University of Maryland


Barrier-Free Technology Concept Coming of Age

June 5th, 2012

Despite the rapid increase in access to and use of the Internet, barriers still exist for a wide variety of users: people with disabilities, people who are aging, and people who have literacy and digital-literacy challenges.

Researchers in the US and abroad are working together to remove these barriers with a concept that is set to revolutionize the way millions of people use any type of information or communication technology. Known as the Global Public Inclusive Infrastructure (GPII), the concept proposes instant and automatic personalized of any device a person encounters to match their individual abilities.

Using an electronic “key” or token that can be on a person’s key ring, built into their phone, or even in a ring worn on their hand, the person can touch a device and cause it to automatically change into a form the person can understand and use. For a person who is blind, a computer might start talking. Or it might suddenly change its interface into a very simple one for someone who is elderly and cannot handle complexity or remember new things from day to day. A person who can’t see small print might be able to shop for a new phone – and have each phone automatically change to its large print mode as the person picks them up (and change back when they set them down). And a television interface could change between complex, simple, and very simple to match the abilities of different users in the family from young children to teens to adults to seniors.

The GPII concept, which originated at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has quickly grown into an international movement with participants from around the world and support from US, Canadian and European governments. The latest support comes from a 7.5 million euro grant titled Cloud4all from the European Commission.

The first implementations of the GPII are being demonstrated today at the 5th Cloud Computer Forum and Workshop, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which runs from June 5-7, 2012, and simultaneously at a research coordination and planning workshop at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels Belgium, June 7th. The demonstrations show Windows and Linux computers and Android phones automatically changing to match the needs of users as diverse as young computer programmers with low vision, to elders who cannot deal with computer complexity, to African farmers who can neither use normal computers nor read any written text. In the demonstrations, wooden mannequin hands are used to represent the different users. Each wears a ring that, when touched to the phone’s or computer’s NFC reader, causes the phone or computer to instantly change to match that users abilities.

For more information on the potential current as well as future benefits of the Global Public Inclusive Infrastructure, please visit: