Innovations in assistive technology have the potential to be transformative to the lives of people with disabilities and due to the unobtrusive nature of the technology, many of these innovations can go unnoticed.
Nowadays there is an increasing expectation that new technology should be inherently inclusive. For example, E-readers are now mainstream and they, or digital assistants, have replaced mechanical page-turners. Previously, technology was developed and then adapted to assist people with disabilities. In the future, technology will be assistive from conception as organisations automatically consider the different requirements of everyone.
Around 1 billion people – approximately 15% of the world’s population – live with some form of disability. 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, contributing towards an inclusive workplace.
In fact, originally intended for disabled users, technology such as touch screens and voice-control is now considered to be mainstream. Colour-blind filters and read-aloud functionality can simply be turned on due to inclusive design features within programs. 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.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning enables a photograph to be taken by a phone and pull text or descriptions from an image. This means that an app can recognise the colour of an item of clothing and say the colour out loud. In an education setting, smartphone speech-to-text functionality simplifies access arrangements for examinations more cheaply.
The future of accessibility tech is that of unobtrusive, inclusive design, and communication will be transformed more and more intrinsically as the power of technology is harnessed.