The emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT) has offered many societal benefits, and has undoubtedly improved our overall quality of life. Statistics show that by the end of 2018, there were an estimated 22 billion IoT-connected devices in use worldwide, and this number has only grown since, says Jocelyn Brown.
The British technologist Kevin Ashton coined the term “Internet of Things” in 1999, and defined it as a network that connects people and the objects surrounding them. The reason we feel the need to connect these objects is a simple one: for our convenience. While older generations may wonder whether or not we truly need these conveniences, we can’t ignore a segment of the population who definitely do those with disabilities. So how is the IoT improving accessibility for the disabled community?
Today, the Apple Store offers more than 1.85 million applications, with the Google Playstore offering 2.56 million. It’s no secret that the use of social media and related technologies is widespread, whether they are used purely for entertainment or to fulfill a personal need. Fortunately for users with disabilities, user experience (UX) designers have been developing technologies that aim to increase the accessibility of apps in every field from ecommerce to information resources.
These include keyboard navigation for those who are blind or have physical disabilities, alt-text for those who cannot see images, automated voice transcription for the hearing impaired, and text-to-speech applications. While incorporating these accessibility features is becoming more ubiquitous, many applications still do not enforce them as a standard, however, and work still needs to be done.
In the workplace
As a result of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), more and more employers see the need to incorporate inclusivity practices into the workplace. While this may have started with accessibility ramps and automatic doors, the IoT progression has opened a realm of possibilities that allow employees with disabilities to reach their full potential. By introducing assistive technologies like screen-reader software, intelligent voice assistants, and brain-computer interfaces (BCI), the common barriers for employees with disabilities will no longer impede their productivity or job satisfaction.
Finally, the emergence of the IoT has offered people with disabilities a reduced dependency on others, allowing them to feel more empowered in their day-to-day lives. This level of autonomy can help individuals with disabilities feel more confident and less of a burden to their loved ones. One common advancement is the increased ability for people to navigate unfamiliar environments on their own.
Technologies like motion detector lights for when a person without sight enters a room, thermostats that can be controlled with their voice or device, and showers that automatically adjust temperatures can be extremely helpful.
While people with disabilities might not have been prioritised in the development and application of the IoT, there has been a huge increase in accessibility innovations that have improved their quality of life. While more needs to be done to make the world truly accessible, technology is certainly helping to guide it in the right direction.
The author is freelance technology writer, Jocelyn Brown.