Opening our world with technology
Steve Tyler is our Director of Assistive Technology. On Global Accessibility Awareness Day, he tells us about how assistive technology can help everyone stay connected in a challenging world.
As I write these words in May 2020, amidst an unprecedented global challenge, a significant change to everyday life, and people isolated across the UK and the world, I think about how different it would have been had coronavirus struck 25 years ago.
Back then, we had a fledgeling internet, no social media, no smartphones, minimal and extremely slow connectivity. We were mainly a world using text browsers – where the first shopping experiences online were only just being considered.
A range of options for increased connectivity
Today, people with disabilities can communicate using social media of every description. They can choose whether to talk about themselves as a person with a disability. We have vast choices about how and when we communicate with friends and family. Our experiences are shared through video, photo and audio.
Most of us get our shopping delivered and use personal assistants to control our home environment. We have automated translation and captioning services, on-demand radio and many ways to watch our favourite films. We can even make and share our own movies!
Staying connected in a challenging and new environment
Specialist communication systems allow anyone with significant dexterity issues, speech challenges, or sensory challenges to engage with this world. For everyone now, life is enormously different, but the impact on people with disabilities is exponentially more significant.
Our challenge is to get these technologies into the hands of people that could benefit from them the most. We want to find ways of making this technology relevant every day rather than rare, unique and extraordinary.
How we use technology in our services
We are pushing the boundaries of the technology that exists today by working with major tech companies to inform the future. Our knowledge and lived experiences are shaping this new technology.
Setting up new ways of doing things is enhancing the experiences of our residents. They can take part in book clubs, shared social spaces and experience places and events using virtual reality. For the first time in years, some are making completely independent choices - from what to watch on tv to who to talk to.
Smartphones have extraordinary power
It is remarkable to recognise that the smartphone many of us have in our pockets has more computing power than NASA had at its disposal on its first moon landing. But our challenge is far from over. Ensuring we integrate the opportunities these technologies have into everyday life, taking away the fear of engaging with them, finding the best solutions, and taking away the barriers of cost, training and support, are a key focus.
Global collaboration benefits us all
Not only have we set out on a journey to develop best in class opportunities, but we want to share that learning globally. Those who have experienced the freedoms and choices technology give feel it is a revelation – but there are still too many of us yet to benefit.
The future of relationships and accessible technology
Technology, as a set of tools, can help us achieve whatever we want. It can also offer us new opportunities. The events of 2020 have challenged the world. They have brought fear, illness and loss of life.
Perhaps, if there is an opportunity to be had in our shared experience, it is to remind us that we are social beings. We crave meaning and relationships with others. Regardless of age, disability and difference, nobody wants to be alone.
It is in our gift, using the technology of today, to focus on improving life and life chances for everyone. We need to renew our focus on removing barriers. The future of accessible technology is not just for the few that can afford it, but for all who can benefit from it.
We will strive to lead that change.