Super Bowl-worthy video games and eye-controlled TV remotes were just some of the ways companies used technology to increase accessibility in 2019. Here are three stories of brands making significant strides in disability inclusion, thanks to state-of-the-art technological advances.
Comcast released two new accessibility features for its Xfinity subscribers this year. In June, the cable company debuted X1 Eye Control (pictured above), a Web-based remote that allows customers to access all the features of a traditional Xfinity TV remote through their existing eye gaze or Sip-and-Puff communication systems. (These assistive technology systems are often used by people with neuromuscular disorders or spinal injuries.) The remote was named one of Time’s 100 Best Inventions of 2019, because “for many, it will be the first time they’ve had the power to change the channel.”
On December 3, International Day of Disabled Persons, Comcast introduced ASL Now, a customer support service that communicates with American Sign Language (ASL) through video chats. Customers can call and get answers to questions regarding billing, Internet and more. This is the first such service in the cable industry.
Microsoft’s Super Bowl spot follows a boy named Owen as he plays video games with his friends thanks to the Xbox adaptive controller. Like Owen, the other young people featured in the commercial also happen to have limb differences or mobility issues that can make gaming difficult. The Xbox adaptive controller is compatible with a range of joysticks, switches, wheelchair mounts and other accessories to help.
“No matter how your body is or how fast you are, you can play. It’s a really good thing to have in this world,” Owen says in the commercial.
The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, which ranks Super Bowl ads each year, gave Microsoft’s ad an A “because of its distinctiveness and emotional depth. The message was about how Microsoft is developing tools to help everyone win, such as a gaming device that helps people with disabilities play with more ease.”
Women have traditionally been depicted in stock photos as young, thin, white and able-bodied. Search results for “career woman” or “empowered woman” often include a variety of stereotypes—none of them flattering.
To address this disparity, Getty Images partnered with Dove and creative agency Girlgaze to launch Project #ShowUs.
According to the project’s website, #ShowUs is a library of more than 5,000 photographs “devoted to shattering beauty stereotypes by showing female-identifying and non-binary individuals as they are, not as others believe they should be.” Thirty-nine countries and 116 photographers—all identifying as female or non-binary—are represented in the collection, which highlights subjects of different ages, races, professions, body types, religions, gender identities and physical abilities.
#ShowUs is not Getty’s first collaboration for increased diversity in its stock photo offerings. In 2018, Getty joined with Oath and the National Disability Leadership Alliance to create the Disability Collection, a series of stock images highlighting people with disabilities carrying out everyday tasks like shopping, raising families or playing sports. Photographers with disabilities were involved throughout the development of the photo collection. After all, while 15 percent of people have a disability, only 2 percent of stock photos include representation of disabilities.
Image credits: Comcast (press use only)
Megan is a freelance writer and editor interested in sharing stories of positive change and resilience. Her blog - Joyful, Brave & Awesome - chronicles her experience as a parent of a special needs child.