Baby Boomers plus Disability Groups equal Accessibility PDF Print E-mail

by Darby Patterson

 

It’s been the mantra for many years: make accessible technology ubiquitous. For too long, accessible “options” have been regarded as add-ons to mainstream technology and focused primarily on people with physical disabilities. In this regard, disability organizations have been leaders and advocates, and the world owes them a debt of gratitude. But, perhaps the largest population to benefit from these pioneering efforts is just making itself evident. Some people call it the Silver Tsunami – the great flood of the Baby Boomers onto the shores of America.

 

If there is “strength in numbers,” the issues of concern to disabilities communities will soon be shared by millions more people who either need adaptive technology, or anticipate living longer and better than any generation in history. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 8,000 people turn 60 every day – that’s 330 per hour. The Baby Boomer generation, marked by the nascent year of 1946, is the largest population ever born to America.

 

Surveys indicate that a high percentage of Baby Boomers plan to work well beyond traditional retirement age and that they are consciously striving to remain strong and healthy as they grow older. That means the purchasing power of Baby Boomers may make them a viable market – one that the captains of the technology industry will want to reach. The overlap of technologies that Baby Boomers will expect and demand, conveniently mirrors that demanded by many disability groups. Cell phones that are easy to use, real-time speech translation, remote health care options, electronic medical records, the ability to easily increase type sizes on computers and computers that respond to voice commands. How about the “virtual” supermarket where a camera walks you down the aisle (from the comfort of your office chair) and allows you to select groceries that are subsequently delivered to the doorstep? All this and more are already off the drawing table and either in prototype form or commercially available.

 

Indeed, cost had been the biggest factor in making this adaptive technology widely available. Now, with Baby Boomers advancing on the marketplace like the forces of Alexander the Great over Persia, the needs of older adults simply cannot be ignored. The numbers alone promise to drive prices down and make adaptive technology more affordable. The Census Bureau anticipates that between 2011 and 2030, people over the age of 65 will rise from 40.4 million (13 percent of the total population) to 70.3 million or 20 percent of all Americans.

 

Now, add the 51.2 million people in the U.S. who have a physical disability and the combined population will be more than 30 percent (even allowing for a little overlap).

 

To acknowledge the efforts of some of the big tech companies, IBM and Microsoft have both been active in creating accessible technology. Some of the work has had limited (demonstration project) application while other adaptive technology is now mainstream – most of us can opt to speech enable our PCs, increase type size and change color preferences.

 

But, it will take more than the attention of corporate giants who hold the keys to the Web; true accessibility requires that the makers of new technologies and software also observe the rising tide and hear the collective demand of disability groups and advocates for those who want to enjoy an active, involved life well into our 80s and beyond. It’s a win-win-win for business, Baby Boomers and disability groups that led the charge to accessible technology.

Darby Patterson is a writer and advocate for accessible technology: http://www.writingbydarby.com

 

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Today: Apr 23, 2014