May 21st is the ninth annual Global Accessibility Awareness Day, a day to get everyone talking, thinking, and learning about digital access, inclusion, and people with disabilities. More than 1 billion people are living with disabilities worldwide and digital inclusion is more important than ever. In addition, due to the current pandemic, much of our learning, working, socializing, and even healthcare are happening online. Even before the pandemic, access to government programs and financial services like banking had transitioned to online in many communities. If these websites, platforms, and portals are inaccessible, it means that 1 billion students, clients, patients, or customers will be left out.
Building an inclusive digital world starts with understanding how people with disabilities use information and communication technologies, from email to the Internet of Things, how these technologies support their independence and community participation, and what barriers or challenges they encounter in using technology every day. Several NIDILRR-funded Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers (RERCs) are focusing on these very issues:
This RERC addresses access to inclusive information and communication technologies (ICT) for people with disabilities. ICTs are an integral part of life, impacting education, employment, health, transportation, and social communication; however, as ICTs continue to evolve (e.g., digital technologies) access for individuals with disabilities may become prohibitive. Among their current projects are:
EZ Access – a simple set of interface enhancements (tactile and software) which can be applied in the design of electronic products and devices such as touchscreen kiosks so that they can be used by more people including those with disabilities.
Morphic – an extension to the operating system that makes computers easier to use, particularly for those who have trouble using the computer. This includes people who need to adjust the computer (font size, contrast, etc.), those who have trouble finding and using features in the computer, those who find the computer too complex or confusing, and those who need special software of any kind.
The mission of the Wireless RERC is to integrate established wireless technologies with emerging wirelessly connected devices and services for a transformative future where individuals with disabilities achieve independence, improved quality of life, and enhanced community participation. Project goals include: (1) creating and promoting inclusive wireless technologies that improve the ability of individuals with disabilities to independently perform activities of their choice now, and in a fully-engaged and all-inclusive future; and (2) working with industry, government, and disability stakeholders to raise awareness and champion adoption of accessible solutions for wirelessly connected technologies. Visit the Wireless RERC to learn about:
Annual survey of user needs. How people with disabilities use wireless technologies, what they use it for, and the benefits and challenges.
Wireless connected devices including wearables and auditory assistive device development.
This center promotes ICT access to existing and emerging technologies for all people regardless of ability and develops and validates ICT applications to improve the capacity for independent living and community participation. Among its activities, this center supports software and hardware developers in developing and releasing their proposals for assistive devices and accessibility apps as well as apps that support the health and function of people with disabilities.
Learn more about the App Factory and the host of apps and tech in production or soon to be available.
The goal of this center is to impact numerous current barriers to opportunity faced by individuals who are blind, have low vision, and have multiple disabilities. Among its projects, the Center develops new tools for accessing graphics such as a tactile graphics helper and sonification cues for computer screen readers, new tools for accessing devices and appliances with digital displays, and tools and techniques to access careers and interests in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) by consumers who are blind.
Check out this center’s Accessible Pandemic Data Bulletin which uses sonified data displays and the t-Scratch Tangible Programming Environment targeted for students who are blind or visually impaired.
This center aims to advance knowledge and accelerate the development, modification, and testing of technology-based interventions and strategies for use in the home and community to promote aging-in-place and reduce secondary conditions among people with long-term disabilities. Learn how digital assistants, smart bathrooms, telewellness, and other technologies can help people maintain their independence, stay engaged in their communities, and stay safe at home.
These are just a few projects working to build an inclusive digital world. Learn more about the research and development projects funded each year by NIDILRR by searching the Program Database and reading summaries of recent studies in our Research In Focus series. You can also explore peer reviewed literature, original research reports, and more in our REHABDATA index of disability and rehabilitation research. Contact our information specialists if we can help you explore this topic!