Transcript from PEAT Talks: The Global Public Inclusive Infrastructure, featuring Raising the Floor’s Gregg Vanderheiden, originally recorded September 15, 2016.

We're here to talk a little bit about this Global Public Inclusive Infrastructure concept. And one of the things that we are doing is we actually are facing a widening digital divide today. Instead of getting better, it's actually getting worse. Technology used to be an option; it used to be that you could that you could get by without having access to information and communication technologies, but that's really no longer optional.

Education, employment, health, safety, life – we're finding IT-like interfaces being built into every job, and not just computers, but digital interfaces of all types. Even janitors now have to deal with the interfaces, and you apply for jobs that way, timesheets, other types of things – instructions, e-mails, et cetera. 

But many in the population can't use the new technologies because of barriers due to disabilities or literacy or digital literacy or aging. And it's very diverse, very diverse. There are many different groups, and each of these groups has tails. So even if you say I have something for blind people or people who are blind, you'd say, well, all of them? You'd say, no, no, no, but most of them.

Remember point No. 1 above; if we are creating a world where you can't get by without this, then we need to be able to figure out how to solve problems for everybody, not just the people in the mainstream. We're actually finding that the access solutions are often too complex to set up that people who need them can't use them. And it's not just users; we have schools, libraries, public access points, companies. One of the things we're looking at is ways of instantly setting stuff up. And we've had people who have had an opportunity to do an internship; but the time it took them to get set up on the computers, and the computers and their AT to be okayed by the company, et cetera, was actually longer than the internship. So even if they were offered an internship, they would not be able to take it.

So we have something of a perfect storm coming. Just as access to digital technology is becoming mandatory for participation, independence, self-sustenance and employment, we also are nowhere near providing access to everyone who needs it. People have debated, whether it be reaching 3% or 15% or 20% of the people who need these special interfaces; but even if we were doing 95%, that would mean 1 out of every 20 had no access to the things that they need. And this is a real problem; and of course the percentage is much, much higher than that.

And we're actually losing ground. We now have technical proliferation across platforms. We used to have Windows, and now we have all these different platforms that we need to be trying to provide access to. And you need to use different one in the same day, so it doesn't really help that you have one system that you can use.

We now have this cloud computing, where you not only have your platform but you have a platform that's someplace else that you're trying to operate. We have increased product churn, breaking the solution. So as soon as we get something that works, somebody updates the operating system, the apps, or whatever and things change. People figure out how to use it; and somebody comes out with an improved interface, and now everything is different and they're all confused and they don't know how to use it anymore, even though they had figured out the other one.

And to compound it, we have less resources to address it. So we have more people, more problems, more proliferation; and the funding to try to address it is going down. And we really don’t have any way of surveying other than what I call "mainstream disabilities," that is, the people who have the disability most like everybody else who has that disability. And if you have combinations or you're any one of the tails, we don't have solutions. And there's no money from the vendors to be able to afford to go out and serve those tails.

But if access is mandatory, anyone who can't access ITT will be unable to participate in the world that we are building. So if only 5% can't understand and access, that's 1 in every 20 people or about 16 million people in the United States. And what percentage of people do you know of that have trouble with the different technologies, and it's more than 5%. As a matter of fact, a huge percentage of us, even those who can use these technologies successfully, use them what I would say as "superstitiously."

What does superstitious use of technology look like? Have you ever done something and it didn't work; so you said, "Oh, it worked last time I used it that way." That's superstitious behavior. 

And if you say, "Well, why are you doing it that way?"

"Well, I don't know; that's the way I used it when it worked last time."

We need to be looking at the fact that things keep changing; and we need to figure out how to access them, no matter how they come and how they change. Or we need to figure out how to make it so that people can access it and it doesn't keep changing on them.

In the past, we had PCs that we could provide access to; but now we have PCs, tablets, phones. We have virtual machines; we have Internet gadgets. And that's just in the PC world; we have many other technologies as well. We used to be able to say, well, I've got a PC; I've got Windows; I have access. But now you may have Windows or MacOS or Linux or iOS or ChromeOS or Android. And a child or adult may run into multiple devices with these different systems on it in the same day. How are they going to be able to access and use them all?

