At the recent M-Enabling Summit outside of Washington, D.C., I first learned about something called the Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative,
or GARI. This is a project that was put together starting back in 2008 by an international group of mobile device hardware makers, the Mobile Manufacturers Forum (MMF). According to the group’s Secretary General, Michael Milligan, the GARI.info database has about 1100 devices from an assortment of manufacturers, including some 112 different accessibility features. You can search by disability, such as blindness, deafness, dexterity issues, or cognitive issues, to see which devices might be the most suitable. Milligan says GARI is being used extensively not only by those looking for accessibility features on devices, but also by caregivers.
For consumers, GARI is broken into three distinct categories: phones, tablets, and applications. Milligan says that while the database is free to consumers and entities such as NGO’s and regulatory agencies, the project does cost money to run. Hardware makers may list an individual device or they can list their entire portfolio of devices. But the entry price for a device has been sufficient to discourage many second tier manufacturers from listing their devices. So while you will find tablets and phones from the likes of Samsung, LG, Sony, and Apple, you won’t find devices like the Jitterbug from GreatCall nor phones from Doro. Neither will you find tablets specifically designed for seniors like the RealPad from AARP or the GrandPad. Milligan says the MMF is actively trying to recruit more device makers for the database and has been willing to be flexible on the financial requirement.
The GARI database also lists accessibility applications. So far there are about 120 of them. GARI does not charge developers for the listing, but the apps must be recommended by a competent third party since Milligan says MMF does not really have the capability of testing them. To qualify, the app must specifically be accessibility related. GARI is considered a resource both for regulatory agencies and for carriers both in the U.S. and internationally, which can customize the database to highlight specific accessibility functions and specific products that they feel are appropriate to their markets.
An Oasis for Information
Another resource we were introduced to as a result of the M-Enabling Summit is the creation of the St. Louis-based Oasis Institute. Oasis operates centers in nine U.S. cities that offer lifelong learning for seniors, including classes to assist them in learning how to use technology. As a supplement to its hands-on classroom efforts, Oasis created The Mobile Accessibility Guide, a downloadable database that offers a comprehensive guide to the accessibility functions for devices running both the iOS and Android operating systems. You can find the downloadable guide here. The guide walks you through the full range of options to improve accessibility regardless of impairment: vision, hearing, speech, or dexterity. It is complete with screen shots to show the user or a caregiver how to set up the device.
The Oasis guide goes into great detail on almost any functionality you might want to improve your experience with a mobile device. Especially useful are instructions to get the most from the voice and personal assistant functions: Siri on iOS and Google Voice on Android.
These two databases, the GARI.info site from device manufacturers and the Accessibility Guide from Oasis, offer complementary data. In the case of GARI, it’s whether the device you want has the accessibility functionality that you need, and in the case of Oasis the Mobile Accessibility Guide provides practical hands-on instruction on how to get the most out of your mobile device. Taken together, the two provide a great jumping off point for seniors, the disabled, and those who care for them to get the most from today’s technology.