Whilst the assistive technology market started off as a specialist, niche market it is now becoming mainstream.
Although assistive technology was previously somewhat under the radar of the technology market, its growth has generally influenced other technology providers to start making assistive technology products. The growth of assistive technology has also put pressure on mainstream technology providers to make mainstream technology much more accessible to all users.
Over time social and technological developments have helped reduce any stigma and embarrassment people may feel when using assistive technology in education or the workplace, which in turn has increased its use. And two important recent developments in assistive technology have helped to make learning environments more inclusive.
Firstly, the increased portability of devices with wireless connections such as mobile phones, tablets, and light laptops now allow students with disabilities far greater independence. Plus the assistive technology now in-built into these devices has brought assistive technology into the mainstream, and we’ve seen assistive technology companies developing really creative apps to cater to a diverse range of needs.
Ultimately, the growth of assistive technology products has influenced products in the mainstream by driving innovation in digital technology. For example, speech-to-text began as a pure assistive technology but it has since led to the massive growth of voice recognition technology. Some popular examples include Siri for Apple products and the Ask Google feature that the search engine introduced for users.
Text-to-speech functionality also came from assistive technology but is now becoming an everyday feature for many, for example with people using text to speech to check their text messages on their mobile phone safely whilst driving.
But one of the key responsibilities for technology companies to make products accessible to all is to ensure their products are more compatible with assistive technology. So when designing accessibility in the process of developing new technology, manufacturers should consult with a broad range of disabled users during the development of new products. This will drive innovation and deliver a better user experience.
One of the key benefits of making products accessible to all is that accessibility has made it easier for manufacturers to reach a wider audience, and thus sell more products. Also, as most disabilities are acquired by people throughout their lifetimes, making products more accessible through the use of assistive technology is a form of future proofing.
Another benefit of making products accessible to all is improving customer satisfaction for all users, which should surely be music to the years of all technology companies.
There are some very exciting mainstream accessible developments such as automatic Alt Text on Facebook and Twitter. Whereas in the past these two platforms in particular were often criticised for their lack of accessibility, they now both offer Alt Text for images, much to the benefit of some users with disabilities and visual impairments.
Other developments of note include the widespread use of subtitles on videos. Whilst companies like YouTube have long-offered an automatic subtitle option the fact that platforms like Facebook now offer automatic subtitles on videos is a real breakthrough. Not only does it help people with disabilities and impairments but it also assists mainstream users, as many videos are now watched by people with the sound off, for a variety of reasons.
I’ve been working with students for over ten years and I’ve seen the reduction in stigma and embarrassment people may feel using assistive technology as it’s become more mainstream. It’s been wonderful to observe that development, alongside the development of such creative technology.
To find out more about the future of assistive technology at the Assistive Technology Exhibition & Conference in Sheffield on November 24 workplace visit www.ateconference.com for further information and to book tickets.
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