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Report Highlights Major Research Gaps For Assistive Technology

Lack of awareness of the needs of users with disabilities; funding problems; user-testing problems and problems with ensuring use of open standards are all among barriers to successful transfer of new assistive technologies from the research laboratory to the real world, a new report finds.

The report was written by consultant Dr John Gill for the Cardiac project, a European initiative to identify research and development gaps in the fields of accessible and assistive ICT ( http://www.cardiac-eu.org ).

The project covers two main areas: transferring assistive devices from the laboratory to wide availability; and encouraging the introduction of more mainstream products and services which are usable by people with disabilities.

“In the area of assistive technology for people with disabilities, many devices have been developed, some of which were successful, but most have failed to make the transition from the laboratory to being generally available at affordable prices”, the report finds.

Problems have included:

– Assistive devices are often required in relatively small quantities, but modern production techniques require large quantities to keep prices low;

– Manufacturers often insist on using proprietary protocols, whereas users would prefer systems based on open standards to avoid supplier lock-in; and

– Widespread lack of awareness of accessibility issues among product and service design teams.

Organisations representing people with disabilities seldom join discussions on research priorities since they lack people with the skills to understand the potential of new developments to help people with disabilities, the report finds.

There is also a catch-22 situation regarding commercial risk: “Companies in the disability area tend to be risk-averse, so prefer to update an existing product rather than market a truly innovative concept”, it says. “New concepts may not get subsidised until such time that they have significant market penetration, but the market may not exist until a subsidy is available.

“Therefore, many projects are based on incremental improvements of available technology and produce only marginal advantages for end users [whereas] It is … necessary to encourage research projects that are based on real technological innovations and produce significant advantages for users.”

‘Passing it on – technology transfer for assistive and accessible information and communications systems’ is available as a pdf file at:
http://www.cardiac-eu.org/tech_transfer/report.pdf

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