Project Results and Lessons Learnt
VERITAS addresses the technological challenge of providing to disabled and senior citizens with systems that could support their individual characteristics and increase their quality of life. These systems should improve the level of independence, promote the social relationships and encourage the psychological and physical state of the person. In this context VERITAS aimed to develop, validate and assess tools for built-in accessibility support at all stages of ICT and non-ICT product development, including specification, design, development and testing. The goal was to introduce simulation-based and virtual reality testing at all stages of assistive technologies product design and development into the automotive, smart living spaces (buildings & construction, domotics), workplace and infotainment applications areas. VERITAS aimed to ensure that future products and services are being systematically designed for all people including those with disabilities and functional limitations as well as older people. With VERITAS it is possible to perform simulated accessibility evaluation in all steps of product development – even in the design phase – with virtual disabled users. The main VERITAS innovation lies in the fact that, even if there have been some limited and isolated attempts to support accessibility testing of novel products and applications, there is a clear lack of a holistic framework that supports comprehensively virtual user modeling, simulation and testing at all development stages and realistic/immersive experience of the simulation (see D4.1.3 Project Presentation and Project Description Leaflet).
Accessibility Barriers regarding the development of ICT and non-ICT applications before VERITAS
It is important to realise that people with disabilities are not just a tiny minority of the population of the European Union. The lowest estimate, based on the currently defined disablement categories, estimates their total number at around 74 Million persons [Eurostat, 2008]. However, other estimates that take into account a) people with cognitive difficulties, and b) those people in the so-called hinterland between fully able bodied and the classically termed people with disabilities [The Demographic change], should considerably raise those numbers [INCOM]. Despite the rapid evolution of ICT over the last years and the increasing acknowledgment of the importance of accessibility, the developers of mainstream ICT-based products still act and struggle under total absence of structured guidance and support for adjusting their envisaged products and services with their users real-time accessibility needs. As a result, a critical mass market, including that of older people and people with disabilities-friendly ICT-based products and services targeting older people and people with disabilities, remains highly locked. A similar situation is observed in the development of non-ICT products and services, where developers toil to test and evolve their prototypes in terms of their functionality, without however being able to systematically test their developments in terms of their accessibility.
Main VERITAS contribution to accessibility assessment & Major achievements
In overall, there are two major families of accessibility evaluation methods: A) the methods which are performed manually against a checklist of accessibility criteria and they are the most used [Brajnik, 2008] and B) the automated methods, which in most cases are able to detect for violations of a limited set of accessibility criteria. For large-scale accessibility evaluation, automated check and reporting tools are more cost-effective than those performed manually.
Without VERITAS, the majority of the tools which perform automatic assessibility, check for compliance with established designer guidelines, like the old version of WCAG (version 1.0) and mostly in relation to section 508 [W3C, 1999]. These tools perform a low-level DOM-based check on the source code of a website, while other technologies cannot be supported. Few examples are the checking for appropriate color contrast between background and text color, existence of 'alt' descriptions on images, etc. An extensive list of automated accessibility evaluation tools can be found on the work of Arrue et al.  and at the website of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) which develops strategies, guidelines, and resources to help make the Web accessible to people with disabilities [WAI, 2006].
Automatic accessibility evaluation tools for the recent version of WCAG (2.0), which is technology-agnostic and uses fewer and more abstract principles than the first version, are pending. This is due to the fact that methodologies for large scale WCAG 2.0 evaluations would involve mixed automated and manual testing methods along with recruitment of end-users and experts. With VERITAS, we propose a method for technology-agnostic accessibility evaluation, extended to immersive, desktop and web applications (not only web-based). The proposed method can easily migrate from WCAG 1.0 to 2.0, it is fully automated after some preparation by the designers, able to handle large scale evaluations and reporting and can be used in a Web 2.0 context. Also, in respect to the fact that making an interface accessible is a wider concept than compliance with specific guideline documents, interface designers and ergonomics engineers will be able to challenge future updates to established international and national accessibility guidelines, as well as the diversity of users and interface environments.
VERITAS introduced a paradigm shift to accessibility assessment by proposing a novel design paradigm, based on the notion of the Virtual User. This could be described as “What You See Is What Other People Get –WYSIWOPG-“, that is to say, developers may have a clear view of the interaction perceived the end user with or even without disabilities when interacting with a product in the development stage. The importance and significant potential of these approaches via the use of the virtual user models is obvious, since they can guarantee that the developments will be accessible for a vast percentage of the disabled population, while also improve the usability of the designs for all including able-bodied people.
Based on the above novel design paradigm VERITAS has produced a number of significant achievements such as:
- The implementation of an Open Library of user models that consists of several parameters mapping capabilities and impairments in Motor, Vision, Hearing and Cognitive aspects to simulatable variables accurately depicting the behaviour of groups of users with similar severity of specific impairments (see D1.6.1 Implementation of VERITAS virtual user model platform, D1.6.3 Intelligent Avatar and User model generator components and D1.6.4 User Model Interoperability Requirements)
- The development of the Veritas Multisensorial Platform: a set of different sensors (video sensing, wearable sensors, motion sensors, environmental sensors) integrated via software in a unique frame, to create detailed virtual user models for selected disabilities, in order to augment and fill the gaps of the research in literature of the requested information, through the direct acquisition of this data during several campaigns of measurement with real beneficiaries
- The VERITAS Model Platform. The model platform has two main aspects: the first aspect is the generation of Intelligent Avatars that combine Virtual User Models as well as sociodemographic and anthropometric parameters to provide the VERITAS User Model. The second aspect is the generation of Simulation Models to support simulation and testing at all stages of product planning and development (see D1.6.1 Implementation of VERITAS virtual user model platform)
- The development of the Veritas Core Simulation Platform which is the basis of all the tools developed to create, perform and analyse the simulation of the execution of tasks by a virtual user in specific scenarios, in order to support testing and assessment at all stages of product planning and development, decreasing both the product development time and cost (see D2.1.1 Core simulation platform).
- The development of the Exportable toolbox modules: A middleware for interfacing the VERITAS interaction manager and simulation models to external applications
- A VR simulation environment for realistic and iterative testing providing simultaneous multimodal (visual, aural, etc.) feedback to the designer/developer as well as the potential for immersive realistic simulation measures and metrics for evaluating software, product and facility accessibility.
- A multimodal simulation environment that supports modality replacement for virtual testing of interfaces and products in realistic scenarios that offer the opportunity to fine tune and adapt these technologies to the specific application (see D2.8.1 First prototypes of the multimodal interface tool set and D2.8.3 Testing and validation – Refinement of the interface tool set).
VERITAS Socio-economic impact
VERITAS provides the designers/developers with the possibility to achieve realistic and iterative user testing at all development stages and thus, to offer mainstream ICT products/services compatible with assistive devices and adjusted to visual, hearing, cognitive and mobility impairments. By covering a wide variety of disabilities, it offers the verification of the products through VR simulation of the end-users’ impairments, focussing on the accessibility and usability issues in order to increase the productivity of designers along with the accessibility and the associated quality of their products. More specifically:
- VERITAS has defined a holistic, modular architecture, to its aim of creating new tools and methods that facilitate and streamline the process of creation, design, construction and seamless deployment of accessible technological solutions and services for persons with disabilities in various daily life environments.
- VERITAS has proposed a set of application guidelines, as emerged from the project findings, towards the optimal application of the VERITAS tools and the overall enhancement of the design-for-all concept in the design and development of mainstream products. The include generic guidelines for using VERITAS tools in any application domain, domain specific guidelines for the domains targeted by VERITAS and finally guidelines for extending the usage of VERITAS to new application domains. To this end a new application domains and its set of design guidelines has been introduced as proof of concept namely the domain of “Public spaces” (see D4.5.1 Application Guidelines, Research Roadmap, policy and standards recommendations).
- By focussing on five emerging application areas, i.e. automotive, smart living spaces, infotainment, work environment and personal health, VERITAS covers a wide range of everyday activities and its outcomes are significantly contributing to facilitating the design of products related to these five areas following an accessible for everybody concept which, consecutively, will enhance the quality of everyday life for people with disabilities and eliminate discrimination by making the same products usable by everyone.
- VERITAS partners, also within the framework of VUMS cluster, has initiated and actively participated in standardisation activities related to the project results, which are still ongoing and their involvement continues also after the end of the project (see D4.5.2 VERITAS roadmap).
