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Tech and disability: Can mobile apps make a difference?

man using an app

When Microsoft produced its first Kinect device in 2007, designed to accompany the Xbox 360 released two years earlier, the tech world spent many months discussing how the gadget could revolutionise gaming. The device – which used a complex system of sensors and lasers to detect and process movement – was generally imagined as a tool for teenage boys, allowing energetic gamers to dive straight into a virtual warzone from the safety of their bedrooms.

But within five years, Kinect had found another purpose. Undergraduate engineers at the University of Pennsylvania mounted the Kinect on a belt, and created a device that helped blind people navigate through obstacles. The initiative was widely commended, and quickly won national awards.

Kinect’s story is a common one: a tech invention, designed originally for commercial profit, which was later adapted to meet the needs of a disabled community. Nowhere can this better be seen than in the world of mobile apps, which since their 2007 explosion have come to infiltrate almost every aspect of our lives....