Advances in technology have broken barriers across countries’ geographic and political boundaries, going to remote regions and connecting people worldwide. However, there is a large parcel of the world population who has not contemplated the benefits of ICTs.
Among the numerous people who face the consequences of the digital divide, there is one group, in particular, that faces it in a way not known for most of digital users. There is a pre-conceived notion that disabled persons are the ones who most enjoy the advances of technology. However, persons with disabilities, from all parts of the world currently find accessibility barriers to use digital technology.
Foley and Ferri bring to the table how technology is developed by and for individuals who do not ‘have disabilities.’ Moreover, they argue that the debate on accessibility should not be limited to people with disabilities but also seen as a way that will create advantages for everyone. Developing electronic devices that benefit the disabled would also benefit all users. In addition to that, including features that increase accessibility for all groups would diminish the current digital divide that persists among them.
A good example cited in Foley and Ferri’s work, “Technology for people, not disabilities: ensuring access and inclusion,” is the fact that an electronic device can offer a feature that would be helpful to everyone using it, not only people with disabilities. For instance, as a foreigner, during my first years living in the United States, I used to watch films with closed caption in order to better understand the plot, as I wasn’t very familiar with the language. The same feature might be helpful to people who are hearing impaired.
However, despite the fact that digital products should be accessible to all groups, it is important to take into consideration that the features developed for these products should keep in mind the needs of individuals with disabilities. Another example discussed in Foley’s and Ferri’s article was the feature developed for electronic devices that allow people to listen to audio books. This might be helpful to drivers who can’t read a book while driving, but it was not directly designed to the actual group who would most use and benefit from such feature, the visually impaired. Therefore, this feature ended up gaining a very small group of users – as not all the drivers are up to listen to audio books, and the visually impaired found it not effectively adapted to their needs.
All the examples cited above remind us of the relevance of the Atkins Commission Report and the UN’s Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Moreover, it exposes the importance of having groups, such as Cotelco, to keep moving forward these commission’s efforts to improve people with disabilities’ rights and even refining them. These initiatives are crucial to address the digital divide that affects people with disabilities which is an issue rarely debated by the majority of ICTs users and developers.
Technology for all helps to educate the ones who are not aware of different needs by different groups of people, and allow minorities to have access to what is part of their right. This is the best approach to close the digital divide gap.