I recently shared with some collegue the need for digging a little deeper when new technology or solutions intended to serve people with disabilities are introduced to the market. On the surface these tools or tech can look like the answer to disability inclusion and equity. However, when you start to do a little research, you find some fundamental flaws in the product or service.
In this week’s post I’m going to share a few questions you need to ask to identify which solutions are gold… And, which ones you’ll want to think twice about when building your accessibility toolkit.
Who does the company say the solution was designed for? And, who was this really designed for?
These questions may seem to ask the same thing. However, a company will often design a solution with a specific user in mind, but it actually benefits a completely different audience. What do I mean? Take the invention of the sign language gloves. This technology has been around since the late nineties but different companies continue to iterate on the original concept. The idea behind the gloves is it enables native sign language users to communicate with hearing individuals when they sign with the gloves on. On the surface this seems like a great idea. However, the deaf individual doesn’t benefit from wearing the gloves, only the hearing individual does. The hearing individual isn’t automatically able to communicate with the deaf individual using the gloves. So, this is a perfect example where the inventor/company created something for people with disabilities to use, but it benefit those without the disability.
Who was included in the product development?
If we continue to use sign language gloves as the example for this question, we learn that those included in the product development did not have a hearing disability. They may have had a family member with a hearing disability, which led them to inventing the gloves. So, the intention was good, but there was a key individual left out of the development. This leads to the next question you should ask.
Who was excluded?
In the example of the gloves, deaf individuals, who use sign language as their primary language, were left out of the product development. Had the inventors included deaf individuals in the design and development stages of the product, they likely would have found that the solution didn’t address the problem deaf individuals face. Or, the problem may have been the same, but the solution would have been different. This is where designing with, not for, people with disabilities is so important. When we make assumptions based on our lived experiences, without including the people we set out to serve, we often ask the wrong questions, solve the wrong problem or create the wrong solution. And in business, that can be very expensive and bring a whole host of other negative impacts to an organization. The last question we’ll visit is an extension of ensuring you have the right users in the room from the outset.
How is the solution being received by the audience it is intended to serve?
Before selecting a tool or solution to help your business with its accessibility efforts, its important to take the pulse of how people with disabilities are reacting to the solution. You may find by researching that a particular solution is viewed as a band aid to a gaping accessibility wound a company has. You may find that individuals with disabilities view companies that use that solution as ones who do not walk the talk when it comes to accessibility. Do you want to be lumped into that camp? Or, do you want to be viewed as an organization that takes accessibility and disability inclusion seriously? If its the latter, you probably need to look for another solution.
There are many companies and inventors out there working to create a more accessible and inclusive world for people with disabilities. The intension is great. However, if you take nothing else away from this post, its the companies that design with people with disabilities that are on the right path to designing solutions that are actually useful. So, the next time you’re checking out a new technology or buzzy invention intended to create greater disability equity, ask yourself the above questions and see if it really is gold.