This is an exciting time to be working on accessibility and inclusion, and in particular on such technical aspects as eAccessibility and Assistive Technology. There is increasing awareness of the many unnecessary barriers, physical or otherwise, that impede opportunities for work, education, and participation by people with disabilities. At the same time, efforts are ongoing to remove these barriers through better education, policy, and technology. Many companies are beginning to realize that embracing fully inclusive practices may translate into a more productive workplace. Transit agencies and airlines are moving to enable safer and more comfortable travel to all passengers, including those with mobility, sensory, or cognitive impairments. The entertainment industry has begun to provide audio description services, in addition to captioning, to make movies and shows accessible to those who cannot see or hear. Important pieces of legislation, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, which turns 30 this year, or the newborn European Accessibility Act, have been put in place to protect against disability-related discrimination, and to ensure that products and services are made accessible to everyone. The U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, adopted in 2006, affirms the right of people with disabilities to make independent decisions for their lives and to be active members of society.
Technology has tremendous potential for removing accessibility barriers. Not surprisingly, in recent years Artificial Intelligence has captured the lion\’s share of attention for technological trends in accessibility. Smartphone apps now read text and recognize objects, and automatically describe the content of pictures. Ever-improving speech understanding algorithms enable hand-free control of computers, appliances or devices, with research ongoing on the recognition of dysarthric speech. Autonomous cars may in the near future provide individualized transportation to those who cannot drive, while exoskeleton systems will enable ambulation to people with paraplegia. Intelligent homes offer opportunities for independent living to those with reduced motion control. At the urban scale, mapping and localization systems are being deployed in public spaces to support orientation and wayfinding, or to identify safe paths to traverse for wheelchair users. It is encouraging that all major information technology companies have committed to including accessibility features in their products, and even started their own research labs in access technology. Yet, sometimes innovation comes from the grassroots. Communities of makers have taken on the challenges of designing low-budget assistive technology, often involving people with disabilities in exciting co-design experiments. Crowdsourcing and microvolunteering projects have evolved into accessibility platforms with thousands of contributors and users.
It is in this context that the 17th International Conference on Computers Helping People with Special Needs (ICCHP) will take place. Since its inception in 1989, ICCHP has evolved to become the largest European conference on Accessibility Technologies. It offers an inclusive and accessible environment, where participation of researchers with disabilities is particularly encouraged. ICCHP is a venue for showcasing cutting-edge technology, but also a place where to mingle with old and new colleagues for thought-provoking discussions.
Original contributions submitted to ICCHP undergo a rigorous peer review process, and accepted papers are published as part of the Springer Lecture Notes in Computer Science (LNCS). Technical presentations are organized in Special Thematic Sessions. The conference also features multiple parallel activities, including a Universal Learning DesignTrack, Young Researchers Consortium, German Spoken ICT Forum, Code for a Cause Competition (C4C), and Summer University on Access to Math, Statistics and Science for Blind and Partially Sighted People.