Accessibility in the Age of Technology
Thanks to the abilities of the Start-Up Nation, Access Israel is embracing technology to spearhead Israel’s transformation into a completely accessible country
By: Yuval Wagner, Founder and Chairperson of Access Israel
There are approximately 1.5 million people in Israel with various types of disabilities – physical, cognitive, and emotional. Some were born with disabilities, others were injured later in life, and a substantial group suffers from disabilities related to old age. Each type of disability presents its own set of obstacles. For example, stairs at the entrance of a building for someone in a wheelchair, or announcements in public places that are inaudible for deaf people. Accessibility is the solution to these problems and obstacles, and its goal is to enable this large cohort to live normal lives as equal citizens.
The Equal Rights for Persons with Disabilities Law was enacted in Israel in 1998, and the accessibility part of the law was added in 2005. These laws are among the most advanced in the world since they cover all types of disabilities and all aspects of life. Moreover, the law stipulates that every organization must appoint an accessibility coordinator.
The last two years were fascinating as far as improving accessibility is concerned. The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated processes and forced all of us to use advanced technological tools. We got used to working, studying, shopping, and receiving health and government services through websites, apps and video calls.
In the new era of fast-developing technology, we will all soon live in smart homes and speak to the television, the lights, the blinds and the kitchen appliances. We will receive information on large interactive, voice-controlled screens in our houses and we will cook by pressing a single button. We will live in smart cities which will help us locate handicapped parking, while blind people will be able to navigate the streets without the help of guide dogs. Businesses will be virtual, and it will be possible to pay without going to the cashier. Purchased items will be sent directly to our homes without having to carry them. Deaf people will receive assistance in sign language or transcription. All government services will be accessible through the Internet in a simple way, even for people who are not tech-savvy.
This is an historical opportunity to create an accessible future that is much more convenient for everyone, and especially for people with disabilities. Under the leadership of Access Israel, Israel can become the world’s first accessible country.
In addition to private start-ups, many global technology companies are also investing in developing solutions for people with disabilities. Experience shows that often, when solving problems for people with disabilities through technology, the new technology is also useful for a wider audience. For example, text messages were invented as a way for deaf people to communicate, and today texting is widely used by everyone. Another example is TTS technology, which translates text to speech. It was originally invented to enable blind people to read books and information on the internet, but today this technology is widespread in Amazon devices, Alexa, Google Home, and cars of the future.
The path to an accessible Israel requires a national plan that includes a law making accessibility obligatory for all technologies used by organizations that serve the public. At the same time, the Start-Up Nation must focus on and invest energy and resources in developing technologically accessible solutions.
To this end, Access Israel is leading the “Making Our Technological Future Accessible in Advance” initiative. Its goal is to make Israel technologically accessible in all aspects of life. This will prevent social gaps and will boost Israel’s economy and its image.