8 trillion reasons to make your technology accessible

A new report from Gartner reveals a large and growing market for accessible technologies, which some companies like IBM are already serving

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An electronic voting machine with tactile controls

Image credit: flickr/AccessibleVoting

If you develop technology of any sort, do you make sure it's accessible to people with disabilities? If you don't think it's worth the time and effort, a recent report from Gartner should provide a lot of new reasons to rethink whether it's worth your time. Specifically, 8 trillion reasons or, rather, $8 trillion worth.

$8 trillion is what Gartner estimates to be the amount of disposable income held by the worldwide population of people with disabilities and their immediate family and friends. 15% of the world population, 1 billion people, have a disability. That's a sizable market, for sure, and it's only going to get bigger as the population ages. By 2050, Gartner estimates that 30% of the population of 64 countries will be older than 60, many of whom will need assistive technologies.

If the size of that market - aside from good old altruism - still isn't enough to convince you to deploy accessible technologies, Gartner raises another good reason: technologies developed for the disabled can also often benefit the non-disabled. This can greatly expand the potential market for a technology. For example, text-to-speech technology not only helps the blind, but also those who can't look at a screen because they're driving or doing something else. 

Hopefully these are enough reasons to get companies (like yours!) focussing more on making technology accessible for the disabled, whether it's designing technology specifically for that market, or modifying existing technology so it can be accessible. Of course, some companies are already doing this, and not just startups or new technology companies, but even old stalwarts like IBM, which brings us to a related piece of news.

Last month IBM and the University of Massachusetts Boston announced a new collaboration to promote the development of assistive technology. Researchers at IBM and UMass Boston will work together to "explore new approaches to infusing accessible technologies into the design process for mobile devices, apps, or websites that eliminates barriers and makes daily routines more manageable," as Tim Powers from IBM's accessibility group wrote to me in an email.

They'll have access to, and work together to enhance, existing technologies developed by IBM's Human Ability and Accessibility Center such as their Access My City app, which will be modified to provide information about accessibility features around campus to make navigation easier, and IBM's Media Captioner and Editor. In addition, the organizations will work together to advocate for policies and legislation that promote accessible technologies. As Frances West, the director of IBM's Accessibility Center, wrote in the press release announcing the initiative:

"Through this public-private collaboration, IBM and UMass Boston can speed innovation and increase digital access, while reducing the usability gap, so that everyone can live to the best of their ability and be productive and active participants in society."

This collaboration is great news and should help further accessible technology. Let's just hope, now, that other companies will follow suit and realize that making technology accessible isn't only the right thing to do, but that it can also be good for the bottom line.

Read more of Phil Johnson's #Tech blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Phil on Twitter at @itwphiljohnson. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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