Making Technology More Accessible
Darryl Adams’ mission to make a more accessible PC started with an epiphany in the Intel cafeteria in 2007. Adams was meeting his colleague, to discuss a new passion project: a device that would scan printed text and read it out loud for people with severe dyslexia, like his colleague, or visual impairment, like Adams.
“He had made an early prototype out of Styrofoam, and we immediately started talking about how you might be able to interact with it if you were blind or visually impaired,” says Adams.
“And that’s when I realized that with all the brilliant people at Intel, you could develop these kinds of solutions as grassroots efforts.”
Adams is passionate about accessibility for a reason. At 14, he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa—a degenerative eye condition that has gradually impaired his vision. He also suffered a surgical accident in college that left him deaf in one ear. While he tried to downplay these disabilities early in his career, “at a certain point, it was apparent that the status quo wasn’t going to continue working. I knew there had to be better solutions.”
After that first meeting, he started making those solutions. The early prototype became the Intel Reader: a first-of-its-kind assistive device when it was launched in 2009. With that, Adams “saw a tremendous opportunity for Intel and the industry to find solutions for people with disabilities. And I thought: this could be a full-time job.”
Over the next fifteen years, Adams created that job. Today, he is the director of accessibility at Intel leading teams of cross-organizational experts who want to integrate accessibility into everything that Intel does—starting with the PC.
Championing Inclusive PC Design
The accessible computing innovation program is leading a strategic effort to embed inclusive design across Intel’s entire PC portfolio. This means “incorporating people with disabilities every step of the way” to develop new technologies like Assistive Touch—a touch-to-speech capability currently in prototype testing, which may eventually come built into Intel silicon.
This kind of inclusive innovation has never been more important for the more than 1 billion people worldwide with some type of disability. “Today, work, school and other experiences are all based on our ability to create, consume and communicate in this digital world,” says Adams. “We need to make sure everyone is part of that world.”
For Assistive Touch, this means in-depth user testing to understand how people with visual impairment use screen readers (PC applications that read aloud on-screen text and images), what gaps they face and how a touch-to-speech capability can help. The resulting technology enables people to touch and hear text, including elements that are often inaccessible, like BIOS screens, infographics and other images that include text.
It’s one example of a multi-year strategy to identify opportunities for more accessible technologies and bring them to market, always prioritizing the experiences of people with disabilities. The program works closely with engineers across the business, Intel’s employee resource group for people with disabilities and the Interactive Technology Usability Lab at the Shepherd Center to incorporate this feedback into roadmaps, prototypes and products.
Delivering New PC Experiences Like Assistive Touch
Today, this reality is taking shape through collaborations between Intel’s domain experts, from the Intellectual Property Group (IPG) teams who create the fundamental IP blocks of a system on a chip (SoC) to the PC experts at the Client Computing Group to the researchers with Intel Labs. Together, these teams are tackling a range of projects—from the workplace to navigation to inclusive PC gaming. And they’re just as passionate as Adams: “People see the potential for change. They are seeking out these opportunities, and that makes for a wonderful work environment.”
This work centers on real-world experiences. When refining the Assistive Touch prototype, the team partnered with the Shepherd Center to run twelve 1-hour immersion sessions to get the feedback of people with visual impairment. Participants said the prototype offered a fundamentally new experience: navigating the PC screen as a tactile experience.
Even more importantly, they noted gaps and ideas for how to make it easier to use. These included audio descriptions of the overall layout of a page, vibrations to help navigate the screen and reading an entire line of text at once. These insights will help to inform the evolving design of Assistive Touch, as IPG teams consider how to incorporate it into Intel’s processors.
We help bring the voice of people with disabilities into Intel research and product development. By providing insights, identifying unmet needs, and working directly with Intel engineers, we’re helping Intel make PCs that are more accessible and more useful for people with disabilities.
PC gaming is another priority area. Last year, the team setup an online event for gamers with disabilities, conducted research and connected with Humphrey Hanley, a gamer whose motto is “No Hands, No Excuses.” Intel sent him a kit of computer parts, and he live-streamed himself building a gaming PC with no hands.
Other projects include indoor wayfinding with tactile maps, haptic phone cases and the AI Assisted Workplace research effort. All of these aim to understand the challenges that people with different disabilities face and help to solve them with technology.
The Future of Accessibility
As part of Intel’s corporate social responsibility RISE (Responsible, Inclusive, Sustainable, and Engaged) strategy, the company has set the goals of having 10 percent of employees who self-identify as having a disability and adopting inclusive design for all user experience teams by 2030. Intel has also established the accessibility team within the Corporate Responsibility Office, which ensures Intel is an inclusive, accessible place to work for people with disabilities.
As Adams considers the future, he says “we’re on the cusp of big things. We just need to continue pushing the possibilities of compute to a higher level and engaging with our external partners and industry peers.”
“It will make a huge difference.”