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Technology & Opportunity: Assistive technologies have a much wider audience


We've talked about the digital divide here before at the Technology and Opportunity desk, but usually in terms of class and race.

But what barriers to accessing technology do people with physical, intellectual, cognitive, and developmental disabilities face?

Nearly 15% of kids, that's about 10 million, have a diagnosed developmental disability.

A lack of access to technology in the marketplace, hard to read print on screens, the absence of descriptors ("alternative text") on web images, sites that rely on using a mouse, not captioning videos or podcasts---all of these things impose barriers.

Omissions that might be simply a pain for those of us getting older and requiring larger print or better audio, actually prevent many people from accessing information, paying bills, consuming news, or taking advantage of useful apps. 

When it comes to technology's disability divide, two things are important to remember. The Council for Disability Awareness reminds us that anyone can acquire a disability at anytime. Second, and this one is more of an adage than proven, activists in the disability rights community make the claim that it's the pace of change that disables lots of people. 

In the tech industry, advocates for accessibility point out that if Web and mobile engineers design for people living with disabilities, they are, in fact, designing for a much wider market. 

This principle is called universal design. Whether applied to physical architecture or web architecture, universal design is a change in perspective. Instead of scaling back to accommodate people with disabilities, designers scale up their products and services for everyone. The video below is from Australia but explains the principles of universal design really well. 

March is National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. Here are something things you can do to help close the technology gap for people with disabilities. 

Advocates for people with developmental disabilities are calling for a National Day Out on March 29. Start conversations. Meet curiosity with information and knowledge to raise awareness about developmental and intellectual impairments. 

Read stories of people with disabilities and their experiences with technology. How would your life change if faced with navigating our increasingly technological world with a disability?

"The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect." - Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web

Familiarize yourself with assistive and adaptive technologies. This is as simple as exploring the assistive technologies on your computer or phone to see what different features do. To view them on an iPhone, for example, under settings select "general" and then "accessibility." How might voice-to-text be useful for people who are visually impaired? What difference does it make if, in the switch to flat design, you're able to see the outline of a button instead of just a word indicating actions? 

Find out about disability studies and, in particular, what it means to promote digital disability rights.

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