Apps Alliance Interactive Workshop: App Challenge for societal change

On Wednesday, 2 December, the Apps Alliance, with EU40, organised an interactive workshop in the European Parliament, hosted by Philippe de Backer MEP (ALDE, ITRE Committee).

The speakers and audience discussed the impact ICT and mobile technology has on the lives of people with disabilities. The main focus of the debate was the huge potential of apps dedicated to solving cognitive, motorial language, visual and auditory difficulties.

With 45 attendees present, including two MEPs, the event brought policy makers, app developers and representatives for the disabled community together in a unique opportunity to discover the progress being made, and the obstacles faced, by each party. 

The speakers and organisers gathered after the event for a photo

The speakers and organisers gathered after the event for a photo

Speakers included:                                                                    

  • Philippe de Backer MEP
  • Catriona Meehan, Apps Alliance EU Policy Director
  • Mr Zoran Stančič, Deputy Director-General, DG Connect, European Commission
  • Alejandro Moledo, New Technologies & Innovation Officer, European Disability Forum
  • Olivier Jeannel, CEO RogerVoice
  • Steve Tyler, Head of Solutions, Strategy and Planning, RNIB Solutions (Royal National Institute of Blind People)
  • Maria Lavonen, CEO Vivago

Contributions from all of our speakers were essential in clarifying challenges and opportunities:

Accessibility –The UN’s official stance is that people with disabilities should have equal accessibility in regards to technology. To this purpose, the Web Accessibility Initiative released the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, which can be applicable in ensuring apps are accessible and adequate. The app industry is ever-changing and must evolve to meet the needs of users with disabilities.

Worldwide Standard – Even though some private companies already issue accessibility standards, representatives of users with disabilities supported a set of standards recognised worldwide.  This is a two way street when it comes to apps; developers of the mobile operating systems and devices must ensure they are enabled for accessibility. Additionally, app developers must themselves follow accessibility guidelines. In both cases, accessibility features must be maintained in each app’s updates.

Disability apps a niche market – Only a very small percentage of the population is disabled. Apps that focus on a certain disability need support to survive. Crowdfunding can be essential in providing developers with the means to research and get their app off the ground. It is also crucial to create hype around an app that only affects a small minority of the population, so as to raise awareness and gain support.

Catriona Meehan, Director of EU Policy at the App Alliance, speaks about the societal benefits of apps

Catriona Meehan, Director of EU Policy at the App Alliance, speaks about the societal benefits of apps

Funding – Funding opportunities for apps and technology that enable societal change are rapidly increasing abroad, yet the same is not the case in the EU. Developers face a lack of financing which limits their opportunities to design a product or develop and test a prototype. App Alliance Director of EU Policy Catriona Meehan said “We support European Policy that breaks down barriers to entry in this market and improves the availability of funds and investment to developers and startups”. There should also be a focus on elaborating different funding mechanisms, which suit the needs of SMEs and startups when applying for funding, outlining a project and testing a prototype.

Wearables and IOT – Mobile Health is not refined to mobile apps: exciting technological advances in wearables and the Internet of Things are gaining market share and users’ trust. There are exciting opportunities for developers in these sectors and they are already transforming the mHealth ecosystem.