Innovations in assistive technology are heralded as potentially transformative to the lives of people with disabilities. What’s interesting is that due to the unobtrusive nature of the technology, many of these innovations may go unnoticed.
E-readers and digital assistants have replaced the mechanical page-turners of years gone by, and now there is an increasing expectation that technology should be inclusive from the start. Previously, technology was developed and then adapted to assist people with disabilities. In the future, technology will be assistive from conception as organisations consider the different requirements of everyone.
Approximately 15% of the world’s population – around one billion people – live with some form of disability and Microsoft is providing assistive technology solutions in areas of learning, mental health, neurodiversity, vision, hearing and mobility. For example, accessibility tech has been integrated into Office 365 and Windows 10 – tools that are available to anyone – helping make the workplace inclusive.
In fact, what is now considered to be mainstream technology such as touch screens and voice-control was originally intended for disabled users. Colour-blind filters and read-aloud functionality can simply be turned on due to inclusive design features within programs, making specialised kit unnecessary. Likewise, eye-tracking technology enables anyone to control a computer using only their eyes and Microsoft Translator creates real-time captions to help people with hearing impairments.
Currently, artificial intelligence (AI) – in particular ‘Seeing AI’ – allows a photograph to be taken by a phone and the machine learning reads the text or handwriting or pulls text or descriptions from an image. For example, the app can recognise the colour of an item of clothing and say the colour out loud, and in an education setting, smartphone speech-to-text functionality should simplify exam access arrangements more cheaply than current software solutions.
So, the future of accessibility tech is that of unobtrusive inclusive design, and communication will be transformed as we harness the power of technology.
Lewis Reed Group
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