Recent Innovations for People with Disabilities

There are amazing technologies being developed daily by incredibly talented people. Some of them are created to enable people with disabilities to participate fully in social networking. The development of these technologies often aren't covered by the mainstream press because they're considered of interest only to a small audience — a definite misconception.  When you consider that more than 1 billion of the 7 billion people in the world today have a disability*, and the world population is aging at the fastest rate in history** — these are not niche technologies by any stretch of the imagination.

Here are two technology innovations I found today, surfaced by Smart Planet:
  • Dyslexie font designed to help dyslexics read, write: Not your typical technology innovation, but for those with dyslexia, a cognitive disability that makes reading and comprehension difficult, this font could help them read for a longer time and with better comprehension, compared to other fonts. Dislexie was created by Dutch graphic designer, Christian Boer, who is dyslexic. The letters in Dyslexie are more widely spaced and distinct from each other, and "tied down"  — making dyslexics less likely to flip them, mentally.
  • New smartphone app lets users text ‘eyes-free’: Designed by the researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, this new iPhone application enables visually impaired users who are proficient at typing in Braille to type up to 32 words per minute at a 92% accuracy rate. Based on the same model as the Braille keyboard, the software, called BrailleTouch, employs gesture-based texting and uses only six keys, which are displayed as dots.
The researchers at Georgia Tech have been busy. I also found this article in Disabled World today:
  • Tongue Drive Wireless Device Operates Computers and Wheelchairs: This innovative device enables people with high-level spinal cord injuries to operate a computer and maneuver an electrically powered wheelchair by moving their tongue. The newest prototype of the system allows users to wear an inconspicuous dental retainer embedded with sensors to control the system. It was demonstrated at the IEEE International Solid-State Circuits Conference in San Francisco on February 20, 2012.
Many technologies created originally for people with disabilities have worked their way into the mainstream, making applications more usable for all. According to The Center for an Accessible Society, experts in the telecom access engineering field call it the "Electronic Curb-cut Effect", and have an extensive list on their website of IT (information technology) innovations, originally developed by, or in support of, people with disabilities that wound up benefiting everyone.

*10 Facts on Disability from the World Health Organization
**More than 600 million people are over the age of 60. By 2050, that number is expected to rise to 2 billion; more than 20 percent of the world’s population. World Health Organization

Image: Damian Brandon /

Repost from IBM Social Business Insights: Inclusive Social Business

Social networking and accessibility are passions of mine, so I'm thrilled that I'll be blogging regularly about accessibility and social business as an IBM Redbooks Thought Leader on the IBM Social Business Insights blog, alongside some very smart and very connected people — a mixture of IBMers, Business Partners and well-known experts in the field. 
I'll be reposting those blog posts here on my personal blog, including my first one, Inclusive Social Business, originally published on January 29, 2012, and owned by IBM. 

Inclusive social business

When you see the phrase “inclusive social business,” these questions might come to mind:
  • What is inclusive social business?
  • Why does it matter?
  • Why should I care about it?
I’m going to address these questions in this post.

What is inclusive social business?

To answer that question, first let’s make sure that we have a clear definition of social business. At its most basic level:

A social business cultivates trusted relationships and encourages innovation and collaboration to make people more effective.

Diving a little deeper, IBM has identified the three fundamental characteristics of a social business. A social business is:
  • Engaged: It allows the right mix of talent and information to come together to deliver new insight.
  • Transparent: It gives each individual the opportunity to participate meaningfully to improve the business.
  • Nimble: It leverages networks to speed up business, gain insight and make quicker, better business decisions.
In this context, inclusion is the enablement of all people to participate and collaborate fully, regardless of ability or disability.

Because a social business is fundamentally about enabling new levels of interaction among people, it’s important to understand the demographics of potential users and tie it into some real numbers. As of October 31, 2011, the global population was 7 billion(1) . This includes an incredibly diverse variety of individuals with vastly differing abilities:
  • People with Disabilities: More than 1 billion people have disabilities(2); a number that will continue to increase because of advances in healthcare and longer life expectancies. Disabilities are often divided into four categories: visual, hearing, mobility, and cognitive. (We’ll talk about these more in a future blog post.)
  • Aging population: More than 600 million people are over the age of 60(3). By 2050, that number is expected to rise to 2 billion to more than 20 percent of the world’s population.
  • Non-native language speakers: Using English as an example, 500 million – 1.8 billion(4( people worldwide speak English as their first or second language; which means that up to 6.5 billion don’t. In the U.S. alone, over 55 million citizens speak a language other than English in their homes(5).
  • People with no or low literacy: 793 million worldwide(6)
In addition to these demographics, there are many others for whom technology must be more flexible, adaptive, and intuitive to be optimally effective. Take mobile workers, for example. Today’s workers are no longer tied to a desk in an office, but work when and where they want using multiple device types (smartphones, tablets, laptops) in multiple types of locations (airports, cars, public transportation, client sites, and others). As a result, they often encounter what we call situational disabilities – in noisy coffee shops, at airports or while driving in a car requiring hands-free access that impair their ability to connect and collaborate.

Why does inclusive social business matter?

If your tools, websites, applications, and collateral aren’t accessible, you are, by default, excluding a significant percentage of your potential collaboration pool – which isn’t good business any way you look at it. Inclusive social business should value every voice and every idea.

In addition to the three fundamental social business characteristics identified by IBM, two others should be considered by enterprises evolving their collaboration strategy. An inclusive social business is:
  • Consistent: It provides barrier-free access across platforms and applications for a consistent brand experience.
  • Everywhere: It enables the work and web experience to happen where, when, and how it is most effective, regardless of environmental or ability-based inhibitors

Why should you care whether your social business is fully inclusive? 

Here’s the bottom line: In today’s global, social and hyper-connected world, excluding any individual means missing out on important ideas, insight, and opportunities. Making inclusion a top priority can help you differentiate yourself from the competition, expand your reach in existing markets, enter new markets (such as India where 50 to 64 percent of the population does not meet basic literacy requirements(6)) and drive new levels of innovation.

If you're becoming a social business, the key question to ask yourself is: Are you making the most of the wealth of knowledge and expertise you can tap by including all potential collaborators?

1 As world passes 7 billion milestone, UN urges action to meet key challenges
2 World Health Organization: 10 Facts on Disability
3 World Health Organization: Aging and life course
4 Wikipedia: English language
5. Language Use in the United States, U.S. Census Bureau

6. UNESCO Adult and Youth Literacy Fact Sheet