Applications for Mobile Internet Access for Persons with Disabilities

>> JONATHAN CHARLES: I'll leave you two to slug that one out afterwards like two old boxers in the ring.  I'd like to introduce now Arun Mehta.  He does fantastic work, if you want to see it it's worth going to his Web site,  There are amazing things on there, and he'll talk today on what has been done and what needs to be done in terms of standards and guidelines.  Arun.

>> ARUN MEHTA: Thank you.  Can I have the first slide?

>> JONATHAN CHARLES: Yes, you probably need that.

>> ARUN MEHTA: Okay.  My focus now in my work with disabilities a lot with children with mental challenges, and addressing that one effectually deals with all disabilities.  Gareth talked about this one size fits all not working.  We have an extreme case where you require a different kind of software for each person, because each mentally challenged child has a completely unique combination of abilities and disabilities, depending upon how the damage happened, when it happened, et cetera.

So among mentally challenged, many are nonverbal, many have sensory issues, that means they're very sensitive to bright lights, loud sounds or maybe even touch.  So I've been in computers now for decades, and I have rarely been so excited about a new technology as I am about smartphones, because there is so much in there that would be amazingly useful for children with mental challenges.

Now, we have on the smartphone a large number of inputs and outputs and all of them can be great for a mentally challenged child.  A mentally challenged child works very closely with a caregiver, very often the mom, who give up their professional life to look after the child.  It's very, very hard.  So a smartphone, for example, the mic can act for the caregiver as a remote eye, to see what's happening in the vicinity of the child.  Likewise the mic to hear what's happening, the speaker to talk back either to the child or whoever the child is trying to communicate with.  The GPS does (off microphone) where the child is.

And another very important thing about the smartphone, particularly for children, is that the phone is cool.  You know, what he was talking about, big, clunky things.  Well, so far what we have been trying to get children to use is a net book like this, which is portable but it's not something that you want to take with you to the market or to the club or wherever else you're going just in order to be able to speak.  But a smartphone, and the apple smartphone, everyone is interested to know what you're doing and they like it, so that's important too.

Let me give you a very, very brief introduction to the persons with mental challenges and where that comes from.  Of course everyone is unique, but a very common problem is that there are fewer interconnections between different parts of the brain.  So trying to get different parts of the brain to work together is a problem, and I have a whole lot of things listed here, for instance, writing, which requires many muscles coordinating, or when you're talking about higher -- more complex language, that's another problem, flexibility.

But when different parts of the brain aren't working well together, for example, hearing and viewing, may not coordinate very well, and I would be interested to know how the TE people handled that.  A person cannot be following what's happening on the screen at the same time as understanding what is being said, which is why, for example, mentally challenged people will often view the same video again and again and again and again, because they get different pieces each time that they
have to try and combine. Let me go there.  Now, here I'm trying to summarize and extract, this is a whole presentation -- as to how one best would address -- how one best would write software that helps children with mental challenges, using facts, rules, only essential information, very important.  No distractions.  You don't want, you know, lots of animations and flashing and all kinds of weird signs, unless it's significantly contributing to the information.  I mean, a lot of these things are probably good for everybody.

Software needs to be forgiving of errors, and that's true for everyone, but even more so for people who are dyslexic and, you know, people who have other similar problems.  You really must have a very high level of automation.  You stop the (off microphone) and forget about it.  You shouldn't have to keep interacting with the app. And then we're using -- it's much harder to comprehend line drawings than it is to comprehend pictures, so that's another thing that's quite useful when writing apps for persons with mental challenges.

Okay.  Now, if we are trying to make smartphones more friendly to the needs of the mentally challenged, since every child is different, one is going to need to write fresh apps pretty much for every child.  We would like to take it to the point where the caregiver can do this herself, and eventually also teach this to the child, so that you are in a position to solve your own problems and problems of people like you, as they say, better to teach a person how to catch fish than to give a person fish.

So I'm very excited about things like Google's app inventor and I would like to see these be a standard you would make it really easy to write apps and these can work across platforms.  That would be really cool.

Patrick talked about how we need to standardize libraries and the interfaces that people use.  I totally support that, but also another thing that is very important is that the inputs and the outputs should also be standard so that you don't to revise yourself when you're writing to a different kind of phone.  It was discussed that making the interface customizable is hugely important so you can throw stuff out that doesn't work for you and reduce the information to the minimum that does.  Yes, and what is -- that was also discussed, having a similar interface across applications helps hugely, so when you're learning a new app you don't have to completely figure out how the damn thing works.

Okay.  This is -- this is my last slide.  I mean, I hugely believe that rather than trying to fix the product, which is what we are doing a lot, it's much better to fix the process that makes the bad product.  And an excellent way of doing that is to employ developers who are disabled in the team.  You know, that is the best way to get accessible apps, and some of the best software that has been written for blind people has been written by blind people themselves.  As Fernando and others will tell us.

The problem, of course, is that you don't have that many disabled developers, and the reason is that the entire educational system, higher education system, an engineer in college, for example, are typically not accessible, I am not aware of a single programme in India that is open to, for example, an -- an engineering programme, for example, that is open to blind people.  That really needs to change, you know?

