For many people, the work day doesn’t begin without addressing a serious challenge: commuting. This can mean highways stacked with traffic, or crowded trains and buses. For people who are blind, everything is more complicated. They must rely on a ride from someone else, or if traveling by rail, someone to lead them to and from the train. Soon, this could change. Technology is enabling new levels of personal autonomy and accessibility for people with disabilities and the fifth-generation of mobile technology, 5G will make even more possible
Earlier this month, we hosted a fascinating policy discussion about the ongoing evolution of inclusive technology during our “Mobility / Accessibility: Enabling Personal Autonomy with Technology” event. Our policy panel combined thought leaders from industry, disability advocacy, academia, and more, all examining how technology-driven accessibility, already at its strongest point in history, could increase dramatically with the faster speeds and near instantaneous response times associated with of 5G.
Much of the discussion focused on the everyday struggle that many of us experience each morning: the commute to work. During the panel, we learned about Aira, an innovative new solution that assists visually-impaired people with travel, and many other situations, by providing users with personalized support. Through a glasses-mounted broadband-connected camera, a trained and certified Aira professional sees the world around the visually-impaired user and is able to verbally describe a users’ surroundings. We also learned about another technology-driven accessibility solution called Wayfindr, which is an indoor navigation protocol. Using a system of distributed beacons, Wayfindr aims to deliver turn-by-turn directions through indoor spaces, such as train stations or airports. Paul Schroeder, Director of Public Policy director for Aira, explained that while Aira is available now, 5G will enable higher-quality video, paving the way for image recognition, automating and standardizing functions currently requiring human assistance. And while Wayfindr doesn’t demand much bandwidth, it needs a reliable signal and rapid response times, ideal for 5G’s low latency.
Our panelists outlined how new technologies are poised to address many pervasive challenges facing people with disabilities. For example, Henry Claypool of AAPD explained how accessible autonomous vehicles could create job opportunities for 2 million people with disabilities, and save $19 billion annually in healthcare expenditures from missed medical appointments. Joshua New from the Center for Data Innovation examined how the Internet of Things could not only improve health outcomes by remotely monitoring patients, but are already automating in-home tasks through familiar and easy-to-use platforms like Amazon’s Alexa. Lise Hamlin of the Hearing Loss Association of America introduced the audience to Team FalconJam, a trio of high-school students whose homemade tool, the Doorbell Aid, can notify a user with hearing loss when a delivery arrives using a speech-to-text interface. Savannah Schaefer of TIA provided valuable perspective about how user demand is driving more innovation. She noted, “Innovations like Wayfindr and Aira are part of a bigger trend toward optionality because users demand technology that provides options, not only in how they express themselves, but how they move through the world.”
As the insights shared during our “Mobility / Accessibility” event demonstrated, true progress in creating more accessible technologies requires collaboration and continued investment in innovation. It will take manufacturers, network providers, disability advocates, policymakers and more working together, sharing ideas, and innovating to ensure we create solutions that will empower people with disabilities to enjoy more personal autonomy. We at Verizon are excited about being a part of creating a more inclusive future for all people and believe 5G will be a key factor in accelerating accessibility.