A new independent voluntary body has been set up to advise the government on how to boost accessibility of digital products and services - including apps, digital broadcasting, smart transport and the web - for disabled and older people.
The Digital Accessibility Alliance has been created from the merger of two former bodies: the eAccessibility Forum, a previous government-backed advisory body that created an action plan but subsequently ran out of steam and was disbanded; and the One Voice for Accessible ICT Consortium, an umbrella lobby group of charities, businesses, academic institutions and third sector bodies.
The alliance is backed by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which is providing administrative support and has charged the new body with coming up with 'quick wins' to boost policy in this area early in the New Year. The group is chaired by Kevin Carey, chair of the Royal National Institute of Blind People, and members include Nigel Lewis, chief executive of charity AbilityNet.
Areas the body is set to investigate include problems older people with mobility issues and sensory impairments face in accessing digital TV and radio; and accessibility of digital services developed by public sector bodies and major companies such as airlines, supermarkets and banks; and how newer areas such as artificial intelligence might affect or improve accessibility.
Its key stated goals will include to:
- encourage compliance with relevant digital inclusion legislation such as the Equality Act 2010;
- promote universal access for citizens to digital services, particularly for older people and those with disabilities;
- generate and promote good practice.
The body's chair Kevin Carey said its work would range much wider than the better-known areas of website and computer accessibility. "The disability sector has got stuck on issues of conventional web/PC accessibility but there are much wider and more important issues such as the use of artificial intelligence and intelligent agents to help people with learning difficulties and to overcome the information overload problem", Carey said. "I want the alliance to be dynamic by resolving issues and crossing them off the agenda."
Welcoming the formation of the Alliance at its inception meeting last week, Culture and the Digital Economy Minister Ed Vaizey said: "The explosion of digital services provides endless opportunities for all - but the government is all too aware that disabled and older people can often intentionally be left behind. By bringing together the various parties, through the Alliance, we can work together to address any issues and make a difference."
The group will meet with government representatives three times a year, conducting its work by committee in the intervening periods.
On 24 February 2015, it will co-host a conference on access to the internet, computers, smartphones, apps and all digital technologies by disabled people, eAccess 15. The conference will aim to help individuals and organisations learn about and implement accessibility, including advice on how public and private sector organisations can track their progress in digital accessibility; online video accessibility; and sharing accessibility best practice with non-specialists.
The event's speakers include Kevin Carey; Amar Latif, award-winning blind entrepreneur, TV presenter and global explorer; Professor Jonathan Hassell, former head of accessibility at the BBC; Gill Whitney, Head of the Design for All Research Group at Middlesex University; Robert Wemyss, Head of Accessibility, Royal Mail Group; Nick Freear, Educational Technology Developer at Open University; and Roger Wilson-Hinds, Founder of Screenreader.net. Sponsors and supporters include Barclays Bank; AbilityNet; BCS The Chartered Institute for IT; and the British Assistive Technology Association.