Seeing the world through my eyes is probably not something I’d recommend. My sight is limited, but what some people would describe as a disability provides me with a unique perspective on accessibility and design.
I was excited to be asked to speak at the recent launch of Australia’s first disability focused impact accelerator, Remarkable. The Telstra Foundation has partnered with Cerebral Palsy Alliance and the NSW Department of Family & Community Services to create an accessible and inclusive maker space and accelerator, where the brightest minds can innovate with digital technology to make life impacting solutions for people living with a disability. Remarkable’s first 16-week program has just begun, bringing together inclusive startups, mentors, and users.
Technology is great isn’t it? In the last decade, I’ve gone from having no location devices, limited access to directions and limited information generally, to having the world in my pocket or on my wrist. When I’m lost, I can just ask my wrist, “Hey Siri, where am I?” Not just that, I can get directions home, or even better, to the closest café.
Technology has unlocked the world for people with disabilities. But it has also created new challenges. With the best intentions accessibility has become a tick-box design element, often an afterthought. To make real progress we need truly universal, human-centred design.
Public toilets offer great examples. They get big points for having translated printed text signage into braille: “If this light starts flashing please leave the cubicle immediately.” The problem is that the person reading the braille has no idea whether the light is flashing or not.
Touch screens are fast becoming a favourite for interactive signage; from ordering burgers or calling a lift, to ATMs and self-serve checkouts. But rarely are they truly accessible. For people with sensory and physical disabilities, fixed touch screens offer little flexibility or preferences. This misses the opportunity the technology brings. How awesome would it be to have tablet menus in restaurants where you could adjust the font size, turn on speech, or have a notes capacity for the deaf to communicate easily with staff?
Accessibility needs to be part of the design process from the beginning – it’s about designing great experiences for everyone.
I’m often asked what my best and most useful piece of technology is, and my answer is usually ‘my guide dog’. Ok, not strictly technology, but when you examine why she is the best, it makes sense. She’s reliable. She’s also consistent, flexible, efficient, intelligent and approachable. Like all good devices, she needs an occasional recharge. But give her a banana and some water and she’ll go for another 12 hours.
What makes a great piece of technology for me are all the human qualities they can impart. As soon as you are designing for humanity, for the human qualities, you are designing for usability, accessibility and universality.
I am really excited to see what innovative solutions and products come to life through the Remarkable incubator – humans designing for humans. I’ve got first dibs on playing with the prototypes!
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