Mobile innovations for persons with disabilities require increased spectrum

It was not so long ago that TTY made it possible for persons with hearing loss to communicate with typed communications over a traditional phone line.  That incredible breakthrough allowed persons with hearing difficulties to use a telephone in an unprecedented way. Now, mobile video streaming can allow a deaf person to have a face-to-face sign language conversation with anyone from anywhere, and texting offers another easy and fast communication method.

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Wireless devices like smartphones and tablets have become essential for many with disabilities. Customers with low vision can use their phones to determine the denomination of bills, or, using near field communications, they can pay with a swipe of their phone. Mobile apps can help blind persons navigate areas and find places, voice-recognition features can make these wireless technologies and devices easier to use, and voice-to-text services can send texts and then read the responses out loud.

Senior citizens and persons with physical or cognitive disabilities can benefit from m-enabling technologies and wireless devices, too. Persons with mobility impairments can use their mobile devices as remote controls. Wearable sensors can make it easy to summon help or track a person’s location, and some apps and texting services can help users maintain drug regimens. Persons with mobility challenges can benefit from the use of various hands-free devices and options, smart keyboards, and dictation apps.

It’s difficult to overstate just how life changing mobile technologies can be for persons with disabilities.  As exciting as these developments are, it’s equally thrilling to imagine the new m-enabling developments on the horizon. This past Monday, we hosted an event at the FCC that underscored the fact that none of these advances in accessible technologies could have been possible without a rapidly developing mobile ecosystem. Disability advocates, mobile service providers and industry experts showed how wireless technology can make accessible devices even more impactful. We also looked ahead to the development and growth necessary to ensure the future of the mobile accessibility ecosystem including new apps and services for persons with disabilities.

For example, two-way video communications and cloud-based mobile accessibility apps depend upon an advanced, high-speed LTE network. Wireless devices and many m-enabling technologies also depend on this critical infrastructure, and a healthy mobile ecosystem is one in which innovation is not just permitted but encouraged from all sides.

If we want to see further advancements in mobile accessibility technologies, we must continue to promote the development of a healthy mobile ecosystem. Encouraging continued private sector investment in wireless network infrastructure is vital and will require swift and decisive government action. Our government, which allocates the airwaves, must find more for commercial use. Such a move will allow wireless carriers to continue expanding and enhancing our wireless networks, ensuring a wireless infrastructure that will enable accessibility innovation to continue to aid Americans with disabilities. And by acting quickly to remove this barrier to growth, our government can enable faster development of these and other technological innovations.

A strong wireless infrastructure benefits all people, not just those with disabilities, because it results in economic growth, faster networks, and new technologies.  But for persons with disabilities, the resulting innovations can be life-altering. We cannot even imagine what tomorrow’s technologies will make possible but let’s ensure that today’s continue to assist and empower persons with disabilities.

Leblois is executive director of G3ict, Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs.