Paving the Way for Inclusive e-Services for All by Identifying Enablers for Upcoming Interaction Technologies

Martin Böcker

Böcker & Schneider GbR, Germany,

Helge Hüttenrauch

Stockholm University (SU), Sweden,

Michael Pluke

Castle Consulting Ltd., England,

Alejandro Rodriguez-Ascaso

ADeNu research group / UNED, Spain,

Matthias Schneider

Böcker & Schneider GbR, Germany,

Erik Zetterström

Omnitor AB, Sweden,


This paper describes a project funded by the Commission of the European Communities (EC) and the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) and carried out by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) in the form of a Specialist Task Force (STF). The starting point of the project is the observation that new information and communication technologies (ICT) are often introduced without taking into account the requirements of elderly and/or disabled users, resulting in products and services that are hardly usable by those users.
STF 377 on “Inclusive eServices for all: Optimizing the accessibility and use of upcoming user interaction technology” develops a roadmap of forthcoming user-interaction technologies with a scope of ten years and aims to identify relevant user requirements from an accessibility viewpoint as well as corresponding usability solutions. The project results will, therefore, allow stakeholders in different stages of the research and development lifecycle (researchers, designers, developers, etc.) of services and devices to spot potential difficulties in the design of service user interfaces which could cause elderly or disabled users to experience usability issues, and solutions that rectify those shortcomings will be proposed. At the time of writing, only first results are available. However, any comments and contributions can still be considered for inclusion in the final deliverable.

1. Introduction

Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) have the potential of facilitating the lives of most users, including those of elderly and disabled people. However, a European Union study from 2005 conducted in 14 European concluded that despite increasing levels of ICT usage in all sections of society, the digital divide is not being bridged (Demunter 2005). This state of affairs can be attributed to a number of frequently-observed obstacles to the accessibility of ICT devices and services.

Experience consistently shows that user-interface innovations for consumer products are being researched, developed, and introduced without taking into account the needs of people with mild or severe impairments such as elderly people. Many companies do not see a business case in offering barrier-free products. This situation is made worse by the fact that product and service developers are often unaware of the requirements of customers with impairments, nor are they familiar with appropriate design solutions that may not be very demanding in terms of R&D and production costs.

For most user-interface design tasks, a number of different solutions exist that differ in terms of their suitability for different user groups, which in some cases could be very narrowly defined commercial target groups. A more general user-interface design approach encompasses the selection and combination of various user-interface modalities with the goal of supporting the most diverse user community possible.

Design for all (Design for all, 2010) should not be conceived as an effort to advance a single solution for everybody, but as a user-centred approach to providing environments designed in such a way that they cater for the broadest possible range of human needs, requirements and preferences, see (Stephanidis and Salvendy, 1998). As an obvious example of this philosophy, one solution for increasing the usability of products and services beyond the requirements of target groups such as Western teenagers has traditionally been to offer personalization features to be employed by the users in order to adapt the user interface to their specific requirements. For example, most mobile phones allow users to select individual ringer tones and display backgrounds, to adapt the acoustic frequency range and the visual contrast to their needs. Some manufacturers offer pre-set user profiles for specific user groups such as senior citizens that affect a number of device settings. There are, however, limits to the extent to which personalization of this type can increase accessibility (e.g. the physical design of a product can rarely be significantly personalized by the user and the user is only ever able to select from options that the designer has had the foresight to predict may be required). A true design-for-all approach requires a deep understanding of the range of possible solutions that may be required to meet the specific needs of users who require something different from the “typical user”.

2. ETSI STF 377

As the ICT industry has not typically offered designed-for-all innovative products and services, ETSI, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute, has established Special Task Force (STF) 377 on “Inclusive eServices for all: Optimizing the accessibility and use of upcoming user interaction technology” in order to help industry to easily do so in the future. The aim of the task force is to systematically evaluate ongoing and forthcoming interaction technologies in order to sketch a 10-year roadmap of foreseen technological enablers. Without the early involvement of a design-for-all perspective in product research and development, there is a risk that large groups in quickly aging societies will be left behind, not participating in the anticipated technology progress. This paper presents the STF’s motivation and approach to forecasting, analysing and structuring future interaction technology developments as well as first results of the expected access techniques foreseen for these novel systems.

