David GJ Fanshawe
Philips CE Advanced Projects Group - Redhill UK
Easy access for the disabled has become a common requirement for public services and access terminals; but in the consumer market the realisation of 'Access for All' can have a serious effect on the price, and on the product's acceptability to non-disabled users. This has led to a niche market where certain manufacturers specialise in products adapted for use by the disabled; but these are often too expensive for personal purchase, and therefore only reach a small percentage of the target market. Consumer companies are now addressing this need by introducing 'Design for All' principles.
'Ease of Use' has been a strong focus for several years, but this has mainly been evident in microprocessor-controlled features aimed at convenience, safety and energy efficiency. There is now a strong move to extend user-friendliness towards the needs of the disabled: not the seriously-disabled - addressing specific chronic problems will always be a specialist market; but the slightly- disabled and the elderly, who represent an important new market sector. Indeed, we are all disabled to some extent: most of the population has sub-standard eyesight and needs spectacles or contact lenses, and many have reduced hearing, and limited mobility/dexterity.
Products which place low demands on the user are not only essential for the seriously disabled, they are also very much easier for the mildly disabled, the elderly, and the rest of us. In other words, an easy-to use product can have universal appeal; and by selling into a large market, there is economy of scale to make the product affordable.