For several years now, many companies that design and sell assistive devices have ditched the medical model in favour of a more social approach and are more concerned about the wants and needs of consumers with disabilities. This, as well as innovations in technology, have started new trends in the assistive technology industry. Here are just a few:
1. Mainstream Companies Following Inclusive Design
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Inclusive design refers to design of products, services and environments that considers the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age and other forms of human difference. Here, we’re not just talking about local restaurants who install ramps to comply with accessibility standards and include wheelchair users in enjoying their service but also big-name tech companies that have been selling to the general public for a long time.
Microsoft products contain several accessibility features including speech recognition and audio description but have also introduced innovative tools including Narrator which allows users to interact with the interface without using a display or viewing a screen. Products will soon be compatible with Braille displays from more than 35 manufacturers and we can expect more to come as Microsoft claims to convene two to three inclusive design projects every month. Microsoft even has a blog that regularly produces assistive technology and accessibility-related content.
Apple has become a household name in smartphone accessibility with features like Switch Control, VoiceOver and Live Listen integrated into all of their devices and are announcing new versions and new features into their operating systems at each annual conference. They even launched a campaign highlighting Apple users with disabilities.
Accessing technology in public spaces is an important step towards gaining independence for individuals with disabilities. Assistive technology has finally shifted away from requiring users to own a single expensive device for one purpose, and now, many devices including the tecla-e can be used to perform almost all daily activities. Since tecla-e gives people with upper-body mobility impairments the ability to fully access smart devices, users can send and receive emails and text messages, browse the web, watch videos, launch and use apps, read books, change the TV channel or turn the heat up, make (or hang up) phone calls at any time. That’s a lot of things you can do with just one device.
Gone are the days of connecting devices with long cables and using floppy discs to install applications. Now, a lot of assistive technology software is available as downloadable applications that can be used whenever and wherever you are. Some are even used specifically for when users with disabilities are exploring their environment, including AccessNow, which uses an interactive map to pinpoint locations in your area that are wheelchair accessible, helping users plan ahead and know what to expect from their outing.
3. Voice Assistants
The most widely used and developed voice assistants are the ones integrated into personal technologies like Apple’s Siri, Microsoft Cortana, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. Artificial intelligence software like these can do almost anything a user asks it to do including text or call a friend, book an appointment into the calendar, check the weather and so much more just through speech. Voice assistants reduce many barriers to accessing mobile technologies for individuals with physical disabilities, vision or hearing loss, but currently have not made strides in creating access for individuals with speech impairments. As they become more widely seen as a necessary daily aid, we hope to see voice assistants become smarter and even more accessible.
From low to high tech devices, there are millions of do-it-yourself assistive technology inspirations and instructions on the Internet that are being produced and used by individuals with disabilities, special education teachers, occupational therapists and speech pathologists.