cies is needed to identify both new technologies and strategies for getting effective products to consumers.
Research into better methods to develop and bring to market effective new technologies needs to extend beyond “high-tech” technologies. Strategies to promote research and commercial development to improve relatively “low-tech” but common equipment, such as walkers, are also important.
Another topic for research is the role of legislation, including existing policies such as the ADA and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, in providing incentives to industry by enlarging the market for accessible technologies. One study that examined patent applications in an attempt to assess the impact of the ADA on assistive technology development found that although references to civil rights laws were not typical in patent records, applications mentioning the ADA increased after passage of the act (Berven and Blanck, 1999). That study, which examined patent applications from 1976 through 1997, found a substantial increase in the numbers of patents related to various kinds of impairments over the entire period but did not note a particular spike after the passage of the ADA.
As described earlier in this chapter, public policies have sought to make some mainstream products more accessible, particularly telecommunications and other electronic and information technologies. Some of these policies apply only to government purchases. The ADA focused on reducing certain kinds of environmental barriers and setting standards for the accessibility of buildings, transportation systems, and other public spaces. Although that law and accompanying regulations covered some products that are often installed in buildings (e.g., ATMs), many other mainstream products that are not covered by the ADA or other policies also present substantial barriers to people with disabilities. With an aging population, inaccessible mainstream products will present increasing burdens and costs to individuals with disabilities in the form of reduced independence and reduced participation in the community. This, in turn, will create costs for family members and other caregivers and for society in general. As with the policies discussed in other chapters, further actions to remove barriers and expand access to helpful technologies will have to be assessed in relation to other pressing demands on public and private resources.
Recommendation 7.2: To extend the benefits of accessibility provided by existing federal statutes and regulations, the U.S. Congress should direct the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (the Access Board) to collaborate with relevant public and private groups to develop a plan for establishing accessibility standards for