Disability, accessibility and the emerging digital world – a personal and professional perspective

Throughout my career as a telecoms analyst I have been using assistive technology (AT) such as magnifiers, closed circuit TVs and screen readers to help me consume and create content.  I’ve doggedly insisted that I want to live in the real world and not in a ‘blind’ or ‘disabled’ one. But, joining the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) Solutions Board and chairing the UK Vision 2020 Technology For Life group, has brought me into close proximity with the breadth of issues surrounding AT.

Furthermore, over the past year, working with Telefonica on accessibility across all disabilities, has opened my eyes (excuse the pun) to the many issues around developing specialist and mainstream technology to help all disabled groups as well as the education and training required for people at every stage from diagnosis of a condition through to adapting equipment and the environment to allow disabled people to benefit from technology and embrace the digital world. I never thought my two very distinct worlds would come together so easily.

The worlds of AT and mainstream technology are increasingly converging. The smartphone is becoming the device that everyone uses to anchor their personal and work lives. As these devices become increasingly accessible, and as apps embrace accessibility more and more, everyone has a chance to claim the digital bonus of interacting with the world the way they want – rather than being constrained by a disability or indeed by technology.

If we get it right – and I mean ‘we’ as a whole – what we call accessibility and AT today will become part of the personalisation of services that the mobile industry in particular has been talking about for years. The addition of wearables and the Internet of Things (IOT) to the smartphone begins to complete our digital persona. Add to this the development of smarter cities bringing public services together and you begin to have an environment where a disabled person, of whatever nature, can become a much more engaged citizen, worker and community member.

So, working with stakeholders from Service Providers (SPs), technology vendors such as device manufacturers, wearables, charities/NGOs, governmental bodies – local and central – as well as specialist AT organisations makes for a fascinating melting pot.

Someone said to me recently that it’s about everyone: it’s about the disabled and the not yet disabled, since we will all be disabled at some point, as we grow old and things stop working. And, indeed, before that we are often temporarily or situationally disabled  – e.g. Driving and not looking at the mobile but exchanging messages through speech input. And, most importantly, disabled people don’t want specialist devices, they want the latest, shiniest mobiles. If the apps on these devices are well designed and the buttons are correctly labelled to trigger accessible output, then everyone benefits as the apps will have been more inclusively designed.

At MWC in Barcelona, Telefonica is publishing the second report I’ve recently completed: Digitising the disabled billion – Accessibility Gets Personal 2015 which is now available to download . You can also read The Untapped Billion – the report I wrote with Telefonica last year.

Also at MWC on March 4th at 2pm CET I will be chairing a workshop on Accessibility where we will look at the broader issues with IBM, Google, Microsoft and tje Mobile Manufacturers Forum. Please join us there or follow #mwc15accs. Please get in touch if you’d like to receive a copy of the new report and the slides from the workshop.

With a billion people in the world having some form of disability, I know that it touches most people in some way. The good news is that the AT world is quickly allowing people like myself to fully participate in the digital world.

I’m always happy to discuss how your organisation should be looking at accessibility as an issue or to speak at workshops, internal meetings and events where the topic comes up.

One thought on “Disability, accessibility and the emerging digital world – a personal and professional perspective

  1. Frank Bunn says:

    Hi Chris,

    Great article.
    Looking forward to seeing you again next week in Barcelona.



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