i2web: Inclusive Future Internet Web Services (i2web)

Published on: 01/05/2013
Document

Future Internet Services must be fully inclusive and accessible to everyone, everywhere, every time they wish to use them. The i2web project is helping to achieve this by improving the accessibility of interactive web sites on various devices for people with disabilities and the elderly.

Recent and rapid developments in the way people access and use web services have thrown up new challenges for older and disabled people. These developments include the increasing emphasis on generating and sharing content, for example through social-networking sites, blogs, wikis, and photo and video-sharing sites.

By 2025, 40 % of Europe’s population will be older or disabled and the mission of the i2web project is to help empower this section of the population to easily compose, share and use internet-linked services. This is being achieved through the development of three classes of results:

(1)   Three semantic models (user, device, application) to model the targeted context of use for user interface adaptation. These models serve both the development (authoring) phase as well as the run time phase.

(2)   The EASI (Expert Accessibility, Integration and Support) IDE embedded tool suite that augments existing authoring and web compliance tools with facilities to support the development authoring phase of usable and accessible web applications by web developers, by accessibility experts, and by web commissioners. EASI achieves this by automatically providing these stakeholders with the accessibility rules that are relevant to the targeted context of use as well as by interoperating with an open interface to any of the many accessibility validation tools such as Compliance Sheriff, Cynthia Says Portal, Imergo, Functional Accessibility Evaluator, Rational Policy Tester Accessibility Edition, etc,

(3)   The MMS (Model Management System) web-based Assistive System that appropriately adapts the user interface to the current context of use based on a description of the context (actual user’s preference, device and application).

Three targeted domains were used to validate the results: eBanking, eGovernment, and Video Content Management systems. The approach used to reach these objectives was to start from existing (standard) modelling techniques and tools, and use specific requirements elicited from field studies to propose the appropriate extensions.

The i2web tools and frameworks are being delivered as Open Source ontologies and SOA interfaces, combined with commercial implementations of the many external and existing web compliance systems to guarantee adoption, widespread take-up and sustainable exploitation of the project innovations and results.

Policy Context

Currently 15% of the EU population is disabled and 17.5 % are 65 or more years old. According to the demographics, the ageing population in Europe is expected to reach almost one third of the total EU population by 2025 according to the UN, 2006 Revision of World Population Prospects. This demographic change along with the fact that a significant number of current Internet users will be over the age of 60 in 2025, is fully considered by i2web so that the Future Internet can address fully the Internet access and usage needs especially of the elderly.

Many national authorities in Europe are committed to the accessibility of public websites and most Member States have introduced guidelines or regulation based on WCAG 2.0, the actual accessibility however is still low. For instance, the latest report (2011) from the "Monitoring eAccessibility in Europe" (MeAC) study estimates that only one third of the content generated by public authorities across the EU is accessible. The study also reveals a fragmented and slow adoption of WCAG 2.0 across the EU. Furthermore, supported by the Council's Conclusion on the COM (2008) 804 and with the intention to lead by example, the Commission conducted a study in 2009 to evaluate the accessibility of a selection of Commission websites. The results indicated a “Medium-High” accessibility level. The open and available i2web EASI toolsuite assistive system and models provides a strong coherent approach to address this widespread need and opportunity.

i2web’s focus on eAccessibility for older and disabled users in the broader European Context is a matter of observing equal rights for every service user (i.e. citizen), and it is part of the overall EC commitment towards people with disability. Furthermore, it is a matter of the internal market, because different national treatments of the theme (policies, laws, standards) yield to fragmentation manifested for example in distinct procurement criteria and business models for Website developers willing to compete for contracts in other Member States.

According to the EC Communication (December 2008) “Towards and accessible information society,” it is evident that despite the benefits and political attention, progress in eAccessibility is still unsatisfactory. There are many striking examples of accessibility deficits, broadcasting with audio description, subtitled TV programmes and TV sign-language programming remains very poor, only 8% of ATMs installed by the European retail banks provide “talking” output, only 5.3% of government web sites and hardly any of the commercial web sites surveyed were fully compliant with the basic accessibility guidelines (in spite the Riga Ministerial Declaration on an Inclusive Information Society in 2006 that included a commitment that 100% of public web sites will be accessible by 2010). i2web’s open EASI tools and MMS accessibility system can facilitate addressing these deficits and expects to have impact in a growing number of beneficiaries, because around 15% of Europe's population has a disability and up to one-to-five working age Europeans have impairments requiring accessible solutions (according to the Demographic Change Report – Impacts of New Technologies and Information Society). This means that three out of five people stand to benefit from i2web as it advances accessibility in the development process of ICT goods, products and services (that includes computers, telephones, TVs, e-government, e-shopping, call centers, etc.

