Day 2 Session 1 Keynote Speech: Technology in the Service of Accessibility

Day 2 Session 1 Keynote Speech: Technology in the Service of Accessibility

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Good afternoon, I’m Patricia Retamal, I’m the Manager of Corporate Affairs in Fundación Descúbreme a Chilean organization that works for people with cognitive disabilities. I’m about 50 years old and wearing a beige sweater. I want to thank Zero Project the invitation for this Conference to moderate the first session today. I want to give you a very warm welcome to all those who are here with us in the second day of our Conference Zero Project for the Latin American community and the Spanish-speaking world focused on the accessibility topics and ICTs. Just like yesterday today we will have a conversation we will know and discuss about the different challenges and the most important lessons for our region in terms of accessibility and technology this way we will continue building a world without barriers for people with disabilities a world without barriers is our mission in Zero Project that is based on the need that we have in the implementation on the Convention of the Rights of People with Disabilities, so everybody has the chance to enjoy rights.

That is why Zero Project every year identifies and recognizes the good practices that promote these rights and on a daily basis change the lives of people with disabilities all around the world. Now I want to show you what we are going to talk about today, today we are focused in the in social and technological innovation with the participation of the incredible speakers that we have Laura Allen from Google and Axel Leblois from G3iCT that is led by our friend, Carolina García, that is joining us today and we are very happy to have her here. Then we will talk about of technological innovation that is called Cutting-edge Technology for Inclusion that is moderated by a very very old friend from our Foundation, Ricardo García Bahamonde, who is a leader in innovation and digital accessibility in Atos Iberia. And then we will have a session based on the social replication, I’m talking about Impact Transfer and a joint initiative by Ashoka, Fundación Descúbreme and Essl Foundation that try to apply the most innovative techniques to reply to them on a global model, this would be moderated by Cezarina Niculae and then at the end of the day we're going to talk about two main topics from Physical Accessibility and Accessibility to Transportation and also Access to Culture. The first session will be moderated by Kristine France representative in Chile of Smart Cities for all and the second by Sonia García-Fraile, part of the team of the international biennale of art of the ONCE Foundation. I want to thank you for participating with us here today and we will start with our first session as all our speakers will speak in English, I will pass my presentation to English.

Thank you to all the people who are joining us from different parts of the world for the third edition of the Zero Project Conference for Latinamerica and the Spanish speaking world focusing this year on Accessibility and Information and Communication Technologies. I would like to invite you to join this session titled Technologies Serving Accessibility with the participation of two great Speakers: Laura Allen, Head of strategy accessibility and disability inclusion of Google and Axel Leblois president and CEO of G3iCT. Accessibility is a topic very close to my heart and it's possible one of the main expressions of what it means to implement the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities but it is also a matter of justice for persons with disabilities because without access to all the services and benefits of daily life people with disabilities are not recognized in the community in the same way as any other person.

We saw it in a yesterday session and we will continue to see it again today accessibility is what allows people with visual disabilities to read a book or people with hearing disabilities to communicate in a sign language with public institutions or people with cognitive disabilities to access the daily news in a language they can easily understand or people who use wheelchairs to know where they can find a parking space that adapts to their needs. I can give you many other examples and behind many of them we find technology and innovation something that we will see with our speakers on this occasion. ICTs are a tool that allows us to live better and more decent lives. Our first speaker is a lot of experience in these subjects.

She has been working with Google for more than 10 years in different areas and today she is in charge of improving the accessibility of the company products and processes. Unfortunately, Laura couldn't be present live in this session because of scheduling issues but she didn't want to miss this opportunity and it's also a topic very important for her. So now I will leave you with a recording of her speech where she gives us her perspective and the role of technology in the search for a more accessible society through Google’s research and products. Hi everyone, my name is Laura Allen, and I am so happy to be here with you all today. So first I will explain a little bit about who I am, so I’ve been with Google now for just about 12 years and my role are head of strategy for accessibility and disability inclusion and what that means is I work with a lot of different teams across Google and our central accessibility team on building out programs and processes and improving our products for accessibility but also working on disability inclusion so how do we make Google a great great place to work for people with disabilities.

