Using Voice Technology to Give Freedom and Independence to Disabled Persons

We live in a world where many of us take for granted the ease of reading our desktop or mobile screens, or use our voice to direct our home or mobile devices. But this ability to communicate via sight and sound with our devices does not come as easily to those persons with disabilities. 

People with disabilities may have trouble reading website screens, listening to audio directions, or just moving fingers across a keypad. These are the forgotten people of the technology revolution. They may have a number of visual, audio or physical disabilities, from Visual Motor Deficit to Auditory (language) Processing Disorder.

For instance, think of your (older) parents and/or grandparents. In many cases, they are limited in their lives by a physical or mental disability. This could impact their ability to get groceries, make a buying decision online, pay bills using an app or something similar. Technology options that can assist in these decisions can help them in very substantial ways!  

It’s important that we find technology solutions to help these over one billion people with some form of disability. There are ways in which brands, marketers and retailers can reach these customers using assistive technology. Let’s explore!


Assistive Technology

One area where assistive technology can have a strong impact is with people who are disabled, injured, or elderly. Assistive products (i.e. specialized equipment devices or tools) can help disabled or older adults lead independent lives with more freedom in the following ways 

  • Mobility devices, like electric wheelchairs or walkers;
  • Prosthetic devices to replace a missing body part; 
  • Hearing or listening devices to hear more easily; and 
  • Communications aids - voice recorders, 
  • Cognitive devices to help people with thinking skills. 

A recent report (Global Disabled and Elderly Assistive Technologies Industry) shows that the US market is valued at around $12.5 billion. Another study shows that the global market for elderly and disabled assistive products is anticipated to rise to $34 billion by 2030. 

This growing market can present an opportunity for retailers, ecommerce marketers and product manufacturers. They can create unique, personalized shopping experiences for sight-impaired persons, deaf people, and restricted mobility persons while shopping. 


Assistive Shopping Sites

Many customers are shopping online and completing purchases at new retail sales channels, and voice technology tools can enable ecommerce transactions for those needing special assistance. Is your brand equipped to meet the needs of disabled, sight-impaired or hearing impaired customers? 

One example of helping sight or hearing impaired customers is to use a text-to-speech tool. You can try one out at the LD Resourced Foundation Assistive Technology page. Here a simple click can turn the web page copy into spoken words, allowing sight-restricted visitors to ‘hear’ the text.  

Creating new assistive tools can bring you in touch with a new market, allowing these users to experience your online content in ideal ways for them. These are simple to implement, and essential to gaining new customers.

Opportunities exist for disabled persons to use voice-driven commands for a greater sense of personal independence. Disabled people can use voice-driven commands to make retail transactions and manage tasks like grocery shopping. They can use assistive voice technologies for receiving proactive updates on their deliveries through voice notifications. They can use a smart speaker to ask questions to get information on particular topics. These tools can be confidence boosters for a person hindered by sight issues, physical dexterity, or other limiting factors. 

Additional Resources

Major tech companies are also lending resources to this effort to make disabled persons have greater ability to conduct voice commerce and work with smart home speakers. Google is already investing in its "Project Relate" app, which seeks to help speech-impaired people interact with Google’s Assistant, and communicate more effectively with others. 

Similarly, Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility program explores uses to bring technology to disabled or impaired people, utilizing components of the Azure ecosystem. One project looks to bring Natural Language Processing and voice together to help give users with disabilities an even-playing field to search job listings with voice actions. 


Additional Voice Methods 

Your company can level up your ecommerce site for shoppers who may have impairments in learning, speech, touch, or vision. Voice command technology can be used in these ways: 

Text to Speech: This software gives vision-impaired persons a chance to ‘hear’ the website offers. Using AI voice tools can open up your product to a new category of customers, when they can listen to your product being described before purchase. 

Voice Accessibility: Create a voice application for customers to search for products, easily reorder their past items, and be alerted proactively about the status of their orders. 

People who most need assistive technology include older people with disabilities; mentally challenged individuals (dementia, autism), and people with gradual functional decline. With smart implementation, retailers using assistive technology with voice commerce tools can improve online life for all, regardless of diminished capacity in sight, sound or touch.


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