The prime objective of STF 377 is to break the historic pattern where addressing the requirements of people with disabilities has often lagged significantly behind the initial availability of innovative new technologies. This pattern is so common because new applications and sometimes disruptive technologies have in the past been developed for and targeted at mainstream consumers and frequently at well-defined target groups of early adopters e.g. the wealthy (in the case of the TV) or the technology-aware (as in the case of the PC or the Internet). Those technologies did not include the easy accommodation of the requirements of people with disabilities. Subsequent measures for compensating these shortcomings have often been late and costly. Listed below are some examples of the inadequate introduction of new technologies:

  1. Personal computer (PC):  The first PCs with character-based user interfaces were easily usable by blind users with a Braille-reader device. The advent of graphical user interfaces (GUI) suddenly excluded blind users.
  2. Document file formats: Documents produced in earlier graphics-based versions of the PDF-format were not accessible to blind users.
  3. The Internet:  The problems are similar to the ones described for the PC, as early computer services (e.g. gopher services and first E-mail services) were text based and later replaced by graphical interfaces such as web browsers. The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) stepped in late, and took long to evolve if compared to the very dynamic development of web technologies.
  4. MP3/media players:  Many classic cassette players have mechanical switches and mechanisms that rely on the physical insertion and turning of a cassette to select different audio segments. However, modern MP3 players are increasingly relying on on-screen interfaces with few, if any, physical controls to offer suitable feedback and are therefore unsuitable for people with poor eyesight.
  5. Biometric systems Biometric applications are more and more used for supporting authorisation and access control. People with disabilities (e.g. physical or speech impairments) are likely to face barriers as users of these systems. Multimodality may contribute to accessibility in this field, as well as to higher levels of performance and user acceptance.
The figure shows the conceptual framework of the work presented: The focus is on the user and the interaction with an e-Service.
	The user perspective of e-Service can be said to consist a functional  and an interaction component. The technologies used with e-Services are predominantly related to the interaction components of communications-enabling devices allowing the user to interact with the device.

Figure 1. Conceptual framework contrasting User and Service Contexts

It is likely that the conception and development of forthcoming interaction technologies, such as natural-language input, gesture recognition, haptic and tactile interfaces, or the transition to new computing paradigms such “ambient intelligence” (Stephanidis, 2009) will follow a similar pattern. The approach promoted by the project is that the specific requirements of elderly users and users with disabilities should be taken into account prior to the large-scale introduction of such technologies, and should be turned into provisions that have to be made prior to or at the introduction of each new technology in order to meet the needs of all users, thereby achieving a “Design-for All” (Design for all, 2010) approach.

Previous publications have produced an excellent basis for educating device and service designers about the requirements of older users and users with disabilities and for illustrating inclusive design for accessible eServices (see e. g. (ETSI 2002) for a detailed overview of design-for-all requirements for telecommunications products and services). However, the current literature focuses on existing technologies or presents for example standards which are already published, or are currently under discussion (Vanderheiden, 2009). The developers of innovative new technologies may be unaware of these resources and, if they are, it may not be easy for them to apply guidance from them to the development of new technologies. There is a need for an analysis that anticipates the demands of new interaction technologies and for the provision of appropriate guidance in the form of design guidelines that document in which ways users with different abilities will be affected by a new technology and how accessibility obstacles can be overcome.

3. Method and First Results

STF 377 will in October 2010 publish an ETSI Guide (EG) as the main deliverable that will contain guidelines on service design, the interaction technology roadmaps, accessibility problems identified, and proposed solutions for rectifying those problems. The first steps of this work, however, will be an analysis of forthcoming eServices and of the novel interaction technologies enabling them. The results of this analysis will be published as a separate ETSI Technical Report (TR).

Throughout this work, the focus is on the user, and how the user interacts with an e-Service (see figure 1). From the user perspective e-Service can be said to consist mainly of two parts; functional components and interaction components. User intentions have to be propagated through both interaction components and functional components to achieve interaction with the e-Service. The technologies used with e-Services are predominantly related to the interaction components of communications-enabling devices allowing the user to interact with the device. Examples of these are voice interfaces or text-entry interfaces. The functional components of those devices that enable communication of the device with e-Services such as data-exchange protocols and networks have to answer to both the demands of the e-Service and the interaction components. While they are of interest to developers, they will be below the line of visibility to users interacting with the e-Service; this serves as a delimitation of the scope of the method described. In the course of the project the following tasks are being performed:

Analysis of forthcoming services: The analysis of existing and forthcoming services leads to the selection, definition, and categorization of the services covered by the ETSI Guide. Those include services such as eHealth, eGovernment, eLearning, eCommerce, travel, and leisure, as these and other services are likely to affect older and disabled citizens and consumers.

The figure shows a table with service-component profiles, i.e., the relationship between e-service (e.g., eGames, eGovernment) and different service componentsis (e.g., Voice conversation, File sharing) is given for a few selected services.

Table 1. Service-component profiles

Analysis of likely service component profiles for each service category: The services within the scope of the ETSI Guide (result of task 1) will be analysed in terms of their likely service component profiles. This is done by defining the service components a service can be expected to employ. Table 1 illustrates the underlying rationale of this step and lists voice conversation, file sharing, form filling, application download, and information browsing as examples of service components. The service components are then mapped onto interaction modalities such as haptic output, touch input, visual output, audio input, and audio output (see Table 2 with examples). At this stage, any eService can be broken down into relevant interaction modalities. At the next step, forthcoming interaction technologies need to be identified that are likely going to be employed for those forms of interaction modalities. 

