May 26, 2015

Disability: The Untapped Mobile Market Segment

A billion people have some sort of disability, yet this market has gone largely untapped by the mobile industry. But with technology bringing options to people with different kinds of impairments, the disabled are on the front line of mobile innovation.

One out of seven people worldwide has some form of disability, and this massive group of a billion people has a combined spending power of more than $3.5 trillion. But traditionally, the disabled have not been part of market segmentation on the part of the mobile industry. Accessibility was considered a very separate issue and a rarely understood one at that. But today, the disabled have options they could not have dreamed of just a few years ago, all thanks to technology. Whether it’s smart phones, wearables or other devices, new market opportunities have opened up and mobile players are finally realizing what an important market they have in the disabled.

Assistive technology or accessible solutions were formerly disability specific, hardware centric and extremely expensive, but mobile devices such as smart phones have brought a powerful platform upon which different disabilities can build software solutions to increase accessibility and their access to the digital world. Interaction with these devices has now broadened to include touch, speech and gesture. This means that many more options and permutations are open to people with different access impairments. In addition, the plethora of applications addressing personal and business lives also means that new doors are literally opening via the mobile device.

Technology Makes the World More Accessible
Wearables are now on the receiving end of the hype that smart phones got a few years ago. And, for the disabled, they represent a fantastic opportunity to complement impaired senses or faculties or even to replace those that are absent. Cameras mounted on glasses or broaches or even hung around the neck can replace a vision impairment; microphones can complement lack of hearing; and gesture interpretation devices can replace the need to type or point and click on a specific icon.

Watches and bracelets can not only track how far people have walked, but they can also send haptic feedback to the individual, which could represent directions or messages. Wearable patches can send information about the body, muscle activity and reactions to activity back to the individual, caregiver or medical personnel. For the severely disabled, use of eye movement can allow the ‘locked-in’ to trigger activity on the laptop or smart device. And, with the advent of smarter robots, individuals can now interact with these mechanical assistants and get them to do daily tasks. Drones can also be controlled to allow the house-bound to explore their gardens and the great outdoors.

As a result, the individual becomes another connected item, and the implications for Communications Service Providers (CSPs) are vast. This newly accessible technology, which comes at relatively low cost, opens up this market segment to join in the digital revolution. Analysis of the reams of data being generated through the smart device and the wearables also represent significant input for CSPs, users, caregivers and medical professionals.

The disabled are being wrapped up in wearables, which is opening up massive new opportunities for them as well as major new market segments for the mobile industry.  And with the right amount of awareness and a little juggling of the technology, it can become just another part of the personalization that the industry has been touting for years.


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