|Charity Leaders’ Exchange|
According to The World Health Organisation there is approximately a billion people in the world today who have some form of disability. The figure is approximate as it is difficult to get absolute figures for every part of the world and for every possible condition considered to be a disability.
Why is this important from the point of view of the mobile industry? Because many of the services that are taken for granted when reaching for the latest mobile devices are simply not available to this disadvantaged group on account of their lack of touch, motor skills, cognitive capacity, hearing or sight. In short, accessibility to the modern mobile world is often restricted.
In the past, the different areas were approached in isolation and expensive, condition-dependent technology was developed. As the ICT world moves to a more software centric position, and as multiple screens become the norm for accessing services for our business and personal lives, access is facilitated on a much wider scale and at a much lower price point. Ask any disabled person and they will tell you that they want to use mainstream technology, have the latest device and live in the real digital world - not in an artificial disabled isolated pocket of the world.
The signs are promising: from Turing and von Neumann’s beginnings of the computing industry we have moved to massively virtualised computing infrastructure, coupled with a range of devices with flexible input and output facilities which can be enhanced, where necessary, with peripherals appropriate to an individual disability. This is a complete volte face from the disability specific designed equipment of the last 30 years. Fundamentally, the content and applications are digitally accessible, and the question is simply how to adapt the interface for a particular condition or series of conditions. Interestingly, we have gone full cycle from the analogue processes of early computing/code breaking, to return to the use of analogue speech and gesturing to interact with the computing world.
The fact that the processing and storage are virtualised across devices and infrastructure (in the cloud) means that a relatively low cost, even low power device in our hands, on our heads or wrapped around our bodies, can leverage the vast compute power of the Internet to support our daily lives.
The permutations are endless whatever the disability. The hearing impaired can use video services to sign to each other, receive real time text messages and potentially have video lip read for them in the future. People with cognitive problems such as Asperger’s could have their wearable camera process the faces of people in the room and feedback whether they are happy, sad, angry or neutral.
So what’s missing? Many of the pieces are in place but education on several fronts is required:
Accessibility on all devices needs to be made readily available to all disability categories
Web sites, applications and content need to be correctly designed and labelled to allow the accessibility software to correctly navigate
Interlinking of peripherals (wearables), smart phones, tablets, laptops and televisions needs to be made straight forward
And, possibly most importantly, the various disabled groups need to be educated as to what is available to them assuming the above are executed correctly. Many disabled people today are unaware of the possibilities of interacting with the ICT world. This has traditionally been as a result of a lack of accessibility but also combined with a relatively high price tag. The more embedded the accessibility becomes, the broader the market appeal. It is also important to point out that an increasing proportion of the disabled people are elderly. Exact figures do not exist for most categories but it is evident that disability grows with age. The time at which people become disabled is vitally important as our ability to take on new technology declines dramatically with age!
And there is a surprising benefit to the remaining 85% of the world’s population. The better annotated applications, content and web sites become, the easier they are for so-called ‘normal’ people to navigate with the range of tools available. The better the speech input and text to speech output, the less likely drivers are to pick up their mobiles while driving. In the world of unified communications, the better the translation between text, Instant Messaging, video, email and the various social apps, the easier people will communicate via their preferred means. Innovation from apps developers, service providers, device manufacturers all play their role in enhancing the accessible world.
It all comes to a head in the world of automotive. The ‘self-drive car’ promoted by many of the automotive manufacturers today represents a fantastic combination of accessible Machine-to-Machine service. Able-bodied people look forward to the self-drive car option when trying to finish off a presentation or have a rest. Be assured, disabled people who are currently unable to drive, look forward to the fully self-drive car with glee!
The mobile industry can play a major role in facilitating and accelerating this accessibility revolution. Working with the device manufacturers, applications and content providers, but most importantly, with the various disability groups, educating all parties as to what the digital world can bring to the untapped billion for their home lives, on the move, but perhaps most importantly, in an expanded possibility of contributing to the workforce.
If you want more information or wish to contact Chris, please view his member profile here.