Technology changes so quickly in our world. There is seemingly no end to the variety of new tablets, smartphones, and other devices that are introduced every month. Hardware comes and goes as developers seek to offer form factors and features that they hope consumers need. Too often, however, the needs of people with cognitive disabilities are not taken into consideration by developers, which results in devices that are largely inaccessible to this significant segment of society. Needs-driven design strategies can change that, but only when the needs that are addressed by technology developers incorporate needs from ALL users of technology — and that includes individuals with cognitive disabilities.
Individuals with disabilities have widely differing needs when it comes to accessing information and using technology. Great strides have been made over the years to incorporate features into computer technologies to enable individuals with sensory disabilities, such as those with visual and hearing impairments, to access information and navigate software and the internet. A multitude of hardware devices and associated software have been devised to enable individuals with physical disabilities to be able to access everyday technologies more independently. Unfortunately, individuals with cognitive disabilities are still waiting for similar opportunities. Individuals with cognitive disabilities represent a diverse group including those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, autism, traumatic brain injuries, and individuals with age-related cognition issues — representing over 28 million people in the U.S. alone. Emerging efforts are underway to encourage incorporation of cognitive design strategies into operating systems, software applications, and mobile devices so that this vast population is not left on the sidelines in our increasingly technological society. However, despite the fact that the concept of equal opportunity also applies to digital inclusion, the needs of users with cognitive disabilities have not yet been considered to the degree necessary by developers of mainstream technologies.
There is no time like the present to incorporate cognitive accessibility into everyday technologies to enable access for individuals with cognitive disabilities. This is the call from individuals, their families, and professionals in the field of cognitive disability as underscored by the Declaration of The Rights of People with Cognitive Disabilities to Technology and Information Access introduced at last year’s Annual Coleman Institute National Conference on Cognitive Disability and Technology. The Declaration calls for a movement to accelerate the delivery and implementation of cognitive technology. By making a concerted effort to make technologies accessible to all, including those with cognitive disabilities, technology developers can have a dramatic impact on improving the quality of life for people with cognitive disabilities, their families, and friends, with the added benefit of providing easier to use technologies for everyone across the lifespan.