Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Accessibility: A $ 12 Trillion Opportunity!

Do you know, that total population of people with disabilities in the world is 1.2 billion which is roughly equal to the population of India or China? And only 1 of 10 people with disabilities are able to get gainful employment? For example, employment rate for people with disabilities in India is only 1 out of 200 instead of 1 to 20? How come such a large population could be ignored even though the number of people with disabilities in India is equal to the population of United Kingdom? Even in developed country like United States, labor Force Participation for People with disabilities is  20.7% as against People without disabilities:



Think about it, in United States there are 54 million people with disabilities according to the definition in American's with disabilities act. Which is roughly one sixth the population of United States. If we extrapolate this number for the whole world, roughly the world population of people with disabilities is 4 times the population of United states, that translates to a population around 1.2 billion. The world GDP is nearly 70 trillion, so we can safely calculate that people with disabilities could contribute around 12 trillion worth of output if they are trained well and get accessible products and services. Shouldn't we invest for the potential productivity improvement of such a gargantuan magnitude?


One reason for such a large scale discrimination is that our society is built for majority. Even though 1 in 10 people are left handed, most of the devices can only be operated with right hand. Even though 1 in 10 computer users experience hearing difficulty, many videos and audios do not have captions or transcripts. Even though 1 in 4 computer users experience difficulty with their hands or legs, many computer applications can only be operated with mouse. And even though 1 in 4 computer users experience visual difficulty, most of computer  applications can not be used with a screen reader or a magnifier.


There are similar problems with education. Many people with disabilities do not get quality education. For example, when I was studying in the special school for the blind,  I often didn't get enough course books: for mathematic subject in eighth grade, I got only 1 Braille volume which contained first 2 chapters. Another problem was that mathematics was and is still not taught after 8th grade in special schools for the blind. If this was not enough,  many special schools don't teach English very well and predominant language of education is Hindi. Since in India official work is mostly done in English, teaching in Hindi or other regional languages alone significantly limits ability of people with blindness to get quality jobs.


There are many other products that are not accessible. I have a digital TV at home, but I can not use it as effectively as a person with sight would do because it is not designed to be usable for persons with blindness.

Similarly, washing machines, micro waves, and other equipment for daily use are not accessible. Until recently, if I had to withdraw money, I would need someone's help, in turn compromising on my privacy. Though there are special equipment's available for blind persons, such equipment's are often obsolete and are not available everywhere.


There is a way, and the way is shown by Steve Jobs. Do you know that an iPhone can be used by a blind person, hearing impaired person or a person with mobility difficulties? Steve jobs could easily ignore accessibility in iPhone but he was not a person who would ignore such things. He cared to make it happen or the systems that he had setup at Apple made it happen, but what we learn from him, is to pay attention even for things that may evade an ordinary leader. iPhone has not only transformed mobile industry, but it has also transformed accessibility for persons with disabilities. Steve Jobs and Apple have also shattered my belief that it is impossible for mainstream organizations to build products for persons with disabilities. An iPhone is not only accessible, but it is a model of accessibility among touch screen devices.


Another reason why we should care for these problems is because There is no guaranty that any one of us would not become disabled in the future.

Most of the people with disability acquire disability late in life such as problem with hearing, insufficient vision or problem with motor movements.

Investment in the technology and training for people with disabilities also serves as buying an insurance for people without disabilities. We invest billions for other types of insurance, why can't we invest for productivity improvement of people with disabilities?


So accessibility is not a nice thing to have, it is a human right and essential tool to improve world productivity


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