Please see below selected recent disability-related change.
- At Starbucks’ ‘Signing Store’ in Tokyo, customers point to items on a menu or use speech-to-text voice recognition to place their orders while interacting with deaf or hard-of-hearing employees. The store opened in an area of Tokyo with strong ties to the deaf community. In addition to employing people who are deaf or hard of hearing, the Signing Store also incorporates sign language and other elements of deaf culture in its design and artwork. Digital displays not only help customers track their orders, but also show commonly signed phrases, encouraging everyone to try communicating in sign language.
- Because of universal prenatal testing and attitudes towards abortion, Denmark’s population of people with Down syndrome is smaller than it ever has been. The Atlantic spoke with people who chose to terminate their pregnancies and people who didn’t, and looked at a future population altered by genetic screening for a range of other conditions.
- A free smartphone app that enables users to practice speaking clearly and slowly in a way that is easy for individuals with hearing loss to understand even when the speaker is wearing a mask was created by an audiology consulting company based in eastern Japan. The app allows users to record themselves saying everyday phrases like "Please tell me your phone number." Users then received feedback on the clarity of their speech using a five-level scoring system. They can also obtain more specific advice, such as, "You're speaking too fast,"
- Research shows that neurons in autistic brains begin to developmentally diverge in early prenatal stages. Researchers couldn't perform their study on pregnant women, so they devised an experiment that allowed them to observe developing nerve cells in vitro. For the experiment, the researchers selected fifteen individuals, six controls and nine people with an autism spectrum condition but from unique genetic backgrounds. They acquired hair samples from each to extract induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). These cells can self-renew and continue to make more copies of themselves. The researchers examined the cells at three distinct developmental stages: days 9, 21, and 35. They inspected cellular appearance and also sequenced RNA. They found that the autistic neurons took a very different developmental path than those from the controls.
- People with health conditions that limit their activities accounted for nearly 60% of UK Covid-19 deaths in the first six months of the pandemic - but just 16% of the population. That definition of disability is based on responses to the 2011 census. The Office for National Statistics estimates that people whose daily activities are limited a lot or a little by health problems, which are expected to last for at least a year, accounted for almost six in 10 (59%) coronavirus deaths.
- The coronavirus pandemic necessitated, where possible, that people work remotely. Previously, working from home has been something of a taboo. Despite findings that flexible home working has significant benefits, shown as long ago as 2010 in a Durham University study, companies have been reluctant to adopt it, mistakenly believing workers will be less productive. However, one group, in particular, has been campaigning tirelessly for flexible work: disabled and chronically ill people, who are often pushed out of traditional work due to their needs. COVID-19, however, has forced many employers to trial remote working and they have realised that it actually works. If continued after the pandemic, widespread adoption and normalisation of flexible working, whether in terms of hours or location, would ease the burden on disabled employees and employers might benefit, too.
- A photographer with a rare muscle-wasting condition turned the camera on himself to document the reality of living with a disability. Daytime Disability is a personal account that attempts to put the viewer in the shoes of Jordan Mossom who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The images showed the reality of a life dependant on medical equipment and support staff for independence. Mossom said he hoped it would raise awareness to a wider audience, as well as being a "source of inspiration to other young men who have the condition, so they have something to relate to in the public eye".
- Nearly 40% of people globally with disabilities were laid off or furloughed as a result of the pandemic, according to some estimates. Even before the crisis, adults with disabilities in the EU were more than 20% less likely to hold a job compared with those without disabilities. As the coronavirus forces employers to reimagine the working world, leaders have an opportunity to completely rethink how and where work is done and such change could benefit disabled employees, experts told LinkedIn.
- "Too often do we forget that people with disabilities, too, have to deal with microaggressions on the regular," according to Wendy Lu, who has a tracheostomy tube. "They can take place in everyday conversations, making them hard to call out unless you want to be looked down upon for making a big deal out of 'nothing.'" If you have a coworker who has a disability, avoid tropes like telling them their disability is "inspiring," or tip-toeing around it by referring to their disability to a "special need." "I want to live in a world where we don't have such low expectations of disabled people that we are congratulated for getting out of bed and remembering our own names in the morning," comedian and activist Stella Young said at TEDxSydney. In other words, you shouldn't be shocked when your coworker with a disability is able to accomplish just as much as their able-bodied peers.
- Disabled and mobility-impaired people who cannot attend marches can find online activism tools a helpful way to promote issues and protest inequalities.
- The wheelchair has long been the primary solution for those with mobility challenges, yet the design has not changed drastically in hundreds of years. But new walking robots may finally be ready to disrupt the space, with one exoskeleton becoming the first to allow a paraplegic man to walk fully upright, without the need for crutches.