Description of target users and groups

I2web’s target users are all elderly and disabled people who will have significantly improved access to interactive and multimedia Web 2.0 services on various devices, both fixed and mobile.

While the direct customers for the i2web models and services are:

  1. Public and private organisations who commission and provide web services
  2. National Agencies, NGOs and European Commission
  3. Software and Web Service implementation companies (Large and SME)
  4.  Web Compliance Evaluation Expert organisations.
  5. Providers of Web Accessibility Tools

With services being provided to disabled and elderly end-users by:

  • Providers of Web Accessibility tools.
  • eAccessibility Partners (local supplier providing services and support)
  • The Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Information Technology FIT providing eAccessibility partner support services.

The benefits (value-add) to customer organisations and end-users include:

  • A strong common methodology that enables the user organisations, who commission web services, and technical companies that implement them, to maximise benefit from their services - wider take-up and use, especially by older and disabled users.
  • Clear, accessible, interactive and affordable communication and validation of their web
  • services eAccessibility process at local, national and/or EU levels.
  • Effective and user friendly common eAccessibility Services, Models and APIs, seamlessly
  • integrated for Developers, Commissioners and Accessibility Experts.

This will result in:

  • Increased engagement of older and disabled users in Future Internet services.
  • Improved awareness, communication with, and understanding of, the accessibility and usability needs of all users.

Description of the way to implement the initiative

I2web was implemented as a focused project in the “Internet of Services, Software and Virtualisation” theme of the FP7 ICT Programme (ICT-2009.1.2 No.257623).

The project was coordinated by the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Information Technology FIT (DE), with 3 end-user driven organisations (University of York (UK), National Council for the Blind of Ireland (IE) and the Foundation for Assistive Technology (UK), 3 commercial ICT partners (Hewlett-Packard (IT), Public-i Group Ltd (UK) and Polymedia SpA (IT) and 2 technical partners (University of Ljubljana (SI) and The National Microelectronics Applications Centre Ltd (IE).

The project aimed to enable both professional and non-professional user groups, to create accessible inclusive ubiquitous and mobile Web 2.0 applications and services. This was achieved by integrating User Centred (UC) components that take into account user, device and application models in different development environments. I2Web prototyped these developments with inclusive services in 3 domains:

(1) Social Networking/Web 2.0

(2) Ubiquitous/Mobile Web (including eBanking) and

(3) IPTV/iTV.

Specifically the project objectives were:

1. Develop Application Metamodels and abstractions that can deal with information aggregation, cloud computing applications, Semantic Web and mobile/ubiquitous Web 2.0 systems, based on existing models such as WAI-ARIA.

2. Extend existing Mobile Device Models in order to be able to deal with the needs of other devices: standard desktops, consumer electronics devices and inclusive services.

3. Develop User Models based on an analysis of user requirements for disabled and older people in relation to the target applications combined with existing accessibility standards such as WCAG 2.0 and UWEM.

4. Incorporate Web Compliance Tools into existing development environments and their standard development workflows, which will provide to the target user groups feedback on accessibility/usability issues, enabling at design/runtime feedback on DfA issues. Test, validate and demonstrate the developed frameworks and tools in different industrial development environments.

5. Ensure the sustainable impact of the frameworks developed in the project, by feeding the project results into relevant standardisation bodies.

The project completed the following 5 steps:

1. Collecting eAccessibility user requirements and awareness, as well as Interaction Data from representative groups of real users.
2. Researching, specifying appropriate User/Interaction, Device and Application Models.
3. Developing appropriate Accessibility Expert Viewer and Visualization Tools – which became the EASI tools and MMS services.
4. Integrating the tools into 3 application domains (eGovernment, Video CMS, eBanking).
5. Evaluating the use of these services with representative groups of real users.

How i2web is helping people use Web 2.0 applications

i2web conducted extensive research with people with disabilities and older adults into how they use Web 2.0 applications. As opposed to looking at problems that people encounter when using the Web, i2web has studied the strategies that these diverse groups of users employ when using Web 2.0 applications. After working closely with over 60 users in laboratory studies, working with desktop computers, mobile phones and interactive TV, the project has defined 7 key strategies that people use with Web 2.0 applications. These strategies are accompanied by 100 different patterns of interaction by which people apply those strategies to applications, depending on the platform on which they work, their assistive technologies and their personal preferences.

These strategies have informed the design adaptations that help support disabled and older people while they are using Web 2.0 applications. i2web is providing a modelling framework through which users can specify what adaptations they would like to have applied to Web 2.0 applications, based on their technology and personal preferences.  This framework can then be used to automatically transform websites so that users are better supported and can succeed at their goals with Web 2.0 applications.

