The potential for mainstream technology to transform the lives of the 11 million disabled people in the UK remains largely untapped, according to disability charity Scope and the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design.
In a new report, the organisations argue that disabled people still face a huge digital divide – and that many still have to choose between expensive specialist equipment, or inaccessible mainstream gadgets.
Researchers from the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design at the Royal College of Art found that technology built for disabled people is expensive, low functionality, and often requires specialist knowledge to adapt. Mainstream technology, like iPads and Windows Tablets, is cheaper and can do much more, but is rarely customised to meet disabled people’s needs.
The research, which is funded by BT’s Connected Society programme, also found that emphasis needs to be placed on improving the information available to disabled people about enabling technology. Disabled people are amongst the groups least likely to use the internet, and are 20% less likely to be online than their peers. This is despite the huge potential of services like online shopping and banking to transform the lives of disabled people.
Scope and the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design argue that more needs to be done to bridge the technology gap.
To coincide with the launch of the report, Enabling Technology, Scope, The Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design and BT will unveil a series of digital technology prototypes at the London Design Festival. These include:
•A mouse made just for me: With ‘Tailored Touch’ you make a mouse from touch sensitive pads on any surface, and in any shape or size. ‘Tailored Touch’ has been developed in partnership with Lyn Levett, a musician with cerebral palsy, who is a member of the British Para Orchestra. Lyn is rehearsing with the British Para Orchestra on Tuesday 17 September in London. Watch the team work with Lyn here: http://vimeo.com/74136253
• A mobile phone accessory that allows a blind person to read a letter: The ‘Pop-up Reader’ allows a blind or partially sighted person to read letters and other documents, via their smartphone. Watch the team work with partially sighted user Shani here: http://vimeo.com/74136252
The prototypes were developed during a 15-month project, funded by BT, which explored how to adapt mainstream devices so that disabled people could lead more independent lives.
The project builds on the findings of a pioneering five-year technology partnership between Scope and BT at Beaumont College in Lancashire, where disabled students can now control everything from Facebook to their front door with mainstream devices such as tablets, through customisable interfaces.
Richard Hawkes, CEO at Scope says: “Modern technology has the potential to transform disabled peoples’ lives – but first we need to get past the digital divide.
If you are disabled, you are still often stuck between a rock and a hard place.
You can spend a fortune on specialist technology, or you can buy the devices that we all use, like iPads and Tablets, which are affordable but often inaccessible and hard to adapt.
We have seen some progress, but there is still huge untapped potential for mainstream devices to support disabled people better.
Technology should be able to support disabled people to live more independently, and to access services and participate in the digital world on equal terms.”
Ross Atkin, research associate at the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design: “In many ways, things are a lot better now than they were five years ago. For example, Apple has been building accessibility and adaptability features into their devices as standard. This has made them usable by disabled people, who would previously have been excluded by mainstream technology.
The work that Scope and BT have been doing at Beaumont College and a few other institutions has taken mainstream devices to people with some of the most complex disabilities.
However, there is much more work to do to ensure that all disabled people can benefit from affordable, powerful, enabling technology and are able to use it to access the digital services essential to increasing their independence.”
Adam Oliver, Head of Inclusion and Age and Disability Research at BT, says: “We are delighted with the outcomes of the report, which not only highlights the issue of the digital divide but also creates “inclusive innovation,” based on the needs of inspirational people like Lynn and Shani.
BT’s Connected Society is all about making a real difference to peoples’ lives and it supports BT’s view that disability should not be thought of as a barrier to the enjoyment of this digital world.”
The report outlines a series of recommendations for technology companies, commissioners and the providers of key digital services, to maximise the “enabling potential” of digital technology.
The report, Enabling Technology and videos, can be found here http://blog.scope.org.uk/2013/
About the organisations
Scope works to make this country a better place for disabled people and their families. We do this by running a range of services, raising awareness of the issues that disabled people face and influencing change across society. We provide support, advice and information for more than a quarter of a million disabled people and their family members every year. www.scope.org.uk
The Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, Royal College of Art
The Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design provides a focus for people-centred design research and innovation at the Royal College of Art, London. Originally founded in 1991 to explore the design implications of an ageing society, the centre now works to advance a socially inclusive approach to design through practical research and projects with industry. Its Research Associates programme teams new RCA graduates with business and voluntary sector partners. www.hhc.rca.ac.uk
BT’s Connected Society programme
At BT, we believe in the power of communication to make a better world. Through our Connected Society programme we run a number of projects around the world to help people get online and develop the skills and confidence they need to use the internet. Using our technology, we open up a world of information and opportunity, helping children and whole communities reach for a better future. www.bt.com/BetterFuture