Technology possibilities for disabled people ‘are beginning to explode’


newslatestTechnology companies have a major role to play in improving the lives of the one billion disabled people across the world, according to a leading telecommunications analyst.

Chris Lewis, the founder and chief executive of Lewis Insights, was speaking as Telefonica – O2’s parent company – published his paper on how the mobile communications industry could help make digital technology available to more disabled people.

Lewis said communications technology was starting to become “embedded” in people’s lives, but he added: “Many of the services that are taken for granted when reaching for the latest mobile devices are simply not available to people with disabilities 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.”

Lewis, who himself is visually-impaired, said: “Designing applications we all need to use, the simpler, the more accessible you make it, it’s better for everybody.”

He said that many blind and visually-impaired people know very little about the technology that is available to them, although its cost has fallen “dramatically”.

The world’s estimated one billion disabled people are believed to have a spending power of about £8 trillion dollars, but only 25 per cent of visually-impaired people are in employment.

He said: “That billion people, a significant proportion are not employed. If we could swing the needle to get many more people employed, that will add to their contribution economically and change the way they see themselves.”

He was speaking at a forum in London organised by Telefonica, which examined how the digital industry can make technology accessible to disabled people.

Lewis said disabled people did not want “specialised disabled equipment”, but the ability to have their needs built into operating systems.

He said: “The possibilities are beginning to explode.”

Lewis said the “call to arms” for software writers for smart devices was to “make sure those are beautifully designed and give us the possibility to access that information in order to live our lives in a much more open way”.

In the paper, he says that accessibility needs to be available for people with all impairments, while websites, content and applications need to be correctly designed and labelled to make navigation easy.

He also says that it should be easier to link together televisions, smart phones, tablets, laptops and other technology, while disabled people need to be educated about what is available.

Alberto Andreu, Telefonica’s director of corporate reputation and sustainability, told the forum that inclusion made business sense, by increasing revenue, enhancing customer satisfaction, boosting innovation, improving employee satisfaction, and helping with recruitment and staff retention.

Telefonica has set up a research and development team in Spain that is focused solely on disability, he said.

28 May 2014