Accessible Technology and
ATEC November 2016
Definition of Disruption
One that displaces an established technology and shakes up the
industry or a ground-breaking product that creates a completely new
• Christensen defines new technology into two categories:
sustaining and disruptive.
• The former is founded upon incremental change to a proven or
• Whereas disruptive technology may seek to "wipe the slate clean"
offering an entirely new means of fulfilling a need.
Impact of Disruption
• Large organizations or companies strongly favour sustaining
• With their knowledge of what has proven effective in the past, and
their customer needs they have a tendency to evolve current
technology adding features or functionality.
• As a result they struggle to capitalize on the benefits of disruptive
technologies responding only after their market and customer base
has already been disrupted placing the company at risk
AT and Change
• Traditional products and their developers are facing an uncertain
outlook as they see external influences impacting upon both design
and business models.
• The context within which accessible technology is delivered is rapidly
evolving, driven by shifts in technology design, public policy, changing
aspirations of the market and a public funding crisis leading to
widespread reduction in public spending.
The scope of change
Other industries that have been and continue to be, disrupted include
entertainment, transport and marketing.
These industries have experienced the impact of this, and the field of
access is seeing the first stirrings of similar changes.
• Social, political, economic and technological influences, create an
environment that demands innovation in the field of access for
people with a disability.
• No sector is immune to this, and recent history shows us that
business, public services and lifestyle have all been impacted by
AT and Disruption
• In the field of Accessible Technology we are seeing the first wave of
company mergers and closures, leading to the withdrawal from the
market of well known products that have provided support to people
with a disability in the past.
• The advent and pervasiveness of mobile and portable technologies is
stimulating new ways of meeting needs, this impact is most keenly
felt in the areas of communication aids, low vision aids and literacy
Comparison – Social Impact
• "It is now widely accepted that photography is undergoing a revolutionary
change brought on by new technologies.
• Unlike other crucial moments in the medium's history, such as the
appearance of colour, this transition has led to a radical change in our
behaviour: the constant use of photography, new forms of recording our
daily lives, reconfiguring our relationship with the image, a need for social
representation, new forms of sharing, and faster execution and publication.
• Does this mass production of images, circulating nonstop both physically
and, above all, virtually on the web, contribute to the development of a
collective visual memory?
• This is without a doubt one of the major questions of our time, despite an
increased tendency to see photography as more in the service of
communication than knowledge." (ICP 2015)
• Disruption is about impact
• Upon behaviour, attitudes and business.
• Schmidt E (2013) suggests that
"The screen that you want to apply about technology is not what
technologies are interesting, because there are so many that are
interesting. You want to look at which ones have a chance of having a
volume impact on many, many people, or large segments of the
Technology Innovation + Business Model
• Technology innovations are those that are exponentially increasing in power and scale
while reducing in cost; building blocks for today and tomorrow; and those that are
reshaping industries and markets over the next ten years.
• Examples of these technology innovations include networking and communications,
sensing, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, advanced robotics, 3D printing,
and bioinformatics and synthetic biology.
• Social and business model innovations are those models that provide a platform to
engage, connect and influence; incentivize openness and ecosystem collaboration;
enable new services and monetization models; and expand access to talent, capital and
• Examples of social and business innovation models include platform ecosystems,
outcome economy, crowdsourcing, crowd funding, and sharing economy.
• When we combine technology innovations with the social and business model
innovations, we get industry disruption, and entirely new business opportunities are
created. (Al Jaber 2016)
Disruption and People with a Disability
• In examining the impact of disruptive change upon accessible
technology, it is important that we seek to understand the balance of
risk and benefit that the trend will bring.
• Rapid change is a challenge to many people with a disability. The
struggle to gain access, to buildings, transport, education and
employment is a constant.
• Once any such access to gained, there is a natural tendency for the
person with a disability to seek to maintain that form of access, and
to embrace innovation slowly.
The AT industry and ecosystem
• In recent years the industry has been populated by a mixture of accessible
technologies and assistive technologies.
• Accessible Technologies refer to the mainstream platforms that are in use by a
general population. It includes both hardware and software and may incorporate
a range of integrated access tools that offer ease of access to both content and
functionality of the platform.
• Assistive Technologies will often include these integrated access tools, but are
expanded to incorporate products and services offered by third party developers,
both those created by the open source community, and the commercial offerings
from both private companies and public services.