Regarding the economic development and further deployment, VERITAS has:
- Investigated the willingness-to-pay of the end-users (designers/developers) for the developed tools that enhance the development of accessible for all products and services. This was taken into account in the formulation of exploitation and business plans.
- Defined 16 exploitable assets (see section Exploitation of Results) and performed CBA/CEA as well as defined separate business models for each one of them.
- Defined a concrete exploitation plan and exploitation agreement on the further deployment of these products after the completion of the project.
By encompassing devices and applications the ability to compensate in every situation and environment for motor, sensory, or cognitive difficulties, VERITAS will enable people with disabilities and older people to live independently, at home and elsewhere. Thus, VERITAS will enable the older people and people with disabilities to remain in their familiar home environment, rather than become dependent on institutional care. Conclusively, as access to good quality of life is a fundamental need and right for every human, VERITAS is indirectly supporting every policy and strategy towards social protection and social inclusion, with special emphasis on the design and development process of new mainstream products.
At the end of the VERITAS project, we would like to thank Dr. Fotis Topouzis , Associate Professor of Ophthalmology-Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and the Laboratory of Research and Clinical Applications of Ophthalmology (A' Department Ophthalmology, AHEPA Hospital).
VERITAS Generic Virtual User Models now available! (update)
The VERITAS Generic Virtual User Models Repository is now available. There are cognitive, physical, psychological and behavioural Virtual User Models available for download. For more information, please click here.
VERITAS Market impact
As already mentioned above, the VERITAS results mainly address five application areas: Automotive, Smart Living Spaces, Infotainment, Work Environment, Personal Health. Each of them constitutes a potential market for the VERITAS project results, to what concerns accessible design of their products. This variety of application areas provides the VERITAS products the possibility to be highly marketable. In specific, The VERITAS exploitable results follow one or more of the following three types of employability in business activity:
- Open Source Solution (OSS): The complete source code of the open source applications will be available and freely redistributable. The community will benefit from these solutions, producing new knowledge and applications. The partners will use these solutions and knowledge as stepping stones in novel research efforts in the future. Additionally, specific services could be offered for the implementation and customization of this OSS for a fee.
- Proprietary Solutions: Some of the developed technologies are partially or totally composed of copyright code. The source code for the proprietary applications could be delivered through commercial license. Additionally, specific consultancy services based on these assets could be offered for a fee.
- Services to third parties: The planned business model for VERITAS is either based on OSS, Copyright code or the so-called dual licensing model. This last approach permits a customer to choose one of the two licenses: either the GNU General Public License (GPL) or the commercial licenses. The exploitation model of several ERs also considers the offer of technical solutions together with implementation guidelines, as well as training and consultancy services: the “VERITAS as a Service” model.
Moreover, apart from the developers/designers to whom they mainly address, the development of VERITAS results implies several impacts to the other addressed stakeholders, indicatively mentioning the following:
- European industrial players: VERITAS built-in accessibility support will incite for more systematic usage of VR simulation in the design and development of commercial products accessible for all, mainly for the handicapped.
- ICT and non-ICT companies with specialized departments in human factors may be attracted by the VERITAS concept which proposes virtual reality accessibility testing as an alternative to testing in the real environment, in order to develop fully accessible products as close as possible to the particular needs of the handicapped persons.
- Software companies and SME’s may use by the VERITAS VR Open Simulation Platform in order to achieve the optimum result in design and development of software accessibility. VERITAS tools could also be the starting point for the research and development of innovative concepts for ambient, multi-device, universally accessible and usable multimodal interfaces through VR simulation. Conclusively, VERITAS will support the software industry in its objective of producing better, universally accessible software products /services at a lower cost.
VERITAS designed and implemented a holistic approach to ICT and non-ICT products accessibility assessment based on the notion of the Virtual User. Additionally for all the targeted application domains VERITAS performed accessibility assessments of products based both on actual users and VUMs. The critical analysis of the results of the aforementioned evaluation activities together with the feedback by designers and developers was used to produce valuable results regarding both the possibilities and weaknesses of the VERITAS approach. The potential of VERITAS is highlighted by the research roadmap providing the directions for future research while weaknesses and lessons learned offer valuable insight for improving existing infrastructure. More specifically the main lessons learned by VERITAS can be summarized as follows:
- 2D simulation: The result of the testing proves that VERITAS tools, used carefully can act as a significant substitute for real users, since all corrections to the design after testing show that basic accessibility and design for all guidelines already cover: larger fonts, clearer contrast, larger targets, etc.