I also serve as our head of operations for our disability alliance employee resource group as well and before this my role at Google was the lead program manager for the Chrome and Chrome os accessibility teams which was a role that was much more deeply rooted in those specific products so I’ve loved my work at Google and one of the reasons why I am so tied to this work in accessibility is I am low vision myself I have a really rare visual condition that impacts my central vision so anything that I look directly at is largely impacted and this happened to my left eye when I was 10 and then to my right eye when I was 14 and at that point it was right before I was entering high school and it was just such a huge period of transition where at that point I had lost all ability to use my central vision, so I was no longer able to use my vision to read or to see the chalkboard in school to recognize faces so it was huge period of transition with my family where my school wasn't really sure what to do to best support me they didn't know how to create accessible materials and best teach me in the in the classroom environment. So I relied pretty heavily on my parents and on my brother to sort of bridge those gaps in those early years of high school where I would literally go home, and they would read my homework aloud to me and they would read my books aloud to me and it was amazing of them to be able to do that but over the years we were able to find out the right mixture of assistive technology and processes to convert my books into a format that I can then listen to with text-to-speech software so that was truly just so freeing to be able to figure out that right mixture of assistive technologies between text-to-speech magnification contrast adjustments and colour inversion larger mouse cursor just this really good mix that works specifically for me which I then used to finish high school and then and took with me to college and you know still used to this day, but I think about that early period so often where I was so heavily reliant and dependent on my family, and I think about how lucky I was to have a family that was so amazing and so able to help me through that period but I also recognize that not everyone has that sort of support system, and you know access or lack thereof can really shift someone's entire trajectory. So now that I’m at Google and working in this area my whole passion and my my drive is to really use technology to level and uplevel the playing fields for people with disabilities and I’m thrilled to be doing this work. So of course, that's just one story like my personal story of my experience with disability but there are so many different disabilities and experiences that we need to consider of course so whether thinking about mobility sensory, things like vision and hearing, neurodiversity mental health, chronic health, intellectual and developmental disabilities and more.

And of course, disability can be permanent it can be temporary it can be situational and we are all impacted by disability in some form whether it's ourselves or our loved ones people in our community you know disability is so widespread and such a diverse space. And we often think about these different models of disability so there's the medical model and the social model of disability where the medical model views disability as an issue that is intrinsic to the person and it's something really considered to be fixed almost whereas the social model views disability as a mismatch between a person's needs and their environment. So we really support the social model of disability, and we want to do as much as we can eliminate that mismatch and really empower people with disabilities through technology. And to this effect you know accessibility is actually in Google’s mission statement to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. So it's really integral to our processes and to our programs at Google and we're working so hard to be embedding accessibility into our products into all the different things we're doing in terms of designing our products and developing and training and researching it's got to be something that's sort of baked in across the board and we're really proud of how far we've come we know there's still a lot to be done but we've come a long way in the past years and we're excited about the different innovations that have been made and we also strongly believe when it comes to building technology we need to be building with not only for people with disabilities so building with our community is just so critical and we really aim to uphold this disability inclusion principle of nothing about us without us and we do this through our user research through community feedback and gathering that bringing it back to the product teams through building partnerships with key organizations and disability advocacy groups and of course through hiring people with disabilities and embedding people directly within our teams across the company and the goal there is really to increase representation and have diversity of perspective by just having more people with disabilities across our workforce. So next I’d love to share just some examples of innovation and, you know, some of the things that our teams have been working on over the past years.

So, to begin you know captions are something that's so critical for the deaf and hard of hearing community but they're also so much more broadly used and can be so useful by a very large group of people so whether that's someone who's watching a video in a loud environment and didn't you know didn't bring headphones, somebody who wants to be able to view a screen in a loud environment and just needs to be able to read the captions there's so many different use cases for captions even just new language learners who find it beneficial to be able to both see the visual captions while listening to the audio that can be really useful. So, when it comes to captions at Google there's been a long history of the work that's been going on. So, captions launched in YouTube in 2009 and this was in English and now today we support many different languages for captions across YouTube which is so critical for this video platform and Google Slides our presentation application added captions to presentations in 2016. So when you're presenting there is just a closed captions button, and you can use automatically generated captions as you are presenting which is really interesting. And then Google Meet, which is our video conferencing platform, added captions in 2019 and now we have many different languages that are supported, and it's been really interesting to see you know how important this was especially during the pandemic when we had so many people relying so heavily on video captioning and I’m just on video conferencing as a whole.

