Although we would like to think that technology has helped us interact in ways we never thought possible, there are still ways we can work towards making it more diverse and inclusive. Companies like IBM are making note of this, and they would like to eliminate the barriers to technology for those with disabilities.

Turning disabilities into a abilities

The IBM Accessibility Research group is aiming to bring people closer, regardless of their background. Its focus is on developing solutions that can help people with physical or cognitive disabilities, the elderly, novice technology users, and people with learning, literacy or language challenges.  The ultimate goal is to let people live fuller lives by becoming more independent through access to technology.

barriers to technology

IBM already has a reputation for being inclusive, and the company hired its first disabled employee in 1914. Additionally, IBM trained and hired people with disabilities in the 1940’s to replace military workers during World War II . They also accommodated them as well as returning disabled veterans.  Some of the early accessibility innovations were a talking typewriter, a Braille printer, and a commercially usable screen reader.

The main focus of reducing barriers to technology


According to the Director of Accessibility Research at IBM Dr. Rouyi Zhou, the organization was created in 1999 with the idea of integrating accessibility into their product portfolio. IBM’s research is three main areas, which are technology and innovation, cognitive eldercare, and enablement and guidance.

Technology and innovation includes developing new solutions that helps people navigate the physical and online world, in order to have equal access to information they need to live a regular life.

One example is Content Clarifier, which combines cognitive technology, natural language processing and machine learning. So how does this system work? the system takes a complicated source of content, and filters out unnecessary words and phrases. This will help the user understand it more, and tailors it to the needs of the person.

Cognitive eldercare is a main initiative with the focus of getting rid of barriers to technology, because of how mobile connectivity was a huge technology shift in the 21st century. The growing aging population is considered to be the biggest demographic shift, which will impact many economical sectors.

That is why the Cognitive Eldercare initiative came about, and it aims to help seniors live in their homes longer. It does this with creating smart houses and environments that use smart sensors, Internet of Things, and data analytics. Zhou said family members and caregivers can effectively monitor the health of the seniors in their families, if they have connected devices as well as sensors and cognitive systems.

The Enablement and Guidance initiative will ensure that technology is not only user-friendly, but it is also accessible to developers and designers all over the world. That is why IBM has released open source accessibility tools, which create solutions to help with the testing process.

This will reduce costs by making sure that development and design is done accurately, and new solutions will be readily accessible.  Some examples of what IBM released are mobile and web applications such as the digital content checker and the mobile accessibility checker.

Where will technology take us?

In the future, we will notice how our interaction with technology will change, especially for the elderly and those with disabilities. That is why with these technologies, we can eliminate feelings of loneliness, and improve quality of life.

Furthermore, we are also moving towards solutions that are based on natural human interactions, which will impact us greatly. That is why we will be united when we eliminate barriers to technology.