And it used to be, well, if I could use MS Office, I'll be in pretty good shape. But now we've got Web apps; we've got apps; we've got Cloud services. We have many different kinds of things that we need to figure out how to provide access to. And this is getting to be a challenge. Even vendors can't create solutions that will follow you as you move around on these different platforms.

So in order to for ICT to not create greater inequities – and when it first came out, it had many leveling effects. There are many things about ICT that can make things more accessible; but at the same time, we can have things where people who could participate can't. So some people couldn't, now can. But if we can't figure out how to keep the people who could from falling off, then we have a problem. So we need to figure out how to create access and usability solutions that are simpler. They have to cost less per person to make and to market, or we're not going to be able to afford them. And they need to work across all of the ICT that people encounter.

So what if – what if everyone could find out what would help them to understand and use ICT and cloud services? And what if once they figured that out, any device that they encountered would instantly change into a version that they could use and understand? And what if it cost developers and vendors much less to develop markets and support their solutions internationally, especially for small markets? 

And so these are the three main targets for the Global Public Inclusive Infrastructure – to try to address these three issues. So here's a little video to give you a little view of what we're trying to do. 

[Video begins]

Imagine if you could pick up any device, anywhere, and it would automatically adapt to you?

A person picks up the product and it changes size.

Imagine someone who is usually confused by technology; now every computer looks like their personal device — simple, with just the controls and features they need.

Complicated computer screen changes to a simple version.

Imagine a student who use to use computers in different labs and classrooms if all of them worked exactly as needed.

Students in two classrooms; each computer becomes accessible if she needs it.

There's a way to offer accessibility solutions to more people in more situations. We call it the Global Public Inclusive Infrastructure or GPII. The GPII will use the cloud, the electronic networks that power most of our information services and the intelligence in electronic products themselves. 

Clouds and services (inaudible) share information.

Right now, we use the cloud to store information, transmit it to the right destination, and convert it from one form into another.

Information moves into, around, and back out of the cloud to various devices.

The GPII will take the same cloud idea and use it to support accessibility. Users will start with a Wizard that helps them choose how they want their personalized interface to look and work.

Person (inaudible) instructions.

And store that profile in the cloud so that it's available from then on.

Profile information flows into the cloud.

Accessibility developers will create tools for the toolbox that address those needs.

Accessibility software flows into the cloud.

The GPII will store information about devices, their uses and features.

Device information flows into the cloud.

Then, when a user needs an accessibility feature, the GPII will take the right user profile and features, check the device, and guide the device in using its own features to meet the user's needs.

Accessibility information flows from the cloud to the phone; the screen changes to large print.

The GPII will automatically apply the right tools to whatever device the person is using, wherever it is, so the interface will work the right way.

The same person now sees large print on a train ticket machine.

The GPII will be great for users. It will support independence with enabling technology when you need it, where you need it, how you need it. There's no need to explain, negotiate, or justify anything; it just works. All of the information will be kept private and secure.

A traveler gets the right interface at airport check-in, information kiosks, and the seatback display on the train.

The GPII will offer a new way of providing accessibility when, where and how it's needed. We're just getting started building it. 

GPII construction sites.

We'll be working closely with consumer advocates, AT and mainstream technology companies, and other stakeholders to make sure to meet their needs. The GPII needs the help of policymakers and leaders. 

Capital building with policy leaders.

We hope that you find the GPII as exciting as we do and spread the word. Now we want to hear I ideas about the GPII, what it means to you and how we can work together.
It's finding (inaudible) people discussing the GPII.

[End of video]

Okay, so let's take a look at what this might look like in real life. This is Windows 10; and what I have in my hand you can't see. I have a ring on my finger. I actually have two rings; I have sort of a modern ring, and then I have one that looks like it's got more of a jewel or something on it like a woman might wear, an older woman. And we have some users who are going to be coming up and trying to use a computer, say at the library or something like that.

And the first one who comes up is Elod. Now, normally librarians don't have the ability or knowledge to be able to figure out and set up and configure and know all of the AT. And if they could launch the right AT, how do they set it up to be the right setting? Elod needs magnification; so until he has it magnified, he actually can't see well enough to be able to figure out how to launch a magnifier.

So he walks up, and he just uses what looks like a little library card. And there's a little GPII symbol on it, and there's one on the computer. And he holds it up to the computer, and instantly the computer kicks into this magnification mode. And there are a lot of different magnification modes, but this is the one that he prefers; and it automatically sets up to go into this particular mode and also the particular amount of magnification that he wants.

