The Role of Consumer Technology in the Fight for Inclusivity
Acceptance from society at large is what helps us form our opinion of ourselves. The ideal society would include people of all religions, races, abilities, socio-economic backgrounds, ethnicities, and more, working together to create a sublime utopia. But sadly, that is rarely ever the case. It is psychological and innate for us to bond with those like us, but that often results in excluding those who are not.
While it may not seem like a problem to most of us, those who have been marginalized often feel inferior to the rest; they get fewer opportunities for growth, and many times there are fewer accommodations and considerations taken keeping them in mind. It results in them feeling excluded from society.
We only perceive ourselves the way others see us, making a more inclusive and accepting environment for all even more important.
Over time, people have started to recognize this as an issue and are actively working towards changing this world. People want to provide the same level of opportunities to those who come from lesser privileged backgrounds, who face impairments, have to cope with disabilities, and more so that they feel like they are active members of the society as well. This is a push towards creating a more inclusive world all around us because it comes with total acceptance and adjustments to fit everyone.
One size fits all is and always will be a myth, and the fight towards inclusivity is here to change that. Once you realize that the same pair of pants won’t fit everybody, the simplest way to solve this problem would be to make more pants of different sizes for all body types.
That, in its true essence, is what inclusivity means.
But before understanding how consumer technology solves the inclusivity problems of today, it is important to acknowledge who the marginalized groups and communities are in the world.
Who are the Marginalized Communities?
The most common groups that often face discrimination, lack of opportunities, and are considered marginalized include:
- Racial minorities and people of different ethnicities
- Senior citizens
- People with a low-income background
- Members of the LGBTQ+ community
- People with cognitive disabilities
- People who have physical disabilities
- People with severe mental illnesses
- People with disfigurements
- Neurodivergent people
The Importance of Inclusivity and Sensitivity for Marginalized Communities
Marginalized communities often face a lack of opportunities that non-marginalized groups get. The privileged groups have easier access to healthcare services, financial resources, and tools they need to thrive. This is where inclusivity comes in.
What is inclusivity?
Inclusivity can be tools, applications, services, policies, gadgets, equipment, resources, and more used to increase the number of opportunities marginalized groups have to help them move forward in their lives. The resources provided could range from lower interest rates for loans to more accessible infrastructure to even access to technology and electronics that will help improve the standard of living of the marginalized groups.
The importance of inclusivity today for those with physical disabilities
More than 61 million people living in the United States alone have some disability. That’s 26% of the entire population. These disabilities could impact their mobility, ability to make decisions, ability to clean up after themselves and do errands, hearing and visual impairments, and ability to take care of themselves.
Major reforms are underway to help those who belong to racial and ethnic minorities, lower-income groups, and more. But the path to improving the standard of living for people with disabilities and senior citizens, both groups who have a much harder time getting things done daily compared to the rest, is still a treacherous one.
We need to create the resources these people need to help them improve their standard of living.
Can Consumer Technology Really Help?
Short answer, yes!
Consumer technology is tools, appliances, and applications created to benefit the user and the user only. They can help individuals meet their needs and simplify lives. These electronics, gadgets, and applications are a great tool to help people improve their quality of life - for those differently-abled and otherwise.
What does consumer technology include?
Consumer technology and electronics is a wide range of software, hardware, and products created to meet consumer needs. In this case, people with disabilities will greatly benefit from these types of consumer technology products that are mentioned below:
- Security-related consumer products (both on-ground and online)
- Productivity enhancement consumer products (both digital and physical products)
- Information-related services and products
- Communication tools and applications
- Games and toys to improve cognitive function and abilities
- Educational tools to help those with learning disabilities
- Audio and visual equipment
- Wearable consumer technology
- Household appliances
- Automation technology and smart gadgets
Changing the World One Gadget at a Time
So far, people with disabilities have had to rely on external help to complete basic tasks. This means they are always dependent on friends, family, and others to help them. Differently-abled people or people with impairments want to feel self-reliant and wholly independent. Technological advancements today can provide the tools people need to achieve this outcome.
Adaptive and assistive technology is a part of consumer technology focused on improving the lives of people who have physical ailments and disabilities. They also help those who experience any learning disorders, severe mental health issues, and more. Truly, the development of smart and innovative technology can help change the lives of people.
Assistive technology can empower people with disabilities
Empowerment is key to independence. People with disabilities often feel helpless and less capable than the rest of the population, which is why using assistive technology and consumer gadgets can help them feel more in control of their lives. The sense of empowerment is key to inclusivity; and the main motive behind assistive technology. The tools are created with the sole purpose of improving the functioning and capabilities of those with disabilities.
