Poor levels of website accessibility, financial issues and pressure to integrate with mainstream technology are some of the challenges facing the assistive technology (AT) industry, according to the Executive Director of the British Assistive Technology Association (BATA).
Speaking at the second Assistive Technology Exhibition and Conference (ATEC), held in Sheffield, UK, BATA’s Executive Director, John Lamb, said that the industry must face and address nine key issues to succeed.
Lamb began by telling delegates at his session – ‘The challenges facing AT’ – that the overarching, crucial function that AT needs to perform at all times is to effectively meet the needs of users with disabilities.
While the spending power of £212 billion a year from more than ten million disabled people in the UK gives the AT industry a strong imperative to meet those specific needs, 65% of those people with disabilities are over 65, and therefore twice as likely to be unemployed, said Lamb. “Given that older demographic, it’s really important that the technology is user-friendly and that it’s affordable,” he said.
Achieving this affordability has been difficult, he continued, due to AT products and software being sold in small quantities, and a shortage of people with the skills to develop this specialist assistive software.
Another key challenge facing the industry is awareness, Lamb said. “There is a low level of awareness of assistive technology, and also a lack of understanding of exactly what it’s capable of and – just as importantly – what it’s not capable of. It’s very important that people’s expectations of technology are managed.”
There is also increasing pressure on the AT industry to integrate products with mainstream services, Lamb said. He then used the BrailleNote Touch as an example. The BrailleNote is a refreshable Braille device, powered by the Android operating system and developed by visual impairment AT company HumanWare and Google, demonstrating how specialist AT is beginning to combine with mainstream technology.
Website accessibility remains a significant problem for the AT sector, Lamb said, and although there has been a general improvement across Europe, there is “still a huge job to be done.” He cited various website accessibility issues, including a lack of ‘alt text’, incorrectly titled frames and badly presented tables, as common problems in this area, “all of which are fixable.” Lamb said: “We do have the standards to guide people, so there’s not really an excuse. It’s crucial that the pressure is maintained on the owners of websites.”
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