the product might be used. Other issues to be decided and accepted at this point will include the performance objective, the user environment and the cost target. Some, maybe most, of these decisions will be made by the marketing departments, which is why the argument for inclusivity must be debated there also. But once a case has been made for a new product to be aimed at a market that goes beyond agile young adults and teenagers, some specific information about the others will be needed as a design input. This is especially critical if the designers are themselves in the agile young adults category. A quantified description of the ability range of the intended consumers is wanted, not confined to physical ability but extending to sight, hearing and speech as well. In the days when telecommunications equipment was purchased only by state institutions, including the national Posts and telecoms operators and the armed services, the manufacturers did not have to assemble such data. It was done for them by the purchasers, who laid down all of the performance and user requirements in fine detail with the result that the scope for design initiative was very limited. Ergonomic characteristics were established by reference to anthr opometric surveys and the acoustical performance of telephones was similarly defined. Designers were therefore expected to work with standardised models and objective test data that were presumed to be representative of the consumers. Market research, as the consumer industries would understand the term, did not enter the picture.
The surveys from which the models and tests were derived were often conducted among servicemen and these outcomes therefore excluded the older and less able sections of the population. Design data of this kind may be out of date, and quite contrary to the current notion of inclusivity, but little work on the same scale has been attempted since. This inheritance of institutional data remains to give designers of telecommunications terminals a false picture of what the 'typical' human being is like.
Some industries, particularly clothing manufacture, have developed their own sets of data although even these may be slanted by demands of fashion and brand-specific notions as to the nature of the customer base. Telecommunications has been freed from control by State monopolies for too short a time for the majority of its manufacturers to have acquired the same degree of independence and customer knowledge. There is a further complication in that the mobile phone has become a fashion accessory in its own right, which has no doubt helped to boost sales but is bad news for anyone whose requirements are unfashionable. With a fast-moving technology products quickly become obsolete, so it makes good commercial sense for manufacturers of terminals to move with the transient dictates of fashion. The time and money involved in designing for longer life-spans might not show any additional return. The network operators, on the other hand, will have a somewhat different view of events. Although they have to offer up-to-the-minute facilities in order to attract and retain consumers, they have obligations to provide non-discriminatory services. Also, they will need a period of stability in order to recoup the enormous capital costs of setting up the system infrastructure. These factors are likely to determine the point at which mobile telecommunications reaches a state of maturity.
It may be unrealistic to expect that mobile telephony will ever reach a level of technological stability comparable with that of the fixed networks, given the ever-increasing pace of technological development. The limitations of the fixed local loop present a barrier to service improvements and, although this can be overcome, wireless systems can often do this just as well and more cheaply. Fixed networks may again come to have a key role but, for now, the future is mobile. As the GSM mobile networks give way to the third generation, with a mixture of terrestrial and satellite base stations, a long period of service development is in prospect - characterised by a vastly expensive roll-out of infrastructure facilities. Once that infrastructure is in place, there will be great reluctance to change it significantly before the operators have recouped their investments and moved into profit. At this stage, the more mature market conditions will allow terminal manufacturers to develop particular sectors according to their perceptions and interests. Inclusive design is then likely to become of greater commercial importance as suppliers look for a stable base market. The bad news is that this stage could be a decade or more away.
What Happens Next?
The infrastructure of third generation systems such as UMTS will be designed to act as a wide-band conduit for all manner of telecommunication services, rather on the model of the Internet. Therefore there will be scope for additional service innovations, virtually without limit, carried on the hardware infrastructure of the basic system. These innovations will probably require new terminals in order to access them, and will depend upon software installations set up by their service providers and possibly within the network itself. But software updates are easier and cheaper to action than hardware modifications, and can be implemented without detriment to previously existing services. Straightforward voice and text Telephony could continue as basic mobile services - perhaps as Universal Service - unaffected by quite dramatic added value offerings carried by the networks. What we now refer to as the 'Plain Old Telephone System' (POTS) will by then have a mobile equivalent that will challenge the role of the fixed network. Even now, the viability of public payphones is coming under thr eat thr ough the growth in use of mobiles. When consumers come to wonder why they need a fixed voice terminal, mobile Telephony will be truly mature. But if we want to ensure that this mature system is really inclusive, we have to achieve two immediate aims. One is to make the designers and planners of the new networks aware of the facilities needed to provide inclusivity; the other is to make their counterparts in the terminal equipment supply industry familiar with the range of user-selected options that will be sought.
