ERCIM News No.28 - January 1997

Information Technology, Telecommunications and Disability: An Approach Towards Integration

by Pier Luigi Emiliani

The recent technological developments are changing the methods of access to information and interpersonal communication, in the context of the emerging 'Information Society'. The ACTS AVANTI AC042 project 'Adaptive and Adaptable interactions for Multimedia Telecommunications Applications' aims to enable the integration of people with disabilities into this emerging information environment, with main reference to issues related to the access of information. The project is based on the universal design approach and on the concepts of adaptability and adaptivity of information contents and user-to- terminal interfaces and builds on the results of other related R&D activities in Europe.

Developments in information technology and signal processing allow the implementation of multimedia systems, where text, pictures and video can be represented, stored and processed digitally. At the same time, telecommunications networks are becoming computer-based and intelligent. Information technology and telecommunications are substantially merging to produce a digital, intelligent and broadband network, able to convey multimedia information, and accessible using terminals that give concurrent access to information and interpersonal communication. When people with disabilities are involved, these developments can offer new important opportunities of socio-economic integration, but may also create new barriers, increasing their segregation. Therefore, it is necessary to analyse their possible impact and then produce the knowledge necessary to develop an information society that is potentially accessible to all its members, irrespective of their individual abilities.

The AVANTI project (1995-1998), under the technical responsibility of the author (Prime Contractor: Alcatel Siette in Italy), is intended to solve problems of access to information in an environment characterized by:

The project's aim is to develop a system which, transparently to the users, looks for information of interest in databases containing complementary data about the same application environment and presents it in a form adapted to user capabilities, terminal and link. The users will interact with the system as if they were navigating through a Web site. However, the system will not contain real Web pages, but only empty models of pages whose contents and presentation modalities are adapted to the users. Pages are filled in real time with information retrieved from the connected databases and are made available through user interfaces adapted at two levels:

The impact of multimediality on people with disabilities has already been studied extensively under the responsibility of the author in the CEU projects RACE IPSNI Integration of People with Special Needs in the Integrated Broadband Network and RACE IPSNI II Access to Broadband Services and Applications by People with Special Needs. In IPSNI, problems of access to multimedia information have been pointed out, suggesting and testing solutions based on the concepts of information redundancy and transduction from one media to another (eg from text to speech and vice versa). Then, access to multimedia terminals has been analysed, producing the model of an adaptable modular multimedia terminal. In IPSNI II multimedia adapted services and applications have been studied, emulated and practically demonstrated, considering media exchanged during interpersonal communication and access to information and the tasks to be carried out during interaction.

It is clear that the implementation of suitable user-to-terminal interfaces is particularly critical for people with disabilities. In the AVANTI project, the approach developed in the CEU project TIDE ACCESS Development Platform for Unified ACCESS to Enabling Environments, under the responsibility of the author, are being used. This is based on tools which allow the description, at an abstract level, of the dialogue between the user and the application and the automatic generation of adapted interfaces that use different interaction technologies.

Two field trials (one in Italy and one in Finland) are currently being set up in the the context of AVANTI project, to test the applications dealing with access to information related to the accessibility of sites of interest (eg transportation, hotels, public buildings and so on), of importance for the autonomous mobility of people with disabilities. This information will be integrated in general databases for tourists and presented when requested by the user. The

presentation and user-to-terminal interfaces will be adapted according to available information about the users (adaptability) and modified during interaction by monitoring their behaviour (adaptivity).

The work reported in this article has been made possible by the cooperative activities of the Consortia of the above cited projects, to whom the author is deeply indebted.

Please contact:
Pier-Luigi Emiliani - IROE-CNR
Tel: +39 55 4235 235

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