Unlocking opportunities: Making the world more accessible through DisabilityTech

DisabilityTech is a field of technology focused on adaptable, assistive, and inclusive solutions for people with disabilities.

Kushagra leans over a laptop screen, as Lyon holds a scanner over Kim Charlson's hand as she reads braille.

It’s easy to think of disability as strictly defined. A person must look, act, or be affected in a certain way to truly be disabled. In reality, disability is a very common part of the human experience. There’s an estimated 1.3-1.85 billion disabled people worldwide.

How can there be so many disabled folks? Because a disability can be anything from a broken leg, to low vision, to autism spectrum disorder. Anyone can experience disability at any time, and it has no one look or set of requirements. Whether they’re short term or lifelong, all disabilities should be recognized and  supported. 

An illustration of three people standing near each other.

While everyone’s experience with disability is unique, the resources, tools, and accommodations needed often overlap. This is where a term like DisabilityTech comes in handy. It’s an umbrella term for all the different types of tech that serve disabled folks. 

Perkins’ Howe Innovation Center is doing its part to engage the market and stay on the cutting edge. The center’s Executive Director, Sandy Lacey, is leading the conversation on an untapped global market and how investing in DisabilityTech is not just beneficial for people with disabilities; it’s beneficial for everyone. 

The different types of DisabilityTech.

Assistive technology

Technology that enhances the accessibility of spaces, experiences, and activities of daily living.

Examples include screen readers and alternative keyboards.

Adaptive technology

Modifies existing products to customize usage for people with disabilities.

Examples include large print books, differently shaped wheelchair controllers, and word prediction software.

Inclusive technology

Products and services that improve the accessibility and inclusivity of systems (e.g., education, employment, entertainment) for everyone.

Examples include Ipads in the classroom, modified keyboards at work, subtitles displays at the movies

Many devices can fit under all three categories. The context of how the item is being used changes where it goes. 

Where the social model meets the road 

A student sitting in her preschool classroom with fingers on a refreshable braille display with an iPad beside her.

DisabilityTech works best when it validates a person’s right to fully engage in their daily life. This thinking comes from the social model of disability which describes disability not as a deficiency of a person, but a mismatch between what disabled folks need and what society is willing to make accessible. 

Our work at the Howe Innovation Center

The Howe Innovation Center (HIC) is a place where DisabilityTech is really powering up. The HIC’s goal is to connect innovators with the disabled community. Why? Because the best products and designs are made when disabled folks are consulted. No one knows what disabled people need from their technology more than the users themselves. 

“We’ve gone very heavy on data. We are looking at building a community of people with disabilities to meet that demand from the private sector for primary market research, user testing, and customer insights. We want to amplify the lived experience of people with disabilities,” 

Sandy Lacey

Be excited for the tech of tomorrow! 

At Perkins we’re excited to be at the intersection of DisabilityTech and the disabled community. This is an unprecedented time for technological progress and accessibility as a whole. And there is so much more to discover on both fronts. If you’d like to learn more about the relationship between disability and technology, click below. 

Computer code on a screen

How I use IDE with low vision

Fingers type on a laptop.

Hour of Code and low vision

Buttons with addition, minus, multiplication, and equal symbols on them

The changing landscape of math education for learners with visual impairment: Webinar