Mechanical Page Turners To Seeing AI: A Brief History Of Accessibility Tech



By  in The Guardian Labs.


Cumbersome machinery has been replaced with unobtrusive, empowering innovations in the world of assistive technology.  charts its evolution.

Assistive technology is transforming the lives of people with disabilities. But what’s perhaps more remarkable is the fact that you probably haven’t noticed. The unobtrusive nature of the technology demonstrates the sharp evolutionary curve seen in assistive tech.

Hector Minto, a disability inclusion advocate and technical evangelist for accessibility at Microsoft, recalls working on mechanical page-turners at the beginning of his career. “People with physical disabilities could turn newspaper pages by pressing a button to activate a vacuum pump and a car aerial, which swept the page round,” he says. “They cost thousands of pounds, yet looked like something from a Wallace and Gromit film.”

E-readers and digital assistants have superseded mechanical page-turners, but what’s really changed, according to Minto, isn’t the ease with which assistive technology can be used; what’s new is the “absolute expectation” that technology should be inclusive.


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