Technology to connect people
By Martin Malcolm,
I am very pleased to announce that the Churchill Fellowship will be launching a new programme of Fellowships on ‘Tech for all’ in September this year. This is an area of work that is very close to my heart, and as a member of the Fellowship’s Advisory Council I have helped to develop this programme.
"Our ‘tech for all’ ambition is about encouraging better development, better policies and better choices." - Steve Tyler, Advisory Council member
The developments in technology, and the choices it enables, have been moving at an ever-increasing pace. Over the past 15 years we have moved to being a society with very different expectations from before. We rely on online shopping and on-demand entertainment and music. Some of us are increasingly using technology in our homes with systems that offer security, energy conservation and control of devices. Those of us in work have seen the options come to life during the pandemic – such as keeping things moving through internet connectivity, mobile apps and reduced need to travel.
I currently serve as Director of Assistive Technology and Transformation at Leonard Cheshire, a pan-disability organisation which has a client base that in no small measure has benefited from these technologies and scientific developments. At the cutting edge, people with disabilities are beginning to experience very new possibilities. This includes the ability to control devices through eye movement for those with physical disabilities, or solutions that mean a voice can be banked and stored so that if you lose the ability to speak, your persona can live on and your voice can still be heard, albeit delivered differently.
Yet many technologies are delivered in ways that mean people find them difficult to use. Often, not enough attention is paid to the user experience and the journey that people need to take to benefit from technology. Although there are recommendations and standards, developers often ignore them or focus on a ‘minimum viable product’ by developing an offering, getting it out into the market and seeing what happens.
For those happy to act as early adopters or be willing to experiment, that may be fine: but many of us are left behind, either because we feel we don’t understand something that seems impenetrable or too difficult, or simply because we don’t even know options exist.
Yet government services, local councils and certainly many commercial companies have adopted a digital-first approach. Even determining when your dustbin is to be collected often requires engagement with the web.
There are just over 14 million people with disabilities in the UK – a massive and diverse group of people with very different requirements. In addition, there are millions of potential users who are mystified by complicated menu systems that accompany a TV set, or who have fears around misuse of data or feel a lack of control when dealing online. And for some, the challenges are compounded. Language, culture, age, location - all play a part.
Our ‘tech for all’ ambition is about encouraging better development, better policies and better choices. We want to see the use of digital technologies and scientific innovation to deliver products and services for humans: centring on ordinary people who want to do ordinary things that are enhanced by the options available to us, and making life more easy, engaging, social and communal.
Today, more than ever before, the transformations and possibilities are vast. These transformations are perhaps equal to the original printing press – when those who were able to read for themselves versus those who could not meant an enormous gap in choice and in power, between the haves and the have-nots.
We need to see technologies for all come to life, through the policies or processes that guide their development, the ways of finding out about them, the ease of engagement with them, the support around their implementation and the integration of them into ordinary life – such that we can all benefit.
Technologies that are ‘born accessible’, developed with accessibility in mind and that are human-centred in approach are good for everyone. In our small way at the Fellowship, we hope to encourage big change in thinking and delivery.
Our Tech for all Fellowship programme will reopen for applications on 12 September 2023.
Steve Tyler is a member of our Advisory Council and is Director of Assistive Technology and Transformation at the charity Leonard Cheshire. He has a history of developing sustainable and life-changing products around accessibility for disabled people, including leading the team that developed synthetic speech, which led to the voice of Amazon’s Alexa. Steve now collaborates with key players in the technology market as part of the Google Accessibility Strategy Board, the Microsoft accessibility steering group and as a programme lead for the annual M-Enabling Summit held in Washington, DC.
The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.
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