CLOUD4all - Cloud platforms Lead to Open and Universall access for people with Disabilities and for All (Cloud4all)

Published on: 12/12/2012

Cloud4all is an european project funded by the 7th Framework Programme that will advance the concept of the Global Public Inclusive Infrastructure (GPII). Cloud4all aims to develop a complete new paradigm in accessibility by augmenting adaptation of individual products and services for a person (2nd generation) with automatic personalization of any mainstream product or service a user encounters using cloud technologies to activate and augment any natural (built-in) accessibility or installed access features the product or service has (3rd generation), based on the user's needs and preferences. The next figure presents an example of how Cloud4all and the GPII will facilitate the use of different services and devices to users with and without disabilities, just by defining their general needs and preferences. 

Overview of Cloud4all information flow

Cloud4all will build the knowledge base and algorithms needed, and evaluate the ability of the concept to work across platforms, technologies and applications. We are developing the tools that will gather the needs and preferences of the users, the intelligence that will allow the infrastructure to infer the most appropriate settings for a specific user in a specific device and with specific environmental conditions in real-time, and we are delivering proof-of-concept implementations in up to 19 devices, platforms and applications, ranging from operating systems like Windows and Linux, mobile platforms like Android and Symbian and dedicated applications like Maavis, Mobile Accessibility for Android, Supernova or Read&Write Gold, among others.

Policy Context

A Resolution of the Council of the European Union and the representatives of the Governments of the Member States, meeting within the Council on 17 March 2008 to discuss the situation of persons with Disabilities in the European Union (2008/C 75/01) suggested the European Commission should emphasise the importance of equal access to inclusive, quality education and lifelong learning, which are crucial for enabling persons with disabilities to participate fully in society and improve their quality of life.

Cloud4All has the potential to trigger a “virtuous” cycle that would contribute to the health and wealth of the European society. Cloud4All will affect positively on the participation of people with disabilities in employment and higher education, but also other parts of the cycle will also be improved, including increased civic participation, greater independence and self-determination, decreased reliance on specialized services, decreased stigmatization, increased participation in volunteer activities, social inclusion, to name just a few.

There is a multitude of reasons for which Cloud4all is an European action, such as:

  • Needs supranational industrial vendors to work.
  • Societal and economic problems of ICT adaptation to the disadvantaged citizens (due to disability, age, literacy or socioeconomic status) are common throughout Europe. 
  • AT industry is equally fractionalise around Europe.
  • The language and socio-cultural division is much higher in Europe

Description of target users and groups

Cloud4All is a consequence of globalisation and development of ICT industry and the need of reaching market segments traditionally left aside by lack of accessibility (mainly people with disabilities, those lacking literacy skills and the elderly). Different groups that will benefit from the implementation of Cloud4all and the GPII include:

  • People with disabilities.
  • Older people.
  • Individuals lacking literacy.
  • People with situational constraints.
  • Global society. Cloud4all could be either borrowed or replicated by other countries to provide access for people in their language and cultures, no matter their economic, technological or social resources. Furthermore, it could enhance cultural diversity, as Cloud4all also can support more language. 

Besides end-users, Cloud4all and the GPII will also benefit other stakeholders like: 

Description of the way to implement the initiative

Cloud4all is a FP7 project funded by the European Commission that is building key parts of the Global Public Inclusive Infrastructure (GPII). The GPII is an initiative of the Raising the Floor Consortium, a consortium of academic, industry and non-governmental organizations and individuals that is working to develop an infrastructure for making the development, identification, delivery and use of Access Technologies easier, less expensive and more effective. Cloud4all will focus on the development of key technical components that will advance the GPII concept by providing the algorithms and mechanisms that make possible the auto-configuration of the accessibility features of different devices, platforms and applications, and actually deploying these capabilities in 17 proof-of-concept solutions. Meanwhile, Preferences for Global Access in the US is working on building tools to make it easier for users to discover the types of features and solutions that would help them access and use ICT. Prosperity4all, another FP7 project currently under negotiation, would develop several other components of the GPII related to making it easier and less expensive to bring new ideas for products and services from research or concept to market internationally, and to allow products reach more users lowering the individual cost to develop and support new solutions. Prosperity4All is planned to begin in February of 2014. Two other initiatives are in proposal stageComponents that comprise the GPII, indicating which ones will be implemented by Cloud4all and which ones will be implemented by other initiatives

Technology solution

The Cloud4all architecture encompasses an overall technical approach, a development framework, and a working reference implementation that serves as the basis for developing an ecosystem of tools to support user interface personalization. This architecture is designed to work across platforms and devices, including desktop computers, mobile devices, and web applications. It includes the specification and implementation of the data interchange formats, component APIs, and extension points that comprise Cloud4ll's personalization workflow.

This architecture is designed to promote the long term growth, sustainability, and viability of the Cloud4all technology. The primary concerns of the architecture are to ensure that all critical components within the system are built in a performant, modular, reusable, secure, and well-tested manner. These goals are primarily accomplished by providing a core framework that manages the personalization workflow and all relationships between components within the system, ensuring that it can be extended and reconfigured to support new functionality and new implementation strategies over time.