This adds up to a design process of enormous diversity, as we contemplate a global network of terrestrial and satellite base stations carrying a myriad of services that will be accessed by a widely diverse range of terminals. It is difficult to know who to influence, and when. The best approach perhaps is to spread the message of inclusivity as widely as possible, so that it reaches all levels of the political, commercial, technological and aesthetic sectors that bear upon telecommunications. It would be a welcome gesture if the Governments that have unexpectedly derived very large sums of money from selling airspace could give practical support to this end.
Organising for Inclusive Design
Achieving inclusivity in the design of a product or service may be compared with achieving consistent quality. It cannot be applied - like a coat of paint - at a single stage in the manufacturing process, for it requires attention and awareness at every point. Otherwise, some inadvertent lapse or inattention might partially negate the objective. A component change, a different peripheral, the wrong packaging or even poorly presented instruction manuals could detract from a successful concept. The manufacturing organisation needs to have a culture of inclusivity, just as it needs a culture of quality. That means that systems have to be in place to monitor and maintain the desired outcomes, and they need to extend thr ough the marketing department and the sales and service parts of the business. That said, achievement of this inclusivity culture can be far less formal, complex and expensive than the corresponding quality management procedures proved to be in the past.
Previous chapters have emphasised an essential first step. Managers and designers have to be made aware of the great numbers of people who are potential consumers of their products and services, and of the diversity of expectations and abilities among them. Some stick and carrot encouragement may be necessary but this is not the whole answer, for we cannot legislate to make people think.
Standards, Guidelines and Legislation
Packaged solutions - as in published standards - tend to produce packaged products. Guidelines can very often be helpful and good practice examples need to be publicised as widely as possible. The real objective is to create a culture of recognition of this diversity. Horizontal legislation such as the UK's Disability Discrimination Act helps but it is easier to apply with mature, rather than evolving, technology. A balance must be found between protecting seemingly fragile emerging technologies and allowing barriers to be created. We must question whether a technology where players bid billions of pounds or D-marks to join is really fragile - or so mature that full accessibility should be an obligation from day one.
The role of legislation needs to be considered very carefully, for it can be only marginally effective in a free market where the provision of goods is concerned. It is not possible to force any manufacturer or supplier to produce particular products, although it might be possible to require that consideration has been given to accessibility, just as it is possible to require that consideration is given to safety. The USA has attempted this approach, resulting in a dialogue with industry about accessibility issues, but no product can be made accessible to everybody. Observance of a set of guidelines, verified by audit, becomes the only means of enforcing accessibility requirements and this has the effect of transferring responsibility from the designers of the product to the authors of the guidelines. This is not an approach to be recommended in fast-moving technologies such as telecommunications, for if guidelines are to be effective, they must be ahead of the game. This means that the people who would have to draft them would be the active designers and technologists themselves.
A similar circumstance applies in the provision of services, as distinct from goods. Although legislation can be applied in this sector with significant effect, unless it is carefully drafted so as to be non-specific it will be quickly outpaced by the evolution of new technology. This could leave the very consumers whom the legislation is intended to protect condemned to put up with out-of-date services. Again, the estimation of what is possible and technologically reasonable has to be driven by those who are very close to the leading edge.
Sticks and Carrots
If we have to rely upon industry to ensure that products and services are 'future-proofed' as far as accessibility is concerned, then it would be best if the motivation for this came from commercial self-interest. In the stick and carrot approach, the sticks are loss of market share to competitors with more acceptable products, the costs of dealing with complaints from regulators, consumer bodies and the public, and the thr eat of additional legislation triggered by an observation that the market is failing to deliver.
The carrots are larger markets with minimal additional product cost, fewer complaints from dissatisfied consumers and from uneasy regulators, greater customer loyalty and the considerable prestige that is gained from being seen as a public-spirited organisation. For the professional staff working in the industry there is also the very important additional job satisfaction that comes from work executed to the highest standards. Achieving these advantages - without the risks to emerging technological developments that arise from imposition of a regulatory strait-jacket - must be worth-while for any organisation.
It is not sufficient, however, just to carry this particular argument. Telecommunications industry organisations have expertise in telecommunications, not disability. It would not be helpful to deliver the message on inclusion without adding some directions on where the essential design information is to be found. Unfortunately that information is far from complete, so a vital element of 'what can be done' must be the charting of a means of remedying the omission. 'Inclusion' remains simply an empty slogan until those excluded can be as well identified, and their wants as well documented, as those already in.
Inclusion in 3rd Generation Wireless Systems
In the context of wireless systems, it is necessary to examine both short-term and long-term potential. The 3rd generation of mobile systems will ultimately have a capability to transmit data, text, voice and pictures between terminals that may be fixed or moving, with bandwidth that varies according to the instant demand and is charged for on that basis. The system will provide Internet access as well as point-to-point communication, and it will merge with other wireless technologies - such as broadcasting - to a very significant extent. It will also embrace short-range communication links like Bluetooth, so that connecting cables between devices will be made obsolete, as will the inductive, ultrasonic and infra-red methods of coupling devices together. Because 3rd generation systems will be general conduits for information carriage, and not function-specific, they have the potential to form ideal foundations for an inclusive telecommunications arena.
The long-term view will take this enormous potential into account and point the way towards a communications infra-structure that is both comprehensive and inclusive. It will enable future requirements to be forecast and therefore protected. It will see to it that none of the generality of the system and the multiplicity of its output modes is sacrificed along the way because no immediate demand has been perceived. In the shorter term, existing services need to be maintained until they are no longer required. This may create conflicts. GSM systems - the 2nd generation - are known to cause interference problems with hearing aids in a way which the analogue first generation ones do not. Digital local loops on the fixed networks do not support inductive couplers (due to insufficient line power) or hard-wired textphones, or Fax: machines for that matter. Mobile analogue networks will soon be switched off to free up more channels for the 3rd generation and there is pressure to go digital on the local loop. We do not yet know what incompatibility problems might arise as all of these relevant technologies develop, not necessarily hand-in-hand.
Issues of this kind are all inter-linked, so that changing any one part of the technology might have unforeseen consequences elsewhere. Bringing some order to this complex network is a daunting task, especially in a de-regulated commercial sector, and the danger is that by the time a serious incompatibility is detected it will be too late to change it. The best strategy would seem to be to generate sufficient accessibility awareness amongst the leaders of the communication revolution, so that they can either avoid problems or at least raise them for discussion.
Special Economic Moves
Both the short-term and the long-term situations can be handled more easily if this 'inclusion awareness' is fostered in the industry, but it would be facile to expect that this is a sufficient answer. There will be some economic issues to resolve and many consumer sector problems, which the industry could not be expected to solve unaided. Examples might include the need to continue with analogue services when all but a minority could and would switch to digital. Would there be an argument for 'buying off' this remainder by subsidising their introduction to a digital equivalent to their analogue service? Should effort be applied to solving short-term problems, like interference with hearing aids, if there is evidence that the difficulty will simply disappear with time? Text Telephony on the analogue fixed networks could be rendered totally obsolete by the vastly better (and almost certainly cheaper) text facilities on 3rd generation mobiles, but is there a case for hastening the migration from fixed to mobile by the judicious use of one-off subsidies? These questions are linked with the size of the installed base of present-day services and equipment, not just in the direct scope of telecommunications but also in other sectors, hearing aids being a crucial example. These are not matters which the telecommunications industry can tackle by itself, for they involve a dialogue with Government, regulators, consumers and other stakeholders.
Predicting Future Benefits and Obstacles
It is not actually possible at this stage to set out what will be needed, beyond pointing to broad strategy objectives - or even broad objectives for the management of strategy. People who try to forecast what consumers will want in the future, on a basis of what they have wanted in the past, tend to come unstuck. Industry is forced to make those forecasts, since no form of business can stand still, but industry knows the costs of error and has to bear them. It is relatively easy to spell out the deficiencies of existing technological systems and the ways in which they fail to serve the needs of particular groups of consumers, such as disabled and elderly people. It is often not too difficult to develop 'patches' which will remedy these deficiencies when applied to existing technologies. However, it is much less easy to carry this process forward to forms of technology which are still in development. The 'patch' which worked with today's system may be inappropriate with tomorrow's, and if so it will become obsolete. It is much more important to understand why the 'patch' became necessary and to design the system of tomorrow with that experience in mind. This could even be an uncomfortable process for disabled people and their supporters, when they have fought for, obtained and become accustomed to very specific provisions. They will need to be assured that the promised new technology will be at least as good as their well-tried and familiar, if obsolescent, system - and no more expensive.
'What can be done' centres on thr ee main elements:
- creating a culture of inclusion within the telecommunications industry,
- aiding the application of the inclusion philosophy by conducting studies of the user profiles of elderly and disabled people who are currently excluded,
- creating a forum where the principle stakeholders can openly discuss accessibility issues and aspirations.
The first of these is a matter for a collaborative approach with the professions and industry bodies concerned, the consumer representatives and Government. The second is a research issue of a kind which would not normally qualify for public funding, but there are good precedents for bending the rule in favour of near-market research that aims to ameliorate problems of exclusion. The third is perhaps more contentious, since there is no lack of discussion platforms in the ICT sector and perhaps some reluctance to add another. However, a separate forum is needed because the accessibility and inclusivity issues tend to get submerged when a wider agenda is followed. In parallel with these elements, there is an on-going task of educating consumers, so that they are encouraged and enabled to exercise informed choices, to come forward with constructive criticism of the products they are offered, and to complain forcibly when products or services fall short of reasonable expectations.
An Accessibility Forum
The primary object of establishing such a forum would be to facilitate discussion of accessibility issues openly and bluntly without compromising commercial confidentiality. It should avoid being a host to campaigning lobbies, for the other parties will then either retreat to prepared positions or neglect to attend at all. It should be separated from platforms where industry and regulators conduct their more confrontational dialogues. It should perhaps combine the freedom of discussion enjoyed within professional bodies with the common interest approach of Government departments acting as industry sponsors. It must recognise that the consumers are crucial stakeholders and listen to their views. Even if it does no more than to collate and prioritise the accessibility issues for the industry to take note of, it will prove immensely valuable. Above all, it needs to be flexible enough to take up issues quickly, as soon as they are perceived, and bring them to general notice. It does not need to develop solutions, for that is best left to the industry, but it does need to alert industry to real and potential problems of accessibility.
Consideration of this proposal leads to the question of whether such a forum should be national or attempt to be pan-European. Given the need for flexibility and responsiveness, a national role would seem to be preferable. This would accord with the Governmental and regulatory pattern, in which telecommunications is administered nationally within a defined European framework. As the industry, the consumer bodies and the regulators all have pan-European interest groups, there should be no difficulty in airing issues more widely when that is desired. Furthermore, many organisations already existing at national level could come together to form the nucleus of the proposed forum. Duplication is not the objective, but rather a combination of resources in order to speed an interchange of opinions.
These objectives are to be reached steadily rather than immediately, but with progress towards them measured by milestones. Even where the realisation of particular objectives may be some way off, it is most important to ensure that the path is not impeded by some technological obstructions. That means that there must be sufficient understanding of the ultimate goal to recognise potential obstructions. That is where the suggested forum is most likely to be able to help matters. In the nature of complex technologies, it is most unlikely that anyone other than industry 'insiders' will be able to make that recognition in time, so their clear appreciation of the accessibility objectives facilitated thr ough the forum will be vital. This is a further reason why it is crucially important that the responsibility for achieving inclusion is shouldered by the consumer product and service industries, with encouragement provided by informed consumer opinion and some occasional prodding in the form of legislation and regulation.
