January 15, 2016

Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities – an opportunity for Telecoms that benefits everyone

By Chris Lewis

The numbers and the business case for providing information and communication technology (ICT) accessibility to people with disabilities are compelling.

With a billion people in the world (nearly 1 in 7) suffering from some form of disability, most of us will be impacted at some point in our lives. More than 75% of those older than 65 – in addition to some 10% of the working population and 4% of children – have their lives affected by hearing impairment, vision impairment, or other physical or cognitive conditions. And, many of those with more acute conditions are unable to enter or remain in the workforce due to accessibility issues.

In economic terms, this is a powerful group, representing some $4 trillion USD of spending power. The more they can benefit from the digital premium – and the more we can leverage technology to get them into the workforce, the stronger the group will become in economic terms.

Why is this especially important to the telecoms industry? Fundamentally because mobile devices and broadband connectivity will be a vital link in allowing the disabled to participate fully in work and social activities. In addition, the advent of the Internet of Things (IOT) and the explosion in wearables also have major sensory replacement and enhancement implications for consumers with disabilities.

New possibilities

In the past, ICTs for disabled people were developed separately and at great expense. With mobile devices, tablets, TVs, wearables and sensors now available as a platform for everyone, access to specialist equipment, apps and services is much easier and certainly much more affordable. Now disabled people can join many online activities such as retail, banking and entertainment, whilst having the opportunity to get into the workforce, leveraging those more accessible devices and exposing their individual skill set.

Developments in computing, storage and network capabilities combined with a range of means of interacting with devices and applications such as touch, gesture, speech –  and brainwave, coming soon – all mean that senses can be enhanced or content adapted to suit an impairment. These are the key components falling into place to make all this possible:

Devices are getting more accessible with adaptation to screens and input assisted by speech, touch or gesture
Smart homes mean that devices and functions are easily adapted to different conditions. For example, lighting that changes colour to announce a phone call or someone at the door.
Wearables & IoT allow consumer electronics such as high-powered cameras, microphones and sensors to help disabled individuals communicate.
Smart city services can help disabled people better navigate their way through the village, town or city with assistive services based on iBeacons and information about accessible routes and buildings
Applications help seeing, interpreting, speech and learning.

Not surprisingly, with so many contributing components coming from so many diverse sources, there is a lack of consistency when it comes to standards. This is true for the consumer electronics components as well as the operating systems and applications environments being used.
Guidelines, such as those from G3ICT, as how to make all components more accessible and more interoperable do exist but more work is required. Mobile-device manufacturers are taking accessibility more seriously with the Global Accessibility Research Initiative (GARI www.gari.info) listing many of the world’s accessible devices and applications.

Product design for accessibility

If digital product design includes accessibility from the get-go, then the ease of accessibility and adaptability for all conditions is simplified. Once the accessibility angle is built into the cycle of product/application development and included on every refresh cycle, then the issue of accessibility will simply become part of the personalisation that we have discussed for years around the mobile world.

In the meantime, all companies – from the smallest applications developer to larger corporations offering services via their apps (including governments) – should make sure accessibility is included in the process and implementation flows around digitisation.

Awareness of the range of disabilities and their adapted needs, both in terms of user interfaces and preferred channels of communications, will lead to better designed products for everyone. Many exist already:

● Sign language via a video conference link
● Audio description of television programmes and films
● People with speech defects using email, Instant
Messaging, chat and the like.

It is a question of making sure this is communicated to all parts of business and government as well as being built into both product development and channels to market.

The moral component

For every business, every government department, and for many families, more accessible devices, applications and services will benefit both internally and externally. This is not simply a matter of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) but an economic and moral obligation to use technology to build an inclusive society.

So, let’s spread the word: Build accessibility into products from scratch, and let’s make everyone’s lives easier, more digital and more rewarding!

This blog post is a summarized version of a longer feature which you can find at the Lewis Insight website: http://chrislewisinsight.com/



Chris Lewis is an experienced Telecoms Industry Analyst covering the depth and breadth, demand and supply of the Telecoms and related sectors on a global basis for 30 years. Chris specializes in drawing together the many varied technology and business components helping shape telecoms in the context of the future digital marketplace.

In 2013 Chris founded Lews Insight which is regarded as a reputable industry advisory business and founded the Great Telco Debate www.telcodebate.com as a platform for debating the future of telecoms.

Chris also sits on several Boards in the Visually Impaired charity sector. Having been registered blind for over 30 years, he now brings his technology knowledge to help the Royal National Institute for the Blind and the UK Vision 2020 “Technology For Life” group leverage telecoms and communications technology for the blind and partially sighted community. Chris has also written and analysed the broader application of technology to help all disabled groups become part of the digital world. Wearables also bring Chris into touch with many new organisations including the Royal School of Medicine.

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Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities – an opportunity for Telecoms that benefits everyone

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