Resource network for Universal ICT suggests new research focus

On behalf of the Universal ICT Resource network, MediaLT has submitted the research topic "Universal Web applications" to the Norwegian Research Council's VERDIKT program for ICT.

Story by: Magne Lunde - 16.03.2009

The VERDIKT program sent out an open invitation asking for new research topics. The deadline has now expired, and VERDIKT will decide the new research topics in the Spring.

The Resource Network for Universal ICT has proposed "Universal Web applications".

Community Development

Universal design is formulated by public authorities as an important goal for community development in Norway, and this overriding objective is set out in legislation and in a number of political studies, action plans and documents. Moreover, the use of online services has now become prerequisite for active participation in all areas of society (employment, education, leisure, etc.). It is therefore imperative that R&D solutions in this field can be used by as many as possible.

Key research challenges

1. Lack of knowledge about Universal Design of rich Internet applications. Work on this has been started by, among others, WAI, with the standard Aria.

2. The use of redundancy as a tool to achieve Universal human-machine interaction.

3. Develop methodology for Universal Design as a process.

4. Measurement indicators for Universal Design of Web applications.

Value to society, and business development

It is important, both for the ICT industry and public authorities,  that as many people as possible are able to use the Web actively. An important instrument to achieve this is Universal Design, and Universal Web applications will help to increase the ICT industry's customer base, as well as to facilitate a more active society. Moreover, since January 1st 2009 the Discrimination and Accessibility Act has come into force in Norway. Both the ICT industry and public authorities must take into account Universal Design, and both private and public sectors will incur fines if they do not meet this requirement.
Both public and private sectors assume that citizens are increasingly using online services,  and Universal Web Design will therefore help ensure that more people are able to live independent lives, which will in turn reduce the need for public support of various kinds. It will also strengthen people's democratic rights, and make it easier and cheaper to reach them with information

Research environment

R & D efforts in this field have been increasing in recent years, and most research communities in Norway today have some commitment to this field. Research communities focusing on Universal Web Design are still relatively small in Norway, but increasing awareness has led to growth in these communities. Moreover, an active network among these institutions has compensated for their small size. The U.S. and other Western countries have longer research traditions in this field, and more established and larger institutions.  Norway has however become stronger in this field in recent years, and is now among the leading countries. Norway has an advantage compared with many other countries. The use of technology in general and Internet in particular is relatively very high and the same is true for the use of computer assistive technologiesMoreover, the new Discrimination Act (DTL) provides the best protection in the world, forcing more active involvement in this area. In coming years it will be important and necessary to strengthen professional communities working in this field. Universal design is in itself an overriding and overreaching discipline, which requires a high degree of cross-disciplinary interaction. It would therefore be more appropriate to focus on an active interdisciplinary network rather than build new, large institutions.

Interdisciplinary approach

Since both Universal Design and the Web are overreaching research areas, an interdisciplinary approach is crucial to solve research challenges.

The international research agenda

In the same way as in Norway, awareness of Universal Web applications is growing internationally, and this is reflected in research publications, the announcement of research funding, legislation, political action plans and documents, etc. In particular, the focus on international standards in his area has provided fertile ground for an international research agenda, where both EU and North America are particularly active. North America and Europe have different political traditions which determine their approach to this issue. This is particularly the case in Scandinavia where there is a strong welfare policy approach, and research traditions which complement this. At the same time, international consensus relating to the objective of Universal Design and collaboration on common international standards are leading to greater research overlap in this field.

Related VERDIKT research areas

  • User interface, information management and software technology: Universal Web applications. How UI can be designed so that the technology can be used by as many as possible in as efficient  manner as possible. How software technology can be adapted so that as many as possible can use it.
  • Communications and Infrastructure: focus on Universal Web applications. It is important to ensure that, among other things, different client devices including assistive technologies can communicate with each other and that special solutions communicate with standard technology.
  • Security, privacy and vulnerability: There is a significant challenge to creating Universal solutions that are both good and user friendly and which simultaneously protect the safety, privacy and vulnerability of the individual.
  • Social, economic and cultural challenges and opportunities: For individuals and society, it is very important that technology takes account of different assumptions and needs.

Prevent new class divide

This research topic is important to prevent technology from creating a new class divide in society: between those who can use the Web and those who cannot. The topic affects many aspects of society and can be compared with other topics such as gender and the environment.

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