World Usability Day 2018: Design for Good
World Usability Day 2018 was celebrated on November 8th and the theme for this year was Design for Good or Evil. A good or a bad design can effect the lives of billions of people. It can make our day-to-day activities better or worse. So, in this blogpost, I would like to discuss some of the technologies that have transformed the lives of people with disabilities for the good.
For years, people with disabilities had to rely on somebody else for their day-to-day chores or to get anything done. However, the recent advancements in technology has empowered their lives in many ways and has made them more independent. Today a person who is visually impaired can drive a car, operate home appliances; people experiencing disabilities can tour around the world; and patients can even keep a track of their pills. Furthermore, technology can help people have access to information and healthcare similar to people without disabilities; decrease the barriers faced in their daily activities like reading, writing, speaking, and travelling; participate and avail the benefits of digital society.
What is Accessibility?
Accessibility is a measure of how usable a computing device or software is for all users, including users with disabilities. Accessibility is defined as the quality of being able to be reached or entered, easy to obtain or use, easily understood or appreciated. Accessibility is not optional, but it is the law, since accessibility is the “ability” to “access” which is why it so important. It is designing the world to include everyone, regardless of disability, so that others have access to more of life because it matters.
What is Assistive Technology?
According to Assistive Technology Industry Association, Assistive Technology is any product, equipment, or system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities. Some categories of assistive technology are:
Computer Access Aids
Aids for Vision and Reasoning
Aids for Hearing and Listening
The Center on Technology and Disability mentions three levels of Assistive Technology devices:
High: Computerized or complex electronic aids that might require training like voice activated mobile devices or computer access software to operate them.
Medium: Simple electronic features like closed caption televisions, and talking spell checkers.
Low: They do not have any complex or mechanical features: pencil grips, handheld magnifiers, canes/walkers.
Some of the examples of such technologies that exist today are:
Braille Keyboard: A keyboard designed for individuals who are blind or have low vision to type and enter instructions to the computer in Braille.
The Enable Community: An online platform that connects people with a need of prosthetics to volunteers who make use of 3D printing technology to customize it for free.
Smart Speakers: It uses specialized software to transform the text into a computer generated voice and is helpful to person who is visually impaired.
A Microphone: In this technology, the person’s speech is converted into text or other action using software. It is useful for the people who find it difficult to operate a keyboard or a mouse.
The Sesame Phone: It is the world’s first completely touch-free smartphone, designed by and for people with disabilities. It makes use of their head movement through the built-in front-facing camera on the phone. The app, Open Sesame, has been nominated the Best Accessibility Experience award on Google Play! The images below show how it works. (Source: https://sesame-enable.com/)
Project Ray Smartphone: It is a smartphone designed for person who is blind that is controlled via touch, voice and sound controls with an aim to bridge the technological gap and provide all the benefits of the smartphone to the visually impaired.
Wheelmap: An online worldwide map that allows users to share and access information of places that are wheelchair accessible developed by German non-profit organisation Sozialhelden e.V.
Orcam: An Artificial Intelligence assistive reading device that helps people who are blind, visually impaired, and people with reading difficulties by providing a description of text and objects to its wearer and creating artificial vision via a bone-conduction earpiece. Refer the images below. (Image Source: https://www.orcam.com/en/blog/category/testimonials/)
Nano Retina: It is a sophisticated artificial retina that can restore sight lost due to retinal degenerative diseases.
However, assistive technologies are far from the reach of a majority of the people and all the countries need to adopt ISO Standards, allocate more funds towards ensuring such devices and technologies are accessible to the people, and that everyone can avail the benefits of the digital age and live an independent life.