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Many people are surprised to learn just how much of the world’s population is affected by a disability, and how valuable accessible design of electronic and information technology (E&IT) also known as Internet, Communications and Technology (ICT) is to local, state, federal and government, private industry, and educational institutions across the globe.

Making technology usable for all has become imperative for unleashing the potential of all and is critical for any organization wishing to remain relevant in the 21st century.  Technology is accessible if it can be used just as effectively by people with disabilities – including the elderly and veterans with disabilities – as it can by those without. Half of the world’s population is impacted by a disability in some fashion, making accessible design critical to private industry, government and educational institutions.

To understand the impact one has to look no further than the World Health Organization which indicates that people with disabilities are the world’s largest and fastest growing minority group.  They also estimate that globally, 1 in 7 people have a disability.  With the population of the United States aging, and the likelihood of developing a disability or other mobility limitations increasing with age, the growth in the number of people with disabilities can be expected to rise dramatically.  Also impacting this formula is the growing population of veterans with disabilities.

Public and private entities that make their technology accessible can reach and better serve an untapped and underserved market, a demographic that represents both spending and voting power, a population that exhibits a strong desire to learn and improve despite facing physical and developmental challenges (The Solution Marketing Group, 2007).

Around the world more than 750 million people with disabilities are gaining recognition as a significant and growing market for products and services, and they are making their needs and expectations known to governmental bodies, organizations and businesses. Using information and communication technology that is accessible is the fastest way in which to reach and serve people with disabilities in an equal fashion to those without disabilities.

Millions of people with disabilities regularly travel, shop, go to school, and eat out with family and friends.  A study by the U.S. Department of Education found that one in three households in the U.S. is affected by a disability. The 2000 U.S. Census reported that almost 42% of older adults (65+ years) have one or more disabilities. In fact, in the US the percentage of people with disabilities is larger than any single ethnic, racial, or cultural group.  At 19.3%, the number of people with disabilities exceeds the next largest group — Hispanic people (14.9%) — by a fairly wide margin (U.S. Department of Justice, 2005).

Harmonization of state, federal and international accessibility legislation, regulations and standards offers the promise of constraining the cost to vendors to test and certify E&IT product compliance to diverse sets of otherwise similar accessibility guidelines. Consumers of all abilities benefit from the reduced cost of bringing accessible E&IT products to market when harmonization of accessibility laws, regulations and standards is embraced.

An inclusive and universal design approach to technology is critical to both government agencies and private industry wishing to anticipate future needs of this growing population.  By recognizing the importance of the protection and promotion of the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities through assistive technology, the world is just beginning to strengthen policies, strategies, and programs along with an increase in awareness of the public at large of the importance of the issue of disability and assistive technology.

Where environmental and privacy issues are more homogenous, issues around E&IT tend to be more disparate.  Due to the many types of disabilities and age-related impairments, a one size accessible product solution does not fit all.

Providing accessible E&IT products, web and non-web-based information and services also benefits the growing population affected by age-related impairments, in addition to people with disabilities.

“Underlying the legal and practical realities of the ‘information age’ is the recognition of the vast capacity of accessible technology to unlock human potential, to tap into great reservoirs of intellect and ability that have gone largely untapped until now, and to maximize productivity and performance for all,” says John Kemp, a leading disability law expert and CEO of Abilities!  A NY based non-profit that supports people with disabilities.  www.abilitiesonline.org

Nations across the world are currently adopting new laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability, as well as increasing the protection of civil rights for people with disabilities and expanding freedoms for all.

Demand for accessible technology and services will continue to rise as well as the public’s understanding of, and requirement for, technology that is usable by every citizen.  (Forrester Research 2003.)

To comply with guidelines and to include this valuable group of consumers, it is important that all diversity and HR processes, information, communications and technology (ICT), product development and service touch points are fully accessible to everyone.  This includes mobile technology, kiosk, software, documents, social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.), websites, and other forms of communications.  The need to be accessible grows as our reliance on technology and use of social networks increases.