Commentary: Making Technology Accessible From the Start

March 29, 2016

Biometric login, or using someone’s fingerprint or snapshot of their face to verify the person’s identity, is said to be more secure than traditional passwords. As an avid technology user, I couldn’t agree more. Passwords and password security are not guaranteed in today’s day and age. We will all eventually forget a password, and this often means we will have to go through the annoying process of resetting or changing it. Let’s also not forget about all the viruses, and even hackers that can easily steal our passwords and other information. Using one’s fingerprint and taking a selfie to login is simple – no need to remember complicated passwords!

This all sounds great, until we think about people who are blind or visually impaired. How can we possibly snap perfect selfies with inaccessible equipment? Research done at the University of Surrey and Carlos III University of Madrid discovered that facial recognition technology is highly inaccessible for blind and visually impaired users, despite its growth in popularity. Researchers found that often these users cannot take perfectly aligned selfies because smartphone and computers are inaccessible to them. The team suggested including audio components to assist users in taking an accurate selfie.

I have seen this same problem over the years with other technologies. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, blindness organizations and technology developers were working to make ATMs fully accessible to the blind and visually impaired. Later when touch screen cell phones came out, developers began working feverishly to make these usable to people without sight. The reality is that as technology evolves, so will accessibility issues for people with disabilities. Unfortunately, most technology manufacturers neglect to think about folks with disabilities when designing new products.

This should not be a problem in the 21st century, when technology is at its peak of development. We constantly see or hear about products that will be in the market in the near future. There’s not a week that I don’t read about new devices that will come out in the next 5 or 10 years. Why is it then that manufacturers are failing to take people with disabilities into account? It has long been said that people with disabilities are the largest minority, both in the United States and all over the world. Furthermore, the number of people with disabilities throughout the world is projected to increase in the near future.

Facial recognition and biometric login technology can greatly increase security. Unfortunately, it is still not accessible to people with vision loss. This means that I and fellow blind and visually impaired individuals will be excluded from many products and services if this form of login becomes standard. According to the World Health Organization, there are 285 million people in the world who are blind or visually impaired. This is a significantly large number of individuals who would be unnecessarily excluded from today’s technology!

Prior technology accessibility problems have been resolved, so that is why I hope this and other technologies will soon become accessible to everyone regardless of ability. Technology manufacturers are always on their feet developing new products, why not stop and think about how to make them accessible for everyone. This, I think, can go a long way in eliminating accessibility difficulties that often can be easily solved from the get-go.

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