Accessibility and Digital Devices

We are well into the digital age. We all encounter technology on a daily basis. Entertainment to shopping to business use technology in some capacity. As consumers, it’s important technology can be accessed by all.

Digital devices such as check-out pads from ATMs to restaurant menus to airport check-in are popular. These devices often make life convenient. At least convenient if a consumer can access it. However, just like websites and apps, if accessibility is not built into these devices, blind and visually impaired consumers have difficulty using them; and in most cases, cannot independently use them at all.

Millions of people in the US are blind and low vision, and this number is projected to increase by 25% each decade, according to the National Institutes of Health. This means millions of people encounter inaccessible devices daily. The only issue keeping disabled people from using such devices is the lack of accessibility. If accessibility were built into devices, there would be no issue. And it would broaden the market reach.

To ensure accessibility, here are Universal Design standards to keep in mind when creating a digital device:

  • Is the device easy to use if you can’t see or see well?
  • Is a text-to-speech feature available? And if so, does the device have a headphone jack?
  • Is the device physically accessible for people in wheelchairs or Little People or anyone who can’t stand upright?
  • Is there a feature in place so deaf, deaf-blind and hard of hearing people can use it?
  • Does the device meet with WCAG?

These digital devices often use touch screens. With no audio or tactile feature, these devices are useless to blind people without assistance. And often, blind people lose privacy when having to use assistance. It is possible to modify existing devices and create new devices that are fully accessible for blind and low vision consumers.

The Storm Audio-Mav is already being tested and used in the US. It’s tested positive with disabled consumers. People with vision loss, print disabilities and fine motor disabilities have had success with Storm Audio-Mav. It allows the user to navigate the screen with an audio feature. It has an illuminated, tactile display. It can be fitted to existing devices or installed during the creation of new devices.

Companies with existing accessibility features for digital interfaces include:

  • IBM
  • SeePoint Technology
  • F-Origin

Businesses often rely on the misconception that blind and low vision customers prefer human assistance. The reality is that blind and low vision consumers want equal access so they can participate just like their sighted peers. Providing accessible digital devices is not special treatment but merely affording equal access so devices can be used independently and privately just like the rest of the world.

By Imperfection

Bridgit Kuenning-Pollpeter is a mom and writer from Omaha, Nebraska but recently relocated to Urbandale, IA. When she’s not chasing children, picking up messes or reorganizing the house, she enjoys yoga or reading to relax. In her spare time (A.K.A. her dreams) she’s a Broadway star. Kuenning-Pollpeter is a freelance marketer during the day, a creative writer at night. Her work has appeared in the Brevity blog, The Omaha World Herald, 13th Floor, Misbehaving Nebraskans, Hippocampus, Emerging Nebraska Writers and Random Sample Review. She has her BFA and MFA in writing from the University of Nebraska Omaha. Her essay “The Body” was a McKenna Fellowship finalist, and her essay “Imperfection” was a 2020 Best of the Net Nominee. She is blind and writes frequently about disability. She’s working on a memoir about the disabled feminine experience. With the kids though, expect it in stores in about a decade.

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