And then when he's done, he just takes his card; and, bingo, it's gone. It's simply back as if he was never there and set up for the next person coming along.

Now, Olivia – she is blind, so she uses a screen reader. And so she comes over, and she takes her ring and she just holds her ring up to it. And instantly, up come the screen reader; and now she's able to use it. So she didn't have to figure out how to see the computer that she couldn't see before she could turn it on. And again, when she's done, she doesn't want to leave that for somebody else to be able to do it. So again, just touching her ring and it's gone as if she was never there.

Now, Elmer is older; and he needs to use the computer, but these magnifiers just confuse the daylights out of him. He's having a hard enough time hanging on by his fingernails to using the computer. And so he would like things to get larger because this font is just too small for him, but he can't deal with all the magnification. And so his is just to change the resolution on the screen. So now you'll see everything got larger because of the screen resolution, but there are no edges; you don't have to scroll or pan. It just made it into a lower resolution screen on the same size screen, making everything bigger. And of course the next person who comes along doesn't want it to be that way. So as he goes, he just keys back out; and it instantly goes back to the way it was before.

Now, Elaine wants to be able to use it; but she's never used a computer before. And her kids – grandchildren and nieces and nephews – finally convince her that she ought to try this stuff. She tried to get them to write to her; and they said, "Well, I'm not going to write to you; but, grandma, if you get e-mail…" 

And she goes, "No, no; well, send me pictures."

"Well, Gram, we don't use mail anymore. But if you get on Picasa, we'll share pictures with you, or get on Chat and we'll chat with you."

So finally after hearing this for several Christmases, she finally gives up and she says okay. And so they get her a computer, and she sits down. And they open up the window for mail/Gmail and one for Picasa and one for the Chat. And she's sitting there and all these windows and buttons and texts and scrollbars and stuff. And she's looking at it and she says, "I don't understand it."

"Well, Gram, this window in the middle –"

And she says, "I don't see a window. You mean this blue one?"

"No, no, no, the square over here."

And she said, "Why do you call that a window?"

And he says, "Well, never mind; but anyway, let's scroll down."


"Yeah, see you take the mouse and grab onto the scrollbar."


"Well, this thing that looks like an elevator."

"I'm supposed to use the 'mouse' and grab onto the 'elevator'?"

"Yes, and if you pull it down, the page will go up."

And she says, "Would you like some cookies?"

And that's the last time that she sees the computer or you see her.

But we don't have to take someone from one world and try to have them learn all of these computer metaphors in order to use it. So just using this other ring that looks like an old woman would wear it, and I hold it up to the computer, and it will automatically launch into something that she is able to use. 

Let's make sure we're online here. I was afraid of that; sometimes the –oh, there it goes.

So you'll see that what happens is the entire screen – all of the menus and menu bars and stuff – are gone. There's no Start Menu, and there are just three simple icons on the screen. One says Mail, one says Photos, and one says Call/Write/Chat. 

And she looks at it, and it says, "Press mailbox for Mail." And she reaches up and she touches it and out comes mail. So it doesn't pop up with scrollbars and things. And it says, "Touch envelope to open." So she touches an envelope, and out comes something that looks like something that she's used to reading. 

"Would you like to join us for a picnic this weekend? Regards, Gregg."

And so she looks at it; and she goes, ah, okay, so what do I do?

And there aren't 10,000 things; there are sort of three things she can do: Reply, Keep or Throw Away.

So she says, well, let's try this Reply.

Now, what happens when you normally hit Reply on e-mail? It jumps around on the screen and then it's sitting there. And grandma says, "Well, how do I answer it?"

And you say, "Well, just type on the e-mail."

And she says, "Where?"

And you say, "Well, you type on the top of the letter you just got."

And she says, "I write a letter back to you by writing on the top of the letter that I just got?"

"Yeah, Gram."

"I don't understand."

"Just do it."

"But there's no room."

"Well, if you type, the other letter moves."

"The other letter moves?"

But we can make it so when you hit Reply, instead it does something more logical. And that is, it gives the individual a page. She can see the e-mail that she got; she can see the one she's writing back. And it doesn't say to Gregg at gobbledygook, gobbledygook. It says to Gregg Vanderhelden.