The figure shows a table with Interaction modality profiles, i.e., the relationship between service components (e.g., Voice conversation, File sharing) and some interaction modalities (e.g., Haptic Output, Visual Output) is given for a few selected service components.

Table 2. Interaction modality profiles

Analysis of forthcoming interaction technologies (technology roadmaps): Roadmaps of forthcoming user interface technologies are being developed by employing established R&D procedures. During this step relevant interaction technologies for the services defined in step 2 will be identified. Figure 2 shows a technology roadmap with example data for illustration purposes. The basis for this work is desk and internet research as well as expertise from subject matter experts in the various fields. One obvious problem is that technologies being developed by commercial companies are classified until they are being released to the market in the form of new products. Interviews with R&D staff of those companies are still worthwhile as they are usually free to discuss their view on general trends of user-interface design and related technologies. Another major source for information are conference papers and journal articles that report cutting edge developments. For each user-interaction technology, a number of characteristics are being collected in the form of a database. Among the data collected are:

The figure shows a design sketch for a Technology Roadmap where a time-line on the y-axis is showing the time from today until 2020; different audio-technologies are put into related technology clusters according to their foreseen mass-market penetration

Figure 2. Example technoloy roadmap

Matching of interaction modalities and interaction technologies roadmap: In the fourth step, the interaction modalities identified in are being mapped onto the interaction technologies identified in step 3 (see Table 3 with a representation of that process with example data). The resulting modality-technology profiles establish the relation between services and their possible interaction technologies which can be used to identify solutions for design-for-all provisions required.

The figure shows a table illustrating how the interaction modalities identified (e.g., Visual Output, Touch Input) will be mapped onto interaction technologies (e.g., e.g., Audio Input, Sensing technologies).

Table 3. Modality-technology profiles

Design-for-All provisions for new interaction technologies: The outcome of this step will be the definition of provisions that have to be made prior to or at the introduction of each new technology in order to enable the support of emerging services for older and/or disabled users and citizens. Standards on accessibility to ICT, such as (ETSI 2002) and (ISO/IEC 2009) will be used as methodological references to ensure that the accessibility requirements of the ICT-human interactions are covered when analysing new interaction technologies and styles. In addition to them, scientific and technological papers and reports on human factors of each interaction style and technology are being reviewed. As many solutions such as multimodality (i.e. offering different interaction channels for better suiting every user’s needs and preferences) apply to many of the user-interface technologies studied, these solutions will be presented in the form of detailed guidelines. In addition, interaction technology areas needing human-factors standardization work will be identified. As an example of our work in a particular interaction technology, a preliminary list of user requirements based on (ISO/IEC 2009; Furmanski, Azuma & Daily 2002; Gabbard  et al., 2007) and (Zhou, 2004) has been identified for the Head-Worn Displays (HWD), within the Visual Augmented Reality style:

Users need to perceive visual information:

Users need to understand the output or displayed material (even after they perceive it accurately):

4. Discussion

ETSI STF 377 will publish an ETSI Guide (EG) that will allow designers and implementers of novel user-interface technologies or eServices to assess at a very early stage whether a proposed product or service potentially excludes elderly and/or disabled users and to learn about corrective solutions ideally to be applied as part of the mainstream design process prior to the market introduction of the device or service. The entire path from eService to individual provisions made for specific technologies is available for a number of eServices but can be easily applied for services not explicitly covered in the ETSI Guide. The work in progress can be followed under (STF 377, 2009), the final document will be available for download from the ETSI homepage (

5. Acknowledgements

The work on future e-Services presented in this paper is performed at European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) (online: by the members of the Specialist Task Force (STF) 377 (STF 377, 2009) under the guidance of the ETSI TC HF (Human Factors). ETSI produces globally-applicable standards for Information and Communications Technologies (ICT), including fixed, mobile, radio, converged, broadcast and internet technologies and is officially recognized by the European Commission as a European Standards Organization. ETSI is a not-for-profit organization whose 720+ ETSI member companies and organizations benefit from direct participation and are drawn from 60 countries worldwide. ETSI Specialist Task Forces (STF) (ETSI STF, 2010) are teams of highly-skilled experts working together over a pre-defined period to draft an ETSI standard under the technical guidance of an ETSI Technical Body and with the support of the ETSI Secretariat. The task of the STFs is to accelerate the standardization process in areas of strategic importance and in response to urgent market needs. The work on personalization presented in this paper is co-financed by the EC/EFTA in response to the EC’s ICT Standardisation Work Programme.

6. References