It seems that, when it comes down to it, we know that not all technology works for everyone. And while most people are usually fine with that as long as the people being excluded aren’t them or someone they love, companies are starting to realise that more customers mean more money.
With the ubiquity of technology, the aging population, improvements in medical treatments, and fewer people dying young before they have time to develop ailments that require accessibility settings, accessible tech is something more people need now than ever, and I think it’s going to be the defining trend of the 2020s.
Customisable tech that people can make work for them is something people have been crying out for for years, and companies like Microsoft are making it reality with the accessibility features built into the vast majority of their products, as well as the revolutionary Xbox Adaptive Controller.
Already the existence of these products have made people think about their dad’s arthritis and how likely they are to inherit that along with his weird nose. Or see the ads for it and consider how the world must be different for people who can’t use their limbs like they do, and how they’re always just one escalator incident away from it themselves.
The positive reception has then sparked companies like Logitech to make accessories for the Adaptive Controller and work with The Able Gamers Charity and Special Effect.
While the lines of the last console generation were drawn on cost and power (with Xbox having too much of one and not enough of the other), the lines on the next generation might be drawn by how many people can play it.
Even though VR might not quite have become the sensation companies hoped it would be for gamers, it turns out it’s an amazing device for physical therapy and treating a variety of neurological disorders.
It’s not just in games that this trend will stand out. Already Apple made a big point of talking about all the accessibility features built into the new Mac OS Catalina, as well as iOS 13 and Watch OS at WWDC. Features like fall detection, speech to text and text to speech are giving more people independence without calling attention to their potential lack of it, and advancing these technologies by marketing them for everyone.
That’s not to mention the accessibility possibilities of lights and switches which can be controlled through voice, and locks that can be unlocked through the proximity of a phone rather than requiring the hand dexterity to place a key in a lock. Or smart plugs that allow people with anxiety or OCD to double check they really did turn off the oven/iron/other source of concern. Or noise cancelling headphones which give people with sensory issues more confidence when navigating the world.
Many of these accessibility enhancements might have been made for the convenience of able-bodied people, but any technology that makes life easier, and allows greater freedom for people who might one have required assistance in a world not designed with them in mind, is a win.
Bringing about this accessibility revolution will require including more people in the tech industry who aren’t able-bodied tech bros – which is something many tech companies have started actively striving to do, because products made by diverse teams appeal to more people.
The last ten years saw a rise in awareness and consideration for screen readers and making things more usable for people with limited mobility. Now that the ball is rolling, I can’t wait to see what people will be able to do on the world stage in 2030; once the proverbial wheelchair ramp has been installed.
Alice is a freelance journalist, producer and presenter.