- About 15 per cent of the global population has some form of disability, says the World Health Organisation, of whom 2-4 per cent “experience significant difficulties in functioning”. This amounts to both a significant untapped human resource and a substantial market, reported the Financial Times. People with disabilities have $8tn of annual disposable income globally, according to Canadian research organisation Return on Disability. “To be able to serve this market of disability, you need [people with disabilities] in your business,” says Caroline Casey, founder of The Valuable 500, a global initiative campaigning to put the inclusion of disabled people in business on the agendas of large companies at board level. During the corconavirus epidemic, she saw an increase in companies signing up and committing to be one of 500 leaders in the field. “The business system that we were told for so long could not adapt is now embracing flexible and agile working [during the pandemic],” Ms Casey says. “The difference [now] is an intention and a desire to change.” Having adapted the way we work so dramatically and quickly, she adds, “why not empower everyone”, including disabled people, to contribute in the world of work. “There are no more excuses.”
- “Zoom fatigue” is not new to the deaf community. The intense concentration needed to parse what’s being said over choppy audio and time delays is a sliver of what they undergo daily.
- Unveiled at CES 2020 by French company Lexilife, Lexilight is a lamp that makes it easier for people with dyslexia to read. Research suggests that people without dyslexia have a dominant eye, resulting in a single image being produced in the brain when they read. But people with dyslexia have ‘two dominant eyes’, which can result in an unclear or ‘mirror’ image being produced. Lexilight uses pulsing LED lights that encourage one eye to take control and send a single, clear image to the brain. Lexilife say they’ve tested the lamp on 300 people with dyslexia, and 90% of participants said that they could ‘effortlessly read a text illuminated by the lamp.
- In Davos, disability advocate Caroline Casey had three CEOs crying on stage in 2019 as they pledged to do more to promote the inclusion of disabled workers. By 2020, more than 240 companies in 24 countries with a combined workforce of more than 9.8 million had signed up for the Valuable 500, the campaign Casey kicked off last year. The group wants 500 global corporations with at least 1,000 employees to make a promise on disability inclusion - and be held accountable for it.
- The Valuable 500 is a global campaign calling for the world’s most influential businesses to unlock the corporate, social and economic value of the estimated one billion people globally living with disabilities. We need 500 national and multinational, private sector corporations to be the tipping-point for change and to unlock the business, social and economic value of people living with disabilities across the world. Because the potential of 1.3 billion should not be ignored.
- Further reading:
- Employment rises for disabled people but pay gap remains large - Financial Times
- IKEA makes furniture more accessible with 3D printing - Engadget
- Key barriers disabled people face in the workplace - EY
- Low vision: improving life, work and travel for the visually impaired - Raconteur
- The Business Case for Disability Inclusion - World Economic Forum
- Further reading:
- Further reading:
- Siam Piwat, a shopping mall operator in Thailand, began showcasing products made by underprivileged or disabled craftspeople. The Made by Beautiful People initiative provides rent-free retail space for these creators in two of its malls Siam Piwat collaborated with seven organisations and nonprofits across Thailand (including the Autistic Thai Foundation and the Anusarnsunthon School for the Deaf), and the operator lent its marketing expertise to the featured sellers.
- US-based retailer Kohl’s added clothing for people with disabilities and complex medical needs to three of its private-label brands for kids. The Jumping Beans, SO and Urban Pipeline brands will now feature clothing with abdominal access and sensory-friendly materials, as well as wheelchair-friendly options.
- Only 6% of the 1.5 million British adults with learning disabilities are currently in paid employment.
- Brazilian beer brand Skol is funding the creation of a smart shopping cart that helps the visually impaired shop in supermarkets. Users wear a headset, and get instructions from the AI-powered cart on how to navigate the aisles. The cart also features sensors that report obstacles such as smaller shelves, objects and people. Shelves will be labelled in braille at participating supermarkets. The smart carts launched in 2019.
- A recent housing development featured a range of adaptations for disabled people found almost nowhere else. Much of the work on the UK site, owned by the RNIB, the charity for visually impaired people, created level or near-level areas to make the steeply sloping site more navigable to wheelchair users. There is also a “sensory path”, a route that will offer partially sighted people a series of cues - including scented plants, distinctive rumble strips and a variety of lamppost shapes - to understand where they are. All the homes will feature wide front doors, to allow easy wheelchair access. The question facing engineers, architects and disability rights campaigners is how far these sorts adaptations could be replicated on the larger scale of world cities. In many urban areas, even metro systems still remain largely off-limits to wheelchair users because of limited step-free access.
- According to the Harkin Institute, a billion people worldwide are affected by disabilities and face an unemployment rate of 80%. The co-author of the Americans with Disabilities Act launched a call to action to "double employment for people with disabilities" worldwide within the next 10 years. If successful, this drive will add 200 million people to the global workforce and make a major contribution to the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goal 8 of achieving “decent work and economic growth” by 2030.
- Further reading:
- At a time when different groups in society are achieving notable gains in respect and rights, activists in mental health are coming up against considerable challenges. A particular challenge is overcoming the commonly held view that mental illness is inherently disabling and cannot form the grounds for identity or culture.
