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Let’s bring the Internet to its full potential: put apps on microwaves!

Bart Simons has been working for more than 10 years at AnySurfer. The AnySurfer project strives for a more accessible internet for all users, including people with a disability. He is also a member of the “access to information” committee of the European Blind Union and a member of the ICT expert group of the European Disability Forum.

Besides his studies in applied economics and informatics, Bart became an expert by experience. As a matter of fact, Bart is born blind. Thanks to the daily use of technologies since the age of 7, he managed to follow mainstream education, find a job in a development company and live independently. If he first became technology-savvy by need, he is now a practiced advocate of accessibility:

“What we aim at AnySurfer is to make Internet and apps more accessible. We try to achieve our goal in three ways: we raise awareness on the fact that people with disability need but also want more accessible ICT to be able to use them. We push to have accessibility issues integrated into curriculums for developers. And we give training to professionals willing to make their products more accessible.”

“There are no longer counters at the cinema”

The digitalisation spates that we experienced over the past decades made accessibility issues even more blatant:

“We are quite lucky in Belgium, several ATM machines are equipped with headphone jacks… but many machines do not offer these options. If you think of the cinema for instance, there are no longer counters to buy your ticket. And the machine often only provides a touch screen.”

One would probably argue that the cinema is probably not the first place where blind people would like to be granted equal access. Yet this automatization process is challenging accessibility in many other situations… like in front of a beverage dispenser for instance:

“If there is only a touch screen, how am I supposed to know which one is the coke? And even if I manage to remember where to select a coke, what if the dispenser has a dynamic screen?”

 

Solutions lie in software

Very familiar with the ICT world, Bart has managed to personalized his digital environment with the help of a screen reader. For many household equipments though, no programs exist to personalize the device and most of the time, the only alternative for Bart is to label buttons himself:

“I am lucky enough to have a good memory and remember that I need five clicks on the right button of my washing machine for a 60° programme. Similarly, I am acquainted enough with my elevator to know how to find my way to the right floor. But if I receive a visit from a blind person, she/he would probably appreciate that I brand the buttons in braille.”

When asked what alternative solutions exist to labels, Bart is quite pragmatic. He fairly admits that having all manufactured goods accessible to all is a pleasant dream. However, he is very much convinced that the Internet is far from having reached its full potential. In the IoT story the world is writing, remote control is shaping tremendous opportunities to interact with the machines:

“For now, there are no apps on microwaves. But when you know that it is now possible to lower the temperature of your house from anywhere with your smartphone, we can imagine to expand it to many other equipments! It will always be easier to make an app accessible than a full range of hardware and electronic devices!”