- Automotive: the potential interest for VERITAS tools tested within Automotive activities resulted quite high, because ergonomic virtual assessment of needs from elderly people characterized by high accessibility could be developed by design rather than by adaptation, with significant saving in terms of costs and time. The accessibility assessment methodology highlighted that the overall VERITAS toolchain was very effective and useful in the redesign process, because it allowed creating a new application thoroughly accessible. Nevertheless automotive partners believe that further validation activities are needed (mainly by correlating each scenario from subjective and virtual point of view) in order to develop a fully reliable tool.
- Workspace applications: VERITAS tools have been proven very successful in this domain as they allow to directly assess the 3D design of a workspace. The integration of tasks to the 3D design is a time consuming process that should be partially automated.
- Metaverse and Games: The general consensus is that the VERITAS tools and methodology does indeed offer an insight into accessibility issues of a UI design early on in the design phase and is a useful tool to aid in the design and implementation of accessible software products.
- Healthcare applications: The general opinion is that the VERITAS tools and methodology let the designer be able to have an insight into accessibility issues of a GUI early in the design phase, so that these tools are a very useful instrument in the design and implementation of accessible personal healthcare software solution. There are only a few inconsistencies, some functionalities of VERITAS platform need a little level of integration, but in general, VERITAS tools are quite easy to use from the point of view of designers. Additionally Subjective feedback provided by the immersive simulation functionality broadens and improves the designer experience, letting them experience on their own. If any of these issues is omitted during the process, designers might reach wrong conclusions about what the user would perceive and what they would or not be able to do.
During the assessments conducted in the context of VERITAS target application for a number of application domains several limitations of VERITAS tools arise. These limitations when appropriate were solved within the timeframe of the project. Though still there are some issues to report mainly stemming from the methodological approach followed by the project. The limitations can be summarized as follows:
A working prototype of the application needs to be developed before testing with VERITAS tools
- The working prototype could be created in any prototyping tool as long as is functional
- Functional prototypes should be able to present the appropriate feedback on simulated user actions (e.g. mouse, key events)
- It is critical that developers select the appropriate VUMs for their application target user population
- If alternative designs target alternative user categories a prototype for each user category must be developed and tested
- The target user population should be properly matched with the VUMs created for evaluation
- If designing for all VUMs should be created for all the applicable for the application user population
- Each redesign requires a re-recording of the interactions and adaptation of the simulation models to match the new designs, regardless of the extent of changes made to the UI, whether these changes are minimal or extensive.
- Visual and Hearing accessibility issues can only be tested in an interactive manner, because the system cannot truly automatically simulate the recognition of visual and auditory stimuli.
- Cognitive simulation offers an entry level accessibility assessment but for the same reasons as those regarding vision and hearing simulation, cannot fully cover the accessibility assessment requirements in an automatic manner.
- Some interactions, e.g. dragging of UI elements, scrolling to an indefinite position cannot be fully supported due to the unknown final state of the interaction.
- The results of the simulations make certain assumptions on the aptitude and prior knowledge of the use cases by the virtual users that need to be taken into account when comparing with results by actual users.
- All task models must be evaluated in conjunction to all VUMs
- VERITAS tools reduce touch events to mouse events therefore test results of touch designs need further analysis
- When designing for gestures the tester should be aware that VERITAS tools doesn’t support multi-touch gestures
- When simulating using VERITAS tools the tester should be aware that each VUM may require more than one simulation in order to get the medium of results
- When simulating using VERITAS tools the tester should be aware that some VUMs may require immersive simulation
- The GUI evaluation of the prototype that will employ mixed reality (usage of physical – digital object) will only produce results for the digital part of the application.
- When creating a prototype that will employ mixed reality the space where the application will be deployed should be also be designed in 3D and evaluated separately using the appropriate VERITAS tools
- Designers would prefer the VERITAS tools to give more details when changing a parameter value, in terms of what is the impact of the change on the user model.