So we also now have the ability to access automatic captions across Android as a whole across Android devices and across the Chrome Browser as well. So this is for any video or any audio for example on Chrome if you're listening to a podcast and you want to access live automated captions for that podcast you're able to do that now within Chrome and then really new we also have translated captions within Google me video conferencing in a variety of different languages to be able to translate between languages and right now this is available for education and enterprise customers and hope to expand. So, in addition to all those things in terms of captions I just mentioned, we also have another innovation on Android which is called live transcribe and sound notifications so using Google’s automatic speech recognition and sound detection technology live transcribe and sound notifications provides you with a free real-time transcription of your conversations and it can help send notifications based on what's going on in your surrounding sounds at home for example.

So, the notifications can make you aware of important situations like things like a fire alarm going off or a doorbell ringing or even water running and other items so you can take action and respond more quickly. And going back to that idea of building with people with disabilities, you know live transcribe was created by my colleagues Chuck, who's on the right in this photograph, and Dimitri, who is on the left, who is profoundly deaf. So, Chuck decided to write this prototype for live transcribe over one weekend a few years ago, and you know he wanted to do this so that he and Dimitri could work better together in the office and they could be able to access this real-time transcription of their conversations and collaborate more effectively and he built this and now you know it's being used by so many more people than just the two of them of course it's widely available across Android in many different languages as well so really just interesting how this started out as a problem that these two you know pointed out decided to do something about they built with a community member you know Dimitri was so heavily involved in the creation of this product and really wanted to give his perspective and make sure it worked best for him and his interaction with his colleagues and now it's something that can benefit so many people across the world. So a few other product innovations to mention, so next up users with more severe motor and speech impairments now have two ways to control their phone using facial gestures so camera switches are a new feature in Android switch access for navigating phone by scanning and selecting elements using facial gestures and eye movements and Project Activate is a new app for quick communications and this app can enable you to activate you know customized preset communications by making facial gestures such as smiling or even like looking upward so with your face you can play things like a text to speech phrase, you can play audio to express yourself or to control a smart speaker in your home you can send a text message you can make a phone call and you can do other things as well. So, another item is Lookout which is available on Android and Lookout can be really beneficial for people who are blind and low vision I happen to use this app a lot and what it does is it uses the Android camera to you know it uses the camera along with computer vision and machine learning to understand more about the world around You.

So it does things like detect objects and it can read text using OCR it can read food labels and a number of other things and in Lookout version 2.4 which is pretty recently released we also released the ability to have handwriting recognition which can be so useful I know for me that's something I always struggle with being able to read handwritten notes and papers um so this also supports all Latin-based languages now and this was one of the you know the handwriting was one of the most requested features from our community actually so we were really excited to get that launched. We also have added the ability to read international currencies so such as Euros and the Indian rupees. So, another area has been a feature called Enhanced Select to Speak which is available on Chromebooks and with select to speak this is actually the feature that I happen to use most as somebody who's low vision but it can also be super useful for somebody who is dyslexic or has other learning challenges and what it does is it allows you to select a certain amount of text or a certain portion of the screen to be read aloud and as it's read there's options for word by word highlighting you can do things like pause and resume you can move forward and backward speed up the sound the actual verbalization or slow it down and a number of other items and recently we worked on adding some more functionality, so things like for example shading the background so for somebody who has difficulty focusing on the page and like focusing in on the core content on the page you can actually shade everything else behind it so that you can really just home in on that core content and stay focused another thing that we did was we added better sort of more human sounding voices which can be really helpful especially just for understanding and recognizing the text coming through it's really a large improvement for people like me who are low vision and also you know so many of our dyslexic users who want to not only listen to text read aloud but also visually read it as it's progressing.

