How Tech Helps The Disabled Navigate Digital And Physical Spaces

Photo courtesy of EasyStand via Flickr

In July of 1990, a landmark act was signed to ensure equality for America’s largest minority group: the disabled. Technology has, for the most part, followed suit.

The 25-year-old Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination of the disabled, prompted many positive changes across the country, including more ramps, wider lane and aisles, and better public transport.

Perhaps especially notable has been the development of increasingly sophisticated assistive technology, which gets more advanced by the day.

Disabled persons account for 19 percent of the US population — about 57 million total — not to mention additional elderly folk that face challenges with agility and accessibility.

The impressive yields of tech

Canes, wheelchairs, screen readers and hearing aids have been helping people for decades or more. But technology can go a lot further than that, as is evidenced by various innovations designed with the disabled in mind:

  • DynaVox EyeMax System: Allows individuals with paralysis to speak by tracking eye movements
  • Kapten Plus: A portable GPS implant that tells the visually impaired how to get from place to place
  • Stair-climbing wheelchair: This “iBot” concept is like the ATV of wheelchairs, allowing users to navigate all sorts of terrain including stairs.

Silicon Valley catches on

[contextly_auto_sidebar id=”HhzKLc8AdS6hDQBLVvXIxn8CKW5YBBs5″]As technology rapidly progresses, though, it’s important that digital spaces remain just as accessible as visceral ones for the physically challenged.

Small tweaks like tech updates can be a real challenge for the disabled, who have to relearn how to navigate applications with frequency and, often, difficulty. It’s still the case that apps and devices are designed with the able-bodied in mind, with the needs of the disabled as more of an afterthought.

Luckily, it seems that Silicon Valley giants are committed to making their applications and products accessible to all. And why not? Doing so gets them more business, more respect, along with being extraordinarily beneficial to those that need it.

A partnership between AT&T and NYU’s Ability Lab also shows promise in its offering of $100,000 to developers across the globe in a tech challenge that will yeild custom apps, wearables, and other devices for the disabled, specifically.

Enabling the Elderly

Assistive technology is important for the elderly, too. As the New York Times reports, technology is enabling the elderly in a revolutionary way that will make aging easier, safer, and more cost-effective.

Wearables and the Internet of Things show great promise in digitally connecting seniors with caregivers, doctors, and family; alerting the ER in case of falls; not to mention monitoring health remotely.

Will Jobs Follow?

Despite an apparent devotion to empowering the disabled, problems still remain, within and outside the realm of technology. Popular apps like Snapchat, Instagram, and even Google Maps are of no benefit to the visually impaired, for example.

But what’s worse is that, even completely empowered by devices and applications, the disabled face social and professional issues: employment is down since the ADA was signed in 1990, with just 41 percent of the disabled employed today compared to 50, then.

This just goes to show that empowerment in commercial technology is just a start to better-abling the disabled. Companies should, in their hiring processes, practice inclusiveness — because it’s required by law, certainly, but also because talent comes in all types of bodies.

We measure success by the understanding we deliver. If you could express it as a percentage, how much fresh understanding did we provide?
Jennifer Markert