Innovation due to technological advancements is moving at a faster pace than ever. Gartner estimates that by 2021, we will have approximately 25 billion connected devices that generate 44 zettabytes of data. Even at this rate, over 90% of the world’s data was created in the last several years. This rapid pace of technology change is only increasing and impacts every facet of life, from healthcare to education and manufacturing.
In light of these rapid technological transformations, it’s important to ensure that smarter technology impacts all of those relying on these industries. We need technology that’s inclusive of all genders, ethnicities and disabilities — and that we’re not just creating technology for technology’s sake.
Consider the advancements that have been made with facial recognition technology. This technology helping people track genetic diseases, among other spectacular applications.
However, we’ve seen many instances where facial recognition falls flat, particularly in studies conducted by MIT and FBI professionals, which have found that the technology is significantly less accurate when identifying people of color and women.
These studies demand the technology industry’s immediate attention and reinforce the need to deliver a positive user experience for all. If not addressed, we will see a digital divide — one we’re already seeing elements of today.
Consider the following statistics:
- 49% of African Americans and 51% of Hispanics have home high-speed internet, as opposed to 66% of Caucasians. Internet speed, specifically video streaming, has a significant impact on media exposure, making this divide substantial.
- Of adults with household incomes below $30,000 per year, 29% don’t possess a smartphone, and 44% don’t have a broadband connection. In addition, 46% don’t have a personal computer, and 64% don’t have a tablet.
- 56% of teachers in low-income schools cite their students’ poor technology access as an issue for teaching purposes.
At my company, we try to focus on cocreation. In this, we aim to answer the following two questions: How we can build together? And how we can ensure we can actually deliver the right experience? To answer these critical questions, we must think as an omnichannel unit across brands, working together to solve the issues surrounding accessible technology to deliver a true end-to end-experience.
For example, Aira, Moovit and Azure Maps recently announced a collaboration to make public transit in urban areas more inclusive for blind and low-vision riders, helping users travel more confidently and efficiently. This alliance demonstrates the real impact technologies can offer when coming together for a greater cause.
When we looked at this issue on a larger scale, we partnered with Haben Girma, the first deaf and blind graduate from Harvard Law School, who’s serving as our inclusion advisor. Your company can follow suit by identifying the right individuals to help you think about the solutions that you’re building to make certain that you’re doing human design right, from the initial idea of your products to their market release.
Companies don’t need to reinvent the wheel to put this approach of technology inclusivity into action. An immediate first step you can implement is hiring more people with disabilities. People with disabilities are extremely talented and have been creating solutions all throughout our history. We need to do a better job of making these stories known, giving these extraordinary individuals recognition for their outstanding achievements.
Additionally, we must ensure we’re building inclusivity into our DNA in everything that we’re doing. We can’t make this an afterthought — because if it’s not intrinsically part of your company, it doesn’t become seamless. The creation of a diversity and inclusion board that can offer guidance on how to weave this into a company’s fabric is a great start.
Finally, from a product creation standpoint, it’s about putting this fully inclusive approach into practice through all steps of your business processes. Technology — and individuals’ access to it — can be a powerful enabler of inclusion, and if no one is left behind in this time of rapid growth, we’ll all reap the positive effects of our advancement.