So, we also have some interesting research projects going on so for example Project Relate and you know it can be really hard to understand how someone speaks and this is this is particularly true for people who have heavy accents but also can be really difficult for different people with disabilities and most companies don't really have a lot of examples of people with speech impairments in terms of what they sound like which is why speech technology really doesn't work as well as it should today in regard to speech recognition and again this is because the models that are used to create the speech recognition aren't trained well enough where people with varying speech types and speech impairments or heavy accents and you know the first step of this to make this an improved effort is really to do the research and to record as much audio data as we really can from people who have you know non-standard speech so we ask them to read the specific phrases aloud, so we have lots of labels to go along with their audio clips and we're using this to further train the models. So, this is still on the research phase but we're really excited to see you know where this research goes and how we can use it to make further speech recognition improvements in the future as well. So, I just mentioned a handful of examples of product accessibility product innovations there's a lot of other things going on of course when it comes to product improvements but that's just a bit of a taste of some of the recent activity that's gone on but in addition to making features that will help to support and empower our users with disabilities and our employees with disabilities we also want to work on making it easier for developers and designers and people building products across the world to build them more accessible and more inclusively.

So, one of the examples of building this is providing tooling, so for example the Accessibility Scanner is an app that's available on mobile and what this does is you can run it it's a free tool you can run it across any app on mobile and it will suggest different issues that it's finding for accessibility so for example if it detects that there's poor contrast on the app or if it's missing labels or if there are small touch targets it will give all those recommendations and it'll just help you to be able to make your app more accessible to users with disabilities. And in addition, you know, if you're building websites if you're building across web applications etc., it's also important to know about Chrome's Lighthouse tools and again this is this is built into the Chrome developer tools set and what it does it also provides a really useful dashboard giving you a sense of how things are going what you know how accessible is this page and where could the code be improved to make it more accessible so it also shows you again specific areas where there are issues where you may want to make improvements and changes to make your page more accessible and it also provides links to different documentation to help support you if you're not as familiar with accessibility and accessible design. So, there's been a lot going on and we're so excited about you know the future of accessibility and innovation at Google and I wanted to leave you with a few resources for where you can learn more in the future so our main website for Google Accessibility is and there's a lot of information there about you know different product resources different tools for developers and a lot more even just how to get more in touch with teams and so on.

We also have a Twitter handle which is @GoogleAccess and we have a set of YouTube videos as well which go into different products and functionality and you know we're looking to make more videos in the future as well but there are a lot of them on there already and that playlist is available at So again, that's our YouTube playlist for Google Accessibility and we'll be hoping to add more soon and then we also have our disability support team, and this is a team of people who are set up to help our users whether they have questions about how our products work whether they have feedback whether you know if they're encountering an issue and they want to ask for support or if they have requests for the future you know feature requests and such they can reach out to our disability support team and that is available there's a lot of information about how to get in touch at and again there are multiple formats of how to get in touch so for example there's email support and chat support there is even work you know through sign language and the be my eyes technology to work with the be my eyes volunteers so lots of different ways depending on whatever method of communication works best for you but if you do have feedback that please do reach out to the support agents and we really do rely so heavily on feedback from our community they want to make sure again that we are building with our community and that we're understanding the needs and the requests of how to make our products more useful.

So, with that I just want to say thank you so much. I so, appreciate being asked to join you today and to give this presentation and I really hope that all of you are staying safe and staying well and I hope you enjoy the rest of the event so thanks so much. Thank you very much Laura for sharing your personal and professional experience that show that is possible to break down all barriers. I also thank you for introducing us to all these interesting tools that Google offers to everyone not only for people with disabilities. Now I would like to introduce you to a dear friend Carolina García, who will be the host of the next part of this session.

Welcome Carolina. Thank you very much Patricia for your kind introduction and for inviting me to participate in this wonderful event once again. Hello everyone, my name is Carolina García and for those who cannot see me I am a middle-aged woman with white skin brown hair and dress with a yellow blouse. I am president and founder of Fundación Comunidad Inclusiva an organization that works to achieve a deep cultural change in our society in which diversity, inclusion, equality and justice for all became a reality in both public and private Spheres.

