Though modern technology has changed most lives for the better, only 62% of disabled adults surveyed own laptops or computers, only 72% own smartphones, Pew Research reported. They are also less likely to go online.
With disabilities affecting over 1 in 10 individuals in San Francisco alone, it's clear that a digital divide persists. Yet, despite all the tools and skills at modern society's disposal, they are not taking this issue seriously.
Fortunately, new technologies promise to bridge the gap entirely. One such innovation is 5G, the new global wireless standard connecting the world faster than ever. Compared to its predecessor, 4G, 5G promises faster speeds, lower latency, more reliability, a more extensive network capacity, and a more consistent user experience. Here's how it can help break the digital divide for the disabled.
5G can improve mobility
Accessible cities mean specialized infrastructure. From tactile paving to buttons at every intersection and direction in Braille for the visually impaired, Elevators stay open longer for wheelchair users, and speakers use hearing induction loops, so public announcements sound clearer through hearing aids.
With 5G, however, cities can go even further as they get upgraded to smart cities. Verizon Connect outlines how smart mobility is transforming modern cities by rapidly increasing interconnectedness to improve the living standards of citizens. They installed a 5G Ultra Wideband service in San Francisco last year. This service delivers lightning-fast 5G to a broader area like a multi-lane highway to flourish digitally-driven mobility initiatives.
“Our goal with this game-changing technology is to reshape the world around us,” said Kyle Malady, Chief Technology Officer at Verizon.
There's also Aira, a service that lets a visually impaired person call someone who is sighted to describe their surroundings as seen through a smartphone camera. Other apps, like WheelMap and WheelMate, can help users find wheelchair-friendly locations.
5G can save lives
Less than 10% of California's primary care clinics have accessible equipment like exam tables, meaning 40 million disabled Californians struggle to get the treatment they need. This issue has worsened as COVID-19 further restricts physical visits to clinics and hospitals. With 5G, though, patients and healthcare professionals benefit from the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT).
The IoMT can facilitate remote patient monitoring via telehealth conferences and wearable technology powered by high-density interconnect (HDI) circuit boards. The design basics for HDI, in particular, were made to satisfy the demand for increasingly complex but tiny devices. And true enough, electronic devices designed using HDI techniques can pack a lot of components in a smaller space without sacrificing any of their functions.
For instance, while small, HDI-powered smartwatches and wearable ECG monitors can keep track of someone's vitals, such as heart rate, glucose levels, and blood pressure. Similar technology can immediately notify IoMT-connected ambulances regarding nearby medical emergencies and help paramedics treat patients in transit through remote consultations with hospital staff.
5G can improve access through affordability
Affordability is a significant contributor to the digital divide. According to HR Dive, the unemployment rate among disabled Americans last year was 17.9%. And since accessible housing in the Bay Area can be expensive, paying for a stable Internet connection may not fit in many homeowners' budgets.
However, as 5G becomes more widespread, it's becoming cheaper to use. Cheaper 5G infrastructure means the Internet is more accessible—not just to disabled persons in urban areas but also to those in more rural locations that have had difficulty connecting in the first place. It facilitates better opportunities for education and employment, and users can reap the benefits relating to mobility, healthcare.
5G can make way for more opportunities
5G, with its increased network capacity, is helping drive technologies like virtual reality and the cloud. It's leveling the playing field for the disabled through educational technology, providing them with the resources and skills they need to take on remote work eventually.
For example, learning materials come in various formats, such as audio or Braille, to increase accessibility. Meanwhile, the remote nature of education means no pressure to keep up with other students, so individuals are encouraged to learn at a preferred pace that may also help encourage resilience and curiosity.
More importantly, 5G helps boost confidence. It allows the disabled to create the most comfortable workspaces, which is impossible in a physical office or classroom. Ultimately, it will be bringing autonomy back into the hands of those who need it the most.