IEC addresses accessibility for 1 billion people with impairments

Dec. 2, 2014

The IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission), ISO (International Organization for Standardization), and ITU (International Telecommunications Union) have published a new Guide, ISO/IEC Guide 71:2014, entitled “Guide for addressing accessibility in standards,” to help ensure that standards take full account of the accessibility needs of users from all walks of life.

The IEC cites World Health Organization figures estimating that over 1 billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, live with some form of disability. Further, the number is increasing in part due to ageing populations and a rise in chronic health conditions.

IEC General Secretary and CEO Frans Vreeswijk said, “It is an important goal for the whole of society that all people, regardless of their age, size or ability, have access to the broadest range of systems. Standards that include accessibility requirements can support the development of devices and systems that can be accessed by a greater number of users.”

Guide 71 has three main aims:

  • to help designers, manufacturers, and educators gain a better understanding of the accessibility requirements of an increasing part of the population;
  • to increase the number of standards containing accessibility considerations, with perhaps a greater number focusing specifically on accessibility; and
  • to integrate accessibility features into standards—and product or service design—from the outset.

IEC is working with its partner organizations ISO and ITU to raise awareness of accessibility solutions. Guide 71 is the first ISO/IEC guide to have also been adopted by the ITU.

The guide addresses sensory abilities and characteristics (vision, hearing, touch, taste, and smell), immunological system functions, physical abilities and characteristics (body size, movement functions, muscle power and endurance, and voice), and cognitive abilities.

With respect to vision, for example, the guide notes that vision impairments can manifest themselves as the reduced ability to see images distinctly, change focus (near to far and vice versa), see objects in one sector of the field of vision, distinguish colors, see contrast, judge distance and speed, and adjust to different lighting levels. In addition, impairments can cause reduced sensitivity to light and increased sensitivity to glare and flashing lights or flickers.

Design considerations for dealing with vision impairments, the guide says, include supplementing visual information with auditory and tactile information, employing redundant forms of coding (for example, using shape and texture) to supplement color coding, avoiding flicker rates (especially those that can cause seizures), and tactile floor indicators that draw attention to stairs, platform edges, and pedestrian crossings.

Assistive products for visually impaired people, the guide says, include seeing-eye dogs, talking GPS devices, computers with dedicated add-ons (such as screen-reading software that simulates human voice or renders a hard-copy output in Braille), talking clocks and thermometers, and specialized bar-code scanners, hand-held computers, and tablets.

Guide 71 may be downloaded for free here.

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