Now I want to introduce you to Axel Leblois who had led IT companies in the United States and today serves as president and CEO of a G3iCT the global initiative for inclusive ICTs Axel, the floor is yours, welcome. Thank you very much for the introduction and I’ll start by presenting myself. As a baby boomer meaning I have some white hair and a blue shirt and I’m here in the United States speak from the state of Florida. The presentation we just heard from Laura shows the incredible progress made by technology to provide accessible digital interfaces for a variety of situations of disabilities and I think one of the big challenges that civil society faces in many ways is to ensure that persons with disabilities have actually not only access because a lot of it now is free but also have the tools and the capacity to put those in in action.

Now as a background this ICT is a non-profit organization that was formed by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs back in 2006 when the Conventional Right of person with Disabilities were about to be adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. And the reason why this initiative was firm is because at the time there were some very revolutionary and you know very smart disposition that actually for the first time in the history of international law and in most countries for the first time at all there were dispositions that actually made it compulsory to ensure that persons with disability can enjoy an accessible environment that included in article 9 the built environment transportation and information communications technologies. So, since the start of our initiative the work we have been doing was to drive those dispositions around the world work on with many different United Nations affiliated organization on developing model policies to support the propagation of accessibility in digital interfaces and that includes you know mobile phones, Computers, television, atms, software anything that's digital. So, it's a big undertaking obviously and over the years now 16 years of work we have seen immense progress in how the availability of accessible technology has increased.

Now that said there are a number of challenges that I’m sure many of our colleagues around the world who are leading organization of personal disabilities see every day in terms of barriers that affect digital services or digital content. And so, one of the progressive that we have seen since six or seven years is that as organizations understand the need and quite often have an obligation to actually provide accessible digital interfaces contents product or services, they have been starting to focus more on how do we achieve that and that meant in many cases ensuring that you have the appropriate skill sets in your organization, and so for instance if you think about websites as you know there are many technologies now like screen readers and all kind of embedded text-to-speech functionalities in different operating system software but if a website is not designed to be accessible by those tools then you can't use it and that affects a very large proportion of websites around the world I would say probably more than 90 percent. And in the case of essential services like government services, health related services, emergency services education, websites and so on and so forth or even for commercial websites that are indispensable like banking or transportation if they aren't accessible, they're already excluding persons with disabilities who can't use them. So, there is a standard for that there is a standard issued by the World Wide Web Consortium called the web access the web content accepted guidelines which is now also an ISO standard and has been adopted widely around the world and so that's an example of what it takes to actually make sure we have enough knowledge of those standards to provide popular implementation. So, the need that organization had of capacity building and training of personnel led our organization this recipe to adopt and grow the international association of accessibility professionals and that means offering training and certification professional certification in accessibility so organizations that are intense to have the right skill sets to provide accessible product services or content can rely on professionals who know what they are doing so we have seen over the past few years an incredible growth of the number of organizations and individuals who are actually participating in those programs, I think we right now have about 5,000 active members in about 92 countries we are currently looking at moving into Spanish content and Spanish courses and certification processes and so we are very very happy that we have this opportunity to participate in the Zero Project Conference for Spanish-speaking countries.

Overall in the past we also realized that in many areas there were things that could be done that would actually accelerate the adoption and availability of technologies that are available right now. So, for instance we heard a lot about mobile accessibility features in Laura’s presentation and I would like to piggyback on that because it's a good example so mobile penetration in late America is considerable it's one of the continents where the amount of the proportion of people with mobile phone is one of the highest in the world. So, that means that for many persons with disabilities you know, having access to the right mobile excessively features are really really a great opportunity. So, we have worked for instance with the International Telecommunication Union to adopt model policies in partnership with the mobile service providers and industry groups and in many countries telecom regulators are not really aware or doing anything about it and it's already a pity because there are ways to actually you know organize multi-stakeholder initiatives between mobile service providers persons with disabilities and telecom regulators to ensure that persons with disabilities for instance, have unrestricted access to mobile phones and mobile services that have the maximum amount of accessibility features and also provide support and Training. It has been done in quite a few countries, but many countries don't have it so I will give you an example as you probably heard that this is Zero Project before in Colombia financial had had video release services for quite a few years the organization is run by the by FENESCOL the Colombian Federation for the Deaf and in partnership with the Mintic which is the Minister of Information Technology in Colombia and that means that any deaf person in Colombia has full access free of charge to video with a service and video video interpretation services now what that means is if you are a deaf person, you can actually use your mobile phone to actually call someone who is actually a hearing person and then you have a video interpreter coming online to help you communicate and the same with video interpretation services when you are for instance at the doctor's place or you want to communicate with someone in administration or you are an important meeting you can call for a video remote interpreter.