• The industry also incorporates a range of services that support users of the
technology to make best use of the solutions available. These would include
assessment services, seeking to match technology to individuals, training services
including both AT and ICT training for people with a disability, alongside training
for professionals working with the end user and technical support services.
AT Market - Traditional
• Traditionally the market for accessible technologies was characterized
by a range of specialist goods and services, designed predominantly
for the use of people with a disability and special needs.
• Whilst there has always been a tendency for some technologies to
shift between a mainstream market and a specialist niche market,
these were driven by an opportunity to increase market share and
penetration rather than an attempt to drive fundamental change to a
AT Market - Trends
• Technology provides opportunities for direct access to a range of
products and services, allowing disabled users to purchase accessible
services such as transport, accommodation or restaurants.
• In some cases such access is founded upon products that have been
made technically accessible, but this is integrated with a business
model and user experience that is inclusive.
Trends - New Platforms
The world of assistive technology has seen significant change during the past
2010. Technology industry dominated by Windows, desktop or laptop
Separate from a range of mobile phones where companies such as Nokia and
2016 . Handheld and portable smartphones are ubiquitous and are
dominated by two ecosystems. Apples iOS and Google's Android OS.
These technologies are in the hands of users across the world, with many of
the activities that were previously carried out on a PC now fulfilled on a
smartphone or tablet device.
Trends - Changing Business Models
The industry shift cuts deeply.
Software is no longer downloaded and purchased from the developer’s
Solutions required are often only available through the operating system
Stores have very different business models that increasingly form the basis of
Three examples of this would include
1 Free and Low cost solutions
2 Freemium models
3 Subscription based models.
• Many assistive technologies are available for direct purchase by users.
• On the whole this has been done by means of online sales directly
from the manufacturers website.
• Software is usually made available for download and hardware
delivered directly to the user by post or courier.
• Few manufacturers of assistive technology offer a physical store or
showroom, instead demonstrations of the assistive technology are
facilitated through independent centres and via trade exhibitions and
• Shifts in technology and social influences have meant that the model is facing significant
• We have seen a dramatic change to the direct/reseller model as a result of closed
ecosystems related to the operating system and device manufacturer.
• For instance, those wishing to purchase communication software for the iPad are limited
to a single source of that software, the Apple online app store.
• The cultures and expectations of purchasing through the device marketplace or app store
is significantly different to the attitudes towards purchasing software for a computer.
• Expectation of the price point at which apps are sold and the concept of ownership.
• Traditionally, consumers purchased a piece of software that gave them a perpetual
license to use the software, usually with free updates and a discounted price for an
upgrade when one was released.
• There was a significant upfront cost and lower costs over a period of time to maintain the
• The reverse is now true
Further Business Shift
• Many services which have in the past added revenue to manufacturers are
also undergoing change.
• Traditional models of training users and professionals are being supplanted
by low cost or free eLearning services,
• The availability of training on demand, in a preferred format has impacted
the traditional assistive technology training services.
• The shifts in revenue streams and distribution have significantly affected
the AT market.
• As time progresses we have seen a series of consolidations, mergers and
acquisitions such as the consolidation of Freedom Scientific, Optelec and AI
Squared within the VFO group.
• Reviews of new models of distribution has focused upon the impact on
software sales, but there has been a corresponding interest in the model of
• The need has been accelerated by the increasingly global nature of the
need for accessible technology. New markets are extremely diverse, often
unable to reach the price points offered to western nations, alongside
challenges in identifying resellers for immature markets and difficulties
regarding the import and export of devices and technology.
• Hence an increasing interest in the potential of 3D printing as a means of
distributing simple hardware devices.
• Coupled with the growth of the maker community where designs and
instructions are distributed online and components and materials are
• Current trends in learning and development are likely to impact upon
our field further in the future.
• For instance the growth of MOOC's (massive open online courses) has
led to the development of a range of courses on a diverse range of
issues related to access.
• Such courses are available from major providers including edX and
Coursera and it can be expected that with the increasing availability
of open source platforms upon which to build content we can expect
to see many more such courses in the future.
Understanding the Trend - Wayfinding
Wayfinding solutions have been a mainstream technology that has had significant
benefits for a range of people with a disability.
Hardware devices such as those manufactured by Garmin or TomTom offered
speech output for wayfinding which was beneficial for people with a range of
The success of such systems encouraged the development of specialist wayfinding
systems for those with little or no sight such as the Humanware Trekker Breeze.