The more commonly known tools of assistive technology are wheelchairs, glasses, and text-to-speech programs. They might not seem all that high-tech, but they are helping people see, move and understand others. This is the crux of all assistive tech and consumer tech catered towards people with disabilities.
Consumer technology is not necessarily the same as assistive technology. It isn’t specifically catered to people with disabilities, but it provides general assistance and can improve the lives of everyone as a whole. But that doesn’t mean that consumer products can’t be used to help people with disabilities too.
Consumer technology can reimagine our current approaches to learning
Consumer technology has impacted the current modes of learning as well. Online learning programs and tools have become more commonplace and accessible in the last few years, and with the start of the pandemic, their usage has increased considerably.
Even when kids go back to school, the teachers can use institutional ed-tech tools to enhance the learning experience for their students. These tools can be pre-recorded lessons that children can revisit to understand their concepts better, various engagement-oriented games, pre-loaded hardware present in the classrooms engage students while they learn, and more.
The inclusion of ed-tech can especially help those in developing countries who do not have easy access to quality education. All they need is a computer and an active internet connection and they will be able to learn to the best of their capabilities. It also helps schools that are understaffed and overcrowded by allowing students to have access to one-on-one learning. The overall educational system can benefit from consumer technology catered to improving instructional learning and consumer learning tools.
Adaptive technology can help those with hearing and visual impairments perform tasks
Adaptive and assistive technology can help those who have speech, hearing, and visual impairments by opening communication channels for them to make contact with other people. Some of the tools that help them include:
- Hearing amplification devices that assist people with hearing loss
- Devices that help people synthesize speech from text
- Alerting devices that can be put in homes and public places that emit a sound or blink to notify the person of an event
- Screen readers that help visually impaired people read text from devices
- Computers and keyboards that are specifically designed to help those who have visual impairments
The leaps and bounds in terms of advancements in assistive consumer technology have created a world where people with hearing, visual and speech impairments can function with a sense of normalcy they would not otherwise have. Some tools enable deafblind people to communicate with their hands with the help of tactical alphabets, smart glasses to help those with visual impairments, and more.
Consumer technology can help redefine the way we view accessibility
Universal design at its core is supposed to make tools accessible to people of different abilities. The inclusivity aspect of design is what needs to be pushed forward to make it the norm amongst all. The structure and fundamentals of functionality are slowly getting redefined with improvements in technology to make places, people, and devices more accessible.
Some applications cater specifically to those who are differently-abled to help them identify spaces with the appropriate accommodations to meet their needs. Tech giants such as Alphabet and Apple are also providing modifications to their tools and software to help differently-abled people right from the beginning.
The entire approach with which we look at devices and tools is slowly transforming. Accessibility should be for all, not just those who are born without any impairments.
Technological innovations can make homes more comfortable
Differently-abled individuals have a hard time feeling comfortable in their own homes. This is because houses aren’t built keeping disabilities in mind, making it harder for people with mobility problems, visual impairments, mental disabilities, and hearing impairments to access basic necessities around their homes.
Consumer technology makes homes more adaptable for those with different needs to live in. With the evolution of smart technology, it becomes easy for people to access tools around their house with as little effort as a tap on their phone or a click of their remote. These consumer tech tools may be considered convenient or a luxury for most, but for those with disabilities, it is a godsend.
Smart plugs allow users to automate any electric device around their homes, making it easier to use for people with mobility impairments. Voice-activated speakers can be used for people with visual impairments to access various devices around their house. Sensors and smoke alarms, speech-to-text devices, and other gadgets simplify usage around the house.
Even Amazon Echo allows users to create and manage lists, set timers, make phone calls, order essentials for the house, check the time and more. Smart thermostats make it easy to regulate the temperature without having to move to get to the actual physical device.
Robot vacuums such as Roomba make cleaning up around the house a lot easier and more accessible. It is also more affordable than hiring help to do the cleaning in the long run. Cleaning gadgets such as Skadu also help the elderly, those with bone health issues make cleaning surfaces and appliances a lot easier. It is a handheld electric kitchen scrubber that takes care of the cleaning for people, minimizing the effort and time taken to perform daily tasks such as doing the dishes, cleaning the bathroom, etc.
Creating a World Accessible for All
Those with disabilities had very little access to help during the pandemic. The realization that they need more assistance than the rest of the world seeped in a little late, but there is still time for us to create a world that can be accessed by people of all kinds. Making adjustments to infrastructure and vehicles so that the physically disabled people can feel more mobile is one part of it.
Creating helpful gadgets and tools to help those with learning disabilities understand concepts better can help drive education among that minority group. Improving the accessibility and affordability of smart gadgets to help those with visual and hearing impairments can help them perform daily tasks better.
The aim is not to make specially designed tools that help people with disabilities. The primary goal should be to create devices and tools that have in-built features that cater to different needs that different people have.