How i2web is helping developers, accessibility experts and web commissioners

i2web has worked with web developers, accessibility experts and commissioners to determine the current support they provide for accessibility and where there are opportunities for improvement by conducting surveys, interviews and observations with over 100 practitioners.  Based on this deep understanding, i2web is developing its EASI (Evaluation of Accessibility Support & Integration) tools to support the creation of accessible websites and Web 2.0 applications.

The EASI tools for developers are focused on understanding their mental models and language and integrating accessibility testing into the workflows they already undertake in their development processes.  Accessibility support and advice is focused at the level of web content, allowing developers to undertake both formative and summative evaluations of accessibility with the assistance of automatic and semi-automatic testing tools.

For web accessibility experts, the EASI tools support evaluations of a user’s journey through a Web 2.0 application, and help them manage their testing practices to improve reliability throughout their evaluations.

The project is providing EASI tools to commissioners that allow them to track the accessibility of their Web 2.0 applications over time.  It allows them to have an overview of what pages are likely to cause users trouble in using a website, but provides that information abstracted away from the technical details of how the website was developed and tested.

Technology solution

i2web aimed to enable both professional and non-professional user groups, to create accessible inclusive ubiquitous and mobile Web 2.0 applications and services. This was achieved by integrating User Centric (UC) components that take into account user, device and application models in different development environments. The i2web project validated these developments with inclusive prototype services in 3 domains:

(1) eBanking Applications,

(2) eGovernment Services and

(3) Video CMS.

i2web consists of 3 major components:

  1. The i2web User/Interaction, Device and Application Models – using open validated standards. These are described in the reports available at www.i2web.eu/documents.html
  2. The EASI (Evaluation of Accessibility Support and Integration) open source toolsuite to facilitate the development of accessible websites, and consists of authoring tools - as plug-ins for Developers’ IDEs during development.
  3. The MMS (Model Management System) assistive system delivery SOA infrastructure and web browser plug-in for users at the point of use.

EASI and MMS provide an open common strong methodology and infrastructure to support all of the many Web Compliance Tools that already exist, while providing specific views tailored to the specific needs of the major actors involved:

  1. Web Developers
  2. Web Commissioners
  3. Web Expert Evaluators.

The i2web common strong methodology is based on WCAG 2.0, WAI-ARIA, etc, but also the new and unique interaction strategies that i2web found that users are adopting to access interactive services on various devices as the Future Internet Services begin to appear.

By ensuring a standardised and common methodology, i2web EASI/MMS produces valid, reliable, repeatable and reproducible results, in contrast to the current mainly ad-hoc approach taken by commissioners and accessibility experts, and the lack of knowledge of developers. In particular, i2web should help to standardise the work of accessibility experts.

All of the i2web project R&D outputs are Open Source and available at www.i2web.eu, to ensure as wide and fast a take-up and adoption of the i2web results, which will be so crucial to the eAccessibility and eInclusion of the Future Internet Services.

EASI toolsuite

EASI provides a comprehensive and easy-to-use toolbox for developers and other stakeholders in the ICT field to facilitates the analysis and improvement of accessibility and adaptability compliance for Web 2.0 applications, together with user and device profiles and information models.

The goal was not to develop a new compliance accessibility analysis tool, but to integrate the results of existing tools into the proposed development environments, by enhancing those existing systems with a common open standard authoring and delivery infrastructure.

To ensure flexibility, the implementation of EASI is based on the Eclipse Rich Client Platform (RCP), also known as Eclipse plugins. Thus EASI is a set of 16 Eclipse plugins. The advantages of this approach are many:

  • Eclipse is an Open Source IDE platform supported by major industry vendors.
    Its licensing scheme is very flexible, allowing different exploitation options, including commercial ones.
  • There is a big and dynamic community of developers, which generate a rich set of new functionalities and opportunities.

MMS Assistive System

MMS is a prototype delivery SOA infrastructure and web browser plug-in for users to provide dynamic adaptations at the point of use.

The MMS enables the user to dynamically change their preferences with a very simple dialog. The first step is done by using the MMS plugin: the user just needs to login once for their specific application, and then choose their adaptations.

Then when the user subsequently uses the application, the MMS implements their chosen adaptations without further intervention.

The user can change their adaptations preferences through the MMS assistive system at any time, and they seamlessly appear on the application for the user.

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

Main results, benefits and impacts

The goal of the i2web project has been to improve the accessibility of web sites to people with certain disabilities and to the elderly. This has been achieved through the development of the following main results of the project:

1. 3 meta-models (user, device, application) to model the targeted context of use for user interface adaptation. These models serve both the development (authoring) phase as well as the run time phase, and are their detailed description are available at www.i2web.eu/documents.html

2. The EASI (Expert Accessibility, Integration & Support) IDE embedded toolsuite that augments existing authoring and web compliance tools with facilities to support the development authoring phase of usable and accessible web applications by

  • web developers,
  • accessibility experts
  • web commissioners.

