As a disabled person, I have a love-hate relationship with technology.
And I don’t just mean the frustration caused by my phone constantly predicting ‘duck’, when what I really want to type is ‘f**k’.
Without a doubt, technology has opened up the world to me.
Literally, in the case of my fully accessible home.
My windows are automatic, my front door is automatic, my ceramic hob in my kitchen is hydraulic, and I have smart technology that controls my lights and television through my Alexa or mobile phone.
There are also my wheelchairs.
I would hazard a guess that any wheelchair user will say that the best invention is the wheel. It is a tool of independence, autonomy, liberation and comfort.
A friend told me recently, after seeing me for the first time in my electric wheelchair, ‘great, now I don’t have to push you anymore’.
It was a joke, but I couldn’t help but think that my electric wheelchair allows me to free myself from a trained world.
For example, last week, I took a well-deserved break from work and went on vacation to my local area.
The first day, I was in my electric wheelchair, going the furthest I’ve ever been alone.
As I zoomed in and out, dodging obstacles on the street, I felt like I was playing a game of Mario Kart, but instead of hitting mushrooms and finding coins, I was avoiding the variety of garbage bags, dumped electric bikes, potholes, and, oh yes, those annoying pedestrians.
This chair is almost like a Transformer; the speed, the phone charger, the recline function and the ability to get up to eye level. It is a wonderful creation and I am in awe of the technology.
The electric chair allows me to clear my mind and do my day to day without being accompanied.
However, while there are many benefits that come with technology, we still live in a disabling world, and one that is moving away from labor in favor of technology.
And this comes with many disadvantages for disabled people like me.
For example, in my electric chair that day, feeling free and calm, I headed straight to the stores. My favorite hobby.
We deserve to feel heard and included when it comes to innovation
But when I got there, I was met with self service checkouts.
While designed for quick and easy service, for me and many other people with disabilities, the lack of face-to-face services can put us at a disadvantage.
The boxes are not only too tall, they are awkwardly designed so you can’t get close to them with a mobility aid. So, I waited for someone to help me.
Luckily, he wasn’t in a hurry. But it’s a fact of life that people with disabilities are used to having to wait to just get on with their day.
In just a few hours, I had seen how accessibility and technological advances had empowered and liberated me; then in the next breath they disabled me and took away my autonomy.
The cycle of celebrating personal victories, only to then face life’s more disabling and limiting barriers, is a constant roller coaster of emotions.
We still live in a disabling world, with substandard accessibility.
Therefore, disabled people in general are more likely to rely on mechanical devices and technology, such as elevators, wheelchairs, and communication aids.
Unfortunately, these things can malfunction, or get abused and mistreated, leading to breakdowns and making the person who relies on them dependent on others.
Trusting technology can make life less free and less predictable, compared to our able-bodied friends and family, who can often take these conveniences for granted.
In fact, I would say that the technology is capable.
Empowered people have been reaping the benefits of technology and accessibility features like Siri, Google Home and Alexa for years.
Many disabled people describe this phenomenon as accidental accessibility.
This is when a product or service is designed for a larger market and then, because of its design, “accidentally” makes things much more accessible to people who are deaf, disabled, or neurodivergent, rather than having been designed with that in mind. account your needs.
But, for me, there should be nothing accidental about it.
It all comes down to wanting to invest in people with disabilities and value their lives as equal members of society.
Changing the way others view people with disabilities can seem like a daunting task, and trying to get big companies to invest in inclusive design is even more difficult.
However, some progress has been made in highlighting the ‘Purple Pound’, which is the combined purchasing power of the disabled community – an estimated £8 trillion globally. This has led some investors to think about people with disabilities and their needs. And with those numbers, they’d be fools not to.
However, many people still miss the big picture, namely that disability is a social construct. We must remember that although people may have conditions or illnesses that affect their lives, it is attitudes and environmental barriers that disable them, rather than their disability.
Therefore, in my home I have my conditions, but I am not incapacitated; technology and accessibility features and settings allow me to be almost completely self-sufficient.
The reaction to this, however, is often, ‘well we can’t have that everywhere, it would be too expensive and not everyone is disabled’.
However, ask yourself if there is anything I have mentioned above that would be a hindrance, detrimental or inconvenient for a person without a disability.
In fact, having an automatic front door, which I operate with a remote control, is wonderful when you come home drunk and can’t fit your keys in the lock. Win, win!
An inclusive society is a better society for all and that means thinking about everyone’s needs when looking at technological advances.
How do we do this? Simple. People with disabilities need to be involved in the conversation, right at the idea stage.
15% of the world’s population has some form of disability, and anyone can become disabled at any time.
Let’s use the wonders of technology to benefit everyone, not just the able-bodied among us.
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