However, the popularity of such hardware devices began to decline as a result of
free and low cost applications for mobile phones which used fast 3G and 4G mobile
networks to download data for maps.
Such applications use the on board voice output to speak through routes. Such
technologies were popular with people with a range of needs, as they could be
used in a wide range of settings including public transport and when walking.
Two of the most popular are currently Google Maps and Waze.
Understanding the Trend - Text to Speech
As the transition to mobile and portable solutions has accelerated there has
been a significant change in the manner in which provision for people
utilizing text to speech is made.
There has been a clear shift from the use of a commercially available screen-
reader such as “Jaws” or “WindowEyes” towards the use of built in or freely
Such a shift has been further accentuated within the traditional market by
the availability of a free open source screen reader "NVDA".
Such innovation has been driven by two imperatives.
The first is that increasingly procurement regulations in western states
require devices to offer access solutions within the device,
The second is that in order to make the most devices designed for mobility
and portability, the ability to access media in a variety of forms is especially
Understanding the Trend - AAC
Traditional Voice Output Communication aids were hardware devices
featuring a keyboard or dynamic screen which converted text or symbolic
sentences into speech.
The devices were characterized by being designed for a single purpose
(communication) and were often expensive costing hundreds or thousands
The devices were immensely successful in offering people with a disability a
tool through which they could communicate and are widely utilized in
schools and employment.
However, even at their height of their popularity it was possible to identify
some of the weaknesses of the dedicated devices. Users noted that they
were often heavy and bulky, required intensive training and were difficult to
upgrade and importantly were expensive.
Understanding the Trend - AAC
The response to this opportunity has been significant, one of the first
and most successful of AAC apps was Proloquo2Go.
The app available only on the Apple Operating system revolutionized
the availability of AAC solutions for people with a disability.
Whilst still needing some additional battery support and amplification,
the iPad and app rapidly became the starting point for the provision of
AAC devices by services in many parts of the world.
Understanding the Trend - AAC
• But this was indeed only the start of the disruption to the AAC
• Whilst hugely undercutting the price of a dedicated communication
device, proloquo2go found itself in competition with a rapidly
expanding set of AAC apps.
• Often designed in response to the needs of individual or small group,
and with a range of functionality and associated services the AAC
market has never experienced such a variety of solution, and seen so
many technologies become unavailable so quickly.
Understanding the Trend- Low Vision
A further field of Assistive Technologies that are encountering
increased disruption is that of low vision aids.
Electronic handheld magnifiers had come to replace traditional
magnifying glasses and lenses for many people with low vision.
Examples of such technologies included devices such as the Ruby or
Sapphire devices from Freedom scientific.
The devices feature not only magnification, but the ability to change
contrast settings, colours and to freeze an image to read or view more
Understanding the Trend – Low Vision
• Increasingly people with low vision are moving to smartphones as a
platform preferring the convenience of a single device that can be
carried at all times combined with the ability to select the
functionality that is needed on demand.
Understanding the Trend – Low Vision
One such app that is increasingly widely used is MagX from Claro
Whilst not necessarily having all the functionality of a handheld
dedicated device, it is clear that such added value may not be sufficient
to justify the additional costs.
At a time when funders of assistive technologies are seeking
justification of such price differences during periods of austerity it is
clear that a range of pressures are being brought to bear and disrupting
the traditional provision
• The use of powered personal
mobility aids is increasing.
• Tracked Chairs
• Self Driving Cars
Factors influencing disruption
• Changing Market/Consumer Expectation
• Changing Technology Trends
• Cost imperatives
• Community engagement
• Growth of new developers and research around the world
• Latin America
Future Influences on Change
• Globalisation of Access
• Transformation of Data in the Cloud
• Wearable Technologies
• 3D printing and Maker Communities
• Internet of Things
• To address this, developers and vendors of products and services will have to change
some of the ways in which they work. These might include:-
• Much greater attention will need to be paid to research with a view to exploiting
research outcomes and bringing products to market.
• Increased understanding of the broader needs of their customers, defined not by the
product offering but instead by wider expectations and aspirations.
• Changing business models responding to the trend towards lower initial pricing.
• Whilst the existing industry faces such change as a threat, people with a disability may
see such change as an opportunity. Whilst they may express anxiety that some products
which they currently use may not be available in the future, this is balanced with the
speed with which they embrace new technologies which meet their needs.
• For people with a disability, disruption to the industry may bring about some short term
challenges, but medium to long term will offer much greater diversity of choice and will
address many current unmet needs.
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