- The Ability Summit aims to "empower all people" – including the more than one billion people with disabilities and to give them access technologies designed for greater inclusivity. Indded, its organiser, Micrsoft, claims to have been building inclusion into its products and services and to help everyone get the most from accessibility resources, the company has the Disability Answer Desk, or DAD. It is free, 24/7 technical support from Microsoft experts trained in assistive technologies.
- Further reading:
- The ThisAbles project from Ikea Israel aimed to make their furniture products more accessible to more people through 3D-printed accessories and adaptations.
- LEGO has been testing LEGO Braille Bricks: special blocks designed to help visually impaired children learn braille. LEGO has repurposed the usual dots on each block to represent different letters, symbols and numbers; each block also has its meaning printed in type to enable sighted friends and family to also learn Braille at the same time.
- An Australian firm announced that its bionic eye system had been used to restore a “sense of sight” to four completely blind people suffering from retinitis pigmentosa. Unlike previous studies of the technology that were limited to in-lab use, the four patients were able to use the system in their everyday environments.
- Alibaba developed a silicone screen overlay called Smart Touch to help blind people use their smartphones. Once the overlay is placed on top of a phone screen, its three buttons become shortcuts for common commands such as ‘go back’ or ‘send’. The function of buttons changes depending on the app that is being used, and the buttons also work via touch against the ear, allowing users to listen to to text while continuing to use their phone. The device, developed as part of Alibaba’s Damo Academy research program, cost only US$0.36) to make in 2018.
- The Economist pointed to a recent survey of 575 wheelchair users across America, Brazil, Britain, India and Japan which found that 39% had been unable to work because of mobility problems. To change this, companies need to hire more disabled people and work on more innovative design. That could even help them come up with better products. Some inventions, like the TV remote control, email protocols and speech recognition, came from the need to help disabled people.
- Ford created a trunk mat that also functions as a portable wheelchair ramp. Dubbed the Accessibility Mat, Ford’s multipurpose trunk liner for the Ecosport SUV enables wheelchair users to access any streets or sidewalks that don’t have a ramp. Ford created the mat after research showed that over 3 million Brazilians have limited mobility, a serious issue given the limited infrastructure in many towns and cities. The mat also connects to an accompanying app every time it is used. This enables users to share data showing local authorities where improved accessibility is most urgently required.
- Three paralysed men are walking again in Switzerland with the help of a team at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. The men first walked on a treadmill while being supported by a gurney-like device as they received jolts from sensors that were placed on their legs and feet. They then left the treadmill and walked across the ground while still receiving electric stimulation. A few months later, they were able to regain their ability to walk without the assistance of any sort of electrical stimulation whatsoever.
- Four UK rail companies are trialling Passenger Assist byTransreport: an app designed to make rail journeys for disabled users easier. The app will allow disabled users to share their exact location with station staff in real-time. Currently disabled passengers’ who book assistance have their scheduled arrivals and locations provided to station staff on paper at the start of the day. Until now, disabled passengers often have had to wait for assistance and have faced the risk of being trapped on board.
- Birding can make nature accessible to the blind, reported Quartz. Think of birdwatchers and an image of people craning to spot a rare species might come to mind. But birds are more likely to be heard than seen, and their calls are often easier to identify than their appearance. Listening for their unique sounds can give everyone - including those without sight - a way of understanding the diversity of nature all around us, as a birder who has been legally blind since childhood, explained.
- Machine learning technologies have become increasingly adept at making medical predictions, whether it’s diagnosing illnesses or predicting the success of treatments. The latest evidence of its potency comes via a study conducted by the University of Oxford that saw machine learning used to predict whether cystic fibrosis patients should be referred for a lung transplant. The study found that the new AI-based method led to a 35% improvement in the accuracy of these predictions compared to existing statistical methods.
- Less than 16% of those with autism surveyed in the US National Autism Indicators Report by Drexel University have full-time paid work, and 51% who did have work said their skills were higher than the job required - findings which informed EY's initiative to create a more neurodiverse workplace. EY's "Neurodiversity Center of Excellence," which has been running since 2016, required buy-in from company executives and a period of time for experimentation, during which EY piloted forms of sourcing and interviewing to best accommodate individuals with autism.
- In a recent interview with NPR, a theatre artist talked about other ways engagement in the arts can help older adults - with dementia and without.
- Eater warned that banning plastic straws could put a serious burden on some people with disabilities continue to face barriers at eating establishments
- Asos has been praised for selling clothes designed with people who have disabilities in mind. The online retailer has released a tie-dye waterproof jumpsuit for festival season, which has been adapted to be wheelchair friendly.
- In its Modern Workplace: Disability special report, the Financial Times looked at the struggles many disabled people face in finding employment, as well as the schemes and technology to help them become and remain economically active.
- Imaginating eliminating unnecessary barriers that disabled people face daily. More than one billion people worldwide experience some form of disability, the UN and World Bank claimed in their World Report on Disability , which urged governments to “to step up efforts to enable access to mainstream services and to invest in specialised programmes to unlock the vast potential of people with disabilities”