Companies that address accessibility needs in their IT product development are better positioned to leverage those same assistive technologies to mass market solutions, according to Gartner, Inc. (http://www.gartner.com).
The research group says that people with disabilities (PWD) are an underserved market segment with one billion people worldwide. They and their immediate friends and family have an annual disposable income of more than IS$8 trillion.
"People with disabilities make up 15% of the world 's population and some of the assistive technology marketed to people with disabilities can also be sold to the other 85% of the population that is 'situationally disabled' by their environmental conditions, at work and at play," says Andrew Johnson, managing vice president at Gartner. "Every day situational disabilities include listening to a conference call in a noisy airport, or using a mobile phone while driving or while wearing gloves. In many cases, assistive technology features will not only help mitigate common environmental factors, but can be used as the foundation to improve security and enhance privacy for everyone."
Additionally, businesses that create a workplace environment that is accessible for PWD can realize increased productivity from non-disabled employees, he adds. Assistive tools by definition are designed to improve the work environment. Some employers fear that accommodating PWD will result in high accommodation costs, but evidence does not support these fears.
"Assistive technology" is a term used to describe products and services used by individuals with disabilities in order to perform functions that might otherwise be difficult or impossible. It includes hardware, software and peripherals that assist PWD in accessing computers or other information technologies, at home and in the workplace. Examples include keyboards with large keys, screen-reader software that reads text on a phone or a computer screen, software that enlarges screen content, and products such as a text telephone.
"The assistive technology market itself is vast, but the potential market size is considerably larger when devices designed as assistive technology can have applications for the mass market," says Johnson. "Consider the impact that regulations for accessibility in Web technology have had on device features. Text-to-speech recognition not only allows sight-impaired people to listen to the printed word, but also helps solve part of the distracted driving epidemic by delivering audio versions of text messages. Similarly, optical character recognition that began with creating devices for the blind, but has expanded into applications such as license plate recognition used by law enforcement."
He says the size of the PWD market segment will increase in the coming years, partially as a result of global aging. By 2050, 30% of the population of 64 countries will be more than 60 years old, an age where a greater percentage of people have disabilities. As the numbers of PWD increase, so does the market opportunity. Gartner has identified three basic approaches to the PWD market:
° Customized solutions narrowly targeted to specific PWD types: companies using this approach are usually smaller, have dedicated product development efforts and use resellers that focus on the PWD market. Assistive technology is their core business that might limit opportunities to the larger market but allows them to achieve their organizational goal of innovating for the PWD market.
° Mass-market solutions positioned with side benefits to PWD: companies using this approach are usually larger, leverage existing features, tweak messaging and use mass-market channels to appeal to disabled individuals and their family and support network. They do not create products for PWD; rather, they embed accessibility features into their products.
° Line extensions with redesigned products for PWD: the line extension strategy is a hybrid approach where a mass-market product is modified to PWD.
While the approaches to accessibility may be varied, the trend toward IT consumption patterns that place users at the center will continue to drive consumer and enterprise IT requirements for the foreseeable future. With the trend toward more human-centric design, accessibility and overall usability for the largest percentage will become more important.
"Regardless of the go-to-market approach, the marketing organization needs a keen understanding of the PWD market and related government regulations," says Johnson. "Suppliers should designate a leadership position, such as a chief accessibility officer, to take the lead in educating the organization and customers on assistive technology. First step should be to evaluate your company's intellectual property and product portfolios to assess how they can be leveraged to the PWD market. Consider various business approaches ranging from licensing, manufacturing, partnerships and branded offerings."