VERITAS Research Roadmap
Along with the work undertaken within VERITAS, the main research that should be put as priority for the mid to long term (up to 2020), as identified by VERITAS can be summarized as follows (analyzed in detail in D4.5.2 VERITAS roadmap)
- Generalisation of use and standardisation of dynamic virtual user models so as to move from a static approach with respect to user modeling to a dynamic one, where the virtual user models will be continuously updated taking into account user interactions, preferences and real-time accessibility needs. Iterative on-the-go optimisation is the introduction of a mobile simulation platform, which could be potentially a sub-set of the core simulation platform that will automatically and without user intervention perform automatic interface accessibility assessment tests, interface optimization and iterative adaptation, based on the dynamic virtual user models, the environmental measurements and contextual information.
- Smart adaptive user interfaces should support high-level accessibility of ICT products and services in daily life. On the basis of a specific user profile from the virtual user model (VUM), the Adaptive Interfaces Platform should put together proven user interface components to an individualised user interface which will fit the specific user requirements and constraints. Smart adaptive User Interfaces (UI) that will be provided in different portable devices will be able to adapt themselves to the changing habits, preferences and requirements of the user in terms of the presentation and interaction modes, and based on the past choices made by the user within changing daily environments. Besides automatic user interface adaptation, the foreseen smart adaptive user interfaces should provide the possibility for manual individualization.
- Seamlessly operating products to provide roaming of the individuals between different domains of daily life, by retaining dynamic time-varying needs, temporal habits and accessibility constraints.
- Holistic cognitive-behavioural-motor modeling which is the making of user models a step beyond VERITAS, in the sense that they fully integrate cognition and physics. In other words further research and efforts should be addressed to produce some kind of «copy» of human beings that reproduces cognition, decision, motion planning, motor control and physical movement. Such kind of model would be able, for example, to produce itself the task tree to achieve a goal, to plan primitive movements, to execute and adjust them, and to ultimately interact in a realistic humanlike way with objects and interfaces.
- Incorporate psychological aspects to address other categories. The virtual user models should include other aspects of the users and not only physical characteristics, but also psychological ones e.g. expand the spectrum to include other DSM-V categories, such as Neurodevelopmental disorders, Depressive disorders, Anxiety disorders, Trauma- and stressor-related disorders, Sleep–wake disorders, etc.
- Inclusion of other application areas apart from the application areas that have already been identified and researched within VERITAS such as travelling, e-commerce, leisure (not only infotainment and games), social networks, etc.
- Establish a flexible, reliable and valid evaluation framework that could transfer findings from virtual users to real users with no loss in reliability and validity; because these two aspects are important in generalizing findings.
- Methodology for the assessment of accessibility of healthcare applications using VERITAS tools. The methodology defined in VERITAS, which has been tested and validated with 3 applications in the healthcare domain during the project, will be applied and validated with more applications and tools. Specifically, several p-health applications for the management of chronic diseases will be assessed (including Parkinson disease, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes).
- Further development and applications of virtual user models for cognitive disabilities so as to continue the work on the definition of virtual user models with cognitivedisabilities and explore usefulness for the field of cognitive rehabilitation.
- Definition of European ergonomic constrains for impaired drivers
- Eurostat, Europe in figures - Eurostat yearbook 2008, ISBN: 978-92-79-06607-8, Eurostat 2008.
- The Demographic Change – Impacts of New Technologies and Information Society, available online at: http://ec.europa.eu/employment_social/social_situation/studies_en.htm
- INCOM, Report of the Inclusive Communications subgroup (INCOM) of the Communications Committee (COCOM) COCOM04-08
- WHO-World Health Organization, available online at: http://www.who.int
- Brajnik, G. Beyond Conformance: The Role of Accessibility Evaluation Methods. WISE 2008, LNCS 5176, 2008; p. 63-80.
- W3C, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0, 1999, available online at: http://www.w3.org/TR/WAI-WEBCONTENT/
- Arrue, M., Vigo, M., Abascal, J. (2008). Supporting the Development of Accessible Web Applications, Journal of Universal Computer Science, 14(16); 2008; p. 2699-2719.
- Web Accessibility Initiative-WAI, Complete List of Web Accessibility Evaluation Tools; 2006, available online at: http://www.w3.org/WAI/ER/tools/complete