Co-author: Karthik Thayumanasamy
Technology has completely transformed our daily lives in ways which were once unimaginable. The computers in our pockets are more powerful than the one NASA used to put a man on the moon. However, while these advancements have definitely enriched our lives, when it comes to inclusivity technology has barely scratched the surface. In spite of all promises for a better tomorrow, we are yet to achieve a truly accessible world – a world where a visually challenged person can read the paper or a motor-impaired person can make a video call or write a mail, with ease.
Here’s an example that clearly highlights one of the major flaws in our current attitude -
Dr Hedvall, a Professor in a Swedish University, wanted to make the best use of a five-hour long train journey, by catching up on some official work during the journey. Unfortunately, he couldn’t do so because the train had only one seat that could accommodate a person using wheel-chair; and that seat was next to lavatory, and close to the exit, which not a suitable atmosphere for official work.
This is not a one-off incident – people with disabilities face such hurdles every day, with services and products either externally “adapted” to their needs, or are just not suitable for them. With over a billion disabled people and a rapidly aging population, it is high time we design products that addresses the requirements of everyone.
Governments across the globe are now establishing accessibility regulations that push corporates towards inclusivity. However, mere fulfilment of minimum standards is not the future of accessibility – we must create digital tools in compliance with the physical world and make them more accessible place for everybody, including those with disabilities.
Why investment in accessibility is a good business decision –
- People with disabilities comprise 15% of the world's population.
- The other 85% of the population can also find use for assistive technology – addressing situational challenges that form a regular part of our lives.
- Digital innovators like Microsoft, Google and Apple are integrating accessibility as a ‘by-default’ feature – instead of creating differentiated offerings. This positions them as an inclusive company, bolstering their brand reputation.
Increasing technology adoption: the pros and cons
In practice, technology can function as a double-edged sword – while several advancements have the potential to greatly improve accessibility, a digital world also creates new barriers for people with disabilities.
Ushering in a new era of inclusive products: A Design-driven philosophy
A major factor propelling accessibility is a fundamental shift in the way products are conceived and designed.
Design Thinking promotes empathizing with the needs of the entire user-base. The concept of Universal Design has an even wider scope – encompassing a set of principles for ideating products, environments and platforms that are accessible by everyone.
For instance, a website for a learning module built with the principles of Universal Design ensures it is available in multiple formats, requiring no modifications when a visually impaired person joins the program.
Companies like Apple have already embraced Universal Design as part of their product design philosophy. The “VoiceOver” feature on an iPhone describes what is happening on the screen while a photo is being taken. All Apple devices come with “SpeakScreen” which reads out the text. In fact, SpeakScreen can be used by everyone – for example, anyone wanting to catch up on reading while cooking!
Don’t Think Compliance; Think ‘Universal’
Even though increasing legal requirements and untapped market potential are pushing accessibility considerations; it remains an afterthought or a check-mark during the design process – to be incorporated only after the conceptualization stage.
Companies need to think – and invest – more inclusively, building truly universal products rather than looking at accessibility as an ‘add-on’ or a compliance mandate.
The real potential of technology is to create a world that makes our lives better, and easier.
HCL – Paving the way for Accessible Design
HCL has partnered with Fortune 500 companies across several industries, helping them meet their accessibility goals.
At HCL, we have a team of 200+ skilled testers and SMEs with extensive expertise in all aspects of the Accessibility & Usability domain – Assistive Technology Development & Testing, Compliance & Regulatory norms, and Disability & Usability practices.
- The Universal Access Handbook - Constantine Stephanidis
- Trends in Universal Design, The Delta Centre, Norwegian Directorate for Children Youth and Family Affairs