The business sector is constantly pushing for faster, more innovative technologies, however along with this push is a growing ‘capability gap’ that is affecting millions of disabled people worldwide. Impaired people are becoming increasingly disenfranchised with the digital world, preferring to go without these new technologies than suffer with the limited uses the devices provide them with. Given the growing use of the Internet for information, education, social contact, and, increasingly, the provision of goods and services, a digital divide between disabled people and those whom society deems unimpaired may severely limit the potential of the Internet as a platform on which to establish social inclusion.
Disabled people must frequently overcome additional obstacles before they can enjoy the full range of services offered by the Web – for example, blind people need sites to provide text to images for translation into audible or legible words by specially designed screen-reading devices. Partially sighted people may be especially reliant on large-format text and effective colour contrast. By overcoming these obstacles, the Internet has enormous potential for disabled people. In contrast to other forms of information media, it is the most capable of bridging the gap between unimpaired and impaired users. There should be a push for inclusive website designs, making it easier to use without making the platform unattractive to unimpaired users.
Many would argue that this is easier said then done, particularly in the case of communication technologies like the iPhone. However I would argue that it would actually be relatively easy to create inclusive communication technologies if time and efforts were devoted to this aspect. Companies like Apple are missing out on huge segments of the market that they could be selling their products to. It’s not about adapting current technologies and then re-marketing a new product tailored specifically to disabled people – instead there should be a recognition of the needs of the disabled in the beginning stages of creation of the communication technology so that the device is inclusive from the outset and can therefore be sold to double the market that would have initially been attracted to such a product. Some of the most brilliant minds this generation has seen work at Apple, surely they’d be able to think of a new iPhone that is attractive and useable across all spectrums of people. This is just one of the ways in which the digital divide can begin to be lessened.
Digital inclusion of disabled people is a challenge, but it is one that can easily be overcome if it is given the time. Unfortunately the rapid pace at which technology is advancing is not including many fractions of society that are not considered the ‘norm’. We need to be looking towards enabling these people the right to exercise their citizenship, participate in their communities and participate in the wider world through the use of technology.