So she says, "Sure, love to Gram."

And now what does she do? Well, this is typically the point where your grandmother would call you up and say, "Oh, thank you for bringing this over and stuff; but, you know, I'm really too stupid to use this stuff. So if you could just come take it away."

And you say, "Gram, what's wrong?"

"Well, I started to try to write you a letter. And I don't know what I did; I erased it."

"Well, how did you erase it – what were you doing?"

And she says, "I don't know what I was doing. I was just trying to write you a letter; and I got it all written, and then I erased it."

And so you say, "Well, what exactly did you do?"

"Well, I wrote the letter; and then I was going to send it to you, and I erased it."

And you said, "Just a minute, Gram. Hi, Gram…I have it!"

"How could you have it?"

"Well, you hit the Send button, right?"

And she says, "Well, I was trying to; but I erased it."

And you say, "No, Gram, when you hit the Send button, it disappears and then I get it."

But we don't have to have something that doesn't make sense to somebody. We can make it so that when you hit a Send button, it goes into an envelope; and it goes down and the little truck takes it and it takes it away. We can create interfaces that make sense to people. 

And when she wants to look at pictures, it's not like she has to figure out how to get out of the e-mail program and into another program. She can just click on this; or for Chat, she just clicks on the Call/Write/Chat. She picks the person she wants to call, and then she's able to go to them and access them without having to go all the way back. And so clicking on a contact gives you the ability to just click and call them or send them an e-mail or what you want to do. You don't have to have it so that it is full of metaphors. They just do what's in front of them and what's obvious.

They can even start to write a letter, quit, and then come back. So now when she's done, she just takes her card and puts it on there. And – sorry, I did it twice – and it just disappears. Now, she can start out on Windows; she can go over to a Mac, do the same kind of thing, and up it comes and it will be right where it was when she left off.

Now, the important thing is what you just saw was not a special program. That was actually Gmail, Picasa, and Chat. So these are the standard programs that have the really complicated interfaces. What we can do is we can make it so that people get a very simple and straightforward and stable interface that matches their abilities. I don't want to use that one you just saw. I find my e-mail more efficient. But different people can have interfaces to the same e-mail programs that match them. 

Not only that, but when Gmail decides to completely reorganize itself — does everybody remember when they were busy using it and all of a sudden, it had a brand new interface and they were completely lost for a while? You can have it so that the interface stays the same for those who do not or cannot handle completely and frequently changing interfaces. So this is the kind of thing that we can do with auto personalization, the ability to have things instantly change into the form that it would look like.

So we call this auto-personalization. And it can make cloud computing and computers and ICT not only be accessible to people with disabilities, but it can also make Web and cloud applications more understandable and usable by the population at large. We're actually taking people who didn't used to be disabled. They used to be old; they used to be this; but they could live independently; they could communicate; they could use their phone. And we're creating a world in which they can no longer use stuff.

Have any of you had an elder parent or somebody, and you took them out to get a new washing machine or a new stove or something? And you can't find one that looks like or operates or is as simple as the one they had. They all have a million bells and whistles.

An interesting challenge: go over to your neighbor's house and try and do your laundry. And just see if you can figure out how to operate the controls on their laundry machine.

So GPII looks at how can we make it easy to figure out what will help people, make it so that they can instantly have it anywhere, and have the tools to make newer solutions – especially for cognitive language and learning and other disabilities that are not well-served today. We have all of these different companies and more working on building this. These are companies, groups, universities, et cetera, building the GPII. We have three organizations on three continents, and we have major projects covering all of the different core components. And you can see how the different projects all work on different parts of this.

And we have just gotten a new grant called the APCP, and it's funding to build a commercial-quality implementation and to lease it for public use to carry out pilots in high schools or community colleges in 10 American job centers across the country. And we'll also be testing it in five universities and public libraries as part of a parallel job in UIITA-RERC. 

So this that we've been talking about is now coming to reality. We're just ending the first of a five-year APCP project to actually move this out to being real in real life. And that is the end. You can see more information at And thank you very much.

Gregg, thank you so much. We have a few questions for you that have come in during the talk. The first is: "What is envisioned as the rollout planned schedule for making this generally available?"

