In their paper Technology for People, Not Disabilities: Ensuring Access and Inclusion, Alan Foley and Beth A. Ferri make a point that technology should aim to assist, not accommodate, different needs from all people. The ideal situation is, through the help of technology, our differences(bodily or mental) would become less predominant in our daily interaction with each other and the world. The purpose of universal design, therefore, is to make sure everyone, with disability or without, to have equal opportunity to access information, communicate and enjoy life.
When I first came to the U.S., for sometime I thought there are more people with disability here than in China. But after a while I realized, the real reason it seems that way is: there are more accessible designs available for them to get by without extra help. Here in the U.S. it’s quite often to run across people in wheelchair or people walking with white cane on the street or going to activities by themselves, but in China, at least several years ago(things are getting much better in recent years especially after the Olympics), more often they were accompanied by their care-givers. Having accessible designs in public places not only is an important way to include people with disabilities to our social activities, but also crucial to respect them as independent persons that can perform the day to day tasks like everyone else.
The rise of internet and smartphones open so much more possibilities to make our world more inclusive and accessible. Both iOS and Android have increasing accessibility options pre-installed on their phone, from voice over, flash alerts to gestures and so on. Now that independent developers are able to realize their ideas and designs at a relatively small cost, more innovative projects targeting on disabilities are to come. As one example, StarHub introduced The Third Eye Project, a smartphone app to help people that are visual impaired to “see” the world around them. The app combines crowdsourcing and volunteering, guides people with to take a photo of their surroundings and upload the photo. Then all the registered volunteers would get an alert and have the option to describe the photo by leaving a real-time comment. Hearing all the comments, the person who took the photo would get an idea of what his/her photo looks like.
The Third Eye Project campaign ad is beautifully done by DDB, see it here: