The Scenario: How Accessibility & Assistive Tech is Building a More Inclusive World for Everyone 

Apr 18, 2024

Written By: Jason Fields, COO

Stakes Are High: Accessibility and Assistive Tech for the Win 

Accessibility in tech is very closely related to, well, tech. When technology is invented, it begins with core functionality and features built to do a certain thing a certain way. If the tech meets with success, the team grows, and new considerations are designed and developed. In a better world, one that works for more people; accessibility should be one of those considerations. Sometimes, new features double up as both core and accessible (think font size and color controls), and everyone wins, but look at any platform out there, and the feature set against the software’s core functions will often eclipse those built with accessibility in mind.   

Technology is big business. Our daily lives are driven, let me say that again, driven by technology. And I don’t mean electronic tools, I mean tech. Been to a hotel lately? Did you use their alarm clock? Probably not; you used your mobile (notice in sleep mode, the display mirrors an alarm clock with big digits? Dual win if I ever saw one). Have you ever been in conversation with a friend or family member and looked up information in real-time on any given subject? Tech drove what came next. 

Definition: Adaptive Controls in Action 

I’m sure there is an established naming convention for timing out accessible tech releases, but since I am a hip-hop snob, I’m going to borrow from the genre and culture I grew up on and love. When I say I am a snob, I am saying that the most important years of hip-hop were 1979 – 1997. The eras are identified as Old School (Sugarhill Gang, Grand Master Flash), New School (Run DMC, Beastie Boys), and the Golden Age (De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Black Star). I’m 47 years old, so the Golden Age had a considerable impact on my life, but these three eras have mad respect for each other, and you can’t get to the Golden Age without Old and New School. But enough about Hip Hop, even though there will never be enough about hip hop. I will borrow the era names to express different points in comparison to when accessibility or adaptive tech dropped. 

Technology & Software 

Old School: Sticky Keys

Introduced in the early ’90s, Sticky Keys were a groundbreaking feature for individuals with motor disabilities. It allowed users to press keyboard shortcuts sequentially rather than simultaneously, making it significantly easier for those who found it challenging to hold down multiple keys at once, like CTRL, ALT, or SHIFT combinations. This feature made computer use more accessible to many, demonstrating an early commitment to inclusivity in software design. 

New School: Built-in Screen Magnifiers

By the mid-2000s, built-in screen magnification tools became standard in operating systems, providing vital assistance for users with low vision. These tools allowed users to easily enlarge portions of their screen, improving readability and navigation. The inclusion of such features directly into operating systems marked a significant step in making technology more accessible without needing additional software. 

Golden Age: Google Live Caption

Introduced in 2019, Google’s Live Caption feature for Android devices represented a leap forward in accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. Using automatic speech recognition (ASR) technology, Live Caption generates real-time captions for any video or audio playing on the device, including third-party apps, without needing an internet connection. This innovation opened up a wealth of content for users with hearing disabilities, making information and entertainment more accessible than ever before. 

Gaming Industry 

Old School: Customizable Controls 

In the early 1990s, the concept of accessibility in video games was not as prominent as it is today. However, some games began to offer basic customization options, such as the ability to remap controls. This feature was crucial for players who found the default control schemes uncomfortable or unusable due to physical disabilities. Although not specifically designed as an accessibility feature, customizable controls were an early step towards making games more accessible to a wider audience. 

New School: Subtitles in Games 

By the mid-2000s, developers started to recognize the importance of including subtitles and closed captioning in video games, catering to players who are deaf or hard of hearing. This era saw a more deliberate effort to include these features in the development process, with games providing text for dialogue and, in some cases, descriptions of important sound cues. This was a significant improvement in making games accessible and enjoyable for deaf and hard-of-hearing players. 

Golden Age: Xbox Adaptive Controller 

The Xbox Adaptive Controller was designed primarily for gamers with limited mobility. It’s a customizable hub for connecting a range of external devices such as switches, buttons, and joysticks, which can be configured to fit the user’s unique physical needs. Its design is simple and intuitive, featuring large programmable buttons and a variety of ports to accommodate numerous accessories. The controller can be used with Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs, and it represents Microsoft’s commitment to inclusivity in gaming. 


Old School: Early Text-to-Speech Software 

In the early 1990s, text-to-speech technology represented a significant advancement in educational accessibility, especially for students with vision disabilities and reading disabilities such as dyslexia. These early TTS programs could convert digital text from computers into spoken words, allowing students to listen to their reading materials. While basic by today’s standards, this technology provided an alternative way to access written information, enhancing learning opportunities for many students. 

New School: SMART Boards 

By the mid-2000s, interactive whiteboards, like SMART Boards, became prevalent in classrooms around the world. These tools made learning more accessible by providing a dynamic, visual, and tactile way to present information. For students with learning disabilities, the ability to interact with content in a visual and hands-on manner could significantly improve comprehension and retention. Additionally, these boards could be used to display large, easy-to-read text and vibrant images, benefiting students with vision disabilities. 

Golden Age: Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality for Accessible Learning 

In the last five years, Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) technologies have started to make their way into educational settings, offering new dimensions of accessible learning. These technologies provide immersive and interactive experiences that can be tailored to accommodate various learning styles and needs, including those of students with disabilities. For instance, VR can create simulated environments for students with mobility disabilities, allowing them to experience field trips and physical activities in which they might not otherwise be able to participate. AR can overlay text, audio descriptions, and visual aids onto the real world, enhancing learning for students with visual or auditory conditions. Moreover, both VR and AR can be used to simulate social scenarios or provide step-by-step task instructions in a controlled, repeatable manner, which is particularly beneficial for students on the autism spectrum. This blend of virtual and augmented realities in education represents a forward leap in making learning experiences more inclusive and accessible to all students. 


(it’s worth noting that while progress has been made, many of these ‘innovations’ remain burdensome to use) 

Old School: TTY (Text Telephone) 

In the early 1990s, TTY devices were essential in bridging the communication gap for deaf and hard-of-hearing patients in healthcare settings. These devices allowed patients to communicate via typed messages over telephone lines with healthcare providers. Hospitals and clinics equipped with TTY devices could offer better accessibility to their services, ensuring that patients who were deaf or hard of hearing could relay their medical needs and receive information effectively. 

New School: Electronic Health Record Systems with Screen Reader Capabilities 

By the mid-2000s, the adoption of Electronic Health Records (EHR) systems became more widespread, and with this shift, came a focus on making digital health information accessible. EHR systems designed to be compatible with screen readers and other assistive technologies allowed patients with vision disabilities and healthcare professionals to access medical records and health information. This advancement ensured that patients and staff could participate more fully in healthcare processes, from treatment decisions to personal health management. 

Golden Age: Telehealth Services 

In the past five years, the rapid expansion of telehealth has been accompanied by a concerted effort to enhance accessibility. Modern telehealth platforms now incorporate features like closed captioning for patients who are deaf or hard of hearing, compatibility with screen readers for blind and low-vision users, and simple, intuitive interfaces for patients with cognitive or motor disabilities These features make healthcare services more accessible by allowing patients to receive care from the comfort of their homes, reducing the need for transportation and addressing exposure risks for immunosuppressed patients. 

Public Service Announcement: Accessible and Assistive Tech is Good Business

Historically, addressing the needs of people with disabilities required investment without an understanding of the financial return. Yes, maybe this was prevalent in the previous century, but it is a sentiment that is slow to be erased. Today, conversations about accessibility and assistive tech revolve around ethical business as much as any other motivator. But the truth is that people with disabilities have money to spend and are hungry for solutions. Imagine being among the first to truly serve them, like you serve the mass market. Here is what you should expect to gain: 

  • Innovation and Market Leadership: Apple’s development of VoiceOver for iPhone showcased the company’s commitment to accessibility, earning special commendation from the National Federation of the Blind. This innovation not only served users with visual disabilities but also propelled the wider adoption of personal digital assistants​​. (reference) 
  • Enhanced Brand Reputation: Google’s commitment to accessibility, including features like high-contrast modes and auto-complete, not only catered to users with disabilities but also improved the overall user experience, showcasing the company’s innovation leadership in the tech industry​​. (reference) 
  • Increased Market Reach: The global disability market is estimated at nearly $7 trillion, with the discretionary spending of people with disabilities in the US alone over $200 billion annually. Making digital products accessible taps into this substantial market​​. (reference) 
  • Driving Innovation: Accessibility considerations can lead to groundbreaking solutions that benefit all users, not just those with disabilities. This includes creating more intuitive user experiences across various digital platforms​​. (reference) 
  • Winning Customer Loyalty: Companies that embrace ethical policies, including digital accessibility, are more likely to win and retain customers. Ethical consumerism has grown significantly, with a notable portion of consumers prioritizing companies that hire individuals with disabilities​​. (reference) 
  • Boosting Profits Through Inclusive Policies: Research by Accenture found that companies with best-in-class disability inclusion practices are twice as likely to outperform their competitors, highlighting the financial benefits of inclusive policies​​. (reference)

Supreme Alchemy: The Next Era of Accessibility and Assistive Tech 

It might be too early to designate a name for the next era of Accessibility and Assistive tech, but if I have any say in it, I will call it Personalized Accessibility; in hip-hop terms, maybe we call it Fusion (a throwback to the Jazz era). The most important thing we do at Cephable is give absolute control to the user. With our enterprise customers, we stay true to the mission by extending the abstraction of individual control to the software’s core functionality. This is the key element of Supreme Alchemy: “the power of transforming something in a mysterious and impressive way” (Merriam-Webster).

Cephable transforms other software in mysterious and impressive ways. There are reasons tech companies focus on doing one thing well: competitive moat, market share, market leader, etc.… When the market is as competitive as it is today, maybe it’s too much for tech companies to do it all well; they need a solution that layers on and brings their core set of functionalities to life in a different way. This relationship with tech isn’t new, yet it has been applied to accessible and assistive tech in very limited ways due to historical limitations. But the time is now, and we’re here to answer the call. 

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