The mobile computing revolution is helping to make disabled people more “appealing” to potential employers, as well as to providers of goods and services, according to a leading disabled telecommunications analyst.
In a new report, Digitising the Disabled Billion: Accessibility gets Personal, Chris Lewis (pictured) says the technology is “increasingly available” to draw a “significant proportion” of the world’s estimated population of one billion disabled people into the “digital age”.
He says that the “explosion” of mobile and laptop-based applications, combined with some specialist equipment, has made accessing business systems easier.
His report says: “As the sophistication of accessible design permeates through the majority of personal and business applications, the value of that disabled person in the company increases.
“Consequently, barriers to using all of the facilities and systems, and communicating and interacting with fellow colleagues, suppliers and customers, decrease dramatically.”
Lewis says in the report that disabled people will increasingly use their mobile devices and apps to “help live their daily lives”, just as other people do, with apps becoming accessible as companies “build accessibility” into their mobile devices.
He adds: “Mainstream apps will become accessible, and specialist apps focused on specialist needs of disabilities will be developed to top up the existing digital life styles.”
Lewis says in his report that the “age of assistive equipment costing tens of thousands of dollars” has mostly been replaced by “algorithms designed to interpret images, sounds and gestures (but perhaps not yet brainwaves)… as academia gets closer to mimicking the human”.
And he says: “If a car can have hundreds of sensors helping it drive around successfully, why can’t I, as a visually-disabled person, have a similar level of sensor-based help to help me navigate my way through life?”
The market in equipment and apps has “accelerated” in the last few years, according to his report, pointing to how someone who is paraplegic can now fly a drone around their garden “through the eye movement captured by a set of goggles”, while virtual reality headsets allow someone to “virtually feel a product created in front of them”.
“Fundamentally,” the report says, “technology in many forms is allowing sensory replacement for both input and output from a disabled person.”
Lewis, who is blind, says the development of the smartphone has changed his life, giving him access to “a wealth of services”.
His report says innovation is now coming from “a much wider range of sources”, with companies often developing “disability oriented solutions alongside mainstream ones” without the need for any “special encouragement”, while it adds: “We are also beginning to see the disabled community itself producing apps appropriate for their peers.”
Mainstream apps are becoming increasingly accessible, says the report, and are “literally life changing, as people get access to services hitherto completely out of reach to different disability groups”.
Lewis adds: “A simple but powerful example would be the ability for me, as a blind person, to hail a cab from my smartphone where I was previously unable to do so from the pavement.”
Discussions with technology companies and disability organisations, as well as polling of disabled people for the report had shown that “momentum is building within different disabled communities to seek to learn the benefits and ways of joining in the digital economy”.
Lewis, the founder and chief executive of Lewis Insight, warns that – although the technology is increasingly available at an affordable price – it will be vital to provide the right training and education.
His report is the second in a series sponsored by the Spanish telecommunications giant Telefonica on how disabled people can use accessible technology to improve their lives.
Lewis concludes: “The technology is increasingly available to deliver this future. The need to educate both the disabled and the people helping them identify the solutions available is the biggest challenge we face.”