While the internet often represents a tremendous means of communication and socialization, it can become a real tool of exclusion for people with some form of disability. What computer difficulties do they encounter in their daily lives? What adjustments do the different players have to make so the computer tool is more accessible?
Human disabilities, computer difficulties and solutions
In 2012, Canada identified 3.8 million adults – 13.7% of the adult population – who were experiencing a limitation in their daily activities, and for 25% of them the disability was considered to be very severe. These various people, who have a different approach to computers and the digital world, have to cope with the same computer environment as non-disabled people. Here are some adaptations that researchers, computer developers, politicians, trainers and social services stakeholders are invited to do as part of the Charter of Inclusive Technologies, which dates from 2016.
– Hearing: people who are hard of hearing or suffer from tinnitus and profound deafness will soon be able to benefit from the Brightsign glove, developed by a doctoral student, whose smart sensors facilitate communication between hearing and hearing impaired people. This is a revolution for this audience, estimated at 466 million people around the world, of which scarcely 70 million use sign language.
– Sight: thanks to new technologies, people with blindness or visual impairment (2.7% of Canadian adults in 2012) may benefit from the Braille terminal, voice synthesis or voice recognition.
– Motor incapacity: this groups problems of mobility and agility, which can originate organically (cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis) or non-organically (brain trauma, amputation, spinal cord injury). Browsing the internet will be facilitated by functionalities accessible on the keyboard (mouse control is more difficult), a more logical tab order or an extension or deactivation of the time limit for filling out an online form.
– Cognitive disability: this category – which in 2012 represented close to 3.3% of Canadian adults – relates to learning disabilities, intellectual deficiencies as well as pervasive developmental disorders. In order to assist these people having problems of attention, memory and alertness, it is suggested that web pages be very organized around titles and subtitles, avoiding graphics, animated content and pop-up windows.
In addition to adaptations to be made on the web to facilitate the lives of people with a disability, improvements can also be considered in the housing sphere in general. In 2010, Dany Lussier-Desrochers, a professor of psychoeducation at the Université de Québec à Trois-Rivières, conceptualized the smart apartment that can accommodate four or five people with a disability preventing them from being fully independent. It is a veritable compendium of small technological tricks to facilitate and secure the lives of residents, using technological adaptations for their specific problems. Located in the premises of the UQTR at the Pavillon Michel-Sarrazin, this smart apartment among other things guides tenants during the night to the bathroom with a light path, warns them via a text message if a tap is running for more than three minutes (message relayed to parents after three unsuccessful attempts) and alerts the pharmacist – through a smart pillbox – if an abnormal dose of medicine has been taken.
These tools and concepts are generally of great hep to facilitate the life of people with disabilities, although some see them as discriminatory and prefer to live as much as possible “like others”.