An online resource of open source, royalty-free assistive technology tools, accessible and usable at any time and across the world, is to be launched next year by a consortium of more than 30 US and European IT and disability organisations and leaders, the European Commission e-Inclusion conference heard this month.
Addressing the Vienna conference Dr Gregg Vanderheiden, director of the Trace Research and Development Centre at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (trace.wisc.edu), said the rationale for the project was to ensure that the societies of the future did not create a global disconnected underclass.
“Tomorrow will not look like today. IT will be like electricity is today – you won’t be able to find a place, a room, a vehicle where it is not available,” Vanderheiden said. “It is like the electric light switch – people used to have to carry their light with them, to carry lantern into a room. They would have laughed if you had said to them in the future you won’t have to, there will be light in every room,” he said.
So the world will be one of IT convenience, Vanderheiden said, “Unless we have a disability that prevents us from using the default interfaces provided, or they are too complicated for us to understand. Then we won’t be able to operate in the world as it is designed…somehow we have to figure out a way that we can economically deliver accessibility to a wide variety of interfaces…to build accessibility into the internet.”
The ‘Raising the Floor’ project will seek to address this problem by creating a collaborative, international virtual community of businesses, public sector agencies, charities and others to create a bank of open source virtual assistive technologies, he said. Tools would be “localisation-friendly, and culturally open and agnostic,” and offline access would be possible for those who cannot afford to get or stay online, for example using e-book readers downloaded to mobile phones.
The initiative received its first grant in October from the US Department of Education and will have its formal launch at the UN next year, Vanderheiden said. For a link to a copy of his Vienna presentation see: