When most people talk about technology and “accessibility” the discussion tends to circle around individuals with physical or cognitive challenges, as well as people of advanced age.
With a significant chunk of the population(Baby Boomers) entering into old age and millions of people managing disabilities, smart devices that comprise the Internet of Things (IoT) have emerged at a critical time, improving accessibility in many ways.
Accessibility as a quality-of-life factor is of universal interest as it is a crucial part of modern society. A recent report by the online security company McAfee found accessibility, as it related to IoT, critically includes the access to information on various networks and in a wide range of situations. For instance, a person with hearing loss may require subtitles on an app or instructional video, and if the user changes from one network to another that does not enable subtitles, accessibility has been lost.
Clearly, for those who need certain accessibility standards, user experience is not just an issue of convenience, it is a matter of necessity.
Moreover, most IoT devices tend to function in their own individual channel. For instance, to control three different devices may require three different smartphone apps. For people with various challenges, interconnectivity and interoperability are not just matters of convenience,they are essential to making IoT useful.
Accessibility in the Home
A number of IoT devices include abilities to assist those with different accessibility needs to manage their domestic life.
Smart home devices may make it simpler for individuals with physical disabilities to control and get around in domestic surroundings. Smart lights, speakers, thermostats and appliances can all be manipulated with smartphone or voice commands. Virtual assistants like Amazon's Alexa can allow users to set reminders, search for information, get in touch with loved ones and call for help. Non-personal devices like motion detectors and air quality sensors can be used to support the health of residents with different needs. The information that these IoT devices generate can assist those who provide care, allowing them to adjust their treatment strategies based on data and insights.
The collective use of IoT in buildings can also facilitate the development of so-called “smart cities.”
The term smart city is generally used to define strategies that leverage IoT and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to boost efficiency and accessibility in an urban environment. One example of a smart city campaign is the widespread installation of fibre optic cables to facilitate applications like tele-medicine.
Furthermore, one of the fundamental accessibility issues for buildings and cities is not addressing shortcomings, it is knowing what accessibility deficiencies are in the first place. On most occasions accessibility measures and guidelines are applied, but their use and effectiveness are not tracked. If there is a situation that makes measures unusable the issue can go unresolved for a long time. For instance, the creation of a wheelchair-accessible ramp on a building can be rendered useless if it is followed by the installation of signage or other structures that obstruct the ramp.
Simply put, there is no ongoing, real-time monitoring that establishes what accessibility actions have been, or continue to be, effective. The current solutions are concentrated on performing manual surveys; in particular, environments and time periods, at significant expense and without assurances that these moves are a marked improvement for people.
Scientists are currently working on various models for analysing the efficiency of accessibility in buildings and urban environments, improving habitability, boosting quality of life and attaining equal opportunities for individuals with disabilities. An effective model would offer automatic tracking tools supported by IoT and other technology to dynamically find, evaluate and describe accessibility issues, producing value-added accessibility data.