Locked Out: Accessible Technology

I’m a sucker for a gadget. From smartphones and tablets to voice controlled home hubs and online banking, technology is everywhere. And, for the most part, I love it.

But I’m one of millions of people worldwide for whom access to our fast-paced and digitally connected world is hindered by a disability. It’s a huge issue. Imagine a shop on your local high street eager to do business but with a front door that’s locked shut!

Most of the time, accessibility needs such as sight loss, hearing impairment or dyslexia are invisible to others. But that doesn’t mean they should be overlooked.

Fortunately, accessibility features are being built into more and more mainstream devices, and legislation such as the Equality Act 2010 serves as a catalyst for positive societal change.

amazon echo

Companies like Apple and Microsoft have been embedding accessibility into their operating systems in recent years, meaning that people can simply switch on the features they need. Yet designers and developers often fail to support these features, meaning that most apps and services are still inaccessible for lots of people with disabilities.

What’s exciting for me as someone with sight loss is the advent of voice driven artificial intelligence (AI) devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home. Unlike traditional computing, there’s no display and no keyboard – all you need to control the device is your voice and you can do all sorts of things, from obtaining real time train and flight information as well as weather updates, right through to controlling the temperature in your home and turning your lights on and off. The list really is endless!

And when it comes to getting around, I’m a huge fan of services like Uber and Gett which make it possible for a disabled person with a smartphone to request a taxi with the tap of a button. Information about the car, its driver and location is beamed straight to our smartphones and there’s no need to struggle with handling cash.

Easy to use devices coupled with lower prices are opening up the world of technology for many people with disabilities. But we need to make sure that accessibility needs are understood and built into service and product design from the outset.

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At the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), we’re working to achieve just that. In the last twelve months alone, we’ve teamed up with organisations around the world on all sorts of projects, including a range of smart TVs with class-leading accessibility baked in and bank cards and notes with tactile features to make them easier to identify for people with sight loss. But there’s still a long way to go.

Technology offers a revolution in access for people with sight loss. The challenge is to ensure those working in the industry have the tools and knowledge to make accessibility the rule rather than the exception.

Digital accessibility is something I’m proud to champion in my new role as Chair of RNIB. I’ll be sharing my views on 23 November at TechShare Pro: a conference hosted by RNIB and AbilityNet which calls on businesses to embrace the opportunities accessibility presents.

Book now and come along to hear from experts from companies including Google, Microsoft, O2 and IBM and find out how you can help shape a brighter future.