Accessibility, connectivity and community are the “buzz word” benefits for mobile apps and devices for people with disabilities. But what does that mean in human terms?
It’s varied depending upon the nature of the disability. For someone who’s deaf, it’s a feeling of independence when talking on the phone. For a woman with crippling arthritis, it’s being able to fully utilise her mobile with verbal commands to travel somewhere. Or perhaps for a non-verbal child and parent, it’s the joy in communicating verbally for the first time using mobile text to speech capability.
Usually, when we develop an app in the accessibility field it’s to improve functional capability for someone. Yet, I think it’s that human element that we always need to remember in developing these apps. How can this make someone feel more emotionally connected into society, whilst still delivering functional improvement in every day life?
Currently, one in five Australians* have a disability and this is projected to grow as life expectancy improves, population increases and we continue to age (tick, tock). Below, are the key areas for charities, government organisations and businesses to focus on the future.* They address real needs for assistance both functionally and emotionally.
- Apps and devices that help those with mobility issues. It’s estimated that in future 34.9 %* of people will have a disability due to muscular skeletal and connective tissue diseases.
Implications: Physical design of mobile devices in terms of ease of being able to physically put it on or take it off, as well as use of the device itself. When considering apps, it’s about providing the best functional operation in improving day to day life and navigating the streets. We must be mindful that technology needs to move off the phone screen and into the real world otherwise it will be the cause – not the cure – of physical debilitation.
- Property maintenance, healthcare, household chores, mobility and transport are fundamental areas where people felt disadvantaged.
Implications: Provision of platforms that co-ordinate economical, yet specialist services in this area and potentially remove the need for physical travel.
- Social isolation outside the family unit is a primary cause of concern in the psychiatric health of those with disabilities.
Implications: Improve the mental health with apps developed for mobile devices that facilitate that social connection.
- Currently, 53.5% percent of those with disabilities are 65 and over.*
Implications – In future decades most of these people will be more “tech savvy” than our current population. Their expectations around what mobile technology can deliver to assist them will be high and demand will be strong.
One example of an app that delivers untold benefits in accessibility and emotional connectivity, is the National Relay Service (NRS) App. It was developed by Appfactory with The Australian Communication Exchange (ACE) and the Australian Government. It’s the first relay service in the world to provide access to a range of relay calls and support functions via a single app. This means that anyone suffering from a form of hearing loss can now begin to make calls.
From a functional capability perspective, this opens up an entirely new world. People are now able to organise their lives, convey information and function in society and the workplace. Where the real gold is, however, is in the emotional connections that are made with loved ones and that feeling of community you obtain from daily social interactions.
Moving forward we have the opportunity to enhance the lives of potentially millions of Australians. Our challenge is to deliver on their core wants both physically and emotionally with our apps and devices. What an exciting time.
- Data released in 2009 by the Australian Bureau of Statistics
- National Disability Strategy paper produced by the the Council of the Australian Governments
- The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).