Beyond just technology companies, more businesses today are focusing their attention on the creation of new products and services that promote greater access for people with disabilities. From the University of Washington to Apple, Google and Microsoft, a new phenomenon has emerged that goes beyond innovations like speech recognition systems, hearing aids, power wheelchairs and cars that drive themselves, to include other practical and desirable offerings, e.g., accessible packaging designs for commodity products, accessible websites and applications, adaptive yoga classes and adaptive dentistry.
It is beginning to dawn on more and more companies that people with disabilities have the same aspirations as anyone else, but their journey to live out those aspirations is different from those without disabilities. With different journeys come different needs.
When new products and services are created with representation of people with disabilities in mind, more often than not these accessibility innovations actually end up benefitting the entire population. For example, curb cuts, Jacuzzi hot tubs, talking books were at first created for people with disabilities.
This focus by companies to provide greater access to people with disabilities is the result of several emerging, global trends:
Sheer Size: The number of people with disabilities is skyrocketing, According to the 2010 Census; there are 57 million adults in the US with disabilities with a disposable income of $220 billion. Globally, there are an estimated 1.2 billion people with disabilities with a disposable income of $750 billion.
Corporate Commitment to Accessibility: Today, most of the big tech companies — from Google to Yahoo, Microsoft to Apple — have teams dedicated to building out technology that is accessible to everyone. Companies like Mattel, Ford, Samsung, Nokia, Nuance and others are going mainstream with their tech innovations created initially for people with disabilities.
3-D Printing: The recent explosion in 3-D printing holds huge promises in giving people with disabilities what they REALLY want and need (rather than what is simply made available to them) to make their lives easier.
Accessibility Research: This is research that promotes access for all people, regardless of ability and it identifies:
- What barriers to access exist,
- Who these barriers affect; and,
- How could these barriers be eliminated and reduced.
Accessibility research gets at the heart of addressing the unmet needs of people with disabilities. It uses adaptive research methodologies (i.e., measurement instruments that allow for participation of individuals with differing abilities), a screener that encourages disability self-identification and a questionnaire that asks disability-related questions based on a deep understanding about the different journey for people with disabilities. Accessibility Research creates a safe environment where people with disabilities can self-identify and be honest about their disability and what they need to be successful.
In August 2014, Kantar owned Lightspeed, in partnership with the nonprofit disABILITYincites, used a sample of 5,000 people with disabilities to conduct Pathways for Greater Inclusion of People With Disabilities. This groundbreaking study which represents the largest disability panel every assembled and the most comprehensive market research study ever conducted about people with disabilities, examines, the segment’s consumption behaviors and accessibility challenges, among other things. The inclusion of people with disabilities in research studies helps provide strong rationale for companies and other entities to create new innovations and service offerings that truly address the unmet needs of the one out of every five adults with disabilities living in the US. The result is people with disabilities are better served, more empowered and better able to participate more fully in society.