While the political focus on what helps disabled people has remained focused on money, in terms of welfare benefits, and social care, namely the provision of human support, the biggest thing I feel that enables and empowers disabled people is technology and especially inclusive technology.
Inclusive technology is any technology that is designed to include disabled people with specific requirements to enable them to participate in one or more activities they would otherwise find difficult to do so. It can be the big stuff like high tech computer accessories, or low tech stuff, like wide-handled cutlery. It can often be the low tech stuff that can really make the biggest difference to someone's life. Technology can often be inclusive without necessarily being designed for that purpose, especially when it is used in ways it was not originally intended.
I personally feel the greatest device of recent times in terms of being inclusive as been the tablet, not simply because of the device but also the infinite range of Apps available covering every issue you can imagine. Smartphones and tablets are the modern day penknives that I believe have helped disabled people in so many ways that was unconceivable just a few years ago. And the technology is still developing year after year, bringing an array of positive unforeseen consequences.
But there is not a single piece of technology that can solve every problem and many disabled people like myself rely upon a whole range of technology in our everyday lives make it as easy as possible. But new inclusive technology is being invented all the time, and it is a never ending task to look for the next big or little thing that will revolutionise our lives.
In this context, NESTA has launched the 'Inclusive Technology Prize' http://inclusivetechprize.org , a competition to find ideas for inclusive technology for the next generation. Uniquely, the competition is not looking for finished products, or the products in development, but the ideas from disabled people, families, friends and professionals of what they would like to see. This blue sky thinking is a great way to brainstorm what people want rather than just what other people think they need. And with a prize worth £50000, it is worth everyone having a go.
While specialist equipment is often essential for specific needs, I believe the trick to making inclusive technology actually inclusive is to design mainstream products that cater for people with additional needs, and I think this is why tablets have been successful. Traditionally, under the law of averages, products are designed to be used by 67% of the intended population. A good example of this is shoes, which will be made in a specific range of sizes. Anyone with especially small or large feet are required to purchase custom made shoes.
In this way, I regard true inclusive technology as technology designed to be used by as much of its intended population as possible. It is impossible to design any product to be able to be used by 100% of the intended population without additional assistance or equipment, but the challenge is to get it close to 100% as possible. Again, I believe tablets are devices that appear to be taking this challenge on very seriously and remain for me, the most inclusive devices currently available.
We need more inclusive technology both as specialist and mainstream equipment. The successful inclusive technology of the future, like the past, is likely to appear from the most unlikely places and revolutionise our thinking and expectations in ways beyond our current imagination. The future of inclusive technology is something we can never fully predict, and this is what keeps the issue exciting for me.