A lot of the technology in our daily lives was initially developed for the benefit of people with disabilities but showed usefulness and popularity with non-disabled people as well. Here are some examples:
The Broxodent electric toothbrush was invented in 1954 to aid those with limited motor skills. Now, millions of Americans, both with and without disabilities, purchase electric toothbrushes as part of their dental hygiene routines.
Text messaging was invented as a way for deaf people to communicate when cell phone technology was being developed. Now, even people without hearing impairments often prefer texting to phone conversations, as it doesn’t require both people to be available to speak at the same time, can allow for discreet communication, and is often easier for relaying a brief message.
Talk to Text
The technology now used for hands-free texting or calling home from the car has origins in helping people with difficulty typing, including those with paralysis, neuromuscular disorders, and vision impairments.
Books on Tape
The American Foundation for the Blind introduced books on tape in the mid-1930s, and audiobooks are still in everyday use. Many people without vision impairments use audiobooks during their commutes or just as a preference to reading.
This technology was developed to assist the Deaf and hard-of-hearing communities by providing on-screen text for the accompanying audio. Widespread American use came in the 1990s, following the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Captioning also proved useful for people without impaired hearing, including by non-native speakers when learning English, as a preference when watching a tv show or film at a low volume or where the actors are heavily accented, and for watching social media videos without sound.
While adaptive technology can prove useful for non-disabled people as well, all product developers and designers should consider how to make their technology inclusive for people with disabilities.