Feb 072017

Demo of FITAPhone software The Foundation for IT Accessibility (FITA) annually channels ICT project requests to relevant educational entities or associations.  Projects are added to this list whenever it identifies a gap between the abilities of persons with disability and what they wish to achieve.  The PC telephony project proposal was first circulated back in 2013.  Our primary target audience were University and MCAST students.

In the days of dial-up Internet, modems with voice support capabilities were popular, and one could easily and cheaply enable a person who could not use a standard phone set, but still had access to a computer, to communicate using the phone, via their PC.  A modem or modem card would cost you anywhere from Lm7 to Lm35 (approx EUR16 to EUR90).

With the introduction of ADSL, cable based Internet and other alternatives, this hardware became harder to find, and most software no longer supports it.  If you ask for a modem at a computer shop, salespeople immediately point you to broadband Internet technology products since the old technology is not familiar to them.

The majority of solutions that FITA came across, refer to PC-Telephone solutions, that use broadband connectivity to establish connections.  Among these are many valid solutions, most of which are available as smartphone APPs, but they still rely on the Internet and not more straight forward FITAPhone certificate presentation to Mr Pelligraphone calls.

The ICT solution we sought through this project, enables users to make and receive standard phone calls by using their computer instead of a telephone hand set, which they may not be able to operate effectively.  After much searching, we eventually confirmed that one can still source this technology from local telecom product suppliers (not the providers of telecom services).  However, since PC based telephony products are no longer in high demand, prices have gone up steeply.

FITA invested in such solutions in order to address the accessibility needs of its employees, because of operational constraints and service continuation requirements. Up till now current solutions were not sufficiently accessible, nor were these financially affordable to the average person.  Moreover even fewer was within the reach of many households before FITA and MCAST came up with an alternative accessible solution, geared for home use but adaptable to different situations.

Thanks to the support of MCAST and Mr. Jader Pelligra, who started work on the project back in 2014, we can now propose a product which empowers persons with mobility difficulties.  By using their Ms Windows based computer to handle voice based communication and doing away with inaccessible telephone hand sets, they can now fulfill many clerical job requirements.

FITAPhone Way2Call deviceMr. Pelligra who at the time was a student at the MCAST ICT Institute, started exploring different hardware solutions and developed the user interface software from scratch.  The project experienced delays mainly because the first batch of foreign sourced hardware proved to be defective and had to be returned for replacement.  With the new hardware, the project went smoothly and more functionality could be added on to the software.

The hardware we are using is branded Way2Call and costs around EUR200.  Since FITA owns the source code, work on this project will continue, as we experiment with alternative hardware platforms so as to provide FITA clients with a range of options.  Mr Pelligra who has now joined the MCAST University College, has donated the source code of the software to FITA and continues to support the project.  FITA ran successful accessibility assessments on  the software and included it among the ICT Pool solutions hosted at MITA in Gattard House.

An important area of FITA’s work is research.  Through our information sessions, we strive to explain the latest developments and research findings in the field of ICT accessibility, including those reported through our website and Facebook page. FITA believe that technicians and engineers, should not limit the scope of their reading just to technical papers in their own research area.  Electronic journals such as ‘Nature Photonics‘ seem to agree when stating that “Discussing direct practical implementation of their knowledge and expertise with potential ends users, is a way to keep in touch with the needs of the industry and society.  This is because innovation is often inspired by ‘cross-fertilization’ as a result of hearing about new ideas, technologies and techniques from other fields.”

Accessibility testing of FITAPhone softwareAmong the other queries often made to FITA, is that for accessible mobile phone technology,  or talking phones  with simplified large print and/or large button phone sets.  These are particularly useful for persons with vision or literacy difficulties.  FITA publishes a list of such devices, on its website at www.fitamalta.eu.  The direct link to the downloads section is http://www.fitamalta.eu/resources/downloads/

For more information about FITA and this project, you may contact FITA on info@fitamalta.eu or on (356) 25992048.

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