Man in t-shirt wearing virtual reality headset looking at the camera. Standing in front of a computer in an industrial warehouse space.

Assistive technology describes any tool that assists people with diverse abilities to accomplish tasks. While we might immediately think of modern technology, assistive tech goes back much further and has impacted the lives of people of every ability. In 1808, Pellegrino Turri invented the one of the earliest typewriters to assist his friend to write more legibly, and in 1916, a scientist at Bell Labs created the first electronic hearing aid while working on audio technology for telephones and recordings. Today, commonly-used assistive technology includes screen readers, screen magnifiers, text readers, speech input software, and alternative input devices.

In the recent Silicon Valley tech boom, entrepreneurs and startup technology companies are disrupting business as usual for almost everyone and almost every industry. The world of assistive technology is no different. Here are 2 ways new technologies are changing accessibility.

Updating their platforms to recognize diverse abilities.

At Applied Development, recognizing diverse abilities and championing the right of all people to work and communicate effectively is at the core of what we do. More and more technology companies, and companies that rely heavily on tech, are starting realize they have to update their platforms to recognize diverse abilities. In 2018, rental booking and hospitality broker Airbnb announced they would add 21 accessibility filters. Previously, they had only listed “wheelchair accessible,” which they recognized, “did not always meet travelers’ individual needs.” Google updates G-suite for accessibility as well, adding “Braille support in Google Sheets, and screen magnifier support in Google Slides and Drawings” to already existing accessibility ad-ons in Docs and Sheets.

However, as the World Health Organization reports, “Today, only 1 in 10 people in need have access to assistive technology due to high costs and a lack of awareness, availability, trained personnel, policy, and financing.” Although assistive technologies are growing and adapting, some people will still need the use of Communication Access Real-time Translation (CART) services or reader services in place of a purely technology-based solution.

Developing new, lower cost assistive technology for everyone to use.

In response to the fact that many people do not have access to the assistive, many companies create solutions that they believe will be more available to more people. For example, Japanese inventor Dr. Chieko Asakawa has mostly recently developed NavCog, “a voice-controlled smartphone app that helps visually impaired people navigate shopping centers, museums, hospitals and airports.” Instead of using a separate device, the app can simply be downloaded on a person’s phone. Larger companies realize the benefit of these types of apps. Microsoft supports startups and companies developing new technologies, providing grants “to people using AI-powered technology to make the world a more inclusive place.”

At Applied Development, we champion the right of all people to work and communicate effectively. Our diversability services work in conjunction with assistive technologies, and include sign language interpretation, Communication Access Real-time Translation (CART) services, and reader services. Learn more about our work today.