I'm in favour of new technology – but not if disabled people are left behind – Metro.co.uk

As a disabled person, I have a love hate relationship with technology.
And I don’t just mean the frustration caused by my phone constantly predicting ‘duck’, when what I really want to type is ‘f**k’.   
Technology has undoubtedly opened up the world for me.
Literally, in the case of my fully accessible home.
My windows are automatic, my front door is automatic, my hob in my kitchen is on hydraulics and I have smart technology that controls my lights and television through my Alexa or mobile phone. 
There are also my wheelchairs.  
I’d hazard a guess that any wheelchair user will say the best invention is that of the wheel. It’s a tool for independence, autonomy, liberation and comfort. 
A friend said recently, after seeing me for the first time in my power wheelchair, ‘great, now I don’t have to push you anymore.’ 
It was meant as a joke but I couldn’t help but think that my powerchair does allow me to unshackle myself from an ableist world
For example, last week, I took a well-deserved break from work and went on a staycation in my local area. 
On the first day, I was out in my power wheelchair, heading the furthest I’ve been on my own.
As I zoomed in and out, dodging obstacles on the street, I felt like I was playing a game of Mario Kart, but instead of hitting mushrooms and finding coins, I was avoiding the array of litter bags, dumped e-bikes, potholes, and – oh yes – those pesky pedestrians. 
This chair is almost like a Transformer; the speed, the phone charger, the reclining feature, and the ability to put me at eye level. It’s a wonderful creation and I’m in awe of the technology.  
The powerchair allows me to clear my head and go about my day-to-day without being accompanied by someone.
However, while there are many benefits that come with technology, we still live in a disabling world – and one that is moving away from manpower in favour of tech.
And this comes with many disadvantages for disabled people like me. 
For example, out in my powerchair that day, feeling free and easy, I headed straight to the shops. My favourite pastime.
We deserve to feel heard and included when innovation is concerned
But when I got there, I was confronted by self-service checkouts.  
While they are designed for ease and quick service, for me and many other disabled people, the lack of face-to-face services can put us at a disadvantage.  
Not only are the checkouts far too high, they are awkwardly designed so that you cannot get close to them with a mobility aid. So, I waited for someone to assist.
Luckily, I wasn’t in a rush. But it’s just a fact of life that disabled people are used to having to wait around to simply go about their day. 
In just a matter of a few hours, I had seen how technology and accessibility advancements have empowered and liberated me – then, in the next breath, disabled me and taken away my autonomy.  
The cycle of celebrating personal victories, to then become faced with more disabling and life limiting barriers, is a constant rollercoaster of emotions. 
We still live in a disabling world, with sub-standard accessibility.
Therefore, disabled people by and large are more likely to rely on mechanical devices and technology such as lifts, wheelchairs, and communication aids. 
Unfortunately, these things can malfunction, or are abused and mistreated, leading to breakdowns and rendering the person relying on it to be dependent on others. 
Relying on tech can make life less free and less predictable, in comparison to our non-disabled friends and family members, who may often take these amenities for granted.  
In fact, I’d say that technology is ableist. 
Enabled people have reaped the benefits of accessibility technology and features, such as Siri, Google Home and Alexa, for years now.
Many disabled people describe this phenomenon as accidental accessibility. 
This is when a product or service is designed for the wider market, and then because of its design it ‘accidentally’ makes things much more accessible for deaf, disabled or neurodivergent individuals – rather than having been designed with their needs in mind. 
But, for me, there shouldn’t be anything accidental about it. 
It comes down to wanting to invest in disabled people and value their lives as equal members of society.
Changing how others see disabled people can feel like a gigantic undertaking  and to try and get big companies to invest in inclusive design is even harder. 
However, some progress has been made in highlighting the ’Purple Pound’, which is the combined spending power of the disabled community – an estimated £8 trillion globally. This has sparked some investors to think about disabled people and their needs. And with those figures, they’d be fools not to.
Yet, many people still miss the bigger picture – that is that disability is a social construct. We must remember that, although individuals may have conditions or illnesses that impact their lives, it is attitudes and environmental barriers that disable them – rather than their impairment. 
Therefore, in my home, I have my conditions, but I am not disabled; the technology and accessibility features and adjustments allow me to be almost completely self-sufficient. 
The reaction to this, however, is often, ‘well we can’t have that everywhere, it would be too expensive and not everyone is disabled.’   
Yet ask yourself is there anything I have mentioned above that would be a hindrance, detrimental or inconvenient to a non-disabled individual?
Absolutely not. 
In fact, having an automatic front door – which I operate with a fob – is wonderful when you come home tipsy and can’t fit your keys in the lock. Win, win!  
An inclusive society is a better society for everyone and that means thinking about everyone’s needs when looking at technological advancements. 
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How do we do this? Simple. Disabled people need to be brought into the conversation, right at the ideas stage.
15% of the global population has some form of disability – and anyone can become disabled at any time. 
Let’s use the wonders of technology to benefit us all – not just the non-disabled amongst us.   
Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing jess.austin@metro.co.uk
Share your views in the comments below.
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