We are right in the process right now of making it so that it is scalable and reliable and robust. It's one thing to make up a mock-up prototype to prove the concept, and something else to make something that's shippable. We'll then be going out into the pilot sites and doing the pilot testing, starting about 18 months or so from now. And then it will just sort of roll out from there. 

It will be available to the public that are participating in these pilot tests in, I think, starting about September of next year – so about 12 months from now. And then the rollout from there, we will see how it goes. The funding we have is to do the pilot. One of the things we're looking at is sustainability and how to broaden the rollout.

Okay, exciting. Another question: "Where would the GPII servers reside, and how would they work relative to secure and protected sites?"

Oh, excellent, excellent question – there are two parts you want to talk about; one is security and one is privacy. We have a huge focus on security, and we actually are working with IBM and their Global Business Services, as well as others who are expert in security. And everything we do gets encrypted, like instantly; and so it's encrypted even as it's passed around, as well as to where it goes. As you know, security is a really tricky animal in today's world.

The other question though is what do we do with the information? 

Well, first of all, the information resides in servers that are all secure servers. We're having them HIPAA certified, which is sort of the higher levels of security, depending upon the implementation. We have some where you can just use like a standard set of preferences, in which case it doesn't have any personal information; that we don't worry too much about. But any ability, any information about people and what they're doing or where they are, as well as people who put personal information into their preferences in different ways, has to be carefully guarded.

We're actually setting up a Data Ethics Council where we're talking about having seven different data privacy organizations. Each nominates an individual, who then sits on a council; and then the council will be in charge of the data and what is a good use. For example, a good use is, well, how many people in the United States need this kind of a feature? That's something that would be good to go in. A bad one would be what are this person's preferences? That's really something that's not anybody's business but the individual's whose preferences they are. If they are, for example, going in and want to see them so they can change them.

And then there are the other areas where you say, well, if you say how many people have this disability in this city? Well, okay, maybe – now you're off because you're getting to the point where you can actually identify people. So that's the kind of thing we're looking at there, the full gamut of privacy and what's legitimate and not legitimate use.

By the way, we're also looking at some other technologies where the information is actually scattered over lots of servers. So if you break into any server, you actually don't get anything that's useful. Think of it as taking a piece of paper and slicing it vertically into 40 slices or something across the page and putting a different one in each different bank. Anybody who breaks into a bank gets one vertical slice out of the page, and they can't make any sense out of that kind of thing. So we're looking at other types of technologies for security.

Okay, very interesting. And I've got one final question for you: "What is the plan for getting software developers to cooperate in making it possible for GPII to work with their application?"

Three things – first of all, we've done experiments and shown that if you have like assistive technology, if you are providing a way to make it really easy for people to use somebody's AT, there is motivation on their side to make their stuff so that it works with it. Secondly, they don't need to agree – do anything on their program. All we're doing is launching and setting the settings on their program, so all we need to know is where do you store the settings and what are the names of your setting and what are the legal range of values that that particular setting can have, and then we can go from there.

Most people store their settings in standard ways that are determined by the platform, so that makes that easier. And we've adapted a number of programs without ever even the company having to do anything at all. 

The other places, it's going to be just a matter of doing something that is of benefit to them. They've put all these accessibility features in. One of the big complaints we have from companies is, well, we went through all the work of putting these accessibility features in and hardly anybody uses them. And even when we find people who need them, it's either too much work, too hard, or they never can find them or they don't even know they exist. And so having them work with us after they've spent all of this time to put them in to make it so that it will actually work is rewarding for them.

However, all of this is based on the fact that you actually have users out there using it. So you always have the chicken and egg situation. So we have a whole onboarding process that we have, where we're providing assistance to get all of the AT, especially the adaptive AT, all on board. Trying to get every app in the world linked in will be something that we'll have to (audio break).


Okay, well, Gregg, thank you so much. 

Everyone, for more information about the Global Public Inclusive Infrastructure, visit 

And please join us for next month's PEAT Talk on Thursday, October 20th, at 2:00 p.m. EST in honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Our guest will be Maria Town, Senior Associate Director for the White House Office of Public Engagement. You can find the registration link on or look for an e-mail from PEAT with more information.

I'd like to give a special thanks to Gregg for speaking with us today and to all of you who took the time to join us. Enjoy the rest of your afternoon.

Thank you.