Another very important thing is that if you want developers who are disabled to be able to work with you on the app writing, then the developer tools need to be accessible and that is often a serious problem.  So that's another area that smartphone people should pay attention to.

I think it's hugely important to focus on those with the most severe disabilities.  We had a lady asking about what your priorities should be, and so I think, you know, really one very, very important segment is the deaf/blind.  These are people who have extreme information and communication challenges, and something like this could work quite well with a smartphone they have good feedback.  We've also been discussing in the DCAD how we might work to develop something for the deaf/blind, maybe something with Morse code.  You can tap it on the screen and the feedback (off microphone) back to you.  So that might be a way to go.

Now, what has also been mentioned is these kinds of things aren't just for persons who are disabled.  Now, depending on how you use the smartphone, you might be disabled, like when you're driving a car, or, for example, a teenager who wants to be texting with the phone in the pocket.  You are deaf/blind in that situation.  So an app that would work in that situation might also be quite interesting for teenagers.

And so this is something that needs to be looked at that -- every user of the smartphone, depending on the usage, is disabled in some way. So accessible apps make the app more user-friendly for everyone. And my last point really is that here in the Dynamic Coalition, as, you know -- the speakers that you've listened to before me and also in the other sessions that we are holding and you talk to them, these are some of the best experts that you will ever come across in the area of
technology for persons with access needs, and I think that we really should take advantage of the expertise available in groups like that, which is indeed quite clear.

>> ARUN MEHTA: Can I just ask you something?  I saw it in various interchanges you had in the run up to this.  You think there's also something about the way you get apps on cell phones that particularly children with mental disabilities, something to do with the fact they can touch it and actually motivate them that way?

>> SHADI ABOU-ZAHRA: Thank you for pointing that out.

>> JONATHAN CHARLES: I thought that was very interesting and I wonder if you'd say more.

>> SHADI ABOU-ZAHRA: One of the problems a person with mental challenges might have is to make the connection between the movement of the mouse and the movement of the cursor on the screen.  You know, it's not an obvious connection for many people.  Likewise, pressing a key on the keyboard and having something happen on the screen, again, there is a level of abstraction.  With a cell phone you're touching, that's good for kids.  They love pointing and touching.

>> JONATHAN CHARLES: I think that's an interesting way about how cell phones operate, especially for people with disability.  We've heard obviously all our speakers now.  Again, it's your turn to ask your questions.  We'd love to hear from you.  Does anyone have any questions now, not just from the three speakers we heard from the last session but anyone.  Yes, again the lady and then the gentleman.  We'll get you a microphone.  David is running that way.

>> AUDIENCE MEMBER: Just for the last speaker there, is it Arun Mehta.  Just to make a point.  One thing you said.  You think the access (off microphone) should be made for people with the biggest disabilities, which is something I agree with, actually, but isn't it true that a lot of the times -- the phrase, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few will actually come about and it's the people -- the majority of people, or the numbers of people who are actually affected with a minor disability will still actually get the most funds or the most help for this, and the people with the most severe disability, just because there might only and few, they might be ignored -- or maybe not ignored, but there's not aid for them.

>> ARUN MEHTA: Again, how much time do you have?  (laughter) well, we've got about 15 minutes.

>> In India, autism is not a disability under the Persons with Disabilities Act.  When the, you know, head of the autism society of India, a woman with an extremely severely disabled daughter, wrote to the government to ask that (off microphone) be included, the reply that came back was that the government decided not to do so, because to do so, this is a quote, would take attention and resources away from those whose needs are greater.  This is the kind of attitude that you find very often, and this is something, you know, that one has to fight.  Persons with disabilities have to fight all the time, for every little thing we have to fight, and the more severe your disability the bigger the fight is.  And that's why they need a lot of people to help them.

I mean, if you have a communication disability you cannot organise, you cannot come here and do a talk, so you need other people to do it for you.  And so this is therefore a request to everybody to pay a little bit more attention there. The point that I made about apps, app writing becoming simpler, that's a huge, huge thing.  It is really becoming a lot simpler to write
software now.  So these considerations that, you know, the money is limited and we can't -- is less and less of an excuse,but still it is a problem.

demonstrated she has a child with disabilities.  And we would like the What we want to do, and this is something that we are trying to start now, is the on-line self-help group for persons with mental challenges, where we treat the caregiver and the child as a team and where every caregiver of a mentally challenged person becomes an expert in the field because there is so little help available. So we want this knowledge and information to enrich the entire community, to reach more people, so if you have an older caregiver who's had decades of experience in bringing up a mentally challenged child or children, that will be great help to a young mother who caregivers, really, to be able to themselves develop apps, for two reasons:  One, that this kind of a problem isn't there, that you can develop your own apps, number one, and number two, once you teach the caregiver you have a good chance that this information might actually also reach the mentally challenged child, who then might become an absolutely great developer.  I mean, the Silicon -- Silicon Valley is full of persons with autism, you can check out the geek syndrome, autism.  Computers attract people with mental challenges. So we would like them to become developers, testers, you know, all of these things.

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