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Beit Issie Shapiro/Google Campus event recap

Nick Booth shares his thoughts from the recent Beit Issie Shapiro/Google Campus event which looked at how technology can help deal with disability

The problem with technology now is that it can do too much. Used indiscriminately, IT is incredibly damaging, using up all the earth’s resources to ruin our lives by pestering us and over complicating everything. The technology industry really needs a good editor.

There is much to be learned from the makers of Assistive Technology, because they generally cater to people who have trouble using mainstream systems.

With this in mind, the Google’s London Campus hosted an evening on “Redefining Disability” which looked at some of the lessons we can learn from assistive technology. Headlining the event was event organiser Beit Issie Shapiro (BIS), an Israeli technology specialist in shaping technology around people’s needs.

Jean Judes, CEO at BIS, told the audience that in making devices more accessible to people with disabilities, they discovered the secret to making technology more user friendly for all of us. Assistive technology is often the best foundation for changing the world for everyone, said Judes. It’s often what you leave out of a technology offering that makes all the difference to how powerful those tools can be. The important discipline that vendors and resellers should remember, when creating their solutions, is one that applies to editorial decision making: whatever doesn’t add, subtracts, so leave it out.

If you offer too many features or configuration options, you just end up confusing people. This even applies to complex systems that involve sophisticated levels of communication. For example, Dr Ben Robins, senior research fellow for the Adaptive Systems Group at the University of Hertfordshire, described how his life’s work is to simplify interactions in order to find the sweet spot of mutual understanding between autistic children and robots. It’s a commonly held view that 70 per cent intelligibility between man and machine is good enough, explained Robins. “I think that anything less than 100 per cent is unacceptable,” said Robins.

Amazingly, Robins has helped helped children to play with Robots and, by getting them to make eye contact with the machines, has ultimately encouraged them to extend that important social skill when communicating with adults. The robots have created many breakthrough moments where children have voluntarily broken thier silence and moved on to higher level human engagements. This exemplifies how the lack of complication is the key to liberating people.

Less is definitely more. This applies equally to the IT channel, where clients are shrinking like salted snails from endless bombardments of too much information. Comms supplier Fuss Free Phones is now recruiting partners who understand the need for going back to basics. Its typical customer base is from the older end of the spectrum in the majority of mobile networks. It’s oldest client is 96 and the youngest paying customer is 46. However, the average age of its clients is falling all the time, because more people want simple, uncomplicated systems which protect them from nuisances, such as pop ups and cold calling conmen. (That’s something we could all use).

There’s even a service that allows users to dictate a text message. In seeking to provide a phone that people can give their parents, Fuss Free Phones could have done more than close the generation gap, they may have invented technology that liberates us from the chains of complexity. In agencies they call this the Freedom of a Tight Brief.

The Purple Pound represents a massive growth opportunity, concluded Sarah Drinkwater, head of Google Campus London.There’s a billion people with disabilities now but that figure will double by 2050, according to BIS’s Judes.

The challenge is to make assistive technology more mainstream. You could argue that it's the other way round.

About Beit Issie Shapiro

Beit Issie Shapiro is Israel’s leading organisation that develops and provides innovative therapies and services for children with disabilities and their families. We also play a leading role in promoting the inclusion of people with disabilities in society. We help over 30,000 people every year and are proud to have been named Israel’s most effective nonprofit in 2011 by efficiency monitor Midot, as well as granted ‘Special Consultative Status’ by the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

Our vision is of an inclusive society, which assures the rights and opportunities for maximum growth and development of children and adults with diverse abilities.


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