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Network-based Applications

It is commonly accepted that ICT must be accessible, but also that it can be assistive. This means that the access to all ICT systems, services and applications must be granted, but they can also be used to proactively support people in their social integration. In particular, so far the main efforts in considering network applications from the eInclusion perspective have been in making them available, that is accessible to all potential users. This is indeed a very important part of the problem, but the situation is more complex, because the use of ICT services and applications for supporting people is becoming central to eInclusion (Ambient Assisted Living is an important example).

This workpackage is devoted to the exploration of these emerging assistive opportunities and to the development of a
research and development roadmap toward their exploitation in favour of people with activity limitations. The impact of networks and network applications can be considered at least at four different levels. As a matter of fact networks can be seen as:

  • A repository of information (the Web - mainly the present situation). At this level accessibility is really the main problem. However, if the Web sites are produced following the WAI Accessibility guidelines, no major problem should occur with the interaction technology that is available. Important for the future is the analysis of how the situation can change as a consequence of the publication of the WCAG2.0 and of the impact of ongoing developments, e.g. the semantic Web (in principle, if information about the content of a Web page is available, it could be possible to deduce the best way of presenting it as a function of the user characteristics).
  • A repository of a basic support to people with activity limitations (see the "Raising the floor” initiative). This approach is based on the idea that the AT industry (due to costs) is able to serve only developed countries, leaving out most of the undeveloped world. Is it useful and possible to construct a repository or a layer in the network that can be used to support people with a "minimum" of accessibility available everywhere? For example, making available a minimum of screen reading functionalities usable if people do not have the possibility of buying a real screen reader? Is it possible to find a reasonable compromise with the AT industry?
  • A socialising virtual environment. The potentialities of Web2.0 from the perspective of favouring integration and the construction of supporting networks of people have not been fully explored in the field of disability. Moreover, papers are starting to appear that discus the interesting possibilities probably offered by the fusion of Web2.0 (distributed intelligence of people) with the semantic web (intelligent description of information). Adding in the background Artificial Intelligence (which is not part of the semantic web approach) could lead to a very interesting new emerging situation.
  • An explicit support to people. It is commonly accepted that the network can be used to support people in many different situations favouring their independent living and integration. At the moment the main activities are in the areas of alarms and remote health care. But the range of possible applications (home automation is attracting considerable interest) may well increase considerably in the near future.

This workpackage will be mainly concerned with the last two levels in the previous list. The following aspects will be considered:

  • Ambient intelligence. The advantages of having accessible and supporting services and applications always available to users via ‘cloud computing’ techniques need to be analysed, with methods for achieving accessible services and applications and taking advantages of all the above outlined opportunities being suggested. The practicalities of using open-source methods and applications will be investigated where one of the key issues is interoperability.
  • Mobility. Access to the services needs to be possible using mobile devices so the use of new pervasive or ubiquitous technologies would be put forward. Development of accessible pervasive web or pervasive multimedia services and applications represents a challenge and an opportunity for the European industry.
  • Mainstreaming. Promoting design-for-all best practices is one of the key issues to ensure that citizens with activity limitations (due to lack of personal abilities or to contextual factors) are actively involved in society. Mainstreaming also includes the need, in principle, to take into account all the different groups of people with activity limitations.
  • Different application environments. The analysis of the above investigations needs to be tested, conceptually, in real application environments. One of them can be eLearning. The current trend in formal and informal learning is to use network-based systems to support competence development.

The main outcome of this workpackage will be a report providing researchers and manufacturers with the necessary information on user needs and the research and development activities needed for favouring integration through the use of network services and applications.

The work outlined above must be carried out in close cooperation with end users, service providers and industry dealing with the different aspects of the implementation of the ambient intelligence paradigm (e.g. Ambient Assisted Living). Its results will have impact on new generations of mainstream systems, services and applications of interest also for people with activity limitations and the identifications of gaps to be filled with adaptations of mainstream services and applications and/or with special services and applications for people with activity limitations.

The expected outcomes of the project are:

  • The exchange and dissemination of good practice relating to the development of accessible and assistive ICT.
  • The provision of SDDP meetings with the active involvement with all key stakeholders, who will also be widely consulted throughout the duration of the project.
  • Generation of three road-maps on R&D priorities and technology transfer issues that will lead to the production of an overall research agenda road-map identifying the key research areas in the field of eAccessibility that will require support, both in terms of raising awareness and additional funding for research, in the short, medium and long term.
  • Creation of a repository of research oriented materials on accessible and assistive ICT (Paper, technical reports, etc.).
  • Widening the knowledge of the need for accessible and assistive ICT and of how it can best be implemented.
  • A strong Business Case for the widespread adoption of Accessible and Assistive ICT systems will be put forward by the consortium. This will provide the industry with the ability to seize new market opportunities driven by technologies that augment human capabilities for people with disabilities.