Digital Quality of Life: Accessibility for People with Disabilities

7 Pages Posted: 15 Oct 2008

See all articles by Daniel Castro

Daniel Castro

Information Technology and Innovation Foundation

Date Written: October 2, 2008


Almost 10 percent of the world's population - 650 million people - live with some type of disability. A disability is any physical, sensory, or cognitive impairment that makes daily activities more difficult. Many people are born with a disability. Others acquire a disability later in life, from an accident, an illness, or the aging process. Many older individuals are diagnosed with chronic conditions that lead to functional or cognitive disabilities. In the United States, for example, about 15 percent of people over the age of 65 require some form of assistance with their basic daily activities.

For much of history, many people with disabilities have had to rely on technologies that were designed for the nondisabled community. Even technology specifically designed for people with disabilities - such as Braille text for people with a visual impairment or text telephones (TTY) for people with a hearing disability - could require a high learning curve, be limited in availability, or have a high cost because of its specialized nature.

Recently, however, the shift from analog technology to digital technology has eliminated many of these barriers. The reason is simple: digital information can easily be converted into voice, text, or even physical patterns (e.g., Braille), allowing the development of many more low-cost, readily available general purpose devices that also can be used by people with disabilities.

The digital era has led to many advances in technology that have directly improved the quality of life for the disabled community. As discussed below, technology that improves accessibility for people with disabilities generally falls into three categories:

* assistive technology (technology designed specifically to improve a disabled person's functional capabilities) * adaptive technology (technology that provides a mechanism that allows people with disabilities to use technology that would otherwise be inaccessible to them) * accessible technology (technology that has many broad applications but helps remove barriers and make the world more accessible for people with disabilities)

Keywords: technology, accessibility, disability, information

JEL Classification: I12, O3, O33, O38

Suggested Citation

Castro, Daniel, Digital Quality of Life: Accessibility for People with Disabilities (October 2, 2008). Available at SSRN: or

Daniel Castro (Contact Author)

Information Technology and Innovation Foundation ( email )

1101 K Street NW
Suite 610
Washington, DC 20005
United States

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