The pace of development ensures the accuracy of the adage that 'the only thing that is certain is change'. Those who wish to ensure that disabled and elderly people are not faced with the announcement 'call barred' have to be as alert to the movements in communications technology as the state-of-the-art leaders. Much help will be needed in doing this and in convincing disabled and elderly consumers - who have good reason to be sceptical - that there is a bright communications future. There is a role for industry, but there is also a role for Government and regulators in creating the right conditions and a beneficial climate.
THE KEY OBJECTIVES SUMMARISED
A US federal agency concerned with accessible design.
This site is concerned with access to telecommunications by disabled and elderly people. Generic and terminal specific guidelines.
Report on the potential use of electronic purses by disabled people.
The design of information and communication technology systems so that they are accessible to everybody including disabled and elderly people. Handbook on inclusive design.
Links to guidelines for the inclusive design of information and communication systems.
Public Access Terminals
Design guidelines to make public terminals accessible by disabled people.
Telephones: What Features Do Disabled People Need?
Lists features which would be useful for disabled consumers.
Guidelines for the design of consumer products to increase their accessibility to people with disabilities or who are ageing.
The design of user interfaces for people with visual impairments.
Open specification for wireless communication of data and voice.
This association represents GSM operators.
Mobile Data Association
Aims to increase awareness of mobile data amongst consumers and their advisers.
Mobile Data Initiative
An industry alliance formed by some of the leading mobile telecommunication and information technology companies.
Details of General Packet Radio Service on mobile networks.
All about the text messaging Short Message Service on mobile phones.
Telecomms Technical Issues
UK national resource on telecomms issues including a section on support for people with disabilities.
An international and indepenedent body for creating a cross-industry consensus for the introduction and development of UMTS / IMT-2000.
The Wireless Application Protocol for wireless information and Telephony services on digital mobile phones and other wireless terminals.
Wireless Data Forum
An organisation dedicated to publicising successful wireless data applications and customer communities.
The Third Generation Partnership Project is producing technical specifications for a 3rd generation mobile system based on evolved GSM core networks and UTRA radio access technologies.
CDMA - Code Division Multiple Access
DDA - Disability Discrimination Act
DECT - Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications
DTI - Department of Trade and Industry
ETSI - European Telecommunications Standards Institute
GPRS - General Packet Radio Service
GPS - Global Positioning System
GSM - Global System for Mobile Communications
ICT - Information and Communication Technologies
IMT-2000 - International Mobile Telecommunications for the year 2000
IP - Internet Protocol
ISDN - Integrated Services Digital Network
POTS - Plain Old Telephone System
PSTN - Public Switched Telecommunications Network
SIM - Subscriber Identification Module
TDMA - Time Division Multiple Access
UMTS - Universal Mobile Telecommunications System
VDU - Visual Display Unit
WAP - Wireless Application Protocol
PhoneAbility is the independent UK focal point for telecommunications and the needs of disabled and elderly people. The group acts as a catalyst in this area by organising conferences and seminars on telecommunications and disability. It also acts as the UK reference group to the European project COST 219bis.
The main objective is to increase the availability of telecommunication services and equipment so that they are accessible to disabled and elderly people. These services and equipment should be designed so that the special needs are taken into account, but if this is not possible they could also be made adaptable to meet the required needs. In cases where neither of these can be achieved, appropriate supplementary services and equipment will be needed. The aim is therefore to make sure that the inclusive design concept in one form or another is taken into account when dealing with telecommunications and Telematics.
COST 219bis also seeks to promote research into the field of telecommunications and Teleinformatics with the aim of proposing solutions to the problems related to the needs of disabled and elderly people in providing access to new telecommunication and Teleinformatic services.
Signatory countries are Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and United Kingdom; Australia and USA participate as non-COST members.
ISBN 1 86048 024 1
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