EASI achieves this by automatically providing these stakeholders with the accessibility rules that are relevant to the targeted context of use as well as by interoperating with an open interface to any of the many accessibility validation tools such as Compliance Sheriff, Cynthia Says Portal, Imergo, Functional Accessibility Evaluator, Rational Policy Tester Accessibility Edition, etc that already exist.

3. The MMS (Model Management System) Assistive System plugin for web browsers so that, at run time, the user interface is appropriately adapted to the current context of use by recruiting the description of the context (actual user’s preference, device and application).

Three targeted domains were used to validate the results: eBanking, eGovernment, and Video Content Management systems. The approach used to reach these objectives was to start from existing (standard) modelling techniques and tools, and use specific requirements elicited from field studies to propose the appropriate extensions.

The i2web tools and frameworks are being delivered as Open Source ontologies and SOA interfaces, combined with commercial implementations of the many external and existing web compliance systems to guarantee adoption, widespread take-up and exploitation of the project innovations and results.

Main stakeholders, their expected benefits

Considering that i2web has created tools to develop inclusive Future Internet services, four general categories of beneficiaries have been identified:

  1. Developers and software engineers: they will be able to create ubiquitous and mobile web applications that are more easily accessible and to determine automatically the accessibility of websites and fully interactive eServices and devices.
  2. Services providers, including public sector: they will be able to access a larger number of users, including older and disabled persons. As the costs related to compliance with accessibility rules will be lowered, they will be able to provide services at a reduced cost.
  3. Citizens, in particular older and disabled persons: they will have access and they will be able to use more online interactive services, which normally are not accessible to persons with special needs. The number of persons that could be affected by the i2web approach could amount to 40% of the European population by 2025.
  4. Industry and SMEs: they will be able to provide services more accessible to the users as they will be provided with tools and frameworks that support seamless accessibility integration in distributed development environments.

Economic impact

In terms of the economic impact produced by i2web, the most important effects are related to the technological advances that allow generation of positive effects on cash inflows, especially related to cost reductions: 30% savings are related to reduction of costs associated with compliance with regulatory and policy constraints.

Based on its exploitation plans, i2web expects that between 51 and 100 persons will work on the commercial exploitation of the project’s outputs, mainly in eAccessibility Service providers.

Social Impact

i2web is likely to have a large impact on society in general, reducing the accessibility divide between end-users and allowing all citizens to access interactive and participatory services offered by the Future Internet. Therefore the project will have a high social impact.

The sector which it is likely to impact the most is eAccessibility. i2web will improve the accessibility not just of websites, but also of fully interactive eServices and devices. It is thus positioned as a more functional and holistic multi-device service, that in particular addresses WCAG 2.0 compliance. The EASI tools and MMS services that have been developed can be integrated in commercial products, so that the developers will concretely use them in their everyday work.

I2web responds to several of the goals of the European Digital Agenda 2020. It is promoting a better definition and use of standards, as it promotes new dynamic standards for disabled people. To a lesser degree, it allows SMEs to enter new markets by lowering entry barriers for them.

Finally, i2web is expected to have an interesting policy impact at national and local levels regarding eAccessibility. The project will have a policy impact also regarding the use of standards for disabled people.

Impact on employment and working routines

The project’s results are expected to have a positive impact on employment in Europe, as the project foresees that more than 100 job positions will be generated as a consequence of its work, mainly in eAccessibility services. For example, the project will promote the creation of new professionals and will make SMEs more competitive, enabling them to look for more employees.

The project is likely to have a positive impact on the working routines of its users. It will allow them to do their everyday work more quickly, as it will become easier for them to become WCAG 2.0 compliant.

Return on investment

Return on investment: €300-499,000

Track record of sharing

The i2web project produced 30 scientific deliverables and 8 scientific papers and 7 presentations at conferences.

In terms of knowledge sharing, great attention was given by the project to the exchange and diffusion of its scientific results. It participated in 2 knowledge exchange initiatives, 3 collaborations with standardisation bodies, participated in 4 communities, had 25 presentations at events, and established 16 collaboration links with other projects. Various training modules have also been developed by the partners, at www.i2web.eu/developer/tutorials.html.

Another important aspect is the availability and diffusion of the project’s results: all of the scientific material produced by i2web is available on its website including its open source tools and training materials in their use, at www.i2web.eu, and the project interacted extensively with its targeted users.

Lessons learnt

  1. eAccessibility needs to include all stakeholders – not just developers, but also end-user, web commissioners and accessibility experts.
  2. eAccessiblity needs to be seamless and painless for developers and all stakeholders
  3. The Developers and Accessibility worlds need to be bridged.
  4. Speak the users language.
  5. It is not easy – there is a lot done but there is a lot more to do.
Scope: Cross-border, International, Pan-European