Earlier this summer, I read a short article in a library blog about an innovative project, the Global Public Infrastructure Initiative (GPII), which has great potential to provide individuals with disabilities with the assistive technology they need and are entitled to have. Although the article talked about the project in the context of libraries, the benefit and application of GPII is not limited to libraries. All aspects of life and work stand to benefit if the project is successful.
In a nutshell, this ambitious project would create a paradigm shift by moving everything to the cloud. Right now, the burden rests with the individual who needs assistive technology. Typically, the individual has to figure out what he needs and how to meet those needs in the environments (work, home, school etc.) in which he needs the technology. Moreover, employers, educational institutions, libraries, and other entities are often faced with the challenge of also figuring out what can be vague legal requirements and identifying what assistive technology to purchase that would best fit the needs of the individual, or the largest number of users, and to do this within a tight budget and extremely limited staff time.
The growing use of the Internet in government services, employment, education, and the marketplace has led to a corresponding reduction in other means of accessing those entities. Consequently, the ability to access and use broadband technologies is moving from discretionary to essential for effective participation in society. If broadband technologies are no longer optional, then everyone needs to be included or society will have an increasing digital divide because of disability, aging, and low literacy.
The GPII Project will combine cloud computing, web, and platform services to make access simpler, more inclusive, available everywhere, and more affordable. When completed it will provide the infrastructure needed to make it possible for companies, organizations, and society to put the web within reach of all — by making it easier and less costly for consumers with disabilities, public access points, employers, educators, government agencies and others such as assistive technology and information and communications technology companies to create, disseminate, and support accessibility across technologies. The GPII would use the cloud to create a secure personalized interface for each patron using a one-time only, Wizard guided process. Accessibility software and information about a patron’s devices would be a part of that profile. This would allow any person to access assistive technologies and extended-usability features on any device connected to the Internet anytime, anywhere.
The project is the brainchild of Geneva-based, “Raising the Floor“ (RtF), an international coalition of individuals and organizations working to make sure that the Internet, and everything available through it, is accessible to people experiencing accessibility barriers due to disability, literacy, or age. Consortium members include a wide range of assistive technology consumers, developers, researchers, and manufacturers. Funded through a U.S. Department of Education grant and the Adobe Foundation, the mission of RtF is “To make the web and mobile technologies accessible to everyone with disability, literacy and aging-related barriers, regardless of their economic status.” Of particular interest are individuals that are underserved or unserved because of the type or combination of disabilities they experience, the part of the world they live in, or the limited program or financial resources available to them.
The GPII Project is RfT’s signature project to carry out its mission; the purpose of the Project is to “ensure that everyone who faces accessibility barriers due to disability, literacy, or aging, regardless of economic resources, can access and use the Internet and all its information, communities, and services for education, employment, daily living, civic participation, health, and safety. Organizations endorsing the project include the American Library Association, the National Federation for the Blind and United Cerebral Palsy. The GPII project has a five-year timeline and has about $4 million in funding from a variety of U.S., Canadian, and European Union sources, and there’s a request for $10 million before Congress for fiscal year 2012.
This video provides an introduction to the GPII project