Connective technologies for an accessible world
Dr Teresa Macchia, Experience Researcher at Digital Catapult, looks at the benefits of accessibility as a core design principle.
In our connected world, we are used to accessing things anywhere in the world with an instant keyboard-click. However, for people with disabilities access is not so universal. The physical accessibility of private and public spaces could be simplified and increased through connected technologies. E.g. Amazon Echo manages smart applications in our homes via voice command, connecting music apps, virtual shopping, and calendars. The same technology could make public spaces more accessible too, imagine being able to call a lift or activate a pedestrian crossing using voice command.
These technologies can enhance everyone’s quality of life, by tackling inclusivity and accessibility challenges and by relieving us of chores. However, simpler connected products than Amazon Echo can be just as useful, if accessibility is fully incorporated in their design.
In an earlier blog post “The embedded inclusivity of IoT”, we discussed designing and developing internet of things (IoT) technology to support urban accessibility. Heartened by the interest received as a result of that blog post, it spurred us to think about different approaches to designing connected technologies that further promote accessibility.
Accessibility is complex because it includes such a wide range of people with a multitude of needs and preferences. To address this diversity, the first step is to better understand each other’s needs. There are a number of ways to do this. As an example, #AXSChat organises interviews around the globe every Tuesday with accessibility experts to trigger worldwide Twitter conversations on the topic.
These conversations touch on different areas of accessibility, including best practices for understanding needs, first-hand experiences of opening new markets and developing new products. The practice is ground-breaking and fosters a more open and positive attitude towards people with disabilities and the talents they posses. Being part of these discussions stimulates creativity, and helps trigger innovations that promote accessibility, such as effective speech recognition applications or assistive technologies.
During the last two years, the #AXSChat community hit people’s feeds 1.6 billion times. With its large audience, it has the scope to widen stakeholders’ understanding of users’ needs and provides a forum for participants to be part of an open community, to have a voice, to create social impact, as well as stimulate new revenues and innovation opportunities.
The social value of connected technology is broadly recognised. It can reduce the impact of a disability and reframe how we use spaces to give everyone access. Considering accessibility should be a core design principle. Developing connective technologies in light of it initiates equal access to countless opportunities from working on a production line to enjoying free time walking in the park.
We believe connective technology embodies the potential for making the everyday life of people with disabilities and everyone else, easier.
We all need to be confident in embedding accessibility in the design of connective technologies to expand the number of truly accessible connected spaces for the benefit of all. You can join the conversation by connecting with Digital Catapult and participating in our events to discuss your ideas.
Dr Teresa Macchia