Digitalization and Inclusion
At a glance
E-mails and audio books, subtitles, letters on keyboards, speech recognition and voice input (Siri, Alexa etc.) – all these were originally developed for persons with disabilities and are now used by a wide range of people. Why? Trying to overcome barriers for persons with disabilities encourages innovation. Designing products and services to be inclusive from the outset therefore not only benefits persons with disabilities – it promotes usability and user-friendliness for all. At the same time, inclusive design represents a business case by including persons with disabilities in the customer base.
Digital technologies can promote inclusion of persons with disabilities. More than one billion persons with disabilities live worldwide, around 80% of them in developing and emerging countries. By signing and ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with (CRPD) Disabilities and committing to the principle of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) (SDG) “Leaving no one behind”, German development cooperation has committed itself to support the inclusion of persons with disabilities worldwide. Inclusion is easier to achieve in a digital society than in one without smartphones, laptops, internet and artificial intelligence. This is because digital technologies can make previous inaccessible products, services, means of communication and information accessible, thus overcoming existing barriers to inclusion.
Smartphone apps can recognize and describe objects, draw attention to obstacles and enable verbal communication through voice output. Voice output and speech recognition on computers and laptops enable persons with disabilities to access education and the labor market more easily.
However, digital transformation does not always bring advantages for persons with disabilities. Disadvantages can also be reinforced. Why? More and more areas of social, economic and political life are being digitized, while at the same time digital products and services are often not accessible to persons with disabilities. Digital citizen services, digital health services, online banking, online job portals, or even digital educational courses without speech output and simple language exclude persons with disabilities. Moreover, persons with disabilities are disproportionally affected by poverty and therefore often cannot afford digital technologies and expensive additional software. There is insufficient training in the use of these technologies. Governments, employers and citizens are not aware of the benefits of inclusive technologies. Therefore, persons with disabilities are one of the groups most excluded from digital transformations, while everyone – including elderly and illiterate people – could benefit from designing ICT inclusively from the start.