Guido Gybels: How the information society excludes the disabled

From a lecture by the director of new technologies at the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, given in London
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Ever since James Watt's steam engine transformed the agricultural society that had lasted for 12,000 years into a new type of civilisation - the industrial society - our way of life has been increasingly affected by science and technology. More recently, this industrial world has migrated into an information society. With this tale of progress also comes the false assumption that the evolution of science and technology will always better the lives of everyone.

When mentioning the problems that people might have with information and communication technology, most people think about people with sensory disabilities or other physical disabilities that might prevent them from using computers and other devices. We think less about groups such as people with learning disabilities or those who do not speak English as their first language.

Elderly people are also seen as a group that might have issues with newer technologies. Is the fact that some elderly people experience difficulties with new technologies really because of their age? Or is it due to the fact that the ageing process has made their eyesight less good, has diminished their hearing, or has induced rheumatism in their hands which causes them grief using keyboards and mice?

However, it's not all doom and gloom. Progress in science and technology is at least as much of an opportunity as it is a threat. The proper use of information technology can actually help individuals with learning or language difficulties to overcome some of their constraints.