Smart technologies facilitate construction of barrier-free environment in China

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After Wu Tao, a young man with visual impairment, opened an app on his mobile phone, the system automatically began to read the time on the screen out loud.

“With the help of the assistive touch feature, I can scroll up and down to reset the time on my mobile phone,” Wu said. He tapped the screen deftly and set the alarm clock for half an hour later.

The visually impaired man couldn’t have been able to use his mobile phone so easily without its barrier-free designs that support tactile interaction.

“Although many apps support screen reading, the effect of the text-to-speech feature can be affected by noises in the environment,” said Zhou Juejia, secretary general of the technical committee of Xiaomi Corporation, a major Chinese smartphone manufacturer. The company has carefully designed the tactile interactive system of its products so that people with visual impairment can quickly locate the user interface elements, including various widgets, according to Zhou.

“By helping visually impaired users quickly locate unread messages and switch from one song to another whenever they want, we have brought them a better user experience,” Zhou added.

A series of new technological products and advances have been made to help people with special needs enjoy digital life.

Chinese telecom operators have explored a model that allows people with disabilities receive telecom services via remote video. Many websites and apps have simplified the procedures for booking tickets, online car-hailing, etc. for them, and launched new features such as the text-to-speech service to help special groups share the fruits of informatization.

Since January 2021, a campaign aimed at making Internet apps more suitable for the elderly and barrier-free has been carried out nationwide to pool resources to help special groups tackle the difficulties in enjoying intelligent services, according to an official with the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).

For over a year, China has witnessed positive results in the construction of an environment for information accessibility, with more complete transformation standards, more diversified scenarios covered and mature infrastructure, the official said.

A total of 375 websites and apps had been transformed for the convenience of old and physically impaired people and passed relevant assessments as of the beginning of May this year. They made breakthroughs in better satisfying the needs of the elderly and people with disabilities for traveling, shopping, getting medical and telecommunication services, and handling other affairs, helping them enjoy intelligent services.

The brick-and-mortar service halls of three major Chinese telecom operators – China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom – specially designed and rolled out a service for people with special needs that enables them to reach customer service staff by pressing one button. It has benefited over 100 million people.

People with disabilities have special needs for digital technologies, but they seldom express their needs online, noted Tang Kaixin, product general manager at the social responsibility department of Douyin, a Chinese online video-sharing platform. Tang believes that only by carrying out massive field research and in-depth analysis of users’ needs can the platform continuously optimize its products based on the feedback and win the recognition of users.

“We have established and operated communities involving more than 300 visually impaired users on social media platforms, so as to better listen to the voices of users and improve the user experience of our products,” Tang said.

To increase the penetration rate of barrier-free products, it is necessary to promote the sharing of technologies between enterprises, said an MIIT official.

This year, the country will enhance policy guidance, invite professional institutions to strictly evaluate the results of app transformation for physically impaired people, and summarize experiences and practices that can be replicated and promoted promptly, the official pointed out.

Through both online and offline channels, the achievements of enterprises’ special services for the elderly and people with disabilities can be fully publicized, which will encourage the whole industry to launch more considerate, practical and user-friendly products for special groups, according to the official.




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