The Cloud4all architecture reference implementation (often referred to as "the real-time framework") builds on the familiar cross-platform and standards-driven approach of the web. In particular, it makes extensive use of both client and server-side JavaScript (using Node.js as its primary cross-platform runtime) as well as HTML and CSS for user interfaces. This enables the core of Cloud4all to be easily ported to a wide variety of devices and operating systems without requiring costly code rewrites and duplication. JSON, a lightweight interchange format, is used for all data in the system. The Fluid Project's accessible Infusion framework is used extensively to provide Cloud4all's context-aware, model-driven, and highly decoupled development infrastructure. The following figure presents an overview of the components that comprise the Cloud4all architecture. For more information about components, please visit our blog for developers

Cloud4all architecture overview

Technology choice: Mainly (or only) open standards, Accessibility-compliant (minimum WAI AA), Open source software

Main results, benefits and impacts

Cloud4all can allow us to move away from the concept of special "assistive technologies" and "disability access features" as we know them today and towards (commercial) alternate interfaces and "inclusive design", which provide more interface options for everyone - interfaces that work for people having trouble using products due to disability, literacy or age related barriers. Cloud4all can also help people who just want a simpler interface, have a temporary disability, want access when their eyes are busy doing something else, waht to rest their hands or eyes, want to access information in an 'enforced silence' or very noisy environment. Therefore, Cloud4all will have a real impact in all kinds of users, but also in most actors of the accessible ICT and AT market:

  • People with disabilities: Cloud4all will affect positively on the participation of people with disabilities in employment and higher education, but also other parts of the cycle will also be improved, including increasing civic participation, greater independence and self-determination, decreased relicance on specialized services, decreased stigmatization, increased participation in volunteer activities, social inclusion, to name just a few. 
  • Older people: Cloud4all results will improve the quality of life of elderly people, their autonomy, participation in social life, skills and quality of life. 
  • Individuals lacking literacy: Cloud4all will ensure equal access to accessibile ICT, ATs and all kind of accessible web-based resources for all citizens, regardless their abilities, needs and preferences. 
  • People with situational constraints: Cloud4all will also benefit individuals with limited technical equipment (out-dated modems, poor internet connections) or with browers on PDAs and smartphones or people with situational constraints (e.g., hands-free environment)
  • Regional, national and supra-national governments. Cloud4all can provide access to more people at lower cost per persons, and thus it is a far wise use of Government funds. 
  • AT producers and vendors. Cloud4all will provide the necessary infrastructure that the market demands to enable ATs to enter in these new markets. AT vendors will also be able to use the Cloud4all/GPII marketplace to make their AT available anytime, anywhere to those who purchase it, and to move AT into "Software as a Service (SaaS)" models
  • Mainstream ICT Producers and vendors. Cloud4all will provide the technical framewrok to enable ICT mainstream industry to develop products that provide teh correct interface configuration for a given context and user needs and preferences in a seamless manner. 
  • Global society. Cloud4all could be either borrowed or replicated by other countries to provide access for people in their language and cultures, no matter their economic, technological or social resources. Furthermore, it could enhance cultural diversity, as Cloud4all also can support more languages that would be used by minority groups and cultures with a country. 

Track record of sharing

Cloud4all and the GPII are open source initiatives, and all of our results as well as our code is available to anyone interested. Next, you will find a list of places where you will be able to keep track of our advances. 

  • Cloud4all official website, where you can find the latest news and will have access to our public deliverables presenting our research and development results.  
  • Cloud4all / GPII wiki. Where all the work gets done. In our wiki you will find information about our latest technical developments and other work that is being developed within the project, such as the planning of pilots with users or our dissemination activities. 
  • Cloud4all users blog and forums. Where you will get general information for end-users, and will be able to get in contact with our developers in our forums. 
  • Cloud4all blogs and forums for developers. Where developers can get an overview of Cloud4all's technical approach, and AT vendors and developers can get information on how to integrate their solutions with the Cloud4all/GPII architecture. 
  • Cloud4all/GPII github repositories. All the code of Cloud4all and the GPII's infrastructure. 
  • Cloud4all blog and forums for stakeholders. Where you will get the last scientific and market-oriented news. 

Lessons learnt

  • Users have generally difficulties in configuring the settings of any technology they use; moreover, in some cases such as ATMs or PDTs users have little chance to act on the interface they are using, which may prevent them to perform common activities such as purchasing tickets or withdrawing money. So far, we have interviewed more than 120 prospective users in our pilots, and they have shown to be fond of our approach, as they consider it may help them using technologies they do not use so far. 
  • From the technical point of view, we are working on developing a loosely coupled, scalable architecture that will make it really easy for external AT developers or vendors to integrate their solutions with the Cloud4all/GPII architecture. Our work with AT developers such as OpenDirective (Maavis), Code Factory (Mobile Accessibility for Android) or Omnitor (ecTouch / ecMobile) will help us make the integration process smoother.  
  • Need to rely on standards for preferences terminology, as well as proper alignment mechanisms in order to align the settings of different products or services. 
Scope: International