You thought you were buying a 32” monitor to put more things on the screen at once. But along the way, you noticed that by keeping all the settings the same as your old monitor, everything is a little bigger, including the size of the print.
You didn’t realize how much you had been squinting until you no longer had to. What you have stumbled upon is a common but surprising reality: Almost all technology has massive implications for accessibility. And that is something to get really excited about.
Even without intentionally doing so, many tech companies have produced software and services that have profoundly changed the lives of disabled people for the better. The story would be even more impressive if they knew what they were doing and leaned into it. Some companies are quite missional about it and should be recognized.
There is no mainstream company that has done more for people with disabilities on purpose. Microsoft, though late to the game and pressed by competitive forces, has also carried the ball. Other companies like Google and Samsung do something on Global Accessibility Awareness Day.
But it feels more like marketing and less like a part of their DNA. Even so, those who need technology to be more accessible will take accidental advances. Here are a few of those advances you probably haven’t thought of in terms of accessibility:
1. Online Education
The challenges for a blind or deaf person to attend university are still massive in our society. Many do it. But they are brave and highly skilled at navigating a world that was not optimized for them. In an interesting twist of fate, one can now enter a Special Education Credential program online. Some of the best teachers of those who have mild disabilities are those who suffer from those same disabilities.
Online education means not having to try to navigate a large and unfamiliar campus with a cane or guide dog. Good luck making it to class on time. It also means not having to rely on what is written on a chalkboard.
With technologies like auto captioning, you don’t have to be able to hear to keep up with every word of a lecture. Since more and more books are available as PDFs, students can consume the information with the help of screen readers. Online university is for everyone. But it benefits people with disabilities even more.
2. Streaming Services
Have you any idea what a blind person had to do to keep up with a movie or music collection? It was possible, but not easy. Impossible was getting a new cable package and trying to figure out what was on 500 channels. Streaming services made it possible for a person to just enter some text in a text box and watch exactly what they wanted to watch. With the help of built-in accessibility tools, people who had trouble reading or writing still have a way to navigate, search, find, and consume content.
There are also movie and music recommendation engines that can keep a person informed about what is available to watch that is also in line with a person’s interests. They don’t have to try to get details from a TV ad to find movies they want to watch and music they want to hear. The world of media has opened up a new world to those who were once left outside of the media revolution.
3. Library Apps
It used to be that to get to the library, a disabled person would have to procure transportation. If they were bound to a wheelchair, they would often be out of luck because those old buildings were not always wheelchair accessible. Many disabled people were functionally housebound. Obviously, there was very little point in a person with low vision making the trip.
There was little in a library their poor eyesight could handle. Today, the library has come to everyone in the form of apps on a smartphone. From there, a world of books can be browsed, downloaded, and enjoyed. As a bonus, services like Apple news Brought newspapers and magazines along for the digital and highly accessible ride. And what a ride it has been.
Accessibility is always better when it is intentional and focused. But thanks to advances like online education, streaming services, and digital libraries and bookstores, the small world of the disabled has gotten a whole lot bigger.