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‘Accessibility’ has become a favorite buzzword in all aspects of technology across every industry. However, by narrowing in on accessibility alone, we’re missing the entire purpose behind striving for accessibility in tech. Technology has the capability to be naturally inclusive, offering solutions that are innately accessible to everyone. Inclusivity shouldn’t just be about checking an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) box, but rather designing the experience from the beginning for every group or individual, ultimately normalizing inclusivity in technology development to expand accessibility.
Here’s the thing: It’s nearly impossible to separate accessibility and inclusivity from one another. Especially given that we’re living in a time of heightened sensitivity and scrutiny, answering the call to promote and practice inclusivity while trying to educate and encourage those who express resistance or refusal to do so is imperative. Whether an individual expression on a personal social media account or a public statement from a large corporation, we are holding each other to a higher standard.
Models can provide simple but significant impact
Given the current urge for inclusive communities and environments, inclusivity and accessibility — as they pertain to products or services — aren’t as prolific as one may think or hope. Certain industries are feeling increased demand to create ADA-compliant features; we’re seeing this in performance venues, professional sports stadiums, and hardware developers. Inclusivity is dominating the conversation in online platforms, web design, and new immersive experiences in the arts.
Microsoft has been a pioneer in this way for years. They have a designated department intended to focus solely on accessibility, producing keyboards and computers that offer inclusive modalities from the beginning. This is a perfect example of fusing accessibility and inclusivity; there isn’t any delineation separating products with these features from a generic model. And as a result, more companies are starting to follow suit, establishing protocols and procedures that ensure products and services are built with accessibility in mind — seamlessly promoting inclusivity by doing so.
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These efforts have a simple yet enormous impact on the consumer-facing markets. Individuals with any number of disabilities or accessibility needs can shop right off of the shelf with the rest of the population. There’s no disruption in that experience, having to seek help or search in a different area from the mainstream product line.
Not just slapping on a “disability” label
Technology has always enabled humanity. Aqueducts, smelting, vaccines, mass production, the internet: These are all transformative technologies that have fundamentally enabled a new mode of human existence through the development of cities, diversification of how and where we live, and advancements that improve sanitization to prevent mass extermination from our own byproducts.
At first, technology was needed to help humanity persevere. While there is much work to be done in underdeveloped parts of the world, technology in first-world countries has surpassed the goal of survival and is helping humans thrive. Innovations in technology are forcing questions such as, what good are stairs or escalators for paraplegics? What good is virtual reality for the blind? What good are speaker systems for the deaf or hard of hearing? While answers have not yet surfaced, they lie somewhere in the marriage of accessibility and inclusivity.
The goal cannot be limited to slapping on an “accessibility” label to satisfy ADA regulations. Instead, how can the limitless capabilities of technology drive inclusivity initiatives to bridge the experiential gap between individuals of various diverse backgrounds?
Fostering human connection
To illustrate, take something as mundane as moving from one floor to another; elevators simply do not have the same experience as stairs. Consider the experience of two differently-abled people: One can jump down stairs quickly, take two at a time, hold the banister, hear and feel the sound of each step — and all these senses contribute to the experience that is noticeably absent in the mechanized alternatives. Unless we fundamentally reproach how we move people from two altitudes, two differently-abled people will not experience parity in that setting.
Expanding and prioritizing inclusivity in any product, service, organization, or industry goes beyond a smart marketing tactic or means to boost profit. It’s the direction society is headed. Not only will it benefit the organization, but it will empower diverse populations to connect and thrive through richer experiences and discover new ones together.
Let us leverage the endless possibilities of technology to increase our access to each other and expand our shared consciousness with the richness of perspectives that can only come from those who perceive the world a little differently.
Ethan Castro is the co-founder and CTO of Edge Sound Research.
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