Assistive technology can help those with disabilities to lead a more connected life. This is no niche market, either, and large tech companies are starting to make these assistive tech devices a priority.
According to Pew Research Center data, the 56 million Americans living with disabilities are three times more likely to say they never go online – and it's not because they hate pop-up ads. These users aren't partaking in the benefits of technology because the most popular devices aren't designed for their particular disabilities. Fortunately, some tech companies are making an effort to change that.
From inclusive video game controllers to sensory assistive modes in headphones, the world of consumer tech is beginning to truly care about everyone that uses their devices. Whether users are hearing-impaired, vision-impaired, or developmentally disabled, tech companies are figuring out ways to make sure their products are universally accessible. Because, what's the point of technology if you can't use it to help those in need?
Take a look at some assistive technology examples we've found from big tech companies below, and get ready for a more inclusive future of gadgets.
Xfinity Eye Detection from Comcast
The ability to watch TV is a privilege that you might not realize you have. While it seems like one of the most relaxing, easy-to-operate pieces of technology on the market, many with disabilities struggle to utilize the most basic features of television. From changing the channel to recording a show, some users have been left without a means of engaging, even with the advent of voice assistant technology.
Fortunately, Comcast has recently added new features to their Xfinity X1 cable package that can help: eye detection technology. The tablet or laptop-enabled software is free to use and it works seamlessly with existing eye gaze hardware and software, so users won't need to purchase a whole new set of gadgets and devices. The web page remote will provide access to a wide range of features via eye control that could change the lives of disabled users.
“Comcast knows that TV and media access is a powerful part of life for most people,” said David Dikter, CEO of the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA). “That X1 can now be used with eye gaze and an array of other assistive technologies shows a new level of commitment to access and independence for persons with disabilities. A company that understands that users have their own specialized technology and works to bridge these technologies in a way that delivers value, deserves applause.”
This assistive technology example allows those with mobility disabilities to change the channel, access the guide, record shows, and even open specific apps with nothing but eye motions, which is admittedly a big inclusive step for a big company like Comcast to make. But they aren't the only ones making moves to address accessibility of technology.
AirPod Hearing Aid Mode from Apple
If you think the ability to watch TV is taken for granted, you wouldn't believe how lucky you are to be able to hear. With more than 466 million hearing disabled individuals around the world, the importance of providing easily accessible assistive technology for hearing is undeniable. Fortunately, one of the world's leading consumer tech manufacturers is on the job.
When Apple launched the AirPods, it wasn't just a big step for wireless headphones – it was also a huge leap forward for those who require hearing aids. Apple has recently installed the “Live Listen” feature with its new iOS 12 update. This effectively turns your AirPods into hearing aids, amplifying sound heard through your iPhone into your ears.
It's worth noting, however, that AirPods are not licensed hearing aids, and if you have serious hearing loss, talking to a professional is always an important first step.
Outside of the AirPods themselves, Apple has also partnered with a number of accessibility companies to offer Made for iPhone hearing aids that easily connect to your iOS device. This can help users to enjoy seamless listening to music, videos and calls on their iPhones.
Xbox Adaptive Controller from Microsoft
The video gaming trend isn't going anywhere, which means inclusivity needs to be a serious priority. Luckily, one of the biggest gaming companies in the world recently made a huge leap in that regard.
Earlier this year, Microsoft used one of its most valuable advertising spots (a Super Bowl commercial) to highlight the new Xbox Adaptive Controller for those with mobility impairments. Designed to pair with dozens of accessibility-focused devices, the controller caters to an unprecedentedly large array of users with disabilities. And that is how you make inclusivity a priority.
“For a very long time, we were advocating that everyone should be able to play video games,” said Craig Kaufman, program director for AbleGamers, a charity that donates controllers to disabled gamers, to Polygon. “And seeing Xbox make a device like this is showing that, from the top level, Xbox [is] going, ‘Yeah, everyone should be a part of the awesome thing that is video games.’”
To say anything is possible in the gaming world is admittedly a cliché, but heck, a 16-year-old just won $3 million at the Fortnite World Cup, so we're going to say it anyway. Affording the joy and excitement of video games to users who thought they would never get a chance is enough of a reason to truly adapt accessibility as part of any tech company's future plans. Well, that and the potential lawsuits.
Why Is Assistive Technology Important?
For tech companies, investing in assistive technology needn't simply be a matter of “doing good”. Assistive tech devices can aid a vast user base – for example, there are more than 48 million Americans with some form of mobility disability.
Not only are these assistive technology examples a great way to promote inclusivity and accessibility at a big tech company, they're an even better way of preventing accessibility lawsuits from hitting the bottomline. In fact, website accessibility lawsuits – that result when disabled individuals can't access a company's website to, for example, apply for a job – nearly tripled in 2018. Those numbers are expected to rise, as technology's role in everyday life becomes more necessity than luxury.
Assistive technology examples are incredible steps towards a more accessible future, but that's all they are right now: steps. The disabled community is still at risk of being left behind when it comes to a wide range of technological innovations.
Inclusivity and accessibility are great talking points for any big tech company, but that's rarely enough to turn the tides of business in favor of the millions of disabled individuals around the world. The problem can be solved with a global approach to these kinds of devices, though, as long as more companies get on board with the movement.
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