Did The Tech Industry Embrace Accessibility in 2021?
Isadora Teich wrote this article
Many of the biggest players in the tech industry took some big accessibility steps forward last year.
So, let’s take a look at what Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft did in 2021.
Apple has always been ahead of other companies. This is very true when it comes to inclusive design. They launched a host of new features in 2021.
This included updating their screen reader, VoiceOver. It allows more complete descriptions of images. This helps those with visual impairments.
Apple also rolled out a service called SignTime. Users can access on-demand sign language interpreters. It can help users communicate with customer service representatives. This feature is available in the US, UK, and France.
As 2-4 out of every 1000 people in the US are deaf, this will be a highly useful update.
The TD Pilot
The first-ever medically certified eye-controlled iPad case was launched last year. It is called the TD Pilot. Tobii Dynavox created it.
This iPad case is as large as the 12.9 inch Pro model. It includes a powerful eye-tracking sensor. Other features include additional batteries and a wheelchair mount.
This tool will empower those with an incredibly limited range of motion to use the tablet for communication, entertainment, and more. There are a number of reasons why people have a limited range of motion.
This can include being born with cerebral palsy. Others develop it later in life due to things like severe car accidents or degenerative diseases. Often, some change in range of motion, even if it is less severe, accompanies aging.
Google Embraces Accessibility
Google’s brand new Project Relate is currently in beta and seeking testers. This Android App generates custom voice recognition models for people with severe speech impairments. Project Relate can transcribe, display, and read out what users say.
The company also did many things to update its existing products. Last winter, Google revamped its Talkback screen reader. It now offers a series of new gestures and voice commands.
As of March 2021, Google Chrome has also had the ability to transcribe audio from the web for deaf and hard-of-hearing users.
Even as tech makes strides, the vast majority of paid apps on both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store are not accessible.
However, Google made a particularly interesting stride toward a more accessible internet with Auditorial. They partnered with the Royal National Institute of Blind People and the Guardian to create it.
Auditorial is an adaptable storytelling experience meant to suit individual readers.
According to the company:
“Auditorial is intended to pose a question about how much more accessible the world’s information could be, if you could simply tailor every website to suit your personal sensory needs and preferences.”
Google even published its findings with this project in an Auditorial Accessibility Notebook. This is meant to help other publishers make their products accessible to blind people.
Microsoft Focuses More Deeply On Accessibility
In this way, Microsoft is doing something that almost no other tech companies are doing.
In 2021, the company announced a 5-year commitment to building more inclusive products. Their commitment to “bridge the disability divide” also included hiring and educating people with disabilities.
Microsoft is one of the few companies in tech that is actually quite transparent about the actions it takes to improve the training and hiring processes for people with disabilities.
For example, the company invested in its Urban Airband Initiative. This provides affordable broadband, hardware, and software to people with disabilities. It started in Los Angeles and New York.
On top of this, Microsoft also has added new accessibility resources and features to LinkedIn. They will help people with disabilities connect with employers.
Microsoft also launched an AI for Accessibility Low-Cost Assistive Technology Fund. The goal of this fund is to make hyper-expensive assistive technology available to those who can’t afford it.
Amazon Focuses On Aging
Large and harmful misconceptions persist. This likely has kept companies from fully engaging in making their products more accessible for a long time. These include things like:
-So few people are disabled that it’s not worth focusing on them.
-If you are “healthy” and take care of yourself nothing “bad” can happen to you anyway.
– Making something for EVERYONE just isn’t possible.
Ideas like this are not only very ableist and cruel, but they don’t really make sense. Amazon’s approach to accessibility really highlights something which we all should realize.
That is that many things which are considered disabilities are just natural parts of the aging process. This includes changes in eyesight, hearing, and mobility too.
Amazon Alexa Innovations
Amazon introduced two programs as parts of its Alexa Smart Properties Service last year. These allow administrators to offer voice-assisted experiences in senior care facilities and hospitals.
The company also launched Alexa Together. This lets caregivers and elderly individuals connect via an Alexa-enabled device. Its features include fall detection and remote assist. It’s meant to give caregivers peace of mind.
Amazon also introduced a new type of home robot called Astro. It’s a home companion robot. Astro provides easy access to helpful information for users.
Astro can work with Alexa Together. It helps caregivers keep an eye on loved ones remotely. It can even watch your home when you leave.
Astro has been made to help a variety of users too. This includes people who use wheelchairs, walkers, and canes.
The major players in tech made a lot of large steps forward for accessibility in 2021. This is amazing news! But, of course, there is always more work to be done.
Tech is still a pretty new industry. It’s finding its footing in the midst of constant acceleration too.
In addition, it is important to recognize bias. Ableism has caused many organizations to fail people with disabilities historically. This includes everything from schools to even religious organizations.
What do you think? Comment below!
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