According to projections by market research company Coherent Market Insights, the global assistive technology market will reach $26 billion by 2024, nearly doubling from $14 billion in 2015. Zion Market Research is even more optimistic about the industry’s trajectory, with an estimate of $31 billion in 2024 and an annual growth rate of 7.4 percent.
Regardless of the exact figure, analysts agree that the assistive technology industry will grow rapidly in the next several years. What’s behind this rise, and what’s in store for assistive technology in the near future?
What is assistive technology?
Assistive technology is any product or device that is designed to improve the quality of life and independence of people with disabilities. Some of the most common assistive technologies are:
- Wheelchairs, walkers, and canes
- Hearing aids
- Prostheses to replace missing limbs and other body parts
- Magnifying glasses and other optical devices
Because computers and smartphones have become an essential part of daily modern life, many assistive devices are focused on improving access to these technologies. There are a number of free accessibility tools and assistive technologies available for using a computer or browsing the web. Some examples are:
- Screen reader software to convert the text on screen into synthetic speech
- Magnifiers that enlarge the text and graphics on a computer screen or mobile device
- Speech recognition software to convert the user’s speech into text and give voice commands
- Refreshable Braille displays that spell out the text on screen in Braille
- Joysticks, trackballs, and head pointers to improve ease of navigation for people with motor disabilities
Why the growth in assistive technology?
According to estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 4 U.S. adults is living with a disability — 61 million in total. What’s more, the baby boomer generation is more likely to have a disability than previous generations as they age, which means that this ratio is likely to grow in the future. Globally, more than 1 billion people, or 15 percent of the world’s population, experience some type of disability.
People with disabilities can experience significant challenges in their daily lives: on average, they are less likely to receive an education, find employment, and receive adequate healthcare. The purpose of assistive technology is to remove these barriers to the fullest extent possible and improve the quality of life for people with disabilities.
The World Health Organization estimates that by 2030, 2 billion people will require access to at least one assistive technology, and many will require two or more. However, only 1 in 10 people with disabilities currently has access to the assistive technologies they need.
What's next for assistive technology?
Bridging the vast gap between the demand for and the availability of assistive technologies will be a significant challenge, now and in the future. The good news, however, is that new products and new companies are already rising up to meet this challenge in a variety of ways.
In June, for example, IKEA announced a new line of 3D-printed video game accessories called UPPKOPPLA that will improve the gaming experience of people with a wide range of physical abilities and preferences.
Meanwhile, technology incubator Not Impossible Labs has launched multiple assistive technology initiatives: 3D printing prosthetic limbs, helping people with hearing disabilities participate in concerts, and building adaptive skateboarding technology for people with visual disabilities.
Startups such as Whill, OrCam Technologies, and Kinova Robotics have collectively raised more than $200 million in funding for their assistive technology products:
- Whill produces electric personal mobility vehicles that allow people with physical disabilities to more easily navigate and move through the world around them.
- OrCam produces wearable AI devices for people with visual disabilities, using computer vision techniques to read text and identify faces and objects.
- Kinova produces a variety of robotic arms for both personal and industrial use, including the JACO assistive robot for people with physical disabilities.
With tens of billions of dollars in projected value by 2024, the assistive technology market is prime for innovation and disruption. We’re excited to see what new developments are in the works for people with disabilities around the world. For the latest news and updates about assistive technology and accessibility, follow the Bureau of Internet Accessibility blog.