Empathy in Design: How Cephable is Shaping the Future of Accessibility 

May 29, 2024

Written by: Julia Franklin, CLO 

True innovation in technology extends beyond algorithms and data– it encompasses a deep integration of the human element. By prioritizing empathy, we seek to understand and address the unique needs of the users we serve. Leaders and companies who grasp this concept that building great tech isn’t confined to technical expertise, bridge the gap between code and compassion.

One of our company’s core pillars, “Defiant Optimism,” drives us to challenge the status quo and foster meaningful change, especially in assistive technology (AT) and digital accessibility. We are changing the way that assistive tech is currently provided to individuals and disrupting the high cost and steep learning curves. At Cephable, we want to see a future where accessibility is fundamentally different – more inclusive, usable, available, and affordable.

What’s the Connection of Empathy & Tech Innovation?

Technology is designed for people, so excluding their perspectives in emphatic decision-making undermines a product’s effectiveness. Empathy is a powerful tool and a multifaceted ability that requires several components to be effectively developed. Here are a few key elements:

Active Listening: Engaging fully with others to understand their experiences and needs.

Perspective Taking: Seeing the world from different points of view.

Curiosity: Genuine and authentic interest in others’ lives and experiences.

Patience: Allowing time and safe spaces for people to express opinions without judgment.

Trust: Building and maintaining an environment where people feel comfortable sharing their authentic experiences.

By fostering empathy, teams can confidently guide their advancements. Using a human-centered approach ensures products do more than just perform well; they also resonate on a personal and holistic level, impacting lives beyond screen time.

Applying Empathy to Design

So how have we applied what we’ve learned through our ongoing intention to be curious active listeners within our Cephable community?

Here are a few themes we’ve identified and some ways that we are responding.

“Assistive Technology (AT) is too expensive.”

The full Cephable app is free for individuals to use on their Windows & Mac computers for non-commercial purposes. No ads or upsells. Cephable also works with developers to license & integrate our tools into enterprise software/hardware, so our inputs can live natively across different platforms/websites.

“I need multiple pieces of hardware and software to access my computer.”

Our app offers multiple input options (voice controls, dictation, face expressions, head movement, motion control, virtual buttons, and more) all within one app – allowing complex suites of AT to be simplified. Cephable also works alongside a traditional keyboard/mouse and other AT tools.

“AT tools are hard to take from place to place.”

We use the existing camera & microphone on devices to provide access to new inputs. Individual settings and inputs are saved in private and secure user accounts and available for use anywhere you can log into Cephable.

“The learning curve and setup is too time-consuming for new AT tools.”

Getting Cephable setup takes around 5 minutes for most people including download and install. Our in-app onboarding process quickly introduces concepts of new inputs and profiles. Creating new profiles for apps and programs can happen within seconds using our Generative AI. For folks who want to dive deeper into learning, we have videos and step-by-step guides on every topic related to the app.

“Disabled users don’t have a consistent voice in AT innovation.”

We believe our community of users have the best ideas! So, we built a growing user advisory board, The Consortium. We want to have an ongoing conversation with the individuals using our app as we continue to release new features and versions. Our roadmap is informed and validated by a collaboration between our users and our engineering team.

“Lack of accessibility impacts me far beyond the screen.”

When people lack equitable access to technology, the repercussions can also impact mental health in areas such as social isolation, educational/occupational disadvantages, and reduced independence. We focus on ways to engage our community through making connections at live & virtual events, such as expos/game nights, and connecting them to other partner organizations for additional relationship-building opportunities.

“My disability is degenerative or episodic. I need a tool that adapts or gives options.”

Individuals who use Cephable can choose to use only a single input (voice controls, dictation, face expressions, head movements, virtual buttons) or build profiles to use inputs in different combinations as needed. In addition, Cephable’s voice controls are adaptive and learn about unique speech patterns of each user over time.

Hope for the Future of Accessibility

The journey towards a more accessible future is not a fixed destination, but rather an ongoing journey. Creating a more inclusive digital world starts with active participation and collaboration between individual users and developers.

Here are three pivotal ways you can bring a more empathetic approach into your innovation.

  1. Build Safe Spaces for Dialogue: Foster environments where the folks using your tech feel comfortable sharing their experiences and feedback. Creating a culture of openness and trust allows for genuine insights that drive meaningful innovation.
  2. Ask the Right Questions: Consider how your products impact lives both online and offline. Ensure that all voices, especially those from marginalized communities, are heard and included in the conversation. Questions like “How does our product affect lives on and offline?” and “Are we including all voices?” are essential to guide your development process.
  3. Adapt and Improve Continuously: Recognize that disabilities are dynamic and require flexible solutions. Continuously seek to understand the changing needs of your community of users and adapt your roadmap accordingly. This commitment to improvement helps your technology remain relevant and effective.

Leaders in technology don’t have to choose between empathy and innovation—they integrate both into their everyday practices. Our founder, Alex Dunn, said it best, “There’s no one-stop shop for accessibility, no perfect point solution, and no easy button.” The path towards real inclusion comes from developers and individual users working together to create solutions and dialogue that bring about experiences that are equitable and enjoyable by all.

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