Rodney Bell

Strategies for Equal Technology Access

 by Rodney Bell

The Declaration, The Rights of People with Cognitive Disabilities to Technology and Information Access, calls for speedy implementation. “Equal rights” suggests that technology is as accessible by people with cognitive disabilities as it is by others. I offer here a strategic view for implementing these Rights.

Access implies availability, affordability, and usability. Available means a vendor or service provider offers and supports technology suitable for people with cognitive disabilities. Affordable means that it is sufficiently inexpensive for their budget. Usable means it works, is easy to use, helpful, reliable, secure, and so on.

Availability. Vendors now put apps and services on smart mobiles and the Web to speed development and increase availability. Vendors can overcome financial disadvantages of small markets with viral marketing, on-line sales, grants, partners, or parent companies (e.g., provider with a tech division). A novel approach would monetize services through third party beneficiaries; see Social Impact Bonds.

Service providers must change their organization and practices to offer technology to consumers. Managing change and grass-roots support are both important. Incremental, iterative approaches can manage risks. Training and support help providers meet responsibilities for successful use. I explore provider strategies in ANCOR LINKS: Top Ten Guidelines for Adopting New Technology, Riding the Technology Wave, and Making Technological Investments.

Affordability. Using new waivered services, several states reimburse providers’ technology use, notably remote monitoring. For other states, reimbursing labor – not cheaper technology – perversely keeps costs high because providers are reluctant to forgo reimbursement for technology’s extra cost. Agencies and providers might negotiate waivers so as to share cost savings.

Most uses of smart mobiles and the Internet improve lives of people with cognitive disabilities. Some consumers can afford commercial technology as prices fall. For others, can reimbursement shift to mobiles from expensive, specialized devices?

Usability. Market forces make commercial technology more usable by people with cognitive disabilities. Experienced vendors put simpler interfaces on web tools and develop custom personal supports. “Best of breed” and standards can inform new developers what works for people with cognitive disabilities.

Re-assessing ethical concerns can increase accessibility. Supporting social media use with coaching and supervision can reduce risks of association, so consumers can socialize on the Web. Privacy concerns might stall remote monitoring. But, sensors are less invasive than staff checks and systems limit information access. And technology won’t reduce social contact, if providers shift Direct Service Professional jobs to assist with higher-level needs.

Other strategies. Building a legal foundation for Equal Rights might leverage broader movements; see Access to the Internet Is a Human Right Legal Aspects of Interface Accessibility in the U.S. other channels attract supportocial media, press, and public relationships

Inevitable is the trend of technology to pervade social activity. Let us make just as inevitable the rights of people with cognitive disabilities to access that technology.

Rodney Bell, Principal ASSET Consulting, Oregon, is an independent consultant in technology management.