So those examples are really important to bear in mind because the technology is here today so why not have it made available to a person with disabilities countries have in their immense majority in Latinamerica ratify this Convention on the Right to Person with Disabilities it is very clear from the CRPD obligation that countries ought for instance to offer video relay services at this time it's not a matter of you know ambiguous interpretation it should be done but it's not done. So, from a civil society standpoint I would say this is an example where you know pushing for adoption of those new technologies would be really really useful. Another example would be for instance public procurement what does that mean so governments around the world are the largest purchaser of information technology as a purchaser of information technology governments are spending the tax money taxpayer money to buy technology and so if they buy technology that is not accessible and that doesn't actually allow all popular members of the community to use those tools then it displays a discrimination against persons with disabilities, so you are using taxpayer money to discriminate against a person with disabilities at the public entity however public procurement processes in many countries do not include a verification of accessibility of the product or services purchased. So that's another example where you know the civil society can actually push forward to get things to be adopted.

So for instance, if you have a choice between an accessible software or interface and a choice of a non-accessible piece of software but it happens that for all criteria the cost and everything the inaccessible version looks better then maybe it's going to be chosen without you know consideration for the fact that there is an accessible solution that means that if I take those two examples for instance like mobile phone or public procurement or I could add you know education uh technology education we could look at many different areas actually in banking and so on and so forth. The key factor of success for countries to succeed in actually pushing for those programs to make sure that existing technology is made available to persons with disabilities is the participation of organization of persons with disabilities in the preparation, development and monitoring of policies and programs with public entities in the private sector. You heard Laura Allen at Google here is a major corporation that actually tries to push forward the agenda of accessibility.

What do they do? I think you heard Laura very well, they consult with persons with disabilities at all stage of the cycle of development: they hire a person with disabilities on their team, they work with organizations with disabilities it is super important for any government agency any entity that wants to actually move forward with those type of initiative to involve persons with disabilities. We actually monitor the implementation of the Convention and the Right to Person with Disabilities with panel research in 137 countries. So we have a clear idea of what's going on and over the years we have clearly seen that those countries with the best success are those countries where formal processes are part of the rules to involve persons with disabilities in policy making and monitoring or in program development and monitoring. So, with that I would like to stop I think we are on top of the hour, but I will be more than happy to answer any question of course to engage in the discussion.

Thank you very much! Well thank you, Axel, thank you very much for your words showing not only the public and private sectors are essential in the work towards a more inclusive community but also civil society is crucial in this process. Thank you for all of the examples that you gave us. We see how institutions like G3iCT are working to make information and communication technologies an important alive for people with disabilities. And well in fact we don't have no much time so thank you very much Axel for this interesting Reflections, your examples and thank you Laura for your intervention.

I would also like to thank the wonderful audience who has joined us in this session and who have been sending us questions and comments. We will be answering by chat and by email all your requests. I would like to end this session by sharing a final word with all of you. Our speakers here with us today have shown us that new technologies are very useful on the way to a more inclusive society but we must not forget that this achieves a to achieve effective access for all the people to these technologies that will make their lives easier we must pay special attention to the most vulnerable groups a written within the population living with disability such as such as women people living in rural areas and those living in locations with high levels of poverty only when we make technology accessible to all no matter the gender age or social condition will we achieve a fully accessible society thank you very much to all of you guys you

2023-07-09 02:18

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