Despite our growing potential to augment human capability and competence through technology, the innovation curve sometimes leaves behind people who could most benefit. We call this group the “digital outcasts” and they ironically reside at the epicenter of today’s most exciting developments.
On a purely grass-roots level, digital outcasts are taking it upon themselves to improve and sustain their success in life. They are doing this through personally customized solutions that otherwise wouldn’t exist. Interestingly, their efforts then contribute mightily to the same technological landscape that originally neglected them. For such an important (and growing) demographic, this represents a cultural sea change of increasing significance.
The upcoming book Digital Outcasts: Moving Technology Forward Without Leaving People Behind will address key trends in technology and their relevance to forgotten populations. Example case studies include: iPad apps for cognitive therapy, increased utility of virtual worlds, the use of video games to improve patient adherence, support programs through mobile platforms, the rise of Web accessibility, and the impact of federal regulations on the digital marketplace.
Why is this book important? The reason is simple: digital interaction is a fact of contemporary life. Technology is becoming critically significant to how we communicate and share experiences. This is not limited to younger populations – in fact, there are now more video game players over the age of 50 than those younger than 18. As people get older, they will rely more on digital means to assess and manage their health, demeanor and well-being.
Product designers and the companies who support innovation teams rarely target people living with physiological, economic or neurological challenges. Planning to accommodate people with disabilities becomes a ‘lowest common denominator’ approach, despite the opportunity to provide universal value to all users. For example – consider how sidewalk ramps are an easier means to access, even for non-wheelchair users, and yet are often retrofitted to existing structures.
Regardless of channel – website, games, virtual worlds, mobile apps or robotics – at some point in their lives, everyone gets older and must enter the digital looking glass. Digital Outcasts emphasizes the importance of embracing universal design principles throughout innovation cycles, thus creating ambient, barrier-free benefit to technology consumers of all abilities and backgrounds.