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Robert Pearson

  Accessible Media

12/20/2012

Digital Empathy for Customers of All Abilities

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The Internet of Things will eventually work out an empathetic digital environment for customers with disabilities wanting to shop or transact online, writes Robert Pearson.

Recently, I was proceeding through a grocery store checkout counter in the evening. It was slow at the store and the cashiers were all chatting with the few customers they had. The woman at my register similarly asked how my day was as she processed my items. I noticed only off-hand that she was somewhat older than a typical grocery store cashier and to that end and without my prompting she explained how she had worked her career and was now finding this work very rewarding. She then noticed the physical disability that I have on my left hand.

Image: The Internet of Things is a concept that refers to uniquely identifiable objects (things) and their virtual representations in an Internet-like structure

Image: The Internet of Things refers to uniquely identifiable objects (things) and their virtual representations in an Internet-like structure (Wikipedia).

Typically, those whom I meet for the first time don’t speak to the fact of my left hand and how I lack an ability to use it extensively. However, this woman expressed great concern and then proceeded to speak about how she felt so sad for persons with disabilities and what they, or I, go through in order to accomplish day to day tasks. Working as I have in this field for many years to gain an understanding of the disability perspective and also having one myself, I thought that what she did not realize was that sympathy is not what persons with disabilities sought; it is rather inclusion and equality. Without voicing my thought, I smiled politely, completed my purchase, and went on my way.

The context of the conversation made me think though of how different the world might be if every transaction at every checkout counter - both in the physical and digital worlds - could express such empathy towards a client’s well-being, then accessibility for all could certainly become a reality.

The idea of digital empathy could recognize a client and their needs and provide for them an accessible environment within which to conduct their online transaction. Perhaps it could be based upon the idea of an accessible cloud-based profile that could automatically call upon tools and customizations that could serve the client’s needs. Having a versatile and empathetic infrastructure could ensure that the customer always comes first both physically and digitally and that they never feel as if they have been found lacking in terms of being able to complete a transaction.

Take then the idea of providing accessible media in general to a consumer in an empathetic fashion. It’s a curious thought to consider, where by the need to handle accessibility accommodations on the client side no longer becomes a concern. A robust infrastructure becomes so versatile to a client’s needs that accessibility no longer need be considered as an extra requirement or an addition to the process. Accessibility simply becomes part of the process and available to the client through assistive technologies, proper coding techniques, compliant content management systems and constant feedback.

As technology advances, the idea of digital empathy becomes one that conceivably falls into the realm of the tangible. An Internet that feels and knows its clients could one day mimic the human cashier at the checkout who is looking out for her client’s needs.

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Related Resource

Related Blog: Accessibility of Science Instructional Material in Schools for Students with Disabilities | Blog by Lucy Greco.

Related Publication: Web Accessibility for Better Business Results | Download fee PDF.

Related Event: Accessible ICT: Priorities for Future Research on Accessible Information and Communication Technology Systems and Services | London, January 22, 2013 | More details.