EXCLUSIVE: Creating assistive tech with the aim of appealing to the masses is a mistake
Richard Purcell, Director of specialist assistive technology solutions provider CareScribe, says that while the pandemic has helped normalise the use of assistive technology for people with and without disabilities, products must always meet individual needs and be created for those who need it most.
Did you know that Netflix recently reported that 80 percent of people watching their platform use subtitles? Most have no hearing loss but find that captions help to focus attention and boost comprehension.
This common use of assistive technology is something we’re increasingly seeing post-pandemic. The past two years have been incredibly challenging, and nothing seems to have been left unchanged by the pandemic – including the societal understanding and use of assistive tech.
Why is that?
The pandemic and its lockdowns drew attention to accessibility issues in a number of ways. Conversation was sparked between those who preferred being at home and attending events virtually and those who were desperate to get out again.
For a number of disabled people across the world, the shift opened up possibilities that hadn’t been available to them before – virtual social events, music performances, working and conferences. It was the first time that society at large began to consider the benefits of going remote.
The pandemic created a situation that forced us all to adapt. Shifts that had been previously declared impossible (companies going completely remote for example) happened overnight and changes were made when push came to shove. People who perhaps didn’t have a disability or hadn’t necessarily faced challenges with accessibility in education before were suddenly forced to change their ways of working, and, interestingly, many were kind of disabled by that.
The fact we spent all of our time on screens meant things like dictation and captioning software became increasingly popular. Employee wellbeing and work accommodations received a brand-new focus and approach.
Assistive tech being more commonly used by those with and without accessibility issues is incredibly positive. I’m delighted to see assistive tech like our captioning software being used by all kinds of people and in a huge array of situations and sectors. People are beginning to see the numerous benefits of assistive technology linked to productivity and time saving.
I am incredibly excited to move into a future in which assistive tech is being used across the board – reaching new audiences like lawyers, doctors, and finance professionals.
The possibilities are endless.
The not so good
As assistive tech becomes more widely used by the masses, the temptation can be to create tech that appeals to as many people as possible.
This is a mistake.
The heart of assistive technology is creating tech that serves the people that need it most. This must always remain the case.
The risk of creating assistive tech to appeal to the masses or tick an accessibility check box is that assistive tech will be created that ultimately isn’t useful for those who it was originally created for.
Assistive technology is about sweating the small stuff. It’s about being specific to an individual’s needs and challenges. That’s what makes it so incredibly effective.
We’re passionate about creating tech for the minority at CareScribe and that will always be our aim. By focusing on the detail, you actually end up creating a product with some fantastic features that can help people to overcome a number of different accessibility challenges. You don’t reach a larger audience by generalising, you do it by constantly improving your product.
Assistive tech has been given the opportunity to truly shine – reach audiences that it never has before. But this isn’t about seizing the opportunity to sell to as many people as possible.
It’s about creating new and innovative technologies to address the needs and challenges of the people that need it most and using this new accessibility awareness to educate people on how they can aid in creating a more accessible world for all.