On October 29, the Disability and Inclusion Program organized its third workshop to share views and best practices on the issue of disability and new technologies. Some 20 participants, including several donors-advised funds and four disabled speakers, contributed their thoughts at the workshop facilitated by Pascal Vinarnic of the Demeter Foundation.
Speakers unanimously agreed that technological innovations have represented fantastic progress in disabled people’s lives over the past twenty years. However, they also all agree that this progress requires that a number of conditions be met. “Tools must be designed with users. Many great ideas cannot be used in practice because they have been designed by people who have no experience of the disability in question,” explains Clément Gass, head of nonprofits Elandicap and Vue du Cœur and founder of a GPS for the partially sighted. In addition, digital tools need to be appropriate for the disability in question, with the most open standards possible, right from the design stage. “Turning an existing tool into an accessible one is an expensive process,” adds Clément Glass.
The Rennes-based fab lab My Human Kit is an example of a project that further involves users by producing their technical aids themselves, thanks to contributions from association members, in a spirit of experience sharing. According to Nicolas Huchet, the co-founder of My Human Kit, “the objective is to both build objects collectively to help disabled people in their daily lives and share these inventions.”
Visibility and independence
Participants also agreed that digital technologies made disabled people more visible. Clément Gass noted that “only 5% of people who are blind from birth venture outside their home. They often need help from a third party and hesitate to ‘bother’ them. Thanks to the GPS he designed, a partially-sighted person can walk anywhere, completely independently. They can become far more visible to the rest of the world, as is the case for Clément Gass who is himself a trail champion. Visibility is also greater in the corporate world. Philippe Murat, president of Handipreneurs, a nonprofit that supports funding for emerging companies in the field of disability, says that “there are 75,000 disabled entrepreneurs and 3,000 companies are created each year,” largely due to digital technologies.
Technology can also help a person understand their disability differently. Training in new technologies requires commitment. Skills acquired reinforce confidence and the ability to interact and communicate with others. Thinking through how to offer solutions in the face of disability somehow distances the latter. “The fact that I have studied my disability has changed my perception of it,” states Charlie Dréano, president of the Human Kit Lab. “That is the message the nonprofit wants to pass on: we are all on a journey of personal development, with a life like everyone else’s.”
However, it takes a long time for these new services and tools to be made. Some projects never come to light as results are very slow in coming. Which is why foundations can play an important part, by supporting creators over the long term. “The relentless drive for impact, scaling up and business models needs to be tackled in a different way, factoring in the time required for research and development,” highlights Nicolas Huchet. Foundations can also have an important part to play in helping nonprofits disseminate these technologies to disabled people. “In the field of disability, it’s important to note that these training programs are often longer to implement for users,” explains Clément Gass. “Companies and startups are generally seen as the drivers in the digital field. However, because the objective is user well-being rather than high margins, nonprofits need to be supported by foundations to carry out their projects.”
The Disability and Inclusion Group
Created in 2019, the Handicap and Inclusion Group brings together Fondation de France donor-advised funds that work in the field of disability. It has set itself the objective of changing our perception of disability and therefore contributing to building a more inclusive society, via joint think tanks and projects.
For Marie Nezam, head of the Disability Program at Fondation de France, “It’s important that donor-advised funds in this field are aware of each other, identify one another’s areas of work and exchange best practices and coordinate to co-fund projects.”